Glitch and the LED Sneakers – Final Code

I had a couple of sets of changes I needed to make to my test code.

Firstly I needed the ability to change the effects mode using the button. I originally added this by testing to see if the button was down, incrementing a global variable that I used for the mode, a switch statement to divert program flow depending on the current mode value and different functions for each effects mode. The effect was pretty to look at but the code was even worse than the previous test: overly long and the patterns were defined by the actual program logic – meaning that more program code would have to be written in order to add more patterns and the code to control 8 LEDs would be twice as long. You can see that particular iteration here: http://topdownview.com/arduino/glitch/Glitch_multimode

Continue reading Glitch and the LED Sneakers – Final Code

Glitch and the LED Sneakers – First Test

At this point I broke out the croc clips and the LEDs and started experimenting. Whenever you click ‘Upload’ in the Arduino IDE it compiles your current code, transfers it to your Lilypad, reboots the Lilypad and starts the code running – so the feedback loop for trying out ideas & seeing what works is very fast.

My first test hardware involved connecting the button and 4 of the LEDs to pads on the Lilypad. I started from the basic Blink program and added more LEDs and more delays to give some visual effects. I also added the ability to detect button presses in order to change the pattern.

Continue reading Glitch and the LED Sneakers – First Test

Glitch and the LED Sneakers – Hello World

So now it’s time to plug things together and start programming.

The Arduino development environment is super simple to work with. The tools are written in Java so they’re cross-platform. If you’re running Ubuntu then installation is simply a matter of visiting the Software Centre, typing in ‘Arduino’ and clicking the install button for the Arduino IDE program that pops up. If you’re on Windows or Mac then it’s not much more complicated than that either – download the software from the Arduino website and install.

Then plug one end of the programming cable into your Lilypad (be sure to get it the right way round – the board is marked B and G for the Black and Green wires in the cable) and the other end into your computer. At this point your computer discovers a new serial port provided by the USB cable – again if you’re running Ubuntu it just works but if you’re running Windows to Mac there’s help here to guide you through installing the necessary device drivers.

Run the Arduino IDE and go to Tools->Board to select the correct board that you’re programming. In my case it’s the “Lilypad Arduino w/ATmega328”. Then click on Tools->SerialPort to check that your system’s detected and selected the correct serial port.

Continue reading Glitch and the LED Sneakers – Hello World

Glitch and the LED sneakers – The Parts

First things first… what’s the final design going to look like? My plan was for 4 LEDs along the outside edge of each shoe – 2 red and 2 yellow to match the colours of the Glitch shoes. Then run wires up inside each leg of my jeans to the Lilypad and power supply mounted around my waist. Add a button to allow switching between different flashing modes and some connectors at the ankle and waist to allow things to be detached and we’re set.

So what hardware are we going to need?

Continue reading Glitch and the LED sneakers – The Parts

Glitch and the LED Sneakers – Intro

I’ve been playing Tiny Speck‘s Glitch for the last six months. I don’t play much in the way of computer games these days – I don’t play MMOs and I run Linux so I don’t exactly have a bundle of games at my disposal, but Glitch is different. The game is a lot of fun, the artwork is beautiful and the writing is consistently funny and quirky – but what really elevates the game are the people:

Continue reading Glitch and the LED Sneakers – Intro

The Art Of Marketing 2012

Nope, not a typo – an attendee survey just landed in my inbox and one of the questions was asking who I’d like to see speak at next year’s Art Of Marketing.

One of the comments I heard many times last week was “isn’t it odd there’s no women speaking here?”. If you assume that women are equally represented in the field of marketing speakers, you’ve got a 0.5^5 chance of getting an all-male schedule. Wow… that’s one in 32 (yes, maths was my first love).

So, whilst I’m not in favour of positive discrimination, I was quite keen to get a couple of women on the schedule for next year. Let’s take a look at their suggestions on the survey form:

Biz Stone – co-founder Twitter
Charlene Lee – shoe designer
Chip Heath – professor of Organizational Behavior and co-author of “Made To Stick”
Chris Anderson – editor-in-chief of Wired, author of “The long Tail”
Chris Brogan – speaker, blogger, co-author of “Trust Agents”
Dan Ariely – professor of behavioral economics and author of “Predictably Irrational”
Dan Roam – author “The Back Of The Napkin”
Dana White – president of the Ultimate Fighting Championship
Daniel Pink – author of “Drive”, speechwriter and motivational speaker
Gary Vaynerchuk – wine expert, founder of winelibrary.tv, author of “Crush It”
Guy Kawasaki – co-founder of alltop.com, previously chief evangelist at Apple, author of “Enchantment”
Malcolm Gladwell – author “The Tipping Point”, writer for NYT
Mark Zuckerberg – founder Facebook
Paul Lavoie – Co-founder TAXI (advertising agency)
Seth Godin – speaker, blogger, author of “Tribes”
[links will open in another window/tab]

They did allow space  for a write-in, but their suggestions are 14 men and 1 woman.
And I’m not entirely sure they mean Charlene Lee… I suspect they might actually mean Charlene Li – author of “Open leadership” and co-author of “Groundswell”.

Is there something wrong here? Clearly there is. But where’s the problem? Is it that the people behind The Art Of Marketing are horrendously sexist? Somehow I doubt it. Is it that marketing is an almost exclusively male preserve? Personal experience tells me that’s very much not the case. Is it that women don’t make good entrepreneurs? Certainly not. Maybe women don’t want to become public speakers? I don’t know… I’m at a loss to explain this.

The Art Of Marketing

On Thursday I was lucky enough to attend The Art Of Marketing conference here in Vancouver.

Not the sort of conference I usually attend, I’m usually found at the more technical conferences in town. But take a look at the speaker list: Gary Vaynerchuk, Guy Kawasaki, William Taylor, Mitch Joel and Avinash Kaushik. These guys are all, every last one of them, giants of the online marketing world. You could easily stage a conference with just one of those speakers as a headliner, plus a handful of relative unknowns, and expect it to be successful.

The speeches themselves were all good… and some were truly great. Plus the host, Ron Tite, did an excellent job of engaging the audience with a mixture of marketing stories and humour. I’m not entirely convinced that someone who is already established in the online marketing business would have got their money’s worth from the information presented – but I think that can be argued about most conferences. Talking with friends of mine who do this for a living and were at the conference, they generally agreed but suspected that a lot of the audience were either managers or traditional marketing people wanting to break into online. However, regardless of whether or not you already knew the information that’s been presented, it’s always useful to have it reinforced. Plus the networking opportunities were also awesome. And, as one of a relatively small number of developers there, a lot of the people I spoke with were interested to hear a different viewpoint on the topics discussed.

I took notes through all five speeches but, given the mesmerizing nature of some of the presentations, the notes are short, bullet-pointed and bearing more than a passing resemblance to a drunken spider’s journey home from the pub. However, for those of you that couldn’t make it on Thursday, I’ll write them up and post them speaker by speaker.

Beware Pooh The Destroyer

So I was talking the other day with friends about the prediction for The Rapture on Saturday. That would be Saturday just gone – the Rapture that didn’t happen. I pointed out that the prediction was based on religious numerology – you look for number patterns in things and assign meanings to them. The great thing about numerology is that you can use it to predict anything you like. I joked that Winnie The Pooh contains a hidden subtext revealing that Pooh The Destroyer is about to come and inflict his wrath on the world.

It was suggested to me that the Pooh quote “When having a smackerel of something with a friend, don’t eat so much that you get stuck in the doorway trying to get out.” is a clear Rapture reference.

But the scary thing is that IT IS – and I’d like to prove it to you. Continue reading Beware Pooh The Destroyer

The Pierley-Redford Personality Test

Through my friend Steve, today I discovered The Pierley-Redford Dissociative Affect Diagnostic personality test.

Go and try it for yourself… it won’t take long & I’ll wait a minute for you.

OK. Interesting? Weird? Yeah, I’d probably agree with both those assessments.

My diagnosis came back as

“Quiet and very self-assured, you tend to keep your own council. Pragmatic and practical to a fault, you are not one to worry about the finer points of philosophical discourse. In fact, because you are very much an individualist, you often finds yourself at odds with the established truth or the wishes of the majority. You will often earn the wrath of an employer by taking upon yourself decisions which are rightly those of your manager. You are not one to take credit unless it is deserved. Similarly however, you will also not happily give credit where it is not due. In a romantic relationship you can be very frustrating. While you do care deeply and sincerely, and are willing to work at a relationship, your confidence in your own abilities can on occasion make it difficult to see the world from a partner’s point of view. Quiet and stoic at times, you can drive a more emotional individual completely up the wall. You can become overstressed and fatigued without knowing it. Taking time to rest between bouts of hard work can help to prevent a breakdown later on”

There’s definitely things in there that I’d agree with but also definitely things that I’d take issue with. So what’s going on here?

Firstly, I didn’t feel strongly drawn to a specific answer for many of the questions. I tried to not project external knowledge or associations onto the shapes, eg “is this a white blood cell consuming invading bacteria?” but that just makes it harder to make a decision & hence easier to go either way with just a shrug of the shoulders. So if I took the test a second time I’d probably answer differently and suddenly I’m not so “quiet and self-assured”. Maybe now I’m “emotionally volatile and prone to sudden changes of opinion” (although of course the test would claim that I’d just conclusively proved that!).

The diagnoses that the test produces are vague and generic. They smack to me of horoscopes… “you will meet a tall, dark stranger”, “money will be an important issue to you in the next seven days” etc. I strongly dislike horoscopes… I believe them to be random mumbo-jumbo designed to ensnare those incapable of critical thought. In fact if a friend is reading the newspaper and asks me for my star sign so they can check my horoscope, I always pick a different sign at random… it’s entertaining to watch them nod sagely as they read about how a twelfth of the population are expected to behave for the next seven days and how they can see those characteristics in me.

Let’s do some research. This personality test would appear to be named after its creators. So try a web search for “Pierley Redford“… all we get are references to this test. Try them separately… obviously Redford is a hard name to search for but again Pierley produces only pages discussing this test. So search for pages mentioning Pierley but not using the word ‘test’ – that clears the results up a lot, but still no references to any actual work, no peer-reviewed journals, no actual person. Doesn’t this seem odd?

Finally, check where this personality test is hosted. http://www.hypnoid.com/ is the website of a web designer. Not a psychologist, a psychiatrist or a university department… a web designer. When you search for “Pierley Redford“, the page title that’s (at the time of writing) cached by Google for this page is “Test – Richard Horton Portfolio”. Portfolio? Ahhh, you mean an exercise to show off the designer’s web skills. Nice.

Still not convinced? OK… try this search: search for “‘dissociative affect diagnostic’ without Pierley or the misspelling Pierly“. We see posts on several other sites linking to the same test but referencing it as the “Brierly/Medford Dissociative Affect Diagnostic”. The posts all seem to date from about the same time and all clearly reference the same test. This leads us to conclude that within the last month this test has been renamed from Brierly/Medford to Pierley-Redford. Same test, different (but almost the same) names. Clearly an invented set of names.

The alleged personality test contains no links to further research and it flickers and pulses annoyingly, like something from Lost. I believe this is purely an exercise in Flash and a piece of rather well-done self-promotion by the designer. It’s cute for sure, but holds about as much meaning as the horoscope in the back pages of Sunday’s paper. Enjoy it but don’t freak yourself out.

Writing a Web App: Do Your Research

I still remember many a lunch spent with work colleagues during the early days of widespread internet adoption where we’d brain-storm a great new internet-related idea that would make us all millionaires. We’d come rushing back to our desks after lunch and immediately search to see if anybody had beaten us to the idea.

Invariably they had. At which point we would abandon the idea.

But a couple of years ago I took an interesting course at BCIT on web application development and business. The tutor talked about various ideas that he’d had and projects that he’d built on-line. His approach was the exact opposite of ours. He said that if he can’t find someone that’s already implemented something similar to his idea then he walks away. His rationale being that its presence validates his idea… someone’s out there making money from the idea. If there’s NOBODY out there offering the service then this shows him that there’s no money to be made from it.

Of course this isn’t always the case… every big idea has someone who does it first and definitely not every website out there is profitable. But if you’re just looking for a web app that you can turn out and make a little money on, seeing an existing market is a good indicator as to the idea’s validity.

Having identified an existing implementation, you shouldn’t simply offer the same thing… your implementation has to differ in some important aspect – something that would make someone choose your site rather than another one. If the competitor’s site is full-featured and complex then make your site simple and easy-to-use. If their site is simple and rigid then make yours flexible and customizable. If they don’t offer a mobile version then make sure you offer one. If they offer subscription levels for 2, 10, 100 (users, accounts, MB – depending on your business model) then you offer subscriptions at 5, 20, 50.

So, in our case, is someone already offering an online vehicle fuel economy tracker? A quick web search shows that yes there are several out there – there’s definitely interest in the service we’re planning. Some sites are definitely better than others but amongst the collection that I investigated, I found some nice simple interfaces, some mobile sites, some good data output and graphs – however not necessarily all on the same site.

One cool feature I had already thought of but was suprised to find implemented was “text message fillups” – register your cellphone and you can send in a text message to record a fillup. Not sure I can implement that without spending money – maybe a later addition!

Amongst the flaws I noticed:

  • use of Flash for graphics. Definitely have to make sure that’s avoided
  • SEO on all these sites appears to be very spotty. Depending on exactly how you word your search for a fuel economy tracking website, you get wildly different results with sites that might have been top of the list for one search vanishing entirely from the front page for another search

In summary, yes, there appears to be a market for this application. I’m not sure that I’ve identified a unique niche at this point but we’ve definitely found an idea that people want to use.

Our next stage is to think about the application design…

This post is part of a series – read them all