The Earth from Above
Earlier today I looked up some location in Bangalore via Google Maps. One thing led to another and I ended up spending the entire morning exploring beautiful Earth via Google Maps. Most often we use Google Maps for locations and directions. We use it for intra-city navigation and occasionally for those weekend trips when we venture farther from our daily routines. Apart from these, it's interesting to note that Google Maps can be a useful tool to discover the beauty of our planet.
It's not that I'm somehow a pioneer in discovering the artistic merit in Google Maps. Postcards from Google Earth, Street View Stereographic, Jenny Odell's Satellite Collections, Florian Freier's Cached Landscapes, David Hanaurer's WorldWide Carpets and Shaun Utter's Random Google Maps are just some examples of artists getting inspired by Google Maps. In almost all of these examples, the focus has been on urban landscapes. The artists don't present Google Maps as they are. Being artists, they transform the images into something surreal; they assemble collages; they saturate the colours or accentuate the patterns. In the process, they leave their signature as artists in what they create. What I created today is different.
Achieving Meteor 2-second rebuild time for £830
This was my purely hardware solution to the problem of slow Meteor build times.
When I decided to get into development I was adamant that I wasn’t going to run out and buy the latest and greatest in hardware until I actually knew how to code and knew what my requirements were in the long term.
So I went out and bought a used 15" Acer laptop for £150. It had the following spec:
- Memory: 6GB RAM
- Processor: Intel Pentium CPU 6200 @ 2.13GHz (Dual Core)
- OS: Ubuntu 16.04.1 LTS 32-bit
- Storage: 153.5GB HDD
With this setup, I saw rebuild times of 15-30 seconds (including the browser refresh) of a side project using Meteor 1.4, React and a Mongo-db instance with around 1500 records. I found these times to be excruciatingly slow when it came to making multiple changes to my code and waiting to see the results. You can see the initial version of the project I was working on here.
Image source: Kumar, M., 2013, ‘Digital Privacy, Internet Surveillance, and The PRISM – Enemies of the Internet’, The Hacker News; Security in a Serious Way.
The world we have built around us is due to human ingenuity as well as engineering skills. Tools play an important role in this. It's not an exaggeration to say that most engineers think about the tools at their disposal before starting to give form to their ideas. To sculpt something, you need first good chisel and hammer. To build a bridge, you need precision measuring instruments. To dig a tunnel, you need a boring machine. In today's digital economy, you need connected servers, software platforms and algorithms.
Tools improve both efficiency and effectiveness. The problem with the use of tools is the intent. A knife can be used to cut fruit or to kill your neighbour. A cook and an arsonist use fire in very different ways. Now imagine what will happen when a powerful tool is created with bad intent but the public is told that it is for their good. Aadhaar seems to be in this category.
Plus an exciting quiz on IoT
I am pleased to cover once again our quarterly IoT Project Day event, an event for demos and talks. More importantly, it's an event for exchanging knowledge, inspiring others and networking with peers. As usual, we are happy to have it at Microsoft, Bangalore, and we thank them for opening up their venue for this purpose.
Today's event was a mix of electronics, sensing applications and analytics. Because, in the world of IoT, one thing without the others is not all that useful. Collecting data is not useful if you don't analyze it at some point. Electronics is not useful if you don't drive it with intelligent firmware. Gadgets are not useful if you don't think about wireless connectivity. Finally, you need to use the right sensors to gather real-world data that suits your application.
Idea, challenges and solutions
"Why would anyone want to write programs for Arduino in Indian languages?" you may ask. Well, there's a story behind that.
Many years ago, while attending a training program in robotics using Arduino, conducted by Simple Labs, Chennai, I got to talking with the founder of Simple Labs who had spent many years working extensively with schools across rural Tamil Nadu. One of the problems that he told me that he faced in Tamil Nadu was that of students from Tamil medium schools having trouble programming Arduino boards in English.
Concepts, tools and insights from a seminar by Altair Engineering
It's tempting for many bright engineers to implement systems and developers to write code as soon as the system specifications are in place. This is understandable for many reasons: they are under the pressure of tight deadlines, engineers love challenges and they just can't wait to see their systems in action. Much of this is also due to the way engineering has evolved since ancient times. Engineering was a specialist craftsman's vocation where systems were simple and products evolved by trial and error. It was financially too risky to make drastic changes because the designer did not know beforehand if such things would work.
It was only in the 19th century that the concept of modelling and simulation started to play important roles in engineering. In one sense, this means describing the system in terms of equations and solving the same. Early examples of this used analog models: Lord Kelvin's tide predicting machine (1870s) and Vannevar Bush's Differential Analyzer (1920s). It was only after the development of digital electronic computers post-World War II that modelling and simulation could become more sophisticated. Even then, engineers liked shortcuts. Why model something when they knew from experience how to build systems? This worked only so far as systems remained simple, innovations were incremental and trial-and-error methods weren't too costly.
Droids, cloud platforms, APIs and more
On Saturday we had our second edition of IoT Project Day, a quarterly half day session where our members get a chance to give demos on what they have done in the IoT space. Unlike other IoT meetups happening in Bangalore, the focus of this event is as always on the engineering aspects of IoT. In other words, we talk about technologies and tools, tips and tricks, optimization techniques, design and architecture, interfaces, mistakes and what we learnt from such mistakes ...
We had a good turnout of students and working professionals. It was good to see a couple of school students taking interest in electronics and IoT. There were seven demos. This article is a summary of the demos, which will be useful for those who were unable to attend the event. It was also a good networking session for us. I'm sure some of us will collaborate on a couple of projects that can be presented at the next IoT Project Day, which will happen in August. Thanks also to Microsoft for sponsoring the venue.
A visit to Redd Robotics, Chennai
I recently made a day trip to Chennai to meet my friends from Redd Robotics, a 3D printer company, who I had first met at Makerfest 2016. The intent of the visit was to learn more about Redd Robotics and 3D printing in general and explore possible uses of 3D printing in my own work.
As planned, I was at the Redd Robotics R&D office at Anna Nagar, Chennai, on a sunny Saturday afternoon by about 12 noon. One of my friends from college days, Subra, himself a tech-entrepreneur and technology enthusiast, joined me in this visit. Subra is based in Chennai.
Our hosts had chalked out an elaborate plan for the day: after spending time at their office, we had to head out to IITM Research Park, almost the other side of the city, to catch up with the 3D printing workshop that the company was conducting the same day.