Pi story begins

The thing about the Pi is not just that it’s a cheap volks-computer but that it’s already attracting a cult.  This was one reason why I wanted to attend the 1st London Pi Jam (meetup) last night.  I was also reading NESTA’s report on the impact of the BBC Micro on the way to town and back.

At the Jam the beginnings of an ecosystem were appearing including a port of the historic RiscOS and experimenters kits from @skpang_uk.  Organiser Alan O’Donohoe @teknoteacher did a splendid job of running the session in a style reminiscent of a preacher – highly appropriate.  Great that teachers including @pegleggen were presenting and kids were there (not enough but it’s a start).  Update on #youngrewiredstate given by @neilcford

Involving kids is crucial. I was no more than 8 when I starting making things.  You could not buy a computer then but you could try to make one.  The NESTA report addresses on this to good effect.  It’s how people get the inspiration to a career in science or engineering.

The icing on the Pi was a great venue provided by Mozilla (@bevangelist spoke of #summerofcode) and jam scones by @rslosek.  Perhaps even more satisfying was the happy coincidence of being allowed to place my order for Pi (9 weeks delivery) the very next morning.

Now I am thinking of what my first Pi project should be.  Obviously hardware will be involved.  Will be following #ciseco and @quicktowire who, among others, are also cooking up goodies to assist hardware projects around the PI.

Open IoT Assembly June 16-17th

Not my preferred way to spend a weekend but I wanted to support the initiative and I think a useful start was made.  Many aspects were good: venue, overall organisation, networking opportunities etc. Fri/Sat would have been better days for getting more people there.

The results are published. A lot of comment also coming in on the twitter feed. See also a writeup of the 2 days from @9600.

A lot of groups are thinking about best practice in all kinds of forums and many papers have already been circulated so I wonder whether we need another initiative.  However, the outcome of the weekend was to invite a broader participation – I could not disagree with that.

So I’ll follow this unless and until a better initiative turns up.  It can be successful if there is:

  • recognition of the whole picture including overall architecture, applications, scenarios/ use cases, testing, certification etc.
  • involvement of a community of potential “user” organisations (sorry, still don’t have a better word for them)
  • links with all the other activities in this space

We’ll see what happens and I’ll make a point of tracking the next steps and giving further input.  I’ll try to assemble a list of the other initiatives as I think this should have been done beforehand.

Self-Hacking/ Quantified Self OpenSpace 9th June ’12

This one day event came out of the now well-established London QS meetups. An opportunity to draw out some ideas about areas the group can pursue. Thanks as always to Adriana, Ken, guest speakers and others for putting this together.

I’m just reporting here on one openspace session.  For the rest please see the London QS website and quantifiedself.com.

@rainycat and I initiated a discussion on what Open Source approaches can do for QS. This could be hardware, software or a combination of both addressing any of the elements of QS solutions nameless:

  • sensors and data capture
  • data communications and storage
  • data analysis and visualisation

We discussed why we like open sources so much: community, sharing, “the right to repair” etc. In some cases we end up with better quality solutions than commercial equivalents, Apache being one classic example.

In early stage markets it’s usually not possible to launch a commercial solution when the problem is not well-defined and the size of audience uncertain. However, by sharing the task of building and testing prototypes the state of the art can be advanced.

We looked at a possible wish-list for open source solutions. The immediate suggestion was to produce tools for analysing data from established commercial products such as

  • Zeo (event sponsor)
  • FitBit
  • Withings
  • Jawbone Up
  • Polar Wearlink etc (see QS guide)

At this point we ran out of time for discussion. The above off-the-shelf devices have the sensors and some of the communication, data storage and visualisation which leaves me with a question about what we need to do with these?  Based on Adriana’s input I think we are talking about getting the data out and presenting it in different ways. Rain and I are equally interested in the sensors themselves. To be further discussed.

The next step is to formulate a project. However, it’s very important not to waste effort and momentum on re-inventing any wheels as significant effort may be needed regardless of what we choose to do.  It’s also important to go after challenges that are both important and useful.  Boiling the whole ocean is not an option without significant funding so we need to start with a specific and achievable objective and build on it from there.

I therefore proposed a survey of the London group to establish what should be addressed first. I will put this out in another blog or poll shortly. This will be about priorities and potential “quick wins”.

PS. As I am personally interested in heart-rate monitoring at the moment I googled around to see what’s cooking in the open source community in relation to this. I was pleasantly surprised to see that, if we wanted to attack this area, we would certainly not be starting from scratch. This confirms my theory that QS and Open Source go well together and that, with a bit of research we may find that some of our challenges are already being addressed.

PS.  As Adriana noted: There may be loads of s/w for data analysis and visualisation but is it usable and user-friendly for people who have no software expertise? I found even the simple hack to extract my data from FitBit difficult…. And if they are usable and easy to use, where would we begin to look for them?  This suggests that cataloguing the existing stuff may be one of the priority tasks.  Based on that we can look at usability by QS people who are not IT specialists.

Jatrobot at OTA2012 Bletchley Park

Off we went to Station X for another OverTheAir mobile hack event.

The event was of the usual high quality with great sessions and people to hack with.  Our project was aimed at disruption of the farming industry – an idea courtesy of @herx.  This went pretty well and was recognised in a couple of the awards. Presentation slides here.

This collects soil temperature, moisture, GPS coordinates and other data in the field and transmits them to Cosm in real time.  From there, various real-time visualisations can be seen on a web page or tablet device.

The technologies included were Android, Arduino, various sensors, Cosm and javascript (for the real-time visualisation).  Although we could have used a USB/GSM dongle for the real-time comms we chose an Android phone instead as that provides GPS and other useful sensors.

More on this to follow…