My plans for 2017, part 1: Work

by Joey deVilla on January 1, 2017

2017

Creative Commons photo of Z566M nixie tubes displaying 2, 0, 1, and 7 by “Hellbus”.

As of the start of 2017, I’ll have passed the traditional 90-day probationary period as Smartrac’s Technology Evangelist. So far, it’s been an enjoyable, exciting, and challenging whirlwind.

dumbest-guy-in-the-room

It helps that I’m working with some brilliant people with all sorts of experience, ranging from electrical/radio engineering to biophysics to good ol’ computer science, to having been in the Navy and Homeland Security, and who’ve contributed to some open source frameworks that you may have used if you do front end web development.

am the dumbest guy in the room, and that’s all right with me.

smartest-person-in-the-room

targetOne of my goals for this year is to make the most of my proximity to all these smart people, and all the knowledge, chances to learn, and access to opportunities that they provide, and in return, showcase their brainpower and works to audiences both technical and non-technical.

The experience has been made even better by the sweet gear that I’ve been assigned

…as well as the travel opportunities I’ve been in my short span of time at the company, including Asheville, North Carolina, where Smartrac has both an office and an RFID tag and inlay manufacturing facility…

asheville

…three trips to the Baltimore office, where our core platform development team works (well, we’re actually in Columbia, just outside Baltimore)…

baltimore

…a partner visit in London at the start of December, and an upcoming trip to New York

london-and-new-york

…where I’ll be working our booth on the exhibit floor at the National Retail Federation’s Big Show 2017, a conference that will be in its 116th year:

nrf-big-show

targetAnother goal for 2017 is to make the most of the opportunities presented before me, whether in the form of the material support that I get from the company, as well as the chances to travel all over the U.S. and the world to meet customers, developers, partners, prospects, and talk about Smartrac’s technology. In the rush and general busy-ness of working in a fast-paced business where the stakes are high, it’s all too easy to forget that with this line of work come some pretty rare opportunities.

smart-cosmos-logo

At the heart of Smartrac’s offerings is the Smart Cosmos platform, a data virtualization technology for real-world objects and their interactions that is built around something that we call the TRIM metaphor.

Hey, we’re a tech company, so of course TRIM is an acronym:

Things
  • Things are people, places, products, and any other real-world object that an organization would like to keep track of
  • Things connect real-world objects to their data representation.
  • An example: Associating a bike with serial number x.
Relationships
  • Relationships answer a true/false question about any two Things in the system. An example: Does Joey own a bicycle with a serial number x?
  • Relationships capture a one-way association between two things.
  • An example: Joey → owns → bicycle. The relationship does not work in the opposite direction.
Interactions
  • Interactions record events over time between any source Thing and any target Thing.
  • Interactions are time-series data captures that are broadcast in the system for the benefit of “listeners”, which are free to do with these messages as they will.
  • An example: Joey rode bicycle (serial number x) at time y.
Metadata
  • Metadata stores additional strongly-typed information about a Thing in 3-tuples of (data_typekeyvalue).
  • Metadata key names are arbitrary, and its values are measurement system-agnostic; the values do have to be of the type specified by data_type.
  • An example: “Joey’s bike is colored sky blue” could be represented as Metadata with the 3-tuple (string, “color”, “sky blue”).

smart-cosmos-plus-rfid-equals-power

If you combine Smart Cosmos with a technology to make real-world objects detectable by processing power — such as the RFID technology that was the original basis of Smartrac’s business — you’ve got the basis for a lot of applications, from manufacturing to retail to healthcare and more.

A technology like Smart Cosmos needs to be explained to a number of parties, from technical decision-makers and the developers who have to integrate Smart Cosmos with their organization’s systems and workflows, to non-technical decision-makers who need a layperson-friendly explanation of the technology they’re counting on to drive their business. That’s where I come in.

target

As far as Smartrac is concerned, my big goal for this new year is to spearhead the revision of our library so that both technical and non-technical people who want to find out more about our platform, from the broadest, high-level strokes to the finest details of its API and inner workings, can do so quickly, easily, and accurately. A lot of this will be the wholesale updating of the Smart Cosmos site, writing and editing the blog, case studies, white papers, documentation, and creating documents that aren’t limited to writing, but also audio (in the form of things like podcasts), audio-visual (in the form of videos) and even interactive tools. As far as I’m concerned, as long as what I produce helps our audience understand our platform, the sky’s the limit.

It’s going to be an exciting year!

{ 0 comments }

ios-http-connections-not-today

Over the past little while, Apple has been telling iOS developers that by January 1, 2017, in order to be in the App Store, any app that made a connection to a server could do so only via a secure one — that is, only HTTPS and not HTTP connections would be allowed. They’ve just announced that “this deadline has been extended and we will provide another update when a new deadline is confirmed.”

Starting with iOS 9, apps allowed only HTTPS connections by default. However, many servers — including OpenWeatherMap’s, which powers a number of weather apps, including the one featured in my tutorial — don’t accept HTTPS connections. That’s why they still offer the option to let your app make connections over plain old HTTP by changing the default App Transport Security settings in the app’s info.plist file.

You could allow apps that you were developing to use plain HTTP connections by editing their info.plist files in its text form and adding this snippet…

…or do it the graphical way:

While requiring that all connections be secure ones helps to keep network data secure and reduce the probability of unwanted access, a large number of web services are still not using secure connections. This is probably the reason for the deadline extension.

You have a reprieve, iOS developers, but the sooner your apps’ connections are secure, the better.

{ 1 comment }

2017-a-year-of-building-apps

For the new year, I’ve decided to try a new approach with Tampa iOS Meetup, the regular Tampa Bay gathering that I run, where I cover developing apps for the iPhone and iPad. Instead of focusing on a single programming topic, each Tampa iOS Meetup session in 2017 will cover the highlights of developing a single app, starting with the concept, then look at the features, technologies, and libraries that we’ll need in order to build the app, and then show you how to bring them all together and turn the concept into a finished, working app.

The reason I’m going with this new approach is that I’ve been asked the same question again and again, and it goes something like this:

“I’ve been studying iOS development for some time, and I’m still having a problem writing apps. I know how to program specific features in iOS, but I don’t know how to turn a bunch of features into an app.”

It’s one thing to go through tutorials that show you how to program a specific feature. It’s a completely different thing to take the knowledge from those tutorials and then write an app. My goal for Tampa iOS Meetup in 2017 is to show you how to make that leap by walking you through the process of making apps.

the-dreaded-tip-calculator

Tampa iOS Meetup’s 2017 sessions will start on Tuesday, January 31, 2017 at 6:30 p.m. at the offices of Wolters Kluwer’s Westshore office (1410 North Westshore Blvd, suite 400) with a relatively simple app: the dreaded tip calculator.

Why “dreaded”? That’s because it’s a relatively simple app, and a lot of people — especially in the App Store’s early days — made their own version. There are a few nice ones, but most of them are pretty sad. Our goal for the meetup will be to cover the many ways to make a tip calculator app that you wouldn’t be ashamed to put in your developer portfolio.

In the session, we’ll cover a number of topics, including:

  • Making the most of user interface controls
  • Animations and other visual effects
  • Using rounding functions
  • Useful hints for the Swift programming language
  • Taking advantage of those little things that make an app feel more solid and professional

This session will be suitable for newcomers to iOS development. If you’ve done some simple JavaScript development, you shouldn’t have any problem following along. If you’re new to programming in general, but have always wanted to make an iOS app, this is an ideal first project.

You’ll come out of this session with a better understanding of the app development process, as well as source code and notes that you can use in writing your own apps.

Does this sound like something you’d like to catch? Find out more on the Tampa iOS Meetup page, where you can sign up to attend. Once again, the session takes place on Tuesday, January 31, 2017 at 6:30 p.m. at Wolters Kluwer’s Westshore office (1410 North Westshore Blvd, suite 400). I hope to see you there!

{ 1 comment }

it-explained-with-broken-lightbulb-excerpt

Click the comic to see the full version.

Toggl, the people who brought you the hilarious (well, hilarious to us developers, anyway) comic How to save the princess using 8 programming languages, have come up with a new one: IT jobs explained with a broken lightbulb.

I’ve posted an except above, which shows the 4 major roles that I’ve played, in one form or another, throughout my career. My current job as Smartrac’s Technology Evangelist mixes all of them together, which pleases me greatly.

{ 0 comments }

javascript30
JavaScript programming these days is quite often ridiculous. Too many projects that are the equivalent of building toolsheds by bringing in the US Army Corps of Engineers. They could’ve been done simply with JavaScript (and maybe a little jQuery for convenience’s sake), but they have a clown car’s worth of frameworks bolted on.

Wes Bos’ answer to this problem is JavaScript30, a free-as-in-beer 30-day course in which he walks you through building 30 JavaScript applications in 30 days using only JavaScript, HTML, CSS, and a browser and editor. No compilers, libraries, frameworks, or boilerplate involved!

javascript-frameworks-galore

If you haven’t read it yet, go ahead and check out Jose Aguinaga’s article, How it feels to learn JavaScript in 2016. It’s a tour of the mess of tools, frameworks, and even various dialects of JavaScript that get bolted on to a lot of web front-end projects these days. While it takes things to an extreme, it’s an extreme that many projects approach.

I’ve met too many developers who can no longer make even the simplest of JavaScript apps without reaching for one (or more) of these add-ons. There’s nothing wrong with React, Redux, Angular, VueJS, RxJS, WebPack, and all that other stuff in the clown car (hey, I’ve done presentations on React myself) — when they’re well and truly needed. It’s just that they’re not needed for many projects, and often just add to their bloat.

Enter Wes Bos and JavaScript30. His approach is simple: re-learn the basics by doing, doing often, and doing by using the ES6 flavor of JavaScript, which modern browsers support. I’ll let Wes pitch it to you himself:

Over 30 days, he’ll walk you through 30 applications, each one coded using only the basic HTML5 building blocks: HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. Some of these applications answer the question “How do I get this UX effect without frameworks?”, such as a JavaScript drum kit, a CSS/JS clock, an image gallery, detecting the when the user has typed the Konami code, an HTML5 video player, and even a Whack-a-Mole game. Other applications are exercises for learning the basics, such as mastering arrays, objects, events, and local storage.

As I mentioned earlier, you can sign up for JavaScript30 free of charge. Signing up gives you access to this video-based course (with downloadable files), which you can take at your own pace, any time. My guess is that Wes is using this course as advertising for his other paid courses, but those courses are well worth considering. Wes knows his stuff, he’s a solid instructor, and he’s one of those people who goes the extra mile to make sure that his material is interesting and entertaining.

{ 0 comments }

A great deal: SanDisk’s 200GB MicroSD card for $64!

by Joey deVilla on December 8, 2016

sandisk-ultra-200gb-microsd

If you’re looking for a quick way to boost your laptop or mobile device’s storage capacity, or looking for a useful gift for a techie friend or DSLR photographer, you’ll want to check out this Amazon deal for SanDisk’s 200GB MicroSD card.

At $64, it’s anywhere from $25 to over $100 cheaper than the slightly larger 256GB cards, and it’s even cheaper than some of the 128GB cards. It boasts a zippy 90MB/s read speed, which means you can read HD video without hiccups, or use it as a tiny extra hard drive. It comes with an SD adapter so that it’ll fit in your computer or camera. I think I’ll place my order for one tonight.

Thanks to Joe Healy for the find!

{ 0 comments }

Smartrac makes Spyder’s ski jackets even smarter

by Joey deVilla on December 7, 2016

spyder-jacket-radio-waves

Smartrac, the company where I hold the title of Technology Evangelist, is providing the NFC technology in Spyder’s US Ski Team collection of insulator and softshell ski jackets. Combined with an NFC-ready smartphone or tablet, these jackets can connect you to the US Ski Team and local ski information with a single tap.

What’s Spyder?

spider-pantsIf you’re into skiing, and especially racing, you’ve probably heard of Spyder. It was founded by David Jacobs, a former Canadian downhill skiing champion and head coach of the Canadian National Ski Team. When his sons followed in his footsteps and joined the ski racing circuit, only one brand of race sweaters was on the market, and he thought he could do a better job. He designed a better race sweater, and then ski pants that skiers nicknamed “spider pants”. Inspired by the nickname and his other passion — sports cars (“spyder” is another name for “roadster”) — he changed his company name to Spyder.

speedwyre

Spyder have never been afraid to experiment with new technologies. In 1994, Jacobs was granted a patent on SpeedWyre, which used a seam on the surface on Spyder’s racing suits to smooth the airflow around their wearer, reducing wind drag by up to 40% in laboratory tests. The US Ski Team wore SpeedWyre-equipped suits and captured the top spots in worldwide competitions in the mid-’90s. SpeedWyre’s downfall was that it was too good — it was so effective at reducing drag that FIS (the International Ski Federation) banned it from competitions in 1997, saying that it gave skiers an unfair advantage.

spyder-nfc-collection

If you love skiing and are a fan on the US Ski Team, you’ll want to check out Spyder’s NFC-enabled US Ski Team collection of jackets. They still feature the warm, easy-to-move-in, aerodynamic design that Spyder is famous for, but they now feature Smartrac’s Internet of Things technology.

spyder-tap

When you tap an NFC-ready smartphone or tablet (such as Samsung’s Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge) against the NFC touchpoint embedded in these jackets’ Spyder logos, you can find out skiing-relation information about your current location, including snow conditions, trails, points of interest, and local events. As a bonus, you can also connect with members of the US Ski Team through various social media channels.

gloves-and-smartphone

The idea of tapping your phone against your jacket to get to online information about snow conditions and trails when you can simply open the browser and enter its URL seems like a silly, superfluous shortcut when you’re warm and sitting comfortably indoors with ungloved hands. However, when you’re on the slopes, the wind is howling and it’s getting dark, and you want to find out if it’s worth risking the shorter black diamond trail versus the longer blue square one, it’s a convenience you’ll really appreciate.

What’s NFC?

nfc-payment

NFC is short for near field communications, a radio-based set of communications protocols that allow two devices to “talk” to each other over very short distances (no more than a couple of inches) or for a device to “read” relatively small amounts information stored on a chip that is typically attached to or embedded in a real-world object. The NFC chip embedded in the Spyder jacket logo is what lets you tap it to get ski information.

If you’ve ever made a payment using your smartphone with Apple Pay or Android Pay, or by tapping your credit card against a reader, you’ve used NFC technology. If you’ve used Android Beam to transfer files and photos between two Android phones, you’ve used NFC technology. If you’ve played games activated by action figures — the Disney Infinity games and Skylanders are two examples — you’ve been gaming with NFC technology.

Here’s a quick video brief of NFC technology’s uses and pitfalls:

What’s Smartrac?

Logo: SMARTRAC / Connect Things

Aside from being the company for whom I work, Smartrac is the biggest Internet of Things company you’ve never heard of. The company is headquartered in Amsterdam (with offices and factories worldwide) and was founded in 2000, growing to become a big deal in the business of developing, manufacturing, and supplying RFID transponders, tags, and inlays.

smart-cosmos

Smartrac is borrowing a page from Apple’s book — and now Microsoft’s and Google’s books — and changing into a full-stack hardware and software company. Our RFID technology makes real-world objects visible to computers and devices, and our Smart Cosmos cloud platform manages information about things and people, how they’re related, how they interact, and the metadata associated with them. Put the two together, and you’ve got the basis for building solutions that connect the physical and digital worlds.

Want to know more about Smartrac and Spyder?

{ 0 comments }