Category Archives: Quick Tangent

Quick Tangent: It’s Probably for the Best

So, it’s been a while since I talked about indoor navigation. It’s one of those things that I always come back to, especially since that idea for the ghost game always comes back to me now and again. After a conversation with a hardware grad student in a PhD program, I got excited about the idea again and went looking once more for a software solution. As it turns out, Microsoft wants in on the action. After playing with it for a while, though, there’s only one problem: much like other indoor navigation solutions, it doesn’t work exactly.

In my apartment several stories up and which occupies only one floor, I will walk several feet. Then it will suddenly prompt me, asking me which floor I’m headed to. Apparently, it thinks that I’m in an elevator or on an escalator.

With all the difficulties amassed between AR and navigation, it’s no wonder that Project Tango was closed by Google. And it’s no wonder that this Microsoft navigation project apparently hasn’t been updated for a year now. After all, AR and indoor navigation are tough subjects to tackle.

So, it’s refreshing to hear that Microsoft might be rethinking some of its past approaches. After having experimented with their earlier iterations of Windows IoT, I found it an interesting foray for Microsoft. However, I didn’t really believe that it’d be adopted by manufacturers and (especially) developers. It seems that Microsoft has had the same realization recently, and it’s now pursuing a new project to revamp their IoT (and mobile, to some degree) portfolio called Azure Sphere. Now, this initiative could maybe breathe new life into some of that confused tech. If somebody out there creates a kit for Azure Sphere, I’m a taker. I’m looking at you, Adafruit!

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Quick Tangent: There’s a Stranger in My House

Usually, I don’t find OS updates particularly exciting, and I generally favor waiting for everyone else to take the hit in becoming a first adopter. However, I found this particular note about Android P very interesting, enough so that I might sit in the front row of class and raise my hand:

Today’s preview includes the following new APIs and features (but you can expect much more; this is just the first preview, after all): Display cutout support; HDR VP9 Video, HEIF image compression, and Media APIs; HEIF (heic) images encoding has been added to the platform; multi-camera API; ImageDecoder for bitmaps and drawables; Improved messaging notifications; Data cost sensitivity in JobScheduler; indoor positioning with Wi-Fi RTT: Platform support for the IEEE 802.11mc WiFi protocol — also known as WiFi Round-Trip-Time (RTT) — lets you take advantage of indoor positioning in your apps.

INDOOR POSITIONING!? Well, that might change the whole situation. Maybe I should dust off the old code, crack some knuckles, and get to work!

Quick Tangent: Dumb Bots

So, there’s been so much talk about AI lately, and in particular, there’s a great deal of interest in bots. No, not the Mirai kind (which hopefully isn’t plentiful in the future, despite its Japanese translation). No, I’m talking about the friendly, enterprise kind. You know, the chatbots on Facebook that are supposed to be helpful snippets of AI, capable of booking hotel rooms for you. Of course, I don’t really understand the usefulness of these bots, since there’s no way that a bot could help me find the ideal room faster than my own investigation. In fact, they seem kinda…well…dumb. But these bots are probably not aimed at a self-appointed pariah of social media like myself. Instead, it’s probably meant for those people who are younger (i.e., millenials) and who are more predictable (troves of available marketing data via Facebook, less variety of purchases, etc.). In that case, I suppose that it’s useful for some but not for myself…or is it?

Similar to my reaction to chatbots, I never quite understood the newfound love for Slack. It’s a messenger app…so what? However, as I started to delve more into it, I started to understand its appeal through its extensible functionality, especially to developers. I can create a simple bot (or a basic web service) on my public-facing servers, so I can use Slack to talk with it on my phone and get the status of machines and processes? Okay…that’s kinda cool. (Assuming that your company and networking department embraces the idea of allocating machines just for this purpose. Trust me, I know…that can be a hard sell.) So, maybe, must maybe, I could be down with these chatbots. That way I could use Slack (or Skype) and be hip like the cool kids!

Hmmm…so how I could I actually pitch this one to the brass? Curious, I looked to see if there was already an enterprise version of such a solution, and though I did find one or two, they seemed to be costly and less flexible than desired. So why not just build one cheaply on my own? Since I recently read something about Microsoft’s nascent bot framework and its integration with Skype, I figured that I could start there as a quick way to prototype. After proceeding through a few quick tutorials, it became obvious that a chatbot is nothing more than a tailored RESTful web service, and with that realization, I quickly assembled and got working the prototype that I had in mind.

However, over the next few weeks, I started to realize that it wasn’t viable. One, since this framework is too young to even stand on its own wobbly legs, Microsoft keeps updating the framework and breaking my stable prototypes. As with previous experiences when dealing with a Microsoft gestation, I wondered again if Redmond’s new projects (along with their frenetic and seemingly bipolar updates) are victims of Conway’s Law…Two, I read about how Skype does not and will not support third-party bots that are not publicly registered in their Bot Directory. I’m fairly sure nearly all of the company brass would have a problem with a publicly available chatbot that tells the status of our internal servers. Just a hunch.

After taking a quick look at other platforms, I came away with similar impressions. In the end, I’d say that chatbots are like a lot of new tech these days: lots of potential but some distance away from ultimately being practical.

Quick Tangent : XML Schema Evolution

So, after my last post, I got curious: is there any software out there that performs XML schema evolution, even if it’s proprietary? Oddly, after searching for a few minutes, the answer “no” seemed to be coming back from the web. Now, Oracle and IBM do offer a service to update your current XML documents according to a new schema…but only if it doesn’t invalidate the old schema. Basically, their “evolution” functionality allows you to further refine your schema’s rules, like changing the maximum/minimum of a tag’s occurrence or adding a new required tag. That’s hardly any sort of evolution; it doesn’t even provide the ability to automatically rename tags/properties like Avro! So, the claims of Oracle and IBM might be more marketing than engineering.

But I guess that marketing and buzzwords are all too normal in software…After all, whoever coined the term string interpolation definitely took some severe liberties, since it’s sure a long way off from real interpolation. In any case, there seems to be an opening for a niche market here, one which could be somewhat lucrative. However, these days, all the big bets of towering chips are on the table of machine learning, big data, and AI. In the eyes of the major league, anything that deals with XML (i.e., old-school data processing) should go play the slot machines.

Good for me…I don’t mind being stuck alone in a dark corner! Reminds me of playing Street Fighter 2 by myself in the back of a pizza parlor and having a blast…In any case, I was looking for tools that could help build an engine for XML schema evolution. Interestingly, I found an open source project by Dmitry Pekar that can convert both ways between XML and Avro. That could help by extending the functionality already in Avro…but besides the simple renaming of tags/properties, it doesn’t satisfy my proposed requirements. (Plus, your distributed architecture would have to ultimately use Avro, which would be a refactoring headache in some instances.) I haven’t found anything else yet, which makes me suspect that my handcrafted MDD approach might be the only viable option.

Quick Tangent: An Open Standard for Indoor Navigation

“Since when did this blog become solely about indoor navigation? I thought that this thing was supposed to be about metadata?” Well…I can’t argue with you. I need to get back into that at some point.

In any case, after sampling different platforms for indoor navigation, I’ve come to notice something: there is no open source standard for indoor navigation yet. Of course, there is much discussion about indoor navigation within the gaming industry, especially within the community for Google’s Project Tango…but there isn’t as much talk when it comes to API standards. Considering that open source standards seem to be falling from the sky in the last few years (for cloud computing, for automobiles, etc.), it seems fitting that one of the bigger players (like Indoor Atlas or Estimote) should take this opportunity to lead the way with an open standard. As IoT invades our lives, indoor navigation will probably become more prevalent, and more development standards would be beneficial to the industry. (Of course, these Northern Europeans are probably too busy slugging it out, since that’s part of the travails of being a startup company.) I suppose another unmentioned company could also take this lead, but I’ve found that many are not as developer-friendly as Indoor Atlas and Estimote; most require any interested parties to fill out an application before even allowing access to their documentation.

Now, it wouldn’t have to be an all-encompassing standard, but it should probably take into account each of the strengths in the current set of available platforms. In addition to the practice of emulating Apple’s Location Manager (which they all seem to do in their iOS SDKs), an open standard could include interface methods for functionality like:

  • The ability to overlay the indoor navigation map over an actual world map (which is offered by Indoor Atlas).
  • The ability to generate a map of the indoor space dynamically (which is offered by Estimote).
  • The ability to raise a signal (email, text, etc.) when someone enters the navigable area (which is offered by both Indoor Atlas and Estimote).
  • The ability to generate an account with the vendor’s services programmatically (which I could see as being helpful to developers who want to incorporate these services into their own products).

Maybe I’ll create a sample and upload it to Github in the near future, as a more verbose example.

On a side note to this new standard, we can leave out some of those confusing and misspelled messages that are generated by Apple’s Location Manager. Who comes up with these things?

Quick Tangent: Baby Steps

So, after eating ice cream and crying in order to get over the reality of an unlikely romance with my beloved vaporware, I emerged from my sadness with the determination to still create a prototype of my haunted house game. So, I decided to bite the bullet and start on my long trek to becoming a bit more experienced with creating IoT devices on my own. Not really knowing where to start, I looked online, and on a whim, I ordered the Windows 10 IoT Pack by Adafruit.

Since my last excursion with soldering took place when Radiohead was still a nascent band, it’s reason enough to say that my return to circuits will probably involve a significant learning curve. (That, and I momentarily thought that the kit’s mini breadboard was a thoughtful snack included in the package.) I’ll be playing with the various peripherals in the upcoming weeks, with the hopes that I’ll actually make some progress. First goal: make the Raspberry Pi repeatedly poll an Azure web service and get an indication to turn on a LED light. Even though it’s a modest goal, I’m sure that it won’t seem that way when it’s finally done. Good luck to me!