HAXMAS 2021 at Heatsync

For the last several years* Heatsync Labs has held an event called HAXMAS where card holding members keep the lab open for at least 48 hours straight. The idea here is that with the lab open you have time to MAKE the best Christmas gifts ever! Luis is the organizer of the event and takes on more than his share of hours at the lab and fills in any holes in the schedule. Generally I stay out of it on account of holiday season being busy. Between normal family stuff plus work stuff like trying to get this or that project either done or fixed and stable so that the team isn’t working over the holiday there just isn’t room for spending a weekend at the lab.

But this year was different! I asked my 9 year old daughter if she wanted to build LED Graham Cracker houses and spend the night at Heatsync and she said YES without even thinking about it! Normally I would have to try and convince her!

*Covid ruined every streak

TLDR Version

I ended up working on 3 projects!

  • Light up Luis’s bike for the Bike Mesa event (WLED on a couple of ESP32 boards, 4 strands of 50 of my favorite LED lights, a Jackery, and a big Bluetooth speaker and BOOM!). Status: complete and a success!
Christmas tree on a bike!
  • Replace the Arduino boards with ESP32 WLED for the LED strips in the Lab. Status: Need to get power injection working properly and needed more power. Plus, you can barely see the lights, maybe need to move them?
The new ESP32 mounted to the wall.
  • WLED controlled Graham Cracker house. Status: It works! But more decorations needed!
LES working!

PLUS! While were were there we saw an amazing community come together to support makers. There were many tours of the space and we entertained several people with Milton’s “mouse trap in a box” where you are invited to insert a quarter into a box and that would set off a mouse trap that would explode the box. Even when people knew it was coming they were surprised! They were also handing out laser cut wooden ornaments that could be decorated using paint or markers. How thoughtful! I wish we would have done more of that sort of thing.

Lighting up the Bike

On the FIRST FRIDAY OF HAXMAS I was planning on stopping by just to visit Luis and maybe work on some LED project. He told me about his plan with the bike via Twitter DM’s and I told him I have the solution to all his problems! The only issue was that I was going to ride my bike over and OH YEAH, also I have Dexter. He came to pick us up and thank goodness because we took a ton of stuff. The Bluetooth boom box, the Jackery 300, several bins of LED lights, another bin with tools and another with esp32 boards and other parts.

Then off to his house to get the GIGANTIC bike and the Christmas tree.

Once we finally got the the lab it didn’t take long to figure out what we wanted to do. We had to make sure the Jackery would last through the night (5+ hours) so we did some quick math based on the power consumption we saw on front of the Jackery. Even with 4 sets of 50 LED’s, plus the ESP32s, the power consumption was such that the Jackery would last 24 hours. So we added the incandescent star to the tree as well as the LEDs and our calculations told us it would still last way more than the 5 hours we needed.

The best part was when we were on a test drive and I played “Boney M – Mary’s boy child” on the way back to the lab and people were cheering. Here is it playing outside the lab!

Please don’t sue me Boney M!

ESP32 Controls for the existing light strips in the lab

Luis had an old Arduino board playing a “rainbow” but I thought it would be cool to put up a sign and URL and tell people they could control them from their phone on the Heatsync wifi. I replaced the boards but unfortunately there are a few issues:

  1. The power injection that was there was not working. One of the power supplies was missing (which I knew about and brought a backup) but the other one was bad and was causing the lights to flicker. On the other side, the power injection is so far away that it won’t power the board so I need to get power to the board and to do that I need a power extension cable.
  2. You can’t even see the LEDs! Even with the lights out they don’t make much of an impression. For a future project I want to move them to a more visible area and maybe add some diffusers.

Status: Still needs work! But if you are on the wireless at Heatsync and are lucky, you can go to http://wled-east.local and/or http://wled-west.local and control the lights!

ESP32 enhanced LES Graham Cracker House

In the past we would participate in Eric’s “LEG Graham Cracker House” event. This is a picture from 2019.

And one year we even ran our own LEG Graham Cracker event for free for the GDG community sponsored by Google. We knew how to build our own. And, well, Eric created instructions so that anyone can build one! But we wanted to do a bit more!

Eric was running it again this year but we held off registering because we figured we would give others a chance to sign up. Sure enough it was sold out. But Eric was generous enough to leave the supplies at the lab so that other people could build their own.

The nice thing about having that many hours is there is no rush. I could use the frosting to glue 3 crackers together and let it sit for 30 minutes, no problem. I was even able to make the roof freestanding and completely held together with nothing but foodstuffs (usually I have to cheat and use cardboard).

Here is the result!

Yes, it needs more decorations! And I had to stop and let it dry since the LES strips (Light Emitting Sugar TM) were still fragile. But generally it was a success!

The most difficult part was soldiering the strips together. For each section I cut the strip along the solder points but since I got the IP68 version, the plastic coating was difficult to remove. I used this “silicon sheathed wire” that was very flexible and I also used hot glue on the ends to keep them in place.

The roof as I was gluing it together and before frosting the LEDs

To keep the strip of LEDs lined up, I 3D printed some rails I made in TinkerCAD. This made them much easier to “sugar glue” them to the roof. The one with the triangle shape was for the roof “gutters” and the other parts were for the roof slopes that attached to the edge of the cracker.

My assessment is that this all needs to be refined alot more before we can unleash it on the public and do a class. But I bet Eric already has ideas for how we can do this better so hopefully he reads this and we chat more!

Conclusion

The entire weekend was SO FUN. Even though Embrie and I were tired and slept past noon on Sunday we had a really good time.

Mesa was full of excitement and had an event going on right next door with several makers and food vendors and a big Christmas Tree! Before we got too serious about hour LES house we spent an hour or so out there talking to people and just walking around outside. It was nice for us to get the chance to spend that time together.

And she was such a trooper! She never complained, kept herself busy and even when her house was falling over and she had to rebuild she did it all without complaining. And at about 3:30 or 4am she quietly put the blanket over her chair and made a sort of “chair tent” and fell asleep. I took this at 3:57am and I don’t even know how long she was like that. Merry HAXMAS!

Sleeping in her Chair Tent
The traditionally LEG house she made with no help.
This is the second one, the first one fell apart.

Phone holder for Gilbert Days parade 2021

This year Patterson and some other Gilbert Elementary schools were asked to participate in the Gilbert Days Parade. Okay, okay, I don’t really know if they asked or if they had to pay to participate or how exactly it worked out that Patterson was going. All I know is we were going to walk the mile or so as a family with a few others from the school.

This isn’t our first time in Gilbert Days parade. I think this might be our 4th or 5th time? So many times I forget. Last time we also walked with Patterson and it was FAR DIFFERENT from the years before. The first few times we went with Gilbert Parks and Recreation because Sarah and I taught some robotics classes there back then. And Gilbert Parks and Rec goes ALL OUT and has a big float and a theme and custom shirts and people decorate wagons that go around the float and we had candy to hand out (BUT DON’T THROW IT!) and we had music and people were dancing and the float had swings on it one year. It was super fun! And it was clear they put a ton of effort into organizing it.

Two years ago when we walked with Patterson, it wasn’t like that at all. We literally JUST WALKED. That’s it. No decorations. Nothing to give out. No wagons. No music. Nothing.

This year we wanted to do something different. So I decided to use up all my open rolls of filament and print out as many phone holders as I could in the week I had to prepare. In total we printed 590 of them! We had 6 gallon sized ziplock bags full of them.

3 of the 6 bags we ended up having
YES! It looks like a bottle opener!

Generally people thought they were bottle openers. Which is kinda funny that an elementary school would be handing out bottle openers!

7 Colors!

We also went to Sams Club and spent $60 on 5 boxes of Air Heads (90 in each box). With that we had over 1000 things to give out! The kids with us were giving out the Air Heads and the adults had the phone holders. The candy was gone after about a quarter of the way! Pro tip . . . if you want a cool give away, get a spot in the beginning of the route.

ALSO . . . we took a couple of wagons (to hold the candy n stuff and hold any kids that got tired) and we had Dexter in his Jeep (that has a remote control).

Dexter in the Jeep in front of me

People LOVED the Jeep and for the 3/4ths of the parade, Dexter was crying. But I think all the cheering helped and he was happy by the end. The trouble is we had to get there 2 hours early and he was already done and ready to go by the time we actually started. Plus, I wouldn’t let him ride in the Jeep those 2 hours on account of not being sure if the battery would last. It ended up doing the parade route and then going on a loop all the way back and was still ready to go another mile!

This time . . . we even had a banner to identify the school!

Patterson Banner Practice before the parade started

Overall we had a ton of fun and the give aways were a hit! Probably. The parade goes so fast you don’t have much time to get any feedback.

Thanks URS! (and AECOM)

Today is my last day at AECOM (formerly URS). It’s been a wonderful 2 years and I’m thankful and grateful I made the leap. I’ve repeated this story many times but for the first few months after leaving ASU I thought I made the second biggest mistake of my working life (first being . . . well, ask me about that later). Looking back I can’t remember what it was that made me feel that way but I’ll never forget that sense of dread.

Now, 2 years later, I’m a better programmer, a better co-worker, and probably a better person. On a technical level, I know Javascript/node better, I understand far more about MongoDB, GIS, PostGIS, Jenkins/CI and the list goes on and on. I also finally worked on a big budget/big project where we had several programmers (and even divisions between front-end and back-end), several designers, testers, documenters, deployment/IT engineeris, etc. It was the biggest project I’ve ever worked on and it was a joy to get to learn what goes into this kind of work from Alex and James.

No job is a utopia but URS/AECOM was very close. Sure, it was annoying that I didn’t get time for training or to go to conferences (even when I was speaking at a conference by request I still had to use my own PTO time and work as much as possible). And when I moved to a new location in the building my cube rattled and monitors shook whenever someone came by. But those are small since I had plenty of PTO and had a flexible schedule so that I could work four 10 hour days to take a Friday off for a conference and could work from anywhere and didn’t have to go into the office, etc.

When I explain my AECOM/URS love people ask “then why are you leaving?” and it’s a good question because I do like it here. Sure, the new job is more money . . . but it’s not THAT much more. I think the main reason for leaving is that so many others have left and I not sure there is going to be another big contract to continue the work I was doing and I wanted to be able to leave on my terms not when suddenly there was no more work.

Another thing I get after working here 2 years are some great connections and dare I say . . . friendships? Chris Hogan left not long after I started (and he worked out of the Germantown office so I never met him in person) but he was the first real connection I made and we still chat from time to time to this day and even met up at a conference and will do so again someday. James Fee is the main reason I left and went to URS (he did that “do you want to sell sugar water the rest of your life” speech but relevant to what I was doing) and I’m glad he convinced me to go and then went on to patiently explain GIS and what it means to work on a big project. . . . I think we have forged a friendship that will last as long as he can stand my . . . loudness?. Rachel Wagner was a great boss and I learned a ton about the company culture from her even as I made fun of the company culture. She was patient and was a great communicator (i.e. she listened!). Alex Bostic . . . I can’t say enough about this guy . . . he’s an amazing developer/architect and I learned a ton but besides that he’s just “good at life” . . . things that would be so irritating to me were put into perspective thanks to Alex. Thanks!

I worked with so many others on projects big and small but I don’t have time to write about every one of them. Huge thanks to Lauren, JP, Darla, Bose, Bing, Asa, Manuel, Robert, Jason, Bill, Patty, John, and finally, Robin, who I never really worked with but knew her because she happened to be close to my cube and always very personable.

On to the next! I start my new adventure Monday and after few months I’ll let you know if it was a big mistake! 🙂

Sheldon

P.S. This is what I sent to my colleagues at AECOM:

Hello!

As most of you know today is my last day at AECOM. It was an amazing 2 years and I’m so glad I listened to James and decided to make the leap. I really am sad to be leaving and enjoyed my time here. I learned a ton, met many amazing people, and am immensely grateful for the opportunity. 

When your biggest complaint is that your new cube desk shakes when people walk by you know you have it good. Thanks AECOM! I hope you’ll have me back someday!

Feel free to reach out anytime at sheldon.mcgee@gmail or on twitter @tooshel. 

Sheldon

 

#phxmobi 2013

I’m writing this down now so I don’t forget. It’s mostly for me but it also serves as a review of the Phoenix Mobile Festival 2013.

The most important point: the event was well organized. There were ALL KINDS of sponsors from all over in the mobile space many that I had no idea had a presence in the metro area. The venue was SPACIOUS. I never had to wait to go to the bathroom. The food was plentiful and good and included a wide variety (including cans of cold Diet Coke which I always appreciate). I only went to a few talks (I was REALLY nervous and spent some time talking to sponsors to get my mind of my presentation) but the ones I went too were informative and interesting.  They didn’t have a shirt in my size . . . and when your only complaint is about your FREE shirt not being the right size you know everything else must have been amazing.

I didn’t get a chance to talk to every sponsor but the ones I got too were great.  And there was a flurry of activity around all the booths (even the Blackberry guy had me mesmerized) . . . all good signs.

phxmobi  emails

Here is just one more point to make about how well organized they were. I was a speaker and a part of that is communicating what your talk is and getting in a bio and all that. I think I was a bit high maintenance . . . the image to the left is the thread of emails between me at the organizing team. But they answered anything I threw at them and did it incredibly fast. So thanks to Pranil, Kiran and Anjali . . . can’t wait for next year! Talk title: Google Glass: Why it’s failing in the marketplace.

Okay, the rest of this is just a reminder to me and it’s mostly rambling.

I got a message from Luis late on Monday the 19th.

Luis: Any interest in doing a glass talk at phxmobi?
me: from me?? You and Blaine are the experts. I guess I could just read his blog post and see if I can replicate it with Legos. 🙂

luis interest in a talk

I was planning on going to the event but thought it was in a few weeks. Turns out it was 5 days away.

I really didn’t feel qualified to give a talk. I read about the Mirror API and kept up with the community as best I could but I hadn’t really done anything. For glass I was just a user and usually at these kinds of things the target audience is a bunch of developers (and they’re going to ask tough questions!). But I told Luis I was willing to do it and he shared my contact info with the phxmobi team. Luis and I continued to chat about it via google chat and he gave me some ideas and shared what he had (he did a talk that included glass at another conference). Thanks for thinking of me Luis! And thanks for helping out.

By the end of Monday night I got an email from one of the organizing team asking for my bio and a “catchy title” that included the words “Google Glass”. They PREFERED it be aimed at developers and developing on Glass but were happy with whatever I wanted to talk about (as long as it was about glass).

The next day I was in a panic. Every free moment I was reading about glass development. I watched the videos from Google I/O that I should have watched ages ago (they connected Glass to a bluetooth keyboard! . . . installed and ran any APK!). I started up the github repo that would hold my presentation and hopefully a project I could show off. Every chance I got I talked to people about a Glass presentation and what they’d want to see.

By Thursday I had a structure of a presentation and some topics I wanted to cover but still didn’t have a title. I had to call in the big guns . . . Jim. He’s quick witted and I know just TALKING to him about titles would lead me to a great one. He suggested I “go with what you know” and, sure, talk about development if possible but that also many people just don’t know what glass is and pretty much whatever I had to say about it would be fine. He suggested a couple of great titles that were long versions of “Fact and Fiction”. We settled on one after he rejected a few of my ideas. I called him back and said “what about fact and fiction from a fanboy” and he said he didn’t hate it. He said “you gotta be you . . not sure if it should be fanboy or zealot”. I loved zealot and even had a theme now . . . STARCRAFT. Thanks Jim!

Jim didn’t just help with the title . . . he also helped with making a demo. We talked about what was POSSIBLE given the time and keeping the scope in check is valuable when you have to deliver in 5 days. Really appreciate that.

I mentioned the presentation and sent the link to the speaker section of the website (scroll all the way down. . . I’m at the bottom) to my boss, Bryan, at ASU. Before I could ask to take Friday off he was telling me to. I can’t thank him enough. Without that time there is no way the presentation would have went as well as it did. It gave me the freedom to stay up to 3am on Thursday working on the presentation and getting the Mirror API demo working and then work ALL DAY on Friday on putting the presentation together (had an outline of topics and talking points but I needed to transform it all to actual slides and speaker notes about what to say) as well as figure out how to get what was on glass to show up on my computer.

My wife, Sarah, also helped . She made sure I had time to work throughout the week by keep my daughter Embrie happy (who melts me and can steal my attention from just about anything). She knew I needed the time on Friday so she headed up to Grandma’s early Friday so I didn’t have any distractions. Without that help I never would have gotten it done. Thanks my love!

Friday at about 11pm I was running out of ideas for the presentation (“I gave all I can give!”) but I still needed to setup my PC for the presentation. Mac’s are HORRIBLE at being presenting machines (I need full screen chrome on projector and another window on the laptop and it just doesn’t work). And, additionally, my Macbook Air never works when I connect a dongle to a projector VGA, HDMI, DVI . . . all fail. I hadn’t used the PC laptop in a long time so I had to get Windows update going and needed to download all the tools I needed so I could connect Glass to show it on the projector. At midnight the machine crashed and I had to hard reset it. By 1am it still wasn’t ready but I figured I had all day the next day. At 2am I was still sleepless so I went back too it. By 3am I gave up and took a couple pink pills (Benadryl) to get to sleep.

Steve, a friend from Dessert Code Camp, was there early and he helped me get the screencasting working on my laptop. He’s a sysadmin, programmer, designer, woodworker and he even dances . . . all that and he can’t have a drink because he’s not old enough. Insane amount of talent. Thanks for the encouragement!

I was nervous all day Saturday. Everyone was reassuring and said I would do fine but I just couldn’t hear it. This was a BIG CROWD. Way bigger than the user groups I’ve spoken to before.

Memorable moments from the presentation:

======

I mentioned a guy there I KINDA know that works at Microsoft saying something like ” . . . and it’s all hosted on Azure . . . how do you like that Palermo?” And Palermo wasn’t in the crowd. Later on I got a text message (on Glass) from Jim saying “Palermo has arrived. No more Palermo jokes.” . . . so I put that on the presentation screen. And at the very end someone asked a question and I said “well, glass does mean that people start conversations with me and I know it doesn’t seem like it but I’m shy and just don’t know how to engage people . . . like, ‘hey man cool ‘I heart windows phone’ shirt'” which is the shirt that Palermo was wearing.

Showing off Frogger app and jumping around and jerking my head and a guy yells out “it is like the SNL sketch!”

Showing the Lander demo FOR THE FIRST TIME. It was great seeing it up on the big screen like that. And it was fun to explain to the audience that the lag wasn’t in the serial communication between Glass and my computer and that it looked the same in Glass as on the projector. And then Jim’s unbiased opinion that it was THE BEST LOOKING GAME.

At the end Palermo gave a tablet to the youngest developer in the room (which was wonderful . . . and I really need to learn more adjectives) and he said “I gotta take a picture of that” so while he was getting out his phone I walked up behind and took a picture with Glass and said “I got it.” Palermo: “Nice one!” . . . “or Nicely done”. I forget. Glad I’m getting this down now.

“The Mirror API is cool because you don’t need Java…I hate Java…unless you are a recruiter in which case I’m a Java expert!”

People mentioned me in a tweet I got notified on Glass and could show it to everyone else, live, during a talk. A few timely tweets and my funny reaction to them and the crowd loved it. I can say I was funny with confidence since at the after party a guy told me it was funny and I said “really?” and he said “Yes, when you say things and the whole crowd laughs that means you’re funny.” It was surreal how well those live demos worked out. Google would kill for it to go that well during a keynote.

I showed the video of Embrie walking. Just seeing it again made me a bit emotional.

Jim asked a question that basically asked me to predict the future . . . I went back a couple of slides and flashed the “NO IDEA” text about 20 times. Jim: “So what are you trying to say?”

Any other memorable moments? If you’ve read this far I know you must have one. @tooshel on twitter or email anytime and I’ll add it.

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I talked to Palermo after the presentation and he said he enjoyed it and was glad that I could be funny and honest. He’s a good natured guy and even though I don’t know him well I knew he would appreciate my sense of humor (and, though he wasn’t there when I said it I really did use and continue to use Azure!).

After the presentation several people said it was great. THANKS for that! I appreciate it. I worked really hard on the presentation but honestly, presenting on something that is mostly loved is so much easier than what many of the people there have to do. For example, Blackberry Q10 an Z10 look like wonderful products but it’s such a battle. Guys like Jarvis (he was the rep from Blackberry that did a WONDERFUL job talking about those phone) really have to work for it.

Sheldon

P.S. Here is my tweet stream from tonight . . . and one of my favorite tweets. Oh, and did I mention I won an iPad mini in a raffle? Insane day.

Twitter - phxmobifestival- Embrie first walk was captured cropped Twitter - Interactions phxmobi today