Monthly Archives: June 2014

Motion Sensor to Phone App – an IoT-kinda Project

My son Alex is autistic. That presents a lot of challenges for my wife and I and, of course, for him. He’s generally at peace, but suffers from a lot of anxiety in situations that are new and he really wants everything to work out OK. We also have a very nice backyard with a gazebo on the deck and days like today, my wife and I love to sit out there. But from there we can’t see if someone comes to the front door and we don’t want Alex to have to deal with solicitors or what have you giving him a situation he can’t handle.

So that was the germ of an idea, which of course for me, has grown to a pretty big hobby project (with work implications, of course). Searching for possible solutions, I ran into the Adafruit website which has some great tutorials on how to build gadgets for this very type of problem. They sell a motion sensor for $10 that I could place on the front porch somewhere to detect when someone came up (not everyone rings the door bell and the motion sensor is more interesting).

Now, I want the motion sensor to raise a notification on my phone when someone triggers it. Very cool problem for we¬†architects to have to solve. First do I go Arduino, Raspberry Pi, or BeableBone? Given the simplicity of the hardware, a single sensor, doing a board that has a GPU and HDMI out seems like ridiculous overkill. So I’ve gone Arduino and bought an Uno as well. I love the Arduino because it gets you into the core of the embedded world. There’s no OS, just bare metal and your code, and a few library functions to get you going. Everyone with a computer science degree should have had to do something with an Arduino. It’s the absolute core of what computers are.

Next up, I have this web site,, which I host on DigitalOcean. It has an nginx front end to WordPress for this exact purpose, to host web apps as well. So I want my phone to connect to it, and the motion sensor so I can find out when it gets triggered. Adafruit sells a wifi shield for $40 which is supposed to be good. But to start, I’ll just use the serial port on the Arduino to send messages on my laptop and have a node.js server that forwards it to the server.

On the server, I’m going to use vert.x. I notice a few Internet of Things type projects that are using it. The plan is to have a vert.x vertical to watch for REST calls coming from node.js and eventually from the Arduino itself with the wifi shield. Phone apps will connect to the server using websockets managed by another vertical so that when the sensor triggers, it can send in a REST call which gets forwarded over the vert.x event bus to the websocket server which can the forward it to the phones. It’s beautiful in it’s simplicity and in the minimal amount of code I need to write to actually get this to work.


So it’s projects like this that feed my passion for the Eclipse IDE. I want to be able to do all of this from a single workspace. CDT to do the Arduino code, Nodeclipse to do the node.js server, m2e and JDT to do the vert.x server, and ADT for the Android app and Thym for Cordova. If I’m missing pieces, I will build them and make them available. A proper Arduino CDT port is first on the list. I’m also curious how easy it is to do vert.x development in Eclipse. And everything needs a good debug solution from end to end (which may be a challenge on the Arduino since it doesn’t have an OS). This would be a great showcase for the Eclipse IDE and it’s place in the Internet of Things. I’m going to do my best to get this working. More in future posts.

P.S. I hesitated to call this an Internet of Things project. Designs like this have existed forever. They were just industrial automation systems with reporting to a central server. But if it gets me noticed, then while in Rome…

Who are you building this for? A UX Story.

We had a great day yesterday at the Eclipse Day Montreal. The program was a perfect reflection of the diversity of Eclipse. Everything from IDE to RCP to IoT and beyond.

David Cummings, my partner in crime here at QNX, and I gave a talk on our work improving the user experience of our Momentics IDE, a lot of which we are now working on contributing to Eclipse. At the end of it we had a great discussion with the audience about how we enact change and make the improvements we need.

During that discussion I had one of those moments I treasure, when the words that explain what I’m thinking finally come and it links everything together. The question arose about how you deal with conflicting requirements. When you have features that people are used to and that advanced users appreciate but are things that overwhelm beginner users and make for a bad experience for them. Who wins?

My thoughts go like this. When you piss off an advanced users, well, they’re pissed off. They make a lot of noise, raise bugs, etc. When a beginner user gets pissed off, he stops using your tool because the barrier to entry is too painful. I chose the beginner. If you can get a new user to see all the greatness that we’re bringing with Eclipse, they get interested in it. They learn how to make plug-ins, and they eventually contribute to fix the things that bug them. The become the next generation of Eclipse committer, and it’s that next generation we desperately need right now.

I’m not saying we do things to deliberately piss off advanced users. We learned that with our work on the Launch toolbar. We make it great for beginners but advanced users found it useless and turned it off. In the latest iteration, we’ve fixed that and made it easy for advanced users to get at the properties pages to make the tweaks they want. It’s a balance, but if you don’t make the best attempt at reaching that balance, it actually harms the community. I wish more community leaders would understand that.

Anyway, I have had a couple of experiences now that confirm this actually works. On the CDT today, we have a fantastic young committer who started using CDT in a previous job and loved it. He was so excited he spent his personal time learning about it and got deep into the code, something that is so awesome about open source. It’s all there. He eventually started contributing patches to the CDT to fix things that bugged him. He did so many that he eventually earned his commit rights and is one of our top committers at getting things done. He was so good, one of our other committers convinced him to go work with them and now he works for an Eclipse IDE group and contributes to Eclipse as his day job.

And he isn’t the first. A number of our committers past and present came that way. I love these people, because they did it because of their passion for making great tools, not because they’re employers told them to. And it’s more committers like that who will help us keep Eclipse alive and well and on top.

So when you’re looking at a user experience problem, think carefully about how you solve it and how you treat the people who raise it. Every one of those people are potential contributors. Make them happy.