Easy visualizations for your Arduino data

Over the years I’ve had several different time & temperature weather stations which gave the current outdoor temperature and humidity but were a bit thin on capturing historic data. I’ve considered buying a fancier weather station which connects to a PC for logging… but those are pricy and require a PC be connected and on. An Arduino, on the other hand, is wicked cheap and tons of people use them as the brains behind their weather stations (IOW: lots of example code is out there to be had).

It’s fairly common to log data from an Arduino to an SD card, but that would require periodically pulling the card and downloading the data for review. I knew I didn’t want that level of effort so went looking for a way to push the data up to some place on the interwebs. I had all but given up on finding an easy solution when I came across COSM.

Graph of temperature data from xlively
Screenshot of graph from the dashboard

COSM is a nifty web service which allows developers to push data to the cloud and visualize the result. The service is free to use for basic logging and visualizations but their true raison d’être is a cloud service for the mythical coming of the IoT (internet of things). Hardware developers can use COSM to onboard and manage devices in their product line. I’m unlikely to ever need their cool pay services, but I do appreciate the ability to put meteorological data in the side bar of my website.

COSM has a chunk of sample code that makes it really easy to get started pushing data to them from an Arduino. Because you can push the data directly from your Arduino (provided you have a network interface of some sort) you don’t need to be running a power-hungry PC 24/7 to indulge your inner data nerd. Keeping an eye on your data is easy too with nice data presentation via their dashboard (picture above) or you can embed live, auto updating graphs using nifty image tags. Here are a couple of graphs, first for temperature and second for air pressure:


Now, if I can just figure out a way to use the anemometer from the cheap weather station I bought off Woot…

[Edit: as of May 14, 2013, COSM has changed its name to Xively]

Tech Web

Happy 10th Birthday A Little Blog!

Back on November 4th, 2002 I made my first blog post. Ten years later, it’s still going strong.

image image

Yes, my posting rhythm could, at best, be described as indiscriminate… but it is true that A Little Blog has been providing the net with mediocre content for a full decade. Given my unshakable dedication to drivel of questionable value published at random intervals, I know you’re as shocked as I am that the lame stream media isn’t joining with me to herald this momentous occasion.

Have no fear! While the press has decided to ignore this event, the Internet is not. Accolades have been pouring in from all corners of the ‘net, from readers just like you!

Well, perhaps not just like you. Probably not even remotely like you, unless you happen to be a spammer with only the most tenuous grasp of the English language.

“Beats” writes:

I am gonna watch out for brussels. I’ll appreciate in case you continue this in future.

Praise from "white office desks hutch"

Nice blog right here! Also your web site a lot up very fast!

A nice thank you from "Dubai Escorts":

Thank you for making the sincere attempt to speak about this on . I feel very strong about it and would like to read more. If it’s OK, as you achieve extra extensive wisdom, may you mind including extra articles similar to this one with additional info? It will be extraordinarily useful and helpful for me and my friends.

"Unfongorn" has been won over by my logic:

Undeniably believe that which you stated.

Existential light bulb humor is always welcome too, this one comes from "cheap customizable basketball jerseys"

How many doctors should it choose to use twist inside a bulb? That relies in whether or not it features medical health insurance.

"Stephanie Almasi" knows indistinct pseudo praise is the way to my heart:

It’s nearly impossible to find well-informed people about this subject, but you sound like you know what you’re talking about! Thanks

It’s not all comments from left field, some of the commenters are just regular people too, just ask them. For those who want to know what normal visitors think, check out this rave from "Jodee Halman":

Good write-up. I’m a normal visitor of your website and appreciate you taking the time to maintain the nice site. I will be a regular visitor for a long time.

I have no idea, however, what "Prace licencjackie" is trying to tell me:

Thanks for enabling me to get in mint condition belief about laptop systems. I as well possess the belief that one of the best ways to swear your laptop in perfect condition is by via a remorselessly synthetic defense, or else maybe case, that will tally greater than the highest of one’s computer.

So, here’s to another decade of intermittent posts of questionable quality. For you spammers out there, please, keep commenting. I found about 1% of your comments 100% hilarious (but the spam filter lets 0% through to the normal regular readers, so you can count on privacy for your thoughts).


Web devs: create a shortcut palate for browser testing

A robust web design means trying your code with several browsers. Here’s how to make your testing on Windows a bit easier by having small links to every browser in your taskbar.


Preachers need not apply

Part of building a quality web site is testing your page on multiple browsers. Sure, you could just put a banner on your site that says “this site optimized for [insert browser-du-jour here]”… but keep in mind that only visitors who are already running your browser of choice will get a warm fuzzy feeling from that message. Everyone else will just think you’re condescending or lazy (or both).

The browser manufactures have received the message loud and clear: standards are good. The good news is it’s getting easier to make a browser-agnostic web site, but because software development is an imperfect science, web developers still need to check their work.

Step 1: install a bunch of web browsers (natch)

Perhaps this step is a no-brainer, but you can’t accuse me of not being thorough. Well, perhaps you can… but, you can’t accuse me of not including an obvious step 1.

My testing browsers of choice (using alphabetical bias, as a change up from my usual mindless MSFT minion bias):

When you install the browsers, accept the option to create a desktop shortcut, it will save you a step later.

Note: You could save yourself testing time by checking just the big three: Cr, IE & FF. Hit up Wikipedia for a quick summary of browser market share to decide on how you want to invest your testing time.

Step 2: create a folder of browser shortcuts

Now that you’ve installed your tools, gather shortcuts into a single folder (I created a folder in my documents called "Browsers"). If you have shortcuts for each browser on your desktop, drag them into your folder.


If you don’t already have a handy shortcut for the browser to use, you can navigate to program files and use right-click to drag the .exe file to your folder to create a shortcut.

Step 3: create a toolbar

To create your browser testing toolbar, right click on the Windows taskbar and click New toolbar in the toolbars sub menu.


When prompted to select a folder, navigate to the folder of browser shortcuts you created. This will create a little pop-up menu of browsers… but that’s not handy enough for my tastes, I want one-click convenience.

Right-click your taskbar and unlock it.


Right click your browsers toolbar and uncheck Show Text and Show title.


Finally, grab the little textured drag handle to open up the toolbar and show all your shiny, new icons. Re-lock your taskbar and you’re done.


Now you have all the browsers you need, just one click away.


Launch your web browser as another user

In SharePoint 2013 there is no longer a quickie menu choice to allow you to indulge your alter ego. I’ll let others go into depth on why it went a way, but I wanted to share a quick tip for how to be another user when you need to test your SharePoint install: create a desktop shortcut to launch your browser with the runas CL argument.


New identity, no waiting

When you created your new SharePoint installation you probably gave yourself Epic Guru level access (it may be called Farm Admin in your version). This is good, it allows you to get tons done. It doesn’t, however, allow you to verify you’ve adequately secured the CEO’s Beanie Baby picture collection, or pretend to be an adoring fan posting to your My Site news feed. To do that, you need to be someone else.

For my example I’m going to use Internet Explorer, because I’m an unapologetic company man. You should feel free to swap in your browser of choice… like Netscape or Lynx.

  1. Create a shortcut to your favorite browser. In Windows I did this by navigating to C:\Program Files (x86)\Internet Explorer and dragging iexplore.exe to the desktop (by default this creates a shortcut).
  2. Right click your new shortcut and select “Properties”
  3. Modify the shortcut target by adding runas and the desired user account to the beginning of the path. Change the target to (replace user@domain with your test acct):
          %systemroot%\System32\runas.exe /user:user@domain "%ProgramFiles(x86)%\Internet Explorer\iexplore.exe"
  4. Click OK to save changes.


(Note: if you’re not running 64bit windows, the target should be: %systemroot%\System32\runas.exe /user:user@domain "%ProgramFiles%\Internet Explorer\iexplore.exe")

Double-click your new shortcut and you’ll get a prompt to enter a password. You won’t see anything on the screen as you type, so just go on faith. Type your pw and hit enter.

A little extra for style points

Because I can never leave well enough alone, I had the need to soup up my shortcut (I’m way to old to say “pimp my shortcut”… but you know I was thinking it). The icon of the runas.exe shortcut is boring. I need an icon that screams “I’m a browser shortcut!”

Once again, right-click the shortcut and select properties. Click the change icon button. I went for the globe with a mouse on top.

image Just because I want to customize it, don’t assume I have any imagination.

Finally, give yourself a reminder that you’re someone else. Double-click your shortcut to launch the browser. When your browser comes up, enable the favorites bar (in IE, right-click the title bar and choose favorites bar). Bookmark a site (any site will do) and add it to the favorites bar. Right click your new favorite and rename it to the user name of the special account.

image  Must remember to put on the glasses…

Instant split-personality. Let me know how it works out for you!


Thanks a lot AT&T

It seems that whenever cell phone provider customer satisfaction reports comes out, AT&T rates at or near the bottom of the heap. The thing is, I’ve actually had very few complaints about AT&T. I rarely have dropped calls, call quality is just fine and I can always get a friendly support person on the line if I have a question about my service.

This, however, irks me: they keep sending me "helpful" e-mails suggesting I could save money by signing up for a $30/month text messaging plan.

Sure, it seems logical that a plan would save me money. I have no text messaging plan so I pay the premium, per-text message fee for SMS messages of 20 cents per text sent or received. For a SMS addict that could quickly rack up a bunch of charges and bloat your bill.

Thing is, we’re not heavy SMS users. Last month Paula and I spent a whopping $4.40 on text messages (and that was a busy month).

Hey AT&T, there is two possible outcomes to send a message like this to your customers:

  1. They’ll just trust that you’re correct and honest and fork over an extra $30 a month and might not figure out that they’re getting screwed.
  2. They’ll do the math (either ahead of time like I did, or after the fact) and realize that you’re trying to screw them, at which point they’ll instantly become less satisfied with AT&T.


I used to be someone who thought AT&T was a decent cell provider. This type of dick move has turned me into a customer who simply tolerates AT&T and will probably jump ship as soon as my contract runs out.


Internets is kerbusted

Well, not just the wonderful system of pipes… no TV or phone either. Since we get all our digital from Comcast, in addition to no you tube, there’s no boob tube.

And then there was that thing with mirror earlier tonight. You know what that means… seven more years of low bandwidth on a small cell screen.

Broken mirror


Showing more detail in SharePoint Calendar


The SharePoint calendar is an ideal place to give people a quick overview of team events, but the overview can be a bit thin on detail for some people’s tastes. The calendar structure is pretty rigid, so we can’t just add columns to the view like we do in other SharePoint lists. We can, however, pick which column to display in the calendar view. Using calculated fields we will build a new event title to have our calendar events communicate extra information at a glance.

Here’s what we want: when looking at the calendar we’d like our site members to see the title of the calendar event AND the location of the event in parenthesis. The pictures below show what SharePoint gives us out of the box compared to what we’d like for our site members:

SharePoint gives us: image We Want: image

Here’s what we’ll do in brief:

  1. Create two calculated fields, one to be the month view title and one to be the sub heading for day and week views.
  2. Modify the view to show our new columns instead of the default columns.

Create new calculated field columns

imageIn our SharePoint calendar we’ll navigate over to the Calendar tab and click the "Create Column" ribbon button. We’ll call this column "Month View Title" and set the type to "Calculated". Now, let’s build up the formula. Remember, we want the end result to look like this:

Event Title (Location)

To create that string, our formula will look like this:

[Title] & " (" & [Location] & ")"

SharePoint’s calculated field will (among other things) combine, or "concatenate", strings. To concatenate strings we use the "&" (ampersand) symbol much the same way we use the "+" (plus) symbol for adding numbers. Building a string is as easy as double-click a column, type an ampersand, type some text in double quotes ("). We use the double quotes to make sure SharePoint knows we’re concatenating a string and not just another field.

For consistency with the month view, we also would like the location wrapped in parentheses for the day and week views. Let’s create another calculated column for this. Repeat the steps to create a column and call it “Day Week View Sub Heading”. The formula will look like this:

"(" & [Location] & ")"

Modify the calendar view

Now that we have the strings we want, we can change the calendar view to show our new calculated columns instead of the default, "out of the box" (OOB) event title.

imageIn your calendar, head back over to the Calendar tab again and this time click the "Modify View" button. In the Edit Calendar View settings we’ll change the "Calendar Columns" to show our new calculated fields. The title fields we’ll change are the "Month View Title", the "Week View Sub Heading" and the "Day View Sub Heading". Since we’re extra clever, we gave our calculated columns names which match up very nicely with these field titles. Click the OK button to save changes and we’re done.

Go crazy

The SharePoint calculated column feature gives a lot of flexibility and can be used without having to open SharePoint Designer or learn to write custom SharePoint solutions. Check out this article on MSDN to get your creative juices flowing.

Update: We’ve cross-posted this on the SharePoint for End Users blog.


InfoWorld likes SharePoint 2010


On January 12th InfoWorld released their Technology Of The Year Awards list for 2011.

Best collaboration platform? SharePoint 2010.

"it’s clear that SharePoint 2010 is setting a new bar for what employees and users — and their IT organizations — will expect from a collaboration platform"

Makes me proud.


Migrated from dasBlog to WordPress

After many good years of publishing via dasBlog I made the decision to jump ship and start using WordPress. dasBlog has been speedy, stable and very easy to style. It’s a great power user tool but I’m now at the point where I want the simplicity of a more mainstream product.

Following the lead of Shan and Mike I opted for WordPress and set about installing it this weekend. A quick web search turned up more than a few helpful pages on migrating content (Kavinda’s post is a good one stop shop). The key components to my migration from dasBlog v1.9 to WordPress v2.9.2 were:

  1. Getting the content out of DasBlog – DasBlog to BlogML exporter
  2. Getting the content into WordPress – BlogML import plug-in (Kavinda Munasinghe’s Version)
  3. Providing a permanent redirect from old links to new – Redirection Plug-in

I would not call the migration painless, but after a bit of tech-turbulence it all came together. I’m now up and running on WordPress and everything is running smoothly.

To share the love I’ve created a page with my tips for migrating from dasBlog to WordPress.


Do I really need to be notified now?

Oh dear, oh dear! My battery no longer can hold as much of a charge as when it was new!


I’m thinking that 1% is a little too low of a threshold for this notification.