The Strange World Of Open-Source Pancreas Hacking

This is a Closed Loop Artificial Pancreas System consisting of a compute module and a 900 MHz radio. While it may not be pretty, it is actually keeping someone alive.

Opinions and views expressed in this blog do not reflect those of my employer and are wholly my own.

I have been lucky and gotten to travel the world and meet many interesting people building many interesting hardware projects with compute modules. Some of the more interesting projects come from the the OpenAPS movement, who are using compute modules to help Type I Diabetes sufferers manage their condition. I wanted to write a blog about what is going on in the OpenAPS movement and share some of the interesting hardware projects being built by hackers to manage their conditions.

A compute module is a tiny, cheap computer you can stick into things to make them smart (and often add Linux / Windows IoT and wireless connectivity).

Open source hardware hacking of life-sustaining equipment is highly dangerous and legally vague, why would anyone take this risk? Because current government regulations have delayed the creation of convenient systems for Type I Diabetes management until several years from now. As a result, the OpenAPS “We Are Not Waiting” movement has been born.
[Read more…]

Saying Good-Bye To Pizza Evangelists


I have a term for technical evangelists who seem to get paid to fly around the country, stand around doing nothing at events (maybe talking for two minutes at the start over a couple slides), eat the food, man (or woman) a table, perhaps do some light networking and then depart to their next event: Pizza Evangelists. I call them this specifically because the only measurable outcome of having spent the money to send this person to an event is that there is less pizza at the event afterwards (and your company is out $5,000 dollars including sponsorship, flight, Uber and their hotel).

After supporting something like 50+ developer events over the last few years, it is my observation that Pizza Evangelism may not just be common but it may be the average form of technical evangelism being practiced in some parts of the industry. There are a number of reasons for this, not least of which is that many organizations have a poor concept of what technical evangelists are really even supposed to be doing at events (hint: driving adoption of your platform).

In the worst cases, this type of behavior is accepted due to no one really caring what goes on at the event in the first place or just wanting to maintain the appearance of “having covered” an event for political purposes. Really great technical evangelism is not about maintaining appearances, it is about helping developers succeed with measurable and documentable results.

If you view what technical evangelists seem to be doing from the perspective of a CEO (who think in terms of profits and losses), you are going to find a lot to hate. “Why would I pay this person to fly around the country, lavishly spending money on hotel rooms and sponsorships of hackathons and workshops if I am not seeing any ROI?  I can’t even see what they are doing at these events!” Not a good line of thinking to be running through your CEO’s mind when things take a financial downturn.

So what is the solution? Well…that part is more involved. I will say, there should be a significantly greater number of documented projects at hackathons and workshops where your evangelists are present (as well as social media activity) than the ones where they aren’t there. Hackathons and workshops are not happy hour, they are “help people build stuff” time. If your evangelist does not materially impact the number of people using (and successfully completing) projects with your technology at events they attend, you should “reconsider” that spend.

Great evangelism does not happen behind a table, it looks like this (with apologies to Steven Xing and Jeremy Foster):








The Hackathon Bubble


I was recently forwarded an event sponsorship for a collegiate hackathon in Europe which had a base price tag which exceeded $45,000 for what amounted to a logo placement and the honor of sending a few technical evangelists to set up a table. Lets just call this level of sponsorship ask what it is: Unrealistic and probably untenable.

Over the years, hands-on collegiate hackathon evangelism (which was once a scrappy, high-energy, efficient and affordable way to meet new developers and engage them in developer platforms) has turned into something more closely resembling open warfare of competing unicorn bubble-dollars.

As a result, we may be at the top (or even already past the top of) of a “hackathon sponsorship and developer evangelism bubble” which has been drastically inflated by these billions of excess funds which have been dumped into developer platform companies in the SF tech sector. The effects of this money has soaked through the industry on every level resulting in some very ill-defined developer marketing dollars being spent on some quite questionable things.

If you are a major company like Apple looking to hire exceptionally talented software engineers, spending $50K+ (or whatever) to sponsor a table at a collegiate hackathon to recruit engineers makes a lot of sense compared to the costs associated with hiring a single engineer in the valley…You really have to snatch that engineer away from your competition and that isn’t cheap. However, if it is your goal to drive developer engagement and platform adoption, that level of spend should look pretty dubious in value.

I remember being amazed at seeing a brand new collegiate event managing to attract more than 20 sponsors in their first attempt at finding backing. In terms a Wall Street financier might use: “The trade is crowded.” With so many platforms crowding events, it has become difficult to tell a unique story cleanly and effectively for a reasonable cost the way it used to. Judging by complaints being made by some student participants (“guys, just let us hack on projects without shoving marketing down our throats!”), the feeling may be mutual.

Over the next few years, I am expecting to see cut backs in what platform companies are able to afford (or deem reasonable) in terms of the deployment of their developer marketing dollars. Many of the techniques for turning hackathons into highly efficient marketing venues (pioneered by companies such as Twilio) were effective because they were new and affordable. It was possible to walk into a hackathon and be one of only two or three companies trying to evangelize products (and help people  learn) for under $2,500. Not so much anymore, not when everyone else in the industry has learned the same tricks and have access to piles of unicorn-cash.

Hackathons are extremely valuable as developer marketing and outreach tools, but at some point, the price really does matter. At their best, collegiate hackathons are a student-lead revolt against their institutions which allow students to learn about technology together, in a fun way. Evangelism at it’s best is an excuse to educate others about technology.  These positive aspect of collegiate hackathons will prove to be eternal, the budgets may be subject change due to market conditions though.

Disclaimer: I am fully at peace with the fact that I may be wrong on the internet.




Little Stories and Food


Little Stories are exceptionally important when attempting to teach people why what you do is unique and valuable.

I have been watching the Chef’s Table documentary series on Netflix which follows the careers of notable global chefs. Each episode goes into depth about why globally acclaimed, risk taking chefs  are so successful.

While each of the chefs is unique, the thing which unites the chefs is their ability to communicate little stories about why their food is so special. They are evangelists…for their approach to food.

One chef (Massimo Bottura) talks about visiting a museum with an art installation of pigeons in the rafters shitting downwards on the artwork of other artists as being his core inspiration. The idea that he is deliberately taking Italian cuisine and shitting all over it by taking risks and disrupting traditional concepts of what recipes should be is at the heart of his approach to cooking. That little story, which he relates to his customers, is the difference between success and failure. Without it, weird and experimental food seems…just…bad and uncalled for.

Take the example of a dropped lemon tart. During the preparation of a dessert, one of Massimo’s staff accidentally drops a lemon tart onto a plate. Instead of throwing the dessert away, Massimo takes the broken dessert and dressed is up as an “accident, on purpose.” With the addition of a little story, failure is made into success in the minds of restaurant critics.

By attaching this little story to the failed dessert, it’s inherent failure becomes it’s source of differentiation and success. Little stories have that power.


Little Stories

Fearless: Cheston Contaoi
Fearless: Cheston Contaoi

I had just accepted the job of technical evangelist at Intel Mashery. As a lifelong introvert, the idea of approaching MHacks, a developer event with 1,200 software developers, and pitching our network of 50 APIs on stage and (hopefully) convincing skeptical students to use these APIs in their projects was something directly out of a horror movie.

“What am I supposed to say when I get on stage?” I asked my event partner (and veteran API evangelist), Cheston Contaoi. “Come up with three little stories about what they can do with the APIs. “For example, you can use the Beats Music API to create a shared musical playlist to help match you with new friends who have a similar taste in music. Or maybe you can use the Weather Underground API to build a smart weather station to send a Twilio message to your phone to remind you to bring an umbrella. Tailor it for the audience based on the event.”

I took this technique to heart and soon found that having a list of potential use cases in my back pocket was pure gold. After some rehearsal, I could tell off half a dozen different ideas for projects upon meeting a team of students curious about the Mashery API network. It really worked.

I can’t understate the genius of this technique. If human beings are computers, stories are our programming language. By telling a little story about how your developer platform can be used, you fill the heads of your target audience with possibilities.

We spend so much time explaining the “What”  and “How” of our developer platforms, what really matters to developers (and drives action) is the “Why”

The Chaos and The Craftsmanship of Shenzhen – Intel IDF 16


A Pilgrimage To The Maker Mecca

When I arrived in Shenzhen this week to participate in Intel IDF 16, I hoped to learn more about the roaring technological innovation happening in this unique city. This is part III in my series documenting aspects of my brief trip to the city of makers this week. Read part II here and Part I here.

Developed By You

The ultimate purpose of my visiting Shenzhen, aside from meeting with a few interesting partners and customers, was to give two talks at Intel IDF 16 on topics relating to Intel’s Inventor Platforms and the results of research I have been doing with customers on their experience productizing on the Intel Edison compute module. Being new to Shenzhen, it was fascinating to see what the local “players” in the maker space where up to.


A few interesting items were announced at the keynote including a beta of the Intel Curie module software experience (variously described as a BSP or an ODK aka Open Developer Kit) and a new robotics kit based on Intel RealSense and the UP Board from AAEON. There were other announcements as well relating to Intel 3D XPoint Memory. [Read more…]

The Chaos and The Craftsmanship of Shenzhen – The SEG Electronics Market


A Pilgrimage To The Maker Mecca

When I arrived in Shenzhen this week to participate in Intel IDF 16, I hoped to learn more about the roaring technological innovation happening in this unique city. This is part II in my series documenting aspects of my brief trip to the city of makers this week. Read part I here and part III here.

The SEG Electronics Market – The Pulse Of The Maker Movement

I go to SEG once per quarter to look for trends. You can tell which way the market is going by seeing what new shops have opened, what new products are being sold. – A Shenzhen CEO

The exterior, relatively indescript entrance to the SEG market.

If Shenzhen is the Maker Mecca, the SEG Electronics Market may be the Kaaba, the center of the attraction, the entire point of going. There are ten thousand products, every maker device, every screw, every LED and every new trendy gadget piled into stacks and arranged into squares. Entering a side door in the building (which is labeled Huaqiangbei), a visitor is greeted by throngs of vendors selling the tiniest of components, cables, wires and more. [Read more…]

The Chaos and The Craftsmanship of Shenzhen – Dafen Oil Painting Village

An oil painter practicing his craft in Dafen Village.

A Pilgrimage To The Maker Mecca

When I arrived in Shenzhen this week to participate in Intel IDF 16, I hoped to learn more about the roaring technological innovation happening in this unique city. This is part I in my series documenting aspects of my brief trip to the city of makers this week. Read part II here and part III here.

The Dafen Oil Painting Village – A Metaphor For Shenzhen’s Tech Economy

The defining “Shenzhen” moment for me was not the crowds, the maker and electronics markets nor the sprawling industrial zones, factory tours, it was the Dafen Oil Painting village, where hundreds of skilled artisans convene daily to create realistic copies of  artwork for export. The prices? Affordable. [Read more…]

Build Your Own Hacklebox

IMG_0911In the last two years I supported something like 50-60 hackathons and developer workshops. Many of these were hardware focused.

It became abundantly clear that students can’t do much with just a device – they need soldering irons, pin wire, breadboards, tape, scissors and all manner of other supplies in order to actually build something. These items are not always present at many events.

Thus the idea of a rolling hacklebox was born.


We (Intel Mashery DEVO, at the time) gathered some feedback, observed the common types of projects that get built and distilled it into this Google spreadsheet. Feel free to use this to build your own rolling hackathon solution for hardware events.

I broke out all the costs, suggested counts of devices and embedded order links from Amazon to make it easy to stock up. The Keter Master Pro (pictured) happens to be quite nice as a rolling chest for these events. It doesn’t survive airplanes very well.

I tried to pick supplies that are on the cheap side.


Sensors and Sensor Kits

A good approach is to pick a sensor format such as Seeed Studio Grove (a simple format for pluggable sensors) and lend people Grove shields. You can then provide a wide library of sensors for checkout during the event if people want them. These sensors are generally too expensive to give away, so I suggest appointing a sensor librarian to track and recover everything.

Sensors tend to be useful between hackathons, other components like pin wire and LEDs are going to get chewed up and you aren’t going to want them back. Some venues will complain about smoke from soldering and not allow it.

Hardware Platforms

This is too broad a topic to cover in great detail, there are new boards coming out daily.

The Arduino 101 ($30) is pretty sweet, not just saying the because I work on it at Intel MIG. I like that it has BLE and Gyro / Accelerometer by default. This particular combination of basic functionality combined with Arduino Uno compatibility will be compelling for many students.

Anything that requires WiFi is going to have problems at most public events. There are often barriers to overcome (navigating HTML redirects, authentication, isolation mode etc).

Raspberry Pi and other HDMI-capable devices – People are going to want keyboards, mice, monitors – that is hard to support at an event with many people unless you just run in headless mode.

The LightBlue Bean+ is likely a great platform for hackathons and workshops. Most devices from should be pretty good. RedBearLab and mBientLab have devices which are promising as well.

The more common requests (with some examples) from students:

  • Flex sensors  (1) (2) -> Good for building glove projects, darn expensive to give to people
  • Light sensors  (1) (2) -> Can be used as a primitive motion sensor also
  • Proximity sensors (1) -> Detect presence of objects
  • PIR / Motion Sensors (1) -> Lots of requests for these to use in home security projects
  • Potentiometers (i.e. knobs) (1) -> General control of some analog actuator
  • Buttons  (1) (2) -> A must, lots and lots of uses
  • Lots of LEDs, multi-color as well as single color (1)
  • Battery power packs, LiPos, 9v batteries (or USB battery sticks) -> A must for wearables, USB battery sticks are wonderful for hackathons
  • 9v Barrel Jack Connectors for 9v batteries (1)
  • Alcohol sensors (1) -> College students go nuts with these things with projects
  • Accelerometer / gyros (1) -> Endless requests for these, very popular
  • Hall sensors (magnetic) (1) -> Detect a gate opening and closing, or maybe if a key or object is picked up
  • Crash Sensor (1) -> Car or skateboard, snowboard crashes, good for wearables
  • LED strips are very popular, especially the NeoPixel
  • There are other fun sensors out there such as UV,  moisture / humidity, flame, dust, gravity and gas
  • Servo motors (1) -> People build really simple things like a box that opens and closes to hide a key to prevent a drunk driver kind of thing
  • Brushless DC motors aka stepper motors (1) -> Robots, things which require stopping the motor at a specific angle
  • Motor driver shields (1) -> Rovers and other similar robots, need wheels though

Where to get kits

Here is the spreadsheet with all the buy links and costs: Check out the open source hacklebox manifest.

Thanks to Martin Kronberg, Steven Xing, Wai Lun Poon, Cheston Contaoi, Dan Holmlund, Monica Houston for providing feedback and suggestions to this list.

Enter the Thud Rumble

Somehow learning to code has lead to me hanging out with the world’s most talented DJ crew over at Thud Rumble. Had an amazing all day session with DJ Qbert, DJ Yogafrog and DJ Hardrich down in the bay area. These guys are seriously legit, amazing to hear about all of the new project and products they have underway. Really looking forward to working closely with these guys this year.