Wii Controlled Robotic Arm

Last month, I bought a neat little robot called OWI-535 Edge Robotic Arm. I immediately fell in love!

Inevitably, though, I ended up jamming it open and hooked a micro controller into it. I used an Arduino Uno micro controller to program the arm to move in random directions. It was exciting to watch it move using its own logic!

Around the same time, I came across a cheap Wii Nunchuck on eBay. I decided to try and hack its internal gyro system to control the robotic arm. The final product was an Arduino based Wii Nunchuck controlled robotic arm. And here is the video:

If you are interested in building something like this, you are welcome to use the following resources. I am also open-sourcing the code for the tinkerer’s out there :)

Resources:

1. Use an Adafruit Motorshield to control multiple DC motors
2. Read data from Wii Nunchuck into the Arduino
3. Wiring schema for the Non-OEM Nunchucks casino

Social Media in a Nutshell

I was recently asked to deliver a workshop on Social Media at Telefilm Canada to an audience of Business Analysts. The presentation was designed to cater all aspects of social media technologies; such as, social networking, cloud computing, mobile devices, gaming consoles, marketing, etc. The workshop ran between 9 to 4 pm. The day would have seemed quite long had it not been for the support of Lorraine, from Humber College, and the amazing staff and audience at Telefilm Canada.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the presentation slideshow of the workshop. I borrowed the first few slides from my earlier presentation, “Web 3.0 – What you may not know about the new web”:

Where is your birthday in Pi?

many digits of pi
In the beginning, there was Pi. And from there the Universe evolved into an infinity of possibilities. Today is the annual Pi day, and it also happens to be Albert Einstein’s birthday. Suffice to say anyone born in the month of March should be proud :D

Anyway, this year I am celebrating Pi day with the launch of a fun little application that finds your birthday amongst the first 100, 000 digits of this infinitely irrational number.

For the math nerds; the probability of finding any number of length k in a dataset of size N, also known as the Poisson Approximation of Binomial Probabilities, is 1 – 1/e^[N/10^k] x 100%. Which in this case happens to be 63% for a date of birth of length 5 and dataset N of size 100, 000. So if you don’t find your birthday in Pi, it’s because my sample size is relatively small.

Have fun! :)

Introducing the Social Quran

A few weeks ago I watched “The Book of Eli“, and was inspired to do something about it. I considered learning braille, but then gave up 5 minutes later.

I decided, instead, to attempt at providing an interactive experience for those who enjoy reading books online. I felt that it would be especially neat if I could extend that experience to religious text books. So here is what I made,

The Social Quran

Essentially, readers are now able to easily share their favourite passages with others on the website, as well as with their friends on other social networks. Here are a few features:

1. Provide search option to lookup any passage in the entire book.
2. Users can log in via Facebook Connect and bookmark their favourite verses.
3. Readers can share the verses with other social media sites (i.e. Facebook, Twitter)
4. A recommendation system provides “recommended” content similar to how Amazon serves suggested books. The more people that use this site, the better it becomes at serving relevant passages.

Here’s a video walk through of the basic functionality,

I deliberately kept the overall design simple in order to minimize distractions. Please note that I cannot personally vouch for the English translation of the Quran. I did my best here, and I hope you find this website useful.

Web 3.0 – What you may not know about the new web

Last week, a good friend Rahul asked if I would be interested in speaking at the EpCon conference at Waterloo, Canada. So after an all-nighter I ended up producing the following presentation.

It is a presentation on the current trends and forthcoming technologies revolutionizing the web.

The presentation went really well. The room was packed. And the delegates were unusually smart :) Thank you EpCon!

The Entrepreneurial Myth

I finished reading the The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It, a book that emphasizes the need to build an organized business with a turn-key model at its core. Michael Gerber’s other books on the E-Myth convey the same message across: Great people have a vision of their lives that they practice emulating each and every day. I enjoyed reading the book so I am posting some edited notes from it, hope you enjoy:

The system is the solution – AT&T

A business that relies on discretion, “How do I motivate my people?” raises the constant question. “How do I keep them in the mood?” It is literally impossible to produce a consistent result in a business that depends on extraordinary people. No business can do it for long. And no extraordinary business tries to!

The question you need to keep asking yourself is: How can I give my customer the results he wants systematically rather than personally? Put another way: How can I create a business whose results are systems-dependent rather than people-dependent? A systems dependent rather than expert-dependent.

Every extraordinary business realizes that when you intentionally build your business around the skills of ordinary people, you will be forced to ask the difficult questions about how to produce a result without the extraordinary ones.

You will be forced to find a system that leverages your ordinary people to the point where they can produce extraordinary results over and over again.

If your business depends on you, you don’t own a business — you have a job. And it’s the worst job in the world because you’re working for a lunatic!

The Entrepreneurial Model looks at a business as if it were a product, sitting on a shelf and competing for the customer’s attention against a whole shelf of competing products (or businesses). Said another way, the Entrepreneurial Model has less to do with what’s done in a business and more to do with how it’s done. The commodity isn’t what’s important — the way it’s delivered is.

A business that looks orderly says to your customer that your people know what you’re doing. A business that looks orderly says to your customer that he can trust in the result delivered and assures your people that they can trust in their future with you.

Most companies organize around personalities rather than around functions. That is, around people rather than accountabilities or responsibilities.

Opt to build a systems-dependent business, not a people-dependent business.

Drive Strategy with Tactics Behind the Wheel

Here is a short summary of some notes I took while reading “Bottom up Marketing” by Al Ries and Jack Trout (authors of Positioning and Marketing Warfare). They discuss the need for driving strategic objectives based on the information collected and executed at a more tactical level.

“The best strategic plan is useless”, said Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, “if it cannot be executed tactically”.

In business you tend to see what you expect to see. Which is why top-down thinking is so dangerous? You tend to overlook any factors that aren’t related to the success of your strategy.

The VW Beetle was not the first small car on the market, of course. But it was the first car to occupy the “small” position in the mind. It made a virtue out of its size, while the others apologized for their small size by talking about “roominess”. The position VW took was tactically informed while others made decisions based on the market’s strategic landscape.

In business as in warfare, the safest strategy is rapid exploitation of the tactic. The trick is to move quickly if you’re going to move at all, and come down with a ton of bricks when you do.

The true nature of business today is outwitting, outflanking, and outfighting the competition. Marketing is war, where the enemy is your competitor and the ground to be won is the customer. The key point is that marketing battles are first won or lost at the tactical level, not at the strategic level.

How to Automatically Extract Key Terms from Articles

Yahoo Term Extraction API PHP Code

Yahoo! as a business isn’t doing so well. This, however, does not mean they are underperforming on all fronts. In fact, Yahoo! maintains an excellent support for developers. They have made powerful API’s available to the public. One such API is the Yahoo Term Extraction API. Developers, marketers and search engine optimizers can use this API to extract key terms from any web page or article. Yahoo Term Extraction algorithms will take care of all the intensive back-end calculations for you.

View my Demo Application.

I originally built this application using the file_get_contents function in PHP. But it is safer to use cURL in order to maintain the data integrity as well as bypass security constraints set up by hosting providers. I am making the code snippet available to everyone. Use the following PHP cURL code to extract keywords using the Yahoo Term Extraction Library:

View the Source Code

Make sure to grab your API key from the Yahoo Developer Network.

The Human Quest for Preeminence

darwin

I have been watching Heroes lately. I admire purpose driven people, and so find the show’s geneticist, Mohinder Suresh, quite intriguing. I have compiled a short essay elaborating his philosophy on the implications of Darwin’s natural selection on our everday life.

Watch the trailer.

Where does it come from, this quest? This need to solve life’s mysteries, when the simplest of questions can never be answered. Why are we here? What is the soul? Why do we dream? Perhaps we’d be better off not looking at all. Not doubting, not yearning. That’s not human nature. Not the human heart. That is not why we are here.

Evolution is an imperfect, and often violent process. Morality loses its meaning. The question of good and evil, reduced to one simple choice: Survive? Or perish?

When evolution selects its agents, it does so at a cost. It makes demands in exchange for singularity. And you may be asked to do something against your very nature. Suddenly, the change in your life that should have been wonderful, comes as a betrayal. It may seem cruel, but the goal is nothing short of self-preservation. Survival.

Some individuals, it is true, are more special. This is natural selection. It begins as a single individual born or hatched like every other member of their species. Anonymous. Seemingly ordinary. Except they’re not. They carry inside them the genetic code that will take their species to the next evolutionary rung. It’s destiny.

To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose. The Earth spins at a thousand miles an hour as we desperately try to keep from being thrown off. Like the first blush in winter that signals a great migration. Is there any warning of their arrival? A sign, a single event that set this chain into motion? Was it a whisper in God’s ear? Survive. Adapt. Escape. And if we could mark our single moment in time, that first hint of a prophecy of approaching danger… would we have done anything differently? Could it have been stopped? Or was the die long ago cast?

The earth is large, large enough so you think you can hide from anything. From Fate, From God. If only you found a place far enough away. So you run… To the edge of the Earth, where all is safe again. Quiet and Warm. The Solace of salt air. The peace of danger left behind. The luxury of grief. And maybe, for a moment, you believe you have escaped.

This quest. This need to solve life’s mysteries. In the end, what does it matter when the human heart can only find meaning in the smallest of moments? Those moments are here. Among us. In the shadows. In the light. Everywhere. Do we even know yet?