The web of stuff - Zack Voase

Tags: django, djangocon, python

A plane flew over (noisily) at the start of his presentation. He put our work in perspective by saying that that was a 80 ton plane and that we’re just building websites :-)


Computers used to take up whole rooms, now you have a smartphone. Big data is really big data now. Moore’s lawworks both ways, though, so you have really small computers now. An arduino for instance.

He often makes comparison to the human body. All over our body, sensors give off signals that go into the central nervous system. The brain processes it and gives signals back to muscles if necessary. Sensing, feedback, understanding, reaction.

Stuff can talk to the cloud. Like a sensor in your body talks to your mind, stuff can treat the cloud as a brain. The cloud is what allows small tools to be smart.

Stuff does often need a human to interact with it. Like a smartphone. There’s all sorts of people thinking about how to “liberate the computers from their human overlords”. Why cannot computers sense and act on their own account?

So how do you bridge the gap betwen sensing and acting of stuff? How do you use Django for it? There’s a lot available online about sensing and about acting, but not the communication in between.

The communication medium itself is a bit of a problem. You don’t want to have a telephone data contract for every single small piece of stuff. A physical connection isn’t always handy either.

His preferred communication medium is Twilio for sending SMSs. The stuff has low memory, so the message length limit is fine.

He showed a demo with a card reader that read his London transport card and sended an SMS to his Django site. The card reader was a combination between an arduino, a ‘shield’ sms sender and an RFID reader. The django app then submits it to foursquare. (The last part didn’t work, probably due to a local foursquare problem, but the django app did have all the data he send from his card reader). Nice.

SUCCESS: after the lightning talks he did it again and now it worked!

Personal development

He had never done any hardware work until four months ago. No compiling for arduino. It sounded a bit scary to him.

It is normal, if you start as a beginner, you’re slowly getting better if you keep at something. Then you automatically learn more and thus learn that there’s a lot you don’t know. That’s the dip in the middle. Those are the people we need to keep on board so that they push through to the expert stage.

When you’re in the middle, you know how bad you are (or how good you aren’t yet). That’s the risky phase were people quit.

Likewise documentation. Tutorials are useful for beginners. Reference material is useful for experts. There’s not a lot in the middle and you’re bound to be a bit frustrated in that stage.

So if you’re going to start experimenting with electronics, you’re bound to hit a wall, for instance when calculating complex electronic schemas. Push on anyway: the first time you make a phone call with your own device is totally worth it.

Two books he recommends to get you started:

  • Getting started with Arduino.
  • The art of electronics.
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About me

My name is Reinout van Rees and I work a lot with Python (programming language) and Django (website framework). I live in The Netherlands and I'm happily married to Annie van Rees-Kooiman.

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