Using Beaglebone Black with Mavericks

Grrr. I have spent so much time knocking my head against a wall, when the whole time it was just a simple fix.  I even got so frustrated switched over briefly to using my android tablet with a USB OTG, but that was a time-sink because it takes my a long time to program on a tiny keyboard. Anyway, here's the story.

I started using the Beaglebone Black about two months ago. Everything worked perfectly, and I was impressed with its out of the box functionality. I flashed the latest Debian image, SSH'd into the Beaglebone, installed Python, etc. The world was beautiful.

Then,  a couple days later, I tried to SSH into my Beaglebone, and I couldn't. Just to check, I went through the getting started steps on the Beaglebone page again. None of them worked! The steps didn't even turn green. I wondered if the drivers might be the problem, so I tried reinstalling them.

I tried the steps here. They were a little outdated, but I thought they might work. When I went through the beaglebone getting started steps, the first two turned green, but I still couldn't start the web server. I was about to reset the Pram and SMC, when I saw the fine print on the Beaglebone site:

"Older software images require you to EJECT the BEAGLE_BONE drive to start the network. With the latest software image, that step is no longer required."

I ejected the beaglebone. I started the network. It worked.

Micro Controller Library

Oh man, I’m getting excited just writing about this. So, last week I got a grant from the Awesome Foundation to make a Micro Controller Library and it’s finally coming together. What the hell is a Micro Controller Library? It’s basically a giant package of awesome that turns ordinary people into gods of technology.

Library might be a misleading term, since there aren’t any books involved (although I’m currently trying to figure out licensing so that I can make some ebooks about physical computing available to you on your computer or kindle). What makes it a library is that it’s free (except for a $5 startup fee when we process you into the member database) and you can check electronics out and bring them home for up to two weeks. It’s based on the West Seattle Tool Library’s make-your-own tool library kit. Local Tools even got me set up with an inventory site so I can track tools and members and you can see what’s available for checkout and reserve items. The library will have a home in the Maker Space Jigsaw Renaissance located at 821 Seattle Boulevard South.

So far I’ve ordered eight Arduino Unos, a pair of Arduino Megas, and a Raspberry Pi. I’ve also ordered 6 different starter kits, which come with a ton of different sensors, power sources, breadboards, jumper cables, and various shields to connect different components to.

Have you ever wanted to build an autonomous wheeled robot? I ordered a chassis and sensors so you can build one using a micro controller. And if you want your autonomous wheeled robot to take photos and upload them to you Facebook, I’ve also ordered a couple of Wi-Fi shields. Do you want to prototype a self-watering plant? There’s a soil moisture sensor that plugs directly into an Arduino.

You can even make your own interactive, digital games using buttons, LED screens and joysticks that plug into a breadboard.

So how do you become a library member? You don’t have to wait until the library is set up. Stop by Jigsaw Renaissance or the Seattle Arduino Meetup at The Easy next week. Bring an ID and $5 (or $10 if you want to help sponsor membership for a low income geek. Technology access for everyone!) Be prepared to spend about 20 minutes since you’ll have to read a short article about safety and not blowing things up and whatnot. Then I add your name to the database and you’re a member!

If you have any electronics sitting around that might make a good addition to the library, please let me know! Also, donations of money and time are more than welcome. As the packages start coming in I’m going to need people to help with sorting, labeling and inventorying parts. Plus, you’ll get to be first to play with all the new electronics!

Beginning CSS (for free!)

Hopefully you've finished a couple of HTML tutorials on Codeacademy by now and you're on your way to becoming an HTML expert. Maybe you've already built a social media profile (HTML Basics II) or a clickable photo page (HTML Basics III). Now it's time to get into CSS. What is CSS? CSS stands for "Cascading Style Sheets," although knowing that probably won't help you much. The best way to understand CSS is to head over to CSS Zen Garden. As you can see, there are thousands of different themes for this website. Try clicking on a few. The only things that change are the layout, color, and style. All of the text and the basic format stay the same because the HTML hasn't changed. CSS is what determines most of how the page looks. If HTML is the skeleton, CSS is the skin.

CSS Zen Garden has a link to a great collection of CSS resources right here:

Although they only accept the best designs, getting your theme accepted to Zen Garden is something to work towards. First off though, we want to style our own website.

There are already several CSS courses on Codacademy. It's probably a good idea to start off with the three CSS courses in the Web Fundamentals Section.

After that, you can move on to this course:!/exercises/0

Wow, that was easy! You can already build a nice looking web page!

Build a Website in One Week with Codacademy

My mom asked me a very good question - "How long will it take to learn to code in Codeacademy?" Codeacademy started fall of 2011 with just a handful of lessons, and new lessons are being added weekly. Coding, like sailing, seems to be one of those things that you could spend your entire life learning. In fact, January of last year, codeacademy started a plan called "Code Year" where you could reasonably get through every single lesson in a year by making weekly progress (and still keep your friends and your full-time job). Fingers crossed that they'll do it again this January!

But how long will it take before you can build your first website using what you learn on Codeacademy? Even if you have zero experience you can build a site within one week.

By doing just 5 exercises a day you can get through "HTML Fundamentals" and "Build your First Web Page" in six days. In order to make the most out of Codeacademy, I recommend that you have a goal. For instance, wanting to build your own portfolio site could be a goal. Having a concrete goal will make Codeacademy more than a game - it will help you to connect what you're learning to the actual practice of building websites in the real world.

Draw a layout of the website that you want to build on paper or mock it up in Photoshop or Gimp if you want to be fancy. For the first version, just focus on creating the text that you want to display when you open the page with a browser (we'll get into "hosting" sites in a later lesson.) For instance, your first website's code could look something like this:


<h1> Monica Houston's Portfolio </h1>

<h2>Everything is better on a boat</h2>

<p>Hi, I'm Monica Houston and I live on a boat...yada yada yada</p>

<h3> follow or friend me here</h3>









Write your code into a text editing program like text-edit or notepad and save it as something like "index.html." Right click and open it with your browser. BAM! You've made your first real web page!

So how do you make it pretty? Codeacademy has an entire series of courses on CSS - the language that is used to style HTML. I'll go over resources for learning CSS in my next post, but for now I'll leave you with this useful video:

Learn HTML in 30 Minute

The Future is Here: DIY 3D Printing

I watched as a coil of white plastic was pulled off of a spool into the plywood frame, forced into a metal head, and squeezed out, partially melted, onto a the smooth metal surface that moved in precise circles. Layer after layer of thin melted plastic slowly gave shape to a round object.  When it was finished, the Makerbot Vulcan pushed the round object out onto the table, where it landed with a soft bounce. I picked it up and slid it on. It stretched over my hand and slipped on like a bracelet, my first piece of 3D printed jewelry. I was at the 3D printer Survey hosted by StudentRND. I’d sent a link to my coworker Scott the week before about how 3D printing is changing our economy. Scott, who hadn’t realized how far 3D technology has progressed in the past year, immediately caught the bug. We started talking about chipping in to buy a 3D printer together. The 3D Printer Survey looked like the perfect chance to experience consumer level 3D printers and possibly make a decision on which 3D printer we wanted to buy.

At the survey, Craig Zupke presented a useful prezi titled ‘Your Path To a 3D printer.’ He talked about the inverse relationship of price to maintenance. Basically, you can get a 3D printer for $500 if you’re willing to build it from scratch and maintain it yourself. Otherwise, plan on shelling out $12-$15K. One of the things that makes these printers more affordable is that they are self-replicating. Once you have one, you can print out up to 80% of the parts for another one. is the main site for self-replicating 3D printers. The first self-replicating 3D printer came out in 2008, and since then growth has been exponential, as makers modify and improve on the open-source designs.

Currently, there are only a handful of 3D printers available at consumer price-points. The Makerbot printer is probably the most famous. Emmett, creator of the famous ‘gear-heart’ design, showed us his two printers, the Vulcan and the Venus. The Vulcan was one of the very first 3D printers, and it prints its own upgrades. The automated build platform was one of the upgrades, and it makes it easy to mass-print 3D parts. Emmett was mass-printing bracelets as we watched.

The Venus is a newer printer, and Emmett showed us how it could print 2 different colors of plastic at once, making multicolored objects. The precision and level of detail was impressive.

Another person had brought his Makerbot replicator. It’s similar to the Venus, and he praised the easy setup and ease of calibration. He also gave us a pro-tip: don’t use ALS plastic, use PLA. The plastic used in DIY 3D printers comes in a spool of thin tubing. ALS is the smelly, non-natural plastic that is used frequently in toy-making. PLA is a biodegradable, odorless plastic that needs less heat and does less wear and tear on the 3D printer.

Craig’s printer was a MendelMax and Craig had built it himself. He showed us some cool 3D models that he had created by scanning himself and his daughter using a sensor bar hooked up to his Nintendo (I think? I know you can also do this by using a Wiimote with Autodesk.)

Another woman showed off her Ultimaker printer. The objects that she showed us had an incredible level of detail, much finer than any of the other objects we’d seen printed on the other printers. Unfortunately, she told us, she couldn’t recommend Ultimaker as a company. Some of her parts didn’t work when the printer was first shipped, and they hadn’t given her a free replacement. Also, they are based in the Netherlands and are slightly pricier than most US based DIY printers.

Finally, Johann showed off his Rostock Printer. It literally is DIY – Johann designed and built it himself. He offers the plans for free at or

He explained to us that the Rostock is named after the town he grew up in in Northern Germany. Johann was printing out parts for the second generation Rostock printer as we talked to him. He held up what he had built so far on the second version, a light-weight frame made of openbeam and printed plastic parts.

The first-generation Rostock was fast and worked beautifully. It can print objects as large as 12x14 inches and is incredibly sturdy and accurate. Unlike most of the other 3D printers that we’d seen, the engines, wiring, and arduino that power the whole thing are aesthetically tucked out of sight below the printer. All the parts, Johann told us, could be bought for $500. Scott and I were both impressed. We’re not buying a 3D printer yet, but I know that I’ll definitely be attending the next 3D printer Survey.


The Hippie Hacker

Chris McClimans is tall but soft-spoken and his hair cascades over his shoulder in a tangle of thick, dirty-blond dreadlocks. He wears sandals he made himself from a piece of rubber and twine, and he carries a bulging backpack at all times. It’s not hard to believe that this man once lived in a green Volkswagon van in Austin and Boulder, or that he spent the past several years travelling around New Zealand with his now wife. It wouldn’t be hard to believe, either, that he is couchsurfing around Seattle at the moment, living out of said backpack as he looks for work.

What’s remarkable is what he has in his backpack. I had the odd coincidence of running into him three days in a row at three separate technology events. Monday I ran into him at Ruby on Rails Meetup at the Racer Café. Tuesday he was at the monthly Hacker News Meetup, where I convinced him to come to my arduino meetup the following night. That’s when I finally got to see what exactly he carried with him in his bag.

After the meetup we gathered round as Chris pulled several pieces of magic out of the mysterious black backpack. Item number one was an ergonomic keyboard that he typed on in Dvorak. He is clearly a man who uses his keyboard a lot and loves comfort and efficiency.

Items two, three and four were laptops, each one covered in some of the coolest coder stickers I’ve ever seen.  You can’t always judge a man by the stickers on his laptop (for example, my laptop proudly wears a GitHub sticker while my GitHub account remains sadly barren) but I think it’s safe to believe that every sticker on Chris’s machines represented a part of his deep knowledge of computers.

Item number five was a small USB stick.

This stick of memory was the magic wand from which Chris could deploy his own creation, Instant Infrastructure (:ii), to the whole world. He demonstrated for us on his laptop. After plugging in his USB stick he ‘factory reset’ the operating system from the stick itself. The purple background blossomed on his computer, followed by the familiar Ubuntu icons.

Now, he explained to us, he could use Ubuntu ‘out of box experience’ (OOBE) to image his computer with the selection of open source software that he needed. For instance, if he were a doctor he could simply select the ‘doctor’ software package and it would automatically image his computer with all the tools he needed. Or if he were a teacher he could similarly image his computer with tools for teaching. Of course, the stick depends on the availability of free software that can be deployed on the computer. Chris has already demonstrated his idea to people at Dell who are coming up with a tool to share software via a Git Repositor (if you don’t know what that is, it’s basically ‘the cloud’) called 'Sputnik.' More than anything, Chris said, he needed developers willing to volunteer their time to create free software.

I invited Chris to couchsurf on my boat that weekend. Although I was in and out, dancing all night Friday at a Kaskade concert and then dancing in the viral video We’re Nasa and We Know It on Sunday, Chris and I got a brief chance to talk Saturday morning. We were munching on blueberries he brought home from the farmer’s market and sunning ourselves on the deck of my boat. I asked him how he’d come up with the idea for Instant Infrastructure and he told me about Cambodia. He spends about 60% of his time volunteering for charity and 40% working to make money.

He spent 6 months in Battambang, Cambodia, where he taught local youth about computers. He realized that the kids there wanted to be like him. They wanted to have his fancy macbook pro and use the expensive software packages that he did. He also realized that they would probably never be able to afford to do this. Determined to bridge the technology gap, he developed Instant Infrastructure to be deployed on the cheap Windows machines in the local internet cafes. Using Ubuntu , the kids were able to master computer skills, and have even developed a site in their own language, Kmer, titled ‘Humanity to Everyone.’

Chris’s passion and his giving spirit were evident as he talked about the kids he’d taught.  I feel honored to have had a chance to host the ‘Hippie Hacker’ in his travels in the Northwest.

Seattle Startup Weekend - Women's Edition

I had the privilege of attending Seattle Startup Weekend’s first woman focused event this past weekend. I say priviledge because there was a waitlist of over 100 women who weren’t able to come, in addition to the ~70 who did. I like to think that I helped to contribute to this wait list, since I did my best to promote the event to any design, technical, or business minded women whom I know. Unfortunately, I don’t know many. Actually that should be in past tense, because now I can say that I know quite a few. I expected the weekend to have a different feel to it from the mostly male startup weekend that I attended in April. Startup Weekend Women’s Edition had a ratio of men to women that was roughly the inverse of an average Startup Weekend. So how different was it to attend a startup even that was 75% women? Honestly, there was no difference. There was still that tangible energy. The sense of complete and utter focus and the do or die mentality was electric. It was fun!

And why would it be different? It’s not like we spent the weekend talking about our uteri. We spent it pumping out code, crafting business models, and doing market research. My team and I stayed up until 4am Saturday night working on our project. The only differences I noticed were that there were more macbooks, the food served was veggies and wine (as opposed to beer and pizza) and the t-shirts actually fit.

While I had a blast at the mostly male startup weekend in May and made some great connections, I think that women’s edition of startup weekend had greater benefits for me. In any realm, from sports to business to technology, men are too quick to offer help and often end up overshadowing the women who meekly accept their help. Oftentimes it seems like men, especially older men, assume that they know more just because they’re men. And I think that many women have been conditioned to assume that they know less or aren’t as skillful, which makes them vulnerable to accepting a guy’s help. It was good to be an environment of mostly women, where no guy was going to pop over and suggest that I follow his lead or ask me to give him my code for him to "fix" it. I'll probably delve more into this topic in a later blog post.

I look forward to staying connected with all of the incredible women I met this weekend. Also, if you were a woman who attended Seattle Startup Weekend and we didn’t get a chance to connect, or if you’re a woman who would be interested in attending a startup weekend and wants to know more, feel free to comment or reach out. I’d love to get to know more startup women!

Seattle Startup Weekend - Friday Night

Friday night. Or is it Saturday morning ? I’m headed home on the bus now since they closed up 92 Lenora Street to keep people from sleeping over. Upon arriving at the venue, a derelict building that had been repainted and is still being refinished in an open, loft style, I was greeted by the event coordinators and handed a name tag on a red lanyard. I soon realized that red lanyards were for designers, blue lanyards for developers, yellow lanyards for business people, and green lanyards for event coordinators. White lanyards were for mentors and speakers.

One of our speakers was tetris grand master Kevin Z Birrell (@kevinddr). He spoke on the power of determination and how it had helped him to improve to the level of TGM, or tetris grand master. I'm pretty sure that that's the level of tetris where the pieces are invisible and you have to guess where they're going to land. Afterwards we did an icebreaker where we had to pitch a company based on two key words that were given to us. Our team's were pitchfork and dental floss, so we came up with "Tridental, the world's first social flossing." A flosser attaches to your iphone and tracks each time you floss your teeth and sends a message to your friends, your mom, and your dentist to let them know that you've flossed. Someone please invent this in real life!

After the ice breaker I wandered around the floor, awkwardly extending my hand to anyone I made eye contact with and introducing myself. « Hi, I’m Monica, » I would say to anyone who would listen. I had thought up a brief pitch – an idea that I had been thinking of for a while and had revisited while on the bus on the way there.  People seemed to like my idea, so when it was time I went ahead and pitched it. At least thirty people were pitching – probably a quarter of the crowd. Everyone was given 60 seconds to tell the crowd their vision. Someone pushed me in the right direction and I found myself on the podium holding a microphone in my hand. I started into my pitch, introducing myself to the crowd and giving an off-the-cuff intro. Suddenly, I ran out of words. I stared around awkwardly, opening and closing my mouth like a fish as my mind churned. The more I thought about what I was supposed to say, the less I knew what I was going to say, until I realized that I didn’t even know what I was doing anymore. My mind was blank. Suddenly I remembered « So we really need app developers ! » I managed to shout before the timer buzzed. I handed the microphone back to the coordinator and he smiled at me. I jumped off the stage and slunk to the back. Someone came up to me and congratulated me on my "good pitch." I realized that what had seemed like several minutes of awkwardness had only lasted a couple of seconds in reality.

I watched the rest of the pitches. Some of them were brilliant. A team of therapists was pitching kinect games for autistic children. « SeaBNB » aimed to use the berths on board empty boats as hotel rooms.

After the pitches were over, the name of each pitch was written on a sheet of paper and taped to the wall. We each had been given three sticky notes, and these counted as our three votes. Whichever three ideas you liked best you stuck a sticky note to. I hung out in line for the one bathroom as people cast their votes. When I got back, I was surprised to see the results. My pitch had a thick coating of sticky notes. It had been chosen as one of the final groups!

Now it was time to assemble a crew. A whole host of electrical engineering students who happen to be awesome app devs gathered around our team. Two designers agreed that they were in. Several business people also joined us and began talking business plans and monetization. The final headcount was thirteen, but one of the coordinators came over and told us that we needed to thin out a bit, since that size group tended to be unwieldy and there were some groups that needed more people. We ended up with nine people and I volunteered myself to be the coordinator and liaison between developers, designers, and business people. Work started around 10pm and the hours passed quickly as we tried to come up with a viable plan of action.

At midnight they kicked us out so we headed to Belltown Billiards to get our groove on. Work hard, play hard.

I'll be back at 92 Lenora Avenue at 9am. Til then, I'll be trying to get some Z's.

Startup Weekend Starts Up!

I was so excited for bike-to-work day this morning that I forgot to bring my laptop to work and barely made it to Startup Weekend. It takes me an hour to bike home, and another forty minutes to bike into Seattle. Guess how much time I had given myself to get from work to an event that starts at 5pm ? None. Zilch. Somehow I tend to bypass the mundane parts of existence, like eating, sleeping, and commute. I needed my laptop though, so I left work as early as I decently could and caught the bus using the most useful app I’ve downloaded so far,  "One Bus Away" that accurately tells you the time of the next bus that is close to you. I’d love to personally shake the hand of the inventor of this app. Unfortunately, it couldn’t entirely save me from my absent mind. I watched the sun glinting off of Lake Washington as I surfed my new phone and tried to come up with an idea to pitch. I got off the bus and started to walk home to where my laptop was waiting. Suddenly I had a feeling of emptiness. My bike ! My bike was still on the bus ! The bus had pulled away and was gathering speed as it hurtled down 25th Ave. There was only one thing to do. I sprinted. I sprinted hard. Somehow I found myself reaching up and rapping on the driver’s window. The stunned driver stopped the bus (there had been a change of drivers halfway through the route, so she didn’t know that the bike on the front was mine). She just stared at me, incomprehensive for a second.

"My bike !"  I shouted. "My bike!" That’s when she understood. Rush hour traffic was gathering behind us and there was no place for the bus to pull over, so she motioned for me to take it off quickly. I managed to get my bike off in record time, and I even had time to pick up my laptop from the apartment and catch the bus downtown, where I somehow found my way to Startup Weekend. That’s where I am now and that’s where I will be for the next 54 hours. Expect periodic updates.