Arduino-compatible Quirkbot lets kids build robots out of straws

I wonder what kids will build 10 years from now.


One year ago, a simple and very cool construction kit for children came out; called Strawbees, it lets kids develop their inner engineer by making all kinds of structures out of ordinary drinking straws and cardboard. Now, a spinoff project has emerged: a “toy to make toys” called Quirkbot.

Quirkbot is a small 8MHz microcontroller with an Arduino-compatible bootloader that can be made part of a Strawbees creation without any need for soldering or breadboarding. It has light, distance and sound sensors and can basically be used to create moving, drinking-straw-based robots called “Qreatures.” Squeeze-on electronics can add sounds and lights to the mix.

Bot & Roll concertIt’s even possible to make a game controller using the thing. Quirkbot has a microUSB port for charging and for loading programs, which kids can create through a browser-based visual programming interface that allows for the sharing of projects.

This is a really nice…

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My Review of Pig Design Patterns

I’ve been reading Pig Design Patterns lately, you can find it here:

I got interested in Pig since it promises to be an abstraction layer over map reduce in Hadoop. As opposed to Hive, Pig does not try to look or behave like SQL. It’s a completely new DSL to work with data and describe map reduce jobs without the need to write map reduce code.

The book is well structured, one of the best structured books I’ve read. It’s almost impossible to get lost in, each term used in the book is well explained. For instance the author describes precisely what a Pattern stands for in the scope of this book.

After an introduction to what Hadoop is and what Pig is (maybe too long introduction, but you can always skip it), you get to the point where several common patterns are explained in detail. They are common use cases in which the Enterprise user may want to use Pig to solve common tasks about logs processing etc.

The author gives demonstration to be a Big Data veteran, and you truly find a disparate set of use cases, ranging from the basic processing of Apache logs, from the process of JSON and XML data to text processing patterns, common statistical tasks, data cleansing and so on.

A lot of stuff. What I really like about it is that each Pattern preceded by a description of what it exactly is and why you would want to use it.

For each pattern, code example explain you how data is expected to be read in Pig, and how you should save it back to one of the supported storages once you are done with the job. You don’t get (or rarely get) a full Pig code example though. You are only instructed on how to get data inside of Pig and how to save it back. The processing part is up to you. But I don’t find it to be a huge drawback since usually a Pig script is a series of steps for grouping and summing data, the online docs are enough for that.

Summarizing, it’s a tremendously well written book. I was able to get up and running with Pig quickly in AWS EMR, really enjoyed playing with it and will definitely keep studying and go back to this book for reference.

Highly recommended.

On becoming a morning guy

Today I woke up at 7:00. Since I started working from home my wakeup time slowly slipped toward the minimum required to be present at work at a decent time. This meant that usually I was not awake before 8:30, sometimes even later. 7:00 is not a big improvement, but a nice start toward the return of a good a good habit.

The main reason is that I was realizing I was no longer able to get much done through the day. I’m not talking about work, which is probably the only thing I kept at constant pace through my whole life. I’m talking about all the rest. When I start working, it’s really hard for me to stop. It’s very common for me, extend my working hours through the lunch break or far beyond 6 pm. I tried to change this behaviour really hard in the past, but it looks like it’s something hardcoded in  my DNA.

I thought it was probably a better idea to try to find some time before I started my wokring day. The idea is that if you want to get something done, and it’s really important for you, that should be the first thing in the day.

Three things I hope to achiveve waking up earlier:

write more

It’s 7:40 now, I’m writing a blog post. For a long time I wanted to write more. It’s not that I miss ideas for writing. I’m quite good at finding new ideas and the will to write, but somehow I was never able to find time. If I’m able to dedicate half an hour per day at writing I’m happy. It’s not much, but enough to practice and improve.

go running

I used to go running at 6pm or so. I know a lot of people goes running early in the morning. I’d like to try. That was my intent today, but I didn’t find the courage to get out in my running shoes. Let’s see what happens tomorrow.  

sleep better

Lately I’m not sleeping all that good. Maybe it’s me eating to much at diner, maybe it’s the kid waking up frequently during the night. I don’t know. They say the earlier you go to sleep the better you sleep. Maybe it works.

Well my half an hour is over, I’ll keep you posted on the benefits of this new habit.


Vanity post: me on linux

I love my current environment so much that I want to share it with somebody. Let’s start from the beginning.

I’m using XFCE, version 4.10 on Debian testing.


I use Whisker menu

The default XFCE Applications Menu is too basic to work effectively just with the keyboard. With Whisker menu I can find apps quickly by tiping the name. I mapped it to he Super button and replaced the default  Applications Menu in the panel.


The Places panel

I like it because it allows me to navigate quickly to the USB drives and mount and unmount them with few clicks. The recent files menu item is useful too.


Parcellite clipboard manager

I admit I still can’t wrap my head around the clipboard management in linux. Parcellite helps, I have a shortcut to view the history.


Greybird, definitely

I could have built Basecamp with the time I spent changing the appearence of my window manager and theme. Greybird theme with and window mananger is the best combination I found so far. You can see it in action here, with Thunar file manager and Tango icons. 


Roboto, a nice looking font

I’m using Roboto, which looks great, very clear, maybe a bit bolder than other sans serif but definitely sharp and easy to read all day long. It keeps perfect proportions at almost any size.


That’s all for now, questions?