Gadgets: 5 gadgets for your summer wishlist

Over the weekend, Fred Wilson posted an awesome video of the unboxing and flight of a Parrot AR drone along with a note that he was planning to grab one and develop some custom node.js code for it. After seeing the video, and with spring finally here I started brainstorming about what gadgets I’d want to play with over the summer.

Parrot AR Drone

Shown in the video linked above, the Parrot AR Drone is a remote controlled 4 rotor helicopter that is controlled via an iOS or Android device. What sets the Parrot apart from other similar devices is that it there is an node.js library for simplifying development of custom functionality on the Parrot platform.

Not exactly sure what we’d be looking to build with an AR drone but the Red Bull Air Race comes to mind.

Sphero Robotic Ball

Built by Boulder, CO based Orbotix the Sphero robotic ball is a gyroscopically stabilized ball that can be controlled using an iOS or Android device. The Sphero has a software development SDK and there’s also an active app store to download pre-built apps that work with your Sphereo.

Just brainstorming, but something awesome to build with a Sphero would be an app to draw out large drawings using the Sphero to actually draw the lines. Imagine drawing a 50’x50′ line art graphic by uploading some art and then letting the Sphero roll around the canvas.

Pebble watch

Born on Kickstarter, the Pebble watch is an indie entrant into the “smartwatch” space. Sporting iOS and Android integration via Bluetooth along with a scriptable watch face, the Pebble is shaping up to be an interesting player in a developing market.

As far as development, writing custom faces to visualize information differently or pull data off a smartphone seems to be pretty exciting. It still seems a bit early to get a sense of how the Pebble will fare long term as a platform though.

Jawbone UP

Although primarily known for their speaker systems and Bluetooth headsets, the Jawbowne UP is a personal activity monitor that helps users track their physical activity, sleep cycles, and eating habits. The UP fits into the trending theme of the quantified self, where users track KPIs about their daily life in an effort to iterate and improve. Pulling data off the UP is relatively easy and it also plugins in to RunKeeper.

The “quantified self” concept sounds like it would be interesting to experiment with and using the UP to try it out seems like an obvious choice. Leveraging the UP would also make it easy to “compete” with anyone else looking to jump into activity tracking.

Raspberry Pi

Released last year after intense anticipation, the Raspberry Pi is basically a six square inch board with a fully featured computer including video output and USB ports. Coming in at $25 or $35, the Raspberry Pi is cheap enough to experiment with, hack it, and if it happens break it. With full Linux support, the Raspberry Pi is also robust enough to handle “serious business”.

Looking at the list of Rasberry Pi Hacks, theres definetely some awesome inspiration to build something cool. Using a Pi to power a TV screen with real time interactive content seems like it might be an early winner though – we’ll see where that goes.

Anyway, that’s my list, unfortunately I’m not sure what I’ll actually get around to hacking on this summer. Would love to hear about any other cool gadgets or hacks.

D3: Taking a dip

D3 is a “newish” visualization library that has been getting a lot of attention recently. The New York Times has been using it extensively to create visualizations, and in fact its creator is currently employed by the NYT. I’d been meaning to take D3 for a spin for a while but couldn’t find a dataset I wanted to play with until a few weeks ago.

At the end of November, the LA Times published a dataset titled Capital appreciation bonds which highlighted how various California school districts were funding various projects with extremely high interest rate bonds. The LA Times described the data as:

Hun­dreds of Cali­for­nia school and com­munity col­lege dis­tricts have fin­anced con­struc­tion pro­jects with cap­it­al ap­pre­ci­ation bonds that push re­pay­ment far in­to the fu­ture and ul­ti­mately cost many times what the dis­trict bor­rowed. Gov­ern­ment fin­ance ex­perts con­sider bonds im­prudent if the total cost is more than four times the money bor­rowed or the ma­tur­ity peri­od is great­er than 25 years.

Anyway, you can check out my attempt at a visualization here.

Facebook: How-to force users to LIKE page

With Facebook’s move to deprecate FBML for tabs the documentation around how to make a “please Like! before…” has become much more choppy and inconsistent. Anyway, I recently found myself in a position where I needed to make this happen so here goes.

With in-line FBML deprecated, the only way to accomplish this without using a third party branded solution is to create a Facebook iframe app. Here are the steps you need to take to get something up using PHP and the Facebook PHP SDK.

1. Create a new Facebook Application at

2. Configure your new Facebook App the enable “Website” and “Page Tab”. You’ll need to enter a valid URL for the following fields:

  • Site URL
  • Page Tab URL
  • Secure Page Tab URL

You’ll also want to use a HTTPs URL since Facebook sessions default to HTTPs by default and your iframe will be marked insecure if its over vanilla HTTP. For this walk through, lets assume were using as the URL.

3. Now, you’ll want to add your new App to a Facebook Page. The easiest way to do this is to use this URL replacing YOUR_APP_ID and YOUR_URL with your App ID and then a URL that is derived from your endpoint (or even just your endpoint). When you load that URL, you’ll be prompted to add your app to a page – select the page you want and submit the form.

4. The final piece is throwing together the actual PHP script. You’ll need the Facebook PHP SDK available on GitHub – Clone that and then this is the PHP script you’ll need:

And thats it! Now you’ll be able to gate content from non-fans while growing the fanbase of your Facebook Page.

Drop any questions in the comments.

Streaming Foursquare checkins with Google Maps

This Saturday was the second annual Redline Challenge which is a bar crawl from Downtown Crossing to Davis Square that loosely tracks the MBTA Redline.

This year, we decided to use Foursquare to allow the website to track the position of several of the participants on the challenge. Foursquare natively allows you to track your checkin history with private URLs. Currently, they support a handful of formats with KML being the most interesting for our purposes. You can find your private URLs by navigating to

We used the Google Maps API along with the KML stream from Foursquare to dynamically place markers on the map as different users checked in to different venues.

Here is the PHP we used to pull back the KML feed, transform it to JSON, and spit it back to our jQuery on the client side:

Pretty straight forward. Here is the jQuery code on the client side to add markers to the map:

That’s about it.

FanFeedr Widgets Are Live!

Over the past few weeks we had the opportunity to work with FanFeedr to put together some widgets for their sports news platform. Previously, FanFeedr had been using Sprout to build their widgets but this required someone to hand build a Flash widget for every “resource” on FanFeedr (there are a lot). In addition, since the Sprout widgets are Flash they aren’t easily crawled by search engines.

Our widgets are different. They allow FanFeedr to generate widgets on the fly for any of their pages and allow users to customize the color schemes. Check out a widget builder for the NY Yankees here.

Basically, our widget builder works by allowing users to customize the size and colors used in the widget. This data is serialized as a JSON object and then base64 encoded so that it can be sent to the “generator” on the server. Then, the server unpacks the payload and builds a widget according to the data specified in the JSON object. In addition, our embed code includes a noscript tags so that search engines pick up the links in the widget as well.

Anyway, working with FanFeedr was a great experience and we hope to continue our relationship moving forward. Go build yourself a widget!