The sharing economy: Uber will stop ignoring rulings

Just came across an article in a German internet news portal. The headline claims that Uber won’t ignore official rulings anymore. That is an interesting statement. It makes it clear that Uber thought in the past it is above all and everybody. And it leads to another thought: At least here in Germany they had to stop the bullying and behave. I really appreciate that the German cities have started to take a stand and show the Überflieger that the same rules apply to everybody. The Germany manager of Uber, Christian Freese sounds now like the wolf who ate chalk. He even claims that Uber is trying to cooperate with the traditional taxi firms.

UberBlack has been prohibited in Berlin, and UberPop has been prohibited Germany-wide.

And while we talk about it: Berlin has taken a stance and is reclaiming rental space from AirBnB and similar companies. But more on the friends-rent-to-friends companies in a different post.

Some links to recent Uber articles:

Playing with Data

In the last couple of month I’ve started to experiment with data. Won’t call it big data, because my datasets are rather small. Like visitors in our holiday apartments or feedback from EclipseCon Europe attendees. But like a real guy I didn’t want to do with MySQL, I wanted to play with the the new toys. So I installed MongoDB.

Anyway, it turned out to be more difficult than I thought. Cleaning up the data and getting them in (the same) shape turned out to be harder than I though. But help was just around the corner – coming from Udacity: A course on Data Wrangling, just what I needed. Turns out it was just the right course at the right time. And forgive me, if I don’t bore you with all the details that I had to clean up.

I’m certainly not a big data expert yet. But I start to understand how to approach my problems and what I can do with my information. And visualizing that information is even more fun. Now you can guess what that heatmap shows 🙂

Heatmap Example (based on Google Maps)

 

A Ninja is Dead

I’ve been one of these folks who bought a Ninja Block pretty early after they appeared. This was in the time before I knew much about Arduinos and Raspberry Pi’s. My block turned out to be fun to play with: I could read humidity and temperature and stream my webcam. Through its nice little REST interface I had a chance to link all this into my small web universe.

Anyway, I liked it so much that I wanted to buy another one for another location, again with all the sensors you need. Turned out that everything is sold out, and the Ninja folks say that they are planning the next big thing – the Ninja Sphere. And even small things like a temp sensors continue to be sold out 🙁

I don’t know when the announcement for the Sphere started, but by now it feels like a year or two. Nothing has happened since then, at least nothing that I can see. No release dates, just a link to a weird release plan in one of their blog posts.

Too bad. I really liked to type in the ninja URL.

Screen Scraping

After my last post I was actually contacted by 2 people asking for more current information on the website that I had built. In particular, they were interested in the conditions of the winter sports facilities that we have in the region (ski-lifts, cross-country trails).

I looked around, and the only information available was on the web sites of the facility operators. No central place where all the data was collected and made available. Since I had never done screen scraping before, I wasn’t really sure what to do.

Reading up on Stackoverflow and other resources I learned that I had to read an HTML site, turn it into a DOM object and find the right places with the right information for the facilities (closed, open, good conditions, red.gif, green.gif). Looking around I found a nice helper library that served me very well with my first version: For every webpage to get data from I wrote a little PHP script to capture the data.

This worked well for the first facility, where the website was quite responsive. The second one was making more trouble with regard to response times. Now I had a 6 sec wait before my page was displaying. That wasn’t really acceptable, because I have still 2 more places to scrape.

gersfeld-ski

So I took the Saturday afternoon to make it work asynchronously. It turned out to be quite easy: I continued to use my PHP scripts, but converted them into functions that could be called with AJAX calls, returning JSON data. From there it took only a couple more minutes, and I was finished. Displaying the site itself is really fast again, and since the scraped information doesn’t show up in the visible part of the browser things can take a little longer. But even scrolling down right away is fun: I enjoy watching the data show up!

Airborne Platforms

On Friday Christian Campo and myself visited a startup company in Kassel, Germany.

They design, program and manufacture what they call intelligent autonomous vehicles, the next generation copters. The idea is that the hexa-copters can be used for unmanned surveillance missions that needed way more expensive methods in the past: One example that Joerg Lamprecht, the CEO of the company describes involves these vehicles inspecting building status or taking high-precision arial photos.

Hexa-Copter

Visiting Kassel

As with all the other manned or unmanned vehicles I’ve been dealing with lately, these machines rely heavily on the software that comes with them. While there’s a whole bunch of other issues like robustness, weight and construction, the big challenge is to provide software that doesn’t need an experienced pilot to fly around a building and take head-photos.

Logically, the company has a couple of cool software developers to provide a platform system for the copters that integrates all access to navigation, flight control, camera adjustment and such. On the other hand they are very interested in developing apps that can be used on top of the platform. These apps could be maneuvers such as loopings or turns, or it could be even more complicated tasks like ‘fly around this building in a spiral and measure it’.

Time was flying by, and just before we had to leave Joerg took us to their manufacturing hall to see a bunch of young kids building the copter platforms. After the visit I was wondering what the banks and insurance companies have to do in the future to keep their developers from running away and doing cool stuff like Aibotix is doing.

Both Christian and I look forward to the arrival of the IoT!