Meet Eli’s WeatherClock, a digital–analogue timepiece that displays the weather at each hour of the day as well as the time. Here’s an example: every day at 3pm, instead of the hour hand just pointing to a number three on the clock’s face, it also points to a visual representation of what the weather is doing. Obviously, Eli’s WeatherClock still tells the time using the standard positions of the hour and minute hands, but it does two jobs in one, and it looks much more interesting than a regular clock.
You can also press on every hour position of the watch’s touchscreen display to see more detailed meteorological information, such as temperature and the likelihood of rain. Then once you’ve gotten all the detail you need, you return to the simple analogue resting face to by pressing the centre of the touchscreen.
Under the hood
The device uses the openWeatherMap API to fetch weather data for your location. It’s a simple build powered by Raspberry Pi Zero W with a Pimoroni 4″ HyperPixel Hi-Res Display providing the user interface. And its slim, pocket-sized design means you can take it with you on your travels.
We found this creation on The Digital Vagrant‘s YouTube channel. A friend named Eli gave them the idea so the maker named the project after him. The Digital Vagrant liked the idea of being able to quickly check the weather before leaving the house — no need to check a computer or get your phone out of your bag.
This Raspberry Pi-powered weather station is a vital tool for Nepalese farmers, who work in remote, changeable conditions, and rely heavily on monitoring the environment.
It’s hard to forecast the weather in Nepal. Conditions can vary a lot within a small area because the country is so mountainous. Plus, there is no national weather service. This makes life even harder for farmers working in remote villages. There were a few essentials elements that any solution had to have:
Reliable and easy to maintain
Able to run off readily available motorcycle batteries when the solar panels don’t get enough sun
How was it made?
Prabesh Sapkota and Binod Kandel from the Robotics Association of Nepal led the team that built the solar-powered weather station with battery back-up. They were able to complete the project affordably using Raspberry Pi. Prabesh and his team wrote the software and created a display dashboard in Raspberry Pi OS Jessie.
One of the challenges they faced was being able to power the Raspberry Pi and Arduino reliably, and that’s where the BitScope Blade Uno came in to play (more on that later).
The weather station sensors measure temperature, barometric pressure, humidity, wind direction and wind speed, and all of the sensors are connected to the Arduino, which records the data and sends it to the Raspberry Pi to display on the dashboard.
BitScope Blade Uno (directly powers Raspberry Pi and Arduino)
GPS module (NEO-6M-0-001)
Pressure sensor (BMP180)
Humidity sensor (DHT11)
12V Lead-acid battery
20 Watt solar panel
Hall effect sensor (used together with magnets in an anemometer to measure wind speed)
8 reed switches (used with a wind vane that has an attached magnet to sense wind direction)
The team is working with an Australian sponsor to run workshops on basic electronics, with the intention of helping people build more of these affordable weather stations for rural schools and remote areas.
What is Bitscope Blade?
This weather station is an inspiring application of BitScope Blade, available to buy from element14. BitScope developed these power and mounting solutions for people working in challenging conditions, making them perfect for remote areas of Nepal without access to reliable power. They’re designed for industrial deployment as well as being suitable for off-grid hobbyist and educational applications.
You can choose from three variants, according to how many Raspberry Pi computers you need to support: BitScope Blade Uno for one Raspberry Pi and optional HAT, useful for makers and students; Duo for a pair of Raspberry Pis, ideal for building a standalone desktop and server system; and Quattro for four Raspberry Pis in applications such as compute clusters, private clouds or build farms.
[Today’s temperatures are set to reach a whopping 38ºC/101ºF degrees in the UK, and none of us know what to do with ourselves. This doesn’t happen here and we have nothing prepared: we live in a society devoid of air conditioning, and we’re are unable to comprehend weather conditions more friendly than a slight chill and drizzle.
I can’t handle it. I have desk fan, but it’s in a cupboard somewhere, covered in dust and sadness. My local corner shop is already out of ice pops and ice cube trays. And anyway, I believe the tarmac on the road outside my house has melted and will suck down anything that dares step or drive on it.
I think I’m melting too. I feel sloshy, and, while I’m not 100% sure this is scientifically possible, I believe I may be partly barbequed. If someone presented me at a restaurant, I would probably be described as medium rare.
So yes, it’s hot. Very hot. It only makes sense that we share a Raspberry Pi project that fits with this theme: here’s an article from the latest issue of The MagPi magazine, out today, that shows you how Ishmael Vargas built his own smart fan for his home in hot and humid Chicago.
It’s a very clever idea, and one we wish we’d thought up ourselves before today’s sudden heatwave/opening of the Hell Mouth.
Enjoy — Alex]
When you need to keep your home cool during the summer months, a smart window fan could be just the thing.
Summer days, and nights, can be uncomfortably hot and humid in the Chicago area. As the sun goes down, the outside temperature drops, but homes may remain hot. This is where a window fan comes in useful, blowing cooler air into the house. Last summer, Ishmael Vargas was using a small window fan upstairs and, after turning it on in the afternoon, he found he had to get up in the middle of the night to turn it off. “That is when I thought there must be a better way to control this fan,” he recalls, “and I started putting this project together.”
Viewable via VNC on a smartphone, the program window features temperature data and control buttons.
As he was already using a DHT22 temperature and humidity sensor for another project, he opted to use that, connected to a Raspberry Pi Zero running a Python program, to monitor the room temperature. This is then compared with the external temperature; if the latter is cooler, the window fan is turned on via a smart WiFi power plug (TP-Link HS100) — a much simpler method than wiring the fan up to a relay.
To keep things simple, Ishmael opted to source the outdoor temperature from Weather.com (The Weather Channel) using the pywapi Python library, rather than wiring up an external sensor. “The temperature provided by Weather.com as compared to the temperature in my car could differ by one or two degrees. This is close enough for this project,” he explains. “In other parts of the world or rural areas where they do not have as many weather stations, an outdoor sensor might be required.”
A smart WiFi socket is used to turn the window fan on and off.
One issue he discovered was that in the early morning, the fan could end up blowing warm air into the house. “Depending on the size of the fan, the size of the room, and the house materials, the inside temperature might never be as cool as outside,” he says. “For example, if the temperature outside is 65 °F (18°C), the temperature inside might only drop to 67 °F (19.5°C) through the night. As the temperature outside starts to climb, you want to keep the fan off.” This resulted in him adding an ‘inhibit’ mode to turn the fan off at 6am.
Rather than having the fan program run automatically on bootup, Ishmael opted to start and control it manually via an Android smartphone. The latter runs the VNC Viewer app, enabling remote access to Raspberry Pi’s desktop, on which there is a shortcut to start the fan application; this then displays a Pygame window with temperature information and control buttons.
The DHT22 sensor is connected to power, ground, and GPIO 4 pins on a Raspberry Pi Zero — a 10kΩ resistor is recommended.
“The fan application has two buttons to change the [desired temperature] set-point up or down,” reveals Ishmael. “Also, the button on the upper right is to close the application and return to the desktop.” His aim is to have more than one project running on his Raspberry Pi, and have a desktop shortcut for each application.
While the original project used a single fan, he has since modified it to add another. “I have been reading that two fans are required for best performance,” he says. “One to blow in and another to blow out.”
The latest edition of The MagPi magazine is out today, packed full of Raspberry Pi goodness. If you’re new to The MagPi magazine, welcome! As with all publications produced by Raspberry Pi Press, today’s new issue is available as a free download on The MagPi website, as well as in physical form from your local newsagent, the Raspberry Pi Store in Cambridge, or the Raspberry Pi Press online store.
Subscribers to The MagPi magazine get discounts and free stuff, and anyone purchasing any of our publications with actual currency will help fund the production of the magazine as well as the charitable work of the Raspberry Pi Foundation.
This article from The MagPi issue 72 explores Carsten Dannat’s Squirrel Cafe project and his mission to predict winter weather conditions based on the eating habits of local squirrels. Get your copy of The MagPi in stores now, or download it as a free PDF here.
Squirrel chowed down on 5.0 nuts for 3.16 min at 12:53:18 CEST. An #IoT project to predict how cold it’ll be next winter. #ThingSpeak
Back in 2012, Carsten Dannat was at a science summit in London, during which a lecture inspired him to come up with a way of finding correlations between nature and climate. “Some people say it’s possible to predict changes in weather by looking at the way certain animals behave,” he tells us. “Perhaps you can predict how cold it’ll be next winter by analysing the eating habits of animals? Do animals eat more to get additional fat and excess weight to be prepared for the upcoming winter?” An interesting idea, and one that Germany-based Carsten was determined to investigate further.
“On returning home, I got the sudden inspiration to measure the nut consumption of squirrels at our squirrel feeder”, he says. Four years later and his first prototype of the The Squirrel Cafe was built, incorporating a first-generation Raspberry Pi.
A tough nut to crack
A switch in the feeder’s lid is triggered every time a squirrel opens it. To give visual feedback on how often the lid has been opened, a seven-segment LED display shows the number of openings per meal break. A USB webcam is also used to capture images of the squirrels, which are tweeted automatically, along with stats on the nuts eaten and time taken. Unsurprisingly perhaps, Carsten says that the squirrels are “focussed on nuts and are not showing interest at all in the electronics!”
Squirrel chowed down on 4.5 nuts for 6.60 min at 14:23:55 CEST. An #IoT project to predict how cold it’ll be next winter. #ThingSpeak
So, how do you know how many nuts have actually been eaten by the squirrels? Carsten explains that “the number of nuts eaten per visit is calculated by counting lid openings. This part of the source code had been reworked a couple of times to get adjusted to the squirrel’s behaviour while grabbing a nut out of the feeder. Not always has a nut been taken out of the feeder, even if the lid has been opened.” Carsten makes an assumption that if the lid hasn’t been opened for at least 90 seconds, the squirrel went away. “I’m planning to improve the current design by implementing a scale to weigh the nuts themselves to get a more accurate measurement of nut consumption,” he says.
Just nuts about the weather!
The big question, of course, is what does this all tell us about the weather? Well, this is a complicated area too, as Carsten illustrates: “There are a lot of factors to consider if you want to find a correlation between eating habits and the prediction of the upcoming winter weather. One of them is that I cannot differentiate between individual squirrels currently [in order to calculate overall nut consumption per squirrel].” He suggests that one way around this might be to weigh the individual squirrels in order to know exactly who is visiting the Cafe, with what he intriguingly calls “individual squirrel recognition” — a planned improvement for a future incarnation of The Squirrel Cafe. Fine-tuning of the system aside, Carsten’s forecast for the winter of 2017/18 was spot-on when he predicted, via Twitter, a very cold winter compared to the previous year. He was proven right, as Germany experienced its coldest winter since 2012. Go squirrels!
The sun is actually shining here in Cambridge, and with it, summer-themed Raspberry Pi projects are sprouting like mushrooms across our UK-based community (even though mushrooms don’t like hot weather…). So we thought we’d gather some of our favourite Pi-powered projects perfect for the sun-drenched outdoors.
Air quality monitors and solar radiation
With the sun out in all its glory, we’re spending far more time outside than is usual for UK summer. To protect yourself and your adventurous loved ones, you might want to build a Raspberry Pi device to monitor solar radiation.
“Solar radiation is the radiation, or energy, we get from the sun.” explains project designer Uladzislau Bayouski. “Measurements for solar radiation are higher on clear, sunny day and usually low on cloudy days. When the sun is down, or there are heavy clouds blocking the sun, solar radiation is measured at zero.”
To measure more health-related environmental conditions, you could build this air quality monitor and keep an eye on local pollution.
Maker Oliver Crask describes the project:
Data is collected by the particulates sensor and is combined with readings of temperature, humidity, and air pressure. This data is then transferred to the cloud, where it is visualised on a dashboard.
While we’re spending our days out in the sun, we need to ensure that our pets and plants are still getting all the attention they need.
This automatic chicken feeder by Instructables user Bertil Vandekerkhove uses a Raspberry Pi to remotely control the release of chicken feed. No more rushing to get home to feed your feathered friends!
And while we’re automating our homes, let us not forget the plants! iPlanty is an automated plant-watering system that will ensure your favourite plant babies get all the moisture they need while you’re away from your home or office.
The lock system allows for only one user per lock at any one time, meaning that your bike needs to be removed before anyone else can use their RFID card to access the shed.
With so much sunlight available, now is the perfect time to build a time-lapse camera for your garden or local beauty spot. Alex D’s Zero W time-lapse HAT allows for some glorious cinematic sliding that’s really impressed us.
…and then lock them outside, and enjoy a Pimms and a sit-down in peace. We’re here for you, suffering summer holiday parents. We understand.
Self-weighing smart suitcase
“We’re all going on a summer holiday”, and pj_dc’s smart suitcase will not only help you track of your case’s location, it’ll also weigh your baggage.
Four 50kg load cells built into the base of the case allow for weight measurement of its contents, while a GPS breakout board and antenna let you track where it is.
Our free resources
While they’re not all summer-themed, our free Raspberry Pi, Code Club, and CoderDojo resources will keep you and your family occupied over the summer months whenever you’ve had a little too much of the great outdoors. From simple Scratch projects through to Python and digital making builds, we’ve got something for makers of all levels and tastes!
If you’re new to Raspberry Pi, begin with our Getting started guide. And if you’re looking for even more projects to try, our online community shares a sea of tutorials on Twitter every week.
One of the most common enquiries I receive at Pi Towers is “How can I get my hands on a Raspberry Pi Oracle Weather Station?” Now the answer is: “Why not build your own version using our guide?”
Tadaaaa! The BYO weather station fully assembled.
Our Oracle Weather Station
In 2016 we sent out nearly 1000 Raspberry Pi Oracle Weather Station kits to schools from around the world who had applied to be part of our weather station programme. In the original kit was a special HAT that allows the Pi to collect weather data with a set of sensors.
The original Raspberry Pi Oracle Weather Station HAT
We only had a single batch of HATs made, and unfortunately we’ve given nearly* all the Weather Station kits away. Not only are the kits really popular, we also receive lots of questions about how to add extra sensors or how to take more precise measurements of a particular weather phenomenon. So today, to satisfy your demand for a hackable weather station, we’re launching our Build your own weather station guide!
Fun with meteorological experiments!
Our guide suggests the use of many of the sensors from the Oracle Weather Station kit, so can build a station that’s as close as possible to the original. As you know, the Raspberry Pi is incredibly versatile, and we’ve made it easy to hack the design in case you want to use different sensors.
Many other tutorials for Pi-powered weather stations don’t explain how the various sensors work or how to store your data. Ours goes into more detail. It shows you how to put together a breadboard prototype, it describes how to write Python code to take readings in different ways, and it guides you through recording these readings in a database.
There’s also a section on how to make your station weatherproof. And in case you want to move past the breadboard stage, we also help you with that. The guide shows you how to solder together all the components, similar to the original Oracle Weather Station HAT.
Who should try this build
We think this is a great project to tackle at home, at a STEM club, Scout group, or CoderDojo, and we’re sure that many of you will be chomping at the bit to get started. Before you do, please note that we’ve designed the build to be as straight-forward as possible, but it’s still fairly advanced both in terms of electronics and programming. You should read through the whole guide before purchasing any components.
The sensors and components we’re suggesting balance cost, accuracy, and easy of use. Depending on what you want to use your station for, you may wish to use different components. Similarly, the final soldered design in the guide may not be the most elegant, but we think it is achievable for someone with modest soldering experience and basic equipment.
You can build a functioning weather station without soldering with our guide, but the build will be more durable if you do solder it. If you’ve never tried soldering before, that’s OK: we have a Getting started with soldering resource plus video tutorial that will walk you through how it works step by step.
For those of you who are more experienced makers, there are plenty of different ways to put the final build together. We always like to hear about alternative builds, so please post your designs in the Weather Station forum.
Our plans for the guide
Our next step is publishing supplementary guides for adding extra functionality to your weather station. We’d love to hear which enhancements you would most like to see! Our current ideas under development include adding a webcam, making a tweeting weather station, adding a light/UV meter, and incorporating a lightning sensor. Let us know which of these is your favourite, or suggest your own amazing ideas in the comments!
*We do have a very small number of kits reserved for interesting projects or locations: a particularly cool experiment, a novel idea for how the Oracle Weather Station could be used, or places with specific weather phenomena. If have such a project in mind, please send a brief outline to [email protected], and we’ll consider how we might be able to help you.
The German charity Save Nemo works to protect coral reefs, and they are developing Nemo-Pi, an underwater “weather station” that monitors ocean conditions. Right now, you can vote for Save Nemo in the Google.org Impact Challenge.
The organisation says there are two major threats to coral reefs: divers, and climate change. To make diving saver for reefs, Save Nemo installs buoy anchor points where diving tour boats can anchor without damaging corals in the process.
In addition, they provide dos and don’ts for how to behave on a reef dive.
To monitor the effects of climate change, and to help divers decide whether conditions are right at a reef while they’re still on shore, Save Nemo is also in the process of perfecting Nemo-Pi.
This Raspberry Pi-powered device is made up of a buoy, a solar panel, a GPS device, a Pi, and an array of sensors. Nemo-Pi measures water conditions such as current, visibility, temperature, carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxide concentrations, and pH. It also uploads its readings live to a public webserver.
The Save Nemo team is currently doing long-term tests of Nemo-Pi off the coast of Thailand and Indonesia. They are also working on improving the device’s power consumption and durability, and testing prototypes with the Raspberry Pi Zero W.
The web dashboard showing live Nemo-Pi data
Save Nemo aims to install a network of Nemo-Pis at shallow reefs (up to 60 metres deep) in South East Asia. Then diving tour companies can check the live data online and decide day-to-day whether tours are feasible. This will lower the impact of humans on reefs and help the local flora and fauna survive.
A healthy coral reef
Nemo-Pi data may also be useful for groups lobbying for reef conservation, and for scientists and activists who want to shine a spotlight on the awful effects of climate change on sea life, such as coral bleaching caused by rising water temperatures.
A bleached coral reef
Vote now for Save Nemo
If you want to help Save Nemo in their mission today, vote for them to win the Google.org Impact Challenge:
Click “Abstimmen” in the footer of the page to vote
Click “JA” in the footer to confirm
Voting is open until 6 June. You can also follow Save Nemo on Facebook or Twitter. We think this organisation is doing valuable work, and that their projects could be expanded to reefs across the globe. It’s fantastic to see the Raspberry Pi being used to help protect ocean life.
Naturebytes are making their weatherproof Wildlife Cam Case available as a standalone product for the first time, a welcome addition to the Raspberry Pi ecosystem that should take some of the hassle out of your outdoor builds.
Weatherproofing digital making projects
People often use Raspberry Pis and Camera Modules for outdoorprojects, but weatherproofing your set-up can be tricky. You need to keep water — and tiny creatures — out, but you might well need access for wires and cables, whether for power or sensors; if you’re using a camera, it’ll need something clear and cleanable in front of the lens. You can use sealant, but if you need to adjust anything that you’ve applied it to, you’ll have to remove it and redo it. While we’ve seen a few reasonable options available to buy, the choice has never been what you’d call extensive.
The Wildlife Cam Case is ideal for nature camera projects, of course, but it’ll also be useful for anyone who wants to take their Pi outdoors. It has weatherproof lenses that are transparent to visible and IR light, for all your nature observation projects. Its opening is hinged to allow easy access to your hardware, and the case has waterproof access for cables. Inside, there’s a mount for fixing any model of Raspberry Pi and camera, as well as many other components. On top of all that, the case comes with a sturdy nylon strap to make it easy to attach it to a post or a tree.
Order yours now!
At the moment, Naturebytes are producing a limited run of the cases. The first batch of 50 are due to be dispatched next week to arrive just in time for the Bank Holiday weekend in the UK, so get them while they’re hot. It’s the perfect thing for recording a timelapse of exactly how quickly the slugs obliterate your vegetable seedlings, and of lots more heartening things that must surely happen in gardens other than mine.
If your day has been a little fraught so far, watch this video. It opens with a tableau of methodically laid-out components and then shows them soldered, screwed, and slotted neatly into place. Everything fits perfectly; nothing needs percussive adjustment. Then it shows us glimpses of an AR future just like the one promised in the less dystopian comics and TV programmes of my 1980s childhood. It is all very soothing, and exactly what I needed.
Transform any surface into mixed-reality using Raspberry Pi, a laser projector, and Android Things. Android Experiments – http://experiments.withgoogle.com/android/lantern Lantern project site – http://nordprojects.co/lantern check below to make your own ↓↓↓ Get the code – https://github.com/nordprojects/lantern Build the lamp – https://www.hackster.io/nord-projects/lantern-9f0c28
Creating augmented reality with projection
We’ve seen plenty of Raspberry Pi IoT builds that are smart devices for the home; they add computing power to things like lights, door locks, or toasters to make these objects interact with humans and with their environment in new ways. Nord Projects‘ Lantern takes a different approach. In their words, it:
imagines a future where projections are used to present ambient information, and relevant UI within everyday objects. Point it at a clock to show your appointments, or point to speaker to display the currently playing song. Unlike a screen, when Lantern’s projections are no longer needed, they simply fade away.
Lantern is set up so that you can connect your wireless device to it using Google Nearby. This means there’s no need to create an account before you can dive into augmented reality.
Your own open-source AR lamp
Nord Projects collaborated on Lantern with Google’s Android Things team. They’ve made it fully open-source, so you can find the code on GitHub and also download their parts list, which includes a Pi, an IKEA lamp, an accelerometer, and a laser projector. Build instructions are at hackster.io and on GitHub.
This is a particularly clear tutorial, very well illustrated with photos and GIFs, and once you’ve sourced and 3D-printed all of the components, you shouldn’t need a whole lot of experience to put everything together successfully. Since everything is open-source, though, if you want to adapt it — for example, if you’d like to source a less costly projector than the snazzy one used here — you can do that too.
The instructions walk you through the mechanical build and the wiring, as well as installing Android Things and Nord Projects’ custom software on the Raspberry Pi. Once you’ve set everything up, an accelerometer connected to the Pi’s GPIO pins lets the lamp know which surface it is pointing at. A companion app on your mobile device lets you choose from the mini apps that work on that surface to select the projection you want.
The designers are making several mini apps available for Lantern, including the charmingly named Space Porthole: this uses Processing and your local longitude and latitude to project onto your ceiling the stars you’d see if you punched a hole through to the sky, if it were night time, and clear weather. Wouldn’t you rather look at that than deal with the ant problem in your kitchen or tackle your GitHub notifications?
What would you like to project onto your living environment? Let us know in the comments!
If you’re not already familiar with building visualizations for quick access to business insights using Amazon QuickSight, consider this your introduction. In this post, we’ll walk through some common scenarios with sample datasets to provide an overview of how you can connect yuor data, perform advanced analysis and access the results from any web browser or mobile device.
The following visualizations are built from the public datasets available in the links below. Before we jump into that, let’s take a look at the supported data sources, file formats and a typical QuickSight workflow to build any visualization.
Which data sources does Amazon QuickSight support?
At the time of publication, you can use the following data methods:
Connect to AWS data sources, including:
Upload Excel spreadsheets or flat files (CSV, TSV, CLF, and ELF)
Connect to on-premises databases like Teradata, SQL Server, MySQL, and PostgreSQL
Import data from SaaS applications like Salesforce and Snowflake
Use big data processing engines like Spark and Presto
SPICE is the Amazon QuickSight super-fast, parallel, in-memory calculation engine, designed specifically for ad hoc data visualization. SPICE stores your data in a system architected for high availability, where it is saved until you choose to delete it. Improve the performance of database datasets by importing the data into SPICE instead of using a direct database query. To calculate how much SPICE capacity your dataset needs, see Managing SPICE Capacity.
Typical Amazon QuickSight workflow
When you create an analysis, the typical workflow is as follows:
Connect to a data source, and then create a new dataset or choose an existing dataset.
(Optional) If you created a new dataset, prepare the data (for example, by changing field names or data types).
Create a new analysis.
Add a visual to the analysis by choosing the fields to visualize. Choose a specific visual type, or use AutoGraph and let Amazon QuickSight choose the most appropriate visual type, based on the number and data types of the fields that you select.
(Optional) Modify the visual to meet your requirements (for example, by adding a filter or changing the visual type).
(Optional) Add more visuals to the analysis.
(Optional) Add scenes to the default story to provide a narrative about some aspect of the analysis data.
(Optional) Publish the analysis as a dashboard to share insights with other users.
The following graphic illustrates a typical Amazon QuickSight workflow.
Visualizations created in Amazon QuickSight with sample datasets
Data catalog: The DBG PDS project makes real-time data derived from Deutsche Börse’s trading market systems available to the public for free. This is the first time that such detailed financial market data has been shared freely and continually from the source provider.
The following graph shows the market trend of max trade volume for different EU banks. It builds on the data available on XETRA engines, which is made up of a variety of equities, funds, and derivative securities. This graph can be scrolled to visualize trade for a period of an hour or more.
The following graph shows the common stock beating the rest of the maximum trade volume over a period of time, grouped by security type.
Data catalog: Data derived from different sensor stations placed on the city bridges and surface streets are a core information source. The road weather information station has a temperature sensor that measures the temperature of the street surface. It also has a sensor that measures the ambient air temperature at the station each second.
The following graph shows the present max air temperature in Seattle from different RWI station sensors.
The following graph shows the minimum temperature of the road surface at different times, which helps predicts road conditions at a particular time of the year.
Data catalog: Kaggle has come up with a platform where people can donate open datasets. Data engineers and other community members can have open access to these datasets and can contribute to the open data movement. They have more than 350 datasets in total, with more than 200 as featured datasets. It has a few interesting datasets on the platform that are not present at other places, and it’s a platform to connect with other data enthusiasts.
The following graph shows the trending YouTube videos and presents the max likes for the top 20 channels. This is one of the most popular datasets for data engineers.
The following graph shows the YouTube daily statistics for the max views of video titles published during a specific time period.
Data catalog: NYC Open data hosts some very popular open data sets for all New Yorkers. This platform allows you to get involved in dive deep into the data set to pull some useful visualizations. 2016 Green taxi trip dataset includes trip records from all trips completed in green taxis in NYC in 2016. Records include fields capturing pick-up and drop-off dates/times, pick-up and drop-off locations, trip distances, itemized fares, rate types, payment types, and driver-reported passenger counts.
The following graph presents maximum fare amount grouped by the passenger count during a period of time during a day. This can be further expanded to follow through different day of the month based on the business need.
The following graph shows the NewYork taxi data from January 2016, showing the dip in the number of taxis ridden on January 23, 2016 across all types of taxis.
A quick search for that date and location shows you the following news report:
Using Amazon QuickSight, you can see patterns across a time-series data by building visualizations, performing ad hoc analysis, and quickly generating insights. We hope you’ll give it a try today!
Karthik Odapally is a Sr. Solutions Architect in AWS. His passion is to build cost effective and highly scalable solutions on the cloud. In his spare time, he bakes cookies and cupcakes for family and friends here in the PNW. He loves vintage racing cars.
Pranabesh Mandal is a Solutions Architect in AWS. He has over a decade of IT experience. He is passionate about cloud technology and focuses on Analytics. In his spare time, he likes to hike and explore the beautiful nature and wild life of most divine national parks around the United States alongside his wife.
In today’s guest post, seventh-grade students Evan Callas, Will Ross, Tyler Fallon, and Kyle Fugate share their story of using the Raspberry Pi Oracle Weather Station in their Innovation Lab class, headed by Raspberry Pi Certified Educator Chris Aviles.
United Nations Sustainable Goals
The past couple of weeks in our Innovation Lab class, our teacher, Mr Aviles, has challenged us students to design a project that helps solve one of the United Nations Sustainable Goals. We chose Climate Action. Innovation Lab is a class that gives students the opportunity to learn about where the crossroads of technology, the environment, and entrepreneurship meet. Everyone takes their own paths in innovation and learns about the environment using project-based learning.
Raspberry Pi Oracle Weather Station
For our climate change challenge, we decided to build a Raspberry Pi Oracle Weather Station. Tackling the issues of climate change in a way that helps our community stood out to us because we knew with the help of this weather station we can send the local data to farmers and fishermen in town. Recent changes in climate have been affecting farmers’ crops. Unexpected rain, heat, and other unusual weather patterns can completely destabilize the natural growth of the plants and destroy their crops altogether. The amount of labour output needed by farmers has also significantly increased, forcing farmers to grow more food on less resources. By using our Raspberry Pi Oracle Weather Station to alert local farmers, they can be more prepared and aware of the weather, leading to better crops and safe boating.
Growing teamwork and coding skills
The process of setting up our weather station was fun and simple. Raspberry Pi made the instructions very easy to understand and read, which was very helpful for our team who had little experience in coding or physical computing. We enjoyed working together as a team and were happy to be growing our teamwork skills.
Once we constructed and coded the weather station, we learned that we needed to support the station with PVC pipes. After we completed these steps, we brought the weather station up to the roof of the school and began collecting data. Our information is currently being sent to the Initial State dashboard so that we can share the information with anyone interested. This information will also be recorded and seen by other schools, businesses, and others from around the world who are using the weather station. For example, we can see the weather in countries such as France, Greece and Italy.
Raspberry Pi allows us to build these amazing projects that help us to enjoy coding and physical computing in a fun, engaging, and impactful way. We picked climate change because we care about our community and would like to make a substantial contribution to our town, Fair Haven, New Jersey. It is not every day that kids are given these kinds of opportunities, and we are very lucky and grateful to go to a school and learn from a teacher where these opportunities are given to us. Thanks, Mr Aviles!
To see more awesome projects by Mr Avile’s class, you can keep up with him on his blog and follow him on Twitter.
What happens when you combine the Internet of Things, Machine Learning, and Edge Computing? Before I tell you, let’s review each one and discuss what AWS has to offer.
Internet of Things (IoT) – Devices that connect the physical world and the digital one. The devices, often equipped with one or more types of sensors, can be found in factories, vehicles, mines, fields, homes, and so forth. Important AWS services include AWS IoT Core, AWS IoT Analytics, AWS IoT Device Management, and Amazon FreeRTOS, along with others that you can find on the AWS IoT page.
Machine Learning (ML) – Systems that can be trained using an at-scale dataset and statistical algorithms, and used to make inferences from fresh data. At Amazon we use machine learning to drive the recommendations that you see when you shop, to optimize the paths in our fulfillment centers, fly drones, and much more. We support leading open source machine learning frameworks such as TensorFlow and MXNet, and make ML accessible and easy to use through Amazon SageMaker. We also provide Amazon Rekognition for images and for video, Amazon Lex for chatbots, and a wide array of language services for text analysis, translation, speech recognition, and text to speech.
Edge Computing – The power to have compute resources and decision-making capabilities in disparate locations, often with intermittent or no connectivity to the cloud. AWS Greengrass builds on AWS IoT, giving you the ability to run Lambda functions and keep device state in sync even when not connected to the Internet.
ML Inference at the Edge Today I would like to toss all three of these important new technologies into a blender! You can now perform Machine Learning inference at the edge using AWS Greengrass. This allows you to use the power of the AWS cloud (including fast, powerful instances equipped with GPUs) to build, train, and test your ML models before deploying them to small, low-powered, intermittently-connected IoT devices running in those factories, vehicles, mines, fields, and homes that I mentioned.
Here are a few of the many ways that you can put Greengrass ML Inference to use:
Precision Farming – With an ever-growing world population and unpredictable weather that can affect crop yields, the opportunity to use technology to increase yields is immense. Intelligent devices that are literally in the field can process images of soil, plants, pests, and crops, taking local corrective action and sending status reports to the cloud.
Physical Security – Smart devices (including the AWS DeepLens) can process images and scenes locally, looking for objects, watching for changes, and even detecting faces. When something of interest or concern arises, the device can pass the image or the video to the cloud and use Amazon Rekognition to take a closer look.
Industrial Maintenance – Smart, local monitoring can increase operational efficiency and reduce unplanned downtime. The monitors can run inference operations on power consumption, noise levels, and vibration to flag anomalies, predict failures, detect faulty equipment.
Greengrass ML Inference Overview There are several different aspects to this new AWS feature. Let’s take a look at each one:
Machine Learning Models – Precompiled TensorFlow and MXNet libraries, optimized for production use on the NVIDIA Jetson TX2 and Intel Atom devices, and development use on 32-bit Raspberry Pi devices. The optimized libraries can take advantage of GPU and FPGA hardware accelerators at the edge in order to provide fast, local inferences.
Model Deployment – SageMaker models can (if you give them the proper IAM permissions) be referenced directly from your Greengrass groups. You can also make use of models stored in S3 buckets. You can add a new machine learning resource to a group with a couple of clicks:
As they sail aboard their floating game design studio Pino, Rekka Bellum and Devine Lu Linvega are starting to explore the use of Raspberry Pis. As part of an experimental development tool and a weather station, Pis are now aiding them on their nautical adventures!
Pino is on its way to becoming a smart sailboat! Raspberry Pi is the ideal device for sailors, we hope to make many more projects with it. Also the projects continue still, but we have windows now yay!
Using a haul of Pimoroni tech including the Enviro pHat, Scroll pHat HD and Mini Black HAT Hack3r, Rekka and Devine have been experimenting with using a Raspberry Pi Zero as an onboard barometer for their sailboat. On their Hundred Rabbits YouTube channel and website, the pair has documented their experimental setups. They have also built another Raspberry Pi rig for distraction-free work and development.
“The Pi computer is currently used only as an experimental development tool aboard Pino, but could readily be turned into a complete development platform, would our principal computers fail.” they explain, before going into the build process for the Raspberry Pi–powered barometer.
The use of solderless headers make this weather station an ideal build wherever space and tools are limited.
The barometer uses the sensor power of the Pimoroni Enviro HAT to measure atmospheric pressure, and a Raspberry Pi Zero displays this data on the Scroll pHAT HD. It thus advises the two travellers of oncoming storms. By taking advantage of the solderless header provided by the Sheffield-based pirates, the Hundred Rabbits team was able to put the device together with relative ease. They provide all information for the build here.
This is us, this what we do, and these are our intentions! We live, and work from our sailboat Pino. Traveling helps us stay creative, and we feed what we see back into our work. We make games, art, books and music under the studio name ‘Hundred Rabbits.’
Data that describe processes in a spatial context are everywhere in our day-to-day lives and they dominate big data problems. Map data, for instance, whether describing networks of roads or remote sensing data from satellites, get us where we need to go. Atmospheric data from simulations and sensors underlie our weather forecasts and climate models. Devices and sensors with GPS can provide a spatial context to nearly all mobile data.
In this post, we introduce the WIND toolkit, a huge (500 TB), open weather model dataset that’s available to the world on Amazon’s cloud services. We walk through how to access this data and some of the open-source software developed to make it easily accessible. Our solution considers a subset of geospatial data that exist on a grid (raster) and explores ways to provide access to large-scale raster data from weather models. The solution uses foundational AWS services and the Hierarchical Data Format (HDF), a well adopted format for scientific data.
The approach developed here can be extended to any data that fit in an HDF5 file, which can describe sparse and dense vectors and matrices of arbitrary dimensions. This format is already popular within the physical sciences for both experimental and simulation data. We discuss solutions to gridded data storage for a massive dataset of public weather model outputs called the Wind Integration National Dataset (WIND) toolkit. We also highlight strategies that are general to other large geospatial data management problems.
Wind Integration National Dataset
As variable renewable power penetration levels increase in power systems worldwide, the importance of renewable integration studies to ensure continued economic and reliable operation of the power grid is also increasing. The WIND toolkit is the largest freely available grid integration dataset to date.
The WIND toolkit was developed by 3TIER by Vaisala. They were under a subcontract to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) to support studies on integration of wind energy into the existing US grid. NREL is a part of a network of national laboratories for the US Department of Energy and has a mission to advance the science and engineering of energy efficiency, sustainable transportation, and renewable power technologies.
The toolkit has been used by consultants, research groups, and universities worldwide to support grid integration studies. Less traditional uses also include resource assessments for wind plants (such as those powering Amazon data centers), and studying the effects of weather on California condor migrations in the Baja peninsula.
The diversity of applications highlights the value of accessible, open public data. Yet, there’s a catch: the dataset is huge. The WIND toolkit provides simulated atmospheric (weather) data at a two-km spatial resolution and five-minute temporal resolution at multiple heights for seven years. The entire dataset is half a petabyte (500 TB) in size and is stored in the NREL High Performance Computing data center in Golden, Colorado. Making this dataset publicly available easily and in a cost-effective manner is a major challenge.
As other laboratories and public institutions work to release their data to the world, they may face similar challenges to those that we experienced. Some prior, well-intentioned efforts to release huge datasets as-is have resulted in data resources that are technically available but fundamentally unusable. They may be stored in an unintuitive format or indexed and organized to support only a subset of potential uses. Downloading hundreds of terabytes of data is often impractical. Most users don’t have access to a big data cluster (or super computer) to slice and dice the data as they need after it’s downloaded.
We aim to provide a large amount of data (50 terabytes) to the public in a way that is efficient, scalable, and easy to use. In many cases, researchers can access these huge cloud-located datasets using the same software and algorithms they have developed for smaller datasets stored locally. Only the pieces of data they need for their individual analysis must be downloaded. To make this work in practice, we worked with the HDF Group and have built upon their forthcoming Highly Scalable Data Service.
In the rest of this post, we discuss how the HSDS software was developed to use Amazon EC2 and Amazon S3 resources to provide convenient and scalable access to these huge geospatial datasets. We describe how the HSDS service has been put to work for the WIND Toolkit dataset and demonstrate how to access it using the h5pyd Python library and the REST API. We conclude with information about our ongoing work to release more ‘open’ datasets to the public using AWS services, and ways to improve and extend the HSDS with newer Amazon services like Amazon ECS and AWS Lambda.
Developing a scalable service for big geospatial data
The HDF5 file format and API have been used for many years and is an effective means of storing large scientific datasets. For example, NASA’s Earth Observing System (EOS) satellites collect more than 16 TBs of data per day using HDF5.
With the rise of the cloud, there are new challenges and opportunities to rethink how HDF5 can be enhanced to work effectively as a component in a cloud-native architecture. For the HDF Group, working with NREL has been a great opportunity to put ideas into practice with a production-size dataset.
An HDF5 file consists of a directed graph of group and dataset objects. Datasets can be thought of as a multidimensional array with support for user-defined metadata tags and compression. Typical operations on datasets would be reading or writing data to a regular subregion (a hyperslab) or reading and writing individual elements (a point selection). Also, group and dataset objects may each contain an arbitrary number of the user-defined metadata elements known as attributes.
Many people have used the HDF library in applications developed or ported to run on EC2 instances, but there are a number of constraints that often prove problematic:
The HDF5 library can’t read directly from HDF5 files stored as S3 objects. The entire file (often many GB in size) would need to be copied to local storage before the first byte can be read. Also, the instance must be configured with the appropriately sized EBS volume)
The HDF library only has access to the computational resources of the instance itself (as opposed to a cluster of instances), so many operations are bottlenecked by the library.
Any modifications to the HDF5 file would somehow have to be synchronized with changes that other instances have made to same file before writing back to S3.
Using a pattern common to many offerings from AWS, the solution to these constraints is to develop a service framework around the HDF data model. Using this model, the HDF Group has created the Highly Scalable Data Service (HSDS) that provides all the functionality that traditionally was provided by the HDF5 library. By using the service, you don’t need to manage your own file volumes, but can just read and write whatever data that you need.
Because the service manages the actual data persistence to a durable medium (S3, in this case), you don’t need to worry about disk management. Simply stream the data you need from the service as you need it. Secondly, putting the functionality behind a service allows some tricks to increase performance (described in more detail later). And lastly, HSDS allows any number of clients to access the data at the same time, enabling HDF5 to be used as a coordination mechanism for multiple readers and writers.
In designing the HSDS architecture, we gave much thought to how to achieve scalability of the HSDS service. For accessing HDF5 data, there are two different types of scaling to consider:
Multiple clients making many requests to the service
Single requests that require a significant amount of data processing
To deal with the first scaling challenge, as with most services, we considered how the service responds as the request rate increases. AWS provides some great tools that help in this regard:
Auto Scaling groups
Elastic Load Balancing load balancers
The ability of S3 to handle large aggregate throughput rates
By using a cluster of EC2 instances behind a load balancer, you can handle different client loads in a cost-effective manner.
The second scaling challenge concerns single requests that would take significant processing time with just one compute node. One example of this from the WIND toolkit would be extracting all the values in the seven-year time span for a given geographic point and dataset.
In HDF5, large datasets are typically stored as “chunks”; that is, a regular partition of the array. In HSDS, each chunk is stored as a binary object in S3. The sequential approach to retrieving the time series values would be for the service to read each chunk needed from S3, extract the needed elements, and go on to the next chunk. In this case, that would involve processing 2557 chunks, and would be quite slow.
Fortunately, with HSDS, you can speed this up quite a bit by exploiting the compute and I/O capabilities of the cluster. Upon receiving the request, the receiving node can use other nodes in the cluster to read different portions of the selection. With multiple nodes reading from S3 in parallel, performance improves as the cluster size increases.
The diagram below illustrates how this works in simplified case of four chunks and four nodes.
This architecture has worked in well in practice. In testing with the WIND toolkit and time series extraction, we observed a request latency of ~60 seconds using four nodes vs. ~5 seconds with 40 nodes. Performance roughly scales with the size of the cluster.
A planned enhancement to this is to use AWS Lambda for the worker processing. This enables 1000-way parallel reads at a reasonable cost, as you only pay for the milliseconds of CPU time used with AWS Lambda.
Public access to atmospheric data using HSDS and AWS
An early challenge in releasing the WIND toolkit data was in deciding how to subset the data for different use cases. In general, few researchers need access to the entire 0.5 PB of data and a great deal of efficiency and cost reduction can be gained by making directed constituent datasets.
NREL grid integration researchers initially extracted a 2-TB subset by selecting 120,000 points where the wind resource seemed appropriate for development. They also chose only those data important for wind applications (100-m wind speed, converted to power), the most interesting locations for those performing grid studies. To support the remaining users who needed more data resolution, we down-sampled the data to a 60-minute temporal resolution, keeping all the other variables and spatial resolution intact. This reduced dataset is 50 TB of data describing 30+ atmospheric variables of data for 7 years at a 60-minute temporal resolution.
Programmatic access is possible using the h5pyd Python library, a distributed analog to the widely used h5py library. Users interact with the datasets (variables) and slice the data from its (time x longitude x latitude) cube form as they see fit.
Examples and use cases are described in a set of Jupyter notebooks and available on GitHub:
Now you have a Jupyter notebook server running on your EC2 server.
From your laptop, create an SSH tunnel:
$ ssh –L 8888:localhost:8888 (IP address of the EC2 server)
Now, you can browse to localhost:8888 using the correct token, and interact with the notebooks as if they were local. Within the directory, there are examples for accessing the HSDS API and plotting wind and weather data using matplotlib.
Controlling access and defraying costs
A final concern is rate limiting and access control. Although the HSDS service is scalable and relatively robust, we had a few practical concerns:
How can we protect from malicious or accidental use that may lead to high egress fees (for example, someone who attempts to repeatedly download the entire dataset from S3)?
How can we keep track of who is using the data both to document the value of the data resource and to justify the costs?
If costs become too high, can we charge for some or all API use to help cover the costs?
To approach these problems, we investigated using Amazon API Gateway and its simplified integration with the AWS Marketplace for SaaS monetization as well as third-party API proxies.
In the end, we chose to use API Umbrella due to its close involvement with http://data.gov. While AWS Marketplace is a compelling option for future datasets, the decision was made to keep this dataset entirely open, at least for now. As community use and associated costs grow, we’ll likely revisit Marketplace. Meanwhile, API Umbrella provides controls for rate limiting and API key registration out of the box and was simple to implement as a front-end proxy to HSDS. Those applications that may want to charge for API use can accomplish a similar strategy using Amazon API Gateway and AWS Marketplace.
Ongoing work and other resources
As NREL and other government research labs, municipalities, and organizations try to share data with the public, we expect many of you will face similar challenges to those we have tried to approach with the architecture described in this post. Providing large datasets is one challenge. Doing so in a way that is affordable and convenient for users is an entirely more difficult goal. Using AWS cloud-native services and the existing foundation of the HDF file format has allowed us to tackle that challenge in a meaningful way.
Dr. Caleb Phillips is a senior scientist with the Data Analysis and Visualization Group within the Computational Sciences Center at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Caleb comes from a background in computer science systems, applied statistics, computational modeling, and optimization. His work at NREL spans the breadth of renewable energy technologies and focuses on applying modern data science techniques to data problems at scale.
Dr. Caroline Draxl is a senior scientist at NREL. She supports the research and modeling activities of the US Department of Energy from mesoscale to wind plant scale. Caroline uses mesoscale models to research wind resources in various countries, and participates in on- and offshore boundary layer research and in the coupling of the mesoscale flow features (kilometer scale) to the microscale (tens of meters). She holds a M.S. degree in Meteorology and Geophysics from the University of Innsbruck, Austria, and a PhD in Meteorology from the Technical University of Denmark.
John Readey has been a Senior Architect at The HDF Group since he joined in June 2014. His interests include web services related to HDF, applications that support the use of HDF and data visualization.Before joining The HDF Group, John worked at Amazon.com from 2006–2014 where he developed service-based systems for eCommerce and AWS.
Jordan Perr-Sauer is an RPP intern with the Data Analysis and Visualization Group within the Computational Sciences Center at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Jordan hopes to use his professional background in software engineering and his academic training in applied mathematics to solve the challenging problems facing America and the world.
This is part one of a series. The second part will be posted later this week. Use the Join button above to receive notification of future posts in this series.
Though most of us have never set foot inside of a data center, as citizens of a data-driven world we nonetheless depend on the services that data centers provide almost as much as we depend on a reliable water supply, the electrical grid, and the highway system. Every time we send a tweet, post to Facebook, check our bank balance or credit score, watch a YouTube video, or back up a computer to the cloud we are interacting with a data center.
In this series, The Challenges of Opening a Data Center, we’ll talk in general terms about the factors that an organization needs to consider when opening a data center and the challenges that must be met in the process. Many of the factors to consider will be similar for opening a private data center or seeking space in a public data center, but we’ll assume for the sake of this discussion that our needs are more modest than requiring a data center dedicated solely to our own use (i.e. we’re not Google, Facebook, or China Telecom).
Data center technology and management are changing rapidly, with new approaches to design and operation appearing every year. This means we won’t be able to cover everything happening in the world of data centers in our series, however, we hope our brief overview proves useful.
What is a Data Center?
A data center is the structure that houses a large group of networked computer servers typically used by businesses, governments, and organizations for the remote storage, processing, or distribution of large amounts of data.
While many organizations will have computing services in the same location as their offices that support their day-to-day operations, a data center is a structure dedicated to 24/7 large-scale data processing and handling.
Depending on how you define the term, there are anywhere from a half million data centers in the world to many millions. While it’s possible to say that an organization’s on-site servers and data storage can be called a data center, in this discussion we are using the term data center to refer to facilities that are expressly dedicated to housing computer systems and associated components, such as telecommunications and storage systems. The facility might be a private center, which is owned or leased by one tenant only, or a shared data center that offers what are called “colocation services,” and rents space, services, and equipment to multiple tenants in the center.
A large, modern data center operates around the clock, placing a priority on providing secure and uninterrrupted service, and generally includes redundant or backup power systems or supplies, redundant data communication connections, environmental controls, fire suppression systems, and numerous security devices. Such a center is an industrial-scale operation often using as much electricity as a small town.
Types of Data Centers
There are a number of ways to classify data centers according to how they will be used, whether they are owned or used by one or multiple organizations, whether and how they fit into a topology of other data centers; which technologies and management approaches they use for computing, storage, cooling, power, and operations; and increasingly visible these days: how green they are.
Data centers can be loosely classified into three types according to who owns them and who uses them.
Exclusive Data Centers are facilities wholly built, maintained, operated and managed by the business for the optimal operation of its IT equipment. Some of these centers are well-known companies such as Facebook, Google, or Microsoft, while others are less public-facing big telecoms, insurance companies, or other service providers.
Managed Hosting Providers are data centers managed by a third party on behalf of a business. The business does not own data center or space within it. Rather, the business rents IT equipment and infrastructure it needs instead of investing in the outright purchase of what it needs.
Colocation Data Centers are usually large facilities built to accommodate multiple businesses within the center. The business rents its own space within the data center and subsequently fills the space with its IT equipment, or possibly uses equipment provided by the data center operator.
Backblaze, for example, doesn’t own its own data centers but colocates in data centers owned by others. As Backblaze’s storage needs grow, Backblaze increases the space it uses within a given data center and/or expands to other data centers in the same or different geographic areas.
Availability is Key
When designing or selecting a data center, an organization needs to decide what level of availability is required for its services. The type of business or service it provides likely will dictate this. Any organization that provides real-time and/or critical data services will need the highest level of availability and redundancy, as well as the ability to rapidly failover (transfer operation to another center) when and if required. Some organizations require multiple data centers not just to handle the computer or storage capacity they use, but to provide alternate locations for operation if something should happen temporarily or permanently to one or more of their centers.
Organizations operating data centers that can’t afford any downtime at all will typically operate data centers that have a mirrored site that can take over if something happens to the first site, or they operate a second site in parallel to the first one. These data center topologies are called Active/Passive, and Active/Active, respectively. Should disaster or an outage occur, disaster mode would dictate immediately moving all of the primary data center’s processing to the second data center.
While some data center topologies are spread throughout a single country or continent, others extend around the world. Practically, data transmission speeds put a cap on centers that can be operated in parallel with the appearance of simultaneous operation. Linking two data centers located apart from each other — say no more than 60 miles to limit data latency issues — together with dark fiber (leased fiber optic cable) could enable both data centers to be operated as if they were in the same location, reducing staffing requirements yet providing immediate failover to the secondary data center if needed.
This redundancy of facilities and ensured availability is of paramount importance to those needing uninterrupted data center services.
Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is a rating system devised by the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) for the design, construction, and operation of green buildings. Facilities can achieve ratings of certified, silver, gold, or platinum based on criteria within six categories: sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, indoor environmental quality, and innovation and design.
Green certification has become increasingly important in data center design and operation as data centers require great amounts of electricity and often cooling water to operate. Green technologies can reduce costs for data center operation, as well as make the arrival of data centers more amenable to environmentally-conscious communities.
The ACT, Inc. data center in Iowa City, Iowa was the first data center in the U.S. to receive LEED-Platinum certification, the highest level available.
ACT Data Center exterior
ACT Data Center interior
Factors to Consider When Selecting a Data Center
There are numerous factors to consider when deciding to build or to occupy space in a data center. Aspects such as proximity to available power grids, telecommunications infrastructure, networking services, transportation lines, and emergency services can affect costs, risk, security and other factors that need to be taken into consideration.
The size of the data center will be dictated by the business requirements of the owner or tenant. A data center can occupy one room of a building, one or more floors, or an entire building. Most of the equipment is often in the form of servers mounted in 19 inch rack cabinets, which are usually placed in single rows forming corridors (so-called aisles) between them. This allows staff access to the front and rear of each cabinet. Servers differ greatly in size from 1U servers (i.e. one “U” or “RU” rack unit measuring 44.50 millimeters or 1.75 inches), to Backblaze’s Storage Pod design that fits a 4U chassis, to large freestanding storage silos that occupy many square feet of floor space.
Location will be one of the biggest factors to consider when selecting a data center and encompasses many other factors that should be taken into account, such as geological risks, neighboring uses, and even local flight paths. Access to suitable available power at a suitable price point is often the most critical factor and the longest lead time item, followed by broadband service availability.
With more and more data centers available providing varied levels of service and cost, the choices increase each year. Data center brokers can be employed to find a data center, just as one might use a broker for home or other commercial real estate.
Websites listing available colocation space, such as upstack.io, or entire data centers for sale or lease, are widely used. A common practice is for a customer to publish its data center requirements, and the vendors compete to provide the most attractive bid in a reverse auction.
Business and Customer Proximity
The center’s closeness to a business or organization may or may not be a factor in the site selection. The organization might wish to be close enough to manage the center or supervise the on-site staff from a nearby business location. The location of customers might be a factor, especially if data transmission speeds and latency are important, or the business or customers have regulatory, political, tax, or other considerations that dictate areas suitable or not suitable for the storage and processing of data.
Local climate is a major factor in data center design because the climatic conditions dictate what cooling technologies should be deployed. In turn this impacts uptime and the costs associated with cooling, which can total as much as 50% or more of a center’s power costs. The topology and the cost of managing a data center in a warm, humid climate will vary greatly from managing one in a cool, dry climate. Nevertheless, data centers are located in both extremely cold regions and extremely hot ones, with innovative approaches used in both extremes to maintain desired temperatures within the center.
Geographic Stability and Extreme Weather Events
A major obvious factor in locating a data center is the stability of the actual site as regards weather, seismic activity, and the likelihood of weather events such as hurricanes, as well as fire or flooding.
Backblaze’s Sacramento data center describes its location as one of the most stable geographic locations in California, outside fault zones and floodplains.
Sometimes the location of the center comes first and the facility is hardened to withstand anticipated threats, such as Equinix’s NAP of the Americas data center in Miami, one of the largest single-building data centers on the planet (six stories and 750,000 square feet), which is built 32 feet above sea level and designed to withstand category 5 hurricane winds.
Equinix “NAP of the Americas” Data Center in Miami
Most data centers don’t have the extreme protection or history of the Bahnhof data center, which is located inside the ultra-secure former nuclear bunker Pionen, in Stockholm, Sweden. It is buried 100 feet below ground inside the White Mountains and secured behind 15.7 in. thick metal doors. It prides itself on its self-described “Bond villain” ambiance.
Bahnhof Data Center under White Mountain in Stockholm
Usually, the data center owner or tenant will want to take into account the balance between cost and risk in the selection of a location. The Ideal quadrant below is obviously favored when making this compromise.
Risk mitigation also plays a strong role in pricing. The extent to which providers must implement special building techniques and operating technologies to protect the facility will affect price. When selecting a data center, organizations must make note of the data center’s certification level on the basis of regulatory requirements in the industry. These certifications can ensure that an organization is meeting necessary compliance requirements.
Electrical power usually represents the largest cost in a data center. The cost a service provider pays for power will be affected by the source of the power, the regulatory environment, the facility size and the rate concessions, if any, offered by the utility. At higher level tiers, battery, generator, and redundant power grids are a required part of the picture.
Fault tolerance and power redundancy are absolutely necessary to maintain uninterrupted data center operation. Parallel redundancy is a safeguard to ensure that an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) system is in place to provide electrical power if necessary. The UPS system can be based on batteries, saved kinetic energy, or some type of generator using diesel or another fuel. The center will operate on the UPS system with another UPS system acting as a backup power generator. If a power outage occurs, the additional UPS system power generator is available.
Many data centers require the use of independent power grids, with service provided by different utility companies or services, to prevent against loss of electrical service no matter what the cause. Some data centers have intentionally located themselves near national borders so that they can obtain redundant power from not just separate grids, but from separate geopolitical sources.
Higher redundancy levels required by a company will of invariably lead to higher prices. If one requires high availability backed by a service-level agreement (SLA), one can expect to pay more than another company with less demanding redundancy requirements.
Stay Tuned for Part 2 of The Challenges of Opening a Data Center
That’s it for part 1 of this post. In subsequent posts, we’ll take a look at some other factors to consider when moving into a data center such as network bandwidth, cooling, and security. We’ll take a look at what is involved in moving into a new data center (including stories from Backblaze’s experiences). We’ll also investigate what it takes to keep a data center running, and some of the new technologies and trends affecting data center design and use. You can discover all posts on our blog tagged with “Data Center” by following the link https://www.backblaze.com/blog/tag/data-center/.
The second part of this series on The Challenges of Opening a Data Center will be posted later this week. Use the Join button above to receive notification of future posts in this series.
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We had a total of 212 Mission Space Lab entries from 22 countries. Of these, a 114 fantastic projects have been given flight status, and the teams’ project code will run in space!
But they’re not winners yet. In April, the code will be sent to the ISS, and then the teams will receive back their experimental data. Next, to get deeper insight into the process of scientific endeavour, they will need produce a final report analysing their findings. Winners will be chosen based on the merit of their final report, and the winning teams will get exclusive prizes. Check the list below to see if your team got flight status.
Flight status achieved:
Team De Vesten, Campus De Vesten, Antwerpen
Ursa Major, CoderDojo Belgium, West-Vlaanderen
Special operations STEM, Sint-Claracollege, Antwerpen
Flight status achieved:
Let It Grow, Branksome Hall, Toronto
The Dark Side of Light, Branksome Hall, Toronto
Genie On The ISS, Branksome Hall, Toronto
Byte by PIthons, Youth Tech Education Society & Kid Code Jeunesse, Edmonton
The Broadviewnauts, Broadview, Ottawa
Flight status achieved:
BLEK, Střední Odborná Škola Blatná, Strakonice
Flight status achieved:
2y Infotek, Nærum Gymnasium, Nærum
Equation Quotation, Allerød Gymnasium, Lillerød
Team Weather Watchers, Allerød Gymnasium, Allerød
Space Gardners, Nærum Gymnasium, Nærum
Flight status achieved:
Team Aurora, Hyvinkään yhteiskoulun lukio, Hyvinkää
Flight status achieved:
INC2, Lycée Raoul Follereau, Bourgogne
Space Project SP4, Lycée Saint-Paul IV, Reunion Island
Dresseurs2Python, clg Albert CAMUS, essonne
Lazos, Lycée Aux Lazaristes, Rhone
The space nerds, Lycée Saint André Colmar, Alsace
Les Spationautes Valériquais, lycée de la Côte d’Albâtre, Normandie
Every school year, we run the European Astro Pi challenge to find the next generation of space scientists who will program two space-hardened Raspberry Pi units, called Astro Pis, living aboard the International Space Station.
Italian ESA Astronaut Paolo Nespoli with the Astro Pi units. Image credit ESA.
Astro Pi Mission Zero
The 2017–2018 challenge included the brand-new non-competitive Mission Zero, which guaranteed that participants could have their code run on the ISS for 30 seconds, provided they followed the rules. They would also get a certificate showing the exact time period during which their code ran in space.
We asked participants to write a simple Python program to display a personalised message and the air temperature on the Astro Pi screen. No special hardware was needed, since all the code could be written in a web browser using the Sense HAT emulator developed in partnership with Trinket.
Students coding #astropi emulator to scroll a message to astronauts on @Raspberry_Pi in space this summer. Try it here: https://t.co/0KURq11X0L #Rm9Parents #CSforAll #ontariocodes
And now it’s time…
We received over 2500 entries for Mission Zero, and we’re excited to announce that tomorrow all entries with flight status will be run on the ISS…in SPAAACE!
There are 1771 Python programs with flight status, which will run back-to-back on Astro Pi VIS (Ed). The whole process will take about 14 hours. This means that everyone will get a timestamp showing 1 February, so we’re going to call this day Mission Zero Day!
Part of each team’s certificate will be a map, like the one below, showing the exact location of the ISS while the team’s code was running.
The grey line is the ISS orbital path, the red marker shows the ISS’s location when their code was running. Produced using Google Static Maps API.
The programs will be run in the same sequence in which we received them. For operational reasons, we can’t guarantee that they will run while the ISS flies over any particular location. However, if you have submitted an entry to Mission Zero, there is a chance that your code will run while the ISS is right overhead!
Go out and spot the station
Spotting the ISS is a great activity to do by yourself or with your students. The station looks like a very fast-moving star that crosses the sky in just a few minutes. If you know when and where to look, and it’s not cloudy, you literally can’t miss it.
Source Andreas Möller, Wikimedia Commons.
The ISS passes over most ground locations about twice a day. For it to be clearly visible though, you need darkness on the ground with sunlight on the ISS due to its altitude. There are a number of websites which can tell you when these visible passes occur, such as NASA’s Spot the Station. Each of the sites requires you to give your location so it can work out when visible passes will occur near you.
Visible ISS pass star chart from Heavens Above, on which familiar constellations such as the Plough (see label Ursa Major) can be seen.
A personal favourite of mine is Heavens Above. It’s slightly more fiddly to use than other sites, but it produces brilliant star charts that show you precisely where to look in the sky. This is how it works:
Mission Zero certificates will be arriving in participants’ inboxes shortly. We would like to thank everyone who participated in Mission Zero this school year, and we hope that next time you’ll take it one step further and try Mission Space Lab.
Mission Zero and Mission Space Lab are two really exciting programmes that young people of all ages can take part in. If you would like to be notified when the next round of Astro Pi opens for registrations, sign up to our mailing list here.
Where did it land ???? #skypaca #skycademy @pacauk #RaspberryPi
Some of you may be familiar with Raspberry Pi being used as the flight computer, or tracker, of high-altitude balloon (HAB) payloads. For those who aren’t, high-altitude ballooning is a relatively simple activity (at least in principle) where a tracker is attached to a large weather balloon which is then released into the atmosphere. While the HAB ascends, the tracker takes pictures and data readings the whole time. Eventually (around 30km up) the balloon bursts, leaving the payload free to descend and be recovered. For a better explanation, I’m handing over to the students of UTC Oxfordshire:
On Tuesday 2nd May, students launched a Raspberry Pi computer 35,000 metres into the stratosphere as part of an Employer-Led project at UTC Oxfordshire, set by the Raspberry Pi Foundation. The project involved engineering, scientific and communication/publicity skills being developed to create the payload and code to interpret experiments set by the science team.
Over the past few years, we’ve seen schools and their students explore the possibilities that high-altitude ballooning offers, and back in 2015 and 2016 we ran Skycademy. The programme was simple enough: get a bunch of educators together in the same space, show them how to launch a balloon flight, and then send them back to their students to try and repeat what they’ve learned. Since the first Skycademy event, a number of participants have carried out launches, and we are extremely proud of each and every one of them.
The case of the vanishing PACA HAB
Not every launch has been a 100% success though. There are many things that can and do go wrong during HAB flights, and watching each launch from the comfort of our office can be a nerve-wracking experience. We had such an experience back in July 2017, during the launch performed by Skycademy graduate and Raspberry Pi Certified Educator Dave Hartley and his students from Portslade Aldridge Community Academy (PACA).
Dave and his team had been working on their payload for some time, and were awaiting suitable weather conditions. Early one Wednesday in July, everything aligned: they had a narrow window of good weather and so set their launch plan in motion. Soon they had assembled the payload in the school grounds and all was ready for the launch.
Just before 11:00, they’d completed their final checks and released their payload into the atmosphere. Over the course of 64 minutes, the HAB steadily rose to an altitude of 25647m, where it captured some amazing pictures before the balloon burst and a rapid descent began.
Soon after the payload began to descend, the team noticed something worrying: their predicted descent path took the payload dangerously far south — it was threatening to land in the sea. As the payload continued to lose altitude, their calculated results kept shifting, alternately predicting a landing on the ground or out to sea. Eventually it became clear that the payload would narrowly overshoot the land, and it finally landed about 2 km out to sea.
The path of the balloon
It’s not uncommon for a HAB payload to get lost. There are many ways this can happen, particularly in a narrow country with a prevailing easterly wind like the UK. Payloads can get lost at sea, land somewhere inaccessible, or simply run out of power before they are located and retrieved. So normally, this would be the end of the story for the PACA students — even if the team had had a speedboat to hand, their payload was surely lost for good.
A message from Denmark
However, this is not the end of our story! A couple of months later, I arrived at work and saw this tweet from a colleague:
Anyone lost a Raspberry Pi HAB? Someone found this one on a beach in south western Denmark yesterday #UKHAS https://t.co/7lBzFiemgr
Good Samaritan Henning Hansen had found a Raspberry Pi washed up on a remote beach in Denmark! While walking a stretch of coast to collect plastic debris for an environmental monitoring project, he came across something unusual near the shore at 55°04’53.0″N and 8°38’46.9″E.
This of course piqued my interest, and we began to investigate the image he had shared on Facebook.
Inspecting the photo closely, we noticed a small asset label — the kind of label that, over a year earlier, we’d stuck to each and every bit of Skycademy field kit. We excitedly claimed the kit on behalf of Dave and his students, and contacted Henning to arrange the recovery of the payload. He told us it must have been carried ashore with the tide some time between 21 and 27 September, and probably on 21 September, since that day had the highest tide over the period. This meant the payload must have spent over two months at sea!
From the photo we could tell that the Raspberry Pi had suffered significant corrosion, having been exposed to salt water for so long, and so we felt pessimistic about the chances that there would be any recoverable data on it. However, Henning said that he’d been able to read some files from the FAT partition of the SD card, so all hope was not lost.
After a few weeks and a number of complications around dispatch and delivery (thank you, Henning, for your infinite patience!), Helen collected the HAB from a local Post Office.
We set about trying to read the data from the SD card, and eventually became disheartened: despite several attempts, we were unable to read its contents.
In a last-ditch effort, we gave the SD card to Jonathan, one of our engineers, who initially laughed at the prospect of recovering any data from it. But ten minutes later, he returned with news of success!
Since then, we’ve been able to reunite the payload with the PACA launch team, and the students sent us the perfect message to end this story:
As we head into 2018 and start looking forward to longer days in the Northern hemisphere, I thought I’d take a look back at last year’s weather using data from Raspberry Pi Oracle Weather Stations. One of the great things about the kit is that as well as uploading all its readings to the shared online Oracle database, it stores them locally on the Pi in a MySQL or MariaDB database. This means you can use the power of SQL queries coupled with Python code to do automatic data analysis.
My Weather Station has only been installed since May, so I didn’t have a full 52 weeks of my own data to investigate. Still, my station recorded more than 70000 measurements. Living in England, the first thing I wanted to know was: which was the wettest month? Unsurprisingly, both in terms of average daily rainfall and total rainfall, the start of the summer period — exactly when I went on a staycation — was the soggiest:
What about the global Weather Station community?
Even soggier Bavaria
Here things get slightly trickier. Although we have a shiny Oracle database full of all participating schools’ sensor readings, some of the data needs careful interpretation. Many kits are used as part of the school curriculum and do not always record genuine outdoor conditions. Nevertheless, it appears that Adalbert Stifter Gymnasium in Bavaria, Germany, had an even wetter 2017 than my home did:
The records Robert-Dannemann Schule in Westerstede, Germany, is a good example of data which was most likely collected while testing and investigating the weather station sensors, rather than in genuine external conditions. Unless this school’s Weather Station was transported to a planet which suffers from extreme hurricanes, it wasn’t actually subjected to wind speeds above 1000km/h in November. Dismissing these and all similarly suspect records, I decided to award the ‘Windiest location of the year’ prize to CEIP Noalla-Telleiro, Spain.
This school is right on the coast, and is subject to some strong and squally weather systems.
Weather Station at CEIP Noalla-Telleiro
They’ve mounted their wind vane and anemometer nice and high, so I can see how they were able to record such high wind velocities.
A couple of Weather Stations have recently been commissioned in equally exposed places — it will be interesting to see whether they will record even higher speeds during 2018.
Highs and lows
After careful analysis and a few disqualifications (a couple of Weather Stations in contention for this category were housed indoors), the ‘Hottest location’ award went to High School of Chalastra in Thessaloniki, Greece. There were a couple of Weather Stations (the one at The Marwadi Education Foundation in India, for example) that reported higher average temperatures than Chalastra’s 24.54 ºC. However, they had uploaded far fewer readings and their data coverage of 2017 was only partial.
At the other end of the thermometer, the location with the coldest average temperature is École de la Rose Sauvage in Calgary, Canada, with a very chilly 9.9 ºC.
Weather Station at École de la Rose Sauvage
I suspect this school has a good chance of retaining the title: their lowest 2017 temperature of -24 ºC is likely to be beaten in 2018 due to extreme weather currently bringing a freezing start to the year in that part of the world.
If you have an Oracle Raspberry Pi Weather Station and would like to perform an annual review of your local data, you can use this Python script as a starting point. It will display a monthly summary of the temperature and rainfall for 2017, and you should be able to customise the code to focus on other sensor data or on a particular time of year. We’d love to see your results, so please share your findings with [email protected], and we’ll send you some limited-edition Weather Station stickers.
The idea was to make a game in only a week while watching AGDQ, as an alternative to doing absolutely nothing for a week while watching AGDQ. (I didn’t submit a game myself; I was chugging along on my Anise game, which isn’t finished yet.)
I can’t very well run a game jam and not play any of the games, so here’s some of them in no particular order! Enjoy!
These are impressions, not reviews. I try to avoid major/ending spoilers, but big plot points do tend to leave impressions.
short · rpg · jan 2017 · (lin)/mac/win · free on itch · jam entry
Weather Quest is its author’s first shipped game, written completely from scratch (the only vendored code is a micro OO base). It’s very short, but as someone who has also written LÖVE games completely from scratch, I can attest that producing something this game-like in a week is a fucking miracle. Bravo!
For reference, a week into my first foray, I think I was probably still writing my own Tiled importer like an idiot.
Only Mac and Windows builds are on itch, but it’s a LÖVE game, so Linux folks can just grab a zip from GitHub and throw that at love.
Given a stack of N pancakes (of all different sizes and in no particular order), the Nth pancake number is the most flips you could possibly need to sort the pancakes in order with the smallest on top. A “flip” is sticking a spatula under one of the pancakes and flipping the whole sub-stack over. There’s, ah, a video embedded on the game page with some visuals.
Anyway, this game lets you simulate sorting a stack via pancake flipping, which is surprisingly satisfying! I enjoy cleaning up little simulated messes, such as… incorrectly-sorted pancakes, I guess?
This probably doesn’t work too well as a simulator for solving the general problem — you’d have to find an optimal solution for every permutation of N pancakes to be sure you were right. But it’s a nice interactive illustration of the problem, and if you know the pancake number for your stack size of choice (which I wish the game told you — for seven pancakes, it’s 8), then trying to restore a stack in that many moves makes for a nice quick puzzle.
short · metroidvania · jan 2017 · web/win · free on itch · jam entry
The concept here was to kill the frames, save the animals, which is a delightfully literal riff on a long-running AGDQ/SGDQ donation incentive — people vote with their dollars to decide whether Super Metroid speedrunners go out of their way to free the critters who show you how to walljump and shinespark. Super Metroid didn’t have a showing at this year’s AGDQ, and so we have this game instead.
It’s rough, but clever, and I got really into it pretty quickly — each animal you save gives you a new ability (in true Metroid style), and you get to test that ability out by playing as the animal, with only that ability and no others, to get yourself back to the most recent save point.
I did, tragically, manage to get myself stuck near what I think was about to be the end of the game, so some of the animals will remain framed forever. What an unsatisfying conclusion.
Gravity feels a little high given the size of the screen, and like most tile-less platformers, there’s not really any way to gauge how high or long your jump is before you leap. But I’m only even nitpicking because I think this is a great idea and I hope the author really does keep working on it.
This is a Smash Bros-style brawler, complete with the four players, the 2D play area in a 3D world, and the random stage obstacles showing up. I do like the Smash style, despite not otherwise being a fan of fighting games, so it’s nice to see another game chase that aesthetic.
Alas, that’s about as far as it got — which is pretty far for a week of work! I don’t know what more to say, though. The environments are neat, but unless I’m missing something, the only actions at your disposal are jumping and very weak melee attacks. I did have a good few minutes of fun fruitlessly mashing myself against the bumbling bots, as you can see.
Here we have the first of several games made with bitsy, a micro game making tool that basically only supports walking around, talking to people, and picking up items.
I tell you this because I think half of my appreciation for this game is in the ways it wriggled against those limits to emulate a Zelda-like dungeon crawler. Everything in here is totally fake, and you can’t really understand just how fake unless you’ve tried to make something complicated with bitsy.
It’s pretty good. The dialogue is entertaining (the rest of your party develops distinct personalities solely through oneliners, somehow), the riffs on standard dungeon fare are charming, and the Link’s Awakening-esque perspective walls around the edges of each room are fucking glorious.
Another bitsy entry, this one sees you play as a Wal— sorry, a JogDawg, which has lost its cassette tapes and needs to go recover them!
(A cassette tape is like a VHS, but for music.)
(A VHS is—)
I have the sneaking suspicion that I missed out on some musical in-jokes, due to being uncultured swine. I still enjoyed the game — it’s always clear when someone is passionate about the thing they’re writing about, and I could tell I was awash in that aura even if some of it went over my head. You know you’ve done good if someone from way outside your sphere shows up and still has a good time.
FINALSCORE: Nine… Inch Nails? They’re a band, right? God I don’t know write your own damn joke
I completely forgot I’d even given “my birthday” and “my cat” as mostly-joking jam themes until I stumbled upon this incredible gem. I don’t think — let me just check here and — yeah no this person doesn’t even follow me on Twitter. I have no idea who they are?
BUTTHEYMADE A GAMEABOUTANISEAS A PIRATE, LOOKINGFORTREASURE
short · platformer · jan 2017 · (lin/mac)/win · free on itch · jam entry
You see this? This is fucking witchcraft.
This game is made with MegaZeux. MegaZeux games look like THIS. Text-mode, bound to a grid, with two colors per cell. That’s all you get.
Until now, apparently?? The game is a tech demo of “unbound” sprites, which can be drawn on top of the character grid without being aligned to it. And apparently have looser color restrictions.
The collision is a little glitchy, which isn’t surprising for a MegaZeux platformer; I had some fun interactions with platforms a couple times. But hey, goddamn, it’s free-moving Mario, in MegaZeux, what the hell.
(I’m looking at the most recently added games on DigitalMZX now, and I notice that not only is this game in the first slot, but NovaSquirrel’s MegaZeux entry for Strawberry Jam last February is still in the seventh slot. RIP, MegaZeux. I’m surprised a major feature like this was even added if the community has largely evaporated?)
FINALSCORE: n/a, disqualified for being probably summoned from the depths of Hell
This is a short story about not sending dick pics. It’s very short, so I can’t say much without spoiling it, but: you are generally prompted to either text something reasonable, or send a dick pic. You should not send a dick pic.
It’s a fascinating artifact, not because of the work itself, but because it’s so terse that I genuinely can’t tell what the author was even going for. And this is the kind of subject where the author was, surely, going for something. Right? But was it genuinely intended to be educational, or was it tongue-in-cheek about how some dudes still don’t get it? Or is it side-eying the player who clicks the obviously wrong option just for kicks, which is the same reason people do it for real? Or is it commentary on how “send a dick pic” is a literal option for every response in a real conversation, too, and it’s not that hard to just not do it — unless you are one of the kinds of people who just feels a compulsion to try everything, anything, just because you can? Or is it just a quick Twine and I am way too deep in this? God, just play the thing, it’s shorter than this paragraph.
I’m also left wondering when it is appropriate to send a dick pic. Presumably there is a correct time? Hopefully the author will enter Strawberry Jam 2 to expound upon this.
Ah, hm. So this is a maze navigated by rolling a marble around. You use WASD to move the marble, and you can also turn the camera with the arrow keys.
The trouble is… the marble’s movement is always relative to the world, not the camera. That means if you turn the camera 30° and then try to move the marble, it’ll move at a 30° angle from your point of view.
That makes navigating a maze, er, difficult.
Camera-relative movement is the kind of thing I take so much for granted that I wouldn’t even think to do otherwise, and I think it’s valuable to look at surprising choices that violate fundamental conventions, so I’m trying to take this as a nudge out of my comfort zone. What could you design in an interesting way that used world-relative movement? Probably not the player, but maybe something else in the world, as long as you had strong landmarks? Hmm.
short · arcade · jan 2017 · lin/mac/win · free on itch · jam entry
Refactor is a game album, which is rather a lot what it sounds like, and Flight is one of the tracks. Which makes this a single, I suppose.
It’s one of those games where you move down an oddly-shaped tunnel trying not to hit the walls, but with some cute twists. Coins and gems hop up from the bottom of the screen in time with the music, and collecting them gives you points. Hitting a wall costs you some points and kills your momentum, but I don’t think outright losing is possible, which is great for me!
Also, the monk cycles through several animal faces. I don’t know why, and it’s very good. One of those odd but memorable details that sits squarely on the intersection of abstract, mysterious, and a bit weird, and refuses to budge from that spot.
Another bitsy game, this one starring a pig (humorously symbolized by a giant pig nose with ears) who must collect fruit and solve some puzzles.
This is charmingly nostalgic for me — it reminds me of some standard fare in engines like MegaZeux, where the obvious things to do when presented with tiles and pickups were to make mazes. I don’t mean that in a bad way; the maze is the fundamental environmental obstacle.
A couple places in here felt like invisible teleport mazes I had to brute-force, but I might have been missing a hint somewhere. I did make it through with only a little trouble, but alas — I stepped in a bad warp somewhere and got sent to the upper left corner of the starting screen, which is surrounded by walls. So Klyde’s new life is being trapped eternally in a nowhere space.
That was only a third of the games, and I don’t think even half of the ones I’ve played. I’ll have to do a second post covering the rest of them? Maybe a third?
Or maybe this is a ludicrous format for commenting on several dozen games and I should try to narrow it down to the ones that resonated the most for Strawberry Jam 2? Maybe??
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