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Rapid Prototyping Mobile Projects with Arduino and Open Hardware

These are the slides from my Mobile Dev and Test session on Rapid Prototyping Mobile Projects with Arduino and Open Hardware in San Diego. I’ll update later with links and more resources.

slides download (v0.9)

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Visuino Links

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News

Some Great Women of Programming

It frequently puzzles me that programming seems to be dominated by men when the founders of programming and many of the greatest programmers were women. I read an article that this may be contributed to by early home computers being advertised as game systems for boys, which tipped the scales temporarily.

Here are a few amazing women who pioneered the computer programing field.

Ada LovelaceLady Ada Lovelace (1815 – 1852) Invented the idea of programming. Her father Lord Byron was known for his poetry. Lovelace was a poet of mathematics.

[The Analytical Engine] might act upon other things besides number, were objects found whose mutual fundamental relations could be expressed by those of the abstract science of operations, and which should be also susceptible of adaptations to the action of the operating notation and mechanism of the engine…Supposing, for instance, that the fundamental relations of pitched sounds in the science of harmony and of musical composition were susceptible of such expression and adaptations, the engine might compose elaborate and scientific pieces of music of any degree of complexity or extent. –As quoted by Menabrea, Luigi (1842).

Grace Hopper“Amazing” Grace Murray Hopper (1906 – 1992) invented the idea of human readable programming languages, then created COBOL. She achieved the rank of Rear Admiral in the US Navy, then had a Missile Destroyer and Cray Supercomputer named after her. The term debugging was attributed to her discovering a moth in a computer at one point. She carried around a nanosecond worth of wire to help people understand the relation between size and speed of computers.

Humans are allergic to change. They love to say, “We’ve always done it this way.” I try to fight that. That’s why I have a clock on my wall that runs counter-clockwise.

Adele Goldstine (1920 – 1964) wrote the complete technical description for ENIAC, the first electronic digital computer. And the original programmers for ENIAC were also all women: Kay McNulty, Betty Jennings, Betty Snyder, Marlyn Meltzer, Fran Bilas, and Ruth Lichterman.Betty Jean Jennigs & Fran Bilas, ENIAC Programmers

Jean E. Sammet (1928 – ) developed the FORMAC programming language, a variation of FORTRAN.

Margaret Hamilton (1936 – ) Margaret Hamilton was the Director of the Software Engineering Division for the MIT Instrumentation Laboratory during the time that her division developed the on-board flight software for the Apollo space program. Also, in 1986 she became the founder and CEO of Hamilton Technologies, Inc. in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a company based around the Universal Systems Language.

Margaret Hamilton during the Apollo program
Margaret Hamilton during the Apollo program

My daughters have as much, if not more, interest in computer programming than my boys. I hope we will continue to see more amazing women in computer programming!

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News

Keep Threading in Mind

In my interview with Martin he talked a lot about the importance of performance, which is one of the reasons he uses Delphi for his real-time lighting control systems. He said something along the lines that if you are not programming with threading in mind then you are never going to get good performance. That is good advice. Even cell phones have quad-core processors in them these days.

Keep Threading in Mind

 

Delphi includes a great Parallel Programming Library which I really like. There is also the ever popular OmniThreadLibrary. They both make parallel programming much easier. I just learned about a new helper library to make parallel programming even easier.

CocinAsync: A Delphi library to simplify coding and improve performance of asynchronous and multithreaded applications.

It includes a number of different units and helpers. According to Jason Southwell, the developer, he has found a “100 to 150% improvement in performance over equivalent generic container wrapped in a critical section.” So how does it do this? If you look at the page the first thing you see is a brilliant couple helpers: QueueIfInThread & SynchronizeIfInThread.

We all know it is important to make sure certain code is synchronized into the main thread, unfortunately we end up with multiple code paths some and some code could be executed in the main thread via one call, and a background thread in another call. Using this helper only performs the synchronization if the code was called from a background thread.

That is just one of the helper classes included in CocinAsync. Take a look at it and keep threading in mind.

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Audio podCast Cool Apps FireMonkey podcast TMS VCL

The Niagara Falls Lighting Episode

Martin SearanckeThis episode is extra special in that it include a case study of the software behind the lights for Niagara Falls. Nick and I spoke with Martin Searancke of Dream Solutions, Ltd. in New Zealand, who is the architect of the Light Factory software used by the Niagara Falls Illumination Board to illuminate Niagara Falls.  After you listen to the podcast you can read the case study write up here.

The software uses both VCL and FireMonkey. The backend control software is written in VCL and the frontend user interface side is written in FireMonkey. It also uses components by Mitov Software, TMS Software, and LMD Innovative.

A few links we mentioned

Here is a little documentary about the new lights at Niagara Falls. It mostly focuses on the hardware side of things, but you can watch it knowing the software comes from your favorite development tools.

Niagara Falls Lighting Software Case Study

Introduction

The decision to upgrade the lighting that illuminates Niagara Falls seems as though it should be the main story but, it’s not. The part of the project we are interested in is the one where the Niagara Falls Illumination Board (NFI) added a requirement to build a more flexible color illumination scheme to replace the old guillotine color-changing scheme that had been in place since 1974. The guillotine color-changing synchro-server mechanical system was to be replaced by a digital color control system and the twenty-one 4000w Xenon lights were to be replaced by 1400 digital-friendly nine-light LED modules in which the LED’s would be multi-color rather than having to place a filter in front of the white light of the Xenons. The LED system of lights would be software controlled from a 22-inch touch screen from over a 2000 foot distance from the falls.

Niagara Falls LEDs Powered by Delphi

The Solution

The technical and engineering challenges to a project of this scope and magnitude were significant right down to the last task of choosing the lighting controller and connecting it with the 1400 LED light modules. The software that drives the system is housed in the controller and is built using Embarcadero’s Delphi Powered by Embarcadero DelphiIntegrated Development Environment (IDE). The FireMonkey (FMX) application development platform is used to create the front end functionality, and the Visual Component Library (VCL) is used for the back-end services. FireMonkey and VCL are both integrated elements of the Delphi IDE.

The lighting controller was a commercially available machine marketed by Philips Strand Lighting as part of their NEO line of lighting consoles.

NEO Console running Martain's software

The existing software code in the NEO lighting console dated back a few years given that the console had been sold commercially before the Niagara Falls lighting project was even considered. The first challenge to overcome was to review the technical and performance requirements needed to accomplish the vision of the NFI and update the FireMonkey and VCL code to meet the required functionality. Then, came the customization of the code to accommodate all the connecting equipment that would drive the LED modules and the end user interface, the 22-inch touchscreen.

The overall objective of the new control console and software code within was not to try and upstage the majestic beauty of the falls but rather to organically enhance visual images of the falls at night when it couldn’t be seen otherwise. So, special effects such as strobing and other awe and wow factors were ignored in favor of techniques such as backlighting the falls to reveal hidden beauty in addition to a penetrating forward color-changing illumination. The results were nothing less than magnificent requiring new software profiles due to the color changing properties of the LED modules. The final result was ten preset modes for each side of the Falls (American and Canadian) encompassing color schemes to match naturally occurring, organic events such as the aurora borealis, sunset, sunrise, waves, and color gradients.

One unique capability that was requested to be programmed into the FireMonkey and VCL code was a user interface the allowed operators to use a touch-sensitive color-picker button on the screen to change scenes instantaneously. The LED lighting modules instantly responsive making these color changes dramatic and inspiring. A mobile interface module and application was created using FireMonkey to allow visitors and tourists to be able to manipulate the solid color palette and see the changes appear right before their eyes.

Conclusion

The Niagara Falls Lighting Project brought to light one of the real values of Embarcadero software. In this case, the Delphi IDE and its integrated parts (FireMonkey and VCL) is life-cycle engineered so that code developed years ago can be updated and reused to create an entirely new, cutting edge capability for new technologies such as LED lighting modules. This fit the Niagara Falls Illumination Board (NFI) requirements perfectly. The design of the system was mandated to done such that in the future, changes and additions can be easily accommodated. Embarcadero and its Delphi IDE proved its worth and was demonstrated to be able to meet future requirements as the Niagara Falls lighting system evolves and new technologies come online.

Niagara Falls Lit by Delphi

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Architecture

MVVM-MVC-RAD Architectures with ColumbusEgg4Delphi

Loosely coupled is good. We don’t want our business logic and data access all mixed together, that makes our code harder to maintain. But we all love RAD and being able to create our applications quickly. Drop some components on the form, set some properties and write a little code and we are done! Unfortunately we usually end up with tightly coupled code.

Most architectures I’ve seen for keeping everything separated results in needing to write all the data binding manually. You still get to design your forms with the visual designer, but missing the data binding kind of sucks.

Modern Delphi Architectures

That all changes with Daniele Teti‘s ColumbusEgg4Delphi. It lets you build loosely coupled applications where the business logic, data access and user interface are all kept separately, but you still get to use all those great RAD design tools. Daniele did a Modern Delphi Software Architectures webinar where he introduced ColumbusEgg4Delphi and explained how it works. You can catch the replay here . . . .

The first 10 minutes explains the need for ColumbusEgg4Delphi, then after that he explains how it works and shows a great example and answers questions.

Is ColumbusEgg4Delphi perfect? I don’t know, but it is a huge step in the right direction.

Check out Daniele Teti’s blog and his company site, his MVC framework, as well as his books.