Chocolate Box – Overview

The Chocolate Box project is made of many different parts, which are summarised by this diagram:

Human Interaction

The interaction happens though Alexa, Amazon’s virtual assistant. In my case, any of the many Echo devices in my house can pick up the request and activate the whole flow.

Infrastructure / Logic

This part connects the signal coming from Alexa to the actuator device inside the box. The hardware for this part is a Raspberry Pi 3, and it’s powered by Node-Red for the automation system and Mosquitto as MQTT Broker.

Actuator

The actuator device is based on Arduino MKR1000, and two servos. All embedded into a cardboard box, disquised as a Christmas present.

In the upcoming posts of this series I’ll break down in details every block, and all the configs will be made available too.

Stay tuned!

Chocolate Box – intro

I built an automated chocolate box that sits nicely under my Christmas tree, and it’s operated by Alexa. It took me a few hours to figure out all the bits and pieces, but instead of working on a massive post with all the details, I’m breaking down this project in several pieces and several posts.

Stay tuned and enjoy the ride!

Oh, by the way, this is the final product:

I started this blog back in 2006 as a tech blog, so I feel this project a little bit as a return to the origins.

Turning a Bug into a Feature

I recently had a chat with my physiotherapist to fix the neck pain I have experienced more and more in the past few months.

He advised me to stretch my shoulders and neck. Better than a single 30-minute stretching session at the end of the day, he advised taking frequent 5-minute breaks during the day.

I recently discovered that the PIR sensors into Philips Hue devices require active movement, and not actual presence to be activated. This means that when I sit at my desk for an extended period of time, the sensor feels like nobody is in the room.

It was just enough to turn the timeout time for the sensor in my studio to 25 minutes, and I now have a perfect system that fixes both of m problems during the day: stretching my neck and shoulders and fully automate the lighting of my studio.

When I walk into the room, the lights turn on, and after 25 minutes after I leave the room, the lights turn off. When I’m working, if the lights turn off, it’s about time to stand up, stretch a little bit, drink a glass of water, and get back to work.

I also have a complicated node-red config that allows me to trigger on and off the sensor, so to avoid the awkward darkness during extended video meetings. But this is another story, so I’ll save it for another post.

Autonomous Driving

This video from BMW explains the 5 levels of autonomous driving. Spoiler: we are already at level 2, on a few high-end car models.

Volvo just presented Vera, the future of autonomous transport. Designed to operate on short distance high-volume tasks, this system is fully autonomous and it does not even have a driving cabin.

But the best example comes from Dominos’s pizza. They are already testing autonomous deliveries, taking full advantage of this amazing technology.

I can’t wait to see what’s next for this exciting opportunity in the transport industry!

I miei migliori clienti, sono quelli che non ho mai avuto

Per un certo periodo non ero bravo a fare business. Era il periodo in cui spendevo soldi in abiti costosi, in biglietti da visita stravaganti, e perdevo tempo ad assecondare i miei clienti.

Sono stato un libero professionista per la maggior parte della mia carriera ed ho iniziato presto. Avevo solo 21 anni quando ho lasciato l’università e ho aperto la partita IVA. A quel tempo pensavo che il dovere di un professionista fosse trovare il maggior numero di clienti possibile e renderli felici.

Era praticamente impossibile perché la maggior parte dei miei clienti non era solo difficile da compiacere, ma la maggior parte delle volte non avevano nemmeno idea di cosa volessero loro stessi. Volevano risultati inarrivabili, in tempi irragionevoli, a prezzi insostenibili. Io ero giovane, senza esperienza e accettavo tutto quello che arrivava.

Mi ricordo bene quanto mi facesse arrabbiare non ricevere risposte alle mie offerte.

Successivamente ho imparato che il rapporto con i clienti era molto più simile ad una storia d’amore: entrambe le parti dovevano avere rispetto reciproco, essere attratte, e sentirsi bene insieme. Quando era una relazione non corrisposta, creava solo frustrazione, rendeva le persone infelici, e di solito durava poco.

Ad un certo punto ho accettato l’idea che un professionista non fosse definito dai clienti che aveva, ma dai clienti che aveva deciso di non avere. Allo stesso modo in cui la cultura di un ambiente lavorativo non è definita da come le persone la descrivono ma solo da quello che viene tollerato da chi la vive, un professionista è definito dal tipo di clienti che non cerca, che non vuole, e che non ha.

Per questo mi piace ripetere che i miei migliori clienti, sono quelli che non ho mai avuto.