Having had a worrying night hoping that the sensor we’d left in the Biome wasn’t going to catch fire due to water or ants, I arrived at the Eden Project with a sense of relief after seeing that all the Biomes were in tacked.
The final day was fully of frantic activity as each team worked their hardest ready for the critical customer demo, could we convince our audience that the prototype was good and we were worth investing in to complete the project?
The sensor team were the first with a problem, having added a digital thermometer the previous evening it became apparent that it wasn’t working just before the sensor station was placed in the Biome. As I drove home I realised that the circuit board was missing a pull-up resistor, in our rush to get the board ready to go back out it had been forgotten. So the first task was to recover the sensor station from the Biome and also fix the sensor station we didn’t deploy. The sensor station that had been in the Biome came back soaked in water and with ants in the moisture sensor, and it was dead. A worried team opened it up and removed the battery, it had discharged, we hadn’t got around to the power calculations yet. A new battery and it was back to life. Resistors
Resistors added, it was back to the rain forest to get some live data for the UI team to work with. Then the real problems began. Michael, from Eden, took a sensor station to the staff platform at the very top of the Biome – no small feat, a 150 step climb around the outside, climbing in through an access hatch and then climbing the steps. As he made his way back down, Emo from the sensor team had a worried look, “I’m not seeing anything”. Same with the sensor we had in our hands. This was not looking good. We tried to reset the stations and whilst it looked like they were working, the server wasn’t being passed any data.
Back in our base room, we started to work out what had happened, all that had changed was a new resistor, but first we reloaded code on to the processor, modified the code, changed the batteries, before eventually cutting the resistor out. Suddenly, the device sprung back into live, I’m still not sure what caused the problem, but there was something wrong with the resistor. Both stations modified and we had run out of time to put them back into the Biome. We needed on to display, the team also needed to start to prepare for the demo.
The core server team had a similar busy morning. They still needed to get the data from the sensor team saving and then being passed to the ui-team. Up until now the ui team had been being provided with dummy data. The team worked right upto and through the customer demo, eventually getting the data passing through just as the ui demo showed off the data visualisation.
The Big Demo
Eventually, the teams stopped and gathered round our group of VIP customers. Each team presented what they had been doing throughout the week and demonstrated what they had developed. All the teams did a great job. Nobody enjoys the presentations, but having the opportunity to practice presenting to non-peers is really important. Once the attendees are in work, the more confident they can appear to customers and colleagues the better, confidence only comes with experience and practice, so when we have an opportunity we have to make the most of it. All of the team members tackled the presentation in the same way that they approached all the challenges of the week, with energy and enthusiasm, well-done everyone, you really were brilliant.
A BIG thank you to our VIPs, the Software Cornwall Committee, Paul (Bluefruit), Belinda and Olly (IBM), plus Bran from the Eden Education Team, Michael – Edens’ Horticultural Technologist, Cornwall Colleges IT team leader – Richard and finally, Steve, maker of Bert and Ernie and also the really annoying Change Driver system!
We finished with a retrospective covering the week using Allan Kellys Retrospective Dialogue Sheet. This provided a great format for enabling the teams to reflect on the whole week and talk through the highs, the lows, the lessons they had learnt and how they could apply them in the future.
There is one team that have been truely amazing this week and deserve a special mention – the mentors. Ben, Paul, Andy, Byran and Pete, without you none of this would have been possible. Thank you for all hours of work that you have put in, your patience, your advice and your enthusiasm.
What started as an idea from a discussion with Edens Horticultural Technologist, Michael, the week had come into being after 6 months of planning and preparation. At the beginning of the week I had real concerns that none of it might work, but actually, as with life, it wasn’t really about the outcome, it was about the journey.
We tried to take the teams through a journey of discovery in understanding what it’s like to work as a software developer. I hoped to demonstrate:
- Software development is hugely varied, from working soldering components, reading data sheets and trying to interact with physical devices to managing and processing data or designing attractive attention grabbing interfaces.
- Software development is collaborative. You have to work as a team; not just single team, but a team within teams. Not only do you have to work in a team you have to be promiscuous and be prepared to move between and form new teams to solve the problem at hand.
- Nobody is an expert. The field of software development is so vast, you can’t expect to know everything. A career in software development is about constantly learning. This is a skill, that like any other skill, needs to be practised. One minute you are the expert and have deep knowledge, the next your are having to learn from a “junior”. This requires an approach to live and work that isn’t predicated on hierarchy, superiority or a knowledge is power perspective, but instead, a shared learning environment where collaboration and shared learning dominate.
- Software development is exciting. Enough said!
I think we achieved all of those and more. The retrospective sheets had the following brilliant learning points:
- Split into 2 teams. The sensor team identified that sharing the workload into pairs worked for them.
- System testing. The sensor team identified that they did this too late, they needed more intra-team communication and more testing with other teams.
- WebServer. The sensor team were pushed towards making the sensor webservers, this was different but a convenient way of performing diagnostics (well done me!)
- Planning with other teams. The core team identified they needed more communication intra-team.
- Setup day. The core team felt a day of setup would have been beneficial.
- Students to have course brief beforehand.
- Use EMACS. The core team were shown EMACS, how to customise and use it, to the point that they used it for their presentation! Some of them intend to carry using it – well done Ben!
- More Resources. The UI team were inspired to work at home and think additional resources would have helped them get further, but they also would have like to be in a position to be less reliant on the mentors.
What an amazing amount of learning, which really only just scratches the surface of what was discovered this week. Did I mention the classroom? The classroom was amazing, just a room, but a room with space, with art and stuff, it was bright and interesting and gave us a really creative space. All classrooms should be like this – thank you Eden.
The project and two main aims, create a work-like experience for students, inspiring them to keep learning, and helping the Eden Project with (my interpretation of) their mission, to educate people about the importance of our planet, it’s ecosystems and the fragility of life. I think we managed both – well done everyone.
Well we have our monthly tech jams –
And the links
I promised the links to the server. Only the core team created a production server, you can see the output from the sensors here (the sensors aren’t live anymore): http://220.127.116.11/api/sensors
The site will be live for another week or so.
The source code that the teams created can be found on GitHub: https://github.com/TheEdenOfThings
And our EdenOfThings website is here: