Friday, January 11, 2008

Hong Kong & Shenzhen Bi-city Biennale of Urbanism\Architecture

The following is a recap of what the RCUC Team had done for the Past 20+ days for the event. It had been both an interesting and enjoyable volunteering work. I should thank Charles Mok and Edmon Chung for dragging me into this. -- Joe--
Dec 19:
Visit Central Police Station for the first time. Impressive, but with no intact network infrastructure, it will be hard to provide location-based services. Since we have to rely on whatever device the user is carrying, and with no mobile operator support on cell broadcast of sms, we pretty much rule out GPS, GSM, SMS, RFID, and Sensor Network. Although PCCW is trying to cover the premise with WLAN for the exhibitors, they make no promise on how the WLAN is configured such that it can be utilized to provide Wi-Fi Location based services. At the end of the visit, we took edmon's advise to work on a bluetooth based solution.

Dec 21-29:
Because of Christmas, it took me a week to setup a team to work on the bluetooth solution. The team consists of myself, 1 project leader, 1 programmer, and 2-3 Research Assistants. By Dec 29, we stuck with our "poor man design" for the following reasons:
1) With no LAN support, and no wireless network cards, we have to stick with stand alone PC equipped with bluetooth;
2) With no particular security and a exhibition period spanning over 2 months, we have to use old and obsolete PCs;

Dec 30-31:
First version bluetooth program is out and under testing, we found out the program may not work with every bluetooth dongle. So we have to decide which dongle to buy. And we start to look for Old PCs. Charles is offering help to have us contact John, but I guess time is too tight for it.

Jan 2:
At the start of a new year. we faced a serious technical problem with bluetooth under Windows - some manual interaction have to be involved in pairing 2 bluetooth devices for communications. From an intensive search over the Internet for solution, we are almost sure that we cannot avoid the pairing of 2 bluetooth devices. We either start it over with Linux OS or hunt for any possible API or utility or write our own quick and dirty hack that can by pass the manual interaction. As time is running out, I gave my team one more day to work on it and would drop the towel if no solution by then.

Jan 3:
Bluetooth problem had been solved by trying different API and one of them can by-pass it! We solved one problem, but we faced yet another crisis - not enough PCs for all the exhibits. Originally, we are thinking of 10 locations only and will only do a zone advertising. But after Martin told us that altogether 34 locations are needed, our team started hunting for old PC all over HKBU. We first went through our own Research Lab and my own office and got only 3! We then stormed over the CS department and get 3 more, another CS teaching lab and got 2! Although there are PCs waited to be disposed, but it was too late to trigger the process (because we have to seek for approval from the dispose committee). Thus, we headed over the computer centre and get 10. We begged and got another 12 from the classroom support section from ITSC. Hence, we had 30 old Pentium4 PCs. Just fall short for 4, and that is too few to give it up. So we went back to computer centre and grabbed the long de-commissioned Pentium3 machines and we got 11 of them! Those 11 P3 ended up providing enough spare parts for us to assemble 6 running machines with P3-733 CPU, 256M RAM, 8G HD and an operating USB port. With this savaging activity, we should change the logo of our research lab to a skull with 2 crossed bones - i.e. the pirate symbol!

Jan 4-6:
While we were cloning the batch of 36 machines, we had another surprise from Golden Centre. The bluetooth dongle we have adopted ran out of stock and we only had 6 of them! We took our chance to buy 2 other brands of similar spec and found out just one of them worked with our old hardware. Took us some more iterations to get enough dongles and some of them have to install specific drivers to get them to work.

While part of the team is working on the hardware, the rest of the team had to work on the content: 2 text messages (Chinese and english) and 1 photo/graphics for each exhibits. But what we have received from Martin is just a 40+ Mbyte PDF file - the catalog of the event with the Title of the exhibit being the unique identifier of the project. So, from the floor plan the exhibit areas are marked as B1, B2, ..., H1, H2,... etc. Then, from the legend of the floor plan, we knew the project title for B1. With this title, we can go through the catalog and find out the page for the title corresponding to B1, then we can extract the text messages out from the PDF file. For the photo/graphics, Martin gave us the individual file with meaningful filenames: B1-1.jpg, B1-2.jpg, but we have to merge multiple photos into one picture and resize it for the screen of the mobile phone.

Jan 7:
Everything set to go and we moved everything to the site by around 4:00pm. Martin told us that only 15 exhibitors were contacted and agreed to have us installed an old and ugly PC with their exhibits. We splitted into 2 teams and started the installations and asking around for the rest of the exhibitors. Murphy's laws of course kicked in a number of times before things finally smooth out. By around 8:00pm, we only managed to install 3 sites and headed for Tsui Wah for dinner! That was a very delicious dinner and it was my treat to all the helpers.

Jan 8:
With some more tricks and hiccups triggered by Murphy, we finally got everything done by 7:30pm and went to Tsui Wah again for another tasty dinner and again the bill went to me of course.

Jan 9:
Need to print out some labels to tell people to switch on their bluetooth and a little of promotion by saying that the Virtua Tour is provided by the Research Centre for Ubiquitous Computing at HKBU. By 3:30pm I join the opening ceremony leaving my team to do a final check on all locations in the Police Head Quarter and the Barrack. Murphy again played some last tricks on us and we left by 6:00pm.

Jan 10:
We designed a bigger sign asking people to turn on their bluetooth and passed it to Martin and hopefully he will put them up everywhere along the corridors passages, routes, and in front of the exhibits.

1. Although this is volunteering work, the whole team gain valuable experience on bluetooth development and get to know more about the behaviour of bluetooth devices.

2. Grace, Martin, Bo Bo are all nice to work with. This event also build up our team spirits and everyone have had a special treat to explore the Central Police Station Complex.

3. Before this event, I thought IT people are working hard towards a deadline. With the opening ceremony set at 3:00pm on Wednesday, and the site open for public access by Thursday, I am very impressed on how efficient the workers had been, and how architects worked towards their deadlines. They worked over nights for the past few days and produced high quality and stylish exhibits. And I had to admitted that some of the design and use of materials are really unique and innovative.

4. PCCW is also very professional in the layout and the installation of a WLAN in such short notice. I have scanned the exhibition areas with my PocketPC. Should we had more time to plan ahead and better collaboration in setting up the WLAN, we could have provided a more interesting location-based service using PCCW's Wi-Fi network.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Start a new blog for 2008

This is the first post to my 2008 blog.
In view of a number of interesting projects and the start of a new year, I may as well start a blog to keep a leisure record on this.

Joseph OSK