Ingress: Dangers and First Impressions

I push through the front doors of the US Post Office, my eyes still glued to my Ingress exotic matter (XM) scanner. I’m so going to hack this portal! “Target Acquired,” my cell phone chirped and loud enough for a few other patrons to notice. Oh crap, I may have just made a poor life decision, I thought as I glanced around the federal building.

Ingress is a new augmented reality game created by Google’s Niantic Labs. Imagine a cross between Pac Man, Foursquare, Geocaching, and Capture the Flag all rolled into one app on your phone. You run around town looking at a Google Map-like view gathering energy so that you can capture and defend geographically-distributed portals against an enemy faction.

Luckily, I walked away from my first big Ingress encounter unscathed, unfrisked, and undetained. But, I’m now picturing very different scenarios in the near future with people suspiciously circling buildings, eyes glued to their phones that occasionally make scary, threatening, futuristic sounds. Just ask the Mooninites or that student wearing art composed of exposed electronics, but it doesn’t seem to take much to freak people out these days.

Mooninite device that people freaked out about: . Image from Wikipedia.

The game has placed portals on a number of sites that the broader citizen base may not appreciate seeing trampled including federal buildings, libraries, and even some public middle school grounds. Fire departments also appear to be a very popular location for portals. One fire department with a portal I investigated could not be hacked without driving or walking up into their parking lot, potentially blocking their garage. I took a moment to talk with the on-duty firefighter at the station to get his take on the game and to see if anyone had notified them that their station would now be a part of some geeky capture the flag game. Nope. He hadn’t heard of it and while he sounded intrigued by the concept he did not like the idea of increased traffic pulling into their parking lot. As a local homeowner, I have to agree.

The game is still in beta and perhaps one goal is to identify some of these concerns before unleashing the nerd hordes. Suspected terrorist and arsonist concerns aside, this has been a pretty entertaining game. I’ve hoped for an augmented reality game like this for awhile and I think the folks at Niantic Labs have done a great job. It’s even provided enough motivation for me to get a little extra exercise in as I take walking breaks to hack and recharge portals. I don’t know how the game dynamics will change or scale once more people join the action, but it definitely has my attention for the time being.

Just think twice if Google tells you to visit the local fire department at night and lets revisit portal placement. Make good life choices.

Ingress Activity
Snapshot of Ingress activity in Durham (Nov 2012)

Hello World Update

It’s been awhile since my last real update and a lot’s been going on. First, the good people of Popular Mechanics reached out to me earlier this year about the squirrel/sentry gun project and did a little write-up about it in their September 2012 issue. Having grown up on Popular Mechanics it was very cool and flattering. (I’m still tempted to send away for plans to build a flying ship out of ordinary household vacuum cleaners.) I think my favorite part was getting a cartoon rendering of myself. And to all the people who write to me about their ongoing wildlife battles: stay strong!

Popular Mechanics

Since my last real update, I also left my amazing team to start a new adventure. I am now the Director of Technology at Pruvop. As a digital products laboratory we work on a wide-range of projects, from building functional prototypes for early-stage startups to helping larger organizations streamline their internal processes by integrating intelligent automation software. I’m back in the mud again, designing and building all sorts of cool projects in Downtown Durham. It has been great being surrounded by a cross-functional team (marketing, business, developers) who all appreciate the strengths of agile and lean methodologies.

I hope to be able to share some new developments in the coming months!

PyCarolina Redux

We just wrapped up the inaugural PyCarolinas conference. I know I had a good time and it was great to see so many people in attendance not only from the southeast, but from across the US with even some international attendees.


Professor Gary Bishop of the Department of Computer Science at UNC Chapel Hill gave our first keynote on Saturday touching on accessibility and enabling technologies. It was an inspiring call to action. We as developers have tremendous power at our fingertips to make a difference in the lives of countless individuals around the world. Just do it and make it happen. Leave the committees out of it.

Lynn Root gave Sunday’s keynote, where she shared her experiences in joining and building communities. My favorite take away here on the simplicity of community and solidarity was, “Hey! You’re a nerd. I’m a nerd. Let’s hang out. Kthbai.”

Barry Peddycord III’s talk about Python in computer science education sparked a lot of offline discussion, which struck close to home given some of the educational technology initiatives I’m working on.

I missed Michael DeHaan’s talk on Ansible, but it did put it on my radar. While, I’ve made healthy use of Chef, Puppet, (and fabric), they’ve never felt just right and I would gladly jump ship to a better solution. So, I hope to check it out in the next few days.

I was cursing Fred Alger after his talk, Sysadmining Python to the Moon, for planting the seed that maybe I could build something and send it to the edge of space–it’s possible. Just what I need. It was a fun, inspiring talk and while I hope I can shake its effects, I have a feeling I may be revisiting it. You can check out his presentation materials over on github.

François Dion gave a fun and passionate talk about Raspberry Pis, their use in exciting kids, and how to seriously soup them up with all sorts of add-ons. I plan on following his work over at his Raspberry-Python blog.

David Ray and Julia Elman from Caktus also had great talks about working with designers, which sparked some good discussion. David presented django-comps, which looks like a simple, yet handy tool for serving a directory of static-y html files from a Django project. The idea is you can have a designer work within the same source repo as the project proper as they start building out comps/templates. This is an ideal setup for integrated rapid prototyping. Your project’s defined comps directory will show a list view of the available pages from which you can drill down. You can also easily zip things up for delivery to a client for offline review. I’m looking forward to checking this one out.

Another nice nugget came care of a lightning talk given by Simeon Franklin (@simeonfranklin). If you find yourself using optparse: stop. No really. Check out docopt. It looks like it may take a tremendous amount of pain out of writing command line utilities.

I think the first PyCarolinas event went swimmingly. A huge thanks to Calvin Spealman, Chris Calloway, UNC, the PSF, all the volunteers and the sponsors for making it happen. I’m already looking forward to next year’s!

PyCarolinas Attendees
PyCarolinas Attendees