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Ongoing observations by End Point people

Liquid Galaxy at CES

This past week, End Point attended and exhibited at CES, a global consumer electronics and consumer technology tradeshow that takes place every January in Las Vegas, Nevada. End Point’s Liquid Galaxy was set up in the Gigabyte exhibit at Caesar’s Palace.

Gigabyte invited us to set up a Liquid Galaxy in their exhibit space because they believe the Liquid Galaxy is the best show-piece for their Brix hardware. The Brix, or “Brix GTX Pro” in this case, offers an Intel i7 6th gen processor and NVIDIA GTX950 graphics (for high performance applications, such as gaming) hardware in a small and sleek package (12 in. length, 9 in. width, 1 in. height). Since each Brix GTX Pro offers 4 display outputs, we only needed two Brix to run all 7 screens and touchscreen, and one Brix to power the headnode!

This was the first time we have powered a Liquid Galaxy with Gigabyte Brix units, and the hardware proved to be extremely effective. It is a significantly sleeker solution than hardware situated in a server rack. It is also very cost-effective.

We created custom content for Gigabyte on our Content Management System. An video of one of our custom presentations can be viewed below. We built the presentation so the the GTX Pro product webpage was on the left-most screen, and the GTX Pro landing webpage was on the right-most screen. A custom Gigabyte video built for CES covered the center three screens. The Gigabyte logo was put on the 2nd screen to the left. In the background, the system was set to orbit on Google Earth. This presentation built for Gigabyte, which includes graphics, webpages, videos, and KML, demonstrates many of the capabilities of End Point’s Content Management System and the Liquid Galaxy.

In addition to being a visually dazzling display tool for Gigabyte to show off to its network of customers and partners, Liquid Galaxy was a fantastic way for Gigabyte to showcase the power of their Brix hardware. The opportunity to collaborate with Gigabyte on the Liquid Galaxy was a welcome one, and we look forward to further collaboration.

To learn more about the Liquid Galaxy, you can visit our Liquid Galaxy website or contact us here.

Liquid Galaxy Uses at UNC Chapel Hill

An article was posted on The Tech Broadcast last week that featured the UNC Chapel Hill Center for Faculty Excellence's Faculty Showcase. The faculty showcase included a fantastic presentation featuring the many ways students and faculty use their Liquid Galaxy, and discussed other opportunities for using the system in the future.

Exciting examples cited of great classroom successes making use of the Liquid Galaxy include:

  1. A course offered at UNC, Geography 121 People and Places, requires its students to sift through data sets and spend time in the GIS lab/research hub making maps using the data they've collected. The goal of this assignment is to demonstrate understanding of diversity within particular geographic entities. The students use the Liquid Galaxy to present their findings. Examples of studies done for this project include studies of fertility, infant mortality, income inequality, poverty, population density, and primary education.

  2. A group of students working in lab found that the household income of a particular municipality was many times greater than all surrounding municipalities. By looking around on the Liquid Galaxy, they discovered an enormous plantation in a very rural area. They were then able to understand how that plantation skewed the data from the entire municipality.

  3. While studying a web map, students found that average life expectancy dropped by a decade within a very short distance. They decided to look at the Liquid Galaxy to see whether they could make any conclusions by viewing the area. By using the Liquid Galaxy, the students were able to think about what the data looks like, not just statistically but on Earth.

  4. A Geography teacher had a lecture about the geography of Vietnam. The teacher used the Liquid Galaxy to give the class a tour of Vietnam and show how the different areas factored into the course. The teacher asked the class where within Vietnam they’d like to go, and was able to take the students to the different geographical areas on the Liquid Galaxy and tell them in detail about those areas while they had the visual support of the system.

  5. A geography class called The Geography of Latin America focuses on extractive industries. The class discusses things like agriculture in South America, and the percentage of land in Brazil that is used for soy production. The faculty reports that seeing this information in an immersive environment goes a long way in teaching the students.

  6. Urban planning students use the Liquid Galaxy when looking into urban revitalization. Uses for these students include using the system to visit the downtown areas and see firsthand what the areas look like to better understand the challenges that the communities are facing.

  7. Students and faculty have come to LG to look at places that they are about to travel to abroad, or thinking about traveling abroad, in order to prepare for their travels. An example given was a Master of Fine Arts student who was a sculptor and was very interested in areas where there are great quantities of rocks and ice. She traveled around on the the Liquid Galaxy and looked around in Iceland. Researching the system on the Liquid Galaxy helped to pique her interest and ultimately led to her going to Iceland to travel and study.

During the faculty showcase, faculty members listed off some of the great benefits of having the Liquid Galaxy as a tool that was available to them.

  1. The Liquid Galaxy brought everyone together and fostered a class community. Teachers would often arrive to classes that utilize the Liquid Galaxy and find that half the students were early to class. Students would be finding places (their homes, where they studied abroad, and more) and friendships between students would develop as a result of the Liquid Galaxy.

  2. Liquid Galaxy helps students with geographic literacy. They are able to think about concepts covered in class, and fly to and observe the locations discussed.

  3. Students often bring parents and family to see the Liquid Galaxy, which is widely accessible to students on campus. Students are always excited to share what they're doing with the system, with family and with faculty.

  4. Faculty members have commented that students that don’t ask questions in class have been very involved in the Liquid Galaxy lessons, which could be in part because some students are more visual learners. These visual learners find great benefit in seeing the information displayed in front of them in an interactive setting.

  5. From a faculty standpoint, a lot of time was spent planning and trying to work out the class structure, which has developed a lot. Dedicating class-time for the Liquid Galaxy was beneficial, and resulted in teaching less but in more depth and in different ways. The teacher thinks there was more benefit to that, and it was a great learning experience for all parties involved.

Faculty members expressed interest and excitement when learning more about the Liquid Galaxy and the ways it is used. There was a lot of interest in using the Liquid Galaxy for interdisciplinary studies between different departments to study how different communities and cultures work. There was also interest in further utilization of the system’s visualization capabilities. A professor from the School of Dentistry spoke of how he could picture using the Liquid Galaxy to teach someone about an exam of the oral cavity through the LG. Putting up 3D models of the oral cavity using our new Sketchfab capabilities would be a perfect way to achieve this!

We at End Point were very excited to learn more about the many ways that Liquid Galaxy is being successfully used at UNC as a tool for research, for fun, and to bring together students and faculty alike. We look forward to seeing how UNC, among the many other research libraries that use Liquid Galaxy, will implement the system in courses and on campus in the future.

Client Case Study: Carjojo


Carjojo’s site makes use of some of the best tools on the market today for accessing and displaying data. Carjojo is a car buying application that takes data about car pricing, dealer incentives, and rebate programs and aggregates that into a location-specific vehicle pricing search tool. The Carjojo work presented a great opportunity for End Point to utilize our technical skills to build a state-of-the-art application everyone is very proud of. End Point worked on the Carjojo development project from October of 2014 through early 2016, and the final Carjojo application launched in the summer of 2016. This case study shows that End Point can be a technology partner for a startup, enabling the client to maintain their own business once our part of the project is over.

Why End Point?

Reputation in full stack development

End Point has deep experience with full stack development so for a startup getting advice from our team can prove really helpful when deciding what technologies to implement and what timelines are realistic. Even though the bulk of the Carjojo work focused on specific development pieces, having developers available to help advise on the entire stack allows a small startup to leverage a much broader set of skills.

Startup Budget and Timelines

End Point has worked with a number of startups throughout our time in the business. Startups require particular focused attention on budget and timelines to ensure that the minimum viable product can be ready on time and that the project stays on budget. Our consultants focus on communication with the client and advise them on how to steer the development to meet their needs, even if those shift as the project unfolds.

Client Side Development Team

One of the best things about a lot of our clients is their technological knowledge and the team they bring to the table. In the case of Carjojo, End Point developers fit inside of their Carjojo team to build parts that they were unfamiliar with. End Point developers are easy to work with and already work in a remote development environment, so working in a remote team is a natural fit.

Client Side Project Management

End Point works on projects where either the project management is done in-house or by the client. In the case of a project like Carjojo where the client has technical project management resources, our engineers work within that team. This allows a startup like Carjojo insight into the project on a daily basis.

Project Overview

The main goal of the Carjojo project was to aggregate several data sources on car price and use data analytics to provide useful shopper information, and display that for their clients.
Carjojo’s staff had experience in the car industry and leveraged that to build a sizeable database of information. Analytics work on the database provided another layer of information, creating a time- and location-specific market value for a vehicle.

Carjojo kept the bulk of the database collection and admin work in house, as well as provided an in-house designer that closely worked with them on their vision for the project. End Point partnered to do the API architecture work as well as the front end development.

A major component of this project was using a custom API to pull information from the database and display it quickly with high end, helpful infographics. Carjojo opted to use APIs so that the coding work would seamlessly integrate with future plans for a mobile application, which normally require a substantial amount of recoding.

Creating a custom API also allows Carjojo to work with future partners and leverage their data and analytics in new ways as their business grows.

Team

Patrick Lewis: End Point project manager and front end developer. Patrick led development of the AngularJS front end application which serves as the main customer car shopping experience on the Carjojo site. He also created data stories using combinations of integrated Google Maps, D3/DimpleJS charts, and data tables to aid buyers with car searches and comparisons.



Matt Galvin: Front end developer. Matt led the efforts for data-visualization with D3 and DimpleJS. He created Angular services that were used to communicate with the backend, used D3 and DimpleJS to illustrate information graphically about cars, car dealers, incentives, etc., sometimes neatly packaging them into directives for easy re-use when the case fit. He also created a wealth of customizations and extensions of DimpleJS which allowed for rapid development without sacrificing visualization quality.



Josh Williams: Python API development. Josh led the efforts in connecting the database into Django and Python to process and aggregate the data as needed. He also used TastyPie to format the API response and created authentication structures for the API.

 




Project Specifics

API Tools

Carjojo’s project makes use of some of the best tools on the market today for accessing and displaying data. Django and Tastypie were chosen to allow for rapid API development and to keep the response time down on the website. In most cases the Django ORM was sufficient for generating queries from the data, though in some cases custom queries were written to better aggregate and filter the data directly within Postgres.

To use the location information in the database, some GIS location smarts were tied into Tastypie. Location searches tied into GeoDjango and generated PostGIS queries in the database.

Front End Tools

D3 is standard in data-visualization and is great for doing both simple and complicated graphics. Many of Carjojo’s graphs were bar graphs, pie charts and didn’t really require writing out D3 by hand. We also wanted to make many of them reusable and dynamic (often based on search terms or inputs) with use of Angular directives and services. This could have been done with pure D3, but Dimple makes creating simple D3 graphs easy and fast.

DimpleJS was used a lot in this project. Since Carjojo is data-driven, they wanted to display their information in an aesthetically pleasing manner and DimpleJS allowed us to quickly spin up information against some of the project’s tightest deadlines.

The approach worked well for most cases. However, sometimes Carjojo wanted something slightly different than what DimpleJS does out of the box. One example of DimpleJS customization work can be found here on our blog.

Another thing to note about the data visualizations was that sometimes when the data was plotted and graphed, it brought to light some discrepancies in the back-end calculations and analytics, requiring some back-and-forth between the Carjojo DBA and End Point.

Results

Carjojo had a successful launch of their service in the summer of 2016. Their system has robust user capabilities, a modern clean design, and a solid platform to grow from. The best news for Carjojo is that now the project has been turned back over to them for development. End Point believes in empowering our clients to move forward with their business and goals without us. Carjojo knows that we’ll be here for support if they need it.






Office Space Available at End Point HQ!

Our office-mates are leaving, and we are looking to fill their desk space. There are 8 open desks available, including one desk in a private office.

Amenities include free wifi, furniture, conference room access, kitchen access, regular office cleaning, and close proximity (one block) to Madison Square Park.

Our company, End Point, is a tech company that builds ecommerce sites, and also develops the Liquid Galaxy. There are typically 4 or 5 of us in the office on a given day. We are quiet, friendly, and respectful.

Please contact us at ask@endpoint.com for more information.

Seedbank: Structured Seed Files for Rails Projects

Rails seed files are a useful way of populating a database with the initial data needed for a Rails project. The Rails db/seeds.rb file contains plain Ruby code and can be run with the Rails-default rails db:seed task. Though convenient, this "one big seed file" approach can quickly become unwieldy once you start pre-populating data for multiple models or needing more advanced mechanisms for retrieving data from a CSV file or other data store.


The Seedbank gem aims to solve this scalability problem by providing a drop-in replacement for Rails seed files that allows developers to distribute seed data across multiple files and provides support for environment-specific files.


Organizing seed files in a specific structure within a project's db/seeds/ directory enables Seedbank to either run all of the seed files for the current environment using the same rails db:seed task as vanilla Rails or to run a specific subset of tasks by specifying a seed file or environment name when running the task. It's also possible to fall back to the original "single seeds.rb file" approach by running rails db:seed:original.


Given a file structure like:


db/seeds/
  courses.seeds.rb
  development/
    users.seeds.rb
  students.seeds.rb

Seedbank will generate tasks including:


rails db:seed                   # load data from db/seeds.rb, db/seeds/*.seeds.rb, and db/seeds/[ENVIRONMENT]/*.seeds.rb
rails db:seed:courses           # load data from db/seeds/courses.seeds.rb
rails db:seed:common            # load data from db/seeds.rb, db/seeds/*.seeds.rb
rails db:seed:development       # load data from db/seeds.rb, db/seeds/*.seeds.rb, and db/seeds/development/*.seeds.rb
rails db:seed:development:users # load data from db/seeds/development/users.seeds.rb
rails db:seed:original          # load data from db/seeds.rb

I've found the ability to define development-specific seed files helpful in recent projects for populating 'test user' accounts for sites running in development mode. We've been able to maintain a consistent set of test user accounts across multiple development sites without having to worry about accidentally creating those same test accounts once the site is running in a publicly accessible production environment.


Splitting seed data from one file into multiple files does introduce a potential issue when the data created in one seed file is dependent on data from a different seed file. Seedbank addresses this problem by allowing for dependencies to be defined within the seed files, enabling the developer to control the order in which the seed files will be run.


Seedbank runs seed files in alphabetical order by default but simply wrapping the code in a block allows the developer to manually enforce the order in which tasks should be run. Given a case where Students are dependent on Course records having already been created, the file can be set up like this:


# db/seeds/students.seeds.rb
after :courses do
  course = Course.find_by_name('Calculus')
  course.students.create(first_name: 'Patrick', last_name: 'Lewis')
end

The added dependency block will ensure that the db/seeds/courses.seeds.rb file is executed before the db/seeds/students.seeds.rb file, even when the students file is run via a specific rails db:seed:students task.


Seedbank provides additional support for adding shared methods that can be reused within multiple seed files and I encourage anyone interested in the gem to check out the Seedbank README for more details. Though the current 0.4 version of Seedbank doesn't officially have support for Rails 5, I've been using it without issue on Rails 5 projects for over six months now and consider it a great addition to any Rails project that needs to pre-populate a database with a non-trivial amount of data.

Job opening: Fulfillment Manager

Update: This position has been filled! Thanks to everyone who expressed interest.

This role is based in our Bluff City, Tennessee office, and is responsible for everything about fulfillment of our Liquid Galaxy and other custom-made hardware products, from birth to installation. See liquidgalaxy.endpoint.com to learn more about Liquid Galaxy.

What is in it for you?

  • Interesting and exciting startup-like atmosphere at an established company
  • Opportunity for advancement
  • Benefits including health insurance and self-funded 401(k) retirement savings plan
  • Annual bonus opportunity

What you will be doing:

  • Manage receiving, warehouse, and inventory efficiently
  • Oversee computer system building
  • Product testing and quality assurance
  • Packing
  • Shipment pick-up
  • Communicate with and create documents for customs for international shipping
  • Be the expert on international shipping rules and regulations
  • Delivery tracking and resolution of issues
  • Verify receipt of intact, functional equipment
  • Resolve RMA and shipping claims
  • Help test and implement any new warehouse software and processes
  • Design and implement new processes
  • Use effectively our project software (Trello) to receive and disseminate project information
  • Manage fulfillment employees and office facility
  • Work through emergency situations in a timely and controlled manner
  • Keep timesheet entries up to date throughout the day

What you will need:

  • Eagerness to “own” the fulfillment process from end to end
  • Exemplary communication skills with the entire company
  • High attention to detail
  • Consistent habits of reliable work
  • Ability to make the most of your time and resources without external micromanagement
  • Desire, initiative, and follow-through to improve on our processes and execution
  • Work with remote and local team members
  • Strive to deliver superior internal customer service
  • Ability to work through personnel issues
  • Go above and beyond the call of duty when the situation arises

About End Point:

End Point is a 21-year-old Internet consulting company with 50 full-time employees working together from our headquarters in New York City, our office in eastern Tennessee, and home offices around the world. We serve over 200 clients ranging from small family businesses to large corporations, using a variety of open source technologies. Our team is made up of strong product design, software development, database, hardware, and system administration talent.

We are an equal opportunity employer and value diversity at our company. We do not discriminate on the basis of gender, race, religion, color, national origin, sexual orientation, age, marital status, veteran status, or disability status.

Please email us an introduction to jobs@endpoint.com to apply. Include your resume and anything else that would help us get to know you. We look forward to hearing from you! Full-time employment seekers only, please. No agencies or subcontractors.

Bash: loop over a list of (possibly non-existing) files using wildcards with nullglob (or failglob) option

Let's say you're working in Bash, and you want to loop over a list of files, using wildcards.

The basic code is:

#!/bin/bash
for f in /path/to/files/*; do
  echo "Found file: $f"
done

Easy as that. However, there could be a problem with this code: if the wildcard does not expand to actual files (i.e. there's no file under /path/to/files/ directory), $f will expand to the path string itself, and the for loop will still be executed one time with $f containing "/path/to/files/*".

How to prevent this from happening? Nullglob is what you're looking for.

Nullglob, quoting shopts man page, "allows filename patterns which match no files to expand to a null string, rather than themselves".

Using shopt -s you can enable BASH optional behaviors, like Nullglob. Here's the final code:

#!/bin/bash
shopt -s nullglob
for f in /path/to/files/*; do
  echo "Found file: $f"
done

Another interesting option you may want to check for, supported by Bash since version 3, is failglob.

With failglob enabled, quoting again, "patterns which fail to match filenames during filename expansion result in an expansion error". Depending on what you need, that could even be a better behavior.

Wondering why nullglob it's not the default behavior? Check this very good answer to the question.