The MIT Boston Trip with Espressif Systems

beersolar binsSome time ago, the CEO of Espressif, makers of the lowest cost WIFI-enabled processor on the planet (a chip I’ve blogged about frequently in here) invited me to come with them to MIT at Boston to the FAB11 conference. As it turns out this was a rather small affair featuring things like 3D printers and other fabrication equipment but as they were paying and it was a great opportunity to visit Boston – I simply could not refuse.

The main point of the trip was to help Espressif to run a series of workshops on the MIT campus about the ESP8266 processor and so I travelled there with employees of Espressif including Teo Swee Ann, Jeroen Domburg  and also (independent at the time), Ivan Grokhotkov (Esp8266/Arduino).

We arrived on Sunday in sunny Boston and of course the first thing that happened was that Iberia Airlines lost my large case complete with samples, laptop+presentation, clothing, pills and my flashy LED LED ring (which I’d had such a hard time getting from China thanks mainly to UPS).

Simmons Hall or Stalag as I will no doubt remember itJust before arrival, I’d received a note to say that due to flooding, my single room accommodation at Simmons Hall (in Vassar Street) was to be “shared” with someone I’d never met before. Ok, I’d previously had email discussions with Jeroen but I did stress to the staff at the hostel (or as I now call it, Stalag) that I really would like my own room – after all, I hardly classed as a student. I arrived and despite my protests I still ended up sharing – the place is run by mainly apathetic students or so it seemed to me.

Now as it happens, Jeroen and I got on just fine and there wer no problems – but if this is typical of how they treat students – you can keep Boston hospitality – not even remotely acceptable. I would not put my cat in the room they gave us, essentially a rectangular concrete prison sell with 2 beds, Ikea wardrobes and 2 simple desks.

However, Jeroen turned up later than me on Sunday– near midnight and as technical people often do, the moment he walked through the door we started chatting about technology and I think we finally gave up for the night around 1am.

We got along just fine.

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MITIvan and Swee-AnFirst thing Monday I went off and bought a load of clothes. The Americans invented the term “convenience store” but I think they only meant that to apply if you have a car. Walking and taking the bus is not at all funny in the heat and so it was I arrived at the mall mid-morning to find the old American staples – CVS, Walgreens, Seers, J C Pennys etc..

I have to say for a country with some pretty large people I had difficulty getting clothes my size (at least with any choice) but finally came away at lunchtime armed to the teeth with new gear. As for Pennys – they don’t even sell plugs! Give me B&Q or Brico Depot.

I’m not sure what I was expecting at the venue,  inside MIT campus, 30 minutes before our presentation, no laptops – eventually they turned up in 2 black boxes,  half of the laptops arrived with the wrong power supplies rendering them useless.

As it happens it was not a full house and so we managed just nicely – talking about ESP8266, MQTT, Node-Red and finally a little about ESP-Arduino to an enthusiastic audience.

MIT[6]Of course in each of the three versions of the workshops we got better at it and I have to say that by and large the workshops went down very well. Clearly the organisers had done little to help promote us because I know the level of interest I get when I talk about ESP8266 and I was expecting a full house every time – still – all good fun.

Part way through the trip and in the middle of a heat wave, the heavens opened up and threw out some pretty amazing hailstones! I mean MONSTERS.

Myself, Jeroem Domburg and Ivan Grokhotkov spent much of our time when not investigating the city, in room E25-117 at MIT giving presentations and practical workshops to an enthusiastic audience – by and large with great weather, to boot. We demonstrated a NETIO page which I put together talking directly to a servo running under ESP8266-Arduino which was Ivan’s project.  I’ve documented this elsewhere in here.  We also discussed MQTT communications and more – including my favourite tech topic – Node-Red.

We went out at night – the first walk was rather too far for my airplane-fatiqued feet and spent much of the trip hobbling. Amazingly, despite having a medical dispensary within MIT itself and a near by Co-Op (or as the lady kept insisting: COOP as in soup – I didn’t like to tell her the name is made from two words) – no foot-fixing kit, so being the inventive type I went off and bought a box of cork tiles and a pair of scissors – and DIY fixed the foot which took some tender care and a pin when I eventually got back to Spain.

MIT[8]Just as we were finishing off our work, I received my suitcase at long last, I should say thanks to Iberia but frankly I think they have shown themselves to be a bunch of complete tossers. Not only did they give me someone else’s reference number which confused the issue – but the fact that I had important medicine in the case didn’t seem to phase them even slightly.

Had I fallen ill while on location, things would be very different – as it was, it took some effort to get Iberia to cough up for the clothing and toiletries I had to buy in Boston thanks to their incompetence! They’ve offered 50 Euros per day – assuming I guess that everyone goes off and buys t-shirts  – in reality I needed decent shirts, trousers, underwear and toiletries so I could see even then see a battle coming up on their social media.

PeteThe end result of all of this however was enlightenment and a pretty good time generally. I met some great people and learned a lot. Later, back in Spain with new ideas, some new thoughts on China having spoken at length to the Chinese guys while in Boston – I returned generally feeling that this was another worthwhile adventure.

Heat can be a great thing but in a densely-packed city built for commerce and not comfort in heat, give me open wilderness any time. On my return to Spain, Andalusia was a bit foggy!

I’ve written a blog on on the work Ivan has done with ESP8266-Arduino  which I have to say is pretty good –  in our talk we drove a servo from a NETIO Android App – it is so easy it’s like falling off a log. For now, I’ll leave you with some photographs. My thanks to Espressif and in particular to Teo Swee-Ann for looking after me during my Espressif-funded visit to Boston – and for providing thought-provoking conversation.

Boston[1]
Restaurants in Boston
FAB11 Conference 2015
MIT
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9 thoughts on “The MIT Boston Trip with Espressif Systems

  1. That’s an awesome group of esp8266 hackers in one place. Something really good ought to have come out of that. Can’t wait to read the falling of a log blog.

    Been to Boston as well for a congress some time ago. Thought it was actually a very nice place. Actually quite European in a way…

  2. Peter

    Our family has had luggage that went off on a different holiday on a number of occasions. So now we always carry in our cabin baggage enough clothes etc. to see us through the first day plus half of our medicine supply.

  3. Nice one Pete, quite a week then 🙂

    Didn’t realise that Ivan was an Espressif employee, if you see him again after reading this then please pass on my thanks for all the work in ESP8266/Arduino, very impressive piece of work.

    Hope Iberia don’t manage to loose your newly purchased kit on the way back to Spain.

    Andy.

    1. After rereading I see Ivan isn’t an Espressif employee! Makes his achievement even more impressive 🙂

    2. I’m sure he’s looking in – I just passed him the link to the blog item I’ve done on the subject of ESP8266-Arduino and driving a servo.

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