Monthly Archives: May 2014

Inspecting and Debugging API Versions with Runscope

FL-iPhones This past month at FarmLogs, we implemented a versioning scheme for our internal API. API versioning is often a difficult transition to make, especially if you’re using a third party API and dealing with deprecations (Facebook, I’m looking at you!). It’s often a chore to figure out exactly what has changed between API versions unless you have very good documentation.

Coincidentally, Runscope also has a service called API Changelog that can send you notifications when a third party API changes. Luckily for me, any changes to our internal API were subject to review by our team of engineers, so if I had any questions or concerns, I could bring them up in person. Even so, when dealing with a changing API, the truth is in the response, not necessarily the documentation (or Hipchat or Hackpad). For a while, I was updating the iOS client to the new version by copying and pasting the two responses into a text editor and looking at the differences. About halfway through I remembered that this functionality is built into Runscope, so I started using that. I’ll show you how to compare diffs of two responses so you don’t have to waste half of your time like me!

Prerequisites

To follow along with this blog post, you’ll need just two things:

Some versioned API data

I’m not going to post the inner workings of the FarmLogs API (though it’s pretty easy to reverse engineer, like many other APIs) since that’s probably confidential knowledge or something. Instead, I’ll use the Foursquare API, which is one of my favorites to work with and (in my opinion) has some of the best documentation around. Browsing around their developer page, I found this interesting summary of API changes over the years.

There was a pretty huge change on 6/9/12 that included many breaking changes. Sounds like fun! I actually remember getting caught in this change and having to update my iOS auto-check in app to fit the new API. Let’s pick an endpoint and see what the data used to look like. We’ll be able to compare it to the modern version of the API.

For our example, we’ll hit the /venues/explore/ endpoint. This endpoint takes a lat/long value and returns a list of suggested venues to try. If you are authenticated, it can give you personalized info about why those venues were suggested (like if your friends went there and liked it). If you go to this page, you can get a url for that endpoint along with an oauth token added for you automatically.

Hitting the endpoint in Runscope

Next we’ll copy and paste the Foursquare API url into Runscope. You can create this request in a default bucket or make a new one specifically for this test. Just hit the “New Request” button and paste the url in. Hit the “Launch Request” button to have Runscope make the API request on your behalf and save all of the data for you to compare later. If all goes well, you should see the response appear below the “Launch Request” button. Next, we’ll edit the request so that the format matches the API before the big change on 6/9/12. Foursquare uses a pretty awesome convention for API versioning that uses dates for versions. To edit the response, simply hit the pencil icon on the upper right part of the response. You’ll be taken to the response editor. From there, change the “v” parameter to 20120608 (my 29th birthday!). request editor Hit “Launch Request” again and Runscope will fetch the response from Foursquare for a client that’s using a really old version of the API. After a short wait you should see another response appear. You can either hit the “Compare to Original” button or go to the “All Traffic” section to pick two requests to compare.

Comparing two versions of the same request

Finally we’re at the meat and potatoes of this post! Let’s explore the difference that two years can make to an API endpoint. (For all of these screenshots, the older version is on the left) deprecationwarning The first thing to notice is that Foursquare is really polite about their deprecation warnings. I wonder how standard their meta dictionary with an error message is. I suppose it works well if you have humans reading your API (as we are now) but I’m going to assume most clients do not care about the meta error being shown in this deprecated API call. I wonder if there’s an HTTP status code for “OK now but will be deprecated soon.” exploresuggestionsreasonsAnother thing to notice is that there is a new “reasons” dictionary for each venue suggestion that lists friends that have gone to that venue. It looks like this dictionary didn’t exist before the 6/9/12 API update but probably exists in the older version of the API for compatibility reasons. moretipanduserinfo The tips section also seems to have gotten less info about the user giving the tip. I’m not sure if this is for privacy reasons or something else. Another thing I noticed was that the older version included a tip that I created myself while the newer version removed it (probably because the authenticated user isn’t interested in their own tips when exploring). Finally there’s the terrible implementation of icon images for categories that Foursquare provides. The old format had a prefix, file format and an array of possible sizes for the icon. You’d have to piece the three together like the silver monkey statue to get an icon for your app. The newer version did away with the list of sizes (now you just need to choose a size from 32, 44, 64, and 88).

Conclusion

logo-runscope-wordmark-white

As you can see, Runscope makes it really easy to compare the differences between API versions. Hopefully all of your API version migrations will be smooth and come with months of warning, but in case they don’t, Runscope can be a pretty handy tool to get a handle on what’s changed. If you have any questions or comments on this or other tools to ease the pain of API version migration, please let me know by posting a comment!

Ideas and Recipes For Home Automation With The Internet of Things

A few weeks ago my friend Emily asked me to speak at the Ann Arbor Mini Maker Faire for their speaker series. I said “sure” and figured I’d talk about something like app development or design. I ended up picking a more “Maker Faire-y” topic since I thought it would work better for the crowd.

I’ve been really getting into home automation and buying a lot of “internet of things” products lately. I decided to do an introductory talk on home automation along with ideas on how people can get up and running quickly. I did the talk last weekend and had a great turnout. Some people asked for more information so I thought I’d write up a blog post that more or less summarized the talk. So here it is!

What exactly is the “Internet of Things?”

“The Internet of Things” is a term that gets thrown around a lot but doesn’t seem to have an official definition. I like to think of it as the concept that, as devices gain more intelligence through the ability to communicate wirelessly and through the internet, they become more useful. In other words, things will form their own internet and will generally be awesome. I was reminded the video game, Megaman Battle Network, where literally everything, including a microwave, has a port to jack into (and can thus catch a virus).

MMBN Screen Shot 2014-05-05 at 10.06.29 AM-140 Screen Shot 2014-05-05 at 10.06.50 AM-138It also means that your refrigerator might be able to tweet when you run out of milk, or stream music via Pandora.

Why am I hearing so much about the IoT right now?

In the past few decades, we’ve seen the cost of producing software go way down. Starting a software business simply costs less today than it did in the 90s. While hardware always brings more upfront costs, it seems like commodity hardware and Kickstarter are making it easier for smaller companies to get into the hardware game. On top of that, wireless technologies like Bluetooth LE and low power Wifi are enabling devices to talk to one another as well as to the internet. In the past few years we’ve seen large companies like Belkin get into this space as well as smaller startups like Nest (though they were aquired by Google pretty recently).

Some things you can accomplish

I’m just going to list a few use cases that I consider to fall in the category of “Internet of Things.” After I give an initial survey, I’ll go into ways that you can use these off-the-shelf solutions to automate your home.

Turn on/off light switches

Wemo

One of the simplest use cases for home automation is turning off/on light switches. You can do this with the Belkin Wemo (which is what I use) or with something like Ninja Blocks or SmartThings.

Detect Motion

Dropcam

You can use Dropcam to detect motion with video, or Wemo / SmartThings to detect motion events. This is mostly useful indoors if you don’t have pets since they can set false alarms.

Detect when doors/windows are open

SmartThings

You can use SmartThings to detect when a door or window has been opened. This could be useful for knowing if you left a window open while it’s raining, though it would be even more helpful if it could close the window for you automatically.

Detect water moisture / floods

Flood

Apparently it really sucks to have a flood in your basement. It might be worth the extra money to install a SmartThings moisture detector to tell you if there’s a water leak or flood.

Lock or unlock your front door

schlage-century-BE469NX-chrome-580

I ordered a Lockitron a really long time ago and am happy to announce that it should be shipping soon! I also found a product by Schlage that seems to do something similar.

Keep track of your driving

AutomaticAutomatic helps you keep track of your MPG and total distance traveled by connecting to the data port of your car.

Don’t kill your plants

flowerpower

This is a fairly stupid product called the Parrot Flower Power that can remind you to water your plant when the soil gets too dry. It’s probably more cost effective to just buy a new plant if yours dies from under/over watering but whatever.

Keep track of how many eggs you have left

eggminder

The Quirky Egg Minder keeps track of how many eggs you have in your fridge.

Recipes with IFTTT / Zapier

IFTTT (if this then that) is an online tool that makes it easy for non-programmers to connect different internet and mobile services to each other. Think of it as glue that can tie all of your IoT devices together via triggers and actions. A trigger might be that your Wemo has detected motion, and an action might be to open your garage door. IFTTT works well with many of the devices I’ve listed previously and offers an iOS and Android app that can hook into things like your location and photos.

Zapier is another tool that is similar to IFTTT but a bit more complicated and expensive to use. Some recipes are only compatible with Zapier (like Lockitron) so you might need to sign up for that service as well.

I’ll share a few recipes on IFTTT or Zapier that you can use to automate your home with your newfound gadgets.

Play the radio when a burglar enters your home

This recipe is possible without using IFTTT (and is probably more secure since it doesn’t require internet). I set up my motion detector to turn on a switch that’s connected to a portable radio. During certain hours when I’m not at home, if someone enters my house, the radio will start playing. The hope here is that the noise will be a deterrent to the invader. If I was feeling in a Home Alone mood, I could also connect the switch to a tape player that played scenes from a mobster movie.

 Make sure your doors are locked when you leave home

When your IFTTT mobile app detects that you are leaving your home, you can send an email that Zapier can use to connect to Lockitron to ensure that your doors are locked. This is a pretty convoluted recipe since it uses both services, but there isn’t really a better way to do this, unless you want to simply lock your door with the Lockitron app when you leave.

Automatically start the coffee maker by waking up

IFTTT Recipe: Turn my #coffee maker on the moment I wake up connects up-by-jawbone to wemo-switch

This is a really cool IFTTT recipe I found that was shared by another user. The Jawbone UP 24 has a feature that can wake you up at the best time in your sleep cycle in the morning. The UP can send a message the moment you wake up to IFTTT that can turn on a switch that’s connected to your coffee maker. Voila, your coffee is ready as soon as you get out of bed.

Log all of your driving trips in Google Docs

IFTTT Recipe: Keep track of all my driving trips connects automatic to google-drive

I use this recipe to keep track of total miles driven and my fuel efficiency. It’s not particularly useful for anything, but if I was a taxi driver (or Lyft or Uber X) it might be pretty useful for tax purposes.

DIY Home Automation

One thing I haven’t really touched on is creating DIY projects to automate your home. I’m a big fan of home grown projects like this DIY Lockitron using Arduino. I recently bought a Raspberry Pi to act as an iBeacon in my home. I’m trying to create an app that will be location aware to the room in my house that I’m in (or at least that my iPhone is in). I’ve heard that the best way to predict the future is to invent it, so if there’s anything in this space that you haven’t seen available, the best solution is to do it yourself!

If you have any interesting projects or recipes you’d like to share, I’d love to hear about them. I am about to move into a new house, so the automation potential is about to grow a lot more for me (versus living in an apartment). Good luck and try not to get any viruses in your microwaves!