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New England Road Trip

mountain view from Flume Gorge in New Hampshire

Took a nice road trip up to the New England area for the first time. We took Stacey’s fancy new Prius up there. The hybrid made amazing and most importantly efficient work the whole trip. I came away very much impressed with the vehicle.

On the first day we visited Boston. Took a short train ride in early in the morning, and got some advice (both directional and political) from a construction worker. He was really nice and made sure we were on the right train, as well as let us know not to vote too progressive in our upcoming election.

Once we got into Boston we waled the Freedom Trail. It’s a 16 stop trail throughout the city that involved a lot of walking, which is great as I do enjoy moving around. It was incredibly warm out for the time of year, I’d say it was perfect walking/touring weather.

We walked the entire tour, stopping for food and treats along the way. Also were fortunate enough to see a street performer put on a nice show atop a unicorn unicycle. He really gave it his all and did a great job working the audience.

Perhaps the most interesting thing for me was the size of the squirrels in Boston. They all were massive, much larger than the squirrels in my yard. They were huge and fearless of humans.

The next day we drove over to the Blue Hill Reservation park. This was pretty scenic with the hills, foliage starting to kick in, etc. We hiked the Skyline Loop, which was justly ranked as a challenging hike.

The hike was intense! Right off the bat you’re going straight up a very stony hill. It was so steep. Then the trickier part to me is descending a stony hill. It’s just a bit more slippery going down for me than going up. After completing that, I pretty thought much we were done. We went up a steep hill and down, right? Nope, this had 5 big hills to climb.

It was very exhausting, but a really great hike. I’d highly advise for those seeking a challenging hike.

After that hike we stopped at Wegmans to pick up a quick bite. They were conveniently right next to the hotel, so we would make many refueling stops there.

After the refuel, we headed out to Salem to check out all the Halloween stuff. When we arrived we realized that most of the world had a similar plan, it was packed beyond comprehension. Rows and rows of people. All parking was full, and the only available was a lot asking for $60. We aborted the mission and headed back to home base, hanging out at the Natick Mall (largest in New England).

Got the check out their Lego store, Peloton store, tried on a winter coat (kinda looking to replace this season), and just enjoyed walking on level ground for a bit after the extensive hike/climb earlier. The did have a cool place of indoor activity called Level 99, but I didn’t partake. I was still a bit tired and honestly it looked a bit packed and I’m still being a bit cautious with crowds with the Coivd-19 and all.

The last day we drove up to New Hampshire and check our the Flume Gorge. This was awesome and I’d highly recommend it to anyone to check it out. It was so scenic and massive, not something that I’m used to seeing on the east coast (or anywhere really).

Everything was so scenic and fall like, it was pretty great. Another great hike outdoors, this time the temperature was a bit closer to what I’d expect this time of near up north. Again, a very much recommended place to go.

This as a pretty awesome and active trip. A great time.

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Replaced the Fill Valve on My Toilet

The dreaded occurred just a few days ago, my toilet stopped working. Luckily I do have more than one bathroom, so it wasn’t the worst, but still not a good feeling. It was draining just fine, it’s just the tank wasn’t filling back up.

So I did some tinkering. It seemed that if I shut the line off then back on, then the tank would fill. I thought that a bit strange, but after doing some research figured that the fill valve maybe had some sort of block in it. I followed some hardly videos and tutorials to try flushing the fill valve

Flushing it was pretty easy, you shut off the line, then remove remove the fill valve cap (which I’m always terrified of breaking things). Inspecting the cap, it was surely dirty, but didn’t see anything that would be causing a block or anything wrong with the washer. So I held a cup over the open fill valve and turned the water on from the line and let it run for a bit, hoping that it might flush anything out.

Unfortunately that didn’t seem to do the trick, so my next option was to just replace the fill valve. It was clearly quite old and dirty, and at under $10 why not. Picked one up at Lowes and got to work.

Replacing the previous fill valve only took probably 20 minutes in total. That was with me double checking each and every step! When I was all done, I turned the line on and watched the tank fill up. It was beautiful to behold.

Gave the toilet a few flushes, and made some minor height adjustments to the water level and do believe I have a working toilet again. I know it isn’t the most complex plumbing task, but it still felt pretty good to be able to fix something on my own (with a lot of help from the internet of course).

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Microsoft Azure U.S. Hack for Accessibility

Had a lot of fun working on the Microsoft Azure U.S. Hack for Accessibility. Paired up with 4 really great and random teammates on this one. We would up making AI Dog, which was a service that specialize in providing accessible directions for users to safely and more easily navigate to a campus. Here’s the entry on DevPost.

I had a great experience working with this team and thought we came up with a very creative idea. There’s a lot going on in the project, but it ultimately uses the Google Streetview API to grab photos of a college campus, that we then analyze using the Azure Computer Vision API to determine whether the photo is an accessible scene or not. We then use the data from the location photos to determine the most accessible route a user is searching on using our accessible website.

One of our teammates did an amazing job setting up the backend in Python. I’ll try to find the path to his repo. It really was amazing work, I’m still impressed at his skills. It was ultimately turned into an Azure Function, which we could then call on a simple web page.

I helped out on the frontend. Using Bootstrap 5 for the basic grid and applying a good amount of Javascript for the UI.

I really thought we had a good shot at winning this one, but the other entrants were just as if not more deserving as well. What a great experience. If I could go back I’d have us spend just a little bit more time on the presentation.

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Terminal >Hackathon

So I entered another hackathon through DevPost. This one was for Terminal >Hackathon Tech Takes On Mental Health. We had to come up with something for mental health.

I paired up with with someone from the previous hackathon and I believe two others joined in. With the short turnaround I was the only developer on this one, but everyone chipped in other ways.

We would up making Tell Me Something Good. It’s a basic page that allows a user to input how they are feeling. It then sends that submission to the Google Cloud Natural Language REST API. The API takes the text submitted and analyzes it’s sentiment, returning a score. A 1 or it’s very positive, a -1 if it’s extremely negative, with increments in between.

It’s actually a pretty slick API. We threw all sorts of sentences and paragraphs at it, and the ML (machine learning) really does an amazing job of giving accurate results.

An example of the project can be found here on Glitch:

https://maize-sable-triceratops.glitch.me

and on GitHub here:

https://github.com/joedag32/cheerup-gcnl-api

This one was very fun too. It took me a little bit to the the authorization going with the REST API, but once I got it going it was very flexible and easy to work with. I’m starting to get some very creative uses of sentiment analysis.

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Microsoft Azure Hack for Social Justice

PrivIQ logo

Just wrapped up our team’s entry for the Microsoft Azure Hack for Social Justice hosted on Devpost. It was such a fun experience.

I signed up pretty early on, but was having a really hard time finding teammates. I asked some friends and some strangers with no luck. Just as I thought oh well, it’s a no go for me I got a request to join a team.

My team was great, with people located all over the country. Many in school and some with full-time jobs. It was a solid mix.

We ultimately developed PrivIQ. It is an Edge Extension that helps simplify if a site collects private data on a visitor.

My task was to create the NLP (neural linguistic programming). So I had to analyze privacy policy text and determine if the policy should alert a visitor that it does collect their private data.

I decided to use the Azure Text Analytics client library. Their API works great with Javascript and their Key Phrases service was a great fit. I was able to pass text from a privacy policy with a POST request to the API with Fetch and it would analyze the text and return an object of key terms.

What really impressed me most was how fast the Text Analytics analyzed and returned the response. I was sending over 5000 characters and it was milliseconds in its return. I wasn’t expecting such an immediate response.

So once we got our response of key words, we then compared them to our list of privacy terms we were looking for. Depending on how many matches were returned we either alerted the visitor through the Extension that yes your data is being collected, or that it may be being collected.

Luckily I got that part down with more than a week to spare. I’d say I got a lot better at sending and receiving POST requests to an API in vanilla Javascript. So that was a big plus!

Other team members worked on the design of the extension, the web scraper that would called the privacy text from a site and putting it all together in an Edge Extension.

Unfortunately we had a hard time getting our scraper to work in the Extension. There were some CORS issues (which did make sense), and we attempted to called an outside server side script like and API at the last moment, but alas ran out of time.

I would like to continue to learn how to better write an Azure Function. That’s the route I would have like to of taken.

We got our almost fully operational example submitted just a few minutes ago, and am really glad I participated. It really was a lot of fun and forced me to learn some new/better ways of coding.

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Microsoft Developer – Beginner’s Series to JavaScript

In my never ending quest to be a better developer I came across a new JavaScript series from Microsoft. I have to say I was pretty impressed with it. The videos are short and focused for folks who already have some programming knowledge. Still a bit in shock that Microsoft has embraced JavaScript, would have never guessed that a few years back, but very glad they have and are sharing so much with the community.

The particular videos that really stood out to me were the JavaScript Object Notation (JSON) and Objects in Javascript videos. Those were tough concepts for me to grasp when I had first started learning the language, and while I know them pretty well now, the author did a pretty amazing job of explaining how they work. It really clicked with me, and wish I had seen those two years ago!

I could still use some work on Promises and Async/Await, but the videos on those topics were extremely helpful too. While I can still use them, I can’t 100% say that I fully understand what I’m doing when I use them and wouldn’t want to have to explain how they work to others myself just yet. Ha, someday I’ll have them mastered.

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