The Intel NUC Computers, AWS, and racing cars

It has been over five years since my last post about software and technology.  It’s not that I stopped using it.  I just stopped talking about it.  Lately I have been on a bit of a streak.  I have been working on the MARRS Points tracking app in AWS for over a year now.  It will now be the official points tracking application for the 2016 season across all race classes in the Washington DC Region (WDCR) of the SCCA.  I have actually done something mildly productive with my spare time!

An AWS Project Was In Order

It was mainly by happenstance that I got the app going.  I wanted to work in the Amazon AWS cloud a bit to understand it better.  I had managed teams using it for years now at various companies.  So it seemed like a reasonable learning experience. I could have easily chosen Microsoft Azure or the Google Cloud, but AWS has the deepest legacy and I started there.  Once I logged in and started to play with AWS, they let me know my first year was FREE if I kept my usage below specific CPU and memory levels.  Sure no problem.  But what to build, what to do?  I remembered I had built an old Java/JSP app as a framework for a racing site for my brothers and I, called cahallbrosracing.com.  GoDaddy had taken their Java support down and it had been throwing errors for years.  So I decided that was the perfect domain to try, and grabbed the skeleton code.  It would be some type of Java/JSP racing application that used a MySQL database backend.  But for now, I just needed to see if I could configure AWS to let me get anything live.

EC2, RDS, a little AWS security magic…

I provisioned an EC2 node, downloaded Tomcat and Oracle Java and went to work.  In no time, I had the fragments of the old site live and decided I should put my race schedule online.  The schedule would not come from a static HTML page.  It would use a JSP template and a Java object to get the data from the database.  Then each year I would just add new events to the database and display by year.  Quickly the MySQL DB was provisioned, network security provisioned, DB connectivity assembled and the schedule was live.  OK – AWS was EASY to use and I now had a public facing Java environment.  I was always too cheap to pay for a dedicated host. Too cheap to sort out a real public facing Java environment that allowed me to control the Linux services so I could start and stop Tomcat as needed.  But FREE was right up my alley.

So there I was, developing Java, JSP and SQL code right on the “production” AWS Linux server.  Who needs Maven or Ant, I was building it right in the server directories!  Then I started to realize I did not have backups.  I was not using a source code repository.  It could all go away like a previous big app I wrote when my RAID drives both failed in the great 2005 Seattle wind storm.  Not a good idea.

Intel NUCs (and GitHub) to the rescue!

Enter the NUCs!!!  I had learned about the Intel NUC series and bought a handful of them to make a home server farm for Hadoop and Cassandra work.  These units are mostly the i5 models with 16GB of RAM running Ubuntu 14.04.4 LTS.  I realized I needed to do the development at home, keep the code in a GitHub repository, and then push updates to AWS when the next version was ready for production.  My main Java development NUC has been awesome.  It is a great complimentary setup.  An AWS “production” environment in the cloud and a Linux environment at home with the source code repository also in the cloud.  I even installed VMWare Workstation on my laptop so I have Linux at the track.  This allows me to pull the code from GitHub down to my laptop and make changes from the track.  It’s almost like I have made it to 2013 or something.

Why software is never “done”

Well once I got going, I wanted to track my points in the MARRS races.  So I made some tools to allow manual entry of schedules, race results, etc.  This manual process clearly did not scale well.  The discovery of  Race Monitor and their REST APIs. solved that issue.  The code was written to pull the results back from Race Monitor and used Google’s GSON parser.  GSON let me marshal the JSON data to objects used in the Java code.  Unfortunately, Race Monitor does not pass a piece of critical data, the SCCA ID for each racer.  The next step was to work with the Washington DC Region and the fine people at MotorsportReg.com to use their REST APIs to get that data for each race.  This simple Java app has become complex with two REST APIs and tools to manage them.

The rest is history.  The tool can now also import CSV files from the MyLaps Orbits software.   A simple CMS was added to publish announcements and steward’s notes per race.  All of the 2015 season has been pulled into the application across all of the classes and drivers.  Many features, bells and whistles have been added thanks to Lin Toland’s sage advice. Check out the 2015 season SSM and SM Championship pages.  A ton of data and a lot of code go into making those look simple.

Racing into the future with MARRS

I am really looking forward to being able to help all of the WDCR MARRS racers track their season starting in April.  Let’s hope I can drive my car better than last year and race as well as I have coded this application.

It is kind of odd to think that my desire to play with AWS caused me to build something useful for hundreds of weekend racing warriors.  Now the next question, should I make it work for every racing group across the world?  I mean multi-tenant, SaaS, world domination?  Hmmm…  Maybe I should try to finish better than 6th this year…

Ted Cahall

Author: Ted Cahall

Ted Cahall is an executive, engineer, entrepreneur as well as amateur race car driver. He combined his skills and an engineer and passion for racing by developing the marrspoints.com points tracking website for the Washington DC region of the SCCA.