Startup Profile: SunPort

I have been keeping notes on many of the startups in Albuquerque so that I can eventually write up nice articles about them. I thought with SunPort launching their Kickstarter now would be a great time to try to write one up. There is still time to participate in their Kickstarter.


Previously Plug.Solar

Twitter: @SunPort
YouTube: PlugSolar
CEO/Founder: Paul Droege

SunPort is a unique solar company focusing on the demand side of solar instead of the supply side using phone apps and their flagship product the SunPort.

Most solar initiatives have focused on generating solar. Installing solar panels is expensive and time consuming. Many people who might want to support green energy and solar usage can’t afford solar panels, might rent and not put them up, might travel and move too often, or might like the idea of solar, but not enough to go through much effort to get it (probably the category I fall in).

SunPort buys the credits generated by solar panels, bundles them as SunJoules, and the allows the user to keep track of their power usage and offset it with the SunJoules. They have cell phone apps that let you do it with your Android or IOS device right now. Their main product is the SunPort. It is being kickstarted now and is a plug you can take anyways to always keep track of use SunJoules for.

Awards and Major Events

SunPort was in the 2014, inaugural class for ABQ ID.

They placed 3rd in the 2014 Tech Fiesta Pitch Contest, watch the pitch.

They went to CES in early 2015 and pitched to get on Shark Tank and were in the final running. I am assuming they didn’t make the cut because I haven’t heard anything, on the other hand they might not be able to talk about it if they did make it on the show.

They then went to SXSW and won the Fallon StarterKit Pitch Contest in March.

With the help of that win, they have launched their Kickstarter.

The Good and the Bad

I think SunPort is doing solar right. In an free market world without mandates and subsidies the way solar would compete is by people voluntarily paying more for it. We don’t live in that world, but it will still have the same effect. Their products give consumers an easy, fairly inexpensive way of showing their support, advertising them support, and actually affecting the market in a small way.

Even more than their product I love them as an Albuquerque company. There is probably only one startup that I would be more confident in staying in Albuquerque. They participate in events, support the community, and have expressed their dedication to staying here. Money, buyouts, investors, etc, can all change that, but based on the things I read I think staying in Albuquerque is a top priority for them.

Finally, their blog is one of my favorites. A primarily reason why I started this blog was that I would hear about events in the city (pitch contests, tech meetings, hack-a-thons), but never hear about the results or what happened. I decided that other people would be interested, so when I go to events I should write about them. The SunPort blog is one of the few I found that also does this. They write about the events they have gone to and participated in.

On the negative side, the SunJoules are incorporeal and so it needs to be really clear where they are coming from. A common complaint is that it feels like snake oil. I can take your PNM bill and then sell you solar credits as a green indulgence, but that isn’t actually doing anything except putting money in my pocket and clearing your conscious.

They have done a good job on explaining the mechanism, but I think they need find some way of being more transparent to the user so they can see when enough SunJoules get retired is backed by a solar credit.

Two things that add to the over all snake oilyness of it:

One, they aren’t clear on the revenue. I think if they describe how they plan to make money it is easy to believe they are selling a real product. I see they plan on licensing the technology later, but it isn’t 100% clear from what is public how they plan to create a profit, are they taking a cut of the SunJoules?  Are they passing them along at cost and hoping to make enough through licensing or profit on SunPort sales?

The second is the over the top marketing. I think people are programmed to see lots of expensive marketing as trying to distract the consumer. Lots of money on marketing and something that isn’t 100% clear or simple to explain and I think it turns people off as potentially scammy. A lot of people I have shown it to get turned off by the video immediately I think because of the over the top marketing at the expense of technical explanation. They have one of the highest production value Kickstarter projects I have ever seen, probably a result of the Fallon Pitch Contest win, but I don’t know if that is a good thing.


SunPort is one of my favorite Albuquerque Startups (top 3 for sure). I have loved the community involvements by the company and employees and think they have a good product that has a lot of room to grow. I view them as having the potential to be the first big success story for all the investment in the Albuquerque startup community and a company that will be inspiring and helping other startups in the area.


Video interviews: The Morning Brew, Computer World @ Techcrunch Distrupt

Paul Droege has several interesting audio interviews on their blog.

One of the better articles I have read about the SunPort.

If you have anything to add or correct, let me know in the comments.

Also I want to do more of these for more companies so if you have any suggestions or feedback for the format, content, etc. let me know.

ABQ Solar Startup Launching Product

I have been following Plug.Solar since they won the ABQ Scrappy Startup competition and then won a pitch contest in SXSW. One of the reasons I have been following them is I believe (or hope) they will be the first success story to come out of the cities focus on startups and all the hard work and capital that has gone into building the innovation central. Hopefully, the first of many.

They have now launched their SunPort product on Kickstarter and are halfway through the campaign and 1/3rd of the way from being funded. If you haven’t checked it out go do so and considering supporting them. This is the chance for them to take the next leap for their company.

They have been rebranding a lot so it can be hard to find some of the information on their site, but I think the ATM example on this page is the best explanation. Hopefully the link won’t go bad. They also have an app for your phone (ios, android) which will use SunJoules to offset charging your phone.

In the feature picture I am charging my phone with a solar panel while using their app and offsetting it with SunJoules. I guess if we continue the ATM analogy that is like going to an ATM and then lighting all the cash on fire?

Check out the SunPort and their app, leave reviews, and support a local startup with a great idea trying to make it!


Live From Albuquerque

One of the new podcasts I have started listening to is the Brawling Brothers Board Game Podcast. It is a fun podcast, but one thing that really caught my attention was the intro. Go pick an episode and listen to the first 30 seconds.

I love this kind of thing. It is just a random fun promotion of Albuquerque in a positive light. It creates an association between Albuquerque -> Balloon Capital and Burquenos and board games.

If you enjoy board games go listen to the whole thing. It is an entertaining podcast and these guys seem to be an awesome part of the Albuquerque community. Although, parts of their podcast may be not safe for work.

A Green Desert – Backpacking Gallo Peak and Red Canyon Campground

This spring and summer have been incredible. Just last year I went rafting on the Rio Grande and we were rocking the raft back and forth to get over rocks the entire way, this year I did it again and the water is completely different. You can only see the largest boulders sticking out of the water. I have had the same amazement hiking. I went up La Luz and there are tons of wildflowers, animals and big fat lizards. The foothills are usually alive and interested if you look hard, but it was so different to have all the green and color shoved right into your face.

Perhaps the best place I have gone is the the Red Canyon Campground in the Manzano Mountains. A couple of weekends ago I had the please of backpacking in the area with my scout troop. Red Canyon Campground is only an hour and a half away from Albuquerque, but despite its proximity it was incredibly peaceful and secluded when we got there on a Friday night. It does not have water, but it has nice camping areas, fire pits, large picnic area, horse corrals and a creek running by it. The backpacking route we took could easily be a day hike with packs for those that don’t want to lug their gear around. There is only a $7 fee per campsite.

Friday night there a lot of lightning and some rain, but it was very pleasant. In the morning we to the trail head and made our way up the Spruce Spring Trail. We planned on making it to the Spruce Spring (about 3.5 miles), filling up our water and camping not to far away for a total trip of 4 miles on the first day. Then we were either going to try and hike the rest of the route Sunday morning or head back down depending on how well the boys were doing. The trail was easy and the boys we took did an great job and had an amazing pace. We made it to the spring with no problem and took a long break to eat lunch, refill and let the boys play around.

Originally, we thought of setting camp up where Spruce Spring trail and the Crest Trail meet, but they were doing so well and it was so early, we decided to go all the way to where the Red Canyon Trail and the Crest Trail meet, which would put all the uphill behind us and give us an easy Sunday morning down. On our way we went up Gallo Peak and it made all the hard work of hiking and carrying a pack more than worth it. The views were incredible. The peak is at 10,000 feet and it is amazing how the environment changes right on that peak. Suddenly there we no tree and instead there were barrel cactus’ and lady bugs and completely different flora.

After the peak we finished the trip down to the Red Canyon trail and made camp. Almost immediately after camp was made the sky opened up and just dumped hail on us, for an hour, maybe more. Afterwards, it looked like we were winter camping with the area just covered in white. We were on the east side of this saddle area, just down from a ridge. The wind was ripping up from the other side (luckily skipping over us) and bringing with it all the evaporating mist and hail. It was incredible sight standing on the top and having the wind and mist howl over you. Unfortunately, I had packed up my phone nicely to keep it safe (and all my other gear), the tent I was using was not exactly water proof so I didn’t want to mess with my setup. I wish I had now, especially since it didn’t rain any more.

I love looking at the terrain maps with our route on them!

The rest of the evening was uneventful, I forgot any reading material so it was fairly boring, but relaxing as everyone retired early due to the dampness and cold. The next morning we packed everything up and went right down Red Canyon Trail. The boys were excited and flew down the trail, much faster than I would have liked to go and I didn’t quite get to enjoy the morning scenery as much as I would have liked. There were two waterfalls that I did not get great pictures of and we passed over the creek many times. It was great to see so much water in New Mexico and the creek took us right back to the campsite we were at on Friday.

All in all a great first backpacking trip with the troop and I hope they use this campground and area again for future trips. This is truly a unique summer and I encourage everyone to get out and about. I put some pictures below, reluctantly I have to link to a Google Plus Post to show them, which doesn’t inline them. If anyone can let me know on a good easy way to get pictures from your phone to online and then be able to inline them in a blog I would appreciate it.

Easy Uploading to the Intel Edison

The most powerful feature of the Intel Edison is the wireless connectivity. Once the Intel Edison is setup, you can plug it into power and then easily connect to it to upload a new or updated program. This is especially nice for me since only one of my USB cords works with it.

The easiest way to use this feature is with JavaScript and pairing it with Gulp or Gist and Visual Studio. Unfortunately, I don’t know JavaScript at all, so any time I start looking at programming the Intel Edison I inevitably get lost in all the tutorials and projects surrounding Node.js and JavaScript.

I am comfortable in C and while at some point I want to be proficient in JavaScript, right now I want to play with my hardware toys and the JavaScript is just a distraction. The downside of C is that it became much harder to upload sketches and it is frustrating after getting use to how easy it was before. There are a couple of ways to make it automatic, but I decided to make a little program to make it automatic for me no matter what IDE or computer I am using.

So I sat down for a late night of hacking and the result was EdisonUploader and my first project on Github. Check it out.

The first time you launch it, you get a settings panel. Type in the name or IP of your Edison, as well as, the username and password, save it so it won’t ask again and click OK.

Settings Dialog
Settings Dialog

Hit the Test Connection button and make sure it works.

Edison Uploader
Edison Uploader

Next press Set Watch. This is going to watch a directory (recursively) for any new or modified .elf files. It defaults to the Arduino location: C:\Users\<USERNAME>\AppData\Local\Temp. If you are using Visual Micro in Visual Studio the location is C:\Users\<UserName>\AppData\Local\V.Micro\Arduino\Builds\.

If you are using different software, build the project with verbose mode enabled and determine where the elf file is being placed. Next build a complete new project and were where that file is placed. The path you want for the watch is the root path that is common between those two locations.

Once the watch is set every time the sketch is compiled a message window will pop up asking if you want to upload that sketch. Click Yes and it will fill in the path (you can also manually browse to an elf file). Press Upload ELF and it will upload that sketch to the Intel Edison.

Easy to setup and use: Compile->Yes->Upload ELF.

Release on Github

New Life for an Old Controller

An exciting part about getting into microcontrollers and circuits is finding new life for old pieces of hardware. All my old electronics end up in a plastic tub that collects and collects, but nothing ever happens to it. This tub has been collecting electronics for almost 15 years. Now I can start putting them to use. Good use…I don’t know, but at least use them for learning purposes.

One of the devices I had was a PC Pro Pad 4 that has a ton of buttons and switches, but connects with a Game Port, which is no longer used or made anymore. I decided that I could try a project where I hooked it up and used it as an input device for an Arduino. The final piece I needed was a connector for the game port, I thought I would have to find a sound card and cut off a game port from it. Digging through my electronics I found a PCI Game Port adapter, which worked perfect for connecting to a bread board.

Game Port PCI connector
Game Port PCI connector

I found several useful guides online for hooking up a joystick, so decided I could hook up the Pro Pad. The Pro Pad has 6 buttons, a direction pad, 4 switches for the button fire rate, one switch on the back (a/b), and two speed buttons. I was excited to find out how it used all these buttons considering the game port only has 4 digital pins and 4 analog pins. I assumed it had some crazy custom multiplexing of buttons or something of that nature and so I wired every pin up.

Here is everything setup, the guides I listed above have a great walk through.

Full wiring of Pro Pad 4
Full wiring of Pro Pad 4

The yellow wires come from the analog joystick pins and are connected to ground with 100K resistors. The blue and white wires head to the Arduino analog ports.

Analog Wiring
Analog Wiring

The green wires are connected with 10K resistors to 5v from the button pins and then connected to the Arduino digital I/O headers.

Digital IO Wiring
Digital IO Wiring
Arduino wiring from bread board
Arduino wiring from bread board

With everything wired up I launched Ben Katz’s Arduino Program which outputs the values for the 4 analog and 4 digital ports. It worked great and I was immediately able to see how the A B C & D Buttons worked. The direction pad just the X and Y axis joystick controls and kept the value in the middle. A move up raised the analog Y high, down moved it low. Right raised the X high and left lowered it.

Not as complex as I hoped. It turns out there are only four buttons and the A/B switch on the back changes it from A B C D to A B L R. I couldn’t get the speed buttons to do anything nor the semi-auto/auto switches. I assume these do a quick high/low change for the button state and I will need to use interrupts.

Internals of the PC Pro Pad 4
Internals of the PC Pro Pad 4

With that I opened up the game pad and discovered it only used 8 wires of the 15. I mapped all the wires to their appropriate pins.

Game Port pins for Pro Pad 4
Game Port pins for Pro Pad 4

That’s when I decided to write up all my notes so I can optimize the connections.

My next step for this project:

  • Rewire the breadboard to just what I need
  • Write some new Arduino code to use interrupts and experiment with the Auto fire and speed buttons.
  • Hook it up to a Netduino (I think I need to do something with 5v vs 3.3v?)
  • Solder together my own shield
  • Design and print my own Arduino Shield

Update: Part 2 is here

Getting Started with the Intel Edison

Intel gave Quelab several Edisons and I was able to borrow one with an Arduino breakout board to play with. I was excited to give it a try and expected it to be as easy to setup as my Netduino, but it took quite a bit to get it going. I seemed to have some unique problems with my setup that took most of my time up that I will document below/

The first problem I ran into was getting power through the USB. The light would power on and the computer would do the USB plugged in chime. Then I would hear the USB unplugged chime and the lights would turn off. This would continue to loop forever. The Edison was not getting the power it needed through the USB, I expected this from my laptop. I hunted through all my power adapters and found a 12v 1500 ma power supply from an external hard drive that seemed to do the trick, no more rebooting and a solid light.

This is what the reboot loop looks like:


Unfortunately, I was then stuck trying to figure out why the Edison wasn’t being detected. No drive showed up in Windows and nothing was displayed in device manager. I tried different USB ports, restarted on a different computer, installed all the software and couldn’t get anything. I had actually given up and gone to bed when I decided the only thing I didn’t try was the USB cables. So I went through every micro USB cable I had in the house and on the 5th cable it mounted and worked fine! Only 1 of my 5 cables works. These aren’t bad cables, I can use them to connect cell phones to computers just fine. I still have no idea why they don’t work or why my cables have such problems and I haven’t found others with this issue, so I guess I just got all the Edison incompatible cables.

Finally, I went to get it on my network…my WEP protected network. This became another frustrating project. I ran through many guides and countless forum topics and could just never get it working. Why WEP? Well when my network was setup my family had several Nintendo DS systems that we used and those only works with WEP. Since then I forgot my password to my router and so it has stayed. I eventually bit the bullet and decided I would reset my router, it was past time to get off WEP anyways. As it turned out it took little time to reset my router, redo all my configuration, and reconnect all my devices. A fraction of the time I spent trying to get the Edison on WEP. The general solution to getting the Edison connected to a WEP network seems to be…don’t.

Now it is simple and amazing. There are so many ways to connect to it. I have used the Arduino IDE, Intel XDK IoT, and just copying over Node.js (I don’t know to program with any of these items right now btw). I think the Visual Studio hook up is most enticing and some great tutorials for getting everything setup are by Jeremy Foster.

With everything setup and on the network it is convenient to be able to just plug the power in and start writing programs for it from any computer. The only issue I have no is it doesn’t appear to always use the program I expect.

Sometimes it is running Node.js sometimes it is running an Arduino sketch and it isn’t always obvious to me why it chose that. I guess that is what happens switching between all the different possibilities.

CoderDojo ABQ

We had the first CoderDojo Abq event which was motivated by the Hour of Code event four months ago. It was incredible. The event occurred in the common area (The Core) of Quelab and it was packed.

Registration filled up and we had 18 youth attend to start learning Scratch. It was extremely exciting and positive. I spent many a nights worrying about whether it would be fun, if people might bored, find it too easy….or too hard; but in the end it went incredibly smooth. I think the kids, adults and volunteers all had a blast and the next CoderDojo Abq session (on the 25th) was sold out a 24 hours later.

The demand for this is amazing and I have heard nothing but excitement for the CoderDojo program. It was inspiring to watch all the kids have so much fun and then present what they made at the end. I expected one or two to have something they wanted to show and be willing to show it, but I think we ended up with seven kids presenting what they had made.

I hope this energy continues and am working on finding the people to expand it to more times so more youth will have the opportunity to join in.

Hacking Everything!

New Hackable Fridge @ Quelab

Quelab had an open house on Saturday called Hack All The Things. It was an amazing event and I ran a CoderDojo ABQ promotion were we got kids programming on Scratch and my Netduino. I should have gotten pictures and tweeted and done more promotion, but I was having too much fun. I did get one picture of the Hackable fridge Quelab won.

Intel provided Quelab with several Edisons for people to hack on. I was able to get to borrow one and hope to do some Internet Of Things projects and also write simply tutorials for Edison, similar to ones I used at the CoderDojo for the Netduino, which I will post online soon.

Finally, CoderDojo ABQ is happening April 11th and it will continue to occur at Quelab every 2nd and 4th Sunday from 10 – Noon. There has been amazing support from the people of Quelab and this should be a great event. Make sure to register at the website if you are interested.

Getting a Netduino 1 to work with VS 2013

Two of my favorite podcasters, Scott Hanselman and Saron Yitbarek, are putting on program this month called, March is for Makers. They normally focus on software, but for this month they are dedicating everything to hardware.

This reminded me of my Netduino 1, which I got for cheap and discovered the reason it was cheap is it was becoming obsolete. It only officially works with Visual Studio 2010, which I never bothered to install after upgrading to Windows 8 and so I haven’t used it for some time.

I thought I could get it working on newer software now that there had been more focus on .Net Micro Framework (progress seemed to have stalled) and the fact that the free community edition of Visual Studio 2013 was the full version and has full support for plugins. After piecing together information from different parts of the web I got it to work.
My initial setup:

Installation Steps:

The main trick that it took me a long time to figure out, was that you have to install both Netduino SDKs. The 4.2.2 has the drivers for the Netduino and the 4.3.1 allows it to work with Visual Studio 2013.

Creating a Project and Testing:

  • Plug in the Netduino and it will attempt to install the device.

It should find the driver, if it doesn’t have it search for the driver at C:\Program Files (x86)\Secret Labs\Netduino SDK

  • Next open of MFDeploy, switch the Device to “USB” and the Netduino should be listed. You can ping the Netduino and and get its information by going to the Target menu and choosing Device Capabilities.


  • Close MFDeploy and open Visual Studio 2013.
  • Create a New Project and choose the Netduino 1 Application


  • Open the properties of your project and under the Application section change the Target framework to .Net Micro Framework 4.1 (or whatever version your Netduino is running).
  • Under the .Net Micro Framework section make sure the Transport is USB and the Device has your Netduino selected.


  • Now you can write code and deploy it the NetDuino. If you need a quick sample to test run this:
using System;
using System.Threading;
using Microsoft.SPOT;
using Microsoft.SPOT.Hardware;
using SecretLabs.NETMF.Hardware;
using SecretLabs.NETMF.Hardware.Netduino;

namespace NetduinoApplication1
    public class Program
        public static void Main()
            OutputPort led = new OutputPort(Pins.ONBOARD_LED, false);
            while (true)

This just blinks the led on and off every second. Once it is deployed you should see the LED blinking.

Hopefully this will helps extend the life of the first generation of Netduinos.