Travelling

A couple of years ago I travelled from Bulgaria to Germany, skipped France and every country in between and flew to Spain.
I think I probably wrote a blog post in every city.
This trip I haven’t for various reasons. FYI this time I did Helsinki (Finland), ferry to Stockholm (Sweden), train to Malmo (Sweden), a 3 hour stop in Copenhagen (Denmark) and then a train to Hamburg (Germany – that train went on a ferry and it still freaks me out), train to Cologne (Germany) and finally, Amsterdam (The Netherlands). All in a period of 12 days.

Its been a really nice trip, some awesome people met, far too much alcohol drunk and money spent. I’m flying back to Manchester later today, and then driving back to Sheffield in the morning.

Next up? Leeds on Friday to drop into Farnell to do some work, Hull in the evening for a friend’s birthday, Bletchley on Saturday for Electromagnetic Field Camp which I’m so excited for, and then Bingley for two weeks to work at an educational ISP.

Hull is then getting me for at max 2 weeks before I head to Phoenix, Arizona for the Grace Hopper Conference. Quite looking forward to being in one place for more than 2 weeks..

Pi Passport now on Element14!

A few months back myself, Ryan (@ryanteck), Craig (@craigargh) and a few other friendly faces were talking about a project we since referred to as Pi Passport.

We planned out the idea, and then kind of dropped it for a long time.

Having been offered hardware and support by Farnell/Element14 to work on projects, I since remembered this project and started working on it. I’ve posted the intro post on Element14 today, and will be posting every week or so an update so you can build your own system – you can read the first post here

If anyone’s been asking about my review of the NFC board I tweeted photos of a while back, this is it. Hopefully when I have more time I will work with the board again, but using full NFC data transfer as the board I have can also send information.

Playing with my microview

Today I had a few problems working on other projects, so I started to get going with this lil fella:

WIN_20140724_004028

 

As this was my 21st birthday present, my daddy darling picked the 75 dollar reward tier which included a nice learning kit:

WIN_20140724_004148

It’s pretty sweet as particularly for people who don’t always have the gear to start with arduino straight away, this provides lots of things: LEDs, including 1 RGB LED, resistors, sensors like temperature, photoresistors, flex, but also a motor and a servo, and lots of other things I’ve not mentioned.

Initial thoughts:

As soon as I plugged the microview into my surface, it popped up with a welcome message, a few demos and then a tutorial showing where to plug in wires and eventually, an LED which flashed on and off. This is a brill use of the screen and means it’s literally a plug and play device.

I went on from this to try and get going with changing the code and went over to codebender – I’ve never used this before but heard good reviews. After a few minutes of installing things of which codebender provided all the links for, my microview popped up with “Hello World” and a little image, so sure enough, I signed up for codebender with my github account. As both a windows user and a surface user, I was dead impressed at how easy this was and well, the fact it definitely works with a surface pro 2 is a big plus (bit like the Swiss flag…)…although I’m still thinking of getting rid of my surface. Gotta be honest.

Further thoughts

Anyhoo, that was a few days ago – I then put it down to work on other stuff and to wait for my heart rate sensor to get set up this weekend, but this eve was at a loss for what to hack, so I cracked it out and went through the tutorials which come with the kit (http://kit.microview.io for anyone who has the same tier as me).

Once again I’m impressed at how smooth all of the tutorials are and how well it explains everything, plus the codebender plugins meaning I don’t have to open up the codebender page and duplicate all the tutorials is amazing. Soon enough I was addicted to completing the tutorials and I’ve now done 9 of them – I’ve only stopped because it’s half 12 and I think I need a break.

^^doing the glowing RGB LED tutorial.

I’m hoping they continue to add to these as there’s still a flex sensor and a shift register unused in my box, but if not I guess that’s a good project to work on, figuring out how the flex sensor works…

What I don’t like

There’s only 1 thing I don’t like: whilst the MicroView kit didn’t cost me anything as it was a present, I’m probably going to reuse it rather than buy another one as they’re a tadge expensive for me while I’m on a student budget. My first intended project is a necklace using my heart rate sensor (I really like making jewelry that lights up, ok!) , but if I for example, connect a jumper up to the pins necessary, that leaves several that will leave pocmarks around my neck…so I’m thinking of 3D printed pin cover with hooks for a necklace chain, but it would be nice if the pins could be retracted or flipped 90 degrees to the sides.

#FWIC2014, @ghc and microview

There’s a few things and opportunities I’ve yet to write about so far.

I’m aware recently my posts have been more about the awesome places and events I’ve been able to go to, rather than “hey I got this from pimoroni” or “hey I made something containing LEDs”. Don’t worry – my hacker posts will be back in a little while, although there’ll probably be another big lull during third year.

Anyway, the last event I went to: FWIC, or the future of wireless international conference. I haven’t written about this yet because I’m supposed to be writing something for the official blog, but I figure an abridged version couldn’t hurt.

For this conference I managed to get free entry, due to being of the millennial generation and entering a competition for one of 5 free places – that is, essentially, anyone who’s grown up whilst technology as we know today has been evolving, so anyone under the age of 30ish, the aim being to attract young people into the embedded and in particular, wireless embedded industry.

I had a really good 2 days at Churchill college Cambridge, and went away with lots of confidence in my ability to get into this industry (if that’s what I want?!) and several contacts to make it happen.

Next up is future things: this week I received word that my microview – you can go back in my archive and see what I wrote about that – arrived at Godley HQ, so I should get that by dadtaxi (parents are visiting for the Bristol harbour fest, and to ship some things home as I’m moving out soon) this weekend, so you can expect at least a couple of blogs about using that if I get time in the next couple of weeks.

Last and probably the most exciting announcement I’ve ever written is that last Saturday I found out I’ve won a full scholarship to attend the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing in Phoenix, Arizona this October. I’m still finding it hard to believe this is happening and I have lots of things to book and do before this point, but thanks so much to the Anita Borg Institute, and to the companies who sponsor these scholarships every year, for giving me this chance.

I’m incredibly excited. GHC is probably the biggest women in tech event held in a different state in the USA every year, and it should be a great opportunity to network, learn, share and meet more people from around the world.
Plus, y’know, who’d ever pass up a free trip across the pond.

@CASInclude #DefineSouth : the big writeup

I’ve been talking about #DefineSouth for quite a while, and today the day finally came.

Myself and Craig had an “unGodley” start (Arthur’s puns are aweful) to the day at 7am, and we drove over to Bath at 8am. I wanted to be there early as I was both talking and setting up my workshop for the day, and Windows likes to be a nastypasty about Gemma drivers so the more time to fix things, the better.

Got to Bath and met up with Graham, one of the members of the pi-pub Bristol unofficial meetup who’d agreed to take the trip from Cornwall to help out for the day, and managed to find The Royal High School Bath which turned out to look rather a lot like Hogwarts:

We were greeted by Laura (or Miss Dixon) who’s the head of ICT there and the head of CAS Include, who showed us to my very nice computer room for the workshop and introduced us to the ICT technicians who helped get the computers up and running with Arduino. This turned out to go without a hitch and I’d got time to run back to the hall and set my lovely talk up and meet Meri Williams who was the other speaker and a very lovely lady.

After I’d checked my slides were all good I went back to make sure everything was ready back in the computer room, had time to grab a cuppa and then get on with my talk.

I felt overall my talk – 5 reasons to be in tech, with focus given to the creation of new stuff rather than the “hard” programming bit – went well, I made sure to ask the kids if they knew what everything I had on screen was and most seemed to have an answer – the only issue being uhm. Mixing up my left, and my right, with the audience’s left and right…whoops. I thought it was going to be harder talking to kids or that I’d get nervy because I knew 3 or 4 people in the audience, but in actual fact it was easier – the hardest thing I find with public speaking is the fact when you’re up there, you get about 50 adults all looking at you like they’re bored out of their brains and grumpy about it. Kids? Nope they’re all grinning, particularly when you get them to participate. So there you go.

At this point helper number 2 Arthur appeared having decided to not get up at an UnGodley hour and we got our juice and cookies, then headed back to the computer suite to prepare for the hoardes of screaming children. (Not many of them were screaming.)

In the first batch we had a mix of kids ranging from the really bright and helpful to the ones who wanted to dordle on their swivel chairs, as is always the case with these kinds of things. Wisely we made the kids turn their screens off – I remember this being a thing in y7/y8 so I could tell from the attitudes of some of the kids who’d already pulled up google and changed the background to pink on it for jokes that it’d be a good plan.

Went through the explanation of what we were doing, slowly guided them through the signalling wire hookup and explained what it was, and then let them loose on the worksheets for the rest of the slot. About halfway through the brilliant David McAll turned up to provide some more help – he’d previously helped me in workshops and offered to pitch in again, which was lovely.

On the whole it went well: all the kids got a circuit going, but at the programming portion…uhm…well…it was a bit slow, due to the fact everyone was running arduino from the network school drive, which therefore meant compile time was something like 3 minutes. No matter, a lot of the kids got through it and these 3 lovely ladies proudly said they’d finished and were helping out all the other children:

[picture nicked from RHSBCareers twitter - hope you don't mind!]

Thing to remember about workshops is that size also determines speed: in this instance I didn’t bother suggesting sewing because well, programming took ages and there simply wasn’t enough time to have some children on circuits, some on programming and some on sewing as that would be difficult to manage.

One of my favourite moments of this section was both these girls pride at how well they’d done (“LOOK IT’S PINK! LOOK IT’S MULTICOLOURED!”) but also a girl sat in the back corner asking about studying Computer Science. It’s not something I’d ever expect because all the volunteering I do is a pipeline and it’s a while till they choose what direction to head in, but once again she’d been influenced by a family member who studied it and was wondering whether it was hard to get into it and required a lot of programming. I gave her my standard advice that no, it’s not hard once you get your brain into problem solving mode, and suggested she head towards codecademy for help learning to code, but also mentioned there’s plenty of roles in CS that don’t need code if that’s a blocker.

After an hour and a quarter they moved on, and David, Graham, Arthur and myself ran round the 11 pcs plus tester machine copying down the Arduino IDE from the network so that programming would be quicker. This meant we had no time for lunch but Graham managed to go grab us some sarnies during the next session, so none of us minded too much.

In the second session we had fewer numbers and older students, and in general it was more controlled: I properly explained the programming portion since I hadn’t bothered the first time round and this lead to it being a bit less erratic. By the third session which was another big group, I felt I’d got the pattern and got it all under control: iterations of workshops are so important because it means you know what works, what doesn’t, what needs improving and where people are likely to get stuck. That last part was why I explained the signal wire to the kids step by step, because during the Guiding workshop, this was the hardest bit to explain on the worksheet.

Another anecdote of interest was the moment I helped a boy with programming in the final workshop, who at the beginning had been dordling and not paying attention to my explanation of wiring, and was showing and explaining the colour changing bits at the top, and he went “OH this is hexadecimal isn’t it?!” without any prompting…I err. Yeah I wasn’t expecting that.

Finally the day wrapped up, and Emma-Ashley showed us the results of our efforts:

me and my helper crew set about getting the kits into bags and into my car, we headed downstairs for refreshments and got given cake and chocolates for helping out. Spoke to Emma-Ashley about her experiences at Hull and various catchup-y things having never actually met each other but again having several internet conversations (this is why I love twitter), and then we headed off to nando’s to carry on talking before Craig and myself went back up to Bristol.

Overall, a fab day, really well organised, great venue and a huge thankyou to Laura and the CAS #Include crew for organising everything and generally being that awesome. I loved every minute.

Future improvements on my workshop

1. A better storage method for the kits: I use 2 pimoroni tote bags at the mo because you know, I’m basically a walking talking advertisement for pimoroni at times, but I want to move to a reasonably big compartmentalised box with space for a couple of netbooks. This is because the packup process is a pain, so it’d be nice if not to pack all the kits back up, to separate them out into each component section for easy kit-recreation.

2. Work on making the sewing bit easier to integrate: I’m possibly thinking of getting a design done, similar to what kitronik do with the cat kits or what Lisa did for Jamboree bags, and printed to fabric, like a bird or a cat or something with markings for each bit. The thing is the main thing I want the children to take away from the workshops is programming and that electronics aren’t that complicated or expensive, so sewing’s always a bit of an extra if I have longer workshops.

3. Delete all my code from my laptop and start again from github – also check for the bugs we had during workshop: I think I must have several copies of the sketch on my drive somewhere and we’d got the wrong one which had a couple of buggy bits in there. Code worked for the day, but still a little annoying having one particular algorithm not do what I thought it would do.

4. Add a 5th takeaway sheet to all my resources which has all the links to where parents and teachers can get resources, tutorials and kits: I meant to do this but forgot (as I did with wearing my GEMMA necklace so I had to make do with showing kids the vines I have of my necklace), in order to make sure anyone who’s interested has access to all the stuff they’d been using.

Quick post: advice for teachers buying wearables #defineSouth

My full blog post on define south in Bath today will go up when I have time, but for anyone who’s interested on where’s best to get my kit setup:
– 2 neopixels
– 1 GEMMA
– 2 coin cells
– 1 coin cell holder
– 6 alligator wires

Pimoroni, phenoptix and 4tronix are all great stockists of the electronics: I tried China for cheap batteries where you can get lithium polymer batteries for about 1.50 each, and err. That didn’t work out.

Alligator wires I got in bulk from kitronik for really cheap. Resources I used today can be found here – please nick them but a thanks babe would be nice.

If anyone needs any more info or help tweet/comment/DM me, more than happy to help :)

What a year!

Around this time last year I was in France, knowing in 2 months I’d move to Bristol.
But, around a year ago on the 8th of June, I was in York talking to pi people and generally meeting some of my favourite people in the world, totally unaware of my next chapter other than uni.
Some crazy crap I’ve done this year:
– been to 3 jams including cambridge and one jamboree, talked at 3 of those
– helped out with David’s magical mystery networking workshop in Stevenage which gave me the drive to do stuff in Bristol

- organised, ran and continued to improve my own line of wearables workshops

- visited Bristol Hackspace

- seen 31 Gromits

- entered the Lovelace colloquium poster contest at Reading and won

- written for computer weekly about said contest

- entered the Bristol LN IET present around the world competition and won

- entered the south west regional heat of said competition. Didn’t win, but got a great look round Airbus Group’s research department – somewhere I’ve always wanted to know more of.

- entered a competition to win a ticket to a wireless embedded conference and won one of five places, which I’m attending next week.

- visited HP Research in Bristol for a talk on big data and twitterbots

- visited pegasus house for a talk on the A380

- visited Google for a day to learn more about their recruitment process

- visited Queen Mary Uni for a conference on women in Open Source where I made my first contribution

- visited the SS Great Britain 4 times, and the Clifton Suspension Bridge 4 times.

- worked in Python to create a few different applications which actually help design planes.

- visited Toulouse 3 times and seen inside the huge shed in which A380s get tested

- been offered several opportunities which make me very excited for my future.

All in all I think in terms of development, this year’s been awesome – working 9-5 is hard but having the free time to do all this stuff guilt free has been a really great experience and Bristol is a fabulous city to be in.

It’s been a struggle to push through with my friends and loved ones being 3-4-5 hours away from me and I can’t wait to get home, but to anyone puzzling over placements: do one. And make it worth it.
If you can, do one away from home/uni and you’ll see what life is like when you’re finished.

CAS include Saturday plug!

This Saturday I’m talking and work shopping in Barrrth, for an event called Define South, ran by #include, a subgroup of CAS which is a group of educators and professionals trying to make the Computing at School curriculum better.
#include’s aim is as the title suggests, to make the schemes of work inclusive – this doesn’t mean by cutting out the boys and focussing on women, because this isn’t always the best approach, and women, whilst the most accented minority in the media, are not the only minority group. The idea is to make computing accessible and fun for all.

#define is one such event where there’s a bunch of workshops for kids aged 8-13 – personally I’m doing my wearables workshop, and am glad I’m much more organised this time. I even have my worksheets laminated so they’re reusable!

I’m also giving a talk which is pretty scary because I’ve only ever presented to adults on small projects I’ve been working on, so figuring out how to convince a lot of children they want to be computery people like me is quite daunting. However, there’s no live hardware demos, so it should go without a hitch.

If you’ve got a kid you’d like to bring to all of this or come help out (I’m very grateful to say I have a couple of friends coming down with me from Bristol to relieve some stress), the link is here – can’t wait to meet everyone, particularly Emma who’s of the Hull CS alumni persuasion, and get this show on the road!

The windows GEMMA war, and my personal fix

This week I’ve been preparing for my next round of workshops coming up on Saturday: link here for any kiddies who want to come to a computing access day in Bath.

A problem I’ve had previously, along with other users, is getting windows to play nicely with gemma, arduino and avrdude. Various reasons for this, but I’ve had it on 2 laptops and have to get 10 set up by other people, so I made a zip file, containing the IDE, the adafruit additions allowing for gemma, the adafruit fix for buggy PCs, and my own workshop code which is under examples > wearable_workshop_sketch.

Here’s the link, please feel free to pinch it if you’re struggling.