Month: April 2014

Makerfaire UK 2014

Every year for the past few years at Life Centre, Newcastle there’s been the big UK Makerfaire: a bunch of hackers, makers, painters and generally cool people demonstrating what they’ve been working on and teaching people about how to make things for themselves.

Projects vary from putting a raspberry pi in a robot to an automatic knitting machine, and come from a variety of different people and places in the world…including well, me, after an 8 hour journey from Bristol (because I’m cheap and took the coach…).

I’m lucky enough to have a sister who studies/works in Newcastle, so I headed up for the whole weekend and spent the saturday hanging out with some of the coolest people on earth (a lot have and will dispute that sentence).

Since neither my sister nor the friends we were with were hackers or makers, the day started with my sister saying “charlotte, you’re going to have to lead me on this” and quickly I started jabbering away with stall holders about what they were doing, arduinos, IDEs and general costs of sensors and such whilst my company stood kind of bewildered about what the hell I was talking about.

There were some really great projects, I got to meet up with the Mather family, craig and Jim who are of the raspberry pi persuasion, as well as meeting a few people I’d bumped into before at Bristol Hackspace (there was a good 4 or 5 people who’d made the journey – I was pretty impressed!) which is always nice.

Particularly I liked seeing Jim’s latest project (that’s @hackerjimbo incase you want to talk to him yourself) which is a cheaper version of GEMMA/Trinket, but including several LEDs, a battery, a photoresistor (light sensor) and a power switch and for which he reckons he can produce for around £2 – can’t wait to get my hands on one!

Overall a great day, great to see so many people and it’s a shame that Newcastle will probably lose Maker Faire, as Make magazine are intending on having a world international faire in London next year.

Lovelace 2014

Unless you don’t really pay attention to computing history (which, if you’re a computer scientist, you should be incredibly ashamed of yourself. Actually, even if you’re not, you should still be ashamed), you probably already know who Ada Lovelace was. If not, she was kind of a big deal. And the first programmer, ever.

Funnily enough, she was also English.

Anyhow, The BCS Lovelace Colloquium is a 1 day event occurring in the UK every easter, which is open to undergraduate females (and males as +1s) in Computer Science. I’ve attended this year and last year because why not, and for those who worry about money for getting to these things, entering the poster competition usually gets you a scholarship to cover your expenses.

Final year posters

It’s also pretty nice because they move university every year, so last year was Nottingham, a short 40-60 minutes from where I live, and this year was Reading, a short hour and a half journey from Bristol, where I live now, as opposed to a lot of things that happen solidly up North or down South.

Essentially, it boils down to talks from several women from industry or from research – this year saw Anne-Marie Imafidon who runs Stemettes, Prof Rachel McCrindle a lecturer at Reading University, Dr. Jane Haslam who works in computer vision at Vicon, a company in Oxford, Rebecca Little who works in Digital Marketing and Cate Hudson who works on mobile dev at Google.

Rebecca Little on Digital Marketing and finding the job you love

There’s also a chance to talk to the sponsors about job opportunities, lots of freebies and as mentioned, a poster competition for each year, sponsored by different companies and with prizes ranging from 200-500 pounds depending on the year and sponsor.

Blob modelling!

The talks were all pretty good – I took a lot of notes in Jane’s talk as computer vision’s a pretty interesting topic and it’s cool to see research and dev in industry, rather than just from an academia perspective, plus graphics is a big research aim at Hull. One of the overridingly good things was the python mentions – Jane mentioned how they use python for prototyping algorithms and talking to sponsors from CA, python’s becoming more and more prominent as something they want when they’re hiring (though Java is still higher priority) so I’m incredibly glad my placement is in python.


My poster

Anyway, so I entered my poster, with lots of help from Amanda from Aber uni who got it printed last minute when I knew my poster wouldn’t arrive in time, talked to some people about it (which was on the wearable workshop I ran last month), got judged aaaand a couple of hours later…found out I’d won which is pretty snazzy. I got a big android cuddly toy, a puzzlebot and a bunch of other googley things, as well as £300 from the sponsor which just so happened to be Airbus. Very happy to win and I’ll have to find something other than rent to spend my monies on!

He so fluffy!

Finally, there was a Q&A session with most of the people who’d given talks plus Sarah Lamb who started the Girl Geek Dinners initiative. Questions ranged from PhDs and research to peoples’ jobs and how they got them to the usual gender issues.

Afterwards we headed over to the bar for a CA Tech sponsored social which was quite nice: I was concious of time and driving so I only had one, and then hung around talking to people for a while about my workshop and about my necklace, then Babbage, pudsey and myself headed back up to the Shire to begin my lovely Easter break back at Godley HQ.

All in all, a lovely day and big thanks to all the sponsors and to Hannah and Amanda for making it happen, amongst other people at Reading uni 🙂

Wearable workshop resource release

Someone mentioned to me at Lovelace I’d still not released my resources. Mostly it’s because I’ve been meaning to make some edits and in the evenings after work I tend to just want to chill and cook, but anyway. I’ve made some edits, and my plan is thus:

– Release them to those who sponsored 20+ on hubbub – take feedback and improve

– put them on github for people to view, download and improve

– carry on making more resources in this way – this will probably come some time during my third year when I’m able to test them out more regularly with uni outreach.

So those of you who fit into the first category can expect an email sometime this eve. I’ve also added a page for those wanting to contact me about anything to do with wearables…not that I’m the expert or anything 😛

current project: musical LEDs

A few weeks back I was sat on my bed with my baritone saxophone on my lap. You know, the one that looks and feels like there’s a 6 year old metallic child attached to your chest. (no, not like that).

He’s the newest addition to my family, and for those that were wondering, is called Duke Reginald (names courtesy of Emma-Ashley and Joe. By the way, you should all follow @joe_stead), or Duke for short.

Anyway, as I often do, I decided LEDs were necessary so I went back to a project I had a while back of putting a trinket, microphone and 32 LEDs on the bell. (heh)

As breadboards are for smart people, I soldered it all together (see photo) and tested initially with the microphone reading volume and outputting to the red LED on the board- trinkets don’t have serial output, so this was a good test and I successfully had it listening. See vine:

So the next logical step is to take this and spread it amongst 32 LEDs…aaaand now I’m stuck.

I found the neopixel tutorial by adafruit and tried to put it on trinket. Nope. Nope nope nope nope not working.

I…looked at the other neopixel library which is used for 3 wire neopixels (like the rings, the new strips and the wearable neopixels). Nope. still not working.

I…gave up and played some loud notes on my baritone.

I…spoke to Andrew down at the local geek meet up and discovered that the SPI library won’t work on a trinket/ATTiny chip and that this is probably the source of my problem. Will update when I’ve tested this but it’s something.

Ideally the plan is this:

– get volume working (which will dictate how many LEDs are turned on)

– get pitch working for the baritone (which will dictate what colour the LEDs are)

– get pitch working for my clarinet

– get pitch working for my tenor saxophone

– combine the three and have some form of switch so that I can change instrument without reprogramming.

The last one is kind of optional, I just would like this to be reasonably portable. This is why another suggestion, which is to put pressure pads on each key, isn’t really an option and would also more likely damage the instrument than merely sticking a microphone over the bit the noise comes out.

QuestionTime, being surveyed and Airbus

A few weeks ago a survey volunteer came to my door from UKIP. Since I’d opened the door already, I answered his questions.
The majority of my answers were “this doesn’t affect my vote” because well, I’m not going to vote UKIP whether or not they want in or out of the EU.
However, it made me chuckle to myself that a bunch of the questions were about the opinions of higher ups such as Fabrice Bregier and Tom Enders – the CEO of Airbus, and the CEO of Airbus Group (formerly EADS who own Airbus and a bunch of other companies).
We reached the end of the survey where I was asked my profession. I answered a little smugly “I’m a programming intern at Airbus”
“Oh. You’re the first employee we’ve met!”
I still find this hard to believe, as I live so close to Airbus that I’m basically at my desk when I step out of my front door, but at the time didn’t think much on it.

However, recently QuestionTime came to Bristol and whilst I didn’t watch it, my parents did and informed me thus. Whilst talking to my my mum I pondered how much it would hurt Engineering in the UK if we left the EU, and of course, our entire industry and people generally.

Having been lucky enough to go to the continent virtually every year for a family holiday or other reason, I’ve taken for granted the fact we can hop on a flight, get passports checked at each end, and well, that’s about it.

During my time at Airbus I’ve made friends from across the country, but one of my closest friends is a girl from Abu Dhabi (United Arab Emirates) who’s an aerospace engineering intern at work. Long story short, like the majority of technical people at work, one of her projects lead to Airbus sending her to Toulouse for a few days which is HQ, and in land area probably forms at least a quarter of Toulouse.
What happened? Well being a UAE national, she needed another VISA so one visit was cancelled, work sent her for a whole day in London and she had to be interviewed by the French Embassy. Trip probably cost a pittance in comparison to the numbers Airbus employees throw around in budgeting, but imagine if we had to do that for all the people at Airbus Bristol and all at Airbus Broughton. That’s uhm. 7200 employees according to the numbers listed on the portal. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg considering how trade laws would change and we wouldn’t be as friendly as the other 3 big player countries in Airbus (FYI, that is France, Germany and Spain).

In short, there would be far too much hassle in my opinion for us to keep the people here, and I think we’d at least lose the wing manufacturing plant in Broughton to France – at a guess employees would be offered the chance to relocate to wherever they moved the plant, but that’s around 4.8k peoples jobs and well, another thing the UK would not be making. And that makes me sad.

We take the EU for granted far too often, but ultimately if it were not there, Boeing would probably be the only big plane manufacturer and I wouldn’t have the sense of pride that we made all the wings on all the Airbus planes, and that sense of people being a traitor to Europe when they fly on a Boeing. :p
(no offence USA).

Entering third year. Again.

I’ve done 8 months now at Airbus. Feels no where near that long, and it’s only a little while and I’ll be packing up the car, Hullward bound again.

I’m glad I’ve had this year to sit and think, really – uni goes by so quickly and it feels like the center of your universe whilst you’re in it and like all your friends are going to be with you forever, but the reality? This too shall pass, which is sad, but at the same time exciting.

I still don’t know what I’m doing after third year, I have a few options and a few different cities and countries, really, I’d be happy to live in (Bristol ranks quite highly, where before it wouldn’t even rank anywhere so I guess that’s something), and a few different pathways to go down.

Anyway, this isn’t about after uni, this is about thoughts on next year.

I wrote about this time last year that my final year project would be Life of Pi in mixed reality on a platform called CAVE (5 screens forming an immersive environment – 3 walls, floor and ceiling), which the Uni got just last year. I’m hoping Helen gets a student to do it this year, because I still feel pretty bad that I was all set to do it, and then “err…I’m going to Bristol BYE UNI” and it looked like a cool project, but at the time I wanted to come up with my own idea, but had very little time in which to come up with any inspiration.

This is where having a year to sit and think helps – I came up with something I’ve been wanting someone to make since…err…since I started scanning music in to use on my laptop when away from the Godley Sheet Music Library back at home. Can you tell what it is yet?

What I will be doing is a Sheet Music Library something akin to what itunes has done for people’s music collections – it will collate, organise and generally make using sheet music on a laptop a lot easier. I have listed I want to be able to use MusicXML as the main format which makes it easy to port your library out to software such as MuseScore in order to edit and play back (although I’m hoping I can put playback into the app itself…).

Why doesn’t this already exist? I have no idea. I don’t feel as though music innovations that hit the masses happen often – several orchestras probably already have something like this along with wireless page turners (something else I’d like to put in, but probably won’t have time – my theory is using Adafruit BlueFruit EZKey, trinket and a broken keyboard piano pedal, it shouldn’t be difficult but those are famous last words…) and conversion to and from editable music and MIDI for playback has been done both commercially and in the open source world, but that’s just it: musicians aren’t always computer scientist type people, so probably don’t know about the open source world, and quite personally if I see “OMR APP FOR JUST $300” I think “erm. no…I can live without that”, so whilst open source options are freely available, they’re not really that accessible. It’s also the case I have yet to see something that collates features from 3 different kind of bases – organisation, editing, playback – most will do one, but not all.

I like this idea much more than last year’s because it’s something I will benefit from not just academically, but in the sense that I can then take my music wherever I go. I think it’s important that your final year project be something you want and are passionate about, not just a generic game title someone else came up with, and this is why I didn’t go to my supervisor at work and ask for one: don’t get me wrong, planes are fun to get geeky over and the work I’ve done this year has been awesome, but my passion generally lies most strongly in my hobbies and therefore I think I will succeed and fair better with this project than any related to Aerospace.

As a techy note, I’m going to be writing this in Python because I feel very comfortable with python after this year, and I think that’s where there’ll be most open source libraries for research from, in addition to features python has such as the ability to wrap libraries from other languages in python using SWIG. This also shows where I’ve come from as last year, I was kind of hesitant to even suggest writing an FYP in anything other than C# or C++, fearing there’d be little departmental support, but when I mentioned to Jan who’s hopefully my new project supervisor, he didn’t seem astounded and was supportive: why should he, or any other academic be shocked at my personal choice? Programming is programming and you write in what YOU’RE most comfortable in, not the staff, and at the end of the day most CSy people, particularly academics, would be able to understand and debug python anyway…

Oh, and it probably goes without saying that I will be open sourcing my work once I’m done with it and it’s cleared from being assessed, and potentially making it into a system similar to the home media center style OS made for the Raspberry Pi so that it’s even more portable. But that’s for after uni…

A side note: I got come dine with me social sec (again – I was going to be doing this last year but then got an accidental placement…) which should be good fun. If any freshers or second years are reading this, you should really join because it’s a great way to meet new people and eat lots of free food. And discover new places to eat in Hull.