Month: June 2014

@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
– 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.

Top tools for electronics projects

So I was thinking the other day how my dad knows, without fail, what I’ll need sooner or a later for electronics work. For birthdays and Xmas since I got my pi, his present has been some form of tool rather than component (usually from aldi).
At first this annoyed me because I wanted an arduino for Xmas, but then I started using them and realised he’s a mind reader/genius.
But not everyone who starts playing with embedded projects has my dad, so here’s some tools you’ll probably need somewhere down the line. As always please shout me if there’s anything you have to add:

1. A breadboard. These are those plasticy holey board things you see on projects: basically a prototyping object without anything being permanent. These come in big and small sizes and are just generally awesome.

2. A soldering iron. Not sure I need to quantify this one. Somewhere along the line you’ll need to solder, once your breadboard prototype is ready or if there’s a kit you’ve just bought. Learning to solder isn’t hard and there’s plenty of tutorials around. It’s also really fun and addictive #demfumes

3. A solder sucker. For when your soldering has gone awry.

4. A third hand tool or table vice. Personally I have the latter, courtesy of my dad last Xmas. This is a must as usually electronics hacking is a personal thing unless you work exclusively at a hackspace, and you usually need to solder one thing to another which means 3 objects to balance. I prefer my vice because its very sturdy and really easily adjustable. It also doubles as my lanyard holder:


5. Automatic wire strippers. I used to do wire stripping in the one term of electronics we had at school, and owch did that hurt my fingertips. Automated ones are soooo much better.

6. A multimeter, to test all your outputs and input voltages etc are correct.

7. Tweezers, particularly for surface mount soldering. I use mine sooo much these days.

8. A magnifying glass. I dun goofed one time and soldered a header the wrong way up. Magnifying glass was really useful for figuring out which pins needed more desoldering.

I think that’s everything. If you have any to add please comment or tweet me!

Future of wireless conference 2014

So recently I’ve entered a bunch of different things. Its kind of nice having this year to be able to guiltlessly go to stuff without thinking “I should be working on coursework”, and particularly good for personal development and decisions on what to do and where to go once I graduate next July (scary thought…I have to actually. Graduate. I can’t start talks with ” hi I’m Charlotte godley and I’m a computer science student from Hull university” from then on…oh my God(ley))

Anyway, today I found out I’m one of five milennials (people from age 18-30 ish) to have won the chance to go to FWIC which stands for Future of Wireless International Conference, happening in Cambridge at the end of June. This is kind of the first step to finding out whether I want to be in embedded systems and where I could end up in terms of employment and degree, and I’m megaly excited and really grateful for the opportunity. There’s going to be lots of different companies and talks there and just. Yeah. I am an excited person.

Also think I’m the only undergraduate to win so err…I must be doing something right.

Another exciting side of this is that Cherie Blair will be talking at the mid-conference dinner, so eek!

A side note, I’ll be giving my first talk that’s not at a raspberry jam and not at IET present around the world at the end of this month for CAS #include as well as running more wearables workshops, so I’m starting to brick that and should probably work on some slides.
So June’s an exciting month…