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The most important thing I ever learnt at school - Look Up

I Learnt a lot of stuff at school,some of it stuck in my head,some of it escaped as soon as it got the chance.

I think sometimes they were having a laugh with the stuff they taught us. Teaching that the Earth and all the universe was made millions of years ago in the big bang one lesson then teaching that God made the Earth and all the universe not that long ago in 6 days a couple of lessons later.Probably hoping we would have forgot what the last teacher taught us.

And while we are on the subject of Science it turns out that whole electrons orbit the Nucleus like planets orbit the Sun is a bit shaky to say the least as well.

But I don’t actually think any of the proper formal subjects we were taught was the most important thing I ever learnt at school. It was taught well before it came time for GCSEs,exams and all the stress of worrying about what would come after school.

It was either the 1st or 2nd year and we were doing a project called ‘our city’ where we had to explore our city and do different art and writing projects about it.

To help with this they took us into the city for a day a we took part in several activities.One of these was to walk around and look up at the buildings. When I say look up I mean actually look up,look above the facades of the High street stores and look at the actual buildings themselves,look at the different architecture,look at the interesting features unique to a particular period,style or individual building.

It didn’t really sink in much at the time,but that is often something I do whenever I am in a new place. A lot of towns and cities are far more interesting if you just look above the ordinary and familiar.

I’ve also come to realise the Look Up can be more of a metaphor for life in general.  Before coming to the Science Museum I had fallen into a really dull job that I hated.  It was only looking up above the familiar facades of the industry and job role I was in that I could see an escape.

Looking up created the opportunity but also gave me the skills to take it. Doing online courses,reading art,design,science and  technology blogs meant I had some of the skills that were needed so was able to show that even though I didn’t have any museum experience I would be a good bet for the job.

Now I still read the blogs and do the courses but living in London has opened up a all new world of lectures,exhibitions,meetups . In the last few weeks i’ve been to London Geek Girls Dinners,Internet of Things meetup, a lecture on Arab navigation and tonight a exhibition of biomimetic Robots.  All of these things aren’t necessarily directly connected with the work I do or the technology I am interested in but talking to different people,finding out about different things can shed new light and insights on things and get me thinking about things in different ways.

So yeah any time you are in a new place I really recommend that you Look Up.

Random dots turn into my first prototype

After looking at the images of tattoos that I posted yesterday and thinking about my ideas for the project I decided there was only one thing for it and that was to break out the felt tips and get something on paper.

I wasn’t too bothered exactly what i drew but I knew that just the act of putting pen to paper would help to crystallise my ideas by giving me something to look at and think about.

I knew I wanted to represent a museum gallery and exhibits in it. So I drew a circle with eight more circles around it.  I coloured the circles in and joined the small circles to the larger one. Then drew lines from the larger circles to the top of the paper imagining that the wires are the veins and arteries going to the heart.

I repeated this seven more times in different but similar patterns all on the same sheet of paper.


Its not the best photo but you get the idea.

That was when I had my first insight.  This could get really complicated. It was fairly easy to do on paper and it didn’t matter if lines crossed but doing this on a sleeve with conductive thread could be complicated and prone to failure.

Next step was to repeat the exercise but simplified the patterns to make the routing of the wiring simpler. I also drew a couple of lines in there to make me think about the wires for the power.

I could see straight away that although better than my first attempt  there would be problems. Second insight of the night, think in 3D I would be working with a sleeve so I have a cylinder not a flat plane.  This means that I can wrap wires around to make connections. Even though how I had drawn it wasn’t the best design it lead to that flash.  So decided to test my theory.

This is probably the first real prototype in that it was a physical test of an idea rather than a flat drawing. It only took a few moments to make by making a quick sketch then rolling up and sellotaping the paper, but that has probably saved me several hours testing out the same idea with LEDs and wires.

The next two things I want to think about are testing out the colour sensor and the electronics needed to control all the LEDs that I’m planning on using.

Don’t actually have my kit yet but hopefully shouldn’t  be long  now.Will post my thoughts about it when I do.


AdaFruit Flora Challenge - Early thoughts,Hearts and Tattoos

The other seven people who are taking part in  the AdaFruit Flora Challenge are probably writing their first blog posts and discussing bits,bytes,shift registers,resistance,current and lots of other technical stuff.  Don’t worry I will get on to that but for now I wanted to talk about the more creative side of my project.

The Challenge asked  for technology that helps people get that much closer. 

Looking at my proposal I wrote:

The device that i am proposing is a piece of wearable technology, that can display a response to a question or a poll. Or a recommendation of a exhibit or gallery.  

It will display the response in a abstract but recognisable way. Maybe a colour or a pattern that is  closely associated with the exhibit or gallery.

This would help people to select what they should visit within the museum.

It will bring people together by starting conversations and debates between people who they can see have similar or opposing views to their own.

Looking at both things like that, it looks quite a big ask.  That seems a lot to achieve with just a Arduino board and some LEDs.

So my basic thought is to have a piece of clothing that would have have LEDs sewn into it in an interesting ways. The LEDs would be grouped to show a abstract  representation of the gallery or exhibits.

There would be two transducers on this piece of clothing one would be a sensor to interact with the exhibit (I’m saying exhibit to stay general it could be an individual object,through to an entire gallery).

The other would be some form of communication to transmit your pattern of likes to both the internet and to other people.

I went down a couple of dead ends,before coming up with the idea that I am pursuing.

I thought of various devices that could be used. one of my favourite early ideas was to have some sort of plushy toy, that could interact with other ones. Themes would be possible the Natural History Museum could have Dippy the Dinosaurs that  could kiss to share, the Science Museum could have cogs that mesh to share and the V & A could have  vases to do something.  Really started to run out of ideas there at the end.

What that made me realise was although I had come up with good individual ideas there wasn’t a strong theme to tie them together and make it suitable for use rather than just a couple of museums.

At some point the phrase “Wear your heart on your sleeve" popped into my head and stuck there and it was this that I decided to pursue.

When I think of Sleeves, its these beautiful tattoo sleeves I think of






When I think of images of the Heart I find the anatomical images much more interesting than the normal two round bumps and a pointy bit  images.




So these are the things I’ve had in my head. Tonight I started sketching some random ideas on paper which started to evolve into early prototypes and began to think of some of the practicalities of the wearable part of the project.

But that is enough for tonight I’ll post those images and my thoughts about that hopefully tomorrow.

Woo Hooo flipping good news

A few weeks ago while idly scrolling through my Twitter feed, I noticed a promoted tweet that looked a lot more interesting than the usual fare,

Two things in it really caught my eye. The first was that it was from element14.  They are better known in the U.K for their Farnell and CPC brands of electronic component suppliers, the cool and interesting thing is that they are one of the main distributor of the Raspberry PI computer which if you don’t know is a Credit card sized computer which was originally aimed at bringing computer literacy back to U.K schools but has gone wild amongst all sort of technology interested people.

The other cool thing that it mentioned was the Adafruit name. This will be a lot less well known outside more Geeky circles. AdaFruit is the company run by Limor Fried aka Ladyada to quote from her website “… create the best place online for learning electronics and making the best designed products …”

That Promoted Tweet had good provenance so well  worth a click in my book.  Turns out it was promoting a Element14 road test challenge.   Basically eight lucky people would receive a free AdaFruit Flora kit.

The AdaFruit Flora is a Arduino compatible wearable electronics platform.  To get the chance to test out one of these kits I had to submit a idea on how I could use the Flora to build a project to bring people closer.

After a think, I decided the kit would be ideal for a museum based project to prototype ideas around theme of liking exhibits,showing that you have liked them so others can see your thoughts. My thoughts are that this will bring people closer by starting conversations and debates between people who have similar or opposing views.

I’ve already started having a think about some ideas, some good and some really stupid (Lick to like - show your appreciation by licking a sensor, euugh! no thanks)

I receive my kit soon and will be blogging about the project on the element14 website. No doubt it will get a good few mentions here as well and i probably won’t shut up about it on Twitter 


Facts not Opinions

Facts not opinions is above the office door of 99 Southwark Street the location of the Kircaldy testing Museum.  I remember walking past the building when I first moved to London and seeing the information in the window of what from the outside looked like an almost abandoned building.  But after looking it up on line and seeing that it is still an open museum i decided that i would visit sometime, so a couple of weeks ago i made it down.


captured from google street view.

It was quite odd to see a sign pointing to go in the back entrance to the museum. But the main entrance isn’t in use.  Getting into the museum means squeezing through a gap in the fence of some road works .

I sort of knew what to expect,as the museum is only open the first Sunday of every month so wasn’t expecting a large,slick operation.

The Kircaldy Testing Museum isn’t really a museum in the way  a lot of museums are buildings to house a collection of objects but it is a industrial premises that was closed for nearly 20 years and then re-opened as a museum with not a lot of  changes made to it.

So after going into the back entrance and meeting the two friendly volunteers I was taken downstairs to watch a DVD about the history of David Kircaldy and the testing Works.

After the DVD it was a guided tour of the works. The first things were the impact machines.  I remember something very similar to these in the metrology lab at college.


French Charpy machine was made in 1916 and spent all of its working life at Imperial College. It came to the museum in full working order. It is believed to the oldest such machine is existence.


Izod Testing machine

After the impact testing machines it was the concrete testing machine. This takes a solid figure of eight shaped piece of concrete and pulls it apart. What surprised me here was that samples of concrete were shipped from all over the world to be tested here.

From the basement it is also possible to see some of the hydraulic components of the main testing machine. A big surprise was finding out that there once existed London hydraulic power company that pumped high pressure water through parts of London.


Then back upstairs to have a look at the main Testing machine.  On the day that I visited an artist was there preparing work for a show later on in the year.He was interested in having the testing machine pull apart objects and see how they deformed.  The artist was waiting for a friend of his to turn up with his camera to video the test on his object which was a metal sphere.

The delay waiting for the camera gave us chance to be shown David Kircaldy’s office,looking in an original state. There is a portrait on the wall of David, showing him with plans for his testing machine which are held in the Science Museum Library (Was pleased to hear of the connection).



As well as the main large machine there are several small ones. One of these was prepared with the plastic bands that are used for wrapping parcels and i turned a handle to put tension on it till it broke. I could feel the handle tighten and then the strap broke with a bang.

And finally what we came for to see the big machine test some metal.



The first attempt failed as the wedges gripping the test piece weren’t tight enough and the piece slipped out. But after reloading it and some subtle adjustment with a big hammer. This time everything went well .  After a couple of minutes of pulling,slowly increasing the load of the test piece it finally failed.

Unfortunately for the artist the failure was quite simple in that it cleanly pulled the welded arms off with no distortion in the sphere itself.  He decided to come back next month with a Mark 2 version after making some changes to the construction of the Sphere.

After another look around down stairs it was nearly time to head off. But not before buying the guide book for £5 and making the suggested donation of £5. To be honest I was more than happy to give the money.  The Museum was awarded a grant of £50,000 in the mid nineteen eighties of which £15,000 still remains, talk about frugal.

Sadly the future of the museum is on doubt, the lease is up on the museum and the Landlord is looking to replace them with a commercial tennant paying commercial rent.  One possible ray of hope for the Museum is that the Building and Testing machine  in it are both list so hopefully would prove to be very difficult to convert into a Trendy Wine Bar.

If you are interested in visiting have a look at the website  for information on opening times.


Names and learning stuff

Was chatting to one of my colleagues this morning. She mentioned that the DVLA had screwed up her driving licence application and put both her names as last names.

This meant that she couldn’t log in to the form on the website, which was causing all sorts of hassle to get sorted out.

At first glance,its probably easy enough to think, well surely the system can be programmed to always have a  first name. Until a few days ago I would have said the same thing but then found this blog post.

The comments on that page are a lot more reasoned and thought out than the average youTube “You is Stupid” sort of respone and one of the commenters asked for examples of number 40. People have names .

Patrick the Author responded with ;

Someone born into slavery in the Sudan, a woman born in rural China, an American baby recovered after being born into a toilet, a feral child, an amnesiac, etc, etc. go here for more info.

The first two especially struck me as being really powerful. Not having a name because you are born a slave  or a woman in rural China makes our frustrations at not been able to log on to our governments online Driving licence registration system pale in comparison.

It also struck me as interesting that I’d started reading an article about name validation and U.I design and ended up thinking about human rights

So the next time you hear one of those funny computer says no  (its little Britain so bit of NSFW video)  stories in the news its worth remembering that this stuff isn’t as simple as it might seem at first.

Not just 3D Printers

So first thing Yesterday morning I went  to Hair by Fairy  and took part in a one on one, interactive, subtractive manufacturing bio-hacking workshop. Ok I had my hair cut, i mean really cut.  But after that and a coffee I headed over to the mini Maker Faire at the London School of communication at Elephant and castle.

Picking up a guide i saw a talk about Berg Cloud was about to start. I’d heard of Berg but not sure what Berg Cloud was so went in. Nick Ludlam  CTO of Berg was talking about the development of the Little Printer ,the change of direction going from a company only doing client work to having a product to sell and how the Little Printer is planned to lead on to other things . Was interested to hear Matt saying he didn’t think that the term ‘internet of things’ really describes well what is happening with technology but he prefers the term ‘connected devices’ to explain that physical objects will be useful to us. Would loved to have heard more about this and it was a shame the talk was only 20 mins.

Next up was the  learn Surface mount Device soldering. I hadn’t registered for any of the workshops,but this was running as drop in all day.  I understand what surface mount soldering is but have only come across it professionally working at companies that have pcbs fabricated in large volume using robots and fully automated processes, so was keen to find out how it could be done.

The process is really simple:

Take your pcb and position a metal stencil that has cut outs for all the solder pads on it.

Using a metal scraper, wipe solder paste over the top of the stencil, ‘a bit like grouting tiles’, making sure that all the pads are fully covered.

remove the metal stencil and check pads are covered and the solder isn’t touching between the pads. Two of the really tiny transistor pads had the solder paste bridging across on mine, i tried to clear it up but it just made it worse. So had to clean off the paste and start again. Everything worked well second time around.

Very carefully with tweezers, place the components on to the solder pads.Managed to get this done ok.

Thats all the tricky bits. Next stage is to put the pcb into a toaster oven connected to an electronic controller that can step up the temperature in stages. That would take about 20 minutes so time for a look around.

I wasn’t sure exactly what I would see.I knew from Twitter that a few of the interesting companies that are selling Arduino and raspberry pi stuff would be there, but it was all the other projects that i came across which i found most interesting

So in no particular order, and I wasn’t taking photos to start with so don’t have photos of everything i saw.

The 1st area I went into was 3D printing,wasn’t surprised to see those. Good to see small companies popping up to support the ecosystem and looked at a few interesting projects. But not actually having my own 3D printer yet, and i’m not currently shopping for one or needing the consumables this was nice but not a must see for me.


Going upstairs to see the majority of the exhibits was where it really came alive.

The Sugru stand was good, never thought of using it to repair jeans.


Seeing some really cool projects image

Some Weird Stuff


Some Stuff for Dummies


Well not actually Dummies, good that this stuff is been opened up to a Wider audience and not trying to keep it exclusive.

Then Down to the Well to look at Art projects. My favourite was this projector pointing at a reflective sheet being filmed by a digital camera which then fed back into the projector


Then projects interesting patterns onto the adjacent wall


Completing a Circuit to start some guitars in the cloud playing



Time to pop back to the Workshop to pick up my completed SMD Robot.


Just needed the battery clipping in and its all working

So chance for another look around. Some projects encouraged touch

Others didn’t



So it wasn’t just the projects that were cool and interesting.  Danny from Orion Robots was there demonstrating his explorer robot.  I met Danny a few weeks ago at London Arduino Group. The robot I built that night is still going Strong and is now Danny’s demonstrator.

Bio Hacker Raphael Kim was demonstrating building things with agar that will then be used to grow Bacteria.

I didn’t have chance to talk to Kate Sicchio but remember her from a Yorkshire geek Girl Dinner when she did a dance piece using a Kinect camera.  Was interesting seeing her hacking the body project .

Good to see the air pi  project. Have been thinking about something like this as a way of developing my weather app into something more physical. Was tempted to buy one but decided to leave it a while as pretty busy with other stuff at the moment.

And finally bumped in to suzy one of our Antenna team who was also there checking out the interesting projects.

Hope there is another one next year,already looking forward to it and thinking of the possibility of having something  to show off.

EDIT: Correct the Speaker from Berg. It was Nick Ludlam not Matt Webb


known unknowns

Yeah my Super Simple Weather App is now live on the Play account. Its very much in Beta at the moment, but not using the Play Developer Beta system I’m quite happy for anyone to download it and didn’t want to mess around managing groups and invites to test.

As long as people are aware that it is a Beta App and not to expect too much from it then i’m quite happy for anyone to try it.

If you look at the screen shots and also in the description there is a very obvious bug, the weather is showing as ‘unknown’ .I’m no Meteorologist but i’m pretty sure there is no such weather condition as unknown.

When I 1st saw this I was looking at it on my phone,so thought it may be a problem with that but then also saw the problem on my laptop.  I thought it was odd because I was pretty sure that nothing I was doing would give a response of ‘unknown’ so it had to be coming from Yahoo.

Looking at the Yahoo Developer forum There is a reply that simply says there is no data from Yahoo partners.

Something else I noticed was that this error mainly happens at night,as though Yahoo weather partners just can’t be bothered to look out of the window at night.

In the Short time I’m going to add in client caching for the weather conditions. This is so if the condition is unknown it can revert to the last known good condition and also to cut down on the number of server requests.  There isn’t a limit on the number of requests that can be made to the Weather API but the location API that returns the WOEID which is then fed to the Weather API is limited to 2000 hits per day.

In the long term I have been thinking of a different way to get the weather data to replace or complement the Yahoo data but will put that into another post, but for now I will leave you with some more known unknowns

And another thing...

For the work I did that I talked about in my last post about the projection of the spheres, it was interestig to see how the images were distorted once they were put onto the sphere.  Don’t think it would be unrealistic for me to do the maths to do some basic projection mapping onto a sphere.

Making a round thing

I have just uploaded my first two videos to youtube ever, talk about late to the party. They can be found here and here .

So I’m no Steven Spielberg and those spheres projected on to a flat wall aren’t cutting edge Projection mapping but I was really please to do them.

It was done for The Life Game . Which was held at the museum over the weekend. I was asked to come up with some way of displaying photos of small paper ‘pals’ that the participants had drawn on to, in a  interesting way.  First thought was to look into some kind of existing photo gallery software, either a flickr or Google Chrome plugin. But there wasn’t anything that seemed suitable.

While riding my bike home one day I remembered that I had been playing with some webGL stuff earlier on in the year so thought of trying that then wondered if it would be easier to do in processing. I find that i come up with ideas when i’m on bike, there and in the shower.

Turns out it is Really easy to do. I installed Shapes 3D and an example file that had a rotating sphere in it, cut out everything except the bare essential and then went through the remaining code to fully understand what was happening.

Adding in some obligatory photos of kittens to test the image on the sphere and it was good to go.  That whole process took around 15 minutes.  Everything after that was tweaking to get the sphere the correct size for the screen.

So this weekend I spent taking photos of the pals, pasting them onto a large image and then re-compiling the processing sketch with the update image every so often to see the population grow over the weekend.  The 2 videos were taken after the first day. Unfortunately I forgot to take any at the end of the second day as I wanted to pack up and get off home quickly.

There was some good feedback about the globe,especially after the 1st day when i changed the background to black which made it stand out better.

So things I learned.

Using processsing for 3D

simple manipulation of layers in photoshop.

Getting my head around photoshop was useful as I discovered it is       possible to create an MP4 movie by putting layers into an animation which came in handy to sort out something else, but that is a story for another blog post.

This was also the first time that I have ever shown something in public that was my work, probably 18 months ago i would have been nervous to  put something like that onto the internet that does afford a certain amount anonymity let alone sit next to a computer telling people that i made that, so winning there.