Category Archives: technical

technical thoughts

This isn’t your next mobile phone, this isn’t either.

A couple of  months ago  Phonebloks gained a lot of coverage on  technology blogs and news sites. Mainly in part to its launch on the crowd supporting website Thunderclap , Initially it was the specialist tech blogs that covered it but as these things tend to the idea spread to the mainstream, with both the Guardian and BBC featuring the story.

 Shortly after the widespread coverage of the initial product Google/Motorola announced that they had a similar idea already in development and that they would be partnering with Dave Hakkens  the designer of PhoneBlok.

it was interesting to read the coverage as pretty much every website structured the story in the same way.  Starting off by saying what an amazing idea it is,  describing it in further detail and then hidden away near the bottom if at all asking an expert who would point out that it was in fact an idea that wouldn’t actually work.

Its a sound idea in principle and has already been applied to a small special computer by BugLabs But trying to make a phone that has interchangeable CPU, Graphics Processor and memory, would result in a phone that cost vastly more than a comparable equivalent and would a lot more bulky, no slim sexy iPhone here.

By using a System on a Chip (SOC) putting all the major computer components not only on the same board but on the same chip is how it is possible to make phones so small.  In fact it is by doing this that means a Raspberry Pi which has the computing power of a low end mobile phone can be sold for around £25.

So the PhoneBlok for me was pretty much a non-starter from day one.  What I have found a lot more interesting is the DIY Cellphone Project .  This isn’t going to challenge the iphone for looks or user friendliness but unlike the PhoneBlok this is a working device that can be bought and assembled if you have the skill and patience.

The exciting thing about this phone isn’t that you can build your own phone by following the instructions but both the Hardware and Software are available on Github for people to download, have a look at play around with and see what they can come up with.

Putting the technology into the hands of designers, engineers, makers and tinkerers will allow ideas to be tried out, prototyped and tested.  Some will probably be a little bit daft, some may be quite sensible but only have a niche application, but somewhere in that lot there will be ideas that percolate through to the main stream, and that to me is a lot more interesting than a pretend phone.

technical thoughts

How do you agree if you can't agree (Part 1)

This isn’t a post about solving arguments between family,friends or co-workers or any one else who might be annoyed by your habit of dunking Chocolate digestives in you tea.

Its actually about something quite different but something that could get as easily annoying in the future.  A lot of people now have smartphones that can connect to the internet. A lot of the time people will connect using a 3G or maybe 4G data connection but when no data connection is available its often possible to use a wi-fi connection provided by the company or institution that you are in.  That might be a office building,railway station,restaurant or museum.  


If you open the browser on you phone while using a free wi-fi service more often than not you will be re-directed from your normal homepage to a screen that at its simplest requires a click of a button to agree to the terms and conditions (Of course you will have fully read them before clicking that button, right?) or and it always seem to be train companies that do this creating an account which asks more questions than Jeremy Paxman quizzing some sleezy politician caught with their hand in the till again.

train wifi

Its never as easy as they make it look

Thats straight forward enough, it gets a bit more annoying if you are using an app that requires an internet connection. Apps generally aren’t bright enough to realise although you have a live network connection the connection to the internet is being blocked until you say the magic words and sprinkle the fairy dust.  I’m fairly tech savy and understand how the connection works but it isn’t obvious and I can easily understand how it could become frustrating.

So with a browser and an app it usually possible to get connected even if it takes a bit of knowledge and jumping through hoops. But what if the device you have doesn’t have a screen that lets you get to a browser with the magical ‘agree’ button.

This is something I have been thinking about recently for my Adafruit Element14 Flora challenge entry. I have prepared a storyboard goes step by step through how my design will be used. Near the end where I think about uploading the experience to the internet it got a bit fuzzy as I realised it could get quite complicated.  For the challenge Its about the wearable computing element and using the Flora board so I wasn’t too concerned but I would like to explore my project further and this is one of the real challenges that I will have to overcome.

I’ve decided to split this up into another may be more parts. I’m going to go away and see how other people who are working on internet of things devices are tackling this challenge and also come up with a few ‘what if’ ideas of my own to see If i can improve on what is currently out there.

I might also do some research into which biscuits are the best for dunking in tea.

technical thoughts wearable

Looking at the Fos. Wearable LED display.

The Wearable project I’m working on is entirely a one off, a prototype, a what if? sort of project. Its an idea to show what can be possible,to learn and test out the technology and to gauge people’s reaction to it.

Recently  I discovered the Fos  project on Kickstarter .This is a project that  uses an array of LEDs to display information sent from a mobile phone.


The Kickstarter page shows an example of an exercise statistics app but there are more ideas in the video and as it comes with an API for Android with an IOS one to follow the possibilities are much wider.

I really like the idea of this. I think it would be even more awesome if it could connect to an Arduino board based board like the Adafruit  Flora to enable a more  direct connection of other devices such as switches, light sensors and gps but can see  that would add a lot of complexity to an already ambitious project. 

Another thing that impressed me about this is the dedication that Anders the developer of the Fos has had to the project.  This isn’t a fly by night operation, he has been working on similar projects as bespoke designs for since 2005.

I don’t know if Fos will reach a massive consumer audience. The big players Apple, Google and Samsung are more likely to achieve that. I can see it finding a niche and hopefully other developers will come up with ideas that use the Fos in interesting ways and lead to other projects and devices.

making technical thoughts Uncategorized

Girl Skills,who needs them?

I realised tonight that part of my wearable computing challenge is going to involve some sewing.

This could cause a few problems,if you know me in real life you’ll probably know i’m not at all a ‘girly girl’ so have mostly avoided picking what are considered to be traditional women skills. I can sew a button on and have made a few small craft projects badly. This Duck an ‘Evil Tux’ bag at a womens technology craft day and a ipod case(Very badly).

The wearable computing challenge is going to involve some sewing.  There are some ideas in my head which might mean that I may need to do quite a lot. Hopefully the sewing won’t be too complicated but I want to do it as well as possible, I’m starting to regret not learning more sewing and craft skills when I was younger. Might have been more interested if I had known it would come in useful for things like this.

Anyway a few weeks ago someone in my twitter feed posted a link to a Huffington Post article all about encouraging girls into STEM careers using their interest in fashion to spark an interest in wearable technology.  I retweeted the link and thought thats great. It was only a week or so later when I went to the London Geek Girl Dinner and listened to a talk by Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino Her opinion is pretty much the polar opposite. That by using wearable technology as the link into tech careers limits girls to only look at careers that rely on the traditional ‘womens’ skills which is limiting rather than empowering.

This made me think quite a lot about both sides of the argument.  On one hand surely any initiative that gets girls interested in tech. is a good thing right? On the other hand if women are encouraged only into one particular field of tech. there is danger of turning that field into a ghetto  and it ending up being known as a woman’s job.

The paragraph that worried me in the in that Huff. post article was

“We wanted to shatter the myths that technology is a boring ‘boys’ club’. Girls see fashion as a creative fun industry. Conversely, they see the tech industry as a dull place to work for ‘pizza guzzling nerds’. By fusing fashion with technology we were out to demonstrate just how creative technology can be and empower the girls to believe in the endless possibilities of working in tech.”

That is a quote but its not really clear who by. It worried me because it implies that they are aiming to get girls to use technology while pursuing a career in the fashion industry rather than changing stereotypes about what working in technology is actually like.

There are jobs in tech that can be seen to be dull by others and there are pizza guzzling nerds working those jobs. There are areas of tech that I find dull (printers,windows servers,back up and storage) but I’m sure there are both men and women who are fascinated by them,just not me.

What should be shouted about is that there is so much technology around now that anyone who understands it,knows how it works and knows how to get it to do things will have a much better chance of being successful in their chosen career.

A better way to approach the problem is to demonstrate the technology and the many ways it can be used to do cool, interesting and useful things. So that might be wearable technology,or social and games or other useful gadgets and gizmos .

Everybody is different so there is no one size fits all solution. Working in technology isn’t for everybody but it would be a shame for those girls who could flourish in a tech job to miss out simply because they never found that ‘in’

The other thing to remember is that sewing isn’t just for girls




making Projects technical thoughts wearable

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 


developer technical thoughts

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.

making technical thoughts

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


technical thoughts

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

technical thoughts

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.

museums technical

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.