making silly technical thoughts

Real Cloud Storage

A few days ago I twittered the tweet above, or is it tweeted the tweet? I don't know, anyway it doesn't matter. What does matter is that is the odd sort of thought that goes through my head. Wouldn't it be interesting to send digital data to the clouds. Both the data in our computer and the clouds in the sky are both somehow ephemeral and yet long lived . We see the data only because it is represented on our screens by glowing pixels,turned on or off. That data could have been around for months or years. Data we think can easily be deleted may be out of our control stored in far off servers, the cloud.
The water vapour that forms the clouds changes form all the time, falling as rain into the seas and oceans, flowing through rivers and streams. The clouds may last only a few seconds the water lives on.

A few month ago the Daily mail published an article trying to explain the leak of snapchat data. And in the article they used the explanation that 'the cloud' is 'not an actual cloud' Don't worry that's not a link to the Dail Mail.

But what if it was possible to store data in the clouds? Why shouldn't it be. Not having to rely on energy hungry data centres, never knowing if our data is safe or not, not having the worry of not knowing who might have unauthorised access to our private photos or documents would be great.

So I propose the following idea, its beta at the moment.

The Cloud making machine would be something like this:

The arduino would take the data from the computer and control a fan to send long and short pulses of clouds out of the machine. I was thinking of Morse code as it is easily encoded and would be suitable for the low bandwidth.

Reading the data back from the cloud may be difficult, but hey at least its secure.

making Projects technical

Laser cutting objects that don't exist

You may remember last week, the sun still wafted around in the sky,the light evenings  felt like they would go on forever.  Or you may remember  last weeks blog post  about 3D Printing an object discovered  via @museumbot .

That last project was all about turning a photo of a real object back from its digital representation into a real object again and looking at the transformation it went through.

I knew I wouldn't have time to do the next part of that project adding the detail of the face and changing the thicknesses to match the original more closely this week, but it did get me thinking about the idea of taking things that don't really exist and turning them into physical objects.

Rather than 3D print objects I wanted to laser cut something, mostly this was because of wanting to put into practise the training I had, had on the laser cutter at Machinesroom.  Its ok being taught how to use something, but you don't really learn until you have a go. The two photographs that came to mind also leant themselves to being laser cut rather than a 3D print.

The first photograph is  of a leaf,but not really a leaf.  I''m not sure exactly what the process is that happened but recently as I set off for work to the Science museum I noticed several 'imprints' of leaves on the pavement. There was nothing left of the leaf except for a brown mark where it had once been.

leaf mark on pavement
leaf mark on pavement

The second was a photograph from twitter taken by Katy Barrett @SpoonsOnTrays of a shadow taken on a sunny day at the coast in Norfolk.


Photograph of a Shadow by Katy Barrett
Photograph of a Shadow by Katy Barrett

I found this photograph really interesting, the pattern of holes in whatever object that is casting the shadow, the sand and pebbles, the sea that can only be seen in the shade of the object.

For both photographs although it is possible laser etch straight from photographs I chose to draw outlines in the same way I had done for the 3D printing of the Pendant.  I knew I couldn't draw the items exactly but I wasn't trying.  Zooming into the photograph of the leaf showed on oddly digital texture as the imprint had become defined by the dimples on the paving slab.  The edges are a lot harder to follow than when looking at the image from further away. Trying to decide what constitutes the outline of the leaf and what is just the dirt on the pavement was difficult

The shadow on the beach was similar. The lines of the shadow seem really well defined when first looking at the photograph but again when zooming in, they are much softer and difficult to follow,being broken up by the contours of the sand,pebbles and the ripples of the water.

For each of the photographs I realised that if I repeated the process of tracing the outlines they would come out differently for each one, I would never end up with the same outline twice. That was ok, it was never about creating an exact copy of the photograph but looking carefully at the lines and choosing what I wanted the shapes to be and being happy with whatever the result was.


Memory of a leaf. Lasercut in 3mm Birch plywood
Memory of a leaf. Lasercut in 3mm Birch plywood


Lasercut of Shadow. 3mm Birch plywood
Laser cut of Shadow. 3mm Birch plywood

As with the 3D printing the Laser cutting was done at Machines Room Limewharf  .  If you are wanting to learn about 3D Printing,Lasercutting it is a great place to go.


I won't be making anything solid for a few weeks.  Will be busy at Technopop London volunteering mostly on the Vex Robotics workshops, so bring you kids and lets build robots together, because building robots are cool.





making museums Projects technical

3D print from a tweetbot

There are a lot of museums looking at how objects in their collections can be scanned and 3D Printed.  There are  reasons for this, most of them very serious,academic and scholarly.

The small project I have been working on is a lot less serious but still has a worthwhile reason behind it.  Just as my Farting statues App was a exploration of taking the objects in a collection, mixing them with information from Wikipedia adding in  Android code and coming up with something silly and frivolous.  This is a exploration of  turning  the output of a museum API into a 3D printed object.  I was interested in how the object would transform and change as it went through the processes of turning from a Physical object, into digital data and back into a physical object albeit in a modified form.

The project was inspired by this guardian article on twitter  bots, the interest in that comes from my current work project making the satellite X3Prospero tweet.

One of the bots in the article was @MuseumBot  this is a bot written by Darius Kazemi (@tinysubversions)  it takes the open access images that are made available by  the Met Museum, tweets an image along with a link to the page on the met museum website.

After following this bot, there was an image that was tweeted that took my interest



There was just something I found  interesting about the object,also the quite detailed but well defined outline made me think straight away that would be interesting to 3D Print, and thats how this started.

Not really knowing what to do  but knowing it is possible to build 3D models from photographs that was my first avenue of investigation.  Yes it is possible but it requires multiple photographs  taken at different angles.  I only had the one photograph taken at one angle.

From then my next was to see what I could do with the outline of the object. I realised that it wouldn't be possible to get all the detail of the face of the figurine  in the print, at least not in the first iteration of it.

I Started off following this article  but using Adobe illustrator to turn the image into a SVG file.  The output from the automatic outline feature of Illustrator was quite poor.  It was probably because of the shading and highlighting on the object.  So it was time to bite the bullet and do it myself.  This took around six hours, working at a high magnification and going very slowly.  This process did highlight  a problem with the image. It is not perfectly straight on at the top face, the outline shows some of the side edges.  Not sure what the technical term for that is, it probably has one.

I made the decision to ignore that problem and rather than try to guess what the actual outline should be just go around the outline as it is on the photograph.

The first time doing the import into 123D Design didn't go well.  It showed up a mistake made in the outlining process. Rather than creating a single outline I had inadvertently created hundreds of very small lines. A newbie Illustrator mistake.  So had to spend around another six hours joining up all the tiny lines.

The import into 123D Design was much better this time. All I had to do then was to scale the model to approximately the same size as the actual object and export the STL file for printing.

The Printing was done at Machines Room  on their Ultimaker 2 printer.  All I had to do was import the STL file into the Ultimaker Cura software and export a GCode file for the printer.

Printing was simply a Copying the gCode file on to a SD card, putting the card into the printer,selecting the file and pressing print.   The printer takes a few minutes to warm up and there is a little of the PLA oozes out as it reaches temperature, that just needs to be supported away from the print base to stop it from getting onto the print as it starts.


Once it has done started printing and been running a few minutes its ok to leave it running until it completes, so I went for a coffee and waited.

It was all straight forward, it took around one hour to print and then around ten minutes to leave to cool on the bed of the printer to prevent it from warping as it cooled.




Whats next?

I would really like to add in the face and its features.  The current design is a single thickness , I would like to make the thickness of the different parts of the object must closer to the actual object.

One interesting thing that I had not considered was the material transformation.  It was printed in yellow because that was what the printer was loaded with at the time and was close to the gold in look.  Two people I showed it to suggested gilding it or coating with gold leaf.  After thinking about this for a while I have decided not to.  The shape of the object has changed through the process, the material has changed, I don't see any need to pretend that it is the same material as the original, I think that is an interesting part of the story.

The file for printing is now on Thingiverse , so if you want to print out this object or play around and transform the model in any way, feel free.  If you do let me know what you happens,  am interested.












silly technical thoughts wearable

Stupid wearable idea of the day - distance sensing headphone band

It happens all the time, people walk around with their heads down looking at their phones,oblivious to the world around them.  If you aren't looking at your phone you have to watch out for people headed straight for you and get out of there way.

What about this for an idea.  Mount a distance  sensor (ultrasonic,infra-red or similar) and camera to the top of the headphone band. Point it at approx 45 degrees so when the head is tilted down it will be pointing straight forwards.   When it detects a obstacle it can make the phone vibrate and swap the display to the camera image.




Pretty sure this will be worth a few million of venture capital money in silicon valley but it is a stupid idea and you saw it here first


Back to where it all began (part 2)

Leaving Bletchley Park station, its only a few metres to the Bletchley Park site. Not knowing what to expect but imagining to see either the Victorian Mansion or the famous huts where the code breakers worked. What I didn't expect to see was a half completed modern housing estate. Oh well that progress I guess.

Its not until you get inside, past the modern car park and beyond the ticket desk that the site starts to come alive and reveal the stories of the top secret work that went on there and ultimately contributed massively to bringing WW2 to an end when it did.

The first part of the exhibition is an overview of all the work that went on at Bletchley park,the operation of the famous German enigma machines and the efforts to crack them, using films,text and computer interactives. The videos project onto the walls without any special screen were effective adding a layer of Trompe-l'œil to the room,but was disappointed by those projected on to what looked to be domestic projector screens. The projectors weren't lined up to the screens properly making them look ad-hoc and temporary. Ok A.V geekery over, promise not to do that again.

At the exit to the first building its possible to pick up a Audio guide unit, I collected one but never actually used it, just not that bothered about them.

As with the computer Museum I'm not going to give an exhibit by exhibit account of my visit, but do want to mention the hut that contains the recreation of the Bombe machine, It is worth waiting for the demonstration of how it works and after that the story of Alan Turing. Reading Gordon Brown's posthumous apology to Turing brought a tear to my eye. It makes me sad that so many people had to die fighting to keep our freedom and yet just a few years after that war Turing and many other men were persecuted by the police for their sexuality. The world has moved on so much since that time, it might not be perfect but it scares me to think what it would be like now if the allies hadn't been successful in overpowering the Nazis. Bletchley park and the Colossus at the computer museum show it took brains as well as brawn.

The other parts of the site were equally interesting. walking around the huts that Turing and the other code breakers worked in was interesting. They seemed so spartan when compared to modern offices, none of the nick-nacks or other distractions that so often adorn peoples work stations today. The projected films and audio capture some of the details of the work nicely and don't look out of place.

I didn't get a chance to look at everything but did make time to learn about the work the work the Wrens did operating the computers. Hut 11 I think it was, a wonderful projected video conversation. Before it was time for my train back to London there was just time for a quick look around the mansion house and a sit down for a coffee and cookie.

So thats the story of one site,two museums. Computing and technology moves at an alarming rate, but it was good to step back and learn about it from the beginning.  For many years the story of Bletchley and Colossus was kept a secret.  That it is now public knowledge and the sacrifice and dedication of the people who worked there and the contribution that Bletchley made to the war effort and to the development of modern technology  can be rightfully recognised.



Back to where it all began (part 1)

A few years ago I was in the Milton Keynes area on a training course learning how to service printers. There was a chance the course would finish early. I planned to visit Bletchley Park, sadly the course didn't finish early and I had to take more printers apart. I Would rather have rubbed pickled onion in my eyes than be in that room taking printers apart.

Last week I finally made up for that and visited both The National Museum of Computing and Bletchley park.

Computing Museum first. Its not big but it is absolutely packed with amazing computers and machines that in their time were groundbreaking. Learning about Tunny and Robinson and the work that went on in Bletchley park before Colossus was interesting. I hadn't realised that Colossus was the culmination of other work. Everyone knows of Alan Turing and maybe Tommy Flowers but there were so so many other people researching,developing and building the equipment used to crack the German codes.

Seeing the rebuilt Colossus was the highlight of the museum, learning about the work that went into both the development of the original and the rebuild. The Colossus rebuild started in 1993 and completed in 2004. It is on the site where number nine Colossus stood. I recommend reading all the panels that tell the story of Colossus.



If you thought modern processor fans were big
If you thought modern processor fans were big
Don't fall into the computer
Don't fall into the computer

As you walk through the museum the computers get smaller and more powerful, i couldn't help thinking as I took photos on my phone, it has more processing power in such a tiny package than many of the cabinet sized monsters of old but without them my phone probably wouldn't exist as it does now.

Some familiar computers here
Some familiar computers here
I said hello from one museum to another
I said hello from one museum to another
This looks Familiar
This looks Familiar

The displays highlighting the contribution women have made to computing made me really happy. Ada Lovelace is often highlighted as the first computer programmer but then many others are overlooked.

Some of the women who have played a part in the advancement of computers and computer science
Some of the women who have played a part in the advancement of computers and computer science
"She wrote with a Parker 51 fountain pen with permanent black ink and if there was a mistake it had to be corrected with a razor blade."
"She wrote with a Parker 51 fountain pen with permanent black ink and if there was a mistake it had to be corrected with a razor blade."

One particularly event I witnessed was in the room dedicated to the analogue computing and the difference between analogue and digital numbers,electronics and computing. There was a family looking at the exhibits and saying to their daughter "I don't understand this, I can't explain it to you."
This made me sad, I didn't want to butt in or interfere,really wanted to say something but felt it wasn't my place to be explaining things to them, wasn't sure how they would feel about it. The labels and explanations of the interactives all seemed to be very clear and well written. I think the parents were just nervous of the new words and concepts and if they had looked at the exhibits more carefully and slowly they would have understood things fine.

Not going to go into detail about all the other exhibits in the museum,except to say it is a story of computing in the u.k from the second world war to almost the present day. It is not fancy but it is interesting.

Right round the corner to Bletchley park....

technical X3Prospero

Has anyone seen my satellite?

Sultans of Ping FC - Where me Jumper

As someone who is prone to losing jumpers and can never remember where i put my keys it might seem a bit ambitious to try and find a satellite, but I'm going to try.

Here's the plan, in fact here are both the plans.  in fact here are all the plans mostly.  When I first thought of this project, after coming up with this idea of making Prospero X3 tweet my next thought was is it actually possible?  The answer to after a quick search on the internet  was yes. Using or other similar sites its easy to find the position of pretty much any satellite that is in orbit around the earth.

For a few minutes my plan was to use that or a similar website, scrape the data from it and feed that to a twitter bot. I couldn't  write a twitter bot yet but twitter bots exist so writing one probably wasn't going to be that hard.  All in all I figured that scraping the data and writing the twitter bot could be done in a weekend or two. i could put my feet up, have a cup of coffee and cake, look back  at  the work i'd done then move on to the next thing.

Then it hit me. Prospero X3 was as far as I was aware a dead satellite, it wasn't transmitting it position back continuously,  the display was being updated  in real time so it wasn't done through observation.  It must be possible to work out where satellites are in space,that is cool and  this is when I started falling down the rabbit hole.

So far I've discovered Two Line Elements, Kepler's Laws of planetary motion, SGP4, Lagrange points and even how Astronauts go to the toilet.  It started off with buying Dr Lucy Rodgers book Its Only Rocket Science   and when I wanted to get a bit more technical Fundamentals of Astrodynamics and Applications  .

I have realised a couple of things. The work has already been done to produce the algorithms needed to work out where  satellites are, its taken may years of correcting and checking these, I was never going to be able  do this again from scratch and there was no need. , but I did want to do something more than just take the data and use it, but wasn't sure what.

The twitter bot in place, just waiting to be fed some data to tweet.  I can find the position of the satellite at any given time using the Python Implementation of the SGP4 Algorithm. The satellite position is given as a Vector  so doesn't make much sense in that form, the next job is to turn that into a Latitude and Longitude position on the surface Earth. Have been working on that today and its coming along nicely,lots of Greek letters to remember and it turns out there are multiple Latitudes .  The Maths isn't horrendously complicated, there are new symbols and words to learn but its mainly Vectors, Matrices and geometry, nothing too scary.  I Keep wanting to say its not rocket Science but actually it is which is pretty cool.

So feeding the twitter bot data from the python SGP4 script is easy and I could finish the project at that but I have decided that it would be interesting to have the entire project in nodejs which the twitter bot is written in.   Writing the  SGP4 Algorithm in nodejs  is the 'more' thing i mentioned earlier.

I am currently working through the Python Script nodejs'ing it .  I'm not doing a straight conversion, it is being written in the asynchronous nodejs style using callbacks rather than return of functions.  I'm not sure if this is the best way to do it but I am learning, when its finished that is when i'll be in a place to judge.  I'm also changing the variable names from there one and two letters into much more meaningful ones.  Again not sure if  that is the thing to do but its my project and it pains me to use single letter variable names so changing them.

Having Prospero X3 Tweeting is the top priority so will have it up and running as soon as possible then the nodejs  project will be after that. Have also decided to write blog posts going into a bit more detail about what i am  doing.  They might be a bit random jumping from the nodejs stuff to the space science stuff.  This might mean writing things that are wrong, quite often I do stuff that is wrong and have to go back and re-do them but decided it would be more interesting  than just saying i did stuff and  everything is awesome.

That seems a good place to finish on



The Web at 25. Will someone call it a cab?

The World Wide Web  is 25 years old.  In People terms it is someone who has been through those awkward teenage years, made it past  university with a great big loan, has a  9 -5 Monday to Friday job. But on the weekend goes out, gets very drunk, blows all its money in the casino, ends up in a nightclub, has a one night stand then wakes up the next morning with a banging headache, a gut full of regrets and cheap kebabs.


'The Prodigy Smack my Bitch up' -  The Web at 25? NSFW

Tim Berners-Lee invented the world wide web while at CERN as a means for researchers to share their work.   Berners-Lee didn't invent the web and the components it is made up of  from scratch but it builds on many years of research and development.  Shortly after the Second world war and the invention of the digital computer scientists began to think how to organise, collate and work with large amounts of data. In 1968 Douglas Engelbart gave what is now known as The mother of all Demos . In the 1980s The Department of Computing at University of Southampton developed Microcosm Hypermedia  . British Telecom had a patent and tried to claim that all web pages that used hyperlinks would have had to pay them a royalty. glad that one didn't get through, stupid B.T.

Fortunately for the world, CERN and Berners-Lee aren't like B.T  and silicon valley start-up blood suckers wanting to make a quick buck without any real idea of what they are doing.  The World Wide Web grew massively for many reasons not least because in 1993 CERN gave it away freely. But it also came at the right time.  The internet had become mature enough to support the communication of computers and  to join networks on a large scale. Around that time intel launched the pentium processors and microsoft  released Windows 95. These put powerful,relatively inexpensive computers easy to use computers on to many desks in offices, universities, schools and private homes.  The next logical step was make information easily accessible and navigable.

Its not all been plain sailing for the  Web  though.  The web is a powerful tool, corporations and governments want to take  control and twist it for their own nefarious purposes.  It can be used to spread child pornography, rascism and hate. Some people want to do nothing more with it than make money without a care for the consequences.

But it can also be a powerful force for good. Social media connects people together, friendships blossom,it can be used for education, campaigning and understanding.

Tim Berners-Lee and other  recognises that the Web has changed the world massively mostly for good but there is always the danger that it could go wrong in the next twenty five years so needs protecting and support. This is the purpose of the Web We Want Campaign. Back in May I was lucky to be invited to the kick off event at the Southbank Centre (Thanks Mar )  It was a great morning with Tim and Jude Kelly discussing the history of the web,its origins  and the problems that it faces in the next 25 years,followed by a brainstorm session of ideas for the festival.

The full festival launches September 1st it will be 8 months running through to May 2015 , including three dedicated weekends.

Take part in it, go to the events at the Southbank centre,  learn to code not just for the sake of it but to understand the Web and how it shapes and influences the world we live in.

Tim Berners-Lee Web Developer photo
Just a Web Developer, No big deal





Projects X3Prospero

Making a Satellite Tweet

This post is an introduction to a project I'm working on at the moment.  Officially its a work project but I'm finding it so fascinating its taking up quite a lot of my own time.

A while ago my boss asked me to look at making an object in the museum tweet.  Easy I thought we have loads of objects in the museum making one of them tweet will be easy.  Choosing the object to tweet was actually more difficult than I imagined. It needed to be something that could be fully autonomous,  either taking a data feed or generating the text of the tweets itself.  I looked at the some of the well known 'twittering objects' , I  went through a few ideas, talked to several people in the museum and outside but nothing was really clicking.

It wasn't until One sunday afternoon I was sat outside Stepney City Farm drinking coffee and trying to think of ideas.  My eyes looked up to the sky and thats when I came up with the idea of a tweeting satellite.  I knew we had Satellites on display in the Space gallery so  A quick search on the Science museum web site turned up Prospero  The first and only Satellite that Britain launched on a British Rocket.  The actual X3 Prospero is still in orbit, and we have the flight spare on display in gallery.

The project is progressing well.  I have the code written that can send a tweet, as of tonight i am able to obtain the position of X3 Prospero.  The next step will be to put the two together and create a tweet that will be both meaningful and interesting to people.

I'm planning a few blog posts on what I am doing.  These will cover:

The Historical story of the British space programme.

How to write the code to make a satellite tweet  and why  knowing how will help to keep you safe on the web, as with most of my technology posts this will finish with me banging my fist on the desk and calling for everyone to buy a raspberry pi or Arduino and take an interest in the understanding of the internet and web .

Finally the Science of  how satellites orbit  and how to find the position of just about any satellite orbiting the earth right now.


You can follow Prospero on Twitter @X3Prospero Its not saying much right now but you may find some of the test tweets interesting.

But thats it for now.  Here is a picture of the Flight Spare of X3 Prospero  on display in the Space Gallery of the Science Museum.


Flight Spare X3 Prospero
Flight Spare X3 Prospero
By User Geni Wikimedia Commons GFDL CC-BY_SA
technical thoughts

What's a MAC address and why does it matter?

If you are reading this you  may already know what a I.P address is. A quick recap if you don't .  When a computer connects to the internet or any  network that uses the TCP/IP protocol  it needs a method for uniquely identifying that device on the network. The most common I.P addresses in use today  are version 4 I.P addresses.  These are 32 bit numbers which for historical and administrative reasons are most commonly written as 4 groups of numbers between 0 - 255 separated by a '.'  for example or    When a computer has a valid I.P address for that network it can communicate easily with other computers on that network and using the ability of TCP/IP to route communications between multiple networks it has the possibility to communicate with many more.

Before a computer or any other device that connects to the internet can be assigned an I.P address there has to be some communication with the network. This is to make sure the device is both allowed to connect to the network and that the owner of the device is correctly identified.  This Authentication and authorisation process requires the device to have a unique address, but if the I.P address is the unique address on the network does that not create a catch 22 situation?  This is where the MAC address comes in.

The MAC address has no connection to Apple Mac computers.  Its an Acronym for Media Access Control. Every network interface has a MAC address so if you have a computer that has both a wired and wireless network connection that is 2 MAC addresses one each. If you have bluetooth on your computer or phone that also has a MAC address.

Why does it matter what a MAC address is? today in parliament the M.Ps have been debating  the DRIP bill, this is the bill that will allow the state to continue to intercept and store our communications. There has been a lot of criticism of the bill both for its content and how it has been rushed through Parliament without the normal amount of debate and scrutiny.

When MPs debate and introduce legislation centred around the use of technology and how it impacts  the people of the U.K I would like to think that they have an appreciation and understanding  of that technology , so I was annoyed when it was reported that Helen Goodman Labour M.P for Bishop Auckland called for MAC addresses to be tied to individuals.  I am writing this before Hansard was publish so not sure of the exact quote but if that is what she said then it is simply idiotic.

A MAC address isn't like a passport or driving licence that requires checks and more checks to be made by the government before they are handed out. MAC addresses are created on machines in the Far East and randomly sent all around the world.  They move locations and between people all the time. To try and keep track of who is using a particular address at any one time is absolutely ridiculous.  Not only that but it is possible to  mask and  change MAC addresses both for legitimate reasons but also for illegitimate reasons to gain access to networks without revealing information about the connecting device.  So not only would any attempt at tying MAC addresses to individuals be massively difficult it would also be pointless for trying to catch terrorists and pedophiles

It really goes to show how little idea M.Ps have of technology and the digital world today.  Just as the government wants everybody to learn to code and understand technology I wish MPs of all parties would take their advice it might help a little.

 UPDATE:  Hansard for yesterday has been published.  The reference to trying to tie MAC Addresses to an individual can be found at 

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