Troublesome Tanks Game Controller

Spent a chunk of today working on the design for the controller for the new "Troublesome Tanks" game that the "Spooky Elephant Collective" is building. 

Because I'm no good at 3D design I create all my objects in Python, running the code inside the FreeCad program. The programming environment in FreeCad is minimal, with no debugging support and error handling. If you get the program wrong it just stops.

I love this. 

It really keeps me on my toes. Especially with a language like Python. Anyhoo, the designs are looking good. Now, all we have to do is print them. 

Making a Windows Home from home

I've used Virtual PCs for quite a while. My first proper brush with the technology was when I was building and configuring Class Server systems. I found it kind of magical that I could have several "fake" PCs running inside my one real one. And I loved the way that if anything bad happened to the hardware I just had to spin up another PC on a replacement device.

I've started using them again. I'm writing a "Begin to code Python" book and I'm worrying about the installation documentation. It's important to be able to show the installation just as it would be for someone running Windows 10 Home Edition on their brand new laptop.

So I've built a brand new Windows 10 Home Edition installation on a virtual machine. Took around twenty minutes or so. And the beauty is that I've taken a snapshot of the empty machine, so I can easily "wind back time" to before the installation and practice it again.

I used a really nice guide which you can find here

Arms is Great Fun

I got Arms today for the Nintendo Switch. It's the first video game I've bought in a while. And the previous one was for the Switch as well. 

It's a fun game. The controls are easy to use, and you really feel that you're directing the punches, especially if you play holding the controllers in your fists (although more conventional arrangements work too). We had a go at two player mode using two Switches, and this worked very well, with much ensuing mayhem. 

There are quite a few tournament types and the various characters are all nicely realised. There's more depth to the single player affair than you might expect, although this kind of game really shines with multi-player. I'd love to get four players together for a proper brawl. 

The Switch is apparently doing pretty well. And with games like this it deserves to. 

Saved by the stud finder

Put a new mirror up in the hall. Now I can check that I look my absolute handsomeist best before leaving the house. It's a very optimistic mirror. 

We carefully decided where it needed to be hung and, just before I fired up the drill, I ran my trusty stud-finder over the wall. I bought this a while back. It's a metal detector for wall use. It tells you if you are about to drill into a pipe (messy and expensive) or a live wire (messy, expensive and fatal). 

Anyhoo, it bleeped in a fairly conclusive manner right over the spot I'd marked. Turns out that the wires from my mains sockets go up to the ceiling rather than down to the floor. So the mirror is four inches to the left of the optimal positon. And I'm not dead.

One Day, Maybe

Many years ago I got to go to "It Felt Like a Kiss" in Manchester. It was one of the weirdest things that I've ever done. Especially the bit at the end where you're chased by a man with a chainsaw. 

Since then I've been on the lookout for similar, immersive theatre events. There's one on in Hull later this year. One Day, Maybe is based at the offices of Kasang, who are apparently a South Korean company newly based in Hull. I think you should all go. It looks like it's going to be awesome. 

Of course I'm only letting everyone know about this now that I've got my tickets... 

Apres La Deluge

You can keep all your scary movies. To me one of the most frightening things I can hear is someone ask very quietly "Is this stuff under the sink supposed to be wet?".

We'd just about convinced ourselves that the out of place water was caused by a leak from a pack of wet wipes, when I discovered that a plastic box that was supposed to be full of cleaning materials was also full of water.

Oh dear. 

To cut a short story shorter, it turned out that the washer above wasn't doing what it should. No matter how tight I made the connection (within common sense "Don't tighten it until it breaks" limits) it still dripped. About a drop every minute. More than enough to fill a big plastic box over a period of a few months. 

I'm quite proud of what I did next. One approach would have been to remove the hose from the back of the washing machine and fit a the spare one I keep for such occasions. A fun packed exercise which would have involved dismantling chunks of the kitchen. And puddles. Another approach is to take the washer off the spare hose and fit it to the existing one. End of leak. 

Joe Stead talks .NET Blub

c4di is having some great evening events at the moment. On Monday we had CodePen, and today we had Joe Stead talking about future platforms for .NET development. Well presented and thought provoking.

Some interesting musings on how programmers are defined by the languages and tools that they use and how important it is to be looking at what's out there and developing professionally. Plus a look at some shiny new stuff.

I've come away with a list of things to investigate, and I'm pretty sure that most of the people there (and it was a good sized audience) were the same. 

Design Iteration


One of the nice things about having a 3D printer is that it makes it really easy to iterate designs. I'm working on a new design for the configurable game controller. This version will have a socket for an input device and a bar-graph above each socket. I think I've found a design that sort of works, now to make up a panel. 

Oh, and one 3D printing top tip from Rob. Don't use oil on the sliding components. I thought this was a good plan, adding some "3 in 1" until the print head was moving really freely. What I'd forgotten though is that oil is sticky, and attracts dust. So when I fired up Una to print these prototypes she became very upset and pretty much locked up as all the sticky dust gummed everything up. Fortunately, after a good clean-up she's now working just fine. 

Great Gardening Gloves

These are the exclusive "Goldfinger" edition

These are the exclusive "Goldfinger" edition

I never thought I'd be blogging on matters relating to gardening. Perhaps I'm growing up.


However, if you are in the market for some proper tough gardening gloves, ones that actually protect your fingers from all kinds of pointy nasties that you find when taking out a holly bush, then I strongly recommend these, which I got from the local PoundLand. And they cost only a pound.

They're made of leather off-cuts, with the pleasing result that no two are exactly the same. 

Pixelbots at CodePen

Thanks to CodePen Hull for the picture of me holding up a phone to prove something worked.

Thanks to CodePen Hull for the picture of me holding up a phone to prove something worked.

Codepen is a great idea. Get together a bunch of people interested in code and have them tell each other what they are up to. There were six talks over the evening, ranging from a lovely looking Scrum development management tool, a splendid hosting framework, video game development, first steps in programming and the new application development pattern from Facebook.

I should have taken proper notes, but I was too busy thinking about my talk, which was right at the end. I think it went OK, even though at one point I was reduced to holding my phone up with a web page on it shouting "Look. It worked." As if anyone could tell.

I met up with some folks I've not seen for a while and it was lovely to have a catch up. We had pizzas and drinks and it was a great evening. It was great to see it so busy, but there's always room for a few more if you want to come along to the next one.

Anyhoo, I said I'd put the slide deck up and here it is. Including the answer to the competition question (which I'll probably have to change for next time).

I'm really looking forward to the next event. 

Zelda Guide

I suppose it's an admission of defeat to buy a game guide. But actually I like them for the pictures as much as anything. And sometimes they are useful because they let you know that something is possible, rather than telling you how to do it. 

My official guide for the Zelda: Breath of the Wild arrived today and I really like it. Lots of detail and lavishly illustrated. If you've got the game I reckon you'll get a lot out of this guide, whether you need it or not.

Solar Cell Silver Lining


I think another reason I was grumpy yesterday was that, while mowing the lawns, I managed to take out some of our solar powered lights. I'm not always a huge fan of lights in the garden to be honest. Last year we got some blue lights that must have previously been used on an aircraft carrier to guide planes down to land. To say they lit up the neighbourhood was something of an understatement.

But the ones we got this year are much nicer, giving out a very pleasant glow. At least they did until I wrapped their cable around the strimmer and tore it out of the power box. Oh well. Only ten quid to replace. And I now have a battery box and solar cell to play with. And enough space in there for an esp8266 and a power inverter. And fifty leds in a chain to make a "pimped up" Pixelbot.

Appalling UI Design

Can you use your skill and judgement to tell which of these options is selected on the "upgraded" YouView user interface? I can't.

Oh, and while we're on the subject of stupid design: Why enable spell checking on the body text of the blog post editor but not on the title? This means that the interface detects and highlights errors that might not be spotted, while failing to notice mistakes that everyone will see.

I think I'm in a grumpy mode today.