I think the marketing people have discovered the apology as the latest tool to get you to engage with them. I've recently had quite a few companies getting in touch and apologising for not having been in touch with enticing offers. Ebay recently apologised profusely for something that I don't remember them doing and offered a special discount to make things up. Which I'm sorry to say I haven't used.
Last Wednesday my balancing robot kind of overbalanced, leapt off the desk and shattered on the floor. You can see the awful damage here. At the time I said that all I'd have to do is design some replacement parts, print them out, and I'd have him back on his wheels again.
So I have.
These are the FreeCad designs for the two plates that were broken. I did some careful measurement, wrote some Python to do the designs (it's a strange way to work, but I like it) and then printed them out and put everything back together. And it all works, which is nice. I think the new pieces are quite a bit stronger than the old ones. And if they break, I can just change one value in the program, run it again and print out some thicker ones..
We had our first University Open Day of the new academic year today. The place was mad busy and it was nice to see everybody having a good time in the sunshine. I did two talks. I promised to put the pictures up on my world famous (in my world) blog, so here they are.
I'm trying to keep posts that start "When I was in Japan.." to a maximum of one a week. But anyway....
When I was in Japan one of the things that struck me was just how awesome their vending machines are. I'd heard about them before I went, but nothing prepared me for the sheer number of machines. They are everywhere. And you can buy most things from them - including the awesome "Boss Coffee" for less than 200 yen (just over a pound or so). In fact one of the rules of Happy Japan travelling" is to have a pocket full of massively useful 100 yen coins at all times.
The machines seem to always work and never run out of stock. Amazing stuff.
These machines are also ubiquitous. They sell plastic balls containing all kinds of diversions, from superhero models to rear-view mirrors for your desktop. Awesome.
I watched the Microsoft Devices event on Tuesday expecting some nice stuff. And there was. The new Surface Pro 4 looks like a nice evolution, as does the Microsoft Band. I can't afford a HoloLens and I don't live in the USA, so I'm afraid that's the end of that dream for now.
And then came the Surface Book. I so want one of these. I'd even sell a camera to get one (and I probably will). The way I see it, you get a Surface Pro and a MacBook for the price of one. And the hinge and the docking stuff looks awesome. We've not got a delivery date for the Surface Book in the UK just yet (sad face) but we do have delivery dates for Surface Pro 4 and all of its accessories. So I've placed an order for a Surface Pro 4 keyboard. It will work with my Surface Pro 3, and might even help me convince people I've bought a Surface Pro 4. My blue keyboard still works OK, but the new version has a proper glass touchpad and the reviews all say that the new individual keys have better travel and separation, which is nice.
The only piece of bad news is that the versions of the keyboard sold outside the USA will not have the rather useful fingerprint sensor, which is a bit sad. The new keyboard is the same price as the one it replaces, and I'm getting a bit tired of blue, so I've gone for the nice bright one you can see above.
One other thing, if you have a Surface Pro 3, the new Surface Dock is now also available for pre-order in the UK. This works with Surface Pro 3 and provides a really good selection of ports, including two monitor outputs which is really interesting. I've not ordered one yet though, I'm saving up for that Surface Book....
I did the first Rather Useful Seminar of the semester today. Thanks for turning up and being a great audience folks. I was talking about the joys of just "Making Stuff". We had various flavours of coloured lights, the ThingOMatic and my balancing robot. Which promptly leapt off the desk and smashed itself on the floor.
As I said at the time, "If only I had some kind of device which I could use to 3D printa new part to replace the broken one...". In the next couple of days I'll knock out a design and then get Una to print a new chassis. Only stronger.
I had a kind of highlight last week at the New Students Welcome Party. We were playing 8 player Smash Brothers and I, much against the advice of the "experts", decided to play as "Mr Game and Watch".
And I won.
This will probably never happen again, but it was rather nice. On Saturday, to celebrate this accomplishment, I invested in the Mr. Game and Watch Amibo. It's rather nice too. It comes with four different character poses which you can slot into the base, depending on your mood.
I wonder if people now think that students at Hull turn up to lectures in ponchos and sombreros? I really hope so......
In Hull we're really lucky to have the C4DI (or Centre for Digital Innovation). They will soon be moving into their spiffy new building and one of the first big events they are hosting is a heat of the Northern Stars initiative.
This aims to give innovators and entrepreneurs a platform where they can pitch their ideas. Each entry gets a three minute slot to make a splash. Best pitch of the night gets an iPad and a chance to move into the big league.
These events are great fun, both to watch and take part in. They are also the perfect place to meet up with fellow developers and backers and trade ideas and business cards. If you are first year who just wants to come along and find out what pitching is all about or a finalist who wants to find out if their idea is a good one you should sign up and take part. And if that wasn't enough incentive, they have free Pizza and Beer too.
I've already booked my ticket. You can get yours here.
We had our "Festival of Daring and Excitement" today in the department. We do this on the Saturday at the end of the first week so that folks have something to do on the first day of their weekend away from home. In fact we do this so early in the session that not all the electronic locks on the campus have been updated with new student cards so that getting into there building to take part was more than a chore that it should have been. But thanks to everyone who came along. Lots of fun was had.
We had some silly multi-player games, a Super Smash Brothers Tournament with proper prizes (thanks for organising that folks), an Xbox One network from the lovely people at Platform Expo and some crazy Japanese arcade games (which quite took me back to my days in Tokyo).
I took a few pictures, as you do..
We all had a great time. I set up a second "board game group" and we played Masquerade, Coup and Cash and Guns.
Then at 5:00pm it was all over and it was time to tidy up.
If you enjoyed the event, we'll be doing something similar around Christmas.
I don't like broccoli. Never have. Give me a plate of food with some broccoli on it and I'll eat the broccoli first. This is because I like to get rid of the bits I don't like before moving onto the stuff that I do. Note that I don't leave the broccoli. That would be impolite. And a waste of food.
I do this kind of thing in software projects too, as I was telling my project students this week. I reckon that step one of any project is to "Identify the stoppers". Stoppers are the tricksy things that must be made to work otherwise you don't have a working system. It might be storing the data. It might be getting the network to connect. It might just be being able to compile and run a program on the target device. These are the "broccoli" in your project. And you should eat them first.
It's tempting to start with the easy bits and leave the nasty, difficult bits to the end. However, this can lead to problems. You really don't want to be doing the hard bits when you are under time pressure at the end of the project. And you really don't want to find out at the end that one of your "stoppers" is actually impossible. Much more recoverable if you find out at the start.
I've asked my students to identify the stoppers in their projects and report back at the next meeting.
One of our ex-students, Josh Naylor, now works as a Developer Evangelist for Unity. He's written this rather nice blog post that sets out how to succeed as a student, which you can find here. Well worth a read. And there is no truth in the rumour that I only mentioned his post because it mentions me. None at all.
If you fancy getting to grips with Windows 10 Development (and you should) there's a new set of videos and samples that you will find very interesting. One of them shows how you can write programs that connect to the Marvel Comics database, which is awesome.
Find out more here.
It was our First Year Welcome Party today. Video games, silly quizzes, free beer and food. What's not to like?
We all had RFID tags that we used to pay for drinks. Everyone got their drink and then I got the best round of applause of the night for using my "magic tag" to reset the tags and allow everyone another turn at the bar. If you got one of our "Tags of Fun", please hang on to it, I'll be using the tag reader in lectures to give out prizes....
We had a great time. I took a bunch of other pictures that you can find here.
I'm all back from Japan now. With jetlag and everything. Lots of fun was had. Stuff that happened will probably end up being the subject of numerous blog posts over the next month or so.
Today we gave our first induction lecture to new students. Thanks for coming folks, I hope you enjoy your stay with us. If you want to view a larger version of the picture above you can click through the image to Flickr and download the large version.
If you are a new student at Hull don't forget the party tomorrow night (free drinks and food) and the event on Saturday.
Rob is unable to come to the blog right now as he is away at the Tokyo Game Show. Normal service will be resumed in a week or so.
I did a talk for a bunch of Knowledge Factory students today. These are folks who will be joining us at the end of the month as students, but have come along early to spend a few days getting a taste of university life.
The subject of the session was the joys of "Making Stuff" and it was great fun. Thanks for being a lovely audience folks. During the talk I mentioned some bits and bobs and I said I'd post references for anyone who fancies following up on the things I talked about.
Arduino is the name of a family of embedded computers of different sizes. These are the kind of computers that you would put inside a device to control what it does. I use them in my wedding lights and other gadgets that I've made. You program them in C using a very easy to use framework that you can download for free from the Arduino web site.There are versions of the framework for Mac and PC. You put a program into the Arduino device and it runs that program each time the power is switched on.
You can buy Arduino branded devices but they are a bit pricey. It is much cheaper to go onto eBay and just search for Arduino. A company called Sintron makes some very nice kits of parts to play with, these start at around 30 pounds. Once you have the kit just search the web and you'll find loads of libraries, sample code and videos to get you started.
If you want some books to read about the platform I'd look for books by Simon Monk. He has written some good Arduino primers, plus a few other fun books.
There is no such thing as the best programming language in the world, but I quite like C#. You can get a free C# book, plus a lot of teaching materials and sample programs, from here.
If you want to learn some Python (and why not, it's great) we have a course of sorts here.
My 3D printer is an Ultimaker. I call her Una and I made her from a kit a few years ago. You can find all my 3D printing posts here.
Bloging is a great way to practice writing and maybe even make a name for yourself. I did a Rather Useful Seminar about blogging. You can find it here.
I spent today building the First Year Assessed Coursework. Every year we implement a game as part of the course. The games usually involve Space and Cheese. This year we are doing "Space Cheese Mining". Players move around the board picking up cheese and stealing it from each other. I've built my implementation, added some AI players and turned them loose over 10000 random games.
Each game takes around 12 turns to play and the distribution of winners seems about right, although I think I'd try to avoid playing as red......
I make a new game every year so that people can't use "the magic of search engines" to find confusing (and probably wrong) samples on the internet. I'm looking forward to see what folks come up with on this one. We've got a "Cheese Battle" extension mode too.
We went back to Hull Freedom Festival again today. What with the weather being so good an everything. Still awesome. They had these amazing flags down at the pier. Apparently they mean something, but I'm not sure what.
There are lots of reasons why I love living in Hull, and the Freedom Festival is definitely one of them.
We grabbed a drink and drifted from stage to stage in the sunshine.
I've no idea who these folks were, but they sounded awesome.
They had this "Giant Battleships" game going on Two teams at different ends of the street playing on huge boards and using signs and binoculars to communicate the moves. Fantastic.
.. and the Deep looked wonderful in the sunshine. Here's to next year. And of course City of Culture in 2017.
This is the weekend of the Hull Freedom Festival. The BBC set up some tents containing all things digital, and the folks from Hive (Hull Immersive Virtual Environments) were there showing off their VR tech. Great fun.