Lunch at Thieving Harrys

While I was up town yesterday I wandered past Theiving Harry's, a place I've always fancied visiting. Today, with some unseasonably nice weather we headed up town again and had lunch there. And it was great. We were sitting upstairs, with a view across the waterfront. The food was splendid and the ambiance was lovely. There is a great feel to the place, the formica tables and hard working decor remind me strongly of Lowells in Pike Place, Seattle. 

Another go to place if you are a Hull student looking to impress visitors with your local knowledge. And you can wander over to the Oresome Gallery just across the way and buy some earrings after you have eaten. And if you are me, you can take some more pictures.

I took a picture of this yesterday. What a difference a day makes...

I took a picture of this yesterday. What a difference a day makes...

I never get tired of taking pictures of The Deep. 

I never get tired of taking pictures of The Deep. 

Hull Pics

Please note that this picture was not taken while driving. As if.

Please note that this picture was not taken while driving. As if.

This is my first Saturday off for a few weeks, so we drove up town and had lunch at McCoys. New students, if you are looking for somewhere nice in the city centre to take mum and dad when they come and see you, well worth a visit. Great coffee and much more Hull authentic than Starbucks or Costa (although we've got those too).

My advice, try the Beef and Stilton sandwich. Number one wife likes the Tuna on noodles. And number one son pronounces the coffee as good, which means it must be great.

And I had time to take the camera, plus fat lens, around the waterfront.

I don't think they ever fire this...

I don't think they ever fire this...

You do get the most amazing skies this time of year.

You do get the most amazing skies this time of year.

Dates for your Diaries

There are lots of really interesting things happening in Hull over the next few weeks. Here's a selection.


SendGrid move an awful lot of the world's email for a lots of really big customers. Visit their roadshow at C4DI on 22nd October to find out what they can do for you. With free beer and goodies. Sign up here

Platform Expos brings together console makers, developers, artists and gamers for a festival of gaming from 14th - 15th of November in Hull. Find out what is going on and get tickets from here

This is a day long hacking event on 21st November at The Kingswood Academy 

You can find out more, and sign up here

This is an evening event where you get together with friends and family and work at solving technical challenges. Lots of fun.  On the 21st of November at The Kingswood Academy.

You can find out more and sign up here

Spend a full day (21st November) at Kingswood Academy finding out more about the wonderful Raspberry Pi computer and what you can do with it. 

You can find out more and sign up here

Rather Useful Kinect Sensor

Every now and then I take a picture I really like. This is a "Kinect's Eye view of the audience this afternoon. 

Every now and then I take a picture I really like. This is a "Kinect's Eye view of the audience this afternoon. 

We had our second Rather Useful Seminar of the semester today. I took along our Kinect 2 sensor and showed the secrets behind "Carbonite Students" among other things. There were two points that I really wanted to get over. One is that the Kinect sensor can do some pretty amazing things. The second point is more important though. I wanted the audience, some of whom were just starting to learn how to code, to appreciate that when we do things with these fancy sensors we are just taking values in, doing something with them and then spitting them back out again. The code I'd written was nothing special really, but it did get some nice audience reactions, which was lovely. 

You can find the presentation deck here.

Creating Surveys using OneDrive

I really like surveymonkey. I use it quite a bit. When we want to pick the pizza toppings for Three Thing Game I put up a quick survey and then I have a cunning little Excel spreadsheet that works out how many pizzas I need to order. The only problem I have with the service is that I'm from Yorkshire in England, and this gives me a disposition which is not disposed to parting with money. And the free surveys that you get are great, but for some of the good stuff you have to pay money. 

However, I just found a way of getting free surveys from OneDrive. Better yet, it makes the surveys and delivers the results straight into an Excel spreadsheet that you can work in online. So I might be able to integrate my cunning spreadsheet (Pro tip: around 2.5 students per large pizza seems to work) into this as well. 

You make a new survey by pressing the Create button on the OneDrive website. Select Excel survey and a wizard starts up that will talk you through creating your survey


You can enter a number of different kinds of question, including Yes/No and multiple choice. Each question can have a subtitle if you really want it to.

Finally, when you've finished, you can preview the questionnaire and get a link to it, which can be shortened into a tiny one. You can find my cheese survey here.

The survey results end up in a spreadsheet in your OneDrive storage which you can use as you would any other. When you open it all the responses are there for you to look at. 

Very nice, and I'll be using it for the next Three Thing Game I reckon. 

Halloween Three Thing Game Registration Now Open

Registration is now open for the Halloween Three Thing Game. Scary stuff. 

We've got all kinds of goodness lined up for you, including the MonoGame crew, Microsoft, teams of world beating academic staff (maybe) and some distinguished Three Thing Game alumni who now write games for a living. 

I'm particularly keen that First Year students get involved, even if you are not on a game development course. Just treat the competition as a great way to get experience writing code. This is also true if you've not programmed before coming to university. I'll be releasing a template C# game that will serve as the basis for your gaming ideas and should make it dead easy to take part.

For the first time ever we are also holding a "Thing Lecture" on the Friday night from MonoGame, who will be revealing to the world the latest additions to their wonderful game development platform. 

You can find out more, and download a registration form, from here.

Program Arduino in Visual Studio with Visual Micro

Anyone who has heard me wax lyrical about programming will know my opinion of Visual Studio. If we ever get invaded by an alien race from beyond the stars I reckon that they will be here for our advanced technology and Visual Studio will be on their shopping list. It is the best development environment ever. And anyone can get a free version

You might think that it is only used for Microsoft technology, but you'd be wrong. You can use it for all kinds of language and platforms because it has been built to support plug-ins. You can even use it to create Arduino solutions with the Visual Micro plugin.

The free IDE from Arduino is nice enough, but Visual Micro is wonderful. I used it extensively when I was creating the Wedding Lights.  I had two Arduinos hooked up to my PC, master and slave, and I was able to deploy and debug programs in both of them at the same time using Visual Studio for everything. 

There are a few issues that I've noticed. It supports a kind of debugging mode that I don't find terribly useful (I add lots of code instrumentation) but once you figure out how to turn it off it works fine. The system also doesn't have quite all the refactoring goodies that you have in "pure" Visual Studio, but Intellisense is present and correct, and that is really what you want, plus the lovely editor.

Visual Micro needs a "paid for" version of Visual Studio because the free Express versions of Visual Studio don't support plugins, but you can download and use Visual Micro for free. The way the licence works you can keep renewing it with out paying the company anything. But I've bought a licensed copy because I think people who produce systems as good as this deserve my money. 

If you are serious about Arduino development you should get Visual Micro. Absolutely.

OpenJSCAD for 3D Modelling

Peter put me onto this one. We are both fellow travelers along the 3D printing/design road, although we have taken slightly different routes. Peter likes OpenSCAD, and I tend to write Python programs inside FreeCAD. I think we've both followed a programming path because we tend to prefer writing programs to grappling with complicated graphical design packages.

Anyhoo, one of the major reasons that I prefer Python to write my designs is that as Python is a programming language it supports variables. You can use it to do things like print the weather forecast in 3D. But I must admit that the environment that I have to work in is pretty horrid, whereas the OpenSCAD one is quite nice. But in OpenSCAD all the values are fixed, so you can't do programming type things very easily. This is fine for parameterized drawings, but less good if you want your design program to figure things out for itself.

The good news is that there is now a new version of OpenSCAD out there. OpenJSCAD is a JavaScript based implementation of the platform with added variables. This also means that you can do all your designing inside your browser, no need to install any complicated programs. 

This is a very enticing proposition, and may well tempt me away from FreeCAD in the future. 

Free Goodies for Students

There are lots of great things about being a student. An unlimited number of drinking partners, the chance to eat what you when you like and the freedom to work for 24 hours without sleep if you fancy it. And some students even get to go to my lectures. Lucky people.

And how students can also get their hands on some rather nice free goodies from the GitHub people. Their Student Developer Pack offer gives you free space on their system for your projects, access to the Unreal engine and a host of hosting goodies. Find out more here

You can also leverage your student status to get goodies from Microsoft, including a free copy of Visual Studio Professional 2013 via their DreamSpark programme. At Hull we have signed up for the professional version of DreamSpark, which makes even more goodies available. Find out more here

Arduino Rather Useful Seminar

I always take a picture of the audience. For tax reasons....

I always take a picture of the audience. For tax reasons....

We had our first Rather Useful Seminar today. It was all about hardware, made slightly more interesting by the way that hardware, in the form of my Bluetooth keyboard and mouse failed me right at the start. 

But thanks to the loan of spare keyboard we managed to get going and play around with Arduinos. I showed how easy it is to write programs for the platform and how many amazingly cheap components you can find on eBay. (In fact I ended up spending around 5 quid doing "research" for the presentation when I bought a 1.8 inch colour screen and an SD card interface)

Anyhoo, it went well enough and folks seemed to have a good time. If we have enough interest we might start a Hardware Fiddlers club of some kind in the department. You can find my slide deck and details of future seminars here

Mugs Game

I actually got to see one of our 2014 mugs today. As a way of saying welcome in August we sent out a bunch of mugs to all our new students. We're going to do this every year, and of course they are numbered with the year of entry. One of our first years brought his into the Festival of Daring and Excitement and I managed to grab a picture.

We had the mugs printed and posted by those lovely people at JaCee Print and I'd never actually seen a "real one" until today. 

And they do look rather good, which is nice. (Oh, and if you were a late arrival with us and you never got your mug, get in touch and we'll sort you out with one). 

Dates for your Diaries

I've been sorting out dates and stuff for the next few weeks. Here are a couple highlights of the things coming up soon:

Rather Useful Seminars

Rather Useful Seminars start this week with a session about the Arduino device, and why you should buy at least one. You can find details of the seminar program at

Anyone at Hull can come along, they are always at 1:15 on a Wednesday afternoon in Lecture Theatre A on the ground floor of the Robert Blackburn Building. If you fancy giving all, or part of a seminar on something you find interesting and other folk might like to know about, get in touch with me.

Three Thing Game

The date and time for the next Three Thing Game has been set as overnight on Halloween, from 31st of October to 1st November. Microsoft and MonoGame will be coming along to take part and MonoGame will be doing a special, spooky, session about the new features they have added to the framework. You can get extra prizes by using these in the games that you make during the competition.

The itinerary for Three Thing Game is at

Registration for the competition will open next week. 

Day of the Ultimaker Heated Bed Upgrade

Two owls with very shiny bottoms

Two owls with very shiny bottoms

Less and less of Una, my Ultimaker 3D printer is how she was delivered. Since I first built her a couple of years ago I've replaced the print head, filament feed, power supply fans, print head fans and the drive pulleys. Great fun. Like Lego but with rather more chance of burning your fingers. 

Anyhoo, I've just completed my latest upgrade and added a heated bed. This is actually a rather exciting development as it means I can print large items without them curling up at the edges as they cool.

I ordered the kit a while back and it arrived last week. So this morning I covered the floor with bits (there were a lot of bits) and got to work. Unfortunately a couple of things were missing from my kit (I think I must be pretty much unique in this - nobody else seems to have complained). I was short of the cable that links the new heated bed board with the controller, and a replacement micro-switch that makes contact with the new platform. 

Fortunately I'm a resourceful kind of chap. I found a cable with the connector that fitted and extended that to fit. Then I discovered that by sticking a USB plug cap on the back of the print bed I could make it engage with the old microswitch and so I was in business. 

Building the new bed and fitting it, along with making my own custom bits, took around the whole day. But I really like doing things like this. At the end of all the effort I now have what looks to me like exactly the same print bed as the Ultimaker 2. It is much, much nicer than the old print bed (which I didn't construct very well anyway).

As part of the upgrade you get a replacement stepper motor and drive thread which is much more positive than the original one. And the new bed is made of rigid metal, rather than the somewhat heavier and more "flappy" wooden one. 

I've done some large-ish prints with it and there is now no warping at all. Plus, by printing on glass I can get a lovely smooth surface on the printed items. 

The upgrade is a tad expensive, at around 250 pounds once you've paid for carriage, but I think that if you have an Ultimaker it is something you really should consider. 

Festival of Daring and Excitement

The Calm before the Storm

The Calm before the Storm

Some time back we were discussing the first week of the new semester. One of the things that we talked about was the very first weekend that new students spend away from home. We thought it might a good time to do something social. So I suggested a Frag Fest. Everyone thought it might be fun to try one, and so Adam set to work preparing a whole bunch of things to do. 

I gave the event a name "Festival of Daring and Excitement" and got entry forms and tickets printed. The basic structure was a bit like an all day Christmas Bash, with PC games, console games and board games spread around the department. 

I wasn't sure if anyone would be interested, but then we sold around 110 tickets and so I thought we might be on to something. We ran the event for 12 hours, from 10:00 am to 10:00 pm. At 10:00 a few folks turned up and by mid-day the top floor of the Robert Blackburn building was buzzing nicely. Some folks turned up, signed into their favourite game and settled down for the long haul. Others formed a posse and went from room to room, trying PC gaming, Xbox 360, Xbox One and a totally crackers game called "Gang Beasts" in one of our Lecture Theatre. And some played board games. 

A tense moment in "Cash and Guns"

A tense moment in "Cash and Guns"

By 2:45, when the pizza arrived, the place was pleasingly full and we got rid of 38 pizzas in a good time (but not beating the record set by Three Thing Game last year). I left around 4:00 in the afternoon (had to go and do some "Real Life" things ) and I could see a lot of fun was being had. 

We called this place "The Steam Room" for reasons which should be obvious.

We called this place "The Steam Room" for reasons which should be obvious.

Thanks to go Adam and the Platform Expos crew for bringing all their lovely hardware. 

Thanks also to MechaCrash for bringing along the most stupendously awesome arcade machines.

Thanks also to MechaCrash for bringing along the most stupendously awesome arcade machines.

I'm going to send out a little survey to find out if folks enjoyed it and whether they want another one sometime. I think the answers will be "yes" and "yes".

I took a few more pictures of the event. You can find them here.

Friday Lab

I was alone in the house with these last week, and didn't eat one. Such willpower..

I was alone in the house with these last week, and didn't eat one. Such willpower..

We had our first programming lab today. I was popping in and out as I had a bunch of other things to do (including writing some briefing notes for our first ever "Festival of Daring and Excitement" which is tomorrow. Everyone seemed to be getting on fine, which is nice.

Car Trouble

I managed to get this stepper to turn, which was more than I did with my car engine...

I managed to get this stepper to turn, which was more than I did with my car engine...

I've not had a car let me down for a very long time. It happened today. I was moving at speed, heading for the C4DI Hardware Meetup when I pressed the button to start the engine and nothing happened. 


So I checked all the obvious things, changed the battery in the remote and finally called the RAC man. He arrived in very good time, took one look at the car and said "I got called out to one of these a while back. Couldn't get it to work".

And so it turned out. The car is presently awaiting  transporter awaiting a trip on a transporter to the garage for diagnosis and hopefully repair. The fault seems to be with the steering column lock (which is at present unlocked but might lock when we start turning the wheel). 

I'd put the notes for the C4DI stuff on the web (we were playing with stepper motors, you can find the stuff here). Hopefully everyone did too.

Royalty at Hull

This is HRH Prince Andrew, Duke of York, with Prof. Ken Hawick, our head of department

This is HRH Prince Andrew, Duke of York, with Prof. Ken Hawick, our head of department

I've not thought that much about royalty in the past. I like collecting small paper pictures of the Queen, or as it is more commonly known, money, but beyond that our paths have not crossed much at all. Until today, when His Royal Highness the Duke of York came to see us at Hull.

Prince Andrew stopped off in the department, where we showed him some of our new toys and what we were doing with them. Then he moved on to a meeting at C4DI which had been organised by the Yorkshire Post Business Club to bring industrialists, educators and local government together for a roundtable debate on apprenticeships, education and vocational learning. It was very interesting. Prince Andrew showed has obviously thought very hard about the issues and had a lot of sensible things to say.

Two things came out of this for me. One was that as the Duke of York he has a very deep interest in Yorkshire (I'd not thought of this aspect of the title before) and the other was that in our department we are doing a lot of the things that he thought were essential to get business and industry going in the area. I said as much (I hope I didn't interrupt him) and I mentioned that I'd been talking to our First Year about just these issues that morning (I had).

In my talk to the new students earlier in the day I'd said that you should regard your time at university as least in part as an exercise in brand building. I'm very keen that folks make sure that when they do something rather good they get the maximum benefit for it. This includes publishing things (both in the marketplace and shared source), blogging, taking part in forums and giving talks. If you get it right they call you, not the other way round.

As he left the prince called out to me "Good luck with your students..", which was rather nice. 

First Year Welcome Party - With added Carbonite

We had our First Year welcome party today. In the olden days we used to have cheese and wine. We don't do that any more. Nowadays we have Occulus Rift powered racing, 10 player Xbox mayhem, Wii U, Digital Scalectrix, Xbox One and Rocksmith Guitars. Plus we will also embed you in carbonite, just like Han Solo at the end of Star Wars, courtesy of our Kinect 2 sensor and Ultimaker printers. 

We had quite a few customers for the 3D scanning. In fact we have a whole bunch of models to print off later in the week.

We had two seats set up for racing, with force feedback steering wheel, and Occulus Rift for the view. Great fun.

Thanks to Platform Expos for the use of their console setup.

Rachael came along with her big camera and took some video. The party did get very busy, we had to get some extra tables out when the time came for the quiz. To my eternal shame I didn't get pictures of the winning teams posing with their Nerf gun prizes. Oh well, maybe next year.

I was testing a new version of the TagOMatic to handle the drinks and it seemed to work OK, apart from a few "rogue" tags that seem to have found their way into the system. I'll be using the TagOMatic as the basis of an Arduino talk in the first of the new season of Rather Useful Seminars next week. 

I've put some more pictures up on Flickr, you can find them here