Red Nose Day Racing and Rhyming

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Well, that was a fun day. Up bright and early to head up town to talk about the Great Robot Race on Radio Humberside, then home to write some poetry, then up to c4di to run the first race (which went rather well as you can see above). Then home for another radio chat, then tea and finally out to the University to deliver a lecture in rhyme. And race some more robots.

This is the winner of the first ever Hull Pixelbot Great Robot Race, who succeeded by using a cunning trick called "taking the race seriously".

 

This is the racing action at the Lecture in Rhyme

..and these are the winners of the rhyming race.

A good time was had by all, I took 149.68 over the two events, which I've generously rounded up to 150 pounds. That'll make my total takings up to over 600 pounds once I pay it all in. Not quite tutu money, but I'm happy with that.

If you want to take me closer to my 1,000 target, you can still give me some cash here.

Red Nose Day 2017

Don't forget that this Friday is Red Nose Day. I've got a couple of Hull Pixelbot themed events going on.

Great Robot Race

On Friday 24th of March at 3:00 pm in the Ground Floor Boardroom at c4di we're having a Great Robot Race. We'll have lots of robots for you to drive, and a tricky course to negotiate. With a "Big Prize" for the winner.

Robots and Poetry

On Friday 24th of March at 7:00 pm in the Large Lecture Theatre in Applied Science 3 at Hull University we'll have "An Evening of Bad Poetry and Robot Dancing". It will be the first outing of my robot dance group, tentatively named "The Pixelbotettes" (now there's a word my spelling checker hasn't seen before). They'll be going through their routines while I attempt to find rhymes for technical terms. And just so poetry fans don't feel left out of the racing action, we'll have another "Great Robot Race", just for them.

The event is open to anyone from Hull, you can find a map of the university campus here if you want to find your way to the Applied Science 3 building. Doors open from 6:30.

If you're in Hull, you should come. If you're not in Hull, I'll make sure that it is all captured lovingly on video so you can enjoy (ha!) it later.

Sponsor Me

Please, please, whatever you do, sponsor me here. If I get more than 1,000 pounds pledged I'll consider bringing the tutu out of retirement. If I get more than 2,000 pounds pledged I'll definitely not wear it. Now there's an incentive.

Rehearsals

A sneak peek at the "Pixelbotettes" at their first rehearsal....

Hardware Meetup Gadgets

We had another really excellent Hardware meetup tonight at c4di. What surprises me about the events is that we get people walking in with awesome projects and things they've built. Last time we met up Andrew was showing us the thing he'd built above. Just because he'd only got one of his two robot motors hadn't stopped him from building something really neat.

The two "eyes" at the front are a distance sensor. You can place Andrew's device in the middle of the room and it will spin round and generate a polar plot of the distance of objects around it, measured by the ultra-sonic distance sensor and transmitted via WiFi to a web page hosted out of the device itself. The leds are to show the motors being driven, and just to look awesome.

Tonight we also had Brian showing off how he was using Blink to wirelessly connect sensors together and also provide remove monitoring via an iPhone app. And Steve demonstrating a really neat Raspberry Pi powered wildlife camera which automatically converted it's camera from infra-red to normal during daylight hours.

Great stuff. If you want to come along and show us what you're up to (or just find out how you can build something awesome) you can sign up for our next event here, or just come along to c4di and say hello at our next Meetup on Thursday 6th of April.

The Hypocrite is wonderful

The Hypocrite is sold out. I'm not surprised. We were lucky enough to go and see it this afternoon. Probably the best thing I've ever seen in the theatre. Ever. With nods to Shakespeare, pantomime and Black Adder, it tells the story of Sir John Hotham, Governor of Hull who, at the start of the English Civil War, had the unenviable task of picking whether to side with Parliament or the King. For a variety of reasons he ends up doing both, although - as the picture above illustrates, it doesn't end that well for him.

The large cast did a fantastic job of bringing the play to life. And the play itself was peppered with local references which went down beautifully with the audience. And me. Favourite exchange:

"Have you got any spare change?"
"I'm from Yorkshire. We don't have spare change."

I'd say go and see it if you get the chance, but I you'll be chasing returned tickets if you want to go. There are some fairly adult bits, so it's not for the kiddies. But for anyone else, and particularly anyone from Hull, it's wonderful.

Found the bug..

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At risk of receiving further flack for my taste in music (like I care) I present to you a screenshot of my M3U playlist maker in action. I'm not saying it's perfect, but it works, and it does what I want it to (so - OK, it is perfect).

Anyhoo, if you want to see how it works, make it better, colour in all of the letter "o"s in the text, or perhaps even use it, you can find it on GitHub here.

Oh, and the bug from yesterday. Very simple. I'd forgotten to get the text out of the TextBox when forming the for the playlist.

string fullFilename = currentDrive + playlistName.Text + ".M3U";

Turns out the ".Text" part of the statement above is really rather important. Otherwise it just gets the string that describes the TextBox, which doesn't make for a very good name for the file.

Finally, if you've not heard of the "Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band" then you really should take a listen.

Working on it....

Windows 10 is lovely. But there are some things that it does that drive me a bit nuts. Like, when I've downloaded a file, and then want to find it in my downloads folder.

Not a particularly strange request you might think.

But Windows 10 acts as if I've just asked for the cure for cancer and the ten millionth digit of pi. Along with next week's lottery numbers. My powerful machine with it's ultra-fast hard disk (at least that's what the salesman said) grinds to a halt while the operating system "works on" finding the files in a folder.

Why?

Nintendo Switch

Is the world surprised that I bought a Nintendo Switch? No. Does the world care what I think of it? Probably not. But anyway, I like to write these things down, so here's my thoughts after nearly a week of ownership.

The Nintendo switch is properly different. It's not just a console. It's trying to be a way of life. My Xbox One sits under the telly and when I fancy a bit of Forza Horizons I can fire it up. And that's that. Walk away from the Xbox and I walk away from the game. But the Nintendo Switch wants to go everywhere with me. It can be connected to the TV. But I can also undock it and carry my games with me. The controllers can be attached to the side of the tablet, or they can be undocked and used individually, or clipped to a carrier to be used as an external controller. There's no need to buy a second controller if I fancy a bit of two player action, each player can have their own tiny controller. And I can prop the tablet on its kickstand and use it as a tiny free-standing display.

And everything I've described above just works. But there are niggles. The hardware is nice, but the screen looks incredibly easy to scratch. The slide on/slide off side controllers can be fiddly to remove and re-attach. They also have a wrist strap attachment that is horrible to use, and makes you feel like you're breaking something each time you detach it. There are not that many games available. Zelda: Breath of the Wild is awesome. A properly vast and detailed world that you can inhabit. 12 Switch is a real curate's egg. Great in some parts, very ho-hum in others. And horribly over-priced. But the SnipperClips game is fantastic. One of the best two-player games I've ever seen. I'm not sure if it was just made for the Switch, but the gameplay and the way that you use the controllers feels like it was. Great fun. If you have a Switch, you must get this game. But that's about it for the release games. Everything else is either out on other platforms or looks a bit ropey to me. Although I've heard some good things about Shovel Knight.

I've grown to like the Switch. If I'd bought a new console and stuck it on a screen in the house I'd probably have played with it quite a bit in the first week. But I've used the Switch a lot, simply because I can. I can cart it around with me, and wander around the Kingdom of Hyrule any time, and any place I want, It's not got graphical quality that I've not seen before, although Zelda does look very good on the big screen, but it does have a portability and a package that I think will appeal to folks, as long as Nintendo can keep "Zelda quality" games coming.

Visual Studio 2017 and Python

Visual Studio 2017 came out yesterday. And today I downloaded my copy. I was keen to find out what was happening with the Python support. 

What can I say? I like Python.

Anyhoo, Python is not in the release version of Visual Studio 2017, which is sad. But, you can still get all that crazy Python goodness (along with Intellisense and a lot of other neat stuff) by going here and following the link to download a pre-release version of Visual Studio 2017 with Python built in (which actually works alongside your "proper" install). Which is great.

Red Nose Day Robots

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I've got confirmation of the venue for my world famous (in my world) Comic Relief lecture in rhyme for 2017. I've been producing bad poetry in aid of charity for over twenty years. This year I'm breaking one of the immutable laws of showbiz:

Never work with children, animals or robots.

My lecture will be accompanied by a horde of Hull Pixelbot robots, each of which has a mind of its own (and isn't afraid of using it). You'll even be able to control the robots yourself during the lecture. As long as you've sponsored me here.  

I've chosen a crack team of robots to help in the presentation. Above you can see them being put through their paces.

The lecture starts at 7:00 pm in the Large Lecture Theatre in the Applied Science 3 building on the Hull University campus. You can find a map of the campus here.

There is free admission to the lecture but, as always, you'll have to pay to get out. I'll have robots guarding all the doors.

Please come. Bring money. Bring a friend. Bring pies.

"Alloy" wheels for the Hull Pixelbot

OK, they're not really alloy. Although you could cast them out of shiny metal if you wanted. I'm going to have a go with some metallic filament I've got lying around.

Anyhoo, I've spent some time today improving the Hull Pixelbot wheels. They've been simple disks for too long. They now have a specially designed rim which turns a simple elastic band into a workable tyre (and the band doesn't seem to come off) and the rim is actually narrower than the wheel. And, the wheel now has holes in for lower weight, a better 0-60 time and faster printing.

I've just to do one final test on the finished design and then I'll put them on GitHub.

The Hardware Hacker

I first came across Andrew "bunnie" Huang when I had a Chumby.  I used to read the Chumby blog and he made some excellent posts about the ins and outs of dodgy SD cards. He's got a fantastic perspective on the business of making stuff, with special emphasis on how things get done in China.

He's written a book all about this, which I'm really keen to get a copy of. You can get a taste of the content on the book site, which seems to have a different chapter from the book each day.  I've read a couple and really enjoyed them.

If you have any kind of interest in how things are made, or if you have ever fancied having something made in Shenzen you should have a read of this book.

Penguins and Reliable Systems

It's lovely to see research work in Computer Science getting the recognition it deserves. The Dependable Intelligent Systems group at Hull has been doing some lovely work connecting the behaviour of penguin communities with reliability issues concerning regenerative braking systems on electric cars (among other things). Yes. Really,

There's a great report of the work here.

Playing Uncharted 4. Or vice versa.

It usually takes me a while to get around playing video games. I've still got a copy of "Batman - Arkham Asylum" for the Xbox 360 in its shrink wrap. Must get round to firing that up.

Anyhoo, I've started playing "Uncharted 4: A Thief's End" properly this weekend. It's very, very, good game. In fact it's like taking part in a movie. The production values are sky high, everything is polished to perfection and I'm really enjoying it.

These games are so clever that they can play themselves. And during some of the gameplay I'm wondering if that is what is happening, and I'm just watching. When I'm jumping around and hitting all the hand-holds, or shooting with unerring accuracy, it sometimes feels that the game is doing all the work and just leaving me with the impression I'm in charge.

I remember talking to someone about game development using the Wii Motion Controller. They were talking about how they managed to implement a particularly complicated gesture the player could make. They said something like "We just look for when the controller goes nuts, and assume the player is making that gesture". And nobody had ever complained about this.

I guess at the end of the day, when you write a game you are after giving a good experience, and one way to do this is to give the illusion of being in control while the game runs. I know it's the same with Forza 3. The game is giving me an impression of driving, and leaving out lots of control issues, not to mention the awful consequences of making a mistake. 

Having said all this, the game is hugely impressive and shows, yet again, just how much of a cinematic feel that modern games have.

Rip Off Britain

Apparently household insurance is important. I'm not keen on living in a box, although the single is awesome, (out of date pop culture reference alert) and so every year I've been paying a chunk of money to Legal and General so that if anything terrible happens they'll come round and sympathise with me whilst explaining why they can't pay me any money.

This year I took a proper look at the renewal price and it seemed a bit high. So I did a bit of digging and discovered that I could get equivalent cover for around a quarter of what I've been paying.

I rang up the company, was told that mine was a special "Rainbow" policy that was not arranged directly by the Legal and General. I think it's called Rainbow because I'm the crock of gold at the end of it.

Anyhoo, after 25 minutes on hold and being cut off, I finally manage to find a person to talk to. He asks if I'd like to cancel the policy. I ask him what he would do in my situation. We both agree to cancel the policy.

I'm not saying which company I used to sort out my new insurance, but apparently I can now take a cuddly toy to the movies with me for free.  I'm pleased that I've saved some money, and cross that I've been paying so much over the odds for all these years. I'm now going to carefully examine all my other policies and whatnot to see if I'm being ripped off by any of them too.

It seems that the phrase "valued customer" is now as outdated as ones like "liars don't prosper" and "manners maketh man". Life eh? 

I Robot on BBC Drama

When I was growing up I read a lot of science fiction. And pretty much my favourite author was Isaac Asimov. If you've never read any of his stuff, I envy you. You've got some great stuff out there to discover.

His stuff is brilliant. You can say what you like about the writing style (some of it hasn't aged particularly well) but the ideas behind it were always top notch. He was particularly good when writing about robots, and will go down in history for his "Three Laws of Robotics" which is becoming increasingly relevant today. Seek out his stuff. Read it. Enjoy.

Isaac Asimov liked writing short stories and wrote a bunch of really good ones which explored the Three Laws and how they can be bent. And the BBC have just made a series of 15 minute drama presentations of the best ones.  They are really, really good.