Inadvertent Storytelling

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I love it when I go through pictures I've taken and every now and then find one that really tells a story. I took this one at the Steam Rally recently, hoping to get a good shot of the car instruments and totally failed to notice the figures in the background.

But, having revisited the pictures I really like the way that this one seems to be all about a couple and their dog, and their shiny MG. 

LoRa Build a Node Workshop at c4di

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We've just had a bunch of folks around to build some LoRa nodes. Robin had put together some kits and we came up with a set of instructions. By the end of the day we expected our attendees to have their LoRa nodes sampling temperature, air pressure and humidity and maybe even be viewing the values on The Things Network website. 

Well, we got that and more. One person had the information going into Microsoft Power BI and was using Machine Learning to predict future room temperatures. Another used If This Then That to tweet temperature readings to his phone. Others left with plans to install LoRa gateways and sprinkle LoRa powered sensors all over their properties.

Very successful, in spite of the fact that we were soldering surface mount components and some folks hadn't soldered since they were 14, or even at all. Thanks for coming folks and being so determined. At some points during workshop you could have heard a pin (or other tiny component) drop. 

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We're doing another one in September, ping me an email if you want to get your name on the list. You can find our notes and sample programs here.

If you want to play with LoRa (and anything else that takes your fancy) take a look at the Humber Health Care Challenge. We'll make sure we've got some LoRa kits available there for people to have a go with this technology. 

 Mightier Than sword or pen?

Mightier Than sword or pen?

LoRa at Humber Street Gallery

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Today finds us at Humber Street Gallery. We're looking for locations for a LoRa gateway for the area. They've got a lovely rooftop bar which looks perfect, and has some amazing views. Of course, I happened to have my camera with me. 

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We were telling the folks at the gallery about LoRa and we're going to go back and find out a bit more about the possibility of LoRa enabled artworks. Could lead to some interesting discussions. 

Bad Telly

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Scene 1: A meeting room, a bunch of TV transmitter engineers are sitting round a table. With an accountant.

Engineer 1: 'If we use this form of broadcast antenna we'll have good strong signals all year round.'
Engineer 2: 'Which is what we want. Right?'
Accountant: 'Hmmm. Looks a bit pricey to me. How about this design, which is cheaper.'
Engineer 1: 'Yes, but with that one the signal will drop in the summer.'
Accountant: 'People should be outside rather than watching telly in the summer. Use the cheaper one'

Scene 2: Another meeting room, another bunch of engineers, this time they are the designers of TV input circuits. And of course there is an accountant there too.

Engineer 1: 'If we use this circuit the TV will work, even with low level signals.'
Engineer 2: 'Which is what we want. Right?'
Accountant: 'Yes, but if we take out that amplifier the TV will work for most people, save us some cash in components and we can also make a fortune selling aerial amplifiers.'

And this folks is why every summer televisions in our area stop working....

Waiting for the Ice Cream Machine to Warm Up

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We went down to the waterfront today. Wonderful weather, cool breeze from the water. A scene that could be made completely perfect by the addition of an ice cream.

We went into the local ice cream parlour. They were just getting going, what with us being there quite early. Anyhoo, the machine wasn't ready for use, and I had this lovely idea that we were waiting for the ice cream machine to warm up. 

Begin to Code with Python Videos

I've made some silly videos. They're for those sensible people who've bought copies of Begin to Code with Python (subtle plug on the left). 

They cover how to install Python, how to install PyGame and finally, how to obtain the demo programs and install the tiny Snaps framework. 

They were a giggle to make, with a bit of luck they will be a giggle to view. And maybe even useful.

How to install Python on a Windows 10 PC for the Begin To Code with Python book
Installing the Pygame framework for use in the book Begin to Code with Python
Installing and working with Snaps on a system for the Begin to Code with Python book

The Humber Care Tech Challenge

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The Humber Care Tech Challenge is a tech challenge about care that is based in the Humber region. Although I guess the title already tells you all that. It's in Bridlington in the lovely Spa Hall, and it is on the 5th and the 6th of September.

Think of it as a hackathon with the focus on care. Teams will be able to work with healthcare professionals to create something life changing. With technologies such as LoRa coming over the horizon there's the potential for properly disruptive developments. You can find out about the problems, the tech, and how to change the world, all in two days. . 

We're having an "Visioning Day" at the University of Hull on the 31st of July where we want to put teams and problems together and start finding solutions. 

If you're good with software and/or hardware and want to spend some time making something interesting you should take part. If you do this as a hobby, we'd love to see you. It is also a wonderful way that teams of developers from a company can get together away from the office, learn some new tricks, prototype some products and get feedback from practitioners.  

Quite a few companies regard things like hackathons as great for team building and "blue sky" innovation.  Think of it as an all expenses paid two days where you can focus on having fun and making stuff. Actually, it's not completely expenses paid - it costs five pounds per person to register - but after that your food and drink for the two days is free. And you can come to the Visioning Day day for free. 

There are some lovely prizes, including help to take ideas and make them into shipping products, but for me the journey itself is the biggest prize. I've been involved with development challenges and hackathons of one sort or another for the last 15 years and I've seen them add value to everyone who takes part.

You can find our more, and sign up, here. You can find the challenge on Facebook here, and Twitter here

Tell LoRa I love her.

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Gotta love the post title. But I do quite like LoRa. We're doing some exciting things with LoRa nodes over the next few weeks and so I thought I'd build a node of my own. I used a kit that Robin put together and had a node on the air within a couple of hours. The node just sends temperature, atmospheric pressure and humidity up to a Things Network server, but it does do that. And I can get the data into a Python program (other programming languages are available) amongst other places. And it was genuinely fun and easy to do. 

To celebrate I've designed and printed a box to hold the node. It's far too big at the moment. I used to have a thing where I'd make the boxes exactly the same size as the components and then find I had no way to actually get the components in, and put them together. This box won't win any prizes for compactness, but it will let me carry the node around and see just how many places pick up the signal. When I've got a bit more experience with the technology I'll post some How-Tos and other stuff. This really is great fun. 

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Make your own Theremin. Sort of.

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A Theremin is a musical instrument that you control by waving your hands. It's used a lot to provide spooky sounds for science fiction and horror movies. A "proper" theremin uses a tuned circuit that is which is controlled by the player waving their hands near a couple of antennas. 

I thought we could have a go at making something similar using just a light sensor and an Arduino, so I've come up with the circuit above to get started. You can find the detailed instructions here. We've been using these little exercises at the c4di Hardware Group, which met again today and will meet again on Thursday 5th July. Sign up here if you want to come along and make some annoying noises....

Machine Learning at the Insider Dev Tour

 If you were there, click through to the large version on Flickr and find yourself...

If you were there, click through to the large version on Flickr and find yourself...

Today I had to get up early to catch a non-existent train. Of course, I didn't know it was non-existent as I got showered and hurried down my breakfast before dashing out of the house. I found out at the station. Apparently my train to Manchester was cancelled because it was "late leaving the depot". Which makes it sounded like they were trying to blame the engine itself. Anyhoo, after a brief panic I caught an earlier train that arrived later and made it to Manchester in time for my session. Which was great fun. 

I was talking about "Machine Learning", which is the tool that you use when you don't know how to solve the problem. As I said during the talk, there was a time when the thinking was that when we can get computers to play chess, we'll have cracked artificial intelligence. This turned out to be wrong. In fact, things that are hard for people (play chess, do sums very quickly etc etc) are comparatively easy for a computer but things that are easy for a human (get meaning out of conversation, walk down a busy street etc etc) are very hard for the machine.

However, this is changing. Computers can do difficult things now. And you can build these behaviours into your applications. I showed off some software that recognised emotion, and another system that could tell stick figures from fish, and all using C# and running in my lowly Surface Pro 3.

If you want to have a go at this, and find out more about Machine Learning (and you should) take a look at the labs pages for the tour which are here

Thanks so much to Microsoft for putting the tour together and Pete for making it work in Manchester. It was great fun and the audience were lovely. And, to make the day even better, my train back actually existed. 

All In

Well, that's it. I've finished writing all the text for the C# book. I think they call this "all in". It's certainly how I feel just at the moment. It seems to me that writing (and programming) always takes longer that I think it will. Even (or perhaps especially) if I allow for this. 

Anyhoo, the good news is that now I'll have more time for Hull Pixelbot, Lora and, of course, the blog. 

Thwaite Gardens

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Thwaite Gardens was open today for the afternoon. They had a choir, beautiful gardens, tea, and cakes. It's amazing that a place like this is right in the middle of the Cottingham area. 

The gardens are attached to Thwaite Hall, which until recently was a hall of residence for students from Hull University. It's closed now, and looks very forlorn with all its windows boarded up. 

I really hope that they come up with a way of making proper use of the hall, and that the gardens stay the wonderful place that they are now. 

Working with the Arduino at the Hardware Group

I really must take more, or at least some, pictures of the Hardware Group at c4di in action. But I'm always too busy talking about stuff to get out the camera.

Anyhoo, we had a great meetup today. We've got a bunch of new members who are just getting started, so we've put together some tiny hardware kits that they can use to get started. Like those "Build an Aston Martin in easy steps" magazines that you can buy in the new year, If you want to pick up a kit and have a go, come along to our next meetup on the 7th of June. You can sign up here

Universal Paperclips

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In Universal Paperclips you play the role of an artificial intelligence that was created to maximise the production of paperclips. Thing start off slow, with a button to press to make a paperclip. One mouse click equals one paperclip. But pretty soon you've earned enough to afford one or more "auto-clippers" that will press the button for you. Then you can start to set the price of your paperclips and advertise to drive demand. 

After a while your anonymous sponsor starts to reward you with trust that brings your AI system more memory and processing speed. So you can start having ideas about paperclip production and marketing. And you make more, and more paperclips. And perhaps sing some songs.

They say that the game ends when the entire universe is made of paperclips. But they might be wrong, I've not been playing the game long enough for that. 

It's a delightful little game. I mentioned it yesterday at Pint of Science as an example of the way that, given a goal, an AI system will behave in a totally amoral way. You can play it online or you can buy a copy for your iPhone or Android device. 

Rob at Pint of Science 2018

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So, tonight finds me in Furley and Co in the middle of Hull. I was there to give a talk about the Robots to be most afraid of. I was second on the bill, the first speaker was Dr Stephen Burwood, a lecturer on Philosophy, talking about Science and Human Nature. It was really interesting to hear a philosopher's take on science, and where it fits in. I learned a few new words including the word "aporia", which means an "impasse in reasoning".

The central tenet in Stephen's talk was that we seem to have used the scientific viewpoint to prove that we are really just a very clever kind of ape, but this leaves us with a really big thing about us that just don't seem to have a scientific explanation for; namely the things that we do that make us human.

Is there a scientific explanation of why we have things like good and bad, morals and stuff like that. If there is, then where is it? If there is no explanation, then what does that say about the scientific method? Deep stuff. Great exercise for the brain. 

Then it was time for me to do my stuff. I talked about my worries about machine learning, that we are building tools that will be making decisions for us based on potentially shaky reasoning and dodgy stats, and that we are using software in situations where an ethical framework is urgently needed. It was interesting how Stephen's discussion on reasoning collided nicely with my observations on Machine Learning. More great questions, more great discussion. 

Thanks to Phil for inviting me, and the audience for being awesome. I mentioned a few things in the talk that I'd link through to in the blog. Here they are.

One of the most accessible books on philosophy that I've ever read is Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas Hofstadter. You can track down a copy on Amazon here

The video of the Google software agent booking a haircut and using umms and ahhs in its speech is here

The Universal Paperclips game is here

You can find the Hull branch of the British Science Association here