Misty Morning at c4di

Got up bright and early to go and work down at c4di today. I've got all my robots set up there now (they've got plenty of space, which is nice) and I wanted to work on remote configuration of robot settings.

I was up so bright and early that the car was actually frozen solid. And as I drove into town a clear bright morning turned into something a bit foggy. But this did make for some nice photographs when the mist cleared a bit. 

Some seagulls 

Some seagulls 

c4di looking shiny

c4di looking shiny

Light Pipes and Off Roading

I've been experimenting with some wheels I found on a different, lessor, robot. They are about the right size, and they give a Hull Pixelbot a nice "off-road" feel. They make turning a bit more difficult though, as the thick tyres are very grippy. 

I've also been playing with printing "light pipes" inside the shade for the pixels. The idea is to give better defined points for a camera to track the position and orientation of the robot. But I think the results are quite artistic too. 

Hull Pixelbot Seminar Fun

I've not taken an audience picture for a while.

And it shows.

Anyhoo, I gave my Hull Pixelbot seminar today. Great fun (at least I enjoyed it). Most everything worked and we had some great discussions about games involving the robots.

You can find the slide deck here.

I'm feverishly writing the howto guides and getting the software ready for the "big upload" on Friday.

It was great to see everyone, they do have lovely audiences at Hull.

HullPixelbot Fridge Magnets

I've spent a chunk of the weekend printing Hull Pixelbot fridge magnets. I just took the logo and fed it into Cura (the slicing program that I use for Una, my 3D printer) and after a bit of fiddling I managed to get a 3D object that works quite well.

Once printed I just have to rub a black marker pen over the 3D text to make the letters stand out. Although I wasn't as careful as I should have been, which has made them a bit smudged. Perhaps I can print a little mask to put over the text when I ink it.

Anyhoo, the magnets will be going on sale soon in aid of Comic Relief. I'm doing a lecture in rhyme again this year all about robots, accompanied by a bunch of dancing Hull Pixelbots.

Oh, and if you are in the university on Wednesday I'm also doing a Hull Pixelbot seminar thee too.

Must see Hull: Hepworth's Arcade and Trinity Market

If you're from Hull and you haven't been to Trinity Market in a while, then go.

If you're not from Hull, but you find yourself in our excellent city for one of our awesome City of Culture events, then go to Trinity Market.

It's down the end of Whitefriar Gate. You can get to it from Hepworth's Arcade or from the street. It's got all kinds of interesting stores and shops in there. Along with the staples like meat, fruit and sweeties (and, er, staples), it's also got a whole bunch of boutiques and an amazing vinyl store selling records that I actually own. There are quite a few places you can get a bit to eat too.

And in Hepworth's Arcade you've got Fanthorpes, a proper HiFi shop, and also a really good, traditional joke shop.

 

If you're a student wanting to show mum and dad some local colour then you could take them along.

If you are just in the market for something interesting you should definitely go take a look.

Proper Cooking with Rob

I've been told that my first cooking recipe, Bananas and Custard, isn't actually a recipe. It's more of a serving suggestion. Huh.

Anyhoo, I'm going to keep going.  This is one of my favourite meals. It's a proper recipe with more than two ingredients. And things to do.  It is what I call "zero effort cooking". We have it quite a lot. Number one wife is very tolerant.

Sausage and Potato Surprise with Beans

Ingredients

  • Two low fat sausages each. You can go for full fat if you like. It's your body.
  • One baking potato each. Not too big. Just handy throwing size.
  • One tin of baked beans. To share. Vary the size of the tin according to the number of diners. Or get more than one tin. That would work too.

Method

  1. Start doing this around an hour and twenty minutes before you actually want to eat: Turn the oven on at 200 degrees or the gas equivalent. Which is definitely not 200. Wash the potatoes and then use a fork to make a few holes in each. Use the pointy ends of the fork, otherwise it is very hard work. Put the potatoes on a shelf in the oven.
  2. Start doing this around half an hour before you actually want to eat: Take the sausages and stick a different fork into those a few times. I'm pretty sure that this is required. Otherwise I think they explode or something. If you are the kind of person who enjoys sticking forks into things you're having a great time by now, and you haven't even eaten anything yet. Put the sausages in a baking tray and put them in the oven with the potatoes. Do not cook the sausages straight from frozen, unless you want to revisit all the meals you've had over the last day or so.
  3. Start doing this around 5 minutes before you actually want to eat: Open the can of beans, drop them in a pan and try to heat them up without boiling them. The true flavour of the baked bean is very delicate and can be somewhat impacted by being burnt onto the bottom of the pan. Number one wife has been known to fry an egg at this point, but I think this spoils the purity of the meal. And besides, the yolks on mine always break.
  4. Start doing this when you want to eat: Serve everything up. Add butter to the potatoes to taste, and I'm a big fan of the Heinz Hot Tomato Ketchup. Note to reader: Heinz are not sponsoring this article. I wish.

Serving Suggestion

  1. I don't know, you could give the meal a frontier air by wearing a bandana and dishing out the beans while holding a knife between your teeth.  Or perhaps wear a cowboy hat and prop a Winchester repeating rifle up against the table.
  2. Oh, and if you are wondering where the surprise is, try shouting "Booo!" as you put the sausages on the plate. Then again, it tastes as good without this.

Ramshacke Rock is back in Groove

Some time back I was bemoaning the way that the "Ramshackle Rock" playlist had vanished from Groove. Well, it's back.

I've now got a mental picture of boffins at Microsoft nervously scanning my blog and then rushing down the corridors to their machines so that they can put right any wrongs that I've noticed. But then again, that's probably not how it works.

But I do like the curated playlists in Groove. Unfortunately, owing to the vagaries of Bayesian logic (which is how I think these things work - you can find a nice description here), I'm not getting exactly the same tracks as last time. But they are all suitable ramshackle.

And, as a major plus, you now have the option to save the playlist for future use. Excellent.

Make a name by making stuff

Been getting some lovely emails over the last few days from people who have been reading my books, learning to program, and trying to make it "big in this business". The question seems to be "How do I get into programming/game development?". Here's one of my replies:

"It turns out that the best way to become a Game Developer is develop games.

Just have a simple (and keep it simple) idea for something and try to make it work. Take a look at the games that are in your books and see if you can modify them to behave differently. Change the images, make them do something different and then go from there.

I'd also advise you to get involved in things like Game Jams, where you can team up with other people and get help. That gets you feedback too. Global Gamejam has just been and gone, but anything like that (there might be some locally) are a good idea. 

If you can't find a gamejam, hold your own. Get some friends together and try to build a game over a weekend. Start with something simple that works and see where you go. And if you start blogging about what you are doing, helping other people and taking part in forums you'll get to know other developers and also start to make a name for yourself.

It will be a lot of hard work and you will need to be very persistent, but I know it can be done because I've seen people do it. "

Wheely Nice Elastic Bands

Some people are seekers of the truth, others are on a quest for the meaning of life. Me, my focus has been a bit more down to earth. I want something that I can use for tyres (or tires) for the wheels on the Hull Pixelbot. And, at last, I may have found them.

I've been using skinny elastic bands for a while, but they tend to fall off the wheel really easily. Experiments with hot glue to hold the bands in place were not on the whole successful, in that I managed to stick pretty much everything to everything - fingers to desk, fingers to each other, fingers to wheel, fingers to elastic band etc etc, without actually achieving the holy grail of sticking elastic band to wheel.

My latest purchase, 50mm x 12mm elastic beauties from ebay, that stalwart Hull Pixelbot supplier, show promise though. If they are as hard to get off as they are to get on the wheel, I might actually be on to something here.

Cooking with Rob

I've started doing more cooking. As you do. Particularly when you are hungry. I'll be posting some of my favourite recipes over the next few weeks, when I can't think of anything else to write.

Today: Bananas and Custard

Ingredients: Two bananas. Tin of custard.

  1. Peel bananas (very important). Don't leave the skins lying on the floor, unless you are after some comedy gold when the next person walks into the kitchen.
  2. Slice bananas into two dishes.
  3. Open tin of custard and share mostly equally in the two dishes.
  4. Give number one wife the dish that you think has the least custard in it.

Tastes even better if the custard was half price.

Important: If you have any kind of custard or banana allergy then you probably shouldn't eat this. Or anything else with the words "custard" or "banana" in its name.

Getting Started at the Hardware Meetup

Too busy to take any snaps at the meetup, here's a picture of some fireworks

Too busy to take any snaps at the meetup, here's a picture of some fireworks

I went to the Hardware Meetup with a bunch of things to do. Didn't get to do any of them because there was too much interesting chat. Which was great.

A few new folks turned up too and they were asking what to do to get started. Here's "Rob's Handy List of Hardware Fun Things to Do"

Get a bit of hardware to play with

The clue's in the name. We play with bits of hardware. This doesn't mean that you need to spend a lot of cash though. You can start with just an Arduino and a few leds and switches.  The Arduino is the embedded device that we like to start with. It's easy to program and cheap to buy.

The best place to buy an Arduino is probably eBay. The one you want to gets started is an Arduino Uno (or compatible). Search for "Arduino Uno". You should be able to pick one up for less than a fiver. 

An Arduino on it's own can't do much (although you can flash a light on it) so you might want to take a look at one of the kits that are available. You could start with one that contains a bunch of lights and switches and a few more advanced components. These are also on eBay; I quite like the ones branded Sintron, although others are quite good.

Download the Software

You program your Adruino using a PC, Mac or Linux device. The Arduino software is a free download from here.

Make something work

There are some getting started tutorials here that you might find useful. You can also search YouTube for Arduino videos; these are especially useful if you want to know how to use some of the more exotic devices in the kits.

Once you've got the examples working, have a go at something of your own.

Come to meetups

If you end up making something impressive, bring it along and show us. If you try to make something and get stuck, bring it along and we'll try to help out. We meet up approximately every two weeks at c4di in Hull. You can find the agenda for the meetups (and lots of other things) here.