I want a Surface Book, but I'll settle for a Surface Pro 4 Keyboard for now

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....

Suicidal Robots at the Rather Useful Seminar

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.  


Mr. Game and Watch Amibo

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. 

Hull Northern Stars Event on October 29th

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.

Festival of Daring and Excitement 2015

Playing Masquerade

Playing Masquerade

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..

Getting Started

Getting Started

Prizes worth winning

Prizes worth winning

Worthy Winners

Worthy Winners

A few drinks and nibbles...

A few drinks and nibbles...

Grabbing the food

Grabbing the food

The last piece...... We got through 27 pizzas in all.

The last piece...... We got through 27 pizzas in all.

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.

Of Broccoli and Stoppers

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.

New Students Welcome Party

We had a pretty good turnout

We had a pretty good turnout

It was our First Year Welcome Party today. Video games, silly quizzes, free beer and food. What's not to like?

Using the "TagoMatic" to get your beer. Turns out that green is good.

Using the "TagoMatic" to get your beer. Turns out that green is good.

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....

This guy won the Super Smash Bros 8 player tournament

This guy won the Super Smash Bros 8 player tournament

I am so going to buy this Amibo now, what with me winning a round when I played as him.

I am so going to buy this Amibo now, what with me winning a round when I played as him.

These folks won the quiz.

These folks won the quiz.

Car Racing

Car Racing

Much fun was had playing Gang Beasts, a deeply silly multi-player game

Much fun was had playing Gang Beasts, a deeply silly multi-player game

We had a great time. I took a bunch of other pictures that you can find here.

Welcome to Hull Computer Science 2015

One of the people in this picture is not a student. Can you tell which?

One of the people in this picture is not a student. Can you tell which?

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.

Hull Knowledge Factory Student Talk

At least now I know what happens if I try to use the Panorama feature of my camera to take a picture of the audience. Sorry if you were cut off.

At least now I know what happens if I try to use the Panorama feature of my camera to take a picture of the audience. Sorry if you were cut off.

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

3D Printing

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

Space Cheese Mining Takes Shape

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.

Hull Freedom Festival Day 2

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.

The Mystery of Flickr Pricing

I'm a strong believer in paying for stuff I use on the internet. I really like the idea of a service provider having a stake in making me happy. I've been a Flickr Pro member since 2005. But I'm not sure if I'm going to continue.

I've just received a notification that my Flickr Pro subscription is up for renewal, which is fair enough. But what isn't fair is how they appear to be hiding the cost of this. If I click on the "information link" in the notification email (which doesn't tell me the cost) I get a page which tells me of the "benefits" of a subscription. But nothing about the price. Even the FAQ page is useless in this respect (see above).

Turns out that I have to pay nearly fifty dollars a year to stay on the "Pro" service level, which strikes me as rather expensive. Having had a look at the benefits over the free service I don't think anyone would want to pay for that. So I'll be cancelling my Pro subscription. If the charge had been twenty and they had been up-front about it there's a very good chance that I'd have stuck with it.

C# Yellow Book 2015 Bananas Edition Available

The latest edition of the C# Yellow Book is now available. This is the one that we will be using in our First Year Programming course at Hull.

There have not been a huge number of changes to the text, but after a number of requests I've added around 60 working code samples which are keyed to the text. You can use these to explore the programming concepts as you read the text.

You can download the text and the examples from here.

Lensbaby Fun

My Amazon delivery came up trumps today, so I toddled down to the union and picked up my package. Then, when I got home I got the adapter out and attached my Lensbaby lens to my Fuji camera. As you do.

I've had a Lensbaby for a while. It's a "bendy" lens that you can move around in its mounting to change the way that images are focused. Turns out that if you put it on the camera and then point it at the ceiling you can get some interesting results after a bit of image processing.

Amazon Lockers on the Hull Campus

Amazon are one of those companies that divide opinion a bit. Every now and then they hit the headlines for something unseemly that they are doing, or planning to do. Seems to me that they behave like every other huge company with lots of shareholders and stuff and a desire to stay in business. Like Starbucks, Google, Apple and so on. And they are very useful when you have an urgent desire for a particular kind of cable and an adapter that will let you attach Canon lenses to your Fuji camera.

Anyhoo, I placed the order today and I was pleased to find that there are now some Amazon lockers on the university campus in the Student's Union. I can get them delivered there and pick up the bits and bobs tomorrow, which is nice.