HDR Projects 4 Professional for Twenty Quid

Whitby Abbey looking good

Whitby Abbey looking good

StackSocial is a place where they sell stuff at nice prices. I first came across them when they were selling Lytro Illum cameras at a very knock down price. But only in America, chiz chiz (chiz is a Nigel Molesworth word meaning cheat or swindle - as any fule kno). 

Anyhoo, I've bought a couple of items of software from them at very attractive discount, the latest being HDR Projects 4 Professional. The software is very, very, good. HDR usually needs several images which are taken at different exposure. But this software will also take a single exposure and do a tone mapping job which is almost as good as using multiple shots. It has lots of presets and works very well. 

If you are interested in making your pictures that bit more awesome, and particularly if you use Photoshop and Lightroom, this package represents great value at only twenty quid. 

Mirror, Mirror on the wall

I know, don't I ever, that nobody really cares that today I managed to get our mirror on the wall (thanks Chris) but I really like it. I saw this thing on a home improvement show where they advised putting a mirror opposite a window to spread the light around a bit. So we got one and, after last week's failure, today we managed to fit the little hooks on the mirror onto a couple of overly sturdy bolts stuck in the wall. 

Bond Movie Soundtracks on Vinyl

I don't know who thought of it, but it's a brilliant idea. One of the best things about Bond movies has always been their soundtrack. And they've just released the soundtracks for a bunch of the early Bond films on 12 inch vinyl LPs. I found a bunch of them when I was up town today and for a moment I thought I'd dropped through a time warp. They've got proper, printed, card sleeves with the original artwork. I'm tempted to get one just for old time's sake. You can also get high definition digital versions too. Click on the image above to find out more. 

Bit of a stinker if you've been watching your treasured, collectable originals go up in value over the years, but great for the rest of us who can remember when Bond was proper cool. 

Voice Powered Pizza Picking

I've been playing with the Voice Response in Windows 10. It works very well. The latest libraries allow you to write code that recognises one of a number of phrases. I've been working on this as part of "Begin To Code With C#", the book which, even as we speak is taking shape. 

I've written a "Snap" (one of my pre-built software components) that makes it dead easy to create your own voice controlled software. Above is a screen shot from the "Voice Enabled Pizza Picker" that I'm building. 

Fun fact: The word "Pepperoni" seems to be recognised very well, but for some reason "Vegetarian" doesn't get picked up half as well....

We should stay in Europe

I'm going to post some of my favourite European pictures over the next few weeks

I'm going to post some of my favourite European pictures over the next few weeks

Now, I'm not a particularly political sort. My line on politics is that no matter who you vote for, the government always gets in. But every now and then I feel that I have to say something. Not that I think what I say matters particularly; it's just that I feel better having said it. 

There's a lot of kerfuffle going on about Europe at the moment. Should we stay? Should we leave? I'm strongly in favour of staying in. Very strongly. I think that leaving would be a very bad plan. There's a saying that goes "Prediction is very hard, especially about the future", so I'm not really basing my opinion on any particular "facts" going forward. It's just that I like being in Europe. I like going to abroad and feeling part of the place. I like the idea that we have some common purpose across the continent. I like the way that people come into this country and pick up bits of our culture, and bring us some of theirs. I even enjoyed the Eurovision song contest this time round (but mainly because it was very, very well done).  

Leaving Europe just seems such a cold, pointless thing to do. Are we so uncertain of our national identity that we have to prove we can go it alone? I have this image in my mind of a bunch of wagons in a circle with bears and wolves roaming around outside, and the idea that one wagon would suddenly up sticks and head out into the wilderness on its own seems unnecessary and dangerous.

So I think we shouldn't do that. 

One thing I am keen on though, is making sure that everyone has their say in this. It really is a rather important decision. If you haven't registered to vote (and you should, which ever way you feel about it) then register here

Captain America Civil War - worth the trip

We nearly didn't go and see "Captain America Civil War", but I'm rather glad we did. Even though you know that the plot is the cinematic equivalent of an irresistible force meeting an immovable object, it is still worth your time. The story is good, just about everyone plays their part well (although I do worry about the non-super members of the team whenever they go into battle) and there are some great one-liners.

Ant Man and Spiderman turn up and add to the mix and everything is set up nicely for the next movie(s) in the franchise. Which I think is probably what this film was really all about. 

I genuinely marvel (no pun intended) at the way they can turn these movies out on a regular basis. In the olden days (i.e. seventies Superman) we'd have a superhero film every couple of years, each of which had a few little fight sequences leading up to a grand finale. Nowadays a film with open with a huge set piece, and then has two or three more leading up to a really big one at the end. Computer graphics help a lot, but when you consider that all the fight sequences had to be choreographed, shot and then integrated into a whole, it's hard not to be impressed. 

Worth a trip I reckon. 

Out of touch?

I hate it when people tell me absolute whoppers. I find it rather offensive that they think I might be daft enough to believe them. I was in conversation with someone whose company had rather dropped the ball and was messing us about a bit, and the other person said "We've been trying to contact you for a while..."

How? What with? Were they shouting on street corners, writing slogans on walls, sending out carrier pigeons, trying remote Vulcan mind melds? They've got my mobile and home numbers, plus email address. How could they try and get in touch and not have me notice? 

Well, really. 

Scott Guthrie at Azurecraft UK

Scott Guthrie is one of my heroes. Proper developer chops and the ability to deliver a really good presentation. I've seen him speak a couple of times and event had the pleasure to present at TechDays in the session before his. So I guess you could say I was once his warm-up man. 

Anyhoo, he's speaking in the UK on a couple of dates in early June. Once in London and once in Reading. I'm not going to be able to make it unfortunately, what with examinerish type things happening around then, but if you get the chance you really should go. 

Find out more and sign up here

Avoiding seven years bad luck..

We didn't go out to buy a mirror. Especially not one that is octagonal, around a meter in diameter and weighs a ton. But we did. Here you can see the carefully calculated plans that I used to work out exactly where to drill the holes for the two bolts on which the mirror will fit. Unfortunately, even with this level of careful planning I still ended up with the mirror sat forlornly on the floor. 

The extra chunky coach bolts are in exactly the right place on the wall, which is nice. But the hooks on the back of the mirror won't fit over them. Life eh?

Big feet, big problems

I've never considered myself as having particularly large feet. But apparently I have. I went into a shop today to try and buy some new shoes (something which I only do when the existing ones are actually falling apart) and they had nothing in my size. Nothing. (well, nothing that looked sensible anyway - I had number one wife with me as my "stlyistic sanity check").

What we want is a way that I can go on-line, tell the shop I'm coming in on Saturday with feet that need shoeing (if that is a verb) and then walk in to a plethora of fitting footwear. And you know, in the future I reckon it might just happen. I certainly hope so. 

MVP Powered Techdays Online next week

If you fancy some cracking free training next week you can sign up for TechDays Online. There are a whole bunch of splendid sessions from Microsoft folks like Mike Tautlty and Paul Foster, along with some really good MVP speakers too.  It runs over Wednesday 18th May and Thursday 19th. The whole agenda looks really interesting, but yo you can pick and choose what you watch.. You can sign up here.

If you do go along, tell them Rob sent you. And mention cheese. 

Free Photographic Filters

It is rather strange that, having invested in cameras and lenses that give the most true to life images, we then invest even more in filters to make the pictures look lo-fi again. But we do.

The good news is that one of these filter packs has now become free. I've no idea how Google ended up selling a bunch of high quality filters for Photoshop and Lightroom, but they did. And now they've made the filters free.

The Google Nik Collection of filters is well worth having. There are some noise reduction and HDR ones among them which are OK, although these kind of things are probably done at least as well by some of the built-in features of Photoshop and Lightroom. However, the vintage camera and black and white filters are lovely. The set used to represent reasonable value at 85 quid. For free its a steal. 

Exams as an aid to learning

[Click through the picture for the full 360 degree lecture experience]

Sometimes I get asked about exam technique. What's the best way to deal with an exam? What should I do to prepare? My advice is quite simple; try to get yourself into a situation where you know the answers to the exam questions. 

Today we had our revision lecture for our First Year Programming module. I went through all the questions from last year and didn't quite give the answers as such. I was more interested in charting a path that will get you to the answer from first principles. I'm quite calculating about this. I'll try really hard to give some solid hooks that you can remember, and will start you off to the answer. 

Compostition? That's a car number plate. Throw away the numberplate and the numbers go away too. 

Agregation? That's a football team. If we disband the football team we don't kill all the players. 

I feel a bit guilty about saying "and the way to remember the triangle on a class diagram is to think of granddad dying", but I was trying to get people to think about inheritance....

The aim of all this is to make exams useful for teaching, as well as our assessment mechanism. In a week or two's time I'll find out if it worked. 

Burnby Hall Tulip Festival

I'd not heard of Burnby Hall until this weekend. They are presently having a tulip festival, and number one wife wondered if I'd fancy going along an taking some pictures. 

Would I just.

So it was into a bag with a goodly assortment of lenses, tripods and kinds of other paraphernalia (that's the great thing about photography - plenty of scope for paraphernalia) and then off down the road to Pocklington. 

It was lovely. We got there nice and early when there was a bit of an angle to the light and it was nice and quiet. It's a great place to visit. Good food, good weather (at least today) and lots of tulips. We saw loads of families with picnics making a proper day of it. And there was even a brass band at 2:00.  

Not sure they've fully grasped how Secret Gardens work though....

Kodak Photo CD Fun and Games

Twenty years ago, when I was still learning how to take photographs, Kodak Photo-CD was supposed to be the next big thing. Keeping photographic negatives and prints was going to be so old-fashioned in the new, wonderful, digital age. 

Of course I bought into it. I got four or five rolls of film encoded onto this magical, future-proof, media. Of course, twenty years on all my prints and negatives are still around and usable. And the Photo-CD? Well, if you dig  around long enough you can find a program called Irfanview which will convert the files into something you can view again. I spent a happy hour or so this evening getting a bunch of pictures of the disks and passing them around the family.

The one above came out sort of OK, although I seem to have got a perfectly focused foreground and blurry background. So, twenty years ago I was still making the same mistakes I'm making today, just with a lot less technology to help out. 

Say Hello to Hull Pixel Bot

I've been spending the odd five minutes here and there designing and printing parts for a little robot that I want everybody to build. I've called it the HullPixelBot, because I want to turn it into a mobile pixel. I had lots of fun making my wedding lights a couple of years ago and so I thought I'd have a go at making a mobile version. The idea is that if I can get enough of them together and network them we could have a whole bunch of mobile coloured dots which we can display patterns on. 

It's kind of artistic. But in a technical way. 

Sooooo,  I want to get everybody making little Arduino powered robots. The target price for parts for the robot is less than ten pounds. I'm using very cheap stepper motors which work fine. They are a bit slow, but they provide a precision of movement which you just can't get with standard DC motors. I'm also using catapult ammunition (really) for the caster and four AA batteries provide the power. There are holes you can use to attach sensors and we will develop the design as we go along. 

I'm taking a bunch of parts to the C4DI Hardware Meetup on Thursday this week. If you fancy having a go at building a pixel bot, come along to find out more. 

I made a tiny video. More hardware details to follow.

Update: The STL files are now on Thingiverse here.  There's also a HullPixelBot mini-site here