Mowing blind

Every now and again I do a good turn for someone. At least once a year.

Earlier this week I was out cutting grass for a neighbour, navigating a mower and strimmer around his lovely garden. When I’d finished I looked across the road at our house and I noticed that it seemed a bit blurred around the edges. Turns out that I’d done the entire job wearing my “close up” glasses (the ones that I only ever use with the computer). These turn everything more than two feet away into a mildly pleasing blur.

I’d been replying to an urgent email (yes I still get the occasional urgent email) before I left the house and forgotten to change back to my proper spectacles.

I think I'll leave it a while before I go back and look at the damage….

Pokémon Detective Pikachu is not a bad film


I’m not a huge fan of Pokémon. But I am a fan of nights out and popcorn. So last night we went to see Pokémon Detective Pikachu. It’s fair to say that films of video games don’t have a great history. My favourite ever video game film has got to be the original “Tomb Raider” movie. Mainly because it contains this line.

“The letter’s from my father. He must have written it before he died.”

Anyhoo, expectations appropriately managed we set out to the cinema last night. And we were both pleasantly surprised. The story is a bit wonky, as are some of the special effects and the dialog. Bill Nighy was along for the ride and probably to pay off a sizeable chunk of his mortgage. Ryan Reynolds does a fantastic job of voicing the title character and things burble along in an amiable manner to a satisfying (if not terribly well explained) end.

Worth a trip. Particularly if there is popcorn.

Day tripper


If you want to get a good response when you are on the phone to an electrician, mention the smell of burning. It wasn’t very pronounced, but it was definitely there….

It all started when the charge for the car failed half way through. The earth drip on the charge box had triggered. I reset it and tried again. And that’s when it tripped again and I smelled the fateful smell.

I think this is a known fault with the charge box that I bought. Anyhoo, they are coming in a week or so to replace the faulty unit. And I’ve turned everything off.

Always put a hole in the bottom

Note that this is not our air quality sensor. This is a nuclear warhead. Almost as complicated….

Note that this is not our air quality sensor. This is a nuclear warhead. Almost as complicated….

Had a great meeting with John today about the Air Quality sensors that we are going to fit on lampposts around the city. He had a couple of pieces of very sensible advice.

  • don’t make holes in the top where the water can get in

  • make a hole in the bottom where water that gets in can drain out

Surfing memory lane

Making a meme in 2006….

Making a meme in 2006….

Someone is interested in publishing an eBook based on a text that I wrote over twenty years ago. This is scary. Particularly if you’ve lost the original file.

For many years my backup approach was always to copy the files from the old desktop into a folder on the drive of the new one. This worked until I stopped using desktops and started using laptops. Laptop drives are much smaller and so I was forced to suspend this practice.

My backup policy changed to “put an external hard drive in the loft and forget about it”.

This turned out not to be a good ploy. But today, after a couple of hours treading nervously around the loft looking in boxes (we have a lot of boxes) I managed to find a drive that had all my missing files on.

The word documents are there along with lots of other stuff that has completely brought all work to a standstill while I spend some time marvelling at how much better I was at every kind of thing twenty years ago….

Writing about Chatbots


One of the things on my list of things to do is “Write the presentation for the Barclays AI Frenzy event”. Which is tomorrow…..

I reckon that it can take up to a day to write a good one-hour presentation. So it’s a good thing I’m starting now.

I’m talking about chatbots, which I’m quite familiar with. But pesky Microsoft keep making the bot framework different and better. This means that while the fundamentals stay broadly the same, but way you use them is different. Which means that all the slides and demos need to be reworked.

The good news is that I’m becoming rather inspired by just what you can do with this technology now.

American Museum in Bath


Sunday sees us at the American Museum in Bath. A favourite of mine. Inside a lovely English country house are a whole set of rooms imported whole from America. It’s fascinating to see the transition from the simplicity of the early rooms to the intricate decadence of the more recent ones. The story of the origins of America is very well told and we had the added bonus of a couple of really good exhibitions. If you’ve not been, go. If you have been, you won’t need me to tell you to go again.


Buy Nintendo Labo VR


This is awesome. I’ve stayed away from buying any of the Nintendo Labo kits because, after all, they are only cardboard. However I couldn’t resist the purchase of the Labo VR kit above. And I allow myself one silly purchase after giving a course (thanks GSK). And I get to play Zelda in VR.

So today we tracked down a copy of the game and starting folding things together. The game comes in a box around the size of a large pizza and is made of similar cardboard (to the pizza box, not the pizza). The instructions are an object lesson in how to tell you how to assemble something. They even have funny names for the cut-out parts. One was referred to as “two pandas holding hands”. If you follow the directions you’ll have no problems, and great fun putting the things together.

We started with the 3D visor. This is very reminiscent of Google cardboard. The lenses are supplied pre-mounted and are of good quality. The Nintendo Switch is not really a 3D device, but it works really well in the role. Just remember to clean the screen before you put it into the goggles. The biggest problem is that you have to hold the goggles up to your face while operating the controls, so you’d probably not want to spend too much time using them. But you do get a convincing 3D experience.

Then we moved on to the rocket launcher. There is only one word for this. Fantastic. The construction is properly long, with lots of different elements to be fitted together. When it’s complete you really feel that you’ve built something. And it works. The Switch “goggles” fit into the end of the launcher and you have a positive slide reload action that you can see in the game. Then a press of the trigger launches a rocket with a solid “thwack”. I was a bit worried about the strength and durability of the cardboard construction but it seems pretty solid and works really well.

I reckon if you have a Switch you should get this. The whole thing is such fun.

Building Robots at GSK


We’ve taken “Build a robot in a day” on the road and today we spent a lovely day today down at GSK in Weybridge. Things went so well that at one point we thought we might have to rename the course “Build a robot before lunch”. Everyone got their robot moving around and interacting with them.

If you were on the course (or are just interested) you can find all sample programs here.

If you want to work further with the Arduino I’d recommend that you search Amazon or ebay for “Arduino Kit” and buy something that costs around 25 pounds or so.


I’m back home now and I’ve put a few pictures of the event on Flickr here.

Octoprint is wonderful


I mentioned on Sunday that I was a bit worried about the SD card reader on my lovely 3D printer being potentially unreliable. For years (seven actually) I’ve been writing my gcode files onto an SD card and then plugging into the printer for each print. This is probably not a good idea (and hasn’t been one for a while).

Anyhoo, a couple of failed prints on Sunday left me wondering about a better, and less physical, way of connecting the computer and the printer. I could just plug the printer straight into my computer, but I’ve never been keen on doing this. Knowing my luck the Windows 10 update process would steam in and break a print 8 hours in.

So today I took a proper look at Octoprint. Its a server that you attach to your printer. It gives you a lovely web interface that you can use to manage your prints and it also has a plugin for Cura, my favourite slicing tool so I can just open the files in Cura and then send them straight to the printer.

It’s wonderful. The installation is a breeze. There’s a boot image for Raspberry Pi that you just have to copy onto an SD card and you are in business. You don’t even have to attach a keyboard and screen to the Pi you are using a s server because you can do it all over SSL and via the browser.

I’ve done a couple of prints and they’ve worked very well. The next thing I’m going to do is attach a webcam to the server so that I can view print progress remotely.

If you have a 3D printer and a spare Raspberry Pi lying around you should definitely take a look at this.

Bringing an Alien back from the grave


Me and my Alienware laptop go back a long way. We need some spare laptops for a course that I’m helping with, and I was wondering how hard it would be to get an 8 year old laptop to run Windows 10.

It turns out to be a bit tricky, but possible. I had to ignore dire warnings about graphics cards and press on with the installation anyway.. Then, afterwards I found some original drivers and installed enough of them for the automatic Windows 10 update to take over and install the rest. The biggest headache was spending some time trying to work out why the WiFi card hadn’t been detected, only to discover that I hadn’t actually turned it on using FN+F3.

It now works a treat. I’m missing drivers for the SD card and the firewire port, but I don’t need those. As a machine it is pretty responsive. In fact it now books more quickly than it used to. If you have an old machine that you want to rejuvenate, I’d strongly advise you to have a go. The Windows 10 update process has a very good rollback behaviour that means you are unlikely to break the machine and you might end up with something much more useful.

What is unreliable?


Una, my Ultimaker printer has been very busy over the last week. We’re doing a “Build a robot in a day” course and we need 15 sets of printed parts for the robots. Up until today she was printing beautifully, and I made the mistake of thinking “My goodness, the printer is working well”. Bad move. She promptly stopped dead in the middle of a print. Oh well.

It made me thing a bit about what we regard as reliable. The way I see it, as soon as a thing fails once you have to regard it as unreliable. There are not that many “acts of god” that can come out of the blue and stop something from working just one time. What usually happens is that you either face up to the fact that something is broken at the first point of failure, or you spend the next few weeks discovering just how broken it is.

I think I’ve traced the problem to the SD card that I was using, which might be going a bit “soft”. That or the memory card connector in Una. I’m thinking about installing Octoprint and removing the need for SD cards.

And I’m trying really hard not to think how well things are working…..