Cheese Yellow Book back from the printers

We got the latest copy of the C# Yellow Book back from the printers today. We had a whole bunch of copies printed for the new first year course, and to give away on Open Days. 

This is the "Cheese" edition. The changes are mainly evolutionary. Thanks to everyone who contributed comment and pointed out mistakes. The pdf version will be going live later in this week. Then I'll update the Kindle version. 

Paltry Post Office Pixel Parcel Provision

A Hull Pixelbot needs a pixel. The clue is in the name. Actually, having played around with it for a while, I think it needs a lot more pixels. I started using the 16 pixel rings but I found these both easy to destroy and rather pricey. An expensive combination. So instead I've tracked down these 12 pixel rings on AliExpress. They are slightly larger than the 16 pixel ones, they have fewer lights (the clue's in the number folks) but they work very well. 

And you can get five of them for eight pounds 17 pence, post free from China. Result. Mine arrived last week. Unfortunately I wasn't at home at the time, so they were sent to the Post Office parcel depot for me to pick up.

In "The Good Old Days" (tm) the depot was on the side of the Post Office where I live, so I could have my parcel after a short walk. Today, thanks no doubt to "the total commitment of the Post Office to a quality parcel delivery and collection experience for all its customers", the parcels must be picked up from a depot which is a thirty minute drive away, with a tiny car park and, from the postcodes I heard being given by the folks ahead of me in the long queue, serving the entire city of Hull.


If the Post Office is in any way concerned about losing its parcel business then this is exactly the way to go about it. Nothing wrong with the two poor folks serving the queue of about 20 people that had accumulated by the time we got there on Saturday morning - they were making the best of a bad job, but only a person powered by a spreadsheet could have come up with such a stupid and inconvenient "improvement" in the way I get my post. 

Hull Pixelbot Problem Solving

We had a great time at the c4di hardware meetup last night. We had some more new faces drop by, including one family who were out for a walk around the waterfront and just came into see what all the fun was about. This was great for me, as I was able to try out some HullPixelbot arenas that I'd made up.

The idea is that you get a robot, an arena and a programmer interface that makes the robot move and turn. And then you have to navigate the robot from the start to the finish. 

The one on the left is quite simple, except that you don't know what the numbers used to control the robot actually mean. 

Anyhoo, we managed to navigate the above arena and make the robot stop in exactly the right place. Then we moved onto a more complicated one and then I got clever, tried to make the robot retrace its steps and had it turn the wrong way and nearly fall off the desk. On well. 

The great news for me is that the folks who happened to drop by left with a kit of parts for the robot chassis and the intention to come back with a completed robot for the next Hardware Meetup. 

If you want to come along the meetups are open to anyone who fancies a bit of hardware fun and games. You can sign up here

Reboot in The Conversation

I really like The Conversation. It's driven by content produced by academics from around the world and it provides a good read on a huge variety of subjects. Occasionally they ask me to write bits and bobs for them. I've just written something about what happens when you reboot your computer, and why you have to do it. You can find the text here

If you want to hear me talking about reboots, and telling one of my favourite jokes in all the world, you can find me on the Conversation Anthill podcast here

And, just to prove that I'm a complete media mogul, you can find a printed version of the article in the i newspaper today too. 

Coding is Fun at Techdays

Well, that was fun. Turns out that you can drive down to Reading, do a TechDays session and then drive back all in one day.  It was quite hard work, but it was nice to visit Thames Valley Park again. I've been there quite a few times over the years.

Anyhoo, the session was a hoot. Thanks to Martin for doing an excellent job of keeping me on the straight and narrow. The sessions were all recorded and should be released onto Channel 9 later this week. 

Preparing for TechDays tomorrow

I'm doing a presentation at TechDays Online tomorrow. So of course tonight I'm working on the code for the final demo. I've got three copies of Visual Studio running above. One talking to the robot controller Arduino, another driving the robot network esp8266 and a final one building the Universal Windows Application that will control everything. I've not had so much fun in a while. 

I'm on tomorrow at around 4:00 pm. Tune in and find out how far I got........

..the robot with two brains....

..the robot with two brains....

Fishing with WireShark

The software for the Hullpixelbot is coming along nicely. I'm using the amazing esp8266 chip to provide a WiFi connection to the robot and network them all together. Snag is each robot (and whatever we use to tell them what to do) needs to know the network address of all the other robots. 

There's a technology known as mDNS that is supposed to make this easy. It's a local area network version of the Domain Name System that ties the internet together. It uses cunning broadcasts so that systems can find themselves and exchange messages. It's also the basis of the Apple Bonjour zero configuration networking, and there's now an api you can use with Windows 10 Universal Applications to allow them to find and use devices on the local network. 

I couldn't make it work. I tried for a few days and then I used an old software development trick. I asked someone for help. That someone was number one son, who actually took the trouble to read the DNS documentation and tell me what I was doing wrong. And we fixed it.

During our investigations we used an awesome tool called Wireshark. This can capture all the packets on a network, and then provides a set of fantastic tools that let you decode the messages. I think it's great fun to play with, even if you don't have a problem to solve. There's something fascinating about seeing all the messages bouncing around the cable. 

The good news is that we'll be able to appear with a bunch of Hullpixelbots, turn them on and have them all find each other and be found by other machines. I'll publish the software when it's in a state fit for the outside world.

Of Smoke Alarms and Amazon Reviews

Smoke alarm with free advice to would-be artists

Smoke alarm with free advice to would-be artists

During recent household decorating shenanigans we lost our Smoke Alarm. So I bought a replacement, what with not wanting to wake up dead one night. The new smoke alarm is probably very good at detecting fire. It's definitely very good at detecting steam. It went nuts after I'd had my shower, much to my annoyance. It's in exactly the same spot as its predecessor, which was no problem at all. 

A quick search of the Amazon reviews found that yes, this model is known for steam powered false alarms. Incidentally, the reviews for smoke alarms were an interesting read.  There were lots of reviews mentioning how small and neat the alarms were, how quickly they were delivered, but hardly any along the lines of "If it hadn't gone off that night when the bread maker started to smoulder we'd all have died in our beds...."

However, the good news is that a proper search of the area turned up the original (and a lot newer looking than I remember) alarm which has been fitted with batteries and is now working a treat. At least I think it is. 

Cosmic Catch and Coup at Simon's

If I'd kept it in the package it might be worth a fortune. But then I wouldn't have had a chance to play with it.....

If I'd kept it in the package it might be worth a fortune. But then I wouldn't have had a chance to play with it.....

Simon was kind enough to invite us round to a BBQ at his house today. We played Cosmic Catch and Coup. I bought a Cosmic Catch ball quite a while back. It's a bit hard to get hold of now. The ball comes with six coloured tags that players wear on their hands. Then you can play games which involve the ball telling you which way to throw it next. Great fun. After a few go's at that, and some great BBQ food for me the action switched to indoors and some very intense games of Coup.

Coup is awesome. The great thing about Coup is that it doesn't matter what cards you have. The only thing that really matters is what you say they are. Although actually for me it did matter a few times, so I ended up beaten in every game. But number one wife, who started the game with the happy advantage that nobody thought she would claim to have cards she didn't, manage to win twice. 

Many thanks to Simon and his family for organising such a lovely event. 

Pocket C.H.I.P.

I bought another computer today. Big News. But it is really, really, nice. And cheap. Pocket C.H.I.P.

It's based on a nine dollar device that is quite astonishing in terms of what you get for the money, which is a 1G processor, 512K of RAM, 4G of built in storage. Plus WiFi, Bluetooth and the ability to add video displays and any USB device that your particular flavour of Linux will support.

It looks like a worthy Raspberry Pi competitor. I've gone for the Pocket variant, which comes with a case, a nice looking (resistive) touch display and cute looking pink labelled buttons which might match your nail varnish. Or not. 

I've got Peter to thank for this purchase. You can find his review (he's actually played with one) here

Big Fun Hardware Meetup

Firstly, if you were planning on coming to the Hardware Meetup tonight I'm sorry about the traffic problems. These were caused by road closures for the Hull Freedom Festival which is this weekend. And during our meetup we had an awesome choir practising on the stage near c4di.

It was great to see some new faces in amongst the regulars. I gave out four or so Hull Pixelbot chassis and I'm looking forward to seeing some working robots next time we meet up. It was a great atmosphere and there seem to be lots of things going on at the moment, which is lovely. If you want to come along too you can sign up here

And you can find our more about the Hull Pixelbot, including new revised assembly instructions, here.