Hursley 3D Printing Expo


D’oh, looks like I missed a swarm of 3d printers in Hursley recently! I wonder if anyone has printed a model of the house/site yet.

I’m still looking for even a vaguely plausible excuse to splash out on a 3d printer, but printing models or new 3d printers still isn’t quite enough to justify the money (or space these days)!

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Recent hacktivity


This time of year seems to be hacking season and over the last few days I’ve been along to two hackdays!

Friday was IBM’s internal Social Business Hackday. There was some MQTT hacking, a z/OS hack, hacks with Lotus Connections, hacks that could be the future of Lotus Connections, and I was attempting to hack a work around for a Jazz work item. And that was just at the Hursley local event! We were able to link up with a few other labs, but over two days there were IBMers hacking around the globe. There are going to be a lot of amazing projects to choose from when it comes to voting.

(There are a few more photos from HackDay X, and previous hackdays, on the IBM hackday group on flickr.)

For round two, today was the soutHACKton hack day. By the time I arrived the soldering and drilling had already begun!! Unfortunately I wasn’t able to stay long so I’m hoping there’ll me more of these in the future. I did just about have time to try out an idea I had to hack an old doorbell to sense people using the door knocker. A while ago I had accidentally created a touch sensor with a 555 timer while attempting to build another circuit. So my cunning plan was to deliberately create a 555 touch switch and connect it to the bolt on the inside of the front door. Unfortunately the best I could manage today was a two wire touch sensor, which isn’t going to work. At least not without leaving a wire hanging out of the letter box with some instructions attached! Unless someone who knows more about electronics can suggest a plan B, I may just resort to a boring doorbell button instead!!

Nationwide TalkBack


I was invited to a Nationwide TalkBack event at St Mary’s stadium on Thursday, which turned out to be pretty good. The evening started with a buffet before Matthew Wyles kicked of the main Q&A session with a short talk. It was a lively presentation and I got the impression that there was a genuine desire to keep members informed and answer questions candidly. I was almost tempted to ask their views on security problems in the banking industry, or why the same rules for windfalls don’t apply to all members, but there were plenty of other questions, and Jo was keen not to delay the second part of the evening: a tour of the stadium.

Before even getting to the tour itself, the name of the room where the main part of the TalkBack event was held will be familiar to anyone who has flown from the Matt Le Tissier International Airport:

Next stop, after more food that is, was the players area of the stadium, starting with the corridor leading to the dressing rooms and of course the pitch:

There have been some big visitors to St Mary’s recently, like the Bees, oh and some team from Manchester, who get a decent enough dressing room:

While, unsurprisingly, Saints players get something a little more flash:

Outside was slightly quieter than the last time we were there, but Jo looked quite at home on the bench:

Past Saints players get to sit a little further from the pitch in their executive box, where we got a good view of the groundsman’s attempts to trick the grass in to growing (the lights weren’t for our benefit):

Apparently Stephen Fry’s grandfather used to play for Southampton but the, slightly more impressive, claim that he was offered the Albanian throne may not actually be true. Good story for the tours though! Finally, after an excellent evening, we passed a rather large paint pot and headed home:

So if you’re a Nationwide member I would recommend going to a TalkBack event if you get the opportunity, especially if you have any questions, or have had any problems; there were plenty of people on hand for one to one discussions before and after the main session. Plus a tour of St Mary’s is definitely worth it if you get the chance; it is a nice stadium… maybe a bit big, but very nice!

Update: there’s now a short article about the Southampton TalkBack on the Nationwide Members’ Zone. (18 February 2011)

Geek Camp


As Jo was cheerfully telling someone on the phone on Monday, I was “at geek camp” at the start of the week, which was the second ‘camp’ I’ve been to recently. Still not entirely sure what they have to do with camping but here’s a quick summary of what they were about.

BarCamp Southampton

Southampton’s first BarCamp was held in not one, but two bars at the end of November; I think it needed two so that there was room for all the food! Chris has posted a much more detailed report, and Tony has a gallery of photos from the day, but these are the bits I remember:

And since it was more than a week ago, that’s pretty much all I can remember. Definitely a good day though, and the food and drink (plentiful tea) was excellent!

Design London

Ok, so not technically a camp, but a small detour on the way to Monday’s home camp to visit a 3D stereoscopic visualisation system. Nigel has been on secondment from IBM to Design London, and I’ve been meaning to drop in to see what he’s been up to for a while.

I have to say, I was more impressed by the 3D system than I was expecting, even with a couple of technical hitches while I was there. (I didn’t touch anything honestly!) Essentially it’s just a wall and floor screen with two (very bright) projectors each, polarising lenses and Shrek glasses. Ok, probably not Shrek glasses, as far as I know, but the same kind of thing. Actually, one of the most interesting things about the glasses was the head tracking markers which were stuck to them. These were an asymmetrical arrangement of reflective blobs on stalks, picked up by an array of infra-red cameras. They looked like an extension of the ordinary plastic frame of the glasses, but the texture gave away a 3D printer at work. A great example of the potential of 3D printing.

Nigel demonstrated a few projects that have made use of the system, and it’s immediately clear that this is more than just a 3D monitor, or even a 3D cinema screen. Particularly with the oil rig model he showed me, there’s a real sense of scale and there are some obvious advantages to really getting to know your way round a place like this before going on site. There are just so many possibilities for this technology, but moving swiftly on to the next camp…

HomeCamp 3

After Design London, and a quick stop to have a play with a Galaxy Tab (it’s soooo shiny!), it was time for some home hacking. Thanks to Mike for getting something organised before the end of the year, and thanks to all the excellent speakers as well.

It was also great to catch up with (another) Nigel and hear about the MSc he’s doing at the Centre for Alternative Technology. It sounds like there really is no such thing as a free lunch when it comes to energy, with some very interesting side effects to off shore wind farms and wave power.

It’s always good to hear what Usman and Pachube are up to. One of the things they have been up to this year was hiring Ben and I had a thought provoking chat with them about their extended tagging features. It also seems that I’m not the only one pumping data in to Pachube, but not getting much data out. Must do something about that.

Lots of other ideas floating around during the evening, including a USB 3 low voltage system with solar panels, a battery pack and some efficient AC-DC conversion which sounded interesting. Plus tablets seem like a really good way to add visuals to your elevator pitch!

The conversation didn’t slow down on the train home either, with Laura and Sophie talking about design, wire frames, nabaztag smart rabbits, exactly the kind of projects that Georgina was describing in her homesense presentation, and some very (very) cool sounding documentation automation stuff from Ana Nelson. (A bit like a micro Home Camp unleashed on a train. Maybe the Real Ale Train would be a good venue for a future event!)

So, not all that geeky really…

Update: according to Ken, that low voltage dc household power distribution system was from Moixa Technology. (23 January 2011)

It takes two


For anyone who couldn’t hear at the back (or perhaps even missed the live version completely!) here’s a recap of my slightly random BarCamp Southampton lightning talk. The loosely-connected-to-the-theme-of-the-day title on the schedule was:

AR Twinning or The perils of Town Twinning – modernising with augmented reality

As you drive in to many towns, you’ll probably recognise a sign like this:

Not the snow, although maybe that will start looking familiar, or “Hedge End”, or even the useful driving tip, but the bit in between; “Twinned with…” In this case a town in Belgium that I know almost nothing about. (I really should try and find out how to pronounce the name.)

It wasn’t the signpost that inspired the lightning talk though; it was an announcement in the local newsletter that the twinning association was dissolving. I wonder how many people could name the places their town is twinned with, know anything about it, have visited, or even know why towns have twins, so I’m not all that surprised about Hedge End’s lack of interest in twinning activities.

So is there a way to revitalise town twinning? Something that might help is lowering the barriers to participation; not everyone can commit to formal activities or take on permanent roles in a twinning association. Providing a means for ad hoc encounters between people in the twinned towns could naturally lead to more interest in finding out more and getting more involved. But how do you do that when Hedge End and Comines-Warneton are around 300km apart?

You could create some Twinning 2.0 social web site but for me that somehow loses the physical connection between the towns. Why would you choose people in one town over anywhere else in the world? Would a shared physical space be possible and, if so, would it stimulate more interest in an otherwise remote place?

So my hair brained scheme involves a signpost in each town. Not the kind you drive past, but one right in the centre pointing the way to the twinned town. A traditional sign from Hampshire might look something like this:

I had less luck finding one for Belgium, but you get the general idea:

If a town only has one twin, it might be a nice touch to switch the signs round, so Hedge End would have a sign post you’d normally see in Comines-Warneton.

Next, add some ambient indication of what’s going on at the other sign. In particular, it needs to catch people’s attention if there is anyone near the remote sign. Winchester’s Luminous Motion might provide some inspiration here:

This sculpture only reacts when it receives a text message, but the twinned signposts would need to communicate with each other automatically, and pachube could be an ideal way to do just that:

So if you’re walking past the sign post in Hedge End, and it indicates that there is someone near the sign post in Comines-Warneton, what next? With modern smart phones and augmented reality the possibilities are endless, from a simple chat, to video feeds, to exchanging town photos, to virtual tours, to AR games, to anything people in the towns come up with.

I realise of course that not everyone has these kind of devices (me included) but there’s a library in Hedge End which could conceivably loan them to people. Some of the activities would also be possible via any internet connection, but now there’s a highly visible physical focal point in each town providing an anchor to tie it all together. At least, that’s the theory!

I did finish the talk by claiming it would never happen, but it would be really nice to be proved wrong, and maybe the two sign posts could exist in a virtual form to begin with. Thanks to everyone who was there for the lightning talk in person, and thanks to everyone who made BarCamp Southampton happen… but that’s for another post.

Update: thanks to Katy’s comments below, I’m very excited to discover that Murrhardt actually has a fingerpost pointing to its twins! (28 November 2010)

Images © their respective owners :

  • Hedge End sign – Jim Hart
  • Map – OpenStreetMap contributors, cc by-sa
  • Corhampton sign – Jim Champion, cc by-sa
  • N333 sign – Faz Besharatian, cc by-nc-sa
  • Luminous motion – Sumit, cc by-nc-sa
  • Pachube – Connected Environments Ltd.
  • Noticings Layer – James Bridle, cc by-nc-nd

Tea pigs and traditional English ale


It’s about time I continued the series of tearoom related posts with a long overdue review of Ginger Two. In other drink related news, the Southampton beer festival has been running the last few days, so there’s a slight change to the previous two tearoom format. Unfortunately my acronym based link between the two is more tenuous than it might have been since the Hogs Back Brewery’s Traditional English Ale wasn’t even at the festival. Oh well.

Ginger Two, Winchester

Ginger Two is tucked just out of the way off the High Street. Winchester has much more choice for tea and coffee these days but this is definitely my favourite. We’ve been here before and they seem to have increased the amount of space they have since our last visit, so I guess they must be fairly popular.

We ordered cream teas this time; unfortunately they didn’t arrive, so we weren’t able to assess the jam to cream ratio. Apparently they noticed that the scones weren’t fresh enough. I’m impressed they care that much about the quality of the food they serve. (I wonder what they would make of Gavin’s misguided views on how to apply the jam and cream!)

Plan B was cheese scones with chutney, which I’d order again just for the smell! I’m a big fan of cheese and chutney so everything worked out nicely there.

I haven’t been anywhere else where the tea comes in temples but they do make an excellent brew. We even indulged in some tea pigs of our own to keep us going until our next visit, although you don’t get many in a box so I think we’ll be saving them for special occasions!

Southampton Beer Festival

I almost missed the beer festival this year but thanks to Twitter I managed to get hold of a ticket at the last minute. I had the usual dilemma of whether to try some of the local beers, or stick to beers from further afield which I’m less likely to see. I had a few from Hampshire last year so decided to do the opposite this year. Having flicked through the list of Hampshire beers after the event, it appears that I might have chosen unwisely! Apparently Botta’s Best is brewed just down the road in Botley- will have to try and find that somewhere before next year. Any ideas?

Of the tiny fraction of beers I managed to try, I think these two were my favourite:

  • Heritage Ale (Three Castles, Wiltshire)
  • Eddystone (South Hams, Devon)

And the wooden spoon goes to:

  • Chimera IPA (Downton, Wiltshire)

Of course they were all a million times better than anything at my local!

Weather Underground + Mashup Hub + Pachube = orb food


The hardware side of my ambient orb project is almost finished, so I’ve been making a start at the other end: getting some data to display. Top of my wish list is to display a basic weather forecast on the orbs, which looks like it could be nice and simple thanks to the very handy Weather Underground service. There’s a decent weather station nearby for current readings, and the forecast for Southampton has been pretty accurate so far, both of which are available through the Weather Underground API.

I could process the resulting XML on my home server but, having been doing some work with mashups recently, I thought I’d create a feed mashup instead. I’ve played with Yahoo Pipes in the past but this time I created a feed using Mashup Hub on Lotus Greenhouse:

So that screen shot is probably not all that helpful in understanding what’s going on; this style of graphical programming is fairly common these days but I would personally like to see more advanced ways to document and share diagrams like this. Still, this one is pretty simple, so here’s a quick overview:

  • The path at the top extracts the current temperature from the local weather station data
  • The middle path makes use of some very handy date functions in Mashup Hub to pick out entries 12 hours ahead from the forecast data
  • The bottom path does a lookup on the forecast conditions to replace a text forecast with a numeric code

Which all ends up being published as a much simpler piece of XML. I could just grab this XML directly and process it on the Arduino, or I could save some effort and convert the mashed up XML to an even simpler comma separated list using an XML to CSV converter written for the Pachube community. Well, now it would be trivial to create a Pachube feed for the weather forecast as well… so here it is

Perhaps not the most direct route for getting a weather forecast but I think it’s a nice example of how anyone can pull together data they are interested in without any programming, or a server of their own. I’m also quite please with the results of the forecasts so far; 13 C and clear tomorrow in theory!