The all-new Apple Watch

Ok, I admit it. I sat in bed one morning a few weeks back and pre-ordered the all-singing, all-dancing Apple Watch. The week before I’d received one of the Apple marketing emails suggesting that I book an appointment in store to try one one….so I did. That was an experience. The enthusiastic Apple employee had a wide flat box which he opened with great reverence. Inside was a small selection of Apple watches in different sizes with different straps. I tried on the pinkish leather strap with the very expensive shiny white metal watch. I can’t be bothered to recall all the fancy names – The watches come in grey matt and black matt, these are the cheapest versions although the term ‘cheap’ is relative. Then there are the shiny silver coloured ones with some sort of even harder glass on the face. These are the mid-range. Top of the range are the insanely expensive gold ones. Lets not go there.

Anyway, I attempted to try on the pinkish leather strap 38mm version. I say attempted because this version only comes in a small and, although female, I realised that my bones are just not that small and I couldn’t even fasten the thing up. Shame because it was a beautifully made strap. The employee went into ecstasies about how the leather came from some little artisan leather place (in France I think) where they beat it until it was super soft and enclosed within in some form of man-made super strong material that meant it wouldn’t stretch. For that price I’d have expected it to have been hand beaten on a remote island on the shores of Australia.

I tried on all the other versions that Apple-Chap had, but he didn’t have the sports band ones I was really interested in. I could not leave his precious box, so he called over to another employee who produced a sports band that I tried on. It felt really good, although this one was a large 42mm so really rather too big for me. I wasn’t all that keen on some of the fastening mechanisms of some straps. The Milanese for example, was very comfortable, looked really nice, but fastened by magnets. You simply wrapped it around your wrist and it held like glue. To take it off, you simply picked the end up away from the other part and peeled it off. It struck me that this would be very easy for a thief to do. We’ve all seen magicians who can remove someone’s watch by undoing the strap without them even noticing. I think this strap would be a gift.

I decided to order myself one, after a few days reflection. I am getting increasingly long sighted and my current watch has a tiny face – I can’t really tell the time on it. I can squint and guess or put my glasses on, but in reality I’m wandering around without much awareness of the time. I chose a cool green sports watch. When I confirmed the order, I was dismayed to see a delivery date of June, but hey ho, maybe I’d left it a bit too late.

The big launch date of 24th April loomed near, and to my surprise I got an email notifying me that my watch was on its way. Friends who had ordered watches the same day had no such email.

The day arrived and I worked from home, eagerly awaiting the arrival of my package. Mid afternoon, a delivery arrived of a long thin very heavy parcel. It looked and felt about the size of a piece of car suspension and I couldn’t imagine how this heavy long thin brick-like package could be my watch. I ripped off the paper. To my amazement, there it was. A brand spanking new Apple Watch.

I took photos as I revelled in the experience of opening up a new piece of Apple Gadgetry. It doesn’t disappoint.

by Gill

Box within a box Long thin plastic box IMG_3727 IMG_3728 IMG_3733

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Raspberry Pi #PiBirthday party at Cambridge Computer Labs

I booked a place at this event the moment tickets became available on EventBrite. The are now so popular they sell out really fast. Workshops had only 20 places, and booking opened at 7:30pm on the Thursday. Needless to say, I forgot and all workshop tickets got sold out immediately. I was therefore delighted when @recantha (aka Mike Horne, organiser) emailed to say a few tickets had become available. I emailed right back pleading for one on the GPS Tape Measure workshop and got one.

The big day arrived. Arriving not long after 10, I was surprised and delighted to get given a lovely RPI 2 case as I went in. Thanks to @jarjargeek for this tweeted photo. I was too excited to get to the keynote talk and just popped the case in my pocket.

Screenshot 2015-03-02 13.29.30

I had to scoot off to get to the GPS workshop in time. It was billed as “An exciting workshop for anyone who has done a little Python programming on their Pi and now wants to take it further.” and it truly was great fun.

After a brief introduction to GPS, we typed in a small program that queried a GPS/GLONASS receiver (a powerful one suitable for cars) that was attached to a Pi to get location information. Having entered and checked the code, we dashed outside to see if it worked. However depite having a ‘fix’ my distance display did not increase as I walked. Back to the workshop to double-check the code.

IMG_3280 IMG_3281Such a minor typo! I had used a lowercase letter instead of a capital to refer to a variable with the result that a new variable was created. The increasing distance went into the real variable, while the new variable (still at zero) was displayed on the little LED display. Once sorted, back outside to test it and yippee, it worked.

Just had time to listen to another inspirational talk by David Whale on running STEM clubs, not just high level suggestions but practical tips on making sure you have all your equipment ready and ways to ensure that you don’t spend all your time putting things together and taking them apart.

After this, it was about lunchtime. So after a brief stop at the cafe and its welcome pannini and coffee, it was of to explore the stands and stalls.

So many interesting projects. So much to buy. Needless to say, I had to purchase a RPi II to go in my nifty new case. All the white bits of the case clip on in order to protect the Pi, and off again to allow you to connect things. Really practical

Quite an expensive but really interesting day. Below are a few of the pictures from the day. I loved things like the RPi used to drive a game of space invadors running on a console made out of an old arcade machine. It had been left in the damp so all the insides were rusted to pieces, but the buttons still worked so playing the game had a real feel of the old-style machines, with the little Pi inside controlling it all.

Laura’s wooden artificial intelligence (yes another RPi) was good fun. You put an object on the stand and then spoke to it using the wooden keyboard. She had put all the code she had written in a paper book – a lovely juxtapositioning of old and new, traditional materials and computer technology. Very effective.

And then there was the very loud chair that would read what you had written using sliders that you inserted into lines to make a kind of slate. 3D printers making amazing puzzles, and as I walked around I got the ‘mark of the #PiBirthday’ on my hand and a raffle ticket. I need to check today to see if I won anything 🙂  More RPis perhaps?

So much, the time went all too quickly and we left the venue to those who had bought tickets to the Pi birthday party.

IMG_3285 IMG_3287 IMG_3288 IMG_3289 IMG_3291IMG_0381


At home, I have dedicated my entire desk to the Raspberry Pi. That way I won’t have to put it away or worry about leaving cables trailing across the living room floor. My infrared camera project beckons. With the RPi II running 6 times faster (and yes, that is obvious from first boot up) the possibilities are increasing.


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2nd Annual EU Project Review for JuxtaLearn

Just got back from Luxembourg, having attended the 2nd annual project review for the JuxtaLearn project. One of the things I do during these gruelling meetings is type didactic notes of everything the reviewers say or ask, and also of their final comments. They usually send their recommendations out about three weeks later. Yesterday I typed 7028 words and captured pretty much everything. The review was tough, but fair. The reviewers picked up on absolutely every weak point – any partner who was not fully integrated with the rest, any lack of progress, any over claiming. They did give us a fairly hard time, but their feedback was constructive rather than distuctive and ultimately their recommendations and conclusions will, I feel, make the project better.

It would be nice if this process could be a little less tough – but then sometimes you need to shake things up to get it moving.

As the Project Officer said – it is their responsibility to ensure that our EU contribution (looking at the UK contingent) is well spent. Cameron will be pleased to hear that 🙂

By Gill

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iPhone 6 and IOS 8 – Initial impressions

I’ve had the iPhone 6 for a day now, so I’ve not yet explored all its capabilities.

Most impressive:

  • Big screen – easy to see. When you set it up you have the option of having icons and text slightly larger which is brilliant if you are a bit long sighted. Makes it much easier to quickly use the device without scrabbling around for your glasses.
  • Fingerprint security – easy to set up and very, very accurate. A simple touch will now unlock the device, and you can still use the passcode if you want (or have forgotten about the fingertip recognition). I still remember the first IPAQ PDA that had fingerprint security – you could rub your fingertips raw trying to get the thing to unlock.
  • Suggested words (IOS 8 feature) Makes texting and emailing very much faster and predicts accurately what you are likely to put next. Just need to remember to look at it when typing.
  • Design – The gold and white version is just beautiful.
  • Light weight – The device is impressively slim and light. I’ve read about people bending them by putting them in their pocket and sitting down. To be honest, that seems like a strange thing to do with such an expensive device – akin to taking your macbook air and standing on it. There is surely a limit to what these lightweight devices should be expected to withstand. It seems robust enough to me.

Least impressive:

  • Device size – almost exactly the same size as a samsung galaxy, and they’ve even moved the on-off button to the top right side, in the same place as the galaxy. The size is not a problem to me, although I think it might be cumbersome for people with small hands. It fits find in any number of my handbags, but I wouldn’t want to carry it in a pocket as I think it would stick out and probably easily fall out. It is certainly easy to interact with the screen (email, calendar, texting, web browsing, apps etc). I’ve used it to make calls and to be honest, when on a call you don’t really notice the larger size.
    It does seem fairly big. I’m out Morris dancing all weekend with only a bum-bag to hold the essentials so I hope the iPhone 6 fits in the zip pocket and is strong enough to withstand being carried around in that way. I will not be impressed if it bends! None of my other iPhones suffer in a bum bag.
    Watch this space for the results of the iPhone6/Morris Dancing Bum Bag test.

I have barely scratched the surface of the new IOS 8 and iPhone 6 functionality, and will post more once I’ve had longer to use it. So far, I am not disappointed.

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Reserving an iPhone 6

iPhone 6

iPhone 6, newly emerged from its box

It didn’t take long for me to crack and purchase a new iPhone 6. On Tuesday I wandered into the store and said “I’d like to buy an iPhone please”.

How silly of me. In fact they are so popular you need to go online and reserve one to collect in store if you want to be able to walk out with one. Alternatively you can order one online and wait 7-10 days for delivery.

Having made my decision, I asked for more detail about how to reserve. There is a quite complex series of links to click on the Apple UK website, but ultimately, if you do it right, you get to a screen with the link Make a reservation on it. This brings you to two fields in which you specify 1. the Store and 2. the model iPhone you wish to reserve.

You are then presented with a screen showing a grid of the three colours, black, gold and silver and the three storage capacities, 16Gb, 64Gb and 128Gb. Within this grid, all displayed as “none available”.

The stores get their deliveries around midnight and I was recommended to go online at 6am to reserve. I asked if it would not be better to go online earlier and was told, yes, that might be better.

That night I was out at Morris dance practice, so was home late at midnight. I checked the website and the “service currently unavailable” message displayed. I was quite excited. Presumably they were in the process of updating the system with the new arrivals.

I went back online again at about 2am to 2:15am, and amazingly some iPhone 6 models had gone already- all the 16Gb were unavailable, and some of the 64Gb, but the 128Gb was still available in all colours. So, I ordered one for collection inshore at noon.

Next morning, despite my late night I awoke early. Worked all morning, headed to the Apple store at lunch time and soon became the proud owner of an iPhone 6. Trouble was, I needed to work the afternoon, so work I did with the promise of the excitement of opening the box and revealing my new iPhone as my end of work treat. It was great.

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Health and Safety Assessment

Over the course of my career, I have completed many (10 to 20) health and safety assessments. I score 100%. Today was no exception.

Perhaps it is due to workload, but I am reluctant to waste 30 minutes doing repeated health and safety assessments with associated tedious tutorials. However, after ignoring the most recent request I got the “Failure to comply” email

Your Line Manager will now be contacted to help you comply with your Workstation training and assessment which can be accessed by going to the link below :

Reluctantly I put myself through the slow tutorials. Having done it so many times below, I was limited only by the speed at which the little animations displayed. I worked out the fastest way to get through the tutorial. I really hate the way the tutorial delays the display of the buttons to allow you to move to the next step for a period of time that it assumes you need to read the text and/or perform the little formative test. I know the answers so I merely skim-read the text and was waiting to move on. Finally I got to the test-proper, completed it and received my usual 100%

This technique got the process down to a mere 20 minutes.

However reading the final report, it had a few action points – a suggested further assessment because I work at several locations (including my home office), and a requisition for a docking station for my laptop with separate keyboard.

I don’t want either, so I checked the boxes to say that these actions were complete and ended up with an “all green” report.

I understand and approve of adhering to Health and Safety guidelines. But I am insulted by the fact that the process appears to assume that I cannot remember these guidelines from one year to the next. I was able to reduce the time spent on this assessment to just under 20 minutes. It was a wasted 20 minutes. I did not learn anything that I did not already know (as shown by the usual 100% score).

I do know that I get eye ache from my work, quite badly because I’ve worked with computers for some years and although I can score 100% on the Health and Safety assessment, this does not mean that I remember to incorporate the guidelines into my own practice. Sometimes there just isn’t enough time to break off and give your eyes a rest. This is probably more of a workload issue than a health and safety one, but forcing me to spend an unnecessary 20 minutes in front of a screen doing the H&S assessment does not help.

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Raspberry Jam Event Planning – London 6:30pm tonight

Not been to any Raspberry Jam’s since before the summer. Those that were on clashed with times I was away, and when I was available, I couldn’t find any that were near enough to be convenient. So….I’m going to see what it takes to host my own. Or at the very least, after tonights event I should be able to offer some practical help to others bowing the Raspberry Jams. Watch this space for an update on how things went

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MK Raspberry Jam 28th April 2013

I took lots of photos at this jam, intending to publish a rich blog post about everything I saw. Sadly events and work overtook me and I didn’t get around to doing it. Reluctant to waste the photos, I decided to blog them now, and add in more text as I find my notes.


Raspberry PI as a media wall

PI driven media wall


Raspberry PI driven arduino on £10 car chassis

Raspberry PI driven arduino on £10 car chassis


Raspberry PI camera

Raspberry PI camera


Raspberry PI mounted on a screen

Raspberry PI mounted on a screen 


PI, old computer book and OU Senseboard

      PI, old computer book and OU Senseboard


PI as motion detector

PI as motion detector

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8th Raspberry Jam – Milton Keynes

I was away in Februrary, so missed the 7th Raspberry Jam. However Easter Sunday saw me up bright and early (even earlier than it would have been due to the hour going forward) heading for the National Museum of Computing in Bletchley Park for the 8th Milton Keynes Raspberry Jam.

Despite being held on Easter Day, the event was more full than I have ever seen it. There were 30 to 40 people there and lots of projects on show. So many that it was difficult to get to see them all.

Paul, on his first visit, had brought along his PI hooked up to a webcam demonstrating face recognition.

Ant had brought along a little red car chassis on which he had mounted an arduino which he could program from the Pi and which would then run the program to control the car’s movements.

Robert was thinking of ways of bundling collections of bits together so that people could buy sets that would allow them to try out different things on the Pi without having to source all the different components from different places.

Dave Whaley gave a fascinating talk about his work as a STEM ambassador, taking the Raspberry Pi into schools. He described his experience of students falling into two camps, one type who wanted to download things and get them working on the Pi, the others who wanted to actually program the Pi. He also talked about Minecraft as an interesting way of engaging students. I’d recommend a visit to his blog for some inspirational ideas.

There was a guy who had designed and built a very attractive artefact incorporating a Raspberry Pi with big colourful buttons. More about this later.

One of the museum volunteers (sorry, I’ll remember his name later) was using the Pi to enable disabled people to play music, chatting about the challenges of reproducing not just the note of a guitar string, but also the way it fades in as you press your finger on the string, was really fascinating.

I brought along some technology used in OU technology modules. The senseboard used in the current TU100 “My Digital Life” course. This uses Sense, a modified version of Scratch, to teach visual programming. Unlike the Pi, it needs to be connected to a computer, however it has some nifty features including build-in LEDs, audio input, various sensors and a stepped motor that you can attach and program using sense.



I also brought along the old Desmond used in, I think, the 90s as well as a microprocessor.




Microprocessor from OU Electronics course

After the jam, I went around the museum. I would definitely recommend this to anyone. It was absorbing. The talks were well worth listening to, and colossus was amazing. We had to be ushered out as they were closing the doors at 5pm! Definitely going again.

By Gill

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Raspberry Pi – getting started

I’m still not sure about how easy the Pi would be for a 12 year old without computer savvy parents to get into, but I’ve had good fun. The first thing I did was browse the Internet and join the Raspberry Pi google circle. I wanted to see what others were doing with it. I discovered a Raspberry Jam event being held at The Compiter museum at Bletchley Park and went Long to that on my own. Thais was a really good move. I made some friends and came away really inspired by what people had done, and keen to try out some things for myself.

However work intervened, and I got my hands on a Senseboard used by theOU course TU100, My digital life. This is actuallu related to work, but in addition to that my goal is now to get the Raspberry Pi to control things through the Senseboard.

Meanwhile I went to my 2nd Raspberry Jam event, met up with some people from the previous week, and met some new ones. Many people bring along their projects and you can chat about what they’ve done. If somebody is having a problem, say with Python coding, there is usually somebody at the Jam with the skills to help.

What really impressed me is how friendly everyone is, and what a tremendous buzz there is for the entire 2 hours (although we tend to hang around longer chatting.

Everyone was really interested in my Senseboard, so I’ve promised to take it along next time I go. I also met one of the chaps who was involved in designing the Senseboard which was really interesting.

As to what I’ve done with the Pi so far. Well, I’ve played with Scratch, and I’m using Sense on the Senseboard which was developed based on Scratch. I’m not sure if it will do everything I want, or if I’ll have to have a go at Python. Scratch is certainly good fun, and sense is even better because of all the outputs on the Senseboard (LEDs, motors etc) that you can control.

I’ve just bought two new SD cards and flashed the raspbmc distribution onto one of them. This was developed by Sam Nazarko and aims to turn the PI into a full media streaming centre. It was a bit scary as it would be rather easy to reformat my hard drive if I weren’t careful to specify the right disk, but I was careful 🙂  It’s just finished downloading itself from the Internet so I’m going to see what it can do. Note my little Raspberry Pi at the bottom driving it all. Really neat

Raspberry Pi as a media centre

Playing media on the TV through the Pi

By Gill 

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