What skills and technologies would you focus on for the next couple of years?

Here’s my list:

Digital not IT
Git more than SVN
Javascript over Java
JSON more than XML
Python more than PHP
Ruby even more than Rails
German more than French
Mandarin more than German
Kano more than Moscow
Kanban more than Scrum
Kaizen more than perfection
Agile much more than PRINCE2
In fact, agile rather than any specific methodology
Inquisitiveness rather than idealism
Curating more than collecting
Content design more than SEO
User needs not requirements
User research not instinct
Making more than writing
Doing more than talking
Cloud more than tin
Data not patents
Open not closed

While there’s value in (some of) the things on the right, I value the things on the left more.


Suggestions from other lovely people:

 

 

BlinkyTape bike indicators

I made a bike light indicator system out of a BlinkyTape, a PowerMonkey rechargeable battery and some Loom Bands.

BlinkyTape bike indicators

It starts off with the central front LEDs lit up bright white, and pressing the button on the BlinkyTape switches between steads/left/right indicator modes.

BlinkyTape bike indicators

The PowerMonkey is a simple little 5v rechargeable battery, with a variety of adaptors for charging various phones etc. It makes an ideal portable power source for the BlinkyTape.

BlinkyTape bike indicators

Here’s a video of it in action.

And I’ve put the source code online too.

I’ve also been experimenting with using the BlinkyTape PatternPaint app to do some light painting.

BlinkyTape Light painting with the BlinkyLight

Lots more fun to have here.

Posting as Holden Caulfield on Secret

I finally found a way to make Secret less boring.

I spent a week posting and responding to comments using carefully selected quotes from Holden Caulfield.

I gave each one the same background (crimson denim) and I dropped the initial capital on each one in an effort to make the quotes slightly less formal.

Catcher in the Rye is a classic, and full of brilliant angst ridden quotes that are indistinguishable from most of what’s on Secret anyway.

Finding relevant quotes to use in replies was fun.

Sometimes it worked better than others.

Some that I expected to work really well didn’t get any replies at all. I expect I need more friends using Secret to make this work really well.

I gradually started to use more obvious quotes and eventually got spotted.

I had lots of replies from people who seemed to take them at face value though. And unless you knew the book well, why wouldn’t you?

One anonymous friend was horrified at Holden’s use of English.

Holden’s attitude to women and sex isn’t all that great, let’s be honest.

I’m glad someone called him on it in the comments.

Custom KSP controller and display

Here’s my custom controller and display for Kerbal Space Program.

Fitted

Last year, after seeing this custom controller, I was suitably inspired. I wanted to build a simple physical device to control launch/stage, throttle, landing gear, lights, and maybe some custom stages. I knocked up a quick hack just to get a feel for how well it worked, using cardboard, a handful of switches I already had lying around, and a Teensy development board which can act as a USB keyboard.

Untitled  Untitled

Using a simple controller with physical switches and buttons as alternatives to keyboard keys was fun to use, but I was soon annoyed every time my hands had to go across to the keyboard – and especially the mouse – when checking things like radar altimeter, periapsis, time to apoapsis etc.

I soon wanted not just switches but screens and dials I could glance at. I especially knew I needed a physical radar altimeter. (Landing safely is hard!) What I needed was a way to get the data out of KSP.

Ideally, I thought, someone would have written a KSP plugin to give me easy access to live data about velocity, altitude, fuel levels, periapsis apoapsis, time to periapsis and apoapsis, height from terrain, velocity, surface speed, vertical speed, sensor data etc. Ideally something simple, lightweight, readable by a hacky little program that could pass the data on through USB serial to the controller.

I was really looking for a CSV or JSON plugin for KSP. It took a bit of digging to find it, and I feared I might have to write it, but I was delighted to find the Telemachus plugin which adds a nice simple JSON API to KSP and has a fully featured web interface built on that API. I don’t use the web interface but the JSON API is great. Getting live data out of KSP and into Ruby was a nice moment.

Look at all the lovely data

Now I had an approach that I knew would work, I started putting together a wishlist of parts and putting together a simple paper prototype; a rough sketch of what components I wanted where.

KSP controller paper prototype

Having seen various voltmeter clock projects I knew I wanted to use an analog output on an Arduino to have it display live data about altitude, fuel, velocity etc.

So I started playing with LCD screens and voltmeters to work out how to display different things simultaneously.


Next I went shopping for a good range of switches

Switches

A higher fidelity prototype came next, with holes punched in the cardboard where I thought the switches screens and meters needed to be. At this stage, I learned a lot about what felt comfortable, and moved a few things around.

KSP controller prototype

Starting to put it all together.

Displays

The displays all go in to the base

Untitled

Feels satisfying already

Untitled

Testing the displays

Preparing to drill the holes

Preparing to drill

Drilled and Dremelled

Drilled and Dremelled

Everything in place

Fitted

Source code

  • Teensy code for creating key presses from switches
  • Simple Arduino code for controlling LCD screen and voltmeters
  • Beginnings of a Ruby script for passing values from the Telemachus plugin to the Arduino

Components


I’ve subsequently seen this astonishing mission control desk which I now very badly want to make for my son / self.

Quiver pen holder

Here’s how I used to carry my pen:

Before

Here’s how I do it now:

After

So much better. I really love this thing.

Things tags: Emoji, frogs and GTD contexts

I’ve been using Things as my GTD app of choice for quite a long time now. In addition to experimenting with a physical progress meter, I’ve also been fiddling around with the tags.

Using Emoji in Things tags

Things tags

And here are all of my tags and their shortcuts.

Mark Twain suggested that we “eat a live frog in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you for the rest of the day.” During my daily review I try to pick out the one thing I really don’t want to do but really should do first.

Of the priority tags, the only one I use a lot is the high priority tag (the little red circle) to help me spot the urgent/important stuff.

Although I spent far too long making this look pretty, it was really just whittling while I was thinking about contexts. Rather than tagging things according to the project (which Things handles anyway) or type of activity (which isn’t very helpful), I’m finding it useful to be able to pick out actions according to the situation and tools I have to hand. What can I do while I’m on the train? If I’m in the mood to make some phone calls, what do I need to do? What can I do that will only take 5 minutes? That sort of thing.

Tagging be people and agendas is useful too. In preparing for regular meetings, or time with certain people, it’s great to be able to quickly pull out relevant things that I need to cover.

There are some ‘Waiting for…’ tags too, useful when something has been delegated but still needs to be kept an eye on. Having different flavours means I can check the ‘chase’ ones daily and the others less frequently (usually weekly, at the moment).

You’ll also notice that absolutely everything has a keyboard shortcut. When I’m using a computer, and I mean really using a computer, I don’t like to switch between using keyboard and trackpad and I always want to be able to everything I can with keyboard shortcuts. For example: tagging actions without having to skip a beat.

Things meter

I’ve been using the Things app for a while for tracking projects and next actions with the goal of Getting Things Done. I wanted something to help me pay attention to the things I need to get done, and decided that a physical representation of daily progress would be an interesting thing to try.

The hardware build was really easy. More of a bodging together of components than anything. I dremelled out the back of the voltmeter to create a bit more room, fitted it to a small enclosure box, and squeezed the dev board into the remaining space, with the ground pin and an analog output connected to the voltmeter.

 Untitled   Untitled

The code is pretty straightforward. The Teensy runs a small program that listens for lines of text via the USB serial port and simply sets the output of the voltmeter to whatever percentage value arrives. At this stage I’ve got a simple multi-purpose percentage meter controlled trivially over USB.

Next is a Ruby script that listens for changes to the Things app, works out how many of the tasks in the ‘Today’ screen have been marked as completed today, and sends that percentage to the USB serial port. It’s like a physical progress bar for things I want to get done today. A done dial for life.

I’m going to try it for a while and see how it works. There are probably lots of other things that a progress meter would help with too.

Untitled

Components:

Lightspeed i-Helicopter and Turbo Drone mini quadrocopter – hands on reviews

The lovely folks at Paramountzone sent me a couple of shiny new toys to review.

First, the Lightspeed i-Helicopter with on-board camera.

Lightspeed iHelicopter

As always with these Lightspeed choppers, you get a good selection of extra bits in the box, including two rotor blades and two tail rotors. With this one, you also get an 2 GB micro SD card which needs to be slotted into the camera so it can store the photos and videos, and a USB micro SD card reader for transferring the files to a computer.

Lightspeed iHelicopter

This is a slightly larger version of the original Lightspeed i-Helicopter. Making room for the underslung camera by raising the height of the skids.

Lightspeed iHelicopters

Obviously, the eye catching new feature here is the camera. The picture quality, at 680×480 (with 25 frames per second for video) is far from HD, but it’s not terrible either.

How does it fly? It’s what you’d expect from a 3 channel coaxial helicopter. Up, down, forward, back, turn left, turn right. Lots of fun as a first helicopter, though frustrating if you’ve used 4 channel RC choppers (which add the freedom to also strafe or ‘crab’ left + right). It’s definitely sturdy enough, and by dropping the power before a crash landing (to protect the blades) it’ll take a lot of punishment indoors. I’ve crashed it, a lot, with no ill effects. It’s not really designed for outdoor flight, thought I’m very tempted to try it (on a very still day) if only to get some impressive footage of flying outside.

The box boasts that the Copter Controller app is “compatible with iPhone iPod iPad” but warns you to “check website for Android compatibility”. Pleasingly, when you do, it works on a wide range of devices.

Lightspeed iHelicopter

Downs:

  • quite long charging time (~45-50 minutes charging for ~6-7 minutes flight time)
  • the same USB cable has to be used to charge the chopper and the transmitter separately. If both are flat you’ll be waiting for a while before you can fly
  • lack of tactile feedback on the remote (i.e. your phone/tablet) means you’re looking down at the app a lot, especially to control the throttle. The controls for taking photos and video is a bit small and fiddly on small screen too.
  • doesn’t live stream video to the app (though for this money you might not expect that)

Ups:

  • cute little lightweight camera lets you capture in-flight photos and video
  • nice selection of spares (and a screwdriver) in the box
  • comes with a 2 GB micro SD card and (impressively) a USB micro SD card reader
  • Copter Controller app is pretty good and the motion control is fun once you get the hang of it
  • good app support for both iOS and Android

Second, I also got a chance to play with the new Turbo Drone super quadrocopter.

Turbo Drone quadrocopter

Have I ever mentioned that I love quadrocopters? Opening this box was super exciting.

Turbo Drone quadrocopter

It comes preassembled, obviously. Small and light but sturdy. It fits neatly in the palm of my hand.

Turbo Drone quadrocopter

It comes with spares for all four blades, not one but two batteries, and a USB charger which can charge either one battery at a time or both batteries at once.

Two batteries charging

Compared to the older, bigger Turbo Drone I reviewed last year, this one is a lot smaller. Having flown both, I think that for this sort of toy, bigger isn’t always better.

Turbo Drone quadrocopters

This new smaller model is a lot more fun to fly indoors. It needs less room to manoeuvre, it feels less scary to crash it into furniture and it feels really nimble and powerful.

The large arrow on the case, the colour of the blades (red = front, black = read) and the colour of the LEDs (blue = front, red = rear for some reason) all help know which way it’s facing.

Turbo Drone quadrocopter

The remote has an adjustable sensitivity setting. 20%, 40%, 60%, 80%, useful when gaining confidence and moving and turning more and more quickly. The 100% setting (which makes the remote controller screen change colour from blue to orange so you see it at a glance) is not really a further 20% of sensitivity, but rather moves the device into full on insanity mode and unlocks the ability to flip the drone.

Downs:

  • while I love the futuristic-angered-hornet noise, my wife is not a massive fan of the sound
  • not yet convinced about the 100% sensitivity mode. Maybe I just need more practice to understand what’s going on, but the hardware assisted flips, while fun, don’t feel entirely under my control

Ups:

  • so fast! Really powerful for such a small beast
  • not bad charging times (~30 minutes charging for ~9 minutes flight time)
  • two batteries and ability to charge them at the same time or charge one while flying the other means more flying, less waiting around
  • really sturdy little frame doesn’t mind being dropped (which is handy, as I crash it a lot). Silicone base makes for a softer landing and reduces the scary rattling when making a controlled crash-landing
  • 2.4Ghz radio controller allows for control over a long distance and multiple devices in the same place
  • apparently copes well outdoors if the wind isn’t too bad. I can believe it (it’s rather powerful), though haven’t tried it yet

Both are good, but of the two, this is definitely the one I’d recommend. Easily the most fun remote controlled toy I’ve tried (and my collation is getting pretty good) and the one I’ll be most excited to master. Of all the RC helicopters Paramountzone are selling at the moment, this and the 4 channel V911 helicopter are probably the best value and most exciting.

There’s something in the wood shed

While installing a new stove, we wanted somewhere to store and dry logs. Handily, our garden shed was half rotten. Chopping it up and leaving the good half (with re-designed sides to let the air circulate) was a fun afternoon. Almost as satisfying as stacking the shed ready for winter.

During After
Before Logs! After

Changing rooms

Earlier this year, we bought six 5’7″ x 10″ x 1″ planks from Romsey Reclamation. After seasoning them for two months stacked up in the garage, plus a further month in the house, they were ready to sand and wax.

Oak. Bought as raw green planks, seasoned at home and now ready for sanding After sanding

A bit of work, but a whole lot cheaper (and more fun) than buying finished oak shelves.

The shelves form part of a some work we’ve been doing in our living room including a log burning stove.

Before Work Began Day 2 - Building the Chimney
Day 4 - Test Fire Plastered and Painted
Shelves Up All Finished - Cosy and Comfy ready for Winter

All cosy and ready for winter.

Powered by WordPress with GimpStyle Theme design by Horacio Bella.
The postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent my employer's positions, strategies or opinions.