First 3D model ordered :-/

Done it! My bike model is now in the hands of Sculpteo. There were some mesh problems with the model which isn’t really surprising but it’ll be interesting to see how/if they manage to print it out.

Now I just have to wait. But in the meantime…

3D Foray via Blender and 3DPrintshow

Some time ago I discovered the concept of 3D printing and parked it somewhere in my head for future reference (and for when a 3D printer became a real, attainable thing).

That parked memory has come to the fore again, fuelled by recent media coverage of affordable 3D printing and the even more recent discovery of the 3D Print Show.

So having decided that 3D printing looks very interesting again, I figured I’d have a go at making something, but having never used any CAD software in anger before I had to get to grips with some, and fast.

A few weeks ago I installed Blender and set about tinkering with it. It’s a bit of a beast, and I only used a fraction of it’s functionality but still managed to clumsily carve some pixels into this model:

Killer Robot of Doom (pic 1)

Killer Robot of Doom

Which is OK I suppose (my 12 year old son likes it), so I figured I’d have a go at something else and made this:


Bike (in a kind of Judge Dredd Lawmaster-inspired way)

which I quite like.

Now it remains to discover if either of these models are really printable or if they’re just too poorly constructed. Maybe tomorrow I’ll find out if there’s somewhere at the 3D print show that’ll let me have a go.

On the off-chance that one (or even both – if the planets are correctly aligned) do actually materialise out of some printer or other I’ll upload some new pics.


Monday 18 June 2012

A slower day today than of late, which was nice.

Got the last part of the Olympics data (that I’m responsible for) ready for the Guardian mobile apps, followed up with some tests and had a think about the refactoring that needs to be done.

The Euro 2012 stuff I’ve been doing over the past few weeks seems to be holding itself together nicely so far (oh no, what have I said?!)

Also, driftingbooks first drop took place, albeit 24 hours or so late due to n0tice not working when needed yesterday. Never mind, after 3 years waiting another day won’t hurt.

Getting things going

It’s nice to see a project I first thought up in 2009 starting to come to life at last.

If you’re interested, take a look at @_DriftingBooks on Twitter, Drift Ing-Books on facebook or

RaspberryPi where art thou?

Is this possibly the most thinly veiled delivery of bad news I’ve ever seen?

I’m glad you asked because yes it absolutely is… (emphasis mine)


Breakthroughs. Exhilarating, but rarely without hiccups.

A few days ago [12 days ago actually Farnell!], the Raspberry Pi Foundation announced a small manufacturing delay. A component in the Pi is being reinstalled. In the grand scheme it’s small potatoes – but we know it’s frustrating for Farnell element14 fans and customers.

Congratulations – Farnell element14 will deliver your Pi to you around early May.

We’re a proud partner of the Pi, and the sense of adventure it’s bringing to the tech community. We’ve all come to feel part of the Foundation’s big project to bring computing to all. Online, the response has been superb.

Thanks for your patience and understanding so far. Enjoy your Pi.

Farnell element14

Dystopian Barbican

So after roughly 35 years of needing a reason, I eventually visited the Barbican centre at the weekend.

Obviously I’ve known about the place for practically my whole lifetime but never really “got it” before. At first it’s a confusing mass of far-too-much-concrete, a maze of pathways, bridges, alleys and courtyards but once you’re in, and especially inside the main centre, it kind of becomes an experience, not just a venue.

As interesting as it was to explore the seemingly haphazard interior and watch the few performances that were going on on Saturday afternoon, nothing prepared me for what was waiting on the 3rd and 4th floors.

The effect of entering the indoor garden was one of being transported to a dystopian, post-human future, where nature is fighting back against the civilisation that once ravaged it, and winning quite nicely thank you. It’s momentarily like being dropped into the real-world equivalent of Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, but with fewer mechs seeking to extinguish the last remnants of human existence. Even the innocuous name lends itself nicely to a level of such a game: The Conservatory.

That probably isn’t what was intended when it was built. After all that was three-and-some-fraction decades ago, well into the time of nuclear threats and oblivion scenarios but well before such bonkers computer game sci-fi concepts could have been imagined, but it did conjure up those feelings from the moment we passed through the doors. And it did it very well.

Then it occurred to me that maybe my thinking has been altered by playing such games and enjoying such sci-fi journeys for so many years, and thus it felt exciting to be taken there for real for a few moments, at least until the rational-be-sensible brain functions reined in those flights of fancy. But everywhere you look there are (I think) perfect frames of such imaginings, so I tried capturing a few with my iPhone’s camera. Capturing photos with no people in is difficult, but have a look and then decide if I’m on to something, or just mentally skewed…

Photos Here

(it seems something’s gone awry with my blogosphere so until I find out what’s stopping pictures from uploading, these links will hopefully suffice)

A noob's Arduino adventure begins…

Last night I had my first play with an Arduino Uno and a couple of add-on shields, all purchased from HobbyTronics (

At first glance, it all looked nice and straightforward, a simple IDE, a raft of example source code and quite lively discussion boards dotted around t’internet.

So after the initial plug-in, and upload of “blink” (the hardware equivalent of “hello world”), the first task was to solder the stacking headers on to the three shields I hope to be playing with.

This lead to a hurried trip to Maplin in Camden after realising I didn’t have my soldering iron or associated paraphernalia to hand. Before long the soldering was done (with varying degrees of quality – it’s been a while since wielding a soldering iron in anger) and the time came to plug in the first shield: an XBee shield ( and WiFly module (

Everything seemed to be going well. The WiFly came to life and the LEDs suggested it was busily trying to lock on to the WiFi signal of my router, so a quick look over the user manual for clues as to how to configure the module to make a secure connection turned up some lengthy and initially confusing instructions concerning getting the thing into command mode. Thus after lots of reading, cross-referencing and downloading terminal applications, the little bugger still refused to open up and let me tell it what to do.

And that’s when the real confusion set in. Some blog posts claim that the WiFly isn’t compatible with the XBee shield, but they were posted about (I think) R2.x modules while I have an R3. Others say it won’t run properly on an Uno due to one of the SMT diodes which needs to be removed – a task I don’t think I have the tools or the eyes for any more.

But in true noob fashion I wasn’t going to believe any of that until I had reached the end of every line of investigation I could follow. So I set about finding example code libraries that programmatically set the WiFly into command mode, set up the appropriate network parameters and/or let me start entering commands from the terminal. This all looked great until the compilation errors started to show up. More reading from around the web pushed me to the conclusion that actually, v1.0 of the Arduino IDE “breaks most libraries”

FFS I think to myself. It’s now late, I’d like to see something working but I have to go off in search of an older IDE. Fortunately that didn’t take too long after some clicking around the website but even then, some of the library code I pulled from git had to be reorganised before it’d compile. For example, the main source files must be in a suitably named directory directly below /libraries, so having got a nicely structured src directory from git with a load of stuff under there I had to move it and bin the rest of the directory structure. After much head scratching eventually some of the library code did compile and could even be uploaded to the Uno, but still the damned WiFly wouldn’t give me the time of day with its UART so I’m beginning to think that the bloggers were right. Maybe the WiFly really isn’t suited to the shield that claims to be designed for it, at least when it’s mounted on a Uno R3.

But not to be too disheartened, I figured I’d give the LCD shield ( a go, as this was a self-contained board with well documented examples. More internet reading suggested that screens with a red tab most likely have the Epson driver on them, but in keeping with the tradition experienced so far of course this was not the case for my particular screen. At least my new old IDE compiled, uploaded and and ran the example screen demos perfectly. Sigh.

So that wrapped up a frustrating first evening with the Arduino. Admittedly I have quite a few more comments and suggestions to follow up on, and of course re-checking my soldering efforts, before writing off the otherwise impressive-looking WiFly, but that’s more hardware hacking, and I’m mostly a software kind of person these days.

I’ll write more, and maybe review this entry with more references and citations later on.

Very nice Facebook article – be afraid people!

Facebook’s Open Graph technology allows third-party websites to tell Facebook what people are doing. It extends Facebook’s Like button to include any action that the site owners think might be interesting to Facebook. Play a song and your music streaming site tells Facebook what you’ve played. Read a newspaper article and Facebook knows what you’ve read. LOL at a lolcat and your LOL gets logged for all time on your indelible activity record. Facebook calls this “frictionless sharing”, which is its euphemism for silent total surveillance. Once you’ve signed up for this (and it is optional; at least for now) you don’t need to do anything else to “share” your activity with Facebook. It’s completely automatic.