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I’ve just released my 5th WordPress plugin!

I did blog about my first WordPress plugin (Broadcast MU) quite some time ago, however I quietly canned it when some other people came along with theirs. Since I have released several other small plugins, and now I am re-releasing Broadcast MU 2.0 and a new plugin, links below:

I also have written other plugins for GDNM.org, they just aren’t suitable for release, they include:

  • Workshops
    Allows staff to post a custom post type which works just like a normal post but has additional fields for staff name, location, start and end of workshop, number of places, and a custom taxonomy for which course the workshop is open to. The plugin then allows logged in users to signup up to the place limit, it also allows students to cancel up until the cutoff time to prevent last minute cancellations and emails students a confirmation message. Staff can print out a list of all the students, or compose an email to them all with one click
  • Tutorials
    Tutorials takes the Workshops plugin a stage further allowing staff to enter time ranges and tutorial lengths and have the plugin calculate timings for every workshop time inbetween, for example giving a working day of 10:30-12:00,12:00-16:30 and tutorials of 15 minutes it would offer slots at 10:30,10:45,11:00… and it allows for multiple students per slot for group tutorials.
  • Profile Fields
    Profile Fields adds additional fields during signup to require a full name, year and group to be completed which greatly improves the Workshops and Tutorials plugins which display the full name, rather than the username of their internet handle. Also by capturing a course and group (year) we can produce a directory of students.
  • Signup Code
    This plugin also adds additional an additional field in the signup screen which acts like an invite code allowing us to avoid spam while also allowing any email address to work, we keep the site spam free by only providing the invite code to students face to face.

I also have an idea for a rework on someone else’s plugin however due to the legacy of old code in the WordPress Dashboard code it isn’t currently possible:

Signup Manager (name tbc)
This plugin builds on the ideas of WPMU New Blog Defaults which allows use to set the default parameters of new blogs registered on a multisite installation. The plugin implements this feature in a more modern way and additionally allows the network administrator disable this plugin from further changes, or disable it and hide it entirely. This is useful as there are many options in Dashboard under the Settings menu like Timezone, and permalinks that you don’t want the blogger changing.

Science Museum – Google Web Lab

In the past month I have visited the Science Museum three times, taking students and my father to see the Google Web Lab exhibit. The implementation and design of the exhibition were fantastic, however the content was very lacking, the experiments were the main focus and small video installations around the edge tried to convey the meaning of the installation. I have said this many times, but I find the content of the Science Museum shallow and lacking.

We also visited the Alan Turing installation, which featured confusing installations about programming and seemed to dwell on his sexuality like some kind of celebrity gossip magazine which providing little to no information about how his machines worked. I was stunned that myself a and my father (who is a professional programmer of probably 35 years experience) couldn’t figure out how to operate the three installations demonstrating three key principals of programming, the loop one being the most baffling.

Overall the museum was worth visiting but I don’t know why a museum of science provides such little depth and focuses on too much on kids.

The falsitude of the RepRap promise

The RepRap 3D printer is a community home brew project, started by makers to design and manufacture a self replicating machine. A machine that is capable of manufacturing all of it’s constituent parts and assembling them, the definition on Wikipedia even states that the machine should be capable of gathering it’s own resources such as energy and materials to manufacture from.

A lot of people get carried away with the idea that a RepRap 3D printer is every going to be capable of even assisted total self replication. What we are talking about here is the idea that the 3D printer can not only produce it’s own plastic brackets, fastenings, fixings, and other structural parts, something it is pretty much capable of doing right now. But also a machine that can print all the flexible, and heat resistant parts too.

It gets even more ludicrous when you expand this idea to the motors made of metal, wires and even the electronic circuit boards. It is not that there aren’t machines capable of doing each of these tasks but that it might ever be possible for a machine to make these parts by it’s self. The next level of ludicrosity is the idea that it could assemble it’s self, the final nail in the coffin for this idea is that it could gather all it’s own resources and be a device that would be useful at doing other things than making more of it’s self.

All this aside the RepRap printer once assembled and tweaked is fully capable of manufacturing the plastic parts of it’s self, and with some clever design you can avoid a lot of the metal parts and use plastic ones, even possibly using printed fixings, however it is no where near capable of producing circuit boards, although some people have modified the machine to work like a milling machine to mill the PCB designs out of copper boards.

It’s not that I don’t like the idea, nor that I don’t recognise that the definition and goals are different but that the hype around this OSHW project makes it sound like we’re on the verge of machines that can print everything bar the kitchen sink and in their spare time they just print out spare 3D printers.

Image credits: RepRap ‘Pythagoras’ – Zach Hoeken, RepRap – Mini Mendel – John Abella, I’m finally getting some good quality on my RepRap now that I finally switched to skeinforge – Tony BuserMakerGear Prusa Mendel RepRap (In Progress) – Pete Prodoehl

p.s. I am fully aware that both falsitude and ludicrosity are not words, but I am fairly sure people can figure out what they mean if they were ‘official’ words.

London Transport Museum Depot – Open Day

Every year that goes past it becomes harder and harder to think of gift ideas for my parents birthdays, it just so happened that the day after his birthday was the London Transport Museum Depot open day. We met early near the entrance to the depot and were able a quiet morning viewing.

As we walked in we noticed several control panels that had been saved from some kind of electrical control station, waiting to be moved and categorised, on one such panel was a label detailing the power ratings, a jaw dropping 2,000–33,000 amps! At any voltage that is an epic amount of power, but based on the normal voltage of trains (660V) that could be as much as 22 mega watts of power, who knows if this is right but either way that is simply unimaginable power (muwhahaha!).

The depot is literally a treasure trove of interesting objects from London’s history. There were several entire platform booths, previously hosting small businesses selling sweets, drinks and newspapers. I found it amazing how much work went into the simple construction of some of the historical parts of London Transport, the booth was a beautiful wooden installation, while some of the older carriages were almost like human sized antiques.

We had a really fantastic day out, and I know my dad really enjoyed it too! Among the vast number of signs we managed to find a West Ham sign, which most certainly made him very happy as a fan of the team, I would recommend going along for a visit to anyone, it isn’t great for those who aren’t so mobile and there are no labels on any of the exhibits but it was a great day out and we really enjoyed it!

Interestingly there was a couple of chaps from the ‘friends of the museum’ group who were demoing their signal mans booth simulator which resurrected a old fashioned signal booth from Marble Arch and accurately simulated traffic which responds in real time to the signals from the old booth. While I didn’t snap any images of the original control panel, I did manage to get a sneak peek inside the simulator which was a mass of relays driven by a computer, quite amazing really!

Not bad for 71.42857143 pence!

I don’t think I mentioned this in my post on Designersblock but outside the exhibition were a number of stalls some were selling items, and one was offering 7 prints for £5 or £1 each, some of the pices were a bit dull, but others were really good, clearly some were prints, but one piece caught my eye…

…it turns out emailing the artist just this evening that this is a one off, original, which I suspected looking at the brush strokes that made the piece. He has offered to send me a certificate of authenticity, but told me that the actual piece was probably made at an event called Pick Me Up as Somerset House, Aldwych, London. I asked why it was produced on such a bizarre paper and he explained that it was just what was supplied.

Anyways, I think it’s a great piece to treasure and not bad for 71.42857143 pence, considering similar pieces by him sell for £45!

Thanks Ian Stevenson!

Recipe: Mushroom Risotto

Multi-mushroom risotto

After todays 3D printing morning and Electronics Club I thought I might blog my mushroom risotto recipe, which is basically that off the back of the packet from Riso Gallo, and it’s most delicious!

Serves: 4

Ingredients:

  • 340g Risotto rice
  • 40g Butter
  • 1 Medium onion
  • 1 glass of dry white wine
  • 1.2 litres Vegetable or chicken stock
  • 100g Parmesan
  • 300g Mushrooms (or more if you are a bit partial to eating them as you cook!)

Preparation:

  • Fry the onion (chopped finely) with the mushrooms in the butter until softened.
  • Add 340g of risotto rice and cook until translucent.
  • Add the white wine and cook until evaporated.
  • Whilst simmering and stirring regularly, gradually add the stock until cooked and creamy with the desired consistency and bite.
  • Stir through grated Parmesan cheese.

Source: Riso Gallo

V&A Prism – London Design Festival: Day 4

Today before work I visited the V&A to take part in a behind the scenes guided tour of a part of the V&A and an installation piece called Prism which is installed in the highest parts of the museum, something I relished as I have a massive interest in the behind the scenes, subterranean oddities of London (and cities in general).

The exhibition is part of the London Design Festival the installation is by Keiichi Matsuda, the installation features internally projected panels generated by a series of internet connected computers that react to the local environment. The panels were designed and coded by invited programmers.

Looking down from the 6th floor before we go up into the roof:

Looking up, a sneak peak of the exhibition:

Preparing for the ascent in the corner of gallery 140:

Making our way up:

The roof of the dome:

Above the dome, the Prism looks as if it is an crashed space craft in the roof of the V&A:

One of the many panels, this one showing the live energy usage of 10 downing street:

Looking down into the gallery from where I just came:

It is hard to capture the sense of the scale of this installation:

The top right corner reveals another spiral staircase that we are about to ascend:

It’s hard to believe this area has never been open to the public with spaces like these:

And views like these, Battersea Power Station just off to the left of the horizon:

The London Eye and Shard in the distance:

A peak inside the installation as we descend back into the main public area:

What a fantastic and exclusive view deep inside the V&A, it was really enjoyable and a great opportunity to feed my senses, try and get down there before it is gone forever.

Making your own PCBs – Brighton Digital Festival

Today I made the pilgrimage to Brighton again, this time not for a Mini Maker Faire but to Build Brighton, the Brighton Hackspace, who as part of the Brighton Digital Festival are running some workshops including the one I attended today ‘Making your own PCBs‘.

The workshop was run by Chris, one of the members who started the day with general introductions, followed by an introduction to some freeware design software called Express PCB, however not being a PC user and not being interested in learning that software I opted for EAGLE which I already know to a degree. After 13:30 another member came along who was more familiar with EAGLE and started showing me some of the more advanced techniques that I was missing previously such as buses and creating new components.

As the day wore on we printed our circuit board designs onto PCB transfer paper using a laser printer, which using a few passes in the laminator was transfered over to the blank copper board, prepared by sanding the surface to increase the surface area for the etching to act on and the toner to stick to. There were a few patches left over which were blotted with a permanent marker.

The copper was then washed under cold running water to cool it to a safe handling temperature, at this point we then peeled off the backing of the transfer paper to leave behind only the the toner which would protect the copper from the etchant.

The copper boards were then put into a solution of about two table spoons of ferric chloride crystals and warm water, to a thick brown (not yellow or orange) consistency. The boards are left in the solution whilst being agitated, until all the copper is removed.

The boards are then washed and dried to remove the remaining etchant and the sink must be throughly washed to ensure no concentrated amounts of etchant are left that would damage the pipework or surface of the sink.

Finally using a small 0.8mm drill bit the board is drilled and the board is ready for use, there are instructions on Hack A Day on producing a DIY solder mask for those who want a bit more of a professional finish.

The design we produced was a kit designed by Build Brighton’s own members, my design had an error in it but etched perfectly, I now feel much more confident about etching my own boards in future, here is the botched build of the kit using Build’s PCB design rather than mine…

What’s on my watch list…

I wanted to do a little post about what YouTube channels, and podcasts I subscribe to, and some TV shows I have been watching recently. I wanted to conclude with an interesting insight from a video interview I watched of Yuri Suzuki who said he learn’t everything he knows about electronics from a old British TV show called ‘The Secret Life of the Machines’ by Tim Hunkin. Interestingly Tim is sharing his old content freely via BitTorrent and YouTube so it will be on my list…

YouTube Channels

Podcasts

TV Shows

  • Doctor Who
  • Panorama (always a good one)
  • Waterloo Road
  • Casualty
  • Top Gear (when is the new series?)
  • Toughest Place to be a…

Got any suggestions? Let me know, I am always looking for interesting new stuff to have a read of.

Exhibited work

 

I was recently contacted by a former work colleague who now works at firstsite a gallery space in Colchester, UK. He was having some technical trouble with a installation piece created by another person and asked me for help. I immediately got on with the job and later was asked to make additional features and changes, for which I was duely paid.

The work featured above is installed right now, featuring scrolling and bouncing images of John Travolta and some freaky eye movements. I would be lying if I said I had any idea what it was about/for but they seem happy enough and the project works and looks good. I guess I should try to find out more.