Bristol Digimakers February 28th

Why is Bristol Digimakers just the coolest, most fun place to be?

(you may spot me in there on The MagPi stand)

The next Digimakers event takes place on Saturday February 28th:

Back from SWAMP Fest

Had an absolutely great time at SWAMP Fest in Swansea. I think the count was over a hundred through the door plus lots of exhibitors, speakers, and even a Steam Punk Nerf gun seller (awesome).

I was there running The MagPi stand, fielding questions all day on the magazine and technical aspects of the Raspberry Pi. GPIO connection issues with the new Raspberry Pi B+ were a common theme. I had HDMIPi playing a loop of Big Buck Bunny to show the excellent screen quality, a Saleae logic analyser up and running showing what happens if you don’t pull up / push down the resistors for those pesky GPIO pins, and various other hardware and software demos. And yes, that is my new Steam Punk Nerf gun you can see in the background :)


I also got to meet the designers of Matboard, which was originally funded successfully through Kickstarter. They’re really enthusiastic about technology and their product, and rightly so as it fantastic. Here’s a link to Amazon where it is now available:

The event showcased a mix of Raspberry Pi, Arduino and 3D printing projects. There was also a workshop on making chainmail, which sadly I missed (my other hobby is medieval re-enactment). Robots naturally featured in abundance too.

Talking of robots, I particularly liked a tracked rover that was being demonstrated. It had been hooked up wirelessly to a laptop via XBee for control. You can make out both ends of the XBee in the photo below (the top USB cable plugs into the laptop). The track mechanism seems really stable, especially on rotation, with no hint of the tracks coming loose. Mental note: must buy tracked rover and must investigate XBee.


Swansea Hackspace had a superb 3D printing demonstration, along with lots of cool “here’s one I made earlier” objects. I’ve not had a chance to look much into 3D printing yet, so this was a great opportunity for me to ask questions and learn a bit about something new. Alongside they also had a cool plotter / laser etcher running (another technology I know little about, so was great to see).



Carmarthen Coder Dojo were running lots of programming workshops which proved popular. Their stand had a little bit of MagPi flavouring too. I’d not seen the HapPi Robot Kit before and was impressed. Bear in mind that that is a cardboard body for the robot, yet it seemed pretty sturdy.


There were also talks a-plenty throughout the day on a variety of topics. I talked about how we produce each issue of the magazine: our workflow, tools we use, how people can get involved (if you’re interested in helping with the magazine email the editor: Others talked about their projects and various aspects of hardware and software development. Douglas Gore from PiCymru introduced PiFun (name intentionally chosen to cause mischief), an easy to build accessory for the Raspberry Pi that turns everyday objects into touch inputs that can be incorporated into programs. Think banana piano and you’re along the right track. It’s cool to see the Raspberry Pi doing this without the need for a Makey Makey.

One thing I love about Swansea Hackspace is that they never miss an opportunity to share information. Not even when you’re sitting on the toilet. Genius!


I also spent an enjoyable evening in the company of the members of Swansea Hackspace, which started with me attempting to take a selfie via their webcam. They’re a great group of people. If you’ve never been to a Hackspace before and are looking for a friendly, productive atmosphere in which to tinker you should definitely get in touch.


It was a fantastic, enjoyable day. If you’re reading this and wondering about whether to go along to similar events in the future then I can highly recommend them. They’re a place to learn, have fun and see things that make you smile and say “that’s cool” a lot.

SWAMP Fest time

Off to SWAMP Fest in a few minutes. Nope, nothing to do with marshy terrain, but everything to do with technology. If you’re going, I’ll see you in Swansea in a few hours.

The MagPi: back from Digimakers, saw something LAZEY

On Saturday I travelled over to Bristol with The MagPi stand featuring George the robot arm (all of my robots are called George. I blame this), a mountain of sweets, HDMIPi and a Saleae logic analyser. Yes, that’s quite a varied collection of kit!


The event was absolutely fantastic, with robots everywhere (as you’d hope). One stand had several other Maplin Robot Arms (so George didn’t feel lonely) and was teaching the basics of robot control. LEGO(R) Mindstorms were in abundance and it was great to see programming at various levels (proof positive that the Mindstorm is a pretty decent bit of kit - I’ve spent a lot of time with Mindstorms v2. Even the basic drag-and-drop programming GUI supports up to 32 threads!) One group of kids had a very well thought out Mars exploration challenge setup (this one, I think), programming their Mindstorms v3 rover to overcome all sorts. I chatted with them about threaded programming (Did I mention? 32 threads! Awesome!) and it was really encouraging that they got what I was on about (even though my explanation wasn’t the best - sorry guys, I was running on coffee and two hours sleep from the previous night!) Raspberry Pi Spy has a great photo of the team in action.

I managed to spend a reasonable bit of time showing people how to use the Saleae logic analyser, and talking about how, before I used one, I’d managed to get myself in a right kerfuffle not knowing what was going on with an excellent 3IR line sensor I’d bought from Ryanteck.

Getting HDMIPi working was great. I’d had a bit of an issue with a dodgy USB connector, but Alex Eames of had sorted this for me just in time. Thank Alex! You’ll be pleased to know that HDMIPi garnered a lot of interest with many a “hey, that’s neat” comment. Here it is with Sintel running, a great (albeit very sad) video from the Blender people.


One of the most impressive displays present was the LAZEY Projector, a laser persistence of vision generator by Adam and Joshua, students at Bristol Uni. Roughly speaking you draw an image on a tablet which is sent wirelessly to a Raspberry Pi, which renders the image and sends it to a custom shield that plugs into the Pi, which buffers and then sends commands to a couple of mirrors that reflect the laser light in such a way as to draw the image on screen. Absolutely brilliant. You can see from the photo below that my smartphone’s camera can’t capture the whole image as it is being redrawn many times a second - too fast for us lowly humans to notice, but a camera easily captures it mid-render.


Here’s a video of what LAZEY can do. Sweet.

Oh, and it also plays tetris.

Unfortunately I didn’t get a photo of the LAZEY unit but over at Raspberry Pi Spy you can see it up close.

Another stand had a Sudoku solving machine / robot running. This was a neat bit of kit as it would draw a 6x6 grid with a black pen on a whiteboard, then place some initial numbers. You played by trying to solve each square and it would light green for a correct answer or red for an incorrect one. Apparently it was all built in under 24 hours as part of a competition they had previously entered: they could take along all of the parts, but nothing could be pre-assembled. Kudos guys, it was really neat.

There was also a fair bit of interest in the competition that we were jointly running with the organisers. If you need details get in touch via their FB page. Bristol Uni are doing the judging. Good luck to all who enter!

So, with workshops, demonstrations and robots giving out sweets who could ask for more. I had a fantastic day. Hope you did too if you went. If not, the next Digimakers is on 29th November at AT-Bristol in Bristol.

The MagPi at Bristol Digimakers - with competition prizes

The MagPi has agreed to co-sponsor the competition Bristol Digimakers on the 4th October at the At-Bristol Centre in Bristol. We’re offering up a bundle each of Volumes 1 and 2 of the magazine. Plus one of the organisers, Caroline Higgins from University of Bristol has managed to secure the famous Blue Pi as a prize as well. These colourful Pi’s are like blue-coated gold dust they’re so rare.

I’ll be running The MagPi stand at the event, which is an absolutely top-notch event for people in the South West who find the events in Cambridge and Manchester a might too far to travel. With technology demonstrates from the University of Bristol, local companies and several individuals (no doubt with robots: there are always robots, and robots are a Good Thing) plus a ton of workshops to get your brains around Scratch, Python and various hardware challenges (usually with LEGO(R) Mindstorms, Raspberry Pis and LEDs galore) it’s a fantastic opportunity to meet up with people, brush up on your skills and learn new things.

The event is primarily aimed at kids of all ages, but there are also plenty of teachers, parents and people interested in technology who come along too. The event has a great vibe, with a real buzz around technology. Great stuff.

So what’s going to be going on at The MagPi stand? Well we’re going to have a bundle of hardware goodies for you to see and play with:

  • The new HDMIPi LCD for the Raspberry Pi
  • Traffic lights with PiStop from Tim Cox
  • Using a Slice of Pi/O to control a 3 Line Follower Sensor from Ryanteck. The Slice of Pi/O is a great base upon which to connect various robot sensors and I’ll be showing you how to use this piece of tasty kit.
  • Using a Saleae Loic Analyzer with the Raspberry Pi (using it to show the importance of pull up and pull down)
And yes, the robot arm will be back dishing out sweets to all those that can master the fiddly controls.

Plus a ton of Raspberry Pi books for you to browse to get ideas for that next purchase.

A collection of event links:

digimakers014 digimakers013 digimakers012 digimakers011
A few photos from previous MagPi and other stands at Digimakers (yes those are musical bananas)

RoverBot1 (aka: "George") runs amok on BBC Points West

I feel so honoured. My cunningly crafted (read: “a bit of a bodge, but hey it works”) RoverBot1 who gained the name George at the November DigiMakers event in Bristol has been featured on BBC Points West. Scroll forward to ~53.5 seconds in (or better still, watch the entire article). Yes there he is, scuttling across a table.

Behind the scenes of course it’s probably worth mentioning that George had actually started to run amok and my hand was there trying to coral him away from Certain Doom should he decide to leap from the table top. There he was: Python program running nicely, moving forwards, turning this way and turning that way on command when suddenly I lost control via the keyboard and he refused to respond, with his wheels left permanently turning. I’ve managed to recreate this mishap and it seems that when the battery voltage drops enough the Raspberry Pi freezes and George carries on repeating the last command he was given, which in this case was clearly “run amok”.

Still, it looks good on TV :)

Here’s George before he started misbehaving on The MagPi stand that I jointly ran with Meltwater of

DigiMakers At-Bristol, Saturday 16th November

On Saturday I’ll be attending the At-Bristol DigiMakers event jointly running The MagPi stand with Tim Cox (Meltwater) who runs Pi Hardware. DigiMakers is the evolution of the Raspberry Pi Bootcamps that have been run at the venue several times over the last year.

This time round the theme is robots. ROBOTS, GLORIOUS ROBOTS!

As well as the opportunity to purchase The MagPi printed volume one at a discounted price on the day we will have lots going on on the stand. Expect to see Pi-Lite playing Pong, an XLoBorg demo showing how to make a digital compass, and a few robots too including one based on the very affordable Magician chassis using PicoBorg as the controller, and hopefully a hexapod may put in an appearance too.

If you are interested in building your own robot you may be interested to read some help and guidance I’ve written especially for the event under The MagPi banner as one of the magazine’s writers. The PDF for this is free to download.

More information from BCS and you can also see details at Eventbrite.

Look forward to seeing you there.