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Stewart's Blog

Monkeys, megabytes, medical and more ...

(Children, computing, first aid and other ramblings ...)

New .UK domain name – daysoutdiary.uk

June 23rd, 2014

UK websites are now being found using the new .uk domain. This means that as well as the sites ending .co.uk and .org.uk etc. there will now be sites ending directly with .uk

Days Out Diary - fun days out in the UK

I have registered my first website which is daysoutdiary.uk. This is in addition to the original site address at daysoutdiary.co.uk. I think this is a great improvement in the name for my site. The Days Out Diary website is not run with corporate aims, it’s designed as a public information site. Then it’s not run as part of an organisation or charity as such so didn’t fit in with the .org.uk domain either.

So now it’s shorter and has a more appropriate name to match it’s purpose.

You can now register .UK domains through your own hosting / DNS provider – or find out more at: Dot UK launch website.

Please visit Days Out Diary website for days out in the UK or holidays in the UK and abroad.

Raspberry Pi club – Programming the GPIO – Traffic Light LEDs

June 9th, 2014

One of the things I’ve been doing as a STEM Ambassador is to help support a Raspberry Pi club at a local high school. At first the club was led by the sixth form students, with the teachers and myself helping out as required. This was working well at first, but with many of the older students now on study leave the momentum has been slowing down.

I have therefore created a worksheet on how to program the GPIO ports on the Raspberry Pi to try and give them a bit of hands-on with a bit of physical computing. This is a basic first step (many of the students are still taking their first steps in Python programming). I hope that it helps to get them enthusiastic about what they can achieve by interfacing the Raspberry Pi to the real world.

Raspberry Pi traffic light LED on breadboard

I’ve made the materials available including a teachers guide, student worksheet and the Fritzing diagram available. It may be useful for other Raspberry Pi / STEM clubs or for teaching in schools.

Humble Bundle – DRM free games for Linux and Android and eBooks

June 2nd, 2014

I have bought many games and Ebooks through Humble Bundle. I don’t blog about them very often as the bundles are usually available for about a week and by the time I get around to writing the blog then that time is nearly over. I wanted to blog about this bundle though because it includes one of my favourite Android games (which I also know of a potential fix to get it running) and as a reminder about what Humble Bundle is all about.

What is Humble Bundle?

Humble Bundle is best known for it’s games bundles. Most games are available for Linux, OS X and Windows. Some bundles are also available for Android. When purchasing the games you are able to set your own price based upon how much the games are worth to you. You can also get to choose where the money goes distributed between the game creators, charities and a tip to Humble Bundle.

It is worth bearing in mind that some games (generally the better games) are only available when paying over a certain amount, based on either the average amount paid or a fixed amount. Although the buyer can still choose whatever percentage of that goes to charity.

There are also some eBook bundles which sell DRM free ebooks which can be read on any browser. Again you choose the amount to pay (with minimum payment for certain books) and the payments also support charity. It is in ebooks that I think that having the books available DRM free is more important. See: The problem with DRM restricted ebook formats

Fieldrunners 2

Field Runners 2 - Humble Bundle game for Linux and Android

One of my favourite Android games has been Fieldrunners HD, which I first bought as part of an earlier Humble Bundle. Field runners is a tower defence game. The current bundle “PC and Android Bundle 10″. Fieldrunners 2 has better graphics, more towers and new more complex levels. It does have one thing though – in app game purchases which I am not in favour of. It does appear that you can play the game without any additional purchases as long as you have a reasonable amount of patience.

Fix for running Fieldrunners 2 on Nexus 4 with Android KitKat

When I first tried running Fieldrunners 2 on my Nexus 4 it didn’t get past the start splash screen before crashing. A search on the Internet showed that others were having the same problems, but didn’t have any sign of a fix. I then remembered that some time ago I’d enabled the new Art virtual machine on my Nexus. This is the first time I’ve had a problem with art which is why I’d forgotten I’d even made the change. I changed back to the Dalvik JIT virtual machine which fixed the problem. This has a performance impact on Android, but is worth it to be able to run Fieldrunners 2.

If you don’t understand this and you’re running KitKat then chances are you don’t need to worry about it. It may be a problem for future versions of Android when art becomes the default.

Buy Humble Bundle Games and Ebooks

Design and build a Raspberry Pi robot – draft document

March 24th, 2014

When I first showed my Raspberry Pi based “Ruby Robot” at the Raspberry Jam at Pycon UK, I promised a guide would be forthcoming. I’ve now finished the first draft of my guide to creating the robot.

Ruby Robot - Raspberry Pi powered robot vehicle based on Magician Robot

The guide does more than just take the reader through the steps to create a robot. It also covers the design process involved in creating the design and some of the decisions I went through in creating the robot.

eBook - Desgin and build a Raspberry Pi robot

The robot is just the starting point to create an initial working version. I have several ideas for new features and improvements to the robot, but the idea is for the reader to have their own ideas and turn it into a truly personal robot.

At the moment the guide is a draft pdf document. I intend to publish this as a free eBook in future (including putting it on the Raspberry Pi store). As this will be made available free of charge I don’t have a budget for technical reviewers or proof-readers, but would very much appreciate feedback on the guide if anyone finds any mistakes.

Download the draft document below:

or read more at: PenguinTutor – Guide to the Raspberry Pi based Ruby Robot

Young scientists – The Mentos fountain challenge

March 21st, 2014

This is Science and Engineering week – a celebration of science and engineering.

When we visited the Big Bang Fair at the NEC we watched the Kaboom! Show and on the way out we were given a leaflet about the Mentos Fountain Challenge. This looked like an ideal experiment to try with my children.

The basic idea is to put Mentos in a bottle of diet coke and watch the fountain that spurts out of the top of the bottle. By changing some different things (like temperature of the cola and chopping up the Mentos) then the size of the fountain can change. Here’s a video of what we did:

As you can see it was very messy and we had loads of fun. The original plan was that it was just going to be the children that did the experiment, but during the first attempts they were not able to get the mentos into the bottle fast enough. So I helped with the remaining ones.

Mentos fountain challenge for Science Week

Our fountains weren’t that impressive compared to some others, but we had lots of fun and learned that we should only change one variable at a time so that we know what causes the change in the fountain.

Day out at Beamish open air museum

March 17th, 2014

I visited the Beamish open air museum with my son during the February half-term holiday, there were also special World War 2 events during the week. It was a sunny day which made a nice change, but as a result it was very popular at the museum. After we parked up we had to join a long queue to get our tickets and there were also long queues for the trams and for the food and sweet shops.

The site covers a large area. Whilst everywhere is within walking distance the are trams and buses that can help get around the site. My son is a big fan of trams and trains so we spent quite a bit of time travelling around the site on the trams. For the half-term week the usual trams had been replaced with former Blackpool trams which were on loan to the museum.

Former Blackpool Tram at Beamish open air museum

After exploring the site by tram, we went to the pit village planning to visit the fish and chip shop. When we arrived at the fish and chip shop the queue went far outside the door and so bought lunch from the pitman’s pantry instead. There was still a long queue, but it wasn’t too long. There was not much choice for food as the hot pies were either gone or still cooking. I had a cold pork pie which was delicious, reminded me of some I used to have when I was young.

We didn’t go into the mine, but we did look around the rest of the colliery buildings. There is also a school where my son had a go with using a slate and chalk, and an inkwell and pen.

School at the Beamish Museum - writing with an inkwell and pen

Next we visited the town and railway station. Trains only run on certain days during the summer, but the station building was open. There are lots to visit in the town, including shops, houses and a bank including being able to see the safes under the bank. The sweet shop had another long queue and we didn’t wait in the queue on the first time we visited Beamish.

A good thing about Beamish is that each ticket is essentially a season ticket valid for a full year. This meant that the following day after visiting Locomotion railway museum at Shildon we had a few hours spare so visited Beamish again. There were less visitors when we visited on the second day which made it much easier to get around and see parts of the museum. We were able to go to a few more of the things we missed on the previous visit including the sweet shop and the home farm.

Tractor at Home Farm in Beamish Museum

With lots to see and do there should be something to please everyone at Beamish. My son enjoyed the trams most, but we also enjoyed visiting the rest of the site as well.

Day out at the Big Bang Science Fair

March 16th, 2014

The Big Bang Science Fair is an annual event to promote the STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and maths) to children. It’s a way of encouraging young people to study STEM and consider a STEM related career in future. This years show was held at the NEC in Birmingham with smaller local events called “Big Bang Science Fair near me”. The Big Bang is free to attend, although you do need to register in advance and there is a £10 car park charge if travelling by car. One condition though – this is an event for children so you will not be able to attend unless you have a child with you or are a young student. It’s aimed from age 7 upwards, I went along with my 8 year old daughter. It’s a great way for children and young adults to be enthused about science and would also be a good place to visit if thinking about what to study in future education or at university.

Big bang science fair - having fun with a robot

Hands-on science and technology

The event uses two halls in the NEC with a huge variety of different exhibitors covering different areas related to the STEM subjects. Many of these have hands on activities from “making snot” (yes you did read that correctly) to controlling robots and taking part in science experiments.

I had decided that this was an event for my daughter and despite my natural instincts to go to the stands that I was interested in I was just there to support my daughter. I even told my daughter “This is your day, you are in charge and get to choose what we see”. I did encourage her to explore both halls to make sure that she saw everything that was on offer (there was so much available), but I pretty much stuck to that. It was still a great day for me as I was interested in much the same stuff as she was, and I even got to join in with a few activities, especially where it involved two or more working together. It was good to see some Raspberry Pi computers in use on some of the stands including an introduction to Scratch and the odd Raspberry Pi logo turning up on various exhibits around the fair.

Scratch on Raspberry Pi at the Big Bang Fair

My daughter certainly enjoyed many of the hands-on exhibits. Two of her favourites were the Kit-Kat factory interactive computer game and an algebra based electronic puzzle, both of which she went back to. She also got some hands on with a couple of different robots which she enjoyed. It was obvious to see why she liked the Kit-Kat factory as it combined a fun computer game with some hands on dials and knobs. I was a bit more surprised by the Algebra activity, but I think the flashing light and prize at the end may have helped; it was a great way make maths fun.

The Kit Kat factory at the Big Bang Fair

Some of the activities were very popular and so there was a bit of waiting involved, but most queues were reasonable and if not then we just moved on to other activates. It is a very large age range to cater for, but most stands handled that really well. There were a few that I thought were a bit too old for her, I won’t name any particular exhibitors as the one example I am going to use did have other activities that were more appropriate, but Newton’s 2nd law was a bit advanced for an 8 year old.

There is catering available within the NEC, but it is fairly expensive and had long queues. There was also an indoor picnic area where we ate our own lunch.

Kaboom – Fire an explosions at the Big Bang Fair

Kaboom - Fire on stage at the Big Bang Fair

Saving the best until last, there were several shows running throughout the day, but the only one we actually went to see was Kaboom. It couldn’t be a “Big Bang” fair without some loud noises and Kaboom didn’t disappoint. Not only did it have bangs, but it had big flames, canons and fireworks. There were 3 great presenters that put together an excellent show covering a bit of history and the science behind gunpowder, fireworks and explosives.

Rocket during Kaboom show at the Big Bang Fair

Summary

The Big Bang Fair is educational, fun and free (except for the car parks). There was lots to see and do and we didn’t manage to get around all of it. It’s a great event which I would highly recommend for next year.

How to make your own Raspberry Pies

March 14th, 2014

This is a Raspberry Pie recipe I created based on a Raspberry Curd bought from an an English Heritage gift shop.

Raspberry Pies

You can get the raspberry curd from most English Heritage gift shops (or from a local farm shop), or you can use raspberry jam available from any supermarket (seedless would probably be better).

Ingredients

200g of shortcrust pastry
Raspberry curd (or raspberry jam)
Pot of double cream
Fresh raspberries

Method

Pre-heat oven to 200 oC

Shortcust pastry can be homemade, easy mix or ready-to-roll.

Roll out and cut out 18 circles using a large round cutter.

Place pastry in a greased bun tray.

Put a bun case on each pastry and fill with dried peas.

Bake in the oven for 10 minutes

Remove the peas from the pastry shells. Put a teaspoon of raspberry curd or jam into each pastry case and place back into oven for a further 5 minutes.

The jam and curd should liquefy and settle in the pastry, if it does not then spread around using the back of a teaspoon.

Leave the pies to cool before removing from the bun tray.

Whip the double cream using an electric whisk until it is firm.

Once the pies have completely cooled, pipe the cream over the filling.

Top with a fresh raspberry.

Keep refrigerated until ready to eat, and eat the same day.

First Aid Manual 10th edition

March 10th, 2014

The First Aid Manual is the official guide from the UK leading first aid organisations: St John Ambulance, St Andrew’s First Aid and the British Red Cross and is widely considered as the definitive guide to first aid in the UK.

The 10th edition released in 2014, which replaces the 9th edition which was first released in 2009 and last updated with the new resuscitation protocols in 2011.

With the previous edition there were significant changes to the resuscitation protocols which greatly improves the chance of survival. This edition has less changes to the first aid protocols, but does have some improvements on the layout which make following the steps a little easier.

The first aid manual continues as one of the best guides to first aid, which is suitable for those with only a basic knowledge through to trained first aiders.

Changes to the protocols

I have listed some of the changes below, although it is not comprehensive it provides an overview of the main changes.

Resuscitation

There is a small change in the protocol to identify the most serious injury and treat in order of priority rather than moving the patient straight into recovery position.

Choking

There are some changes to the positioning of an infant when dealing with choking (now using thigh instead of forearm to support the infant).

Drowning

More emphasis on dealing with someone that is not breathing and refers to any liquid not just water.

Head injury

This has the most significant changes between the 2011 (9th revised) and 2014 10th editions. The manual still describes concussion and compression, but these are not covered in the same detail as previously. The treatment for a head injury instead focuses on when a head injury is classed as severe rather than trying to determine if it is concussion or compression. This makes it clearer as it could have been a point of confusion with some first aiders.

Fractures

There are some changes in dealing with pelvic and leg fractures.

Is it worth getting an updated version?

First Aid Manual 10th edition
The first aid manual is still the best general guide to first aid, if you don’t have a copy already or if your copy is the 2009 version or older then it’s a good time to get the new edition.

If you’ve already got the 2011 edition then whilst it’s a good idea to have a recent edition the changes are small and less significant than previous changes to the first aid manual.

The first aid manual 10th edition is available as paperback, but does not appear to be available as an ebook any-more. The previous ebook was DRM locked into Secure Adobe PDF format which restricted how it could be used (why DRM ebooks are bad for end users). A DRM free ebook would be a good format for those wanting to carry the first aid manual with them when they travel, but there doesn’t appear to be any sign of that yet.

Scratch programming – Road safety

March 9th, 2014

I’ve been looking to create a program with my eight year old daughter since running a Code Club at the end of last year. We’ve done some little bits in Scratch, but without a specific project I found my daughter became distracted. I also try and incorporate activities at home related to school projects they are doing, so when she did road safety at school this seemed like a good project to use for a Scratch program.

Pedestrian crossing scratch program

At first we sat around the same computer and worked together, but soon decided it would be better for me to take a step back and let her get on with it. She still needed a bit of guidance at the start (reminder about broadcasts mainly) and I was on hand if she had any questions, but I mainly let her get on with it. Not wanting to be left out of it, and partly my daughter’s suggestion I decided to work through a similar project at the same time and then we could talk about what we had done together.

Obviously it’s not fair to compare the work of an adult with considerable programming experience with an eight year with less than a years programming, and that is certainly not the intention. I wanted to complete my program to show that coding can be used as a way to bring other school subjects to life and that programming can be used for more than “just” teaching computer science.

First up my daughter’s program on road safety. I am very impressed with the program she has created. Even considering how much computers and coding has come on since I was a child I don’t think I would have been able to create anything this good when I was eight. See the link below to play the game on the Scratch website.

Road safety scratch program (by a child)

I think that this project has shown some real benefits to having the pupil use coding outside of a computing lesson. The steps involved in breaking down the task into a series of instructions that can be programmed into the computer really helps with focusing the mind on the learning points. It also provides the confirmation of learning as she has clearly demonstrated her knowledge.

Here’s my example.

Pedestrian crossing scratch application (by an adult)

The idea behind this is how a program could be used in a class to help teach the subject. In this case it’s based around a pedestrian crossing (specifically a pelican crossing as it includes the flashing green man). It demonstrates the use of the pedestrian crossing a little different than just playing a video, as someone has to actually press the button before it works. It would even be possible (and not too difficult) to take it a step further and actually create a model complete with working lights and push button. We have talked about this and if we get time we may even create a 3D model to go with it.

The coding was done in a fairly short period of time (a couple of hours or so) and there are a few things that could do with improvement (for example don’t keep pressing the button after it’s been pressed once because there’s a bug in there), but those could be fixed with a bit more time. It’s also not a great example for teaching programming, again it could be improved but Scratch does lack some of the features of a “more professional” programming language. After programming in other languages, Scratch can be a little frustrating and it’s easy to create spaghetti programming where the code jumps around a lot – although it is great as a beginners language for those getting started in coding. I have created a different Scratch program that shows the main features of programming in a more structured way.

All of this was created using open source software. Scratch can be downloaded for free, the images are all provided in Scratch (eg. the boy) or were created using LibreOffice Draw. With a little bit of help from GIMP to create the perspective on the road (optional).

You can download the resource files below:
pedestrian-crossing.tar.gz (Linux / Raspberry Pi)
pedestrian-crossing.zip (Windows)

For more information on getting started with scratch see: Introduction to Scratch for primary school teachers (also suitable for other adults wanting to learn scratch).

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UK days out, children and holiday information is also available on the Days Out Diary web site
Linux, LPI and the Quiz / Test Program posts are also available on the Penguin Tutor website
First Aid Information, first aid games and first aid practice test / quiz entries are also available on the First Aid Quiz Web site