Anything that you build and give away is a success even if nobody wants it or it doesn’t work. You win just by doing something, learning from it and having the guts to show your work to the world, imo. Prior to the internet, certainly in the commercial world, coding was a pretty solitary affair and it was hard to get feedback. I was always convinced that my code sucked. When Open Source came along it was like joining a great big dev team that seemed to like answering questions and giving you their code, unheard of before then. If only it were available to me when I was starting out I might not have experienced so much angst about my abilities!

Loads of ‘Open Source projects’ on Github are nothing more than developer doodles. An Open Source project might only have a single line of code but if its a line of code that is useful to anyone even just yourself then it is a successful project. Regex patterns are a good example of that.

A couple of weeks ago I was mentoring 10 kids over 3 days at a digital bootcamp, ages 9-15. There were prizes for best projects but none of them were in the slightest bit interested in competition, they were completely absorbed in their work and in what others were doing. Certainly as far as the youngest were concerned getting their projects online was the main prize and the whole judging/prize-giving thing was boring and irrelevent. Likewise my Code Club kids completely forget that there are certificates after each stage is completed, for most of them success is simply having fun. A couple of them feel successful enough to announce that “today I’m not doing a project I’m going to help the others” – serious!

Projects such as OpenGen and Code Club give us an opportunity to change perceptions surrounding success, achievement, failure, competition and co-operation in the next generation. Would love to see competition and prize-giving disappear from hackathons, bootcamps, classes, clubs etc. Seems to me it is adults not kids who feel the need, I was told by the organiser that the bootcamp was a competition because ‘life is a competition’. Perhaps, but is that a good thing? Should it always be thus?

Ketchup

Suddenly I didn’t have time to solder any more. Software took over again, as it always does. Still, it pays the bills.

First I was scraping data from Lambeth Council’s website and building a Drupal module to index and query it. This led to getting a bit involved in testing the Council’s Open Data strategy, a bit of API testing, a few emails and chats.

Then I signed up for Code Club and quickly got up to speed with Scratch. After a few bureaucratic wrangles to do with CRB checks I finally got my foot into the classroom last Monday for my first ever experience teaching children. I was very, very nervous but had brilliant support from teachers and staff at Reay Primary School and the after-school session was a smash hit! 10 children around 9-10 yrs old, all budding tech wizards.

While chatting about Code Club on Facebook I was told about the 2012 Mozilla Festival and it’s theme of education. It didn’t look like any kind of conference I’d ever seen before and for the bargain price of £40 I just had to give it a go.

Only had time to attend for one day, but was very keen to see Makey Makey in action and the next version of Scratch. As it turned out I spent 2-3 hours on each of those and it was extremely worthwhile and huge fun. Although I did feel like a complete dunce in a room full of children letting their creative juices and technical skills rip without any qualms whatsoever.

I managed to make a grape-controlled drum synthesizer, or to be more precise, I managed to follow the simplest of the ‘How To’ introductory projects and connect some grapes up to a small drumming application using the Makey Makey controller. Meanwhile, children around me were fashioning complex arcade games and controllers for word processors and Minecraft.

Image

Big surprise at the end of the session came when MIT Media Labs told us that we could keep the kits! Now I can’t stop wondering what my Code Club kids will come up with when they see it! Although I would no doubt be asking for trouble if I only took one in for them to play with. Hatching a plan to collect a bunch of them by the end of next term and cooking up a project for the class to end the year on.

I have so many toys now, the Ras Pi, a GertBoard, a Makey Makey and the custom bread board but no time to play with them! Well, not until mid-December at least. Will have to content myself with thinking up projects to build over Christmas and New Year!

Kerching

Following on from the miraculous success of the Radio Controlled Alarm Clock repair, something far more ambitious. Perhaps foolishly so.

A few years ago a quite nice monitor showed signs of old age. I didn’t have the heart to put it down, instead it was retired to a box with the intention of ‘ethical disposal’… one day.

Now my nifty little new Raspberry Pi needs a monitor so I was looking at cheap ones and it occurred to me that I should instead be looking at repairs. I Googled the make and model and found this page by the awesome Norman.

After reading it carefully several dozen times I struck up the courage to open the monitor casing and see how far I got. Ten minutes later it lay disassembled on my workbench, photos of the connections lay in my phone camera and an order for capacitors and a soldering iron lay in my brand new Maplin account.

While waiting for the delivery I watched some YouTube videos for beginner solderers, or rather ‘sodderers’ as many of the American dialects would have it. It arrived, I set it up and dived right in to my first project. Well, I’m not about to qualify for a job in a PCB factory any time soon, in fact its a pitiful effort, but to my utter amazement the monitor sprang back into life straight away!

Puffed up with success I went straight for the next project, assembling a breakout board for the Raspberry Pi. This time using a finer tipped soldering nib, my first couple of solders were pretty good if I say so myself, but I soon realised the problem. Despite using my very-very-close-up glasses I just couldn’t see the target area very clearly. Cue a magnifying table lamp order, also a ‘third arm’ thingy… a small but solid little stand with a couple of alligator grips and a magnifying glass for holding weeny little components firmly.

Spent:

soldering iron: £14

Saved:

radio clock: £20

20″ LCD monitor £150

Mind you, those savings are almost gone having been lavished on ‘accessories’ for my new hobby. 😉

Getting close to the metal

So I swapped a cheaper keyboard and power supply in and we have lift off. Raspberry Pi is such a cheap date! 

In other news, I decided to stop being lazy about electronics and teach myself how to fix and build stuff. Starting with the ‘John Lewis Radio Controlled Alarm‘ that I broke on Friday night. This is the second clock in 5 years to have been swiped off the bedside table during the night, and they don’t handle even the slightest knock. 

Unable to find the receipt I wasn’t sure if it was still under warranty so I opened up the first clock to practice on. The makers were kind enough to hold it together with screws that let me get inside without damaging the casing. Well, except for breaking a bit of plastic that was connected to the 6th invisible screw hiding in the battery compartment, a minor irritation.

Once I had the case open I inspected the circuit board and wires. I couldn’t see any soot or scorch marks on the boards, nor were there any broken connections or damaged wires. Everything looked intact, there was a small amount of fine, shiny ‘fluff’ floating around which I picked off. Without really any idea of what to do next, I put the batteries in and nearly dropped it in shock as it sprang into life. The light came on and it started searching for it’s signal. About 10 minutes later it had set the correct time, date and temperature. Even though its a bit of a ‘miracle’ I am going to take credit for fixing it anyway and declare it the first of my electronic repairs! 

Next will be the other clock and then, possibly a bit too ambitious but hey, a Samsung monitor that blinked out a few years ago, just four months out of warranty. According to the internet it has blown three capacitors, I will have to open it up to confirm which replacements to get. 

I have a lovely old workbench that is the perfect home for a breadboard, a soldering iron, a Raspberry Pi and stuff to be fixed.

This month’s flavour is Raspberry

My Raspberry Pi arrived yesterday. I got as far as creating a Debian image on an SD card and booting the Pi from my laptop. Oh the joy! Debian bootstrap looks glorious on a 50″ plasma screen. Needed a powered USB hub to get the keyboard working.

Today. The keyboard lights up but input is not being detected. Bootstrap messages suggest that there is a problem reading the USB port.

On another note, my lovely clear living room floor is now 1/6th covered in cables. I expect that figure to increase month on month.

Let the adventure begin!