Friday, November 30, 2012

Letters and Press Button

We purchased an iPad last year for my son to use and in the year he has become eerily proficient with the touchscreen interface. The educational applications have been very good and still use it for this purpose; however more recently it is being used as a video player... Whilst I'm not particularly against this, I would rather he start creating content rather than merely consuming it.

One problem with being used to touchscreen is the keyboard and mouse paradigm is alien - it must be really weird to have to press a keyboard key located somewhere else. I imagine using a keyboard for the first time would be like writing notes on a piece of paper but the ink actually appears on a different pad.

Anyway, keyboards are here to stay and I want my son to learn how to use a keyboard as well as learn the alphabet (he is already pretty good at numbers). Therefore as part of my Raspberry Pi setup, I purchased a Duragadget keyboard for my son to use, this has large keys, lower case letters and coloured for vowels, consonants, numbers and symbols.

Since I've learned Javascript over the past few weeks it seemed to make sense to use this as a platform for the application. It is a simple program to display an alphabet letter using the same font face as the keyboard (apparently Comic Sans is easier for children to read). The letter is enclosed within a shape coloured the same as the keyboard and will change when the correct key is pressed.

The program will prioritise those characters which have been incorrectly typed already thus helping practice those. After three wrong attempts a new character is displayed, also holding a key down won't generate repeat attempts.

Some future changes include a mode change to allow the display to be driven by the keyboard - i.e. select a key and see it on the screen. Also when 3 incorrect keys are pushed, I'd rather replace it with a character which has had a higher success rate.

The scoring system is all in place, but isn't used for anything other than biasing key selection, I'd like some kind of reward system on the page - perhaps a space rocket lifting off or something...

I was very pleased that my son was very receptive to it, even this early version. I felt extremely proud when he wanted to play "Letters and Press Button" instead of watching Peppa Pig!!

The program is hosted on GitHub at

A live running version of the program is at:

Sunday, November 04, 2012

First Week at Linn

As some of you may know, I changed jobs last week. On Wednesday I was a Java developer and on Thursday I started working for Linn Products as a C# and Javascript application developer.

I've known about Linn for sometime and never thought of them as a software company until seeing them in the sidebar of StackOverflow. Whilst I don't have any Linn equipment at home, it has always been something of interest and I was going to purchase some ceiling Sweetspot Linn speakers last year when planning an extension to my home audio system (we didn't extend it in the end). I was also admiring their Klimax system in the Museum of Scotland; never did I realise I'd be working for them a few months later!

My first day was very unconventional, in the evening when explaining the day I accidentally used the term "a good day out". Perhaps a freudian slip, but that was what it felt like - I really enjoyed the first day and indeed the second. Having never commercially used C# and Javascript I was expecting the day to be mainly theory and learning (which of course happened), but surprisingly I felt constructive, even making a valid contribution to the software!

To begin with I was introduced to the team and my workspace which had a temporary laptop and new monitor (my actual PC required installation and the laptop won't drive 2 monitors). However underneath the monitor sat a Majik DS which I could use; I configured this by hooking it up to the network and installing the Songcast software on the laptop.

I had enough to get started and my new team introduced me to Git so I could check out the project I'd be working on; then proceeded to show me how the components were organised and what technologies were in use. During this time, Gilad welcomed me to Linn and for the third time enjoyed the use of the on-site canteen for lunch. I was given a door access card and also informed that Tim Burgess from The Charlatans was playing a few songs in the afternoon with fellow-Charlatan Mark Collins on guitar and Martin Duffy from Primal Scream on keyboard in the Linn Home and the whole staff were invited. They played 6 songs which made for a great introduction to Linn! Although I am told this is not the norm...

Second day went well now that I knew a lot more about what I was meant to be doing so I could start exploring the project myself and start understanding Visual Studio and ReSharper. I'd also brought my headphones in so I could try out the Majik DS which for the moment I'm using it as a spectacular sound card for my work machine. I'll probably bring in some of my Pink Floyd rips to enjoy over the next few weeks!

The morning included a company wide meeting about how the company was doing and this was used to introduce me to the rest of the Linn workforce along with another new employee. We were to be welcomed in the usual way of not sitting next to us in the canteen! Just before lunchtime we were also treated to some excitement of a fire drill where thankfully the weather was nice so standing in the car park wasn't too bad. At least I was able to practice what I learned during my health and safety induction!

Unfortunately I suspect Linn have set my expectations too high from my first two days there!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

HTML5 and LDV Camper Van website

I watched an old video recently about HTML5, a presentation by Scott Davis posted on InfoQ, this inspired me to update our LDV campervan website.

When I redesigned the website a few months back I used HTML5 semantics  but the site never quite worked on Internet Explorer and at the time I didn't know how to get HTML5 video working - I had a few renderings on Flickr but didn't want to embed them using Flash.

I updated the XSLT and DTD to support the video tag with multiple video codecs and added a script to convert MP4 videos into Ogg Theora for Firefox support.

ffmpeg -i ${filename} -b 500k -minrate 500k -acodec libvorbis -vcodec libtheora ${output}

The bitrate varies depending on the size of the video and desired quality.

So I added my 3 renderings in both h264 (converted using Handbrake on Mac) and Ogg video to the website planning page. I also cleaned up the CSS stylesheet a little and styled the video similar to the photos elsewhere on the site.

I also decided to add a new "Where we've been" section using a google map and an iframe, again styled similar to the other photos and videos.

The XSLT used to generate the whole website no longer generates div elements if they do not contain anything (i.e. no images or videos) cleaning up the final markup.

I'll update the webpage building package ( I blogged about earlier to support the two new tags (video and map), the updated IE support and cleaner XSLT and CSS.

In the meantime here's the new LDV Camper van conversion planning page and here is where we've holidayed in our LDV.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Quitting My Job

For the first time in my 10 year career, I've handed in notice to quit!

For the last 2 years I've been working for ThinkAnalytics on a content recommendation engine project; a middleware service which provides TV and movie recommendations personalised to you based on your viewing habits. It has been very good fun and was my first real exposure to structured software change management and working with international customers! It has been a good opportunity for me to learn new libraries and development practises which otherwise I may have not.

But over the past few months I've been feeling it is time to move on and whilst visiting StackOverflow I spotted an advert for a developer position at a company I was interested in, but never realised had software developers! After an interview and trial I was offered a position which I happily accepted.

I accepted the new position on Thursday and wrote up a letter to hand in, in person, but unfortunately I couldn't see anyone face to face as they were all away. Having never quit a job before I was really nervous and I didn't want to wait over the weekend, so resorted to sending my notice by email attaching the letter I intended to hand in and putting a more personal reply in the message body. I didn't want to do it this way, but felt much better when I got a response; I then let my colleagues know and met my manager face to face the following Monday which went well. I found out he was on a flight so was a "nasty surprise" when he received the email after landing - not ideal. Somehow I still feel a little guilt for leaving them so soon.

Now to concentrate on "knowledge transfer" over the next few weeks!

I start my new position on the 1st November.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Website Building

21/10/12 Update: Now supports HTML5 video and embedded google map support. 

As some readers of my blog may well be aware, my wife and I transformed an LDV panel van into a cool campervan for our holiday use with help from many people both in terms of manufacture and planning. A few years back we put together a website documenting our campervan conversion, but this suffered badly from bit rot and was never kept up to date with the latest upgrades to our 'van. This website included many photographs which were duplicated on Flickr. Being a programmer, I disliked this duplication... with a long overdue update required to the website I decided to do something slightly different.
I didn't want to concern myself with the style and layout of the website, I just wanted the text documenting why we did something and references to any photographs that are already on Flickr. The desire was to keep the description on Flickr and if that was updated, it would be transferred to the website next time it was built.
2 years ago I wrote a similar tool to generate my CV from an XML file, so this seemed like a good place to start.
The process worked very well and I like the result - see it at
I've made the program available to download with an example template. It is a bit basic, but provides a CSS stylesheet and also Lightbox 2. To use the Flickr functionality I have provided my Flickr API key which can be used to download metadata and link to public photographs on Flickr within your website.
A readme.txt file is included within the ZIP file which can be downloaded below. It requires Python installed along with the python-lxml and python-flickrapi libraries.
Website Builder

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Exploring La Mancha

As part of our 2012 summer holiday instead of spending hours on a thoroughly boring, straight and flat section of the A4 between Madrid and Andalucia we opted to venture off the motorway and explore some of the nearby area in search of Don Quijote. Our chosen route through La Mancha is below.

View Larger Map

We first visited an Inn in Puerto Lapice which Don Quixote allegedly mistook for a castle. This was where he guarded his armour in a bath overnight. I took some photographs of the courtyard and church outside. We didn't stop for food, although I'm sure we would have been welcomed as all visitors tended to just walk around the courtyard and giftshop which we discovered was full of Japanese tourists who'd freshly arrived on a tour bus!

Summer Holiday 2012 - _7043887

We walked across the street to another shop where we purchased some Don Quixote children's books and eyed up the prices of Saffron! We never purchased any as we have no idea how long these spices had been on the shelf for.

Summer Holiday 2012 - _7043892

We then set off for Campo de Criptana to the "Land of the Giants" to see the remains of what used to be 40 windmills on a hillside, now 12. Some of these 12 have been fully restored. This is the location where Don Quixote imagined the windmills were giants and attempted to fight them...

I visited the tourist office here where I was informed 1 windmill was being used as a museum and another with full working machinery. I was given a map of the area, a poster and a DVD of how windmills work as a gift.

Summer Holiday 2012 - _7043912

Next on route was El Toboso (the home town of Dulcinea) which we drove through, but didn't stop and then Belmonte Castle.

Summer Holiday 2012 - _7043919

This town was quite interesting as the old castle walls were integrated with the town buildings. With castle gates being used to access the courtyard for the Ayuntamiento (town hall).

Summer Holiday 2012 - _7043918

After visiting we backtracked through Mota del Cuervo and stopped to view yet more windmills! There was a shop inside one of these windmills where I purchased a book of postcards and made a donation as the chap let me go upstairs to look at the machinery of the mill. He told me on Sundays they run the windmill.

Summer Holiday 2012 - _7043950

On route to the lagoons we found a campsite in Ruidera and since it was dinner time we decided to stop for the night. I walked into the site and asked if they accept motorhomes and have availability, the friendly warden said we could stay anywhere but would probably have difficulty parking the van due to the many trees near the bottom. He recommended a spot for us which we took and setup whilst the sun was setting.

As the campsite was near the centre of Ruidera, after dinner we all walked into the town square for a drink where we were given octopus tapas and Ethan was offered a bowl of crisps. I quite enjoyed the octopus, but Louise didn't! After some wine, beer, fruit juice (and tapa each time) we returned to the campsite.

Summer Holiday 2012 - _7053971

We returned for another drink at the campsite where the warden and family were having their dinner. I asked for white wine for Louise and we're convinced he returned with his personal wine instead of 'bar' wine. At the table Ethan started whispering because it was night time but when I brought him up to my ear to whisper into it, he shouted what he said!!

The showers were very nice, but the water pump and heater made a loud rumbling noise and the lights dimmed every time it switched on. It was a bit weird being in the shower where the temperature was cooling when all of a sudden the lights dim, the pump and heater thunders on and the water suddenly gets warmer for a minute or so...

If we are in this area of Spain again, we'd definitely stay at this campsite again.

We then left to explore the nearby Lagoons, our guide book told us foreigners are rare around here despite its beauty, but many people from Madrid visit. It wasn't wrong, nearly every car was registered in Madrid! It reminded me of Loch Lomond and Glaswegians... Just warmer :)

Summer Holiday 2012 - _7053984

We then travelled to Villaneuva de los Infantes to explore the town square which had a very large cathedral on one side and houses with wooden balconies on the other. Driving into this town was very pretty as the buildings were a red colour and the streets were shaded at rooftop level. We parked up very close to the square and had soft drinks before returning to the van.

Summer Holiday 2012 - _7053998

After our tour, since it was still quite early in the day, we decided rather than stay another night, we'd head straight to Malaga which was only a few hours away. One thing we did realise, at every town and stop there were plenty of new things to explorer. You could easily lose yourself in this area of Spain for weeks! We have another route to explore on another holiday on the west side of the motorway.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Streaming Music Charts

I'm not really one for watching the music charts - I did when I was in school, but now I don't really care how well the X-Factor title is doing. However, just like when paid for music downloads were integrated with the traditional music charts I am interested in next week's inclusion of streaming services such as Spotify. I'll also be interested to see how similar the streaming chart is to the download and traditional charts. The article I read on the BBC noted streaming represented 4.5% of the UK music revenue. But also noted artists hold back releases from Spotify.
Carney went on to explain that his band had decided to withhold their critically-acclaimed album El Camino from Spotify.
Apparently due to the fact they see very little money from streaming services. I don't understand the logic with this, withholding albums from streaming services won't make me run out and buy it - I'm already coughing up £10 per month and given the vastness of Spotify's catalogue I'm quite happy to listen to alternatives.

On-demand music gets own chart (via BBC)

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Spotify Pl-ay

This is an interesting idea - being able to paste a mini spotify player within any blog or website, it controls the Spotify application installed on your computer.

Here's one of my playlists:

Read about Spotify Play Button

Monday, April 02, 2012

Scotland's Only Working Tram System

Summerlee - 2012-03-31-15-12-56-275

On Saturday I was in Coatbridge with my son and found myself with a few hours to spare, so I took him along to Summerlee which I have visited in the past. Summerlee has a working tram system which they use to run various heritage trams on; we caught a German tram (pictured) from the front entrance to the 'cottages' and a Glasgow Corporation tram back. There is a large machine room with demonstrations from weaving to creating pig iron in a furnace. There are steam locomotives dotted about the museum and outside a large area for children and another with old machinary like tractors on display.

The tram has 3 stops, the museum with machine room, shop and cafe; a tool shed with various tools and workshop machinary on display; and period cottages with an underground mine (with guided tours around it). The cottages are each set in different years from the 1880s up to 1980s.

I didn't take my son down the mine, but have travelled down in the past, they give you a hat, torch and walk you down the old railway underground.

Free to visit, free to park and tram tickets are £1 for an Adult and 50p for children between 5 and 16.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Calderglen Country Park

Calderglen Park-3243264

On Saturday I took my (nearly) 2 year old son to Calderglen Country Park in East Kilbride based on the recommendation from work colleagues. Conveniently I arrived during my son's morning nap so I was able to walk around to see what was available whilst he was still asleep in his pram. Then when he awoke, I put the pram back in the car, attached his back pack/reins and we found a picnic bench to sit down for lunch around the back of the Calderglen Conservatory building, accessed by a pathway between that and the golf club. This was a large green space with many birds flying overhead and bushes for children to explore.

After lunch, we went along a trail toward the Horseshoe Falls (above), the route down is quite steep with a number of steps and at the bridge we sat down for a drink of water before walking back using the more shallow hill path. This arrives at a large adventure playground with many things for kids to do including a sand play area. After Ethan had a play here we dropped off the remains of our lunch at the car and entered the Calderglen Conservatory.

I'd bought a ticket when I first arrived when it was empty so I could skip the queue as each ticket allows entry all day long - it only costs £1.10 and children under 16 are free. My son enjoyed looking at the fish and plants in the conservatory, there were also baby chicks on show near the back with a hatchery too. From here we went outside into the zoo area where we saw the larger animals. My son really enjoyed himself spotting the animals in each enclosure, particularly the Meerkats! Just before leaving we visited the other smaller playback next to the car park.

Great day out - we arrived at 11.20 in the morning, had lunch at 12 (after I'd scoped the zoo out) and eventually left just after 3!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Free To Air Formula 1 in the UK

Now that the BBC do not have all the races live and that I subscribe to Virgin TV, I cannot get the new Sky Sports F1 channel unless I pay an unreasonable subscription fee.

The alternatives are well documented - and pretty much centre around the German FTA broadcaster RTL. RTL Television broadcast in both HD and SD and whilst their HD channel is encrypted, their SD channel (along with very many others) are available on Astra 19.2E FTA.

Incidentally this is the same constellation of satellites the old UK Sky Analogue dishes pointed to and even more surprising, there is indeed a few analogue transponders running (including an RTL Television one); the transponders are mostly DVB S or S2 now. Have a look at Astra 19.2E on KingOfSat for details.

As a keen campervan owner I have a portable satellite television system which I purchased from Lidl a few years back for around £50. Last night I set this 60cm dish up on the front of my house (attached to one of my wife's window baskets) and whilst the kit comes with the necessary equipment to put the lead through a window - I opted to use the second coax cable leading to my old Sky digital dish pointing to Astra 28.2E which is attached to the quad LNB, but unused. After climbing up to remove and reroute this second cable I attached it to the portable dish and hooked it up to the Silvercrest digital receiver.

The Silvercrest receiver has a lot of satellite transponders pretuned and has tools to assist pointing to the correct satellite. Once I started to receive an acceptable signal intensity and quality (around 70%) I removed the portable receiver and attached the Coax to a DiSEqC switch. I purchased this switch a few years back after unsubscribing from Sky, but I never used it. The LNB feed from the Astra 28.2E (for Freesat) was also attached to the switch and I reconfigured my MythTV setup to use the switch to select the correct LNB and start tuning in those extra channels.

I'm only interested in "RTL Television" and specifically the one with service ID 12003 on transponder 12187.5MHz/H as this also carries an AC3 (Dolby Digital) audio track. I got some Viva music channels and BBC World which I also added to my MythTV channel lineup.

I was very impressed how well MythTV could switch between the channels - after being happy with RTL Television, I typed in '104' for Channel 4 and MythTV switched to the other dish as if it wasn't there! As a bonus, I can now record F1 on RTL which is cool.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

My Starbucks Rewards

I've not written a grumble post for a while, so here's my first in a long time.

Today Starbucks changed their rewards program to the fanfare of 'more free drinks'. I'm not so sure of this at all.

The main reason I'm a Starbucks cardholder is for the £1 filter coffee in the morning when I get off the train. Combined with the 25p when I used my own cup (which I usually did) the price I paid each morning was just 75p - a bargain and enough to convince me to buy coffee from Starbucks most mornings.

I reckon I bought a cup on average 4 mornings during the week. Doing some simple maths using a google spreadsheet, I make this out to be around £130 per year, with the new price and taking into account the 'free tall drink after 15 purchases' it is still an increase of my coffee budget by £70 per year - i.e. 52% increase.

More free drinks my arse. A ploy to stop people like me buying filter coffee each morning and instead 'upgrade them' to buy an Americano or other 'hand made' drink.

Guess I'll be using up the rest of my Starbucks card balance and rather than reload it, buying cartridges for my Tassimo instead :)

It isn't as if there is a shortage of cheap coffee shops...