Lighting up Cambridge

Following an open evening at Makespace last year I've been working with Cambridge University to build a light display to be exhibited in the City in March. The aim is to build a 'low res' video wall using multi colour LEDs which will then be hung outside of Pitt building for the week.

In order to prove the concept I've initially built a small mock up. The full size version will be 2 metres wide by 1 metre high.

This uses WS2812 addressable LEDs which can be individually set to specific intensities of red, blue and green to give a huge range of colours. These are controlled using Fadecandy boards which split the signal to the separate strips and LEDs. The whole thing is then orchestrated using a Raspberry Pi running the Fadecandy server software. This is a great piece of kit and has made the setup really easy.

Currently the prototype is fed video or interactively controlled from a laptop but for the full size version the aim is to allow interactivity from web connected mobile phones and tablets.

I have the waves example running but am looking for further ideas. I'll be exhibiting in the Cambridge Guildhall on Saturday 14th Feb and home to get feedback and ideas from people ready for March.


Word Lens - iPhone App

"See the world in your language" is the strapline on the iTunes store for this app but does it really work?

I downloaded Word Lens over a year ago but at the time it was a little unreliable and the only option was the demo which reversed text. The idea of the app is that it uses augmented reality for language translation. So you point your iPhone camera at some text and what appears on the screen is the translated text in the same setting as the original.

On a recent holiday to France I thought I'd see how well the latest version worked, I was very pleasantly surprised.

Here's my first target, a box of red cabbage. It took Word Lens a couple of seconds to stabilise the image but not only is it a clear translation but the resultant translation image is brilliant.



Next something a little more complex with multiple rows of text.

More than enough information for me to find a new pair of comfortable slippers for the caravan.

The app itself is free, with the demo translation which reverses text. In app purchase is then £2.99 and the following packs are available at the time of writing:

  • English <--> French
  • English <--> Spanish
  • English <--> Italian
  • English <--> German
  • English <--> Portugese

It doesn't work with all fonts, the more simple the font the more likely an accurate translation. However for general use while on holiday it was great and I'll be using it on future trips.


Project - Makespace Coat Rack

Six months ago I joined Makespace in Cambridge, the community's inventing shed. Started by Jonny Austin, Laura James and Simon Ford the aim is to build a community and an environment where we can build pretty much anything. We're based in the old Robotics lab of Cambridge University and membership is open to anyone over 18, more details can be found on the Makespace website.

Before we could use the space we had to clear it, fix the electrics, give it a lick of paint and generally make it habitable. Once we'd got somewhere to sit and some benches to work on we started to add more creature comforts, one of the things we didn't have was somewhere to hang our coats. Rather than buy a coat rack I decided I would go with the spirit of Makespace and make one, here's how it went.

In order to keep the costs down I used a plank of pine that I already had and bought some cheap hooks from Screwfix. Rather than just use the plain board I thought I'd add the Makespace logo, which is a styalised overlapping M and S, fortunately made up from simple circles and a few straight lines. With appropriate guides this could mostly be created using a router.

Step 1: Separate logo from main rack

First I found some scrap boards the same thickness as the pine and screwed some guides at right angles to the board. I then routed a straight channel half the thickness of the board, to form the right hand side of the 'M' and separate the logo from the main body of the rack.

Step 2: First curve

Luckily the radius of the circles corresponded to the radius of the router with a straight bit fitted. Therefore a nail in the centre of the circle to butt edge of router up against provided the ideal guide to cut top curve.

Step 3: Other curves

Adding a second nail I thn cut the remaining curves at 1/4 thickness of the board, to outline the 'S'.

Step 4: Top of 'S'

In order to cut the straight edge for the top of the 'S' I screwed a guide level with the bottom edge of the board.

Step 5: Bottom of 'S'

Moving the guide to the top provided a straight edge to cut the bottom of the 'S'.

Step 6: Drill centres

A hole saw was just right to remove the two centres.

Step 7: Cut 'M'

Vertical cuts for right hand side hole form the right hand side of the 'M' leaving only the curve at the top left to be cut with a jigsaw.


The last steps, which I don't have pictures of, were to sand and varnish the board and add the coat hooks - job done, first project completed and a handy coat rack for all. The completed item can be seen at the top of this post, or on the wall in the corridor at Makespace.


London Science Museum Lates

For a night out last week with colleagues we spent the evening in the Science Museum. It may seem an odd choice but I work with technical people and it's something we were all interested in - they also sold beer! One the last Wednesday of every month the museum holds 'Lates'. These are adult only events and the theme changes every month, this month's was mental health. All of the existing exhibits are accessible, there are some standard items that are also there every month - like the silent disco - and there are theme specific speakers and stands.

With this being our first time we saw very few on the specific presentations and spent most of the time wandering through the museum enjoying a beer or too.

The evening started around 6:30 and finished at 10pm and the time went in no time, we only just had time to check out every floor and we were too late to ride the Red Arrows Experience.

Some thoughts for next time:

- Take cash, it's far easier than cards for the bars
- Get there for the start, there's lots to see and the time flies
- Go with friends, it's a great shared experience and some of the hands on parts are easier with others
- Check the schedule when you get there and plan for the things you really want to see
- Take a camera so II have more to post

- Wear too much - it's warm in there and the queue for the cloaks was huge
- Carry anything - there's lots of hands on and with a beer in one hand you don't want a bag in the other
- Drive - there are a couple of tables selling beer on each floor!

All in all a great evening and I'll definitely be going again.


Travelling with Tech

Having recently become the proud owner of a caravan I've decided to keep weekends away separate from work and not take my laptop - I know, scary. However I still want to be able to have sufficient tech with me to be able to blog, update Facebook, take - view - edit photos and surf the web for useful local information.

I intend to do more details on each of the elements in later posts but the summary for now is:


I always have my iPhone 4s with me but with my eyesight these days the iPad screen is so much easier to use. Also my fingers were definitely not designed to blog on an iPhone. The iPad has the photo app which will allow me to do the basics - copy the pictures from the camera and upload them. However I want to do more and I know there are other apps available to help, so they will definitely be the target for future posts.


I have a DSLR but whenever I take that to places I tend to be the one taking photos and not taking part. So I wanted something which had the ability to do close ups, yet had a also able zoom for landscape shots. It needed to fit into my pocket and also become simply point and shoot when required. I've opted for the Nikon 9100, the big decider being the 18x optical zoom.


I have the option of using my iPhone via O2 as a hotspot but I've had the mifi from 3 for a while and the coverage seems better. It's also a separate device that I can simply leave plugged in the van on charge and forget about it.

So this is the start of what will hopefully be an interesting experiment for more than just me.