Robotic light painting with Raspberry Pi

First handheld attempt at light painting with Raspberry Pi

Inspired by the amazing images and brilliant write-up by Phillip Burgess at Adafruit, I decided to give my Raspberry Pi something interesting and colourful to do – light painting. A happy day of geeking saw my brother and I pull together a wireless remote-controlled, battery-powered, Raspberry Pi light painting robot. It’s not perfect, but we think the initial results are pretty good for a day’s work and I thought I’d share some notes and photos in case anyone else is interested.
Continue reading

Use QR codes to let friends use your home Wi-Fi easily

Create a "cheat sheet" like this to let friends access your Wi-Fi easily

When friends come to visit, it’s increasingly handy to let them connect their smartphones and tablets to your Wi-Fi network.  Whether they want to share amusing YouTube clips, download the latest and greatest apps/games you’ve been discussing or just access web and email, Wi-Fi usually makes it quicker than relying on the mobile phone network. There’s another benefit if they’ve got an iPhone/iPad and your house has an Apple TV as part of your audio/video setup. By connecting their Apple gadget to your network, they can beam their choice of music, videos or photos to your TV/hifi wirelessly using AirPlay. It’s really simple and makes media sharing much more immersive than passing someone’s iPhone or iPad around.
Continue reading

How to improve the IAAF false start rule?

Usain Bolt was disqualified from the final of the 2011 World Championship 100m for one false start. The IAAF rules are now coming under fire for being too harsh, since they afford no latitude for accidental false starts.

The false start rule used to be more lenient. Historically, every athlete would receive a warning on their first false start and disqualification on their second. In 2003, the rule changed so that the first false start warning applied to the entire field rather than just the offending athlete. In 2010, warnings were eliminated entirely. Avoiding delay to TV schedules was a key driver for streamlining the rule, but I suspect that broadcasters would rather show “The Lightning” competing than have him disqualified on their account.

So, let’s explore the rule and consider alternatives.
Continue reading

HulloMail – Visual voicemail for smartphones

Apple revolutionised voicemail with the iPhone. Rather than the traditional approach of calling your voicemail service and listening to each message in turn, “Visual Voicemail” brings the ability to see voicemails in a list (like an email inbox).  At last you can tell at a glance who called you when, and listen to your messages in the order you want rather than the order they were left. Even better – since the messages are downloaded onto your phone – you can listen to them even if you’re out of coverage and unable to dial into your voicemail.  This is fantastic for areas of poor reception where calls can be hit-or-miss – for example the office where I’m spending most of my days at the moment.

Sadly, VisualVoicemail is not offered by Orange UK (my mobile provider).  Vodafone UK users are similarly out of luck.  Only O2 (the original and erstwhile-exclusive UK iPhone purveyor) bothered decided to upgrade its systems to offer VisualVoicemail.  Naturally, Orange and Vodafone keep this quiet and still charge full-Apple-whack despite their second-rate voicemail service.

Maybe one Screenshot of HulloMail app on iPhoneday the cheapskates/laggards will get around to supporting VisualVoicemail.  In the meantime, thankfully, there is a workable alternative in the shape of HulloMail – essentially an app for iPhone, Android, Blackberry and other smartphones.  It’s even free-of-charge, if you can put up with ads and limited storage – otherwise pay a few quid for the ad-free version. It might not be quite as slick-looking or as snappily named as the original Apple offering, but it’s available.  It works.  I like it.  Read all about it.

PS: It was Orange that prompted this post.  They sent me an iPhone survey from their Better Together community, asking if I’d heard of Visual Voicemail and if I’d use it.  Too right.  Bring it on.  At least I’ve got HulloMail in the meantime…

How to virtualise and backup your wallet

Screenshot of iPhone showing image of bank card

Store card images in a photo album on your phone as a backup and for reference when the real card's not handy

You’ve got lots of important cards in your wallet – credit cards, payment cards etc.  You want to make sure they’re handy when you need them, and you don’t want to lose them.  No doubt you’ve also got lots more cards you seldom need (e.g. membership cards, discount cards) – so you either cram them into your wallet on the off-chance you’ll need them, or you don’t bother carrying them and sometime wish you had.  Either way – not ideal.  Increasingly, if you’re anything like me, cards are used as often for online payments as physical payments – so you can often get away with knowing the information printed on the card, rather than needing the card itself.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could have all your card information handy without having all your cards in your wallet (or, in fact, carrying any at all)?  And wouldn’t it be great if you had a backup of your wallet contents, so if you do ever lose it you know which cards to cancel?  How?

Make a photo album containing pictures of each of your cards, and carry it on your smartphone.

It’s easiest to use a scanner to capture the images of each card, but you could use a camera instead.  I scanned both sides of each card at 300dpi, which resulted in card images approx 1,000 pixels wide by 650 pixels high.   I used GIMP (the open source image manipulator) to combine the front and back images for each card into a single image file 1,050 pixels wide by 1,400 pixels high. Then I saved these in a photo folder that automatically syncs with my iPhone.  Job done.  30-or-so cards scanned front and back in well under an hour (I scanned several at a time).  And I think this is secure enough for me, because the PIN protection on my phone kicks in automatically after a handful of minutes.  If only my real wallet were PIN-protected and could be remotely wiped like my iPhone!

I still need to carry around my essential day-to-day cards in my wallet, but I can cut the clutter by leaving many at home.  Next time I need to prove my AA breakdown membership, prove my National Trust membership or order something online when my wallet’s not handy, I can just reach for my phone, pop in my PIN, eyeball the right card in the photo album and click it to read the details.  I’m not planning on losing my wallet, but if (when?) I ever do, sorting that out should be a lot easier too.