element14 + Build Updates

So it appears that I am this months Member of the Month over at element14. Quite a surprise, no acceptance speech or anything though. Instead you get this old photo

Coming soon is the UK Maker Faire 2013 in Newcastle, I’ll be there, will you?


Build Updates!

The pep build is slowly coming on. Currently onto smoothing out the shell and getting the ears cut and built to go on. Need to find a suitable way to construct the lenses for the eyes.

New project is to build a guitar amp, and as a side project an Atari Punk. This started off well, until discovering I had forgotten to order a few heatsinks for the PSU. Fingers may have been slightly cooked.

3D Printing, Just a passing fad?

By now, everyone has heard of 3D printing, it has been pretty difficult to avoid some mention of companies like Makerbot, but is it here to stay like many believe it is? Recently a blog started making it’s way around the internet, sharing a different point of view on the industry. 3dprintingconfidential (Note: Contains stronge language), written by someone apparently involved in a large company, goes into some of the more unpleasant side of 3D Printing. Whether this blog is being written by someone who is sick of their job (and the questionable safety aspect*) or with some valid complaints is a mystery, as is their identity (Unsurprising given some of the comments), but are they right? Is 3D printing just a passing trend? Despite it’s recent increase in accessibility for the average DIYer, will it disappear and be left to industrial users and a few niche markets? Only time will really tell, whatever happens, the road is bound to be bumpy. As mentioned in the blog, there are some designs that will cause issues, something we have already seen in the case of weapons parts, however the use of 3D printing to create toys certainly won’t be the last story we here. Personally, I’m waiting for the discussion to start about the ethics involved in 3D printing body parts (Not many, but someone will no doubt object). At the end of the day, this blog certainly raises some interesting points, worth thinking about as we start to see 3D printing become more common much like household printers did.



*The author discusses being covered in polyamide powder, something which shouldn’t happen should proper safety measures be taken such as gloves. Recommendations on this vary, but if you are finding it hard to remove, surely the logical step is to use PPE? Just a thought…


[Crossposted on element14]

What I’ve been up to…


Pep build, a set on Flickr.

Following on from the element14/Texas Instruments Ultimate Road Test, it was time for a little break. The solution was to work on something I’ve been planning a while. There were so many options for what to do, but in the end, there was only really one choice, the ever popular Storm Trooper.

Cue a good few hours work cutting out and joining the pep files (Naturally, I ended up finding on without the tabs on. That was fun…), next step was to reinforce it all. The simplest way was polyester resin and fibreglass. A bit of a messy job, but it seems to be working well. Next step is to remodel the areas that need it (Milliput and body filler), and after that is to paint it. This may take a while, but worth it.

For a first attempt, it isn’t going to be screen accurate, maybe next time though.

RIP Sally Ride: Americas First Female Astronaut

Sally Ride, Astronaut

Sally Ride, First female US Astronaut (Copyright NASA)

It was announced today that Sally Ride, the first female astronaut from America, has sadly died as a result of cancer. She was only 61.

Sally made some huge contributions to STEM and society as a whole. Her passing is a huge loss to the world.

A few articles on her:

Quick Survey!

Survey Closed: No More Entries Needed

Should only take a minute, thanks!

Create your free online surveys with SurveyMonkey, the world’s leading questionnaire tool.

Recent Research Shows Three Fold Increase In Fake Components

Following on from a BBC article, I wrote a thing: http://www.element14.com/community/blogs/JohnT/2012/04/10/fake-semiconductors-could-cause-tragedy–bbc-news

Engineers should go contribute their knowledge by answering the questions.

Raspberry Pi and the Art of Being Patient

In 2006, Eben Upton, Rob Mullins, Jack Lang and Alan Mycroft from  the University of Cambridge’s Computer Laboratory set out to find a solution to the increasing problem in the computing sector. At one time, many students going onto Computer Science courses at university had a reasonable level of technical skill. Since then, the number of students has fallen drastically and so has the skill level. Why is this the case? One thought is the current IT curriculum in schools simply does not teach these technical skills. One thought is that changes in technology have limited how it can be taught. Perhaps it is a combination of these and more? “Back in the day”, platforms such as the BBC Micro and Spectrum ZX made it possible for any one to program applications. Fast forward a couple of years and schools mainly have windows PCs. While this was by no means a huge obstacle, it did start to mark the end of programming. Skip forward a few more years to when the Raspberry Pi project started, the average programming being done in schools was a bit of VB in Office. Even then, in some cases this was minimal, if happening at all. While useful, writing some macros or a single tiny program is not enough to encourage kids into software development as a career. It limited the creativity of some and completely put off others. The ones who were interested, found their own way into the area. For some this meant doing what owners of BBC Micros etc did and writing full applications of their own, for others it meant web development.

While writing this, the web comic below showed up in a feed. It turns out it is awfully relevant.

Here is where the Raspberry Pi came into being. The decline in skills and students was recognised and a solution was needed. The answer that resulted was a low cost (Cost, as always, being a huge factor in any solution) platform that could be a used as  a teaching tool, not just for the obvious computer applications, but also for more physical projects. So here it was, a cheap tool, a whole $35 worth, that had similar power to a low power netbook/smart phone with similar features, yet also had the capabilities to be used for physical computing like an Arduino.

Rasberry Pi Beta Board

Rasberry Pi Beta Board

After working on the project since 2006, hype began to build. Soon enough, the board was famous, everyone wanted one, then in February 2012, it was time. The team started sending out the message through all their previous communication methods. Emails were sent, blogs posted, tweets sent, and I assume shouting from the rooftops (Or at least crying into their tea on launch day when it became obvious just what they had achieved). Now, here is where it starts to annoy me. Let me rephrase that, here is where the community starts to annoy me. Don’t get me wrong, the vast majority of the community saw this coming and are taking it in their stride, there is a minority however (Isn’t there always when it comes to the internet…) that are only willing to see this as a disaster. Almost as if they had kicked a puppy*. Now this is what annoys me, you have been paying attention, you know how popular it has been and know it is going to be popular, yet still knowing this, you try to tear the team a new one. I don’t see any logic in this. It is a well established fact that the device in question has been developed by a a small group of volunteers and not a huge corporation. This means they have a fairly limited budget to work with (Again, an assumption based on the lack company information available), and as a result do not have the resources to magically produce enough boards for everyone in a realistic time scale. We cannot forget of course who this project was aimed at, educators and their classes. This gives the group two choices, delay the project another year while they produce enough boards to meet demand and reduce the amount of time developers have to produce the software users would need to get started, or release now and get the product to market faster so developers have time to prepare for September.

On an international basis, the September deadline is not a particularly important one (To my knowledge), but in the UK, it is a concern. In 2011, Ofsted (Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills) release a report on ICT in schools saying ICT in schools needed improvement, particularly in programming and a couple of other areas 2. As a result of this consultation, it was announced that the current ICT curriculum would be scrapped and replaced with a Computer Science focused course 3. While this may not have been part of the original plan for Raspberry Pi, it almost certainly gave them a new target. What better time to release a product that promotes computer science than when a new computer science curriculum is being released?

Whatever the reason for releasing now, it was known that the demand would be huge. As a result of this, they made efforts to give everyone a chance to get one of the first 10,000; a reasonable release time (Near impossible to find a time everyone is happy with), distributors that cover the world, different methods of alerting everyone. If the efforts by Raspberry Pi themselves wasn’t enough, there was certainly enough buzz on social networks. As shown by the release (and the prompt crashing of several websites), the launch was not missed. Quite how some didn’t notice is quite amazing. Granted, the announcement was not explicit, but given the prior hints at when the release was likely to be, the hints in the announcement itself, and the discussion, it was clear enough to know it was going to be big. And what is going to be bigger than a release?

So, my response to the people complaining about how it wasn’t publicised is this, “Tough.”. Move on, do something useful with your time, such as perhaps, oh I don’t know, write some software for it and test it on an emulator? For those complaining that 10,000 wasn’t enough for a first release. Um…ok, I take it you haven’t tried to predict the future to see how many you will need? Ignoring the time scale, there is the matter of funding. Creating a huge first batch would be rather expensive, a bit beyond the means of such a group. Not impossible, just difficult and a whole new barrel of fish. For those complaining that the team is in over their heads. Yes they are, and no they are not. This project has turned out bigger than anyone could have predicted. Given the scale, the group is in my opinion coping rather well. I challenge any of you to do better with only volunteers and jobs to do.


Raspberry Pi is an amazing board created to help solve the lack of skilled computer science students. It is a project run by volunteers working with the community. If for some reason you do not like what they are doing, either get involved with useful advice or start your own project. Or simply be quiet. Yes there will be some disappointments along the road, yes it may take a while for you to get your own, but please, do not complain and complain some more about someone doing a fine job under difficult circumstances. Do not waste your energy complaining about how badly someone is handling something that a corporation can struggle with never mind a small group of people. Instead, regardless of where you are, put your energy into helping the next generation of computer scientists, engineers, mathematicians, scientists (Or anyone else who falls into the category of STEM). A little bit of effort and we can do something amazing. Hop to it.

*No puppies were ever harmed, only stroked and petted and found to be amazing. Presumably cats were also found to be amazing, but I’ll leave that one to the Raspberry Pi team to confirm or deny.


So its a new year, and to go with it is a new plan. This plan includes pushing some things forward, dumping others, and keeping others exactly the same.

Step 1 of the plan, thanking everyone for last year. By all accounts, last year was terrible. So many issues, so little corrected after them. Wouldn’t have got through it however without the help of a few close friends. So with that, thanks guys.

Step 2, kick start some smaller plans. Those things you were planning to do? Less thinking about it, more doing it.

So what are your plans?

Review: Fluke 233

Late post is late.


Many thanks to e-14 for this one. Some time in summer, I won a lovely bit of kit. At the time I was cursing, the day I found out I was only round the corner from the offices but couldn’t make it to drool in person. However, following a short wait (and a looong drive home from Leeds), I got home to find a box. What was inside it you ask? Simple, a Fluke 233 and some e-14 goodies.


The Fluke 233 is a remote display Digital Multi Meter with an impressive feature list including:

  • Measure up to 1000 V ac and dc
  • Measure up to 10 A (20 A for 30 seconds)
  • 10,000 μF capacitance range
  • Frequency to 50 kHz


Whats impressive about this, aside from the features, is the display. For those who have parts of systems scattered about, or in awkward places, or just want to monitor something from the other side of the room (We’ve all been there right?), the display module detaches. This allows you to connect up the meter as usual, but walk away (Up to 10 meters) with the display. To make it easier the display itself is magnetic allowing you to easily attach it to a nearby surface such as a control box you are working on. The main unit however is not so lucky. With the basic kit your only option is to carefully place it somewhere stable. Or, take advantage of one of the accessory kits. One such item is the ToolPak. This simple strap clips onto the back of your Fluke meter and adds the magnetic feature seen in the disaply module. Should you not have a magnetic surface available, you can always clip it onto another appropriate surface. Should you want to refrain from hanging about, there is the stand option, seen on many meters. Simply flip it out from the back of the meter to prop it up while you work.

Aside from the amazing remote display, the meter itself is pretty standard. Auto ranging, Min/Max/Avg options, temperature and frequency features, back light, true-rms etc. A good quality meter, great for any engineer working in potentially hazardous or awkward spaces.


While working with it, I haven’t had any major problems (The minor ones all being down to a lack of tea), the battery life is ok. It might struggle with heavy use, however it does not need anything special, just AA alkaline cells. The wireless function for the display turns off when connected to the main unit (and resorts to an IR connection, no dirty pins to deal with) in order to conserve power. Over all it is a very nice unit, well worth the money, if a little on the expensive side. Not one for beginners thats for sure!


My only complaints with it are with the kit contents. While it is not expected that the meter comes with a case, I do feel it could have came with one, or at least some nice bubblewrap to package it. For those considering getting one, or who have one I do recommend getting a case. You can get one from Fluke directly or locate one for yourself. Just don’t forget it must have room for all your accessories! My other complaint is with the manual. It is on CD. While not a problem for most users, some platforms may have issues opening the included files. Should you need the manual, you can soon download a copy from the Fluke website.


My rating? 9.9/10

Marks are lost for the manual not being as accessible as it could be.


Worth buying? Yes, if you are going to need the remote display, go for it, if not, stick with one of the other models and save the money from the batteries.

New Project

New project up now! Read about it on Behance

Next versions may be available for sale. Get in touch if you are interested!

Copyright © 2012 John Tiernan - All Rights Reserved
Jarrah theme by Templates Next | Powered by WordPress

Page optimized by WP Minify WordPress Plugin