Monday, July 1, 2013

Open Day, Part II

The main things I learned from the open day:
  1. It is possible to mull over these things for a few weeks when you are too busy to do anything serious, and then put in a few hours' work late on a Friday afternoon and come up with something working.
  2. iPads are fun, and there are some great apps to do serious engineering, but you can't hack those apps, and you can't do much to hack the iPad.  You get to do what Apple, and Apple-approved developers, allow you to do.  Which is a great deal, but it's not the sort of activity that engineers find really satisfying (and despite the fact that I'm an ex-geochemist with a master's degree in philosophy, I still consider myself a kind of engineer).
  3. On Friday afternoon, I needed the python-twitter library to check the twitter feed from Python.  Downloading and installing it via apt-get from the Ubuntu repository took a few seconds. When I realised I needed a newer version to cope with changes in Twitter's API, it took a couple of minutes to find the newer version, download it and install it.  If I had been using the locked-down campus version of Windows, it would not have been that trivial. Perhaps not even possible. Linux makes it much, much easier to do this sort of thing.
  4. I enjoyed myself more late on Friday afternoon than I had done for weeks doing more "important" things.  It really fired my enthusiasm for using these things in next year's programmable electronics module (I have sixty kits sitting in a cupboard), and encouraging students to play around with them and see what they can do.
  5. I thought I had fried the GPIO port on my Raspberry Pi.  A morning sitting in a room with disappointingly few visitors meant I had time to do some troubleshooting with a multimeter, and it turned out to be a broken connection on the ground rail of one of my breadboards, which was a relief.  I love my multimeter.
  6. To some visitors, sending a tweet to turn on an LED was like magic.  To some, it was deeply unimpressive.  Only colleagues were able to grasp how much was really going on between pressing the send button on the iPad, and the red and green lights coming on.

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