Levelled Up: Knitting +1

Part of my idea for this year was to level up some of my crafting skills, so I picked a few projects that I wanted to work on. These range from a Raspberry Pi based computer built into a wooden box through to my own version of Captain America’s shield (more on that later).

I did some reading around managing the joint issues I’ve been experiencing with my hands, and it was suggested that knitting would be worth exploring (which had the added benefit of being stress reducing). So after a few false-starts, a lot of YouTube instructional videos and a fair bit of spent yarn, I finally managed to make some reasonable headway:

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Knitting efforts...

It’s bizzare how much a mechanical task like knitting can occupy your mind. It’s also crazy how satisfying it is to see a massive bundle of yarn turn into something based only on how you force it to interact with itself. Talking again with my mum, she told me that if any of it did go wrong, you could snip the end off it and unravel it all (which lead me to the realisation that knitting is all about creating massively complicated knots).

Anyhoo… This one will evolve in a particularly predictable fashion. Stay tuned for updates.

B

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Clothes Hacking: Leather Gloves 2.0

With Raynaud’s Phenomenon (Wikipedia) being one of the wondrous things I get to enjoy, I’ve got to stay pretty much in gloves all the time during Winter. The thing I’ve struggled to resolve is being able to perform basic functions on my phone without having to take my gloves off.

I know that capacitative gloves aren’t a new thing, but the problem I’ve always found is trying to find a nice pair of leather gloves. Doing some research, I came across a Lifehacker article on how to Make any pair of gloves work with a touchscreen. That in turn linked to an article on Fashion Tech.com about Conductive Thread. I couldn’t quite believe this sort of thing actually existed. Normal thread that conducts electricity… I was even more bewildered when it turns out that you can pick the stuff up off Amazon for under a fiver.

My mum (my go-to authority on such things) offered to help me out with the work. The difficulty faced was that putting a hole into the surface of a piece of leather would ruin the fabric. So our plan involved pushing through the seams at the top of the finger, giving me a capacitative pointer. We stitched a coil of the thread to the lining of the glove, then pushed a length through the lining and the stitch at the top. Rather than trying to loop in and out through the glove, Mum got a brainwave to loop it through the glove’s own external stitching, which kept things nice and clean on the outside.

Modified leather gloves with conductive stitching

modified leather gloves with conducting thread…

Quick tests with iPads, my Galaxy and the Ticket Machine at the station shows it works fantastically. The coil under the pad of my finger on the inside carries a small charge through the thread to the loop on the outside. Mum took some of the thread and stitched it into her gloves, wanting to make using the self-service machines at supermarkets even easier.

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Review/Warning: RoboCop (2014)

So, after a bit of good news during the day (can’t go into specifics yet… SOON…), I decided that rather than head home, I’d pop along to BFI’s IMAX to catch whatever movie was playing (the 2014 version of RoboCop). I was a bit apprehensive about the remake, but since I’d been planning to see it anyway (and being in a good mood), I decided to go for it.

I should say at this point that I’d try to avoid spoilers. I won’t this time…

Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 movie is a visceral, dark dystopian satire of corporate greed and societal decay. It sets us in a world where society has virtually given up and corporations are running amok making money unchecked and engaging in social re-engineering to make life comfortable for those that can afford it. It adds to this by satirising a complicit media pushing the agenda of its corporate paymasters, versus actual journalism.

The new version? it’s set in the near future in what seems to be a fairly idyllic Detroit. The biggest problem we’re told is that the US won’t allow law enforcement to use robots to pacify urban aggression (which we don’t really get to see…). Gone is the societal collapse of the original, the segregation of Delta City and Old Detroit. The satire of media is reduced to Samuel L. Jackson portraying a Bill O’Riley like political pundit, wrapping himself in the stars and stripes, whilst media colleagues report on how the citizens of Tehran are “happily” cooperating with robots scanning them for hostile intent.

OCP’s motivation for creating RoboCop has also been changed. No longer is it about the privatisation of law enforcement (with the subsequent ability of OCP to control RoboCop through the super secret Directive 4), but he becomes a media prop to convince a skeptical public to repeal a law banning the deployment of robots on the streets of the US. OCP stops being an evil monolithic corporation, and turns into a company that just wants to sell more of its products (like a militarised version of Apple, wanting to sell sentient killer iPhones). OCP focus group RoboCop’s image, trying to make him scary to criminals and friendly to kids. Robo has been focused-grouped to appeal to everyone.

The wheels come off the wagon near the end for OCP, when RoboCop learns the Chairman ordered him dead. He proceeds to OCP headquarters to confront the Chairman (stopping to fight with a whole squad of much less homicidal ED-209s). Rather than the insidious Directive 4, we see that Robo can’t shoot or apprehend anyone wearing a “red” tag, and rather than going into Dick Jones’ rant about how OCP can’t have its products turn against them, Sellars (played by Keaton) taunts Robo about how he’s just a machine (flying completely in the face of everything we’ve seen so far), and RoboCop shoots him… with no exploration or understanding of how.

It’s a monumentally poor effort, a sanitised and safe movie which isn’t designed to challenge the audience… OCP would be proud.

In short, don’t go to see it. I’ve sacrificed two hours so that you don’t have to.

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Lego Marvel Super Heroes

Having built a PC to play games, I’ve been grabbing opportunities in between bouts of failing to sleep to catch up on some of the games I’ve failed to play during my years in the Apple wilderness (and the associated period where I proved my massive incompetence playing console games).

Besides Skyrim and a return to playing Command & Conquer (all of them…), one of the games I’ve had a load of fun playing was Lego Marvel Super Heroes. Having initially been introduced to the Lego games universe through Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga, and having played Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes on the 3DS, I was quite pleased to hear that a Marvel version was coming out.

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The game features pretty much all the Marvel characters you can think of, and is fairly tongue-in-cheek. Mr Fantastic at one point deploys himself as a parachute to save The Thing and The Invisible Woman, looking to the camera and saying “I saw this in a movie once…”. As the story progresses, more and more characters, vehicles and locations are unlocked, and the story culminates in the heroes and villains joining forces to defeat Galactus (not a spoiler, since Galactus is in the intro cinematic and in the trailer).

The story mode is pretty straightforward (it is a game designed for kids after all…) and completing that only gets you 20% of the way to completely completing the game. Once you complete the story mode, you switch to the Free Play mode, which lets you go over the game again, this time with all of the characters you’ve unlocked (so you can access additional bits of the level you’ve just played through to unlock extras). This becomes one of the more frustrating bits of any Lego game, the grind needed to feel like you’ve actually managed to make reasonable headway to complete the game. This version at least tries to open things up by creating a “Mission Hub” modelled on New York. You wander along the streets of the City, tackling side missions on your way (including saving Stan Lee from an increasingly bewildering array of situations). This addition (compared to the Mos Eisley Cantina hub from the Star Wars version) at the very least gives you some diversion from having to run through each of the 15 levels twice, but you still end up performing variations on the same side-quest a dozen or so times on your way to unlocking everything. 

Overall, it’s a fun game (it’s rather funny being able to re-stage your own version of the Hulk Vs Abomination fight from The Incredible Hulk in a Lego Harlem and have a load of Lego characters simultaneously cheer and tell you to “watch it, buddy!”) and if you’re a Marvel fan, you’re going to get a kick out of it. 100% completion is a long slog, and if you’re not a fan of open world sandbox games, you’re likely to drive yourself a bit mad trying to finish it.

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Travelling… Endless travelling

File this one under “aww didums”, but I’m coming to the end of a fairly manic bit of travelling. In the past few weeks I’ve been to Nice, Swindon, Cardiff, Ebbw Vale, Birmingham, Newtown, Barcelona, Glasgow and Livingston. By the end of the day, I’ll have added Paris to the list, and Cork will round off the year. The desperately annoying thing about this is I’ve only been able to spend a few hours in each of these places, which I don’t think means I can really claim to have seen any of them.

Given recent news, and word from the office that I had 20 of my 25 days of leave left, I should actually take holidays to some of these places, rather than just spending time in meetings and airports…

Like I said, a whiney “tiny violins” moment…

B

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Health Update

So, I figure I should probably update you all. The symptoms are coming and going (apparently, flareups are something I can look forward to), so another visit to the doctor resulted in prescriptions for Nifedipine and Hydroxychloroquine. A gloriously distressing list of side-effects include (rather amusingly for some, I imagine) the possibility of my hair losing its colour (stop sniggering back there… what’s wrong being ginger?).

Other than that, there’s not really much more to report. It’ll take a while for things to kick in apparently (opinions differ on how long, anything from a few weeks to a few months), so there’s very little else to do except wait.

I don’t do well waiting.

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Coding into the small hours…

So a week or two ago I picked up a Raspberry Pi device with the intention of turing it into a network testing device that I could drop into a network as part of my work. I had the idea that I could plug it into the network, plug it into the mains and it would go off and do its thing, then once it was done I could pick up the results and save myself a lot of time and effort. It would also give me a chance to do some real computer geeking (which I’ve not had much cause to do recently) and learn a bit of Python (which I’ve been meaning to do for a while.

To make things a bit more fun, I also picked up a 20×4 LCD display, with the intention of having it give a status display of what the device was doing at that point in time. Handily, the screen I picked up from Amazon already came with the approrpiate headers soldered onto it (which I should confess I only noticed after going to the bother and expense of picking up all the necessary tools for soldering). The added complication was that nowhere in my immediate area seemed to sell the appropriate connectors to join the screen to the Pi.

So, rather than wasting time waiting for Amazon to deliver more things, I opted to use some M-F jumper cables my housemate had and plug them into the appropriate pin location on a ribbon wire that came with a Pi kit I’d got from Maplin. After some faffing, the screen came to life.

Dodgy Connections

Improvising connections from the Pi to the LCD screen


The next three hours were then spent trying to get some example Python code to work (which succeeded in getting the screen to light up). In frustration at not getting any text to display, I nearly gave up at midnight to get some sleep, until I spotted on the back of the unit something that looked like a screw head. It’s at that point it occured to me that it was probably a brightness or contrast control. Putting it all back together, I discover that the code I’d been using worked the whole time.

You can imagine what happened after that. 4hrs later and the device can now determine what its IP address is, take a stab at the size of the network (I need to look at this bit again…), use NMAP to work out what hosts are alive and then subject them to a port scan (writing the results back to the SD card).

Screen PI

Pi and its new Screen

More to do, but a pretty good start :-)

B

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