Raspberry Pi GPIO Workshop

Update: a writeup of the event by Lorraine is here.

A shot post to say that I am co-organizing a Raspberry Pi workshop with The IET Solent Branch at the University of Southampton on 25 April. For personal reasons I cannot make it myself that day but do go along if you want to learn about how to use the GPIO pins on your Pi board!

Raspberry Pi - 25 April Poster

Btw, if you can’t make it but live in the area, do checkout somakeit.org.uk. Recently launched and we now have a space!


Enlightened Geek Listening

geeklisteningFor some reason I never did any podcast listening until about 10 months ago. At that point I decided to give it a go and quickly assembled an initial list of subscriptions by googling around to see what similar minded peers were listening to. Its amazing (and frustrating) how much interesting stuff is out there.

My current list has evolved considerably since then and the purpose of this post is to give an overview of the shows I’m currently subscribed to and why. Hopefully it may inspire others to listen to some of them and share their own.

The different subscriptions cover my interests in technology & software, programming, (aerospace) engineering, and socio-economic/political topics. As well as a broader interest in science related topics and the scientific method.

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License to RHoK, Dec 1-2, Southampton, UK

After the great success and feedback of the previous global RHoK event in Southampton I decided to organize the next one as well. This time around kindly helped out by Alejandro Saucedo from HackaSoton.

During the weekend of 1-2 December 2012, The University of Southampton will be one of the satellite cities as part of the global Random Hacks of Kindness Event!

Like in June it looks like we will be the only UK event so let that be an extra motivation!

Click here for the detailed programme

Twitter hashtag: #rhoksoton

Eventbrite - RHoK Global December 2012: Southampton, UK

* Updates:

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Coursera-dl: A Coursera download script

I have blogged about coursera.org in the past and as part of signing up to a number of courses I felt the need to easily download the videos, quizzes, notes, etc. locally for later use offline.

I quickly found a project on github (and there are a few) but wasn’t quite happy with the code. I cleaned it up to a relatively sensible state and it now does what I wanted it to do. The main additional features I wanted were: easily download multiple courses, support for quizzes/homeworks, and support for links to extra material (e.g, 3rd party sites, papers, etc).

Just do a “pip install coursera-dl” and then run as follows:

coursera-dl -u myusername -p mypassword -d /my/courses/ algo-2012-001 ml-2012-002

Code is in python and can be found on Github.

Some people have asked if they could donate something. If you wish you can do that here:

Donate Button

Update: if you have a feature request or want to report a bug please use the github issue system


Random Hacks of Kindness in Southampton!

The gist: RHoK is great, come present your problem, or come learn something new or come sponsor a prize. But above all, come have fun! (June 2-3).

Twitter hashtag: #RHoKSoton

In one of my previous posts I talked about bringing engineers and computer scientists  together who were interested in helping to solve problems related to humanity and international development.

Well, we haven’t even had our first meeting yet (its this Thursday, 3pm @ UoS, Highfield campus, staffclub, if you want to come along) but Im already very happy and proud to say that we will be having our first event in 3 weeks time: During the weekend of 2-3 June 2012, Southampton University will be one of the satellite cities as part of the global Random Hacks of Kindness Event!

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RHOK 2011 in Oxford – NGO Clarity

The past weekend I attended my second Random Hacks of Kindness event in the space of a few months.  I went to the Oxford event which was kindly organized by Oxfam and White October.  My initial plan was actually to go to the Belgium event which was organized in my old home town of Antwerp.  But my travel plans ended up being changed so Oxford it was.

The organization was the same as other hackathons I had been to: organizers welcome everybody, idea owners pitch their ideas, chaos, teams are formed.  I quickly settled on the NGO Clarity idea by TechSoup Global Data Acquisitions Manager Dinesh Venkateswaran. With the drive to increasing transparency in the aid sector, there is a lot of data made available on NGOs.  The problem is that the format and quality of the available data varies wildly between and within countries.  Standardization efforts like IATI are trying to change this, but there is still a long way to go.

The goal of the NGO Clarity problem was to setup a system that would analyse the available data on a particular NGO and, depending on a set of rules, output a number of scores indicative of the quality of the provided data (notof the quality of the NGO itself). Such a system would allow a donor or organization like TechSoup quickly evaluate how much effort would be needed to evaluate an NGO.  Are there just a few small details missing or are there large gaping holes/inconsistencies in the data?  Solving this involved a three step process:

  1. Data Aquisition: Dinesh had about 40000 records on Indian NGO’s with him that needed to be loaded and pre-processed
  2. Inference: using heuristics, predefined rules & machine learning to assign scores to each NGO
  3. Presentation: presenting the results in an intuitive manner in the form of a website

While we could not solve every step in detail, my hope was to at least setup an end to end proof of principle.

Our initial team consisted of 4 people, including Dinesh, but unfortunately one soon left to join another project.  After some discussion it was decided that all three steps would be implemented using XPath/XQuery & the XML eXist database.  Since this was the particular specialty of 3rd team member Chris Wallace.  By the first show and tell we had a prototype working, but unfortunately Chris had to leave by then and would not return the next day.  Two others (Russel and Tim) were then kind enough to join me to continue the work.

However, the problem was that none of us was particularly familiar with XQuery.  I setup the eXist database & managed to run Chris’ scripts but we were pretty much stuck trying to extend it in some meaningful manner.  Russel then gave up and left, & Tim had another project to attend to, so it was essentially just me to continue.  After some more poking at the code I also decided to give up as well. Progress was just too slow and as nobody else at the event had any knowledge of XQuery or was willing to help pick it apart I would never get it finished.

Thus, on the train home I decided to start from scratch.  Since I’ve been doing a lot of python lately it was natural to use that.  Though if I were to start this from scratch as a hobby project I would have used Rails or Play, just to get to know those as well. Anyways, I used Django on the backend and jQuery/Bootstrap on the frontend.  About 2 hours later, just when my train arrived I was at feature parity with the xquery stuff. Some more furious hacking the next morning, Ben Foxall helping out with the templates, and about 10 seconds before the presentation was due to start I pushed the demo code to github.  I tried to get a map view to work as wel (geocoding the NGO addresses & plotting them using Google Maps) but couldn’t quite get it to work in time).

Our final presentaion, excellently prepared by Dinesh is up on slideshare:

In sum, it was another great learning experience.  In good hackathon tradition the code is rather hairy so I plan to take some time to clean things up & hopefully improve the rules & structure.  I think its a great idea so I would like to continue working on it as there is much that still needs to be done (see slides).  Unfortunately time is in short supply these days, but let see how it goes… 🙂