My word! It has been over 6 months since I last posted! Astounding how quickly time slips past. I remember those carefree days when GCSEs were a faint enigma in the distance, never to be seen or manifested. Alas, I am sitting here with five days to go until the horror story that is the national public exam of the Secondary Certificate of Education.
I have been wondering lately during those less-than-ideal revision sessions, why they are called certificates of education. I mean, yes, there is some aspect of learning and thinking involved, but I am convinced that most people will be able to pass with a C grade even the hardest iGCSE, just going over exam technique and how to, as my Ancient History teacher says, "play the game". It seems like a rather futile exercise to me!
On the same point, why do we even have this silly independent exam board system? I wrote a rather extensive piece on this a while ago, but the idea has just returned to me: In a nationwide standardised exam, designed to benchmark all students against each other, why do we have varying levels of difficulty? I am doing the AQA English Literature and Language certificate (or some other fancy name that does not mean much), and it is purportedly harder than their GCSE offerings. Silly, right? Even within exam boards there is variation! Astounding, If you ask (the very non-ostentatious) me. Get the joke? No? Most of my family don't either... I am not the funniest person...
Anyway, back to why I have not been posting: there has been a lot of stuff going on! To start with, there were my GCSE mocks, which went towards setting my predicted grades, which interestingly, I do not get to see. Then there was exam feedback (and the mountain-load of associated homework). Then there was this whole thing about Arkwright Engineering Scholarships and the relatively difficult processes in being awarded one [I find out in a month!], followed by working on our entry to the 2013 Toyota STEM Challenge as well as designing an experiment that went 30km into the stratosphere (and the associated difficulties). Oh, and then preparation started for the actual GCSEs. I will probably think of something else I would have done, but thats what I remember off the top of my head.
So, all in all, I hope that my readers will forgive me for my negligence to this blog. I have promised time and time again to move to Wordpress, and I assure you that it is in the works. The problem is that I am too cheap to pay for hosting and I want to challenge myself to create my own webserver at home, considering that I know absolutely nothing about webserver operation and maintenance!
Oh, yes. I remembered. We are also entering CanSat UK this year, where we have to launch a pseudo-satilite in a can to an altitude of 1km, conduct a primary mission of collecting certain weather data, as well as a secondary mission of our choosing. It will be fun!
May 5, 2013
December 16, 2012
On my first ever Lufthansa flight, I figured I would write my typical Christmas post, reflecting on the past year and the achievements that have been made by us. Now that i think about it, 2012 has been an eventful year! Unfortunately, I do not really have any one topic to ramble on about, but anyway, it has also been an Intriguing few weeks for me. I have progressed well in my various projects, namely, BaloonSat, where we are due to send a radiation monitoring experiment into the atmosphere; my IP ArdPi buggy (more on that later) and my various controlled assessments and courseworks that I am required to do. However, perhaps most interestingly, I have now become a standing candidate for the Richmond borough for the UK Youth Parliament.
It's quite a funny story actually. The leaflet advertising it came to my tutor group and I took one, figuring that it might be a fun thing to do. Once the first meeting came around and went, I became apprehensive of my willpower to carry this through, due to the work it requires and my own personal workload, especially with A levels coming up over the next two years. Another person from my school decided to drop out that evening for precisely those reasons. I, on the other hand, decided to hedge my bets and hold out making a decision until the next meeting.
So, this Saturday I went to the second meeting, full of apprehension, hoping to make my decision following it. We discussed many things, including how to put together an effective manifesto, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself! I met many new and interesting people of about my age from demographics I had never had the pleasure of interacting with, often with different, yet valid, opinions, for which they were willing to argue with a passion. We discussed and debated many local and national issues, such as transport, energy and the recent education reforms. I even encountered people from a rival school just down the road from us, and despite the many stereotypes my school made of them, we greatly enjoyed ourselves. I managed to greatly embarrass myself, as I always do, by saying that she looked similar to "Sue" from the American TV show, "The Middle". Luckily, she still spoke to me afterwards...! (She kinda did though, just better looking and without the braces!)
Hence, I have decided to continue with the process, and as such I ask you, as I am currently compiling my manifesto, to bring to my attention any issues, both on a local and national level, that you would like me to take a look at and consider putting into my manifesto. It is, after all, you that will be voting! I shall keep you all updated as the process goes on, but for now, the mock GCSE exams are looming, and so, revision is in order [Oh dammit, the Geography! All that Geography!].
In terms of the bigger picture, it is a daunting task to concisely and interestingly list all the big events that have occurred this year. I mean, there are highs: the (unconfirmed) discovery of the Higgs Boson, Felix Baumgartner’s jump from the upper-atmosphere and of course the London Olympics, as well as the lows: the death of Neil Armstrong and the recent Newtown, Connecticut shooting, for which I send my genuine thoughts and condolences. Yep, 2012 was an eventful year indeed, and I think that no one does it better justice than Google and their annual Zeitgeist video.
So for now, I wish you all a happy and healthy holiday season, and if I do not get back to you by then and we are all still alive (get the 2012 apocalypse reference?), a happy new year!
November 24, 2012
This is an edited version of an article I have written for the Year 11 magazine, ICON, at my school.
If you ever find yourself lost in the far dark corner of my school’s science block, one might stumble across the ‘Control Lab’, where you faintly remember the horrors of your Year 9 System and Control lessons, writing long, mundane and senseless code. A common sight in the control lab is that of panicked Year 11’s, scrambling to complete various aspects of their controlled assessment; the head of department and his highly sarcastic nature, bellowing at incompetent students (including myself); and those bored of everything else, browsing sites like Reddit or 9Gag, going there to escape the wrath of the IT department head in the Computer Gallery; however, occasionally, one can catch a glimpse of someone unsuspecting planning and building a weird and wonderful gadget or gizmo.
This sighting can usually be caught on a Tuesday lunch, where those who make these things gather together in a slightly chaotic manner in a school society called RoboSoc. Returning to the point of this article and its cryptic title, the point of this society, is all about building cool things. One group is building a quadracopter (those 4-propellored helicopters), another, a remote weather station, and myself, an internet-controlled rover; but beneath all of this, there is something much more profound going on, unrelated to technology, and it is causing a revolution of sorts. I just plan to use technology to convey my message, as it is probably the subject I am the most interested in (as shown by my Preview booklet) and contains possibly the easiest way to explain my argument.
November 11, 2012
Nope, I am not dead (yet anyway...)! It's approaching almost two whole months since my last post, and I apologise for that. There has been a lot happening in my life recently, some of which I shall go through here, as well as some of the other, more tech-related things, but nothing about the iPad mini or the likes: I trust you have already been bombarded with enough of that from tech blogs or even standard news sites (which, in my opinion, don't do the whole story justice, but anyway...). Let us begin.
Following my wishing of good luck in my last post, we hit the ground running at the start of term! Firstly, the pace of the lessons increased dramatically as we are approaching GCSEs, especially Geography, where my teacher bombarded us with not-so-subtle hints about where we stood in relation to the rest of the year and how it was not good enough in order to achieve that A* at GCSE. He was right, as our end of year exam results were less than adequate (excluding mine, of course!), so now we are all under pressure to preform better. That was one of the more mundane stories.
I volunteered to design and operate the lighting for a small school play called, The Long, The Short and The Tall. I had no idea how to design lighting, so I was running around like a madman taking to the director and the technician for the show, discussing various ideas. Tech rehearsal went smoothly and so did dress, and on that note, opening night came around.
In the audience, I could see several English teachers, of course, as well as my sister, self proclaimed not-nice-person technology teacher and my slightly intimidating chemistry teacher, all of which were sitting within my line of view and had noticed me on the lighting desk. The Chemistry teacher was right next to me, and he told me, in what I interpreted, incorrectly perhaps, to be a good-humored joke, "Don't screw up". Famous last words.
It all went smoothly, up to a point.
The actors were in the middle of a little dance thing. I was hovering over the "go" button, waiting for my cue a few lines later.
Click. BAM! Blackout.
September 7, 2012
It has been a nice few weeks since I posted my last post, involving sun, sea and time for me to remind myself about the impending year of school. This coming year, however, will be more busy than others, not only containing my GCSE exams, but also the many ventures I plan to undertake, some of which I will detail in this post.
To be clear, this post has no real meaning. My notes on posts to write have become meagre and I am having a hard time finding inspiration for a topic sitting in a cramped Ryanair seat.
Yes, Ryanair. I know. I'm so sorry. (post on that later...)
I could write about the recent obliteration of Samsung in the Apple Vs. Samsung trial, the recent book from 37Signals I got through in less than 2 days, or some abstract thoughts about the definition of the verb "To Share" in the new digitally social world. I could, in fact, be bothered to finish the "Hacking the Lego NXT" series, but as I have said, sun, sea and procrastination took over there.
As this post has no aim, as such, I am going to spew a whole bunch of words on the page and see what comes out. Alicia Cuddeford is known for doing this on her blog, and it seems an effective method of writing a half-coherent post which proves to be highly amusing to the reader. I, unfortunately, do not have the gift of the gab, so my attempt at this might fall flat on its face, but screw it.
August 11, 2012
After my slight diversion post of The Old, the New, the Data and a wonderful two weeks with my grandparents, I figured I should update you on my progress with my NXT venture, but before I begin, I would like to point towards a site called MarkPond, a bookmarking service that Alex Forey, a fellow pupil, created within two weeks and hosts the whole thing on two Raspberry Pis. To be honest, I have had one much longer than him, but I was too lazy to do anything with it as of yet. If you have any ideas, please let me know!
|The ultrasonic rangefinder|
This was an interesting sensor to crack! From my experience working with ultrasonic range finders, I assumed that, as with the SRF05, one sends a pulse to one pin and then waits for the return pulse from another pin, with the delay between telling you how far away the object is. That was until I had a look at the LegoHardware Development Kit, detailing an I2C protocol for the sensor. I had heard of I2C before and knew that it was one of the standard ways one would chain multiple devices on two lines, the clock and data, SCL and SDA respectively.
Because I had no idea how to work with, or indeed wire up, I2C connections, I read up on the I2C protocol, and learned that one had to use pull-up resistors on the SCL and SDA lines. I also looked at the documentation Arduino had on it and found that Arduino's come with SCL and SDA lines, not requiring a digital or analog output, and a really handy library with which to communicate to devices on the lines. There was no need to learn about changing the clock speed or stuff like that.
July 30, 2012
|Facebook connections around the globe|
I have not ended the Hacking the NXT Series yet, I just thought I would take a break for a second!
Sitting in the tube on the way back from the Lyric Theatre Hammersmith, where I did the light design and operation for a show my school put on there, Standing in the Light (more on that in a possible separate post), I was pondering over the idea of data.
Now, you might think that only a nerd would ponder something like that. I mean, data is kind of boring, right? Well, it depends on what you thought what I meant with data. Allow me to elaborate. If you were thinking about an Excel spreadsheet with numbers representing some businesses numbers, yes, that is boring, but if you were thinking of it on the larger scale of things, it becomes much, much more interesting.
Think about it. Have you uploaded a video to YouTube, posted a picture to Facebook or Tweeted a thought? You have created and moved data. Simple. One may also argue that every physical object, be it micro or macro, has data: it's position is 3 dimensional space as we observe it (unless it’s a quantum particle...), its age (time is actually another dimension), mass, weight, dimensions, interactions, temperature, density and anything else you can think of. So, in that sense, data is everywhere.
The thought then came to me, having recently discussed the astounding YouTube statistic with a few friends, that 72 hour of video is uploaded every minute. This site puts it all in perspective. I then thought of my uncle’s really old Sony Vaio computer, with a 33MB hard drive with less than 50MB RAM. For those without basic hardware knowledge, that's like the Wright Brothers plane compared to a Boeing 737-800.
Ok, that might be exaggerating a bit, but you get the picture. How a computer with those specs could run a decent operating system astounded me. After all, I am used to a 500GB (that's 512,000MB) solid state drive with 8GB RAM and a 2.23GHz i5 Intel processor. What caused this massive jump? Well, our computers got better. That's it. We figured out how to pack more bits and transistors into the same space, but thats processing power. What still interested me was why we needed larger capacity hard drives and solid state drives. It is at this point where I came up with (although I am not too sure if somebody else has already done so) the term "Data Inflation".
July 19, 2012
This is the second part of a series of posts detailing my adventurous venture into the world of hardware hacking/tweaking, whatever you call it. Part 1 has a full introduction.
The Touch Sensor
|The touch sensor|
So, following my half-successful attempt at getting the stepper motors to work, I decided to focus on something simpler: the touch sensor. At first I thought that this sensor would be a complex series of variable resistors, giving an analog output in terms of how much pressure was being exerted or how far the pin had been pushed in, so I decided against plugging in stuff and seeing what came out for fear of ruining the component.
The teacher who set me this task of tweaking the sensors told me briefly, that the NXT platform was open source and that the schematics could be found online. Having remembered this useful fact, I scoured the Lego Mindstoms NXT website to find these. Buried deep within the “advanced users” section, I found the Hardware Development Kit, along with a whole bunch of other useful stuff, like the Bluetooth API and software development kits, both of which I would have absolutely no idea what to do with!
Looking through the schematics of the complex processor and other sensors, I felt that the touch sensor could not get any better! Then, after opening the schematics file for the touch sensor, I was greeted with this friendly image, lost in the white of the A3-sized document:
|The Lego touch sensor schematic|