Category Archives: Education

Gadget Man – Episode 107 – Sphero Mini – Educational Robot

This morning I joined Wayne Bavin at BBC Radio Suffolk to both discuss and demonstrate modular coding with the help of the Sphero Mini Robot.

It was a great opportunity to show how coding can be fun with the aid of a trio of programmable robots.

You can click on the link above to listen to the stream, thanks to Wayne for making me so welcome.

If you would like to purchase any of these products, the links are below.

 

The Cosmic Watch – A Mesmerising & Beautiful App for Viewing the Cosmos

The human race has always been fascinated by the stars in the sky. From guiding themselves across the seas, planning the harvests or daydreaming about visiting far away planets, we spend a great deal of our time thinking about the stars and planets.

It is fascinating to  think that we have only really begun to understand the Universe in the last 50 years and continue to be humbled by our place its vastness and the influence it still continues to holds on us.

So, when I was contacted by the makers of Cosmic Watch, I was intrigued on how an app was going to give me a much deeper understanding of our solar system and the movement of the planets and celestial bodies.

A screenshot The Cosmic Watch of one of the many different modes available.
A screenshot The Cosmic Watch of one of the many different modes available.

To start with, Cosmic Watch is a really good looking mobile application, with an incredibly slick, but simple to operate user experience. This is an app that can be any one of many things, from world clock, searching for planetary positions to finding Astrology Star Sign and it’s relation to those constellations at your time of birth.

Any astrophysicist worth his salt will tell you that the study of our Universe is not simply the study of ‘space’, it is also the study of ‘time’, this is conveniently called ‘Space-Time’. It’s called this because everything in our Universe is moving and thus “In physics, spacetime is any mathematical model that combines space and time into a single interwoven continuum.”.

In order to understand and track the stars and planets we need to understand Space-Time in order to be able to find the positions of the planets and stars at any given point in the past and the future.

A screenshot The Cosmic Watch of one of the many different modes available.
A screenshot The Cosmic Watch of one of the many different modes available.

Cosmic Clock can provide this information using a 3d user experience which places our planet Earth in the centre of everything, not as a step backwards in our understand, but in fact to help us understand our place in the Universe. It does this both effortlessly and beautifully.

Cosmic Clock has three main modes:

  1. World Clock – For time keeping around the globe
  2. Astronomy – For viewing the constellations and planets
  3. Astrology – The study of the position of the stars and their perceived influence on us and our daily lives.

 

To navigate any of these modes you use buttons on the left hand side of the screen, with additional buttons placed at the base of the screen to control how the information is displayed.

Swiping the screen causes everything to rotate in 3d around the Earth, you can also pinch to zoom in order to see a particular place in detail.

In clock mode, you can actually use your phone or tablet as a desktop clock, just make sure you connect it to a charger first. You also need to switch off ‘sleep’ mode to keep the screen on. This is a fascinating view as it shows the Earth in real time including the approaching sunrise or sunset.

Astronomy mode display the stars and planets with added labels. You can speed up, freeze or reverse time to find out the exact position of celestial bodies as specific times.

Astrology mode shows the plants and stars using their traditional symbols and signs of the zodiac. It’s very detailed if this kind of thing interests you.

Throughout all of these modes, there are a myriad of different settings available to allow you to display the cosmos in pretty much any conceivable fashion and it’s certainly extremely interesting to use.

The app makes use of the internal sensors or your phone and tablet including the compass. This helps you align the display of the app with the actual night sky and makes the experience fascinating as rather than guessing the position of a planet, you can accurately predict when it will be in the sky.

If the stars and planets interest you, Cosmic Watch will provide you with a fascinating insight into the Solar System and wider Universe and it an absolute MUST PURCHASE and at £4.99 it is worth every penny.

You can purchase Cosmic Watch for iOS here or Android here

Or visit them directly here at http://cosmic-watch.com/

 

Gadget Man – Episode 88 – 500,000,000 Yahoo accounts stolen in Worlds Biggest Hack

Yahoo HQ
Yahoo HQ – image credit Yahoo

On Friday, I spoke to Mark Murphy on the Morning Show on BBC Radio Suffolk about the breaking news story concerning the massive data breach at Yahoo, possibly converning over 500,000,000 user accounts and by far the largest leak in history.

Listen to the short interview where I explain what I think happened and what Yahoo users should do to ensure their accounts are kept safe and secure from now on.

Yahoo has released a statement concerning the breach, we can be read here

Featured image credit Can Pac Swire on Flickr

Now kids can get back to BASIC with Fuze

FuzeKitShadBack in the 1980’s the UK was a melting pot of computer development, back then you couldn’t visit a friends’ house without seeing a them huddled behind a television slowly tapping out computer programs from magazines on their newly purchased home computers. While the USA basked in the glory of the Apple II and IBM PC, in the UK we had our feet firmly placed on the ground and our wallets closed tight. In the States people were paying $2,500 for their computers, far too much for us in the UK, being much more cautious with our hard earned money! Instead we made our own computers, the amazingly popular Sinclair ZX Spectrum, BBC Model B, Acorn Electron and Dragon 32. All of these were home grown products which took the country by storm for a few short years, much cheaper than the US counterparts at £140 and much more fun, well until the IBM PC was licensed to the likes of Dell, HP and AST and the prices started to tumble to more affordable prices.

BBC Model B
BBC Model B from the 1980’s

During this era of the ‘Home Computer’, a new industries sprung up with them. After weeks and months of typing program listings from magazines, the kids started to understand what was behind the code, how it worked and in most cases, how to improve it. Small ‘Software Houses’ appeared and began selling their games in the back pages of the computer magazines.

The BBC Model B was adopted by schools and immediately the national curriculum included ‘Computer Studies O’Level’. It was now possible to study computer programming, the UK was becoming a hotbed for coding and technology. Following school, students could continue their studies through college and university, it was exciting times for the UK computer industry.

Then suddenly without notice, the curriculum began to change again. The PC had become established in peoples’ homes and work, it seemed like everyone was running Windows and suddenly everything was easier. Instead of learning the basics of coding and programming, pupils were taught how to use Word Processors and Spreadsheets, how to put together school magazines using pre-made layouts and horrific 3d text effects. We had lost our way, we had forgotten how to encourage creativity and instead software was now just tools to build similar looking newsletters and faxes using ‘Wizards’ and animated paperclips.

The_RPi
Raspberry Pi computer with HDMI, Audio, USB and Network connectors

30 years on and quietly ‘Coding’ is back in the curriculum, the country has woken up to it’s lost opportunities and reintroduced the tools to help our children learn to create again. The Raspberry Pi computer was launched in 2012 and brought affordable computers to everyone. At a little under £20, you could buy a fully functioning credit card sized computer that could connect to your HD TV and could be programmed using any available language. It was a good start, but there was something missing.

T2_Hub_CloseThis is where Fuze comes in, by packaging the Raspberry Pi in a useable case (strangely evocative of the BBC Micro from the 80’s) with integrated keyboard and circuit prototyping board, the Fuze is being launched into schools as the ideal platform for Coding in the curriculum. The circuit board that sits on top of the Fuze allows for electronic design and testing that can be directly controlled from the included Fuze Basic programming language.

FUZE_SE_WEB5
A nod to the past is apparent with the Special Edition Fuze case

Included in the package is also a variety of transistors, LED’s and resistors packaged with a Programmers Reference Guide and Quick Start Projects book. Out of the box, it’s everything a budding programmer needs to get themselves on the path to Coding in the 21st Century. Further purchases can buy you a Robot Arm and other interesting projects and of course the system is based on the Raspberry Pi which has a mountain of components already available and the option to try out modern programming languages such as Perl, C++ and PHP.

Electronics_Logo
The Fuze I/O board makes simple prototyping electronics projects simple and safe

The Fuze is housed in a sheet aluminium case which is both durable and safe for young people to use and Fuze have improved upon the Raspberry Pi IO connecters by integrating the FUZE I/O board which greatly simplifies the Raspberry Pi by separating, and clearly labelling, the most common functions (Voltage, Ground, Digital IO and PWM) but goes further with the addition of four analogue in ports and one Out port (as the Raspberry Pi lacks analogue). It all may sound complicated, but in reality it has been designed to be accessible and easy to learn.

The Fuze starts at £69 and is available from a most computer stockists. For more information, visit www.fuze.co.uk.

 

The Gadget Man – Episode 74 – Fuze

Fuze reviewed by Matt Porter
Fuze reviewed by Matt Porter

This morning I chat to Rachel about the Fuze, which is “A programmable computer and electronics workstation, the FUZE, with FUZE BASIC, is an ideal platform for learning and teaching computational thinking and computer programming and provides a safe environment to experiment with simple electronics.”

It has been really interesting testing the Fuze and I will be reviewing here in more detail in the next few days, for now enjoy the audio.