ISSAbove-KS-280

So what do you do with a Raspberry Pi once you’ve had a go at building a webcam, a robot and a weather station? Well how about a Space Station Flyover Indicator?

Whilst watching a recent Web Show on TWiT.TV I caught the interview with Liam Kennedy, the inventor of ISS-Above who programmed a Raspberry Pi to light up whenever the International Space Station is nearby. Armed with online astronomy data he calculated the position of the ISS and then created a programme in python to flag when the ISS was within viewing range (assuming it was at night of course).

ISS-Above-Logo-smHaving a keen interest in all things space and owning a Raspberry Pi which was gathering dust in a drawer, I backed his Kickstarter, ordering an SD card with the scripts pre-loaded. Within ten minutes of sending the payment I received a nice e-mail back from Liam thanking me for backing his project and promising the card would be sent to me in early May.

And yesterday the package arrived.

Liam had included instructions on getting started and soon my station was set up awaiting the next pass over. Unfortunately the ISS wasn’t due to cross over the UK until 4am this morning so I missed the message (Rio would have seen it as it was set up in my study but I don’t suppose he was too interested in the space station flyover at that time in the morning).

Also included in the setup is a dedicated page showing the upcoming passes, with details on it’s brightness, altitude angle and whether is will be visible or not, as well as a script that sends a tweet to the ISS from my station (ISSAbove-KS-280) saying hello to the astronauts. I’ve checked the next lot of passes (it circles the Earth every 90 minutes) but at present it is only above during the early mornings at present. Later in the month it does start to arrive earlier in the evenings, through to midnight so I am looking forward to getting the ISS-Above message then going outside to see it fly over.

I am also trying to learn python coding (hence watching the TWiT.TV Coding 101 show) so had a quick peak at Kevin’s scripts but soon realised I have quite a way to go before being able to write anything myself!

Big Brother

I use Google to search for everything now online; it’s my preferred search engine of choice and usually gets me the information I’m looking for straight away. With most browsers including the search box in the page, it is so simple to type in a couple of key words and within seconds you have a page of matches. In Safari you don’t even have a search box, it’s included within the URL entry box making it even easier.

It’s never really occurred to me to worry about how Google gets it so right and knows what sort of things I’m likely to wants to see, but usually it does and it is rare that I have to venture past the first ten searches made. But of course they get it right due to tracking the types of pages you visit. Whilst this is very helpful when trying to find information, it does get a bit more sinister when it comes to advertising.

[As an aside, someone at work asked me to do some speed tests on my Broadband at different times of the day and send them the results. They suggested using SpeedTest, a well known broadband checking site and so for the past week I’ve been using it at various times of the day, highlighting how shoddy my broadband connection is!]

Anyhow back to the main story…

Over recent weeks I had noticed an increasing number of web page adverts that seem to match the sort of things I’ve been looking at. For example, Matt recently has been thinking about buying a car and so I starting searching around for the make and model he was after. There was a couple of sites that looked like they were going to be fruitful so I kept returning to check on stock and prices, one in particular, Robinson Motor Group seemed to do have cars in his price range.

big_brotherIn the end he found one at a local garage and purchased it on Saturday (that’s a blog for another day as that wasn’t without a couple of hitches) and so the internet car hunt was over.

So imagine my surprise when I was running the speed test this morning when I just happened to glance at the advertising plastered all over the page!

Every single add was from the Robinson Motor Group, with small pictures of the similar sorts of cars to the ones I had been searching last week. How about that for direct, targeted sales! I guess if I’d clicked them the Google would get some sort of commission for directing me to the motor site.

I know Amazon are doing similar targeted advertising; I recently searched for a new camcorder to use at Abby’s wedding next week (another blog to write) and since then I keep getting e-mails detailing camcorders I might be interested in.

And so it does make you think that if companies can track and present suggested purchases based on searches you make online, what are other keeping records of? I have never worried about accepting cookies as I have never regarded my internet browsing as anything anyone else would be interested in,, but now I’m not so sure!

 

Webmaster again

Create - Website AdministrationAnd so on the final day of blogathon I thought I’d just do an update on a post I made earlier in the month.

You may recall I wrote about building websites and mentioned the fact that I was asked to build a website for a work colleague who was also a Parish Councillor. He had been tasked with getting their existing site updated and asked if I would help. I gladly agreed and investigated various ways to build the new site, finally deciding to go down the ‘online build’ method using a company called create.net.

Once I had the basic design it was very easy to add content and share what I’d built with my colleague and his fellow councillors. Feedback was positive so I set about signing up with Create, updating the links and adding further content and arranging for the guy that ran their previous site to transfer the domain over to the new mob.

This process took about a week, but I was pleased to see that today the new site has gone live. I have agreed to continue to run and develop the site for the foreseeable future; it sounds like they don’t have too many website savvy people in the village, but seeing as I enjoy that side of things, I am more than happy to do so.

If you are interested in how the site has turned out then take at look at www.cleeveprior.org.uk

Blogging through the ages

Today is a milestone as it is the 400th entry of my blog!

It’s hard to believe I’ve written so many posts considering my first entry was entitled ‘Hello World‘ and I tentatively wrote ‘This is my first blog…I’m not sure what I’m going to write here but let’s see here it goes’!

There have been highs and lows during the seven years since it started such as the article I wrote on reaching my 75th donation entitled Diamond Blood to the sad pieces I wrote about the loss of a dear friend Rebecca Allington and Tina’s Auntie Dinkle. I have covered the exploits of being a father of a footballing son in Champions at Last and the point at which I retired as Secretary of the Thrapston Town Juniors FC in 2009, writing at being ‘Football Free‘.

I have also used the blog as a sort of online diary capturing holidays abroad such as New York in ‘It’s like London but on speed‘, our trip to Egypt, the Florida trip to see the space shuttle launch and the road trip to California and Nevada in 2011. I have also detailed the progress of DIY and building works such as the kitchen install last year, giving a daily insight into how things were going.

The blog has been used to mention some of the family events in my life, notable when Tina got a speeding ticket :), ‘Grown Up Girl‘ when Abby started University and ‘Following in the footsteps…‘ when Matt was told he’d been accepted by Virgin Media to become an Apprentice. I also covered the period where I started to get regular colds, ‘Being ill‘, going through to being diagnosed with Coeliacs disease and the trials of sticking to a gluten-free diet. I detailed my experience of going to have laser eye treatment…or not in my case.

I have followed the exploits of Watford FC at various times, which over recent years have been mostly highs. I have extensively covered becoming an Apple fan; firstly getting an iPhone, followed by an iPad then iMac. Then another iPad, another iPhone, a MacBook Air and finally an iPad mini (that lot has certainly given me plenty to talk about). I also told the world about my entry into writing a book in the blog ‘Taking the publishing world by storm‘.

And finally to the challenge of writing a post a day during the four February blogathon’s which I have participated in since 2009; skeptical at first as to whether I was capable of meeting such a endurance I think I have managed to achieve something of worthiness, although I think at times it’s been close to fail.

I, of course, probably would have given up with this blog years ago if it wasn’t for my two regular contributors, Paul and Masher but they’re support and often witty comments have helped compliment my thoughts and shown that at least some people are a little interested in what I’ve got to say.

And so back to the start of this piece and question as to what I was going to write about in this blog all those years ago?

Well I guess I haven’t done too bad when all things are considered…

Time to think of the next blog subject now!

Celebrate+400

Being Graham Wright…5th year anniversary

189I’ve not checked my Google status since this time last year (it’s not something I do every week) and so I thought I’d do a quick update. When I stuck my name in I struggled to find it in the top 20 (the highest last year was 11th place) and in fact I didn’t find any reference to my web presence until page 18 of the search results (189th). Very disappointing.

There has been movement at the top too with last years no 28 now in the top position (he’s the Director of Intelligence Systems and Cyber Security NGC Ltd) with the BBC Derby radio presenter relegated to 5th place.  A new entry into the top 10 is Graham Wright, photographer at 7th place. I clicked on his site and was very impressed by his wildlife photos and am jealous of him web address which is www.grahamwright.co.uk.

More pleasing was when I googled my name with my middle name initial (Graham K Wright), where I got the top spot. In fact I got the top 6 hits and it’s all due to the Interactive Space Book I put together for the iPad last year. The hits take you to iTunes where you can download my book, as well as the California and Nevada Travel Journal. I recently checked the download count for the space book and it’s now at +30,000, which is not bad for 11 months.

I am considering writing another book but at present am struggling to think of a subject that I could research which would be received as well as the interactive book.

Maybe I should write about being Graham Wright…well maybe not!

Building websites

twsMy first website was built from scratch using very basic HTML skills I picked up from reading magazines and books. I created my own navigation buttons and uploaded content such as holiday diaries, photo albums and family tree stuff. You can see one of my earlier efforts by going to the Wayback Machine archive, which although doesn’t show all the graphics, it does highlight how basic my web skills were at the time. I then dabbled with webcams and managed to create a ‘Kane Watch‘ page so I could spy on the dog when we were out. All pioneering stuff.

Forward a few years and I went all flash and created a site which remained pretty static for a few years. This was large and bulky and probably far too advanced to keep updated (and took ages to download in the days when 1Mb broadband was fast!). Still it did enable me to learn new skills and get to grips with building sites from templates.

Along side my own website I also built a site for our town’s junior football club, Thrapston Town Juniors which I continued to run and update until I retired as Secretary five years ago and a couple of websites for friends, floridafamilymagic, used to highlight their holiday home for rental and conservatoriesbuilt, which highlights the conservatories he builds. The football site and Nick’s conservatory site are still going but the holiday home was sold so the site was deactivated. I did enjoy the creating the sites and always tried to keep them as simple and clutter free as possible.

For my own site, in 2006 I decided to go down the WordPress route, starting a proper blog using the very versatile, but more importantly free-to-use blogging templates. These were so easy to use and gave a professional look and feel to the site. The templates were quite varied and although setting up the site was a bit tricky, once it was in place it was simple to maintain. And despite a change of colour scheme a few years ago the site has pretty much remained constant since.

Create - Website AdministrationFast forward to last month when a colleague at work asked me to help him to update his village parish website, knowing I had my own website, which I willingly agreed to do. He then asked whether I would help to build a new site and I tentatively agreed but pointed out that it was a few years since I had built anything new. I said I would look into it and maybe create a couple of dummy sites to see what he thought.

I then realised I didn’t actually have any web creating software on my iMac and so did some research, but soon found that there was very little for the Apple environment. I also found out that most hosting sites now come with web-building capabilities, enabling even a novice to be able to create a professional looking website in a short space of time. I therefore suggested we go down this route and found a company who allow you to build a site from scratch, and even have a 30 day trial period to see how you get on.

Having used it for a week or so now, building up the site using the old one as a guide, I have quickly decided that the days of creating sites from scratch is so old hat and that you can get such a good, professional looking website for a very reasonable price, with very little effort. I will hopefully have it ready in a couple of weeks, and assuming the parish committee are pleased with it, will sign up with create.net and make the new site live.

I am enjoying the buzz of building websites again even though much of the hard work has been done for me and think that I could quite easily get back into building sites for people, if I had the time of course!

QR Codes

Like me, you may have seen hundreds of these codes on packaging, websites and in magazine adverts but never really bothered to check them out. I have always assumed they were just some sort of new-age sign that looked pretty but didn’t mean anything.

So I put aside my pride and asked someone what they were…

“They’re QR codes” he replied “and you can download an app on to your phone and scan them in” he added.

A quick Google told me that QR codes were invented back in 1994 by a Japanese company in order to track parts going through a car manufacturing plant, but are now more widely used by marketing types as the codes can hold more information and be scanned by smartphones.

I quickly found a free app for my iPhone and was soon searching for packaging and labels I could try out my new gadget; being amazed on how quickly it recognised the strange dots and converting it into readable content.

Then I wondered how easy it would be to create the codes with my own content and soon found another app which allows you to do just that and output it to a picture.

So here’s a little test for you. Here are a few QR codes of my favourite sites as well as a message to my readers. Download a suitable QR reader for your mobile and give them a scan.

 

Time marches on…

Wow, what happened to March and April?

With only one blog entry since the end of February, it is clear the blog-a-day-in-february cleared me out of any inspiration or inclination to want to write anything new. But my life didn’t stop so what has happened in the past two months?

Family-wise it’s been fairly quiet with the only notable highlight being Matt starting his new job at Virgin Media. His first week saw him on an induction course in Dudley, where he met his fellow apprentices. The company put them up in a £140 per day hotel next to the main office and Matt thought he was in heaven. He seemed to enjoy the week and it set him up for a positive start in joining VM. The following Monday he had to report to the Northampton office and so we both went to work together, which was nice, although I think Matt was a bit embarrassed when we arrived as his other apprentice colleagues were waiting at the gate. He soon joined them rather than hang around with his dad. He’s now into his third week and says he’s still enjoying the job, which is pleasing.

Whilst mentioning work, I attended a management conference in Birmingham last month. The event was held for all field managers and was really well organised and I really enjoyed it. It was also the first public showing of the video I took part in February. The final cut was really well put together and everyone I spoke at the conference seemed to enjoy my performance :). It still hasn’t been released onto the company intranet, but when it does I’m expecting Hollywood to be knocking. In the meantime my equity card is in the post…not!

In other news, Tina and I have decided to update our kitchen, which is now looking a bit tired. I managed to persuade Tina that it would be a good idea to knock down the wall between the kitchen and dining room, creating a larger room and would allow for more cupboard space. We started looking around and saw a kitchen in Magnet’s that we both liked. Plans are now afoot to get things moving but me being the geeky person I am decided to try to do a bit of CAD planning myself using an iPad app called  ‘Home Design 3D‘. I was really impressed with how easy it was to create a room, add in the units and then view it in 3D. The results were pretty good and we now have a good idea on what we want when we go and visit the showroom at the weekend. Tina mentioned what I’d done to the Magnet designer and she said that there was always a job for a kitchen planner should I want to give up the day job.

One casualty of the new kitchen/diner is my piano. It won’t fit in the new room and there is nowhere else in the house it will fit so it was placed on eBay last night. I stuck it on for a low price and insisted it was ‘collection only’ as it would have taken a hell of a large amount of wrapping paper and packing tape to post it to the new owner. I won’t really be too sad to see it go as it was really one of those hobbies I really didn’t get into and got ridiculed from the family over my ‘ Les Dawson-esk’ playing.

Rio has been challenging over recent weeks, we think he’s going through his troublesome teenage years and so we’ve had to go back to basics with him, stopping him from going upstairs and jumping on our heads. We have had the last laugh this week though as he visited the vets for castration. He’s now a Ria rather than a Rio. It didn’t seem to make much difference last night though as once the anaesthetic had worn off he was back to his normal, playful self.

The only other thing I’ve been doing over recent months is joining the ‘Instagram‘ crowd by posting a few of my photos on the popular social photo site. I had used the site before the announcement of the Facebook takeover but not really uploaded too many pictures to it. Over recent weeks I’ve been regularly posting photos from my albums, using the app filters to change the pix to make them look more arty. I will upload a few here sometime.

So all-in-all a pretty busy few months has gone by in a shot. With the kitchen work due to start at the end of the month, along with a two week holiday, I think it’s going to fly by and it won’t be long before we’ll me talking about how the days are drawing in!

Please let us know…

Is it me or do many companies or organisations you come in contact with nowadays always want you to complete a survey for almost anything? You can pretty much guarantee that if you deal with a large company, you can expect a survey pop into your in box at some point, asking for your thoughts on how they did, how quickly they did it and whether you would recommend them to your friends.

The other day I sent an e-mail to eBay querying something about my account. I got a reply back stating that the representative was not able to help but would pass the issue onto someone that in a different department that could.  I then got an e-mail later asking me to complete a survey on how well the first representative dealt with my initial query. What’s the point of that then, as all they did was pass the buck!

At work we get surveys from out IT department even before the problem has been fixed, we get e-mails from our HR department asking whether we would recommend them (who else could do that job, the Facilities team?) and we get surveys from our supply chain people asking how well they have prevented you from handing over any of their stores.

I suppose with the age of the internet, sending out surveys is now the easiest way to get to hear what their customers think about them and certainly more effective than stopping people randomly in the street, like they used to do in the old days.

Which reminded me of a time when I was walking through Watford High Street and I was stopped by someone with a clipboard. Normally I would have walked on by but the girl was pretty and I had time to spare, so I agreed to help out.

“Do you drink beer?” she enquired.

“Yes” I said.

“Would you like to participate in a survey where there is free beer?” she added

“Yes” I replied, thinking I would be walking away with cases of free booze afterwards.

I followed her to the local YMCA building where I spent the next hour watching dummy adverts, filling in numerous forms and discussing the merits of different logos on cans of beer. And at the end we were all given a tiny little can of beer (a sample tin if I recall) and off we went.

I have never stopped to complete a survey in the street since then.

As most surveys come through as e-mails it’s easy to delete them or redirect them to a spam folder but I do wonder how many people actually do bother to fill them in and whether the companies ever act on the feedback they receive?

Message: In the interests of quality control please could you take time to click on this link to complete a survey on how you rate this blog article.

All blogged out

And so that’s over for another year.

Of course I’m talking about the blog-a-day-in-February which I managed to do each day throughout the shortest month of the year. My secret was a little preparation, making sure I had written out the blog at least one day in advance so as to not add too much pressure on getting it done on the day.

As for the subjects I covered I’m not sure whether they stimulated too much debate, although the blog ‘And all from a phone‘ did spark some good comments. There was a bit of suspense with the ‘Exploding Coffee‘ (I have an update which I will post next week some time) and of course an update on how Rio is getting on ‘Letter to breeder…five and a half months!’.

My favourite blog was ‘It sure snows fast in Thrapston‘ which included my first attempt at some time-lapse photography, followed closely by the ‘Never act with children or animals…or stuffed toys‘ which covered my filming with the company Chief Values Officer.

On checking my web stats for the site, I was amazed at the number of visitors I got during the month. According to the stats my site was averaging 543 visits per day, with over 12,000 page views in total. The most popular time for visitors was 10pm with Friday’s being the day that most people visited the site.

And so now I can relax for a while knowing that there isn’t the pressure to write more blogs to order. I must admit I do enjoy the challenge of writing a blog a day and have enjoyed reading Masher’s and Dave’s blogs, who also did the marathon event (Masher of course should take the credit for starting the trend of course).

And finally, thanks to those that have contributed by posting replies throughout the month, especially Masher and Paul who’s comments have been thoughtful, witty and apt and have lifted me up when the finish line seemed so far away.