Billy the Ball

With winter now upon us and the subsequent shorter days I’ve had more time to get back into doing some gadgety stuff, both practical and programming.
I’ve just finished an online starter course on JavaScript and I’m revisiting HTML basics and of course still trying to get to grips with Python to aid in writing stuff for my Raspberry Pi. In fact I managed to get the robot arm working with a Nintendo Wii controller via Bluetooth which was a bit cool, albeit I got the instructions and program from the net. Still it worked OK and helped me understand what the different movements of the controller could be made to do.

I also did some electronics building when just before our holiday I made a small circuit board to aid the security of the house whilst we were away. It would be rather daft to say what it did but suffice to say it was still working when we got back a month later and we were not burgled!

And so to Christmas and my main present from Tina.

The festive celebration wouldn’t be the same without getting a gadget and this year was no different, although some would argue the present is actually a toy. Whilst listening to one of my technology podcasts earlier in the month I heard about a robotic device called the ‘Sphero‘ that could be controlled and programmed with your phone and once I looked it up I had to have one.

And this week, when Santa called, I finally got to play with my gadget…sort of.

spheroThe plastic covered ball is really controllable and the technology to get it to move around like it does is pretty amazing. Sphero comes with a couple of ramps, loads of free apps and some challenges to help you get to grips with its flexible maneuverability and to aid steering. As you get better with its control you can level up which enhances the play experience and gives access to more tricks and functions.

Of course what I did forget is that it also would attract some unwanted attention by our four legged friend, namely Rio who now thinks he’s got a flashing, moving toy ball to play with.
Still it is funny seeing him carry it around in his mouth, pleased he’s managed to catch the lively and glowing ball.

My next challenge is to try to control it through the Raspberry Pi, programming it using Python, although I think my skills may need to be improved a bit before I can get it whizzing around the room.

iPad wonderment

I know I shouldn’t get emotional about a gadget but I am extremely impressed with my new iPad, in fact I could go as far to say I love it. I’ve now been ‘playing’ with it for just under a week and it is certainly living up to the accolades it has been receiving in the press.

I found the iPad easy to set up, with a straightforward sync to iTunes to pick up all my exisiting apps that I had already installed on my iPhone and searched within App Store for a few ‘iPad’ specific applications that, by the way, look great on the bigger screen. I haven’t even minded upgraded some of the apps I had on my iPhone to the HD versions for an additional cost.

The touch screen is gorgeous; easy to navigate, clear to read both inside and outside the house and can be fixed to view landscape or portrait at a flick of a switch. I was concerned whether the WiFi would be up to scratch but so far it has worked everywhere in the house and garden. 

Another concern was the weight as I’d read that some people found it uncomfortable to hold for a long period, but I haven’t found that an issue; in fact I purchased a leatherette case from eBay and that has not only made it easier and safer to carry around the house  but also has a built in stand to place it on your lap.

Battery life seems really good, with a days playing still not resulting in it dropping below 40% battery capacity.

Although the apps specifically designed for the iPad are still limited, the ones I have particularly liked so far are:

Amazon Kindle – an eBook reader, very easy to use and will probably mean I’ll never buy a paperbook again.
Pulse – an RSS reader, very easy to use although currently limeted to only 20 newsfeeds.
Wikipanion – a Wiki reader for the iPad.
Wordpress – enables me to write entries to my blog etc.
HowItWorks – a science emagazine that you can purchase subscriptions to, I’ve only downloaded the free copy at the moment but will probably subscribe to a few more at some point.
The Elements – A visual explanation of the elements, great graphics and written in an easy to understand language.

So how has it made a difference then? Well previously if I was watching a programme or needing some information in a hurry I would have to fire up my laptop or leave the room and use my desktop pc, not the fastest of responses. But  now I just reach for my iPad and hey presto I have googled using Safari on the iPad and the information is to hand.

So are there any negatives to having an iPad? Well the only one I can see is the fact that everyone who has seen it so far wants to go on it, meaning I can’t!