Raspberry Pi – Advent Calendar

Sat at home, watching TV with MrsP last night and I had an idea.

“A Raspberry Pi Advent calendar where each door in the calendar is a component in a much larger project.”

Over the 24 days leading up to Christmas, each window reveals a component and an explanation via a web link. Imagine learning all about Electronics and the Raspberry Pi leading up to Christmas.

As to the project, well it could be one of many.

  • A Minecraft / Python themed adventure
  • Nature / Weather sensor platform
  • A 10/15/20 in 1 project kit, just like the electronics lab kits of the 1980s.
  • And anything else I can think of.

The Raspberry Pi is an ideal gift for an inquisitive child / adult and it’s great to learn more about how things work and enjoy the journey that comes with learning.

I think that this would be a great gift and ideal for our new generation of hackers and makers.

Are Barcamps still relevant in 2014?

 I love Barcamps!

I’ve been to many barcamps over the years.

  • Barcamp Blackpool
  • Oggcamp
  • UCubed
  • Open Tech
  • LUG Radio Live
  • Barcamp Liverpool
Feeding time at the Zoo, Barcamp Blackpool 2013

And at every Barcamp that I have been to I’ve learnt something new or met someone with an interesting story or project.

But are they still relevant in 2014? Do we still have the same impact on the attendees? And if Barcamps are no longer relevant, what is the next step in the evolution?

I’d love to know your feelings on this, so please leave a comment below and leave a vote in the form above.

Thanks for your help :)

It all started a year ago

Happy Freelancing Birthday

Yesterday I reached an anniversary, one year as a freelancer and I survived!

Les advising customers about computing in Liverpool

I started my freelance career in May 2013, with just one client, Linux Format. I then contacted other people and organisations and talked with them about what I could do for them.

To be honest in those early days I was terrified. I went into freelancing as a reaction to moving away from my previous role at Farm Digital. But what I quickly learnt was that I had some skills that people would pay money for, and over the course of this past year my skills have been sharpened and new skills have been learnt.

Controlling my Pi Robot via my Nexus 7

It hasn’t been easy, but I rose to the challenge and luckily everything has worked out rather well. Thanks in part to a good community of hackers, makers, teachers and techies in the North.

  • Ben Nuttall
  • Alan O’Donohoe
  • Cefn Hoile
  • Dan Lynch
  • Liz Hardwick
  • Madlab
  • FTP Concepts
  • Magic Missile
  • Sean McGinty

Without these people helping me,  answering questions and referring clients to me, I wouldn’t be where I am today :)

So where am I today?

I’ve currently got 8 regular clients that I work for, ranging from print magazines to web sites.

I teach computing, Python, Raspberry Pi and Scratch to teachers around the UK.

I also develop applications and technologies using Arduino and Raspberry Pi for clients, for example my Raspberry Pi powerd Fortune Teller which is now living at Blackpool Tower.

Powered by a Raspberry Pi and PiFace, it lives under Blackpool Tower

I’m also doing my fair share of not for profit / voluntary work in the community.

I started the first Blackpool Coder Dojo on April 26th,. I released the tickets for the second dojo the other week, and all 46 are now gone! WOW!

Here I am teaching Scratch to the children at the first Blackpool Coder Dojo

Blackpool has it’s first co-working space in the form of Blackpool Jelly, we’ve been running for 3 months and all is going well.

All in all, if I hadn’t of left my old job, none of this would of happened. It’s been an adventure, and I am a better man for taking the plunge.

Coder Dojo comes to Blackpool

The group of coders from the dojo have their photo taken
Blackpool Coder Dojo #1 Group Photo

Coder Dojos are monthly workshops where children can learn new skills and work together to understand the many facets of computing and coding.

Blackpool is not very well know as a hub of tech activity and this is far from the reality. In Blackpool we have many different groups who meet to talk and practice their craft.

What was lacking was a place where children could learn in a safe and productive environment.

Jo Culshaw, a mum who’s son Joseph attended the Bolton Coder Dojo, thought that Blackpool should have their own dojo. Jo was given my name by an old friend of mine, Simon Skinner.

A young hacker has just solved a problem in their code
We successfully debugged our code!

Jo and I sat down for a coffee in Cafe Dolce and devised a plan of action.

The dojo must

  • Be free
  • Be accessible to all
  • Have wifi / internet access
  • Be able to provide space for 20 hackers
  • Have confident, knowledgeable speakers

So with this in mind we set to work with a to do list each. Jo handled the venue requirements and ticketing, and I went and arranged course content for the first two sessions.

We released our tickets to the world and sold out rather quickly :)

The big day came, and with it a class full of enthusiastic children all eager to learn more about coding.

Children sat at tables learning to code
Our hackers learning more about Scratch and HTML

Over the course of 4 hours, our young hackers learnt how to create web pages using HTML and CSS, and learnt how to program using Scratch. There was even time for the children to learn how to create, test and debug a sequence of code, using an idea from the “Computer Science Unplugged” book.

Children creating an obstacle course
The children created an obstacle course for their programmed “robot” to solve

At the end of the day, all of the children really enjoyed themselves and had masses of great ideas for the next session.

We’ll be hosting the next Dojo on May 24th, and you can get a free ticket from our eventbrite page

We also need sponsorship to help our event grow with the anticipated increase in attendees. So please if you can help, or know someone who can help, please leave a comment on this post and I will get in touch :)

Here is a link to all of the photos taken at our first Dojo

You can follow us on Twitter via @bplcoderdojo

Blackpool Coder Dojo

Blackpool Coder Dojo Logo
Created by Mike Little

In late March, I was approached by Jo Culshaw, who’s son, Joseph had been taking part in a Coder Dojo in Bolton.

Coder Dojo’s are free monthly meetings where children between 4 and 17 can learn more about computing, electronics and programming.

Joseph really enjoyed the Dojo but the travel time made it difficult for his mum to take him every time, so Jo thought

“Let’s build a dojo in my town”

So she did!

Photo of children sat in front of a computer

Jo and Jan with their children

Jo has successfully found a venue in Blackpool, set up a Twitter account and found a bunch of geeks who are eager to help her out.

  • Chris Dell
  • Oliver Clark
  • Me :)

So on April 26th we’ll be hosting our first Coder Dojo where Chris will be taking the class through HTML and CSS, and I will be teaching Scratch via a robot game.

If you would like to come to the Dojo, grab a free ticket from our Eventbrite

You can read about Jo’s Dojo via her interview (and me too :) ) in the The Gazette

Image and content (c) Gazette
Image and content (c) Gazette

Jelly Blackpool is GO!

Just a quick post to say that I have set a date for Blackpool’s first Jelly co-working event.

I’m a freelancer, and sometimes it can be quite boring working from home, I’m sure there are many like me, who live in the Blackpool area.

At Jelly, we offer you free wifi, power and a desk to work from. All in a private space, with access to a bar stocked with coffee, tea, juice and of course beer. You can also order food via the bar,  to be delivered to your desk.

During the summer we can also work outside in a private roof terrace, which is also suitable for any smokers to use.

All you need to do is grab a ticket, bring your laptop and tweet about it using #jellyblackpool.

So make a date in your diary for  Friday March 14th,  at Gillespies Bar on Topping St, from 10am to 5pm.


Upgrading to WordPress 3.8

Recently I upgraded this blog to WordPress 3.8 but during the upgrade process I hit a snag.

I run this blog on a Digital Ocean VPS, which installed WordPress on my behalf. When it came to upgrading, I chose to try out the automated update option but I then hit the following snag.

“The update cannot be installed because we will be unable to copy some files. This is usually due to inconsistent file permissions…”

So, it looks like I need to sort out the file permissions for my WordPress install.

So being a system admin, I used SSH to remotely connect to my VPS, and used the following command as root to change the permissions.

chown -R www-data:www-data /path to/wordpress install/

(Change the /path to/wordpress install/ to where you WordPress install is located)

What this command achieves is to change the ownership of the directory /path to/wordpress install/ and all of it’s contents to the user www-data, which is a user created just for the web server (normally Apache).

By making this change and then retrying the auto update option you should now be updating your blog to WordPress 3.8.


Spam emails

(Disclaimer, the email received WAS NOT from Virgin Media, it is a spam email, and I have no issues with Virgin Media, I just wanted to highlight the spam email issue)

This morning I checked my inbox and in the spam folder there was a curious email from someone alleging to be from “Virgin Media”.

Vm Spam

The email address had been spoofed to look like it had come from Virgin “[email protected]” but spoofing email is an easy hack.

If you follow the link (don’t do it, I’m a trained professional / idiot) it sends you to this url.


Which contains this HTML

<meta http-equiv="Refresh" content="0; url= http://www.hobbycom.com/virgin/virgin/httpjaycomarketing.comwp-contentpluginssubscribemod_system/index.html">

Anyway, with a secure live DVD Linux distro and a spare sacrificial machine I visited this link and found a carefully recreated Virgin Media sign up page.

VM fake page 1

The form accepts any old random info, so using a trusty spam username I went a bit further

The next page asks for your home address and credit card details, all a clever cracker would need to take lots of money and your identity.

vm address vm card vm old card


Naughty naughty, but a good attempt, pity they didn’t think to mask the URL in the address bar. But then, how many people check those details on a regular basis?

So it looks like we have two sites that have been compromised.

www.customkitbarns.co.nz & www.hobbycom.com

With these two sites, the clever hackers have created a simple trap to capture user details.

Keep safe on-line, if it looks dodgy, it probably is.


Raspberry Pi Foundation Q&A

I recently uploaded a video I recorded for Ben Nuttall’s last ever Manchester Raspberry Jam Event.

I was there, along with my AV team consisting of

  • Dan Lynch – PA and mixing desk.
  • Oliver Clark – Backup recording systems & field microphones.
  • Tony Hughes – Photography
  • Me – Video and logistics.

We recorded the audio and video for all of the talks, and the video is available via my Youtube playlist.

One video I am especially proud of is embedded below, and features Eben and Liz Upton along with Clive Beale from the Raspberry Pi Foundation talk about the project and it’s future goals.


Digital Ocean, WordPress and Contact Forms

I’ve recently been setting up a couple of sites for clients, and they wanted the ability to use a contact form on their WordPress site. No problem I said, and I duly installed the necessary plugins to make it work.

When I tested the form, it took over 30 seconds to send the email, which was unacceptable, so I did a bit of Googling and found an interesting solution.


  • SSH in to your server.
  • As root edit the /etc/hosts file using vi or nano.
    • The first line should contain
      • localhost <YOUR HOSTNAME>
    • Change it to read
      • localhost localhost.localdomain <YOUR HOSTNAME>
  • As root run the command
    • sendmailconfig
  • Answer yes to any questions you are asked.

That’s it, try the contact form again, and it should be a lot quicker than before.