/ 2016

2016 Retrospective - A Novel

tl;dr - Happy New Year, Les did a lot of cool things with tech in 2016. Yeah this post is XL sized but full of cool stuff, honest

Time is a relative concept, holding a hot pan for a second can feel like an hour! Opening Christmas presents flies by as if mere seconds have elapsed. Einstein, you clever, clever man!
As is customary on the Internet, we share how our year went, the highs and the lows. So dear reader, sit back, get a drink and read about the hacks, hijinks and hilarity they I got up to in 2016.

Hilarity is also a relative concept, the author assumes no responsibility for the amount of hilarity that the reader may experience

So what happened to me in 2016?


Completed my tax return ahead of schedule, phew!
I visited BETT and had a great time chatting to the Raspberry Pi team and getting hands on with the BBC micro:bit thanks to my old mate David Whale...here he is with a small demo unit.
Bonus Albert Hickey content in the rear of the shot


New Pi 3

Photo copyright Raspberry Pi Foundation

The new Raspberry Pi 3 came out, and I was treated to any early peek thanks to a new contract and an iron clad NDA (Non Disclosure Agreement) with Element 14.
I celebrated one year of my Pi User section in Linux Format :) Lovely to have done so much in the magazine.


CPC micro:kit

I started working with CPC, helping Rachel and Kev to develop new ideas, hack projects and write blog posts.


My first project for CPC was a simple micro:kit, a way of connecting breadboard wires to the micro:bit without physically damaging the board or causing a short. My approach was very hacky!

Dance Mat of Doom

For my next trick I unleashed an unholy monster, a dance mat controller, connected to a Raspberry Pi that controlled instruments, noises and about 100 WS2812B LEDs, commonly known as Neopixels.
This "Dance Mat of Doom!!" made it's presence felt at the Raspberry Pi Birthday Party
I felt sorry for the Pi Top team who were on the stall next to me, they had to walk over the dance mat to get to their stall!

Mobile Demo Kit

The CPC Makerspace team travel around the UK talking to companies and makers looking to create products from their projects, so Kev and Rachel needed a portable Pi kit that would help them demo the latest Raspberry Pi kit. So I was tasked with building a simple to use kit that would survive the trip.


We started Picademy in Manchester and it was fantastic! Lots of great hacks, ideas and enthusiastic educators all willing to go out of their comfort zone and learn to FAIL...Yes I said FAIL, remember that means


You fail, you learn more about what happened to cause the fail, you try again applying the knowledge learnt. You keep on doing this until you succeed! Although this advice is not for those in the medical profession! :D

I say this a lot but I really do love being part of Picademy! I've taken part in over 20 now and each time I am blown away by the enthusiasm and spirit of the group.


Astro Pi Case

CPC had arranged for a 3D print of the Astro Pi case to created and set me the task of building it! SQUEEEE!!!


Great fun to build and very hackable. I tested the APEM switches as used on the International Space Station, wow they were goregeous but £7 E A C H! So I was tasked with sourcing lower cost replacements. So after an hour searching the CPC warehouse (All I need is a lorry and the keys, just leave me to lock up! :) ) I found some cheaper alternatives. Roughly under £1 for each button.



This month I was working on projects for CPC, including Pymon, a clone of the SIMON game from the 1980s (kids ask your parents or click here )
It was great fun to build and reall...really...REALLY bright! Those pixels are at 25% brightness

Makerfaire UK 2016

Wow! I had so much fun at this event.
I was there with CPC, running a fun stall with prizes, an IKEA table converted to an arcade cabinet and my Pymon game!
I also got the chance to interview the makers of Makerfaire, and the organiser of the largest maker even in the UK for Linux Format magazine.


Robots Are Coming

Hacking robots to play music is fun, and that's what four classes full of kids thought too! Working with University of Manchester and the Hallé Orchestra to develop an engaging event for children to learn about coding, robotics and music by making an orchestra out of junk!

###Picademy at Google London

W00T! I went to Google's office along with the Raspberry Pi team and we ran another Picademy. I loved it! I helped lots of people to make lots of cool things but my favourite was a kinetic sculpture made from art supplies and motorised using an Explorer HAT Pro.

Dear reader if you've made it this far Bravo not much more to go!


Liverpool Makefest

We took over Liverpool's central library for a full day of hacking, arts and cosplay. Sadly my Jabba outfit was at the cleaners
I love Makefest, it is truly a great day out for families, everyone is so welcoming and happy to share their time and knowledge.

Pi and Chip(s)

I took delivery of a CHIP $9 computer and I have to say I quite like it! I was able to hack together a quick Python GPIO demo and then play DOOM



I was asked by Alan O'Donohoe to run a session at his teacher focused tech conference, Exabytes, so I ran an early session covering the basics of using Python to control the GPIO of a Raspberry Pi...I was going to use GPIO Zero...but due to an error it was not available!


At Mary Magdelenes Primary School in Penwortham (Preston) I, along with teachers from the school helped organise a tech conference for primary kids. Makersphere was a roaring success with 350 people turning up to sample micro:bit, codebug, Raspberry Pi, snap circuits, 3D printing etc. We might just do it again in 2017 ;)
I ran two all day sessions, an introduction to the Raspberry Pi for parents, and Pixel pets for the kids.


Big Bang North West

I helped out Code Club North West on their stall at Big Bang NW, a STEM event for schools to look at how cool the tech sector is. I took my mini robots along and we made a mini robot arena, ok an empty plastic box, where they could duel!

The Great Single Board Computer Group Test

Yeah I tried to use a Great British Bake Off pun, I failed

I was busy testing multiple single board computers (SBC) for Linux Format, pitting...

The UP board, an Intel x86 PC shaped like a Pi

The Pine 64

Orange Pi

Onion Omega


All of these boards had their strengths and weaknesses, and if you are new to the scene, buy a Raspberry Pi, seriously. The community around the Pi will help you develop your skills and then you can start looking into other SBC for a particular job.


Soldering FTW!

I love soldering, it is an essential skill for makers, just don't hold the hot end! I bought and tested a Hakko clone soldering iron that I bought from eBay for £24!!

Booting Python!

Having a Python script launch on boot is a handy project to learn, so I made a quick blog post to cover it.

Pimoroni Visit with @all_about_code

*Yes I am trying to look cool, yes I failed miserably*

On August 8th I went to visit Pimoroni HQ with @allaboutcode and his dad. We spent the day learning about manufacturing, hacking and creating content for makers.

Boaty McBoatFace

For the Pi Pool party I helped @allaboutcode to build a boat, a boat with such power that it BLEW the competition away. We used motors and parts from broken computers, and a Raspberry Pi Zero equipped with an Explorer pHAT to control the motors.



On the right is Jon from Pimoroni infinitely more photogenic than I

I finally made it to Parliament! The Raspberry Pi Foundation celebrated their success story at an event held in the Palace of Westminster. There were speeches, champagne, canapes and lots of chatting with members of the community.

From L to R. Les, Cat, Ben, Alex, Albert

Leigh Hackspace Visit

I had the pleasure of visiting Leigh Hackspace for a special open event. They have great facilities, now including a kiln! I could live there!

Barcamp Manchester

Barcamps, conferences where the attendees are the speakers, are the life blood of the tech scene and one of the best in the UK is Barcamp Manchester. I was lucky enough to go along and take part, including an impromptu session where I played Powerpoint Karaoke, using some slides found on the Internet and then ad-libbing my way through them. Somehow I was allocated a Greggs slide and it included a graphic showing Greggs and other bakers in a map. So in my haste I created INGREGGS


Dear reader you are doing really well, I promise this will all be over soon

St James's Palace

This happened

Yeah, me, mixing with royalty! I was invited, along with other members of the Raspberry Pi Community to celebrate the Community at an event hosted by HRH The Duke of York at St James's Palace. So on went the suit and on the train I rode!

Photo taken by Heeed

There were lots of great pictures taken by the official photographer....and then...

Image Copyright Raspberry Pi Foundation, also my audition for the next Carry On movie was sadly rejected

Microscope ALL THE THINGS!!!

Changing the Pixel splash screen

With the recent release of the new Raspbian Pixel distribution, I found a way to change the boot image, the splash, to your own custom image...so I did!


I am now a dead man for including this pic of Cat, flowers and cards to my widow, thanks

I went to London to take part, and cover MozFest, Mozilla's Festival event. It was great to see so many kids passionate about the open web, the politics, the tech and the social impact that the Internet provides us. I took lots of photos while I was there...and then lost them all thanks to a memory card issue..but I got them back!


I got an award

I've been a STEM Ambassador for nearly 18 months and I love it. Its great to see the kids learning by doing cool stuff like hacking and making using computers and machinery.

I wanted to hack a car, but Halfords never replied

I went to London...again!

But this time I went on a secret mission...to visit Pi Top HQ and work with them to create new content for their Coder classroom application! :)
I also became a Pi Top champion and I now have a set of 10 Pi Top Ceed to use in schools, events etc across Lancashire!


Rogue One, no spoilers

I went to see Rogue One, great film, go see it!

I also turned a popcorn bucket into an interface that triggered Youtube videos to play. All using a Makey Makey Go.

Lights, Camera, Hacktion

Yeah I lit up my living room window with Neopixels, like a moth to a flame I am drawn to blinky lights!

Dear reader!

Congratulations for making it this far.
Why did I write this post? To boast about how cool my life is?


I wrote this to show that someone who knew nothing about coding, electronics, teaching can learn and help others to learn. What I have accomplished has been through hard work, making mistakes and asking a lot of questions.

To quote Rock Horror

Don't dream it, be it!

Take your first steps with something that you find interesting, yes it may scare you, but keep trying, you'll learn new things. You'll help others along the way, they in turn will help you, and that is what being part of a community is all about. Friends helping friends.

If you sometimes feel like you can't do it, you are not alone. None of us get it right 100% of the time. Here's a video of my hero Adam Savage (Mythbusters) talking about failure as a learning process.

And here is another video, from another of my heroes, Simone Giertz, talking about here first steps to becoming a maker (The Queen of $hitty Robots as she calls herself)

*Warning, Simone swears a lot*

My thanks to the Raspberry Pi Foundation and Community for another year of fun!

Enjoy 2017!

*Photo studio: Manchester Travelodge, April 2016 after 5hrs sleep and a bad McDonald's breakfast)