Evil geniuses and world domination are 2 of our goals... we also like Dr Who

Poster design awards

no comment

Last weekend, miss Vicki and I ventured firth to Leeds for the NODA AGM. It turns out that a poster I designed was in the running for the Thomson Leng trophy for the NODA national poster design competition.  I ended up winning first place  so I thought it might be a good idea to write about the poster and how I made it.

I was asked by the director to design a poster for his production of communicating doors. He asked that it be cartoony and a little comic book like

I had long admired the artwork by Adrian Salmon on the Big Finish Bernice Summerfield audio CDs. Here’s an example of one

empire state

I love the use of the black line and the  fill colour in this case blue. I thought it was cool approach to colour I would try to apply to this poster. I spent a couple of hours noodling in Krita and came up with a rough colour studycomunicating doors

The character proportions wasn’t that great so I set about drawing a better layout on 12 field animation paper.  I photographed it and imported into my computer

communicating doors2

I inked up and coloured the artwork in Krita. Blocking off the bottom of the poster where  the show information was going. The director wanted to add that information there himself,
 Next up, Typography. I saved a flattened version of the post from Krita and used it as a template to create the curved text for the title of the play. I got a number of fonts I thought would work well for the title and ran them past the Director, We both decided that #3 was the font
 communicating doors tesxt


 I removed the template and saved off a png of the page before loading it into the layered krita Document and adjusting it position a little.

communicating doors layout

 Finally I sent the Artwork off to the Director for final approval before he added the show information to the bottom of the poster.
Here’s the Final poster:
 communicating doors FINAL
Finally here’s a picture of the Thomson Leng trophy.
I really enjoyed working on the poster. Thinking back it was one of the last things I drew on my laptop, It used to hang and crash krita a lot, but now I upgraded the RAM it might be time to revisit drawing on my laptop. The last couple of productions for Waterbeach Community players, I have used photo montages for poster designs, hopefully the next one I can draw again!

Upgrading Memory- It’s not Rocket Science. It’s Brain Surgery

1 comment

My laptop has had problems rendering videos or general graphics work, and while the Snail Tales Project could be made using portable apps, long term it’s just not a viable solution.

So out of interest I went to Mr Memory and got some stats up on my laptop. Apparently it can have up to 2 gig of RAM in 2 ram cards. Well some more RAM should help speed things up a little,  so I checked to see how much ram I had in and it turns out I had 512mb

OK, so how much would it cost me to upgrade my ram to 2 gig with 2 1 gig cards? £16

Having got the memory type from Mr Memory, I did a quick search on Amazon and found 2 matched cards for £16 . I ordered them and they arrived the other week.

The other night was a quiet night, Miss Vicki was out, so having the house to myself, I decided to do the upgrade

First thing I did was to  just make sure how much memory I had.

sudo lshw -C memory


It told me that 512M Ram was installed. so then I powered down the laptop, whipped the battery out and prepped the patient for Surgery


I located the panel with the RAM in and opened it.pulling the pins back the board leapt up at a 45 degree angle, I was able to remove the board and place in 2 new RAM boards before re securing the panel and powering it up again.


it powered up OK and once it reached the desktop I checked the RAM yet again:







Snail Tales, Project update

no comment

OK heres where we bust out some more shots from the smail tales project. At the moment there are less that 10 scenes of animation left to do, mainly groups shots.

the arems a broken in this one, but i am happy with the rest of the animation

in this shot, The Dragon makes his appearance, the narration said the knights went off to get help, I decided it would be funny to have them run off terrified

in the next shot we see the Cat Detective face off against the HUGE dragon!

Here’s the shot inside the safe of the Queen reacting all shocked. I will add some eyes to her













Micro:bit – inital thoughts

no comment
BBC micro:bit

BBC micro:bit

Well the BBC have recently announced a new initiative to get children to code so  take a second  to think how would you accomplish this?

The BBC have made their own small computer called the micro:bit which comes with a number of sensors built-in, can be run from a couple of batteries and more importantly will be given away to year 7 children


So far this all sounds good. So how does one code for this device?

Well, all you have to do is attach the micro:bit to your iPad, android tablet or your PC and use the IDE app to write code before publishing the finished code to the micro:bit.

Sorry, say that bit again?

Well, all you have to do is attach the micro:bit to your iPad, android tablet or your PC and use the IDE app to write code before publishing the finished code to the micro:bit.

That’s right, in order to teach children how to code, you connect this device up to another computer to publish some code for it

So what er actually have here, is not a computer but something more akin to an Arduino?

Here’s the problem I have with this. If the whole concept of the micro:bit is that it is something that children can learn to program with, then the concept is flawed. It’s flawed because in order to use the micro:bit you must have another computer to program it on. So little Billy who doesn’t have a smartphone, and whose single parent mother is working hard to put food on the table,  not iPads in their hand is shit out of luck will be somewhat disadvantaged.

Oh, but he could develop at school right? Well, when I was at school there was 1 BBC micro for a class of children.  This is assuming the infrastructure is there, that it is available for Billy to use after hours and that is really only an hour or two Monday to Friday.

Yeah, but don’t kids get given iPads at school these days?

Do they? I don’t seem much evidence of cash-strapped LEA’s doing this. It’s entirely possible that LEA’s with bigger budgets might do this, but this can lead to a two-tiered education for out children.

But let’s for a second assume that your LEA has bottomless pockets and have rolled out IPads to all students. Are we sure we want to teach kids to program but Only within an Apple ecosystem? for that matter the IDE and platform that is developed by Microsoft. but more on that later.

How about smartphones? loads of kids have smartphones right?

sure a lot of kids do have smartphones and it is a problem that schools are having a lot of problems with – some teachers will tell you that smartphones offer too much of a distraction while others love the concept of BYOD (bring your own device) in a classroom environment.

It’s true that smartphone uptake amongst year 7 is probably very high, but I would think that it’s more likely that year 7 smartphone usage will be using apps like Crossy road, Angry Birds and Snapchat. I very much doubt that your average year 7 will happily whip out their phone and start coding for micro:bit. How many of you here have written more than a text on a mobile?

The problem I have with BYOD in the classroom is that there is no standard platform. which means that some of the kids with zippier, newer phones will have an advantage over kids with a  slower phone or an older platform. that is assuming that your platform is supported in the first place.

This program has the same flaw as 3D TV – you need an accompanying piece of not necessarily commonplace technology to use it. The Raspberry  Pi costs £25  requires a monitor a keyboard and a mouse. The monitor can be a TV and the mouse and keyboard can be obtained relatively cheaply, say £5 bought online? so you can be computing for £30

So far the cost of entry with the raspberry pi is£5 what’s the cost of entry for the micro:bit. What’s the cheapest computer I could get to run on this? surprise it’s a raspberry PI, so the cost of entry to use the micro:bit is £30!

so discounting the micro:bit, I can already be programming in Scratch or Python or Java on Raspberry PI with micro:bit there will be a web-based IDE which hasn’t been publicised much though word is that there will be a drag and drop solution that will then download to the micro:bit

Another problem this is a free giveaway to year 7 pupils FOR ONE YEAR ONLY!

which means that should the program be deemed a failure, then the micro:bit will disappear faster than the crowd at an opening night party for a Broadway play when the first bad review comes in,

Should it be a success, then it becomes a purchase for either the school or for parents to take care of and right now we still don’t know the price. If the micro bit costs £10 then the initial outlay to get a development platform is £40!

Remember when I mentioned that Microsoft are behind the hardware and software? Here’s another point to consider.  The main selling point of the micro:bit is that it is a way of doing the “internet of things” in a way that school children can understand.  The problem is there is already hardware and software platforms that do this called Arduino . It has already been used in numerous projects and both the hardware and software is open source.

Micro:bit currently isn’t although this will happen, but just not yet.

This means there’s now yet another platform offering IoT functionality that further muddies the water. I am sure that industry professionals will continue to use existing platforms which seems to be mostly Arduino meaning that unless there are follow-up classes for pupils to learn about these other platforms they will enter industry unable to make simple IOT projects – which kind of defeats the object of the micro:bit in the first place right?

Right now, apart from the board, there are scant details on how this will all work. I don’t want to be a negative Nelly about this, but the raspberry PI is an easier sell than a small piece of circuit board.

I had a chat with Mike, this is what he said


–Mike’s Prediction —

I predict that – unfortunately – the micro:bit will be a massive failure.  Children that are interested in coding will already be working with technologies such as the Pi.  Those that had little interest in embedded computing will do the minimum required to pass the course, and it will then sit in a drawer.  I think that the official programming language will do little, as there will be little to no commercial uptake of the micro:bit – as technology companies won’t see the first practitioners reach the job market for a few years, and when they do you can almost guarantee that the embedded computing platforms of tomorrow won’t be the micro:bit.  I think that to improve adoption there needs to be a more engaged attitude from pupils, and I have the opinion that most of the students today care about angry birds, Facebook and not much more than that.  I also believe that this project will need a wide variety of projects that can be done using the technology.  Ideally, I believe that these technologies projects should support and be supportive of other subject areas.  For example: how about combining the embedded micro:bit along with a drama course to provide automatic sound and lighting queues.  Now – this is a silly example : the computer that you are running to program the micro:bit is more powerful than the micro:bit itself, but the idea that you can trigger events based on a simple interface to play sound effects or run lighting etc from a small box might be a project to get the principles across to pupils.  I think that however such joined up thinking, combining multiple disciplines will be difficult for schools to implement and I, therefore, predict that it will become a boring and inaccessible technology failure.




Cultural Relevancy Pt5

no comment

Following on from previous entries here, here, here and here  about cultural relevancy here’s is an interesting article.

Looks like a Commodore Amiga is controlling the whole air conditioning for 19 schools. Here’s the story on Yahoo:

yahoo front page

The Yahoo Main page with the story .

something strange about the accompanying image. lets take a look at the image:

The image from the yahoo website

That’s right, the picture in question isn’t of an Amiga. It’s a picture of a Commodore 64!

Looks like yahoo, have done a cursory search for an Amiga and grabbed the first image they could find without verifying whether or not it is actually an Amiga,

For those of you born after 1995, here’s what an Amiga actually looks like:


“Amiga500 system” by Bill Bertram – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Amiga500_system.jpg#/media/File:Amiga500_system.jpg

Now, it could simply be  the case that an honest mistake was made. However I would assume that if you take the time to type a document, spell check it, and pass it to your editor, you might take more than a second to make sure your accompanying image is correct.

Another way to think about this article is that essentially, the article is saying ‘Wow! look at this ye olde tech that’s still running well after 30 years! and what better way of selling old tech than by having a picture of a really old machine.’

Imagine if this machine was running the air conditioning for 19 schools in the Grand Rapids Public Schools:

Bruno Barral (ByB) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

Babbages Analytical Engine: Bruno Barral (ByB) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

Imagine how impressed you would be. because it’s a piece of ancient technology that still works, and it is not immediately obvious how it actually works.  Looking at the Amiga, its kind of similar to an ordinary PC, there’s a keyboard, a mouse, a monitor – all the main components of a typical user’s PC experience. There’s also a floppy disk drive. The actual model used by the school was a slightly later 1987 Amiga 200.  So what does that look like?

By Trafalgarcircle (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Trafalgarcircle (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Yeah. it kind of looks like a PC. The story is looking less and less exciting now isn’t it? Fudge a photo editing mistake, and show the keyboard of a C64 and suddenly we get that whole ‘Babbage’ vibe again.

The talk is that  the whole system will be replaced, should funding be available.  Costs are being pegged between $1.5 and $2 million

Now before you spit your tea across the room and start raging about the frittering of public money, think about this for a second:

It’s is a fair bet the Amiga was installed into an existing air conditioning/heating system for the 19 schools. What this cost is for is to install new heating and air conditioning in 19 schools and install a centralised mechanism to control them all. It’s probably also a fair bet that as the system has been working for 30 years, that the budget for maintenance of the system has most likely been moved to other departments. How mush does a new mouse really cost? and a monitor?

so this system that was not designed for controlling by an Amiga, was instead powered by another computer the size of a refrigerator. so the initial system has already been Heath-Robinson’ed about a bit. The assumption is that the original computer was probably something like a Pdp-1140 which is roughly the size of a fridge:

"Pdp-11-40" by Stefan_Kögl - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pdp-11-40.jpg#/media/File:Pdp-11-40.jpg

“Pdp-11-40” by Stefan_Kögl – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pdp-11-40.jpg#/media/File:Pdp-11-40.jpg

That would give us a rough initial installation time of the late 60’s early 70’s. That being the case, the original computer managed somewhere between 10-15 years. it’s successor lasted 200% longer so the assumption is that should a new system be installed, then it should hopefully last at least 60 years.

$200 Million between 19 schools over 60 years suddenly doesn’t look that bad really

The story itself is kind of throwaway. essentially it can be reduced down to :

Well spec’ed system operates autonomously with minimal maintenance for 30 years.

If only all IT Projects where this successful.

you can read more about the story Here.




Chrome update message in the wild at bletchley park

no comment



 The error message moans that chrome needs to be updated

Error message in the wild

no comment

Saw this 404 error at Birmingham airport…



Grooveshark – Gone!

no comment

By Hermanus Backpackers (Great White Shark Cage Diving) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

So now, grooveshark  has gone. The music Industry would no doubt want me to go back to spotify – I’ll check it out, but if the user experience was as bad as the last time I used it, then I will probably not bother listening to streaming music over the internet again 🙁

Project:Snail Tales update

no comment

For those of you in the know, for the past couple of years I have been working on an animated short film. It’s a long process to make a short animation and with lots of assets to keep track of. I use a production chart to keep tabs on everything. here is a snapshot of the production chart as it stands:

Now the eagle-eyed amongst you will notice that it’s a spreadsheet In the past I have tutted and rolled my eyes when people have complained that when they use a spreadsheet to catalog their DVD collection, they couldn’t per pixel scroll, it would snap to the nearest cell.  And then a patiently explain that a spreadsheet is not designed to catalog a collection of DVD’s, A spreadsheet is really good a totaling columns of numbers and/or applying formulae on them. A DVD catalog is best done with a database.

Yes I know I should use a Database to store the production chart. It is a more effective way to store this information. Each scene is a record that can have a series of fields applied to them. we could poll the database for complete scenes and get an accurate percentage of how much of the film is animated or rendered  or needs work(etc)

thing is I am, to my own surprise, a little bit old school. I learnt to breakdown sound using a mixing desk, and large sheets of paper, jogging through soundtracks, listening for the pops and whistles and decoding them into the phonemes that made up the characters speech. and this is a digital equivalent of the old school way of creating a production chart – It’s a digital analogue of an Analogue er.. analogue

today , kids examine wave forms or use software tools to provide easier breakdowns, and whilst I like them and do use them a fair bit, sometimes , I think that younger animators, fresh into the field, are lacking some of these old school skills.

part of my old school curmudgeon-ness is the creation of dope sheets and production charts. there was something exciting about transferring your sound breakdown to a dopesheet ready to animate, it was a prelude to the storm of creation that leads to the initial pencil tests. I loved the way the Production charts would fill up with checks and notes becoming more full as the deadline approached.

working on this project has been great fun. the biggest problem has been scheduling the time to make the animation and learning to use the software. Part of that has been learning some of the limitations of the software and the creation of new software tools to allow me to work with the software the way I want to work with it. I was using synfig stage last night and it struck me I have talked a lot about it at Oggcamp and other tech shows without really showing it. I started using it and it worked straight away (more or less) and so showing it working didn’t feel important because it actually was working. I suppose I should make a video demonstrating the tool and the problem it solves.

Priority though is on the film. Right now with about 16  scenes left to animate there’s a definite feeling its starting to come together as a film and part of me will be glad to get it finished, to move on to the next thing. part of me also misses my old school beginnings.  and I hope maybe one day in the future, I will do a proper old school 2D short using an actual pencil on real paper.


Busted – Update

no comment
Titanium Bunker Incident Report Form

Oh I’ve got you Mike… Bang to rights!

I filled in the paperwork today to record the recent security ‘incident’.  I’m not a vindictive man however, and I therefore I don’t intend to apply for the death penalty. 😉