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Micro:bit – inital thoughts

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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.

 

 

 

Jenkins Build Services for making films

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Screenshot from Jenkins showing the Chuck Norris plugin.

Chuck Norris is watching you build code – careful now!

For the last few days, I have been playing with the Jenkins Continuous Integration server and python, and I have reached the following conclusion: Writing python code without an effective IDE makes the job of software development harder than it needs to be.  I’ve been developing a lot on Ubuntu as well lately, so I’ve found the joy that is Wingware IDE

So – I think a bit of a recap is in order.


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Happy Black Country Day!

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Black Country Flag

Black Country Flag

July 14th 2015 is Black Country Day.   The Titanium Bunker is situated within the Black Country, and the area is proud of its industrial heritage.  The area also has it’s own flag designed by 12 year old schoolgirl Gracie Sheppard.

The flag was designed back in 2012, and has been popular in the area, in the form of bumper stickers, T shirts etc.  So I was somewhat surprised to see this headline in the Express and Star :

 

Black Country flag ‘offensive and insensitive’ says leading racism campaigner

So Patrick Vernon has argued that the chains made in the area were used to manacle slaves, and as a result this flag is offensive and insensitive.  In the Express and Star article he says  :

The chain is not a swastika or a Confederate flag but it is offensive. While I am in support of the festival and think it is a great idea, the Black Country has never done anything to acknowledge that slavery was key to its economic rise. This is not political correctness, it is the truth. You can’t pick and choose bits of your history, they are interlinked

So from those comments I concluded that his main area of criticism was with the chain motif.  I was genuinely intrigued by this so I have tweeted Patrick with the following :

It’s interesting that Patrick uses the hashtag #confederateFlag when he says in the Express and Star article :

“The chain is not a swastika or a Confederate flag but it is offensive.”

This does worry me somewhat – and smacks of an attempt to raise the profile of his tweet by pinning it to the recent and very real tragedy that occurred in Charleston, South Carolina.

I was also interested to see this comment on The Voice Online :

Steve Turner · Managing Director at Turbo Business Services Ltd
Can we get some facts here, chains were not made in the Black Country until after slavery had been ended in the UK. Chains were made after the nail making business by hand was drying up in the mid 19th century. Slavery was abolished in 1833, it was at this time that chainmaking commenced. The chains made were for ships. The white in the flag represents the glass cones and the red and black is the red of night from the furnaces and the black is the smoke of the day. I am personally offended by Mr Vernons comments and feel discriminated by him.

 

As a good historian I currently have 2 sources – I have Patrick saying that the chains were used to manacle slaves bought in from Africa, and I have a Comments from Steve Turner, that the chains were made after the nail making industry started to dry up in the Black Country – It will be interesting to add more to this.

I have reached out to both Steve and Patrick to try and see if they have any sources that can help shed some light on this?

 

Who’s the ‘We’ here…

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So my computer moaned at needing to be restarted – so I obliged, and when it rebooted I got the following message from Outlook.

We're having trouble...

We’re having trouble…

Makes me wonder…. Who else do I know who has ‘a little trouble’….

Ooooh.... Betty...  I'm having a bit of trouble starting Outlook.

Ooooh…. Betty… I’m having a bit of trouble starting Outlook.

AWTomation Update

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You may remember in a previous post, that I was looking at an automation system for an internal application.  Today I stumbled across the the Java robot class.  It is described in the help page as

This class is used to generate native system input events for the purposes of test automation, self-running demos, and other applications where control of the mouse and keyboard is needed.

So this seems like it might be a contender until I read this blog post.

We have found that this approach is dangerous.

  • Robot tests are very fragile, breaking any time the GUI layout changes.
  • If the user moves the mouse while the tests are running, the Robot continues clicking, sometimes on the wrong application.[11]

[11] One programmer reported that the Robot sent a partially completed email because it clicked on the send button of the mail client instead of a button in the application being tested.

  • Since the tests run so quickly, it can be impossible to stop the tests once the Robot gets confused and starts clicking on other apps and typing characters that show up in other windows.

If you really feel that you could use some Robot tests, consider naming them differently than other tests. You might have a collection of RobotTest*.java tests. You can then run them independently of other tests, if you are extremely careful to avoid touching the mouse while the tests run.

So based on that I think I’m going to stick with my reflection based library.

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