2017 Xmas Gift Guide for Geeks

It’s that time of year again already! Time to start ordering stuff up for yourself or a geeky loved one. Here is a list of some cool stuff to give you ideas.

Some of these will also be included in the Black Friday deals so order fast!



Voice Assistants

These are all the rage at the moment and have come along leaps and bounds in the last 2 years. I use the Amazon one at home personally and it is a big hit with the family. My 3-year-old will frequently ask “Lexa” to play Old MacDonald Had A Farm. Very very frequently.Continue reading “2017 Xmas Gift Guide for Geeks”

Getting free iPad apps for education

I may be late to the party on this one but figured it was worth sharing just in case others have not come across it.

The website Boy Genius Report has a section that seems to be updated with a daily post detailing iPhone apps that have gone from being paid to free. There will occasionally be a few gems in here so it is worth keeping an eye on. Here are the steps I take to make the most of this.

  1. Subscribe in your RSS reader to just the app on sale tag by using the feed http://bgr.com/apps-on-sale/feed
  2. Each day check your RSS reader for useful apps that are now free
  3. Hop over to the Volume Purchase iTunes Store and grab a few hundred licences!

Last week we managed to get Chordology for free for the Music department and I am certain there will be other useful ones in the future. Even if you don’t use them for your iPad deployment you may find some personally useful ones.


Grow Wild Raspberry Pi Time-lapse

This year our school Eco Club began a project to plant a wild flower area in the school grounds. This was part of the Grow Wild scheme run in association with Kew Gardens.

I am not much of a gardener so my attention was turned to the techy side. The team wanted a time-lapse video to be created of the area for a period of a few months to capture the growth of the flowers and plants.

Where the camera had to be placed to capture the flowers was going to rule out having a power source. We looked at running an ethernet cable and using power over ethernet but we would have had to do some fairly serious digging and it seemed like too much of an undertaking. Battery power was the plan so I had to make something reasonably power efficient. We settled on the following parts:

(a Zero friendly version of the WittyPi has just been released!)

We cut a hole in the Tupperware box as it had a slight frosting which would affect the image quality. A small piece of glass from a picture frame was attached with silicone to provide a viewing window for the camera. A few days in we realised the rig wasnt coping well with bright sunlight so we taped around with gaffer tape to reduce glare into the lens.

Continue reading “Grow Wild Raspberry Pi Time-lapse”

Digital Signage on a budget with Screenly, Google Docs and Raspberry Pi

If you have ever wanted to have a TV display in a lobby or reception area displaying your latest news etc this is the guide for you. The commercial options out there get expensive quickly and that is something that schools in particular can’t work with.

TLDR; Get a Pi, install Screenly OSE, set a Google Slides presentation as the only asset and you got yourself an easily updatable digital signage display for next to nothing. If your school or business use G-Suite, even better!

After trying briefly to write my own custom one for our school I ended up coming across Screenly and their Open Source Edition. They do offer a Pro version too, but for what we needed the OSE one was just fine.

When used in combination with Google Slides, it allows us to have an easily updatable display that can be managed by any members of staff with a Google or G-Suite account (that means you too C2K schools!). Simples!

What you will need for this:

First thing to do is download Screenly OSE. You can install it onto a Pi running Raspbian but it is much easier just to use the pre-made image. You can grab the latest image file from their Github repo here

Once that is downloaded you need to flash the image onto your SD card. I have found the easiest tool for this to be Etcher. Open the image file in Etcher and then pick your SD Card and hit Flash. This process can take up to ten minutes depending on the speed of your SD card. Once it is finished pop the SD Card into your Raspberry Pi and power it up.Screen Shot 2017-04-09 at 21.22.57

When it first boots you will see the IP address displayed for managing the device. Visit this address on your web browser on your computer / mobile device to access the management screen. Remember to add :8080 to the end of the address!

FAIR WARNING: be aware that this admin panel has no password protection so anyone who finds the address can mess with it. Make sure it is on a different VLAN to protect it or you can search Google for various ways to put a password on it yourself. Password protection is on the release schedule for the next update which hopefully will be out soon.

Screen Shot 2017-04-09 at 21.35.58You can add “assets” to Screenly from this admin panel. Upload images, movie files etc and set times and dates for when they are active and how long they should be displayed before going to the next asset.

We are not going to use it this way however. We will only add a single asset which will be a URL to our Google Slides presentation. Let’s make the presentation first.

Go to Google Slides and make yourself a quick presentation with some of the images and information you want to show on your fancy pants new digital sign. Don’t worry about slide timings, they will be set to a fixed time at the end.

Screen Shot 2017-04-09 at 21.40.31Once the presentation is ready go to File and Publish to Web… Choose Link and set auto advance slides to whatever value you wish (we use 5 seconds). Also make sure to tick both boxes underneath. Once you hit Publish you will be given a URL. Copy and paste this URL into another browser window and visit it to check it is working. Your slide show should start automatically and loop on completion.

Now go back to the Screenly admin panel at http://your-ip:8080 and click Add Asset. Give it a nickname, and paste in the URL into the Asset URL box. Asset type should be webpage. Set the start date to today and an end date in the future. As this is the only slide I would set this to years in the future.

Screen Shot 2017-04-09 at 21.42.39For duration I chose to use about twice the length of the presentation. So if you have 20 slides at 5 seconds each then set it to 200 seconds. You can set this as high as you like. What it does is reload the presentation every x seconds. This means if you update the slides on Google Slides, it will not show on the display until this Duration has passed. Unless you need lightning fast updates to the screen something like 30 minutes (or 1800 seconds) would be fine.

Hit Save. Your asset has been added but is not yet active. Turn off the default assets and turn on your new one so it is the only Active Asset. It should look similar to the screen below.

Screen Shot 2017-04-09 at 21.46.23Within a few seconds you should see your Google presentation on your Raspberry Pi display. Now you can share editor access to the Google Slides presentation with any colleagues that also need to update the screen and you should never have to touch the screen or the Pi again, everything can be done remotely by simply updating the presentation!

This means that you can update the presentation, add images etc using your iPad via the Google Slides app!

One other tip I would give is to check your TV for a timer. Most will have the ability to set an on and off timer that means you can set the screen to shut off overnight to save power. The Pi can remain on as it uses so little power.

If you find that your TV doesn’t pick up the Pi HDMI when switching on after a timer, then set a cron job on the Pi to reboot a few minutes after the TV comes on in the morning. This seems to trigger HDMI source switching on most TVs.





Help Dyslexic students with this free font

Just a quick post today to draw attention to something we have used for a while but I keep meaning to mention.

A few years ago I came across a student that was considering using a laptop instead of the iPad. I was keen to know why and it transpired that they had dyslexia and found using the on-screen keyboard difficult. It was slowing them down and they preferred a hardware keyboard.

So first thing we did was give them a Bluetooth keyboard to try out. It helped straight away to speed things up and give a slight boost in confidence with the iPad again. While I was showing them how to use the keyboard I decided to try out this font I had heard about called OpenDyslexic.Continue reading “Help Dyslexic students with this free font”

Teaching with Moodle: An Introduction

If you are a beginner to the Moodle Learning Management System or even a current user just wishing to update and hone their skills then I can highly recommend this free online course delivered by the Moodle team themselves.

The course will take you through the basics of using Moodle to deliver Learning and Teaching to your students and showcases some of the excellent widgets and tools on offer.

And because the course is run on Moodle itself, you get to experience the learning as a student would on your course. I found this perspective really helped spark some ideas for ways to deliver content to make it more fun and engaging.Continue reading “Teaching with Moodle: An Introduction”

The Perfect Month

So I have a dark secret….. I play Pokemon Go. It is a part of the reason things have been so quiet on here.

I just missed the original Pokemon craze as a player, but I worked in Game at the time so was exposed to the mania of it on a daily basis.

“Hey Mr, you got any Pokemon cards in stock?”

When I read about the upcoming game and saw some of the trailers I was intrigued. The urban exploration and social aspects of the game looked fascinating and, thanks to having a severe Warcraft addiction, any game that involves levelling up and collection of items towards achievements I am a sucker for.Continue reading “The Perfect Month”

The new Raspberry Pi 3 Model B!

The Raspberry Pi Foundation have just celebrated their 4th birthday today (although due to leap year technicalities they are claiming it is only their 1st birthday!). And what better way to celebrate than with the release of a fresh new Raspberry Pi!

What is a Raspberry Pi?

The Raspberry Pi is a low cost credit card sized computer. This style of computer has become much more prominent since the foundation released the first model back in 2012. Continue reading “The new Raspberry Pi 3 Model B!”

A computer for £4!

This really is an amazing time to be a geek.

The awesome Raspberry Pi Foundation continue to amaze. They have just released a new model of Raspberry Pi – the Pi Zero. It is only £4 / $5 to buy! If that isn’t enough to completely blow your mind, they are giving them away free on the front of this months MagPi magazine (available in Tesco, WH Smiths etc).

A computer. Free on the front of a magazine. Just think about that.Continue reading “A computer for £4!”

10+ things your geek would love for Christmas

Buying gifts for geeks is not easy. They tend to hide in their rooms a lot and not speak to humans often so knowing what they want can be hard. Here are a few ideas to get you started.

And yes, I know it isn’t 1st of December yet. I’m giving you time for postage!

Raspberry Pi 2

For the geeks that like to tinker. Your imagination really is the limit for the cool projects you can build with this thing. I use one as a network status monitor in work to keep an eye on our servers and wireless network. One at home monitors the temperature and humidity in the bathroom to prove to my wife how bad our extractor fan is!!Continue reading “10+ things your geek would love for Christmas”

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