Archive for the ‘Experiments’ Category

Cheating mobile step counters

Monday, May 4th, 2015


Got involved in an inter-agency stepping competition using an app-based pedometer. It seemed kinda accurate but inevitably, my curiosity drifted towards trying to figure out how to automatically gain steps while watching TV.

Cue my trusty Arduino, a small RC car servo, some blu tac and some precisely tweaked variables. Took a while to find the optimum ‘swing, pause, swing back’ timings. Too quick and it didn’t register the pauses either end. Too slow and it didn’t think it was a complete step. Eventually arrived at the Goldilocks setting. Just right.

Here’s the result. Works with a FitBit too btw.

Persistence of vision test with LEDs

Thursday, March 5th, 2015


back in the 1980’s, there was a catalogue called “Innovations“. It was full of all sorts of gif gadgets and nic-nacs. I was always fascinated by a clock that looked like a metronome. As the arm moved backwards and forwards, it seemed to spear the time in light in thin are. This was my first introduction to persistence of vision (aka POV). Essentially you eyes not keeping up with reality and leaving slug trails of light on your retinas.

I had a thought… would it also work if the clock arm stayed still and your head moved from side to side? Could I install a single column of flashing LED lights and create POV images in your vision?

The image above is my first experiment. 9 LEDs in a strip, merrily flashing away and me moving a camera with a relatively slow shutter speed from left to right. It does actually replicate what I saw with my actual, organic eyes but saves on the pounding headache I induced will testing it. Turns out heads aren’t supposed to change direction that quickly.

Here are two other images that show it goofing up slightly as you can get a better idea of what’s going on.

800_IMG_8886 800_IMG_9005

The slight flaw in my plan was that those clocks (and the funky LED wheels) take advantage of a sync point. I.e. each tick of a clock resets the flashing so that the lights smear in a repeated, exact position each time. With a shaking head, there is no syncing up between the lights and the head. Each time the head moves, the lights may be flashing a different part of the message, so it’s hit and miss as to whether you see the full pattern or some crossover bewteen the start and the end.

Either way, it works. Just go to build one 200 feet tall…


What makes an image popular?

Wednesday, April 30th, 2014


I got very excited about this. An experimental service that aims to predict how popular an image would be if released onto the unsuspecting internet. Without getting too in to the details (as I haven’t got them) it seems the service compares your image to 2.3million Flickr images and makes an educated guess from there. If your image seems similar to a bunch of images that are super-popular, your ranking goes up and vice versa.

I can imagine lots of social media agencies around the world looking rather shifty at this point. Has it revealed the magic of memes? Will Simon Cowell use it to find new pop stars?

As a test, I uploaded two of arguably the most viral images to have hit the internet in recent years, Grumpy Cat and Doge… and a photo of some sausage creatures I made once. What did the ranking scores tell us? Grumpy Cat beats Doge. Oh, and my sausage creatures beat them both and are destined to be the next internet meme. Or not.

To conclude, my highly unscientific test of a mildly unscientific service concludes it’s still not clear how the internet works. Marvellous.

Want to play with the service yourself? Check it out here or read the full research paper: What makes an image popular? by A. Khosla, A. Das Sarma and R. Hamid / International World Wide Web Conference (WWW), 2014

360º video awesomeness with 6 GoPros

Saturday, April 12th, 2014


This is on of my favourite GoPro rig setups. The results are stunning, baffling and funky in equal measures.

Having worked on a Tim Burton project with the guys at Yellow Bird with bespoke 360º degree cameras and looked at the new wave of consumer 360º rigs like Panono or the Dot camera phone attachment from Kogeto, making your own rig is pretty hardcore.

It does however allow you to do something different, like spherical panoramas. Check out the video below to see what I mean. And don’t forget to check out Jonas Ginter’s page that gives a bit of background to the rig (yes, there is some 3D printing action) and the stitching. Jonas… we salute you, you crazy man…

Bears on Stairs – 3D printed animation

Saturday, April 12th, 2014


Just had to share this. Was mulling over something similar at Christmas but the 3D printers at work were pretty much just used for recording servo sound effects these days. Shame.

Anyways, this video is very cool.Take a looping 3D animation file, print each frame as a 3D model, shoot it in stop motion and the results are mesmerising. The guys at DBLG did a good art. I approve. Enjoy.


HTML5 Canvas maze maker

Tuesday, March 4th, 2014


I recently created a kids activity pack that required a massive maze. I’ve had some maze creating code rattling around my from the Flash days so decided to throw it down in JS and HTML5 Canvas. I used this code to create a base maze image, then took it into Photoshop to create a unique outer shape. Took ages! So the plan is to allow an image to be uploaded as a black and white mask so the code can fill with a maze.

This experiment is just the first step and the rendering technique is horribly slow, but at least the ball is rolling!

Click here (or the image above) to launch a new page and have a play.

Xbox 360 RROD reflowing – doesn’t always work

Tuesday, November 26th, 2013


I love broken stuff. It gives you an excuse to try and fix something. If you succeed, you’re awesome. If you fail, it was broken anyway, right?

Base in point… my Xbox 360 has been having the infamous Red Ring Of Death (RROD) for about a year now. In normal words, it’s broken. I did the usual searches and tried all of the following:

  1. Stuck toothpicks in the fans to heat up the mother board so it resets itself
  2. Replaced the heat sink and thermal paste with the ‘fix kit’
  3. Read the error codes by holding down the eject button
  4. Cleaned out the fans
  5. Moved it to a well ventilated area
  6. Covered it in ace packs
  7. Updated the software
  8. Tried holding open the CD tray to force a reset
  9. Light candles around it in an X pattern and chant pagan poems

Nothing worked. Then GTA 5 came out and I *needed* to get that damn Xbox fixed.

Why the RROD?

Cutting a long story short, the main reason for the RROD is overheating and then poor connections to the main processors. The processors are soldered to the motherboard with small dots of solder. With repeated use, heating and cooling, these dots of solder become brittle and can lose contact with the motherboard. You can’t just crack out the soldering iron as the ‘pins’ don’t come through the board, they are surface mounted on one side.

Reflowing explained…

Enter a technique called ‘reflowing’. Essentially, you heat up the solder until it ‘reflows’ back in to nice liquid solder and makes a good connection again. This can be done with a constantly moving heat gun, a professional rig or by placing the board (with some protection) into a special over. Or a domestic oven according to the internet.

The process is simply to strip the xbox down to the motherboard, wrap the sensitive components and plugs around the edges with insulation and foil, expose the chips in the middle and whack it in the oven on full blast for 10-15 minutes. The trick is to then let it cool down gradually so the solder doesn’t have any stress points.

Here’s how it turned out…

First, cover the sensitive bits. here I’m using ultra-high tech kitchen towel.


Expose the main chips and solder points below too.


Add a base for the board to sit on in the oven. Turn the oven to 200ºC and wait for it to heat up.


Cover the insulated areas with a few layers of aluminium foil, keeping the chips exposed and place on the oven rack.


Cook for about 10 minutes.


When cooking is complete, open the oven door and wait for an hour for everything to settle.

Then marvel at the pile of melted Xbox parts and capacitors oozing brown goop all over the place. Proceed to salvage the fans for some project-or-other you will probably never get around to. Keep the hard drive with all your data you can’t really use. Quickly look on Ebay to realise it’s already awash with all the other parts you have left over and fetch no more than 60p. Salvage the heat sink fix kit just in case, you paid extra for it after all. Then take everything to the recycling centre in one last gasp at salvaging something positive out of the whole, embarrassing debacle.



So what would I have done differently? Should have just bought a second-hand console off Ebay for £50. Then waited for the Xbox One to come down in price a little and go for one of those. Still, at least I have some cool looking fans… and at the end of the day, it was broken already, right? Nothing ventured, nothing gained!



Kitchen Science – cabbage pH indicator

Tuesday, November 26th, 2013


This one’s a favourite in our house. Any time we have red cabbage, we keep the ‘juice’ and use it to test wether things are acid or alkaline, often with some surprises. Certainly makes for a good conversation starter about why kids should brush their teeth after a meal!

First, the science. Red cabbage contains a pigment called anthocyanin, which changes colour when exposed to acid or alkaline. Acid (pH1) will turn it red. Alkaline will turn it green (pH14). Neutral (pH7) in the middle is purply-blue. And there’s a spectrum in-between.

Preparation is pretty simple. Just chop up a red cabbage, steam it (you can just boil it too) and collect the juice.


We like to pour some into a row of glasses and then arrange them on a scale from acid to alkaline. As you can see, we live in an area with relatively alkaline water. Yours may be more blue/purple when it starts out.


Here’s what happens when you put some vinegar (acid) in. It changes colour within seconds.


And here’s the result of our latest session…


In order from acid to alkaline:

  1. Apple juice
  2. Lemon
  3. Pan scouring cream
  4. Vinegar
  5. Beer
  6. Baking Powder
  7. Surface cleaner
  8. Bicarbonate of Soda

Which is pretty consistent with a quick Google search. The beer and the apple juice were a bit of a surprise!

And don’t waste that cabbage, it’s amazing stuff!