Framing an #IOT thing of beauty

A picture can tell a thousand words. That’s just what I wanted to achieve by placing my Raspberry Pi into a picture frame. This all started with a long trip to IKEA over the weekend. One of those trips where you get to the car and realise you have way too much to fit it all in the car. During this long trip, I spotted a thick picture frame. My mind jumped at the thought of placing a working Raspberry Pi within it. Well, this evening I decided to give it a try and went about trying to house a Raspberry Pi in the picture frame and succeeded.

I researched how others might have tackled this. My searches returned examples where people have made a digital picture frame as opposed to housing or framing a Raspberry Pi in a traditional picture frame. Bizarrely the one example I did find, Digital PI-cture Frame by David Park, was from IKEA Hackers. Great minds! This, although some years old was what I had pictured in my head.

IKEA Ribba picture frame

I love my tech and whilst I appreciate the clean, tidy and organised side of life. Sometimes I hate hiding things away too. This isn’t just any Raspberry Pi, this is one that is the hub of our home automation. One that should be out on display for everyone to see.

I was really torn whether I should house a Raspberry Pi 3b or a Raspberry Pi Zero within the picture frame. They are both absolutely beautiful and remarkable devices. In the end, I decided on the Raspberry Pi (RPi) 3b as it is such a significant device to our home. I may add another frame to house a RPi Zero for another project in a few months. For now, the frame currently sits on my desk but I plan to hang this on a significant wall in the house and make a feature of it including some internal lighting.

A picture frame as a Raspberry Pi case

The list below is a summary of bits I used:

  • Picture Ribba frame – IKEA £3.50
  • Black backboard – cut from a recycled notepad
  • Mounting nuts/bolts – taken from a spare Raspberry Pi case

OpenHab

For those wanting to know what that other bit is that is included in the picture frame. It’s a RF transmitter (315MHz). This RPi runs OpenHab where I have some rules that trigger my projector blind to come down or go back up when using my Logitech Harmony remote. Personally I think the picture frame looks better for having something alongside the RPi rather than having it sat there by itself. I’ll have some more posts on this topic very soon!

My Raspberry Pi at work sending RF codes

How to daisy chain multiple monitors on a Surface Pro 3 running Windows 10

I finally decided to create my dream home office setup however it wasn’t without complications due to a strange limitation with the new Windows 10 display settings. I thought the idea of daisy chaining multiple displays on my Surface Pro 3 dock using the single DisplayPort was not going to be possible.

Let’s step back a few months. I recently upgraded to a Surface Pro 3 (SP3) and a dock to use when I’m working in my home office. I read from a few online sources that it was possible to connect multiple monitors to the SP3 through a single DisplayPort. This I thought was great, as I really dislike seeing lots of cables! While researching this subject I didn’t fund any specific reference any Dell U2913WM monitors and the SP3 happily working together. This post on the Surface blog was particular helpful as it outlines the different ways multiple displays can be connected to the SP3. With this all this in mind, I filed DisplayPort Daisy Chaining to the back of my head to accompany my home office setup. Jump forward a couple of months and there’s no unboxing video of two 29″Dell (U2913WM) monitors but instead a post to describe how I managed to setup two external displays with my Surface Pro 3 running Windows 10 via single DisplayPort and DisplayPort daisy chaining.

Here’s a summary and sketch of how I’ve wired my Surface Pro 3 with two monitors:
– SP3 dock (mini DisplayPort out)
– Dell U2913WM #1 (DisplayPort in)
– Dell U2913WM #2 (Mini DisplayPort out from Primary to DisplayPort in)

Sketch of my Surface Pro 3 with two external displays
Sketch of my Surface Pro 3 with two external displays

I was pretty confident this would all be straight forward to setup, so much so I fixed the two monitors onto a vesa desk mount (more on this later) and carefully squirreled all the cabling out of sight, before I’d even switched them on, but who am I kidding! I docked the Surface Pro 3 only to find that two monitors would only allow me to duplicate them. For some reason I just couldn’t get the new display settings menu on Windows 10 to allow me to run these as two separate displays even though it recognised them both.

Windows 10 Display Settings recognising three displays but only displaying two.
Windows 10 Display Settings recognising three displays but only displaying two.

After a little poking around, I discovered a setting (DisplayPort 1.2) in the control panel of the monitors. After enabling this, the displays all went blank for a moment while they reconfigured. But still no luck, I now had just one of the two external displays working, the other had no input.

Enabling Display Port 1.2 through the Dell U2913WM setting.
Enabling Display Port 1.2 through the Dell U2913WM setting.

This is the point I thought it just wasn’t going to work. I’d checked drivers. Restarted my SP3. Changed cables. Toggled Display Port 1.2 off and back on. As all techies would, I clicked round a fair bit. I found that from the new Windows 10 Display Settings screen, there were hits back to the old Control Panel. It was on this screen I noticed the winning link – Adjust resolution!

Enabling monitors on Windows 10.
Enabling monitors on Windows 10.

It was here I noticed that the third display was disabled. After enabling display, my SP3 was using all three displays! Excitement levels peaked at this point! It seems the new Windows 10 Display Settings screen does not display disconnected displays nor does it make it obvious to that you should use the Control Panel method. This is something I’ve shared with the Windows team via #WindowsInsider feedback and I hope is made easier in the future.

All three displays available.
All three displays available.

About that mount. I’m using a triple monitor vesa mount due to the sheer width of two 29″ monitors. The trick is not to use the middle mount that attaches to the upright bar but instead use the two side arms. The two monitors sit together perfectly with this mount! They’re sitting about 40cm high off the desk which gives me plenty of clearance underneath to use the physical desk space I have and at this height I get support from the headrest on my high-backed chair.

One thing to note with this setup is that once DisplayPort 1.2 (DP 1.2) is enabled on either of the two monitors, the Dell Display Manager willl not detect that display. The only way I’ve been able to get the tool working is to disable DisplayPort 1.2 on the secondary display. It’s a shame I can’t get the Display Manager tool to work as it is a really helpful tool to maximise on all the space the Dell U2913WM gives you. It allows you to easily snap windows to different areas of the display. I spent a short time researching the issue and it seems to be on Dell’s radar – not sure if this is specific to Windows 10 or DisplayPort 1.2 daisy chained monitors or how soon it will be fixed but there was some guidance on the Dell Support forum .

Believe in your dreams

Almost ten years ago I was lucky enough to be invited by my college to attend a Microsoft conference called “A Glimpse into the world of a computer scientist”. It was held at the Microsoft Research building in Cambridge. Can you remember something you were doing ten years ago?

My certificate of attendance to "A glimpse into the world as a computer scientist", a Microsoft Research Cambridge conference
My certificate of attendance to “A glimpse into the world as a computer scientist”, a conference held at Microsoft Research in Cambridge.

The conference gave me grant insight into Microsoft and the world of computer science. Frankly it was rocket fuel and really kick started my career off in IT! I volunteered to participate in a research project discussed during the conference. My family and I were selected a help test a product called the Whereabouts Clock (pictures below) – imagine the Harry Potter clock! A few months later we were working with a Microsoft Research Employee called Alex Taylor –  a researcher in the Socio-Digital Systems team. The clock was designed to display the whereabouts of everyone in the family. This was achieved through location data transmitted from smartphones and shared with an application. Each member in the family were then placed in a pre-defined segment of the clock, Home, Work or School. You can read more about the Whereabouts Clock on the Microsoft Research website.

The Microsoft Research Whereabouts Clock, 2006
The Microsoft Research Whereabouts Clock, 2006
Find my Friends iOS App ten years on from The Whereabouts Clock
Find my Friends iOS App ten years on from The Whereabouts Clock

Scarily ten years have passed. While Microsoft never released “The Whereabouts Clock”, their work directly or indirectly can be seen on the smartphones in our pockets today. Google launched their Latitude app, although this has now been retired, Apple have their Find my iPhone and Find my Friends apps (picture above) and Microsoft have their Find my Windows Phone. Other applications exist to manage scenarios similar to those of the “Whereabouts Clock”, one such example is Life360 Family Locator. Ten years on, I also still have my bright orange Microsoft Research bag (picture below) – you know how much I like my bags!

I still have my Microsoft Research conference bag ten years on!
I still have my Microsoft Research conference bag ten years on!

Back in February I got my dream blue badge and started my new job with Microsoft. working in the Microsoft Consulting Services (MCS) group. I emailed Alex a few days ago, ten years on he still remembered me and my family and the research we did with him. He was so happy to discover I’m now working for Microsoft! Alex still works for the Microsoft Research in Cambridge. I hope to meet him in person soon as he has kindly offered to give me a tour of the labs in Cambridge.

I’d like to leave you with one last message, inspired by a wonderful article published by Scott Hanselman when he was hired by Microsoft. I was particularly lucky to attend the Microsoft Research conference in 2005 and to be involved with “The Whereabouts Clock” research. But all that aside, I worked very hard at college and spent the last ten years working equally as hard developing my career, doing something I thoroughly enjoy and am passionate about (see Scott’s dream job Venn diagram in his post). All this enabled me to achieve my dream to work for Microsoft – thank you to all those who have helped me along the way – massive kudos to those who have helped me along the way such as Marshall Aerospace and ClearPeople. If you have dreams – don’t stop believing in them!

Discover what’s inside my man bag…

Ok, it’s time for me to confess that I like a man bag or two. I really appreciate a stylish and high quality bag and have to admit I have a few. I don’t buy them at a rate like my partner does (along with her shoes) but when that time arises, I take a trip to France! Join me in this post to discover my various bags and what’s in them bag – inspired by one of my favourite blogs Lifehacker.

Inspired many years ago by the various stories of ‘Featured Bags’ from Lifehacker and ‘What’s in our bags’, I’ve always wanted to write one of these posts for myself at the right time – that time is now!

As a SharePoint Consultant who is often on the road, it is important for me to have various pieces of technology & equipment and those other ‘things’ with me for when the need arrises. Equally as important as having the right things with me at the right time is having a bag that is high quality, elegant in design, durable and comfortable to carry around. Let me share with you my collection of bags…

The bag collection

I have two French laptop bags, an overnight bag and a Crumpler Good Boy 13″ sling bag. My favourite is the smaller, more recent laptop bag. I received this for Christmas from my girl friend (thank you, thank you, thank you) along with the overnight bag. They’re both from the same town in France where I brought my first laptop bag a year or so ago.

My favourite bag (Francinel 13" laptop bag)
My favourite bag (Francinel 13″ laptop bag)
The workhorse (Katana 15" laptop bag)
The workhorse (Katana 15″ laptop bag)
The sleeper (David Jones overnight bag)
The sleeper (David Jones overnight bag)
Undercover (Crumpler 13" Good Boy sling bag)
Undercover (Crumpler 13″ Good Boy sling bag)

Where do they come from? Well the Crumpler I brought in the Crumpler store on the Strand, London a few years back. The other bags…I cannot say. It’ll give away my secrets – I can say though that they came from France!

What’s inside my bag?

Lots of people have asked me what I carry in my bag…here is your chance and theirs, to see what’s inside my bag (on a typical day):

Itemised:

  1. Good book to read – at present I’m reading “The man who knew too much” (Alan Turing) by David Leavitt
  2. My favourite watch!
  3. A strong umbrella
  4. Oakley Sunglasses
  5. Cacoon Grid-it organiser
  6. Canon PowerShot SX280 HS
  7. Beats Headphones
  8. iPhone 5 (this may become a Lumia soon)
  9. MacBook Air 13″ (although I’m sure this might change to something less Apple-based like a Surface Pro 3 soon)
  10. Microsoft Arc Touch Mouse
  11. Huawei 4G Mi-Fi
  12. Leatherman Titanium
  13. Powerbank (RavPower Deluxe)
  14. Western Digital Pocket drive and various flash drives (all but one encrypted mind!)
  15. Various adapters (USB to Ethernet, Miniport to VGA etc)
  16. Logitech R700 presentation remote
  17. Laptop lock cable (for the bag not the laptop)
  18. Moleskin notebook
  19. Bluetooth speaker with microphone – great for conference calls
  20. Pens. Pens. Pens. Particularly my Parker fountain pen and a really good white board marker.
  21. Welfare stuff like tissues, hand cleaner, wet wipes and some Nurofen!
  22. Envelope to stash receipts
  23. Peter Rabbit and Paddington Bear – when I travel I like to take pictures of these two in front of recognisable and special places to send to my daughter.

There you have it…my bags and what’s in them.

Home brew grain milling with a coffee grinder

I unpacked all our ingredients and equipment to start the home brew project off today, only to find I made a very silly mistake. I had ordered 3kg of Maris Otter uncrushed and had no way to crush it. No problem, I’ll just order some more I thought. It got me thinking though, and not waste this grain, was it possible to mill the grain ourselves before the online order arrived?

Maris Otter uncrushed grain
Maris Otter uncrushed grain

First home brew disappointment

Hoping to start our first brew off on Tuesday evening, I was doubtful that the online order would be delivered in time. The order was dispatched and estimated to arrive within two working days. The race was on!

Local breweries, forums & rolling pins

The research began. I reached out to two local micro-breweries and asked them if they had a grain mill available, unsurprisingly they didn’t! One suggested using a pestle & mortar or a rolling pin which I tried but I felt the result wasn’t great. While attempting the pestle & mortar method I questioned whether we needed a grain mill to crush the grain or can we use some other tool?

Home brewer Research & Argos

I did want any home brewer would do and reached out in search of an answer in the home brewer forums. It seems we’re not the only ones to have made this mistake! One method suggested by many home brewers was to use an electric coffee grinder. Staying clear of any internet suppliers to avoid any further delays with delivery etc, I leapt on the Argos website, where I found three different coffee grinders available. I read their product descriptions and reserved the one with largest capacity and easiest access (De’Longhi KG40 Coffee Bean Grinder). Within 20 minutes of making the reservation, I had the thing unboxed on the counter, grain loaded and all!

Milling grain with coffee grinders

A few test grinds indicated I needed to grind for 12 seconds to get it to the consistency I needed. I was able to grind just over a 100g each go and milled our batch of 3kg in less than 15 minutes. The coffee grinder solution does work!

Crushed Maris Otter
Crushed Maris Otter

The solution is not all perfect as we’re not able to grind, mill or crush grain consistently as you might be able to with a true grain mill but we do have an efficient tool for those rare occasions when we need it. Bonus, we can grind coffee beans as well!

3kg of Maris Otter crushed using a coffee grinder
3kg of Maris Otter crushed using a coffee grinder

We beat the online order!

It is Tuesday, our uncrushed grain is now crushed. Two working days have passed and the online order still hasn’t arrived. Nothing can stop us from starting our first brew as planned this evening.