It’s been a while dear friend…

Sadly with working shifts and long hours for a local telecoms company, I haven’t had the chance to do as much as I would have liked to in my spare time.

I really wanted to get involved in the whole home automation side of things and this idea is still pending and still on the “to-do” list.

Since I last wrote on this blog, I have moved house to a lovely little flat and both Bear (my dog) and I feel relaxed and at home now.

It has been such a long journey to get here. After breaking my ankle and needing surgery and having a plate and 7 pins fitted and then having to learn to walk on my foot again and then being able to drive again etc etc but we are finally here.

Anyway, so going back to the point of this blog, the whole tech theme, I have finally dug out the Raspberry Pi 3 I purchased ages ago. I blew off the dust and dug out all the other bits I purchased along side it for the project I wanted to carry out: to turn the Pi 3 into an Amazon Echo device.

I had done my homework on this and I knew that although it wouldn’t connect the Alexa Voice Service to any audio apps like Spotify, I could still use all other features, known as “skills” that work with the Echo.

Using the pi brought up a few snags though. First of all, because I was connecting the Pi to a TV using an HDMI cable, the audio automatically defaulted to playing through the TV and of course I did not want that feature as once I had installed everything, I wanted it to be headless.
I had to force the audio through to the 3.5mm audio-out that the Pi had but it was simply one line of code so nothing too drastic to grumble about.

I also had a problem with getting the voice recognition software to work. I was following a tutorial from online and I was literally just doing a copy and paste from the page to Raspbian CLI. There were two choices, one was a trial version and the other was a full version of KITT.AI but I believe, because the version had changed, so had the file name as well as it’s location so it wasn’t just a case of doing a copy and paste.

I also had to contact Amazon as apparently, there is no phone number for the Alexa Voice Services department, just a forum and I was struggling because I had started up my JAVA applet which I was going to use for recording my voice and sending it to the Alexa server using localhost:3000 but when I went to accept the T&C’s from Amazon, it was flagging up an error and the site wouldn’t communicate back to my applet to give me a bearer token which is what Alexa Voice Service uses so that it knows exactly what device you are using and what profile it is from. I even went into my router settings and setup port forwarding so that all communications on port 3000 would definitely reach the Pi but still nothing.

I haven’t resolved any of the issues above yet so this is a bit of an adhoc blog but I will be adding resolutions to this once I have found out more information.

Oh and just to go back to my old ways and repeat myself again, I am still hoping to learn C# over the summer. I know it is not like the alphabet and once you’ve got it, you’ve got it. I understand that it is a forever learning process but you have to begin somewhere so watch this space as I am hoping that blogs are going to start coming through thick and fast now I have escaped the clutches of a corporation and finally have my life back to enjoy some me time.

Ciao for now!

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Breaking News

So a week before uni starts, just as I am finishing my last shift at work, I run to my car to get out of the rain, fall over nothing and break my ankle!

I would like to say I was doing something heroic like saving orphans from a burning building or a kitten from a tree but sadly it wouldn’t be true.

I am currently waiting for a phone call from the fracture clinic to be told that they want me in the next day to have an operation on my ankle where I will have a plate and pins installed – I don’t do things by halves!

Anyways, the good news is that University has started, I have my timetable and I am good to go. Despite now having to get a taxi to and from University and it costing me a small fortune, I am still attending every day and not using it as an excuse.

As I am missing all the social activities, I am investing this time in studying as much as I can to try and get ahead of things.

I have also written a University bucket list of things I would like to achieve before my 3-4 years of University are over. These include:

  • See a famous live band
  • Get back down the gym - this will have to wait until my ankle is better (good excuse to skip leg days)
  • Learn to play the piano
  • Go scuba diving
  • Be in the audience of a TV show
  • Give blood
  • Learn another language
  • Visit Bletchley Park


If you have to ask what is at Bletchley Park then you really shouldn’t be reading my site – we simply aren’t friends!

I am also looking at societies that I can join at the university and I am thinking of joining the Engineering society and RAG (Raise and Give) who do different fund raising events for different charities.

Sadly the volunteer work at the Library for Code Club has had to go on hold as I haven’t got the transport to get to the library from the University and I also don’t want to spread myself too thin and take on too much whilst my leg is healing.

If there is a lesson to learn from this whole experience, it’s that exercise is NOT good for you and also, NEVER run across roads as you can fall over your own feet where ever you are!

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Code Club Returns

code_club_high_res_logo_720

After a well deserved Summer break, Code Club is starting back up at Hull Central Library from Thursday 22nd September and I shall be volunteering to help assist with teaching children 9-11 years of age how to code.

Our existing “Code Clubbers” will move on to CSS/HTML and new starters will start by learning Scratch and going through a few projects together.

If you haven’t heard of Code Club by now then basically it is a opportunity for children to get together, with supervised guidance, to learn new skills. They will be learning Scratch, CSS/HTML, Python and I’ve also heard that the library have just invested in the BBC Micro:bit.

Why bring your children along?

Computers are used everywhere and there is no longer a need to be afraid of them. I would even go as far as to suggest that most people use a computer each day without realising it – When you turn on your washing machine and push a button, it is running a program and knows how much water to allow, how many cycles before it then drains the water, when to rinse and also when to keep beeping at you to tell you it has finished, usually just in the middle of your favourite TV episode.

More about the topics we teach

Scratch

Scratch is software created by MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) aka VERY clever people. This software can be found on a Raspberry Pi (see http://raspberrypi.org/ for more information) as well as on the Scratch website (https://scratch.mit.edu/). This software allows children to create different objects and characters and alter their environment and behaviour. To make this simple, MIT have created jigsaw type blocks that click together so that you know they are compatible and these blocks are also colour coded. This teaches children the method for object oriented programming. This is the type of programming used for Java which can be found on some phone operating systems and in Blu-ray and DVD players.

CSS/HTML

CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) is used to style an HTML document. You would title different areas in your HTML document and then on the CSS file you would state certain preferences. For instance, in the “title” section, you would want to use a larger size font and have the font a certain colour.

HTML (HyperText Markup Language) is typically the code used behind a website. A web developer would write certain code to create a website which could be used to show off video, animations and pictures as well as forms and text. When you open a web browser i.e. Internet Explorer, Google Chrome or Firefox to name a few, and search your favourite website, it will show you a nice user friendly finish which has been created using HTML.

Python

Python is another programming language. This is being taught in Schools and even Universities. It can be used to create games and applications.

Python used with a Raspberry Pi can open up a lot of exciting adventures where you can create lots of different projects including a traffic light system with LEDs, creating a weather station, creating a music and video entertainment system and much much more.

BBC Micro:bit

These are the small computers that are currently being given out in Schools, they are also available to purchase from retailers now if you missed out on getting one from School and although prices change, I believe they are quite reasonably priced.

The Micro:bit has been created to allow children to design and create their own projects once again using code and also learning about hardware compatibility.

The Code Club community

We are trying to create as many Code Clubs as possible because technology will be a strong part of everyone’s future and definitely for the younger generation. We want to provide a place for them to come and explore their imaginations whilst learning some really cool stuff along the way and these are relevant skills that will help them in the future in terms of education and hobbies.

More Information
Our Code Club is currently on a Thursday evening between 6pm and 7:15pm at Hull Central Library. We do have limited places so please contact the Library on 01482 300300 to register your place.

We appreciate that sometimes children may have alternative after School activities on the same night so if you need to find an alternative Code Club, they can be found on the Code Club Website.

Hull Central Library has the following address: Albion St, Hull HU1 3TF

Or you can view the following map:
Hull Central Library Map

We look forward to seeing you soon

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Hull Raspberry Jam Saturday 10th September

https://www.raspberrypi.org/

Why not join in on the fun and learn more about the Raspberry Pi and how to code by attending a Raspberry Jam.

The next event takes place on Saturday 10th September and starts at 10:15 until 13:15.

The venue for this event is Malet Lambert School – James Reckitt Avenue, Hull, HU8 0JD

This is a free to attend event – tickets plus more information is available from the Eventbrite website.

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Feeling Appreciated

So as a lot of you who know me know, I have been volunteering at a Code Club on a Thursday evening during term time teaching children 9-11 how to code.

We start with Scratch and then progress to CSS and Python and I’ve just heard that the library have invested in a few of the BBC Micro:bit computers.

I haven’t had chance to play with the Micro:bit yet but obviously this is my chance to learn something new along side the children and help support them in their understanding and knowledge of technology.

This makes volunteering both rewarding, exciting and educational. I do not want to sound like a sales person as sadly there is no affiliation program but helping others does have its own rewards as seen in the picture below.

If there are future Computer Science students out there who want to gain exposure then volunteering would be a brilliant idea and it also gets you involved in the community.

Appreciation email

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University Challenge

I now have only 20 days until University starts!

This is most definitely a “Dear diary” moment. I have completed my online registration as well as me e-induction which, may I add, contained a video about sexual consent but used the analogy of a cup of tea – how British. Apparently someone may arrange to come over on Saturday for a “cup of tea” but that doesn’t always mean that when they get there that they will still want that “cup of tea” and if someone comes to your house for a “cup of tea” and passes out from alcoholic intoxication, remember that this is important, they DO NOT want a “cup of tea”. I am not sure if this video is sincere or not but it has definitely made a good talking point!

Anyways… In the next 10 days I will hear from my AST (Academic Support Tutor) who will be the one to give tutorials during the academic year and will pay close interest in my progress to ensure that I have the support I need.

As of yet, I haven’t got my timetable and in all the Fresher’s groups I have joined on Facebook, it seems that everyone is in the same boat, anxious and not quite sure what to expect as well as not knowing if their previous knowledge will be enough to see them through.

The reason I am writing this post is because I want to look back in a years time and see that there was nothing to worry about at all but also for future Fresher students to read this and have reassurance that what they are going through is perfectly normal and someone has been there before.

If you are reading this then do not panic too much about University. As long as you do your bit and keep turning up and doing work that is set for you in a timely manner, then everything will be fine. If you get stuck – ask for help, it’s what people are there for.

I know a lot of people are buying new laptops and this, that and the other but I have decided to just treat myself to a new pad of paper, a new BIC biro and will just use my existing laptop. IF I do need something with a higher spec then I will work on building a desktop PC at home as this will be cheaper than a top end laptop and parts will be easier to replace/upgrade as well and then I can just remote into my desktop from university and use it almost like a cloud device.

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Bypassing Windows login

So here is a little secret I have discovered: being able to get into Windows without a password.

A lot of people will already know that if someone forgets their Windows password then you can remove the hard drive and slave it to access the data but this method will show you how to access Windows through the user interface.

First of all you will need some software that Microsoft provide for free called DART – diagnostic and repair tool.

If you put this on a pen drive then you can boot to this using one of your F keys and choose it from the boot menu.

In DART you will have the option to explore files and folders on the system.

Navigate to C:/Windows/System32 and look for a file called “utilman.exe”. Rename this file to “utilman.exe.bak” and then copy and paste the “cmd.exe” file from and to the same directory. Then rename your second cmd file to “utilman.exe”.

You will then be able to restart the computer and when you get to the Windows log in screen you will see in one of the corners next to the shutdown button an accessibility options, when you click on this it will then bring up your command box and from there you will be able to turn on the admin profile.

Then with a restart, you will be able to access the computer as an administrator and have full access to the computer and all accounts.

If you want to remove this feature afterwards then turn admin off in cmd and restore the original utilman file back to its original name.

Happy playing!

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Todays Adventure

So I decided that it was time to upgrade from my Samsung Galaxy S4 LTE to the new shiny Galaxy S6 which may I add, is totally amazing as it has a decent amount of internal memory so hopefully won’t keep telling me it is running low!

Anyways, I decided that as my S4 was still of value, I would see if anyone was interested in the purchase. To my luck someone was but they didn’t have an O2 sim card and didn’t know how much it would cost to unlock the phone.

As some of you may have picked up from my previous blogs, I sometimes class myself as a tech person and if something can be done, I want to know how to do it rather than paying money for someone else to do it for me.

So I went online and read a few tutorials about unlocking a phone, specifically the S4 I9505 LTE. It said that if I was to dial *#0011# then it would come up with a service menu, which it did. It then said that if I was to use the menu and select the key input “1” then it would take me to a different menu – Sadly this did not happen. So I then went down the path of downloading some flash software called ODIN and some software so I could root the phone. I had never done this before so it did seem a little scary but I thought I would give it a try nonetheless.

I managed to root the phone. I was even able to find the setting for the second menu as a root Super User and change it from hidden to not hidden, not that it made any different as it was still not allowing me to get to the menu that I needed to change in the first place to unlock this handset to allow access for sims on alternative carriers.

So I looked into things further and downloaded software that would back up my existing ROM on the phone (REMEMBER TO ALWAYS BACKUP). I then transferred this backup data from my SD card to my laptop to allow space for a custom rom on the SD card as this was how I wanted to install it.

As I was using the wiping software I was very sure I wanted to wipe the cache as well as the System as this is what all my helpful websites that I read had told me to do. So when I went to then install my custom ROM, which failed in seconds, I was in a bit of a panic as I now had no OS on my phone so it wouldn’t boot into anything and the backup ROM that I made was on my laptop and I couldn’t even get the laptop to recognise the phone or the SD card as a mass storage device.

At this point I had two options: to either cry in a corner and admit defeat or try and find a stock ROM that I could then flash to the device. I managed to find such ROM and it flashed fine, optimized all my 200 something apps and then I was able to root it again.

The phone now is back to how it was previously although I haven’t got the right size sim to test it at the moment but I will do tomorrow when it isn’t 2am in the morning.

It certainly has been a learning curve and I am quite sure it wont be my last experience with mobile phones as these are the things that will be in our future for quite some time.

Once I have established a way to unlock this phone without having to pay, of course I will share this knowledge with my readers.

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Officially Summer

suncartoon

So I get told by Facebook yesterday that it is officially Summer. I am glad I needed to be informed about this as I open my curtains and was greeted by the usual British weather – rain!

I am happy to confirm that my Summer has officially started. I have completed my Computing – Access to Higher Education Diploma and managed to achieve 27 distinctions and 9 merits.

This is more than what I needed so I am now just waiting for a letter from Hull University to say welcome, that will be £9,000 please…

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Ooops my bad (2)!

So sadly it didn’t take long at all for episode 2 of Ooops my bad!

I treated myself to an android smart watch and I was really impressed that you could sync it to your mobile phone via Bluetooth and send/receive calls as well as texts and you could even add a micro SD card and a SIM card and it would work as a standalone device and make calls and texts without the phone connected. It even had a 3g connection so although slow, I could still use data. The downside was that although it had a Facebook and WhatsApp icon, they were in fact just shortcuts to a webpage and the built in browser was pretty lame (yeah I know you can’t expect too much from a cheap gadget).

So my idea was to “hack it”. I wanted to get into the watch, seeing as it didn’t have a play store or a simple way to install new apps, even when I tried to download an APK file directly from my cloud storage it didn’t know what to do with it.

So I searched online and realised that I could use a flash tool which I have never had the pleasure of using before. All I had to do was install the drivers for the watch first and then I could set the flash tool so that it backs up a copy of the ROM, then lets me alter it and then it on to the watch.

This is where it all went horribly wrong…
First of all I was using Windows 10 which, in the device manager, did not show the ports section so I couldn’t setup and distinguish which COM port was my USB in the flash tool software.

I did try installing the drivers by using the legacy hardware option but then when they did show up they had an exclamation mark against them. I was getting absolutely nowhere and Microsoft were telling me that its a manufacturer issue as its drivers needed for their MOBO (Motherboard) and HP were telling me that this laptop, which I had only purchased in 2014, hasn’t been tested with Windows 10 and basically couldn’t be bothered to provide any updated drivers for it and I went between the two for about 3 days.

It concluded that I would just have to take the hit and recover back to Windows 8 which HP do provide the drivers for. The problem with this is that since my upgrade, I decided to clear the previous version files to save space. All HP could then tell me is that I needed a recovery kit and it would cost just shy of £35.

I went to Microsoft online support chat again and got someone to remote into my laptop who set off 2 downloads – one being software to burn a bootable ISO to a flash drive or DVD and the other was an ISO for Windows 8. He actually stated that they not longer had the Windows 8 available to download from Microsoft so I assume that he must have got the ISO file from a 3rd party site, which I am sure hasn’t been tested and for the paranoid out there, who would agree that getting Operating Systems from a 3rd party source or places like torrent sites can also install a virus in the background, a Trojan or key logger software so it is ALWAYS recommended to use genuine software from a reliable source.

As I went into the BIOS to change the boot sequence I faced another struggle – as my SSD it classed as a flash drive and so was the flash drive with the ISO on, the bios could not distinguish between the 2 and that wasn’t going to work.
I then decided to burn the ISO to a bootable DVD and try and set the boot sequence for that to run first. Finally I had some success, right until I got to the point where the laptop couldn’t recognise my SSD and this is about the point I am ready to cry myself to sleep but I DID NOT GIVE UP!

I put my old HHD back in my laptop, I spoke with Microsoft again (for the 4th time) and got to the point where they actually became useful – they gave me a link to a tool that would directly allow me to add a bootable ISO directly to my flash drive and I could choose the version of Windows I wanted to install and it downloaded it. I was then able to change the boot sequence back to flash drive first and then the HDD and this worked! I was able to go through the motions and after a slow hard drive I got my Windows 8.1 installed.

Now I was making progress I decided to bring back my original issues with my smart watch, downloaded all the drivers and tools again and opened the flash tool. It now recognised the COM port I Was using through the USB connection to the watch. The downside at this point was that it said my phone must have turned on too quickly for it to step in on the start-up so I turned it off and tried again but then the touch screen froze so had to pull the battery. I tried one more time in a different USB port and it was exactly the same.

So just to confirm at this stage, I have my old HHD in my laptop now with Windows 8 to use for the purposes of this flash tool software which doesn’t even work.

I have now put in my SSD drive again and have decided that I really don’t need my smart watch to be all singing and dancing now.

I did however find out on my quest that Windows 8 is being supported by Microsoft until 2032 and always make sure that your device has been tested with Windows 8 and whether the manufacturer will support Windows 10 and the drivers you will need.

And seeing as though I am on the subject of Windows 10, it is actually a good operating system and the likely hood is that you might not even need to use it for the things I try and do with my gadgets so you will be fine. The free upgrade to Windows 10 does actually run out at the end of July 2016 though so if you still haven’t upgraded yet then it would be recommended to do so.

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