Freesteel Blog » University

Monday, September 18th, 2017 at 7:47 pm - - University 1 Comment »


To celebrate the upcoming move of DoESLiverpool to formerly derelict factory space, I decided to peel open the can of worms embodied by the new construction known as Sensor City — literally 8 minutes walk away.

We have a joke around the hackspace while we’re teaching one another to do epic stuff with different sensors, that they got a grant for £10million and then spent £9.999million of it on the building, leaving not one penny left for sensors.

So, effectively all the money that taxpayers were told was going to go into the goodness of high technology seems to have actually been spent on wages for bricklayers, architects and concrete mixers.

Not that I have anything on the building trade, but the whole purpose of an Industrial Strategy is to overcome the fact short term investment in buildings will always be more profitable and less risky than investment in innovation and technology, and this country seems to be run by morons who don’t know how to invest in Innovation and Technology.

Case in Point: Sensor City.

Somehow millions of pounds of national investment into this very promising emerging technology, due to its sudden cheapness and pervasiveness, got converted into an investment into a crappy building clad from ground to roof with embarrassing printed circuit board-themed glass panels.

At no point as the design passed through the hands of the great and the good of University Vice-Chancellors, Professors, Civil Servants and other well-dressed highly-paid smart people, did a single one of them probably think:

“Hey, that’s a nice piece of art. But has any one of us seen a machine that can cut real Printed Circuit Boards of the kind that can carry electronics? Maybe we should buy one for about the cost of one of these glass panels so that companies in region can get their prototypes as rapidly as those innovators in China where all such services are on their doorstep?”

The turn-around time to getting your prototypes produced and tested in the form of circuitboards that can carry surface-mounted sensors seriously drives up costs and harms innovation. In China their innovators get turn-around times measured in hours, so you can get circuits made and debugged quickly and take chances. On the other hand, it is super-slow and expensive if you need to get things right first time (they never are) and it takes up to 4 weeks to get each prototype built.

Just think. They could have easily called a meeting back in 2014 between all the companies and startups in the area and simply asked: what are your PCB design needs for carrying sensors, and which machine do you think should we get to help you out?

A plan for sourcing the relevant machinery could have been outlined and assessed, always ensuring that it was going to be available out of hours at a cost-effective level (ie practically free) for learning and training and growing the expertise among the community to do it productively.

But no, they decided on the basis of no sense whatsoever that the one thing we were missing for turning this area into a hub for sensor technology was 2500m^2 of bank-account draining swanky office space.

How did we get here?

Well, contrary to my initial guess, the bollocks was right there from the start with the government press release of 13 December 2013, £15 million boost for local business growth at universities, where the Prime Minister said:

Our world-leading universities have historically been at the heart of innovation but we need to give them the tools to be even better at cultivating the seeds of growth as well as knowledge.

University Enterprise Zones will unlock the potential of so many students who will be able to move into affordable business space and start to build their own business straight after their degree.

I want to see University Enterprise Zones help create the next Yahoo or the next Microsoft – bringing jobs and prosperity to both the local and wider economy and helping us succeed in the global race.

Interesting choice of examples to pull out of one’s arse.

Microsoft got its big break in 1981 when they closed the deal to supply the operating system for the new IBM PC — an operating system which they did not have. But the company was originally founded in 1976 in New Mexico to be near their first customer Micro Instrumentation and Telemetry Systems. They moved from there to their current home in Washington state in 1979 owing to the difficulty of hiring top programming talent in the middle of the desert.

No mention was made of the attractiveness of the office space, which I’m sure was fine in Albuquerque.

In more recent decades, Microsoft has booked very high profits hocking their shite products and services to the UK government for billions of pounds. If that kind of money had been spent procuring superior services based on open source software over the last 20 years, we’d have a much more robust and vibrant high tech industry today.

Also, we can go look at the history of Yahoo! (links to a book called the “Chief Yahoos of Yahoo”) and how that company came into existance at the dawn of the internet when nobody in the world yet knew that the one thing that was fundamentally most important to the internet was a search engine:

By November 1994 an amazing 170,000 people a day were using Yahoo!… Yang and Filo could not expand their company without money. They still had to find someone who would be willing to invest in their new company.

And so it goes from luck, happenstance, and general communication in the community activity to serendipidy.

They found an investor in the same way that they found themselves owning a business — by doing something else. In this case, it happened during the search for a host for Yahoo!. Yang and Filo ran into Randy Adams, who operates the Internet Shopping Network. In early 1995 he was also just getting his business started. Adams introduced Yang and Filo to Mike Moritz who was the head of an investment company called Sequoia Capital.

Moritz and the other members of Sequoia Capital instantly liked the idea of Yahoo!. As Moritz jokes about it, “It was a suicide impulse on our part” because any new Internet company was a risky investment. Most of them failed within a year.

Does this sound like the attitude of any capital investors in the UK? Also, he knew about the tech and the business, not like some know-nothing flock of bean-counters.

But Moritz was used to taking risks and backing computer companies. He had already helped out Apple Computer and the software company Oracle, both of which became highly successful businesses. After meeting with Yang and Filo and liking what he had seen and heard, Moritz agreed to give the two young men a million dollars in exchange for a part interest in the new company. He also sent his business people to help Yang and Filo fend off the sudden swarm of would-be buyers.

Yes, it is possible for one member of the business community to recognize the havoc wreaked by that element of society and actually take steps to shield new entrepreneurs from its destructive impulses.

But finally we reach the relevant paragraph of this story:

Now that Yang and Filo had decided not to sell, they faced practical issues: Yahoo! might have a Web site, but now it needed a physical office as well. Yang and Filo decided on an office in Santa Clara, California, not too far from Netscape’s office in Mountain View, and started looking for employees.

So you see, kids, business location is driven by (a) the proximal location of the customer, and (b) the availability of the hirable staff.

It’s never anything to do with the “(un)affordable business space”.

It wasn’t two steps from the Prime Minister’s statement to reach this sanity check.

I could go on, but to wrap things up for the today. I have to mention the important University enterprise zones pilot: evaluation document, which explains:

Universities and Local Enterprise Partnerships come together to create a University Enterprise Zone. The UEZ itself is a partnership between actors in a specific territory. It is accompanied by: (i) funding to build office space to house start-up businesses (incubator space); and (ii) support from UKTI to create an investment proposition.

In the context of the Witty Review of universities and growth, the purpose of the policy is to get universities more involved in economic growth. A logic model is presented in the next Chapter.

The universities and LEPs have to work together in delivering this UEZ. This is meant to encourage universities to get more involved with the LEP and economic growth. The aims of the policy are: (i) increased university-business engagement; and (ii)
increased cooperation between universities and LEPs.

…which leads deeper into the rabbit hole to the so-called Witty Review of July 2013, chaired by Sir Andrew Witty, long-time CEO of the monopoly drug-supplier GlaxoSmithKline which has pled guilty in 2012 to lying about the safety of its products while bribing doctors to proscribe them. People must have died for their bottom line.

Andrew Witty, the firm’s chief executive, said procedures for compliance, marketing and selling had been changed at GSK’s US unit.

“We have learnt from the mistakes that were made,” Mr Witty said. “When necessary, we have removed employees who have engaged in misconduct.”(bbc)

So, the just the right sort of guy to conduct a review into “how universities can drive growth in their areas and for the benefit of the wider UK and to disseminate knowledge and best practice,” and to build on the Wilson review of Business-university collaboration of February 2012.

I can find nothing of interest in the Witty Review, aside from some really laughable recommendations, like:

Recommendation 5. Universities should put in place a single point of entry for SMEs that ‘triages’ their needs and directs them to the relevant part of the university. This point of entry should also look to drive up SME demand and engagement, and work with external partners across the locality, as well as within the university. University business schools should be incentivised to prioritise working directly with local businesses on workable solutions to practical problems.

Goddamnit! Do you know the kind of people who wind up at the desk of this “single point of entry”? What the hell is this? You can’t mail-order a package of innovation from the Amazon website: “I’d like an idea for setting up a billion dollar company please.”

That will be £15million, and we will spend all of it on a carbuncle of concrete and steel.

And don’t get me started on those University business schools. If I was teaching in a University business school, then Section 1 of Lecture 1 of Module 1 would be: “Let us now download and review the business plans for this University for the last ten years, for which you, the students, are considered the customers, and examine them in light of what we can see around us in the context of our hopes and dreams.”

Why do they have zero curiosity in any actual local businesses as it is?

It’s not a hard concept.

Many local businesses would be happy to open their books to be scrutinized and fixed up, just as I am happy to open my mouth at the University dental hospital where they need real teeth to practice their skills on. Business schools are the unabbreviation of BS.

Universities could arrange for their professors to go out into the community and give lectures about what they’re doing on a weekly basis. Maybe hold an open themed Unconference on their site every six months.

You have got to get the contacts flowing between the technologists who are working on the actual tech on matters that seem trivial, not set up some kind of dragon’s den scheme between their so-called leaders who do not have a clue.

The Witty Review praises several university incubator spaces, but doesn’t recommend them. For that, we look to the Wilson Review for:

Recommendation Universities, UKTI, local authorities and LEPs should work together with other relevant organisations (such as the UK Science Park Association) to develop coherent routes for the international promotion of available space and development opportunities in university-linked science and innovation parks. Further, the government, in conjunction with the LEPs, should examin the benefits of using local authority enterprise zone type measures such as simplified planning or local taxation to support university-linked science and innovation parks.

The basis for this recommendation was the following quote:

“Terman came up with the great idea that did more than anything to cause the tech industry to grow up here.” — Steve Jobs

[Steve Jobs was referring to the Dean of Engineering at Stanford University, Frederick Terman, who in 1951 created a 700 acre industrial park on university land for private companies that could commercialise the ideas of his students, now called the Stanford Research Park.]

Indeed, we forget that 1951 was during the height of the Cold War when Uncle Sam was buying huge amounts of aerospace and micro-electronics technology, which then underwent a period of revolutionary innovation.

It’s the customers that count, and the staff in the form of new graduates who didn’t have to move very far to get there> It was California.

For example, if you wanted the half billion quid engineering firm James Fisher and Sons plc to up sticks and move from Barrow-in-Furness to Liverpool, then you’d commission the nuclear submarines here rather than in Barrow. Nothing to do with the office space, is it?

Not all government purchases have to be military. For example, the UK and Local Governments have spent billions over budget procuring IT debacles in the last two decades, nearly all of it to large firms who based it on crappy Microsoft technology. That was a golden opportunity wasted which has not been acknowledged in any business innovation review I have ever read.

Can it be this bad?

Am I making this up?

Well, I couldn’t making up the story in 2007 of ULivE, company set up to commercialise research from Liverpool University laboratories which they attempted to float on the stock market at the value of £70million and might have questionably been capitalizing itself on the basis of the revenue stream known as “research funding grants”. It was wound up in 2011 with no lessons learned because it has been airbrushed from history.

Well, this time these know-nothing incurious bean-counters have created a building, which is not going to be so easy to hide under the carpet when the whole daft plan falls to pieces, on account of having no idea what innovations looks like even were it hit them like a cow. Microsoft and Yahoo!, said the Prime Minister. I mean, what is this about?

Final word goes to Professor Wilson who warned in his review:

I add a caution to the issue of measurement, especially in the context of the inevitable league tables that will follow… Measuring what exists will focus universities upon the activities being measured; it has a strong potential to inhibit innovation, not drive it.

Thursday, October 23rd, 2014 at 4:31 pm - - Machining, University 1 Comment »

I just got myself a new laptop and installed Ubuntu-Linux on it. Scares the hell out of me the speed with which I got it up and running. I am now lost in a sea of code. It’s like walking into a public library after you’d been out in the sticks for a month with only two dog-eared issues of the Reader’s Digest to keep you company. There’s almost too much here. I want to read all of it. And any book or manual you do pick up and spend an hour with means there’s another ten thousand you’ve not picked up that you should have been reading.

Anyways, while doing my apt-cache searching stuff for stuff, I noticed stimfit – Program for viewing and analyzing electophysiological data show up in the search for scipy.

It appears to take datasets of electo-potential readings from a single neuron at every tenth of a milisecond and then fit exponential decay curves [the thick grey line] to selected sections from the (negative) peak to the baseline.


A bit like a temperature sequence, eh?

Oh, and it has a funky Python shell built into it to help you automate the analysis functions. What’s not to like?


Sunday, November 28th, 2010 at 1:01 am - - University, Whipping 5 Comments »

Students have been getting all uppity about university fees of late and channeling their anger into marches in London that are supposedly going to get noticed by politicians.

Seems like a waste of time to me, given that the actual origin of the policy has been on campus, pushed by the cadre of senior managers circulating through the higher education institutions like generals on tour of their military bases.

Take Sir Howard Newby of Liverpool University, now the third highest paid Vice-Chancellor in the country.

In 1999 Mr Newby had already made his position clear — especially on the importance of controlling access to the best universities by the ability to pay:


Monday, September 15th, 2008 at 11:53 am - - University, Whipping 1 Comment »

In spite of many incoming links to this blog from this trivial post, Gary (the unnamed owner of that very-new-but-already-much-more-popular-than-this blog) didn’t make it to Pycon 2008, so I went there knowing only one person.

I’d gone to Cambridge (to hack on Tunnel) using someone else’s return train ticket to London and didn’t want to get screwed by a single train ticket back to Liverpool (prices hiked by another £20 last week), so caught the bus which involved a 40 minute stay in a layby in Milton Keynes where I could see the great avenues of horse chestnut trees dying due to global warming (the mild winters not killing off the parasites). Apparently, this isn’t news, though it was news to me, and I wonder how it connects to the business of planting trees to offset a gratuitous jet-set flight across the Atlantic for a handful of hours at a conference when it’s about time someone started experimenting with telepresentations.

I checked in at Birmingham Central Backpackers and spent half an hour walking around in the rain unable to find their second bunkhouse because it was in a converted pub which still looked exactly like a pub, so I walked past it.

The talk schedule was so-so. But some of the talks turned out to be very good and important, though I couldn’t tell from the titles. The keynote speakers were Mark Shuttleworth, who seemed kind of ordinary, and Ted Leung, whom I would have recognized as being very important if he had phoned his talk in from Sun headquarters on a big screen, instead of being flown over bodily, as is the standard, unquestioned, routine practice at geek conferences that are supposedly tuned in to the future of the internet and planet. Readers of this blog will know that this is a big issue for me, and I don’t want to hear arguments about how presenting in person is better than doing it as a giant video conference, because I Have Never Yet Seen It Attempted.

I quickly wrote up and scheduled a lightning talk about the Metroscope project and cunningly inserted it into the half hour slot before Mark Shuttleworth’s speech, making sure to mention my wholly unsupported but very farsighted work on, (where you can find some of the international documents establishing the Registration Convention, among other things). The video channel failed to work when I tried to display my slides from someone’s machine which had recently been installed with Ubunto, so I was lucky enough to move my slot on by ten minutes and get them to show up on a Windows machine donated by someone in the audience. still has no supporters whatsoever, but a lot of people could see the point of the Metroscope. I have developed the notion that scrapers and parsers for these tiny sources of civic data should be run using a codewiki that runs in a sandbox using pypy. I have not found such a sandbox on-line. is not it, because it’s python running in your browser with the right plugins. Who wants to work on it? I must get a new laptop urgently as I my old one is really beginning to hamper this work.

The conference dinner which came with free wine and beer was excellent. The conference hangover the next day was not so good. I got back to the hostel at 3:30am, got up at 8am, sat on the road for 20 minutes until they opened the door and I could have breakfast of lots of tea with peanut butter and banana sandwiches. Still felt terrible. I needed to find a talk that was boring enough to fall asleep in, but failed because instead I went to one on software complexity where the speaker made us all stand up and talk in pairs to our neighbours about the problems we’ve had with software complexity.

The second keynote speech (the Leung one) was on the same theme as Mark Shuttleworth’s, though in greater detail. These two speakers saw their duty as trying to drive the direction of this herd of cats known as the python programming community. Big changes are happening in computing and the language has to get out of its box to make itself relevant so it doesn’t get eclipsed by, for example, Javascript. This is the greatest threat. Javascript captured the browser and now there are ten times more Javascript programmers as Python programmers. Javascript has also been stealing a lot of ideas from Python as well. The catastrophe will be when people start using Javascript on the server and displacing Python from there. (I lost the argument with HSMWorks that postprocessors should be in python — they chose instead to use Javascript.) The place to look is at the weaknesses of the language, and don’t accept them as part of the design.

The issues are multicore processors, performance limitations, no clear recommended web-framework, and being able to run on the browser platform — these are things that Java (do not confuse with Javascript) dominates. Regarding the web-framework, Django is seen with a lot of hope and optimism. I have to give up going to talks about pylons, as I’m just not getting it. I have resolved to try Jython, which is Python running on a Java virtual machine, once I get a new computer with some space in which to install things.

To me, the most important talk was about pro bono work converting climate science software to python from its old, incredibly impenetrable FORTRAN implementations. You could guess it would be them from reading their company’s heartful goals. Far too little pro bono programming happens outside of the field. A huge amount of volunteer work is done by programmers to improve and promote the public free open source software tools used by programmers (eg Python), but the phenomenon rarely breaks out of this arena and into dealing with civic and government software and data. I don’t know why. It’s considerably easier as the quality can be so ultra-bad outside the open source communities, especially when it relates to billion dollar government contracts. But, on the other hand, nobody out there seems to give a damn about software quality, so you for sure won’t get any thanks. It’s like writing poetry in a language nobody understands. The belief that good quality software is a gift that keeps on giving is nowhere around. Consequently, there’s a disincentive to produce it in the professional world.

Next year there is no UK Pycon. Instead they are holding EuroPython. This is a very good thing and everybody should go.

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2008 at 2:58 pm - - Cory Doctorow, Machining, University, Whipping

While we’re waiting for someone to ask the Question from Hell, Becka has appeared in today’s New York Times.

Evidently this is related to the conference in Hamburg she’s just been to. I can’t give you a link because conference alerts takes things down too quickly, and I can’t even check it up yet on I’ll be able to find out maybe in 5 months time what it was without asking. This is an information black-hole.

A tip for any of you reporters who don’t see your job as sitting back and waiting for the PR industry to spoon-feed you with well-crafted press-releases, she’ll be at the ECVP 2008 in Utrecht showing off her haptic experiments.

Update: Stumbled upon this crude visualization of point-cloud data used to make a music video. For decades CADCAM engineers have been trying to convert this sort of data into usable surface models (eg at the meshing round table). This is one of those insoluble problems, because only when you make a concerted effort to solve it do you realize that what seems to be enough data is in fact insufficient, and everyone who hasn’t gone through that process just thinks it’s because you’re not smart enough.

Anyway, what’s makes this effort cool is they’ve released the point cloud data in downloadable format so people can play with it. Some results, using standard applications, are here. Maybe someone in the wider audience will prove smart enough, having been exposed to some real messy data. Working from clean data at the start seems always to spoil the intuitive understanding of the problem. That’s why I am thankful that my initial CADCAM experience was with the output of NCG Toolmaker, where everything was broken and none of the surfaces connected up, as you get from proper solid modellers these days.

Tuesday, July 8th, 2008 at 11:30 am - - University, Whipping 1 Comment »

It’s outrageous. A mere five months after his ordinary rendition from Zimbabwe to Equatorial Guinea, Simon Mann suffered an unfair trial that lasted three weeks and found him guilty of something for which he was caught red-handed and has continued to confess to, providing evidence that is consistent with many other facts on the ground.

Clearly, Simon Mann was trying to cause a public emergency threatening the life of the government nation, and in a civilized country like Britain, this would get officially declared so that those guys who were a threat to the nation could be held in captivity indefinitely without taking them to trial or even telling anyone exactly what they had done wrong.

Timelines of this plot have been printed in the press. But this single link gives you a timeline for what’s been happening in the UK Parliament about this important issue of a colleague and friend in need.

Then our man from the Campain for Nuclear Weapons, Julian Lewis, went berserk and had 9 questions answered on 18 February 2008. The issue at hand was the sudden transfer of Simon Mann from Zimbabwe to Equatorial Guinea when the appeals case against extradition had not been fully exhausted in the Zimbabwe courts.

Man, you’ve got problems if you’re fighting to stay within the jurisdiction of the Zimbabwean courts!

One of Lewis’s questions was:

Will the Secretary of State “make representations to the United States Administration requesting it to exert its influence on Equatorial Guinea to secure the safe return of Simon Mann.”

You see, the problem was, Simon Mann wasn’t going to get a fair trial in Equatorial Guinea of the kind that Mark Thatcher got in South Africa, where he was allowed to confess to something no one believed was possible (ie that he gave money away to a humanitarian cause and accidentally bought a tactical weapons system), pay some cash, and run home to mummy.

That’s the issue at stake.

Lewis isn’t concerned about those British citizens who were in Guantanamo Bay. There’s this strange concept that the bad guys are all powerful, and, for example, because al-Zarqawi was not arrested in Iraq 2004, the whole US bombing of Falluja was a response to the havoc this single guy was causing.

I mean, the amount of damage that can plausibly be caused by someone who is being evil must relate to the quantity of resources he has at his disposal. And Mann connects to a lot more resources than al-Zarqawi. Also, Mann’s removal from the field of battle was followed by no coup against the government of Equatorial Guinea. Meanwhile, after the 2006 photo of al-Zarqawi’s mutilated corpse was tastefully framed in gold by the US military, the war in Iraq quickly drew down, didn’t it?

Now, Simon Mann hasn’t yet been killed and had the photo of his corpse put up on display, but Julian Lewis was sure of the threat:

“My constituent, Mr. Simon Mann, has been illegally handed over by Zimbabwe to a dictator in Equatorial Guinea who has promised to sodomise him, skin him alive and drag him through the streets of the capital city. What steps can the Government take against Zimbabwe for the outrageous breach of my constituent’s human rights when he was handed over before his appeal procedures were completed.”

And it went on.

What more to say?

Well, the fingerprints of a campaign are scattered all across the Official Record, if one cares to look for them. And each incident makes its mark and leaves a permanent blemish on the fool who took part in the process.

Now there’s nothing wrong with standing up for individual and unpopular causes like this one, just as there’s nothing wrong with donating a helicopter air-ambulance to an impoverished African country who may or may not benefit from the generosity.

Mistakes happen.

But form means something, and can be found in the evidence.

If Henry Bellingham’s and Julian Lewis’s concern for due process of the law extends to certain privileged individuals, and not to other more blatant cases which ought to demand their attention, then maybe their cries for human rights are not as helpful as they seem.

There are other cases, someone else can go into. Maybe starting with Natwest Three. Here’s the wikipedia article.

The tools and the techniques are now all here. Essentially it’s about getting a complete assessment of the wider context, and observing which cases are chosen from it for focused attention, and asking why.

It dries down to the single question when you hear of a politician going on about something:

What are they not going on about?

Wednesday, November 15th, 2006 at 4:17 pm - - University

Python programmes can be for mulltiple platforms. If you can get away with not using platform specific packages in theory at least you should be able to run one python script on several different operating systems with the same look and feel.
I recently (last week Friday 10-11-2006) had the pleasure to put this to the test once again: I was asked to programme a psychology experiment where the person experimented on is exposed to a series of 3 letter sylabels on the screen, one of which is red. They have to press a corresponding key and time as well as the correctness of the answer is saved to a file for later statistical analysis. I programmed this in python and used Python Imaging Library and wxwidgets for the graphics and the user interfacey bits. All done on windows xp, and it works fine. Now, making a Mac version should be very easy: you should be able to take the code and run it on the Mac. Some hours later, compiling all sorts of stuff to be able to read and render font files on the Mac, work around the fact that a Mac keyboard has a different layout than a PC keyboard… In short, you still have to do platform specific programming; and the biggest annoyance is that there does not seem to be a very simple sound interface to just do a beep on the Mac. Do I really have to read and play back a wave file to just sound an acoustic warning? And, I have the suspicion that keyboard events are buffered differently on the Mac version of wx than the PC version. This is critical, because i have to filter out multiple key strokes, when the tested person goes maybe into ‘computer game’ mode and starts hammering one key…

Saturday, October 21st, 2006 at 6:13 pm - - University

Friday was a day at the psychology department. I battled with wxwidgets to get a full screen frame without any window decorations on Mac OS X, not with the desired outcome. The best I can get is a screen filling frame, but with a title bar and a ‘close window’ button at the top. Acceptable. Shame that it works as desired under windows. The other thing I looked at was using py2app to wrap up a python application that uses Python Imaging Library and wxwidgets to run on another mac. After some unsuccessful attempts I decided to upgrade python and site packages to newer versions. I upgraded python from version 2.3 to 2.4 and downloaded wxwidgets latest available version. The new site-packages installation meant I had to reinstall py2app. Success, with the latest versions py2app created mac a working application. A lot of these different packages come with their own installation tools. Ever heard of (say eazee(!))? Well, that is used for setuptools and py2app. Or python eggs? Don’t quite know what they are good for, but some got laid in my working directory.

And I had a chat with another scientist at the department about programming some experiments for her.

Thursday, October 19th, 2006 at 8:07 am - - University

On Tuesday afternoon I went to the engineering department and together with Carl rejigged the python script he uses to control their machine. We now use two python threads, one controls all moves of the motors, updates the user interface edit boxes with the current position and speed data, and also controls buttons that are pressed or unpressed automatically when the machine is rotating. We have a separation of user interface and motor control so that the user interface is always responsive. The UI passes requests for movements through a queue to the motor thread.

In the past we could use just one thread because we always ever had to handle one request for the motors to move. The calls to the DLL for the controller card always return immediately, the controller maintains it’s own motion queue. But we had to implement sequences of movements of different speeds and pauses. The queueing system we have now in place in the python thread allows that now easiy.

Thursday, October 12th, 2006 at 7:01 pm - - University

I did some work in the engineering department of Liverpool University today. Some time ago Carl did a write up of something we had programmed to print undistorted images with one or more rotating print heads, assembled in a row. The inkjet print heads they use are meant for normal printing with paper moving rectangular to the print width. But in their machine the medium to print rotates underneath the print head, with one side of the head closer to the centre of rotation than the other. So, a rectangular bitmap would be distorted to a pie wedge. We wrote a little algorithm that transforms a bitmap into a new bitmap that, when printed on this setup, prints undistorted.
I had read it on the train last night and had a few comments and suggestions to make it clearer what this does.

Then looked into extending the controller of the machine that performs these rotations. In order to shine a light on the same area on the print medium for a specified time they want to be able to stop the rotation, then start it again, and so on. We use a python thread that monitors the machine position and when it has reached the target of the rotation joins the main thread that in turn can sleep for the specified time, then start the motion again.

I had hoped we could use some sort of callback mechanism in the DLL that controls the digital controller card: When a motor has reached it’s target position we get a user specifiable callback. We had found something in the documentation for the DLL and started coding. But we got stuck and had to call the support phone line for the card manufacturer. The friendly support person told us we were following a red herring: The documentation we had used was for a different card, using a different (probably real-time) operating system.

Last week I also spend a day there:
We had looked into rewriting the user interface of the motion controller: The old user interface got out of hand, partly because a master student had used unsuitable GUI code generators on it (python glade). We had decided to shelve this code and write a much simpler new interface. Now that this motion controller has been in use for more than a year we could also reduce the functionality to what was really needed.

Another half day last week was spent in the department of psychology. I am working on a framework to programme visual perception experiments using python, wxwidgets and python image library (PIL) on a mac os x system. More about that some other time.