Broken Handwriting Using SMART Board Interactive Flat Panel/TV

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A little off topic this one, but here’s the answer to something that’s been puzzling me for a while. Why is it you get gaps in the lines when you write on some SMART Board interactive flat panels and not others?

I originally thought it must something obscuring the leds that run round the side of these flat panels, so I gave them a good dust. No joy. Then I tied fiddling about with the PC’s graphics properties, making sure my resolution was full HD, and the image was fitting the panel perfectly. No joy. So then I convinced myself it was the driver software, so reinstalled the latest version of it. Still no joy.

Finally I realised the answer is simple: its the pen you are using. Teacher’s occasionally lose the two (yes two!) pens that come with SMART Board flat panels, so decide to use something else instead. Most of the time this is fine. A finger works perfectly. But occasionally, they decide to use something with a fine nib. Well who doesn’t like writing with a fine nibbed pen? And it’s the fine nibbed pen that causes the gaps in the lines. So there you have it, a simple solution to what at first appears a complex technical problem.

Not sure if this is an issue with all other flat panels/TVs, but I can say for certain it also happens with Prowise panels, because I tested one. So if your handwriting is breaking up, take a look at the pen you’re using first, before you spend hours working your way through technical fixes.

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Old style (thin nibbed) SMART Board pens on the left don’t work well with interactive flat panels. Note that the new style pens on the right (they give you two to lose!) have much wider nibs.

UPDATE: You also need to check the SMART Board driver has detected the correct model of flat panel/TV. Right click on the SMART Board monitor in the system tray and select ‘SMART Settings’ then run the ‘Connection Wizard’. Check the model it detects is the same as the model you have. The model number is printed on the top right of the flat panel/TV.

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iplayer radio app for Windows Phone

I’m usually a fan of Windows products. I’m not technically-minded enough to go to the trouble of installing and using an open source OS e.g. Linux or Ubuntu and I’m not silly enough to think I can justify spending £800 on a Mac Book when I can get a refurbished laptop running Windows, with similar specs for a third of that price.

A couple of years ago I finally got myself a smart phone and opted for a Nokia Lumia 625 running Windows 8. This has served me reasonably well, apart from the ridiculous situation when I pulled my phone out of my pocket one day to read the dreaded error message “Your Phone has been locked. Try again in 700140 minutes” which required hours of trawling the web to find a fix; a fix involved manually resetting the phone and losing ALL the data stored on it: photos, videos, music etc… Anyway, as Virgin Media have helpfully reminded me EVERY DAY for the last 2 weeks, I’m soon due an upgrade and, having considered the options I’ve decided to ditch the Windows phone and switch to a phone running Android. The main reason for this is the poor quality of apps designed for Windows phones in comparison to the same apps on Android and IOS. In particular, the much heralded BBC radio iplayer app.

As a music obsessive, I was delighted to hear that the BBC had finally introduced a version of the  iplayer radio app for Windows phones, I also heard that the app would feature a download function, making it possible access downloaded shows in their entirety without having to be connected to the web. As I understand it, the file is downloaded to your device temporarily and deleted by the app after 30 days.

iplayer_winSo it was with great excitement that I downloaded this app to my Windows phone only to be met with a clunky looking, awkward to navigate interface. There is no obvious way of adding favorites, meaning I was having to search the whole BBC archive for a particular show/presenter every time I used the app. When I’d managed to locate the show I wanted the download feature was nowhere to be found. It turns out that this function is simply not available on Windows phones and, although I found this fairly irritating, I thought I’d give the app a chance a try listening to catch-up shows by streaming them. My experience was one of huge frustration; having cued up the right show and got my headphones on I started working (painting a bedroom) only to find the audio would repeatedly cut out for minutes at time causing me to have to restart the whole stream. I experienced this same thing over and over again, each time with a fast and reliable wi-fi connection, leading me to the conclude that the fault lay with the app.

iplayer_android

Then, last week, I decided to try the same app out on my partner’s Sony phone (running Android) and there was simply no comparison!On an Android device, the app’s interface looks fantastic, it’s fast, responsive and YES it includes the download feature I’d been so keen to try out.

Once a show is downloaded, the play/pause interface is extremely user friendly, allowing you to skip forward/back 20 secs or drag a slider clockwise/anti-clockwise to the point in the show you want and, because the show has been downloaded, there is no buffering whatsoever…bliss!

iplayer_android

In short, it’s an absolute pleasure to use this app on an Android device and I’m sure that the same could be said for it’s performance on an iphone. So for this reason and several others (a particular favourite being: ‘Your Device doesn’t support media playback’) I’ll be happily saying goodbye to my Windows phone for good and hopefully enjoying hours of fantastic music at my own convenience.

How to Build a PIR Motion Sensor Intruder Alarm with the BBC micro:bit

Here’s a fun (and fairly easy) micro:bit project to get you started.

You will need:

  •  1 x BBC micro:bit, its USB lead, and its 3V battery pack.
  • 1 x PIR motion sensor (I used this one from Squirrel Labs. Strictly speaking it’s a 5V motion sensor, but seems to work OK with 3V of power from the micro:bit.
  • 1 x buzzer.
  • 5 x crocodile clips.
  • 1 x male to female jumper lead. Not essential, but makes connecting the crocodile clips to the motion sensor a lot easier.
  • A clear plastic food container. Quite a big one; there’s lots of wires to fit in it.
  • 1 x kitronic micro:bit case. Not essential, but makes it a lot easier to position the micro:bit in the food container.
  • A drill and some different size drill bits.

you will need

First, adjust the sensitivity and time delay on the motion sensor. Turn both orange dials anti clockwise as far as they’ll go.

sensor etup

This sets the motion sensitivity to it’s least sensitive setting and the time delay between sensing to the shortest possible interval. Five seconds for this motion sensor.

Next, connect your jumper lead to the middle pin (labelled OUT) on your PIR motion sensor. This just makes it a bit easier to connect the motion sensor to the micro:bit with crocodile clips.

Now connect your motion sensor to your micro:bit with crocodile clips:

  •  The ‘GND’ pin needs to be connected to the GND ring on the micro:bit.
  • The ‘OUT’ pin (jumper lead) needs to be connected to ring P0 on the micro:bit.
  • The ‘VCC’ pin needs to be connected to 3V ring on the micro:bit.

Next, connect your buzzer to your micro:bit with crocodile clips:

  •  The short pin needs to be connected to the GND ring on the micro:bit.
  • The long pin needs to be connected to ring P1 on the micro:bit.

Your wiring should now look like this:

wiring

Now you’re ready to code. I created the following code in the Block Editor:

intruder alarm code

All the time nothing is sensed, a simple line pulses across the display – – – But when something is sensed the motion sensor sends an electric signal out on its ‘OUT’ pin, which is detected by the micro:bit as a change from 0 to 1 on ring P0 (the ring the ‘OUT’ pin is connected to by the crocodile clips).

All the time a 1 is detected on ring P0, the micro:bit will change its display to ! ! ! and send an electric signal out on ring 1 (digital write 1 to pin P1). The buzzer is connected to this ring by crocodile clips, so it causes the buzzer to buzz for 1 second (1000 ms).

Now connect your micro:bit to your computer via the USB cable, write the code in Block Editor, then compile the .hex file and drag it onto your MICROBIT icon.

It takes a good minute for the sensor to start up properly. After that, you can test things are working properly by covering the motion sensor with an opaque box (or put in in a drawer) for a while. Nothing should be sensed: the display should read – – – and no buzzer noise should be heard. Once you take the box away the display should change to ! ! ! and the buzzer should start going off, as it detects your movement. If it doesn’t work, double check your crocodile clip connections and/or try increasing the sensitivity of the motion sensor by gradually turning the orange dial (the one on the right if the dome it pointing upwards) clockwise.

To turn your intruder alarm into some sort of product, try to fit it all into a clear plastic food container and power it from the micro:bit battery pack. I used my kitronic micro:bit case to attach the micro:bit to the front of the food container.

microbit in case

As you can hopefully see, I had to punch four small holes into the front of the food container to thread the case’s screws through.

I then drilled a big hole in the bottom of the food container so the motion sensor could poke out of the bottom. The ‘finished’, rather crude ‘product’ looks like this.

final product

It’s not the world’s best intruder alarm. It sometimes takes quite a while to sense an intruder, and the buzzer isn’t very loud, but for a first micro:bit project I’m quite pleased with the result.

Watch this space for more micro:bit projects.