Light painting at the Festival of Light 2015

For the past year, on and off I have been working on an automated light painter system. The project finally culminated in testing at this years National Trust Festival of Light at Mount Stuart house.

What is light painting?

Light painting is using a long exposure photograph (usually 5 seconds+) with the camera on a tripod where you use a bright light to “draw” in the image.

Drawing Pacman at Downhill Forest with Polina and Dean
Drawing Pacman at Downhill Forest with Polina, Daniel and Dean. 6 second exposure.

There are a number of ways you can do this, by far the simplest way is find a pitch black area and draw with a phone torch.
The above image was done in a pitch black forest around 11pm at night.

Signing names at Downhill Forest with Polina, Daniel and Dean. 20 second exposure.
Signing names at Downhill Forest with Polina, Daniel and Dean. 20 second exposure.

You can also get super accurate with hand held light painting using phones, in the photograph above, Polly, Dean and Daniel were even able to sign their own names. On top of this, Dean made use of a technique where if an object is lit up light enough, it will also appear. He simply pointed the light at himself.

The International Space Station hurtling over Mussenden Temple. 30 second exposure.
The International Space Station hurtling over Mussenden Temple. 30 second exposure.

The background does not need to be completely black. As long as the objects in the background, don’t move then should be fine.

Handheld light painting

It is actually super easy to get started with simply light painting.
Light painting is an awesome activity to try out with big groups of kids, as all they need is some form of light source.
While this could be a torch on a phone, for young kids or those without a phone with a torch, a simple answer would get them creating a “throwie”! A throwie requires a coin cell battery, an LED and some tape to tape it together. By mixing and matching LEDs, you can create some very cool images.

Getting kids involved at Techcamp to create the camp name with light using 50p throwies. 10 second exposure.
Getting kids involved at Techcamp to create the camp name with light using 50p throwies. 10 second exposure.
The activity can also scale to 50+ kids very easily. In this photograph, the kids drew what they wanted to draw and they were frozen in time jumping using a flashgun. 15 second exposure.
The activity can also scale to 50+ kids very easily. In this photograph, the kids drew what they wanted to draw and they were frozen in time jumping using a flashgun. 15 second exposure.

On top of your light source, you also need a camera and a tripod. It is important to check that your camera supports manually editing the shutter speed and aperture. It is recommended to manually set all the camera light settings (shutter speed, aperture, ISO) as the camera will most likely think the image will be too dark and compensate, causing issues.
You must use a tripod!

Digital light painting

As a maker/inventor, I decided to take light painting one step further by of course, adding a microcontroller!

My first prototype back in 2014 made use of x24 breadboardable Neopixel LEDs and an Arduino Uno.

Festival of light 2014 using the digital light painter on a breadboard and some other LEDs. 20 second exposure.
Festival of light 2014 using the digital light painter on a breadboard and some other LEDs. 20 second exposure.

And resulted in some pretty cool pictures. But, I needed to go bigger!

Introducing the Arduino light painter version 1

Light painter v1
Light painter v1

Using a 1m Adafruit Neopixel strip with 60 pixels, a piece of scrap wood and an Arduino Mega, the first proper light painter of mine was born.

There is full documentation on its Github repo on making your own that you can find here.

Using the light painter to draw a rainbow behind Claire. 30s exposure.
Using the light painter to draw a rainbow behind Claire. 30 second exposure.
Drawing Pacman and ghosts down at Farset Labs using the Arduino Light painter V1
Drawing Pacman and ghosts down at Farset Labs using the Arduino Light painter v1. 30 second exposure.

Arduino Micropainter version 1

The £5 custom designed Arduino Micropainter.
The £5 custom designed Arduino Micropainter.

Between version 1 and 2 of the main light painter, I also threw together a “Micropainter”. Featuring x5 full RGB Neopixel LEDs, it is driven by ATTiny85 chip and is powered by x2 AA batteries. It is soldered onto a custom designed and milled singled sided PCB.

Arduino light painter version 2!

Version 2 of the light painter, featuring 144 RGB LEDs!
Version 2 of the light painter, featuring 144 RGB LEDs!

This year, for the Festival of Light, I thought I would go even bigger! What could possibly go wrong, right?

Building upon version 1, I switched out the 1m strip of 60 LEDs, for a 1m strip of 144 LEDs! This dramatically increases the resolution available, but also dramatically increased the storage space required. With version 1, I had used the program space on the Arduino Mega to store the program, but unfortunately there is nowhere near enough space for the bigger images required, so I also added a MicroSD card slot. This allowed me to store multiple images so I also went ahead and built a menu system, allowing me to select the different images. The menu system simply used the LEDs on the stick as numbers, so image number 8 would be when LED 8 was on in the menu.

Another major adjustment I made over version 1, was adding 3 inputs. x2 buttons for the menu system (next item and select) plus a small potentiometer, allowing me to adjust the brightness of the pixels.
Bar these changes, most of the rest of the system stayed the same.

The light painter uses a Python script to convert the images to an easy to read format for the Arduino, then an Arduino program reads the image file line by line, outputting these onto the light painter. All you have to then do is move the light painter across the frame slowly and smoothly to display the image. In the case of some of the photographs below, the opposite was intentionally done to create the wave effect.

The results though were pretty amazing from this years Festival of Light at National Trust Mount Stuart.IMG_9350IMG_9371IMG_9388IMG_9392IMG_9382IMG_9463IMG_9438

The plan is to hopefully have a building guide up for the new light painter this side of the new year.

Which picture is your favourite?

Mozilla festival 2015 is coming!

What is Mozfest?

Mozfest is the annual Mozilla Festival, run at Ravensbourne College in London. This year the event is running on the weekend of 7th-8th November 2015.

Attended by over 1700+ people every year from over 50 countries, it is no small event. What makes it pretty cool though is it is a weekend run by the community for the community. It is all about the open web and technology and has sessions ranging from Journalism to Science to Learning! The sessions overview can be found here with the full list of over 300 individual sessions here.

Who doesn't want a high five from Foxy.
Who wouldn’t want a high five from Foxy?

But, this year there is one big difference… There is going to be a massive new YouthZone! Now when I say massive, I mean an entire floor of the college dedicated to stuff for young people (and people still young at heart) with over 30 different sessions.!

As part of this, the Raspberry Pi Community has come together with the Raspberry Pi Foundation to deliver a whole stack of awesome Raspberry Pi workshops, aimed at young people.

NIJam

In total, we will be running 17 workshops over the weekend, all aimed at complete beginners with titles including (to name a few)…

  • Astro Pi – Your Code in Space (by Carrie-Anne from the Raspberry Pi Foundation)
  • Musical fruit with the Explorer HAT (by Jim Darby)
  • Hacking Minecraft Pi with Python (by Yasmin Bey)
  • Scratch-ing the Surface with GPIO (by Cat Lamin)

All our workshops will be aimed at complete beginners, so even if you nothing about Raspberry Pi or programming, no matter!
On top of the above workshops in the main Raspberry Pi zone, we will also have 2 other satellite mini Raspberry Pi programming zones with one in the music zone with a key focus on making music with code (especially using Sonic Pi) and the other focusing on the Raspberry Pi Foundation Dots Boards.

Raspberry Pi Dots Board activity
Raspberry Pi Dots Board activity at a previous event

This all sounds awesome, I want to come!

Awesome! We would love to see you down at Mozfest. Tickets are only £3 for young people! For adults tickets are only £45… Tickets are full weekend passes and include lunch both days so is amazing value.

You can grab tickets here.

So all that is left to say is, see you at Mozfest!

Culturetech BBC Make It Digital Dots boards activity

After the major success of the Raspberry Pi Foundation Dots board activity with Minecraft Pi at Liverpool Makefest and Dublin Maker, there was one final event left that I was down to help out at before the start of the new university term, the BBC Make It Digital event at Culturetech!

So on Friday 18th September, me and a set of volunteers from Farset Labs and the Northern Ireland Raspberry Jam made our way to outside the Guildhall in Londonderry to the massive Make It Digital tent.

It was a very big tent!
It was a very big tent!

With us, we had a set of 8 Raspberry Pis (with monitors and all the cables required for them) and a box of 100 Raspberry Pi Foundation Dots boards ready to be filled in with Bare Conductive Electric paint.

100 Dots boards, ready to be filled in.
100 Dots boards, ready to be filled in.

The activity

The activity we were running involved kids filling in one of the Dots boards with electric paint, then attaching these to a Raspberry Pi and seeing whatever they had drawn appear in 3d in Minecraft.

The Dots boards were developed by Rachel Rayns from the Raspberry Pi Foundation as an activity to engage people of all ages (especially younger children) in technology.

They are an extremely simple circuit board featuring a 40 pin Raspberry Pi header, a single resistor and a series of pads on the front.
These pads are the key to it all, they feature an inner circular pad and an outer ring. Between the 2 pads is a gap which can be bridged by electric paint.
Bridging the pads allows the Raspberry Pi to read it like any input, for example a button. There is 22 dot-to-dot pads, 4 colour selection pads, a pad on a cloud and finally a pad on a parachuting bear.

Although we tell the kids to do the dot-to-dot, in fact all that is actually required is a dot on each pad you want to select.

The software

For the activity, there is 2 options for the software on the Raspberry Pi side.

  1. The original rpi_dots python program written by Eben Upton and Ben Nuttall that simply if you have enough pins covered, an airplane (in your selected colour) will appear on screen.
  2. The Minecraft Pi program written by myself while on my internship with the Raspberry Pi Foundation. It splits the plane up into 10 sections, each of which is added to a 3d version of the plane inside Minecraft if it is dotted. Once the user is happy with their plane, they can attempt to see if the plane will fly. If they have enough dots dotted, the plane will fly across the sky, if not it will plummet to the ground and crash.
    If the user selects the bear, a parachuting bear will come down from the clouds and if they select the cloud, grey clouds will be added to the scene and lightning will strike down.

For Liverpool Makefest, Dublin Maker and the BBC Make It Digital event, we used the 2nd option, the Minecraft Pi program.

Friday evening

The event ran from 6pm-10pm on the Friday evening to coincide with Londonderry Culturenight and the many other family friendly events going on in Londonderry that evening.

Within minutes of the doors being opened, we were swamped by people wanting to have a go with our activity, so much so we immediately discovered we had underestimated the number of volunteers we would need to run the activity!
Thankfully, the BBC stepped in and we able to provide 2 awesome guys from their team to help out.

We tired Mark out so much, he was half asleep at this point...
We tired Mark out so much, he was half asleep at this point with black hands from cleaning so many boards!

Throughout the 4 hours that evening, we had roughly 800 Dots Boards filled in (and then cleaned)!
Because we weren’t able to keep up with the demand, a hefty chunk of those 800 boards were filled in in pairs or families so the number of people taking part in the activity that evening was 1000+.

We also were visited by some pretty awesome Minecraft in education people who came by to try out the activity including COO of Mojang, Vu Bue, Deirdre Quarnstrom (Director of Minecraft Education from Microsoft) and Santeri Koivisto (CEO of Teachergaming).

Vu Bue (Mojang COO), Deirdre Quarnstrom (Director of Minecraft in education at Microsoft) and Stephen Reid (Immersive Minds)
Vu Bue (Mojang COO), Deirdre Quarnstrom (Director of Minecraft in education at Microsoft) and Stephen Reid (Immersive Minds) trying out the Raspberry Pi Dots boards.
Santeri Koivisto (CEO) and Mikael Uusi-Mäkelä (Learning developer) from Teaching gaming having too much fun with Raspberry Pi Dots boards
Santeri Koivisto (CEO) and Mikael Uusi-Mäkelä (Learning developer) from Teaching gaming having far too much fun with Raspberry Pi Dots boards.
We even somehow got Stuart Portis (event organiser and manager) to try out the activity!
We even somehow got Stuart Portis (event organiser and manager) to try out the activity!
Lots of Dots boards getting filled in (and this was a quiet part)
Lots of Dots boards getting filled in (and this was a quiet part).
Testing to see if their planes will fly.
Testing to see if their planes will fly.
"Whatever you do, don't make Minecraft Pi full screen"
“Whatever you do, don’t make Minecraft Pi full screen”

A huge thanks to my team of volunteers on the Friday evening.

My awesome team of volunteers for Friday evening. From left to right: David Linton, Ryan Neill, Oliver Warke, Andrew Bolster, Andrew Mulholland (myself).
My awesome team of volunteers for Friday evening.
From left to right:
David Linton, Ryan Neill, Oliver Warke, Andrew Bolster, Andrew Mulholland (myself).

Saturday

The event ran from 10am-6pm on the Saturday. It coincided with the Londonderry Maker City event that was happening in next door in the Guildhall.

By the Saturday morning, I had been able to get some additional volunteers over to help out, although even with a team of 9 people (plus Matt from the BBC), we were still overwhelmed later in the day.

Although the event started at 10am, it didn’t get busy till after midday which allowed us to do some much needed Dots board cleaning catch up, table cleaning and GPIO pin fixing.

After midday though, we were basically constantly assisting people with the activity. This continued till around 5:30pm when it started to quiet down again.

On the Saturday we also set up a Raspberry Pi Camera module to do a timelapse of the event. Below is roughly 2 hours of the event in 55 seconds. As can be seen, it was incredibly busy!

"It's my airplane I just drew!"
“It’s my airplane I just drew!”

IMG_8771

IMG_8810

IMG_8822

"My plane is better than yours!"
“My plane is better than yours!”
A trip to the local bakery is a good way to keep volunteer moral up.
A trip to the local bakery is a good way to keep volunteer moral up.
My awesome team of volunteers for Saturday From left to right: Toby Tregear, David Linton, Libby Hoy, Sam Stuart, Vincent Lee, Finley Roulston, Ryan Neill, Andrew Mulholland (myself) and Oliver Warke.
My awesome team of volunteers for Saturday
From left to right:
Toby Tregear, David Linton, Libby Hoy, Sam Stuart, Vincent Lee, Finley Roulston, Ryan Neill, Andrew Mulholland (myself), Oliver Warke and Claire Mulholland.

Conclusion

From feedback from parents, kids and the BBC, we can say that the activity was a complete success. With over 2000 people of all ages taking part from kids as young as 4, right up to senior citizens of 80+ years.

This is what makes the Dots Board activity so awesome, it really is suitable for people of all ages, thanks to its simplicity.

 

Big thanks to the BBC Make It Digital team for inviting us along and looking after us while in Londonderry, the Raspberry Pi Foundation for the Dots boards, Farset Labs for use of their equipment and to my volunteers, couldn’t ask for a better team over the 2 days.

Writing worksheets in markdown

For a year or 2 now I have been on the hunt for a way to be able to print out documents written in markdown, specifically Github Flavoured Markdown (GFM). I am a big fan of markdown, it takes away a majority of formatting clutter and lets you focus on simply writing. GFM works great for coding worksheets as really all you need are:

  • Headings
  • Normal text
  • Bold/italics
  • Images
  • Code blocks (and preferably syntax highlighting)

9/10 times I simply don’t need anything else.

The Raspberry Pi Foundation have been for quite a while developing their resources in markdown. The resources are added to their Github account and from there, every so often they are pulled and rendered on the Raspberry Pi Resources section.

I have used a number of their excellent resources and printed them directly from the resources section of their site, but what has been more of an issue is if I want to edit the resources, making a few changes simply for our Raspberry Jam or if I want to write my own.
For quite a while I wasn’t able to find any easy way to nicely rendering and printing worksheets I had written in markdown, so ended up switching back to Microsoft Word.

A solution

To write my markdown documents, I use Github Atom, an excellent (free and open source) general purpose text editor. It has a built in markdown renderer (hit ctrl + shift + m to open it) which displays the markdown documents as they will look like on Github. Atom though does not have any way built in of printing these.

I happened to be having a look through popular Atom plugins and stumbled across Markdown-Themeable-PDF. Markdown-Themeable-PDF is a plugin for Github Atom that allows you to really easily generate a beautiful looking PDF from your markdown, including full support for images.

How to install/use it

  1. First make sure you have Github Atom installed, you can download it from here.
  2. Open Github Atom, go to the settings and select Install.
    Search for Markdown-Themeable-PDF and hit the install button beside it.
  3. Open your markdown document you want to export to PDF.
  4. Hit ctrl+shift+e to export it. It will save a PDF with the same filename (plus .pdf) in the folder you are working in.

You may also want to fiddle with the automatic header and footer, details on that can be found on the Markdown-Themeable-PDF page.
I have personally disabled the header and only left the page number in the footer.

The results

I have used the Tweeting Babbage activity from the Raspberry Pi Foundation as an example as I have tweaked it for the NI Raspberry Jam.

Tweeting Babbage activity rendered as a printable PDF
Tweeting Babbage activity rendered as a printable PDF

Dublin Maker

For the past few years, the Dalriada robotics team have been heading down to Dublin every July for Dublin Maker (previously Dublin Mini Maker Faire) to let kids play with our robotics gear. This year was slightly different as we had decided to give the Raspberry Pi Foundation Dots board activity a go after the success that had been seen with it at Liverpool Makefest with the new Minecraft code.

As the team of us had to be down for 10am in Dublin, it meant an early start for some of the team who were starting out on the North coast. For them, the trip to Dublin would involve a 320 mile roundtrip in a single day…

Before we even left Northern Ireland though, we hit 2 snags. First was an issue with the Dots Boards needed for the activity. After a misunderstanding with the Raspberry Pi Foundation, the planned 200 boards for Dublin Maker didn’t arrive in time. So we were stuck with my own set of 20 demo and test boards…
The second snag was my car decided to have exhaust issues the evening before. The result of this was the entire team heading down on the bus, 4 monitors, 4 lapdocks and all the supporting Pi gear to go with it…
On the way, we were joined by Toireasa and and Tanya, 2 awesome Kainos employees who signed up to give us a hand with the activity.

Dublin Maker

On arriving (a little late), we discovered this years event was even bigger than last year with already hundreds of people walking around!

Very busy
Super busy already!

We quickly set up our equipment and within 10 mins of arriving, we were already accepting kids to give our activity a go.

It started out quiet with only 5-10 kids wanting a go at a time...
It started out quiet with only 5-10 kids wanting a go at a time…

Dublin Maker tables

Within 30 mins of arriving, we had already hit capacity with people queuing to take part in the activity and many kids having to pair up with siblings.

Starting to get extremely busy with all 8 volunteers on their feet talking with or helping people
Starting to get extremely busy with all 8 volunteers on their feet talking with or helping people

Throughout the day, a crack team of “board washers” operated on the stall, hastily cleaning the Dots Boards with baby wipes so they could be handed out to the next waiting kid. Libby ended up spending most of the day doing this and as can be seen below, she ended up with some very black hands..

Libby hands
“This is what happens when you clean over 400 boards” – Libby
We even had the local press interested in what was going on
We even had the local press interested in what was going on
We had kids as young as 6 right up to adults as old as 85 taking part in the activity
We had kids as young as 4 right up to adults as old as 85 taking part in the activity
We were very glad we put down card on the table before starting...
We were very glad we put down card on the table before starting…

Thanks

My awesome team of volunteers deserve a massive thanks for taking the trip down to Dublin to be worked off their feet all day.
Over the 6 hours we were exhibiting, over 1000 Dots Boards were filled in (and cleaned) with over 1500 people getting involved. We count the activity as a massive success and look forward to using it again in the future.

From left to right Ryan, Tanya, Clare C, Toireasa, me, Toby, Libby, Claire M
From left to right
Ryan, Tanya, Clare C, Toireasa, me, Toby, Libby, Claire M

The team were rewarded at the end of the day with a lot of pizza…

Yes, that is a single slice from a 24 inch pizza....
Yes, that is a single slice from a 24 inch pizza….