Robomow Powered Sinclair C5

When I bought my Sinclair C5, it came without many parts, such as wheels, motor, batteries etc. Seeing that my Robomow robotic lawn mower had all of these, I hit upon a foolproof plan!

You should see the out-take video!

C5 – It’s Alive!

Back in July 2013, someone in the office mentioned the beautiful iconic 80’s disaster that is the Sinclair C5.  Inevitably someone asked what they’re worth now, and apart from the fact they cost £400 new, was dropped to £199 shortly after and then the price plummeted like a stone, I had no idea.  So I turned to the reliable font of knowledge in these things; eBay.  Generally, they were going for more than I expected, then I came across this sorry little thing

2013-07-10 19.58.02

With 4 days to go, the price seemed far too low, despite it being described as “Spares or repair”, so, just for curiosity sake, I decided to watch the auction.  With 15 minutes to go the price was still too low, so I bid a stupidly low price… and was the highest bidder!  But with 2 minutes to go, I got outbid!  Well, the eBay red mist had descended, and I wasn’t having any of that, so I bid again… and won it for £34.56!  What the hell was I going to do now?

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Home built Z80 video on Computerphile

In posts to come I’ll go in to some details about the breadboard Z80 computer I built recently, but, in the mean time, here’s a video that Computerphile made about it

Be sure to check out Computerphiles Youtube channel too!

Sugru + Lego + Car Mount = Awesomeness

I bought a mobile phone mount for my car several months ago, and it was one of those with the sticky blue dot on.  It was fine, worked great, and simple to use.  For a while.  Then one day my phone flew off whilst going around a sharp corner.  And again a few weeks later.  Then again, and again.  Despite cleaning, the sticky blue dot was loosing it’s sticky.  So I turned to a couple of old faithfuls for help; Sugru and Lego!


The first thing to do was decide upon a ‘design’ for the Lego.  It needed to be a large enough contact area to hold securely – even if I aligned the two halves a bit to the left or too high.  It needed to fit on the car mount I already had.  It needed to be made from the selection of Lego I had to hand.  I also wanted a shape\position on the phone where I could instantly identify which way around the phone was without even looking at it.  Oh, and it had to look cool too! Continue Reading »

Living With Linux – The First Week

So, the goal of switching from Windows 8 to Linux was to get myself a usable computer.  One where I can just log on and do whatever it is that I was going to do, without having to fight the OS just to do something simple.  One which is intuitive to use.  One where I don’t have to learn a totally new way of doing things.

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Living With Linux – Making the switch

Just over a week ago, I took the plunge, and installed Ubuntu Linux on my main home computer.  It’s not the kind of decision I take lightly, and I’ve probably been building up to this for some 10 years or so.  But a few recent events have told me that the time is now right for me to make the switch from Windows.

As an IT Engineer, I work with Microsoft products all day every day, and I used every version of Microsoft Windows since 3.11.  Some with more success than others, but, as my Twitter followers will testify, I have not got on well with Windows 8.  I had a pretty sweet set up with Windows 7, and thought I’d take advantage of the cheap £25 upgrade to Windows 8.  That was probably the biggest mistake I’ve made!  It broke software.  It was slow.  My hardware, despite being compatible  didn’t always work as planned.  I struggled to find my way around.  I was no longer in control of my own PC – Windows 8 was controlling me!  It was driving me up the wall and it was time to change.

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Minimus 1.0 AVR Programming

A little while back, Nottingham Hackspace got the opportunity to buy a bunch of Minimus V1 AVRs at a very good price.  Not being one to turn down a bargain, I bought a few of these little critters to see what they can do.

On paper, they look great.  USB programmable micro running an Atmel chip similar to an Arduino (so possibly compatible with the Arduino IDE), in a package slightly bigger than your average USB stick but with a couple of buttons, LEDs and all the pins broken out.


It turns out that there’s a lot of misleading, conflicting, partial, out of date, or hard to follow info out there, not to mention that most of it is for the Minimus V2.  I had the V1, so struggled to get it to do anything exiting at all for ages.  After a very frustrating day of trying stuff, following dead links and generally wasting a lot of time, I got some joy with the Arduino IDE.  To save you the hassle, read on for what worked for me.

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Vote for the worst tie

Whilst clearing out my wardrobe recently, I discovered I had 40 ties.  Most of which I no longer wore.  Some I have never worn.  And some that I wouldn’t be seen dead in.  But rather than just dispose of them all in one go, I decided to give them each one last outing, and I shared a photograph of each one with Twitter.

40 Ties


In this, the second of a series of polls, I would like to know which is YOUR least favourite ties.  Click on the photo above to see a full screen picture, pick your favourite and then select up to three answers from the option below.

Remember, these are the three ties you hate the most.  This can be based on colour, style, pattern, a dislike of Homer Simpson, or anything that makes you think they deserve a fiery death!

[poll id=”3″]

Vote for your favourite tie

Whilst clearing out my wardrobe recently, I discovered I had 40 ties.  Most of which I no longer wore.  Some I have never worn.  And some that I wouldn’t be seen dead in.  But rather than just dispose of them all in one go, I decided to give them each one last outing, and I shared a photograph of each one with Twitter.

40 Ties


In this, the first of a series of polls, I would like to know which is YOUR favourite tie.  Click on the photo above to see a full screen picture, pick your favourite and then select from the option below.


Remember, this is for your favourite tie.  The one you like the most.  Not the worst.  Not the one you would burn.  And not the one that should have never left 1993.  Those polls are coming up later!


Voting will close at 9pm on Sunday 9th June 2013.  So you’ve got less than a week!

[poll id=”2″]

Z88 32kb to 512kb Memory Upgrade

As mentioned in a couple of other posts here, the Z88 is a great machine.  It comes with 32k of RAM, although this can be expanded with plug in cartridges.  An alternative, however, is to replace the internal 32k with something larger.  This photo tutorial shows how you can expand the onboard memory to 512k.



This involves some pretty hardcore soldering, and is not recommended for your first soldering project.  More importantly, there is some delicate unsoldering too, and if things go wrong, you’ve wrecked your Z88.  You have been warned!

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Z88 as a USB keyboard using a Minimus

If you’ve been reading this blog in cronological order, you’ll know about the FTDI adapter I made for the Z88.  If you don’t read this in order, you’ll know about the Minimus programming I’ve been doing and what the Minimus is (note that I’ve not blogged about that yet… be patient!)

2013-02-27 19.31.12


Now to turn it in to something genuinely useful…

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Z88 to FTDI lead via MAX3232

I have already blogged on here about how awesome the Z88 is, and how ahead of it’s day it was.  Well, being awesome in your own right doesn’t cut it these days – so you’ve got to be able to communicate and talk to things to be considered worthwhile.

The biggest weapon the Z88 has up its sleeve is the humble serial port.  Combined with the built in terminal software (as well as the ability to ‘print’ serial data) and you’ve got a beast that’s almost ready to talk to anything. Almost…


But first there’s the slight problem of the non-standard pinout of the serial port, and then there’s the issue that few things these days use +\-6v to communicate

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Real Blokes Make Pom-Poms… Efficiently

When there’s a wedding coming up and the bride-to-be says she would like something, it’s only fair that everything is done for her wishes to come true.  And if those wishes are for pink pom-poms, well, who am I to shy away from such a task!

I remember pom-poms being made when I was a very young child, and know that cardboard circles and lots of wrapping of wool was involved.  I wasn’t sure if my memory from 35 years ago was accurate, so I checked with Google, and, sure enough, that’s still the preferred way of doing things.  I couldn’t help but notice it looks very slow, tricky, inefficient and inconsistent.  There had to be a better way!  One of the Google results, however, was for a Pom Pom Tree.  The approach was different, but this still looked awkward, and not really set up for mass production.  So I went to Nottingham Hackspace to make thing better.

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The Prosthetic Leg Dilemma

Back in September last year, I was fortunate enough to go to a very unique art exhibition in East London where prosthetic limbs are the canvas.  Spare Parts was organised by Priscilla Sutton and timed to coincide with the Paralympics, which was being held just around the corner.  Whilst I went with the intention of just looking at these weird and wonderful pieces, I found myself going back the following day and buying one of the exhibits.  (This will be featured in a future post).  My leg-based art piece was collected after the exhibition, and to my delight and surprise, it came with a free gift of one of the legs that had been used to advertise the exhibition!  You’ve heard of “how to get ahead in advertising”, well, I now know “how to get aleg in advertising!

The question now was what to do with it.  I wanted to make something of it.  Something interesting and respectful.  Something useful.  I didn’t, however, want to do any irreparable damage damage, and I certainly didn’t want to chuck it in the back of a cupboard and forget about it.

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Everything that is wrong with the Google Nexus 4 phone

I got my Google Nexus 4 phone just over 3 weeks ago, and I love it.  It is, without doubt, the best mobile I’ve ever owned,  and I’ve had some really good phones before! If you want to read about how good it is, then just about every review out there will rave about it.  What I want to do here, however, is tell the other side of the story and tell you about everything that’s wrong with it.
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Raspberry Pi & Arduino Development Board

One of the great things about the Raspberry Pi is the general purpose input output (GPIO) pins.  They allow it to interface with other circuits.  The Arduino, however, is all about connecting with other stuff, and with analog input and PWM output, it’s better at it than the Pi.  But the Pi has more processing power and storage than the Arduino.  They can, of course, talk to each other.  So an ideal scenario is to harness the power of both of them.

The Pi can be a bit of a beast to tie down though.  With connections on every side of the board, and no mounting holes (not in the first release of them anyway), it leaves your working environment quite messy.  The fantastic PIBOW case from Pimoroni does a lot to tame the Pi, but not quite enough.  However, replacing the bottom layer with a large sheet of perspex gives you a nice mounting board for sticking a breadboard and an Arduino to.  Add to that a Pi Cobler from Adafruit to breakout all the GPIO pins and you’ve got the perfect place for prototyping your projects.

I guess now I’ve got no excuse for not getting on with a few projects of my own…

I’ve seen the future

I have seen the future of computers. Yes, really I have.  What would you say if I said the future would be something about the size of a pad of paper. Which runs off of 4 AA batteries, giving it about 20 hours of use or 100 days of standby. Storage is solid state with no delicate moving parts, and can be expanded with plug in modules.  Software and files can be stored on these modules or bought with pre-installed on.  Built in apps include word processor, spreadsheet, database, diary, communications manager, alarm clock etc. Full size tactile physical QWERTY keyboard.
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Useless Machine

A machine is a device that does something useful, right?  Well, what about if the thing it does is useless?

Well, here is my useless machine

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Smart TV – Raspberry Pi style

When I ordered my £25 Raspberry Pi, I didn’t know what I was going to do with it, but when I heard that XBMC had been ported to run on the Pi I realized that I needed 2 Pis; one for XBMC, and the other so I could have one I didn’t know what to do with!

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Tweeting Front Door

First of all, allow me to apologize. I set up my Tweeting front door at the end of 2011. Its only about 6 weeks away from 2013 now!

So, what is a Tweeting front door? Well, its a regular front door that sends a tweet every time it is opened.

Why would anyone want to know when a door has been opened? I have actually got 2 front doors, but the outer porch door isn’t locked. Because I am out of the house most of the time I have got no idea if it opened while I’m not there. Is someone stealing my mail? Has the big thing I ordered from eBay been delivered? What time did Danny come in to feed the cats while I’m on holiday?

It has also come in handy for looking back at what time something happened. Eg the time I went to do my shopping then realised I left my wallet at home I was able to tell by the time I left and the time I got back that I had wasted 17 minutes (not including working that out!). Or when some friends left after a night of drinking and saw suspicious behavior, I could look back and see it was 02:19 they left (I knew it was after midnight, but time happens at odd speeds after midnight!) .

How does it work then? Well, sensing the door opening and closing is done by a reed switch mounted to the frame and a magnet on the door, similar to a burglar alarm. This is connected to a Nanode, which continuously monitors the state of the switch. The Nanode is an Arduino clone with built in Ethernet so it can connect to the internet. Every 15 seconds the Nanode uploads the state of the switch (0 for closed, 1 for open) to Cosm (formerly known as Pachube) is a free data-logging website for the IOT (Internet of Things). If the door is opened, however, it will upload the change straight away. One of the things which Cosm can do is send a tweet if certain conditions are met, such as a value changing from 0 to 1. If that happens then my protected house automation Twitter account (yes, I have more than 1) sends a tweet to me to let me know.  (I use a separate protected feed for this because I don’t want to advertise to everyone on Twitter when I leave the house)


Can you give me more detailed information about how it works? Sure, the sketch I’m running on the Nanode is available here, although it is just a slightly modified version of one I found by Wicked Devices (but with a lot of it rem’d out.  I should get around to tidying it up, but, hey, there’s a lot of things I should get around to!)

As for wiring, its just a case of wiring the door switch between pin 2 and ground, and giving the Nanode power and an ethernet connection.  I have also got a green and red LED for status.