One to Watch

In just over two weeks I’ve visited London twice, and packed a lot into my trips.  Safe to say I am very sleep deprived and, ironically, in need of a holiday so I can sleep.

On Wednesday I came back from an AMAZING trip to London with my school. But that’s not actually what I’m going to tell you about today. Instead we need to go back a bit to my trip to London the week before, for probably the biggest achievement of my life (so far); the 2017 FDM everywoman in Technology Awards.

Over 550 business and technology leaders gathered at the London Hilton on Park Lane on the 9th of Februrary where the winners of the 2017 FDM everywoman in Technology Awards were unveiled. Supported by techUK, this is the UK’s largest awards programme celebrating achievements and championing the advancement of women in technology and STEM careers.

The need for the tech industry to engage with women has never been more critical. 74% of young girls express an interest in STEM subjects at school yet only 18% pursue these subjects in higher education*. The awards play a crucial role in creating and showcasing successful role models. By highlighting their remarkable achievements, the awards aim to inspire others following in their wake to ensure that women, making up 49% of the workforce, influence bridging the digital skills gap and fill a significant number of the estimated 1.4 million technology jobs that will be available in the UK by 2020**.

I was nominated by the lovely people at Apps for Good. So prestigious are the awards that I didn’t even know what I was being nominated for. It was a big secret and I forgot about it for a few months, presuming nothing had come of it. Until an email appeared in my inbox: I had been shortlisted for the ‘One to Watch’ award and invited for an interview with the judges.

Living so very far away from London meant it was near enough impossible for me to travel to London for the interview and keep it secret from everyone.  Sophie Wannop kindly arranged for me to instead Skype with the judges, and I was allowed to tell Mr Aitken so that I could arrange time out of class and use his computer.

Before I knew it, it was interview day. 10.30 was my scheduled interview time, right in the middle of double Physics. The hour before the interview was quite possibly the worst hour of my life. I’ve never been so nervous about anything. I knew this was a big deal and didn’t want to come across as nervous which made it even worse! I spent all my time glancing at the clock, and every time feeling a bit sick with nerves. Worst of all, I knew it was completely irrational. I just had to be myself.

As I expected, my nerves vanished (almost) completely during the interview. I was myself, and felt like I answered every question the best I could. Now I just had to wait and see. I had no idea what to expect. I thought I’d have to wait ages to find out.

Turns out I didn’t have to wait long at all. The next day I received a phone call; I was a finalist!

Although I still had to keep my finalist status confidential until the official press release, I could now finally tell my family.  It was actually quite fun keeping it a secret, and was especially worth it for their reactions when I told them. Everyone was so excited! Well, apart from my brother who instead complained; “you’re going to London…again?!”.   Time flew by and before I knew it I was on a plane to London with my dad.  We spent 5 nights in London and crammed a lot into our little trip.   Impeccable timing meant that my being in London coincided perfectly with a screening of the new Eat.Sleep.STEM.Repeat documentary about Outbox Incubator which I attended in 2015. I hadn’t seen anyone from the Outbox Family in so long! It was great to see everyone and the documentary brought back so many memories.

I also went to the STEMette’s birthday party, visited family and we spent a whole day in the Imperial War Museum (honestly, I thought it was going to be boring but I loved it).

Anyway, the reason we were there was, of course, the awards night.  I knew the event was going to be big, but it was BIG. Having never been to an event like it I really soaked it all up.  The people there were amazing, every finalist’s story was different and it was such a wonderful experience to speak to some of these people and hear about all the things they had achieved.  People were also very impressed by what I had achieved despite being so young.

I guess I have achieved a lot, but I certainly had no idea who was going to win my category. We all had such different backgrounds I just couldn’t call it.  Luckily though my category was first up, but this was also a bad thing: I was sat at the very back of the room and if I did win I had no idea how I was actually going to get to the stage.

It was a very surreal moment when they called out my name as the winner.  I did manage to make it up to the stage, and carry the rather heavy plate, and say a few words, despite physically shaking with sheer shock! I just didn’t expect it. See I’m always busy because I like to challenge myself. Whether I’m helping Apps for Good, or working on Envirocache, I’ve always got something to do.  I know that for me not only would I not even be in this position without the help from mentors and role models and people who inspire me, but I may very well have given up a long time ago.  So to be recognised for my work is great, but to be recognised as a role model for others is even better, and very humbling.

I’d like to thank everyone involved in the event and all the sponsors for hosting such a great night and providing such an important opportunity to showcase the talent of women in technology and help inspire others.  It’s a night I’ll certainly never forget.   Oh and the food was really good as well… 😉

Amazon Alexa Review: 3 Weeks with an Echo Dot

Christmas quite literally came early this year.  I was Skyping my Grandma and she asked me what I wanted for Christmas.  I answered, half joking, half serious, that I wanted an Amazon Echo Dot.  A few days later and what should arrive at my doorstep? You guessed it – My Grandma had ordered me an Echo Dot, and even bought it early in case they all sold out by Christmas.  I was so excited to find out what my new assistant could do.  I’ve spent nearly three weeks with Alexa now, and whilst I don’t know absolutely everything she can do I have pretty good understanding of what she’s capable of.

It took a few days to get used to talking to Alexa; I couldn’t quite get used to the phrases she recognised and had to really think about what I was going to say.  Whilst I wouldn’t go as far to say that it comes naturally to me now, I’m certainly not stumbling over my words like I did at the start.

As well as getting used to speaking to Alexa, I’ve also got used to the fact that I don’t actually need to face my Echo Dot to ask Alexa something. It feels more natural this way, and the option of playing a sound after she hears ‘Alexa,’ is also helpful for making sure she heard me and that I’m not just talking to myself.  There’s only been one time that she’s ever got confused and thought the TV had said Alexa.  – She also got very confused when I forgot to press mute whilst proof reading this out loud to myself!

They don’t lie when they say she learns either.  Within a week I was already noticing a significant difference in how much she understood and was finding that she made less mistakes.  By no means is Alexa perfect, but she does do a pretty exceptional job.

The seven strong microphone arrangement isn’t the only good thing about the Echo, the speaker is also surprisingly good.  One of the few differences between an Echo Dot and an Echo itself is the speaker quality.  A key feature of the Echo Dot is the ability to connect it to an external speaker via an AUX cable or Bluetooth, which implies the built-in speaker isn’t too great.  When my Echo Dot first arrived I was expecting to have to plug it into my Bluetooth speaker to listen to music, however I was pleasantly surprised by the sound quality and find I don’t need to use a different one at all. Which is good because I don’t need to constantly have another speaker turned on and worry about keeping it charged.

I can’t imagine a life without music, or a day when I don’t listen to any songs at all.  Alexa’s musical capabilities are therefore very important to me.  I have been an active user of Amazon Prime Music for quite some time now and always wanted the ability to control my music playback with my voice. Alexa provides this feature along with the ability to ask her to choose some random music for you or tell you what song is currently playing.

Often, I find it difficult to get to sleep without music because my mind is just so full of random things that it won’t shut down!  The only thing that seems to settle me quicker than usual on these nights is my ‘sleep’ playlist.  However, I didn’t actually like this solution as it drained my phone battery overnight.  Alexa solves this problem by allowing you to set a sleep timer. I can ask Alexa to play my music for however long I want her too and not have to worry about anything else.

Another exciting thing with regards to music and Alexa is the launch of Amazon Unlimited Music. As it’s not been available in the UK very long I can’t give an in depth opinion of it but so far all the artists I haven’t been able to listen to on Amazon Prime Music have been available on Unlimited Music.  You can purchase Unlimited Music for just your Echo, but for only a few pounds more it seems like a better option to get Unlimited for all your devices, rather than just one.  I also like that you can choose whether to continue using Unlimited after your 30 day free trial with just one click of a button, rather than having to remember to cancel it before the trial runs out, like you have to with most other services (although that’s not usually a problem for me because I’m so organised) – a trivial point maybe, but I thought it just made things a lot easier and was a nice touch by Amazon to not be so pushy.

Like I said, I’m an organised person.  I take satisfaction in everything (currently excluding my bedroom floor) being organised.  So the ability to very quickly ask Alexa to add something to my to-do list or to tell me the tasks I should currently be doing is really handy.  You can link your Echo to another to-do app if you want more features such as multiple lists, but I tried it and found it easier to just use the built in one.

Other than the built in skills, I haven’t really made much use of those available on the Skill Store in the app yet.  So far I’ve not really found any need to as I’m still exploring what Alexa can do, but there does seem to be some good skills for recipes or news and if you have smart home devices then skills definitely come in handy.  I do plan to at some point learn how to create my own skills.  I noticed a tutorial for some Chemistry flashcards the other day and might use it to make my own flashcards to help with exam revision in the future. (Much to the delight of my family who are always finding themselves reading out my flashcards).

The Alexa companion app isn’t just a place for skills though,  it allows you to view and edit shopping lists/to-do lists, change settings and more.  I like the app, my favourite parts being the ability to give Alexa feedback on whether she understood you, and the built in music player.

However… it doesn’t work.  It is really frustrating having a good product that is undermined by a poor addition to the whole user experience.  The app really struggles to load and I’m constantly staring a blank page.  Sometimes force stopping the app helps, but not always.  As you know (because I moan about it in nearly every post) my WiFi is just a joke really, so whilst this may be contributing to it’s failure, all of my other apps seem to work so it’s not a solid excuse.

With Alexa relying on my WiFi you can see why that may be a problem.  However, I have been really surprised by how well Alexa has coped.  Sometimes she struggles to finish her sentence or it takes a while for my music to load.  It’s slightly annoying at the time but honestly, for all the times she does work it’s worth the odd hiccup.

Now a couple of people have mentioned Google Home to me on twitter.  I don’t own a Google Home so I can’t make an accurate statement on which one is best but I can tell you what I do know. Having been around for longer, the Echo will undoubtedly have a head start with regards to features, but it probably won’t take all that long for Google Home to catch up.  With Alexa, you must start every command with the wake word.   It’s been said that Google Home will have a more conversational style of AI and that you can ask follow up commands without using the wake word. Personally, I think that the Echo looks better and the varying price ranges of the Echo, Echo Dot and Tap are good way to make Alexa available to a wide range of users.  And of course there is the fact that there has been no mention of a UK Google Home release date.  Google Home does sound like it has the ability to really shake up the competition, but this will probably encourage Amazon to get some upgrades out to Alexa.  Basically, there’s really no telling what could happen! If you’re a committed Google user and can wait for if/when it becomes available in the UK then go for it, but for now I’m more than happy with my Echo Dot and would highly recommend it to all tech geeks out there.

What conclusion can we make from all this? Alexa is pretty awesome.  And I don’t know how to finish this post without it being abrupt… so, that’s all from me – have a lovely day!

Planning on getting an Echo? Already have one? Let me know what you think of yours in the comments below.

 

 
Pi Alarm B&W

Pi Alarm 2.0 – My Second Attempt at a Raspberry Pi Alarm Clock

What happened to Pi Alarm?  Well, you may already know, but if you don’t here’s what happened: through a series of fatal mistakes by the one and only me, I managed to corrupt my SD card.  My program vanished into the abyss of lost code.  And the icing on the cake that was my broken raspberry pi? I forgot to save a copy of my code.

The hundreds of lines of code and almost as many hours had, quite simply, vanished.

I was slightly very devastated.  But it was done and I was just going to have to learn from my own very stupid mistake.  I could have just tried something else, or given up, but instead I decided to start again and make Pi Alarm 2.0.

It was thanks to my Computing teacher, Mr Aitken, that my Raspberry Pi is now working.  Well I say ‘my’ Raspberry Pi but I actually ended up swapping my one for one from school.  It worked and Mr Aitken managed to save me the hassle of adding my icons and music back, but it also caused some problems (you’ll hear about them in a minute).

In theory the process was going to be 100% easier and quicker as I already knew what I had to do and didn’t have to teach myself Tkinter. In practice however that was really not true.

So what problems did I encounter this time?

Problem #1 – WiFi
Again, if you don’t already know, my WiFi is less than adequate.  This time however the problem was not initially with my WiFi, but instead with my WiFi adapter.  For some unknown reason my new Raspberry Pi decided it didn’t want to detect the WiFi adapter. At all.

My Solution – It took me a day and a half to fix this problem.  My brain was so frazzled by the end that I actually can’t tell you how I managed to fix it because I don’t remember! At least it works…

Problem #2 – Where do I begin!
I knew exactly what my end product was going to be but having spent so much time on it previously I couldn’t even begin to think where to start.

My Solution – I refreshed my memory on how to build the clock and after that it all started coming back to me. Phew!

Problem #3 – Screen Timeout
I spent SO MUCH TIME trying to adjust the screen timeout settings on my previous Raspberry Pi that when I finally found a solution* using ‘xset’ relatively quickly this time I was both ecstatic and also a tad annoyed.

*My solution though created a new problem.  Whenever I got my screen to turn itself off it would turn the Pi off and on again.  How strange. Until it wasn’t.

My Solution – It transpired that my Pi wasn’t receiving a high enough voltage and for some reason this caused my Pi to turn off when the screen went off (I’m still not entirely sure why that is).  I realised that the microUSB cable on the charger I was using was slightly faulty and didn’t fit properly.  I tried another charger and – it still wasn’t working.

This time my new charger was only 1 amp.  I thought I was going to have to buy a new power supply until I noticed my previous charger that also didn’t work was 2 amps.  So I needed to buy a >2 amp power supply! Except I didn’t.  I woke up early on Saturday and it hit me.  I remembered the cable was faulty on my 2 amp charger.  A simple solution really, I just took the cable from the 1 amp charger and used it with the 2 amp one.  Screen off – Pi on. Yay!

Aside from all the other little problems I had to fix along the way, I didn’t suffer any major set backs.  And my code is on GitHub – so I’ll never lose it again!

I’m aware that due to my Pi Alarm set back this is my first blog post in a while.  But I promise you there will be one in the next week or so and I’m really looking forward to writing it.  Curious? You’ll just have to wait and see! If you follow me on twitter there is a clue there and if you really can’t wait be sure to sign up to my mailing list to be the first to know about blog posts and receive exclusive news.

That’s all from me – I hope the rest of your day is very ‘appy 😉

 

Bird Boxes, Speakers and Light Up T-Shirts…

… Are all things I got to make at the Raspberry Pi Digital Making Day in Cambridge, which was now 2 weeks ago – oh how the time flies!
Yep, having been back at school for just 4 days after the summer holidays I was away on another technological trip, but this time to Cambridge, instead of the usual London.

Before I even got to make the 10-hour-journey-with-a-lot-of-waiting-around, I had to apply.  And in true Raspberry Pi creative fashion, it wasn’t as easy as just filling out a form – we had to create a 30-60 second long video about ourselves and what we like being creative with.  My video consisted of my Pi Alarm, why I’m creative, 1 guitar chord because that’s all I could fit in 60 seconds and the song ‘Happy’ by Pharrel Williams because the pun was absolutely necessary.  Turns out I got the song stuck in everyone’s head.  Sorry (not sorry 😉 ).

It was actually my birthday when I found out whether I was one of the chosen ones. And, obviously I was. It was a pretty good birthday present!

On Monday the 22nd me and my mum started on our journey to Cambridge.  Accompanied by my ‘Travel Tunes’ playlist, we drove the 2 hours to Inverness and then got a flight to Luton.  After a few hours waiting we then made the 2 hour coach journey to Cambridge.  Getting off the air conditioned coach into the hot summer air was honestly the same feeling you get stepping of a plane into a gorgeously hot foreign country.  Safe to say my Scottish skin was rather confused by the rare sensation of ‘warmth’.

Me and my mum arrived at the Travelodge and grabbed a bite to eat whilst making the most of the sunshine.  I was then reunited with Sophie my Apps for Good Fellow friend.  It was nice to actually speak to her in person again, having last seen her in June.

Tuesday was Digital Making Day.  With my creative thinking cap on we headed to MakeSpace in Cambridge.

 

Super Soldering
Super Soldering

Everyone arrived at slightly different times, so by the time we actually got started we had all been given quite a few tours and told everyone our names and where we came from quite a few times which was quite funny.  My group started off by building our own amplifiers/speakers in an introduction to soldering.  There is something quite zen and therapeutic about soldering and I really enjoyed it.  Not only that but it worked the first time! I know, that very very rarely happens so I made the most of it.  Everyone was testing their amps with my phone, so of course my artist of choice was Coldplay (I’m a huge fan!).

Tweet Tweet! Our bird box with h pi zero and camera
Tweet Tweet! Our bird box with pi zero and camera

After a quick cake break my groups then got to work with the Pi Zero and the infrared camera.  We were given the pieces to create a bird box and learnt how to use the camera so we could set it up inside to watch the birds.  I want to set mine up, but am currently restricted by how I’m going to get power to the Pi and how I’m going to stream the video, because we all know how amazing my WiFi is 😉  If I can’t manage that then I’ll have to think about what other projects I could do with the Pi Zero and/or camera.

Anyway, I got sidetracked.  We went outside for lunch – we of course had to make the most of the weather.  After my tasty coronation chicken sandwich it was time for the third, and sadly final, activity.  This time it was working with electronics to create circuits on Raspberry Pi T-Shirts.  My idea to write my name on the t-shirt with electric paint and add LED’s ultimately failed because I got a bit carried away and forgot to leave the spaces for my LED’s. Not only that but but my improvisation didn’t work either, but at least I now know what not to do 🙂

We got to take some really cool stuff home with us.  My bag for the plane ended up filled with a Pi Zero, Infrared Camera, Bird box pieces, my soldered amplifier and a poster, badge and a MagPi essentials book on how to build games using python. I was prepared to have to explain to airport security why our bags contained electric paint and all my other tech, but I didn’t have to in the end.

So much to learn!
So much to learn!

I can’t wait to work through my python games book, it looks really good.  So good in fact that I bought another book from the series on how to use the command line.  So much to learn!  Maybe I could build some games on python and make my Pi Zero into a games console to play them on? Or is that a bit predictable? I’m just thinking out loud 🙂

 

 

Our journey home didn’t begin until 2 o’clock on Wednesday, so in the morning I got a quick tour of the Raspberry Pi offices.  There were some cool gadgets kicking around and I bet it must be so much fun working there! I also found out who Bert the Plant was.  Bert had liked some of my tweets from the day before and I was very confused as to why a plant was liking my tweets.  Turns out Bert is the Raspberry Pi office plant, hence why he was liking my Raspberry Pi tweets.

After visiting the offices, my mum and I visited the botanical gardens where I got to properly test out my birthday present from my uncle: a dslr camera! The Canon EOS 1300D, to be precise. I’m just very lucky aren’t I? We sizzled in the sunshine for a few hours and then it was time to head home.  Of course our plane had to be delayed so instead of getting home around 11pm it ended up being 1am!  It was a struggle getting up that morning, especially seeing as I was already shattered from walking all round Cambridge!

Anything to do with Raspberry Pi I will most definitely enjoy, so getting to go to Cambridge for it was just amazing! Huge thank you goes out to everyone who organised it and thanks for letting me join you.

Pi Alarm Update

My alarm now tweets! In an attempt to ‘gamify’ getting up in the morning, my Pi Alarm now tweets how long it takes me to get out of bed, with the aim to try and get me to get up quicker the next day. It took ages to implement this feature because I had some serious WiFi issues to contend with. I had to use a different WiFi adapter and even then my Pi Alarm only connects to the internet in one place on my chest of drawers. And I mean ONE space – I can’t even put it on top of anything! Whether I do get up earlier each day, I don’t know, but if you feel like your life would benefit from finding out then you can follow @RaspberryAlarm on twitter.

That’s all for now, thanks for reading 🙂

It’s Pi O’Clock

I got up this morning when my alarm went off.

I know what you’re thinking; “Why are you telling me this? Everyone sets an alarm with the intention of getting up when it goes off.”

Although it does seem a trivial part of my day to be telling you about, for me it was very exciting.  Why? Because my alarm clock is no ordinary alarm clock.  It’s my Raspberry Pi!

In case you were wondering, I have a Raspberry Pi 2 Model B and its mounted onto the official Raspberry Pi 7″ Touchscreen display which I’m using with a blue frame.  My Pi is actually powered by an old Samsung charger and the speakers are just old PC ones.  I was lucky enough to get all of these things for either my Birthday or Christmas so I can’t tell you were I got them from.  I was going to add a video but it was to big to upload onto here, so you can instead use this link to view it on YouTube if you want to see it in action.

Like nearly everything else in life, my ‘PiAlarm’ didn’t work straight away.  It took four days of waking up too close to lunch time for my liking and one rushed shower before setting off on holiday until I was actually awoken by my PiAlarm.  To say it was frustrating waking up in the morning to see that my clock had frozen at 04:05:07 is an understatement.  But despite all the times I wanted to give up and launch it out the window, I have finally successfully turned my Raspberry Pi into a touchscreen alarm clock.  This is something I’ve wanted to do for months and the sense of achievement I have when getting up every morning knowing that I made my alarm is, well, it’s the reason I love computing.

Problem #1 – What on Earth am I Doing?
I knew that in order for this to work I needed to create a GUI application. I initially looked for a WYSIWYG editor as a ‘cheat’ option, but there weren’t really any that suited me. I guess that was just fate telling me not to cheat 😉 I then looked at creating a GUI application in Python. I started off by spending a day learning Python GTK, only to realise that the loop used to run the application interfered with the loop required to build a clock. It was effectively impossible to create a clock using GTK and that was a sort of wasted day of my life.

My Solution – I instead started to teach myself Tkinter, which  would definitely allow me to create a clock within the code.

Problem #2 – Sound
As they are so tiny, Raspberry Pi’s don’t come with speakers. Obviously a major problem for an alarm clock.

My Solution – I hooked up my Pi to my surround sound system in my bedroom.  I loved the prospect of being awoken by my surround sound!

Problem #3 – Surround Sound
Yes, the solution to my previous problem quickly became a problem in itself when I realised that I had to leave my speakers turned on all the time in order for my PiAlarm to work. Why was that an issue?  Well not only did it probably waste a lot of electricity but when not in use the speakers made a humming noise.  This noise was fine during the day as it was masked by the background noises of life, but at night time the only thing I could hear was the humming of the speakers and after just one night I decided I couldn’t hack it.

My Solution – This was definitely a light bulb moment. Having tried everything I possibly could to be rid of or even just reduce the humming speaker sound, I remembered I have a plug in timer, which meant I could set my speakers to turn on at the same time as my alarm. Okay, in reality setting two alarms seems counter intuitive but that’s not the point – the point is I made it 🙂

Problem #4 – Screen Timeout
I am 99.9999999999999% sure it is impossible to change the screen timeout settings on my Raspberry Pi. Although in my research people have said it does work I have tried literally EVERYTHING to no avail. This was a pain because the screen was far too bright to have on at night time, and I didn’t want to have to wait for it to turn off the display by itself as I wasn’t really sure how long that actually was now that I had changed so many settings.

My Solution – I changed the label that displayed the time in my application to a button that when pressed turned off the screen. Touching the screen again then turns it back on.

Problem #5 – Crashing
I tested my PiAlarm for 4 days and I was woken up by it on 0% of those days. It kept crashing! It would freeze on (seemingly) random times which would cause the alarm function not to work. Great.

My Solution – I tried some code which would restart the script if it froze but that didn’t work. I then thought it may have been to do with the fact that it couldn’t connect to the WiFi in that corner of my room – #WifiProblems. The Raspberry Pi has no internal clock and so gets the time from the internet. This meant that whenever turned on I had to manually input the exact time. By moving it to a place that it could connect to WiFi I hoped that it would update the time itself and would therefore prevent crashing. So I reluctantly ditched my surround sound and moved it to the opposite corner of my room.  In order to do this I had to actually rearrange furniture in my bedroom, just for my little Raspberry Pi. I then connected it to some “borrowed” PC speakers. (These speakers, and all others that I tried, make even worse noises than my surround sound so I still have to use the timer).

Problem #6 – CRASHING!
By this point I was starting to lose the plot. My Raspberry Pi was still crashing and I had no idea why. Until I thought that it wasn’t crashing at random and was instead crashing when I turned the screen off.

My Solution – I changed the time button back to a label and created a separate button that turned off the screen.

Problem #7 – CCCRRAASSSHHHINNNNGGG!!!!!
My theory on the not-so-random times it crashed was pretty wrong.  Once again I was not woken up by my PiAlarm.  I gave up all hope.  I went on holiday for four days (not because of my PiAlarm, this was previously planned 😉 ) and it was only when I came back and looked at it with a fresh view that I realised my Raspberry Pi had been giving an error every time it ran but I had just ignored it out of ignorance.  Could this be the cause of all my problems?  The answer is yes, but trying to find the cause of the unknown error was difficult.

My Solution – Turns out the cause of all my many problems which resulted in the redesign of both my PiAlarm and my bedroom was that I had got confused in my code and put a ‘1’ instead of ‘True’.  How anticlimactic.

The first time it worked was yesterday.  I actually woke up before my alarm clock went off.  The first thing I did was check the clock was actually still functioning and you can imagine my delight seeing the seconds change on the screen.  I then lay in my bed praying for it to work, and sure enough half an hour later my alarm finally went off.  The only time I’ve ever moved out of my bed that quick in a morning is on Christmas Day and my Birthday.  I was just to excited that it FINALLY worked!

Speaking of Birthdays, guess who is 16 tomorrow? Me!

Anyway, there are a few other things I’m hoping to add to my PiAlarm in the future, so keep an eye out for that.

If you have any questions or comments, you know where to find me 😉

See you next time!

Thinking Outside the Box

This post was written in august 2015, before the creation of Because I’m appy.  as part of some other website maintenance i’ve decided it would be better for it to be relocated to because I’m Appy.  enjoy!
Outbox Incubator Demo Day Group Photo
Outbox Incubator Demo Day Group Photo

Have your ever heard of Outbox Incubator?

Outbox Incubator is a 6 week long summer course which is designed to help and encourage girls from the age of 11-22 into STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) and develop their startup ideas.  Girls from across the EU stay in a house somewhere in London for as many weeks as they like to take part in sessions with successful business women and men to expand their STEM knowledge and business skills.

So how did I end up here? Well, throughout this school year I was lucky enough to take part in Apps for Good.  A course where groups design an app to solve a problem. My Computing teacher, Mr Aitken, had seen how passionate I had become about Computing over the year.  He found out about Outbox through Apps for Good and nominated me for a place.

Waiting to hear if I’d got a place was, well, it was a long day.  The course is open to the EU, so I had no idea what my chances would be.  I spent the whole school day looking down at my phone and constantly refreshing my emails (don’t worry, I did get work done!). It wasn’t until 7 o’clock that evening that I got the email.  If I hadn’t been sitting in the audience of our annual Caithness Music Festival concert I probably would have screamed. Good job I didn’t.

So now I’m here, in London!

I got to do so much in the 2 weeks I was there!

Week 1

Some girls had been there since the launch the week before but it only took me a day to figure out the slightly chaotic routine.  Our daily sessions were even better than I hoped they would be (and I knew they were bound to be good!).  I started coding html (yay! coding!), spoke to inspirational women who have started businesses and learned important skills for developing Envirocache.  On Wednesday we visited Goldman Sachs investment bank (it was a very very tight squeeze on the train there) where we learned eggcellent* pitching skills.

Then on Saturday we built dens out of STIXX (reinforced rolled up newspaper) and designed a new item for IKEA; well we tried to anyway.  Our chill out time in the evening is some of the best fun I’ve had.  So far I’ve modelled in a bin bag fashion show (classy, right?), painted abstract art with a professional artist, done numerous yoga sessions, had my nails painted with an upcoming UK nail brand, Little Ondine (I’m now an ambassador of Little Ondine) and watched ‘Pretty Little Liars’ outside in the dark.  Do you know what else was fun? Staying up till stupid o’clock in the morning, loads of us crammed into one room and reading One Direction fan fiction because it was so bad it was good. And I still have a week to go! Finally, I ended a busy week with cake.  Why cake? It was my 15th birthday! At midnight I was presented with a waffle cake and then in the evening a red velvet cake, yummy! It was a birthday I certainly won’t be forgetting anytime soon.

*When instructed to re-design the shopping cart, one team took the idea of broken eggs and turned their pitch into just egg puns the whole way through. They really cracked us up.

 

Envirocache won Outstanding Design

Week 2

Week 2 was slightly different to any other week of Outbox.  The only thing on everyone’s mind was the fast approaching Outbox Incubator Demo Day, a chance to pitch to angel investors and showcase our start-ups.  Aside from a beauty night, spaghetti bolognese and some films, downtime was out the window as everyone worked diligently on their pitch decks and those not pitching were helping.  Yet, as faithful Outbox Execs, we still took part in sessions.  That week there was marketing, mindfulness and… more coding!  We all felt antisocial tapping away at our laptops making sure our pitch deck was perfect, but we were all in the same boat and as we sat watching each other practice our pitches, I really saw what a lovely family we had all become.

*Cue dramatic music* Pitch Day.  Everyone was up by 6:30am, dressed smart and ready to go.  After a quick unscheduled morning sprint to the train we were on our way.  Despite living at the other end of the UK, my dad managed to come down the day before collecting me to watch me pitch and my uncle came too.  We were all stood outside in the park before we went one by one inside to pitch.  Everyone was dotted around the park, pacing back and forth reciting their pitches to themselves, it was quite funny to watch but also showed how much this meant to everyone and how passionate we all are.  I have to say my pitch went brilliantly and I have definitely done my team proud (I pitched on their behalf).  How do I know this? Because Envirocache won Outstanding Design and now we have an extra boost of funding to help us along the way.  The whole day was amazing and everyone was proud of everyone.  We celebrated in different ways afterwards, some went to the Olympic Park, others went to McDonalds and Sainsbury’s.

Heading to the Sherlock Proms - I'm now obsessed with the show!
Heading to the Sherlock Proms – I’m now obsessed with the show!

My final day was really rather eventful. I postponed my drop off to the train station to get the sleeper train home after a spontaneous decision to go and see the Sherlock BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall.  The concert was great although we were late getting back to the house so eventually the rather stressed James family arrived at Euston with 2 minutes to run to the train.  Waiting for a lift when you’re in a hurry is painful and in my haste I left my slippers at the Outbox House.  Woops!  I wonder what we would have done during the 24 hours we would have had to wait for the next train?  I don’t regret going to the Sherlock Proms.  Even though it made me late, I am now super obsessed with Sherlock!

I have honestly never met a group of such friendly and funny girls.  I felt welcomed into the ‘Outbox Family’ immediately and I know that I’m going to be in contact with the girls for a long time after this.  It’s so nice to find a girls who are like me and where I don’t feel constantly judged for being different; geeky.  Not that that’s ever bothered me 😉

The Stemettes have really hit the nail on the head with the Outbox Incubator.  It just works.  They’re promoting young entrepreneurs and students in STEM and showing that there are successful business women out there and it can be done.

Apps for Good and Outbox Incubator have changed my life – If I hadn’t done Apps for Good I wouldn’t have considering even taking Computer Science as a subject, and now I want a career in it! I never thought about how far we would come with our idea Envirocache and what opportunities would arise from it.  It just goes to show that if you’re passionate about something and willing to step outside the box, the world is your oyster.

 

I GOT A NEW PHONE! And other news

I am currently on my “summer” holidays.  It has rained nearly all week.  Also, over the last 2 weeks I have made no trips to London and no interesting tech people have visited Wick (as far as I’m aware).  But that doesn’t mean that nothing at all has happened!  So here is a quick roundup of the last couple weeks of my life.

My gorgeous early birthday present
My gorgeous early birthday present
  •  As you can probably tell from the title of this post (and if you are on my mailing list) I got a new phone! As an early birthday present (my birthday is 9th August 😉 ) I got the Samsung Galaxy J3 2016 edition in Gold.  And I LOVE it. My previous phone was very much past its best before date.  I know I shouldn’t complain and that I’m lucky I had a phone, but when your phone takes 30 seconds to load the keyboard and then tells you Facebook Messenger has crashed, you can’t help but feeling a bit annoyed.  Actually VERY annoyed.  But that is in the past and my new phone is amazing!  I’m also one of those people who is a bit religious about phone cases so I got to order myself a nice case too.  Yay!
  • I (finally!) converted my old laptop to Linux.  I had originally planned to dedicate a whole post to this and go through how I did it but due to technical difficulties that plan kind of went out of the window.  But hey, computing wouldn’t be fun if things didn’t go wrong sometimes all the time. I ended up installing Lubuntu, the lighter version of Ubuntu more suitable for older computers that don’t quite meet the specs for full on Ubuntu.  I decided that as my laptop was so old I didn’t have much to lose so ditched the dual boot.  At first when it didn’t work I panicked and thought I’d made a big huge mistake, but I managed to save it.  The only issue I’ve found so far is that the cursor disappears if the laptop goes to sleep, but it’s easily fixed by changing to a different console and then back again so I’m not too bothered by that.  Overall I absolutely love it and can’t wait to start properly learning the command line.
  • I’ve also been planning my Apps for Good Fellowship Board with Sophie.  The idea is to promote the Fellowship to other students in my school through a display showcasing all the things you can do as a fellow.  I think it’s a great idea and hope more people will become fellows because of it 😊
Photos from our Diamond DofE walk to school!
Photos from our Diamond DofE walk to school!
  • Okay, I confess this isn’t exactly tech related but I did also complete my Diamond Duke of Edinburgh.  To celebrate their 60th Diamond anniversary, you can choose to complete your Diamond DofE.  You get to choose one challenge and you have to raise at least £60.  Me and the other co-founder of Envirocache, Mari-Ann Ganson, decided to walk the 8 miles from my house to school on the last day of term.  It was more challenging than I thought but it was also really nice weather which made everything look so lovely.  Mr Aitken dropped us off bacon sandwiches on his way to the school.  I don’t know if it was just the walking making me extra hungry or Mr Aitken’s cooking skills or both but it was the best bacon sandwich ever.  Seriously, it was good.  I really ached once I got to school (and I was pretty sweaty – nice).  Combined we raised £170 for the DofE charities which is really great.
  • I now own a company!  If you follow me on twitter you’d already know this, but I am now a shareholder of Envirocache Limited.  We’re due to start app development fairly soon – I’ll definitely keep you updated on that!  Its so exciting that I haven’t been able to sleep properly these last few nights because my brain is too busy thinking of app logos and app features and marketing ideas!  I even have a notebook dedicated to Envirocache and the other night I woke up and sat doodling app logo ideas.  I’m so lucky to be given the opportunity to do this, and I won’t ever forget that.

That’s all from the life of your favourite teenage geek girl 😉.  I will continue to keep you updated on all the exciting things I get to do!

Liked this roundup post? Or not? Let me know! Comment, Tweet or Email me your feedback 🙂

 

 

 

 

Raspberry Pi Fun!

It was a busy week for me last week.  After I had got back from London – with just one day to catch up on some much needed sleep – it was time for something else pretty exciting.

Me and Pete
Selfie with Pete Lomas, Co-creator of Raspberry Pi!

Before I go on, you’ll notice that in the photo above I’m wearing a Raspberry Pi t-shirt.  Just the fact I own one probably gives away that I’m a big fan.  So imagine my excitement when I was told that Pete Lomas, one of the co-creators of the Raspberry Pi, was coming to Wick!

Why do I love Raspberry Pi’s so much? Well apart from the fact that they are just awesome, the first bit of python programming I ever did was on a Raspberry Pi Mr Aitken let me borrow.  It was so exciting plugging everything in and setting it up.  I thought it was the coolest thing in the world that I got it to print my name to the screen!  I very quickly learned that that was nothing special, but it was that first line of code that started me on the pathway away from Veterinary Nursing and landed me on the Computing one.  And that is the best thing that has ever happened.

Anyway, I got there early and helped set up.  Then Pete gave a really interesting (and funny!) talk on the story of the Raspberry Pi and how so many coincidences made it happen. Also, I automatically like anyone who uses a Pretty Woman quote in a presentation. Never used a Pretty Woman quote in a presentation before? Big mistake. Big. Huge. 😉

We then got to go upstairs and see some different programs and inventions made using the Raspberry Pi; including motion detector light switches, ‘Let it Go’ created in Sonic Pi, and an AstroPi!

Then came the cool part – programming! I played around with the Raspberry Pi sense hat; nothing fancy, just a bit of code that used the LED’s and accelerometer to change the image depending on how the Pi was held.

It was a really good night – thanks Pete for traveling so far to come and talk to us!  And I can also promise that this definitely wont be the last time I mention Raspberry Pi on Because I’m Appy 😉

 

Apps for Good Fellow's of the Year receive their awards at this years ceremony.

The Apps for Good Awards 2016

The other day, my brother told my mum that he wanted to go on lots of trips like me when he goes to high school after summer.  My mum told him that in order to get to do all the fun stuff you have to be willing to put in the hard work.  She was right – and this week featured one of the amazing pay offs for all the work I’ve put in.

I travelled down to London on Sunday to help out at the Apps for Good Awards and receive and award myself – Apps for Good Fellow of the Year.  I was super excited to go as London is one of my favourite places.  I travelled the 700+ miles with my computing teacher Mr Aitken, his Granny and Kerry and Freya, the two team members of PocketCook who were pitching their hands free cooking app on Monday.  The journey took over 9 hours, which was much longer than it should have been as our plane and train were delayed – but you get used to all the travelling when you live in a place like Caithness and eventually appreciate that the travelling can be just as fun as the trip itself .

Monday was the big day.  Granny Pat and team PocketCook left in the morning to visit Salesforce as part of a morning workshop.  Mr Aitken and I navigated the underground to the Barbican Centre, where the awards ceremony was going to be held.  We got soaked walking to the station and ended up taking an unnecessarily long route in an ultimately failed attempt to avoid the rain, but I love the buzz of the underground so I wasn’t complaining.  That morning I met with other Apps for Good Fellows.  Fellows are those of us who have completed the Apps for Good (AfG) course but have signed up to continue working with AfG by helping out at events etc.

Fellow selfie with new found friend Sophie
Fellow selfie with new found friend Sophie

One particular Fellow I really clicked with was Sophie Willis (another AfG Fellow of the Year).  I ended up spending the all day with Sophie – it’s so nice to find someone who is as passionate about computing as I am.  We have so much in common, it’s amazing to think that if it weren’t for the AfG Fellowship we would never have even met!

The 123 Reg Workshop
The 123 Reg Workshop

We then took part in a workshop run by 123 Reg where we looked at what makes a good business name and website.  In fact, Nick Leech from 123 Reg who helped lead the session wrote a blog post about the workshop and mentions me in it.  You can read it here – he even calls me ‘A tech star of the future’.  Thanks Nick!

Taking part in the panel session in front of all the AfG VIPs
Taking part in the panel session in front of all the AfG VIPs

After lunch, we met with some of the student teams and judges as they started to arrive. I then took part in a panel session in front of the judges where Debbie Forster (Co-CEO of AfG) asked a handful of us fellows some questions about AfG and what we have and continue to gain from the course.

Me and Bob Shukai after the Awards Ceremony
Me and Bob Shukai after the Awards Ceremony

Then it was time for the winners to be announced.  I was so nervous for PocketCook and couldn’t wait to find out if they had won.  But before all of that Bob Shukai from Thomson Reuters made a really great point.  He said that hearing a ‘no’ doesn’t mean it’s the end, it just means someone doesn’t have enough information to say ‘yes’ yet.  He also mentioned how this applied to me – my app didn’t even get to the final but I still continued working on it.    Unfortunately PocketCook didn’t win, but I hope that they and all the other teams will continue to work on their app like I’m doing.

 

On Tuesday we spent the day in London.  We visited the British Museum first.  There were some really fascinating exhibits… and we also managed to accidently explode a bottle of 7 Up all over the floor outside the shop – oops 😉  We then went to Camden market and got street food for lunch before we headed off to Thomson Reuters so that Mr Aitken could drop some things off.  In April this year I did some work experience at TR (you can read about it here) so I lead everyone through the underground and walked to the office in Mark Square.  I could sense that everyone didn’t think I knew where I was going but they underestimated my memory because I knew exactly where to go!  I had already seen some of the people I had met from TR at the awards ceremony on Monday, including Daniel Lewington who was one of the judges.  I didn’t know he was going to be there and he didn’t know I was going to be there; it was good to see him!

Anyway, after that we headed to the airport and started the long journey home.  I have to admit I really didn’t want to get on that plane.  I had so much fun, I just didn’t want it to end.  But that’s the thing though isn’t it? All good things must come to an end so that something new can start.

So thank you Apps for Good for letting me attend my first ever AfG Awards and selecting me as a Fellow of the Year – I really did have an amazing time!

Should I Start a Blog? – Welcome to ‘Because I’m Appy’

I sit at my computer desk, listening to the sound of my fingers tapping the keyboard and watching as the words for my guest blog post appear on my screen.  As I type a thought enters my mind –

“What if I started my own blog?”  

At first I discard the idea. Who would want to read about a nerdy girl who just wants to cram her head full of computing knowledge?

“Apps for Good think I’m interesting enough to write a blog post for them – and I have a lot more to write about.” 

Maybe I was right.  Maybe I should start a blog.

I spend the next few weeks constantly asking myself the same question – should I start a blog?

And, as you are reading my first ever blog post I’m sure you can deduce that eventually I answered that question with a ‘yes’.

So without further ado:

Welcome to My Blog!

Instead of jumping straight into things, I though I’d explain a bit about my blog and give you a taster of what’s to come.

First things first if you would like to know more about me then you should head to the A Bit About Me page.

If you want to be notified when I post anything new or want to hear any news then use the signup form on the right.

In this blog I plan to write about all things geeky.  I’ll be reviewing,  giving tips that I learn whilst trying new things (such as a programming language etc) and just generally blogging about all the opportunities I am given.

If you do happen to have stumbled across my blog and are reading this, well first of all thank you! And I would also like to hear what you think, good or bad, or any suggestions of what I should blog about.  Any comments are greatly appreciated.

Finally; some things to look forward to:

  • I’ll be blogging about my trip to London
  • I plan to change from Windows to Linux (Ubuntu)

So, keep an eye out for more blog posts!