Arduino and libraries

Last year I wrote a post about my experience with the Arduino open-source electronics and computing platform. Since I wrote the post, I haven’t really done much with my Arduino. I built a few of the projects in the book that came with the kit, but I haven’t come up with my own creations yet.

The makerspace movement in libraries has taken off since I wrote the post last year, and many of them use Arduino as part of their programs, for example Melbourne Library Service, and Duxbury Free Library in Massachusetts. From my limited use of Arduino, I think it is a useful addition to a makerspace. It’s a good introduction to electronics and programming, and the components are relatively cheap to purchase. And being open source means that participants who really get into it can have a play around with the underlying code. Hopefully I’ll be able to post some examples of my Arduino creations for next year’s #blogjune.

We got a First To Find!

After missing out on a First To Find (FTF) on a local geocache last Monday, we managed to get one today. We had a list of four caches that we wanted to find today in order to have found the 20 closest caches to home. We found the first one easily enough, but the second one ended up as a Did Not Find (DNF). As we were getting into the car, I checked the email notifications of some new caches which had been published, and there was one close by. We decided to abandon our mission, and head for the FTF.

The cache turned out to be in a newly-opened park, and based on the cache name we had a rough idea where it would be. Sure enough, the geocaching app was pointing us straight towards a picnic table which was occupied a family enjoying their lunch. We debated whether to just go up to them and explain what we were doing, but in the end we went to the play equipment with the boys, keeping an eye on the family to see if they moved. After waiting for a while, my wife decided that it wad time to be bold, so she headed to the table to explain what we wanted to do. As luck would have it, the family packed up their supplies and left, so we all headed over and began searching.

There was another cacher there too, who had also been waiting for the muggle family to leave, so it became a race to see who would find the cache first. Luckily I was able to feel the cache container and grab it. Woohoo, our fourth FTF! We then headed off for a picnic lunch near the cache which we looked for last week, hoping that we could find it today. However the rain started to fall, so we packed up and headed home. We’ll be back for that one another day.

My text correcting on Trove

After reading Fi’s post about how much she enjoys carrying out text correction on newspaper articles in Trove, I thought I’d share my experience of doing this. I began in April 2011, and managed to correct articles every month until November 2013. My current tally is 29,503 lines corrected, which puts me at the 590th spot on the leaderboard. At one stage I was in the top 500, but I slipped back when my correcting became less frequent.

I started correcting articles on any old topic – mainly in the early Sydney newspapers, and then I focussed on the suburb where I was living, and the primary school that I went to. I also corrected all the articles I could find on the university where I work. Before I took a break from the correcting, I was (slowly) working through a list of all the Australian Victoria Cross winners, and correcting all the articles that mentioned them. When I first started working on these soldiers, it was interesting to read the accounts of the actions which won them their VC. Howver, I did find that I was correcting the same article over and over again, as it was syndicated through various newspapers around the country. It got to the stage where I could almost type out the article without having to read it too closely. When I get back into it I think I’ll choose a topic that’s a bit more localised, perhaps the early settlers in the area we moved to last year.

Because of my involvement in newspaper correcting, I made sure I attended Paul Hagon’s presentation at Information Online last year on the behaviour of the people who carry out text correcting on Trove. Apparently 48,822 lines of text were corrected on Christmas Day – now that’s dedication for you.

Trove is a great resource, and I’m glad to be doing my part to make the articles on it discoverable for everybody. If you decide to take it up I should warn you that it can get addictive.

The results of #operationveggiepatch

Back in February I wrote a post about the veggie patch that we put together. Today the boys and I did some work on it. We tamed our tomato plants by tying them to stakes, and discovered that we’ve got some fruit developing! It’s nice to see that we’ve managed to get something out of the veggie patch. The rocket has been a success, but the cucumber plants ended up rotting and dying. The capsicums are still going, but I don’t know if we’re going to get any fruit off them.

Our first tomato

Our first tomato

The other crop we planted was carrots, and we managed to keep one plant growing. Today was harvest day, so Tom carefully pulled it out of the ground. The carrot was about 5cm long and a bit skinny and knobbly, but it tasted OK.

Our carrot

Our carrot

Hopefully the stakes will keep the tomato plants happy, and we’ll get a nice crop out of them. There are a few tiny fruit starting to develop, so we’ll keep an eye on them and try and harvest them before the bugs or the birds find them.

Our second job for the morning was to fill our new compost bin. We received this for free from our council as part of a composting and worm farming workshop which I attended a couple of weeks ago. I’d been meaning to buy one, so it was a nice bonus to get one for free. The boys helped me fill it with some sticks and green leaves.

Filling the compost bin

Filling the compost bin

It’s in a fairly sunny spot in the garden, so hopefully it will get warm enough to get the bugs and microbes working. Now all we need to do is remember to add our veggie scraps to it. I’m looking forward to having some home-made compost to use around the garden in a couple of months time.


An interesting use of RFID

RFID is a technology which is probably familiar to most librarians as a way of managing the books in our collections. However, a New Zealand geocacher named Kylie has come up with a novel use for RFID. She has had an RFID microchip (the same type used to identify pets) implanted into her hand, and it can be read by an NFC (Near Field Communication)-capable smartphone. So how does this relate to geocaching? Well, many geocachers create trackable items which can be moved from cache to cache – these travellers are called Travel Bugs (or TBs), and they have a unique tracking number on their TB dogtag. By implanting the RFID tag under her skin, Kylie has made herself into a TB and joined a list of about 200 trackable humans. Everyone else on the list has a tattoo as their TB tracking number, so Kylie’s tag is unique.

We’ve created our own TBs during the time we’ve been caching, but I don’t think I’m ready to go down the body modification route and turn myself into a TB. At least you wouldn’t have to worry about your Travel Bug going missing, which is what has happened to ours.

You can read about Kylie’s experience on her blog Its Not About the Numbers, as well as hear discussion about what she’s done on episode 470.1 (one of their short mid-week micro episodes) of the Podcacher podcast.

Cooking the books

No, this isn’t a post about dodgy accountants, it’s about a great event that I took part in at work today. It was a Masterchef-style cook-off organised by Campus Life, who are the social and sporting event group on campus (what used to be called the Student Union). There were 10 teams involved from all across the university, and the competition was fierce! It was a mystery box challenge, and we had 50 minutes to create three dishes (well, two dishes and a smoothie). Each team had to choose a breakfast dish and a snack dish from the three choices we were given, as well as a compulsory smoothie (which was the same recipe for all teams). Our team decided to cook the cinnamon, banana and blueberry pancakes, and the spinach, ricotta and corn fajitas.

The starting ingredients

The starting ingredients

I chose to work on the pancakes, so I did some egg cracking and banana mashing and mixing, as well as sprinkling coconut over the pancakes in the plating up stage. We worked well as a team, and got all our dishes plated up in time. In fact, all the teams worked so efficiently that the organisers ended up giving us all about 40 minutes to complete the challenge, instead of the original 50 minutes. Only one of the three judges came to each table, and our judge was impressed with our pancakes.







Unfortunately the pancakes weren’t good enough to get us into the top three, but it was a fun event and hopefully it will continue. I’d certainly be part of the team again.

“W” is for wonder

Today’s post is inspired by @meta_sarah‘s #blogjune post, as well as @bonitoclub‘s advice on how to get started on a blog post when you’re stuck for ideas.

A couple of months ago, there was an Astronomy Open Night at the university where I work. Unfortunately it was a cloudy night so none of the telescopes were operating, but there were plenty of other displays to keep our eldest son (aged 5) interested. He loved the laser graffiti and the laser maze, as well as touching the plasma ball.

Plasma balls are cool!

Plasma balls are cool!

I have always been fascinated by these machines. Whenever we went to a science museum I’d always want to have a go at touching one, and watching the sparks follow my finger. Hopefully Tom will have the same sense of wonder about discovering new things. He already asks plenty of questions and always wants to know how or why something works. We may have another budding scientist on our hands!

Lights and cupcakes

I had the day off work again today, as it was my wife’s 40th birthday. We went out for a morning tea at Lachlan’s at Old Government House in Parramatta (after finding a geocache in Parramatta Park).

The main event for the day, though, was taking the boys to see the Vivid festival in Sydney. We caught the train in to the city, and then walked down to Circular Quay  to check out the displays. We ate our dinner out the front of Customs House, then walked around to Dawes Point to see the giant rabbits. Along the way we stopped and ate the cupcakes we’d brought with us as my wife’s birthday cake. After checking out the rabbits we watched the Opera House display.





We finished the night with an icecream, and then headed home on the train with two very tired boys. It was a late night, but an enjoyable one.

Bike riding and geocaching

I was lucky enough to have today off work, and this morning we all rode our bikes to drop our son off at school. He’s been allowed to ride his scooter a few times, but today was the first time he rode his bike. We’re lucky that there’s a bikepath that takes us fairly close to his school, which means we don’t need to cross many roads or worry about cars reversing out of driveways. It all went well this morning, and he wasn’t late for school.

In the afternoon I rode up and picked him up after school. The Deputy Principal (who keeps an eye on the kids as they leave the school grounds) commented on Tom’s bike, so Tom told him that today was the first day he’d ridden it to school, and that he’d got the bike for his fourth birthday. He was pretty pleased with himself.

Ready to ride!

On our way[/caption]

Bikes, bikes, bikes

In between the bike riding, my wife and I and our youngest son went out to do some geocaching. We didn’t have a very successful day – we found five caches, and didn’t find five. We’d come up with a plan for the day, but it didn’t take long for those plans to change, as we made an unplanned find on a cache that we happened to be driving past. Our next attempt wasn’t so successful and resulted in our first DNF (Did Not Find) for the day. The next cache we searched for was a multi-cache where we had to collect some information from a location and use it to determine the location of the cache. We gathered the information that we were required to find, however we didn’t get a chance to calculate the cache location as we received a notification of a newly-published cache only a couple of kilometres away. Now it’s a bit of big thing to be the first to find (FTF) a cache, so we headed off to the new cache, with me tweeting about it as we went.

Note: Ground Zero is a caching term for the area around the coordinates of the cache where you need to search.

Note: LPC stands for Lamp Post Cache, which is quite a common but unimaginative style of cache in the US. There was a lamp post which looked like it was the hiding place for the cache, hence the reference to LPC.

We logged our DNF, a bit dejected that we weren’t able to get the FTF. It was time for lunch, so we stopped for a break, and then headed off for a walk to find a few nearby caches that are part of  a series that runs along a bikepath next to a fairly busy road. We found four out of the six that we searched for. After we posted our two DNF logs, the cache owner disabled the caches so that they can check on them, so there’s a chance that the caches were missing.

Later that day another cacher posted their own DNF on the cache we tried for the FTF on, and the cache owner posted a note that they’d checked the cache and it was still there. So I went out again later in the afternoon, armed with our GPSr this time, instead of just a smartphone, to see if it pointed to a different spot. But no, it pointed straight to the lamp post again, and this time there was another cacher there (the one who’d posted a DNF earlier). We had a combined search for the cache, and were joined by another cacher after a little while. The three of us weren’t having any luck, so I left the other two to it. Not long after arriving home, a notification came through that someone had found it (not one of my co-searchers). We’d love to know where it is, and will have to go back for another look.

The family that blogs together …

Well, it’s hard to believe that it’s June already, which means that #blogjune is upon us once again. This will be my third year of participating in this month-long blogging exercise. Thanks again to @flexnib for organising it – this year there are over 50 bloggers participating. Three of them are in my house – I’ll be blogging here, my wife will be participating (using haiku) over at Third Class Rooster, and our eldest son (with occasional guest posts from his younger brother) will be posting at Blogjoon.

Hopefully we can all keep up the blogging for 30 days. The month kicks of with my wife’s birthday festival, so my first few posts will probably relate to that. As with last year, my posts will cover a mix of topics – library-related, geocaching-related, and whatever else I can think of to keep the blogging going (there’s usually a meme or two that does the rounds). I enjoyed the experience last year, so I thought I’d give it another go.