MAN-LUG (Manchester Linux User Group)

My second geeky session in Manchester today was to attend the monthly LUG meeting at MadLab on Edge Street…after some rehydrating refreshment at the cafe opposite (Common).

The MAN_LUG team are planning to host a demonstration event for potential new users of Linux (XP/Vista/Windows 8 refugees), probably in October this year; firstly to avoid the holiday season, and secondly to get 120,000 new students settled in to the various undergraduate establishments across the city.

The group discussed various approaches to take, using Linux Mint as a basis to demonstrate what Linux desktop can (and can’t) do. This benefited from having both current Mint users, non Mint Linux users and non Linux users around that table to flush out the various use cases, potential questions and expectations from the intended audience.

Dan Botting did an excellent job of hosting the session and despite the extreme heat on the top floor of MadLab (Advanced Mouse Taxidermy had the main workshop ?!?!?!). Hopefully, with some good PR from the attendees over the next couple of months the MAN-LUG event will draw in a few new users for this great open source OS.

Hopefully, I’ll report on progress in September…


Manchester MOSI Mini Makers

I spent today in Manchester in order to get myself along to two Geeky events happening in the city.

The first was the Mini Maker fair being held at Manchester MOSI in their 1830 Warehouse; which as a listed building has no air-con and not much in the way of ventilation either on this the hottest day of the year!

I started on the top floor which transported me back a few years looking at train sets and massive, powered, Meccano structures to rival anything Lego have produced. Between these and the many, MANY, 3D printers churning out plastic toys, it could have been Santa’s Grotto.

Middle floor was taken over by the various Hacker/Maker groups which had come from all over the country to show off their Pi/Beagle/Arduino/x86 powered gadgets, which included a MAME cabinet, various Space exploration ideas, a household environmental controller and an Open Source hydroponic / fish-farm controller.

At this point I bumped into 3 shifty looking types with peculiar accents; Les Pounder, Simon Walters and Chris Dell who had also ventured over the border into Greater Manchester to take a look at what was going on. We had a goodly chat with Amy Mather whilst Si played on a rather frustrating 64×64 multi coloured light box game. As the boys were on their way up, and I down, we parted company with Les in search of interviewees and articles (the work of a freelance journo is never done!)…as well as a long cold drink.

Bottom floor was a plethora of crafty stalls showing off everything from crochet to balsa wood walking robots; cue more Arduino/Pi/Beagle discussions and the merits of specific programming languages for specific tasks, versus ‘just do everything in C++’. I retreated to safer ground before soldering irons could be used in anger 🙂


Nostalgia and Skills Gaps

At yesterdays Linux User Group (Blackpool), Mike and I discussed a number of topics which all stemmed from our common entry point into the IT scene back in the 1980’s. We were both brought up on an 8-bit microcomputer made by Acorn called the Atom. It was a precursor to the ubiquitous BBC Micro and shared many of the same features. We built the machine from a kit of parts and a circuit diagram supplied by Acorn and then programmed it in 6502 assembler utilising the operating system calls detailed in the user guide in order to communicate with the screen and keyboard etc.

Due primarily to the simplistic nature of the Atom we understood how the CPU, RAM, ROM and driver circuits all worked; and the peripheral add-ons for printer drivers and expansion buses!

I went on to study Computing Technology at college and then Computer Engineering at University, before spending a little time with IBM, writing BIOS code for the old PS/2 machines.

We noted the current lack of equivalent IT skills in the 1990’s and 2000’s generation of school kids and the knock on effect this has had on College intake for IT technicians, University intake for Computer Scientists and indeed IT Teachers.

We both concluded that there is now a huge skills gap looming in our economy and wondered if the current generation of Raspberry Pi hackers will be enough to keep the country competitive, or if Mike and I will be brought back out of retirement in 2030?

Expert Advice – Pi Panel

I attended the monthly Raspberry Jam in Preston last night to hear many words of wisdom and much good humour from some fine fellows brave (foolish?) Enough to take questions from the gathered masses…


Martin, Ben, Simon and Jason did a fantastic job of introducing ideas, kit and fielding technical questions.

Linux Mint 17 Installed x3

Yes, three machines have been well and truly updated to the XFCE version of Mint 17 this weekend. The broken Dell 1545 has been repurposed as a print server and backup store, while the Asus 1015px netbook has come back into mainstream use with this lightweight desktop alongside the old Dell 1520.


Wireless Wonderland

Logitech’s K400 media keyboard and M570 trackball mouse have converted the Dell 7720 into a media monster, running XBMC to our living room TV, all from the comfort of our sofa. Nice !


…and Linux Mint 17 Cinnamon looks fantastic on the big 17″ laptop too !


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