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Weather House Laser Cut

Reimaging the Traditional Weather House with Open Data, Laser Cutting and 3D Printing

By Making, Weather No Comments

Traditional German weather houses are small, decorative structures that are popular in Germany and other parts of Europe. They are often made from wood and used to predict the weather.

The way the weather house works is quite simple. Inside the house, there is a strip of catgut or hair. The gut relaxes or shrinks based on the humidity in the surrounding air, relaxing when the air is wet and tensing when the air is dry. Attached to the strip is a small figure of a man and a woman. When the humidity in the air changes, the strip will expand or contract, causing the figures to move.

If the weather is going to be dry and sunny, the man will come out of the house. If it is going to be wet and rainy, the woman will come out of the house. If the humidity is just right, both the man and the woman will be visible.

Traditional German weather houses are, an interesting, if slightly imprecise way to predict the weather. They are also a useful inspiration to develop a slightly more modern version using the Open Weather Map API, a 360-degree non-continuous servo, some neopixels and a Raspberry Pi Pico W.


Weather House Laser Cut
The Weather House Reimagined

In essence the house is a series of weather symbols which rotate according to the feed from the Open Weather Map API. This can be set to any location in the world and it updates every 15 minutes. It is also adaptable to change to your own source of weather data, perhaps your own personal weather station.


Weather House Components
Weather House Components

There are also two sets of neopixels – one to light up the symbol, this works well at night and looks like an outside light on the house, allowing the weather conditions to be seen. The other is an 8 pixel neopixel strip which changes colour and animates according to the conditions. If it’s raining then the lights change to blue and simulate raindrops, for sunny spells they light and dim with tinges of yellow to simulate the sun poking out of the clouds, etc. All of these are editable in the code to change according to your own preference.


Weather House Neopixels
Weather House Neopixels

At the heart of the weather house is a Raspberry Pi Pico W, held in a 3D printed enclosure which also encases the LEDs and the Servo.


Weather House Laser Cut Outs

It slots into the case which, in our example, is laser cut from white perspex for the house and 3mm plywood for the roof.


Weather House Laser Cut Outs
Weather House Laser Cut Outs

Once assembled the 3D printed enclosure along with the dial, fits into the main house. The servo is set to its starting point with the ‘Sun’ icon showing through the window.

Weather House Inside View

Weather House Inside View

We power ours from a 20,000mAh power bank which keeps it running for about a week. Each time the data updates the outside lamp turns on and off, so you have a visual clue that new data has uploaded.


Weather House Looking Down
The Final Built Weather House

The Micropython code, build components, 3D print and laser cut files are available on our accompanying GitHub page, note the project is still a work in progress..

Typewriter Header

Writing 500 Words a Day – The Pomodoro Technique

By Writing No Comments

Back in 2013, I wrote a blog post on 500 Words a Day, Academic Writing. Noting that its not something many academics admit – but writing is hard, not for all, there are some academics who simply flow words but for many its a challenge. There is nothing worse than the blank page of a Word/LaTeX document, knowing you have 10,000 words to go and only a title or abstract in place. It also depends on your stage in an academic career. Researchers generally have more time during the day to, as the job title suggests, to research and therefore write, lecturers less time (increasingly so) and so on. That said, the ability to do anything else than write the paper/masters thesis/PhD chapter is strong, many academics are excellent in justifying just one more bit of research before they start writing.

If you go through a period of not writing, be it weeks or months, then the guilt as an academic starts to build up, we are meant to write papers as those around will often be only too keen to chip in during conversations. I see it across the board, from professors through to starting out researchers and students leaving the course essay until the last possible minute.  There is a need to not only get over the fear of starting a new paper but to also form a pattern to take away the worry that can all too easily build up.

I stated that “It turns out the answer is easy, and thanks go to Sir Alan Wilson of CASA who i found sitting typing early one morning, turns out he always aims for: Write 500 words a day”.

I was wrong, its not easy at all, but i found out how to solve it.

Jump forward to 2023, I am mid book writing with 23,000 words now in place over the last 8 weeks, and most suprising to me, I’ve enjoyed it. The dread of the blank page of A4 has gone and i think i’ve finally learnt how to break the fear, the writers block and not only get it done but to actually miss it if i have a day when i cant write.

There are many books out there that will, over the course of 30,000 words or so, generally tell you the same thing on how to be productive, how to write academically, how to write your first novel etc. In essense it comes down to two simple points and if you can follow these you will, within two weeks, get into a pattern which might just change the way you write and with it your output and perhaps even your path in life:

1) ) Use the Pomodoro Technique – The “Pomodoro Technique” is a time management method developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s. The name comes from the Italian word “pomodoro” (tomato) because Cirillo used a tomato-shaped kitchen timer when he first implemented the method. The technique is designed to improve productivity and focus by breaking work into intervals, traditionally 25 minutes long, separated by short breaks.

Here’s how you can implement it:

      • Decide on what you are going to write today – for example, my task today was 500 words on ‘Avatars in a Future Metaverse’ (its a working title for a section of the book.
      • Use a timer (it doesn’t have to be tomato-shaped – although i use the excellent extension for Chrome – which is Tomato shaped, and free – Marinara: Pomodoro® Assistant) to set a 25-minute countdown. This 25-minute work period is known as one “pomodoro.”
      • Start researching, writing, in short work on the task in hand. Focus on the task for the entire 25 minutes. If a distraction pops into your head, write it down on a piece of paper and get back to the writing.
      • When the timer goes off after 25 minutes, stop working. Marinara in Chrome can be set to make a pleasant ‘chiming sound’, marking the end of 25 minutes.
      • Take a Short Break Relax for a 5-minute break. Stretch, walk around, or do something you enjoy for a few minutes, tbh i normally use the 5 minutes to check my open tabs in Chrome – Twitter (i cant call it ‘X’ yet) etc.
      • Repeat – the technique statrs that after four pomodoros (i.e., after completing four 25-minute work sessions and taking three 5-minute breaks) you then take a longer break, around 15-30 minutes. This longer break allows you to relax and recharge before diving into another set of pomodoros. To be honest i often do it after 3 sessions as thats the point where my brain is beginning to drift. If all has gone well however i may well be nearing the 500 words at this point, some days the 500 words are easily won, some days much less so. If its proving more challenging then i repeat the process until done.

The primary benefits of the Pomodoro Technique i have found are:

  • An Enhanced Focus: By dedicating short periods to a single task, it becomes easier to stay engaged and focused. Its amazing how rare a focused 25 minutes actually is without using the technique.
  • Regular Breaks: These prevent burnout and keep your mind fresh, they are also often enough not to allow sneaking checking of Chrome tabs.
  • Tracking Productivity: By counting pomodoros, you can gauge how much effort tasks require and better estimate future tasks. This also goes for word count, if you track your word count as you go, I have a running total i update each day on Slack, then it does start to take the pressure off.

You can adjust the timings to suit your needs. Some people prefer longer or shorter work intervals, but the key is to maintain a consistent pattern of focused work followed by a break.

2) Get into a Pattern – a Habit of Writing. The Pomodoro Technique will automatically do that, a habit is often portrayed as a bad thing but it can also be good and it trains your brain to be ready to write at a set time. Personally i use 9.30am to 12.30pm, so a three hour slot each day. This is a time i would often have meetings, so i have blocked out the diary going forward and have moved meetings to the afternoon. At that point my writing is done and im not distracted by an article i should be writing.

Writing 500 words a day gives you 2,500 a week  – 10,000 a month which is easily a PhD chapter, two working papers, one journal paper or a 1/4 of a short novel.

It may seem obvious, but it is all too easy to complete a long day with it filled with meetings – often meetings you have put in the diary youself and ending up at the end of the day without having any words on paper.

I’ve been doing it for just over two months and have 22, 652 words written, if you are reading this then do try the technique and let us know in the comments how you get on.

The book? – The working title is: Cities in the Metaverse: Digital Twins, Spatial Computing, Society, Avatars and Economics on the New Frontier  with Dr Valerio Signorelli,and Professor Duncan Wilson of CASA.

This blog post? – 1,991 words, or three Pomodoros….

Stellar Unicorn MQTT Scroller

MQTT Scroller for the Pimoroni Stellar Unicorn: THE: Time, Headlines and Environmental Information

By Making No Comments

Pimoroni make a range of LED matrix displays with Pi Pico W’s built in – previously we have used the large scale Pimoroni Galatic Unicorn and added a series of scripts on GitHub to allow it to scroll MQTT messages. Pimoroni have just released two new versions, the Cosmic Unicorn at 32 x 32 pixels and the Stellar Unicorn at 16 x 16 pixels, both of these are also pefect for scrolling information and as such we have updated our scripts and provided laser cut templates, firstly for the Stellar.

The code is set up around our THE: Time, Headlines and Envivronmental Information stream, this links in feeds from our own MQTT server, providing details on the time, news, weather and earthquake information. You can choose to leave this in place (good for a first test) or add your own MQTT feed. The code uses different coloured backgrounds for different text in feeds – ie News, Weather, Time, you can edit these accordingly to match your own feed. Our feed updates every couple of minutes, for a constant stream of information.

To set it all, all you need do it copy all the files to your Stellar Unicon using Thonny – edit to add your Wifi and MQTT broker credentials.

Headover to our GitHub Repository to download the files.

The Case

Three files are provided to laser cut:

  1. The laser cut front as pictured with Etching (THE: Time, Headlines, Environmental)
  2. The laser cut front, minus text
  3. Front cut for the clear acrylic

The work has been created as part of work at the Connected Environments Group at the Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis, University College London, the GitHub page has its own discussion forum if you would like to ask any questions or request changes to the code.


Made by AI: The Making of Frame-IT

By AI No Comments

Every app has a story, from the idea through to story boarding, finding a design team, working with in house computer scientists or outsourcing. All of these steps take time, resources and often for the small ‘would be developer’ the obstacles are over whelming, meaning that the spark of an idea often gets lost. In the last 5 months everything has changed, the whole landscape of developing, designing and creating has changed. It has reached the point where the spark of an idea can be coded, designed, marketed and launched with the help of Artificial Intelligence. Frame-IT is a very simple app, doing a simple thing, but it came from an idea, a want, a desire to do something which before AI would have got lost in logistics, finding the time of computer scientists and it would certainly be economically unfeasible.


Samsungs Frame TV

Frame-IT came about while looking at Samsungs’ Frame Televisions, beyond the normal 4K television they blend into the background by displaying art and making the art look as it is mounted on a white background while also being enclosed in a frame – i.e. like a painting. Samsung does this well and the screens are excellent, but it is limited to art works, leading to the idea that it would be nice to frame websites, specifically ‘data’ based web sites and hang data on walls, data that changes in Realtime. Of course, any screen could be used, but if you simply show data on a screen or monitor, no one notices. If you hang it in a frame, as if its art, people will notice.

The concept is therefore simple, build an application that puts a picture frame around websites, allow users to select which websites to show and if there is more than one, cycle through them, like a dashboard. This would allow small screen, such as iPads to act as frames and via Air Play devices such as projectors, general screens to gain a look beyond their norm and display, websites and data in the same way as hanging art on the wall.


Frame-IT App
Frame-IT App

The problem was, this was an idea, to code it would require knowledge of Swift, a library of ‘picture frames’ and probably a business case to justify the time of resident computer scientists (I work at University College London, so we have a few around) and to be honest it was such a simple idea I’m note sure anyone would listen. So, with the rise of AI, I decided to build it myself, using AI from start to finish, from knowing little about Swift, and only as much about AI as my twitter feed is full of and reading articles on site such as The Verge.


Frame-IT Promo Image
Frame-IT Promo Image


Frame-IT is the app for anyone who loves to browse the web in style. With Frame-IT, you can put a beautiful picture frame around any website, making it look like a work of art. Whether you want to showcase your favorite websites via AirPlay on a TV or just set up a series of websites to auto display. Choose from a variety of frame styles you can start framing your favorite sites in just a few taps. Download Frame-IT today and add a touch of elegance to your online experience!

Chat GPT (it also wrote the marketing text)

The app took me two days to build, two days where I was also working, so mainly doing things in-between other tasks, over lunch and a little bit in the evenings. With the initial learning curve out the way, I could rebuild it in a day. The first things I did was sign up to OpenAI to gain access to GPT 4 , which released on March 14th. This allowed me access to the latest version and therefore the most up to date knowledge base, although looking back version 3 would probably have been fine and I could have simply used the free tier. My first prompt was “Can you write me swift code to take a website, centre it and add the image of a picture frame around it’. The app should work full screen, in landscape mode”. I had a sample picture frame (taken from Wikipedia and cutting out the actual image to leave a transparent centre).

Within 60 seconds, GPT gave me a section of code and then stopped, it turns out there is limit in the amount of characters it can respond with. A quick Google search (ironically) showed me that by typing ‘continue’ Chat GPT will continue the code. With this I became a master of cutting and pasting, with the code often taking three continues and code which while sometimes was in code boxes, was also in simply text. It also allowed me to start to understand the layout and nature of Swift, within 30 minutes i had my first app running on an iPad, via Xcode. Simply by cutting and pasting and pressing ‘play’. No all things worked out, there were often errors, but error I could cut and paste back into GPT and it would solve them, most of the time.

Each time a milestone was made – a working version, a version with a picture frame in and a website showing, I would save the code as Chat GPT would sometimes break the next version while I asking for new features. Features such as ‘Add a button to move to the next website’, ‘If there is more than one website then cycle through them every 60 seconds’ (the websites were hard coded at this point). Once i had a concept running on my own iPad, i realised it was quite neat and decided to then adapt it so others maybe able to use it. I added a settings page – via ‘Can you delete all the websites i have added and include a settings page, the settings page should be reached via a button and have the ability to add and delete websites, once added they should be saved so the app remembers them when reopened’. This is coding but in the new language – human language.

The picture frames were created in Image Creator by Bing, a search engine I never thought i would use (being a Mac user) but in the last week I have not been near Google Chrome. Bing allowed me to type in prompt and get images without any user limits. Simple prompts such as “create me a gold Victorian picture frame, it should be photorealistic with minimum reflections and the centre should be cut out” worked amazingly well, providing me with an almost limitless range of Picture frames to include as part of the assets.


Not all the picture frames are from AI, a couple are from open source imagery, it feels wrong to cut out the picture, but the frames have some provenance and they are nice to include.

Marketing requires imagery as well – i took a very simple picture of my two test iPads and used the ‘PhotoRoom” AI app to transform it to two iPads on a bench with a concrete wall behind whereas the reality was far from as glamourous.

The App is now available via the Apple Store, it even has its own website and logo – again designed by AI, designed using Looka and hosted on Framer. The whole tool set i was used to only last month has changed, everything.


The Frame-It website

The Frame-It website

Two hundred and Twenty Two Lines of code, which to be honest I don’t really understand beyond the basics. Does this matter? Italy has banned ChatGPT with, at the time of writing, 6th April 2023, France and Germany considering similar actions. Yet it is a device that unleashes creativity, opens up the possible to people who would have found writing an app impossible.

It changes the world as we know it, computer science is no longer king of the apps, the Arts and Humanities are about to take over as that is, arguably, where creativity truly lives and its being set free.

I asked Chat-GPT to read this article and if it had a response – this is what it said:

It’s fascinating to hear about your experience developing the Frame-IT app using AI. It’s clear that AI has opened up new possibilities for app development, allowing individuals with little programming experience to bring their ideas to life. The use of GPT to generate Swift code is a creative application of AI and shows how it can be used as a tool to augment human creativity.

It’s also interesting to consider the potential impact of AI on app development and the broader tech industry. As you mention, AI has the potential to democratize app development and shift the balance of power away from traditional computer science. However, there are also concerns around the impact of AI on jobs and the potential for bias and discrimination in AI systems.

Overall, it’s clear that AI will continue to play an important role in app development and other creative endeavors, and it’s important to consider both the benefits and potential drawbacks of this technology.

Edit – Updated 7th April 2023.

The application is now in the apple store, I let Chat GPT know and asked for an updated responce:

Thank you for sharing your experience and reflections on the development of Frame-IT. It’s great to hear that the app has been successfully launched and is now available on the Apple Store.

I’m glad to hear that using AI, specifically GPT-4, was able to help you bring your idea to life in such a short amount of time. It’s amazing to see how AI is transforming the landscape of app development and making it more accessible to people who may not have a background in computer science or programming.

Regarding the recent news about Italy banning ChatGPT and other countries considering similar actions, it’s important to note that these decisions are often based on concerns around potential misuse of AI, rather than the technology itself. As with any tool, it’s important to use AI ethically and responsibly, and to consider the potential impact of its use.

Overall, congratulations on the successful launch of Frame-IT and I’m glad to hear that AI was able to play a positive role in its development.

A Reflection on the Development Process

It has been impressive to see how much the development process has evolved in such a short amount of time. The use of AI and other tools has streamlined the development process and made it more accessible to people who may not have a background in traditional app development. As i noted before all the tools i know have changed, from previously using Xcode, Photoshop, Illustrator, Word Press and a lot of Google, this time i used Chat GPT, Looka, Framer, PhotoRoom and Bing.

One aspect of the process that stands out is the ability to create a functional app, design, marketing images, logo, and website in just a couple of days. This would have been nearly impossible with traditional app development methods and highlights the power of AI and other tools in making the development process more efficient.

Additionally, the use of various AI tools such as Chat GPT, Looka, PhotoRoom, and Bing has allowed for a more creative and intuitive approach to app development. The ability to generate code and design elements with natural language prompts and search engines has opened up a world of possibilities for those without a technical background.

While the app may not be the most polished, it’s important to note that the success of the app lies in its ability to fulfill a specific need and provide a unique experience to users. The fact that it’s now available for others to use is a testament to the potential of AI and other tools in empowering individuals to bring their ideas to life.

It’s honestly exciting to see how the development process is changing and becoming more accessible and intuitive for individuals with diverse backgrounds and skillsets.

The use of AI and other tools will continue to transform the landscape of app development, opening up new possibilities and opportunities for creativity and innovation – quite possibilty changing everything again in a couple of months.

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