Category Archives: Tech Articles

Creating Animated GIFs with GIMP

Whilst creating some lesson slides in Google recently I wanted to add some moving images to the slides. You can see an example of one the slides I am talking about embedded below. It is a session that I delivered with Dan Aldred at the ExaBytes17 conference about using the Raspberry Pi Sense Hat.

By using the Sense Hat Online Emulator over on Trinket, I could model what the program was going to do and then use a screen recording program to capture this back to an mp4 file. On my Windows PC at work I used the Snagit software to record my screen, but at home on my Ubuntu PC I used SimpleScreenRecorder.

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Installing Python Libraries on a School Network

This question keeps coming up on various forums and on Twitter so I thought I would share how we install Python and the extra libraries we use across our school network. A recent discussion on Twitter between Chris Sharples and Laura caught my attention.

Chris was asking Laura for an MSI package version of her fantastic GUI Zero Python library.


So I offered to write up a blog post about how we install extra Python packages across our school network.


Now all school networks differ and, as they say, YMMV! But for what it’s worth here’s how we do it…

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Detecting keyboard input in Python

At our last Hull Raspberry Jam, one of our budding Python coders asked me how she could detect keyboard input in a Python script and perform different actions dependent upon which key was pressed.

We both did a bit of searching around and found a few sample pieces of code, but none of them quite did what we wanted. As we were leaving I said that I would research it a bit more, and if she had not found out how to do it before the next Hull Raspberry Jam, I would have some working code for her to use.

I don’t want to ruin the surprise about what her plan is, but needless to say, it will be a very cool project if she completes what she wants to do, more on that later!

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Embed a Twitter Feed into Moodle

In a recent #NT2tEU Twitter chat someone posed the question about how you link Twitter and Moodle together. There were suggestions about using your Twitter account to post messages about upcoming events and assignments in Moodle, linking back to them with the URL.

The way I tend to use Twitter and Moodle together is the other way round. I let Moodle take care of sending out the emails it needs for notifications, and I use Twitter as a way of pulling interesting feeds of information back into my Moodle courses.

To do this we are going to set up a Twitter Widget and then embed this code into a HTML block on our Moodle course page

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Raspberry Jam Logo

Hull Raspberry Jam – 23rd April 2016

This weekend I was lucky enough to be involved with hosting the second Raspberry Pi Jam event that Hull has seen. Through Twitter, Claire Garside and myself got talking and a tweet of my Raspberry Pi robot I was building one weekend, led to a discussion about re-igniting the Raspberry Jam events in Hull.

Thanks must go to Claire and the Leeds Raspberry Jam team for the loan of all the equipment which allowed our event to go ahead. Thanks also must go to Malet Lambert and Stephen Logan for allowing us to use their space.

The event kicked off with an introduction to the Raspberry Pi and allowed people to get hands on setting up their Pi and getting everything running. They then had a chance to hack a Scratch game and try to improve it.

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Hello Minecraft World!

Minecraft screen shots with your Raspberry Pi

We are just about to begin teaching our Python and Minecraft unit at school so I began testing everything out on our latest Raspberry Pi image to make sure we were ready for the lessons and adjust any of the lesson plans if necessary.

Our latest Raspberry Pi image runs Jessie. Now one of the improvements Jessie brings us is that the Print Screen button on your keyboard has been set up to run Scrot in the background to save a png screen shot into your home directory. You can read more about it here.

Now that is great as for quite some time taking a screen shot on your Raspberry Pi involved installing Scrot and then running it from the terminal; not the most user-friendly way to get students to take screen shots!

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iSAMS to Moodle Sync – One Year On

So we have been running my iSAMS to Moodle sync for over a  year now at my school and I thought it was probably time to write an update about how it has gone and what changes I have had to make to the system.

This July we had our first academic roll-over with the system in place and this highlighted a few things which need adjusting.

I had been thinking about the best way we could set courses up within Moodle using the iSAMS sync for some time and decided that the best way to continue was to allow the iSAMS sync courses to operate purely as enrolment courses and to be connected to the “live” Moodle courses using the “Course Meta Link” functionality of Moodle.

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Getting your Raspberry Pi to update through your school firewall

I have seen many posts on both Twitter and CAS about teachers having issues getting their class Raspberry Pis to update and install software through their school firewalls, so I thought I would share the simple solution that I have implemented at my school.

It actually leverages something that I put in place for our Ubuntu Linux servers, but works just as well for Raspberry Pi devices too.

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Updating our Raspberry Pi Image

We have just purchased a set of Raspberry Pi 2 boards to upgrade our Raspberry Pi B+ / HDMIPI set-up which we have been using for Computer Science this year. I will not go into the reasons why or the specifications of the Raspberry Pi 2; but needless to say the performance increase seen will make teaching with these devices much easier!

So we received our new Pi 2 boards and got straight into removing the old B+ boards from our HDMIPI set-up and installing the new Pi 2 boards. Pretty soon I ran into an issue though; having replaced the Pi board and using one of our SD Cards with our current image installed on it, the system would not boot; it just sat there at the rainbow boot screen. It turns out that the Pi 2 has an updated ARM processor and therefore needs the latest updates installing for the Pi to boot.  Now I could have just downloaded the latest Rasbian image and been up and running, but we have quite a few customisations to our image which I wanted to keep

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Ubuntu, RAID and SMART


We have a number of our physical Linux servers set up to use Linux MD RAID to provide either RAID 1 or 5 fault tolerance on our disks. This is all great so long as it is working as expected! I came into work to find that after a reboot from a kernel update one of our servers could not bring up its swap drive. The swap partition was a RAID 1 array made up from two mirrored disks.

I began to look at mdadm to find out what was wrong. Running:

# cat /proc/mdstat

revealed that one of the drives had failed putting both arrays into degraded mode and to make matters worse the only remaining good disk had now developed errors in the partition used for swap! Thankfully the second array / partition which contained the system files was still on-line, albeit in a degraded state.

So the first thing to do was to get a new disk into the array and synchronise the data onto it. After that I needed to remove the other original disk and replace that too. Once all that was done and the data re-synchronised onto both new disks I wanted to look at how we can increase our monitoring of disks so that we don’t get in this situation again!

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