Tag Archives: computers

The Onward March of Progress

How Two Generations Have Changed The World

My grandparents lived in back-to-back housing, with outside toilets, and no hot water.

The height of technology available to them was the Wireless. No, not “Wifi Internet Connection“. Radio. The BBC News Broadcast.

When one says “Almost 100 years ago …”, it is easy to think “oh, back in the Olden Days“, but my grandparents, that I knew and loved, lived through that.Image result for 1920s housing derby terraces

Although Electricity Suppliers were available, they were expensive and diverse, and it was not until 1935 the the National Grid was created, and it was unreliable until the ’60s. Houses were lit by gas, or candles, and most household tasks, such as laundry and cleaning were done by hand. There were no Automatic Washing Machines, or Dishwashers, or even Vacuum Cleaners.

Penicillin was not invented until 1928, and took years to be available to the general public. “The Youth of Today” do not realise what a Big Thing this is. Infections that we now think of as minor were considered Killers. My own father spent time as a child in an Isolation Hospital with Scarlet Fever.

So, your web-page is taking an extra 5 seconds to load? Cry me a river!

Managing Expectations

Everyone sees the world through their own experiences.

A public Telephone Box

My dad regales anyone who will listen with his tale of my nephew (his grandson. Now in his early 20s) asking what my dad’s first mobile phone was like, when he was a kid … cue “When I were a lad ...” Pythonesque rant. He had to walk down the street to a public telephone box. (For our younger readers, this is a Land Line, shared with everyone, situated at the Village Green. You  had to pre-pay shilling coins. People did not have their own land-line! ) But I digress. This is “New-Fangled Gadgets”

While I bemoaned my parents’ frugality (read: stinginess) regarding a VHS recorder, today’s hard-done-by children are rationed Mobile Phone credit and have curfews on their games consoles.

The youth of today have grown up with microprocessor technology. My niece had a mobile phone in her cot on Day One (playing soothing womb-sounds). Why would she not think everyone did?

Even those of us who remember dial-up internet (and its interminable screeching) now get frustrated at a 5-second delay on web-pages loading, or ‘buffering’ on our Netflix movies.

Time moves ever on, and we judge our relative position against those around us, not those who came before.

Next Generation

While my grandparents would be astounded at the technological accomplishments that we have made, and the ready availability of such, my generation will likely be just as amazed at what the next advancements will be.

Image from www.fanpop.com

A 1950s television.

From the 4″-9″ TV sets used to view the coronation of King George in 1937 to the 49″+ sets now used to watch ‘celebrities’ eating bugs, we have come a long way. Where next? There is talk of home projectors, or even Active Wallpaper, able to turn an entire wall of your living-room into a video display.

Our current Super-Fast broadband will be the poor-man’s speed of the 2020s. But what will this mean? Comparing to previous technology, we struggled to stream video, yet now it is expected, and even my parents have upgraded so that they can both be watching different programs (What? TWO computers? Are these people Aristocrats, or Merchant-Princes? Actually, they also have a laptop AND an iPad!) without buffering. They also both have mobile phones, which, in my opinion, are the major step forwards, and where the advancements will come.

On The Move

Imagine, if you can, dear reader, a time when all of the peoples of the world will carry a device that links them to every other person on the planet. At the touch of a button, they can call forth any piece of information from the Global Databases, read any book ever written, watch any movie ever made, or listen to any music ever recorded. The latest news from even the furthest reaches of the world are broadcast immediately to all of these devices. All of the Academic courses, History, Geography, Mathematics, Philosophy, the Arts, are there in your hand, and even Teachers available to discuss with.

That time, my friends, is upon us!

Related image

Alcatel Pixi 3. £20. All the phone you need.

Even my dad’s most basic of mobile ‘phone’s is capable of full internet access, and although its on-board processor is limited, it can off-load much of the work to online servers, storing photos and documents in The Cloud, utilising the network of “4G” Mobile Masts around the country.

The communicators, and even ‘tri-corders’ that Captain Kirk relied upon so much pale besides our “Phones”.

I have friends who no longer even use a Home Computer, their phones and tablets providing all of the functionality they need to survive a Modern Lifestyle, and the next generation will consider our desktop PCs quite quaint!

There may  be black-spots, and no-signal zones, but these are disappearing fast. Optical Fibre connections are being rolled out to even the most remote locations. Soon there will be no place without constant, reliable connection to the Global Village!

When the youngest of our families become grandparents, what marvels will the new generation be privy to?

Epilogue

It is my opinion that:

  1. The Internet, mobile phones, etc are a natural progression from Marconi’s initial radio experiments, and Shokley et al‘s transistors.
  2. We are still in the early days. Compare to other technologies in our homes: TV is nearly 100 years old. Radio even older. Electric lighting 150 years. We have a long way to go before Instant Global Communication is considered a mature technology, and it’s social effects (little touched upon here) are fully felt.

 

SketchUp Three: Building a House

In my previous two posts (One, Two), we learnt some basic techniques for creating models in SketchUp. Now, I am going to jump directly to using these, and other, techniques to build a detailed Scene.

Don’t worry if you struggle to follow this on the first time through! You can always start over, and slowly build up bit-by-bit!

Design Stage

Firstly, it is a good idea to have a plan in mind! Sure, we could just throw a Scene together, adjusting things as we go along, but I prefer to be building towards a Goal! With this in mind, we need a Plan! Searching Google for “royalty-free house floor plans” led me to http://anyaflow.com, where I downloaded this image:

Floor Plan

You may download it directly from me by clicking to show the full Image, and then Saving to your Downloads folder.

Now we can open SketchUp, and start to build!

Start at the bottom

Base

Base

First, we need a surface to work on. Draw out a Rectangle, and size it to be a little bigger than the House will be. (In my example, we can see that the house will be 44’11” wide and 38’7″ long, so I will  make my Base 50’x40′. Remember that we can get exact dimensions by typing them!). I like to give the base some Thickness, so use the Push/Pull tool to bring it up by 1′.

Outline

Now we can start to build the outer walls.

New Tool: Tape Measure. Draw guide lines 1′ from the Right and Top edges.

Offset Tool

Offset Tool

Using these guides, and the Snap Effect, we can draw some of the outer walls. Draw a Line from the intersection of the Guides, about 40′ across the top, and 30′ down the side. Then Select these two lines (Tip: Select one, hold CTRL and Select the other). You can now use the Offset Tool to drag a 1′ ‘copy’ of the Wall. You should have something looking like this:

The Walls So Far!

The Walls So Far!

Now, using the measurements supplied (or worked-out/guessed-at!), we can fill in the rest of the walls.

I used a combination of Drawing straight lines and Rectangles, using Snap Effects, typing Measurements, and Guide Lines (from the Tape Measure tool) to produce this:

Draft Floorplan

Draft Floorplan

Cleaning Up

Now we can get rid of the Guides, and extraneous lines. The Guides are easy. Edit Menu -> Delete Guides! Trickier is erasing all of the extra lines, without clearing lines we want to keep!

Using the Eraser tool, trim the lines back, and also delete the lines “inside the walls:

Erase these bits!

Erase these bits!

We need to check that all of the Lines are connected. Select the Push/Pull tool, and hover over one of the walls. You should see that the entire wall section, and nothing else, is the familiar Spotty Blue. If this is not the case, draw over some of the lines, to make sure they are correctly aligned. You should have something like this:

Ready to Build Walls!

Now use the Push/Pull to raise the walls to exactly 8′ high.

Walls

Walls

Here is your basic building!

in Section 3a, we will move on to detailing it to actually look like a house. Doors, Windows and textures! We WILL be seeing our old friend the PushMe/PullYou again, and I will also be introducing the Sketchup Warehouse!
Until next time!

Part Three, Section 2

SketchUp Two. Copying, Scaling and Detailing.

In my previous post (SketchUp – A Beginner’s Guide), I introduced some basic concepts of the 3D modelling software. How to make and move basic objects.

Now we move on to slightly more advanced (don’t worry, not very advanced! We’re taking baby-steps here!) techniques.

Copying

Once you have an object, it is a simple matter to duplicate it. Actually,. it is several simple matters, depending upon your preference.

Select your object. You may notice that only part of the object is selected! We need to cover this first!

Selecting Objects

The Select Tool - Top Right of screen

The Select Tool – Top Right of screen

Using the Select Tool, you can select a single line or face. Or you can drag a box around an area, selecting everything withing this box. WARNING: This may accidentally select hidden sections! To avoid this, we can try several options:

First, extra-clicks. A single click will select a single item, such as a Face or a Line. Double-Clicking will select a Face and surrounding Lines. A Treble-Click will select ALL connected items! This is very useful fro a free-standing object, but care must be taken when you  have interconnected objects!

A way to avoid interconnected objects is, as mentioned before, to make your objects into Components. This will stop them from interacting with other objects, and make them easier to select individually.

A third way is to drag a box around your object, but this has the danger of selecting unseen items, such as the rear faces and lines.

I recommend Components.

Back to Copying

Cut Copy Paste

Cut Copy Paste

Now we have selected an Object, we can use controls that are very familiar to some people, as they are the standard Windows Copy/Paste functions. On the Edit Menu, choose Copy. Simple as that. This stores a copy of the object in the computer’s “buffer”, ready to insert into the scene. To do this insert, back to the Edit Menu, and choose Paste. (For those unfamiliar with the terms “Cut”, “Copy” and “Paste”, they refer back to when work was done on pieces of paper, and literally Cut with scissors or a knife, and then stuck into place with a glue or paste.)

The more eagle-eyed of you will have noticed the Control Keys noted at the side of the Menu Functions. These are keyboard shortcuts that you can press, instead of moving the mouse to the Menu, clicking on the Menu, moving the mouse to the correct option and clicking on that option! E.g. instead of choosing Copy from the menu, you can hold the CTRL key, and press the “C” key.

Now we have a copy in the buffer, either use the Edit Menu -> Paste, or press CTRL-V to Paste the Item into the scene. To begin, it will be “floating”, and you can move it to the required position, before clicking to actually place it.

Scaling

The Scale Tool

The Scale Tool

You may create an object, and then want to make it a different size, or have a copy of an object as a different size. This requires the Scale Tool. Select the object you wish to Scale, and then click the Scale Tool. You will see lots of yellow “handles” appear over the object. These can be use to drag/stretch the object.

Scaling Handles

Scaling Handles

Some handles will only stretch in certain directions, while the corners will stretch all dimensions. Try some, and see how it works!

As with other functions, the Dimensions box in the very lower right of the screen will keep a track of how much you are scaling the object. And, as an added extra, you can type a Dimension to set it exactly! Start pulling a handle, and then type 2 <Enter>, and your object will be Twice the size! type 0.5 and it will be half as big as it started! Useful for when exact ratios are required. And an extra bonus feature, you can scale it to an exact distance! Try stretching and then typing 6″<enter>  or 3m<enter>. You should see the object become the size you indicate!

Detailing

It is quite rare that all you will want in a scene is a plain cube, or even several cubes of different sizes. So we need Details. There are so many different ways we can alter an object that I can only discuss a few in this article.

We shall start with the

Push/Pull Tool

Push/Pull Tool

Push/Pull Tool

A very useful feature, this allows you to move a face, or part of.

To Push/Pull a complete face, simply select the Tool, and hover over the Face you wish to move. You should see the familiar blue spots, showing the selected face. Holding the left mouse button down, you can Push/Pull the face. Notice how the Snap Effect can be used to line up the face with other Objects in the scene.

Push/Pull Examples

Push/Pull Examples

To move just part of a face, you must section it off using the Pencil tool. Draw a line splitting the face, and then proceed as before.

The examples (right) show (l-r) a cube with the whole face pushed back, one with a line splitting the front face in half, and the right pushed back, and one with a design Drawn on, and then Pulled forwards!

NOTE: If you are working on a Component, you must first double-click the component to make sure you are working within it, rather than on the main scene. Also, be aware that alterations made to One component will affect all copies of that component!

This tool can be used to create many effects, including removing a section from an object by Pushing it until it is level with the opposing face (Snap Effect!).

We’ll leave it there for today.

Practice with these tools, and experiment with creating your own Objects.

Let me know how you get on, and the best examples I receive might get featured in my next post!

Happy SketchUping!

Part Three

Sketchup – A Beginner’s Guide

Sketchup 3D design software from Trimble (previously from Google) is a very simple, yet powerful, program. Starting from basic shapes, you can build up to elaborate designs, ranging from small engineering components to vibrant cityscapes.

A lot of people are put off from using 3D design packages as they see them as complicated and fiddly, but with Sketchup, this is not true at all!

Here I would like to look at some of the most basic features, and how they can be used to create advanced designs.

I will be walking you through features, so it will help to have Sketchup running, and switch between it and this page (You know how to use ALT-TAB, yes?)

To Begin

The Opening Screen

The Opening Screen

Obviously you will need to download, install and open the program. It is available here:  https://www.sketchup.com/

Once you  have it up and running, you should see the Main Screen, with tools all around. We shall be learning what some of these tools are for.

First, though, some basic controls. I would advise trying these now, to gain some familiarity

  • The Mouse Wheel controls zooming in and out. It will focus on where the mouse pointer is, so scrolling out, and then back in can be a useful way of moving around the scene.
  • The Mouse Wheel also controls the angle you are looking from. Holding it down, and moving the mouse will rotate the camera.
  • Left-Clicking will select an Object. You can tell it is selected by the Blue border it gains. You can also do this by dragging a Selection Box around an object, but this will select EVERYTHING it contains, so use caution!

Adding Objects

The Square Tool

The Square Tool

Your scene is currently quite bare, so let’s add some features! Strangely, for a 3D program, we do not add 3D shapes. We draw 2d shapes, and extrude them. This is easier than it sounds!

Begin by selecting the Square tool, from either the Top or Left Menu. Your Mouse Pointer will change to reflect the current tool (as always). Click where you would like to begin, and move the Pointer around. You will see the Shape begin to form. If you move around enough, you may notice the useful Snap effect. Sketchup tries to guess if you wanted to line up with something, and “snaps” to be level with it. We will not use this now, but be aware of it as you go forwards.

Snap Effect in action

Snap Effect in action

In the bottom right-hand corner, you will notice the “Dimensions” area. This shows the dimensions of the Object you are creating. It also allows you to directly enter the Dimensions you would like. Try making a square 10 feet by 10 feet. Watch the Dimensions area, and do not worry about being exact. Once you have clicked to place the square, ,type “10, 10” (without quotes), and hit Return. You will notice that the square becomes exactly 10 inches by 10 inches! You must put a ‘ (apostrophe) after the number, to signify Feet! Try again! (Pro-Tip: CTRL-Z will undo your last action(s))

You can now test some of the Selection methods. Choose the Select Tool (an Arrow, like a normal Mouse Pointer), and try clicking an edge, or the face. Try double-clicking.

The Third Dimension

Cube

A Cube! (Sort of!)

You have a square, but we want a 3D object! So, select the Push/Pull Tool, and move over your Square. You should notice the face become ‘spotty’, to show that it is selected. Click on the face, and move the pointer. The face will “extrude” to form a solid. Again, note the Dimensions area. You can try to get the right height for your box, or click in approximately the right area, and then type the distance you actually wanted!

Groups and Components

Before we go further, I can’t stress enough about using Groups and Components! USE THEM! Select a complete object by treble-clicking on it with the Select Tool. This Selects all connected edges and faces. Then press “G” (for “Group”). This locks the object, allows it to be manipulated independently of the rest of the scene, and moved as one piece.

It also allows you to replicate objects without having to recreate them, using less memory and being able to edit them all at once!

If you move normal pieces together, they will connect. This is good if you want them to, but you cannot un-connect them without a lot of work. Groups or Components that touch will “Snap” together, but you can move them apart easily! They are effectively their own “mini-scenes”.

NOTE: To edit an object once it has been made a Component, you need to double-click it to “enter” the component. Or “Explode it, making ti a non-Component again.

Moving Objects and Components

The Move Tool

The Move Tool

I get a lot of use out of the Push/Pull tool, so watch closely!

Adding pieces is easy enough, especially using the “Snap” effect. Make two cubes of different sizes. Make them into Components. Click on the “Move” tool. Hovering over an object will outline it in blue to show it is selected. You can “grab” any part of it and drag it around. The Snap effect will try to guess if you are moving it along an axis, or you can hold the cursor keys to force it to lock the movement to an axis, if for example, you only want to raise the object without affecting its horizontal position.

If you “grab” an edge, or corner, you can take advantage of the Snap, and line it up with another object. Try this with your two cubes. Put the smaller cube on top of the larger. Rotate the View to make sure they are in the right place, with no gaps.

Summary

Two "cubes"

Two “cubes”

You should now be able to create and move blocks in your scene. The best idea now is to practice this, creating blocks of specific sizes, placing them together in specific ways.

Do not forget to save your work!

Have a go at this, and let me know how you get on!

The next part will deal with some other basic techniques. If you have any features you wish to know about, feel free to let me know!

Part Two

More Redesigns

To try to keep a coherent feel cross the Mad Dwarf brand, I have begun rebuilding the PC Wizard website.

Taking the main Mad Dwarf site as a template (as I have with Crystal Wizard and TechNo Prisoners), I have kept the blue and white of the original PC Wizard, giving a level of continuity.

PC Wizard

PC Wizard redesign

I still have a few details to iron out, but it has been a reasonably easy job, copying text from the existing site into the new template, and tweaking to account for the design differences.

It will soon go live, at which point there will be an announcement, and possibly a Grand Re-Opening!  Watch This Space!

Another New Redesign (Again!)

As you may have noticed, the main site, thecrystalwizard.co.uk, has undergone a redesign.

This is part of the recent re-acquisition of our Mother Site, maddwarf.co.uk. Mad Dwarf Productions (MDP) was the original “umbrella organisation” for all of my projects, but due to circumstances beyond my control, the website fell into disrepair. My recent projects sprang up without the guiding light of MDP to keep them coherent, and the designs all went in their own directions.

Now that MDP is back, I am slowly bringing all of the wayward children back into the fold. TechnoPrisoners was designed alongside MDP, and actually sits as sub-site, befitting its station as the first incarnation of MDP-Online. Crystal Wizard has now been brought in line, and the other sites will soon follow.

While I do not profess to be a Master Web-Designer, I have put no small effort into both the technical and aesthetic sides of this design, and I hope it works for you!

The colour schemes have been colour-matched, using a different scheme for each site, to represent their unique flavours, while relying on a common template. The base concept of using labelled Image Links aims to make the site both visually attractive and easy to use, giving quick recognition to each area. Rounded corners softens the look, giving a slightly more informal feel.

Behind the scenes, files have been tidied, renamed and optimised, stripping away unused clutter. The code for the pages has been almost entirely rewritten, incorporating labelled areas (DIV and SECTION tags), and many design elements moved to separate Style Sheets, for ease of maintenance.

I have tried to follow Best Practices for accessibility, incorporating ALT tags to describe images, and making the pages compatible with screen-reading technology for text-to-speech systems.

The Dark Art of SEO (Search-Engine Optimisation) has featured, but as this Alchemy involves tainting ones soul with the ever-vain search for Impressions, Clicks and Likes, I have kept it to the minimum required.

Analytics are run through Google’s offerings, tracking page hits, entry and exit pages, user flow and interactions. This anonymised data is useful for gauging interest, and locating faults, and can be used to suggest area that can use more attention.

Instead of creating a separate Style for mobile devices, the base theme has been written to automatically adjust, allowing the device to display content appropriately. An important design consideration, as people have a wide range of technologies to view the Web on, with a variety of screen-sizes available.

I hope this will lead to a comfortable, coherent experience for my readers, and welcome any feedback regarding the new design!

The Dark Art of Java Programming

To add another string to my bow, I have decided to learn how to write apps for the Android operating system (For those not in the know, there are basically 3 types of smart-phone/tablet: 1) Windows Phone/Tablet (Microsoft), 2) iPhone/iPad (Apple) and 3) Android (made by Google). if your smart-phone is not an iPhone, and is not Windows, it is almost certainly running Android).

Android

Android

The base code for writing programs for Android is called Java. You may have seen Java Updates in the corner of your PC screen. It is a well established computer language, and is used in all manner of ways on web-pages. You may also have seen this chirpy fellow on phones, apps, and elsewhere. He is the mascot/logo for Android. Wherever you see him, you know that you are looking at something for the Android system.

So, back to writing apps. I learnt some basic programming a long time ago, in a language known, appropriately, as BASIC. While it still exists, BASIC is not used very much any more, as languages have evolved, and new, better ways of writing code have been developed alongside new technologies.

Java was originally called Oak, and was developed for Interactive televisions in the early 1990s, but was far ahead of its time. It was renamed in honour of the large amounts of coffee drunk by the development team, and published by Sun Microsystems in 1995. Quickly included into most Web Browsers, Java Applets (small sections of Java code) became very popular for adding interactive features to web pages.
But enough of its history. What of its future? In particular, its future in my hands!

First, I needed a goal. What was my App going to do? I decided upon a Character Reference Sheet for D&D.* To play the game, each player needs to keep track of their Character’s capabilities and skills. Each Character has a Profession, which gives them access to unique abilities (such as a Wizard’s ability to learn Arcane Spells, or a Warrior’s rapidly advancing combat capability). Add in their Power Levels, Hit Points (how many times they can be ‘hit’ in combat before succumbing to their injuries), and several other things that need recording, and it seemed like a reasonable task, that could be built up piece by piece.

Character Sheet App

Character Sheet App

So, I’ve been reading through tutorials, looking over examples, and typing up my own code. After what seems like months of tracking down error messages, figuring why what looks to be correct code produces garbled output (or no output at all!), and generally hammering my head on my keyboard for hours on end, I have produced a simple program that records and displays some of the more important facts and figures needed. I have learnt a lot along the way, including many ways NOT to do things, and as the app grows, I find myself having to rewrite it from scratch, trying to reuse as much code as possible under new structures, as the old code becomes tangled and unwieldy.

I did have a chat over a beer with a friend who knows a lot more about this that I do, and he has pointed me in the right direction in several parts of the program. Hopefully, the next version will be tidy, efficient, and cover most of what is required!

If anyone is interested in a copy of the App, they can contact me at the usual email address: support@thecrystalwizard.co.uk

(Disclaimer: All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. Photos and names blagged unceremoniously from one of the tutorials I found very helpful: )

*Dungeons and Dragons, a tabletop Role Playing game where players take on the roles of Warriors and Wizards to do battle against Evil foes such as Goblins, Orcs and Dragons.

The Mother(board) of all Art!

I’ve had my P.C. Wizard hat on most of today, up to my elbows in dismantled computers.

ATX Backplate

ATX Backplate

In between cursing the components for their lack of cooperation and scraping my knuckles on solder-spikes, I took a little time to examine the Art to be found inside a computer case.

I quite like the connector-plate, with its regular rows of plugs and sockets, with their tiny numbers and colour-coded pattern. These plates have changed many times over the years, while keeping within certain form-factor limits, but have always had a certain charm.

Row of Capacitors

Row of Capacitors

This set of capacitors, regulating voltages around the circuit board, sit in a neat row, but their regularity is offset by the cross-cuts twisting at different angles. An artefact of the manufacturing process, this adds an organic twist to an otherwise sterile, mechanical scene.

PCB Tracks

PCB Tracks

The tracks leading between components have to be precisely laid out, never touching, and never crossing. Acute corners are avoided, keeping to 45′ wherever possible, as the tracks wind their way across the board.
Probably my favourite view of a motherboard, this close-up shows the emergent patterns that form from computer-generated layouts, defined by the locations of components and the connections that must be made.

I hope you enjoy these as much as I do.
Have you noticed any emergent art, in technology or elsewhere? What is your favourite gadget, when viewed close-up?
Or does the whole idea of looking closer at Technology repel you?