Ben North's blog.

Covering various topics, usually of a vaguely nerdy nature.
Contact: ben@redfrontdoor.org

16 December 2014

The value of a second opinion

You feel ill and go to a doctor. She does a test and says 'you have a 70% chance of having the Lurgy'. You go to a different doctor, who does a different test, but also says 'you have a 70% chance of having the Lurgy'. Given these two test results, what are your chances of having the Lurgy?

09 November 2014

Tiny patch to git

A one-character documentation fix for 'git'.

17 July 2014

Failure: playing video from audio cassette

The idea for this project came from a few different places: Curiosity about how cable modems actually transmit ones and zeros along the coax cable. This led to some reading about the various modulation methods used. Code I'd written to read the data on cassette tapes containing files from the Dragon 32 computer of my youth. […]

08 June 2014

A Simon-playing robot

My 7-year-old daughter and I built a robot which plays the memory game 'Simon'. Servos use string to pull 'fingers' made out of Lego, pressing the game's buttons. Phototransistors sense which lights are flashing, with an Arduino controlling everything. It successfully plays a complete game of Simon!

16 May 2014

Free Software collaboration at the National Library of Ireland

RTE recently carried a news piece announcing the release of a large volume of historical digital images by the National Library of Ireland. One detail in the piece caught my eye: it quoted the library's Digitisation Programme Manager Sara Smyth as saying Since 2010, we have overhauled our digitisation workflows and put in place key […]

20 January 2014

An original escapement design?

© Trustees of the British Museum[source page] On a recent visit to the British Museum in London, I was interested to see a very curious escapement mechanism in one of the clocks, a creation of Thomas Tompion in the 1670s. I am certainly no expert on clocks, but I had never seen an escapement where […]

27 November 2013

An oscillator from a jam-jar lid

Fiddling with a jam-jar lid suggested its tamper-evident pop-up button exhibited hysteresis, and so I did some experiments on a blackcurrant jam lid to test this. Adding weight 50g at a time, the lid flexes very slightly, but stays popped up with 800g on top. It pops down when you add 50g to make 850g. […]

22 September 2013

Debugging a Hot Wires circuit

Jude was given an electronics set for her birthday, called Hot Wires. You connect components together with poppers to make circuits, and it's generally very good. One of the experiments is called 'traffic lights', and is supposed to be a circuit where you choose whether a green light or a red light shines, by pressing […]

05 September 2013

A fruitful exchange with the State Examination Commission

While looking through some past and sample papers to help with some volunteer maths tutoring I do, I came across what I was fairly convinced were errors in a question in a sample paper written by the State Examination Commission. What followed was a very positive exchange of correspondence with the examiner, and the end […]

01 July 2013

A Lego escapement (and failed slow-motion)

I recently came across a post on the Makezine blog showing a video of a very pleasing mechanism, the MacDowall single-pin escapement. Zach and I recreated it as best we could, although we didn't go as good a job as the original when it came to a rigid support structure. Nevertheless, our copy worked: [Youtube] […]