It's Sean!

UK freelance journalist, author
and writer Sean McManus

Printed from www.sean.co.uk. © Sean McManus.
You are here: Home > Blog Home > Sean McManus's Writing blog

Sean's Tech and Writing Blog

Cool Scratch Projects gets a cool 5* review!

04 February 2018


My book Cool Scratch Projects In Easy Steps has received a fantastic 5* review in the latest issue of The MagPi magazine!

The reviewer writes: “Here’s a book that lives up to its title -- these are some cool scratch projects... If you got a Pi and a book for Christmas, this will make a great follow-on. Recommended.”

The reviewer loved that some of the games are programmed in 3D, and that each book comes with its own pair of 3D glasses and has an easy first project so you can get stuck in straight away.

You can read the review for yourself below and in issue 66 of The MagPi, available to download for free from The MagPi website. Alternatively, why not support the Raspberry Pi Foundation by subscribing to the print edition, or picking a copy up from your local newsagent or bookstore?

Review from The MagPi of Cool Scratch Projects in Easy Steps

Cool Scratch Projects in Easy Steps is out now. Find out more and download a free PDF sampler here, which includes the Magic Mirror project mentioned in the review. You can also watch a video previewing all the projects below.

Many thanks to The MagPi for the review!

Bookmark and Share
Permanent link for this post.

0 comments

Brighton Science Festival: Join a Coder Academy this February

29 January 2018


Book cover: Coder Academy I’ve been invited to the Brighton Science Festival on Monday 12 February, where I’ll be hosting a number of Coder Academy workshops. They are practical coding sessions for 7-10 year olds, tying in with my latest book (also called Coder Academy) which is published by Brighton-based publisher Ivy Kids.

You don’t need any previous experience of coding, just an interest and desire to know more. We’ll be learning snippets of the Scratch programming language and using them to experiment with digital art. The ticket includes a copy of the Coder Academy book, and I’ll be very happy to sign copies on the day!

Interested in coming along? Places are limited so register as soon as you can. And why not set yourself up with an account on the Scratch website before you come? It means you’ll be able to save your projects to share or work on later.

You can see the full programme for Brighton Science Festival here (10-18 February 2018, Brighton, various venues). Thank you to the organisers and the team at Ivy Kids for making this happen. I'm looking forward to seeing what the participants create!

Bookmark and Share
Permanent link for this post.

0 comments

Discover how to use a Raspberry Pi to make new sounds for the Yamaha DX7 synthesizer

10 January 2018


The current issue of The MagPi includes a feature I wrote about Midimutant, a Raspberry Pi project for programming the Yamaha DX7 synthesizer. The DX7 was popular in the 80s, but was hard to create new sounds (or patches) for. Richard James, who records as Aphex Twin among other aliases, suggested that there must be a more interesting way to program an FM synthesizer and his friend Dave Griffiths took up the challenge. Using a Yamaha TX7 (which is like the DX7 but without a keyboard), he made a Raspberry Pi project that randomly generates sounds and then mutates them until they come close to a particular target sound.

picture of the 2-page spread in The MagPi

The project is broadly applicable, because it doesn't need to understand how the synth works: it just needs to be able to create random data for it to play back, and then listens to the result.

"It's actually most interesting when it doesn't quite work," says Dave. "Discovering that some cymbals were all evolving to silence as the background hiss from the TX7's 12 bit processor was considered a close enough match, was an 'aha' moment - these types of evolutionary algorithm have a tendency to surprise you like that."

Richard says he will be using the results on his tracks whenever possible, so you might well hear Midimutant's results before too long.

To find out more, check out issue 65 of The MagPi. It's in shops now, and it's available for free download too. While you're there, you can also pick up MagPi issue 64, which includes my report on Pycon.

(If you're interested in the Raspberry Pi, check out the new, updated third edition of Raspberry Pi For Dummies here too.)

Bookmark and Share
Permanent link for this post.

2 comments

Video: The St Ives Lifeboat coming in

08 January 2018


We were in St Ives over the holiday period and had a chance to see the St Ives Lifeboat, RNLB Nora Stachura (RNLI 13-11) on exercises at sea, and coming in to land.

I had my pocket camera on me, and took the opportunity to take some photos and record some video clips, which I have edited together into the short film shown below. I was a bit late realising I could make a video of this, so there's one sequence of the boat and the tractor joining which I would ideally have captured on video, but I have bridged that using a series of photos. I found that some of the clips required a cross-fade because their composition was too similar and it jarred when I just cut between them. The whole process took about an hour, but I've edited this film down to about three minutes.

This was an enjoyable exercise in photography and film editing, and I hope captures the spirit of the experience. It was wonderful to see the lifeboat and its dedicated crew at work.


Bookmark and Share
Permanent link for this post.

0 comments

Adding gesture control to the Raspberry Pi with Flick

27 November 2017


Flick, from Pi Supply, is a series of add-ons for the Raspberry Pi that you can use to detect taps, touches and finger movements. There are three devices in the series:

The Flick HAT for Raspberry Pi Zero, shown mounted on the Pi Zero

The board can be used to detect touches, taps and double taps. The ability to detect taps in five positions (north, south, east, west, centre) means it can be used as a simple five-button interface. It can also detect airwheel gestures (spinning your finger above the board) and the finger position above the board, including height. In my experience, the device can detect heights of up to about 7cm or 8cm above the board. Height detection still works through the case (there's a set of cases available to compliment the device), although the contact gestures (tap and touch) don't work when the device is in the case.

The Flick can also be used to detect flick gestures (hence the name!), swiping across the board from top to bottom or left to right (or in the other directions). This seems to work at a slightly lower height than the maximum height for finger position detection, based on my setup.

There are lots of potential applications for the Flick. The swiping gesture lends itself well to scrolling through options, and the airwheel could be used as a control for volume or similar parameters. The Pi Zero form factor could be used to make a remote control for a robot or other device. The first thing anyone thinks of is probably a theremin, but that remains a cool project and the Flick could be a nice way to add one discreetly to an existing object. Robot projects could use Flick to add the ability to detect touch. One of the endearing things about the commercial Pepper robot is that it responds when you stroke its head, and that kind of feature could be easily implemented using the Flick.

The most promising format is the Flick Large, because it could give you greater freedom for expressive movements, and so open up new creative possibilities. There's lots of potential in creating robot control panels by putting a decorated sheet of paper in front of the Flick Large, indicating where the virtual controls are for tapping or hovering over. If it works through your desk, the Flick Large could be used to add an invisible touch interface to your furniture. Pi Supply has thought of this and designed a case that enables it to be mounted under the desk in this way.

A Python API is in development, and this will be a big help. The flick-demo program is good for testing the Flick and provides some hackable code, but a few "hello world" examples and a documented API would make it more accessible and easier to build into projects. Here's my "hello world" program for position detection, based on stripping down the flick-demo program:

#!/usr/bin/env python

import flicklib
import time
import os

x_pos, y_pos, z_pos = 0, 0, 0

@flicklib.move()
def move(x, y, z):
     global x_pos, y_pos, z_pos
     x_pos = x
     y_pos = y
     z_pos = z

while True:
     os.system('clear')
     print("X:", x_pos)
     print("Y:", y_pos)
     print("Z:", z_pos)
     time.sleep(0.25)

If you're looking to add gesture controls to your projects, or are interested in innovative new interfaces, Flick can be a great addition to your Raspberry Pi. Find out more about the Flick family at the Pi Supply website here. Thanks to Aaron, Francesco and John at Pi Supply for their help with this review.

Bookmark and Share
Permanent link for this post.

0 comments

How to Code shortlisted for Educational Writers' award

15 November 2017


Book cover: How to CodeI am delighted to say that my book Super Skills: How to Code has been shortlisted for the ALCS 2017 Educational Writers’ Award. The book was illustrated by Venitia Dean and published by QED Publishing/Quarto.

Each chapter covers a different super skill in coding, using Scratch to make interactive programs and HTML for website design. The book includes one of my favourite Scratch games of those I've created, a platform game called Treetop Catnap.

The judges said: "Providing a lively way into an exciting new subject for all age groups, this book approaches complex ideas with both humour, and beautiful clarity. Full of handy tips and easy-to-understand instructions, it succeeds in making coding a fun activity for both boys and girls."

The other shortlisted entries are:

The winner will be announced at the All Party Writers Group (APWG) Winter Reception at the House of Commons on Tuesday 5th December.

I'd like to thank the team at QED and illustrator Venitia Dean for all their great work on How to Code, and the judging panel and organisers for reviewing and shortlisting the book. You can find out more about How to Code here, and you can play Treetop Catnap below if you have a compatible browser (click flag to start; cursor keys move, space jumps):

[UPDATE: Congratulations to Piotr Socha, Wojciech Grajkowski and Agnes Monod-Gayraud on winning with The Book of Bees! Many thanks to ALCS, the Society of Authors and the APWG for a lovely evening on the Terrace at the House of Commons, and for shortlisting How to Code for the award.]


Bookmark and Share
Permanent link for this post.

0 comments

Hear me chat about coding on the Fun Kids Science Podcast

12 November 2017


Last week I dropped in to the London studio of Fun Kids to be interviewed for the Science Weekly podcast. Host Dan asked me about computer code, where it comes from, and how computer languages work. It was a lot of fun taking part in the interview, and I would like to thank host Dan and producer Imogen for having me along. As always with these things, I thought of better answers to some of the questions on the tube home!

Dan and Sean in the studio, with a copy of Coder Academy in Sean's hand

Dan and Sean in the studio

The interview was recorded to coincide with the publication of Coder Academy, which is out now and provides an introduction to Scratch programming and simple web design. The book is aimed at children aged 7-10 years old, and includes lots of interactive activities on the page. You can take Scratch further with Scratch Programming in Easy Steps and Cool Scratch Projects in Easy Steps. Follow those links to get free chapters and bonus content.

You can hear the podcast using the player below. For more episodes, or to find a link to play this one in your favourite player, check out the Fun Kids Science Weekly here.

Bookmark and Share
Permanent link for this post.

0 comments

Dip into the blog archive

June 2005 | July 2005 | August 2005 | September 2005 | October 2005 | November 2005 | December 2005 | January 2006 | February 2006 | March 2006 | April 2006 | May 2006 | June 2006 | July 2006 | August 2006 | September 2006 | October 2006 | November 2006 | December 2006 | January 2007 | February 2007 | March 2007 | April 2007 | May 2007 | June 2007 | July 2007 | August 2007 | September 2007 | October 2007 | November 2007 | December 2007 | January 2008 | February 2008 | March 2008 | April 2008 | May 2008 | June 2008 | July 2008 | August 2008 | September 2008 | October 2008 | November 2008 | December 2008 | January 2009 | February 2009 | March 2009 | April 2009 | May 2009 | June 2009 | July 2009 | August 2009 | September 2009 | October 2009 | November 2009 | December 2009 | January 2010 | February 2010 | March 2010 | April 2010 | May 2010 | June 2010 | August 2010 | September 2010 | October 2010 | November 2010 | December 2010 | March 2011 | April 2011 | May 2011 | June 2011 | July 2011 | August 2011 | September 2011 | October 2011 | November 2011 | December 2011 | January 2012 | February 2012 | March 2012 | June 2012 | July 2012 | August 2012 | September 2012 | October 2012 | December 2012 | January 2013 | February 2013 | March 2013 | April 2013 | June 2013 | July 2013 | August 2013 | September 2013 | October 2013 | November 2013 | December 2013 | January 2014 | February 2014 | March 2014 | April 2014 | May 2014 | June 2014 | July 2014 | August 2014 | September 2014 | October 2014 | November 2014 | December 2014 | January 2015 | February 2015 | March 2015 | April 2015 | May 2015 | June 2015 | September 2015 | October 2015 | December 2015 | January 2016 | February 2016 | March 2016 | May 2016 | July 2016 | August 2016 | September 2016 | October 2016 | November 2016 | December 2016 | January 2017 | April 2017 | July 2017 | August 2017 | October 2017 | November 2017 | January 2018 | February 2018 | Top of this page | RSS

Books by Sean McManus

Scratch Programming in 

Easy Steps

Scratch Programming in Easy Steps

Raspberry Pi For Dummies

Raspberry Pi For Dummies

Learn to program with the Scratch programming language, widely used in schools and colleges.

Set up your Pi, master Linux, learn Scratch and Python, and create your own electronics projects.

Coder Academy

Coder Academy

Cool Scratch Projects in Easy Steps

Cool Scratch Projects in Easy Steps

Learn to make games and other programs in Scratch 2.0, and make a web page in HTML, with this highly interactive book for 7-10 year olds.

Discover how to make 3D games, create mazes, build a drum machine, make a game with cartoon animals and more!

More books

©Sean McManus. www.sean.co.uk.