Preston Hackspace

Yesterday evening, I went to the first meeting of the newly-formed Preston Hackspace group, held in the civilised surroundings of the New Continental – one of my favourite pubs in Preston, and very well stocked with beers and ales of various kinds.

We met in the very warm and bright conservatory area, which made looking at laptop screens a bit of a challenge, but luckily the evening was mostly about chatting and getting to know each other, rather actual hacking.

There were plenty of ideas being chucked around, and it was interesting to hear about the breadth of experience across the various people who attended.

Should be interesting to see how this one pans out…

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Free at last!

My IT shackles have finally been removed!

After four years of struggling to deliver against the constraints of a locked down PC, I’ve finally managed to persuade the powers that be to allow me a ‘developer build’, along with other members of the team.

This allows us a small measure of additional control over our Windows XP boxes, not least of which is the ability to defrag the HD (at last!), and install applications.

Right off the bat, I installed PowerPivot for Excel, Firefox, Chrome, GIMP, LibreOffice, Notepad++, Eclipse, WinPython (python 2.7 and a whole load of useful libraries and applications), Git, MySQL and PostgreSQL.

Just having the tools available to streamline my workflow is already paying dividends. Plus, I’m now enjoying my work more than ever…

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#2 – learn to code

Original Image Attribution: Tim Lucas,

Original Image Attribution: Tim Lucas,

Well, that’s one of my New Year’s Resolutions anyway, to learn programming.

So, this is how I’m planning to go about it.

First, I’ve started Mozilla’s School of Webcraft at the ‘Peer To Peer University’ (P2PU). I’ve got some basic experience with HTML, but it looks like things move on fairly quickly to CSS and there seem to be modules on PHP and Python too. I like the way this site is set up. When you’re starting out on your learning journey, there are peers and mentors to help you through. It’s free to join and participate. Once you get competent at a subject, you can put yourself forwards as a mentor, and give something back to the community that helped you. I’ve yet to really see how that works in reality, but I like the idea.

Next, I think I’ll work through some of the courses at Codecademy, which is also free to use, by the looks of it. They have courses in jQuery, Javascript, Python and Ruby.

Then, it’s off to Learn Python The Hard Way by Zed A. Shaw, which is available to buy as a book, with the material on the website kindly made available for free. This course uses a technique that I’ve tried in the past, and I know works with me. You’re given clear instructions to carry out, which you do step-by-step, and repeat until they sink in – after that, what you’ve just done, and its significance, is explained. Zed has also written courses on Ruby, C, SQL, Regex and the Command Line Interface, most of which I’d like to work through at some point.

Finally, I’ve also bought a book: Python Programming for the Absolute Beginner by Mike Dawson (Amazon UK link). I haven’t properly looked through this yet, but it came recommended.

If you have any advice on which programming languages are good to learn, or of great resources to do so, please feel free to leave a comment below – I’m interested to hear your opinion.

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