Announcing Digital Circle…

In 2007, industry, academia and government worked together to produce the Northern Ireland Digital Content Strategy – a timely document that paved the way to the Digital Circle collaborative network and several years of rapid growth in our local industry. Timely because it arrived just before a sea change in the market – the advent of the smartphone for everyone and the emergence of the App economy. With a steering group made up of industry professionals and solid support from the IT industry trade body, Digital Circle grew rapidly and was able to respond to changes in the market – from apps, to games, to augmented reality (it’s a big deal now but we had active projects in AR in Northern Ireland in 2011.)

The project officially ended in 2011 but continued to work until 2015 but after the demise of the IT industry trade body, and policy changes in government, practical support waned. Meanwhile, the skills shortages predicted in the strategy proved to be conservative. Salaries for developers have soared, leaving many to outsource their development to other countries – and with that, the opportunity cost in money flowing out of the region and skills and intellectual property being domiciled elsewhere.

With the ending of the Creative Industries Innovation Fund (and fewer interventions like HoneyComb, Creative Marketplace, Games on Film) there was a massive loss in terms of finance. This investment hadn’t always been a runaway success but there were some properties created which, in terms of value, exceeded the entire investment of the fund over its lifetime and all because of an initial £10,000 grant.

And one of the other pillars of Digital Circle (and the strategy) was internationalisation and access to markets. With the impending uncertainty over Brexit, investment has declined and we still don’t know what we have to prepare for. At the time of writing, we haven’t had a government in Northern Ireland in 1000 days. In the face of impending uncertainty and adversity, we feel there’s a need to invest.

Digital Circle is very pleased to announce an ongoing partnership with RAISE Ventures to give the network a home. RAISE brings a physical space, relationships, a programme of events, and a mechanism for private finance to the deal. We are working with RAISE for representation in government programmes (like the Digital Skills strategy, Future Screens NI) as well as championing startups and high potential startups within the region.

See you at the RAISE on Wednesday 16th October.

Don’t ban scooters. Redesign streets.

[Read the article]

Of course, some of us have been saying this for years.

Remember when the Segway debuted? There was a reported conversation that everyone derided. Apparently Steve Jobs, on viewing the prototype Segway with Dean Kamen, said that we would design cities around this thing. It was backed publicly and financially by Jeff Bezos.

How the media laughed.

And now the media are calling for us to redesign cities to cope with new PEV (personal electric vehicles) designs. Of course, all of this is a little moot for the UK as the Tory government failed to deliver an election promise on licensing for LEVs and PEVs and of course, our government couldn’t do it because we don’t have one.*

But watch this space because things are afoot. They’ve extended the bus lanes on one of the busiest roads in Belfast. They’re introducing a new bus called the Glider which will, like this recently multi-million investment in dumb ticketing machines at major stops, will be utterly underwhelming. They’re going to close the area around Belfast City Hall to private traffic. They’re going to invest massively in the Westlink-M2 exchange yet not actually address the cause of queues in the morning. But that’s because …. I don’t know. I’m sure they have great reasons.

*and do you ever notice that when change is needed, politicians decide on whether it’s a devolved matter or not depending on how close it is to lunchtime.

Save the Day: 30th June 2025

Save the date, 9 years from now, when the last ICE (internal combustion engine) car will be sold in the UK.

This is what is being proposed by Norway and it’s being considered by other nations within the EU and beyond. A complete change in the way transport works.

Back in 1905, you could look at a photo of Times Square and not see a single car; the place was filled with horse drawn carriages. By 1913, the horses were outnumbered by the cars perhaps 100:1. That’s how fast a disruptive technology can take hold.
So what will happen here. We are already seeing Electric Vehicle sales rise (though they slipped slightly due to the brief drop in petrol and diesel prices over the last six months). And we will see them rise even more. On my Twitter feed (admittedly a self-selecting study of people interested in transport, innovation and renewables), I am able to see individuals who charge their home automobiles using a solar panel and wind combination to a domestic battery that then feeds their car.

This becomes the new normal. Where the cost of running a vehicle decreases to just the replacement of tyres and brake pads. Where the massive fuel costs dwindle to almost nothing. We aren’t there yet….or….more accurately, I’m describing the past, but it’s still the future for most of us.

My own car is up for replacement this year but there is no way I will replace it with an ICE vehicle – even though I might consider the vast majority of electric vehicles out there to be under-engineered, under-designed and under-inspiring. What we need a series of over-engineered, over-designed and absolutely inspiring cars.

At the moment only TESLA is providing that. Sticking a battery and electric motor into a Clio and calling it a LEAF just doesn’t do it for me. Making an eGolf or an electric BMW doesn’t do it. – especially as it’s beginning to look like all of the incumbent car manufacturers seem, without exception, to have been lying about their gas emissions.

It’s time we started thinking about this seriously.

What if we just stopped using Fossil Fuels. Today.
What if we replaced essential use of hydrocarbons with Renewable Gases?
What if we replaced inessential fuel consumption with solar, hydro and wind?
What if we circumvented the apocalypse by just taking action rather than just talking about it?


Anyone who knows me will know that I’ve always been a fan of solar (photovoltaic) energy production. This goes from tiny little solar panels that I used with Coder Dojo to wire up fans and LEDs to larger scale panels that are used to keep my phones and other devices charged when out and about.

My latest purchase is the Anker 14W Solar Panel Foldable Dual-port Solar Charger.

I was pretty pleased with the package – it was smaller than I expected and seemed sturdy enough. It fits neatly into my hiking backpack when I’m not using it and when I am using it, I’ll tie it using cords to the back of the back – the built-in rings seem very resilient. The company advises using the included pockets for holding devices you’re charging (to keep them out of the direct sunshine). I’d like them to be a little bigger but that’s only because my devices are a little bulkier.


I tested this during the week in some weak summer sunshine here in Northern Ireland and I was able to generate nearly 7 Watts (5.09 Volts, 1.35 Amps). That’s about 50% of the potential output of the panel but considering I was just sitting in a park with plenty of surrounding tree cover, no effort being made to optimise the angle and a little bit of cloud cover – coupled with the weak Northern Irish sunshine – I was happy to see I could easily power and charge a phone.


Your phone likely needs 5 Watts of Power (5 Volts, 1 Amp). The average PC USB port outputs 2.5 W (5V, 0.5A). Your iPad needs about 12 W (5.1V, 2.1A). The device I’m using to measure this is a pass-thru USB power monitor by PortaPow. It can check any USB port for power output and is cheap as chips. For the aspiring geek it’s a useful informational tool.

I’ll be using this panel to charge an Anker 13000 mAh portable battery (superseded by newer models like the Anker Astro e7 with double the capacity). 25600 mAh seems like a lot but the iPhone 6 has a 1810 mAh battery and therefore I’d expect to get 10 charges out of this. Which should be good enough for a week of outdoor usage (assuming I’m using the screen a lot).

Next week I’ll be testing the charger in Southern Spain. I’m interested to see what the difference in throughput will be and how fast it will charge my external battery.

Pi-Cade Project Team at Bangor Academy


+ Case designed and constructed
+ Electronic bits and bobs (wires, breadboard)
+ Car reversing monitor screen (with separate power)
+ Raspberry Pi with 5V power
+ SD card
+ Salvaged and donated joystick and buttons

Special thanks to Mr Pollock ([Bangor Academy]( Technology Dept) and Steve Sloan (Momentum/All Island Software Network) for getting things moving.

Digital Circle does Computing Clubs

For the past few weeks, I’ve been helping Bangor Academy with a Raspberry Pi project.

I had attended the school with Young Enterprise and the VP asked if I would be interested in helping them out with a project. As I lack the ability to say ‘No’ to good ideas, I agreed. The project was determined to be a Pi-Cade; a mini-arcade machine that could fit on a desk that was operated by a Raspberry Pi.

Today we were joined by Andrew Bolster from Farset Labs and Stephen Sloan from the All Island Software Network (part of Momentum). They worked with the teacher and kids to discover the intricacies of the GPIO pins, breakout boards, shoot the breeze about Arduino and try our damnedest to get MAME to compile on the device.

All in all it was great fun, even when we ran into an immovable object.

C2K block anything useful; getting the source and binaries for anything was made anything between ‘more difficult’ and ‘impossible’. We had to use an iPad mini 3G (in the Faraday Cage of school building) running GoodReader to download the modified xmame source and then transfer to a Mac over USB onto a USB stick so we could load it onto the Pi. Thanks, C2K.

Anyway, thanks to the students, to Mr Pollock (the teacher) and Andrew and Stephen, we’re making some progress.

The equipment and time I’m putting into this is kindly given by Momentum. There have been some other donors too and we’ll thank them specially when everything works. And special thanks to @vedanator for the joysticks and buttons at the last minute (ours haven’t arrived from yet)

An Education-focused Link List

Lots of stuff on here on the driving of technology into education. I think this Christmas will be a tipping point. Hundreds of students will receive multi-purpose mobile gadgets far beyond a mere DS or PS VITA. As the Scratch tutorial apps below indicate, there’s a commercial opportunity for educators to work with developers to create the curriculum-supporting apps that are needed. (And the Creative Industries Innovation Fund would be right there to help for Northern Ireland start-ups)

I’ll finish this off with a quote from Bill Gates:

“Just giving people devices has a really horrible track record. You really have to change the curriculum and the teacher” Bill Gates

Of course, he was talking about devices loaded with his software but the sentiment remains. Just handing out devices isn’t enough. There’s a “human” part of the plan (where you integrate with lessons, pastoral care) and a “technology” part where you integrate with systems and networks.