Review of the Year 2014

Last December I started my job at the Raspberry Pi Foundation and this time last year, having just completed my first month, I wrote my review of 2013 and all the events which led up to that move.

Here is a round-up of all that’s happened since then.

Talks & Conferences

This year I gave my first full conference talk, my first overseas conference talk, my first keynote, and many more talks throughout the year! I gave over 40 talks and workshops in 2014, up from 32 in 2013.

My favourite conference badge of the year

The highlights:

  • I attended the BETT education conference representing Raspberry Pi
  • I took my first overseas work trip to Brussels for FOSDEM (Free and Open source Software Developers’ European Meeting)
  • I gave a keynote with Carrie Anne Philbin at Raspberry Jamboree 2014
  • I ran a Raspberry Pi camera workshop at Cheltenham Science Festival
  • I spoke at 5 Python conferences:
  • I spoke for the IMA (Institute of Mathematics and its Applications) at MMU in Manchester
  • I gave 17 talks in schools, universities and community spaces on my USA tour (more below)

See my full list of talks with links to videos and slides on my talks page.

Speaking at a hackspace in America

I also got to meet creator of the world wide web Tim Berners-Lee at the Open Data Institute Summit where I was supporting Amy Mather who was speaking at the event.

Meeting Tim Berners-Lee with Amy and Dan Mather
Meeting Tim Berners-Lee with Amy and Dan Mather


I gave a few interviews for magazines and websites:

Linux Voice
Me on the front of Linux Format magazine
Me on the front of Linux Format magazine

USA Tour

I was asked to go on a tour of America to do some outreach work for Raspberry Pi – and I said I’d be travelling from New York to Salt Lake City. I planned a route based around requests for visits and ended up covering 4200 miles in a hire car, giving 17 talks in schools, universities and hackspaces. I had a brilliant experience, met some great people and spread the word about what the Foundation is doing.


The places I visited:

  • New York City, New York
  • Washington, DC
  • Raleigh, North Carolina
  • Greensboro, North Carolina
  • Charlotte, North Carolina
  • Pigeon River, Tennessee
  • Lawrenceville, Georgia
  • Atlanta, Georgia
  • Chattanooga, Tennessee
  • Talladega, Alabama
  • Somerville, Tennessee
  • Louisville, Kentucky
  • St. Louis, Missouri
  • Colombia, Missouri
  • Denver, Colorado
  • Boulder, Colorado
  • Provo, Utah
  • Logan, Utah
  • Salt Lake City, Utah

You can read a full account of my trip on the Raspberry Pi blog: Ben’s Mega USA Tour

Raspberry Pi Website

In the first few months of the year I worked hard on building a new website for the Raspberry Pi Foundation, extending the existing blog in to a full website with various sections and numerous components. This was launched in April and received praise from the community. It has evolved somewhat since its initial release and took on some new design tweaks recently with complementary illustrative graphics from Sam Alder.

The website now features: in early January 2015 in early January 2015

Pi Weekly

I’ve continued to run Pi Weekly, putting out a newsletter each week with help from Ryan Walmsley, who recently stepped down to concentrate on his university studies.

Now at its 81st issue, not having missed a single week since launching in June 2013, it’s going strong with a subscription base of over 11,000, up almost double in a year.

Raspberry Pi Learning Resources

I wrote a number of learning resources as part of my role at Raspberry Pi. Some notable ones being:

I’ve been working on other projects such as the upcoming Chef HAT (sous vide cooking with Raspberry Pi and Energenie) with Rachel Rayns, which will lead to a set of new resources and maybe even a bank of open source cooking recipes!

I’ve also been running workshops and giving presentations at Picademy – the free teacher training course we started running this year, introducing teachers to using the Raspberry Pi in the classroom and giving them the confidence to successfully deliver the new computing curriculum.

Open Source Projects

As well as numerous contributions to existing open source projects, I’ve released my first two Python modules which can be found on PyPi and installed with pip:

  • energenie – for controlling power sockets remotely with a Raspberry Pi (this included modularising and packaging the work of Amy Mather from her work experience at Pi Towers)
  • pyjokes – one line jokes for programmers

I’m currently working on packaging energenie for Debian, and have some other packaging work to do once I’ve got the hang of it.

I’ve also made a name for myself in my advocacy of GitHub – teaching people how to use it or get more from it, and introducing teachers to using it in it education.

And here’s what my year of public GitHub contributions looks like:


I’ll be doing more of the same in my role at Raspberry Pi, hopefully producing some more projects and writing more resources.

I’ve just bought myself a nice new camera so I’ll be learning how to use it and posting photos to Flickr at

All the Python Conferences

In the last two months I’ve attended and spoken at five Python conferences around Europe.

EuroPython – Berlin

I submitted a proposal to EuroPython in Berlin for a talk explaining what the Raspberry Pi Foundation are doing in education. Luckily it was accepted and I got to go to Berlin for a week (which I’d done for my holiday the year before) and got to see some great talks, catch up with friends and get to know people in the Python community.

This was the first Python conference I’d attended, and my first major conference talk!

Here’s the video of my talk Pioneering the Future of Computing Education:

You’ll find the slides on slideshare


EuroSciPy – Cambridge

I was invited to give the keynote on the second day of EuroSciPy (the European Scientific Python conference) held in Cambridge.

They’d originally asked me to speak on the topic of Scientific Programming but as that’s not really what we do, I decided to focus on what makes learning with Python and Raspberry Pi interesting and engaging and particularly how they can be used in science education.

Here’s the video of my talk Python Programming in Science Education:

You’ll find the slides on slideshare

PyConUK – Coventry

I’d always wanted to go to PyConUK, but with a normal developer job (and not in Python) it would have meant taking time off work to go.

PySS – San Sebastian

I was invited to give a keynote at a new Python conference in Spain, held at the university in San Sebastian. My talk was Python on Pi – Interesting Python Projects with the Raspberry Pi

There’s no video recording but you’ll find the slides on slideshare.

I also gave a lightning talk on mkdocs, a tool for documenting your project using Markdown.

PyCon Ireland – Dublin

I submitted a proposal to PyCon Ireland and it was accepted, which gave me the chance to visit Ireland again (I went in 2011).

I gave my talk Pioneering the Future of Computing Education – you’ll find the slides on slideshare.

Raspberry Jamboree 2013

Manchester recently held the first ever Raspberry Pi conference – Raspberry Jamboree, held at Manchester Central. It’s been a year since the launch of the Pi, and this event was to review what we did in the last year, and look forward to what we’re going to do this year and in the future.

The day kicked off at 10.30 with an opening talk from organiser Alan O’Donahoe, followed by a wonderful keynote from BBC Micro pioneer Steve Furber. The first session of talks featured Andrew Robinson (creator of PiFace), Carrie Anne Philbin (from Geek Gurl Diaries) and CERN‘s William Bell (talking about MagPi). Meanwhile, in another conference track, a hands-on workshop was being led by Mike Hewitson (LateRooms) and Pete Lomas (Raspberry Pi Foundation).

Up next was a panel discussion with Raspberry Jam organisers and attendees – including Lisa Mather, Dawn Hewitson, Ben Smith, Jack Wearden and myself. We introduced ourselves and discussed what Jams are, how they work and what we think about them, and answered questions from the audience:

One of the things that came out of this was when asked where teachers and Jam organisers could get material from to teach coding or run activities, the panel suggested using existing online resources like Codecademy and asking for help on Twitter, and I said that between the community we should strive to make resources available for this kind of use. I suggested anyone interested get together with me to discuss creating a central repository for programming tools and exercises for the classroom, code clubs or for personal skills development – using GitHub as an example platform for how this could feasibly happen and have contributions of new projects and improvements of existing ones, and making it easy for teachers to download and use. Since the Jamboree I’ve been in talks with a few people regarding this. All I can say right now is watch this space – or, better – email me your thoughts if you’re interested.

After lunch I got to see Raspberry Pi Foundation evangelist Rob Bishop speak about what’s going on with them, which was fantastic. He’s a wonderful enthusiastic speaker and I really felt the energy of what this is all for. I got a bit carried away with this tweet:

Next up was Paul Hallet, whose project DjangoPi had caught my attention when it was announced last year. That’s one of the great thing about the Jamboree – we’d all heard of all these names but never met most of them, so it was amazing to have everyone all together in one room where you could put names to faces, shake a few hands and pat people on the back! Paul’s talk was on crowdsource funding for projects, and he went over the story of his projects such as DjangoPi and the coding club he ran in a local school. Great going for an undergraduate student! He already has a fantastic CV!

Following Rob and Paul was one of the Manchester Raspberry Jam regulars – a 13 year old who goes by the alias ‘Mini Girl Geek’. Amy Mather was asked to present a project she and I started at a Jam in December – Conway’s Game of Life. What began as a simple Python programming exercise turned in to a really interesting project involving pygame, Raspberry Pi, Arduino and an LED matrix display! Amy’s talk was extremely well received, she was praised by all and congratulated personally by the likes of Paul Beech, Rob Bishop and Pete Lomas! As one of the adults who has guided her along the way, I’m very proud of her for giving this talk and can say she did so professionally – a thoroughly enjoyable talk. Now watch it!

It’s since been featured on the Raspberry Pi blog and in the Pycoders Weekly newsletter!

A closing address from Alan rounded things up and a few of us headed to the nearby Pizza Express. After a mishap with their machine not accepting my (perfectly valid) card, Alan pulled a few strings and persuaded them to accept slightly less cash than than the value of the meal, we hastily moved on. Most of the group headed home but a few of us stayed out and proceeded to Brewdog where we later met up with Rob, Paul, Carrie Anne, Simon and Andrew and the others. We had a great night getting better acquainted with each other – as I said, many of us knew each other by online personalities only so it was interesting to speak in person for a change. We also dished out a few dozen Raspberry Pi coasters around the bar. I had a fantastic day and really enjoyed socialising in the evening. I tweeted this the following morning:

Thanks to Alan for organising the event, to Les & team for their work on getting the videos recorded (and live streamed!), to all speakers and attendees and to the sponsors for making the event possible – CPC, Bytemark, BCS Manchester, Frogtrade, OCR & PC Pro.

You can see all the videos from the day on Alan’s YouTube account (or download the video files from Bytemark Jamboree Download Centre)

Update: here’s a video summing up the Jamboree:


This weekend I attended the fifth (my third) PHPNW annual conference. As a member of the local PHPNW user group and community, I volunteer as a helper which involves getting delegates registered, getting the speakers to the right place and making sure everything’s running smoothly. Starting on the Friday evening hackathon social, I got chatting with a few faces old and new and once I’d eaten, got coding with Mike – we did the Ordered Jobs Kata in PHP – pairing and using PHPUnit. We continued with this, along with getting in conversations with other delegates, until around midnight – then Mike gave me a kickstarter demo on Phing – the PHP Deploy tool – which I’ve used before, but never written build scripts for, so that was a really useful session – well in to the morning!

Arriving at the conference centre bright and early, donning our new PHPNW12 red helper t-shirts we got people registered and handed name badges out. Once we had everyone settled in, the event kicked off with a truly inspiring talk from Google’s Ade Oshineye on relating API design to real world usability (like doors that are hard to work out how to open). I then shadowed Patrick_Allaert for his talk on PHP Data Structures – I learned an awful lot about the different data structures available in SPL – I had no idea they were even there. Picked up some other useful tricks and tips too.

I chatted with Ben Waine over lunch and headed over to Michael Heap‘s talk on designing systems to scale, though the room was full so I ended up hanging out in the “corridor track” with the Magma crew. In the next session I opted for the unconference track for Ben’s talk on ‘Testing Your Shit with Behat’ – cool to see Behat in action! Next up I was shadowing for Google employee Ian Barber, who gave last year’s keynote (before he worked for Google) entitled ‘How to Stand on the Shoulders of Giants‘, which is well worth a watch. This year’s on ‘How to Build a Firehose’. A really interesting talk on how to deal with exposing live data streams in real time.

Following the usual wrap-up of the day, the social happened.

Somehow I managed to get up in the morning and head back to the conference centre. The first talk was on Responsive Design at the BBC – a fantastic and intriguing talk from John Cleveley. The second talk slot had two talks I really wanted to see – Adrian‘s talk on using nginx on the Raspberry Pi, and ‘To SQL or To No(t)SQL‘ by Joroen Van Dijk – but I was down to shadow the other track, Recognising Smelly Code, which I really enjoyed – had some really good points and the speaker shared my adoration of good naming conventions and the single responsibility principle.

Another great conference – it gets better every year, without ever having been bad. Thanks to Magma for organising, and to all the sponsors and delegates for making it an awesome event. It really reminded me how great the PHP community is.

I will close with a statement expressing my opinion of Drupal:

Photo credit akrabat, Stuart Herbert and vcrgardener

Whisky Web

I’ve just been to Whisky Web, a language-agnostic web conference in Edinburgh organised by a group of local tech guys. It’s the first one they’ve run and it just came from the idea they had to get a bunch of web folk together for a fun conference and social gathering.

Held in the heart of the wonderful and beautiful city of Edinburgh, near the castle, it was quite a trek for us in Preston, but the 3.5 hours easily passed with us hopping on Virgin’s ‘First Class’ wifi (we were sitting near First Class) and chatting about tech, code, games, hacking and whatnot with the Magma team. Upon arrival we found our hotel, got our room numbers (401, 403, 404, which we all chuckled at – “room not found”, etc.) and met up with Magma’s competition winner Sean and went for a meal together. And then came the social. We met up with the usual bunch, quite a few from the PHPNW conference and a bunch of new folk. There was beer, then whisky. Most of the Magma team headed off around midnight but Jeremy (MD of Magma, my boss) & I were engaged in conversation with various people so we stayed out till kicking out time.

At about 1am we headed off, got in the lift of our hotel at the ground floor. It went up to first, then second, then first again, and then it stopped. We didn’t let this stop our conversation at first but after about 5 minutes we realised we were stuck in the lift. The display had gone off and none of the buttons did anything. We called the alarm button and heard a phone ringing through the speaker. I don’t know quite what we expected, but someone answered the phone with “Hello?” as if we’d just called a random number. It wasn’t reception, it wasn’t an 999-style emergency service operator, it just seemed to be a guy on a phone in a call centre. We had to tell them we were stuck in a lift, and where it was. I wouldn’t have been able to remember the road our hotel was on and “Travelodge in Edinburgh” may have been a bit vague, but fortunately having been more involved with booking, Jeremy knew which one it was. They said they would call our hotel reception to let them know, and send an “engineer” over to fix the lift.

Long story short, we were in there for 1 hour 40 minues, in which time we had slowly slipped almost to the basement without noticing it moving. When someone finally turned up to get us out, we just heard the sounds of two guys tugging at the cable and shouting to each other, and finally the door prized open and we saw a hand appear, and we got out and walked up the stairs to bed. I must note we never stopped talking the entire time, the lift stopping barely bothered us and we just chatted away like nothing had happened. It got quite hot in there and by the end we were lacking fresh air – to the extent that it was very noticeable when the door opened and fresh air came rushing in, welcomed by us both. A very surreal experience. If you ever want to get to know a person, get stuck in the lift with them. I guarantee you’ll become best friends!

We had arrived on Thursday night, with the conference happening on Friday. The conference kicked off with opening remarks from Joe, the organiser, about how the idea came about and how they got sponsorship and whatnot, followed by a brilliant keynote from Josh Holmes of Microsoft on the topic of (learning from) Failure. I then saw Rowan‘s talk on “Estimation, or “How To Dig Your Own Grave” which I saw at PHPNW11 and watched again on video since, but again took in some new points from his very well delivered talk. After a long lunch (+1 to the organisers for this – a long lunch (1.5 hours) gave plenty of opportunity for chat – much appreciated!), I saw Brian Suda give a talk on data visualisation, which really did blow me away. I’m an enthusiast for making use of datasets and exploring them in new and interesting ways, and he demonstrated some awesome techniques for visualising and showed some really important findings on perception and manipulation. Unfortunately I missed a talk on the other track called The Emperor’s New Clothes which was about the supposed necessity to use new hipster technologies like node.js for the sake of it. An interesting concept which I look forward to seeing on video when they’re released (Magma sponsored the video recording). I saw Bastien Hofmann mash up JavaScript and an Alice & Bob talk on public key cryptography which, although not very advanced, gave a good explanation of the fundamentals. A hilarious closing keynote from David Zulke explaining his desire to buy “awesome stuff” from the internet, involving a remote control shark, led to Joe’s closing remarks thanking sponsors and delegates.

After some quality conference food we were given a presentation by one of the sponsors – Bruichladdich – on Scotch Whisky, which involved each of us tasting four whiskies with a fascinating history story and explanation of the production process and some informative advice as to how to taste whisky:

Join Craig Johnstone (@WhiskyCraig) from Bruichladdich as he guides us through the history of Scotch Whisky from humble beginnings to modernization through the peaks and troughs of the 20th Century ending up in the multi billion pound industry we see today. Learn of Bruichladdich, the one company out there doing things differently and experience first hand the craftsmanship and passion that goes in to building the most exciting and independent of Islay Single Malt Whiskies.

~ from

We all gave him our full attention and everyone seemed to enjoy listening to what he had to say, and of course we enjoyed the whisky. Following this we all proceeded to the pub. A rather loud pub. A few of us (Derick, Rob, MichaelVolker & I) went to a quieter pub for a chat, had a couple of beers followed by a couple of whiskies before heading back to our hotels to rest for the hack day. The hack day involved people a variety of things, whatever they wanted to. Some did development on a project from a list of suggestions, others took the time to do something they didn’t get chance to do at work. At the Magma table some of us did Zend Framework 2 tutorials, Adrian worked on an Instagram clone (trying to make a quick $2 billion) and Farkie & I started work on our own spin of the Ruby Koans, for PHP. We created a couple of test assertions using two underscores as the defined constant ‘FILL ME IN’ and set up one side of the assertEquals to that. Then we ran PHPUnit on the suite and output the result in to a json object in a file, which we then read in and displayed the results back to the user to inform them of their progress through the challenges, like the way the Ruby one does. We made a certain amount of progress at the hack day before heading home on the train. We continued work on the koans on the train back to Manchester and had the framework fully working by the time we got home. I then put the project on github and we intend to plan and implement a full set of tests which will teach the student how the constructs of PHP works. So there you have it – the PHP Koans – watch out for a full release in coming months. We hope to announce/launch it at PHPNW in August in a lightning talk.

Nothing more to be said other than that I had a fantastic time – thanks so much to the organisers Joe, Dale, Paul, Michael and Max – see you again next year if not before!

Oh, and I also learned that there is a difference between whisky and whiskey:

But, there is an important distinction between the two. You see, whisky (plural whiskies) shows that the product was made in either Scotland, Wales, Canada or Japan, whereas whiskey (plural whiskeys) shows that it was made in either Ireland or America.

~ from

Photos can be found at Rob’s flickr and Joe’s flickr