21 Days to go before the charity run

We leave for the charity run in just 21 days .. and would really like to hit the £1,000 target for the guys at Feel the Force Day (www.feeltheforceday.com) also known as FTFD.

In between what is becoming a very busy August and September workwise (thanks to loads of very cool projects and more coming in) – I have been trying to find time for training and to promote the fact that 4 of us are running at the Disneyland Paris Magic Run weekend for the 4th year, to raise funds for this amazing cause.

If you aren’t comfortable using just giving, you can paypal me your donation, give me cash or bank transfer it and I will pay it on your behalf (message me if you would like to do that), Sam is collecting over at the Little Shop of This & That too – but EVERY PENNY helps keep this event going. FTFD is run completely on donations from people like us and sponsorship of local companies.

Founded in 2013 by Si Howard and JJ Lucia-Wright what started off as a small event in a backroom has grown into one of the biggest fan run Film, TV and Comic Cons in the country. So much so, they have outgrown the Kingsgate Conference Centre in Peterborough and they are moving to the East of England arena.

Si, JJ and their fantastic team put on an event that EVERYONE can feel comfortable at. FTFD events are accessible for wheelchairs and scooters of all shapes and sizes, aisles are wide to allow guests with walking aids to pass, tables are at a height that chairs and shorter guests can access. There are sensory rooms and touch tables for guests with visual or hearing problems, quiet rooms for guests who are anxious, autistic and have other issues with noise and crowds. Guests are encouraged to touch props and costumes – it is a festival of sound and vision, touch and taste – something for all the senses – even if that means very quiet and one on one experience.

In 2018 over 6,000 visitors came through the doors, moving to the bigger venue means there will be even more space, room for 8,000 visitors, more room for displays and vehicles – bigger space means more costs, which is why the 2019 run needs to raise more funds. If you can help in anyway please let us know

Feel the Force Day is by far the most inclusive best day out if you are a geek and it makes no difference who you are as Feel the Force Day is for everyone no matter what.

This cause is so close to my heart which is why I am slogging my way around 3 races in 3 days and getting up at 4am on a saturday and sunday 🙂

So please if you can #GiveUsAQuid to help FTFD – please visit our Just Giving Page to donate, contact me to donate another way, check out our website for more information or visit our facebook page.

I am eternally grateful to my awesome employeer BCC who allows me the time off to do this – I couldn’t ask for a more supportive bunch of people to work with … and THANK YOU to everyone who has supported us so far

Run 4 Feel the Force Day 2019

Hello lovely readers …

It is that time of year again when I am preparing to spend a few days at Disneyland Paris running to raise money for my favourite charity .. yes you heard that right RUNNING.  Every year since 2016 my best friend and fellow Disney fan and costumer Sam Edgar have headed to Disneyland Paris in September to take part in the Disneyland Paris Run Weekend.

Feel the Force Day is the world’s only Film, TV and Comic Con designed for visually impaired people, disabled people & people with learning difficulties.Founded in 2013 by Si Howard and JJ Lucia-Wright, what started off as a small event in a backroom has grown into one of the biggest fan run Film, TV and Comic Cons in the country. So much so, they have outgrown the Kingsgate Conference Centre in Peterborough and they are moving to the East of England arena which can hold a massive 8,000 people.

Si, JJ and their fantastic team put on an event that EVERYONE can feel comfortable at. FTFD events are accessible for wheelchairs and scooters of all shapes and sizes, aisles are wide to allow guests with walking aids to pass, tables are at a height that chairs and shorter guests can access. There are sensory rooms and touch tables for guests with visual or hearing problems, quiet rooms for guests who are anxious, autistic and have other issues with noise and crowds. Guests are encouraged to touch props and costumes – it is a festival of sound and vision, touch and taste – something for all the senses – even if that means very quiet and one on one experience.

Since 2016 Sam and I (and our amazing team) have ran 203km and raised almost £3,000 for Feel the Force Day.

This year a team of 4 are heading to DLP for run weekend between us we will be running 108km between us.

The adults in the group will be doing the challenges

I am running the 36k challenge which is 3 races : 5k, 10k and half marathon

Sam & Ben are running the 31k challenge which is 2 races: 10k and half marathon

5k is on Friday night at 8pm, 10k is Saturday morning at 7am and the half is on Sunday morning at 7am.  We have to be in the corals an hour before the race so that is a 4:30/5am wake up – lovely 🙂

We do this because we all believe that Feel the Force Day is an amazing cause. It is completely run by volunteers and is funded by donations and the kind sponsorship of local companies.

If you can spare £1, €1, $1 or any amount in any currencey to sponsor us  that would be amazing. You can donate to our run by visiting our Just Giving page or hit the donate button below. If you wish to donate or pledge a donation in person please let us know.

All donations go straight to the 1st Sensory Legion charity who are the team behind Feel The Force Day and every penny really does count.

JustGiving - Sponsor me now!

Thank you SO MUCH to our regular supporters who have sponsored us every year – you are amazing people and we love you.

To find out more please see the following links:V

HCL Connections – Our Future is Now

On Tuesday I joined the HCL Connections – Our Future is Now call, thank you Mat Newman for tweeting about it as I had totally missed this was on.

Wow there was a lot packed into that hour ..

The highlights for me were:

  • Tailored Experiences  and the community updates
    • Totally customisable spaces
    • Built with widgets
    • Lifecycle management (YES!)
  • The Road Map – so so much being delievered over the next 18 months
    • Connections 6 CR
    • Connections 6.5
    • 3rd Party Integrations
    • Connections 7
  • Lowering the TCO for the Componant Pack – Can not come soon enough for me

There is so much good stuff coming plus the news on Connections Cloud and the new offerings, I have written a full roundup over at the BCC Blog , so please check out the full posting there.

It’s been a little quiet

I have been a little quiet of late .. this is mostly due to losing my dad back in October.
I want to thank everyone for all the support, for the hugs and the tears. I really do have the best group of friends who can help me get through the worst of times.
My dad is awesome, we almost shared a birthday and he will always be a massive part of me. He taught me to fight for what I believed in, my work ethic, to teach myself and my love of all things tech – he will always be my hero and I am missing a part of me now he is gone.

I had some time off and have been busy with some exciting new challanges which I hope to blog about soon. I have been to another conference and I am about to head off to the BCC office in Germany for a week – So its back to normal.
Hope you have enjoyed the break from me – as I am back with a vengance and will be back up to speed with my sharing and blogging.

Blog has moved to its new home

(again) .. I finally got round to moving my domain to a decent hoster (thank you one.com) so I have moved my blog entries back to its rightful place.

never fear if you have book marked a post previously you can find it .. thanks to the power of a handy rewrite rule in the htaccess file 🙂

I have a bunch of useful stuff to blog which I will crack on with over the next few weeks before hitting IBM Think!

If you find any issues please let me know 🙂

It’s that time of year again ..

I am Running for Feel the Force Day …. My partner in crime Sam will be joining me again this year, along with Jonathan and Mandy will make up the #TeamRun4FTFD to raise funds.

Jonathan has cerebal palsy and he doesn’t let that slow him down. Mad on trucks, cars and any kind of awesome vehicle (just see Shaw on Tour for details), he has recently done a bunch of exciting stuff including running (in a race chair), ice skating and trampolining.
Mandy is the biscuit queen 🙂 Famous for her cakes and biscuits at Feel the Force Day – last year she raised over £250! As well as baking she is Jonathan’s carer and they are a formidable team .. We are really looking forward to having them on the journey this year.

For those of you who do not know what Feel the Force Day is ..  Feel the Force Day events are film and TV conventions with a difference. The events are designed around disabled people and make them as accessible as possible. Access does not just mean a disabled loo and a ramp, it’s about attitude, contact and all the subtle things that make things easier. Most conventions have signs to do not touch – FTFD events are all about touch and smell in every sense. Costumers make themselves available to visually impared guests to touch, quiet rooms are available for guests who can not cope with the hussle and bussle of a busy event and there are one on one sessions with costumes and props for guests too.


So I am asking kindly for any donations to our team and for you to spread the word ..


Any sharing or *pimping* of the cause would be amazing .. and thank you to those who donated last year and have this year too .. I feel so pasionate about this cause and it is entirely run and funded by volunteers.


PDF version of the poster can be found here

WebSite: http://run4ftfd.co.uk

Facebook: Run4FTFD

Twitter: Run4FTFD

Instagram: Run4FTFD

Sponsor page: http://bit.ly/run4ftfd17


THANK YOU so much

Let’s get Stitch talking – Project #talkie pt 3

So after building the kit and testing that it worked .. It was time to get creative ..

there are some examples on what to do code wise on the AIY kit voice site

First I had to go through the billing set up and processes. Even though the code is free, and the kit is free and they give you $300 worth of credit – you still have to set up billing. It was a pain as I already had a cloud dev account for some of the APIs I use on bit of my sites, but eventually I worked it out – I may have cussed a little. Once that was sorted and I created the credentials I needed I could copy those to the right place and I was good to start experimenting.

There is even a quick script that checks it all for you .. if there are any errors – you have missed a step.














Now its all set up to use the cloud speach API we are good to start playing.

First thing is to change the default API to use the cloud speech .. edit the


ensure that the cloud-speech = true line is uncommented

# Uncomment to enable the Cloud Speech API for local commands.
cloud-speech = true

Now we are all set to use local commands and not the google assistant.

Firstly I wanted to make sure I could get a sound to play when I pressed the button, in the /home/pi/voice-recognizer-raspi/src directory I created a new file and called it raspi-audio-button.py

#!/usr/bin/env python

import vlc

from time import sleep
import RPi.GPIO as GPIO
GPIO.setup(23, GPIO.IN)

while True:
    if (GPIO.input(23) == False):


This basically tells the AIY kit to play the hi sound when I press the button. After a bit of a fiddle to get vlc working (but that was my lack of skills) it works great .. I run the script from the src directory using the “dev terminal” on the desktop (which in turn is just another script /home/pi/bin/voice-recognizer-shell.sh) and it works ..

I press the button and the box says Hi in Stitch’s voice 🙂



Awesome ..  so lets move on to actually creating the code to get Stitch to talk.


Edit the action.py which lives in /home/pi/voice-recognizer-raspi/src

There are 2 chunks of code we needed to add ..

a class and a set of voice commands


The Class

We took the code from the RepeatAfterMe class and editied it .. I couldn’t have done this piece without my good friend Tim Clark who managed to work out what we needed to do to.


RepeatAfterMe Example

# Example: Repeat after me
# ========================
# This example will repeat what the user said. It shows how you can access what
# the user said, and change what you do or how you respond.

class RepeatAfterMe(object):

"""Repeats the user's command."""

def __init__(self, say, keyword):
 self.say = say
 self.keyword = keyword

def run(self, voice_command):
 # The command still has the 'repeat after me' keyword, so we need to
 # remove it before saying whatever is left.
 to_repeat = voice_command.replace(self.keyword, '', 1)


Stich Says Class

We have created the class below if the keyword = a certain word spoken the coresponding mp3 is played using vlc player


# STITCH : Classes
# ========================
# Classes to make Stitch talk are here

class StitchSays(object):
    """Plays a Stich sound file based on the user's command."""

    def __init__(self, keyword):
        self.keyword = keyword

    def run(self, voice_command):
        keyword = self.keyword
        if keyword == 'Thanks':
            soundmp3 = "file:///home/pi/Downloads/StitchSounds/thankyou.mp3"
        elif keyword == 'Laugh':
            soundmp3 = "file:///home/pi/Downloads/StitchSounds/laugh.mp3"
        elif keyword == 'Nutty':
            soundmp3 = "file:///home/pi/Downloads/StitchSounds/nutty.mp3"
        elif keyword == 'No':
            soundmp3 = "file:///home/pi/Downloads/StitchSounds/noTalk.mp3"
        elif keyword == 'Sing':
            soundmp3 = "file:///home/pi/Downloads/StitchSounds/sing.mp3"
        elif keyword == 'Behind':
            soundmp3 = "file:///home/pi/Downloads/StitchSounds/ohana.mp3"
        elif keyword == 'With':
            soundmp3 = "file:///home/pi/Downloads/StitchSounds/withFamily.mp3"
        elif keyword == 'Love':
            soundmp3 = "file:///home/pi/Downloads/StitchSounds/loveyou.mp3"
        elif keyword == 'Name':
            soundmp3 = "file:///home/pi/Downloads/StitchSounds/nameStitch.mp3"

        p = vlc.MediaPlayer(soundmp3)


Once we have a class defined the keywords must be added. Again we used repeat after me as an example

    actor.add_keyword(_('repeat after me'),
                      RepeatAfterMe(say, _('repeat after me')))


We add the word I wll speak, then the class and keyword

For example I say "Thanks" and the thanks mp3 is played

    # =========================================
    # STITCH! voice commands here.
    # =========================================

    actor.add_keyword(_('Thanks'), StitchSays(_('Thanks')))
    actor.add_keyword(_('Giggle'), StitchSays(_('Laugh')))
    actor.add_keyword(_('Nutty'), StitchSays(_('Nutty')))
    actor.add_keyword(_('No'), StitchSays(_('No')))
    actor.add_keyword(_('Sing'), StitchSays(_('Sing')))
    actor.add_keyword(_('Oh'), StitchSays(_('Behind')))
    actor.add_keyword(_('Family'), StitchSays(_('With')))
    actor.add_keyword(_('Love'), StitchSays(_('Love')))
    actor.add_keyword(_('Name'), StitchSays(_('Name')))


This is probably not the most elegant way to do this .. but it WORKS ..

I was SO pleased that we managed to get this far ..

The issue now is that if the Pi can’t understand what i say .. it throws an error and speaks in the robot voice .. that is the next thing to fix – we will do that in part 4 of #projecttalkie


Building the AIY – Project #talkie pt2

Before I could attempt to get creative with the code examples – we first had to build the kit and make sure it worked with the things and code that was provided.

I have used the images from the aiyprojects.withgoogle.com/voice page. They are great pictures and show step by step how to put things together, I may have forgotten to take step by step pics as we built it too.

Prep the SD Card

With the voice SD image we downloaded in pt1 – use etcher to flash the SD card and get it ready for the Pi.

The voice image is a version of Rasbrian with some added extra’s to help with the project.


Second Step – Build the hardware

The hardware was pretty straight forward … following the instructions on the AIY site













Once it was all assembled put the prepped SD card in the pi .. its too difficult to wrangle it in once in the box.

Step three – Build the box

This bit is a bit like origami with cardboard ..  I may have got a bit sweary at this point .. but if you follow the picture guide and work out what way up things need to go you are good .. it took longer to build the box than add the HAT to the Pi …

Step four – Put the Pi Hat in the box


Took a bit of sliding and making sure the cables weren’t tangled

Make sure all the ports line up as they should so you can plug the pi in






Now to fit the arcade button, switch, light and wire it up .. Then line the mic up and tape it on the inside flap of the box.













As if by magic .. it is done .. we have a BOX of AIY fun to start playing with

Plug it in .. and update it

Plug you pi in and fire it up. You need a USB keyboard and mouse and HDMI connection to a monitor ot TV. I had an issue with getting some of the built in code to run – this was resolved by updating the pi. Boot it up and connect it to the wireless network and then update.

sudo apt-get update

sudo apt-get upgrade

Once your pi has updated you should be good. You have a lovely desktop environment with all the example code ready installed to play with


Verify its working

Let’s check the audio first – on the desktop there is a Check Audio file. Double click it to run. the speaker test will play first, you are then prompted to speak so it can test the playback.





Here is a short video of it working.



There is also a check wifi file .. but we know the wifi is good as we have updated already .. but if you REALLY want to test it .. go for it 🙂









We are ALL set and ready to go .. next step is playing with the example code .. come back for part 3 of #projecttalkie and I will show you what I did next

Who knew my love for StarWars would win me a prize

On May the 4th (also known as StarWars day – you work it out) one of my good friends and former co worker (not sure how he put up sitting opposite me for 2 and a half years 🙂 ) Mr Dave Sheryn pinged me with an interesting link to a starwars costume competition ..

“That’ll be fun”, I thought, “will give it ago .. have a snowballs chance in hell of winning” – so I posted this pic of me

With the message

O well if we are showing off star wars costumes .. this is my mandalorian - made, painted & worn by me :D

Didn’t expect to hear a thing back ..

For those of you that know about my StarWars obsession – I spent about 2 years inbetween life, work, illness, getting married etc. to make my mando costume – it was a labour of love which I made and painted myself and its always in upgrade mode 🙂

Imagine my surprise when I recieved this tweet on Revenge of the 5th (that’s the 5th of may incase you were wondering) …

O M G was one of the nicer expletives that may have left my lips …. I NEVER win anything …

The prize is a Nerf Millenium Falcon and I can’t thank The Freaky Clown enough for this .. thanks again for picking me

It’s bloody amazing … I haven’t unboxed it yet as I am worried I will spend hours playing with it and not want to stop 🙂

I do have plans for it though .. I am going to lend it to Feel the Force Day for their touch table – and i really need to find it somewhere to live at home ..




Project #talkie pt1 – getting to grips with a rasberrypi

What’s all this #talkie stuff about then?

So I have been posting stuff on facebook twitter and instragram with the #projecttalkie or #talkie hash tag ..

Most of you know that I costume .. and as well as my love for star wars (and my mandalorian costume), I also LOVE to costume as Stitch …

You can see me here as my favourite fluffy blue alien experiment (626) with my good pal and all around lovely Captain America friend Mr James Budd.

Again most of you know that i am a HUGE supporter and raise money for an amazing cause – Feel the Force Day. FTFD events are for guests with disabilities – physical and mental – and we have a lot of guests that are visually impared. Stitch is great for touch as he is big, blue and fluffy – but I have been desperate to get him to talk and to allow him to interact with the FTFD guests.

It would be super cool for other events to have Stitch able to interact with people as kids and adults LOVE him 🙂

The traditional sound glove method wouldn’t work as his hands are big and bulky and I would be limited to 4 sounds.. so thinking cap was well and truly on …


Fast forward to sitting on the ferry on the way to the amazing Engage user group. My good buddy, work colleague, fellow IBM Champion and all around lovely chap Mr Tim Clark. He told me that Issue 57 of the MagPi (the best rasberrypi magazine) came with a Goolge powered AIY kit – which is a handy little voice had and the code to enable the use of a handy little voice recognizer you can connect to the Google Assistant. All in a handy little cardboard cube, powered by a Raspberry Pi.

Could I use that? I wondered, to get Stitch to talk .. out game Tim’s version of the mag and we had a looksy through it .. HELL YEAH .. we both decided it was worth a go .. all I needed extra was a PI3 – which I wanted to get one for tinkering with anyways …

How much for this amazing voice kit that came with the MagPi? A bargain at £5.99 – yup a whole kit to get voice recognizing to work in a similar way to alexa and siri but WAY better as i can customize it – FOR LESS THAN 6 QUID !!!! Needless to say I had to have one .. and the plea went out on social media to acquire one whilst we were in Belgium doing the day job.

No joy whilst I was away, as it was selling out as quickly as the mag was hitting the shelves. To put it blunty they were “as rare as rocking horse poo” –  but I did manage to grab the last TWO copies in my local Sainsburys store on my way back from Belgium. I did feel slightly guilty taking the last copies BUT Stitch needs to talk and Nathan wanted to give the home made alexa project a go and this kit is just what he needs.

So I had my kit, but no pi – so off to pimoroni to grab me a PI .. being new to the Pi, I opted for the starter kit so I would have everything I needed. The AIY kit states it needs the Pi3, but a few people have managed to get it working with a pi zero w – which for my Stitch project would be better as it will need to run headless, run off a usb power pack (like you use for charging your phone), and basically sit in Stitch’s head. Let’s not run before I can walk I thought so all my testing so far has been with the Pi3.


What I have used (so far)



A shiny new RasberryPi 3b from the lovely people at Pimoroni





A copy of MagPi 57






The fab AIY kit that comes with MagPi 75







Micro SD card which you need to load the voice kit sd image.








Etcher.io a really handy tool for making sd cards bootable with the image of your choice

So now everything is assembled we can get down to the good bit – building the kit and editing the code – dangerous for an admin to have a go at coding I know .. visit back soon for part 2 of #projecttalkie 🙂