geeky things to say to Cortana

If you are like me then you love talking to technology and you are a geek. So, ahead of Star Wars day tomorrow, here are some geeky things you can say to Cortana if you get a moment.

"Give me a Star Trek Quote" - There are FOUR lights!

"Give me a Star Trek quote" - Should be KHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAN! though, right?

"Give me a Red Dwarf quote"

"What's your favourite Star Wars Movie" - again, Cortana is wrong. There are only two good Star Wars movies.

"Tell me a Star Wars joke" - chortle
Do you really need to be told what I said?
"Give me a high five"
"May the force be with you"

If you enjoyed this post then you might want to take a long hard look at yourself and maybe get out into the countryside a bit more often. Failing that, you can amuse yourself a bit more with some Star Wars Name Generator fun, or maybe just some more posts about Cortana.

Today we celebrate three years in space

On the first of May three years ago we launched Project Poxima the world's first internet based space mission.

Project Proxima is a hypothetical, light-speed space mission to the Proxima Centauri star system. The aim is to create a teaching tool that helps explain the vastness of interstellar space (it's big, reaaally BIG!).

Today Proxima has traveled nearly 28 trillion km - that's about 70% of the total distance.

A lot has happened in the time since launch: perhaps most notably are the rise of Trump and the British referendum on Brexit. Most interestingly, however, that since launching the Project Proxima mission, scientists have discovered an earth-like planet in orbit around the Proxima Centauri system.

You can get involved in the mission by following on Twitter, or tracking the progress on the website.

You can also become an official supporter and sign up for email alerts.

Want to read more about Project Proxima?

BBC Micro versus PC at chess

If a BBC microcomputer met a Windows 10 PC for a game of chess, which machine would win?

Let's find out.

The contestants:

BBC microcomputer 32KB RAM, 2MHz 8 bit 6502 processor
Chess engine - Acornsoft Chess

Windows 10 PC 24GB RAM, 2.9GHz i7 64 bit Quad-core processor
Chess engine - Chess level 100

Chess Level 100 for Windows 10 (on the left playing black) V. Acornsoft Chess for the Beeb (on the right playing white)

I decided to start with both machines running on their lowest setting. Acornsoft Chess has ten levels of difficulty whereas Chess Level 100 has, erm... one hundred levels of play. The BBC machine was emulated using BeebEm on the Windows PC. I initially set the BBC difficulty to the highest possible, however, after waiting over ten minutes for it to make its opening move, I decided to drop the difficulty level for the sake of sanity. Both machines came to a gentleman's agreement that the Beeb would play white.

You can follow the game below, or download the PGN file to study on your own system or board.

1. Nf3 h6

Against United Nations security resolutions, the Beeb starts with the Zukertort Opening, keeping its options flexible. The PC responds with a dubious pawn defence. Maybe it doesn't know that there is a war on?

2. d3 d5
3. g3 Nc6
4. Nbd2 Bg4

Already the PC is on the offensive with bishop g4. The Beeb responds with an excellent defence from his own bishop.

5. Bg2 Qd6
6. O-O f5
7. Bh1 b5
8. Nh4 Nf6
9. Rb1 Qe6

PC has an active Queen and is attacking with its pawns. The Beeb is focussed on defence.

10. f3 b4

A superb attacking move from the Beeb threatens the black bishop, however, the PC makes the dubious pawn advance to b4. It was at this point that I realised that the PC was clearly outmatched by the Beeb. First blood went to the Beeb by capturing the neglected black bishop.

11. fxg4 Nxg4
12. Bf3 Nd4
13. Bxg4 Nxe2+

The PC ignores the bishop capture on g4 and sacrifices its knight for a pawn on e2.

14. Bxe2 Qe3+
15. Rf2 e5
16. Nxf5 Qc5
17. Bh5+ Kd8
18. Bf7 Qc6
19. h3 g5
20. b3 Rc8
21. Qf3 g4

The Beeb's white pieces are beginning to dominate the board as black makes another blunder with the g4 move.

22. hxg4 Be7
23. Qxd5+ Qxd5

The Beeb captures the pawn on d5 and forces a swap of queens. It is pretty much all over for the PC now but neither machines offered a ceasation to hostilities.

24. Bxd5 c5
25. Kf1 Rg8

A blunder from the PC puts the black rook in the firing line of the white bishop. Maybe fog of war or otherwise poor intel did not reveal the white bishop lying in wait like a sniper.

26. Bxg8 h5
27. gxh5 c4
28. dxc4 Kd7
29. Nh6 a5
30. Ke1 Rc5
31. Ke2 Rc8
32. Ke3 Bc5+
33. Ke4 Bxf2

The PC makes some good play and steals a rook at f2 with probably the only good move it made all game.

34. g4 Be1
35. Bd5 Rh8
36. Nf3 Rxh6

Another blunder from black coming up. The white knight on h6 is too much of a temptation and does not seem to realise it is covered by the white bishop on c1. The Beeb does not let it get away with this mistake.

37. Bxh6 Bf2
38. Kxe5 Kc7
39. Nd4 Bg3+
40. Ke6 Bf2
41. Bf4+ Kc8
42. Nf3 a4
43. bxa4 Bc5
44. Ng5 Bb6
45. Rxb4 Bc7

The breakthrough is complete. Black's king hides in his underground bunker and denies the reports of his generals that the enemy is massing at the gates.

46. Bb7+ Kd8
47. Nf7+ Ke8
48. Bxc7 Kf8
49. Bc6 Kg8
50. Bd5 Kf8
51. Nd6 Kg7
52. Ke5 Kh7
53. Nf5 Kh8

Moments before the end black's king has shuffled off into the corner to die.

54. Rb8+ Kh7
55. Rb5 Kh8
56. Rc5 Kh7
57. Ke4 Kh8
58. Rc6 Kh7
59. Rh6#
White wins.


So the winner of this battle was the BBC microcomputer running on the emulator. This did come as something of a surprise, but it teaches us very little. The Beeb played reasonable chess, it did not make any blunders and was both defensive and exploitative of black's errors. The PC running Chess Level 100, on the other hand, played very poor chess and was punished for it by the Beeb. It is important to note that both chess engines were playing at their very lowest settings. I am an average ability chess player and I can beat both of these programs with ease on their lowest settings. Clearly, the lowest level of Chess Level 100 is designed to be a pretty weak player.

If there is any interest in this post then I will maybe follow up with a game where both machines are playing at their very best. Important to note that the Beeb made all its moves in just over 5 minutes at this setting, yet it took over ten minutes to make a single move at the highest setting so it won't be a very quick game.

If you enjoyed watching this game, then you might want to let me know by writing something on the noticeboard or maybe you just want to read some more posts about chess

Castle Museum York

I recently went to the Castle Museum in York. This is one of my favourite museums and there is a lot to see here. Originally built as a prison in the early 18th century, the building now contains numerous displays including period rooms from the 17th century onwards to the present day. It is somewhat disconcerting to move forwards through time only to find your own life preserved in a museum.

The Castle Museum's star attraction is this perfectly preserved relic of the Cold War
In one case you will find a selection of technology from the 1980s. That's a 'yes' to Big Trak and a 'yes' to the Acorn Electron. The Acorn Electron was a microcomputer built for the home games market in the UK and was essentially a stripped down version of the brilliant BBC Microcomputer. I wasted many hours of my childhood playing games on my friend's father's Acorn Electron from Elite to Danger UXB, and Abyss to Cosmic Combat.

Grab a friend and take control of a spacecraft in this battle game - Cosmic Combat by Alexander Selby for the Acorn Electron. In this game, the aim is to shoot a stream of bullets into your opponent's fuselage without crashing into any of the obstacles whilst skillfully piloting your 8-bit sprite under the action of Newtonian physics. They don't make games like this anymore.

Round the corner is this vision of 90's Britain. This pretty much looks identical to my mother's kitchen when I was just a little geek long ago in the mists of time. All that is missing from this picture is Big Trak roaming around on the linoleum.
Well, that's me for now. I'm off to fire up the BBC Micro emulator and get some of those Acorn games running. Thanks must go to the Castle Museum in York staff for a brilliant visit. If you get a chance to go to the heart of God's own country, then do please pay a visit to this museum.

Before I go, one Geek Experience Point is awarded to Alexander Selby for Cosmic Combat.

If you liked this post then you might like to tell me all about it on the public noticeboard, or maybe you want to stick around for something different.

Near the Castle Museum is Clifford's Tower in York, built by William the Conqueror (who was a big Acorn fan, unlike Clifford who preferred the Spectrum 48K).

Apps for Flat-Earthers

Some facts:

  • the Earth is an oblate spheroid;
  • the Earth and Moon orbit the Sun, which is a star approximately 150 million km away;
  • gravity holds water, people and animals as well as politicians and accountants to the surface of the planet. It is this force that is also responsible for the orbits of the planets.
If the Earth was flat, then cats would have pushed everything off the edge by now.

Eratosthenes calculated the circumference of the Earth in the third century BCE. Later mathematicians then calculated the circumference of Eratosthenes' forehead with remarkable accuracy.

The Earth has been known to be a globe ever since the ancient Greeks noticed that the shadow of the Earth was circular in shape during a lunar eclipse (the only object that can cast consistent circular shadows is a sphere). Eratosthenes calculated the circumference of the Earth with surprising accuracy by comparing the lengths of shadows at different places on the Earth. Space agencies from around the globe have been to space and taken photographs of Earth - and, spoiler alert - the globe is spherical.

There are experiments that you can perform yourself. Go to the beach and watch ships sail over your horizon. You will notice that the ships disappear from the bottom up as they sail over the curve (and no, a pair of binoculars will not bring the ship back into view). Watch a sunset from a low vantage point, such as your vacation beach hut, then quickly run up a convenient hill and you will notice that you get another sunset as your higher vantage point allows you to see further around the curve of your horizon. If you ever travel to a country in the opposite hemisphere, apart from the fact that your flight plan will have been calculated to be very close to a great circle on the ball Earth, but there will be some phenomena that cannot be explained on a flat earth, for example, you will see a different hemisphere of stars to your view back home. The sun and moon will appear to traverse the sky in the opposite direction (actually, they still move East to West, but their position in the North or South of the sky will make it look as though they are moving counter to your expectation). This was the first thing that I noticed when I travelled to New Zealand, arriving at night I saw the moon travelling from the East into the Northern sky and then I noticed the large and small Magellanic Clouds which are impossible to see from the Northern Hemisphere.

There are two models for understanding the solar system. One of these models, the helio-centric, globe earth model manages to explain all phenomena that we observe and can be used to make accurate predictions about both celestial events and the motion of objects on or near the surface of the planet.

The other model - the so-called Flat Earth - is not really a model at all as it makes for a poor representation of reality, explains very little of observable phenomena and can make almost no predictions. In fact, Flat Earth proponents cannot even agree on what the model should be although the common themes are a flat (sometimes infinite) plane, with the moon and sun as smaller than scientists think rotating several thousand miles above the surface of the plane. The stars are unknown points of light stuck to a glass dome, and there is an 'ice wall' preventing the oceans from falling off. Even the best Flat Earth explorers have failed to successfully photograph the ice wall or the dome. Flat Earth astronomers do not seem to care that their models do not successfully represent the reality of the southern celestial hemisphere.

Followers of the Flat Earth need to reject almost all of Newton's Laws of motion in order for their model to make even a partial sliver of sense. Neil deGrasse Tyson has blamed the conspiracy theory’s rise on “free speech” and a “failed educational system” which does not promote critical thinking. Gravitational effects are explained as simply 'density' and 'buoyancy', although, in fact, buoyancy is an epiphenomenon of gravity, Flat Earth scientists ignore this whilst simultaneously sticking fingers in their ears and saying 'La La La' very loudly. The existence of satellites and even outer space itself is rejected completely by Flat Earth proponents. The daily motion of the sun and sky is explained away as simply a trick of 'perspective'.

I could go on.

I haven't even mentioned the observation by all Flat Earth astronomers that the surface of a body of water looks flat, or that they cannot feel the dizzying 15 degrees per hour rotation of the Earth at the equator (you would not expect to feel such a slow rotation).

But I decided to do some research that I do not believe anyone else has done before. I shall simply find all the apps in the app store that rely on an helio-centric, round earth model, and then compare them with apps that have been written using a Flat Earth model. Whichever model gets the most high-quality, accurate and useful apps wins!

Apps for Round Earthers

First up is Google Earth.

Based on countless satellite images of a spherical Earth, Google Earth provides a virtual 3D model of the Earth. I am not sure how this would be achieved if satellites did not exist. You can add your own data to the model, such as flight plans, and if the Google were lying to us about the shape of the planet, then it would have have been discovered by countless aeronautics enthusiasts by now.

This is Google Maps, although there are other map applications out there. I am not sure how Flat Earthers think their satellite navigation system works without the existence of satellites, presumably some sort of ground-based perspective magic, however later this week I shall trust this application to navigate me on a 600-mile round journey. I shall expect to arrive at the same place I set off from.

One of many apps that add real-time information to maps. This one lets you track thunderstorm.This one is called Blitzortung Lightning Monitor.

One of my favourite apps is Sunrise Sunset. The 3D view shown here allows you to track the position of the sun at your location as it conforms to reality. You can go outside and check that the sun is where it should be. Notice the simplicity of the Heliocentric model, yet it perfectly explains all observations from anywhere on Earth. I can't wait to see the Flat Earth version of this application.

One of the achievements of a working scientific model is that it can be used to make accurate predictions even if we do not actually understand the underlying physics. The motion of planets and asteroids can all be predicted far into the future and you can also go outside and check whether the model matches your reality. The screenshot above is from Asteroid Alert.

Your smartphone is essentially a mobile planetarium. There are countless awesome planetarium apps available across multiple platforms. The one shown here is Sky Walk 2 for Android. Again, you can check that the model matches the reality around you. Note for the confused - the picture of the bear is just an aid for your imagination. I am not sure how an accurate astronomy app for Flat Earthers would work (that is dealt with at the bottom of this page), although I imagine it would have to be drawn with crayons.

One of several apps for viewing live feeds from the International Space Station. The one shown is ISS Live. I don't need much more proof than my ground-based observations suggesting a globe Earth being corroborated by a space-based camera. The ISS orbits at a relatively low orbit, but it is high enough for you to see the curvature of the Earth. You would not expect to see any curvature from an aeroplane. My challenge for the Flat Earth movement: start in Australia, get a good telescope and a hot-air balloon. Go up. Take a picture of the Eifel Tower in France. This should work for your 'model'. The interesting thing about ISS and other satellite tracking software is that you can wait for the object to pass over your head as indicated in the app, then go outside and watch it happen yourself. This happens because the software uses an accurate model of reality.

Here some software is written for the BBC Microcomputer, which even though it is thirty years old is still accurately predicting lunar eclipses. It does this because it is based on an accurate model of the solar system.

Here is some BBC Micro software for tracking the position of the day/night terminator on the Earth for any day of the year. Although there are many modern versions of this software, including, I still use my trusty 8-bit version. This works for a globe planet. It does not work for the southern 'hemisphere' of a flat earth. The reason for this is because the flat earth model is nonsense.

I shall conclude this section be simply saying that there are countless apps for various platforms that rely on an accurate model of reality, or technology such as satellites that also rely on an accurate model of reality.

Let's now look at apps that use the flat earth model. I really can't wait to see what the world's best flat earth astronomers and flat earth software engineers have come up with.

Apps for the Flat Earth




Oh dear!


Well, I'll leave it there and let you make your own mind up. If you liked this post, then you might like to read some other posts about the solar system, or maybe the BBC Microcomputer.

If you really hated this post then you probably think that gravity is a lie told to you by globe manufacturers to promote sales or something. Either way, you can post comments on my noticeboard.

Poke the World

My latest favourite toy for LaMetric time is Poke the World.

LaMetric app used to control the LaMetric device (as seen on my Android phone).

LaMetric Time is an awesome internet clock / radio / notification center. They look really cool on your desk and can be programmed to do all sorts of smart things, such as display your phone notifications and messages. There is a steadily growing app store for you to download new functionality, and integration with IFTTT really sets this device apart. LaMetric is a useful device for any small business, office, home or submarine.

Part of the charm of LaMetric is the 8-bit-style colour display.
I have been using LaMetric for about a year now, mostly for the internet radio and a notification centre for the rest of my digital life. As well as telling the time, it displays the news, weather and number of people who have stopped following me on Twitter (@supdecadegames). Pretty much all of the notifications generated by my Android phone can be displayed on the LaMetric, in glorious 8-bit graphics and accompanied by a custom sound effect. If someone emails me from work, it displays the subject line with a suitably depressing 'wa wah wah wah waaaaahhhh!' on the trombone. If I leave my house, the LaMetric radio automatically switches off. When I return home, LaMetric is waiting for me with my favourite radio station.

I can't recommend LaMetric highly enough.

So what is Poke the World?

This is the latest app that I have discovered for LaMetric. Advertised as an 'experiment', it (rather pointlessly) allows LaMetric uses to send a poke to other LaMetric Poke the World users. And that makes you feel more connected - OK!

Plus One Geek Experience Point awarded to Sash, for Poke the World.

I really don't know what you are waiting for. Buy yours now: LaMetric Time Wi-Fi Clock for Smart Home

Well, that's all for today. No doubt I will be back soon with some other technology thingy that has perked my excitement levels.

If you are a fan of pointless apps, then you might also like this article about Yo, or maybe you just want to watch a load of balls?

LaMetric Time Wi-Fi Clock for Smart Home #lametric @getLametric

Can you use RISC OS as your main computer?

The short answer is yes, sort of, but mostly yes.

The RISC OS desktop on Raspberry Pi showing the 'pinboard' and 'iconbar'

In my post on using the BBC Micro as your main computer, we decided that for a computer to be of any use, it must be able to do the following well:

  • Connect to the Internet and have a fast, secure browser.
  • Provide applications for workflow.
  • Provide applications for playing media files.

We'll look at these in turn, but first some information about this Operating System.

RISC OS was originally developed for the Acorn range of 32bit RISC computers in the late 1980s. That makes it older than 'Red Nose Day', GCSE examinations and the movie 'Die hard'. It was a time when plaid shirts were fashionable for men. If you turned on the radio you would suffer songs by Bros and Enya. Whereas you need not suffer Bros and plaid shirts anymore, RISC OS has continued to be developed to this day and is available for RISC architecture machines including the Raspberry Pi. In this post, I will be referring to RISC OS running on my Raspberry Pi 2.

This operating system is an advanced GUI-based operating system although many of its features will appear strange or unexpected to a modern user who has, perhaps, become habitually used to Windows or Linux. Nevertheless, despite its quirks, RISC OS is a joy to use. But can it be your main computer?

The Internet

The Raspberry Pi does indeed connect to The Internet, however, RISC OS will only support wired ethernet connections. The onboard wireless adapter will not work here.

Many of the applications for RISC OS are available through the online Pling store or the package manager. Some of these applications use network connections with little difficulty as you might expect from a modern OS. Sadly there are no applications for linking to your DropBox, OneDrive, Google or other cloud services. I use a second Raspberry Pi as a home file and web server and this serves files to the RISC Pi with ease.

The default web browser is NetSurf which is a little underdeveloped. Most modern web pages fail to render properly. JavaScript does not run and you can forget about Flash, other plugins and all your favourite browser extensions. It is possible to install a version of Firefox, however, it requires several dependencies that I am repeated failing to install properly. After a few hours of trying I have finally given in, but I may return to that at a later date.

My Blog as shown in NetSurf


What your RISC machine can do here really depends on your workflow, however RISC OS is more capable than the BBC Micro so I shall cover some of the capabilities you might need.

For word processing, spreadsheets, text files and database work, RISC OS has a number of applications that are free (as in free pizza) to download from the Pling Store (or indeed, might even be bundled with your software distribution). Most notable applications are Fireworkz, PipeDream and StrongEd. It is worth noting that I don't do much word processing on the RISC machine, and none of these applications beat the Microsoft Office 365 suite on my Windows machine. Nevertheless, all of these applications are capable enough of being your workhorse. Fireworkz can open Rich Text Format files, so if you need to open your world domination plan from MS-Word, you may need to do some editing or conversion first.

Unless you are migrating thousands of files from Office 365 to RISC OS, you will find that your Raspberry Pi will be totally capable of most jobs here so I'm going to call it a 'pass'.

It is worth mentioning that I use my RISC machine to take and keep various notes. This can easily be achieved as an OS task. Simply hit CTRL+F12 to bring up a task window and type:

*build <filename>

Press ESC to finish.

A demo of Fireworkz as a spreadsheet program

If your workflow includes image editing or audio editing, then there are a number of applications available for you here, although nothing to beat your professional applications on your modern PC. Also, don't expect your favourite open source applications (GIMP, Audacity etc) to be available under RISC OS. That said, your RISC machine will perform this kind of workflow well, so it's another 'pass'.

It is highly likely that you will want to read a PDF document on your RISC machine. This is possible under the public domain PDF file viewer for RISC OS, however, I have noticed that it has failed to render some files that work perfectly well under Adobe and Edge on my Windows PC. Having said that, most documents have opened without problem on my Raspberry Pi, so we shall call this a 'pass'.

RISC OS PDF viewer showing a couple of PDF files displaying beautifully on my Raspberry Pi 2.


I will skip to the end. It is a surprising 'pass'. In fact, I use RISC OS primarily as a media machine. The NetRadio application is perfectly capable of handling your internet radio needs, as well as being able to play MP3 format files. I think I once wrote a post about how I threw my DAB digital radio over the side of my ship after installing RISC OS.

Net Radio, perfectly capable of catching the BBC 4 puzzle for the day over your cornflakes as it is playing your pirate metal songs in the evening.
As for video files. I have managed to get MPG format files to work perfectly. Other formats with some difficulty or not at all.

My Pi

There are plenty of other applications available for RISC OS with many in active development. I generally have WeatherUK open at all times for my three-day forecast.

WeatherUK for your UK weather needs. Yes, it is snowing today, in March.

One of many useful apps for RISC OS

One of the best features of RISC OS is that the BBC BASIC language is built right into the operating system. Whether you want the system to learn to program, so you want to write applications to get the computer to do what you want it to do, then BASIC is a good option. Simply press F12 and type:


To exit the BASIC terminal and return to your desktop, type:


I have already covered BBC BASIC in RISC OS in another post, so I won't go into details here. You can also install a version of RISC OS (Pico) which boots directly into the BASIC prompt without any of the graphical 'fluff' discussed so far in this post.

Well, there it is. RISC OS will quite happily serve as a main computer based on the criteria we specified at the top of the page. If you haven't already explored it on your Raspberry Pi, then I thoroughly recommend it. You might find that you have other needs that I have not covered in this post, and you might also be equally surprised to discover that RISC OS has your back here as well.

If you enjoyed this post, and even if you haven't, then you might like (or hate) to read some more RISC articles on this blog. Maybe you just want to write a sticky note and pin it to a virtual board on the internet? Maybe you just want to kill some orcs?