Teaching the next generation with Povray?

Reach for the Stars

On Saturday I went along to Hack to the Future, the idea of Alan O’Donohoe, Teknoteacher on Twitter. A very ITC teacher in Preston who wants to make a difference for the next generation. Alan’s one hell of a guy, after pulling off one of the most daring stunts at BarCampMediaCity with his fake BBC Codelab idea, he decided to take the idea of the unconference to young people in the form of a day of informal learning – Hack to the Future or #h2df.

It is an un-conference that aims to provide young digital creators aged 11 – 18 with positive experiences of computing science and other closely related fields, ensuring that the digital creators of today engage with the digital creators of tomorrow.

We plan to offer a day that will inspire, engage and encourage young digital creator

The event was all about the young people and it was amazing to see over 200 young people surrounding the make shift board where the talks and tutorials were put. H2df wasn’t a talking shop, all that was put a side for the day and the teaching started. (If you are interested in hearing about the whole problem space, you can hear Alan and the rest of the #techgrumps waxing lyrical about this whole issue here…)

So inspired by everything, I decided to do a 30min class on learning Persistence of Vision Raytracer.

The way I see it, is PoVRay as its called on the street, helped me to learn how to script all those years ago, and I think theres plenty of mathematical & raytracing techniques to be learned while having fun. And now its very quick to raytrace on the modern machines we have. So advanced, PovRay doesn’t even really support multi-core processors (its over 20 years old!) In actual fact people do ask, what licence is it? And I have to say Free before Freedom (aka before the GPL!)

The lesson didn’t go well for many reasons including trying to get the online version of PoVray working on IE7 was a no go. Switching to my laptop wasn’t much better due to the cable length and my dodgy thinkpad. Anyhow I did get a chance to raytrace some stuff and do some povray hacking with the class, so I guess it worked. Although if I was to do it again, I would make a ton of changes including a having a free whiteboard and focus on the hacking of Pov.

I’m sure PoVray could be used to teach scripting and I was amazed to find out Mark Shuttleworth was also a PovRay geek. Such a perfect picture for Hack to the Future, don’t you think?

It was an amazing day and really well done to Alan and the team of Our Ladies High School. Unforgivable we also had to listen to his #h2df rap which I can help but cover my head and cringe when I hear.

Great work Alan, less rap more chat?


TedXManchester2: The Story of Me

I’m just back from TedXManchester where I gave one of the most fascinating talk of my life.
The story of me came about in a conversation between myself and Herb Kim a while ago. Herb was wondering if I  might want to get involved in TedXManchester2. And somewhere along the line we talked about the possibility of someone from the BBC talking at the upcoming event. Anyway, in a roundabout way, we got around to talking about the possibility of talking about mybrushwithdeath.
I think Herb was very surprised when I said I’d love to do it and we got talking to Isabella from the Cornerhouse about the possibility. I remember that night because it was in Tai Wu and Herb ordered a bottle of Sake, which we never did quite finish 🙂
The presentation I’ve kept under wraps for a long while because I didn’t want to spoil it in advance and I’m only really known for giving presentations about technology or dating. I did show a couple of people who wasn’t going to be at Tedx, but generally it was a need to know bases.
So it went extremely well. All the comments I’ve seen on Twitter and Tedx chatroom have been pretty positive. Lots of people came up and said lovely things to me afterwards.
I know there was some criticism about being left in the room for 7 days but… remember I have no memory of anything, so it might have been I was actually wondering about but not right in the head, as the bleed was most likely happening from just after the election.
I’m glad I pretty much held it together, although when Herb did the introduction, I almost started to cry as he explained what happened from his point of view. As I took the steps, I thought there is no way I’m going to hold it together long enough, but I did – just… By my eyes, I hit the 18min mark almost dead on, which is great because that’s how long its taken when I did my test runs both times.
It was fantastic to tell my story on the scale of TedxManchester, and I really thank everyone for listening to my story, there is so much I cut out of the slides to make it fit including the problems I had in Hope Hospital (which I got a official written sorry for), the story of how my sister and mortgage adviser (Billie) saved my flat, the reaction to being told who won the general election and the whole mydreamscape idea.

I don’t think I will need to ever tell the story again… I’m coming up to my 2nd year since the brush with death, and I’m feeling great (although very tired right now). I was going to add to the end of my presentation, the story continues…

I just know someone/some people out there was inspired by such a personal story and if that helps, my job was done.


Of course I didn’t say anything about the other speakers at TedXManchester…

TedXManchester 2012

Mary Anne Hobbs gave a fantastic talk with no slides and no real prompt, amazing stuff. Its actually funny because I felt like her talk fitted really well with my own although we were hours apart. Passion is infectious…

Tara Shears really made particle physics sound quite simple and Tom Bloxham was quite likeable in what he was saying. I had a little chat with him about the New Islington area before the event started and he wasn’t as defensive about it as I thought it would be. Maybe he hears it all the time. Martins 12min talk asking why there isn’t a startup hub in Manchester was interesting and got me thinking about my plans for Smlworld.

Dan O’Hara

Dan O’Hara and Brendan Dawes were great as you’d expect… But a massive shout must go to Herb & Isabella for putting the whole thing together and picking such great speakers to talk…