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Scientist, Author, Hacker, Maker, and Journalist.

Or, how to copy and paste from StackOverflow for fun and profit!

Compared to other professions, software engineering is still in its infancy. But having almost reached a point where the code still running at the bottom of many large systems wasn’t written in living memory, there are now some early signs that this phase may finally be passing.

The day-to-day life faced by most programmers today rarely involves writing large amounts of code. Opening the editor on an entirely new project is a memorable event. Instead they spend time refactoring, tracking down bugs, and sticking disparate systems together with glue code.

“The word for all this is a ‘mature programming environment.’…


“Privacy was never dead, it just went away for a while…”

The transcript of the keynote talk I gave at QCon London, held in March 2020, during which I talked about machine learning, edge computing, and privacy.

Machine learning is traditionally associated with heavy duty, power-hungry, processors. It’s something done on big servers. Even if the sensors, cameras, and microphones, taking the data are themselves local, the compute that controls them is far away. The processes that make decisions are all in the cloud.

But this is now changing, and that change is happening remarkably quickly and for a whole bunch of different reasons.

The nature of what we do as…


Is legislation now the only solution?

An (somewhat expanded) transcript of a talk I gave at the FWD50 conference on digital government held in Ottawa, Canada, in November 2019. I talked there about privacy, security, and machine learning. Some additional material has been added for context, nothing has been removed from the talk as given.

Everything is broken, and it’s actually starting to sort of scare me that we’re not willing to acknowledge how bad things have become. It’s starting to scare me that the industry tends to have discussions about morals and ethics in bars, and sometimes in the hallways and dark corners at conferences…


A Linux-based smartwatch from PINE64

Back at the beginning of the year, the folks at PINE64 announced not just a bunch of new hardware, but a whole new product lineup.

With the PineBook Pro now in pre-order and shipping to community members in small batches, and the PinePhone shipping ‘soon’, that family just got an addition: the PineTime, a Linux-based smartwatch.

The smartwatch was teased in a tweet last week, and I think the response to the project has sort of taken the folks at PINE64 by surprise. …


First announced back in February at Embedded World in Nuremberg, Germany, the BeagleBone AI started shipping at the tail end of last week.

It may share the familiar BeagleBone form factor, but the new BeagleBone AI isn’t like the BeagleBone boards we’ve seen before. This isn’t really a general purpose single-board computer (SBC) instead, as you can tell from the name, this board is intended for machine learning inferencing at speed.

Built around the Texas Instruments AM5729, a dual-core 32-bit Arm Cortex-A15 processor running at 1.5GHz, the board looks at least initially to be underpowered when compared to the new…


Announced back in May by Espressif, engineering samples of the new ESP32-S2 silicon started shipping to community members in July. Since then both modules and beta developer kits have been making their way out into the community, and I recently managed to get my hands on one, an ESP32-S2 Beta-DevKitC V1.1.

Time for some quick first impressions?

The new ESP32-S2 sits between the ESP8266 and the current ESP32 in the Espressif product line. Although far more powerful than the ESP8266, the new ESP32-S2 has only a single core to the original ESP32's two.

Whereas the ESP32 has a dual core…


Making Intelligent Insights at the Edge

The transcript of a talk I gave both at the TechExeter conference in Exeter, and O’Reilly Media’s Strata conference in New York, during September 2019.

In our industry we tend to think far more about the future, than the past. The very nature of what we do means that we obsess about now and next, rather than putting things into their proper historical context, and that’s a mistake.

So every once in a while it’s worth it to take a step…


It was Chris Anderson that originally coined the phrase “the peace dividend of the smartphone war” arguing that “…when giants battle, we all win,” and it’s that smartphone war that has brought us cheap sensors—accelerometers, gyroscopes, microphones, pressure and humidity sensors—as well as cheap screens and processors. It also made capacitance touch sensors available, with perhaps the most famous being the Makey Makey which raised on Kickstarter all the way back in 2012, or Bare Conductive‘s Touch Board which was funded a couple of years later in 2014.

Now there’s another touch sensor on the block—brought to you by the…


An x86-based single-board computer for just $39?

I don’t generally pay much attention to Intel-based boards. There have been the odd exceptions, but usually run too hot, and are just too expensive, to be particularly interesting. But it looks like there might soon be one more board added to the short stack of exceptions, the new Rock Pi X.

The Rock Pi X from Radxa occupies the relatively sparsely populated low-end of the x86 single-board computer market, powered by an Intel Atom x5-Z8300 Cherry Trail processor it will be priced starting from $39.

The board will ship with 1, 2, or 4GB of RAM, and in two…


It’s perhaps a bit surprising how many Raspberry Pi boards have made it to space. Totally ignoring all the Raspberry Pi boards that make it into space the cheap and cheerful way on a high-altitude balloon, there are at least two aboard the International Space Station in use by the astronauts, and another two running cryptography experiments for ESA.

There are others, but they were joined in July by yet another Raspberry Pi that was carried to orbit by a Russian Soyuz-2–1b Fregat-M rocket into a solar synchronous orbit.

Launched aboard SSTL’s DoT-1 satellite, the Raspberry Pi Zero was a…

Alasdair Allan

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