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Madame Oracle

The Research Library

Calliope Collacott (a.k.a. Madame Oracle/DEUS-X) holds a Master's of Library and Information Science and thus has an affinity for information. Her overloaded shelves might also clue you in to this fact. As a fan of Science, Fiction, and Science Fiction is it any wonder that she ended up assisting with the informational needs of Dr. Geek's Lab? Her interests would fill an alphabet, after all.

Fun fact: She's always wanted to be the voice of a slightly creepy computer. Perhaps that's why the DEUS-X machine sounds like her. Who can say?

The mysterious Madame may also be heard on the Doctor Who podcast, Articles of the Shadow Proclamation.

To contact Madame Oracle or DEUS-X directly, email her at: and follow her at

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It turns out I know a guy, Karsten Agler - HP Ambassador & Technical Product Manager for Sprout to be precise.  So I managed to get invited over to HP Labs in Palo Alto, CA recently for a demo of their new Sprout computer.



I arrived at HP Labs on a fine Friday morning and I only got lost once on the way.  I managed to find the visitor’s parking area (and a spot therein) pretty easily.  Luckily, I arrived my standard level of fairly early, because I ended up waiting until the longest Benny Goodman song in history ended before I locked up my car and headed into the lobby.






Signing in was done via computer at the receptionist station.  All done with a touch screen.  You had to put who you were, what company you were with, who you were there to see, etc. That process generated a badge that one is supposed to wear the entire time one is beyond the badge-controlled sliding doors. (As this is HP labs, there was also a sign informing folks that no photography was allowed.)  I got said badge from the receptionist, clipped it onto my sweater, and sat in on of the various comfy chair dotted about.



While I was waiting for my escort, the largest order of pizza I have ever seen arrived.  Seriously.  It took the driver three trips for the pizza alone, and two of the bags were huge.  I’m guessing that HP is doing pretty well.



Once Karsten collected me, and I was in HP Labs proper, I had the opportunity to see the offices of the founders of HP, Hewlett and Packard themselves.  The offices have been kept just as those two gentlemen left them.  Even from this, it was easy to see how different those two must have been.  One of them had a bunch of change on the corner of their blotter, the other had a profusion of awards on a table, all evenly spaced out.  I would have loved to stay and look around a little longer, but I had somewhere to be.



Our next stop was the demo lab, and to get there we had to descend a few flights of stairs, deep into the depths of the building.  Except not really, as the building is built into a hill, so even though we had descended a couple of stories, we could have then gone outside at any level. Clever design!


The Sprout Demo lab itself was very interesting.  They had a lot of things about to use as part of the demo, such as a frog mask, a Styrofoam potato, shells, drawings, etc.  Several Sprouts lined the walls, with a few other computers scattered about. It looked like the sort of plce you’d hold a group demo, but for this it was just us.



The Sprout is, at its most basic, an all in one Windows box (the one I saw ran Windows 8.1) with a touch screen.   But it also has a shell just for the Sprout, so you can log directly into that, and thus bypass the Windows start screen if you like. (To see more specific specs, go here



Both the screen, and the mat/pad are touch screens.  The monitor part has ten touch points, while the mat has twenty.  Just enough to play a duet on the piano app if you want to.  In this scenario, the sheet music in on the monitor and the dual keyboards are on the mat.


The mat is connected to the computer with a magnetic USB.  A keyboard, mouse, and stylus all come with the computer.  



But you can also call up a digital keyboard on the mat.  The mat itself is thin enough that if you were to stick your hand under it, you could see where your fingers are pressing up from the top.  The stylus can be attached to the side of the monitor, and the keyboard and mouse can hang out pretty much wherever you want them to, as they are wireless.




HP is going for an immersive computing experience.  In this case, that experience deals with blended reality.  You can scan an item, say a starfish, and it creates a digital version that appears on the mat.  Half ghostly image, half photographic copy, that appears right underneath the item you’ve scanned.  That image can then be edited and interacted with.



Collaboration from a distance is possible using the MyRoom software for conferencing. You can actually conference a huge number of people together, and they don’t all need to be on Sprouts. If you are on a Sprout, you can show both the person and their mat in the conference.  You can create a collaborative environment where more than one person can work with the images on the mat at a time.



Their concept of blended reality started with a guy who was trying to improve the scanning workflow.  Historically, if you wanted to scan something you had to take your pages to the scanner, scan them, check the resulting scan on your computer, then get up and fix anything that was wrong.  God help you if you had to hand feed the whole stack.  With the Sprout, you can scan your document right there on the mat.  Then you can crop, sign, and email all in one place.  You can even load the document into Word as an editable document.  Then you could have it open on your monitor, and say Powerpoint open on the mat, edit the doc and stick it in your powerpoint.  All in one place.


I’ve done a fair amount of document scanning in my time, and just watching how quickly and easily my friend scanned in and manipulated a document...well, I was mightily impressed.


Apparently, HP is currently working on the possibility of a 3D scanning to printing workflow.  They have identified two areas of interest: scanning to share and scanning to print.  They hope to make both available in the near future.  Right now they have about 180 degrees of scanning but they are working on 360. Stronger, better, faster versions of the Sprout are on their way too, so I’m really looking forward to seeing what they come up with.  


The current computing environment shown in the demo is fascinating.  I can only imagine what the next steps might be.


...I want a Sprout now.


(I never did see where that pizza ended up, by the way.  It must be the real way they power HP Labs.)




Last year at MakerFaire, 3D printing was seemingly the eighth wonder of the world. There were bunches of these miraculous devices scattered about, and folks clustered around them with heads tilted sideways to watch a bust of Yoda or an iPhone case appear seemingly out of nothing.


This year the printers were still much in evidence, but they had evolved and brought some friends along.


No, really.


Last year’s printers that came to the Faire pretty much had the option to choose between two kinds of plastic, ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene) or PLA (Polylactic Acid), to print with, and even then it was really uncommon to run across something in more than one color.


This year brought with it the rainbow.   And PolyWood. And shoes.


Yep. Shoes.


The folks at Feetz (, like many of us, were tired of not being able to find shoes that fit, so they developed a way to print some that did. They seem to be using one of the new, more rubbery feeling materials for this.   The result looks a bit like a cross between Crocs and sandals. But hey! 3D printed shoes!


One of the hallmarks of the 3D printed items I’d seen up to this point was a sort of faint striation or ridging all along the outside of the object. It has to do with the way the printer works.   This time around there were places offering ways to make the outside of objects smoother after printing, and also printers that just plain printed smoother outsides. So, now that you can print with more than one color on some printers, those colorful items can look that much more polished.


3D Printers weren’t the only show on the scene this year. I heard rumors of 3D Routers, but I did see ShopBot’s CNC Router, which does 3D carving. There were a couple of 3D Scanners about, and AIO Robotics was showing their 3D Printer/Scanner/Copier/Faxer.


Faxer. That’s right, you can scan an item at one end, and print out a copy at the other. Pretty Star Trek-y if you ask me. (video:


So, basically, this year at Maker Faire, 3D Printing technology had taken an evolutionary step forward. There are new printing materials (did I mention PolyWood?) You can now scan something instead of creating an item in a program and then printing it. There are new horizons of color and finer end product capabilities. And heck, you can just fax an item to someone if you need to.


Mind you, that’s just stuff that I saw while I was at Maker Faire. In the wide world out there, there are people working on printing makeup in whatever color you want. I’ve heard about someplace working on printing with chocolate. And don’t even get me started on bio-printing. (   I mean, they 3D printed a piece of a skull for a transplant just a few months ago. As if we needed more proof that we actually live in the future.


In the end, I guess that the only question is: what will you print?
I’ll be over here with a PancakeBot if you need me. –

I should state at the outset that I live within walking distance of Maker Faire, and I have since it started (or so I gather.)  And yet, this was my first visit.  Once I knew it existed, I heard all about the crowds and such, and decided I didn’t want to deal with it.


This year, I decided to go anyway, darn it.  I was so very glad I did.


Maker Faire, it turns out, is basically a huge conglomeration of things I’m interested in.  Model steam trains? Yep.  How about food science? Of course!  Innovative music? Space Travel? Fabric arts? Robots? Indeed!  All that and more.  Seriously, check out the website and see for yourself. The variety is astounding.


We entered, walked past a huge flaming rose, and into the thick of things. There were some presentations that we’d considered attending, but we only went to one, and that one we found by accident.  While I listened to the Librarians Making Makerspaces presentation  my hubby took a turn around the building we’d found ourselves in.  He showed me a few things when I was done, and then we continued on.


And on.  And on.  I’d thought that we’d go for a few hours, then head back home.  That…was not what happened. There were so many interesting things to see and learn about!  I can see why this event lasts for more than one day.


Next year, we are definitely getting the whole weekend pass.  It was very difficult to talk ourselves into leaving this time, and I think that will help.  The promised crowds were most evident in the Expo Hall, but really weren’t that bad elsewhere.  Even then, we aren’t talking about Disneyland on the 4th of July crowds in the Expo Hall.  More like Disneyland on a Summer weekday.  FYI, if you are at all sensitive to noise, you may wish to give the building with the Tesla Stage in it a miss.  The room is dark, but there is a lot of competing loud noise in there.


Anyway, once we were done with the Faire proper, we hunted up the Maker Shed for a spot of shopping.  And that was where I found the shiny new Arduino Workshop by John Boxall.  This book just came out in May.  Obviously, I bought it…and a few other things.

So…I’ll be switching over to Arduino Workshop for my Arduino learning process.


Wish me luck!

So…I did the set up I needed to do before I started my first Arduino project.  Did I do the normal thing and download the software onto my Mac?


No.  Apparently that would have been too easy and that’s not how we roll at my place? I thought it would be fun to download the software onto the Raspberry Pi, and my husband agreed.


Yeah.  I wonder about us sometimes, too.

It actually worked out pretty well.  It turns out that Raspbian (the operating system that we are using on the Raspberry Pi) is close enough to Debian that we got everything running like the book said it should.  Well…mostly.  I looked up more recent info on the Arduino website, and it looked closer to that.  Still, one more in the win column, yeah?


(I’m as surprised as you are.)


We got the Arduino hooked up, opened up the Sketch program (Arduino programs are called Sketches) and uploaded the test Sketch that was supposed to make a light blink on the Arduino.  And it worked!  We rejoiced.


…And then we couldn’t figure out how to shut the darn blinky light off. I read ahead in the book.  Nothing.  We tried the reset button. Nope.  Unplugging it from the system shouldn’t have done anything…and it didn’t.




Luckily, my hubby actually knows the underlying programming language that Sketches use.  After a couple of tries, he managed to get the darn blinky to stop.  *whew*


Now we’re all ready to dive in, right?


…And then we went to Maker Faire.