Thursday, November 24, 2016

Boater wrestles with Python as speeding debate rages amongst volunteers

Ok I’ll explain the attention grabbing headline later, but first a burning question. How fast is too fast? 

Following some recent criticism of excessive passing speed by wb Jena, the big CRT display boat I and others helm around the London area,  I wrote round to fellow volunteers, not all of whom are experienced boaters, reminding of our obligation to pass moored boats at a slow pace.  Now you have to bear in mind that Jena is not normally used for pleasure or leisure cruising.  Usually she has to be delivered somewhere by a certain time, and at this time of year, with it getting dark early, the schedule can be quite challenging. Add to that the proliferation of moored boats around London and you can begin to see the problem.One volunteer went as far as to say that because Jena was on a job and on a deadline, she had the right to keep a move on.

Well I don’t know about you but I can’t agree with that.  Passing another boat at such a speed that it may cause it to bang about, or pull out the mooring pins is to me unacceptable at any time, working or no.  “Well how fast is too fast?”, asks my frustrated friend.  Aah well, that all depends doesn’t it? If the canal is shallow or narrow, then it might be tick over.  If the canal is wide and deep then a couple of mph might be ok. My answer was to say that you have to watch the boats you are passing and you adjust your speed so that you don’t pull them about as you pass.  So I don’t always agree with the common signs telling you to pass at tick over as that is sometimes unnecessarily slow. Tickover on Herbie is barely a crawl. Any comments for me to pass on to my volunteer colleagues would be interesting and welcome.

Now then, what’s all this python business?  Well really it’s because I can’t resist an attention grabbing headline.  No I have not been wrestling snakes, but I have recently been teaching myself Python which is a popular computer language.  I confess that over the years I have done a fair bit of programming in other languages too, but one I’ve not used before and I quite like it. In this instance I’ve been using it to program the BBC Microbit, which must be the coolest little gadget I’ve seen in years.  I bought one for Grace to play with, which she does, but I liked it so much I bought another one for me.  If you have two of them they can talk to each other.


As you can see, it’s tiny, but don’t let that fool you. I’ve used it to make a compass, an infrared burglar alarm, a messaging pager, a voltmeter, a scrolling Christmas message display, a light meter, a stopwatch, a thermostatic fan speed controller, a spirit level, a thermometer, a pogo stick bounce counter, a mobile phone finder and a lot more I can’t recall right now. What I need to do now is to think of things to use it for aboard Herbie. I’m sure there are loads of applications.

You don’t have to learn Python to do this stuff. Most of it can be done with a really simple lego block type approach which is literally child’s play.  Yes, and I do mean literally. You can pickup a Microbit for about £13. School kids aged 12 are getting them for free. For most of the things I have listed above, you don’t need anything else at all, except a home computer to programme it from. You can even program it with a smartphone or tablet. If you are Christmas shopping for cheap presents for your friendly Nerd or Geek, look no further.  If anyone lese out there is playing with Microbits and inventing boating gadgets with it I love to hear from them.


Anonymous said...

B/hell Neil is there no end to your talents ? What a star!!


Herbie Neil said...

Ah Jim, you overestimate my abilities. Don't forget these microbits are made for kids to use, so it's a lot easier than it sounds.

Anonymous said...

Kids ought to learn how to talk with PEOPLE , not just press buttons !
Young ' Software Engineers ' are so good that 'Electronic Banking ' is very insecure . I would rather have my hand on the tiller and not rely on an integrated circuit with a poorly soldered joint !
I used to sail before GPS with dead-reckoning and radar confirmation ( if it worked ! ) .
What is all this pallaver about electronics when in fact you are only going up and down a 2-way street ?

Unknown said...

I hope this finds you and yours doing well. May we display your header on our new site directory? As it is now, the site title (linked back to its home page) is listed, and we think displaying the header will attract more attention. In any event, we hope you will come by and see what is going on at

Herbie Neil said...

Each to his own Anon. I'm surprised you didn't comment on parchment! Actually I was thinking more along the lines of remote battery monitoring so I can check when I'm at home. As for teaching kids, I'm happy that my nine year old granddaughter is learning to actually be creative and make stuff and solve problems. She enjoys it too.