Pi Workshop Review

by Donald Grigor

I arrived early for this one but unfortunately the speaker withdrew for the tutorial, major blow! Les Pounder sounded a really interesting and entertaining speaker, hopefully he can be persuaded to return to a future FlossUK event. The ever resourceful FlossUK staff stepped into the breach and provided a great introduction to the platform.

Pi’s are bare metal devices and without screens keyboards and mice this workshop would have been tricky. The screens worked really well. Also good was having a bag of bits to plug in and play with the GPIO. The best thing about Pi’s is that they encourage you to give stuff a go that you wouldn’t risk more expensive or dangerous kit over (no immediate exposure to anything over 5v). After plugging in your first led display, getting the software to work, you are already visualising entire screen walls driven by Pi’s! *This* is the magic of Pi’s they are so accessible and hackable that you start out by trying tiny ideas and you are already thinking big by the time you’ve got to the end of the howto!

Along the way I played with Docker for the first time (yeah I know, but I’m busy!), checking out pi code from Github, getting introduced to node.js, Node-Red and started rethinking how our instrument teaching labs might be driven by Pi’s in the future..

Pi’s let you play without commitment because none of it takes very long. It is easier to play with hardware that is better supported so maybe not the cheap as chips full colour LED display (that had funny pin outs and would only display solid white for me) you can tangent off into funny stuff but also drill down into the genuinely useful but still disposable e.g. out of band comms, environmental monitoring, home media servers, etc, etc. There are lots of things out there and of course available to you, free, libre and open source!

Say aye, tae a PI!

Why Powershell?

by: Finn Kempers

I attended the Powershell course at FLOSSUK Spring Conference 2017. These are my day notes.


Windows scripting cmd environment was awful. Python is needlessly complicated. Perl jokes. Shell script is simple. Data flow efficiency is required which good UNIX environments have. Microsoft realised they needed this themselves, which is why Powershell is made. Microsoft are adding bash and SSH (presumably into PowerShell). Office 365 or GUI can manage PowerShell. Registered Microsoft trademark. Scripting language, both usable and powerful.


Shell basics. Variables, Date & Time, Environment, Files, Scripts and script editors, logic, data and objects, writing scripts, and where next?
Written in mind for researchers handling data.


Command forms:

  • “verb-noun”. Example: “get-childitem”. This makes the commands fairly self-documentative.
  • Write-host “Hello World” (similar to echo)
  • [get-]help write-host (similar to -h or man on linux, man works too as an alias in Powershell)


Allows to reference values that can change. They will assume values however by typing for example “[float] $a=4”, it will specifically store a variable as a single point floating value. The type of a variable can be verified with “$VARIABLE.getType()”.

  • $a=4 assumed int
  • $b=7.2 assumed float
  • $name=”James”
  • $city=(“X”,”Y”)
  • $Filofax=$null

Still need to use dollar unlike shell script.


Perl like to to key value pairs, also called a dictionary. Allows for lookups.


Get-childitem env:\ list all environment variables, or get a certain username by adding get-childitem env:\username. Typing $username shows username itself.
Environment is inherited from parent process. See Powerpoint for example commands. Environment variable in a child will only be what it is defined in the child, exiting to parent will make it use what it was defined in parent again, as it always has on linux and windows, but before on windows didn’t really access to.

  • Redirection and the pipe:
    • Symbols “>” “<” and “|”
      • It is basically straight up Unix, see the Powerpoint for the example.


Learning PowerShell is very useful for Unix people, because it is basically a Unix environment for Windows and offers great CV opportunity and is a possible new leader in shell environments to take on the current world.

  • “Hello world” | out-file (-append) C:\blah\hello.txt (write file, will overwrite unless appended)
  • Get-content C:\blah\hello.txt (will ping back “hello world” by reading, note also the capitalisation on commands like get-content is optional, “cat” is an alias to “get-content”)
  • $myfilecontents=get-content “filepath” and “$myfilecontent | out-file “filepath” will work on the content in the memory of a computer. Useful for big computers with lots of memory.

Scripts are only touched on here but are useful for frequent use and such. Cmlets can be scripts too, such make your own script that runs after invoking “make-dinner” if one makes such. MSDN has useful articles on learning PowerShell, simple search engine common sense to learning it. http://www.powersearchingwithgoogle.com/ can be used well with PowerShell too and useful. PowerShell is basically a ripoff for the best of Unix environments.

Rich object models, office integration and so on are features only available, when running on Windows. If running on a non-Linux OS, it is basically just a shell.

“foreach ( $file in gci . ){write-host -ForeGroundColor Cyan $file.FullName }” changes text colour. You can however click in windows the PowerShell icon on the window and click properties to change various settings too.

Also available is the Windows PowerShell Integrated Scripting Environment (ISE), which is a environment for making Powershell scripts.

Powershell gives easy scalable power that a lot of unix sysadmins will be familiar with. CSV’s can be imported into PowerShell rather nicely, see 11.3 in the Powershell.pdf.

The latter half of the tutorial was essentially chit chat, bending Powershell in a variety of ways to sate our various curiosities and discussing various technologies, though none hugely relevant to the topic itself. It is worth researching the topic of doing complex custom objects in Powershell:


Files are provided including the Powerpoint and in PDF form in the drive folder this is located in. It provides also a Powershell.pdf which is a workbook for people to try out. The workbook is also available from:

This is all property of the University of Edinburgh. Under the same site available is a Unix course available too.


Finn Kempers is currently studying web technologies at Lancaster and Morecambe College and as an intern developing in Perl, Javascript and Web Frameworks at Shadowcat Systems Limited.

[Note: The views and opinions represented in this review are those of the author and the author alone. FLOSSUK is not responsible for any opinions, comments or values expressed by the author. If you have any concern regarding what has been written you may contact the council at council@flossuk.org.]

Chef Workshop

by Simon Clayton

Knowing nothing at all about Chef I decided to spend the workshop day of the conference learning what I was missing out on. This turned out to be a great day of learning led by Anthony Hodson who is a solution architect at Chef.

The day started with an overview of Chef and then progressed into a series of exercises related to building environments and developing both unit and integration tests for the environments to prove that everything had deployed correctly.

Anthony had provided individual VMs for all participants so that there was no messing around with setup and configuration which was absolutely invaluable and meant that we could dive straight in.

There was certainly a lot of learning for someone who was completely new to it all but, the day progressed at a really good rate and we covered a lot of stuff. By the end of the day, we were happily expanding our configuration while using integrated debugging of the deployments and creating more unit tests while adding multiple platforms to our environment.

Overall, it was extremely useful and provided a fantastic introduction and overview of what’s possible with Chef.


Simon’s is a self-confessed geek who’s first computer was a ZX81 and he’s been working on PCs since MS-DOS 1.11 and *nix since 1996. He is currently a developer and devops guy in his own business (EventReference : https://eventreference.com) which provides online registration systems for the events industry.

[Note: The views and opinions represented in this review are those of the author and the author alone. FLOSSUK is not responsible for any opinions, comments or values expressed by the author. If you have any concern regarding what has been written you may contact the council at council@flossuk.org.]

Spring Conference: Hotels

Where would you like to stay…

The Tickets for the FLOSSUK Spring Conference, held in Manchester between the 14th-16th March, are now available and some of you will be planning your travel. We thought we’d take a moment to discuss the location and some of the available hotels in the area.

The Venue is at the Studio on 51 Lever Street Manchester and there are a number of nearby hotels (within 1 kilometre or 15 minutes casual walking) that can be used. The FLOSSUK Council have chosen the Britannia on Portland Street as their hotel of choice.

The following list is not comprehensive and there are others available on many popular sites such as Booking.com or Hotels.com. In particular there are apartment and hostel accommodation for those travelling in larger groups or on a budget.

There is a map (that will be updated with the hotels, conference locations and any suggestions we have for food, drink, shopping and entertainment) and it can be seen below or found here (http://bit.ly/flossuk2017gmap):

If you would like to add details to this map then please do so with the link provided (note that due to editing settings you may be required to request access to do so).

Please note that the Call for Papers and Workshops is still open and will remain so until the 24th January 2017.

Spring Conference: Raspberry Pi Workshop

Les Pounder to Present a Free Hackers Workshop

At this year’s Spring event in March we will have a traditional day of workshops on the Tuesday before the main conference (Tuesday 14th March). This event is a paid day of tutorials and introductions to essential tools and techniques. This year, however, we will also be hosting a free event sponsored by FLOSSUK on the same day and at the same location.

Les Pounder who writes a monthly column on the Raspberry Pi and Maker community, is a maker, sysadmin, Raspberry Pi tutor and You Tube blogger. Les will present a day of hacking using cheap hardware, free software and commonly available items that can be bought cheaply from the high street.

More details of the workshop and what you will need to bring will be published closer to the event itself.

The BigLesP

Les is a self-taught maker and hacker. He hosts regular Raspberry Jam events in Blackpool and helps teachers across the UK to learn more about physical computing and the maker culture.Image of the Workshop presenter Les Pounder

Les loves to tinker with broken toys and build projects using cost effective equipment to show that learning to hack doesn’t have to be expensive. Les can be found on his blog where he documents his adventures in low cost hacking using the Raspberry Pi and the BBC MicroBit Controller.

Les is a big fan of using shops such as Poundland (pronounced Pounderland in the Les Pounder verse) to build low cost fun items to both hack and learn. Aside from showing the physical skills he also documents the code and process for making hacking cheap, cheerful and lots of fun for all ages.

Please use the following links to learn more about Les:

FLOSSUK is dedicated to promoting open systems and freedoms in software, data, infrastructure, digital rights and hardware. Having Les run an event for us that is free to attend and open to all helps us to further reach out to the broader community.

Note that there will also be free places for students and those suffering financial restrictions available on our main conference days.

VM Brasseur to Keynote in 2017

VM Brasseur - keynote speaker

It is a great pleasure to announce that VM ‘Vicky’ Brasseur will open the 2017 FLOSSUK Spring conference with a keynote specially prepared for the event.*

Vicky is well known in the international open source world and has presented at a number of events so it is a real honour to have her at FLOSSUK.

In VM (aka Vicky)’s nearly 20 years in the tech. industry she has been an analyst, programmer, product manager, software engineering manager, director of software engineering, and C-level technical business and open source strategy consultant. Vicky is the winner of the Perl White Camel Award (2014) and the O’Reilly Open Source Award (2016).

Vicky occasionally blogs at {anonymous => ‘hash’}, often writes and is a moderator for opensource.com, and frequently tweets at @vmbrasseur.

You can find out more about the event by navigating here and also view the Call for Papers which is accepting submissions until January.

* More details of the Keynote will be announced in the coming weeks