Half-frame photography

I backed the Alfie TYCH half-frame film camera on Kickstarter, and have finally gotten around to trying it out. Here are a few of the shots I'm happiest with, from a recent trip to Glasgow. Ilford 400 film.

— Andy Piper (@andypiper)2023-11-27T20:58:38.607Z

It has been quite a long while since I posted about photography on my blog (I’m sad about that, when I remember that when I started writing here, the tagline for the site was “photography, technology, life”), so let’s change things!

Back in 2022 I backed a Kickstarter campaign for a half-frame film camera with switchable lenses – the Alfie TYCH. I remember that one of the things I noticed about the project is that the creator Dave Faulkner is based in a place I used to live… beyond that, I have dabbled in film from time to time, and I was intrigued by the flexibility of switching lenses and the idea of making a film “last longer” considering the cost. It is not a very cheap entry point – it’s not a disposable 35mm camera, and for the price it is also not an SLR or DSLR – but I went ahead and backed the project, as I liked the idea.

Fast forward to a couple of months ago when my TYCH arrived… I didn’t have an immediate cause to break it out, until about a fortnight ago when we went on a short trip. My reward enabled me to choose some film with the camera, and I picked up some Ilford black and white rolls. First impressions: the camera itself is dinky – it fits pretty much in the palm of a hand/in and out of a coat pocket, so it is great for street photography. I’m not going to do a full-on review here – firstly I don’t have my camera to hand as I type this; secondly, I’m not a film camera expert; and finally, there’s another good review over here. Go read that – I thought it was good!

So, why am I writing about it, if not to fully review? Well, to share some thoughts and personal observations.

  • The TYCH is a nice little camera – as mentioned, it fits in my pocket, so it was super handy on a trip where I got to spend most of a day to myself wandering around and exploring Glasgow (a city I haven’t visited, it turns out, for about 15 years – I knew I’d been there back when I worked at IBM, but it turns out it must have been pre-Foursquare/Swarm or TripIt recording of my travels… Gmail’s memory stretched back further)
  • 35mm film is pretty expensive – I’m seeing prices around about £20 for a 36 exposure roll (without really shopping around), so stretching that to ~72 images is a nice trick.
    • … however, I hadn’t really connected it with the fact that you essentially have 2 portrait-format images in a landscape-format full frame, so those times I turned the camera sideways for a portrait shot, was basically redundant.
    • it took me some time to get used to getting the wind-on right with the TYCH – there’s a small white indicator that shows up as you wind, and I missed it a lot when I was starting out with the camera.
  • I played it pretty safe for the first film, given I was getting used the camera: I basically stayed with the default lens and ISO throughout the roll. When I wanted to finish it off, I was back in the studio, and most of the pictures I shot indoors suffered from that – not thinking about focal length, ISO and exposure resulted in more unsuccessful images… lesson learned on that.
  • I haven’t needed to have film developed for years! Fortunately, the review on Austerity Photo made me aware of the existence of Photo Hippo here in the UK, and they did a great job of getting my photos back to me online quickly. Thanks, team!

That’s all, really – I posted a few of the shots on Mastodon, but here are some more – I’m definitely not going for a Pulitzer prize for photography, but I’m learning, and enjoying the TYCH. I’ve done the smallest amount of post-processing in Adobe Lightroom, primarily to crop and level as needed. As with the images I posted on Mastodon, there’s an accidental-but-nice double exposure in this set, which I’m quite happy with (and I’ll also happily recommend Cafe Wander as a great spot for breakfast in Glasgow, while I mention it).

Time to revive my Flickr account, perhaps? Not sure; these days, if you’re a Fediverse fan, you’ll mostly find me sharing photos on Pixelfed.

Finally, here’s one of the usable images from indoors at the studio – taken during the Wimbledon Art Fair a couple of weekends back. More to come on that, shortly. You can also follow our studio on Pixelfed.

A peek into the studio

In my most recent newsletter, I wrote a bit about our maker studio space, Forge & Craft.

There’s a lot more to say about the reasons for starting the space, how I’ve approached getting myself organised (or, um, not…), and what I’m working on. Next month is the winter edition of this year’s Wimbledon Art Fair, so right now, I’m deep into working on some pieces for display and sale there.

Since building a Brachiograph plotter back in April, I’ve been fascinated by mechanical creation of art, and bought an AxiDraw SE/A4 machine to scratch the itch to do something more meaningful. Strong recommendation towards the AxiDraw, and Evil Mad Scientist Labs who manufacture and support it – it’s an outstanding machine, user-upgradable (I added the coreless servo upgrade), and the support from the company and the community around the machines and software are fantastic. Expensive, but extremely well-made and supported.

In preparation for the show, I’ve been getting interested in the history of computer art going back to the 1960s and 1970s, and specifically the work of Georg Nees, one of the pioneers in this space. It has been a nice mix of my background as an historian; looking at generating pieces using code; and also, experimenting with how the materials interact.

Here are a few glimpses of some of the works in progress.

The Wimbledon Art Fair is a free event, with over 150 different artists in their open, working studio spaces – if you’re able to pop in between November 16th to November 19th, it would be a delight to see you.

I’ll just leave this here, and get back to getting ready for the event!

DevRel in the era of “Community Everywhere”

A slide showing the faces of two presenters

Last week, I had the pleasure of talking to the Dublin #DevRel Meetup, organised by my friends at Voxgig – all about Developer Relations in the era of “Community Everywhere”. I covered a range of the current and emerging social platforms where we can connect with our communities, and later in the session I talked more specifically about what’s new in Mastodon 4.2.

What is “Community Everywhere”? Well, it’s something that Richard Millington wrote about not too long ago. As I cover in the talk, not everyone believes that this is something new – but, as I’ve written about before myself, a core responsibility of a Developer Relations professional is to go where the developers are, and as there are a number of new platforms around at the moment, it’s an opportunity to learn, explore, and get comfortable with some different tools and ways of communicating.

A small hiccup meant that after about the 5th slide the presentation was no longer being shared into the online recording, but the full slide deck is here if you want to follow along with the talk, and I’ve also got a set of notes and links for the talk online.

Here’s the video.

September DevRel Meetup – Andy Piper – Community Everywhere

The organisers also invited me to talk about the new release of Mastodon, version 4.2. This is the first major version to have come out since I started helping the team, and it’s a pretty big deal as it introduces a few major features that folks have been looking for, notably opt-in search. In the second part of my section of the meetup, I talked a bit about version 4.2, and also shared a few tools that I use regularly that give me additional features and ways to keep up with the conversations around the communities I want to connect with. The notes are again available at the same link posted above.

September DevRel Meetup – Andy Piper – Mastodon 4.2 and third party tools

tl;dr (aka didn’t watch / or check the notes) – there are a few third-party apps and tools that I use regularly to help me to stay up-to-date. In particular, I love (and choose to pay for) Murmel and fediview which email me daily summaries of links or conversations I might otherwise miss in the reverse-chronological timeline. I also use some browser extensions that add a few niceties to the experience, such as Graze and Streetpass.

Thanks to Sinead and Richard for having me talk at the meetup, and for continuing to support the DevRel community with great content each month – there’s also a good podcast from Voxgig that you should check out.

Tech in the tent

We’re just back from a week or so camping, in the wilds of mid-Hampshire.

It’s more-or-less the end of the season – the youngsters are back to school, the summer has wound down, so the sites are nice and quiet; although the weather is at risk of being more mixed than usual. As it happened, we were pretty fortunate on that front, and managed to get set up and broken down in the dry.

As a maker and techie, I sometimes get a bit antsy when we’re away like this (and when it isn’t EMFCamp… [1]). Fortunately, this time, I had a task that needed solving using technology – in this case, an RP2040 and some MicroPython.

Our tent is a very nice size, and we have space to sit and relax inside, but particularly in the evenings as the days get shorter at this time of year, the lighting situation leaves a lot to be desired. We’ve got a couple of battery-operated / rechargable camping lanterns, but wanted something more adjustable and that would cover more of the space, more evenly.

Like any good maker, I went camping prepared – with a soldering iron, massive power supply, and a roll of LEDs…!

Embedded Mastodon post with the text: "Just spent a bit of time setting up lighting for the tent. Fortunately, like any prepared #maker, I happened to bring soldering iron, solder mat, trimmers, #pimoroni Plasma 2040 #rp2040, and a lot of LEDs along on the camping trip. /cc @Raspberry_Pi TODO: a nice case for the Plasma 2040; I did not bring a #3dprinter with me to this field in Hampshire!"

First off, let’s briefly mention the power. I take a large Jackery Explorer 500 battery with us, along with the same brand’s solar panel for recharging (when it doesn’t rain…!). This trip, I also added an Anker 548 Power Bank as an extra power source; however, the solar panel uses a different connector than the newer battery expects, so I also picked up an XT60 adapter, which allows us to use the panel with the Anker as well, when needed. Works nicely, and we got the sunshine needed to stay topped up ☀️

The lighting arrangement is simple. I cut the strip of WS2812B LEDs to length to fit the arch of the tent (this was the primary reason that I waited until we were actually on-site, to do this piece of work). The strip is inside a rubberised sleeve, which is handy for weather. At the “business end” of the LED strip, I’m running a Pimoroni Plasma2040 board – essentially, a Raspberry Pi Pico (RP2040) board specialised for driving lights, with a 4-way screw terminal, some extra push buttons, and a (as-yet-unused) StemmaQT/Qwiic connector, all with a USB-C connector. I’ve soldered the required wires to the LED strip and protected the connections with heat-shrink.

Code is (of course, if you’ve followed any of my IoT/embedded interests in the past few years) in MicroPython. I flashed the board with the latest Pimoroni MicroPython build, and – for now – trivially adapted some example Neopixel code to enable us to switch between two lighting formats, and also to switch the lights off again.

# - improve colour/brightness (currently a "dumb" division)
# - save/reload state
# - I2C sensor / input
# - (hardware) case for board

import plasma
from plasma import plasma2040
from pimoroni import RGBLED, Button

NUM_LEDS = 156

led = RGBLED(plasma2040.LED_R, plasma2040.LED_G, plasma2040.LED_B)

button_a = Button(plasma2040.BUTTON_A)
button_b = Button(plasma2040.BUTTON_B)
button_boot = Button(plasma2040.USER_SW)

led_strip = plasma.WS2812(NUM_LEDS, 0, 0, plasma2040.DAT)


while True:
    if button_a.read():
        # dim white
        for i in range(NUM_LEDS):
            led_strip.set_rgb(i, round(253/3),round(244/3),round(220/3))
    if button_b.read():
        # bright white
        for i in range(NUM_LEDS):
            led_strip.set_rgb(i, round(253/1.2),round(244/1.2),round(220/1.2))
    if button_boot.read():
        # off / black
        for i in range(NUM_LEDS):
            led_strip.set_rgb(i, 0, 0, 0)
        led.set_rgb(0, 0, 0)

# for i in range(NUM_LEDS):
#     led_strip.set_rgb(i, round(253/3),round(244/3),round(220/3))

Plasma 2040 board connected to LED strip, showing the heat shrink.Plasma 2040 board attached to a white USB-C cable, with an LED indicating power, hanging inside a tent with blue and black canvas.LED script arching through a blue tent, lit dimly.

Before you shout at me – yes, I know that having a bare board hanging there like that is “sub-optimal”, so next steps are to wrap it in some nice 3D printed case, as well as considering how or whether to use the Qwiic port… I’m thinking a rotary control for dimming would be more flexible than button presses. As noted in the code comments, it would also be very handy to have the state saved internally when the board is disconnected from the battery.

So anyway, that was a fun camping trip (with added making). Back to regular living situations, now.

How about you, how’ve you been?

[1] I am also now convinced that I need to get to CCC one year! 


When social networks are like Pokémon

… Gotta Catch ‘Em All!

I’ve been trying out as many shiny new things as I can. There are a couple of reasons: I find that folks often ask me for opinions on new technologies; and, I have a view that unless I do try things, I may miss something that’s really interesting or that might have a future impact.

The events of last year and specifically last November when Twitter began to be burned to the ground, caused another surge of innovation and interest around possible alternatives. I’m not about to go through them all extensively in this post, but really just wanted to share where you can find me.

Where you (might) find me

Primarily, I’m on Mastodon, and have no plans to be anywhere else in particular (more about this in a moment). For the sake of balance and information, here are some other places you can find my content.

  • I have accounts on Post and on Hive, but barely open either app. Hive doesn’t have a web presence for me to point you at, even. I’m not sure about the policies of either platform, and neither really stuck.
  • I’m on Cohost. It feels very Tumblr-y. I haven’t used it very much, but I see a few interesting features, and it definitely doesn’t seem to want to be any of the other existing networks, it feels more new and different.
  • I’m on T2 Pebble. Pebble was called T2 until today, but that was always a temporary name, which I realised. A couple of former Twitter people are involved over there. It feels very friendly, but so far I have a limited network, and drop in from time to time.
  • I’m on Bluesky. Back when this was initially kicked off from inside of Twitter as the notion of a new protocol that would not be corporately-owned, it was very interesting to me, and I made some small efforts to talk to Parag about it when the initial recruitment was going on, and even referred some folks for conversations (who are not involved, in the end, possibly due to being more on the “existing standards are good” side of things – I have no idea). It feels very “early-Twitter crowd, but with more late-Twitter snark and memes”. I like it, and it has some good ideas, but:
    • Jack Dorsey. He fooled me twice already, so I’m incredibly wary.
    • The team’s efforts to stand back from having any kind of political / moderation position is, in my opinion, not a good one, and likely to lead to bad things on the platform(s).
    • I’ll believe in the federated bit when I see it; I’m actively working in a current, large, federated environment across platforms, and it is complicated. I think there will continue to be pushback from users who just want a Twitter-like, single server, experience, vs any move towards true decentralisation.
    • I don’t feel like I get a lot of engagement there. As with all of these different platforms, though, there’s an argument that I don’t get a lot of engagement because I don’t spend a lot of time there, which may be valid.
  • I’m on Threads, because, Facebook and Instagram. It’s… OK. It started off really badly, only pushing celebs and other stuff I had no interest in. That has calmed down a lot, and I see a lot more folks I recognise from my other networks on there. I’m interested in seeing how Threads moves forward with federation and ActivityPub (and, noting that I work on the Mastodon project, I have to say that I’ve been pretty impressed with their approach and conversations around this so far). Definitely an app I pop into at least as often as Bluesky.
  • I’m not on Nostr. See above re: Dorsey, and I don’t love the whole blockchain element to it either.

There are links to other places I have profiles – not just on social “microblogging”-style sites – at the end of my main landing page.

The Fediverse

Fundamentally, though, I’m all in on the , which I believe offers far better opportunities for the future.

I’m on Mastodon and on multiple other sites across the Fediverse: PixelFed, PeerTube, Lemmy, Bookwyrm, and more recently Postmarks, among others. These are my primary channels.

Mastodon in particular is really fantastic, with a number of vibrant instances and communities that align to my interests, from History to 3D Printing to Electronics to the UK. It is the site I check multiple times a day, and I’m loving it. I’ll have to share a follow-up post at some stage with some tools I use that make it even better.

Of course, I realise that it is also all about the network. I like the fact that in these ActivityPub-based platforms, I can save my followers/following easily, and migrate between instances (I’ve done that once already on Mastodon). A number of my former Twitter network are on Mastodon; some are on Bluesky, some Cohost, some Pebble, many on Threads due to Meta’s huge scale. I don’t see myself stopping using several of these interchangeably for a while. That’s OK.

A couple of additional points to round this out. I don’t use any of these services for private messaging in the way that Twitter DMs used to be a channel I relied on; I’ve moved to other, actual end-to-end encrypted messaging systems. Also, I don’t believe that any of these platforms are for “reach” as such – that was a pattern of behaviour and usage I allowed myself to think was important at Twitter. None of these are drop-in replacements for those features, if those are things you’re seeking. Be prepared to try something new!


In case you missed it: I am NOT on X. X was never something I signed up for, and I have no interest in using it. The owner actively encourages and enables hate speech, discrimination, and all the worst impulses of humanity – literally the very opposite of what I believe Twitter offered the world in its prime.