S Lab Conference 2015

On the 16th of September I attended the S-Lab conference at the university of Leeds. It was a thoroughly enjoyable event and I found it especially interesting to see how different institutions and companies dealt with the various challenges that lab design and operation takes and also how lab and work space design can encourage group work from a discipline and environment traditionally seen as very individual.

I went to a very interesting presentation given by Dorothea Mangels from the University of Warwick. The presentation was about the recovery of helium in science labs, through super cooling and compressing the gas back into a liquid. It was also interesting that the system they described for pumping the helium had one central container piped to wherever the helium is needed, rather than lots of smaller canisters, right next to where the helium is needed.

Before this talk I had not realised the importance of recycling lab gasses, and that gasses which are so abundant in the atmosphere could be so difficult and costly to extract in a usable state. Furthermore liquid Helium is a very difficult substance to deal with, as in its supercooled state it has 0 viscosity, meaning that as the molecule size of helium is very small it can pass through solid pipes. This means that loses are frequent, but the cost is less than the conventional small cylinder method of having helium in a lab.

Further information on the S-Lab conferences can be found at – http://www.effectivelab.org.uk/

James Bacon


Digital Signage using Ubuntu aka screen displaying room bookings

A while back I read this post which intrigued me about how you could use such a small device like a Raspberry Pi with a variant of Linux to run a screen with the key information that you needed to display. Recently, our machine in CEDE that runs our screen which displays the room booking information had trouble booting up with long boot up times or freezing and requiring a restart. Speaking to Paul who is our resident IT expert, he checked with Ray who manages our IT Services locally about installing Ubuntu. We were given the green light and so this started my ‘techie’ project. For most people, Ubuntu would be the best place to start when looking for an alternative OS to Windows and Mac OSX.

I had a copy of Ubuntu 14.04.1 LTS (Long term support) on a USB stick that I used as a live version with other variants of Linux. I had created this sometime ago. Looking at the Ubuntu website, they had released 14.04.2 LTS. For purposes of security and stability I decided to download this and ‘install’ it onto my USB. At that time, it did not occur to me that the software I used – YUMI – was an older version that was the latest version at that time. When I used the latest version of YUMI now, that may have caused some issues as I could not get Ubuntu to work. Therefore I formatted the USB and reinstalled Ubuntu. This time it worked but was temperamental, being really slow. I investigated the speed of the USB using USBFlashSpeed. I thought this was the best USB I own. It was, however it was only good on USB 1.1 which was quite slow. After checking the other USBs I owned, I found one that was quite good on USB 2.0, with reasonable read and write speeds. I installed Ubuntu on there and proceeded to install Ubuntu. This worked a treat and I had a fresh installation of Ubuntu ready to go.

Or so I thought. The open source graphics driver was good when I used the main monitor, however when connecting an additional monitor (in this case a TV screen) it struggled to handle both of them. From previous experience, I knew that proprietary drivers were available from nVIDIA. Once they were installed I no longer had any graphics issues. I then followed the advice provided by this website to optimise Ubuntu for that system. Then I carried out some other tweaks which included turning off the screensaver and allowing the display to stay on.

Next was the browser. Mozilla Firefox was pre-installed with Ubuntu. I added the Tab Rotator add on to rotate through our main website and the room booking page every 30 seconds and installed the Tab Reload add on to reload the tabs every 5 minutes. I also changed the start up script so that Firefox would load upon PC bootup and that it was set to full screen automatically.

Hopefully Ubuntu will ensure that the PC lasts for a number of years since the demands of the OS are less compared to other OSes. This also depends on whether the machine is used for displaying content only as it is now or if its purpose changes in the future. We could have invested in a Raspberry Pi to reduce energy consumption and CO2 emissions, however the PC would most likely be recycled through the WEEE program. In general, this is a good idea rather than sending to landfill, however the end of life of the machine would still need to be considered which includes the possibility of being sent to another country and the CO2 emissions with that and the WEEE process amongst other things.

It was great to do a techie project after a long time and I quite enjoy doing things like that. Reminds me of the sorts of things I did in a ‘previous life’. I look forward to doing more IT projects in my spare time in the future…

UNITECH GA 2014 follow up

A long time ago I mentioned that I would share some photos and video footage that Abdi and I had taken whilst we were at the UNITECH General Assembly (GA) 2014 in Delft, Netherlands. I’m sure some of you may have come across the videos if you’re part of the UNITECH Alumni Association. Anyway, in order to reminisce what happened and to give an idea of what we’re looking forward to in Dublin for the UNITECH GA 2015, take a look at the links below.

UNITECH Trialogue 2014 – Round 1

UNITECH Trialogue 2014 – Round 2

UNITECH Trialogue 2014 – Round 3

UNITECH Trialogue 2014 – Round 4

UNITECH Graduation 2014

In case you did not see my comment on my earlier blog post, here are some photos taken by photographers appointed by Delft University of Technology (aka TU Delft).

I forgot that Abdi and I had taken some photos during the event as well. So here’s a different perspective and a reminder of some of the great ideas by the 2013-14 and 2014-15 students.

Maybe see you in Dublin?

EDEN FLIX Presents: No Impact Man


I have the pleasure of presenting to you our ninth and final EDEN FLIX film screening for this academic year 2014/2015 – ‘No Impact Man’. This will take place on Wednesday 27th May 2015 at 15:00 in the Design Studio, 1st Floor Keith Green Building, Loughborough University. This documentary looks at how Colin Beaven decided to undertake an experiment of a zero impact lifestyle on the environment for one year, taking his wife and daughter along with him. It’s a refreshing look at how life can be different in a good way when we no longer rely on the items that are part of the consumerist society and look towards what nature has to offer us. Take a break from revision/research, come down with your own snacks and have a cup of tea/coffee/juice/water on us. 🙂

EDEN FLIX Presents: 9 11 Explosive Evidence Experts Speak Out



I hope that you all have had a restful Easter vacation so far and are enjoying the warm weather. For the final academic term for 2015/2016, we have two EDEN FLIX film screenings to present to you. Our eighth screening is of ‘9/11 Explosive Evidence Experts Speak Out’ which will take place on Wednesday 29th April 2015 at 15:00 in the Design Studio, 1st Floor Keith Green Building, Loughborough University. You are all cordially invited to learn more about what the film has to say from some architects and engineers point of view on what happened on 11th September 2001. This will look at the World Trade Centre 7 building (which most people were not aware of) and its collapse. This will be followed by a discussion session with the audience who will have the chance to critique the film.

EDEN FLIX Presents: ‘The Cleantech Future’



Our seventh and last EDEN FLIX screening this academic term before we break up for the Easter vacation is ‘The Cleantech Future’. This will take place on Wednesday 11th March 2015 at 15:00 in the Design Studio, 1st Floor Keith Green Building, Loughborough University. This documentary is part of the ‘VPRO Tegenlicht‘ series, which is run by the Dutch public broadcaster, VPRO. The Cleantech Future will be screened in English and ‘explores the unprecedented possibilities of a new industrial revolution: Cleantech’. All staff and students are welcome to all our EDEN FLIX screenings and feedback is much appreciated.

‘Documentaries Week!’ – EDEN FLIX Presents: ‘The Yes Men Fix the World’


This week is a busy week for documentary film screenings at Loughborough University.

We all look forward to seeing you at one or more screenings this week.