The Midlife Geek

Ramblings of a middle aged engineer, runner and open source enthusiast

Category: Computing (page 1 of 5)

More on threads


In an earlier post, I used Threads but the thread module in Python when I should be using threading. The documentation for threading says it builds upon the thread module (renamed _thread). The docs for _thread say:

This module provides low-level primitives for working with multiple threads (also called light-weight processes or tasks) — multiple threads of control sharing their global data space. For synchronization, simple locks (also called mutexes or binary semaphores) are provided. The threading module provides an easier to use and higher-level threading API built on top of this module.

That makes sense, so I should be using the threading module. So why is there a leading underscore on thread? The Style Guide (PEP 8) says it’s a weak internal use indication and that for example modules with an underscore are not imported when using an asterisk.

There are two ways to use this module. Define a subclass and override the run method or to use the Thread class’s default run method. I’ll use the second method here.

The Python 2.x code I was using looked like this:

import thread
thread.start_new_thread(scroll, (text,))

The new code:

import threading

def scroll(text):

text = 'Example text'
thread = threading.Thread(target=scroll, args=(text,))

So this isn’t that different but it is a lot more readable. The arguments are explicit and there’s no ambiguity.

Fluent Python (Ramalho, 2015) suggests using   concurrent.futures package with Python 3.x. ThreadPoolExecutor and ProcessPoolExecutor implement interfaces to submit threads or processes respectively for execution. I’ll expand on this in a future post as it is useful to submit multiple tasks and collect results – however that’s not what is needed in this example.

Pimoroni Rainbow Hat

Rainbow Hat (courtesy of Pimoroni)

Pimoroni’s Rainbow Hat offers a nice selection of inputs and outputs using a variety of protocols. This makes it a great way to experiment with Raspberry Pi, especially as Hardware Attached on Top (HAT) avoids the messiness of breadboards and shorting links!

Designed for Android Things, it also has a Python library and a well written getting started guide. I haven’t had a play with Android Things yet so will leave that for another day and am currently a little obsessed with Python anyway.


Attaching directly to the Pi using the GPIO pins, it’s very straight forward to install (I’m using a Raspberry Pi B+ and Raspbian Stretch). There’s a nice installation guide but it’s just a single script:

curl | bash

Can’t really see anyway that Pimoroni could make it easier. If you’re wondering about it’s suitability for younger explorers I’d say you’d be fine.

What and how with Python

The Python library is well documented, although not completely (notably the “star” segmented display). So what have we got to play with?


LED are great so that’s where we start. I found a blog post from a chap called Tim which has a great deal of detail on the AP102 LED used but beware it’s a right rabbit hole (which I spent some time wandering around). These are controlled using the Serial Peripheral Interface (SPI). Documentation suggests the brightness can be adjusted but I couldn’t see it working.

I ended up spending more time messing around with different ways to use the LED that I used it’s own class but most of the methods look something like this:

from rainbowhat import rainbow
from random import randint

for each in range(255):
    rainbow.set_all(randint(0, 6)), r, g, b)

Segmented display

This updates very quickly, refreshing quickly enough to scroll. As mentioned above the library documentation omits display.

import rainbowhat as rh

def scroll(scroll_text):
    while True:
        show = ''
        for letter in scroll_text:
            show = show + letter

scroll('Merry Christmas!')

Temperature and pressure sensor

This is a single sensor that measures both. I haven’t played much with it but it seems about right. The temperature probably needs to be compensated for against the Pi’s temperature as it seems a little higher than I’d expect for room temperature. The functions are accessed using weather.temperature() and weather.pressure().

There’s also an altitude function (which is derived from pressure) weather.altitude(qnh=1020). I notice the parameters are specified as a keyword argument, I need to look at the library and see if I can use QNE as well as QNH.

Capacitive buttons

There’s three capacitive buttons, which are more responsive than I expected. These are accessed using a decorator (more detailed post here) and documentation mentions press and release states but I found there is also a pressed state (as in currently being pressed). I haven’t found if it’s possible to check if two or more a currently pressed and will look at that in another post.

def touch_a(channel):
    # Whatever you want it to do!

I found I wanted an event handler running as a parallel process to monitor the buttons. Concurrency in Python is interesting and I am writing a separate post about it.

Each has a useful corresponding LED so you can show state. These are red, green and blue and are accessed as such, for example to turn on the blue one

Piezo buzzer

The buzzer can play midi notes by number or specific frequencies using buzzer.midi_note(number, duration=1.0) and buzzer.note(frequency, duration=1.0). I can’t imagine me using this much as I’m tone deaf so the most important method for me would be buzzer.stop.


I certainly recommend this, especially if you’re getting into Python, Raspberry Pi and working with hardware.

HAT are a lot simpler and tidier than breadboards while still giving visual feedback. There is a good choice inputs and outputs here and the library is consistent and logical. They say that if something is Pythonic, you should be able to work out how it functions and that’s true here.


Python Concurrency

What a minefield. If you haven’t seen it, there’s a great talk from David Beazley on YouTube discussing threads, event loops and co-routines. It’s worthwhile just to see someone give a presentation on coding live with Emacs.

Python’s List Comprehension

Python's List Comprehension

I’ve been spending time with Python recently and am beginning to really like some of the language’s features.

List comprehension (listcomp) creates a list by evaluating an expression on each item in a given list, from left to right.

It combines and expression and a loop:

>>> [ord(letter) for letter in 'example']
[101, 120, 97, 109, 112, 108, 101]

Apply a condition:

>>> [ord(letter) for letter in 'example' if ord(letter) < 112]
[101, 97, 109, 108, 101]

It’s useful for combining lists:

>>> [(letter, number) for letter in 'ab' for number in '12']
[('a', '1'), ('a', '2'), ('b', '1'), ('b', '2')]

Pimoroni’s Rainbow Hat introduction has an example to cycle colours on the LED rainbow:

for i in range(101):
    h = i / 100.0
    r, g, b = [int(c * 255) for c in colorsys.hsv_to_rgb(h, 1.0, 1.0)]
    rh.rainbow.set_all(r, g, b)

This is a little hard to follow but we’ll break it down. Hue, Saturation and Value (HSV) represents colour using three values between 0.0 and 1.0 creating a colour “wheel” that is easy to cycle on the LED. Unfortunately the LED combines red, green and blue. The Colorsys library can convert between the two.

The expression is int(c*255). The loop is for c in colorsys.hsv_to_rgb(h, 1.0, 1.0)

The h=i/100 is giving a range of values from 0.0 to 1.0 in 0.01 steps (we could use a list comprehension too [i/100 for i in range(101)]).

So let’s look at a snapshot, where h=1.3:

>>> colorsys.hsv_to_rgb(0.13,1.0,1.0)
(1.0, 0.78, 0.0)

Which the list comprehension converts to:

>>> [int(c*255) for c in colorsys.hsv_to_rgb(0.13, 1.0, 1.0)]
[255, 198, 0]

Giving us the RGB value needed.

Euler 15 – How many routes through a 20×20 grid?

Struggled to get my head around Euler problem 15:

Starting at the top left of a 20×20 grid and only moving right and down, how many routes are there?

I figured that this was a combinatorics problem but couldn’t see what to count or choose from.

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Remove Facebook’s app from Galaxy S7

I recently gave up Facebook and wanted to remove Facebook’s app. For me Facebook has become too much of a trade for privacy. Given that change in trust, it annoys me not having the option to remove the app on Samsung.

Enable Android debugging and install Android Debug Bridge (ADB) tools:

sudo apt-get install android-tools-adb

ADB lets you issue commands to the device’s shell, such as pm the package manager. You need to find the app you want to remove:

pm list packages | grep [packagename]
pm uninstall -k --user 0 [packagename]

Remove Facebook


Project Euler 19

Project Euler again, problem 19. How many Sundays fell on the first of the month in the twentieth century?

Brute force solution in R but it let me play around with the way R handles dates. Seems more straight forward than in many languages (looking at you Java).

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First 1000 digit Fibonacci number

Project Euler problem 25 is to find the index of the first Fibonacci number of 1000 characters. I used the gmp library – I couldn’t find a way to get the length of a bigz data type so converted it to a string:
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Number letter counts

Project Euler problem 17:

If the numbers 1 to 5 are written out in words: one, two, three, four, five, then there are 3 + 3 + 5 + 4 + 4 = 19 letters used in total.

If all the numbers from 1 to 1000 (one thousand) inclusive were written out in words, how many letters would be used?

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Names scores

Project Euler again, this time Python. The problem is to sort a list of 5000 names alphabetically then give them a value. For example “COLIN” is 3 + 15 + 12 + 9 + 14 = 53 and is the 938th item – so its value is 49714 (53*938).

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