Science Show on Cambridge105

A fortnightly radio show, aimed at the general public but with sixth formers in mind, talking to scientists in and around Cambridge. It’s science they never told you about at school. Listen on the wireless or the web.

The Science Show - Cambridge 105 FM
The Science Show – Cambridge 105 FM

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Insight iLOG VideoLab: a broadminded approach to collecting data

How many of the software programs commonly used on computers in the 1990s are still being used on them today? One favourite, called Datalogging Insight, lives on and a new version for 2013 has just arrived.

Insight is a family of primary and secondary school software that grew out of the University of Leicester in 1992. The family includes tools that record readings from sensors, let you model the heat lost from a house, or coax a control box into actuating motors and lamps.

The new edition has evolved over 20 years and acquired Insight iLOG VideoLab as its name. It “does” data-logging but it now takes a broadminded approach to collecting data. It handles data from sensors you may already have, or the computer’s microphone input and can now also use its webcam.

You could use it, or your phone, to film some table tennis and use the program to mark the position of the ping-pong ball in each frame of the clip. If you put a ruler in the shot, you can use your marks to plot a graph to measure the ball’s distance, speed and acceleration. Which is a fine chunk of physics. You can use all sorts of video formats, but you can get started with its own built-in clips, including one where you can show the acceleration of a space shuttle. Video is such a ready source of data, this add-on feature now seems to belong here.

Since the early days, the core feature of ‘Insight’ has been to take data from science experiments and get one thinking about what the results show. It will display a graph line you can mouse along to measure changes, ratios, rates and areas. And science teachers use these to point to what else there is to learn.

Early versions of ‘Insight’ had a green button that started recording, as long as you had plugged things in and set things up. This version offers a choice of activities (record, time events, take single readings) which set it up for you. Insight also looks for the equipment you’re using, and uniquely it can operate with 50 types of data-logger. And that’s pretty remarkable: schools owning a mixture of equipment brands can enjoy some consistency in what happens on screen. You could, probably recycle equipment that has gone out of fashion, or been thrown in a cupboard. Furthermore, without learning more software skills, you can access a range of hardware, such as a Wiimote; or the new Dynakar (see “How keeping it simple makes for powerful science”) and analyse sound waves from the computer’s microphone.

‘Insight’ has a modelling system that allows you to simulate what is mostly, but not exclusively, physics. For example, you can measure how fast a coffee cools, and you can also model cooling by inventing an equation that simulates how a coffee cools. A model could help you see how putting a lid on a coffee cup makes a difference.

It is excellent to find modelling unforgotten and connecting with real data. Modelling was one of the first things that computers were made to do and is still core science. I hope I am wrong to believe that only the maths people seem to feel comfortable teaching about it in school.

Rants aside, and finally, if there’s any question about how this package can lead to useful science outcomes, a tome of curriculum support is included. There are tutorial videos, set-up wizards, experiment instructions, models and sample results. They are the tasks of experimenting, understanding and getting under the skin of a subject.

Insight makes the harder stuff accessible and ultimately useful and that’s the nitty gritty of doing data-logging really. It shows one doesn’t always need a lab full of equipment to do useful work. One mostly needs data that students relate to and a sense of where we’re taking them. Insight iLOG VideoLab defines and exemplifies what technology can do for science and I am challenged to find anything else more focused on that job.

Insight iLOG Videolab
Data-logging software for the science classroom. Now incorporates video capability to enrich class work, and works with a wide range of the data-logging hardware already found in schools. Prices: £45 for single user to £179 for a site licence. Available via the Insight Resources web site
Features of Insight iLOG Videolab

The software that works with most data-loggers: ‘Insight’

More than in many countries, the UK has a tradition of acquiring sensors and data-loggers for science. Put another way, schools have experimented with one brand, tried others and sometimes left useful gear in the cupboard (see also “Learn lessons from the skeletons in your cupboard”). My final item isn’t merely excellent software that can collect and analyse data; it now works with a huge number of different brands. Called Insight and known to thousands of science teachers, this has grown into a family of software for measuring, modelling and simulating science ideas.

New this year, was the feature-packed Insight iLOG VideoLab. This new version of Insight does a fantastic job of unifying the data-logging equipment you may have in use or in the cupboard (see “No flash, no Harry, just great science – new ‘Insight'”). It’ll also work with the equipment from PASCO, Data Harvest and LogIT as well as DynaKar (below) and even display graphs from the Nintendo WiiMote controller. Insight now has the ability to capture video of sports or moving objects and then to trace how far and fast things move.

Yes, Insight was missing from the BETT show floor, largely due to the disappearance of Logotron, the innovative UK software stalwart. However its development continues, and a supplier has stepped in to make it available again. Read more about the program at

A data logging system that operates on PC, Mac, iPad and Android without compromise

Science specialist PASCO was at BETT 2013 with a range that has now grown to 70 sensors for capturing data in experiments. Usually you want to get information from just a couple of sensors and this is the role of the new unit called the SPARKlink Air. Plug any two of those two sensors into the SPARKlink Air, and it will send their readings to software running on the computer. What’s unusual here is that this one unit can send data to any computer and that includes Mac, Windows, and Android and Apple IOS devices.

The SPARKlink Air (£tba) has both USB and Bluetooth connections which you can use flexibly. The unit works round a common school lab issue, which is that it is a challenge to support a mix of computing devices in one lesson. Helping to provide consistency is the very well featured SPARKvue software – which runs in the same way on each those computing devices. Thus, even on a phone you can measure; display graphs; analyse data; write lab reports and even find loads of ready-to-run lab activities. This unifying ability of the SPARK system, where your class may use different devices in similar ways deserves applause. You can peek at the program on the app store; or download a trial of the desktop software from PASCO. To obtain PASCO equipment in the UK, contact Scientific and Chemical Supplies.

Briefly, I’ll also mention that LEGO Education have the new Mindstorms EV3, which is used as the programmable ‘brain’ of any robot, on its stand (see “Construction or constructivist? The power of LEGO”). Among the range of devices you could build for yourself, I was drop-jawed at a device that, like a ‘Segway’, was balancing itself magically upright on just two wheels. In five minutes, I engaged with more science, maths and technology than I’ve ever picked up in a curriculum document.

A document or lab camera that fits in a pocket

This camera device – but more of a document camera – is a new model from HoverCam. The HoverCam Mini5 is a Mars bar-sized unit that unfolds to gaze down on the front bench. It has the convenience of built-in illumination, a stand and USB plug in the one piece. The quality was good too so I can’t imagine a teaching day when I‘d not want to use it. For science or any subject, this will fill your projector screen with a close-up of a book, exam paper or the pad you write on. Scroll to the end of this video.

Very portable microscope: Smartscope iGo

At BETT 2013, Data Harvest had the SmartScope iGO (£250), a wireless microscope made to connect with tablet devices and phones powered by Apple IOS and Android. The microscope can broadcast to three devices at once, using an app that displays the images with a wireless setting. The microscope has its own bright LED lighting and it is high-powered (x200) enough to see crystal details in a rock but also much more. It was interesting to place it on the skin and see sweat appearing from pores. It was surprising to see the tiny dots of an inkjet photo and note how colours were made from a few inks. You can take pictures, annotate them and record video using the app, although you will sense the excitement from simply hand-holding this microscope to see inside a flower or what is happening in a test tube. If you do not use iPad or Android tablets, there’s SmartScope 5M (£160), a wired USB microscope with similarly impressive results.


New device for teaching dynamics: Dynakar

It’s a good sign when you find a simple device to help teach a complicated idea. The DynaKar, invented by ScienceScope, is an example of that and it was a finalist for a BETT Award in 2013.

Never mind the spelling, DynaKar (£tba) is a toy-like car and software. It is a standalone kit that aims to simplify the study of forces and motion. The car will roll along a table and tell the computer how far it has travelled. It has a sensor that watches the wheels rotate and it transmits its calculations to the computer via Bluetooth. Its only button turns it on or off. It is remarkable how much dynamics it can cover without adding yet more wire to physics equipments. And the results are indeed lovely.

Start the car rolling down a sloped table and the software will plot a distance-time graph on screen. Drag over the graph with the software and you can measure the graph’s area and gradient. You might then make a series of graphs at different slopes of the table. Keep experimenting and you’ll learn about velocity, acceleration; momentum and kinetic energy. You can measure ‘g’ (gravity) and study harmonic motion and aerodynamic drag.

In the past we would have used ‘ticker-tape’ devices and light gates to teach this and, just sometimes, even confused ourselves. Here is technology with a chance to make things simple instead of making things different. And DynaKar was one of the best science things to see at BETT 2013.


See the photos in the heading menu

If you’ve used data loggers since the 1990’s you might be entertained by my new photo albums covering topics such as

  • Data logging Experiments
  • Data logging Equipment
  • Places, labs and logistics for data logging in school.

You might find a photo of you there and ask me to remove it and of course I will!

Software update for EasySense VISION datalogger from Data Harvest

We’ve news of a firmware update for the VISION datalogger (review below). My guess is that if you’ve used the VISION you’ll not notice, but will enjoy the improvements:
  • If you connect a monitor or projector the VISION now detects it and uses it for display. 
  • An oscilloscope feature now works to 200uS
  • VISION can print in colour to PCL printers
  • When connected to a PC, the VISION internal memory now appears as a USB disc drive
  • A new user interface with an on-screen keyboard that automatically appears when required

Data Harvest VISION used with a projector

EasySense VISION datalogger from Data Harvest

The idea of an all-in-one datalogger makes measuring and data analysis in science experiments a whole lot simpler. Data Harvest’s EasySense VISION competes with devices from manufacturers such as Vernier; PASCO and LogIT. First impressions are that Data Harvest’s implementation of the all-in-one idea is well thought through and should be in the shortlist.

EasySense VISION is a new unit for measuring with sensors from Data Harvest. Its killer features are: a touch-operated colour screen; familiar built-in software and an extremely valuable socket that lets you show readings being taken using a projector and mouse.You don’t even need a PC to use sensors in a science lab because now that capability is built into the VISION itself. The result is that it’s affordable for numerous groups in a class to monitor readings from experiments. Nevertheless, if you do have a PC you can use it to take readings from VISION as well as put collected data into a lab report.
Those who already have similar systems can be reassured that this doesn’t necessarily mean that their system is now obsolete. VISION can replace older Data Harvest loggers that use the same sensors.  Thus you don’t have to start over and buy all new kit. You could gain benefit from having just one VISION unit. The sensors are cleverly unusual in their having a chip which stores calibration data to tell VISION how to scale the readings that it collects.
The built-in software will immediately be familiar to users of Data Harvest systems so no relearning is needed. It is easy enough to dive into and play. When VISION is plugged into a projector and used with a mouse, there’s little difference to notice between what you see here and seeing similar on a PC. Something to check for yourself is how well you can use this same software on a tiny touch screen. I’ve not found Windows style-programs particularly ‘finger-friendly’ or suited to the situation. But then, if clumsy, it is perfectly familiar. You can get a full copy of the software for free from A new version of the internal software provides ease of use changes (version 1.2 May 2010).

Blackcat Science Activity Builder

Press release from BLI Education:

This third Blackcat Science Activity Builder title lets you create activities for science. Using the templates you can enter your own content and make on-screen activities. The templates include pairs, crossword, lotto, labels; question / answer, Venn and Carroll diagrams. tables and ordering for science topics such as electricity, forces, and light. You can save materials in HTML, .exe or SCORM 1.2. Price £199.95

Veho handheld microscope

Image from BLI Education:
VMS 001 is a compact handheld microscope, 10cm tall with a 7cm base. Its 1.3 megapixel lens can point in any direction with up to 200x magnication. Four LEDs around the lens illuminate the object beneath. An image displays in the software window on the PC. The microscope displays large or strangely shaped objects that a traditional microscope fails to accomodate. Also available is a VMS 004 with 400x magnification. Works on: Windows 98; Windows 2000; Windows XP; Windows Vista. Prices VMS 001 – Single user – £59 ;VMS 004 – single user – £69

Inspire Data 1.5

My first review of Inspiredata, some years before now, I discovered a tool which made data interesting. I felt short-changed on tools for handling science data (as opposed to everything else). It was easy to be enthralled by clever transitions between one type of graph and another even when the transition provided no new information. What’s lovely is that Inspiredata continues to improve. There’s a tool to gather data through an online survey; lots of types of plot  (Venn, stack, bar, pie and what’s called an axis plot); lots of ready made subject-specific databases; lesson plans, classroom projects, handouts, database templates and Inspuiredata can now display line of best fit.

SPARK Science Learning System

The technology for teaching science provides electronic sensors that can monitor sound, speed, temperature and anything a school curriculum wishes to measure. The sensors usually plug into a box that will USB into a computer. Software on a PC shows measurements on the screen, puts them on graphs or calculates say, a rate of cooling. This (my) website is one of several that tell how valuable this is for education.
The hardware trend of late is to combine the sensor box and computer to give a remarkably improved system. The SPARK Science Learning System from PASCO (about £305) is a portable and bench unit that takes a couple of sensors and a couple of presses to start measuring immediately. This dedicated unit with built-in software ensures success and soon raised a smile because for once I could focus on whether a temperature probe was in the right place and whether some insulated cups were set up correctly. Too often before one could be concerned if anything was working, but with fewer connections to make and fewer chargers to clutter you see major benefits. While this is not at all passé, future generations of students will come to expect nothing less than a system which is smooth and convenient. And if you have used generations of devices that put their software in volatile memory or have you navigate Windows menus with a toothpick fergoodnesssake, this is not passé.

The SPARK screen is large so the virtual buttons on its touch screen suit fingers instead of just fingernails. You can select part of a graph on screen and do more analysis, such as calculate averages or lines of best fit, than many schools ever do. When you plug in a sensor you can display its readings as a line; number or meter display. And then there is a neat way to preset many options and retrieve them. You do this by ‘building’ so-called experiment workbooks which keep your settings in files on the unit. While this isn’t a new concept, the review box had a stack of ‘multimedia’ workbooks for each subject. I soon found experiments such as ‘heat of reaction’ and ‘acceleration’. The experiment workbooks had been made with the PC version of the very same software. This version lets you incorporate written pictures; instructions; questions and quizzes. You can also save a PowerPoint and so quickly assemble a whole tutorial. You really can have a whole curriculum’s worth in there.

If there is a niggle it is that the software seems like a first generation idea. For example it could simply show you readings without having to choose any parameters – but this is a point I’d argue for and others would say it’s good to give you control.

Even at this early stage, a general conclusion is that having a dedicated unit for measuring is quite the direction to be heading in. And when you can run the same software in the SPARK system as on your Mac or Windows PC and now the iPod, it matters less whether every computer you use has a start menu button. It is far, far on task to assess a new system on how reliably it lets you achieve your science objectives. Since a key one of those objectives is learning to investigate science well, having a system dedicated to the purpose strikes me as being the way to go.

To read more at the makers site, click the title. In the UK visit

Video and Data analysis tool – Coach 6 Studio

Coach 6 Studio provides a learning environment where you or students can work with models or create models of your own. It cuts through complex maths to do with changes over time to give students ideas and problems to solve. If ever you feel that there should be more to do with the data we collect Coach 6 Studio opens the door to it. In the UK we’ve put a considerable amount of effort into replacing £1 thermometers with £1000 systems that on the surface do the same thing. This program shows how we can use ICT to get value.

You can start with imported lists of numbers, a video clip, a picture or the countless examples provided. There are tools to cut and resize media and even one to correct distortion of images captured at an angle. You can go through a sports video, frame by frame, and plot the path of a ball or athlete. What you can then do is make a model to fit the data and play it through beside the video. The depth and facilities available is the meat of physics and very powerful indeed.

I first saw Coach in action some twenty years ago. I watched it demonstrated, and heard about the way students could handle data captured from pendulums swinging and people breathing. It was spell bounding and has had me hooked on data logging for as long. What especially impressed were classroom activities where students would derive data from them. The teacher had structured them so as to eke out as much as one could. Graphs were not presented as done but as paths to learning: do this and comment; differentiate that and say what you find.

So many years on, Coach has today evolved into a comprehensive data handling ‘studio’. Spreadsheets like Excel aren’t up to this. Coach embraces video and combines it with captured data and modelling. As well as import data you’ve collected with your own sensor system, Coach can actually capture data from CMA and Texas Instruments Interfaces. If you’re looking for a set of real scientist’s tools to analyse data and you enjoy packages so much of what people want to do is built-in than Coach 6 Studio beckons. A trainee physics teacher would go far with this – and knowing how to ‘eke’ understanding out of raw data would be part of every science curriculum.

Published by CMA FoundationAMSTEL Institute, University of Amsterdam,

GCSE Biology A – news release from JSH

GCSE Biology A from JSH is CD-ROM with presentations, animations and interactivity for the interactive whiteboard. The title covers the biology aspect of the new specifications for AQA, OCR, WJEC and Edexcel. Free animations and interactive exercises available at: (click title above)

These sample resoures are also available on a free CD-ROM for schools in the United Kingdom.

LogIT – black box datalogger

Data logging technology needs to be astoundingly simple to find an easy place in a practical lesson. When there’s pouring and heating going on, the LogIT Black box datalogger is a remarkable piece of technology that fits. There are no buttons to press, no drivers to install and no power brick to connect, just a USB cable and up to three sensors and then you are working. It’s happy with existing LogIT sensors that I’ve had since the dawn of the National Curriculum. Frankly there is little to say: it lets you measure with speed and can handle the trickier classroom tasks to do with magnetic induction or the flicker frequency of a fluorescent lamp. The LogIT Black Box comes with a booklet of useful, clever and activities to try like showing the insulating property of carbon dioxide gas. [link above]

Chemistry students get a taste of its application – also caught working on camera

Filmed report of a booster day for chemistry when over 160 A level chemistry students descended on Leicester University. And how good they were!
I think everyone could see how important chemistry is – and what a great idea this kind of event is. As well as the Science Centre East Midlands, supporting here were the education folk from Nottingham Trent University. If you’ve no contact to follow, the folks at the local Science Learning Centre ought to know how to make this happen.

The RSC (Royal Society of Chemistry) link above takes you to interviews and gives a fair flavour of the day. Three minutes in I’m seen waving arms as I talk about multimedia and chemistry teaching. People ought to remind me that a big camera in the corner was filming this – or how would I know! Anyway, it was an event to maybe replicate down your way.

No 1: places where an IT department’s talents have no beginning

—–Original Message—–
Subject: Dundee City Council

Please note :-
The Dundee City Council payment remittance for the date shown is attached. (IGNORE the headers.txt file). With most email systems you should be able to double click the ‘.html’ attachment and view the Remittance Advice.
If you have problems viewing directly from your email system, save the ‘.html’ and the 2 ‘.gif’ files to a directory on your Hard Drive and then double click the ‘.html’ file from there.

* Outlook ***************
If you are using Microsoft Outlook and our attachments fail to appear, click the FORWARD button on your toolbar, in most cases the attachments are then available to view.
* Outlook ***************

If you have any problems with this email please email and we will try to help. If you have any queries about the content of the email you can email as above or phone Dundee City Council on 433135 and ask for the purchase ledger team.
****************************** IMPORTANT ******************************
Dundee City Council recipients please note:
****************************** IMPORTANT ******************************
This email and any files transmitted with it is confidential and intended solely for the person or organisation to whom it is addressed. If you are not the intended recipient, you must not read, copy or disseminate the information or take any action in reliance on it and it would be appreciated if you would also notify the sender by reply email and then delete this
email immediately.
All messages passing out of this gateway are checked for viruses but Dundee City Council strongly recommends that you check for viruses using your own virus scanner as the Council will not take responsibility for any damage caused as a result of virus infection.

What have you found at Google and YouTube for science lessons?

From UK newspaper “The Guardian” September 2006:
“Faster internet speed has allowed us to show video on demand, such that Google Video has clips of lectures, shuttle launches, explosions and insane high school pranks with lots of science to creatively plunder. Hilarious or not, IT coordinators and local authorities have taken to blocking such sites for want of controlling teacher and pupil access to some of its more iffy content.”

To find gems for the classroom think bizarre and then try searching for mentos; explosion; rocket launch chemistry … be prepared for surprises (and please don’t search speculatively in class – as you’ve no idea what antisocial stuff will crop up!) As an example, for any topic on combustion, this petrol filling station clip shows someone puffing a cigarette whilst pumping fuel.

At the moment you can download clips to your PC from google video. My technique is to download the video ‘MP4 for iPod’ and then use Quicktime to play the file offline. Good hunting. If you don’t find anything obscure but useful, methinks you didn’t think bizarre enough.

Biochemistry multimedia resources for the new GCSE/KS4

Organic Chemistry good for GCSE biology topics

The last post reminds me that we’ve created a handful of lovely models and animation for the new UK GCSE to support work on the special topics covering DNA and proteins. Made under the banner of ‘Roger Frost’s Organic Chemistry’ these whiteboard materials show 3D models of DNA; how bases pair up; DNA unfolding and replication; transcription at the ribosome with tRNA; how proteins are made with amino acids; carbohydrates; active sites and enzyme activity. While the bulk of the title is mainstream chemistry, and aimed as such, this wadge of biochemistry topics deserved coverage. (

Resources for KS3

A message from about a new website:

The Biochemical Society has created scibermonkey, a new free online resource for Key Stage 3 science. Mapped onto the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority’s (QCA) scheme of work for KS3, scibermonkey easily searches all units and lesson objectives, directly linking you to the best science resources on the web.


Are the IT Crowd in your school

Just off the phone from a call where a school has asked IT to install a tiny plugin so that they can get along and do some chemistry teaching. It hasn’t happened, I’m unable to help and feel frustrated. It’s not the first call of the kind nor a first experience: science teachers in the most relaxed of schools cannot get software installed.
It was for this reason that I made my own software easily accesible over the web – trying to rid the need for a plugin is pretty hard (eg try doing without say, Flash) – but clearly we must try harder.

If anyone has asked their IT deparment to install something and it hasn’t happened, please spare a thought for what they have to do. This ‘bounce’ from an email to Cardiff Council shows the IT department have their hands full. I am so glad they are finding things to do:

Sent: 22 March 2006 12:38
Subject: RE: Invoice – Course Description

Cardiff Council – Images policy

Your e-mail bound for:

Subject – Invoice – Course Description


An image attachment was detected (such as .jpg, .bmp or .gif), which may
be part of a Powerpoint (PPT) file or E-mail background.

A copy of your E-mail has been held in accordance with Cardiff Council’s
ICT security policy, and Audit will routinely check these images to
assess their appropriateness.

Any technical queries, please contact the ICT Helpdesk on 029 2087 3333.

Any queries regarding this policy, please contact the Authority’s Audit
Manager on 029 2087 2275.

Planet Science Newsletter – a weekly blast to your inbox – sign up

When the ‘Planet Science’ Weekly Newsletter set me the task to find resources for interactive whiteboards I was surprised to find even this many useful sites. They’ll made good use of the white rectangle on the classroom wall (the IWB) – rather than use it as a projector screen.
On the whole, whiteboard resources are as rare as rocking horse dung. Building interactivity into a web page requires money and brains and the examples below mostly show this. People ask me for free stuff but I’d like suggest why philantropy is not always a good thing. This kind of money e.g public money (cf BBC Blast) ought to provide what other publishers show no interest in providing. When it competes with reasonably commercial offerings it damages motivation to make resources in the future. And oddly enough, I value the stuff I buy. Don’t have money? Take a look at your school’s IT budget.
Enjoy the links. 

Update 2010: the Planet Science editorial is moving – and the link to sign up to the new site is In case you missed it, Planet Science grew out out a campaign called ‘Science Year’and added refreshing approaches and humour and kudos to being allowed to have knowledge of science. Certainly I’ve found it provide a better image of science than anything before or since. And it’s not that Newton; Hawking and Darwin aren’t cool enough to improve science’s image. It’s more that associating science with their characters does more harm than enthuse. PS has been a finalist in the BAFTA awards and has been the most exciting PR exercise to hit science. 

Issue 168 – Halflife
Issue 166 – Optics Bench
Issue 165 – Organic Chemistry
Issue 164 – Projectile motion – shoot the monkey
Issue 161 – Digital oscilloscope
Issue 155 – Food analysis
Issue 153 – Physics, Ripple Tanks and Waves
Issue 151 – Periodic table – Nucleus and Electrons
Issue 149 – Solar system
Issue 146 – Organs of the body
Issue 144 – A journey through the solar system
Issue 143 – Plant cell versus animal cell
Issue 142 – Terminal velocity
Issue 141 – Breeding mice
Issue 140 – Crocodile clips
Issue 139 – Distance time graphs in football
Issue 138 – Natural selection– a peppered moth simulator

Alternative Energy Experiments kit – from Data Harvest

This collection of kits offer practical illustrations of wind power, solar electricity (photovoltaic cell) and solar heating.
The wind power unit has a useful clamp and two wires from a motor on the ‘mill’ can be fed to a voltmeter, LED unit or motor unit. The solar panel is an 20cm square piece of metal attached to a short length of copper plumbing tube. Filled with water, a digital thermometer relays the temperature. If you’ve sensors you can use them to monitor voltage or temperature over time. By the time you’ve done that you’ll have lost more time than generate electricity or heat.

Ironically the result is that you end up monitoring the weather – i.e. I’m still thinking about what I can actually learn from this. The accompanying worksheets aren’t helping this – they are more to do with geography and D&T than science.

Despite words like ‘robust’ in the product description, most parts of the kits appear to be made from scrap – and it’s quite fragile stuff too… which would be fine were this all to cost about £20. In fact it costs well over the £200 mark. Verdict: try this before you buy.

Physics Illustrator – Tablet PC – uphill climb

Intrigued by the title I was as here was some free software from Microsoft’s Download Centre.
First attempt to install – “Sorry, this only works on a Tablet PC”
Second attempt to install, this time on a Tablet PC – “Sorry, you need Net Framework installed first”.
There was no third attempt. Physics cannot be this hard but if you’re using this software, please click below, tell us how useful it is and we’ll give it the extra effort required.

Data logging via Bluetooth connections – in a word, ‘avoid’

Just as data loggers got that bit more reliable, in comes the wireless connection known as Bluetooth.
While recent devices use a USB lead to connect a data logger to the PC, several manufacturers offer the extra feature of a Bluetooth wireless connection.

USB is mostly good. USB not only transfers data, it can power the data logger and this is how logging is becoming more reliable. (See for example Easy sense ‘Link’ (Data Harvest) for a most reliable and inexpensive way to link three sensors to a PC.)

Enter Bluetooth and the logger transfers data over a wireless link. Like a mobile phone, the logger will need power so we’re back to scratch on the power issue again. What’s more, Bluetooth is flakey-flakey-poor. For example, the PC and logger have to be married and this marriage have a habit of falling asunder. So we jump from real gains with USB to real risks with Bluetooth. And reliability plummets.

Bluetooth is great for connecting the whole bunch of obscure devices like phones, headsets, speakers, PDA’s, GPS navigators and personal gizmos you might buy. Instead of carrying a caseful of cables, you use Bluetooth to connect them up. So you can print, access the network / Internet and send data (phone numbers, pictures, music) between them.

Bluetooth is largely about getting different manufacturer’s devices to interoperate with a bit of wireless convenience thrown in.

If Bluetooth data loggers enabled a small chunk of that ability we’d be gaining something. If Bluetooth could send data back from a hot water tank, different rooms, a pond or weather station we’d be gaining something but still not exactly massively. If they took photos and fed them back that would be a gain. If different maker’s equipment worked with the PC we’d gain massively. But Bluetooth data loggers aren’t doing that at all. At the most they exchange data with the PC, something which a simple USB cable does best.

I’d avoid. Given the track record of data loggers, and until someone shows reliability or ‘learning’ gains from using Bluetooth, I’d suggest staying away.

From our ‘Contact’ page – Philip Harris elog (II)

From our ‘Contact’ page:
Dear Roger

Have just bought a Philip Harris eLog II datalogger (before I looked at your website!). I am having problems.

The A3 sheet sized quickstart guide (there is no manual yet) says you can charge the internal batteries through a connection to the USB port on the laptop PC (with the laptop USB power saving features turned off). 8 hours should be needed.

However this does not work – the batteries stay stubbornly uncharged even after 36 hours and a very hot laptop. Turning the elogII power on (there is a meagre 5% internal battery power left) during charging doesnt help either – and I have now completely pancaked the internal battery.

The Philip Harris tech support line is a study in ignorance. Can you suggest what I am doing wrong?

The elogII worked briefly on what power it DID have before I pancaked it.


RF thinks:
That USB socket on a laptop delivers very little current. It’s slightly different to a USB on a desktop where charging via USB isn’t going to overdrain the battery. There’s enough power in the laptop USB to allow you to read the sensors but either there’s not enough to really top up the battery or more likely there’s not enough to recharge the battery from flat. (It would be sensible/likely for the manufacturer to have disabled charging the logger from flat.) An alternative idea, and battery issue aside, is that the kit is not good – which is sad because there’s a lot of faith in the company but their equipment is over-blown and off-target. And more sad that there’s not a lot of intelligence left at Philip Harris to steer it back on course.