My Top Tips to Passing your GCSEs!

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25th of August 2016, United Kingdom… GCSE results day. The day when grade boundaries shot up by the greatest amount this century.

Many people were not happy on that very day. Others were simply not. I was a GCSE student in June 2016. Here are my top tips for passing your GCSEs… First time

Revise!

You MUST revise for exams. No question about it. For example, just imagine how mad you would be if a question about the differences between open source and proprietary software came up on your ICT exam… and you had not revised. It could be the difference between a pass and a fail or an A and an A*.

I personally found that past papers were incredibly useful. At the end of this article, I have listed places that you can go to find past papers. That way, you get used to what type of questions will come up in the exam and will know how to answer them in order to gain the maximum number of marks possible.

Ask for support when you need it

Lots of people may not have got their target grade because they were struggling with a particular topic. There is absolutely no problem with asking for help. Most teachers are actually pleased if you ask them for extra support.

Try your absolute hardest

We all know that one person who puts absolutely no effort into school whatsoever. If that person sounds anything like you, think about this: Would you rather be doing a college course you desperately want to do or would you prefer to not get the grades and be on a course that you REALLY don’t want to be doing? I’d pick the first option if I were you!

Turn up to ALL extra classes on offer to you!

Put simply, if you turn up to every extra class on offer, you have got a better chance of gaining more marks in your exams and/or coursework… than if you don’t turn up at all. Teachers don’t get paid for extra classes especially ones that are out of school time. You might not like all your teachers but they want you to learn and to pass your GCSEs first time. Learn to like them!

The Result…

Firstly, I’d like to congratulate every single person on their GCSE results!

I personally got 2A’s (of course one of those was in ICT!), 3B’s and 2C’s. I also passed my Level 1 ASDAN Award. That’s what I achieved. I was incredibly pleased when I got these results – I didn’t think I would do so well!

One final thing. I could not have done so well without the support from sooo many people around me. Thank you to everyone who helped me throughout my time at both primary school and high school. This includes my parents (and other family members), countless teachers (and teaching assistants!) and, of course, my friends!

Past Papers

Please note that I do not control the websites below. I cannot be held liable whatsoever if you have any issues with any of these websites and/or their content. Thanks.

Click on the exam board you would like to see past papers from.

AQA

Edexcel

WJEC

OCR

The Xbox 360… has CEASED PRODUCTION

As lots of you may already be aware, Microsoft has recently announced that the Xbox 360 production line has ceased operation. Did you know that the Xbox 360 is 10 years old?

In other words, Xbox 360 consoles are no longer being made. This means that once they are gone from the shops… they are gone forever.

This change will affect many people who wish to purchase an Xbox 360. The only chance you will have of getting hold of one is through second-hand retailers. However, many people will go out and purchase the latest Xbox console (the Xbox One). Most 360 games are compatible with the Xbox One. Therefore, I believe that these consoles will be sold at places such as secondhand stores (such as Cex), online auction sites (Ebay being the largest) and other places like car boot sales.

However, what if you already own an Xbox 360 console. There is no need to worry as Microsoft have said that they will still support some Xbox 360 services, such as Xbox Live (yes parties and online multiplayer will still be kept available), as Microsoft are keeping the servers that host these services online. Xbox 360 games and accessories will still be sold even when consoles are no longer available to purchase. Xbox 360 hardware will still be supported.

In their blog announcement, Microsoft didn’t mention the apps that are not made by Microsoft (this includes Netflix and YouTube). It is possible that, unfortunately, these services are stopped by their respective owners. I have no evidence whatsoever if this is going to happen or not as this is my personal opinion.

To summarise, the Xbox 360 is no longer being produced. However, Microsoft (very kindly) are still going to support the Xbox 360 and, most importantly to most gamers, Xbox Live services (and possibly others) for many years to come.

Keeping your WordPress Site Safe – The Ultimate Guide!

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Running a blog is great fun. It can provide you with hours of enjoyment and can even provide you with lots of money (not the case for me unfortunately). However, there is one big problem that all bloggers and website owners fear… hackers. This article specifically focuses of securing WordPress blog’s but the same techniques can be applied to any website in general.

What are Hackers?

Hackers are people who (in simple terms) break into a computer without your permission. Computer hacking is a criminal offence so is completely illegal.

Hackers can do terrible things and cause lots of damage. Hacking is usually done remotely and, in some cases, you might not even know you have been hacked – sadly.

Many hackers will even change the password to lock you out of your device. This means that you no longer have control over your blog.

Most devices can be hacked. This includes (but not limited to): laptops, desktops computers, smartphones and tablets.

How does this affect me as a Blogger?

Somebody could hack into your blog and PERMANENTLY DELETE work you have spent hours on. Whats more, they could then upload completely irrelevant content which might  be inappropriate.

If you use a Content Management System (such as WordPress), the password could then be changed meaning that the hacker has full control over a blog that you own! Money could even be lost.

Oh dear! What can I do to prevent this from happening to me?

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Lots!

Firstly, don’t use really obvious usernames. For example, don’t use the username ‘admin’ or ‘administrator’. These can be easily guessed and are also commonly used. From my experience, hackers use really obvious usernames when trying to hack into your blog.

Ensure that you have a strong password. Ideally, ensure that your password contains a mixture of uppercase and lowercase characters, symbols and numbers. This will make your password hard to guess.

Another great way to protect your blog is to use something called ‘Two Factor Authentication’. The way this works is that you enter your username and password. You are then sent another number (sometimes by SMS) to enter as an extra security measure. The final number you enter changes each time you login for security reasons. Whilst it can be inconvenient, two factor authentication is great for security as a separate device will be needed in order for access to be gained.

There are many free services that offer two factor authentication. In WordPress, you can get plugins that will implement it into your WordPress site for you. Just search for ‘Two Factor Authentication’ on the ‘Add New’ page (under Plugins).

You can also use something called a ‘Challenge Response System’. A ‘Challenge Response System’ consists of a test that proves that you are a human. This might seem a pointless thing to test for but most hackers use programs that automatically submit data (hackers submit usernames and passwords) using web forms. Humans simply need to enter the letters and/or numbers shown in a box. Only humans can do this because robot can’t read the distorted numbers and/or text. CAPTCHA is an example of a ‘Challenge Response System.’

Do I need an Anti-Virus and Firewall?

Wordfence is a security system for WordPress sites. It scans your site and looks for ‘infected’ files which it then repairs. Another great feature about Wordfence is that it emails you when something (such as a plugin) needs updating and whenever a user logs in. This helps to ensure that your site is unto date and could also tell you that a hacker has accessed your site. It can also let you know if a user has been locked out due to somebody guessing the password wrong too many times.

Wordfence has many other great features but I have only named a few.  This is personally one of my favourite plugs so I highly recommend it. Wordfence is a free plugin but you can also pay for extra features such country blocking.

Personally, I would advise getting some sort of security system as it will help prevent hacking, and other malicious activity, from taking place on your website.

Are Backups really necessary?

Certainly.

If your site gets hacked, a recent backup could save data loss. A backup might not necessarily restore everything but it should restore most of your content should anything go wrong.

Backups are straightforward to complete. I use a plugin called BackWPup. This is a WordPress plugin that will create and store regular backups for you. It only needs to be setup once. Once a scheduled backup is complete, you can choose for the backup to be sent to one of many places. You could send it Dropbox, a file on your web server or even to a separate FTP server. These are only three examples. You can also schedule when the backups occur. For example, you might want your website to automatically backup once a week.

But what if my site does actually get hacked?

Even if you have taken all of the best security measures including the ones I have mentioned, you could still get hacked. I am pleased to say that, whilst people have attempted to hack both my websites, nobody has ever been successful. Even so, here is my advice…

Don’t panic. Panicking will not help one bit. It will just make matters worse.

Try to find a way for you to gain access and revoke the hacker’s access. If this fails, try to recover the site files if they are unharmed. Then completely delete your site and use your site files to set your website up so it was like it was before it was hacked.

If you have a backup, restore to your backup. You might still lose data but this is much, much better than losing your whole website and having to start from scratch.

Summary

I hope that you enjoyed this article and that you will take my advice into consideration when thinking about your website’s security.

DISCLAIMER – Even if you have followed all of my advice, under any circumstances whatsoever can I be held responsible for damage or data loss due to website hacking.

Your Guide to Computer RATs

As we all know, rats are very enjoying pests that get on your nerves. All the stupid sickly things seem to do is run around being an absolute nuisance. But, what exactly is a computer RAT and how can you stop them.

RAT stands for ‘Remote Access Trojan’. It is a trojan that allows a hacker to take over your computer. But what exactly does this mean?

A trojan is a type of virus and a virus is a type of malicious software. Malicious software is software that is designed to harm your computer. So a virus works by damaging your computer. But still what is a trojan?

A trojan (short for trojan horse) is a virus that claims to be free legitimate software. However, one you have this ‘software’ installed on your computer, the software damages your computer. Sometimes, a RAT is installed.

A RAT can be used to allow a hacker to remotely gain access to your computer and take control over it. Some hackers will steal your data. However, RATs are mainly a concern if you have a webcam. Hackers can see and record what your webcam sees. This is a huge privacy issue as you will not easily know if somebody is accessing your webcam remotely.

How do I prevent this from happening to me?

Using a reputable anti-virus and firewall software is a measure that you should definitely take. If you need to pay money, just do it! It will be worth every single penny!

What about my webcam?

If you have a desktop computer, I advise that you unplug your webcam when it isn’t in use. A simple step will not protect your data but it will protect hackers from accessing your webcam.

If you are using a device with a built-in webcam (such as a laptop), cover the webcam with something like a plaster or sticker when it isn’t in use. This is a physical security measure.

I think I have a RAT. HELP ME!!!

Don’t panic! Run your reputable anti-virus software to detect for malware. Most anti-virus software will then remove the malicious software for you! If you are still stuck, take your computer to a repair shop as they should be able to help you out.

I’m wasting my time reading this article because I’m a Mac user and Mac’s don’t get viruses! Am I correct?

Hmmm…

Apple are known for the security of their Mac products. Personally, I have a Mac (with no anti-virus) and have never had an issue with security or had a virus. However, every so often, a new piece of malware designed for Mac’s is released. Apple appear to react to this quickly and before long, they publish an update to stop the malware. For this reason, I recommend that you install anti-virus just in case! You simply cannot guarantee that Apple’s pre-installed anti-virus software will work as well as third party software.

DISCLAIMER – Follow my advice at your own risk. I cannot be held responsible for any harm to either you or your computer data even if you follow my advice!

NEW TUNE RELEASE – Peaceful

On Friday, I was watching the Ultra Festival in Miami (streamed to my iPad using twitch.tv). Whilst I was listening to the epic music, I decided to make another tune using Garageband. Whilst I was watching the festival, I noticed a MacBook Pro! This amazed me so much that I decided that I should make another song. My music making adventure had continued.

A couple of months ago, I made a song called ‘Confusion’ using Garageband (click here to see the blog post). Confusion hasn’t been listened to very often. This made me even more determined to make another song and to do better this time round!

I then began experimenting with Garageband loops. I basically chose two loops that sounded good. I then added additional loops until, eventually, I had what I thought was a reasonably good song. I adjusted the volume levels of each track. The audio pan function was also used so that (at the songs climax) you have a different loop in each ear AND you can still hear the backing track. Happiness was now apparent.

There was only one thing missing at this point in time… a song name. This was by far the hardest part for me because my imagination and creativity is not very good. In the end, I came up with the name Peaceful because I believe the song is quite relaxing so is peaceful.

The final step was for me to export the song as an mp3 file so that I could publish it onto Soundcloud. See below to see the final product. Like Confusion, this song is protected by copyright.

 

Installing Windows 10 Home onto my laptop

This weekend, I installed Windows 10 onto my Samsung laptop.

Background Information

Before, I being, I would like to give you some background information. I got a Samsung NP305E5A-A03UK laptop a couple of years ago. At the time, the laptop worked brilliantly and I ran into very few issues.

I then decided to spend my saving on a MacBook Pro. Honestly, it is one of the best things I have ever bought.

Now back to my Samsung laptop. It had got slower and slower until the point where it  was virtually unusable. I did try resetting it back to factory settings but this didn’t have any impact on performance. I then decided to install Linux instead of Windows. This went terribly wrong… BUT I COULD NOT RESTORE BACK TO FACTORY SETTINGS!

Why Windows 10?

On Saturday, I went to my local Maplin’s store to buy a copy of Windows 10 Home. I could have just purchased Windows 7 and then got Windows 10 for free. But, I would rather have less hassle and just have Windows 10 in the first place.

I wanted Windows 10 mainly because it is the latest version of Windows. I wanted the latest version because I believe that it would improve performance. I also wanted access to the latest features on offer.

Booting installation Media

Surprisingly, Microsoft no longer give you an installation CD that you insert into your computer. Instead, they give you a USB stick with the installer on. This is actually much more convenient than having to insert a CD. You simply insert the USB stick with your computer powered off. Then, simply power your computer on, select whether you want 32 bit or 64 bit (I installed 64 bit as my laptop is powerful enough to support it) and you can begin the setup.

Activation

The next step is to activate your copy of Windows. This means entering your product key. The whole point in a product key is to not only prove that you own a legitimate copy of windows but entering a product key links your product key with that particular computer. This means that you can only install windows on one computer unless you have a license to install Windows onto multiple PC’s. I had no problems with activation whatsoever.

Where to install Windows

Of course, you must tell your computer exactly where to install windows. Most people can simply hit next as most people only have one hard drive. When I first setup my laptop right from the factory, I setup a partition. Before I could do anything, I had to delete this partition as I wanted Windows 10 to take up all of the space on my hard drive.

You are then given a few more prompts until Windows starts to install. The actual installation didn’t actually take very long and went to plan perfectly.

Problems!

Once Windows has installed (and once your computer has automatically rebooted), you are asked to connect to your network. For me, this was as simple as clicking on my wireless network SSID and entering a password. You are then asked to enter your Microsoft account details. I already have a Microsoft account so this was very easy.

Things were all going to plan until this point. Windows asked me whether I wanted to setup a PIN to use to log into my laptop. I clicked on ‘Setup’ but then changed my mind (I just wanted to get to the desktop). When a dialogue came up asking me to enter a PIN I hit ‘Cancel’. I was then presented with a ‘Just a moment…’ screen. I then began the waiting game.

15 minutes later, I had made little progress. The ‘moment’ was no longer a moment. I was in a difficult scenario. Do I hold down the power button and risk data corruption? It was at this moment that I contacted Microsoft. I was having a chat with a Microsoft tech advisor over the web whole told me to hold down the power button! I did this and went back through the setup again and all went well. Once I was at the desktop, Microsoft took control and checked a couple of settings on my laptop and asked me if the problem was still there. Obviously, the problem was no longer around since it occured during the installation so everything was fine. Overall, I was very satisfied with the way that Microsoft ‘saved the day!’.

Drivers

Since I had a working desktop, my next priority was to check which drivers I need to install. I used ‘Device Manager’ to do this. Windows had been nice enough to install the drivers for me! I don’t have a printer that only I use (I use the printer connected to the family computer if I ever need to print anything).

Apps

Once setting up my second Microsoft account (I had only setup the one used for my Xbox Live account until this point in time), I decided to install some apps. I just decided to install Facebook but not for any particular reason. Facebook installed perfectly!

Blue Screen of Death!

Suddenly, I received a ‘Blue Screen of Death’. In other words, a ‘fatal error’ had occurred. The message only really said that it was trying to find out more information on the problem.   It said that I had a ‘Kernel Security Check Failure’. I just switched my laptop off and instantly found out that resolving the issue was as simple as entering in a command in command prompt.

Conclusion

Apart from the hiccups along the way, I think that the installation went fairly well. I am also very satisfied with my laptops significantly improved performance.

My next step is to install additional software that is needed for some software to function. This includes Java. I am also going to learn SQL using MySQL in the near future.

Wigan Roller Rink Review

Yesterday, I went to Wigan roller rink. As the name clearly suggests, it is located in Wigan.

In all honesty, I don’t know how much it cost (my parents were paying!) but I do know that it was cheap.

I was visiting during half term so it was fairly busy, as you would expect, but it wasn’t a problem for me. The good thing is that you don’t actually need to be able to skate to go there. When you first get there, everyone is clutching on to the hand rails except a couple of people. At the end, most people are not holding on to the hand rails anymore. You can also pay for lessons.

In my opinion, Wigan Roller Rink is better than ice skating. In case you don’t agree I have three reasons to back me up. When you fall over (you will when you first go) you don’t get wet. The roller rink is also comfortably warm rather than an ice rink when you are freezing cold. The best thing about Wigan Roller Rink is that they actually have a DJ who is playing brilliant music. The tracks also seem to be chosen on purpose. The whole ‘DJ’ experience is much better than the company just setting a playlist!

Everyone travels around the rink in the same direction. This is probably for health and safety reasons. This links nicely to the another thing that the DJ does. They randomly stop the music, tell you to stop and then ‘go back the other way’. This adds another element of fun. Whilst music is blasting out from everywhere, disco lights are also firing out light in all directions.

In all honesty, I can’t think of any negatives. The roller rink is generally good value for money. I am only 15 years old and, from my point of view, Wigan Roller Rink is amazing!

I would like to summarise this review by saying that I believe that Wigan Roller Rink is very fun and well worth visiting if you live near Wigan. It is also very good value for money.

My Official Facebook Page

Late at night last Friday (I might even have done it on Saturday!) I created an official Facebook page for my blog and my YouTube channel. I will be posting information and pictures onto the page. There might even be some exclusive content! I already have a Twitter account (@bungleofhay) where I occasionally tweet. However, I know that Facebook is an equally good platform which is why the page was created.

If you would like to receive a post on your Facebook news feed when I do a blog post, Please follow me on Twitter (@bungleofhay) and click here to visit my Facebook page and hit the like button.

Thank you very much!

4tronix Initio Robot with Wiimote Part 1

About a year ago, I received a 4tronix Initio robot with a Pirocon Raspberry Pi add-on board.

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Recently, I have managed to get it to work with a Nintendo Wii Remote.

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The first step when you get the robot is to assemble it. Personally, I found this fairly easy with a little bit of help from family members. All you have to do is build the platform using screws to secure it in place. Attaching the Pi itself to the platform was easy and so was attaching and connecting up the Pirocon add-on board itself.

I then inserted batteries and powered on the robot. This went perfectly. I then simply installed the library (after installing Raspbian) and attempted to run the example code. This is where I ran into issues. My wheels were spinning but with very little power. I then put the robot onto laminate floor but this didn’t help.

It was only recently that I discovered the problem. Firstly, it is always a good idea to read warning messages before using a product! Here is the warning message on the 4tronix website for the Initio robot:

Initio Robot warning

This is a screen clipping taken from http://4tronix.co.uk/blog/?p=169

The problem was partially due to the jumper wire being set in the wrong position (it was set to the left rather than the right). I also knew that my batteries might be causing a problem due to the fact that I was using cheap ASDA Low Power Alkaline batteries! I was originally planning to use disposable batteries with my robot. I had just realised that this wasn’t possible.  However, I decided to give Duracell disposable batteries a go (I will eventually get rechargeable batteries). However, once I got home from getting the batteries, I realised the Duracell batteries were alkaline batteries! Despite this, they work extremely well.

The next stage was to connect my Wii Remote to my Raspberry Pi. Firstly, I got a Bluetooth dongle. I own a Nintendo Wii so just used an existing Wii Remote that I owned.

Nintendo Wii  communicate with Wii Remote’s via Bluetooth. Someone made a library to allow the Raspberry Pi to interact with Wii Remote’s. Please click here to see the excellent tutorial that I followed to make this project possible.

I then combined the example script from the Raspberry Pi Spy (see link above) and the ‘motorTest.py’ script from 4tronix.  I did this by using SSH. This was fairly easy. One thing to note is that you MUST place your newly created script inside the ‘initio’ folder. Otherwise, the script will not work.

When I tried out the script and everything worked.

My next step for this project is to integrate my HC-SR04 ultrasonic range finder. This would autonomous control. I have already tried out my HC-SR04 with my Pirocon board already and it works. I just need to integrate it into my robot script.

Please follow me on Twitter (@bungleofhay) to be automatically notified when I publish part 2 of this project. Otherwise, watch this space.

 

Arduino Level Crossing Part 1

Recently, I purchased an Arduino Uno from Maplins (a UK electronic store). when I first got in, I simply experimented with LEDs. l then realised that I could make level crossing lights. The idea is that, when you press a button, a yellow light come on for a couple of seconds. Then, I have two red LEDs which come alternately. For example, when the left LED is turned on, the right LED is turned off.

In case you haven’t realised or simply don’t know, I live in the united Kingdom. The normal operating sequence of a level crossing is that a yellow light and siren will come on for a couple of seconds. After that, both the siren and the yellow lights switch off. The two red lights will start flashing alternately whilst barriers lower to block the road. Once they are down, the red lights lights continue to flash. Once the train has one past, the barriers raise and the red lights stop flashing.

The wiring for the lights was fairly straight forward, I simply wired each LED to a 220 ohm resistor (to to protect my Arduino board) I connected each end of the LED (which was not connected to a resistor) to Ground. The end with a resistor was connected to a digital pin on my Arduino. I connected the LEDs to pins 4, 5 and 11. Below is a picture of what the circuit looks like on the breadboard.

Level Crossing Lights rev 1

As you can see, I have wired all of my ground connections to the ground rail on my breadboard. I then wired the ground rail to my Arduino ground pin. I did this to not only save Arduino pins but also to make the circuit easy to modify in the future.

In terms of writing the code, I basically used a sketch build into the Arduino IDE called ‘blink’.  I added extra lines of code and changed the delays.

Here is a youtube video of it in operation. Please note, the lights currently flash continuously until either power is removed from the board or the reset button is pressed.

The next step was to hook up a button. I followed the tutorial on the Arduino.cc website. However, I did not have the correct resistor. The tutorial said that I need a 10K ohm resistor. However, I had to use a 1K ohm resistor as this was the closest to the required resistor that I had. After quite a bit of trial and error, I managed to get the circuit to work. I then implemented the button into my level crossing lights code. Again, I used parts of the button example code, which is built into the Arduino IDE, in my level crossing code. So far I have set it up so that when you hold down the button the red lights start flashing alternately. I have defined a ‘method’ in my Arduino sketch that switches the left LED on for a short amount of time. It then switches off and then the same happens to my right LED.

I am still working on getting the button to work. I will do another blog post so watch this space.