Happy Steve

Innovation and Learning

Start with clarity of intent.

Now build it out with an evocative vision. Improvise progress by tinkering: with lots of trial and lots of error. The not knowing is the best bit: the mysteries the surprises, and from time to time the windfalls! 

Hello there, I'm Steve Collis! 

Click on "contact", won't you, and wave right back at me?

Raspberry Pi + Makey Makey = Cats that Tweet

The Lofty Aim

Allow our cats to tweet the mundane events of their lives. 

IMG_8673 (Medium).JPG
The Plan

The Plan

The Plan

Set up sensors connected to a computer, then program the computer to send tweets when the sensors trigger. 

I hatched a cunning plan. 

The diagram to the left is missing one thing only: a cooperative cat... 

...but how hard can that be? 

The Hardware - #1 a "Makey Makey" - $50

A "Makey Makey" is a USB device that the computer thinks is a keyboard, but it actually tells the computer a key has been pressed when you put two wires together. 

Makey Makey

Makey Makey

Raspberry Pi

Raspberry Pi

The Hardware - #2 a "Raspberry Pi" kit - $160

A "Raspberry Pi" is a super-cheap $35 computer... I bought mine from "Aus Pi" for $160 in a kit with a USB hub, wireless card, power etc.

I already had a webcam! 

The Software - #1 Rasberrian  

I'm familiar with Windows, but the Raspberry Pi computer comes with "Rasberrian" pre-installed. The good news for me is I see desktop similar to Windows, with a start button, desktop icons and a taskbar. 



The Software - #2 Python

I need to program the computer to tweet when the cats have their water.

Python is a computer programming language. I have never used it before. The Raspberry Pi comes with "Python" already installed and good to go.


The Learning Process

I had a stack of stuff to learn to make this work. It was much easier than I expected.

I had to figure out:

  • how to get around my Raspberry Pi, and specifically how to operate it remotely from another computer for convenience
  • how to get my Python program to run automatically when the Raspberry Pi boots up
  • how to program in Python: #1 to wait for input from the Makey Makey, #2 to take a photo with the webcam and #3 how to send the photo as an attachment via email to Flickr.com
  • I already knew how to tell Flickr to accept such emails and post them to Twitter, with the email text as the tweet, and the attachment as the photo. 

I learned by: 

  • for each element I needed to learn, googling and exploring heaps of web pages and tutorial videos
  • copying and pasting Python code I did not understand and tinkering with it
  • writing little Python programs that do just one of the tasks, one at a time, before stitching them together

The learning process was glorious... on one day I spent well over 12 hours with no proper break. Flow, flow, flow! 

The End Result

If we build, it will the cats come?


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The Actual Python Code

import time

import os

import pygame

from pygame.locals import *

import smtplib

from email.MIMEMultipart import MIMEMultipart

from email.MIMEBase import MIMEBase

from email.MIMEText import MIMEText

from email.Utils import COMMASPACE, formatdate

from email import Encoders

import sys

import subprocess

my_subject = "Miao Miao! Hello, this is Timo or Baps telling the world

that we're enjoying some water! Look and see:"

USERNAME = "#######"

PASSWORD = "#######"

def takepicture():

    grab_cam = subprocess.Popen(

        "sudo fswebcam -r 320*240 -S 15 -d /dev/video0

/home/pi/HappyTimo.jpg", shell=True)


def sendMail(send_to, subject, text, files=[]):

    assert type(files)==list

    assert type(send_to)==list

    msg = MIMEMultipart()

    msg['From'] = USERNAME

    msg['To'] = COMMASPACE.join(send_to)

    msg['Date'] = formatdate(localtime=True)

    msg['Subject'] = subject

    msg.attach( MIMEText(text) )

    for file in files:

        part = MIMEBase('application', "octet-stream")

        part.set_payload( open("/home/pi/HappyTimo.jpg","rb").read() )


        part.add_header('Content-Disposition', 'attachment; filename="%s"'

                        % os.path.basename(file))


    server = smtplib.SMTP('smtp.gmail.com',587)





    server.sendmail(USERNAME, send_to, msg.as_string())



screen = pygame.display.set_mode((640,480))

pygame.display.set_caption('Pygame Caption')


done= False

while not done:


    happened = pygame.event.wait()

    if happened.type == QUIT:


    elif happened.type == NOEVENT:

            print "confusing"

    elif (happened.type == KEYDOWN):

        print happened

        print happened.key

        if happened.key == K_SPACE:

            print happened

            print happened.key



            sendMail( ["########@photos.flickr.com"],


                "tags: cat",

                ["HappyTimo.jpg"] )






Next Step

  • maybe get a Ninja Block to expand sensor capabilities
  • expand the repertoire of trigger events and the wording of tweets
  • could the cats blog? could they Facebook? could they run for office?