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Top 5 Reasons The Raspberry Pi Sucks

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OK so people keep waffling on about the Raspberry Pi. They say it’s sold 4 million units, is being used to teach real kids in real classrooms, has a load of free resources and a World wide fan base but what’s so great about all that? According to the respected Fox News entertainment network it “can’t even play World of Warcraft”.

Here I take a look at the Raspberry Pi and explain why it sucks. Bad.

Cost

It costs £30. £30! Do they think we are made of money? £30 will buy you almost exactly 30 things from a £1 shop. 30! If people realised just how big 30 is they wouldn’t be so smug about buying a computer for that amount of money. Ok so the Pi fan boys will say “but a 700MHz computer once cost £700″ but this is 2014 people not 2004. For £30 I expect a 700MHz PC, a desk, a chair and a 42 inch monitor.

On top of the £30 you need extra stuff like a keyboard, mouse and SD card. That’s another £15. Throw in a £1 HDMI cable and you are looking at £150+ straight away. Let’s round up and call it £200. That’s not much change out of £250.

Then there’s the power supply. £5 might not seem much but you also need a power socket to plug it into – hardwired to the National Grid. That means property. In the UK “property” averages £180,000. Fact.

The total? £180,150. Not so cheap now is it? That’s also ignoring the that all property is theft and you are expected to let your kids actually “own” one of these things.

Size

Apparently the Pi is the “size of a credit card”. Only it isn’t. It is at least 20mm thicker than a credit card and that’s including the bumpy lettering. So if your current computer is the size of an actual credit card and you innocently buy a Pi to replace it you are going to find it won’t fit. That’s a bitter pill to swallow when you’ve spent the thick end of £180,000 already. You might as well go for that Microsoft development thing which is only four times bigger.

Open-source-hardware-software

Just like my car, TV and mobile phone I like my hardware completely open. I don’t want to use anything that I haven’t got access to the raw blueprints down to last bit of silicon.

Ford, Intel and Apple are happy to hand over their intellectual property so why won’t the Raspberry Pi Foundation? Publishing PCB schematics, GPIO references and tons of educational material is hardly much use to the average user who simply needs to know how the atoms are arranged on the CPU.

Like most people I need full access to the binary blob. I don’t know what a binary blob is but that’s only because it’s being hidden from the populous by dark forces.

If it’s not open there is clearly a sinister masonic-new-world-order conspiracy at play. If you think that’s ridiculous that is only because that’s what they want you to think!

Add-on Board & Accessories

The Pi market is saturated with useful add-on boards and accessories. You can’t go a single day without someone releasing a new, reasonably priced device for the Pi. The range of raspberry pi cases is staggering but why? Computers should either come in black, white or classic beige. Only the other day I saw a Pi user encase their “credit card sized” computer in a blue case. BLUE! Since when has blue ever been associated with computing? If people wanted blue computers they would go to PC World and buy a blue one. Googling “raspberry pi accessories” gives 1,570,000 results. Who the hell wants to invest in a device with such a massive selection of extras? There are actually entire companies devoted to supplying people with this stuff. Where’s the fun in buying an electronic device from the internet only to find it is supported with a staggering range of stuff 3 years later?

Community & Education

The community sucks. How are you meant to get any peace when there are thousands of like-minded individuals creating resources, sharing projects and generally helping each other out? You can hardly search for anything with “raspberry pi” in the title without getting millions of hits, tweets and Google+ posts. I much preferred the #raspberrypi hash tag in 2011 when it was used for mathematically related fruit jokes. The whole thing is sickening and something I’m glad has been largely ignored by the Pi’s competitors.

The Pi was created to educate young people in computing, help introduce them to programming and inspire the next generation of engineers. What a load of ****s. This is simply going to contribute to an increase in the technical competency of a whole generation resulting in a boost to the national economy. More money for the Government to waste. Further more some kids are going to spend the rest of their lives pursuing a career in something they are passionate about but might otherwise have not considered. It may even result in an increase in the number of female scientists and engineers creating a diversity that boosts innovation. All simply because a few million experts and academics have “proven” it to be true. These are the same “experts” who claim pumping toxins into the environment is a bad idea. If you want to teach kids computing you can probably just download an app or let them type recipes in Word. It can’t be that hard.

What kind of crazy individual would consider this horrible nightmare scenario worthy of our support?

Here are some heart wrenching stories from some Pi casualties :

“I saw the Pi advertised as a cheap educational tool for helping kids learn programming. So I bought one. After trying to use it as a replacement for my $4000 desktop CAD workstation I discovered it just isn’t suitable for an entire list of everyday educational tasks. “Safety critical nuclear power station cooling system regulation”, “real-time 3D architectural graphics rendering” … the list goes on and on!” – Joe King

As if that tale isn’t bad enough here’s Stu’s story :

“I bought a Pi and wanted to light up an LED. I had to buy an LED. And a resistor. I learnt how to solder and a bit about p-n junctions. Cost me $2. That’s the sort of sting in the tale they don’t mention on their website” – Stu Pit

As I type this article on a computer, to be stored on a computer for you to read on a computer I still fail to see why everyone is making such a big fuss about teaching “computing”. Anyone would think planet Earth revolves around computers LOL!

So hopefully this article will help prevent you making the catastrophic mistake of buying the World’s most popular mini computer and actually learning something.

World Maker Faire and PyConUK

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It’s been quiet around Pi Towers lately. Quiet and disquieting, rather like standing in your nan’s best front room when you were a kid and really needing a wee but were too afraid to break the silence. But we have good and exciting reasons for our quietude: we’ve all been busy preparing for two of our biggest events of the year. This weekend the education team is spreading it’s feelers of learning goodness around the world, from the Midlands to East Coast America.

Carrie Anne, Dave and Ben are at PyConUK while Rachel and I, along with James (our Director of Hardware), were beaten with a sock full of oranges until we sobbingly agreed to go to World Maker Faire New York.

The Maker Faire contingent will be joining our friends on the Pimoroni stand, demoing all sorts of goodies both new and old; selling shiny swag; giving out freebies; and talking and talking until we cough our larynxes into our fifteenth cup of Joe (as my American-English dictionary tells me I should call coffee if I want to be street).

Our director of hardware engineering James Adams will be there – he’s giving a talk on What’s next at Raspberry Pi? on [Saturday at 2.30pm according to this / Sunday 2pm according to this] in the NYSCI Auditorium – and Rachel and I will be speaking about digital creativity (details TBA). If you are at Maker Faire do come and visit us. At Maker Faire Bay Area earlier this year it was great to see so many educators and I hope to speak to at least as many in New York. But whatever your interests in Raspberry Pi – from digital creativity to hardware to making stuff (of course!) – we would love to see you.

New swag bags! Grab ‘em while they’re hot

Meanwhile Carrie Anne, Dave, Alex and Ben are in Coventry for PyConUK – the UK’s annual Python conference. They’re running Python workshops on Pis, giving talks about Raspberry Pi in education and chatting to teachers, educators and developers in the Python community.

Raspberry Pi team hard at work

How To Display Images On Raspbian Command Line

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If you are using your Pi to capture images using the camera it can be useful to display those images without launching a desktop environment. One of the ways of doing this is to use a utility called “fim”.

fim is based on an image viewer called “fbi” and stands for “Fbi IMproved”.

Note : It uses the system’s framebuffer to display images directly from the command line. For this reason it is best used when your Pi is directly connected to a monitor and keyboard.

Install fim

To install fim use the following commands :

sudo apt-get update sudo apt-get -y install fim Use fim

To display a single image with the “auto-zoom” option use :

fim -a example.jpg

Once displayed you can use various keyboard shortcuts to manipulate the image such as the r/R key to rotate :

To display all the images in the current directory  use the following command :

fim -a *.jpg

The PageUp/PageDown keys can be used to cycle through the images selected by the “*.jpg” filter.

ASCII Art

If you use the “-t” option you can render the image in ASCII characters.

To display the image as ASCII art you can use :

fim -a -t example.jpg

Do or do not. There is no try.

OK so the last one is slightly less useful but might provide some light relief from the command line!

Keyboard Controls

While the image is displayed you can use the following keys :

PageUp/Down  Prev/Next image +/-  Zoom in/out a Autoscale w Fit to width h Fit to height j/k Pan down/up f/m flip/mirror R/r Rotate 10 degrees CW/CCW ESC/q Quit

Infographic – The Tiny Computer That Could

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This is a great Raspberry Pi infographic as it not only tells you about the Pi and what it can do but it also advises you about things the Pi can’t do. One of which is run Windows 8. I think I speak for a large number of people when I say that is probably a bonus!


Source: ComputerScienceZone.org

Infographics – What’s the point? Although infographics perhaps haven’t got much to say to the existing Pi fan they are a very quick way of explaining a Pi to someone who doesn’t know much about them. Why spend half an hour trying to explain when sending them to my Pi Infographic posts will have them up to speed in 5 minutes! They can also make great posters for offices or classrooms.

Fresh Coffee at Mailchimp

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Ben: Here’s a guest post from Steven Sloan, a developer at MailChimp.

Grounds for innovation

Here at MailChimp, we’re always trying to listen hard and change fast. Turns out, this requires a good bit of coffee. Each department has its own take on how to keep the stuff flowing, mostly with the standard Bunn-O-Matic commercial machines. A few folks regularly avail themselves of our espresso setup. The developers fill two airpots—one with regular, the other double strength.

And then there’s the marketing team and our precious Chemex.

We make a pour-over pot once every hour or so, all day long, 5 days a week, 50-something weeks a year. Last December, when we were gathering data for our annual report, we got curious about how many Fresh Pots that might amount to. We tried to count it up, but begrudgingly had to accept the fact we didn’t have a good measure beyond pounds consumed. We even tried to keep track with a bean counter, but that didn’t last long.

For a while, the exact nature of our coffee consumption seemed like it would remain just another mystery of the universe. But then one day, talking to Mark while waiting on yet another Fresh Pot, I said, “Hey, I bet we could track the temperature with a Raspberry Pi and post to the group chat when there’s a fresh one.”

I wasn’t too serious, but Mark’s response was one often heard around MailChimp when ridiculous projects are proposed: “Sounds great, just let me know what you need to get it done.”

A few days later, I had a materials list drawn up from Adafruit’s thermometer tutorial, and we were off to the races.

A fresh Pi

With a Raspberry Pi in hand, the first thing I did was add a script to the boot process that sent an email using Mandrill with its IP so I could find it on our network without trouble.

Then, I had to tackle the problem of detecting pot states with only a single datapoint: current temperature. I hoped that comparing the running averages of different time spans would be enough to determine the pot’s status. (The average Chemex temperature over the course of a few minutes, for instance, would tell us something different than the average temperate over the course of an hour.)

Since this was a greenfield project, I wanted to work with an unfamiliar language. I felt like the more functional nature of Clojure would be a great fit for passing along a single piece of state. This turned out to be a great decision, and I’ll explain why in a minute.

Graph it home

I hacked together a quick program that would spit out the current temperature, minute’s running average, hour’s running average, and the running average’s rate of change to a log file so I could analyze them.

... {"current":32.062, "minute":24.8747, "hour":23.5391, "running-rate":0.039508} {"current":32.437, "minute":25.0008, "hour":23.5635, "running-rate":0.0423943} {"current":32.875, "minute":25.1322, "hour":23.5897, "running-rate":0.045361} {"current":33.625, "minute":25.2738, "hour":23.6177, "running-rate":0.048569} {"current":33.625, "minute":25.413, "hour":23.6476, "running-rate":0.05159} {"current":33.625, "minute":25.55, "hour":23.6793, "running-rate":0.054437} ...

Log files in hand, I temporarily turned back to Ruby using the wonderful Gruff charting library to visualize things and make patterns easier to spot.

A few batches of hot water gave me a decent idea what things should look like, so I moved our coffee equipment to my desk to get some live data. This let me check in with the actual running state of the program and compare it with the status of the pot (and led to some coworker laughs and a wonderful smell at my workspace all day).

A brewing or fresh pot is easy to recognize, but figuring out when the pot is empty turned out to be a little tricky. It takes a while for the Chemex to completely cool off, which means it could be empty and still warm, which I’m sure would lead to more than a few disappointing trips to the kitchen. Luckily, the rate a pot cools tells us if it is empty or not—for instance, a half-full pot stays warm longer than an empty one simply because of the coffee still in it. Always nice to have physics on your side.

Watchers for the win

Armed with the collection of datapoints (running averages, rate of change, etc.) for each of the pot’s states, I moved on to figuring out how to notify our department’s group chat room when a pot was brewing, ready, empty, or stale. This is where some of the built-in features of Clojure came in handy.

I already had a program that logged the current state of itself every second. By switching the actual state to an agent, I could apply watchers to it. These watchers get called whenever the agent changes, which is perfect for analyzing changes in state.

Another agent added was the pot itself. The watcher for the temperature would look for the above mentioned boundaries, and update the pot’s state, leaving another watcher to track the pot and notify our chat room. When it came time to pick an alias to deliver the notifications, Dave Grohl was the natural choice.

Here’s a simple example of the pot watcher looking for a brewing pot:

(def pot-status (agent {:status "empty"})) (defn pot-watcher [watcher status old_status new_status] (if (= (:status new_status) "brewing") (notify/is_brewing))) (add-watch pot-status :pot-watcher pot-watcher)

The great thing is the watcher only gets called when the status changes, not on each tick of the temperature. Using agents felt great to me in this case as they provided a clean way to watch state (without callbacks or a ton of boilerplate) and maintain separation of concern between different parts of the program.

Freshness into the future

I’m still working out a few kinks, tuning in the bounds, and keeping a log of pots. It’s been a fun experience and I learned a ton. Something tells me this won’t be the last time we work with Raspberry Pi on a project. What’s next, Fresh Pots in space? Luckily, we’ve got plenty of coffee to propel us.

Ben: Thanks to Steven and MailChimp for permission to use the post – we’re very pleased to see the Pi used as the tool of choice of coffee-hungry developers around the world! Coffee is important to us here at Pi Towers…

Blast from the past – remember this coffee pot? Click to read more

MailChimp is what I use to power Pi Weekly – my weekly Raspberry Pi news & projects email newsletter – check it out at piweekly.net!

New Raspbian and NOOBS releases

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If you head over to the downloads page, you’ll find new versions of our Raspbian image and NOOBS installer. Alongside the usual firmware and kernel improvements, major changes to the Raspbian image include:

  • Java updated to JDK 8
  • Mathematica updated to version 10
  • Sonic Pi updated to version 2
  • Minecraft Pi pre-installed

Following its release last week, of our port of Epiphany has replaced Midori as the default browser, bringing with it hardware-accelerated video support and better standards compliance.

Epiphany is now the default browser

Our Raspbian image now includes driver support for the BCM43143 802.11n WiFi chip. Last week Broadcom released a rather neat USB hub and WiFi adapter combo based on this chip, which should now work out of the box. More info is available here.

BCM43143 802.11n USB hub and WiFi adapter

Finally, to free up SD card space, the offline NOOBS package now only contains the Raspbian archive. To install Arch, Pidora, OpenELEC, RaspBMC or RISC OS you will require a network connection.

Let’s get Physical! New physical computing animation

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With the success of the first two productions from Saladhouse, our animator friends in Manchester (What is a Raspberry Pi? and Setting up your Raspberry Pi), we proceeded to make plans for a third in the series. The topic we chose to cover this time is one which demonstrates the additional power of the Pi in learning – an introduction to the realm of physical computing.

Look through the amazing projects in our blog, the MagPi or Pi Weekly and you’ll see many of them use the portability of the small form factor and low powered nature of the Pi along with the extensibility the GPIO pins give you – not to mention the wealth of community produced add-on boards available making it all much easier.

Those pins sticking out there. General Purpose Input/Output. Did we mention there are 40 on the B+?

Here at Pi Towers we all love physical projects – from robotics and home automation to flatulence alarms and scaring the elderly – and we believe they’re a great way to introduce young people to coding, computational thinking, product development and understanding systems.

The video refers to some resources for projects you can make yourself. We featured the hamster disco on our blog in July, and you may have heard talk of some of the others on twitter – which are all brand new, constructed and tested by our education team. They are:

See more in our resources section.

Huge thanks to Sam and Scott from Saladhouse for their hard work on this – and also to our voice actors Arthur (son of Pi co-founder Pete Lomas) and Maia! And yes, that’s Eben narrating.

A little gift I brought Dave back from Memphis…

The Raspberry Pi Guy Interviews Clive & Gordon

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Last month we put out a call for questions for our education and engineering teams. Matt Timmons-Brown, aka The Raspberry Pi Guywas given the chance to interview Clive Beale who heads up our education team; and Gordon Hollingworth who heads up software engineering.

We hope you find that fills a few gaps and enjoyed hearing from us at Pi Towers. Thanks to Matt for filming and a great job editing.

Gert’s VGA Adapter

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The Raspberry Pi has an HDMI port to connect a display. If your monitor only has VGA, you have to use an adapter. Because this requires a digital-to-analogue conversion, those adapters can be quite pricey, and they can draw lots of power. So our friend Gert van Loo (who developed the Alpha board that became the Raspberry Pi, and the man behind the Gertboard and Gertduino) has created a VGA adapter that uses the Pi’s GPIO.

This wasn’t possible on the Model A or B, but now the B+ exposes 40 GPIO pins, there’s more to play with. As well as just allowing you to connect a VGA monitor natively, it also means you can use it as a secondary monitor alongside HDMI. And unlike composite video, the DPI interface can be run independent of the HDMI. The software for dual screens is still under development, but we expect that to arrive in the next couple of weeks. Running two screens at maximum resolution will consume SDRAM bandwidth, and is yet to be tested. (And there’s a catch: as the board uses most of your GPIO pins, you lose access to them.)

The VGA output supports the same resolution as your HDMI one: from 640 x 480 up to 1920 x 1024 at 60fps. At the highest resolution the pixel quality is almost as good as HDMI. The adapter uses a simple resistor ladder network as a digital-to-analogue converter, so the colour quality depends on how well-balanced your resistors are. There is slight colour banding, and with 6 bits per channel you have a maximum of 262144 colours.

Dom has been working on the software side and the new DPI (read: VGA) driver software has been added to the latest release.

“Where can I buy one?”, I hear you ask. Currently, nowhere. But Gert has made the VGA adapter open hardware, so you can make it yourself, or find yourself an enthusiastic partner and have it made. All the data is in the public domain on GitHub. Besides the manual and schematics, you will also find the database for the PCB and the Gerber files. The PCB design supports both through-hole and SMD parts. The design consists of:

  • 1 PCB
  • 2 connectors
  • 20 resistors

The cost is not prohibitive, but having a single PCB made is rather expensive, so you might want to collect a group of interested people and order a batch; if you’re interested in doing that, head over to the forums and see if you can organise a group buy.

See vga666 at github.com/fenlogic/vga666 (it’s 6 bits per colour channel, hence 666…)

Gert’s looking to get the PCBs produced, and hopefully the manufacturer will be able to put them on sale (we’ll update with a link) – but they’re so easy to make we anticipate they’ll be generally available before long anyway. Gert says he expects in due time that a far-east manufacturer will see fit to sell them for two dollars.

Want to see a prototype? Of course you do.

Click to embiggen, and marvel at Gert’s work soldering together some of those teeny resistors.

32×32 RGB LED Matrix On The Raspberry Pi

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At the last Cambridge Jam I picked up a 32×32 LED matrix panel from SK Pang. This consists of 1024 RGB leds and is used as a building block for those large displays you see in stadiums. I could only afford one so my screen is slightly smaller.

It consists of the panel, a ribbon cable, a GPIO adapter and a power cable. I used a RAVPower 10400mAh USB power bank to power it. You need a power source that can provide 5V with at least 2A.

Driving the screen requires a lot of data to be sent to the screen on a constant basis. This makes it unsuitable for Python but better suited to C. I tend to use Python so this makes it slightly outside my comfort zone. Lucky for me Henner Zeller has created a library of C code to drive this board via the Raspberry Pi’s GPIO pins and made it available on his rpi-rgb-led-matrix Github page.

Install C Library

You can download the code to your Pi using :

wget https://github.com/hzeller/rpi-rgb-led-matrix/archive/master.zip

and then unzip the archive using :

unzip master.zip

Once extracted you can change to the subdirectory :

cd rpi-rgb-led-matrix-master/

and then compile the code using :

make Usage

Once compiled you can run the resulting executable using :

./led-matrix

which will display the available command line options :

usage: ./led-matrix <options> -D <demo-nr> [optional parameter] Options: -r <rows> : Display rows. 16 for 16x32, 32 for 32x32. Default: 32 -c <chained> : Daisy-chained boards. Default: 1. -L : 'Large' display, composed out of 4 times 32x32 -p <pwm-bits> : Bits used for PWM. Something between 1..7 -g : Do gamma correction (experimental) -D <demo-nr> : Always needs to be set -d : run as daemon. Use this when starting in /etc/init.d, but also when running without terminal (e.g. cron). -t <seconds> : Run for these number of seconds, then exit. (if neither -d nor -t are supplied, waits for <RETURN>) Demos, choosen with -D 0 - some rotating square 1 - forward scrolling an image (-m <scroll-ms>) 2 - backward scrolling an image (-m <scroll-ms>) 3 - test image: a square 4 - Pulsing color Example: ./led-matrix -t 10 -D 1 runtext.ppm Scrolls the runtext for 10 seconds

To get something on the panel you can try the including example image “runtext.ppm” :

sudo ./led-matrix -d -t 20 -D 1 runtext.ppm

If your panel is connected correctly and has enough power the “runtext.ppm” image will be scrolled across the screen for 20 seconds.

Custom Graphics

Creating your own graphics to scroll is really easy as long as you have an image editing application that can create Portable Pixmap Format (PPM). I use the GIMP (it’s free!) and this file tpye is available via the “Export as” feature.

You start by loading or creating your source image and then re-sizing it so that it is only 32 pixels high. The width doesn’t matter as it is going to be scrolling horizontally. In GIMP you can simply use “Export as”, use a filename with a .ppm extension and select “Raw” when prompted. This file can then be copied to your Pi. My first custom graphic was a logo and some text :

The command below scrolled this nicely across the panel :

sudo ./led-matrix -d -t 60 -D 1 rpi_logo.ppm

My next test was a small set of flags that looked something like this :

Here is custom_ppm_images zip file with my custom PPM images if you want to try them.

The panel is great fun and the videos don’t really do it justice. As long as you can generate the PPM files you can scroll whatever you like.

I am going to start looking at the C code and see if I can modify it play back a sequence of images from a directory. That way I can create animations. It would also be good to use Python to generate a file and then trigger the C programme to display it.

HATs in the wild. And a unicorn.

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If you’re a regular reader, you’ll recall that a month or so ago, we announced a new way of making add-on hardware for the Raspberry Pi: namely, the Raspberry Pi HAT (Hardware Attached on Top). You can read James, our Director of Hardware, explaining what they’re all about in the original blog post: in short, the HAT is a solder-less way of attaching hardware which can be auto-detected by the Pi, so GPIOs and headers are automagically configured by the Pi, without you having to do anything.

The pink confection on top of Gordon is a hat, not a HAT.

(A tangentially related question: how do you pronounce EEPROM? Fights are breaking out at Pi Towers: a small majority of us rhyme the first syllable with “meep”, while the rest of us rhyme with “meh”. This is like the scone/scone thing all over again. Angry opinions in the comments, please.)

HATs are starting to appear in the wild. Adafruit are sending PCBs out for prototyping. HiFiBerry have HATs you can buy now: the Digi+, which enables you to connect an external digital-to-analogue converter; and the DAC+, a high-res all-in-one DAC. AB Electronics are carrying several HATs:  an analogue-to-digital converter (ADC); a GPIO port expander; a real-time clock (RTC) and an RS232 serial interface. And the whimsical bearded pixies at Pimoroni have come up with my favourite so far (it’s my favourite because SPARKLES): the Unicorn HAT. I saw it in the flesh on Saturday at the Cambridge Raspberry Jam. It’s a thing of beauty. Here’s Paul, introducing the Unicorn HAT.

Are you making a HAT? Let us know in the comments: I’ll add links to this post if I’ve missed yours out here.

Cambridge Raspberry Jam – September 2014

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It’s the afternoon after the Jam before so I thought I would do a quick write-up of the 8th CamJam held on September 6th at the Institute of Astronomy (IoA). Due to the number of talks and workshops the start time was moved forward to 11am and this meant an early start for me and Graham (@rpiSchool) who were travelling from Bristol.

As with previous Jams the location was split in four areas. Show & Tell, Vendors, Talks and Workshops.

The Vendors

In the vendors area were Dawn Robotics, The PiHut, The Little British Robot Company, 4Tronix, SK Pang and Ragworm.

I like the vendor area as you can always pick up a few essential bits and pieces … and maybe a few non-essential bits and pieces. The 32×32 RGB LED matrix I somehow ended up buying from SK Pang was clearly an essential household item. Easy to justify the price if my son can squeeze into his worn-out shoes for a few extra months.

Chatting with the sellers behind the stalls is always worth the time as you realise they are as interested in their products as their customers. They aren’t just shifting boxes and are willing to help where they can.

Show & Tell

Gert Van Loo, Alex Eames and Average Man had tables in the Vendor’s area but they were showcasing items rather than selling anything. Gert (designer of the original Pi alpha hardware) was demonstrating a new addon for the B+. It was a very simple GPIO header device that allows the Pi to output VGA.

The design is open source and is expected to be available for <£5. The magic all happens in software and may allow the Pi to operate dual screens. Yes, VGA and HDMI at the same time! Try doing that with a Ban*na Pi.

Alex Eames had some HDMI screens on show which are very close to being available to those that backed the project on Kickstarter.

He also had the new Cyntech case designed for the B+.

Average Man VS Raspberry Pi had a table showcasing some of his projects including a CCTV camera. He also had some free cardboard cases which proved popular with the kids.

Elsewhere in the show & tell was an LED matrix showing an animated horse, a machine that told you how naughty you were (I’m really, really naughty apparently!), the PiPiano board by @ZacharyIgielman and “Slither“, a caterpillar robot. There was also a rather cute device showing pictures of kittens.

Robots

Not surprisingly there were a few robots in the building!

Harry Gee (@ThePiBot) was running a workshop so there were plenty of PiBots (the one with the speaker) and Tiddlybots (the one with the pen) on show.

Talks

There were a number of talks in the lecture theatre throughout the day.

Work Shops

There were a number of workshops focusing on robotics. I didn’t attend of them but managed to get a few photos once the crowds had died down.

People

The technology, the tempting products, the talks and the projects make for a great Jam … but the best thing for me is the people.

It’s great to catch up with Pi friends and meet new people who I’ve come across via social media. If you remember talking to me then you know who you are!

This Jam was slightly special as it had a number of (prepare to cringe) famous Pi celebrity visitors. These included Carrie Anne, Liz, Eben, Gert and Ben.

Behind the scenes Mike and Tim did an amazing job of bringing it all together and there efforts are greatly appreciated. This all combined to make for an amazing atmosphere and made the long journey well worth it.

Other Photos

Here are some of my other photos of various things :

Other Write ups:

Here are some other CamJam write-ups. :

Sonic Pi v2.0 competition for schools is launched!

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This week, Dr Sam Aaron released the much anticipated final version of Sonic Pi v2.0. It will be replacing Sonic Pi v1 on Raspbian very soon, and you will be able to get it via our Downloads page (we will let you know when). In the meantime, you can follow the instructions at the bottom of this post to download and install it. The latest version of Sonic Pi brings music creation and performance to the forefront with live coding capabilities, parameter modification, samples and much more!

To celebrate, we have launched the first ever Sonic Pi Competition to find some of the best space-themed music, coded with Sonic Pi v2.0 by school children in the UK. The Sonic Pi Competition is designed to encourage school students aged between 6 and 16 years old to use their creativity and coding knowledge to create a unique and original two-minute piece of music on a Raspberry Pi device.

Entries need to include an audio file of what the music sounds like, the code used to create it, a short written description, and a cover art file.

All entries will be put into a hat to win a Raspberry Pi and SD card at random. Semi-finalists will win a Sonic Pi half-day workshop with Sam Aaron and Juneau Projects for their school, and a custom Sonic Pi Pibow case. Overall winners in each category will win a Sonic Pi classroom kit containing 25 x Raspberry Pis and peripherals for their school and a Minirig speaker, as well as a Sonic Pi Competition trophy designed by artists Juneau Projects.

The final will take place at the Cambridge Junction on 4th November 2014 as part of the Sonic Pi Live & Coding Summit, with the 12 semi-finalists (four in each category) introducing and playing their music on a Raspberry Pi to the audience in front of an expert panel of judges.

You can find everything you need know, including some lesson plans to get your students started, in this new Sonic Pi Competition Resource. You’ll find the entry form here.

The deadline for entries is 13th October 2014, so get creative with your code, and become the next big thing in music!

Sonic Pi v2.0 can be downloaded right now by typing the following from the command line or LXTerminal window:

sudo apt-get update sudo apt-get install sonic-pi

How To Create A Pyramid In Minecraft With Python

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The great thing about Minecraft on the Raspberry Pi is that you write Python scripts to manipulate the game world. This opens up a lot of creative possibilities. It can also make Python a lot more appealing to budding programmers.

In this tutorial I want to explain how to create a Pyramid using Minecraft.

Here is an example of a 10 level pyramid with a block on top :

By creating a Python function to create the Pyramid we can easily create a set of Pyramids of varying sizes at specific locations. My goal was to create the famous Pyramids of Giza without having to use a single slave or a single piece of ancient alien technology.

Setup

Before we start you will need to have Minecraft and the Python API setup. If you haven’t you will need to take a look at the following articles :

The rest of this article assumes Minecraft is installed in /home/pi/mcpi and the API files are in /home/pi/mcpi-api.

The Pyramid Builder Function

Here is the Python function I used to build the pyramid :

def CreatePyramid(posx,posy,posz,width,mybase,mywalls,mytopblock): # Function to create a pyramid at x,y,z # with specified width using the specified # block materials for the base, walls and top. mc.postToChat("About to create pyramid!") # May sure width is odd number so pyramid ends # with a single block if width%2==0: width=width+1 height = (width+1)/2 halfsize = int(math.floor(width/2)) print "Player : {} {} {}".format(posx,posy,posz) print "Size : {} Height : {} Halfsize : {}".format(width,height,halfsize) # Create base for pyramid print "Create solid base" mc.setBlocks(posx-halfsize-2,posy-2,posz-halfsize-2,posx+halfsize+2,posy-2,posz+halfsize+2,DIRT) mc.setBlocks(posx-halfsize-2,posy-1,posz-halfsize-2,posx+halfsize+2,posy-1,posz+halfsize+2,mybase) # Create solid Pyramid print "Create Pyramid" for y in range(posy,posy+height): mc.setBlocks(posx-halfsize,y,posz-halfsize,posx+halfsize,y,posz+halfsize,mywalls) halfsize = halfsize-1 # Change top block print "Set top block" mc.setBlock(posx,posy+height-1,posz,mytopblock) print "Position player on top" mc.player.setPos(posx,posy+height,posz)

The CreatePyramid function takes some arguments. These are :

  • Position (posx, posy, posz)
  • Width (in blocks)
  • Materials (mybase,mywalls,mytopblock)

The full example script can be downloaded directly to your Pi using :

cd ~/mcpi-api wget https://bitbucket.org/MattHawkinsUK/rpispy-misc/raw/master/minecraft/pyramids.py

The script :

  • Imports the Minecraft API library
  • Defines the “CreatePyramid” function
  • Calls the function a number of times to create a set of pyramids of varying sizes

With Minecraft running you can execute the Python script in a terminal window using :

python pyramids.py

The scripts doesn’t take long to complete but it may take about 30-60 seconds for Minecraft to update. Here is the result :

Once you’ve got your Pyramid complex built you can consider how to modify it. There is plenty of scope for carving doorways and building secret passages!

I gave up on an accurate re-creation of the Giza complex because with the draw distance on the Pi version of Minecraft you can’t really fit it all in without making the Pyramids quite small.

In my script the pyramids are topped with a block of gold. You can change this or the pyramid base and wall blocks to another type. Take a look at my Minecraft Block ID Reference for ideas.


By changing the parameters passed to the “CreatePyramid” function at the end of the script you can change the size and position of the pyramids. By adding or removing calls to the function you can adjust the number built.

What Next

Once you can build a pyramid you could hide an object in a random one and see how long it takes to find. Maybe you could adjust the function to automatically add some tunnels underneath the pyramids and build a secret network?

Raspberry Pi Minecraft Block ID Number Reference

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When you’ve installed Minecraft on the Raspberry Pi and setup the Python API you will want to get creating scripts to manipulate the Minecraft World. This is going to involve a lot of block manipulation.

Each type of block (sand, dirt, water etc) has a unique ID number associated with it. It is helpful to have a list of these numbers to hand so you can use them in your code.

There aren’t as many blocks in the Pi edition as the full PC versions but there are still plenty to work with.

Here is the full list with their block ID numbers :

AIR 0 STONE 1 GRASS 2 DIRT 3 COBBLESTONE 4 WOOD_PLANKS 5 SAPLING 6 BEDROCK 7 WATER_FLOWING 8 WATER 8 WATER_STATIONARY 9 LAVA_FLOWING 10 LAVA 10 LAVA_STATIONARY 11 SAND 12 GRAVEL 13 GOLD_ORE 14 IRON_ORE 15 COAL_ORE 16 WOOD 17 LEAVES 18 GLASS 20 LAPIS_LAZULI_ORE 21 LAPIS_LAZULI_BLOCK 22 SANDSTONE 24 BED 26 COBWEB 30 GRASS_TALL 31 WOOL 35 FLOWER_YELLOW 37 FLOWER_CYAN 38 MUSHROOM_BROWN 39 MUSHROOM_RED 40 GOLD_BLOCK 41 IRON_BLOCK 42 STONE_SLAB_DOUBLE 43 STONE_SLAB 44 BRICK_BLOCK 45 TNT 46 BOOKSHELF 47 MOSS_STONE 48 OBSIDIAN 49 TORCH 50 FIRE 51 STAIRS_WOOD 53 CHEST 54 DIAMOND_ORE 56 DIAMOND_BLOCK 57 CRAFTING_TABLE 58 FARMLAND 60 FURNACE_INACTIVE 61 FURNACE_ACTIVE 62 DOOR_WOOD 64 LADDER 65 STAIRS_COBBLESTONE 67 DOOR_IRON 71 REDSTONE_ORE 73 SNOW 78 ICE 79 SNOW_BLOCK 80 CACTUS 81 CLAY 82 SUGAR_CANE 83 FENCE 85 GLOWSTONE_BLOCK 89 BEDROCK_INVISIBLE 95 STONE_BRICK 98 GLASS_PANE 102 MELON 103 FENCE_GATE 107 GLOWING_OBSIDIAN 246 NETHER_REACTOR_CORE 247

If you have imported the “block” library at the top of your script like this :

import mcpi.block as block

you can call up these IDs using the following syntax :

block.MELON

In this example it saves you defining your own variable or using the number 103 and may make your script more readable.

Bus stop Pac Man

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Last week saw Trondheim in Norway host a Maker Faire. Rather than go with the usual stale old poster advertisement, the folks at Norwegian CreationsHK-reklame and Trondheim Makers hacked a piece of civic infrastructure with a Pi, a modded MaKey MaKey and some aluminium strips, ending up with a bus stop you can play Pac Man on.

You can read all about the build – which involved hacking the power supply to the bus stop so it provided 230V of AC for the monitor – over at Norwegian Creations.

We love Maker Faires, and we love the way that this sort of bus stop hacking project has become – well, if not exactly mainstream, something culturally recognisable. If you want to meet the team at a Maker Faire this month, Rachel Clive and James will be with the folks from Pimoroni, demonstrating what happens when art, education and science come together in the form of a tiny computer at the gargantuan World Maker Faire in New York on Sept 20-21.

(It’s the first World Maker Faire Eben and I have ever missed, but we have a great excuse; it clashes with the vacation we’ve been planning all year for our tenth wedding anniversary.) Say hi to the giant motorised cupcakes for us!

Talking Fisher Price smartphone

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Back in the mid-seventies, when I was even smaller and more adorable than I am today, my parents bought me a Fisher Price Chatter Telephone. I’m sure many of you had one too. Mine was called Bert. I loved him, chewed him, made imaginary phone calls on him, and pretended he was a pet dog. (With a rotary dial and a handset, natch.)

This year, I was surprised on visiting Lorna, our Trademark Compliance Elf, and her two small children, to discover that the Chatter Telephone is still manufactured, even though no child born in the 21st century recognises things with rotary dials and giant handsets as phones. (Phones are the little black slab things that we use to Skype with distant aunties, and they definitely don’t have wheels.)

Grant Gibson got his hands on a modern Chatter Telephone for his son, who didn’t seem particularly moved by it (probably because little black slab, Skype, etc.) So he decided to hack it into something a bit more interactive, and came up with this. A Chatter Smartphone.

The rotary dial provides the inputs, sound is output through the modern Chatter Telephone’s speakers (the vintage ones didn’t have speakers, but the modern ones play clips from Toy Story), and he’s added a servo motor to control the googly eyes. This particular Chatter Smartphone has been set up to deliver weather information, cinema listings, and more; as well as offering information on demand, it can issue alerts, so Grant’s family knows when he’s left the office and is on his way home, or if the ISS is passing overhead. If you make your own, Grant has provided code so you can adapt yours to your own needs.

You’ll find comprehensive build instructions, along with all the electronics help and code you’ll need, at Grant’s blog. Thanks Grant – we love it!

 

Final Call for September Picademy Applicants

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Are you a teacher? Have you got back-to-school blues after yesterday’s return to the staffroom? Are your classroom displays distinctly lacking in interaction or automation? Are you bored of taking the register the old fashioned way? Well we think that we have the perfect remedy for you!

Have you packed your Raspberry Pi yet?

We’re offering another two days of FREE training from the Education Team in our HQ home town of Cambridge, UK. You don’t need any experience with Raspberry Pi. We will teach you, inspire you, feed you, and give you free resources. All you need to do is get here! We are confident that you will have such a good time that you’ll shake those back-to school-blues and be excited about getting hands on with technology in your classroom, like Raspberry Certified Educators Dan Aldred and Sue Gray, who created a dancing and singing glove over the two days of training:

We can help you create lots of classroom projects from scratch, like a ‘Make-an-entrance’ Doorbell for your classroom or an RIFD tag register for your desk!

Apply now for September Picademy (29th & 30th September 2014). The deadline for applications for this event is on Friday 5th September, so you’ve only got a few more days. We will email all successful candidates on Monday 8th September.

Applications for October Picademy (27th & 28th October 2014) will remain open until Friday 3rd October.

We accept applications from practicing teachers from all over the world who teach any subject area. We’ve had art teachers, history teachers, science teachers and Primary non-subject specialists as well as ICT and Computing teachers visit Picademy; the course is appropriate for any teacher, no matter what their subject.

Here is what some of our Raspberry Pi Certified Educators have to say about their experience at a Picademy:

Picademy was a hard two days of CPD but was definitely the best I have been on. It is difficult to mention the best thing about it because there were so many! Unlike most CPD I have been on we were not just talked at – we were hands on developing and creating nearly all the time. We had so many opportunities to networking and share ideas – I have not used Twitter so much and am seeing more value in it now. The time simply flew by especially when we were working on our projects during which we were writing code, debugging, bouncing ideas around, sharing, creating, swearing, laughing, tweeting, eating sweets, learning, googling, performing bear surgery and collaborating. Although the two days finished last week for Picademy#3 it hasn’t stopped – ideas are still flowing and the tweets and emails are pinging about the internet. – Matthew Parry – CAS Master Teacher

It was an epic journey. For some present, they had never plugged in a Pi before Monday, by the end they were exploring different programming concepts not for necessity but for curiosity and intrigue. For others, we now had a colossal array of activity ideas and cross-curricular links not to mention a brilliant network of fellow interested educators. What more can you ask for from 2 free days of CPD? – Sway Grantham - Primary Teacher, UK.

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