Raspberry Pi

Exploring computing education in rural schools in India

Earlier this year, the Raspberry Pi Foundation supported a University of Cambridge team of two researchers, Dr Maximilian Bock and Aftab Jalia, in a pilot project exploring the possibilities of providing computing access and education in rural schools in India. Working with local organisations and using an adaptable three-day programme, they led two workshops in June 2014 introducing students and teachers to computing with the Raspberry Pi. The workshops used specially designed electronics kits, including Raspberry Pis and peripherals, that were handed over to the partner organisations.

The first workshop took place at Karigarshala Artisan School, run by Hunnarshala Foundation in Bhuj, Gujarat; the attendees were a group of 15-to-19-year old students who had left conventional education, as well as three local instructors. The students started off with very little experience with computers and most had never typed on a keyboard, so a session introducing the keyboard was included, followed by sessions on programming, using the Raspberry Pi camera module and working with electronics.

Karigarshala students mastering hardware control of an LED via the Raspberry Pi GPIO

Students chose to spend their evenings revisiting what they had learned during the day, and by the end of the course all the students could write programs to draw shapes, create digital documents, connect electronic circuits, and control components such as LEDs using the Raspberry Pi.

Chamoli students practise on their own using a TV as a monitor

The second workshop welcomed six- to twelve-year-old pupils of the Langasu Primary School in the remote Chamoli district, Uttarakhand, along with three of their teachers. This younger group of students followed a programme with more focus on activities featuring immediate feedback — for example, Sonic Pi for live-coding music — alongside programming and electronics tasks. As they learned, students soon began teaching other students.

In an Ideas Competition held at the end of the workshop, entries reflected students’ engagement with the Raspberry Pi as a device with which to build solutions: an inverter system to deal with frequent power outages, a weather station that gives warnings, a robot to assist with menial chores.

The Cambridge team’s “Frugal Engineering” approach, delivering computing education without the need for elaborate infrastructure, proved very successful in both schools. Hunnarshala Foundation has decided to integrate the Raspberry Pi into its vocational training curriculum, while students at Langasu Primary School will not only carry on learning with Raspberry Pis at school but will be able to borrow self-contained Raspberry Pi Loan Kits to use at home. The Cambridge team remains in touch with the schools and continues to provide off-site support.

September 2014 and February 2015 will see the team build on this successful pilot with induction workshops in three new schools, as well as follow-up visits to evaluate the use of Raspberry Pi in past project sites and to provide support and resources for expanding the programmes.

YRS Festival of Code 2014 – around the UK and at Pi Towers

Young Rewired State is a network of coders around the world. Every year an event is held in the UK to give young people the opportunity to collaborative while working on a project to make something interesting with open data, and to learn skills while exposed to new technologies.

The Festival of Code is a week where volunteer-led centres around the country play host to local kids (18 and under) who work in teams, guided by mentors from industry, to create a software application, a web app, a game, a phone app or even a hardware hack that utilises an open data set to provide a solution to a real world problem. It takes place next week: 28 July – 3 August 2014.

Participants spend most of the week at their local centre where they’re introduced to each other and to the mentors, they’re shown some data sets they have available, they get in to teams and start working on their project. Throughout the week they are introduced to new technologies and given short talks from mentors and other volunteers to help them find the right tech to solve their problems. On Friday all centres travel to Plymouth for the weekend where they present their projects.

Last year the overall winners of the Festival of Code were Tom Hartley and Louis Brent-Carpenter, whose hack was a service to provide navigational and other information to cyclists using a series of handlebar-mounted LEDs – powered by a Raspberry Pi – known as PiCycle.

Alongside Best in show there are other categories: Best example of codeBest example of design, Code a better country, and the Should exist award. I’d just like to point out that the winners of last year’s Best example of code were mentored by me in Manchester: contag.io.

Here’s a video showing my centre’s experience:

Come join us for the best week of your summer! Meet up at local centres, be mentored, introduced to open data, build awesome games, apps, hardware and websites, and show off your hack at the weekend in Plymouth!

from the Festival of Code poster – download from festivalofco.de

If you’re 18 or under and want to participate, sign up at festivalofco.de now. We’re running a centre at Pi Towers in Cambridge – so if you’re local to us you’ll be assigned to our centre and you’ll be lucky enough to spend a week at our offices!

If you’re over 18 (even quite a lot over 18) you can sign up as a mentor - centres can always use an extra pair of hands, and you’ll have a great time!

Oh, and Stephen Fry is a fan:

Calling all young geeks, your Festival awaits! Coding+Photobooths+Chiptunes+Skatepark+Ice cream festivalofco.de is here for you #YRS2014

— Stephen Fry (@stephenfry) July 19, 2014

There are also YRS events in Berlin, New York CitySingapore and elsewhere!

Art Showcase: Escape III

Hey all! It’s Rachel again. I have another amazing Art Showcase for you. This time Neil Mendoza explains how he and Anthony Goh brought these animated bird sculptures to life with the help of a Raspberry Pi, some Arduinos and lots of old mobile phone parts.

I really love this one XD – read right to the bottom if you want to see the birds in action. Over to Neil…

Mobile phones are ubiquitous in today’s society, but often their use has unintended consequences, intruding into and changing social situations, distancing people in in real life by dragging them into the digital world.  They are also a massive source of electronic waste.  A few years ago this inspired Anthony Goh and me (Neil Mendoza) to create an installation that takes cast-off devices and suggests an alternate reality in which these unwanted phones and noises become something beautiful, giving them a new life by creating an experience that people can share together in person.  The Barbican recently asked commissioned us to create a new flock of birds for their awesome Digital Revolution exhibition.  Here’s a little tech breakdown of how they work.

In previous versions, the birds were independent, but this time we decided to have a Raspberry Pi at the heart of the installation controlling them all.  This gave us the most flexibility to animate them independently or choreographed them together.

The exhibition is travelling so we wanted the installation to be as easy to set up as possible to so we decided to make each bird talk to the Raspberry Pi over ethernet.  This means that communications are reliable over long distances and each bird is self-contained and only needs a power and data cable connected to it.

The next challenge to overcome was to figure out how to call a bird.  In previous incarnations, each bird included a functioning mobile phone that you could call.  However, as there is no reception in the gallery, we decided to include a different era of phone junk and make people call the birds with a rotary phone from the 1940s.  The system looks something like this…

To make the phone feel phoney, the receiver is connected to a serial mp3 player, controlled by an Arduino that plays the appropriate audio depending on the state of the installation, e.g. dialling tone, bird song etc.  The Arduino also reads numbers that from the rotary dial and if one of the birds’ numbers is dialled it sends it over ethernet to the Raspberry Pi.

The iBirdBrain app running on the Raspberry Pi is written in openFrameworks.  When iBirdBrain receives a number from the phone, it wakes the appropriate bird up and tells it to move randomly.  It then picks an animation created using James George’s ofxTimeline and plays it with some added randomness.  The current state of each part of the bird is sent every frame over ethernet as a three byte message:

Byte 1: Type, e.g. ‘s’ for servo

Byte 2: Data 1, e.g. servo index

Byte 3: Data 2, e.g. servo angle

So the status of the app could be seen quickly without needing to SSH into the Pi we decided to use a PiTFT screen.  To begin with we rendered the OpenGL output of the app to the PiTFT screen, however as the screen runs at 20 FPS this created an unnecessary bottleneck.  In the end, we decided to set the screen up so that it would render the console output from the openFrameworks app.  After that, the app ran at a solid 60 FPS.  Outputting a '\r' character to the console goes back to the beginning of the line, so I used this to create a constantly updating console output that didn’t scroll, e.g.:

cout << ‘\r’ << statusMessage;

The birds themselves each contain an Arduino.  They speak ethernet using an ENC28J60 ethernet module and this library.  To start with I used TCP but running a TCP stack along with all the other stuff we were asking the bird to do, proved a little too much for its little brain so we moved to using UDP as it requires less memory and processor cycles.  An ID for each bird was programmed into the EEPROM of the Arduino.  That way, there only needed to be one firmware for all the birds, the birds themselves would then set all of their data, IP address, peripherals etc based on their ID.

Each bird has multiple parts that are controlled by the Arduino, servos for the wings and heads, piezo sounders, Neopixels and a screen for the face.

Escape III is on display at Digital Revolution until 14th September at the Barbican in London – I’m so excited, I’m going next week!

If you can’t make it, you can see the birds here:

Solar-powered Raspberry Pi school

I heard about plans for a new Indiegogo fundraiser last week. It launches today, and it really deserves your attention. (And, dare I say it, some of your money.)

Seventy-seven percent of schools in South Africa don’t have any computers – and 40% don’t even have access to electricity. United Twenty-13, a South African non-profit organisation, is looking to bootstrap a new model of solar-powered school computer lab, with the intent of scaling and reproducing the lab all over South Africa.

Taskeen Adam, one of the founders, says: “The fact that you are reading this online means that you already have more computer knowledge than the average South African public school student.” It’s a situation she and her colleagues at United Twenty-13 are making serious efforts to change, with the help of a certain small, affordable, low-power computer.

They’ve already raised sufficient funds for the lab design, for teacher training and for a prefabricated building to house it all in. But they’re looking for additional money to buy hardware (all the software they’re using is open source) – not just the Raspberry Pis and accompanying peripherals, but the expensive solar panels too.

Projects like this, democratising access to computing and access to information, are key in making improvements to local and national economies; and they’re key in empowering and changing the lives of the young people who are exposed to them. We wish the Solar Powered Raspberry Pi School project all the success in the world – you can donate to the project at their Indiegogo.

Ben’s Raspberry Pi US Tour – August 2014

Ben here: I’m on the education team at the Raspberry Pi Foundation in Cambridge, UK. As part of our outreach work I’m visiting the USA next month, where I could be visiting your school or hackspace.

Calling all Pi-thusiasts! I’m visiting in August and if you’d like me to visit your hackspace, speak at your school or check out your community learning space, let me know and I’ll try to fit as many visits in to my trip as possible! Whether your group wants to find out how to get started with Raspberry Pi; or whether you’re seasoned Pi hackers, I’m looking forward to meeting you.

I’ll be arriving in New York City on 4th August and travelling from there to Salt Lake City, visiting as many places as possible on the way in under three weeks. I depart on 21st August.

Are you on my way? Get in touch and I’ll try to visit you

I’ve set up a form where you can submit your request for a visit. Many US teachers have been asking us for a taste of the sort of things we do at Picademy, for example: now’s your chance. If you’re close to the blue line in the map above, submit the location of your suggested stop and I’ll get in touch if I can fit you into my trip. (If you’re not close to the blue line, get in touch anyway, and I’ll see what I can do.)

I’m very conscious that I might have used words in this post or elsewhere which I know to be spelled incorrectly differently in U.S. English. I apologise.

Picademy 3. A report of some note: and how you can be at Picademy 4

On Monday and Tuesday this week we ran our third Picademy–two days of free teacher training (aka CPD – it really is free, and there aren’t any catches) - and it was better than ever.

I told you it was fun! Picademy 3 cohort July 2014

We make Picademy available to attend for free: it’s part of our charitable mission. Teachers of all subjects – not just computing – who want to incorporate computing and electronics into their classroom, are given two days of what we think is some of the best CPD in the world. But don’t take our word for it – if you’re interested in applying for a place on the September course (you should), here’s what the Picademy 3 cohort had to say via Twitter:

  • Best two days of work based stuff EVER! Cannot recommend Picademy enough.

  • Picademy was amazing, superb CPD, networking, hands on projects, expert support when needed.

  • Thank you … for the best CPD, hospitality and the wonderful things we learnt.

  • Best goody bag ever! I feel like I’ve been to a party. Can’t wait for tomorrow’s session! I am buzzing from Picademy! Thank you to everyone for making it such an awesome experience.

  • Thanks … for an excellent #picademy. Great networking and workshops! Very inspiring!

  • I particularly liked the bit where Clive scooted around in a Little Tikes car shouting ‘Hodor!’ to himself.

All of these are completely not made up. Except one.

Lucky bags

Lots of the attendees arrived the night before and stayed in the same hotel, and it’s great to see the social side of Picademy. As well as encouraging collaboration and team work over the two days, it helps maintain the community and network of Raspberry Pi Certified Educators afterwards.

No night out would be complete without Sonic Pi leaflets

There’s always a great buzz in the Pi Towers classroom when the group first arrives and opens up their goody bags. (These bags have been certified by independent adjudicators Bag of Tricks Inc to be the best goody bags in the whole world.) But this time we had an ace up our sleeve (and B in our bonnet). Late on the previous Friday, Eben issued the command to replace the Raspberry Pi model Bs in the bags  with the as yet unreleased B+. There was much rejoicing! And this is why, one hour after the new model was announced, the good people of Picademy 3 were some of the first in the world to own and use the new model.

Lots of projects used the ever useful camera board

Day 1: filling brains with the good stuff

The first day is all about gaining experience and confidence. Workshops on Sonic Pi; physical computing; programming in Minecraft; and the Pi camera board show what can be achieved if you’re willing to have a go and to think differently, and this cohort did not disappoint. I overheard lots of comments like, “This would be perfect in the classroom…”, “The kids will love this…” and “YES! IT WORKS!” It’s an intensive but satisfying day. Teachers who had never used a Pi before were programming in Python, coding music and making LED traffic lights in Scratch. All of these new skills were preparation for the second day, or The Awesome Day of Messing About with Cool Stuff as we like to call it.

If it was my classroom they’d be sitting boy-girl-boy-girl. Alphabetically.

Dinner is really interesting. It’s a chance for the group to relax and chat, and to process and sort the vast amount of information that they’ve crammed into their heads during the day. So it’s an important part of the course, where ideas are shared and people start to talk about what they were going to make tomorrow. You could already see some of the projects taking shape. It’s an essential and productive hiatus, like letting meat rest after a blast in the oven or outgassing near the surface of the sea after a long dive. (I have just won a bet that I couldn’t mix cooking and diving metaphors in one sentence. Yes, Pulitzer Board: who’s laughing now?)

Day 2: TADOMAWCS

It’s day 2 with Carrie Anne!

On day 2 everyone split into groups, had a nice cup of tea, did a little happy dance of creativity and then made stuff. This is the favourite day for both the attendees and the education team. There’s no pressure to produce a specific product and everyone gets to work at their own pace and in their own comfort zone. The day is about building skills and confidence, and about sharing good practice.

What I particularly enjoyed this week was watching and helping those teams that kept plugging away at problems, debugging software and troubleshooting hardware, until it worked (or nearly worked!) This problem solving, creativity and perseverance is at the heart of computing in the classroom and is what makes it special. We also had inspiring talks from Eben Upton, Lance Howarth and Rachel Rayns (Google them—it’s not as if they are called John Smith or nuffin’!)

Babbage being re-purposed. I actually saw Ben Nuttall with a pair of pliers up his bum at one point.

There were some fantastic projects. Twitter-enabled projects were well represented, perhaps because many of the group were keen social media users, and this type of project has a huge appeal to students. One team wanted to do some robotics, so we scavenged an old robot and they repurposed it using a Pibrella—cheap and cheerful but with huge learning potential. We’ll be getting in a variety of motor boards and roboty things for future Picademies. We like robots.

Creative mode

This cohort has already impressed us with their continued collaboration and engagement via Twitter, our forums and their blogs. We know that some of them have gone back to school and are already changing things for the better, for instance by running CPD events, writing resources and setting up their classrooms to teach computing effectively. Thanks to you all for coming, you have earned your Raspberry Pi Certified Educator badges!

Kelly receiving her RPCE badge from Eben. It was all downhill from here.

Picademy 4 applications now open

So it was a fantastic couple of days again and although it’s tiring for the RasPi education team at the time we never get tired of doing it. The next Picademy is in September 2014  where you are guaranteed free, world class CPD; expert support; essential skills and practical ideas to take back to your classroom. And lots of fun. (We also guarantee that you will not get: encyclopaedic PowerPoint printouts; curly, mild cheddar butties; tedious talks; or role play (well, perhaps a tiny bit of the latter. It’s the CPD law.)

Picademy 4 will look favourably on applications from teachers in the South West of England. We’re very aware of regional accessibility to training and support, and so occasionally we will focus on specific regions. So if you are a teacher in the South West, we would love to have you here. This does not mean applications are open to teachers in the South West only! Please apply wherever you are.

I cannot believe that you are still here reading my brain-drool. The application form is here. Good luck!

Rickmote: Rickrolling Chromecast users

The Raspberry Pi is a favourite tool of security researchers, and we’ve seen a number of demonstrations of how important it is to secure your devices against attack that use it. (I got stopped in the queue for the cinema last week by someone who recognised me from this blog, and has been working in penetration testing with the Pi for a couple of years; the conversation I had with him was much more fun than the movie turned out to be.)

Bugs in commercial software are open to exploits, and I have yet to see an exploit more enjoyable than this one, which takes advantage of a bug in the way Chromecast recognises wifi.

Under normal use, the Chromecast can be sent a deauth command that disconnects it from wifi. But there’s a bug: when the media player is kicked off the local network it enters a config mode and becomes a wifi hotspot – waiting for machines nearby to connect with it and send it a new configuration.

Which is enough to make you feel let-down, and to make you cry and say goodbye, quite frankly.

This hack is the work of Dan Petro, a whitehat at security consultancy Bishop Fox. He’s using a Pi, a couple of wifi cards and a touchscreen – along with Aircrack (open-source WEP and WPA-PSK-cracking software). It takes the device about thirty seconds to connect, take over the network and get Rickrolling; and, of course, it has to be within wifi range. You can watch a video presentation from Dan that goes into much more depth about the project on YouTube.

Rachel, our Creative Producer, has a Chromecast. I plan on building a Rickmote and hiding on her balcony.

 

New product launch! Introducing Raspberry Pi Model B+

Meet your new favourite piece of hardware.

In the two years since we launched the current Raspberry Pi Model B, we’ve often talked about our intention to do one more hardware revision to incorporate the numerous small improvements people have been asking for. This isn’t a ”Raspberry Pi 2”, but rather the final evolution of the original Raspberry Pi. Today, I’m very pleased to be able to announce the immediate availability, at $35 – it’s still the same price, of what we’re calling the Raspberry Pi Model B+.

You’re a handsome devil. What’s your name? (Click to enlarge!)

The Model B+ uses the same BCM2835 application processor as the Model B. It runs the same software, and still has 512MB RAM; but James and the team have made the following key improvements:

  • More GPIO. The GPIO header has grown to 40 pins, while retaining the same pinout for the first 26 pins as the Model B.
  • More USB. We now have 4 USB 2.0 ports, compared to 2 on the Model B, and better hotplug and overcurrent behaviour.
  • Micro SD. The old friction-fit SD card socket has been replaced with a much nicer push-push micro SD version.
  • Lower power consumption. By replacing linear regulators with switching ones we’ve reduced power consumption by between 0.5W and 1W.
  • Better audio. The audio circuit incorporates a dedicated low-noise power supply.
  • Neater form factor. We’ve aligned the USB connectors with the board edge, moved composite video onto the 3.5mm jack, and added four squarely-placed mounting holes.

If you’re interested in precise measurements, or want to find out what the new GPIO does, check out the diagrams below.

Mechanical specs: you’ll want to look at these if you’re building cases or other housing. Click to enlarge.

GPIO diagram – there’s a lot more to play with now! Click to enlarge.

We think you’re going to love Model B+, but to ensure continuity of supply for our industrial customers we’ll be keeping Model B in production for as long as there’s demand for it.

The B+ is available from this morning from many of the regular Raspberry Pi stockists. If you want to go direct to our two main manufacturing partners, you’ll find it at Farnell/element14/Newark here, and at RS/Allied Components here.

A few of our friends got their hands on a Model B+ on Friday, and have been playing with it over the weekend. Here’s what they had to say:

 

MagPi issue 25 – out now!

For your weekend reading pleasure, here’s issue 25 of the MagPi! Published just yesterday, the latest issue of everyone’s favourite free, monthly, community-produced Raspberry Pi magazine is as full of fantastic stuff as ever.

Click to read The MagPi!

The cover story is one that’ll definitely get some attention in our house this weekend: it’s a full Python simulation of the Pocket Enigma Cipher Machine, a cleverly devised toy that demonstrates some of the principles of a real Enigma machine like the one many of you will recognise in the cover photo. Used by the German armed forces during World War II to encipher messages, these used rotating disks to achieve a sophisticated substitution cipher; the Pocket machine, and its Python simulation, use two disks to arrive at a fun, if not exactly unbreakable, cipher.

We’re delighted to see an article by Andrew Suttle, the MagPi’s youngest guest writer so far. Andrew reviews the Fish Dish, an easy-to-build add-on board aimed at beginners, which he has tested with ScratchGPIO and Python. Also aimed at beginners is a new series on learning BASIC, which opens this issue with the kind of background that has most of Pi Towers sighing wistfully and exchanging anecdotes about our childhoods.

There’s the second half of a two-part article on understanding networks and network analysis tools, an introduction to electronic measurement with Raspberry Pi and BitScope Micro, a background piece by one of the creators of the Navio autopilot shield which the many backers of its successful Indiegogo campaign will be eager to read, and — another personal favourite — a tutorial on building an iPad/iPhone control panel for Raspberry Pi with RasPiConnect, taking the wonderful MouseAir deluxe automated cat toy as its example.

As usual, there’s so much here that I can’t mention even half of the articles, tutorials and reviews you’ll find here for beginners, advanced users and everyone in between. Download your copy now!

Bare-metal Tetris duel

A couple of weeks ago, we featured a first-year undergraduate project from Imperial College in London: a bare-metal port of StarFox to the Raspberry Pi. It’s stupendously good; even more so when you realise that the people behind it are 18 and 19 years old.

I discovered that a second group from the very same class has another bare-metal doozy of a gaming project running on the Pi: head-to-head Tetris.

The team says you’re seeing:

- 4000 lines of documented ARM assembly code
- Optimised driver for a NES controller connected via GPIO
- Asynchronous networking for two Pis connected via GPIO
- Doubly buffered rendering logic for HDMI output
- Custom ARMv6 assembler written from scratch in C (released as binary only.

What’s in the water down in South Kensington? I don’t think we’ve seen this much assembly language since…this time last year, when we found an Imperial College bare-metal chess project.

Everything you need to replicate the Tetris setup is available at GitHub. Thanks to Han Qiao, Piotr Chabierski, Michał Sienkiewicz
and Utsav Tiwary for a really lovely piece of work.

Hamster Party Cam

As you may have heard, the Boardroom at Pi Towers contains a wall covered in the poster competition entries from before Christmas 2013. We hold all our meetings in this room, and even run workshops in it during Picademy. It’s also fairly common knowledge that I have a short attention span, and that on occasion when I’m in the boardroom (I’m not going to admit how often in case Lance or Eben reads this!) I find my gaze and mind wandering over to that wall and I wonder if I can make any of those imagined Raspberry Pi project ideas a reality.

One of the most striking of the posters has the catchy title of ‘Hamster Party Cam’. Upon further reading, the designer of the project, Violet, aged 6, tells us that…

Hamsters are nocturnal, which means that they sleep in the day time and come out at night. This means that when you are sleeping, your hamsters are up and about and when you are up and about, your hamsters are sleeping!

Violet makes a convincing argument. We need to know what those hamsters are doing when we are sleeping. We have our suspicions, Violet and I, that they are partying… like animals (small ones). So with my trusty Raspberry Pi, Camera Module and Pibrella, I set forth to make the project a reality.

Violet’s poster in situ

Hamster Party Cam is designed to avoid interfering with the habitat of hamsters, as every pet owner has a duty of care for the wellbeing of their creature. It uses a reed switch and a magnet on the hamster wheel as a trigger that when detected by the Pibrella, starts an LED disco light show, plays an mp3 (hamster dance) to a connected speaker, and takes a photo with the Pi Camera module.

Hamster Party Cam setup

Not having an actual hamster to test my creation on was a bit of a hurdle, but I managed to acquire a hamster cage from Emma, our office manager, nesting material from the shredder, and a toy hamster from the internet, which Gordon lovingly named “special patrol group”. As you may have seen from twitter, the entire office ended up getting behind the project and going a little hamster mad. Liz even suggested getting a real hamster for the office as she was really unimpressed with the toy one! Here is a picture generated by the hamster party cam system:

Special Patrol caught in the act of partying with hamster party cam

If you would like to make a similar project to detect your pets movement and take pictures of them then take a look at our new Raspberry Pi Learning Make resource, Hamster Party Cam, here. Take it, remix it, and make it even better!

Steer a car. With cheese.

Building your own remote-controlled robot or car is a favourite activity for kids who are using a Pi to learn about programming and electronics.

But this is the first one we’ve encountered that interfaces with a remote control made of cheese.

We absolutely love MaKey MaKey here at Pi Towers: it’s a kit that enables you to use any conductive objects in place of keypresses or switches, and there is little more engaging when you’re a kid than being able to build inputs out of things you’re more used to eating for dinner. I think this setup is a considerable imaginative leap forward from the standard bananapiano. I am not knocking bananapianos. Bananapianos are great. But it’s the canonical MaKey MaKey project, and so many people stop there, when there’s a whole world of conductive objects out there; and a whole world of things to make them control.

Like cheese. And tiny cars.

This is the work of Conor O’Neill, who wanted to do some family electronics his kids would enjoy. You can read a great writeup of his project on his website, with all the code you’ll need, and thoughts on where he wants to take the project next.

We salute your greasy forefingers, Conor and kids.

The CamJam EduKit – basic electronics for £5!

Liz: I wasn’t at the Cambridge Raspberry Jam this weekend: I was working in Manchester on Friday, and then became an aunt that evening (congrats Katie and Ben!). It meant I missed a special announcement: so I’ve asked Mike Horne, king of the CamJam organisers, to fill everyone in with this guest post. Over to you, Mike!

From little acorns…

We realised after the May Cambridge Raspberry Jam that we now had a good stock of workshop material, and began to think of ways to use the material away from the Jam. After all, educational material isn’t much good if it isn’t in the hands of people who might use it.

Liz sells Pis at a previous CamJam. If you want to meet people from the Foundation, the CamJams are the place to be.

At the May Jam, we ran a basic electronics workshop – you know the sort of thing: LEDs, switches and buzzers…and we wondered if we could create a kit with the necessary bits and bobs. People could buy the kits, then download the worksheets and teach themselves.

Around that time, Jamie Mann from The Pi Hut came
to us with the exact same idea – use the CamJam material as the basis for kits. And so, a partnership was formed to bring the idea to fruition. Jamie was in charge of procurement and assembling the kits, Tim would write the worksheets and Mike would test them
out.

Eventually, we came up with a name and the “CamJam EduKit” was born.

The CamJam EduKit is priced at £5 and comes with everything you need to have fun with basic electronics projects, including a project tin to keep it all in! We hope that this low price point will allow the kit to appeal to both families and education.

If it is successful, there will be more kits, the first of which is likely to use sensors to detect temperature, light levels and movement.

We hope that the CamJam EduKits will be used to further the Raspberry Pi Foundation’s educational aims and to get kids started not only with electronics but with Python programming as well.

Profits from the kits are going to be donated to the Cambridge Raspberry Jam, so we can continue to develop our educational programme.

You can buy the EduKit from The Pi Hut via the CamJam site, and you’ll find the accompanying educational material on the same page. All the material is free to download, so if you want to take a look at it beforehand, go right ahead!

Michael Horne (@recantha), Tim Richardson (@geeky_tim)
& Jamie Mann (@ThePiHut)

PiGrrl

Adafruit’s 3D Thursday series is getting us terribly excited every time they roll out a new project with a Pi in it. Yesterday’s was a doozy: so much so that the engineering team stood around my desk and made puppy-dog eyes and sighing sounds at me until I agreed to email LadyAda and beg a demo sample of the project from them. (She says she’s sending the pink one, Gordon, just to punish you for being so demanding.)

Meet the extraordinary PiGrrl, a home-baked Raspberry Pi clone of the Game Boy.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EPTp6WSrC6c

If you don’t think that’s the best thing ever, you’re dead inside.

As always with Adafruit projects, the PiGrrl is documented minutely; you can find a complete tutorial on their website, along with files for the 3d printer at Thingiverse. This is one of the more complicated builds we’ve featured, but we think the results speak for themselves;.

LadyAda says: “Woohoo!” After careful consideration, so do we.

Internet of Things toilet

There are many things that happen in my bathroom which I wish to keep private. But over at Instructables, member e024576 (about whom all we know is that he’s male and aged 59 – judging by the accent he uses in the video below when he runs out of loo-roll, he’s also from somewhere in the lower half of the USA) has been able to power through any bathroom-related shame to work out what toilet events can be usefully hooked up to the cloud without causing any personal embarrassment, all with the potential for making your toilet experience smoother, more environmentally friendly and less fraught with worry that the paper might have run out.

Why? Because he can.

Flushed with success

I still wouldn’t use e024576′s loo, but that’s just me.

e024576 says:

How does it work? – An aquarium liquid level sensor float switch detects toilet tank level; flushing lowers the level closing the switch. A photo cell located in socket (blind hole) of the toilet paper holder spindle mounting arm detects when the spindle is removed to change out the toilet paper (letting light hits the photo cell, thus “closing the switch”).

Signals from these two sensors are sent (wirelessly – despite what the intro photo implies) via a hacked two button key fob; that is, sensor switch closure effectively pushes a button. A 315 MHz receiver module connected to a Raspberry Pi receives switch closure signals.

The Raspberry Pi, using Python API gspread, transmits the event data to Google Drive spreadsheet.

See system layout image.

How hard and how much $ ? – Assuming you already have a Raspberry Pi, and you know how to load and run Python programs, and can build basic electronic circuits – this is pretty easy & quite inexpensive (< $40) IoT (Internet of Things) project.

Why do this? – (1) To explore IoT on the cheap, and (2) because I can.

Here at Pi Towers, everybody is shouting about their own improvements to the system – which start with working out how to signal that the toilet paper is about to run out *before* it actually does. Someone who will not be named suggests encouraging the saving of water with a display that flashes “If it’s yellow, let it mellow. If it’s brown, flush it down.” And we think that electrifying the handle would be a great prank - combined with OpenCV, perhaps, so the toilet could give out worse shocks to people whom it doesn’t like. The possibilities are endless.

If, for no particular reason I can make out, you want to try to emulate this project yourself, you can find full instructions over at Instructables. Thanks e024576 – if you get in touch to let us know what your real name is, we’ll add it to this post!

The big flashing DevOps thing

Greg Cope mailed us a few weeks ago with a pointer to this project, which has been monitoring DevOps at the Financial Times (FT) here in the UK.

It’s hard for everyone in the group to simultaneously maintain an overview of the health of the stack under normal circumstances. They use Nagios, a great piece of kit with one fatal flaw: Nagios emails everybody on the team every time a check changes state. Checks change state all the time, and that many emails causes the FT team to enter a state where absolutely none of them reads emails from Nagios, because they clog up their inboxes.

Silvano Dossan, who works on the team, says:

Our Nagios servers have been configured to check every important parameter, from basic disk and CPU  checks to HTTP, application, database and jconsole via Jolokia. All we need is some way to communicate clearly when a check fails.

The team rejected shared office displays in the form of monitors (too much text, too hard to read from a distance). They also rejected a particularly horrible idea whereby a single team member would be allotted the task of staying alert and monitoring all Nagios’ mails for the week, feeding back news of any disasters to the rest of the group. Sounds horrific.

Silvano sat back to think about exactly what they needed and didn’t need from alerts.

None of the above satisfied our needs. Something is missing. When something fails I want an alarm bell, a siren, or a flashing light that is so bright my eyes explode. A warning system that is in everyone’s face. No escape. There should be no excuse for anyone to not know when something in the stack has broken. “What do you mean you didn’t know the site was down, there is a mongoose running around the office!”

Introducing SAWS ! “Silvano’s Awesome Warning System”.

Well I did spend my evenings and weekends making this so forgive me the naming it after myself.

Rejecting the mongoose idea, Silvano bought a strip of something called Blinkytape (having looked at their website I’m off to buy one myself when I’m done writing this): a flexible strip of 60 RGB LEDs, with a microcontroller already embedded in the strip. Using a Raspberry Pi and a lot of glue and sticky tape, he produced a perfectly simple, unmissable display to demonstrate the health of the stack.

Silvano says:

A good monitor system should display the health status of the stack to as many people as possible in as simple format as possible. The more people that know the health state of the stack, the better chance of someone picking it up and resolving the issue quickly.

SAWS simply shows by grouping LED’s if each Nagios server has an error. Green, orange, yellow, red and flashing red LED’s representing OK, Unknown, Warning, Critical or Critical for over 30 minutes. Blue LED’s swoosh back and forth like a Cylon to indicate the python script is running and the data is up to date.

It’s an ingenious solution: and it works. There can’t be a cleaner stack in the country, now SAWS is in place, and the team have been incredibly enthusiastic about the change. You can read more about it over at Engine Room the FT’s tech blog; and Silvano has made all the code available at GitHub.

Talks from Team Pi

I’ve been pointed at a couple of videos which might interest you: you’ll learn something new from both of these.

First up, Eben explains more about the Compute Module to our friends at RS Components:

And a little later on, Gordon, our Head of Software, gave a talk to the Prime Conference at the Royal Institution about the decisions that led us to repatriate manufacture of the Raspberry Pi to the UK:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=syqDIopa5rA

Enjoy!

Bedroom Apollo mission

Jeff Highsmith is from Make. His Mission Control Desk (a homework desk which, when you’ve finished learning your spellings and writing about what you did on your holidays, magically turns itself into an Apollo Mission Control station, complete with bleeps, bloops, and the ability to disastrously stir the oxygen tanks) is a project that got a lot of you very, very excited when we featured it. Jeff is King of the Maker Parents.

He’s not been idle since then - after all, he has two sons, and the younger one needed a project for his own bedroom to go alongside his brother’s envy-inspiring Mission Control Desk. This is what he ended up with. Please make sure you’re giving your jaw plenty of support before hitting play, so it doesn’t hit the floor when it falls open with amazement.

Jeff has a good understanding of what gets kids’ imaginations going – this isn’t a game to win, but a prop for encouraging imaginative play. There are 38 switches, knobs, potentiometers and buttons to flick and poke, many of which trigger sequences of events. There’s video from the real Apollo missions. There’s a removable panel with pipes and screws behind it to tinker with. There’s a tactile transducer (a big bass amp that makes the whole spaceship shake and rumble) to simulate takeoff. There is a robot arm in the payload bay. And there’s lots of audio – a Raspberry Pi is in there to deal with logic and sounds.

We love it, despite the fact that it makes us feel highly inadequate. There is good reason for the top comment under this video on YouTube at the moment being “Please adopt me, even though I am 44.”

You can see more of Jeff’s projects at Make. Thanks Jeff, thanks Make, and thanks kids – depwoy the paywoad!

 

Adafruit’s Raspberry Pi Photography Award

Our good friends across the pond at Adafruit are running their first ever Raspberry Pi Photography Award – and I’ve been roped into helping judge this year’s entries. Lady Ada and PT say:

Anyone, worldwide, with a Raspberry Pi and camera can enter. All photos must be taken with Raspberry Pi + Raspberry Pi camera and/or webcam/camera connected to the Pi. The photos cannot be altered “post” in an image editing program (GIMP, Photoshop, etc) but you can use the built-in filters that the Pi Camera has such as “Sketch”, “Oil Painting”, etc! Be creative and take a photo using a Raspberry Pi of something interesting, like this cat (Carmen) and clock, taken with a Raspberry Pi.

It’s a charming sample picture, but, cute as Carmen is, you’ll need to do something more exciting if you want to win.

We do not want photos taken of Raspberry Pi units, please take photos using the Raspberry Pi. Grand prize is $314 in the Adafruit store, and we have 14 $30 winners too!

You can find full instructions on how to enter at Adafruit’s site. I am looking forward to finding out what you end up sending us, and I am instructed to inform you I am incorruptible in these matters: bribery will not work if you’re looking to affect the judging process. If you’re looking for inspiration, check out the posts here tagged “photography“. Good luck!

Controlling electrical sockets with Energenie Pi-mote

Last Christmas I decided I had spent enough time bending over the various chairs to reach the switch to turn on and off the Christmas tree lights. So I bought a set of Energenie remote-controlled mains switches.

I decided that this would be a great device to wire up to the Raspberry Pi, because I could then program the Pi to control my Christmas lights during the day. Unfortunately, the small remote control supplied with the distribution board does not have any mechanism of external control.  So I got in contact with Energenie, the manufacturers of these great devices, to invite them over to Pi Towers and show them what a great thing Raspberry Pi is and why they should create a Raspberry Pi add-on to be able to control the devices…

A couple of months later I get a visit from their team, who showed me the results of quite a bit of engineering (and a little fun I think):

A little bit of information from the guys at Energenie:

The Pi-mote control is an add on board that permits control of 433mHz radio controlled electrical sockets. Easy to install and command, the product provides a simple and safe way to add control of mains powered devices and appliances to your Raspberry Pi.

Energenie make a range of compatible sockets which can be operated by Pi-mote control. If you already own Energenie sockets, these are backwards compatible with Pi-mote Control.

A starter kit is available which includes the Pi-mote Control and 2 13Amp electrical sockets for use in standard UK 3-pin mains sockets. Some Python code to enable simple on-off control of these sockets will get you going out of the box.

While Amy Mather was in the office earlier in the year to do some work experience, I asked her to think of something she could do with the system and to write some code to prettify the existing Python code. She started by writing a basic function to control power sockets using some binary logic, and proceeded to hack one of the built-in Python games in Raspbian to make it play a song and turn on some disco lights when the player wins the game. Cue the music:

…finally Rick-Rolled the Raspberry Pi blog!

See Amy’s example code and the modified memory puzzle game on her GitHub.

The basic usage for Amy’s energenie module looks like this:

from energenie import switch_on, switch_off from time import sleep # turn a plug socket on and off by number switch_on(1) switch_off(1) switch_on(3) switch_off(3) # turn all plug sockets on and off switch_on(0) switch_off(0) # turn some plug sockets on, then turn them off after 10 seconds switch_on(1) switch_on(4) sleep(10) switch_off(1) switch_off(4)

Want to control something simple from your Pi? Washing machine, Vacuum cleaner, liquidiser (create your own cat scarer):

Buy yours at energenie4u.co.uk!

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