Our very own Justin Bieber, Rob Bishop, was at the world’s best-named conference last week. Bacon (www.devslovebacon.com) is a London conference on things developers love, like Raspberry Pi, Go, rockets, close-up magic…and preserved meats. The video of his talk was just released yesterday. Rob says, on watching it: “Man, I need a haircut.”
The cost implications that come with finding yourself able to buy a computer for $25 are significant for all of us, but they can make a real difference to the way cash-strapped researchers do things. We’re seeing a surprising number of university departments around the world using the Pi for the sort of tasks you’d previously have pointed a PC at, with very gratifying results.
I had email from Lorna, who manages some of our social media, about a video she’d been sent yesterday. “It’s about crabs,” she said. “The seaside kind.” (Just as well, or I wouldn’t have been able to publish it.) David Soriano, who is an Associate Professor of Chemistry at the University of Pittsburgh-Bradford, has been using a webcam controlled by a Pi to monitor fiddler crabs which are being offered thermal polypeptides, rich in the amino acid tyrosine. Tyrosine starts the pathway to melanin pigment production in the crab, and David’s watching for colour changes that result from it. This is a long video, at 15 minutes, but it’s very interesting, as David describes the setup and some of the crabs’ behaviour.
David is also studying the effects of certain chemical agents on the American Cockroach with the help of a Pi. Cockroaches are much less cute than fiddler crabs, so I won’t embed the video here, but you can watch it on YouTube.
The biologists are in on it too: click the picture below to visit the University of St Andrews in Scotland, whose Centre for Biological Diversity have written a Raspberry Pi phylogeny reconstruction program, so students can look at the relationship between phylogeny and evolution on a Pi.
Daniel Barker, from St Andrews, said:
Given a bunch of DNA sequences and some pre-processing, LVB gives you an idea how they are related. If you give it one sequence per species, it gives you an idea of how the species are related. LVB combines an optimality criterion that’s rapid to evaluate and a subtle heuristic search – with the intention of working fast, and reasonably well, with large input.
If you’d like to learn more (undergrad-level biology is a whole new world to a lot of us), Daniel came and posted some more explanation on our forums last year. Come and take a look.
Of course, you don’t need to be at a university to use a Pi to research something. Yesterday I spotted a brand new Twitter feed, fully automated with a Pi, dedicated to capturing an image of the Beijing sky every 15 minutes. Zhe Wu, who works at delicious.com, is collecting the visual data and will be using it to analyse changes in the condition of the city’s air. There’s not a lot of data to process yet; the images only started being collected yesterday. But we’re looking forward to seeing what he does with them. You can view the stream of pictures on Twitter.
Pictures of the Beijing sky today. It’s looking a bit less smoggy today than it did on my last trip!
Back in the UK, we’re seeing some pretty extraordinary research work coming out of schools too. The winners of the 16-18 section of the recent PA Consulting Awards competition, challenging schoolchildren to “make the world a better place” with a Pi, were Alyssa Dayan and Tom Hartley from Westminster School, whose Air Pi we’ve mentioned here before briefly; it’s a very sophisticated, very well implemented project we thought we should talk about some more.
Air Pi is, say Alyssa and Tom, “an automatic air quality & weather monitoring device powered by a Raspberry Pi, capable of displaying, recording and uploading information about temperature, humidity, air pressure, light levels, UV levels, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and smoke level to the internet.” It’s cheap, it’s modular, it’s open: we love it. Here are Alyssa and Tom, who will explain a bit more about the project and what’s being done with it.
There’s a lot more information on the AirPi website – head over and have a look. You can set one up yourself for as little as £50 (including the Pi), and AirPis are already being used to monitor air quality as far away as India.
Are you using a Pi for research? Let us know in the comments.
We’re celebrating today: it’s the 75th anniversary of the University of Cambridge’s Computer Laboratory. From its beginnings in 1938 as the Mathematical Laboratory, it’s provided the foundations for much of our computing history; Raspberry Pi is only one of hundreds of successful business set up by academics and alumni, and we’re very proud to be associated with the Lab.
The old Mathematical Lab, on the New Museums Site in the centre of Cambridge
The University of Cambridge Computer Lab today: the William Gates Building.
Things have changed in computing since the Mathematical Laboratory’s early days. Just before our wedding, when Eben was writing up his PhD and we were living in university housing, the wife of a very old, very decorated gentlemen took me by the elbow with startlingly strong fingers after a dinner, and proffered a dire warning.
“You need to understand that life will not be easy if you marry a computer scientist, especially early in your marriage; you won’t always come first. When we were young marrieds, John would disappear for hours in the middle of the night to cool that damned machine for his supervisor.”
It turns out that “that damned machine” was EDSAC. (My advice to “young marrieds”: if you can’t beat them, join them.)
EDSAC1 in the 1940s, with Maurice Wilkes and William Renwick.
It’s thanks to work done in that laboratory that you’re holding a Raspberry Pi now that doesn’t need cooling at all, let alone in the middle of the night; ARM, whose technology is in the Pi’s processor, was originally a spinoff from the Computer Lab.
It was where EDSAC, the first programmable computer ever brought into general service, was built, and where microprogramming was pioneered by Maurice Wilkes, the Lab’s second Director, using EDSAC 2. Towards the end of the mainframe age, major advances were made in fields such as networked computing and computer-aided design. Cambridge’s Computer Lab was the home of the world’s first webcam. It was the place where Michael Burrows, the leading computer scientist in search engine development, learned his trade, and where Bjarne Stroustrup, inventor of the hugely popular computer language C++, did his PhD. Without the Lab, early home computers like the BBC Micro, or the low-power chip technology used in iPads and mobile phones, or the Raspberry Pi, might well never have emerged.
We’re a bit overwhelmed to find ourselves discussed in such august company. Eben’s one of the (ha) Distinguished Speakers at today’s celebrations; tomorrow it’s back to normal, but for today we’re enjoying an incredible feeling of taking part in history, and a sense of the extraordinary pace we’ve been moving at for the last 75 years.
Congratulations to everybody at the Lab, past, present and future. Here’s to the next 75 years – let’s make them good ones!
NESIT is the New England Society of Information and Technology in Connecticut, and they have a made a security system for their hackspace that gives us terrible feelings of envy. Their old RFID door lock, powered by an Arduino, was getting old and came bundled with some problems: it didn’t allow for easy modifications to the database of users (the old setup wrote user information straight to the Arduino’s eeprom), couldn’t output video, and would have been expensive to hook up to the network; running its server all the time would have cost about $200 in electricity over a year.
Running a Pi for a year costs about $3.
So Will, one of the hackspace members, set to work getting a Pi interfacing with an RFID reader, and finding some housing for the whole setup. It had to be secure, lockable and robust: somehow he squirreled up an old outdoor telephone network box made of heavy-duty plastic, which he cleaned up, using a Dremel to modify the door of the box so it could accommodate an LCD screen originally intended for a car reversing system.
…after. Note glistening result of elbow grease application.
Will really went to town on this build. He could have stopped there, but has also made sure that the system will tweet when someone enters or leaves. It also monitors temperature, can be controlled from his phone, sends an email alert if someone tries to tamper with the case, and detects motion: if it spots someone walking past, it’ll play a short video about the hackspace.
NESIT’s put details of the build online, and have made this video of the system in action. We note that the “beep” you’re using doubles as an excellent cat-scarer, Will; I have the scratches to prove it.
Tricky things, birds. Even when you’ve got yourself sorted out with boxes and feeders to entice them into your garden, it can be very difficult to get a decent photograph – they don’t stay still for long, especially if they see you coming (and it is amazing just how adept birds are at spotting the slightest movement – the sort of movement you might make to operate the zoom lens on your camera, for example), and many feeding birds will only visit the table for a few seconds at a time, even if you’re well hidden.
Enter Adrian Bevan and his Raspberry Pi.
Adrian had built a shutter release for his Canon1000D SLR, and decided to extend his new knowledge by making a DIY remote release. He’s been activating it manually, but has also made instructions available for using it with a motion detector (Adrian’s currently using a webcam and a second Pi for this part of the kit), so that the SLR can fire automatically when the Pi it is attached to senses that there was a bird on the table using information streamed from the outdoor Pi.
Your best bet here is to set the camera up in continuous shooting mode so that it’ll take several shots over a few seconds once your target has been spotted. Adrian has put exhaustive instructions on making your own setup on his blog, complete with circuit diagrams and code, alongside some video of the shutter in action.
Speaking of birds, I was, sadly, nowhere near a camera when a sparrowhawk dropped out of the sky to disembowel a blue tit on my front lawn this morning. Rotten shame, that. Oh – and if anybody has any tips on how to stop my bird-feeders being reliably emptied within ten minutes of filling by a horde of marauding starlings, I’m all ears.
Adrian has used that old Pi hackers’ standby, Tupperware, to house the webcam, battery pack and associated Pi in a waterproof environment. Securely housing your DSLR outside in a way that means it won’t get wet but can still take pictures is, obviously, a bit trickier; his is, I think, set up indoors, pointing out of a window, with a whacking great zoom lens attached to the front. If you’ve any ideas on how to set up and leave a good camera outdoors without it getting wet or stolen, please let us know in the comments!
News from across the pond arrived last night, UK time. Our good friends at Adafruit have been working on their web-based integrated development environment (IDE) – hence WebIDE – for the Raspberry Pi, and have made a number of changes based on your requests. This is a big update (“Huge!” says PT), and if you’re already using the WebIDE you’ll notice some changes.
We’re big fans of Adafruit’s WebIDE for the Pi. It offers a nicely structured, easy way to learn how to program, and there’s already lots of support for it (check out Adafruit’s materials or click on the picture above), even though it’s stil in alpha. Beginners should find the visualiser especially helpful; it’s a good way to work out how simple scripts really work, and allows you to see how objects are created, how processes are stacked and so on. We’ve found it’s a real aid to understanding how things fit together, and a great way to explain concepts to people who’ve only just started programming.
Please be aware that because the WebIDE is still a product under development, you may encounter bugs. If you do, please report them using the tool in the editor; user feedback’s really valuable when developing this stuff, and LadyAda, PT, Justin, Tyler and the team want to hear about your experiences.
We now have a new offline mode that you can enable with an –offline flag when you install the WebIDE. This mode allows you to bypass using Bitbucket or Github, and should work when not connected to the internet.
We also have a new experimental GitHub mode that allows you to sign in with your GitHub account. This feature is for advanced users that want to use GitHub as their provider. This can be enabled with the –github flag during installation. Please note that GitHub mode does not do some of the automated things (git ssh key setup, etc) that the default installation mode will do.
You can now refresh the left navigator from within the WebIDE, as well as manually update any repositories you have by right-clicking on them, and choosing the option to “Update Repository”.
The full list of new changes for the 0.3.7 version of the WebIDE are as follows:
• Ability to enable with –github as the default
• Advanced setting
• Requires manual ssh key setup as of yet.
• Most commands are treated as manual mode for now (manual commits, etc).
New Offline mode
• Ability to install with –offline as the default
• need to manually commit, and push changes (similar to the manual git setting)
• Bypasses bitbucket OAuth
• Ability to refresh directories from within the navigator
• New option to clone repositories without updating remote to bitbucket
• New right-click context menu option to update repositories from remote (origin/master for now)
• New Report Bug Link added to footer
• New confirmation dialog for navigating away from unsaved changes…Save Files/Don’t Save/Cancel
• Editor is set to readOnly for any files that shouldn’t change (README, update notes), including empty editor window while navigating.
• Deleting a file or project will now also delete a corresponding scheduled job from the queue.
• Errors cloning repositories are sent to the front-end now.
• Error handling for most git commands now. Notifications visible in WebIDE for failures.
• New Error pages for any issues with the system failing to show pages. Links to ALS WebIDE FAQ for help.
• New Error page specifically for OAuth failures. Adds a button to execute a script to help set the date and time.
• Attempt to set the date on the Pi during installation to prevent OAuth errors.
• Creating files and folders will automatically open them in the editor and navigator.
• Uploaded files will always use the current working directory, instead of uploading to the parent directory now.
• git pull commands are now using the quiet (-q) flag.
• Editor setting for supporting adding a Make link in the editor action bar if a Makefile is detected in the cwd. Not enabled by default.
If you are already running v0.2.0 or higher, you will be able to upgrade (and may already have done) from inside the editor. If you’re running an earlier version, you’ll need to completely remove your old editor and reinstall again. You can find out more at Adafruit. Thanks so much for all your work on this, Adafruit folks – we continue to be bowled over by all the work you’ve been putting into the Pi platform, and we couldn’t be more grateful. We’re looking forward to seeing you when we’re next in NYC!
Meltwater has come up with a nice little trick which allows you to use your laptop or desktop’s display and keyboard as the display and keyboard for your Pi. You won’t need to do any soldering or to buy any special equipment: all you need is a network cable.
You’ll be using the network port to do this, so if you were relying on it to get internet connectivity you’ll need a wireless dongle too, but using another device’s keyboard and display means that you can cut right down on the kit you need to carry around if you’re bringing your Pi somewhere to show off your latest project.
Oliver is five, and has produced this lovely bee box for school. He did the modelling, the painting and some of the soldering, and had lots of help from his very talented big sister Amelia, who is seven and did all the programming for this project in Scratch.
The bee is made of clay, and has a magnet inside his body. His location is determined by some reed switches inside the box, which are connected to the GPIO pins on a Raspberry Pi, as are the LEDs in the flower and the hive. Amelia’s Scratch program, running on the Pi, then uses a TV to display what the bee’s up to (and, to a very enthusiastic Oliver’s great pleasure, emits a buzzing noise).
I mean it about the enthusiasm. Seriously. If you could bottle this stuff you’d make a fortune.
Full instructions on how to make your own bee box (it’s a really enjoyable project for parents to set up with their kids, and I’m sure you can think of a million ways to customise it) are available at Dad Stewart’s website, along with the Scratch code you’ll need, some GPIO instructions and a costed parts list.
Thanks to Oliver and Amelia from all of us at the Foundation – we are flapping our arms and shouting “BUZZ” right along with you.
Liz: Thor de Regt, from Amsterdam, emailed me back at the start of the month to tell me about the success his company has been having offering free Raspberry Pi colocation. There are a few companies around the world offering this service for free for Raspberry Pi users, and we were interested to find out how and why this was going on. Here’s what Thor had to say.
Free Raspberry Pi colocation – How it all began, our success and our findings
In late February we began giving people the opportunity to colocate their Raspberry Pi in our data center – for free. Now, almost two months later, we have over 400 people making use of the initiative with new signups still coming in daily. Of course this makes for a good story which we’re happy to share with you and the rest of the Raspberry Pi community!
So, how did all this start? Well, it wasn’t a warm summer evening in ancient Greece (in fact it was a cold morning last winter in the Netherlands), when we thought it would be pretty cool to host a couple of Raspberry Pi’s in our data center. We were pretty confident that there would be at least some people interested. I remember getting excited by the thought of reaching enough people so we could end up hosting around 50 Raspberry Pi’s. Two days after the website went live that goal was quickly achieved though, but more on that later.
Before we could share the initiative with anyone we needed a platform, and thus raspberrycolocation.com was created. To keep our tone of voice in line with the Foundation we made the website as transparent as possible and people really seem to appreciate that. When people visit the website they can see for themselves that we have nothing to hide and that there is no hidden agenda. We believe this definitely contributed, in one way or another, to the popularity of the initiative so far. People just dig generous offers and our service is no different. I mean, where else can you get a 100 Mbit uplink, 500 GB bandwidth, power and the ability to boast about it to your friends for free?
One of the illustrations made for the website to give some pizazz to our applications page. In this illustration you can “clearly” see two raspberries chatting in fruit language.
Just a few minutes after the website went live we knew we were in for something good. After having sent out a Facebook post and a tweet, we received close to 60 signups within two days. That amount more than tripled when we included the project in our not so monthly newsletter, and has been steadily increasing since. Every now and then the website gets shared on a popular forum or blog (like raspberrypi.org), usually resulting in a few thousand visitors for a day or two. At this moment we have received close to 450 signups, about 150 of which are currently operational. If we get all of them up and running we’re probably looking at three racks filled with Pi’s. Yum!
Our first rack, fully filled with Raspberry Pis. Quite a delicious sight!
The fact that the initiative has been so well received is great news of course, but also presented a few drawbacks. Because we had so many more signups than we first anticipated, our initial stock of Raspberry Pis and their necessary accessories were gone by the end of the first day. Thankfully, ModMyPi ships pretty fast (and their 5% profit donation is definitely a win), so getting new Raspberry Pis wasn’t that much of a problem. No: the real problem for us was the power adapters. For safety reasons, we wanted to supply the power adapters ourselves, but we quickly found out that the ones we had were no good and it took us quite a while to actually get a model we could trust. Ultimately, we went with the ones recommended by RS Components. Higher in price than we first set our sights on, but at least you can count on them!
Currently we’re able to place 150 Raspberry Pi’s in a single rack. However, the method we use isn’t exactly the most efficient solution, as can be seen on the picture. For now it does get the job done though.
In order to make better use of the space we have, we are working on a few custom designed boards that should make it possible to place close to 500 Raspberry Pi’s in a rack; this setup will also give us the opportunity to reboot them from a distance, but unfortunately is quite expensive to fabricate in its current state.
The prototype consists of 32 outlets connected to a power supply of 45 amps. We’re currently working on getting the cost per outlet down and maybe increase the outlets per board to 48. With the increase, we could house close to 500 Raspberry Pis in a single rack.
When we first started, we thought only a few people would actually buy a Raspberry Pi through us. To our surprise this was not the case, as 62% of all signups bought Raspberry Pi’s (80% 16 GB version, 20% 8GB version). This amount is much higher than we originally thought it would be, but actually makes sense when you think about it. If I was colocating a Pi, I know I would buy a new one because there is just no way I’d want to send my current one away. The people that did send their own Pi probably had it as an extra just lying around the house.
Another interesting thing is how they’re performing so far. Since we always monitor the power and bandwidth usage of our racks, monitoring the Raspberry Pi rack was pretty easy and gave us some great insights.
As of 9 April 2013, a total of 150 Raspberry Pis steadily used 4.5 Amps on average and about 1 TB of bandwidth last month. Now, most of them were only placed a few days or weeks before, so this may not be the most accurate picture ever; however, it does give a general idea on how they perform. Oh well, I guess we’ll just have to follow up on this post in the future!
Click to enlarge. As you can see, only 1 TB of bandwidth has been used by 150 Raspberry Pis. This number is quite conservative in our opinion.
The guys facilitating all this
That’s pretty much the journey we have had so far regarding the project. For anyone interested in who we are and what we do (I’ll keep it short): we’re PCextreme, a webhosting company from the Netherlands offering a wide range of online services at competitive prices, such as domain name registration, colocation services, web- and soon cloudhosting.
Should you want to help us out with the initiative, then feel free to share this post or the raspberrycolocation.com website with your friends so everyone can get in on the action. If you have any questions about us, the initiative or anything in general then feel free to ask them in the comments section. Thanks for reading!
Your votes have been counted: there was a clear winner. Congratulations to Fergal Butler, who was the first person to respond to the original post with the name Babbage.
Well done Fergal! Emma will be in touch with you next week to get your address. The prototype bear has already found a home with Clive’s little girl, and production Babbage won’t be with us for a couple of weeks, but we’ll make sure yours is the first to be sent out.