This is a fascinating five minutes of video from last Saturday’s Raspberry Pi session at the London Games Festival, where kids and teachers spent the day workshopping away at the Google campus. The Guardian were there to record what was going on, and talked to Eben, to Alasdair Blackwell from Decoded, and to Theo Blackwell from Next Gen Skills. Well worth a watch!
Twitter has been going mad this morning with people announcing the arrival of the Gertboard on their doormats. Gertboard, for those who are new here, is an expansion board for your Raspberry Pi, designed by one of the Raspberry Pi’s hardware team. It will allow you to use your Raspberry Pi with real-world devices: you can switch lights on and off, run rather beefy motors at different speeds and in different directions, sense light and heat and a whole heap of other things besides. You can read more about Gertboard here.
I had asked Gert to do us a spot of video for the occasion, but he told me Eben had instructed him to spend the weekend working on the camera board addon (Eben denies all knowledge of this), so you’re stuck with me talking about it and some pictures. After some delays caused by some hard-to-get-hold-of parts, Gertboards are now being shipped. You can order your own over at Farnell – they seem to be out of stock again right now, but Gert and the guys at Farnell don’t anticipate any more delays in procuring parts, so any order should be fulfilled reasonably fast now.
These high-resolution pictures of Gertboard (click through for the full experience) are from Raspberry Pi IV Beginners, whose YouTube tutorials are really worth your time. You can see more on his Flickr page. Many thanks also to Stuart Green, the photographer.
I’ve had mail about teaching methods from a teacher this morning, mentioning in passing that one of the class activities he’s running at the moment is the soldering of a Gertboard. If you are intimidated by the need to brush down your soldering iron, have a look at Soldering is Easy, a comic by our friend Andie Nordgren, which should help you get into the swing of things in minutes.
On another matter entirely, we’ve had some people ask how they can tell whether they’re holding a 256MB RAM Raspberry Pi, or its big brother, the 512MB RAM version. Easy enough once you’ve turned it on, but you don’t even have to do that: you can just decipher some of the manufacturing code on the top of the SOC.
These pictures are from imgur, and I am deeply ashamed because I have lost the link which I used to find them, so I’m not sure who’s responsible for them. Thank you SaltSpork! If it’s you, please let me know so I can fix the credits.
See the long strings of letters and numbers underneath the word “Samsung” on the RAM chip in the middle? That’s the top part of the PoP, or Package on Package assembly which stacks the processor (the Broadcom 2835, hidden under the memory) beneath the RAM.
What you’re looking for are the letters “2G” or “4G” somewhere in that string. The top picture has “4G” written on it: that means 4Gbits, which equals 512MB. ”2G”, which you’ll see in the bottom picture, means 2Gbits, or 256MB. Easy as Pi, when you know how.
Update again: We’ve now added the ability to adjust the split between GPU and CPU memory with 1MB granularity, rendering the instructions in the previous update obsolete. Now you simply copy the updated firmware here, including the file fixup.dat, into your /boot partition. You can adjust the split manually by setting the gpu_mem property as described here.
Update: Those of you lucky enough to receive a 512MB Pi this morning can download updated firmware here. For example, download arm384_start.elf and rename it to start.elf on /boot partition. You will then have a 384M/128M memory split.
One of the most common suggestions we’ve heard since launch is that we should produce a more expensive “Model C” version of Raspberry Pi with extra RAM. This would be useful for people who want to use the Pi as a general-purpose computer, with multiple large applications running concurrently, and would enable some interesting embedded use cases (particularly using Java) which are slightly too heavyweight to fit comfortably in 256MB.
The downside of this suggestion for us is that we’re very attached to $35 as our highest price point. With this in mind, we’re pleased to announce that from today all Model B Raspberry Pis will ship with 512MB of RAM as standard. If you have an outstanding order with either distributor, you will receive the upgraded device in place of the 256MB version you ordered. Units should start arriving in customers’ hands today, and we will be making a firmware upgrade available in the next couple of days to enable access to the additional memory.
I’d like to thank our partners, RS Components and element14/Premier Farnell, and the suppliers, particularly Samsung, Sony and Broadcom, for all their help in delivering a smooth transition to the 512MB. I’m looking forward to seeing what you all get up to with your shiny new Pis.
The Orlando Sentinel shot some video with Eben when we were at FamiLAB last week.
(This requires a click-through because I can’t embed their video.) Ricardo Ramirez Buxeda, the journalist who shot this, has very kindly sent me some embed code; apparently we can expect some accompanying text at the Orlando Sentinel later on too. It’s well worth a watch – it’s only a couple of minutes long, but it’s packed with information, and there are some brilliant Raspberry Pi projects on display. Yes, we’ll be writing about Lance’s camera mount as soon as it’s ready!
Thanks again to all at FamiLAB (and thank you, John, for the USB blinky lights, which are currently wreathed around my monitor).
We won another award! That’s three in two weeks; we’re very shocked and very pleased. This is the BASDA Theo von Dort award, which Eben was given at the Software Satisfaction Awards 2012 ceremony we were embarrassingly late for last night (we made it for the awards, but we missed most of dinner thanks to a gridlocked A1). Thank you to everybody at BASDA who voted for us – and especially to Kevin Hart, who must have been having kittens when we didn’t turn up initially.
If you want to vote for us in another set of awards (we’re up against Sir Alan Sugar in this one, and he’s been raising support via Twitter, so I am perfectly sanguine about posting a link here), the voting for the V3 awards closes in a couple of days. We’re up for project of the year, and we’d really appreciate your vote!
We’ve finished judging the book contest! The summer coding contest results will be coming within a few weeks too; we’ve checked all the output, and poor Rob, now freshly off a plane, will be combing through the code over the next little while as well. Sorry for the delay on both; the book contest was late because we’ve only just got the box of author copies. We weren’t able to choose a single entry to win, because there were so many great ones, so the winners are (in no particular order):
Can you all email me with the heading “I won a book!” at firstname.lastname@example.org, including your real names and addresses?
We had a board meeting! There’s not much content I can discuss here yet from that meeting, but I thought you’d like to see what the Foundation’s trustees look like when full of Cambridge University roast beef and port. Here we are in the Wilberforce Room at St John’s College, some of us a bit tiddly, enjoying the dinner that represented the aftermath of the meeting.
I should point out that most of our working life is not, in fact, conducted in suits or black tie, in the midst of a lot of silverware and expensive crystal, despite photographic evidence to the contrary. (Right now I am drinking from a mug that says I ♥ Vegas and sitting on a beanbag.)
This term, we’ve started to see the beginnings of school applications of Raspberry Pis. We’ve been taking a lot of orders from teachers in the UK, and we’re very pleased to see teachers elsewhere catching on to the project too; I’m talking to a number of charitable bodies and businesses around the world who are providing units to local schools, and we’ve met some singularly inspiring teachers both at home and on the recent tours we’ve been doing.
Tom Dubick, who teaches engineering at Charlotte Latin School in North Carolina, is one of those teachers. He thinks (we do too) that he became the first teacher in the United States to teach a regular class using the Raspberry Pi, when he started Pi lessons on October 1 with a group of middle-school girls. They’re working on systems using sensors, motors, lights and microprocessors from robotics to wearables, alongside programming in Scratch and Python. And they’re loving it, which we are pleased (and cheerfully unsurprised) to hear.
Tom says: “Our students are doing math and science when they learn how a computer works or a microcontroller can be programmed. They are doing engineering when they develop an unique use of the Raspberry Pi to solve a problem. It will be a great opportunity for our students to experience the creativity and beauty found in engineering and design. It’s like a sandbox and you get to play and try new ideas. I am excited to see what you will do with the Raspberry Pi that hasn’t even been thought of yet.”
I met Tom at the Charlotte Hackerspace, where I wish we’d had more time to talk. He’s got some solid and tested pedagogical ideas, which he’s very happy to share with teachers around the world, and which we found exciting and thought-provoking; if you’re a teacher looking for tips on teaching with the Raspberry Pi and you’d like to talk to him, please email me and I’ll pass on your address.
Meanwhile, back in the UK, St Saviour’s School in Paddington, London, has been holding a weekend session for 240 kids between five and eleven, where Story Corner was temporarily transformed into Coding Corner with the addition of 30 Raspberry Pis, as one of 20 weekend projects.
The kids were working with Scratch, and later with a Lego WeDo crocodile, who they programmed to snap at any encroaching little fingers. (Farnell very kindly donated half of those Raspberry Pis to the school at the end of the weekend’s fun, and they’re now earmarked for teaching.) The workshop was organised by the most excellent Little House of Fairy Tales, who I hope we’ll be hearing more from.
Formal lessons aren’t the only way to go. We’re also seeing a lot of interested parents and teachers who have been setting up after-school clubs. Dave Culp has been working with an after-school group of programming kids and the Raspberry Pi over the summer at his daughters’ elementary school (Mark Twain Elementary in Colorado). He’s been pleased and surprised to find that 2:1 of the kids who signed up were girls. Dave says:
I was introduced to the TRS-80 and the wonders of programming at the same age as my oldest is now – seven. So, in some sort of nostalgic way, I was seeking something for her that possessed the same breadth and mystical charm that programming did for me in my childhood.
Whether it was programming games, making computer music or simply scrolling my name across the screen in an endless loop, each completed (or incomplete, for that matter) project allowed me to play out a different character in an ever-evolving story of the mind.
A couple of years ago, during a period of time when the whole concept of creating a computer club was nothing more than a fleeting thought in my head, I chanced upon a book called, Hello World! Computer Programming for Kids and Other Beginners by Warren and Carter Sande. I bought a copy and read it, then had my daughter – who was 6 at the time – work through the first couple of chapters just reading the grey boxes and looking at the pictures. As it turned out, she seemed somewhat interested and was able to convey to me the general principles set forth in each of those chapters. I thought to myself, if we should ever really get this thing off the ground, this would be the book that I would suggest using. Consequently, because of its usage in the book, Python became the primary language of consideration. Additional research to this point has not revealed a ton of other well-written computer programming books for children, although there are a few out there.
Fast forward a bit to this summer, leading into this school year. The decision to implement the computer club had already been made and I was working with administrators to download and install the requisite Python-related programs on the school’s computers; develop a full plan for the club; gain the appropriate school network credentials; and work a couple of other unrelated freelance development projects.
During one of these projects I was reading a blog related to a Linux product with which we were working. Somehow I stumbled upon the mention of the Raspberry Pi, totally unaware at this point that such a product existed; or, for that matter, was even in development. Needless to say, the make-up and functionality of this device seemed to be a perfect fit for use in our club.
As I mentioned, today was the first meeting of the club and six wide-eyed, exuberant youngsters and one wide-eyed, deer-in-the-headlights instructor all arrived ready to get the ball rolling. Let’s just say that this was one of the fastest 1 hour, 20 minutes encounters of my life. My goals for the day were to get everyone acquainted with the Raspberry Pi; have each student get one-on-one attention while hooking it up for the first time; and, get that oh-so-wondrous “Hello World” program written and executed properly. We somehow managed to pull it all off without incident and the children left with that same bright-eyed, inquisitive look that I had when I wrote:
10 print “My name is Dave”
20 goto 10
All 30-plus years ago! As they say, the more things change, the more they stay the same!
It’s early days, but we’re excited to see the beginnings of school use. Are you teaching with Raspberry Pi already? We’d love to hear from you.
On the 20th October, he and two friends will be embarking on an epic 24-hour sponsored gaming marathon, where they’re aiming to complete every Sonic game they can get their hands on (currently at a total of 19!).
Now James has set a few targets for his campaign:
- $200: Continuing past the 24 hours until they’ve finished every game on the list (livestreamed), unless there’s a medical reason they must stop
- $500: Complete removal of his eyebrows (livestreamed)
- $750: Dye his hair white (which he’s been growing for something like 5 years)
Now, because raising money for kids hospitals is awesome and seeing one of my best friends dye his hair white is icing on the cake, I’d like to help James out, by adding a fourth goal:
- $1000: If we reach this amount, I’ll release the in-progress Raspberry Pi Chromium OS image. Be aware, it is VERY slow and unusable, but lots of folks have been asking me for it anyway, so here’s your chance to grab it. I’ll also join James live on his livestream on the 20th October for all to watch.
If anyone can suggest extra goals, things I could do to persuade people to donate, then I’m open to suggestions!
So, where do you donate? Click on the following link: http://goo.gl/eY8Ak
Whenever a Raspberry Pi is sent back to the distributor as a faulty unit, someone in the chain (we at the Foundation, the distributors, and now the factory in Wales) tests the unit to see what was wrong with it, so we can try to eliminate any problems in later production runs. We get very few returns, and I’m very happy to be able to say that nearly half of the returns we do get involve Raspberry Pis which don’t actually have any problems at all; in these cases what’s usually going on is that the user hasn’t flashed the SD card correctly (or, sometimes, at all!), or hasn’t connected it to a display device properly.
But occasionally it’s been challenging to find out what’s up with a broken unit. In these cases, we sometimes ask the customer to send us the power supply they’ve been using (and, from time to time, some other peripherals too) so we can dig a little deeper.
Everybody testing returned units used in the UK has noted a problem out there with some power supplies, all of which appear to be counterfeit Apple chargers. We’ve all compared notes, and we’re all seeing the same thing: some of you are using chargers you’ve bought in good faith which are not the real thing, and which don’t behave like a safety-tested, properly engineered piece of hardware.
We’ve found that there are three specific, different kinds of fake Apple charger popping up and causing trouble in the UK. We know that Trading Standards are already aware of these fake PSUs; apparently raids on suppliers have been carried out, but there are still plenty of them out there. Here’s some video which should help you check that yours is the real thing. If you find that your charger is a fake, take it back to the seller and raise a stink: and most importantly, stop using it immediately. You could damage your Pi or yourself (and anything else you plug into the PSU).
Updated to add: some very helpful links are appearing in the comments with technical details about these and similar PSUs, teardown pictures and video and so on. It’s worth swinging by to read them if you’re interested in learning more.
Before I start on the meat of this post, I have a boast to make: we won another award! We’re so excited at the way the press about Raspberry Pi has been getting recently; I got into the car we’d hired to take us home from the airport yesterday, and the driver lunged into the passenger seat and brought out a copy of Stuff Magazine to show us, with a two-page spread about things you can hack with your Raspberry Pi. Then, last night (at an event we were sadly unable to attend), we won a T3 Award for Innovation of the Year. We’re very proud, very pleased and extremely grateful to all of you who voted to get us onto the shortlist.
Back to the matter in hand. One of the nice things about this mini-tour of US hackspaces that Eben and I have just completed has been the way we’ve met some people we feel we already know well from the forums or from this blog and its comments section. Shea Silverman is one of those people; he’s had a MAME project featured here before, and he’s been helping people in our forums out with their MAME ideas too. Turns out that in real life, he’s a lovely, lovely chap. I spent a long time with Shea, coveting his newest Raspberry Pi hack: a miniature MAME cabinet which, when we saw it, was doing a very smart job of running Street Fighter II on its 2-inch display. I am still feeling terrible about the bit where I got over-enthused and started to walk across the room to show it to someone, forgetting that it was still plugged in at the wall. Happily, Shea has an awesome rugby-tackle on him (for an American). This cabinet is laser-cut using the facilities at FamiLAB, a really impressive hackspace in Orlando, Florida. This machine is running Advmame under the latest Raspbian at 900mhz; Shea will be releasing the SVG files for the cabinet itself soon (he’s planning to upgrade the screen to a 3in one for better visibility).
Shea has written a bit about the evening on his blog. I’m hoping we can return to some of the places we visited on this trip later on – we had an absolute blast on this trip, and really want to see what you all get up to over the next year with your Raspberry Pis!
If you’re one of those who wanted to go and see Rob on his tour who hasn’t been able to, here’s some video of his talk at the Google campus in Mountain View. Rob promises me that he’ll write a blog post about his trip very soon. Right now, he’s still somewhere in the western US – my hat’s off to him, because he’s still absurdly perky, while I’m all twitchy with fatigue after a trip a third the length of his. Go Rob.
We should have some video for you of one of Eben’s US talks coming up later this week.