Raspberry Pi Blog

This is the official Raspberry Pi blog for news and updates from the Raspberry Pi Foundation, education initiatives, community projects and more!

Capacitive touch HAT from Adafruit

While we’re on the subject of HATs, here’s one of my favourites, from our friends at Adafruit.

We had email a couple of weeks ago from José Federico Ramos Ortega, who has prepared a video and tutorial about the HAT (which he calls a Sombrero Capacitivo) in Spanish. Extra points for the use of cactus fruit to change instrument.

You can get your hands on one of these at Adafruit, who, despite the name, do not sell the fruit required to build a fruit piano of your own, but who do sell everything else. Lettuce turnip the beet!

 

 

2 Comments

Issue #37 of The MagPi, the official Raspberry Pi magazine, is out now!

The second print edition of The MagPi is here and this month our cover feature is all about digital home automation!

Click to see the latest issue and admire Sam Alder's amazing artwork!

Click to see the latest issue and download your Creative Commons PDF

UK readers can buy it today in newsagents & WHSmiths and US readers can buy the previous issue in Barnes & Noble or MicroCenter.

ORDER ONLINE
Buy now from the Raspberry Pi Swag Store

SUBSCRIBE
Call +44(0)1202 586848 or visit The MagPi Subscriptions site

Take a closer look at what's inside this issue

Click for a closer look at what’s inside this issue

Highlights from #37: 

  • The Raspberry Pi digital home
  • Stream to your PC
  • Build a computer vision sequencer
  • Make a fridge monitor
  • The Fallout Pip-Boy
  • Pi in the movies
  • Cool beats with Sonic Pi
  • and much more!

 

Another new face!
Barely a month seems to have gone by recently without an announcement about an exciting new appointment. Well here’s one more: Rob Zwetsloot.

Rob has joined us in the role of Features Editor fresh from a long stint as a staffer on Linux User & Developer magazine.

Rob Zwetsloot is The MagPi's new Features Editor

Rob Zwetsloot is The MagPi’s new Features Editor

He’s got some great ideas for the magazine, though his mission right now is to find yet more writing talent hidden in the Raspberry Pi community. If you have an article or idea you’d like to see featured in the magazine you can reach him via rob.zwetsloot@raspberrypi.org.

By the way, if you’re unsure how to pronounce his surname (it’s Dutch), just vocalise the sound that the TurboLift doors make in Star Trek: TNG (at least that’s what I do).

8 Comments

Buy the Sense HAT – as seen in space*!

*Not actually in space yet. Wait till December.

Today we have a new product launch: the Sense HAT is now available from the Swag Store, and through our partners RS Components and Premier Farnell/CPC. Here’s a video from Matt Timmons-Brown, freshly released from GCSE exam hell, to show you around.

The Sense HAT was originally developed around James Adams’ idea to make a cool toy-style board that showed off just how much you could do with your average modern MEMS gyroscope, 64 RGB LEDs and some Atmel microcontroller hackery.

Somewhere between prototype and production, it seems to have attracted extra features like a pressure sensor, a humidity/temperature sensor and a teeny joystick. It also seems to have been comandeered and made an integral part of the Astro Pi mission, which will see two Raspberry Pis, two Sense HATs and a lot of code written by UK schoolkids hosted on the International Space Station – I guess I’m to blame for that.

Astro Pi sense HAT LED

The board forms the basis for many of the experiment sequences that will be run on the ISS – many of the schools competition winners’ entries made good use of the HAT’s sensors to gather their experimental data. The LED matrix also provides a feedback mechanism and interactivity for British ESA Astronaut Tim Peake when he’s tasked with deploying the Astro-Pi board on the ISS (he’ll be setting it up on-orbit to run the experiment sequences). One of the winning entries – Reaction Games – programmed a whole suite of joypad-operated games played via the LED matrix. Snake is hilarious on an 8×8 screen.

The board itself has a suite of sensors, a “D-pad” style 5-button joystick and an 8×8 RGB LED matrix driven by a combination of an LED driver chip and an Atmel AVR microcontroller – an ATTiny88.

For the terminally curious, here are the schematics of the board.

The Sense HAT and its Pi tucked snugly in the Astro Pi flight case

The Sense HAT and its Pi tucked snugly into the Astro Pi flight case

Here’s the hardware run-down:

Sensing elements:

Pressure / Temperature
ST Micro LPS25H
– 24-bit pressure measurement resolution (260hPa to 1260hPa)
– 16-bit temperature measurement resolution (0-125°C)
Datasheet

Humidity / Temperature
ST Micro HTS221
– 16-bit humidity measurement resolution (0-100% relative humidity)
– 16-bit temperature measurement resolution (0-60°C)
Datasheet

Acceleration/Gyroscope/Magnetic field
ST Micro LSM9DS1
– 9 degrees of freedom (X, Y, Z independent axes for all sensors)
– ±16 g acceleration measurement range
– ±16 gauss magnetometer measurement range
– ±2000 dps (degrees per second) gyroscope measurement range
Each of these measurement channels has 16 bits of resolution.
Datasheet

All of these sensors have features for periodic sampling of sensor values – complete with internal FIFO storage. The LPS25H and HTS221 have maximum sample rates of 25 per second, the LSM9DS1 has a maximum sample rate of 952Hz – we are already imagining the birth of a million Pi-controlled stunt quadcopters.

LED Matrix
The LED matrix is driven by a combination of a constant-current LED driver and an Atmel ATTiny88 running a custom firmware that delivers an 8×8 display with 15-bit resolution RGB colour. If you want to get into the gory details, the AVR firmware is available on Github.

Joystick
The Atmel is responsible for sampling the joystick. We didn’t have enough pins left on the Atmel to dedicate the five that we needed to sample the joystick axes independently, so they’ve been spliced into the LED matrix row selects. The joystick gets updated at approximately 80Hz, which is the scan rate of the LED matrix.

All of the sensors (and the base firmware for the Atmel) are accessible from the Pi over I2C. As a fun bonus mode, the SPI peripheral on the Atmel has been hooked up to the Pi’s SPI interface – you can reprogram your HAT in the field! We use this method to get the firmware into the Atmel during production test – and we leave it unprotected so you can substitute the stock firmware to get it to do whatever you want. Seriously. First person to turn this sensor HAT into a quadcopter controller HAT wins a cookie from me.

Software
If you’re not assembly-language inclined, you can always use the HAT’s sensors from our shipped Python library – standard function calls return sensor values, give you joystick key events and allow you to display things on the LED matrix. The Sense API is available through the Raspbian APT repositories.

To access the magic, simply enter:

sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install sense-hat
sudo pip-3.2 install pillow

into a terminal window. Note you will have to reboot for the Sense HAT to be recognised.

The API is well-documented (and tested extensively by schoolchildren as part of Astro-Pi) – get reading here.

The LED matrix appears as a Linux framebuffer device – for fun you can compare the results of

cat /dev/urandom > /dev/fb0

and

cat /dev/urandom > /dev/fb1

to fill either your attached monitor or the LED matrix with random noise. The joypad appears as a standard input device – the “keys” map to Up/Down/Left/Right and Enter.

The baseline price (excluding spacers and screws, and local taxes) is $30. You’ll be able to buy from all the usual suspects – the Swag Store (which is bundling spacers and screws for free), RS Components/Allied, Premier Farnell/Newark and all their subsidiaries have stock today. Secondary suppliers may take a couple of days to get their hands on stock.

So, what are you waiting for? Get sensor hacking!

44 Comments

PiDP-8/I – remaking the PDP-8/I

We often see really fantastic looking retro builds that are one-offs; so you can’t replicate them at home without a lot of artistic and mechanical skill. So we were really pleased when Oscar Vermeulen emailed us yesterday about the project he’s been working on. As well as having made something that’s both functional and utterly desirable, he’s had the smarts to make a number of kits available to buy. This is it: a simply beautiful replica of the PDP-8/I.

pdp8

For comparison, here’s the original, courtesy of VintageComputer.net.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Even I’m not old enough to remember these first hand. The PDP-8 was the first computer that came in at less than the size of a house to find commercial success. The original PDP-8, launched in 1965, was around the size of a fridge and weighed about 160lbs (with 60lbs of that weight being the power supply). Subsequent generations like the PDP-8/I were smaller, and could be used on a desktop or rack-mounted. DEC made and sold more than 50,000 PDP-8s altogether, before they were displaced from the consumer computing market by things that look more like the desktop computers we use today, like the Apple II and IBM’s first PCs. (If you’re interested in digging some more into the history of the PDP series, there’s a fascinating article from the Computer History Museum in Silicon Valley you can read, along with lots of detail about architecture and programming the machines on Wikipedia.)

The Raspberry Pi version is a pretty faithful replica. Here’s Oscar to explain more.

Oscar’s replica is open-source hardware, so if you do have the wherewithal to make your own, everything is made available for you to do just that. He says:

From a hardware perspective, the PiDP is just a frontpanel add-on for a Raspberry PI. In the hardware section below, the technical details of the front panel are explained. In fact, the front panel could just as easily be driven by any microcontroller, it only lights the leds and scans the switch positions.

From a software perspective, the PiDP is just a Raspberry Pi, running the Raspbian flavour of Linux, which automatically logs in to the SimH emulator. SimH is modified to drive the front panel in the appropriate manner – meaning it has instructions added to reflect the state of the PDP-8 CPU registers through the leds, and responds to the switch settings.

It’s a neat solution that looks fantastic, and is faithful to the original hardware.

Front panel from behind

Front panel from behind

To get your hands on your own, head over to Obsolescence Guaranteed, Oscar’s website, and join the mailing list; the next batch of kits is going out in October.

32 Comments

Astro Pi: Mission Update 5 – flight safety testing

Astro_Pi_Logo_WEB-300px

The road to space is long and winding, but the two Astro Pi flight units are almost there! The next thing for us after this is to hand over the final payload to the European Space Agency so it can be loaded onto the Soyuz-45S rocket for launch on December 15th with British ESA Astronaut Tim Peake.

To be allowed on the rocket, you need a flight safety certificate for your device, and these can only be obtained by presenting a whole host of measurements and test results to a panel of experts at ESA ESTEC in Holland.

The expertise and equipment to carry out many of these tests is well outside the capabilities of the Raspberry Pi Foundation, and without the facilities and personnel available through our UK Space partners this would not have been possible – we’ve had to use facilities and partners all over Europe to get the work done.

I’ll list below the tests that were done approximately in chronological order starting from March.

Power integration test

AIRBUS Defence and Space, Bremen, Germany >

Once in orbit, the Astro Pi will have two ways of getting power. It can use an AC inverter (above) that allows the crew to use all kinds of standard domestic appliances (like a normal USB power block); it’s also able to get power from any laptop USB port.

It is likely that when the Astro Pi is deployed in the Columbus module we will run from an AC inverter, but when we’re in the Cupola module we’ll just draw power from one of the laptops which is also there.

To gain permission to draw power from a laptop like this we needed to do a power integration test, to evaluate that the electrical load doesn’t have any adverse effect on the laptop.

astro_pi_bremen

The most common laptop on the ISS is the IBM Thinkpad T61P (circa 2007 from before Lenovo acquired them – Eben also uses one of these). Pictured above is an identical ground laptop with a special USB current probe connected to an oscilloscope. Note that this was done before we had the aluminium flight case, so you’re just seeing the Sense HAT, Raspberry Pi and camera parts of the whole Astro Pi unit.

The flight hardware was then powered up through the current probe so the oscilloscope could measure current inrush as well as maximum current when using the Astro Pi at max performance. Some diagnostic software was then used to check that there were no adverse affects experienced by the laptop.

Coin Cell Battery

Surrey Satellite Technology, Guildford, UK >

Since the Astro Pi will not be connected to the LAN on the ISS the only means it has of keeping the correct time is with a Real Time Clock (RTC) and a backup battery.

The flight stack up for Astro Pi is as follows:

  1. Raspberry Pi B+
  2. Custom RTC Board (has coin cell holder and push button contacts)
  3. Sense HAT

Batteries on the ISS have a whole host of possible hazards associated with them, and so any battery flown is subject to a stringent set of batch tests.

Astro Pi has a batch of eight Panasonic BR-1225 coin cells which were all tested together. Here is number 5, which is one of the ones that will fly:

battery5topbattery5bot

The test procedure involved visually inspecting the coin cells, measuring their width and size with callipers, testing their voltage output during open circuit and under load followed by exposing them to a vacuum of about 0.6 bar (~450 mmHg) for two hours.

Afterwards the measurements were redone to see if the coin cells had leaked, deformed or become unable to provide power.

Conformal Coating

Surrey Satellite Technology, Guildford, UK >

One of the safety requirements for circuit boards in space flight is that they are coated in a protective layer, rather like nail varnish, called conformal coating. This is a space grade silicone-based liquid that dries to form a hard barrier. In microgravity a metallurgical phenomenon called tin whiskers occurs. These are tiny hairs of metal that grow spontaneously from any metallic surface, especially solder joints.

The hazard here is that these little whiskers break off, float off and become lodged somewhere causing a short circuit. So the conformal coat has two purposes. One is to protect the PCB from any invading whiskers, and the other is to arrest any tin whiskers that may grow, and prevent them breaking free.

sense_hat_conformal

For the Sense HAT (above) we needed to define a number of keep out zones for the coating so as not to compromise the pressure and humidity sensors. The surfaces of the LEDs were not coated to avoid dulling their light too. If you look closely you can see the shiny coating on the HAT; in particular, see the joystick bottom right.

It’s much easier to see on two camera modules:

vis_conformal

ir_conformal

Vibration

AIRBUS Defence and Space, Portsmouth, UK >

Vibe testing is not actually required for safety, but we undertook it anyway as insurance that the payload would survive the vibration environment of launch. The testing involved placing an Astro Pi into some flight equivalent packaging and strapping it down onto a vibe table.

The vibe table is then programmed to simulate the severity of launch conditions on a Soyuz rocket.

The tests needed to be done in x, y and z axes. To accomplish this two different vibe tables were employed, one for up and down (z, see above) and one for back and forth (x and y, see below).

After the vibration sequence the Astro Pi was tested to ensure the vibration had not caused any issues, the case was also opened and the interior was inspected to ensure no connections had become loose.

Electromagnetic Compatibility (EMC)

AIRBUS Defence and Space, Portsmouth, UK >

EMC is the study and measurement of unintended electromagnetic signals that could interfere with other electronics. Almost all electronic devices these days undergo EMC testing in order to get CE or FCC markings. The Raspberry Pi B+ and Sense HAT both carry these markings; however their test results were obtained in a home-user setup, with a keyboard, mouse, HDMI monitor and Ethernet all connected.

The Astro Pi flight unit will be used without all of those. So these tests were required to ensure that, when used in this way, the Astro Pi doesn’t cause any problems to other systems on board the ISS (like life support).

The tests were conducted in a special EMC test chamber. The walls are lined with super-absorbent foam spikes that exclude all electromagnetic signals from coming into the room from the outside.

That way, any electromagnetic signal measured must have originated inside the room.

A test script was run on the Astro Pi to stress it to maximum performance while a series of antennae were used to examine different ranges of the electromagnetic spectrum.

A set of electromagnetic susceptibility tests was also conducted to evaluate how the Astro Pi would behave when experiencing strong magnetic fields.

No issues were found, and all tests passed.

Off Gassing

ESA ESTEC, Noordwijk, Holland >

The off-gassing test is done to ensure the payload does not give off any dangerous fumes that might be harmful to the crew.

The test involves placing the payload into a bell jar and pumping out all of the air. Synthetic air of known properties is then pumped in, and the whole jar is held at 50 degrees Celsius for 72 hours. Afterwards the synthetic air, plus any gasses released by the payload, are pumped out and analysed using a mass spectrometer.

off_gass

If you look closely, you can also see some Raspberry Pi SD cards in there. The test needed to be representative of the entire payload, so it’s one of the flight units plus five SD cards. The resulting measurements were then just doubled to account for two Astro Pi units with ten SD cards.

Thermal Capacity

Raspberry Pi, Cambridge, UK

This test needed to demonstrate that no touchable surface of the Astro Pi flight case would ever reach or exceed 45 degrees Celsius.

In microgravity the process of convection doesn’t occur, so the case was designed with thermal conduction in mind. Each of the square pins on the base can dissipate about 0.1 watts of heat. We also wanted to avoid any fans as these cause EMC headaches and other problems for safety (moving parts).

We used five temperature probes connected to another Raspberry Pi for the data logging. Four of the probes were placed in contact with the surface of the aluminium case using small thermal pads and kapton tape (HDMI side, base by the camera, SD card slot side and top side). One was used to monitor ambient temperature some distance away. The Astro Pi was then placed inside a small box to simulate the reduced airflow on board the ISS and was then stressed to maximum performance for four days.

The results showed that an equilibrium was reached fairly quickly where the only input into the system was the fluctuation of ambient temperature.

Sharp edges inspection

ESA ESTEC, Noordwijk, Holland >

This test was almost a formality, but was done so ESA could verify there were no sharp edges that could cause harm to the crew. The test was done using a special piece of fabric that was dragged over the surface of the flight case. If it snags then the test is failed, but thankfully we passed without issue first time.

The test is important because a crew member with a cut or infected hand is a serious problem on orbit.

Experiment Sequence Test

ESA-EAC, European Astronaut Centre, Cologne, Germany >

The experiment sequence test is a full end-to-end reproduction of everything that Tim Peake will do on orbit. It was done in a replica of the ISS Columbus module on the ground.

On orbit they have step by step procedures that the crew follow and these tests are an opportunity to improve and refine them. There is a procedure for deploying the Astro Pi, one for powering it from the ISS mains, and another for powering via laptop power. There is one for fault finding and diagnostics and also one for getting files off the Astro Pi for downlink to Earth.

The tests used a surrogate crew to play the role of Tim Peake. Each procedure was run, and any anomalies or problems that caused a deviation from the procedure were noted.

The Astro Pi will run a Python program called the MCP (master control program*) and this oversees the running of the competition winning code from the students. It is designed to monitor how long each has run for, and ensures that each receives the allotted run time, despite the Astro Pi being, potentially, rebooted multiple times from single event upsets due to the radiation environment on the ISS.

There were a couple of minor issues found, and we’re required to repeat one of the tests again in September. But otherwise everything worked successfully.

All the test reports are then combined into a Flight Safety Data Pack (FSDP). This also includes a flammability assessment which is an examination of all materials used in the payload and their risk of being a flame propagation path on the ISS. The main heavy lifting with the FSDP documentation was done by Surrey Satellite Technology, whom we’re eternally grateful to.

Thanks for reading if you made it this far! Next mission update will be after we’ve handed over the final payload.

20 Comments

Skycademy Update

The last month here at Pi Towers has been a busy one, as we’ve been preparing for our first ever Skycademy event. Since announcing it a couple of months ago we’ve had a great response from educators and youth leaders looking to run their own high-altitude project.

Having only ever done one launch myself, the team and I decided that a practice run was necessary. So back in July we invited Dave Akerman up to Cambridge and launched, chased and recovered our own payload. The whole experience was shared via Twitter.

From launch…

…throughout the flight…

…to recovery.

We even got to traipse through a ditch (an obligatory part of any HAB recovery surely?)

IMAG0310

The day was great and now were really excited to be repeating the experience with our 24 Skycademy attendees, who will join us next week from the 24th – 26th. Some of them have been quite excited too…

The plan for the three days is loosely as follows:

  • Day 1 – Orientation, training and preparation
  • Day 2 – A series of flights launched by the teams (from approximately 10:30 onwards)
  • Day 3 – Review, evaluation and planning future launches.

If you would like to follow what’s going on over the three days you can do so by keeping an eye on the #skycademy hashtag on Twitter, where you’ll find out how to track the payloads using links that we will share on the day.

Also keep an eye on the hourly predictions for landing sites. Let’s hope conditions improve a little, or we’ll all need boats!

 

 

 

2 Comments

Formula AllCode – robotics course

Liz: Robotics is a really powerful way to get kids excited about programming and electronics, and a Kickstarter from Formula AllCode, with its integrated course, has all the elements you need to get a kid from zero to robot overlord. I asked Liam Walton from Matrix TSL, the people behind Formula AllCode, to write a few words for us about what they’re doing with the project. 

We think the Formula AllCode robotics course is great for makers to test their skills and capabilities; it’s also great for introducing learners to programming and robotics in a fun and motivating way.

Raspberry Pi is one of the hosts you can use for this neat little robot from Matrix TSL​, designed as part of a course in robotics that aims to cater for beginners and advanced users alike. It’s controlled over Bluetooth from any platform that can support the Bluetooth RFCOMM protocol, so you can program for it in just about anything (popular examples are provided).

formulaallcode

Matrix TSL have also written a full tutorial about how users will talk to the Formula AllCode robot using the Raspberry Pi.

buggy

Kitted out with a variety of sensors, microphone, speakers and LCD display, and with capacity for expansion, it has plenty of appeal, and it’s on Kickstarter now with 16 days left to go. You can back the project by clicking here.

The project itself consists of:

  • The Formula AllCode robot
  • A FREE course in robotics
  • Accessories used to learn, including graphical mat and maze walls

allcodecourse

The robot can be used with a number of hosts, including Raspberry Pi. A low cost robot buggy, the AllCode is great for makers to test their skills and capabilities using an interesting and diverse platform or for introducing younger school children to programming and robotics in a fun and motivating way with huge scope for further work and competitions.

specs

The video below explains more about the vision for Formula AllCode and provides some examples of what the robot itself can achieve when used with Raspberry Pi and other devices.

The Formula AllCode Kickstarter campaign runs until 4th September. To back the campaign from as little as £5 click here.

5 Comments

Twitter for dogs

Henry Conklin’s dog, Oliver, is one of those very vocal dogs who likes to try to let you know what he’s thinking. By barking. A lot. Henry says:

I decided that his thoughts and comments needed to be shared with the world. Thus the @OliverBarkBark project was born. By connecting a Rasberry Pi, a wifi dongle, and a microphone, I was able to make a system that automatically detected, filtered, and published each and every one of Oliver’s deafening vocalizations.

Screen Shot 2015-08-19 at 12.58.14

Henry has built a system around a Raspberry Pi that listens out for sounds over a certain volume, and triggers a recording when that constraint is met.

oliver-twitter-on-guard

But there are things in Oliver the dog’s vicinity which are also pretty noisy, so a second, filtering step is needed. Henry says:

Oliver barking is by far the loudest thing within several miles, so the volume threshold should be sufficient. However, the recordings are still triggered occasionally by unwanted junk. To guard against this, I needed to perform a second step to filter the barks from the junk.

I took a machine learning approach to filter out the barks. I built a model using the pyAudioAnalysis library and around a day’s worth of barks (about 20). I then set up a bash script to run every ten minutes, classify each recorded sound, and forward the barks on to the next step.

The output is forwarded to the Twitter API, where they’re published by an account called @OliverBarkBark. Right now, a random string of barks, woofs, howls, and ruffs are published, but Henry is looking at adding some more sophistication by designing a dog-to-text translator which will say “bark” when Oliver barks, “ruff” when Oliver ruffs, and “woof”…you get the idea.

oliver-twitter-setup

All the code you’ll need to replicate the scheme in your own house (you’ll need a dog first) is available on Henry’s GitHub at https://github.com/HenryWConklin/barkdetect. Thanks Henry, and please give Oliver a biscuit for us.

7 Comments

The TRS-80 model 100 goes online

Sometimes added functionality isn’t exactly functional. Sometimes, it’s more a sort of demonstration that something can be done, whether or not it’s actually a very good idea.

UK readers may not recognise the machine below, but those of you in the USA (as long as you’re of a certain vintage) will be familiar with it. It’s a TRS-80 model 100: an incredibly early (1983-ish) laptop-type computer, whose market was mostly in the US and Canada, made in partnership by Kyocera and Microsoft. The 8k version would set you back $1099, and the 24k version $1399 – an absolute ton of money in 1983, when we many of us at Pi Towers were either not born yet, or still at the corduroy dungarees and deelyboppers phase.

trs80-100-17-980x740

The TRS-80, rather amazingly, was a connected machine, with a built-in modem. It was a popular tool for journalists; you could save about eleven pages of text if you were out in the field, and send it over that modem to your editor using a program called TELCOM – an incredibly liberating technology at the time. It was pretty power-efficient as well; it took four AA batteries, which lasted for about 20 hours.

So what better for retro-hardware lovers than an internet-connected TRS-80 model 100? That’s exactly what Sean Gallagher from Ars Technica made.

login

I successfully logged in to Ars’ editorial IRC channel from the Model 100. And seeing as this machine first saw the market in 1983, it took a substantial amount of help: a Raspberry Pi, a little bit of BASIC code, and a hidden file from the website of a certain Eric S. Raymond.

Sean says that the TRS-80 is the last machine Bill Gates ever wrote a significant amount of code for, and that Gates has said it’s his favourite ever machine.

This is a really tricky problem to work your way around when you consider that modern websites don’t really work within a 40 columns by eight lines display; that the TRS-80 keyboard doesn’t have a | or pipe symbol; that you can’t load a TCP/IP stack onto the device; that Sean had to build his own null-modem cable – it’s a labour of love and an absolutely fascinating read. Head over to Ars Technica to read more about dragging 1980s hardware some of the way into the 21st century.

 

26 Comments

Australia & Singapore Pioneering Education Tour

As an education pioneer for the Raspberry Pi Foundation, I’m on a mission to ensure that all children everywhere have some exposure to computing, whether this comes in the form of digital making, the arts, robotics or computer programming. Recently I’ve been on a brief tour to Australia and Singapore to spread the Raspberry Pi education ethos to as many people as possible.

Straight after Euro Python in Spain, where Ben Nuttall, James Robinson and I helped to kick start an Education Summit, I boarded a flight to Australia via Dubai. The months between June and September are often the busiest for the Foundation team with the northern hemisphere schools on summer break and southern hemisphere schools in the middle of the academic year. There are often lots of outreach opportunities alongside large conferences in the space of a single month.

Brisbane

After around 30 hours (with two stops) I arrived in Brisbane, the capital of Queensland and home to Pycon Australia 2015, where I was to give a talk as part of their first ever education mini conference and give a keynote at the main conference. Fellow Python Software Foundation (PSF) board member Nick Coghlan contacted me to attend the education mini conference way back in January, stating:

I would personally be particularly excited to have you attend, as I came up with the idea of the Python in Education miniconf after Dr James Curran’s presentation last year on the new Australian Digital Curriculum, and his hopes to have Python feature strongly in the implementation of that curriculum.

There are a number of countries around the world which are starting to address the digital skills gap through formal education. In England we have a new Computing curriculum being taught in both primary and secondary schools. In Australia a new Digital Curriculum has been developed, and in some states has already been adopted by forward thinking teachers. Here was an opportunity to work with industry professionals to highlight the changes, and with educators to collaborate and share best practice.

Nick had curated a brilliant day of talks as part of the education mini conference. This was one of the first Python conferences which was not only well attended by teachers, but where most of the talks were given by teachers! In fact you can watch all the talks which have helpfully been added to a playlist by the conference organisers. My favourite talk of the day was given by a nervous developer, Caleb Hattingh, to a room full of teachers about his experiences trying to teach Python to children at a coding club. It was brutally honest and I think sums up many of the problems educators also face in moving from visual programming languages like Scratch to text based languages like Python.

My other notable talk of the day was given by Katie Bell from Grok Learning in which she talks about her work with the Girls Programming Network in Sydney, the National Computer Science School (NCSS) Challenge, and the NCSS summer school where young people spend a few days rapidly prototyping heir own website or embedded electronic device. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Katie before at PyconUK last September and at ISTE this June in Philadelphia with Grok Learning co-founder Nicky Ringland. Their passion for computing education is phenomenal and can be witnessed in this talk:

I ended day 1 with my keynote on Raspberry Pi and physical computing, which included a live demo, and started day 2 with a keynote to the entire conference about lessons we’ve learned about teaching children how to program.

I’m grateful to Nick Coghlan and the other organisers of PyconAu for their hard work to bring the event together.

Sydney

A short flight from Brisbane brought me to Sydney where I accepted a challenge from new education team member Marc Scott to take a selfie in front of an iconic landmark before setting out on a series of talks and workshops.

I gave a brief demo to ICT educators of New South Wales  on the first evening at an event where teachers give up their free time to share ideas and practices around teaching ICT and computer science in a state where it is not a formal part of their curriculum. These were inspirational teachers, willing to push what is possible in their classrooms.

At the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences at the Powerhouse in Sydney I got the chance to speak to education specialists and teachers about our work at Raspberry Pi before leading a fruity physical computing workshop. I was able to share fun ideas and meet some fabulous STEM education enthusiasts.

The museum was truly a fabulous space with well equipped resources for schools. I was lucky enough to receive a brief tour of all the facilities like the Mars Lab, a recreation of the Martian surface, and robotics lab which is used to encourage students to use technology to search for life on Mars. Schools are able to connect to the lab and their rovers via the internet, allowing students to program the bots directly. Using the cameras, they can experience what it is like for space engineers. They test rovers there, and I got to meet one.

Whilst in Sydney I visited good friend Dan Bowen, a CAS #include committee member, and some Windows IoT Raspberry Pi developers at Microsoft, where they all showed me their latest work with the operating system and Physical computing on the Pi. I was invited to meet the Code Club Australia team who are working with schools across all the territories and training teachers in a bid to give children an opportunity to learn to code. I also found time to speak to girls at two different coding clubs and meet some fans!

There are clearly lots of initiatives in Sydney that parents and educators can tap into from online learning platforms like Grok Learning and the NCSS challenge, to free professional development and workshops from ICTENSW and the MAAS Museum.

Singapore

I was lucky enough to be able to stop in Singapore on my way back to the UK during the nation’s 50th anniversary thanks to the Raspberry Pi team at Broadcom Singapore. I was asked to drop by the office to eat pizza and give a presentation to their engineers about the Raspberry Pi Foundation by Jeffery Chin who leads the Broadcom Singapore Raspberry Pi team, who provide Raspberry Pi outreach to teachers and students in their spare time.

I was then taken to Singapore’s Science Centre to meet their STEM education specialists and Ministry of Education representatives to discuss Raspberry Pi professional development for teachers and their computing outreach programmes. Before heading out for some of the best dumplings I’ve ever eaten!

singapore-sci-centre

Singapore Science Centre STEM educators, Ministry of Education representatives and  Broadcom’s Jeffery Chin & TK Tan

It is one of the many joys of working for the Raspberry Pi Foundation that I get to meet so many inspiring individuals across the globe and to forge partnerships with them as we all embark on this movement to enrich children’s education.

9 Comments