The Wheel of (BASIC) Excuses

Back in the day, over at IEEE Spectrum magazine, the editorial elves had a sheet of paper stuck on a wall, with a spinning arm which pointed to any number of plausible excuses for not having handed in homework an article in time.

The offices were renovated last year, and Stephen Cass thought that it was time to update the paper version, bringing it kicking and screaming into the 1980s with a Raspberry Pi-based BASIC system. You can’t fit many excuses on wheel drawn on a sheet of paper. With a big enough SD card, you can fit all the excuses onto a Raspberry Pi.

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I remember struggling with getting BASIC to do things fast enough to be useful when I was at school back in the dark ages. The RISC OS version on your Pi is much evolved from the BBC BASIC we knew and loved in (squints) 1980-something; it’s also much, much faster by virtue of all that extra RAM. Stephen was pleased and alarmed by this.

Stephen didn’t put the code for the spinner in his original piece, because he had the aberrant view that nobody would be interested. Happily, he’s fixed that and pasted everything into a comment below his article. (Hit “See more” to view the whole block.)

There are, of course, plenty of non-journalist applications for this snippet of code: games for the kids, allocating chores, automating decision-making…we hope some of you will end up adapting it and letting us know what you did below.

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Plotter made from scrap computer parts

Our old friend HomoFaciens (who has the best voice of any Raspberry Pi user we’ve met) has another fantastic piece of work to share. He’s recycled old optical drives for their stepper motors, and made a tiny plotter, controlled over WiFi, from those motors, a servo, four H-bridges and a Raspberry Pi.

HF has made a full writeup, including all the source code you’ll need, available at his website. As always, he’s also made the whole video and writeup available in German. HomoFaciens’ website is one of those bits of the internet you’ll find yourself wandering around for ages if you’re even slightly interested in this sort of thing. He’s got some fascinating stuff on there; I heartily recommend giving one of his camera-equipped robots a spin via the web interface they’re hooked up to. (No prizes for guessing which is my favourite.)

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If you decide to make your own plotter, be aware that not all old optical drives have stepper motors – HomoFaciens’ hit rate was about 50% when he started pulling them apart.

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Stream PC games to your TV

Why spend hundreds of quid on a Steam Machine when you can do exactly the same thing with a humble Raspberry Pi? (The B+ is available for $25, which is about £16, at RS Components at the moment, if you’re really on a budget.)

Here are the Possibly Unsafe guys to walk you through setup.

I’ve swiped the instructions below from their YouTube channel:

Setup:
You’ll first need to install the latest Rasbian from here:
http://www.raspberrypi.org/downloads/

Next download Limelight Embedded. Grab the latest limelight.jar and libopus.so from here:
https://github.com/irtimmer/limelight…

Make sure that your gaming PC has an NVIDIA GTX 600+ graphics card and GeForce Experience installed.

Pairing:
To make things easier, enable SSH on the RPi and tunnel in to the machine. Here are some useful commands:

List compatible PCs
java -jar limelight.jar list

Pair with PC
java -jar limelight.jar pair PC-IP

Map a controller
java -jar limelight.jar map -input /dev/input/eventX mapfile.map

Start streaming
java -jar limelight.jar stream -1080/720 -60fps/30fps PC-IP -app Steam -mapping mapfile.map

Make sure to check the Limelight help file in case things have changed since this post!

Possibly Unsafe’s a rather brilliant channel; I’m making their homemade Sriracha chilli sauce just as soon as I can get my hands on enough habaneros. You can support them via their Patreon if you like the things they do.

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Benton Park Live Coding Orchestra – The Planets

The kids from Benton Park have gone on to media superstardom in this short from the BBC. You’ve met the Benton Park Live Coding Orchestra before – they live-code music in Sonic Pi for school performances. This time, they’re making music about the planets, using Holst’s Planets Suite as a jumping-off point.

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The Live Coding Orchestra kids are in years 5 and 6 (so they’re all between nine and eleven years old); the dancers in this performance are all from the Reception class and the Nursery group (aged five and under). As well as providing music for the little kids to dance to, the Live Coding Orchestra spent some time teaching them how to create music in Sonic Pi – you can see them doing some training at the start of the video.

The music sets the mood for dancing on three different planets, with a rocket trip between each planet orchestrated by Holst. Best thing we’ve seen in ages – thanks Live Coders, and thanks dancers! (If your adblocker has made the video below invisible, you can check it out at the BBC’s website.)

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Droplet photography

I get asked sometimes what my favourite projects from this blog are. Dave Hunt’s water droplet photography’s right up there: Dave rigged up a Pi to trigger a solenoid valve and a camera shutter at the same time, to take perfectly timed macro photos of water drops. You can see his original, beautiful pictures here in our archives.

Over in Germany, Markus May has based his own rig on Dave’s, with a few alterations; he’s also put a lot of effort into lighting and colour effects, with spectacular results.

Markus’ original blog post is in German, but Google Translate does a pretty bang-up job of making things understandable for idiots like me who promptly forgot all the German they knew moments after taking a GCSE exam in it. (I still remember that Zwiebel means onion, but that won’t get you far on holiday unless you really like onions.)

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We love this stuff: bringing the sort of thing you could only do with an expensive professional rig inside the budget an amateur with a DSLR might have gets us really excited.

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This rig is more involved than Dave’s original, with a couple of Mariotte’s bottles which produce an equal flow rate, however full the bottles are. Guar gum for thickening, milk for opacity and food colouring went into the liquid for extra gorgeousness.

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Markus has made a circuit diagram available, and Dave’s original post still contains everything you’ll need to make your own rig. There are more of these spectacular photographs at Markus’ Flickr, and you’ll find a great writeup of the original session, with behind-the-scenes pictures at his blog post.

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Visualising core load on the Pi 2

Since we released Raspberry Pi 2 back in February, a lot of you have been asking questions about how work gets divided between the four cores. David (what’s your last name, David? Let us know and I’ll update this post) in Cambridge has written a remote CPU-monitoring webserver, which outputs a nice scrolling graph of CPU load on all four cores onto a webpage, so you can view it remotely while your Pi 2 works, along with CPU temperature.

CPU usage

The monitoring software itself is lightweight, so it shouldn’t be a big consumer of resources on your Pi – the Pi’s sending a series of numbers representing load, and all the heavy lifting, turning it into visual data, is being done in Javascript by the browser on whatever machine you’re viewing it on. Here are the results, running on a simulated iPhone 4s.

This is very easy to set up; everything’s embedded in the executable, so all you have to do is to run the program. You’ll find full instructions and code in Dave’s GitHub repo here – if you already have another webserver running on your Pi you may need to change ports, but that aside, this is an absolute doddle to run.

Let us know if you have a play; we’d be interested to learn about what you find!

 

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Amazonian rainforest simulation

Mike “Recantha” Horne mailed me yesterday saying he’d found something that was (and I quote) “ALL KINDS OF COOL”. He also taught me a new word. This project is a paludarium: a created environment that mimics a complete terrestrial and aquatic biome, full of plants and animals that live in water and on land. A bit like a terrarium, but with an aquatic element as well (or a bit like an aquarium with a greenhouse on top).

Paludarium

The paludarium in question, created by a team called Poopi and Piter (it seems Piter built the paludarium and Poopi built the system that creates the weather and time-of-day effects), simulates an Amazonian rainforest, with fog, rainfall, thunderstorms and wind; as well as a complete diurnal cycle. The Raspberry Pi is responsible for running:

  • 6 independent sections of halogen lights
  • 27 independently controlled 1W LEDs for various effects
  • 3 independent 3W RGB LEDs for ambient color effects
  • 3 independent 3W LEDs for lightning and moon simulation
  • 3 independent 10W LEDs for Aquarium lighting
  • 2 independent FANs for wind simulation
  • 3 fog generators
  • 2 independent solenoids for rain control
  • Temperature monitoring

This is one of the most beautiful projects we’ve ever featured here. It’s a compelling watch: enjoy the video.

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Raspberry Pi Powered Minion Fart Gun Machine

The Raspberry Pi Powered Minion Fart Gun Machine. It’s got LEGO. It’s got an ultrasonic proximity sensor. It’s got farts. We loved it.

Paul Weeks‘ kids are the proud owners of a Minion Fart Gun. It’s a toy reproduction of a despicable gadget from the movie Despicable Me 2.

minions

fartgun

(You can buy your own Fart Blaster on Amazon – but this project will work with any toy that has a trigger mechanism.)

Paul had an ultrasonic sensor kicking around from some other Raspberry Pi projects he’d worked on with his kids (the Scratch Ultrasonic Elephant Cheese-Puff Game is a thing of beauty, and we commend it to you). He also had a box full of LEGO Technic. He brought everything together with his kids to make beautiful music fart noises when someone approaches the setup.

Paul has created a thorough writeup, complete with code. It’s a fun project; you’ll learn about controlling motors, how ultrasonic sensors work, and how best to annoy family members going to the loo in the dark in the middle of the night. Thanks Paul; we salute you! (Please don’t come near us with that thing.)

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Python in Education – free e-book from O’Reilly

This week PyCon is going on in Montreal – it’s the big worldwide Python conference – and for the occasion, O’Reilly asked our friend Nicholas Tollervey to write a free short book on Python in Education.

python-in-education

Click to download the book for free

The book tells the story of Python, why Python is a good language for learning, how its community gives great support, and covers Raspberry Pi as a case study.

You’ve probably heard about the computing revolution in schools, and perhaps you’ve even heard of the Raspberry Pi. The Python programming language is at the center of these fundamental changes in computing education. Whether you’re a programmer, teacher, student, or parent, this report arms you with the facts and information you need to understand where Python sits within this context.

Author Nicholas Tollervey takes you through the features that make Python appropriate for education, and explains how an active Python community supports educational outreach. You’ll also learn how Raspberry Pi is inspiring a new generation of programmers – with Python’s help.

Nicholas visited Pi Towers in February to speak to Carrie Anne, Eben and me about why we think Python is suited to education. He asked Eben how the idea for the Raspberry Pi hardware came about and why there was a need for an affordable hackable device. He asked us about the Python libraries those in the community provided (particularly RPi.GPIO and picamera) that we consider part of our infrastructure for education and hobbyist users alike; and about the sorts of projects that engage, empower and inspire young learners – and of course the way they learn and progress. We discussed Minecraft Pi, hardware projects, Astro Pi, PyPy, teacher training and more.

Read more on teaching with Python from Nicholas and download the book for free from O’Reilly.

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Launching Picademy@Google Leeds

We love introducing educators to the Raspberry Pi; that’s why the education team are always on the road, at conferences, shows and events, sharing the Pi’s learning potential. Last year, we started a teacher training programme, and invited educators from all over the world to our headquarters for some fun hands-on learning. We called it Picademy. It’s been hugely popular, and so far we’ve trained around 200 teachers through seven events in our own unique way. The feedback has blown us away. Of those who completed our feedback questionnaire:

  • 97.5% stated that they were now likely or very likely to use Raspberry Pi in their classroom, and
  • 98.8% stated that they were likely or very likely to share the training received with other teachers.

So we have a problem. We want to train thousands of educators – no – hundreds of thousands of educators, and that’s not possible for our tiny education team, even though it’s made up of a cracking bunch of superstars. Picademy is always oversubscribed.

We have huge ambitions for education. Thanks to the generosity and support of Google, we think we are heading in the right direction. Today we are excited to announce our new Picademy@Google programme for educators, kicking off in Leeds, UK. This is another opportunity for primary, secondary and post-16 teachers to attend Raspberry Pi-flavoured computing and science training, but this time at a Google Digital Garage near where you live. The Digital Garages are a group of pop-up spaces – this first one located in Leeds Docks – which will help 200,000 British businesses learn crucial skills for the digital age, and use the power of the internet to reach more customers and grow faster.

“Google.org has supported the Raspberry Pi Foundation for the past two years in its mission to equip primary schoolchildren with affordable computers and has been impressed with their outcomes,” said Jacquelline Fuller, director of Google.org. “Raspberry Pi is leading the charge on what it takes to teach children computational skills but perhaps more importantly how to equip teachers with much-needed subject matter expertise. We’re thrilled to support them again.”

Here is trustee Pete Lomas with Lauren Hyams (Code Club Pro) and Roger Davies (Computing at School) who will also be offering teacher training opportunities at the Digital Garage

Here is Raspberry Pi Foundation trustee Pete Lomas with representatives from Code Club Pro and Computing at School (who will also be offering teacher training opportunities at the Digital Garage) at the launch event in March.

The Picademy@Google courses will be run by hand-picked community members and educators, and will be a a mix of hands-on making, project-based learning and general hacking (think Picademy meets Raspberry Jam!) They will run alongside our definitive Picademy course and are, as always, completely free to attend for teachers.

We will be launching Picademy@Google in other UK cities as Google Digital Garages open over the next few months – to be informed about when one opens up near you, please sign up to our education newsletter.

The Leeds Digital Garage will be open for six months, and we’ll be running a number of Picademy@Google courses there, so start spreading the news: sign-ups for teachers are open!

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