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Community Profile: Alex Eames

This column is from The MagPi issue 52. You can download a PDF of the full issue for free, or subscribe to receive the print edition in your mailbox or the digital edition on your tablet. All proceeds from the print and digital editions help the Raspberry Pi Foundation achieve its charitable goals.

Alex purchased his first Raspberry Pi in May 2012, after a BBC article caught his eye. Already teaching ICT at his son’s school, he was drawn to the idea of a $35 computer to aid the education of his ten-year-old students.

Alex Eames

Alex is truly a member of the Raspberry Pi community, providing support and resources to those new to, and experienced in, the world of the Pi

Less than a month later, Alex started his website, RasPi.TV. The website allowed him to document his progress with the Raspberry Pi, and to curate an easy-to-use reference library for others.

“I found that when I wanted to learn something new, generally the ‘instructions’ on other Linux sites were either out of date or incomplete. I wanted a place where I could record procedures that I could use again, but that would also be available to others.”

Alex was determined to provide tutorials that worked first time, understanding the frustration for newcomers when their hard work didn’t always pay off. “It’s off-putting for people to follow a list of instructions, get it all right, and then find the process fails,” he says. RasPi.TV was all about “instructions that work first time – even if you’ve never done it before.”

Alex Eames Community Profile

The RasPi.TV website is packed full of tutorials, reviews, and videos, all of which have the aim of helping newcomers and seasoned Raspberry Pi users to expand their skill set and interests. Alex’s YouTube channel boasts more than 8,000 subscribers, with viewing figures of well over 1.5 million across his 121 videos.

In 2012, Alex began to build his own RasPiO boards, with the first releases making an appearance in March 2014. The GPIO labeller, Breakout, and Breakout Pro were successful across the community, earning an honourable mention on the official Raspberry Pi blog. The Pro has since been upgraded to the Pro HAT, while the labeller has been replaced with a newer 40-pin version. The RasPiO collection has now increased to ten different units, each available for direct purchase from the website. A few originally found their feet via successful crowdfunding campaigns.

Alex Eames Community Profile

The RasPiO family is a series of add-on boards, port labellers, GPIO rulers, and tools to aid makers in building with the Raspberry Pi. The ruler, for example, offers GPIO pin reference for easy identification, along with a code reference for using the GPIO Zero library.

Even if you’ve yet to visit either RasPi.TV or Alex’s YouTube channel, the chances are that you’ve seen one aspect of his online contribution to the Raspberry Pi Community. Alex maintains a Raspberry Pi ‘family photo’ on his website, showcasing every model built across the years. It’s a picture that often does the rounds of blogs, news articles, and social media.

Raspberry Pi Family Photo 2017

Updated 28th Feb 2017 to include the newly released Raspberry Pi Zero W

Outside of his life of Pi, Alex has a background in analytical chemistry, a profession that certainly explains his desire for the clean, precise, and well-tested tutorials that brought about the creation of RasPi.TV. From working as a translator to writing his own e-books, Alex is definitely well suited to the maker life, moving on from his past life of pharmaceutical development.

Duinocam designed by Alex Eames

The Duinocam is set up in Alex’s home in Poland. During daylight hours, it emails him photos and temperature data while also responding to tweeted commands
such as video capture and upload. Using a Pi Model B, a RasPiO Duino, a Camera Module, and two servos, the unit can pan and tilt to survey the area.

His tutorial and review videos on YouTube reach viewing figures in the thousands, with his popular Raspberry Pi DSI Display Launch video garnering close to 300,000 views at the time of writing of this article. While Alex has updated us on his newest unreleased projects and plans, we’ll keep them quiet for now. You’ll have to watch the RasPi.TV website for details.

Note – Since writing this article, Alex has continued his work, producing new content to support the Raspberry Pi Zero W, while also releasing his newest crowdfunding campaign, RasPiO InsPiRing.

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Pi for the connected home

This column is from The MagPi issue 55. You can download a PDF of the full issue for free, or subscribe to receive the print edition in your mailbox or the digital edition on your tablet. All proceeds from the print and digital editions help the Raspberry Pi Foundation achieve its charitable goals.

Since the original Raspberry Pi Zero came out, I’ve seen many makers using it for connected home projects. Its size, low price, low power consumption, and software package have made it a great option, even if makers had to use a USB peripheral to add connectivity. Now that wireless LAN and Bluetooth connectivity are built into Raspberry Pi Zero W, it makes this mini computer platform even better suited for home Internet of Things projects.

Raspberry Pi Zero W

Let me get this out of the way first: ‘Internet of Things’, or ‘IoT’, has all the trappings of an overhyped buzzword. But even if the term Internet of Things doesn’t stick around very long, the concept of connected devices is here to stay for good. It’s a clear side effect of increasingly affordable wireless connectivity technology.

It’s not just development boards that are becoming more connected. The consumer electronics devices that we buy for our homes are more likely to have wireless capabilities. Even a product as simple as a light bulb can be equipped with connectivity, so that you can control its intensity and colour with a mobile app or home automation platform. I recently connected our Google Home to our WeMo Smart Plugs so that I can control the lights in our home using my voice. Last week I was carrying a load of laundry into a dark bedroom. Being able to say “OK Google, turn the bedroom lights on” and having it instantly do just that was a magical moment.

As makers and technology enthusiasts, we have even more power available to us. We benefit from affordable connectivity when it arrives on hardware platforms like Zero W, and can create the connected devices that we hope to see on store shelves one day. We also benefit from being able to interface with consumer-connected devices. For example, a simple hack with a Raspberry Pi lets you use Amazon Dash buttons to control almost anything you want. (Dash buttons are usually used to order a particular product, such as laundry detergent, from Amazon with just a single press.)

Advanced IoT

If you want to go beyond the basics, there are cloud-based platforms that let you manage many devices at once, and create intelligent alerts and actions. Many platforms are already Raspberry Pi-friendly, including the Particle Cloud, Initial State, Cayenne, and Resin.io. Each has its distinct advantages. For example, Initial State makes it really easy for you to create custom web-based dashboards to show you the state of your own sensors and internet-connected devices.

And if you’re a beginner, there are platforms that make it easy to get started with connected devices. One in particular is called IFTTT, which stands for ‘If This, Then That’. It’s an easy-to-use service that lets you connect consumer and maker platforms together without needing to write any code. IFTTT can also go beyond your devices: it can interact with the news, weather, or even local government. In the first partnership of its kind, the City of Louisville, Kentucky recently announced that it’s now on IFTTT and sending real-time air quality data, which you can log or use to trigger your own projects. I hope that it’s just the beginning for IoT partnerships like these.

With all the recent developments in the Internet of Things realm, Raspberry Pi Zero W comes at the perfect time to offer affordable, portable, and connected computing power. The best part is that exploring IoT doesn’t mean that you need to go too far into uncharted territory… it’s still the same Raspberry Pi that you already know and love.

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Pie vs. π vs. Pi Day 2017

It’s the fourteenth day of the third month! And if you’re a Brit, that means absolutely nothing. But take that date, flip reverse it like you’re American, and BOOM! It’s 3.14 or, as the cool kids call it, Pi Day.

In honour of this wonderful day, here are some awesome Pi/pie/π doohickies that we hope you’ll all enjoy!

Pi versus pie

screenshot of text message conversational misunderstanding: Pi versus pie versus P.I.

Dramatised re-enactment of actual events

Have you found yourself embroiled in a textual or verbal conversation similar to the one above? Are you tired of having to explain that you’re not playing Minecraft on a piece of pastry, or that your lights aren’t being controlled by confectionery? Worry no more, for we have provided the following graphic as a visual aid to help you to introduce the uninitiated to the Raspberry Pi.*

Pi vs Pie Pi Day infographic

Print off the PDF version for your classroom, Code Club, office, bedroom, locker door, Grandma, neighbour, local bus stop, newsletter, Christmas cards, and more!

Do it for the Pi (but please don’t eat it!)

This gem of a music video found its way to us via Twitter, and, in the moment we watched the preview snippet, the earworm lodged itself firmly into our brains and hearts.

Creative Mind Frame / 1-UP

So this whole Pi(e) Day business I’ve been posting about… With 3.14 coming up Ohm-I and I decided it was appropriate to do our Patreon song about the Raspberry Pi computer. I mean it’s only right… right? But why stop there?

This is just one of many awesome videos from Creative Mind Frame and we highly recommend checking out more of his brilliant work.

But what about pie?

How could we publish a Pi Day blog post without mentioning pie? Here in the UK, I like to think we’re more of a savoury pie nation than our American friends. As far as desserts go, whether you head into a cafe, pull up a chair at your grandmother’s table, or simply browse the aisles of your local supermarket, you’re likely to find a wider array of tarts than pies on offer. Because of this, let me direct you towards our second Queen, Her Sublime Majesty Mary Berry, and this recipe for Mary’s Bakewell Tart. Raspberry jam and almonds? Yes, please!

Image of a Bakewell Tart

Nommmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm…
Photo from BBC Food.

If the Bakewell doesn’t do it for you, you heathens, check out Rosanna Pansino‘s Mini Raspberry Pi Pies.

MINI RASPBERRY PI PIES – NERDY NUMMIES

Today I made Mini Raspberry Pi Pies in celebration of Pi Day (March 14th)! I really enjoy making nerdy themed goodies and decorating them. I’m not a pro, but I love baking as a hobby. Please let me know what kind of treat you would like me to make next.

Last, but by no means least…

What exactly IS pi?

An excellent question. Here’s one of YouTube’s finest, maths-enthusiast The Odd 1s Out, to argue the case for his favourite number. Also, I stole his Pi/Pie Day artwork for today’s thumbnail so…thanks!

Why Pi is Awesome (Vi Hart Rebuttal)

Happy Pi day everyone! Go checkout Vi Hart’s channel➤ https://www.youtube.com/user/Vihart She’s made a 2016 version!! :O ➤https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vydPOjRVcSg&nohtml5=False 2014 version➤https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5iUh_CSjaSw ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Website ➤ http://tinyurl.com/za5gw22 Tumblr ➤ http://theodd1sout.tumblr.com Facebook ➤ https://www.facebook.com/theodd1sout Twitter ➤ https://twitter.com/Theodd1sout Tapastic ➤ https://tapastic.com/theodd1sout

Whatever you do this Pi Day, make sure you have a great one. And if you build something great, learn something wonderful, or simply make a pie, be sure to share it using #PiDay and tag us so we can see it!

*Big up to Sam for the awesome graphic and the “YES!” he exclaimed when I asked him to draw a Pi versus a pie…Street Fighter-style.

 

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P.A.R.T.Y.

On 4 and 5 March 2017, more than 1,800 people got together in Cambridge to celebrate five years of Raspberry Pi and Code Club. We had cake, code, robots, explosions, and unicorn face paint. It was all kinds of awesome.

Celebrating five years of Raspberry Pi and Code Club

Uploaded by Raspberry Pi on 2017-03-10.

It’s hard to believe that it was only five years ago that we launched the first Raspberry Pi computer. Back then, our ambitions stretched to maybe a few tens of thousands of units, and our hope was simply that we could inspire more young people to study computer science.

Fast forward to 2017 and the Raspberry Pi is the third most successful computing platform of all time, with more than twelve and a half million units used by makers, educators, scientists, and entrepreneurs all over the world (you can read more about this in our Annual Review).

On 28 February, we announced the latest addition to our family of devices, the Raspberry Pi Zero W, which brings wireless connectivity and Bluetooth to the Pi Zero for an astonishing $10. You seemed to like it: in the four days between the product launch and the first day of the Birthday Party, we sold more than 100,000 units. We absolutely love seeing all the cool things you’re building with them!

Raspberry Pi Zero W

Celebrating our community

Low-cost, high-performance computers are a big part of the story, but they’re not the whole story. One of the most remarkable things about Raspberry Pi is the amazing community that has come together around the idea that more people should have the skills and confidence to get creative with technology.

For every person working for the Raspberry Pi Foundation, there are hundreds and thousands of community members outside the organisation who advance that mission every day. They run Raspberry Jams, volunteer at Code Clubs, write educational resources, moderate our forums, and so much more. The Birthday Party is one of the ways that we celebrate what they’ve achieved and say thank you to them for everything they’ve done.

Over the two days of the celebration, there were 57 workshops and talks from community members, including several that were designed and run by young people. I managed to listen to more of the talks this year, and I was really impressed by the breadth of subjects covered and the expertise on display.

All About Code on Twitter

Big thanks to @Raspberry_Pi for letting me run #PiParty @edu_blocks workshop and to @cjdell for his continuing help and support

Educators are an important part of our community and it was great to see so many of our Certified Educators leading sessions and contributing across the whole event.

Carrie Anne Philbin on Twitter

Thanks to my panel of @raspberry_pi certified educators – you are all amazing! #piparty https://t.co/0psnTEnfxq

Hands-on experiences

One of the goals for this year’s event was to give everyone the opportunity to get hands-on experience of digital making and, even if you weren’t able to get a place at one of the sold-out workshops, there were heaps of drop-in and ask-the-expert sessions, giving everyone the chance to get involved.

The marketplace was one of this year’s highlights: it featured more than 20 exhibitors including the awesome Pimoroni and Pi Hut, as well as some great maker creations, from the Tech Wishing Well to a game of robot football. It was great to see so many young people inspired by other people’s makes.

Child looking at a handmade robot at the Raspberry Pi fifth birthday weekend

Code Club’s celebrations

As I mentioned before, this year’s party was very much a joint celebration, marking five years of both Raspberry Pi and Code Club.

Since its launch in 2012, Code Club has established itself as one of the largest networks of after-school clubs in the world. As well as celebrating the milestone of 5,000 active Code Clubs in the UK, it was a real treat to welcome Code Club’s partners from across the world, including Australia, Bangladesh, Brazil, Canada, Croatia, France, New Zealand, South Korea, and Ukraine.

Representatives of Code Club International at the Raspberry Pi fifth birthday party

Representatives of Code Club International, up for a birthday party!

Our amazing team

There are so many people to thank for making our fifth Birthday Party such a massive success. The Cambridge Junction was a fantastic venue with a wonderful team (you can support their work here). Our friends at RealVNC provided generous sponsorship and practical demonstrations. ModMyPi packed hundreds of swag bags with swag donated by all of our exhibitors. Fuzzy Duck Brewery did us proud with another batch of their Irrational Ale.

We’re hugely grateful to Sam Aaron and Fran Scott who provided the amazing finales on Saturday and Sunday. No party is quite the same without an algorave and a lot of explosions.

Most of all, I want to say a massive thank you to all of our volunteers and community members: you really did make the Birthday Party possible, and we couldn’t have done it without you.

One of the things we stand for at Raspberry Pi is making computing and digital making accessible to all. There’s a long way to go before we can claim that we’ve achieved that goal, but it was fantastic to see so much genuine diversity on display.

Probably the most important piece of feedback I heard about the weekend was how welcoming it felt for people who were new to the movement. That is entirely down to the generous, open culture that has been created by our community. Thank you all.

Collage of Raspberry Pi and Code Club fifth birthday images

 

 

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Make a PIR speaker system

I enjoy projects that can be made using items from around the home. Add a Raspberry Pi and a few lines of code, and great joy can be had from producing something smart, connected and/or just plain silly.

The concept of the IoT Smart Lobby Welcoming Music System fits into this category. Take a speaker, add a Raspberry Pi and a PIR sensor (both staples of any maker household, and worthwhile investments for the budding builder), and you can create a motion-sensor welcome system for your home or office.

[DIY] Make a smart lobby music system for your office or home

With this project, you will be able to automate a welcoming music for either your smart home or your smart office. As long as someone is around, the music will keep playing your favorite playlist at home or a welcome music to greet your customers or business partners while they wait in the lobby of your office.

The Naran Build

IoT makers Naran have published their Smart Lobby build on Instructables, where you’ll find all the code and information you need to get making. You’ll also find their original walkthrough of how to use their free Prota OS for Raspberry Pi, which allows you to turn your Pi into a Smart Home hub.

Naran Prota IoT Sensor Speaker System

Their build allows you to use Telegram Bot to control the music played through their speaker. The music begins when movement is sensed, and you can control what happens next.

Telegram Bot for a Sensor Speaker System

It’s a great build for playing information for visitors or alerting you to an intrusion.

Tim Peake Welcoming Committee

A few months back, I made something similar in the lobby at Pi Towers:  I hid a sensor under our cardboard cutout of ESA astronaut Tim Peake. Visitors walking into the lobby triggered the sensor, and were treated to the opening music from 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Sadly, with the meeting rooms across the lobby in constant use, the prank didn’t last long.

Alex J’rassic on Twitter

In honour of the #Principia anniversary, I pimped out cardboard @astro_timpeake at @Raspberry_Pi Towers. Listen. https://t.co/MBUOjrARtI

If you’re curious, the Christmas tree should be a clue as to why Tim is dressed like a nativity angel.

The Homebrew Edition

If you’re like me, you learn best by doing. Our free resources allow you to develop new skills as you build. You can then blend the skills you have learned to create your own interesting projects. I was very new to digital making when I put together the music sensor in the lobby. The skills I had developed by following step-by-step project tutorials provided the foundations for something new and original.

Why not make your own welcoming system? The process could teach you new skills, and develop your understanding of the Raspberry Pi. If you’d like to have a go, I’d suggest trying out the Parent Detector. This will show you how to use a PIR sensor with your Raspberry Pi. Once you understand that process, try the Burping Jelly Baby project. This will teach you how to tell your Raspberry Pi when to play an MP3 based on a trigger, such as the poke of a finger or the detection of movement.

From there, you should have all the tools you need to make a speaker system that plays an MP3 when someone or something approaches. Why not have a go this weekend? If you do, tell us about your final build in the comments below.

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Pi-powered Baby Busy Board

Update: we have been contacted by The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), who expressed the following concerns about this project.

It is difficult for us to fully see the dangers relating to the board but I have to agree with the non-exhaustive list of some off the dangers pointed out:

  1. The overall stability of the board is in question it looks as if it is propped against a set of safety gates but in someone’s home they will prop it against anything they feel suitable – the danger with this is that with the child pulling on the items the board could fall forward resulting in quite serious injury to the face. The spring door stops could easily poke a baby in the eye if they fell forward on them or pulled the board on top of themselves.
  2. If the springs are bent the coils of the spring will open up and could possible become a serious trapping hazard.
  3. Likewise the black fan on the left of the board in the video would appear to have a gap between the tips of the blades and the frame which again would be perfect for tiny fingers to get trapped in. The blades in industrial fans are often quite sharp on the edges. Whilst it is not powered it could still be an issue.
  4. The industrial castor also would appear to have a perfect gap between the wheel and the frame to trap fingers.
  5. The mirror should of course be plastic and not glass, which it may well be, but that should be stated in the details of the project to warn anyone else wanting to build one.
  6. The beads on the board represent a serious choking hazard our general advice is small objects like beads buttons, marbles , small toys etc should be kept out of the reach of children under three.
  7. RoSPA advice is that that parents do not make toys for babies. Instead we advise that parents and care providers only purchase toys from reputable retailers (as toy safety regulations demand very high safety standards for the products our children are allowed to play with).

Whilst we agree that activity boards are a great toy for child development they of course should be safe and meet the toy safety regulations. As this is an item for parents to put together themselves it is very unlikely to comply with the strict requirements of the regulations.

We would encourage you to take these points into account if you are considering building a project of this sort.

What’s small, squishy and guaranteed to be more interested in a springy door stopper than in the £100 toy you just bought for them?

A baby.

The author as a baby

This is me as a baby. I was going to use a standard Google Images baby, but instead I figured I’d use me. So here I am. Me in my infant form. Adorbs, right?

Sure, they’re cute. And that post-bath baby smell is intoxicating. We continue to spend our hard-earned money on toys for them, and they continue to be more interested in the box the toy came in. Perhaps it makes sense to give up on expensive toys, and get creative with various bits from around the house instead.

With this in mind, allow me to introduce the Pi-powered Busy Board: a pi-connected collection of things and stuff that make noises when you touch them. Aka Noisy Baby Paradise.

PI Powered Busy Board demo

I made a busy bored using a raspberry pi that can be found @ https://www.instructables.com/id/PI-Powered-Busy-Board/

Keeping baby busy

Kenny Lilly, father of a squishy baby from across the pond, used random noise makers from around his house and coupled them with a Raspberry Pi 3, an Adafruit Capacitive Touch HAT and some Bare Conductive paint.

Raspberry Pi Busy Baby Board

Kenny used stencils to create attractive shapes with the paint. He then hammered copper-plated nails through from the front of the busy board to the back, to create connections between the paint and the HAT.

Raspberry Pi Busy Baby Board

He used the Adafruit Python library to control the touch functions of the HAT. When the user interacts with the stenciled images, the HAT produces appropriate audio playback.

Raspberry Pi Busy Baby Board

Kenny used a second piece of wood to make the back of the board, and built a frame using thinner pieces of wood to create a space inside. The  electronics are sandwiched inside the Busy Board, and the whole build is then powered by a USB battery, like the one you may keep in your bag to recharge your mobile phone. Finally, with a small speaker connected to the Pi, the build was complete.

The full how-to for building the Pi-powered Busy Board can be found on Kenny’s Instructables page. And if there are any health and safety concerns regarding a small, slobbery baby playing with conductive paint, Bare Conductive assure their customers that their paint is safe and child-friendly. So there you have it. Baby Paradise.

Raspberry Pi Busy Baby Board

Have you used a Raspberry Pi to appease your infant overlord? Share your project in the comments below.

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International Women’s Day: Girls at Code Club

On International Women’s Day and every day, Raspberry Pi and Code Club are determined to support girls and women to fulfil their potential in the field of computing.

Code Club provides computing opportunities for kids aged nine to eleven within their local communities, and 40 percent of the children attending our 5000-plus UK clubs are girls. Code Club aims to inspire them to get excited about computer science and digital making, and to help them develop the skills and knowledge to succeed.

Big Birthday Bash Code Club Raspberry Pi Bag

Code Club’s broad appeal

From the very beginning, Code Club was designed to appeal equally to girls and boys. Co-founder Clare Sutcliffe describes how she took care to avoid anything that evoked gendered stereotypes:

When I was first designing Code Club – its brand, tone of voice and content – it was all with a gender-neutral feel firmly in mind. Anything that felt too gendered was ditched.

The resources that children use are selected to have broad appeal, engaging a wide range of interests. Code Club’s hosts and volunteers provide an environment that is welcoming and supportive.

Two girls coding at Code Club

A crucial challenge for the future is to sustain an interest in computing in girls as they enter their teenage years. As in other areas of science, technology, engineering and maths; early success for girls doesn’t yet feed through into pursuing higher qualifications or entering related careers in large numbers. What can we all do to make sure that interested and talented young women know that this exciting field is for them?

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TV Time Machine

Back when home television sets were thin on the ground and programmes were monochrome, TV maintained a magical aura, a ‘how do they fit the people in that little box’ wonder which has been lost now that sets are common and almost everyone has their own video camera or recording device. Many older shows were filmed specifically to be watched in black and white, and, in much the same way that plugging your SNES into an HD monitor doesn’t quite look right, old classics just don’t look the same when viewed on the modern screen.

1954 brochure advert for Admiral TV sets

50’s televisions were so pretty. So, so pretty.

Wellington Duraes, Senior Program Manager for Microsoft and proud owner of one of the best names I’ve ever seen, has used a Raspberry Pi and some readily available television content to build a TV Time Machine that draws us back to the days of classic, monochrome viewing the best way he can.

He may not be able to utilise the exact technology of the old screen, but he can trick our mind with the set’s retro aesthetics.

TV Time Machine

You can see more information about this project here: https://www.hackster.io/wellington-duraes/tv-time-machine-d11b5f

As explained in his hackster.io project page, Wellington joined his local Maker community, the Snohomish County Makers in Everett, WA, who helped him to build the wooden enclosure for the television. By purchasing turquoise speaker grille fabric online, he was able to give a gorgeous retro feeling to the outer shell.

Wellington TV Time Machine

Wellington: “I can’t really keep it on close to me because I’ll stop working to watch…”

For the innards, Wellington used a cannibalised thrift store Dell monitor, hooking it up to a Raspberry Pi 2 and some second-hand speakers. After the addition of Adafruit’s video looper code to loop free content downloaded from the Internet Archive, plus some 3D-printed channel and volume knobs, the TV Time Machine was complete.

Wellington TV Time Machine Raspberry Pi inside view

The innards of the TV Time Machine

“Electronics are the easiest part,” explains Wellington. “This is basically a Raspberry Pi 2 playing videos in an infinite loop from a flash drive, a monitor, and a PC speaker.”

On a personal note, my first – and favourite – television was a black-and-white set, the remote long since lost. A hand-me-down from my parents’ bedroom, I remember watching the launch of Euro Disney on its tiny screen, imagining what the fireworks and parade would look like in colour. Of course, I could have just gone downstairs and watched it on the colour television in the living room, but there was something special about having my own screen whose content I could dictate.

euro disney opening logo

For anyone too young to remember the resort’s original name.

On weekend mornings, I would wake and give up my rights to colour content in order to watch Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Defenders of the Earth, and The Wuzzles (my favourite) on that black-and-white screen, knowing that no one would ask for the channel to be changed – what eight-year-old child wanted to watch boring things like the news and weather?

The Wuzzles theme

intro

I think that’s why I love this project so much, and why, despite now owning a ridiculously large smart TV with all the bells and whistles of modern technology, I want to build this for the nostalgia kick.

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Baby, you’re a (legal, indoor) firework

Dr Lucy Rogers is more than just a human LED. She’s also an incredibly imaginative digital maker, ready and willing to void warranties in her quest to take things apart and put them back together again, better than before. With her recipe for legal, digital indoor fireworks, she does exactly that, leaving an electronic cigarette in a battered state as it produces the smoke effects for this awesome build.

Firecracker Demo Video

Uploaded by IBM Internet of Things on 2017-02-28.

In her IBM blog post, Lucy offers a basic rundown of the build. While it may not be a complete how-to for building the firecrackers, the provided GitHub link and commentary should be enough for the seasoned maker to attempt their own version. If you feel less confident about producing the complete build yourself, there are more than enough resources available online to help you create something flashy and bangy without the added smoke show.

Lucy Rogers Firecracker Raspberry Pi

For the physical build itself, Lucy used a plastic soft drink bottle, a paper plate, and plastic tubing. Once painted, they provided the body for her firecrackers, and the support needed to keep the LED NeoPixels in place. She also drilled holes into the main plastic tube that ran up the centre of the firecracker, allowing smoke to billow out at random points. More of that to come.

Lucy Rogers Firecracker Raspberry Pi

Spray paint and a touch of gold transform the pieces of plastic piping into firecrackers

The cracking, banging sounds play via a USB audio adapter due to complications between the NeoPixels and the audio jack. Lucy explains:

The audio settings need to be set in the Raspberry Pi’s configuration settings (raspi-config). I also used the Linux program ‘alsamixer’ to set the volume. The firecrackers sound file was made by Phil Andrew. I found that using the Node-RED ‘exec node’ calling the ‘mpg123’ program worked best.

Lucy states that the hacking of the e-cigarette was the hardest part of the build. For the smoke show itself, she reversed its recommended usage as follows:

On an electronic cigarette, if you blow down the air-intake hole (not the outlet hole from which you would normally inhale), smoke comes out of the outlet hole. I attached an aquarium pump to the air-intake hole and the firecracker pipe to the outlet, to make smoke on demand.

For the power, she gingerly hacked at the body with a pipe cutter before replacing the inner LiPo battery with a 30W isolated DC-DC converter, allowing for a safer power flow throughout the build (for “safer flow”, read “less likely to blow up the Raspberry Pi”).

Lucy Rogers internal workings Firecracker Raspberry Pi

The pump and e-cigarette fit snugly inside the painted bottle, while the Raspberry Pi remains outside

The project was partly inspired by Lucy’s work with Robin Hill Country Park. A how-to of that build can be seen below:

Dr Lucy Rogers Electronic Fire Crackers

www.farnell.com Dr Lucy Rogers presents her exciting Fire Crackers project, taking you from the initial concept right through to installation. Whilst working in partnership with the Robin Hill country park on the Isle of Wight, Lucy wanted to develop a solution for creating safe electronic Fire Crackers, for their Chinese New year festival.

Although I won’t challenge you all to dismantle electric cigarettes, nor do I expect you to spend money on strobe lights, sensors, and other such peripherals, it would be great to see some other attempts at digital home fireworks. If you build, or have built, anything flashy and noisy, please share it in the comments below.

Photo credit: Lucy Rogers/IBM.

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Tough Pi-ano

The Tough Pi-ano needs to live up to its name as a rugged, resilient instrument for a very good reason: kids.

Tough Pi-ano

Brian ’24 Hour Engineer’ McEvoy made the Tough Pi-ano as a gift to his aunt and uncle, for use in their centre for children with learning and developmental disabilities such as autism and Down’s syndrome. This easily accessible device uses heavy-duty arcade buttons and has a smooth, solid wood body with no sharp corners.

24 Hour Engineer Presents the Tough Pi-ano

24 Hour Engineer is a channel to showcase the things I’ve built. Instructions for the Tough Pi-ano can be found at my website, 24HourEngineer.com and searcing for “Tough Pi-ano.” http://www.24hourengineer.com/search?q=%22Tough+PiAno%22&max-results=20&by-date=true

The Pi-ano has four octaves of buttons, each controlled by a Raspberry Pi Zero. Each Zero is connected to a homebrew resistor board; this board, in turn, is connected to the switches that control the arcade buttons.

Tough Pi-ano

The Tough Pi-ano is designed specifically for musical therapy, so it has a clean and uncomplicated design. It has none of the switches and sliders you’d usually expect to find on an electronic keyboard.

Tough Pi-ano

The simple body, with its resilient keys, allows the Tough Pi-ano to stand up to lots of vigorous playing and forceful treatment, providing an excellent resource for the centre.

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