Saturday, 23 June 2012

At the Opposite Extreme we have Chromium OS

I was super excited to hear about RISC OS making a comeback and then today I heard that they are planning Chromium OS for Raspberry Pi. Talk about opposites when it comes to OS. (Initial commit here.)  You see, Chromium is designed to make the most of the browser. It's designed for an always connected world where most of the stuff you want to do is on the Internet.

It is a great OS for the Pi, because it has the possibility of use in a truly embedded environment. It turns any semi-decent TV into a properly Internet enabled TV.   For possible consumer products it's great and if done well it will make high quality, fast, Web browsing a real feature of the Pi.

Of course that completely flies in the face of having a computer you can really play with under the hood. But the real difference with the Pi is that for the first time in a long time, it doesn't matter all you need for yet another OS is another SD Card.

That makes my OS Deathmatch lesson a whole lot more exciting...

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Bringing RISC OS back to life

Picture courtesy of
There's a team hard at work to bring RISC OS to the Raspberry Pi. They've already got a pre-alpha version up and running, which can do vector graphics using Artworks. (Became Xara) Although most people remember the operating system from the early 1990's and associated it with Acorn. It has still continued to be developed by a loyal band of developers and has a non-profit license that enables people to try it for free, but profit-making companies are charged the princely sum of £20.

Furthermore it was designed to be run on specs far lower than the Raspberry Pi, so if it can be made truly native again without the need for too many services to be emulated, then it would run extremely fast.  From an educational point of view there's a large number of pros to using the OS:

1. Large number of educational applications already in existence
2. The best version of BBC Basic
3. A mature windowing system that is highly responsive
4. Excellent task management, which looks after every last KB and values every last scrap of memory.
5. Developed for ARM processors from the start.

Acorn who made RISC OS at the time was also the birthplace of many world-class inventions including the ARM chip, Sibelius, Artworks (Became Xara), Tomb Raider and ARM linux.

Bringing back a Super version of RISC OS would be a joy to behold!

Update: The RISC OS team have confirmed their attendance at the Cambridge Raspberryjam event!

About the Author: This Blog is being written by a shamelessly biased source who actually used to work for Acorn at the time the StrongARM came out.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

The future is tablets...

The future for primary schools is tablets. Think about it. They don't require their own rooms, provide beautiful colours, animations and an interface that's intuitive which weirdly is why the Pi is so important! Graham Hastings is leading the charge to make sure that what's left over gets spent on something that enables some real computing to take place. I'm really looking forward to his presentation on the 14th. I know it will be a highlight of #tmeast and what the Pi brings is room to imagine. That's what is magical about it and that's why we need to help the Pi in every way we can. Visit event page

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Pi for Nurseries and Early Years

When I first started playing with the Raspberry Pi I thought it would be a great tool for teaching Computer Science and Design and Technology, but then I thought wouldn't it also be wonderful at the other extreme. Where children and possibly teachers have no computer knowledge at all.

Think about it. It plugs-in, boots and goes to a menu screen. Children use a large Tracker-ball to navigate around and all this for under £100.  Imagine Interactive books, Colouring pages, videos and a whole host of other materials that could be put on.

There's no need for Multitasking, networking or anything complicated. If the program crashes, switch off and start again. The great advantage is that the Screen and Raspberry Pi can be kept out of the little one's reach and just the tracker-ball needs to be touchable. All you need is a cheap DVI Monitor, Large trackball and a Pi!  Children love Sandbox style play and in classes they could click on an Avatar of themselves for personal settings or it could literally be a sandbox with no set-up at all. 

Open Source Linux Software example -

There's quite a good selection of Linux software already available and if we developed the tools, interactive books could be developed very quickly indeed.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

What's a Raspberry Jam Like?

Dan went to Manchester's Raspberry Jam yesterday and he clearly had a good time, "Yesterday I had the privilege of attending Manchester's first Raspberry Pi event, called (what else?) theRaspberry Jam, hosted by Madlab. It turned out to be a great day, and I'm glad everyone braved the rain to make it."  You can read more on his Blog.

So that's Manchester done, but what can you expect to see in the Cambridge Event and in short, EVERYTHING! 

But here's a few of the confirmed highlights:
  • The Raspberry Pi team will be around to show the very latest apps and developments
  • Gertboard Rev3 demo, which can be used to:  flash LEDs on and off, drive motors, run sensors and all that other fun stuff.Various Operating Systems and flavours of Linux
  • Beginner Guides
  • How it can be used in Education
  • Games Old and New
  • Cool Programming Gadgets
The event has been split into 3 parts. In the first half there's a hands-on session and because even in Cambridge we can only manage so many Raspberry Pis and kit, we've had to strictly limit tickets.

However even if you can't get a ticket, you should fit in the main theatre for the Q&A session.

After the Raspberryjam we're then hosting an event aimed at teachers, because we want to make sure technology gets into their hands. There will be presentations on using the Pi, but also on a wide range of other subjects.  Everybody is welcome to stay, but those not in education are welcome to head home or to the pub!  If you are a teacher, this is the ONLY event I know that you'll literally be able to walk away with an entire ICT & Computing Curriculum for your school and there's also plenty for other subjects too.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Let the kids hack the operating system to pieces

Half the techies in schools I know, don't even know what Linux is! Bandy words around like Debian, repositories and dependencies and it will fly over there heads.  The one thing, they know is that they certainly do not want somebody messing with the programs, never mind and the operating system processes and certainly not the OS itself.That's one of the beauties of the Raspberry Pi. You don't actually have to tell the school technicians and give them a heart attack!

Of course I also manage a network of PCs in my school and frankly, downtime is a killer and so I completely understand the technician's point of view. Fun it maybe for the students, but its a lot of extra work for them.

So why is it not a problem with the Raspberry Pi!  Well firstly the OS is on an SD Card, so if the kids mess it up, the worst that can happen is you reformat the card and copy the OS over again. Let's have a look at what Operating Systems and distros you can play with:

  • Arch
  • Debian
  • Fedora
  • Gentoo
  • Puppy
  • Raspbian
  • Amiga OS
  • Android
  • Symbian
  • QTonPi

Admittedly not all of these are fully working yet, but even if you just use the ones that are stable there's a lot of potential to play with the system!

Windows 8 - Not for now
They keep on talking about Windows 8, but the instruction set isn't compatible, that's not to say that in a couple of years time the Pi won't get an upgrade and then there's a chance it will work.  Microsoft have been incredibly generous to Education over the years and if they thought it is going to be worthwhile, then I think they'd do it!  The only OS I'm pretty sure isn't going to be there is iOS and that's not because it wouldn't work, but Apple hold onto their toys with a viper like grip!

Monday, 11 June 2012

Bringing back the golden age of space exploration: Elite!

Today we had the exciting news from @Jojoreloaded (Not a Twitter handle I'm afraid) that he's ported Frontier, which is the sequel to Elite and I can't wait to play that, but then I thought how difficult would it be to get the original game running again?  It turns out, not very difficult at all.   All you need is a Linux based BBC Emulator.  I selected B-EM  for the Pi, but also BEEBEm should work too. I believe the software is now abandonia and without putting too fine a point on it, here's the link to Ian Bell's page with the download.  (Some of the links on the page are broken, but the disc image is fine)

So now we're ready to play the finest Space simulation ever made! Of course we can't wait to get RISC OS back online to play the Archimedes version.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

How to make your own Arcade machine real cheap!

What a nice way to spend some of the summer holidays than to make a little Arcade Cabinet.  For this project you will need:
1. Raspberry Pi (About £25)
2. A version of Linux, no need for any fluffy windows, boot it straight into MAME. Details here.
3. An old Monitor / TV (An adaptor if no HDMI)
4. Joystick of some sort. You can buy USB pads for next to nothing. (May also need a 4 way adaptor)
5. Some design ideas for the cabinet and materials. Or you can buy ready-made ones.

You can comfortably do this for £200 and if you do everything yourself and haggle at every step, I reckon it's possible to do it for £100. Way cheaper than the £600 you'd have to pay for a ready-made one.  Plus you can change the games to whatever you fancy!

You'll be the envy of all your friends when they see your oh-so-cool Arcade machine!

Saturday, 9 June 2012

What is a Raspberry Pi?

A Raspberry Pi is a tiny little computer. A lot of people think that it's the next big thing in programming and in a way they would be right, but not in the sense a lot of people originally thought. Let's be honest Linux runs on just about any PC going and quite a lot of other devices too. So you probably wouldn't want to get a Raspberry Pi just to play with Python or Linux when there's probably a perfectly good PC on your desk?

However think of the cost of the Raspberry Pi! You could attach it to any TV and it costs less than a decent set of headphones. You can now afford to put a computer into virtually any Design and Technology project you fancy. It'll turn any flat-screen TV into a media server in a few seconds, it could easily be wired up to sensors and the maintain a web page for you, it could be put inside an arcade cabinet, used to show students networks and control robots.

The point is that the Raspberry Pi brings us back to where we can see the chips and the interfaces and that's what has been missing in the last 10 years in IT!
Raspberry Pi