I was away in Februrary, so missed the 7th Raspberry Jam. However Easter Sunday saw me up bright and early (even earlier than it would have been due to the hour going forward) heading for the National Museum of Computing in Bletchley Park for the 8th Milton Keynes Raspberry Jam.
Despite being held on Easter Day, the event was more full than I have ever seen it. There were 30 to 40 people there and lots of projects on show. So many that it was difficult to get to see them all.
Paul, on his first visit, had brought along his PI hooked up to a webcam demonstrating face recognition.
Ant had brought along a little red car chassis on which he had mounted an arduino which he could program from the Pi and which would then run the program to control the car’s movements.
Robert was thinking of ways of bundling collections of bits together so that people could buy sets that would allow them to try out different things on the Pi without having to source all the different components from different places.
Dave Whaley gave a fascinating talk about his work as a STEM ambassador, taking the Raspberry Pi into schools. He described his experience of students falling into two camps, one type who wanted to download things and get them working on the Pi, the others who wanted to actually program the Pi. He also talked about Minecraft as an interesting way of engaging students. I’d recommend a visit to his blog for some inspirational ideas.
There was a guy who had designed and built a very attractive artefact incorporating a Raspberry Pi with big colourful buttons. More about this later.
One of the museum volunteers (sorry, I’ll remember his name later) was using the Pi to enable disabled people to play music, chatting about the challenges of reproducing not just the note of a guitar string, but also the way it fades in as you press your finger on the string, was really fascinating.
I brought along some technology used in OU technology modules. The senseboard used in the current TU100 “My Digital Life” course. This uses Sense, a modified version of Scratch, to teach visual programming. Unlike the Pi, it needs to be connected to a computer, however it has some nifty features including build-in LEDs, audio input, various sensors and a stepped motor that you can attach and program using sense.
I also brought along the old Desmond used in, I think, the 90s as well as a microprocessor.
Microprocessor from OU Electronics course
After the jam, I went around the museum. I would definitely recommend this to anyone. It was absorbing. The talks were well worth listening to, and colossus was amazing. We had to be ushered out as they were closing the doors at 5pm! Definitely going again.
Tags: Raspberry PI · technology
I’m still not sure about how easy the Pi would be for a 12 year old without computer savvy parents to get into, but I’ve had good fun. The first thing I did was browse the Internet and join the Raspberry Pi google circle. I wanted to see what others were doing with it. I discovered a Raspberry Jam event being held at The Compiter museum at Bletchley Park and went Long to that on my own. Thais was a really good move. I made some friends and came away really inspired by what people had done, and keen to try out some things for myself.
However work intervened, and I got my hands on a Senseboard used by theOU course TU100, My digital life. This is actuallu related to work, but in addition to that my goal is now to get the Raspberry Pi to control things through the Senseboard.
Meanwhile I went to my 2nd Raspberry Jam event, met up with some people from the previous week, and met some new ones. Many people bring along their projects and you can chat about what they’ve done. If somebody is having a problem, say with Python coding, there is usually somebody at the Jam with the skills to help.
What really impressed me is how friendly everyone is, and what a tremendous buzz there is for the entire 2 hours (although we tend to hang around longer chatting.
Everyone was really interested in my Senseboard, so I’ve promised to take it along next time I go. I also met one of the chaps who was involved in designing the Senseboard which was really interesting.
As to what I’ve done with the Pi so far. Well, I’ve played with Scratch, and I’m using Sense on the Senseboard which was developed based on Scratch. I’m not sure if it will do everything I want, or if I’ll have to have a go at Python. Scratch is certainly good fun, and sense is even better because of all the outputs on the Senseboard (LEDs, motors etc) that you can control.
I’ve just bought two new SD cards and flashed the raspbmc distribution onto one of them. This was developed by Sam Nazarko and aims to turn the PI into a full media streaming centre. It was a bit scary as it would be rather easy to reformat my hard drive if I weren’t careful to specify the right disk, but I was careful It’s just finished downloading itself from the Internet so I’m going to see what it can do. Note my little Raspberry Pi at the bottom driving it all. Really neat
Playing media on the TV through the Pi
Tags: Raspberry PI
December 27th, 2012 · 2 Comments
I treated myself to a Raspberry PI as a kind of late Christmas present. I am intrigued by the idea of something so small and inexpensive aimed at giving kids (and interested adults) the ability to get to grips with basic computing at a very low cost. I bought the Maplin Raspberry PI starter kit which cost £74.99 and included the Raspberry PI itself, keyboard, wireless wifi USB eifi dongle, mouse, USB hub, SD card containing the Linux Debian wheezy distribution and two power supplies,
I purloined a tv screen from the spare room and set about putting it together. To my surprise it was fairly straightforward. My biggest problem, I’m ashamed to admit, was remembering to change the tv input to HDMI so I spent 15 minutes puzzling as to why the little lights on the Raspberry PI board were on yet nothing was displaying on the TV.
I posted on Facebook to say that I had bought an RPi and a number of friends commented to say that they too had done so. One mentioned an iPad app iSSH which allowed you user in an iPad as a remote shell, like a terminal window where you can enter commands. I installed this and after reading the help, soon successfully got it running. It was much easier driving the RPi from the iPad than sitting crouched on the floor. I felt very pleased with myself.
A high priority is to to protect the RPi with a case as it is very vulnerable perched on the cardboard packaging with wires etc coming out of it and the cats roaming around it looking interested. I had ordered a very nice case from Maplins which arrived promptly and although relatively expensive at £12.95, was really well made and worthwhile.
My first impressions are that this is a neat little tool that is surprisingly powerful considering it is running from an OS installed on a 4Gb SD card. I found it fairly easy to use, but I found myself dredging back into my ancient memories of unix when following the instructions on the Maplin getting started leaflet And the beginners guide.
The Raspberry Pi beginners guide is very good and introduces you to the command line, bandying around text strings like bash, shell, Linux flavours etc. I wonder how kids whose ICT lessons consist of learning how to use word and excel will take to this. I suspect that even the most technically astute might struggle with such concepts.
Everything is configurable, but you really need to get down into what feels like the nuts and bolts to effect changes. For example, I wanted to make the font size bigger on the TV. Looking in the very well written RPi beginner’s guide I first tried to edit the config file called console-setup to change the “terminus” values as instructed in the book. However, I got the message that the file did not have write permission to edit. In the GUI I then right-clicked the file to change the permissions on it and got a message that I did not have sufficient privileges to do this.
At this point I needed to call upon knowledge that a beginner would not be likely to have about file permissions and file ownership. I opened a terminal window, used “cd” to get to the directory containing the config file, I used “pwd” to check the permissions and then “chmod” to change the permissions on the file. These are all cryptic commands, and I had forgotten the precise order you need to specify permissions after the chmod command. The online help is accessed via “man” command which is suggested by the book, but it is both is very difficult to read and understand. I took several trial and error attempts to get the permissions fixed so that I could edit the config file. That was successful and that worked on next boot up shell, but didn’t work on shells created from the GUI. I then needed to use lxterm configuration to change font size from within the GUI environment. I right clicked the desktop to fix the size of the desktop icons, but within each app window I then had to change the fint size there too.
This is an awful lot of different files and preferences to change in order to do what feels like a simple thing; to make the fonts on the TV screen easy to read. It is the sort of think anybody using the RPi for the first time will want to do. Kids will search google for answers, but may give up fairly quickly if the answers aren’t rapidly available.
There are social networks focused on using your Raspberry PI which may support novices, eg the google+ RPi community and forums in which people discuss all aspects but which can be fairly difficult to navigate to find the information you want. Whether or not children will use these resources remains to be seen.
Don’t get me wrong. I think the RPI is a brilliant and accessible piece of kit. I think that kids whose parents have a grounding in computers, and kids whose school ICT teachers are inspiring and prepared to encourage interests that extend beyond the current ICT curriculum will really get a lot out of playing with it. However those children whose parents lack the skills necessary to support their kids through the initial learning curve may well get put off in the early stages.
Update 2nd Jan 2013
Just found out via twitter that there is is now a neat Educational Manual available via Crelative Commons as a PDF. First look suggests it may well help beginners get going.
Tags: Raspberry PI · Research Tools · technology
I got a Kindle touch for my birthday in July. I’d resisted these devices up until then because having become accustomed to the touch screen interface of the iPad, and unsure of how I would take to reading books on a screen, I didn’t want to risk getting one and not using it.
Once the touch-screen version came along, it seemed worth a try.
It has very much transformed the way I read. Firstly, it is so small and compact and very much lighter than an iPad, I can carry it everywhere with me in my handbag. The screen, as has been well documented elsewhere, is very easy on the eyes. The main thing for me has been the way it has changed how I read books.
It is like having a small library with you at all times. Whereas I used to read one book at a time, I now have 4 or 5 on the go. I read one or the other depending on my mood. I have the Alan Sugar biography which is easy to dip into, the weighty first book of the Cave Bear trilogy, the popular sci if Earth Girl, a book on minimalist living (I’m just about to move house and need to clutter clear) and an Alvin Hall book on managing your money (again, moving house so fairly apt, not that I’ll have any to manage once I’ve paid all the extortionate fees and duty).
I discovered the Earth Girl book on the Kindle best seller lists and got hooked by reading the sample chapter. A very good marketing technique. In a book shop, you don’t usually have time to read a full chapter before deciding to buy a book, but with the kindle you download the chapter and can read it at your leisure. I’m reading more, and getting even more enjoyment out of this new more varied way of reading that I have developed.
My only disappointment thus far is that the OU library do not yet make kindle books and magazines available to borrow. I imagine there are various rights issues to resolve; I have asked them about it. I’d love to be able to include the new books on educational technology in my treasure trove or reading material in my handbag, to dip into whenever I have a spare moment.
The end of my current 3-year EU-funded project, xDelia, was 31st May. Fortunately we obtained two month’s follow-on funding taking my contract until the end of July. As we approached the end of the project, my line manager, Eileen, who is far more experienced in large European projects than I, warned me about the “car crash” effect that would happen as we approached the end.
She was right!
Multiple small delays had a cumulative affect which ultimately has had an impact on time available for writing the end-of-project deliverables. Having multiple partners based in different institutions across Europe meant that collaboration was key. In fact, I think that we became really good at fast and efficient interdisciplinary collaboration by the end of the project. Nevertheless, it still leaves a huge workload at the end. I wonder if this ever changes.
Tags: Time Mangement
Like Rebecca in her Time Wasters post, I too applied for a British Academy Post-Doctoral Research Fellowship. The bid went in in November 2011, and I had set up collaborations with 4 other academic institutions. Like Rebecca, my bid was unsuccessful. In their response, The British Academy highlighted the high level of competition:
One of the principal reasons for the slight delay in releasing the results of the outline stage of the competition has been the large numbers of applications submitted for the competition. This round has proved even more competitive than ever before. A record field of 923 applications were submitted for assessment at the outline stage. Approximately 14% of the total number of applicants, (around 130), have been invited to submit second stage applications, and there are only likely to be around 45 awards at most available at the end of the competition. This means that less than half of those invited to submit second-stage applications are likely to be successful; and the final success rate in the competition is likely to be under 5%.
So, a lot of wasted effort all round.
Tags: Bidding for funding
Almost a year ago, I was unsuccessful in a funding bid to the British Academy. I tried again with a different scheme this year and, again, was unsuccessful. Once again, there is no feedback. The notification email specifically says
“Please note that feedback is not a feature of the Small Research Grants scheme, and the Academy is, regretfully, unable to enter into correspondence regarding the decisions of the awarding Committee.”
Out of 996 applicants, around 70% were unsuccessful. That means around 825 researchers put time into a bid and received nothing in return. They called on support from other academics, from administrators, from the IT department, maybe from the legal department – and all that time and effort was wasted.
How much time and effort was wasted?
Well, say each bid took four days to write, submit and review. Say the average person working on it was earning £40,000 a year and was paid to work 225 days a year (five day week, excluding holidays). So altogether the writing and reviewing process took about 4000 days, or 17.8 working years. I make that £712,000.
The maximum grant available was £10,000, so the academy gave out maybe £1.4 million to the successful applicants.
The British Academy is a major research funder. I’d be interested to know how they review their grant allocation and bidding process. Why are they demanding so much effort to be made by researchers and institutions, and why are they providing such a poor return to the majority? Why do they not make this a learning process by providing feedback? Are the universities calling them to account?
Tags: Bidding for funding · Reflections
Life is getting tough in the world of academia, with fewer funding calls and more competition for those that are available. The Institute of Education Technology (IET) is putting in a huge number of bids in January, about 12 I think. Those involved have been working day, night and weekends to get the bids written, approved by contracts and finance and submitted to the relevant bidding system by the deadline. It is worth while uploading the bid the day before because in the hours running up to the deadline, the system can get overloaded and it has been known to miss a call despite having a fully completed and approved bid together simply because the system got overloaded and wouldn’t accept the submission.
As a contract researcher, the success of these bids for funding is of critical importance. I am now within less than 6 months from the end of my three-year contract and have helped out with some of the funding bids. There is a system whereby a contract researcher can be a “Named Researcher” in a bid. This means that if the bid gets funded, you get offered the post without having to go through the process of advertising and interview. So I have potentially got another three-year contract. However, I won’t know whether the bids I am named on will be successful until after the end of my current contract.
If I knew for sure that there would be only, say, a 3 month gap between the end of my current contract and the start of the next, I would make arrangements for that period. But nobody knows whether a given bid will be successful. So what should I do? Look for work in the meantime seems a sensible move. But if I find something and move on, and the bid I am really interested in gets funded, then it will be really disappointing not to be work on it.
It is a dilemma. Do I risk having an indefinite period of unemployment by holding off looking for other jobs until I know for certain about the bids I am interested in? A risky strategy.
Tags: Bidding for funding
Facebook first became popular with young people of university age. They use it to co-ordinate their social lives, alongside mobile phones, to share photos and generally add an extra dimension to the fun side of being at uni. There are more ways in which it can be used, but I think that remains the basis.
Working in education technology, I started to use Facebook to see what potential it might have in the educational sphere. At the start, I didn’t find Facebook particularly enthralling. I’m not a young uni student and I don’t need it to co-ordinate my social life. However as more of my social circles began to use it and I found it to be quite a good way to keep in touch with a range of distributed social networks. These include family who live at a distance, old school friends, friends I used to live near but no longer see as regularly, OU work colleagues and a close-knit social circle based around the shared weekly activity of Morris Dancing. Indeed, the Morris side has moved its website onto Facebook so when you click the website address, you get routed to a Facebook page which makes it much easier to maintain a dynamic web presence.
The vast majority of my Facebook contacts were over 30 when they started using it.
For the most part, all runs fairly smoothly. People post amusing links or anecdotes on their walls to which others respond in a lively and comic vein. Videos and photos get posted which help people keep in touch and all in all it provides a pleasant diversion.
However sometimes the status updates and comments are not so amusing – there are oblique and unpleasant references to other members of the social circle. Allusions to intrigues and references to personal issues that would really be better kept out of the public domain. I have also seen parents who effectively stalk their offspring on facebook, commenting on their posts and photos in a way that must make the kids cringe and sometimes drives them to “unfriend” their own parents.
I was talking to my daughter about these behaviours. She has grown up with facebook and in her opinion, “older people” just don’t know how to use social networking properly. She pointed out that when young people use facebook, they are also meeting up with their facebook contacts during the evening and day. This means that if they start posting inappropriate and tedious status updates on their wall, or on the walls of others, their friends will tell them in no uncertain terms. Along the lines of “Why on earth are you whinging about your boyfriend dumping you. Nobody is interested, get over it”. She suggested that young people get “trained” in the appropriate way to use the technology. She is strongly of the opinion that “older people” miss out on this essential learning stage.
This may be true. But from what she said, there are also young people who misuse Facebook as a vehicle for cyber-harassment. If they continue with the nasty posts, she simply blocks them and because she sees them on a daily basis, she tells them that she is blocking them because she doesn’t want to see their unpleasant comments. However it is possible that these young people simply carry on. Is inappropriate use of social networks the result of older people lacking a fundamental understanding of how to use them. Or will young cyber-bullies grow up to be old cyber-harassers? Do bullies of all ages simply deploy the new technologies that they encounter to extend their bullying activities into the online sphere, attempting to use the social media as another way to isolate and undermine their victims?
I wonder… by Gill
Tags: Facebook · Social Networking
I’ve had the iPad for nearly two months now, and am finding a pattern of use. However I think this pattern of use will differ for different people according to their preferences and lifestyle.
Geocaching (see photo). OK, it looks a little odd to be trekking through the woods holding what looks like a giant iPhone, but the GPS works really well and as my iPhone is an early 3G model, I found it useful to pull out the iPad periodically as the map orients itself according to the direction you are facing. Sim card not essential for this, as you can download Geocaching info and maps using wifi, but it did help.
In car navigation. When not driving, it was tremendously helpful to be able to pull out the iPad and look up where we needed to go. Indeed, en route for our holiday, we got to around lunchtime and I used it to look up a nice pub in the vicinity and navigate us there. It was a bit irritating, but understandable, that it would show all nearby pubs including those that were behind us, but it was still very useful. Sim card essential.
Holiday. 3G was very useful enabling us to look up places of interest, opening times etc. You could also do this with a laptop but you’d need wifi or tether it to a phone. An iPhone also provides this functionality, but I’ve been finding that for many things, the slightly larger iPad screen makes it the first choice over the iPhone.
Train journeys. Had to commute to London for 5 days last week and the iPad was brilliant. It was lighter to carry and easier to pull out in a crowded train to check email etc. The journeys passed in an instant. I was also able to upload PDFs and papers I wanted to read and read them easily in the train. I wouldn’t tend to use the iPad for reading because I like to give my eyes a rest from the screen periodically, but it was good to have this facility there for the train journeys.
My husband had a book reader which he used of flights. He now uses the iPad in preference so clearly it performs well as a book reader.
Recently my husband had to go to the US on a 10 hour flight. He found the iPad lasted the entire time, despite watching a film on it and also playing a driving game.
Films and TV
I tried out the BBC iPlayer to see if it worked, and got absorbed by the programme. Quality on the iPad seems pretty good and it is easy to lie down with it tucked beside you, or have it on your lap.
I don’t tend to use it for listening to music – I have an iPhone and a couple of iPod Nanos for that. Once function where small size is an advantage. However I do use it for learning tunes to play on the accordion from YouTube videos. The speaker is good enough and the screen size makes it better for learning dance tunes as you can see what the dancers are doing.
Tags: iPad · technology