Sonic Pi: Live & Coding Summer School

via Raspberry Pi

Carrie Anne – I have an ongoing long-term love affair with Sonic Pi ever since Dr Sam Aaron from the University of Cambridge introduced me to it in late 2012 to help me teach text-based programming to my students. Since then it has been used to teach music and artistic expression thanks to the Sonic Pi Live & Coding project, which I’ll talk more about in the coming months as it reaches its conclusion. A few weeks ago 60 children took part in a Sonic Pi Live & Coding summer school run by artists Juneau Projects at the Cambridge Junction. Here, in their own words, is their take on the experience:

Sonic Pi Live & Coding summer school

Sonic Pi Live & Coding summer school

The Sonic Pi Live & Coding summer school finished just over three weeks ago, and yet our heads are still full of it! It was a brilliant week where 56 children aged between 10 and 14 years spent the week at the Cambridge Junction, working amazingly hard not only to get to grips with the language of live coding, but also learning how to finesse that language and perform with it using Sonic Pi on Raspberry Pi. It was a beautiful thing to be a part of. Over the course of five days the students went from having never used Sonic Pi before to putting on a concert for an invited audience, incorporating never-before-seen software functions (literally added on the spot by Sam Aaron – the brains behind Sonic Pi – to help realise the students’ ambitions) and incredible showmanship!

Juneau Projects artists Ben &

Juneau Projects artists Ben & Phil

The plan for the week was not only to introduce the students to the technical aspects of Sonic Pi (i.e. how do you make a sound, and then make it sound how you want it to sound etc) but to offer an overview of what live coding sounds like and looks like and what it might become in the students’ hands. To this end we were lucky enough to see performances by Thor Magnusson, Shelly Knotts and Sam Aaron himself (wearing an incredible cyberpunk/wizard get-up – it’s amazing what a party hat and a pair of novelty sunglasses can do). The students were able to quiz the performers, who were all very open about their practice, and to get a sense not only of how these performers do what they do on-stage but also of why they do what they do.

Sam gives a performance to the students

Sam gives a performance to the students

The summer school was delivered by a great team that we were proud to be part of: Ben Smith, Ross Wilson (both professional musicians) and Jane Stott (head of music at Freman College) had all been part of the initial schools project during the summer term (at Freman College and Coleridge Community College) and brought their experience from those projects to help the students at the summer school on their journey into live coding. Michelle Brace, Laura Norman and Mike Smith did an amazing job of keeping everything moving smoothly over the course of the week, and in addition Michelle did a brilliant job of keeping everybody on track with the Bronze Arts Award that the students were working towards as part of the week, as well as project managing the whole thing! Pam Burnard and Franzi Florack were working on the research component of the project, interviewing students, observing the process of the week and feeding back to us – their feedback was invaluable in terms of keeping the week moving forward in a meaningful way. We had visits from Carrie Anne Philbin and Eben Upton from Raspberry Pi who supported the project throughout. Finally Sam Aaron was resident Sonic Pi guru, handling all those questions that no-one else could answer and being a general all-round ball of live coding enthusiasm.


Buttons + Sonic Pi + Raspberry Pi = Fun

The week held many highlights: the first ever Sonic Pi live coding battle (featuring 56 combatants!); live ambient soundtracks produced by thirty students playing together, conducted by Ross Wilson; Sonic Pi X Factor; and great guest performances by Thor and Shelly. From our perspective though there was no topping the final event. The students worked in self-selected groups to produce a final project. For many this was a live coding performance but the projects also included bespoke controllers designed to aid the learning process of getting to grips with Sonic Pi; ambient soundtrack installations; and a robotic performer (called ‘Pitron’).

The performances themselves were really varied in terms of the sounds and techniques used, but were universally entertaining and demonstrated the amount of information and knowledge the students had absorbed during the week. One group used live instruments fed directly into Sonic Pi, using a new function that Sam coded during the summer school – a Sonic Pi exclusive! A personal highlight were the Sonic Pi-oneers, a seven piece live coding group who blew the crowd away with the breadth of their live coding skills. They’re already being tipped as the One Direction of the live coding world. Another great moment was Pitron’s appearance on stage: Pitron’s creator, Ben, delivered an incredible routine, using lots of live coding skills in combination with genius comedy timing.


Live coding of music with Sonic Pi, instruments and installations.

All in all the summer school was a phenomenal thing to be a part of. We have never quite experienced anything like it before – it truly felt like the start of something new!

DEFCON: Blackphone

via Hackaday » » hardware

Despite being full of techies and people doing interesting things with portable devices, you don’t want to have an active radio on you within a quarter-mile of DEFCON. The apps on your phone leak personal data onto the Internet all the time, and the folks at DEFCON’s Wall Of Sheep were very successful in getting a few thousand usernames and passwords for email accounts.

Blackphone is designed to be the solution to this problem, so when we ran into a few members of the Blackphone crew at DEFCON, we were pretty interested to take a quick peek at their device.

The core functionality for the Blackphone comes from its operating system called PrivatOS. It’s a fork of Android 4.4.2 that is supposed to seal up the backdoors found in other mobile phones. There’s also a bundle of apps from Silent Circle that give the Blackphone the ability to make encrypted phone calls, texts (with file sharing), and encrypted and password protected contact lists.

The hardware for the Blackphone is pretty impressive; a quad-core Nvidia Tegra provides all the power you need for your apps, video, and playing 2048, a 2000mAh battery should provide enough juice to get you through a day or two (especially since you can turn off cores), and the usual front/rear cameras, GPS, 802.11bgn and GSM and HSPA+/WCDA radios means this phone will be useable on most networks.

Filed under: Featured, hardware, security hacks

LilyPad MP3 Giveaway!

via SparkFun Electronics Blog Posts

Wearable technology (or wearables/e-textiles) continues to be a quickly growing segment of the electronics and DIY community. As such, we’ve been hard at work cranking out new tech for people to incorporate into their latest e-textiles projects. Today we want to bring your attention to one of our products - the LilyPad MP3 Player. To give you a demo of this all-in-one audio solution, we made a quick (and kind of strange) video:

The LilyPad MP3 Player contains an Arduino-compatible microcontroller, MP3 (and many other formats) audio decoder chip, microSD card socket, and a stereo audio amplifier. Using this board, you can easily add sound capabilities to your next wearables project. A hoodie with built in speakers, a blanket that plays lullabies as you fall asleep, a teddy bear that talks when you squeeze its hand - the possibilities are only limited by the scope of your imagination. Knowing our customers, you’re probably going to come up with something awesome.

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With that in mind, what are your ideas for using the LilyPad MP3 player? Leave them in the comments below and we’ll select the top five ideas (as chosen by a committee of e-textiles enthusiasts) and send you your very own LilyPad MP3 Player. Even better if you take the player and actually build the project you suggested! We’ll accept entries until Wednesday, 9/3/14 at 9 a.m. MT. Good luck and let the brilliant ideas flow!

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ScratchEd Releases it’s Latest Guide for K-12 Educators – Creative Computing

via SparkFun Electronics Blog Posts

Karen Brennan, Christan Balch, Michelle Chung from Harvard Graduate School of Education in conjunction with the ScratchEd team recently authored a comprehensive guide for using Scratch in K-12 space.

This guide captures many tools, tricks, and implementation secrets to introducing and teaching Scratch to children of any age – elementary to high school. The guide is broken down into 6 separate units:

  • 1 - Exploring
  • 2 - Animations
  • 3 - Stories
  • 4 - Games
  • 5 - Diving Deeper (Advanced Concepts)
  • 6 - Hackathon (Projects and Open Challenges)

There is a wealth of combined ideas, strategies, and activities that this team has compiled since the inception of Scratch in 2007.

At 154 pages and 65 MB in size, this is easily the most comprehensive guide available today!

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New Chip Alert: The ESP8266 WiFi Module (It’s $5)

via Hackaday » » hardware


Every so often we run across something in the Hackaday tip line that sends us scurrying to Google, trying to source a component, part, or assembly. The ESP8266 WiFi module is the latest, made interesting because it pretty much doesn’t exist outside China.

Why is it cool? It’s a WiFi module with an SOC, making it somewhat similar to TI’s CC300 in conception (A.K.A. the thing that makes the Spark Core so appealing), in that a microcontroller on the module takes care of all the WiFi, TCP/IP stack, and the overhead found in an 802.11 network. It’s addressable over SPI and UART, making this an exceptionally easy choice for anyone wanting to build an Internet of Things thing; you can simply connect any microcontroller to this module and start pushing data up to the Internet. Oh, it’s also being sold for $5 in quantity one. Yes, for five dollars you can blink a LED from the Internet. That’s about half the price as the CC3000 itself, and a quarter of the price if you were to build a CC3000 breakout board.

There’s a catch, right, there’s always a catch. Yep. About two hours after this post is published it will be the number one English language Google result for “ESP8266.” As far as the English-speaking world is concerned, there is absolutely nothing to be found anywhere on the Internet on this module.

Seeed Studio recently sold a few of these modules for $7 and has some documentation, including a full datasheet and an AT command set. All the documentation is in Chinese. There’s also an “ESP8266 IoT SDK”, but from a quick glance at the code, this appears to be an SDK for the SOC on the module, not a simple way to connect the module to a microcontroller.

Anyone wanting to grab one of these modules can do so on Ali Express. Anyone wanting to do something with one of these modules will have a much more difficult time, most likely poking and prodding bits randomly with the help of Google translate. Should someone, or even a group of people, want to take up the task of creating a translation of the datasheet and possibly a library, we have a pretty collaborative project hosting site where you can do that. You may organize in the comments below; we’ll also be taking bets as to when a product using the ESP8266 will be found on Kickstarter. My guess is under a month.

Thanks [Liam] for the tip.

Filed under: hardware, wireless hacks

ARM-BMW, The Open Hardware Cortex-M0 Development Board

via Hackaday » » hardware

[Vsergeev] tipped us about a neat Cortex-M0 based development board with a total BoM cost under $15. It’s called the ARM Bare Metal Widget (ARM-BMW), focuses on battery power, non-volatile storage and debuggability.

The chosen micro-controller is the 50MHz NXP LPC1114DH28 which provides the user with 32kB of Flash, 8kB of SRAM, a 6 channel ADC and I2C/SPI/UART interfaces among others. The ARM-BMW contains a 2Mbyte SPI flash, an I2C I/O expander, several headers for expansion/debug purposes, 4 LEDs, 2 buttons, 2 DIP switches and finally a JTAG/SWD header for flashing and debugging. As you can see in the picture above you may either populate your own HC49UP crystal or use the internal 12MHz RC oscillator.

The platform can be powered using either a USB cable or a LiPo battery. As you can guess it also includes a much-needed battery charger (the MCP73831T) and a switched capacitor DC/DC converter to supply 3.3V. You may find all the files on the hardware or software repositories.

Filed under: ARM, hardware

SparkFun Live – Balancing ‘Bots!

via SparkFun Electronics Blog Posts

Join us today, 8/26/2014, at 3 p.m. for the latest episode of “SparkFun Live!” In today’s episode, our very own David Stillman and Ben Leduc-Mills will be talking about balancing bots and we’ll be doing some live hacking of some new robots (including the WowWee MiP). Here is the video feed (of course, there’s not much to see until 3 p.m.):

We hope you can join us for the final episode of “SparkFun Live” that will take place in our current building!

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China press and community tour

via Raspberry Pi

As you might have spotted, if you follow us on Twitter, Eben and I spent the last week and a bit touring China, meeting the Raspberry Pi community there and giving interviews to the press, with some sterling organisational help from our friends at RS Components. (A special and huge thank you to Eric Lee, without whom we’d have been absolutely stuffed. Mostly with delicious pork confections and noodles, but stuffed nonetheless.)

Here’s what we got up to.

First up, there were a lot of press conferences to give, with help from the excellent William, our simultaneous translator; after a week of doing this, we ended up with more than 100 pieces of media being written or recorded about Raspberry Pi across China. This one, in Shanghai, is pretty typical.

Press conference

We noticed that the tech press in China is incredibly well-educated; a lot of these journalists trained as engineers and then moved into publishing. (And everywhere we went, at least 50% of the technical journalists were women – something I wish we’d emulate in the west.)


We went to a Raspberry Jam in Shanghai, held at RS Components’ offices. We met some great people (Kevin Deng and the gang from, a Chinese website dedicated to the Raspberry Pi, actually followed us on to the next event in Shenzhen as well), who’d built some amazing projects.

Shanghai Jam

The robot on our desk is LIDAR (laser radar)-equipped, from DFrobot. We’re listening to a talk about open source from David Li, one of China’s most famous open source pioneers. Eric Lee from RS is on the right.


This laser-etcher is one of the projects the 52pi gang had brought along; you can buy lasers for this sort of project off the shelf in China, where the integrity of your eyeball is your own responsibility. I’ve got a couple of coasters with our logo on them on my desk at the moment, made using this machine.

laser etcher

Jackie Li gave an amazing talk about the projects he’s made at home – cameras streaming to remote screens, a simplified media centre for his grandma, robots – and this excellent LED persistence of vision device for displaying reminders in the kitchen.


We flew out next to Shenzen, where hundreds of people turned up for a Raspberry Jam, and where we did more press conferences and more interviews. Before we left for China, I’d been worried that the community base would be smaller than we’re used to. It turned out to be almost too large for us to deal with in the time we’d had allotted in each location.

Shenzhen Jam

It got a bit hard to move in Shenzhen for all the people wanting a photo. We saw some great presentations (one of which, from Martin Liu, who describes himself as a living-room maker, demonstrated the work we sponsored to get the XBMCmenu working in new fonts – including Chinese. It’s at the back of the photo here, behind all the people with cameras.)


We met a lot of Shenzhen makers who are also entrepreneurs; on the left here is Zoe from Seeed Studio. Eben’s holding some sensors from their Grove project, which works with Raspberry Pi.


This young gentleman had a robot to show us, controlled with Scratch (on the desk to the right), and a poster for Eben about Pi-controlled brewing. He was terribly shy, and I really wanted to give him a hug, but suspected that might have made matters worse.


We managed to get about an hour at the enormous electronics market in Shenzhen with Eric, where we had some fun looking at components and working out if we could lower the bill of materials cost in the Pi itself. Unfortunately, it’s so big you need at least a week to work your way around the place; we plan to return.


Next stop, Taipei. We started off at Noise Kitchen, where we met a group from CaveDu, a local hacker group. The robot in the middle was being prepared for the next day’s Jam at Tatung university – the display shows how many likes CaveDu’s Facebook page has.


These guys hung around for HOURS to meet us, for which we’re very grateful; our plane was delayed six hours, and we didn’t get there until nearly 11pm. I met a home-made laptop with a removable wireless keyboard (a clever way to get around the hinge problem), and made a new best friend.

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First thing the next morning, we headed out to Tatung university.

tatung uni jam

We were expecting a few tens of people, having failed to learn our lesson from Shenzhen. More than 250 people turned up.

tatung crowd

Among the crowd was my new best friend from the night before. We do not have a language in common, but we bonded over high-fives and fist-bumps.


It was HOT; about 33C in the shade. And unfortunately, the air conditioning in the building got turned off an hour or so in, so we get damper and damper as these photos progress and the temperature climbs well above 40C.

We met a self-balancing robot in a hamster ball.


We bumped into an old friend. (The beer is there for thermal reasons.)


Eben got interviewed, sweaty, by Taiwanese TV.


And this is my other new best friend, Liang Chih Chiang, who gave a presentation (which he’s very kindly translated for me so you can all read it) about our community and social media – a subject that’s very close to my heart, for obvious reasons.

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We saw some amazing projects, like this gaming machine…


…this Pi-powered 3d printer…


…and this, which I was never able to get close enough to to find out what it does. I think it might be a musical instrument. Or possibly a cocktail machine.


Any suggestions, anybody?

We had a wonderful, exhausting, wonderful time. Thanks so much to everybody who came to see us; and an especial thanks to Eric, Desiree, Soo Chun, Katherine and the rest of the RS gang, who looked after us so well. We hope we’ll be back in a year or so – and until then, here’s a picture of a bit of press that I can’t read, but that’s made me laugh more than anything else that’s been published about us this year.









To consume or not to consume…

via SparkFun Electronics Blog Posts

Physical computing and arduino projects are a great introduction to programming, building, and inventing. It’s a great tool for students to use in the classroom. While in small, individual quantities, Arduinos are inexpensive – as a teacher, these can get to be expensive as a consumable. Here are a few tips and tricks you can use.

One of my favorite projects to use in the classroom for introducing Arduino is to have students design and build a light sculpture - inspired by our friends at Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy. If students each build their own light sculpture with an Arduino, LEDs, acrylic light pipes, and power supply – the cost can be upwards of $50 per student. There are a number of ways to cut costs, while preserving the quality and integrity of this project. Here are a few ideas:

1) Substitute an Arduino Pro Mini for your Arduino Uno

The Arduino Pro Mini is fully equivalent to the Arduino Uno at a fraction of the size and cost. The Pro Mini is priced at $9.95, 50% less than the Sparkfun Redboard. You will need an FTDI programmer and a USB Mini cable – both of these are re-usable, though! Using the Pro Mini will also provide your students with an opportunity to learn to solder their circuits together. We sell a nify ProtoShield that goes with the Pro Mini if you want to keep everything together.

Arduino Pro Mini 328 - 5V/16MHz

In stock DEV-11113

It's blue! It's thin! It's the Arduino Pro Mini! SparkFun's minimal design approach to Arduino. This is a 5V Arduino running …


2) Use plain LEDs for Lilypad / eTextiles projects

Rather than using the flat LilyPad LEDs, use plain PTH LEDs instead. Grab a pair of needle nose pliers and simply roll the legs of the LEDs into rings to sew into. I like to bend the shorter side (negative) into a square-ish ring and make the longer leg (positive) into a rounded / circular ring.

Needle Nose Pliers

In stock TOL-08793

Mini Pliers. These are great little pliers! A must have for any hobbyist or electrical engineer. Crucial for inserting device…


LED Rainbow Pack - 5mm PTH

In stock COM-12903

Sometimes when you have too many choices, it's hard to make a good decision. In fact, there are times when you just want a ba…


3) ATtiny85 & LilyTiny

The ATtiny85 is a small 8 pin “itty-bitty” Arduino. In quantities of 10 or more, you can get it for $2.56 each. Combined with the Tiny AVR Programmer, you have a very nice, low-consumable cost solution for your class. A nice tutorial on programming the ATtiny85 can be found here.

Similarly, the LilyTiny / LilyTwinkle are both lower-cost microcontrollers that you can use for your eTextile classroom projects. To re-program your ATtiny, you can use this nifty SOIC clip from digikey

Tiny AVR Programmer Hookup Guide

October 28, 2013

A how-to on the Tiny AVR Programmer. How to install drivers, hook it up, and program your favorite Tiny AVRs using AVRDUDE!

Got other ideas? Please share these with us. We’re always looking for great ideas teachers are using to get more mileage out of their equipment and hardware.

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Retrosparktive #4 – Time for some new digs.

via SparkFun Electronics Blog Posts

Today is the final post for our SparkFun Retrosparktive series! If you missed out on the previous posts, you can check them out here: Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

Before we dive into the Retrosparktive, let’s talk sales! This is your final week to use the promo code RETROSPARK - which is good for $10 off orders over $40. It expires 8/31/14 at 11:59:59 p.m. MT. So use it while you can!

Here are this week’s sale items:

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Generic Servo - Sub-Micro Size

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Vibration Motor

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12V Vacuum Pump

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Stepper Motor -

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Stepper Motor - 125

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Generic High Torque Servo

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Rover 5 Robot Platform

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T'Rex Robot/Motor Controller Board

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100 MHz Digital Storage Oscilloscope

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EasyVR Shield 2.0 for Voice Recognition

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Frequency Generator Kit

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50W Variable Temp Soldering iron

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Bitalino Biomedical Development Kit

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Weather Meters

Well, that’s a pretty healthy dose of products - hope you find something you need! Now on to the Retrosparktive!

If you haven’t heard already, in about a week, SparkFun will be moving to new headquarters a couple miles north of our current location. This move is a huge step in our company history and we’re pretty darn excited.

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A view as the building started to really take shape.

We officially broke ground on the new building in May of 2013 (although the behind-the-scenes process to get the ball rolling started much, much earlier). SparkFun’s new office building is 80,000 square feet of geek-fueled glory sitting on 4.3 acres of land.

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In designing the new building, we worked closely with the architects to create a space that will be utilitarian for SparkFun’s business-y needs, but also foster community and interaction between SparkFun employees with things like a larger exercise space (with a climbing wall!), a single break room (instead of the multiple separate ones we have now) and an open design between departments.

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The new building has a bunch of other cool features like a rooftop deck, solar panels galore (and a general focus on being green), and plenty of room to grow!

We’re very excited about the move, but it might disrupt some things over the coming weeks. We’ll be sure to keep everyone informed of anything that might affect orders and look for a post with pictures of the finished space in the next few weeks once we get settled!

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From Open Making to Open Manufacturing at Open Hardware Summit in Rome

via Arduino Blog


The fifth edition of the Open Hardware Summit, for the first time happening outside the USA, is taking place on the 30th of September 2014  in Rome (you can now book your free tickets here).The event launches the Rome Innovation Week, culminating with the second edition of Maker Faire Rome (3-5 October). 

The topic of this edition of the Summit wants to reflect on how production models are shifting from one to one, to one to many structure and the latest schedule features several outstanding speakers of the open hardware scene such as Adrian Bowyer (father of RepRap), Tomas Diez (Fab Lab Barcelona Director), Yasmin Elayat (GOOD fellow), Becky Stern (Director of Wearable Electronics, Adafruit Industries), Eric Pan (Founder, Seeed Studio, Forbes China’s 30 under 30), David Lang (OpenROV Founder, Author of Zero to Maker), Gawin Dapper (CTO, Phonebloks), Nick Ierodiaconou (Co-Founder Open Desk), Phoenix Perry (Founder, Code Liberation) and many more.

Check the Summit’s blog for features and updates about speakers.