Tag Archives: books

Call me Ishmael

via Raspberry Pi

“I write this sitting in the kitchen sink”. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”. “When Gregor Samsa woke one morning from troubled dreams, he found himself transformed right there in his bed into some sort of monstrous insect”. “It was the day my grandmother exploded”. The opening line of a novel can catch our attention powerfully, and can stay with us long after the book itself is finished. A memorable first line is endlessly quotable, and lends itself to parody (“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains”). Sometimes, a really cracking first line can even inspire a group of talented people to create a unique and beautiful art object, with a certain tiny computer at its heart. 


Stephanie Kent demonstrates the Call Me Ishmael Phone at ALA 2016

If you read the roundup of our trip to ALA 2016, you will already have caught a glimpse of this unusual Pi-powered project: the Call Me Ishmael Phone. The idea originated back in 2014 when founders Logan Smalley and Stephanie Kent were discussing their favourite opening lines of books: they were both struck by Herman Melville’s laconic phrase in Moby Dick, and began wondering, “What if Ishmael had a phone number? What if you actually could call him?” Their Call Me Ishmael project began with a phone number (people outside the US can Skype Ishmael instead), an answering machine, and an invitation to readers to tell Ishmael a story about a book they love, and how it has shaped their life. The most interesting, funny, and poignant stories are transcribed by Stephanie on a manual typewriter and shared on social media. Here’s a playlist of some of the team’s favourites: 

Having created Ishmael’s virtual world, Stephanie and Logan collaborated with artist and maker Ayodamola Okunseinde to build the physical Call Me Ishmael Phone. Ayo took a commercially available retro-style telephone and turned it into an interactive book-recommendation device. For the prototype, he used a Raspberry Pi 2 Model B, but the production model of the phone uses the latest Pi 3. He explains, “we have a USB stick drive connected to the Pi that holds audio files, configuration, and identification data for each unit. We also have a small USB-powered speaker that amplifies the audio output from the Pi”. The Pis are controlled by a Python script written by programmer Andy Cavatorta.


Stephanie, Andy, and Ayo in the workshop. 

The phone can be installed in a library, bookshop, or another public space. The phone is loaded with a number of book reviews, some mapped to individual buttons on the phone, and some which can be selected at random. When a person presses the dial buttons on the phone, the GPIO pins detect the input. This subsequently triggers an audio file to play. If, during play, another button is pressed, the Pi switches audio output to the associated button. Hanging up the phone causes the termination of the playing audio file. The system consists of several units in different locations that have audio and data files pushed to them daily from a control server. The system also has an app that allows users to push and pull content from individual Pis as well as triggering a particular phone to ring.


The finished unit installed in a bookshop.

The Call Me Ishmael Phone is a thoughtful project which uses the Raspberry Pi in a very unusual way: it’s not often that programming and literature intersect like this. We’re delighted to see it, and we can’t wait to see what ways the makers might come up with to use the Raspberry Pi in future. And if you have a book which has changed your life, why not call Ishmael and share your story?

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A Raspberry Pi-controlled book scanner

via Raspberry Pi

Today we’ve an excellent project from our forums to share with you: Jonathon Duerig, known as duerig on the forums, posts about the standalone book scanner he has built, controlled by a Raspberry Pi 2 and using the Raspberry Pi Touch Display as an interface. It’s a large and fairly imposing object, based on The Archivist DIY book scanner and using Tenrec Builders‘ open source book-scanning software, Pi Scan.

Pi Scan book scanner

Books rest on a V-shaped cradle that the scanner’s operator lifts up towards a similarly shaped 3mm glass platen by pulling down on a handlebar, thus pressing flat the pages, which are evenly lit from above. The Raspberry Pi controls two Canon PowerShot ELPH 160 cameras, each angled perfectly to capture one of the visible pages of the book. The Pi allows the user to set the zoom level for each camera, automatically sets and locks focus, and captures the images, saving them to an external SD card. The scanner’s touchscreen interface is made with Kivy, a Python GUI development system for touchscreen devices.

Looking at this build and the projects it draws on, I was pretty astonished by something that regularly bowls me over when I’m looking at open source projects, and by which I hope I never stop feeling awed. The level of duerig and others’ commitment to the overall open book scanning project and its quality and integrity is remarkable. We are proud that Raspberry Pi is a useful tool to communities like yours and projects like this.

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Learn to love the command line with The MagPi

via Raspberry Pi

Conquer the Command Line, written by resident Bash expert Richard Smedley for The MagPi, offers ten chapters of essential tips and tricks to help you master the command line…

When we first turned The MagPi into the official Raspberry Pi magazine, we made two very distinct commitments. One was to ensure the magazine represents the needs and celebrates the achievements of the Raspberry Pi community. The other was to ensure all the content we produce should be available free, now and forever.

Last week The MagPi released the first offering in a new series of e-books called The MagPi Essentials. The first release is designed to help you learn to love the command line, and, like everything else we produce, it’s available as a free Creative Commons-licensed PDF.

Learn to love the command line

Learn to love the command line by trying our Essentials e-book

Here’s an excerpt from the introduction to get you in the mood:

Sometimes only words will do.
Graphic user interfaces (GUIs) were a great advance,
creating an easy route into computer use
for many non-technical users. For complex tasks,
though, the interface can become a limitation:
blocking off choices, and leaving a circuitous route
even for only moderately complicated jobs.

(Re-)Enter the command line: the blinking cursor
that many thought had faded away some time in
the 1990s. For getting instructions from user to
computer – in a clear, quick and unambiguous form
– the command line is often the best way. It never
disappeared on Unix systems, and now, thanks to
Raspbian on the Raspberry Pi, a new generation
are discovering the power of the command line
to simplify complex tasks, or instantly carry
out simple ones.

In short: if you’re one of the many Raspberry Pi users not comfortable when faced with the command prompt, don’t panic! Conquer the Command Line is designed to help you feel at home, and equip you with the skills you need to find your way around the Raspberry Pi terminal (or any other GNU/Linux computer for that matter).

Here’s a quick breakdown of what you can expect to learn:

  • Read and write text files
  • Find and install software
  • Manage removable storage
  • Use Secure Shell for remote access
  • Create Raspberry Pi SD cards
  • Customise the command line
  • and much, much more.
Click the tablet to download your PDF copy

Click the tablet to download your PDF copy (2.3MB)

We’ll be following up Conquer the Command Line with a new book in The MagPi Essentials range soon. Assuming enough of you want them, we might even be tempted into releasing a printed A5 box set of the series too.

If you’d like to support the Raspberry Pi Foundation’s charitable aims you can also buy Conquer the Command Line on your favourite Apple or Android device for £2.99 / $3.99. The MagPi app itself is entirely free to download and comes complete with the first 30 issues of the magazine entirely free!
app_store google_play

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Electronics and Embedded Design Books

Here’s a quick status update on the site. I’ve started revising the old resource pages, beginning with the Books and References page. Most of the books listed were out of print or old editions, so I’ve started replacing them with comparable books that are currently available. The list is pretty short at present, I’d love to get some input on recommended books you’d consider essential for an open hardware designer. Post a comment below and let me know what to add. Some CC or GFDL licensed ebooks would be really nice if anyone knows of any.

Also, I’ve put up a poll to get some input on what sort of Open Hardware project readers are most interested in seeing. This first poll is to find a general direction for a project and once we get enough input, I’ll put up another to narrow down some features. You can find the poll in the right column of page. If you haven’t picked an option yet, please do.