Martin O’Hanlon and David Whale will be familiar to many readers of this blog, whether from the excellent Raspberry Pi and Minecraft resources they’ve authored or from their work with schools, code clubs and Raspberry Jams. Now they’ve teamed up to write a fantastic new book, hot off the press this week.
Adventures in Minecraft teaches young people to customise their Minecraft world with amazing structures and new gaming experiences, developing Python programming skills along the way. Nine self-contained projects introduce readers with no programming experience to the basics and then move on to increasingly sophisticated mods, and eventually to controlling and sensing real-world objects from within Minecraft!
Made for Minecraft Pi or for Minecraft on a PC or Apple Mac, the book is written especially for 11-15-year-olds, although we’ve already come across rave reviews from both younger and older readers. It has a companion website full of extras and video tutorials, as well as a mini-site created by Martin, with a forum where readers can discuss their projects and ask for help. Martin has also made a video montage of some of the adventures in the book:
Carrie Anne Philbin, our Education Pioneer, says, “It’s excellent that kids have a dedicated, full-colour book like this to help them get into programming with Minecraft, and it will make a great companion to Adventures in Raspberry Pi!”
A couple of books projects for you today. One is simple, practical and of great use to the visually-impaired. The other is over-complicated, and a little bit nuts; nonetheless, we think it’s rather wonderful; and actually kind of useful if you’ve got a lot of patience.
We’ll start with the simple and practical one first: Kolibre is a Finnish non-profit making open-source audiobook software so you can build a reader with very simple controls. This is Vadelma, an internet-enabled audio e-reader. It’s very easy to put together at home with a Raspberry Pi: you can find full instructions and discussion of the project at Kolibre’s website.
The overriding problem with automated audio e-readers is always the quality of the text-to-speech voice, and it’s the reason that books recorded with real, live actors reading them are currently so much more popular; but those are expensive, and it’s likely we’ll see innovations in text-to-speech as natural language processing research progresses (its challenging: people have been hammering away at this problem for half a century), and as this stuff becomes easier to automate and more widespread.
How easy is automation? Well, the good people at Dexter Industries decided that what the Pi community (which, you’ll have noticed, has a distinct crossover with the LEGO community) really needed was a robot that could use optical character recognition (OCR) to digitise the text of a book, Google Books style. They got that up and running with a Pi and a camera module, using the text on a Kindle as proof of concept pretty quickly.
But if you’re that far along, why stop there? The Dexter team went on to add Lego features, until they ended up with a robot capable of wrangling real paper books, down to turning pages with one of those rubber wheels when the device has finished scanning the current text.
So there you have it: a Google Books project you can make at home, and a machine you can make to read the books to you when you’re done. If you want to read more about what Dexter Industries did, they’ve made a comprehensive writeup available at Makezine. Let us know how you get on if you decide to reduce your own library to bits.
If you’ve been round here for any length of time, you’ve probably heard mention of Alex Bradbury. Alex is currently polishing off his PhD thesis at the Computer Lab at the University of Cambridge, and he’s been involved with the Raspberry Pi project as a volunteer from our very early days, back when all we had was alpha development boards. Alex is responsible for building and releasing Raspberry Pi’s Raspbian OS images, and maintaining our Debian repository in his (limited) spare time.
He’s somehow also found the time to write a book with Linux Voice‘s Ben Everard.
Learning Python with Raspberry Pi doesn’t presuppose any computing knowledge, and takes you from a standing start through variables, loops and functions, 3D graphical programming, building games, networking, scripting, interfacing with hardware…and, of course, Minecraft. There’s much more besides: if you work your way through the whole book you’ll be building robots and alarm systems; manipulating sound and video; and learning how to test and debug the Bradbury and Everard way.
As well as what you’ll find in the book, Alex and Ben have made a large code repository available to complement the information and instructions in Learning Python with Raspberry Pi: you’ll be able to download what you need free of charge.
Ever since the introduction of the Raspberry Pi, Python has been touted (with good reason) as the language of choice for anyone wanting to program on the device. Reasonable people can disagree on the ultimate reasons for Python’s success, but I think we can all recognise what an asset its large and friendly community is, as well as the value of its extensive collection of high quality libraries for helping to solve almost any programming task.
Learning Python with Raspberry Pi aims to teach the reader the Python they need to make their Raspberry Pi project ideas a reality. We give lots of examples in the sort of areas likely to be of interest to the Pi community – including physical computing, audio and video, 3d graphics, Minecraft programming, and games. Another important aspect for us is that every chapter ends with a whole host of ideas and pointers on what you’re now able to do given what you’ve just learnt. Python is the single most useful language to know for the Raspberry Pi, and I like to think that with Learning Python with Raspberry Pi, we’ve managed to produce an entertaining and educational introduction to it. Hopefully you agree!
A lot of you have had huge success in the last few months using our very own Carrie Anne Philbin’s Adventures in Raspberry Pi as a resource for kids of all ages. It’s engaging, friendly and works really well in getting kids excited and confident about using their Raspberry Pi. So much so that we’ve found schools are ordering classroom sets; so are after-school clubs, and we’ve had amazing feedback from kids and their parents.
Carrie Anne (whose job title here at Pi Towers is Education Pioneer) says:
“I’m totally stunned by the success of Adventures in Raspberry Pi so far. I’m amazed that teachers and after school club mentors are buying it and using it to teach programming.”
We aren’t amazed at all – the book’s brilliant.
Shortly after taking this picture, Carrie Anne tried to saw Ben’s ear off.
We wanted to make Adventures in Raspberry Pi easier for schools to buy (at full price, with shipping, a classroom set can be expensive). So we’ve bought a pallet full here at Pi Towers so we can sell them to you at a much reduced price compared to other vendors (we’ve reduced the margin we take by selling these to almost nothing), with very low shipping costs for bulk orders. If you only buy one book, shipping is £4 (which works out cheaper than buying it on Amazon even if you have Amazon Prime): but it becomes an amazing bargain when you buy more than one, with P&P at only £6 for between 2 and 10 books, so if you’re ordering them for a class or club, or for all your tiny relatives, then you end up paying much less. Here’s a table of prices:
Unit cost including P&P
We are also celebrating the addition of Pimoroni’s PiHUB to the Swag Store – it’s a really handy, super-reliable, powered USB hub for your Pi that works with every USB device we’ve tested on it. If you would like to win a bundle including one of five copies of Adventures in Raspberry Pi, some Raspberry Pi stickers and your very own PiHUB, please leave a comment below telling us what you would like to see us stock in the Swag Store. We’ll pick the five ideas that made us laugh the most or that made little lightbulbs go off in our heads as the winners. The competition is open worldwide to people of all ages, and closes on February 26. Make sure that you use a genuine email address when you comment so we can get in touch with you if you win.
Here is a bonus video of Carrie Anne at the last Cambridge Raspberry Jam. She’s planning on visiting Alex from RasPi.TV with the Minecraft sword unless he adds the bit where she later got the highest score of the day…
(If you’d like a go yourself, you can buy the Seven Segments of Pi kit you need to make this and other games, which comes with some great tutorial materials, from Cyntech. Some soldering required.)
We first met Shea Silverman, based down in Florida, on one of our 2012 hackspace tours when we first visited FamiLAB. Shea’s brilliant – he does a lot of work with the Pi and MAME (the Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator), and he made us a really cute little Pi arcade cabinet which we display in the office. We’ve stayed in touch, and he’s let us know about the projects he’s been working on in that time; most recently Shea has written a book called Instant Raspberry Pi Gaming for absolute beginners who want to start gaming with the Raspberry Pi. (Thanks for the copy with the inscription, Shea!)
The book shows you how to set up software like MAME, SNES, Atari 2600 and PlayStation emulators; and how to keep them up to date. If you’re a gamer who wants to get started with a Pi, or someone who’s interested in retro gaming, it’s a great place to begin.
Shea’s blog is another great resource for Raspberry Pi users, with a particular emphasis on games, emulation and embedded systems. Recently, we’ve seen more and more people wanting to add a start-up video to their Pi, and Shea’s noticed the same thing, and has blogged his solution, which is rather neat.
This is Shea’s bootsplash animation for his PiMAME system, running on a Pi-enabled Motorola Lapdock. He’s using OMXPlayer to play a video file while the Pi itself is booting.
You can use any video you choose – it needs to be around 20 seconds long so it runs for long enough to cover up the scrolling kernel messages that you usually see during the Pi’s boot sequence. Shea walks you through the very simple startup script you’ll need, and through installing your video, on his blog. It should take you all of five minutes to set up.
Thanks, as always, for all your work on the Pi, and on your book, Shea. The Raspberry Pi depends on community members like you and the amazing amounts of effort you put in: we couldn’t do it without you and the thousands of other people that make the ecosystem around our little device so rich and interesting.
We are huge, giant, enormous fans of Carrie Anne Philbin. Carrie Anne’s a pioneering computing teacher, whose Geek Gurl Diaries YouTube series we can’t say enough good things about. (If you haven’t checked it out yet, please do when you’ve finished reading this post.)
Carrie Anne has been busy this year: as well as working full-time as a teacher and producing Geek Gurl Diaries, she’s created a scheme of work for Sonic Pi; she’s been active on the Government’s Computing expert panel which reviews the new Computing curriculum in the UK; and she’s working as vice-chair of #include for Computing at School. She won Talk Talk’s London Digital Hero award, and somehow she’s also fitted in the time to write what we think is hands down the best Raspberry Pi book for young people we’ve seen yet.
Carrie Anne says that this book is for any young person who’s interested in making things happen using computing. Inside, you’ll find nine projects (alongside stickers, achievements and more), which will take you from a standing start to a point where you’ll be breezing through projects like writing your first programs, shaping the Minecraft universe using Minecraft Pi, designing and building your own role-playing game, writing and playing your own music…and making electronic switches out of marshmallows.
It’s a beautifully produced book, full of ideas and clear direction, with a real sense of Carrie Anne’s personality jumping off every page. These projects come out of real activities Carrie Anne has worked through with real kids; they’re tried and tested – and they’re fun, too. You’ll find hints and tips to help you along the way. There’s plenty of extra material online to supplement the book, along with lots of recommendations for further reading.
Adventures in Raspberry Pi is aimed at 11-15-year-olds, but younger kids whose parents have time for a little supervision (if you’re one of those parents, you won’t need any programming experience, because Carrie Anne’s done that work for you) will also find it a tidy fit.
We’re really excited about this book. You can find it on Amazon for preorder at a discount price at the moment, for release on December 5, but if you can’t wait that long, we already have copies available here at the Raspberry Pi Swag Store (full price, I’m afraid – but every purchase you make goes to support our charitable work in computing education). I’m buying a few copies for kids I know for Christmas. I hope you will too.
I met Akira Ouchi – or Akkie, as he prefers to be known (his site’s in Japanese, but you can use an auto-translation service) at the Big Raspberry Jam in Tokyo back in May. Although we didn’t have much, if any, language in common (besides Python), we became friends instantly. Largely because he had strapped a Raspberry Pi and a CD-ROM drive to his head, and kept issuing the whole system an eject command while shaking my hand warmly.
I noticed a different approach to hobbyist electronics in Japan. This is a broad generalisation, but it does hold some water: here in the west, we have a tendency to spread ourselves very broadly in our approach to projects (a carputer one week, a garden sprinkler the next). We noticed that our Japanese friends tend to explore a single idea very, very deeply and thoroughly: so rather than making a good-enough project and moving on to another, people like Akkie will take a single, simple idea, and refine and push it to a degree that…it’s either madness or genius. I’m still not sure which.
So. On the day, Akkie went on to give a presentation about what he was doing with the CD drive and the Pi. As well as making a fine fashion accessory, he hooked the kit up to the Twitter API, so whenever someone favourited one of his tweets, the eject mechanism would trigger. Call it an alternative to an LED notifier. (Akkie is @Akkiesoft on Twitter, and you should follow him even if you don’t speak Japanese, because as well as being able to trigger his CD-ROM drive, you will discover that the man is a savant of 140-character ASCII art.)
Akkie then gave me a little sticker he’d had made, with a CD-ROM drive on it.
Later on, Akkie attached a pencil to the CD-ROM drive and demonstrated that it could be used as a remote-control for his antiquated air conditioning system, which does not have its own remote. He triggers the Pi and CD-ROM drive with a web app and this time, instead of acting like an LED notifier, it works like a solenoid, and presses the on button on the air conditioner.
And then he showed it working as a hamster feeder.
On New Year’s Eve, it rang a bell to welcome in the New Year.
Since then, Akkie has refined his hat. (The original version was not well-adapted to a culture where you have to do a lot of bowing.)
He has also become a published author: he contributed a chapter (which I can’t read, but I bet it’s great) to the Japanese Raspberry Pi User’s Guide. See if you can guess what it’s about.
I have a picture of Akkie wearing a maid’s costume at the party we went to after the Big Jam (he had borrowed it from an NEC engineer), but he probably wouldn’t thank me for showing it here. So instead, here’s a picture I took of a picture Yuriko-san took of Eben, to whom Akkie donated his headgear for the evening.
I post this because I want to impress on you that sometimes simple ideas can have more application and potential than we imagine – we tend to write about huge, complicated systems here, but there’s beauty in simplicity. And I post it because I really miss our Japanese friends; the Raspberry Pi community there is huge, imaginative and more friendly and generous than any other group we’ve met. We’re hoping to return in 2014. Until then, check out Akkie’s eject gubbins on GitHub, and let us know if you can think of any more applications for his helmet.
(☝ ՞ਊ ՞)☝ウイーン, Akkie! (See. I’ve been practising.)
If you’re wondering about introducing your kids to Scratch, but aren’t quite sure where to start, here’s a handy resource for you. Sean McManus, one of the authors of Raspberry Pi for Dummies, has sent me a link to a couple of sample chapters of the book, including the first chapter on Scratch. You’re welcome to download it to find out whether the book’s for you.
The name Mike Cook echoes around the corridors of Pi Towers every now and then when we make awed conversation about our hardware heroes. Mike used to write a column called Body Building for Micro User magazine back in the days of the BBC Micro, in which he’d create hardware projects that made kids like me swoon at the sheer potential of those GPIO pins at the back of the Beeb’s casing. (The Beeb’s exposed GPIO was a big influence in the design of the Raspberry Pi.) Mike was an early adopter of the Pi, and you’ll have seen several posts here featuring his otherworldly Pi hardware hacks. (The solonoid glockenspiel and the first persistence of vision project we ever saw for the Pi were both Mike’s – see this tag for all the posts on this blog featuring Mikestuff.)
I thought Mike had been quiet for a bit. We hadn’t heard much from him in the last few months: turns out that this was because he was busy with the whizz-bang hardware section of Raspberry Pi for Dummies, the rest of which was written by Sean McManus. If you are even slightly interested in learning about hardware (and having fun with it), you should run to your nearest bookshop right now. Here are some videos to give you a taster of the sort of hardware projects you’ll be able to make with the book:
This second video is only the start of the potentiometer fun – you’ll end up making something that looks an awful lot like an Etch-a-Sketch.
Sean McManus, by the way, who wrote all the non-hardware bits of the book, is also someone I’ve chatted with by email in the past about Pi – and he’s someone to whom I owe a vote of thanks for another excellent book he wrote, this time in the Older & Wiser series. His iPad for the Older & Wiser has saved me many, many hours of shouting “No! Touch the blue thing that looks like an A!” down the phone at my Dad, clearing time to have lovely fatherly/daughterly conversation instead, for which we are all grateful.
So if you’re looking for an addition to your Raspberry Pi library, Raspberry Pi for Dummies comes highly recommended. Thanks to Sean, Mike and all at Wiley for your work on the Pi – we really appreciate it!
Today, there’s more good news for OpenELEC fans. We’re really grateful to the OpenELEC team, who have worked themselves to the bone on getting things running on the Pi; they were the first XBMC distro to be demonstrated on development Pi hardware back in February last year, were the first ever HardFP distribution (that appeared in March 2012).
Stephan Raue says:
OpenELEC 3.0 is built to support XBMC Frodo 12.1 and almost every part of the core OS has been updated and improved since the 2.0 release. The project now supports a broader range of mediacentre hardware than ever before, including dedicated OS images for the budget friendly Arctic MC001 and ultra-low-cost Raspberry Pi systems.
Raspberry Pi deserves a special mention as it’s been a labour of love for the OpenELEC team. OpenELEC’s leading position was made possible by our close working relationship with the XBMC team and many other upstream projects.
From the OpenELEC website:
What is OpenELEC?
Open Embedded Linux Entertainment Center, or OpenELEC (http://www.openelec.tv) for short, is a small Linux distribution built from scratch as a platform to turn your computer into a complete XBMC media center (http://www.xbmc.org). OpenELEC is designed to make your system boot as fast as possible and the install is so easy that anyone can turn a blank PC into a media machine in less than 15 minutes.
It’s completely free
A full install is only 80-125MB
Minimal hardware requirements
Simple install to HDD, SSD, Compact Flash, SD card, pen drive or other
Optimized builds for Atom, ION, Intel, Fusion, RaspberryPi and more
Simple configuration through the XBMC interface
Plug and Play external storage
File sharing out of the box
OpenELEC 3.0 highlights and changes
XBMC-12.1 (Frodo) – features include:
DTS-MA and Dolby True-HD via XBMC’s new AudioEngine (not on AMD and RPi)
Greatly improved Live TV and PVR support
Improved image support, allowing the database to use additional image types.
Support for the Raspberry Pi
Better Airplay support across all platforms
Advanced Filtering in the library
Advanced UPnP sharing
For more on AudioEngine support, PVR support and more, visit the OpenELEC site. Huge thanks to all the developers who have put so much work into the OpenELEC on the Pi; we’re very grateful!
Pimoroni’s first anniversary competition has ended, and the entries have been sifted through: you can read all about the winner (and the entries that got an honourable mention) on their website. Well done all: we had fun looking at your entries with Paul at our birthday party on Friday. (Special shout-out to Sophie, aged nearly-five, who had a really neat butterfly VESA mount idea.)
Paul Clark’s winning entry – congratulations, Paul!
Speaking of that birthday party:
Transatlantic flight + party == no fun noodles.
And that, dear reader, is why there wasn’t a post here yesterday.
What else? There’s a bit of birthday video we filmed in New York with LadyAda over at TechCrunch; their proprietary Flash player won’t let me embed, but if you click the picture here you can visit TechCrunch for the full horror.
And I’ve just been sent copies of the Raspberry Pi Haynes Manual. It’s by Gray Girling, a Friend of Pi who has been involved with the Raspberry Pi project behind the scenes for a long time now. It’s really worth a look; think of the book as a technical manual for people with a little bit of experience who want to learn more. (We’d suggest that kids aged 12 and up who know a a bit about Python and Linux should get a lot out of it – it’s a book that should find a place on the shelves of a lot of grown-ups too.)
The book will lead you through projects in software and hardware (scrape web pages! run an X server! get Bluetooth, LEDs and SPI devices running!) – by the end of the book you’ll be gutting a plush toy and turning it into a device that speaks your tweets, and making an MP3 web server. Hearty recommend, and not just because Eben and I wrote the introduction.
A few notices: if you’re at BETT this week, come to Stand B240 to meet one of the Robs, Clive and a bunch of impaled Jelly Babies.
Pete Lomas is at Campus Party in Sao Paolo, Brazil. He’ll be giving a talk on Friday at 5.30pm; if you’re in town, go and hear what he has to say!
Finally, Eben and I are flying out for some meetings in the US today; we’ll be incommunicado until the weekend.
Update, Feb 1: I just had mail from the folks at No Starch Press, who say:
We heard from a couple customers that they were a little stretched by the price of the books and the international shipping costs, so we decided to bump the coupon value to 40% off to make it easier on everyone. We’re applying the 40% discount to anyone who already used the code, so they’ll have the best price, too.
We enjoyed both books, but in particular, we really think the authors of Super Scratch Programming Adventure are on to something: what kid doesn’t enjoy pyramids full of treasure; and what kid doesn’t want to write a game about them? As well as introducing them to Scratch itself, and to programmatic thinking, the book’s a great introduction to game design. Kids will start building games from the first page. And we loved the presentation; this thing is part comic, part storybook.
No Starch have an offer for Raspberry Pi users: if you enter RPi at the checkout on their website, you’ll get 30% off both of the books (either purchased separately or together). Print book purchases come with free ebook editions, and the code will work for ebooks alone, too, so you don’t need to fork out for shipping if you don’t want to. Click on the books to order.
First up, Adafruit’s Raspberry Pi Web IDE is now in Alpha, and they’ve made some improvements which I think you’ll find very helpful. The package now includes:
Python step debugger
Node.js update to 0.8 from 0.6 for faster navigation, and page loads.
Package node binaries with the WebIDE for faster, and easier installs
You’ll need to reinstall to take advantage of the new features.
Web IDE debugger in action – click to visit Adafruit
We’ve been nominated for one of Techcrunch’s Crunchie awards! We’re up for Best Hardware Startup, and you can vote for us here. You can vote once a day; we’d really appreciate it if you could take a minute to show your support!
Mark Baldridge is taking a year out between high school and university, and he’s spending that year on hobby projects. This is one of them: a home-made pinball machine with a Raspberry Pi for brains.
Click to visit TechFruits for a tour of the system, and some video
We thought this was a brilliant project. Eben and I have always fantasised about having the time to refurbish an old pinball machine, but we’d never thought of building one from scratch – we’re in awe. Mark is also blogging his progress on his own website – check it out!
Getting Started with Raspberry Pi
O’Reilly have just published a new Raspberry Pi book under the Make banner. Full disclosure: I haven’t actually got my hands on a copy of Getting Started with the Raspberry Pi yet, so I can’t review it here. But I do know Matt Richardson from Make, who wrote it; and I know that he’s a great teacher and demonstrator, and a very engaging writer, so I feel pretty confident in telling you to go and check it out. When I last spoke to Matt, he mentioned that the book would contain a chapter on using the Pi with Arduino, which was something we didn’t include in Eben and Gareth’s The Raspberry Pi User Guide (the two books should complement each other nicely, if you have room on your sheves) – Matt’s book also contains a chapter on working with webcams. Click the image to visit the Getting Started with Raspberry Pi Amazon page.
Alan O’Donohoe led another London Raspberry Jam last week. We’re really excited to see that his message is getting out: every one of these events seems to be larger and more diverse than the last. (Alan has started holding the events at weekends, which makes them much more accessible for kids.)
Around 70 children, parents and teachers came to learn what they could do with a Raspberry Pi at a number of workshops – we sent Rob Bishop, our roving engineer, to join in. Alan has a short post about the event, and a photo album you can have a flick through. He’s looking for sponsorship so he can make the jams even bigger and better – if you can help, please email me at email@example.com, and I’ll pass your message along.
Finally, here’s a project from Gareth James, a man who lives five minutes from the train station but always seems to get there just as the train is leaving. He’s made a very handsome picture frame which displays train times, powered, of course, by a Raspberry Pi. You can find out how he did it on his website.
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.