Tag Archives: Christmas

Found a Raspberry Pi in your Christmas stocking this morning? Read on!

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If you woke up this morning to find a Raspberry Pi stuffed into your Christmas stocking then you’ve come to the right place. Hurrah! (And if—like mine—your stocking contained a desiccated satsuma, Captain Pugwash bubble bath, and a pack of “Root Vegetable” Top Trumps then you are equally welcome.)


With a Raspberry Pi computer you can you can build robots, observe wildlife, make music, learn to program, hack Minecraft and generally create amazing things. The Raspberry Pi is also special because you have to tell it what to do, not the other way round. You are in charge and it’s a brilliantly different experience to using a laptop or tablet. So before I go to bed this Christmas morning I thought I’d share a few tips to get you started:

1. Get the latest software

All computers and digital devices need an operating system to tell them how to work. The Raspberry Pi uses a free operating system called Raspbian and it’s really important that you are running the latest version. Download it here.

2. Plug it in and start it up

Our Help pages have full instructions to get up and running, along with lots of other advice for using your Pi. (You can ignore the bit about logging in at the end if you have the latest version of Raspbian.)

If you have any issues setting up your Raspberry Pi that aren’t answered in the Help section then please visit our forums. Our forum members are a very friendly bunch and will help you with any problems. The FAQ also has lots of tips and useful information.

A word on powering your Pi

Do make sure that you have a good quality power supply. Some cheaper supplies do not output the power that they claim. Any quality smartphone charger, for example, rated 2A and above would be perfect (raid the kitchen drawers!)


3. It’s plugged in. It’s running. It’s awesome! Now what?

Because the Raspberry Pi is a general purpose computer, you can do loads of stuff with it. But because it’s also small and light and doesn’t use much power, you can do even more amazing things. For younger Pi People we recommend Carrie Anne Philbin’s Adventures in Raspberry Pi, which will get you set up and making cool stuff in no time. Otherwise take a look at the book section of our recommended Christmas gifts. (In fact have a look at the whole post—it’s got some great ideas!)

4. Additional resources and projects

Our lovely and free resources show you how to do everything from making games to composing music;  from making time lapse movies to the basics of programming.

The MagPi magazine is full of tutorials, fun projects, creative ideas, and community love. It’s free and quite excellent.

If you are still stuck for inspiration then have a trawl through our blog, which is an inspiring read and will get you thinking, “Wow! I’m going to have a go at that!”

Screen Shot 2015-12-10 at 13.57.55

5. And finally…

Merry Christmas! After a very busy year we’re taking some time off to spend with our families and we’ll be back in a few days.

Come and talk to us and our wonderful community on the forums if you get stuck. Above all: have fun and make cool stuff! See you soon.

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Sense HAT Christmas projects

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Just imagine: you’re elbows deep in Christmas cheer, and the rest of the family wants to know what that chunk of circuit board you found in the toe of your stocking does. Here are some demonstrations for them.

First up, here’s a neat little project for those of you who have lost the dice from your favourite Christmas board game. (I swear my Mum hides the dice so she doesn’t have to join in.) Meet the Sense HAT dice (or die), from Giles Booth.

RaspberryPi dice

Shake the Pi to roll the die – uses a SenseHAT to detect movement and display the dice graphic. Code & info here: http://www.suppertime.co.uk/blogmywiki/2015/12/raspberrypi-dice-project/

The code he’s used is very pleasingly tight and tidy (we expect nothing less of you, UK teachers); you can find it on his website.

What about a using your Sense HAT to build a Christmas ornament? Here’s a tree (sideways for arcane reasons we do not understand) from Jesús Chitty, with the code you’ll need to make your own available on GitHub.

Raspberry Pi Xmas Tree

Using Sense Hat to decorate your Pi on Xmas https://github.com/PixelNoob/sensehat/blob/master/xmas_tree.py

Dan Fisher (@fluffywyvern on Twitter, who’s new at Pi Towers and sits opposite me – hi Dan!) has made a video of his Sense HAT running one of our website resources: the Marble Maze. You can learn how to make your own, and find out about pitch, roll and yaw and how the Sense HAT’s gyroscopes work, here in our resources section.


We’ve got lots more resources you can build with your Sense HAT (and plenty for which you won’t need any add-ons at all) this Christmas – let us know if you make any in the comments, and please take some video!

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“Our Christmas tree’s a boy?”

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A quick one today. Here’s my favourite Christmas project of 2015, from Joe Corea. Joe’s little girls, aged eight and five, helped with the soldering and casing of the project – but they didn’t know what they were helping Dad to build until this unveiling. Meet Project CORHAKADA.

Project CORHAKADA Finally

Uploaded by Joe Corea on 2015-12-14.

This project was put together using LightShow Pi, a seasonal resource you’ll have seen around these parts before. (Head over to check out the LightShow Pi community if you’re interested in doing something like this yourself – they’re a friendly bunch and you’ll find some amazing Christmas displays, all controlled with Raspberry Pis.) Joe’s website seems to be down at the moment, but he says he’s documented the build here – we’ll update if it comes back up!

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Christmas gifts for 2015

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Don’t stress about it: like you, nobody here has finished their Christmas shopping either. Here’s our annual roundup of the best presents for the Raspberry Pi fan in your life, so you can make them grateful to you all year long.

Mod My Pi starter kit

Mod My Pi starter kit

First, and most obviously, we recommend you buy a Raspberry Pi 2 for any Pi-lover who doesn’t have one yet. They’re our most powerful and flexible model, come in at only $35, and are available on their own or as kits. They’re on sale widely, so shop around for a bare board. If you want a kit, we recommend Pimoroni’s, The Pi Hut’s, or Mod My Pi’s. If you’re in the USA, try Adafruit’s starter kit, which also comes with a handful of prototyping essentials.

Sense Hat at work

Sense Hat at work – photo courtesy of Martin O’Hanlon

This year at Pi Towers, we’ve been preoccupied with space. Last week, two Raspberry Pis were sent to the International Space Station, where British ESA astronaut Tim Peake will be running experiments designed by British schoolkids on them. The Astro Pis are both equipped with  Sense HATs, which are bristling with sensors: a magnetometer, gyroscope, accelerometer, thermometer, hygrometer and barometric pressure sensor. The Sense HAT also has a teeny joystick and a very blingy, programmable LED matrix. You can buy a Sense HAT from all the usual suspects so you can use exactly the same hardware that’s being used on the International Space Station – and we’ve got lots of activities to get you started with one.


DOTs board

The DOTs board is a new add-on board from Rachel Rayns, our Creative Producer. You can program it to run games and activities using conductive paint. A DOTs board will set you back just £5 from The Pi Hut, and a pen full of conductive paint £7.RasPiO-GPIO-ruler_KS-graphic3_700

The RasP.iO GPIO ruler is a super-useful quick reference tool for anybody doing physical computing with their Raspberry Pi’s GPIO. (It’s also enjoyably twangy.) It’s only £5.50, complete with global shipping, from RasP.iO.


CamJam EduKit #2

We see a lot of electronics kits. Our favourites by a very, very long margin are the CamJam Edukits, which are outstanding value for money, brilliantly flexible, and come with a whole suite of free worksheets. My personal favourite is EduKit 2, at only £7, which contains buzzers, an immersible temperature sensor (for projects involving cups of tea), a PIR (infrared) sensor and an LDR (visible light) sensor, along with LEDs, resistors, breadboard and everything else you’ll need to build a whole host of sensor projects. You can buy all three EduKits at The Pi Hut, which ships globally.


PiBorg’s 4Borg

PiBorg are our favourite roboteers. They’ve just come out with their first sub-£100 robot (I got one a couple of weeks ago, and it’s a beautifully robust piece of kit). The 4Borg, which takes an hour or so to build, is pretty special, and pricey enough at £99 to be someone’s main under-the-tree present rather than a stocking filler. It’s a heck of a robot, and makes a wonderful gift for anybody interested in electronics or robot-building.

Christmas Tree SnowPi

Seasonal GPIO add-ons for your Pi are always good fun in a stocking. The Christmas Tree from The Pi Hut and the SnowPi from Ryanteck are both great value at under £6, and are great beginners’ soldering projects. Once soldered up, they become beginners’ programming kits – we think they’re some of the best value you’ll see in a stocking filler.

Soldering starter kit

Soldering starter kit

People beginning to solder will need a beginner’s soldering set. This inexpensive kit from Amazon has everything you’ll need to get started.

Free extra day in February

Free extra day in February!

Every home needs a calendar on the back of the kitchen door. Here’s the Official Raspberry Pi Calendar, so your kitchen door can match mine.


If you want to keep the Christmas giving going all year, how about a subscription to The MagPi, our official magazine?


We weren’t able to choose a single favourite from Pimoroni’s HAT selection. My personal favourite is the £15 Piano HAT (above), with which you can make beautiful music if you have very tiny fingers. But they’ve got lots to choose from: displays, capacitive touch, prototyping platforms and much more. Check out the whole selection.


Books deserve a section all of their own. Our unabashed favourite is Adventures in Raspberry Pi by our very own Carrie Anne Philbin. You can buy the book along with an electronics part kit so you can do all the projects, from Pimoroni. Pimoroni also offer Adventures in Minecraft with an accompanying electronics part kit, which will keep Minecraft fans busy for the whole holiday.

Books we really enjoyed this year include the wonderful Hello Ruby – we don’t think we’ve seen a better (or more enjoyable) introduction to computational thinking for young kids. Lauren Ipsum is a similar sort of concept for older children, based (very loosely!) around Alice in Wonderland. We highly recommend both.

Python Playground has some fantastic projects to take people with a little Python experience to the next level. We really enjoyed the laser show, the stereogram (Magic Eye, for those of a certain age) and Spirograph activities. The publisher, No Starch Press, has some really great programming books in their catalogue – they’re accessible and enjoyable, and the whole series comes highly recommended.

Another projects book we’ve really enjoyed this year comes from Mike Cook (who has a monthly projects column in The MagPi). Raspberry Pi Projects for Dummies will see you fitting out ketchup bottles with accelerometers and building glitter lamps that generate free jazz (really).

Merry Christmas!

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Christmas lights

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It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Every December, we see Raspberry Pi Christmas lighting projects appear on the web, but this year the crop has been bigger and better than ever before. If you haven’t set yours up yet, here are a few ideas, tutorials and displays to get you started.

Let’s open with the Johnson Family’s Dubstep Christmas Show for a look at what can be achieved with a Raspberry Pi and an awful lot of festive elbow grease.

2015 Johnson Family Dubstep Christmas Light Show – Featured on ABC’s The Great Christmas Light Fight

NEW since 2014: – LED Wreaths replaced with Pixel Wreaths – LED Snow flakes replaced with Pixel Snowflakes – First 3 minutes of 2014 show removed and replaced with new music and sequencing – New effects, more effects, higher-energy/faster paced from beginning to end of show – 100% Pixels!

We think this is the largest and most impressive Pi-based Christmas light show we’ve seen so far: let us know if you’ve seen bigger and better! You can read more about the Johnson’s setup (all controlled by a Pi) at their very detailed webpage about the project. Matt Johnson also has a behind the scenes video for you to goggle at.

Behind the scenes tour of the Johnson Christmas light show

I created this video in response to numerous questions I have received regarding our Christmas Light Show, which you can see at http://www.johnsonlightshow.com. I start off with a basic yard tour of some of the elements, and then get into the details about how it is all put together.

Frankly, the Johnson’s effort is an outlier in its size and complexity. But there are elements of a light show like this that you can make at home and use without scaring the neighbours.

Andrew Oakley has kept his Raspberry Pi Christmas lighting setup compact: one LED matrix displayed in a window. For all that it lacks in size, its ability to play animations and the project’s low price make this a great option.

Raspberry Pi Christmas LED Matrix WS2811

An ultra-cheap low-resolution animated LED matrix, controlled by a Raspberry Pi computer. Uses 96 (12×8) WS2811 addressable LEDs.

Andrew has a really thorough tutorial and build diary (we love Andrew’s write-ups) available at his website, along with the animations he’s made and all the code you need to make your own.

Lights are not just for Christmas. Here’s a giant animated menorah, built by Ben Forta and family for Hanukkah 2015. There’s a full description of how the animation was made in the video.

Our Giant Raspberry Pi Menorah (and How It Was Made)

We built a giant Raspberry Pi powered LED menorah for Chanukah. This is a demo of the full animation sequence, and a description of how it was built.

Don’t want to share your lights with the neighbours? No problem! Here’s Anderson Silva’s Son et Lumiere Christmas tree.

The Silvas Dancing Christmas Tree

This was done with the sample “deck the halls” that comes with the open source LightshowPi project. This entire project was done on a Raspbery Pi B+ and a Sainsmart 8 Channel 5V Solid State Relay Module Board.

Anderson says:

I have 8 channels running 800 lights. I also modified the LightShowPi‘s configuration to customize the lights a bit more. I am running all songs in 4 channels and mirroring the other 4 channels, this (IMHO) makes the lights a little more fun with a lot less ‘blackouts’ from unused channels during certain songs.

You’ll find a very, very thorough step-by-step breakdown of how to build your own, written by Anderson, at Open Source World.

If you need more inspiration, there’s an amazing online community dedicated to LightShowPi at G+, where huge numbers of people using the Raspberry Pi in indoor and outdoor displays swap hints and tips, and showcase their work. (If you’re reading this, G+ community members, a big, flashy hello and merry Christmas to all of you from all of us at Pi Towers!) Head on over for friendly help and advice – and if you’ve made a seasonal display you think we should know about, let us know here in the comments!

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