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Stretch for PCs and Macs, and a Raspbian update

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Today, we are launching the first Debian Stretch release of the Raspberry Pi Desktop for PCs and Macs, and we’re also releasing the latest version of Raspbian Stretch for your Pi.

Raspberry Pi Desktop Stretch splash screen

For PCs and Macs

When we released our custom desktop environment on Debian for PCs and Macs last year, we were slightly taken aback by how popular it turned out to be. We really only created it as a result of one of those “Wouldn’t it be cool if…” conversations we sometimes have in the office, so we were delighted by the Pi community’s reaction.

Seeing how keen people were on the x86 version, we decided that we were going to try to keep releasing it alongside Raspbian, with the ultimate aim being to make simultaneous releases of both. This proved to be tricky, particularly with the move from the Jessie version of Debian to the Stretch version this year. However, we have now finished the job of porting all the custom code in Raspbian Stretch to Debian, and so the first Debian Stretch release of the Raspberry Pi Desktop for your PC or Mac is available from today.

The new Stretch releases

As with the Jessie release, you can either run this as a live image from a DVD, USB stick, or SD card or install it as the native operating system on the hard drive of an old laptop or desktop computer. Please note that installing this software will erase anything else on the hard drive — do not install this over a machine running Windows or macOS that you still need to use for its original purpose! It is, however, safe to boot a live image on such a machine, since your hard drive will not be touched by this.

We’re also pleased to announce that we are releasing the latest version of Raspbian Stretch for your Pi today. The Pi and PC versions are largely identical: as before, there are a few applications (such as Mathematica) which are exclusive to the Pi, but the user interface, desktop, and most applications will be exactly the same.

For Raspbian, this new release is mostly bug fixes and tweaks over the previous Stretch release, but there are one or two changes you might notice.

File manager

The file manager included as part of the LXDE desktop (on which our desktop is based) is a program called PCManFM, and it’s very feature-rich; there’s not much you can’t do in it. However, having used it for a few years, we felt that it was perhaps more complex than it needed to be — the sheer number of menu options and choices made some common operations more awkward than they needed to be. So to try to make file management easier, we have implemented a cut-down mode for the file manager.

Raspberry Pi Desktop Stretch - file manager

Most of the changes are to do with the menus. We’ve removed a lot of options that most people are unlikely to change, and moved some other options into the Preferences screen rather than the menus. The two most common settings people tend to change — how icons are displayed and sorted — are now options on the toolbar and in a top-level menu rather than hidden away in submenus.

The sidebar now only shows a single hierarchical view of the file system, and we’ve tidied the toolbar and updated the icons to make them match our house style. We’ve removed the option for a tabbed interface, and we’ve stomped a few bugs as well.

One final change was to make it possible to rename a file just by clicking on its icon to highlight it, and then clicking on its name. This is the way renaming works on both Windows and macOS, and it’s always seemed slightly awkward that Unix desktop environments tend not to support it.

As with most of the other changes we’ve made to the desktop over the last few years, the intention is to make it simpler to use, and to ease the transition from non-Unix environments. But if you really don’t like what we’ve done and long for the old file manager, just untick the box for Display simplified user interface and menus in the Layout page of Preferences, and everything will be back the way it was!

Raspberry Pi Desktop Stretch - preferences GUI

Battery indicator for laptops

One important feature missing from the previous release was an indication of the amount of battery life. Eben runs our desktop on his Mac, and he was becoming slightly irritated by having to keep rebooting into macOS just to check whether his battery was about to die — so fixing this was a priority!

We’ve added a battery status icon to the taskbar; this shows current percentage charge, along with whether the battery is charging, discharging, or connected to the mains. When you hover over the icon with the mouse pointer, a tooltip with more details appears, including the time remaining if the battery can provide this information.

Raspberry Pi Desktop Stretch - battery indicator

While this battery monitor is mainly intended for the PC version, it also supports the first-generation pi-top — to see it, you’ll only need to make sure that I2C is enabled in Configuration. A future release will support the new second-generation pi-top.

New PC applications

We have included a couple of new applications in the PC version. One is called PiServer — this allows you to set up an operating system, such as Raspbian, on the PC which can then be shared by a number of Pi clients networked to it. It is intended to make it easy for classrooms to have multiple Pis all running exactly the same software, and for the teacher to have control over how the software is installed and used. PiServer is quite a clever piece of software, and it’ll be covered in more detail in another blog post in December.

We’ve also added an application which allows you to easily use the GPIO pins of a Pi Zero connected via USB to a PC in applications using Scratch or Python. This makes it possible to run the same physical computing projects on the PC as you do on a Pi! Again, we’ll tell you more in a separate blog post this month.

Both of these applications are included as standard on the PC image, but not on the Raspbian image. You can run them on a Pi if you want — both can be installed from apt.

How to get the new versions

New images for both Raspbian and Debian versions are available from the Downloads page.

It is possible to update existing installations of both Raspbian and Debian versions. For Raspbian, this is easy: just open a terminal window and enter

sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get dist-upgrade

Updating Raspbian on your Raspberry Pi

How to update to the latest version of Raspbian on your Raspberry Pi. Download Raspbian here: More information on the latest version of Raspbian: Buy a Raspberry Pi:

It is slightly more complex for the PC version, as the previous release was based around Debian Jessie. You will need to edit the files /etc/apt/sources.list and /etc/apt/sources.list.d/raspi.list, using sudo to do so. In both files, change every occurrence of the word “jessie” to “stretch”. When that’s done, do the following:

sudo apt-get update 
sudo dpkg --force-depends -r libwebkitgtk-3.0-common
sudo apt-get -f install
sudo apt-get dist-upgrade
sudo apt-get install python3-thonny
sudo apt-get install sonic-pi=2.10.0~repack-rpt1+2
sudo apt-get install piserver
sudo apt-get install usbbootgui

At several points during the upgrade process, you will be asked if you want to keep the current version of a configuration file or to install the package maintainer’s version. In every case, keep the existing version, which is the default option. The update may take an hour or so, depending on your network connection.

As with all software updates, there is the possibility that something may go wrong during the process, which could lead to your operating system becoming corrupted. Therefore, we always recommend making a backup first.

Enjoy the new versions, and do let us know any feedback you have in the comments or on the forums!

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Our brand-new Christmas resources

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It’s never too early for Christmas-themed resources — especially when you want to make the most of them in your school or Code Club! So here’s the ever-wonderful Laura Sach with an introduction of our newest festive projects.

A cartoon of people singing Christmas carols - Raspberry Pi Christmas Resources

In the immortal words of Noddy Holder: “it’s Christmaaaaaaasssss!” Well, maybe it isn’t quite Christmas yet, but since the shops have been playing Mariah Carey on a loop since the last pumpkin lantern hit the bargain bin, you’re hopefully well prepared.

To get you in the mood with some festive fun, we’ve put together a selection of seasonal free resources for you. Each project has a difficulty level in line with our Digital Making Curriculum, so you can check which might suit you best. Why not try them out at your local Raspberry Jam, CoderDojo, or Code Club, at school, or even on a cold day at home with a big mug of hot chocolate?

Jazzy jumpers

A cartoon of someone remembering pairs of jumper designs - Raspberry Pi Christmas Resources

Jazzy jumpers (Creator level): as a child in the eighties, you’d always get an embarrassing and probably badly sized jazzy jumper at Christmas from some distant relative. Thank goodness the trend has gone hipster and dreadful jumpers are now cool!

This resource shows you how to build a memory game in Scratch where you must remember the colour and picture of a jazzy jumper before recreating it. How many jumpers can you successfully recall in a row?

Sense HAT advent calendar

A cartoon Sense HAT lit up in the design of a Christmas pudding - Raspberry Pi Christmas Resources

Sense HAT advent calendar (Builder level): put the lovely lights on your Sense HAT to festive use by creating an advent calendar you can open day by day. However, there’s strictly no cheating with this calendar — we teach you how to use Python to detect the current date and prevent would-be premature peekers!

Press the Enter key to open today’s door:

(Note: no chocolate will be dispensed from your Raspberry Pi. Sorry about that.)

Code a carol

A cartoon of people singing Christmas carols - Raspberry Pi Christmas Resources

Code a carol (Developer level): Have you ever noticed how much repetition there is in carols and other songs? This resource teaches you how to break down the Twelve days of Christmas tune into its component parts and code it up in Sonic Pi the lazy way: get the computer to do all the repetition for you!

No musical knowledge required — just follow our lead, and you’ll have yourself a rocking doorbell tune in no time!

Naughty and nice

A cartoon of Santa judging people by their tweets - Raspberry Pi Christmas Resources

Naughty and nice (Maker level): Have you been naughty or nice? Find out by using sentiment analysis on your tweets to see what sort of things you’ve been talking about throughout the year. For added fun, why not use your program on the Twitter account of your sibling/spouse/arch nemesis and report their level of naughtiness to Santa with an @ mention?

raspberry_pi is 65.5 percent NICE, with an accuracy of 0.9046692607003891

It’s Christmaaaaaasssss

With the festive season just around the corner, it’s time to get started on your Christmas projects! Whether you’re planning to run your Christmas lights via a phone app, install a home assistant inside an Elf on a Shelf, or work through our Christmas resources, we would like to see what you make. So do share your festive builds with us on social media, or by posting links in the comments.

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Prepare to run a Code Club on FutureLearn

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Prepare to run a Code Club with our newest free online course, available now on FutureLearn!

FutureLearn: Prepare to Run a Code Club

Ready to launch! Our free FutureLearn course ‘Prepare to Run a Code Club’ starts next week and you can sign up now: https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/code-club

Code Club

As of today, more than 10000 Code Clubs run in 130 countries, delivering free coding opportunities to approximately 150000 children across the globe.

A child absorbed in a task at a Code Club

As an organisation, Code Club provides free learning resources and training materials to supports the ever-growing and truly inspiring community of volunteers and educators who set up and run Code Clubs.

FutureLearn

Today we’re launching our latest free online course on FutureLearn, dedicated to training and supporting new Code Club volunteers. It will give you practical guidance on all things Code Club, as well as a taste of beginner programming!

Split over three weeks and running for 3–4 hours in total, the course provides hands-on advice and tips on everything you need to know to run a successful, fun, and educational club.

“Week 1 kicks off with advice on how to prepare to start a Code Club, for example which hardware and software are needed. Week 2 focusses on how to deliver Code Club sessions, with practical tips on helping young people learn and an easy taster coding project to try out. In the final week, the course looks at interesting ideas to enrich and extend club sessions.”
— Sarah Sherman-Chase, Code Club Participation Manager

The course is available wherever you live, and it is completely free — sign up now!

If you’re already a volunteer, the course will be a great refresher, and a chance to share your insights with newcomers. Moreover, it is also useful for parents and guardians who wish to learn more about Code Club.

Your next step

Interested in learning more? You can start the course today by visiting FutureLearn. And to find out more about Code Clubs in your country, visit Code Club UK or Code Club International.

Code Club partners from across the globe gathered together for a group photo at the International Meetup

We love hearing your Code Club stories! If you’re a volunteer, are in the process of setting up a club, or are inspired to learn more, share your story in the comments below or via social media, making sure to tag @CodeClub and @CodeClubWorld.

You might also be interested in our other free courses on the FutureLearn platform, including Teaching Physical Computing with Raspberry Pi and Python and Teaching Programming in Primary Schools.

 

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Physical computing blocks at Maker Faire New York

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At events like Maker Faire New York, we love offering visitors the chance to try out easy, inviting, and hands-on activities, so we teamed up with maker Ben Light to create interactive physical computing blocks.

Raspberry Blocks FINAL

In response to the need for hands-on, easy and inviting activities at events such as Maker Faire New York, we teamed up with maker Ben Light to create our interactive physical computing blocks.

Getting hands-on experience at events

At the Raspberry Pi Foundation, we often have the opportunity to engage with families and young people at events such as Maker Faires and STEAM festivals. When we set up a booth, it’s really important to us that we provide an educational, fun experience for everyone who visits us. But there are a few reasons why this can be a challenge.

Girls use the physical computing blocks at Maker Faire New York

For one, you have a broad audience of people with differing levels of experience with computers. Moreover, some people want to take the time to learn a lot, others just want to try something quick and move on. And on top of that, the environment is often loud, crowded, and chaotic…in a good way!

Creating our physical computing blocks

We were up against these challenges when we set out to create a new physical computing experience for our World Maker Faire New York booth. Our goal was to give people the opportunity to try a little bit of circuit making and a little bit of coding — and they should be able to get hands-on with the activity right away.

Inspired by Exploratorium’s Tinkering Studio, we sketched out physical computing blocks which let visitors use the Raspberry Pi’s GPIO pins without needing to work with tiny components or needing to understand how a breadboard works. We turned the sketches over to our friend Ben Light in New York City, and he brought the project to life.

Father and infant child clip crocodile leads to the Raspberry Pi physical computing blocks at Maker Faire New York

As you can see, the activity turned out really well, so we hope to bring it to more events in the future. Thank you, Ben Light, for collaborating with us on it!

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Community Profile: Matthew Timmons-Brown

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This column is from The MagPi issue 57. You can download a PDF of the full issue for free, or subscribe to receive the print edition in your mailbox or the digital edition on your tablet. All proceeds from the print and digital editions help the Raspberry Pi Foundation achieve its charitable goals.

“I first set up my YouTube channel because I noticed a massive lack of video tutorials for the Raspberry Pi,” explains Matthew Timmons-Brown, known to many as The Raspberry Pi Guy. At 18 years old, the Cambridge-based student has more than 60 000 subscribers to his channel, making his account the most successful Raspberry Pi–specific YouTube account to date.

Matthew Timmons-Brown

Matt gives a talk at the Raspberry Pi 5th Birthday weekend event

The Raspberry Pi Guy

If you’ve attended a Raspberry Pi event, there’s a good chance you’ve already met Matt. And if not, you’ll have no doubt come across one or more of his tutorials and builds online. On more than one occasion, his work has featured on the Raspberry Pi blog, with his yearly Raspberry Pi roundup videos being a staple of the birthday celebrations.

Matthew Timmons-Brown

With his website, Matt aimed to collect together “the many strands of The Raspberry Pi Guy” into one, neat, cohesive resource — and it works. From newcomers to the credit card-sized computer to hardened Pi veterans, The Raspberry Pi Guy offers aid and inspiration for many. Looking for a review of the Raspberry Pi Zero W? He’s filmed one. Looking for a step-by-step guide to building a Pi-powered Amazon Alexa? No problem, there’s one of those too.

Make your Raspberry Pi artificially intelligent! – Amazon Alexa Personal Assistant Tutorial

Artificial Intelligence. A hefty topic that has dominated the field since computers were first conceived. What if I told you that you could put an artificial intelligence service on your own $30 computer?! That’s right! In this tutorial I will show you how to create your own artificially intelligent personal assistant, using Amazon’s Alexa voice recognition and information service!

Raspberry Pi electric skateboard

Last summer, Matt introduced the world to his Raspberry Pi-controlled electric skateboard, soon finding himself plastered over local press as well as the BBC and tech sites like Adafruit and geek.com. And there’s no question as to why the build was so popular. With YouTubers such as Casey Neistat increasing the demand for electric skateboards on a near-daily basis, the call for a cheaper, home-brew version has quickly grown.

DIY 30KM/H ELECTRIC SKATEBOARD – RASPBERRY PI/WIIMOTE POWERED

Over the summer, I made my own electric skateboard using a £4 Raspberry Pi Zero. Controlled with a Nintendo Wiimote, capable of going 30km/h, and with a range of over 10km, this project has been pretty darn fun. In this video, you see me racing around Cambridge and I explain the ins and outs of this project.

Using a Raspberry Pi Zero, a Nintendo Wii Remote, and a little help from members of the Cambridge Makespace community, Matt built a board capable of reaching 30km/h, with a battery range of 10km per charge. Alongside Neistat, Matt attributes the project inspiration to Australian student Tim Maier, whose build we previously covered in The MagPi.

Matthew Timmons-Brown and Eben Upton standing in a car park looking at a smartphone

LiDAR

Despite the success and the fun of the electric skateboard (including convincing Raspberry Pi Trading CEO Eben Upton to have a go for local television news coverage), the project Matt is most proud of is his wireless LiDAR system for theoretical use on the Mars rovers.

Matthew Timmons-Brown's LiDAR project for scanning terrains with lasers

Using a tablet app to define the angles, Matt’s A Level coursework LiDAR build scans the surrounding area, returning the results to the touchscreen, where they can be manipulated by the user. With his passion for the cosmos and the International Space Station, it’s no wonder that this is Matt’s proudest build.

Built for his A Level Computer Science coursework, the build demonstrates Matt’s passion for space and physics. Used as a means of surveying terrain, LiDAR uses laser light to measure distance, allowing users to create 3D-scanned, high-resolution maps of a specific area. It is a perfect technology for exploring unknown worlds.

Matthew Timmons-Brown and two other young people at a reception in the Houses of Parliament

Matt was invited to St James’s Palace and the Houses of Parliament as part of the Raspberry Pi community celebrations in 2016

Joining the community

In a recent interview at Hills Road Sixth Form College, where he is studying mathematics, further mathematics, physics, and computer science, Matt revealed where his love of electronics and computer science started. “I originally became interested in computer science in 2012, when I read a tiny magazine article about a computer that I would be able to buy with pocket money. This was a pretty exciting thing for a 12-year-old! Your own computer… for less than £30?!” He went on to explain how it became his mission to learn all he could on the subject and how, months later, his YouTube channel came to life, cementing him firmly into the Raspberry Pi community

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Computing in schools: the report card

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Today the Royal Society published After the Reboot, a report card on the state of computing education in UK schools. It’s a serious piece of work, published with lots of accompanying research and data, and well worth a read if you care about these issues (which, if you’re reading this blog, I guess you do).

The headline message is that, while a lot has been achieved, there’s a long way to go before we can say that young people are consistently getting the computing education they need and deserve in UK schools.

If this were a school report card, it would probably say: “good progress when he applies himself, but would benefit from more focus and effort in class” (which is eerily reminiscent of my own school reports).

A child coding in Scratch on a laptop - Royal Society After the Reboot

Good progress

After the Reboot comes five and a half years after the Royal Society’s first review of computing education, Shut down or restart, a report that was published just a few days before the Education Secretary announced in January 2012 that he was scrapping the widely discredited ICT programme of study.

There’s no doubt that a lot has been achieved since 2012, and the Royal Society has done a good job of documenting those successes in this latest report. Computing is now part of the curriculum for all schools. There’s a Computer Science GCSE that is studied by thousands of young people. Organisations like Computing At School have built a grassroots movement of educators who are leading fantastic work in schools up and down the country. Those are big wins.

The Raspberry Pi Foundation has been playing its part. With the support of partners like Google, we’ve trained over a thousand UK educators through our Picademy programme. Those educators have gone on to work with hundreds of thousands of students, and many have become leaders in the field. Many thousands more have taken our free online training courses, and through our partnership with BT, CAS and the BCS on the Barefoot programme, we’re supporting thousands of primary school teachers to deliver the computing curriculum. Earlier this year we launched a free magazine for computing educators, Hello World, which has over 14,000 subscribers after just three editions.

A group of people learning about digital making - Royal Society After the Reboot

More to do

Despite all the progress, the Royal Society study has confirmed what many of us have been saying for some time: we need to do much more to support teachers to develop the skills and confidence to deliver the computing curriculum. More than anything, we need to give them the time to invest in their own professional development. The UK led the way on putting computing in the curriculum. Now we need to follow through on that promise by investing in a huge effort to support professional development across the school system.

This isn’t a problem that any one organisation or sector can solve on its own. It will require a grand coalition of government, industry, non-profits, and educators if we are going to make change at the pace that our young people need and deserve. Over the coming weeks and months, we’ll be working with our partners to figure out how we make that happen.

A boy learning about computing from a woman - Royal Society After the Reboot

The other 75%

While the Royal Society report rightly focuses on what happens in classrooms during the school day, we need to remember that children spend only 25% of their waking hours there. What about the other 75%?

Ask any computer scientist, engineer, or maker, and they’ll tell stories about how much they learned in those precious discretionary hours.

Ask an engineer of a certain age (ahem), and they will tell you about the local computing club where they got hands-on with new technologies, picked up new ideas, and were given help by peers and mentors. They might also tell you how they would spend dozens of hours typing in hundreds of line of code from a magazine to create their own game, and dozens more debugging when it didn’t work.

One of our goals at the Raspberry Pi Foundation is to lead the revival in that culture of informal learning.

The revival of computing clubs

There are now more than 6,000 active Code Clubs in the UK, engaging over 90,000 young people each week. 41% of the kids at Code Club are girls. More than 150 UK CoderDojos take place in universities, science centres, and corporate offices, providing a safe space for over 4,000 young people to learn programming and digital making.

So far this year, there have been 164 Raspberry Jams in the UK, volunteer-led meetups attended by over 10,000 people, who come to learn from volunteers and share their digital making projects.

It’s a movement, and it’s growing fast. One of the most striking facts is that whenever a new Code Club, CoderDojo, or Raspberry Jam is set up, it is immediately oversubscribed.

So while we work on fixing the education system, there’s a tangible way that we can all make a huge difference right now. You can help set up a Code Club, get involved with CoderDojo, or join the Raspberry Jam movement.

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