Tag Archives: Raspberry Pi 3B+

Playback your favourite records with Plynth

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Use album artwork to trigger playback of your favourite music with Plynth, the Raspberry Pi–powered, camera-enhanced record stand.

Plynth Demo

This is “Plynth Demo” by Plynth on Vimeo, the home for high quality videos and the people who love them.

Record playback with Plynth

Plynth uses a Raspberry Pi and Pi Camera Module to identify cover artwork and play the respective album on your sound system, via your preferred streaming service or digital library.

As the project’s website explains, using Plynth is pretty simple. Just:

  • Place a n LP, CD, tape, VHS, DVD, piece of artwork – anything, really – onto Plynth
  • Plynth uses its built-in camera to scan and identify the work
  • Plynth starts streaming your music on your connected speakers or home stereo system

As for Plynth’s innards? The stand houses a Raspberry Pi 3B+ and Camera Module, and relies on “a combination of the Google Vision API and OpenCV, which is great because there’s a lot of documentation online for both of them”, states the project creator, sp_cecamp, on Reddit.

Other uses

Some of you may wonder why you wouldn’t have your records with your record player and, as such, use that record player to play those records. If you are one of these people, then consider, for example, the beautiful Damien Rice LP I own that tragically broke during a recent house move. While I can no longer play the LP, its artwork is still worthy of a place on my record shelf, and with Plynth I can still play the album as well.

In addition, instead of album artwork to play an album, you could use photographs, doodles, or type to play curated playlists, or, as mentioned on the website, DVDs to play the movies soundtrack, or CDs to correctly select the right disc in a disc changer.

Convinced or not, I think what we can all agree on is that Plynth is a good-looking bit of kit, and at Pi Towers look forward to seeing where they project leads.

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Ghost hunting in schools with Raspberry Pi | Hello World #9

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In Hello World issue 9, out today, Elliott Hall and Tom Bowtell discuss The Digital Ghost Hunt: an immersive theatre and augmented reality experience that takes a narrative-driven approach in order to make digital education accessible.The Digital Ghost Hunt - Raspberry Pi Hello World

The Digital Ghost Hunt combines coding education, augmented reality, and live performance to create an immersive storytelling experience. It begins when a normal school assembly is disrupted by the unscheduled arrival of Deputy Undersecretary Quill of the Ministry of Real Paranormal Hygiene, there to recruit students into the Department’s Ghost Removal Section. She explains that the Ministry needs the students’ help because children have the unique ability to see and interact with ghostly spirits.

The Digital Ghost Hunt - Raspberry Pi Hello World

Under the tutelage of Deputy Undersecretary Quill and Professor Bray (the Ministry’s chief scientist), the young ghost-hunters learn how to program and use their own paranormal detectors. These allow students to discover ghostly traces, translate Morse code using flickering lights, and find messages left in ultraviolet ectoplasm. Meanwhile, the ghost communicates through a mixture of traditional theatrical effects and the poltergeist potential of smart home technology. Together, students uncover the ghost’s identity, discover her reason for haunting the building, unmask a dastardly villain, find a stolen necklace, clear the ghost’s name, right an old wrong, and finally set the ghost free.

The Digital Ghost Hunt - Raspberry Pi Hello World

The project conducted two successful test performances at the Battersea Arts Centre in South London in November 2018, funded by a grant from AHRC’s New Immersive Experiences Programme, led by Mary Krell of Sussex University. Its next outing will be at York Theatre Royal in August.

Adventures in learning

The Digital Ghost Hunt arose out of a shared interest in putting experimentation and play at the centre for learners. We felt that the creative, tinkering spirit of earlier computing — learning how to program BASIC on an Atari 800XL to create a game, for example — was being supplanted by a didactic and prescriptive approach to digital learning. KIT Theatre’s practice — creating classroom adventures that cast pupils as heroes in missions — is also driven by a less trammelled, more experiment-led approach to learning.

We believe that the current Computer Science curriculum isn’t engaging enough for students. We wanted to shift the context of how computer science is perceived, from ‘something techy and boyish’ back to the tool of the imagination that it should be. We did this by de-emphasising the technology itself and, instead, placing it in the larger context of a ghost story. The technology becomes a tool to navigate the narrative world — a means to an end rather than an end in itself. This helps create a more welcoming space for students who are bored or intimidated by the computer lab: a space of performance, experiment, and play.

Ghosts and machines

The device we built for the students was the SEEK Ghost Detector, made from a Raspberry Pi and a micro:bit, which Elliot stapled together. The micro:bit was the device’s interface, which students programmed using the block-based language MakeCode. The Raspberry Pi handled the heavier technical requirements of the show, and communicated them to the micro:bit in a form students could use. The detector had no screen, only the micro:bit’s LEDs. This meant that students’ attention was focused on the environment and what the detector could tell them about it, rather than having their attention pulled to a screen to the exclusion of the ‘real’ world around them.

In addition to the detector, we used a Raspberry Pi to make ordinary smart home technology into our poltergeist. It communicated with the students using effects such as smart bulbs that flashed in Morse code, which the students could then decode on their devices.

To program their detectors, students took part in a series of four lessons at school, focused on thinking like a programmer and the logic of computing. Two of the lessons featured significant time spent programming the micro:bit. The first focused on reading code on paper, and students were asked to look out for any bugs. The second had students thinking about what the detector will do, and acting out the steps together, effectively ‘performing’ the algorithm.

We based the process on KIT Theatre’s Adventures in Learning model, and its Theory of Change:

  • Disruption: an unexpected event grabs attention, creating a new learning space
  • Mission: a character directly asks pupils for their help in completing a mission
  • Achievement: pupils receive training and are given agency to successfully complete the mission

The Ghost Hunt

During these lessons, Deputy Undersecretary Quill kept in touch with the students via email, and the chief scientist sent them instructional videos. Their work culminated in their first official assignment: a ghost haunting the Battersea Arts Centre — a 120-year-old former town hall. After arriving, students were split into four teams, working together. Two teams analysed evidence at headquarters, while the others went out into places in the building where we’d hidden ghostly traces that their detectors would discover. The students pooled their findings to learn the ghost’s story, and then the teams swapped roles. The detectors were therefore only one method of exploring the narrative world. But the fact that they’d learned some of the code gave students a confidence in using the detectors — a sense of ownership. During one performance, one of the students pointed to a detector and said: “I made that.”

Future of the project

The project is now adapting the experience into a family show, in partnership with Pilot Theatre, premiering in York in summer 2019. We aim for it to become the core of an ecosystem of lessons, ideas, and activities — to engage audiences in the imaginative possibilities of digital technology.

You can find out more about the Digital Ghost Hunt on their website, which also includes rather lovely videos that Vimeo won’t let me embed here.

Hello World issue 9

The brand-new issue of Hello World is out today, and available right now as a free PDF download from the Hello World website.

Hello World issu 9

UK-based educators can also sign up to receive Hello World as printed magazine FOR FREE, direct to their door, by signing up here. And those outside the UK, educator or not, can subscribe to receive new issues of Hello World in their inbox on the day of release.

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Quick Fix — a vending machine for likes and followers

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Sometimes we come across a project that just scores a perfect 10 on all fronts. This is one of them: an art installation using Raspberry Pi that has something interesting to say, does it elegantly, and is implemented beautifully (nothing presses our buttons like a make that’s got a professionally glossy finish like this).

Quick Fix is a vending machine (and art installation) that sells social media likes and followers. Drop in a coin, enter your social media account name, and an army of fake accounts will like or follow you. I’ll leave the social commentary to you. Here’s a video from the maker, Dries Depoorter:

Quick Fix – the vending machine selling likes and followers

Quick Fix in an interactive installation by Dries Depoorter. The artwork makes it possible to buy followers or likes in just a few seconds. For a few euros you already have 200 of likes on Instagram. “Quick Fix “is easy to use. Choose your product, pay and fill in your social media username.

There’s a Raspberry Pi 3B+ in there, along with an Arduino, powering a coin acceptor and some I2C LCD screens. Then there’s a stainless steel heavy-duty keyboard, which we’re lusting after (a spot of Googling unearthed this, which appears to be the same thing, if you’re in the market for a panel-mounted beast of a keyboard).

This piece was commissioned by Pixelache, a cultural association from Helsinki, whose work looks absolutely fascinating if you’ve got a few minutes to browse. Thanks to them and to Dries Depoorter — I have a feeling this won’t be the last of his projects we’re going to feature here.

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Make a retro console with RetroPie and a Raspberry Pi — part 2

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Here’s part two of Lucy Hattersley’s wonderful retro games console tutorial. Part 1 of the tutorial lives here, for those of you who missed it.

Choose the network locale

RetroPie boots into EmulationStation, which is your starter interface. It’s currently displaying just the one option, RetroPie, which is used to set up the emulation options. As you add games to RetroPie, other systems will appear in EmulationStation.

With RetroPie selected, press the A button on the gamepad to open the configuration window. Use the D-pad to move down the options and select WiFi. You will see a warning message: ‘You don’t currently have your WiFi country set…’. Press the D-pad left to choose Yes, and press A. The interface will open raspi-config. At this point, it’s handy to switch to the keyboard and use that instead.

Choose 4 Localisation Options, and press the right arrow key on the keyboard to highlight Select, then press Enter.

Now choose 4 Change Wi-fi Country and pick your country from the list. We used GB Britain (UK). Highlight OK and press Enter to select it.

Now move right twice to choose Finish and press Enter. This will reboot the system.

Connect to wireless LAN

If you have a Raspberry Pi with an Ethernet connection, you can use an Ethernet cable to connect directly to your router/modem or network.

More likely, you’ll connect the Raspberry Pi to a wireless LAN network so you can access it when it’s beneath your television.

Head back into RetroPie from EmulationStation and down to the WiFi setting; choose Connect to WiFi network.

The window will display a list of nearby wireless LAN networks. Choose your network and use the keyboard to enter the wireless LAN password. Press Enter when you’re done. Choose the Exit option to return to the RetroPie interface.

Configuration tools

Now choose RetroPie Setup and then Configuration Tools. Here, in the Choose an option window, you’ll find a range of useful tools. As we’re using a USB gamepad, we don’t need the Bluetooth settings, but it’s worth noting they’re here.

We want to turn on Samba so we can share files from our computer directly to RetroPie. Choose Samba and Install RetroPie Samba shares, then select OK.

Now choose Cancel to back up to the Choose an option window, and then Back to return to the RetroPie-Setup script.

Run the setup script

Choose Update RetroPie-Setup script and press Enter. After the script has updated, press Enter again and you’ll be back at the Notice: window. Press Enter and choose Basic install; press Enter, choose Yes, and press Enter again to begin the setup and run the configuration script.

When the script has finished, choose Perform a reboot and Yes.

Turn on Samba in Windows

We’re going to use Samba to copy a ROM file (a video game image) from our computer to RetroPie.

Samba used to be installed by default in Windows, but it has recently become an optional installation. In Windows 10, click on the Search bar and type ‘Control Panel’. Click on Control Panel in the search results.

Now click Programs and Turn Windows features on or off. Scroll down to find SMB 1.0/CIFS File Sharing Support and click the + expand icon to reveal its options. Place a check in the box marked SMB 1.0/CIFS Client. Click OK. This will enable Samba client support on your Windows 10 PC so it can access the Raspberry Pi.

We’ve got more information on how Samba works on The MagPi’s website.

Get the game

On your Windows PC or Mac, open a web browser, and visit the Blade Buster website. This is a homebrew video game designed by High Level Challenge for old NES systems. The developer’s website is in Japanese — just click BLADE BUSTER Download to save the ROM file to your Downloads folder.

Open a File Explorer (or Finder) window and locate the BB_20120301.zip file in your Downloads folder. Don’t unzip the file.

Click on Network and you’ll see a RETROPIE share. Open it and locate the roms folder. Double-click roms and you’ll see folders for many classic systems. Drag and drop the BB_20120301.zip file and place it inside the nes folder.

Play the game

Press the Start button on your gamepad to bring up the Main Menu. Choose Quit and Restart EmulationStation. You’ll now see a Nintendo Entertainment System option with 1 Games Available below it. Click it and you’ll see BB_20120301 — this is Blade Buster. Press A to start the game. Have fun shooting aliens. Press Start and Analog (or whatever you’ve set as your hotkey) together when you’re finished; this will take you back to the game selection in EmulationStation.

If you’ve been setting up RetroPie on your monitor, now is the time to move it across to your main television. The RetroPie console will boot automatically and connect to the network, and then you can move ROM files over to it from your PC or Mac. At this point, you may notice black borders around the screen; if so, see the Fix the borders tip.

Enjoy your gaming system!

More top tips from Lucy

Change the resolution

Some games were designed for a much lower resolution, and scaling them up can look blocky on modern televisions. If you’d prefer to alter the resolution, choose ‘RetroPie setup’. Open raspi-config, Advanced Options, and Resolution. Here you’ll find a range of other resolution options to choose from.

Fix the borders

These are caused by overscan. Choose RetroPie from EmulationStation and raspi-config. Now select Advanced Options > Overscan and select No on the ‘Would you like to enable compensation for displays with overscan?’ window. Choose OK and then Finish. Choose Yes on the Reboot Now window. When the system has rebooted, you will see the borders are gone.

The MagPi magazine issue 81

This article is from the latest issue of The MagPi magazine, which is out today and can be purchased online, at the Raspberry Pi Store, or from many newsagents and bookshops, such as WHSmith and Barnes & Noble.

The MagPi magazine issue 81

You can also download issue 81 for free from The MagPi website, where you’ll also find information on subscription options, and the complete MagPi catalogue, including Essentials guides and books, all available to download for free.

the MagPi subscription

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Make a retro console with RetroPie and a Raspberry Pi — part 1

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Discover classic gaming on the Raspberry Pi and play homebrew ROMs, with this two-part tutorial from The MagPi Editor Lucy Hattersley.

Raspberry Pi retro games console

Turning a Raspberry Pi device into a retro games console is a fun project, and it’s one of the first things many a new Pi owner turns their hand to.

The appeal is obvious. Retro games are fun, and from a programming perspective, they’re a lot easier to understand than modern 3D powerhouses. The Raspberry Pi board’s small form factor, low power usage, HDMI connection, and wireless networking make it a perfect micro-console that can sit under your television.


There are a bunch of different emulators around for Raspberry Pi. In this tutorial, we’re going to look at RetroPie.

RetroPie combines Raspbian, EmulationStation, and RetroArch into one handy image. With RetroPie you can emulate arcade games, as well as titles originally released on a host of 8-bit, 16-bit, and even 32- and 64-bit systems. You can hook up a joypad; we’re going to use the Wireless USB Game Controller, but most other USB game controllers will work.

You can also use Bluetooth to connect a controller from most video games consoles. RetroPie has an interface that will be very familiar to anyone who has used a modern games console, and because it is open-source, it is constantly being improved.

You can look online for classic games, but we prefer homebrew and modern releases coded for classic systems. In this tutorial, we will walk you through the process of setting up RetroPie, configuring a gamepad, and running a homebrew game called Blade Buster.

Get your microSD card ready

RetroPie is built on top of Raspbian (the operating system for Raspberry Pi). While it is possible to install RetroPie from the desktop interface, it’s far easier to format a microSD card† and copy a new RetroPie image to the blank card. This ensures all the settings are correct and makes setup much easier. Our favourite method of wiping microSD cards on a PC or Apple Mac is to use SD Memory Card Formatter.

Attach the microSD card to your Windows or Mac computer and open SD Card Formatter. Ensure the card is highlighted in the Select card section, then click Format.

Download RetroPie

Download the RetroPie image. It’ll be downloaded as a gzip file; the best way to expand this on Windows is using 7-Zip (7-zip.org).

With 7-Zip installed, right-click the retropie-4.4-rpi2_rpi3.img.gz file and choose 7-Zip > Extract here. Extract GZ files on a Mac or Linux PC using gunzip -k <filename.gz> (the -k option keeps the original GZ file).

gunzip -k retropie-4.4-rpi2_rpi3.img.gz

Flash the image

We’re going to use Etcher to copy the retropie-4.4-rpi2_rpi3.img file to our freshly formatted microSD card. Download Etcher. Open Etcher and click Select Image, then choose the retropie-4.4-rpi2_rpi3.img image file and click Open.

Etcher should have already located the microSD card; remove and replace it if you see a Select Drive button. Click Flash! to copy the RetroPie image to the microSD card.

See our guide for more information on how to use Etcher to flash SD cards.

Set up the Raspberry Pi

Insert the flashed microSD card to your Raspberry Pi. Now attach the Raspberry Pi to a TV or monitor using the HDMI cable. Connect the USB dongle from the Wireless USB Game Controller to the Raspberry Pi. Also attach a keyboard (you’ll need this for the setup process).

Insert the batteries in the Wireless USB Game Controller and set the power switch (on the back of the device) to On. Once everything is connected, attach a power supply to the Raspberry Pi.

See our quickstart guide for more detailed information on setting up a Raspberry Pi.

Configure the gamepad

When RetroPie starts, you should see Welcome screen displaying the message ‘1 gamepad detected’. Press and hold one of the buttons on the pad, and you will see the Configuring screen with a list of gamepad buttons and directions.

Tap the D-pad (the four-way directional control pad on the far left) up on the controller and ‘HAT 0 UP’ will appear. Now tap the D-pad down.
Map the A, B, X, Y buttons to:

A: red circle
B: blue cross
X: green triangle
Y: purple square

The Left and Right Shoulder buttons refer to the topmost buttons on the rear of the controller, while the Triggers are the larger lower buttons.

Push the left and right analogue sticks in for the Left and Right Thumbs. Click OK when you’re done.

Top tips from Lucy

Install Raspbian desktop

RetroPie is built on top of the Raspbian operating system. You might be tempted to install RetroPie on top of the Raspbian with Desktop interface, but it’s actually much easier to do it the other way around. Open RetroPie from EmulationStation and choose RetroPie setup. Select Configuration tools and Raspbian tools. Then choose Install Pixel desktop environment and Yes.

When it’s finished, choose Quit and Restart EmulationStation. When restarted, EmulationStation will display a Ports option. Select it and choose Desktop to boot into the Raspbian desktop interface.

Username and password

If RetroPie asks you for the username and password during boot, the defaults are pi and raspberry.

The MagPi magazine issue 81

The rest of this article can be found in the latest issue of The MagPi magazine, which is out now and can be purchased online, at the Raspberry Pi Store, or from many independent bookshops, such as WHSmith and Barnes & Noble. We’ll also post the second half on the blog tomorrow!

The MagPi magazine issue 81

You can also download issue 81 for free from The MagPi website, where you’ll find information on subscription options, and the complete MagPi catalogue, including Essentials guides and books, all available to download for free.

the MagPi subscription

The post Make a retro console with RetroPie and a Raspberry Pi — part 1 appeared first on Raspberry Pi.

Beowulf Clusters, node visualisation and more with Pi VizuWall

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Pi VizuWall is a multi-Raspberry Pi MPI computing system with a difference. And the difference is servo motors!

Pi VizWall at Maker Faire Miami

We can thank Estefannie for this gem. While attending Maker Faire Miami earlier this month, she shared a video of Pi VizWall on her Instagram Stories. And it didn’t take long for me to ask for an introduction to the project’s owner, Matt Trask.

I sent Matt a series of questions in relation to the project so I could write a blog post, but Matt’s replies were so wonderfully detailed that it seems foolish to try and reword them.

So here are the contents of Matt’s email replies, in their entirety, for you all to enjoy.

Parallel computing system

The project is a parallel computing system built according to the Beowulf cluster architecture, the same as most of the world’s largest and fastest supercomputers. It runs a system called MPI (Message Passing Interface) that breaks a program up into smaller pieces that can be sent over the network to other nodes for execution.

A Beowulf cluster at Michigan Tech

Beowulf clusters and MPI were invented in 1994 by a pair of NASA contractors, and they totally disrupted the high-performance computer industry by driving the cost of parallel computing way down. By now, twenty-five years later, the Beowulf cluster architecture is found in approximately 88% of the world’s largest parallel computing systems.

Going back to university

I’m currently an undergraduate student at Florida Atlantic University, completing a neglected Bachelor’s Degree from 1983. In the interim, I have had a wonderful career as a Computer Engineer, working with every generation of Personal Computer technology. My main research that I do at the University is focused on a new architecture for parallel clusters that uses traditional Beowulf hardware (enterprise-class servers with InfiniBand as the interconnect fabric) but modifies the Linux operating system in order to combine the resources (RAM, processor cores) from all the nodes in the cluster and make them appear as a single system that is the sum of all the resources. This is also known as a ‘virtual mainframe’.

The Ninja Gap

In the world of parallel supercomputers (branded ‘high-performance computing, or HPC), system manufacturers are motivated to sell their HPC products to industry, but industry has pushed back due to what they call the “Ninja Gap”. MPI programming is hard. It is usually not learned until the programmer is in grad school at the earliest, and given that it takes a couple of years to achieve mastery of any particular discipline, most of the proficient MPI programmers are PhDs. And this, is the Ninja Gap — industry understands that the academic system cannot and will not be able to generate enough ‘ninjas’ to meet the needs of industry if industry were to adopt HPC technology.

Studying Message Passing Interface

As part of my research into parallel computing systems, I have studied the process of learning to program with MPI and have found that almost all current practitioners are self-taught, coming from disciplines other than computer science. Actual undergraduate CS programs rarely offer MPI programming. Thus my motivation for building a low-cost cluster system with Raspberry Pis, in order to drive down the entry-level costs.

This parallel computing system, with a cost of under $1000, could be deployed at any college or community college rather than just at elite research institutions, as is done [for parallel computing systems] today.

Moving parts

The system is entirely open source, using only standard Raspberry Pi 3B+ boards and Raspbian Linux. The version of MPI that is used is called MPICH, another open-source technology that is readily available.

Perhaps one of the more interesting features of the cluster is that each of the Pi boards is mounted on a clear acrylic plate that is attached to a hinging mechanism. Each node is capable of moving through about 90 degrees under software control because a small electric servo motor is embedded in the hinging mechanism. The acrylic parts are laser-cut, and the hinge parts have been 3D printed for this prototype.

Raspbian Linux, like every other Linux version, contains information about CPU utilization as part of the kernel’s internal data. This performance data is available through the /proc filesystem at runtime, allowing a relatively simple program to maintain percent-busy averages over time. This data is used to position the node via its servo, with a fully idle node laying down against the backboard and a full busy node rotating up to ninety degrees.

Visualizing node activity

The purpose of this motion-related activity is to permit the user to visualize the operation of the cluster while executing a parallel program, showing the level of activity at each node via proportional motion. Thus the name Pi VizuWall.

Other than the twelve Pi 3s, I used 12 Tower Pro micro servos (SG90 Digital) and assorted laser-cut acrylic and 3D-printed parts (AI and STL files available on request), as well as a 14-port Ethernet switch for interconnects and two 12A 6-port USB power supplies along with Ethernet cable and USB cables for power.

The future of Pi VizuWall

The original plan for this project was to make a 4ft × 8ft cluster with 300 Raspberry Pis wired as a Beowulf cluster running MPICH. When I proposed this project to my Lab Directors at the university, they balked at the estimated cost of $20–25K and suggested a scaled-down prototype first. We have learned a number of lessons while building this prototype that should serve us well when we move on to building the bigger one. The first lesson is to use CNC’d aluminum for the motor housings instead of 3D-printed plastic — we’ve seen some minor distortion of the printed plastic from the heat generated in the servos. But mainy, this will permit us to have finer resolution when creating the splines that engage with the shaft of the servo motor, solving the problem of occasional slippage under load that we have seen with this version.

The other major challenge was power distribution. We look forward to using the Pi’s PoE capabilities in the next version to simplify power distribution. We also anticipate evaluating whether the Pi’s wireless LAN capability is suitable for carrying the MPI message traffic, given that the wired Ethernet has greater bandwidth. If the wireless bandwidth is sufficient, we will potentially use Pi Zero W computers instead of Pi 3s, doubling the number of nodes we can install on a 4×8’ backboard.

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