element14 + Build Updates

So it appears that I am this months Member of the Month over at element14. Quite a surprise, no acceptance speech or anything though. Instead you get this old photo

Coming soon is the UK Maker Faire 2013 in Newcastle, I’ll be there, will you?


Build Updates!

The pep build is slowly coming on. Currently onto smoothing out the shell and getting the ears cut and built to go on. Need to find a suitable way to construct the lenses for the eyes.

New project is to build a guitar amp, and as a side project an Atari Punk. This started off well, until discovering I had forgotten to order a few heatsinks for the PSU. Fingers may have been slightly cooked.

Raspberry Pi and the Art of Being Patient

In 2006, Eben Upton, Rob Mullins, Jack Lang and Alan Mycroft from  the University of Cambridge’s Computer Laboratory set out to find a solution to the increasing problem in the computing sector. At one time, many students going onto Computer Science courses at university had a reasonable level of technical skill. Since then, the number of students has fallen drastically and so has the skill level. Why is this the case? One thought is the current IT curriculum in schools simply does not teach these technical skills. One thought is that changes in technology have limited how it can be taught. Perhaps it is a combination of these and more? “Back in the day”, platforms such as the BBC Micro and Spectrum ZX made it possible for any one to program applications. Fast forward a couple of years and schools mainly have windows PCs. While this was by no means a huge obstacle, it did start to mark the end of programming. Skip forward a few more years to when the Raspberry Pi project started, the average programming being done in schools was a bit of VB in Office. Even then, in some cases this was minimal, if happening at all. While useful, writing some macros or a single tiny program is not enough to encourage kids into software development as a career. It limited the creativity of some and completely put off others. The ones who were interested, found their own way into the area. For some this meant doing what owners of BBC Micros etc did and writing full applications of their own, for others it meant web development.

While writing this, the web comic below showed up in a feed. It turns out it is awfully relevant.

Here is where the Raspberry Pi came into being. The decline in skills and students was recognised and a solution was needed. The answer that resulted was a low cost (Cost, as always, being a huge factor in any solution) platform that could be a used as  a teaching tool, not just for the obvious computer applications, but also for more physical projects. So here it was, a cheap tool, a whole $35 worth, that had similar power to a low power netbook/smart phone with similar features, yet also had the capabilities to be used for physical computing like an Arduino.

Rasberry Pi Beta Board

Rasberry Pi Beta Board

After working on the project since 2006, hype began to build. Soon enough, the board was famous, everyone wanted one, then in February 2012, it was time. The team started sending out the message through all their previous communication methods. Emails were sent, blogs posted, tweets sent, and I assume shouting from the rooftops (Or at least crying into their tea on launch day when it became obvious just what they had achieved). Now, here is where it starts to annoy me. Let me rephrase that, here is where the community starts to annoy me. Don’t get me wrong, the vast majority of the community saw this coming and are taking it in their stride, there is a minority however (Isn’t there always when it comes to the internet…) that are only willing to see this as a disaster. Almost as if they had kicked a puppy*. Now this is what annoys me, you have been paying attention, you know how popular it has been and know it is going to be popular, yet still knowing this, you try to tear the team a new one. I don’t see any logic in this. It is a well established fact that the device in question has been developed by a a small group of volunteers and not a huge corporation. This means they have a fairly limited budget to work with (Again, an assumption based on the lack company information available), and as a result do not have the resources to magically produce enough boards for everyone in a realistic time scale. We cannot forget of course who this project was aimed at, educators and their classes. This gives the group two choices, delay the project another year while they produce enough boards to meet demand and reduce the amount of time developers have to produce the software users would need to get started, or release now and get the product to market faster so developers have time to prepare for September.

On an international basis, the September deadline is not a particularly important one (To my knowledge), but in the UK, it is a concern. In 2011, Ofsted (Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills) release a report on ICT in schools saying ICT in schools needed improvement, particularly in programming and a couple of other areas 2. As a result of this consultation, it was announced that the current ICT curriculum would be scrapped and replaced with a Computer Science focused course 3. While this may not have been part of the original plan for Raspberry Pi, it almost certainly gave them a new target. What better time to release a product that promotes computer science than when a new computer science curriculum is being released?

Whatever the reason for releasing now, it was known that the demand would be huge. As a result of this, they made efforts to give everyone a chance to get one of the first 10,000; a reasonable release time (Near impossible to find a time everyone is happy with), distributors that cover the world, different methods of alerting everyone. If the efforts by Raspberry Pi themselves wasn’t enough, there was certainly enough buzz on social networks. As shown by the release (and the prompt crashing of several websites), the launch was not missed. Quite how some didn’t notice is quite amazing. Granted, the announcement was not explicit, but given the prior hints at when the release was likely to be, the hints in the announcement itself, and the discussion, it was clear enough to know it was going to be big. And what is going to be bigger than a release?

So, my response to the people complaining about how it wasn’t publicised is this, “Tough.”. Move on, do something useful with your time, such as perhaps, oh I don’t know, write some software for it and test it on an emulator? For those complaining that 10,000 wasn’t enough for a first release. Um…ok, I take it you haven’t tried to predict the future to see how many you will need? Ignoring the time scale, there is the matter of funding. Creating a huge first batch would be rather expensive, a bit beyond the means of such a group. Not impossible, just difficult and a whole new barrel of fish. For those complaining that the team is in over their heads. Yes they are, and no they are not. This project has turned out bigger than anyone could have predicted. Given the scale, the group is in my opinion coping rather well. I challenge any of you to do better with only volunteers and jobs to do.


Raspberry Pi is an amazing board created to help solve the lack of skilled computer science students. It is a project run by volunteers working with the community. If for some reason you do not like what they are doing, either get involved with useful advice or start your own project. Or simply be quiet. Yes there will be some disappointments along the road, yes it may take a while for you to get your own, but please, do not complain and complain some more about someone doing a fine job under difficult circumstances. Do not waste your energy complaining about how badly someone is handling something that a corporation can struggle with never mind a small group of people. Instead, regardless of where you are, put your energy into helping the next generation of computer scientists, engineers, mathematicians, scientists (Or anyone else who falls into the category of STEM). A little bit of effort and we can do something amazing. Hop to it.

*No puppies were ever harmed, only stroked and petted and found to be amazing. Presumably cats were also found to be amazing, but I’ll leave that one to the Raspberry Pi team to confirm or deny.

Hidden Science Map

Think scientists are just stuck in labs all day and follow all the stereotypes? Well you are wrong! Slightly. No promises about some of the stereotypes…

To prove this, the Science Council launched the Hidden Science Map project. The map, aimed at school children is designed to show that scientists, engineers and technologists are everywhere. They play the same sports as you, shop in the same places you do and have ‘normal’ lives.

If you are a scientist, engineer or technologist, I urge you to sign up and get yourself on the map to help promote STEM careers!


Important news first, Newcastle Science Fest and Maker Faire UK have been announced! Find out more about the Maker Faire at the site

In music news, System of a Down have announced they are getting back together. I’m very excited about this. Not often a great band gets back together. Cannot wait to hear what their time working on solo projects does to the overall sound.

In other music news, the head liners for 2011’s Evolution festival have been announced and include Iggy and The Stooges. Yes, you heard right, Iggy and the Stooges. I for one didn’t see this coming and are in two minds about it. On one hand it could be a brilliant show and as loud as the Stooges should be, but on the other it could just be dull as they all start to feel their age and don’t have the energy to do anything like you would expect. Guess we’ll have to wait and see. Then again, at £35 per ticket, maybe not.

In tech news, I must admit something. I got a tiny bit bored and may have started creating another CMS. Not sure why, it just felt necessary at the time…
This particular one is being based on the MVC concept and will also include a brand new authentication system to go with it. Parts may be made open source, but to be honest, getting it working is the priority right now.

Short update over, all is well, how about you?

Good Musics?

Tonight (October 6th), the amazing Marian Call plays at the Thinkgeek HQ, to add to the fun, the full event is being streamed live here. Why am I mentioning this? Simple, Marian is an amazing artist and of course, an amazing geek. I really cannot do justice here, you need to check her out for yourself. Whether you catch the second half of her show live, watch the recorded version later or whatever, you must check her out and support her if you like her stuff. Find out more at her site:

Geekness & Howduino

So today (Tuesday 13th) is Embrace Your Geekness Day. A day to be proud (As usual I hope) of your geekness, and maybe even a day to be proud of fellow geeks. Personally, I’m proud to be a geek and I’m happy to say I’m proud of my fellow geeks, such as the wonderful Kitty, the corntastic Josie and of course the guys like Collin Mel and everyone else (Lets not go into the list of those we are not proud of, we all know who they are).

So my question is, what did you do to embrace your geekness and that of others?

In other news, HowduinoNCL is coming up, anyone going? Have anything special planned? My plan is still somewhat…vague, but I’m open to other ideas if someone wants help!

(continue reading…)

Physical Science and Mechanics?

In case you wern’t aware, over at Make, it is Physical Sciences and Mechanics Month. To quote Gareth Branwyn;

“Physical science is a broadly used term that can be applied to the study of any non-living systems and how they interact, from the foundational physical laws of energy, matter, and force to the basic principles of simple machines (lever, pulley, inclined plane, wedge, screw, gear). The term is also applied to chemistry and Earth sciences, and from there, it becomes leaky with the living, the biological. For our coverage, we’ll stick to it as it applies to simple machines, basic laws of physics, and how they become the complex mechanical systems that surrounds us.”

Gareth goes onto say that such skills may seem a little rudimentary for Make: Online readers, but the skills seems to have been lost (Whether it be because they have been forgotten or what have you), and I have to agree. I do not believe that the entire problem is one of the skills simply being pushed out of your mind by other things, but that some of the skills never made it there in the first place. Lets face it, back in school everyone was distracted by something, whether it was sleep to recover from the night before (and the late night game sessions on your playstation etc before you say it…) or that girl/boy a few desks away or whatever. Come on, even you hard core students were distracted by something at some point and you know it! Thanks to this distraction not everything the teacher said was heard, in some cases not such a great loss. Er…I mean such a great loss! A tragedy even!

As I said, I find it hard to believe that being distracted is the only reason, looking back on my experiences of physics lessons and a “Systems and Control” (S&C) class, some concepts seem to have been lacking or not there at all. In S&C efforts were made by the teacher to explain the principals of cams, gears, screws etc and their uses, essentially the concepts that were required for our final project. Little effort was made however to look at other concepts such as pulleys. To show just how limited this was, I refer to the following list of occasions when pulleys were mentioned:

  1. Mock Exam Paper – Several weeks before the actual exam (Only got that A because of a random find months earlier while looking for something else unrelated)

Yes, that list does indeed go to 1. This isn’t the only thing missing however, there are plenty of examples of things that were missing from these classes yet were apparently on the syllabus. Now don’t get me wrong, the teachers were good at what they did, but I still feel something was lacking. Another example of this was the not in the slightest known “rocket car” project. In the final year of school, three of us convinced a teacher to help us build a rocket motor powered vehicle with the aim of entering a competition ran by the BBC. While it was fair enough that the teachers would have a good chance of being a little out of their depth with such a project, the support we were provided with was, in retrospect, worrying. While you would not necessarily expect much expertise in the area of aerodynamics, some advice on the areas most likely to be under strain in a vehicle would be something, but none such advice appeared. By the end of the project (never did get to the competition after it was cancelled), we had learned more from the workshop technician than from the teachers paid to explain such things.

I’m sure if we all think about it we will be able to think of experiences were potentially important things have not been explained properly. Now I don’t want to necessarily get into the discussion of who could be to blame for such short comings in education, instead I’ll just stick with the “everyone and their goat” response (should cover it I think). What I would want to see more discussion of is what can be done to improve the situation and to some extent why we are here. Naturally the reasons are going to vary from place to place but there are going to be common factors like funding, health and safety, but what are we doing to still educate the young and old without hitting these barriers? While the main focus, in keeping with the mechanical theme, is physical sciences etc, what about electronics? General Science? What kind of ideas do you have to get more people interested?

Yes, I admit that the chances of this article making any difference to the educational systems, but theres nothing wrong with encouraging safe exploration at home right?

As a result of these educational woes, there is now a lack of knowledge for some people. I for one would love to fill in this gap, as such I urge you, if you know of any good resources, happen to be an expert or otherwise have something to contribute, please get in touch with Gareth (Link in his article), if you’re not sure about that, mention it here, I don’t bite, not so sure about anyone else though…

On a completely unrelated note, how did I miss Dropkick Murphys? Really. How?!

Steam, Portals, Facebook Rant, Other!

If you haven’t already seen around the interwebs, Steam, the popular gaming software for PCs, has made its way to Mac. Is this a good thing? Yes! Despite the common misconception, Macs can be used for gaming (Yes yes shock, awe etc. etc.). With the release of Steam, the number of games you can easily find has just gone up. As a result of the recent release, and it being for Mac, the number of games available is limited and currently hangs around 63, and that is just the New Releases. What does this mean for Mac users? Simple. Fun. The current available games are some of the old classics and the newer classics and of course the new indie games like World Of Goo. There is however one other game which has been able to sneak in. For a limited period, Portal is available free. Cool huh?

While it is all well and good that Steam has made it to Mac, I do still have one or two minor issues with it. The first, where is the Linux client? Especially for the indie games! Come on guys, not a challenging one. Second, and slightly more important, is the interface. Sure it is nice and shiny, and like everyone I like the interface to change from the norm from time to time. This however does it but not exactly as well as it could. I can’t quite put my finger on it yet, but there is something about the way it works that puts me off.

The main thing that sold me? Portal. Why? It sounded interesting and to be honest so far it is, if only in a bahmybrainsdeadandneedsomethingtooccupyme kinda way. It is one of those puzzle games that will get you thinking. A mix of platformer and puzzle with a hint of broken physics and good graphics. Worth checking out. You may be able to expect some form of proper review at a later time.

Rant time. So assuming a good number of you use that facebook thing, can we also assume that at some point recently you have came across one of these groups that requires you to complete a survey, shave a goat and for the odd one you will no doubt also have to touch a sheep in an inappropriate place. Yes? Of course you have, because it now seems that only 1 in 40,000 doesn’t require you to do that (Exaggerated statistics courtesy of the magic world of cheese). Why? Seriously, why?! I don’t care about your ‘survey’/scam. Just let me move on. Yes I know there are sites that still have some of this content available without the need to hit that ‘Like’ button, but I don’t care. This way used to be easier. </ mini rant>

In other news! Birthday times! Yes indeed, this week it was the birthday of a previously mentioned blogger Carla (Twitter). Happy birthday!

Music Review?

Recently I was introduced to the wonders of Laura Marling (Yeah Thanks Later…). As such I am slightly disappointed to have missed her playing in Newcastle at the Tyne Theatre. The awesome Steph did however make it. I highly recommend reading her review of the event over at her blog. You can find it here. A good read, for all, and certainly a blog to keep an eye on in general!


Use Arduino or another platform and want to make your own PCBs? Even if you don’t and want to use create your own for another purpose?

The first step is to design the board. One popular way for hobbyists is to use a program known as EAGLE. The free version provides the ability to design simple boards to a specification suitable for professional production. At a glance the program can be a bit confusing for new users, however help is at hand.

element14 and TinkerLondon have got together to help out. On Saturday 15th May 2010, the two companies are working together to put on a workshop in London. For £10, you get a full day introduction to the tool.

More information can be found at

Copyright © 2012 John Tiernan - All Rights Reserved
Jarrah theme by Templates Next | Powered by WordPress

Page optimized by WP Minify WordPress Plugin