Tag: PCB

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.


Over the past year I have been working on a project using purely Arduinos. Now that this project is nearly over, I have decided to take the optional step of taking it further.

The plan so far is to still use the Arduino environment, but load the code onto a custom PCB. This should allow the software to remain the same while allowing a massively reduced version of the hardware (The current modules can be compared to bricks). To do this there are two options, an FTDI cable/chip or to program the uC directly. While FTDI chips are cool and everything, I decided against it with the option to include on at a later stage in the process. This left the option of programming the uC directly.

To do this rather than go for a nice AVR programmer such as those produced by Atmel, I went for the altogether more fun option and went with Adafruit Industries’ USBtinyISP. As usual, Oomlout showed off and got it packed and shipped allowing it to arrive 2 days later, and in their usual way, Adafruit did the same with an excellent kit.

To the kit! So what do you need to make it so simple? Aside from the usual tools (This was one of the few times I wish I had an actual PCB vice and not just some helping hands and a spare finger), I’d highly recommend having some good music on and some milkshake. Why? Why not? Everyone should have a decent beverage while working. Based on the weather and the general mood of the day, milkshake seemed appropriate. Assuming you follow the instructions and read them (Yeah, I didn’t do that the first time on one or two sections…), the kit is easy to build with everything explained where required. If there was one thing I’d recommend, it would be to have some bluetak (Or equivalent) handy for when you solder the headers.

What happens when its done? COmpleted USBtinyISPWell you get something that looks like this. Your next step as you may have guessed is to test it and use it. If you plan on using it with your Arduino to add a bootloader, you may become slightly confused by how to connect it. The best guide to tell you which way to plug it in can be found on the Adafruit forum here. It provides pictures and descriptions just to make the whole process easier.

If you are starting out with this side of working with microprocessors, or even if you are experienced, you will no doubt find this fun and educational. Congratulations to Adafruit for producing such a useful tool and well done to Oomlout for working so well to distribute it over here!


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 http://tinkerlondon.com/what-we-do/workshops/introduction-to-eagle-for-advanced-arduino-users

A plan?


So a while back, there was a mention of plans for something aimed at making the life of developers/tinkerers/others easier. Particularly those who use who use I2C. Now as we all know I2C can operate with just one device on the bus, which is all fairly simple, but what if you need more? You need to build a bus!

Yes this can be done easily on breadboard, and is just as simple on perf board (strip board or whatever you care to call it), what about when you want to implement it? Or you just want something slightly better for say… teaching? Well one option is to go and make your own PCBs, or another is to find someone who already has. I2C PCB

Over the past few months in a few moments of spare time (and alot of waiting), I have produced a quick solution that may be of interest. This simple PCB provides a data line, clock line, power lines and a spare line for you to use with whatever I2C devices you wish. Including is space for the pull up resistors where needed and a power LED (Note: this LED should have a resistor on board, but was missed off this version). This version, almost as demonstrated by the errors in it and missing features is just a proof of concept.

However, if there is enough interest, there is a chance a production run could be done for a suitable price. If you are interested, leave a comment!


Got questions? Just ask! This is just the start and suggestions are always welcome.

  • Is the source available?

    Currently the source for this is not available as I do not wish to put something out there with such errors or a lack of documentation. It may however become available later.

  • Is a sample available to test?

    Maybe…If you are really interested, leave a comment and I’ll get back to you. The board may be free, the postage may require a minor contribution depending on location and how nice you are


Got questions for me about anything (Other than the above!)? Ask them here or in the comments! The best ones may even get posted.


So in a passing conversation on twitter, the subject of geeky fashion came up. For any one that knows me, you’ll be aware that the closest I get to anything with style is a fancy design on a t-shirt. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t pass up advice from something of an expert. In this case, Carla, and her blog MessyCarla: A Fashion Blog In Size 16

In terms of geeky guys, take a look at This

Don’t forget to check out her competition!

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