Raspberry Pi: computing under the bonnet

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It is an irony of technology that the deeper it sinks into everyday life, the more remote it can come to seem. When motor cars were a rarity, early drivers had to crank up their engines, but today we can cruise without the faintest concern about what's happening under the bonnet – until something goes wrong. A generation ago computer users had to type commands in technical syntax to achieve the simplest things; nowadays a finger can press on a screen and open an app to do just about anything.

Easier computing makes for an easier life, but it could leave the next generation both more dependent on and more clueless about the microchip. The Raspberry Pi – the low-cost computer that went on sale yesterday, and could soon break into schools – responds to this prospect. It is sold as a few uncased components bolted on to a credit-card-sized board, so we really are talking back to basics, though not quite back to Basic: the clock speed would put any 1980s machine to shame. But the cohort who learned the programming craft back then are the project's greatest enthusiasts. They're only human, and so it is partly nostalgia – having copied out code from magazines and wired technical Lego engines up to their Spectrums, they go gooey at the thought of their children getting similar hands-on experience. But there are also two really serious objectives.

The first and more obvious point is – to go back to the car analogy – that the next generation of mechanics will have to come from somewhere, and they will require a degree of exposure to the nuts and bolts of computing. The difficulty of manufacturing hardware is already such that, despite hopes of keeping it at home, the Pi is stamped "made in China". As for software, no one, no matter how bright, can flower into a boffin without the chance to tinker around with code. Proprietary platforms like Windows make that difficult – the bonnet is welded shut – so the Pi will run on open-source Linux.

While those few who will go on to devise meta-languages and wizardly games may dive into the bowels of operating systems, it must be admitted that this will remain a minority sport. But the second advantage of hands-on computing applies more widely. Where new engine components embody new principles in sealed units, every computable language must – as Turing proved – embody the same essential logic. With a little sense of how to manipulate it, perfectly ordinary brains could dispatch everyday tasks better, by for example aligning diaries, reordering information, or recrunching bank statements from a format that makes sense for banks to serve up, into a format that is easy to read. In sum, as the sponsoring charity puts it, the aim must be for the next generation to learn to control computers, rather than be controlled by them.

Article , Guardian.co.uk

Hi Simon

Yes it does fill a gap, but having seen one the power it offers is a bit lame - meaning if a youngster was going to write code for it the results would be as good as a 1980s TV game consul. Not exactly interesting to someone trying/wanting to write an Android App.
It's a good idea, but I'm not convinced the end result will be that positive.

Regards
Eric



It is an irony of technology that the deeper it sinks into everyday
life, the more remote it can come to seem. When motor cars were a
rarity, early drivers had to crank up their engines, but today we
can cruise without the faintest concern about what's happening
under the bonnet _ until something goes wrong. A generation ago
computer users had to type commands in technical syntax to achieve
the simplest things; nowadays a finger can press on a screen and
open an app to do just about anything.

Easier computing makes for an easier life, but it could leave the
next generation both more dependent on and more clueless about the
microchip. The Raspberry Pi _ the low-cost computer that went on
sale yesterday, and could soon break into schools _ responds to
this prospect. It is sold as a few uncased components bolted on to
a credit-card-sized board, so we really are talking back to basics,
though not quite back to Basic: the clock speed would put any 1980s
machine to shame. But the cohort who learned the programming craft
back then are the project's greatest enthusiasts. They're only
human, and so it is partly nostalgia _ having copied out code from
magazines and wired technical Lego engines up to their Spectrums,
they go gooey at the thought of their children getting similar
hands-on experience. But there are also two really serious
objectives.

The first and more obvious point is _ to go back to the car analogy
_ that the next generation of mechanics will have to come from
somewhere, and they will require a degree of exposure to the nuts
and bolts of computing. The difficulty of manufacturing hardware is
already such that, despite hopes of keeping it at home, the Pi is
stamped "made in China". As for software, no one, no matter how
bright, can flower into a boffin without the chance to tinker
around with code. Proprietary platforms like Windows make that
difficult _ the bonnet is welded shut _ so the Pi will run on
open-source Linux.

While those few who will go on to devise meta-languages and
wizardly games may dive into the bowels of operating systems, it
must be admitted that this will remain a minority sport. But the
second advantage of hands-on computing applies more widely. Where
new engine components embody new principles in sealed units, every
computable language must _ as Turing proved _ embody the same
essential logic. With a little sense of how to manipulate it,
perfectly ordinary brains could dispatch everyday tasks better, by
for example aligning diaries, reordering information, or
recrunching bank statements from a format that makes sense for
banks to serve up, into a format that is easy to read. In sum, as
the sponsoring charity puts it, the aim must be for the next
generation to learn to control computers, rather than be controlled
by them.

Article , Guardian.co.uk

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Personally I cannot wait to get my hands on a couple of Raspberry Pi.

One will be for my son to code on, he's very keen on doing this. The other will form a media centre with the XBMC program on it. Then it can live in the lounge coupled up to the TV and HiFi. Far better than having the large noisy PC that's in there at the moment.

I remember multi-tasking a DTP program and a WP plus a small graphic program in 14Mb (yep 14Mb) of memory on an Atari Falcon. Be nice to get back to frugal programming instead of all this bloat with Windows. The nice thing about the Raspberry Pi hardware is that the Broadcom chip does a lot.

It's amazing what even basic smart phones can do nowadays, this Pi is on a par with that, so with a big screen and coupled to an audio set up it will be a nice PC for bedrooms and lounges. No good for heavy audio or video editing, but as a playback machine it's ideal.

But we'll have to wait until we get our hands on one to see what it can do in the real world.

Most exciting thing in the PC arena for me since the Atari Falcon!

:-)

Mike K

Having seen it first on the BBC six o clock news on Wednesday evening , the reporter said that the intention was to revive the values of the very early days of computing , with the likes of the BBC Micro , where users could write a few lines of code to maybe get it to do some fairly basic routine. wheather or not , young computer enthusiasts actually would be interested in doing this , remains to be seen. The BBC report spoke to a few students about it and they all seemed quite enthusiastic about the prospect of being able to experiment with a bit of coding. I have to say that coding does nothing for me - i only started to see the value of computers when they moved away from the command line instructions that drove all the early ones , and could actually deliver some media content themselves.

For more on the Raspberry pi , see this short item by the BBC's technology reporter , Rory Cellan-Jones http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-17196115

Mike Kerslake <(Address removed)> said:

Personally I cannot wait to get my hands on a couple of Raspberry Pi.

A man I know brought one in to show me and have a play with. We didn't have long, but it was fun. A lot of 'men' were leaning over each other fiddling with it and talking to it.

But, I wonder if it was fun because I'm an old BBC B anorak, and loved fiddling with the different bits you could buy for it.

I hope it will enthuse the next generations, probably those under 10, to have a fiddle with hands-on technology that they are so removed from these days, but I suspect the majority of over 10s will find it a tad too retro.

Simon Crees <(Address removed)> said:

I have to say that coding does nothing for me - i only started to see
the value of computers when they moved away from the command line
instructions that drove all the early ones , and could actually deliver
some media content themselves.

Ah, Simon, you're missing out!

Yes, it's nice to plug and play with a computer, but coding is all about writing your own application, even if all that application does is ask a person what their name is and then says, "Hello <your name>". That's fun!

You should teach yourself a bit of Javascript as a very quick way of doing very simple things.