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back to article Elite coder readies £15 programming gadget for schools

The Raspberry Pi Foundation may sound like a school for aspiring bakers, but it aims to promote computer science by producing an inexpensive miniature PC called Raspberry Pi. Games developer David Braben, famous for titles such as Elite and Rollercoaster Tycoon, is the project lead. And he wants to bring a £15 USB Flash drive- …

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Where's ethernet jack

for hacking-away at network protocols? And some form of easy-to-hack connector (like LPT was)?

If they put an ethernet jack and some easy-to-program port on it, I'm buying 10 for my pet projects!

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Or better

Give two USB ports instead of 1!. Ethernet-USB adaptters are easy to get and might be non-essential in many applications, but connecting one would cause the device to have no way to get signals from the outside.

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Noooo

Give me Ethernet rather than a second USB port, you're adding a layer of abstraction that requires *lots* of coding to get around if you use USB ethernet, make it a simple Ethernet chip like the Microchip SPi offering or, better still, use an ARM that has it in silicon.

Oh, and for £15, put me down for half a dozen if they get that Ethernet on there..

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except

for Ethernet. Which is the interface that drives a significant chunk of the world's connectivity, no?

Also, have you never heard of a USB hub?

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@Pawel 1

With the widespread availability of multiport USB Hubs, this would seem to be a pointless addition which would surely increase the price.

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ethernet

With ethernet it would make an awesome extension to most home routers. Providing VPN access to the home network for those who's routers don't support it among other things.

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Anonymous Coward

Vapourware

Is THIS what he's been doing instead of bringing us Elite IV?

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WTF?

IV ?

What happened to II and III ?

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FAIL

wtf indeed

frontier: elite2 and Elite3: first encounter fit that description well enough. Not to mention the once a year reminder from Braben that "elite4 is still in development"

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Anonymous Coward

heh

Most people don't know how to use excel or word and they use them every single day, like ham fisted Neanderthals.

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Program, work better

In a distant moment of history having resisted the pointlessness of computing I took a course in business management, which was a code word for computing as no one else used such machines. I turned into a DOS addict and learnt to program in pascal, COBOL, SQL and use user unfriendly interfaces such as the vi editor. The lessons learnt allowed me at the time to get some excellent automation from Lotus Symphony, an interim stage for Lotus 123. Even now those lessons are being used to get Excel to make my job easier. I have worked with some extremely clever people who, despite their intellect, created charts in Powerpoint manually while having the data in Excel. With a little work I have been able to show them how to automate the process and get the machine to do the work.

A little of the old fashioned knowledge makes the shiny new toys really become productivity devices. At the same time as computing performance has become orders of magnitude more powerful, the sloppiness of coding has increased as there is no notable detriment. Let's get these little charmers into the hands of kids and exploit their creativity and let them enjoy that primal pleasure in being able to tell a machine to do what you want it to do, not what someone else has conditioned you to ask the machine.

I might get one just to indulge in my masochistic pleasure of debugging code. Got to love new toys!

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Great for me

I want one to play with but as for my students, they can get a free copy of Visual Studio Pro from Dreamspark which is a bit more useful.

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I think

the guy is trying to fight with attitude like yours. Knowledge doesn't have to be useful.

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And anyway

you can get a free copy of Linux, Eclipse, gcc, javac, python, perl, PHP, Apache...

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@Tom Woord, not in 128MB you won't.

Raspberry Pi has enough memory to run an embedded Linux, maybe a few tools and maybe a simple gui and one simple app on top. Any more than that and you're going to run out of space. Maybe you could augment with swap but that's through a USB storage device. That's not to say you couldn't cross compile from another device with more memory but if you think you're going to run any full blown Linux app on the actual device - forget it. That said I think it's an incredibly cool concept and it's bound to spawn lots of interesting things like media players, file servers and so on.

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Anonymous Coward

that's plenty of space

For a simple OS with Java on top. It's plenty more powerful than most feature phones.

But really it shouldn't have any more than the bare minimum of an OS and no high level languages. Kids really need to get into the guts of a computer. Far too many young programmers that I've interviewed really have no clue how a computer works.

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Anonymous Coward

Nothing without the software.

Sure a simple piece of hardware built around a media SoC can be put together cheaply and sold at cost, but it's as useless as a teaching tool as any closed system unless learning materials and lots of supporting software is bundled with it.

Given the apparent lack of expertise amongst high-school educators, the tutorials and dev tools will need to be particularly comprehensive and well written. Given the target audience, they might not necessarily resemble anything already available under a GNU license either. You might end up needing a Canonical sized enterprise just to provide the necessary support.

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Boffin

Re: Nothing without the software.

"Given the apparent lack of expertise amongst high-school educators, the tutorials and dev tools will need to be particularly comprehensive and well written."

Yes, but this is nothing that Acorn under the auspices of the BBC and the Computer Literacy Project didn't do before.

"Given the target audience, they might not necessarily resemble anything already available under a GNU license either."

Nonsense. If the incentive and - yes, for that extra push - funding is there, the materials will get written. It's a myth that Free Software doesn't have documentation - even though some stuff isn't well documented - and that proprietary software has great documentation. In the latter case, I've encountered really appalling half-arsed documentation for proprietary software over the years.

Furthermore, a fair number of writers, knowing that they'll never make big bucks writing technical books, have gone for writing them and making them available under Free licences with more "agile" publishers and direct distribution. So there's nothing to suggest that any documentation, like the software itself, won't be there in sufficient quantity under a GNU (or other Free Content) licence.

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Coat

I think I know how that could work.

"You might end up needing a Canonical sized enterprise just to provide the necessary support."

Like maybe, say, the BBC? ;-)

Mine's the one with a tape copy of Arcadians.

And Rocket Raid.

And Snapper.

And Painter

And...

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Not a bad idea

Well, I salute anyone who tries to get kids to see under the hood. There are too many examples of black boxes in a kid's world that they should be educated on. Food doesn't just come out of a packet. Gas doesn't just come out of a pump. And computers don't do things by themselves.

Personally, I'd love to see something like a kit PS3. Let's say, you sell them the bits, no warranty, OtherOS support, at a knockdown price and you have the carrot of being able to play PS3 games at the end of your build. Would make a great Sunday afternoon project for the kids.

I know, never going to happen.

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Anonymous Coward

"I know, never going to happen."

Of course you know why.

Because either:

a. It comes in bits PC style, e.g. motherboard, CDROM drive, etc, and they won't learn anything worthwhile by putting it together.

or

b. It comes in bits component style, e.g. surface mount resistors, FPGAs, etc, and the industrial machinery required to properly solder those components (the hundreds of them that are required) only exists in labs and factories where children are pretty much forbidden from visiting on principle. Well, other than the children who actually make the genuine PS3s (probably, not to accuse Sony of using child labour or anything LOL).

And if you were allowed to watch one be assembled you still wouldn't learn anything useful (although I don't doubt that it would be a thoroughly interesting experience).

Nah, a simple computer like this is just what the doctor ordered. Kids who care about the inside of a PS3 can take apart their own. They're not going to understand how it works though. I very much doubt that any single person does.

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Headmaster

Looking under the hood: why?

There is no actual advantage in understanding the underlying mechanics/electronics, in daily life. Yes, it makes you a more rounded person and I'd prefer to work with people with such an attitude to their surroundings, but no actual advantage.

In analogy, you do not learn in driving school how an engine actually works, because there's no advantage. When you break down you break down, and a salvage truck will have to come; there are almost no user-replaceable parts left on modern engines; any amateur will need expensive diagnostic kit (which works in absolutely unknown black-box fashion) to read error codes and tweak injection settings. Yes some knowledge will help you to detect the worst BS told by mechanics, or whether a combination of warning signs are worrying, but that's when things are already going pear-shaped and you anyway need professional intervention.

Especially in this context, the advantage isn't really there. Yes, tens of thousands would benefit from this barebones device, as opposed to the millions who will need office skills for office work. Current high school teaching doesn't let much (or: any?) time for specialist work for the general pupil. Trying to teach such things will only spook the majority and reinforce the blackbox attitude.

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Transportable skills

"Yes, tens of thousands would benefit from this barebones device, as opposed to the millions who will need office skills for office work. Current high school teaching doesn't let much (or: any?) time for specialist work for the general pupil."

The problem is that office skills aren't education, they're training. And one problem with training over education is that it narrows the mind. If all you give kids about computers is Powerpoint, a lot of them aren't going to grasp the full potential, or be able to adapt to when we drop Powerpoint for something else.

It's like teaching kids French by giving them a phrase book, or giving a ready-filled iPod and calling it a music lesson.

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Completely agree

"The problem is that office skills aren't education, they're training. And one problem with training over education is that it narrows the mind. If all you give kids about computers is Powerpoint, a lot of them aren't going to grasp the full potential, or be able to adapt to when we drop Powerpoint for something else.

"It's like teaching kids French by giving them a phrase book, or giving a ready-filled iPod and calling it a music lesson."

Taking this back to cars: I learned basic maintenance and repairs on my car from the beginning (BTW I'm not even 30 yet). I then learned more when I bought a Mini and became friends with a mechanic. Eventually I learned about the theory behind them in my degree course.

When learning to drive, you get taught what you need to pass the test (I have a big problem with this, at least motorcycle lessons are better, with most instructors teaching beyond that). However, understanding what is happening, and why you do this in this situation, is better than learning by rote.

Understanding why you change gear, why you need (in an older car) to release the brakes when the wheels lock, why a hole in the exhaust (or a horribly mismatched "loud" exhaust) hurts performance and economy, and why tyre pressures need to be correct (just as a few examples) has helped me immensely in driving. Understanding the Otto & Deisel cycles and other in-depth topics has not helped as much, but still adds more information with which to make descisions.

Back to computing, if someone learns about "what's under the hood" (in abstaract terms, at least) they are more likely to be better able to opperate the machine. If they just learn how to use MS Office, their skills are non-transferable and they will have a much harder time adapting to other tools they must use later.

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FAIL

WRONG!

If you bothered to learn how the "engine actually works" you would probably become a better driver...

How can you expect write instructions for a machine, the internal workings of which you dont even understand?? same with software - if you dont understand the basics of how your hardware works, you cant possibly write effective code...

Sticking with your car anaology, car engines still function in the same fundamental way as they always have, so even though you might not understand the electronics parts, a mechanic from 50years ago could likely still diagnose a split water hose, slipping belt, failed clutch etc etc...

If they put a paypal link on thier website, i'd pre-order mine right now!

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@Marvin

WTF? I did learn how an engine actually works when driving, it gave you an understanding of the noises, why gear changes were important, why oil is important. It also gave you knowledge of when to break the rules (e.g. pulling away in second).

You to not need a PhD in electronics to run a PC, but knowing enough to know that increasing your ram to 32gb with one shitty HDD and a weak controller isn't going to speed things up *IS* important.

And as for cars, it is getting harder but many parts are still user-replaceable. I have often thought that road-side maintenance should be taken into the type approval e.g. "It my be possible to change any bulb on the vehicle within 10 minutes and without requiring tools."

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No user serviceable parts

>When you break down you break down, and a salvage truck will have to come;

Possibly, few of us carry toolkits. But that said, a reasonable understanding can help make sure that you don't just keep driving when the temp gauge goes into the red - it isn't that far to work, or that the oil light cam on, but it's ok it comes on 50 miles before you need to put oil in it (both of which I have been personally told)

> there are almost no user-replaceable parts left on modern engines;

> any amateur will need expensive diagnostic kit

Bollocks, although there have been advances the technology of a modern engine is pretty much the same as a 60's 'fix it on sunday' lump, true, the ECU automatically changes some variables but the things that go wrong are usually either 60's tech or the sensors that feed the ECU which are reasonably easy to diagnose if you have some basic understanding of the algorithms.

>to read error codes

a flowchart works just as well

>and tweak injection settings.

OK, you'd need an electronic gadget to do this, but if you need to tweak injection settings then you have done a lot more engine work than just breaking down.

The same mindset is behind "don't touch it, you won't understand it, very complex, give us money" in the IT industry and Automotive, building, plumbing, home electrical.

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Happy

but wait!

Hang on! what are those wires going off to the top of the picture. I'm presuming a power supply. Great that its the size of a usb flash drive or the size of a 20p coin, but if the power supply needs a bench top PSU then its not very good is it? Please announce this when its in a little box and has a dead rat attached to it. Better yet, power it off the HDMI port (is that possible??).

PS. Cant wait to buy one!

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Anonymous Coward

the aires out the top....

I presume that as there are two USB devices the wires out of the top are so it can act as an active hub, remember that daisy chaining USB devices require the passive devices to be on the end of the chain

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Wires = JTAG?

Looks like a JTAG header to me. Can't see an obvious one anywhere else.

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wires at the top

I assumed the wires at the top was for the display....

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Pint

This is where reg readers 30 and under now go....

"Huh? Why is he elite? What did he do?"

37 and feeling it.

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Don't worry mate

I'm 25 and I have a complete edition of Elite for the C64, as well as a C128-D on which to play it.

Admittedly, I'm a sad bastard, ;-)

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Elite on C64 was shit

The C64 was great at sprites and awful at drawing raster lines. Probably the best 8-bit version was the original Acorn version followed by the ZX-Spectrum. Biggest impediment on the ZX Spectrum was not the game but the bloody lenslok copy protection.

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Clock speed

It was the CPU clock speed that was the killer. When drawing lines it's all about the MHz.

But there weren't all that many vector games really.

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Starglider

Was IMO the next best vector game after Elite IMO (esp the speccy 128k version)

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29 here

Admittedly, I was late to the party, so I had Frontier Elite II on the Amiga. Oh, the homework that never got done due to that game...

I reckon Raspberry Pi should look into getting backing from a media organ, possibly the BBC, like Acorn back in the 80s.

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The Mechanoid demands that you put him down

Mercenary - surely the best wireframe romp there ever was - featured visual gags poking fun at its own graphical style too. 12939 anyone?

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Boffin

Good, but not Elite.

A bit of HLR went a long way in those days.

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Not bad

Looks good but a shame it doesn't have an Ethernet port. That would have made for some really interesting projects...

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No Ethernet but does have USB

Couldn't you attach a USB hub (< GBP5 at Tesco) and a USB WiFi dongle?

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Anonymous Coward

Wardriving?

I wonder how this would go as a small wardiving box

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JB
Happy

Yeah!

Sounds like a gret idea, I can only imagine it will have a minority interest amongst today's teens, though, though those who will take it up are likely to be the keenest coders anyway.

I grew up in the 80s with BASIC programming on the BBC and Spectrum, then Turbo Pascal and turbo C, and about 2 weeks of 8086 assembler. Since about 1990 I've done little coding, except the odd AMOS game and, in later days, HTML (if that counts). I really wish I could go back 20 years and pick up where I left off, there was something about writing a program, solving problems, the thrill of something working, that I really miss in today's computers.

This might be great for kids, but what do you guys suggest for lapsed programmers like me to get the bug again?

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Uncanny

I also grew up in the 80s, started on the ZX81, then Specturm, then BBC Micro (still got my Master Compact in a drawer and Elite for it), then Turbo Pascal, then AmosPro, then I got distracted by the internet in the mid 90s...

I got back into programming a couple of years ago with the PIC based PICAXE microcontrollers because I also have an electronics passion, they're a cinch to program in BASIC and quite powerful chips for all sorts of projects, cheap and easy to wire up and a lot of fun.

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uggest for lapsed programmers like me to get the bug again

BBC Basic for Windows perhaps?

http://www.bbcbasic.co.uk/index.html

Includes access to Windows API's, DirectX etc.

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PICs

http://www.microchip.com/

Buy from Maplin or RS

Cheap, lots of tools. I mostly write assembler. I've even set one up to emulate a serial port on my homebrew 6809 FORTH machine

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+1 for Pic generally

There are a variety of dev boards for pic, depending what your interests are. You could start with:

http://www.fored.co.uk/devboard.HTM

http://www.coolcomponents.co.uk/

Also have a look at

http://www.arduino.cc/

http://www.spinvent.co.uk/

http://www.iosoft.co.uk/wlan.php

http://www.skpang.co.uk/

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@JB

If you've got a PC and you don't want to spend any money you could take a look at Microsoft XNA Game Studio (XNA games can be coded with MS express tools which are free too). There are some good tutorials around too about cobbling together 2d and 3d games using this.

Flame icon cause I'm sure I'm about to be (for suggesting an MS freebie)

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WTF?

Programming PICs in Basic?

I don't believe I've ever heard anything so absurd. Was this some kind of über-PIC with 1GHz clock and Gigabytes of memory?

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suggestion :

Get a plug computer, like a Sheeva. configurable to do all sorts of interesting and useful things.

I like the concept of Brabens idea as a parental tool : You want me to buy you your _OWN_ computer? / rubber stamp you going to computer science classes / whatever : alright, I'll do you a deal. take this raspberry and make it do X, Y, Z. If you can show me how you did it, then we've got a deal.

frankly I can only applaud any effort that leads kids away from "did you update your drivers? then no, IDK whats wrong with it, send it back"

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