back to article Lesser-spotted Raspberry Pi FINALLY dished up

The credit card-sized ARM-powered Raspberry Pi is finally shipping, at £30, allowing thousands of middle-aged dads to achieve their adolescent dreams of computing nirvana. Shipping was supposed to happen last month, but problems with a couple of components, and getting the CE mark organised, delayed things slightly. The first …

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Unless schools do things using the GPIO on the PI board then I don't see the whole idea of the board since the video I've seen of the unit in use just shows it running Debian Linux and some educational software.

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Wuh?

I've always wondered at this attitude. Since when did programming GPIO's become a necessity for learning to program?

As to the educational side, let me think... What could be the educational advantages of a Linux PC that runs off an SD card (easily reimaged if broken) and can be programmed in any number of languages, and can be put in a school bag? That costs £30. Including all the software. Tough one.

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Rob
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Re: Wuh?

Leave it, I'm already sobbing at the fact that I would have killed for this sort of thing when I was a kid.

The BBC Micro in the loft with the 'Replay' chip modded onto it doesn't quite count as the same.

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Re: Wuh?

If you put a Pi in a school bag it will be snapped into bits in no time. It's kind of silly that it ships without a case.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Wuh?

This is a developer release - NOT the main educational release, which will come later in the year and include a case for this very reason.

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Re: Wuh?

I bung mine in a rucksack and cycle home. No damage yet. Don't even bother putting it ins antistat bag. It is a proto, and a bit bigger than the release version.

However, the educational release will be cased, because school bags (and schools) are a rough place to be.

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Re: Wuh? wuh, wuh, wuuuuuuhhhhh ...

> What could be the educational advantages of a Linux PC that runs off an SD card (easily reimaged if broken) and can be programmed in any number of languages, and can be put in a school bag? That costs £30. Including all the software. Tough one.

Yes, it IS a tough one.

Especially when you still have to provide a screen, keyboard, mouse and PSU before you can do anything with it. For use in schools these parts can't be cannibalised from other systems - or they will cease working, too.

A far better solution would be to have a standalone Linux in a thumb drive that plugs into an existing PC and boots Linux (presumably the PC the little darlings would be using for their existing work) and learning to program on that. They can then unplug it, take it home and continue their efforts if they wish. That way the PC, or: display, keyboard, mouse and PSU in this case, is still available for others to use. Whereas with an RPi, any instance of "please Miss, I left it at home" denies every prospective user of that device until forgetful small child brings it back in.

Since it took 6 years to develop the RPi, I can't help thinking that a some work on a thumbdrive/educational Linux could have achieved the same results many years earlier - and for a small fraction of the hardware costs.

Maybe it's not such a tough one after all.

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@Pete 2

Small fraction of the HW costs? You do realise that a thumb drive needs to actually plug in to something? Of course, the SD card on the Pi is removable, so works in very much the same way as your thumb driver for taking stuff home, and for a mere £30 you can have a Pi at home to continue your work, rather than a rather more expensive PC.

Since you believe its a far better solution, is there anything stopping you actually going out and doing this yourself? or stopping anyone else from doing it. I think the fact this has been feasible for the last 5 years but hasn't been done must indicate a problem with the idea.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Wuh?

silly not to put it in a case...unless designing your own enclosure is not part of the do it yourself ethic for this? You could embed the board in more or less anything, for fun

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Re: Wuh? wuh, wuh, wuuuuuuhhhhh ...

Eh....Explain to me how a $400 computer plus a thumb drive is a fraction of the costs of a $30 computer? Both still need a keyboard, monitor, and mouse. And, truthfully, these could be scavenged from end-of-life hardware. The school district I work for quit buying monitors for our new computers years ago, and would do the same with keyboards and mice if IBM didn't include them with the box. Even if you had to buy them, you're still looking at a tiny fraction of what you would spend on a standard PC. And I somehow doubt the kids will be allowed to take these home.

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Re: Wuh? wuh, wuh, wuuuuuuhhhhh ...

Indeed. The local school here only refresh base units. They also teach small basic too and build PCs from scrap parts (installing linux afterwards).

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Re: Wuh?

"silly not to put it in a case...unless designing your own enclosure is not part of the do it yourself ethic for this? You could embed the board in more or less anything, for fun"

Er the context of my remark was someone saying throw it in a schoolbag. Something would almost guarantee a broken board in no time flat. 7 people so far have found this remark so objectionable they've had to thumb it down .

Hell, the cardboard box it shipped in could serve as a case if they bunged a few screws and spacers in with it. Instead people are meant to buy a case which is an added inconvenience / expense or make one.

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Bah!

No case? This is what Lego is for, dammit!

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Pirate

Re: Wuh?

" the main educational release, which will come later in the year"

Good thing you mentioned that, otherwise we'd soon be reading headlines like:

Schoolchildren MUGGED by TheRegister Readers for Their Pis

Hmm, a shade of Withnail and I, there.

[prepare for boarding, me young hearties!]

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@Lego Case

Lego does look like its proving to be very popular for making experimental cases for experimental boards these days. Here's the Raspberry Pi lego-case-project to prove it. :)

http://www.raspberrypi.org/forum/projects-and-collaboration-general/lego-case-project

Also I think Pete 2 is making problems where there is none. If you don't want to cannibalise other systems, then just spend £10 on a mouse and keyboard, they are so cheap these days its pointless to argue and PSU's are cheap as well.

Thumbs up for the Raspberry Pi (with optional Lego case ;)

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Re: @Pete 2

"Since you believe its a far better solution, is there anything stopping you actually going out and doing this yourself?"

They already have. The Raspberry Pi, media craze not withstanding, is not the only development kit, not by a long way. So why just now has everyone got to buy one?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Wuh? wuh, wuh, wuuuuuuhhhhh ooooh, arrrrghhhhh uh huh

I think I read that it has HDMI and no VGA so it is ideal for "plugging into the TV at home" but not so much plugging into a classroom of old VGA monitors and PS2 keyboards.

TheReg is becoming more like the NME every day - many breathless articles about the RasPi before anyone could get their hands on one and now it's actually available the article is written with loaded connotations "middle aged dads", "supposed to interest kids" etc. and ends by questioning its use. Expect future stories to start with "misguided attempt" and "inexplicable popularity" before descending into XO laptop levels of derision.

TheReg are just hipsters like everyone else!

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Re: Wuh?

If, by GPIO, you mean general-purpose-input-outputs (switching an external voltage on/off to drive something like a LED), then I think that is very educational. Children can see a real-world effect in response to their programming efforts.

I know that, at a previous workplace, I knocked up a Morse Code generator on an embedded device's LED - there's always satisfaction in seeing something real/external from time-to-time.

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Alert

Re: Wuh? wuh, wuh, wuuuuuuhhhhh ...

@Pete2 I'll be bringing round a 12 Yo with a thumb drive to plug into YOUR home computer I'm sure he wont remove your partition table by accident...

rPi really is a good thing, it can be taken home and simply plugged in without mum & dad having a panic attack over a dead windows box.

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Re: @Pete 2

"They already have. The Raspberry Pi, media craze not withstanding, is not the only development kit, not by a long way. So why just now has everyone got to buy one?"

If there really ARE alternatives to the Pi in terms of size, form factor, AND price, perhaps you NAME a few of them, where their homepages are located, and perhaps (most importantly) if they're already available.

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Re: Wuh? wuh, wuh, wuuuuuuhhhhh ...

> Explain to me how a $400 computer plus a thumb drive is a fraction of the costs of a $30 computer?

Nothing could be simpler to explain.

Schools already have PCs coming out of their metaphorical ears. They're everywhere. hence to plug in a thumbdrive containing "Raspberry Linux" requires no additional hardware and therefore no additional costs. The schools already have the PCs necessary to supply all the ancillary parts: power, keyboard, mouse, display. Total cost: a couple of quid for a USB stick.

Compare that to dropping a load of RPi boards into a school. On it's own, each board can do nothing. It has no power, keyboard, mouse or display. They don't come as part of the "$25" package and therefore have to be provided at extra cost by the school, as without them, the boards are useless. You can't "just borrow" the parts from existing PCs - as then those PCs can't be used until they are returned. Economically it makes no sense to disable a £300 PC in order to make a $25 device work.

It's not as if we're talking about a school in a faraway country. We're talking about Leeds - so the "cheap" solution is just to provide a software solution as a hardware one is neither helpful, efficient or reliable.

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Re: Wuh? wuh, wuh, wuuuuuuhhhhh ...

Tell me, are you sure all those PCs are capable of booting off of USB? It's a relatively recent thing, you understand. Plus are the PCs consistent across the board?

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Really?

The RS Components product page for the R-Pi still only offers the option to register interest rather than actually buy one. Seems they still aren't actually available.

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Re: Really?

Probably they have the customers for all the things they are being supplied with. Selling something you don't actually have yet is for the likes of Amazon.

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Boffin

Re: Really?

You are correct. The first manufacturing batch (the one presently shipping) sold out loog ago. The next, larger, batch is in the factory now, I believe.

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Flame

It's an admirable project to be sure...

But, the thing that concerns me most about it is this;

"their own offspring to pick up some light Python, Ruby or even a little C++ for laughs"

None of those languages are particularly suited to the job of encouraging the young 'uns to tinker. And let's face it, I don't really think the reason kids don't get into programming they way we grey-hairs did is down to the cost of entry. It's more to do with the staggeringly high level of complexity that you have to reach just to get a computer to do anything, and the fact that when you turn them on they don't sit patiently with an empty screen and a friendly flashing cursor inviting your commandments.

While I don't doubt Raspberry Pi will be a success, and it will turn up in some interesting projects, I can't help but doubt that without some sort of concerted effort on the out of the box software, it will just be consigned to be a hobbyists platform.

Sure to cause some flames, I know, but I do really admire the project and it's aims.

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Re: It's an admirable project to be sure...

This is exactly why the first batch of boards are aimed at developers so that they can iron out the production issues and get developers to fiddle with them, build software, see what works and what doesn't, basically get them to a large audience. The education versions (which will come in a case and with a manual) are planned for the end of the year IIRC.

Also, as it's a Linux box, you have a massive choice of languages to tinker with, including LOGO and Scratch. Once they get the basics of programming in those languages, they can move to other more complex languages. Experience so far seems to show that kids are indeed interested: http://www.raspberrypi.org/archives/1022

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@Shonko

So, which language would you suggest as encouraging the young to tinker? Then ask yourself - is that language available for Linux?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: It's an admirable project to be sure...

python

>>> ignoramus = raw_input( "Who is an ignoramus? ")

Who is an ignoramus? Shanto Kid

>>> while 1:

... print ignoramus + " is an ignoramus";

...

Actually, while I don't use it, I think Python does have potential as a beginner's programming language because of a key feature: an interactive mode. An interactive mode provides an easy way to try out the language.

What really holds it back is documentation: the documentation is written for existing programmers.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: It's an admirable project to be sure...

python

>>> ignoramus = raw_input( "Who is an ignoramus? ")

Who is an ignoramus? This Anonymous Coward

>>> while 1:

... print ignoramus + " is an ignoramus";

...

I hate it when I do that. Sorry Shonko.

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Happy

Re: It's an admirable project to be sure...

Nah, I won't flame you, but...

Yes, the sheer complexity and skillsets required today can be offputting - but this is why a nice, cheap bit of kit that doesn't require mastery of Apache struts, HTML 5, JS, J, CSS, etc etc may help.

It was the 'everything you need in a box' approach of the English home PC boom that fuelled most of us oldsters' future careers, and what passes for Computer Science in schools these days is just atrocious. No computer clubs, no young geeks clustered around an RML-480Z punching in space invaders listings from C&VG... it's just not possible to do this sort of thing anymore, and kids would rather get on FB and yooftube, where their clumsily-aquired skills can actually produce something.

Nowadays it's rarely before uni that real coding interest, and then skills, are aquired - and this is simply too late. And even then, it's usually scripted and semi-interpreted languages that get picked up. Don't even get me going on that one!

My turn to go flame begging...

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Re: It's an admirable project to be sure...

small basic, logo, scratch, alice if you have more advanced kids. Flowol is also good. Unfortunately a lot of these are windows only.

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Re: which language?

Kids (or 'children' as we were known then) of the 1980s started programming for games.

Today, perhaps they can start with scripts for sandbox-type games, such as Gary's Mod? They would also learn things such as content creation and the importance of organised asset management, to boot.

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Happy

Re: It's an admirable project to be sure...

Python is in fact a very flexible language and easy to learn. It can be used straight from the command line or as a program and in a procedural or OO style or a combination of both.

Add pygame to the mix and you're off and flying - and not just for games. Based on SDL it's pretty neat for HMI stuff.

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Stop

Re: It's an admirable project to be sure...

Thank god the RPi dudes came up with the most ingenious way to make sure that the first batch gets into the hands of the best developers. The idea was similar to finding the toughest in a prison population: take a huge box of cigarettes, throw it in the middle of the holding area and let's see who gets there fastest.

But seriously. If the launch was supposed to get the devices to educational software developers, it was a miserable fail.

Wonder how many of the 10000 units (well, 9999 because one was reserved for Justin Bieber) will be used to develop educational software, vs collecting dust on a shelf (we know Justin's will be put to good use).

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Re: which language

I started programming reading the BASIC manual that came with the ZX81. It was all you needed in those days. It soon became apparent that I would need to know about Z80 machine code to make the '81 do something useful (and do it quicker).

With the upgrade to the Speccy came an assembler which made Z80 coding much easier, though Speccy BASIC had some really neat features. Being on ROM it was available on power up ready for hacking away some quick test prog. I still miss the immediacy of this. Nowadays, I use PHP to quickly test ideas.

Then it was learning 68000 to program Amigas and 8086 to program PCs. I want to look at doing some ARM coding when my Pi turns up.

It was only when I went to uni that I was forced to learn Fortran, Cobol, Lisp, Pascal...

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I disagree

I fully intend to tinker with mine and then I'm 90% sure I'll just get bored, or 'forget to pick it up for a while'

I think the long life will come from people releasing SD card images that give turn it into an appliance. E.g. XBMC is being ported across - assuming no catastrophes, this means that an RP will be the best/cheapest way to get media onto your TV. It's where I suspect mine may end up. If I'm still wanting to code, then I'll have to buy another. Then somebody else releases another great appliance to... oh I dunno allow you to plug in a £10 chinese webcam and turn it into a ethernet camera.... oh again, this is the cheapest way of getting an streaming ethernet cam, so that's one RP for every cam you want etc etc.

I can easily imagine building up a pile of them and rather than just giving up on an entire single-purpose device, just repurposing the RP.

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Flame

languages, etc

Yeah, sure there are dozens of very languages, and environments available on linux, and even if the one you want isn't readily available, it's fairly easy to port/rewrite it to fit. That's not my point.

Maybe all that is needed is that when these get into schools there is just a couple of educational software packages bundled; Logo, some form of BASIC, but my gut feel is that that isn't going to be enough, as those are freely available for whatever computers are currently sat in your children's classroom, and the kids just aren't interested. It's not about the cost of the device.

It's not just about language either, it has to be tied to the platform such that you can do something useful with the device, using the language. And not just writing a flamebot in Python ;-)

Maybe as was said the way most of the old-gits of the IT world got into computing was a product of the time, and just isn't reproducible today. I think that's a shame.

@csumpi. I agree, they knew there was considerable interest for the first batch of devices, and should've ensured that the first 1000 or so made it to people who were going to actually contribute something back. Not just turn it into a cheap webcam/media server. There are plenty of cheap embedded Linux boxes for that sort of thing.

Flame-on, I like my Pi well done.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: which language

Funny. I went to uni and was forced to learn 68000 assembly language programming. They wouldn't let us near C. Electronic Engineering vs. Computer Science I guess. They also forced us to learn Pascal and Modula2 - and in the final year they were pushing ADA as that was the future... how may programmers use Ada today !

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A rubber-keyed speccy?

You were lucky. I had to make do with a ZX81 and a wobbly 16k RAM pack.

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Linux

Re: A rubber-keyed speccy?

I waited a year or 2 until I could afford a 64K RAM Einstein which ran CP/M, and had a built in monitor and decent keyboard and it could drive a dot matrix printer. This was mainly used for wordprocessing, games and running a small payroll business. I wrote a few minor Basic programs on it also.

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Gimp

Re: A rubber-keyed speccy?

And these days I am sure rubber keys has a completely different meaning, unless it's 'code' for ex spectrum programmers wanting to hook up for some no strings input sessions???

Sorry I'm mental today, lol

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Windows

Re: A rubber-keyed speccy?

Ahhhh, I remember typing in assembler code for the Nascom 1 and designing and building my own I/O port decode and latching hardware. Those were the days ........ better days ........... nurse! ....... the pills!!

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ZX81! You had it good!

All I had was a Z80 and a handful of switches! We had to push all the bits to the processor by hand and that was the way we liked it!

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Re: A rubber-keyed speccy?

Nascom 1? Crikey there's a blast from the past! Wasn't that the one that had a case like tank armor plating, but the most amazingly tactile full-travel keyboard?

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Re: All I had was a Z80 and a handful of switches

Luxury! All I had was a bag of diodes and a torch battery.

Tell kids today and they won't believe you...

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@Ian Davies Re: A rubber-keyed speccy?

The Nascom keyboard was very nice indeed, but I think it was the Nascom 2 that had a case. The Nascom 1 was a bare mother of a board where you had to do all the assembly and soldering yourself (while crossing your fingers and praying to every deity you could think of).

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Re: All I had was a Z80 and a handful of switches

Bag of diodes and a torch battery?

Semi-conductors I suppose you posh git!

I had a valve (vacuum tube) diode and a potato with two dissimilar metal nails pushing into it.

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Re: A rubber-keyed speccy?

A 16K RAM pack! You were lucky.

When I were a lad all we had were ZX81 wit 1K an a lump o coal.

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Re: A rubber-keyed speccy?

You were lucky, I had to make do with whatever computer my friends had.

And yes, when I was a kid, I was friends with some people just because they had a cool computer, lots of games, and parents who didn't give a fuck.

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