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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  1. Pawel 1
    Go

    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!

    1. Pawel 1

      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.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Thumb Down

        @Pawel 1

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

      2. Tom Wood

        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?

      3. Clint Sharp

        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..

    2. mafoo

      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.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Vapourware

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

    1. nyelvmark
      WTF?

      IV ?

      What happened to II and III ?

      1. Cupidknewrap
        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"

  3. Anonymous Coward
    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.

    1. Nick Galloway
      Thumb Up

      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!

  4. Mark Wilson

    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.

    1. Pawel 1

      I think

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

      1. Tom Wood

        And anyway

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

        1. DrXym Silver badge

          @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.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            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.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      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.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        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.

      2. RoboJ1M
        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...

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    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.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      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.

    2. Marvin the Martian
      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.

      1. Tim Almond
        Go

        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.

        1. Dr. Mouse Silver badge

          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.

      2. Joe 17
        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!

      3. The BigYin

        @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."

      4. Will's

        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.

  6. DaveBindy
    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!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      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

    2. . 3

      Wires = JTAG?

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

    3. Term

      wires at the top

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

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Pint

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

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

    37 and feeling it.

    1. Greg J Preece

      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, ;-)

      1. DrXym Silver badge

        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.

        1. Giles Jones Gold badge

          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.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Starglider

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

            1. Fenwar

              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?

              1. Joefish
                Boffin

                Good, but not Elite.

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

    2. HFoster

      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.

  8. Silver
    Badgers

    Not bad

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

    1. kwhitefoot
      Thumb Up

      No Ethernet but does have USB

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

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Wardriving?

        I wonder how this would go as a small wardiving box

  9. 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?

    1. Haku

      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.

      1. Chemist

        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

      2. Robert E A Harvey
        Thumb Up

        +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/

      3. nyelvmark
        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?

        1. Chemist

          What !

          Early 8-bit computers had 8K BASICs or smaller. My home-brew FORTH system will run a 4K FORTH system with ~8K RAM and 1.5MHz clock on a 6809.

          8-bit PICS are quirky but plenty powerful enough and they are available in 0.1" pin packages that can still be easily hand-soldered.

      4. Def Silver badge
        Happy

        Re: Uncanny

        Phew, glad to see I'm not the only one who grew up in the 80s spending more and more time messing around with computers.

        Started with BBC BASIC first on the BBC, and later the Archimedes. Progressed to BBC BASIC V with inline ARM assembler. Messed around with an Amiga for a bit with AMOS. Got a job at Bullfrog off the back of an AMOS demo, been making games ever since.

      5. Joefish

        Problem with PICs is

        The cost and hassle of the programming hardware and/or an I/O board to sit it on. It's more about the electronics than the programming.

    2. Term

      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.

    3. jolly
      Flame

      @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)

    4. Heff
      Thumb Up

      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"

    5. Joe Burmeister

      Picking up the programming back again?

      Python! It fills the whole left by BBC BASIC when I left RiscOS. It's a great scripting language with bindings for nearly everything, cross platform and really useful to knock quick one offs in. To reignite computers in general, Linux and the command line. Get your computer back!

  10. philpem
    Thumb Up

    Who says history doesn't repeat itself?

    Seriously though, fifteen quid for a 700MHz Linux box with USB, HDMI, what appears to be a little camera, and OpenGL-ES? I'd buy one just to have something "unusual" to play with...

    Programming is a great skill to learn -- especially for dealing with those mindless, repetitive tasks that computers do well. Far too many kids are leaving school knowing how to type a document and put together a quick spreadsheet, but not knowing how the computer can really help them...

    I really can't see a downside to this. You go, David!

  11. Will 19
    Happy

    CPU speed

    I would say highly efficient programming is needed now more than ever. Just imagine how fast processors would be if the code written to run on them was as streamlined as a 1K chess program!

    However I'm guilty of being an 8-bit child, even wrote a commercial game called Bladedancer for the BBC micro. However the skills learnt back then are not wasted and translate directly to PIC/Atmel programming... hell Ieven refered back to Acorn user yellow pages to create SIN and COS on the little 8bit buggers.

    1. Giles Jones Gold badge

      Laziness and profit

      Nobody sees it though, they want portability to minimise dev time and maximise profit. Hence awful flash to app convertors.

      Android runs with a VM, Windows Phone 7 does similar.

      It's all about VMs and hardware abstraction now.

      1. Dr. Mouse Silver badge

        True

        I'm guilty of it myself, cobbling together a mishmash of bash & perl to get a job done rather than writing an efficient C program.

        I did enjoy my microcontroller programming course at Uni though, done ALL in assembler. It really taught you how things were structured at an underlying level, and gave me a sense of efficiency in code.

        Unfortunately, I kinda missed out on the ZX81/C64 etc. age. My first computer was an Amiga (incidentally, a cousing got me interested in both Maths and Programming on that, writing a BASIC programme which drew spirograph-type pictures), and I played with my fathers x86 AutoCAD station*, but I think that uC course did a lot to help me understand efficient programming.

        * Untill I stopped it working and cost him a days work.

      2. L.B
        Headmaster

        And who writes those VM's...

        ...plus just about every product being made today that plugs into a power socket or has batteries has some king of computer in it.

        Programming those little bits of kit in you washing machine, fridge, vacuum cleaner, radio, hubs/routers, etc... are all jobs that could be done in the UK, none of those will be done using VMs until you get into the larger boxes (like that bloody expensive and slow BlueRay Player reviewed by the Reg the other day that used Java).

        The real problem I see with this device is that there are almost zero people in education who would have a clue where to start with this device.

        Most people in education cannot even use word and excel properly (and that include the so called ICT teachers), but then again I have said for years that ICT should be renamed: "Basic Secretarial Studies".

        If a school can find someone able to use this kit; putting something like this into secondary education would not only give kids an idea of what is behind the devices they use everyday, but might actually encourage them to do something remotely useful at Uni later on.

        The biggest advantage though would be all those kids who can barely read or count, but will have three or four GCSE's in ICT might also learn that they are not going to get jobs in IT.

        1. stratofish

          The title is required, and must contain letters and/or digits.

          >> (like that bloody expensive and slow BlueRay Player reviewed by the Reg the

          >> other day that used Java)

          Java is part of the Bluray standard to run menus and interactive bits. Not a lot the player manufacturers can do other than support it.

  12. Wile E. Veteran
    Thumb Up

    Nice little device

    Looks good for building distributed control applications like a multi-zone landscape sprinkler or separate thermostats for each room in the house or intelligent antenna-switching devices for HAM radio operators or model railroad track layout controll or..... Doesn't even have to be a distributed system - some applications can be done with one Pi acting as the "mainframe" that runs its own little world.

    Set it up so if it detects the keyboard and TV it goes into development/debug mode, otherwise it jumps to the runtime program.

    I wonder who will be the first to add a 1 TB disk to the bloody thing and build a DVR?

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Exactly what is needed

    Particularly *without* a Basic interpeter.

  14. Stephen 2

    Sorry to be a negative nelly

    Sorry to be a negative nelly but we seem to read about this kinda thing all the time and then by the time it's released it will be $100-$200, it will only be available to schools (not private geeks) and wil probably be much weaker.

    I want to dream and believe it's possible but I don't think so. I can't see myself ever being able to get one of these for 15 quid. If I could, I would take a couple.

  15. Jon 84

    It looks really cool

    But I did see in another article the line "Braben hopes to distribute it within 12 months".

    If ever a man had a motto...

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Sounds realy constructive and useful so they wont get a lottery grant then :\

    This is great news and does hold alot of promise. Alas the ability to intereact electronicly and add/modify things your looking at kit thats already out there in some ways.

    Programming whilst useful and handy to learn how computers work is somewhat lacking today and with the trend towards point/click/drag/drop connector type visual programming, things will only change further.

    I liked my old PSION which had OPL, that was fun, so why not something like say a calculator that has some form of basic language built in, that would cover the basics more than say a cheap £15 computer that then needs a HDMI display, hardly thought thru that.

    A computer they can build, now that would be educational, even is its at lego level, oh wait they are already thesedays lol.

    Either way I fully commend and wish these efforts the best of luck, but a introduction to java for mobile phones may garner more interest from students thesedays, especialy if you show them how to make there own ringtones, sad yeah I know but thats the audience you haev to work with.

  17. david 63

    Me want

    That's all.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      FAIL

      space dredgers

      did anyone ever find one of these ? Or Generation ships ?

      spent years looking for one once my MKIII was fully kitted out.

      1. Tilman Ahr
        Coat

        required

        Probably not. AFAIR they were not actually implemented in most versions, just rumours to add atmosphere. I'd have to look up if any version actually had them, though.

        Those were the days, weren't they? I still find elite, prince of Persia or oxyd (for example) a lot more fascinating than most modern games... And I don't even work in a profession even remotely concerned with computing.

        Mine's the starched white one with twelve removable buttons, thank you.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Happy

    Forth Lisp Pascal and perhaps BAsic (GOTO donot collect £200)

    FFS This is incredible .. this has either gone up to £25 or come down in price by a tenner?

    Yes a good basic interpreter would be the ideal thing for this .. especially if you had access to the USB port. Make the modern little B'stards learn FORTH. that would really screw their Brains up.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Ethernet

    @Pawel1 @Silver check the Rasberry Pi link.

    The red lead is ethernet, from a USB to ethernet dongle. It's running a Mozilla web browser.

    Also no power supply - power comes from USB.

  20. This post has been deleted by its author

  21. eezatehgeeza
    Pint

    Cease the No Network Bleating...

    Follow the raspberrypi link and all becomes clear... It has 1 USB port - add a USB hub and a USB2Ethernet...

    >> The cause of, and solution to, all life's problems...

  22. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    Great toy but

    Can't exactly see the educational point of this

    If the idea is one computer/kid to learn programming - they are still going to need monitors/storage etc. Not sure this saves much on just using simple old PCs with linux.

    If the idea is how do computers work, then something like Arduino/Stamp and reading key presses, making LEDs flash seems better.

  23. fLaMePrOoF
    Thumb Up

    Yes please

    I want one...

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It's not about programming

    If you want kids to learn to program, there's a lot of easier ways to teach it.

    This is about teaching kids to have some idea of how a *computer* works: what all the major parts are, how they fit together, in a system small enough to hold in your head at one go, and cheap enough that every kid in a class can mess around with one on a project bench. This is tech's equivalent of the biology class dissecting a frog.

    But better than frogs, systems of this kind of power will be in everything by the time these kids are in the workforce, and the payoff will be lots of kids capable of creating inventions on top of them.

  25. The Mighty Spang
    Thumb Up

    look at the mbed

    heres what i am messing about with http://mbed.org/handbook/mbed-NXP-LPC1768

    arm,96 mhz, built in ethernet phy-just add a magjack. this is about £45 at the moment.

    £15 for this seems damn cheap for so much extra performance.

    play with the mbed though its good fun. if you are looking to create a game, have a look at http://www.arduino.cc/ with the gameduino shield http://excamera.com/sphinx/gameduino/

  26. gaz 7

    nice little bit of kit...

    That looks like a bloody awesome device for the money. As other have said chuck an ethernet port on it, and or a cojuple more usb sockets and you have a base for all sorts of interesting projects. Makes the debian running pogoplug i have seem seriously oversized by comparision.

  27. Greg J Preece

    I love this!

    Don't teach it as primary learning - the majority of plebs will still need those Excel skills - but keep it around the labs, and let people know it's there. The nerdy kids will attend to the rest.

    We had Win98 machines at school, and it was still the old BBCs I loved to code on. If this had been sat in the corner of the lab, I'd have certainly had a play.

    1. Chris_C

      You could use a usb hub

      and ethernet/wifi dongle.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Pffft...

      Don't even need a MagJack for Ethernet on the Mbed..

      Lovely little gadget only issue is the compiler is either online or the price of a top end laptop.

    3. Frumious Bandersnatch Silver badge

      Forth

      Not such a bad little language, IMO. If you really wanted some twisted teens, you'd teach them brainfuck or INTERCAL. Befunge would be a slightly more practical language.

      Actually, scratch that entirely. If you want to destroy them completely, go ahead and put BASIC on it.

  28. ScottAS2
    Coat

    Badda ba ba pa baa, badda ba da ba baa--

    David Braben wasn't behind Rollercoaster Tycoon - that was Scottish programmer Chris Sawyer, who also wrote the peerless Transport Tycoon. According to Wikipedia, the closest Braben got to Rollercoaster Tycoon was his company writing Rollercoaster Tycoon 3.

    Please all join me in a cheesy MIDI chorus of the Transport Tycoon theme music.

    1. gotes

      Transport Tycoon

      One of the games that helped me ruin my A-level results

      1. Dave Murray
        Happy

        re a-levels

        Funny, Elite was one of the games that helped ruin mine!

  29. gerryg

    Oh come on - what about the arduino?

    basic module assembled from that well known bargain basement store "Radio Spares" (to show my age) for about £20

    http://uk.rs-online.com/web/search/searchBrowseAction.html?method=searchProducts&searchTerm=7154081

    or you can start by making the PCB: http://arduino.cc/en/Main/ArduinoBoardSerialSingleSided3

    or you can redesign the hardware: http://arduino.cc/en/Main/Hardware

    there's probably a website where the first line says "take a teaspoonful of sand" :)

    <Reminiscing>

    For my final year project I developed a mini control system based on a third party 32K memory buffer for an Epson FX- 80: 6502 based, with IEEE-488 interface and 6522 PIA brought out to the PCB mounted 32ish pin plug

    They cost about £90 in the day and were about £200 cheaper than a proper job.

    </Reminiscing>

  30. Mark Eaton-Park

    Shame on you Tony.....

    ...didn't you used to write for acorn user? you should remember that Elite was revolutionary in its say especially the graphics mode switching and getting the tape version to fit in memory.

    I agree completely with David in what he says about UK IT education and this is the reason that the best low level coders today that are under 40 are not English..

    All those people who say game dev hasn't suffered are forgetting that the game engine is typically coded in assembler rather than a complied language.

    So yes, I will be buying one for my kids and they may even get to have a go, "in a bit. Daddy's just needs to check it's set up right"

  31. Tony 34
    Coffee/keyboard

    The title is required, and must contain letters and/or digits.

    'The UK's well-established videogames industry certainly hasn't suffered from this shift away from how we mucked about with computers as lads...."

    Yes it has. It really has.

    Or were you being sarcastic -- I miss that sometimes.

  32. Frozen Ghost

    Great for projects not learning

    This looks great for integrating into projects as long as its possible to get some serial or USB output and should be a bit more powerful than the usual diy micro kits, but as a learning device it doesn't seem that great.

    Schools and homes are now kitted out with endless PC's and it would be more of an inconvenience to plug it into a TV - especially when an internet browser is so important nowadays when learning to program something.

    My advice, add a little cheap touch-screen to it and it becomes a self contained toy to play without the bother of finding a screen.

  33. Chris_C
    Happy

    Read the website

    Looks like its got a usb ethernet adaptor connected and can run ubuntu. There is also mention of general purpose io. I expect you can hook up a usb to serial or parallel adaptor if you so wish.

    Wonder if you could attach a wifi dongle and run it from a battery?

  34. Lord Lien

    David Braben...

    ... now that name is a blast from the past :)

    Did anyone ever become Elite status?

    1. Old Handle

      wat?

      You don't learn from projects?

      Perhaps you mean "Great for projects not *schools*". And in that case I'm inclined to agree. Even for home use, HDMI does seem like a slightly strange choice. It does have the advantage of a small connector, but it seems like something a bit lower on the tech tree might have been more appropriate for the stated goals here, even analog composite video (sometimes called RCA, because of the connector).

      Or for very basic text-only display, an interesting option would be connecting it to a computer and having it impersonate a USB keyboard.

      I don't really like the idea of a built-in screen, but if they made a little screen as an accessory that would be handy.

      1. Bob H
        Headmaster

        Nice ideal

        @Old Handle: Well, with HDMI you have a digital colour video interface which is well established, can be attached to any DVI monitor or domestic TV. If this is to be used in schools and homes then I think they have the right balance here. It would be nice to see this exploit DirectFB but I don't know if there is realistically RAM for that. Time to leave horrible composite behind, it had its time and should now be quietly forgotten.

        I look forward to seeing this, I will probably get one, even if I don't think I have the time to do anything with it. David should be able to get the commodity cost with the basic demand from both enthusiasts and education. The one thing he should note from the "mbed" system, which makes it successful is that it doesn't need any fiddling to get started and the code is simple to upload. Embedded Linux isn't very difficult to use but once you understand what is going on, but you need to overcome the first learning curve.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      My dad

      He made it to Elite. I don't know if he did it twice. I know he was Deadly a few times. He was never a big action guy, but is happy to grind his way through a game. (He also completed Boulderdash. Several times.)

      I was a teen with a C64 but didn't have enough patience to make it all the way. I don't know if I even made it to Deadly.

      My dad will be 69 this year.

    3. nyelvmark
      Thumb Up

      Did anyone ever become Elite status?

      I did - at least 3 times, maybe more. It was a long time ago. But I played the Amstrad version which was, from what I gathered, much easier than the BBC Micro original or the Spectrum version.

  35. DrXym Silver badge

    Nice concept but

    It kind of defeats the purpose to produce a tiny device that needs a tangle of wires emanating to make it do anything.

    I hope there is a version of Raspberry Pi, perhaps housed in a little box like an Apple TV which has a network jack or wifi and a couple of USB ports. This could probably get sold for a tenner more and still be an attractive device.

    1. J.G.Harston Silver badge

      In a box...

      Already exists, the Beagle Board, but at ten times the price: http://forums.epicentertech.com/files/b7842af6f0e9e0052582e3f4907a543c-8.html

  36. Mike Richards Silver badge

    Good luck David

    I'm part of a project to design and release a small piece of educational hardware which is just about to go into mass production. I'll be very impressed if the RP can be built and shipped for just £15 unless they can make them in batches of tens of thousands at a time.

    If they can, then there is no reason why every kid can't have one for their GCSE project and have ridiculous amounts of fun. Just so long as us grown us are allowed to have them too.

    But one thing they must do before going any further is burn Elite into the ROM.

  37. sT0rNG b4R3 duRiD
    Thumb Up

    Agree

    Will buy. Many.

    Mass manufacture it. Yesterday!

  38. This post has been deleted by its author

  39. anaru
    Stop

    Problem exists. Solution is rubbish.

    I agree that there is a risk of having too many high level developers and not enough bit shifters.

    But how did Mr Braben ever get the idea that computer science students in the UK need better access to affordable computers?

    I'd say that there are few groups more likely to already own a decent computer no?

    So this problem could be solved just fine with a software solution.

    How about a virtual machine that speaks machine code and does groovy retro things, connected to a social networky thing so that kids can incentivise each other through achievements, challenges, contests and what not. The BASIC, Pascal, SmallTalk etc interpreters could be unlockables...

  40. Richard Jukes

    ace

    Swap the HDMI out for VGA/Composite and wack a wifi chip + aerial on there and lets send these to Africa, it could be possible to get a mesh network up and running pretty quickly over there with these babies :)

    Furthermore, I want one for my boat! 5w/10w is pretty low power consumption and would make a neat little controller for all the systems I plan on adding :)

  41. mr-tom

    Should be focusing on things he's already promised

    Such as Elite 4.

    I've only been waiting 17 years...

    1. Rocket
      Headmaster

      online virtualisation would be better

      >How about a virtual machine that speaks machine code and does groovy retro things, connected to a social networky thing so that kids can incentivise each other through achievements, challenges, contests and what not. The BASIC, Pascal, SmallTalk etc interpreters could be unlockables...<

      Computers are already out there, but the hardware is hidden behind layers of libraries that makes coding a high level exercise. And this runs *nix which hides the hardware behind layers of libraries and perpetuates the high level paradigm.

      What's needed is a virtual hardware with LEDs, keys and buzzers and training for educators to enthusiastically teach it

  42. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    I really, really do want one ...

    ... and I''d be prepared to have to buy two and donate one to a school.

  43. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Yes please...

    Oooh, looks like fun... I'll have a couple of those please... Linux it up, USB hub, USB ethernet, plug in an ATmega based JeeNode and instant home management server.

    It's about time something came along to replace the hacked NSLU2 for us geeks, most of whom are old enough to remember (and possibly still do) 6502 machine code. Yes I know we're not the target audience, we're the original inspiration, but surely us "oldies" wanting one in a good sign?

    Now we've just got to find how to make it appeal to kiddies without it having a sticky finger wiping interface.

  44. Martin an gof Silver badge
    Go

    Must have a purpose

    I, too, grew up on Spectrum and BBC Micro. The problem was what to do with them. The two hardware purchases that "unlocked" the Beeb for me were firstly a disc drive and secondly a printer, but without that *excellent* manual and the community (magazines) I would have been stuck and, as a previous poster has already pointed out, being able to "keep it all in your head" was phenominally useful.

    I've recently come back to coding (of sorts(+)) after a <mumble> year gap and so in some ways I can see the problems of kids just starting out - the ecosystems are so vast and complex now that even just getting started is like dropping a weak swimmer off on Flat Holme and asking him to swim to Minehead. He has the basic moves, but he's not going to get very far without a lot of effort. Why bother? Light a fire on the beach and someone will come to rescue you. Need a simple utility to (oh, I dunno) crop a JPEG? Don't code one yourself, five minutes with a search engine and you'll get one already built and tested.

    Something simple like this, or the Lego Mindstorms or that mbed thing or an Arduino or a Stamp is great - so long as the system is as well put-together as my Beeb was, and so long as there is an incentive to learn - i.e. a "killer project" that gets you interested.

    So the problems I see with a bit of hardware like this are that

    - you have to add hardware to it before you can do anything

    - so if you're having problems with the ethernet, it isn't in the manual

    - if it's running a Linux then it is not simple enough to keep in your head

    - and I'm sorry to all those Linux coders out there, but your documentation *stinks* (*)

    What it needs, is to look back to the Beeb, or the Psion series 3 or (better, I reckon) series 5 and work out what those systems did that made them such an easy-in and yet so flexible. Personally my favourite things were:

    - the Beeb was almost fully documented and there was one official way to do everything

    - there was even a circuit diagram in the back of the manual, right next to the memory map

    - BBC BASIC (don't laugh) was way ahead of its time and an excellent launch point

    - in fact some of my current coding is being done in BBC BASIC for Windows. Love it!

    - the built-in assembler with its exceptionally easy integration into BASIC

    - OPL's excellent user guide and documented API

    - a small OS that is fully modular

    - so that you only load up the functionality you need and so that other developers are forced

    to assume nothing. It's more than that (I hate the way *ix scatters config files, for example) but

    I can't think of a better way to put it

    And on-line manuals are no substitue for the printed thing. If you're developing in one window, where's the convenience in having to have another open for the manual? Even my two-monitor setup is a pain, focus-switching being my particular rant.

    Better stop and do some real work.

    But at £15, even though I don't have an HDMI-capable telly, I'd buy it.

    (+) Anyone else ever used Lingo? Talk about fighting to get it to do the simple things...

    (*)Particularly (pet hate) VLC. In-app documentation is abysmal and the online documentation, help pages and community pages are so disorganised it's a wonder anyone not directly involved in developing the software can get anything slighly out-of-the-ordinary done with it.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Must have a purpose

      "- and I'm sorry to all those Linux coders out there, but your documentation *stinks* (*)"

      I don't agree. Some Linux-oriented projects have very good documentation, but some do have bad documentation...

      "(*)Particularly (pet hate) VLC."

      Agreed (although VLC is not specifically a Linux thing). I particularly dislike the lack of any kind of depth in the docs, meaning that when you think that saving a stream directly to disk would be a good idea, and there's even a checkbox which lets you do it, the documentation doesn't say how or whether it's possible to play the damned stream from disk later on. A great way to waste disk space, that is.

      1. Martin an gof Silver badge

        Documentation

        > "- and I'm sorry to all those Linux coders out there, but your documentation *stinks* (*)"

        > I don't agree. Some Linux-oriented projects have very good documentation, but some do have bad documentation...

        Point taken - I think I probably meant FOSS coders, though I am also known to complain about commercial software, particularly that beast of a system Director (hence the Lingo reference). But then I'm using Director under duress, as it were. Anyone got any hints for something that can do similar things, preferably cross-platform, but is "nicer" to work with?

        As for apps that are well documented, well the aforementioned BBC BASIC for Windows is pretty good and one of my other main apps - Xara - even comes with a chunky printed manual!

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Up

      totally agree

      Though the industry may have moved on in the last 25 years, the capabilities of 14-17 year olds hasn't.

      Therefore, the same solution - the BBC model B - with its easy hardware, analog inputs, simple BASIC, good manuals, etc.etc. should still be of value.

      I know "proper" software engineers spit on BASIC, but I think its direct and accessible, you can write poorly or well, within it, and you kind of need to go through the learning exercise to know what its limitations are and why you need to go to more complex methods to avoid them.

  45. The Real SteveP
    WTF?

    Rollercoaster Tycoon was nothing to do with David Braben

    http://www.reghardware.com/Design/graphics/icons/comment/wtf_32.pngRollercoaster Tycoon was written by Chris Sawyer, who it happens also coded the 16bit Elite-Plus for Microprose. He also wrote Transport Tycoon, out of which Roller Coaster Tycoon was developed.

  46. Andrew Barratt
    Alert

    How about an arduino?

    Don't see why more schools don't teach IT and a bit of basic electronics using something like an arduino. You could even learn some elementary etching skills and actually make everything you need to then run your own programs, and flash your LEDs etc.

  47. Geoff Johnson
    Thumb Up

    I want one.

    That's pretty much all I have to say really.

    Oh, and a few General purpose IO pins would be nice.

  48. Anonymous Custard Silver badge
    Alien

    Memories of Elite?

    Anyone who's pining for those lost evenings playing Elite should check out Oolite and be prepared to be amazed.

    Add me to the list of people who want one of these - presuming they beat Elite IV out the door!

  49. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    People posting say it lacks storage..

    It's got an SD slot.

  50. Rocket
    Boffin

    This is a solution looking for a problem

    The people here who really want this are already experienced bit-shifters and not used to a teaching environment

    The 8bit computers were a futuristic marvel in their time which got kids interested. Now they're museum pieces with no sense of wonder cause they can't watch cats falling over on youtube with them.

    8 colours? 16 pixel sprites? Bleeps? This is an iPod world and the kids need something to WOW them.

    Put it on tracks with sensors and let them write a maze solver - an educational tool not just a fancy box.

  51. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    In a year or so

    there are going to be SoC devices, ultra low power, running Linux on twin core arms. with mindblowing graphics performance via built in coproc , camera interfaces, USB, SD card, HDMI, etc. All for $10 or so. On a single chip.

    All semiconductors manufacturers are building these, for the tablet market.

    I want a system like that. (although this one sounds like fun too)

    And I think I did make Elite status - I did play it a lot on the BBC B (serial number 3336, still in the loft)!

  52. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Cool.

    "teach kids how to use Excel and such, apps the young 'uns will end up using when they leave school"

    This was the reason my school stopped using Acorn RISC machines and started using Window shite.

    Of course, all those hours spent on Word prove really useful after a couple of years of school, a couple of years of college and three years at Uni. Hadn't changed a bit /sarcasm.

  53. Luke McCarthy

    Just a board

    It would be nice if it was built into a small keyboard. You could possibly add a few more ports then too, but it would jack the price up.

  54. Risky
    Thumb Up

    Forget Elite IV

    Elite IV will probably arrive when he sells the name so some games publisher with some spare devs to bash out something and cash in on the name recogition. In the meantime Egosoft have a new X game out this year :)

    For the record I played Eltie (BBC B - tape version) but never made Eite and can't recall how many "Right on, Commander!"s past deadly I got.

    The device looks good, sure most kids are better offf learning excel basics but for those that have the ability and interest coding is a great skill even if they don't end up as professional devs. I did some self-taught 6502 coding back in the mists of time........

  55. Neil Spellings
    Go

    Perhaps it could run BBC BASIC?

    Given it's based on an ARM CPU, the now-open source RISC OS could potentially be a suitable target OS, and that includes the original BBC BASIC

    https://www.riscosopen.org/

  56. Joe Burmeister

    Python is the new BBC BASIC

    I grew up on BBC BASIC (with a sprinkling of SWI to speed things up). In my wilderness years after leaving RiscOS, I had nothing quite like BBC BASIC, just C and C++. Perl seamed almost there, but just didn't feel right. Then I found Python. If you are a lost after the loss of BBC BASIC and never found something to fill that whole, try Python. If you are like me, you will feel like you have found a new home. In fact, Python is better than BBC BASIC ever was. It's also got easy C and C++ APIs to extend it. InkScape replaces !Draw. Gimp is better than !Paint ever was. Guake gives me F12 command line goodness. The only thing I now morn from leaving RiscOS is drag/drop saving (don't point me to Rox). The thing I really don't miss from RiscOS is no package management (and yes, you need it). Still fond of RiscOS, but it wasn't a grown up OS, none of the desktop ones where at the time. For some reason that generation wrote new OSs ignoring decades of OS research, using hardware as an excuse when the hardware was miles better than the old hardware the OS research was done on......

  57. heyrick Silver badge

    Brilliant, almost...

    I like the ARM, got a pile of RISC OS computers, am playing with the Neuros OSD (ARM/DSP SoC for recording SD television)... This sounds like a great little thing to get interested in...

    But...

    HDMI? What the hell am I going to do with that?

    Wake me up when there is a VGA option, or maybe even comp-sync. Oh, and come on, Ethernet too!

  58. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Just bolt on RISC OS to have the best version of BBC Basic ever.

    Oh please. Why don't Mr. Braben just use RISC OS on this tiny computer? It has the most advanced BBC Basic version build in WITH the included BASIC Assembler. So you can gradually convert your procedures (yes, this BBC basic is a structured language indeed) into lightning fast assembly. He's not really smart if he doesn't look at it. I mean come on! Mr. Braben wrote his most interesting gamedemo, Lander, on the Acorn Archimedes (the first ARM based PC with the first versions of RISC OS build in including this BBC Basic). The game itself is better known as Virus on PC and Amiga. But this OS still excist. It's becoming (or is already) open source and being actively ported to other ARM cpu's (and SOC's). There's even a version for the beagle board (an experimental Cortex A8 pc various other ARM-systems). It's only a 6MB big ROM or diskimage which include a full desktop with windows, iconbar (long before anyone else got it), multitasking and even has some usefull programs build in (like a vector drawing program). I just don't get. You brits have the greatest minds in electronics and programming and yet you seem to avoid each other instead of cooperating.

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