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Not your grandmother's pie

Sam Chada • Jul 31, 2013 at 11:03 AM

Over the past year, one of the most popular technologies to be designed and launched from the United Kingdom is a credit-card sized computer that plugs into your TV and a keyboard — Raspberry Pi. This tiny and cheap computer was conceptualized by developers Eben Upton, Rob Mullins, Jack Lang and Alan Mycroft, from University of Cambridge’s Computer Laboratory in the UK with the intentions of promoting the teaching of basic computer science in schools. The developers were motivated to design a cost effective computer because of their increasing concerns about the year-on-year decline in the numbers and skills levels of the students applying to the Computer Science program. As an example, in the United States 9 out of 10 schools do not teach computer programming languages but they may offer courses in French, Spanish, Latin, and even Chinese. And at the college level, 2 percent of students graduate with computer science degrees.

As a way to help bridge this gap, Raspberry Pi was developed to be a capable little PC which can be used for many of the things that your desktop PC does, like spreadsheets, word-processing and games. It also plays high-definition video. This credit-card-sized Linux machine measures in at 85.60mm x 56mm x 21mm and weighs 45g (that’s it!). Model B is the latest model to be released and offers two USB ports, HDMI out and a 10/100 Ethernet port. For your audio needs, you've got a 3.5mm audio jack and that HDMI output, which also supports audio transmission. The Raspberry Pi's GPU boasts 1 Gpixel/s, 1.5 Gtexel/s or 24 GFLOPs of general purpose compute power and is OpenGL 2.0 Compliant (in plain English, it's got the graphics power of the original Xbox). The operating system runs Raspbian, the Debian-based Linux distro, but other Linux distros are available.

In additional to the Raspberry Pi machine, you’ll need the following items (some of which may be found around the house):

▪ One SD card

▪ An SD card reader so you can write the OS image to your SD card

▪ A means of supplying power to the unit (I use an old Android phone charger). At the very least, you'll need a 5v micro-USB adapter.

▪ An HDMI cable and HDMI-to-DVI converter if you're using a monitor instead of a high-definition television. If you're just using a TV or a monitor that supports HDMI, you won't need an adapter.

▪ A USB mouse and keyboard

▪ An Ethernet cable

Once you’ve accumulated all of the pieces and parts, Raspberrypi.org offers a great Quick Start Guide. The Quick Start Guide will walk you through the steps involved to get Raspberry Pi operational. If you’d like a physical book to work with, the CLEVNET system offers a nice collection of Raspberry Pi materials. When setting up my Raspberry Pi, I borrowed the book “Getting Started with Raspberry Pi” by Matt Richardson and had much success with it.

Innovation using Raspberry Pi is endless, but you may still be wondering, “What can you actually do with this thing?” You can install Scratch, a programming language and online community available through MIT, which you can use create your own interactive stories, games, and animations. If you’re looking to take Raspberry Pi to the next level Make Magazine has a great post on “47 Raspberry Pi Projects to Inspire Your Next Build” and Lifehacker created a section on their website titled “Raspberry Pi” with a collection of projects from programmers all over the world.

Hopefully this post will inspire you to pick up a Raspberry Pi and give it a try. If you’d like to see one live and in action, you can Book-a-Librarian (me!) and I can show you how it works.

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