First Milton Keynes #RaspberryJam

A few weeks ago, I mentioned that I’d been to a Raspberry Jam event in London, so I was very excited to see a jam advertised for Milton Keynes, one of the towns near where I live. Not only was it in Milton Keynes but at The National Museum of Computing in Bletchley Park – a place which I was embarrassed to say I’d never visited, despite only living a dozen or so miles away…

I booked onto the event and then noticed that it was on a Sunday morning.  Evenings are generally not a problem for me but weekends are sacred  family time so I thought I might have to pull out, until I realised my family would be away and I was home alone. Time to geek out!

This morning’s Raspberry Jam, organised by Peter Onion (@PeterOnion) did not disappoint. With around 30 enthusiasts of varying abilities and even representation from the Raspberry Pi Foundation, in the form of Rob Bishop (@Rob_Bishop), there were talks on a variety of topics, followed up with a tour of The National Museum of Computing (I’ll save that for a separate blog post).

  • First up was amateur radio engineer Andy Brown, who had brought along his 1940s television set, rescued from a skip and “upgraded” with a Raspberry Pi and a former CCTV monitor. The original CRT scanned at 405 lines and is non-functional (although Andy hopes to restore it one day) but running RaspBMC with a selection of videos from the Alexandra Place Television Society, Andy says the “television” generates a lot of interest in his shop! There’s more information including some videos on the Raspberry Pi website and a description and photograph on Andy’s own site.
  • Next, Brian Hogan demonstrated RISC OS on a Raspberry Pi. This is something I’d also seen at the London jam and the basic premise is that, as the ARM CPU on the Pi is a development of the CPU used in the BBC Micro and later Acorn computers, why not port the Acorn RISC OS operating system to run on a Raspberry Pi? RISC OS dates back to the 1980s and has many user interface features that are commonplace today (and a few that are less so – like the three-button mouse controls that replace menu bars). Currently available as an alpha release, it’s hoped that RISC OS Open  (which comes in at less than 6MB and runs pretty quickly on modern hardware!) will be stable in time for the upcoming Raspberry Pi educational launch, providing opportunities for a BBC BASIC renaissance as well as access to commercial and open source RISC OS software packages.
  • The final session was a basic introduction to getting started with the Raspberry Pi. It’s all to easy to forget that, although the current version of the Pi was intended for developers in preparation for a broader educational release, it’s been massively popular with 350,000 boards shipped (and on target for a million by the end of the year!). Add to that, the Raspberry Pi foundation is 20 guys and girls who don’t get paid and who have day jobs – that’s a very limited resource pool to support an awful lot of people! Even so, the Raspberry Pi is not necessarily the most user-friendly experience for those who are not used to hacking around in a command line interface, so I’ll be writing a follow-up post this evening I’ve written a follow-up post to help those of a less technical background to get going with their Pi.

Peter hopes to run future Raspberry Pi events at Bletchley Park on a monthly basis. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to attend every time but I hope to take the elder of my two sons along with me to learn some geek skills (“it’s time you learned about programming, son”), as well as picking up a few tips myself (like using the GPIO to control some electronics…). Watch this space for more Raspberry Pi adventures!

[Updated 22 August 2012 to include a link to my beginners guide to getting started with Raspberry Pi]

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