First Milton Keynes #RaspberryJam

This content is 12 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

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]

Short takes: Raspberry Jam (#RaspberryJam) and Milton Keynes Geek Night (#MKGN)

This content is 12 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

This week, aside from struggling with the culture shock of getting back to work after a fortnight of Internet abstinence, and getting very angry with Microsoft, I spent my evenings at two fantastic community events. Both of them deserve a lot more space on the blog but I’m short of time right now, so a teeny overview will have to suffice.

Raspberry Jam

Complete with scones (really!), Raspberry Jam was a fantastic evening of RaspberryPi fans talking about some of the things that they are up to and hosted by Alan O’Donohoe (@teknoteacher):

  • Genevieve Smith-Nunes (@pegleggen) talked about the HackDay she’s organising at her school with 250 Year 9 students who will be building “something” with RaspberryPi (and the website is a constantly moving feast as its the kids who are building it). She’s also teaching Scratch to kids in Year 1 and 2 (my children are Foundation and Year 2, so this is very interesting to me).

(great quote by the way – “nobody’s the teacher; everyone’s the teacher; and we’re all students”).

  • Neil Ford (@NeilCFord) talked about Portable Pi – a project for taking Raspberry Pis on field trips to provide a portable website for kids to upload research data where there is no mobile phone reception. The shopping list for a Portable Pi is available on Amazon (although I can’t see the battery on there right now).
  • Neil also mentioned the Young Rewired State Festival of Code that’s happening in August – teaching kids to code, hoping to create the next Mark Zuckerbergs, and to keep them in the UK.
  • There was a demo of the Acorn RISC OS running on a Raspberry Pi. I’d forgotten just how advanced it was, back in the days before Windows… what’s more, it is tiny (6MB) and includes BASIC. Great for starting to code…
  • John Bevan (@bevangelist) showed us Mozilla Thimble – a really simple tool to teach people how to publish on the web and one of a wider suite of tools that Mozilla is creating.

Plus there was loads of opportunity for networking, snacks, beer, soft drinks and more. Hosted at the Mozilla Space in London (a great venue for like-minded open source-oriented people), the organisers are looking for more RaspberryJam events to be created across London, the south-east (and presumably further)… jump on the #RaspberryJam hashtag for more.

You can also watch the recording (filmed on an iPhone using a rather cool tracking tripod head called a Swivl) on YouTube:


MK Geek Night

Regular readers will know that, about once a month, I head down to Digital Surrey, which usually has some great speakers on topics of interest to “digital” (media/marketing/tech) types, like me. With the Digital Bristol and Digital Berkshire spin-offs, I considered starting a Digital MK or a Digital Buckinghamshire but I simply don’t have the time (or the contacts). That’s why I was so excited to see Richard Wiggins and David Hughes announce Milton Keynes Geek Night.

Wow! 190 people in a community arts centre in a converted bus station; two big speakers; three 5-minute lightning talks and some one-minute pitches. What a great evening.

  • Jon Hicks (@HicksDesign) spoke about iconography, using the redesign of Skype’s emoticons as a case study. Who knew there was so much to designing icons? I had an inkling there would be, and it’s pretty fascinating stuff (for geeks).
  • Kate Kenyon (@Kate_Kenyon) told us, in just 5 minutes, how to slash content and create better websites that work for users, not just company politics.
  • James Parker (@MrJamesParker) gave us some tips on how Twitter helped him to become a better designer.  I won’t leave you hanging – and they are not just for designers either – they are:
    1. Follow people relevant to you (not just celebrities).
    2. Don’ be a passive user – get involved in the conversation.
    3. Make friends – contacts are everything.
    4. Follow me.
  • Code Club (@CodeClub) were there – there are 120 schools and 1436 volunteers signed up now (maybe more this morning) to teach our children to write code with curriculum changes and after-school clubs. It’s a pity I don’t cut code for a living as this is a great initiative to get involved in.
  • Brendan Dawes  (@BrendanDawes) gave a whacky but enlightening talk on low-tech hacks and making “things” from “stuff” (that description simply doesn’t do the talk credit – I’ll write more in another post, I hope)
  • And then there were the one minute pitches for employment opportunities, user groups, special interests, etc.


The next event is scheduled for 20 September. Full speaker line-up is yet to be announced, but includes Relly Annett-Baker (@RellyAB) talking on content strategy and, based on the inaugural event, I have high hopes that Richard and David will find more great speakers. Follow @MKGeekNight on Twitter for more details.

Proof that Milton Keynes has geeks and about 200 more roundabouts than Old Street. #MKGN
Lawrence Archard