Saturday, 31 December 2011

Raspberry Pi - the fun starts tonight!

You can start bidding for a numbered Raspberry Pi beta board tonight!

The two highest numbered boards go on auction on eBay at 10pm. More boards will be auctioned, with board number one the last to be offered. Details here.

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Another slice of Pi for Christmas

The Raspberry Pi team are taking a well-earned break over Christmas, but they've left a few more snippets to keep us happy. New photos, a facelift for the Forum, and an informative update to the About page.

Let's hope the testing of the beta boards continues to go well. I'm still hoping for the limited edition auction before the end of the year, and a chance for everyone to buy one in in January!

Saturday, 24 December 2011

One Raspberry Pi coming up...

You can see one of the first Raspberry Pi beta boards booting on the RasbPi website.  Amazing Video performance.

It looks as if there's an easy-to-fix issue with the current layout. Liz has promised us more info tomorrow.

The testing is going well, and with any luck we'll see the first few boards auctioned this year. Fantastic!

Congratulations, Pi cooks. Have an excellent Christmas.

Friday, 23 December 2011

Raspberry Pi - the tension mounts!

The Raspberry Pi site has pictures of the first populated (beta) boards. If all goes well, ten of the boards will be auctioned this year, with production boards hitting their on-line store in January.

Friday, 16 December 2011

Gertboard - expansion board for Raspberry Pi

The Gertboard is coming - a capable, inexpensive expansion board for the soon-to-ship Raspberry Pi.

The Gertboard is will make it much simpler to interface the Raspberry Pi to the outside world. It provides  access to the Pi's GPIO pins, and can include a motor driver.

Gert van Loo of Fen Logic Ltd, the board's designer, will publish all the design documents once the design is stable. Raspberry Pi expect to sell a bare board in their shop. That means that you'll need to buy the components yourself, program the on-board PIC if required, and solder the components.

Since many of the components are SMT (surface mount) you will need to be a proficient constructor to assemble your own board. Gert hopes that someone will start making per-build boards. I suspect there will be quite a market once the Pi starts to shop in volume next year.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Open Bench Logic Sniffer - what you need to know

I've just started using the Open Bench Logic Sniffer.

It's a very capable bit of open source hardware and it's supported by a highly functional Java client. Together they give you have access to the features of a commercial logic analyser at a fraction of the price. In the UK the board costs just under £50 including VAT. The software is free.

There is one minor pitfall, though. The product's home page has a prominent link to the original SUMP client. That takes you to an old version which is no linger actively maintained - indeed I could not even fire it up.

There is an actively maintained alternative which worked straight out of the box. There are also a number of firmware upgrades. I don't yet know if I need to apply any of these; I'll report when I do.

The sniffer needs at least one accessory: a cable which connects the board headers to the circuit under test. 

 A single cable gives you 8 connections; if you want to use 16 channels you will need two of them.

You'll also need a USB cable with a micro connector, which is not provided.

The sniffer and cables are available form seedstudios in Hong Kong. In the US you can buy from Sparkfun or the Gadget Factory. In the UK you can find them at SK Pang and ProtoPic.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Beaglebone - first impressions

Farnell delivered my Beaglebone this morning. The bone is powered up and running; I'll describe the startup process in a later post.

The Beaglebone is compact; the board is about 2.1" by 3.4", although the Ethernet socket protrudes by another 0.1".

It comes with a demo image on a micro SD card already in its SD slot; there's a second micro SD card supplied, which I haven't investigated yet. Like the BeagleBoard, the Beaglebone comes with the Angstrom Linux distribution, but you've several other options, including Ubuntu.

Unlike its big brother, the Beaglebone has no HDMI socket, so you cannot intereface the bare board with a DVD-I monitor. The bone will soon be supported by a number of Capes ( the Beaglebone equivalent of Arduino's shields), and one of these will provide DVD-I support. As you'd expect, you can connect to your board via the Serial USB link. You can also use SSH or VNC to provide a console or GUI session over Ethernet.

However, the Beaglebone offers another exciting way to interact with the board.

Once you've connected the board to your local network, you can open the board's cloud9 browser-based JavaScript development environment on your PC or Laptop. cloud9 allows you to create and run JavaScript applications on the Beaglebone.

The environment comes with a handy demo (blinkled.js) which will flash one of the board LEDs on and off.The sample code below gives you a feeling for how easily you can create programs that will interact with the bone's hardware.

var bb = require('./bonescript');

var ledPin = bone.P8_3;
var ledPin2 = bone.USR3;

setup = function() {
    pinMode(ledPin, OUTPUT);
    pinMode(ledPin2, OUTPUT);

loop = function() {
    digitalWrite(ledPin, HIGH);
    digitalWrite(ledPin2, HIGH);
    digitalWrite(ledPin, LOW);
    digitalWrite(ledPin2, LOW);

The goal of the bonescript environment is to provide libraries that are simple to use (like the Arduino libraries) through a development environment that needs no installation. The libraries are a work in progress, but there's already enough to get the first wave of explorers off to a flying start.

I love the Beaglebone. The documentation is still a bit on the  scanty side, but the hardware, and the development environment, are inspiring. I'm looking forward to getting to know this great product much better over the next few days.

One word of warning - it looks as if Farnell have already sold out of their first shipment, and I suspect the next batch will also sell out fast. You can place an order here.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

RaspberryPi boards in Hi-res

Raspberry Pi have posted some higher-resolution pictures of bare (unpopulated) boards from their first batch. The images are fascinating, not least because they show the scarily compact BGA connections which will link the main Broadcom processor to the board. There are hundreds of pads in a footprint the size of a postage stamp.

The post makes clear that these are not the boards as customers will see them; the board you get will be sold fully populated, with components soldered on. These images are there to whet our appetite and keep us informed about the march towards shipment.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Raspberry Pi supporters - own a bit of history

A few days ago I found an old friend - an Acorn Microcomputer dating back to the late 1970s. You might know it by its later name of Acorn System 1.

It's arguably the great-great-grandfather of Raspberry Pi ( though several orders of magnitude less powerful). Acorn fathered ARM, whose design lies at the heart of RasbPi's processor; the processor is made by Broadcom, who also trace their ancestry back to Acorn.

The Acorn Microcomputer has an led display, a keyboard, a 6502 processor, 512 bytes of rom and an amazing 1k of ram. The monitor (a minimalist operating system) lives in rom; programs can be saved and then reloaded using a cassette recorder. It will run off a 9v battery. Somehow I've managed to hang on to its documentation, though you'll find a lot more information, and an emulator, on Mike Colishaw's website.

I've done nothing with this early micro for years, and I'd pretty much decided to give it to a museum. I suspect it still works, though I haven't tried to apply power yet.

Then I read about the latest batch of  RasbPi boards and the plans to auction some, and wondered if the Raspberry Pi project would care to auction this fore-runner to raise more money for the project.

If you would like to own this bit of computing history, head over to the Raspberry Pi forum and encourage the RasbPi team to get in touch and auction it!

Thursday, 1 December 2011

The Arduino makeover

Not only do we have a new version of the Arduino software, but the hardware has new retail packaging.

Italian style at its best. Congratulations! And Kudos to the designers.

The value of (Raspberry) Pi

Raspberry Pi have just released pictures of the first batch of  PCBs for Raspberry Pi.

This amazing £25 system on a chip should be shipping in low volume before the end of the year. It's built up a huge following already, and the initial production run of 10,000 is likely to sell out fast.

The pictures of the PBC layout were amazing, and the actual PCB is just as remarkable.

The computer has the potential to change IT education, in this country and elsewhere, but much of its value lies in the way that it's motivated the community.

The open source movement has shown that there is a huge pool of talented, motivated people who like to share their work. Raspberry Pi is a focus for those of us who would like to share with the next generation of technologists.

It's a product for optimists.

Arduino 1.0 is out - first impressions

Arduino have released version 1.0 of the Arduino development environment.

There's a lot of new functionality in the new release, and there are some significant changes.

This blog post talks about an earlier release candidate, but presumably still applies. At the time of posting, the release notes stop at release 23, but that may be fixed by the time you read this.

A quick test showed some of the new features, and some of the issues involved in migrating existing projects.

The new IDE looks subtly different. Below you'll see a 'verify' button (shown as a tick) which you can use to compile a sketch without trying to upload it. I found that handy when checking the compatibility of existing code.

You'll find changes in several libraries. In most cases these are improvements in functionality. Examples:

  • the Serial library is now asynchronous
  • Serial now contains functions for parsing input data
  • the String class is now more efficient and robust
  • the Ethernet library now supports DHCP and DNS
  • the SD library (which you can use for reading from/writing to SD cards) now supports multiple open files
However, some changes will break existing code. For instance
  • send() and receive() in the Wire library have been replaced by write() and read()
  • the effect of Serial.print() on a byte argument has changed. It's now more consistent with other libraries, but existing code will break. The old behaviour can be reproduced by using Serial.write() instead
Finally, the extension for Arduino sketches has changed from pde to ino. The new IDE will recognise your old sketches, though, and when you save them a pop-up will remind you of the change before asking if you want to save the file with the new extension. That's handy, as it gives you an easy way to keep track of which sketches you've migrated.

There are many other changes listed in the blog.  I'll update this post if I come across anything crucial.