Pi-topCEED

Pi-topCEED Review and first experiences



I often get quite excited writing reviews for a products and use words like awesome and amazing but as you will see these words are fully justified for the Pi-topCEED.

I have been running Raspberry Pi workshops and activities since a few months after getting my first Pi so my thoughts here are based on first hand experiences.

I saw the Pi-topCEED back in March at the Raspberry Pi birthday party and fell in love with it after helping at a GPIO / Physical computing workshop using them. I knew at that point that they would be perfect for my Pi based outreach work at school. Up to this point I have been loading the boot of my car with 15 monitors and all the other gear to convert a classroom into a Pi lab. I love running the workshops but getting the equipment in and out of a venue can sometimes be back breaking! I could see straight away that with the Pi-topCEED many of my issues around storage, transportation and temporary setting up of spaces would be resolved.

I persuaded my school to buy 16 of them at around the $150 per unit (with Pi 3) price point which I still feel is an excellent price. Last week they arrived in two large crates and I set about the setup and installation process which was relatively simple. The modular design and very clever use of magnetic fixtures meant I put together the 16 Pi-topCEEDs within a couple of hours. Each kit contains and SD card with their software pi-topOS which is very simple and intuitive to use.

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When ordering the Pi-TopCEEDs I knew that I would want to run GPIO based projects using them so I also got 16 pi-topPROTO board which very neatly give you full access to the GPIO pins and a board for prototyping onto.

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To connect the Raspberry Pi to the rest of the unit you simply attach a connector to the GPIO pins and insert the HDMI lead. USB connections then face outwards towards the right hand side of the case.


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Knowing that I also wanted to do SonicPi workshops I also got 6 speakers for some of the Pi-topCEEDs. These also fit onto the rail system with magnets and connect through connection pins on the side of the Pt-topPROTO board. These do allow multiple configurations as they can be connected in any order.

Other accessories will be developed as time goes on.

The sliding front panel is able to hide all the electronics if you want the clean look of a normal desktop computer but it is quite fun seeing the ‘guts inside it’. The GPIO pins on the Pt-topPROTO board are easily accessible for simple (or much more complex) projects.

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So why am I so pleased and excited about buying these? Well, the obvious answer is that it works. The design is excellent, they are so light but still feel sturdy. They also stack down into a box very easily making transport and storage very simple.

Since getting the kits last week I have run 3 workshops in two very contrasting locations and the Pi-topCEEDs have been really well received by both adults and children alike.

To put it into context the two photos below show the same resource needed for a workshop i.e. 16 lots of Raspberry Pi and all the accessories. The photo on the left was before I bought the Pi-topCEED and the photo on the right was today!

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Setting up a space to deliver workshops is very much easier and it is the silly things which make an impact such as only needed 1 power socket per workstation rather than two. The following photos show a workshop set up in two very different locations.

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The first photo is at the Learning Hub at Birmingham Airport and the second was at a Prep-school in Northampton. In both spaces the room was setup and ready to be used in under forty minutes which is fantastic when you are very pressed for time.

In conclusion, these are great devices which I see having a massive potential in both the home market and in an Educational setting.

I whole heartedly recommend them for home use as well as school / club / outreach / workshop environment and would be more than happy to chat about my experiences.

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Amazon Alexa on the Pi

A couple of months ago details were released explaining how to use a Raspberry Pi to build an Amazon Alexa device. At the time the instructions looked complicated and I put this onto my “things i will do one day (probably!)” list.

I had mostly forgotten about this project until a couple of days ago Matt aka The Raspberry Pi Guy published a very polished and comprehensive set of instructions for setting up your own Alexa. After following his guide and downloading his very nicely packaged code I had alexa up and running within 20 minutes. This projects uses the SenseHat both as a trigger and to display a nice graphical sound level and useful icons.

I’ve embedded his video here as it is a really good resource to follow.



Matt’s detailed instructions can also be found here on his blog.

This a project definitely worth looking at even just for the bragging rights to say you have Alexa and Siri at home!

A couple of observation (not a reflection on Matt’s work but on Alexa)

  • If you are outside of America you can’t set your location
  • Temperature measurements (e.g. for the weather) are in Fahrenheit
  • You can get your local weather by asking for the weather in a certain location
  • I couldn’t get Alexa to play my music or read my audio books to me

Do give it a go, it is definitely a lot of fun.

Matt recommends the following USB microphone. I am using a ProSound USB mic from Maplin.



So if you have a few minutes to spare give it a go.

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Disney Photoframe

One of the things I love about the Pi is how it makes projects that would have been hard a few years ago much simpler.

You can probably tell from my homepage that I am a huge fan of Disney and love everything about the parks, the films, the music etc .After getting back from our holiday last year I decided that I wanted a nice way of displaying our holiday photos.

This is an incredibly simple build and looks great on my wall.

I’ve mounted a Adafruit 2.8” touchscreen display into a smaller frame within the larger frame. A few people have asked why I didn’t use a bigger screen to fill the frame but I wanted my images to match the pictures around the outside of the frame.

At the moment the display simply shows photos on a loop but I do intend to add current weather icons to the top right of the image.

I am using fbi to display the slide show.

sudo fbi -a -t 5 /dev/fb1 -noverbose /home/pi/disney/*.jpg



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Flotilla Weather Station

You may have read my earlier blog post on the great Flotilla kit from Pimoroni and my first look at using Python with the sensors.

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I am currently looking at how I could use the kit in the classroom and particularly using Python with the sensors.

As part of this project I am building a simple prototype weather station that both uses inputs and outputs to collect data and display it on a simple bar chart.

At this stage the following modules are used:

Matrix
Number
Weather (for temperature and pressure)
Touch (to select different measurements)
Light sensor

My @raspberrypifoundation powered @pimoroni #weatherstation built using #flotilla is coming along well

A video posted by MrUkTechReviews (@uktechreviews) on



If you would like to try it for yourself the code is below:

Matrix - connected to 1
Number - connected to 8
Weather - connected to 2
Touch - connected to 3
Light - connected to 7


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Flotilla and python

Building a light meter with Flotilla

Back in March I got my mega Flotilla treasure chest from Pimoroni. I was very excited to see what could be done with it. The Rockpool graphical interface is coming along nicely and I had some fun with that, but I really wanted to dig into the Python API.

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Before you go any further check out this link from Pimoroni and this one from their website.

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I wanted my first project to use both inputs and outputs so I decided to create a light meter which displayed the light level both on the number display and visually through a bar chart on the LED matrix.


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This project uses the matrix connected to 1, a light sensor to 2 and the number display to 8. I screwed the components onto one of the base plates to keep them still!

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Using the @pimoroni #flotilla as a light meter @raspberrypifoundation

A video posted by MrUkTechReviews (@uktechreviews) on






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4th Birthday Party

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At 5am on the 5th March I got up and drove to Cambridge for two great days of Raspberry Pi. The Raspberry Pi Big Birthday Weekend was a fantastic weekend organised by Michael Horne and Tim Richardson and supported by a whole army of volunteers from the Raspberry Pi community.

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I spent the Saturday at my show and tell table which was very popular.

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The two main projects on show were my RFID Minecraft project and my first attempts at home automation with DeskMate2000. Both projects were very well received and I had a steady stream of people all day building things in Minecraft with my RFID cards. My big bag of sweets were also a big attraction for many of the younger people!

Saturday afternoon was interrupted with a short presentation on the use of Raspberry Pi for outreach work which although not massively attended people were genuinely very interested in what I had to say.

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The evening party was great fun and there was plenty of Pizza and cake for everyone. I had a rather nice pint of beer which ended the day off well.

Sunday morning started with a Raspberry Pi Party breakfast at the Travelodge - not sure what everyone else thought of us!

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Sunday morning was spent doing one of my favourite jobs - helping and leading workshops on GPIO / sensors and robots!

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The afternoon was spent marshalling in the lecture theatre which basically meant making sure people didn’t speak for too long and their microphones were working properly. My highlight had to be fitting Dave Honess with a radio mic as he prepared to speak on Astro Pi - the story so far. There seemed to be an opening that would fit the receiver perfectly but was not really suitable to be used on his space suit!!!!!!!!


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It was a great weekend. I went home tired but very happy. What was my best moment? That is easy - buying Flotilla!

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Here’s to 2016 and all the great Pi stuff that will happen this year.

Happy Birthday Raspberry Pi!

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Minecraft Programming and Year 3

A Raspberry Pi workshop with year 3

Some people said I was crazy to do it, others said they were too young and others still said that it would be too hard!

On Tuesday I ran two lots of one and a half hour Raspberry Pi Minecraft workshops with year 3 students at a local school.

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The students had just started a healthy eating topic based around the food that Tim Peake would use on the International Space Station. This gave me a good hook to introduce the Pi and more specifically the AstroPi.

The year 3 teachers wanted to me to do something fun with Minecraft and include a element of text based programming.

The lesson resource I used is
here (worksheet 7) and simply gave students an opportunity to post a message to the Chat Window and then change the code to change the message.

The lesson followed my general formula for Minecraft workshops and I was really pleased with the effort and determination by the students.

  • Welcome and Introduction
  • Familiarisation of Minecraft Raspberry Pi edition controls
  • 15 minutes to either build a rocket or a Moon base for Tim Peake’s next space journey
  • Introduction to code activity
  • Students type the code into a blank text file
  • Teacher runs code from the terminal
  • Whilst students are waiting for help they can return to their original designs, reducing any waiting time

Observations

  • Students were very keen to type in text and use their partners to check each line
  • Generally students will forget the capital letter M in mc = minecraft.Minecraft.create() but with the attention to details and checking less students made this mistake than I would have expected.
  • Many of the students in the class couldn’t find the key combination to type a “ or (
  • Students showed resilience and were very excited when their first chat message appeared on the screen.


Would I do year 3 again for my workshop - absolutely!


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Guest Blog Post: @warksraspijam

My experience with using Raspberry Pi, Minecraft and Raspberry Jams.

Why I’ve used it/ initial experiences.

The first time that I happened across Raspberry Pi’s was via the CAS forums that I get emailed in early 2012. I then looked at the then Raspberry Pi website/ what was then blog. It intrigued me and sounded really interesting. At this point I hadn’t touched programming since 2005 when I finished my degree, with the exception of Scratch, which we used at KS3 in a previous school. I signed up to get one when they were released but like everyone else had to wait and ended up cancelling the order out of frustration at the wait. I got a glimpse of one who when one of the A-level IT students bought one in.

That next academic year I took a role as a HOD at another school with the intention of buying a few and trying to use them to gain student interest in CS. Bought I got bogged down in the HOD role and found that I didn’t get chance to even buy a few. About two and half years ago I took up a teaching post at my current school and was given two Raspberry Pis, it was given to our school by Coventry BCS as part of a Pi competition. With this a couple of sixth formers built an arcade emulator and ran a few retro games (see below). I struggled through this whole process with basic things like how to get it working on vga monitors. They managed to build something quite cool. At that moment I was still struggling to find a way to make it useful in the classroom.

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Then I discovered a half finished book by Craig Richardson about programming with Python and Minecraft. That is when I was converted! This book has now been completed and is available for sale(
http://goo.gl/9KOn1u ). At the same time our school was about to start teaching CS as a GCSE so I spent the next few months refreshing my knowledge of programming by working through and creating Minecraft Programming task sheets which I share online (https://goo.gl/gWPf6S). Other people also contribute and it is a fun form of CPD.

Using Pi’s in the classroom

During this time I started to use Twitter to try and speed up the problem solving journey and it worked a treat. Through problem sharing on social networks I came across a reliable configuration file that meant that the Pi’s booted every time that we used them on our VGA monitors. By asking on social networks I got hold of a reliable config file from David Whale(him and Martin O’Hanlon have been nothing but superb in their support and encouragement in the last 14 months, Thanks guys ☺). Now the Pi’s we had were working I asked my boss for another 7 and we started putting Pi’s permanently in my room.

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This was a massive turning point because it meant that I could now start to experiment a little in a few KS3 lessons. I created 3-4 Minecraft and Python lessons and to see how students reacted to using the Pi’s. With the reliable VGA boot up now working I started using them with a regular lunch time Minecraft club, the students were really engaged in the fact they could play networked and build cool projects like this.

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I spent some time using this lunch time club as a vehicle for a bit of cross school competition with some building competitions with a few schools across the country. This kept student interest with building over a long period of time.

What did all this experimentation actually achieve?

The biggest difference that I found was the increase in engagement from students in computing and lessons in general. The uptake in CS increased from initial 18 in pilot year to 37 in the current cohort of year 10 and 40 in the new year 9 option groups. On a personal level I have rapidly improved my own knowledge of programming, dusting off 10 years of cob webs and learning a new language. I have developed a new found self confidence and set of really supportive bunch of people on twitter and in the RPI community.

Picademy

During February and January2015 I went to the Jam packed event and Picademy. Picademy was an amazing two days that really helped expand my horizons and provide the best CPD that I have had in 10 years of teaching. I would highly recommend it!

Raspberry Jams

In the later part of last academic year I chose to try and open up the Raspberry Pi fun for more kids in our school and the wider community and held our first Raspberry Jam. It was a part of our Arts festival week. During the day we ran some Minecraft creative and coding sessions(
https://griffinartsfestival2015.wordpress.com/2015/07/15/ict-raspberry-pi-and-minecraft/) and one evening ran our first Jam, which albeit small was a really enjoyable and rewarding experience.

You can view more pics
here.

All the resources created for this Jam can be downloaded
here

Our 2nd Raspberry Jam was in October and was focussed on coding with Minecraft and more of a hacking session than the previous.

The resource pack is available
here and photos of the event here.

In 2016 we have now a 3rd Jam which is much like the first a mix and match of everything beautiful about Raspberry Pi show and tell projects and Minecraft coding galore. At the time of writing it has 43 tickets gone which is amazing if you are interested then you can get your free tickets
here. If you cannot make it then you can download the updated resource pack here.

If you are interested in Pi or CodeClub then you are warmly welcome to our joint informal and friendly show and tell on 21/01/16 6-8pm. Get your free tickets
here.

Overall in the 18 months or so of messing around with Raspberry Pi it has truly changed the lives of students that I work with and mine too. I hope that is motivation enough to get you or your kids involved my kids are 5< but brimming with enthusiasm.

Cya.

@warksraspijam

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PiWars at Cambridge TV

I can’t believe it is just about a month since we are at PiWars and it was a really great day!

Adam from Cambridge TV has made a great video from PiWars which went live today here

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You can also check out more of Cambridge TV at their vimeo page here

While you are here also check out their homepage here

If you would like even more PiWars do have a look at my YouTube videos.

Re-live the excitement of Pi-Noon

PiWars 2015 - the extended version

PiWars 2015 - the highlights




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Picademy and beyond

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Over the last year I have written a number of blog posts about the excellent CPD run by the Raspberry Pi Foundation called Picademy. I was a delegate at the October 2014 Picademy in Cambridge and then was very fortunate to be able to take part in the Birmingham events as a leader / trainer.

As the Picademy machine moves on to a new location for the next round of training I have been thinking about what I have personally got out of the process as a leader.

1. Making new friends

It was great to hang out with members of the Raspberry Pi Foundation. They are really passionate and enthusiastic about their work and this is really contagious. Our team was great to work with and I had lots of fun working with Martin O’Hanlon, Dave Jones and Josh Johnson.


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2. Learning new skills.

I made sure that I left each session with new sills and knowledge for myself. I now have a much better understanding of how to use GitHub correctly, I learnt how to create documents in Markdown and share them. I spent much time picking the brains of Dave Jones about networking Raspberry Pi cameras and streaming video. I also spent some time creating circuits diagrams with Fritzing.

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3. Creative problem solving using the Pi.

The second day of Picademy is spent working on projects. As a Science teacher I often spend time thinking of creative ways to solve problems in the classroom. I was able to apply a similar thought process at Picademy. My favourite moment had to be with the group who wanted to make a noise level detector for their classroom. this was not as easy as it first seemed as we needed a method of measuring volume and using it to trigger events. I eventually came up with a method of using an old speaker connected to the analogue port of the Explorer Hat and using this to measure voltage changes using the speaker as a microphone.

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For more information about Picademy check out the link here https://www.raspberrypi.org/picademy/

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Taking your Pi on the road

Outreach work with the Raspberry Pi

Over the last two years I have developed a number of workshops which I have either delivered at Raspberry Jam events or at my school. This year I am very fortunate to have three hours on my timetable once a fortnight for outreach work. Up to now I have been running sessions at my school but I am now starting to take all my gear to other schools.

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Having a big boot is a real bonus, I can easily fit 15 monitors in my boot along with all the gear to set up a classroom.

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15 Raspberry Pi workstations setup in a classroom ready for the first workshop

What I have learnt?

Before the workshop

  • Visit the school to discuss aims and objectives of the workshop.
  • Visit the classroom, particularly note how many sockets are available.
  • Check that all your equipment is working
  • Have at least one spare Raspberry Pi and three or four SD cards
  • Identify any students who will need additional support with the class teacher

A possible model for a Minecraft Pi workshop (90 minutes)

  • Introduce yourself and the Raspberry Pi
  • Quick build challenge (10 minutes) to build a hospital - explain controls for students who haven’t used PC / Pi edition before
  • Show students how you can build a hospital in about 10 seconds by running hospital script here
  • Students complete task 1 posting messages to chat (from here)
  • There will be many times when students are waiting for help or have completed their task, encourage them to go back to their hospital to add more detail
  • Once everyone has task one completed complete task 5 - building a simple house
  • As an extension complete task 6
  • Review the session by asking students to think of one thing they have enjoyed and one thing they had to show resilience with
  • Hand out certificates

Equipment I take to a workshop

  • 15 x Raspberry Pi (with various hats attached!)
  • 15 x power supplies
  • 15 x keyboards
  • 16 x mice
  • 15 x monitor
  • 15 x HDMI --> DVI for monitors
  • 15 x 4 way power extension lead
  • 2 x 15m garden extension lead
  • data projector, spare Pi and cables
  • 2 x spare Raspberry Pi
  • Worksheets

Do ask any questions and share suggestions in the comments.

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Birmingham Picademy

Just before the end of the school summer holidays an intrepid group of teachers joined the ranks of the Raspberry Pi Certified Educators after spending two days at Picademy in Birmingham.

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The two days were held in the stunning Birmingham Library Google Garage and was led by Martin O’Hanlon, Josh Johnson, Dave Jones and myself.

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The Birmingham Picademy followed the same program used at the Cambridge and Leeds events with day one being spent doing workshops and the second day mainly being spent working on projects.

After a brief introduction to the course delegates were setting up their Raspberry Pis and jumping into the workshops.

Workshop 1: Introduction to GPIO using Scratch and Python
Workshop 2: Sonic Pi
Workshop 3: Minecraft
Workshop 4: Making cool stuff with add-ons (using the Explorer Hat)
Workshop 5: Taking selfies with the Picamera

The first day went really well and everyone was very keen to engage with all the activities. Workshop 4 was really fun and we felt very optimistic for day 2 after seeing all the cool things people made. Day one ended with a very nice meal and we came back refreshed for day two.

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The second day started with engaging presentations about YRS, engaging leaners in computer science and feedback from Skycademy. After the community talks we dived straight into the project day. There was a really good range of project ideas and these developed really well throughout the day.

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Projects included:

  • Twitter camera bot
  • Plotting telemetry data in Minecraft
  • Minecraft dance mat
  • Robot
  • Classroom monitor for noise level
  • Baby monitoring device
  • Light writing wand using the sense hat

The second day ended with certificates being handed out to our now Certified Raspberry Pi Educators.

There are still three more Birmingham Picademy events to be held at the Birmingham Digital Garage on:

1st - 2nd October
2nd - 3rd November
7-8th December

More details can be found here

Martin O’Hanlon will also be running mini Jam style events with the first being on Saturday 31st October and more details can be found here

A final word about the team from Google. They were amazing, really helpful and went above and beyond to help make our event as successful as possible.


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Display-o-tron scoreboard - Guest Blog

A guest blog post and code by Philip (age 10)

A game I have always played is hamster wars with my brother. We both love the game but can’t easily keep the scores.

As a result of this I decided to use my Pi with a hat I had seen, called the Display-O-Tron 3000 by Pimoroni. The original idea was that it would be controlled by a website but I started with something simple.

First, I thought of the main things it will need: a competition name; a winning score; the player names; a winner screen; the scores and a way to edit those things.

To get the competition name, when you load the program up the first thing it does is asks you what the name of the competition is. Then I asks how many points to win, then the player names. It puts all of that stuff into variables and puts 0 as the score. Then it puts them into a string and displays then on the Display-O-Tron 3000.

Meanwhile on the terminal is a list of options and you select an option by typing it’s number in. You can change the names, add to the scores and do a lot of stuff. You can even reset so that the title is ‘unnamed competition’ and the players are ‘demo’ and ‘demo2’.



Some more ideas for the future to be added include:

A music player.
Change the background colour.
A keyboard on the Display-O-Tron as it has a joystick on it.
Run it at boot.

_______________________________
Flye001

Philip - “Keep calm and play Minecraft”



Please subscribe to me at www.flye001.work for raspberry pi and python tutorials.

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Pipsta Selfie camera

A simple Pipsta Project - The Raspberry Pi selfie cam

With a very short script, a button and a Raspberry Pi camera attached I have created a very simple selfie-cam with printer.




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The code is relatively simple:



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I have used raspistill to capture the image and save it as a .png which the Pipsta can easily print out. To help the image quality I have also increased the brightness of the image.

Please leave a comment below.

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TrafficHat

Introducing the TrafficHat by Ryanteck LTD

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Firstly a massive thank you to Ryanteck LTD for sending me the TrafficHat to review and secondly I should warn you that I am a big fan of Ryan at Ryanteck so this might be a little bit biased.

I love Raspberry Pi hats, I think the concept is excellent and I am starting to build up a big collection of them.

Ryan has recently released a new product the TrafficHat. Links to his website can be found here.

The hat is currently available as pre-order with estimated delivery next week and retails at £7.75

The Traffichat comes in a semi-kit form with most of the major soldering already done with the user needing to solder three LEDs, a switch and a buzzer. GPIO numbers are pre-assigned for each component making this easier for beginners to start programming with.

The hat contains: 3 jumbo LEDs (Red, Green and Amber), a switch and a buzzer

No extra software or libraries are needed for the hat and programming can be completed in any language which supports GPIO output.

With many students starting out with traffic light projects on the Raspberry Pi, I see this low-cost hat being very useful in a school or club environment where you need a reliable way of connecting LEDs without the need for breadboards or GPIO connectors. Although don’t get me wrong that is also a very important experience for the students to master.

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Introducing the Pipsta

Introducing the Pipsta - “The Little printer with big ideas”

Firstly, a huge thanks to Able Systems Limited for sending me the Pipsta to review. This will be the first of several posts about the Pipsta as I look later at some of the in-class applications and uses for it.



Pipsta is a smart little printer that’s full of big ideas. You can link your Pipsta to your Raspberry Pi and do all sorts of things – from printing labels to tickets.



Building and setting up the Pipsta is very straightforward and I spent just under 45 minutes building it and downloading and setting up the software on the Pi. The documentation is very comprehensive and you don’t need a huge skill or experience level to build the kit.

You will notice in my photos and videos the Pipsta looks blue, this is because I have not taken off the plastic coating from the perspex.

A really important and fairly awesome thing to note is that because the Pipsta uses thermal paper technology the only consumable is the paper, there is no ink, toner etc. I have found suitable rolls on Amazon for £4.99 for 20 rolls.

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The example code contains a number of useful applications such as printing text straight to the Pipsta, banner printing, printing from web pages, printing pictures and QR codes.

The python libraries are fairly intuitive and this releases a huge amount of potential for the Pipsta. At the moment I am using it in my classroom to print out key words and labels for the whiteboard using the banner print function. By networking the Pi and SSH into it from my tablet I can easily print key words as I walk around the classroom and then get the students to bring them to the front.

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The Pipsta can be purchased from ModMyPi here https://www.modmypi.com

The official Pipsta website can be found here http://www.pipsta.co.uk

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The Pimoroni Explorer Hat

Simon says use the Explorer Hat!

I recently bought myself an Explorer Hat pro from the guys over at Pimoroni. This is a great little hat which offers lots of connectivity for prototyping on the Raspberry Pi.

Features include: (from Pimoroni website)

  • Four buffered 5V tolerant inputs
  • Four powered 5V outputs (up to 500mA!)
  • Four capacitive touch pads
  • Four capacitive crocodile clip pads
  • Four coloured LEDs
  • PRO ONLY Four analog inputs
  • PRO ONLY Two H-bridge motor drivers
  • PRO ONLY A heap of useful (unprotected) 3v3 goodies from the GPIO
  • A mini breadboard on top!

I was excited to see what I could do with this and thought about project that uses the LEDs and the capacitive touch pads.

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So I decided to recreate the classic game of “Simon Says”.





If you would like a copy of the code feel free to download it here

Ocean Blue Downloads





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VNC Now available for Raspberry Pi

VNC Now available for Raspberry Pi

I was really pleased to see the team from RealVNC at the Raspberry Pi Birthday party on Saturday.

VNC is a very convenient way of using a remote desktop from a PC / tablet / phone / Mac and your Raspberry Pi.

My Philip (age 10) has made this simple tutorial on how to use it.



The exciting news is that RealVNC is now available for the Raspberry Pi allowing you secure and seamless access of the Pi from any Windows, Mac, Linux computer or iOS, Android or Chrome device.

More details here on the RealVNC website.

Licence codes and details are available here

There is a good amount of documentation and information on the RealVNC webpage.

I would also just like to say thank you to the team from RealVNC, they were incredibly kind to Philip when he posted his first video. If you have seen it he goes off to the toilet half way through and tells everyone where he is going! They were also really nice and encouraging when they spoke to him on Saturday. This sort of kindness doesn’t go unnoticed in the 10 year old’s mind!


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Happy Birthday Raspberry Pi

Happy Birthday Raspberry Pi

With the third birthday of the Raspberry Pi coming up soon I have been thinking about what the last three years has meant to me and how this computer has really changed my life before personally and professionally.

I am definitely a Pi-Evangelist, every where I go I talk to people about what the Pi can do and how it is useful in both the home and in education. I am passionate about how it can be used in the classroom and love talking and sharing with other teachers the possibilities.

What makes the Pi so great for me?

It has to be the community which has grown up around it. It is amazing to encounter such a wide ranging group of people who are really passionate about seeing the Pi used creatively.

Do leave a comment below about what the Pi means to you and check out this video of highlights from the last three years.

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Picobot and Agobo

Introducing the Picobot and Agobo from 4Tronix

Many thanks to 4Tronix for sending me a Picobot and Agobo to review. Rather than making a video and reviewing straight away I have been using both robots at school with my Pi club for a couple of weeks.

If you are looking for a robot kit to get you into robotics both of these are great starting points.




The Picobot

The Picobot is a low-cost swarming robot costing £21.95 which comes ready assembled (just add wheels). It is rich in features and can be bought as a class set of 6 for swarming projects.

Features include (from 4Tronix website) and more details here.

  • Ready assembled - just push on the wheels and screw in the front caster assembly
  • Arduino compatible ATMega328P-AU (with 2 additional analog inputs)
  • 2 x N20 geared motors with "biscuit" 42mm diameter wheels
  • 2 forward facing light sensors
  • 2 line sensors
  • 2 paired RGB LEDs underneath for mood lighting and status information depending how you want to program them - they both show the same colour, not independent
  • Rear facing bright white LED - useful for "follow my leader"
  • Mode selection button - general purpose input button that you can program yourself
  • On - Off switch
  • Reset button
  • Socket for ultrasonic distance sensor HC-SR04
  • Socket of 2.4GHz RF module - nRF24L01 or compatible
  • Socket for programming (requires a USB to serial converter such as a CP2102 module with DTR, must be pin for pin compatible with the one 4tronix sell)
  • NB. Basic model does not include battery or battery holder as you can use any LiPo or LiOn battery or battery holder with 2-pin JST plug (check the polarity)



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A short video of the Picobot in action.



I haven’t yet experimented with programming the Picobot but we had great fun at school designing different mazes for him to follow. This also gave a great introduction into line following algorithms.


The Agobo


If you are looking for a Raspberry Pi based robot I can definitely recommend the Agobo. You will need a Raspberry Pi model A+ and WIFI dongle in addition to the robot. I have been using the Agobo in a class situation and had 6 different groups of students logged into it writing simple control programs. For more details and examples of worksheets check out the link here.

The Agobo is very easy to assemble and can built in a range of different configurations.

Do also check out this blog post of my experience in class with Agobo.


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Features include (from 4Tronix website) and more details here.

  • Designed for Raspberry Pi Model A+
  • Pre-assembled. Only requires front caster, mounting pillars and battery holder to be screwed on and then push the wheels on
  • RPi A+ plugs directly onto the main PCB
  • Two N20 size geared motors fully and individually controllable in software
  • Built in line-follower sensors with indicator LEDs
  • Separately controllable front LEDs left and right
  • Power on/off switch and LED
  • Connector for optional plug-in ultrasonic distance sensor
  • Breakout header for a standard serial console cable (ideal way to program a Model A+)
  • Breakout I²C header for our IP Display dongle
  • Prototyping area to add your own sensors
  • Fully replicated 40-pin GPIO header so you can attach your own addons
  • Additional mounting holes to attach sensors or extra hardware

The following optional extras are also available.

  • Ultrasonic sensors (HC-SR04) which simply plugs into the connector at the front
  • Super short micro USB cable to tidy up the battery connection
  • Acrylic cover with mounting hardware to cover and protect the Raspberry Pi Model A+
  • PlusPlate™ Additional prototyping board and mounting hardware. This allows a full size area to add your own electronics from a simple LED, to more complex items including integrated circuits, RF modules and neopixels. See separate specification later
  • Serial console cable which allows easy access to the Raspberry Pi command line without any setup required
  • Pre-loaded SD card with the latest Raspbian software and Agobo software (Python and Scratch)

The Python library for the Agobo makes programming it very simple and I had a great response from the students at my Pi club when I introduced him. The students also had a look at how we could use the ultrasonic detector to make a simple crash prevention system. This gave me a great opportunity to introduce a simple always turn left if blocked algorithm. For £25 + the Raspberry Pi A+ makes this an affordable introduction to robotics and programming robots. The design is very sturdy and well constructed.


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One robot and 8 students

Introducing the Agobo to my Raspberry Pi club

One of the main thoughts with my Raspberry Pi club at school is always around how I can deliver great projects with spending the minimum amount of money. My budget for the year is relatively low so I have to make every penny count. I was therefore really excited when 4Tronix send me an Agobo robot to review and test.

The build was relatively simple and I have a sample worksheet I used with the club to download from here.



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This poses an age old question, how do you share one robot with a whole club of students? It took a moment of thinking outside of the box to come up with a relatively simple plan. The Agobo runs from a Raspberry Pi model A+ with WIFI connectivity.

My starting point was to the run the A+ from a fixed power supply rather than the battery, connect it to my Raspberry Pi WIFI network and establish its IP address.

I then created 8 students folders containing the essential libraries and sample code in folders called student1 up to student8.

I got each student to SSH into the Agobo Pi from their Raspberry Pis - which they loved and found very exciting. With each student having their own work area on the Agobo they were able to tinker with their code and save it without affecting anyone else.

There was an obvious disadvantage to this method:

Firstly being tethered with a charger the students were unable to fully test their code until I shut it down and powered it back on with the battery pack. Not being fully sure of how long the battery would last I didn’t want to run it from there the whole time.

Secondly, the code needs to end cleanly with agobo.cleanup() so the students were told that they could only run the program one at a time and it should come to an end cleanly and not be stopped.

Once everyone had finished their task I rebooted the Agobo after switching over to the batter pack, checked the IP address hadn’t changed again and got the students to log back into their folder and run their code. This worked really well and I was very pleased that I was able to share 1 robot amongst 8 students.

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Minecraft Pi club

Something very interesting happened at Raspberry Pi Minecraft club last week. ...

KESH minecraft

Minecraft Raspberry Pi club has been running at school for just over two terms now. After introducing the students to the Raspberry Pi and learning how to set them up we embarked on a series of projects based on resources which can be found here.

Initially the idea would be that we would spend 20 minutes ‘playing’ on Minecraft, followed by 20 minutes doing a simple piece of practice code and then 20 minutes having fun.

After Christmas I was interested to see what would happen if they were just given time to ‘play’. It was at this time that I networked all the PI’s so that they could do some multiplayer Minecraft.

The results were really surprising and shocked me. The students were really quick to ask me where the project cards were as they wanted to do different specific tasks with the code rather than just play. The best bit was when students started showing me how they had adapted the code to do a specific task.

One of my main aims with the Raspberry Pi club is to help students develop the skills to become independent learners. It looks very much like this is happening!

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Protocam II

Protocam (Mark II)

Whilst at CamJam I caught up with Richard (AKA @AverageManVsPi) and had a quick chat about his latest version of the Protocam board. Check out my first review here.



Again, this looks like a great idea and I do hope to try it out soon with my new Raspberry Pi model A+
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