Meeting: Pot-Pourri

October 2013

Malcolm Hussain-Gambles demonstrated his new NewsUK and WeatherUK applications for RISC OS (using RSS feeds). Chris Hughes showed us the NOOBS SD card for the Raspberry Pi, comprising a choice of six different operating systems to install. Also, to celebrate the 30th Anniversary of the formalisation of the original group, we had free WROCC cake and raspberry pie, and some special awards were given out.

Report by Peter Richmond

The October meeting was a celebration: not of the first meeting of the Club, which was in April 1983, but of the first formalised meeting which wasn’t ‘just’ a band of enthusiasts. In order to mark the occasion, there were a number of special things happening. Rick Sterry took the microphone to open the meeting and announced that there were to be four special awards given out, and that each recipient would receive a £30 voucher for Maplin (£1 for each year of the Club).

The first name to be announced was John Arthur, for his newsletter articles, work as a proofreader for the newsletter, and the newsletter indexes on the Back Catalogue CD which work with the Impact database.

Next up was Terry Marsh, who Rick described as someone who is always there to help – who grafts at meetings and at the show – and is also one of the better people on the committee to blame!

The third award went to someone else who was always helping out on the technical set-up of the equipment for Club meetings, writing articles, giving presentations, and running the show theatre – Peter Richmond. This was a nice surprise for me!

Unfortunately the fourth intended recipient of an award wasn’t at the meeting, but will be given it shortly.

Fittingly – for the 30th celebrations – there were some themed ‘eats’ available at the meeting. We’d had a cake with the Club logo printed at the local Asda, and Rick Sterry’s wife Tina had made a Raspberry Pie (nicely edible) as well as a mandarin tart. Tina had been under strict instructions to not include any other computer fruit such as Apples, or (for those of you with long memories) Tangerines.

The news and weather

The first of the night’s presentations was by Malcolm Hussain-Gambles, and was a pair of applications that he had written himself. Malcolm explained that he had first started programming for RISC OS many years ago on an A310 running Arthur – effectively pre-RISC OS, just.

For many years he thought that RISC OS had disappeared following ‘Black Thursday’, until his interest was re-awakened with the announcement of the Raspberry Pi and the discovery of our OS as an alternative to Raspbian. As a result of this, he read up on RISC OS, and ended up buying a new RISC OS machine on which he started writing applications. Originally he began on the A310 writing in ARM assembler and C, and although he is no longer a programmer he still likes to ‘dip in’.

Malcolm said he was happy to do quite a few applications, and as such these two he was showing tonight were ‘prototype’ applications, just to get a good base going.

The first one we were shown was an application called News UK. This is a launcher which downloads the RSS feed from the BBC website, and then downloads the graphics to go with them. This was particularly devised for RISC OS because the main browser, NetSurf, doesn’t currently have full Javascript support. In addition, Malcolm’s application works quicker than opening NetSurf, finding the correct address and visiting the BBC’s site.

Select clicking on an item in the window will open it in a RISC OS web browser such as NetSurf; Adjust clicking will open it via UniServer, which can then open the feed on your Windows machine. This is particularly useful for watching videos, since they currently don’t play in NetSurf. The list of news stories refreshes every ten minutes, to keep you up-to-date with what is happening in the world.

We next looked at the Weather application, which again uses data from the BBC to display weather forecasts. It provides a list of major British towns from Scotland down to the South of England – which is not currently in alphabetical order and doesn’t include Wakefield. When a location is selected, the forecast is displayed in a window – which again updates every ten minutes.

While trying to run the application it crashed a few times: Malcolm wasn’t quite sure if it was the application itself, the changing of screen resolution to suit our projector, or the fact that he was running RISC OS 5.21 which is an odd-numbered unstable release.

We were then shown how easy it would be to add Wakefield (or any other town for which the BBC kept weather data). Its also possible to add towns and cities in other countries, but some countries only have a few entries, whereas the UK has a fairly comprehensive coverage. Weather was used mainly with UK locations, but Malcolm also showed us Iceland and Dubai so as to check for extremes of sunshine and snow.

Malcolm then commented how the BBC is now moving towards more ‘open’ software, which will allow more third-party developers to access to its data.

New hardware and software

Malcolm’s machine was an ARMiniX, which is built around a Pandaboard ES. It is a development of the Beagleboard-based ARMini, but with a faster dual core processor (of which RISC OS can only use one), good graphics and purportedly the best quality of audio output. The recent developments from RISC OS Open now allow a software reset on the board, and also enable scaling of the speed of the processor to reflect the amount of work it needs to do (or not). For a demonstration of speed, Malcolm loaded the ArtWorks picture of the Mini – with no discernible delay!

As mentioned previously, Malcolm is looking at developing other applications and has started on one called RABBA, which is a JABBA client to allow Google and Facebook talk on RISC OS machines. Malcolm then asked if there were ‘little’ programs that people would find useful to aid working in the RISC OS domain without having to dip into another computer platform to perform a certain task.

Malcolm then showed us that NewsUK and Weather were now on the PlingStore, which is run by R-Comp. Up to now, most items in the store were free to download, but recently the site has been updated to allow the purchase of commercial software (a service being promoted by R-Comp at the London Show). An idea for software that he thought that people might pay for was an email client that works off-line using IMAP.

As far as new hardware on which to run RISC OS, Malcolm said that he was looking at boards that use the A15 processor.

NOOBS on the Pi

After a few minutes setting up we were in the hands of Chris Hughes, who was looking at the NOOBS SD card which is now available for the Raspberry Pi. NOOBS stands for ‘New Out Of Box Software’ and basically means that rather than having one SD card for each operating system on the Pi, you can now get a single 4GB SD card with NOOBS. This then allows you to choose one of a number of operating systems: RISC OS, ArchLinux, OpenElec, Pidora, RaspBMC and Raspbian. A single system can be loaded and worked on at any one time, but then switched over to another operating system later. This will save endless SD card swapping for some people!

Chris was using version 1.3 of NOOBS, which had just come out in the last few weeks. Operation is quite simple: the first time you boot up, you see a menu giving the choice of available operating systems. Being loyal, Chris selected RISC OS first. The version on this build is an old RISC OS 5.19: it takes about three minutes to be ready, and has a number of issues which have long-since been fixed in the stand-alone card images from ROOL’s website (this problem has seen much discussion in recent weeks on the ROOL forums).

Any of the operating systems starts up in a partition on the card which is kept separate from the menu and OS loader. When you decide to change to another system, this OS partition is cleared and the new system is installed. This is done by holding down Shift when rebooting, and it can also allow you to overwrite a corrupted operating system.

You can also get updates while you’re in this area of the card, because there is the Arora web browser to let you look for the latest releases or view the forums for help. There is also a UK/US keyboard option, since so many Pis have now been sold in America.

Chris was using a 16GB SD card for the demo.

The ‘competition’

Chris then gave us an insight into what the RaspBMC system could do: such as viewing 4OD and other TV/Internet content. Some people have even used Pis in hotel bedrooms to watch TV using WiFi! Apparently there have been great sales of the Pi, with over 2.5 million being sold in China already. Oracle showed that they were using Pis at a recent conference, and have bought over 200 of them to develop Java!

Getting back to the NOOBS, Chris mentioned that when making your own, the SD card must be blank formatted using downloadable software (which is available for Windows, Mac OS or Linux) as a normally formatted SD card has some hidden areas which may cause operational problems. Its worth noting that a lite download is available, which is a much smaller size given that the full NOOBS is a 1.1GB download. The file is available as a zipped download, and has to be unzipped on a PC or Mac before just being copied across to the newly formatted SD card.

Lots of hints and tips are available from the Raspberry Pi website, as well as ideas for many other uses for the Pi. Of course, if you want extra RISC OS software for the Pi, there is the NutPi card from ROOL which gives you a lot of applications for not a lot of money – this is available from the ROOL web site.