Meeting: Raspberry Pi Evening
Terry Marsh and guest Gareth Allan talked on a range of Raspberry Pi topics. These included the Nut Pi software collection from RISC OS Open, Raspbmc (XBMC media player for the Pi), the Penguin Puzzle game for the Raspian “wheezy” OS, and the SmartSim cross-platform free and open source digital logic circuit design and simulation package. The Python programming language was also featured. After the talk, members of the audience were able to get hands-on with the two Pis that were set up.
Report by Rick Sterry
The subject of the March meeting was the diminutive Raspberry Pi computer – we’ll call it a ‘Pi’ from now on. Terry Marsh had brought along his Pi, but also at the meeting and riding shotgun as it were, was guest Gareth Allan. Terry came to know Gareth at the informal workshop sessions known as ‘Raspberry Jams’, held on the 3rd Saturday of each month from 12pm to 2pm at the Leeds Hackspace. (The first Raspberry Jamboree, a more organised event for the Pi, was held in Manchester on Saturday 9th March – Mike Cook was one of the guest speakers.)
Before Terry could start, we had some difficulty persuading RISC OS on the Pi to achieve a screen resolution of more than 800 × 640 at 16 colours. Our resident expert Chris Hughes was unable to select the Auto setting for the monitor type on RISC OS. Thinking that perhaps the new two-way HDMI splitter box for the monitor and projector was confusing the Pi, we connected it directly to the monitor, but it made no difference. Eventually, Chris tried selecting various monitor definition types in turn until he found one that would support 1600 × 1200, which was deemed to be sufficient. Actually, in truth it was rather more than sufficient, and even people sitting near the front were hard pushed to make out some detail at times. This was also the case when the Pi was running various ‘flavours’ of Linux later in the meeting, as these were using a rather high screen resolution too. When demonstrating to an audience, it would be better in most instances to restrict the resolution to something rather more modest than the new HD projector is capable of – this lesson has been taken on board for future meetings.
Terry’s first act was a look through the Nut Pi collection of software from RISC OS Open Ltd (ROOL) – this includes Organizer, luafox, SparkFS (David Pilling), PhotoDesk (Fourth Dimension), Gutenprint & Writer+ (MW Software), Messenger, DataPower & SafeStore (R-Comp), to name but a few. This is supplied on SD card and costs £37.50 including P&P from ROOL. We also saw a 1996 version of the classic ArcElite game running on the Pi, using the ArcEm emulator – all very nostalgic. (Incidentally, you might like to Google for “Elite Dangerous”, though I see no mention of RISC OS.)
Terry then moved over to Linux-based OS versions for the Pi, including Raspbian “wheezy”, Arch Linux ARM and Fedora. Terry also showed us Raspbmc, which is a minimal Linux distribution based on Debian that brings the XBMC media centre to the Raspberry Pi. We saw a brief demonstration of a game called Penguins Puzzle, which can run on the Pi under the aforementioned “wheezy”. We were also shown Minecraft Pi Edition, which is a port of the multi platform ‘sandbox’ construction game. Somewhere along the line we also saw SmartSim, which is a free and open source digital logic circuit design and simulation package. It is cross-platform, and is currently available for Windows and Linux computers, including the Raspberry Pi.
In order to encourage young Pi users to learn programming, the relatively new interpreted language called Python is being promoted, so we saw a simple game that Terry had actually typed in – ah, that brings back memories of the old Beeb days! Gareth looked quite surprised that Terry had done it in that way, instead of downloading it from the net, but old habits die hard. Python is available for Windows, Linux/Unix, Mac OS, and also in a more limited form for RISC OS – see www.python.org/getit/other
Python is free to use, even for commercial products, because of its OSI-approved open source license. It is designed with easy to read syntax, so seasoned users of BBC BASIC should not find themselves too far out of their comfort zone. There are excellent tutorials on the Python site, including ones for “non-programmers”. If the name reminds you of a classic TV comedy series, then this is no coincidence – apparently, the language really is named after the programme, and making references to Monty Python skits in documentation is not only allowed, but encouraged!
Hands on with the hardware
After the talk itself was over, there was an opportunity for anyone interested to get hands-on with the Pi and talk to Terry and Gareth. Also, a former member who has newly returned to the fold, Trevor Goodley, had kindly set up his own Pi on a separate table, so that people could “have a play” as he put it – our thanks to him, as well as to Terry and Gareth of course. We are hoping to hear more from Gareth in the future when we come back round to the subject of the Raspberry Pi.
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