Exploring the interface of ecology, mathematics, and digital making | Hello World #11

In Hello World issue 11, Pen Holland and Sarah Wyse discuss how educators and students can get closer to the natural world while honing maths and computing skills. Using a Raspberry Pi, you too can join this citizen science collaboration.

Connectedness to nature as measured by the Nature Connection Index is currently the lowest in young people aged 16-24, with everyone aged 8-34 reporting lower connectedness, compared to the 35+ age groups.

Although there is some positive correlation between individuals living in the same households, parents are now less likely to raise their children where they grew up themselves, and as such they may be less knowledgeable about local species. Connecting with nature does not have to mean a trip out into the wilds: urban ecology is increasingly popular in research, and even the most determined of city dwellers is likely to pass a municipal tree or two during their day.

The positive association between connectedness to nature and wellbeing should encourage us all to appreciate and explore our local environments. However, being at one with the natural world doesn’t preclude an abundance of enjoyable science and technology. For example, the authors’ overriding memory of GCSE maths involves triangles – a lot of triangles – combined with frequent musings over how this could possibly ever be useful in the real world. Fast forward 20 years, and we’ve spent more time than we’d like to count surrounded by triangles, chanting ‘SOH CAH TOA’ in the name of ecology.

Calculating the terminal velocity of winged seeds

The Seed Eater project arose from research into how fast winged seeds (samaras) fall, in order to predict how far they might travel across a landscape, and hence understand how quickly populations of invasive trees might spread. In the past, ecologists have measured the terminal velocity of seeds using stopwatches and lasers, but stopwatches are inaccurate, and lasers are expensive.

Timestamped images in which the seed appears tell us the time taken for it to fall through the field of view (A). The distance at which the seed lands from the wall (B) and the viewing angle of the camera (C) are used to calculate distance travelled by the seed while in view. Finally, the speed at which the seed is travelling can be calculated as distance/time.

Enter stage left, Pieter the Seed Eater; a low-cost device fitted with a Raspberry Pi computer and camera that captures a sequence of images, assesses which timestamped images contain a falling seed, and then calculates how far the seed fell, and hence how fast it was travelling.

Pieter the Seed Eater was introduced in issue 10 of Hello World, and if you missed that, you can download a free PDF copy of the magazine from the website.

Pieter the Seed Eater was designed to measure the terminal velocity of pine (Pinus species) seeds from invasive trees in New Zealand, with a particular interest in the variation in falling speeds among seeds from the same cones, between different cones on the same tree, between trees in the same population, and between populations across the landscape. His diet is now expanding to take in a whole range of pine species, but there are many other species of tree around the world that also have winged seeds, in a variety of fascinating shapes.

Introducing teaching resources

To help emphasise the connections between nature and STEM, and because Pieter doesn’t have time to eat all the seeds, we are making cross-curricular resources available to support teaching activities. These range from tree identification and seed collection, through seed dispersal experiments and Seed Eater engineering, to terminal velocity measurements and understanding population spread.

There are several ways to measure tree height, which can be a stimulating discussion and activity. Fire arrows attached to string over high branches, go exploring on Google street view, or use trigonometry, making measurements in a variety of simple or sophisticated ways. Are they all equally accurate? Would they all work on isolated trees and in a dense forest?

These draw on links from elsewhere (for example, the tree identification keys provided by the Natural History Museum, and helicopter seed templates hosted by STEM Learning UK), as well as new material designed specifically for Pieter the Seed Eater, and more general cross-curricular activities related to ecology. In addition, participants can contribute their data to an online database and explore questions about their data using visualisation tools for dispersal equations and population spread.

The teaching resources fall into four main categories:

  • Neighbourhood trees
  • Dispersal
  • Terminal velocity
  • Population spread

Each section contains background information, suggested activities for groups and individuals, data recording sheets, and stretch activities for students to carry out in class or at home. The resources are provided as Google slides under a Creative Commons license so that you can edit and adapt them for your own educational needs, with links to the National Curriculum highlighted throughout (thanks to Mary Howell, professional development leader at STEM Learning UK) and interactive graphics hosted online to help understand some of the concepts and equations more easily. Python code for the Seed Eater can be downloaded or written from scratch (or in Scratch!), so that you can set up the device or let students engineer it from first principles. It will need some calibration, but that is all part of the learning experience, and the resources come with some troubleshooting ideas to get started.

How can you join in?

Relevant resources are available here. These are currently aimed at Key Stage 3 (age 11-14) and 4 (14-16), but will be developed and extended as time passes, feedback is incorporated, and new requests are made.

Ultimately, we would like to reach Key Stage 1 to sixth form and beyond, and develop the project into a citizen science collaboration in which people around the world share information about their local trees and seeds with the global community.

We welcome feedback and engagement with the project from anyone who is interested in taking part – get in touch via Twitter or email pen.holland@york.ac.uk.

Get your FREE copy of Hello World today



Hello World is available now as a FREE PDF download. UK-based educators can also subscribe to receive Hello World directly to their door in all its shiny printed goodness. Visit the Hello World website for more information.

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Fabric-licious Raspberry Pi projects

I’m currently (re)learning how to knit. Here are some textile-themed Raspberry Pi projects for the yarn-curious.

The Raspberry Pi-powered loom

Loom Operation

The general sequence of events for running my Raspberry Pi controlled loom. The project was really a proof of concept idea rather than an actual production model. This video is intended to supplement my blog at https://ift.tt/2g1xjkk Sorry, there is not audio with this.

Fred Hoefler has taken a desktop loom and added a Raspberry Pi to automate it. Read more in our blog post.

Networked knitting machine: not your average knit one, purl one

Knitting Printer! (slowest speed)

Printing a scarf on a Brother KM950i knitting machine from the 1980’s. To do this I have a Brother Motor arm to push the carriage back and forth and a homemade colour changer that automatically selects the colour on the left (the white and purple device with the LED).

The moment we saw Sarah Spencer‘s knitted Stargazing tapestry, we knew we needed to know more. A couple of emails later, and here’s Sarah with a guest blog post telling you all you need to know about her hacking adventure with a 1980s knitting machine and a Raspberry Pi.

Raspberry Pi spinning wheel

Hendrix College Raspberry Pi Bake-Off

Uploaded by Hendrix College on 2014-04-08.

Cyndi Minister runs The Twisted Purl, a yarn company in Arkansas. She’s also a bit of a geek, and when her ankles became sore from too much work at the treadle, she hit on the idea of making a Raspberry Pi-powered spinning wheel for her hand-made yarn. Read more.

Jacquard looms, and a Pi simulator

Loom Computer (Jacquard Simulator)

Raspberry Pi based Jacquard Loom simulator on display at Macclesfield Silk Museum (http://https://ift.tt/1Nx7pjU).

Next time you’re out shopping for curtain fabric, or buying intricately woven cushion covers, step back for a moment and think about the computing history you’re holding in your hands. Computing’s everywhere. Find out more here.

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New book: Retro Gaming with Raspberry Pi

Raspberry Pi Press is delighted to announce the release of the latest addition to your bookshelf: Retro Gaming with Raspberry Pi!

Retro Gaming with Raspberry Pi

Subscribe to our YouTube channel: http://rpf.io/ytsub Help us reach a wider audience by translating our video content: http://rpf.io/yttranslate Buy a Raspberry Pi from one of our Approved Resellers: http://rpf.io/ytproducts Find out more about the #RaspberryPi Foundation: Raspberry Pi http://rpf.io/ytrpi Code Club UK http://rpf.io/ytccuk Code Club International http://rpf.io/ytcci CoderDojo http://rpf.io/ytcd Check out our free online training courses: http://rpf.io/ytfl Find your local Raspberry Jam event: http://rpf.io/ytjam Work through our free online projects: http://rpf.io/ytprojects Do you have a question about your Raspberry Pi?

Retro Gaming with Raspberry Pi

This 164-page book shows you how to set up a Raspberry Pi to play classic games; and how to build your own portable console, a full-size arcade cabinet, and a pinball machine with clear step-by-step guides.

Learn how to program your own games

You’ll learn how to program your own games using Python and Pygame Zero, allowing you to recreate some of your favourite retro games, as well as learning how lines of code can produce gorgeous graphics and hours of nostalgia-driven fun.



If that’s not enough, you’ll also find reviews of some of the best retro gamer kit, such as cases and controllers; tips on setting up emulators; and showcases of some gorgeous retro-fit Raspberry Pi systems.



Get it now

If you’d like to buy Retro Gaming with Raspberry Pi as a physical book (and we do recommend you do – it’ll make a fantastic stocking-filler), you can purchase it now from the Raspberry Pi Press website with free international shipping, or from the Raspberry Pi Store, Cambridge.

As with all Raspberry Pi Press publications, Retro Gaming with Raspberry Pi is available now as a free PDF, ready for you to download from The MagPi website.

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What’s inside the Raspberry Pi 4 Desktop Kit?

The Raspberry Pi 4 Desktop Kit is the perfect gift for any budding maker, coder, or Raspberry Pi fanatic. Get yours today from Raspberry Pi Approved Resellers across the globe.

What’s inside the Raspberry Pi 4 Desktop Kit?

Subscribe to our YouTube channel: http://rpf.io/ytsub Help us reach a wider audience by translating our video content: http://rpf.io/yttranslate Buy a Raspberry Pi from one of our Approved Resellers: http://rpf.io/ytproducts Find out more about the #RaspberryPi Foundation: Raspberry Pi http://rpf.io/ytrpi Code Club UK http://rpf.io/ytccuk Code Club International http://rpf.io/ytcci CoderDojo http://rpf.io/ytcd Check out our free online training courses: http://rpf.io/ytfl Find your local Raspberry Jam event: http://rpf.io/ytjam Work through our free online projects: http://rpf.io/ytprojects Do you have a question about your Raspberry Pi?

What’s inside?

The Official Raspberry Pi 4 Desktop Kit includes all you need to hook up your Raspberry Pi to an HDMI monitor or TV and get started.

Raspberry Pi Desktop Kit

Raspberry Pi 4 4GB

Released earlier this year, the Raspberry Pi 4 is the latest development from the Raspberry Pi team. Available in 1GB, 2GB and 4GB variants, the Raspberry Pi Desktop Kit is powerful enough to replace your humble desktop computer.

Official Raspberry Pi keyboard

Snazzy Raspberry Pi keyboard

Designed with Raspberry Pi users in mind, the new official keyboard is both aesthetically and functionally pleasing. Available in various language layouts, the keyboard also contains a USB hub, allowing for better cable management on the go.

Official Raspberry Pi mouse

Natty Raspberry Pi mouse

Light-weight and comfortable to use, the official mouse is the perfect pairing for our keyboard.

Official Raspberry Pi case

Or this side?

Protect your Raspberry Pi from dust and tea spills with the newly-designed Raspberry Pi 4 case. How did we design it? Find out more here.

Official Raspberry Pi Beginners Guide

Updated for the new Raspberry Pi 4, our Official Beginners Guide contains all the information needed to get up and running with your new computer and provides several projects to introduce you to the world of coding. It’s great, but don’t take our word for it; Wired said “The beginners guide that comes with the Desktop Kit is the nicest documentation I’ve seen with any hardware, possibly ever. ”

Official Raspberry Pi USB-C Power Adapter

We’ve updated the Raspberry Pis power supply to USB-C, allowing your new computer to receive all the juice it needs to run while supporting add-ons like HATs and other components.

16GB micro SD Card with NOOBS

Plugin and get started. With the NOOBS pre-loaded on a micro SD card, you can get up and running straight away, without the need to spend time installing your OS.

2x Raspberry Pi Micro HDMI leads

Two?! The Raspberry Pi 4 includes two micro HDMI connectors, which means you can run two monitors from one device.

The immense feeling of joy that you’re making a difference in the world

We’re a charity. 100% of the profit we make when you purchase official Raspberry Pi products goes to support the work of the Raspberry Pi Foundation, and its mission to put the power of computing and digital making into the hands of people all over the world. Thank you!

Get your Raspberry Pi 4 Desktop Kit

To find your nearest Raspberry Pi Approved reseller, visit our products page. We’re constantly working with new suppliers to ensure more availability of Raspberry Pi products across the world.

BONUS: Un-unboxing video for Christmas

Un-unboxing the Raspberry Pi 4 Desktop Kit

Subscribe to our YouTube channel: http://rpf.io/ytsub Help us reach a wider audience by translating our video content: http://rpf.io/yttranslate Buy a Raspberry Pi from one of our Approved Resellers: http://rpf.io/ytproducts Find out more about the #RaspberryPi Foundation: Raspberry Pi http://rpf.io/ytrpi Code Club UK http://rpf.io/ytccuk Code Club International http://rpf.io/ytcci CoderDojo http://rpf.io/ytcd Check out our free online training courses: http://rpf.io/ytfl Find your local Raspberry Jam event: http://rpf.io/ytjam Work through our free online projects: http://rpf.io/ytprojects Do you have a question about your Raspberry Pi?

 

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Sustainable clothing with Rapanui and Raspberry Pi

New to the Raspberry Pi Store, Cambridge are T-shirts made using Raspberry Pis in Rapanui’s sustainable factory.

Oli Wilkin – our Glorious Retail Guru, to give him his formal title – has been hard at work this year bringing the Raspberry Pi Store, Cambridge, to life. Open since February, the store continues to evolve as it introduces our credit card-sized computer to a high-street audience. Oli and the store team are always talking to customers, exploring new ideas, and making changes. Here’s Oli on the latest development: Rapanui clothing, made sustainably with the help of Raspberry Pis.

Rapanui 2

Subscribe to our YouTube channel: http://rpf.io/ytsub Help us reach a wider audience by translating our video content: http://rpf.io/yttranslate Buy a Raspberry Pi from one of our Approved Resellers: http://rpf.io/ytproducts Find out more about the #RaspberryPi Foundation: Raspberry Pi http://rpf.io/ytrpi Code Club UK http://rpf.io/ytccuk Code Club International http://rpf.io/ytcci CoderDojo http://rpf.io/ytcd Check out our free online training courses: http://rpf.io/ytfl Find your local Raspberry Jam event: http://rpf.io/ytjam Work through our free online projects: http://rpf.io/ytprojects Do you have a question about your Raspberry Pi?

Rapanui

Brothers Mart and Rob started bespoke clothing company Rapanui in a garden shed on the Isle of Wight, with an initial investment of £200 (about $257 US). Ten years later, Rapanui has grown to a fully fledged factory providing over 100 jobs. Their vision to create a sustainable clothing brand has seen them increase Rapanui’s offering from T-shirts to a much wider range of clothing, including jumpers, socks, and jackets. Another reason we like them a lot is that the factory uses over 100 Raspberry Pis with a wide variety of functions.

Rapanui’s early early days weres not without their challenges. Mart and Rob found early on that every improvement in sustainability came with a price tag. They realised that they could use technology to help keep costs down without cutting corners:

Along the way, we needed a real low-cost option for us to be able to get computing in and around the place. Someone said,
“Oh, you should check out Raspberry Pi.”
“What’s that?”
“It’s a computer, and costs twenty quid or something, and it’s the size of a credit card.”
“OK – that can’t be true!”

We got one, and it just blew our mind, because there’s no limit to what we could do with it.
– Mart

The Raspberry Pis are supporting things like productivity improvements, order tracking, workload prioritisation, and smart lighting. All employees are encouraged to try coding when they start working for Rapanui, and they’re empowered to change their workplace to make it smarter and more efficient.



As Mart explains,

In the world today, there’s a lot of issues around environment and sustainability, which feel like compromises – you want to do your bit, but it costs more. What this kind of technology allows us to do is make things cost less because you can create these massive efficiencies through technology, and that’s what enables you to be able to afford the things that you want to do with sustainability, without having to compromise on price.

Circular economy

All of the organic cotton that Rapanui uses is fully traced from India to the Isle of Wight, where it is turned into amazing quality branded items for their customers. Once a garment has come to the end of its life, a customer can simply scan the QR code on the inside label, and this QR code generates a Freepost address. This allows the customer to send their item back to Rapanui for a webshop credit, thus creating a circular economy.

Raspberry Pi + Rapanui

All of this makes us very pleased to be working with Rapanui to print the T-shirts you buy in the Raspberry Pi store.

Rapanui – from workshop to store

Subscribe to our YouTube channel: http://rpf.io/ytsub Help us reach a wider audience by translating our video content: http://rpf.io/yttranslate Buy a Raspberry Pi from one of our Approved Resellers: http://rpf.io/ytproducts Find out more about the #RaspberryPi Foundation: Raspberry Pi http://rpf.io/ytrpi Code Club UK http://rpf.io/ytccuk Code Club International http://rpf.io/ytcci CoderDojo http://rpf.io/ytcd Check out our free online training courses: http://rpf.io/ytfl Find your local Raspberry Jam event: http://rpf.io/ytjam Work through our free online projects: http://rpf.io/ytprojects Do you have a question about your Raspberry Pi?

We have started with our Raspberry Pi 4 T-shirt, and others will follow. Our hope is that all our T-shirts will be fully sustainable and better for you, our customers.

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Listen to World War II radio recordings with a Raspberry Pi Zero

With the 50th anniversary of the D-Day landings very much in the news this year, Adam Clark found himself interested in all things relating to that era. So it wasn’t long before he found himself on the Internet Archive listening to some of the amazing recordings of radio broadcasts from that time. In this month’s HackSpace magazine, Adam details how he built his WW2 radio-broadcast time machine using a Raspberry Pi Zero W, and provides you with the code to build your own.

As good as the recordings on the Internet Archive were, it felt as if something was missing by listening to them on a modern laptop, so I wanted something to play them back on that was more evocative of that time, and would perhaps capture the feeling of listening to them on a radio set.

I also wanted to make the collection portable and to make the interface for selecting and playing the tracks as easy as possible – this wasn’t going to be screen-based!

Another important consideration was to house the project in something that would not look out of place in the living room, and not to give away the fact that it was being powered by modern tech.

So I came up with the idea of using an original radio as the project case, and to use as many of the original knobs and dials as possible. I also had the idea to repurpose the frequency dial to select individual years of the war and to play broadcasts from whichever year was selected.

Of course, the Raspberry Pi was immediately the first option to run all this, and ideally, I wanted to use a Raspberry Pi Zero to keep the costs down and perhaps to allow expansion in the future outside of being a standalone playback device.

Right off the bat, I knew that I would have a couple of obstacles to overcome as the Raspberry Pi Zero doesn’t have an easy way to play audio out, and I also wanted to have analogue inputs for the controls. So the first thing was to get some audio playing to see if this was possible.

Audio playback

The first obstacle was to find a satisfactory way to playback audio. In the past, I have had some success using PWM pins, but this needs a low-pass filter as well as an amplifier, and the quality of audio was never as good as I’d hoped for.

The other alternative is to use one of the many HATs available, but these come at a price as they are normally aimed at more serious quality of audio. I wanted to keep the cost down, so these were excluded as an option. The other option was to use a mono I2S 3W amplifier breakout board – MAX98357A from Adafruit – which is extremely simple to use.

As the BBC didn’t start broadcasting stereo commercially until the late 1950s, this was also very apt for the radio (which only has one speaker).
Connecting up this board is very easy – it just requires three GPIO pins, power, and the speaker. For this, I just soldered some female jumper leads to the breakout board and connected them to the header pins of the Raspberry Pi Zero. There are detailed instructions on the Adafruit website for this which basically entails running their install script.

I’d now got a nice playback device that would easily play the MP3 files downloaded from archive.org and so the next task was to find a suitable second-hand radio set.

Preparing the case

After a lot of searching on auction sites, I eventually found a radio that was going to be suitable: wasn’t too large, was constructed from wood, and looked old enough to convince the casual observer. I had to settle for something that actually came from the early 1950s, but it drew on design influences from earlier years and wasn’t too large as a lot of the real period ones tended to be (and it was only £15). This is a fun project, so a bit of leeway was fine by me in this respect.

When the radio arrived, my first thought as a tinkerer was perhaps I should get the valves running, but a quick piece of research turned up that I’d probably have to replace all the resistors and capacitors and all the old wiring and then hope that the valves still worked. Then discovering that the design used a live chassis running at 240 V soon convinced me that I should get back on track and replace everything.

With a few bolts and screws removed, I soon had an empty case.

I then stripped out all the interior components and set about restoring the case and dial glass, seeing what I could use by way of the volume and power controls. Sadly, there didn’t seem to be any way to hook into the old controls, so I needed to design a new chassis to mount all the components, which I did in Tinkercad, an online 3D CAD package. The design was then downloaded and printed on my 3D printer.

It took a couple of iterations, and during this phase, I wondered if I could use the original speaker. It turned out to be absolutely great, and the audio took on a new quality and brought even more authenticity to the project.

The case itself was pretty worn and faded, and the varnish had cracked, so I decided to strip it back. The surface was actually veneer, but you can still sand this. After a few applications of Nitromors to remove the varnish, it was sanded to remove the scratches and finished off with fine sanding.

The wood around the speaker grille was pretty cracked and had started to delaminate. I carefully removed the speaker grille cloth, and fixed these with a few dabs of wood glue, then used some Tamiya brown paint to colour the edges of the wood to blend it back in with the rest of the case. I was going to buy replacement cloth, but it’s fairly pricey – I had discovered a trick of soaking the cloth overnight in neat washing-up liquid and cold water, and it managed to lift the years of grime out and give it a new lease of life.

At this point, I should have just varnished or used Danish oil on the case, but bitten by the restoration bug I thought I would have a go at French polishing. This gave me a huge amount of respect for anyone that can do this properly. It’s messy, time-consuming, and a lot of work. I ended up having to do several coats, and with all the polishing involved, this was probably one of the most time-consuming tasks, plus I ended up with some pretty stained fingers as a result.

The rest of the case was pretty easy to clean, and the brass dial pointer polished up nice and shiny with some Silvo polish. The cloth was glued back in place, and the next step was to sort out the dial and glass.

Frequency, volume, glass, and knobs

Unfortunately, the original glass was cracked, so a replacement part was cut from some Makrolon sheet, also known as Lexan. I prefer this to acrylic as it’s much easier to cut and far less likely to crack when drilling it. It’s used as machine guards as well and can even be bent if necessary.

With the dial, I scanned it into the PC and then in PaintShop I replaced the existing frequency scale with a range of years running from 1939 to 1945, as the aim was for anyone using the radio to just dial the year they wanted to listen to. The program will then read the value of the potentiometer, and randomly select a file to play from that year.

It was also around about now that I had to come up with some means of having the volume control the sound and an interface for the frequency dial. Again there are always several options to consider, and I originally toyed with using a couple of rotary encoders and using one of these with the built-in push button as the power switch, but eventually decided to just use some potentiometers. Now I just had to come up with an easy way to read the analogue value of the pots and get that into the program.

There are quite a few good analogue-to-digital boards and HATs available, but with simplicity in mind, I chose to use an MCP3002 chip as it was only about £2. This is a two-channel analogue-to-digital converter (ADC) and outputs the data as a 10-bit value onto the SPI bus. This sounds easy when you say it, but it proved to be one of the trickier technical tasks as none of the code around for the four-channel MCP3008 seemed to work for the MCP3002, nor did many of the examples that were around for the MCP3002 – I think I went through about a dozen examples. At long last, I did find some code examples that worked, and with a bit of modification, I had a simple way of reading the values from the two potentiometers. You can download the original code by Stéphane Guerreau from GitHub. To use this on your Raspberry Pi, you’ll also need to run up raspi-config and switch on the SPI interface. Then it is simply a case of hooking up the MCP3002 and connecting the pots between the 3v3 line and ground and reading the voltage level from the wiper of the pots. When coding this, I just opted for some simple if-then statements in cap-Python to determine where the dial was pointing, and just tweaked the values in the code until I got each year to be picked out.

Power supply and control

One of the challenges when using a Raspberry Pi in headless mode is that it likes to be shut down in an orderly fashion rather than just having the power cut. There are lots of examples that show how you can hook up a push button to a GPIO pin and initiate a shutdown script, but to get the Raspberry Pi to power back up you need to physically reset the power. To overcome this piece of the puzzle, I use a Pimoroni OnOff SHIM which cleverly lets you press a button to start up, and then press and hold it for a second to start a shutdown. It’s costly in comparison to the price of a Raspberry Pi Zero, but I’ve not found a more convenient option. The power itself is supplied by using an old power bank that I had which is ample enough to power the radio long enough to be shown off, and can be powered by USB connector if longer-term use is required.

To illuminate the dial, I connected a small LED in series with a 270R resistor to the 3v3 rail so that it would come on as soon as the Raspberry Pi received power, and this lets you easily see when it’s on without waiting for the Raspberry Pi to start up.

The code






If you’re interested in the code Adam used to build his time machine, especially if you’re considering making your own, you’ll find it all in this month’s HackSpace magazine. Download the latest issue for free here, subscribe for more issues here, or visit your local newsagent or the Raspberry Pi Store, Cambridge to pick up the magazine in physical, real-life, in-your-hands print.

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Social Action Hackathon with the Scouts

When you think of the Scouts, do you think of a self-sufficient young person with heaps of creativity, leadership, initiative, and a strong team ethic? So do we! That’s why we’re so excited about our latest opportunity to bring digital making to young people with the world’s leading youth organisation.

On 9 and 10 November, a large group of Scouts converged on their global headquarters at Gilwell Park in Surrey to attend a Social Action Hackathon hosted by a great team of digital making educators from the Raspberry Pi Foundation.

The event was to celebrate internet service provider Plusnet’s partnership with the Scout Association, through which Scout groups throughout the UK will be given free WiFi access. This will allow them to work towards tech-based badges, including the Raspberry Pi Foundation’s Digital Maker Staged Activity Badge.

The Social Action Hackathon

Over two days, the Scouts participated in our cutting-edge hackathon, where they were taught authentic agile development techniques; handed a crate of Raspberry Pi computers, electronic components, and construction materials; and given free rein to create something awesome.

The Social Action Hackathon was designed to directly support the Scout Association’s A Million Hands project, which aims to encourage Scouts to ‘leave the world a little better than they found it’ by engaging with their UK-based charity partners. During the Hackathon, the Scout Association asked the young people to create a technological solution that might benefit one of these important charities, or the people and communities that they support.

Creating with tech

First, participants were shown the capabilities of the technology available to them during the Hackathon by undertaking some short, confidence-boosting programming activities, which got them thinking about what assistive technologies they could create with the resources available. Then, they chose a call-to-action video by one of the A Million Hands charity partners as the basis of their design brief.

The event was designed to feel like a role-playing game in which teams of Scouts assumed the part of a fledgling technology start-up, who were designing a product for a client which they would bring to market. The teams designed and prototyped their assistive technology through a process used all over the world in technology and software companies, known as agile development methodology.

The fundamental principles of agile development are:

  • Only work on the most important things at any given point in time
  • Break those things into bite-sized tasks for individuals to work on autonomously
  • Catch up regularly on progress to work out what is important now, and change your plan to adapt if you need to
  • Start by making something simple that works, then add to it or change it into something better in several steps

The ‘creation’ phase of the Hackathon consisted of several 90-minute rounds called sprints, each of which began with a team meeting (or stand-up) just as they would in a real agile workplace. Teams broke their project idea down into individual tasks, which were then put into an organisational tool known as a kanban board, which is designed to allow teams to get an instant snapshot of their current progress, and to help them to problem-solve, and adapt or change their current focus and plans at each stand-up meeting.

The final pitch

As their final task, teams had to present their work to a panel of experts. The four-person panel included the Raspberry Pi Foundation’s Head of Youth Partnerships, Olympia Brown, and television presenter, Reggie Yates, an advocate for Mind, one of the A Million Hands charity partners.

By completing the Social Action Hackathon, the young people also completed the fifth and most complex stage of the Digital Maker Staged Activity Badge in just two days — a real accomplishment!

Get involved!

If you think your Scout group might like to take their Digital Maker Badge, you can find free curriculum resources for all ages of Scout group, from Beavers to Explorers, on the Raspberry Pi Foundation partner page.

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Gender Balance in Computing programme opens to all schools in England

After launching our Gender Balance in Computing programme this April, we have been busy recruiting for two trials within a small group of schools around England.

Today, we are opening general recruitment for the programme. This means that all primary and secondary schools in England can now take part in the upcoming trials in this landmark programme. You can register your interest here. Why not do it right now?

Woman teacher and female students at a computer

What we are doing, and why

Many young women don’t choose to study computing-related subjects. A variety of factors across primary and secondary education are likely to influence this, including girls feeling like they don’t belong in the subject or its community, a lack of sustained encouragement, and a lack of role models in computing when making their career choices. We are working with schools to better understand and help change this.

The Department for Education has recently funded our Gender Balance in Computing (GBIC) research programme, giving us the amazing opportunity to work with schools to investigate different approaches to engage girls in computing and to help increase the number of girls who select Computer Science at GCSE and A level.

Woman teacher and young students at a computer

GBIC is a collaboration between the Raspberry Pi Foundation; STEM Learning; BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT; and the Behavioural Insights Team.

Operationally, we will lead the project together with the Behavioural Insights Team, with Apps for Good and Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) also contributing to the project. Trials will run in 2019–2022 in Key Stages 1–4, and over 15,000 pupils and 550 schools will be involved. It will be the largest national research effort to tackle gender balance in computing to date!

Which approaches are we trialling?

The different trials in this programme are related to:

  • Non-formal learning
  • Belonging
  • Relevance
  • Teaching approaches

Non-formal learning (Primary and Secondary, Jan 2020 – Mar 2020)

In the non-formal learning trial, which started in September, we seek to strengthen the links between non-formal learning and studying computing at GCSE or A level. The reason for this is that girls are often unaware that their non-formal learning about computing can help them in formal studies. Girls are also better represented in non-formal computing clubs than in formal settings where computing is taught, i.e. they are engaging with computing outside of the classroom, but not in their formal studies. So far in the non-formal learning trial, we have created specific resources for schools running Code Clubs and Apps for Good programmes which signpost the links between non-formal and formal learning of computing, and how these can lead to future career/subject choices later in the participants’ lives.

Belonging (Years 6 and 8, Sep 2020 – Jul 2021)

The belonging trial will tackle girls’ “lack of belonging” because they don’t see themselves represented in computing media coverage. To address this situation, we will work with primary and secondary schools to introduce girls and their parents to positive role models in computer science, deliver testimonials from these role models at key transition points in their education (such as while making their GCSE choices), and encourage the development of peer support networks.

Woman teacher and female student at a laptop
Woman teacher and female students at a computer
Male teacher and female student at a computer

Relevance (Years 6 and 8, Jan 2021 – May 2022)

The relevance trial will look at helping learners to see the real-world applications of learning computing. We will support schools to hold stimulus days that engage pupils by helping them to solve real-world problems through technology. We will also encourage pupils to develop projects that solve problems that are relevant to their local area, home, or classroom. The pupils will be able to further explore the real-world applications of computing through newly written classroom resources.

Teaching Approach (Years 6 and 8, Jan 2021 – May 2022)

The teaching approach trial is based on the idea that current approaches to teaching computing may not be fully inclusive and so may be less appealing to girls. In Key Stage 1, we will trial a “storytelling around computing” approach. In Key Stage 2 and 3, we will explore different types of teaching approaches to assess what the most effective mix is for engaging girls in the subject.

There is also an innovation trial, which we will develop based on any additional promising research pathways that emerge while the GBIC project progresses.

One male and two female teenagers at a computer

Join our GBIC School Network

By joining our programme, you’ll become part of our GBIC School Network.

This will give your school:

  • The chance to participate in projects designed to increase girls’ engagement in computing  although designed to make computing more accessible for girls, all of our projects are designed for whole cohorts at your school to take part in, including boys
  • A bi-monthly GBIC newsletter that will keep you up to date with the project and other news on addressing gender balance in computing
  • Opportunities to participate in events to promote the sharing of best practice and research updates between fellow GBIC School Network schools

As part of the GBIC School Network, your school will need to:

  • Identify a key contact in the school who will liaise with the GBIC School Network and our researchers at Raspberry Pi
  • Send out the information and opt-out consent forms (which we will provide) to parents of pupils in the relevant year groups
  • Deliver the trial materials in line with the project guides; the timeline, delivery model, and types of material will differ depending on the trial

A male teachers and three female students at a computer

Get involved in this landmark programme

  • Register your interest in taking part
  • Send this article to a colleague in a different school and invite them to register their interest
  • If you’re interested in this research but can’t take part, we’d love you to sign up to our bi-monthly newsletter, and to include a link to this article in any newsletters, blog entries, or social media posts you are sharing with teachers

Your support is invaluable — together we can work to improve the gender balance in computing!

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Real-life DOR-15 bowler hat from Disney’s Meet the Robinsons

Why wear a boring bowler hat when you can add technology to make one of Disney’s most evil pieces of apparel?

Meet the Robinsons

Meet the Robinsons is one of Disney’s most underrated movies. Thank you for coming to my TED talk.

What’s not to love? Experimental, futuristic technology, a misunderstood villain, lessons of love and forgiveness aplenty, and a talking T-Rex!

For me, one of the stand-out characters of Meet the Robinsons is DOR-15, a best-of-intentions experiment gone horribly wrong. Designed as a helper hat, DOR-15 instead takes over the mind of whoever is wearing it, hellbent on world domination.

Real-life DOR-15

Built using a Raspberry Pi and the MATRIX Voice development board, the real-life DOR-15, from Team MATRIX Labs, may not be ready to take over the world, but it’s still really cool.

With a plethora of built-in audio sensors, the MATRIX Voice directs DOR-15 towards whoever is making sound, while a series of servos wiggle 3D‑printed legs for added creepy.

This project uses ODAS (Open embeddeD Audition System) and some custom code to move a servo motor in the direction of the most concentrated incoming sound in a 180 degree radius. This enables the hat to face a person calling to it.

The added wiggly spider legs come courtesy of this guide by the delightful Jorvon Moss, whom HackSpace readers will remember from issue 21.

In their complete Hackster walkthrough, Team Matrix Lab talk you through how to build your own DOR-15, including all the files needed to 3D‑print the legs.

Realising animated characters and props

So, what fictional wonder would you bring to life? Your own working TARDIS? Winifred’s spellbook? Mary Poppins’ handbag? Let us know in the comments below.

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Code a Phoenix-style mothership battle | Wireframe #26

It was one of gaming’s first boss battles. Mark Vanstone shows you how to recreate the mothership from the 1980 arcade game, Phoenix.

Phoenix’s fifth stage offered a unique challenge in 1980: one of gaming’s first-ever boss battles.

First released in 1980, Phoenix was something of an arcade pioneer. The game was the kind of post-Space Invaders fixed-screen shooter that was ubiquitous at the time: players moved their ship from side to side, shooting at a variety of alien birds of different sizes and attack patterns. The enemies moved swiftly, and the player’s only defence was a temporary shield which could be activated when the birds swooped and strafed the lone defender. But besides all that, Phoenix had a few new ideas of its own: not only did it offer five distinct stages, but it also featured one of the earliest examples of a boss battle – its heavily armoured alien mothership, which required accurate shots to its shields before its weak spot could be exposed.

To recreate Phoenix’s boss, all we need is Pygame Zero. We can get a portrait style window with the WIDTH and HEIGHT variables and throw in some parallax stars (an improvement on the original’s static backdrop) with some blitting in the draw() function. The parallax effect is created by having a static background of stars with a second (repeated) layer of stars moving down the screen.

The mothership itself is made up of several Actor objects which move together down the screen towards the player’s spacecraft, which can be moved right and left using the mouse. There’s the main body of the mothership, in the centre is the alien that we want to shoot, and then we have two sets of moving shields.

Like the original Phoenix, our mothership boss battle has multiple shields that need to be taken out to expose the alien at the core.

In this example, rather than have all the graphics dimensions in multiples of eight (as we always did in the old days), we will make all our shield blocks 20 by 20 pixels, because computers simply don’t need to work in multiples of eight any more. The first set of shields is the purple rotating bar around the middle of the ship. This is made up of 14 Actor blocks which shift one place to the right each time they move. Every other block has a couple of portal windows which makes the rotation obvious, and when a block moves off the right-hand side, it is placed on the far left of the bar.

The second set of shields are in three yellow rows (you may want to add more), the first with 14 blocks, the second with ten blocks, and the last with four. These shield blocks are fixed in place but share a behaviour with the purple bar shields, in that when they are hit by a bullet, they change to a damaged version. There are four levels of damage before they are destroyed and the bullets can pass through. When enough shields have been destroyed for a bullet to reach the alien, the mothership is destroyed (in this version, the alien flashes).

Bullets can be fired by clicking the mouse button. Again, the original game had alien birds flying around the mothership and dive-bombing the player, making it harder to get a good shot in, but this is something you could try adding to the code yourself.

To really bring home that eighties Phoenix arcade experience, you could also add in some atmospheric shooting effects and, to round the whole thing off, have an 8-bit rendition of Beethoven’s Für Elise playing in the background.

Here’s Mark’s code, which gets a simple mothership battle running in Python. To get it working on your system, you’ll first need to install Pygame Zero. And to download the full code, go here.

Get your copy of Wireframe issue 26

You can read more features like this one in Wireframe issue 26, available now at Tesco, WHSmith, all good independent UK newsagents, and the Raspberry Pi Store, Cambridge.

Or you can buy Wireframe directly from Raspberry Pi Press — delivery is available worldwide. And if you’d like a handy digital version of the magazine, you can also download issue 26 for free in PDF format.

Make sure to follow Wireframe on Twitter and Facebook for updates and exclusive offers and giveaways. Subscribe on the Wireframe website to save up to 49% compared to newsstand pricing!

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