Well, it’s a portfolio of Gareth Halfacree’s work, silly. If you’re wondering who that is, it’s the ugly-looking cuss on the left. He’s a full-time freelancer, specialising in both journalism and technical writing and with the background knowledge in IT to bring a professional eye to any situation. Read more
A parcel from Wiley & Sons dropped through my door this morning, containing a pair of author copies of yet another translation of my book the Raspberry Pi User Guide – this time into Dutch, as the Raspberry Pi Startersgids.
Not exactly a direct translation, the Raspberry Pi Startersgids is published by Pearson in distinctly abridged form: while the first half of the book has made the transition intact, much of the second half has been removed entirely: there’s no sign of the chapters on programming in Python or Scratch, for example, nor on how to build your own hardware. There is a chapter dedicated to the GPIO port, but it makes no reference of available add-on boards.
Pearson appears to be positioning the Rasbperry Pi Startersgids as the first in a series of books – and, at present, I have absolutely no idea whether the second book will contain the material missing from the Startersgids. When I have more information from Wiley, I’ll update this post.
For now, however, the Raspberry Pi Startersgids is a great way to dive into the world of Raspberry Pi – even if you may have to look elsewhere for Dutch-language Python, Scratch and hardware-hacking materials.
This month’s PC Pro magazine includes another one of my freelance features, this time looking at the open-source Arduino microcontroller platform. While the front-cover splash billing it as a “Raspberry Pi rival” is inaccurate – not my call – the feature itself is packed with detail on the Atmel-based marvel.
This isn’t the first time I’ve done an Arduino-related feature for a magazine: I’m a big fan of the platform, owning multiple Arduinos and Arduino-compatibles. As well as a beginner’s guide for bit-tech, I’ve done features for Computeractive, Linux User & Developer (reprised in the Linux & Open Source Genius Guide, Volume 3) and Custom PC. This latest, however, is the most comprehensive.
Starting with a look at the history of Arduino, the feature walks the reader through why it was created, what its intentions are, how it compares to something like the Raspberry Pi – essentially explaining the difference between a microcontroller and a microcomputer – and how it can be used to create physical computing projects with ease.
Because of PC Pro’s laudable desire to ensure that readers can walk away from an In Depth feature with something concrete, it also includes a tutorial on using the latest ATmega-based Arduino Leonardo to build a macro keypad that can type email signatures, passwords, locate the user in a multi-player role-playing game or even lock the desktop with the press of a single button. Well, a separate single button for each feature, obviously, otherwise things would get confusing.
As usual, I am indebted to the wonderful chaps at Oomlout for providing the hardware for the feature, and to the creators of Arduino itself for making a development platform so simple even I can use the dang thing.
If you’re curious as to how the keypad works, source code for the project is available on my GitHub repository – but I’d still recommend picking up a copy of the magazine for wiring instructions and a jolly good lesson on the history of the Arduino project.
PC Pro Issue 224 is in newsagents, supermarkets and similar establishments now, or can be accessed digitally via Zinio or other platforms.
This month’s Custom PC sees my interview slot taken up with a chat to Nick Thibieroz, senior manager of AMD’s Independent Software Vendor (ISV) Gaming Engineering division, regarding his company’s latest attempt at increasing the immersion of games: TressFX.
If you’re not familiar with the technology, and if that’s the case shame on you for not following my work on bit-tech, TressFX – or to give it its full name, TressFX Hair – is a GPU-accelerated physics engine designed to simulate the interaction between a character’s hair and the surrounding environment. Wind, rain, branches, even the character’s body all interact with thousands of simulated hair strands to create a surprisingly realistic effect.
It’s something the industry has been working towards for years – hardly a SIGGRAPH event goes by without Nvidia showcasing another hair simulation system – but the computational complexity of the task has made it difficult to implement in a working game engine. That’s something AMD has solved, and it waited until it had the system in a shipping game – the new Tomb Raider reboot – before announcing the technology.
The biggest feature of the issue, however, is a special one: an in-depth look at how the development of mobile hardware differs from that of desktop hardware. With input from industry veterans including Nvidia, AMD, Intel and Imagination Technologies, it’s a – hopefully – interesting look at how developing for portable platforms has resulted in some significantly different technologies emerging.
Nvidia is a perfect example: it talks up its Tegra mobile processor as having GeForce-like graphics processing elements, but in truth there’s a distinct difference in how the two technologies work. Interestingly, it’s also the case that development of mobile processing hardware – which has to work in very tight power envelopes – has dramatically changed how the company approaches its power-hungry desktop graphics hardware, too.
It’s a big feature, and one I’m proud to have worked on: hopefully, by the end, readers will be able to better understand how smartphone and tablet hardware – which, thanks to projects like the Kickstarter-funded Ouya console, are increasingly finding their way onto people’s desks – compares to traditional desktop devices.
If you want to learn more about TressFX Hair and its development, or about the development of mobile-centric hardware and the challenges therein, you could do worse than picking up a copy of Custom PC Issue 117 – available in dead-tree format and digitally via Zinio or most other services.
This also marks the last time my column in Custom PC will take the form of a two-page interview spread: big changes are afoot, and I’m proud to say that the column will be taking on a very different – and hopefully more engaging – format from the next issue onwards.
I got wind of another translation of my book, the Raspberry Pi User Guide, today – this time, into Japanese. It’s the latest in a series of translations that will see the title published in English (obviously,) Dutch, French, Portuguese, Chinese – Traditional and Simplified – and German, and there appears to be no end to translation requests coming in to the publisher.
The Japanese translation has come as something of a surprise: my publisher emailed me late last year, saying that Wiley was in the process of negotiating translation rights for a Japanese edition of the book. Apparently, in Japan, it’s common to have the author’s photograph on the rear cover, so he asked myself and my co-author Eben for mugshots – but, once provided, that was the last I heard about the deal.
The deal, however, appears to have gone through – and it’s now possible to buy the Japanese edition, published and translated by Impress Japan, directly from Amazon.jp. It’s also available in bricks and mortar stores throughout Japan, and numerous other outlets. If your local bookshop doesn’t have a copy, you can ask them to order it in: it’s available under ISBN 978-4844333746.
So far, I haven’t received a complimentary copy as I did with the German translation, but hopefully that’s something my publisher can arrange – because, let’s face it, that’s an awesome cover.
This week’s Micro Mart includes a feature I wrote a short while ago regarding Valve’s plans to release a compact console-cum-computer dubbed the Steam Box. While written before certain facts came to light – the confirmation that the PlayStation 4 would basically be a locked-down x86 PC, for example, and once and former Valve partner Xi3 announcing its own Piston product to Gabe Newell’s dismay – it still covers plenty of interesting ground for anyone into the gaming scene.
Topping 3,500 words, the feature starts with a look at the history of Valve itself, from its founding by former Microsoft staffers Gabe Newell and Mike Harrington in 1996 to the launch of Steam, the company’s incredibly successful digital distribution platform. Next, a discussion of the difference twix console gaming and computer gaming – and Valve’s concept to unite the two in a way that hasn’t been attempted since the days of the Commodore 64GS or the Amiga CD32.
A large chunk of the article deals with gaming on Linux, for one simple reason: Valve co-founder Newell has been vocal in his dislike for Microsoft’s Windows 8, and has confirmed that the Steam Box – expected to launch at retail early next year – will be based on Linux, likely a customised version of the Ubuntu distribution for which Valve has been porting its Steam client.
Following the background, the feature includes industry comment from Valve’s Anna Sweet, as well as Nvidia’s Jason Paul on his company’s Project Shield hand-held console – another Linux-based gaming device that it is hoped will help computer gaming capture more of the market share enjoyed by the console jockeys.
If any of that sounds interesting, pick up a copy of Micro Mart Issue 1251 from your local newsagent or supermarket – but be quick: it’s Dennis Publishing’s weekly, so it won’t be on shelves for long. Alternatively, pick up the digital version via Zinio.
This month’s Custom PC Magazine is a bumper issue for me: a massive in-depth Raspberry Pi feature is splashed across the cover, for which I provided all but the build-your-own-case section. As usual, the magazine also includes my regular interview column, this time talking to open hardware guru Andrew Back.
First, the Pi material. With the Raspberry Pi having had a phenomenally successful first year, and Custom PC having missed the chance to latch onto that with a cover splash for the launch review, it’s no surprise to see the magazine going all-out to attract Pi fans. Those who pick up the magazine for its Pi-related content are in for a treat, too.
First up is a head-to-head review covering the newly-released Raspberry Pi Model A and the redesigned Raspberry Pi Model B Revision 2. While some differences are obvious – the lack of a second USB port and Ethernet on the Model A, for example – others are less so, and the review hopefully answers the question of whether it’s worth paying the extra £12 to get the Model B over the tempting £18 asking price of the Model A.
The benchmarking continues with a look at how to overclock a Raspberry Pi without voiding your warranty, along with a few tips as to how to push it to ever-faster levels. Using a retail-model Raspberry Pi Model B Revision 2 equipped with a couple of cheap aluminium heatsinks, I was able to push the CPU from 700MHz to 1.1GHz and the GPU to 500MHz – and it made a serious difference in performance, as the benchmark results show.
Next, I walk newcomers to the project through installing the Raspbmc media server software and configuring it to stream HD YouTube content – something you’d think a £30 PC would struggle to do, but that’s certainly not the case. There’s also a look at the Minecraft: Pi Edition release, which provides a hackable and completely free version of Mojang’s popular block-’em-up game with which tinkers can fiddle around.
Finally, there’s a round-up of the four most popular operating systems for the Pi: Raspbian, the Debian-derived Linux distribution chosen as the ‘official’ OS by the Raspberry Pi Foundation; Raspbmc, the media-centric Linux distribution with integrated Xbmc support; RISCOS, by far the fastest OS for the Pi; and FreeBSD, for those who eschew Linux but still want a POSIX-compliant environment.
With the Pi work done, the interview. Andrew Back is one of the brains behind the Open Source Hardware User Group (OSHUG), and recently moved into my (relative) back-yard in Hebden Bridge. He’s a great guy, and always up for a chat – and his knowledge regarding open hardware, a still relatively unknown offshoot of the open source and free software movements, is second to none.
All this, and more by people who are not called Gareth Halfacree, can be yours if you just mosey on down to your local newsagents and pick up Custom PC Issue 116. Alternatively, stay indoors and get a digital copy via Zinio.
A direct translation of the Raspberry Pi User Guide first edition, Raspberry Pi Einstieg und User Guide includes everything from its English counterpart in a somewhat more compact package published by Verlagsgruppe Hüthig-Jehle-Rehm GmbH under its mitp label and translated by Maren Feilen.
This is the first of a series of translations that will hopefully bring the book to a wider audience. While certainly popular – topping best-seller lists in several countries – there’s no denying that it has sold better in the UK than anywhere else.
If you’re still waiting on a translation into your native language, let me know: agreements have been made for several other languages, and still more are in the negotiation stage, so with luck I’ll have some good news for you.
Raspberry Pi Einstieg und User Guide is available now on Amazon.de and Amazon.co.uk, and in bookstores throughout Germany. If your local doesn’t have a copy, ask them to order it in: it’s ISBN 978-3-8266-9522-3.
This month’s Linux User & Developer contains just a single piece of mine, a review of the quite remarkable CuBox microcomputer – largely thanks to previous pieces for rival magazines and my book the Raspberry Pi User Guide having excluded me from taking part in the cover-splashed Raspberry Pi birthday activities.
The reason I call the CuBox remarkable is due to its size: measuring just 55mm x 55mm and 42mm tall with a weight of 91g, it makes the Raspberry Pi look like a behemoth of a system. It also comes with its own cleverly-designed case and a selection of features that make it clear it is intended for home theatre use: a front-mounted IrDA receiver allows for remote control, while optical audio out provides digital clarity for music. Coupled with a gigabit Ethernet connection and a 3Gb/s eSATA port for external storage, you’ve got a powerful little machine.
Internally, the CuBox reveals its secret: it’s not a single-board computer like the Raspberry Pi at all, relying instead on a mezzanine layout that splits some functionality out into a daughterboard. The presence of a heatsink – well, a bent piece of aluminium thermal-taped to the 800MHz Marvell Armada ARMv7 system-on-chip processor – also comes as a surprise.
But can the CuBox justify its top-end £105 pricing - UPDATE: since the review was written, the price has dropped to £95 - when rival devices like the popular Raspberry Pi and far faster Olimex A13-OLinuXino-WiFi cost so much less? You’ll have to buy the magazine to find out.
This month’s interview column for Dennis Publishing’s Custom PC talks to Nvidia’s Jason Paul about his company’s latest surprise hardware launch: the Project Shield hand-held gaming console.
Based around Nvidia’s Tegra 4 system-on-chip processor, which combines four ARM Cortex-A15 general-purpose processing cores with GeForce graphics processing technology and a power-saving Cortex-A9 core for background tasks, Project Shield is a departure for the company. Rather than a reference design or OEM offering, Project Shield is to be launched – first in the US, with the UK to follow later in the year – as a full retail offering.
It’s certainly a novel device: looking like a small TFT glued to an Xbox controller, it provides access to Android games and apps while also connecting to desktop PCs running Nvidia GeForce graphics cards and streaming full-fat PC games – cloud gaming minus the cloud, in other words. Fog gaming? Mist gaming? Whatever.
Paul was full of interesting anecdotes about the project, including the fact that the original prototype of the device – which has been dreamed up, designed, developed and produced in under a year – was little more than a smartphone and a game controller screwed together with a plank of wood.
“I don’t think I would be quite as able to express the pain and agony of cramming all this into a device as well as our engineering team! It was pretty challenging. To give you one anecdote, we got a lot of the device designed and laid out and then realised that we had these amazing speakers that were larger than we had allocated in the device. So, we had to go back and redesign a bit of the area around the speakers to be able to cram in the bass reflex quad speaker audio.”
This interview was actually something of a last-minute change to the planned schedule. A previous interview with open-source engineer Andrew Back, originally due to appear in this issue, will now appear in Custom PC Issue 116.
The rest of the interview appears in Custom PC Issue 115, available in stores now and digitally through the Zinio service.