Tag Archive for Book

Custom PC, Issue 166

Custom PC Issue 166Readers of my regular Hobby Tech column this month will find a BBC micro:bit-driven tutorial alongside two reviews covering the remarkable Raspberry Pi Zero W microcomputer and the fascinating Delete by Paul Atkinson.

The idea for the tutorial came about while working on a chapter of my upcoming Micro:bit User Guide, and seemed like a perfect fit for the readers of Custom PC Magazine: turning the low-cost yet extremely flexible micro:bit into an addressable USB-connected 5×5 LED matrix and having it display current CPU load in a constantly-updating bar graph. Naturally, the same technique could be used to graph almost anything.

The secret lies in MicroPython’s REPL, an interactive interpreter which can run on the micro:bit and accept commands via the USB serial port. By switching the micro:bit into REPL mode, it can be slaved to another system over USB. The result: the entire program code, written in Python using the serial, time, and psutil libraries, exists purely on the host machine. A quick bit of Blu-tack later, and my monitor was wearing a CPU monitor which worked even when the display was off.

The Pi Zero W, meanwhile, was a device to which I had been looking forward for quite some time. An upgraded version of the original £5 Raspberry Pi Zero microcomputer, the Pi Zero W differs in only one respect: it has a built-in radio module, the same BCM43438 as found on the far larger and more expensive Raspberry Pi 3.

While the addition of the radio module, which offers Bluetooth, Bluetooth Low Energy, and 2.4GHz Wi-FI connectivity, almost doubles the price of the Pi Zero W to £9.60, it’s money well spent. In almost every Pi Zero project I have built, I’ve ended up using a USB OTG adaptor and low-cost USB Wi-Fi dongle to add network connectivity, and having it on-board – even at a slightly higher cost compared to a USB-connected solution – makes life considerably easier.

Finally, Delete. Billed as “a design history of computer vapourware,” Paul Atkinson’s coffee table book is packed with high-quality photographs – and, for the rarer machines, the occasional rescaled JPEG exhibiting unfortunate compression artefacts – covering machines from an upgraded Sinclair QL to a bright yellow IBM that never left the drawing board. Each comes with pages on its history, with interview subjects detailing features and failures alike, and while not all machines were strictly vapourware few are likely to have a place in the average vintage computing collection. In short: if you like old computers you’ll like Delete, which is available now from Amazon and other bookstores under ISBN 978-0857853479.

As always, you can read the whole column and a whole lot more by picking up Custom PC Issue 166 from your nearest supermarket, newsagent, or electronically via Zinio and similar services.

The Raspberry Pi User Guide, Fourth Edition

Raspberry Pi User Guide Fourth EditionWriting a book on a technical topic is like trying to nail fog. The more popular a topic is the faster it moves and the thinner the fog gets. Nowhere is this more true than the Raspberry Pi, which this month celebrated shipping its ten millionth single-board computer to makers, educators, hackers, tinkerers, and curious types worldwide. Accordingly, The Raspberry Pi User Guide was in need of an overhaul – and an overhaul it has indeed received.

The fourth edition of my best-selling guide to all things Pi now includes coverage of the Raspberry Pi 3 with its Bluetooth and Wi-Fi radios, an entire chapter on choosing and using add-ons including the official Raspberry Pi Touchscreen, Sense HAT, and Wi-Fi adapter, a completely rewritten guide to Raspbian which covers the latest changes to the distribution, and a shift in other chapters to cover more popular software including LibreOffice – now a default install option – and the OSMC media software.

Elsewhere, you’ll find things tweaked, polished, and brought bang-up-to-date. The networking instructions now cover the use of the DHCP configuration file for setting a static IP address, the GPIO chapter is refreshed, and you’ll even find instructions for correctly soldering GPIO headers onto the ultra-low-cost Raspberry Pi Zero.

For UK readers, The Raspberry Pi User Guide Fourth Edition is available to purchase now from Amazon; for international readers, check with your local booksellers or find links to other outlets via the official Wiley book listing.

Custom PC, Issue 157

Custom PC Issue 157This month’s Hobby Tech column demonstrates how to use the Raspberry Pi Camera Module to create smooth timelapse footage and reviews the WeMos D1 R2 ESP8266-based Arduino-alike board and Andrew ‘bunnie’ Huang’s Essential Guide to Electronics in Shenzhen.

Looking to the tutorial, this is far from the first time I’ve covered the use of the Raspberry Pi Camera Module add-on. Since its initial launch, however, the software has come on in leaps and bounds including means of finally addressing a longstanding issue with the board: the difficulty in using the timelapse functionality. Where previously you needed a surprisingly complicated script to control the camera, now timelapse capture is handled entirely within the raspistill software. Coupled with avconv – ffmpeg, which I had previously recommended for the task, having been deleted from the Raspbian software repositories – the two packages are all you need to create high-quality timelapse footage directly on any Raspberry Pi.

The WeMos D1 R2 is one of a range of low-cost devices based on the ESP8266 microcontroller and Wi-Fi radio. While getting on in age, the ESP8266 is extremely popular due to its rock-bottom pricing; the only snag being that its form factor makes it difficult to integrate into hobbyist projects. The WeMos D1 R2 aims to fix that by providing a breakout board for the compact ESP8266 in the familiar Arduino Uno layout. While more feature-packed equivalents exist, the WeMos D1 R2 costs just £3.30 in single units – an absolute bargain for an easy-to-use microcontroller with integrated Wi-Fi connectivity.

Finally, The Essential Guide to Electronics in Shenzhen. Kindly loaned by my friend Aaron at hobbyist electronics specialist oomlout, this latest book from noted hacker Andrew ‘bunnie’ Huang is a major departure from the norm. Rather than a how-to guide or white paper analysis, the book is designed to be used as a functional sourcing tool while visiting the Shenzhen area of China complete with maps, point-to-translate pages covering everything from travelling back to your hotel to enquiring as to the tolerance of resistors and capacitors. A pair of prose sections also provide information on doing business in China, including how to spot fake or missold components and how each could affect your project. Niche, perhaps, but a fascinating read – and an invaluable tool for anyone planning a trip to Shenzhen any time soon.

All this, plus the usual raft of interesting things written by people who aren’t me, can be found at your local newsagent, supermarket, or as a string of zeroes and ones on Zinio and other digital distribution services.

The Official Raspberry Pi Projects Book

The Official Raspberry Pi Projects BookI’ve been writing for The MagPi, the official magazine of the Raspberry Pi Foundation, since its major relaunch under the editorial leadership of Russell Barnes. That’s long enough to have built up a reasonable amount of content – and it’s that content you’ll find the The Official Raspberry Pi Projects Book, published today under a Creative Commons licence.

Inside the 200 page book, which is available in print and as a DRM-free PDF download, you’ll find several pieces of my work. The first is entitled ‘Crowdfundings Greatest Hits,” an eight-page investigation of some of the biggest Pi-related crowd-funded projects around – and some of its biggest failures, too. This was a great piece to work on, involving plenty of research and interviews, and was the first to break the news that Azorean was relying on additional external investment to fulfil rewards in its Ziphius campaign – rewards which have still not been fulfilled, more than a year after its original launch date.

You’ll also find reprints of several of my reviews: there’s the Pimoroni Display-o-Tron 3000 add-on, the Weaved IoT remote access system, the 4Tronix Agobo low-cost robot chassis, Velleman’s 3D Printing Pen, and the excellent Swanky Paint from local coding outfit WetGenes. Naturally, each is accompanied by photography which is also published under a Creative Commons licence – and is, as always, available for reuse from my Flickr page.

This marks the first book to which I have contributed which is published under a Creative Commons licence, but it certainly won’t be the last. Allowing for free non-commercial reuse and encouraging sharing and copying, it’s an approach at the complete opposite end of the spectrum to that taken by most publishers – and one of which I heartily approve.

You can download The Official Raspberry Pi Projects Book for free from the official website, while print copies are available from the swag store or the usual high-street outlets.

Raspberry Pi User Guide, Third Edition

Raspberry Pi User Guide Third EditionThe recent launch of the Raspberry Pi Model B+, a redesign of the popular single-board computer that addresses some issues with the original while doubling the number of USB ports and increasing the size of the GPIO header, unsurprisingly means that there’s a need for a new user guide. As a result, it should come as no surprise that J. Wiley & Sons has published the Raspberry Pi User Guide Third Edition, a revised work that adds details regarding the new Model B+.

Completed earlier this year thanks to pre-release access to a prototype Model B+ provided by the Raspberry Pi Foundation, the latest edition of my book includes everything a reader needs to know about the latest model. The chapter on using GPIO has been updated to include a full pin-out of the new elongated header and details on how best to use the new USB ports have been added. It’s not all about the Model B+, however: there are entirely new chapters in this edition, including one covering basic programming with Minecraft: Pi Edition from Mojang.

The release of this third edition comes surprisingly soon after the Raspberry Pi Second Edition hit shelves, but those who have already purchased the previous edition needn’t panic: unless you have a Model B+ there’s little you desperately need to know that isn’t contained in the previous release, and if you have a burning desire to use Minecraft: Pi Edition you can find a similar tutorial in my recently-published MagBook 21 Brilliant Projects for the Raspberry Pi from Dennis Publishing – along with, as the title suggests, another 20 projects that you won’t find in the User Guide.

The Raspberry Pi User Guide Third Edition is due to arrive in stock at most outlets within the next couple of weeks, with Amazon UK taking pre-orders for a 19th of September delivery date. If you can’t wait that long, the Kindle Edition is already available for immediate download. Those buying in other countries or high-street book shops should ask their retailer for ISBN 978-1118921661. As with previous editions, numerous translations will follow in the near future.

Raspberry Pi User Guide, Second Edition

Raspberry Pi User Guide Second EditionSince I wrote the Raspberry Pi User Guide over a year ago, the project has changed dramatically. The Raspberry Pi Foundation has grown in size and stature, a new hardware revision has been released, the Model A finally hit the streets and users have been treated to dramatic improvements in the quantity, accessibility and quality of the software available.

As a result, I’m pleased to announce the release of the Raspberry Pi User Guide Second Edition. Significantly longer than the original release, the book has been thoroughly updated to cover the Model A, Model B Revision 2, and the Camera Module. Additional new features include step-by-step instructions for using the Raspberry Pi Software Configuration Tool, the New Out-Of-Box Software (NOOBS) installer, and various other tweaks to bring it bang up-to-date.

For those who haven’t taken the plunge into the world of Raspberry Pi yet, congratulations: you can now pick up a considerably better book to help you get started. For those who have already bought a copy of the First Edition, a consolation prize: I have negotiated with the publisher, Wiley & Sons, to produce an updated ‘Second Printing’ of the First Edition in eBook form. If you’ve purchased the First Edition in electronic format, delete and re-download the title to receive various free updates including Model A and Model B Revision 2 details. You’ll know if your particular store has updated the title, as there’ll be a sash at the top-right explaining the updated content.

The Raspberry Pi User Guide Second Edition is available from all good – and plenty of not-so-good – book sellers throughout the world and is also an official stock item of the Raspberry Pi Swag Store, profits from which go to help the Foundation complete its work in pushing the envelope of computing education both at home and abroad. High levels of interest in the title – the First Edition has at this point sold around 100,000 copies world-wide across its various translations – do mean that you may have a short wait for stock, though – so if you’re hoping to buy it as a Christmas present and see it available from somewhere, I’d advise against delaying your purchase.

Electronic copies of the Second Edition are at the time of writing hard to come by but, as with the First Edition, expect to see it in Kindle, Google Play Books, iBooks, PDF, ePub and various other proprietary and non-proprietary formats – as well as DRM-free via O’Reilly in the US – in the very near future.

Linux & Open Source Genius Guide, Volume 4

Linux & Open Source Genius Guide, Volume 4The latest Linux & Open Source Genius Guide, a ‘bookazine’ from Imagine Publishing comprised of reprints from Linux User & Developer Magazine, is out now and includes my regular look at the top ten Linux distributions.

An annual feature in the magazine, Top Ten Distros is a look at the movers and shakers in the Linux world. Biased towards desktop Linux distributions, the feature requires me to make a shortlist of popular distributions – based on download figures, page traffic rankings, comments to the magazine and other metrics – and then download and test each one.

The write-up of each distro, while around half the size of a normal review, takes some time to complete: it includes facts about each distribution, comments from its developers and/or users, and snippets regarding the distribution’s history.

It’s the screenshots that take the time, however. Rather than using stock images provided by the distribution team, as some magazines might, I install each distribution into a virtual machine and set up the desktop according to a pre-set layout: the menu open on the Internet category, a video playing from Archive.org in the default player, and a calculator app open in the bottom-right.

Yes, it’s fiddly – but it provides an at-a-glance comparison between distributions that the use of stock screenshots simply can’t match.

This latest Top Ten Distros feature first appeared in Linux User & Developer Issue 122, and is now reprinted in the Linux & Open Source Genius Guide Volume 4.

Raspberry Pi User Guide, Dutch Translation

Raspberry Pi StartersgidsA 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.

Raspberry Pi: Einstieg und User Guide

Raspberry Pi Einstieg und User GuideI was greeted by a surprise parcel this morning: a copy of the German translation of my Raspberry Pi User Guide, Raspberry Pi Einstieg und User Guide.

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.

Meet the Raspberry Pi

Meet the Raspberry Pi CoverI’m pleased to be able to announce the publication of my first book, Meet the Raspberry Pi. Co-written with Eben Upton, co-founder of the Raspberry Pi Foundation, the book is a cut-down version of the Raspberry Pi User Guide – 114 pages to ~240 pages. It leaves out the sections on learning to program in Scratch and Python, along with some other nice-to-have specificities, but retains the most important sections for a newcomer to the Pi.

Topics covered in the book include setting up the Pi for the first time, including physical connections, network configuration and flashing the SD card, an introduction to using Linux – both at the command line and in the GUI – and a section on using the Pi’s general-purpose input/output (GPIO) port in Python.

Unlike the Raspberry Pi User Guide, Meet the Raspberry Pi is only being released as an eBook – but if you’re interested, and have a spare £3.29, it’s available to purchase in the Amazon Kindle Store now. The Raspberry Pi User Guide is expected to follow as soon as possible – the publisher is just finishing up getting that ready for publication too.

Make sure to let me know what you think of the book, either here or by posting a review on Amazon!


Links for other sites and services:
iTunes UK, iTunes US, iTunes Ireland, iTunes France, iTunes Germany.
Google Play (International).
Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com, Amazon.de, Amazon.fr, Amazon.es.
Bokus (Sweden).
Tesco eBooks (no, really. That’s totally a thing. Apparently.)