The MagPi, Issue 49

The MagPi Issue 49The latest issue of The MagPi, the official magazine of the Raspberry Pi Foundation, includes my two-page interview with Grant Macaulay of Theo Lasers, along with what is now rapidly becoming a go-to image I took of a Raspberry Pi 3 artfully rotated and pasted onto the cover.

I first met Grant at the Maker Faire UK event earlier this year, and got talking to him about the project he had quit his job to build: Theo Lasers. Designed to address the lack of affordable entry-level laser cutters and engravers for hobbyist and educational use, Theo Lasers came from a simple idea: “I’m going to make a laser cutter with a laser cutter,” he laughingly explained in front of a stand of prototypes proving he could do just that.

In the months since the event, Grant has been hard at work improving upon his design. In particular, with the aid of a developer friend, he’s moved from basing the hardware on an Arduino Mega microcontroller to using a Raspberry Pi Zero. In doing so his team developed Theo Controller, a browser-based control and monitoring system which runs entirely on the Pi and which can accept input from any web-compatible device. Coupled with an on-board display, SD card reader, and even the ability to run from battery or solar power, and Grant’s design definitely stands out from the competition even before you see its eye-catching wooden chassis.

Grant’s due to launch a Kickstarter campaign to begin mass production of the Theo Laser cutters in early September, with more details available from the official website. The interview, meanwhile, can be read for free in the Creative Commons licensed The MagPi Issue 49, out now.

Linux User & Developer, Issue 131

Linux User & Developer Issue 131The cover of this month’s Linux User & Developer Magazine highlights two of my latest features: a review of the Intel MinnowBoard and an interview with its evangelist Scott Garman. The direct comparison to the far cheaper Raspberry Pi, just to clarify, was an editorial decision in which I had no part.

The MinnowBoard is an interesting piece of equipment: based on a single-core 32-bit Intel Atom processor, it packs surprising power into a sub-10W package: gigabit Ethernet, USB, SATA and audio ports are all present and correct, while a ‘Lure’ connector gives access to additional capabilities including several PCI Express lanes.

The hardware itself isn’t the most interesting feature of the MinnowBoard, however. Intel has opted to make the board fully open, releasing schematics, Gerbers, firmware source code, and a Board Support Package (BSP) for the Yocto Project – certification for which the board carries proudly.

In this, the MinnowBoard is head and shoulders above the Raspberry Pi, which is a closed design, while offering significantly more power. Sadly, that power comes at a considerable price – you can expect to pay at least £160 for the MinnowBoard compared to £30 for the Pi. The MinnowBoard also struggles to compete with AMD’s equivalent, the Gizmo from Sage Electronics, which features a faster 64-bit dual-core processor with greater performance and wider OS compatibility and comes bundled with useful tools for embedded hardware and software development at a very similar cost.

Still, it’s an exciting project – and one Scott Garman, Yocto Project contributor, Intel employee, and the evangelist for the MinnowBoard project, is justifiably excited about. In my interview, Scott provided hints at the reasoning behind certain design decisions for the MinnowBoard, promises of increased compatibility with operating systems other than the bundled Angstrom Linux build, and admitted his undying respect for the Raspberry Pi Foundation.

All this, plus my usual four pages of Linux, open source, open hardware and open governance news, can be found betwix the pages of Linux User & Developer at your local newsagent, supermarket, or online via the Zinio digital distribution platform and others.

Linux User & Developer, Issue 129

Linux User & Developer Issue 129The latest issue of Linux User & Developer contains, in addition to my regular four-page news spread starting on page six, two hardware reviews – both relating to that most popular of microcomputers, the Raspberry Pi.

The first is the Raspberry Pi Camera Module, the first official add-on to come out of the Raspberry Pi Foundation. I was lucky enough to receive a pre-release unit from the Foundation, as a result of my work on the Raspberry Pi User Guide, and while it was an early model – revision one, no less – it gave me a good idea of the device’s capabilities.

Hardware-wise, the Camera Module is impressive: its five megapixel sensor is sharp and clear, the fixed-focus lens easily hacked for adjustable focus and – thanks to some enterprising types who don’t mind risking their £20 investment – even removable in order to fit a high-quality CCTV-style glass lens. The software is another matter, but that’s a topic for the review.

The second device is the Embedded Pi, kindly provided by Farnell subsidiary CPC – which, it is interesting to note, is taking an increasing interest in the maker community, actively seeking product suggestions and collaboration opportunities. Designed to connect to the Pi’s GPIO port, the Embedded Pi can act as a expansion to the input/output capabilities or – and here’s where it gets clever – as a stand-alone system, powered by an embedded STM32 processor, which can talk to the Pi or operate entirely independently.

While that would seem to make the Embedded Pi a must-have for anyone doing hardware hacking on a Raspberry Pi, things aren’t that simple – and if you read the review, you’ll soon find one of the biggest issues is a bit of a show-stopper.

Linux User & Developer Issue 129 is, as always, available from most good newsagents or digitally via Zinio and other services.