The MagPi, Issue 93

The MagPi Issue 93In this month’s The MagPi Magazine you’ll find my cover feature on working from home using a Raspberry Pi as a fully-functional desktop computer – and, as an added bonus, my photography of the TBBlue ZX Spectrum Next.

First, the cover feature. With a massive explosion in the number of people working remotely worldwide, and the corresponding shortages in hardware and accessories, now is a great time to look towards the Raspberry Pi as a functional alternative to traditional PCs. The six-page feature is split into three sections. The first of these sections looks at installing a Raspberry Pi Camera Module – or the newly-launched Raspberry Pi High Quality Camera Module – or USB webcam and using it for video conferencing via Google Hangouts.

The second section looks at online collaboration platforms, from Google Docs and Google Drive to Slack, Discord, and Firefox Send. The last section takes a look at LibreOffice, the open-source equivalent to Microsoft Office which is pre-installed in Raspbian Linux and fully compatible with the Raspberry Pi. Finally, a sprinkling of tips and tricks complete the feature.

The ZX Spectrum Next review, meanwhile, was written by The MagPi’s editor Lucy Hattersly, but illustrated by me: My hero shot of the ZX Spectrum Next, plus a close-up of the Rick Dickinson-designed keyboard which proved responsible for a two-year delay on the device as it was tweaked for maximum quality and performance, grace the two-page feature alongside a pair of images taken from the ZX Spectrum Next promotional materials.

All this, and more, is available in both the print edition and the free Creative Commons-licensed PDF download from the official magazine website.

PC Pro, Issue 224

PC Pro Issue 224This 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.

Computeractive, Issue 390

Computeractive, Issue 390With my previous three-part Raspberry Pi feature for Incisive Media’s Computeractive having driven significant sales, features editor Scott Colvey was eager for me to do something similar – and this time we hit upon the idea of using the open source Arduino Microcontroller. The task: to build a digital weather station.

At the inception of the piece, various ideas were bandied around including the possibility of making a rainfall sensor that would use a constantly filling and emptying bucket linked to a switch. Sadly, making one of these from scratch within the confines of a few pages isn’t straightforward. Instead, the finished build uses three main components: an Arduino microcontroller, a DHT22/RHT03 temperature and humidity sensor, and a BMP085 temperature and pressure sensor.

Linking them all together with a short bit of code outputting comma separated values over a USB serial connection, the result is a hackable weather monitor that can be easily covered with an upturned bowl for outdoor use.

Keeping things as simple as possible, in deference to Computeractive’s target market of those interested in computing but put off the more technical nature of most mainstream magazines, the build won’t be putting Maplins’ finest to shame any time soon – but it works, and leaves the path open for a Part 2 where the Arduino is connected to a Raspberry Pi. Doing away with the PC, this would create a truly stand-alone weather station.

The code for the piece is available on my GitHub repository, while a full walk-through build with pictures can be found in the pages of Computeractive.

Custom PC, Issue 110

Custom PC, Issue 110In this month’s Custom PC, I have three features: my regular Mobile Tech Watch column, a bonus opinion column, and a how-to guide on constructing a temperature-sensitive LED from an Arduino microcontroller following a reader request on the Bit-Tech forums.

First, Mobile Tech Watch: on the request of editor Ben Hardwidge, this month’s column looks at cloud gaming technologies – specifically Gaikai and Nvidia’s GeForce Grid proejct – and whether mobile gaming is truly turning a corner. Now, this article was written and submitted before high-profile cloud gaming company OnLive closed, sacked half its staff and re-opened to avoid massive debts, but the article’s focus specifically on Gaikai means it’s none the worse for that.

Cloud gaming is certainly generating plenty of interest: offering console-quality games on mobile platforms, and even branching out into Smart TVs – Samsung has signed a deal with Gaikai to put the company’s technology into its next TV sets for console-free gaming – it’s a something-for-nothing deal for the end-user, but can cost a fortune to run. Even using the very latest Nvidia Grid technology, a Gaikai server can only run four simultaneous streams.

Do I think that cloud gaming has a future, or is it a just a fad? Better read this month’s column to find out, hadn’t you?

Next, the cover-gracing LED temperature sensor feature. Following a reader request, I designed, programmed and constructed a temperature sensor that uses an Arduino to vary the colour of an RGB LED. If the case is cold, the LED is blue; as the case warms up, red is added and blue removed until the LED is completely red.

The code is available on my GitHub repository, while a correction to an equation I fat-fingered in the feature can be found on Bit-Tech.

Finally, the op-ed: normally, I only do a single column for each issue, but illness meant there was a last-minute gap as this issue was going to press. To solve the problem, I stepped in and wrote an opinion column on patents, the problem with patents and a suggestion for how said problem can be resolved. Considering the short deadline and the research-heavy nature of the piece, I’m extremely pleased with how it turned out.

For all this and more, pick up Custom PC Issue 110 wherever geeky magazines are sold, or digitally via Zinio.