Tag Archive for PC Pro

PC Pro, Issue 238

PC Pro Issue 238I return to the pages of PC Pro this month, having been approached as the guy-in-the-know when it comes to single-board computers and embedded development platforms. The platform in question is Intel’s Galileo, my review of which enjoys the header splash on the front page. Oh, and before anyone assaults the comments section: yes, I know the Galileo isn’t designed as a direct rival to the Raspberry Pi; that wording is an editorial decision in which I had no part.

This isn’t the first time I’ve reviewed the Galileo: I covered it back in March for Custom PC and again in April for Linux User & Developer, having received one of the first boards to hit the UK. I was more than happy to revisit the subject, however: as the first commercial implementation of the low-power Quark processor and Intel’s only device to boast Arduino compatibility and certification, the Galileo is a fascinating board.

Sadly, an update to the latest software and an afternoon of thorough testing revealed little has changed since my earlier reviews. The Quark is still desperately slow, easily outclassed by even the weedy BCM2835 on the far cheaper Raspberry Pi, while its cleverly-emulated Arduino compatibility offers easy access to its GPIO capabilities only if you don’t need accurate timings or any kind of speed.

That’s not to say the Galileo doesn’t have its advantages: the on-board Ethernet is undeniably useful, its partial compatibility with Arduino-format add-ons makes it easy to get started, and the Arduino IDE is always a welcome sight for beginners. Could it have been better? Well, I’d recommend buying PC Pro to find out.

PC Pro Issue 238 is available at all good newsagents, many supermarkets, or digitally on services like Zinio.

PC Pro, Issue 231

PC Pro Issue 231This month’s PC Pro magazine includes a feature describing 20 fun projects to keep readers occupied over the winter months, with the headline project being my write-up of a motion-sensitive wildlife camera constructed using the Raspberry Pi and its official Camera Module add-on.

Approached by editor Nicole Kobie, I was asked to work on a project involving the Pi and its camera for the feature. While, given a larger page count, there are plenty of exciting hardware-based possibilities there, I opted for a tutorial on using software packages to do motion detection and image capture – turning the Pi into a cheap wildlife camera.

The process is pretty simple: using freely published open-source software coupled with the software supplied with the Raspberry Pi Camera Module itself, the system takes low-resolution snapshots every few seconds. Each snapshot is compared to the snapshot taken just prior; if the image is different enough, a full-resolution still is captured.

It’s an easy way of doing pseudo-motion-detection, but it works remarkably well. It’s even possible to discount sections of the image – if, for example, the camera is near trees that wave in the wind, or a busy main road.

My project was, I’m proud to say, picked as the headline for the feature, as demonstrated by the cover splash. If you fancy building a wildlife camera of your own, you can pick up PC Pro Issue 213 at all good newsagents, most supermarkets, and digital distribution services including but not limited to Zinio.

Oh, and as an added bonus: the example ‘wildlife’ captured for the article was my cat, Zumi, in his magazine d├ębut.

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.

PC Pro, Issue 222

PC Pro, Issue 222Continuing my features work for Dennis Publishing’s PC Pro magazine, the April 2013 issue sees the publication of The World’s Fastest Computers. A research-heavy look at supercomputers and the high-performance computing (HPC) industry in general, it’s a piece of which I’m particularly proud.

Before getting into the nitty-gritty of the piece, however, I’d like that thank a few people without whom the feature could never have happened: Professor Simon Cox, of the University of Southampton, was a particularly excellent source, speaking to me candidly and at length regarding the realities of running a supercomputing facility and his hopes for the future, and even posing for some photographs to liven up the piece; Nvidia’s Ian Buck, GPU computing general manager and creator of the Compute Unified Device Architecture (CUDA) language, brought years of highly-parallel thinking to the mix, as did Nvidia’s Tesla boss Sumit Gupta; Intel’s Stephan Gillich, director of high-performance computing for the EMEA region, provided a CPU- rather than GPU-led perspective; and finally the Science and Technology Facilities Council was kind enough to provide copyright clearance on several of its historical supercomputing images – including a great shot of a denuded Cray being dismantled at the end of its service, which sadly had to be cut from the piece for space reasons.

The piece is split into three clear sections: a brief history of supercomputing, from the days of the Control Data Corporation 6600 – Seymour Cray’s first HPC design, and the very first system to be described as a supercomputer – to the modern day, followed by a look at what HPC means for education and the industry. The final part, meanwhile, is a look at the future – which, you’ll be amazed to hear, looks very different depending on whether you’re talking to Intel or Nvidia.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the piece, for me, is the performance comparison: using data provided by Professor Simon Cox and a great deal of research, I was able to piece together a rough approximation of a performance timeline. Starting with the Ferranti Pegasus in 1956 and working through thirteen other machines – all of which have, at one time or another, been installed at the University of Southampton – I compiled operations-per-second statistics for each. This, more than anything else, demonstrates the runaway nature of high-performance computing: using a linear graph, all but the last two machines – both versions of the University’s current Iridis supercomputer – drew a flat line.

While there’s plenty of information that didn’t make it into the final piece – I compiled nearly 30,000 words of interview material in all – it’s by far one of the most comprehensive I’ve written, and one of which I think I can be justifiably proud.

If any of that tickles your fancy, PC Pro Issue 222 is available in newsagents, supermarkets and doctors’ waiting rooms throughout the country, or digitally via Zinio or Apple Newsstand.

PC Pro, Issue 221

PC Pro Magazine, Issue 221This month’s PC Pro magazine includes something special for fans of the Raspberry Pi microcomputer: full instructions on how to turn the compact ARM-based system into a fully-functional webserver running Apache and the popular WordPress blogging platform.

Based on a chapter of my book, the Raspberry Pi User Guide, the step-by-step tutorial assumes no prior knowledge of Linux or running a server and requires only that you use the Raspbian operating system – which is recommended by the Raspberry Pi Foundation – or another Debian-based distribution, up to and including Debian itself.

When working on the feature for the book, I was actually surprised with how well Apache – software normally found running on multi-core servers with scads of RAM – ran on the 700MHz, single-core ARM-based system with just 256MB of RAM. While WordPress does slow things down a bit, it’s surprisingly usable – and if you’re lucky enough to have one of the Revision 2 boards, which feature 512MB of memory to the original’s 256MB, the whole thing works pretty well.

For more advanced users, one piece of advice not mentioned in the book or magazine feature is to try out an alternative web server package. While Apache is fully-featured and well-supported, it can be resource intensive – something to avoid on an embedded system. Nginx, by contrast, requires significantly less memory and processing power and can give a Pi web server a much-needed boost. Another trick is to enable Turbo Mode, which overclocks the Pi’s CPU, to increase performance still further – although be careful running at speeds above 900MHz, as SD card corruption is a common occurrence.

PC Pro Issue 221 is available from all good newsagents, digitally via Zinio, Google Play or Apple Newsstand, or via subscription with full details available on the official website.

PC Pro, Issue 219

PC Pro, Issue 219This month’s PC Pro features my first proper piece for the magazine, following my contribution of technical assistance for the Raspberry Pi review back in PC Pro Issue 213, and it’s fitting that it should be about the remarkable Raspberry Pi once again.

As the cover flash shows, the feature is a look at ten of the most interesting projects surrounding the Raspberry Pi. Designed to fire up readers’ imaginations – especially those who have purchased a Pi, received it and now have absolutely no idea what to do with it – the feature looks at projects ranging from commercial pay-to-print services to solar-powered distributed computing nodes, and plenty in-between.

My personal highlights from the feature include a university project which joins Pi nodes together to teach students about clustered supercomputing concepts without the expense or power draw of a traditional cluster, an autonomous seagoing vehicle which uses a Pi as its artificial intelligence hub, and a project to place the Pi into the casing of its spiritual ancestor the Sinclair ZX Spectrum by my friend Steve Wilson.

While far from exhaustive – with hundreds of new projects being thought up every day, no list of ten could ever hope to encompass the full spectrum – it hopefully provides an interesting glimpse of exactly what is possible from a credit card-sized computer with a tiny 700MHz processor, 256MB or 512MB of RAM and an in-built network port.

PC Pro Issue 219 is available to buy from wherever you normally buy magazines, available to steal from dentists’ waiting rooms, and available to download from Zinio – although, at the time of writing, the site is still showing Issue 218.

PC Pro, Issue 213

PC Pro, Issue 213This month’s issue of Dennis Publishing’s PC Pro magazine sees my first contribution, and while it’s a minor one it’s still worth celebrating.

As with many mags, PC Pro has taken a look at the Raspberry Pi sub-$35 microcomputer, running an in-depth review on its capabilities and specifications.

As part of the review PC Pro used details I had gathered for my coverage on Bit-Tech, including the benchmark results from my pretty exhaustive testing. At some point, I may revisit the benchmarking to get a more thorough idea of the true performance of the Pi – but to do so I will likely need to compile the benchmark code manually to optimise it for the Pi’s ARMv6 processor.

My contribution makes up only a small portion of the review – which is well worth reading, by the way – but it’s always nice to see my name in a new magazine.

PC Pro Issue 213 is in shops now, or can be downloaded from the Zinio website.