While I don’t write for the Australian market directly, I do sometimes appear in PC & Tech Authority as a result of Nextmedia’s content-sharing deal with Dennis Publishing’s PC Pro magazine. Issue 211 is just such an issue, reprinting the Rise of the Makers feature which originally appeared in PC Pro Issue 248.
For those who missed it, the feature was designed as both an introduction to the maker movement in general and as a guide for getting involved – including everything from finding and joining your nearest hackspace to setting one up from scratch. I was aided by several friendly makers, without whom the piece could never have happened: Dominic Morrow, John Cole and Taryn Sullivan of Dexter Industries, Paul Beech and Jon Williamson of Pimoroni, Chris Leach, and Bob Stone of York Hackspace, as well as the team at Leeds Hackspace.
If you’re interested in the piece, it was also published to the PC & Tech Authority website this morning where you can read it free of charge – albeit without the box-outs that the original feature included.
This month marks a return to Dennis Publishing’s excellent PC Pro with a piece commissioned by editor Tim Danton: The Rise of the Makers.
Designed as both an introduction for anyone unfamiliar with the maker movement and a guide for those who want to get more involved, the piece starts with a history of Sheffield-based gadget maker Pimoroni. Paul Beech and Jon Williamson kindly gave up their time to chat to me about the founding of their company and how the maker movement helped them get started, and it hopefully makes for a fascinating insight into how big an impact the movement can make to individual lives.
Pimoroni’s origin story is followed by a guide to hackspaces, with many thanks to Nottinghack co-founder Dominic Morrow who provided both a history of the hackspace he helped to set up along with a list of tips for anyone wanting to follow in his footsteps. John Cole and Taryn Sullivan, of US hobbyist robotics specialist Dexter Industries, also provided invaluable insight of the culture over the pond, while Winchester House School’s Chris Leach described his TinkerShed project to found a hackspace on school grounds.
The following pages look at the hardware you can use at your average hackspace, and how it helped people like Paul and Jon bootstrap their company in a way that wouldn’t have been possible just a few years ago, and a description of some of the big-name projects that have been born of the maker movement: Arduino, the BrickPi, and Pimoroni’s Pibow, as well as events including the Maker Faire franchise. My good friend Bob Stone also features, having worked with York Hackspace on the fascinating Spacehack project.
The piece finishes on a guide to getting involved, including these words of wisdom from Pimoroni’s Paul:
Start doing something. If you haven’t got a hackspace, set it up. Hackspaces are not about laser cutters and 3D printers. They’re a nice fringe benefit, they’re a useful tool. Hackspaces are about people and space. Start finding like-minded people, start talking to them, and that’s a community. You don’t create a community, you just start doing stuff and it grows.
PC Pro Issue 248 is available on shelves of all major supermarkets, most decent newsagents, or digitally via Zinio and similar services.
Oh, and there’s a glitch in the colophon at the front of the magazine: my name has an arrow pointing to advice about a wine-related smartphone app, whereas my actual tip is the one above regarding using the excellent Fake Name Generator to avoid spam from captive-portal Wi-Fi hotspots.
It’s always a pleasure to get your name in a new publication, and doubly so when it’s in foreign climes. As a result, I was thrilled to find that my recent review of the Intel Galileo has been reprinted in Australia’s PC & Tech Authority, making the first time to my knowledge I have been published in the region.
The original review appeared in PC Pro Issue 238, and if you’re thinking that the cover stories look similar you’d be right. PC & Tech Authority’s publisher, NextMedia, operates a republishing agreement with Dennis Publishing which results in the magazine being an Antipodean rewrite of PC Pro.
The review itself is unchanged, beyond a switch to the local price of the Galileo. It has also been published on the official website, while you can pick up a copy of the magazine itself in a variety of formats if you’d like to see what else is on offer.
A few months ago I was approached by PC Pro’s Priti Patel with a project proposal: a MagBook featuring a number of interesting projects for the low-cost Raspberry Pi microcomputer. I, naturally, jumped at the chance, and the fruit – pun entirely intended, I’m afraid – of my labour is now available.
Entitled Raspberry Pi: 21 Brilliant Projects, the MagBook features 141 full-colour pages of projects designed for beginner to intermediate users. The introductory projects are, as you might expect, gentle indeed: unboxing and connecting the Pi, installing an operating system via the New Out-Of-Box Software (NOOBS), and the like. From there, the MagBook then covers four project categories: Productivity, Entertainment, Plug-In Hardware and DIY & Advanced.
In the Productivity chapter, I walk the reader through safely overclocking the Pi to boost its performance, sharing a keyboard and mouse with a desktop without the need to move any cables, using the Pi as a thin client for a desktop or laptop running Windows, OS X or Linux, setting up a TOR proxy, and installing and running the popular WordPress blogging platform.
In Entertainment, readers see how to convert any TV with HDMI, DVI, SCART or composite video inputs into a smart TV, work with Minecraft Pi Edition, emulate vintage gaming platforms, and build a headless Internet radio receiver.
For the Plug-In Hardware chapter, I wrote up how to build a digital photo frame, the use of USB-connected application-specific integrated circuits (ASICs) to mine Bitcoins, a Twitter-powered motion-sensing security system, how to configure the Pi for fully wireless use, and how to combine the power of the Pi with that of the Arduino microcontroller.
Finally, in the DIY & Advanced section, the reader learns how to use the Pi’s general-purpose input-output (GPIO) capabilities to build a traffic light system, create a doorbell that sends Twitter messages when activated, drive motors for a robotics system, build a custom arcade controller, create an Internet of Things printer, and how to cluster multiple Raspberry Pi units together to boost performance.
The MagBook is available in supermarkets and newsagents now, and will soon start shipping from Amazon UK for £9.99.
I 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.
This 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 début.
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.
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.
Continuing 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.
This 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.
This 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.