The Raspberry Pi is a tiny, solid state, and ludicrously cheap hobby ARM based computer designed in the UK (but thanks to insane UK tax laws needs to be built in China). It has a USB port, video, sound, an Ethernet port, 256MB RAM, and can run 3 distinct flavours of Linux.

Ostensibly the device was developed with the aim of getting kids to code, and as someone who grew up with the UK hobby computing scene of the 1980s and cut their programming teeth hacking games together on the ZX Spectrum, this is something I can thoroughly get behind.

The blurb from their website:

The Raspberry Pi is a credit-card sized computer that plugs into your TV and a keyboard. It’s a capable little PC which can be used for many of the things that your desktop PC does, like spreadsheets, word-processing and games. It also plays high-definition video. We want to see it being used by kids all over the world to learn programming.

Coming out of Cambridge and with a decidedly hobbyist feel to it, the Raspberry Pi could almost be the spiritual successor to the humble and much loved Speccy. If it can get more kids coding then that’s all for the good, especially if it gives the UK tech scene a much needed shot in the arm.

This is not the reason why I’m excited.

Small. Capable. CHEAP.

The Raspberry Pi is tiny, which means it can be put in tiny things. It is low power and solid state, which means it doesn’t need much juice to run (4 AA batteries will do the trick) and it can take a fair amount of abuse.

Above all, it is cheap, and this is why I’m really excited. They are certainly something you can afford to buy more of than a traditional computer, even on a modest budget. I’d go further and say that they are so cheap that they can be thought of as practically disposable general computing units… this is game changing.

The reason I am really excited about this is that all these factors combine to make them the perfect choice for the control computer for any number of appliances or devices, and it reduces the barrier to entry for the home hacker to start putting some really cool things together.

I don’t think it will be long before we start seeing countless hobbyist developed bits of hardware; from internet radios, to cheap NAS appliances, right through to remote sensor platforms, robots, drones and maybe even spacecraft. Given the number of bits of Lego sent to the edge of space recently I don’t think this is too far off!

Increasingly you don’t need to wait for a company with a massive fabrication plant to see a market for a product in order to get one, but now micro-manufacturing is something you can do in your own home. I can think of hundreds of gizmos I could spend countless afternoons building with a Raspberry Pi at the centre.

I can’t wait to get my hands on one!

Hard at work
Today I spent a productive and thoroughly enjoyable day at Oxford Geek Jam.

This was a techy event organised by @mattythorne and @loleg at the Jam Factory in Oxford bringing together hackers, ideas people and general interested populous to bash out some ideas and start hacking on some projects.

The group split into two main camps based around a couple of ideas; Oleg wanted to hack on a visual wiki representation, and my off the cuff idea which I’ve been playing on for a little while – the Stalk-O-Matic.

Stalk-O-Matic is a little data mining toy I have had in skunk for a while which uses the Google Social Graph api to aggregate much of the public information available on the internet about you into an easily explorable form. This is done for the purposes of education and illustrates just how public private information is – something that I might talk about at Barcamp Transparency.

Off the back of the Geek Jam I have open sourced the code and have started a Google Code project which I’d be interested in seeing people get involved in – usual “It was a private hack made public so is a total mess” disclaimer applies!

Anyway, I found today both enjoyable and thoroughly useful. I hope that there will be many more events like this in Oxford!