I’ve nearly used a Raspberry Pi...

 by Martin Belam, 23 August 2012

In all my time blogging - which is coming up for nearly ten years - I’ve staunchly stuck to the principle that I didn’t accept free gifts in return for editorial. It has been set in stone in my statement of blogging principles.

Until today that is.

Because when I got offered the chance to get my hands on a Raspberry Pi, I just couldn’t resist. One swift edit of my blogging principles to exclude offers of sexy little electronic kit later, and here we are.

Well, we would be...if I’d been able to do something with it. As I unpacked it my wife asked suspiciously “So what do you do with it?” and the best reply I could muster was “Stuff! Computing stuff! With a little computer!”

I absolutely adore the idea of the Raspberry Pi. I grew up with the ZX Spectrum and the BBC Micro, so my first experience of machines was a blinking cursor and a command line after I’d plugged something into the telly. I think initiatives to get kids coding are a great idea, and anything that lowers the barrier to entry and cost for schools, whilst helping pupils get out of the straight-jacket of Windows or Mac OS X, is good with me. To the extent that I even wrote about it for the Guardian.

And as someone who has never been terribly good at making and soldering and components, it just felt great to be holding such a small thing that was actually an exposed computer. I barely ever opened the cases of my old PCs to clean them of dust, let alone monkey around with the components.

But my wife had hit on a problem. I had no idea what I was going to do with it. Or even any of the right peripherals. So it has sat on the side whilst I wait to be hit with “the big idea”.

In the meantime, I keep looking around the web for inspiration, seeing some brilliant things that people have been achieving with their Raspberry Pi machines.

If you do get hold of one yourself then there are some useful tutorials, none more so than this one by Mark Wilson which looks to assume that you have no knowledge of any computers or what any of the different types of leads you can use look like, which is a brilliant bit of attention to detail:

You can order your own Raspberry Pi from RS Components.

And so, over and out from what has been the first ever, and very possibly will be the only ever, post I’ve written because somebody sent me a lovely thing.


Your comments on the Pi reminds me of what William Gibson said about the ZX81 in his novel, Spook Country. Now, what do you with it?

I too have a Pi and am also casting around for a worthwhile use for it. I'd originally thought "OK, well if nothing else I can fire up a BBC Micro emulator and relive the glory days of my youth" but so far haven't managed to find one [an emulator] that runs at an acceptable speed. I'm still hacking away at bits of 6502 emulator sourcecode in my spare time though, who knows where it'll end up.

I like the idea but, like the ZX spectrum, have little idea what to usefully do with the thing. Alternatively, give me knitting needles and yarn and I can make you a hundred things, most of them pretty useful and delightful. Its just another tool. Or a paperweight in your case!

There were a couple of comments on my Facebook journalist page about this blog post. Dan Thornton suggested I turn it into a ZX Spectrum emulator. Rain Ashford pointed me to what she had blogged about her rather more successful attempt to do something with the machine - “How I set up my Raspberry Pi

Cheers for the mention. I'm actually looking at purchasing a Raspberry Pi (No freebies here), and I've been keeping an eye on potential uses.

One simple thing for me would be using it in conjunction with my living room TV, rather than having to carry and attach the laptop in there every time.

The other thing I'm thinking about is potentially sticking it together with some sensors to cover some simple tasks and reminders I keep forgetting...

But the main thing is just to get me into actually doing things with objects and code rather than writing about them...

I was thinking of using one to build a remote earthquake machine.
I've recently moved back to New Zealand (Christchurch) from the UK, and we're still getting regular aftershocks from the big 2011 earthquake.
So I thought it'd be cool to be able to give my UK friends little boxes which "rumble" whenever I'm having an earthquake. It'd be keyed off the feeds at http://www.geonet.org.nz

Obviously, for a really big earthquake it'd rumble across the table, knocking cups of tea into laptop keyboards before falling off and smashing itself to smithereens on the floor :-)

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