Can the Raspberry Pi save computing?
Posted on 20 Apr 2012 at 10:20
In Braben’s words, the point is “to get something that fires up in a very understandable way, much more like the philosophy of the BBC Micro. We haven’t decided exactly what it will be, and what people do over the next few weeks and months will probably influence that strongly.”
The key thing, in Mycroft’s words, is that Raspberry Pi will have “a smaller depth between what you do and what comes out”, providing an environment where programming is straightforward, and where a child can write a program, wrap it into a website or a simple app, and share it with others. “It might be rude, it might be funny, but they made it,” Braben says.
Upton talks of the work the foundation is doing in taking existing tools and preparing them for Raspberry Pi and the classroom.
On one hand, there are simplified coding environments such as MIT’s Scratch, which exemplify fundamental principles of programming in an easily understood, building-blocks way. On the other, there are tools such as KidsRuby, which provide a higher-level approach.
The point is to give children access to something that goes beyond simple scripting or the assignment of properties to objects, and that takes in proper conditional models of programming.
Big, commercial Android games are being written using GameMaker
“We’ve been doing some work with YoYo Games, which is based in Dundee, and has a tool called GameMaker,” says Upton. “It occupies this scripting place, but you can go much further with it. Big, commercial Android games are being written using GameMaker.”
What’s more, there’s a good chance that more familiar tools may return. “The other thing, bizarrely, is BBC Basic,” says Braben. “We haven’t confirmed it yet, but it looks like we can use it, which would be fantastic.”
For Braben, the power of BBC Basic is that “you can have a very short program that can embody something that’s really quite sophisticated”. He talks of simple programs that work as inline filters for text, taking a Twitter feed, spotting keywords such as a friend’s name, and adding rude words in front. “Now, a kid can get endless joy from that.”
It’s typical of the enthusiasm and anarchy that fuelled 1980s home computing, but it also teaches important principles.
And that isn’t all. Braben describes the wealth of data available on the internet, from images of the dwindling Amazon rainforest to asteroids in space, and how children could program Raspberry Pi to analyse and make something from it. “The data is online. There’s a lot of data that you can download and process, and I see it as a very liberating thing.”
The desire is to make computing more rewarding and fun. As Braben says: “If you’re asking kids what their most boring subject is, most will say ‘ICT’ these days – and that’s shocking. It should be the most exciting.”
Even in the 1980s, with BBC Micros controlling robotic turtles, there was a tendency for dry teaching to make the subject less exciting. With Raspberry Pi, Braben feels there’s potential to make these activities more game-like, so that it isn’t merely about a turtle drawing a pattern, but about turtles racing to complete objectives or navigate a maze, for example.
The challenge ahead
Of course, finding teachers to teach this stuff is a very real challenge, and not only for Raspberry Pi. The Government wants to promote programming as part of the curriculum, but is faced with a situation where, of more than 27,000 teachers qualifying in 2011, only three had a computer science degree. Upton says that situation must be rectified.
Good, but no cigar....
I think this is potentially a great idea, and I'll almost certainly buy one. I very much doubt it will make much difference to Britain's IT 'skills gap'.
It's not just the UK, but Worldwide where consumption exceeds creation by a mile.
The popularity of the various igadgets confirms that people (worldwide) aren't that interested: they simply want to absorb the dross someone else has made.
Mrs Thatcher's 'consumer society' writ large. Who on earth thought the outcome would be different?
Prior to the 'consumer revolution' when we used to be 'patients', 'travellers', 'customers' before we all became mere 'consumers', people aspired to creating things. The maligned 1960's epitomised the transformation of society based on the creative optimism of those who came back from WW2.
The BBC IT projects (including the 'B') sprang from the optimism and enthusiasm of the post-war generation as we reached adulthood.
Then came the 90's.
It's largely a 'philosophical' problem and it really is rooted in attitudes spawned in the 1980s. The get rich quick \ greed is good values of the City are now embedded in our consciousness. Why create something when you can parasite off someone else's efforts?
Having said all that, hopefully many kids WILL get to play with one of these and many will likewise be spurrred into new ways of seeing. But it won't, on its own, cause any sort of rennaisance. Sadly.
By wittgenfrog on 20 Apr 2012
Are the statements in the article correct?
"This is something where rival products, such as Solid-Run’s CuBox, the BeagleBoard or the Rhombus-Tech Allwinner A10, struggle to compete."
So I googled one of these.
"The Allwinner A10 CPU has been developed in, and is sold in, the People's Republic of China. Its mass-volume price is around $7, yet it is a 400-pin highly feature-rich 1.2ghz ARM Cortex A8 with a MALI400 GPU. It has the distinction of having the highest bang-per-buck ratio of any SoC available at the time of writing, by quite a margin. Its price and features is causing massive disruption of the tablet market in China (a minor recession was caused by widespread cancellation of prior committments to other SoCs!), as every factory in Shenzen scrambles to compete with hundreds of other factories for the same end-user market: tablets and PVRs."
By FrancisKing on 20 Apr 2012
Whilst their ambitions are honourable, I can't help but reiterate their many failures.
Their first failure came from not identifying the meteoric popularity of the device on the run up to when they opened the pre-orders.
On the first day their website went into meltdown and didn't have any way of producing anywhere near the quantities demanded.
Secondly, they went with RS and Farnell in an attempt to resolve the fulfilment issues for full scale production. Whilst a great idea on the surface, it very soon materialised they couldn't handle the demand either, the RPi has been likened to an Apple release in its sheer scale and the two companies just couldn't cope, also suffering website problems and administrative failures.
Thirdly, the foundation failed to ditch RS and Farnell when they failed to realise it needed CE certification, and poor handling of the Ethernet connector fiasco.
These are things you would have thought RS and Farnell would have been totally capable of carrying out quickly and efficiently, being their business, but they have never needed to fulfil orders of this magnitude and again aren't geared up for it.
Fourthly, the foundation failed to find any way of prioritising pre-orders for those who had genuine educational, experimental and electronic tinkering interests in the device, as opposed to the vast majority, who just wanted one for an extremely cheap media centre system.
Fair enough, the foundation can't expect to be up there with the likes of Apple in terms of production rates and so forth, and Apple have themselves been quite poor at meeting expected demand in the past, but lessons learned, Apple have improved, and were a great example for the foundation at the time of preorder - it's not like the whole internet wasn't abuzz with RPi excitement, what with its home theatre PC capabilities for such a small price.
The foundation could even have scored a production and distribution hit with China, Foxconn themselves instead of RS/Farnell.
To this day I find it incredible that Apple got an Ipad 3 into the UK, in my hands, a single week after their announcement at San Francisco, whilst I still await my RPi, as pre-ordered on the third of March, having been given an August to September delivery date! I can't help but feel extremely bitter about it all.
By Heliosphan on 22 Apr 2012
Sorry, not impressed
Thinking back to if I were 15 or 16 now, what would I do?” says Braben. “It would actually be very difficult to get into programming, because even if I had a PC at home I’d have to beg, borrow or steal a compiler and get it set up. Unless I have a well-motivated parent, this is actually a big challenge.”
On Windows, what about installing Microsoft's excellent and completely free "Express" range of development tools? Or even fire up notepad and you can start coding in vbscript, no extra installs required?
Or on non Windows platforms, what about java? PHP, C++, BASH, Perl? Etc, etc
The solution to schoolies not having a clue about computer programming? Change the dumbed down curriculum so you don't get an A* in ICT just for doing a couple of Excel macros and typing a CV into Word.
Cheap and wonderful though I'm sure it is, this device is NOT needed.
By poke36879 on 4 May 2012
For more details about purchasing this feature and/or images for editorial usage, please contact Jasmine Samra on firstname.lastname@example.org
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