Innovation: Raspberry Pi

Manufacturer: Raspberry Pi | Year: 2012 | MSRP: $31.49 | Buy from Amazon

Back in the days before GUI’s, to do anything useful with a computer required at least a basic understanding of electronics and computer science. But now, because it’s become so easy to operate a computer, most people who use a computer don’t really know how it works (me definitly included).

One person who decided to do something about it was Eben Upton, who worked in admissions and as a lecturer at Cambridge. He noticed that applicants to the Computer Science courses just weren’t as experienced with computers as they were in the 90’s. He and his colleagues discovered that it was mostly because schools now taught computers using Word, PowerPoint, and other software that doesn’t teach how a computer works, merely what you can do with one.

So he and his colleages set to work trying to make a simple, affordable computer that would teach kids (and pretty much anyone else) the concepts behind electronics and computers. It’s made so that you can’t do much until you get your feet wet and start to program. You can use Python, C, Basic, etc. on it, and you not only learn the programming language, you also get a better understanding how what you type translates into the output on the screen. Also, as mentioned before, is you want to do something like word processing, you’ll have to make a word processing program, so you get a feel for how useful programming can be.

But perhaps the best part about the Raspberry Pi is its price. The top-of-the-range model is a princely $35, and the simpler model is $25. It was meant to be affordable, and it certainly is! Even if you have to buy an SD card and a HDMI or RCA cable, the price probably won’t go over $50. Other things you would need are a keyboard, mouse, and TV, since the Raspberry Pi is pretty much just a circuit board.

The Raspberry Pi will be available in about a week’s time from the organisation’s website, and I recommend giving their site a visit. You can ask a question on the FAQ page, provided it’s hasn’t already been asked and answered. They are really quick; I got an answer in just 40 minutes. Also on the site is a forum, a wiki, and lots of information on what you can do with a Raspberry Pi and its tech specs. There’s also a picture showing what it looks like and what each part does.

UPDATE 14 November 2014:¬†I actually ended up getting the Pi (Model B) about a year or so back. It’s super cool, but I’m not really smart enough to do anything creative with it. I sort of use it to mess around with, so I don’t wreck anything important on any other computer in the house.

Also, the Model B+ replaced the Model B a while back. You can see what they changed about it here.

MSRP: $31.49 | Buy from Amazon

Do you think you’ll get the Raspberry Pi? What do you think about it? Tell us in the comments.

Task: Learn Java

Learning how to program is often a daunting idea. To learn by oneself would require lots of dedication, and to take a course would cost too much. But with Stanford University’s CS106A iTunes U course, it’s now quite possible to take a full Java course for free online, teacher and all.

The video lectures are great: Mehran Sahami, the professor, is very engaging. There are assignments, handouts, and even a syllabus (if you like to be really organised) online. The software is provided free. You will need a textbook which, though Prof. Sahami says needs to be bought, can be found online also. Though Stanford does not have answer keys to the Assignments, a simple Google Search for ‘CS106A answers’ will pull up a list of blogs that each have their own solutions to the problems. At the beginning, Prof. Sahami says that you don’t need any experience to start learning with CS106A, and he does start at Ground Zero, but he does burn through the subjects pretty fast, so if (like me) you have no previous experience, you’ll likely have to re-watch some of the faster paced lectures and read the textbook extremely attentively. Speaking of the textbook, it’s a good idea to follow along with the lectures with the textbook. I managed to finish Assignments 1 and 2 without the textbook, only to find myself completely confounded by Assignment 3.

But you guys are here to see the links, so without further ado:

CS106A Course Page
Karel the Robot Textbook
The Art and Science of Java Textbook 

We hope you have fun learning Java. Please comment if you have any questions about the links or the course. I’ll try to answer any others, but I don’t know much about programming, so any programming questions would be better asked elsewhere!