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2014

Now that many of you have received your Raspberry Pi computers, it is time to start unboxing them.  Lucky for you, there is a video series that is available to help

 

I have found that videos are very helpful in getting something like this off the ground for the first time.  The community that supports the Raspberry Pi is huge and goes far beyond this group.  So if there is a problem, chances are you are not the first to experience it, and someone has written about it.  The videos that Element14 put together are enough to get you started with using the RPi. 

 

After that, as I have mentioned previously, you will want to find a project of your own, so you can see that training in a context.  There is nothing like problem solving on the fly to build your confidence in tiny steps.  For inspiration on those first projects I would recommend checking out the Raspberry Pi resources page.  There are a number of project there that are easy to start and don't require a lot of peripherals.  If you are ready for something more advanced, check out Make Magazine and Adafruit for some additional ideas. 

 

Next week, I plan to start a project where I start using a temperature probe to measure some cooling curves and long term temperature trends.  More to come!

Many of you have received a new Raspberry Pi in the past week.  In a previous blog post, I talked about moving from getting a package in the mail to getting started on something.

 

As I have experienced it, that journey is usually built around a project, or something you want to do.  My house is full of projects that are in various stages of completion (some much further than others).  Some of those projects started out of necessity, "I want that toilet to stop leaking....NOW".  Others were born out of whimsy, "I want to build a model of a Blue Angel for my son's room."  In both (and all other cases I can think of) they start with an 'I want...' statement.

 

Let me give you an example of a technology project that I recently completed, that followed a project lifecycle.

 

I saw Where People Run, a data visualization project where somebody mapped thousands of GPS run traces in various cities.  I thought it was cool, and I run.  So I got the idea that I could manipulate my runs so that my GPS data made various shapes and letters.  Then I got to an 'I want' statement.  "I want to write a letter to my wife using my GPS data to spell out words."  The idea was simple, and based on what I saw on Where People Run, I knew the technical pieces existed and that I could eventually figure it out. 

 

I started in April and finished it on June 17th.  It took 46 miles of running, and about 6 hours of running time.  I saw more than a dozen neighborhoods in Chicago.  I am really proud of this project, and I had a ton of fun doing it.

 

Click here to read more about it.  The picture below sums it up.  Each letter is about a half-mile high.

 

You_are_a_beautiful_wife_and_mother_love_mike.jpg

 

When you start a project, you don't necessarily need to know everything about how to complete it.  It can help with efficiency, sure.  But if waited on technical expertise to complete this project, it never would have happened.  I was about 75% of the way done with all of my running before I figured out how to lay it out on a map.  I set out trying to do it in R, like I saw on the website, but I ended up doing it with Google Earth.  These things weren't clear when I drafted an 'I want' statement, but I wasn't going to wait for clarity before I got started.  Worst case scenario:  I go for a bunch of runs.  That's not so bad.

 

Now that you have a good tool, it would be a good time to think about what you want, and how that tool could (or could not) be useful.

We've started to ship Raspberry Pis and some people have emailed me with a brief note to say that it has arrived.  There is nothing like coming home to find a package waiting for you.  Furthermore, there is nothing like having a credit card sized open source computer inside that package.

 

More than once, a new piece of equipment has come home with me, only to sit inside the box for a few weeks, as I am trying to acclimate it to my house.  Its not necessarily a bad thing.  When I buy these things, its because I want to see what they can do, not because I need them to do something immediately.  It is my goal to help you move from collection to innovation pretty quickly. 

 

Looking in the box, you have the Raspberry Pi model B, an SD cards with NOOBS, and a power supply.  In a nutshell, that is everything you will need to turn it on and getting running for the first time.  That, in and of itself can be pretty satisfying.  However, if you want to interact it, you will probably want to make sure that you have a few other things on hand as well.  I would recommend the following:

 

  • An HDMI cable and something you can plug it in to (I've used the family television, or a spare monitor).
  • If your monitor doesn't have an HDMI input you will want to look for an adapter.  I have had luck with HDMI - DVI adapters.
  • A USB keyboard and mouse.

 

These basically complete the look, and you'll have your Raspberry Pi up and operating like a computer.  You will boot your operating system for the first time (which will take a few minutes) and you'll be off to the races.  The next step and the next topic will be, what to do with it.

This online community has had a recent influx of new members.  Welcome to you all!  The STEM Academy is a growing online community of professionals, educators, and hobbyists who are all, in some way, not afraid of making trouble.

 

The people in this community are the kind of people who solve a lot of problems with a screwdriver; the kind of people who don't let expertise get in the way of trying something out.  This is a good community to be a part of.

 

Almost one year ago, about $3,000 was found in an account from one of my previous projects (the World's Largest Periodic Table).  I was asked to think of something we could put that money towards.  I decided that it would be a good idea to buy as many Raspberry Pi's (a device I had only recently heard of) and give them away to as many teachers and out-of-school educators as I possibly could.  Google loaned us some space in their Chicago office, and bought us dinner.  ScienceFIST put together a program, and was able to bring more than 90 people together and distribute 60 Raspberry Pi's.  Element14 joined the effort and donated 60 SD cards with NOOBS.

 

That was just the beginning.

 

Since then we worked together on doing training in open source hardware and software for educators, After School Matters, and librarians.  Element14 established this online community to give all of those groups an opportunity to interact, and that has been invaluable.

 

As you pick up equipment and try out projects, you will invariably run into problems.  That is when an online community comes to the rescue.  Somewhere amongst the hundreds of people who have some experience in what you are trying for the first time, there is an answer to your question and a solution to your problem.  As a community member you will represent the solution to someone else's problem. 

 

Thank you all for joining, and I look forward to interacting with you soon!