A new Raspbian update: multimedia, Python and more

Today we’re releasing a new update for Raspbian, including a multimedia player, updated Thonny, and more. Here’s Simon with everything you need to know.

Updating Raspbian on your Raspberry Pi || Raspberry Pi Foundation

How to update to the latest version of Raspbian on your Raspberry Pi.

VLC Media Player

When I first joined Raspberry Pi, back in the dim and distant past (in reality 2014, but it does seem a long time ago now…), and I started looking at Raspbian, I made a list of the additional features and applications that I thought it needed to be a “complete” modern desktop operating system. Over the years, we’ve managed to tick off most of the items on that list, but one glaring omission has been nagging at me all this time: a decent media player. Windows has Windows Media Player; MacOS has QuickTime Player and iTunes; but we’ve had a big hole where something similar ought to be for Raspbian. It’s been a common request on the forums, and while we’ve had bits and pieces that do some of the job, like the command line OMXPlayer application, we really wanted a nice GUI-based media player.

VLC is one of those programs that “just works” for media playback; it is cross-platform, it has a nice interface, and it plays back pretty much anything you throw at it. It was the player I really wanted to use in Raspbian — but it was unable to access VideoCore’s video decoding hardware, and the software video codecs in VLC were too slow to be anything more than irritating when running on Raspberry Pi, so it really wasn’t worth shipping it. Until now.

After a lot of work (by people far cleverer than me), we are now able to announce that Raspbian includes a fully hardware-accelerated version of VLC. It plays most audio file formats; it uses software codecs for many video formats, and it uses VideoCore’s video engine to accelerate playback of H.264, MPEG-2 and VC-1 video. (Note that you will need to buy additional codec licences for MPEG and VC-1; if you’ve already bought a licence to enable hardware acceleration in OMXPlayer and Kodi, this licence will also enable these codecs for VLC.)

Raspbian update screenshot

This is still a work in progress — we’ve got most of the major bugs out, but there will most likely be the odd glitch, and you’ll probably find that Pi Zero and Pi 1 will still struggle with some content. But once you’ve updated your Pi, you should find that double-clicking on a video file will open it in VLC and play it back with decent quality.

Thonny 3

A couple of years ago, as part of the list of additional features mentioned above, we looked for a nicer Python development environment than IDLE, and we found Thonny — a really elegant combination of a user-friendly IDE with features that are also useful to expert developers. It’s been our standard IDE shipped with Raspbian ever since, and Aivar Annamaa, the developer, has been very responsive to our feedback and requests for new features.

He’s recently released version 3 of Thonny, and this is now the version in Raspbian. Version 3 offers a lot of useful new debugging features, such as breakpoints and an Assistant feature that analyses your code to find bugs that Python’s syntax checker misses. There is a lot more information about Thonny 3 on Aivar’s website — it’s well worth a read.

Raspbian update screenshot

We’ve also made one user interface change this time. We’ve always offered the choice between running Thonny in its regular mode, and a cut-down “simple” mode for beginners, which removes the menus and gives a fixed screen layout. Up until now, switching between the two has happened via different entries in the main Raspberry Pi menu, but that was a bit clumsy. In the new version, simple mode is the default, and you can switch Thonny into regular mode by clicking the link in the top right-hand corner of the window; if you want to switch back to simple mode, select it on the General tab of the Thonny options dialogue, which is available in the Tools menu. (Thonny will always start in the last mode you selected.)

Desktop configuration

One of the other changes we’ve made this time is one that hopefully most people won’t notice!

The configuration of the Raspberry Pi desktop has always been a bit of a mess. Due to the fact that the underlying LXDE desktop environment is made up of a bunch of different programs all running together, trying to set up something like the system font or the highlight colour involves making changes to several configuration files at once. This is why pretty much the first thing I did was to write the Appearance Settings application to try to make this easier than digging around in multiple config files.

Linux desktop applications are supposed to have a global configuration file (usually in the directory /etc/xdg/) that takes effect unless overridden by a local configuration file (in the hidden .config subdirectory of the user’s home directory). Unfortunately, not all the desktop components adhered to this specification. As a result, getting the Appearance Settings application to work involved quite a bit of kludging things about under the hood, and one of these kludges was to always keep a local copy of each of the configuration files and to ignore the global versions.

This worked, but it had the undesirable side effect that any time we wanted to update the appearance of the desktop, we had to delete all the local configuration files so they could be replaced by the new ones, and this meant that any changes the user had made to the configuration were lost. This was quite annoying for many people, so with this release, we’ve tried to stop doing that!

Most of the desktop components have now been modified so that they correctly read the global configuration files, and for future releases, we are going to try to just modify the global versions of these files and not touch the local ones. If we update the configuration, you will see a message informing you that this has happened, but your local files will be left unchanged. To make sure you get the latest configuration, launch Appearance Settings and choose one of the buttons on the “Defaults” tab; doing this will set your desktop to our currently recommended defaults. But if you want to stick with what you’ve already got, just don’t do that! You can even try the new defaults out: press one of the defaults buttons, and if you don’t like the results, just hit Cancel, and your previous configuration will be restored.

Raspbian update screenshot

One final point on this: in order to get this all to work properly in future, we have had to delete a few local files on this occasion. These are files that most people will never have modified anyway, so this will hopefully not present any problems. But just in case, they have been backed up in the oldconffiles subdirectory of the user’s home directory.

Multiple images

When I first started working on Raspbian, the desktop image file was just under 1GB in size. This has gradually crept up over the years, and now it’s around 1.75GB. While downloading a file of this size isn’t a significant problem for someone with fibre broadband, many people are on slower connections where such large downloads can take hours.

In order to try and address this, for all future releases we will now release two separate images. The default Raspbian release is now a minimal install — it gives you the desktop, the Chromium browser, the VLC media player, Python, and some accessory programs. Running alongside this is the “Raspbian Full” image, which also includes all our recommended programs: LibreOffice, Scratch, SonicPi, Thonny, Mathematica, and various others.

The Recommended Software program that we launched in the last release can be used to install or uninstall any of the additional programs that are in the full image; if you download the minimal image and check all the options in Recommended Software, you will end up with the full image, and vice versa.

Raspbian update screenshot

Hopefully, this means that downloading Raspbian will be easier for people on slower connections, and that you can easily add just the programs you want. The full image is provided for everyone who wants to get everything in one go, or who won’t have access to the internet to download additional programs once their Pi is up and running.

We’ll also continue to produce the existing Raspbian Lite image for people who only want a command-line version with no desktop.

Update Raspbian

Both the new images are available to download from the usual place on our site.

To update an existing image, open a terminal window and use the usual commands:

sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get dist-upgrade

To install the new VLC media player from a terminal, enter:

sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install vlc

As ever, all feedback is welcome, so please leave a comment below!

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New product: Raspberry Pi 3 Model A+ on sale now at $25

TL;DR: you can now get the 1.4GHz clock speed, 5GHz wireless networking and improved thermals of Raspberry Pi 3B+ in a smaller form factor, and at the smaller price of $25. Meet the Raspberry Pi 3 Model A+.

New Product Alert: Raspberry Pi 3A+

You can now get the 1.4GHz clock speed, 5GHz wireless networking and improved thermals of Raspberry Pi 3B+ in a smaller form factor, and at the smaller price of $25. Meet the Raspberry Pi 3 Model A+.

Raspberry Pi 3 Model A+

Long-time readers will recall that back in 2014 the original Raspberry Pi 1 Model B+ was followed closely by a cut-down Model A+. By halving the RAM to 256MB, and removing the USB hub and Ethernet controller, we were able to hit a lower price point, and squeeze the product down to the size of a HAT.

Raspberry Pi 3 Model A+

Small but perfectly formed

Although we didn’t make A+ form-factor versions of Raspberry Pi 2 or 3, it has been one of our most frequently requested “missing” products. Now, with Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+ shipping in volume, we’re able to fill that gap by releasing Raspberry Pi 3 Model A+.

Phenomenal cosmic powers! Itty-bitty living space

Raspberry Pi 3 Model A+ incorporates most of the neat enhancements we made to its big brother, and features:

  • A 1.4GHz 64-bit quad-core ARM Cortex-A53 CPU
  • 512MB LPDDR2 SDRAM
  • Dual-band 802.11ac wireless LAN and Bluetooth 4.2/BLE
  • Improved USB mass-storage booting
  • Improved thermal management

Like its big brother, the entire board is certified as a radio module under FCC rules, which in turn will significantly reduce the cost of conformance testing Raspberry Pi–based products.

In some ways this is rather a poignant product for us. Back in March, we explained that the 3+ platform is the final iteration of the “classic” Raspberry Pi: whatever we do next will of necessity be less of an evolution, because it will need new core silicon, on a new process node, with new memory technology. So 3A+ is about closing things out in style, answering one of our most frequent customer requests, and clearing the decks so we can start to think seriously about what comes next.

Just in case

Our official cases for Raspberry Pi 3B and 3B+ and Raspberry Pi Zero have been very popular, so of course we wanted to offer a case for this new device.

Raspberry Pi 3 Model A+ in case without lid
Raspberry Pi 3 Model A+ in case without lid
Raspberry Pi 3 Model A+ in case

Unfortunately it’s not quite ready yet, but as you can see it’s rather pretty: we’re expecting it to be available from the start of December, just in time to serve as a stocking filler for the geek in your life.

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The National Centre for Computing Education: your questions answered

Last week was a very exciting week for us, with the announcement of the National Centre for Computing Education: funded programmes for computing teachers and students for the next four years, to really support the growth and profile of our subject. For me and many others involved in this field over the last decade, it’s an amazing opportunity to have this level of financial support for Computing — something we could previously only dream of. Everybody at Raspberry Pi is very excited about being involved in this important work!

Some background

A new Computing curriculum was introduced in England in September 2014, and it comprises three strands: computer science, information technology, and digital literacy. The latter two have been taught in schools for many years, but the computer science strand had not been taught in schools to the pre-16 age group since the 1980s.

Two Royal Society reports have been widely influential. Firstly, the Shut Down or Restart report (2012) instigated the curriculum change. To support teachers implementing the new curriculum, the CAS Network of Excellence received a modest amount of funding from 2013–2018; the network has had a great impact on the field already, but clearly more government input was needed. The second report, After the Reboot (2017), evaluated current computing education in schools in the UK. It highlighted the challenges faced by teachers who felt unprepared to deliver the Computing curriculum, and recommended that significant government funding be provided to support teachers — and this has now happened! The new programme gives us the opportunity to reach all computing teachers, and to make massive improvements to computing education around the country.

What is the National Centre?

The National Centre, together with specific support for GCSE and A-Level Computer Science, is a government-funded programme of training and support for computing education. It will lead to a great education in the subject for every child from the beginning of primary school to the end of secondary school, enabling them to develop the valuable skills they need, whether or not they choose computing-related careers.

Since last week’s announcement, I’ve received lots of questions from teachers and others about exactly what will be happening and who will be doing the work, and I’ve gathered together answers to many of these questions here. Read on to learn more about our plans.

Key Stages 1–3 and non-GCSE Key Stage 4

If you are a primary teacher or a secondary teacher at Key Stage 3 or non-GCSE KS4, delivering Computing, either as a classroom teacher or as a specialist, you will be able to access professional learning opportunities (CPD) and resources in your region. Initially these will be available via partners working with us, and from September 2019, you will be able to access them via 40 Computing Hubs.

You will be able to register for a certificate and work towards it through a range of activities, working with colleagues and in your region. There will also be a range of online courses to support you at your own pace. Some of these are available now, and many more are to be launched over the next two years.

GCSE Computer Science

If you teach GCSE Computer Science, or you’d like to, there is a unique programme just for you. Bursaries will be available to enable you to take a series of face-to-face and online courses that best suit your needs: these will range from courses aimed at the completely new-to-GCSE teacher to advanced courses for more experienced teachers who are aiming to stretch and challenge students and to hone their subject knowledge.

two young people coding at a computer

The online courses will be free for everyone, forever. There will be a diagnostic test to help you plan your journey, and a final assessment to measure your success. You’ll be able to sign up for this programme from January.

A Level Computer Science

If you teach A Level Computer Science, or would like to, you will have access to comprehensive resources for students and teachers. There will also be a range of face-to-face events for both students and teachers. These will be starting shortly, so watch out for more news!

It will take a few months for the Computing Hubs and CPD provision to be available at scale, but in the meantime, there is much within our existing networks that computing teachers can engage with right now: CAS hubs and other events, Code Clubs in schools, STEM Learning training, and our online courses are some examples.

Building our team

We also announced last week that we are looking for new team members to implement our part of the work.

Developing resources, courses, and publications

Our role involves developing a comprehensive set of resources, lesson plans, and schemes of work from Key Stages 1–4, drawing on the best of existing materials plus some new ones. We will also develop all the online courses. We need content writers to help us with both of these areas. We are working on producing newsletters, case studies, and other publications about evidence-based practice, and this will also be part of the new team’s work. At the Raspberry Pi Foundation, we will be leading on the A Level Computer Science programme content, so we have opportunities for people with the skills and experience to focus on this area.

Many of these roles are available if you want to work remotely, but more senior jobs will involve regular days in Cambridge. We also have fixed-term, part-time work available. You can find all our current job openings on this page.

Finally, as a team, we want to visit lots of schools to see what you need and listen to your thoughts, so that we can get our work right for you. If you’d like to support us in that, please get in touch by emailing sue@raspberrypi.org.

Hubs, face-to-face training, and certification

STEM Learning, one of our two consortium partners, will be commissioning the 40 Hubs, and they will also be responsible for face-to-face training. The Hubs will become centres of excellence for computing, where teachers can find regional support. Existing CAS (Computing At School) communities will be linked to the 40 Hubs, and CAS Hubs will also play a really important part in the new structure. Our other partner, BCS, will be supporting certification, building on the work they have already done with the BCS Certificate in Computer Science Teaching.

You will be able to access everything you need on the website of the National Centre for Computing Education, where you’ll soon be able to learn where to find your Computing Hub or local CAS communities and discover what is happening in your region.

Across the consortium we have teams of people who are deeply committed to computing, to Computing At School (CAS), and to teaching; most have of us recent teaching experience ourselves. Our first priority is to work with teachers collegially to meet your needs and make life easier for you. So follow the National Centre on Twitter, talk to us, and give us your feedback!

Outside England?

This post has been all about teachers in England, but our free online resources will be available to anyone, anywhere in the world. If you want to talk to us about the needs in your country, do get in touch.

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Three-factor authentication is the new two-factor authentication

Two-factor authentication continues to provide our online selves with more security for our email and online banking. Meanwhile, in the physical world, protecting our valuables is now all about three-factor authentication.

A GIF of a thumbprint being scanned for authentication - three-factor authentication

Not sure what I mean? Here’s a video from Switched On Network that demonstrates how to use a Raspberry Pi to build a three-factor door lock comprised of an RFID keyring, 6-digit passcode, and one-time access code sent to your mobile phone.

Note that this is a fairly long video, so feel free to skip it for now and read my rather snazzy tl;dr. You can come back to the video later, with a cup of tea and 20 minutes to spare. It’ll be worth it, I promise.

Build a Raspberry Pi Smart Door Lock Security System with Three Factor Authentication!

https://amzn.to/2A98EaZ (UK) / https://amzn.to/2LDlxyc (US) – Get a free audiobook with a 30-day trial of Audible from Amazon! Build the ultimate door lock system, effectively turning your office or bedroom into a high-security vault!

The tl;dr of three-factor door locks by Alex Bate

To build Switched On Network’s three-factor door lock, you need to source a Raspberry Pi 3, a USB RFID reader and fob, a touchscreen, a electronic door strike, and a relay switch. You also need a few other extras, such as a power supply and a glue gun.

A screenshot from the three-factor authentication video of a glue gun

Once you’ve installed the appropriate drivers (if necessary) for your screen, and rotated the display by 90 degrees, you can skip ahead a few steps by installing the Python script from Switched On Network’s GitHub repo! Cheers!

A screenshot from the three-factor authentication video of the screen attached to the Pi in portrait mode

Then for the physical build: you need to attach the door strike, leads, and whatnot to the Pi — and all that together to the door and door frame. Again, I won’t go into the details, since that’s where the video excels.

A screenshot from the video of the components of the three-factor authentication door lock

The end result is a superior door lock that requires you to remember both your keys and your phone in order to open it. And while we’d never suggest using this tech to secure your house from the outside, it’s a perfect setup for inside doors to offices or basement lairs.

A GIF of Dexter from Dexter's Laboratory

Everyone should have a lair.

Now go watch the video!

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I feel the earth move under my feet (in Michigan)

The University of Michigan is home to the largest stadium in the USA (the second-largest in the world!). So what better place to test for spectator-induced seismic activity than The Big House?

The Big House stadium in Michigan

The Michigan Shake

University of Michigan geology professor Ben van der Pluijm decided to make waves by measuring the seismic activity produced during games at the university’s 107601 person-capacity stadium. Because earthquakes are (thankfully) very rare in the Midwest, and therefore very rarely experienced by van der Pluijm’s introductory geology class, he hoped this approach would make the movement of the Earth more accessible to his students.

“The bottom line was, I wanted something to show people that the Earth just shakes from all kinds of interactions,” explained van der Pluijm in his interview with The Michigan Daily. “All kinds of activity makes the Earth shake.”

The Big House stadium in Michigan

To measure the seismic activity, van der Pluijm used a Raspberry Pi, placing it on a flat concrete surface within the stadium.

Van der Pluijm installed a small machine called a Raspberry Pi computer in the stadium. He said his only requirements were that it needed to be able to plug into the internet and set up on a concrete floor. “Then it sits there and does its thing,” he said. “In fact, it probably does its thing right now.”

He then sent freshman student Sahil Tolia to some games to record the moments of spectator movement and celebration, so that these could be compared with the seismic activity that the Pi registers.

We’re not sure whether Professor van der Pluijm plans on releasing his findings to the outside world, or whether he’ll keep them a close secret with his introductory students, but we hope for the former!

Build your own Raspberry Pi seismic activity reader

We’re not sure what other technology van der Pluijm uses in conjunction with the Raspberry Pi, but it’s fairly easy to create your own seismic activity reader using our board. You can purchase the Raspberry Shake, an add-on board for the Pi that has vertical and horizontal geophones, MEMs accelerometers, and omnidirectional differential pressure transducers. Or you can fashion something at home, for example by taking hints from this project by Carlo Cristini, which uses household items to register movement.

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Anatomy of a product quality issue: PoE HAT

One of the neat new features of the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+ is its support for IEEE 802.3af Power-over-Ethernet (PoE). This standard allows up to 13W of power to be delivered over the twisted pairs in an Ethernet cable without interfering with the transmission of data. The Raspberry Pi board itself provides a PoE-capable Ethernet jack and circuit protection components; the power regulation electronics, which would be too costly and bulky to include on the main board, live on a separate HAT.

Raspberry Pi PoE HAT Power over ethernet

The Raspberry Pi 3B+ wearing a PoE HAT

When we announced the 3B+, we revealed that an official Raspberry Pi PoE HAT was in the works and, after a few unforeseen production delays, we we released this HAT at the end of August. Feedback was, and remains, generally very positive; but fairly quickly, we started to see some reports from users who were experiencing issues.

The problem

The problem they reported was this: when powering certain Raspberry Pi units via the PoE HAT, it was not possible to draw the full rated current from the USB ports.

Our 5V USB output, denoted VBUS, is fed by the main 5V rail via a current-limiting switch. This switch is designed to protect the system by detecting short-circuit, over-current, or reverse-voltage events, and disconnecting the USB ports in response. Our current-limiting switch is set to a limit of just over 1A.

Despite the PoE HAT’s ability to supply up to 2.5A, the experiments we ran in response to the reports suggested that, when it was used to supply some boards, the USB supply would trip out at a much lower current. Mice and keyboards worked fine, but higher-current devices such as wireless dongles and hard disks would fail.

Our initial theory was that the PoE HAT was injecting noise into the Pi via the 5V rail, and that this was somehow upsetting the switch. However, we were able to rule this out, since we found no evidence of high-frequency noise at the input to the switch. Another theory was that the flyback transformer’s close physical proximity to the switch was somehow coupling noise in. But we were able to rule this out as well: we showed that the behaviour persisted when the HAT was connected using a right-angle header, which moves the power electronics away from the Raspberry Pi.

What was happening?

The PoE HAT works by converting the incoming 48V from the Ethernet lines to 5V using a flyback transformer. In simple terms, the primary side of the transformer is switched across the 48V, and energy is stored in the transformer in the form of a magnetic field. The primary is then disconnected and the magnetic field collapses. This changing magnetic field induces a voltage (scaled based on the transformer turns ratio) in the secondary, which is rectified by a schottky diode and output capacitance. This output capacitance is formed from the output capacitors on the PoE HAT itself, the capacitors on the Raspberry Pi 5V rail, and, when the switch is on, the VBUS reservoir capacitors.

The switching frequency of the flyback transformer is relatively low (~100 kHz). This means that when the system is under load, each switching cycle must transfer a relatively large amount of energy. During each cycle, the 5V rail is discharged according to the load on the system, and charged up again by the flyback’s secondary, dumping more energy into the caps. In each cycle, a spike of high current is pushed through the output diode into the capacitors.

To cut a long story short, putting a current probe on the input to switch showed large current spikes, as energy from the flyback made its way into the VBUS reservoir capacitors. This was expected. However, it turned out that the switch was erroneously registering these spikes as true over-current events. The switch is supposed to have a filter that allows it to ignore brief spikes, but we discovered that only one of the two approved versions of the switch did this correctly.

Current into switch (yellow) and VBUS voltage (blue)

If it’s not been tested, it’s broken

It’s a truism that if you don’t test an aspect of a design, it will certainly be broken. Those of us with a Broadcom background sometimes refer to this as Alan Morgan’s rule, after its most enthusiastic proponent.

Extensive testing over all configurations, operating parameters, and use cases is the only way to minimise the likelihood of releasing a product with a hardware issue. Even relatively simple hardware can end up catching you out by throwing up some unexpected bug or issue. And even the big guys with huge development teams and test labs occasionally mess things up — anyone remember the Pentium FDIV bug?

We made several mistakes with the first version of the PoE HAT:

  • USB load testing was performed using boards that had the working switch
  • Our field testing programme was abbreviated because the product was late
  • We didn’t inquire as to whether our field testers were using high-current peripherals (they weren’t)

It’s embarrassing to have released a product with a bug like this, but it’s a lesson well-learned, and we will be improving our internal processes to prevent a recurrence.

The solution

Fortunately, this bug turned out to be easy to fix. We designed an L-C filter to apply further smoothing to the output current from the HAT. The filter consists of a little extra input and output capacitance and a 4.7µH inductor (chosen to have a suitable current rating and DC resistance), as well as 330mR resistor in parallel to provide damping. We were even able to wrap the mod up in a little mezzanine PCB that fits neatly underneath the board.

The original, un-modded board

Hand-modded board with L-C filter

Final board with mezzanine

Once we had confirmed that there was a problem with the PoE HAT, we took the product off sale, and recalled and reworked the outstanding units. We are now happy to announce that most Approved Resellers should now have the revised boards in stock. We believe that most people who have been affected by this issue have already returned their PoE HATs for a refund; if you’re experiencing issues and haven’t yet returned your product, you can get in touch with your reseller to arrange a replacement.

I’d like to thank the members of the Raspberry Pi engineering team, our contract manufacturing partners Taijie, our licensee partners and Approved Resellers, and also the community members who kindly tested prototypes of the fixed board design. This hasn’t been the easiest product launch in our history, but hopefully the lessons learned have set us up well for the future.

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Wireframe issue 1 is out now!

Wireframe is our new twice-monthly magazine that lifts the lid on video games. In Wireframe, we look at how games are made, who makes them, and how you can make games of your own. And today, we’re releasing our very first issue!

Wireframe: the new magazine that lifts the lid on video games

Uploaded by Raspberry Pi on 2018-11-07.

The inaugural issue

In issue 1, Far Cry 4 director Alex Hutchinson talks to us about going indie. We look back at the British games industry’s turbulent early years; we explore how curves and probabilities shape the games we play; and we get hands-on with Nomada Studio’s forthcoming ethereal platformer, Gris.

Wireframe magazine

Plus:

  • Jessica Price on the state of game criticism
  • Portal squeezed onto the Commodore 64
  • Treasure — the iconic game studio at 25
  • Gone Home’s Kate Craig on indie game design workarounds
  • And much, much more…

About Wireframe magazine

Cutting through the hype, Wireframe takes a more indie-focused, left-field angle than traditional games magazines. As well as news, reviews, and previews, we bring you in-depth features that uncover the stories behind your favourite games.

Wireframe magazine

And on top of all that, we also help you create your own games! Our dedicated Toolbox section is packed with detailed tutorials and tips to guide you in your own game development projects.

wireframe issue 1 cover

Raspberry Pi is all about making computing accessible to everyone, and in Wireframe, we show you how programming, art, music, and design come together to make the video games you love to play — and how you can use these elements to build games yourself.

Free digital edition

We want everyone to enjoy Wireframe and learn more about creating video games, so from today, you’ll also be able to download a digital copy of issue 1 of Wireframe for free. Get all the features, guides, and lively opinion pieces of our paper-and-ink edition as a handy PDF from our website.

Wireframe in the wild

You can find the print edition of Wireframe issue 1 in select UK newsagents and supermarkets from today, priced at just £3. Subscribers also save money on the cover price, with an introductory offer of twelve issues for just £12.

For more information, and to find out how to order Wireframe from outside the UK, visit wfmag.cc.

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A world-class computing education

I am delighted to share some big news today. The Raspberry Pi Foundation is part of a consortium that has secured over £78 million in government funding to make sure every child in every school in England has access to a world-leading computing education.

National Centre for Computing Education

Working with our partners, STEM Learning and the British Computer Society, we will establish a new National Centre for Computing Education, and deliver a comprehensive programme of support for computing teachers in primary and secondary schools. This will include resources, training, research, certification, and more.

A teacher works at a computer, smiling delightedly. Another adult, standing in the background, observes. national centre for computing education

All of the online resources and courses will be completely free for anyone to use. Face-to-face training will be available at no cost to teachers in priority schools, and at very low cost to teachers in other schools. We will also provide bursaries to ensure that schools can release teachers to take part in professional development.

Several children, some smiling broadly and some concentrating intently, work with Raspberry PI computers and electronic components in a classroom

An unprecedented level of investment

This level of investment in computing education is unprecedented anywhere in the world. It is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to transform the way we teach computing and computer science.

The announcement follows the Royal Society’s report from last November, which drew attention to the scale of the challenge. The report was quickly followed by a commitment from the Chancellor in last year’s budget statement that the government would invest £100 million in computing education across the UK. Earlier this year, the Department for Education launched a procurement process focused on England, and today’s announcement is the outcome of that process.

national centre for computing education

The consortium has been tasked with delivering three pieces of work:

  • A National Centre for Computing Education, which will establish a network of Computing Hubs to provide continuing professional development (CPD) and resources for computing teachers in primary and secondary schools and colleges. The Centre will also facilitate strong links with industry.
  • A teacher training programme to upskill existing teachers to teach GCSE Computer Science.
  • A programme to support AS- and A-level Computer Science students and teachers with high-quality resources and CPD.

national centre for computing education

A powerful coalition

One of the things I am most excited about is the amazing coalition of partners that has come together around the plans. The consortium brings together subject expertise and knowledge, significant experience of creating brilliant learning experiences and resources, and a track record of delivering high-quality professional development for educators. But we can’t do it on our own.

For example, we’re working with the University of Cambridge team that created Isaac Physics to adapt and extend that platform and programme to support teachers and students of Computer Science A Level.

Our friends at Google have provided practical support and a grant of £1 million to help us create free online courses that will help teachers develop the knowledge and skills to teach computing and computer science.

national centre for computing education

We’re working with the Behavioural Insights Team to make it as easy as possible for teachers to get involved with the programme, and with FutureLearn to provide high-quality online courses.

We’ll also be working in partnership with industry, universities, and non-profits, pooling our expertise and resources to provide the support that educators and schools desperately want. That’s not just a vague promise. As part of the bid process, we secured specific commitments from over 60 organisations who pledged to work with us to make our vision a reality.

A woman and a man sit at a desk, evidently collaborating on work on a laptop. The woman is smiling and the man is grinning and making an "A-OK" hand gesture.

Get involved

Over the coming weeks we’ll be sharing more about our plans. In the meantime, here’s how you can get involved:

  1. Check out the launch website for the National Centre for Computing Education and register your email for updates.
  2. Spread the word to teachers, school leaders, industry, non-profits, and anyone else you think might be interested. Send them a link to this blog, or share it on social media.
  3. Help us find amazing, talented people who can join the team to bring this all to life.

national centre for computing education

A message to readers outside England

Improving computing education should be a priority for every education system and every government in the world. This announcement is focused on computing in schools in England because it’s about funding that has come from the government for that purpose.

I am proud that the Raspberry Pi Foundation will be playing its part in transforming computing education in England. But our mission is global, and our commitment is that the resources and online courses we create will be freely available to anyone, anywhere in the world.

If you are a policy maker outside of England and want to talk about how we could collaborate to advance computing education in your country, please get in touch. We’d love to help.

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Can’t Drive This, the 4D arcade machine

A Raspberry Pi–powered arcade display with hidden interactive controls won over the crowds at Gamescom. Rosie Hattersley and Rob Zwetsloot got the inside scoop.

Pixel Maniacs is a Nuremberg-based games maker that started out making mobile apps. These days it specialises in games for PC, Xbox One, PlayStation, and Nintendo Switch. You Can’t Drive is its first foray into gaming with a Raspberry Pi.

If you’re going to add a little something extra to wow the crowd at the Gamescom video games trade fair, a Raspberry Pi is a surefire way of getting you noticed. And that’s the way Pixel Maniacs went about it.

The Nuremberg-based games developer retrofitted an arcade machine with a Raspberry Pi to showcase its intentionally silly Can’t Drive This precarious driving game at Gamescom.

This two-player co-operative game involves one player building the track while the other drives along it.

Complete with wrecking balls, explosions, an inconvenient number of walls, and the jeopardy of having to construct your road as you negotiate your way, at speed, across an ocean to the relative safety of the next lump of land, Can’t Drive This is a fast‑paced racing game.

Splash action

Pixel Maniacs then took things up a notch by providing interactive elements, building a mock 4D arcade game (so-named because they feature interactive elements such as motion cabinets). The fourth dimension, in this case, saw the inclusion of a water spray, fan, and console lights. For its Gamescom debut, Pixel Maniacs presented Can’t Drive This in a retro arcade cabinet, where hordes of gaming fans gathered round its four-way split screen to enjoy the action.

Getting to the heart of the matter and replacing the original 1980s kit with modern-day processors and Pi-powered additions

Adding Raspberry Pi gaming to the mix was about aiding the game development process as much as anything. Andy Holtz, Pixel Maniacs’ software engineer, told The MagPi that the team wanted an LED matrix with 256 RGB LEDs to render sprite-sheet animations. “We knew we needed a powerful machine with enough RAM, and a huge community, to get the scripts running.”

Pixel Maniacs’ offices have several Raspberry Pi–controlled monitors and a soundboard, so the team knew the Pi’s potential.

The schematic for the 4D arcade machine, showing the importance of the Raspberry Pi as a controller.

The arcade version of the game runs off a gaming laptop cunningly hidden within the walls of the cabinet, while the Raspberry Pi delivers the game’s surprise elements such as an unexpected blast from a water spray. A fan can be triggered to simulate stormy weather, and lights start flashing crazily when the cars crash. Holtz explains that the laptop “constantly sends information about the game’s state to the Raspberry Pi, via a USB UART controller. The Pi reads these state messages, converts them, and sends according commands to the fans, water nozzle, camera, and the LED light matrix. So when players drive through water, the PC sends the info to the Pi, and [the latter] turns on the nozzle, spraying them.”

Having played your heart out, you get a photo-booth-style shot of you in full-on gaming action.

The arcade idea came about when Pixel Maniacs visited the offices of German gaming magazine M! Games and spied an abandoned, out-of-order 1980s arcade machine lurking unloved in a corner. Pixel Maniacs set about rejuvenating it, Da Doo Ron Ron soundtrack and all.

Sustained action

Ideas are one thing; standing up to the rigours of a full weekend’s uninterrupted gameplay at the world’s biggest games meet is something else. Holtz tells us, “The Raspberry Pi performed like a beast throughout the entire time. Gamescom was open from 9am till 8pm, so it had to run for eleven hours straight, without overheating or crashing. Fortunately, it did. None of the peripherals connected to the Pi had any problems, and we did not have a single crash.”

A Raspberry Pi 3B+ was used to trigger the water spray, lights, and fans, bringing an extra element to the gameplay, as well as rendering the arcade machine’s graphics.

Fans were enthusiastic too, with uniformly positive feedback, and one Gamescom attendee attempting to buy the arcade version there and then. As Andy Holtz says, though, you don’t sell your baby. Instead, Pixel Maniacs is demoing it at games conventions in Germany this autumn, before launching Can’t Drive This across gaming platforms at the end of the year.

This article was printed in The MagPi issue 75. Get your copy of The MagPi in stores now, or download it as a free PDF here.

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Raspberry Pi would like you to remember…

…remember, the 5th of November. Happy Guy Fawkes Night, Bonfire Night, Fireworks Night…Day!

A brief history of the Gunpowder Plot

In 1605, York-born Guy Fawkes was arrested, along with other conspirators of the Gunpowder Plot, for their attempt to blow up the House of Lords that, at the time, was occupied by members of parliament, including King James I.

To celebrate their king surviving the attempt on his life, residents of London lit bonfires, and this became a recognised custom across England on every 5 November to follow. 413 years on, we continue the tradition by burning effigies of Guy Fawkes on bonfires, setting off fireworks, and eating over-priced hotdogs while getting a little tipsy on mulled cider at council-organised events.

Guy Fawkes, in case you’re wondering, was sentenced to death and, after breaking his neck while climbing the gallows, was quartered, and his body parts were distributed to the four corners of the kingdom — another tradition at the time. Good thing we haven’t kept that one going!

Bonfire Night and Raspberry Pi

“Okay, Alex, we get it. You like Bonfire Night. But what has this got to do with Raspberry Pi?”

I’m glad you asked.

While I do enjoy Bonfire Night, I’m not a massive fan of too many fireworks. Or rather, I’m not a fan of the way too many fireworks upset my cat Jimmy.

So when I saw this cute digital fireworks display by Mike ‘Recantha’ Horne, I cheered with delight. He says:

This is a nice little project that I wrote the code for a couple of Sundays ago. It uses the Pimoroni Mote to appear as fireworks and then uses Pygame to play the sound of fireworks as each Mote stick ‘explodes’ in a shower of sparkles! You can see the effect in the video below and see the code here. You can get hold of your own Mote from Pimoroni. This is all in aid of the Milton Keynes Raspberry Jam on 10 November, which is a “Fireworks Special”!

Mike’s project is a great example of using tech to overcome an everyday issue — in this case, letting me have pretty flashing lights in the dark that don’t scare my cat but still make me go “Oooh!” and “Aaah!”.

Fireworks on the Raspberry Pi with the Pimoroni Mote

Uploaded by Michael Horne on 2018-10-28.

If you’ve created any similar indoor versions of usually outdoor activities using a Raspberry Pi, now is the time to share them with us, either in the comments below or on social media.

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Brand-new books from The MagPi and HackSpace magazine

Hey folks, Rob from The MagPi here! Halloween is over and November has just begun, which means CHRISTMAS IS ALMOST HERE! It’s never too early to think about Christmas — I start in September, the moment mince pies hit shelves.

Elf GIF

What most people seem to dread about Christmas is finding the right gifts, so I’m here to help you out. We’ve just released two new books: our Official Raspberry Pi Projects Book volume 4, and the brand-new Book of Making volume 1 from the team at HackSpace magazine!

Book of Making volume 1

HackSpace magazine book 1 - Raspberry Pi

Spoiler alert: it’s a book full of making

The Book of Making volume 1 contains 50 of the very best projects from HackSpace magazine, including awesome project showcases and amazing guides for building your own incredible creations. Expect to encounter trebuchets, custom drones, a homemade tandoori oven, and much more! And yes, there are some choice Raspberry Pi projects as well.

The Official Raspberry Pi Projects Book volume 4

The MagPi Raspberry pi Projects book 4

More projects, more guides, and more reviews!

Volume 4 of the Official Raspberry Pi Projects Book is once again jam-packed with Raspberry Pi goodness in its 200 pages, with projects, build guides, reviews, and a little refresher for beginners to the world of Raspberry Pi. Whether you’re new to Pi or have every single model, there’s something in there for you, no matter your skill level.

Free shipping? Worldwide??

You can buy the Book of Making and the Official Raspberry Pi Projects Book volume 4 right now from the Raspberry Pi Press Store, and here’s the best part: they both have free worldwide shipping! They also roll up pretty neatly, in case you want to slot them into someone’s Christmas stocking. And you can also find them at our usual newsagents.

Both books are available as free PDF downloads, so you can try before you buy. When you purchase any of our publications, you contribute toward the hard work of the Raspberry Pi Foundation, so why not double your giving this holiday season by helping us put the power of digital making into the hands of people all over the world?

Anyway, that’s it for now — I’m off for more mince pies!

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Dance magic, dance

 Firstly, I’d like to apologise for rickrolling you all yesterday. I would LIKE to, but I can’t — it was just too funny to witness.

But as I’m now somewhat more alive and mobile, here’s a proper blog post about proper things. And today’s proper thing is these awesome Raspberry Pi–powered dance costumes from students at a German secondary school:

In the final two years at German gymnasiums (the highest one of our secondary school types), every student has to do a (graded) practical group project. Our school is known for its superb dancing groups, which are formed of one third of the students (voluntarily!), so our computer science teacher suggested to make animated costumes for our big dancing project at the end of the school year. Around 15 students chose this project, firstly because the title sounded cool and secondly because of the nice teacher 😉.

Let me just say how lovely it is that students decided to take part in a task because of how nice the teacher is. If you’re a nice teacher, congratulations!

The students initially tried using Arduinos and LED strips for their costumes. After some failed attempts, they instead opted for a Raspberry Pi Zero WH and side-emitting fibre connected to single RGB LEDs — and the result is rather marvellous.

To power the LEDs, we then had to shift the voltage up from the 3.3V logic level to 12V. For this, we constructed a board to hold all the needed components. At its heart, there are three ULN2803A to provide enough transistors at the smallest possible space still allowing hand-soldering.

Using pulse-width modulation (PWM), the students were able to control the colour of their lights freely. The rest of the code was written during after-school meetups; an excerpt can be found here, along with a complete write-up of the project.

I’m now going to hand this blog post over to our copy editor, Janina, who is going to write up a translated version of the above in German. Janina, over to you…

[Ed. note: Nein, danke.]

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Trick or (the ultimate) treat!

I’ll keep today’s blog post short and sweet, because Liz, Helen, and I are all still under the weather.

Raspberry Pi 4!

Don’t tell Eben, Liz, or the rest of the team I showed you this, but here’s your Halloween ‘trick or treat’ gift: an exclusive sneak peek at the Raspberry Pi 4.

We’ll be back to our regularly scheduled programming from tomorrow.

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We have the plague

Apologies to our daily visitors (we love you guys); we don’t have a proper blog post for you today because we’re all really ill. (I have food poisoning, Helen is coughing up goo and can barely speak or breathe, and Alex is being sick.)

You’ve got a day until Halloween; if you’re looking for inspiration, we’ve got several years of archived spooky project posts for you to check out. And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go and have a little lie down.

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Astro Pi Mission Zero: guarantee your code’s place in space

Today is the official launch day of Astro Pi Mission Zero, part of the 2018–2019 European Astro Pi Challenge, an ESA Education programme run in collaboration with us at Raspberry Pi. In this challenge, students and young people get the chance to have their computer programs run in space on the International Space Station!

Astro Pi Mission Zero 2018/19

Text an astronaut!

Students and young people will have until 20 March 2019 to from teams and write a simple program to display their personal message to the astronauts onboard. The Mission Zero activity can be completed in a couple of hours with just a computer and an internet connection. You don’t need any special equipment or prior coding skills, and all participants that follow the guidelines are guaranteed to have their programs run in space.

Translations

This year, to help many more people take part in their native language, we have translated the Mission Zero resource, guidelines, and web page into 19 different languages! Head to our languages section to find your version of Mission Zero.

Take part in Astro Pi Mission Zero

To participate, the teams’ teacher or mentor needs to register for a classroom code that will let students submit their programs. Teams then follow our online resource to write their programs using the browser-based Trinket emulator: with just a few lines of Python, your team will create a program for one of the two Astro Pi computers aboard the ISS!

Astro Pi Mission Zero 2018/19

Each team’s program will run for 30 seconds aboard the Space Station, visible for all the astronauts including this year’s challenge ambassadors: ESA astronaut and ISS Commander Alexander Gerst and CSA astronaut David Saint-Jacques.

Astro Pi returns for a new 2018/19 challenge!

Ever wanted to run your own experiment in space? Then you’re in luck! ESA Education, in collaboration with the Raspberry Pi Foundation, is pleased to announce the launch of the 2018/2019 European Astro Pi Challenge!

Every team that submits a valid Mission Zero entry will also receive a certificate showing the flight path of the ISS above Earth at the exact time their code ran!

Astro Pi Mission Zero 2018/19

The challenge is open to teams of students and young people who are aged 14 years or younger (at the time of submission) and from ESA Member or Associate Member States*. The teams must have at least two and no more than four members, and they must be supervised by an adult teacher or mentor.

Have fun, and say hi to the astronauts from us!

About the European Astro Pi Challenge

The European Astro Pi Challenge is an ESA Education project run in collaboration with the Raspberry Pi Foundation. It offers students and young people the amazing opportunity to conduct scientific investigations in space by writing computer programs that run on Raspberry Pi computers on board the International Space Station (ISS). The Astro Pi Challenge is divided into two separate missions with different levels of complexity: Mission Zero (the basic mission), and Mission Space Lab (one step further). This year’s Mission Space Lab is closing for applications at the end of October. Click here for more information about it.

*ESA Member States in 2018:
Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom.

ESA Associate States in 2018: Canada, Slovenia
In the framework of the current collaboration agreement between ESA and the Republic of Malta, teams from Malta can also participate in the European Astro Pi Challenge. ESA will also accept entries from primary or secondary schools located outside an ESA Member or Associate State only if such schools are officially authorised and/or certified by the official Education authorities of an ESA Member or Associate State (for instance, French school outside Europe officially recognised by the French Ministry of Education or delegated authority).

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Wireframe: a new games magazine with a difference

We’re pleased to announce Wireframe: a new, £3, twice-monthly magazine that lifts the lid on video games.

Raspberry Pi is all about making computing accessible to everyone, and in Wireframe, we’ll show you how programming, art, music, and design come together to make the video games you love to play — and how you can use these elements to create games yourself.

Read on to find out how you can get a FREE physical copy of the first issue!

Wireframe magazine

Wireframe magazine — launching on 8 November

Cutting through the hype, Wireframe will have a more indie-focused, left-field angle than traditional games magazines. As well as news, reviews, and previews, we’ll have in-depth features that uncover the stories behind your favourite games, showing you how video games are made, and who makes them.

On top of all that, we’ll also help you discover how you can make games of your own. Our dedicated Toolbox section will be packed with detailed guides and tips to help you with your own game development projects.

Early-access offer: get a free copy of issue 1

Because we’re so excited about our new magazine, we’re offering you a free copy of Wireframe’s first issue! Simply sign up on our website before the 8 November (or while stocks last) to get yours.

Wireframe magazine

Click here to order your free copy of issue 1!

Each early-access edition of Wireframe will contain a rather tempting discount subscription offer, and will arrive around the time of launch (overseas deliveries may take longer, and may incur a small postage charge). Don’t hang around! Stocks are limited and once they’re gone, they’re gone.

Free digital edition

We want everyone to enjoy Wireframe and learn more about their favourite hobby, so you’ll be able to download a digital version of all issues of Wireframe for free. Get all the features, guides, and lively opinions of our first-ever paper-and-ink edition as a handy PDF from our website from 8 November.

Wireframe in the wild

You’ll find the print edition of Wireframe in select UK newsagents from 8 November, priced at just £3. Subscribers will save money on the cover price, with an introductory offer of 12 issues for just £12 launching at the same time as the magazine. For more information, and terms and conditions, transport yourself to the Wireframe website at wfmag.cc!

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Build your own robotic cat: Petoi returns

Who wouldn’t want a robot kitten? Exactly — we knew you’d understand! And so does the Petoi team, hence their new crowdfunding campaign for Petoi Nybble.

Petoi Nybble

Main campaign video. Back our Indiegogo campaign to adopt Nybble the robo kitten! Share with your friends who may love it! Indiegogo: https://igg.me/at/nybble A more technical post: https://www.hackster.io/RzLi/petoi-nybble-944867 Don’t forget to follow Twitter @PetoiCamp and subscribe to Petoi.com for our newsletters! Most importantly, enjoy our new kitten!

Petoi mark 2

Earlier this year, we shared the robotic cat project Petoi by Rongzhong Li. You all loved it as much as we did, and eagerly requested more information on making one.

Petoi Raspberry Pi Robot Cat

Rongzhong’s goal always was for Petoi to be open-source, so that it can be a teaching aid as much as it is a pet. And with his team’s crowdfunding campaign, he has made building your own robot cat even easier.

Petoi the laser-cut robotic cat

Laser kitty

In the new Nybble version of Petoi, the team replaced 3D-printed parts with laser-cut wood, and cut down the parts list to be more manageable: a Raspberry Pi 3B+, a Sparkfun Arduino Pro Mini, and the Nybble kit, available in the Nybble IndieGoGo campaign.

Petoi the laser-cut robotic cat

The Nybble kit! “The wooden frame is a retro design in honor of its popstick-framed ancestor. I also borrowed the wisdom from traditional Chinese woodwork (in honor of my ancestors), to make the major frame screw-free.”

But Nybble is more than just wooden parts and servo motors! The robotic cat’s artificial intelligence lets users teach it as well as control it,  so every kitty will be unique.

Nybble’s motion is driven by an Arduino-compatible micro-controller. It stores instinctive “muscle memory” to move around. An optional AI chip, such as a Raspberry Pi, can be mounted on top of Nybble’s back, to help Nybble with perception and decision. You can program in your favorite language, and direct Nybble to walk around simply by sending short commands, such as “walk” or “turn left”!

The NyBoard

For this version, the Petoi team has created he NyBoard, an all-in-one controller board for the Raspberry Pi. It’s available to back for $45 if you don’t want to pledge $200 for the entire cat kit.

Petoi the laser-cut robotic cat

Learn more

If you’d like to learn more about Nybble, visit its IndieGoGo campaign page, find more technical details on its Hackster.io project page, or check out the OpenCat GitHub repo.

Petoi the laser-cut robotic cat

And if you’ve built your own robotic pet, such as a K-9–inspired dog, or Raspberry Pi–connected android sheep, let us know!

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MagPi 75: 75 greatest projects, chosen by you

Hi folks, Rob from The MagPi here! A few weeks ago, we asked you to vote on your top 50 favourite Raspberry Pi projects from the last two-or-so years. We had thousands of responses, but there was one clear winner…and you can find out who that was in issue 75 of The MagPi, out tomorrow in stores, and available today online!

MagPi 75 Raspberry Pi magazine front cover

See who you folks voted for…

You heard right, the magazine is available a day early to download and buy online! Don’t say we never spoil you.

The community has voted

As well as counting down your 50 favourites, we’ve also got 25 other amazing projects selected by Eben Upton, Philip Colligan, Carrie Anne Philbin, and others!* Is your favourite project on the list?

MagPi 75 Raspberry Pi magazine

We don’t want to spoil the surprise — you’ll have to get the magazine to read the whole thing!

And there’s so much more!

On top of community favourites, we bring you a lot more in issue 75. This month we have a big feature on using the Raspberry Pi Camera Module, we show you ten of our favourite starter kits, and we also have a guide on building a secret radio chat device.

MagPi 75 Raspberry Pi magazine

Want to use the new Raspberry Pi TV HAT? We show you how.

All this along with news, reviews, community features, and competitions!

MagPi 75 Raspberry Pi magazine

See what we saw at Maker Faire New York!

Get The MagPi 75

You can get The MagPi 75 tomorrow from WHSmith, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, and Asda. If you live in the US, head over to your local Barnes & Noble or Micro Center in the next few days for a print copy. However, you can get the new issue online today! Check it out on our store, or digitally via our Android or iOS apps. And don’t forget, there’s always the free PDF.

Rolling subscription offer!

Want to support the Raspberry Pi Foundation and the magazine? You can now take out a monthly £5 subscription to the magazine, effectively creating a rolling pre‑order system that saves you money on each issue.

The MagPi subscription offer — The MagPi 75

You can also take out a twelve-month print subscription and get a Pi Zero W plus case and adapter cables absolutely free! This offer does not currently have an end date.

Thanks for sticking with The MagPi for 75 issues! Here’s to hundreds more.

*Oi, Zwetsloot, why wasn’t I asked?! – Alex

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Rescuing old cine film with Raspberry Pi Zero

When Electrical Engineer Alan Platt was given the task of converting old cine film to digital footage for his father-in-law’s 70th birthday, his first instinct was to look online.

converting cine film to digital footage with a Raspberry Pi Zero

“There are plenty of companies happy to convert old films”, he explains, “but they are all extremely expensive. In addition, you have to send your original films away by post, and there’s no way to guarantee that they’ll be safe in transit.”

Alan was given a box of Super 8 films covering 15 years of family holidays and memories. A huge responsibility, and an enormous challenge. Not content to let someone else do the hard work, Alan decided to convert the films himself — and learn how to program a Raspberry Pi at the same time.

converting cine film to digital footage with a Raspberry Pi Zero

Alan’s cine film digitising machine

The best-laid plans

Alan’s initial plan involved using his father-in-law’s cine projector as the base for the conversion process, but this soon proved impossible. There was no space in the projector to house both the film-playing mechanism, and the camera for the digitisation process. Further attempts to use the projector came to an end when, on powering it up for the first time, the 50-year-old machine produced a loud bang and a large cloud of smoke.

Undeterred, Alan examined the bust projector’s mechanism and decided to build his own. This began with a large eBay order: 3-D printed components from Germany, custom-shaped PTFE sheets from the UK, and optical lenses from China. For the skeleton of the machine, Alan’s box of Technic LEGO was dusted off and unpacked; an old TV was dug out of storage to interface with the Raspberry Pi Zero.

converting cine film to digital footage with a Raspberry Pi Zero

Experimentation: Technic LEGO, clamps, and Blu Tack hold the equipment together

The build commenced with several weeks of trial and error using scraps of cine film, a Camera Module, and a motor. With the Raspberry Pi Zero, Alan controlled the motion of the film through the machine, and took photos of each frame.

“At one point, setting the tension on the film required a helper to stand next to me, holding a sledgehammer connected to the pick-up reel. Moving the sledgehammer up or down varied the tension, and allowed me to work out what power of motor I would need to make the film run smoothly.”

He refined the hardware and software until the machine could produce reliable, focused, and stable images.

A slow process

Over a period of two months, the finished machine was used to convert all the cine films. The process involves loading a reel onto a Technic LEGO arm, feeding the film through the mechanism with tweezers, and winding the first section on to the pick-up reel. The Raspberry Pi controls a stepper motor and the Camera Module, advancing the film frame by frame and taking individual photos of each film cell. The film is backlit through a sheet of translucent PTFE serving as a diffuser; the Camera Module is focused by moving it up and down on its aluminium mounting.

converting cine film to digital footage with a Raspberry Pi Zero

Alan taught himself to program in Python while working on this project

Finally, Alan used Avidemux, a free video-editing program, to stitch all the images together into an MP4 digital film.

The verdict

“I’m incredibly proud of this machine”, Alan says. “It has taken more than a quarter of a million photos, digitised hundreds of meters of film — and taught me to program in Python. It demonstrates you don’t need to be an expert software engineer to make something really cool!”

And Alan’s father-in-law?

“He was thrilled! Being able to watch the films on his TV without having to set up the projector was fantastic. It was a great present!”

Here, exclusively for the Raspberry Pi blog, we present the first moments of footage to be digitised using Alan’s machine.

converting cine film to digital footage with a Raspberry Pi Zero

Gripping footage, filmed at Windsor Safari Park in 1983

Digital footage

Have you used a Raspberry Pi to digitise family memories? Do you have a box of Super 8 films in the attic, waiting for a machine like Alan’s?

Tell us about it in the comments!

Thanks again, Rachel

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Celebrating European Code Week with our annual EUDojo

On Wednesday 17 October, CoderDojo held the sixth annual EUDojo in the European Parliament in Brussels.

EUDojo 2018

EUDojo 2018

Since last year’s event, CoderDojo has grown significantly: we have almost 500 new Dojos, and our network now spreads to over 100 countries! We organised this year’s EUDojo to coincided with the annual Europe Code Week — also in its sixth year.

Our event was co-hosted by MEP Seán Kelly and the EPP party, and it was attended by MEPs from over ten European countries. The other attendees were Dojo volunteers and parents from across Europe, along with more than 40 young coders!

EUDojo 2018

These young people travelled to the EU Parliament from Italy, the United Kingdom, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Moldova, Romania, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, and Ireland to showcase their coding and technology skills. The kids presented technology projects they had created to the MEPs and sponsors, and they also taught MEPs to write their first lines of code!

Irish MEP Seán Kelly opened EUDojo and spoke of the pride he felt working with CoderDojo on such a special event. During the coding session, the young coders taught MEPs how to create a basic game using Scratch, and showed them how to build a website using HTML and CSS. Participants also learned how to program micro:bits, which created a fantastic buzz amongst the MEPs and their young tutors.

Coding projects to impress the MEPs

The CoderDojo youths made great use of this opportunity to showcase projects that they have made in their local Dojos for the politicians and sponsors.

Nadezhda from the Sofia Dojo in Bulgaria showed off a Scratch game she had built to test players’ agility skills, taking inspiration from river crossing puzzles.

EUDojo 2018 - Nadezhda from the Sofia Dojo in Bulgaria

Nadezhda from the Sofia Dojo in Bulgaria

Lucy Brennan and Caragh Bolger from the Waterford Dojo in Ireland presented two very different projects. Lucy demonstrated Piano Pal, a project she created to help people learn and practice to play the piano. Caragh Bolger presented her project How to make the world a better place, which is about the little things that make the world better.

EUDojo 2018

Lucy Brennan and Caragh Bolger from the Waterford Dojo in Ireland

Edward from Harrogate Dojo, UK, presented his project for encrypting and decrypting files in C++ .

EUDojo 2018 - Edward from the Harrogate Dojo

Edward from the Harrogate Dojo

Innovators of the future

Cabinet member Manuel Mateo Goyet discussed the importance of digital skills, highlighting the importance of encouraging girls to get involved. He noted that he was delighted to see just as many girls coding at EUDojo as boys, and that he was looking forward to sharing photos from the day with his daughter to encourage her too.

EUDojo 2018 - Cabinet member Manuel Mateo Goyet

Cabinet member Manuel Mateo Goyet

Karolina Telejko, SAP’s EU Government Relations Director, discussed their approach to training, lifelong learning, and building partnerships, and explained why EUDojo sponsor SAP decided to help spread coding skills around the world.

EUDojo 2018 - Karolina Telejko, SAP’s EU Government Relations Director

Karolina Telejko, SAP’s EU Government Relations Director

Derk Oldenburg of Liberty Global spoke about social innovation and how it is promoted by CoderDojo’s Future Makers Bento Box resources for young coders. He challenged young people around the world to find a social issue they care about and design a solution to it using technology.

EUDojo 2018 - Derk Oldenburg of Liberty Global

Derk Oldenburg of Liberty Global

Giving young people the space to become inventors

Giustina Mizzoni, Executive Director of the CoderDojo Foundation, hopes that this event will drive more organisations and public services to invest in young people’s technology skills.

“We are delighted to be co-hosting EU Dojo, the flagship CoderDojo Europe Code Week event, for the sixth year running. This event was made possible thanks to our partners Liberty Global and SAP, and the team at MEP Sean Kelly’s office. At this year’s event, we are marking the work of libraries and the significant contribution they make to the CoderDojo movement.”

EUDojo 2018 - Giustina Mizzoni, Executive Director of the CoderDojo Foundation

Giustina Mizzoni, Executive Director of the CoderDojo Foundation

“Today, as always, I was incredibly impressed by the young people’s projects. All of these projects had one thing in common: they were made using creativity! Learning how to code gives young people the opportunity to express themselves and develop their skills. I hope that, as a result of today, more library groups will be inspired to join the CoderDojo movement, and use their space to give more young people the opportunity to code, create, and learn about technology!”

Learn more about CoderDojo

If you’d like to find out more about CoderDojo, from their to starting a Dojo in your local area, visit the CoderDojo website. You can also sign up for our free three-week online training course, and learn everything you need to start a Dojo and help enable young people worldwide to create and explore technology together:

Start a CoderDojo || free online learning || Raspberry Pi Foundation

Get support and advice on how to grow your confidence in coding and start a CoderDojo for young people in your area.

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Source: Raspberry Pi – Celebrating European Code Week with our annual EUDojo