After the success of the last Southend Raspberry Jam back in March, and the Open Electronics Day at TAP last month, SoSLUG held their second ever Southend Raspberry Jam on Saturday.

You couldn’t have been surrounded by friendlier people at the Raspberry Jam. But that’s what happens when you put lots of people who share the same passions in the same building. You get Andy running around, introducing everybody by their Twitter handles, getting excited about the Raspberry Jam Twitter meetup!

It really was a beautifully sunny day that encouraged a lot of the socialising to be taken outside to bathe in the sun with a coffee, in between the talks and discussions inside. But that’s what was great: you could enjoy the sunshine with a stranger, then go back in for the next talk strangers no more.

SoSLUG Raspberry Jam at TAP

So… For those of you who are puzzled by what a Raspberry Pi even is…

What is a Raspberry Pi and what’s it doing in Southend-on-Sea?

So you can see why the Southend-on-Sea Linux User Group is head over heels in love with the Raspberry Pi. The capabilities of a Raspberry Pi are only limited by your imagination.

Pinnochion

At the last Open Electronics event, I was introduced to the Pinnochion by Laura (@lhtrevail). Or at least the disco version of the Pinnochion, that performed different programmed light shows using the PiGlow. This time round, she was showcasing Pinnochion’s true purpose – an artificially intelligent chatbot!

The idea behind Pinnochion is really quite fascinating. Pinnochion is a Raspberry Pi powered art project created to explore how people think computing works. And it surprisingly gets quite intense. You’re supposed to put a random personal possession, such as a pen or whatever inanimate object you have in your pocket, onto the box with cables attached. Then flip the switch so the light comes on. Then you’re supposed to talk to it via the text interface…

That’s where things can either get really fun and interesting, or really dark and sinister… The object that we’re supposedly talking to influences the things that we say and the way in which we react to the object.

The emphasis on the object you initially put onto the box, coupled with the act of flipping a switch and it almost coming to life under the light, implies that the object is somewhat significant. In fact, we’re even told that putting two objects up, one on each box, will give you a combined intelligence to converse with. When in reality?…

Highlight for spoilers -> It means nothing. The object is completely unnecessary. <- Highlight for spoilers

Pinnochion - Southend Raspberry Jam

Laura also uses a simplified “human” chatbot example as to how Pinnochion works. Two people will sit on either side of a translucent screen. One side symbolises the thought process behind the human, and the other symbolises the thought process of the computer sitting on the other side. The human scribbles a question or statement onto their card with a crayon and holds it up against the screen. The “computer” then has to search through their (in this case) alphabetised filing system for a correct response to that question, scribble the response onto their card and hold it up to the screen in reply. In the case of there being multiple correct responses, the computer can then select a random response from those appropriate to display.

Mark’s Awesome Robo-Cam Project

Mark's Robo-Cam Project

Mark Turner presented his Robo-Cam Project, that could be controlled remotely via a live webpage from anywhere in the world. You could control its motion, its lights, the robot arm and its gripper – all from your mobile phone or tablet! The robot itself is coded and powered by the Raspberry Pi.

He also had an autonomous robot (similar looking to Wall-E) that follows and responds to light using its light sensor antennae. He somewhat jokingly said that the mass of the robot is mainly made up of batteries. “And Lego!”, his son enthusiastically added. The idea of using Lego and toys as a robot base is fantastic, as toys are generally quite inexpensive (and far more fun!) in comparison than most conventional alternatives.

Using the Raspberry Pi for Project Beeswax

Project Beeswax

Andy Lewis from Simul Systems Ltd gave a presentation on how the Raspberry Pi can be used with Mathematica to provide a mathematical solution to a real-world issue, such as his Project Beeswax which investigates how pollination can be improved using algorithms to optimise the location of the beehives. Andy is working with the Department of Mathematical Sciences at the University of Essex.

Coding music with the Sonic Pi!

Sonic Pi - Southend Raspberry Jam

Derek introduced us to Sonic Pi 2.0 – a programming environment that allows you to create and play around with music and sounds. You can loop sounds and samples, create different tunes and build your own synthesiser from scratch! It’s incredibly easy to pick up and play, with just a couple of commands, and tons of examples to duplicate and edit. It proved to be a very fun way of gently introducing young people to programming concepts, by producing immediate feedback on their code so that they can tinker around with it further.

Come to learn!

Cable Table and soldering at Raspberry Jam

No matter what you’re existing skills, there’s always something new to learn or to try at Southend Raspberry Jam.

The Cable Table was open to anyone who fancied trying their hand at creating their own cat5 ethernet cable! It was fiddly separating all of the wires to fit into the connector properly, but the process itself was quite therapeutic. And cabling participants got to leave the Jam with their very own ethernet cable that they made themselves! Far more rewarding than ordering one off eBay :)

Workshops were also open for those who wanted to learn to solder. By breaking this initial barrier of learning how to solder, it opens up a new world of possibilities for Raspberry Pi owners who can then go on to play with Open Electronics and solder additional components onto their Raspberry Pi. Learning to solder is the first step toward understanding Raspberry Pi hardware customisation and electronics, giving hobbyists a gateway into expanding their Raspberry Pi knowledge further and beyond the software.

Andy Knight gave a presentation on “Beginner GPIO and Flavours of Touch Sensing”. Having no background of electronics or anything electrical myself, the presentation was enthralling (that’s what newbies say when they mean “confusing”) and very informative. He explained that GPIO stands for General Purpose Input/Output and what diodes and resistors were. It was also explained what capacitance was exactly, and how the human body can store electrical charges.

Resistive and capacitive touch sensing

Later in the day, Andy also gave a fun demonstration of how children can begin learning Python programming eagerly via the popular game Minecraft. Minecraft has become a popular learning tool for young people wanting to get into programming, as EPIK demonstrated at the Essex is EPIK event in Southend a couple months ago. Minecraft company Mojang have created a Raspberry Pi version of Minecraft to make the introduction to modifying Minecraft with Python even easier. And Minecraft: Pi Edition is completely free! Andy showed us how we could create a castle bridge that auto-magically appears beneath our Minecraft character as we’re walking. And how to create huge castle towers all with a click of a button, that could be further expanded still within the code to even include different rooms and stairs in its structure generation for more advanced Minecraft coders. He even had a program that generated a flashing rainbow disco floor to any block surface he struck with his sword, much to the delight of the children present.

Minecraft Pi Edition Python

I also had a lot of fun playing the game Brick on Raspberry Pi, using a dial to move the paddle. An explanation of low-level programming was doodled for me, and I was shown how the analogue input from the dial was converted to digital in order to be able to play the game on the Raspberry Pi. Though the doodles were fantastic, low-level programming and assembly are unfortunately just way beyond my comprehension, no matter how many 1’s and 0’s are drawn for me… It was here that I was told about the PiCade, a mini retro arcade cabinet (complete with joystick and flashing buttons!) that you can hack together and program to play all of your favourite retro arcade games! Definitely on my list of things to try some day… The PiCade was also the first Kickstarter campaign to be launched in the UK!

And now some more about Kickstarter…

MyPiFi

My PiFi LED board Kickstarter

The Southend Raspberry Jam was also promoting the Kickstarter campaign of the MyPiFi LED board. An affordable Raspberry Pi LED board for beginners who are looking to get into electronics and programming. MyPiFi goes back to basics for soldering and programming beginners. For as little as £5, you can get the bare PCB board with a list of all the components to build it for yourself! An £8 pledge will get you the whole MyPiFi kit at RRP when the MyPiFi is officially released to the public!

Southend Raspberry Jam June 2014

Be sure not to miss the next Southend Raspberry Jam in August!

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