Robert Hampton

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2nd February 2015


The tech world is abuzz today – Raspberry Pi is back with a new, sexier upgrade:-

A new more powerful Raspberry Pi 2 that is six times faster than the original from 2012, has been launched by the Cambridge-based startup costing £23.30.

Good luck getting one. They’ve been selling fast, and servers at some of the online retailers are buckling under the demand.

The Pi, if you’re unfamiliar with it, is a £25 computer. Small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, but easily capable of running a variety of software. The Pi is leading the charge to get people (especially kids) interested in programming. Find a spare USB keyboard and mouse, then plug the Pi straight into the TV, just like the ZX Spectrums of old (although the Pi’s HDMI output is at a slightly higher-resolution). The idea is to have a cheap computer that can be tinkered with at will, without worries about breaking it. If something goes disastrously wrong, simply reformat the SD card and start again.

Although the target audience is kids, plenty of older geeks (ahem) have bought a Pi for their own pet projects. Pi has been used to run a home security system, create a retro game console, and even to create a DIY Ceefax service.

RISC OS Pi Desktop

I got an original Model B a couple of years ago. Everyone else put a flavour of Linux on it, but I went and whacked RISC OS on mine. That’s the OS I grew up with – first on an Acorn A3010, then a RiscPC which lasted nearly eight years (towards the end of its life it was held together by bits of superglue and gaffer tape). Apart from the odd game of Fervour, I was the archetypal teenage bedroom coder, churning out semi-functional BBC BASIC files week-in, week-out. My proudest moment was getting one of my apps onto the Acorn User cover disc.

Zap displaying BBC BASIC code on RISC OS Pi

I haven’t had much time recently to play with the Pi, but I’ve tried to set aside an hour or two each week to sit and do some coding. After the stress of dealing with our barely functional LAN at work, and the slog of studying three (3!) Open University computing modules, it’s nice to have a reminder that computers can be fun.

7th April 2013

Vlog With A Cog

The original and best ARM operating system, RISC OS, is back on the Raspberry Pi. Here is a quick test run of the new system, along with a quick demo of Draw, Paint and BBC BASIC.

For more info go to my new RISC OS Pi page.

15th March 2013

Techno techno techno techno

ComputersIt’s hard to imagine now, but when this blog was founded, I had to write the entries by creating a series of punched cards, which were then sent by first class post to a laboratory in Cambridge, where a man in a white coat would feed them one-by-one into a mainframe computer to create each blog post.

OK, that’s obviously not true. But technology has moved on in leaps and bounds in the last decade, often in new and unpredictable ways. In 2003 there were no YouTube videos to embed, no tweets to RT, and if you poked someone in public, you could expect a slap in the face in return. Google was a search engine company rather than an… everything company.

As for me, in 2003 I was still using RISC OS, the operating system designed by Acorn Computers for their ARM-based systems. Acorn had shut up shop in 1998, but the OS was still being developed by an independent company and I had fun playing with the latest versions as they were released. I was also still using it to do web design work (still haven’t found an app as good as Draw for quick pictures and diagrams). So when my machine started developing hardware faults, I was alarmed.

When computers develop hardware problems, my usual attitude is something approaching blind panic. I never did a backup (I meant to, but never get round to it), and I never paid attention when the hard drive started playing up last year (I meant to, but never got round to it). Procrastination 1, Rob 0.

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29th February 2012

Pi in the Face

The tech world is getting excited about Raspberry Pi, a new low cost computer, which has launched today after several years of development. For under £30 you can have a simple but capable computer – just add a keyboard and plug it into your TV, then boot it off an SD card.

The Pi has been created with educational purposes in mind. The device’s creators want to get it into schools, so kids will have something they can tinker with to their heart’s content. They will be able to write their own programs and, hopefully, learn that there is more to computing than Facebook and cutting and pasting Wikipedia articles into their essays.

In many ways, this is an attempt to turn back the clock to the 1980s and the heyday of hobbyist programming. The computers of the day were very different beasts – turn on a Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum or BBC Micro and there were no fancy icons or windows to click on, just a text prompt and a flashing cursor. To make it do something useful you had to type something.

C64 boot screen, showing READY prompt and blinking cursor

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