13 March 2012

A Slice of Raspberry Pi

Guest editorial for the ITPro/SysAdmin newsletter

raspberrypi.jpg

The Raspberry Pi Foundation has done a superb design job on their new $35 network-enabled Linux computer. This tiny machine, incorporating an ARM processor on a Broadcom BCM2835 multimedia chip, aims to put the fun back into learning computing. The public response has been overwhelmingly positive.

Note that aim: “…to put the fun back“. Education in Information Technology is in dire straits. It always has been, but seems to have deteriorated further still, even in the face of improved provision of equipment.

In many countries, the government controls the curriculum. It predicted a shortage in office-based IT skills, and so geared the ICT curriculum toward mind-numbing training in word-processing and spreadsheet skills. Instead, the shortage has turned out to be in people with an engineering-mindset, who can solve problems with whatever technologies are available and learn new techniques quickly, in a rapidly-changing field.

In retrospect, the assumption that specific training was required rather than an education was an idiotic response to the arrival of mainstream information technology. As a result, ICT became a disaster area, which discouraged a generation of youngsters from a career in IT, and thereby led directly to the shortage of people with the skills that are required to exploit the potential of Information Technology..

Raspberry Pi aims to reverse the trend. This is a rig that is geared to fast graphics in high resolution. It is no toy. It should be a superb games machine. However, the use of Fedora, Debian, or Arch Linux ARM shows the more serious educational intent behind the Foundation’s work. It looks like it will even do some office work too!

So, get hold of any power supply that provides a 5VDC source at the required 700mA; an old Blackberry charger will do or, alternatively, it will run off four AA cells. You’ll need a USB hub to support the mouse and keyboard, and maybe a hard drive. You’ll want a DVI monitor (with audio out) or TV (sound and video). You’ll also need to be able to cope with wired Ethernet 10/100, if you want networking.

With this lot assembled, stick the paraphernalia on the back of the HDTV with Blu Tack, get a nice keyboard, and you have a classy Linux-based home computer. The major cost is in the T.V and the keyboard. If you’re not already writing software for this platform, then maybe, at a time when some countries are talking of orders in the millions, you should consider it.

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