We built a Lego case for our Raspberry Pi

31 Mar

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Teaching kids computers and robotics with Lego and Raspberry Pi

31 Mar
PiCroc The Pi has pins to interact with sensors and motors, and it is amazing what this school K-5 was able to do using the Pi running Scratch to control a Lego robotic crocodile.  Here is an article that explains what they did:
Here is the school’s blog entry with the resources they used:
And here is a great manual for the Pi and and how to use Scratch step by step, which is available for free:
A great technical advantage is that the Pi runs from an inexpensive SD card ($7 for 8GB), which is basically its ‘hard disk’, so kids could have their own SD card at school if they wanted to personalize the interface of the Pi and keep their Scratch experiments and other files.
Imagine the possibilities, if you can get hand-me down monitors, keyboards and mice to set up a Raspberry Pi lab at every primary and elementary school to learn about computers, programming, and robotics, all thanks to this $35 dollar Linux multipurpose tinkering machine.

Open Linux Media Centre for the Pi

25 Mar

Today, OpenELEC was released for the Raspberry Pi, and when I went to download it, merely 9 hours after it was announced, I was download number 6,000.

The instructions I found were for a Linux machine, so I had to go hunting for a way to install it from a Windows PC, and thought could use the same approach when I installed the Linux distro Raspbian “wheezy” using Win32DiskImager, but I needed an image file, which thankfully has been made available at PiChimney.

Overall, RasbBMC is easier to install, but OpenELEC seems to respond faster than RaspBMC, and movies seem to load faster too.  They both work great when controlling them from my iPod Touch using the free XMBC Remote app.   Enjoy!

The new OLPC Table and updating my XO-1 Laptop

21 Mar

OTPC I read with interest the announcement of the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) Tablet, which I guess means they will have to change their name to One Tablet Per Child (OTPC).

Since the advent of the iPad in 2010, I immediately thought the new paradigm that Tablets bring is a much more intuitive and better fit for children’s education than a Laptop, and I guess 3 years later, Negroponte agrees.

A new release of the OLPC OS is trying to support the Tablet’s touch screen, which includes the latest release of Sugar OS at version 0.98.   It’s been 7 years since the OLPC XO Laptop was released and more than 4 since the Sugar OS was the sole development effort of the then newly formed SugarLabs, so I have to wonder if the Sugar OS would ever come out of Beta.

At any rate, I noticed that my old OLPC Laptops, even though they are still working, had an old version of the OLPC OS, so I decided to update them.  I first tried to update directly to the latest version but that didn’t work.  I noticed that the latest version contained an update to the firmware of the Embedded Controller (EC) firmware, so I figured I better use an escalating approach, even though I did not see mention of this in their documentation, and that worked.

Therefore, this is what I did to bring my OLPC Laptop to the latest stable release.

1. Install the OLPC OS 11.3.1 from June 2012 for your particular model, in my case the XO-1 as per these instructions.

2. Then install OLPC OS 12.1.0 from August 2012 following these instructions.

The welcome screen looks great, all the apps, sorry activities, have been updated and include a couple of new ones.  I really like the ability to read text from any activity.  The move to WebKit for the browser is welcome.  It is great to see a newer Linux Kernel and the ability to use more space on SD Cards.

I particularly like the fact that your wireless network information is saved and shared between the two environment, Sugar and GNOME.  Overall a great improvement, but I’m afraid it may be too late as Tablets and the Raspberry Pi have taken over the interest of technology enthusiasts and children around the world.

Using the Raspberry Pi as a Media Player

16 Mar

Image  Wow!  I’m playing a movie in full HD (1080p) and 5.1 surround sound on my Raspberry Pi, and the remote control is my iPod Touch.  It was pretty simple to setup, here is what I did:

1. Run the Windows installer of RaspBMC onto the SD card.
2. Get your Pi ready and insert the SD card, connect a USB mouse, the HDMI cable to the TV, the Ethernet cable to the router, an external hard drive with movies, and then connect the miniUSB power cable and the Pi will start.
3. Let the software do its initial set up for 20 minutes or so, it even says so on the screen, and finally with the mouse select the language, and that’s it.

I then launched the XBMC Remote app on my iTouch, and it found the RaspBMC on my network, and was able to start using it.

I had to adjust the video size setting and add a few online video sources like YouTube, but besides that, the Pi recognizes everything automatically, the mouse, the network, the external hard drive, and basically ‘works out of the box’, literally as it has no case. 🙂

The Pi takes about a minute to boot up, and it takes a few seconds to start playing a movie from the hard drive.  It takes longer with bigger files, for example it took almost 20 seconds to start playing a big MKV file with the highest resolution of 1080p and 5.1 sound.  A bit slow, but not bad for $35, plus once it starts playing it does so flawlessly.

The online video works well, there are many sources to choose from, including common ones like YouTube, DailyMotion, Vimeo, etc.

Overall, the Pi offers the best of all worlds, even as a Media Centre.  For example, I cannot play files from an external drive on a $109 Apple TV, and I cannot add online sources or use my iTouch to control a $99 WD HD Media Player.

And of course I cannot use either of those to create an interactive presentation project like this 8 year old did:

Getting a Raspberry Pi and Setting it up as a Media Player

2 Mar

raspberry-pi The Raspberry Pi is only a year old and has already sold one million units around the world.  If you  have never heard about it, the Raspberry Pi is a tinkerer’s dream, basically a very inexpensive computer that you can customize and use in any way you want.  In this case, we are going to run XBMC and use the Pi as a full blown Media Centre.

Buying a Raspberry Pi

Last week, I ordered my Raspberry Pi from, it is only $35, and shipping was $8.  And it arrived today!

They have great accessories for the Pi, some of which you may want to buy right away, like the mini-USB AC power adapter and the transparent case.   But before you buy the AC Adapter, look in your cables drawer because you may already have what you need.  In my case my TV has a USB port that I never use so I’m going to use my Kobo’s mini-USB cable connected to the TV’s USB port to power the Pi. 

Another accessory is the Wi-Pi, which is a Wi-Fi USB dongle for the Pi, however since my router is next to the TV, I will be connecting the Pi with an Ethernet cable.

What you’ll need to Set Up your Pi
Here is what you’ll need to set up the Pi as a media player:
1. SD Card with RaspBMC.
2. Ethernet cable to connect to the router.
3. Mini-USB AC adapter to power the Pi.
4. HDMI cable to connect to the TV.
5. External Hard Drive or USB Stick with movies.

6. If not using H.264 files, buy the MPEG codec $4.

I’m off to Staples to buy an 8GB Class 10 SD Card for $9, and will continue talking about the setup on another post.
For now, once done, I’ll be able to control the Media Player from my iPod Touch, and send what’s on my iPad to the TV via AirPlay.  Pretty Cool!

The OLPC XO Laptop Reborn and How the New Sugar OS is Ready for Primetime

30 Oct

  As a donor and owner of one of the little green XO laptops, I am very happy to report that the new version of its Sugar OS is a major improvement, making it in my opinion the first Sugar OS version that is truly stable, usable, and ready for general consumption. 

This new version 8.2 (767) has many new features and fixes, and overall makes you feel like you are using a brand new XO laptop, which any new donors in the U.S. will get to enjoy this Christmas thanks to the second instalment of the Give 1 Get 1 program starting Nov 17, 2008 via Amazon

One of the new features I really enjoy is that the laptop now goes to sleep when you close it, and wakes up in a fraction of a second when you open it, so there is not need to wait for it to boot up.  Did any one say instant-on?   There is also better power and battery management, and overall everything seems to work a little faster and better.

Additionally, you can now install activities through a GUI control panel, including an offline version of Wikipedia, the new FireFox browser, and the VLC media player.

In my case, having the VLC player as an activity means that without any hacks or terminal commands, my kids can easily watch their favourite videos off the SD card.  Given the XO’s good audio and video quality and its great battery life, it has saved us from having to buy a little portable DVD player for outings or long trips.  I’ll write more about this in another entry.

For further details on the new features and some screenshots, please take a look at this excellent article posted at OLPC News

Needless to say, I would encourage anyone with a G1G1 XO laptop to upgrade, and for your reference here is how I upgraded mine:

1. Copy any pictures or text files that you want to keep to an SD card.
2. Format a USB stick at least 512K in size as FAT 32.
3. Download the following two files onto the USB stick: OS767.img and
4. Shut down the XO, make sure power cord is plugged, and insert the USB stick.
5. Start the XO holding the four game keys, and follow the prompt.
6. Wait until the clean installation and firmware update completes, which takes a few minutes and automatically reboots the machine as necessary.
7. Choose a name and color for the XO when prompted.
8. Go to the Control Panel, available in the XO’s central pop up menu, enter your WiFi password, and.
9. Update all software, which installs the latest versions of a large set of XO activities available from OLPC.

And that is it; the upgrade is done, without the need for Linux commands or python scripts.  For further details, you can review OLPC’s clean install instructions.