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Raspberry Pi certified educator badge

June 2015

I’ve been tinkering with the Raspberry Pi since it first came out – I was one of those repeatedly pressing f5 in the hope that the store would refresh long enough to sell me one. In the end, I had to wait my turn. It’s been a steep learning curve, but it sits in a useful spot between the PICAXE and a desktop computer. Small enough to hide away, open enough to be useful for interfacing, challenging enough to stimulate those brain cells that are not being used, and offering some excellent little useful bits that make those challenges worth following. On this site, I’m aiming to try to document the things I’ve had success (or otherwise) with. I hope you find something of interest.

I’ve enjoyed tinkering with computers and electronics for as long as I can remember – something which my Dad inspired me to do. Only now when I look back can I see all the blocks falling into place.

Timeline:

  • My father bought a Jupiter Ace with a 16K RAM pack. Started learning Forth on those bouncy rubber keys. Very lucky to have a dad that could build a proper keyboard interface on stripboard and convert a Maplin ZX81 keyboard. Much better productivity (whilst stood up with the Ace on a chest of drawers and the B/W TV at eye level). Wrote a few games using “User definable characters”.
  • Introduced to BBC B and BBC Master.
  • College (BTEC OND Electrical / Electronic Engineering – more BBC Programming as well as some Jupiter Ace control stuff. Built a 3-pen XY plotter using stepper motors from a fruit machine. Wrote a simple CAD package and learnt a lot about Bresenham’s algorithm, as well as why people really need SIN and COS to do interesting things.
  • Had a bit of fun learning the Dragon 32. Tried writing a DTP program and printer driver. Lost the lot in a disk drive fault! Shame… it was just getting interesting.
  • Plymouth Polytechnic (BTEC HND) – took the Jupiter Ace with me. Built a centronics printer port from scratch, wrote a printer driver and a wordprocessor (with screen preview). Wrote final essays on it, saving to cassette. Whole lot fitted into the 35kBytes of memory that the Ace now had. Printed out on Epson FX80 printer (which cost a fortune!). Also built AY-3-8910 sound cards and SPO-256 speech card. Great fun!
  • Into industry – programming test equipment from GW-BASIC on a ‘286 PC. Controlling GPIB and 8255 interface ports for logic sensing and control. Wrote loads of test software for testing our client’s S100 bus interface cards. Bought an Amiga A500+. Sadly little opportunity to program it, but did get into graphics and DTP software.
  • Left industry and bought Amiga A4000. Got a taste of having a hard-drive!
  • School technician. Not a lot of money but a great opportunity to learn some different skills, such as CAD/CAM (They had a Boxford Router). Wrote some flowcharting software for the BBC as well as built interface devices. They encouraged me to leave (to take up teaching… or at least that’s what they said!).
  • Qualified teacher status: Having to translate to Microsoft OS’s (Win95,98,XP etc) as well as the Office Suite. Hung on to Amiga for as long as possible.
  • Built a lasertag system using PIC assembler and IR receiver chips. Downloadable via serial comms to a PC for scoring. Gave the lot away to enthusiastic hobbyist. Hope it was useful!
  • Started using Picaxe in teaching – what a revelation. So much achievable in one chip. Wish I had this years ago!
  • Grabbed a Raspberry Pi as soon as I could. A reminder of the good old days of feeling in control.
  • Qualifed as a Raspberry Pi certified educator at Exeter PiCademy. Started demonstrating projects at the Exeter Raspberry Jam as well  as documenting my efforts on this blog.

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