Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Raspberry Pi: 7 reasons why it won’t work


I can remember that era, when there was a buzz around the Spectrum, BBC Micro and C64. You were faced with nothing more than a command prompt and off you went. That was then, this is now. What strikes me about the Raspberry Pi initiative is the fact that it is a very British idea - good name but a bit rubbish. It seems to be premised on the idea of the nostalgic amateur tinkering about in his shed with an invention that serves no real purpose. Whenever you ask hard questions of the projects things get vague. Why do you actually need a new piece of hardware when we’ve all got computers? Why hardware and not software? How do you actually learn with this thing?
To my mind there’s lots of reasons why the Raspberry Pi looks worthy but is wrong-headed, and is likely to fail in its goal of reinvigorating interest in coding.
1. Amateurishness. It became apparent in the launch that this was more Sinclair C5 than Sinclair Spectrum. The website crashed, the hardware faulty and orders delayed. The deliberate anti-design ethos is carried to ridiculous extremes, as it looks like something ripped out of the back of an old telly.
2. Nostalgia. It’s clear that this is an attempt to resurrect the idea of amateur coders, a golden age of back-bedroom self-starters. Sorry, those days are gone. The last thing we need is a thinly disguised BBC Micro.
3. Lack of realism. Software and hardware is much more diverse and the competition is fierce. Coding can, and is, bought down a line, in countries where labour is much cheaper. We need a structured approach to the serious acquisition of relevant skills, not tinkering.
4. Hardware fixation. The world is full of cheap, fast, powerful and portable hardware. It’s the ‘software’ stupid. What’s needed is software not more hardware. In fact, there’s some brilliant games’ tools and app creation tools out there. Get kids to use the tools not buy an empty toolbox. It’s like teaching maths with just a calculator.
5. Learning ignored. It’s clear that the team don’t understand the learning process. How do you get started with this thing? It’s also a mistake to start with the heavyweight challenge of low-level coding. No real thought has gone into how coding will be taught using the device as there’s no quality learning materials and teachers are ill-equipped to handle the device in schools.
6. Wrong target audience. Interest has largely been from ageing men who love to tinker. That’s because the unplanned marketing echoed around this world and never really got out to the intended audience - youngsters.
7. Not cool. To succeed with this young audience you have to create a sense of urgency by being cool. You’re up against Apple and Mobile manufacturers. Ian Livingstone’s description of the device as the BBC Nano is laughable. Sorry, but it looks crap not cool.
If only those pesky kids would do what our generation did back in the day and get down and dirty with the hardware, we’ll be the leading software development country, again. Wrong. We got so bogged down with the BBC Micro and BBC Basic that the world raced by us in the fast lane with proper hardware and software. The primary problem is the lack of entrepreneurial spirit and business skills, not coding skills. That, in many ways, is exemplified by the project itself. It’s a geekfest.

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49 Comments:

Blogger Sam said...

There are some great software alternatives out there like scratch which it's hoped will inspire children in a similar way but I think any attempt to get children into programming can only be a good thing. Also, I think the stripped down look is a pro not a con!

2:17 PM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

Agree that scratch is the way to go. But disagree that 'any attempt' argument. This geeky, hardware approach is likely to turn off those who we need to bring into the fold. My fear is that it appeals mainly to the already interested audience.

2:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

*whooooosh*


Explain Arduino.

2:23 PM  
Anonymous Myles R. said...

I count six reasons...

Also, I have talked with quite a few 20-somethings and teenagers who are happily waiting delivery of their pi. True, its not much on design; but then again, its not much money either. I am getting one because I am a relatively new coder who would like to learn more low level skills. It would also be nice to learn some assembler on a device I don't also rely on for work.

I think that its best not to think of a raspberry pi as a cheap computer, but rather an advanced arduino that runs python (after all, it does have expansion pins). When you think of it was a 700MHz, 32bit, linux powered micro-controller for 25 quid, it makes a lot more sense.

2:35 PM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

Myles - for you it makes sense but you're well on your way coming down to the processor and OS level from higher-level programming. That, I suspect, is a better approach than starting with the incomprehensible Pi.

2:39 PM  
Anonymous Garry Platt said...

Donald, how do you feel now about the iPad?

http://donaldclarkplanb.blogspot.co.uk/search?q=Ipad

2:43 PM  
Anonymous eebrah said...

1. I believe scratch can run on the RasPi
2. The rasPi is not a "one size fits all" package. The initial release was meant for the more hardcore type who would tinker and develop stuff that could then be used in later stuff. This is not news, following the project http:rasberrypi.org would have shown you that.
3. The project was not meant to be "the one true way" but rather to spur on the development of such and with the FXI candybar? that new VIA thing amongst others, manufacturers are heading the call for cheper hardware thats hackable

2:44 PM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

eebrah
1. Not the point - Scratch runs on everything. Hardly anyone using scratch has heard of RPi.
2. Hardcore type? Not how it was sold.
3. What manufacturers?

2:53 PM  
Blogger Eric-Sebastien Lachance said...

You seem to have a lot of aggressiveness towards "geeks", and it seems that either you misunderstood the point of RPi, or you're purposefully ignoring it... From the point of view of an amateur programmer:

1. I think the fact that the website went down and the two distributors were completely overwhelmed initially is a good indicator of the popularity of the board, not indicative of amateurism. And in terms of looks, it's no uglier than any board in any electronics device out there. It's not like it has lamps!

2. Nostalgia, I believe, is a positive effect on the older generation which will realize they can use it to engage the younger generation (their kids, mainly). Also, while looking back on old hardware and software and being nostalgic of the days is not productive, doing so as a side effect of "oh my god, this is cool and reminds me of X so much, I loved that old thing!" brings value to things like the RPi. But in reality, the REAL goal of the Pi is to help learning in third-world countries. "buy-one-donate-one" will come later once they've worked out the kinks, and I'll be using this program on each purchase, because I care about this sort of thing.

3. You didn't put a number 3. Amateurism, you said? Oh wait, you fixed your formatting. Just goes to say, people can resolve minor issues when they happen! But to answer this point, "Tinkering" is exactly what we need. It's the approach that works for a lot of people. IMHO, places like KhanAcademy.com work because it's "tinkering" with subjects using exercises and videos.

4. There has to be a balance of "new" influx in both hardware and software. What would happen if the only PC you had was a 286 and no one was interested in making anything faster, better or smaller? You'd be no better than if everyone made hardware and there were no programmers. In reality, the more people use technology, the more we'll have of both hardware and software. You won't be running out of either anytime soon.

5. I believe what the foundation is expecting is that people will crowdsource the heck out of this. I'm expecting that by the time I get my hands on a Pi, there will be plenty of tutorials out there to get me started, and it's fine that they're all over the Internet. That's what Google and DuckDuckGo are for.

6. I'll re-echo my point 2, as I said the "older" generation will get the "younger" one interested... Plus, those teenagers who are in families that don't necessarily have the money for larger hardware will be very happy to have a cheap $35 computer to work with that can be plugged into the family TV at night. I grew up in a poor family, I would have been much better off if the Pi had been available back then.

7. "Looks crap not cool" is a matter of opinion (as well as bad grammar). This thing is meant to be put where you need it the most, not sit on a desk like a piece of art. I'm going to be gluing it to the back of an LCD monitor rescued from a dead iMac, along with a control board purchased on eBay, as a digital frame... And probably get another, hidden in my car's dash, projecting data as a HUD on my windshield. I don't care what it looks like, I just care that it's cheap and replaceable.

Sorry for the wall of text, but my two cents almost always turn into two dollars :P

3:05 PM  
Blogger Tim Luther said...

Coding can, and is, bought down a line, in countries where labour is much cheaper

So what is that we, as a country, actually do? Oh, I remember. We're supposed to be experts in global finance, all those messy jobs about inventing and making interesting things, they're something those other people do.
You're the one who's out of touch.

3:18 PM  
Blogger Mr Gilchrist said...

Couldn't disagree more.

As a scientist and now head of science in a high school, I was one of those who got up at 5:30am to actually buy one. (I am still waiting, but expect it soon.)

Let me say why you are wrong.
1) Price, sub £30 for a functioning single board PC (granted you need keyboard and monitor/tv) - but for less than the price of an XBox game, you can send learners home with a complete coding environment, not just a "piece of software"

As a teacher, I see generations of users who can just about use Word / Excel and at a serious push,record keystrokes into a macro. When faced with serious data analysis requiring some form of "code" 99.9% of students hit the wall before we begin.

Scratch is great and does the trick - but if I want to inport data, merge cells and calculate a band pass filter I need to code in VB, python or other "language".

Raspberry PI will do that -- it will allow me to bring computing into science and provide an excuse to teach Python directly to 11-15 year olds.

2) As a builder of a zx81 from scratch with my Dad, this fuelled a lifetime of being able to assemble, fix and generally get to grips with PC hardware. Again, we have created "users" who don't know what goes on under the hood. Raspberry PI will address that too.

3) Finally, being able to hack them into things such as data loggers and couple them with arduinos is another feather.

Glen Gilchrist
http://glengilchrist.co.uk

3:20 PM  
Blogger Tim Luther said...

I'd like to see kids design their own cases, using a 3D printer attached to the Raspberry Pi that they're making a cover for. Every bright kid I know would jump at the chance.
The idea is to encourage children to be creators, not passive consumers who're happy to see every last interesting job outsourced to benighted Dickensian factories abroad.

3:22 PM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

Tim
Coding can, and is, bought down a line, in countries where labour is much cheaper

I'm not suggesting that we abandon software altogether. Indeed, I've spent the whole of my adult life employing them and helping build software companies. We just have to be careful about jumping on bandwagons that focus on hardware and not software. My own view is that this task is far too important to be left to this type of hardware initiative.

3:39 PM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

Eric - some good points thanks
Note that I'm far from being anti-geek. I was one of those people who bought a C64 many years ago, have programmed and ran a company that had dozens of coders. My point is that being too geekish is the wrong tactic in schools where we're trying to get engagement and involvement.

1. I'm a businessman and would be a bit miffed if my website crashed completely on launch. It says a lot about a technical organisation that the website crashes catastrophically. There's also the matter of the boards being wrongly manufactured (an incorrect ethernet port). As for its appearance - it's likely to appeal to existing coders but turn off those who are just starting. It just looks too intimidating.
2. " the REAL goal of the Pi is to help learning in third-world countries" not sure that this is true - almost all the communiaction I've seen is on the back of teh Livingstone report, which is a UK affair
3. Good point. Agree with this but why not tinker with code on your own kit. Why the need for these sidekicks? Learning to code is a software, not a hardware, issue.
4. The market provides this diversity - there's no real need for more.
5. Good point. Let's see.
6. I don't buy this 'plug into the TV' idea. The TV is a one to many medium - just try it when the erst of the family is watching. And why bother - use your PC/Mac whatever.
7. Grammar! Now you're turning into pedant. I repeat my main point. It's fine for people like you who like this look and approach but I'm not convinced that it's appropriate or relevant for those who are not already coding.

3:55 PM  
Anonymous Michael Toner said...

Couldn’t agree more with the points made. My brothers had a Spectrum which I envied and used a lot. So for my birthday, I asked for a ZX81. When I got it, I thought “Why?”. If we are surrounded by powerful computers, why would we want to downgrade?

I’ve already opened up the side of my PC and talked my kids through the parts. I might build one with them from scratch some day soon but if at the end of the exercise it ends up looking like, well, a ZX81 it won’t encourage them.

Pi proves there’s an appetite to get kids learning proper computing – not creating documents in an office suite. How many people starting a computer course in University today have ever programmed before? How does that compare with 20 years ago? But I want my kids to learn Java or .Net – not, what is it, Phython?

By all means, get a Pi, attach some spare parts, spend 10 hours working out how to watch a 2 hour movie. Enjoy. Or just assign it to your man drawer where it’ll end up eventually anyway. But don’t get your kids involved - learning hobbyist languages on hobbyist kit that will stagnate the moment the author gets bored and moves on to something else.

4:21 PM  
Blogger Florian said...

You outsource your "coding"...

1) stopped reading right there
2) good luck with your software quality, or delivery, or getting anything at all out the door.

5:11 PM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

Michael - the experience of building an actual PC from component parts is not uncommon among the youngsters I know (I ahve two of them myself). This is the 'real' world where learning 'real' skills matters. My fear is the RPi just accelerates the closed 'hobbyist' approach to computing.

5:15 PM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

Florian - All code must be written in-house? All code should be created within your country of origin? Worryingly parochial.

5:24 PM  
Blogger PhilK said...

I agree with anonymous: *whooooosh*

7:44 PM  
Blogger Robert Köppl said...

The arguments you bring up against the RPi sound quite familiar. They were - especially the tinkering part- brought up against a hobbyist project of a student from Finland. A Project that now consists of 15 million lines of code, drives over 90% of all Supercomputers in the top500 (both by number of systems and by performance).
The whole economical expansion of the internet, the rise of companies like Google, Amazon or Facebook would not have been possible without thousands of those tinkerers that wanted open source solutions because they could tinker with them. And by the way the coding of the kernel is not outsourced - it is globally crowdsourced.
We are just at the beginning of a new era of technology and economics. Open hardware will revolutionize Hardware as open source Software revolutionized the Software business. It will get very tough for those who cling to "big business economics".
A 600 Euro 3D Printer nowadays produces a quality that was unheard of 15 years ago even with the best rapid prototyping machines available at that time. It needs some tinkering to get there but... I think that says it.
Outsourcing is a bad thing in its own. You not only loose the part of the control, but you loose the Knowhow. Lessons learned no longer improve your skills, but the skills of those who you outsource to.

10:24 PM  
Blogger Robert Köppl said...

The arguments you bring up against the RPi sound quite familiar. They were - especially the tinkering part- brought up against a hobbyist project of a student from Finland. A Project that now consists of 15 million lines of code, drives over 90% of all Supercomputers in the top500 (both by number of systems and by performance).
The whole economical expansion of the internet, the rise of companies like Google, Amazon or Facebook would not have been possible without thousands of those tinkerers that wanted open source solutions because they could tinker with them. And by the way the coding of the kernel is not outsourced - it is globally crowdsourced.
We are just at the beginning of a new era of technology and economics. Open hardware will revolutionize Hardware as open source Software revolutionized the Software business. It will get very tough for those who cling to "big business economics".
A 600 Euro 3D Printer nowadays produces a quality that was unheard of 15 years ago even with the best rapid prototyping machines available at that time. It needs some tinkering to get there but... I think that says it.
Outsourcing is a bad thing in its own. You not only loose the part of the control, but you loose the Knowhow. Lessons learned no longer improve your skills, but the skills of those who you outsource to.

10:25 PM  
Blogger Martin Langhoff said...

From my experience at OLPC, I tend to look at things from a "how does this play out with kids 6 to 12 years old, with no adult coaching, or minimal adult intervention" -- and from there, I share Donald's opinion.

I also read "Make" magazine, where a crowd of tinkerers mostly aged 20+ -- Raspberry Pi plays to that audience, which is intrinsically motivated, experienced and can handle a high barrier of entry...

1:54 AM  
Blogger Martin Langhoff said...

From my experience at OLPC, I tend to look at things from a "how does this play out with kids 6 to 12 years old, with no adult coaching, or minimal adult intervention" -- and from there, I share Donald's opinion.

I also read "Make" magazine, where a crowd of tinkerers mostly aged 20+ -- Raspberry Pi plays to that audience, which is intrinsically motivated, experienced and can handle a high barrier of entry...

1:55 AM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

Martin - This is the crux of the matter. RPi is being presented as a device that will revolutionise the teaching and learning of coding. My opinion is that it plays to those already in the game. That's a fine and worthy thing in itself, but it is far from the objective that Eben and others have been stating in public.

10:47 AM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

Robert - you're confusing several things here. This project is not about innovative code from highly motivated and talented programmers, it's about stimulating the teaching and learning of coding. I agree with all that you say but modern day tinkering is done on high performance PCs and Macs. It's software, not hardware that is crowdsourced and this is nothing but a piece of hardware.

10:51 AM  
Blogger Kevernet said...

While waiting for my Pi I was tempted to buy an Arduino board and have started to teach myself C, so yes there are short comings with the Pi, but just the idea of it has got me to start teaching myself to program.

6:48 AM  
Blogger Mitchel Humpherys said...

I believe that the main source of your confusion is not understanding that this thing is for engineers and scientists, not business majors.

I don't know you, but I can already tell that you're an MBA businessy synergy type of guy, not an engineer or a scientist. There's no shame in that but you shouldn't spew your misguided opinions about a very worthy project all over the internet.

As a kid I was much more excited by a hunk of green PCB with blinking LEDs and mysterious components than I was about a big ol' software suite or a shiny black box with a few ports on it. I'm now a successful Software Engineer (degree in Cmp Eng) and love solving real and interesting problems every single day. The RPi will inspire those inquisitive minds that want to create cool things (even if it is just a "pointless" project in their shed!) and they will go far in life. They will get real engineering jobs solving the world's most interesting and challenging problems in their country of origin and your boring html and javascript "coding" will continue to be outsourced.

Mitch

3:17 AM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

Mitch
That was pretty patronising and perhaps exactly the point I was making about target audience. In case you don't know Mitch, the Raspberry Pi was never designed for engineers. I assume you're an American but THERE'S NO SHAME IN THAT. The whole project was targeted at UK schools to combat the decline in coding. It was never designed as an engineer's plaything. Now get back to your shed.

7:07 PM  
Anonymous Ross Parker said...

You miss the point entirely. Most great advances in IT were made by hackers and tinkerers. Such an approach, built on genuine interest not a flashy exterior, leads to great creativity, problem solving, ingenuity and innovation. That is what we need to be teaching.

If you have a better plan, we would all,love to hear it.

11:23 PM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

Ross This is the sort of general claim that misses the general aim of the RPi. First, you're claim about 'most great advances' seems hyperbolic in the sense that most major advances in adopted software did not and do not need a £25 board with no screen and keyboard. Secondly, this is a teaching aid, not an R&D tool and as a teaching aid it is off-putting and too difficult to access. It literally looks like a response to the asssignment, 'Design something to deliberately scare off young people from programming'.

6:16 AM  
Blogger All Greened Up said...

This is interesting and I have to agree with the overall tone and summation of the blog. My 12yr old son is keen to learn to programme and RPi is not the answer. Sadly nor is scratch - which he has done to death. He has played with code academy online and more of this type of joined up learning is what is required.
Something along the lines of KhanAcademy is needed. A progressive series of exercises in which fundamental principles are learnt first via Online videos.
Myself, I can't code. I'm not even mathematically inclined so I feel somewhat inadequate in being able to encourage or nurture this interest/talent that my son has. It's incredibly frustrating and to be honest I feel like I'm letting him down.
I can clearly see that for him - and all those like him - it's a missed opportunity.

8:12 AM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

All Greened Up
Thank you. You've put your finger on the problem. We need more software learning resources, not a piece if hardware. http://www.w3schools.com/default.asp

Look at this approach towards developing apps - absolutely brilliant:
http://www.rse.org.uk/cms/files/education/computing_materials/i_love_my_smartphone_learner.pdf

9:38 AM  
Blogger Roger said...

While at 31, I'm probably not the main target audience of the Raspberry PI, I have to disagree with all but points 5 and 6. It has re-ignited in me that feeling I had writing BASIC programs for the Atari 8-Bit as a kid. It's hacky, dirty and requires a lot of patience. But now I use the PI as my home cinema system (it can play back full 1080p video across a LAN) and I have it nicely kitted out with X11, Gnome with plenty of shiny apps to keep those visual people of my house entertained.

Only points 5 and 6 are really valid, PI has almost complete opposite target to all Apple devices (which are designed for people with no computer literacy who just want something that works). But kids will always see past this, when they realise they can do all this themselves - and watch copyrighted movies for free Lol Dude, what is cooler than Internet piracy? Hellooo??! :) And 'too much hardware. Hehe puhlease! Never too much hardware :)

I agree that installing X and rebuilding OMXPlayer from source (with hardware video acceleration) is far beyond what you may expect from a kid. But, hey that's what dads are for, right!? (thus proving point 2 Nostalgia - that it reignites that feeling) Let's hope there will be many more great inventions like this!

1:14 PM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

Yip you're not the target audience. Am I to assume that a learner can only use the device of they have a dad who's a coder? That's reason enough to regard it as misguided.

3:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was a 10 yr old 'geek' if you want to call me that, who revelled in the joy of being able to program my spectrum 48k over a weekend and realise that "I" had created a game!! I have gone on to become a member of higher education, teaching over 30-40 pieces of software. I teach 'passive' use of VERY high end software but I realise greatly how my programming foundation enables me to learn new software when it comes out and advances. I am not a coder now (although I dabble often and can script...and got my pi last week!!) but the biggest point I wanted to make was that although almost 50% of households back in the 80's had spectrums, C64's, Electrons etc....most of those kids went to work in regular non programming related jobs... but if the 1% 'naturally inquisitive and talented kids' that flourished from their early days in understanding code had never had a system available that 'Sparked' their need to be 'geeky' and create something from, just text, then the XBOX, PS3, your Mobile phone, Facebook, Ipad etc...would never have existed. It's about sparking that desire! Steve Job's, Bill Gates...biggest geeks in the world. Something 'Sparked' their desire. Why knock any attempt to encourage 'a creative mind'. The pi might fail (personally I think it's the most innovative approach to recreating the passion I had years ago) but if 1% of those kids gain the passion I had from a £22 board that i can plug in my tv and create a game on....instead of spending hours in 'computing class at school' learning WORD and EXCEL!!! what would that new 1% be able to create climbing on the back of those that have gone before.

9:33 PM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

Not another anonymous! Why do people in HE and computing of all things refuse to debate as 'people'?
The difference between then and now is that there were no devices other than the early computers you mention. The Pi doesn't even have a keyboard and why on earth would you want to use a TV for coding? Nostalgia is one thing, realistic approaches to learning and education are another. These early UK devices were cul-de-sacs. The US and then the rest of the world went on to dominate the desktop PC business while we were using character graphics on BBC Micros. UK amateurism in business (the people who use WORD and EXEL!!!) has caused the problems, not a lack of coding skills.

11:26 PM  
Anonymous Ed said...

The RasPi puts a consistent piece of hardware in the hands of many thousands of users, and creates a community which shares and works together to do amazing stuff... From just simple programming to using it as a micro-controller capable of input and output like arduino, at a very cheap price. The common platform allows an easier educational environment than having software running on many different machines, and also provides a greater range of use for the device... From high level programming to the lowest level, to keep one interested at many experience levels. I do not agree with most of your points and I think the enthusiasm people have for the Pi, including Google support, speaks for itself.

3:38 AM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

Ed
Nearly two months on since this post. So let's see what's happened.
1. Amateurishness. At the last RPi Jam meeting half the attendees had not received their Pi - hardware faults and delays continue to plague the project.
2. Nostalgia. Largely older men with a penchant for mentioning their Sinclair Spectrum or C64
3. Lack of realism. Still fiendishly difficult to set up and get started. Even seasoned professionals have been struggling to get the damn thing to work.
4. Hardware fixation. Yip. Where's the SOFTWARE?
5. Learning ignored. Paucity of actual support/ideas for learners. It's all about tinkering.
6. Wrong target audience. Still the haunt of old men in tee shirts
7. Not cool. Where's the kids (not the one's that have had it bought by their nostalgic dads)?

Watched the entire Raspberry Pi Jam session yesterday. Loved the Swivl but found 56 mins video a bit odd, above all because of the lack of ideas of what to do with the RP, if you’ve managed to get one. Mouse problems, OS problems, odd USB comms, driver for Linux problematic, lots of fiddly things you need to buy from some guy called Pang (is that short forPangloss?). All problems, no solutions. “It’s a desktop computer, it’s just a Raspberry Pi.” Exactly. “I can’t stand being at a command line – I’ve got a keyboard and a mouse why the fuck should I be typing in to tell the computer what to do”. Exactly. “Thimble” nowt to do with RP. If this is the future of ICT/coding in education, I’m worried.

11:51 AM  
Anonymous Atheologian said...

Donald, I tend to agree with all of your points.

Furthermore, the RPi is only the beginning of a potentially expensive spree: it may be necessary to purchase an HDMI monitor, etc., etc. In a time of cutbacks & limited, prioritised budgets, is a local school going to buy, say, 30 RPis & all the ancilliary hardware to go with it? And what about the health & safety aspects of using an electrical appliance that is not encased?

If the purpose is to get kids into programming, then RPi is way off the mark. It may as well be called 'Britain's Got Programmers', or 'RPi Wars'!

A user-friendly version of Linux on an old computer would be far more useful. I have a version of Ubuntu running on an EeePC 701. I have direct access to a reliable & safe repository of a multitude of programming languages (I have gForth installed, & most Linuces come with Python as standard), AND I still have a useful PC - no need to buy another piece of hardware.

From my perspective, RPi does look more C5 than ZX - in otherwords, yet another (very British) badly thought out & hyped up way of getting easily fooled people to part with their cash.

I wonder how many RPis are already gathering dust on the forgotten shelf.

12:58 PM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

Atheologian
Bit like selling a car engine without the rest of the car, so the pricetag is more than a little misleading. Shelfware indeed.
Health and safety point is interesting.There are already worries about heat and distributors have been refusing to sell them because of the lack of CE compliance.

9:17 AM  
Anonymous Atheologian said...

Donald
Re: Hardware fixation: The RPi would seem to have value for teaching computer electronics, but that's about it.

If what is important is getting kids interested in programming languages, then it potentially lacks value, unless what is being learned is Assembly Language that speaks directly to the 'metal', or perhaps a dialect of FORTH, as in the Jupiter Ace computers of the early 1980s (Yep: back in the 80s again, & hobbyland).

Given the emphasis on Python; well, it's available for all platforms (AFAIK), so if a school or education regime considers this valuable, then it can simply run a course in Python on whatever operating system it already has installed on its in-house computers.

As for the lack of CE compliance, what a stupid oversight: bloody marvellous!!!

One may presume that the originators of this scheme were either completely unaware of the OLPC project, or were trying to do it on the cheap.

11:29 PM  
Anonymous Salim Siwani said...

Donald, I agree with almost everything you said about the RPi being pretty much just an exercise in making an ARM SoC board with Linux on it.

I personally would add one more point that it is not a 100% fully open system. The GPU is closed source at the moment, so even though it has a MIPI-DSi interface, I can't add an LCD panel (e.g. an iPhone display) to it because Broadcom won't let me write binary 'blobs' to program the graphics hardware even though it's probably just a timing table alteration.

Your last paragraph, however, I can't agree with. I've spent much of my career as a games developer and I can honestly say 'entrepreneurial spirit' as opposed to good programming skills is what is killing the games industry in this country.
There are far too many people trying to make a fast buck by hiring unskilled programmers and then wondering why a title takes 2/3 or 4 years to bring to market.

You are right that Britain has lost its way in innovation and profitability. I also agree, having been exposed to an RPi last week, that the learning mechanism is missing from a beginners standpoint, but I would also say good technical skills are on the decline. We have graduates who don't even know what 'debugger' or 'profiler' actually mean. Looking at CVs over the last four years it's clear many Universities (not all) are teaching courses with little or no technical detail. Given all of these negatives I struggle to see how business sense alone can take an inadequate programmer and make him/her better.

6:48 AM  
Anonymous Atheologian said...

Donald,

I've just seen an advert for the latest 512MiB RAM RPi: AWESOME!!!

Don't hold your breath: it's still uncased, so still not practically portable. Surely a credit card sized computer deserves a calculator sized case, which would make it more useful.

It could even have the keyboard integral to the case, perhaps with a slide-off cover, and a USB socket or two, for a monitor and external hard-drive; even an integral cellphone-type power cell.

Even if these additions increased the cost by a few quid, even if it doubled the purchase price, it would be a genuinely useful gadget: a proper 'pocket computer'.

Even I would consider looking at one.

Alas, it seems to be little more than the same thing, with a bit more RAM.

6:29 AM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

Atheologian. RP seems to be based on an odd educational theory: Make tool look as intimidating as possible, defy all the rules of good marketing, health and safety, integration, and usability. Then make it almost impossible to get started. And we wonder why we're not innovative in IT in the UK? Genius!

6:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Donald is right, sorry geeks (and I am a geek!). My friend (who is 100x more geek than me) bought one - he PRE-ORDERED it :-S and when I asked him what he's done with it, the other day, he said "I've not touched it for months". Says the lot - obscure, geek-niche-hobby gadget, nothing more. This is why I bought an MK802+ - at least you can use it for something USEFUL, out of the box!

2:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I owned a Raspberry Pi briefly. Three days to be precise. It took me just three days to realise what a poorly constructed, flaky piece of kit it is. Just type 'Rasberry Pi problems' into Google to see the wealth of complaints stacking up against this piece of junk. The particular problem I came across was a non-functioning Ethernet port. It's now back with the supplier and my money has been refunded. As angry and disappointed as I am with the people that build and market the Pi, I'm more annoyed at myself for falling for it in the first place.

£28 isn't much to pay for a fully functioning computer, true. Sadly though, many of them simply do not function.

And sadder still is the realisation that even if it did work as expected, the speed, power and capacity of this device is extremely, and embarrassingly... pathetic.

My advice to anyone keen to learn about hardware and coding: Get yourself a second-hand PC from a boot sale. It'll be a fully functioning machine that'll whip the pants of the Raspberry Pi. You can open up the box and teach yourself how real computers work. You can load Linux or Python or C or C++ or.... etc. onto it and start coding straight away.

And you can hang a 232 cable out of the COM port and start experimenting with IO stuff.

In short, you can do everything with it that you can't do with a Raspberry Pi.

Happy Computing!

12:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Most of the content of this blog is basically wrong, ill informed or misguided. I won't pull it appart, anyone familiar with the Pi or the Pi foundation and it's aims/methods will soon see the flaws in the blog post.

However, it is now nearly a year later, the Pi is being a huge success and a lot of kids, teachers, other groups, yes including us old tinkerers, are doing a lot of great things with their Pis.

Are you prepared to reevaluate your statements now in the light of what has happened and is rolling along very well?

7:42 AM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

As Jared Lanier says - Anonymous posters are usually full of opinion but low on reason and argument. I have not changed my mind. Indeed I bought a Pi, which strengthened my original views. Buying a PI has clearly not improved your ability to make clear points. PS I am thoroughly familiar with the Pi and the Foundation and know Ebdon. I have also debated these points with him and his wife (the PR person in the Foundation). Now debate the points or go back into your anonymous box.

11:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I bought a Pi as I liked the idea and ethos, in fact me and my colleagues have a about 6, thinking we'd find a use for them.
I thought it would be like the Arduino, which is just so useful and easy to learn.
But we've yet to use one Pi for anything. If they Android on them it would help but they do seem a bit pointless.
You can buy a cheap tablet for £70 maybe less add an Arduino to it and you can you've got all the I/O you could want plus a touch screen wireless, Bluetooth plus much more than a pi will ever do.
Plus programming in Java for Android and C (like) for Arduino is actually worth learning for young people. It's a shame but I think the article is correct.

2:00 PM  

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