Saturday, March 3, 2012

Playing with computers - #RaspberryPi

My generation were the first to grow up with computers, in the UK a friend had a ZX Spectrum and we used to gather at his house and we learned to program in BASIC and made our own lunar lander game. Many of us went on to own Commodores, BBC Micros and Amstrads before our school's even had a computer. Over thirty years later, I'm a computer scientist - do you think there may be a connection?
    For a while in the 1980s when "computing" was taught at school it was all about microprocessors, binary, bits and bytes and BASIC. Sure it wasn't for everyone, but many kids went on to have careers in IT. Sometime during the 1990s something changed and educators said that this approach was all wrong and was alienating kids - they didn't need to know any of that technical stuff, but just needed to know how to use software: word processors, PowerPoint, graphics packages. Since the educators decide what gets taught the curriculum changed to ICT and a generation learned to passively use software and not to think they could make their own software.
Raspberry Pi (beta)
    As ever the pendulum is swinging back and many now think the  ICT approach was a mistake - the whole point of computers is that anyone can make them do anything he or she can imagine; they are universal machines. We literally played with computers as children and young adults, learning from our (many) failures. But, we discovered that we could bend this machine to our will and it was empowering - a lesson I don't think any of us forgot.
   In the UK a group of scientists  and developers have created the charitable Raspberry Pi Foundation to wind the clock back. They have created the Raspberry Pi, a £22 credit card sized computer that has a smartphone chip, a memory chip, an Ethernet port to connect to the Internet a couple of USB ports and video ports. Plug in a keyboard, mouse and screen, and children can use the Raspberry Pi's open-source software to write their own code.
    Last week the Raspberry Pi was launched and the demand was so great their servers couldn't handle the traffic! 

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