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UK freelance journalist, author
and writer Sean McManus

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Just published! Raspberry Pi For Dummies 2nd edition

19 December 2014

The first of my author copies have made their way through the Christmas post, so this is what elevenses looks like for me this morning: a camomile tea, a mince pie, and a flick through the new book. Cheers!

cup of tea in santa mug, mince pie and Raspberry Pi For Dummies

This second edition of Raspberry Pi For Dummies has been updated to take account of the changes in the Raspberry Pi hardware and software since the first edition was published in March 2013. We've been able to increase the pagecount on this second edition, which has made room for three new chapters.

The first covers Minecraft, and how you can use Python to build worlds in it. The example program builds a random Minecraft maze you can walk around inside, and was previously published in Raspberry Pi Projects. This book is for a different audience, so we thought it would be nice to include it here too. Watch a video of the Minecraft Maze Maker in action here.

There's also a new chapter on Sonic Pi, a programming language for writing electronic and sample-based music. I had a lot of fun writing this chapter, and I've posted an extended remix of my Sonic Pi demo music here. Given the book it's for, and the demonstration nature of the track, I thought the title 'Showroom Dummies' was apt. I've uploaded it to Soundcloud, so you can listen to the Sonic Pi demo here too. To mark the book's publication, I've also created an infographic showing you the note names and numbers used in Sonic Pi and Scratch. Print it out, stick it beside your Pi, and start composing!

The third new chapter is an appendix covering RISC OS. Given the rest of the book is all about Linux, we thought this topic best belonged in an appendix. It provides a short introduction to help you get your bearings on the RISC OS operating system, and will hopefully encourage you to try it out and discover an interesting alternative take on the graphical user interface.

To make some room, we did have to drop the web design project that was in the previous edition. The rationale was to make room for more Pi-specific technologies. If you're looking for a guide to web design, my book Web Design in Easy Steps might be what you're looking for, and you can use Leafpad on the Raspberry Pi for coding your HTML and CSS.

I'd like to thank everyone for their fantastic support of the book, and the first edition before it. Publishers only create a new edition of a book when the first edition is successful, so it is thanks to everyone who supported the first edition that we're able to create this updated edition and continue to help readers get the best from their Raspberry Pis. I was delighted to see the book was recommended in the official Raspberry Pi Christmas Shopping Guide, which said the book is "a superb guide to the device and what you can do with it. It’s good for beginners, but it’ll take you a long way – much further than you might guess from the title!". Thank you also to Code Club, who shared this great photo of community manager Michael reading the book:

Find out more about Raspberry Pi For Dummies here, and please visit my shop for links to places where you can buy Raspberry Pi For Dummies, Scratch Programming in Easy Steps, Raspberry Pi Projects, Web Design in Easy Steps, or any of my other books. If you'd like to support your local bookshop, there's a form you can print out and take into the shop with the ISBN details on it to smooth the order process.

Wishing you a Christmas filled with mince pies, Raspberry Pis, and whatever you wish for!

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Christmas fun and games

09 December 2014

Here's an animated Christmas card I made using Scratch. Feel free to modify it and send it to your friends!

You can learn more about Scratch here.

While we're on the subject of Christmas, you can play my Christmas version of Hangman, Snowman, here and play my Christmas Pairs game here. You can send a Christmas greeting on a free ecard from any of my photos here, too. And Virtual Sean has his Santa suit on!

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Making music on the Raspberry Pi

21 November 2014

In the run-up to the publication of the second edition of Raspberry Pi For Dummies, I've created an infographic to help you with making music on your Raspberry Pi. It shows the note numbers you need to use in Scratch and Sonic Pi. Both are covered in Raspberry Pi For Dummies, with Sonic Pi being a new addition to the second edition, with a chapter of its own. You can find out more about Sonic Pi here (and hear the music I wrote using it), and read more about this Raspberry Pi note numbers infographic here. There's more information on what's new in the second edition of Raspberry Pi For Dummies here.

Raspberry Pi Scratch and Sonic Pi note numbers.

Click the image to enable easier printing. Stick it on your wall!

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What's new in the second edition of Raspberry Pi For Dummies?

06 November 2014

Later this month, there is a second edition of Raspberry Pi For Dummies coming out. A lot has changed since the previous edition was published in March 2013, including the launch of the Model B+ earlier this year and the introduction of NOOBS, which makes it easier to install the operating system. For this second edition, Mike and I have checked and updated the whole book to account for the new hardware and the latest software. We've also refreshed the list of inspiring projects and useful software at the back of the book with some new suggestions.

Image of Sean with the Dummies man

Me having a quick editorial meeting with the Dummies Man.
I'm on the right.

The book has three new chapters:

We've extended the page count (at the same RRP, so you get better value!), but something had to give, so the chapter on making a website using the Raspberry Pi has been removed. If you'd really like that chapter, the first edition of the book remains on sale with immediate shipping in many places, including Amazon.

The second edition of Raspberry Pi For Dummies is available now for pre-order at and, with Amazon's pre-order guarantee ensuring you'll pay the lowest price Amazon lists it at between now and publication day. Visit my shop for links to other places you can buy Raspberry Pi For Dummies.

The second edition is only viable because the first edition was well received, so I'd like to thank everyone who read the first edition, bought it, reviewed it, and/or helped to spread the word. All your support is very much appreciated!

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Discover my two new Scratch programming tutorials

23 October 2014

The Scratch CatThe first half term of the new school year has now finished, and with it the first few weeks of a whole new set of Code Clubs. I've written two new articles to cover two of the key challenges that Scratch presents to new programmers:

  1. Finding and debugging the top 5 errors in Scratch programs: There are several errors that new Scratchers tend to make. If you're on the look-out for them, it'll make it easier to fix your programs, and to guide students in fixing their own.
  2. What's the difference between a variable made for one sprite and a variable made for all sprites in Scratch?: This issue is particularly important because it's so hard to untangle if a mistake is made. I've created a short demo that should help to make the difference clearer. Feel free to use it in your clubs and classrooms!

You can still find my 10 Block Scratch Demos here, and lots more resources on my minisite for my book Scratch Programming in Easy Steps.

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Download my Scratch demo files in the Raspberry Pi Store

17 October 2014

I'm pleased to say that you can now download the examples from Scratch Programming in Easy Steps for free in the Pi Store on the Raspberry Pi. You can find them filed under Tutorials there. I've also included the PDF sampler from the book and some of my 10-block Scratch demo cards.

I hope that this will make it easier for readers to download and experiment with the example files, and will also introduce some new readers to the book.

The process of submitting to the store was fairly easy, although it took me a while to work out the installation process. To submit to the store, you upload a zip file containing your files, and you have to specify which file will open when somebody clicks the Pi Store's launch button. For projects like mine, this is tricky because it's really a collection of Scratch programs, not a single game to run. I had planned to use 'readme.txt' for the start file, but that didn't work because there's currently a bug in the store where it sets text files to be executable. While there are workarounds (such as writing a bash script that removes the executable status on your text file), the simplest solution is to open a PDF at launch instead. That also gave me an opportunity to design something that looks a bit friendlier when somebody opens it.

I'll be interested to see how many people these files reach through the store. The Pi Store could be a great way to get new software and ideas to other Raspberry Pi fans.

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Planting poppies at the Tower of London

09 October 2014

Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red is an installation at the Tower of London to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the First World War. It fills the moat of the Tower with 888,246 ceramic poppies, each of which represents a British military death in the war.

Last week, I was pleased to be able to spend the morning as one of the volunteers assembling and planting the poppies in the moat. The installation is a beautiful tribute to the lives lost during the war, and a powerful act of remembrance. It was touching to see mementoes left by members of the public in memory of relatives they had lost in the war, but probably never known. As I walked around the Tower after my shift, I spoke to a few members of the public who asked me questions about it, and I had a sense that many people were moved by the installation.

The last poppy will be planted on 11 November, and the installation will then be gradually disassembled. You can buy one of the poppies, with proceeds being divided among six service charities.

Here are some photos I took on the day. By showing the poppies up close, I hope it helps to give a sense of scale to the installation. It looks spectacular from the walkway around the tower, but getting up close really brings home just how many poppies there are, and how many people it represents.

A single poppy. Each one is hand-crafted by ceramic artists, working around the clock in three shifts. Assembling the poppies was quite hard. In our four hour shift, we were aiming to assemble and plant 50 each, but I think we probably managed closer to 30 in my group.

A cluster of poppies. You can see more clearly here how the poppies differ. I hadn't seen the installation before my volunteering shift. We approached it from the Tower Bridge side, where the sea of poppies isn't as wide. It was sobering to think that each poppy represents a soldier or other military employee.

And then, when you turn the corner: the sea of red, almost filling the moat, and really bringing home the horror of how many lives were lost.

To add texture to the landscape of poppies, some have taller stems than the majority.

The poppies appear to cascade down the side of the tower, and here come crashing over the bridge that provides visitor access to the tower.

A photo of me (left, obviously) with one of the Yeoman Guarders at the Tower of London.

It was a wonderful experience to contribute to this unique installation, which draws upon poppies designed by Paul Cummins, a setting by stage designer Tom Piper, and contributions from thousands of staff and volunteers. Thank you to the Tower of London and the team behind this project for giving me the opportunity to be part of it, and for looking after us all on the day.

You can see my photos from Dernancourt War Cemetery in the Somme, France here, and my photo from the Big IF art installation in Hyde Park here.

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