Sean's Tech and Writing Blog
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!
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!
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!
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.
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.
The book has three new chapters:
- Making a Minecraft Maze with Python: This project shows you how to make a program in Python that will generate random mazes that you can walk around in Minecraft. It's a lot of fun exploring the mazes, and they don't have to be very big before they become quite challenging to solve. You can easily configure the size and position of the maze if you want to drop it into an existing world, but be careful because the program will wipe out anything in its way as it builds the maze. This chapter previously appeared in the book Raspberry Pi Projects, but since that book is for a different audience, and I got really great feedback from people who saw the program in action, we thought it would be good to include this chapter in Raspberry Pi For Dummies too. You can watch a video of this program building a maze here.
- Making music with Sonic Pi: Sonic Pi is a programming language you can use to write music. In this new chapter, you'll learn how to use it to write tunes you know, random music, and sample-based pieces. The chapter finishes with an industrial piece that combines samples for drums and several synth parts that are synchronised together. I'll post the music on this website soon, both as code and audio.
- RISC OS: This is an alternative operating system for the Raspberry Pi, and it now has an appendix of its own that provides a short introduction to get you started.
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 Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com, 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!
23 October 2014
The 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:
- 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.
- 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!
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.
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.
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.