Tag Archives: Raspberry Pi

Looking back to 8-bit computing to move forwards

In my third essay looking at increase breaches of personal information through malware and questionable security practices, I will now take a look at existing computing systems.

As security breaches have become common practice with companies and governments ‘loosing’ personal data, a new way of thinking and working with IT systems is required. There has been some recent high profile data losses, notably with eBay, Orange France, voice recording technology used by emergency services worldwide and the fallout from the Heartbleed bug in OpenSSL program’s code is still an unknown quantity.

Security researchers have complained about how the recent introduction of US Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), is making it difficult to track down potential security vulnerabilities and exploits. The dichotomy of policy makers within government can be seen with another recent story where the “White House and NASA gear up for National Day of Civic Hacking”. Citizens are encouraged to find solutions to problems, technological or otherwise. This is at odds with government wanting to suppress security analysts from researching flaws through CFAA enforcement.

With the ever increasing threat from malware effecting modern operating systems of all flavours, should we all be looking at either not storing personal information on computing systems or returning to less complex operating systems? Should we be reviving 8-bit home computer booting practices to protect personal data?

I recently wrote about George RR Martin’s use of a DOS based computer running WordStar to write Game Of Thrones novels. The lack of connectivity and the use of a less advanced computer system protect Mr Martin’s work. I suggest in this article that maybe we should be looking back to the 1980s and early 1990s of 8bit and possibly 16bit home computing to look forwards again. Continue reading

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London Technology Week event at Dragon Hall

As part of London Technology Week, Dragon Hall Trust (Covent Garden) in the heart of London’s West end district hosted a ‘Tech Day’ showcasing the launch of their ‘Innovation & Technology Hub’ with an aim to bridge the digital divide for children and young people. This event was open for children within the age range of 8 to 11 years old from 4pm to 6pm, and for 12+ age (including young people and adults) from 6pm to 9pm.

We will be showcasing the work we are doing with Young People to Bridge the Digital Divide and give them access to technology including 3D Printing, Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, Coding, 3Doodler Pens, Makey Makey, Internet Radio, Mobile Application Development and more.

During this event, many exciting technology workshops and demonstrations were available for people to interact with, getting hands-on experience with an introduction to Scratch, 3D printing technology, creating smart phone applications, and other technologies being showcased.

STEMettes (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) an organisation who’s mission is to

inspire the next generation of females into Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) fields by showing them the amazing women already in STEM.

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As BASIC celebrates 50 years, a revival is needed

On the 1st May 1964 BASIC (Beginner’s All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code) programming language was initiated when at 4 a.m. Professor John G. Kemeny and student programmer Thomas E. Kurtz (who later became a professor) simultaneously typed RUN on neighbouring terminals in the basement hall of Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. When they got back the correct answers to their programs, BASIC was officially born. This innovation implemented the concept of time-sharing on computer systems and set in motion a chain of events which would lead to computers becoming available to all.

At the time, computers were generally used by science and mathematics students, and required custom written software. Data and programs were often stored on punch-cards and paper tape [Footnote 1], with magnetic tape being introduced in 1951. During the 1970s there was rapid growth in different flavours of BASIC, additional functions were added with extra structuring keywords and advanced floating-point operation features.

With the introduction of 8-bit home computing, from the ZX-81, Commodore VIC-20, ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64, BBC Micro & Acorn Electron, Amstrad CPC 464 and other models and makes of the 1980s, versions of BASIC became widespread and were often integrated into the computer’s firmware (ROM chip) along with an interpreter and operating system commands. Cassette tapes were used for data storage and retrieval initially and later floppy disks.

ZX Spectrum BASIC example

ZX Spectrum BASIC example

Upon powering on a home micro an interpreter prompt would be displayed, this enable writing BASIC programs or executing commands built into that hardware platform’s operating system. For example, to load a word processor package (e.g., Tasword) one would type LOAD “” and press Enter. Then play the tape. Friends with attached Interface 1 + Microdrives or floppy disks with the later ZX Spectrum +3 (Amstrad) would be able to load data at a much faster rate than cassette tape.

With the growth of 8-bit home computing, complete source code for computer games and other programs were published in magazines and books. In the UK the BBC embarked upon a Computer Literacy Project using BBC BASIC. Over the years BASIC has continued to develop, notably with Microsoft’s Visual Basic. Some teaching guides such as the AQA A/AS Level Computing books still provide examples in Microsoft Visual Basic, however this version of BASIC is closer in structure to Python or Pascal rather than 8-bit computer BASIC.  Continue reading

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ZX Spectrum celebrates 30 years

With a plethora of articles celebrating the launch of the ZX Spectrum,  a 8-bit home computer with 16K or 48K RAM models launched 30 years ago, I thought I would also mention the anniversary of such an iconic machine.

The ZX Spectrum’s 30th anniversary coincided with St. George’s Day 2012 in England. Google produced a Google ‘doodle’ to commemorate both events on Monday 23rd April.

Google doogle of ZX Spectrum 30th anniversary on St. George's Day

St. George & ZX Spectrum 2012 – Image © Google

I have previously mentioned the ZX Spectrum in articles about the Raspberry Pi and computer programming. I remember loading games such as Atic Atac, Continue reading

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Model B of Raspberry Pi on general release

With the launch of the Raspberry Pi earlier today 29th February 2012 (6 AM GMT), I found myself being flabbergasted and happily amazed in equal measure. It took me over an hour to get onto Premier Farnell‘s website early this morning and about 20 minutes to access Radio Spares Components. I initially held off ‘registering an interest’ for a RasPi on RS as Premier Farnell had stock today, however @Raspbery_Pi twitter-sphere soon indicated Farnell had sold out in just over an hour and RS were not selling today. Soon after I ‘registered an interest’ for the Raspberry Pi on RS.

For Farnell and RS it might have seemed like a co-ordinated DDoS as requests flooded in due to demand for Model B RasPi. For me not being able to get onto these sites (as for many I suspect) has been both frustrating and exciting, as this signals the start of an exciting journey for the Raspberry Pi from 1st generation onwards. This also demonstrates a success story not just for computing technology enthusiasts, hobbyists and experts alike, but exemplifies a thirst for learning, imagination and creativity for many, due to the scope an inexpensive pocket computer running an open-source OS (Linux) can be used for.

While the media is currently focusing on programming aspects of Computer Science, the RasPi opens up computing technology for many not just in learning programming, but also for understanding how stuff works as well as for fun. With accessories such as the Gertboard due to follow later this year, the RasPi can also be put to use in other science and engineering projects, from designing robots through to controlling them. Continue reading

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How-to Write a disk image to a SDHC card

This brief document describes how to write a Raspberry Pi ARM disk image to a SDHC memory card on a Macintosh. Raspberry Pi boot images can be found from their download page: http://www.raspberrypi.org/downloads.

Raspberry Pi Downloads page

Raspberry Pi Downloads page

Due to the vast amount of traffic on the RasPi website’s download page, I would recommend either obtaining an image from using a BitTorrent client or downloading from a mirror site. Download mirror community sites can be found through the elinux RasPi website: http://elinux.org/RPi_Community. This example uses an ARM Debian 6 image from UK mirror site http://www.raspberrypidownload.co.uk/. Continue reading

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Could the Raspberry Pi be the best innovation for 2012?

With imminent release of the Raspberry Pi Model B computer, I thought a follow-up article to “How do I become a computer programmer?” maybe useful. The main focus of this article was to provide some pointers for children and adults who would like to learn programming. However programming is not the only skill set one can learn with a Raspberry Pi.

Suggesting some of the available options on how to learn programming can often be analogous to choosing a different flavour lollypop; not all of us like the same flavours; nor lollipops. While there are a wide selection of programming languages available, such as Ruby, Python, Java, BASIC, Pascal, C (and its derivatives) to name a few, and then there are a plethora of (text) editors and IDEs (Integrated Development Environments) available along a trek of many “Computer says no” (//** Syntax Error **//) to successfully navigate your learning progression through, the important thing not to lose sight of are the learning outcomes. These can be key to a successful and happy journey along the winding forest path of learning something new.

How new information is processed and learnt is often dependent upon how a book or a trainer communicates with the learner, as well as how the learner processes the new information; the language used can determine a successful outcome. Computer science follows other science subjects, whether they are astronomy, biology, ecology, chemistry, geology, physics, in that they follow the scientific method. Regardless of what science subject one takes at school, generally we are taught the scientific method. Continue reading

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