Cool projects with the Raspberry Pi

The Raspberry Pi has bee around for awhile as a kit which places computing in the palm of your hand, and reportedly Raspberry Pi Microcomputer Still Selling Like Hot Cakes. It gives you a low cost computer which can be loaded with a number of basic OS (See their downloads). This machine can be modified with a growing range of projects, and there are a good collection of teaching resources to go with it. There are two new crowd funded projects that will be worth following, Pi-Top and Durio Sound. Both of these show health development in the micro computing area.

Pi-Top is a Laptop developed from the Raspberry Pi, and although it’s not one of the $100 laptops or part of the one laptop per child thing that was happening a few years back. It is something you can construct yourself and will help develop you understanding of computer hardware.
The second project is Durio Sound, another Raspberry Pi that adds a 24-bit 192kHz ultimate sound quality with the lowest possible distortion to your Raspberry Pi.

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Creating Interactive Stories

Interactive Stories in their simplest form are Text Adventures, but how can you easily enable students to create these adventures for themselves?

Creating interactive stories from J Le Rossignol

A simple sample task for use in the classroom, with the handouts for Keynote or PowerPoint.

Choose your own adventure story (Task) from J Le Rossignol

Retro-gaming strikes back!

It’s interesting to see graphically simple challenging games like Flappy Bird, Geometry Dash, and Phases. All of which have game play that challenges the player, and it is a point of renown for those that achieve the highest scores.
This trend seamed to start with Flappy Bird, which has a simple touch control that controls the bouncing motion of the bird. The challenge for the player is in timing the motion to find the games through the pillars. The graphics hearken back to Mario, so much so that comments about a law suit appeared on the Internet. The game topped the Apple iStore, spawned many clones, and the creator pulled it down for a little while.
Piano Keys has simple black and white squares that the players much touch in rapid succession and keep up with the cascade of tiles that flow down the screen. The challenge lies in the number of piano tile that you can touch within a time limit, the speed the tiles move, or the how long you can last.
Geometry Dash is another game that exemplifies simple game play with stylised graphics. The player needs to move a cube through a series of side scrolling platform environments (levels) with various spikes, walls, and pits by jumping the cube over or under these. Alternative parts of each level have the cube transform into a spaceship that flies through a similar level. The spaceship naturally falls, and touches cause it to fly up at a sharp angle.
Phases has simple graphics, with the player controlling the left and right movement of a ball and it bounces through an dangerous spiky environment.

All these games share similar traits from the arcade games of the ’80s, in that they have simple stylised graphics that just get the idea across, and the focus on challenging game play with the aim of making the game superior.

Head in the Clouds

Cloud Services are a big thing with major companies, like Google, Amazon, Microsoft, and now Oracle in a price war over cloud computing. Although this does mean a reduction for users of these services. Like many people I use cloud services like Dropbox,, and Google Drive.

So one of the things I’ve wanted to do is setup a cloud based file sharing for my personal projects to gain control of the storage and for the experience. Students asked me about best way to share their files. I found ownCloud  a open source project to enable cloud based file sharing.

Overall it’s easy to install, and to use. However, you do need to have SSL certificate (used with https) to avoid creating security problems. I’ve found references to scaling problems around the use of SQLite (which is part of the default install), but this can be fixed by moving to MySQL.

Should Teachers be Software Engineers?

A recent article on TechCrunch, Why We Should Treat Teachers Like Software Engineers, highlighted some of the problems in the US education system (and indeed the UK & Australian systems) when compared to the Japanese & Korean education systems. Pointing out that better pay will get better teachers, and only briefly talking about working conditions (teaching time vs preparation), resourcing of schools, and respect for the profession. For me the very interesting part was the comments and discussion that followed on from the article.

Some of the comments pointed out that the working conditions of software engineers a dramatically different with non-performing engineers let go, which varies from educators. That Engineers produce products for consumption, while teachers educate people for the future. Unlike engineering, where most things can be quantified, measured and analysed. The enabling of a mind for thinking is a qualitative process with many and varied possibilities. It required consideration of the individual’s predispositions and the surrounding culture’s dominating influences. To layer analysis over the top of so many variables would require an astronomical level of computing power and individual monitoring as to make it impossible at this time.

The useful thing I did get from this TechCrunch discussion was a book, Finnish Lessons, which looks at the history of the Finnish education system and will hopefully provide some ideas on how they have achieved on of the highest education rankings in the world.