Feb 24

Book Review: Python For Kids

Hey All,

I met No Starch Press at PyCon 2012 where they were showing off chapters of their then upcoming book, Python For Kids by Jason R. Briggs.  I was talking to them and expressed interest in getting a copy for the students in my department at the University.  At the end of December the book started shipping and No Starch was kind enough to contact me and send me a copy.

I have to say that I think the book is great.  It has 18 chapters and is around 300 pages, with the book split up into 3 parts.  The first part is an introduction to Python 3, the syntax, as well as standard programming conventions like loops and variables and functions.  It also goes into modules, turtle graphics (like the LOGO language of old), objects, classes, and the tkinter GUI library.

The second part gets to the fun activities you can do with Python like programming games!  All the chapters in this part of the book are about using tkinter and Python to make a pong / arkanoid like game and it walks you through every step of the process.

The third part of the books builds upon the previous game, and teaches the reader how to make a simple platforming game, complete with sprites, animations, and events.

I REALLY liked this book.  I tried to read a chapter a day, and I kept having to stop myself because I would say just one more chapter tonight… (I like to pace myself).  I feel the author really captures what a kid would like to learn about and presents it in a manner that will keep them entertained, motivated, and interested.

I do have two very minor nitpicks about the book that stayed with me while I was reading it.  The first one was the lack of explaining types.  The author dives right into strings, and ints, and floats, but doesn’t explain what the difference is between them, or why you would use one over the other.  I think a simple introduction and type chart  would have made the first part a much easier read for a beginner.  The second nitpick* is that the last part of the book ramps up the difficulty.  You do get a finished game out of it, so the challenge isn’t for nothing, but I still found it to be a bit jarring after breezing through my reading of the earlier chapters.

Barring those two very minor issues, I think this is a fabulous book.  For a programming book, it is on the inexpensive side, at around $20, and packs a good amount of material for the price.  I recommend it.

-Shea

*A good friend of mine told me that I’m not looking at this one through kid glasses.  They would probably have no issue with the difficulty ramp up, and would in fact welcome the challenge.

 

Feb 21

3Doodler and Raspberry Pi On-Off Switch

Hey All,

You all know I’m a huge Kickstarter fan.  This week has proved to be an awesome time for projects (and a sad day for my wallet).  Two projects caught my eye, the first one is the 3Doodler.

The 3Doodler is a hot-glue-gun like device that uses a plastic extruder to create 3D shapes in air.  The plastic extruder is one that you would normally see in a 3D printer like the Makerbot, but has been adapted to be handheld.  Because the plastic cools rapidly, it can create sturdy shapes that can be drawn anywhere.

It already surpassed the million dollar mark, so I have high hopes for this project.  I backed it at the $75 October level, so I hope to get mine then and be able to do a review of it.  If you are into 3D Printing and artwork, you may want to consider backing this project!

Another Kickstarter I backed this week is a project for the Raspberry Pi.  It’s an on/off switch that talks to the Pi via GPIO and activates a safe software shutdown before cutting power.

I’ve talked to the creator, he’s a member of the Raspberry Pi forums, and is quite excited about this project.  It’s $22 for this batch of boards.  If you are looking for a power switch for your Pi, this may be it.

I have a cool piece of hardware to show tomorrow.  Looking forward to sharing it with you all!

-Shea

Feb 08

Friday Post: Warm Bodies and Instamorph

Hey All,

Happy Friday!  I am going to spend most of tomorrow in bed.  I’m beat.  Grad School is great, but exhausting.  Working full time, school, and hobbies (plus my upcoming wedding) is insane.  And yet, I LOVE every second of it.

Warm Bodies

Tonight I had a well deserved date night with the fiancee.  We went and saw the movie Warm Bodies.  It’s a Zom-Rom-Com, like Zombieland and Shaun of the Dead.  I highly recommend it.

Instamorph

I forget where I saw this product initially, but once I started reading up on it, I had to have it.  Instamorph is mold-able  reusable, quick setting plastic.  The product comes as plastic pellets which you pour into just below boiling water.  When the plastic becomes clear, you can take it out and mold it into any shape you want.  As it cools, it hardens and turns white.

instamorphcat

Kristene made that in about 5 minutes.  I’m going to use it to make standoffs for my Raspberry Pi within the DeskCade.

Have a great weekend!

-Shea

 

 

Feb 07

PiMAME, AdvanceMAME, and AdvanceMENU Tankstick Configuration

edit: Added dual stick configuration to advmame.rc

Hey all,

Here is a working config for the XGaming X-Arcade Tankstick!  The base of this comes from the very helpful site: http://www.raspberry.cat/20130203/pimame-i-x-arcade/

The first step is to edit /etc/rc.local and include this line before “exit 0”: Continue reading

Feb 01

Friday Post: Nano Quadcopter

Hey All,

Not much to write about this week.  Halfway through the Python for Kids book, will be writing a full review once I get through it all.  My graduate course is ramping up, but I’m still loving it.  Working out the kinks on the Tankstick, like the fact that when I tried to play SF2 with my fiancee, the second player buttons wouldn’t register in game…whoops!  Now onto the meat of the post!

If you have never been to Seeedstudio.com, you really should take a look.  They are an open hardware manufacturer   If you have an idea, and can make a prototype, they can probably mass produce it for you. They are currently selling preorders for a Nano Quadcopter.

At work, we have a couple of the $20 RC Helicopters that we play around with whenever we need to take a break.  We always wanted to get a quadcopter for the office, but most of the time, they are very expensive, too big, and not a full kit.  The size being the biggest factor.  This new quadcopter comes with everything you need, is open source, inexpensive, and best of all, fits in your hand!

One has already been ordered by my coworkers, and should arrive in April.  I’m excited to play with this thing (and hopefully not break a wing on my first attempt!)

Have a great weekend!

-Shea

Jan 27

PIP and Sheacob.com

Hey All,

Today I’m pleased to introduce a partner site of mine. Sheacob.com is a collaborative blog between myself and my friend + coworker Jacob Bates.  Jacob is a coder, photographer, embedded electronics enthusiast, and an all around good guy.

We have been working together on some projects for the past year, and are finally making a place to debut them.  I hope you look forward to some of our creations.

With that said, here is something we made for the Raspberry Pi community (natch!):

PIP (http://pip.sheacob.com)

We got tired of having to hook up a screen to the Raspberry Pi, or go into our router, just to find out its IP address, so we decided to write this simple script. Basically, your Pi sends its local IP address to the site every time it boots, then you visit http://pip.sheacob.com site on your main computer to view it.

You can install it from our site or with this command:

wget http://pip.sheacob.com/pipinstall.py && chmod +x pipinstall.py && sudo ./pipinstall.py

We aren’t storing any personal information, it’s just the WAN address that your computer sends when you visit any website (like whatismyip.com) and the internal IP address of your Raspberry Pi.

Once installed, all you have to do is goto http://pip.sheacob.com to display the IP your Raspberry Pi has.

We hope you enjoy it and it helps out some people. Let us know if you have any questions, comments, or suggestions!

-Shea Silverman & Jacob Bates

Jan 22

X-Arcade Tankstick Unboxing

Hey all,

My new Tankstick arrived today, courtesy of XGaming.com. They have asked me to test it and get it running on the Raspberry Pi. I only had a couple minutes to play with it, but I made a little unboxing video for everyone:

Size comparison of the Pi versus a Tankstick:

tankstick
This thing has some heft to it!  With the few minutes I got to use it, I notice why some users of the Raspberry Pi are having difficulties making it work right.  It’s nothing wrong with the device, but with the way some of the software interprets the inputs.  I have a couple of hunches and ideas on how to fix it, which I hope to get to within the next week.

PiMAME 0.5 is also coming along nicely.  I’m reverting back to the 0.3 stack and just adding some minor modifications.  That should be released on Friday.

-Shea

Jan 18

Friday Post: Advance .debs

Hey all,

New Debs!

I have the latest AdvanceMENU, AdvanceMESS, and AdvanceMAME versions compiled and turned into .debs for your installing pleasure.

  1. Files:
    1. AdvanceMAME 1.2
    2. AdvanceMENU 2.6
    3. AdvanceMESS 0.102
  2. To install, run these commands:
    1. sudo dpkg --force-overwrite -i advancemame_1.2-1_armhf.deb
    2. sudo dpkg --force-overwrite -i advancemenu_2.6-1_armhf.deb
    3. sudo dpkg --force-overwrite -i advancemess_0.102.0.1-1_armhf.deb

The reason dpkg requires force install is because the Advance* projects compile a lot of the same helper binaries, like advj and advc.  When dpkg tries to install the next package, it sees it has already installed something with the same name, and freaks out.

Doing a force install tells it to overwrite and continue, making everything work.  I don’t recommend using force install for everyday installs, but I know it works for these.

X Gaming X-Arcade Stick

I was very surprised when I was contacted by X Gaming this week.  They are sending me one of their really cool looking X Arcade tank sticks to test out with the Raspberry Pi and various emulators.  A couple people have posted on the Raspberry Pi forums and on my blog asking if this stick works, so hopefully I will have an answer for everyone very soon.

I’m looking forward to everyone’s feedback on the new .deb files.  Let me know if something is messed up, doesn’t install for you, or is just wonky.  Also let me know if it does work, because that’s good to hear as well 🙂

Have a great weekend!

-Shea

Dec 24

Happy Holidays! PiMAME 0.3 Released!

Happy Holidays Everyone!

I wish everyone a happy and a healthy.

To celebrate the holidays I am proud to present the release of PiMAME 0.3

Features:

  • AdvMENU theme with IP address in the background
  • Web Front-End which enables uploading of ROMs from your computer to the Raspberry Pi
  • Sound Fixes

To access the web front end just type the IP address that is displayed in AdvMENU into your web browser.    You should be presented with a screen similar to this:

pimamefrontend

From there you can upload and access PiMAME’s file system.  Make sure you upload your files into the ROMs directory and then restart AdvMENU.

Enjoy!

If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions please feel to let me know!

-Shea

Dec 18

PiMAME quick fixes and information

Hey all,

I’ve been getting tons of feedback about PiMAME.  Thank you for all the comments and suggestions.  There have been a few issues/questions that have popped up, hopefully the tips below helps you out.

Here is a quick fix for the AdvanceMENU sound issue:

  1. ssh into your Raspberry Pi.
  2. exit out of AdvanceMENU by pressing Escape.
  3. at the console, type: nano +99 .advance/advmenu.rc
  4. edit the sound_background lines to look like below:
    1. sound_background_begin none
    2. sound_background_end none
    3. sound_background_loop none
    4. sound_background_loop_dir none
    5. sound_background_start none
    6. sound_background_stop none
  5. press control-x to exit, it will ask you to save, press “y” to confirm.
  6. Reboot your Pi and it should be good to go.

Adding games:

Your game files should go in the /home/pi/roms/ directory.  I cannot help you find games for MAME.

Stopping AdvanceMENU from starting at bootup:

If you want AdvanceMENU to not start at bootup edit /home/pi/.profile and remove advmenu from the bottom of the script.

Logging In:

The username and password are the default Raspbian ones.

  1. User: pi
  2. Password: raspberry