APRIL 24, 2012 12:57PM

Raspberry Pi. A World Changer

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How did I not know about something this world changing? Raspberry Pi. A computer the size of a credit card. Cost? $25.00. Or $35.00. Take your pick. Either way, for the moment you can only get one. The demand is just too big. Exactly how large that demand is, seems to vary by the second. And from reading the Raspberry Pi Foundation site, it sounds as if they are way too busy to lift up their heads from their work and count the demand.

 

We’re talking about something that could change the world. Who has time to count?

 

I did not hear about the $25 dollar computer from a tech journal, a major news outlet, or The Daily Show. I first got the news from my Dad.

 

My Dad is retired. He sits down the road from Princeton University. And he does what he’s always done, keeps his eye on the world, looking out for what’s important. Looks for what matters. And he does it well.

 

I am one of those people who have always seen his Dad as a hero. One of the reasons is that he can always spot the important stuff. Like he did with Raspberry Pi.

 

I told him about “Google Alerts.” So we’ve been following Raspberry Pi now for a week or so.

 

Trying to figure out why this isn’t bigger news.

 

One thread of an answer is that there seems to be no marketing or promotional department. Perhaps they don’t need one.

 

A Raspberry Pi “FAQ” does what “FAQ” attempts almost never do---answers the questions you want to know. “Who, what, why, where and when.” More on the “why” in a moment.

 

In the daily news on this world-changing computer, there is no absence of “tech talk.”  Thrown up like some sort of great stone wall to keep out all those who don’t know the language, I read things like:

 

The device has a “700 MHZ Broadcomm ARM processor and 256 MB of RAM. Running on 5V power. Two USB connections.”  

 

And despite using a computer every day. Despite having run a national customer service center, I don’t really know what that means.

 

But there is also “tech talk” for the rest of us. Like for example, “Plug it into a keyboard and a screen and you are good to go.” Just like I’m doing with the Mini Mac that sits on my desk right now.

 

Plugged in, fired up and ready to change the world, you have a Linux based computing environment. What does that mean? Well, one of the things it means is that no one is paying Apple or Microsoft or HP here.

Could that be one of the reasons that I never heard of this?

 

The Raspberry Pi is not even close to the silver, wafer thin MAC laptop we invested in so my wife could go back to school. Still: no one is paying Microsoft or Apple here.

 

But it is perhaps the “why” part of the story that hits home hardest. Why did they invent this thing? What’s the reason Eben Upton, who runs the Foundation responsible for developing the computer and bringing it to the world, had for embarking on this journey?

 

Ready for this? Upton and his associates from Cambridge University were worried about the loss of programming and computer skills in British children. That is what started all this.

 

I once worked for a corporation that, after I left, was taken over by a former motel owner. He ended up going to jail. My retirement fund vanished into fairy dust. He had a “mission statement” that said, “Maximize shareholder return on shareholder investment.” In other words, we are here to make money.

 

That’s not a bad thing. The problem comes when it’s the only thing.

 

As a management consultant, I help companies and non-profits figure out answers to questions like "Why are we here?" What makes us different? How do we sustain ourselves? What is it about us that grabs the heart and makes a person sing like another new morning is just around the corner?

 

The Raspberry Pi Foundation needs no help answering questions like these. They are a non-profit. But they have contracted manufacturing and distribution. So a lot of money will be made. That can happen when you change the world.

 

But they also have a real mission. They are doing something that matters. They are helping kids develop better computer and programming skills. Lots of kids. And that is only the first sign of all the ways this new device can be a world changer.

 

You look at the picture of the device and you think. No cover. It is open to the world.

 

Open to the world. Something that takes this story into the realm of poetry. Now I look at those news alerts on this new computer, I see stories about things like Australian high school kids using Raspberry Pi to scan the sky for pictures of meteorites.

 

I imagine mud huts in distant lands and a child sitting on a dirt floor writing a program that will isolate a cancer gene, I see world-class verse written by a young poet from a tiny village in the most remote part of Finland.

 

Thinking of what’s to come. I see future historians digging fragments of information out of the world’s databases to give voice to an oral history of a time before there was no Raspberry Pi.

 

Stories of a time before there was a computer in every single child’s hands. Every single child in the world.

 

A future child reads of how Steve Jobs led the team that figured out how to put 1,000 songs in someone’s pocket. And then, the future child reads on, Eben Upton led the team that figured out how to put 1,000 songs in everyone’s pocket. 

A future child reads about a tiny computer.

That changed the world.

 


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Comments

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Well, now they've got some press, thanks to you. Pretty amazing.
Fascinating. It might just ween me from the library computer. I checked it out on Wickipedia just to see if it's for real.
Holy wow.
I will check into this further...
r./
You make me want to read everything you write.
Wow... great post!!
Remarkable. According to PC World, the $35 version has an Ethernet port. When the Pi's capacity increases (and it will, quickly), I imagine kids in mud huts playing World of Warcraft.
Thanks for spreading the word. Can't wait to learn more.
With so many of the devices today you wonder if the thought was they be tools or an end unto themselves. This one leaves no such questions. You have found a great bit of news here.
I think the point of this thing is to get kids (particularly UK kids) back to the era when a personal computer was something you put together yourself, programmed yourself, and customized yourself. My own career harks back to that era. I hope to put together an account of my weird technical odyssey in a later posting, but here's a hint of how far things have come in a short time.
In 1985 I worked at a major astronomy observatory. The whole operation ran off two Digital Equipment Corp (DEC) PDP-11/73 computers. Here are the scary numbers - those things had 15 MHz 16-bit processors, 64k (that's k, as in kilobyte, not Megabyte or Gigabyte) of memory, and the hard drives were these huge (14 inch) removable cartridges, holding a massive 2.5 MBytes of data. One computer ran the telescope itself, and one controlled and acquired data from the instrument in use. Somehow it all worked. I had not heard of Moore's Law at the time, but even if I had, I doubt I would have realized what it meant in terms of, for instance, what those corresponding numbers would be for a computer now. What I'm using right now has a 64-bit 2.20 GHz processor, 8 GBytes of memory and 450 GBytes of disc space. And of course the DVD drive - and all that's in a laptop!
And yet I still hanker for the days when we could (and one wet afternoon we did) throw together a system out of spare boards gathered together during a "spring clean" of our computer room.
John--So far, the only American press that covered this beyond just the tech angle was Forbes. That came out today. But this won't stay quiet for long.

Sarah--Google their FAQ page. It's even better. And this really should be checked out because there is literally nothing like it. Anywhere.

onislandtime--Check it out. What I did here was just an introduction. There is more. And they are shipping the computers all over the world right now. There is an office of the distribution partner---Premier Farnell--right down the street from my house. I am guessing they are busy!

ONL--That means a lot. Thank you.

j---Cool story, huh?

Deborah--I wonder if the reluctance to report on this in the US doesn't have a wee bit of "not invented here?" But that's just speculation. The world changing nature of this computer---once the general public catches on--will be astounding. So you'll hear more


Stacey--That's a really good point. This one has a real purpose.


GeeBee--That's my understanding as to the original point too. "You did it all yourself." As you once did. So if one were to expand that out to include EVERYONE. . .and the open source apps started multiplying an into infinity. . . .
Roger, you do know that Microsoft and Apple will be sending the little black helicopters after you soon as they finish reading this post. It will be too late, of course...hahahahahahahaha. Thanks, bubba.
I much admire the philanthropic motive behind these devices versus "one more technological miracle" for the masses. (How *small* can we go? Next up 50 bazillion terabytes on a pin-head!)

I do hope the rise of this particular machine will land where intended and incite and inspire those who might otherwise lack access or opportunity.

Glad your Dad passed the ball to you so you could bring this news to us!

~R~
I'm remembering storing programs on a radio shack cassette tape & typing programs into commodores for my kids' teachers. It's like we've come full circle - sorta.
NC---It IS like a circle.
I love that difference between putting something in someone's pocket and putting something in everyone's pocket! Talk about changing the world! You should send them a copy of this piece and pitch them to do their marketing and visioning!! You could light up the world with this!!
JG--This is now my 5th most viewed post. Ever. Somebody must have tweeted it or something. So maybe they saw it. I tried to put it on their web site, but it didn't take. And the contracted manufacturer has an office right down the street from my house.
So Raspberry Pi is as thin as a Social Security card with the capacity of an iPhone without telephonic hence no subscription as one would use Wi-Fi and cloud storage and it is so commoditized and inexpensive it can be stamped out in perpetual motion and sold alongside packs of gum or configured on Swiss Army knives? Is the potential of the next small thing something trans-dermal? Perhaps wearable like a lapel pin etc or so ubiquitous to be disposable with no 'ownership' such as the urban bicycle programs...many seeds in a raspberry, Roger. Thanks for the post.
JP--It gets you thinking!

Seer---It is hard to imagine. Money will be made. But what it looks like is that money is not what this is about. Of course maybe that will generate more money. .. .
Roger, that's an amazing story! For about the same price as a mouse costs you can buy a computer...I never thought I would see anything like this. Thanks for the heads up on this!
Although I am very impressed with all of these advances in modern technology, I am still more interested in the music that Eric Carmen made when he was still a Raspberry; these are among the thousands of songs that Steve Jobs helped to get on that device in my pocket, and there is also "Raspberry Beret" by Prince. If only the kids today knew about "Go All the Way" and "I Wanna Be With You."
d--I never imagined anything like this either. In my mind, its the biggest story to come around in awhile.

Paulie---LIVE! From Cleveland Ohio! EC and The Raspberries! The opening chords to "Go All the Way" among the best EVER!