I like to make stuff, always have. I loved my Easy Bake Oven. I made clothes for my Barbie. I still enjoy sewing. When my dad bought us an Apple IIe back in 1983, I enjoyed making stuff on that too. I had no idea what I was doing, but when I was 13, a blank screen and a blinking green cursor didn't represent frustration: It meant possibility. That's why I'm excited to get my hands on a Raspberry Pi -- a diminutive, $35 computer with no apps, no programs, no monitor/keyboard, no Facebook and endless possibilities.
The first thing I remember doing with that Apple IIe was creating a DOS version of Mad Libs using simple commands. I got a little bit of the same feeling when tinkering with desktop computers as an adult. I've replaced fans, swapped out video cards, replaced sound cards, added optical drives and installed extra RAM. I'm not a programmer and I've never built a computer from the ground up, but those sorts of upgrades are easy projects for anyone with the time, inclination and DIY genes. Today's gadgets, however, aren't very condusive to tinkering. Laptops are pretty well sealed up; cracking open your iPad or smartphone means voiding the warranty and trying to monkey with the tiniest ribbon cables you've ever seen.
Raspberry Pi is a neat project looking to bring a little bit of that creativitity and "let's see what's under the hood" chutzpah back to computing. Developed in the U.K. by tech companies and Cambridge university scientists, the Raspberry Pi computers are intended mainly for educational use. Says co-founder Robert Mullins in an interview for CNN: "The primary goal was to build a low-cost computer that every child could own, and one where programming was the natural thing to do with it."
The initial Model B version -- a credit card-sized board with two USB ports, an Ethernet port, audio port, HDMI port, 700 Mhz CPU and 256 MB RAM -- went on sale March 1 and sold out within hours.
So, what could you do with a Raspberry Pi, assuming you can actually get your hands on one? Gizmodo's Stuart Houghton offers some suggestions, including building yourself a media center, using it as network storage or turning your TV into a "smart" set.
Right now, regular people (meaning non programmers) aren't going to be able to do a whole lot with a Raspberry Pi. This first release of Model B is intended for developers who can start writing software for it, so kids (and I) can start making their own programs with a little help. Model B does come with a Linux OS and a web browser, so while you're waiting for inspiration, you can certainly get it up and running online. This YouTube video shows the browsing experience using the included Midori browser.
Your piece of the Pi
Overall, Raspberry Pi is a 3D version of a really cool idea -- and I might want it more because I'm a fan of that idea than I am a wannabe programmer. Bringing the joy of discovery back to computer science in an accessible way makes me very excited. So I'm ordering my piece of Pi as soon as I can -- right now, looks like it will be a month to six weeks before they're back in stock.
Got a Pi? Tell us what you're going to do with it!