A Raspberry that gives kids a taste for tinkering
All hail the Raspberry Pi, the not-for-profit, credit-card-sized computer that revives a great British tradition.
Some years ago, my mother took the family Volvo to the garage – and was rather surprised when the mechanic pulled out not a spanner, but a laptop. “All done with computers these days”, apparently: rather than opening up the engine, they simply debug it.
It was a great example of a rather strange phenomenon. Even as electronic devices have come to dominate our lives, they have become more and more mysterious. In the old days, an amateur could grasp the basic principles of how their car worked, and even make a stab at fixing things when it went wrong. Now, they’d have to turn to the specialists.
As with engines, so with computers – even more so, in fact. Yesterday’s PCs were put together in people’s garages; today’s are inaccessible lumps of polished plastic. Apple’s iPods and iPhones, for example, are designed to be utterly impossible for their users to open, even to replace the batteries. And if you did pry off the lid, what would you see? A tightly packed mess of circuitry, with no clear rhyme or reason to it.
Thank heavens, then, for the Raspberry Pi. Dreamt up by a small team of volunteers in Cambridge, this not-for-profit, credit-card-sized computer costs just £21.60, and is intended for children and hobbyists to – well, to mess about with. It’s a deliberate throwback to the days of the BBC Micro, to the DIY spirit of that world of cassette tapes and BASIC and anti-static mats and green text on black screens. And it seems, judging by the fact that the two suppliers’ websites melted the instant it went on sale yesterday morning, that an awful lot of people are as keen on the idea as I am.
The hope is that the device will encourage children to learn the basics of programming, spurring the same kind of creativity that surrounded the Acorn and Sinclair (spawning several world-class technology and gaming companies in the process). But it should also remind us of the simple joy of tinkering – a traditional British strength which, like its close cousin pottering, seems to have fallen from favour.