My love for stereoscopic photography goes way back
My great-uncle Eric was a keen stereoscopic photographer and member of The Stereoscopic Society. Every memory I have of visiting him includes looking at his latest stereo creations through a pair of gorgeously antique-looking, wooden viewers. And I’ve since inherited the beautiful mahogany viewing cabinet that used to stand in his dining room.
It looks like this, but fancier
Stereoscopic photography has always fascinated me. Two images that seem identical suddenly become, as if by magic, a three-dimensional wonder. As a child, I couldn’t make sense of it. And even now, while I do understand how it actually works, it remains magical in my mind — like fairies at the bottom of the garden. Or magnets.
So it’s no wonder that I was instantly taken with StereoPi when I stumbled across its crowdfunding campaign on Twitter. Having wanted to make a Pi-based stereoscopic camera ever since I joined the organisation, but not knowing how best to go about it, I thought this new board seemed ideal for me.
The StereoPi board
Despite its name, StereoPi is more than just a stereoscopic camera board. How to attach two Camera Modules to a Raspberry Pi is a question people ask us frequently and for various projects, from home security systems to robots, cameras, and VR.
Slim and standard editions of the StereoPi
The board attaches to any version of the Raspberry Pi Compute Module, including the newly released CM3+, and you can use it in conjunction with Raspbian to control it via the Python module picamera.
StereoPi stereoscopic livestream over 4G. Project site: http://StereoPi.com
When it comes to what you can do with StereoPi, the possibilities are almost endless: mount two wide-angle lenses for 360º recording, build a VR rig to test out virtual reality games, or, as I plan to do, build a stereoscopic camera!
It’s on Crowd Supply now!
StereoPi is currently available to back on Crowd Supply, and purchase options start from $69. At 69% funded with 30 days still to go, we have faith that the StereoPi project will reach its goal and make its way into the world of impressive Raspberry Pi add-ons.
Main campaign video. Back our Indiegogo campaign to adopt Nybble the robo kitten! Share with your friends who may love it! Indiegogo: https://igg.me/at/nybble A more technical post: https://www.hackster.io/RzLi/petoi-nybble-944867 Don’t forget to follow Twitter @PetoiCamp and subscribe to Petoi.com for our newsletters! Most importantly, enjoy our new kitten!
Rongzhong’s goal always was for Petoi to be open-source, so that it can be a teaching aid as much as it is a pet. And with his team’s crowdfunding campaign, he has made building your own robot cat even easier.
In the new Nybble version of Petoi, the team replaced 3D-printed parts with laser-cut wood, and cut down the parts list to be more manageable: a Raspberry Pi 3B+, a Sparkfun Arduino Pro Mini, and the Nybble kit, available in the Nybble IndieGoGo campaign.
The Nybble kit! “The wooden frame is a retro design in honor of its popstick-framed ancestor. I also borrowed the wisdom from traditional Chinese woodwork (in honor of my ancestors), to make the major frame screw-free.”
But Nybble is more than just wooden parts and servo motors! The robotic cat’s artificial intelligence lets users teach it as well as control it, so every kitty will be unique.
Nybble’s motion is driven by an Arduino-compatible micro-controller. It stores instinctive “muscle memory” to move around. An optional AI chip, such as a Raspberry Pi, can be mounted on top of Nybble’s back, to help Nybble with perception and decision. You can program in your favorite language, and direct Nybble to walk around simply by sending short commands, such as “walk” or “turn left”!
For this version, the Petoi team has created he NyBoard, an all-in-one controller board for the Raspberry Pi. It’s available to back for $45 if you don’t want to pledge $200 for the entire cat kit.
Attention, case modders: take a look at the Brutus 2, an extremely snazzy computer case with a partly transparent, animated side panel that’s powered by a Pi. Daniel Otto and Carsten Lehman have a current crowdfunder for the case; their video is in German, but the looks of the build speak for themselves. There are some truly gorgeous effects here.
Vorbestellungen ab sofort auf https://www.startnext.com/brutus2 Weitere Infos zu uns auf: https://3nb.de https://www.facebook.com/3nb.de https://www.instagram.com/3nb.de Über 3nb: – GbR aus Leipzig, gegründet 2017 – wir kommen aus den Bereichen Elektronik und Informatik – erstes Produkt: der Brutus One ein Gaming PC mit transparentem Display in der Seite Kurzinfo Brutus 2: – Markencomputergehäuse für Gaming- /Casemoddingszene – Besonderheit: animiertes Seitenfenster angesteuert mit einem Raspberry Pi – Vorteile von unserem Case: o Case ist einzeln lieferbar und nicht nur als komplett-PC o kein Leistungsverbrauch der Grafikkarte dank integriertem Raspberry Pi o bessere Darstellung von Texten und Grafiken durch unscharfen Hintergrund
What’s case modding?
Case modding just means modifying your computer or gaming console’s case, and it’s very popular in the gaming community. Some mods are functional, while others improve the way the case looks. Lots of dedicated gamers don’t only want a powerful computer, they also want it to look amazing — at home, or at LAN parties and games tournaments.
The Brutus 2 case
The Brutus 2 case is made by Daniel and Carsten’s startup, 3nb electronics, and it’s a product that is officially Powered by Raspberry Pi. Its standout feature is the semi-transparent TFT screen, which lets you play any video clip you choose while keeping your gaming hardware on display. It looks incredibly cool. All the graphics for the case’s screen are handled by a Raspberry Pi, so it doesn’t use any of your main PC’s GPU power and your gaming won’t suffer.
To use Brutus 2, you just need to run a small desktop application on your PC to choose what you want to display on the case. A number of neat animations are included, and you can upload your own if you want.
So far, the app only runs on Windows, but 3nb electronics are planning to make the code open-source, so you can modify it for other operating systems, or to display other file types. This is true to the spirit of the case modding and Raspberry Pi communities, who love adapting, retrofitting, and overhauling projects and code to fit their needs.
Daniel and Carsten say that one of their campaign’s stretch goals is to implement more functionality in the Brutus 2 app. So in the future, the case could also show things like CPU temperature, gaming stats, and in-game messages. Of course, there’s nothing stopping you from integrating features like that yourself.
If you have any questions about the case, you can post them directly to Daniel and Carsten here.
The crowdfunding campaign
The Brutus 2 campaign on Startnext is currently halfway to its first funding goal of €10000, with over three weeks to go until it closes. If you’re quick, you still be may be able to snatch one of the early-bird offers. And if your whole guild NEEDS this, that’s OK — there are discounts for bulk orders.
Many of today’s discussions around blockchain technology remind me of the classic Shimmer Floor Wax skit. According to Dan Aykroyd, Shimmer is a dessert topping. Gilda Radner claims that it is a floor wax, and Chevy Chase settles the debate and reveals that it actually is both! Some of the people that I talk to see blockchains as the foundation of a new monetary system and a way to facilitate international payments. Others see blockchains as a distributed ledger and immutable data source that can be applied to logistics, supply chain, land registration, crowdfunding, and other use cases. Either way, it is clear that there are a lot of intriguing possibilities and we are working to help our customers use this technology more effectively.
We are launching AWS Blockchain Templates today. These templates will let you launch an Ethereum (either public or private) or Hyperledger Fabric (private) network in a matter of minutes and with just a few clicks. The templates create and configure all of the AWS resources needed to get you going in a robust and scalable fashion.
Launching a Private Ethereum Network The Ethereum template offers two launch options. The ecs option creates an Amazon ECS cluster within a Virtual Private Cloud (VPC) and launches a set of Docker images in the cluster. The docker-local option also runs within a VPC, and launches the Docker images on EC2 instances. The template supports Ethereum mining, the EthStats and EthExplorer status pages, and a set of nodes that implement and respond to the Ethereum RPC protocol. Both options create and make use of a DynamoDB table for service discovery, along with Application Load Balancers for the status pages.
Here are the AWS Blockchain Templates for Ethereum:
We love Mugsy, the Raspberry Pi coffee robot that has smashed its crowdfunding goal within days! Our latest YouTube video shows our catch-up with Mugsy and its creator Matthew Oswald at Maker Faire New York last year.
Labelled ‘the world’s first hackable, customisable, dead simple, robotic coffee maker’, Mugsy allows you to take control of every aspect of the coffee-making process: from grind size and water temperature, to brew and bloom time. Feeling lazy instead? Read in your beans’ barcode via an onboard scanner, and it will automatically use the best settings for your brew.
Looking to start your day with your favourite coffee straight out of bed? Send the robot a text, email, or tweet, and it will notify you when your coffee is ready!
Learning through product development
“Initially, I used [Mugsy] as a way to teach myself hardware design,” explained Matthew at his Editor’s Choice–winning Maker Faire stand. “I really wanted to hold something tangible in my hands. By using the Raspberry Pi and just being curious, anytime I wanted to use a new technology, I would try to pull back [and ask] ‘How can I integrate this into Mugsy?’”
By exploring his passions and using Mugsy as his guinea pig, Matthew created a project that not only solves a problem — how to make amazing coffee at home — but also brings him one step closer to ‘making things’ for a living. “I used to dream about this stuff when I was a kid, and I used to say ‘I’m never going to be able to do something like that.’” he admitted. But now, with open-source devices like the Raspberry Pi so readily available, he “can see the end of the road”: making his passion his livelihood.
With only a few days left on the Kickstarter campaign, Mugsy has reached its goal and then some. It’s available for backing from $150 if you provide your own Raspberry Pi 3, or from $175 with a Pi included — check it out today!
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Running out of cash is one of the quickest ways for a startup to go out of business. When you are starting a company the question of where to get cash is usually the top priority, but managing cash flow is critical for every stage in the lifecycle of a company. As a primarily bootstrapped but capital-intensive business, managing cash flow at Backblaze was and still is a key element of our success and requires continued focus. Let’s look at what we learned over the years.
Raising Your Initial Funding
When starting a tech business in Silicon Valley, the default assumption is that you will immediately try to raise venture funding. There are certainly many advantages to raising funding — not the least of which is that you don’t need to be cash-flow positive since you have cash in the bank and the expectation is that you will have a “burn rate,” i.e. you’ll be spending more than you make.
Note: While you’re not expected to be cash-flow positive, that doesn’t mean you don’t have to worry about cash. Cash-flow management will determine your burn rate. Whether you can get to cash-flow breakeven or need to raise another round of funding is a direct byproduct of your cash flow management.
Also, raising funding takes time (most successful fundraising cycles take 3-6 months start-to-finish), and time at a startup is in short supply. Constantly trying to raise funding can take away from product development and pursuing growth opportunities. If you’re not successful in raising funding, you then have to either shut down or find an alternate method of funding the business.
Sources of Funding
Depending on the stage of the company, type of company, and other factors, you may have access to different sources of funding. Let’s list a number of them:
Sales — the best kind of funding. It is non-dilutive, doesn’t have to be paid back, and is a direct metric of the success of your company.
Pre-Sales — some customers may be willing to pay you for a product in beta, a test, or pre-pay for a product they’ll receive when finished. Pre-Sales income also is great because it shares the characteristics of cash from sales, but you get the cash early. It also can be a good sign that the product you’re building fills a market need. We started charging for Backblaze computer backup while it was still in private beta, which allowed us to not only collect cash from customers, but also test the billing experience and users’ real desire for the service.
Services — if you’re a service company and customers are paying you for that, great. You can effectively scale for the number of hours available in a day. As demand grows, you can add more employees to increase the total number of billable hours.
Note: If you’re a product company and customers are paying you to consult, that can provide much needed cash, and could provide feedback toward the right product. However, it can also distract from your core business, send you down a path where you’re building a product for a single customer, and addict you to a path that prevents you from building a scalable business.
Yourself — you likely are putting your time into the business, and deferring salary in the process. You may also put your own cash into the business either as an investment or a loan.
Angels — angels are ideal as early investors since they are used to investing in businesses with little to no traction. AngelList is a good place to find them, though finding people you’re connected with through someone that knows you well is best.
Crowdfunding — a component of the JOBS Act permitted entrepreneurs to raise money from nearly anyone since May 2016. The SEC imposes limits on both investors and the companies. This article goes into some depth on the options and sites available.
VCs — VCs are ideal for companies that need to raise at least a few million dollars and intend to build a business that will be worth over $1 billion.
Friends & Family — F&F are often the first people to give you money because they are investing in you. It’s great to have some early supporters, but it also can be risky to take money from people who aren’t used to the risks. The key advice here is to only take money from people who won’t mind losing it. If someone is talking about using their children’s college funds or borrowing from their 401k, say ‘no thank you’ — even if they’re sure they want to loan you money.
Bank Loans — a variety of loan types exist, but most either require the company to have been operational for a couple years, be able to borrow against money the company has or is making, or be able to get a personal guarantee from the founders whereby their own credit is on the line. Fundera provides a good overview of loan options and can help secure some, but most will not be an option for a brand new startup.
Government — in some areas there is the potential for government grants to facilitate research. The SBIR program facilitates some such grants.
At Backblaze, we used a number of these options:
We loaned a cumulative total of a couple hundred thousand dollars to the company and invested our time by going without a salary for a year and a half.
After a year and a half, we raised $370k from 11 angels. All of them were either people whom we knew personally or were a strong recommendation from a mutual friend.
After a couple years we were able to get equipment leases whereby the Storage Pods and hard drives were used as collateral to secure the lease on them.
Ater five years we raised $5m from TMT Investments to add to the balance sheet and invest in growth.
The variety and quantity of sources we used is by no means uncommon.
GAAP vs. Cash
Most companies start tracking financials based on cash, and as they scale they switch to GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Principles). Cash is easier to track — we got paid $XXXX and spent $YYY — and as often mentioned, is required for the business to stay alive. GAAP has more subtlety and complexity, but provides a clearer picture of how the business is really doing. Backblaze was on a ‘cash’ system for the first few years, then switched to GAAP. For this post, I’m going to focus on things that help cash flow, not GAAP profitability.
Stages of Cash Flow Management
In a pure service business (e.g. solo proprietor law firm), you may have no expenses other than your time, so this stage doesn’t exist. However, in a product business there is a period of time where you are building the product and have nothing to sell. You have zero cash coming in, but have cash going out. Your cash-flow is completely negative and you need funds to cover that.
Starting to see cash come in from customers is thrilling. I initially had our system set up to email me with every $5 payment we received. You’re making sales, but not covering expenses.
But it takes a lot of $5 payments to pay for servers and salaries, so for a while expenses are likely to outstrip sales. Getting to ramen-profitable is a critical stage where sales cover the business expenses and are “paying enough for the founders to eat ramen.” This extends the runway for a business, but is not completely sustainable, since presumably the founders can’t (or won’t) live forever on a subsistence salary.
This is the ultimate stage whereby the business is truly profitable, including paying everyone market-rate salaries. A business at this stage is self-sustaining. (Of course, market shifts and plenty of other challenges can kill the business, but cash-flow issues alone will not.)
Note, I’m using the word ‘profitable’ here to mean this is still on a cash-basis.
Backblaze was in the all-spend stage for just over a year, during which time we built the service and hadn’t yet made the service available to customers. Backblaze was in the sales-generating stage for nearly another year before the company was barely ramen-profitable where sales were covering the company expenses and paying the founders minimum wage. (I say ‘barely’ since minimum wage in the SF Bay Area is arguably never subsistence.) It took almost three more years before the company was business-profitable, paying everyone including the founders market-rate.
Cash Flow Forecasting
When raising funding it’s helpful to think of milestones reached. You don’t necessarily need enough cash on day one to last for the next 100 years of the company. Some good milestones to consider are how much cash you need to prove there is a market need, prove you can build a product to meet that need, or get to ramen-profitable.
Two things to consider:
1) Unit Economics (COGS)
If your product is 100% software, this may not be relevant. Once software is built it costs effectively nothing to deliver the product to one customer or one million customers. However, in most businesses there is some incremental cost to provide the product. If you’re selling a hardware device, perhaps you sell it for $100 but it costs you $50 to make it. This is called “COGS” (Cost of Goods Sold).
Many products rely on cloud services where the costs scale with growth. That model works great, but it’s still important to understand what the costs are for the cloud service you use per unit of product you sell.
Support is often done by the founders early-on in a business, but that is another real cost to factor in and estimate on a per-user basis. Taking all of the per unit costs combined, you may charge $10/month/user for your service, but if it costs you $7/month/user in cloud services, you’re only netting $3/month/user.
2) Operating Expenses (OpEx)
These are expenses that don’t scale with the number of product units you sell. Typically this includes research & development, sales & marketing, and general & administrative expenses. Presumably there is a certain level of these functions required to build the product, market it, sell it, and run the organization. You can choose to invest or cut back on these, but you’ll still make the same amount per product unit.
Incremental Net Profit Per Unit
If you’ve calculated your COGS and your unit economics are “upside down,” where the amount you charge is less than that it costs you to provide your service, it’s worth thinking hard about how that’s going to change over time. If it will not change, there is no scale that will make the business work. Presuming you do make money on each unit of product you sell — what is sometimes referred to as “Contribution Margin” — consider how many of those product units you need to sell to cover your operating expenses as described above.
Calculating Your Profit
The math on getting to ramen-profitable is simple:
(Number of Product Units Sold x Contribution Margin) - Operating Expenses = Profit
If your operating expenses include subsistence salaries for the founders and profit > $0, you’re ramen-profitable.
Improving Cash Flow
Having access to sources of cash, whether from selling to customers or other methods, is excellent. But needing less cash gives you more choices and allows you to either dilute less, owe less, or invest more.
There are two ways to improve cash flow:
1) Collect More Cash
The best way to collect more cash is to provide more value to your customers and as a result have them pay you more. Additional features/products/services can allow this. However, you can also collect more cash by changing how you charge for your product. If you have a subscription, changing from charging monthly to yearly dramatically improves your cash flow. If you have a product that customers use up, selling a year’s supply instead of selling them one-by-one can help.
2) Spend Less Cash
Reducing COGS is a fantastic way to spend less cash in a scalable way. If you can do this without harming the product or customer experience, you win. There are a myriad of ways to also reduce operating expenses, including taking sub-market salaries, using your home instead of renting office space, staying focused on your core product, etc.
Ultimately, collecting more and spending less cash dramatically simplifies the process of getting to ramen-profitable and later to business-profitable.
Be Careful (Why GAAP Matters)
A word of caution: while running out of cash will put you out of business immediately, overextending yourself will likely put you out of business not much later. GAAP shows how a business is really doing; cash doesn’t. If you only focus on cash, it is possible to commit yourself to both delivering products and repaying loans in the future in an unsustainable fashion. If you’re taking out loans, watch the total balance and monthly payments you’re committing to. If you’re asking customers for pre-payment, make sure you believe you can deliver on what they’ve paid for.
There are numerous challenges to building a business, and ensuring you have enough cash is amongst the most important. Having the cash to keep going lets you keep working on all of the other challenges. The frameworks above were critical for maintaining Backblaze’s cash flow and cash balance. Hopefully you can take some of the lessons we learned and apply them to your business. Let us know what works for you in the comments below.
GnuBee is the brand name for a line of open hardware boards designed to provide Linux-based network-attached storage. Given the success of the crowdfunding campaigns for the first two products, the GB-PC1 and GB-PC2 (which support 2.5 and 3.5 inch drives respectively), there appears to be a market for these devices. Given that Linux is quite good at attaching storage to a network, it seems likely they will perform their core function more than adequately. My initial focus when exploring my GB-PC1 is not the performance but the openness: just how open is it really? The best analogy I can come up with is that of a door with rusty hinges: it can be opened, but doing so requires determination.
We created Pip so that anyone can tinker with technology. From beginners to those who know more — Pip makes it easy, simple, and fun!
Pip’s smart design may well remind you of a certain handheld gaming console released earlier this year. With its central screen and detachable side controllers, Pip has a size and shape ideal for gaming.
Those who have used a Raspberry Pi with the Raspbian OS might be familiar with Minecraft Pi, a variant of the popular Minecraft game created specifically for Pi users to play and hack for free. Users of Pip will be able to access Minecraft Pi from the portable device and take their block-shaped creations with them wherever they go.
And if that’s not enough, Pip’s Pi brain allows coders to create their own games using Scratch, in addition to giving access a growing library of games in Curious Chip’s online arcade.
Pip’s GPIO pins are easily accessible, so that you can expand upon your digital making skills with physical computing projects. Grab your Pip and a handful of jumper leads, and you will be able to connect and control components such as lights, buttons, servomotors, and more!
Maker Pack and add-ons
Backers can also pledge their funds for additional hardware, such as the Maker Pack, an integrated camera, or a Pip Breadboard Kit.
The breadboard and the optional PipHAT are also compatible with any Raspberry Pi 2 and 3. Nice!
Curiosity from Curious Chip
Users of Pip can program their device via Curiosity, a tool designed specifically for this handheld device.
Back the project
If you’d like to back Curious Chip and bag your own Pip, you can check out their Kickstarter page here. And if you watch their promo video closely, you may see a familiar face from the Raspberry Pi community.
Are you planning on starting your own Raspberry Pi-inspired crowd-funded campaign? Then be sure to tag us on social media. We love to see what the community is creating for our little green (or sometimes blue) computer.
Purism has reached its crowdfunding goal to create the Librem 5, an encrypted, open smartphone ecosystem that gives users complete device control. “Reaching the $1.5 million milestone weeks ahead of schedule enables Purism to accelerate the production of the physical product. The company plans to move into hardware production as soon as possible to assemble a developer kit as well as initiate building the base software platform, which will be publicly available and open to the developer community.”
What kind of cell phone would emerge from a concerted effort to design privacy in from the beginning, using free software as much as possible? Some answers are provided by a crowdfunding campaign launched in August by Purism SPC, which has used two such campaigns successfully in the past to build a business around secure laptops. The Librem 5, with a five-inch screen and radio chip for communicating with cell phone companies, represents Purism’s hope to bring the same privacy-enhancing vision to the mobile space, which is much more demanding in its threats, technology components, and user experience.
With ten days to go until the end of their crowdfunding campaign, the team behind the Turtle Rover are waiting eagerly for their project to become a reality for earthbound explorers across the globe.
Turtle is the product of the Mars Rover prototype engineers at Wroclaw University of Technology, Poland. Their waterproof land rover can be controlled via your tablet or smartphone, and allows you to explore hidden worlds too small or dangerous for humans. The team says this about their project:
NASA and ESA plan to send another rover to Mars in 2020. SpaceX wants to send one million people to Mars in the next 100 years. However, before anyone sends a rover to another planet, we designed Turtle — a robot to remind you about how beautiful the Earth is.
With a Raspberry Pi at its core, Turtle is an open-source, modular device to which you can attach new, interesting features such as extra cameras, lights, and a DSLR adapter. Depending on the level at which you back the Kickstarter, you might also receive a robotic arm as a reward for your support.
The Turtle can capture photos and video, and even live-stream video to your device. Moreover, its emergency stop button offers peace of mind whenever your explorations takes your Turtle to cliff edges or other unsafe locations.
Constructed of aerospace-grade aluminium, plastics, and stainless steel, its robust form, watertight and dust-proof body, and 4-hour battery life make the Turtle a great tool for education and development, as well as a wonderful addition to recreational activities such as Airsoft.
Back the Turtle
If you want to join in the Turtle Rover revolution, you have ten days left to back the team on Kickstarter. Pledge €1497 for an unassembled kit (you’ll need your own Raspberry Pi, battery, and servos), or €1549 for a complete rover. The team plan to send your Turtle to you by June 2018 — so get ready to explore!
Are you running a Raspberry Pi-based crowdfunding campaign? Or maybe you’ve got your idea, and you’re soon going to unleash it on the world? Whatever your plans, we’d love to see what you’re up to, so make sure to let us know via our social media channels or an email to [email protected]
Technological advances change the world. That’s partly because of what they are, but even more because of the social changes they enable. New technologies upend power balances. They give groups new capabilities, increased effectiveness, and new defenses. The Internet decades have been a never-ending series of these upendings. We’ve seen existing industries fall and new industries rise. We’ve seen governments become more powerful in some areas and less in others. We’ve seen the rise of a new form of governance: a multi-stakeholder model where skilled individuals can have more power than multinational corporations or major governments.
Among the many power struggles, there is one type I want to particularly highlight: the battles between the nimble individuals who start using a new technology first, and the slower organizations that come along later.
In general, the unempowered are the first to benefit from new technologies: hackers, dissidents, marginalized groups, criminals, and so on. When they first encountered the Internet, it was transformative. Suddenly, they had access to technologies for dissemination, coordination, organization, and action — things that were impossibly hard before. This can be incredibly empowering. In the early decades of the Internet, we saw it in the rise of Usenet discussion forums and special-interest mailing lists, in how the Internet routed around censorship, and how Internet governance bypassed traditional government and corporate models. More recently, we saw it in the SOPA/PIPA debate of 2011-12, the Gezi protests in Turkey and the various “color” revolutions, and the rising use of crowdfunding. These technologies can invert power dynamics, even in the presence of government surveillance and censorship.
But that’s just half the story. Technology magnifies power in general, but the rates of adoption are different. Criminals, dissidents, the unorganized — all outliers — are more agile. They can make use of new technologies faster, and can magnify their collective power because of it. But when the already-powerful big institutions finally figured out how to use the Internet, they had more raw power to magnify.
This is true for both governments and corporations. We now know that governments all over the world are militarizing the Internet, using it for surveillance, censorship, and propaganda. Large corporations are using it to control what we can do and see, and the rise of winner-take-all distribution systems only exacerbates this.
This is the fundamental tension at the heart of the Internet, and information-based technology in general. The unempowered are more efficient at leveraging new technology, while the powerful have more raw power to leverage. These two trends lead to a battle between the quick and the strong: the quick who can make use of new power faster, and the strong who can make use of that same power more effectively.
This battle is playing out today in many different areas of information technology. You can see it in the security vs. surveillance battles between criminals and the FBI, or dissidents and the Chinese government. You can see it in the battles between content pirates and various media organizations. You can see it where social-media giants and Internet-commerce giants battle against new upstarts. You can see it in politics, where the newer Internet-aware organizations fight with the older, more established, political organizations. You can even see it in warfare, where a small cadre of military can keep a country under perpetual bombardment — using drones — with no risk to the attackers.
This battle is fundamental to Cory Doctorow’s new novel Walkaway. Our heroes represent the quick: those who have checked out of traditional society, and thrive because easy access to 3D printers enables them to eschew traditional notions of property. Their enemy is the strong: the traditional government institutions that exert their power mostly because they can. This battle rages through most of the book, as the quick embrace ever-new technologies and the strong struggle to catch up.
It’s easy to root for the quick, both in Doctorow’s book and in the real world. And while I’m not going to give away Doctorow’s ending — and I don’t know enough to predict how it will play out in the real world — right now, trends favor the strong.
Centralized infrastructure favors traditional power, and the Internet is becoming more centralized. This is true both at the endpoints, where companies like Facebook, Apple, Google, and Amazon control much of how we interact with information. It’s also true in the middle, where companies like Comcast increasingly control how information gets to us. It’s true in countries like Russia and China that increasingly legislate their own national agenda onto their pieces of the Internet. And it’s even true in countries like the US and the UK, that increasingly legislate more government surveillance capabilities.
At the 1996 World Economic Forum, cyber-libertarian John Perry Barlow issued his “Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace,” telling the assembled world leaders and titans of Industry: “You have no moral right to rule us, nor do you possess any methods of enforcement that we have true reason to fear.” Many of us believed him a scant 20 years ago, but today those words ring hollow.
But if history is any guide, these things are cyclic. In another 20 years, even newer technologies — both the ones Doctorow focuses on and the ones no one can predict — could easily tip the balance back in favor of the quick. Whether that will result in more of a utopia or a dystopia depends partly on these technologies, but even more on the social changes resulting from these technologies. I’m short-term pessimistic but long-term optimistic.
This column is from The MagPi issue 52. You can download a PDF of the full issue for free, or subscribe to receive the print edition in your mailbox or the digital edition on your tablet. All proceeds from the print and digital editions help the Raspberry Pi Foundation achieve its charitable goals.
Alex purchased his first Raspberry Pi in May 2012, after a BBC article caught his eye. Already teaching ICT at his son’s school, he was drawn to the idea of a $35 computer to aid the education of his ten-year-old students.
Alex is truly a member of the Raspberry Pi community, providing support and resources to those new to, and experienced in, the world of the Pi
Less than a month later, Alex started his website, RasPi.TV. The website allowed him to document his progress with the Raspberry Pi, and to curate an easy-to-use reference library for others.
“I found that when I wanted to learn something new, generally the ‘instructions’ on other Linux sites were either out of date or incomplete. I wanted a place where I could record procedures that I could use again, but that would also be available to others.”
Alex was determined to provide tutorials that worked first time, understanding the frustration for newcomers when their hard work didn’t always pay off. “It’s off-putting for people to follow a list of instructions, get it all right, and then find the process fails,” he says. RasPi.TV was all about “instructions that work first time – even if you’ve never done it before.”
The RasPi.TV website is packed full of tutorials, reviews, and videos, all of which have the aim of helping newcomers and seasoned Raspberry Pi users to expand their skill set and interests. Alex’s YouTube channel boasts more than 8,000 subscribers, with viewing figures of well over 1.5 million across his 121 videos.
In 2012, Alex began to build his own RasPiO boards, with the first releases making an appearance in March 2014. The GPIO labeller, Breakout, and Breakout Pro were successful across the community, earning an honourable mention on the official Raspberry Pi blog. The Pro has since been upgraded to the Pro HAT, while the labeller has been replaced with a newer 40-pin version. The RasPiO collection has now increased to ten different units, each available for direct purchase from the website. A few originally found their feet via successful crowdfunding campaigns.
The RasPiO family is a series of add-on boards, port labellers, GPIO rulers, and tools to aid makers in building with the Raspberry Pi. The ruler, for example, offers GPIO pin reference for easy identification, along with a code reference for using the GPIO Zero library.
Even if you’ve yet to visit either RasPi.TV or Alex’s YouTube channel, the chances are that you’ve seen one aspect of his online contribution to the Raspberry Pi Community. Alex maintains a Raspberry Pi ‘family photo’ on his website, showcasing every model built across the years. It’s a picture that often does the rounds of blogs, news articles, and social media.
Updated 28th Feb 2017 to include the newly released Raspberry Pi Zero W
Outside of his life of Pi, Alex has a background in analytical chemistry, a profession that certainly explains his desire for the clean, precise, and well-tested tutorials that brought about the creation of RasPi.TV. From working as a translator to writing his own e-books, Alex is definitely well suited to the maker life, moving on from his past life of pharmaceutical development.
The Duinocam is set up in Alex’s home in Poland. During daylight hours, it emails him photos and temperature data while also responding to tweeted commands such as video capture and upload. Using a Pi Model B, a RasPiO Duino, a Camera Module, and two servos, the unit can pan and tilt to survey the area.
His tutorial and review videos on YouTube reach viewing figures in the thousands, with his popular Raspberry Pi DSI Display Launch video garnering close to 300,000 views at the time of writing of this article. While Alex has updated us on his newest unreleased projects and plans, we’ll keep them quiet for now. You’ll have to watch the RasPi.TV website for details.
When I’m not copyediting for the lovely folks at Raspberry Pi and The MagPi, I write fiction, often involving teenagers running away from murderous water-horses. One of the main problems I have is avoiding distractions, like reading Brooding YA Hero‘s adventures on Twitter, the constant nagging thought that the next email will be another rejection, and the copious amounts of Taylor Lautner GIFs on Tumblr.
Sorry, where was I?
Before you know it, it’s 5pm and your word count’s looking grim. Fortunately, Edinburgh’s Craig Lam (@siliconeidolon) has come up with an ingenious solution in the form of the Scripto, a distraction-eliminating writing tool with a Pi Zero at its heart. He explains:
‘Writing creatively to a deadline is psychologically challenging: any distraction or obstacle can derail the process. Multifunction devices like laptops are rife with distractions; writing longhand is painful; dedicated word processors are out-of-production or severely flawed. These observations inspired a vision for a distraction-free, portable, convenient, and supportive tool for writers.’
The Scripto, devised as part of Craig’s BSc project, takes the familiar form of a laptop, but with a difference: the only connection to the outside world is to cloud backup. No refreshing social media feeds, no ‘I’ll just check my email once more’… just glorious, uninterrupted writing.
The Scripto has a Pixel Qi touchscreen readable in sunlight, with a photovoltaic strip to provide extra power on top of the ten hours battery life. No more squinting at a laptop on a summer day. The Pi boots into a fullscreen adapted version of FocusWriter and provides a host of motivational features, like timers for ‘word sprints’ and word count targets.
What I love about the Scripto is how personal you can make it. Changeable covers are a nice nod to the old Nokia days (one for the 90s kids), and a companion app to track your word count is a great motivator. (Anyone who’s participated in National Novel Writing Month will know about the joys of racing to 50,000 words and watching your daily graph zooming upwards.)
The focus is on ease of use and low cost, just like the Pi Zero that powers it. The case material will be biodegradable – and café-proof, for those of us often writing hunched over a cappuccino and crumbly cake – and the word processor can come preloaded with the Open Dyslexic font, which is another plus. Social sustainability was important when Craig planned the Scripto; he specifically mentions our educational initiatives like Picademy as a factor when choosing a single-board computer to run the device.
Craig is considering crowdfunding the Scripto, and I’m sure many writers will be queuing up for one of these nifty devices.
While you wait for the Scripto, you could read some brilliant books by Laura Lam, who told me all about her husband’s project. Or you could try short stories by some other Laura, available on Amazon, Smashwords, and in Blackwell’s Edinburgh. Ahem.
Today we kicked off our first crowdfunding campaign with the goal of raising enough funds to cover about one month of our operations – $200,000. That amount covers the operational and engineering staff, the hardware and the software, and general operating expenses needed to securely and reliably issue and manage many millions of certificates.
We decided to run a crowdfunding campaign for a couple of reasons. First, there is a gap between the funds we’ve raised and what we need for next year. Second, we believe individual supporters from our community can come to represent a significant diversification of our annual revenue sources, in addition to corporate sponsorship and grants.
We will provide updates on our progress throughout the campaign via Twitter (@letsencrypt).
<p>Today we kicked off our <a href="https://www.generosity.com/community-fundraising/make-a-more-secure-web-with-let-s-encrypt">first crowdfunding campaign</a> with the goal of raising enough funds to cover about one month of our operations – $200,000. That amount covers the operational and engineering staff, the hardware and the software, and general operating expenses needed to securely and reliably issue and manage many millions of certificates.</p>
<p>We decided to run a crowdfunding campaign for a couple of reasons. First, there is a gap between the funds we’ve raised and what we need for next year. Second, we believe individual supporters from our community can come to represent a significant diversification of our annual revenue sources, in addition to corporate sponsorship and grants.</p>
<p>We will provide updates on our progress throughout the campaign via Twitter (<a href="https://twitter.com/letsencrypt">@letsencrypt</a>).</p>
Once in a while you come across a project that you can’t help but share. One that exemplifies the way people across the globe are using Raspberry Pi to make a difference in ways we didn’t quite anticipate.
HolaMundo is one of those projects. They’re using Raspberry Pis for the training they describe (click CC for subtitles to the signed and spoken parts of the video).
¿De qué trata el proyecto? Se trata de darles una opción a estos jóvenes con discapacidad auditiva y de escasos recursos. Brindar una base tecnológica a 12 jóvenes con discapacidad auditiva a través de un curso presencial de cómputo y programación dividido en 3 partes: Introducción a la computación y al Internet Diseño de sitios web con HTML5 y JS Introducción al sistema operativo y funcionamiento de Raspberry Pi ¿Cómo vamos a utilizar el dinero?
Alejandro Mercado and his team in Mexico City are currently crowdfunding to build a teaching programme for young people with a hearing disability. The programme aims to help educate them in computing and web design using Raspberry Pi, with the objective of increasing their educational and employment opportunities in the future.
A trainer teaches a class at HolaMundo, and a sign interpreter signs for him
For young people in Mexico City such as Jorge (the star of the campaign video), the prospects moving forward for those with a hearing impairment are slim. The programme aims to increase the opportunities available to him and his fellow students so that they can move on to higher education and find jobs that might not otherwise be accessible to them.
Jorge, a fifteen-year-old student taking part in the HolaMundo training, signs to the class
Projects like this remind us of the capacity of our low-cost computer to provide educational opportunities in all kinds of settings. We’re thrilled to see determined educators worldwide using Raspberry Pi to give young people new opportunities and wider prospects.
Norbert “Homofaciens” Heinz is a long-time Friend of Pi (you may know him as That Guy with the Amazing Voice). His videos, available in both German and English, showcase some brilliantly imaginative engineering, and we’re always excited whenever a new one comes out. (You’ll see several featured on this blog.)
Homofaciens’ rover goes for a trundle
The Homofaciens website is intended to educate and enthuse people about technology and making. One of the ways you can engage with Norbert’s creations is via the Robospatium, a space in the roof of his house where he leaves a selection of web-enabled robots for people to control and explore via an interface on his website.
The RoboSpatium is a place where you can operate my camera equipped robots. The name is derived from the words Robot (Slawic: “robota”, for “forcedlabor” or “socage”) and Spatium (Latin word for “space”). The spatium, thus the robot space is (most of the time) located above me and it is furnished with things I have treated at the column technology. Besides those things, there is some more stuff arranged there which can be observed live (well, with a few seconds delay) and colored with the help of my mechanical servants. It is some kind of playground for scientists, students or pupils – so have fun!
The RoboSpatium is successful, but limited in scope because it’s stuck in one room. So Norbert’s decided to broaden the project’s horizons – by sending one of his robots, still controllable via a web interface, on a world tour.
Here is an absolutely charming video from Norbert to tell you what the project (which he’s funding via Indiegogo) is all about:
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