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.
Just over a year ago, the European Commission approved and adopted the new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). The GDPR is the biggest change in data protection laws in Europe since the 1995 introduction of the European Union (EU) Data Protection Directive, also known as Directive 95/46/EC. The GDPR aims to strengthen the security and protection of personal data in the EU and will replace the Directive and all local laws relating to it.
AWS welcomes the arrival of the GDPR. The new, robust requirements raise the bar for data protection, security, and compliance, and will push the industry to follow the most stringent controls, helping to make everyone more secure. I am happy to announce today that all AWS services will comply with the GDPR when it becomes enforceable on May 25, 2018.
In this blog post, I explain the work AWS is doing to help customers with the GDPR as part of our continued commitment to help ensure they can comply with EU Data Protection requirements.
What has AWS been doing?
AWS continually maintains a high bar for security and compliance across all of our regions around the world. This has always been our highest priority—truly “job zero.” The AWS Cloud infrastructure has been architected to offer customers the most powerful, flexible, and secure cloud-computing environment available today. AWS also gives you a number of services and tools to enable you to build GDPR-compliant infrastructure on top of AWS.
One tool we give you is a Data Processing Agreement (DPA). I’m happy to announce today that we have a DPA that will meet the requirements of the GDPR. This GDPR DPA is available now to all AWS customers to help you prepare for May 25, 2018, when the GDPR becomes enforceable. For additional information about the new GDPR DPA or to obtain a copy, contact your AWS account manager.
In addition to account managers, we have teams of compliance experts, data protection specialists, and security experts working with customers across Europe to answer their questions and help them prepare for running workloads in the AWS Cloud after the GDPR comes into force. To further answer customers’ questions, we have updated our EU Data Protection website. This website includes information about what the GDPR is, the changes it brings to organizations operating in the EU, the services AWS offers to help you comply with the GDPR, and advice about how you can prepare.
As well as giving customers a number of tools and services to build GDPR-compliant environments, AWS has achieved a number of internationally recognized certifications and accreditations. In the process, AWS has demonstrated compliance with third-party assurance frameworks such as ISO 27017 for cloud security, ISO 27018 for cloud privacy, PCI DSS Level 1, and SOC 1, SOC 2, and SOC 3. AWS also helps customers meet local security standards such as BSI’s Common Cloud Computing Controls Catalogue (C5) that is important in Germany. We will continue to pursue certifications and accreditations that are important to AWS customers.
What can you do?
Although the GDPR will not be enforceable until May 25, 2018, we are encouraging our customers and partners to start preparing now. If you have already implemented a high bar for compliance, security, and data privacy, the move to GDPR should be simple. However, if you have yet to start your journey to GDPR compliance, we urge you to start reviewing your security, compliance, and data protection processes now to ensure a smooth transition in May 2018.
You should consider the following key points in preparation for GDPR compliance:
Territorial reach – Determining whether the GDPR applies to your organization’s activities is essential to ensuring your organization’s ability to satisfy its compliance obligations.
Data subject rights – The GDPR enhances the rights of data subjects in a number of ways. You will need to make sure you can accommodate the rights of data subjects if you are processing their personal data.
Data breach notifications – If you are a data controller, you must report data breaches to the data protection authorities without undue delay and in any event within 72 hours of you becoming aware of a data breach.
Data protection officer (DPO) – You may need to appoint a DPO who will manage data security and other issues related to the processing of personal data.
Data protection impact assessment (DPIA) – You may need to conduct and, in some circumstances, you might be required to file with the supervisory authority a DPIA for your processing activities.
Data processing agreement (DPA) – You may need a DPA that will meet the requirements of the GDPR, particularly if personal data is transferred outside the European Economic Area.
AWS offers a wide range of services and features to help customers meet requirements of the GDPR, including services for access controls, monitoring, logging, and encryption. For more information about these services and features, see EU Data Protection.
At AWS, security, data protection, and compliance are our top priorities, and we will continue to work vigilantly to ensure that our customers are able to enjoy the benefits of AWS securely, compliantly, and without disruption in Europe and around the world. As we head toward May 2018, we will share more news and resources with you to help you comply with the GDPR.
I am honored to be a co-author and editor-in-chief of the most comprehensive, detailed, and complete guide on matters related to compliance of copyleft software licenses such as the GPL. This book, Copyleft and the GNU General Public License: A Comprehensive Tutorial and Guide (which we often call the Copyleft Guide for short) is 155 pages filled with useful material to help everyone understand copyleft licenses for software, how they work, and how to comply with them properly. It is the only document to fully incorporate esoteric material such as the FSF’s famous GPLv3 rationale documents directly alongside practical advice, such as the pristine example, which is the only freely published compliance analysis of a real product on the market. The document explains in great detail how that product manufacturer made good choices to comply with the GPL. The reader learns by both real-world example as well as abstract explanation.
However, the most important fact about the Copyleft Guide is not its useful and engaging content. More importantly, the license of this book gives freedom to its readers in the same way the license of the copylefted software does. Specifically, we chose the Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 4.0 license (CC BY-SA) for this work. We believe that not just software, but any generally useful technical information that teaches people should be freely sharable and modifiable by the general public.
The reasons these freedoms are necessary seem so obvious that I’m surprised I need to state them. Companies who want to build internal training courses on copyleft compliance for their employees need to modify the materials for that purpose. They then need to be able to freely distribute them to employees and contractors for maximum effect. Furthermore, like all documents and software alike, there are always “bugs”, which (in the case of written prose) usually means there are sections that are fail to communicate to maximum effect. Those who find better ways to express the ideas need the ability to propose patches and write improvements. Perhaps most importantly, everyone who teaches should avoid NIH syndrome. Education and science work best when we borrow and share (with proper license-compliant attribution, of course!) the best material that others develop, and augment our works by incorporating them.
These reasons are akin to those that led Richard M. Stallman to write his seminal essay, Why Software Should Be Free. Indeed, if you reread that essay now — as I just did — you’ll see that much of damage and many of the same problems to the advancement of software that RMS documents in that essay also occur in the world of tutorial documentation about FLOSS licensing. As too often happens in the Open Source community, though, folks seek ways to proprietarize, for profit, any copyrighted work that doesn’t already have a copyleft license attached. In the field of copyleft compliance education, we see the same behavior: organizations who wish to control the dialogue and profit from selling compliance education seek to proprietarize the meta-material of compliance education, rather than sharing freely like the software itself. This yields an ironic exploitation, since the copyleft license documented therein exists as a strategy to assure the freedom to share knowledge. These educators tell their audiences with a straight face: Sure, the software is free as in freedom, but if you want to learn how its license works, you have to license our proprietary materials! This behavior uses legal controls to curtail the sharing of knowledge, limits the advancement and improvement of those tutorials, and emboldens silos of know-how that only wealthy corporations have the resources to access and afford. The educational dystopia that these organizations create is precisely what I sought to prevent by advocating for software freedom for so long.
While Conservancy’s primary job provides non-profit infrastructure for Free Software projects, we also do a bit of license compliance work as well. But we practice what we preach: we release all the educational materials that we produce as part of the Copyleft Guide project under CC BY-SA. Other Open Source organizations are currently hypocrites on this point; they tout the values of openness and sharing of knowledge through software, but they take their tutorial materials and lock them up under proprietary licenses. I hereby publicly call on such organizations (including but not limited to the Linux Foundation) to license materials such as those under CC BY-SA.
I did not make this public call for liberation of such materials without first trying friendly diplomacy first. Conservancy has been in talks with individuals and staff who produce these materials for some time. We urged them to join the Free Software community and share their materials under free licenses. We even offered volunteer time to help them improve those materials if they would simply license them freely. After two years of that effort, it’s now abundantly clear that public pressure is the only force that might work0. Ultimately, like all proprietary businesses, the training divisions of Linux Foundation and other entities in the compliance industrial complex (such as Black Duck) realize they can make much more revenue by making materials proprietary and choosing legal restrictions that forbid their students from sharing and improving the materials after they complete the course. While the reality of this impasse regarding freely licensing these materials is probably an obvious outcome, multiple sources inside these organizations have also confirmed for me that liberation of the materials for the good of general public won’t happen without a major paradigm shift — specifically because such educational freedom will reduce the revenue stream around those materials.
Of course, I can attest first-hand that freely liberating tutorial materials curtails revenue. Karen Sandler and I have regularly taught courses on copyleft licensing based on the freely available materials for a few years — most recently in January 2017 at LinuxConf Australia and at at OSCON in a few weeks. These conferences do kindly cover our travel expenses to attend and teach the tutorial, but compliance education is not a revenue stream for Conservancy. While, in an ideal world, we’d get revenue from education to fund our other important activities, we believe that there is value in doing this education as currently funded by our individual Supporters; these education efforts fit withour charitable mission to promote the public good. We furthermore don’t believe that locking up the materials and refusing to share them with others fits a mission of software freedom, so we never considered such as a viable option. Finally, given the institutionally-backed FUD that we’ve continue to witness, we seek to draw specific attention to the fundamental difference in approach that Conservancy (as a charity) take toward this compliance education work. (My my recent talk on compliance covered on LWN includes some points on that matter, if you’d like further reading).
0One notable exception to these efforts was the success of my colleague, Karen Sandler (and others) in convincing the OpenChain project to choose CC-0 licensing. However, OpenChain is not officially part of the LF training curriculum to my knowledge, and if it is, it can of course be proprietarized therein, since CC-0 is not a copyleft license.
Since Edward Snowden revealed to the world the extent of the NSA’s global surveillance network, there has been a vigorous debate in the technological community about what its limits should be.
Less discussed is how many of these same surveillance techniques are used by other — smaller and poorer — more totalitarian countries to spy on political opponents, dissidents, human rights defenders; the press in Toronto has documented some of the many abuses, by countries like Ethiopia , the UAE, Iran, Syria, Kazakhstan , Sudan, Ecuador, Malaysia, and China.
That these countries can use network surveillance technologies to violate human rights is a shame on the world, and there’s a lot of blame to go around.
We can point to the governments that are using surveillance against their own citizens.
We can certainly blame the cyberweapons arms manufacturers that are selling those systems, and the countries — mostly European — that allow those arms manufacturers to sell those systems.
There’s a lot more the global Internet community could do to limit the availability of sophisticated Internet and telephony surveillance equipment to totalitarian governments. But I want to focus on another contributing cause to this problem: the fundamental insecurity of our digital systems that makes this a problem in the first place.
IMSI catchers are fake mobile phone towers. They allow someone to impersonate a cell network and collect information about phones in the vicinity of the device and they’re used to create lists of people who were at a particular event or near a particular location.
Fundamentally, the technology works because the phone in your pocket automatically trusts any cell tower to which it connects. There’s no security in the connection protocols between the phones and the towers.
IP intercept systems are used to eavesdrop on what people do on the Internet. Unlike the surveillance that happens at the sites you visit, by companies like Facebook and Google, this surveillance happens at the point where your computer connects to the Internet. Here, someone can eavesdrop on everything you do.
This system also exploits existing vulnerabilities in the underlying Internet communications protocols. Most of the traffic between your computer and the Internet is unencrypted, and what is encrypted is often vulnerable to man-in-the-middle attacks because of insecurities in both the Internet protocols and the encryption protocols that protect it.
There are many other examples. What they all have in common is that they are vulnerabilities in our underlying digital communications systems that allow someone — whether it’s a country’s secret police, a rival national intelligence organization, or criminal group — to break or bypass what security there is and spy on the users of these systems.
These insecurities exist for two reasons. First, they were designed in an era where computer hardware was expensive and inaccessibility was a reasonable proxy for security. When the mobile phone network was designed, faking a cell tower was an incredibly difficult technical exercise, and it was reasonable to assume that only legitimate cell providers would go to the effort of creating such towers.
At the same time, computers were less powerful and software was much slower, so adding security into the system seemed like a waste of resources. Fast forward to today: computers are cheap and software is fast, and what was impossible only a few decades ago is now easy.
The second reason is that governments use these surveillance capabilities for their own purposes. The FBI has used IMSI-catchers for years to investigate crimes. The NSA uses IP interception systems to collect foreign intelligence. Both of these agencies, as well as their counterparts in other countries, have put pressure on the standards bodies that create these systems to not implement strong security.
Of course, technology isn’t static. With time, things become cheaper and easier. What was once a secret NSA interception program or a secret FBI investigative tool becomes usable by less-capable governments and cybercriminals.
Man-in-the-middle attacks against Internet connections are a common criminal tool to steal credentials from users and hack their accounts.
IMSI-catchers are used by criminals, too. Right now, you can go onto Alibaba.com and buy your own IMSI catcher for under $2,000.
Despite their uses by democratic governments for legitimate purposes, our security would be much better served by fixing these vulnerabilities in our infrastructures.
These systems are not only used by dissidents in totalitarian countries, they’re also used by legislators, corporate executives, critical infrastructure providers, and many others in the US and elsewhere.
That we allow people to remain insecure and vulnerable is both wrongheaded and dangerous.
Earlier this month, two American legislators — Senator Ron Wyden and Rep Ted Lieu — sent a letter to the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, demanding that he do something about the country’s insecure telecommunications infrastructure.
They pointed out that not only are insecurities rampant in the underlying protocols and systems of the telecommunications infrastructure, but also that the FCC knows about these vulnerabilities and isn’t doing anything to force the telcos to fix them.
Wyden and Lieu make the point that fixing these vulnerabilities is a matter of US national security, but it’s also a matter of international human rights. All modern communications technologies are global, and anything the US does to improve its own security will also improve security worldwide.
Yes, it means that the FBI and the NSA will have a harder job spying, but it also means that the world will be a safer and more secure place.
The All Seeing Pi has seen you visiting @Raspberry_Pi Party @missphilbin #PiParty
Introducing The All-Seeing Pi
“Well, the thing I really want to say (if you haven’t already) is that this whole thing was a team build”, explains one of the resource creators, Laura Sach. “I think it would be a brilliant project to do as a team!”
The resource originally came to life at Pycon, where the team demonstrated the use of filters alongside the Camera Module in their hands-on workshops. From there, the project grew into The All-Seeing Pi, which premiered at the Bett stand earlier this year.
The All Seeing Pi has seen you, @theallseeingpi #PiatBETT #BETT2017
Build your own photo booth
To build your own, you’ll need:
A Camera Module
A monitor (we used a touchscreen for ours)
Two tactile buttons (you can replace these later with bigger buttons if you wish)
Some male-female jumper leads
If you’re feeling artistic, you can also use a box to build a body for your All-Seeing Pi.
By following the worksheets within the resource, you’ll learn how to set up the Camera Module, connect buttons and a display, control GPIO pins and the camera with Python code, and how to tweet a photo.
Raspberry Pi Foundation’s free resources
We publish our resources under a Creative Commons license, allowing you to use them for free at home, in clubs, and in schools. The All-Seeing Pi resource has been written to cover elements from the Raspberry Pi Digital Curriculum. You can find more information on the curriculum here.
Trying to catch up on stuff and also relax a bit, simultaneously, and the results are confusing.
blog: I wrote a late sponsored post on utopia. Also some work on a couple others I have in mind.
idchoppers: On a total whim, I started writing a WAD parsing and whatnot library in Rust, called idchoppers. It doesn’t do a whole lot yet and it’s kind of a mess while I figure out how to design types in Rust, but it’s enough that I managed to flip every map in Doom 2 and dump MAP01 to SVG.
games: I played a lot of Strawberry Jam games, and I think I’m still only halfway through, yikes.
I feel awake and decently-rested, but somehow still drained. Oof.
I enjoy projects that can be made using items from around the home. Add a Raspberry Pi and a few lines of code, and great joy can be had from producing something smart, connected and/or just plain silly.
The concept of the IoT Smart Lobby Welcoming Music System fits into this category. Take a speaker, add a Raspberry Pi and a PIR sensor (both staples of any maker household, and worthwhile investments for the budding builder), and you can create a motion-sensor welcome system for your home or office.
With this project, you will be able to automate a welcoming music for either your smart home or your smart office. As long as someone is around, the music will keep playing your favorite playlist at home or a welcome music to greet your customers or business partners while they wait in the lobby of your office.
Their build allows you to use Telegram Bot to control the music played through their speaker. The music begins when movement is sensed, and you can control what happens next.
It’s a great build for playing information for visitors or alerting you to an intrusion.
Tim Peake Welcoming Committee
A few months back, I made something similar in the lobby at Pi Towers: I hid a sensor under our cardboard cutout of ESA astronaut Tim Peake. Visitors walking into the lobby triggered the sensor, and were treated to the opening music from 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Sadly, with the meeting rooms across the lobby in constant use, the prank didn’t last long.
In honour of the #Principia anniversary, I pimped out cardboard @astro_timpeake at @Raspberry_Pi Towers. Listen. https://t.co/MBUOjrARtI
If you’re curious, the Christmas tree should be a clue as to why Tim is dressed like a nativity angel.
The Homebrew Edition
If you’re like me, you learn best by doing. Our free resources allow you to develop new skills as you build. You can then blend the skills you have learned to create your own interesting projects. I was very new to digital making when I put together the music sensor in the lobby. The skills I had developed by following step-by-step project tutorials provided the foundations for something new and original.
Why not make your own welcoming system? The process could teach you new skills, and develop your understanding of the Raspberry Pi. If you’d like to have a go, I’d suggest trying out the Parent Detector. This will show you how to use a PIR sensor with your Raspberry Pi. Once you understand that process, try the Burping Jelly Baby project. This will teach you how to tell your Raspberry Pi when to play an MP3 based on a trigger, such as the poke of a finger or the detection of movement.
From there, you should have all the tools you need to make a speaker system that plays an MP3 when someone or something approaches. Why not have a go this weekend? If you do, tell us about your final build in the comments below.
What does your personal utopia look like? Do you think we (as mankind) can achieve it? Why/why not?
I spent the month up to my eyeballs in a jam game, but this question was in the back of my mind a lot. I could use it as a springboard to opine about anything, especially in the current climate: politics, religion, nationalism, war, economics, etc., etc. But all of that has been done to death by people who actually know what they’re talking about.
The question does say “personal”. So in a less abstract sense… what do I want the world to look like?
Mostly, I want everyone to have the freedom to make things.
I’ve been having a surprisingly hard time writing the rest of this without veering directly into the ravines of “basic income is good” and “maybe capitalism is suboptimal”. Those are true, but not really the tone I want here, and anyway they’ve been done to death by better writers than I. I’ve talked this out with Mel a few times, and it sounds much better aloud, so I’m going to try to drop my Blog Voice and just… talk.
I’m construing “art” very broadly here. More broadly than “media”, too. I’m including shitty robots, weird Twitter almost-bots, weird Twitter non-bots, even a great deal of open source software. Anything that even remotely resembles creative work — driven perhaps by curiosity, perhaps by practicality, but always by a soul bursting with ideas and a palpable need to get them out.
Western culture thrives on art. Most culture thrives on art. I’m not remotely qualified to defend this, but I suspect you could define culture in terms of art. It’s pretty important.
You’d think this would be reflected in how we discuss art, but often… it’s not. Tell me how often you’ve heard some of these gems.
“I could do that.”
“My eight-year-old kid could do that.”
Jokes about the worthlessness of liberal arts degrees.
Jokes about people trying to write novels in their spare time, the subtext being that only dreamy losers try to write novels, or something.
The caricature of a hippie working on a screenplay at Starbucks.
Oh, and then there was the guy who made a bot to scrape tons of art from artists who were using Patreon as a paywall — and a primary source of income. The justification was that artists shouldn’t expect to make a living off of, er, doing art, and should instead get “real jobs”.
I do wonder. How many of the people repeating these sentiments listen to music, or go to movies, or bought an iPhone because it’s prettier? Are those things not art that took real work to create? Is creating those things not a “real job”?
Perhaps a “real job” has to be one that’s not enjoyable, not a passion? And yet I can’t recall ever hearing anyone say that Taylor Swift should get a “real job”. Or that, say, pro football players should get “real jobs”. What do pro football players even do? They play a game a few times a year, and somehow this drives the flow of unimaginable amounts of money. We dress it up in the more serious-sounding “sport”, but it’s a game in the same general genre as hopscotch. There’s nothing wrong with that, but somehow it gets virtually none of the scorn that art does.
Another possible explanation is America’s partly-Christian, partly-capitalist attitude that you deserve exactly whatever you happen to have at the moment. (Whereas I deserve much more and will be getting it any day now.) Rich people are rich because they earned it, and we don’t question that further. Poor people are poor because they failed to earn it, and we don’t question that further, either. To do so would suggest that the system is somehow unfair, and hard work does not perfectly correlate with any particular measure of success.
I’m sure that factors in, but it’s not quite satisfying: I’ve also seen a good deal of spite aimed at people who are making a fairly decent chunk through Patreon or similar. Something is missing.
I thought, at first, that the key might be the American worship of work. Work is an inherent virtue. Politicians run entire campaigns based on how many jobs they’re going to create. Notably, no one seems too bothered about whether the work is useful, as long as someone decided to pay you for it.
Finally I stumbled upon the key. America doesn’t actually worship work. America worships business. Business means a company is deciding to pay you. Business means legitimacy. Business is what separates a hobby from a career.
And this presents a problem for art.
If you want to provide a service or sell a product, that’ll be hard, but America will at least try to look like it supports you. People are impressed that you’re an entrepreneur, a small business owner. Politicians will brag about policies made in your favor, whether or not they’re stabbing you in the back.
Small businesses have a particular structure they can develop into. You can divide work up. You can have someone in sales, someone in accounting. You can provide specifications and pay a factory to make your product. You can defer all of the non-creative work to someone else, whether that means experts in a particular field or unskilled labor.
But if your work is inherently creative, you can’t do that. The very thing you’re making is your idea in your style, driven by your experience. This is not work that’s readily parallelizable. Even if you sell physical merchandise and register as an LLC and have a dedicated workspace and do various other formal business-y things, the basic structure will still look the same: a single person doing the thing they enjoy. A hobbyist.
Consider the bulleted list from above. Those are all individual painters or artists or authors or screenwriters. The kinds of artists who earn respect without question are generally those managed by a business, those with branding: musical artists signed to labels, actors working for a studio. Even football players are part of a tangle of business.
(This doesn’t mean that business automatically confers respect, of course; tech in particular is full of anecdotes about nerds’ disdain for people whose jobs are design or UI or documentation or whathaveyou. But a businessy look seems to be a significant advantage.)
It seems that although art is a large part of what informs culture, we have a culture that defines “serious” endeavors in such a way that independent art cannot possibly be “serious”.
Which wouldn’t really matter at all, except that we also have a culture that expects you to pay for food and whatnot.
The reasoning isn’t too outlandish. Food is produced from a combination of work and resources. In exchange for getting the food, you should give back some of your own work and resources.
Obviously this is riddled with subtle flaws, but let’s roll with it for now and look at a case study. Like, uh, me!
Mel and I built and released two games together in the six weeks between mid-January and the end of February. Together, those games have made $1,000 in sales. The sales trail off fairly quickly within a few days of release, so we’ll call that the total gross for our effort.
I, dumb, having never actually sold anything before, thought this was phenomenal. Then I had the misfortune of doing some math.
Itch takes at least 10%, so we’re down to $900 net. Divided over six weeks, that’s $150 per week, before taxes — or $3.75 per hour if we’d been working full time.
Ah, but wait! There are two of us. And we hadn’t been working full time — we’d been working nearly every waking hour, which is at least twice “full time” hours. So we really made less than a dollar an hour. Even less than that, if you assume overtime pay.
From the perspective of capitalism, what is our incentive to do this? Between us, we easily have over thirty years of experience doing the things we do, and we spent weeks in crunch mode working on something, all to earn a small fraction of minimum wage. Did we not contribute back our own work and resources? Was our work worth so much less than waiting tables?
Waiting tables is a perfectly respectable way to earn a living, mind you. Ah, but wait! I’ve accidentally done something clever here. It is generally expected that you tip your waiter, because waiters are underpaid by the business, because the business assumes they’ll be tipped. Not tipping is actually, almost impressively, one of the rudest things you can do. And yet it’s not expected that you tip an artist whose work you enjoy, even though many such artists aren’t being paid at all.
Now, to be perfectly fair, both games were released for free. Even a dollar an hour is infinitely more than the zero dollars I was expecting — and I’m amazed and thankful we got as much as we did! Thank you so much. I bring it up not as a complaint, but as an armchair analysis of our systems of incentives.
People can take art for granted and whatever, yes, but there are several other factors at play here that hamper the ability for art to make money.
For one, I don’t want to sell my work. I suspect a great deal of independent artists and writers and open source developers (!) feel the same way. I create things because I want to, because I have to, because I feel so compelled to create that having a non-creative full-time job was making me miserable. I create things for the sake of expressing an idea. Attaching a price tag to something reduces the number of people who’ll experience it. In other words, selling my work would make it less valuable in my eyes, in much the same way that adding banner ads to my writing would make it less valuable.
And yet, I’m forced to sell something in some way, or else I’ll have to find someone who wants me to do bland mechanical work on their ideas in exchange for money… at the cost of producing sharply less work of my own. Thank goodness for Patreon, at least.
There’s also the reverse problem, in that people often don’t want to buy creative work. Everyone does sometimes, but only sometimes. It’s kind of a weird situation, and the internet has exacerbated it considerably.
Consider that if I write a book and print it on paper, that costs something. I have to pay for the paper and the ink and the use of someone else’s printer. If I want one more book, I have to pay a little more. I can cut those costs pretty considerable by printing a lot of books at once, but each copy still has a price, a marginal cost. If I then gave those books away, I would be actively losing money. So I can pretty well justify charging for a book.
Along comes the internet. Suddenly, copying costs nothing. Not only does it cost nothing, but it’s the fundamental operation. When you download a file or receive an email or visit a web site, you’re really getting a copy! Even the process which ultimately shows it on your screen involves a number of copies. This is so natural that we don’t even call it copying, don’t even think of it as copying.
True, bandwidth does cost something, but the rate is virtually nothing until you start looking at very big numbers indeed. I pay $60/mo for hosting this blog and a half dozen other sites — even that’s way more than I need, honestly, but downgrading would be a hassle — and I get 6TB of bandwidth. Even the longest of my posts haven’t exceeded 100KB. A post could be read by 64 million people before I’d start having a problem. If that were the population of a country, it’d be the 23rd largest in the world, between Italy and the UK.
How, then, do I justify charging for my writing? (Yes, I realize the irony in using my blog as an example in a post I’m being paid $88 to write.)
Well, I do pour effort and expertise and a fraction of my finite lifetime into it. But it doesn’t cost me anything tangible — I already had this hosting for something else! — and it’s easier all around to just put it online.
The same idea applies to a vast bulk of what’s online, and now suddenly we have a bit of a problem. Not only are we used to getting everything for free online, but we never bothered to build any sensible payment infrastructure. You still have to pay for everything by typing in a cryptic sequence of numbers from a little physical plastic card, which will then give you a small loan and charge the seller 30¢ plus 2.9% for the “convenience”.
If a website could say “pay 5¢ to read this” and you clicked a button in your browser and that was that, we might be onto something. But with our current setup, it costs far more than 5¢ to transfer 5¢, even though it’s just a number in a computer somewhere. The only people with the power and resources to fix this don’t want to fix it — they’d rather be the ones charging you the 30¢ plus 2.9%.
That leads to another factor of platforms and publishers, which are more than happy to eat a chunk of your earnings even when you do sell stuff. Google Play, the App Store, Steam, and anecdotally many other big-name comparative platforms all take 30% of your sales. A third! And that’s good! It seems common among book publishers to take 85% to 90%. For ebook sales — i.e., ones that don’t actually cost anything — they may generously lower that to a mere 75% to 85%.
Bless Patreon for only taking 5%. Itch.io is even better: it defaults to 10%, but gives you a slider, which you can set to anything from 0% to 100%.
I’ve mentioned all this before, so here’s a more novel thought: finite disposable income. Your audience only has so much money to spend on media right now. You can try to be more compelling to encourage them to spend more of it, rather than saving it, but ultimately everyone has a limit before they just plain run out of money.
Now, popularity is heavily influenced by social and network effects, so it tends to create a power law distribution: a few things are ridiculously hyperpopular, and then there’s a steep drop to a long tail of more modestly popular things.
If a new hyperpopular thing comes out, everyone is likely to want to buy it… but then that eats away a significant chunk of that finite pool of money that could’ve gone to less popular things.
This isn’t bad, and buying a popular thing doesn’t make you a bad person; it’s just what happens. I don’t think there’s any satisfying alternative that doesn’t involve radically changing the way we think about our economy.
Taylor Swift, who I’m only picking on because her infosec account follows me on Twitter, has sold tens of millions of albums and is worth something like a quarter of a billion dollars. Does she need more? If not, should she make all her albums free from now on?
Maybe she does, and maybe she shouldn’t. The alternative is for someone to somehow prevent her from making more money, which doesn’t sit well. Yet it feels almost heretical to even ask if someone “needs” more money, because we take for granted that she’s earned it — in part by being invested in by a record label and heavily advertised. The virtue is work, right? Don’t a lot of people work just as hard? (“But you have to be talented too!” Then please explain how wildly incompetent CEOs still make millions, and leave burning businesses only to be immediately hired by new ones? Anyway, are we really willing to bet there is no one equally talented but not as popular by sheer happenstance?)
It’s kind of a moot question anyway, since she’s probably under contract with billionaires and it’s not up to her.
Where the hell was I going with this.
Right, so. Money. Everyone needs some. But making it off art can be tricky, unless you’re one of the lucky handful who strike gold.
And I’m still pretty goddamn lucky to be able to even try this! I doubt I would’ve even gotten into game development by now if I were still working for an SF tech company — it just drained so much of my creative energy, and it’s enough of an uphill battle for me to get stuff done in the first place.
How many people do I know who are bursting with ideas, but have to work a tedious job to keep the lights on, and are too tired at the end of the day to get those ideas out? Make no mistake, making stuff takes work — a lot of it. And that’s if you’re already pretty good at the artform. If you want to learn to draw or paint or write or code, you have to do just as much work first, with much more frustration, and not as much to show for it.
So there’s my utopia. I want to see a world where people have the breathing room to create the things they dream about and share them with the rest of us.
Can it happen? Maybe. I think the cultural issues are a fairly big blocker; we’d be much better off if we treated independent art with the same reverence as, say, people who play with a ball for twelve hours a year. Or if we treated liberal arts degrees as just as good as computer science degrees. (“But STEM can change the world!” Okay. How many people with computer science degrees would you estimate are changing the world, and how many are making a website 1% faster or keeping a lumbering COBOL beast running or trying to trick 1% more people into clicking on ads?)
I don’t really mean stuff like piracy, either. Piracy is a thing, but it’s… complicated. In my experience it’s not even artists who care the most about piracy; it’s massive publishers, the sort who see artists as a sponge to squeeze money out of. You know, the same people who make everything difficult to actually buy, infest it with DRM so it doesn’t work on half the stuff you own, and don’t even sell it in half the world.
I mean treating art as a free-floating commodity, detached from anyone who created it. I mean neo-Nazis adopting a comic book character as their mascot, against the creator’s wishes. I mean politicians and even media conglomerates using someone else’s music in well-funded videos and ads without even asking. I mean assuming Google Image Search, wonder that it is, is some kind of magical free art machine. I mean the snotty Reddit post I found while looking up Patreon’s fee structure, where some doofus was insisting that Patreon couldn’t possibly pay for a full-time YouTuber’s time, because not having a job meant they had lots of time to spare.
Maybe I should go one step further: everyone should create at least once or twice. Everyone should know what it’s like to have crafted something out of nothing, to be a fucking god within the microcosm of a computer screen or a sewing machine or a pottery table. Everyone should know that spark of inspiration that we don’t seem to know how to teach in math or science classes, even though it’s the entire basis of those as well. Everyone should know that there’s a good goddamn reason I listed open source software as a kind of art at the beginning of this post.
Basic income and more arts funding for public schools. If Uber can get billions of dollars for putting little car icons on top of Google Maps and not actually doing any of their own goddamn service themselves, I think we can afford to pump more cash into webcomics and indie games and, yes, even underwater basket weaving.
The Tough Pi-ano needs to live up to its name as a rugged, resilient instrument for a very good reason: kids.
Brian ’24 Hour Engineer’ McEvoy made the Tough Pi-ano as a gift to his aunt and uncle, for use in their centre for children with learning and developmental disabilities such as autism and Down’s syndrome. This easily accessible device uses heavy-duty arcade buttons and has a smooth, solid wood body with no sharp corners.
24 Hour Engineer is a channel to showcase the things I’ve built. Instructions for the Tough Pi-ano can be found at my website, 24HourEngineer.com and searcing for “Tough Pi-ano.” http://www.24hourengineer.com/search?q=%22Tough+PiAno%22&max-results=20&by-date=true
The Pi-ano has four octaves of buttons, each controlled by a Raspberry Pi Zero. Each Zero is connected to a homebrew resistor board; this board, in turn, is connected to the switches that control the arcade buttons.
The Tough Pi-ano is designed specifically for musical therapy, so it has a clean and uncomplicated design. It has none of the switches and sliders you’d usually expect to find on an electronic keyboard.
The simple body, with its resilient keys, allows the Tough Pi-ano to stand up to lots of vigorous playing and forceful treatment, providing an excellent resource for the centre.
This column is from The MagPi issue 51. 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.
Matt Reed‘s background is in web design/development, extending to graphic design in which he acquired his BFA at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. In his youth, his passion focused on car stereo systems, designing elaborate builds that his wallet couldn’t afford. However, this enriched his maker skill set by introducing woodwork, electronics, and fabrication exploration into his creations.
Matt hosts the redpepper ‘Touch of Tech’ online series, highlighting the latest in interesting and unusual tech releases
Having joined the integrated marketing agency redpepper eight years ago, Matt originally worked in the design and production of microsites. However, as his interests continued to grow, demand began to evolve, and products such as the Arduino and Raspberry Pi came into the mix. Matt soon found himself moving away from the screen toward physical builds.
“I’m interested in anything that uses tech in a clever way, whether it be AR, VR, front-end, back-end, app dev, servers, hardware, UI, UX, motion graphics, art, science, or human behaviour. I really enjoy coming up with ideas people can relate to.”
Matt’s passion is to make tech seem cool, creative, empowering, and approachable, and his projects reflect this. Away from the Raspberry Pi, Matt has built some amazing creations such as the Home Alone Holidaython, an app that lets you recreate the famous curtain shadow party in Kevin McCallister’s living room. Pick the shadow you want to appear, and projectors illuminate the design against a sheet across the redpepper office window. Christmas on Tweet Street LIVE! captures hilariously negative Christmas-themed tweets from Twitter, displaying them across a traditional festive painting, while DOOR8ELL allows office visitors the opportunity to Slack-message their required staff member via an arcade interface, complete with 8-bit graphics. There’s also been a capacitive piano built with jelly keys, a phone app to simulate the destruction of cars as you sit in traffic, and a working QR code made entirely from Oreos.
The BoomIlluminator, an interactive art installation for the Red Bull Creation Qualifier, used LEDs within empty Red Bull cans that reacted to the bass of any music played. A light show across the cans was then relayed to peoples’ phones, extending the experience.
Playing the ‘technology advocate’ role at redpepper, Matt continues to bridge the gap between the company’s day-to-day business and the fun, intuitive uses of tech. Not only do they offer technological marketing solutions via their rpLab, they have continued to grow, incorporating Google’s Sprint methodology into idea-building and brainstorming within days of receiving a request, “so having tools that are powerful, flexible, and cost-effective like the Pi is invaluable.”
Walk into a room with Doorjam enabled, and suddenly your favourite tune is playing via boombox speakers. Simply select your favourite song from Spotify, walk within range of a Bluetooth iBeacon, and you’re ready to make your entrance in style.
“I just love the intersection of art and science,” Matt explains when discussing his passion for tech. “Having worked with Linux servers for most of my career, the Pi was the natural extension for my interest in hardware. Running Node.js on the Pi has become my go-to toolset.”
Slackbot Bot: Users of the multi-channel messenger service Slack will appreciate this one. Beacons throughout the office allow users to locate Slackbot Bot, which features a tornado siren mounted on a Roomba, and send it to predetermined locations to deliver messages. “It was absolutely hilarious to test in the office.”
We’ve seen Matt’s Raspberry Pi-based portfolio grow over the last couple of years. A few of his builds have been featured in The MagPi, and his Raspberry Preserve was placed 13th in the Top 50 Raspberry Pi Builds in issue 50.
Matt Reed’s ‘Raspberry Preserve’ build allows uses to store their precious photos in a unique memory jar
There’s no denying that Matt will continue to be ‘one to watch’ in the world of quirky, original tech builds. You can follow his work at his website or via his Twitter account.
I encourage all of you to either listen to or read the transcript of Terry Gross’ Fresh Air interview with Joseph Turow about his discussion of his book “The Aisles Have Eyes: How Retailers Track Your Shopping, Strip Your Privacy, And Define Your Power”.
Now, most of you who read my blog know the difference between proprietary and Free Software, and the difference between a network service and software that runs on your own device. I want all of you have a good understanding of that to do a simple thought experiment:
How many of the horrible things that Turow talks about can happen if there is no proprietary software on your IoT or mobile devices?
AFAICT, other than the facial recognition in the store itself that he talked about in Russia, everything he talks about would be mitigated or eliminated completely as a thread if users could modify the software on their devices.
Yes, universal software freedom will not solve all the worlds’ problems. But it does solve a lot of them, at least with regard to the bad things the powerful want to do to us via technology.
(BTW, the blog title is a reference to Philip K. Dick’s Minority Report, which includes a scene about systems reading people’s eyes to target-market to them. It’s not the main theme of that particular book, though… Dick was always going off on tangents in his books.)
The Cambridge office must have been very quiet last week, as staff from across the Raspberry Pi Foundation exhibited at the Bett Show 2017. Avid readers will note that at the UK’s largest educational technology event, held in London across four days, we tend to go all out. This year was no exception, as we had lots to share with you!
In our area of the STEAM village, where we had four pods and a workshop space, the team handed copies out in their thousands to eager educators interested in digital making, computing, and computer science. If you weren’t able to get your hands on a copy, don’t worry; you can download a free digital PDF and educators can subscribe to get this year’s three issues delivered, completely free of charge, to their door.
Sharing the Code Club love
Thanks to the support of some enthusiastic young people and our Code Club regional coordinators, we ran our first ever Code Club at Bett on Saturday.
Massive thanks to @TheChallenge_UK @CodeClub volunteers for helping @Raspberry_Pi out at #Bett2017 today 🙂
There was a great turnout of educators and their children, who all took part in a programming activity, learning just what makes Code Club so special. With activities like this, you can see why there are 5,000 clubs in the UK and 4,000 in the rest of the world!
Let’s be honest: exhibitions and conferences are all about the free swag. (I walked away with a hoodie, polo shirt, and three highlighter pens.) We think we had the best offering: free magazines and classroom posters!
It’s our the final day of #Bett2017! Pop over to STEAM village to see the Code Club team & get your hands on our coveted posters! #PiAtBett
We love interacting with people and we’re passionate about making things, so we helped attendees make their very own LED badge that they could keep. It was so popular that after it has had a few tweaks, we’ll will make it available for you to download and use in class, after-school clubs, and Raspberry Jams!
The ‘All Seeing Pi‘ kept an eye on attendees passing by that we may have missed, using comedy moustaches to lure them in. We’ve enjoyed checking out its Twitter account to see the results.
Speaking from the heart
The STEAM village was crammed with people enjoying all our activities, but that’s not all; we even found time to support our educator community to give talks about their classroom practice on stage. One of the highlights was seeing three of our Certified Educators, along with their class robots, sharing their journey and experience on a panel chaired by Robot Wars judge and our good friend, Dr Lucy Rogers.
These ARE the droids you’re looking for! Bill Harvey, Neil Rickus, Nic Hughes, Dr Lucy Rogers, and their robots.
Well done @Raspberry_Pi for such a good turn out yesterday! Keep up the good work at your stand in STEAM Village.
A royal visit
We were excited to be visited by a very special attendee, our patron the Duke of York, who spent time meeting the team, learned more about our programmes, and discussed teacher training with me.
Thanks to everyone who visited, supported, and got involved with us. We ran 43 workshops and talks on our stand, handed out 2,000 free copies of Hello World and 400 Code Club posters, caught 100 comedy faces with the All-Seeing Pi, gave 5 presentations on Bett stages, took 5,000 pictures on our balloon cam, and ran 1 Code Club and 1 Raspberry Jam, across 4 days at the Bett show.
Next week brings another opportunity for educators to visit the Raspberry Pi Foundation at Bett 2017, the huge annual EdTech event in London. We’ll be at ExCeL London from 25-28 January, and we’ll be running more than 50 workshops and talks over the four days. Whether you’re a school teacher or a community educator, there’s something for you: visit our stand (G460) to discover ways to bring the power of digital making to your classroom and beyond.
Our CEO Philip Colligan will be launching an exciting new free initiative to support educators, live in the Bett Show Arena at 13:25 on Wednesday 25 January. Philip will be joined by a panel of educators who are leading the movement for classroom computing and digital making.
One of our younger community members, Yasmin Bey, delivering a workshop session
Raspberry Pi Stand (G460) – Free workshops, talks, demos, and panel discussions
Find us at our STEAM Village stand (G460) to take part in free physical computing and STEAM workshops, as well as talks led by Raspberry Pi Foundation staff, Raspberry Pi Certified Educators, and other expert community members. We have a huge range of workshops running for all levels of ability, which will give you the opportunity to get hands-on with digital making and gain experience of using the Raspberry Pi in a variety of different ways.
There is no booking system for our workshops. You just need to browse our Bett Show 2017 Workshop Timetable and then turn up before the session. If you miss a workshop and need help with something, don’t worry: the team will be hosting special drop-in sessions at the end of each day to answer all your questions.
Workshop participants will get the chance to grab some exclusive goodies, including a special Educator’s Edition of our MagPi magazine. We also have an awesome maker project for you to take away this year: your very own Raspberry Pi badge, featuring a glowing LED! We’ll supply all the materials: you just need to come and take part in some good old-fashioned digital making.
You can be the proud maker of this badge if you visit our stand
These fantastic free resources will help to get you started with digital making and Raspberry Pi, learn more about our goals as a charity, and give you the confidence to teach others about physical computing.
Our staff members will also be on hand to chat to you about any questions you have about our educational initiatives. Here’s a quick list to get the cogs turning:
Astro Pi: our initiative to enable schools across Europe to send code into space
Code Club: our programme for setting up extra-curricular computing clubs in schools and community spaces
Online training: our new web-based courses for educators on the FutureLearn platform
Picademy: our flagship face-to-face training for educators in the UK and USA
Pioneers: a new initiative that sets digital making challenges for teams of UK teenagers (twelve- to 15-year-olds)
Skycademy: our programme for starting a near-space programme in your school using high-altitude balloons
Talks will be held on the STEAM village stage (pictured) and on our stand throughout Bett
STEAM village sessions
In addition to running workshops and talks on our own stand, we are also holding some sessions on the STEAM village stand next to ours:
13:25 – 13:55
Olympia Brown, Senior Programme Manager, Raspberry Pi Foundation
Pioneers: engaging teenagers in digital making, project-based learning, and STEAM
STEAM Village Stage
12:30 – 13:00
Carrie Anne Philbin, Director of Education, Raspberry Pi Foundation
A digital making curriculum: bridging the STEAM skills gap through creativity and project-based learning
STEAM Village Stage
16:10 – 16:40
Panel chaired by Dr Lucy Rogers, Author, Designer, Maker, and Robot Wars Judge!
These ARE the droids we’re looking for: how the robotics revolution is inspiring a generation of STEAM makers
STEAM Village Stage
11:20 – 11:50
Dave Honess, Astro Pi Programme Manager, Raspberry Pi Foundation
Code in space: engaging students in computer science
STEAM Village Stage
Raspberry Jam and Code Club @ Bett
For the second year running, we are taking over the Technology in HE Summit Space on Saturday 28 January to run two awesome events:
A Raspberry Jam from 10:00 to 12:50. Led by the wonderful Raspberry Pi community, Raspberry Jams are a way to share ideas, collaborate, and learn about digital making and computer science. They take place all over the world, including at the Bett Show! Come along, share your project in our show-and-tell, take part in our workshops, and get help with a project from experts and community members. It’s fun for all the family! Register your interest here.
A Code Club primer session from 13:00 to 15:00. Our regional coordinator for London and the East of England is holding a workshop with a team of young people to show you how to start a Code Club in your school. Come and take part in the live demos and get help with starting your own club.
We’re looking forward to the opportunity to speak to so many different educators from across the world. It’s really important to us to spend time with all of you face-to-face: we want to hear about the great things you’re doing, answer your questions, and learn about the way you work and the challenges you face so we can improve the things we do. We really do value your feedback enormously, so please don’t hesitate for a moment to come over and ask questions, query something, or just say hi! And if you have questions you’d like to ask us ahead of Bett, just leave us a comment below.
This column is from The MagPi issue 49. 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.
You may recognise the name Zachary Igielman from issue #38, where he was mentioned during our review of the exciting Pimoroni Piano HAT. The Piano HAT, for those unaware, was inspired by Zach’s own creation, the PiPiano, a successful crowdfunded add-on board that hit 184% of its funding two years ago. Aged 14, Zach had decided to incorporate his passions for making, engineering, and music, building himself a PCB that could use physical keys to control electronic sound files and Sonic Pi code. The PCB, he explains, is a great classroom tool, educating students on the fundamentals of physically building digital tech and soldering, through to understanding sound generation through PWM frequencies.
PiPiano: Zach taught himself how to build a PCB in order to bring the PiPiano to life. Using Indiegogo to fund his project, Zach hit 184% of his target before approaching Pimoroni to hand over the design. And from his homemade PCB, the Piano HAT was born.
Zach began to teach himself to code aged 11, soon discovering the Raspberry Pi and, later, the Cambridge Raspberry Jams. It was through this collective of like-minded individuals that Zach was inspired to broaden his making skills, moving on to create line-following robots that avoided objects by using sensors.
Moving forward, Zach visited the Raspberry Pi offices for work experience, continuing to work on and study robots and robotic guides, working alongside our engineers to build upon his knowledge. It was around this time, in October 2014, that Zach met Frank Thomas-Hockey via Twitter. Frank was looking for help in creating the first London Raspberry Jam and Zach was more than willing to lend a hand. Between them, they set up the Covent Garden Jam, welcoming over 100 visitors to their first event. Their most recent Jam – now with the additional help of volunteers Ben, Paul, and Joseph – allowed them to simultaneously run workshops on soldering, Sonic Pi, and Minecraft, while also highlighting maker projects through show-and-tell sessions and talks.
Covent Garden Raspberry Pi Jam: Through Twitter, Zach met Frank in 2014, a like-minded Pi enthusiast looking to start a London-based Raspberry Jam. Between the two of them, they launched the first event at Dragon Hall, continuing the success of the Jam to now include multiple workshops, show-and-tell sessions, and talks.
Finally finished with his GCSE exams and about to begin his sixth-form studies in Maths, Further Maths, Physics, and Computing, Zach now has the time to continue his recent collaboration with friend Jake Blumenow.
Zach met Jake and built a fast friendship online, lovingly referring to him as a fellow “computer geek”. The two have worked on projects together, including several websites, and spent time travelling, bouncing ideas off one another with the aim of creating something important. It’s their most recent venture that’s worthy of recognition.
“At Google Campus, we developed our business model: we believe people of all ages have the right to understand how the technological world around us works, so they can modify and create their own technology.”
Between the two of them, they aim to create complete Raspberry Pi education kits, inviting beginners in making and coding to create functional projects, such as an alarm system, thus cementing the pair’s desire to highlight the day-to-day importance of tech in our lives.
Collaboration with Jake Blumenow: Zach and Jake believe everyone has the right to understand how technology builds the world around them. With this in mind, they formed a partnership, working to create Raspberry Pi educational kits, starting with a DIY alarm system.
Feeling stuck for what to buy the beloved maker in your life? Maybe your niece wants to get into Minecraft hacking, or your Dad fancies his hand at home automation on a budget?
Maybe you’ve seen Raspberry Pi in the news and figure it would be a fun activity for the family, or you’re stuck for what to buy the Pi pro who’s slowly filling your spare room with wires, servers, and a mysterious, unidentified object that keeps beeping?
Whatever the reason, you’re in the right place. The Raspberry Pi Christmas Shopping List is here to help you out.
For the beginner
Here are some of our favourite bits to get them started.
A Raspberry Pi Starter Kit will give your budding maker everything they need to get started. There’s a whole host of options, from our own kit to project-specific collections from our friends at The Pi Hut and Pimoroni in the UK, Adafruit in the USA, Canakit in Canada, and RS Components across the globe.
They may already have a screen, keyboard, and mouse, but having a separate display allows them free rein to play to their heart’s content. The pi-top takes the form of a laptop, while the pi-topCEED still requires a mouse and keyboard.
They’ve been tinkering with LEDs and servo motors for a while. Now it’s time to pull out the big guns.
Help to broaden their interest by introducing them to some of the brilliant products over at Bare Conductive. Pair up the Pi Cap with some Electric Paint, and they’ll create an interactive masterpiece by the time the Queen’s Speech is on.
Add to their maker toolkit with some of the great products in the RasPiO range. The GPIO Zero Ruler will be an instant hit, and a great stocking filler for anyone wanting to do more with the GPIO pins.
“All too often we’re reminded of this reality,” wrote Jeremy Schwartz, Executive Director of World Possible. “There are places where young people aren’t given the resources they need to learn. For many, the internet has become a small equalising force, but for more, that equaliser does not exist.”
“In 2017, we’re going to test RACHEL against as many different use cases as we can,” said Jeremy. “We’ll be formalising our own testing through our social entrepreneurs, and intimately supporting a narrower group of other organisations”.
As a result, Computer Aid “currently has twenty units about to arrive at a project in Ethiopia and one in Mauritania,” said Nicola. “So hopefully we’ll be getting to see it in action soon.”
The Computer Aid Connect turns a Raspberry Pi into a router pre-packed with many websites
“The Raspberry Pi is a key component of the device, especially due to its low power usage and low cost,” said Nicola.
Also inside is a “UPS PIco Uninterruptible Power Supply,” said Nicola. As a result, Connect is “sustainable and stable during power outages.”
Recently, WikiLeaks has released emails from Democrats. Many have repeatedly claimed that some of these emails are fake or have been modified, that there’s no way to validate each and every one of them as being true. Actually, there is, using a mechanism called DKIM.
DKIM is a system designed to stop spam. It works by verifying the sender of the email. Moreover, as a side effect, it verifies that the email has not been altered.
Hillary’s team uses “hillaryclinton.com”, which as DKIM enabled. Thus, we can verify whether some of these emails are true.
Recently, in response to a leaked email suggesting Donna Brazile gave Hillary’s team early access to debate questions, she defended herself by suggesting the email had been “doctored” or “falsified”. That’s not true. We can use DKIM to verify it.
Secretary Clinton, since 1976, we have executed 1,414 people in this country. Since 1973, 156 who were convicted have been exonerated from the death row.
It’s not a smoking gun, but at the same time, it both claims they got questions in advance while having a question in advance. Trump gets hung on similar chains of evidence, so it’s not something we can easily ignore.
Anyway, this post isn’t about the controversy, but the fact that we can validate the email. When an email server sends a message, it’ll include an invisible “header”. They aren’t especially hidden, most email programs allow you to view them, it’s just that they are boring, so hidden by default. The DKIM header in this email looks like:
How do you verify this is true. There are a zillion ways with various “DKIM verifiers”. I use the popular Thunderbird email reader (from the Mozilla Firefox team). They have an addon designed specifically to verify DKIM. Normally, email readers don’t care, because it’s the email server‘s job to verify DKIM, not the client. So we need a client addon to enable verification.
Downloading the raw email from WikiLeaks and opening in Thunderbird, with the addon, I get the following verification that the email is valid. Specifically, it validates that the HillaryClinton.com sent precisely this content, with this subject, on that date.
Let’s see what happens when somebody tries to doctor the email. In the following, I added “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN” to the top of the email.
As you can see, we’ve proven that DKIM will indeed detect if anybody has “doctored” or “falsified” this email.
I was just listening to ABC News about this story. It repeated Democrat talking points that the WikiLeaks emails weren’t validated. That’s a lie. This email in particular has been validated. I just did it, and shown you how you can validate it, too.
Btw, if you can forge an email that validates correctly as I’ve shown, I’ll give you 1-bitcoin. It’s the easiest way of solving arguments whether this really validates the email — if somebody tells you this blogpost is invalid, then tell them they can earn about $600 (current value of BTC) proving it. Otherwise, no.
Update: I’m a bit late writing this blog post. Apparently, others have validated these, too.
Update: In the future, when HilaryClinton.com changes their DKIM key, it will no longer be able to verify. Thus, I’m recording the domain key here:
google._domainkey.hillaryclinton.com: type TXT, class IN v=DKIM1; k=rsa; p=MIGfMA0GCSqGSIb3DQEBAQUAA4GNADCBiQKBgQCJdAYdE2z61YpUMFqFTFJqlFomm7C4Kk97nzJmR4YZuJ8SUy9CF35UVPQzh3EMLhP+yOqEl29Ax2hA/h7vayr/f/a19x2jrFCwxVry+nACH1FVmIwV3b5FCNEkNeAIqjbY8K9PeTmpqNhWDbvXeKgFbIDwhWq0HP2PbySkOe4tTQIDAQAB
I don’t know anything about music. I know there are letters but sometimes the letters have squiggles; I know an octave doubles in pitch; I know you can write a pop song with only four chords. That’s about it.
The rest has always seemed completely, utterly arbitrary. Why do we have twelve notes, but represent them with only seven letters? Where did the key signatures come from? Why is every Wikipedia article on this impossible to read without first having read all the others?
A few days ago, some of it finally clicked. I feel like an idiot for not getting it earlier, but I suppose it doesn’t help that everyone explains music using, well, musical notation, which doesn’t make any sense if you don’t know why it’s like that in the first place.
Here is what I gathered, from the perspective of someone whose only music class was learning to play four notes on a recorder in second grade. I stress that I don’t know anything about music and this post is terrible. If you you so much as know how to whistle, please don’t read this you will laugh at me.
Music is a kind of sound. Sound is a pressure wave.
Imagine what happens when you beat a drum. The drumhead is elastic, so when you hit it, it deforms inwards, then rebounds outwards, then back inwards, and so on until it runs out of energy. If you watched a point in the center of the drumhead, its movement would look a lot like what you get when you hold a slinky by the top and let the bottom go.
When the drumhead rebounds outwards, it pushes air out of the way. That air pushes more air out of the way, which pushes more air out of the way, creating a 3D ripple leading away from the drum. Meanwhile, the drumhead has rebounded back inwards, leaving a vacuum which nearby air rushes to fill… which leaves another vacuum, and so on. The result is that any given air molecule is (roughly) drifting back and forth from its original position, just like the drumhead or the slinky.
Eventually this pressure wave reaches your eardrum, which vibrates in exactly the same way as the drumhead, and you interpret this as music. Or perhaps as noise, depending on your taste.
I would love to provide an illustration of this, but the trouble is that it would look like ripples on a pond, where the wave goes upwards. Sound happens in three dimensions, the movement is directed towards/away from the source, and I think that’s a pretty important distinction.
Instead, let’s jump straight to the graphs. Here’s a sine wave.
It doesn’t matter what a sine wave is; it just happens to be a common wave that’s easy to make a graph of.
In graphs like this, time starts at zero and increases to the right, and the wave shows how much the air (or your eardrum, or whatever medium) has moved from its original position. Complete silence would be a straight line at zero, all the way across.
All sound you ever hear is a graph like this; nothing more. If you open up a song in Audacity and zoom in enough, you’ll see a wave. It’ll probably be a bit more complicated, but it’s still a wave.
Waves are defined by a couple of things: frequency, amplitude, and shape. The particular sound you hear — the thing that distinguishes a guitar from a violin — is the shape of the wave, which musicians call timbre.
A sine wave sounds something like this:
Amplitude is the distance between the lowest and highest points of the wave. Or, depending on who you ask, it might be half that — the distance between the highest point and zero. For sound, amplitude determines the volume of the sound you hear. This seems pretty reasonable, since in physical terms, amplitude is the furthest distance the medium moves. If you tap a drum lightly, it only moves very slightly, and the sound is quiet. If you wail on a drum, it moves quite a bit, and the sound is much louder.
Frequency is, quite literally, how frequent the wave is. If each wave is very skinny, then waves are more frequent, i.e. they have a higher frequency. If each wave is fairly wide, then waves are less frequent, and they have a lower frequency. Musicians refer to frequency as pitch. Non-musicians would probably just call it a note or tone, which musicians would scoff at, but what do they know anyway.
Frequency is measured in Hz (Hertz), which is a funny way of spelling “per second”. If it takes half a second to get from one point on a wave back to the same point on the next wave, that’s 2 Hz, because there are two waves per second. The sound above has a frequency of 440 Hz. (The graph, of course, does not; it’s a completely unchanged sine wave generated by wxMaxima, so its frequency is 1/τ = 1/(2π).)
A critical property of the human ear, which informs all the rest of this, is that if you double or halve the frequency of a sound, we consider it to be “the same” in some way. Obviously, the result will sound higher- or lower-pitched, but they “feel” very similar. I can take a few guesses at the physical reasons for this, but we can treat it as an arbitrary rule.
Compare these three sine waves, if you like. The first is the same as the sine wave from earlier; the second has 1.5× the frequency of the first; the third has 2× the frequency of the first. The first and third sound much more related than the second sounds to either.
The difficulty with music is that half of it is arbitrary and half of it is actually based on something, but you can’t tell the difference just by looking at it.
Let’s start with that fact about the human ear: doubling the pitch (= frequency) will sound “the same” in some indescribable way. For any starting pitch f, you can thus generate an infinite number of other pitches that sound “the same” to us: ½f, 2f, ¼f, 4f, and so on. (Of course, only so many of these will fit within the range of human hearing.) All of those pitches together have some common quality, so let’s refer to a group of them as a note. (“Note” can also refer to an individual pitch, whereas pitch class is unambiguous, but I’ll stick with “note” for now.)
If we say 440 Hz produces a note called A, then 880 Hz, 220 Hz, 1760 Hz, 110 Hz, and so forth will also produce a note called A. An important consequence of this is that all distinct notes we could possibly come up with must exist somewhere between 440 Hz and 880 Hz. Any other pitch could be doubled or halved until it lies in that range, and thus would produce a note in that range.
Such a range is called an octave, for reasons we’ll see in a moment. Every note exists exactly once within any given octave, no matter how you define it. As a special case, the lowest pitch f is the same note as the highest pitch 2f, so 2f is considered to be part of the next octave.
This is good news! It means we can choose some pitches within a small range — any small range, so long as it’s of the form f to 2f — and by doubling and halving those pitches, we’ll have a standard set of notes spanning the entire range of human hearing.
How, then, do we choose those pitches? You might say, well! Since we’re going from f to 2f anyway, let’s just choose pitches at f, 1.1f, 1.2f, 1.3f, 1.4f, and so on. Space them equally, so they’re as distinct as possible.
Good plan! Unfortunately, that won’t quite work — if you try it, you’ll find that the difference between f and 1.1f is almost twice the difference between 1.9f and 2f.
The human ear distinguishes pitch based on ratios, which is why the halving/doubling effect exists. f to 1.1f is an increase of 10%; 1.9f to 2f is an increase of about 5%.
We need a set of pitches that have the same ratio rather than the same difference. If we want n pitches, then we need a number that can be multiplied n times to get from f to 2f.
f × x × x × x × … × x = 2f fxⁿ = 2f xⁿ = 2 x = ⁿ√2
Ah. We need the n-th root of two. That’s a bit weird and awkward, since it’s guaranteed to be irrational for any n > 1.
Western music has twelve distinct pitches. This is somewhat arbitrary — twelve has a few nice mathematical properties, but it’s not absolutely necessary. You could create your own set of notes with eleven pitches, or seventeen, or a hundred, or five. There are forms of music elsewhere in the world that do just that.
The ratio between successive pitches in Western music is thus the twelfth root of two, ¹²√2 ≈ 1.0594631. Starting at 440 Hz and repeatedly multiplying by this value produces twelve pitches before hitting 880 Hz.
No one wants to actually work with these numbers — and when this system was invented, no one knew what these numbers were. Instead, music is effectively defined in terms of ratios.
The ratio between two pitches is called an interval, and an interval of one twelfth root of two is a semitone. This way, all the horrible irrational numbers go out the window, and we can mostly talk in whole numbers.
(What we’re really doing here is working on a logarithmic scale. I know “logarithm” strikes fear into the hearts of many, but all it means is that we say “add” to mean “multiply”.)
Now, remember, the human ear loves ratios. It particularly loves ratios of small whole numbers — that’s why doubling the pitch sounds “similar”, because it creates a ratio of 2:1, the smallest and whole-number-est you can get.
The twelfth root of two may be irrational, but it turns out to almost create several nice ratios. (I don’t know why twelve in particular has this effect, or if other roots do as well, but it’s probably why Western music settled on twelve.) Here are the pitches of all twelve notes, relative to the first. Some of them are very close to simple fractions.
Surprise! Those nice fractions make up the major scale. Starting with C produces the C major scale — the “natural” notes. Using ♯ to mean “one semitone up” and ♭ to mean “one semitone down”, we can name all of these notes.
I don’t know for sure if this is where the modern naming convention came from, but I sure wouldn’t be surprised.
You can now see where some of those interval names came from. A perfect fifth is the interval between the first and fifth notes of the scale. An octave spans eight notes in total. Likewise, the smallest interval is a semitone because most of the notes are two steps apart, so that distance became a whole tone.
The intervals between successive notes can be written as wwhwwwh, where w is a whole tone and h is a semitone or half tone. Because octaves repeat, you can rotate this sequence to produce seven different variations, depending on where you start. The resulting scales are all called diatonic scales, and the choice of starting point is called a mode. Here are all seven, marked by Roman numerals indicating the start point. I’ve also chosen different starting notes for each column, so that the resulting notes are all “natural”.
I II III IV V VI VII
0 1.000 = 1:1 |C| D E F G |A| B
1 1.059 | | F | | C
2 1.122 ≈ 9:8 |D| E G A |B|
3 1.189 | | F G |C| D
4 1.260 ≈ 5:4 |E| A B | |
5 1.335 ≈ 4:3 |F| G A C |D| E
6 1.414 | | B | | F
7 1.498 ≈ 3:2 |G| A B C D |E|
8 1.587 | | C |F| G
9 1.682 ≈ 5:3 |A| B D E | |
10 1.782 | | C D F |G| A
11 1.888 ≈ 17:9 |B| E | |
12 2 = 2:1 |C| D E F G |A| B
I’ve, er, highlighted two columns. Column I produces the major scales, and column VI produces the natural minor scales. This explains the rest of the interval names: a minor third is the span between the first and third notes in a minor scale, whereas a major third is the span between the first and third notes in a major scale. The fourth and fifth notes are the same. (The second notes are the same, too, so I don’t know where “minor second” came from.)
You can start anywhere you want to produce a major or minor scale, as long as you follow the same patterns of intervals. With twelve notes, there are twenty-four major and minor scales altogether, which would make for a big boring diagram. Here are a few of the major scales.
A major: A B C# D E F# G# A
A# major: A# C D D# F G A A#
B major: B C# D# E F# G# A# B
C major: C D E F G A B C
C# major: C# D# F F# G# A# C C#
D major: D E F# G A B C# D
D# major: D# F G G# A# C D D#
If you rotate those major scales to start from C, they look like this.
A major: C# D E F# G# A B C#
A# major: C D D# F G A A# C
B major: C# D# E F# G# A# B C#
C major: C D E F G A B C
C# major: C# D# F F# G# A# C C#
D major: C# D E F# G A B C#
D# major: C D D# F G G# A# C
Here are some minor scales, written the same way.
F# minor: C# D E F# G# A B C#
G minor: C D D# F G A A# C
G# minor: C# D# E F# G# A# B C#
A minor: C D E F G A B C
A# minor: C# D# F F# G# A# C C#
B minor: C# D E F# G A B C#
C minor: C D D# F G G# A# C
Hmmmm. Yes, every major scale is equivalent to the minor scale starting from its second-to-last note, due to the way octaves wrap around. They’re called each other’s relative major and relative minor.
Also, this notation has a slight problem. That problem is that sheet music is terrible.
If you know anything about sheet music, you may have noticed that there are no spaces for writing flat or sharp notes.
If you don’t know anything about sheet music, well, there are no spaces for writing flat or sharp notes.
If you want to put any of the other notes in, you keep them on the same line, but with a ♯ or ♭ next to them. So the notes in D major, which includes F♯ and C♯, are written as though they were F and C, but with some extra ♯s scattered around. That’s not very convenient, so instead, you can put a key signature at the very beginning — it takes the form of several ♯s or ♭s written in specific places to indicate which notes are sharp or flat. Then any such unadorned note is considered sharp or flat.
(The notes may not actually be arranged this way, depending on the particular squiggle on the left and its vertical position.)
I… guess… that’s convenient? If your music mostly relies on the seven notes from a particular scale, then it’s more compact to only have room for seven notes in your sheet music, and adjust the meaning of those notes when necessary… right?
It completely obscures the relationship between the pitches, though. You can’t even easily tell which scale some sheet music is in, short of memorization. In the example above, there are ♯s for C and F; what about that is supposed to tell you “D”?
Anyway, I really only brought this up to make a point about notation. Look at C♯ major again.
C# major: C# D# F F# G# A# C C#
Two pairs of notes are using the same letter — C and C♯, F and F♯ — so they’d occupy the same position in sheet music. That won’t work with the scheme I just described.
To fix this, several scales fudge it a bit. C is one semitone above B, so you could also write it as B♯. F is one semitone above E, so you could also write it as E♯. Here’s how C♯ is actually written.
C# major: C# D# (E#) F# G# A# (B#) C#
Now all seven letters are used exactly once.
I don’t think I entirely understand this, because it still seems so convoluted to me. You have to mentally translate that C to a C♯, and then translate the C♯ to however that particular note is actually played on your instrument. What does this accomplish? It keeps sheet music more compact — seven notes to express per octave rather than twelve — but I can’t think of any better reason.
I suppose it’s possible to change the sound of an entire piece of music just by changing the key signature, sometimes without otherwise altering the sheet music at all. How would that work for music that also uses notes outside the scale, I wonder? These seem more like questions of composition, which I definitely don’t know anything about.
As I said, major and minor scales come in pairs; every major scale has a relative minor scale with exactly the same set of notes, and vice versa. So C major is identical to A minor. Why do we need both? More importantly, since they both use the same key signature, how can you even say that a piece of music is definitively one or the other?
A lot of people have tried to explain this to me as being about mood and different sound and whatnot, but that moves the question rather than answering it. From what I can gather, the real answer is twofold.
One: music is written against a key, which includes both the scale and common chords and maybe some other stuff. A chord is multiple notes played together, or almost together. You can construct plenty of different chords, but some really big players are the major chords and minor chords, which are the first, third, and fifth notes in a scale. The C major chord (confusingly written “C”) is thus comprised of C, E, and G, whereas the A minor chord (written “Am”) is A, C, and E.
Major chords are notes 0, 4, and 7 out of the twelve notes in an octave. Minor chords are 0, 3, and 7. The first and last notes in both chords are seven semitones apart — a perfect fifth, that nice 3:2 ratio. They sound somewhat similar, but because the middle note is slightly lower in a minor chord, it often sounds a little more dramatic or moody.
Speaking of which, something slightly interesting happens when you compare the major and minor scales starting with the same note. They’re very similar, except that three notes are a semitone higher in the major scale.
C major: C D E F G A B C
C minor: C D D# F G G# A# C
Every major and minor scale has seven chords of this form, depending on where you start; the second chord in the C major scale, for instance, is D-F-A, which is D minor. Yes, minor; it’s the same arrangement of notes as the first chord you’ll find in the D minor scale.
Sometimes you’ll see chords written using Roman numerals, with capital letters for major chords and lowercase for minor chords. The chords of a major scale are I, ii, iii, IV, V, vi, and vii; the chords of a minor scale are i, ii, III, iv, v, VI, and VII. “I” just means the chord built from the first note, and so on. This lets you talk about, say, chord progressions without worrying about any particular key.
Anyway, getting back to why we have both A minor and C major, this brings me to…
Two: it’s just custom. Western music tends to be written according to certain conventions, and people versed in those conventions can identify which one was being used. Music written in C major will often begin and/or end with C or even a C major chord; music written in A minor will often begin and/or end in A or an A minor chord. As far as I can tell, the two sets of notes aren’t fundamentally different in any way, and there’s no hard requirement to follow these conventions.
I suppose the advantage is the same as with any convention: your work will be more accessible to others in the same field. Transposing music between keys, for example, only really makes sense if you can confidently say what the original key is. Incidentally, someone linked me an example of Für Elise being played in A major, rather than the A minor it was written in. (And if you played it in C major, it would sound like… uh… wait, I confused myself.)
It should come as no surprise that all of these conventions have myriad variants. A harmonic minor scale is a minor scale with its seventh note raised by a semitone. A melodic minor scale adjusts several notes, but only when “going up”, not down. There are augmented chords (and intervals) whose highest notes are raised by a semitone, and diminished chords (and intervals) whose highest notes are lowered by a semitone. And on it goes. All of these things messily overlap and create multiple conflicting names for the same things, because they’re attempts to describe human intention rather than an objective waveform.
The “circle of fifths” is a thing, showing all the major and minor scales in a circle — it turns out that if you name and arrange them the right way, each scale has a different number of sharp or flat notes in it, and no scale has both sharps and flats. The “right way” is to iterate the notes seven semitones at a time (hence “circle of fifths“), leading you from C to G to D and so on. A scale uses sharps or flats depending on which symbol will allow all the notes to be assigned to different letters and thus work nicely on sheet music. I’m sure there’s a modular arithmetic explanation for why this all works out as nicely as it does, but I don’t know it offhand.
Oh, and integer ratios probably appeal to the human ear because they make the combined waves line up every so often. Here’s what a perfect fifth looks like — the top two tones are A4 and E5, using the not-quite-perfect twelfth root of two. Because they’re in a nice ratio of 3:2, adding them together creates a repeating set of six waves, which itself resembles a wave.
(A4 is the A note within octave 4. Octave 4 starts at middle C, and both are named based on the layout of a piano. A common reference point for tuning is to set A4 to 440 Hz.)
Finally, notes with the “same name” might not actually be the same note, depending on how the instrument is tuned; various schemes make certain chords have exact integer ratios, not just approximations. More “fake” notes exist than E♯, too; I hear rumor of such nonsense as G𝄪, “G double sharp”, which I would rather call “A”. I suspect these two trivia are related, but I don’t quite know how.
These are all the things that I know. I don’t know any more things.
This has got to be some of the worst jargon and notation for anything, ever.
I only looked into this because I want to compose some music, and I feel completely blocked when I just don’t understand a subject at all. I’m not sure any of this helped in any way, but at least now I’m not left wondering.
It seems that everything not expressible purely as math and waves is pretty much arbitrary. You can pick whatever set of the twelve notes you want and make music with those. Someone pointed out to me that if you just use the black keys of a piano (i.e. the non-natural notes), you get a pentatonic scale where nothing can possibly sound bad, because no two notes are closer together than a whole tone. You can also use pitches outside these twelve notes, as a lot of jazz and non-Western and other not-classically-inspired music does.
I get the feeling that treating the whole chord/key ecosystem as a set of rules is like studying Renaissance paintings and deciding that’s how art is. It’s not. Do what you want, if it sounds good. I’m gonna go try that. Consensus seems to be that the real heart of music is managing contrast — like every other form of art.
If you aren’t quite as ready to abandon the entire Western musical tradition, here’s some stuff people linked to me while I was figuring this out in real time on Twitter.
“How Music Really Works”, a book that brags from the outset that it has no music notation, and offers the first six chapters free; reviews suggest it is particularly helpful for composing, so maybe I should read it sometime
“Combinatorial Music Theory”, some music theory that appears to have been written by a mathematician who’s forgotten how to explain anything without heavy math notation
Although this Thursday will see the release of issue 49 of The MagPi, we’re already hard at work putting together our 50th issue spectacular. As part of this issue we’re going to be covering 50 of the best Raspberry Pi projects ever and we want you, the community, to vote for the top 20.
Below we have listed the 30 projects that we think represent the best of the best. All we ask is that you vote for your favourite. We will have a few special categories with some other amazing projects in the final article, but if you think we’ve missed out something truly excellent, let us know in the comments. Here’s the list so you can remind yourselves of the projects, with the poll posted at the bottom.
From paper boats to hybrid sports cars
SeeMore – a huge sculpture of 256 Raspberry Pis connected as a cluster
BeetBox – beets (vegetable) you can use to play sick beats (music)
Voyage – 300 paper boats (actually polypropylene) span a river, and you control how they light up
Aquarium – a huge aquarium with Pi-powered weather control simulating the environment of the Cayman Islands
ramanPi – a Raman spectrometer used to identify different types of molecules
Joytone – an electronic musical instrument operated by 72 back-lit joysticks
Liz: Before we get down to business, we’ve a notice to share. Laura Clay, who is behind the scenes editing this blog, The MagPi and much more, is also a fiction writer; and she’s been chosen as one of 17 Emerging Writers by the Edinburgh UNESCO City of Literature Trust. Each writer will be reading a short story at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, and it’s a great way to discover writers living and working in the city at the start of their careers. Laura will be reading her story Loch na Bèiste on Friday 26 August at 3pm in the Spiegeltent, and entry is free, so why not come along and support her? Warning: story may contain murderous kelpies.
Now that British ESA Astronaut Tim Peake is back on the ground it’s time for the final Astro Pi mission update: the summary of the experiment results from the International Space Station (ISS). We’ve been holding this back to give the winners some time to publish the results of their experiments themselves.
Back in 2015 we ran a competition where students could design and program computer science experiments, to be run by Tim Peake on specially cased Raspberry Pis called Astro Pis. Here’s the original competition video, voiced by Tim himself:
This is “Astro Pi” by raspberrypi on Vimeo, the home for high quality videos and the people who love them.
The competition ran from January to July 2015 and produced seven winning experiments, which were launched into space a few days before Tim started his mission. Between February and April 2016, these experiments were run on board the ISS under Tim Peake’s supervision. They’re mostly based around the sensors found on the Sense HAT, but a few also employ the Raspberry Pi Camera Module. Head over to the Astro Pi website now to check out the results, released today!
One of the main things we’ve learnt from running Astro Pi is that the biggest motivational factor for young people is the very tangible goal of having their code run in space. This eclipses any physical prize we could offer. Many people see space as quite distant and abstract, but with Astro Pi you can actually get your hands on space-qualified hardware, create something that would work up in space, and become an active participant in the European space programme.
Many of the Astro Pi winners now express an interest in studying aerospace and computer science. They’ve gained exposure to the real-life process of scientific endeavour, and faced industrial software development challenges along the way. We hope that everyone who participated in Astro Pi has been positively influenced by the programme. The results also demonstrate that the payload works reliably in space. This has been noticed by ESA, who are now planning to use it during upcoming missions. It’s really important for us that the payload continues to be used to run your code in space, so we’re working hard with ESA to make sure that we can do Astro Pi all over again.
British ESA Astronaut Tim Peake with the prototype Astro Pi. Image credit ESA.
We would also like to thank Libby Jackson, who is the Astronaut Flight Education Programme Manager at the UK Space Agency and a former flight director at ESA. She oversees all of the Principia educational activities, including Astro Pi.
Libby Jackson, UK Space Agency. Image credit Imperial College London.
During the interview for her job at the UK Space Agency a few years ago, she pitched an idea for running a project on the ISS involving Raspberry Pi computers. Instead of launching traditional physical equipment, the experiments would be in the form of computer software, meaning that many more experiments could be accommodated. That kernel of an idea is what eventually became Astro Pi.
Izzy deployed on the Nadir Hatch window of Node 2. Image credit ESA.
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