Touring the Asian Rasp Pi scene

Lead Image © Christophe Boisson, 123RF.com © Japanese Raspberry Pi Club Singapore

Asian Pi

Raspberry Pi is an international phenomenon that encourages people around the world to express their creativity. We present information about Raspberry Pi Jams that have taken place in different countries in Asia.

If it weren't for international cooperation, many open hardware and open source products never would have gotten started. A good web browser and a few mouse clicks are all you need to take a tour of Rasp Pi happenings around the planet. I checked out some recent events in Asia. In this article, I look primarily at events in Singapore and Japan, but also briefly India and Hong Kong.

Singapore

The Raspberry Pi Club Singapore [1], and the Jams it has organized, originated a year and a half ago from a local Rasp Pi Facebook group. In a conversation with Raspberry Pi Geek, Daniel Ellis explained that the events still are basically organized over this channel. "First we put out a questionnaire for the Facebook group in order to see which dates are most convenient for the users," he said. After that, the organizations involved arrange for a suitable event location.

Sometimes, they can use the offices of Hackerspace SG, a local hacker community. At other times, they take advantage of the Silicon Straits co-working space. Both organizations are happy to support the Raspberry Pi initiative in their cities by each making space available for one evening at no cost. Finding larger spaces in densely populated Singapore is not a such a simple proposition; nonetheless, the number of people interested in attending an event is continuously on the rise (Figures 1-3).

Figure 1: The community in Singapore meets every two months.
Figure 2: Singapore community meeting.
Figure 3: Singapore community meeting.

"In the beginning we held the events on a quarterly basis or else when someone had the time to take on the organizational tasks," explained Ellis. "However in the meantime a Jam takes place every two months in order to make it possible for more people to participate. This is easier than finding a larger meeting space." As soon as the date and place have been determined, the Jam is announced on Facebook and elsewhere. During the last phase of organizing, the event the hunt is on for people interested in giving presentations.

The program for an event is multifaceted. At one event, the participants discussed how to implement the details of a media center via Raspbmc or OpenELEC. Other times, discussions center on opportunities for applying recent innovations. This was the case, for example, right after the camera module for the Rasp Pi came out.

At another Jam, a participant spoke about a Udoo printed circuit board he had acquired. The board is open hardware licensed under CC BY-SA by its manufacturers after receiving funding via Kickstarter. People like Joakim Skjefstad with his "Project Maria" also like to introduce products they have completed and receive feedback from the audience. Project Maria consists of a smart home system that responds to verbal commands. It was implemented with Raspberry Pi and Arduino.

Sometimes even visitors from distant countries participate in a Jam. For example, someone once came from Japan to an event in Singapore, and another time someone came from Hong Kong. Japan is about 3,300 miles by airplane from Singapore, and a flight from Hong Kong is about half that distance.

Japan

The Japanese Raspberry Pi User Group [2] was originally started by Masafumi Ohta. Since it began, the group has made considerable headway. They published the first Rasp Pi books in Japanese, and, in mid-2013, they put on a three-day Rasp Pi Jam that was attended by well-known guests from other countries (Figures 4-6).

Figure 4: The big Raspberry Pi Jam took place over three days in Japan.
Figure 5: Raspberry Pi Jam in Japan.
Figure 6: Raspberry Pi Jam in Japan.

On the first day of that event, Yuriko Ikeda explained how a Raspberry Pi can be used to test the exposure times of cameras. Takayuki Konishi spoke afterward about how he had put a Java EE Server on a Pi. As part of this project, he had come up with a solution involving LED lights that let him see at a glance whether someone was accessing the server. Akira Ouchi explained how to take a tray from an old CD-ROM drive and incorporate it into other hardware structures that could then be controlled remotely with a Pi. In the last talk of the day, Hideki Aoshima provided an introduction to Pidora 18.

The next day, Saturday, was designated as "Big Jam" day. About 120 people took part on that day, as opposed to approximately 30 each for Friday and Sunday. The keynote speaker was Eben Upton from the Raspberry Pi Foundation, who had traveled from Great Britain to attend the event. Upton spoke on the history of the Rasp Pi. He described his impressions from his days as a college lecturer of how little technical knowledge first semester students brought with them. He explained his thinking about this lack of knowledge  – namely, that young people did not play around with a home computer as he had when young and therefore were no longer acquiring in-depth knowledge in that way.

From his experience as a lecturer, Upton, along with some colleagues, founded a non-profit organization for the purpose of bringing out something akin to a mini home computer. Their goal was to create a computer affordable even to young people from very modest backgrounds with high enough performance that it could be used for multimedia computing. The multimedia angle was to be an impetus for young people to explore such a computer. Thus, was born what later became known as the Raspberry Pi.

Original plans called for 10,000 units to be sold within several months. However, on the very first day that the computer became available, the non-profit organization received orders for 100,000 units. Upton explained that it made him very happy to see the many creative things the users in Japan were doing with the Pi. He said that, in his opinion, Japan is the most important market for the Pi outside of Europe.

After this talk, Yuriko Ikeda talked about how to host a WordPress blog on the Rasp Pi at home. It should be noted that Japanese households have significantly less expensive and higher quality Internet access than do the households in many countries. In Tokyo, for example, a fiber optic cable connection with 2Gbps bandwidth costs at most US$ 55 per month. This means it makes sense for individuals in Japan to host their own blogs from home. Europeans, on the other hand, typically must pay a provider to rent space for a homepage or website in a data center.

Topics addressed in the presentation included different basic configurations, installation of a LAMP environment and WordPress, and the configuration of memory splits with raspi-config. Because Pi does not have to display any graphics when it is used solely as a server, it makes sense to allocate the minimal value of 16MB to the GPU. Then, more RAM is available for the server daemons. After the presentation, members of the audience participated in a discussion about the possibility of connecting several Rasp Pis as a cluster for use in server operations.

Keika Komura explained how he had built a housing for the Raspberry Pi with simple materials. Masataka Tsukamoto joined in, talking about his experience with embedding a Pi in a Famicom housing. The Famicom was a Japanese gaming console in the 1980s; it was also sold in Europe and the United States under the name NES, but the housing had a very different appearance. Keika, who is a member of the Tokyo Hackerspace community, said he purchased the old Famicom housing for less money than the commercially available Rasp Pi housings.

The day closed with some comments by Tatsuya Sasaki about using three Rasp Pis to locate a WiFi client, such as a smartphone. One issue discussed how to enter the monitor mode into the network configuration on the Pi. After that, Sasaki described a Ruby script he had written for location detection.

Many activities occurred during breaks between presentations as well. For example, a Rapiro unit ran around and captured the attention of many participants. A previous issue of this magazine included a report about the cuddly little robot that has a Rasp Pi in his head [3].

On Sunday, Hideki Aoshima explained how he gets LEDs to blink with his Rasp Pi and how he makes it read values from a thermal sensor. Hideki first explained where and how the LEDs should be fastened to a plugboard. Then, he described the various access possibilities available via software beginning with the process of using the command line for sending values to the GPIO pins via the echo command. He then described the I2C bus for reading sensor values.

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