Raspberry Pi!

I have to admit I’m getting really excited waiting for thisΒ to be released…

This pic from the official site, not taken or owned by me... if there's a problem with me using it, let me know and I'll take it down!

It’s a tiny little credit card sized computer, designed for teaching kids programming. Despite not being a kid (well, not physically anyway) and already knowing how to program, I want one.

Or several… they’re only going to cost 25USD for the basic Model A or 35USD for the slightly more powerful Model B. But despite the ridiculously small size and price they are capable of playing full HD video, which is more than my netbook can manage. This is made possible by the fact that the Raspberry Pi is using a mobile phone processor rather than a normal PC processor. (The main processor core, an ARM11, is very similar to the chip in my HTC Wildfire, but the one in the Pi runs a bit faster and is coupled with a very powerful graphics processor to handle video decoding and 3D acceleration).

The idea of it, a simple little machine that plugs into a TV and is easy to write your own programs for, takes me back to the old home computers of the 80s and early 90s that I first learned to code on. I did most of my learning on a ZX Spectrum +3, which is probably still in the wardrobe somewhere along with a BBC Micro Model B+ that I acquired a bit later. They were laughably primitive machines by any sort of modern standard, but I miss the simplicity and accessibility of them. You could turn them on and immediately start writing a program, and if you were curious there was plenty of information out there that would let you learn how the machine worked inside out.

The Raspberry Pi won’t be quite the same as that. It will still run a modern operating system (some form of Linux; Windows won’t play well on hardware like this) and elements of it, especially the graphics chip, will be too complex for most people to learn fully. But it seems like it will be a fairly large step in that direction. The Model A and Model B naming, in fact, is a nod to the first two versions of the old BBC Micro.

Normally when I want something like this, I’d probably buy one eventually, but have nagging doubts at the back of my mind. “You’re already working with computers all day”, they would say. “Why do you want to spend your free time hunched in front of a screen playing with code as well when you could be enjoying so many of life’s other rich pleasures instead?”. “But I want toooo… it’s fuuuun….”, another voice would argue back in the tone of a whining five-year-old.

This time, though, I’ve neatly side-stepped that whole dilemma by offering to supervise a project at work involving Raspberry Pis. So I can legitimately play with, um, create something valuable and useful with them in work time and even get paid to do it. Yay!

Can’t wait for the release date… which is hopefully January 2012 :). Next problem is how to actually get hold of one… seems I’m far from the only person to be disproportionately excited about this, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the first batch sells out pretty quickly.

Gladiolus Rag

I love Scott Joplin… always have, ever since I was about 5 years old, oddly enough. I’ve heard his music described as “intoxicating” and I totally agree… I find it so easy to lost myself in it, either just listening to it or playing it myself.

This is one of the best piano books I ever bought:

(Despite the editor name, it’s not a dodgy knock-off I got from Del Boy πŸ˜‰ )

All of Scott Joplin’s ragtime pieces in their full original versions, including the original cover pictures as well.

Hard to imagine now, but back in the days when pianos were more widespread than any sort of sound recording device, those sheet music booklets would have been a pretty common sort of musical entertainment. Much more interactive than a CD… ultimately more rewarding as well, maybe.

Anyway… have finally got back into playing the keyboard a decent amount lately, so thought I’d give one of my favourite rags another bash. Not one of his most well-known ones (though there are still zillions of videos of it on Youtube, most probably better than mine). My keyboard isn’t too bad for playing piano pieces if you plug a decent sustain pedal in; the sound quality and touch sensitivity are pretty good, it’s mainly the weight of the keys that I miss. This is the first time I’ve tried filming myself playing and it was quite illuminating… I’ve always known I have flexible hands, but I’d never noticed the weird way some of my fingers bend backwards before! (On the other hand I have always known that I involuntarily make weird faces while I play… hence the close-up angle).

Enjoy :).

PS new Sonic Triangle material coming along nicely now… new EP is in the works, the first track of which is coming together pretty well :).



I’ve been taking a meditation course recently, at the Edinburgh Buddhist centre.

It’s been interesting, and hopefully useful.

I find it a bit hard to describe what it’s about without very quickly getting into talking about what meditation isn’t. So maybe that’s what I’ll do. A lot of this is my own misconceptions I’d picked up over the years, but I think other people may have similar ones.

First of all and most fundamentally, meditation isn’t really about drifting off into a nice relaxing place. It’s not about becoming less conscious and escaping, but about becoming more conscious, more aware of what’s happening in your body and mind and the world around you. It isn’t about avoiding difficult feelings or making them somehow magically disappear, in fact it’s more about confronting them (though “confronting” doesn’t feel quite like the right word either. Maybe just “being aware of them” is better).

Secondly, there’s not really anything religious or supernatural about it either. At least not the kind I’ve been doing. (This is just as well as I have fairly little patience these days both for most kinds of religion and for unproven “alternative”-style remedies). Although the class is at the Buddhist Centre, they’ve hardly talked about anything Buddhism-specific. It’s all been pretty similar to the meditation I’ve read about in a book which was written by some pretty mainstream and down-to-earth seeming psychologists. Mindfulness, which encompasses meditation as one of its key components, seems to be gaining ground as a practise that’s considered helpful for lots of conditions (depression, anxiety, etc.).

So, what were we actually doing? There were three main meditations taught: the body scan, meditation on the breath, and the Metta Bhavana (which means cultivation of loving kindness, though “love” in this context is more what you might think of as deep acceptance rather than romantic or affectionate love). The teacher would guide us through each one, sometimes interspersed with relevant (and beautiful) poetry… I really need to ask him the name of one of the poems before the class finishes. The first two are basically what they sound like… in the body scan, you focus attention on each part of the body in turn, feeling the sensations as you go. It’s amazing how much you can find that you normally aren’t conscious of at all, and it’s also amazing how sometimes all you need to do is become aware of a feeling of tension and immediately you can feel it releasing and the muscles relaxing without having to deliberately do anything. (Relaxation may not be the main aim of meditating, but it is sometimes a nice side effect).

The breath meditation was similar to one I’d tried from a CD, but I somehow found it much easier in a room full of other people meditating. There was nothing to get distracted by, no suddenly remembering something I meant to do and interrupting my meditation to go and do it. Also the advice on the posture was extremely helpful… it makes a huge difference getting into a position where you can comfortably sit still for fifteen-plus minutes, and I found it surprisingly hard to do that on my own.

For me the biggest thing I took from it was the idea that there’s another way to deal with your feelings. For a long time I thought you either had to bottle them up completely (which risks them coming out in unwanted ways that you then don’t even understand), or let them out and basically be forced to do whatever they want you to do. But there is another way… you can become aware of them, explore and understand them, and then consciously decide “I am choosing not to act on this feeling”. I don’t think I fully saw how different that is from bottling things up before. Meditation can be immensely helpful for this. Highly recommended.

I’m still alive, honest…

… though I’ll admit it doesn’t feel much like it when my alarm goes off some mornings πŸ˜‰

I’ve just been pretty busy and it looks like that’ll continue for another week or two. Knowing life it will probably continue til Christmas. At which point I can sleep through my two weeks off work to recover.

At least it’s mostly the good kind of busy with lots of stuff I enjoy. Last weekend Laura and I took full advantage of Historic Scotland’s special offer where you can get in free to lots of their sites if you print off a voucher from the net. So we had a very cheap (but very cold and windy!) day out down in the Borders, visiting three abbeys (Jedburgh, Dryburgh and Melrose) and the Smailholm Tower.

Then on Sunday we did Edinburgh castle too. It normally costs about fifteen quid to get in so it was well worth taking advantage of the offer.

Turns out we were the first people to visit five sites over the weekend (or at least the first to post the “secret” phrase on Historic Scotland’s Facebook wall), so we won their competition! (well, Laura did, she organised it all so I should give her credit). Looks like we might be having even more cheap weekend trips in the new year as the prize includes annual membership for both of us, as well as a VIP tour of Stirling Castle.

After the castle I met up with Oona and Mari and we had a wander round the Christmas markets until it got too cold for wandering.

I’m off to Braemar later today to do my first “proper” hillwalking in a while. Hopefully we won’t get snowed in and I’ll be back soon to write about the hills, or about the phone app I’m working on, or about my meditation course, or something. TTFN all.