July 2013 – The Big Write-Up

Note: This is very long… Grab a coffee. It took a while to write!

Around 50 Raspberry Pi enthusiasts descended on the Milton Road Science Park headquarters of Cambridge Consultants on Saturday for the 2nd 2013 Cambridge Raspberry Jam.

I’d chatted to Jonathan Pallant at the Jam in May about the possibility of them hosting the event and we decided to make it happen. Up front, I really must thank Jonathan and Darina at CC for all their hard work in helping to organise things – we had plenty of space for demos and a terrific room for the presentations, as well as refreshments (the chocolate brownies were particularly nice… *cough cough, yum yum*) and an emergency supply of monitors, keyboards and mice. (Jonathan also took a lot of the photographs you’ll see below and he also wrote an excellent blog post on the Jam). I’m going to be mentioning Cambridge Consultants a lot, because they were so friendly and helpful!

I arrived early with my friend Tim to help set-up and, amazingly, all the marshals were already there and all the hard work was done. The main foyer had tables round the edges and the presentation room was all prepared. As one of the people demo-ing in the foyer, I dumped my toolbox down and took out and arranged my Evolution-of-the-Picorder stuff onto my table.

I then reserved my spot in the presentation room and sorted my “time warning” cards out. (These are just bits of paper but really simple, subtle ways to let presenters know that they’re running out of time. Yellow for 5 minutes, red for 2 minutes. It works. I feel silly holding them up, but it works!)

Gradually, people started to arrive. I think the first were Gert & David Van Loo. Gert was there to present and also to hold mini-workshops using the Gertboard and some Pis. I’m still not sure whether anyone played Quake 3 on the Pis Gert brought, but it was still cool to see.

I was really pleased that the people who were presenting in the first batch turned up first – made me confident that everything would go relatively smoothly. Within no time, the demo tables were all full up and people were starting to arrive in earnest. The CC marshals did a sterling job at handing out ID badges and pointing the way to the *ahem* facilities. I should mention the marshals, actually – I won’t embarass them by naming them, but they were absolute stars and gave a lot of attention and energy to the attendees. If you’re ever asked to volunteer to be a marshal, know that it’s a tough job, but it’s a very worthwhile one!

Then suddenly, it was time for the first presentation. I was so busy chatting and looking around that Tim had to remind me that we were running late. Ooops! So, one quick, loud announcement later and we filled up the presentation room.

I gave my introductory address (which I really must get better at because I sounded like a bit of a nervous monkey) and then handed over to Tim Fowler who is a Commercial Director with Cambridge Consultants. Tim gave us an insight into CC and the kind of projects they do, from satellite telephones to round teabags. I had no idea the breadth of projects they were involved in and it was a real eye-opener. I hope that someone from the Jam looks through the recruitment pack and carefully considers their career with CC in mind as they sound like an exciting company to be involved with.

First up for the Pi presentations was Ryan Walmsley from Stevenage. Ryan is famous in the Pi community, having created (among other sites) rastrack.co.uk, which is the map of all registered Pis (30,000 and counting!) It was great to meet him finally after months of tweets back and forth! He took us through his first year with the Pi, launching projects (including piweekly.net, a new weekly newsletter) and holding the World’s first Raspberry Pi fundraising code event. This was a great presentation and it was amazing just how many projects young Ryan had managed in a year, at the same time as getting fantastic grades at college. I’m excited about his current project – BOINC Pi – distributed, shared computing power for projects such as SETI, but running on the Pi! His slides can be found here.


Next up was Gert who gave us a potted version of his presentation from Design West about the difference between Design and Production. This was a real eye-opener into the costs associated with producing printed circuit boards and full products, such as the Pi and the Gertboard. It was also really interesting to hear about the challenges involved with bringing the Pi to market at such a low cost, designing contingencies in just in case requirements changed.

Up last before the first break was Cambridge Consultants’ very own Jonathan Pallant who presented on CCs project with the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) to create a portable camera to monitor wildlife in the harshest conditions on the planet. Jonathan took us from the initial requirements specification (well, shopping list) all the way to sending out the first couple of cameras to Kenya.


These cameras are brilliant. They not only give animal reserves a way to track rare species but also, and perhaps more importantly, identify poachers if they should appear. This is very important work and it was great to hear how much enthusiasm there was for it at CC and how much success they’d had with the initial production of the unit. I should say, by the way – the Raspberry Pi is essentially the communications ‘heart’ of the camera unit – a custom PCB and cameras grab the actual images but it is the Pi’s job to act like a modem and transmit these files over a satellite communications link to the animal reserve headquarters.


We had a break after that presentation and this allowed us to look around the demos and tables in the foyer. Mentally going around the room, we had: Tim with his prototype Picar (which although non-functional got quite a lot of interest!);

Gert with his three tables full of Pis, Gertboards and Experimenter Kits;

Electronics designer and supplier Ciseco (makes of the Slice of Pi amongst other products) who highlighted their PiLITE LED add-on board (which is kind of like a mini matrix display that sits on the Pi’s GPIO – see this example) and also their upcoming wireless communications inventor’s kit (this is a pack containing an Arduino clone with onboard RF wireless capabilities and a Pi GPIO add-on board to act as the other end of the wireless communication, as well as lots of sensors and bits and pieces to experiment with);

Louis Taylor from the Aberystwyth Sailbot Team showing a timelapse of the team’s experience with their autonomous, Pi-powered sailboat; Boris Adryan with his wireless communications display; and finally (I think!) Jonathan Pallant with the ZSL camera unit (it’s the box bottom right in the pic below).

And, of course, we had refreshments laid on – lots of water, fizz and cake. And flapjack. And chocolate brownies. Did I mention the brownies? 🙂

Before we knew it, it was time to go back into the presentations again.

First up after the break was Boris Adryan. Boris presented on wireless communications and highlighted a running theme throughout the Jam. It seems that transmitting/receiving information wirelessly to/from a Pi and (normally) an Arduino is a hot potato at the moment! Boris explained that his wife had effectively challenged him to find a way to monitor the temperature in their greenhouse. So, he used a Pi and a sensor communicating wirelessly. This method also helped to diagnose temperature changes in a refrigeration unit at his workplace. This goes to prove that the Pi is helpful commercially as well as domestically!


The fifth scheduled speaker was Jim Darby on the subject of using the Pi and an Arduino together. Jim valiantly presented by taking us through some practical demonstrations with the Arduino. He also explained the difference between a ‘real’ Arduino and a totally and unbelievably fake Arduino knock-off. Jim had lights. Lots and lots of blinking lights, powered by a battery and an Arduino. He also showed how you can use the Pi and the Arduino IDE (development environment) to program an Arduino. Jim’s enthusiasm bowled us all over and I’ve already got him pencilled in for the next Jam! (The pic below is me and Jim)

Then we had a surprise speaker. I mean, everyone knew he was there, but no-one knew he was going to make a presentation. Mr Pi in the Sky himself, Dave Akerman. Dave is another famous person in the Pi community. He sends up high-altitude balloons (HAB) and takes photographs from near-space with a Raspberry Pi. He’s won competitions with his photographs and it was a real thrill to have him there. He explained how a typical HAB flight happens and what you need to do it yourself. His presentation slides can be found here. He talked us through a launch, chase and recovery and then presented his next payload. It’s a Raspberry Pi Babbage Bear. This is no ordinary bear. He’s Bionic!

Most of the stuffing has been removed from the poor little chap and replaced with an _actual_ Pi, batteries, the Pi camera module (in his eye!) and an antenna sticking out of his bum. (See here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/daveake/sets/72157634741794517/) Dave took a picture of us live and it got transmitted to his laptop to be reconstituted and uploaded to the web. Here’s the picture: https://twitter.com/daveake/status/358906667741638656/photo/1

Dave will be launching Babbage Bear on or about the 11th August, so watch out for further announcements from him (www.daveakerman.com).


Tim had tapped me on the shoulder halfway through Jim’s talk and said “Have you seen who’s at the back?” I’d turned around and lo and behold, Eben and Liz Upton had arrived! I’d invited them but due to them travelling back from Wales I hadn’t expected them to make it. It was really brilliant to meet them and to have them at the Jam. I think almost everyone managed to chat to them and the Pi community should consider itself lucky to have two people with that amount of energy! Liz: I hope your cat is okay!!! (Thanks to Tim for the photo!)

After Dave’s presentation, we had another opportunity to see demos and displays out in the Foyer and to finish off the cake. And brown…  No, I’ve mentioned the brownies… I’m sure I have. Many people stayed behind for an hour after the expected closing of the Jam to talk and share, which was brilliant.

And so ended the Jam! We packed and cleared up and wended our weary way home. A BBQ beckoned and it wasn’t going to cook itself!

Many, many thanks again to the guys and girls from Cambridge Consultants, without whom the Jam wouldn’t have been anywhere near the success it was. And many thanks to the people who presented and demoed – you really made it a Jam to remember!

For those who reached the end of the post – the next Jam will be on the 21st September! Venue and tickets to be announced! Put it in your diaries now!

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