Friday, December 20, 2013

Pi Lab

The owner of The Open Bastion is outside the US jurisdiction at this time, in the UK, but his trusted co-workers had plenty to do, thanks to the generosity of both Holdenweb and the Wolfram Corporation, in particular the latter's decision to port the wolfram-engine and mathematica to the Raspberry Pi, a cigarette case sized computer that costs even less than the XO (One Laptop per Child) but, to be fair, comes minus peripherals, meaning keyboard, mouse and monitor.  It's ready for all them though.

Steve was lavish in terms of banking on these gizmos and outfitted four workstations complete with LCDs for the HDMI output, said mouse and keyboard, plenty of SD cards, network cables to the router.  Trevor, the Pi Chief, let us in with his key.  He'd been busy assembling quite a number of images (operating system + filesystem) using NOOB.  This boot loader gets in front of the boot process and offers a choice of images.  Tara and I started trying them out while Trevor showcased a latest favorite, which looked a lot like a hotel guest room TV, offering a menu of options.  More TV than computer -- a change in flavor.

For our purposes though, on the wolfram-engine project, the wheezy image proved sufficient, and after I finally remembered to plug in the network cable, sudo apt-get install... worked like a charm for both products (mathematica included).

I've heard rumors about the GPU being locked up on the Pi board i.e. maybe it's not being fully utilized, but I don't have that story.  Mathematica runs, but if you burden it with lots of graphics, you'll find it runs slowly.  But remember:  what it's doing are things no scientific calculator is offering at this price point.  Unless you count all the peripherals, but those tend to be needed anyway.  People need a big screen, even students.  I'm just wondering what advantages the UK will reap if it really goes in this direction.  I doubt the US will attempt it, except in pockets as always.  Each zip code is its own microcosm, like a fractal.  Those that march to the same drummer tend to lose out.

Patrick joined the fun mid-process.  He's been practicing with Amazon instances in the cloud, a different department one might say, plus he's working the same queue as I am re Python / OST.  Having a Pi Lab so close to my office is a big help in my work, as I'm able to appreciate more of the STEM education conversation, and not only in the US and UK, but in other parts of the world looking into the same crystal ball and trying to discern their cyber-futures.

We had a great solstice potluck at Wanderers this evening @ Linus Pauling House.  Lots of exotic characters (I'm happy to be counted among them), with Tara joining too, but feeling a need to supervise the pet situation, with a poodle joining the Blue House cast.  The basement crew is in "away team" mode.

For further reading on MathFuture:  Traditional HS math vs CS