PacktPub limited time sale: all eBooks and videos $10 each

It’s sale time at Packt Publishing to celebrate ten years of publishing!

I’m a big fan of most of Packt’s books and have been for years. They’ve produced some absolute gems including Tim Cox’s Raspberry Pi Cookbook for Python Programmers for which I was one of the technical reviewers. Personally I think this is THE book to buy to engage in some really interesting and different Raspberry Pi programming projects.

But it’s not just Raspberry Pi books that are on sale, oh no! The ENTIRE catalogue of eBooks and videos is up for grabs at the discounted price of $10 (£5.90+VAT, or £7.08 in real money) each. Plus you can buy as many as you want. Over the years I’ve bought many books and the odd video from Packt on subjects as varied as test automation, penetration testing, JBoss, Linux, Squid, Python, PHP, AJAX, Raspberry Pi and a heck of a lot else so as a publisher they come highly recommended.

Tonight’s shopping night for me over at Packt...

Be aware that the sale ends in a couple of days time, on the 5th of this month.

Disclaimer: Packt are giving me two eBooks to mention their sale, but I stand by what I say even so: they’ve some absolutely fine IT books on their bookshelf that you may want on yours.

Raspberry Pi Projects for Kids

First, a disclaimer: I'm one of the volunteer technical reviewers of the book, albeit I do not know Daniel the author and hence do feel I remain impartial. Having read it cover to cover more than once and having gone through every single example I do feel I'm qualified to comment on the book and recommend it.

The book is split into essentially three projects (one with extensions - see below) with the compulsory Getting Started with the Pi that all Pi books seem to have leading the reader in. However kudos to the author for both introducing the command line in the first chapter (an important topic), and also providing a short troubleshooting section for common my-Pi-doesn't-work problems.

Over to the projects: the first, writing a simplified version of Angry Birds in Scratch, is a great way into programming. What I absolutely love about this project is that it introduces an element of real world physics into the equation of how the character moves around the screen. This isn't just yet-another "my cat moves" project. Oh no. On Page 30/31:

"Adding physics...
First, let's add some gravity".

This is done by using separate x and y "speed" variables. Changing the value of y by a negative amount will effectively act to pull the character a little back to earth. This is a great concept to introduce to kids: that variables can be used to control stuff, and you can simulate real-world physics in a computer. It really sets off those neurons: what else can I model in a computer? Absolute top marks to the author for including this. I was smiling a lot when I read this section while reviewing the book.

Onto the second project, and from here on in we're moving from Scratch to Python. What's more the author introduces a basic electronic circuit in the form of a home-made (Blue Peter style with tape and paperclips) game pad controller. This is an entirely achievable project for kids as it involves no soldering. However it may be an idea to work with young kids on this project as there is a possibility of frying the Pi's GPIO port if the cables are badly connected. Done well it'll work a treat. One especially nice touch in this chapter is that the author shows a section of code in Scratch and then presents the same functionality in Python. This definitely eases the transition from one to the other.

And finally the third project. This introduces user interfaces via a project to interface with Google Maps. It's a more complex (but not unachievably so) project that takes one through creating a GUI (using Python's TKinter), obtaining map data via the Google API (and pre-selecting the map's location, scale and size in pixels) and then adding additional user-interactive (via detecting mouse clicks) functionality to the map. As with the previous projects there are some great touches here-in such as introducing the concept that computer languages generally count from 0 and not 1 (ie: the first item is 0 and the second is 1).

So why 4 and not 5 stars? Well, it's a tricky one: the projects genuinely are interesting, achievable, and people of all ages will learn from them, and the book is a reasonable length for a reasonable price. However one does feel that just one more chapter would have been good. I say this as the extensions to the interactive map project, while great ideas, could have been flushed out into a chapter of their own. This is however a grumble more than a genuine complaint. If I could, I'd have given 4.5 stars.

This is an absolutely great read and I genuinely believe that kids will be able to follow these projects at their own pace and gain from them.

Raspberry Pi Python Cookbook: now taking pre-orders

Raspberry Pi Cookbook for Python Programmers
Those great people over at Packt Publishing have just started taking pre-orders for Raspberry Pi Cookbook for Python Programmers. Written by Tim Cox of Pi Hardware fame this is looking to be a great resource that teaches exactly what it says on the tin.

Tim is a regular contributor to and member of the editorial team for The MagPi. He also jointly runs The MagPi’s stand at the BCS Bristol Boot Camp events providing various demos and tutorials that show off his technowizardry. Consequently he knows his stuff.

Packt state that the book will provide information on creating 3D worlds and expanding the Pi via interfacing with hardware amongst many topics (those two just particularly grabbed my attention), and all focussed on Python 3, which I think helps keep things nice and consistent.

More info when I’ve a copy in my hands.

New book on Raspbmc

Sam Nazarko is great. Not only has he developed the incredibly impressive Raspbmc media centre for the Raspberry Pi based on XBMC, he is also now a published author. Raspberry Pi Media Center from Packt Publishing covers pretty much all you could want to know about setting up XBMC on the Raspberry Pi.

From the blurb on Packt Publishing’s website:

Discover how you can stream video, music, and photos straight to your TV
Play existing content from your computer or USB drive
Watch and record TV via satellite, cable, or terrestrial
Build your very own library that automatically includes detailed information and cover material

  • When I wrote the XBMC article for The MagPi I spent a fair while conversing over email with Sam to ensure I got the technical details right. He has a very thorough understanding of using the Raspberry Pi as a media centre. Hence kudos points and bragging rights are well deserved with the release of his book.
Hats off to Sam.