Tag Archives: BBC Micro

What every Budding Technology Professional should watch

While searching and reading up on various conference proceedings, I came across this awesome presentation by Dawn Foster (Puppet Labs) at the 2013 USENIX Women in Advanced Computing Summit. Even though the conference deals with technology participation of the fairer gender, this is one video that I think, applies to every person irrespective of gender, on a technology career path. You can watch the video or download it here: https://www.usenix.org/conference/wiac13/building-successful-technology-career

The video is 45 mins long but it is 45 mins worth spent. There are many points from the presentation which I can harmonize with, having been through an interesting 15 year tech career till date.

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Got my Raspberry PI and its sweet!

My Raspberry PI was delivered today. I had ordered it from element14 via this site http://kitsnspares.com/. It took a while since these are imported here but the price is very reasonable compared to the other sellers on Ebay India. However not all accessories are in stock at Kitsnspares so I had to go to Ebay India to get a bunch of stuff. Here is what I ordered:

Kitsnspares (element14):

  • The RPI 512MB itself
  • Low cost HDMI Cable
  • RPI clear acrylic case

Ebay India:

  • Sandisk Extreme Class-10 8GB SD card
  • EDUP EP-N8508 Nano-USB Wifi card (b/g/n). This is truely nano, about the size of my forefinger tip. The USB plug is larger than the adaptor!
  • HDMI to DVI-D adaptor since my desktop monitor does not have HDMI in (yet to come).
  • GPIO Breakout + Cable (yet to come).

Others items that I already had:

  • USB Keyboard and Mouse
  • HTC charging adaptor, 5V, 1AMP. Works nicely for the RPI.

There are few basic steps to get started. The important thing is to get the power supply correct. Inadequate supply means keyboard, ethernet etc do not work correctly. There is a good starting guide here: http://techcrunch.com/2012/10/21/getting-started-with-the-raspberry-pi-is-not-as-easy-as-pie/.

Now the default thing to do is to start playing with the Raspbian Linux distro. But I was interested in RISCOS Open and grabbed it from the downloads page. One has to unzip and dd the image into the SD card. RISCOS is designed for ARM and traces it’s roots to the original BBC Micro OS. It is an interesting platform with a full-featured GUI desktop that is fairly easy to use once you get the hang of it. There is that occasional lag in responding to user input but overall it is extremely interesting. The lag is potentially the slow RPI processor than anything else. I am looking forward to learning the internals of this OS. I believe one should always be learning new platforms and technologies without any bias or reservations. Of course I want to get another SD card with Linux on it in due course.

Since I do not yet have the DVI converter module I connected it to my TV set. The bootup was very fast and I was presented with the RISCOS welcome screen. It comes up with a step-by-step getting started guide which is very nice and well-written. It also comes with a GUI package manager and an online package repo.

RPI RISCOS Welcome Screen

RPI RISCOS Welcome Screen

RISCOS with the App Window, Task Manager and the Browser opened.

RISCOS with the App Window, Task Manager and the Browser opened.

And finally my RPI device in it's acrylic case.

And finally my RPI device in it’s acrylic case.

I am looking forward to doing a whole bunch of interesting hackery and learning opportunity with this device including robots and stuff. During this year’s FOSS.IN I attended a talk on this interesting device called expEYES. It is developed by a Bangalore based group of intrepid electronics engineers and entrepreneurs. It can be interfaced with the RPI. I am planning to grab that as well sometime later.

Beebdroid on the Nexus 7

For people who know what a BBC Micro is, Beebdroid is an awesome application. For the others who are not aware, the 6502 processor at the heart of the micro is the predecessor to all ARM processors inside today’s mobile devices. Acorn Computers had worked jointly with the British Broadcasting Corporation to produce various iterations of this microcomputer. Eventually Acorn went on to release the first 32-bit ARM1 processor in 1985.

So it is fitting that the BBC Micro emulator be available on today’s ARM devices. My sister recently gifted me a Nexus 7 (yay, she is the greatest sis) and I am happily playing with BBC BASIC and all the retro games on it thanks to Beebdroid. I can’t forget the little box that I grew up with.

The Little Big Box @ 30

The BBC Micro weenies are getting together to celebrate the machine’s 30th anniversary this weekend as per this Register report. It is happening at ARM’s Cambridge HQ and sadly there is no way that I can be at the event. This is one of the influential microcomputers of the 1980s helping to mold many young minds into computer professionals in the subsequent years.

I cannot write enough about this amazing box that literally defined the foundation of my career and passion. The computing revolution caught on a bit late in India and this box found it’s way onto Indian shores by around 1989. I learned the magic of bits and bytes on this device starting 1990 and from that time I was hooked. The box had amazing capabilities that IMHO put it ahead of other similar devices like the Commodore64, Atari or TRS80 etc. The BBC BASIC language was quite advanced with structured programming constructs like functions and procedures, advanced control flow, recursion, variable scoping, optional strong typing and even typed pointers via indirection operators as opposed to the cumbersome PEEK and POKE of other BASIC dialects. The BASIC interpreter would even pre-parse the program into a semi-bytecode format for performance. Inline assembly support for the 6502 was also available. Around 2 years down the line when I started playing with an IBM PC-AT I’d just curse the GW BASIC with it’s primitive design.

I learned a lot on this box on my own effort which includes Data Structures and Algorithms, 3D Computer Graphics, OS fundamentals and basic Computer Architecture. The power of BBC BASIC even allowed me to implement a simple demand paging facility to overlay and load procedure blocks from floppy disk and adjusting the code segment pointers (the HIMEM and LOMEM stuff). This allowed one to write programs larger than available free memory. Today I still play around sometimes with an Emulator called BeebEm.