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Hendrix prepares for technology bake-off

Posted: February 28, 2014 - 5:38pm

The Hendrix College Cafeteria has a longtime tradition of the legendary green cafeteria trays, some with specs of glitter, commonly referred to as a disco tray.

“If you pull out a disco try it’s the penny in the stack — it’s an icon,” said John Steward, lab manager in the physics department at Hendrix College.

Last year on March 14, or Pi Day, Steward made a literal disco tray for the Raspberry Pi Bake-Off showcase and competition at Hendrix College.

Using a credit-card sized Raspberry Pi computer, Steward’s tray came to life with Saturday Night Fever-style flashing light patterns and a built in amplifier that played a variety of popular disco tunes.

“The idea is you’d stick wires in your green beans, potatoes and Jell-O, and with your fork you could adjust the music,” Steward said.

The Raspberry Pi came along at the exact right time, Steward said, with a cultural interest in the simplified technology and endless possibilities for creativity.

“Its usefulness will increase as well as the number of people using it and the number of uses people find for it,” he said.

The Raspberry Pi was first created as a learning tool in 2006 at the University of Cambridge.

The university computer lab noticed as each cohort of students came through they were more and more removed from the guts of their computing environment — skills were diminishing over time, said David Hinson, executive vice president and chief information officer.

So, a nonprofit group was formed to produce an inexpensive, learning machine with a focus on basic programming. Initially they made about a thousand, but sold nearly a million in the first year of production.

Hinson said the companies have been working on producing Raspberry Pis for about five years, but have only been commercially available for two years.

Depending on what model is purchased, Raspberry Pis cost about $35.

“As a result you’re finding these being implemented in classrooms across the world,” Hinson said.

Hinson founded the Raspberry Pi Bake-Off last year with Tony Bates of Arkansas Geek Central.

When Hinson was growing up, Hinson built products by picking up radio and TV parts from the local Radio Shack, so the idea of having something similar kids could tinker with intrigued him, he said.

Bates said although the Pi was created as a tool for students, it is becoming a popular hobbyist platform from gaming and robotics to homemade security systems and sending weather balloons into space.

For Steward’s disco tray, with no greater purpose than pure fun, he said, the Pi was the best platform.

This year, Steward is bringing a wireless 3D printer server that allows users to host, start and monitor print jobs on a Raspberry Pi.

Last year about 20 people came to showcase their Raspberry Pi projects with about 100 attendees who came just to see them, Hinson said.

“The idea is to build upon that,” Hinson said, “and to continue to drive awareness to the resources that are available.”

First, second and third place project winners will receive Raspberry Pis with posters and kits given away throughout the showcase.

Shawn Goicoechea, board chair of La Lucha Space, took home first place last year with an Arduino-based program that measured soil, moisture and sunlight, sending him texts when the soil was dry and automatically watering his plants at night.

This year’s project is an interactive jukebox that will access users’ Spotify playlists through a scannable card, allowing music played in a space to be a reflection of the people in the room, Goicoechea said.

“These products can do whatever you want,” he said. “It’s up to you to decide.”

The Raspberry Pi Bake-Off will be held Friday, March 14 from 6:30 - 8:30 p.m. in the Campbell dining room in the Student Life and Technology Center at 1600 Washington Ave. on the Hendrix College campus.

(Staff writer Michelle Corbet can be reached by email at michelle.corbet@thecabin.net or by phone at 505-1215. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit)

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