The launch of Raspberry Pi was trumpeted by news outlets worldwide, with descriptions of what it did and how it was going to change the world. My personal favourite was a BBC news article that went through several projects set up using the diminutive box, some really quite sophisticated.
Unfortunately a problem with supply means that most people can’t even find out whether the Raspberry Pi lives up to the hype. Suppliers RS electronics will allow you to register interest in buying, but with stacks of people already signed up you’re joining the back of a very long queue.
So if you’re itching to return to your inner child and play with the simple programming interface, if you have a real child you had been hoping to lure away from video games or if you just wanted to get stuck in with a cool bit of hardware – what are the alternatives while you’re waiting?
1. Lego Mindstorms
This is the priciest option, at £195 for the basic kit, but it’s guaranteed to get your attention. It allows kidults to use a graphical language to program lego based robots and you can make some pretty neat stuff.
If you’re writing commercial code, odds are you’ve come across Microsoft .NET. .NET Gadgeteer is an open-source toolkit for building small electronic devices using the .NET Micro Framework and Visual Studio/Visual C# Express – so a good way to expose children to a commercial code framework but with a simpler set of commands.
This won’t help with the urge to play with the physical kit, but if you’re looking to challenge yourself or a younger friend to get coding, everyone who is anyone is writing their own KPL (“kids programming language“) these days. Scratch, created by MIT, has a drag and drop interface to get you started by putting the building blocks of code together. The clever design means that you can avoid spending hours tracking down syntax errors, because you literally can’t put the wrong types of blocks together. Other popular alternatives include: GameMaker, Greenfoot or, of course, Logo.
Or if only a real programming language will do, why not get started with Python? Written to be “understandable by kids as young as 10-12 years old”, Python is the language of choice for hip new programmers. Python even has a logo-like ” turtle” you can use – see http://pythonturtle.org/.