Nick's Notes

Pi-fun

Some time ago I bought a Raspberry Pi. I didn’t quite know what I was going to do with it because I don’t fit the intended demographic – which is parents who want a cheap computer for their children to learn to programme without putting the home computer at risk. It was easy to set up, runs a variant of Unix – Debian – and has an embedded GUI plus Apache, VNC, and Python and Ruby all pre-loaded or very easily downloaded. It even has HDMI output, so for £25 plus a monitor it is a very cost effective computer.

With me being used to my Macs, already having all of the above software (as it has a Unix heritage) plus Xcode and Objective-C, the novelty soon wore off.

In the last 18 months or so the number of peripherals available for the Pi has massively increased. Many are sold as a project and require some minimal engineering too.

As I have mention before in this blog, my elderly mother has dementia. The two things came together when I noticed that a Passive Infrared (PIR) sensor is available for the PI for about £13 including delivery from Amazon. Now, in a non-intrusive way (a camera feels inappropriate), we could ensure that my mother is moving around her house when expected – and not in the middle of the night.

I decided to use Python – a language which has the quirk of being named after the television programme, and slightly self consciously uses that for all of the worked examples on its reference website – “spam” appears a lot. It is pretty powerful, easily handling files, SQL, inter process communications, direct output from the PIR – and is pretty close to cross platform. Very quickly I had a programme running that logs every PIR trigger, and if no trigger is made within an hour it sends me an email. Then I developed a application on my Mac in Swift – the new language Apple have developed – which graphs the log file so we can see what’s going on.

A small thing, but in the battle to find ways to maintain my mother’s independence for as long as possible, a useful thing. And great fun to put together. Couple that with the VPN we run between her house and ours, the remote control central heating from British Gas, and a GPS tracker she has in her handbag in case she gets lost and we can give her a great deal of support remotely.

There will be people in your company who have similar situations with ageing parents. There will be people who have a propensity to put something similar together that meets their particular needs perhaps using a Raspberry Pi.

A complete left field thought occurred to me that as a corporate IT team you could help these people. A “brown-bag” lunchtime session on the Raspberry PI, a clinic on removing programming bugs, how to wire up peripherals. Not work related at all, but CIO Connect have been involved in discussions labelling the CIO and their team as an educator for the last year or so. I know several CIOs who already do this in their home communities.

What better way to build human connections than to use your expertise in different ways that help people in your organisation? The relationships that result may pay dividends for the corporate computing challenges we’re all battling with.

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