Skip to content

Angst: cheap computing

Eric Brown has some concerns and he is not alone. In Pi Zero and CustomPi: More Flexibility for Open Embedded Hardware he explains:

Despite the temptations of success, the Raspberry Pi Foundation has admirably stuck to its mission of improving computer education in public schools. Yet, the Thanksgiving launch of the $5 Raspberry Pi Zero, as well as the recent CustomPi Raspberry Pi customization service, suggests a shift away from education and toward the commercial embedded board market.

This fits in with the modern blindness: education = good; commercial = bad. To me, the most obvious problem with this is that anyone involved with commerce, trying to make a profit, is going to make their own board rather than buying something like a Rasberry Pi. There is a confusion about education as well:

The Zero also demonstrates the blurring of the line between SBCs, which have typically been used for prototyping, with computer-on-modules aimed at volume production. Finally, the CustomPi service, as well as similar services like Gumstix’s Geppetto, lead the migration of customization services to the maker world

That “maker world” is education! Engineering prototyping is education! But woe unto anyone or anything trying to make money in addition to learning new skills.

There are those who try to show that the $5 cost is fake and Brown takes a shot at this as well. “On the Zero, you will not only need to choose one of the many available cable accessory kits, ranging from $5 to $60, but also configure the add-ons to work properly.” This misses an important point about distinctions between development environments and application environments and its importance in education.

In education, the choice is always about what the teacher keeps ‘behind the curtain’ and what is exposed for learning. This is a selection that avoids inundating the student in a complexity that hinders learning. The Arduino versus Raspberry Pi analysis has always been about this. With the Arduino the student is directly involved with the hardware with only a software facade to hide come of the complexity. With the Raspberry Pi, the student is working with a full service operating system with an API to cover a lot of the complexity. These are two different topics of education, two different ‘courses’ of education serving different needs.

But just what is it about commerce that bugs people, anyway?