Category Archives: Raspberry Pi

Northern Ireland Raspberry Jam – A Year In Review (2016-2017)

Well, it has certainly been quite a year for the Northern Ireland Raspberry Jam!
For those unaware, the Northern Ireland Raspberry Jam is a volunteer run group of primarily students, that organises free. monthly events for young people and adults in Northern Ireland interested in technology.
This year, we formally defined the purpose of the group and its activities as

“The purpose of the Northern Ireland Raspberry Jam is to further the advancement of education of both young people and adults across Northern Ireland in the field of Computer Science, Electronic Engineering, Maths, Physics and related subjects. This is achieved through family friendly events for the public (Raspberry Jams), 1 to 1 mentoring for young people and programmes for educators including school teachers and parents.”

The Year in Numbers

This past year (July 2016 – June 2017), as a team we have

  • Been involved in 15 events across the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland.
  • Engaged with  over 5000 people, a majority of which were young people.
  • Had 500+ attendees our 11 Raspberry Jam events. Of those 500 attendees, roughly 40% (200) were girls.
  • Has grown from a team of 8, to 21 volunteers!
  • Has contributed 1500 volunteer hours!
  • As a Jam, eaten over 600 doughnuts, 200 brownies and 150 cupcakes.
  • Volunteer team have wired up well over 10,000m of cabling in total and built up a stock of well over 1,500m of different cables.
  • Moved from our single room at Farset Labs, to the Queens University Maths and Physics Teaching Centre. By the June 2017 Jam, we ran Pis set up in 4 different rooms, running with x80 Raspberry Pis and x9 workshops.
  • Met 1 astronaut!

Highlights of the year

As a team, we agree it has certainly been a fantastic year. Alongside our x10 normal Jams (September-June), we also took part in a number of other special events. Below are a few of these highlights.

Dublin Maker – July 2016

Fantastic group of volunteers for Dublin Maker!

The main Jam team, plus a few awesome Jam attendees headed down to Dublin on the 23rd July 2016. Throughout the day, they interacted with over 1800 people with 1400+ DOTs boards filled in by attendees.

The team were swamped the entire event, with a number of occasions there being sizeable queues. That was even with us having one of the largest stalls (a triple stall) of the day. Our youngest attendee taking part was 2, while our oldest was 80+.

Destination Space – October 2016

In October, the W5 education team invited a small group of the Jam team down to W5 for the day to help out with the Destination Space event, which British Astronaut Tim Peake was attending. The event was attended by 150+ school children from across Northern Ireland. The team ran the DOTs board activity, using the secret rocket Easter Egg, along with getting kids exploring the Sense HATs.

At the end, Hannah and Alex got a great conversation with Tim on the Astro Pi project and how he had used it while on the International Space Station.

The Move – February 2017

The new home for the Northern Ireland Raspberry Jams

In February, after 6+ months of planning/discussion with the Queens University School of Mathematics and Physics , we moved the main venue of the Northern Ireland Raspberry Jam from the awesome Farset Labs, over to the much larger Queens University Maths and Physics Teaching Centre.

Some of the team braving the February weather on parking duty

The new venue includes x2 fully kitted out IT labs with x70 machines, x3 classrooms (2 of which we set up as small Pi rooms each month) and x2 lecture theatres, along with a large open foyer area for the break. Beyond a few initial cabling hiccups, we still somehow managed to pull off a successful pilot event, enough that the university allowed us to stick around. Since April 2017, we have been able to offer 100+ tickets for each Jam thanks to the much larger venue.

The new venue has also allowed us the space to run “lightning talks” in the break. These 7 minute so far have ranged from the Rosetta Mission, to how Cloud Chambers work to how to build your own Rubiks cube solving robot! This is something we plan to greatly expand in the coming year.

The first pilot Jam in February 2017 at the new venue

The Northern Ireland Science Festival special Jam

The junior volunteers ran their first workshop with a little help from Aoibheann.

For the first time, we ran 2 Raspberry Jams in the space of 1 month. The extra Jam was a special Jam as part of the Northern Ireland Science Festival. It was a fantastic opportunity for us to meet new people, brought in via help with marketing from the Science Festival team.

Having far too much fun with Sonic Pi at the Science Festival Jam

Coderdojo Coolest Projects – June 2017

The final event for the team of the year, was Coderdojo Coolest Projects which took place on the 17th June, 2017 down in Dublin. The team had well over 700 DOTs boards completed by the Ninjas and parents, with feedback being fantastic as usual. The team were inundated all day, with rather long queues commonplace for their stall.

The Team

The team in April 2017

The team this year has grown significantly, from 8 volunteers in June 2016, to now over 20! A core principle of the Jam has been not only providing opportunities for the attendees, but also to invest in the volunteer team. A majority of the team are 18 or under, with our youngest being 14. These young folk have given up a combined total of well over 1500 hours of their time to make these events happen. When you consider that number, 1500 hours, that is a colossal number for a bunch of young folk who have completely different interests and passions, yet share a passion for inspiring other young folk in the fields of Maths, Physics, Computer Science and Electronic Engineering.

A few have admitted that being involved with the Raspberry Jam has immensely boosted their confidence in public speaking and engagement, while also completely changing what they want to do in the future towards STEM subjects!

To Conclude

It has been one heck of a year! For a group started almost by mistake 3 years ago, to have come on this far and be engaging with 5000+ people in the space of 12 months, while giving up over 1500 hours of their time for free all run off a shoestring budget, is quite something.

I am extremely proud and honoured to get to work with such a talented bunch of young folk to provide opportunities for tomorrows Makers, Inventors and Tinkerers to learn and thrive in a safe and fun environment here in Northern Ireland.
None of this would be possible without them.

We have even bigger plans for the year ahead, so bring on 2017/2018!

Andrew Mulholland – NI Raspberry Jam Coordinator

Attendees from each of the 11 Raspberry Jams run this year.

Raspberry Pi Zero – Programming over USB! (Part 2)

This is a follow on post from the older, more detailed documentation in an earlier post.


An extremely simple new way to setup Raspberry Pi Zero as a USB virtual network gadget, allowing SSH, SFTP, VNC etc over a single USB cable. All without need of a keyboard, mouse, screen etc to setup!
To make it clear though, this can only work with the Raspberry Pi Zero.

Quick history lesson

So back over Christmas 2015, I had worked on getting the Raspberry Pi Zero OTG/Slave USB mode working and documented. My work was based off the excelent work done by awesome volunteers from the Raspberry Pi community here and here.
Back then, it required you have a screen, keyboard, mouse and internet connection to set everything up from a stock Raspbian image. This was a bit of a pain if all you had was your normal Windows/Mac/Linux computer with downloaded Raspbian, an SD card, Pi Zero and a USB cable.

Then, with the  2016-05-10 release of Raspbian, the required modules and kernel version were included on the stock Raspbian images, but they still required configuring. At least all this could be done with a screen and keyboard plugged into the Pi Zero (no internet required).

Now, after a heck of a lot of Linux Kernel documentation digging/hunting around, I have stumbled across what seems to be a very little known kernel cmdline parameter. This parameter allows us to do all the configuration on the /boot partition, which is formatted FAT32 and readable on Windows/Mac/Linux (vs normal root partition only being readable with Linux).

What does this mean?

You can now set up a virtual network connection between your Raspberry Pi Zero and normal PC using a single USB cable in a matter of seconds, without the need for any extra hardware!
No need for an HDMI screen, keyboard, mouse etc, all with stock Raspbian Jessie lite or full.
You can then SSH into the Raspberry Pi Zero, copy files with SFTP or use VNC (extra installation required).

How do I set it up?

Setup is super simple! Once you have flashed your Raspbian image, should take only a few minutes to set it up! See guide below.

Big Bang Fair 2016

This year, for the first time I got the opportunity to head over the UK Big Bang Fair in Birmingham. I had been meaning to try and get over for few years, but an opportunity arose this year to help out the Raspberry Pi Foundation so thought, why not.

Breathe on this...
Breathe on this…

What is the UK Big Bang Fair?

Big Bang Fairs are science/tech fairs for school ages kids. They are dotted up and down the UK (sometimes under different names). They are excellent as include exhibitors from industry and also usually include regional heats for the National Science + Engineering Competition. Winners of those heats get invited over the finals at the UK Big Bang Fair in Birmingham in mid March each year.

Over the 4 days the fair was running at the NEC, over 70,000 people came through the doors, most being schoolkids and families.


I was there from the Thursday-Saturday volunteering with the Raspberry Pi Foundation with Astro Pi on the UK Space Agency stand.

We had set up 4 Raspberry Pis with Sense HATs, 3 of which were set up with the excellent Pixel Art activity, while one was set up with a humidity reading program.

Over the 3 days I was there, we were constantly inundated with kids! Was great to hear 95% of them were well aware who Tim Peake was and they thought it was pretty cool they could be creating code that could end up in space!

Some students testing the humidity in their breath
Some students testing the humidity in their breath
"Look what I made!"
“Look what I made!”
Trying to beat the humidity record.
Trying to beat the humidity record.
Creating pixel art using the Sense HAT!
Creating pixel art using the Sense HAT!

Plus, of course I ended up in one of the spacesuits on the Saturday!

Raspberry Pi Zero – Programming over USB! (Part 1)

Part 2 to this post can be found here.

Update 19/05/2016 – The modules are now included in the most recent version of Raspbian and thanks to some digging around in kernel documentation, it is now possible to set the full thing up without a keyboard/mouse/screen! Just need a Windows/Mac/Linux computer!

Update 15/01/2016 – The modules have now been merged into the Raspberry Pi Foundation maintained kernels! So no more need for custom kernels, just need to grab the most recent alpha kernels. Doing this is now far simpler.

Full credit for the initial documentation for this goes to a number of Pi experts from the Raspberry Pi community, see here and here.

An acknowledgement also to Lady Ada of Adafruit who was working on documenting in parallel to myself on Christmas eve. She has taken a different approach which requires a UART serial cable. Her guide can be found here.

What is this?

The Raspberry Pi Zero is a very cool little computer. At £4, is pretty amazing for the price. But one thing many Pi users have wanted to be able to do for a long time is program their Raspberry Pi from another computer, using only a single USB cable!

The Raspberry Pi Zero is able to do this, hardware wise anyway, although a lack of software support was holding up it ever happening. Until now!

So what can it do?

Using the Linux USB Gadget modules, we can get the Pi Zero to emulate a whole host of USB devices including

  • Virtual Serial – So can get a serial connection into the Pi, similar to using the UART pins. You can use Putty (on Windows) or Screen (on Mac and Linux).
  • Virtual Ethernet – You can get your Pi Zero to appear as a USB Ethernet modem. With a little configuration, you can then get full SSH, VNC, FTP etc.
  • Mass storage device – You can get the Pi Zero to appear as a flash drive, allowing you to for example, copy files over and have the Pi run these files (useful for robotics for example)
  • Virtual MIDI – The Pi Zero could appear as a virtual MIDI instrument.
  • Virtual Audio – The Pi Zero could appear as a virtual headphone output or microphone input.
  • Virtual Human Interface Device (HID) – The Pi Zero could appear as a virtual HID, for example a keyboard or mouse. So when you plug it into your computer, it could start typing!

You can also combine a few of the above (up to 3 at a time) using the g_multi module, although Windows and Mac have difficulty handling it then.


Where is this useful? Lets take an example of some Raspberry Pi robots in a classroom. Although you could be using Wifi for each robot, remembering addresses, unreliability with wifi etc all make wifi a bit of a rubbish answer.
With this, the student simply plugs in the robot and perhaps drops their script onto the flash drive that appears. When they unplug it, the robot runs the script, dumping the results of the script back onto the mass storage device, ready to be read when it is plugged in next.

Another example, lets say you don’t have access to a screen to use with your Raspberry Pi Zero, in for example, a school. You could still let your students play with GPIO or Linux by simply using the serial module (with Putty or Screen), or the virtual ethernet module to allow them SSH access.

How to I set it up on my Raspberry Pi?

I have thrown together a guide over on Github Gists, including links to the downloadable precompiled kernels.