Raspberry Pi as a gift for a 13 year old
November 26, 2014 12:15 PM   Subscribe

I was considering getting a Raspberry Pi or a similar computer for my 13 year old nephew, and then taking time to set it up with him. I was thinking we could turn it into an emulator platform for a variety of 16 bit systems. What are your experiences with similar gifts, are there better options than the Pi, and what would be good applications for a kid who likes technology, math, making music and games (including Minecraft)?

I have the slight ulterior motive of getting him into the more nuts and bolts side of computing, but I also want him to primarily be having fun and enjoying the gift.

He already has a Nexus 7 that is his main form of computer, but we've done things like building circuits with toy sets before and he's really enjoyed that. He also likes classic games, so I was thinking the idea of having an emulator platform would be appealing to him. Altogether, I would be willing to spend about $70 or $80 on the full set-up.
posted by codacorolla to Computers & Internet (8 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
What's your plan for a screen? Just hook it to a TV?
posted by JoeZydeco at 12:26 PM on November 26, 2014

Response by poster: Yep. I was also considering trying to get a cheap-o small LCD on Craigslist or during Black Friday.
posted by codacorolla at 12:31 PM on November 26, 2014

Have you looked at the Kano kit? Basically, a RasbPi, case, keyboard, wire-it-yourself speaker, and a few other extras that the kid gets to put together, hook to an HDMI TV, and learn to program. It'll even run Minecraft!
posted by hanov3r at 12:44 PM on November 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

If he likes Minecraft, the Raspberry Pi is going to be awesome if you want to get him interested in programming.

The OS now ships with a custom version of Minecraft (Minecraft Pi) which lets you interface directly with the game world via Python code. You can read the worksheet to introduce yourself to it.

On that note-- the Python libraries that interface with the GPIO (This is what would talk to LED's, motors controllers, etc) are nice and simple to do basic things. The foundation has lots of tutorials to get kids on board.
posted by Static Vagabond at 1:39 PM on November 26, 2014 [3 favorites]

I did a similar project for similar reasons nearly a year ago. The gift was a little older but one of the things that seemed to drive them wild was the ability to run it headless. We ran a VNC server (and later just a web server) and controlled the thing via their tablet (iPad mini).
posted by mce at 1:40 PM on November 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

It is a great present. Yes, people have already created the game emulators, so basically you would be finding and installing the software, not inventing it. Minecraft can be customized with programming if your nephew finds that of interest.

You might like to prepare a bit so you know what you have to do and where to find things on the web. Checkout raspberrypi.org (you will probably end up following a link to elinux.org).
I would budget $15 for a USB keyboard and mouse. Add another $10 for a power supply. You already know about the TV or LCD screen. Keep in mind that the PI can be run headless fairly quickly, so that may affect how much you spend on the monitor. If you aren't using a physical network cable, you will need a USB wifi adapter for about $10-$15.

You can control the Pi from your nephew's tablet. That is pretty easy to set up and is impressive.

Checkout the free PI magazines at themagpi.com.

I would be inclined to get a kit from Adafruit. That way you can get everything you need and it will all be compatible. (Get the B+ model, which is the newest.)
posted by PickeringPete at 1:40 PM on November 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

I think the Pi is an awesome idea, assuming the young man is likely to take to learning how to hack on Linux, etc. Minecraft and game emulators are two excellent software things to put on a Pi. You'll want a game controller.

If you want to do something more hardware / electronics oriented, Arduino is the way to go. I don't know what starter kit makes sense at this price point, hopefully someone else does.

Another interesting option is Little Bits, a modular electronics system made by some good folks. It's fairly pricy though.
posted by Nelson at 4:33 PM on November 26, 2014

from personal experience, there are a couple better alternatives:

- beaglebone black rev.C is ~USD55.00 around the same neighborhood as rasPI, but much better performance. does not come with power supply, but you can power with micro-usb OTG port. does not come with micro-HDMI adapter. no wireless or bluetooth (but easy/inexpensive enough via USB). does have a micro-SD slot. latest versions ship with debian OS, also runs Arch well-supported. useful/cute cases with proper machining already cheap/available. plenty of bare-metal/IO pins to mess with if that's your thing.
this, like the PI, is an ARM platform, so basically anything that runs on one will run on the other.
-- recommend buying from adafruit. and they also have various kits (e.g. with power supply, breadboard, hdmi etc.)

- intel edison (there's the development version EDI1BB.AL.K ~USD60.00, and also an arduin-alike daughterboard - EDI1ARDUIN.AL.K ~USD85.00. both of these come with the actual CPU/SoC module.). great performance! (I am seriously impressed by the 2x500mhz Atom cores, I basically never see system load even close to 1.0). onboard wireless & bluetooth. NO VIDEO output (well, technically you can hack it up yourself, or wait for shields from Sparkfun to become actual.) no wired ethernet (er, sorta... the OTG/gadget usb port does cdc ethernet. Sparkfun probably has an upcoming shield for that, too.) comes with Intel Yocto OS, more meant for fabs. very easy re-install to debian-7 offering of emutex/ubilinux. does not ship with power supply. power from USB, or from 7-17VDC 2-pin connector (arduino version comes with DC jack), or from 1-cell/3.7V LiPoly battery (2-pin connector, and built-in battery charging circuitry. charges from either USB 5V or the DC 2-pin, or both). cases... sort of on your own to get an inexpensive Hammond box and dig out your favorite nibbler, reamer, etc.
this is an i686 platform, so in theory it will run anything that your laptop would. within reason.
-- recommend buying from spamazon, and supply your own cables.

I've used both of the above devices to:
- RTL-SDR ADS-B 1090mhz tracking software. this is compiled from source and builds/works great on either platform. this is a really fun+easy project for ~20 bucks extra and you can watch planes from your web browser!
- Plex Media Server (binary blobs, but...grr. whatever.) - works surprisingly well!
- transmission-daemon + flexget + inexpensive flash drive, as a sort of poorly-constructed DVR.
posted by dorian at 6:31 AM on November 27, 2014

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