I’m not a programmer. Anything resembling computer literacy in my world is one part osmosis from hanging around with people who know what they’re talking about, one part Zen in those moments when everything suddenly becomes clear, and one part sheer dumb luck. When it comes to technology, I have a love / hate relationship with it. I love it when it works, but the “Troy World” bubble that forms around me prevents the laws of computer science — of the basic 1s and 0s — from working quite as advertised. The Matrix falls apart around me. I actually have standing orders that when my tech friends come by to take a look at my system, I have to stand a minimum of five feet away. Any closer than that, a 2-minute fix requires 20 hours. I wish I could say that’s an exaggeration.
And yet… as I say, I love it when it works. There’s no such thing as techno-fright in my world. There’s no thrill on earth quite like the idea of having convinced the digital gods that this medievalist is worthy enough to play with their toys. Which leads me to this book. I got a wild hair that maybe I wanted to learn something new, something completely different from everything else in my wheelhouse without breaking the bank. So I bought a Raspberry Pi 3 system and had it shipped to my house. A new gizmo. A new toy. An entire new world. But then what? A gadget you can’t use is just an overpriced paperweight. To facilitate my learning experience, I picked up this title for both Kindle and Audible. The idea was that, being a short book, I could listen and get an idea of what was going on, then use the Kindle version to reinforce those ideas when I had the machine in front of me.
That’s where the rubber hits the road, so to speak. After all, if I can’t get the tech to work, then clearly the book does me no good, thus affecting the rating. Likewise, if it works, then all hail the book.
I can tell you beyond doubt that if you’re not already a programmer and/or familiar with the RPi 3, the Audible version will do you very little good on its own, especially given that lines of code have to be spelled out one character at a time. It’s a beating and a half. But… the information around those bits of code have time to marinate in your brain so that when you see what you’re working with in the ebook, it’s not a totally alien idea when encountering it. Interesting how the subconscious mind will chew on stuff like that, no? More importantly, not every project for the Raspberry Pi requires programming. It’s encouraged to know some basics, but beyond that, there are all manner of DIY projects that are designed to be plug and
The biggest down side to the Audible version… the narrator, Jan Harrison, needs to be dragged out into the street and beaten with his own shoes in front of witnesses. If you can’t pronounce things in the common vernacular so the NOOBS can get it (re: pronounced “newbs,” not “nobes”), then they will have a more difficult time in conversation with those who might know what they’re talking about when it comes to Raspberry Pi (pronounced “pie” like the yummy dessert, not “P. I.” like a private investigator). I mean, c’mon! I’m about as NOOB as it can get when it comes to anything beyond turning on my smartphone, and even I know this. Seriously? It’s a classic case of undermining the basics by forcing the listener to fixate on the irrelevant. And since we know the author gets input on narrators… this sends up some warning flags. Did we not discuss things on any level before recording? It’s a technical book. Get a narrator who can read technical syntax.
Let’s talk about the ebook. When it comes to learning, this is where the heavy lifting will happen.
As I say, there are lines of code here, which should be monkey-see / monkey-do for those who want to play around with it, and there are plenty of explanations about what that code does. There are project ideas found here, some of which require little or no coding. The author focuses on some easy ones such as thermometer, nanny-cam, and other such sensory-input ideas and discusses some options for retro-gaming. It seems straightforward enough. What bits of software and where to find them are offered, so resources are readily available to the beginner. It seems cut and dried in the final analysis.
But I’m not going to let this book off that easily. It either works or it doesn’t. I’m holding the title into account that it can take me beyond the beginner level, and that it it really is step by step. Once I make that determination, I’ll come back and edit this review accordingly, assigning a star rating based on how easy it is to get my new toy operational and how often I have to forego the book in favor of other resources. Everything will hinge on practical application. Since the narrator on the Audible version is an idiot, I’m docking one star up off the top simply for making my eyes twitch in aggravation.
The RPi 3 is supposed to be out of the box and set up in 20 minutes or less. Most places will tell you 10-15 minutes. 8 hours after unboxing, I have a small victory in that I now have video to confirm that things are running. I have nothing running on it, but it’s running.
In the final analysis of this book based on my experience, I can’t say the book was totally useless in terms of helping to outline some vocabulary and understand what I was looking at. In terms of getting my RPi 3 actually running, the book was pretty much useless. YouTube videos were my friend, and even then, I’m still not done. It turns out that this simple little device isn’t nearly as simple as advertised. They market it like it’s an old Gameboy. But if you’re not savvy enough to know how to manipulate your in-home network (or don’t have one in the first place), you learn that you can’t just drag and drop software onto the micro SD card hope it works. That’s but one of the challenges faced. And I have to tell you… YouTube videos are a beating. Even if you’re lucky enough to find one where the person offers the direct advice you’re looking for in plain English without cheesy music or notepad text, then you still have to silently admit defeat, that the simple machine is too complex for you.
The ins and outs of the device are not the fault of the book, but it is the fault of the book to advertise a bill of goods — from beginner to pro — and not deliver. 8 hours is ludicrous. This book is a money grab, pure and simple, helpful only to those hobbyists who already speak the binary language of moisture vaporators or tweak the Matrix for fun… and it’s probably too dumbed down to be of use to them either. After all, they’re the ones making the videos.