Saturday, March 3, 2012

INNOVATION AND TECHNOLOGY: $35 Raspberry Pi computer sells out on launch

The ultra-cheap Raspberry Pi computer went on sale Wednesday amid overwhelming demand, crashing the distributors' websites and selling out on one site shortly thereafter.
The $35 Raspberry Pi Model B, which is the size of a credit card and runs on open-source software developed at Toronto's Seneca College, became available for pre-order at 1 a.m. ET Wednesday from British manufacturers and distributors Premier Farnell and RS Components.
Almost immediately, the Raspberry Pi Foundation, the non-profit group that designed the computers as a device that young people could learn how to program, was flooded with complaints from customers who couldn't access the distributor websites to place their orders.
At 3:08 a.m. ET Wednesday, the Raspberry Pi Twitter account reported that Farnell was sold out of the computers, despite a limit of one per customer. Meanwhile, RS was asking potential customers to express interest on their site.
"With tens of thousands of customers looking to order on the RS website since the launch of Raspberry Pi earlier today, this is the greatest level of demand RS has ever received for a product at one time," Chris Page, general manager of electronics at RS Components, said in a statement.
He added that the company was working closely with Raspberry Pi "to satisfy this unprecedented demand" and expected to begin shipping the devices on a first-come, first-served basis after it gets its first boards late next week.
In Canada, the Raspberry Pi is available through Farnell subsidiary Newark and RS Components subsidiary Allied Electronics.
The Raspberry Pi Foundation said its new partnership with Farnell and RS Components means the computers will be produced in whatever quantity is needed to meet demand. Previously, the plan had been to make them in batches of 10,000.
The Raspberry Pi is designed to be an affordable, easy-to-program device that hobbyists and children can play with and learn from. The goal of the non-profit foundation that designed it is to boost interest in programming and computer science.
The energy-efficient device can run off 4AA batteries, use a TV as a monitor and store data on SD cards. A basic software package developed at Seneca College in Toronto, including a custom version of the Linux Fedora operating system and basic tools like a web browser and word processor, will be available for the devices. Users can also download other software adapted and developed by the open source software community around the world.
In addition to the $35 model that launched this week, the Raspberry Pi will also come in a cheaper, $25 model with one USB port instead of two and no ethernet port.

Raspberry Pi network plan for online free-speech role

Nadim Kobeissi Global protest inspired Nadim Kobeissi to work on Cryptocat an encrypted chat program

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When the Raspberry Pi computer went on general sale distributors websites were unable to cope with demand.
The £22 ($35) mini-computer which it is hoped will encourage children to take up programming, captured the imagination of many technology enthusiasts.
But developer and security researcher Nadim Kobeissi hopes that it might do something more: bring secure communications to those who need it most, people whose free speech is threatened whether in countries like Syria or in the west.
Mr Kobeissi is a developer of a secure communications program called Cryptocat.
Cryptocat works inside a web browser and enables people to chat online via encrypted instant messaging.
"What makes Cryptocat different to Facebook chat or Google chat is that it encrypts all the data before it gets to the server," Mr Kobeissi told BBC Five Live's Outriders podcast.
Other less secure chat systems may "record what you say and sometimes they have no choice but to share that data with governments," he said.
This isn't the case with Cryptocat according to Mr Kobeissi.
Raspberry servers
He plans to buy Raspberry Pi computers and set them up to work as credit-card sized servers running Cryptocat.
Because of their low-cost and small size they can then be shipped to activists and NGO's in areas where free-speech is difficult.
"This is especially useful for activist organizations, human rights organizations, any group composed of a few dozen people who need to have an internal secure communication service," said Mr Kobeissi.
Small, portable Raspberry Pi computers set up to run Cryptocat, he believes, may be a quick way to build such a service.
Open source
Mr Kobeissi's software is open-source, something which he believes should increase the security of the service as it is reviewed by other developers.
"That's the only way this would work. If I made this closed-source then I might make a mistake in the code and endanger the privacy of people who would depend on it."
Because he has made the code easy for other to scrutinize other experts can check that it is secure.
"I am part of a security community that is very critical, so I have to fulfil high standards," he said.
He also plans to put the software needed to turn the Pi into a chat-server online "so people who already have one of the tiny computers can convert their own into a mini-server".
Active support
Telecomix is a global group that works on free communication. It provides the technology and manuals to stay as secure as possible in countries where the internet is under surveillance.
Stephen Urbach of Telecomix says the Cryptocat servers are generally a good idea, "People all over the world have a need - in the democratic and free countries where I do not trust my government because of data retention as in countries like Syria or the Bahrain where a wrong word can bring you to death. Secure communication can save lives."
Though Urbach recognises that new forms of encryption are a good idea, it is the opportunity to understand computing that will keep people safe, "People need to learn what their computer does, how it works and how the software works.
"Only with this knowledge you will be able to see if you need more security. People need to understand how the internet works to understand why data retention is harmful, how blocked websites still can be accessed and which traces they leave while using the internet."
"This is a good idea for NGOs - but why not use already known decentralized technology like XMPP/Jabber?"
"There is an Off-The-Record plugin for most common and known clients and it is easy as ICQ or any other Instant Messenger. Though this is good, it is yet another tool. Why should we always build new tools when we already have good working tools which use wide spread protocols? As I mentioned before: XMPP/Jabber with OTR. It is common, easy to use and very secure."
Global protest
The current state of global protest and the violent clamping down of freedom of speech in countries like Syria has inspired Mr Kobeissi to work even harder on Cryptocat:
"Cryptocat was definitely influenced by what's happening in the Arab world," he said.
"I myself only immigrated from Lebanon to Canada two years ago."
"But I also want to draw attention to the fact that privacy technologies are becoming a need even here in Western society."
"This isn't just about the Arab Spring, this is about the decaying state of digital privacy worldwide," he said.

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