The story of the Raspberry Pi Big Birthday Weekend

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A little belated, but I’ve been so busy this week! Some of the photos were taken from this post on the Raspberry Pi Foundation site – I think Ben Nuttall took them!

The Raspberry Pi Big Birthday Weekend seems to have been a tremendous success. It went as smoothly as it could possibly have done and we received some great verbal feedback throughout the weekend. Here is my personal account of the set-up and running of the biggest Pi-related event ever.


It all started on Friday night with myself and Tim Richardson (@geeky_tim) arriving at the Cambridge Computer Lab (aka the William Gates Building). We found work had already begun – all the tables for the Show-and-Tell, front desk and Marketplace were already laid out (thanks Martin!).

We just had to unload. This required two trips from Potton – we just had so much stuff! We had all 20 CamJam Pi workstation kits (and monitors – 4 huge boxes of monitors and keyboards), 9 CamJam fold-up tables, 14 roll-up banners, 3 gigantic PVC banners, the Pi Wars obstacle course, a load of stuff that had been shipped to us by German vendor Watterott ahead of their arrival, plus numerous support boxes.

After the second trip, Tim headed off to Pi Towers whilst I started to set-up the rest of the building. Fortunately by this time we had a few helpers (who I won’t embarrass by naming here – you know who you are!) and we were able to make a start on putting name labels out on the tables, setting up the front desk and workshop areas. Tim eventually arrived back with a car full of Foundation lapdocks and Pis and an awful lot of drink for the Party. Also arriving around the time was Henry and the fantastic, wonderful Talking Throne.


We were able to get one of the workshop rooms set-up with 13 Pis but, due to a mix-up, the other room was locked. We didn’t panic, though, we just did all that we could in the time that we had. The balloons also arrived (some of which you can see above) including an enormous arch which spelled out “Raspberry Pi” (see below). The venue was soon full of the smell of balloons and the sound of half a dozen geeks resisting the temptation to breathe the helium. 🙂 I’d like to thank Loony Balloony for their wonderful work!

Photo: Clare Macrae (I think that’s Mike Czerski on the left, Neil Matthews in the middle and me on the right – do I look a little tense to anyone? – And I spot David Whale on the far right in the red top!)

We left around 7.30pm (I think!) and headed back to Potton.


Saturday started bright and early at 8am at the Lab and we were soon joined by the first of our brilliant volunteers. I really cannot say enough about the volunteers who gave up so much of their time at the weekend. Some of them saw very little of the proceedings on Saturday because they were helping us to make the event as good as we possibly could. Everyone who was at the Big Birthday Weekend owes them a great debt of gratitude. So, if you were a Marshall or Workshop Helper, please wear that badge of honour with pride!


We had a few things left to do: the second workshop room needed to be sorted out and the huuuuuuuge PVC banners needed to be hung up. Originally they were going to go between trees outside the building, but Martin had the great idea of hanging two from the balcony so people could see them as they walked round the side of the building and Tim had the idea of hanging another inside the venue in front of the Throne.
Photo: Tim (centre) and Andy (right) gettin’ busy with the banner (Taken by Les Pounder)
People were soon arriving to set-up their Show-and-Tell and Marketplace tables and it began to get very busy.
Photo: David Johnson
In terrifyingly short order, the public began to arrive. Our Front Desk team worked their socks off scanning tickets, giving out free Official Raspberry Pi cases (which magically arrived with Tim on Friday night):
… and handed out schedules for the weekend (thanks Sam Alder for your great design work for the Weekend!):
Around the same time, the intrepid, nay the incomparable, Lisa Mather arrived with Amy and Dan, together with a van-full of swag for the party and a load of equipment for the construction of Andrew Robinson’s bullet time rig and also the Raspberry Ripple (a Raspberry Pi logo-shaped reaction game in which huge buttons light up and you have to press them as fast as possible). Everyone descended on them to help unpack. Huge thanks are due to the team for bringing the rig – it was fantastic to have it at the event.
Photo: Bullet Time Rig (taken by Les Pounder)
Here’s an explanation of the rig that was done some time ago:

Soon it was 10am and people started to head into the Lecture Theatre for our keynote talk. Tim gave a brief introduction and then Eben Upton was up, talking about all things Pi.

Here’s a photo of the Lecture Theatre from later on in the day:


Photo: Les Pounder

After the keynote, the talks continued while upstairs the workshops began. We had 7 workshops per day with various topics. On the Saturday, they were: Beginners, please; Create your own GPS tape measure; Introduction to Minecraft: Pi Edition; Develop a simple chat app with NodeRED; Introduction to Linux; The Scratch Hackathon and PiCamera (below). We had some brilliant leaders and helpers for the workshops, and again I’d like to extend my thanks to everyone who helped set-up, lead and assist in them as without you we would have had nothing going on upstairs!

For the Saturday, I shuttled back and forth between the workshops and the Meeting Place on the top floor whilst Tim was on the ground floor keeping an eye on the rest of the show. The Meeting Place was a social area near the upstairs entrances to the Lecture Theatres where we had set-up 6 lapdocks and printed out loads of learning materials. We had a Marshal keep an eye on the area for most of the time, and it proved to be moderately successful. We’d like to have an area like this at CamJam, but it’s just a question of space and being able to keep it manned.

During the morning, a reporter and photographer from Cambridge News turned up and I had great fun gathering together a few people from the Foundation for interviews and a photo opportunity (see below). The report later appeared in their online edition (and I think the print edition, but I haven’t got a copy!).

The workshops proceeded pretty well, surprisingly. We had a few issues with keyboards and trackpads not working on the Motorola Lapdocks, which was odd (they seem a bit temperamental). The other thing that occurred was that we discovered that the normal version of NodeRED didn’t work on the Pi 2. Apparently there’s a “special version” you need for the Pi 2, which we didn’t have. Fortunately, the workshop wasn’t so over-subscribed that people couldn’t share the other workstations (which were B+s) and we overcame it, but it’s something to bear in mind should you decide to use NodeRED on the newest model of Pi.

One of the biggest hits of the day came first with the GPS tape measure workshop. Barry Byford from Cambridge Silicon Radio (CSR, who also donated a ton of stuff for swag) used some custom equipment which included a Pi and a GPS receiver. Some code was typed into the Pis by the workshop participants which took readings from the GPS receiver and then worked out the distance between the start and end points. The participants then headed outside to test it out. Great interactive fun was had by all. Another huge success happened at the end of the day – a two-hour Scratch Hackathon. Teams of 2-3 were formed and then Sean McManus and Dave Bower (and helpers!) helped them to come up with projects that involved Scratch or ScratchGPIO and, optionally, the CamJam EduKit. Great fun. At the end of the session, they picked some of the best projects and they all trooped off to one of the Lecture Theatres to show them off.

Speaking of the Lecture Theatres, one of the highlights of the day was from the brilliant Sway Humphries & her young digital leaders from Caroline Haslett Primary School. You can see their talk below. Unfortunately, we were unable to get anything else recorded – we just didn’t have time to set it up. (If there is a “next time” we’ll do something about that!)

During all of this, preparations for the party continued. Some of our Marshals and helpers gave up virtually their entire day to help Lisa to pack swag bags and sort out pass-the-parcel prizes. It was a Herculean effort from all involved and we really are indebted to all those who helped – it just wouldn’t have been possible to do everything without you! This leads us neatly onto…

The Party

At 3.30pm we started to get things ready on the ground floor for the party. Those who were staying were invited to either help us set-up or to go into Lecture Theatre 1. Inside the Lecture Theatre, Ben Nuttall was busy showing off some Pi-related videos that he’d collated and we showed the brand new (and brilliant) 3 Years of Pi video from Matt Timmons-Brown.

We had tables to set-up (thanks CamJam for the hardware) and cover, tables to move about in the cafe area, balloons to move and Marketplace tables to cover up, not to mention helping the Show-and-Tellers to pack up their kit. Here’s The Street (the main drag of the ground floor) mid set-up (that’s Brian Corteil and his son Billy in the middle!):


Our preparations took a little longer than we thought they would and someone had the bright idea of having an impromptu panel with all the Raspberry Pi Foundation people we could find. This led to a ridiculous line-up of people. Tim chaired and apparently it all went very well considering it was made up on the spot!


Eventually we got everything sorted out on the ground floor and we were able to release the masses from the Lecture Theatre.

Ben Croston from Fuzzy Duck Brewery (and author/maintainer of the RPi.GPIO Python library that we all use!) had brewed us a very special beer for the event (subtly raspberry-flavoured) and that, together with another brew and soft drinks, were available to party-goers.

Irration Ale – Geddit?

A queue formed…


We were very lucky to have some great bar staff for the event.


Of course, I’m biased – that’s Amanda (my step daughter) on the left, Tracey (my wife) on the right and Tracey (not my wife but a great friend of ours) in the middle.

We had music supplied by Poly Core (Sam Aaron and Ben Smith) – Sam live-coded using Sonic Pi while Ben accompanied him. Here’s Barry Byford’s short video of some of the performance:

Around 5.45pm, Domino’s Pizza turned up with 110 pizzas. Surprisingly, I have no photos of this – there were suddenly too many people in the way!

Earlier in the afternoon, Amanda from Lottie Loves Cupcakes had turned up with our cake order. I really must commend Amanda for the best cupcakes I’ve ever tasted (salted caramel? I should jolly well say so!) and a lovely large cake with a digitally altered picture of the Pi on it.

Here’s Clive Beale from the Foundation handing out the cupcakes! And is that Aaron Shaw from Pi Supply in the background I can see?

After everyone had eaten, we decided to break out the swag and do Pass the Parcel.

After Pass the Parcel, the music continued, more pizza and drink was consumed and everyone appeared to have a great time chatting and getting to know each other. Around 7.30pm, people began to drift off and we handed out Swag Bags at the front desk. Everyone (we hope!) went home with something – we are incredibly grateful to all our sponsors for the swag, and we just would have been lost without you. A full list of the sponsors is available on the Raspberry Pi post.

After the party, there was a considerable amount of cleaning up to do. We decided to get it all done that night to save time in the morning, so all the rubbish needed to be tidied away and tables folded up and put out of the way. Matt Manning had the great idea of sending the left-over pizza to Jimmy’s (a local night shelter) so he went off to do that whilst the rest of us (including lots of volunteers – again, thank you!) tidied up.

After the clear-up, Gordon Wheeler offered myself and Tim a lift to our hotel – the Cambridge City Hotel (lovely place) – which we gratefully accepted. Here’s my room:


After we’d checked in, we headed off to The Mitre pub for some pints with some of the helpers, stall-holders and Foundation guys and gels. Around 11pm, we wended our weary way back to the hotel for some much-needed rest.


After a lovely breakfast and a (predictably) hair-raising cab ride, we were back at the Lab for 8.30am. The workshop rooms needed sorting out again (including some swapping-over of lapdocks and full workstations just in case Node.JS reacted the same way to the Pi 2) and, of course, we had a whole new slew of Show-and-Tellers to welcome in and show to their tables. We were so lucky for the Weekend to have so many people wanting to Show-and-Tell – we had 20 tables and each day we had (almost) completely different displays.

For the morning, I was stationed on the ground floor. Due to an unforeseen gap in my Marshal scheduling, I found myself in Lecture Theatre 1 doing timekeeping (where you wave your arms crazily to get presenters to realise they only have 5 minutes left!) and so I caught a few great talks including Carrie Anne Philbin giving her keynote (in which she espoused all things open-source):


Matt Timmons-Brown (in which he asked for Computing teachers to make things more interesting than finance applications!):


and Mike Cook (who talked about integrating LEGO with the Pi):


After these talks, I was relieved by another Marshal and took up position along The Street, just making sure everything was running smoothly. We had lots of vendors on The Street. Here’s a quick list: Watterott (all the way from Germany!); PiBorg; Wireless Things (formerly Ciseco); Ragworm; The Pi Hut; Pimoroni; 4tronix; ModMyPi; IQaudIO; Pi Supply and Ryanteck. Here’s pictures of a couple of the stalls. First off, Pimoroni (you can just see the corner of The Pi Hut table on the left with the CamJam EduKits proudly displayed – they sold out of these on Sunday!):


and IQaudIO with their brilliant audio/amplifier boards:


Photos courtesy of Les Pounder

Upstairs, of course, we had another round of workshops. On the Sunday, we had… Basic Electronics with the CamJam EduKit; Build-a-Robot (which was slightly over-subscribed, sorry about that, my bad); Sonic Pi; Beginners, please; Sensing the Real World with the CamJam EduKit; Advanced Minecraft and GPIO Programming; and Internet of Things with Node.JS. Here’s David Whale (standing, far left in the black) and Martin O’Hanlon (sat, second from the right in the checked shirt) in the Advanced Minecraft workshop, which proved hugely popular.


In the afternoon, I split my time between keeping an eye on the workshops and helping out downstairs. We are incredibly grateful to Claire Pollard from PiBorg who stepped into the breach for us on the front desk (that’s her on the left in the purple top). 🙂


Photo: Les Pounder

In the Show-and-Tell area on Sunday, we featured a super-size Big Trak known as ‘Big Hak’. The guys from Hitchin Hackspace have done a brilliant job with it – they’ve converted the controller for an electric wheelchair to control a Pi which controls the motors on the robot. You can even code the Big Hak on another Pi, which generates a QR code which the Big Hak then scans to get the programmed movements. Here’s Eben Upton fooling about outside the William Gates Building:

Eventually, the whole weekend came to a close. We finished off with a panel titled “How the Raspberry Pi changed our lives” which featured Matt Timmons-Brown, Amy Mather and Zach Igielman talking about the effect the Pi has had on them. And then it was all over!

As people drifted out, we began to clear up. A friend of ours from Potton arrived with his van to take all the equipment back to Tim’s, so we loaded up around 6.30pm. Before that, we packed all the Pi workstations up, returned the lapdocks to the Foundation, cleared up the cafe, emptied the front desk and re-arranged furniture to make things presentable again for Lab students on the Monday. We finished up, bid everyone who stayed to help “farewell” and headed back.

I drove myself and Tim back to Potton and we ruminated about the successes/problems of the weekend. Tim panicked on the way back because he’d forgotten to take the big car park signs down. Fortunately, Andy Batey had seen them and he’d grabbed them on the way past. He returned on Monday to pick up the small ones – thanks Andy!

All in all, the Weekend went as smoothly as we could have dared hope. A few minor technical issues were all that cropped up, and we considered ourselves very lucky. We arrived back at Tim’s and began the long process of unloading the van and packing it into Tim’s garage. Once again we were overwhelmed with the sheer amount of stuff that we’d taken to the event – we stacked it all up and only just managed to get the door of the garage shut! (If anyone related to CamJam has some storage space that they wouldn’t mind donating to us – get in contact!)

With aching feet, necks, shoulders and backs we finished up and breathed a sigh of relief.


The weekend wasn’t quite over yet! I got an emergency email from Rachel at the Foundation to go and oversee the loading of the Throne into the van at the Lab. So, I headed off to Cambridge to find it already being loaded by Martin and the van driver (who’s name I cannot remember… was it Paul?). I leant a hand and we soon had the Lab back to the state it had been in on Friday. Phew!

That’s all folks

Congratulations if you’ve reached the end of this post without passing out 🙂

I’d like to leave you with this fantastic video of the weekend that Matt Manning put together. It’s a great reminder of everything that happened.


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