More than 30 years ago, when the revolution of personal computing was just beginning, I was one of many young people who knew what they wanted but found it just a little bit beyond grasp. Sometimes the challenge was availability, with many of the early PCs only available in certain models, in certain markets. Sometimes the mail order would only deliver to certain places. Often the barrier was simply the price, despite the efforts of Sir Clive. For me, DIY was without doubt the only option, as ready-made PCs were far too expensive. And so it was that I found myself spending most of my time with circuit designs, rough program outlines and plenty of cardboard mock-ups of the cases I might create, depending on which computer I might eventually build. Hand-drawn circuits, hand-written programs and cardboard computers. I did eventually build several computers, even some pretty powerful ones, but there was a certain special kind of excitement that comes with the cardboard phase that I thought my kids would never experience.
It seems I was wrong. Three decades later and some of my contemporaries have succeeded not only in recreating the buzz of the early days of personal computing, but in their adherence to the bare-bones philosophy they have resurrected the cardboard computer. I speak of the Raspberry Pi, the $35 /€30/£25 credit-card-sized computer. My kids want one. (I want one!) Since it comes without a case, there’s great interest in creating home-made cases. My younger son presented me with a life-sized paper model of what he wants to build, and he’s keen to learn how to shape Perspex. My older son is intrigued by the idea of mounting the Pi inside a keyboard, reminiscent of the old Commodore 64.
Thirty-odd years later, it’s like nothing has changed, and I’m loving it.