Matt Richardson is a creative technologist, maker, author and the Executive Director for North America of the Raspberry Pi Foundation. The Foundation provides outreach and education to help people access computing and digital making using low-cost, yet powerful, Raspberry Pi computers. Since the release of their first computer in 2012, more than 11 million Raspberry Pi units have been sold. Products include the Raspberry Pi 3, a small single-board computer with a quad-core CPU that retails for $35; the Pi Zero single-core computer, which is available for $5; and the Pi Zero W, which adds built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth functionality for $10.
Matt Richardson. Used with permission.
Tell me about your path to becoming the Executive Director of North American for the Raspberry Pi Foundation.
RICHARDSON: I used to work in the television industry in New York City, but I grew up exposed to technology and computers and have had a passion for technology for a long time. As I was working in television, I noticed that people were creating and making things with computers and technology, and it really captured my attention. I thought it was something I wanted to try to do, so I started off as a hobbyist maker. I was creating things and putting them out there, making projects – you know, all the fun and interesting things that I wanted to do for a long time. Because of the maker movement, I was able to do these things that I wasn’t able to do before.
I was involved in the maker community for a long time before the Raspberry Pi came out, and I immediately liked how we could now use computers as a material for making things. And I loved the price of Raspberry Pi. So I quickly became an unofficial evangelist for the platform – I wrote a book called Getting Started with the Raspberry Pi with a good friend of mine, Shawn Wallace. And I would talk a lot about what Raspberry Pi is all about just because I was passionate about what the community was about, what the product was about, and what the Raspberry Pi Foundation was doing.
In late 2014, Eben Upton, one of the founders of the Raspberry Pi Foundation asked me if I wanted to be a part of the team in the United States, and I jumped at the opportunity. I started at the Foundation at the beginning of 2015 as Raspberry Pi’s first U.S. employee.
Raspberry Pi has both a commercial business and a foundation. Can you outline for me how those two organizations work together?
RICHARDSON: We are unique from other charities that are associated with technology in that other major charities are often a technology company first and have a charity, sort of, on the side. We’re different in that we are first and foremost a foundation that happens to own a technology company, and that’s the Raspberry Pi Trading Company. Raspberry Pi Trading handles the engineering and product and all the stuff that goes around that, and that’s owned by Raspberry Pi Foundation, which does all the charitable outreach. All the “mission” work is done by the Raspberry Pi Foundation.
The Foundation got its start in the U.K. What kind of activities does the Foundation support here in the U.S.?
RICHARDSON: The Raspberry Pi Foundation has global ambitions. We started off in the U.K. but we expanded into all of Europe. We want to be making a difference all over the world. We want to be achieving our mission all over the world, and we are doing that in several ways.
One thing we’re doing in the United States is training educators. We piloted Picademy, our professional development program for educators,last year in 2016, and it’s now an ongoing program in the U.S. We also do a lot of work involving direct-to-youth outreach in the United States. For instance, we look at events like Maker Faires and science festivals as opportunities to get young people to try out coding and technology – many of them have never had exposure to it before. So we want to find opportunities where we can get the Raspberry Pi out there and get people we normally wouldn’t reach, getting families and children to sit down at a Raspberry Pi and try to write a line of code and try playing with electronics.
I saw that the Foundation recently joined forces with Code Club and Coder Dojo. How do these mergers fit into the Foundation’s U.S. ambitions?
RICHARDSON: Our mission is to put the power of digital making into the hands of people all over the world. When we talk about digital making, we talk about using technology to create and make things. It’s not just about coding. It’s electronics. It’s design thinking. There are a lot of things that encompass digital making. Code Club and Coder Dojo are great examples of organizations that go out there and provide resources for people to do outreach to youth. Code Club and CoderDojo have a positive impact on hundreds of thousands of youth worldwide, and it’s something that they’ve really figured out. So they’re a natural fit for our organization, and we expect that working together, we can expand this impact even further.
It seems like there’s a technology product for everything these days. Why is it important for people to learn how to make their own things?
RICHARDSON: What’s really important to us is the idea that anyone can be empowered to create things with technology, and we’re not all relegated to being consumers. Technology has never been more accessible and affordable for all people. We need to do the work to push that as far as we possibly can. That’s why we make Raspberry Pis as affordable as possible, and it’s why we create resources for anyone to be able to use the technology to do the things that they want to see happen in the world, whether they’re making a project for themselves for fun, learning something new, prototyping a product, solving a problem that matters to them.
We want people to understand that digital making isn’t just for people who are interested in technology itself. It’s for anyone who is interested in anything. If you are an artist, you can use technology to create art work. If you’re interested in biology – for example, you want to know what’s going on in a particular stream or river – you can use the technology to your advantage. You don’t need to be a technology enthusiast, a hobbyist or expert, and you certainly don’t need to be an engineer. That’s a big part of what we’re all about, making sure that everybody knows that they can use technology for what they see fit.
What caught my eye, initially, about the Raspberry Pi was that it was a very low price computer. I think $35. How has the affordability factor influenced the Raspberry Pis place in the greater world of technology?
RICHARDSON: Affordability is absolutely critical for us. It goes hand-in-hand with accessibility. When we talk about accessibility of technology, we’re talking about making it easier for people to get started. A common barrier is price. So we have worked really hard to overcome that barrier by making Raspberry Pi as affordable as we possibly can. The affordability factor changes this idea that you shouldn’t touch, hack, play or tinker with technology because you’re afraid you might break something. Driving down the price of this technology means that more people will be able to hack or tinker with impunity, without being worried about breaking anything. It means that more people are going to give it a go. If the computers and the technology are more affordable that means more people can take a chance on it. And then it’s just a numbers game – the more people you have taking a chance on a technology, the more people you have running with it and staying with it.
To answer your question a little more directly, it means that other companies see the success we’ve had and, I think, it has put some downward pressure on the price of technology items, making them more affordable. That’s good for everybody. If we’re influencing other companies to make technology more affordable, we’re achieving our mission.
You lowered the price barrier even more with the Pi Zero. How does that product fit into the Foundation’s mission and, in particular, an idea I heard you mention at the InfoSys Crossroads conference – that a computer can be a material, not just a tool?
RICHARDSON: In the 1980s, there were young kids coding with computers, but the context of computing was a keyboard, monitor and mouse sitting in someone’s room. It was a sort of fixed concept of computing. But some visionaries like Seymour Papert saw a future where technologies were treated more like a material, as opposed to a tool, to create and make things with. So he created the Logo programming language so that young people could use the computer to draw and also guide “turtle robots” that would roll on the ground and draw designs according to your instructions. You could even add sensors and actuators. He was really a visionary. I think that things like the Raspberry Pi Zero have really helped spread the idea that if you create something with a computer that’s affordable enough, that computer can be a material, too.
Even just ten years ago, when the maker movement was just getting rolling, you might have one Arduino [single-board microcontroller] in a project. Then when you were done with your project, you didn’t want to rip the Arduino out of your project to start a new one because you might not be able to afford multiple Arduinos. I would love to see more and more people, with more and more affordable computers, say “I can dedicate a computer to this project. I can dedicate another computer to this project and that project over there, too.” So the computer becomes a material in the project and people can think of it just like, say, they think of a canvas if they’re making art.
Tell me a little more about Picademy and how teachers can take advantage of that professional development opportunity.
RICHARDSON: All over the world, there a lot of really passionate and engaged educators who already “get” what we do and what we’re all about. They were already doing this before us. They understand concepts like project-based learning and computer as a material. For educators like them, we provide a professional development program called Picademy.
We bring educators together for two days, and they learn about digital making and creating with computers using Raspberry Pis. Then they work together and collaborate to create their own projects. The Picademy is meant to provide an introduction for using the Raspberry Pi as a material and thinking about digital making in the classroom. We piloted it last year in the Bay Area; Austin, Texas; and Baltimore, Maryland. This year, we are going to be in Providence, Rhode Island; Irvine, California; Ann Arbor, Michigan; and Boise, Idaho. We’ll be training even more educators this year, and we will be giving them the tools to bring digital making into their classrooms.
It’s not just for teachers. We include classroom teachers, librarians, community educators, after-school educators, museum educators – educators of all types. This kind of learning doesn’t just happen in classrooms. It happens in lots of different educational contexts, and we want to support that.
We know that not everyone can take two days out of their life to come see us where we are, although we try to bring Raspberry Pi as far and wide as we can. So we also host an online professional development opportunity through a platform called FutureLearn. We run courses online for educators that take about two hours per week for four weeks. It’s perfect for educators who know that this is the kind of thing for them, but don’t have the time or resources to come see us at Picademy.
I saw something about Raspberry Jams on your website. What are they, and how can people get involved?
RICHARDSON: Raspberry Jams started with our community. This wasn’t something that we initiated. If you’re familiar with the early heyday of computing when homebrew computer groups were happening, these events started happening organically where members of the community gathered to see each other face-to-face, talk about what they’re doing, and show off their projects. Raspberry Jams started out like that. As more people began to organize these events, we as an organization supported Raspberry Jams by giving the organizers promotional tools and resources they could use. We put a Jam Map on our website where anyone running a Jam could add their event to the map with a link so that people could see it, come by and meet other people working with Raspberry Pis near them.
A month or two ago, we stepped up our game in terms of how we support Raspberry Jams by providing guide books for anyone who wants to start their own Jam. We see Jams that are just three or four people getting together every month, and we see jams that are huge events with a Maker Faire vibe and associated lectures and workshops. The guide book is meant to be, not only for people who want to get together and hold an event and find out what Raspberry Pi has to offer them, but also to communicate what other Jam organizers have to offer in terms of best practices. The guide book covers all the things you want to know, and it gives you tons of ideas and inspiration for activities you can offer. For people who organize Jams and commit to creating ongoing Jams, we support them with collateral materials – stickers, flyers and other graphical assets – so they can give their Jam a nice, professional look.
You started out as a product evangelist for the Raspberry Pi Foundation. What advice do you have for those who want to evangelize the product here in Mississippi? What do we need to do to build awareness and get people excited about computing and digital making with Raspberry Pis?
RICHARDSON: We always like to start looking at where there’s some momentum already happening in a particular region. It could be that, in Mississippi, there’s a classroom educator community that has already tapped into project-based learning and technology. It could be that the librarians are the ones who are already on this path. It could be tech and science museums in the area. Or it could be nonprofits that do after-school work.
We provide free resources to support all those different audiences, no matter what they’re doing. We offer guides for classrooms and after-school clubs. Anyone can register a Code Club and get tons of resources for free and tap into our network of educators. I think the Code Club network is a great way for any type of educator in Mississippi to get involved.
I believe the Raspberry Pi platform has a lot of potential here in Mississippi, not just because of the affordability of the computers, but also our need to encourage greater homegrown innovation to inspire economic development. Are there any other things we could be doing?
RICHARDSON: You’re absolutely right that the affordability of our products is the kind of thing that can help a lot. I’m not really that familiar with your area – is there a good Maker Faire?
I know that Meridian, Mississippi has had some Mini Maker Faires. I think they have been the only one so far.
RICHARDSON: You know, the Maker Faire here in the Bay Area has been going on for about ten years, and it has grown quite large. There are a lot of Mini Maker Faires all over the world that have really come into their own as a big annual event for that whole community. But it really takes an institution to step up and take this Maker Faire idea, tap into their network and keep the conversation and momentum going. Having been involved in things like this, I know it takes a lot of effort to keep events going and to keep people interested.
Anything else you’d like to mention?
RICHARDSON: We’ve talked a lot about education – classrooms, libraries, museums. But there’s a whole group of people who are just hobbyists, and supporting them is important. People pick up a Raspberry Pi and try a thing or two. And what often happens is that they learn and experiment on their own as a hobby, but then that becomes something more. It becomes a product, or the idea turns into a business. We’re big proponents of the hobbyist realm of the maker movement and not just the educational side of making. It can lead to intergenerational learning, with fathers and mothers working with their children and trying things out. It exposes kids to the idea of tinkering with things in the home – that’s something we try to encourage. Our hobbyist community is enormous, and we love to see what these people are doing. It’s also just a huge source of inspiration for what can be done with the technology. Beyond all the wonderful formal education that’s happening, the informal at-home education is critical to us, as well, for getting the power of digital making into the hands of people all over the world.
Alex Mullen at the MWB office. Photo by Tate Nations.
Alex Mullen is a medical student at the University of Mississippi School of Medicine who, in 2015, became the first American to win the World Memory Championships, ranking as the highest point scorer in the competition’s 24-year history.
Alex holds the Guinness World Record for most digits memorized in one hour (3,029), and he can memorize the order of a deck of cards in 17 seconds. In 2016, Alex launched Mullen Memory, an initiative he started with his wife, Cathy, to promote the use of memory techniques in school classrooms and universities.
What’s your background? How did you get interested in memory techniques?
MULLEN: I was born in New Jersey. But then I came down to Oxford when I was four. I went to Oxford High School and then Johns Hopkins for college.
The first time I ever found out about memory techniques was when I was a junior in college. Before that I had an average memory, and didn’t really know much about memory techniques. I dabbled with acrostics and stuff like that.
But I came across this TED talk by Joshua Foer [TED Video: Feats of Memory that Anyone Can Do], and I was just kinda blown away by the ingenuity of it. I learned about the “memory palace” technique, and just I couldn’t believe that this kind of thing existed and I hadn’t heard of it or that it wasn’t a bigger part of education. I was a little frustrated with my own memory at the time, and I think that’s part of the reason why I latched onto it. I read Foer’s book “Moonwalking with Einstein” and some other books.
So I was originally interested because I wanted to improve my memory for school. I felt like if I had a better memory, it would be helpful. And, then, I thought maybe I’ll do this competition type thing where you memorize numbers and cards and lists of random words, names and faces – I’ll do that and then try to get a better understanding of the techniques, so I can go back and use it in school.
I competed at the U.S.A. Memory Championship in 2014, and I got 2nd place there, which was way better than I expected. I’d been training, but I didn’t think I’d do as well as I did. So it was definitely exciting for me and motivating to continue practicing and doing bigger competitions.
I competed a few more times, I think five or six in total now. Then I had a lucky run and won the World Championship in China last December.
When I got to med school, I struggled at first a little bit, which was disheartening because I was having a hard time applying the techniques to what I was learning. So I struggled a little bit, but then I experimented. My wife also uses the techniques – so we sort of experimented together and worked some things out. Eventually, we got to a point where we were using them for pretty much everything we were learning and finding it very helpful since med school is obviously heavy on memorization.
We’ve been using the techniques for med school for about a year and a half now. I’m still competing. My next one is probably the U.S. Championship again in May.
I saw you have a record for memorizing digits?
MULLEN: Yeah, I have about six or seven U.S. records and one world record, which is the “hour digits” event. It sounds incredibly boring – and it is. You sit for one hour and they give you a big long number to memorize, and I was able to memorize 3,029 digits. Just the process of sitting down for an hour and then spending another two hours to recall it, which is how the event works, was pretty tough for me – someone who’s slightly ADD and can’t really focus and sit still for a long time.
Using the memory techniques has helped me develop my concentration. I don’t think I would have otherwise been able to sit for three whole days in China just memorizing the entire time. So the numbers were definitely a challenge, much harder, from a concentration standpoint, than memorizing one pack of cards.
You did get there very fast, though. How were you able to go from reading a book to being a memory champion in such a short period of time?
MULLEN: I think I trained well. I trained consistently, which I think it an important thing – between 30 minutes to an hour a day, usually. You do that over three years and you get pretty good.
There are a lot of people who do that also, who haven’t done as well as I have. And I think that’s just a matter of training effectively. Trying to identify weaknesses and improve, just the same as with sports. But that’s really it. I don’t think I have a very special memory. I forget where I put things all the time.
What’s your technique for memorizing cards and numbers?
MULLEN: For a lot of the events, you’re using basically the same technique, which is the memory palace technique. Most of the events are “sequential events” where you have to memorize the order of a deck of cards, the order of a long number, or the order of a list of 300 words. It’s all the same technique, which is the memory palace. You imagine a physical place that you know – you can pick these places ahead of time and have pre-planned routes, like sort of stops on the way in the memory palace. Then you visualize things in those places. Then you go back and see those images, as you go through the palace and recall the information. [Editor’s note: This technique is demonstrated in Mullen’s video, “The 20 Word Challenge.”]
There are differences in the way that people do it – how they convert cards or numbers into those images. Because, obviously, it’s not enough to just visualize the two of spades. Some people will turn that card into, for example, Michael Jackson. In my case, I’ll take each pair of cards and combine them into one image. So there are differences like that, but the general technique people use is the memory palace for most of the events. That’s basically how I do it for studying for school, too. There are a few others events that aren’t sequential – there’s a names and faces event. What people do there is just look at the face and try to find some sort of distinctive features, and then they’ll visualize something that represents the name and attach it to that feature somehow. So like if I were to do you, for instance, I might look at your hair and imagine Randy Johnson, the pitcher that played for the Diamondbacks for a while – maybe he’s throwing a baseball, and it’s zooming right across your hair like that. It’s really just about trying to be imaginative and creative with your visuals.
Anything that gives some meaning to an otherwise abstract thing is useful. But, in general, pictures are especially helpful because our minds tend to think that way. Pretty much everything in terms of the mnemonics that I do is based on some kind of visualization. Occasionally, I still use acronyms. Occasionally, I still use acrostic type sentences of phrases that have some sort of mnemonic meaning. But at least for me, the bulk of it is memory palace or just visualizing something in an empty space.
I still use repetition. I don’t think any memory technique is perfect. Even if I encode something in a memory palace, I’ll still go back and review it. If I come back in three weeks, it’s pretty much gone. But if you revisit it a couple days after, maybe a week after that, a month after that, then you’ve pretty much got it in longterm memory. The “spaced repetition” review process is helpful, regardless, even if you’re not using mnemonics. Using it in combination with mnemonic memory techniques really kinda kicks it up a notch.
A lot of people don’t really see the practical value of memorization. What real value does it offer?
MULLEN: At first glance, I think a lot of people would think, sure, it would be nice to have a better memory. You could use it to remember people’s names, presentations, facts – you know, it would be helpful. But at the same time, we live in an age of Wikipedia and smart phones, the Internet – does that really matter anymore?
Keep in mind, it’s not about trying to memorize everything. I don’t memorize the numbers in my phone. I don’t have any interest in doing that. I use memory techniques for specific things like remembering people’s names, which is helpful. But the real benefit to me is learning. When you encode, for instance, everything you’re learning in microbiology, for example, into images that you can recall easily, as you move forward, you recognize connections between the things you’re learning more easily.
But then there are plenty of details that, at the time, seem out of context. You can’t really understand them intuitively, they’re just facts. So what I like to do is convert those things into these visual images and remember them that way, and then down the line when you’re able to recall that information and keep it at the front of your mind, you can give context to those things that didn’t have context before. It’s all about seeing connections between things.
How do you think memory techniques could be beneficial for students?
MULLEN: One thing that I think is really the cornerstone of memory techniques that I think is helpful just to understand is this idea that creativity matters. When I was in school, in high school, I would use acronyms and I would feel that’s it’s helpful. But in a sense, I was unsure as to whether or not is was “cheating.” Nobody told me “you should use this” or “you can do this” or “you can visualize things that are sort of weird and help you remember things. Nobody really tells you that’s okay.
Trying to associate things with seemingly disconnected things is an important skill and students should know that it’s okay to do it. So just encouraging people to think creatively or try to associate connections between things, I think would be helpful and I’d like to see more of this type of thing in schools. Not even getting into the whole memory palace technique necessarily – that’s obviously very helpful, but there are more basic techniques than that.
So what do you hope to do with Mullen Memory?
MULLEN: I’ve been at this for about three years now, and pretty much from the beginning I wanted to start putting materials online so that I could have to have a platform to teach people how to use the techniques. Even though the book, Moonwalking with Einstein and Foer’s TED talk are so successful, the idea still is not out there enough and still not being used in schools.
Memory techniques are one of those things that are easy to understand but difficult to master. Take the “20 Word Challenge” video I did. It’s something that pretty much everybody can do. But then – and I’ve talked to some people who have done studies on this – at some point, people start to run into roadblocks trying to actually apply the techniques to learning. And they just give up.
That’s understandable. It happened to me. I obviously had a little more motivation to keep pushing on it. But it’s nice for people to have somebody in front of them who can say, here are some things that I struggled with. Here’s how to fix it. When I was coming up, trying to learn this stuff, there were plenty of videos out there saying here’s how memorize a list of 20 words. They may show you how to memorize somebody’s name, but they don’t teach you how to learn exam material. So I wished that I would have had some real examples of people doing that. And that’s something that I struggled with. But there are certain tricks that we use to make that process as easy as possible. So that’s what I’m trying to do with the website – to give people real-life examples and tutorials to solve some of those questions and basic roadblocks that I ran into.
Is it going to be a business for you?
MULLEN: That still remains to be seen. I really was motivated to get it going because of the world championship, and so it’s still getting off the ground. But, just in the first few weeks, the feedback has been really good. People like the videos. I get a lot of messages – every day. We’re taking a year off of med school next year, and I’m hoping to do some presentations and workshop seminars. I’m doing one actually in two days. Just to start to get the word out there just as much as I can.
My main passion with this is trying to get it into education because I think it can be really helpful. It’s certainly changed my life academically. I’m really focusing on schools and universities, rather than businesses, which is different from what a lot of other people do. My big message is that people can do it. A lot of people see me and think, okay, you can do it – you’re the world memory champion. And that’s really the reason why I made the 20 word challenge video. Just take 5 minutes, try it, and you can do it.
MWB’s Tim Mask has some really good insight into the future of newspapers that he put together while preparing a presentation for the Mississippi Press Association’s annual convention. Here’s a link to his post, News in the New Media.
Chances are you’ve seen the dire headlines about the demise of newspaper media. It’s certainly taken a hit over the past few years. But, remember, people have been predicting the death of various media for years. Radio, alone, was supposed to die with the invention of the television, the Sony Walkman, the iPod, Internet radio, the iTunes store and several other technologies. The point is, newspaper is not dying. It’s adapting and changing with the times. And, while that is happening, good old fashioned newsprint is still relevant and it’s a viable medium for both publishing news and advertising to particular audiences.
All that said, Tim had some good advice for the newspaper industry here in Mississippi. His three points:
#1 Your audience isn’t made up of readers. They’re USERS.
In 2013, we’ve moved passed interactivity being a unique selling point, to it now being an expectation. People use, engage, and interact both with their media, and through their media. Even for print assets, you’ll find that changing your mindset to reflect usability and user experience will result in identifying new features or platforms that will help boost user levels and advertiser value.
This observation makes perfect sense. When technologies evolve, so do expectations. You do see newspapers incorporating social media comments, Twitter handles and email addresses. But, for most newspapers, the basic design and functionality has changed little. It would be interesting to apply the Web concept of “user experience” to print newspapers.
#2 New platforms can kill you or SAVE you.
… position yourself, large or small, as a leader in your region’s Knowledge Economy. Host local seminars, conferences, and events. Shift more of your marketing budget into promoting white papers and hosting/promoting online forums. This builds brand equity, reinforces your value to the community, and positions you well against other news outlet competition that don’t offer the value… The digital media channels become part of this equation as a means of promotion, discussion, and dialogue. They become a tool for you to promote your events, rather than competition fighting over a commodity.
Interesting idea here. Newspapers should never lose site that it’s the quality of their reporting that distinguishes their content from bloggers and other online news sources. While local papers may not have the payroll or credentials of large city papers, local and regional papers are experts in their respective regions, and they should leverage and promote their expertise through both online and online channels.
#3 Digital and print should be neither separate nor redundant. Each should be “migratory.”
…The more integrated your approach to the traditional and digital spaces, the more successful you will be. But I stress that “integrated” does not mean “redundant.” Don’t expect to attract new print users if you’re publishing the same information online, and vice versa. Content should be related and complimentary, but not the same. In fact, ideally, content from one asset would be used to drive users to the other – the concept of asset migration. All your news assets are working toward a common goal, so there’s no reason that they have to cannibalize each other when they can, in fact, be the primary source for driving crossover readership.
I like this point a lot. The New York Times is a great example of using online media to complement the story synergistically. Their data visualizations, in particular, adds helpful dimension to their stories. The fact that the NYT has a Data Artist in Residence says much about the newspaper’s vision in this area.
At the national Addy Awards ceremony, held on June 12, 2010, Maris, West & Baker (MWB) won two Gold Addy Awards and one Silver Addy Award for their work on behalf of The Shack Up Inn. With over 60,000 entries on a local level, MWB was among only 250 national winners, and the only Mississippi-based advertising agency to win at the national level. (more…)