Meet Brian Jepson: programmer, maker, tinkerer, and Raspberry Pi’s new publishing director

Happy #MagPiMonday! In the latest issue of The MagPi, Rob Zwetsloot meets Brian Jepson, Raspberry Pi’s new publishing director.

I grew up in the smallest state in the US (Rhode Island) during the golden age of Radio Shack,” Brian Jepson tells us. He’s the new publishing director here at Raspberry Pi Towers, but he’s an old hand at making.

Brian Jepson

“I’ve been a lot of things over the years, but if we go back to the beginning, I’d say I’m a computer programmer and tinkerer,” Brian continues. “I got my start programming on a somewhat customised Atari 400 with Atari BASIC, Forth, and a smattering of 6502 assembler. I kept up with that kind of thing over the years, and ended up programming for a time, then writing, and eventually editing and publishing, but always with a dash of programming on the side.”

Brian Jepson

His previous work in publishing includes O’Reilly Media and Make Magazine – he even helped run a Maker Faire in his native Rhode Island.

What is your history with making?

I had one of those 150-in-1 project kits where you connected wires using spring terminals. I was terrible with a soldering iron until I was much older. My maker interests ended up getting pushed to the side as I spent more time with computers. Immediately preceding my time at university, and really throughout my life, I fell in with an unjuried, uncensored arts organisation that very much embraces the DIY spirit. In those years, I made zines, posters, performance art, but very little visual art outside of printed works. I went away to New York for a few years, came back, and stayed involved with AS220 as a volunteer and occasional board member.  Over time, AS220 itself has grown a lot, and now operates three mixed-use buildings in downtown Providence, RI, supporting everything from live-work studios to a vibrant youth program.

Close up of a custom Raspberry Pi MIDI synthesizer
A custom Raspberry Pi MIDI synthesizer

In the past several years, I’ve become involved in the Rhode Island Computer Museum, which has allowed me to fuse my interest in computers (especially old computers) with making.

Where did you learn about Raspberry Pi?

Raspberry Pi was such big news when it launched that a better question would be ‘where didn’t I learn about Raspberry Pi’? Working on the Make books portfolio at the time meant this was huge news. We managed to get a book out by January 2013, co-written by Raspberry Pi’s own Matt Richardson, as well as Shawn Wallace. Shawn is a fellow Rhode Island maker/artist who has been part of my adventures going back to the campus daily and literary magazine, through AS220 (where he was the founding director of the Providence Fab Lab), and into nearly every Rhode Island maker event I’ve been part of.

Maker Faire Rhode Island

What are some of your favourite things you’ve made with Raspberry Pi?

I rely heavily on Raspberry Pi to keep old computers up and running. I recently got a Mac Quadra up and running, and I wouldn’t have been able to do it without PiSCSI, a combination of hardware and software that allows a Raspberry Pi to emulate a variety of SCSI devices. It’s a much quieter hard drive than what was originally in the Mac, and it’s easy to move files to and from the disk images, mostly eliminating the need to fuss with floppies. I also use a Raspberry Pi with mt32-pi, which turns a Raspberry Pi into a MIDI synthesizer that works just like the Roland MT-32, and various General MIDI synthesizers that can be used with old games and other software. I have built two mt32-pi boards and use them with Atari STs. In addition to the many games that use MIDI, there are many music apps for the Atari ST that work with MIDI, such as Steinberg Cubase and C-Lab Notator. Many of these old music apps hold up pretty well to this day. 

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