So I got my Raspberry Pi a few weeks ago, and its been a real learning experience.
Calvin of Calvin& Hobbes fame used to pray for:
“The strength to change what I can,
the inability to accept what I can’t
and the incapacity to tell the difference.”
I think it was Calvin & Hobbes that provided me another of my other favorite quotes “Sometimes the shortest path is thru the mud” and so with that same spirit, I dug into my new toy because you see, I know zilch, nada, absolutely squat about Linux but with all of the information on the Internet it was time to plow ahead – despite my lack of knowledge.
First up, I bought the Raspberry Pi Learning Kit from Adafruit because after doing a little research I learned a few things about my new little $35 Linux computer which is the size of a deck of cards – and one of them was that I need to be careful with the peripherals I get for it – I didn’t want to get bogged down with worrying about how many amps my micro-usb power supply carried, and details like that – I just wanted one guaranteed to work fine, the kit also provided a cool acrylic clear case to protect my Pi while still allowing access to all of the ports, power supply, along with the cables I would need, and extra fun stuff like LEDs, etc.
What’s awesome is the group over at elinux.org have been tracking on their wiki an extensive list of all known peripherals that do or don’t work well with the Pi – down to which smart media cards seem to work the best – and so far – so good.
Here is the master list. You will find yourself referencing this list anytime you want to buy something for your Pi.
Right out of the box, I found this article on the Internet to get me get the latest Raspian distribution of Linux imaged to the smart card. This article on Engadget was perfect and walked a complete newbie like me thru the process successfully the first time
Now with a image of Linux for my Pi ready to go, I plugged the smart card into the Pi, hooked up an ethernet cable to my router, hooked up the yellow composite video code direct from the Pi to my TV set, and powered up the Pi, and it just worked……I could see the little Pi booting up and finally settling at the command line, a simple “startx” command later I was working a Linux computer desktop on my large TV screen, pop open the Midori browser that comes bundled in this distribution and now I am browsing the internet on my TV…….OK, so that was cool, but what I really wanted to do first is use the Pi to stream Internet content to my TVs and that means running XBMC on my Pi.
XBMC requires a different distribution of Linux, so a trip to Walmart to get another micro smart media card (can’t believe these things are only $8), and this web article on the subject on the HowToGeek websiteto get me going….
And again, it just worked, I was in a zone……the first app I downloaded was the YouTube app to let me search YouTube and play content from YouTube on my TV, and things were working great.
But I was getting tired of having my keyboard being tethered to my Pi and I really wanted to stream this content to our HD larger screen in another room where I did not have an extra ethernet port – so it was time for 2 new purchases which just arrived yesterday. (Late last year I had gotten a free Amazon gift certificate from Microsoft for answering some questions about the use of their tools on a daily basis – it was time to cash that in)
First, the smallest Wifi USB hub you have ever seen that easily plugs into the Pi and still allows easy access to the other USB port. Advertised as the world’s smallest Wifi USB dongle, this little guy is about 3/4 of an inch wide – I think it cost about $10.
And now for the keyboard situation, with only 2 USB ports (and now one taken by the Wifi USB dongle), I chose the Logitech K400 wireless Keyboard with built-in touchpad – so that I would get the advantage of both keyboard and mouse with the last remaining USB port – many Pi owners are going with attaching a USB Hub to allow more USB ports, but those USB hubs have to be powered as well outside of the Pi, and I am looking for the smallest form factor for my projects so that is why I chose this keyboard
This keyboard is super light and only about 1 foot wide so its perfect for use on a couch or bed as well.
The keyboard worked instantly, no need to load specific drivers – occasionally when rebooting my Pi I would have to unplug the keyboard and re-set the USB wireless dongle for the keyboard into the Pi but then things worked great – if that continues to be an issue I’ll do some more digging into that to see if there is an answer.
The wireless part – well, for that, I was truly “walking thru the mud” – found 2 great walkthroughs on the Net for configuring the wifi (here is one of them) but my lack of Linux experience slowed me down greatly but eventually got the configuration file updated with my home’s SSID and WPA2 passkey properly, and I was off to the races again, so then it was time to use my fancy new keyboard with XBMC and control content from the Internet to my TV from the comfort of my couch rather than hunched over on the floor looking like a mad scientist as I had been doing before with my wired keyboard since the power cord to the Pi is 3 foot long and the composite video output cable from the Pi to the TV is only a 2-3 feet long and so, you can do the math…………..but now with a wireless keyboard, I was showing my son how easy it was to stream content from YouTube onto our TV…….next challenge….Sound – the Pi has a simple headphone Jack output for Sound, so I need to see what I can do to maximize the sound but everything seems to work. Need to do some more experimentation on our other TVs, check out the Wifi reception, but so far I am thrilled and having fun with the Pi and have been focusing on getting the most out of our XBMC setup running on the Pi – next, need to get Hulu and other popular add-ins downloaded.
And now that they have sold 1 million Raspberry Pi’s around the world, its safe to say there will be many other cool project ideas in the future as well