Yum! Raspberry Pi!

Over the weekend my Raspberry Pi arrived and there was much excitement in the Thompson household.

For the uninitiated a Raspberry Pi is a cheap (c. $25) computer designed for schools and hobbyists that is about the size of a credit card. It comes as a bare board with all it needs around the edges, so there is a couple of USB ports, an SD card reader, power input, HDMI output, ethernet etc.

The fact that it is a bare board could be a little daunting given that  over the years you kind of get conditioned that PCs are delicate things and should be treated with the utmost caution. However having spent years tearing off the side panel of my PCs to fit new memory and boards I felt none of that and was keen to get stuck in.

There are a couple of things that you need to do before you can get started, firstly you will need to collect together all the bits-and-bobs you will need to use it, these are:

  • USB Mouse
  • USB Keyboard
  • SD card of at least 4gb capacity
  • HDMI cable and capable device
  • micro USB charger
  • and, probably, a USB hub
And secondly you will need to copy the operating system image onto the SD card. These can be downloaded from the Raspberry Pi site and there is plenty of information on how to do it both on the site and the wiki too.
Once that’s done you are good to go. Hook up all the peripherals, put in the SD card and pop in the power and… in our case, nothing! One of the most comforting sounds with a “proper” PC is that of the fans winding up on the press of the power button. The Pi has none of that. The only feedback that you get is a red light indicating that the board has power and a green light to show SD card activity. We had the former and not the latter. After checking all the connections I found that the SD card wasn’t seated correctly and once resolved it booted up. I had read on the wiki that there has been some problems with certain SD cards and while this one works it does through up a few errors on boot so I have a new card on order.
Give that my router is on the ground floor and I wanted to use the Pi in my office on the floor above using Ethernet was out of the question so I wanted to get wifi up and running. I had kicking around a usb wifi dongle that I knew worked with Ubuntu and so I wondered whether it would work on the Debian based image I had loaded onto the Pi.  I found the required drivers and loaded those but after playing around for a while I finally stumbled a post that suggested that not all the required modules were in the kernel and so to get support I would need to recompile the kernel. This would have required another machine and a bit of setup so I have elected to buy a dongle that the wiki suggests will work out of the box.
So the question now is what exactly am I going to do with it? Well it was originally purchased so my son and I could have an explore and do some coding. I would also like to try out some hardware interaction and home automation. There are some interesting projects on http://raspberrypihacks.com/ (if you can see them for all the advertising!). So there are many things to do so watch this space.