Raspberry PI: I’m Always One Step Behind The Cool Kids

I have a love / hate relationship with computers. They’re awesome (even essential) for certain purposes (I’m not blogging with a quill pen) but I spend a lot of time with the feeling that the NSA and marketers are crawling up my ass.

Computers are tools. I own them, not the other way around. (And don’t get me started about “smart” phones!) I want electronics to do precisely what I want and not a goddamn thing more.

The fact that Clippy existed even one day in any universe that included me is a complete explanation as to why I want to make my own computer.

The fact that Clippy existed even one day in any universe that included me is a complete explanation as to why I want to make my own computer.

So what’s a Curmudgeon to do? Be Adaptive of course! So last week I rolled the dice on a Raspberry Pi 2.

Raspberry Pi 2 Model B. A perfect stocking stuffer for the mad scientist in your life.

Raspberry Pi 2 Model B. A fine stocking stuffer for the mad scientist in your life.

I meant to test it, maybe see if it would somehow set it on fire (like other “experiments”), and then report my findings. Would it be too weak to use? Was it a silly toy? Or would it become sentient and start beating up the other computers in the room?

I haven’t done much with it yet but I’m happy to report that Moore’s Law has worked its magic. The cheap little box (about the size of a cigarette case) is plenty sufficient for many purposes.

So the Raspberry Pi 2 seems pretty cool and (aside from the cutsey name) poses no major flaws. There’s more but I’m too busy to write it all up just now. While I dithered in reporting the Silicon Graybeard stole my thunder by mentioning them first. (What can I say, I’m always late to the party.) You should hear his reasoned discussion; which is likely more fully informed than me just noodling around with it for a few days.

In the meantime, here are some factoids of merit.

First: Just give up and buy the kit. You can buy all the parts separately and this will save you approximately zero dollars. Here’s how I know this. I priced out the following components:

  1. Raspberry Pi 2 Model B Project Board – 1GB RAM – 900 MHz Quad-Core CPU
  2. Raspberry Pi B+ Power Supply (5v 2A)
  3. 8GB Class 10 Micro SD Card Preloaded (NOOBS) Operating System for Raspberry Pi Model A A+ B B+ and Raspberry Pi 2 Model B
  4. AmazonBasics High-Speed HDMI Cable – 3 Feet (0.9 Meter) Supports Ethernet, 3D, 4K and Audio Return
  5. Wifi USB Plug – With Big Ass Antenna!

Then I bought it all in one kit because it was damn near the same price and I didn’t have to fret about whether some doohickey wasn’t compatible with the Pi’s flux capacitor. I can’t remember the price difference but shipping alone would kill any minimal savings. If you’re really into this sort of crap go ahead and buy like it’s a Chinese menu. If you’re busy or bored just buy say “screw it” and buy a CanaKit Raspberry Pi 2 Complete Starter Kit. The kit costs about $30 more than the board alone and includes the power supply, case, wifi dongle, microSD (preloaded software!), an HDMI cable, heat sinks, and instructions which are idiot proof.

It's not rocket science to buy the parts but the kit is just as cheap.

It’s not rocket science to buy the parts but the kit is just as cheap.

Second: You cannot possibly be too dumb to assemble the kit. Trust me! The case that comes with the CanaKit is so simple that a chimp with brain damage can do it. (You won’t even need a screwdriver.) I assembled it in 5 minutes and then spent the next 20 minutes wondering what I’d missed because nothing should be that easy.

Third: You can get a Raspberry Pi case that’s amazingly epic and there are hundreds to choose from. The CanaKit case is actually pretty cool (it’s nicer in person than it looks on the photo) but there are cases out there that are art. (Gone are the days of Altoids tins… unless that’s what you prefer in which case go for it.) I burned way too long just window shopping at groovy cases. I will upgrade my case sometime but that day is not today. (I want to see if I’m going to change the size/specs on the Pi when I install some “needful shit”. Also “needful shit” is absolutely a technical term. What makes you ask?) For style alone I narrowed it down to either the awesomely named and totally outlandish Pi Borg Plus ($20) or a considerably less aggressive birch/plywood enclosure (sold out). (The latter is much lamer but sports a removable top.) Be warned; the Raspberry Pi and the Raspberry Pi 2 don’t have interchangeable cases.

Is that not the coolest thing you've ever seen? (It's $20.)

Is that not the coolest thing you’ve ever seen? (It’s $20 and if it’s sold out before I get around to buying one I’m going to be pissed!)

A little too cutsey (and sold out) but it's made of birch and has a removable top.

A little too cutsey for me but it’s made of birch and has a removable top. (Also it’s sold out.)

Fourth: Building your own NOOBS microSD is probably not all that hard and NOOBS will solve everything for you during setup. I probably didn’t need to buy it pre-made. The NOOBS (great name!) software will install the Raspibian (Linux) OS and various other stuff with almost no effort. That said, I didn’t have a spare microSD and simply cramming the pre-made mircoSD in the Raspberry Pi had me rolling in twenty minutes (counting time for uploads).

Fifth: The Wifi Antenna that came “free” with the CanaKit is all you need. I bought a Wifi USB Plug – With Big Ass Antenna ($14). I use it where WiFi is weak. It’s slightly better thant the “free” one. (‘Cause the best antenna is a big assed one, duh! Science isn’t that hard.) However it’s overkill for most situations and the CanaKit WiFi dongle looks nicer in the case. (Incidentally if you’ve got a plug handy the Rasberry Pi is said to take to ethernet like a duck to water. I’m far too lazy to haul my monitor to the ethernet plug to test it; WiFi is enough for me.)

That’s all I’ve learned so far. I’ll report more when I whip out the soldering iron and trash it. Good luck and happy nerding.


About Adaptive Curmudgeon

I will neither confirm nor deny that I actually exist.
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19 Responses to Raspberry PI: I’m Always One Step Behind The Cool Kids

  1. davefreer says:

    My older son has been trying to talk me into this – I have an underwater video cam (that you can lower down on a 180 foot wire – and watch the output on the surface, meaning the monkey does not have to get wet and cold unless there are big tasty things down there… in theory anyway. Unfortunately it doesn’t let me record – easy enough onto a laptop, but taking a laptop to sea is a kind of one way trip on a wet boat… hence the Raspberry pi idea… in my ample spare time.

    • I think a Pi should be able to take video input and store it digitally. That said I’m only just testing mine and don’t know the details yet. Be aware that you’ll need additional storage. Either something crude like a couple USB thumbdrives or something less crude like a powered portable HDD.

      You are correct that the Pi was made and bred to be put to use in places where a laptop will get eaten by the elements. A waterproof case for the Pi should be pretty easy to rig up and even if you nuke it you’re only out $50 instead of $500. There are said to be heat dissipation concerns if you block air flow but so far mine has run cooler than a cucumber and I suspect you’d do fine with a sealed case of some sort.

  2. Chris Spratt says:

    What will you do with it? All the sites I briefly checked this morning for project ideas contained only trivial crap. I’m considering an active water pressure monitoring system as our house pressure has some fairly large diurnal peaks…..but for the cost I could simply replace the suspect regulator with one that works and be done.
    Perhaps an automated active defense system would be a better option!

    • I’ll mention my planned projects when I get them either running or go down in flames. But they’re nothing too elaborate. Mostly I just want a dirt simple “computer” without all the horseshit that comes on most of them now. Sort of a customized “Curmudgeon-based Hardware” setup. Something that does what I want and nothing else. Something that will never ever talk to Facebook.

      I’d replace the regulator.

      Also the best automated defence is a dog; a computer won’t crap on your lawn but you can’t play fetch with a laptop. 🙂

      • Mark Matis says:

        The Only Ones have no qualms about killing your dog. After all, it’s not like he’s a member of the Blue Wall.

  3. James says:

    Good luck with the Pi! Those little things are addictive. I have one as a home server, one security camera, a media center, and Kiddo’s computer. A dedicated backup server is in the planning.

    And then there are the home automation possibilities. . .

  4. Eowyn says:

    A minot nitpick; on your second link to the Silicon Graybeard – the one to the specific article – you’ve cut off the “th” from the beginning. And now I feel the insane urge to register the eSiliconGraybeard blog … 🙂

  5. abnormalist says:

    Your linky for the tech tuesday was/is borked

    So whats your end goal for the pi? I have a few friends who are pi heads (pi faces?) and use them for several different purposes.

    Lately I’ve been using the android HDMI sticks for media players, but have been interested in the pi for something “a bit more”

    • The link is fixed. Thanks.

      My end goal is pretty pathetic. Among other things I’m looking to make a stripped down “word processor” much like those hybrid things that existed after typewriters and before Facebook took over the world.

  6. Ken says:

    I have not tried the PI yet. I have been bashing on Arduino and clones for about 8 months now. I have managed to completely destroy one of them so far. Check out the Arduino forums as well for ideas for your PI. I am using them in automation in an electrical testing lab. If you are inerested there is also something called ALICE.org for the amusement of the yougins.

  7. Paul Bonneau says:

    I’ve got one of those pi things. I bought it to play with and also to make a dashcam with. Or something. Anyway adafruit.com has some extra bits.

    I also have an Arduino. I was going to make some shooter’s wind flags with it. However in both these projects I have ground to a halt. Maybe something to do during blah winter days…

    Going up a bit in size, for a while I used an Intel ITX board (D510MO) running Puppy Linux as my main computer. Two or three years actually. My updated ITX board (2500CC) is my router, running pfsense. That is actually worth doing as the usual consumer routers are pure crap and easy to penetrate. I don’t know if the pi has enough horsepower to handle that job. Probably not if you are running things like Snort (intrusion detection) on it.

  8. Jeff Orwick says:

    Raspberry Pi is awesome. it is perfect for all sorts of automated homestead tasks. Wouldn’t it be nice of that chicken tractor moved itself? Opened the Chicken door at dawn? Closed it at dusk? All sorts of people are using it for Aquaponic system control (pumps, temp monitoring etc) in addition to security ( thinks auto sentry and auto perimeter flying drone in addition to just camera and motion detection)

    Someone was kickstarting an off the shelf Solar module for it as well.

    Keep in mind Pi is better for tasks that actually need data storage or complex computation. another product – Arduous is better for some of the lower level stuff (simple pump control etc) where IP isn’t needed ( Arduino has a Ethernet shield that can be added, but there isn’t enough memory to run a full stack) Arduino also comes in a super small thumb-drive sized form factor for about 15 bucks for those applications where you just want to load the code into it and forget it in a field somewhere.

    And I am late to the party too. I have known about this stuff for years, but my work and other homesteading tasks ( building fences after a flood) have keep my attention elsewhere.. Hopefully this winter… since the hardwood floors are done..

  9. SiGraybeard says:

    Thanks for the link, AC. I think I’m going to copy you and get that Canakit instead of the $40 kit from Element 14. Canakit looks like it has everything, while enough more stuff than the Element 14 kit to make the extra price easily worth it.

  10. Southern Man says:

    I keep a Windows 98 SE box (with MS DOS 7) running for old games that just won’t work on anything newer. I suppose I’ll get around to a Pi in, I dunno, twenty years or so.

  11. Weisshaupt says:

    For anyone interested also check these out: https://www.sparkfun.com/products/13711
    Is basically a Ardunio with built in wireless and full TCP/IP stack ( which Arduino doesn’t have the memory for) fo $16. It has only a few hardware outputs, but in most automation applications you wouldn’t need much. It does support i2c so you could in theory piggyback an actual arduino to it and use i2c to pass the basic pin states and do simple commands. ( I think you can only do 32 bytes in an I2C message, so it does have to be simple if you go that route. ) Still way cheaper than a wireless or TCPIP shield for Arduino. and you don’t have the over kill that the Rasperry Pi would be in a lot of applications

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