Tuesday, 11 December 2012

4 things I have learned since I was given a Raspberry PI

Posted by Gary Newell  |  at  00:28 9 comments

Introduction

Last month my Wife kindly bought me a Raspberry PI. It wasn't an out of the blue present because I'd been going on about how much I wanted one since I first heard about the concept.

Having had a good chance to play with the Raspberry PI over many a weekend I have learned some very valuable lessons. 

1. I take lots of things for granted

The Raspberry PI has 512mb of ram and without clocking it runs at 700 mhz which is about the same as a late Pentium II early Pentium III.

It has 2 USB ports, uses an SDHC card to store the operating system and an HDMI port to connect to a monitor or television. The Raspberry PI has an ethernet connection but does not have any way of connecting a wireless card so therefore you have to use a USB device for connecting wirelessly.

So here are a list of the things we all now take for granted. 

The number of USB ports available to us

Most of us use laptops nowadays (or in many cases now tablets) and so USB ports are used for pen drives, cameras, mobile phones and MP3 players. It is unlikely we will use all of these devices at the same time but most modern laptops have about 4 USB ports on them.

If you use a desktop computer you will need to plug a mouse and keyboard in (unless using wireless versions) and so they will either use the old PSU sockets or they will use USB sockets. Most desktops come with enough USB ports to cope with this demand and still have a few left over.

The Raspberry PI has 2 USB ports. If you plug in a keyboard and a mouse you are out of sockets. Therefore you need to obtain a USB hub to be able to connect more devices.

There will be enough power to run our devices

If you plug a camera into your laptop it will work and will charge from the USB port that you plug it into.

The Raspberry PI is powered by a mobile phone charger. There simply is not enough power to adequately run multiple devices through the USB ports even if you use a hub. The way around this is of course to use a powered USB hub.

Connecting to the internet is easy

Hardcore Linux users will know instantly how to use the command line to connect to the internet.

To connect to the internet using my Raspberry PI I have a little USB wireless dongle that I bought from a well known British supermarket for the grand price of £4.

To my surprise connecting to the internet in Raspbian was as easy as connecting to the internet on my laptop or desktop.

However I am a fan of Bodhi Linux and when I saw there was an ARMHF version available for the Raspberry PI I jumped at the chance of installing it on a SDHC card and booting my Raspberry PI into it.

Boot up.... no little network icon. Oh. Well thats ok it can't be more than a few months since I had to connect to the internet from the command line, I'm sure I can do it again. 

Computer users are so well looked after in the Linux world that in reality we barely need the command line anymore. In truth it must have been years since I connected to the internet from the command line.

I knew it had something to do with ifconfig, iwconfig and dhclient but for the life of me I didn't know how to connect. I searched the usual forums and finally found the answer in the form of wpa_supplicant. (Thumbs up to this guy for a decent how to guide http://databoyz.wordpress.com/2012/10/05/454/).

Flash just works

In Linux depending on the distribution you are running Flash generally works out of the box. You may have to tweak or install an extras package but it isn't much of a chore to get Flash working.

Without Flash and HTML5 however you lose the ability to watch Youtube.

The Raspberry PI does not support Flash and therefore watching Youtube videos natively from the site does not work. 

There is a workaround for this which I will come to later on.

We do not need to use the command line anymore

For those of us who use a Ubuntu derivative or a Mint derivative you will have noticed that interaction with the command line is becoming less and less of a necessity.

Most things can be achieved using a graphical tool and this leads me to the next part of this article.

2. I stopped learning

One of the reasons I started my blog was to gain a better all round knowledge of the different distributions and to learn more about Linux.

The truth is somewhere along the way I actually stopped learning. I have used so many different distributions this year but all of them with the exception of Puppy Linux are of a similar theme.

The Linux distributions I use are easy for the average person to use and that is the point of my blog so that isn't a bad thing. I didn't however actually learn all that much about Linux along the way. 

The Raspberry PI is actually making me think. I do have to research things and I do have to learn about the command line tools that make Linux tick.

3. There are some really clever people on the Net

Actually I already knew there were some clever people on the Net but when you are searching for ideas, inspiration and sometimes just help you really appreciate just how talented and clever some people are.

For instance I wanted to get Youtube working on the Raspberry PI. I knew it could be done and I had an idea in my head it would be done using a different media player that just connects to the Youtube video streams but I was unsure how to then search for videos etc.

One quick search on Google and I come across this link: http://www.raspberrypi.org/phpBB3/viewtopic.php?t=8157.

A step by step guide how to watch Youtube videos on the Raspberry PI. Brilliant. 

4. I learned how to get an XBOX 360 controller to work with the FUSE ZX Spectrum emulator

To be fair I already had a fair idea when I started how to get the XBOX 360 controller to work with the FUSE emulator because I'd already written a guide for getting an XBOX 360 Controller to work with the ZX Spectrum emulator on Linux Mint.

There is a big difference however between the method used in my article on Linux Mint than on the Raspberry PI.

Firstly QJoypad isn't readily available on Raspbian and if you do get it working it eats up all the resources. It is therefore not appropriate to use this tool as a method for mapping joystick keys to joypad functions.

However after a bit of searching around I found out that if you use xboxdrv (as defined in my guide) then FUSE will accept your XBOX controller straight away without having to bother with QJoypad. You do however need to run the SDL version of FUSE and not the GTK version.

My Raspberry PI is a fully fledged Sinclair Spectrum which takes my article "Raspberry PI - The Sinclair Spectrum of the 21st Century" and applies it literally.

I have since installed the Retroarch and EmulationStation which is a classic gamers dream. Multiple emulators all set up and ready to go on the Raspberry PI.


Summary

The Raspberry PI is a great device. It is the ultimate device to learn on. I would recommend for all parents to buy their kids one of these devices as soon as their kids are old enough to appreciate them.

The Raspberry PI isn't just for kids though. Those of us who forgot how to tinker can learn a great deal too. 

I'd like to take this opportunity to thank all those people who have provided me with solutions to problems when I have truly become stuck.

Thankyou for reading.

I have just downloaded the latest version of Slacko and I've read about some interesting new features so I will be looking forward to reviewing Slacko next week after I have had a good play with it.

I have also had a good play with Bodhi on the Raspberry PI. Enlightenment works really well on the PI.

Hopefully next year we will see a version of Puppy for the PI as well.




About the Author

Gary Newell started the Everyday Linux User blog in 2010 and has written reviews on dozens of different Linux based operating systems. He has also written a number of tutorials.

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9 comments:

  1. "It is the ultimate device to learn on" - that's just not true is it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "I read the article" - that's just not true is it.

      Delete
  2. I am also looking to learn and understand more about Linux, so I am embarking on my first attempt at Linux From Scratch (LFS). Long ago, I committed myself to become a lifelong learner and I now teach Linux, Programming and other IT classes. I also want to dig into the Raspberry PI (among others) and I'd like to center my Master's Thesis around one of these devices. Good Luck and God Bless!

    ReplyDelete
  3. 700mhz on an arm != 700mhz on x86. Just saying. I'm also surprised at the high expectations you had for a device not meant to replace a desktop. Rπ is awesome, but not for what it seems you want to do with it. It is not a mac mini. That said, thumbs up for learnings!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think you missed the point of the article somewhat. It isn't that I expected any of the things listed from the Raspberry PI more to the point that we have accustomed very quickly to all the things listed.

      Delete
  4. All very well made points. In the process of making Linux (and all OSes, really) more user friendly and providing better OOBE, things get dumbed down quite a bit, learning stops... and, most importantly, the end user becomes quiet spoiled in terms of expectations and therefore also in terms of gratitude. It sounds like the Raspberry Pi not only made you learn but also made you quite grateful, both of which are good things.

    (I'm not saying it's bad to make things idiot-proof -- it isn't, because making things unnecessarily frustrating is no way to gain users and converts. But as we've seen with some major revisions in desktop UIs, making things idiot-proof and making the UI easier for a better OOBE also makes it harder for expert users to find and do what they want, and makes it harder for the end-user to learn anything of substance. If X = the complexity of the system, and Y = the rate at which the user learns more about the system, then X and Y are directly correlated and rise together. Whereas if X remains flat, Y remains flat. "It just works" = "I don't have to do/learn anything." There seems to be no solution to this "law" of end-user/system interactivity, with the result that only the most curious learn. But maybe that's the way it's always been, in reality, and things like Raspberry Pi only made it more obvious...?)

    ReplyDelete
  5. There are several ways to buy dissertation these days. Regardless of variety, you'll find guides almost anywhere- community e-book shops, storage product sales, good friends accomplishing Early spring clean-up, or you buy guides on the internet.

    ReplyDelete

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