Getting your Raspberry Pi 2 up and running

WP_20150226_14_57_56_ProMy Raspberry PI 2 arrived today. Once again, it came in a really small package and just drives home the fact that these things are so small and, yet, so powerful.  And inexpensive. Forty plus dollars, including shipping.  This Pi is a quad core, 1 gb of RAM and nearly a gigahertz in speed.  It is six times faster than the original Pi and, yet, cost the same.  Remarkable.

Upon unboxing the unit, I created the NOOBS SD card and…had nothing but trouble from the start.  An interesting thing to note is that the SD cards you created for your original PI WILL NOT WORK with the Pi2.  Those had to be formatted using exFAT while this one uses FAT32. WP_20150226_20_24_49_ProThe instructions on the PI website are wrong.  Use a FAT32 formatted card.  I gave up on NOOBS and downloaded the Raspbian image and used Win32DiskImager to drop the image on the SD card. Doing so allowed the PI 2 to boot right up.  It is much faster booting than the original.

The included software, Python, Scratch, Wolfram Alpha, Python Games, Mindcraft and the Raspbian applets all start right up and work just fine.  I have yet to do much with it, it took a while to get it going and family time took precedence so I’ve had little time to WP_20150226_20_54_33_Proplay.  That is coming.

Just wanted to get my experience out there so others may have an easier time getting going.  Below are the summary steps I took.

  1. Format your SD card (Micro SD) using a FAT32 formatter
  2. Download the RASPBIAN Linux image from here.
  3. Use WinDiskImager32 to install the image on your SD Card.
  4. Insert the card in your PI 2 and boot it up.

That’s it.

Here are some more detailed instructions, but the four steps above will do the same thing.

Let us know how your experience went and stay tuned for more on the Pi 2.

Slow day at ZDNet? They don’t think the Raspberry Pi is a real computer

RaspPiBefore I begin my rant, please take a moment and read this post: How I spent almost 150 on a 35 computer.  Go on, I’ll wait.

Read it? Good.

OK, now on one level, Mr. Hess is correct: if you do not already have spare keyboards, mice, SD cards, etc., then, yes, the Pi WILL cost you more. BUT…on every other level, he wrong and wrong by a long shot.

First, lets get this out of the way: NO MATTER WHAT IT COST, it is still a computer. It fits every definition of a computer. It has input. It has output. It has a CPU. It has memory. It is programmable.  What it does not have, and the Foundation NEVER claimed that it did, are the PERIPHERALS that make it usable for humans.  The fact that it does not come with a monitor, keyboard or mouse does not disqualify it for a computer. Hell, if it did, the Apple Mac Mini would fail that definition as well. When I bought my Mini, I had spend almost another $100 JUST TO MAKE IT USABLE, and that did not include a monitor, which I already had. If I had to buy a monitor as well, the Mac Mini would have been nearly $300 more, at which case, I could have purchased a sweet Windows laptop. (Which, in hindsight, I should have done.)  So, if the Mini did not come with anything other than a power cord, does that disqualify it? No.

Now, Mr. Hess works in a very large datacenter with, presumably, some very large computers as well. I’m sure that not all of them have keyboards, mice and printers attached.  They very likely also lack monitors.  The datacenter in my former employer’s satellite office is full of computers that do not have anything other than network gear attached.  They are still computers.

Back to the Pi.

Yes, I will agree that you do need to spend more on it if you do not have everything. My Pi cost me right at a hundred dollars, but that is because I purchased a Motorola Atrix Laptop Dock and made the Pi a laptop. I also had to buy a special HDMI cable to connect it to the laptop dock. However, if I only used one of my small televisions, it would have cost me ten dollars more for the WiFi dongle I bought. I already had a few, but I wanted one of those tiny ones that do not stick out.  So, ten bucks more. I wanted the sharp HDMI display and integrated keyboard/mousepad that the Atrix Laptop Dock had, and I do not regret it.

And that dongle brings me to another one of Mr. Hess’ invalid points: the USB.  My Pi has a keyboard, mouse and WiFi and all are USB. To be fair, one of the Pi’s USB ports is taken up with the Laptop Dock, which includes two additional ports and the keyboard and mouse are built in, but are, nonetheless, USB. USB hubs have gotten very small and would work well on a Pi.  My desktop computer needed two hubs for all of its peripherals.

I have yet to acquire a computer that did not cost me more money a short time after purchase/acquisition. EVERY PC that I have purchased has resulted in a trip back to the store to purchase something additional.  Hell, the iPad cost me almost twice as much when you add in the extra power cable/charger, keyboard dock, camera kit, cases, Bluetooth keyboard,etc.  My Kindle Fire, which is not expandable, at all, still cost me extra since I bought a case and software.  My Asus Windows 8 tablet cost nearly a hundred bucks more since I had to buy a huge SD card and an external bluetooth keyboard.

I don’t know if Mr. Hess had nothing else to write about, or if ZDNet was just having a slow day, but this piece of drivel is just embarrassing for them.  Clearly, Mr. Hess does not ‘get it’.  The Pi and pretty much every other computer like it (including the awesome little Basic Stamp next to me right now) are for educational, hobby and other types of development. They are not meant to be used like a $299 computer you buy at Wal-Mart. Although the Pi is just as capable, though a bit on the slow side.

Ultimately, his post is his opinion and he is free to share it.  The problem, though, is that someone who may not know any better may not consider the Pi now because this man doesn’t think it is a computer. The Pi is perfect for young and old alike to learn the fantastic world of computing.  Once they are comfortable, they move on and pass the Pi to someone else.

I wonder what he thinks of the millions of computers you could buy in the late 1970’s through the very early ‘90s. Most of them lacked monitors, mass storage, some did not have keyboards and most did not even have a gui and, thusly, did not need a mouse.  I don’t know, I loved my TRS-80 Color COMPUTER.  All 32k bytes and 16 colors of it.

Oh, I almost forgot…appearing with Mr. Hess’ post…I saw this.

My PiTop is complete: Raspberry Pi and Motorola Atrix Lapdock together, at last

microplugsSo, I finally got the female to female micro-HDMI coupler that I needed to complete my Motorola Atrix Laptop project.  To recap, I purchased an Atrix Laptop dock (from Motorola) for my Raspberry Pi. The Raspberry Pi outputs video to either an HDMI cable (full size) or a crappy composite video connector (old-style RCA plug) and audio via headphone jack if using composite video.  Since the dock accepts HDMI and USB, it should be fairly easy to mate these two together for some kind of frankentop device.

Know what? It was easy.  Buuut…..getting the necessary connectors…well, that was quite the exercise.

Since both plugs on the dock were male, that meant I needed FEMALE couplers to plug the male cable into.  Finding these was just terrible. Seems that they are very niche products and I had to order them both, one on eBay and one on Amazon.

First, the easy one…I just ordered the Atrix cable kit. That comes with the USB cable I needed. I ordered from Amazon.

The second, though, I went through eBay and that came from China. Took nearly three weeks to ship!

At any rate, I got all of the necessary connectors, cables, wire ties, shrink tubing, etc. to finish the job.  Actually, just getting that damned micro-HDMI female coupler was the hardest part (and not burning my fingers with the soldering iron.)

NOTE: it is worth twisting the wires together and trying the cables first, before soldering. I did this to save myself any possible hassle should something not be right. However, when you solder them together, it is best NOT to twist them. Lay them in parallel and solder. Pre-tinning helps tremendously.

usbwiringSince I wanted to use the lapdock to power the Pi AND take advantage of the keyboard and mouse pad, I had to Frankenstein the USB cables too.  This is fairly easy: you want power only to the micro USB connector on the Pi, and DATA ONLY to the USB port on the Pi.  So…I had to cut the ends off of a full size male USB cable and cut the Atrix USB cable in half.  Carefully stripping away the outer tubing on each piece of cable, I then stripped the RED and BLACK wires on the female micro USB cable and the male micro-USB cable. These get some tubing before soldering. Once tubing is in place, carefully solder the wires. DON’T FORGET GROUND! Solder the ground wire as well.

Next, strip the WHITE and GREEN wires (the BLUE wire on the female side is not used here), place some tubing on each and solder. Next, pull the tubing over the expose wire, apply heat and set aside for a minute or two, the cable will be hot.  I used a large piece of shrink tubing on the outside, but it did not cover the actually spliced area, so…embarrassingly, I used electrical tape where the three cable ends meet. It is not pretty, but it does not have to be pretty, just needs to work.  I gave up my soldering days long ago, I pull the old iron out once in a while for repairs, not for looks.

Next, plug it all together and open the lid on the lapdock. If everything is ok, you will see your Pi booting on the gorgeous screen. Moto did a nice job selecting the screen, it looks great.

Now, after having used this set up for a few days, it is not all roses.  My biggest complaint: the damned trackpad. It does not take much to make the mouse move and you can find yourself typing where you didn’t want.  Also, shutting the lid will turn off and then turn on power to the Pi. Don’t know why, but it does.  USB can be problematic: typing and using a WiFi adaptor seem to cause a problem: the keyboard will slow. WiFi is also interefered with by the USB hub built into the lapdock. Sometimes, it gets unresponsive, un plugging and plugging back in the WiFi adaptor seems to fix it.

These little quirks aside, this combo is pretty cool. My PiTop works pretty well and it was cheap: less than a hundred bucks for everything. And the Pi is just cool…no matter what one does with it.

Making a Raspberry Pi Laptop or just how damned hard is it to find female connectors, anyway?

Motorola-Atrix-Laptop-DockSince purchasing the Raspberry Pi, I have marveled at the very creative things people have done with the little computer. Since I got mine, more or less, for education use, I’ve not had the same creative juices flowing. Instead, I’ve admired the work others have done and move on. However, in my travels, I kept seeing one specific project over and over…turning the little computer into a laptop using a discontinued Motorola Atrix accessory.

The Laptop Dock from Motorola was discontinued in early 2012. This device, a very clever one at that, allowed one to dock an Atrix smartphone and use that phone as a true computer. The dock is an 11 inch LCD screen with a nice keyboard and track pack. It has its own battery and also has two USB 2 ports. There is no intelligence in the device: that is supplied by what ever is docked to it, in this case, the Atrix phone.

The magic, here, is in the dock connectors: a micro HDMI and a micro USB.  The HDMI port is for audio and video and the USB port is the actual interface from the phone and dock. The reality is that ANY HDMI/USB device can use this thing.DSC_4341

During my travels, I also discovered that these once $299 accessories were going for as little as $30 on eBay. AHA! Bells went off, rockets flew…and a few atoms were sacrificed.

I set about to find me one. Since all of the fire sales were  over, new-in box docks had gone up to over a hundred bucks again (I’m guessing because the are getting scarce now) which I did not want to pay. So, a few eBay auctions later, I got my dock.

It arrived safe and sound and in great shape. A couple of blemishes on the bottom, but otherwise it looked fantastic. A little elbow grease brought out its shine and it actually looked better than the eBay photo. Great! Now I just have to buy that micro FEMALE to FEMALE adaptor and I’m set.


Do you know how damned difficult it is to actually buy a micro-HDMI female anything? I went to Radio Shack, Best Buy, Target, Lowes, Home Depot, even Wal-Mart and no one had them. I tried a couple of local computer shops…zippo! Nothing. Nada. Zilch. OH, most of them told me the same thing: “oh, I’ve had several people ask for them” or “you are the xx person to ask…maybe I should carry them”. Gee, you think? This is something that seems so basic, yet is really esoteric. Why? I have no clue.  So…back on line I go.

Amazon and eBay both had them. I did a ‘buy it now’ on eBay. The connector was about ten bucks with shipping.  Great!’ll get here when? The estimated delivery date…end of March! I ordered on February 23rd! I go to Amazon. That was better and I ended up ordering the actual Atrix cable kit as well. That had the USB cable I needed. By the way, a FEMALE micro USB cable is just as hard to find. What the hell? It’s like the retailers are afraid of the female connectors. I don’t get it.

Anyway, the cable kit arrived but the female Micro-HDMI coupler won’t arrive for a few more days. It’s like they have to custom make the damn things!  UGH.

Anyway, when it does arrive, I’ll be able to not only use a nice LCD panel (and one that I can actually see the Pi on) but use a really nice, full size keyboard and trackpad. Oh, and I can even power the Pi from the battery. So, I’m just a few days away from the Pi Laptop. Not as exciting as the arrival of my son in a couple of days, but it’s up there.

More Raspberry Pi goodness

I have a few loose tidbits to pass on, nothing earth shattering…

First, if you like the game Minecraft, there is now a free version for the Pi.  This version is, naturally, a stripped down version of the game. It’s purpose is to help teach programming through gaming. You can read more and download the game here.

wifiOverstock retailer, Big Lots, carries all kinds of oddities but it also carries an assortment of mice, cables, blank DVD’s, cheap dongles and other computing related goods. One thing I was surprised to see was a very small USB WiFi adaptor…802.11n too.  Priced at ten bucks, it is the cheapest WiFi adaptor I’ve seen yet. It works well too. My Pi had no problem seeing the adaptor and putting it to good use.

The other cheap retailer, Five Below, carries many similar items, including a similar Bluetooth adaptor. I have not yet tried this and do not know if RasPi supports it directly, but, since it is Linux based, I’m sure there’s a driver for them.

There is an on-line magazine devoted to the Pi. It covers a wide range of topics from programming to interfacing with other hardware. You can check out the MagPi here.

If you really want to go old school for some gaming, the Pi is a cool Atari 2600 emulator. Go here to read about making a 2600 console (OK, just downloading) out of the Pi.  Since the Pi is pretty small, you could get one of those really bad Plug and Play games that look like an Atari 2600, gut it an put a Pi in there.

So, there you have it, a few tidbits I thought I’d share.  More to come…

A slice of Pi, Raspberry Pi

DSC_4341Raspberry Pi. No, not the kind you eat and I didn’t forget the ‘e’ in Pi. Raspberry Pi is the moniker given to a tiny, very tiny, ARM based computer.  The computer designed, primarily, for the UK educational market.  Raspberry Pi Foundation is a UK non-profit seeking to make computing as cheap as can so they can excite young (and old) people and spur interest in computing, a noble and worthy cause.

The Lilliputian computers, which measure 85.60mm x 56mm x 21mm, start at a cost of $25(US). For $25, one gets a complete computer with an ARM11 processor, 256mb of RAM, a graphical processor capable of decoding high definition, 1080p, video. The board has composite video via an RCA style composite video jack as well as an HDMI port so you plug the board into your hi-def, ultra-tech flat panel or a decidedly low tech, standard def, CRT for old school computing.  For ten bucks more, you get twice the memory and an on-board ethernet port. No WiFi on either, but you can add a WiFi dongle using the included USB port.

I ordered the Model B, the $35 board. I also ordered a clear case and purchased a 16gb SD card for storage. I downloaded the “official” Raspi Linux distro and ‘burned’ the image to the SD card using a tool they recommended (Win32DiskImager)  There is a great guide for preparing your SD card here. However, downloading the image file (here), formatting your SD card (FAT32) and then using Win32DiskImage to burn the image to the SD card is pretty much all you need to do. The guide I mentioned above includes instructions for Mac users as well.

Since I already had a dozen USB chargers, I did not purchase one, however, they are under ten bucks and it never hurts to have one more, right?

rpi3Upon plugging in a composite monitor (a battery powered digital portable TV with composite input) and the power, I was ready to check out the computer.  For keyboard and mouse, I used a Logitech wireless keyboard with integrated touch pad that I purchased for my Asus tablet. 

To my amazement and pleasure, the computer bootedrpihdmivideo1 up in just a few seconds. After completing a short setup sequence, the Raspberry Pi booted into a nice windowed gui.  This particular distribution of Linux comes preloaded with several web browsers, two IDE’s and two Python interpreters as well as a few other assorted utilities and applications. (No games, save for a few that were used to demonstrate Python.)

Since the little TV I was using was just horrid as a monitor, I dug up an old Playstation One monitor (you know, the ones that you could get that screwed onto the PSOne white console.) This monitor is much nicer than the TV-which was not designed to be used as a computing display device. I also tried out the HDMI connection on our 32inch Westinghouse (remember, that’s the one that has to be ‘activated’…grrr!!) set. Needless to say, this is the way to go.

What you need:

Raspberry Pi $35
4gb (minimum) SD Card $10 (you might get it cheaper)
USB Charger (750~1.0 amp) $10 (I had one, so I did not buy one.)
Linux Distro (RasPi) $0 (add $12 if you buy one with the OS installed.
SD card image writer for your OS $0

Total for Model B


The Pi, while not a speed demon, renders web pages with surprising ease and speed. It is not as fast as my Asus tablet or even my company issued iPhone 5, but it is usable and I would not get upset if it were my only means of getting on Facebook or posting to this blog.

I am quite pleased with my under $50 computer. It is a great and cheap way to introduce someone to computing or to tinker with or whatever. It is well documented and there are a ton of ideas already out in the ether. Things like cool little arcade cabinets running Mame or Nintendo emulators, dog food dispenser and Pandora radios. I’m going to use mine to expand my programming horizons and to go old school with Tiny Basic.  Learning to appreciate Linux might be in the works as well.


EDIT: reposted photo of Facebook with names removed.