Raspberry Pi mini computer

Joined
Aug 15, 2007
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Kalamazoo, MI
I kept running across mentions of this little Raspberry Pi device on the web and from some IT guys at work, and finally decided to investigate. Turns out it's a super cheap little computer that runs on Linux, and can use a variety of operating systems, Raspbian being the most common. I'm completely new to Linux and have been coddled for years by the Apple ecosystem.

I picked up a couple (around $40 each), one for me, and one for my son. These were initially conceived of as cheap devices to allow folks to experiment with computer science, and my 7-year-old exhausted all of the exercises on code.org, so it seemed like the next step. It's essentially a small board with an integrated CPU/GPU. On the current version 3, you get 4 USB 2.0 ports, a micro-USB charging port, an HDMI port for video out, a 3.5mm stereo audio out. There are also some other inputs for other add-on modules. It's got integrated Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. The whole thing runs off a micro-SD card that you load up with install software. I bought some cheap acrylic cases for us to build together, and grabbed some beat-up cables, keyboard, and mouse at work.

I have to say it's been a blast! He's working with a program called Scratch to learn some basic programming skills with a kid friendly graphic user interface. Then he can move onto a game he knows and loves called Minecraft, with the caveat that you can edit the code with the command line interface to tweak the rules of the game (loving that idea). Advanced users can use the CLI and freeware for all sorts of stuff.

I found an interesting set of projects one can do that are beneficial for photographers. The one that interested me is the creation of a cheap field image back-up device.

Backup Photos While Traveling With an iPad Pro and a Raspberry Pi
Backup Photos While Traveling With a Raspberry Pi - Part II

You can write a program that auto-boots when it's powered on that will detect your card reader, a USB flash drive, and copy the images to the drive automatically. It knows which images have already been loaded, and only acts on the new ones. A bit slow with USB 2.0, but who cares as you just leave it to do its thing. There is a widget that can be installed on your iDevice to monitor progress through Bluetooth so you can turn it off when it's done.

The cool thing is that everything runs off the micro-SD cards. So you can use one card to make the Pi your backup device, then just swap the card and you have a portable computer that plugs into a hotel room TV on the road. It's got a web browser to boot! You can even fit all of the old 8-bit video games from Nintendo, Sega, etc and plug in USB controllers if you need your fix of Streetfighter 2, yeah!

When I get enough uninterrupted time, I plan to set mine up, and will post back here with progress. So far my kid is way ahead of me, but I'll get there!
 

Commodorefirst

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Hey, thanks for the heads up, nice info. I need to keep smething like this in mind if I ever get grandkids!

However, I really like the backup uses! Bam!
 
Someone on another (non-photographic, non-Apple Computer-related) forum where I hang out is a techie geek and when the first Raspberry Pi came out he was all over it and every now and then will post enthusiastically about his latest one and the fun he has with it. I've seen them in my local Microcenter (computer store) for about a year now but haven't actually jumped into buying and putting together one. It does sound like an ideal project for father and son to do together -- great fun for you, Matt!
 

Growltiger

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And they are not just for educational purposes. I bought one for a specific task last year. I needed a device that would allow me to do Dynamic DNS. I previously had it using an ADSL router but I then got fibre to the house instead and the fibre modem doesn't support Dynamic DNS. Basically the device needs to run a special program when it is powered on, that checks the house's external IP address every 10 minutes, and if it has changed it informs my Dynamic DNS provider. This allows me to connect into the house and see my security cameras from anywhere on the internet, despite my ISP changing my IP address now and again.

It took me just a few hours to download the basic (non GUI) version of Raspbian, install it, then install and configure the special program, and make it start up directly into the program. I then disconnected the keyboard and monitor and plugged it in to the router. It has now been running for months, working perfectly, and it recovers from power cuts with no problem.

These little devices have all sorts of applications. I tried the GUI version of Raspbian and you can use it as a complete office computer doing email, browsing, word processing, spreadsheets all for almost no money.
 
Joined
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Virginia
It does my heart good to see a 7 year old pick this up! 38 years ago one of the scientists at work told me about his 6 year old getting interested in programming. He had his BS and MS paid for, and still works at the Lab. Be sure to look into High School "SEAP" programs in a few years.

The Microchip products are very cheap ($1), the development software is cheap, and a Radio Shack Electronics kit is all you need to get started with experiments as well. Device programmers are also "dirt-cheap" off Ebay. I use the kits for embedded controllers, bought two kits like this for prototyping:

Radio Shack 28-278 Electronics Sensorslab Learning Lab Kit Electronics Course | eBay

I've had a couple of SEAP students use them.
 
Joined
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Clearwater, Florida
My son has been playing with raspberry pi for years. I think the first one he bought was $8 over 5 years ago. He has created some interesting projects and has since upgraded a few times. The newest model is loaded with features which had to be added on in previous versions. Pretty impressive computing power for under $40.
 
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Is Raspbian just another flavor of Linux? I used Linux quite a bit before I retired (13 years ago!), and installed it on my last Windows PC when it would no longer run the current Windows version.

I wonder if there's any way to use an iMac as the monitor.
 

Growltiger

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Is Raspbian just another flavor of Linux? I used Linux quite a bit before I retired (13 years ago!), and installed it on my last Windows PC when it would no longer run the current Windows version.

I wonder if there's any way to use an iMac as the monitor.
Yes, Raspbian is Linux that has been tailored to make good use of that hardware.
 
Joined
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Sandpoint, Idaho
My son has 3 of these things in his room - I believe one hosts his website, I'm not sure what he is using the other two for. He has been using them for years and is a big fan.
 

MattW

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Is Raspbian just another flavor of Linux? I used Linux quite a bit before I retired (13 years ago!), and installed it on my last Windows PC when it would no longer run the current Windows version.

I wonder if there's any way to use an iMac as the monitor.
It's the pi version of Debian. I've got one of the original pi's, which I used as an SSH server so I could rsync some of my website backups to an attached USB HDD.
 
Joined
Aug 15, 2007
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Kalamazoo, MI
Well uninterrupted time is hard to come by, but I finally got started with my project. It's definitely daunting for someone like me who is totally accustomed to graphic user interfaces to delve into using the command line interface. But you start to figure out what these coding terms mean the more you use them. Now I'm at the point where I need to create an executable script, and I feel like a complete noob. I hope that when it's all done this sucker works!

My son has been having fun messing around on Scratch for now. He got his cat to dance across the screen while saying "meow" indefinitely. I then showed him the volume button on the TV. Hope to spend some more time with him on it this weekend while I work from home.
 

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