Archive for the Raspberry Pi Category

I’ve been a fan of the Raspberry Pi computer for some time now, although to be honest, I’m as big of a fan of the concept as I am of the actual computer itself. The Raspberry Pi is a small computer designed to run Linux that costs $35. On top of that price you’ll have to provide your own keyboard, mouse, and monitor, but chances are if you’re the type of person who is interested in a $35 computer that runs Linux, you probably have at least one spare keyboard, mouse, and monitor somewhere out in the garage.

The original Raspberry Pi (the model A) had two USB ports and a single core ARM processor clocked at 700MHz. The modern version of the board, the Raspberry Pi B+, has four USB ports, a quad-core, 1GHz processor, and a gigabyte of RAM.

Last week, Raspberry Pi announced a new, compact version of the Raspberry Pi computer: the Raspberry Pi Zero. It’s similar to the original model A with a slightly faster (1GHz) processor. Physically it’s roughly 1/3 the size of a credit card. It costs $5.

When I was a kid, home computers were an exotic luxury. For the TRS-80 Model III, Tandy was charging $200 to double the machine’s RAM from 8k to 16k. (My dad upgraded ours himself.) Adding a single floppy drive was an $849 option. The thought of a $5 computer was inconceivable, as was a computer the size of the Pi Zero. The Commodore SX-64, the world’s first portable color computer, weighed 23 pounds. The current issue of MagPi magazine comes with a Raspberry Pi Zero computer, attached to the cover. I don’t know how much it weighs, but it can easily be mounted to the rear of a flat screen television with a small square of Velcro. If you want to take it with you on a trip, you can stow it inside your wallet.

The guys over at Element 14 literally installed their Raspberry Pi Zero inside a tube television, configured it to run RetroPi, and built a self-contained emulation television.

For any adult or kid with $5 and an imagination, the sky’s the limit.

When we last saw it, the custom Commodore Raspberry Pi case my friend Aardvark made for me looked like this:

Despite a few people’s suggestion to leave it as is, I always envisioned the case being painted the same color as a real Commodore 1541 disk drive.

To chose the paint color I used the rather unscientific method of strolling through Walmart’s spray paint aisle and picking one by memory that looked close. Commodore 1541 disk drives tended to change color over time, which actually worked to my advantage. I gave the case a light hand sanding with some 200 grit sand paper and shot it with a couple of coats.

After that dried, I taped up the case…

…and shot the front, darker brown square. On a real drive this is the face plate of the drive.

After that dried, I removed the tape and this is what the case looks like.

And, on top of a real drive.

I don’t have the skill set required to add functioning LEDs to the outside of the case (and wouldn’t want chance screwing it up by drilling holes in it) so I may add non-functioning red and green “dots” to the outside of the case (I was thinking “small, flat, round, clear LEGOs” possibly?). I also plan on printing out the small badge that goes on the front soon as well.

I currently own two cases for my Raspberry Pi. One is the gigantic red plastic case that came with it. The other is one I made out of a plastic Pop-Tart I bought at Big Lots. You can see both of those cases here.

Enter my friend Aardvark. Aardvark is a very talented guy who plays guitar and once made a remote controlled phone. Aardvark also does CNC milling, and when he saw my terrible attempt at making my own Raspberry Pi case, he decided to take a stab at making one for me. The day after we had this conversation, Aardvark sent me the following picture:

Now truth be told, I would have been the happiest nerd to simply receive an aluminum box with the Commodore logo on it and use that as a case, but Aardvark had bigger plans. “I need a few pictures of a Commodore 1541 disk drive,” he said, and so that night I took a few and mailed them to me. The next day, I received the following:

With those rough designs, Aardvark went to work and did his thing. The next picture I received was of a rough Raspberry Pi case without any access holes cut out.

To cut the holes, Aardvark said he needed an actual Pi — and so I mailed him one. Paid for it with Paypal and had it shipped directly to him. With the Pi in hand, ‘Vark was able to make the necessary cuts for all of the Pi’s ports. I don’t presume to know how any of this is done. I’m pretty sure black magic is involved.

Thursday when I arrived home from work there was a package waiting for me from Aardvark. Could it be? It was! The case is held together with four tiny flat-head screws. I opened the case and dropped a Raspberry Pi into it. Perfect fit!

I was surprised at how small the case was, but the Pi fits perfectly inside. Here’s the 1541-Pi case assembled, sitting on top of a real Commodore 1541 disk drive.

Food for though: Commodore 1541 floppy disks hold roughly 180k of information. The SD card hanging out of the front of the Raspberry Pi in this picture is an 8gb card which can hold approximately 48,000 Commodore 64 disks.

This weekend I hope to slap a coat of traditional “breadbox brown” paint on the 1541 Pi case, finishing it off. There’s just enough room on the front to add a couple of small red and green lights as well. Old habits die hard. :)

Thank you, thank you, thank you to Aardvark for this awesome case. I feel compelled to tell you that Aardvark would not accept any money for the case. He only made two of them, and I own half of them. Personally I think ‘Vark should start a Kickstarter to get his own CNC mill for the house. If he does, I will keep him in business for many years to come!

In a previous post I shared what the case my Raspberry Pi came with:

It’s big and dumb. The other day while shopping in Big Lots, I ran across the following item:

(To be honest, I’m not even sure what this thing is meant to do. It looks like it’s a thing that you could put Poptarts in to put them in a kid’s lunch or something. Huh.)

The wheels began turning, and for $2, I had to find out.

Pretty much everything I know about using a Dremmel, I learned from watching television. I know it spins really fast and can cut and grind things. I’m sure this is the part of the project where I’m supposed to provide blueprints and explain my thought process, but… c’mon, $2. Also I bought two of these cases so consider this a rough dry run.

My only real goal was to provide access to all the ports while maintaining the case’s original structure, which consisted of small hinges on one side and a clasp on the other.

Wow, using a Dremmel is kind of hard. I mean, using one is really easy, but making straight cuts is really hard. Once I was done cutting I used a grinding wheel to even up the sides, and a piece of sandpaper to smooth off the edges.

The cuts look pretty amateurish, but the case is completely functional. The last step involved running two small screws through the Pi’s screw holes to anchor the thing in place. Most of the ports are accessible without having to open the case, so that’s a plus. Now that I’m sure everything fits I’m going to take it back downstairs and do a bit more sanding.

This will work until something better comes along. Although it looks pretty terrible it’s so funny that it makes me laugh every time I look at it.

In the comments of my last Raspberry Pi post, reader Ben politely pointed out “you’re doing it wrong.” And I was. Along with a couple of other helpful suggestions, Ben also pointed me toward PiMame, which comes as a precompiled image — simply download, extract, boot, and play. Now that the raspberry Pi is out of the box and connected, I only had two goals:

01. Download/extract/configure PiMame
02. Play games.

Would this one work better than my first go ’round with RetroPie? Read on!

01. Download/extract/configure PiMame

I downloaded PiMame 0.7.8 from the following link: http://blog.sheasilverman.com/pimame-raspberry-pi-os-download/. I used Win32 Disk Imager to write the IMG file to a 4gb SD card. I pulled the SD card out of my PC, inserted it into the Pi, applied power and got the following:

So far, so good! On to step two.

02. Play games.

Using WinSCP I connected to the Pi over my network and copied the Mario Bros ROM for MAME over into the ROMs directory. I rebooted the Pi, selected MAME, and there was Mario Bros. I chose that, and got this:

Honest to goodness, that’s all there was to it. It even recognized my USB gamepad with no additional configuration. The biggest initial problem I had to overcome was the fact that there was no sound coming out of my television. Unmuting my television fixed that.

For the most part I’d say I’m pleased with PiMame. The sound is not 100% accurate but it’s certainly playable. I thought the samples sounded low in Shinobi and some of the explosions were missing in Galaga, but the thing played just fine. PiMame comes with a ton of other emulators so I’ll be experimenting with those as well.

My next Raspberry Pi project will be a hardware one, not a software one. I detest the case that came with this thing and so I’ve had my eye out for something else to use, even if it’s temporary. I had Raspberry Pi on the brain the other day at Big Lots and ran across this.

Now, where did I put that Dremmel…

Last weekend I started my first Raspberry Pi project. After reading that several people have turned their Raspberry Pies into emulation machines, I searched Google and found RetroPie, a pre-built image for the Raspberry Pi containing a ton of pre-loaded emulators.

At the start of the project I had three clear goals:

01. Power up the Raspberry Pi.
02. Install RetroPie
03. Play some games!

How did things turn out? Read on!

01. Power up the Raspberry Pi.

This project began with my Raspberry Pi still in the shipping packaging. Along with my Pi I ordered a red plastic case and a USB Wall Power Adapter. The red plastic case is large and goofy looking. The case is held together with four posts that insert into four holes. Upon opening it, I broke one of the posts. The Pi snaps into the case — no screws required. The USB Wall Power Adapter requires a micro USB cable that it did not come with and I did not have. My dad needed one too and ordered two cables. With power attached, the Raspberry Pi fired right up.

02. Install RetroPie

To install RetroPie, I needed an SD card. From what I have read on the web, Raspberry Pies are apparently somewhat finicky when it comes to hardware compatibility, but I used the SD card out of my digital camera and it seemed to work.

I searched Google and found the following website: http://supernintendopi.wordpress.com. That website contains an entire set of instructions that will get RetroPie up and running on your Pi.

The first four or five commands took a minute or so to type in and process. The next command was the one that would download and update all the emulators and I was warned “would take about 9 hours to run.” With my 20 Mbit cable connection it took closer to 12 hours.

03. Play some games!

The final step was to reboot the Pi, go through the menu system, do some tweaking and play some games!

The initial elation I got from seeing this screen quickly faded after I was dumped out to a command prompt. While I didn’t get much time to troubleshoot before heading out of town this week, I think the SD card might have filled up. (I used a 4gb card when an 8gb card was recommended.) I’ll do some basic troubleshooting when I get home, but if it’s nothing obvious I may have to acquire an 8gb SD card and try again.

I guess the positive outcome here is that the Pi works. It fired up, got an IP address, and went nuts when I typed in update commands. That’s good. The takeaway is that I need more Linux knowledge to be able to do more troubleshooting on the Pi. Sounds like some more reading is in order.

I suspect the vast majority of my readers either (a) already know what a Raspberry Pi is or (b) don’t know and wouldn’t care. I’m writing this on the slim chance that a third group exists, a group of people who might be interested in the Raspberry Pi but haven’t looked into them yet. So maybe you’ll be one of the lucky ones.

The Raspberry Pi is an ARM-based computer that’s about the size of a credit card (you can tell how small it is in the picture above), which makes it perfect for “projects”. Because it’s ARM-based it runs Linux and not Windows. There are “A” and “B” boards: both come with two USB ports, HDMI out, composite video out, audio out, a network jack, an expansion port, and use SD cards for storage. The A sells for $25 and comes with 256 megabytes of RAM. The B sells for $10 more and has 512 meg.

In the earliest days of home computing, people didn’t ask “what does this computer do?” but rather “what can I do with this computer?” There’s a difference … a big one. Those days were all about coming up with creative uses for computers and using computers to solve problems.

By searching Google for uses for Raspberry Pi you can find all kinds of things people have come up with. The most mainstream (read: “computer-like”) uses include using them for media streaming devices (the build-in HDMI port outputs video in 1080p) and as lot-to-medium end living room PCs (they make great emulation boxes apparently).

Dig around a bit further and you’ll find where people are using them for home automation. And running security systems. And controlling motors and robots. And coffee makers. And baby monitors. And a robot that decorates Easter eggs. You can find some more creative uses for the Pi with this Google search,
Creative uses for Raspberry Pi
.

I used to find computers very magical and exciting. Now they’re a tool that I use at work and at home. I don’t “play” with them hardly at all, anymore. I bought two Raspberry Pis, one for me and one for my Dad. I’m hoping that we can get some projects up and running on these and make computing fun again.