Techman: Tekkies have a hunger for Raspberry Pi

August 12, 2012 by  
Filed under Every thing you Need to Know

TechMan has always been fascinated by small toys.

Even before the days of Matchbox cars, TechKid had a set of cheap, tiny, plastic Civil War figures bought from the pages of a comic book that afforded endless hours of fun.

Now TechMan has a new little toy, although it has the potential to be far more than a plaything.

(Warning: High nerd factor material ahead.)

In the spring, the news was full of the Raspberry Pi, a $35 credit-card-sized computer being brought onto the market by the British Raspberry Pi Foundation with the intention of stimulating the teaching of basic computer science in schools. a $25 model also is available.

You could pre-order one of these little machines, which TechMan did and immediately forgot about it.

About a week ago, a package arrived bearing the little computer.

The first thing you notice about the Raspberry Pi is what it doesn't have: a monitor, keyboard, mouse, power supply, operating system or even a case — it is just a bare circuit board about the size of the serving of meat you should eat if you are on a healthy diet.

However it has connections for all kinds of peripherals. two USB ports allow a keyboard and mouse to be connected.

The Raspberry Pi site allows you to download a version of the free operating system Linux onto an SD storage card that fits into a slot on the motherboard. the computer will boot from the card.

A mini-USB port allows you to use a 5V cell phone charger as a power supply. an HDMI out plug allows you to connect to a television, or in TechMan's case, to an HDMI-to-DVI cable hooked to a monitor with DVI in. there are also ports for sound out and other video out.

TechMan was able to cadge a monitor and keyboard by whining to the friendly systems guys at work. He had a phone charger. He had to go online to buy an HDMI-DVI cable for $5.99 and a 16GB SD card for $10.69. so total out-of-pocket for peripherals was $16.68.

A friend downloaded the Linux software onto the card and we plugged in an ethernet connection to the Internet. all was ready for launch.

After hooking up the monitor and keyboard then plugging in the SD card and the power supply, the little LED lights on the circuit board started to flash and screens of Linux setup gobbledygook flew by.

After logging on and starting the graphical user interface, we were faced with a desktop sporting a big raspberry.

Finding the included browser we were able to surf to post-gazette.com. Our $35 digital mite looked like one of the big boys.

At this price and size, there are things the Pi can't do. With a 700 Mhz processor and only 256 MB of RAM and 16GB of storage on the card (although for more moola I could boost that with a more capacious card) it is not the fastest horse in the race.

About 4,000 Pis are being built per day and the foundation just lifted its one-per-person rule.

A “Raspberry Jam” held recently in Cambridge, England, drew 300 and filled the local pubs with networking Pi owners. (What should we call the Pi community? Pi-ites? Pi-Faces? wPi-sters? Pi-kers?)

Dave Akerman hooked a Raspberry Pi with a webcam and GPS up to a hydrogen balloon. it transmitted live images from nearly 25 miles aloft before the balloon burst. the Pi returned unharmed and was recovered. Inevitably it was referred to as Pi in the Sky. the FishPi project is a Pi owner's dream to use a solar-powered Raspberry Pi to pilot a tiny craft across the ocean.

The Raspberry Foundation plans to make a number of accoutrements available. it just announced a new operating system called Raspbian that it says runs 40 percent faster.

At the Raspberry Jam, founder Eben Upton revealed that a tiny 5-megapixel camera module that attaches to the Raspberry Pi via a ribbon cable will be available soon and is expected to cost between $20 and $25.

And there are already a number of cases for the little circuit board available on the Internet. At digikey.com, the rectangular one is called the Pi Sandwich and the circular one the Pi Plate.

If you have a hunger for Pi, it can be ordered at element14.com or rs-components.com.

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