18 July, 2012

first impressions of raspberry pi

I just got my Raspberry Pi, left on doorstep from Farnell in a package labelled "tshirt"; indeed inside the package was a (free) element14/pi tshirt, and wrapped inside that was my actual raspberry pi. Its taken a while to arrive (like most people's) - it was ordered on the 9th of May.

The first afternoon I spent playing with it came with an excited nostalgic feeling to my teenage years, scrabbling to put random pieces of hardware together scrounged around the house in order to get a working system: a keyboard off one host, a usb hub stolen from someone, a long ethernet wire borrowed from someone because the TV is in one room and the ethernet ports are in another. It was made more nostalgic because my best friend from secondary school who used to be my main partner in this kind of activity turned up to have a play too.

I fairly easily got the example debian distribution downloaded (my first linux distro downloaded by bittorrent) and running on a 4gb SD card; and once that was in place, it was easily to get a browser up and watch the bunnycam.

After giving up on getting flash running in order to get BBC iPlayer, I discovered get-iplayer (on the way getting annoyed by this blog post by a BBC dude about how people shouldn't use 3rd party clients). I can just about play BBC radio audio at the same time as the bunny webcam is streaming video. But it didn't seem to have enough power to decode an iplayer video stream instead of the bunny webcam, which was a bit disappointing.

There seem to be a few funny presumably hardware related problems: the device doesn't reboot at all, and sometimes when I boot, sound does not work at all. I haven't had time or inclination to track these down at all. Most concerning for me is that the experience of different devices seems slightly different - for example, other people seem to be able to reboot just fine.

After downloading the recommended Debian distro, I discovered that there was a beta release of a much more recent version, wheezy. This was a lot smoother experience than the recommended distro - it resized the image automatically to fill the whole 4g disk space, and just seemed more polished. Either way, those distributions are debian based, so the amazingness (if you're being nostalgic about 80s/90s era hacking) of apt comes into play to get a big range of software installed.

It was cool that the wheezy distribution came with Scratch - a visual programming language that is sort of a year-2012 version of Logo. (That's cool - one of the first things I thought about when I heard of the goals of the raspberry pi was to think: why don't you get people programming scratch instead?)

Something interesting I discovered was that the ARM architecture does floating point emulations completely differently to intel: there are different calling conventions for software floating point and hardware floating point, and it seems that all the packages in your distro need recompiling to make use of hardware floating point, if they were originally built for software floating point. I'll have a play with that later.

The GPIO port had pins soldered on, which i wasn't expecting. I'm not sure what to use those for. I've had a user port on a computer before, but never used them much - just for flashing LEDs and making model trains drive around. maybe some geeky weather station thing?

So what do you need to get started, in addition to the pi? Well a keyboard and video (composite or HDMI) and a power supply - I'm using the USB-based power supply I stole from my mifi. Probably you'd like a mouse and an ethernet connection.

If I get up to anything cool, I'll write about it on this blog, no doubt.

1 comment:

  1. I haven't looked into raspberry pi much at all (because of the logistics of getting my hands on one), but if there's a reset pin on the cpu maybe you could connect one of the GPIO pins to it and use that to reboot the pi :)