First time with the Raspberry Pi

Thanks to Emma and her mother, Santy was very good to me this year. When they asked what to get the man who now has everything he wants, my answer was simple. A Raspberry Pi and a few things that will let me mess around with it.

So, this morning I unwrapped a Raspberry Pi B model, a power supply, an extra-long USB cable for when I want to power it off my laptop, a case for the Raspberry Pi, a camera board and a case for that board. Yes. You read that. A camera board. I want to play around with motion detection, colour detection and generally interfacing with the real world through Python.

First thing that struck me was the amount of tiny boxes. There were boxes for:

  • The Raspberry Pi board
  • The USB cable
  • The power supply
  • The camera board
  • The camera board case
  • The Raspberry pi case
  • The SD card

The second thing that struck me was the tiny size of the Raspberry Pi and the camera board. The Raspberry Pi is no bigger than a credit card. Going from the shortest side with the USB ports facing you, you find from left to right, the LAN port and two USB ports. Turning the device around to the right so that the long edge is facing you, there is one composite port and one audio out port. Continuing this time on the next short edge, you find the SD card reader on the bottom of the board and a micro USB port used for powering the device to the right of this on the top of the board. Continuing on around to the next long edge you find the HDMI port. If your television supports this, audio will also be piped through this port. All the ports are on the top of the card and the card reader is on the bottom.

The camera board is connected by a ribbon cable that is attached at one end to the board. The other end attaches onto the Raspberry Pi just behind the LAN and USB ports. Getting this lined up took sighted assistance from my wife I must admit. I probably could have done it with time but I think I might be getting a bit lazy where this kind of thing is concerned. You will agree with me if you see the camera board. It’s really tiny! The case that you can buy for it is very small as well. The camera goes in to the back. There are two very small place holders at the top that hold it in place. Their hard to find though.

Putting on the case is very straight forward and didn’t require any sighted assistance at all. The only thing I would say here is that getting the four screws in was actually quite difficult. I’d be a reasonably strong person I think but it took a lot of strength to get those screws in. The other thing is, I’m glad that I have a screw driver set for fixing ultra-portable laptops as the screw heads wouldn’t have been compatible with a standard head. The only reason that I mention this is, the Raspberry Pi is meant to be a device that is usable by kids. Getting these screws in would definitely require adult assistance. Either that or last night’s Guinness had more of an impact than I thought.

Preparing to boot it for the first time, I first had to download the Raspbian image to install it to the SD card. I had done this ahead of time by going to the downloads page on the Raspberry Pi website. That’s one of the best download pages I’ve seen actually. So clean and uncluttered and the Win32 disk imager software that I needed to install the Raspbian image onto the SD card was available as a link to make the process really straight forward. I wish I could say the same for the Disk imager site. It’s hosted by source forge, a website that I don’t particularly like. It’s full of pointless regions and the download link is very badly labelled. If you’re looking for the download, you’ll find it by searching for “download the unnamed link”. That’s no reflection on the Raspberry Pi of
course. It’s just worth noting if your preparing to follow the same process I did.

The Win32 disk imager archive is 5.41MB and the Raspbian image I downloaded is 783MB.

I had read previously that the interface for Win32 disk imager was not accessible as it is written in QT and this was certainly the case for me. However, I was able to muddle through. Basic instructions might be useful for other screen readers so if you’re interested, give me a shout and I’ll write them up for you.

When the disk imager process finished, I had a quick look at the SD card. In there, I found a config.txt file. Curiosity of course got the better of me so I went in and had a look. I found an overclocking option so I uncommented it. I had read in a few of the forums that it was safe to do this so I thought it was worth a shot. There was a link to the Raspberry Pi site at the end of the file but after skimming through the page for a moment I decided that I had enough to get started with. I’ll probably tweak this config file a little more when I’ve played around with the Raspberry Pi for a few days.

Right. Now, Raspbian is installed onto the SD card, the case is together with the ribbon cable sticking out and attached to the camera, I have all the cables etc. that I’m going to need sitting to one side so all that’s left is to connect the tiny device to my television. I know the first set up screen isn’t accessible so I’ll need Emma’s help with it but after that, I’ll ensure SSH is enabled and get going.

I’ve also bought a 7 port powered USB hub. The Raspberry Pi doesn’t have enough power to support many unpowered USB devices so when I’m connecting the Arduino to it I’ll need to give it a bit of a boost.

Connecting the Raspberry Pi to the television and giving it power was absolutely no problem at all. Within a minute or two, the set up screen launched and with the assistance of Emma, my wife the system was configured in no time. A few things were a little unusual. For example, instead of selecting your keyboard layout, it wanted you to select the keyboard make and model. The localization screen was also a bit confusing. Over all, the configuration interface wasn’t as snappy or responsive as others that we have used but this is most likely as a result of the low processing power of this device.

Of course, the first thing I changed was the user password. I also changed the hostname and checked for updates. Aside from that, oh, and increasing the partition size, there was nothing else I had to do.

One thing I should have done right away was change the IP to a static address. I have DHCP on this network of course but when I plugged it in to one of the LAN ports in my office, the pi got a completely different IP for some reason. That’s really strange as usually my DHCP server recognises the Mac and continues to respect the lease. You wouldn’t believe how much time I wasted trying to figure out what note on my network the Raspberry Pi was. I have far too many things connected in this house so when it comes to trying to sift through DHCP logs it’s very cumbersome. I gave up and just set the address manually at the end of it.

The first thing I did when I got connected via SSH was update the packages and the firmware. I’m surprised the start-up / configuration wizard didn’t do this automatically. It seemed logical that it would check for all available updates when the option to apply updates was available in the menu.

After a few reboots and some testing, I’m now in a position where I can begin playing around with the pi. I’m really looking forward to this. I’ve read so much online and I’ve bought and read so many books on the subject in the past few weeks that I’m now really looking forward to getting my hands dirty.

The first thing I’m going to do is get something working using the camera as a motion detection light bulb with This handy tutorial as a starting point.

I didn’t use any of the information in this next site during my process of getting up and running with the Pi but I would like to commend their work. It’s people like them that continue to push accessibility forward and I would hope they are recognised for the work that they have done. Please look at the Raspberry Vi website for more details and to get involved. I learned of this project while searching on Google for any accessibility problems I may encounter.

Finally, of course, I have to thank Emma and her mother. I’m into quite a few glasses of wine later but I’ve had a lot of fun playing around with this new toy today.