Have you tried Raspberry Pi?

Sorry, no, this is not a food-related post (and I did not misspell "pie," either, by the way). I just purchased a Raspberry Pi, an inexpensive ($35) computer. Not from a guy in a back alley based on a suspicious Craig's list ad, but from an organization that is sparking an interest in DIY computing that resembles the early 1980s when TRS-80s, Commodore 64s, and early Apples initiated the rise of the home computer.

What is Raspberry Pi? It is a computer designed, built and sold as part of an educational cause. The Raspberry Pi Foundation was established out of efforts to improve computer education for kids. The best way to do this, the organization's founders thought, was to create a small, inexpensive computer that encouraged learning through experimentation and play. The device has everything on it to run a computer: a chipset, a data port, two USB ports, an HDMI port for new TVs and monitors, and even a composite video port for connecting to an old TV, like I did (which is so 1982). The hard drive is an SD card (the kind of card that is probably in your digital camera. They are readily available and inexpensive).

All of my peripherals (keyboard, mouse, cables, the spare cell phone charger that powers it) were in my tech junk drawer. Okay, I'm being honest, junk drawers. And maybe some cabinets. It's not hoarding if you eventually find a use for it, right? :-)

Here is my Raspberry Pi (the board itself is about the size of a credit card):

The case, which is not included but inexpensive, was made by Bud Industries in Willoughby. It's oversized, giving lots of room for attaching cables, etc, and for ventilation.

The Raspberry Pi uses the Linux operating system, which is free and open source (which means anyone can use it and build from it). A special version of Linux has been released just for this device. Based on the Debian distribution of Linux. That "distro" is called Raspbian.

What are the uses for this little computer?

So, here is my current setup:

picture of raspberry pi setup, very early 1980sThe keyboard and mouse are old Apple pieces and they seem to draw a little too much power. All advice that I have seen online says, go as cheap and simple with your peripherals. As this board is so small, power issues are a consideration, always.

The TV: a RCA19-inch that had been relegated to service in the basement.

What do I want to do with my Raspberry Pi? I want to take advantage of its size and set it up for portability, which will mean adding a USB battery pack, which are on the market, and some sort of small screen. Maybe a mobile work station!

What is the skill level of this project? In all honestly, pretty high. Even if you are comfortable with Linux, it will require patience. This is a relatively new project; and while the boards, documentation, and operating system installations are more stable, this is experimental stuff (which makes it awesome, in my book). That said, anyone who wants to learn how computers work, or explore technology in very hands-on ways, a Raspberry Pi could be a fun, affordable project. I am not a Linux master, and the sight of a circuit board leaves me pretty perplexed, so doing any of these projects will require me to expand my knowledge and get way outside my technological comfort level (but again...awesome!).

But that's the beauty of the Raspberry Pi project: for  anyone who wants to learn, to try, and to make, the learning is both personal and scalable, by which I mean, if you set out to setup the basic system (and have all of the bits), you've learned something, and ended up with a functional computer at the end. The further you go, the more you will learn and the rewards will be not only greater, but based on your own interests

Before buying little monitors, etc., for this thing, I want to get a solid footing with a project. Maybe the media center because it seems like a great project to cut my teeth on. Whatever I do, I will share it in future posts. 

If you are interested in this stuff, leave a comment or use the contact form (choose "webmaster"). If enough people show interest, maybe I could do a program or schedule a demo. I know this isn't for everybody, but if you think this might be for you, let's talk.

Matt Weaver
Web Librarian

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