Raspberry Pi with Newbie McNewbie

I recently caught myself getting a bit evangelical in recommending a Raspberry Pi to a friend who was thinking of buying one for her daughter. I waxed lyrical about how easy and fun it was to use like a fully indoctrinated cult member. So, as I now have my second (yes, yes I know, look they’re cheap!) and needed to set it up, it made me think I aught to put my money where my mouth is and blog the process to give a better indication of what is involved.

I bought the new Pi (this time the older, less powerful Model B+) to use for projects, the other being somewhat tied up now as my coding computer. This isn’t a tutorial, just an indication of what a Newbie McNewbie like me required to set one up.

Here’s the pi and the various extras, excluding the TV:Pi B setup

I’m re-using an old micro SD card, so to begin with I needed to format it. This involved downloading a program that does this. I then downloaded a program called ‘NOOBS’ from the Raspberry Pi website, onto my regular computer (micro SD cards preinstalled with NOOBS can be easily purchased and often come in Pi beginner bundles). I copied the files from the downloaded folder onto the formatted micro SD card and then installed NOOBS onto the Pi once I’d plugged it in (there is no ‘on’ button on a Pi!).

NOOBS is essentially a setup wizard that enables you to choose which operating system you want to install on your Pi. It contains a range of operating systems. They range from hardcore LINUX setups with no graphical user interface (GUI). That’s no mouse or graphical interface, just you and the command line. To very user friendly operating systems such as Raspbian, which is the one I use (you can even install Windows on a Pi, sort of, but not via NOOBS). Formatting and updating the micro SD card was easy for me as I have a mac, which includes a friendly SD card slot and adapter. For windows an additional adapter might be required.

First time I did this I copied the downloaded NOOBS folder instead of just the files within… It didn’t work *ahem* see I’m still wearing learner plates. Once I’d extracted the files onto the micro SD then it worked. Second mistake I made, you’ll see from the photo of all my gear that I’ve got a bluetooth dongle, keyboard and mouse. Of course it turns out this doesn’t work with Noobs as the Pi doesn’t yet know I’m using bluetooth. This kind of newbie error happens to me all the time, but it’s part of the fun, the infuriating fun. So I just used a USB wired keyboard and mouse that I had anyway (remembering back this is what I used first time round last May).

Here is the setup in all its glory:

IMG_2961
The Pi all hooked up (sci-fi lens flare all part of the deal)
IMG_2965
Ok, it ended up looking less slick with the wired mouse & keyboard, but still.

and here’s NOOBS:

NOOBS

When I installed Raspbian back in May it took you straight to the Linux Command Line to type in a few commands in order to login and load up the graphical user interface (GUI), but it looks like the new version doesn’t expect you to do this and you’re straight into a recognisable, mouse driven environment.

IMG_2966
Sorry for the dreadful photo, but look: success!

While this is probably better I quite liked starting off behind the scenes (as I like to think of it). I also have a HD Ready TV which it worked with perfectly.

With the install of my first Pi I encountered two problems. Firstly, my old TV worked but the GUI  didn’t quite fit on the screen and so needed adjusting. Secondly, when I plugged in the bluetooth mouse it moved very slowly across the screen. A quick Google and it was clear that both were common problems. Solving them involved firing up the Linux terminal, using commands and fiddling with settings files. All of which was confusing and mildly terrifying, but very satisfying when it worked. This is what I think the Pi is valuable for, you learn through ‘doing’, problems can be solved even if the solution requires just copying solutions you don’t yet understand, some of that knowledge and experience seeps in. The next time you feel more confident and at least have an idea what is going wrong.

dont panic
Good advice when faced with a setup problem… you are unlikely to be the first.

Reassuringly that was actually easier than the first time round, so I feel I can back up my claim that setting up a Pi is super easy. Of course once your up and running then it gets fun. I’ve got a few projects lined up which I hope to blog about as well as some of thoughts on using ‘Adventure in Raspberry Pi’. For not much money, and not much effort, you can get a working computer which has the added bonus of being perfect for experimenting with code, electronics and robotics. That’ll be my next steps…

 

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