Our library recently ordered a couple Raspberry Pi Model Bs. When I say “our library,” I mean “me.” I did it. I didn’t really ask for approval. Well, I’m the boss…so, there’s that.
The truth is, I’d heard of the Raspberry Pi when it came out and wasn’t particularly interested. Yeah, I thought it was cool that some UK company wanted to make programming more accessible. I just didn’t feel like I had enough time to devote to learning something brand new. Please note that my last programming foray was one class of C++ several years ago. Before that, it was Basic in high school. Please also note that I’m a library director, not a computer builder/programmer/anything.
Well, I started feeling a little guilty. There’s been all this talk in library land about makerspaces and STEM programs…and I know my library is small but…couldn’t we do SOMETHING? Okay, you need to know how much I loathe anything that uses “maker” as an adjective or prefix. It grinds my gears…turns my stomach…burns my biscuits. Even so, the idea behind these things is valuable – provide access to stuff that lets people be creative and innovative and inspired.
So, I started reading up on the Raspberry Pi. The more I read, the more I was inspired. I mean, this is a $40 computer. In doing some rough calculations, I figured I could potentially build something REALLY useful for less than $100. Well, that may not be the case…in my case, but it’d could definitely be the case in other situations. So, I ordered a couple Pi..s (it just looks so much like piss if you just write Pis), an adaptor, and a VESA mount. Those aren’t all the things I’ll need for this project (a monitor, keyboard, mouse, and internet connection), but we’ll talk about those later.
That brings us to today. I order the computers on Monday. They arrived this morning (Thursday). I was pretty impressed with that. Anyway, follow along now with the Unboxing of the Pi! *insert sound of angels. Below, you’ll find a kind of picture tour with some brief explanation.
Here is the Raspberry Pi Model B. If it seems pretty small, that’s because it is. The box containing the computer is about 3″x6″ or so (I could have measured, but didn’t). The SD card you see is one of the perks of the Model B. It holds several different distributions of Linux, the operating system(s) that power the Pi. Another perk of the Model B are the TWO USB ports. The model A is significantly cheaper (only $25), but doesn’t include the OS and has only one USB port (that can be mitigated using a powered USB hub). You can find more about the differences between the two models here.
And here it is, still in its luxurious electrostatic protective sleeve. I showed this to my staff. They were less than amazed. Their comment, when I said, “Here’s the new computers,” was “If you say so.” It’s difficult to gauge the size of this from the picture. In fact, the picture is larger than the actual computer. If you imagine something the size of a credit card, it’s just a SMIDGE bigger than that.
Okay, now for the interesting stuff. This is the Raspberry Pi’s backside. If you know a lot about circuit boards, this is pretty cool. If you don’t, then the most important thing to you should be that black (grey) dock on the right hand side of the picture. That’s your SD Card slot. When you use the Raspberry Pi, you MUST have an SD card if you expect to save anything. There is not hard drive. Might you be able to rig up a HD? Of course. Will it be easy? I don’t know. Please note that this is also where you will boot your OS from. I’m not sure how this all works yet, but will update as I learn more. Also, please note, this is a fragile dock (I use slot and dock interchangeably whenever I can, btw). Don’t try jamming something in there. You’ll break it. Be nice and be patient.
My apologies for this picture being upside down. I used my phone and must have inadvertently turned the thing over and uploaded it that way. You’ll get the idea though. This is the belly of the Pi. You can see its Broadcom chip and its graphic processor among other things. It’s important to note that the Model B has 512MB RAM. By today’s standards, that’s not much. Also, please note that it is RAM (short term memory) not ROM (long term memory – hard disk). It allows you to run programs but does not store those programs. That’s what the SD card slot is for.
So, let’s get a little close up and see what’s there. Here, you can see some AV ports. You have your audio port. It’s for an 1/8″ jack though I’ve seen some modified Pi…s that used a 1/4″ stereo jack. The yellow port is a RCA video port. This is pretty low-tech but effective. You would use this if you were plugging it into an older/cheaper digital projector or television. We’ll get to using a monitor in a minute. On the far right hand side, you’ll also see some pins. This is for adding components to the Pi. I haven’t learned much about these yet beyond that they exist.
Here are two of the major differences between the Model A and Model B Pi…s. Here you see the two USB ports as well as an ethernet port. On the Model A, there is only one USB port (I know…it’s been said) and no ethernet ports.
This is one of those things that makes me chuckle. On the one side, you have an analog audio jack and analog video jack. On this side, you have full digital. Yep, that’s right. There’s your HDMI cable that, in theory, provides digital sound and video. Here’s the thing, though. Most of you are probably buying monitors that don’t rely on either of these things. If you’re planning to use a regular computer monitor (whether LCD – flatscreen or CRT – big heavy mother and not flat), neither one of these options is going to work. No worries. We’ll talk about that in a second (or two).
There’s not much to see here. You can see the opening to the SD slot at the bottom. You can also see another slot at the top. Again, I’m not entirely sure about that yet but will know more soon. The MOST important thing in this view is the micro USB port on the right hand side. This is how the Raspberry Pi gets power. This is the same type of charger that many cell phones now use (not the iPhone though, sorry). A power supply is NOT included with the Raspberry Pi. So far, I’ve chosen not to purchase one before I look through my stockpile of cables. I’ve also not done much research on using this port as a power/data exchange point. It doesn’t matter right now, but I suspect that this type of connection means that the Raspberry Pi could enter into a parent/child relationship with another computer.
So, I flipped the Raspberry Pi over again just to give you a glimpse of the SD slot being used. It was as I was doing this that I took a good look at the SD card and noticed that, in fact, it’s not an SD card at all. In fact, this is a microSD card and an adapter. I honestly felt like I got a little bonus here. It was like getting both the card and a free adapter.
So, that’s about it for the Raspberry Pi for now. I’m still waiting for the VESA mount to arrive (this will function as both protection for the Pi as well as the means to attach it to the back of a monitor). And, here’s what I also bought to make the Pi functional with a VGA monitor. There are monitors that support HDMI but I’m going for as cheap as possible (and functional as well). Here it is in the box. Woo.
Here it is outside of the box! Woo! Here’s some more perspective. The Raspberry Pi itself cost $40. This adapter cost $20.And one final picture – one of the business ends to the adapter. The other business end is likewise VERY *cough* engaging. Hopefully, this first course on the “build something with Pi menu” has been, if nothing else, somewhat encouraging. Listen – I’m in the same boat w/ most of you. I don’t know what the heck I’m doing. But, I’m a librarian and have mad Google skills and I know a LOT of smart people. So, this should be fun.