Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Finally got a Raspberry PI to try out.

I know, I know, everyone else has had at least one of these for years now.  But I am a poor college student and couldn't afford even the $25 cost, plus the cost of a power supply, case, fast SD card, and everything else that goes into  a new computer system.  I finally got a bit of a break and was able to pick one up on Amazon.  I paid a little more than $35 for the 512MB RAM Raspi with built-in Networking, but the shipping was free, so it all evened out in the end.  And got it in less than a week.  I have not been this excited about a computer in many many years.

When it showed up I looked at the mini USB power supply and saw that it was not going to fit.  It was entirely my own fault, I saw micro USB and read it as mini USB.  I was able to pick up a 1.5 amp power supply at a local Radio Shack with the right connector to fit my Raspi.   If I could recommend a single change to make this device more standard, please change to mini usb in a future revision. So now I have to buy a few micro USB cables from monoprice.com before I buy more Raspis.

Below is the $20 wireless USB mouse/keyboard/laser pointer with illuminated keys that recharges from a normal USB mini plug. I am using this tiny keyboard to interact with the raspi and it is working surprisingly well.

I put the Raspi into a plastic case I printed in January and mounted it to the back of the monitor.

Why the Raspi?

Inexpensive to buy.
Super low power.
Easy to configure.

The drawbacks.

All external access runs through USB.
Micro usb port is not common.
A little too complex.


The $25 version will run just about anything the $35 version will run, just a little slower. Since most people already have an HDMI TV, then this device can be added for the cost of itself, a keyboard, mouse and

Raspbmc Distribution

The first distribution I tried out turns the Raspi into a media player.  It is called Raspbmc.  I have been looking for a new media player for a half a year now, since the company that I bought the last player from nuked the device with an update and then told me to buy a new one.  I blogged several times about that hideous disappointment.

Looks like the raspxbmc media player release updates itself to the very latest version from the Internet, and then compiles the latest and greatest the first time it boots. I suppose after the first boot not much will need to be updated on a weekly basis. But it sure does not lend itself to immediately playing a video and achieving satisfaction. *L*   Oh! As I am typing this, after about an hour the xbmc interface came up and it is running perfectly. 

Watching an HD episode of Doctor Who right now and it is playing full screen without any problems.  The Raspi is flawlessly playing video at 1080p. It can even play my day turns into night video in apple .mov format at 1920x1080, which has twinkling little stars in the sky that show perfectly. The only files I am having trouble playing are H.264 files in an mp4 container, which are supposed to just work. Very strange.   [ I figured out that this was my fault.  I had tried to get the MP4's  to be transcoded for my old media player.  Once I turned off transcoding in the Mediatomb config file this just started working.  Trying to figure out why flv files won't play over the network next.]

I am getting more and more impressed with this Raspbmc release. I was able to adjust the corners of the screen image to match the monitor corners, and how square a box appears on the screen to perfectly fit the image to the monitor. I have never used a media player that had this detail of customization. And you can keep watching a movie as you configure the device. Astounding.

Playing movies from the local network is perfect. Ted Talks plugin allows perfect playback. Internet movie Archive plugin has mixed results, some things play great, others just silently fail. The Apple trailer plugin just doesn't work, the videos just lag and freeze constantly.

PiMame Distro

The last distro I looked at was  the Pimame release, a game emulator release that could be the basis of a mame cabinet or the like.  It did not like the first SD card I tried, so trying another card now. Seems that the machine doesn't like some SD cards.  Need to get a few more large compatible SD cards for all the large

I got pimame, an emulator for old arcade and other gaming systems working on that Raspi.  The ROMs I have did not work using advanced Mame, but they worked fine using  Mame4All.

That tiny keyboard is not going to work for this, need to hack together a real arcade controller, perhaps hooked up wirelessly to the data pins on the Raspi. :D

Raspberry Pi Chameleon


This distro looks like it has all the old 8 bit machines emulated and includes the Mame emulator as well.  Going to give this a try tomorrow.

Other distros.

The raspi debian release feels like it is almost up to the level of puppy Linux distro in usability. I understand there are a lot more packages that can be downloaded and installed to configure it the way you want.

I want to try out the Plan 9 release as well. Have always wanted to take a look at that OS.

I always want to see what is involved in trying out the digital pins that are exposed in a big header on the board, turn on an led, maybe detect a push button closing.  

 Future plans

OK, step two is to get another Raspi and setup a server that all it does is torrent, backup, and share files with a web server, media server, and a samba file share. :D 

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Got my old backpack functional again.

I have always been a fan of external frame backpacks.  This modern insistence on tiny internal frame packs is just a fad, I tell you.  I found a back pack I used when I was a teenager in my mom's garage.  Someone had removed the waist strap, rendering the pack useless, because the reason these packs work is by transferring all the weight directly to your hips and legs and supporting your back.  

New Army Surplus Waist Strap Replacement.

I found a new surplus army waist strap on Amazon for cheap, and it cinched in place with nylon webbing like it was made for that frame.  The new waist belt is much better than the original one.  Maybe next I will upgrade the shoulder straps next. :) 

Every zipper works on this pack, after being the main pack for three of us boys in our formative years.  No holes, no tears, no rips.  The aluminum tube frame was welded at each joint and it is unbowed and unbent after carrying literally tons of stuff over the years.  Amazing quality built to last.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Google Reader going away is a wake up call.

Google reader is how I have come to rely on reading web pages on the Internet.  It was my single portal page to the entire web.  I stopped "browsing the web" years ago because I could just add a bunch of news and tech sites to Google reader and then easily keep up to date on everything that was happening.  There is only three ways I get to an article on the Internet, primarily through google reader, secondly through google search and once I am on a page I might follow a link from that page. 

Do I need to worry that Google search is going to be dropped?  That Google Mail is going to return to sender?  That Google drive will just cruise on down the turnpike?  Maybe instead of just replacing Google Reader, that this is a wake up call that we need to replace Google.  Maybe this is going to motivate a large group of people to actually get something done.

The open source community needs to step up and create something that is a game changer.  Imagine a single app that brings in all your web pages, social media feeds, email, event logs on servers, essentially anything that can generate a stream of messages or events, and then filters that fire hose of information down to a manageable level, getting rid of everything you don't care to read about.  Let what you do care about the most to be easily shareable, not just on the reader service itself, but back out to all the social media sites and to groups you have created in email as well.

Configure it so that it can use many different feed readers, or just use a built in P2P model to share feeds, so that we don't have to depend on something like Google feeds again.   Store the data locally so that it is yours all the time.  I can only imagine all the plugins that people could write to do amazing things.

 I know that I am planning on working this summer on a small web app and back end RSS aggregator  that will run on my local machine to at least bring me back up to where Reader was at without the sharing part.   I'll share the progress I make on it here with you all.