Tinkering with Raspberry (and other things)

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Real Time Clock (Hardware)

The Raspberry Pi comes without a real time clock. The official FAQ says so and we have to go with it, although on the forums many people complain and want a RTC added to the Raspberry. Well, there is no reason to do so. There are lots of free connections on the Raspberry that could be used to connect a clock. And hey, that is where the fun starts, anyway.

Do I need an RTC?

Well, that depends. So in most cases a plain “No” would be the correct answer. If you have your Raspberry connected to a network all the time and this network has access to the internet there is absolutely no reason (apart from the tinkering fun) to add an RTC. The Raspberry uses NTP, the Network Time Protocol, the get the correct time from the internet. Every time  the Raspberry boots, the time is set.

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Soundbridge Information Display

I own two Roku/Pinnacle Soundbridges. And I am frightened for the day they cease existence. As a matter of fact I am trying to buy some used ones, just as spares. These little tubes are the best internet radios around, even nowadays. Plug them in, configure the network and voilá, you have a running radio that is accessible via a webinterface. Back in these days no marketing chef or product designer even thought about forcing the buyers to register with their mailadress, birthdate, creditcard numbers, etc.

The Soundbridge has an open telnet port that can be used to configure and control it. So it’s the perfect device for tinkering around and I am going to use the display to show information sent from the Raspberry.

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Retro Cocktail Table Arcade Thing (not)

As I said, my first idea when seeing the Raspberry was to build a retro gaming machine. I still love all these old arcade games you can just play along for some time if you like. No building up characters or having to complete n matches to get more money/cars/whatever. Just play.

There are numerous projects out there how to build this stuff. I personally like this one on IKEA Hackers best. Cheap table and easy to build. With the RetroPie Project it is as easy as downloading an SD-card image and you are ready to go. Connecting an old Playstation3 bluetooth controller to it is just as easy with this excellent tutorial.

Sound is not the best, so I recommend using a cheap USB-Audio adapter you can get for a few bucks. No need for HiFi quality, it’s a retro machine.

Now the sad part is, I postponed the project for several reasons:

  • VICE is not running smoothely (expected that)
  • my favourite games do not work
  • more thorough planning is needed (joysticks, buttons and so on)
  • my companion made me repeat the sentence “You will not cut holes in tables!” three times 🙂

Clearly, she is only referring to existing furniture. So buying a new one is a solution here. But I will keep that project for later.

In the meantime I am going to try and transfer every display in the house that is accessible via WLan/Lan/whatever into an information display. So there is definitely more to come!

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Basics for Beginners (part 3 – SSH)

Welcome to the third part of what in reality is just a compilation of my notes…

My Raspberry is running “headless”. Most of the time. This means that no keyboard, mouse or display is attached to it. The only means of access is via a secured shell, SSH in short. I will not go into detail on how to activate SSH on the Raspberry, this is extensively described in every “First steps” guide I know. So from now on I will suppose that you have successfully logged into your Raspberry via SSH from a remote machine.

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Parallel Thermoprinter

Another day, another gadget.

I recently acquired a miniature thermoprinter just for fun because spending 14 EUR (that is 18.47 USD at the time I am writing this) was a no-brainer. I will skip one beer in the beer garden. NOT. It’s 37 °C outside…
For those interested, here is the link to the German ebay-offer.

Sorry. Back to the printer. It has originally a parallel port but comes packaged with a usb-parallel adapter cable. The question was: will the Raspberry work with an adapter and subsequently, the printer. Things turned out to be not that simple. Missing modules, the usual permission problems and the German language with its funny Umlauts (ÄÖÜ).


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Basics for Beginners (part 2 – backup/restore)

The Basics for Beginners (part 1) got rather lengthy so I decided to split it into two three parts. In this second part it’s all about backup and accessing the Raspberry Pi via SSH.

At first I did not care about backing up the system. If something went wrong I just dumped a new and clean image onto my SD-card and started all over. With more and more bits and pieces coming together and (some of them) working out, I soon realized that it would be a good idea to regularly backup the things I had accomplished so far.
Remote access is another important thing. I am sure most of us have the Raspberry Pi running as a “headless” system, connecting to it via SSH from a shell. However, there is one drawback with SSH. It generates a key per IP address. Now I wanted to use just one IP for my Raspberry, no matter which SD-card was inserted. This usually goes not very well with SSH, as different systems (per SD-card) will result in different SSH-keys. Continue reading

Basics for Beginners (part 1 – go easy)

There are numerous guides for beginners, so I won’t repeat all the steps. As a Mac user I will concentrate on this system.
Of course Raspberry’s own Wiki is a great source of information. They do have a tutorial how to set up an SD-card on various systems. Once you have set up the card put it in the Raspberry, connect a display, network and keyboard and fire it up. I will not get into detail here. The two things where most users are insecure are “How to switch it off” and “How to backup my system”. So I will discuss these here. Continue reading

And so it begins

The very first thing coming to my mind when I saw the Raspberry Pi was: Cool, I am going to build a retro-style Cocktail-Table Arcade Cabinet. No problem with heating and fans, small powersupply etc. So I ordered some stuff from Reichelt for a start. As always I needed the “bigger package”, because it makes no sense to discover in the midst of tinkering that some little thingie is lacking. So the list grew to some extent. And, I couldn’t believe it myself, I had no spare keyboard with USB cable lying around, so I needed to order this too. The final list:

  • Raspberry Pi (of course, sadly I ordered only one…)
  • USB keyboard (real bargain)
  • WLan-N dongle (hey, less cables means greater “Women’s Acceptance Factor means more tinkering allowed)
  • Case for Raspberry (moving bare PCBs  around with power on is a bad idea)
  • Asahi 31238 38kHz IR-receiver (of course this is going to get a remote)

Fortunately all those things arrived 3 days later. It shoud have been two days, but for some reason the Deutsche Post decided to keep my package (that they had loaded on their truck on day 2) for another day. Enough time to try and get a Raspbian image running in a virtual machine. Not easy, I can tell you. I had no idea that my Mac can display “Kernel Panik” messages.