The Raspberry Pi – An incredible little PC

I’ve not posted for quite a while, due to being very busy with at work, but I have recently got my grubby mitts on a Raspberry Pi, and been exploring what can be done with such a cheap little piece of hardware in my occasional spare time.

It started about a year or so ago when I first saw the KANO, a tiny little computer aimed at kids. After chatting to my other half, I bought one for her 9 yr old daughter Eloise’s Christmas present last year. While Eloise was initially impressed, she rapidly lost interest when she found that the Kano did NOT support FLASH (and therefore browser-based YouTube, many of her favourite online game sites etc). Shame really, but I’d still highly recommend a Kano to any parent who has a youngster interested in computing. Its well packaged, with beautifully designed and illustrated guides, lots of interesting and educational games and tutorials,  its a great way to encourage a budding geek!

Overall, I was much more impressed than Eloise was, and combined with my role as Lead Developer for a Digital Signage platform, my interest was piqued, and questions had to be answered!

  • Is it easy to get started?
  • What do I need to get started?
  • Is it just a geek toy?
  • What are it’s limitations?
  • Can I integrate it into my home network in a useful way, eg media player, home security system or any other home automation?
  • Can it be used as part of my development process at work?
  • What other kind of cool stuff can I do with it?
  • What’s the community like?
  • How steep is the learning curve?
  • IoT – The next Big Thing.  Is the Pi a viable gateway to Internet of Things development?
  • Digital Signs – Could it be a good foundation for a new product?
  • Hardware/Electronics Engineering – I have VERY limited knowledge of hardware and electronics, – Is this a disadvantage?
  • And more…

To try to answer some of these questions, I’ve set myself a little mission of building a media centre from scratch, using some of the technologies that I am interested in learning, including

  • Python – I had a taste of Python and Bottle when I did my MongoDB M101 course, and haven’t had chance to put anything into practice yet, so the Pi offers a great opportunity to expand on the basics!
  • NodeJS – I have been using NodeJS here and there in a few little experiments, and also as part of my day-to-day tooling,  but I’m very keen to build something “meaty” on the MEAN stack, and again, Pi seems like an interesting opportunity
  • MongoDB – I recently took an EdX/MongoDB University online course, and I find MongoDB very interesting – being able to work with data using JavaScript object type syntax, as well as the NoSQL document approach makes it a very attractive proposition for a JavaScript web developer moving to mobile, server-side and full stack development (not to mention the speed, scalability etc), but I’ve not had the opportunity to work with MongoDb in my day job yet, so my plan is to use MongoDB wherever I need a datasource, where applicable.
  • Linux – I use Ubuntu and Centos  a LOT. My role is pretty “full stack”, but within a pretty limited scope (our base server install, and basic sysadmin/devops stuff, setting up test servers, cloud instances on Digital Ocean – full disclosure, that’s a referral link – If you sign up, I get a credit to my account, it helps with the running costs of this blog, but be assured, I highly recommend them!, etc), so Pi is a great way of sharpening up existing skills and learning new tricks.
  • Hardware engineering. I find the idea of making my own devices fascinating!
  • Web APIs – I love tinkering with web APIs like Google Maps, Twitter, Flickr and others, so this is just another excuse!
  • Open Source – I consume open source code all the time, but so far I haven’t had anything worth sharing with world (although I’d love to share some of the stuff I have built in my full time job!) My intention is to share my Pi projects on GitHub or BitBucket. I’ll write a post for this when I have more details (and something to share!)
  • PHP – I work PHP pretty much every hour of my working day, and I feel I still have a lot to learn, so I intend to use LAMP here and there if it makes sense for a particular project

So, if like me, you’re interested in the Raspberry Pi, but you’re not sure where to start, what can be done, how to set things up etc, then watch this space. I intend to post fairly regularly, the assumption being that if I have time to play with the Pi, I have time to blog!


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