New here, just want to clear some things up.


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by ezixax » Tue Jan 15, 2013 12:48 am
I just hear about how amazing it is and the specs are so good and omgwad so cheap.
But, what is it actually useful for? Like, actually practical things(Not interested in running a server.)
Can you connect solar panels to it and make a solar car just for the hell of it, with a camera on top? I'm just curious about what things like that you can do, and how easy it is.
I know Java already, which should help out.
Yep, that's about it. I couldn't find any info on how you can actually things get done, it's just vague explanation like "Next I connected a camera." I mean, connecting a camera itself isn't hard, the hard part is how to make it appear on another screen through blue-tooth or wifi. I think?
Anyway, please help me ou
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by wirelessmonk » Tue Jan 15, 2013 1:59 am
Loaded question.
That said, what can the RPi do? What can you do?

It is an inexpensive hobbyist's computer with General Purpose Input Output pins broken out. Virtual environments can be made react to stimulus from the real world, or vice versa. It can emulate many other systems. It can control electromechanical systems, including displays an illumination. It can provide the basic pc functions users have become accustomed to. This is all loaded with caveats. It requires effort on your part.

It can do as little or as much as you want it to. It all depends on your level of effort.
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by BlueNinjaTiger » Tue Jan 15, 2013 2:04 am
Okay, so...how are you supposed to USE this? Do you plug it into another computer and program it from there, or hook up peripherals and use it directly, or what? All I find when reading about it is, "this is a tiny, affordable computer. Use it to learn to program and do cool things." Is it supposed to be treated as a tiny, less powerful version of a standard computer (or rather, the tower portion of a computer)? Or more like a programmable controller? Or all of the above plus more?
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by bwoodbury » Tue Jan 15, 2013 2:14 am
This forum topic has some ideas
viewtopic.php?f=41&t=2306
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by ShiftPlusOne » Tue Jan 15, 2013 2:14 am
BlueNinjaTiger wrote:Okay, so...how are you supposed to USE this? Do you plug it into another computer and program it from there, or hook up peripherals and use it directly, or what? All I find when reading about it is, "this is a tiny, affordable computer. Use it to learn to program and do cool things." Is it supposed to be treated as a tiny, less powerful version of a standard computer (or rather, the tower portion of a computer)? Or more like a programmable controller? Or all of the above plus more?


It's not a like tower and it's not a like a programmable controller, it's exactly what you said it is - "this is a tiny, affordable computer. Use it to learn to program and do cool things".

You use it like you would use a low spec linux computer. You hook up the peripherals and use it directly, yes.
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by alexeames » Tue Jan 15, 2013 10:37 am
ShiftPlusOne wrote:You use it like you would use a low spec linux computer. You hook up the peripherals and use it directly, yes.


You can, but then again you don't have to. And that is the beauty of this flexible little delight. Most of the time I use mine with just power and ethernet connected (plus whatever GPIO gizmos I'm fooling with) and run it via the network with ssh or tightvnc.

To answer the original post, spend a few hours browsing the forums and you will find all sorts of people doing all sorts of things. Some are incredibly inventive and imaginative, some are fun, some are geeky, some, not many, are boring (to me, but not to the person doing them - we're all different). There is something for everyone. There's so much going on, you can't fail to find something interesting if you're willing to spend a bit of time reading up on it. :D
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by rurwin » Tue Jan 15, 2013 10:54 am
BlueNinjaTiger wrote: Is it supposed to be treated as a tiny, less powerful version of a standard computer (or rather, the tower portion of a computer)? Or more like a programmable controller? Or all of the above plus more?


We can take issue with the words you use, but the answer to the above questions is "yes".

It is about as powerful as a 300MHz Pentium II, but will not run any Windows programs because it doesn't use an Intel/AMD/VIA chip. Nevertheless, it has the same capabilities as a tower.

The huge majority of the CPU chip is a graphics processor; it is much better than you might expect at displaying graphics and streaming movies. It has certain limitations regarding codecs in comparison with a Windows Media setup.

It has some general-purpose-input/output pins, so it can do some of the stuff a programmable controller can do. It is current-limited, and it doesn't have any analogue inputs. It is not as good at doing stuff that requires tightly controlled timing as a real controller, because Linux is doing all sorts of other stuff and gets in the way.

It only consumes about 2 watts of power. So you can leave it on 24x7 for only £2 per year (approx).

It's very small, and very cheap.

Because it is all these things, it is useful for educational purposes.

Where The Raspberry Pi really excels for hobbyist/OEM use though is where all those advantages interact. For example, if you have a job that a programmable controller could do, but it also needs to have a web server interface, then the Raspberry Pi might save you time, effort and money.
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by ezixax » Tue Jan 15, 2013 11:30 am
rurwin wrote:
BlueNinjaTiger wrote: Is it supposed to be treated as a tiny, less powerful version of a standard computer (or rather, the tower portion of a computer)? Or more like a programmable controller? Or all of the above plus more?


We can take issue with the words you use, but the answer to the above questions is "yes".

It is about as powerful as a 300MHz Pentium II, but will not run any Windows programs because it doesn't use an Intel/AMD/VIA chip. Nevertheless, it has the same capabilities as a tower.

The huge majority of the CPU chip is a graphics processor; it is much better than you might expect at displaying graphics and streaming movies. It has certain limitations regarding codecs in comparison with a Windows Media setup.

It has some general-purpose-input/output pins, so it can do some of the stuff a programmable controller can do. It is current-limited, and it doesn't have any analogue inputs. It is not as good at doing stuff that requires tightly controlled timing as a real controller, because Linux is doing all sorts of other stuff and gets in the way.

It only consumes about 2 watts of power. So you can leave it on 24x7 for only £2 per year (approx).

It's very small, and very cheap.

Because it is all these things, it is useful for educational purposes.

Where The Raspberry Pi really excels for hobbyist/OEM use though is where all those advantages interact. For example, if you have a job that a programmable controller could do, but it also needs to have a web server interface, then the Raspberry Pi might save you time, effort and money.


Aha, thanks for the answer.(All of the other answers are again, vague.) I guess what I'm looking for is an Arduino to not have to worry about these limitations.

But, then again, why are people saying you can learn programming with this thing? I don't see one advantage if you already have a PC. Anyways, thanks.
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by piglet » Tue Jan 15, 2013 11:56 am
ezixax wrote: I guess what I'm looking for is an Arduino to not have to worry about these limitations.


It's horses for courses. Everything bar your preferred deity has limitations of some kind. Arduino is a fine microcontroller - but you may find yourself struggling to use one to, for example, show HD movies. Your PC is a fine piece of kit for many things, but you might struggle to use it to control sensors/LEDs without additional hardware and software costing more than a PI.

You can run the PI "Bare Metal" - without Linux. This makes the PI far more like a glorified microcontroller with you absolutely completely in control of timings. You may need to get a propellor for your head for additional brain-cooling if you go this route. RISC-OS may be better that way as you can program there and know that nothing else is stealing your time....

It all depends what you want to do. If you can be more specific I'm sure someone will point you in the right direction.
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by rurwin » Tue Jan 15, 2013 12:06 pm
The Arduino is about as powerful as a 20MHz 386, it doesn't run Windows programs and it doesn't have networking or USB, or a screen, or a keyboard or mouse. But if those limitations don't bother you, then it's the right choice.

If you already have a PC, then there is no advantage to using a Pi to learn to program, except for a tiny amount that using Linux instead of Windows gets you. (Writing Windows code with free compilers is a bit tricky, but can be done, and Visual Studio is available free to hobbyists I think.)

There are three cases where the Pi makes a significant difference to learning to code:

1) When you sit down in front of the Pi, you are not distracted by your favourite website for three hours.

2) The IT in many schools is contracted out. The Windows PCs are locked down and cannot have new software installed on them without significant hassle, much less let pupils develop code on them.

3) Many parents know less about their PCs than their children do. They know that the PC has lots of stuff on it that they don't want to lose, and that it is easy to break it and make them call their friend the computer guru and maybe cost lots of money. They worry that their children are going to break the PC anyway, just browsing the web. They are not going to let them program it -- especially when Mom wants her Facebook fix. The "Hey Dad look what cool thing I made the computer do" moment is going to be a negative experience if the first thing Dad thinks is that they have broken the computer. For many people "breaking the computer" includes deleting an icon off the desktop.

And if you write software for the Pi, then a million other people can run it. They don't have to have the right version of Windows and the right graphics board and the right libraries installed etc. If there is any doubt about whether your software runs on a particular version of Linux, then testing that only costs an SD card. It becomes very cheap and very easy to be a software publisher.
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by pluggy » Tue Jan 15, 2013 12:27 pm
rurwin wrote:The Arduino is about as powerful as a 20MHz 386


The new 32 Bit Arduino Due might be, but the majority of Arduino's are 8 bit, nowhere near the power of a 386 (which is 32 Bit). A Z80 or a 6502 would be nearer.
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by ezixax » Tue Jan 15, 2013 12:48 pm
piglet wrote:
ezixax wrote: I guess what I'm looking for is an Arduino to not have to worry about these limitations.


It's horses for courses. Everything bar your preferred deity has limitations of some kind. Arduino is a fine microcontroller - but you may find yourself struggling to use one to, for example, show HD movies. Your PC is a fine piece of kit for many things, but you might struggle to use it to control sensors/LEDs without additional hardware and software costing more than a PI.

You can run the PI "Bare Metal" - without Linux. This makes the PI far more like a glorified microcontroller with you absolutely completely in control of timings. You may need to get a propellor for your head for additional brain-cooling if you go this route. RISC-OS may be better that way as you can program there and know that nothing else is stealing your time....

It all depends what you want to do. If you can be more specific I'm sure someone will point you in the right direction.


Specific, well in the OP I provided an example of what things I might want to do with it, and what I definitely don't want to do with it. And of ourse, everything has limitations, just asking if it can do that, and a quick paragraph on how to approach that so I can find out more about that.
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by WeUsePis » Tue Jan 15, 2013 7:15 pm
ezixax wrote:But, then again, why are people saying you can learn programming with this thing? I don't see one advantage if you already have a PC. Anyways, thanks.


Yes, true, but the Pi was designed specifically for those who DO NOT have a PC mainly because they cannot afford one. Since the Pi is sold to everyone who can spare the 35$ there are many that use it for nerdy things, but that wasn't the main purpose. The GPIO is intended to introduce people into the world of programmable electronics, an area with huge professional potential and the field where many can find employment if they have the necessary skills. The Pi is designed to be used in education. I think it is a great fit for exactly that.

If all you are interested in is controlling electronics then yes, any one of the Arduino versions will get you more options, mainly analog inputs. The Arduino is a nice platform, but it does not general purpose computing as the Pi does. Also, the Pi does not do everything that a souped up PC does, but then again a not even that much souped up PC easily costs ten times more than a Pi.
There are different usage scenarios for the Pi aside from purely educational use. For example, I use it to learn more about Linux and use it as a multimedia system to play my stored TV shows. The Pi is quite good at that as the processor was designed for multimedia applications in mobile devices. Especially the small form factor is beneficial here, paired with a laptop drive it can store a lot of files locally. Can it render complex 3D graphics and cook you breakfast? No, it cannot and you are also limited in regards to off-the-shelf accessories as they have to be USB devices.
Aside from that get familiar with what the feature of the Pi are, which programming environments you can use (Python is suggested), and then be creative. The point here is that you need to put the effort in to find the readily available documentation and manuals, then start learning.
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by TuxLab » Tue Jan 15, 2013 9:58 pm
ezixax wrote:
Aha, thanks for the answer.(All of the other answers are again, vague.) I guess what I'm looking for is an Arduino to not have to worry about these limitations.

But, then again, why are people saying you can learn programming with this thing? I don't see one advantage if you already have a PC. Anyways, thanks.


Programming is fairly broad topic. For me, I want my PC to physically interact with the world 24/7, ie turn on a fan base on measured temperature. You can do that with a PC, but it's not that easy and even the most energy efficient PC is still a energy guzzler compared to a RPi.

Currently, I am using an Arduino to measure an array of temperature and humidity in the warehouse. I have an ethernet shield and a linux server pulling the data from the arduino/ethernet setup into a sql database. With a RPi, I can replace both the ethernet shield and the linux server.
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by Burngate » Wed Jan 16, 2013 11:26 am
ezixax wrote:... I don't see one advantage if you already have a PC. Anyways, thanks.

I do

Do you really want to be without Facebook just because you screwed something up?

Keep experiments away from your PC, and useful things off your Pi, them mistakes are less costly
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by ezixax » Wed Jan 16, 2013 11:45 am
Burngate wrote:
ezixax wrote:... I don't see one advantage if you already have a PC. Anyways, thanks.

I do

Do you really want to be without Facebook just because you screwed something up?

Keep experiments away from your PC, and useful things off your Pi, them mistakes are less costly


To be honest that's one of the stupidest arguments I've ever read in my entire life.

Block facebook? Have self-control? Block facebook again?

And what if you need to go on google just to look at some code or commands you forgot. What are you gonna do, browse facebook again?
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by jamesh » Wed Jan 16, 2013 12:02 pm
ezixax wrote:
Burngate wrote:
ezixax wrote:... I don't see one advantage if you already have a PC. Anyways, thanks.

I do

Do you really want to be without Facebook just because you screwed something up?

Keep experiments away from your PC, and useful things off your Pi, them mistakes are less costly


To be honest that's one of the stupidest arguments I've ever read in my entire life.

Block facebook? Have self-control? Block facebook again?

And what if you need to go on google just to look at some code or commands you forgot. What are you gonna do, browse facebook again?


No rudeness please. And you have misunderstood the point being made. With a Raspi - you break it, you just need to reimage the SD card. With a PC , you break it, you've lost Facebook for quite some time.
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by Burngate » Wed Jan 16, 2013 2:01 pm
Thanks, Jamesh, and I'm sorry, ezixax, I have a habit of being somewhat flippant. I'll try to be less so in future.

A thought occurs, though, from your post.
You suggest Google as a resource when having problems. When it's just a minor problem, that's ok, but when you've just bricked your PC (not easy, but it can be done, even in Python) how do you look up Google?

As far as I'm concerned, Facebook is the only important thing you should have on your Pi when you brick it. It's the best place for it. Or is that flippant?
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by abishur » Wed Jan 16, 2013 3:40 pm
ezixax wrote:Can you connect solar panels to it and make a solar car just for the hell of it, with a camera on top? I'm just curious about what things like that you can do, and how easy it is.


Yes the pi can, in theory at any rate, do this.

ezixax wrote:Aha, thanks for the answer.(All of the other answers are again, vague.) I guess what I'm looking for is an Arduino to not have to worry about these limitations.


You could certainly could use the Arduino except:

ezixax wrote:I know Java already, which should help out.


The arduino doesn't do java. It does C/C++. You can use java to interface with it, but the actual code on the arduino has to be C/C++ (I say that, but I suppose there could be an additional shield out there that would let you do Java)

ezixax wrote:Yep, that's about it. I couldn't find any info on how you can actually things get done, it's just vague explanation like "Next I connected a camera." I mean, connecting a camera itself isn't hard, the hard part is how to make it appear on another screen through blue-tooth or wifi. I think?


I think the reason for this is that no one has taken the time to turn a pi into a solar powered car with camera on top ;-) But that kinda answers one of your later questions:

ezixax wrote:But, then again, why are people saying you can learn programming with this thing? I don't see one advantage if you already have a PC. Anyways, thanks.


People are saying you can learn program with it because there is so much you *can* do with it that no one else has *yet* done with it! You gotta get down there and learn how to do it yourself. Now that said while no one has explained how to make a solar powered car with a camera which you can view via wifi (blu-tooth wouldn't give you enough range for fun stuff like exploring the yard from your bedroom ;-) ), people have written up lots of info on how to optimize web cams with the pi's USB ports, how to set up finicky wifi dongles, and you might even be able to find information on some general electronic practices such that you could say... wire up a solar panel to charge your battery back which in turn you could tap into with a voltage regulator and some capacitors to feed power back to the pi.

Now obviously if you have a PC you don't need the pi to learn programming, but the pi does help low income families out (which is its primary purpose), and it does help wealthier hobbyist have a reason to expand their programming abilities by giving them a low powered, easily mobile device to play around with.
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by rurwin » Wed Jan 16, 2013 3:49 pm
And more to the point, when you do brick your Pi, how are you going to re-flash the SD card?

Going back to the question of why to use a Pi for learning to program, and particularly in a schools context.

I remember some years back, our IT department decided to crack down on the user permissions that the users all had. I imagine this was back when XP was new. So everyone in the company was downgraded from local administrator to as restricted as IT could make them. The lucky ones got to be "power-users".

So far as the software department went, it lasted less than an afternoon. That is how long it took to demonstrate that it is impossible to develop software under Windows without being a local administrator.

There are exceptions of course. It wouldn't stop Python or Scratch, and probably not Java. But for native code, for installing program data in the registry, and for controlling the outside world, you need local administrator access. I've seen some people on here talk about virtual machines. That's all well and good, but you don't seize a child's imagination by teaching them to program a pretend computer; you grab it by getting them to control lights and drive robots around, or by writing their own version of Facebook.

Now let's do a little role-play. You're the IT technician for a dozen schools, and you have one afternoon a week in this one, and they are not paying you enough. I am a teacher, and I come up to you and say "Hi there! I've got a class of thirty 12-year-olds. Could you make them all local administrators please?"
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by abishur » Wed Jan 16, 2013 4:12 pm
rurwin wrote:Now let's do a little role-play. You're the IT technician for a dozen schools, and you have one afternoon a week in this one, and they are not paying you enough. I am a teacher, and I come up to you and say "Hi there! I've got a class of thirty 12-year-olds. Could you make them all local administrators please?"


:shock: I was the IT Technician for a Jr. High, and I can say without a doubt that I would have laughed in your face and told you to get out of my computer lab. I might have been able to trust a single kid for having admin privileges for a temporary (very short) amount of time. but 30? No way. Now I wouldn't have minded if they were on their own network behind a firewall that I controlled, limited internet speeds, no access to the school's network and so on. But then I never would have been able to get enough money to supply them with PCs to do so.

Interesting I did have a class where we had the exact set up I just described, but there were 6 of us, and it relied on donations from the community to provide us with just enough working parts to make the computers ourselves... I'm not certain if the class is still available to take, it was towards the front of the budget cutting chopping block.
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by W. H. Heydt » Wed Jan 16, 2013 5:16 pm
To answer the initial question, here are some things I'm doing with Pis. None of them are spectacular. In fact, all of them are very low-key and kind of stupid, but they are *real*.

1. Alarm clock. I have a Pi set up with cron entries to act as an alarm clock or radio streaming our local Classical music station. It's hooked up to an ethernet switch and a set of speakers I already had. If it gets rebooted (power outage or whatever), it resets its own time when it comes back up. It also switches between DST and standard time on its own. Since I've done it "stupid" (cron turns on the audio stream and leaves it on), we do an ssh session to turn it off. My wife and I are both comfortable with this.

2. I run convention registration for a regional table-top gaming convention (DunDraCon...DDC 37 is next month). I need data entry workstations for my gofers to input membership information. The real work is done on my (12 year old) dual Opteron 240 "server", so the workstations are very, very thin clients. I will have up to six Pis at a time in this role. The only program they'll be running is PuTTY, which is well within the capabilities of a Pi, even with LXDE running.

3. At the con, there will be a seventh Pi displaying the conventions Twitter feed (assuming I can get a scripted refresh to work properly...I need to do some more work on that).

4. I have a copy of the DDC reg database on a Pi to (a) test the reg software for running on a Pi or Pi-like device in the future (haven't played with printing...yet), and (b) to aid in helping my son-in-law learn SQL.

So there are some simple, but practical uses for Pis. Beyond that...read the News section of this site. There are Pi based projects in the MagPi, too. The real answer to "what can you do with a Pi?" is "Pretty much anything that doesn't require a ton of processing power" and even then, there may be ways around that limitation (brambles, anyone?).
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by danpeirce » Wed Jan 16, 2013 5:56 pm
The last few answers were good generic answers to why one would want a raspberry pi and not just the computer they already have (actually one one posted while I was writing this one). Other reasons could be that the raspberry pi is inexpensive enough that it can be dedicated to one project for a long time without tying up the lab or family computer. One might be reluctant to enable ssh/vnc access on a lab/home computer but willing to do so on the Raspberry Pi. With ssh/vnc access one can access a project remotely with a tablet or phone. I think it is much easier to write python applications to run on the R-Pi and access them from a android tablet than it is to write java apps to run on the tablet. It is also much easier to interface the R-Pi to other hardware than to make an Android accessory. Also, If an application is written for the R-Pi and accessed remotely it could be accessed from either an android or some Iphone/Ipad and a windows pc. One can write one Application and not need to adapt it to different devices.
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by wirelessmonk » Wed Jan 16, 2013 6:12 pm
If you don't understand why anyone would want one, or be excited about one that is quite alright.
Do not be flip and condecending when you ask and the answers are not to your satisfaction.
The internet is overflowing with examples of people putting the device to novel and conventional uses.
You, I can only assume, are now quite capable of doing the research on your own.

That is how most of us arrived at the conclusion that we wanted to get involved.

Robotics
CNCs
Video Capture
Art installations
Web site hosting
Environmental control
etc...

These are general terms because they imply larger concepts. You need code. You need actuators, motors, sensors. These are not plug and play. Effort is required in order to combine these elements toward an end result.

I still the OP's question was specious.
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by cyrano » Wed Jan 16, 2013 6:36 pm
I really hate microwave ovens. I mean what ar they good for? Heating water is about the only thing I can come up with. A microwave is about the most useless tool around the kitchen...

My opinion will probably not affect microwave sales. And billions others are using microwaves.

It's all just what you see in it. If you have nothing else, a Pi could even be your main computer. If you're happy with the computer you have, a Pi will be a far lesser competitor.
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