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thagrol
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Re: Pi Is Too Complicated

Thu Jun 21, 2018 5:30 pm

As mentioned above, the OP wants a “stable operating system targeted for use in teaching computer science that is easy to understand and to modify” .

Past experience shows that this isn't going to be practical. It's been tried, at least in the UK. Folks of a cetain age will remember what happened to Acron and RISC OS.*

All was fine until people started arguing "that's not what they're using in business and industry"**, HP/Dell/Microsft/etc. came along with artifically low offers for windows kit, and the education system decided it was more import to teach MS Word than actuall computer science.***

If we go for an OS that's too tied into teaching, it'll go the same way for much the same reason****

Yeah, I'm old and cynical, so waht.

* Yeah RISC OS is still around and if it wasn't for Acorn we wouldn't have ARM.
** Doesn't matter if you're teaching comp. sci. Not app X on OS Y
*** Or Any other App/OS combination
**** Moving the Pi from a mainstream OS (Debain Linux) to an education specfic one will work against the RPT's aims here. Just my 2p worth.
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davidcoton
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Re: Pi Is Too Complicated

Thu Jun 21, 2018 5:35 pm

jamesh wrote:
Thu Jun 21, 2018 2:33 pm
scruss wrote:
Thu Jun 21, 2018 2:31 pm
jamesh wrote:
Thu Jun 21, 2018 1:40 pm
… there are limits to how far you can uncomplex* it.

* New word, ™ jamesh.
“simplify” would've been shorter, as Heater noted … and we have so many Linux distributions purely because we can.
How about uncomplexify?
Simplificate?
And if natural language can be so illogical, isn't it inevitable that OSs wiill evolve in similar patterns?
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ejolson
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Re: Pi Is Too Complicated

Thu Jun 21, 2018 7:51 pm

I appreciate all the responses and enthusiasm for the topic of whether the Pi is too complicated and how to create a stable platform targeted for the classroom and hobbyist makers. I can see how the differences between Raspbian and Debian could cause confusion. The recent post
thagrol wrote:
Thu Jun 21, 2018 5:30 pm
All was fine until people started arguing "that's not what they're using in business and industry"
also presents a compelling reason to keep the official operating system as close to Debian as possible. At the same time, if I understand the original idea correctly, the golden age of learning enabled by the BBC Micro and the Acorn is exactly what the Raspberry Pi is supposed to recreate.

Many of the disruptive changes to how Debian works are a consequence of the attempt to match Microsoft Windows on the desktop using Gnome along with systemd, dbus, udev and PulseAudio among other things. Since the desktop is the only environment where Linux is not widely used, these changes are motivated by a minority use case. If the main operating system for the Raspberry Pi continues along this same path, we may end up with a complex Windows-like desktop operating system that hides how computers work in a way that significantly steepens the learning curve for teaching computer science and makes system customization difficult for makers.

I'm generally happy with the changes Raspbian has made to Debian, except perhaps dhcpcd. Although too much proprietary software can be a liability, the most obvious difference for me is the inclusion of commercial packages such as Mathematica and Minecraft. Even without these binary packages, the popularity of the Raspbian desktop on x86 indicates there are a number of users who want a simple but well-tuned user interface geared toward learning. To move forward with curriculum and course materials, it is my opinion that some sort of stability needs to be established that is independent of current fashions in Debian and other distributions.

Maintaining the simplicity and stability of the main operating system for the Raspberry Pi is a real need that may not be visible to experienced users who have already climbed the learning curve and don't use beginner's tutorials or who are not building maker-style IOT projects. While no perfect solutions exist, I think acknowledgement of the problem and some effort could result in significant improvements. I'm looking forward to additional discussion highlighting what might be practically done.

mfa298
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Re: Pi Is Too Complicated

Thu Jun 21, 2018 8:20 pm

ejolson wrote:
Thu Jun 21, 2018 7:51 pm
Many of the disruptive changes to how Debian works are a consequence of the attempt to match Microsoft Windows on the desktop using Gnome along with systemd, dbus, udev and PulseAudio among other things. Since the desktop is the only environment where Linux is not widely used, these changes are motivated by a minority use case.
That argument doesn't make sense. Certainly systemd and udev also benefit servers and other systems. There are also uses for PulseAudio on a headless system. I've not had so much visibility of dbus but the same could apply there.

To some extent the issue Linux desktop usage is a catch-22, with a smaller user base there's less incentive to improve things so the rate of improvement is slow. Although it's interesting to see Windows introduce features in Win10 that we've had on Linux for ages (virtual desktops being the obvious case).

ejolson wrote:
Thu Jun 21, 2018 7:51 pm
While no perfect solutions exist, I think acknowledgement of the problem and some effort could result in significant improvements. I'm looking forward to additional discussion highlighting what might be practically done.
Why not make some suggestions of your own rather than just suggesting things are broken.

There seems to be agreement that there are issues of older guides not matching newer tutorials (or hardware) you seem to be suggesting the solution is to stop updating the OS. I think most others are suggesting we should improve user education on how to spot and deal with out of date tutorials (and maybe for tutorial writers to provide suitable dates/tested revisions on their tutorials).


Here's a proposal. RPF/RPT should halt all production of the Pi2/Pi3/Pi3B+ and any future updates and revert back to a single core 256MB/512MB ram device as there are tutorials out there for GPIO that only work on the original Pi due to the memory address used for GPIO access.

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Re: Pi Is Too Complicated

Thu Jun 21, 2018 9:15 pm

mfa298 wrote:
Thu Jun 21, 2018 8:20 pm
Why not make some suggestions of your own rather than just suggesting things are broken.
My suggestion was to adopt a policy similar to the "don't break user land" policy that has guided development of the Linux kernel. While Linus has allowed device driver interfaces and internal details of the kernal to change in incompatible ways, the binary interface provided by the kernal to applications has remained reverse compatible to the point where I can run a version of the proprietary closed-source Maple computer algebra system from 2004 without trouble on a modern Linux distribution.

Once reverse compatibility becomes a mandate many things can be done to achieve it. While hardware changes are necessary, it might even have been possible to modify the kernel to remap the addresses for the GPIO between versions of the SOC in order that older tutorials continue to work. In the above example, I can run a 32-bit binary that was compiled before 64-bit hardware was common.

If I had a time machine, I would suggest creating an up-to-date operating system that was reverse compatible with tutorials written for Wheezy versions of Raspbian. Without a time machine, it seems more practical to mandate that future changes don't invalidate learning materials written for the current version of Raspbian. At the same time, the official operating system for the Raspberry Pi is exactly what the foundation says it is. That is why a discussion like this may be useful.

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Re: Pi Is Too Complicated

Thu Jun 21, 2018 9:41 pm

ejolson wrote:
Thu Jun 21, 2018 7:51 pm
thagrol wrote:
Thu Jun 21, 2018 5:30 pm
All was fine until people started arguing "that's not what they're using in business and industry"
also presents a compelling reason to keep the official operating system as close to Debian as possible. At the same time, if I understand the original idea correctly, the golden age of learning enabled by the BBC Micro and the Acorn is exactly what the Raspberry Pi is supposed to recreate.
That was precisely what was wrong with the BBC Micro. It didn't match the real world (of punched cards, tapes and line printer output written in assembler, COBOL, PL/I & FORTRAN) by any stretch of the imagination. It really did appear to be a toy rather than a serious computer. The biggest downfall for the Beeb was BASIC.

There's a difference with the Raspberry. We're running modern languages (even though I hate python) on a modern operating systems doing stuff that matches things that happen in the real world. The problem as discussed is that promotes a level of change as the real world moves from one programming language and paradigm to some new language that's better suited to agile development.

The education system can't keep up, it never has done and probably never will.
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thagrol
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Re: Pi Is Too Complicated

Thu Jun 21, 2018 10:10 pm

ejolson wrote:
Thu Jun 21, 2018 7:51 pm
thagrol wrote:
Thu Jun 21, 2018 5:30 pm
All was fine until people started arguing "that's not what they're using in business and industry"
also presents a compelling reason to keep the official operating system as close to Debian as possible.
I don't agree with that, it's a bogus argument that really only has merit if you're teaching how to use application X on operating system Y which I, and probably others, would not call computer science. I originally brough it up as a sample argument not as something I was in favour of. Sure, if you're training future secretaries you shoulld probably do so with MS Office on MS Windows but the same doesn't hold for future software devs.

The concepts required when learning progrmamming are OS agnostic and many are language agnostic too (some are harder than others to explain and not all languages are suited to them).
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Re: Pi Is Too Complicated

Thu Jun 21, 2018 10:20 pm

ejolson,
While Linus has allowed device driver interfaces and internal details of the kernal to change in incompatible ways, the binary interface provided by the kernal to applications has remained reverse compatible to the point where I can run a version of the proprietary closed-source Maple computer algebra system from 2004 without trouble on a modern Linux distribution.
I'm pretty sure this is not true.

When it comes to low level drivers and such Linus says no to any frozen binary interfaces.

When it comes to applications like Maple, and thousands of others, they do not interact with the kernel directly. They work through libc and such like.

In the same way that a Windows program like LTspice from Linear Technology has been working perfectly on Linux for many years thanks to Wine.

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thagrol
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Re: Pi Is Too Complicated

Thu Jun 21, 2018 10:26 pm

DougieLawson wrote:
Thu Jun 21, 2018 9:41 pm
ejolson wrote:
Thu Jun 21, 2018 7:51 pm
thagrol wrote:
Thu Jun 21, 2018 5:30 pm
All was fine until people started arguing "that's not what they're using in business and industry"
also presents a compelling reason to keep the official operating system as close to Debian as possible. At the same time, if I understand the original idea correctly, the golden age of learning enabled by the BBC Micro and the Acorn is exactly what the Raspberry Pi is supposed to recreate.
That was precisely what was wrong with the BBC Micro. It didn't match the real world (of punched cards, tapes and line printer output written in assembler, COBOL, PL/I & FORTRAN) by any stretch of the imagination. It really did appear to be a toy rather than a serious computer.
I don't think anyone expected it to match the real world at that time. At least no-one in the education and hobbyist worlds.
The biggest downfall for the Beeb was BASIC.
Nope. The biggest downfall for the Beeb was price. Schools bought them but very few home users/hobbyists did. There were a lot of other 8 bit systems available from other makers, almost all of them much cheaper than the Beeb.
There's a difference with the Raspberry. We're running modern languages (even though I hate python) on a modern operating systems doing stuff that matches things that happen in the real world. The problem as discussed is that promotes a level of change as the real world moves from one programming language and paradigm to some new language that's better suited to agile development.

The education system can't keep up, it never has done and probably never will.
Indeed. And surely the aim is to teach the principles and concepts not just the tools
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Re: Pi Is Too Complicated

Fri Jun 22, 2018 12:26 am

And some young whippersnapper might agree with the OP and think "this Unix is too big and complex I will make a simple version and call it Linux".

Haiku, Redox, Magenta, Fushcia, Indigo, Teal, Mauve?
What colour is your new OS?

Education text books take time to make/print/distribute and can quickly go out of date when it comes to computing.
So don't have books - make ebooks that students can update themselves.
The lesson plans, ebook and OS can be on the SDcard or even netbooted to the room full of Pi's.
Just because it has not been done (or not yet released) does not mean it will never be done.

Wonder when we will get the first Pi's that net boot via WiFi without SD cards?
The complexity of the Pi ecosystem is it's greatest feature, from it will evolved new ways to do things.

People complain Pi's don't not have enough memory, gee it might force people to make tighter/faster code :lol:
Or find smaller OS or toss the OS ;)
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Re: Pi Is Too Complicated

Fri Jun 22, 2018 6:47 am

Heater wrote:
Thu Jun 21, 2018 10:20 pm
I'm pretty sure this is not true.
Try a web search on "Linus don't break userland." One statement that comes up is
Linus Torvalds wrote:We know that people use old binaries for years and years, and that making a new release doesn't mean that you can just throw that out.
Some binaries use glibc; others are statically compiled or use different libraries. Linux has taken great care to make all system calls used by applications reverse compatible. My point, however, is that once you decide it is important there is a lot that can be done to make new versions of an operating system compatible with existing tutorials and learning materials.

When the Debian packagers decided that network devices should be named according to PCI slot or MAC address Raspbian continued using eth0 for the Ethernet device. This is an example where Raspbian has already deviated from Debian in a way that preserves compatibility. When Debian switched to systemd, however, Raspbian changed as well. In that case, perhaps more could have been done to preserve compatibility.

To end on a positive note, from a hardware point of view the current state of things is fantastic. The newest version of the Raspbian operating system updated for the 3B+ also runs unchanged across multiple generations of hardware including the original Pi. This greatly helps give the Pi the longevity needed for use in education and the bug fixes needed for secure maker-style IOT projects.

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Re: Pi Is Too Complicated

Fri Jun 22, 2018 7:02 am

thagrol wrote:
Thu Jun 21, 2018 10:26 pm
The biggest downfall for the Beeb was BASIC.
Nope. The biggest downfall for the Beeb was price. Schools bought them but very few home users/hobbyists did. There were a lot of other 8 bit systems available from other makers, almost all of them much cheaper than the Beeb.
I think this is true. I was at secondary school at that time - and literally the only people who had a Beeb at home were a family where both parents were teachers. The rest of us had Sinclair or Commodore, which can't be explained if BASIC was the problem. Actually, I don't recall a significant market share home computer of that era with anything but BASIC (though I did want a Jupiter Ace at one stage).

I don't think you can hold BASIC responsible for downfall of anything when a whole generation grew up on it, though I appreciate it has been fashionable to blame all the ills of the IT world on it.

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Re: Pi Is Too Complicated

Fri Jun 22, 2018 7:25 am

I think the majority of the current IT industry of a certain age grew up on BASIC, it did its job.

BBC failed due to price, lead time to market for the cheaper products and a change of direction to PC steam rolling over everything.
But then they didn't actually fail the purpose of the BBC, it worked well bringing computers in to school allowing them to do things they never would have.


They destroyed pretty much any of the companies back then.
Acorn,Commodore, Sinclair all failed... not because of basic.

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Re: Pi Is Too Complicated

Fri Jun 22, 2018 7:26 am

ejolson wrote:
Thu Jun 21, 2018 9:15 pm
mfa298 wrote:
Thu Jun 21, 2018 8:20 pm
Why not make some suggestions of your own rather than just suggesting things are broken.
My suggestion was to adopt a policy similar to the "don't break user land" policy that has guided development of the Linux kernel. While Linus has allowed device driver interfaces and internal details of the kernal to change in incompatible ways, the binary interface provided by the kernal to applications has remained reverse compatible to the point where I can run a version of the proprietary closed-source Maple computer algebra system from 2004 without trouble on a modern Linux distribution.

Once reverse compatibility becomes a mandate many things can be done to achieve it. While hardware changes are necessary, it might even have been possible to modify the kernel to remap the addresses for the GPIO between versions of the SOC in order that older tutorials continue to work. In the above example, I can run a 32-bit binary that was compiled before 64-bit hardware was common.

If I had a time machine, I would suggest creating an up-to-date operating system that was reverse compatible with tutorials written for Wheezy versions of Raspbian. Without a time machine, it seems more practical to mandate that future changes don't invalidate learning materials written for the current version of Raspbian. At the same time, the official operating system for the Raspberry Pi is exactly what the foundation says it is. That is why a discussion like this may be useful.
AFAIK, the only real big change on Raspbian is the networking. In 5 years that doesn't seem a huge amount of stuff to compensate for.. Of course, lots of little changes, but that is simply progress, things actually getting better. Happens everywhere.

As for maintaining documentation/functional backwards compatibility, I don't think that is completely feasible. There are some things that you simply cannot do in a sane fashion. The maintenance burden of keeping all things valid is HUGE. Imagine having to run a distro where you had to individually check each package to see if it changes, whether it affected documentation/tutorials, then chose what to do. Just not feasible with the huge number of packages present. The alternative is simply never to upgrade packages. So no security updates.

We do try hard to maintain backwards compatibility on the changes we do make. Sometimes its just not possible.

There's also an argument that if we don't change stuff (ie upgrade HW), then we lose our market. That would be much worse than a few out of date tutorials.
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davidcoton
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Re: Pi Is Too Complicated

Fri Jun 22, 2018 4:17 pm

My opinion is that it comes back to education. The (perceived) needs of educators should not be the major driving force, even for a product aimed at "education". Education itself must learn how to teach students to be functional in a fast moving technological world. As my Dad once said, the purpose of primary education is to teach you how to learn. Then secondary and tertiary education builds on that in increasingly specialised areas. I have yet to meet an effective software engineer who does not spend a noticeable proportion of his/her working life updating their own knowledge and skills to be able to use the most appropriate technology for their current task.

I remember spending some time in degree level engineering maths learning how to solve a particularly unpleasant class of equations (subsequently forgotten) -- with the rider "we can't prove the method, so you must ALWAYS check the solution fits the original equation. But no-one has yet found a counter-example." Three weeks later, someone had. The technique -- while still valid if checked -- was removed from the syllabus and we were not examined on it.

So education can evolve, even rapidly. The challenge is to find ways of presenting course materials that can be kept up to date, where students get updates freely and easily (if not automatically), and where the syllabus adapts to teach what is actually needed for particular class aims. It shouldn't be difficult with existing technology.

Education is also responsible for teaching all those tutorial authors to structure their material with such metadata as the hardware, OS, and application (names and versions) for which it was written or subsequently updated.

One challenge remains, which the Pi community may help to solve. How to store, index, and present tutorials in a way that respects the metadata, emphasises recent material, acknowledges correctness and usefulness, allows comment and/or amendment, possibly allows grading by peer review, and above all is user friendly to authors and consumers. (Any other ideas?) I'm not sure that any current platform achieves all this -- some achieve none!
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Heater
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Re: Pi Is Too Complicated

Fri Jun 22, 2018 5:19 pm

ejolson,
Try a web search on "Linus don't break userland." One statement that comes up is
Linus Torvalds wrote:
We know that people use old binaries for years and years, and that making a new release doesn't mean that you can just throw that out.
Interesting. Thanks.

I guess what I was thinking of Torvald's statments about binary compatibility of old kernel drivers to new kernels.

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Re: Pi Is Too Complicated

Fri Jun 22, 2018 5:25 pm

davidcoton,
How to store, index, and present tutorials in a way that respects the metadata, emphasises recent material, acknowledges correctness and usefulness, allows comment and/or amendment, possibly allows grading by peer review, and above all is user friendly to authors and consumers.
Sounds like github:

emphasises recent material - Check, everything is versioned there.

acknowledges correctness and usefulness - Check, you can always raise an issue on a github repository if you find an error. Give the repo stars if you find it useful.

allows comment and/or amendment - Check. Make comments by raising issues. Make amendments by creating pull requests.

grading by peer review - Check. See issues and stars etc.

user friendly - Check. Github is very easy to use.

Oh, guess where the Pi Foundation keeps it's documentation? ... Github.

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Re: Pi Is Too Complicated

Thu Jun 28, 2018 8:41 pm

An interesting consequence of the increasing complexity of Raspbian is the fact that it no longer easily fits on a 4GB or 8GB SD card, as discussed in this thread.

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PeterO
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Re: Pi Is Too Complicated

Thu Jun 28, 2018 9:00 pm

ejolson wrote:
Thu Jun 28, 2018 8:41 pm
An interesting consequence of the increasing complexity of Raspbian is the fact that it no longer easily fits on a 4GB or 8GB SD card, as discussed in this thread.
It is only interesting if you have a box full of unused 4Gb sdcards :lol:


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Ernst
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Re: Pi Is Too Complicated

Thu Jun 28, 2018 9:18 pm

PeterO wrote:
Thu Jun 28, 2018 9:00 pm
ejolson wrote:
Thu Jun 28, 2018 8:41 pm
An interesting consequence of the increasing complexity of Raspbian is the fact that it no longer easily fits on a 4GB or 8GB SD card, as discussed in this thread.
It is only interesting if you have a box full of unused 4Gb sdcards :lol:


PeterO
Which is not bad if you happen to create backup images from the SD cards because it saves quite a bit of storage space.
I prefer to use smaller cards where possible for this reason but reality is that it is getting more difficult to buy smaller (meaning <=8GB) cards.

Btw. I still have some 16MB, 512MB SD & 128MB MMC cards that I keep for special (not raspberry) purposes
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Re: Pi Is Too Complicated

Thu Jun 28, 2018 9:20 pm

PeterO wrote:
Thu Jun 28, 2018 9:00 pm
ejolson wrote:
Thu Jun 28, 2018 8:41 pm
An interesting consequence of the increasing complexity of Raspbian is the fact that it no longer easily fits on a 4GB or 8GB SD card, as discussed in this thread.
It is only interesting if you have a box full of unused 4Gb sdcards :lol:


PeterO
Indeed, and with a little work it's possible to get stretch lite running on a 1GB SD card.
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Re: Pi Is Too Complicated

Thu Jun 28, 2018 9:29 pm

As James mentioned in that thread, we're seeing what we can do to trim the image a bit. The next image is going to be trimmed a little, and we're seeing what else we can do.

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Re: Pi Is Too Complicated

Thu Jun 28, 2018 9:39 pm

ejolson wrote:
Thu Jun 28, 2018 8:41 pm
An interesting consequence of the increasing complexity of Raspbian is the fact that it no longer easily fits on a 4GB or 8GB SD card, as discussed in this thread.
I don't have any trouble putting a full Raspbian setup on an 8GB card. I suppose if one were using NOOBS it might be a problem, though.

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Re: Pi Is Too Complicated

Thu Jun 28, 2018 9:42 pm

Ernst wrote:
Thu Jun 28, 2018 9:18 pm
PeterO wrote:
Thu Jun 28, 2018 9:00 pm
ejolson wrote:
Thu Jun 28, 2018 8:41 pm
An interesting consequence of the increasing complexity of Raspbian is the fact that it no longer easily fits on a 4GB or 8GB SD card, as discussed in this thread.
It is only interesting if you have a box full of unused 4Gb sdcards :lol:


PeterO
Which is not bad if you happen to create backup images from the SD cards because it saves quite a bit of storage space.
I prefer to use smaller cards where possible for this reason but reality is that it is getting more difficult to buy smaller (meaning <=8GB) cards.

Btw. I still have some 16MB, 512MB SD & 128MB MMC cards that I keep for special (not raspberry) purposes
Sigh... I could use small USB sticks. There is a long weekend every year when I need to sneakernet a file that is less than 150KB several times. Feels like a real waste to put it on a multi-GB USB stick.

Heater
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Re: Pi Is Too Complicated

Thu Jun 28, 2018 9:51 pm

Whoever,
Pi Is Too Complicated
Perhaps. But more complicated than what else ?

My better half has a laptop running Windows 10. How easy can it be?

Every week or so she starts nagging me. "My computer is not working, come and fix it". Of course I do. Could be the scanner no longer works, could be the printer no longer works, just the other day it was watching videos from the net did not work. Who knows what comes next.

Who knows what happened. Did a driver update break something? Did some malware get in there and break something? Could be as simple as MS moving things around in the user interface again so that the poor user is lost.

Everytime this happens it's an hour or two out of my life to find out what it is and do something about it.

My observation is that this has been going on for two or three decades. Every Windows user has a local nerd in the family or among their friends to bail them out when Windows fails them. Unless they are a company paying some nerd to do that.

If MS had to pay for every hour of time that nerds world wide spent supporting Windows for family and friends over the last three decades then MS would be bankrupt.

How this plays out in the Apple world I have no idea. Luckily I have never had to go there.

Yes, the Pi is complicated. Yes, raspbian is complicated. At least we have some chance of understanding what is going on, some chance of stabilising things if we want to.

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