Being a Computer Scientist sure has its perks. Take for instance one occasion where I decided to take part in a company’s programming challenge just for the heck of it. The result was a brand new Raspberry Pi B 2! Yet another perk.
For the uninitiated, the Raspberry Pi is a credit card sized computer. Yes, when I say computer I don’t mean an embedded device that you program with some kind of esoteric language or a weird mutation of your preferred language (yes Processing, I’m talking about you), but a computer much akin to the one you use at work or at home to get through your day. Of course, being that small a computer means that it’s not as powerful as your Intel machines or Macbooks, but you’d be surprised by what you can accomplish.
Alas, to get started is the trickiest bit on the Pi! It’s small and cheap, but it lacks a lot of things such as secondary memory, wifi support, bluetooth connectivity and other things. So if you’re interested in working with a Pi, you’ll be interested in getting these items as well, but the choices are pretty overwhelming (and in some cases, exorbitant). That’s where this post comes in. If you follow the guidelines here, you’ll at least be up and running in no time.
First things first, the Pi is a computer and computers need operating systems to do a lot of the heavy lifting for you. You can head over to the Raspberry Pi Foundation page and get the images for the various compatible OSes. I personally prefer Raspbian (Jessie over Wheezy, since it is newer) and Windows IoT Core, since the Arch Linux image reportedly has problems and I outgrew Ubuntu. However, we have a small problem: we need a memory card to save the image on! Amazon to the rescue. I was able to order a 32GB card for approximately $10. You can get any card you like, just make sure it is a Class 10 Micro SDHC card. You can’t really go wrong with the memory card if you just buy the right type.
Installing the image is super easy and I wholly recommend following the procedure given by the distribution of your choice. I myself just needed 5 clicks to get the memory card ready. Next, you’ll want to actually see the device in action, so you need a screen since the Pi, sadly, doesn’t have one built-in. The Pi supports HDMI which is absolutely great since digital signal trumps anything else in terms of video communication. Either get an old TV monitor with HDMI ports or borrow one from your friend, though I recommend getting your own. You can get a good HDMI cable for super cheap off Amazon (~ $5). Insert the memory card, hook up the Pi to the screen with the HDMI cable, and use your standard phone charger to power the Pi up. You should see it boot up in the coolest way possible.
Finally, what’s the point of having a portable mini-computer if it doesn’t connect to the internet? Pick up a Wi-Fi USB adapter (I used Edimax), and ensure it is Pi compatible. It should mention on the label if it supports the Raspberry Pi or not. Plug that in, let the drivers do their thing, and you should be good to go. Optionally you can also get a Bluetooth USB module that lets you connect wireless headphones and stuff, but that depends on your choice.
And there you go! Your Pi is all baked and ready for awesomeness. You now have all the power you need to run some crazy Internet of Things experiments and show off your Tony Stark to the world!