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Conquer Raspberry

This is the year that I conquer Raspberry Pi

Since the very first model was released almost a decade ago, the Raspberry Pi has tempted and tortured me in equal measure.As someone with almost no programming expertise and equally few engineering skills, the elaborate creations people come up with (like this Raspberry Pi Pip-Boy or this GLaDOS voice assistant) have made the Pi feel…

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Since the first model was released nearly a decade ago Raspberry Pi tempted and tormented me in equal measures.

As someone with almost no programming expertise and equally few engineering skills, the elaborate creations people come up with (like this Raspberry Pi Pip-Boy or this GLaDOS voice assistant) have made the Pi feel completely inaccessible. I’ve been overwhelmed by the potential these single-board computers offer. As a journalist, you know the terror of the blinking cursor and white page. The Raspberry Pi is technologist’s equivalent. It offers a blank canvas.

Not even during the height of lockdown, when all I wanted to do was twiddle the thumbs, did I have the nerve to take the plunge. Where would I start?

However, with the help of a few online resources, a little advice and a can-do attitude, 2022 will be the year I conquer the Raspberry Pi.

But which Raspberry Pi?

Unfortunately, I’ve chosen to purchase a Raspberry Pi at the worst possible time, in the middle of a global chip shortage and in the aftermath of the Christmas period.

In late December, we reported that the latest Pi models are seriously difficult to come by at the moment, with some retailers estimating they will be unable to ship the Raspberry Pi 4B with 4GB RAM (one of the most popular SKUs) until 2023.

The combination of chip shortage and supply chain bottlenecks limited production to seven million units last year, and Raspberry Pi was also forced to implement its first ever price hike, which saw the cost of the 2GB Raspberry Pi 4 rise from $35 to $45.

Raspberry Pi 400

I have no need for an integrated keyboard, so won’t be choosing the Raspberry Pi 400. (Image credit: Raspberry Pi Foundation)

However, I won’t allow myself to use cost nor availability as an excuse. An overpriced, second-hand Pi will have to suffice (although we would recommend readers buy first-hand from approved resellers only).

I have no need for an integrated keyboard, so the Raspberry Pi 400 is out of contention, and I’m after more oomph than the Pi Zero can provide. I also like the option to hook up to multiple monitors, so that makes the Raspberry Pi 4B the only sensible choice.

As an amateur, I don’t want the 8GB RAM model. That means that I will be choosing the 2GB or 4GB model, depending on when it becomes available and the best price.

I’ll also need a microSD card to load up Raspbian, NOOBS or another OS, a compatible power supply and a micro-HDMI to HDMI cable. But everything else, I’m already equipped with: a display, mouse, keyboard and PC with SD card reader.

Raspberry Pi 4B

My weapon of choice: the Raspberry Pi 4B. (Image credit: Future)

What am I going to do with it?

Once I’ve equipped myself with the necessary hardware, I’ll have to tackle the most daunting question: what should I do with my new Raspberry Pi? After all, it’s easy to lose yourself in the endless possibilities.

Although Raspberry Pis can be used as the foundation for all manner of weird and wonderful creations, a simpler first project would be to create a private cloud, web server, VPN or NAS system. This is what I will start with.

The beauty of turning a Raspberry Pi into a VPN server or NAS is that no real coding is required, just a few command line prompts (and a hard drive, in the latter case) that can be found easily online. The same can be said for using the Pi as a retro games console or voice assistant.

However, there’s only so far I can go without getting my hands dirty with Python, the programming language behind many custom Pi projects. All Raspberry Pis come with an in-built IDE for Python, so they’re an ideal tool for the learner (this is where the concept originated).

Of course, I don’t need a Pi to learn how to code in Python; it’s a cross-platform language, so any computer will do. Sometimes a new device is the best motivation. The usually inexpensive Pi is perfect for this purpose.

Once you are proficient in Python there is almost no limit to what you can do, especially if you have some electrical engineering knowledge. The Pi’s GPIO pins are where the real fun lies. These pins can be used to integrate sensors, motors and switches into custom builds.

By using Python to program these pins the Pi can become a smart clock, smart home control system or pirate radio station, among many other useful (and sometimes not so useful) creations.

Raspberry Pi 4

The Raspberry Pi’s GPIO pins can be used to incorporate peripherals into custom builds. (Image credit: Shutterstock / mattcabb)

The original mission

At its worst, technology can be exclusive and deliberately esoteric. You can’t play if you aren’t a member of the club.

The Raspberry Pi’s purpose was to combat this phenomenon and make programming easier. Ironically, some have been turned away by computer enthusiasts and hobbyists.

It speaks volumes that even I, the so-called technology journalist have taken so much time to get up the courage to dive in. Perhaps you have been given a Raspberry Pi at Christmas or in the past.

However, it’s high-time we all remembered what the Raspberry Pi was originally all about. It doesn’t matter so much what I do with it, but more that I’ve had a go at doing something. I don’t think my first Raspberry project will win any awards or function as intended. But, we all have to start somewhere.

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