Visit to the Official Raspberry Pi Store in Cambridge

Two weeks ago I had the chance to visit the official Raspberry Pi store in Cambridge. Apart from those living in the UK, I think not many will it that far, so I thought to share my pictures from the visit for you to enjoy (and maybe evaluate whether it’s worth the trip). Enjoy!

The Store

The Raspberry Pi Store is located in the Grand Arcade shopping mall, and on the second floor. Looks nice and official.

Naturally, it houses an excellent selection of the Pi boards. There was 3B-, 3A2, Zero, Zero W, Zero W+, compute modules, Pi 4 of course (with different memory options), all with good availability. To cheapest Zero boards were limited to 1 per customer, much like in web store. All boards had a good choice of cases as well on sale. Very nice.

You could also get whole computer kits with a nice raspberry themed keyboard and mouse, as well as a case, an SD card, power delivery (UK plug at least on the display version) and a beginner’s guide. Nice combo, although it of course about doubles the price tag of just the unit itself.

The dual monitor capability of the Pi 4 was very much on display, and there were a couple of machines to try out in the central table area of the store. The machines also had network connection, which was nice for test drive purposes, and not something that even mainstream computer stores have.

And if you want to tout your inner pi’ness, there was of course coffee mugs, notepads and t-shirts available. Would definitely have gotten one if I drank coffee, or had arrived to UK with more than just carry-on luggage!

Cool things with the Pi

Another thing prominently shown at the store were all the projects that you could do with Raspberry Pi. Here is a setup with an ultrasound distance sensor wired to the board.

Apart from trendy slogans and on-display unit, it was more than just a show or a “hands off demo”. The machines usually had a Python editor open with a short piece of code showcasing the actual DIY setup on display, which you could run and try out — or even modify! This is something that many kids or programming newbies will hopefully find exciting and maybe inspire them to try it out themselves.

Here’s another one with a Sense HAT from element 14 on top a Pi unit. It had a nice RGB display with the code to run animations in, so I naturally had to take a shot and made an old-school “random red and green blinking lights” progression that you see happening in front of very old mainframes. Was a bit disheartened I could not get my own invented-on-the-spot random number generator working and had to resort to stanrdard Python RNG. :(

Another with basic GPIO demo with a button, and some leds. The exact setup was naturally available for purchase on the shelves. The “project stands” usually also had a small display telling a bit more about what the setup is doing.

For those with less programming ability or maybe familiarity with the visual programming language used in LEGO robotic projects, there was also a Scratch demo in the store.

The Pi Accessories

In addition to the Pi boards, there was a multitude of exciting components and project kits, including but not limited to robotics, OLED and TFT displays, all kinds of Pi sensor hats, basic electronics kits, and sensors. The pricing was also good, and competitive with web, especially with no shipping fees and zero wait time. I spent probably an hour poring through the shelves and trying to decide what to pick!

Particularly tempting were the colorful Picade units on display, with robust controls and great retro feel. The size and price thankfully saved me from hauling these units back to Finland, but it was not an easy temptation to avoid!

There was also a very interesting mechanical “Turing Tumble” kit on display. It’s basically a mechanical “computer” powered by marbles. You can take a look at their website to learn more. Different mechanisms enable simple logic to be built, and even though the space is too limited to make a 16-bit adder or anything of the like, you’ll certainly have fun grasping the fundamentals!

Pi literature

In addition to coffee mugs, you can see a couple of t-shirts that were also available. There were also good hacker and geek friendly magazines with reasonable pricing, definitely something that you might pick up to spend some time with on the train ride back to London for example.

In addition to magazines, there was an excellent array of Pi and programming related books. Had I not switched solely to ebooks myself (and not having read those “Learn C” books already 25 years ago) I’d definitely left the store weighed down with some quality reading material!

Great selection of Raspberry Pi books catering all topics from computer architecture to projects and kids was superb as well. If you’d want to gift your kid, relative or neighbor (or even a co-worker) some Pi knowledge, you’d be well covered here.

All good things must come to an end

After much deliberation, I finally picked some stuff and headed to the counter. And what a counter! Behind the glass there seems to be every model of the Pi produced, as well as some pure boards and probably a couple of prototype ones as well. A mini-museum in itself!

My official Raspberry Pi Store receipt. Yeah I know: A measly Pi4 case! What was I thinking?! Probably mostly the 25+ boards, sensors, cases and other stuff waiting at home for me to work on — while walking the aisles I realized that apart from the Picade and the robotics units, I pretty much had almost every kind of gadget already purchased. So I settled for something light but officially Pi.

I had a superb visit, and considering the great historical landmarks and good pubs and restaurants, I can warmly recommend a trip to Cambridge and the Grand Arcade Pi Store to anyone visiting UK for more than a day or two.

In addition to housing an excellent selection of all things Pi, the official store gets my respect for representing Pi culture and projects in a very easy to approach and inviting manner. I believe the foundation’s goal to bring children to computing is well served with the store, and hopefully they can open a few more to other cities as well. The concept certainly seems strong enough. Five stars out of five.

$8 Bluetooth automation button for Raspberry Pi Zero W

This project was born as a sidetrack of another one (I’m planning on building a $10 DIY Bluetooth page turning pedal for my piano and iPad sheet music app, similar to PageFlip Butterfly). I was looking if AliExpress would have bluetooth pedals, which they don’t — it seems Chinese vendors are REALLY good at copying products but there is little new product innovation combining something as simple as a bluetooth keyboard sending one or two keys with a pedal (two items that they do have)! But while searching, I found this inexpensive gadget (in case the product is removed, you might just search for “bluetooth remote” at AliExpress.com):

So what is it? It’s an $8 disc with multimedia buttons that pairs with your smartphone and you can use it for example in car to control your music. But maybe it would pair with my Raspberry Pi W which has integrated bluetooth as well? Well it costs about nothing to find out!

Fast forward about two weeks and it arrived. I did not try to use it for its intended purpose, but instead went straight to pair it with my Raspberry Pi Zero W. Turns out the pairing process was quite painless, you can follow for example LifeHacker’s tutorial for pairing quite easily. And it goes a little something like this (your MAC address might vary, just look for output after “scan on”):

# bluetoothctl
power on
agent on
scan on
connect FF:FF:00:45:8D:FF
trust FF:FF:00:45:8D:FF

Continue reading $8 Bluetooth automation button for Raspberry Pi Zero W

Using Raspberry Pi as an automatic MIDI logger

During my summer holidays I got an interesting idea: Pianoteq has a very nice feature of “always on MIDI logging” that saves everything you play on your keyboard while Pianoteq was on. I’ve previously made some MIDI projects and had a great idea:

How about building a small device that records everything I play on my piano, and save it as MIDI files?

This would enable me to later grab a good performance, and eliminate the “recording anxiety” I get if I know I’m recording and should definitely not do any mistakes during the next 1000+ notes. Furthermore, even with easy MIDI recording to USB stick, it’s still several manual steps plugging the memory stick in, starting recording, stopping it, lugging it to a computer, etc.

My first idea was to use some WLAN-enabled embedded device, but MIDI IN would require optoisolators and some custom electronics, and more modern digital pianos often come with only USB MIDI, so it could easily become an exercise in communication protocols. Fast forward a couple of minutes to my next revelation:

Raspberry Pi Model 0 W already has USB and WLAN, and it’s small. Why not use that?

Turns out using a RaspPi as fully automated MIDI logger is really easy. Read on for instructions!

Update: Also check out my follow-up post to split the recorded MIDI files automatically!

Recording MIDI with Raspbian

Turns out recording MIDI from a USB MIDI enabled device is really easy. When I plug in my Kawai CS-11 (sorry for the unsolicited link, I love my CS11 :) to the Pi (or just turn it on when it’s plugged in), dmesg shows that the Pi automatically notices the new MIDI device:

[  587.887059] usb 1-1.5: new full-speed USB device number 4 using dwc_otg
[  588.022788] usb 1-1.5: New USB device found, idVendor=0f54, idProduct=0101
[  588.022800] usb 1-1.5: New USB device strings: Mfr=0, Product=2, SerialNumber=0
[  588.022807] usb 1-1.5: Product: USB-MIDI
[  588.074579] usbcore: registered new interface driver snd-usb-audio

Once the USB MIDI device is found, you can use arecordmidi -l to list available MIDI ports:

pi@raspberrypi:~ $ arecordmidi -l
 Port    Client name                      Port name
 14:0    Midi Through                     Midi Through Port-0
 20:0    USB-MIDI                         USB-MIDI MIDI 1

Continue reading Using Raspberry Pi as an automatic MIDI logger

BeagleBone Black GPIO Benchmark

Look what the mailman brought: It’s a shiny (or maybe matte?) BeagleBone Black, freshly arrived (actually it’s been over a month, but time sure flies…) from Newark element14! I’ve been doing Raspberry Pi related hacking for a while, but especially when the Pi was still fresh and new, I did from time to time consider if the grass would be greener on other side of the fence. Or blacker, in this case, as I mean BeagleBone Black.

BeagleBone was long very much more powerful than Raspberry Pi, but now that Pi2 has come out, price and specification-wise they are closer than ever. A quick personal comparison chart:

  BeagleBone Black Raspberry Pi 2 (B)
Price 46 € (Element14) 32 € (Element14)
Processor 1GHz single-core Cortex-A8 0.9GHz quad-core Cortex-A7
Memory 512MB DDR3 1GB
Connections USB host, USB device, micro-HDMI 4x USB, HDMI, 3.5mm Audio/analog video
GPIO 2x 46 pin headers (65 digital I/O) 40 GPIO pins (26 digital I/O)
Other 4GB integrated flash, works as USB device camera and display interface on board

When Pi1 was out, the BeagleBone Black with the more modern Cortex-A8 chip and higher clockrate was definitely the more powerful, but now with 4-core Pi2, the tables have somewhat turned. Still, the clockrate is higher and there’s more GPIO. And speaking of GPIO, my Raspberry Pi vs. Pi2 GPIO benchmark has gotten a lot of interest, so I thought the best way to take this black beauty for a test drive would be to benchmark BeagleBone Black GPIO in a similar way.

Test setup

Test bench

The test subject is the most recent revision C of BeagleBone Black. I followed the (a bit lacking in detail and readability) Getting Started guide and downloaded the latest Debian Jessie image (8.3, 2016-01-24), flashed it to card and ran apt-get update and apt-get dist-upgrade (2016-04-14).
Continue reading BeagleBone Black GPIO Benchmark

Raspberry Pi 2 vs. 1 GPIO Benchmark

Raspberry Pi 2 GPIO Benchmark

It’s battle time! Some of you may have heard that Raspberry Pi 2 is out with more punch than ever. Just how much more? Well, apt-get dist-upgrade went about 5 times faster with the new Pi. With 1 GB of RAM and four cores, this will definitely be a boost for my home SSH box ergonomics over the previous version.

But what about hacking? There has been a lot of interest in getting GPIO benchmarks for the Pi 2 similar to my earlier Raspberry Pi GPIO benchmark. Well here it is! Please refer to the earlier article for source code and nice screenshots of square waves, as I’ll concentrate on the performance difference only here. You can also get the code from Github:

https://github.com/jokkebk/rpi-gpio-benchmark

Summary of results

All the Pi 1 benchmarks were ran 14th and 15th February 2015 using latest versions of the libraries as stated in my updated benchmark post. Pi 2 benchmarks were all run 25th and 26th March 2015 with the latest versions. If you get significantly different results at a later date, please let me know and I’ll update the table!

Language Library Pi 1 Pi 2 Change
Shell /proc/mem access 2.8 kHz 7.0 kHz 2,5x
Shell / wiringPi WiringPi gpio utility 40 Hz 95 Hz 2,4x
Python RPi.GPIO 70 kHz 243 kHz 2,5x
Python wiringpi2 bindings 28 kHz 103 kHz 3,7x
Ruby wiringpi bindings 21 kHz N/A 3,7x
C Native library 22 MHz 41.7 MHz 1,9x
C BCM2835 5.4 MHz 7.2 MHz 1,3x
C WiringPi normal GPIO wiringPiSetup() 4.1 MHz 9.3 MHz 2,3x
C WiringPi GPIO wiringPiSetupGpio() 4.6 MHz 9.4 MHz 2x
C WiringPi sys wiringPiSetupSys() 120 kHz 185 kHz 1.5x
Perl BCM2835 48 kHz 154 kHz 3.2x

Continue reading Raspberry Pi 2 vs. 1 GPIO Benchmark

Mounting / Fixing Raspbian SD Card from Raspberry Pi

Shut down my Pi today and thought to make a copy of files in its SD card. This is what mount /dev/sdf2 /mnt had to say:

mount: wrong fs type, bad option, bad superblock on /dev/sdf2,
       missing codepage or helper program, or other error
       In some cases useful info is found in syslog - try
       dmesg | tail  or so

Great. After trying parted and fsck, it became apparent that for some reason, the root partition is marked as being 1 block longer than the physical card. Must be a bug with Raspbian partition expansion or something.

Thankfully, I found this gold nugget which suggested using resize2fs to fix it. Turns out I had to run e2fsck first (and say “y” a couple of times):

sudo e2fsck /dev/sdf2
sudo resize2fs /dev/sdf2
mount /dev/sdf2 /mnt

Voilá! Fully functioning filesystem again.

Raspberry Pi GPIO Benchmark Updated!

main2015

The new Raspberry Pi model 2 is out and the Pi world seems more popular than ever. My 2012 benchmark of different RaspPi GPIO access methods has been getting a lot of hits, so I thought to revisit it, and have now updated all the benchmarks with latest versions of firmware and GPIO libraries. I’ve also upgraded my oscilloscope to PicoScope 5444B, so the scope bandwith limitations I had earlier are now gone. :)

Because the benchmark has been linked from many other sites, I’ve just updated the old post to keep links pointing to right places.

Read the updated Raspberry Pi GPIO Speed Benchmark!

Giving Raspberry Pi Camera Nearsight with Reading Glasses

Raspberry Pi with Reading Glasses

Back again! The summer holidays gave me some time to write after a long hiatus, and this time it’s a Raspberry Pi related article. I’ve had the excellent opportunity to play around with a Raspberry Pi Camera Module for a few days. Or actually modules, as I got both the normal and NoIR without IR filter (more about that later) from Farnell / Element 14. They also stock an excellent selection of Pi accessories, so be sure to check those out, too.

But without further ado, let’s get onward. I’m still thinking up cool projects to do with the camera, so if you have nice ideas, please feel free to share them in the comments section!

Unboxing and First Impressions

Raspberry Pi IR camera and a normal one

The camera modules arrived in simple boxes, branded with element14 logo and URL. A nice additional touch was an included instruction sheet outlining the installation procedure, as well as a link to www.element14.com/picamera with further info.

Both the IR-filtered (the one showing normal visible light) and the NoIR (the one without the filter, and thus showing both normal light AND infrared) have exact same outward appearance. The installation was quite easy, but the flat cable offers less positioning and flexing freedom that your standard webcam – obviously the Pi camera is meant for more integrated installations.

Raspberry Pi camera electronics
Continue reading Giving Raspberry Pi Camera Nearsight with Reading Glasses

Raspberry Pi as Arduino HDMI Shield

Arduino to Pi serial link

Merry Christmas to everyone! Today’s hack is something that I’ve been planning to try out for a while: Using the Raspberry Pi as a (relatively inexpensive) “HDMI shield” for the Arduino microcontroller. While the Pi can easily do most things that the Arduino can and usually much more, one might have an otherwise complete project (for example, something related to home theater automation) that would benefit from HDMI output.

Arduino display shields are not the least expensive, so why not use a RaspPi instead? There have been hacks for using RaspPi as network shield, too, and this project is very much like it (actually, you could change the Pi-side code just a bit and have some network-related commands available for your Arduino in no time).

The basic hardware premise for this hack is very straightforward – wire the Pi and Arduino together using the serial interface available on both. Because Pi is 3.3V and Arduino 5V, a level converter is needed – I used one from Adafruit this time, as it’s dead simple to use and doesn’t pose the dangers of overloading Pi like my simple resistor option does (you might, however, check that link out as it contains the pinouts for RaspPi serial pins in the GPIO header).

On software side, the Pi acts as a “server”, taking simple display commands via serial link. You could even start the Pi server script and connect to the serial port with Putty, and the session could look a bit like the following:


# initialize viewport - not actually implemented yet
init 500 500
# draw a 10x10 rectangle at (5,15)
draw 5 15 10 10
# exit the server
exit

The python server uses pyserial for serial communications, currently at 9600 bps, but the Pi and Arduino should be able to do 115 200 as well. For graphics, pygame framework is used. Current version of code initializes a 500×500 pixel graphics viewport, but one could use the parameters given by “init” command from Arduino side to define that, too. The code should be rather straightforward to understand: there are only two supported commands, “draw” with four parameters, and “quit” to exit the otherwise infinite loop waiting for draw commands (I named the file ar2pi.py):

#!/usr/bin/env python

import serial
import string
import pygame

ser = serial.Serial("/dev/ttyAMA0",9600)
ser.open()

pygame.init()
window = pygame.display.set_mode((500, 500))
colour = pygame.Color("blue")
pygame.mouse.set_visible(False)

quit = False

while not quit:
	line = ser.readline()
	words = line.split()

	if words[0] == "rect":
		pygame.draw.rect(window, colour, (int(words[1]), 
                                 int(words[2]), int(words[3]), int(words[4])))
	elif words[0] == "exit":
		quit = True
		
	pygame.display.flip()

ser.close()

Continue reading Raspberry Pi as Arduino HDMI Shield

Arduino and Raspberry Pi Serial Communication

Today’s the last day of my summer holiday, and I had some free time on my hands. So I decided to see if I could get my Arduino Uno and Raspberry Pi to talk to each other. It turned out the task was even easier than my previous Pi to RS-232 project – all that was needed between the two devices was some jumper wire and two 1 kOhm resistors to form a voltage divider between Arduino TX pin and Pi RX pin – Arduino understands Pi’s 3.3V signal levels just fine so Pi TX to Arduino RX needed no voltage shifting at all.

IMPORTANT UPDATE! It turns out that the RX pin on the Arduino is held at 5V even when that pin is not initialized. I suspect it is due to the fact that the Arduino is programmed via these same pins every time you flash it from Arduino IDE, and there are external (weak) pullups to keep the lines to 5V at other times. So the method described below may be risky – I suggest either add a resistor in series to the RX pin, or use a proper level converter (see this post for details how to accomplish that). And if you do try the method below, never connect the Pi to Arduino RX pin before you have already flashed the program to Arduino, otherwise you may end up with a damaged Pi!!!

Setting Raspberry Pi up for serial communications

In order to use the Pi’s serial port for anything else than as a console, you first need to disable getty (the program that displays login seen) by commenting the serial line out of Pi’s /etc/inittab:

1:2345:respawn:/sbin/getty 115200 tty1
# Line below commented out
# 2:23:respawn:/sbin/getty -L ttyAMA0 115200 vt100
3:23:respawn:/sbin/getty 115200 tty3
4:23:respawn:/sbin/getty 115200 tty4
5:23:respawn:/sbin/getty 115200 tty5
6:23:respawn:/sbin/getty 115200 tty6

If you don’t want the Pi sending stuff over the serial line when it boots, you can also remove the statements console=ttyAMA0,115200 and kgdboc=ttyAMA0,115200 from /boot/cmdline.txt. You’ll need to reboot the Pi in order for the changes to take effect.
Continue reading Arduino and Raspberry Pi Serial Communication