Sunday, June 10, 2012

Is this thing on?

Nobody is around to read this, which is fine, but I'm writing it anyway because for the first time in like, forever, I have some news.

Raspberry Pi - that's a
3x5 index card for scale
I have a Raspberry Pi. And I'm not afraid to use it.

One of the most frustrating things about the "hacker" side of Fork and Hay was continuing to run up against limitations in the capabilities of the Arduino I was hoping to use for process monitoring and control. Now, I'm fully aware that the limitations were there for good purpose, and the frustration was not really with the Arduino itself, but rather with the time it took me to realize that I was trying to turn a useful  controller into a general purpose PC and getting mad because it wasn't happening. I had somehow convinced myself that just because Arduino supported a C++ -like programming environment that it would be suitable for anything a general C++ platform could handle, and that was just a wrong concept all the way around.

My poor Arduino, I'm so sorry I hurt you in that way. Can we still be friends?

Raspberry Pi is an ARM-based computer with 256MB RAM, on-board Ethernet and USB, a header full of general-purpose I/O pins, and HDMI and composite video output. It comes configured to boot off an SD card, and it supports Debian Squeeze and Arch Linux, among others. I think I can work with that. ;-)

Also, during the (ahem) hiatus I discovered that, once you broaden your horizons beyond the controller level, there are lots of other ways of getting temperature data from 1-Wire devices, including the 1-Wire File System (owfs) and devices like USB adapters and hubs. I'm sure that you could chalk some of this up to the usual "time marches on" phenomenon, but I can't help but wonder if it were there all along and through myopia I just missed it. Oh well. It's not like I had time to deal with it even it had been there.

A lot of the struggles I faced early on had to do with trying to revive my long-dormant electronics and low-level programming skills. Fortunately the world, as usual, has picked me up. I can now purchase guaranteed-to-work submersible DS18B20 probes, and the Raspberry Pi Linux images have a full gcc capability. And they run X Window. And they support [fill in most of your favorite *nix tools here], including the mightiest editor ever created by the hand of man, vi.

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