Composer, electronic musician, improviser

Raspberry Pi: first impressions

Getting the Pi Baked

I got my Raspberry Pi in the mail yesterday — a long anticipated event. My excitement was slightly deflated when I realized I didn’t have anything I actually needed to make the damn thing run: micro USB for power, an hdmi-dvi adapter so I could actually see and control it, and a fast SDHC card with lots of room*.

*Turns out this isn’t necessarily a good thing…

So after work I busted over to (gulp, swallows pride) Best Buy and purchased my three EXTREMELY OVERPRICED items. Now, when I say overpriced, I mean that these “peripherals” cost 2x more than the computer… so yeah. This is the price I pay for not ordering from NewEgg in advance.  :P

So I get home and realize that, in the middle of an apartment move, my Linux laptop with an SDHC card reader is already packed and at the new place, so I improvise and use my Olympus SP800 camera as a card reader. The only drawback to this is that it’s a slow connection, so the write time is considerably increased. I then installed the recommended Debian package on the card using the instructions here and got the Pi all hooked up.

Booted it.

ERROR: mmc0: timeout waiting for hardware interrupt.


;'( ‘      ‘        ‘

I tried the Arch Linux package as well with no better results. At the first boot I was given a “busy” prompt for 5 minutes after which I powered it off. At the second boot (and the 3rd, 4th, 5th, etc) I got nothing.

Now, I was aware that this might be a possibility. There is a site here that shows compatible and incompatible cards. The card I got was on neither list, so I knew there was a risk. Nevertheless, I figured if it worked, great, if not the good “geeks” at Best Buy told me I could bring it back.

I had a spare mega-old and slow 2GB SDHC card laying around (from the camera I used as a card reader) so I decided to give that a shot, which actually worked with the Debian package.  This was a pleasant surprise, but I suppose could have been guessed being that the Pi is designed for Linux which is designed to support older hardware.

The first sort of unexpected behavior was a sort of “initialization” that occurred with the working OS.  I guess this was a firmware/hardware initialization, because it only happened once.  As shown in the screenshot below, the initialization froze at the “portmap” bit as indicated.  I followed the advice to power it off and back on again (Thanks IT Crowd) and it booted OK.

Once the Pi booted I was presented with a command prompt.  GDM did not start by default (i’m not sure why) so I had to log in at the command prompt and start gdm (sudo gdm start) manually. This took a while, but did get up and running and, after logging in again, I got to the LXDE desktop.  (Note: I changed the default desktop appearance for the shot below.)

Some Nice Things:

  • Networking works off the bat.
  • gdm works (with manual start) with no video configuration required.
  • lots of different keyboards/mice are supported (some configuration kludge indicated above.)
  • Generally speaking the system behaves as expected and seems stable.

Some Not Nice Things:

  • As mentioned above, not all SDHC cards play nice with the Pi, and the ones that don’t seem to be the cards with the best performance (faster read/write times.)
  • Keyboards/USB plug ‘n’ play seems to be… kludgy at best. The Pi doesn’t like keyboards with mouses plugged directly into the keyboard. Using a Dell keyboard and mouse this way results in a touchy, sticky prompt where for no reason the machine thinks certain keys are being held down. IOW, it freezes on a key occasionally making login impossible. Using an Apple keyboard and mouse this way makes the keyboard unrecognized as a keyboard so no input is possible. This is easily solved by unplugging the mouse and plugging it back in again.
  • Keyboard location set to British.  This means you have to search for @ and / which are not where you would expect them to be.  There’s not easy/apparent way to change (graphically) the keyboard location.
  • In general the system is slow. Now, with 512 RAM and a 700mgHz processor, I’m not expecting Speedy Gonzales, but 5+ seconds to open applications seems… dodgy. Hopefully this will get better with an SDHC card with better read/write speeds. (Assuming I can get one to work with this thing.)
  • sudo/admin privileges fail in the graphical interface.  I can ‘sudo’ from the command line, but entering my password in a graphical window asking for admin privs always fails.  I’ll have to the forum for this one…

[this one explained:

by croston » Tue May 15, 2012 11:42 pm
A bug in the RPi Debian distribution – applications in X still ask for the root password, not the sudo password. You can fix this with the following command:
gconftool-2 -\-type bool -\-set /apps/gksu/sudo-mode true
This bug was noticed a few weeks ago but the Debian image has not been re-released since.

In Conclusion

I don’t think this thing is going to revolutionize computers and learning.  Getting the pre-loaded SDHC card with an existing OS will go a long way to making this thing accessible to the masses.  However, it seems, like with all Linux projects, there is just a certain amount of stuff that never work as expected and that requires knowledge and patience to solve.  If you have these, then this guy will fit right into your life.  I will reserve judgement as a whole until I have had a chance to work with it regularly and to try to install additional software/hardware and put it to work.

Q: So what are you going to do with this thing?!?
A: In my next post I will describe the coming… MUCOLLABORATOR.

The MuCollaborator will be a musical, improvising automaton with machine-listening capabilities, analog and digital sensors,  visual feedback, and more.  At the heart of the MuCollaborator will be the Raspberry Pi.

Filed under: El MuCo, Phase 1, , , , , , , , , ,

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