The Official Raspberry Pi Beginner’s Guide, 2nd Edition

The Official Raspberry Pi Beginner's Guide, 2nd EditionWhile today’s big news is the launch of the Raspberry Pi 4 single-board computer – which I have treated to a wealth of benchmarks over on Medium – it comes with a supporting product release: the second edition of the popular Official Raspberry Pi Beginner’s Guide, updated for the new hardware.

Inside the book, which is being made available for purchase in a print edition and for free download and redistribution under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike-NoCommercial licence, the content has been overhauled and updated for the Raspberry Pi 4 and latest Raspbian ‘Buster’ operating system. From the two HDMI ports to the new USB Type-C power connector, all imagery and instructions are bang up-to-date for today’s new hardware release.

The Official Raspberry Pi Beginner’s Guide 2nd Edition is also being bundled with the Raspberry Pi 4 as part of the Raspberry Pi Foundation’s official starter pack: those opting to buy their Pi that way will receive the Raspberry Pi 4, microSD with NOOBS and Raspbian ‘Buster’ pre-loaded, power supply, case, keyboard, and mouse, plus a printed copy of the book to help get them started.

As with the first edition, there’s more to the book than just plugging it in and clicking around the Raspbian desktop: you’ll find step-by-step instructions for programming in Scratch and Python, hardware projects for the Raspberry Pi’s GPIO port, and instructions and examples which use the Sense HAT and Camera Module accessories.

The book is available now in print from all good bookshops and Raspberry Pi resellers, in the Raspberry Pi Store in Cambridge, or can be downloaded for free under the Creative Commons licence on the official Raspberry Pi website.

Custom PC, Issue 157

Custom PC Issue 157This month’s Hobby Tech column demonstrates how to use the Raspberry Pi Camera Module to create smooth timelapse footage and reviews the WeMos D1 R2 ESP8266-based Arduino-alike board and Andrew ‘bunnie’ Huang’s Essential Guide to Electronics in Shenzhen.

Looking to the tutorial, this is far from the first time I’ve covered the use of the Raspberry Pi Camera Module add-on. Since its initial launch, however, the software has come on in leaps and bounds including means of finally addressing a longstanding issue with the board: the difficulty in using the timelapse functionality. Where previously you needed a surprisingly complicated script to control the camera, now timelapse capture is handled entirely within the raspistill software. Coupled with avconv – ffmpeg, which I had previously recommended for the task, having been deleted from the Raspbian software repositories – the two packages are all you need to create high-quality timelapse footage directly on any Raspberry Pi.

The WeMos D1 R2 is one of a range of low-cost devices based on the ESP8266 microcontroller and Wi-Fi radio. While getting on in age, the ESP8266 is extremely popular due to its rock-bottom pricing; the only snag being that its form factor makes it difficult to integrate into hobbyist projects. The WeMos D1 R2 aims to fix that by providing a breakout board for the compact ESP8266 in the familiar Arduino Uno layout. While more feature-packed equivalents exist, the WeMos D1 R2 costs just £3.30 in single units – an absolute bargain for an easy-to-use microcontroller with integrated Wi-Fi connectivity.

Finally, The Essential Guide to Electronics in Shenzhen. Kindly loaned by my friend Aaron at hobbyist electronics specialist oomlout, this latest book from noted hacker Andrew ‘bunnie’ Huang is a major departure from the norm. Rather than a how-to guide or white paper analysis, the book is designed to be used as a functional sourcing tool while visiting the Shenzhen area of China complete with maps, point-to-translate pages covering everything from travelling back to your hotel to enquiring as to the tolerance of resistors and capacitors. A pair of prose sections also provide information on doing business in China, including how to spot fake or missold components and how each could affect your project. Niche, perhaps, but a fascinating read – and an invaluable tool for anyone planning a trip to Shenzhen any time soon.

All this, plus the usual raft of interesting things written by people who aren’t me, can be found at your local newsagent, supermarket, or as a string of zeroes and ones on Zinio and other digital distribution services.

PC Pro, Issue 231

PC Pro Issue 231This month’s PC Pro magazine includes a feature describing 20 fun projects to keep readers occupied over the winter months, with the headline project being my write-up of a motion-sensitive wildlife camera constructed using the Raspberry Pi and its official Camera Module add-on.

Approached by editor Nicole Kobie, I was asked to work on a project involving the Pi and its camera for the feature. While, given a larger page count, there are plenty of exciting hardware-based possibilities there, I opted for a tutorial on using software packages to do motion detection and image capture – turning the Pi into a cheap wildlife camera.

The process is pretty simple: using freely published open-source software coupled with the software supplied with the Raspberry Pi Camera Module itself, the system takes low-resolution snapshots every few seconds. Each snapshot is compared to the snapshot taken just prior; if the image is different enough, a full-resolution still is captured.

It’s an easy way of doing pseudo-motion-detection, but it works remarkably well. It’s even possible to discount sections of the image – if, for example, the camera is near trees that wave in the wind, or a busy main road.

My project was, I’m proud to say, picked as the headline for the feature, as demonstrated by the cover splash. If you fancy building a wildlife camera of your own, you can pick up PC Pro Issue 213 at all good newsagents, most supermarkets, and digital distribution services including but not limited to Zinio.

Oh, and as an added bonus: the example ‘wildlife’ captured for the article was my cat, Zumi, in his magazine début.

Linux User & Developer, Issue 129

Linux User & Developer Issue 129The latest issue of Linux User & Developer contains, in addition to my regular four-page news spread starting on page six, two hardware reviews – both relating to that most popular of microcomputers, the Raspberry Pi.

The first is the Raspberry Pi Camera Module, the first official add-on to come out of the Raspberry Pi Foundation. I was lucky enough to receive a pre-release unit from the Foundation, as a result of my work on the Raspberry Pi User Guide, and while it was an early model – revision one, no less – it gave me a good idea of the device’s capabilities.

Hardware-wise, the Camera Module is impressive: its five megapixel sensor is sharp and clear, the fixed-focus lens easily hacked for adjustable focus and – thanks to some enterprising types who don’t mind risking their £20 investment – even removable in order to fit a high-quality CCTV-style glass lens. The software is another matter, but that’s a topic for the review.

The second device is the Embedded Pi, kindly provided by Farnell subsidiary CPC – which, it is interesting to note, is taking an increasing interest in the maker community, actively seeking product suggestions and collaboration opportunities. Designed to connect to the Pi’s GPIO port, the Embedded Pi can act as a expansion to the input/output capabilities or – and here’s where it gets clever – as a stand-alone system, powered by an embedded STM32 processor, which can talk to the Pi or operate entirely independently.

While that would seem to make the Embedded Pi a must-have for anyone doing hardware hacking on a Raspberry Pi, things aren’t that simple – and if you read the review, you’ll soon find one of the biggest issues is a bit of a show-stopper.

Linux User & Developer Issue 129 is, as always, available from most good newsagents or digitally via Zinio and other services.

Custom PC, Issue 119

Custom PC, Issue 119My four-page bumper column for Custom PC, wonderfully titled Gareth Halfacree’s Hobby Tech – and don’t I feel like the important one – continues this month, and once again is granted a cover splash thanks to the key magazine-shifting phrase ‘Raspberry Pi.’ That’s not all it contains, of course: once again the page count is split between a tutorial, retro computing, a pseudo-review and for the first time a box-out containing news from the world of the maker, hacker and tinkerer.

First, the tutorial. Thanks to my friends Eben and Liz Upton, I’m one of the lucky few to have received a Raspberry Pi Camera Module. The first official first-party hardware add-on for the Raspberry Pi, the Camera Module makes use of the Camera Serial Interface (CSI) port to provide a five-megapixel fixed-focus camera on a teeny-tiny circuit board smaller than most coins.

The software for the board is still very much in the early stages, but working well enough for the purpose of the tutorial: to use a Raspberry Pi as a timelapse photography system. Using a bit of Bash shell scripting – the Pi’s own camera software has a timelapse mode, but it doesn’t actually work just yet – the reader is walked through getting the camera connected, the software activated and the software running to capture Full HD stills every thirty seconds until cancelled or the SD card fills up.

This month’s review is of the excellent SpikenzieLabs Calculator Kit. Built around an Atmel ATmega microcontroller – the same one that powers the Arduino Duemilanove, in fact – the device is a cleverly designed kit that functions somewhat better as an exercise in neat soldering than a calculator. Nevertheless, I had fun making it – and I have a few ideas for how I can make use of the microcontroller’s other functions in later projects.

The retrocomputing fix is provided by the Amstrad Notepad Computer NC100, having picked up a mint-condition example from eBay just recently. Rather than sitting on a shelf, the NC100 is to form a part of my field kit – its moulded keyboard and 30-hour battery life make it great for taking notes at events – which provides a great example of how classic computing hardware can be used to augment more modern and powerful equipment.

Finally, there’s the news. Now to be a regular fixture – space permitting – I’ll be picking a couple of stories from the world of the maker to highlight major product launches, announcements or trends.

As always, I’d love to hear feedback about the column; response to the first has been uniformly positive, but if anyone has any ideas for improvements I’d be more than happy to hear them.

Custom PC Issue 119 is, as always, available from wherever you would normally find magazines, or digitally via Zinio and similar services.