Tag Archives: Raspbian

A New Raspbian for your Raspberry Pi

Your single board computer, the Raspberry Pi or RBPi runs an operating system, or more specifically a Linux OS. Keeping true to its form, the Linux OS comes in umpteen flavors and you can choose and pick the one most suitable to your purpose. Operating Systems are built for the processor in the system, and the most popular so far are the Intel family of processors. Since SBCs generally use the ARM family of processors, a special version of the Linux OS is available for them. Of the many versions of the Linux OS for the ARM processors, the Raspbian is the most popular. A new version of Raspbian is now available.

Although people consider versions of operating systems primarily as updates and bug fixes, the new Raspbian is something more. The existing Jessie image used for the desktops and laptops has been modified and adapted to work with the ARM family of processors. Among the standard applications that come with Raspbian, many have been upgraded to offer newer features.

The new Raspbian offers Sonic Pi, version 2.9. If you view the history section of the Info window in Sonic Pi, you can read the full list of changes. The most important are two new effect functions – all articles of SAM Aaron of The MagPi magazine are now included as part of the online tutorials, and there is a new logging system.

Scratch, at version 20160115, has an improved capability for sound input, and supports the CamJam Edukit 3 robotics board. It offers basic PWM support in its GPIO server, and adds several improvements to the font scaling and display.

You will get the new Mathematica at version 10.3 with added support for additional functionality as described by Stephen Wolfram in his book. It supports Sense HAT, includes several new functions, and adds more interfacing to the Arduino.

WiringPi library has been upgraded to version 2.31 and now it allows access to the GPIO pins without use of the the sudo command from applications that use the library. Another Python library, the Rpi.GPIO is at version 0.6.1, and includes several bug fixes that plagued the GPIO Zero library. Additionally, the ping command does not require sudo anymore.

The ALSA system had earlier made it very difficult to get some USB devices to work as the default output. Now it has a new volume/audio device icon on the taskbar. That allows it to be compatible with a wider range of audio devices than before.

With the improved Main Menu editor, you can now create new menus. Earlier, the LXDE desktop environment did not allow visibility of all other menus, and this has now been addressed to work correctly.

Overclocking options for the RBPi models 1, 2, and Zero boards are now available from the command-line and the RBPi Configuration GUI. Updated language translations are also available for those not using English.

Earlier, there was a wide selection of names in different places such as Trash, Rubbish Bin, and more. Now, the name is consistently Wastebasket everywhere when you set the desktop to British English.

Get VGA from your Raspberry Pi

Those of you who use the single board computer, the Raspberry Pi or RBPi, know that it has two video outputs. It offers high definition video via the HDMI port and a composite video via the RCA port. For viewing the output of the RBPi on a VGA monitor, one must use an HDMI to VGA adapter or similar. However, there is a simpler and cheaper method now available – the Gert VGA 666.

The Gert VGA 666 is a breakout/add-on board, useful only for the RBPi Model B+. The board does not work on other RBPi Models such as A and B, as it requires the additional GPIO pins that are only available on the Model B+. Gert van Loo has designed this Gert VGA 666 board and has released it as an open source hardware design. Incidentally, Gert van Loo was associated with the initial design of the original RBPi and is one of the architects of the BCM2835 chip that forms the heart of the RBPi.

The Gert VGA 666 is a useful and neat solution for attaching a VGA monitor/screen to your RBPi. Additionally, this works out much cheaper than buying a converter or adapter for converting HDMI to VGA. A parallel interface from the GPIO pins drives the hardware natively for the VGA connection, using the same CPU load as the HDMI connection does. Users have the added advantage of setting up a dual screen, one for HDMI and the other for VGA. This is possible as the RBPi can drive both interfaces at the same time. With no CPU load, you can expect a VGA video display with resolution of 1080p60 or 640×480.

You can buy this adapter in the form of a kit, comprising the PCB for Gert VGA 666, a 40-pin header connector for the GPIO, a 15-pin female VGA connector, 20 through-hole resistors and two Pi supply stickers. When assembled and fitted on the RBPi, the board uses up nearly all the GPIO pins on the Model B+. Therefore, it will not be possible to use any other add-on boards at the same time when using the VGA adapter.

The decision to offer the adapter as a kit stems from the requirement of meeting EMC compatibility regulations. A fully assembled board would be required to meet most EMC regulations. However, these regulations do not cover the kit, as it is a homemade electronic product.

After soldering the board, plug it into the RBPi and power up the combination. However, the adapter does not work directly and you will need an intermediate solution for video output. You can use either an HDMI or a DVI-D monitor. If that is not available, use a composite monitor or TV via the RCA port. However, using the composite video means you will need to program the NOOBS on the RBPi.

After booting, you must install the necessary drivers for the Gert VGA 666 adapter. This requires an Internet connection, preferably via an Ethernet connection. If you simply plug in the Ethernet cable, Raspbian will automatically start to use it.

Adding Memory to the Raspberry Pi

Although the memory onboard the Single Board Computer Raspberry Pi or RBPi is sufficient for most applications, some may feel the necessity of expanding the storage capacity. The options provided on the RBPi are limited, as the USB ports often engage a keyboard, a mouse or a game controller and the SD card slot holds only a single device.

The most obvious option for expanding the storage capacity on the RBPi is through the USB ports. However, tying up ports with a USB hard disk drive or flash drive can run into difficulty if you need the port for plugging in another USB device. One way of getting around this problem is by using powered USB hubs. It is important to realize the RBPi cannot supply enough power for driving the hub.

Using a powered USB hub makes it easy to add USB devices to your RBPi, including additional storage. However, you must consider a few things when expanding storage on your RBPi. In reality, there are only two common USB storage options available – flash drive and hard disk drive. Nevertheless, you may also consider a card-expanding trick for the Raspbian operating system for your RBPi. These are the three primary options available for expanding storage on your SBC. Apart from this, you may also consider using secondary storage devices such as networked drives, USB DVD-r drives and NAS drives.

The SD card in the RBPi acts as the main storage option – use an SDHC card for best results. It is a boot device acting as the general storage and from which the operating system also runs. You may think of the SD card as a replacement for the HDD of a regular desktop computer, more like an SSD or Solid State Drive, as it has no moving parts and uses very low energy.

By default, Raspbian, the standard Operating System of the RBPi, is designed to run from a 2 GB SD card. Therefore, when you flash the Raspbian image, the SD card will have a partition of 2 GB, with the balance of the card memory remaining unused.

To get around this, you must use the expand file system feature included in the raspi-config screen in Raspbian. This enables expanding the size of the partition to the maximum capacity of the SD card.

When you insert your flash drive into a USB port of the RBPi, you may be surprised it does not have the same effect as it does in a regular Ubuntu or Windows computer. It is not enough to insert the flash drive, Raspbian expects you to mount the device manually before you can use it as an additional USB storage device. However, before you can mount it, you must know the exact device name that Raspbian has assigned to the drive.

For this, the command necessary is: sudo ls /dev/sd*. The command “sudo” gives you temporary administrative status, “ls” allows listing the devices and “/dev/sd*” lists the devices seen by Raspbian. With this command, you will know the number Raspbian has assigned for your drive.

Now, you can mount the USB flash drive and use it as an additional storage device with the command: sudo mount -t vfat /dev/[USB DEVICE NUMBER] /mnt/usb.