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Technology Trends: A Taste of Raspberry Pi & DIY Single-Board Computers
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Technology Trends: A Taste of Raspberry Pi & DIY Single-Board Computers - Executive Leadership Articles

Technology Trends: A Taste of Raspberry Pi & DIY Single-Board Computers

Executive Leadership Articles

Technology Trends: A Taste of Raspberry Pi & DIY Single-Board Computers

If you’re of a certain age, you had a friend or two who built their own HAM radios and spent late nights chatting with people in other states and on other continents for no real reason other than the fact that they could. Sure, there were practical applications, but they were really just a way to explain their hobby to people who didn’t understand that “because I can” was reason enough.

If you’re a bit younger, you instead had friends who put together their own computers. They purchased motherboards, cases, hard drives, cooling systems, processors, and graphics cards, partly to optimize them for whatever their purposes (usually gaming, but not always), partly to show off to like-minded hobbyists, and party just because they could. Most of them spent far more on components than they could have for an out-of-the-box machine, but that would be like driving past a forest versus hiking through it.

There are still people working on both of these passions, but today’s because-I-can friends are likely to be working on a do-it-yourself single-board computer. A non-profit organization called the Raspberry Pi Foundation is leading the way in the name of education on these little make-yourself computers. For $5, you can purchase a credit-card-sized circuit board with a processor, 1 GHz of processing speed, USB and HDMI ports, 512 MB of RAM, and a camera connector. Double that, and you get built-in Bluetooth and wireless capability. There are other products out there with similar setups and pricing, so if you want to shop around before you give it ago, some online stores even specialize in these little DIY devices, peripherals, and accessories. We love non-profits, so we’ll specifically address Raspberry Pi here, but be aware that it’s not your only choice.

Where you go from there seems to be limited only by what you can think of. Countless online galleries and step-by-step how-to sites show off such projects as a networked jukebox that accesses your digital music library, table-top cabinets that emulate old-school video game consoles, networked security cameras, weather stations, home surveillance systems, e-readers, and home-made Amazon Echo devices. You can even just install open-source office software and use it as a computer. Why would you do that when you already have a laptop, tablet, and desktop computer? Because you can!

If “because you can” doesn’t quite do it for you, there’s some solid rationale behind giving something like this a try. In five years since its first release, 12 million Raspberry Pi units have been sold, making it a top-selling brand in many places. Clearly, something is going on here besides geeky gimmicks. The foundation’s emphasis is on education, and there’s a lot of value there. If you’ve ever done something as simple as setting up the WiFi for your home network, you know that it’s pretty easy, but that there are almost always a couple of complications. The day you figured it all out—perhaps with some online help or perhaps by calling a friend—you learned something about problem solving and you learned a little bit about how a network does its thing. It might be a small bit of understanding, but now you have at least a working, hands-on concept of one facet of online life.

When you add other DIY projects, you add other facets to your understanding. Maybe you added RAM to your laptop, thanks to a YouTube tutorial. Or you installed light dimmers you can control from your tablet. Whatever it is, you’ve added to your toolbox something that will likely help you do something else somewhere down the line.

Putting your single-board computer together isn’t just a matter of plugging stuff in correctly. You have to install an operating system (Raspberry Pi models will take Windows 10 if other OSes are too scary) and some application software. This requires typing weird things into a command line, something many of us have forgotten how to do ever since our personal computers became driven by icons, graphics, and mice. We’re talking about some roll-up-your-sleeves-and-get-your-hands-dirty command-line typing here, getting right into the language that makes your computer do what it does. You may not even understand what you’re typing as you follow a tutorial’s step-by-step instructions, but over time, with enough projects under your belt, you’ll pick some of it up. And then you’ll have hardware and software experience to draw upon as you solve problems in your regular plugged-in life.

As we get deeper and deeper into life with the Internet of Things, everything will be a computer, and hobbyists putting together their own little computers are among those who grasp this concept best. Little computers are exactly what the IoT is made of, so even if trying one of these inexpensive projects isn’t your idea of fun, the understanding and awareness it can bring may be useful on all kinds of practical levels. Whether you’re doing it to increase your knowledge or just because you can, a single-board DIY computer may be a perfect new distraction.

 

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Technology Trends: A Taste of Raspberry Pi & DIY Single-Board Computers - Executive Leadership Articles

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