It is Thanksgiving week in the US, and I had some paid time off banked at my job. So, I decided to do a stay home vacation and tinker with something. I decided that “something” would be a Raspberry Pi. A quick search on Amazon, and I ended up ordering the CanaKit Raspberry Pi B+ Ultimate Starter Kit (I will refer to it from now on as “the kit”).
Instagram photo of the unboxing.
Now, I personally don’t need another computer running Linux at home, so I wanted the Raspberry Pi (I will refer to it from now on as “the pi”) to do something I haven’t done before. When I looked at all the LEDs and wires that came with the Starter Kit the first thing that came to mind was Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Call me silly, that’s OK!
I had no idea if I would be able to pull it off, but if I could at least understand a bit more of how to make software interact with hardware at the scale in which the Pi claims it could do then my stay home vacation would certainly be a good one.
The Raspberry Pi B+ (photo taken by yours truly)
The kit arrived last Friday (Nov-21), and I wasted no time. First, being completely biased to anything Fedora or Red Hat based, I decided to use NOOBS to install Pidora, and as cool as this Fedora spin is, I quickly noticed it just wasn’t going to be the Linux distribution I should use to make my little Christmas Light show.
I went with the Pi’s recommendation and installed Raspbian, which in a very short amount of time proved itself to be the better distribution to be running on the Pi. You may be asking, what reasons were they? Well, here are a few:
- raspi_config which allowed me to do quite a bit of configuration changes to the raspberry pi right off the bet.
- LXDE as a window manager. Raspbian’s out of the box needed about 50% less memory than Pidora, which on a little piece of hardware that has 512 MB of RAM this is HUGE!
- Included apps: Mathematica, Scratch, Sonic Pi, and the needed python libraries to do some coding with the GPIO pins were all already bundled in Raspbian.
- The Raspberry Pi book (and the foundation) recommends Raspbian, so following examples (from the book and online) are much more repeatable in Raspbian.
Using a Logitech MK401 seems to be working pretty well with the Pi.
By Friday night, I have the Pi connected to my TV, with Raspbian installed, and connected to the house’s wifi. I run an: apt-get update && apt-get upgrade to update the OS, and now I am ready to look into all the “extras” that came with the kit.
Aside from some very theoretical stuff I had in physics in high school and college about electricity, I have never really had any chance or interest in applying any of that theory anywhere. Terminologies like breadboard, jumper wires, resistors, current, voltage, etc… weren’t foreign words, but they were “theoretical” words for me. So, what did I do? I googled my answers, what else?
First, I used this video on Youtube to learn about the breadboard and the kit. Then I did it myself, and expanded on it by adding extra LEDs.
Now, that I had the lights working the next step was going to be how do I make them “listen to music”?
Another google search, and I found this awesome open soure project for the Pi called: LightshowPi. And it is with this project that and its Google+ Community that I was able to successfuly complete the first phase of this personal project.
The CanaKit breadboard, GPIO board, LEDs and resistors.
The raspberry pi connected to a $80 720p TV I bought at Best Buy. It was cheaper than any other LCD monitor around.
Here’s a quick video of the mini-light show:
So, what’s next?
Now, that I’ve gotten my Christmas Light show going (in a very small scale), I want to go a bit bigger. I want to light up my Christmas tree this year using my Pi and LightshowPi, and do something like this. I have ordered a Sainsmart 8 Channel 5V Solid State Relay Module Board hoping I will be able to pull this off by Christmas. And who knows, maybe next year, I will expand and set up lights outdoors for the public.
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