Archive for the ‘Reviews’ category

I have a Raspberry Pi :-)

May 11th, 2012

Yes, I was one of those geeks who got up at 6am to order a Raspberry Pi. It has been a long wait since then but I now have my Pi to play with. This is a quick blog post to summarises what I have learnt from it in my day of playing.

Despite completing the RS form in the first minute and getting an order in on the Farnell site (in between it falling over) I was not quick enough in the first batch, but out of the blue I got an email from RS saying that I could now order one, and that I did, and it arrived yesterday. :-)

It is important to remember that the Raspberry Pi is at the moment just a development board that requires quite a few bits and bobs to get up and running. Fortunately I managed to scavenge…

  • Power supply with a micro USB connector (Normally used for myy Mifi)
  • A fast SD card (Spare card for my digital camera)
  • HDMI to VGA converter (Purchased from for £15)
  • USB Keyboard and Mouse
  • Network cable and access point set up as client

Yes, I don’t have a TV or monitor with an HDMI input but the converter works well, and using the wifi access point as a client means I don’t need to run a cable through the house.

I downloaded the recommended Debian “squeeze” image listed on the Raspberry Pi web site using BitTorrent on my Windows machine. Creating the SD card was easy although it took an age to work out what was an advert and what was the download link for Win32DiskImager. Writing the image was easy but the the image was for a 2GB card and I was using a 4GB one. It worked fine but I was wasting half the card. In the end I needed to use a Linux machine to resize the partition to use all the card.

The Pi running squeeze boots quickly enough. Officially you can not run YouTube on the Pi yet but you can install Google’s Chrome (just type “sudo apt-get install chromium-browser” in to the command line) and that will allow flash and HTML5 videos to [just about] play. It manages a frame rate of around half a frame a second at best. The Broadcom chip set is capable of playing accelerated video but there is a little work to be done yet.

I have not been able to get the sound working yet but this could be because the sound is being sent to the HDMI port instead of the 35mm jack socket. I will have to look further in to this.

So that is as far as I have got. To summarise the Raspberry Pi is a lovely little computer. I don’t feel it is in a position for people to start really learning on until the operating system matures. In fact it is currently more complex than the average home computer, but we should remember that this is currently a development board and not pretending to be ready for the classroom yet.

Following several comments online I also note is that there are plenty of other board around and the Pi is not built of bleeding edge technology any more, but that is not the point. It’s success will be built on it’s community, and the media hype and low cost can only help broaden this community and make the Pi a success. It is not really challenging the Arduino as it is not comparable, and it is not going to take much business from other boards as it is creating a new market and not competing in the same market.

There is one thing that does worry me though. One key advantages of the BBC B microcomputer, that the Pi is frequently being compared to, is that you could programme it out of the box following a few simple instructions. This is not the case with the Raspberry Pi yet. This is not to say that this will not come, but at the moment you need to go out of your way to programme something and it appears we are relying on the community to rectify this. Much of the community seem more keen to make it do cool things instead of make it easy to programme and we can’t blame anyone for that.

Finally, like many, I ordered from both RS and Farnell and have already paid Farnell for one. Because of demand we are only supposed to have one Pi and I am planning honour this by selling the second one locally at cost to someone deserving. If that could be you let me know, but I am not expecting in until the end of June.

Broadband and line rental for £8.56 a month!

January 23rd, 2012

It is a constant surprise to people that I have not had ADSL broadband at home, ever. In truth I do have a 3G Mifi that is essentially a portable wifi access point and at £8 / month for 5GB transfer (an old half price offer that I still have) and I use it when at home and away.

With last year’s VAT rise I was paying £12 a month for the fixed phone line with evening and weekend calls. I was looking for a cheaper option and considering going mobile only when I spotted a great deal from Plus Net. I sign up for an annual contract with the monthly cost is £12.73 (offer expires 14/02/2012). So now I can have an expected 16mbps broadband with a 10GB transfer limit for just 73p more than I was paying for just the line. I could have had a monthly contract instead of an annual one for a few more quid and a setup fee but I went for an annual one.

In the past I had a Plus Net business connection at my old office, and two family members use them, so I have confidence in there service. They are owned by BT (shudder) but run as a separate company with decent support. You might also find it amusing that they own the company I am moving away from.

What is better is that I used Quidco and got another £50 cash back (offer expires on 31/01/2012). I recommend checking Quidco for all big inline purchases as it has saved me over £200 over time. So now for the next year my monthly cost is the equivalent to £8.56, a whole £3.44 cheaper than I was paying for the phone alone. I am oddly pleased.

If you want to do the same then please consider using my Quicdo affiliate link to place the order. It will not cost you any more and I get a small kick back of you do. Also as part of the Plus Net signup process please enter that “alistairuk” refereed you for the same reason. If do not want to then that is fine, I still recommend taking the offer if you can.

Port Designs Berlin Sleeve Review

November 6th, 2011

It has been a while since I have been asked to review a product on my blog but if someone wants to send me something shiny then I am more than happy to do so. In this case I have been asked to review any laptop case from GearZap.

As someone who attends a lot of tech events I needed something that was going to protect the laptop form the usual knocks and bumps on the train, have handles to carry it with other bags in the same hand, and not look overly shabby.

I could chose any of these 15″ laptop cases but with some advice I selected the Port Designs Berlin Laptop Bag 15/16″ Sleeve. It met the requirements and looked smart enough to for most occasions without feeling odd at social occasions.

When unwrapping the bag I was quite pleased with with the look and feel as it came across as not overly cheap, but on overly posh. A middle ground I am most comfortable in. The case is designed to so you can open it up and the computer and function without it being removed. Annoyingly it appears that unless your laptop is the exact size required it will just pop out of the holders. Initially this was disappointing but I find myself slipping the laptop in and out with ease so much it is a feature I am probably best without.

My first outing with the bag was to a hack day where I already had another bag with the usual hack day bits and bobs in (mouse, power strip, external HDD, sleeping bag, etc) so the bag was just being used for the laptop and the power supply. The bag has a large zip pocket that holds my small power supply and UK power lead without loosing it’s shape, but squeeze in any more and it looks like it has been eating pies and not exercising. If you carry lots of junk with your laptop then this bag is probably not for you, but if you just need a small PSU like me then it is ideal.

There are also two open-topped pockets with Velcro under the handles. The handles fold neatly in to these pockets but I have not yet had cause to do this. They are convenient for pens, business cards, flash drives and other small items. The handles are also well padded so are not constantly digging in to your fingers like many bags I have had in the past. There is no shoulder strap as it is just not that kind of bag.

So in summery it is a good smart looking bag if you travel light and well worth the £30. If you need to carry more or need both hands then you are probably better of looking for something bigger. For me it is spot on and I will definitely continue to use it.