The very introduction to Raspberry Pi

After a nearly five years of struggling with hardware and software for feeding data to Flightradar24, I have finally decided to give it a try with Raspberry Pi. On contrary to what some of you may think, this is not a guide on how to achieve it. The original text is very good and quite self-explanatory. No need to copy it here.

In addition to feeding data to Flightradar 24 there are hundreds of ideas how can you use your Raspberry Pi. With this article I wanted to show you (and remind to myself) just of a few IMHO most interesting ones.

If you’re just unpacking your first Raspberry Pi then better read these two articles:

before even continuing with this article.

Change your damn password!

Whatever your do or plan to do for your Raspberry Pi, before you touch anything, always change the default password. Or even better — create a new, separate user. So no one, except you has access to your device.

Don’t forget to reboot your RPi (manually, by disconnecting and reconnecting the power or by executing sudo reboot command) after that, so your changes take effect.

Keep in mind that the root user does not have a password by default and you can’t login to RPi using it. You have to login as default pi user (with hopefully changed password to something else than default — see above) and gain yourself root user privileges, by executing all commands through sudo.

You can also actually login as root with sudo su (risky!).

A Raspberry Pi for… everything?

These are just a few (out of hundreds) of ideas how can you use your Raspberry Pi:

  1. Regular operating system (or a base for anything else), based on:
  2. Web server based on Ubuntu Server.
  3. Mozilla Gateway to control all your home devices, sensors etc.
  4. Media center, based on:
  5. A server to control other Raspberry Pis connected in wired network using PiNet.
  6. A weather station.
  7. Flightradar24 data feeder (already mentioned).
  8. An IoT base for anything else, based on:

This is just a quick list with some clarifications below. And it lists only the most important options for your RPi that virtually caught my heart. As you browse Internet you’ll quickly find that the possibilities are endless and the only thing that limits you is your own imagination.

These ideas are for Raspberry Pi “as is”, i.e. as simple computer. Don’t forget that you can always attach touch-screen and/or camera or any other sensor and start your very own IoT revolution.

Some more details, please?

Key differences between Ubuntu releases for Raspberry Pi:

  • Ubuntu Mate — is a standalone operating system for everyday use, a free replica of your Windows, run on RPi
  • Ubuntu Server — RPi based full-featured server,
  • Ubuntu Core — core system for IoT devices.

As for first point above and on previous list — yes, any Raspberry Pi model with 2 GB or 4 GB or RAM can be used as a regular desktop computer Raspberry Pi 4 has even two HDMI ports and support dual-screen work.

Only RPi Zero / RPi Zero W and all models with 1 GB of RAM are quite out of the question (but, hey!, you can still try) and are designated more like for an IoT solutions rather than day-to-day desktop computing.

More about images

All these images are quite large (full system images), ranging from 0.5 GB to 2.5 GB in size. All images are available for download as a full-system images. Windows 10 IoT is the only exception, where you need to run this piece of software and only then, after answering some questions, you must download fresh system image.

Even though Windows 10 IoT is just a mere image downloader, you cannot run in under any earlier version than Windows 10. You can’t have i.e. Windows 7-based desktop and Windows 10-based IoT devices. Probably due to licensing stuff…

In most cases the unpacked system takes only about 3.5 GB (leaving potential 0.5 GB for user files). But you’re still not allowed to use 4 GB cards. And you must have at least microSD 8 GB card to start your journey with Raspberry Pi. The Pi24 data feeder for Flightradar24 is the only exception.

More official info about installing system images is here.

Keep your eye at the temperature

No matter what final solution you’re going to pick for your Raspberry Pi, keep in mind that these devices are in general quite very sensitive to temperature. You should check it on regular basis.

You can do this by SSH-loggin into your RPi and executing following command (source):

  • one time check: /opt/vc/bin/vcgencmd measure_temp
  • loop check (outputs new measure per each two seconds): watch /opt/vc/bin/vcgencmd measure_temp

If measuring temperature via console command is anywhere unhandy for you or you’d like to see some other parameters for your RPi then consider installing Ground Control on your box.

Alternatively, you can do this by using some external, hardware-based thermometer.

Accessing Pi

There are two ways, how you can use your Pi:

  • as a regular computer accessed via connected keyboard, mouse and some screen,
  • as a remote server, accessed from some terminal via SSH etc.

Since the article linked above is pretty much self-explanatory and since using RPi as a regular computer isn’t in scope of my interest, I’ll focus myself only on the second option.

There are many clients that you can install and use under Windows for accessing RPi via SSH or to transfer files there via SFTP. My favourites one are:

  • PuTTY (here is five years old article on migrating PuTTY’s sessions) for remote control,
  • WinSCP for secure file transfers.

Note that, if you install these two in above order and you will have some sessions in PuTTY (hand-added or migrated from some other computer) then WinSCP will be able to import them during install and you will not be required to provide them again. Pretty handy.

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