R.Pi First Life

Some “long time ago” I was looking at making a Safer Computing Appliance and did a fair amount of exploration of using CD-Rom based Linux releases. Then waited a bit longer to get a couple of Raspberry Pi boards as target hardware.

Since then, there was some waiting for me to get other things done. Then, tonight, I figured it was about time to try and fire up one of these boards.

It didn’t go as well as I’d planned. (Not all that bad mind you, just, well, “Has Issues” best describes the evening…)

But not to worry, it’s running right now and doing the OS install as I type.

The Issues

First off, I spent a good 2 hours just trying to figure out “Do I Have Power?” and “Why isn’t it booting?” (After “Is it booting?”…)

The RPi has a nice little bright red miniature LED on it that lights up when it has power. The “Getting Started” page doesn’t bother to tell you that… I’m sure it’s noted somewhere; just not at the point where a “newbie” following the getting started guide for beginners is going to see it.

I’d figured “It gets power through USB. I have lots of USB stuff and cables. No Problem.” In fact, it’s a problem.

They use a small USB connector that is ‘power only’, so none of the communications wires are hooked up. Takes 700 ma or so. I have a USB Hub that puts out 1000 ma on some ports, so figure I ought to be fine. Not so.

First off, my cables are all “Mini” or full sized. Turns out there is also a “micro” and I ought to have read more closely about that whole “mini” vs “micro” thing. I do have ONE cable with a “mini” end (or what looks like one); but it goes to an old digital camera. Has a large inductor in it (about 1/2 the size of a C battery). After an hour or two of trying to debug “no power?”, I decide “Maybe that cable doesn’t have the power leads”. (AFTER proving that the hub DID have power, but finding out it does not light up a ‘power’ light, only ‘device’ lights, but only for some kinds of devices, some of the time… I ended up using a USB Disk Drive that has a power light on it to detect power in the Hub.) So OK, power is IN the hub, but not getting to the RPi via the questionable type cable. No Problem, I’ll just run a cable from the ‘mini’ port on the hub to the “regular” port on the RPi just to see if it “goes”. Turns out the Hub doesn’t send power that way… out the ‘mini’ port…

Off To Fry’s…

There’s a saying in the valley that no project can be completed without at least one “run to Fry’s”. A “Geek Store” that started life as a grocery chain with added Geek Stuff and is now a Geek Hardware / Software store with snack food… Often open late, on weekends, all storts of times, with mostly what you need. Some folks assert no project can be completed without at least 3 runs to Fry’s. One of which is to return the wrong parts…

$2.40 later I have a “Micro to regular” USB cable. Plug that into the “always on power” port on the hub (having found the manual for it and read that two of the ‘regular’ USB ports were only on when the computer was on (how it knows? Who knows…) while the two ‘high power’ ones were always on.). I plug it in, and plug that into the RPi. A bright red light stares at me. It’s a dinky thing. Head of pin sized. Had I been wearing my reading glasses and inspecting closely, I might even have noticed it. It would have saved some time trying to figure out how to detect “power on”…

But now I have power.

But no output to the “Screen”.

A Few Words on Video

In another of those “maybe I ought to have thought about it more closely and actually checked the ‘gozintas’ and ‘gozoutas'” moments, When first ‘plugging things in’, I realized that the composite video (regular old TV) was only available on the TV in the bedroom. The two computer monitors in the “office” have VGA and DVI. The wired network is only in the office. I don’t have a working wireless ‘dongle’ for the thing (yet).

So I’m sitting on the bed, long composite video cable to the TV, USB keyboard on the bed spread, USB mouse on the box the RPi came in (mouse pad sized ;-), New $2.40 Micro USB cable draped over to the USB Hub that is next to the bed with a power brick plugged into a drop cord to the other end of the bedroom, and a nice long Ethernet cable headed out the door to the “office”.

I’d had to dig up an old Ethernet Hub to splice two wires together as what I had laying around didn’t reach all the way to the other side of the office where the network box lives. But it does now. Oh, and another drop cord laying to the Ethernet hub 1/2 between office and bedroom…

You see, the bedroom TV doesn’t have HDMI either. Nor, it turns out, do either of my LCD monitors.

I’d been looking to upgrade the bedroom TV to HDTV, and it’s largely HDMI based. But as most of my other stuff is ‘composite’, I’d been slow about it.

So now I’ve got a RPi that drives a video, but only a fairly low quality composite 425 lines or so Old TV kind. It does seem “a bit much” to buy a $400 TV to get a monitor for a $25 computer… I found a HDMI to DVI converter for “only” $40, but I’ve not searched a lot. That will be for “another day”.

Why? Because I’m still trying to get an OS onto the thing…

Why a Network with no OS?

Turns out there’s a couple of other little known things hiding in the weeds. (Isn’t there always?…)

First off, not all SD cards work with the RPi.

They have a web page saying what does:


By the time I was getting power to the little guy (can’t really call it a ‘box’ like I usually call a new computer…) and seeing the screen not light up, I’d already spent a few hours downloading, unpacking and putting an OS onto the card.

On ‘power up’, the screen would give a small flicker, but nothing else.

Well, after wandering that list, I didn’t find exactly my card in it, so it might work, or might not. Some very similar named ones work (but some others from the same maker with similar names don’t…) Now I’ve got a ‘card vs software’ question…

Installing the OS to the card per the basic guide has a page that says ~’download, unpack, use Linux ‘dd’ to put image on raw card’ and that’s roughly what I did. Looking over the advanced guide, it spends a lot more time talking about formatting and having two partitions, one of them a FAT one. The download had two images. One for a FAT partition, one for EXT3 and it’s looking like the ‘basic’ install doesn’t deal with that little complication…

But while I’m mentioning things, they have a list of peripherals known to be working:


So if I do end up needing a different bit of kit, I can actually check it before buying 3 and taking 2 back to Fry’s (who have a great returns policy…)

But I’m realizing that I’m likely to end up off in “format this SD card in two different file system types” land before I can make that card go (or find out if it “doesn’t go” and starting to wish I’d known about the ‘buy a preformatted preloaded card’ option (that might not have existed when I was trying to buy a card, any card, at all… as they were just shipping…)

So 3 lessons learned:

1) Make sure you get the right power / “micro” USB cable when you order one.
2) Order at least one pre-loaded SD card. Even if you will be ‘rolling your own’ version later. The ability to have a known working sample to inspect and use in testing the RPi card and peripherals will be worth it.
3) Check that you actually have something the video out drives. And that it is in the same room as the network.

Back At That OS

Somewhere along the way I was exploring the limits of Compatibility Hell and realizing that one of my USB / SD adapters worked with the laptop, but not with the Linux box, while learning that one of the Linux Live CDs would mount an SD card when the others would not, while learning that the OTHER SD card adapter had a wide body and could not be plugged in where HP put the USB ports on that desktop machine, while learning that…

A few hours later, I had a USB / SD card adapter plugged in, with a Linux release that would see and mount it, and with the SD card in it, and with the downloaded OS on media to then “dd” the image on the SD card. That card then went back to the RPi and enters the story up above (where I was trying to figure out if it was power, video, OS or what, that was causing ‘no joy’…)

At the end of that part of the story, I’d pretty much figured it was the SD card formatting, an SD card incompatibility, or maybe the RPi card just didn’t work. That last one was unlikely as I’d bought two and both behaved the same.

It was at that time I found another option on one of those pages. It’s a boot loader that lets you have multiple OS versions on the SD card and downloads them over the internet. (So now you know why I needed that network connection…)

OK, format the SD card back to FAT32. Download more software. Unpack /unzip it and put it on the card. Card into the RPi. Power and peripherals in and…

I get video on the TV! It’s working!

You also get a nice bright micro sized GREEN LED that blinks when the network is active.

So at this point, I’ve got a working card, with power, and with networking. Time to download and install the OS (again…)

Well, one of the choices is an Alpha version of Puppy. Small. It downloaded fine. As did a very small ‘server appliance’ OS version. But Debian Wheezy I’ve tried twice now. It’s 451 MB. I’ve gotten to 45% done once. This last time to 62%. Then the transfer hangs. No idea why yet. Perhaps my SD Card is not the best for RPi. Perhaps my ‘improvised’ network with a 20 year old 10 Mbit hub in the middle is causing ‘issues’. Perhaps the download site is swamped and something times out

What I know is that I’m going to be test-booting a Puppy Alpha rather than the Wheezy preferred just due to what downloads to completion. Then, perhaps tomorrow or late late tonight, I’ll try the ‘preferred’ OS again.

The software to do the ‘net download and go’ that does all the SD card formatting for you is here:


Perhaps it has issues? Who knows…

For now, I think most likely is just that the SanDisk Ultra 1 SDHC 30 mb/s 32 GB card I’ve got has a subtle compatibility issue. I may just try it all over again with Yet Another Card (IFF I can find one in the camera bag that’s empty ;-)

Though after I see if Puppy Linux boots and runs. That would tend to say “not the card”. And, I was going to add, “likely not going to happen until tomorrow”, but the clock informs me it is already tomorrow… So “later today”… A lot later.

The “berryboot” code seems pretty competent, if limited in aspirations. (You want that in a boot loader…) So far, I’m liking it. I’m still expecting that at some point I’ll do a ‘long hand roll your own’ build of a formatted SD card system from bare hardware on up, just because for a ‘more secure computing appliance’ that’s one of the things you do. Less chance something gets slipped in somewhere.

But not for several days. First I need to just get the thing running and assess how usable it really is.

Well, that, and go shopping for a nice HDTV with HDMI inputs… Either that, or accept staring at an old low res TV…

Somehow those Live CD Linux appliances are looking more “workable”… But it always looks darkest just before things completely fail… I mean, before you finally figure it out. ;-)

I’ll be back with an “update” as soon as something interesting happens. (Puppy works, or doesn’t, or Wheezy fully downloads, or I try a different SD card or…)

For now, time to move back over to the RPi and play hacker some more.

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
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35 Responses to R.Pi First Life

  1. Petrossa says:

    SDcards are really a mess. I’ve had several issues with SDcards that should’ve worked but didn’t, and even one that fried the SDcard adapter in my Nokia Communicator.

  2. E.M.Smith says:

    Well, I’m typing this from Puppy Linux on the RPi card. The resolution on the TV is sucky, but it does look like it works. So next stop is to try Wheezy download again. Then maybe some sleep ;-)

  3. E.M.Smith says:

    Well, this time I didn’t hop on the laptop and the download completed. This is from Midori browser from inside Wheezy. The small lines of low res TV monitor is wearing, but the RPi card seems to be working fine. I suspect that the boot loader code just doesn’t handle congested LAN traffic well and the laptop was swamping it. Looks like ‘next stop’ is to get a better available monitor connected and then work on more secure OS features

  4. Steve Crook says:

    My experience couldn’t have been more different. I already had micro usb cables and chargers and although I forgot to order an SD card, I’d got a spare 4gB card in a portable scanner. Most importantly, all of my TVs and monitors have at least one hdmi input!

    I got the wheezy image on the sd card using win32diskimager (note, version 0.7 really doesn’t like Win7 64 bit, so I used 0.6).

    The main impetus for getting started with it was to run CUPS to run the PI as a wireless print spooler to drive an elderly USB only laser printer I really didn’t want to sit next to.

    My second one I’m planning to use as a upnp renderer hooked to the hifi and controlled through my phone. I’m going to give Cling a try and for that I need Java. Oracle have an early access hard float version of JRE7 available, so I’ve stuck with the hard float version of Wheezy.

    I did notice that hard and soft float images are not in the same state and the soft float requires more work in configuring…

    I’ve successfully used a Sandisk Ultra 16gb card in the upnp PI…

    I don’t start the desktop and run the PI headless using SSH and Putty

  5. E.M.Smith says:

    Well, I’m pretty sure that, now that I’ve got decent wires and working config, I’ll be setting a couple of these up as ‘servers’. I can easily see one of them being a dedicated torrent server. Lets me have a library of Linux code and ‘etc.’ that’s available to anyone via torrent. Also lets me download things without worry since if the box gets hacked, I’d just slip in the last chip duplicate and reboot.

    Biggest issue for me is just that old crappy TV is a lousy monitor. Also had some strong ‘type ahead’ on Wheezy in the Midori browser. Likely a config issue as I’ve had similar in ‘real computers’ with some cache config problems. (and spell checking turned on).

    At any rate, it seems solid enough to put it to work. I’ll likely use the laptop as a remote terminal for a while. At least until I get a decent monitor worked out for it ;-)

  6. Speed says:

    Reminds me of an earlier “standard” … RS-232 cables.

  7. adolfogiurfa says:

    @E.M.: Some day you will turn to the original biological hardware, working with calcite micro crystals in a gadget called “pineal gland”, and then you will need, too, to figure out how to power it….

  8. Paul Hanlon says:

    Hi Chiefio,

    All I can say is persevere. Your efforts will be rewarded 100-fold. I had exactly the same issues as you, and only the main TV has HDMI. I’m using a composite to VGA adapter so that I can use a monitor (resolution is still crap, but HDMI is very good), otherwise I just use the Pi “headless” through the GPIO pins using one of these. You can even power the Pi directly with it. I’ve since bought five more Pis, and can get them up and running in about 2 minutes, now that I know most of the issues. Probably the first thing to do once you have a GUI is to get a decent browser (Chromium is on the R-Pi repository). Midori is a god awful POS, crashes all over the place, and probably had something to do with your connection issues.

    One of the projects I did was an electricity meter top up system using a GSM dongle on the Pi connected to a DS-Bravo RF transceiver that sends out the signals to the meters. The Pi controls everything, the querying of a database on another server to see if a meter should be topped up, the updating of the meters, and sending out a report on what it did that day. Other than actually breaking in to the box that holds the Pi, there is no way to “get in” to it. And all in one language, Python, although you can use pretty much any language you feel comfortable with.

    If I were doing it again, I would use a ZigBee or Z-wave network to handle the RF side of things. These modules form a self-healing ad-hoc network between themselves, so for something like a home / neighbourhood network they would be perfect, totally free of network charges and “interference”. I’m going to try these out for a home automation project I’m doing with my nephew, which will be controlled through a mobile phone.

    You can now buy a ZigBee chip with an ARM Cortex M3 MCU built in (way more than enough to drive an LCD display), for about $6. Siemens are doing a comprehensive range of light switches and sockets for the Z-Wave protocol, but my preference would be for ZigBee as it has 128 bit encryption (don’t want people to be able to monitor what’s happening in the house). It would allow you to hook up to the heating controls and the incoming power wire and gas meter for an energy control/monitoring system with very little actual wiring. Connect it up to the Weather Underground database for your area through the internet, and it can now predict when to turn on / off things.

    I have to tell you that what I knew about electronics could have been written on a postage stamp before the Pi came along. Now you’d need an extra large postage stamp :-). But the fun I’ve had discovering all this new stuff has been immeasurable. I don’t have any connection to modmypi.com linked above, but I thoroughly recommend them to anyone in Europe, and Sparkfun look to be slightly cheaper than Adafruit (who have put an awful lot of effort into their offerings) in the US. This li’l ‘puter that can is going to change the world for a lot of people.

  9. j ferguson says:

    Ah yes, the education you didn’t know you needed. Keep reporting, this is a wonderful post.

    I’ve been thinking of using a Pi as user interface with my arduino projects – arduinos being a bit limited in that department.

  10. p.g.sharrow says:

    @EMSmith; I am pleased to hear that you now have Pi. Sounds like you are having my luck with a new startup. Murphy’s Law, “Anything that can go wrong, will” We seem to learn faster that way. pg

  11. E.M.Smith says:

    Well… Not too bad. I’ve got VNC up and running on the RPi and I’ve got the client running on the laptop, so now the RPi is just plugged into a USB hub for power, and an ethernet wire into the router.

    I have a full laptop high def window into the RPi and I’m running a browser. Nice.

    Only problem I see right now is that the ‘type ahead’ is a bit much.

    I’ll have to do a few tests to see if that’s a config issue on my part, or an inherent limitation. I’ve had the same thing when using IceWeasel / FireFox and it was doing some kind of intense looping. Right now, I’m running on Midori as it’s what is on the desk top.

    The type ahead is a bit annoying but would be acceptable for remote security.

    I need to play with it some more and then I’ll put up the detailed “how to” (though it was basically just following the online instructions).

  12. E.M.Smith says:

    Looking at the details… I think it is the fact that the video hardware is not used, so all the graphics computing is done by the main CPU. VNC does a pixel by pixel conversation, so not very efficient. I can likely get more “performance” by backing down the giant number of pixels and color depth that I’ve set ;-)

    At any rate, it’s more than good enough for continued ‘hacking’ on the RPi from the comfort of another room…

    I’ve also downloaded PuTTY and opened a regular Terminal window. As a “line command” kind of guy, that’s a comfortable way to do a lot of non-graphic things for me. Software updates, config changes, etc.

    Next step is to set up a VPN between the boxes. If that doesn’t so kill performance that I just give up ;-) then I get to face the question of how to get it through the firewall from the Telco…

    FWIW, this experience is about the same as Linux in a VirtualBox virtual machine directly on the laptop. ( I.e. one of the 4 cores only, a bit doggy, but liveable.). I’d not want this type ahead / lag for day to day things, but usable for occasional things.

  13. E.M.Smith says:

    Well, I’ve installed “chromium” but it’s not showing up in the app menu yet (likely need to do a new login) but found “Netsurf” browser. No “typeahead” lag in it…

    Quite comfortable as a ‘daily driver’ experience. (No idea about any ‘limitations’ of the browser, never used it before…)

    But clearly part of the ‘performance’ issue is just the Midori browser… Don’t know if it is ‘settings’ on a function of the browser being just crappy… or if Netsuft is just that effecient…

    At any rate, it’s gone from “painfull but usable in a high need circumstance’ to “quite comfortable” just by a browser swap. I’ll do a compare to Chromium whenever I do a reboot / login / whatever makes it show up in the menu ;-)

    Looks ike Firefox / Iceweasel is not yet available per a quick web search.

  14. E.M.Smith says:

    Well, cut down from 1980 x 1280 x 24 bits (that was way off the edges of my laptop size anyway, so large scroll bars) to 1280 x 720 x 16 bits and the type ahead is nearly all gone in MIdori. Much better. Livable as a ‘frequent use’ if not quite good enough for ‘daily driver’. As long as tunneling and encrypting and all don’t kill the performance, I could happily use this as a SSH target from a Starbucks to have a secure encrypted tunnel to private internet browsing.

    After a reboot, Chromium didn’t show up in the ‘internet’ choices, so I need find out where it went, how to make it go…

    I think I’ll start playing with VPN tunnels to the box and remote mounted file systems next. I’m not seeing any memory issue at this time (122 MB free) but having some kind of “swap” space would be good too.

    Time for tea and a break, I think…

  15. Robinsolana says:

    Just a comment on the RasPi. I have had a lot of success with mine running ‘headless’. We have found several ways to control the RasPi from a laptop on the network without an expensive or bulky video monitor or even separate keyboard / mouse. Ordinary Raspian can be made to support. a Putty remote command line connection, standard MS remote desktop, a SHARE server for file transfer and a VNC remote connection. I expect to never have to actually connect a video monitor directly except to maybe play movies. I will check out the Puppy ideo tho.

  16. R. de Haan says:

    E. M, A friend of mine paid a visit to the Apple Days in the Netherlands and found a nice little gadget that turns your tv into a smart tv and provides you access to 200.000 movies, documentaries etc, etc. Have a look at http://www.mynanomediabox.nl. The price of the box is 90 Euro’s and guess twice what nifty electronics drives this nano box? Don’t mind the remark: “Eco firendly” because the guy who builds these boxes, a small entrepreneur who is looking for distributors outside the Netherlands has no idea what he’s talking about .

  17. R. de Haan says:

    XBMC, ook voor de R.PI: http://xbmc.org/download/

  18. R. de Haan says:

    Big Brother Germany: Big Brother in Germany: http://deutsche-wirtschafts-nachrichten.de/2013/05/03/ueberwachung-bundesrat-erzwingt-die-herausgabe-von-nutzer-daten/
    please translate with google.

    I still think the headless server solution with 2 R-Pi’s is a great idea with a huge market. We’re going to need this ASAP.

  19. R. de Haan says:

    E. M, you really should have a look at http://www.mynanomediabox.nl and learn how you can turn your old tv into a smart tv.

  20. E.M.Smith says:

    @R. de Haan:

    OK, I will ;-)

    Though I really don’t want a smart TV… I like my computers smart and my TV Hidef but dumb ;-)

    And I’m working on the HeadlessPi (in fact “as we speak”… I’ve got Iceweasel installed and this is from the RPi…)


    I’ve not got PuTTY running for most technical work (i.e. line oriented SysAdmin) and VNC for using it ‘headless remote’ graphically. Seems workable enough.


    I’ve not got it running “transmission” and acting as a torrent server (that had a few odd kinks in it… more on that in another posting) and I’ve gotten Iceweasel (that I’m typing this upon) and Chromium (and open source Chrome) browsers installed. Needed to do an apt-get update in order for the add-ins to work, so the download systems image is a bit out of date…

    At any rate, this IceWeasel is fast enough via VNC, and more feature rich than the others, so likely the “daily driver”… Don’t have spell checking turned on though… that will be later (and does take a performance hit, so hope it’s not too much ;-)

    Next step will be working on the “clone the SD card” steps (so I can do that whole “Dup and Reset” process, along with a “nuke the SD card” script (for “those days”…) and a ‘netboot’ version (so the software can all live “out there” anyway. And adding a VPN tunnel (both for the logging in remote, and hopefully for the ‘remote boot server’… ).

    So building the system is proceeding.

    @R. de Haan:

    I’ve selected a brand name, but need to vet it prior to making public ;-)

    First product will downloadable prebuilt system (SD card) images via torrent (thus the torrent server being built..) and a tip jar. Then advanced systems later…

    Well, time to make dinner ;-)

  21. E.M.Smith says:

    Well, one other small milestone… I’m using the Iceweasel browser on the RPi, from the laptop, and the RPi is being powered FROM the laptop USB port. (I’d been using a USB Hub…) so at lest the HP Laptop can power one. (As it’s battery has gone marginal, I’m using it on life support … i.e. power dongle plugged in… I’ll test if the battery will support it in a moment… )

    So at this point the laptop is wireless to the RPi (via RPi wired to house network). So “add a wireless dongle” ot the RPi, and then hard IP laptop to RPi (crossover cable) and I ought to have secure private communication from laptop to RPi (push button to shut off built in wireless…) then it doing the Wi-Fi to the internet. One More Brick…

    Then I have to find a smoker…


    To get an empty cigarette package in which to hide the R.Pi of course! Silly ;-)

    Then it’s just a couple of wires from the laptop into a pants pocket. Pull the wires out… it’s dead. Then “take your cigarettes out of your pocket” and act like you are fishing for a cig, while you pull the chip”…

    So at this point, the server side is down to “need VPN and such” and the dongle side is down to “need WiFi dongle and wraper”… at which time it is structurally “done”, and the very hard part of “locking it down” can begin… (with “Alpha” release in there somewhere…)

  22. E.M.Smith says:

    Well, I pulled the power form the HP Laptop and the RPi kept on working… and the HP didn’t crash… so even with a battery that’s prone to 20 minutes and dead, it worked from battery.

    I think it’s gonna work… Of course, there are loads of 5 VDC USB power dongles, so if one wanted, they could have a separate power dongle on the RPi, TWO wireless dongles, one private and locked to the laptop encypted, and put the whole thing inside a “book”, that just sits next to you at Starbucks… But that’s for “Phase Two” ;-0

  23. p.g.sharrow says:

    Glad to see the progress. My grandson and I are ordering parts to add to his RPi and several to play with. My son thinks it is a waste of time and money! He is still in love with his Windoz7 machine. Lol. Claims I am the technophobe. Ah well, the 15 year old grandson needs to get into something that will help build his future and he has been playing with computers all his life. Grandpa will have to get up to speed as a computer geek one more time. ;-) pg

  24. E.M.Smith says:


    It’s going faster now. There’s typically a longer lag at the start, then once things start working it picks up pace fast (the quirks become ‘well known features’ ;-)

    This, BTW, being posted from a Chromium browser via the RPi in the other end of the house from where I am… It’s slower than IceWeasle, but not too bad. Likely will stick with the weasle…

  25. R. de Haan says:

    This is all great.

  26. E.M.Smith says:

    Well, I’ve gone to Fry’s again and picked up a couple of MICRO-usb cables for 99 ¢ each. The second RPi is now up and running. I’ve walked through the config process, taking notes as I go, and have it pretty much ‘scripted’ now. (Posting after I do it a third time doing ONLY what is on the paper… a “qualified install”. )

    I’ve now also got this RPi on a “leash” to the laptop. It plugs into the USB for power and the Ethernet is connected directly (the laptop has ICS Internet Connection Sharing turned on and I’m sharing it’s WiFi to the internet down to the RPi. I know, backwards from the eventual “goal” state, but good for software updates, maintenance, and more.)

    So I’m typing this in IceWeasel on the RPi #2, via a VNC window on the laptop. The RPi is sending it back via the Ethernet cable to the PC Laptop that then routes those packets out the internet via the WiFi. It’s relatively fast. It also pretty much completes the “Dongle Pi” aspect with the exception that I need to add a “WiFi Dongle” to the RPi, and reverse the direction of who serves up the internet…

    As it stands now, though, I could still use this rig for a bit more ‘anonymity’. It would still imprint my MAC address from the laptop onto the WiFi logs et. al, but not the R.Pi. If anything goes “bump”, pull the USB power and slip the chip out of the RPi. As I’m using a MICRO-SD in an adapter, it’s about the size of my little fingernail and would disappear between the lip and teeth or even into an ear canal… though I’d be more inclined to put it between pliers and crush. Heck, I think it would even slide edge on into a “cigarillo” ;-)

    Not the ideal, IMHO, but much better then a Virtual Machine and I can have all my private stuff not even ON the laptop. Sure officer, you can have the laptop… ;-) (Don’t know how much crap M.S. “caches” in various places when doing network ICS, though… )

    It looks like a USB button sized “dongle” for WiFi runs between $10 and $20 for the RPi. So as soon as I have one picked out I’ll do the install of that and try reversing the direction of “who serves whom”. ICS is a particularly brain dead DNS server that hands out near random numbers ONLY in one range ( 192.168.0.x) which is often used by various other equipment in networks… So I’ll be more happy when DNS is served by the RPi or I just hard code the addresses.

    Well, with this step done, I’m a happy camper. One RPi is running my torrent server at the moment and doing MUCH better than a LiveCD Linux. That means a 5 Watt board instead of a large 200 W desktop and a whole lot less “worries”. I can now also purge all the “Torrent” stuff from my laptop (and not worry about what torrent is doing when I’m using the laptop…. ) The other RPi is doing nicely on a “leash” and just needs it’s dongle added. ;-)

    I think I’m likely to buy 2 more of them “soon”. One as a general purpose (internal only) file and boot server, and another for “other services” like caching DNS. Things I want to ‘never go down’. So a ‘bouncable” but secure, and a “no bounce” not outward facing at all. Then the outward facing services on the same one as the Torrent server.

    I know. Overly complex. Sometimes I miss running data centers for thousands of users… ;-)

    At any rate, time to take down this rig, clone the chip image, and start catching up on comments…

  27. E.M.Smith says:

    I’ve turned on DNS service on my Torrent server and pointed my laptop at it. It’s now acting as a caching DNS server. I put 2 “Open DNS” servers near the end of the DNS server list, along with 2 from my ISP, the default router, and 2 others that I know are pretty good. This means that a DNS attack will have a hard time taking down that many servers, and I’m pretty well fixed if any of them gets “issues”. Also any DNS lookup will now cause a copy to be held inside my private network for “a while”. Frequently used sites (like web searches and wordpress and…) will be immediately answered from cache. (And anyone on the ISP side watching DNS lookups to get a clue what’s going on will be missing a lot of data…)

    With my internet router as the ‘middle of the pack’ (ahead of the distant ‘last resort’ DNS lookups) it will also get my full ISP maintained set if it hits that one.

    This makes for a fast and robust DNS.

    Perhaps I’m being a bit self confirmation biased, but a few simple tasks do seem “snappier”… I’d had a caching DNS server before but in some “moving of the office” the big “deskside” machine it was on just didn’t have room… so it went off to the garage somewhere.

    It’s nice to have that service back again. Now a lot of DNS lookups don’t have to fight for space on the internet wire with that movie the kids are watching… (or that torrent file I’m flogging…)

    I’m getting pretty good at configuring the little guy now. It’s a bit different from regular Unix, and unfortunately most Linux distributions have “scattered” and are doing systems admin tasks in unique ways. (Yes, at one time ALL Unix admin was just one way…) But the Debian method is not too odd and does seem well polished and “just works”. I like that part…

    Oh, and I’ve been using win2kdisk.imager and it works well (if not very fancy…) So I can now clone a system at will and both backup and restore an SD card with a couple of clicks. So now I can make a ‘base system’ and then clone it. Restore to a card to do, say, banking or shopping, then just ‘flash’ it again when done. And “hacker tools” that tried to get in are washed away and any “tracking” being done via cookies or “whatever” washed away as well.

    I do need to add a bit to let me save what I want to save ( so move some data to another drive; real media or a network space.) But that’s not hard.

    All in all, I’m finding this card a very useful little tool. Great “bang for the buck”.

    I’ve made a list of “services” I want to configure and try. As of now it’s about 10 items. (But I’ve got three of them already done… Torrent, DNS, and dongle based proxy machine. Some of the others are pretty trivial, like turning on DHCP for when I turn the dongle around so the laptop gets an IP from it, and having one be a file server.

    Well, enough hacking for one day… As of now, one of my RPi boards is in dedicated 24 x 7 production. I think that’s pretty good for now.

  28. P.G.Sharrow says:

    @EMSmith; It appears to me that you are having way too much fun! ;-) pg

  29. E.M.Smith says:


    You don’t know the 1/2 of it! It’s been a while since I had the plain old fun of just being a geek ;-) Doing computer support for a couple of decades had kind of made things a bit, um, dull… and being a Manager is even less fun…

    FWIW, I’m typing this message from an IceWeasel browser (FireFox) on a Raspberry Pi that is a “dongle” off the laptop. The laptop wireless is shut off, so it’s not “visible” to anything but the RPi. (And that is over a non-routing IP hardwire…). The RPi has a WiFi adapter dongle on it. Everything powered from the laptop via USB.

    So to “the world”, all that is seen is the RPi and it’s WiFi dongle Mac Address. Yes, someone could hack into it. But then they need to work out that the ‘real stuff’ is out that wire…

    It’s a tiny bit of typeahead sometimes (but I type fast ;-) and otherwise feels a lot like a live system directly connected.

    It does need some “locking down” in that the system has not had a security / protection screen done on it. (i.e. it is subject to script kiddies doing a hack attack or any “known vulnerability” attacks. Yet I can easily have a window open with “w” running in it and see if there is any unexpected activity and do a scram shutdown… (Pending that day when it’s a locked down system…)

    As it is, I’d be comfortable doing financial transactions on it. I have a stored pristine image and can “flash” a new SD card in about 2 minutes, so can “start fresh” each time.

    For use for “clandestine postings / communications”, like FOIA did, I’d want to use a different WiFi Dongle. This one is expensive ( $20 ) and has a large external antenna. The dinky $9 usb button size ones would be better for ‘disposable’ use. That way you can do what you wish, flash the SD card when done, and ditch the dongle. At that point you are “away clean”… forensics will find nothing on the system, no matching MAC address, and your laptop shows it was doing nothing at all on the internet… only a VNC log file on the RPi tracks anything, and you just flash erased it…

    I think I’m ready for a field test at StarBucks!

    Yes, it’s Happy Hacker Time with a clandestine visit to an open WiFi hot spot and some illicit web surfing… (Like, oh, looking at some nice BBQs without getting tracked and having BBQ adds shoved down my throat for weeks… )

    Still to do is add TrueCrypt (so if ‘caught’ before you can flash the SD card it defaults to an encrypted lump of useless…) and a few other bits like that.

    All in all, I’m quite happy with how this has come together. I’ve got a (long) write up more or less done. I need to do an ‘end to end from scratch using only the notes’ to QA check them, but I think it’s “good to go”. Then I’ll post the recipe…

    Anyone wants an SD card prebuilt and ready to go, I’ll make them for $20 + cost of the SD card. (Specify size and speed desired: 4 GB, 8 GB, 16 GB… it fits on a 4 GB with about 1 GB of free space, but some folks may want large download space… )

    Alpha at present, but as things get polished it will get better.

    I suppose I need to work up some kind of box to put stuff in so it doesn’t look like a pile of wires and cards at StarBucks… ;-)

  30. P.G.Sharrow says:

    Now for the “tuck & fit”, too bad you are 200 miles away. I have a nice case for my attempt a bit later. I would suggest a fanny pack or old looking purse. Your wife must have an old pocket purse about two hand size that zips close. Even men are seen carrying them.
    I have converted an old CD valise binder that I found at a yard sale. A light plywood frame inside gives me 5″ x 10″ x 1.25 space to cram stuff into. My grandson is using an old jewelry box. I tried to convince him to “breadboard” it on a piece of plywood and hang it on his bedroom wall! :-) After every thing works right then a real case can be figured out. pg

  31. E.M.Smith says:

    Well, I’m at StarBucks… Even took the “bold” step of assembly of the unit at the table. Nobody noticed… (It is Geek Land ;-)

    At present, I’m at a small table, using the laptop. The Ethernet and USB wires exit toward the wall and go immediately into the “Cargo pants pocket” on my shorts; where a Raspberry Pi with 8 GB SD card and overly large USB WiFi adapter are housed. Unless you look straight town from above, all that is visible is ia (bright blue… need to get a gray or brown one ;-) Ethernet cable and a very small thin micro USB wire. Oh, and an antenna poking out of the pocket ;-)

    The “button type” dongle would not be visble at all…

    So I sat down and opened the laptop, plugged in power and the Pi wire harness, opened the lid as a bit of a screen, and set the backpack nex to me the other way. Took the RPi from the shrt pocket (where it was in the anti-static bag in which it ships), plugged in the WiFi dongle, wires, slipped it into the cargo pocket, and powered up.

    It took a while to figure out that the “paranoid” browser settings I’d picked were not letting StarBucks do a ‘redirect’ to their “I accpet” banner (i.e. blocking popups and redirects), so after about 20 seconds I undid that and “bing”, I’m now up.

    In a few minutes I’m going to take it out of the pocket and set it in view, to see if anyone notices it. (It is a tiny bit warm against the leg… and I think I can feel the microwaves from the antenna… it’s not just ‘regular warmth’… has a tingle like mico electric feeling to it…)

    At this point, I’m calling it a sucessful test.

    Things to do differently:

    1) Change browser settings to less paranoid.
    2) Order a “button dongle” from the interenet. (Fry’s didn’t have the RAlink chipset ones that are known to work).
    3) Get a black, gray, or wood panel brown Ethernet cable.
    4) Having a new laptop battery would be nice, then I’d not have three wires in the thing, just two from the same side that would look more like regular power connect, not ‘wire monkey’…
    5) Check that laptop WiFi is disabled BEFORE getting to the hotspot. (On power up, it lit up the ‘waking up;’ light… I madly mashed the button, but I’m pretty sure it beaconed my MAC before I got it turned off. Not logged to the central “I Accept” page, but to the local router. A minor sin, in that it will eventually expire and folks would need to inspect it prior to that point (i.e. know to come to this StarBucks…) Still “sloppy”…

    Generally, though, it’s “no problem. I’m near the restroom and a steady stream of folks are walking past not noticing a thng…


    Don’t forget it needs to cool… Ventilation is a good thing… Right now I’m likling the cargo pocket, but will likely clear out the bottom outside pocket of my backpack, then it’s easy to strig wires out the side blocked by the laptop screen and into the edge.

    Well, time to take it from the pocket and see if anyone says anything or looks at it…

  32. E.M.Smith says:

    OK, a few dozen folks have walked by and not even noticed. DESPITE the blinky lights on the RPi. I think they see the antenna sticking up (if they notice at all) and just think it’s a WiFi adapter on a ethernet… which it is… in a way ;-)

    With that, I’m going to pack up and go home. I now have a working “DonglePi ™” computer for reasonably secure and reasonbly privete web services. Now the long road of polishing begins…

    (Need to find a “known vulnerability” list or attack kit and see what holes it finds in the RPi / Debian… so I know what to shut off first… )

    Overall, despite the slow scrolling and occasional “type ahead”, I’m happy with it. Just knowing I can have it “be hacked and infested” and not care is a big step forward… Doing a web search from a browser on the laptop fails (that’s a good thing!) showing that the laptop doesn’t know how to route to the internet via the RPi. (That means any ‘cracker’ might get packets in, but can’t get them back out again unless they build the connection… a tricky bit to do… especially if you were not expecting to need to do it… )

    Well, I’m out of coffee, and about at my limit for Regae music… and loud places… so “Time to go”…

  33. E.M.Smith says:

    I’ve set the cache-size up from the default 150 to 15000 on my R.Pi DNS server. We’ll see how that works out. (I can’t imagine needing more than that. Heck, even 1000 seems large. Then again, with some web pages having 20 or 30 hidden / ad things from other sites, and 20 web pages open at once… )

    Also looking at porting GIStemp to the R.Pi (though doubt it will work easily…) it looks like the FORTRAN compiler available is gfortran. It installed easily with
    apt-get install gfortran.

    Looks like it expects files ending in .f or .for to be f77 fixed format and those ending in .f90 or .f95 to be free-form format. It was a bit less clear how it might handle other f77 vs f95 variations…

    One hopefully irrelevant note:


    Compatibility with g77

    In order to efficiently implement the passing of array sections, binary compatibility to Fortran 77 had to be abandoned. You should not mix object files produced by g77 and gfortran, because this will not result in a working executable.

    OK, so can’t mix objects from two different compilers. As long as gfortran can compile f77 and run it the same, I don’t care about backward linking with a compiler that I don’t have for binaries that don’t exist. ;-)

    Don’t know when I’ll get “a round toit”, but it looks like “sometime” I’ll try a re-port of GIStemp to the Raspberry Pi. At least enough of it to see how painful it is ;-)

    So far, I’m very happy with the R.Pi. The package system of “apt” and the apparent Quality Control of things just working is a big endorsement. Yes, not everything is ported yet; but I’d rather have what IS there working “no worries” than have a lot of crap to sort out…

  34. Petrossa says:

    I guess you got bested EM ;-)
    Boise University PhD candidate Joshua Kiepert has built a 32-way Beowulf cluster from Raspberry Pis.

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