Having my Pi

I’ve had access to this Raspberry Pi for a few weeks now and I feel compelled to post an update regarding how I’m getting on.

First off. I love this little thing. The last few weeks have been an adventure. It’s like I’m back in 5th grade when I was just getting into computers and really getting a feel for what I could do with them. Or when I was 17 and setting up a LAN complete with a ridiculous number of extrenuous servers types with my room-mates in our apartment. Back in the day when we would set up an intranet web and media server just because we didn’t have one, not because it filled any particular need.

Getting back into Linux has been the most daunting part of using the Pi. As much as I love the OS I never really understood it. I also found that Linux, for me, prompts a compulsion toward endless re-configuration. I’ve never had a Linux installation that lasted more than a few days. I just can’t help myself. I fiddle, update and configure until nothing works anymore and it’s just quicker to re-install or re-image. Because of this, and many other reasons, Linux and I parted ways some years ago and I’ve never looked back. Now here I am with a tiny little Linux box that could possibly become a big part of my job/career/life, and forgiveness is not in Linux’s nature.

So what have I done so far.

As soon as I had my Pi in hand I got a hold of a breakout cable, breadboard and some LEDs. After having already become reasonably proficient with Python I was desperate to try out the GPIO programming. Within just a few minutes I had a single LED blinking on an off. Then I plugged in two more LEDs and programmed a traffic light. Now after how ever many weeks I have upgraded to 8 LEDs and have it cycling randomly through a growing set of blinking sequences. One of which is programmable. Programming these lights became a daily kata for a while. When I took a break from a larger project I’d spend an hour programming another sequence.

I got Raspbmc set up and working across the school network. It was a challenge and while it’s functional it is unstable to say the least. It works well enough, I hope, that a teacher might be able to use it but I’m going to need to do a lot more testing first.

To date I’ve re-imaged my Pi 9 times. Three due to a suspected corrupted SD card and the rest due, mostly, to various experiments and testing that I’ve been doing.

What have I learned?

NOOBS is great but raw images are better. I’ve always found this to be the case with Linux. These one size fits all solutions that are constantly on offer are never the best solution.

Power is everything to the Pi, power it from a proper mains adaptor whenever possible. A shortage of power can result all sorts of problems, none of which are indicative of low power levels.

A 4GB SD card is not big enough. I have a 4GB card and and 8GB card. As soon as I get the OS up and running on the 4GB I’m immediately up against the wall space wise. Using the raw image really helps as the NOOBS image isn’t taking up space somewhere but it’s not enough. As soon as I install a larger package, such as Open Office, I find myself running out of space. On the 8GB card, I have NOOBS and to distros installed and space hasn’t become an issue yet.

Where do I go from here?

I’m trying to keep the purchases to a minimum being that is isn’t actually my Pi, so most of my planned projects are software based. I’m going to eventually purchase my own Pi at which point

My compulsion towards configuration is greatly eased by the compactness of Raspbian. Re-imaging is now a ten minute process where as before it could be hours.

The ICT department and I are looking at starting an after school club called Raspberry Jam. Where we’re going to test out some of the new curriculum stuff for next year on the attendees. If things go well then we’re going to embark on a project, perhaps involving a quadracopter.

Placement

This year I have the option to do up to one year in work placement. My award is a little strange in that the placement for me is optional. If I can’t find one I just transfer to the award that doesn’t require a placement and that’s that.

I initially jumped onto the placement bandwagon with enthusiasm. I’m getting such good feedback from the University that I figured I’d surely be able to find a good placement pretty early on. As time goes on however, I’m not finding this is at all the case.

The biggest problem it seems is me, or more specifically, my living situation. I can’t just up sticks and move like most students can, I’ve got a house and childcare issues. All the best placements for software development seem to be in Reading, Leamington Spa or London, that’s simply to far for me to commute. So I’m limited to the west midlands where the pickings, software wise, are pretty slim.

I polished up my CV and applied to everyone who was looking for something even remotely software orientated. Out of something like 20 applications I’ve only had a couple of interviews. Neither of them came to anything. One gave me no feedback at all and the other one told me to come back in a couple of months and then filled the position that I was supposed to come back for.

It’s like being back on the job hunt, only weirder. Where as before, if I wasn’t completely ignored by employers I was at least treated like a professional. It was assumed that I had the skills appropriate for the job and was occasionally asked to elaborate.
Going for a placement is all together more soul destroying. You still stand just as much chance at being ignored but now the interviewers treat you like, well… a student. I’ve been given full blown exams and hour long sessions of critically assessed programming. It’s stressful to say the least.

In their defence I’ve now had the pleasure of working with a variety of students for a couple of years and have, in that time, managed two group projects. If I was in there shoes I’d be testing candidates as well.

This week I had an interview for a role that I would be perfect for. All of my interests and experience are right on the money and the company is next door to the university. When interview day came I was quite nervous about what potential challenges awaited me, so much that I’d spend the days before pouring over all my past work trying to think of everything that I might be asked about or tested on. I even brushed up in my objective c, c# and c++ just to be safe.

As interviews go however this was about the most normal interview I’ve had since starting my degree. I was a relaxed and respectful and professional conversation. It was all very much, “This is what we do, this is what we want.” “This is what I’ve done, this what why I’m the man for the job.” a very familiar format and welcome relief from what I’ve come to expect from placement hunting.

I used to have a real knack for interviews. My trouble has always been getting my CV through to interview stage, without a degree it’s nearly impossible. There was a time when I could proudly state that if I got through to interview, then the job was mine. I seem to have lost that skill somewhere along the way. Maybe it’s just that I’m up against a higher calibre of competition now, I dunno.

I’m waiting to hear back from that interview them and I’m hopeful. Aside my compulsively pointing out every little bug or imperfection in my apps as I talked about them, I didn’t say anything that would have outright blown the interview. I was relaxed, professional and well prepared the whole way through. It’s nice to come away from the interview feeling good about it for a change. I’ve got another interview on the horizon as well so I’m not readying my award transfer papers just yet.