19 August 2014

3.5" Touchscreen TFT Display for the Raspberry Pi

After a long battle getting my PiTFT to work how I wanted it to (see my blog post), I've been keeping an eye on other TFT products for the Raspberry Pi. 

There's a lot of interest in these little Pi-shaped screens, but there doesn't seem to be one that is truly "plug n' play" working straight out of the box.

I may have found something that makes it a little closer to that true plug n'play goal - the 3.5" TFT screen from NeoSec Solutions. They offer a similar product to the PiTFT however overall I've found it a lot easier to set up.

It's hard to look at any small touch screen for the Pi without comparing it to the ever popular PiTFT - so rather than pretend to not be comparing it - this review will face the boards off against each other and see what's the best screen in each category. I don't normally do this, but it just makes sense in this scenario.

So...let's take a look!

3.5" Raspberry Pi Screen
The NeoSec 3.5" TFT Screen
Blogger Tricks

17 August 2014

The Southend-on-Sea Raspberry Pi Jam

Yesterday I attended my first ever 'Pi Jam' in my hometown - the Southend-on-Sea Raspberry Pi Jam!

I had seen a lot of reviews, blogs and pictures about other jams such as the ever popular Cambridge "CamJam", but until now had always had other commitments to attend to.

If you're not sure what a Raspberry Pi Jam is - well - it's simply an event that brings together like-minded Raspberry Pi people to show off their projects, learn something new, sell a few bits or generally just have a look around. Some Jams are well established and see attendance hitting the 100's, whilst others are more cosy affairs.

Yesterday was Southend's third Raspberry Pi Jam, hosted by the nice chaps at SoSLUG - The Southend Linux User Group. They were kind enough to invite me down and even give me a table to show people some of my projects.

Read on to hear more, and see some of the fantastic projects on show...

The Southend Raspberry Pi Jam
The main room got busy in between talks

10 August 2014

How To Design a Printed Circuit Board with DesignSpark PCB

A couple of months ago I got curious about PCB manufacuring, and ended up using Joe Walnes' open-source PiCrust PCB design to test the process. I sent the 'Gerber' files off to a little cheap board house in China, and a few weeks later my boards arrived - and they actually worked! (and some of you won a board in my competition!)

With my 100% PCB-related success rate still fresh in my mind, I decided that I wanted to try and design my own PCB from scratch. I assumed this would require some kind of qualification and expensive software, but to my surprise it needed none of these things.

I stumbled across DesignSpark PCB - free PCB design software from RS. Yes, free!

Like my grandfather meeting Microsoft Excel for the first time, I was initially intimidated by the unfamiliar buttons, layout and general PCB-territory - but I stuck with it, learnt how to design a PCB, and even got my own batch made (which you can WIN at the bottom of this blog!)

I've written this blog post to show you how easy it is to create a PCB for free using DesignSpark PCB. This guide is designed to be a simple introduction based on what I learnt - we‘ll cover more advanced stuff in later blogs.

Let‘s get started...

DesignSpark PCB Model
Want to win one of these? Read on to enter the competition...

3 August 2014

How to Assemble the On/Off Power Switch from Pi Supply

Interesting timing for this blog post. The announcement of the Model B+ Raspberry Pi continues to flood Twitter and Tech news sites, yet this average blogger has resisted the purchase as I simply have too many Pis already. 

One thing that was still missing for me on the B+ was the inclusion of some kind of power switch. Considering how many common RPi projects could make use of this functionality, I was surprised that the foundation hadn't added it to the new board.

Still, we've lived with this problem with the old version for a long time, and there are plenty of switch products out there to get around it. Today I've been putting together the On/Off switch from Pi-Supply.com, one of the original switches to be released for the Raspberry Pi.

As Pi Supply don't have any images in their guide, and as the switch has a lot of parts to solder, I thought it might be useful to write a guide with images to give my readers a bit of confidence building theirs.

My soldering iron is ready...let's go...

PiSupply Switch
The completed switch from Pi-Supply.com

20 July 2014

How to Set Up an AdaFruit PiTFT for the Raspberry Pi

About 2 months ago I received my Adafruit PiTFT through the post, possibly the most excited I've ever been to see my postman. I also ordered the 4 tactile buttons to go with it, adding to my geeky buzz.

Foolishly I thought it would be a quick "Plug n' Play" unit, expecting to get my console showing on the little 2.8" screen in seconds. Not quite. I should have read the install guide before ordering!

You see, the PiTFT isn't the easiest thing to get running. In fact, have a quick search on-line and you'll see a mass of forum messages going back and forth trying to get certain parts working. Some can't get their desktop to show up, some can't get the buttons working, others struggle with the backlight control - and so on and so on. It's a bit of a fiddly one to say the least!

After a few attempts and a lot of Googling, I've got mine working perfectly (update - "almost perfectly") - so I'm here to show you exactly what I did, step by step, so that you don't have to go through the same headache as me.

PiTFT Setup
My PiTFT...finally working!

13 July 2014

Using Cron with RaspBMC

I've had a bit of a change around this weekend, shuffling the various boxes in my media TV unit and generally fiddling purely for the sake of it. One of the more interesting changes I made was to put my RaspBMC media centre Pi into the Short Crust case that was sent to me by PiSupply.com, along with the PiLITEr board I had in my bits box.

The Short Crust case has a tinted top panel which I thought would be excellent in conjunction with the LEDs glowing through from my PiLITEr board. My aim was to have the LEDs showing when RaspBMC was on, so that I knew from a distance that the Pi was powered up, and also just to look cool alongside my other media boxes.

All I needed to do was get it to run the script every time I powered up, but Cron wasn't as straight forward as it usually is, due to this being a RaspBMC build rather than the usual vanilla Raspbian image.

I got it to work though, and here's how...

Raspberry Pi Short Crust PiLITEr
My Short Crust with the PiLITEr lurking from inside

4 July 2014

Testing the RavPower Luster with the Raspberry Pi

A little while ago the folks over at RavPower sent me one of their Element power banks to review, which I used as part of a timelapse video - see the blog post here.

Now that power bank packed an almighty 10400mAh which is ideal for lengthy camera projects or similar. If you're looking for something slightly more 'mobile', their new Luster power bank might be a better choice for you. However, my first question was "Can they run a Raspberry Pi" and if so, how long for?

Rather than do a flat test just running an idle Pi, I gave this test more of a real-life scenario using the camera module and some other parts attached drawing power. After all, most of us using a power bank are likely to be using it for something interesting.

Let's see how it got on...

WIN a RavPower Luster Power Bank!
The good people at RavPower have also given me a brand new Silver Luster power bank to give away as part of this review! Read on to see how you can win!

RAVpower torch
It looks like a torch for a reason...read on...

17 June 2014

The Short Crust Raspberry Pi Case from Pi-Supply.com

I'm always impressed when I see new innovations and products designed to solve those little everyday issues that pester us. From spaghetti measuring gadgets to swiss tool cards, I constantly envy those creative types that come up with all the new ideas.

This links nicely to today's product review - The Short Crust Raspberry Pi case from Pi-Supply.com - a very clever case aimed at the Pi media centre scene.

So, what has a spaghetti measure got to do with a case for the Raspberry Pi? Better read on my friend...

Short Crust for Raspberry Pi
The Short Crust - Smooth Operator