Doug Smith Media

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Printing Solutions with the Raspberry Pi

One of my least favorite technologies has been home printing.  For some reason or another, whether hardware, software, or driver issues, I seem to run into problems with printers, eventually getting to the point where a once reliable printer seems to lose a print job in the electronic ether – sometimes with great frequency.

Enter: the Raspberry Pi.

(And: a couple tutorials.)

CUPS Printing

PiminecraftcupsThanks to the MagPi Magazine, I learned how to use CUPS printing (an open source software using standards-based printing protocols, developed by Apple) to set up printing to a USB connected printer.  It works great for me, prints reasonably fast, and I don’t recall losing or re-sending any print jobs.  This is shockingly easy, because no drivers have to be downloaded, it’s easy to set up and it just works.

Link to the MagPi article on setting up CUPS printing  

I have also installed CUPS using the similar guide at Penguin Tutor.

Google Cloud Printing

picloudprintimageMore recently I decided to try Google Cloud Printing, a service that utilizes an internet connection and one’s Google account to turn a wired printer into a wireless printer.  Setting it up on an internet-connected Raspberry Pi means I can print from  a computer (via a free install of Google Cloud Print), as well as an Android device (free Google Cloud Print app) or an iPad (via the paid PrintCentral Pro app) as long as I have an internet connection on both sides and the Pi and printer are both on.  This has worked extremely well for me as well and was also a quick set up.

Here’s a guide at How-To Geek 

Who would have thought that a little $35 computer would make printing easier?  Hopefully, many less hours will be wasted, at least in attempts to print simple documents.

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December 11, 2013 Posted by | Computers, Technology | , | Leave a comment

The Raspberry Pi Computer: Toy or Tool?

rpiGetting Acquainted with Raspberry Pi

Sometime during the summer of 2012, I heard about the Raspberry Pi computer and ordered one.  It sounded interesting, especially for its size (about the size of a credit card, but thicker with its ports), its ability to handle HD video and its low price point ($35 USD).  I ordered one from Allied Electronics and it finally arrived…. in December (at the time the amount of demand far overwhelmed the supply).

I played with it a bit, installing the current version of the Raspian “Wheezy” operating system onto the SD card the Pi runs on.  I surfed the web with it a little and tried to play some of the games installed on it; I also installed a few things from the Pi Store.  I ordered a Kindle book on the Pi and learned a few Linux based commands.

But something went wrong and I couldn’t get the Pi to even make anything show up in a display – for months.  I pulled it back out in April, and, as a last ditch effort, began to look up some things about the Pi, when I came across RaspBMC, based on the open source, multi-platform XBMC.  The article promised an easy installation that would turn the Pi into a media center in under an hour… and it did.

Using the Raspberry Pi

raspbmcI tried the Pi as a slideshow host at the school where I teach.  I created some announcements in Powerpoint, saved them as .JPG files in a folder on a USB flashdrive, saved some music on the same drive, and loaded up a slideshow with background music.  A few days later, we ordered a Pi that is now school property and is used daily in the welcome center.  Occasionally we have used it to play a HD promotional video for the school, which it handles very well.

I have also been able to use the media center at home to do things such as playing my music files, watching YouTube videos, and sharing YouTube videos wirelessly from my Android smartphone.  I also share local photos and videos from my phone by using the Yatse and PlayTo apps.

I have used the Raspian “Wheezy” distribution to surf the web (with Midori and Chromium), and create documents (using AbiWord and LibreOffice’s word processor).  My Raspberry Pi even became a backup at work one day and enabled me to finish a document I needed done when my Toshiba netbook started chugging.

I have also had fun with my children and students with the free Pi edition of Minecraft (which can be setup for multiplayer creative mode on a local area network).

Toy or Tool?

For me, the Raspberry Pi is a bit of both.

I use it for fun, occasionally playing Minecraft and often using it for YouTube and local media sharing for my family.

I use it as a tool, from a slideshow at school, to a slideshow at an exhibition for an organization, to light web use, and occasional word processing projects.  I sometimes export Powerpoint files to use as slideshows for my lectures.

I hope to use it to learn some programming (via Scratch and other options I may learn about).

I hope to get a camera working with it but have been unsuccessful with the official camera module heretofore… other have succeeded, though.

It is not the fastest thing in the world for use as a PC (and I can’t get it to consistently handle flash videos in the web browser), but it is surprisingly effective and useful at rendering HD video and playing media in the various XBMC distributions.

Recommendations

If this little $35 computer piques your interest, here are my thoughts:

* Order from a seller on Amazon.  I found Speed of Light Distributors to be true to their name if you can find a listing from them.  Allied Electronics is a solid bet, but shipping may take longer (but shouldn’t be six months now!) and the price should be about the same.  Adafruit looks like another good place to order from.  They have packages and peripherals, and a reputation for fast shipping and good customer service. (UPDATE: If you are in the USA in the Tri-Cities Region of NE TN/SW VA, I recommend checking with SHIELDS Electronics in Bristol, Tennessee, as they have begun stock the Pi and accessories.)

* Download a multi-boot operating system.  NOOBS and BerryBoot are two options so you can have Raspian “Wheezy” AND an XBMC Media center (and other OS’s), such as RaspBMC or OpenELEC.  This way you can do word processing, web surfing, and other functions you might use a desktop for, then you can reboot it and use as a media center.

* If you’re only interested in a media center, RaspBMC gets my vote.  Sam Nazarko does a fantastic job regularly updating and tweaking his version of XBMC.  He tends to roll out updates each month which should automatically update if your Pi is connected to the Internet.

* Regularly check out and connect on social media to the official Raspberry Pi website, the free electronic MagPi magazine (you can subscribe in the Newstand on the iPad), and bookmark this troubleshooting website:  http://elinux.org/R-Pi_Troubleshooting.  Lots of information is out there about a variety of projects, and there are some helpful people in the forums.

* Look around for unused peripherals… and if you need some, check out some garage sales.  I picked up a Dell DVI/VGA monitor with USB inputs, along with some external speakers, for $10.  USB keyboards and mice can often be had for a couple bucks a piece.  Micro USB cables can be had cheap, and Amazon is a great place to order them, HDMI cables, flashdrives, SD cards, cases, and audio cables.  My favorite ways to connect are with this wireless keyboard/touchpad combo, or, for slideshow usage, a simple infrared USB remote.

* Above all, if you get one, be patient.  I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this computer as a tool and a toy, but I almost didn’t because of the problems I had.  Turns out I probably wasn’t using the right power supply from January to March!  (A trip to the troubleshooting site would have solved that.)


Do you have thoughts on the usefulness of the Raspberry Pi?  Share them in the comments.

Note: The product links are Amazon affiliate links.  If you purchase them, I would appreciate if you did so via my link.  I have had a good experience with my purchase of Raspberry Pi-related items from Amazon.

November 7, 2013 Posted by | Computers, Media, Technology | , | Leave a comment