This is the year I finally master the Raspberry Pi

Because the initial model was launched over a decade ago, the Raspberry Pi has both lured and tormented me.

The intricate ideas individuals have come up with (like this Raspberry Pi Pip-Boy or this GLaDOS voice assistant) have made the Pi seem entirely unreachable to someone with virtually little programming experience and similarly few technical abilities.

I’ve been also fascinated by the opportunities opened up by these small single-board computers. As a former journalist, I’m all too familiar with the tyranny of the white page and flashing cursor, and the Raspberry Pi is the technologist’s equivalent: a blank canvas.

Even during the height of the lockdown, when I had nothing else to do with my nights except twiddle my thumbs, I couldn’t get the bravery to take the leap. The issue was always, “Where do I even begin?”

But, with a few internet resources, some advise, and a positive mindset, 2022 will be the year I master the Raspberry Pi.

And which Raspberry Pi is it?

Sadly, I elected to buy a Raspberry Pi at the worst possible moment, in the midst of a worldwide chip scarcity and in the aftermath of the holiday season.

We noted in late December that the newest Pi models are very hard to come by right now, with some sellers projecting that they won’t be able to ship the Raspberry Pi 4B with 4GB RAM (one of the most popular SKUs) until 2023.

Last year, a combination of processor shortages and supply chain constraints restricted manufacturing to seven million devices, and Raspberry Pi was obliged to adopt its first ever price increase, raising the price of the 2GB Raspberry Pi 4 from $35 to $45.

Nevertheless, I will not use cost or availability as an excuse. A second-hand, expensive Pi will have to suffice (although we would recommend readers buy first-hand from approved resellers only).

I don’t require an integrated keyboard, so the Raspberry Pi 400 is out, and I need more power than the Pi Zero can supply. I also appreciate the ability to connect to several displays, thus the Raspberry Pi 4B is the only viable alternative.

As a newbie, I’m not interested in the top-of-the-line device with 8GB RAM. So I’ll go with either the 4GB or 2GB model, whatever is available first and at the best pricing.

I’ll do need a microSD card to install Raspbian, NOOBS, or another operating system, as well as an appropriate power supply and a micro-HDMI to HDMI connector. Everything else, however, I already have: a monitor, a mouse, a keyboard, and a PC with an SD card reader.

What exactly am I going to do with it?

After I’ve gathered the appropriate hardware, I’ll have to face the most difficult question: what should I do with my new Raspberry Pi? After all, it’s easy to become lost in a universe of possibilities.

While Raspberry Pis may be used to build all sorts of strange and amazing things, a simpler first project would be to build a private cloud, web server, VPN, or NAS system. This is going to be my first port of call.

The beauty of converting a Raspberry Pi into a VPN server or NAS is that no coding is needed, just a few command line prompts (and, in the latter case, a hard drive) that can be obtained simply online. The same is true for utilising the Pi as a vintage gaming console or voice assistant.

But, only so far I can go before I have to get my hands dirty with Python, the programming language at the heart of many custom Pi projects. All Raspberry Pis have a Python IDE, making them an excellent learning tool (this is where the concept originated).

After all, I don’t need a Raspberry Pi to learn Python; it’s a cross-platform language, so any computer will suffice. However, every now and again, a new device serves as the right motivator, and the generally low-cost Pi is appropriate for this purpose.

When someone has mastered Python, the possibilities are practically limitless, particularly when paired with a little electrical engineering expertise. Much of the excitement is on the Pi’s GPIO pins, which can be used to integrate sensors, motors, switches, lights, and other peripherals into a unique project.

The Pi may be made into an LED clock, smart home control system, pirate radio station, and hundreds of more helpful (and not-so-useful) inventions by programming these pins using Python.

The primary mission

Technology, at its worst, can be restricted and purposefully obscure. You can’t play if you’re not a member of the club.

The Raspberry Pi’s whole purpose was to overcome this impact and make programming more accessible. Ironically, this aim has been hijacked to some measure (through no fault of their own) by amateurs and computer fanatics, whose daunting products have turned some people off.

It says a lot that even I, a so-called technology writer, took so long to get up the guts to dive in. If you were given a Raspberry Pi in the past or during the recent Christmas holiday, you may have found yourself in the same situation.

Nevertheless, it’s past time that we all recalled what the Raspberry Pi was all about in the first place. It doesn’t matter so much what I do with it as it does that I tried anything.

I don’t anticipate my first Raspberry Pi project to win any awards or even work well, but we all have to start somewhere.