Adventures with the Raspberry Pi

So awhile ago, I purchased a Raspberry Pi (RPi) model B+. For those of y’all not familiar with what the RPi is, it’s essentially a microcomputer that acts as an educational tool designed to teach basic software and hardware to those of us who are a little bit new to tech. You can use it a multitude of ways, the way in which I use it is for running small computational mathematics projects that I don’t want to run on my laptop. A lot of people also use it as a mini desktop. If you’re after more info about the capabilities of the RPi, check out the hyperlink up at the top of this post! I’ll mostly be talking about my experiences using it for independent projects. Anyway, so to get started with the RPi, you need a few things. Specifically with the B+ model, it’s good to have these things:

  • HDMI cable or VGA/HDMI converter
  • ethernet chord
  • mouse
  • micro charger
  • monitor

You will also need a micro SD card, so you can download the OS to it (you can also buy the pre packaged OS micro SD card, but a lot of people have had problems with the OS not being packaged properly).

For me, it took a little while to get up and running. This was because I didn’t know beforehand that, when downloading the OS, you need to remove all the individual files from the downloaded folder before copying them to the empty micro SD card. I also ran into the issue of trying to use my old monitor, with which I was going the VGA/HDMI route; as it turns out, the default frequency setting for the RPi is pretty high, in fact it’s too high for the settings of my old monitor. It’s possible to overclock the RPi in the config.txt file (and in fact, here’s a good description as to what’s what when doing just that) but that totally defeats the purpose of trying to run efficient computational projects, since it requires more power when overclocking and the VGA/HDMI converter already takes up a significant amount of power.

I still think going the VGA/HDMI route is a good alternative, and I would like to be able to do that once I figure out how to get around it. Until then, I started using my TV monitor for this purpose, since it only requires an HDMI chord. Here’s what the set up looked like:

rpi_setuprpi_setup2

Please excuse the clutter, I am a simple college student trying to make due with a small space! As you can probably see, I was evaluating and simplifying some equations using the Wolfram language (TWL) directly in the terminal; on all RPis, full capabilities of Mathematica and Wolfram language are bundled with the OS. This is extremely cool, because Wolfram language is an incredibly powerful functional language that is based around symbolic computation. It’s used for a variety of purposes, and is thus pretty versatile! It seems Wolfram Research is really trying to get their technology out there for more people to get their hands on!

TWL itself doesn’t allow you to access graphics, so I needed the interface of Mathematica to run projects and view graphs/images. I’m mostly going to have to limit myself to very small projects (I am still testing the computational time of Mathematica on the RPi) because it seems that Mathematica runs pretty slow. I know that on the RPi2, Mathematica runs ~10x faster.

rpi_setup3rpi_setup4

The first picture is a basic Monte Carlo random number generator with 10000 points. The second picture is just me opening up the Mathematica interface!

As you can see, I accessed Mathematica via the desktop; when you boot up the RPi, it defaults to a large terminal window. However, you can access the desktop with the command startx.

rpi_setup6

Here’s what the desktop looks like!

One of the other issues I ran into, when trying to write in TWL, is the configuration of the keyboard. The default is a standard British keyboard I’m pretty sure, because the “#” symbol was replaced with the “₤” symbol. This is easily fixed by accessing raspi-config and following the instructions for changing the keyboard there.

As I continue to explore the capabilities of the RPi for computational mathematics projects, I’ll be sure to keep y’all updated as to what I learn/observe! Thanks for sticking around!

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