Festive Frustrations with the Raspberry Pi

The Raspberry Pi Tiny ComputerI was really excited to open the tiny box that revealed a raspberry pi starter kit but if my partner had realised quite how much strife it was going to cause, I know for a fact should would never have put it under the xmas tree.

I am writing from a place of calm now, a mere 36 hours after revealing a tiny solder board of components I have now been rewarded with a the image of a giant raspberry on the Toshiba widescreen telly. No Dr Who or Eastenders Christmas Special in this house, everyone is going to have to endure me learning how to use linux and programming a strange cat on Scratch.

[GARD]

Just in case anyone else is still out there trying to get the tiny computer to take its first breath, I thought it might be useful to make a few notes of where I went wrong or where peripherals let me down and then more importantly, how I got over it and finally got my raspberry pi to boot.

Problem 1 – Raspberry Pi would not boot

My raspberry pi starter kit came with a pre-installed SD card with the NOOBs installation pack on it. When I put it into the slot and switched on the raspberry pi it rewarded me with a rainbow splash screen but went no further.

Without having access to a command prompt I had no alternative but to reboot through the brute force method of yanking out the power cable and re-inserting. This has a tendency to mess up the SD card and is not recommended but what are your choices in this situation?

Putting the power cable back in took me straight back to the rainbow splash screen.

I then discovered the power of the 10 minute wait. It seems the raspberry pi will not immediately reboot and requires a cool down period. Not the 15 second cool down so favoured by your IT helpdesk staff but a full on, mind bogglingly dull 10 minutes. No idea why, but I’ve seen a comment about capacitors and heat.

Learnings:

  • Plug power cable in after all the other components – the SD card goes in before you power up
  • If you need to reboot by pulling out the cable, you may as well go and make yourself a cup of tea (and drink it) before coming back to plug the cable in again

Problem 2: Raspberry Pi boots to NOOBs, successfully installs Raspbian but will not boot to Raspbian

After much re-booting and cooling down and re-booting I managed to get my system to boot into NOOBs. Here I was able to select the recommended Raspbian operating system. It even went as far as telling me I had successfully installed Raspbian before the screen went blue and then black.

It seems that the problem is with the HDMI connection. NOOBs is apparently rather good at dealing with a whole host of HDMI options (no idea what I’m talking about here) but Raspbian is not so good. So I get a display on my Toshiba Regza widescreen while I’m in NOOBs but nothing at all in Raspbian.

Joy.

Have another cup of tea and reboot.
[GARD]

This takes me to the splash screen where I have an opportunity (if I’m quick) to enter the Recovery Mode. This could be useful as it allows me to select Raspbian again and then press e to edit the config file. Here I can tell it to enter HDMI safe mode. I say “could be useful” but its not at all useful as it doesn’t seem to save the instruction and when I’ve made yet another cup of tea and rebooted I’m back in the same place with another blank screen.

On further investigation I discover that I can amend the config.txt file on another computer, but not it seems, a windows PC (as they won’t read linux files). The instructions I read suggested that you either need a linux machine or a Virtual Machine running on your PC so you can boot into a linux OS. I have experience with VM’s and I fear it is another route littered with painful hurdles. Still, as I have virtual box installed on my Mac, I thought I’d give it a go.

Installing RaspbianFortunately I noticed that when I inserted my SD card into the mac it mounted 2 drives, one of which was called boot. In there was the config.txt. Opening this with a text editor allowed me to remove the #comment in the first section so that:

#hdmi_drive=1
became
hdmi_drive=1

I saved this file and went back to the raspberry pi to reboot – joy of joys – it booted, ran some complex looking install script and finished with:

pi@raspberrypi ~ $

The Giant Raspberry of SuccessI wondered what I was supposed to do next but on referring to my manual, I discover that is it. I had finally reached my destination.

Learnings:

  • Insert your SD into a mac (or PC running linux in a virtual machine) open the Boot drive, open the config.txt and remove the # that comments out the instruction to boot in HDMI mode 1
  • Reboot and watch with satisfaction as a giant raspberry appears on the screen
  • Type startx if you want to see a more visual representation of raspberry pi success.

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