PiConfig arrives

Another Kickstarter I’ve been eagerly awaiting recently is PiConfig. Described as the easiest way to set up networking on the Pi this USB stick of wonders looks just the business for when I need to rapidly reconfigure up to 6 Pis on my stand at Bristol Digimakers. Essentially the problem I face is that at home my Pis mostly use DHCP where-as at Digimakers I set up a LAN requiring them all to be on static IP addresses. It’s a real faff having to eject 3 SD and 3 micro SD cards, find the adaptor, and then one by one edit config.txt on a laptop, while trying to remember which card came from which Pi (note to self: must get out label printer).

Much easier, then, just to load PiConfig on my Mac, select the config setting for each Pi in turn, write to the Pi and hey presto all is done. This saves some time going from DHCP -> static (selecting the profile needed each time) and a whole lot when going from static -> DHCP (one config to rule them all). In both directions it wholly eliminates errors as well in the configuration of any card. Win.

So, the question is: does it work? The answer is yes, albeit with a few errors along the way.

The first thing one has to do is run an installer script on each Pi. For some unknown reason this is not included on the USB stick and instead wget must be used. This is a shame as the stick is 4GB in capacity and over 4GB is available. Hang on, that can’t be right:
piconfig_size
Well, apparently it is. Seeing this makes me wonder about the quality of the USB stick from years of reading “is your SD card genuine?” blog posts. Hence, best to take a backup of the software just to be sure. Weirdly this is where I encountered my first problem: right-clicking on the piconfig folder on the stick and choosing Compress “piconfig” results in an error that one file or the other could not be added to the archive. Hmm, this is now getting concerning. I confirmed the stick isn’t write only by creating a new folder on it temporarily.

Instead I copied the whole piconfig folder to my desktop and archived it to a zip there without problem.

Running the PiConfig application presented the program with pretty obvious fields to be completed. But, here again I found a problem: after entering configuration data for the LAN and clicking on the save profile button I was presented with an error, my profiles all disappeared and I had to quit and reload the program again to see them.

[UPDATED]Fortunately the Developer, Mihaly Krich responded very quickly to a message I sent him detailing this fault and has released an updated version of the PiConfig software that addresses this. With the update installed this bug is fixed. On Mac OS X 10.10 when you download the update and run the program you will be presented with a message telling you that only applications from known developers and the App Store can be run. This is a security feature on Mac OS X. To add PiConfig to the list of applications that can be run:

  1. Open System Preferences (quick shortcut: CMD+Space to open Spotlight, type pref and press enter)
  2. Click Security and Privacy
  3. Unlock the preference page by clicking on the padlock in the bottom left and entering your password
  4. Ensure that under Allow apps downloaded from you have “Mac App Store and identified developers”
  5. You will see that the Preferences already identifies that piconfig.app was the last application to need such permissions - click Open Anyway to add it to the safe application list.

piconfig_mac_preference_security

The software author has chosen to save my configuration data inside the Mac OS X package. This means that when when a patched version is released care must be taken to extract the files from /Volumes/PICONFIG/piconfig/osx/piconfig.app/Contents/Resources before replacing the application, else one’s configuration will be overwritten. On Twitter he noted to me that this was due to requiring sudo permissions in Mac OS X which the application does not have.

This save location prohibits the dual-use of any configuration file in Windows and Mac OS X as Windows computers cannot see inside Mac application packages (Mac apps are stored inside.app directories that masquerade as executable programs). I confirmed this to be a problem by loading the Windows executable on a different laptop and sure enough my previous profiles were nowhere to be seen. Given the profiles are saved to a plain text file, a format readable by both operating systems this should have been made accessible to both Mac OS X and Windows.

The final test though is: does this thing work? I can report that yes it does, and very well indeed. As advertised one of my Raspberry Pis is now on a static IP from DHCP... and now it is back to DHCP again after using PiConfig for a second time. Once over the configuration hurdles you can swap configuration on any Pi reliably in well under a minute.

Ultimately, despite less than ideal software and a USB stick that raises a Mr Spock eyebrow, PiConfig does do what it says on the tin and will be an essential part of my exhibition toolkit from now on. It saves me time and makes event setups that much easier.

4/5 “almost spot-on”
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HDMPI arrives: assembly and first impressions

By chance I was actually in when the postman knocked on my door and gave me a plain brown cardboard box. Inside was HDMIPi in full kit-to-be-assembled form. This caught me surprise as I thought HDMIPi was still at the assembly stage (clearly I need to read my emails more closely). Great stuff: a new kit to play with :)

HDMIPi011

The whole package is pleasingly arranged in the box, with the several layers of case surrounding the screen, which came in bubble wrap to protect it. A nice thought. Anyway, that’s enough of unboxing *yawn*. Let’s play with the thing.

Assembly

There is a great video from raspi.tv along with instructions on the HDMIPi website. The video really is step by step and you really can follow it along. Alex Eames has done a great job of explaining exactly which way around all the case components go. Have a dust cloth and a little rocket blower like the Giottos GTCL2810 Q.Ball Angle-Adjustable Air Blower handy to keep dust off. I managed to get two annoying dust spots on the screen before assembly, but in the scheme of things that’s a “meh” and I probably won’t worry about them.

My only two niggles are:

  1. The two 12mm x 2.5mm screws looked identical to the 12mm x 3mm screws at first. So much so that I’d put them into the edge holes on the case and had to go fish them out again. Mental note: always count your screws before building anything.
  2. The USB - micro USB cable that connects the driver board to the Pi is a tight squeeze. It has a double-U (a bit “W”-like I guess) curve that meant it didn’t want to sit parallel in either socket until I applied a fair bit of “bend-thine-cable” force to the cable itself. Now though seems fine and I guess we’ll see soon if it pops out. IMHO a flat mini noodle-like cable would have been better here and this is something I’ll likely take a look at in the future if this proves an issue. You can see the cable in the photo below.
HDMIPi015

The driver board is held securely next to the Pi and there’s no problem in assembling it all. After assembly there is definitely space for a slimline battery in there.
HDMIPi013

To be honest the driver board is a thing of beauty, it really is. It’s darn compact and given it supports a second HDMI output (unfortunately not dual-monitor) it means you can plug your Pi into the widescreen TV in your lounge without having to dismantle the enclosure. Nice.

First boot

The Pi booted first time and the screen lit up without a hitch. I was slightly surprised to see it claiming full HD 1920x1080 when the advertised specs were for 1280x800. However I think (not confirmed) that the higher resolution is scaled. In either case it certainly looked cramped on screen. I followed the instructions to change this to 1280x800 and the whole package became immediately more usable.

How’s it handle

It’s a fairly solid surround, as you’d expect from Pimoroni. A gripe here is that the driver board is only about half an inch from the case and without too much difficulty things could possibly fall in and short. But that’s a hypothetical risk, not something I’ve had a problem with. Your fingers are unlikely to find themselves inside.

One thing I would love (love I tells ya!) would be a rubber bumper surround for the whole thing. I’m going to suggest this to Alex.

HDMIPi020

The ethernet and USB ports have a cut away at the case which you may need to remove. I made the mistake of plugging in an ethernet cable without removing this plate: try unclipping an RJ45 ethernet connector with anything less than a it-conducts-electricity screwdriver and you’ll see what I mean. This won’t be a problem if you remove the cut edge plate first, or use a dinky WiFi dongle (as I now am).

I’ve been toying with buying a new wireless keyboard and trackpad combo to replace my wireless keyboard and mouse and now seems a good opportunity to do so as the adaptor sits too far out from the board, and is kinked at a nasty angle. Again, fixable with a smaller adaptor or by cutting away the small edge panel. Something to be aware of anyhow.

HDMIPi018

Something has to be said for how the driver board dishes out power to the Raspberry Pi. To give you an idea: without HDMIPi a WiFi dongle plus my wireless keyboard and mouse adaptor has always been too much for the USB ports regardless of power supply I use (Even good quality 2A ones). Either the mouse goes all jittery or the WiFi is up and down like a Yo-Yo necessitating the need of an external powered hub. However, with HDMIPi I’ve found so far that this combination is rock solid: WiFi AND a mouse at the same time! Bonza! Obviously you’re mileage will vary.

A note on GPIO: all the pins on the P1 header are available, sunk slightly (~2mm) into the case. This should protect them if you accidentally put the HDMIPi down on something conductive (and when’s that a good idea?). Would you believe it, your GPIO expansion board of choice may work. I tried PiLite and XLoBorg were fine, but TriBorg catches on the plastic case slightly. If this is an issue you can always use a ribbon cable to solve this. XLoBorg is an interesting one as it gives HDMIPi accelerometer and magnetometer capabilities, which coupled with a wireless, battery powered Pi is very, very interesting. A bit of black masking tape, or Sugru would do the trick nicely to cover up XLoBorg.

HDMIPi016

HDMIPi017

HDMIPi019

(The bump out the bottom left is my oh-so-slightly too large wireless keyboard and mouse adaptor).

There you have it, a first look at HDMIPi. My take: an absolutely top notch way of getting a portable 9” screen fastened to your Pi without sacrificing functionality (GPIO or external HDMI connections).
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