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How to fix the Bud Pi Case

D – One thing upfront, not posting here for about a year did not mean we did not use the Pis. It is simply a matter of time that posts did not make it in here. We are a busy bunch.

As you can see from the photos I posted a while back I use the Bud Pi case. No offense to the designer of this case, but it only works marginally well if one puts everything together and then never touches the setup. Forget about plugging something in or pulling a cable out, the Pi board will slip out of the insufficiently grabbing retainers and flop all around. In order to put it back into place you need to take the top off the case and doing that a few times will break off one if not all of the pegs that hold the case together.

After enduring this misdesign for months I had enough and was toying with the idea of buying a new case (I really like the Adafruit case that my son has, it works well and it looks awesome), but since I am frugal…ok, cheap….I looked for alternatives.

The retaining clips in the Bud case are effective in keeping the Pi board from turning. The only problem is that they really do not protect against any upward movement. If I could keep the board from pushing up when plugging things in then the case would work.

I did read on the Pi forum that several people complained that the ‘mounting holes’ are too small for standard screws and I also learned from there that the holes are used during manufacturing and were not intended to be mounting holes. Nevertheless, they look like mounting holes. So why not use them as that?

Step 1

I measured the distance between board and case bottom and it is between an inch and an inch and a half. I have an old shelf in the basement where I keep any scrap pieces of wood and I quickly found a block that fit into the case and had the right height. Next up finding two wood screws that are long enough to go deep into the block without poking out on the other side.

I help the block in place by hand and used a Sharpie marker to mark the points where I had to drill holes into the case. After that I made another test fit and marked through the drilled holes the spots on the wood block where I had to drill some pilot holes. For those who do not know, pilot holes are smaller than the screw that needs to go in them, but the pilot holes reduce the amount of wood that the screw has to push to the side, that way the wood will not crack apart. Further, the screw will go in at the same direction as the pilot hole. This little extra step makes it much easier to put the screws in. Here is the result seen through the bottom of the case.

Image

Step 2

Next up placing the Pi board into the retainers and marking the spot where to drill a pilot hole for the one screw that will go through the Pi board into the wood block. Only one screw is needed here because all that I want to prevent is upward motion. If there were no retaining clips (for example, they all broke off, although you have two sets, one in each half of the Bud case) I would need two screws to prevent rotation. I also do not need a screw that fits snug into the hole. I opted for a smaller screw with a head big enough so that the head does not go through the mounting hole on the Pi board. The screw head also has to be small enough to not touch any of the traces or parts on the board. Luckily, my coffee can filled to the rim with old screws always has plenty of candidates.

After drilling the pilot hole I put the board in and then the one screw. I picked a wood block that left some space between wood and board. That doesn’t matter as long as the screw is long enough to hold in the wood block. One thing to watch out for is NOT to tighten the screw too much! This could bend the board and cause the traces or connections of the board to break if not even crack the entire board in half. Also, with some air left below the board the little bit of air for cooling will still be available. Here is the result with the top of the case taken off.

Image

And there we go! No more floppy Pi board in my Bud case. Inserting or removing plugs is much easier now and if there is a need to take the board out it will still be possible.

My recommendation for the folks at Bud is to add two standoffs that are right under the holes in the board, drill a hole into the standoffs, cut a thread, and package a few plastic screws. That will require retooling the mold, a few extra steps in production, and add some cost to the case (more material and the screws), but it would make this case usable. The current design just does not work and is more a source of frustration than anything else. I was at the point a few times where I wanted to hurl that thing out of the window, but since no window was available the case got spared. Interesting that I could use junk to fix junk into something that works quite well.

Some further ideas

– if you have the tools you could machine the wood block so that it adds some extra support for the SD card slot and protrudes under the USB connector block as well as the network port. Drilling holes through the protruding pieces will allow then for a small zip tie or a piece of wire to be used to keep the plugs in place and add tension relief. Same applies for any of the other connectors.

– again, if tools are available machine the wood block so that it fills out the entire base of the case and drill a hole all the way through the wood block. That way a long zip tie can be used to strap the board to the wood block…although using a small screw is way easier.

– cut the wood block so that it protrudes far out of the case. That way you can mount the wood block, case, and Pi on a board and have it stand upright saving some space. Easiest would be to have the stand be on the side where the HDMI cable goes because it is easier to find 90° HDMI plugs or adapters than for any of the other connectors. If you install an adapter you can even glue the parts together and strap down the HDMI cable on the base plate. That way the entire Pi can also be mounted anywhere while making it still easy enough to remove the Pi board.

– just spend the 15 bucks for the Adafruit case. See here: http://www.adafruit.com/products/859

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Flash on Pi….and web browsing

D – Flash is getting a bad rap these days…well, all the past years, but it is still a popular cross-browser, cross-platform rich Internet application engine that especially comes in handy when accessing YouTube videos. Also, Flash video files are easy to create, very compact, and still keep an incredibly awesome quality. And then there are several sports tickers that use Flash. That said, I think Flash could be more stable, eat less memory, and perform much snappier and also improve in the security area, so it is not that I deny the shortcomings of Flash. Still, I want it on any system I use on a regular basis.

The most common way is to install it from the Adobe web site, but under a *nix system that is a hit or miss lopsided to the miss part (and one of my biggest complaints about *nix based applications). So with that out of the picture the next approach was using Synaptic to install a different web browser that has Flash support build in. There is only one and that is Chrome. The install worked fine and Chrome is operating rather well on a Pi, but for whatever reason Flash support is intentionally disabled. I found instructions on how to enable it, but that did not yield any success. Lastly,  I scoured through the package list in Synaptic and found packages that install Flash. The packages installed fine and the various browsers now pulling in anything Flash.

So how about watching YouTube videos? Forget it! The movies load and start playing, but the CPU meter is a solid green and about every 15 seconds a new frame of the movie appears. While it technically works it is practically unusable. I did not try the sports ticker as I expect it to be as dysfunctional. The reasons for this misbehavior are that the browsers do not make use of the GPU of the Broadcom SoC so that the CPU has to crunch through all the graphics data and it does a horrible job at that, further the Flash plugins are not any better as they are clearly not optimized for a low power platform. In general, forget Flash on the Pi, it just can’t do it with the current state of browsers and Flash applications available. I do not mean that the Pi hardware is not capable because I think it is being able to play HD video without breaking too much of a digital sweat, it really comes down to shoddy implementation on the software side.

Next project will be to find out about YouTube clients for the Pi. I read that there are some. Before I give those a try I want to find a decent web browser first. They all are horribly slow except for those that do not do JavaScript and only do a terrible job at rendering graphics. The reasons are mentioned above, it appears as that none of the browsers makes use of the graphics hardware available, but maybe I haven’t found the right one yet. I’d expect that the browsers that come with Raspian do a decent job, but I found that Chrome did a much better job and wipes the floor with any of the other browsers. Still, Chrome leaves many streaks and a nasty residue if I stay with the floor wiping analogy. Flash on the Pi getting an F web browsing at least manages a D+. Would be nice to get better web browsing as online resources (including Flash based videos!!!) are the #1 source of educational information.

What’s wrong with people?

D – I know, that is a loaded question! What really makes me shake my head vigorously is the constant bickering by some that the Pi doesn’t do this or doesn’t do that. Why does it not have wireless build in? What – no native SATA3 support? What were they thinking not to add at least six USB3 ports? How can they be so stupid and not add VGA out? Why the bleeping bleep does the Pi not have surround sound output and drive my 128 speakers? No Gigabit Ethernet?  Just read the Pi forum and you can get plenty of more totally unreasonable complaints paired with obnoxious insults and accusations towards the Foundation. In case you have no clue what I mean with “Foundation” feel free to read this: http://www.raspberrypi.org/about. That page will answer many questions right there. One thing up front: I do NOT speak for the Foundation and I have no ties with them.

For those who did not bother to read up on what the Foundation set out to do, here my summary in a nutshell: the Foundation set out to create an inexpensive computer that can be used for educational purposes especially for teaching programming. The key words / phrases here are “inexpensive”, “educational”, and “teach programming”. Everything else the Pi can do is just gravy, such as the multimedia capabilities of the SoC (system on a chip). And out of all those the key word that should explain a lot is “inexpensive”.

C’mon folks, you paid 35$ for a board that has a processor, memory, graphics, sound, USB, Ethernet, and then some. There is nothing out there that provides those features at that price point. There isn’t even anything at that price point that offers even less features (aside from the model A Pi for 25$). Are you seriously expecting a whizbang device that runs circles around a system that costs ten times as much? Are your freaking kidding me? Sorry, but are you freaking kidding me? It really upsets me that some are so out of line in their demands and insults. Here we have a few people who spend their spare time on bringing a marvelous piece of computer hardware to the masses for a really low price and they have to defend themselves for doing that? I am convinced that they could have spent their weekends with watching TV, eating cheese, and drinking wine rather than redesigning a small computer for the nth time to get the cost down so that it becomes affordable for as many people as possible.

Everything about the Pi was designed to keep costs low while keeping as many features in place. Given what the Pi can do and what people use it for I can only bow in front of the designers and engineers. The Pi is an engineering marvel, a new wonder of the world. That said, yes, it has some shortcomings. Flash doesn’t work well, web browsing is not that great, the USB has some known issues, and there is some hardware that does not work well with the Pi. Yes, that is a bit annoying, but it cost you only 35$! And the limitations as well as the intentions are well documented. So don’t buy a Pi and then complain that it doesn’t do X or Y and that it really should do that when others already publicly documented that it isn’t so. On top of that, the Foundation consist of a small staff of volunteers and financials that are intended solely to support the goal of providing an inexpensive computer for learning how to program. In other words, the Foundation is not Google or Samsung, they cannot assign a dozen engineers and developers on a task and get back to you within a few days with a solution for free.

I listed some of the more common complaints with my rebuttal:

– not enough USB ports: each USB port needs to provide for sufficient 5V current which requires are larger power supply and a larger board size to house the USB ports as well as wider and / or differently routed traces on the board. That all adds to the production cost and the easy fix is connecting a powered USB hub. Alternatively, get a Logitech keyboard and mouse combo with the unified receiver which uses only one USB port

– no gigabit Ethernet: the Ethernet chip on the model B Pi is hooked up the to USB 2.0 root hub for cost reasons. USB 2.0 provides a maximum bitrate of 480 Mbit/s – less than half of what gigabit Ethernet would need. Adding a GbE chip would also increase cost and requires wiring it up directly to the SoC which would require a different SoC as the currently used one does not provide for that and that would require also board design changes sending cost through the intentionally shallow roof

– no VGA: VGA is still popular, but nevertheless a dead technology. One aspect in designing anything from scratch these days is to make it so that a redesign is not needed within a matter of a few years, especially when there are no resources to do that. On top of that, the SoC used does not provide for the signals required for VGA. Those signals could be generated from the HDMI output, but that circuitry is costly in regards to money and board space. There are HDMI to VGA converters that are not that expensive, but I suggest saving that and invest into a LCD with DVI and use an HDMI to DVI cable.

– no USB3 / SATA: costs money, not supported by SoC, adds zero benefit to the goal of creating an inexpensive computer for educational purposes

– no microSD slot: the idea was tossed around by the designers but the decision was made not to use microSD cards as children will have a much better experience handling regular SD cards than the tiny microSD cards. Some claim that the SD card socket is fragile. I haven’t had any problems with it so far, but I do not swap SD cards often. And with Berryboot switching OS images is possible without swapping SD cards. And for all those who are concerned about the port breaking and not having a microSD slot, there are extension cables that plug into a regular SD slot and provide for a microSD socket on the other end. Add some duck tape and there ya go!

– bad sound quality: I watched an HD movie on the Pi and found that the analog sound is fine. The audiophile enthusiast surely disagrees, but for those folks we have the tube amps and specially crafted speakers that each cost around 10,000$. The SoC provides for the analog and digital (via HDMI) sound output, adding anything different (better) would drive up cost and also add zero benefit to the intention of providing an inexpensive computer for educational purposes. If there is a need for better sound get a USB sound device, but make sure that it is supported by Raspian.

– everything else: number one reason is always keeping costs down, number two reason is lack of benefit for creating an inexpensive computer for educational purposes. There are other reasons that are valid, but in the end they come down to these two reasons.

So, with that out of the way I can only ask that anyone who does have a reasonable suggestion posts it here: http://www.raspberrypi.org/phpBB3/viewforum.php?f=24.

And for those who are interested in a more powerful computer system with a small form factor take a look at the following options:

Foxconn D250S – dual core processor, video with VGA and HDMI, 5.1 sound, and gigabit Ethernet on board, takes up to 4GB of SO-DIMM RAM, has 4 USB 2.0 ports and 2 SATA II ports – for more info see http://www.foxconnchannel.com/ProductDetail.aspx?T=motherboard&U=en-us0000560

=> At Newegg that board costs 50 bucks and requires memory, a drive of some sorts, a power supply, monitor, keyboard, mouse

ECS VX900-I – single core processor, video with VGA and HDMI, 5.1 sound, and gigabit Ethertnet, takes up to 8GB of regular DDR3 RAM, 4 UBS 2.0 ports, and 2 SATA III ports – for more info see http://www.ecs.com.tw/ECSWebSite/Product/Product_Detail.aspx?DetailID=1374&CategoryID=1&DetailName=Feature&MenuID=155&LanID=9

=> Newegg sells this puppy for 60 bucks and requires memory, a drive of some sorts, a power supply, monitor, keyboard, mouse

ASRock – AD2700-ITX – dual core processor, video with VGA and HDMI, 7 channel sound, gigabit Ethernet, takes up to 4 GB SO-DIMM, USB 3.0 and SATA III –  for more info see http://www.asrock.com/mb/Intel/AD2700-ITX/

=> Newegg sells this board for 85 bucks and it really is a nice bundle, except for this: “Due to lack of Intel 64-bit VGA driver support, this motherboard does not support 64-bit OS”. No 64 bit OS? And not even due to a hardware limitation? This board also requires memory, a drive of some sorts, a power supply, monitor, keyboard, mouse

As you can see from these low cost boards they are all much more expensive as a Pi, do not come with memory, require a power supply that costs more, and need the same set of accessories plus they do not run off inexpensive SD cards. Yes, agreed, any SATA drive is faster than SD cards, but one would hope so as SATA drives are more expensive as well! Also, these boards require standard ATX PC power supplies that are more expensive, but not by that much. Further, these boards are all ITX format which is noticeably larger than the Pi’s format. Technically, none of these boards or the Pi need an enclosure, but a nice box for the Pi can be had for 15 bucks, and ITX enclosure costs at least three times as much. And none of these ITX boards have composite video out or any GPIO pins to use. For doing anything with electronics an Arduino board would be needed, which adds to the cost although the Arduino is not that expensive. And further, none of these boards have wireless Ethernet. Yes, it can be added, but that applies for the Pi as well.

Are we clear now that asking for tons of stuff in a 35$ cost frame is just not going to happen any time soon? Did it sink in what the intention for the Pi is? Great! If not, please tell us how to make it happen, adding all the great hardware for an insanely low price. And no, getting an old Dell from Freecycle doesn’t count. The Pi is delivered as brand new with warranty, Bobby from around the corner does not do that.

See, you can get something that is faster with more features running Windows if you spend three or four times as much. Or you can get a tablet like the Nook or Kindle Fire. They are nice and do a lot of things, but they, too, cost quite a bit more than the Pi. Lastly, I cannot stress it enough: the Pi costs 35$! Adjust the expectations accordingly. Thank you!

Installing OpenOffice….errr, LibreOffice

D – In the Windows world on my various PCs at home I use OpenOffice exclusively and with great success by little problems. I also use it at work, mainly because Excel cannot display more than 1,024 characters in a single cell of a worksheet (it can store more and can display more in the edit bar below the ribbon – one more reason to not use MS Office). OpenOffice Calc does not have such restrictions.

These days an office suite is standard on multi-purpose computer systems and with OpenOffice also easily obtained for everyone who has Internet access. Using Synaptics (I did not want to sign up for the Pi Store yet) I searched for OpenOffice and was presented with an array of packages. It is great and annoying at the same time to be able to slice and dice installations. The great part is that I do not have to clutter the system with help documentation in languages I cannot understand, the annoying part is that there are many packages where the description does not clearly explain if I need the package or not. So my approach is to include them. Most of the packages are labeled as OpenOffice and only a few are labeled LibreOffice.

OpenOffice and LibreOffice are branches of the same office suite. They are very similar, but at time the one has more bug fixes and features than the other. With LibreOffice being newer than OpenOffice I am always a bit skeptical if it will last. For that reason I stick with OpenOffice, which now is a top level Apache project. The installation went without a problem and after the installation completed I found a new entry in the start menu called “Office”. The interesting part here is that all the applications are of the LibreOffice branch and not from the OpenOffice branch. For all practical purposes that is not making much of a difference, but when I ask for OpenOffice and select OpenOffice I expect to get OpenOffice. Aside from that oddity I found no difference between the Pi running Writer or Calc and a Windows box doing the same except for the look & feel to be a bit different. I think the Pi is an excellent platform for office applications as they tend to use not many system resources.

Nest task is to try printing to my network printer. Printing in black and white should be sufficient, but I wonder if I can access more of the printer features. That will be a project for another day….

 

An easier way to install packages

The tool apt-get is fairly easy to use, but has one major drawback: if you do not know the exact name of the package you want to install you are out of luck. You can look through lists that get downloaded from the servers, but in the console that may be a bit tedious. Unless there is a need not to work in X (means GUI) the best option is to install Synaptic. Synaptic is a GUI frontend for apt-get. I know, the Pi Debian distro has aptitude already installed, but I could never get that tool to work right.

In order to get Synaptic you need to be connected to the Internet. Start a terminal session and enter this

sudo apt-get install synaptic

Press the Enter key and the packages for Synaptic should get loaded. You may get asked if you want to proceed with download and installation, in that case press the Y key. In case you wonder what the command above means, “sudo” means “super user do”. The super user is typically the only one that is allowed to install anything on the system. The command sudo elevates rights once only to execute the command that follows sudo. That command is apt-get which is the command line packet management tool. That tool takes typically two arguments, the first argument states what the package manager should do (install, uninstall, or upgrade) followed by the package name. If you select a package that requires dependencies to be installed then the package manager will take care of that for you. So in this case we want to install the package synaptic.

Once the installation is completed take a look at the Preferences or Other menu of the desktop (click on the icon in the bottom left corner, in Windows this is called the Start menu). You should now find a command called “Synaptic Package Manager”. Start Synaptic and enter the password for the Pi user. Now you see the graphical frontend for apt-get. The usage is rather simple. I suggest to first reload the catalog of all packages, for that click the Reload button. If you click Mark All Upgrades then all packages for which updates are available will be marked for ugrade. Finally, clicking Apply will install the updated packages. If you want to install new packages either browse through the categories or use the search. Each package comes with a detailed description and I suggest strongly to read that. You could install everything, but that may not fit all on the SD card and unless you speak Swedish you probably do not need all the help packages and manuals in Swedish for all the applications.

Mark the package that you want to install by clicking on the check box in front if it and select Mark to Install from the context menu. Synaptic will check if there are any other packages needed and provide you with a confirmation dialog. Once all the packages you want to install are selected click Apply. The process of downloading, unpacking, and installing will be shown in a progress window. There is hardly an easier way to obtain packages.

Pi Pics

Here is dad’s Pi in the open BUD Pi enclosure. The background is a German newspaper article and not placed there intentionally.

TOSHIBA Exif JPEG

Below is the first test setup with son’s Pi connected to the TV in the living room using various kinds of peripherals that turned out to be not working, working well, or working a little. Son’s Pi is in the Adafruit enclosure and you can see the Scratch IDE on the TV screen. On the left you can see an older tower PC that currently acts as media center…and might just get replaced with a Pi at some point.

TOSHIBA Exif JPEG

Hardware and Accessories we found to be working or not working with the Pi

D – Here is a list of hardware / accessories that we tried with the Pi and found to be either working, not working, or being a hit or miss (which isn’t that much better than not working). Before you browse through the list below you can get a more complete list (as tons of other info) from the Pi hardware wiki pages at eLinux.org. I will look into submitting my findings to the eLinux wiki.

Working Hardware and Accessories

Displays

Samsung SyncMaster 226BW

Hanns-G HL203

Samsung 32″ TV LN32B360C5DXZA

Cables

Video

Kaybles HDMI to DVI converter cable, model HDMIDVI-6BK

Network

Any Ethernet cable

Audio

Any 3.5 mm connector audio cable

KVM Switch

Monoprice KCF-131DA – 3 port DVI KVM with audio and PS/2 to USB converter

Keyboards

Logitech K260 wireless keyboard

Cherry G80-1000 (DIN connector, using PS/2 adapter and PS/2 to USB converter)

Mice

Apple Pro mouse (comes with the iMac)

Logitech M210 wireless mouse

Labtec corded USB mouse

Logitech Cordless MouseMan Optical

SDHC Cards

Kingston 8GB micro SDHC card with adapter

Samsung 4GB SDHC card

Dane-Elec 4GB SDHC card

Power supplies

MCM In One –  5V @ 1A micro USB power supply, part number 28-13055

Fu-Yang FY0501000 – 5V @ 1A USB power supply with USB to micro USB adapter cable

Enclosures

BUD Industries Pi Box

Adafruit Pi Box

USB Hubs

IOGear GUH227 – 7 port powered USB 2.0 hub

Hard Drives / Enclosures

Toshiba 40 GB 2.5″ IDE drive with Rosewill RX81U-ES-25B IDE to USB 2.0 enclosure

 

NOT Working Hardware and Accessories

Converters

BYTECC BT-2000 PS/2 to USB Adapter – we have two and they work fine on PCs, but not at all on the Pi – UPDATE: This one works fine when used in combination with the Monoprice KCF-131DA KVM switch.

 

Hit or Miss Hardware and Accessories

USB Hubs

Newpoint powered 4 port USB hub (5V @ 2.1 A power supply) – fix is to re-plug the USB cable between hub and Pi at the USB hub itself, more of a hit than a miss, K claims that the hub is wonky even on other computers, so it might just be on its way out (it is about 10 years old)

Keyboards

Apple Pro keyboard (came with the iMac) – drops key presses and often repeats characters (aaaaaaaaaaaaaaa…), which is especially annoying when it picks the Enter key, works OK when nothing else is available and the problem might be fixed once the USB driver is improved (to be worked on in 2013 by developers of the Pi Foundation – thank you in advance!)

PS/2 to USB Converters

Converter built into the Monoprice KCF-131DA switch. It works, but with my keyboard (Cherry G80-1000) the amount of dropped or repeated characters is incredibly annoying, but that is true for any PC connected to the switch. I stopped using the built-in converter and run the keyboard through the BYTECC BT-2000 PS/2 to USB converter. There are still at times a few stuck or dropped keys, but it is a rare occurrence and typically only when typing fast.