Tuesday, January 31, 2017

I just got my Raspberry Pi. Now what?

I recently bought the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B. When it showed up at my doorstep I had no idea how to get started. Most online tutorials jumped straight into beginner projects, but you need to set up and configure the Pi before you can do anything with it. So here goes.

The Raspberry Pi literally comes as just a motherboard, so most likely you'll want to get it as part of a Raspberry Pi "kit" that includes a charger, cables, protective case, and SD Card. Don't spend more than $50 total.

It will look like this...

Now, before we can do anything with the Pi, we have to give it an operating system. For Windows users, download the free Win32DiskImager, and unzip it to your computer. Then, download Raspbian which is the official operating system for Raspberry Pi, and unzip that to your computer as well.

The next step is to open that Disk Imager program, click the blue folder icon, go find your Raspbian image file, and click to "Write" it to your SD card (which you should've put in your computer's SD card reader).

Believe it or not, you're almost finished. The only remaining task is to put that SD card into your Raspberry Pi and turn the Pi on.

Here is definitely something important to be aware of, though.  The first time you break out your Raspberry Pi and want to install your Raspbian operating system, you MUST connect your Pi to a monitor, mouse, and keyboard.  You'll only need to do this the first time you use it, but it's an unavoidable step.  You can't use a laptop either.  Without realizing this, after getting my Pi in the mail, I then had to wait a few days, bring the Pi into my office at work, take over a colleague's USB mouse and keyboard for an hour, and finally (and this was the real challenge) I had to find a monitor that not only used an HDMI cable but also had the right adapter for that HDMI cable (the adapter with the cord didn't work for some still-unknown reason).

But here's the good news... even though hooking the Pi up to a mouse, keyboard and monitor the first time can be a pain, once they're all connected and you simply power it on, the operating system automatically loads, and just like that you have a new pocket-sized computer.

You're totally finished and ready to experiment with all of those beginner Raspberry Pi projects that you see all over the Web.

One last thing, which is optional but highly recommended.  As of now, your Pi is 100% ready to use, but you still need it connected to a keyboard, mouse, and monitor whenever you want to do something with it.  Why not make it "headless"?

To make your Pi headless, you just need to set up some type of Remote Desktop program so that your laptop or main computer can take control of your Pi when you want it to and give you an interface.

I recommend the VNC Viewer.  While your Pi is still hooked up to a monitor, boot it up. What's nice is that the VNC Server software is already built in to Raspbian, so all you need to do is click on Menu > Preferences > Raspberry Pi Configuration > Interfaces, and then click to Enable VNC.  You should also double-click on the VNC Server icon on the top-right of the desktop screen and take note of your IP address. Reboot your Pi. You can now disconnect the mouse, keyboard, and monitor.

Your Pi is headless, so when you want to control it from your laptop or main computer, download and install the VNC Viewer software linked to above, then simply click to Create New Connection and enter your Raspberry Pi's IP address.  It will display a nice Raspbian interface for your Pi so you'll never need to connect those external pieces of hardware again.

You're off to the races!  My first few projects... 1) Turn the Pi into a Web server, 2) turn it into a Minecraft gaming server, 3) turn it into a RetroPi gaming console, and 4) turn it into a Kodi device for use with my TV.


The Privacy Paradox Podcast...

This morning I heard about The Privacy Paradox on NPR radio. It's an "interactive podcast", which as best as I can tell means that after each new podcast episode is released, the listener is directed to complete a series of challenges, and then the next podcast episode will review the listeners' collective results.

In this case, there will be 5 challenges that you can complete with the goal of "taking back your digital identity".  The challenges include finding out what your phone is tracking about you, discovering how algorithms learn about and then sell your identity, reclaiming your privacy, and more.

I don't know if this is already the case, but the thought occurs to me that for a podcast to truly be interactive, rather than having pre-determined content, users' results could help decide what the next round of content ought to be.  For instance, the podcast's guest speakers could be selected based on the privacy findings of the users' first challenge on smartphone surveillance.

Another intriguing aspect of this project is the Privacy Personality Quiz to see if you are a Shrugger, Realist, or Believer.

For the record, I was notified that I'm a Realist.

This seems like a useful project that also seems like it could be both entertaining and fun.  Who wants to join me and then have a discussion?  You can choose whether it would be private or public, of course.


Friday, January 27, 2017

How to Install Minecraft Mods...

When you're ready to step your game up to the next level in Minecraft, it may be time to experiment with "mods".  Mods are not part of the official Minecraft game, but are instead created by other players.  They can make it possible to build unique items, interact with new kinds of creatures like dinosaurs, and even change the game's graphics to 3D. Basically, anything is possible through mods, including changing the basic rules of the Minecraft game itself.

Go explore what's out there at MinecraftMods.com, PlanetMinecraft.com, and MinecraftSix.com.  Here are the steps for installing new mods...

1.  Download and install Minecraft Forge.  This is an API that lets you install mods for Minecraft.  Go to the Minecraft Forge downloads page, click on the most version of Minecraft you have (for example, 1.11.2), and on the next page click "Installer-win".

2.  Run the installer file that you just downloaded.  Make sure that "Install Client" is selected and click "OK".

3.  Now start up Minecraft.  You should notice that in the bottom-left corner, in the drop-down "Profile" menu, you will see a new profile labelled "forge".  Select it and click to "Play".  After a little bit of updating, the Minecraft Game Menu will appear and display a new button labelled "Mods".

4.  At this point, Forge is successfully installed and you are ready to play mods.  However you still need to go get a few.  You can find some you like from MinecraftSix.com.  For this example, I'm going to get the JurassiCraft Mod to play in a world with dinosaurs.

5. First download the LLibrary jar file (this won't be necessary for all, or even most, mods, but it is required for JurassiCraft), then download the JurassiCraft jar file (the file links are towards the bottom of these two pages).  Save them both into your Minecraft "mods" folder.

  • If you don't know where your "mods" folder is, do the following...
  • Start Minecraft as if you were about to play a new game (in other words, open the "launcher").
  • In the bottom-left corner, underneath your profile name, click the button labelled "Edit Profile".
  • Take a look  in the field labelled "Game Directory". That is the location of your saves folder. Write it down or remember it. For this example, you can see that my folder is located in "C:\Users\RobbieD\AppData\Roaming\.minecraft".

6. You're finished! When you launch Minecraft and click your new "Mods" button, you should see your new mod (ex. - "JurassiCraft") appear on the left. Play a new game with this mod and you'll have lots of new non-standard features to the game.  Like dinosaurs.


Monday, January 23, 2017

How to Install Minecraft Maps...

When you want to play Minecraft but are ready to branch out beyond the game-generated landscapes, it's time to explore other maps. One of the reasons Minecraft has endless possibilities is because whenever someone creates their world, they can then share it and let the rest of us download it for ourselves. This is called a Minecraft Map.

There are thousands of maps that you can download, install, and play - for free. To get a sense of what types of maps are out there, go explore MinecraftMaps.com.

Here is the process:

1. Find a map that you want and download it. For this tutorial, I am going to download the map titled, "Escaping!", which is one of the most popular "puzzle" maps. Click where it says "Download Maps". In the pop-up window that will appear, click to Save the zip file.

2. You will need to unzip those new files into your Minecraft "saves" folder, so first you need to locate it on your hard drive. To locate your "saves" folder do the following...
  • Start Minecraft as if you were about to play a new game (in other words, open the "launcher").
  • In the bottom-left corner, underneath your profile name, click the button labelled "Edit Profile".
  • Take a look  in the field labelled "Game Directory". That is the location of your saves folder. Write it down or remember it. For this example, you can see that my folder is located in "C:\Users\RobbieD\AppData\Roaming\.minecraft".

3. Now that you know the location of your "saves" folder, go to Windows Explorer, open your "Downloads" folder, and double-click the map you downloaded earlier called "Escaping_v1.1" (or something close to that).

4. From the top menu in Windows Explorer, click "Extract", then "Extract All". Then "Browse" to find your "saves" folder, and click "Extract".

That should be it!  Just restart Minecraft, start a new Singleplayer game, and "Escaping!" (or whatever Map you chose) will display in the list of worlds for you to play. And best of all, you can repeat these same steps for hundreds of different Maps.