In this series I intend to guide you through writing your first ever computer program.
We will write our own game on the Raspberry Pi, which is a cheap-as-chips computer designed for learning about computers.
Get a Raspberry Pi
To follow along, here’s what you will need:
- A Raspberry Pi (about £25) – I got it from RS
- An SD card (about £10) – be careful – not all of them work. I use: Kingston Technology 16GB
- If your TV supports it, an HDMI cable (about £1) – I got: HDMI to HDMI Connector. If your TV doesn’t support HDMI, get a composite cable, but it won’t look as good or work as well.
- A power supply (about £4) e.g. a smartphone charger (micro USB, at least 5V, 1A) – I got Micro USB Mains Charger but my existing HTC Wildfire S charger worked too.
- USB keyboard and mouse (about £7) – I had them lying around, but a quick search suggests this one might be ok: CiT USB Keyboard and Mouse.
(Total cost, very approximately: £47)
To use the Pi you will need to install some software onto your SD card.
To do this you will need a PC or laptop. If you don’t have one, or you’d prefer not to download and install software to an SD card, check out The Pi Hut. They sell SD cards that already have Raspian installed on them.
Raspian is the name of the software we will use to start up and run our Raspberry Pi. You need to download it and install it onto your SD card before you can put the SD card into the Pi and turn it on. To do this, you’ll need a way of writing to the SD card. Lots of laptops (and some desktops) have built-in SD card readers, or you can get a USB reader (I got this one: SD Card Reader USB 2.0).
To install Raspian “wheezy” (wheezy is the name of the latest version) go to the Raspberry Pi download page at www.raspberrypi.org/downloads and click the link in the Raspian “wheezy” section next to the words “Direct download”. Follow the instructions on how to install Raspian to your SD card here: elinux.org/RPi_Easy_SD_Card_Setup.
(There are also some helpful instructions here: reviews.cnet.co.uk/desktops/how-to-get-started-with-the-raspberry-pi-50009845/.)
Start the Pi
Once you’ve got an SD card with Raspian on it, insert it into your Pi (the SD card slot is underneath, which surprised me a bit). Plug the Pi into your TV by connecting the HDMI cable to it and plugging the other end into the TV’s HDMI port. Plug your keyboard and mouse into the 2 USB slots.
Take a deep breath, and plug the power supply into the micro-USB port.
If all goes well, some lights will appear on the Pi, you will be able to switch your TV to HDMI mode and your screen will show some writing and possibly pictures of raspberries. Wait for it all to settle down, and (hopefully) eventually you’ll see the setup screen.
First time setup
The first time your Pi boots it will ask you to do some setup. Read the raspi-config menu items and see whether there’s anything you want to change. You might want to change your keyboard and language settings, but I didn’t need to change anything at all. I just pressed TAB and then right-arrow to move onto the word Finish, then pressed RETURN.
Wait a bit more, and eventually you should see a huge raspberry, with a mouse cursor and desktop. If so, you’re ready for the next part!
Update: a real person really following this series!:
— Pete Barber (@foobarber) January 26, 2013