Bootstraping a Pi Zero

This quick blurb recounts my initial experience “bootstrapping” a Raspberry Pi with the Rasbian distro to connect automatically to a wireless home network. I was aiming to replicate my source:

What does any of that mean?

The Pi Zero is a relatively popular computer-on-a-chip that is relatively powerful for its size and has relatively decent versatility. It can work as a computer hooked up to a monitor (with some additional effort) and it also has a good number of GPIO pins which are intended to be connected directly into electronics so that you can put “brains” into projects using relatively standard software.

Although bootstrapping means a lot of different things, the meaning here is that you get the drive (a micro SD card) ready to run without directly using anything on the computer itself.

Failed Approaches

Approach 1 — Install Mac Software for ext4

There are abundant cautions about how the Fuse-ext2 (in order to give write access) might cause kernel panics (not just corrupting the destination drive, but your host Mac computer). In my case, however, the dead-end was merely this screen in the process of installing Fuse-ext2.

This was exciting to me for a number of reasons. In a household that has the full range of operating systems, filesystem incompatibility are a fairly common headache. Maybe I’ll try again sometime.

Approach 2 — Use Linux in Virtualbox

This is an approach that I genuinely believe could work. I had the .vdmk file, and I think Ubuntu might have been seeing it, but might not have.

What Did Work

  • mounting the drive
  • editing the files according to the instructions
  • used DHCP
  • plugged in the USB OTG cord into the “USB” micro USB slot of the pi zero
  • plugging in a wireless adapter into the USB OTG cable
  • plugging in the power adapter
  • On to the router config!

Routers used to give me much more trouble, but now a modern and decently high-end option will give you a ton of options (and if not, DD-WRT is there). Particularly, I like how it’s easy to point-and-click reserve an IP address on the private network now-a-days. After that, you can even hypothetically port forward (recognizing the security issues that come with it) to accept messages from the broader internet, which can be very exciting. The ISP will not automatically give you a permanent IP address either, but that can be easy to work around, depending on what you’re doing.

But let’s pause and recount this a little bit. We’re talking about a system where 1) you flash a drive and load info 2) you start your device and 3) you set up networking. The unspoken step (4) here is that you use an automation software (*cough*, Ansible) to then get Linux on the Pi in the state you want it. The rest is software and the application, well… and whatever extra hardware your still involves.

N>=2 units

Additionally, you don’t need to confine yourself to the Pi models. You can take whatever projects you had on the Raspberry Pi 2 and move the SDcard to the Pi Zero, no apparent problems.

The Big Picture

Importantly here, this is working on a typical wireless network. The material costs for what I’ve described involve things like chargers, wireless adapters, and a $5 computer. The system can do basically anything, because the computers are fully networked and have pretty lower power consumption demands.

The Chip

  1. that wireless is not built-in to the Pi Zero, necessitating a fairly specialized type of cable and an adapter
  2. that the GPIO are still only digital

I’m pretty excited about a new product, The Chip, which has a solution to these two gripes of mine.

At this point, I’m talking about an arbitrary network of computers (for some application, I still don’t know what) that can easily make readings of signals from, say, sensors that give some information about the environment around it, and use PWM pins to exert some control of something around it (of course you need a relay board for big things, but these can also be bought for the $10 price range).

But What Application?

Obligatory analytical writing, online participation account for Medium. Engineering, software, books, space, constant daydreaming.

Obligatory analytical writing, online participation account for Medium. Engineering, software, books, space, constant daydreaming.