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Tech Sense: Pi Day March 14 By John Bell

Updated: Mar 28

Pi Day - March 14th

Monday, March 14th is also known as Pi Day. Pi is of course the number that represents the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. In other words, the distance around the outside of a circle divided by the distance of a straight line through the center of the circle. This number is close to 3.14159 or 355/113. Pi day is observed on March 14th since 3.14 is an approximation of the value of Pi. Pizza and various fruit pies are often discounted on Pi Day. Also Pi Day is a traditional day for the Raspberry Pi organization to release new computers and for the computers to go on sale.

The Raspberry Pi Foundation

The Raspberry Pi Foundation is a charitable group formed by people from the University of Cambridge in England. The founder had observed that the quality of students entering into computer science programs was declining. It seems children in earlier decades grew up with access to inexpensive home computers and were arriving at college with a better background than today’s students. Their solution was to create a small inexpensive computer that could use the same keyboards and mice as current PC’s and be connected to a TV as a monitor. Their little computer included built-in software to learn programming and other Science and Technology skills. This computer had to be inexpensive enough for everyone to afford and yet are powerful enough for people to learn how to program in languages like Python, C, C++, and Java.

The Pi Computers

The original Raspberry Pi provided the bare computer board for $35. Today, 10 years later, there are still models of the Raspberry Pi that sell for $35 but are now much more powerful than that original model. There is also the $5 Pi Zero and the $10 Pi Zero W which includes built-in Wi-Fi. The Pi model 3 B+ and the newer Pi 4 with 1 Megabyte of RAM both are typically priced to sell for $35. The Model 4 also has option for 2, 4, an 8 Megabytes of RAM for a higher price. The Model 4 also includes built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth capabilities.

To turn this into a fully working desktop PC you will also need to add; an SD memory card, a cell phone charger, a mouse, and keyboard, an HDMI cable to connect to the television, and optional speakers. These details may vary depending on which board you purchase and many of the parts may already be available as leftovers from discarded computers.

There is also a Pi 400 computer which includes everything for a complete computer system. It has the keyboard, mouse, memory, power supply and TV HDMI cable already included. When these are in stock, they should sell for about $100.

The Pi Pico is a recent addition to the Pi family. It is not a full computer running Linux like the other Pi computers. The Pico is a micro-controller with limited resources but more inputs and outputs. The Pico is designed to help people to learn to built Internet of Things devices like robots and weather stations. The Pico makes a good alternative to Arduino boards that are often used for these types of projects. The Pico sells locally for about $4.

Pi Accessories

The Raspberry Pi Foundation has also created a number of official accessories for the Raspberry Pi. These include simple things like cases, keyboards, mice, and power supplies as basics. But there are also devices like audio amplifiers, sensor boards, touch screens, various cameras, and TV Decoders.

A number of other companies also make Pi accessories, including Ada Fruit, and Seeed Studio. There are even devices that allow the Pi 4 to boot from and SSD drive.

Pi Software

Most Raspberry Pi computers come with a version of the Linux Operating System which can be downloaded and installed into the computer. This version of Linux includes the LibreOffice Suite, the Chromium Browser, and several utilities to maintain the system and add more software. Additional software includes Mathematica, the Claws Email Client, Minecraft, Visual Studio Code, and the VLC Media Player. In other words, this computer can be used much like any desktop computer.

Raspberry Pi News

Over the years I have written a few columns about the Raspberry Pi computers. The pace of Raspberry Pi updates has been slower recently because of the COVID crisis and availability is reduced just like it is with other technology devices. To address some of this, the 1-megabyte version of the Pi 4 has returned to the market at $35 and the prices of the 2meg and more memory versions have increased slightly.

In other Pi news, a new 64-bit version of Linux has been released for the Pi 3 and above models. In general, this is best for the Pi 4 with 4 megabytes or more of RAM. The boot loader has been modified to allow the Pi SD card memory to be programmed without needing a PC.

The new Raspberry Pi Zero W 2 has been released and priced at $15. This Pi has the same form factor as the Pi 0 and includes Wi-Fi but is now a 4 core CPU and runs about 5 times faster than the Pi Zero W.

The Pi Foundation is working on upgrading the Pi Camera Interface and is looking for testers. The new interface is expected to be more consistent with Linux standards but may lose some features of the existing system.

Wrap Up

Pi Day for me is fun because math is cool, and the Pi computers typically go on sale. The Pi Foundation also normally releases new Raspberry Pi devices and accessories. With the slower pace of the past two years, I am hoping for at least one exciting new product release. Have a great Pi Day and I will be back next month to talk about my next technology topic.

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