Infinite Wishes: ♾️🧞‍♀️✨

Is a weblog by Emma Humphries

If you meet a Raspberry Pi on the road

19 Jan 2021

A Raspberry Pi Zero with eInk display showing the author's pronouns (she/they) atop a LED lit mechanical keyboard
Credit: Photo by the author

If you want a travel computer, get a Dell XPS and run Windows or Ubuntu. If you really want or need a Mac, then get a MacBook Air. But for the purposes of this blog post I’m talking about using a Raspberry Pi as one’s travel computer.

The original idea was from a writer on reporting on how they were using a Raspberry Pi Zero W as their travel computer. The reasoning is that the Pi Zero W is a five dollar computer and won’t be missed if stolen or seized by hostile government as long as you keep backups.

I think that the theft/travel to regimes that seize computers solution is a Chromebook.

Note that the Raspberry Pi Zero has a 32 bit processor. It’s going to be unacceptably slow. Get a Raspberry Pi 4 with at least 4GB of RAM.

The writer complained about having to use a tiny Bluetooth combination keyboard and mouse. You can find small, folding bluetooth keyboards and mice. If you want a mechanical keyboard then get a Planck. It’s small and you can put it, the Pi, your mouse, and a battery in a small case.

There are small LCD and even monochrome eInk (with acceptable refresh rates) screens you could bring. But after a point, you’re in “why don’t you just bring a laptop” territory.

You’re going to bring your HDMI cable and plug into the hotel room TV.

You could attach a small screen to the GPIO pins, but you’re not gonna be able to use it for any more than terminal or maybe to watch a movie. This is why you want the PI 4 so you can plug a thumb drive with your music and video. But, remember that basic audio on the Pi is not so great, so you’ll want an DSP Hat with pass through pins for your display.

As a travel computer, it’s going to be awkward setting up in your airliner seat. And you will get questions from passengers and crew, and the crew may take one look at your set up and say no, and you must comply with that and not be a horrible entitled techie.

You’ll also have to explain yourself to the airport security people. And they will want to know if it’s really a computer and demand you boot it up.

Worse you may get the TSA agent who has a kid who “has one of those raspberry pies” and they’ll be fascinated with it, and and end up holding up the line and everybody behind you will be grumpy as heck.

We haven’t even talked about software yet.

The Pi 4 is a 64-bit computer. Run a 64 bit OS. For a browser you want Firefox or Chrome. As of September 2020, Visual Studio Code has ARM64 builds for Linux. For a music player, CMUS works well enough.

Bring a separate music player and ebook reader, you don’t want to mess with that pile of kit on a plane just for tunes.

If you try this, let me know how it goes. Maybe it is easier than I think it is.

If you’re going to be on the road (when we’ve got enough people vaccinated) bring your MacBook Air or Dell with an external keyboard because I hate laptop keyboards. A Planck is small and has the cool flashing lights. Your seatmate will ask, “that’s really cool but how do you type on one of those?” Put your headphones on, feign not hearing the question, and get back to working on your functional computer.

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