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The Raspberry Pi 3 Leaps Into Our Laps

RPi3-500 Wide.jpg

On February 29, Eben Upton announced that the Raspberry Pi was four years old, and to celebrate, the Raspberry Pi Foundation had released the Raspberry Pi 3. I grinned a little: The RPi is a Leap Year baby, and so it might conceivably be considered one year old, since we haven't had another February 29 since its initial release in 2012.

The new board (still out of stock, just checked) is almost identical in physical size and shape to the Raspberry Pi 2, and should be able to bolt into any sort of case or mount designed for the 2. That said, the new board packs a lot more horsepower:

  • A new SoC: the Broadcom BCM2837
  • A 1.2 GHz 64-bit quadcore RM Cortex A53 CPU.
  • 802.11n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.1 right on the board.
  • A VideoCore IV graphics system running at 400 MHz, with the 3D core running at 300 MHz.

Most of the other specs match the RPi 2: 1 GB RAM, HDMI video capable of 1080p at 30 fps, four USB ports, a 1000BASE-T Ethernet port,composite video, and the same GPIO bus.

And still $35.

Many years ago, I think back in the VDM era, I predicted that computers would eventually become swellings along the wire between the keyboard and the screen. We're well along toward that day, but with Bluetooth on the board, there won't be a wire between the keyboard and the screen at all. In fact, there's no reason not to just bolt the computer to the back of a TV or monitor using the VESA mount holes. That's what I did with my RPi 2, and I'll use the same mount for the RPi 3, whenever it shows up. It'll basically become part of the TV, and it'll talk right to my Logitech Bluetooth keyboard/mouse.

I had another thought about mounts for the Pi: Most Dell monitors from the last ten or twelve years have a tab-mount system for amplified stereo speakers built into a bar beneath the lower edge of the screen. The bars are cheap on eBay (look for Dell part #AS501, though there may be other SKUs that snap into those same tabs) and I'm tempted to cut one open and see if I could "persuade" the bar to accept an RPi 3 board, or at least mount a board on the back of one. If I had a 3-D printer I would sketch up a snap-in Dell monitor RPi mount designed for those tabs.

One thing that many have said about the RPi 3 is that it finally has the chops to be a general purpose desktop computer. Granted, you can run a fair number of GUI productivity apps under Raspbian–and MagPi Magazine lays the mag out on an RPi (using Scribus) and has done so since inception. I managed to get the Lazarus IDE installed and running on the original Model B, though it was very sluggish and had to be installed from binary packages. Having 1 GB of memory makes many things possible, especially recompiling open-source apps for the ARM Cortex CPU. Libre Office already runs on the RPi, as do GIMP and Scribus, if slowly. (I tried both, and while they were usable, I'm kind of spoiled by 5+ years of using a quadcore Intel box.)

So what will I do with the board when I finally get one? First of all, it will replace the Pi 2 I have bolted to the back of a 23" Toshiba widescreen TV. As I did with the Pi 2, I'll install Libre Office and several other productivity and graphics apps, just to see how much faster they run.

But most eagerly, I'll be installing Lazarus 1.6. I haven't done a lot of programming over the past year because, well, I've been moving us to Phoenix. I miss it. As I've said here perhaps too often, Lazarus has made programming fun again. Sorry, C/C++ is drudgery, and Python makes whitespace significant, sheesh. (I do like TkInter.) Lazarus on the RPi 2 is nowhere near as sprightly as Lazarus on my Intel quadcore. The Pi 3 can't help but be better.

I'm strongly tempted to continue the (suspended) adaptation of my book Borland Pascal 7 From Square One for Lazarus/FreePascal, because students should be aware that C and Python are not the only damned programming languages in the world. I don't know of anything in Lazarus' class for C/C++ nor in truth any other reasonable language. There are supposedly 8 million RPi boards in the world now. 8 million. That's one helluva potential audience.

On the other hand, if I don't get some traction on a new novel pretty soon, Certain People are going to skin me.

I thought I was retired. I thought retired people were bored. I recall being bored for half an hour once, in (I think) 1967. Whatever the opposite of bored is, I am. The Raspberry Pi 3 isn't going to help with that.


  1. TRX says:

    Freepascal and Lazarus have also been remarkably stable. It seemed like every time a C compiler or any of its libraries or “frameworks” changed, which was about once a week, most of the next week was spent twiddling the source so it would compile again…

    1. I think what a lot of people forget is that both FPC and Lazarus have been around for a long time. I’ve been following Lazarus since it was Megido in the late 1990s, and FPC has been around even longer; by now, I think, 20 years. I monitor the FPC developer list, and those guys are drop-dead brilliant. The code is mature and solid. I play with other languages to stay current, but when I actually have to get something done, I always come back to FPC/Lazarus.

      Why not Delphi? I’m a teacher, and you don’t teach programming to beginners with a $1000 (or more) compiler. I’ve proposed a couple of FPC/Lazarus books to my current publisher, and have always received polite (and in one case, somewhat less than polite) rejections. So I suspect what publishing I do I will do myself.

  2. Bob Fegert says:

    A friend of mine is going to NYC in a few days.
    He’s going to try to pick up a few Pi 3 boards at MicroCenter so I may get to play with one soon.

    Lazarus should work OK on it…. I’m an old Delphi guy so of course I like Lazarus πŸ™‚

    I code a lot in C for uC’s but Pascal is more fun.

  3. Tom Roderick says:

    Sign me up for the Lazarus Pascal 7 book. I wrote more code in the older versions of Pascal than any of the half dozen languages I dabbled in since. I think the last version of Pascal I actually wrote anything in was 5 but that was a long time ago and in a galaxy in another dimension.

    If Lazarus 1.6 runs well on the RPi 3, Jeff, you should spin off a subset of your big book to a beginners guide for Pascal for the RPi 3. I think it would sell like Krispy Kremes with the “HOT” light on!

    1. I’m not worried about Lazarus running well on the Pi 3, considering some of the crufty old boxes I’ve successfully run it on over the past five or six years.

      As for my book strategy, I will probably give away the fundamentals portion of the book, which I’m adapting from Borland Pascal 7 from Square One, and selling subsequent volumes on OOP, event-driven programming, form-building, databases, etc, based on material I wrote for PCT/VDM and the Delphi Programming Explorer. Once we get the house up north sold and everything squared away, I have a great deal of catching up to do on writing projects.

      1. Bob Fegert says:

        Nice idea to give away the basics portion of the book.

        You really should do a nice book on Lazarus. Your old x86 asm book was a great help to me back in the day πŸ™‚

        You actually made it all seem like fun.

        If we ever meet in person I will have you sign that old weather-beaten book even though it no longer has a cover….

        1. It’s unlikely that you’ll ever be in Colorado Springs, I’m guessing, but Phoenix is a much bigger place with a lot more going on. Be sure to let me know if you’re ever going to be in Phoenix, Tucson, Flagstaff, or anywhere on the I-17 corridor.

  4. Brian Tkatch says:

    I snagged a Pi3 from the pi hut just before they ran out. It shipped, but i have no idea how long it’ll take to get here.

  5. Ruminator says:

    I haven’t written a program in a couple of years. The last bit of structured programming I did was a FORTRAN utility to extract meteorological data from an NCDC download. Heh… I’ve written plenty of R-project scripts the last few years but don’t have any research currently active that needs new tools.

    Retired… bored… πŸ˜‰ I have enough interesting things on deck to keep me busy the rest of my life, retired or not. I do get bored once in awhile… when the TV is on.

    1. FORTRAN was my first language, way back in high school in 1969. I wrote a utility to print out Foucault test measurement values for figuring telescope mirrors. I had to explain to the teacher what a Focault test was, but he said the project was impressive. I keep the punch cards on the shelf here to remind myself how far I’ve come in the intervening 47 years.

      My grandfather retired as a vice president of a big bank when he was 62 and then had nothing to do. He was dead at 64. The lesson was not lost on me.

  6. TRX says:

    Back when I was employed as a programmer I realized that while writing it was fun, I didn’t necessarily want to be stuck with it forever. So each project, no matter how large or small, had a binder with a description of the program and a CD with the *installed* compiler and any related tools; the whole shebang, so someone could just copy it to their hard drive and go. And I did “Phil Burns” style commenting, with each module having a description of all the variables, gazintas, and gazoutas.

    Maybe ten years after I left, I got a call from an excited former supervisor. “I modiied your program! And it worked!” The format of some input data had changed, so she copied from the CD onto her hard drive, looked at the notes and comments, found the correct spot, and made the changes… and she had never seen a line of Pascal in her life. (it was Delphi 1.0) That’s a whole new world for someone whose last programming was in dBase under DOS…

    Unfortuntely, the people I’ve had to follow along behind weren’t so thoughtful…

    1. Do you mean Philip R. “pib” Burns, the mainframe/mini-era hacker? (He’s my age, and works for Northwestern University outside Chicago.) I know him but haven’t talked to him in a very long time.

      1. TRX says:

        I never talked to him, but I learned a lot about how to document code from his PibTerm source. That level of documentation is probably considered about as quaint as punch cards by the “Agile” people, but it pays off every time someone has to go back into it. Even when that schmuck is me…

        1. Heh. Prepare to be (mildly) astonished: I went to grade school with him, at Immaculate Conception Catholic grade school in the NW corner of Chicago.

          He and I share a view of code documentation so intense that it borders on fetish but has real value: If you can’t read it and understand it, you can’t change it. Nor can anyone else.

          People roll their eyes at me when I insist on putting Pascal’s reserved words in uppercase. (He does this too, as you know if you’ve browsed the pibterm source) My reason is that reserved words are entities completely unlike code identifiers, and should be instantly discernible. They are the framing members of a program and need to be lit up in klieg lights at all times. Of course uppercase letters mean shouting. Reserved words need to be read at a full shout. Alas, lowercase letters are part of the narrative of the C tribe, which has been trying to sweep Pascal into the sea (heh) since the 1980s.

          Phil is one of the smartest guys I’ve ever met, and also one of the most understated. I think the last time I saw him was at one of the Borland conferences in the midlate 1980s.

  7. great unknown says:

    Seen stories of the Pi3 running hot. very hot. be aware.

  8. James Eades says:

    “Alas, lowercase letters are part of the narrative of the C tribe, which has been trying to sweep Pascal into the sea (heh) since the 1980s.”

    Heh. I was told (in the 80s) that Pascal was ‘C with training wheels.’

    Glad to see that the old cruiser is still around and perking.

    1. No, C is Pascal with acid thrown in its face. Uglier than anything except maybe Perl…or (fersure) APL.

      Truth is, Pascal can do anything C can do, and it can be read and maintained, too. I always play a long game, and I like to be able to read my code thirty years later.

      1. James Eades says:

        I picked up Pascal about the same time I was carding Fortran on UCA’s mainframe. Hoping for a job in Fortran or COBOL. Another heh. (only job I could find was converting compiled BASIC to C, so I taught myself C)

        I’ve heard the phrase ‘elegant’ applied to Pascal, but not C.

      2. TRX says:

        Over the years I’ve watched the pool of programming languages shrink down to C, a smattering of Visual BASIC, and some interpreted scripting languages like PHP, Python, and Ruby. Everything else together is probably only a few percent now.

        Generally, when someone says “programmer” now, it means they know one of the C “programming environments” or PHP…

  9. Rick says:

    JUst noticed that WD has a special hard disk for the Pi , along with a special price for ‘Pi Day’. See here

    314GB for $31.42. Special USB interface, said to use less power.

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