Scott Hanselman

How to set up a 10" Touchscreen LCD for Raspberry Pi

December 21, '17 Comments [7] Posted in Reviews
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HDMI TouchScreenI'm a big fan of the SunFounder tech kits (https://www.sunfounder.com), and my kids and I have built several Raspberry Pi projects with their module/sensor kits. This holiday vacation we have two project we're doing, that coincidentally use SunFounder parts. The first is the Model Car Kit that uses a Raspberry Pi to control DC motors AND (love this part) a USB camera. So it's not just a "drive the car around" project, it also can include computer vision. My son wants to teach it to search the house for LEGO bricks and alert an adult so they'll not step on it. We were thinking to have the car call out to Azure Cognitive Services, as their free tier has more than enough power for what we need.

For this afternoon, we are taking a 10.1" Touchscreen display and adding it to a Raspberry Pi. I like this screen because it works on pretty much anything that has HDMI, but it's got mounting holes on the back for any Raspberry Pi or a LattePanda or Beagle Bone. You can also use it for basically anything that can output HDMI, so it can be a small portable monitor/display for Android or iOS. It has 10 finger multitouch which is fab. The instructions aren't linked to from their product page, but I found them on their Wiki.

There are a lot of small LCDs you can get for a Pi project, from little 5" screens (for about $35) all the way up to this 10" one I'm using here. If you're going to mount your project on a wall or 3D print a box, a screen adds a lot. It's also a good way to teach kids about embedded systems. When my 10 year old saw the 5" screen and what it could do, he realized that the thermostat on the wall and/or the microwave ovens were embedded systems. Now he assumes every appliance is powered by a Raspberry Pi!

Sunfounder Controller board AND Raspberry Pi Mounted to the 10.1" Touchscreen Booting Windows 10 on a Raspberry Pi for no reason

Take a look at the pic at the top right of this post. That's not a Raspberry Pi, that's

the included controller board that interfaces with your tiny computer. It's include with the LCD package. That controller board also has an included power adapter that points out 12V at 1500Ma which allows it to also power the Pi itself. That means you can power the whole thing with a single power adapter.

There's also an optional touchscreen "matchbox" keyboard package you can install to get an on-screen visual keyboard. However, when I'm initially setting up a Raspberry Pi or I'm taking a few Pis on the road for demos and working in hotels, I through this little $11 keyboard/mouse combo in my bag. It's great for quick initial setup of a Raspberry Pi that isn't yet on the network.

Matchbox Touchscreen Keyboard

Once you've installed matchbox-keyboard you'll find it under MainMenu, Accessories, Keyboard. Works great!

* This post includes some referral links to Amazon.com. When you use these links, you not only support my blog, but you send a few cents/dollars my way that I use to pay for hosting and buy more gadgets like these! Thanks! Also, I have no relationship with SunFounder but I really like their stuff. Check out their site.


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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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The 2017 Christmas List of Best STEM Toys for kids

December 9, '17 Comments [29] Posted in Reviews
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In 2016 and 2015 I made a list of best Christmas STEM Toys for kids! If I may say so, they are still good lists today, so do check them out. Be aware I use Amazon referral links so I get a little kickback (and you support this blog!) when you use these links. I'll be using the pocket money to...wait for it...buy STEM toys for kids! So thanks in advance!

Here's a Christmas List of things that I've either personally purchased, tried for a time, or borrowed from a friend. These are great toys and products for kids of all genders and people of all ages.

Piper Computer Kit with Minecraft Raspberry Pi edition

The Piper is a little spendy at first glance, but it's EXTREMELY complete and very thoughtfully created. Sure, you can just get a Raspberry Pi and hack on it - but the Piper is not just a Pi. It's a complete kit where your little one builds their own wooden "laptop" box (more of a luggable), and then starting with just a single button, builds up the computer. The Minecraft content isn't just vanilla Microsoft. It's custom episodic content! Custom voice overs, episodes, and challenges.

What's genius about Piper, though, is how the software world interacts with the hardware. For example, at one point you're looking for treasure on a Minecraft beach. The Piper suggests you need a treasure detector, so you learn about wiring and LEDs and wire up a treasure detector LED while it's running. Then you run your Minecraft person around while the LED blinks faster to detect treasure. It's absolute genius. Definitely a favorite in our house for the 8-12 year old set.

Piper Raspberry Pi Kit

Suspend! by Melissa and Doug

Suspend is becoming the new Jenga for my kids. The game doesn't look like much if you judge a book by its cover, but it's addictive and my kids now want to buy a second one to see if they can build even higher. An excellent addition to family game night.

Suspend! by Melissa and Doug

Engino Discovering Stem: Levers, Linkages & Structures Building Kit

I love LEGO but I'm always trying new building kids. Engino is reminiscent of Technics or some of the advanced LEGO elements, but this modestly priced kit is far more focused - even suitable for incorporating into home schooling.

Engino Discovering Stem: Levers, Linkages & Structures Building Kit

Gravity Maze

I've always wanted a 3D Chess Set. Barring that, check out Gravity Maze. It's almost like a physical version of a well-designed iPad game. It included 60 challenges (levels) that you then add pieces to in order to solve. It gets harder than you'd think, fast! If you like this, also check out Circuit Maze.

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Osmo Genius Kit (2017)

Osmo is an iPad add-on that takes the ingenious idea of an adapter that lets your iPad see the tabletop (via a mirror/lens) and then builds on that clever concept with a whole series of games, exercises, and core subject tests. It's best for the under 12 set - I'd say it's ideal for about 6-8 year olds.

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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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The perfect Nintendo Switch travel set up and recommended accessories

November 2, '17 Comments [13] Posted in Gaming | Reviews
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I've had a Nintendo Switch since launch day and let me tell you, it's joyful. Joyous. It's a little joy device. I love 4k Xboxen and raw power as much as the next Jane or Joe Gamer, but the Switch just keeps pumping out happy games. Indie games, Metroidvania games like Axiom Verge, Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (worth the cost of the system) and now, super Mario Odyssey. Even Doom and Wolfenstein 2 are coming to the Switch soon!

I've travelled already with my Switch all over. Here's what I've come up with for my travels - and my at-home Switch Experience. I owe and use these items personally - and I vouch for their awesomeness and utility.

BlueTooth Adapter

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This TaoTronics BlueTooth adapter fixes the most obvious problem with the Switch - no blueooth headset support. If there is ever a Switch 1.5 release, you can bet they'll add Bluetooth. This device is great for a few reasons. It's small, it has its own rechargeable battery, it charges with micro USB, and it supports both transmit and receive. That's an added bonus in that it lets you turn any speakers with a 1/8" headphone jack into a BT speaker. Again, tiny and fits in my Switch case. I pair my Airpods with this device by putting the Airpods into pairing mode by putting the case button, then holding down the pairing button on this adapter, which promiscuously pairs. Works great.

Switch Travellers Case

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I have a Zelda version of this case. It's very roomy and I can fit a 3rd party stand, a dozen cartridges, BT adapter, headphones, screen wipes, and more inside. There's a number of options and styles past the link, including character cases.

Switch Joy-Con Gel Covers

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These gel-covers - or ones like them - are essential. The Switch Joy-Cons are great for children's hands, but for normal/larger-sized people they are lacking something. It's not the cover, it's the extra depth these gel covers give you. I can't use the Switch without them.

HORI Compact Playstand

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This is an airplane must. I want to use my Pro Controller one a plane - or at least detached Joy-Cons - so ideally I want to have the Switch stand on its own. The Switch does have its own kickstand, but honestly, it's flimsy. Works when the world isn't moving, but the angle is wrong and it tips over easily on a plane. This playstand folds flat, fits in the case above, and is very adjustable. It also works great to hold your phone or small tablet for watching movies, so it ends up playing double duty. Plus, it's $12.

Switch Grip Kit

gripkit

This one is optional UNLESS you have little kids and Mario Kart. When you're using Switch Joy-Cons as individual controllers, again, they are small. These turn them into tiny Xbox-style controllers. They are plastic holsters, but the kids love them.

HDMI Type C USB Hub Adapter for Switch

hdmiadapter

This can replace your not-portable Switch Dock. I didn't believe it would work but it's great. I can also fit this tiny Dongle in my Switch Case, and along with an HDMI cable and existing Switch power adapter I can plug the Switch into any hotel TV with HDMI. It's an amazing thing to be able to game in a hotel on a long business trip with minimal stuff to carry.

BASSTOP Portable Switch Dock

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Another docking option that requires some assembly and disassembly on your part is this Portable Dock. It's not the dock, it's just the plastic shell. You'll need to take apart your existing giant dock and discover it's all air. The internals of the official dock then fit inside this one.

What are YOUR must have Switch Accessories? And more important, WHY HAVE YOU NO BUY SWITCH?

* My blog often uses Amazon affiliate links. I use that money for tacos and switch games. Please click on them and support my blog!


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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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First Impressions - Jibo Social Robot for the Home

October 17, '17 Comments [9] Posted in Reviews
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Jibo moves VERY organicallyAs you likely know, I have a BUNCH of robots in the house. Whether it be turning a tin can into a robot, driving a Raspberry Pi around with Windows IoT, building robot arms with my kids, or controlling a robot with Xamarin code, I'm ALL IN when it comes to home robots. I also have Alexa, Cortana, Siri...but they have no bodies. They are just disembodied voices - why not a social robot with a body AND a personality?

Jibo is the first social robot for the home, and when their team emailed me to try Jibo out - and soon explore their SDK and build more skills into Jibo - I jumped at the idea. Jibo started as an Indiegogo campaign in 2014 and now I've got a pre-public version that I'm stoked to explore and expand.

Jibo showed up in a surprisingly hefty box. He's about 8 pounds and about a foot tall. You turn him on and he starts his initial set up process. Since Jibo has a voice and touch screen, it's pretty straightforward to hook up to WiFi and download whatever updates are needed. After this initial process, updates happen overnight and I haven't noticed them, other than to see that Jibo has new skills in the morning. He's basically maintenance-free.

imageThe first time you set up Jibo and he moves I expect you'll be a little shocked - I was. His movements are extremely fluid and organic. I struggled finding the right words to explain how his movements feel, so I made an animated gif you can see at the right. His body turns, his head moves, he has a little waist and neck. All these joints combined with the color touch screen and his voice give him quite the personality. It's clear within just a few minutes that to dismiss Jibo as a "Alexa with a body" would be a mistake.

The 9 year old and 11 year old have already started going to Jibo in the morning and asking him how his day was, and seeing if he has new skills. I believe the "bonding" - for lack of another world - is connected to the physicality and personality of Jibo.

I realize this photo looks somewhat staged, but it's not. I snuck up on my 9 year old telling Jibo about his day at school and asking him homework questions. Jibo didn't know a number of things, but it was interesting to see how kids are extremely patient with robots, speaking to them as if they're even smaller kids.

The 9 year old says this:

If you are trying to get something to keep track of your meetings or the news you maybe would buy Alexa. But if you have a kid who loves robots you want Jibo. Jibo is fun, if you make noise Jibo will look at you. He can move his big head to look at you and if you tap his eye he will give you a list of things to do. Another new thing is that he now has a list of cool thing you can ask or tell, like one is "Hey Jibo, Are there any monsters in my house" then he will bring up a radar and look around and Jibo will say no, there's no monsters. We also have an Alexa but if your looking for some thing fun we go straight to Jibo he can tell jokes and also favorite part is when Jibo dances.

Since he wrote this, Jibo woke up with the ability to tell me the news, so I can only imagine he'll continue to get Alexa-like skills that will balance the "boring work stuff" my son says I want with the "games and homework help" that he wants.

He recognizes your face, your family's faces (if you train him and opt-in), uses your names, follows your face, and can tell where you are in the room when you talk to him. He's got 6 microphones that let him understand where you and he are in physical space.

I'm imagining the kinds of skills Jibo might potentially get in the future - or that I might write for him - like (and I'm totally brainstorming here):

  • Tell stories before bedtime
  • Watch cartoons
  • Give Khan Academy exercises as Homework
  • Play music
  • Trivia and/or board games
  • Wikipedia stuff
  • Maps
  • Tell me about my blood sugar, show a diabetes chart, wake me up if I go low.
  • Play Tea Time or play along as kids make up stories
  • Vlogging or daily diary keeping

What are your thoughts, Dear Reader? What would you want Jibo to know or do for you?

Disclaimer: The folks at Jibo sent me a pre-public Jibo for free to explore his SDK. However, my words and opinions are my own. I'll post my honest impressions here and there, on my blog and on Twitter as Jibo grows and learns more things.


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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Review: The AmpliFi HD (High-Density) Home Wi-Fi Mesh Networking System

July 6, '17 Comments [37] Posted in Reviews
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The AmpliFi Router is a cute small white box with a black circular touchscreenI've been very happy with the TP-Link AC3200 Router I got two years ago. It's been an excellent and solid router. However, as the kids get older and the number of mobile devices (and smart(ish) devices) in the house increase, the dead wifi spots have become more and more noticeable. Additionally I've found myself wanting more control over the kids' internet access.

There's a number of great WiFi Survey Apps but I was impressed with the simplicity of this Windows 10 WiFi Survey app, so I used it to measure the signals around my house, superimposed with a picture of the floor plan.

Here's the signal stretch of the TP-Link. Note that when you're using a WiFi Survey app you need to take into consideration if you're measuring 2.4GHz that gives you better distance at slower speeds, or 5GHz that can give you a much faster connection at the cost of range. As a general rule in a single room or small house, 5GHz is better and you'll absolutely notice it with video streaming like Netflix.

Below is a map of the 5GHz single for my single TP-Link router. It's "fine" but it's not epic if you move around. You can guess from the map that the router is under the stairs in the middle.

My older router's wifi map shows mostly Yellow

You can also guess where concrete walls are, as well as the angles of certain vectors that pass through thick walls diagonally and affect the signal. Again, it's OK but it's starting to be annoying and I wanted to see if I could fix it.

SIDE BAR: It is certainly possible to take two routers and combine them into one network with a shared SSID. If you know how to do this kind of thing (and enjoy it) then more power to you. I tried it out in 2010 and it worked OK, but I want my network to "just work" 100% of the time, out of the box. I like the easy setup of a consumer device with minimal moving parts. Mesh Networking products are reaching the consumer at a solid price point with solid tech so I thought it was time to make the switch.

Below is the same map with the same locations, except using the AmpliFi HD (High-Density) Home Wi-Fi System from Ubiquiti Networks. This is the consumer (or "prosumer") version of the technology that Ubiquiti (UBNT) uses in their commercial products.

AmpliFi HD includes the router and two "mesh points." These are extenders that use a mesh tech called 3x3 MIMO. They can transmit and receive via 3 streams at a low level. MIMO is part of the 802.11n spec.

The Singal from the AmpliFi HD is fantastic

Note that this improvement is JUST using the AmpliFi main router. When you do a Wifi Survey the "Mesh Points" will show up as the same SSID (the same wireless network) but they'll have different MAC Address. That means in my list of networks in the Survey tool my "HanselMesh" network appears three times. Don't worry, it's one SSID and your computers will only see ONE network - it's just advanced tools that see each point. It's that "meshing" of n number of access points that is the whole point.

These two maps below are the relative strengths of just the mesh points. It's the union of all three of these maps that gives the clear picture. For example, one mesh point covers the living area fantastically (as does the router itself) while the other covers the garage (not that it needs it) and the entire office.

The mesh points make the signal better in parts of the houseThe mesh points make the signal better in parts of the house

Between the main router and the two included mesh points there are NO dead spots in the house. I'll find the kids in odd corners with an iPad, behind a couch in the play room where they couldn't get signal before. I'm finding myself sitting in different rooms than I did before just because I can roam without thinking about it.

I would suspect I could get away with buying just the AmpliFi Router (around US$133) and maybe one mesh point extender but the price for all three (router + 2 mesh points) is decent. The slick part is that you can add mesh points OR a second router. It's the second router idea that is most compelling for multi-floor buildings that also have a wired network. For example, I could add a second router (not a mesh point) upstairs and plug it into the wall (so it's "wire backed").

The mesh points plug into the wall and just sit there. You can adjust them, bend them to point towards the router, and best of all - move them at will. For example, when I set up the network initially I put the two mesh points where I thought they'd work best. But one didn't and Netflix was dropping. I literally unplugged it and moved it into the hallway and plugged it in. A minute later that whole area was full speed. This means if I did/do find a dead spot, I could just move the mesh point either temporarily or permanently.

The router is adorable. Like "I wish it wasn't in a closet" adorable. It's pretty enough that you'll want it on your desk. It has a great LCD touchscreen and a lighted base. The touchscreen shows your IP, total bandwidth this month (very useful, in fact), and bandwidth currently used.

The router is best set-up with an iPhone/iPad or Android device. There is a VERY minimal web interface but you really can't manage the Amplfi (as of the time of this writing) with a web browser - it really is designed to be administered with a mobile app. And frankly, I'm OK with it because the app is excellent.

The AmpliFi App says "Everything is Great"35Mbs up/down

The download/upload numbers there aren't the maximum speed - it's the bandwidth being used right now. You can test the speed elsewhere in the app. I have 35Mb/s up and down (usually) in my house, but Gigabit inside (which is useful as I have a Synology server internally).

There a lot of ways to restrict internet for the kids. I like that the Amplify lets me group devices and apply time-limits to them. Here the Xbox and two tablets can't use the internet until 9am and they turn off at bedtime.

Notice the pause buttons as well. I can temporarily pause internet on any one device (or group of devices) whenever.

imagePhoto Jun 25, 7 41 23 PM

When you're setting up the network and positioning the mesh points you can see near-realtime signals updates in the app.

100% signal on this Mesh Point72% signal on this Mesh Point

And once it's all done, you can impose a basic QoS (Quality of Service) on individual devices by telling the AmpliFi what they are used for. Here I've setup a device for multi-player gaming, while some iPads are used mostly for streaming.

Setting up Streaming in AmpliFiNew Updates are available

Setup is a snap. It took longer to go to each device and connect them to the new network than it did to set up the network. I suppose I could have kept the same SSID and password as the old network but I wanted a fresh start and easier A/B testing.

So far I have been 100% thrilled with the AmpliFi HD. It's important to point out again that AmpliFi is the consumer arm of Ubiquiti (UBNT) and that a dozen programmer/techie-types on Twitter insisted suggested that I needed these Enterprise/Commercial Access Points. I get it. They are more advanced, fancier, offer more stats and more control. But honestly, my house isn't that big, the data I'm pushing around isn't that complex, and I don't want a Commercial Level of control. I was (and am) thoroughly impressed with the consumer stuff. The app is excellent and improving. The coverage is complete and fast. The AmpliFi is rated at 450 Mbps for 2.4 GHz and 1.3 Gbps for 5 GHz). Even if I upgrade my internet to my localities max of 150 Mbps (I only pay for 35 Mbps today) I'm not anywhere near that limit externally, and I'm not doing anything close internally.

That said, here's some things I'd like in future updates:

  • Simpler port-forwarding with common rules. "This xbox/that service"
  • An open source VPN server. I'd like to VPN directly into the Ubiquiti, rather than into my Synology.
  • More quality of service/prioritization details. "The office server always has preferred packets, period"
  • Mobile alerts - I'd like to know if I go over x bandwidth, or if we are streaming at x Mbs for y hours.
  • A fully featured administration web console.

And yes, I realize NOW I should have called the Network "Hanselmesh." Missed opportunity.

I highly recommend the AmpliFi HD. I frankly have no complaints other than my small wish list above. Buy one via my Amazon referral links so I can keep blogging in my spare time AND buy tacos. Your use of these links gives me walking around money. Thanks for reading!


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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.