Raspberry Pi has been all over the BBC new page, but before it existed I bought a Beagle Board, which is very similar but perhaps with a bit less charisma. When you get the board (it’s just a circuit board with some USB ports, monitor connection and a memory card slot) you have to install something called Angstrom Linux via memory card before you can do anything.
All told, I think it probably took me about 12 hours get the board working. You can only set up the SD card from another Linux machine, so I had to install a Linux virtual machine on my Mac. All sorts of fiddly things got in the way.
The first time I put the memory card – all perfectly set up as far as I know – into my Beagle Board it didn’t work. I’m not an embedded Linux expert, and there isn’t an error message – It just didn’t work. Here is a list of things I questioned in my head:
- My Beagle Board is broken (after all, it’s got no case, perhaps I damaged it)
- I have the wrong kind of Linux Virtual Machine on my mac
- The memory card or card adapter is broken – I’ve never used either of them before
- Something unknown is wrong with the files I’ve written to the SD card
- I’m following the wrong set of instructions for my Beagle Board, perhaps there are different versions or something?
In short, absolutely everything involved came into question, plus of course a kind of meta-doubt: what if something I’d never heard of wasn’t right?
Eventually I solved the problem by doing the whole thing again. I’ve still no idea what was wrong.
It’s a salutatory experience to be in territory where you’ve no idea what’s going on, as a nerd it’s easy to forget what that’s like. This is a diagram that has been going round the web for ages:
Obviously, this is an incredibly annoying response – a new user has nothing like this level of clarity. Here is a sketch of the decision tree that arises from a real world simple (Dad) problem – entering phone numbers into a Google Spreadsheet, which treats them as normal numbers and removes the leading zero (it used to anyway):
When you are using something for the first their is an unknown cost/benefit of the tech you are trying to get running. If my Beagle Board was actually broken, then I could spend two weeks on it and get nowhere. My inability to estimate the work involved undermines my enthusiasm to solve the problem. There is no way for me to estimate the time cost of solving this problem.
Even worse, perhaps when you get those numbers into Google Spreadsheets, or make the Beagle Board work, and it won’t be the tool you wanted anyway. The benefit is unclear too.
The diagram explaining how “tech experts” solve problems is a statement of the misconception that users are giving up solving a problem because they’re not up to the task. Of course that might be the case, but on other occasions times the worry that they are wasting their time, quite rationally, makes them stop bothering.
Lo and behold, the Beagle Board’s performance is not up to what I wanted it for. It is quite a fun thing, so I wouldn’t quite say it was time wasted, but the intuition that I should just throw my hands up in the air and give up is there for a reason.