Shifting Ideas

This site has been archived and is no longer maintained.

Shifting Ideas - This site has been archived and is no longer maintained.

Pi as a TimeCapsule

I recently received my second Raspberry Pi from Newark Element 14 and I was looking at all the possible projects found on various sites around the web. I made a NAS device and a XBMC client, but it was when I came across an article on creating a TimeCapsule for MacBooks I knew I had my next project.

By Srokaraf via Wikimedia Commons

By Srokaraf via Wikimedia Commons

I read and tried many of the procedures outlined on various websites. In the end, I had to create a custom procedure to suit my needs.

What I wanted was a TimeCapsule for two MacBook Pros to access wirelessly for two different users on separate partitions. I wanted it to be low power, compact, headless with access via SSH and VNC, use a 1TB external hard drive, work with OSX Mavericks, and be connected to the network via Ethernet.

Here is my procedure:

1. Install the latest version of Raspian from and turn on SSH so it can be accessed remotely. There are some great tutorials on getting started from Adafruit.

After installing Raspian I prepared it to work headlessly by assigning my Pi a fixed IP address on my home

router. You will have to look up how to do this for your specific router. This was to ensure I always knew the IP address of the Pi. I then rebooted the Pi.

$ sudo reboot

Then I removed the monitor, keyboard, and mouse and and attached the external drive. The rest of the installation was completed using SSH or VNC.

I usually use Chrome as my browser and access the Pi via SSH using Secure Shell and use the VNC client for Chrome. Both are available in the Google Chrome Web Store.

On a side note, the Pi kept rebooting after plugging the external drive into the USB port on the Pi. I added an external powered USB hub to the Pi and plugged the drive and the Pi into the hub and the problem went away. Seems my Pi was not providing enough power to the external drive and/or it did not have enough power to function properly.

2. Connect via SSH and update Raspbian by first using the following commands:

$ sudo apt-get update

$ sudo apt-get upgrade

$ sudo reboot

3. Connect via SSH and install netatalk to create an Apple accessible drive, gparted to format the USB drive, and tightvncserver to use the GUI interface.

$ sudo apt-get install netatalk gparted tightvncserver

4. To format the USB drive you will need to use the GUI application gparted. To access your headless Raspberry Pi you will need to turn on the VNC server and have it autoboot at startup. Here are the instructions to create the autostart for tightvnc.

$ cd /home/pi

$ cd .config

$ mkdir autostart

$ cd autostart

$ sudo nano tightvnc.desktop

Paste the following into the new file (tightvnc.desktop) to fit the geometry for a macbook pro.

[Desktop Entry]



Exec=vncserver :1 -geometry 1280x800


5. Restart the Pi so that it can now be accessed via SSH or VNC.

$ sudo restart

6. Use VNC to access your Raspberry Pi. Your address will likely be something like, 192.168.x.x:1 to access the Pi.

7. Now that you can access the GUI on your Pi and you can use gparted to format the external drive. In the terminal type:

$ sudo gparted

I read a few tutorials and decided to format the drive as two 500GB partitions. They came up as sda1 and sda2, I also named them tmu1 and tmu2 for TimeMachine and user initials.

8. Now you need to make the directories accessible from your MacBook. In this tutorial it will be for the two partitions, one for each of the two users.

$ sudo mkdir /mnt/tmu1

$ sudo chmod 777 /mnt/tmu1
$ sudo mkdir /mnt/tmu2

$ sudo chmod 777 /mnt/tmu2

9. You will have to change fstab to automount the partitions.

$ sudo chmod 777 /etc/fstab

$ sudo nano /etc/fstab

Add the following lines to fstab:

/dev/sda1 /mnt/tmu1 ext4 defaults 0 2

/dev/sda2 /mnt/tmu2 ext4 defaults 0 2

10. Mount the partitions and make them writable.

$ sudo mount /dev/sda1

$ sudo mount /dev/sda2

Something weird happened with permissions at this point and I had to reissue the chmod commands again to get things working.

$ sudo chmod 777 /mnt/tmu1

$ sudo chmod 777 /mnt/tmu2

11. Prepare netatalk so that TimeMachine on your Mac can access the partitions on the Pi.

$ sudo chmod 777 /etc/netatalk/AppleVolumes.default

$ sudo nano /etc/netatalk/AppleVolumes.default

Add the following lines to AppleVolumes.default:

/mnt/tmu1 "tmusername1" options:usedots,upriv,tm

/mnt/tmu2 "tmusername2" options:usedots,upriv,tm

12. Restart netatalk.

$ sudo service netatalk restart

13. On your Mac open the finder and connect to the Pi using the Pi’s username and password. Add this to your keychain so you don’t have to enter it everytime.

14. On your Mac open TimeMachine and select the appropriate partition for the user and let TimeMachine work its magic.

15. I cut some ventilation and access holes into a plastic container and put the drive, Pi, and USB hub into it. I then put it under my desk where it works silently and uses very little power.

I hope you found this tutorial helpful.

Inspirational articles:


The revolution will be “tweeted”…just not by me.

I was at EdCamp in Hamilton (#edcampham) over the weekend and my head is still reeling from the experience.


The discussions were varied and there was even discussion about being a “shift disturber”. This lead to many lively discussions, but there was one that is still lingering with me. The discussion was about multitasking and the fallacy that people are now capable of multitasking. It turns out most of the population can’t. This was most clearly illustrated by the “Monkey Business Illusion” by Daniel Simmons (thanks @JMitchinson for sharing it). If you have never seen the video, take a moment and watch it.

If you have never been to an EdCamp, you should try to attend and experience for yourself. It is one of the few times that feel that I have truly experienced Professional Development that has left a lasting impact on my thoughts regarding education. But, what is really interesting, was watching everyone interacting with their technology in ways that would normally bother most teachers. They were using Twitter to tweet the entire experience to their Professional Learning  Networks. They were actively sharing with those who were not able to attend. I have been to many conferences lately where the majority of the audience is listening but staring at their various devices to tweet out the entire experience. I am in awe because I cannot do it. I have to give the speaker my complete attention because I cannot multitask  sure at times it looks like I can, but I am just doing 2 things badly. EdCamp Hamilton was no exception. I tried to tweet while I was in a session, but I lost track of the discussion while as I was tweeting. I need to actively listen to people speak because many of the thing I  heard were inspirational and forced me to think and rethink things. I was afraid to miss more than the gorilla.

Now that EdCamp is over, I am thinking about how I use Twitter. I love Twitter for how it allows me to interacting with my PLN in a virtual environment, regardless of time and place. As for my contributions, I mostly  share links and other bits and pieces I find interesting as it relates to education. Occasionally, I even share some personal information with my Twitter friends.  I consider Twitter to be a very powerful social media platform and has many applications both inside and outside the classroom. I am not a prolific tweeter, but I enjoy reading my stream and getting a snapshot of what is happening in my PLN several times a day. However, it will always just be a snapshot. The timeline moves to fast and there are too many conversations to fully participate in all of them.

For me, balance is important and I wonder what life would be like without access to technology. Then I stumbled upon a recent article from The Verge where the author spent a year without the Internet. I often talk to my students about balance and finding those things outside of school that help them become well rounded individuals. Teachers also need to find balance. Today was a beautiful day and I spent it mostly indoors with other educators to talk about issues in education that interest us. It was worth it as the discussions were lively and some forced me to think about how school is changing. But I am home now and it is time to take my teacher hat off and be truly available to my family. If balance is important to you as well, you might enjoy this advertisement from Microsoft (thanks to @DavidSpencerEdu for sharing this)

PS. A number of teachers approached me about creating a web space for themselves. I will post a howto for you soon.


Edit: Just found this on YouTube (published May 6) — Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows explained.

My Life with Pi

When I heard about the Raspberry Pi on, I was intrigued by the possibilities of a $35 linux micro computer. I read about all the projects that people were trying with this device and I decided that I had to get one. When it because available from a Element 14 (the Canadian supplier) I ordered one right away.

Raspberry Pi (image from Element 14)

Raspberry Pi (image from Element 14)

My first project was to get the Pi up and running using Raspbian to create a simple linux computer using an old keyboard, mouse, and monitor. It worked great and I thought it would make an ideal first computer for a child. But, my 10 year old son didn’t love it like I did, even though it came with Python and Scratch to learn programming. His problem, it did not play flash games. He prefered his old Dell laptop. At least we are continuing to work learn Python using the lessons from Codecadamy.

I then started project number two. I decided on trying a version of my favourite media centre software. I downloaded and installed RaspBMC which is based on XBMC. I have always liked XBMC and first installed on an old Xbox almost a decade ago. RaspBMC worked great on the Pi,  my problem was that I didn’t have a TV that needed a media centre. The kids TV has an Xbox 360 that they use as as a media centre, and my TV is a Smart TV with a WDTV Live attached to it. Accessing media on our home media server was not a concern for our current home environment.

On a side note, I am very happy with the media server I built last summer (maybe I should write a post about that later). I am using Serviio Media Server on an older i5 computer running Windows 7. I am using it as a DLNA server to share music and videos in our home. It works with just about any DLNA or uPNP client on any platform. It can also be configured to transcode video and stream via the web.

On to my final and favourite project. I built an Airplay system to play music from my Airplay enabled devices. To do this I followed the instructions from Lifehacker. I am using a very inexpensive micro wifi dongle from TP-Link that worked right out of the box.

There were a few problems that I had to overcome with this setup:

Problem 1: I had to change the audio from the hdmi to the analog port so I followed the instruction from these sites to (a) set the audio to the analog or just type “sudo amixer cset numid=3 1” and (b) increase the default volume on the Pi or you can type “sudo amixer cset numid=1 -- -100

Problem 2: The wifi dongle kept going into suspend mode to save power. When this happens you can’t access the Pi remotely. Fix this by following these instructions.

Problem 3: Remote access is important to me since the Pi is now sitting behind my receiver on my media stand and is running headless. When you install Raspbian you will need to enable SSH. I like the instructions from Adafruit here and here (There are lots of great tutorials from Adafruit). You can also install and use VNC if you want to use a GUI interface. Adafruit also has good instructions for VNC.

I hope you enjoy playing with your Pi as much as I did.

My Review of the Samsung Chromebook

Here is a review I wrote about the Samsung Chromebook for the Futureshop website. Not sure if they are going to publish it since it is a little long.

Acer C7 Chromebook
Ready Set Monday!!! / / CC BY-NC-ND

I preordered the Samsung Chromebook a couple of weeks ago and it was delivered on Friday (April 5). I have been using it for about a day and half and I am really impressed with it. I know it is underpowered as a primary computer (the cpu is similar to high end smart phones) but WOW it is snappy! It boots up in about 10 seconds and I have not seen any lag when playing video.

I use a lot of web services and I have been using the Samsung Chromebook as a secondary computer. It will not be replacing my MacBook, but for everyday tasks I prefer it. I have managed to watch Youtube and Netflix, edit photos and video, and surf just about every social media site without any concerns. Due to its weight and my easy access to WiFi, this will be the computer I will likely use when I am sitting on the couch or at my local coffee shop.

If you really need access to your primary PC or Mac you can use remote access. I have used Secure Shell to create an ssh connection to control a linux server. I have also used Google Remote Access to connect and run applications on my PC. However, filesharing is a bit of a problem since it can only see things shared in Google Drive (or other web based services like Dropbox), it cannot see my home network share folders. If you are not sharing files on a local area network this will not be a concern for you.

Do I have complaints about it? Minor ones. I don’t really like the keyboard, it is not the traditional keyboard I am used to. I like the horizontal return and left shift found on ANSI keyboards. This one is the ISO keyboard like the ones in the UK. As well as the afore mentioned local file sharing.

I feel confident recommending it for anyone who needs a light weight, inexpensive laptop to work online. It is great for email, Youtube, and social media. The perfect laptop to give your parents or as a second computer when you need a keyboard and a tablet with accessories won’t do. No, you cannot install any stand alone applications like Word and Photoshop but there are many web based alternatives you can use…check out the Chrome Store. You do need to use it online, but there are some offline options available for email and documents. If you already live in the Google apps world, this will integrate great with all the tools you already use. And battery life really is 6 hours.

This is my first review of anything and I hope it was useful.

New Theme

It has been a while since I have posted on this site and I thought I would start blogging about my move from a Macbook Pro to a Samsung Chromebook. If you haven’t heard of the Chromebook, you can learn more about it on Google’s Chromebook website.

Samsung XE303C12-A01CA 11.6" Chromebook - Silver (Samsung E5250 / 16GB SSD / 2GB RAM / Chrome OS)

Although I have only been using for about an hour I can tell you that it is going to fit perfectly into my work flow for school. But it is not without some complaints. I wish they left the US keyboard on the Canadian model. I am moving from the Macbook which has a large horizontal shift key and return key and the UK keyboard uses a smaller left shift and a verticle return. This is going to take some getting used to.

I still have a lot to learn about all it can do. But, I am really surprised how responsive it is. I am hoping to share my experience as I migrate from a traditional laptop to the completely cloud based Chromebook as my primary computer for teaching.

More to come soon.