Using BlinkStick with Raspberry Pi

Dmitri Popov

Productivity Sauce

Jun 19, 2013 GMT
Dmitri Popov

Hooking up LEDs to Raspberry Pi's GPIO pins and controlling them using Python scripts is a great and fun way to learn the ropes. For more advanced projects, you might want to consider investing in BlinkStick, an open source USB LED kit that works with Raspberry Pi, or any other machine for that matter. BlinkStick plugs directly into a USB port, which eliminates the need for a breadboard and wires and makes the setup more tidy. The accompanying software can control multiple BlinkSticks, which you can hook up to a USB hub. More importantly, BlinkStick supports a long list of options, and you can put it to a variety of practical and not-so-practical-but-fun uses.

To get started with BlinkStick on Raspberry Pi, you need to install the BlinkStick Python interface first. To do this, run the following commands:

sudo apt-get install python-dev python-pip
sudo easy_install pip
sudo pip install blinkstick

Run then the sudo blinkstick -h command. If everything works properly, you should see a list of all available options. By default, you have to execute blinkstick commands with root permissions. To fix that, run the following command and reboot Raspberry Pi:

sudo blinkstick --add-udev-rule

So what can you actually do with BlinkStick? For starters, you can use it to visualize CPU usage, and the blickstick command has a dedicated option for that. Run the blinkstick --cpu-usage command, and BlinkStick will change its color depending on the CPU usage (Green = 0%, Amber = 50%, Red = 100%).

Of course, you can put BlinkStick to other uses, too. I'm using BlinkStick with Pygmyfoto running on my Raspberry Pi. Every time someone visits the gallery, BlinkStick blinks with random color. This solution consists of a simple Bash shell script which controls BlinkStick and logs visitor access to the blinkstick.log file:

blinkstick --set-color random --blink --repeats 3
blinkstick --set-color random
DATE=$(date "+%F %T")
echo "Yay! Someone visited your site on" $DATE >> blinkstick.log

The shell_exec ( './ > /dev/null 2>/dev/null &' ) command embedded into the index.php page triggers the script.

For further info on using BlinkStick and more ideas on how to use this nifty kit, visit the project's GitHub repository. In the meantime, drop by and blink to me. :-)

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