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BeagleBone Black - My Personal Cloud

When I sold my no-longer-being-used Nexus 4 on eBay last month, I took advantage of a promotion they were running that guaranteed a minimum sale value or the difference between that and its actual sale amount should it sell for less. Well, much to my chagrin, my phone sold for significantly less than the value eBay had predicted it would actually sell for. Thanks to the bureaucracy that is eBay’s customer support, it took a couple of weeks and many phone calls to actually receive my promised compensation which, of course, turned out to come in the form of an eBay coupon good for a single transaction. Said coupon also had to be used within an extremely short time span- no surprises there, really, eBay isn't really in the business of giving away money.

Within a day I’d managed to come up with a list of things that would easily total the value of my coupon. I added all of the items to my virtual shopping cart and placed the order. Most of these items were mundane little components that will eventually be built into my Internet-of-Things projects, but one of them stood out from the rest: a BeagleBone Black.

For a while I’ve been toying with the idea of building my own “cloud” hub at home, atop which I could run my own code. But I was never quite sure which option afforded me the most flexibility. A Raspberry Pi, while undoubtedly cheaper than a BeagleBone (hereafter referred to as BBB), lacks the real-time computing capabilities of the latter in addition to being underspec’d in the processing department.* Other options, such as hacking a Pogoplug, teased an even cheaper price at the cost of absolutely no GPIOs to play with and a potentially buggy environment in which my programs were not guaranteed to run at all.

So, with money to burn I decided to opt for the slightly pricier, but very promising, BBB. Specifically the revision C model. After it arrived I decided to purchase a CNC-milled layered-polycarbonate protective case as it didn’t seem right to be pushing a bare PCB around my desk. As a computer which I plan to carry around with me from time to time, a bit of protection from the other objects in my bag was a requisite.

Having had the BBB for a few weeks, I can officially say that I'm pleased with my experience using it. It turned out to be really easy to get Java installed on it and all of my current Twitter NLP experiments up and running. Even compiling the driver for my USB WiFi card (TP-Link TL-WN723N) was a painless process. The most time-consuming thing to do, as it turned out, was enabling SSH access and managing to prevent the BBB from going offline as a result of external attacks. More on all of that later. [This post will be updated when that subsequent post is made live.]

*Of course, the newly released Pi 2.0, with its 1 GB of RAM and quad-core processor, manages to outclass the BBB’s processing power, but I had to make a decision prior to the announcement of its release.