It all started when I took a hurried bag full of Raspberry Pi-related bits and bobs to Norwich, and then spent over an hour trying to get a simple network connection working between my laptop and the Raspberry Pi. Ever since then I have been looking for a way to quickly and simply connect the two devices.
I have tried some things which kind of worked: connecting using a serial port (slow, and often conflicts with expansion boards and other plug-in devices), a portable access point with built-in DHCP (faster, but needs extra power and cables, and is clumsy to transport and use) . I have also spent a lot of time trying to get other approaches working: Windows ICS (Internet Connection Sharing) is supposed to provide DHCP to connected devices, but every time I have tried to set it up it has broken some other aspect of the networking. There are several installable DHCP servers which can run on Windows (see here, or here, for example) - I have used these successfully on a local network connected through a switch, but have not yet managed to succeed using a simple wire between the laptop and the Pi.
As you can imagine, I was very happy to read that Meltwater has written a detailed guide to solving this very problem. It took me a while to get it all going, though. I already had all the PC software in place as I use ssh all the time (although I did need to fiddle with the laptop IP address settings), but I had somehow skipped the bit about starting the Pi with the network cable already plugged in. Several reboots and some head scratching later I got it working. The key insight for me from the whole article was that it is possible to set the IP address of the Pi by simply adding an extra section to cmdline.txt, a process which can be done by editing the file on the SD card before the Raspberry Pi is started.
Now I know that as long as I can find a micro-USB power lead and a CAT5 ethernet cable, I can work on my Raspberry Pi projects with just the Pi and my laptop. A delightful feeling!