Soil Moisture Sensor

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Over at Andrew Frueh has an interesting article on a DIY soil moister sensor. It is simply two large nails with wires attached. By measuring the resistance of the soil between the nails, he gets a crude measurement of how wet the soil is. The more water, the lower resistance. He points to a few problems with this approach, including temperature affecting the resistance, as well as salinity and pH levels playing a role. Furthermore, electrolysis and corrosion is a problem over time. Frueh has improved on the basic circuit by using a H-bridge to alternate the direction of the current for the readings. That way, the nails last longer.

A different approach to measuring soil moisture, is to measure the dielectric constant. An example of such a sensor is the commercial product VG400 from Vegetronix. It sells for $37, so it doesn’t scale to use it for many plants the same way as two nails does. The method is interesting though, with more basic information in this University of Cambridge module.

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Building XBMC on the RPi

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Some notes on building XBMC from source on the Raspberry Pi: I started with the Raspbian 2013-09-25-wheezy image from here. After basic setup, I switched to CLI only, set the GPU memory to 16 MB, logged in over SSH, and started a screen session. A remote session is preferred, since there will be a lot of coping back and forth between the RPi and your desktop.

For the most, I followed these instructions, with a few modifications: First, the boot files to set GPU memory are not there in the Raspbian distribution I had installed. Instead, I used raspi-config to set the memory split. Secondly, the large one-liner apt-get install of all the dev packages (step 4 in the instructions) did not work very well. It gave dependency conflicts with the mesa packages. I found myself splitting up that line into many chunks, which then worked fine. Finally, a few packages were missing, and I had to run configure several times to figure that out. In the end, I also installed these:

apt-get install dh-autoreconf gawk gperf zip ccache

For a successful build, I had to modify the search path of a header file. There are a few ways to go about that, as discussed here. I used this solution:

sudo sed -i 's/#include "vchost_config.h"/#include "linux\/vchost_config.h"/' /usr/include/interface/vmcs_host/vcgencmd.h

That took me as far as a working XBMC setup, however videos are not playing. With MPlayer there is no problem, but XBMC just gives a black screen. I will have to investigate further.

There’s a similar set of instructions here.

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DealExtreme orders

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Various items ordered from DealExtreme.

GH-10W 10W 430lm 9-LED Red + Blue Light Plant Grow Light Module - Silver + White (7.5~8V) Jtron 0.36 8-Channel 5V Relay Module Shield for Arduino (Works with Official Arduino Boards) JY-MCU 5V 3V IIC UART SPI Level 4-Way Converter Module Adapter HSYY01 Water Pump Motor w/ Hose - White + Silver 20906 6mm Silicone Hose - Translucent White (5.44m-Length) Aquarium Fish Tank Flexible Silicone Air Line Tube - Black (18m) E5HT Aquarium Air Tube - Transparent Blue (10m) Aquarium Fish Tank Tubing Straight Connector T Splitter for 4mm Air Line (24 PCS) E5YK Aquarium Fish Tank 1-to-6 Air Splitter - White USB Powered Flexible Neck 10-LED White Light Lamp - Blue (27cm) 4-Port High Speed USB 2.0 Hub - Black (60cm-Cable Length) Mini USB 4 Ports Hub 4-Port USB 2.0 HUB w/ Independent Switch - Black 5V 2A Universal Power Adapter Charger - Black (AC 100~240V / EU Plug / 3.5 x 1.35mm) Raspberry PI Acrylic Case - Transparent Protective Neoprene Bag Case for DSLR Camera Lens - Black (Size XL) Protective Neoprene Bag Case for DSLR Camera Lens - Black (Size L) HSYY01 Water Pump Motor w/ Hose - White + Silver W3-9 Immersible Water Pump for Miniature Garden - Off-white SZF280 PVC Mini Water Pump Motor - Beige Miniisw SW-015 1.5W Polysilicon Solar Panel - Black Miniisw SW-008 0.8W Solar Powered Battery Panel Board - Black Protective Jellyfish Pattern Silicone Back Case for LG E960 Nexus 4 - Multicolored Replacement Sound and Music Activated Spectrum VU Meter EL Visualizer - Smile Face (4*AAA) 5.5 x 2.5mm Plug AC Power Adapter - Black (AC 100~240V / EU Plug / 135cm-Cable) 1.5 5.5 x 2.5mm Plug AC Power Adapter - Black (AC 100~240V / EU Plug / 135cm-Cable) HDMI Female to Micro HDMI Male Adapter 40-Compartment Free Combination Plastic Storage Box for Hardware Tools / Gadgets - Translucent White 24-Compartment Free Combination Plastic Storage Box for Hardware Tools / Gadgets Panel Mount 10A 250V Fuse Holder - Black (5-Pack) Optical Triple Triangular Glass Prism Spectrum - White Dupont 4-Pin Female to Female Extension Wire Cable for Arduino (40cm / 10-Piece Pack) Dupont 4-Pin Male to Female Extension Wire Cable for Arduino (40cm / 10-Piece Pack) Universal DIY Bakelite Plate PCB Board - Brown (2-Piece Pack) Universal Glass Fiber PCB Board for DIY Project - Brown Prototype Universal Printed Circuit Board Breadboard - Brown (5-Piece Pack) Nano V3.0 AVR ATmega328 P-20AU Module Board + USB Cable for Arduino Nylon PP6 DC 12V 50mA Tact Switch - Black (100-Piece Pack) 1N4007 1000V 1A Unilateral Rectifier Diodes Set - Black + Silver (50 PCS) LM7805L 5V Voltage Regulator ICs (10 PCS) 2.54mm 1x40 Pin Breakaway Straight Male Header (10-Piece Pack) GP LR44 A76 1.5V Cell Button Batteries 10-Pack 5 x 20mm Glass Tube Fuse Set - Silver (100 PCS) LCD Keypad Shield for Arduino Duemilanove & LCD 1602 (Works with Official Arduino Boards) Protective Plastic Case for 3.5 635~645nm 800~1000MCD 5mm LED - Red (100-Piece Pack) 510~520nm 800~1000MCD 5mm LED - Green (100-Piece Pack) S1306 8-in-1 Gradual ABS Lens Filters + Lens Mount + Ring Set for 77mm Lens Camera - Black Unique Black 4 Series Armed Notebook - Rambo Knife (60-Page) Convenient Rectangle Sticky Note Memo Pads (4 x 100 Pieces) Stainless Steel 1/4 C2-07 Creative Inflatable Shoe Boot Support Spreader - Milk White (Pair) Double-Sided Glass Fiber Prototyping PCB Universal Board (12-Piece Pack) Double-Sided Glass Fiber Prototyping PCB Universal Board (3 x 7 / 5-Piece Pack) Prototype Universal Printed Circuit Board Breadboard - Green + Silver 3mm & 5mm Light-emitting Diode - Green + Red + Yellow (100-Piece Pack) Breadboard Jumper Wires for Electronic DIY (65-Cable Pack) 4 Channel 5V High Level Trigger Relay Module for Arduino (Works with Official Arduino Boards) 2-Channel Relay Shield Module for Arduino (Works with Official Arduino Boards) AMS1117 5V Power Supply Module Emolux 62mm Multi-Coated UV Lens Filter - Black Sound and Music Activated Multi-Mode Flashling EL Hearts T-shirt - M (3*AAA) Silica Gel Reusable Moisture-Proof Bead Desiccant - Blue Male + Female DC Power Converter Connector Adapters w/ Terminal Blocks For CCTV Camera (Pair) Universal Heavy Duty 6F22 9V Battery DSTE NB-7L Replacement 7.4V 1200mAh Battery for Canon G10 / G11 - G12 / SX30 IS - Grey 1/4 Universal Aluminum Alloy Straight Flash Bracket for Camera - Black Universal Aluminum Alloy Tripod Bracket for Speedlight / Camera- Black Universal Handheld Jar Opener White Magic Beans with Assorted Messages (10-Pack Growing Plant) Genuine Acecamp 2429 20L Outdoor Water Resistant Dry Bag - Yellow 1000mA Car Cigarette Powered USB Adapter/Charger (DC 12V/24V) DIY 433MHz Wireless Receiving Module for Arduino (Works with Official Arduino Boards) 433MHz Wireless Transmitter Module Superregeneration for Arduino DIY 16-Key AD Keypad Module - Blue 4 x 4 Matrix Switch Module - Green ES-71 II Lens Hood for Canon Mini Prototype Printed Circuit Board Breadboard for Arduino (5 PCS) Ceramic Capacitor for DIY Electronic Circuit - Red (270-Piece Pack) Solderless Breadboard with 400 Tie-Point (White) USB to RS232 Serial Port Adapter (Transparent Green) FreArduino Soil Humidity Sensor for Arduino (Works with Official Arduino Boards) Double-Sided Glass Fiber Prototyping PCB Universal Board (3 x 7 / 5-Piece Pack) DIY HR-202 Humidity Detection Sensor Module - Blue Aluminum Alloy Straight Hot Shoe Flash Bracket for Camera - Black Flash Diffuser for Canon 580 EX / EX II / YongNuo YN560 / YN565 Speedlite (3 PCS) HT RJ45 RJ11 Cable Tester Stainless Steel 1/4 Mini USB 2.4GHz 150Mbps 802.11b/g/n WiFi Wireless Network Card Adapter - Black USB 2.0 2.4GHz 802.11b/g/n 150Mbps WiFi/WLAN Wireless Network Adapter Ultra-Mini Nano USB 2.0 802.11n 150Mbps Wifi/WLAN Wireless Network Adapter 6.3V 3300uf Aluminum Motherboard Capacitors (20-Piece Pack) DIY ZIF DIP IC Socket Set - Green (8 PCS) Solder Tip Refresher 3-Pin Triode Transistor for DIY Project - Black (20 x 10-Piece Pack) Aluminum Electrolytic Capacitor for DIY Project (120-Piece Pack) DisplayPort DP Male to HDMI Female Adapter Cable - Black (15CM) Gold Plated 1080i HDMI V1.3 M-M Connection Cable (1M-Length) 11x12 132-Panel Brain Teaser Magic IQ Ball Micro USB To HDMI MHL Adapter - Black Gold Plated HDMI Male to DVI 24+1 Female Adapter 62mm Digital Camera Lens Cover Digital Camera Lens Cover/Cap with Strap for Canon (62mm) 7.4V 1200mAh Lithium Polymer Lipo Battery Pack for Lama or 4-CH R/C Helicopters HC-SR04 Ultrasonic Sensor Distance Measuring Module 4 x AA Battery Case Holder (3-Pack) Stainless Steel Triple Razor Blade Set (4-Pack) USB 2.0 Smart ID Card Reader - Silver 30cm Breadboard Wires for Electronic DIY (40-Cable Pack) Cree XR-E Q2 Emitter with Star 3W LED Emitter on Star (Multicolored RGB)

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Adafruit order

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Some items ordered from Adafruit a while back.

  • BeagleBone Black
  • GPIO Extender Cable for Raspberry Pi – 12″ long
  • MCP23017 – i2c 16 input/output port expander
  • MCP23008 – i2c 8 input/output port expander
  • Plastic Water Solenoid Valve – 12V – 1/2″ Nominal
  • Liquid Flow Meter – Plastic 1/2″ NPT Threaded
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WiFi adapters for the Raspberry Pi

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A few months back I bought a couple of cheap USB WiFi adapters from DealExtreme. Today I finally got around to try them on the Raspberry Pi. Of the three adapters, two works both on a Fedora 17 64 bits based desktop as well as on the RPi. Notice that they both seem to contain the same chip, and indeed reports the same vendor and product ID. The last, the EDUP device, does detect available WiFi networks, but usually does not establish a connection (the very last time I tried, it suddenly did). I suspect it might be a USB power issue, since it also “crashed” the USB hub on the desktop, causing the keyboard and mouse to temporarily disconnect. Here are some notes which might be related. Of the three, the one with antenna is fastest at establishing the connection, but the other small adapter also gives good transfer speed; around 3.6 Mb/s seen today, but I expect it can go faster.

For other devices supported by the RPi, see the the Embedded Linux WiFi page, and also Element 14′s WiFi testing page.

Product Description USB kernel info NetworkManger info Fedora 17 x86_64 Raspbian “wheezy” Comment
USB 2.0 2.4GHz 802.11b/g/n 150Mbps WiFi/WLAN Wireless Network Adapter USB 2.0 2.4GHz 802.11b/g/n 150Mbps WiFi/WLAN Wireless Network Adapter idVendor=148f, idProduct=5370
Product: 802.11 n WLAN
Manufacturer: Ralink
SerialNumber: 1.0
driver: ‘rt2800usb’ OK OK Works “Plug & Play”.
Connection is established quickly.
Mini USB 2.4GHz 150Mbps 802.11b/g/n WiFi Wireless Network Card Adapter - Black Mini USB 2.4GHz 150Mbps 802.11b/g/n WiFi Wireless Network Card Adapter – Black idVendor=148f, idProduct=5370
Product: 802.11 n WLAN
Manufacturer: Ralink
SerialNumber: 1.0
driver: ‘rt2800usb’ OK OK Works “Plug & Play”.
Somewhat slow at establishing the network connection.
Ultra-Mini Nano USB 2.0 802.11n 150Mbps Wifi/WLAN Wireless Network Adapter Ultra-Mini Nano USB 2.0 802.11n 150Mbps Wifi/WLAN Wireless Network Adapter idVendor=0bda, idProduct=8176
Manufacturer: Retek
driver: ‘rtl8192cu’ Failed.
Hangs USB host.
Works 1 out of 10 times. Crashes the RPi.
Device detected, and sees available WiFi networks, hover does usually not get a connection.
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Storage prices

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4 TB is finally at the top now, giving most storage for money. Both the Western Digital and Seagate drives are priced at 144 Euros, making them the new ideal disk for a large storage or backup systems. Furthermore, WD has put out a 4 TB in their My Book external series, which again gives more bytes per coin than its 3 TB little brother.

On the Sandisk Compact Flash end of the list there are also some interesting additions. They have added new Extreme Pro editions, at 120 MB/s and at a really extreme 160 MB/s read/write speed. On their own marketing page, they claim these cards are suited for shooting “4K” (e.g. 3840 × 2160 or 4096 × 2160). However, these cards are expensive, at 630 Euros for 128 GB, and 1200 Euros for 256 GB; not for the hobbyist in other words.

Media Type Product Capacity Price CHF Price Euros Euros / GB GBs / Euro
Harddisk Western Digital Caviar Green 4TB 4000 GB 179.00 144.35 0.04 27.71
Harddisk Seagate Barracuda 4TB 4000 GB 179.00 144.35 0.04 27.71
Harddisk Western Digital Caviar Green 3TB 3000 GB 135.00 108.87 0.04 27.56
External 3.5 Western Digital My Book Essential Edition 4TB, USB3 4000 GB 184.00 148.39 0.04 26.96
External 3.5 Western Digital My Book Essential Edition 3TB, USB3 3000 GB 143.00 115.32 0.04 26.01
Harddisk Western Digital Red 3TB 3000 GB 145.00 116.94 0.04 25.66
Harddisk Western Digital Red 4TB 4000 GB 199.00 160.48 0.04 24.92
Harddisk Hitachi Deskstar 7K4000, 4TB 4000 GB 199.00 160.48 0.04 24.92
Harddisk Western Digital Caviar Green 2TB 2000 GB 107.00 86.29 0.04 23.18
Harddisk Western Digital Caviar Black 4TB 4000 GB 264.00 212.90 0.05 18.79
External 2.5 Western Digital Elements Portable 2TB, USB3 2000 GB 137.00 110.48 0.06 18.10
External 2.5 Western Digital My Passport 2TB, USB3 2000 GB 139.00 112.10 0.06 17.84
Harddisk Western Digital Caviar Green 1TB 1000 GB 70.00 56.45 0.06 17.71
External 2.5 Western Digital Elements Portable 1TB, USB3 1000 GB 83.00 66.94 0.07 14.94
External 2.5 Western Digital My Passport 1TB, USB3 1000 GB 84.00 67.74 0.07 14.76
External 3.5 Western Digital My Book Essential Edition 1TB, USB3 1000 GB 105.00 84.68 0.08 11.81
Blu-ray Verbatim BD-R SL 25 @ 50GB 1250 GB 238.00 191.94 0.15 6.51
DVD+R DL Verbatim 8x DVD+R DL 25 @ 8,5GB 213 GB 42.00 33.87 0.16 6.27
DVD-R Verbatim 16x DVD-R 100 @ 4,7GB 470 GB 96.00 77.42 0.16 6.07
DVD+R DL Verbatim 8x DVD+R DL 10 @ 8,5GB 85 GB 36.00 29.03 0.34 2.93
CD-R Verbatim CD-R 100 @ 700MB 70 GB 35.00 28.23 0.40 2.48
SSD Samsung SSD 840 Basic, TLC, 500GB 500 GB 333.00 268.55 0.54 1.86
SSD Sandisk Extreme 480GB 480 GB 339.00 273.39 0.57 1.76
SSD Corsair Neutron 256GB 256 GB 207.00 166.94 0.65 1.53
SSD Corsair Force GT 240GB 240 GB 225.00 181.45 0.76 1.32
SSD Corsair Neutron 128GB 128 GB 123.00 99.19 0.77 1.29
USB Flash Sandisk Cruzer Flash Drive 32GB 32 GB 31.00 25.00 0.78 1.28
SSD Corsair Force GT 120GB 120 GB 128.00 103.23 0.86 1.16
SDXC Sandisk Ultra SDXC, Class 10, 15/30MB/s, 64GB 64 GB 75.00 60.48 0.95 1.06
USB Flash Sandisk Cruzer Flash Drive 16GB 16 GB 19.00 15.32 0.96 1.04
USB Flash Sandisk Ultra Cruzer BACKUP 64GB 64 GB 77.00 62.10 0.97 1.03
SDHC Sandisk Ultra, Class 10, 15/30MB/s, 32GB 32 GB 41.00 33.06 1.03 0.97
SDXC Sandisk Extreme SDXC, UHS-I, 45MB/s, 128GB 128 GB 208.00 167.74 1.31 0.76
USB Flash Sandisk Cruzer Blade 8GB 8 GB 13.00 10.48 1.31 0.76
SDXC Sandisk Extreme SDXC, UHS-I, 80/60MB/s, 64GB 64 GB 115.00 92.74 1.45 0.69
SDHC Sandisk Ultra, Class 10, 30MB/s, 16GB 16 GB 29.00 23.39 1.46 0.68
SDHC Sandisk Ultra, Class 10, 30MB/s, 8GB 8 GB 18.00 14.52 1.81 0.55
SDXC Sandisk Extreme Pro SDXC, UHS-I, 95/45MB/s, 64GB 64 GB 148.00 119.35 1.86 0.54
SDHC Sandisk Extreme, Class 10, 30MB/s, 16GB 16 GB 38.00 30.65 1.92 0.52
SDHC Sandisk Extreme Pro, Class 10, 90/95MB/s, 32GB 32 GB 78.00 62.90 1.97 0.51
SDHC Sandisk Extreme, Class 10, 30MB/s, 8GB 8 GB 21.00 16.94 2.12 0.47
Compact Flash SanDisk Ultra 200x, 16GB 16 GB 50.00 40.32 2.52 0.40
Compact Flash SanDisk Extreme 400x, 60MB/s, 64GB 64 GB 200.00 161.29 2.52 0.40
SDHC Sandisk Extreme Pro, Class UHS-I, 90/95MB/s, 8GB 8 GB 27.00 21.77 2.72 0.37
SDHC Sandisk Extreme Pro, Class UHS-I, 90/95MB/s, 16GB 16 GB 55.00 44.35 2.77 0.36
Compact Flash SanDisk Extreme 400x, 60MB/s, 32GB 32 GB 112.00 90.32 2.82 0.35
Compact Flash Sandisk Extreme 800x, 120MB/s, 128GB 128 GB 457.00 368.55 2.88 0.35
Compact Flash Sandisk Extreme 800x, 120MB/s, 64GB 64 GB 230.00 185.48 2.90 0.35
Compact Flash Sandisk Extreme Pro 160MB/s, 64GB 64 GB 365.00 294.35 4.60 0.22
Compact Flash Sandisk Extreme Pro 160MB/s, 256GB 256 GB 1479.00 1192.74 4.66 0.21
Compact Flash Sandisk Extreme Pro 600x, 90MB/s, 32GB 32 GB 191.00 154.03 4.81 0.21
Compact Flash SanDisk Extreme 400x, 60MB/s, 8GB 8 GB 48.00 38.71 4.84 0.21
Compact Flash SanDisk Extreme 400x, 60MB/s, 16GB 16 GB 98.00 79.03 4.94 0.20
Compact Flash Sandisk Extreme Pro 160MB/s, 128GB 128 GB 786.00 633.87 4.95 0.20
Compact Flash Sandisk Extreme Pro 600x, 90MB/s, 16GB 16 GB 102.00 82.26 5.14 0.19

Exchange rate: 1 Euro = 1.240000 CHF.

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The list of shame

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Over the last years, Wikileaks has collected and published a set of files detailing the companies involved in implementing and assisting mass surveillance. The “Spy Files” includes mostly public product sheets, sales brochures and company catalogues. Below is the list of all the company names mentioned in all the Wikileaks Spy Files.

There’s a lot of interesting reading there. From not so well known hardware companies across the world, to big names like HP, Ericsson, and Siemens. Some of them are selling “investigation platforms” for law enforcement, while others offer products for covert operations. There’s data sheets on network taps like those from NetOptics, and network traffic surveillance and retention from Packet Forensics, to give some examples. There’s marketing material, like Ernst & Young 2011 brochure with the title Biometrics: time to evangelise the benefits. (They want biometric identification pretty much everywhere: From border control to benefit payments, and Internet access).

In other words, these are the companies which implement the police and surveillance state. Employees from these companies do the dirty-work of the NSAs and GCHQs around the world. If you are working for or with one of these, now is a very good time to consider your stance on democracy, human rights, and privacy. If your set of values does not align with that of your company, it might be time to do something about that. “I was just doing my job and following orders” is not an excuse which will hold up in court when judgement comes.

ADS UKTI Defence & Security Organisation
AGT International
AI Solve
ATIS Systems GmbH
Atis Uher
Berkeley Varitronics Systems
Cambridge Consultants
Cassidian (EADS)
CCT Cecratech
Delta SPA
Digital Barriers
Dreamlab Gamma
EBS Electronic
Enterprise Europe Network
Ernst & Young
Evidence Talks Ltd.
Expert System
FCO Services
Forensic Telecommunications Services
Freightwatch Security Net
Glimmerglass Networks
HiddenTechnology Systems International Ltd.
HP Defence and Security
Human Recognition Systems
i2 Group
Innov Telek IZT
IPS Intelligence
Kapow Software
NETWORK Instruments
NICE Systems
Nokia Siemens Networks
Packet Forensics
Pine Digital Security
PV labs
QCC Interscan
Roke Manor Research
Scan & Target
Septier Communication Ltd.
Silicom Dreamlab
Speech Technology Center
Spektor Forensic Intelligence
Telesoft Technologies
Utimaco Safeware AG
Visual Analytics Inc
VUPEN Security

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NSA’s Social Graph

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NSA is creating a social graph of everybody. That is the latest NSA story based on Snowden’s documents. “The agency can augment the communications data with material from public, commercial and other sources, including bank codes, insurance information, Facebook profiles, passenger manifests, voter registration rolls and GPS location information, as well as property records and unspecified tax data”

On Slashdot, user jbn-o has an insightful comment, regarding Eben Moglen’s warnings about exactly this scenario:

“I was talking to a senior government official of this government about that outcome and he said well you know we’ve come to realize that we need a robust social graph of the United States. That’s how we’re going to connect new information to old information. I said let’s just talk about the constitutional implications of this for a moment. You’re talking about taking us from the society we have always known, which we quaintly refer to as a free society, to a society in which the United States government keeps a list of everybody every American knows.” —Eben Moglen, “Innovation Under Austerity”

Eben Moglen gave a talk where he warned us about a conversation he had with an American government official who wanted a “robust social graph” of Americans. And again at Moglen’s re:publica talk as Nicole Brydson reminds us. Of course, I’d prefer to point to a copy of this talk in a format friendly to free software, but I don’t know of one.

Moglen reminds us in his talks about how right Richard Stallman (RMS) is, and how we need to do the work of sharing what RMS teaches to others. RMS was right (as per usual) we need software freedom more than ever. Social action based on an ethical grounding (not mere technical convenience or speedy development) is exactly what this situation calls for. I hope everyone will take the time to read or listen to Moglen’s insightful talks and take them seriously. They’re deeply engrossing and filled with interesting history, so much so that they reward repeated listening and social action.

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30 years of GNU

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It’s been 30 years since Richard Stallman announced his project to create a free alternative to Unix. The world has changed a lot since then, the Internet had changed and grown enormously, and Free Software has become a success that not even Stallman might have dared to dream of. Of course, some things didn’t work out quite the way Stallman had intended: The GNU Hurd kernel is still just a curiosity, and most likely will never see widespread adoption. Instead, Linus Torvalds came along with his kernel, and licensed it under Stallman’s GPL, thus making it free for everybody to use, distribute and contribute to. Today the GNU tools and core utilities, and the Linux kernel is used by millions of people every day. Whole businesses, like Google and Amazon, are built around these Free systems. It’d be hard to imagine the world today without Linux and GNU.

Below is the message which started it all. And today Stallman is looking forward, explaining why free software is more important than ever. His main theme and message has not changed much over the years: The freedom to run, study, distribute and modify computer programs is vital to a democracy which relies on technology and computers to function. Without these freedoms, we get exactly the kind of crippled products Stallman warns about: Sony removing features from its products over-night; Amazon deleting books you have bought; mobile phones and computers which only accept software from certain authorities (e.g. iPhone, gaming consoles).

However, the dangers of proprietary software and lock-in are even more sever: NSA has been shown to require back-doors and security holes to be implemented in proprietary software like Microsoft Windows so that they more easily can spy on their targets. Furthermore, centralization and lock-in to services like Facebook and others has led them to be prime targets for dragnet surveillance. This is part of why Free software is more important than before.

Free Unix!

Starting this Thanksgiving I am going to write a complete
Unix-compatible software system called GNU (for Gnu’s Not Unix), and
give it away free to everyone who can use it. Contributions of time,
money, programs and equipment are greatly needed.

To begin with, GNU will be a kernel plus all the utilities needed to
write and run C programs: editor, shell, C compiler, linker,
assembler, and a few other things. After this we will add a text
formatter, a YACC, an Empire game, a spreadsheet, and hundreds of
other things. We hope to supply, eventually, everything useful that
normally comes with a Unix system, and anything else useful, including
on-line and hardcopy documentation.

GNU will be able to run Unix programs, but will not be identical
to Unix. We will make all improvements that are convenient, based
on our experience with other operating systems. In particular,
we plan to have longer filenames, file version numbers, a crashproof
file system, filename completion perhaps, terminal-independent
display support, and eventually a Lisp-based window system through
which several Lisp programs and ordinary Unix programs can share a screen.
Both C and Lisp will be available as system programming languages.
We will have network software based on MIT’s chaosnet protocol,
far superior to UUCP. We may also have something compatible
with UUCP.

Who Am I?

I am Richard Stallman, inventor of the original much-imitated EMACS
editor, now at the Artificial Intelligence Lab at MIT. I have worked
extensively on compilers, editors, debuggers, command interpreters, the
Incompatible Timesharing System and the Lisp Machine operating system.
I pioneered terminal-independent display support in ITS. In addition I
have implemented one crashproof file system and two window systems for
Lisp machines.

Why I Must Write GNU

I consider that the golden rule requires that if I like a program I
must share it with other people who like it. I cannot in good
conscience sign a nondisclosure agreement or a software license

So that I can continue to use computers without violating my principles,
I have decided to put together a sufficient body of free software so that
I will be able to get along without any software that is not free.

How You Can Contribute

I am asking computer manufacturers for donations of machines and money.
I’m asking individuals for donations of programs and work.

One computer manufacturer has already offered to provide a machine. But
we could use more. One consequence you can expect if you donate
machines is that GNU will run on them at an early date. The machine had
better be able to operate in a residential area, and not require
sophisticated cooling or power.

Individual programmers can contribute by writing a compatible duplicate
of some Unix utility and giving it to me. For most projects, such
part-time distributed work would be very hard to coordinate; the
independently-written parts would not work together. But for the
particular task of replacing Unix, this problem is absent. Most
interface specifications are fixed by Unix compatibility. If each
contribution works with the rest of Unix, it will probably work
with the rest of GNU.

If I get donations of money, I may be able to hire a few people full or
part time. The salary won’t be high, but I’m looking for people for
whom knowing they are helping humanity is as important as money. I view
this as a way of enabling dedicated people to devote their full energies to
working on GNU by sparing them the need to make a living in another way.

For more information, contact me.
Arpanet mail:


US Snail:
Richard Stallman
166 Prospect St
Cambridge, MA 02139

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Latest NSA round-up

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Glenn Greenwald has the latest round-up of various NSA surveillance related stories around the world this week. From the British GCHQ spying on Belgium’s largest telecom, Belgacom, to Obama working hard to keep the controversial programs away from judicial and public scrutiny. And much more.

Also interesting is a new coalition of civil liberties organizations and other interest groups called “Stop Watching Us”. On October 26th they are planning a rally in Washington, D.C. It takes time, but somebody are waking up.

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Replicant on Galaxy Nexus

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After nearly two years on a custom built Android OS, it was time to upgrade. I now have the latest (4.0.4) Replication build for Galaxy Nexus running.

Before installing, I went through a few extra flashes, just to make sure everything would go smoothly. I started out with putting back the original factory images, provided by Google. Download, unpack, and run the included script That was up and running within a minute or two.

Next, I tried CyanogenMod’s build for Galaxy Nexus, including the ClockworkMod Recovery boot image. I used the touch image found here, and simply flashed with:
fastboot flash recovery recovery-clockwork-touch-

I used the from here, and followed the installation procedure using the recovery image seen here. The only difference was that I had to boot the phone fully to have access through adb. Pushing the zip file while in recovery mode did not seem to work. Besides that, everything went smooth. It’s probably worth noting that the camera still works with the CM 10.1.2 build.

So far, so good. Now for the Replicant images. I downloaded the 4.0 0004 build. The instructions suggests the Heimdall recovery image for installation, but I tried to flash through fastboot instead. Thus the install went something like this, while the phone was on the bootloader screen (not in recovery mode).

sudo fastboot erase boot
sudo fastboot erase userdata
sudo fastboot flash boot boot.img
sudo fastboot flash recovery recovery.img
sudo fastboot flash system system.img
sudo fastboot flash userdata userdata.img
sudo fastboot reboot

That worked fine. Replicant booted, and it all looks good. Note that the recovery image which came with the Replicant build was an older version of the ClockworkMod, without touch. So, following the CM install steps above, I could have skipped that. But it doesn’t make a big difference.

The only problem with the Replicant image is that it does not contain a free version of the firmware drivers for things like WiFi and camera, and thus they don’t ship the proprietary binary blobs either. Now, that might be what you want, however, I choice to include the wifi binaries. I copied the ones from the CyanogenMod build. It went something like this:

First remount /system writeable
adb shell
mount -o rw,remount -t ext4 /dev/block/platform/omap/omap_hsmmc.0/by-name/system /system

Back on the terminal on the host computer, I extracted the firmware files, and copied them over. And then a reboot.
unzip -x system/vendor/firmware/*
adb push system/vendor/firmware /system/vendor/firmware

The last bit was to reinstall the various packages and configurations. For .apk files, they can easily be installed with adb. Then the configuration can be copied over. Just make sure the copied files get the same owner and group as its application. For some applications, like httpmon, this was easy. However, for K-9 it got a bit messy since the chown and chgrp commands are somewhat lacking. The later can operate recursively, but you still need to use both.

adb install Gibberbot-37.apk
adb install httpmon-27.apk
adb push org.jtb.httpmon /data/data/org.jtb.httpmon

The Replicant distribution comes with the FOSS app market F-Droid pre-installed, so that’s convenient. That market includes applications like Firefox K-9 Mail, Gibberbot, APV PDF Viewer, httpmon, Orbot, Orweb. (It turned out that Firefox for ARM6 had to be downloaded from here).

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The mind of a megalomaniac: NSA chief Keith Alexander

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Glenn Greenwald recently had a nice story in the Guardian which showed how completely out of touch with society and reality NSA’s surveillance operation has become. NSA chief Keith Alexander have built a command centre and war room modelled after Star Trek’s Enterprise bridge. The pictures below are from the Guardian article.

To add insult to injury, the room was dubbed “Information Dominance Center”. The arrogance of it all is astonishing. Add to that Alexander’s motto “Collect it All”, and it goes to show how totally out of control this whole operation and agency has spun. The revelations over the last months have made it crystal clear that he nor is organization can be trusted, and this small story just hammers home the point even further.

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NSA survailance violations – a brief summary

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A summary of the latest news and NSA revelations.

Thanks to Snowden, we now know the NSA:

  • Had James Clapper lie under oath to us – on camera – to Congress to hide the domestic spying programs Occured in March, revealed in June.
  • Warrantlessly accesses records of every phone call that routes through the US thousands of times a day JuneSeptember
  • Steals your private data from every major web company (Facebook, Google, Apple, Microsoft, et al) via PRISMJune and pays them millions for it August
  • Pays major US telecommunications providers (AT&T, Verizon, et al) between $278,000,000-$394,000,000 annually to provide secret access to all US fiber and cellular networks (in violation of the 4th amendment). August
  • Intentionally weakened the encryption standards we rely on, put backdoors into critical software, and break the crypto on our private communications September
  • NSA employees use these powers to spy on their US citizen lovers via “LOVEINT”, and only get caught if they self-confess. Though this is a felony, none were ever been charged with a crime. August
  • Lied to us again just ten days ago, claiming they never perform economic espionage (whoops!) before a new leak revealed that they do all the time. September
  • Made over fifteen thousand false certifications to the secret FISA court, leading a judge to rule they “frequently and systemically violated” court orders in a manner “directly contrary to the sworn attestations of several executive branch officials,” that 90% of their searches were unlawful, and that they “repeatedly misled the court.” September September
  • Has programs that collect data on US Supreme Court Justices and elected officials, and they secretly provide it to Israel regulated only by an honor system. September


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Growing fruits from seeds

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I’ve recently started a few attempts at growing fruit, or at least plants, from the seeds of fruit bought at the supermarket. Leslie Gadallah has an interesting article on the subject. Each fruit and seed requires its own procedure: Peaches for example, take a very long time to germinate. Lee Reich recommends leaving the seeds in the fridge for several months. But first you have to open the hull, which is extremely tough. I’ve already ruined a nut-cracker, and saw one video were a vice was used.

Avocados on the other hand are easier to sprout. Here’s three different ways, with more details on the planting. Here’s a slightly different method of filling of up with soil. In my experiment, I don’t have much to show for yet, and might even have to try again with another seed.

With pineapple, there are two different ways to grow a new plant. First, you can pull off the leaves on the top, leave in water then plant. Secondly, you can collect the small seeds inside the fruit. Again, I don’t have much to show for just yet, but I did plant the top part which was showing signs off roots after being in water for about two weeks.

Finally, I’ve tried mango seeds, and that’s a success so far. Carefully opening up the husk inside the fruit, and leaving the seed in a moist zip-lock bag for a few weeks. You can even grow multiple plants from the same seed. Here I just planted my first seed, which already has a few leaves, as seen in the picture below.

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Tayda Electronics Order

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I previously wrote about Tayda Electronics, and their amazing prices on basic components. Just to try, I put in a small order, and it arrived by air less than two weeks later. The fact that you can order single components for the price of $0.01 is pretty amazing. Furthermore, they take the time and effort to put each type of item in its own little bag with a clear label. (As opposed to DealExtreme, which tend to lump things together and unlabelled.)

Mostly for my own reference, here’s the things I picked up. Some basic stuff, but most interesting was the MAX7219 LED segment driver for only $1.25. I’ll be using that in a project to control 64 LEDs, and hope to write about that shortly.

MAX7219 7 Segment + Dot Point -  Common Cathode serially interfaced display driver PDIP-24 LED 10mm Green Water Clear Ultra Bright - $0.10 LED 10mm Yellow Water Clear Ultra Bright - $0.10 LED 10mm Blue Water Clear Ultra Bright - $0.10 24 pin DIP IC Sockets Adaptor Solder Type - $0.08 0.1uF 50V 105C Radial Electrolytic Capacitor 5x11mm - $0.02 10uF 25V 105C Radial Electrolytic Capacitor 5x11mm - $0.02 Fuse Holder with Cover 5x20mm M205 PCB 15A - $0.16 Photo Conductive Cell Resistor LDR 650nm RADIAL KE-10720 - $0.24 40 Pin 2.54 mm Single Row Female Pin Header - $0.24 22pF 50V Ceramic Disc Capacitor - $0.01 10K OHM 1/4W 5% Carbon Film Resistor - $0.01 RGB LED 5mm Common Cathode - $0.27