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October, 2011

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Arduino, Fedora 15, and the gpsd incompatibility

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Even though the Arduino is very popular amongst makers and other electronics hobbyist, it is still a fringe platform in most settings. And even though the arduino package is available through many repositories, more testing would be welcome.

In the latest packages in Fedora 15, things have broken down in several ways. Tom Trebisky does a good job of guiding you through the pitfalls here. He has further useful notes on Arduino here.

What had me going mad was this message: “avrdude: stk500_recv(): programmer is not responding”. Everything seemed to be fine, the lights were blinking when connecting, the logs looked normal, and what’s more, all my boards worked when programmed on another system, but not on my Fedora 15 at home! Furthermore, the error seemed to be half sporadic. Sometimes it would fail at once, while other times it got a bit further before it stopped.

Tom writes: “On a hunch (having watched the messages via dmesg when I plug in my arduino) I get rid of gpsd“. And that was my problem as well. The gpsd daemon was some how conflicting with the ttyUSB device. One option to remove it would be

service gpsd stop
killall gpsd
yum erase gpsd

However, in my case I could not remove the gpsd package because it was a dependency of another application I wanted. In the end, I simply renamed the binary (/usr/sbin/gpsd), so it would not be automatically activated when I plug in the Arduino. Maybe not so elegant, but I could finally get to work with more fun stuff.

Mobile OS

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In the world of OSes for mobile phones, there have been a lot of changes lately, with some going away and others joining the race. A while back, Intel announced that they would drop MeeGo, which means that it is dead since there is nobody else to support it if the community can’t keep it going. But at the same time, they said the code would be merged with another mobile OS. Intel and the Linux Foundation will be steering the OS with the very unfortunate name Tizen (it can easily be mistaken for meaning penis in some of the Scandinavian languages).

Meanwhile, over at Nokia they are betting on Windows Mobile (and making many of their employees disgruntled), while at the same time releasing the already defunct MeeGo OS in their N9 phone. However, since these are all OSes for high end smart phones, they also need something for their so called “feature phones” which are not power full enough (or have different user groups) to drive all the complex functionality. Enter Meltemi, ironically enough a Linux based OS to replace Symbian S40 series.

The story does not end there, though. Amongst the free mobile OSes, KDE is entering the race. Not with a complete separate OS, but rather a UX platform, Plasma Active, with an API for phones, tables, set-top boxes, home automation, and so on. Plasma Active has to run on top of some OS, and currently they are using MeeGo and openSUSE based Balsam Professional.

It is refreshing to see a lot of movement in this area, and hopefully it will lead to a free alternative. However, the at moment it is still looking somewhat bleak for truly free mobile phone OSes. The firmware and driver issue seems to be never ending, and not even the OpenMoko can escape it.

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Fluctuating Storage Prices

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Due to fluctuating exchange rates, and a flood in Thailand, prices on hard drives have changed a lot lately. Western Digital, which is tracked extensively on this list, has been especially hard hit, with factories shutting down. It is most likely a temporary issue, however with some prices going up as much as 80%, it might take at least half a year or more for things to smooth out.

Media Type Product Capacity Price CHF Price Euros Euros / GB GBs / Euro
Harddisk Western Digital Caviar Green 1.5TB 1500 GB 76.00 61.96 0.04 24.21
Harddisk Western Digital Caviar Green 3TB 3000 GB 162.00 132.08 0.04 22.71
Harddisk Western Digital Caviar Green 2TB 2000 GB 109.00 88.87 0.04 22.51
Harddisk Western Digital Caviar Green 1TB 1000 GB 70.00 57.07 0.06 17.52
Harddisk Western Digital Caviar Green 2.5TB 2500 GB 193.00 157.35 0.06 15.89
External 3.5 Western Digital Elements Desktop 2TB 2000 GB 162.00 132.08 0.07 15.14
External 3.5 Western Digital Elements Desktop 3TB 3000 GB 249.00 203.01 0.07 14.78
External 3.5 Western Digital Elements Desktop 1TB 1000 GB 129.00 105.17 0.11 9.51
Harddisk Western Digital Caviar Green 500GB 500 GB 75.00 61.15 0.12 8.18
External 2.5 Western Digital Elements SE 1TB 1000 GB 151.00 123.11 0.12 8.12
Blu-ray Verbatim BD-R SL 25 @ 50GB 1250 GB 238.00 194.04 0.16 6.44
DVD-R Verbatim 16x DVD-R 100 @ 4,7GB 470 GB 95.00 77.45 0.16 6.07
DVD+R DL Verbatim 8x DVD+R DL 25 @ 8,5GB 213 GB 56.00 45.66 0.21 4.65
CD-R Verbatim CD-R 100 @ 700MB 70 GB 39.00 31.80 0.45 2.20
USB Flash Sandisk Cruzer Flash Drive 32GB 32 GB 38.00 30.98 0.97 1.03
SSD OCZ Agility 3 120GB 120 GB 165.00 134.52 1.12 0.89
SSD Corsair Force3 120GB 120 GB 165.00 134.52 1.12 0.89
SSD Corsair Force3 240GB 240 GB 333.00 271.50 1.13 0.88
SSD Kingston SSDnow V 100 Series 128GB (kit) 128 GB 178.00 145.12 1.13 0.88
SSD OCZ Vertex 2 Extended Cap. 120GB 120 GB 169.00 137.79 1.15 0.87
SSD OCZ Agility 3 240GB 240 GB 369.00 300.85 1.25 0.80
USB Flash Sandisk Cruzer Flash Drive 16GB 16 GB 25.00 20.38 1.27 0.78
SSD Kingston SSDnow V 100 Series 256GB 256 GB 405.00 330.20 1.29 0.78
SSD OCZ Vertex 3 120GB 120 GB 209.00 170.40 1.42 0.70
SSD Corsair Force GT 120GB 120 GB 209.00 170.40 1.42 0.70
SSD OCZ Agility 3 60GB 60 GB 109.00 88.87 1.48 0.68
SSD Corsair Force GT 240GB 240 GB 444.00 361.99 1.51 0.66
USB Flash Sandisk Cruzer Flash Drive 8GB 8 GB 15.00 12.23 1.53 0.65
SSD OCZ Vertex 3 240GB 240 GB 459.00 374.22 1.56 0.64
SSD Corsair Force3 60GB 60 GB 117.00 95.39 1.59 0.63
SSD Intel 320 Series 80GB 80 GB 159.00 129.63 1.62 0.62
SSD Corsair Force GT 60GB 60 GB 122.00 99.47 1.66 0.60
SSD OCZ Vertex 3 Max IOPS 240GB 240 GB 489.00 398.68 1.66 0.60
SSD OCZ Vertex 3 Max IOPS 120GB 120 GB 249.00 203.01 1.69 0.59
SSD OCZ Vertex 3 60GB 60 GB 125.00 101.91 1.70 0.59
SSD Kingston SSDnow V+100 Series 64GB 64 GB 139.00 113.33 1.77 0.56
SSD OCZ Vertex 3 480GB 480 GB 1083.00 882.97 1.84 0.54
SSD Intel 510 Series 120GB 120 GB 285.00 232.36 1.94 0.52
Compact Flash Sandisk CF Card 64GB Extreme Pro 64 GB 467.00 380.75 5.95 0.17
Compact Flash Sandisk CF Card 32GB Extreme Pro 32 GB 239.00 194.86 6.09 0.16
Compact Flash Sandisk CF Card 16GB Extreme Pro 16 GB 140.00 114.14 7.13 0.14

Exchange rate: 1 Euro = 1.226539 CHF.

Fedora on Raspberry Pi

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Chris Tyler has published a video demonstrating Fedora running on the ARM based Raspberry Pi. This looks very promising, and the Fedora project is working actively to support several ARM based systems.

Here’s general instructions on how to install Fedora from a USB stick, and here’s minimal Xfce based spins. (I am not sure if these instructions apply to Raspberry Pi).

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Switch to Tab no more

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The list of annoying, unnecessary or inferior features¬† the new Firefox versions is getting longer. To get back to where it was about a year ago, you already have to tune it by putting back the status bar, disabling animations, opening tabs at the end. Add to that the disabling of the “switch to tab” feature, which does no longer let you pick a second tab from history if you already have it open elsewhere. Usually, you can disable these things from the about:config page, however for this one you need a third-party plugin to get back to normal. It’s called “Switch to Tab no more“.

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Low end hosting

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I recently found this great overview of cheap and simple hosting and Virtual Hosting solutions: lowendbox.com. It includes many providers of cheap hosting solutions for private and small business use.

If you are able to manage your own server, e-mail and web site, there are many reasons you should take matters in your own hands. For the most basic use case, family e-mail and a small web site, it does not have to be expensive or take much time. Including your own domain, you should end up under 200 Euros / year.

For only e-mail, or only web hosting, you might get by on the smallest of boxes offered, which is usually 128 MB of RAM. However, if you need both on the same machine, 256 MB is rather tight. For disk, somewhere between 10 and 20 GB should be sufficient. And the traffic / month limits are usually more than enough, often as high as 100 GB / month or more. CPU is usually never a limiting factor for a basic setup.

So register a domain, rent some space, and become an Internet householder and landowner.

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Lego Panorama

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I’ve discussed panorama robots in the past, and here is a new creation. James Catan has created several Lego robots to do timelapse and and pan/tilt pictures. One of them were recently presented in Gadget Review, and shows holding a Canon Rebel XT with a kit lens. So not quite 5D, 200mm f2.8 as with Jeffrey Martin’s rig. Yet still a good and simple setup.

Another interesting pan & tilt product comes from Sparkfun. It is a robot arm, consisting of servos and and a claw. It will definitely not hold a SLR, but possibly some smaller pocket cameras or phones. As far as I understand, the complete robot arm comes in several parts which you’ll have to add to your order separately.

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