DIY Linux Computer and 6LoWPAN Gateway

We toss together our own PCB designs, throwing in a microcontroller here or there. Anything more demanding than that, and we reach for a Raspberry Pi or BeagleBone (or an old Linksys router). Why don’t we just whip together a PCB for a small Linux computer? Because we don’t know how…but [Jonas] apparently does. And when we asked him why he did it, he replied “because I can!”


His Ethernet-to-6LoWPAN gateway project is a small, OpenWRT-capable Linux computer in disguise. Rather than yet another Raspberry Pi project, he designed around an Atmel AT91SAM9G25 400 MHz CPU, and added some memory, Ethernet, and a CC2520 radio chip to handle the wireless side. It’s all done on a four-layer board, and hotplate/skillet reflowed. This seems temptingly like something within our reach. [Jonas] had access to X-ray machines to double-check his reflow work, which probably isn’t necessary, although it looks really cool.

When finished, the project will link together a 6LoWPAN network (probably home automation) and his home wired network. That makes this device a rival to something like Philips’ Hue Bridge, which was the subject of some controversy when they locked out other devices for a few days until they recanted. Indeed, in response to this, there’s been quite a lot of effort at hacking the firmware of the Hue device, just to stay on the safe side in case Philips plays shenanigans again.

Soon, that’s not going to be necessary. [Jonas]’s design is open from the ground up, and coupled with open software running on top of the OpenWRT router operating system, that’s the full stack. And that’s great news for folks who are thinking about investing in a home automation technology, but afraid of what happens then the faceless corporations decide to pull the plug on their devices.

Editor Wars

As a rule, I try hard not to get sucked into religious wars. You know, Coke vs Pepsi. C++ vs Java. Chrome vs Firefox. There are two I can’t help but jump into: PC vs Mac (although, now that Mac has turned into Unix, that’s almost more habit than anything else) and–the big one–Emacs vs vi.

If you use Linux, Unix, or anything similar, you are probably at least aware of the violence surrounding this argument. Windows users aren’t immune, although fewer of them know the details. If you aren’t familiar with these two programs, they are–in a way–text editors. However, that’s like calling a shopping mall “a store.” Technically, that’s correct, but the connotation is all wrong.

Like most religious wars, this one is partly based on history that might not be as relevant as it used to be. Full disclosure: I’m firmly in the Emacs camp. Many of my friends are fans of vi–I try not to hold it against them. I’ll try to be balanced and fair in my discussion, unless I’m talking about my preference. I don’t have to be fair when it comes to my opinions. Just to be clear: I know how to use vi. My preference isn’t based out of not wanting to learn something new.

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Ever Buy Music From Apple? Use Linux? You Need This Tool

Sure, you’re a hardcore superuser, but that doesn’t mean you don’t enjoy the finer things in life — like shiny squircles and getting every new app first. But, what’s an OS-indiscriminate person like yourself going to do when it comes time to purchase music? That’s where the recover_itunes tool shines, and if you’re a Linux user with an iPhone, it might just be your new best friend.

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In Bed With an Arduino, Fighting Sleep Apnea

Sometimes the journey is as interesting as the destination, and that’s certainly the case with [Marc]’s pursuit of measuring his sleep apnea (PDF, talk slides. Video embedded below.). Sleep apnea involves periods of time when you don’t breathe or breathe shallowly for as long as a few minutes and affects 5-10% of middle-aged men (half that for women.) [Marc]’s efforts are still a work-in-progress but along the way he’s tried a multitude of things, all involving different technology and bugs to work out. It’s surprising how many ways there are to monitor breathing.

Debugging the Eeonyx conductive fabric approach
Debugging the Eeonyx conductive fabric approach

His attempts started out using a MobSenDat Kit, which includes an Arduino compatible board, and an accelerometer to see just what his sleeping positions were. That was followed by measuring blood O2 saturation using a cheap SPO2 sensor that didn’t work out, and one with Bluetooth that did work but gave results as a graph and not raw data.

Next came measuring breathing by detecting airflow from his nose using a Wind Sensor, but the tubes for getting the “wind” from his nose to the sensor were problematic, though the approach was workable. In parallel with the Wind Sensor he also tried the Zeo bedside sleep manager which involves wearing a headband that uses electrical signals from your brain to tell you what sleep state you’re in. He particularly liked this one as it gave access to the data and even offered some code.

And his last approach we know of was to monitor breathing by putting some form of band around his chest/belly to measure expansion and contraction. He tried a few bands and an Eeonyx conductive textile/yarn turned out to be the best. He did run into noise issues with the Xbee, as well as voltage regulator problems, and a diode that had to be bypassed.

But while [Marc]’s list of approaches to monitor sleep is long, he hasn’t exhausted all approaches. For example there’s monitoring a baby using lasers to detect whether or not the child is still breathing.

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Another Small Linux Computer With Pi In Its Name

Since the introduction of the Raspberry Pi, the embedded Linux scene has been rocked by well supported hardware that is produced in quantity, a company that won’t go out of business in six months, and a huge user base. Yes, there are a few small problems with the Raspberry Pi and its foundation – some stuff is still closed source, the Foundation itself plays things close to their chests, and there are some weird binary blobs somebody will eventually reverse engineer. Viewed against the competition, though, nothing else compares.

Here’s the NanoPi Neo, the latest quad-core Allwinner board from a company in China you’ve never heard of.

The NanoPi Neo is someone’s answer to the Raspberry Pi Zero, the very small and very cheap single board Linux computer whose out-of-stock percentage has led some to claim it’s completely fake and a media conspiracy. The NanoPi Zero features an Allwinner H3 quad-core Cortex-A7 running at 1.2 GHz, 256MB RAM, with a 512MB version being released shortly. Unlike the Raspberry Pi Zero, the NanoPi Neo features a 10/100 Ethernet port. No, it does not have PoE.

As with anything comparing itself to the Raspberry Pi Zero, only two things are important: size and price. The NanoPi Neo is a mere 40mm square, compared to the 65x30mm measurements of the Pi Zero. The NanoPi Neo is available for $7.99, with $5 shipping to the US. Yes, for just three dollars more than a Pi Zero with shipping, you get a poorly supported Linux board. What a time to be alive.

If you’re looking for another wonderful tale of what happens with cheap, powerful ARM chips and contract manufacturers in China, check out my review of the Pine64.

Raspberry Pi Zero Becomes Mighty Miniature Minecraft Machine

In a clever bit of  miniaturization, [JediJeremy] has nearly completed a gyro-mouse controller for a Raspberry Pi Zero! Ultimately this will be a wearable Linux-watch but along the way he had some fun with the interface.

Using the MPU6040 gyroscope/accelerometer card from a quadcopter, [JediJeremy] spent a week writing the driver to allow it to function as a mouse. Strapping an Adafruit 1.5″ PAL/NTSC LCD screen and its driver board to the Zero with rubber bands makes this one of the smallest functional computer and screen combos we’ve seen. Simply tilt the whole thing about to direct the cursor.

It presently lacks any keyboard input, and [JediJeremy] has only added a single button for clicking, but look at this thing! It’s so tiny! In his own words: “I think this is the first computer that I can accidentally spill into my coffee, rather than vice versa.”

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Tutorial on Signal Processing in Linux with Octave

If you’ve taken any digital signal processing classes at a college or university, you’ve probably been exposed to MATLAB. However, if you want to do your own work, you might think about Linux and one of the many scientific computing applications available for it.

[David Duarte] recently published a three-part tutorial on using Octave to do scientific audio processing. The first part covers basic reading, writing, and playing of audio files. Part two covers synthesis of signals, plotting, and some basic transformations.  Modulation is the topic of the third part. If you prefer your tutorials on video, you can check out the video below.

We’ve talked about MATLAB before in the context of message cracking. Then again, some of the best signal processing is done by humans. If you don’t like Octave, you might try Scilab, another Linux package that is similar. There’s also Freemat, Sage, and Spyder. Of course, you can also run MATLAB under Linux.