Linux Fu: Docking Made Easy

Most computer operating systems suffer from some version of “DLL hell” — a decidedly Windows term, but the concept applies across the board. Consider doing embedded development which usually takes a few specialized tools. You write your embedded system code, ship it off, and forget about it for a few years. Then, the end-user wants a change. Too bad the compiler you used requires some library that has changed so it no longer works. Oh, and the device programmer needs an older version of the USB library. The Python build tools use Python 2 but your system has moved on. If the tools you need aren’t on the computer anymore, you may have trouble finding the install media and getting it to work. Worse still if you don’t even have the right kind of computer for it anymore.

One way to address this is to encapsulate all of your development projects in a virtual machine. Then you can save the virtual machine and it includes an operating system, all the right libraries, and basically is a snapshot of how the project was that you can reconstitute at any time and on nearly any computer.

In theory, that’s great, but it is a lot of work and a lot of storage. You need to install an operating system and all the tools. Sure, you can get an appliance image, but if you work on many projects, you will have a bunch of copies of the very same thing cluttering things up. You’ll also need to keep all those copies up-to-date if you need to update things which — granted — is sort of what you are probably trying to avoid, but sometimes you must.

Docker is a bit lighter weight than a virtual machine. You still run your system’s normal kernel, but essentially you can have a virtual environment running in an instant on top of that kernel. What’s more, Docker only stores the differences between things. So if you have ten copies of an operating system, you’ll only store it once plus small differences for each instance.

The downside is that it is a bit tough to configure. You need to map storage and set up networking, among other things. I recently ran into a project called Dock that tries to make the common cases easier so you can quickly just spin up a docker instance to do some work without any real configuration. I made a few minor changes to it and forked the project, but, for now, the origin has synced up with my fork so you can stick with the original link.

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Up In The Sky… It’s A Bird… It’s A Drone… Oh Yeah, It’s A Drone

One staple of science fiction is the ornithopter, which is a plane with moving wings. While these haven’t proved very practical in the general sense, a recent paper talks about mimicking natural wings changing shape to improve maneuverability in drones and other aircraft. In particular, the paper talks about how the flight performance of many birds and bats far exceeds that of conventional aircraft.

The technical term for being more maneuverable than a conventional aircraft is, unsurprisingly, called supermaneuverability. Aircraft performing things like the Pugachev Cobra maneuver (watch the video below, or the latest Top Gun movie) require this type of operation, and with modern aircraft, this means using thrust-vector technology along with unstable airframes and sophisticated computer control. That’s not how birds or bats operate, though, and the paper uses modern flight simulation techniques to show that biomimicry and thrust vector technology don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

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No Tool Left Behind With The Help Of Homemade Shadow Boards

Shadowed tool storage — where a tool outline shows at a glance what’s missing from storage — is a really smart way to keep your shop neat. They’re also super important for cases where a tool left behind could be a tragedy. Think, where’s-that-10-mm-socket-while-working-on-a-jet-engine? important. (It’s always the 10-mm socket.)

But just because shadow boards are smart, doesn’t mean they’re easy to make. That’s why [Scott Prince] came up with this semi-automated method for making toolbox shadow boards. The job of tracing around each tool on some sort of suitable material and cutting out the shapes seems straightforward, but the trick comes in organizing the outlines given the space available and the particular collection of tools.

[Scott]’s method starts with capturing images of each individual tool. He used a PiCam and a lightbox housed, strangely enough, in a storage bench; we’d love to hear the full story behind that, but pretty much any digital camera would do for the job. After compensating for distortion with OpenCV, cropping the images, and turning the image into a vector outline of the tool, [Scott] was left with the task of putting the tools into logical groups and laying them out sensibly. After tweaking the tool outlines and adding finger cutouts for easy pickup, [Scott] put his CNC router to work. He chose to use a high-density polyethylene product made by his employer, which looks fantastic, but MDF would work fine too.

We have to admit to a fair degree of toolbox envy now that we’ve seen what shadow boards can do. We’re a bit torn, though — [Zach Friedman]’s Gridfinity storage system has a lot going for it, too.