HOPE XII: A FOSS Operating System for e-Readers

Free and open source software (FOSS) was a recurring theme during many of the talks during the HOPE XII conference, which should probably come as no surprise. Hackers aren’t big fans of being monitored by faceless corporate overlords or being told what they can and cannot do on the hardware they purchased. Replacing proprietary software with FOSS alternatives is a way to put control back into the hands of the user, so naturally many of the talks pushed the idea.

In most cases that took the form of advising you to move your Windows or Mac OS computer over to a more open operating system such as GNU/Linux. Sound advice if you’re looking for software freedom, but it’s a bit quaint to limit such thinking to the desktop in 2018. We increasingly depend on mobile computing devices, and more often than not those are locked down hard with not only a closed proprietary operating system but also a “Walled Garden” style content delivery system. What’s the point of running all FOSS software at home on your desktop if you’re carrying a proprietary mobile device around?

That’s precisely the thinking that got Marc Juul interested in the possibility of bringing a FOSS operating system to e-reader devices. During his talk “Liberate Your E-book Reader with fread.ink!”, he gave examples such as Amazon’s infamous remote deletion of 1984 off of users’ Kindles as a perfect example of the sort of control these companies exert on our personal devices. Marc believes the goal should be to completely replace the operating system on these devices with a free software alternative that still retains the ability to open electronic book formats. Not only would this keep the likes of Amazon or Barnes and Noble out of our reading habits, but turn these cheap readers into more capable devices in the bargain.

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Giving Linux the Remote Boot

A lot of embedded systems are running Linux on platforms like Raspberry Pi. Since Linux is fully functional from a command line and fully network-capable, it is possible to run servers that you’ve never had physical access to.

There are a few problems, though. Sometimes you really need to reboot the box physically. You also need to be at the console to do things like totally install a new operating system. Or do you? Over on GitHub, user [marcan] has a C program and a shell script that allows you to take over a running system without using any software on the root filesystem. It starts an ssh server and you can remotely unmount the main drive, do any maintenance you want and –presumably–reboot into a new operating system.

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Interview with the Creators of CHIP, a $9 Single-Board Computer

Single-board computing is hot on the DIY scene right now and riding that knife edge is C.H.I.P., a project currently in crowd-funding which prices the base unit at just $9. I was happy to run into the crew from Next/Thing Company who developed C.H.I.P. They were happy because, well, the project’s reception has been like a supernova. Right now they’re at about $1.5M of their original $50k goal. We spoke about running Linux on the board, what connectors and pinout headers are available, as well as the various peripheral hardware they have ready for the board.

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Running Debian on a Graphing Calculator

While the ubiquitous TI-83 still runs off an ancient Zilog Z80 processor, the newer TI-Nspire series of graphing calculators uses modern ARM devices. [Ivoah] managed to get Debian Linux running on a TI-Nspire calculator, and has written a guide explaining how it’s done.

The process uses Ndless, a jailbreak which allows code to run at a low level on the device. Ndless also includes a full SDK, emulator, and debugger for developing apps. In this case, Ndless is used to load the Linux kernel.

The root filesystem is built on a PC using debootstrap and the QEMU ARM emulator. This allows you to install whatever packages are needed via apt, before transitioning to the calculator itself.

With the root filesystem on a USB flash drive, Ndless runs the Linux loader, which starts the kernel, mounts the root filesystem, and boots in to a Debian system in about two minutes. As the video after the break demonstrates, this leaves you with a shell on the calculator. We’re not exactly sure what to do with Linux on a graphing calculator, but it is a neat demonstration.

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Turning the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 into a proper Linux box

Over on the xda developers forum, [exception13] shows us the work he’s put into geting Debian running on his Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1, allowing him to dual boot Android and Linux on a single device.

The project is still in a fairly early state, but so far [exception13] has most of the goodies required for a decent Linux experience running already. There’s WiFi, bluetooth, sound, usb-otg and touchscreen support, as well as support for the Note’s S Pen, the Wacom digitizer that basically turns the Galaxy Note 10.1 into an Intuos touch pad.

There’s still a lot of work work to be done, including getting the camera up and running, as well as enabling the GPS receiver. Still, it’s a very cool project that puts the power of a proper desktop interface into a tablet with enough horsepower to get something useful done.

If you’d like to get this running on your Galaxy Note, [exception13] has a download avaiable over on Google Code. There’s also a video [exception13] put together demoing all the cool stuff his Note can do, you can check that out after the break.

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Dedicated Pandora player plus AirPlay built around the Raspberry Pi


[Shaun Gehring] wanted an Internet radio player. Although he did have some troubles along the way, the final project turned out very well. Housed inside this case which used to house a spindle of bland CDs is a Raspberry Pi that plays Pandora radio and serves as an AirPlay receiver.

The GPIO header of the RPi makes this project a lot easier. [Shaun] used Adafruit’s breakout board to solder connections for the six buttons and the character LCD screen. Plug some speakers into the audio jack and the hardware end of the deal is finished. The software side of things is very similar to the BeagleBone Pandora player we looked at in September. It uses a Linux distribution (Rasbian Weezy) and the Pianobar package.

Pianobar is very versatile. You can control it using a First-In First-Out file. Once [Shaun] figured out how to use mkfifo to set up the file, he was able to control it from a script by monitor button presses and echoing the associated command to the FIFO. The finishing touch was to add AirPlay support via the shairport package.

Playing video games on your office phone

So IT has your computer locked down, but if you’re lucky enough to have this model of telephone you can still play video games while at work. [AUTUIN] was at the thrift store and for just $8 he picked up an ACN videophone on which he’s now playing video games. We don’t know what magical second-hand stores sell functioning electronics of this caliber  but you should never pass up an opportunity like this.

It turns out the phone is running Linux natively. After some searching [AUTUIN] found that it is possible to telnet to a root shell on the device. Doing so he was able to figure out that the phone uses standard packages like ALSA for the Audio and /dev/input/event0 for the keypad. It even includes an SD card slot so he loaded one with a Debian image and used pivot_root to switch over to that OS. At this point the phone is his to command and of course he loaded up a video game which you can see in the clip after the break.

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