Hackaday Podcast Ep014: Keeping Raspberry’s SD Card Alive, We Love MRRF, And How Hot Are Flip Chips?

Elliot Williams and Mike Szczys take a look at advances in photogrammetry (building 3D models out of many photographs from a regular camera), a delay pedal that’s both aesthetically and aurally pleasing, and the power of AI to identify garden slugs. Mike interviews Scotty Allen while walking the streets and stores of the Shenzhen Electronics markets. We delve into SD card problems with Raspberry Pi, putting industrial controls on your desk, building a Geiger counter for WiFi, and the sad truth about metal 3D printing.

Take a look at the links below if you want to follow along, and as always, tell us what you think about this episode in the comments!

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Give Your Raspberry Pi SD Card a Break: Log to RAM

The fragility of SD cards is the weak link in the Raspberry Pi ecosystem. Most of us seem to have at least one Pi tucked away somewhere, running a Magic Mirror, driving security cameras, or even taking care of a media library. But chances are, that Pi is writing lots and lots of log files. Logging is good — it helps when tracking down issues — but uncontrolled logging can lead to problems down the road with the Pi’s SD card.

[Erich Styger] has a neat way to avoid SD card logging issues on Raspberry Pi, he calls it a solution to reduce “thrashing” of the SD card. The problem is that flash memory segments wear out after a fairly low number of erase cycles, and the SD card’s wear-leveling algorithm will eventually cordon off enough of the card to cause file system issues. His “Log2Ram” is a simple Unix shell script that sets up a mount point for logging in RAM rather than on the SD card.

The idea is that any application or service sending log entries to /var/log will actually be writing them to virtual log files, which won’t rack up any activity on the SD card. Every hour, a cron job sweeps the virtual logs out to the SD card, greatly reducing its wear. There’s still a chance to lose logging data before it’s swept to disk, but if you have relatively stable system it’s a small price to pay for the long-term health of a Pi that’s out of sight and out of mind.

One thing we really like about [Erich]’s project is that it’s a great example of shell scripting and Linux admin concepts. If you need more information on such things, check out [Al Williams’] Linux-Fu series. It goes back quite a way, so settle in for some good binge reading.

Pack Your SD Cards Swiss Army Style

SD cards have largely supplanted most other card-based storage devices, in all but a few niches. Available in standard, micro, and the rather obscure mini sizes, they’re used in everything from digital cameras to car stereos and console ROM carts. For most users, storing them consists of tossing them in a bag, occasionally in a plastic case that’s barely any bigger than the card itself for a little extra protection. This can get frustrating when carrying multiple cards, but [Dranoweb] has a solution.

[Dranoweb]’s design is similar to a Swiss Army knife, repurposed with many fingers, each with slots for holding everyone’s favourite storage devices. All the parts barring the screw are 3D printed. There are various designs of the storage fingers, allowing the build to be customized to suit varying quantities of SD and microSD cards. There’s even a deep-pocketed piece for USB drives and small adapters, and an oversized design for Nintendo DS carts.

It’s a tidy design that makes it that much less likely you’ll lose your microSD in the bottom of your backpack. Now, if you need to interface with an SD card, we can help you there too.

Set Up A Headless Raspberry Pi, All From Another Computer’s Command Line

There are differences between setting up a Raspberry Pi and installing an OS on any other computer, but one thing in common is that if you do enough of them, you seek to automate the process any way you can. That is the situation [Peter Lorenzen] found himself in, and his solution is a shell script to install and configure the Raspberry Pi for headless operation, with no need to connect either a keyboard or monitor in the process.

[Peter]’s tool is a script called rpido, and with it the process for setting up a new Raspberry Pi for headless operation is super streamlined. To set up a new Pi, all [Peter] needs to do is:

  1. Plug an SD card into his laptop (which happens to be running Ubuntu.)
  2. Run: rpido -w -h myhostname -s which downloads and installs the newest version of Raspbian lite, does some basic setup (such as setting the hostname), configures for headless operation, and launches a root shell.
  3. Use the root shell to do any further tweaks or checks (like launching raspi-config for additional changes.)
  4. Exit the shell, remove the SD card from his laptop, and install the card into the Raspberry Pi.

There are clear benefits to [Peter]’s script compared to stepping through a checklist of OS install and setup tasks, not to mention the advantage of not needing to plug in a keyboard and monitor. Part of the magic is that [Peter] is mounting the SD card’s filesystem in a chroot environment. Given the right tools, the ARM binaries intended for the Pi run on his (Intel) Ubuntu laptop. It’s far more convenient to make changes to the contents of the SD card in this way, before it goes to its new home in a Pi.

Not everything has to revolve around an SD card, however. [Jonathan Bennet] showed that it’s possible to run a Raspberry Pi without an SD card by using the PXE boot feature, allowing it to boot and load its file system from a server on the same network, instead of a memory card.

Making A Vintage 1990s Sound Board Do Rapid Fire Silently

Sometimes a mix of old and new is better than either the old or new alone. That’s what [Brad Carter] learned when he was given an old 1990s sound board with a noisy SCSI drive in it. In case you don’t know what a sound board is, think of a bunch of buttons laid out in front of you, each of which plays a different sound effect. It’s one way that radio DJ’s and podcasters intersperse their patter with doorbells and car crash sounds.

Before getting the sound board, [Brad] used a modern touchscreen table but it wasn’t responsive enough to get a machine gun like repetition of the sound effect when pressing an icon in rapid succession. On the other hand, his 1990s sound board had very responsive physical buttons but the SCSI hard drive was too noisy. He needed the responsiveness of the 1990s physical buttons but the silence of modern solid state storage.

And so he replaced the sound board’s SCSI drive with an SD card using a SCSI2SD adaptor. Of course, there was configuration and formatting involved along with a little trial and error to get the virtual drive sizes right. To save anyone else the same difficulties, he details all his efforts on his webpage. And in the video below you can see and hear that the end result is an amazing difference. Pressing the physical buttons gives instant sound and in machine gun fashion when pressed in rapid succession, all with the silence of an SD card.

A SCSI2SD card is a nice off-the-shelf solution but if you want something a little more custom then there’s a Raspberry Pi SCSI emulator and one which uses a Teensy with a NCR5380 SCSI interface chip.

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No SD Card Slot? No Problem!

We feature hacks on this site of all levels of complexity. The simplest ones are usually the most elegant of “Why didn’t I think of that!” builds, but just occasionally we find something that is as much a bodge as a hack, a piece of work the sheer audacity of which elicits a reaction that has more of the “How did they get away with that! ” about it.

Such a moment comes today from [Robinlol], who has made an SD card socket. Why would you make an SD card socket when you could buy one is unclear, beyond that he didn’t want to buy one on an Arduino shield and considered manufacture his only option. Taking some pieces of wood, popsicle sticks, and paperclips, he proceeded to create a working SD card of such bodgeworthy briliance that even though it is frankly awful we still can’t help admiring it. It’s an SD card holder, and despite looking like a bunch of bent paperclips stuck in some wood, it works. What more could you want from an SD card holder?

Paperclips are versatile items. If an SD card holder isn’t good enough, how about using them in a CNC build?

Giving A 6th Generation iPod A New Lease On Life

It can be disheartening when a favoured device begins to break-down. Afflicted by an all-but-dead battery and a fritzing-out hard drive, Redditor [cswimc] sensed the imminent doom creeping up on their 6th generation iPod, and responded by reviving and upgrading the decrepit device instead!

It’s no easy task to crack open one of these things, so they found themselves taking their time and carefully wedging the pry tool between the front and back covers, working their way around the exterior. Once separated, gingerly disconnecting the few ribbon cables allowed the iPod to be opened fully. From there, they turned to  swapping out the original hard drive for an iFlash dual SD card board — one of the cards turned out to be a dud, but 128GB is still a step up from 80GB — and a new 3000mAh battery. Combined with replacing the power-hungry HDD, the battery life has been overwhelmingly increased over the original’s 650mAh capacity!

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