Linux Fu: Moving /usr

Linux has changed. Originally inspired by Unix, there were certain well understood but not well enforced rules that everyone understood. Programs did small things and used pipes to communicate. X Windows servers didn’t always run on your local machine. Nothing in /usr contributed to booting up the system.

These days, we have systemd controlling everything. If you run Chrome on one display, it is locked to that display and it really wants that to be the local video card. And moving /usr to another partition will easily prevent you from booting up, unless you take precautions. I moved /usr and I lived to tell about it. If you ever need to do it, you’ll want to hear my story.

A lot of people are critical of systemd — including me — but really it isn’t systemd’s fault. It is the loss of these principles as we get more programmers and many of them are influenced by other systems where things work differently. I’m not just ranting, though. I recently had an experience that brought all this to mind and, along the way, I learned a few things about the modern state of the boot process. The story starts with a friend giving me an Intel Compute Stick. But the problems I had were not specific to that hardware, but rather how modern Linux distributions manage their start-up process.

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Trampoline Bounce Counter Has Raspberry Pi Automate Away Your Parental Duties

If you have a toddler and a mini-tramp you know the rallying cry of “Mama, Count!”. If you don’t don’t have either of these things, become the hero uncle or aunt by building one for your family members who have been social distancing with a three-year-old monster bundle of joy for the last five weeks. This trampoline bounce counter uses a Raspberry Pi and a distance sensor to stream the bounce count to a nice little web GUI.

The hardware couldn’t be more simple, and there’s a good chance you already have everything on hand. The HC-SR04 ultrasonic distance sensor is a staple in beginner microcontroller kits. It simply lays on the floor pointed up at the bottom of the trampoline, connected to a Raspberry Pi via a resistor divider.

The software is where [Eric Escobar’s] project makes your life easy. He’s included a simple calibration routine that marks the low point of a bounce as you stand still on the tramp. There’s even a systemd service file included to ensure the software is always running, even after reboot. Cumulative bounce count can be seen on a webpage served from the Pi via an AJAX script.

Having a running count is a great first step, and surely a magical new feature of the trampoline that will be loved by the little ones. If that sense of wonder runs out, you could always gamify the system by adding in daily or hourly totals and a high-scores board.

It seems [Eric] is well practiced at automating his responsibilities away. We previously saw him use a Raspberry Pi to control the door of his chicken coop.

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Multiple 3D Printers, And One Pi To Rule Them All

If you’ve got a desktop 3D printer, there’s an excellent chance you’ve heard of OctoPrint. This web front-end, usually running on a Raspberry Pi, allows you to monitor and control the printer over the network from any device that has a browser. But what if you’ve got two printers? Or 20? The logistics of each printer getting its own Pi can get uncomfortable in a hurry, which is why [Jay Doscher] has been working on a way to simplify things.

Leveraging the boosted processing power of the Raspberry Pi 4 and some good old fashioned Linux trickery, [Jay] is now controlling multiple printers from a single device. The trick is to run multiple instances of the OctoPrint backend and assign them to virtual network interfaces so they don’t interfere with each other. This takes some custom systemd unit files to get up and running on Raspbian, which he’s been kind enough to include them in the write-up.

But getting multiple copies of OctoPrint running on the Pi is only half the battle. There still needs to be a way to sort out which printer is which. Under normal circumstances, the printers would be assigned random virtual serial ports when the Pi booted. To prevent any confusion, [Jay] explains how you can use custom udev rules to make sure that each printer gets its own unique device node. Even if you aren’t trying to wrangle multiple 3D printers, this is a useful trick should you find yourself struggling to keep track of your USB gadgets.

If you’re wondering why [Jay] needs to have so many 3D printers going at the same time, we hear they’ve been keeping rather busy running off parts for commissioned copies of his popular projects. Something to consider the next time you’re wondering if there’s a way to make a happy buck out of this little hobby of ours, folks.

Pack Your Bags – Systemd Is Taking You To A New Home

Home directories have been a fundamental part on any Unixy system since day one. They’re such a basic element, we usually don’t give them much thought. And why would we? From a low level point of view, whatever location $HOME is pointing to, is a directory just like any other of the countless ones you will find on the system — apart from maybe being located on its own disk partition. Home directories are so unspectacular in their nature, it wouldn’t usually cross anyone’s mind to even consider to change anything about them. And then there’s Lennart Poettering.

In case you’re not familiar with the name, he is the main developer behind the systemd init system, which has nowadays been adopted by the majority of Linux distributions as replacement for its oldschool, Unix-style init-system predecessors, essentially changing everything we knew about the system boot process. Not only did this change personally insult every single Perl-loving, Ken-Thompson-action-figure-owning grey beard, it engendered contempt towards systemd and Lennart himself that approaches Nickelback level. At this point, it probably doesn’t matter anymore what he does next, haters gonna hate. So who better than him to disrupt everything we know about home directories? Where you _live_?

Although, home directories are just one part of the equation that his latest creation — the systemd-homed project — is going to make people hate him even more tackle. The big picture is really more about the whole concept of user management as we know it, which sounds bold and scary, but which in its current state is also a lot more flawed than we might realize. So let’s have a look at what it’s all about, the motivation behind homed, the problems it’s going to both solve and raise, and how it’s maybe time to leave some outdated philosophies behind us.

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DJ Xiaomi Spins Beats And Brushes At The Same Time

Direct from the “Just Because I Can” department, this blog post by [Eddie Zhang] shows us how easy it is to get the Xiaomi robotic vacuum cleaner working as what might be the world’s most unnecessary Spotify Connect speaker. Will your home be the next to play host to an impromptu performance by DJ Xiaomi? Judging by the audio quality demonstrated in the video after the break, we doubt it. But this trick does give us a fascinating look at the current state of vacuum hacking.

For the first phase of this hack, [Eddie] makes use of Dustcloud, an ongoing project to document and reverse engineer various Xiaomi smart home gadgets. Using the information provided there you can get root-level SSH access to your vacuum cleaner and install your own software. There’s a sentence you never thought you’d read, right?

With the vacuum rooted, [Eddie] then installs a Spotify Connect client intended for the Raspberry Pi. As they’re both ARM devices, the software will run on the Xiaomi bot well enough, but the Linux environment needs a little tweaking. Namely, you need to manually create an Upstart .conf file for the service, as the vacuum doesn’t have systemd installed. There goes another one of those unexpected sentences.

We’re certainly no stranger to robotic vacuum hacking, though historically the iRobot Roomba has been the target platform for such mischief. Other players entering the field can only mean good things for those of us who get a kick out of seeing home appliances pushed outside of their comfort zones.

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Raspberry Pi Streams Music Using Only The Default Linux Tools

Getting a  home music streaming system off the ground is typically a straightforward task. Using Apple devices with Airplay makes this task trivial, but if you’re a computing purist like [Connor] who runs a Linux machine and wants to keep it light on extra packages, the task gets complicated quickly. His goal is to bring audio streaming to all Linux platforms without the need to install a lot of extra software. This approach is friendly to light-footprint devices like the Raspberry Pi that he used in his proof of concept.

[Connor] created a set of scripts which allow streaming from any UNIX (or UNIX-like) machines, using only dependencies that a typical OS install would already have. His Raspberry Pi is the base station and streams to his laptop, but he notes that this will work between virtually any UNIX or Linux machine. The only limitation is what FFmpeg can or can’t play.

We definitely can appreciate a principled approach to software and its use, although it does seem that most people don’t have this issue at the forefront of their minds. This results in a lot of software that is bulky, making it difficult to maintain, use, or even know what it does, and also makes it harder for those of us that don’t want to use that type of software to find working solutions to other problems. It’s noble that [Connor] was able to create something without sacrificing any principles.

Linux Fu: Easier File Watching

In an earlier installment of Linux Fu, I mentioned how you can use inotifywait to efficiently watch for file system changes. The comments had a lot of alternative ways to do the same job, which is great. But there was one very easy-to-use tool that didn’t show up, so I wanted to talk about it. That tool is entr. It isn’t as versatile, but it is easy to use and covers a lot of common use cases where you want some action to occur when a file changes.

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