For those of us who are a little older, the 90s seem like they were just a few years ago. The younger folks might think that the 90s were ancient history though, and they might be right as we’ve been hearing more bands like Pearl Jam and The Offspring playing on the classic rock stations lately. Another example of how long ago the 90s were is taking a look at the technological progress that has happened since then through the lens of things like this webcam from 1999, presuming you load up this custom user space driver from [benjojo].
Thankfully the driver for this infamous webcam didn’t need to be built completely from scratch. There’s a legacy driver available for Windows XP which showed that the camera still physically worked, and there’s also a driver for Linux which was used as a foundation to start working from. From there a USB interface was set up which allowed communication to the device. Not a simple task, but apparently much easier than the next steps which involve actually interpreting the information coming from the webcam. This is where a background in digital signal processing is handy to have. First, the resolution and packet size were sorted out which led to a somewhat recognizable image. From there a single monochrome image was pieced together, and then after deconstructing a Bayer filter and adding color, the webcam is back to its former 90s glory.
[benjojo] has hosted all of the code for this project on a GitHub page for anyone who still has one of these webcams sitting around in the junk drawer. The resolution and color fidelity are about what we’d expect for a 25-year-old device that predates Skype, Facebook, Wikipedia, and Firefox. And, while there are still some things that need to be tweaked such as the colors, white balance, and exposure, once that is sorted out the 90s and early 00s nostalgia is free to flood in.
Choosing the perfect Linux distribution that satisfies your personal needs and likings can be an impossible task, and oftentimes requires a hint of Stockholm syndrome as compromise. In extreme cases, you might end up just rolling your own distro. But while frustration is always a great incentive for change, for [Josh Moore] it was rather curiosity and playful interest that led him to create snakeware, a Linux distribution where the entire user space not only runs on Python, but is Python.
Imagine you would boot your Linux system, and instead of the shell of your choice, you would be greeted by an interactive Python interpreter, and everything you do on the system will be within the realms of that interpreter — that’s the gist of snakeware. Now, this might sound rather limiting at first, but keep in mind we’re talking about Python here, a language known for its versatility, with an abundance of packages that get things done quick and easy, which is exactly what [Josh] is aiming for. To get an idea of that, snakeware also includes snakewm, a graphical user interface written with pygame that bundles a couple of simple applications as demonstration, including a terminal to execute Python one-liners.
Note that this is merely a proof of concept at this stage, but [Josh] is inviting everyone to contribute and extend his creation. If you want to give it a go without building the entire system, the GitHub repository has a prebuilt image to run in QEMU, and the window manager will run as regular Python application on your normal system, too. To get just a quick glimpse of it, check the demo video after the break.
Sure, die-hard Linux enthusiasts will hardly accept a distribution without their favorite shell and preferable language, but hey, at least it gets by without systemd. And while snakeware probably won’t compete with more established distributions in the near future, it’s certainly an interesting concept that embraces thinking outside the box and trying something different. It would definitely fit well on a business card.
[Ben Cox] found some interesting USB devices on eBay. The Epiphan VGA2USB LR accepts VGA video on one end and presents it as a USB webcam-like video signal on the other. Never have to haul a VGA monitor out again? Sounds good to us! The devices are old and abandoned hardware, but they do claim Linux support, so one BUY button mash later and [Ben] was waiting patiently for them in the mail.
But when they did arrive, the devices didn’t enumerate as a USB UVC video device as expected. The vendor has a custom driver, support for which ended in Linux 4.9 — meaning none of [Ben]’s machines would run it. By now [Ben] was curious about how all this worked and began digging, aiming to create a userspace driver for the device. He was successful, and with his usual detail [Ben] explains not only the process he followed to troubleshoot the problem but also how these devices (and his driver) work. Skip to the end of the project page for the summary, but the whole thing is worth a read.
The resulting driver is not optimized, but will do about 7 fps. [Ben] even rigged up a small web server inside the driver to present a simple interface for the video in a pinch. It can even record its output to a video file, which is awfully handy. The code is available on his GitHub repository, so give it a look and maybe head to eBay for a bit of bargain-hunting of your own.