Hacking embedded day 2014

Monday, May 26th, 2014

Once again our gracious sponsor Enea hosted an embedded hacking day arranged through foss-sthlm – the third time in three years at the same place with the same host. Fifty something happy hackers brought their boards, devices, screens, laptops and way too many cables to the place on a Saturday to spend it in the name of embedded systems. With no admission fee at all. Just bring your stuff, your skills and enjoy the day.

This happened on May 24th and on the outside of the windows we could identify one of the warmest and nicest spring/summer days so far this year in Stockholm. But hey, if you want to get some fun hacks done we mustn’t let those real-world things hamper us!

the room

All attendees were given atshirt tshirt and then they found themselves a spot somewhere in the crowd and the socializing and hacking could start. I got the pleasure of loudly interrupting everyone once in a while to say welcome or point out that a talk was about to begin…

We also collected random fun hardware pieces donated to us by various people for a hardware raffle. More about that further down.

Talk

To spice up the day of hacking, we offered some talks. First out was…

Bluetooth and Low Power radio by  Mats Karlsson and during this session we got to learn a bunch about hacking extremely low power devices and doing radio for them with Arduinos and more.

Mats talks bluetooth

We hadn’t much more than started but the clock showed lunch time and we were served lunch!

Contest

Readers of my blog and previous attendees of any of the embedded hacking days I’ve been organizing should be familiar with the embedded Linux contests I’ve made.

Lately I’ve added a new twist to my setup and I tested it previously when I visited foss-gbg and ran a contest there.

Basically it is a complicated maze/track that you walk through by answering questions, and when you reach the goal you have collected a set of words along the way. Those words should then be rearranged to form a question and that final question should be answered as fast as possible.

Daniel explains

Since I already blogged and publicized my previous “Parallell Spaghetti Decode” contest I of course had a new map this time and I altered the set questions a bit as well, even if participants in the latter can find similarities in the previous one. This kind of contest is a bit complicated so for this I hand out the play field and the questions on two pieces of paper to each participant.

After only a little over seven minutes we had a winner, Yann Vernier, who could walk home with a brand new Nexus 7 32GB. The prize was, as so much else this day, donated by Enea.

Hardware Raffle

I donated my Arduino Nano (never even unpacked) and a Raspberry Pi with SD-card that I never use. Enea pooled in with a Parallella board and we got an RFduino and a Texas Instrument Stellaris ARM-based little round robot. The Parallella board was the by far most popular device (as expected really) with the Stellaris board as second. Only 12 people signed up for the Rpi…

Parallella board

Everyone who was interested in one of the 5 devices signed up on a list, marking each thing of interest.

.Stellaris

We then put little pieces of paper with numbers on them in a big bowl and I got to draw 5 numbers (representing different individuals) who then won the devices. It of course turned out we did it in a complicated way that I had did some minor mistakes in to add to the fun. In the end I believe it was at least a fair process that didn’t give any favors or weight in any particular way. I believe we got 5 happy winners.

Workshop

“How to select hardware” was the name of the workshop I lead. Basically it was a one hour group discussion around how to buy, find, order, deal with, not do, avoid when looking for hardware for your (hobby) project. Discussions around brands, companies, sites, buying from China or Ebay, reading reviews, writing reviews, how people do when they buy things when building stuff of their own.

Workshop attendees

I think we had some good talks and lots of people shared their experiences, stories and some horror stories. Hopefully we all brought a little something with us back from that…

muffins

After that we refilled our coffee mugs and indulged in the huge and tasty muffins that magically had appeared.

Something we had learned from previous events was to not “pack” too many talks and other things during the day but to also allow everyone to really spend time on getting things done and to just stroll around and talk with others.

Instead of a third slot for a talk or another workshop we had a little wishlist in our wiki for the day, and as a result I managed to bully Björn Stenberg to the room where he then described his automated system for his warming cupboard (värmeskåp) which basically is a place to dry clothes. Björn has perfected his cupboard’s ability to dry clothes and also shut off/tell him when they are dry and not waste energy by keep on warming using damp sensors, Arduinos and more.

Bjorn's controller box

With that we were in the final sprint for the day. The last commits were made. The final bragging comments described blinking leds. Cables were detached. Bags were filled will electronics. People started to drop off.

Only a few brave souls stayed to the very end. And they celebrated in style.

Jämtlands IPA

I had a great day, and I received several positive comments and feedback from participants. I hope we’ll run a similar event again soon, it’d be great to keep this an annual tradition.

The pictures in this blog post are taken by: me, Jon Aldama, Annica Spangholt, Magnus Sandberg and Jämtlands bryggerier. Thanks! More pictures can also be found in Enea’s blog posting and in the Google+ event.

Thanks also to Jon, Annica and Sofie for the hard hosting work during the event. It made everything run smooth and without any bumps!

Rpi night in GBG

Thursday, November 21st, 2013

pelagicore logo

Daniel talking So I flew down to and participated at yet another embedded Linux hacking event that was also co-organized by me, that took place yesterday (November 20th 2013) in Gothenburg Sweden.

The event was hosted by Pelagicore in their nice downtown facilities and it was fully signed up with some 28 attendees.

I held a talk about the current situation of real-time and low latency in the Linux kernel, a variation of a talk I’ve done before and even if I have modified it since before you can still get the gist of it on this old slideshare upload. As you can see on the photo I can do hand-wavy gestures while talking! When I finally shut up, we were fed tasty sandwiches and there was some time to socialize and actually hack on some stuff.

Embedded Linux hackers in GBG

I then continued my tradition and held a contest. This time I did raise the complexity level a bit as I decided I wanted a game with more challenges and something that feels less like a quiz and more like a game or a maze. See my separate post for full details and for your chance to test your skills.

This event was also nicely synced in time with the recent introduction of the foss-gbg mailing list, which is an effort to gather people in the area that have an interest in Free and Open Source Software. Much in the same way foss-sthlm was made a couple of years ago.

Pelagicore also handed out 9 Raspberry Pis at the event to lucky attendees.

Embedded and Raspberry Pis in GBG

Thursday, November 7th, 2013

Kjell Ericson's blinking leds

On November 20, we’ll gather a bunch of interested people in the same room and talk embedded Linux, open source and related matters. I’ll do a talk about real-time in Linux and I’ll run a contest in the same spirit as I’ve done before several times.

Sign-up here!

Pelagicore is hosting and sponsoring everything. I’ll mostly just show up and do what I always do: talk a lot.

So if you live in the area and are into open source and possibly embedded, do show up and I can promise you a good time.

(The photo is actually taken during one of our previous embedded hacking events.)

Another embedded hacking day

Monday, June 3rd, 2013

enea We started off this second embedded hacking day (the first one being the one we had in October) when I sent out the invitation email on April 22nd asking people to sign up. We limited the number of participants to 40, and within two hours all seats had been taken! Later on I handed out more tickets so we ended up with 49 people on the list and interestingly enough only 13 of these were signed up for the previous event as well so there were quite a lot of newcomers.Daniel Stenberg, a penguin

Arrival

At 10 in the morning on Saturday June 1st, the first people had already arrived and more visitors were dropping in one by one. They would get a goodie-bag from our gracious host with t-shirt (it is the black one you can see me wearing on the penguin picture on the left), some information and a giveaway thing. This time we unfortunately did not have a single female among the attendees, but the all-male crowd would spread out in the room and find seating, power and switches to use. People brought their laptops and we soon could see a very wide range of different devices, development boards and early design ideas showing up on the tables. Blinking leds and cables everywhere. Exactly the way we like it!

A table full of hackers and equipment!

Giveaway

A USB wifi thing

We decided pretty early on the planning for this event that we wouldn’t give away a Raspberry Pi again like we did last time. Not that it was a bad thing to give away, it was actually just a perfect gift, but simply because we had already done that and wanted to do something else and we reasoned that by now a lot of this audience already have a Raspberry pi or similar device.

So, we then came up with a little device that could improve your Raspberry Pi or similar board: a USB wifi thing with Linux drivers so that you easily can add wifi capabilities to your toy projects!

And in order to provide something that you can actually hack on during the event, we decided to give away an Arduino Nano version. Unfortunately, the delivery gods were not with us or perhaps we had forgot to sacrifice the correct animal or something, so this second piece didn’t arrive in time. Instead we gathered people’s postal addresseAns and once the package arrives in a couple of days we will send it out to all attendees. Sort of a little bonus present afterwards. Not the ideal situation, but hey, we did our best and I think this is at least a decent work-around.

So the fun begun

In the big conference room next to the large common room, I said welcome to everyone at 11:00 before I handed over to Magnus from Xilinx to talk about Xilinx Zynq and combining ARM and FPGAs. Magnus Lindblad, Xilinx The crowd proved itself from the first minute and Magnus got a flood of questions immediately. Possibly it was also due to the lovely combo that Magnus is primarily a HW-guy while the audience perhaps was mostly SW-persons but with an interest in lowlevel stuff and HW and how to optimize embedded systems etc.

Audience listening to Magnus

After this initial talk, lunch was served.

Contest

I got lots of positive feedback the last time on the contest I made then, so I made one this time around as well and it was fun again. See my separate post on the contest details.

Flying

After the dust had settled and everyones’ pulses had started to go back to normal again after the contest, Björn Stenberg “took the stage” at 14:00 and educated us all in how you can use 7 Arduinos when flying an R/C plane.

Björn talks about open source flying

Modellflyg med open source from bjornhaxx

Björn Stenberg, a penguin

It seemed as if Björn’s talk really hit home among many people in the audience and there was much talking and extra interest in Björn’s large pile of electronics and “stuff” that he had brought with him to show off. The final video Björn showed during his talk can be found here.

Stuff to eat

Buns for the masses!People actually want to get something done too during a day like this so we can’t make it all filled up with talks. Enea provided candy, drinks and buns. And of course coffee and water during the entire day.

Even with buns and several coffee refills, I think people were slowly getting soft in their brains when the afternoon struck and to really make people wake up, we hit them with Erik Alapää’s excellent talk…

Aliasing in C and C++

Or as Erik specified the full title: “Aliasing in C99/C++11 and data transfer between hard real-time systems on modern RISC processors”…

Erik helped put the light on some sides of the C programming language that perhaps aren’t the most used or understood. How aliasing can be used and what pitfalls it can send us down into!

Erik Alapää on C aliasing

Kjell Ericson's blinking ledsPersonally I don’t really had a lot of time or comfort to get much done this day other than making sure everything ran smooth and that everyone was happy and the schedule was kept. My original hopes was to get some time to do some debugging on a few of my projects during the day but I failed that ambition…

We made sure to videofilm all the talks so we should hopefully be able to provide online versions of them later on.

Real-time Linux

I took the last speaker slot for the day. I think lots of brains were soft by then, and a few people had already started to drop off. I talked for a while generically about how the real-time problem (or perhaps low-latency) is being handled with Linux these days and explained a bit about PREEMPT_RT and full dynamic ticks and what the differences of the methods are.

Daniel Stenberg talks Real-time Linux

Overview of Linux real-time challenges from Daniel Stenberg

The end

At 20:00 we forced everyone out of the facilities. A small team of us grabbed a bite and a couple of beers to digest the day and to yap just a little bit more before we split up for the evening and took off home…

Thank you everyone who was there for making it another great event. Thank you all speakers for giving the event the extra brightness! Thank you Enea for sponsoring, hosting and providing all the goodies in such an elegant manner! It is indeed possible that we make a 3rd embedded hacking day in the future…

Embedded hacking contest #2, decoded

Monday, June 3rd, 2013

Okay, so here are the correct answers to the embedded hacking #2 contest (click for larger pictures):

The contests correct answers marked

The fact that you get the clues as hexadecimal uppercase ASCII was pretty quickly clear to everybody. I found it interesting to hear how people attacked the problem of decoding the hex into letters. Most people seem to have made a lookup-table fairly soon, and at least one contestant I talked to made a mistake in his table that turned W into X instead! This year’s winner did the conversion completely without a written down table…

So all the pieces are decoded like this:

The final question

Of course, now a pedant would argue that FORK() isn’t correct, but I decided to use all uppercase just to make the conversion slightly easier. At least I think converting only uppercase ASCII as hex is easier. So the question is “What does fork() return in the child process?”

The answer to the question is 0 (zero). Short and simple. See fork’s man page.

Linus Nielsen Feltzing is the happy winner!

After 13 minutes and 20 seconds since I clicked start on the timer, Linus Nielsen Feltzing approached me with a little note with the correct answer and we had a winner!

The very happy Linus was very disappointed in the previous competition when he was very close to winning but was beaten just within seconds by last time’s winner.

Now, the Chromebook that Enea donated to the winner of the contest was handed over to Linus. (The Samsung Cortex-A15 version.)

Embedded hacking contest #2

Monday, June 3rd, 2013

eneaI created another contest for the Embedded hacking event we just pulled off again, organized with foss-sthlm and Enea. Remember that I made one previously at our former hacking day?

The lesson from that time was that the puzzle ingredient then was slightly too difficult so people had to work a bit too long. It made many people give up and the ones who didn’t had to spend a significant time on solving it.

This time, I decided to use the same basic principle: ask N questions that all provide hints for the (N+1)th question, so that the first one to give me the answer to that final question is the winner. It makes it very easy for me to judge and it is a rather neat competition style game. I decided 10 questions should be enough.

To reduce some of the complexity from last time, I decided to provide the individual clues in the correct chronological order but instead add another twist: they aren’t in plain text! But since they’re chronological, the participants can go back and quite “easily” try other alternatives if there are some strange words appearing in the output. I made sure that all alternatives always have fine English alternatives so that if you pick the wrong answer it might still sound or look like English for a while…

I was very happy to see over 30 persons in the room that decided to accept the challenge. I suspect the prize did its part in attracting people to give it a go.

The rules in slightly longer terms as I put them (click it to see a higher resolution version):

the rules

And I clarified how the questions work:

the-questions

I then started my timer, and I showed all the questions on the projector to everyone. I gave them around 40 seconds per question. It thus took almost seven minutes to go through them and then I left a final slide up showing all questions:

The 10 questions

To allow readers to give this contest a go first before checking the answers. See the full answer and explanation.

A room full of competitive hackers

USB converter woes

Thursday, April 16th, 2009

USB to rs232 converters are just never sold properly advertising what chip’s inside and right now I want to know if this one UART I’m working with perhaps is not playing fine with my existing converter cable.

I have this XScale PXA270 on a toradex-colibriboard, and it has only one full featured RS232 (FFUART) and I’m about to move things over to the lesser featured BTUART.

A theory is that my current USB converter that is based on a “Prolific PL2303″ doesn’t play nicely on the serial port that isn’t a full RS232.

So I ran off and bought a new cable. I grabbed the only model I found in my local Kjell & Company store – it’s quite different looking than my existing but there’s no hint anywhere on the package or inside of it that says what chipset that empowers it.

A quick drive back home (I’m working from home in this assignment), I plugged it in and I got to see this depressingly familiar dmesg output:

usbcore: registered new interface driver usbserial
usbserial: USB Serial support registered for generic
usbcore: registered new interface driver usbserial_generic
usbserial: USB Serial Driver core
usbserial: USB Serial support registered for pl2303
pl2303 2-2.4:1.0: pl2303 converter detected
usb 2-2.4: pl2303 converter now attached to ttyUSB0
usbcore: registered new interface driver pl2303
pl2303: Prolific PL2303 USB to serial adaptor driver

So what now? I hate how (my) computers these days don’t have serial ports while the entire embedded world still very much uses them. I think I’ll go searching in my closet to see if I can find an old crap computer with a serial port to try.

Another theory is that the port simply is broken hw-wise on the dev board but that’s harder to check for me right now.

Update: it was (as usual) only my stupidity that prevented this from working. If I switch it over to the correct baudrate the usb converter does fine. But before I found that out, I did find a computer with a serial port and I did see it working on that too…

uclinux is weird

Saturday, January 19th, 2008

I do a lot of work on various types of embedded systems. Professionally I’ve been working more or less exclusively with embedded development since 1996 (pSOS, VxWorks, OS9000, etc) and privately I hack a lot on Rockbox. The embedded work of mine has grown to become pure Linux-based since around the year 2000.

I’ve worked with (embedded) Linux on more than 10 different chip families, using cores such as x86, AMD64, ARM9, StrongARM, XScale, PPC, MIPS, SH4, m68k, MicroBlaze, Nios II etc.

And this is what I’ve learned: uClinux is weird.

I’ll of course admit that the fact that uclinux is currently more or less integrated into the regular kernel development is a good thing and all, and even though I haven’t done much uclinux hacking with older kernels I bet things were worse before.

The problem with uClinux that I think is the major obstacle is their build system. Oh wait, perhaps the problem is actually two: the first being that they ship as an entire distribution with kernel and tools and stuff all lumped together instead of doing it like all the other embedded (real) Linuxes do: assume that people fix their kernel in one go and the entire rest of the user-land universe in a separate tree.

Anyway, what’s the actual problem is the build system. There’s no scattered Kconfig files that you’d expect if you based a build on that concept, and it is really hard to figure out where to poke to change a build to do what you want. Then, there’s a top-level make that take ages and runs through all sorts of hoops even when there’s nothing at all changed. Not to mention that it alerts about make -j “sometimes not working”. In a recent project of mine I learned that I usually had to run make twice(!) in the uclinux-dist directory to be really sure that the output image was correctly made!

Unfortunately, I’ve not been able to dig into this issue properly to work on or suggest proper fixes but I hope that I will one day. Of course a factor in all this is that many people (like the entire embedded Linux universe) use very old versions of the packages so fixes can have been made in the recent years(!) without them having yet get absorbed at many companies.

So the truth is: I do recommend customers to go “full”, “real” Linux not only for the powers a real MMU gives but also for the more mature and nicer build environments.