Arduino IDE now boarding for all

ArduinoZeroThe Arduino IDE is heading into a rather neat consolidation of the numerous Arduino inspired boards out there. The introduction of a mechanism, in version 1.6.2, to allow people to plug their boards into the IDE easily is starting to snowball. To understand why this is important, before 1.6.2’s release if you had a custom board and the tools to make it work with the IDE, then to install them involved copying files into directories, editing files and crossing fingers (and being disappointed often). Anyone who used a lot of boards would find themselves with multiple copies of various versions of the IDE just to keep life simple.

It didn’t really register with me though that when the board manager arrived in the 1.6 version of the IDE how important this would be. Firstly, official board support can be diconnected from releases of the IDE. One of the most recent changes in the Arduino world is the adoption of the Adafruit Gemma as an Arduino board. The Gemma’s a tiny board ideal for wearables, but setting up the IDE was the same nonsense as described above. And then Arduino IDE 1.6.4 arrived with official support through the board manager.

But that wasn’t all. The officially supported boards can now be joined by unofficial board support – just enter a URL and boom – you are downloading the appropriate code for your new board. But what URLs are available you wonder. The Arduino folks give a link to unofficial board support URLs and there’s some interesting boards on there. Adafruit’s boards like the HUZZAH ESP8266*, the Ariadne bootloader for ethernet connected boards, a whole set of ATtiny boards…

And barebones Atmel controllers which means you can make and program devices for the close to the price of the chip, like the Shrimp. Oh, its an exciting time for Arduino…

*More on the HUZZAH when I get to pick some up in the US soon.
**Apologies for the low number of posts… trying to fix that.

Making Catchup: Node 0.10.6, Pi Power, Arduino IDE and adapting ESP8266s

makingcatchupNode-RED 0.10.6:  Nick O’Leary has announced Node-RED 0.10.6 with various changes to the editor, nodes and API. If you don’t know Node-RED, it’s a rather graphically splendid way of wiring the internet of stuff and stuff in general together – I did a few bits with it on here. With this release, there’s also a new command line administration tool for Node-RED so you can control nodes without having to restart the entire process…. and that uses an Admin API which is now stable and documented. There’s also been a switch in versioning to an easier to track odd/even (development/released) scheme. I’ll be getting back into Node-RED soon myself, ideally when it supports Node 0.12 – currently you’ll need a Node 0.10 to hand to run it.

MOAR PI POWAH: The Raspberry Pi 2 has a lot more power than the older version in terms of CPU, but those USB ports are still pretty power anaemic. By default the total power draw can be 600mA, tweakable in software to 1.2A. That tweakability led to this fine Hackaday hack which involves swapping some components on the board to get a full 2.1A to the USB ports, 500mA a port. The reason the USB is so weedy is good; the Pi is designed to be powered by a Micro-USB connector, so available power is that minus the CPU. Not a lot. And now you have a reason to buy a decent PSU for your Raspberry Pi. The official PSU pushes out 2A into the microUSB.

Arduino IDE gets its groove back: After ages spinning its wheels, the Arduino IDE 1.6 came out and surprised many people. Even more surprising is that its getting new features and quickly. In the March 28th release Arduino IDE 1.6.2, the latest features as a Library Manager which can install from Github repos and a board manager which should make adding new boards much easier. These have been two real pain points in the IDE so to see them addressed is great news. The really great news though was that by April 2nd, the team had released Arduino IDE 1.6.3 which addressed various bugs and responded positively to feedback making it even easier to adopt and use.

ESP8266 adapting: A breadboard adaptor design for an ESP8266 in Makezine since the little ****ers don’t like going into breadboards. Is anyone making these for sale in the UK? Let me know!

Making Catchup: ChainDuino, HackADay bits and Pi HATs

makingcatchupChainDuino: An interesting Arduino varient now gathering funds on Kickstarter is the ChainDuino project. Simply put it allows a number of Arduino-style microcontrollers to be chained together over CAT5 cable with that cable delivering power, using a passive Power over Ethernet mechanism, and communications, using RS-485.

This could be incredibly useful in creating a large area sensor net (current max, 32 boards) as it can stretch for up to quarter of a mile and there’s no need for power sockets along the entire length apart from where you inject the power. The ChainDuinos have two RJ45 ports on them for chaining or an IDC connector for cutting into a long uncut run of cable. That does mean there’s no space for USB on these boards so they’ll need programming over an FTDI(serial) connection… there’s no programming over the wire yet but its on the todo list. There’s also a Mega version of the board for more I/O and plans for a shield. An intruiging way of getting Arduino controllers connected.

HackADay bits: HackADay always has interesting stuff. Things that caught my attention this week are:
* the 68008 bootstrapped by an Uno – check out that breadboarding. It’s not a new technique a friend noted pointing out the Amstrad PCW8256’s Z80 was also bootstrapped from a microcontroller, the keyboard controller to be exact.
* a touch screen that balances balls – the ball rolls on the resistive touchscreen and an Arduino then rebalances it according to where it senses the ball.

Hats for Pis: Arduino’s have shields, BeagleBone’s have caps and Raspberry Pi’s have those-thingys-that-plug-onto-the-IO-pins. Well, thats how it was, but it seems the Pi folks have set out to change that with HATs – Hardware Attached on Top specifically for the Pi B+ with it’s 40 pin IO. The B+, unlike its stable mates, has mounting locations for screws with these add on boards and a specification for the board. So we get stability, physical and electrical. And now Adafruit are going all out prototyping HATs. Here’s a proto-board HAT, a GPS HAT, a TFT HAT, an Arcade HAT and a servo HAT… they aren’t available yet, but there’s going to be plenty of HATs to choose from in the future.

Qt 5.3 released, an OS in JS and Papilio’s FPGA power – Snippets

Qt 5.3: The folks at Digia seem to be keeping the Qt development pace up, and not forgetting to take a breather and getting the stability story right. The latest release, Qt 5.3 appears to be one of those breather releases with lots of fixes for the desktop platforms and a supported beta for the Windows 8 Runtime. There’s some new additions too; a QtQuickWidget lets Qt Quick UIs be embedded into older Qt Widget based applications for a smoother transition between the old to new development style and there’s now WebSockets support for plugging into more web applications. You’ll find all the open source tools and downloads on the Qt Project website.

Os.js: Every generation is doomed to reinvent the previous generation and here we have OS.js which looks to implement an entire desktop environment, within the browser, in JavaScript. Thats not to say its not interesting as the idea of having a desktop to your cloud isn’t without merit, especially so if the desktop is portable. There’s already a lot in the alpha version of the platform and it seems way more developed than similar projects I’ve encountered in the past. Window and file management, a GUI library, multi-user support, theming and applications such as Draw, Preview, Textpad and Writer make this a project worth looking at. There’s a demo online too and its all under what appears to be a BSD 2-clause licence.

Papilio:Just turning up on my radar, and I’m late to the party, is Papilio, a single board controller which looks like a turboed up Arduino but at its heart is not an Atmel chip but an FPGA chip. That FPGA can be configured with a soft clone of the AtMega chips and driven with the Arduino IDE or it can run a “ZPUino” configuration which works like an “Arduino on steroids” at 100Mhz.

The compatibility with Arduino isn’t the driver for the project though, its more of a stepping stone into FPGA programming. Videos on the site show the Papilo programmed to emulate the Pacman and Frogger motherboards with FPGA emulations of Z80s and other classic CPUs or getting the Papilo to emulate the SID chip from the Commodore 64. The chip, on the Pro version at least, is a Xilinx Spartan 6 LX FPGA – There’s a couple of boards and the UK supplier, SK Pang, offers the newer Pro for £80 inc VAT (and a slightly older, cheaper Paplio One 500K for around £65). A list of other regional distributors is also availble.

There’s also an expansions, such as the LogicStart MegaWing for getting into FPGA/VHDL development, the Arcade MegaWing for game emulation, the Retrocade MegaWing for audio/midi work and [and numerous single purpose “wings. It looks like there’s already a whole ecosystem for the budding FPGA hacker to dive into.

Arduino’s Zero Hero, Postgresql’s beta and fun small projects

ArduinoZeroArduino Zero: It’s looking like the next Arduino will be the focussed refresh we’ve been waiting for. Makezine has all the details on the Arduino Zero, announced at Makercon. It’s a 48Mhz ARM cored Atmel chip with 256KB flash memory, 32K SRAM and no EEPROM. There’s 12-bit ADCs, PWM on all digital pins, support for an embedded debugger, a second USB port (who knows!) and it’s all 3.3V. Looks super interesting, but the real questions will come when we find out how pricing works out and how hard it’ll be to use recreate the Zero from raw components. See also Arduino’s official announcement.

Postgresql’s new beta: There’s a Postgresql 9.4 beta out there now which doesn’t block when refreshing its neat materialised views, lets background workers be dynaminally registered, started and stopped and more. There’s also more structured support for JSON storage, a logical decoding system for streaming changes out to other systems and an ALTER SYSTEM command which lets you edit postgresql.conf from the SQL command line. One to keep an eye on.

Small projects: First up, a fun little project with a Raspberry Pi, Paho MQTT, Mosquitto, Python and Node-RED is also an excellent example of how easy it is to wire things up with MQTT. Second up, do you want to create a realistic landscape in JavaScript? You could try looking at this landscape generator which makes lovely ground shapes, The article even wraps up with some challenges for coders.

Python 3.4 lands, Bootstrap flattened, USB2go-on-a-phone and Doge2048 – Snippets

Python 3.4 is here: After many months of development, no changes to the language but lots of enhancements in the CPython implentation and standard library improvements, Python 3.4 has arrived. Before you dash off to the Python 3.4 download page, reflect for a moment that now Python now has pip as its bundled installer and should always be available or that there’s an OO API to filesystems (pathlib), a new async I/O API, support for enumeration types, fresh pickle and more and then go to the What’s new in Python 3.4 page to deeply meditate on all these and all the other changes. So far, it looks like a good solid update.

Bootflat: Like Bootstrap but wish the UI was flatter? Check out Bootflat and its flat UI reworking of Bootstrap 3.1. It’s on my list for making the UI stand out (or not, what with it being flat…)

USB2Go: Want to make Arduino-like gadgets that plug into your Android phone directly? USB2Go’s Kickkstarter may be of interest. A tiny Cortex-M3 ARM based board is at the heart of this project which hopes to deliver both the boards, Arduino shield adapters and more in October.

Doge vs 2048: Number matching games that slide are in since the appearance of Threes, then Fives, then came 2048 or let an AI play 2048 for you and finally… as memes do, it collides with another meme and we get Doge2048.

FreeBSD’s Journal, FreeNAS updates, Arduino’s on paper and extra bits – Snippets


FreeBSD Journal Edition One: The FreeBSD Journal has published its first digital edition for iPad, Android and Kindle devices. With 6 issues planned for each year, a $20 subscription and an editorial board drawn from the luminaries of the FreeBSD world, it looks like it has everything a FreeBSD fan could want. The first edition, themed around FreeBSD 10, has a five page look at that releases Clang support, ten pages on implementing system control nodes, a white paper on NYI’s use of FreeBSD as part of being an ISP, a six page guide to getting FreeBSD up and running on the BeagleBone Black, an article on ZFS and the future of storage and columns on the news from the ports tree, OS work and a look back on FreeBSD history.

FreeNAS gets an update: FreeNAS, the FreeBSD based NAS operating system, has had an update to 9.2.1, with upgraded SMB/CIFS support bring SMB3 by default, a switch from Avahi to mDNSresponder for better Mac support and around 189 bugs fixed.

Paperduino 2.0: Take a plotter, conductive ink, glossy photo paper and an ATmega328 and print your own Arduino with Paperduino 2.0! The folks behind the Circuit Scribe kickstarter wanted to demonstrate how far you could go with their inks and taking the original Paperduino as inspiration reworked the idea with surface mount components, conductive ink and superglue. Watch the video!

Extra bits: Node-RED and TinyTX boards being used for home monitoring. Gitbucket is a Github clone written in Scala with JGit underneath. Want FreeBSD on OpenStack? Check out bsd-cloudinit then.

Arduino/Raspberry Pi UNITE!, Node’s power ups and web video’s next battle – Snippets


  • Arduino and Pi Together At Last: The folks behind the fabulous BrickPi project have just kicked off a kickstarter for their next project, Arduberry. This time, they are making a board for the Raspberry Pi which gives the Pi compatibility with the world of Arduino shields. Actually, it adds a whole Arduino Uno to the Raspberry Pi and its going to open up a whole world of possibilities… board adapter, IO controller, compact teaching platform. It’s an open design and the kickstarter’s already funded but Pi owners everywhere will want to add one of these beasts; I’ve already backed the project and can’t wait to play when they deliver in (hopefully) May.

  • Coming in Node 0.12: Badly titled, but worth reading What’s New in Node.js 0.12 is a posting on the StrongLoop blog about what to look forward to when Node 0.12 arrives. As they point out, its been cooking for nine months but has speed ups for writable streams, TLS support, crypto algorithms, a less strained garbage collector, better cluster work allocation and improved timers. They also have a 15 minute video on more of whats going to land in 0.12.

  • Next-gen video royalties announced: The issue of royalties around h264 were core to the resistance to the standard that in turn led to the creation of VP8 and a stall in web video development while battle lines were drawn. Well, that battle is about to begin again with HEVC, the follow up standard to h264, but brings news of what those royalties will probably be. As the article says, the one to watch in this game is Google, who despite developing VP8 (and VP9, their open source HEVC competitor), sat on the pragmatic fence over h264, supporting both in a move which left the idealists at Mozilla out on a limb.

Game On! with Gameduino 2

beautySay you wanted to build a games machine with an Arduino at its core, you’d might be a trifle stuck with a stock Arduino. You could do a lot of the interfacing to controllers or the logic, but what about the display and sound. Well, previously you may have got a Gameduino which gave you 400×300 512 colour VGA output, hardware sprites and audio in a nifty Arduino shield. It is pure 8 bit epicness.

But that was back in 2011 and now the sequel is being kickstarted, Gameduino 2, and its a little cracker. With a smarter graphics engine, the FT800, it handles full 32 bit colour, JPEG loading in hardware and has what is described as an “OpenGL” style command set. Now it displays 480×272 in 24 bit colour and can handle 2000 sprites, rotated and scaled. It has 256KB of RAM and 6 sizes of font, 8 musical instruments and 10 percussion sounds already loaded into its ROM.

But where would you find a display for this device? As part of the Gameduino 2, there’s a 4.3″ touchscreen so you have that display and control surface you need for a modern game. It also has a 3 axis accelerometer for orientation-oriented gaming, a headphone jack for audio out and a microSD slot. It basically looks splendid and may even be the missing link in getting more kids into Arduinos – show them this playing games, then take it apart and show them how they can take control. Did I mention how the hardware and software is all open source too (BSD licensed), so ripe for hacking!

I’ll admit I’ve already backed the project – it has passed its $6700 goal and still has 28 days of kickstarter time to go. Now, who’s going to make a handheld case and power kit for this beast.