ESP8266 – little board, lotta Wi-Fi

An ESPToy
An ESPtoy (the ESP8266 is the little blue board) from RaysHobby.net
Lots going on with the intriguing ESP8266 board. Coming out of China with no english documentation, this tiny board has the brains to run Lua and connect to WiFi, manage some GPIO and all it takes is… a lot of fiddling. As time has gone But for $2 on ebay, you can get hacking the firmware, flashing exisitng firmwarefrom Windows like nodemcu (thats the one with the lua) or just have fun running it as a serial controlled Wi-Fi adapter.

Folks have been learning what the card needs and is capable of like working with MQTT and relays and attaching OLED displays. The smallest version of the board has two GPIO pins, so it’s a bit tricky to think up what you can do with them, but there are bigger versions out there with more GPIO pins and, one assumes, more capabilities.

So, if you wanted to start playing with an ES8266? Well, you could just get a board and start with that; there’s plenty of reference material in the links in this article or look at this instructable on using the board. Or if you want to see what it’s like without mastering supplying a 3.3V rail, then check out the ESPtoy from RaysHobby.net which is a custom 3.3V Arduino with light sensor, temp sensor and RGB LED into which you can plug an ESP8266 and get hacking. There’s oodles of neatness about that board… why yes, I did just order one.

And an unrelated aside – Debian 7.8.8: If you’ve kept your Debian Wheezy up to date, you don’t need this, but if you have your own Debian install media you’ll want to know there’s a Debian 7.8.8 update that will freshed your flash drives and dolly up your DVDs.

Tails goes 1.0, Debian goes 7.5 and Apache OO goes 4.1

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Tails 1.0: The developers of Tails, the Linux distro built for anonymity and privacy, have declared the latest version Tails 1.0. Tails wires all its networking through Tor and leaves no traces on machines where its been livebooted. Its ideal in situations where you want your digital footprint minimised. Version 1.0 sees browser updates, Tor patches including a Heartbleed vulnerable blacklist, bug fixes and a new logo for the project. The announcement also lays out plans for 1.1 (A switch to Debian 7), 2.0 (better building for a longer life) and 3.0 (sandboxing and isolation) and invites developers to contribute… it is a project which has got some great reviews.

Debian 7.5: Talking about Debian, the latest bugfix and patch rollup release, Debian 7.5 has just arrived. If you keep your Debian system up to date, you’re already good, but if you install a lot of systems from spinning or stickish media then you may want to take this opportunity to update your images. Full details of the fixes, bug and security, are in the announcement.

Apache OpenOffice 4.1: The Apache OpenOffice project has announced AOo 4.1, the latest iteration in the direct descendent of the original OpenOffice. The release notes highlight the Windows version’s IAccessible2 support for better screen reader integration and the addition of comments and annotations for text ranges. In place field editing, interactive cropping, unified import/drag/drop for images, better vectors and new (Bulgarian, Danish, Hebrew, Hindi, Thai and Norwegian Bokmal) translations and other updated translations and dictionaries. Also, behind the scenes, AOo now uses NSS libraries rather than the older Mozilla networking code so that it is a bit more secure and a lot easier to build.

QEMU, Retro, Crypto, Debian 6 and Hello to Bundy – Snippets

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QEMU 2.0.0: The QEMU emulator and virtualiser has reached version 2.0.0 with its latest release. QEMU provides the emulation of one machine on another or, when provide that more authentic environment in a virtual machine There’s lots new, like the first support for KVM on AArch64 (but plenty still to implement) and support for the 64-bit ARMV8 instructions (and other 32-bit ARM enhancements) – things likely to become important as the desktop class 64-bit ARM chippery makes a play for the server and desktop space. The rest of the many details are laid out in the changelog and it can be downloaded from the usual place.

Retro PCs and Terminals: Love the old stylee but need the new power? Check out this 70s terminal PC which evokes that ethos. The instructable for how to build one is in development. While pondering that, check out the story of the Meyrin font which recreates the CERN Terminal font for your pleasure.

Cryptic: Do the manipulations of ciphers make you put the cry into cryptography? You may want to do a course on the subject so why not check out this Coursera course and learn about symmetric key crypto and more.

Debian 6 goes on: LWN reports that Debian 6 is getting another two years (nearly) of support – Squeeze-LTS is for i386 and AMD64 and won’t cover all packages in the latter part of the five year lifespan.

Bind 10 becomes Bundy: It seems that ISC have wrapped up development on Bind 10 with version 1.2 and will be heading back to marketing and developing Bind 9. Bind 10 is being renamed to Bundy and so we shall follow @bundydns on Twitter and see what the first release of Bundy brings.

Bigger BeagleBone Blacks and Thoughts on Raspberry Pi’s Module

The Embest BeagleBone Black looks like it'll be appearing outside China now
The Embest BeagleBone Black looks like it’ll be appearing outside China now

Bigger BeagleBone Blacks

It’s been hard to get the BeagleBone Black(BBB); limited production capabilities have fought with some big adoption stories. If you are unfamiliar with the BBB, its a small board computer in the same size factor as the Raspberry Pi, but with eMMC storage, micro-SD slot and lots of I/O pins – what it lacks in media player cores, it makes up for in clock speed.
Thats “hard to get” nature is about to change though according to a blog post. Production is being ramped up at CircuitCo where they are also upping the storage from 2GB to 4GB which will give more breathing space to the new Debian distribution being shipped on the eMMC of BeagleBones, replacing the previous default Angstrom Linux. The upgraded boards will be referred to as Rev C BBBs. The price will likely be going up to cover the extra memory and production ramp-up but with a back-orders for 150,000 units, CircuitCo are going to be busy.

There’s also a new logo program for the BeagleBone line with Farnell/Element14 being the exclusive licensee. They don’t need to work out how to make BBBs though, for the last year their subsidiary Embest has been selling their own version but only in China. The logo program means they’ll be able to sell globally and it should see even more BeagleBone Blacks out there.

Thoughts on Raspberry Pi’s Module

You’ll have most likely seen the announcement of Raspberry Pi’s SO-DIMM sized module which incorporates the Pi’s SoC with 4GB of eMMC storage on a stick for popping into custom designed boards to provide compute power. That eMMC storage is more than just standing in for an SD card; its fast and having used devices with eMMC storage its a great upgrade.

Right now, the Foundation is pushing this as a way to bring the Pi ecosystem to the world of embedded devices. But are they missing a trick? Alongside the Compute Module is a Generic I/O board(pdf) which brings out most of the pins in a more accessible fashion. That means you can plug in HDMI, USB, two camera ports and two display connectors – not on the I/O board is the Ethernet port, implemented on the Pi as a USB device, and SD card slot.

It got me wondering though… what about a Pi Board for the module which made up for that gap, maybe even put WiFi on board. Packaged right, the Compute Module could be used with it to give an upgradable “Pi Pro”. But would you want a Pi Pro? What more would it need to make it distinctly better from the Pi.

Over in China, there’s companies who’ve already decided what they want in their own improved “Pi” – take the Banana Pi with a dual core AllWinner A20 CPU, gigabit Ethernet, SATA interface, IR reciever, three programmable buttons on board and all in a package the same size and layout of the Pi, including having the IO pins in the same location. Sounds super, all it lacks is one killer feature – anywhere to buy it from.

Systemd dominates and Debian, Ubuntu, Git updates – Linux Snippets

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Systemd – the d is for dominates: The Debian Technical Committee decided that, after quite a bumpy process, that it would follow Fedora, Arch Linux, Mageia and openSUSE in planning to switch to systemd in the next release. The Debian change rippled down to Ubuntu where, probably sooner than anyone anticipated, Mark Shuttleworth announced that Ubuntu would switch too.

Upstart, Canonical’s own init, will continue to be supported, especially as the forthcoming 14.04 LTS edition will ship with it. The Debian systemd decision was also applauded by Scott James Remnant, creator of Upstart. Systemd seems to be worthy of its elevation though I fully expect forks of distros to “maintain SysV init purity” while other noise to at least begins to die down.

Debian 6.0.9: As is their way, the Debian crew also released Debian 6.0.9, the latest roll up of all the bug and security fixes that have already gone into Debian systems. If you install Debian a lot, you may want to update your install media, but old Debian media will update to this version anyway.

Ubuntu 12.04.4 LTS: Meanwhile, the most recent LTS edition of Ubuntu has had an update release too. With Ubuntu 12.04.4 LTS, there’s a fresher kernel and X stack. If you are a regular installer, you’ll want to update your install media for this, Kubuntu, Edubuntu, Xubuntu or Ubuntu Studio, all of which were updated at the same time. Remember to check the release notes and then download.

Git updated: The Git source code management system was updated. Git 1.9.0 has a number of changes in preparation from Git 2.0.0, improvements in HTTP transport, support from fetching from shallowly-cloned repositories, defaults for the lv pager, improved performance and a shed load of fixes. Expect the latest release to turn up in your package repository or download from git-scm.org.

Debian 7.3, Dart at ECMA, Cloud-stealing – Snippets

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  • Debian 7.3: The latest patch rollup update for Debian 7, Wheezy, has arrived. As usual, don’t throw away your media as all the changes are available as existing updates. This is just rolling up all the updates to date to make new installation media for newcomers. The announcement lists all the changes, security fixes and two packages that were removed. Further info at the release information page for Debian 7. Valve’s SteamOS beta, the operating system for its PC/Console SteamBox, is based on Debian.

  • Dart goes to ECMA: Google has made its move to make Dart, its JavaScript replacement language, a standard with the creation of TC52 (Technical Committee) at ECMA. Google says that since Dart 1.0’s release the language is production ready and ready for standardisation. Ready, yes, but it ain’t a standard yet… but people are picking up on it – For example, Notch, creator of Minecraft, used Dart in his Ludum Dare (48 hours to write a game) competition entry – and you could even watch him work in the Dart Editor live.

  • Securing clouds: Luke Chadwick had a nasty surprise when his Amazon Web Services bill leapt from $69 to $3000. He’d accidentally pushed his AWS credentials into GitHub and someone had decided to use them to load up 20 large AWS compute engines to do Litecoin mining. As the Hacker News commenters note, that’s $3000 burnt to make a whole $40 of Litecoin; the comments also include suggestions on securing code when checking in by auditing and scanning and how to make the AWS dashboard alert you when something out of the ordinary is happening.

NetBSD 6.1.2, Lua JVM, Meego/Symbian’s long walk and MariaDB/Debian – Snippets

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  • NetBSD 6.1.2 released: The second security/bug-fix release for NetBSD 6.1 is now available with one security fix and fixes for KVM shutdown, USB device enumeration, networking with npf, udf file systems and pthreads. There’s also updated timezone data, a corrected regression for some X apps and a fix for some Emacs 24 crashes.
  • A Lua JVM?: An intriguing experiment has appeared in the form of luje, a “toy” Java virtual machine written in Lua. It on-the-fly compiles the Java byte code into Lua scripts and then runs them with LuaJIT. “Right now it excels at anything which involves tight loops and float or doubles in local variables” say the developer, David Given, noting it can beat the Hotspot/JIT in those cases, but it does badly with longs and many other things. The code is a 0.1 release, is fragile and incompletly implemented, but if interesting JIT tricks are your thing, this is one to look at.
  • Crunch time for Meego/Symbian: It looks like the end for Nokia’s support of Meego and Symbian support of devices through the company’s store is coming with the blocking of new app publication from 1 January 2014.
  • MariaDB’s heading to Debian: Colin Charles passes on the news that Debian’s MySQL package team have a plan for MariaDB 5.5, that it’s been uploaded to Debian unstable and should appear in unstable in due course.