"A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects." (Robert A. Heinlein)

Saturday, 7 July 2018

The joy of virtualization: Docker

I took a relative pause from experimenting with Raspberry Pi to report my first experiences with something completely different. One of the first things you realize while programming server-side is how your program is only one piece of a bigger puzzle. Your application usually runs inside a container, connects to a database, expose or consume services and so on ... Solving this puzzle means defining an installation procedure that becomes different and sometime more complex by changing or scaling the installation target.


Docker is an container platform that overcomes the installation problems by producing a ready-to-install standardized operating-system-level virtual machine, packed with everything your application needs to be run. Unlike other virtualization solutions a Docker image only contains what your application needs without having to install and run a full hardware simulation like, for example, in Virtual Box.


Docker is available in two versions a professional “enterprise” edition and a community one (Docker CE) free to download. Installing Docker CE on Ubuntu is just matter of adding Docker repository address
sudo apt-get update

sudo apt-get install apt-transport-https ca-certificates curl software-properties-common
curl -fsSL https://download.docker.com/linux/ubuntu/gpg | sudo apt-key add -
sudo apt-key fingerprint 0EBFCD88
sudo add-apt-repository "deb [arch=amd64] https://download.docker.com/linux/ubuntu $(lsb_release -cs) stable"
Then installing it using the usual apt command
sudo apt-get updatesudo apt-get install docker-ce
Once the installation completed the current user, or any user who will use Docker, must be added to the “docker” group.
sudo adduser maxx docker
After logging out and in again Docker was ready for use and command
docker info
Correctly reported the empty environment initial state

First run

In order to test Docker is correctly installed and running a simple “hello-world” image is available. Just by calling the command:
docker run hello-world
Docker take care of downloading the image from its repository, installing and running it.

Another interesting image to start with is, as suggested in hello-world printout, the “ubuntu” image that installs and starts a console-only Ubuntu virtual machine with no effort.

Sunday, 3 June 2018

Simple hardware interface for the Raspberry Pi Zero

I spent some hours, last weekend, working to another little step into my Raspberry Zero camera project. After experimenting remote software interface possibilities I started building some minimal bare hardware interface in order to, at least, safely turn on and off the Raspberry Pi.

A bare minimum interface
The bare minimum hardware interface for a Raspberry project is made of a power push-button and a status LED telling if the device is still active or it can be safely removed from power.
Plenty of tutorials are available on the Internet, I mostly followed instructions from here and here.
The power status information is directly provided from the UART pin without the need of writing additional software. UART must be enabled in ‘/boot/config.txt’ configuration file


Then I just connected a LED diode between UART pin and ground (trough a current limiting resistor of course).
Also the wake-up functionality is implemented by briefly connecting GPIO pin 6 to ground trough a normally-open push button.

Saturday, 21 April 2018

Remotely controlling the Raspberry Pi Zero and Pi Camera

Here I am continuing my very slow paced building of a Raspberry Pi Zero based camera. After experimenting with raspberry-desktop file exchanging I’ve now took some time experimenting with remote controlling options. I’ll eventually have to wire to the Raspberry some, at least minimal, physical interface, but remote control, trough a Android smart-phone, could be a viable solution to avoid a too complex hardware interface.

The ready-made solution: Raspicam Remote

The first solution I found in Android Play store has been Raspicam Remote. Raspicam is a quite simple application providing a simple but complete user interface and connecting to the Raspberry Pi using Wi-Fi and SSH.
Unfortunately Raspicam doesn’t work on my old phone (Jelly bean) but it works fine in my much newer tablet. I understand you can’t keep backwards compatibility with everything. Other solutions are available but they look more suited for remote surveillance than camera interface.

The mostly Do-it-yourself solution: BlueDot

Interfacing to the Raspberry trough Wi-Fi offers clear advantages a specially in terms of connection speed but also poses some disadvantage. Setting-up a Wi-Fi connection might be trivial while at home where is available an already configured access point but it’s not the same while outside. Connecting the Raspberry with a smart-phone using Wi-Fi means configuring one of them to act as access-point, its not difficult but it might become tricky. Also on the power consumption aspect must be kept in consideration especially for the device acting as access-point.
Bluetooth overcomes both set-up and power consumption problems in exchange, of course, for transfer speed and connection range.
Here comes to play BlueDot: a simple looking Android application that together with a easy to use Python library allows a unidirectional Bluetooth communication between smart-phone and a Raspberry device.

Saturday, 3 March 2018

Sharing files on the Raspberry Pi Zero W

I eventually managed to find some time to continue working to my Pi-zero camera project. During initial tests I took advantage of Pi-Zero wireless interface and used “sftp" command in order to transfer files between Raspberry and desktop computer. A more suitable way of transferring files using USB, like real digital cameras, would be of course advisable.

Raspberry Pi Zero as mass storage

The Pi Zero USB port is directly connected to processor, unlike others Raspberrys using a on-board USB Hub. This, cheaper, solution means the Pi Zero can be configured to act as USB host, like a computer, or as a “USB gadget” like all cell-phones and digital cameras do. In order to activate such “USB gadget” mode some specific “dcw2” kernel modules must be enabled, in my specfic case the needed module is called “g_mass_storage”. I followed this simple guide from a Github user.
First I enabled DCW2 USB driver
echo "dtoverlay=dwc2" | sudo tee -a /boot/config.txtecho "dwc2" | sudo tee -a /etc/modules

then I created a virtual disk image to be mounted as mass storage and formatted if as a FAT32 disk.
sudo dd if=/dev/zero of=/usb-drive.img bs=1M count=1000sudo mkdosfs -F 32 /usb-drive.img
Once the Raspberry PI is conncted to a computer the mass storage can be enabledl ike this
sudo modprobe g_mass_storage file=/usb-drive.img stall=0 removable=1
and disabled with following modprobe command
sudo modprobe -r g_mass_storage
the same virtual disk can be availabe to Raspberri PI by mounting it
sudo mkdir /media/usb-drivesudo mount -o loop,rw /usb-drive.img /media/usb-drive/
of course the same virtual disk cannot be both available as mass storage drive and mounted on Raspberry at the same time, since it could lead to disk corruption. The camera software will have so to manage the switch between two modes.

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

New toy on the desk: Raspberry PI zero W and Raspberry Camera

Just before Christmas I have been to an electronics and surplus fair where I bought myself, among other things, a new Raspberry family “thing”. I started with a vague idea of building my very own “hackable” camera. I didn't have, and still don't, have a definitive idea of how it must be or what to do with it ... just it must be hackable i.e. I must be able to reprogram it once I need it for something else. I so bought a Raspberry Pi Zero kit, including the official withe-red case heath sink and male pin strip, and a 8 M pixel Pi Camera.

Headless installation

I'm getting quite used to prepare and install Raspberry Pi images, it's the fourth time, almost always headless. Plenty of tutorials can be found on the Internet by the way. This time is not very different apart from just one detail: I had to configure the Raspberry to connect to WIFI network from the very beginning.
So after copying the latest Raspbian image on the micro-SD card withe the usual “dd” command
sudo dd if=2017-11-29-raspbian-stretch-lite.img of=/dev/sdd

I configured Raspbian to enable SSH by default
sudo touch /media/maxx/boot/ssh

Then on the same root directory I created a “wpa_supplicant” WIFI configuration file
sudo vim.tiny /media/maxx/boot/wpa_supplicant.conf

Where I wrote down my wireless network configuration
country=ITctrl_interface=DIR=/var/run/wpa_supplicant GROUP=netdevupdate_config=1

At last I powered the Raspberry Pi and scanned the WIFI network for the new entry computer.
I connected trough SSH and I went, of course, trough the usual post-installation operations like changing the Pi user password and expanding the file system to the full micro-SD extent.

Pi Camera installation

Once I verified the Raspberry was correctly working I powered it back down and connected the Pi Camera using the small flat cable also included in the Pi-Zero kit I bought.