Tag Archives: Rasperry Pi

Linux on a 486?

Some guy decided to see if he could get a modern Linux distribution to run on an old IBM PS/1. This seemed like a stupid idea to me and after I read the article, I still thought it was a stupid idea.

A Science Project: “Make the 486 Great Again!” – Modern Linux in an ancient PC

The guy was at least smart enough to know if he had to compile it from source it was going to take 3 weeks on that old piece of garbage, so he compiled the source on a modern ThinkPad. He got this abomination up and running, but the poor bastard of a system takes 12 minutes to boot.

Other sites have been discussing this because apparently this is important because this computer is not vulnerable to Spectre and Meltdown vulnerabilities in modern Intel CPU’s. When I heard this I thought, “WOW, lets do something stupid for an even stupider reason, I am so bereft of useful things to do that I can totally spend a couple of days doing stupid things for stupid reasons.” . Seriously folks, if you need a computer that is not vulnerable to Spectre and Meltdown, then go buy a Raspberry Pi and build a Linux desktop out of that.

Why Raspberry Pi isn’t vulnerable to Spectre or Meltdown

A Raspberry Pi will pretty much suck as a desktop as well, but it will be better than a 25 year old 486 by several magnitudes.

ESP8266 Basic

For a while now I have been working with a couple of ESP8266 wireless modules. These devices are pretty nifty and allow for some interesting projects with both Raspberry Pi and Arduino. The biggest actual hurdle is leaning to program them properly and use AT commands to configure them. I found this a bit odious until I discovered ESP8622 Basic, a firmware update that lets you program them using the Basic programming language and a web page interface. The guy who wrote the firmware is a Windows user and does not really have any instructions for flashing the firmware if you use Linux. Through trial and error I figured it out and want to document it for the ages. I use Ubuntu 16.04, so the instructions will be specifically for that, however adapting them to another distro should not be tough. I am using a NodeMCU ESP8266, I like them because they have a built in USB interface and have GPIO pins to make it easier to attach LED’s and sensors. The first thing to do is to plug it in to your computer, there is no need for drivers, it should be recognized instantly and attached to /dev/ttyUSB0, if you have more than one hooked up, the port may end up being different. But once that is done, open a terminal and move on to the next step.

First we need to get the dependencies:

sudo apt-get install python-serial git

Next we need the flashing tool esptool.py:

git clone https://github.com/themadinventor/esptool.git

cd esptool

Download the ESP8622 Basic firmware:

wget https://github.com/esp8266/Basic/tree/NewWebSockets/Flasher/Build/1M/ESP8266Basic.cpp.bin

Then we flash the new firmware:

sudo python esptool.py –port /dev/ttyUSB0 write_flash 0x00000 ESP8266Basic.cpp.bin

Finally you can connect to the device and start programming it by connecting to the ESP network which should be listed as an available wireless network, then point your web browser to and you should be off and running.





ESP8266 BASIC Sets Up a Web Remote in No Time

Basically, It’s an ESP8266



RE: Thoughts on the Raspberry Pi

So just to show the justification for my actions. I spent the better part of all of my free time this last week trying to get Mame working on the Banana Pi with nothing to show for it. I also spent a nice chunk of time trying to get Doom to work. In less than than 2 hours I had the C64 emulator working properly, Mame installed and working, both Doom and Quake installed and working. There really is just no comparison between the Raspberry Pi and the other knock off boards, the online support alone makes a huge difference.

Thoughts on Raspberry Pi

I got into single board computers several years ago, starting with the Raspberry Pi. I found these little boards to be fun and interesting. I built the odd little project here and there and generally embraced idea. At some point I decided to try some alternatives.

First was the Beagleboard Black, the idea of more memory, better processor and built in storage was very appealing. There was a couple of things I did not like. First, the Linux distributions were substandard, missing key many features. Second was the reliance on a secondary 5 volt power source which made using it a bit awkward. Finally, the quality of these boards is very suspect, I bought 2 of them and both went bad after just a couple of months of use.

Next I moved onto the Banana Pi. Again, better CPU, more memory and as an added feature, its GPIO was Raspberry Pi compatible, what not to love. Again, though the Linux distributions left a lot to be desired, while it was capable of using the same distribution as the RPi, Raspbian, I found there to be many broken packages. Some would not install at all, some would install but then complain of missing libraries. Then there was the video drivers, I am sorry, but any video chipset designed in the last 10 years should be able to run 8 bit games without skipping a beat, not this thing, no hardware acceleration, none, zip, zero and the software rendering was so terrible, games that ran on my Commodore 64 beautifully, ran like garbage on the BPi, and don’t get me started on Mame. Even Doom would not compile properly this thing was so terrible.

So I am done with knock off boards. I am going back to the tried and true Raspberry Pi. I am hanging onto the BPi for the short term. They are good for projects that do not require much video, like breadboarding and Arduino development. It is just as well, the USB hub I had in my C64C case is un-powered and once I have the RPi 3, I can open it up again and rework the insides all at once.

Recent Projects

Recently I have been messing around with Arduino boards. At first I was looking at them as an extension of my Raspberry/Banana Pi boards. That was definitely a mistake, these things can be programmed to do a fairly wide variety of things.


Pictured here are the two projects I have been working on. To the right is a simple digital picture frame, this was not terribly difficult to put together, it is kind of ugly but runs off a battery pack. To the left is what I refer to as the Turtle, which is a prototype sensor platform, the idea is it will collect data on light, temperature, sound and movement, transmitting all of this data to my webpage via wireless network (you can see the ESP8266 wireless bridge in the upper left quad of the picture). Currently the networking portion has been completed, I can interact with it across the network, the next stage is mounting the sensors.

Raspberry Pi vs Banana Pi

Seems like each Christmas I get a small single board computer (SBC), this year it is a Banana Pi. The Beagle Bone Black I was using had some shortcomings that made it difficult to use the way I wanted to. For instance, it required a 5V power source to do anything more than a command line, its Linux distro’s were seriously lacking and the quality of the product was very suspect as I went through two of them in very short order. The biggest issue was most of the things I did with my Raspberry Pi, I had to either abandon entirely or took a serious amount of conversion to make work.

The Banana Pi is for the most part compatible with the Raspberry Pi, it has more choices for OS, the specs are far superior and boots into a GUI while running off a battery. PezWitch bought me two of them, because she dropped one and wanted make sure I had a functional gift, both worked fine. One of them I have mounted on my test bed, the other is going to become the center of Gargoyle Two. Gargoyle One was my first attempt at a wearable data collection device. I have ordered a few things to get this going in the direction I wanted, including a 3.5 in LCD screen. Next weekend I hope to start building Gargoyle Two.


BeagleBone Black

I really liked the Raspberry Pi (RPi), it was useful for a variety of little projects, it even hosted this website for several months until I migrated it to a more robust system. There really was my problem with the RPi, it was not powerful enough, the 700Mhz processor was weak for anything requiring more than a command line script. For Christmas this year, PezWitch bought me a BeagleBone Black (BBB) along with some must have accessories.

The BBB has several advantages over the RPi, a 1 Ghz processor, which makes it usable as a desktop system, although it is a bit slow for a modern computer. It also has 2 GB of eMMC flash memory built onto the board for booting the OS from, Leaving the Micro SSD for storage. What stopped me in my tracks and made me go WOW, was when I was looking at the instructions and realized I could plug it into my computer with a USB cable and then I could access the BBB through the USB port, the BBB emulates a network connection via USB. So while I could not hook it up to a monitor (it had a Micro HDMI connector and I had no adapter), I could secure shell (SSH) into the BBB and set it up via a command line. To say the least I was hooked.


So yesterday, we went out for the Micro HDMI adapter and we stopped at Radio Shack, I decided I wanted to grab a small Breadboard and a hand full of miscellaneous electronic doodads, capacitors, resisters, LEDS, usually you can get a kit for like $30. When we got there, they had a Maker Magazine kit “Getting Started with BeagleBone Black“. The kit comes with a BBB, a small breadboard and miscellaneous electronic doodads. If you go to the link, it lists for $120, well Radio Shack had it priced at $80, not bad, so I grabbed it up. When I got to the counter the nice lady rang it up and said $34 (rounded up, it was actually 33 and some change), being an honest man, I spoke up and said this was priced considerably higher than that over on the shelf. She said, Oh we are having a sale today, Oh Okay was my response and I went on with my day. When I checked the receipt when I got home it showed the original price as $45 and she had discounted it 25% and then of course sales tax was added. I realized at that moment that Radio Shack was a victim of its minimum wage workers. Someone mis-priced the kit in the computer system and later the clerk basically didn’t care enough to check on the error.

The moral of the story is, labor as with anything, you get what you pay for.