Nitrous – full IDE in your browser – with Collaboration!

“Nitrous is a backend development platform which helps software developers save time by cutting out the repetitive parts of creating development environments and automating them.

Once you create your first development environment, there are many features which will make development easier.”

Bildschirmfoto 2014-07-06 um 11.38.49

So what you’re getting is:

  • a virtual machine operated for you and set-up with a single click
  • A full-featured IDE in your browser
  • Code-Collaboration by inviting others to edit your project
  • a debugging environment in which you can test-run and work with your code

Here are some screenshots to get you a feel for it:

Source: https://www.nitrous.io/

How to get a list of all recent Podcasts on SONOS

I am using an external podcast download tool to stay updated on all podcasts I subscribed to. For this purpose SubSonic is a good choice – actually for a lot more also.

Screen Shot 2014-07-02 at 18.56.52

One of the quirks of the SONOS products is that Podcasts are not really well supported. In fact there is no support at all.

So I wrote a tool that extends the SONOS players with the functionality to “remember” play positions within audiobooks and podcasts. Now what’s left to properly have podcasts supported is a view of the most recently updated podcasts. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a “Folder View” in the SONOS controller of what’s new across all the different podcasts you are subscribed to?

Now here’s the trick:

Use a small script on any RaspberryPi in the house to dynamically create hardlinks to the podcasts files in a “Recently Updated Podcasts” folder.

The script is something like this:

find /where-your-podcasts-are/ -type f -printf ‘%TY-%Tm-%Td %TT %p\n’ | sort | tail -n 25 | cut -c 32- | sed -e “s/^/ln \”/” -e “s/$/\”/” -e “s/$/ \”\/recentPodcasts\/\”/” | sh

This short line will go through all folders and subfolders in /where-your-podcasts-are/ and then create Hardlinks in /recentPodcasts to the most recent 25 files.

That way, and when /recentPodcasts/ is made accessible to your SONOS controllers, you’ll have something like this:

Screen Shot 2014-07-02 at 19.17.24

Source 1: http://www.subsonic.org
Source 2: play position bookmarker

Boblight Alternative: Hyperion

After setting up Boblight on two TVs in the house – one with 50 and one with 100 LEDs – I’ve used it for the last 5 months on a daily basis almost.

First of all now every screen that does not come with “added color-context” on the wall seems off. It feels like something is missing. Second of all it has made watching movies in a dark room much more enjoyable.

The only concerning factor of the past months was that the RaspberryPi does not come with a lot of computational horse-power and thus it has been operating at it’s limits all the time. With 95-99% CPU usage there’s not a lot of headroom for unexpected bitrate spikes and what-have-you.

So from time to time the Pis where struggling. With 10% CPU usage for the 50 LEDs and 19% CPU usage for the 100 LEDs set-up there was just not enough CPU power for some movies or TV streams in Full-HD.

Hyperion

So since even overclocking only slightly improved the problem of Boblight using up the precious CPU cycles for a fancy light-show I started looking around for alternatives.

“Hyperion is an opensource ‘AmbiLight’ implementation controlled using the RaspBerry Pi running Raspbmc. The main features of Hyperion are:

  • Low CPU load. For a led string of 50 leds the CPU usage will typically be below 1.5% on a non-overclocked Pi.
  • Json interface which allows easy integration into scripts.
  • A command line utility allows easy testing and configuration of the color transforms (Transformation settings are not preserved over a restart at the moment…).
  • Priority channels are not coupled to a specific led data provider which means that a provider can post led data and leave without the need to maintain a connection to Hyperion. This is ideal for a remote application (like our Android app).
  • HyperCon. A tool which helps generate a Hyperion configuration file.
  • XBMC-checker which checks the playing status of XBMC and decides whether or not to capture the screen.
  • Black border detector.
  • A scriptable effect engine.
  • Generic software architecture to support new devices and new algorithms easily.

More information can be found on the wiki or the Hyperion topic on the Raspbmc forum.”

Especially the Low CPU load did raise interest in my side.

Setting Hyperion up is easy if you just follow the very straight-forward Installation Guide. On Raspbmc the set-up took me 2 minutes at most.

If you got everything set-up on the Pi you need to generate a configuration file. It’s a nice JSON formatted config file that you do not need to create on your own – Hyperion has a nice configuration tool. Hypercon:

Screen Shot 2014-06-28 at 08.52.51

So after 2 more minutes the whole thing was set-up and running. Another 15 minutes of tweaking here and there and Hyperion replaced Boblight entirely.

What have I found so far?

  1. Hyperions network interfaces are much more controllable than those from Boblight. You can use remote clients like on iPhone / Android to set colors and/or patterns.
  2. It’s got effects for screen-saving / mood-lighting!
  3. It really just uses a lot less CPU resources. Instead of 19% CPU usage for 100 LEDs it’s down to 3-4%. That’s what I call a major improvement
  4. The processing filters that you can add really add value. Smoothing everything so that you do not get bright flashed when content flashes on-screen is easy to do and really helps with the experience.

All in all Hyperion is a recommended replacement for boblight. I would not want to switch back.

Source 1: Setting up Boblight
Source 2: https://github.com/tvdzwan/hyperion/wiki/Installation

using the RaspberryPi to make all SONOS speakers support Apple Airplay

Airplay allows you to conveniently play music and videos over the air from your iOS or Mac OS X devices on remote speakers.

Since we just recently “migrated” almost all audio equipment in the house to SONOS multi-room audio we were missing a bit the convenience of just pushing a button on the iPad or iPhones to stream audio from those devices inside the household.

To retrofit the Airplay functionality there are two options I know of:

1: Get Airplay compatible hardware and connect it to a SONOS Input.

airportexpress_2012_back-285111You have to get Airplay hardware (like the Airport Express/Extreme,…) and attach it physically to one of the inputs of your SONOS Set-Up.  Typically you will need a SONOS Play:5 which has an analog input jack.

PLAY5_back

2: Set-Up a RaspberryPi with NodeJS + AirSonos as a software-only solution

You will need a stock RaspberryPi online in your home network. Of course this can run on virtually any other device or hardware that can run NodeJS. For the Pi setting it up is a fairly straight-forward process:

You start with a vanilla Raspbian Image. Update everything with:

sudo apt-get update

sudo apt-get upgrade

Then install NodeJS according to this short tutorial. To set-up the AirSonos software you will need to install additional avahi software. Especially this was needed for my install:

sudo apt-get install git-all libavahi-compat-libdnssd-dev

You then need to get the AirSonos software:

sudo npm install airsonos -g

After some minutes of wait time and hard work by the Pi you will be able to start AirSonos.

sudo airsonos

And it’ll come up with an enumeration of all active rooms.

Screen Shot 2014-06-25 at 11.38.47

And on all your devices it’ll show up like this:

IMG_1046

and

Screen Shot 2014-06-25 at 12.38.27

 

Source: https://github.com/stephen/airsonos

Brackets: a multi-platform editor written in javascript – including NodeJS

“Brackets is an open source code editor for web designers and front-end developers.”

hero

On the first tries it’s an awesome thing to have all that JavaScript debugging, Live HTML editing and what-not in one place. Give it a spin.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T6d5C3rLeFY[/youtube]

Source 1: http://brackets.io/

weave your net of things that have internet…ehm – internet of things

node-red-screenshot

The internet of things” is a buzzword used more and more. It means that things around you are connected to the (inter)network and therefore can talk to each other and, when combined, offer fantastic new opportunities.

Yeah right.

So NodeRed is a NodeJS based toolset that allows you to create so called “flows” (see picture above). Those flows determine what reacts and happens when things happen. Fantastic, told you!

Source 1: http://nodered.org/
Source 2: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_of_ThingsSource 3: http://nodejs.org/

I give you: the SONOS Audiobook / Podcast Auto Bookmarker – never lose your Listening Progress again…

Since the SONOS system I’ve bought turned out to be highly hackable I’ve spent some quality-time this weekend fixing the worst downside I’ve found so far that the SONOS system had for me

I am listening to a lot of Podcasts and Audiobooks. And it turns out that those two Genre are not particularly good supported by SONOS. When you’re listening to a 4 hour podcast and you stop it to play a song in between (since you stretch the listening of that podcast to several days) the next time you start that 4 hour podcast the SONOS system did not remember the position that you stopped at the last time and restarts the podcast from the beginning.

If you did not remember where you left of the last time, you’re lost. The same goes for Audiobooks.

Now this is the first feature I am teaching my SONOS system. And I am opensourcing it so you can do it as well.

SONOS Auto Bookmark Tool

Everything you need can be run on a RaspberryPi:

  1. You need NodeJS and node-sonos-http-api installed and running.
  2. You need MONO and sonos-auto-bookmarker (change the configuration.json file in bin/Debug after you xbuilded the .sln file)

Now the Auto Bookmarker Tool will, with the help of the sonos-http-api, monitor your household and whenever something longer than 10 minutes is played and stopped it bookmarks the last played position. Whenever you restart that track it will then seek to the last known position automatically.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eqk3SyNv8sE[/youtube]

Source 1: https://github.com/bietiekay/sonos-auto-bookmarker

setting up boblight with a Raspberry Pi and RaspBMC

Some might know AmbiLight – a great invention by Philips that projects colored light around a TV screen based upon the contents shown. It’s a great addition to a TV but naturally only available with Philips TV sets.

Not anymore. There are several open-source projects that allow you to build your very own AmbiLight clone. I’ve built one using a 50-LEDs WS2801 stripe, a 5V/10A power supply, a RaspberryPi, and the BobLight integration in RaspBMC (this is a nice XBMC distribution for the Pi).

Boblight is a collection of tools for driving lights connected to an external controller.

Its main purpose is to create light effects from an external input, such as a video stream (desktop capture, video player, tv card), an audio stream (jack, alsa), or user input (lirc, http). Boblight uses a client/server model, where clients are responsible for translating an external input to light data, and boblightd is responsible for translating the light data into commands for external light controllers.”

The hardware to start with looks like this:

pre_requisites

I’ve fitted some heat-sinks to the Pi since the additional load of controlling 50 LEDs will add a little bit of additional CPU usage which is desperately needed when playing Full HD High-Bitrate content.

The puzzle pieces need to be put together as described by the very good AdaFruit diagram:

diagramAs you can see the Pi is powered directly through the GPIO pins. You’re not going to use the MicroUSB or the USB ports to power the Pi. It’s important that you keep the cables between the Pi and the LEDs as short as possible. When I added longer / unshielded cables everything went flickering. You do not want that – so short cables it is :-)

leds

When you look at aboves picture closely you will find a CO and DO on the PCB of the LED. on the other side of the PCB there’s a CI and DI. Guess what: That means Clock IN and Clock OUT and Data IN and Data OUT. Don’t be mistaken by the adapter cables the LED stripes comes with. My Output socket looked damn close to something I thought was an Input socket. If nothing seems to work on the first trials – you’re holding it wrong! Don’t let the adapters fitted by the manufacturer mislead you.

Depending on the manufacturer of your particular LED stripe there are layouts different from the above image possible. Since RaspBMC is bundled with Boblight already you want to use something that is compatible with Boblight. Something that allows Boblight to control each LED in color and brightness separately.

I opted for WS2801 equipped LEDs. This pretty much means that each LED sits on it’s own WS2801 chip and that chip takes commands for color and brightness. There are other options as well – I hear that LDP8806 chips also work with Boblight.

My power supply got a little big to beefy – 10 Amps is plenty. I originally planned to have 100 LEDs on that single TV. Each LED at full white brightness would consume 60mA  – which brings us to 6Amps for a 100 – add to that the 2 Amps for the PI and you’re at 8A. So 10A was the choice.

To connect to the Pi GPIO Pins I used simple jumper wires. After a little bit of boblightd compilation on a vanilla Raspbian SD card (how-to here). Please note that with current RaspBMC versions you do not need to compile Boblight yourself – I’ve just taken for debugging purposes as clean Raspbian Image and compiled it myself to do some boblight-constant tests. Boblight-constant is a tool that comes with Boblight which allows you to set all LEDs to one color.

If everything is right, it should look like this:

working_first_timeNow everything depends on how your LED stripes look like and how your TVs backside looks like. I wanted to fit my setup to a 42″ Samsung TV. This one already is fitted with a Ultra-Slim Wall mount which makes it pretty much sitting flat on the wall like a picture. I wanted the LEDs to sit right on the TVs back and I figured that cable channels when cut would do the job pretty nicely.

To get RaspBMC working with your setup the only things you need to do are:

  1. Enable Boblight support in the Applications / RaspBMC tool
  2. Login to your RaspBMC Pi through SSH with the user pi password raspberry and copy your boblight.conf file to /etc/boblight.conf.

The configuration file can be obtained from the various tutorials that deal with the boblight configuration. You can choose the hard way to create a configuration or a rather easy one by using the boblight configuration tool.

I’ve used the tool :-)

Boblight Config ToolNow if everything went right you don’t have flickering, the TV is on the wall and you can watch movies and what-not with beautiful light effects around your TV screen. If you need to test your set-up to tweak it a bit more, go with this or this.

result_1

Source 1: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ambilight
Source 2: http://www.raspberrypi.org/
Source 3: https://code.google.com/p/boblight/
Source 4: http://www.raspbmc.com/
Source 5: http://learn.adafruit.com/light-painting-with-raspberry-pi/hardware
Source 6: How-To-Compile-Boblight
Source 7: Boblight Config Generator
Source 8: Boblight Windows Config Creation Tool
Source 9: Test-Video 1
Source 10: Test-Video 2

Instruction-less computing: Doing stuff with a CPU without actually executing instructions

Having fun with hardware is a good way to learn about the machines which soon will become our new overlords. With this pretty interesting presentation you can dive deep into what a CPU does and how it can be exploited to run code by not running it.

Trust Analysis, i.e. determining that a system will not execute some class of computations, typically assumes that all computation is captured by an instruction trace. We show that powerful computation on x86 processors is possible without executing any CPU instructions. We demonstrate a Turing-complete execution environment driven solely by the IA32 architecture’s interrupt handling and memory translation tables, in which the processor is trapped in a series of page faults and double faults, without ever successfully dispatching any instructions. The “hard-wired” logic of handling these faults is used to perform arithmetic and logic primitives, as well as memory reads and writes. This mechanism can also perform branches and loops if the memory is set up and mapped just right. We discuss the lessons of this execution model for future trustworthy architectures.

Bildschirmfoto 2013-11-02 um 01.04.31

Source 1: https://www.usenix.org/conference/woot13/page-fault-weird-machine-lessons-instruction-less-computation

when DVB-T is not interesting, use the hardware for fun and SDR!

SDR – or Software Defined Radio is relatively cheap and fun way to dive deeper into radio communication.

“Software-defined radio (SDR) is a radio communication system where components that have been typically implemented in hardware (e.g. mixers, filters, amplifiers, modulators/demodulators, detectors, etc.) are instead implemented by means of software on a personal computer or embedded system. While the concept of SDR is not new, the rapidly evolving capabilities of digital electronics render practical many processes which used to be only theoretically possible.” (Wikipedia)

So with cheap hardware it’s possible to receive radio transmissions on all sorts of frequencies and modulations. Since everything after the actual “receiving stuff”-phase happens in software the things you can do are sort of limitless.

Now what about the relatively cheap factor? – The hardware you’re going to need to start with this is a DVB-T USB stick widely available for about 25 Euro. The important feature you’re going to look for is that it comes with a Realtek RTL2832U chip.

“The RTL2832U is a high-performance DVB-T COFDM demodulator that supports a USB 2.0 interface. The RTL2832U complies with NorDig Unified 1.0.3, D-Book 5.0, and EN300 744 (ETSI Specification). It supports 2K or 8K mode with 6, 7, and 8MHz bandwidth. Modulation parameters, e.g., code rate, and guard interval, are automatically detected.

The RTL2832U supports tuners at IF (Intermediate Frequency, 36.125MHz), low-IF (4.57MHz), or Zero-IF output using a 28.8MHz crystal, and includes FM/DAB/DAB+ Radio Support. Embedded with an advanced ADC (Analog-to-Digital Converter), the RTL2832U features high stability in portable reception.” (RealTek)

You’ll find this chip in all sorts of cheap DVB-T USB sticks like this one:

3948543_b6f7670bc7To use the hardware directly you can use open source software which comes pre-packaged with several important/widely used demodulator moduls like AM/FM. Gqrx SDR is available for all sorts of operating systems and comes with a nice user interface to control your SDR hardware.

The neat idea about SDR is that you, depending on the capabilities of your SDR hardware, are not only tuned into one specific frequency but a whole spectrum several Mhz wide. With my device I get roughly a full 2 Mhz wide spectrum out of the device allowing me to see several FM stations on one spectrum diagram and tune into them individually using the demodulators:

Bildschirmfoto 2013-11-01 um 23.28.56The above screenshot shows the OS X version of Gqrx tuned into an FM station. You can clearly see the 3 stations that I can receive in that Mhz range. One very strong signal, one very weak and one sort of in the middle. By just clicking there the SDR tool decodes this portion of the data stream / spectrum and you can listen to a FM radio station.

Of course – since those DVB-T sticks come with a wide spectrum useable – mine comes with an Elonics E4000 tuner which allows me to receive – more or less useable – 53 Mhz to 2188 Mhz (with a gap from 1095 to 1248 Mhz).

Whatever your hardware can do can be tested by using the rtl_test tool:

root@berry:~# rtl_test -t
Found 1 device(s):
0:  Terratec T Stick PLUS

Using device 0: Terratec T Stick PLUS
Found Elonics E4000 tuner
Supported gain values (14): -1.0 1.5 4.0 6.5 9.0 11.5 14.0 16.5 19.0 21.5 24.0 29.0 34.0 42.0
Benchmarking E4000 PLL…
[E4K] PLL not locked for 52000000 Hz!
[E4K] PLL not locked for 2189000000 Hz!
[E4K] PLL not locked for 1095000000 Hz!
[E4K] PLL not locked for 1248000000 Hz!
E4K range: 53 to 2188 MHz
E4K L-band gap: 1095 to 1248 MHz

Interestingly when you plug the USB stick into an Raspberry Pi and you follow some instructions you can use the Raspberry Pi as an SDR server allowing you to place it on the attic while still sitting comfortably at your computer downstairs to have better reception.

If you want to upgrade your experience with more professional hardware – and in fact if you got a sender license – you can take a look at the HackRF project which currently is creating a highly sophisticated SDR hardware+software solution:

jawbreaker-fd0-145436

Source 1: http://www.realtek.com.tw/products/productsView.aspx?Langid=1&PFid=35&Level=4&Conn=3&ProdID=257
Source 2: http://gqrx.dk/
Source 3: www.hamradioscience.com/raspberry-pi-as-remote-server-for-rtl2832u-sdr/
Source 4: http://ossmann.blogspot.de/2012/06/introducing-hackrf.html
Source 5: https://github.com/mossmann/hackrf

Miataru for iOS is available in the iOS AppStore

After roughly 1,5 months of learning Javascript and Objective-C the iOS application and the publicly available Miataru service launched this week.

If you want to interface with the publicly available instance of the miataru server you can use the URL: http://service.miataru.com. This URL also is pre-configured with the iOS client that got recently available in the AppStore.

featurerette-1

appstorebadge_small

Source 1: Miataru for iOS
Source 2: iOS AppStore

SMS Alarming for h.a.c.s.

I’ve added Alarming to hacs a while ago and I’ve now extended the built-in SMS gateway providers with the german telekom services called “Global SMS API”.

This API is offered through the Telekom own portal called developer garden and is as easy to use as it can possibly be. You only need to set-up the account with developergarden and after less than 5 minutes you can send and receive SMS and do a lot more. They got APIs for nearly everything you possible want to do … fancy some “talk to your house”-action? Would be easy to integrate into h.a.c.s. using their Speech2Text APIs.

They have a short video showing how to set it all up:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=caRSafzMDK0[/youtube]

So I’ve added the SMS-send capabilities to the hacs internal alarming system with it’s own JSON configuration file looking like this:

Bildschirmfoto 2013-07-11 um 23.08.46

And this simple piece of configuration leads to SMS getting sent out as soon as – in this example – a window opens:

sms-alarming-ahcs

Before the Telekom Global SMS API I’ve used a different provider (SMS77) but since the delivery times of this provider varied like crazy (everything from 30 seconds to 5 minutes) and the provider had a lot of downtimes my thought was to give the market leader a try.

So now here it is – integrated. Get the source here.

Source 1: https://github.com/bietiekay/hacs
Source 2: https://www.developergarden.com/de/apis/apis-sdks/global-sms-api/

Hyperlapse – a streetview experiment

More and more javascript experiments bubble up on the internets and a particularly interesting one is called “Hyperlapse”:

“Hyper-lapse photography – a technique combining time-lapse and sweeping camera movements typically focused on a point-of-interest – has been a growing trend on video sites. It’s not hard to find stunning examples on Vimeo. Creating them requires precision and many hours stitching together photos taken from carefully mapped locations. We aimed at making the process simpler by using Google Street View as an aid, but quickly discovered that it could be used as the source material. It worked so well, we decided to design a very usable UI around our engine and release Google Street View Hyperlapse.

[vimeo]https://vimeo.com/63653873[/vimeo]

Source 1: http://hyperlapse.tllabs.io/
Source 2: http://labs.teehanlax.com/project/hyperlapse

Adobe Photoshop version 1 source code

It’s becoming a fashion lately to release the source code of older but legendary commercial products to the public. Now Adobe decided to gift the source code of their flagship product Photoshop in it’s first version from 1990 to the Computer History Museum.

splashscreen

“That first version of Photoshop was written primarily in Pascal for the Apple Macintosh, with some machine language for the underlying Motorola 68000 microprocessor where execution efficiency was important. It wasn’t the effort of a huge team. Thomas said, “For version 1, I was the only engineer, and for version 2, we had two engineers.” While Thomas worked on the base application program, John wrote many of the image-processing plug-ins.”

Source: http://www.computerhistory.org/atchm/adobe-photoshop-source-code/

Automated Picture Tank and Gallery for a photographer

Since my wife started working as a photographer on a daily basis the daily routine of getting all the pictures off the camera after a long day filled with photo shootings got her bored quickly.

Since we got some RaspberryPis to spare I gave it a try and created a small script which when the Pi gets powered on automatically copies all contents of the attached SD card to the houses storage server. Easy as Pi(e) – so to speak.

IMG_2322

So this is now an automated process for a couple of weeks – she comes home, get’s all batteries to their chargers, drops the sd cards into the reader and poweres on the Pi. After it copied everything successfully the Pi sends an eMail with a summary report of what has been done. So far so good – everything is on our backuped storage server then.

Now the problem was that she often does not immediately starts working on the pictures. But she wants to take a closer look without the need to sit in front of a big monitor – like taking a look at her iPad in the kitchen while drinking coffee.

So what we need was a tool that does this:

  • take a folder (the automated import folder) and get all images in there, order them by day
  • display an overview per day of all pictures taken
  • allow to see the fullsized picture if necessary
  • work on any mobile or stationary device in the household – preferably html5 responsive design gallery
  • it should be fast because commonly over 200 pictures are done per day
  • it should be opensource because – well opensource is great – and probably we would need to tweak things a bit

Since I did not find anything near what we had in mind I sat down this afternoon and wrote a tool myself. It’s opensourced and available for you to play with it. Here’s a short description what it does:

It’s called GalleryServer and basically is an embedded http server which takes all .jpg files from a folder (configurable) and offers you some handy tool urls which respons with JSON data for you to work with. I’ve written a very small html user interface with a bit of javascript (using the great html5 kickstart) that allows you to see all available days and get a nice thumbnail overview of each day – when you click on it it opens the full-size image in a new window.

It’s pretty fast because it’s not actively resizing the images – instead it’s taking the thumbnail picture from the original jpg file which the camera placed there during storing the picture. It’s got some caching and can be run on any operating system where mono / .net is available – which is probably anything – even the RaspberryPi.

Source 1: my wifes page
Source 2: 99lime html5 kickstart boilerplate
Source 3: https://github.com/bietiekay/GalleryServer

the ZIP file that never ends…

Everybody knows ZIP files. It’s what comes out when you compress something on windows and on OS X. It’s the commonly used format to store and exchange compressed data.

Now there’s a lot of things you can do when you know file formats, especially those with many algorithms involved, inside out. There is a lot of text explaining the ZIP file format, like this one.

With that knowledge it is possible to create a valid ZIP file that never ends. You might already know ZIP bombs bit this one is a different animal. You computer won’t stop decompressing…

Source 1: http://research.swtch.com/zip
Source 2: http://steike.com/code/useless/zip-file-quine/
Source 3: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zip_bomb

new actors to switch power on/off and measure power usage by AVM

Usually the actors that allow you to switch power on/off and who measure power usage use the 434Mhz or 868Mhz wireless bands to communicate with their base station. Now the german manufacturer AVM came up with a solution that allows you to switch on/off (with an actual button on the device itself and wireless!) and to measure the power consumption of the devices connected to it.

The unspectacular it looks the spectacular are the features:

fritz_dect_200_auf_einen_blick

  • switch up to 2300 watts / 10 ampere
  • use different predefined settings to switch on/off or even use Google Calendar to tell it when to switch
  • measure the energy consumption of connected devices
  • it uses the european DECT standard to communicate with a Fritz!Box base station (which is a requirement)

For around 50 Euro it’s quite an investment but maybe I’ll give it a shot – especially the measurement functionality sounds great. Since I do not have one yet I don’t know anything about how to access it through third party software (h.a.c.s.?)

Source 1: www.avm.de/de/News/artikel/2013/start_fritz_dect_200.html
Source 2: www.avm.de/de/Produkte/Smart_Home/FRITZDECT_200/index.php
Source 3: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digital_Enhanced_Cordless_Telecommunications

N.O-T/MY-D/E.PA/R.T-ME

Every year between Christmas and New Years the hackers of the (mostly european) world gather for the Chaos Communication Congress. This year for the 29th time. The 29c3 takes place where it all started – in Hamburg. This years subtitle is:

Bildschirmfoto 2012-12-25 um 22.14.48

Since the reports are already in that the fairydust has landed successfully in Hamburg there’s even a proof picture for it:

A-voJ9DCEAAp8RH

Since FeM is already preparing it will be great to ‘attend’ the congress via live streams of all lectures.

Source 1: https://events.ccc.de/congress/2012/wiki/Main_Page
Source 2: http://blog.fem.tu-ilmenau.de/archives/836-Reisetagebuch-Mal-kurz-Hamburg.html

there’s a hackerspace in Bamberg

The other day I found out that there is an actual hackerspace in Bamberg – the city where I work and live nearby. For some strange reason it never occurred to me to search for an hackerspace nearby. But now since the 29c3 is at the gates I found them on the “Congress everywhere” pages (beware, it’s having a hard time right now).

Richterprodukt_v2_banner
cc-by richterprodukt

Since I just found it and christmas duties take their toll I wasn’t able to go by and talk to the people there in person – i’ve just contacted them over their IRC channel (#backspace on freenode). Eventually I will have time to visit them and I’ll have a report up here then.

For the time being enjoy their website and the projects they already did. Apparently there are some very interesting LED lighting experiments.

Source: http://www.hackerspace-bamberg.de/

ELV MAX! Cube C# Library – control your cube!

I was asked if it would be possible to get the ELV MAX! Cube interfacing functionality outside of h.a.c.s. – maybe as a library. Sure! That is possible. And to speed up things I give you the ELV MAX! Cube C# Library called: MAXSharp

It’s a plain and simple library without much dependencies – in fact there’s only some threading and the FastSerializer. Since I am using this library with h.a.c.s. as well I did not remove the serializer implementation.

There’s a small demo program included which is called MAXSharpExample. The library itself contains the abstractions necessary to get information from the ELV MAX! Cube. It does not contain functionality to control the cube – if you want to add, feel free it’s all open sourced and I would love to see pull requests!

The architecture is based upon polling – I know events would make a cleaner view but for various reasons I am using queues in h.a.c.s. and therefore MAXSharp does as well. The example application spins up the ELV MAX interfacing / handling thread and as soon as you’re connected you can access all house related information and get diff-events from the cube.

Any comment is appreciated!

Source 1: State of Reverse Engineering
Source 2: https://github.com/bietiekay/MAXSharp

Blogroll: Nerdcore NC-Sources OPML

A couple of days ago the well known and much read Nerdcore weblog author created a page he calls NC-Sources which lists all the sources he has in his RSS reader to get new information from. As you can imagine, this is pure gold for those who want to get interesting links to all-nerd pages.

Unfortunately NC-Sources is just available as a web-page which lists the name and the RSS feed URL. You cannot import that into your RSS Reader to use it for your own informational needs.

Here I am to the rescue. I’ve taken all the URLs from that NC Source page. That resulted in a file that lists the page url and the rss-feed url in alternating lines. A short trip to the command line and the use of awk helped to filter just the rss-feed urls to a new file and that was filled into an opml generator.

So now you can download the OPML file to import it into your own RSS reader. Get it here.

Source 1: NC-Sources
Source 2: NC-Sources OPML File
Source 3: OPMLBuilder

Raspberry Pi gets a camera

The first signs of the upcoming camera board for the raspberry pi are showing. During the Electronica 2012 fair RS showed the board to the public for the first time.

Since it’s going to be a 25 Euro add-on for the Pi the specification is quite impressive. The OmniVision OV5647 is used as the Image Sensor – it’s bigger brother is used in iPhone 4. OmniVision says:

“The OV5647 is OmniVision’s first 5-megapixel CMOS image sensor built on proprietary 1.4-micron OmniBSI™ backside illumination pixel architecture. OmniBSI enables the OV5647 to deliver 5-megapixel photography and high frame rate 720p/60 high-definition (HD) video capture in an industry standard camera module size of 8.5 x 8.5 x ≤5 mm, making it an ideal solution for the main stream mobile phone market.

The superior pixel performance of the OV5647 enables 720p and 1080p HD video at 30 fps with complete user control over formatting and output data transfer. Additionally, the 720p/60 HD video is captured in full field of view (FOV) with 2 x 2 binning to double the sensitivity and improve SNR. The post binning re-sampling filter helps minimize spatial and aliasing artifacts to provide superior image quality.

OmniBSI technology offers significant performance benefits over front-side illumination technology, such as increased sensitivity per unit area, improved quantum efficiency, reduced crosstalk and photo response non-uniformity, which all contribute to significant improvements in image quality and color reproduction. Additionally, OmniVision CMOS image sensors use proprietary sensor technology to improve image quality by reducing or eliminating common lighting/electrical sources of image contamination, such as fixed pattern noise and smearing to produce a clean, fully stable color image.

The low power OV5647 supports a digital video parallel port or high-speed two-lane MIPI interface, and provides full frame, windowed or binned 10-bit images in RAW RGB format. It offers all required automatic image control functions, including automatic exposure control, automatic white balance, automatic band filter, automatic 50/60 Hz luminance detection, and automatic black level calibration.”

That sensor delivers RAW RGB Imagery to the RaspberryPi through the onboard camera connector interface:

this actually is a 14 MPixel test-board and not the final 5 MPixel one…

And the part that impressed me the most is that that 5 Megapixel sensor delivers it’s raw data stream and it gets h264 compressed directly within the GPU of the Raspberry Pi. 30 frames per second 1080p without noticeable CPU load – how does that sound? – Not bad for a 50 Euro setup!

Source 1: First Demo
Source 2: OmniVision OV5647 Color CMOS QSXGA Image Sensor

Realtime Video Effects: Time Remap

With todays processing power and the faults of current generation digital video cameras you can have a lot of fun – if you know how:

The above demonstrated effect is called Time Remapping. The description of the video tells us more about the effect itself:

The effect was discovered accidentally by a photographer called Jacques Henri Lartigues at the beginning of the 20th century (in 1912 to be precise). He took a picture of a race car with eliptical deformed tires – an effect caused by the characteristics of the camera he was using.

Source 1: http://vimeo.com/7878518
Source 2: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jacques_Henri_Lartigue
Source 3: http://bokeh.fr/blog/photographes/la-voiture-deformee-de-jacques-henri-lartigue/

practical filesystem design

In November 1998 there was a book released about file system design taking the Be File System as the central example.

“This is the new guide to the design and implementation of file systems in general, and the Be File System (BFS) in particular. This book covers all topics related to file systems, going into considerable depth where traditional operating systems books often stop. Advanced topics are covered in detail such as journaling, attributes, indexing and query processing. Built from scratch as a modern 64 bit, journaled file system, BFS is the primary file system for the Be Operating System (BeOS), which was designed for high performance multimedia applications.

You do not have to be a kernel architect or file system engineer to use Practical File System Design. Neither do you have to be a BeOS developer or user. Only basic knowledge of C is required. If you have ever wondered about how file systems work, how to implement one, or want to learn more about the Be File System, this book is all you will need.”

If you’re interested in the matter I definitely recommend reading it – it’s available for free in PDF format and will help to understand what those file system patterns are all about – even in terms of things we still haven’t gotten from our ‘modern filesystems’ today.

Source 1: http://www.nobius.org/~dbg/

ELV MAX! Cube and the Solar-log 500 – state of the reverse engineering and h.a.c.s.

It’s been some weeks since I wrote a status update on the ELV MAX! cube protocol reverse engineering and integration into my own home automation project called h.a.c.s..

So first of all I want to give a short overview over what has been achieved so far:

  • I wrote a C# library, highly influenced by a PHP implementation from the domotica forum, which allows you to continuesly get status information from the ELV MAX! cube with current (1.3.6) firmware. It is tested so far with a fairly big set-up for the ELV MAX! cube (see below)
  • I was able to integrate that library into my own home automation project called h.a.c.s. – There the ELV MAX! cube is just another device, alongside a EzControl XS1 and a SolarLog 500. The cube is monitored using my library and diff-sets as well as status information are stored automatically with the h.a.c.s. built-in mechanisms. In fact you can access for example the window shutter contact information just like you would with any other door contact in the EzControl XS1.
  • You can use events coming from the ELV MAX! cube to create new events – how about switching off/on devices when opening/closing windows?
  • Every bit of information from all integrated sensor monitoring and actor handling devices come together in h.a.c.s.

I started the reverse engineering with just one shutter contact and one thermostat. After all my test were successful I went for the big package and ordered some more sensors. This is how the setup is currently configured:

ELV MAX! set-up

I’ve learned a lot of interesting things about the ELV MAX! cube hardware and software. One is that you need to be ready for surprised. The documentation of the cube tells you the following:

Did you spot the funny fact? 50 devices – we’re well below that limit. 10 rooms – holy big mansion batman! We’re well over that. How is that possible? Well take it as a fact – you can create more than 10 rooms. And that is very handy. I’ve created 13 rooms and there are probably more to come because those shutter contacts are quite cheap and can be used for various other home automation sensory games. The tool to set-up and pair those sensors just came up with a notice that said “Oh well, you want to create more than 10 rooms? If you’re sure that you want that we allow you to, but hey, don’t blame us!”. Cool move ELV! – As of now I haven’t found any downside of having more than 10 rooms.

All my efforts started with firmware version 1.3.5. This firmware seemed to have some severe memory leaks – because just by retrieving the current configuration information every 10 seconds the device would stop communicating after more then 48 hours. Only a reboot could revive it – sometimes amnesia set in which led to a house roundtrip for me.

With some changes in the library (like keeping the connection open as long as possible) and a new firmware version 1.3.6. the cube was way more cooperative and hasn’t crashed for about 1 month now (with 10 seconds update times).

So what does my library do? It is designed to run in it’s own thread. When it’s started it opens a connection to the cube and retrieves the current status and configuration information. Those informations are stored in an object called “House”. This house consists of multiple rooms – and those rooms are filled with window shutter contacts and thermostats. All information related to those different intances are stored along with them. The integration into h.a.c.s. allows the library to generate sensor and actor events (like when a temperature changes, a window opens/closes) which are passed back to h.a.c.s. and handled in the big event loop there.

With all that ELV MAX! cube data I wanted to plug a quite nice tool that I am using in the iPhone and the iPad. It’s called “Moni4home” and it allows you to control the EzControl XS1 directly. Because it’s only accessing the EzControl XS1 I used h.a.c.s. to “inject” additional sensor data into the standard EzControl XS1 data. So basically data flow is like this: iPad app accesses h.a.c.s. which acts as a proxy. h.a.c.s. retrieves the EzControl XS1 sensor and actor data and injects additional virtual sensors like those from the ELV MAX! cube. h.a.c.s. then sends that beefed up data to the iPad app. Voilá!

After the successful integration of the ELV MAX! cube I’ve started to work on the next bit of networking home automation equipment in my house – a solar panel data logger called “Solar-Log 500”. This device monitors two solar power inverters and stores the sensory data.

Solar-Log 500 built-in statistics page

“Funny” story first: this device has the same problem like the ELV MAX! cube. When you start to poll it every 10 seconds (or less) it just stops operating after about 20 hours. Bear in mind: In case of the Solar-Log I just http-get a page that looks like this in the browser:

And by doing so every 10 seconds the device stops working. I am using the current firmware – so one workaround for that issue is to planable reboot the Solar-Log at a time when there is no sun and therefore nothing to log or monitor.

Beside that it’s a fairly easy process: Get that information, log it. Done.

that’s how the console output of h.a.c.s. looks like with all sensors and devices active (Mozilla+Wilma are the two aquaria :-))

So there you have it – h.a.c.s. interfacing with three different devices and roughly 100 sensors and actors over 434mhz/868mhz, wireless and wired network. There’s still more to come!

A lot of people seem to dive into home automation these days. Apparently Andreas is also at the point of starting his own home automation project. Good to know that he also is using the EzControl XS1 and in the future maybe even the ELV MAX! cube. Party on Andreas!

Source 1: ELV MAX! cube progress
Source 2: Reverse Engineering the ELV MAX! cube protocol
Source 3: ELV MAX! cube – home automation for the heating
Source 4: http://www.solar-log.com/de/produkte-loesungen/solar-log-500/uebersicht.html
Source 5: h.a.c.s. sourcecode
Source 6: http://monitor4home.com/Beschreibung.html
Source 7: http://www.aheil.de/2012/11/06/hack-the-planet-architectural-draft/

baking with the PI

Do you know what happens during the push of the power button and typing your log-in information inside of your computer? No? You should. At least from a software side. Not that it is necessary to use a computer. But in order to understand what this wonderful machine does and why.

For those teaching and learning purposes the Raspberry Pi is a perfect device. It’s cheap and now there is a course you can take online which shows you – starting from the very beginning – how to get the device up and running and how to make it do what you like. And that’s without installing an operating system. You are about to write your very own.

“This website is here to guide you through the process of developing very basic operating systems on the Raspberry Pi! This website is aimed at people aged 16 and upwards, although younger readers may still find some of it accessible, particularly with assistance. More lessons may be added to this course in time.”

Source: http://www.cl.cam.ac.uk/freshers/raspberrypi/tutorials/os/

openHAB – home automation bus

It certainly is just me thinking: this home automation / smart home thing gains more momentum every week. Now there’s a java based home automation bus initative taking care of the software standardization side. Quite interesting. And beside all that they had some fantastic ideas how a user interface for those things should look like. Like for example how you would interact with your house while planning when things power on and off. Use Google Calendar! This is just plain genius!

“The open Home Automation Bus (openHAB) project aims at providing a universal integration platform for all things around home automation. It is a pure Java solution, fully based on OSGi. The Equinox OSGi runtime and Jetty as a web server build the core foundation of the runtime.

It is designed to be absolutely vendor-neutral as well as hardware/protocol-agnostic. openHAB brings together different bus systems, hardware devices and interface protocols by dedicated bindings. These bindings send and receive commands and status updates on the openHAB event bus. This concept allows designing user interfaces with a unique look&feel, but with the possibility to operate devices based on a big number of different technologies. Besides the user interfaces, it also brings the power of automation logics across different system boundaries.”

I especially like the idea of that calendar integration – sending scripts through an appointment is a great idea – having some sort of scripting language is another one. A little bit on the marketing side is the option to chat with your house through XMPP / Jabber… that might take the idea a little bit too far out – but who would want to blame them? Fantastic stuff!

Source 1: http://www.openhab.org/
Source 2: http://kaikreuzer.blogspot.de/2012/08/openhab-1.html

Open Source for Space

Everyone is excited about the Mars Science Laboratory cruising on Mars. NASA/JPL pulled an unbelievable stunt to get that almost-a-ton Rover on that planet. Well done!

Alongside with the landing some source reported that NASA/JPL now has started to provider source code access to some of it’s internal projects. And beside being right this is not the first time they’ve provided source code access. They got a whole page with all their projects open sourced. Some of those are quite huge projects – big like those you would fly to Mars with.

Even more interesting from a historical perspective are the older open sourced projects. Like the complete manuals and source code listings of the gemini and apollo projects.

It’s a great read overall and it let’s you wondering with how little you can achieve great goals.

Source 1: http://ti.arc.nasa.gov/opensource/
Source 2: https://github.com/nasa/
Source 3: http://www.ibiblio.org/apollo/links.html
Source 4: http://code.google.com/p/virtualagc/

reverse-engineering the ELV MAX! Cube protocol

I had a couple of hours to tinker with my ELV MAX! Cube and there is some progress with the protocol reverse engineering.

Of course there is the domotica forum helping out with some information the guys over there have found but in addition to their very helpful findings I want it to be integrated into h.a.c.s. – and along with it I maybe want to have a way to find eventual protocol changes quick and easy in the future.

So yesterday I partied on the ‘first contact’ – today I am a bit deeper into the protocol itself:

Here are some explanations to the picture:

When a tcp connection to the cube is opened you can immediately read from it – the cube is throwing information at you. There’s always a character at the beginning of each line which marks the type and beginning of the message.

There seem to be these types of messages in the first package of information:

  • H – Header maybe?
    •  it contains the serial number of your cube, the RF address, the firmware version and several other things like time information
  • M – Metadata?
    • this seems to be some kind of global metadata list, containing the rooms with their IDs (it’s the %) in the screenshot). Furthermore it contains the serial numbers and names of the devices in that room – at the moment there’s just a window-state-sensor in that first room called “Fensterkontakt 1”
  • C – Configuration?
    • since there are multiple C messages these seem to contain detailed configuration data specific to a device in the MAX! network. Each device seems to be addressed by a RF Address and it’s serial number.
    • the first C message in the screenshot is associated to the cube itself
    • the second C message is associated to the window-state-sensor – you can clearly see in there the room id “%)” and the serial of the window-state-sensor.
  • L – live status?
    • this message seems to contain room status information. In our case there is only the room with id “%)”. When the window-state-sensor changes state the last byte changes value – interesting, eh?

On the coding side I’ve got several things set-up in my little debug tool. I’ve wrapped those message types into various classes to handle them more easily later on in h.a.c.s.. Furthermore I used a little decompiler-wisdom to extract some more information from the included ELV MAX! cube software.

Thanks to german UrhG paragraph § 69e (german copyright law) I am allowed to decompile the included software in order to achieve interoperability (and only that). That’s exactly what I would like to achieve: Interoperability. And for the record: besides that I also filed a support request to ELV in which I ask them if I could get access to a presumably existing documentation of that protocol.

While waiting on that documentation I am using JD-GUI as a decompiler user interface for java – since the software of the cube is written in java.

There are many interesting things in there but it’s a slow process to get ahold of all the things necessary. There are already some very nice things showing up. Like when you want to know if there’s a cube (or more) in the network you just need to send a multicast ip packet containing a characteristic signature and all the cubes in your network will try to connect back to you with some basic information – nice, isn’t it? Or what about that AES Encryption/Decryption that seems to be built into the cube? Yes that’s right! It seems to be possible to send commands to either encrypt or decrypt according to the AES. Thoughtfully these commands are marked with ‘e’ and ‘d’. Or that if you send “l:” as a command with CR+LF at the end you get a device listing with all stats… and so on.

Some open question to EQ-3/ELV for the end of this article:

  • Why this strange protocol? Why all the work on both sides? Just because an HTTP server implementation with a RESTful service would have been that more difficult?
  • Base64 encoded data? The 90s called, they want their 8th bit back.
  • why that complex local webserver approach when you could have done everything in a java app anyways?

That’s it for today, I just pushed a feature to the Git repository which allows you to run whatever command you like on your cube with the debugging tool:

Enjoy! :-)

Source 1: http://www.domoticaforum.eu/viewtopic.php?f=66&t=6654&sid=f8f912914163cb44d447cfa3de44d63d
Source 2: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Decompiler
Source 3: http://www.gesetze-im-internet.de/urhg/__69e.html
Source 4: http://java.decompiler.free.fr/?q=jdgui
Source 5: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Advanced_Encryption_Standard

a file is a file is a file.

Ever wondered how a software finds out that this file named “filename” is a pdf, jpeg, movie? There are several thousands, probably hundreds-of-thousands of fileformats out there. Some of them are used many times a day without us even noticing. We’re just moving an image from A to B not caring about what constitutes an image file and what makes a jpeg different to a png image.

Now for pure academic reasons there is one file that is many (no, not borg). It’s a file that is:

“CorkaMIX.exe is simultaneously a valid: * Windows Portable Executable binary * Adobe Reader PDF document * Oracle Java JAR (a CLASS inside a ZIP)/Python script * HTML page

It serves no purpose, except proving that files format not starting at offset 0 are a bad idea. Many files (known as polyglot) already combines various langages in one file, however it’s most of the time at source level, not binary level.”

Source 1: http://code.google.com/p/corkami/downloads/detail?name=CorkaMIX.zip

ELV Max! Cube – home automation for the heating

For several years now I am building my own home automation tools by putting together existing hardware and self-written software. As the central software core of my home automation system I use h.a.c.s. – “home automation control server” which I put up as open source software on GitHub.

Throughout the years I was able to embedd a lot of daily tasks and measurements in one place which can be accessed by a simple web page. It currently looks like this:

You can find some articles on this blog about h.a.c.s. if you want to know more about it.

As of today I can control and measure the states of switches, windows, doors, temperature and humidity and power consumption. Scenarios like “when this door opens, switch on that light” are easy things to do with h.a.c.s.

Now “Winter’s coming!”. And therefore I want to take control of the heating of each and every room in the house. I want to set a goal for a temperature and I want the heating to fire up or cool down with that goal. And of course I want to monitor manual changes of each and every radiator in the house.

Last week then I stumbled upon a piece of kit called “ELV MAX! Cube”. It’s a white cube (as the name implies) which offers a USB port from which it is powered and an RJ-45 ethernet port which connects the cube to the home network.

The cube itself does not draw much power and it can be powered by the routers USB port easily. It allows you to connect some peripherals using 868 mhz rf. Those peripherals can be: window state sensors (closed/open) and thermostats to control the radiators (and a switch but, well… hopefully not necessary).

It comes with it’s own user interface – a java application that connects to the device and allows you to configure it. Quite nice – it runs on Windows and Mac. You can use a cloud service to control the device over the internet, but I have no intention in trying that out right now.

My plan is to extend h.a.c.s. to get information from the cube and handle them and in the end even control the cube by setting temperatures and controlling the outcome of those changes.

As of now there are some efforts to decode the quite interesting protocol the cube is talking. You communicate with the cube over TCP (my cube listens on port 62910).

Currently I am building a small debug application which allows me to experiment with the output of the cube faster than plain telnet would. And within this I had the first contact tonight:

As always all my efforts can be seen in the hacs repository.

Source 1: https://github.com/bietiekay/hacs
Source 2: http://www.schrankmonster.de/?s=hacs
Source 3: http://www.elv.de/max-cube-lan-gateway.html
Source 4: http://www.domoticaforum.eu/viewtopic.php?f=66&t=6654

a delicious raspberry pi

Just a couple of days ago – after a waiting time of more than half a year – my personal raspberry pi board arrived. Fantastic!

It’s small. Oh yes, it’s very very small.

What is the Raspberry Pi you may ask:

“The Raspberry Pi is a credit-card sized computer that plugs into your TV and a keyboard. It’s a capable little PC which can be used for many of the things that your desktop PC does, like spreadsheets, word-processing and games. It also plays high-definition video. We want to see it being used by kids all over the world to learn programming.”

For under 40 Euro you get a huge choice of I/O interfaces like USB, Ethernet, HDMI, Audio and Multi Purpose IO pins you can play with if you’re into hardware hacking. This small card is running a fully blown linux and because it has a dedicated graphics core which can hardware decode and encode 1080p h264 it’s definitely a good choice for a home mediacenter (yes, XBMC runs on it.)

It draws so little power that you could use solar panels to power it. It’s all open and sourced and I will use it for a couple of things in the household. Like a cheap Airplay node. Or a more intelligent sensor node for home automation. This thing seriously rocks – finally a device to play with – with reasonable horse-power.

Source 1: http://www.raspberrypi.org
Source 2: http://www.raspbmc.com