Reading out non-smart (water/gas/…) meters

The only meter in our house that I was not yet able to read out automatically was the water meter.

With the help of a great open source project by the name of AI-on-the-edge and an ESP32-Camera Module it is quite simple to regularly take a picture of the meter, convert it into a digital read-out and send it away through MQTT.

The process is quite simple and straightforward.

  1. Flash the ready made Firmware image to the module
  2. Configure the WiFi using a SD card
  3. Put the module directly over the meter
  4. Connect to it and setup the reference points and the meter recognition marks

As you can see above all the recognition is done on the ESP32 module with its 4MByte of RAM.

With the data sent through MQTT it’s easy to draw nice graphs:

my 4 layer corne split keyboard layout (germany)

I’ve been using my corne split keyboard for about 3 weeks now and during that time I’ve made a couple of changes to the layout.

Right now I am quite happy with the content I am typing these days but I guess over time I am still going to optimize further.

Nevertheless I want to document my layout here, in a picture and with the json file that can be used with the QMK configurator.

building a corne split keyboard

It’s been a while since during a Hack-the-Planet episode I was gifted two PCBs of a corne keyboard by PH_0x17 of Nerdbude and ClickClackHack fame.

Since a picture says more than a thousand words, I give you the result first:

my crkbd based keyboard

This keyboard design is made from the ground up as open source and naturally is fully available as a GIT repository containing everything you need to start: PCB schematics, drawing, documentation and firmware source code.

It took me a couple of months to get all the required parts ordered and delivered. Many small envelopes with parts that seemlingly are only produced by a handful of manufacturers. But anyways: After everything had arrived and was checked for completeness my wife took the hardware parts into her hands and started soldering and assembling the keyboard.

And so this project naturally is split up between my wife and me in the most natural (to us) way: My wife did all the hardware parts – whilst I did the software and interfacing portion. (Admittedly there only was to be figured out how to get the firmware compiled and altered to my specific needs)

Hardware

So make the jump over to the blog of my wife and enjoy the hardware portion over there. Come back for the software portion. I will only leave some pictures of the process here:

Software

After putting the hardware together it was time to get the firmware sorted as well. This keyboard design is based upon the open source QMK (Quantum Mechanical Keyboard) firmware.

Conveniently QMK comes with it’s own build tools – so you will be up and running in no time. Since I had purchased Arduino ProMicro controllers I was good with the most basic setup you can imagine. As the base requirements for the toolchain where minimal I went with the machine that I had in front of me – a Raspberry Pi 4 with the standard Raspberry Pi OS.

These where the steps to get going:

  • get Python 3 and the qmk tool installed – I’ve chosen not to use the tool setup procedure but instead go with a separate clone of the QMK firmware repository.
python3 -m pip install --user qmk
  • clone the QMK firmware repository and get the QMK tool running (in the /bin folder of the firmware repository – it’s actually just a python script)
git clone https://github.com/qmk/qmk_firmware.git
cd qmk_firmware
git submodule sync --recursive
git submodule update --init --recursive --progress
make crkbd:default
  • create your own keymap to work with. You gotta use the crkbd firmware options as a default for this keyboard. The command below will generate a subfolder with the name of your keymap in the keyboards/crkbd/keymaps folder with the default settings of the crkbd keyboard firmware.
qmk new-keymap -kb crkbd
  • build your first firmware by running the command below (note: btk-corne is the name of my keymap)
qmk compile --clean -kb crkbd/rev1/legacy -km btk-corne
success! The first firmware is compiled
  • now you can flash the firmware to both ProMicro controllers. The most straight forward way for me was using avrdude on the commandline. In my case the device is added as /dev/ttyACM0 and the compiled firmware named crkbd_rev1_legacy_btk-corne.hex.

    When you got all this information you need to plug in the ProMicro and trigger a reset by bridging Ground and the Reset Pin. If you added, like we did, a button for reset you can use this. After hitting reset the ProMicro bootloader will enter the state where it’s possible to be flashed. Reset it and THEN run the avrdude commandline.

    The full commandline is:
avrdude -p atmega32u4 -P /dev/ttyACM0 -c avr109  -e -U flash:w:crkbd_rev1_legacy_btk-corne.hex
  • (alternatively) you can also use QMK Toolbox to flash the firmware. Also works.

So now you know how to get the firmware compiled and running (if not, look here further). But most probably you are not happy with some aspects of your keymap or firmware.

By now you might ask yourself: Hey, I’ve got two ProMicros on one keyboard. Both are flashed with the same firmware. Into which of the two do I plug in the USB cable that then is plugged into the computer?

The answer is: by default QMK assumes that you are plugging into the left half of the keyboard making the left half the master. If you prefer to use the right half you can change this behaviour in the config.h file in the firmware:

You have to plug in both of them anyway at times when you want to flash a new firmware to them as you adjust and make changes to your keymap.

Thankfully QMK comes with loads of options and even a very useful configurator tool. I used this tool to adjust the keymap to my requirements. The process there is straightforward again. Open up the configurator and select the correct keyboard type. In my case that is crkbd/legacy. The basic difference between legacy and common is a different communication protocol between the two halves. This really only is important when features are used that require some sort of sync between the two haves – like some RGB LED effects. Since I did not add any LEDs to the build I go with legacy for now. Maybe I need some features later that require me to go with common.

The configurator allows you to set up the whole keymap and upload/download it as a .json file.

That .json file can easily be converted into the C code that you need to alter in the actual keymap.c file. Assuming that the .json file you got is named btk-corne.json the full commandline is:

qmk json2c btk-corne.json

Then simply take this output and replace the stuff in the keymap.c with it:

Now you compile and flash again. And if all went right you’ve got the new keymap and firmware on your keyboard and it’ll work just like that :)

So, we’re building something

For some weeks now I am working on the design of something that is being built within the next couple of weeks out of wood and metal (and electronics).

It’s hopefully going to be as nice as I dream it up… What could it be?

I did this design based upon some pixel-material and pictures I’ve gathered around the internets – and took a lot of inspiration from them.

Although I had to create everything in vectors from those small pixel templates… But now everything above is going to be printed on vinyl in glorious vectors – no pixeljunk.

DOS64

So this is interesting: Normally a Windows program (executable) if you try to run it anywhere else will show a message “cannot be run here” and terminates.

Printing this message is actually done by a little program whos task is to only print out this very message. So it can be overwritten.

Michael Strehovský did exactly this, very impressively. He documented what he did to get the game “snake”, written in C#, running on DOS instead of the “does not run here” stub. In an executable file that would run both, on standard 90s MS-DOS as well as on Windows with the .NET Framework installed.

He used a quite elaborate toolchain – namely DOS64-stub.

You can read all of this in the full thread. I recommend a deeper dive, as it’s a great start to better understand the inner workings of your computer…

Periodensystem der KI

Jeder kennt das »Periodensystem der Elemente« aus dem Chemieunterricht. Das Periodensystem ist ein intuitiver und schneller »Lego-Baukasten«, der uns unterstützt, komplizierte Zusammenhänge zwischen Bausteinen (Atomen) und Molekülen (Naturstoffe, Steine oder Metalle) intellektuell zu erfassen.

Der amerikanische Informatiker Kristian Hammond hat den Versuch unternommen, eine Lingua Franca für künstliche Intelligenz zu konzipieren. In Anlehnung an die Chemie bezeichnet er sie als »Periodensystem der Künstlichen Intelligenz«.

Das Periodensystem der Künstlichen Intelligenz unterstützt dabei, den Begriff KI auf Geschäftsprozesse abzubilden und ein Verständnis der Elemente aufzubauen – ähnlich wie im Periodensystem der chemischen Elemente. Der Ansatz hilft beim Verständnis und bei der Einschätzung von Marktreife, Aufwänden, benötigtem Maschinentraining sowie Wissen und Erfahrungen der Mitarbeiter.

multi-Protocol to MQTT tool

When you are dealing with IoT protocols, especially at hobby-level, you probably came across the MQTT protocol and the challenge to have all those different devices that are supposed to be connected actually get connected – preferably using the MQTT protocol.

Recently this little project came to my attention:

OpenMQTTGateway project goal is to concentrate in one gateway different technologies, decreasing by the way the number of proprietary gateways needed, and hiding the different technologies singularity behind a simple & wide spread communication protocol: MQTT.

OpenMQTTGateway

OpenMQTTGateway support very mature technologies like basic 433mhz/315mhz protocols & infrared (IR) so as to make your old dumb devices “smart” and avoid you to throw then away. These devices have also the advantages of having a lower cost compared to Zwave or more sophisticated protocols. OMG support also up to date technologies like Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) or LORA.

Of course, there is a compatible device list…

bootable disks and raw disk copies

Every once in a while I need to take an image or duplicate an SSD/SDCard/Harddisk. And it’s gotten quite complicated to get the proper formatting and alignment when you want to achieve certain things.

For example creating a EFI compatible bootable USB stick is not as straight forward as one would think.

In those cases, a tool called rufus helps:

For all other cases I am using the HDDGuru tool on Windows.

HDD Raw Copy Tool is a utility for low-level, sector-by-sector hard disk duplication and image creation.

  • Supported interfaces: S-ATA (SATA), IDE (E-IDE), SCSI, SAS, USB, FIREWIRE.
  • Big drives (LBA-48) are supported.
  • Supported HDD/SSD Manufacturers: Intel, OCZ, Samsung, Kingston, Maxtor, Hitachi, Seagate, Samsung, Toshiba, Fujitsu, IBM, Quantum, Western Digital, and almost any other not listed here.
  • The program also supports low-level duplication of FLASH cards (SD/MMC, MemoryStick, CompactFlash, SmartMedia, XD) using a card-reader.

HDD Raw Copy tool makes an exact duplicate of a SATA, IDE, SAS, SCSI or SSD hard disk drive. Will also work with any USB and FIREWIRE external drive enclosures as well as SD, MMC, MemoryStick and CompactFlash media.

FriendOS – OS concept in your browser

brace for marketing:

Friend OS, a modularfully-customizable operating system accessible via any device that can support a modern web browser, or Friend’s Android and iOS apps. Friend OS leverages Internet and blockchain technologies to offer all the features of a commercial operating system, but one that gives you access to a secure and private cloud-based virtual desktop anytime, anywhere, no matter what hardware or software you use.

So what does this all mean? It’s apparently a web application scaled up to behave and be used like an operating system. It encapsulates an application and directory/filesystem like concept and essentially lives in one of your browser windows.

As long as you’ve got a supported browser, all your apps and data will be accessible through this. They claim.

It’s interesting as there is a lot of open source in there and even some docker effort made to get it running. Seems abandoned / not updated at the time of writing, but it’s a nice concept to begin with anyways.

generative art: flowers

It started with this tweet about someone called Ayliean apparently drawing a plant based upon set rules and rolling a dice.

And because generative art in itself is fascinating I am frequently pulled into such things. Like this dungeon generator or these city maps or generated audio or face generators or buildings and patterns

On the topic of flowers there’s another actual implementation of the above mentioned concept available:

TubeTime and BitSavers

I was pointing to BitSavers before. And I will do it again as it’s a never ending source of joy.

Now some old schematics had been spilled into my feeds that show how logic gates had been implemented with transformers only.

BitSaver brought it up:

And not only BitSaver is on this path of sharing knowledge, also TubeTime is such a nice account to follow and read.

batch convert HEIF/HEIC pictures

When you own a recent iOS device (iOS 11 and up) you’ve got the choice between “High Efficiency” or “Most Compatible” as the format all pictures are being stored by the camera app.

Most Compatible being the JPEG format that is widely used around the internet and other cameras out there and the “High Efficiency” coming from the introduction of a new file format and compression/reduction algorithms.

A pointer to more information about the format:

High Efficiency Image File Format (HEIF), also known as High Efficiency Image Coding (HEIC), is a file format for individual images and image sequences. It was developed by the Moving Picture Experts Group (MPEG) and is defined by MPEG-H Part 12 (ISO/IEC 23008-12). The MPEG group claims that twice as much information can be stored in a HEIF image as in a JPEG image of the same size, resulting in a better quality image. HEIF also supports animation, and is capable of storing more information than an animated GIF at a small fraction of the size.

Wikipedia: HEIF

As Apple is aware this new format is not compatible with any existing tool chain to work with pictures from cameras. So you would either need new, upgraded tools (the Apple-way) or you would need to convert your images to the “older” – not-so-efficient JPEG format.

To my surprise it’s not trivial to find a conversion tool. For Linux I’ve already wrote about such a tool here.

For macOS and Windows, look no further. Waltr2 is an app catering your conversion needs with a drag-and-drop interface.

It’s advertised as being free and offline. And it works a treat for me.

a proper 7-segment / 14-segment font

DSEG is a free font family, which imitate seven and fourteen segment display(7SEG,14SEG). DSEG have special features:

  • DSEG includes the roman-alphabet and symbol glyphs.
  • More than 50 types are available.
  • True type font(*.ttf) and Web Open Type File Format (*.woff, *.woff2) are in a package.
  • DSEG is licensed under the SIL Open Font License 1.1.

Get it here.

dangerously curious bitcoins

Some things you find on GitHub are more interesting and frightening than others.

This one is both and some more. What is it you ask?

R2 Bitcoin Arbitrager is an automatic arbitrage trading application targeting Bitcoin exchanges.

So it’s buying and selling Bitcoins. And it’s doing this on different markets.
On the topic of arbitrage Wikipedia has something to say:

In economics and finance, arbitrage is the practice of taking advantage of a price difference between two or more markets: striking a combination of matching deals that capitalize upon the imbalance, the profit being the difference between the market prices at which the unit is traded.

For example, an arbitrage opportunity is present when there is the opportunity to instantaneously buy something for a low price and sell it for a higher price.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arbitrage

Now this already is the second version of the tool and already 2 years old. See it as some sort of interesting archeological specimem. Please refrain to actually so something harmful with it.

I am writing this down here because apart from it’s obvious horrors this is a good starting point to understand how these computer-trading-systems do work in principle.

Given that an architectural drawing is also included it gives all sorts of starting points to thoughts.

Also. What could possibly go wrong if a tool to buy/sell on actual markets with actual bitcoins is confident enough to include the “maxTargetProfit” configuration option. Effectively setting the top-line of profit you’re going to make!!!111

Linux mac80211 compatible full-stack Wi-Fi design based on SDR

In a tweet we were given an early christmas present – open-sdr released an open source software Wi-Fi stack that utilizes software-defined-radio technology to implement actual working Wi-Fi.

Features:

  • 802.11a/g; 802.11n MCS 0~7; 20MHz
  • Mode tested: Ad-hoc; Station; AP
  • DCF (CSMA/CA) low MAC layer in FPGA
  • Configurable channel access priority parameters:
    • duration of RTS/CTS, CTS-to-self
    • SIFS/DIFS/xIFS/slot-time/CW/etc
  • Time slicing based on MAC address
  • Easy to change bandwidth and frequency:
    • 2MHz for 802.11ah in sub-GHz
    • 10MHz for 802.11p/vehicle in 5.9GHz
  • On roadmap: 802.11ax

See this demonstration:

Drag and drop ML with transparency

The machine-learning tooling is getting better. Take a look at Perceptilabs:

Fast modeling
With our drag and drop GUI we enable fast model development.

Increased transparency
The statistical dashboard increases the model’s transparency during training.
Get a better understanding of your model with instant feedback on the operations outputs.
We enable fast error debugging with our custom code editor.

Flexibility
Full flexible options for plugins and importing. Execute any custom Python code in our code editor.

Tabemono – from a name to UX and UI…

As you might know by now I am re-implementing MyFitnessPal functionality into my own application to be deeper integrated with kitchen hardware and my own personal use-cases rather than to be an add infested subscription based 3rd party applilcation.

So the development of this is ongoing, but I wanted to note down some progress and explanation.

Let’s start with explaining the name: Tabemono.

It does really mean something – and as some might have guessed – in japanese:

Tabemono – 食べ物

Taking just the first Kanji:

Implementing the UI from the UX has proven to be as challenging as expected.

When we started to toss around the idea of re-implementing our food-tracking-needs we started with a simple scribble on post-it notes.

This quickly led to a digital version of this to better reflect what we wanted to happen during the different steps of use…

It wasn’t nice but it did act as an reminder of what we wanted to achieve.

The first thing we learned here was that this will all evolve while we are working on it.

So during a long international flight I’ve spent the better part of 11 hours on getting the above drawing into something resembling an iOS user interface mock-up. With the help of the (free for 1 private project) Adobe XD I clicked along and after 10 hours, this was the video I did of the click-dummy:

Since then I’ve spend maybe 1 more day and started the SwiftUI based implementation of the actual iOS application.

And this brought the first revelation: There are so many ideas that might make sense on paper and in a click-dummy. But only because those are just tools and not reality. It’s absolutely crucial to really DO the things rather than imagine them.

And so the second revelation came: If I had an advise to any product manager or developer out there: Go on and pick a project and try to go full-circle.

You ain’t full stack if you’re missing out on the understanding of the work and skill that your team members have and need.

OpenFood Facts

Open Food Facts gathers information and data on food products from around the world.

To replace MyFitnessPal in our toolchain I am on the hunt for at least some quality food fact data.

The Open Food Facts data base seems to be one source – although in sparse and questionable quality (after first initial testing).

There is a comprehensive documentation about the fields of data supported. And there are several formats that the raw data can be downloaded in.

There are ready-made applications available as well. Definitly worth looking into further.

smart OpenVPN client for iOS

There is a free and well integrated OpenVPN client for iOS devices already. And as much as this one works quite well it’s also lacking some comfort features that are now made available through alternative iOS client implementations of OpenVPN.

OpenVPN is an open-source commercial software that implements virtual private network techniques to create secure point-to-point or site-to-site connections in routed or bridged configurations and remote access facilities. It uses a custom security protocol that utilizes SSL/TLS for key exchange.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/OpenVPN

Meet Passepartout. The iOS OpenVPN client that comes with lots of comfort features. Of main interest for me is that Passepartout is aware of the connection you’re currently using and can adopt it’s VPN tunnel status accordingly.

Passepartout is a smart OpenVPN client perfectly integrated with the iOS platform. Passepartout is the only app you need for both well-known OpenVPN providers and your personal OpenVPN servers.

collection of pure bash alternatives to external processes

The goal of this book is to document commonly-known and lesser-known methods of doing various tasks using only built-in bash features. Using the snippets from this bible can help remove unneeded dependencies from scripts and in most cases make them faster. I came across these tips and discovered a few while developing neofetchpxltrm and other smaller projects.

https://github.com/dylanaraps/pure-bash-bible

eXoDOS

eXoDOS is an attempt to catalog, obtain, and make playable every game developed for the DOS and PC Booter platform. Striving to find original media rather than using scene rips. This collection uses a combination of Dosbox and ScummVM to play these older titles on modern systems. All required emulators are included and have been setup to run all included titles with no prior knowledge or experience required on the users part.

This pack includes 7,000 DOS games. The focus is on games that were either released in English or are fairly easy to play without a knowledge of the native language. This is not every DOS game ever made, however it is a very high percentage of all commercial releases. There are thousands of freeware, homebrew, and shareware games that will continue to be added in future packs.

The games have already been configured to run in DosBOX. Games which are supported by ScummVM will give you the option at launch as to which emulator you would like to use.

https://exodos.the-eye.eu/

the big list of RTL-SDR supported software

RTL-SDR is a very cheap ~$25 USB dongle that can be used as a computer based radio scanner for receiving live radio signals in your area (no internet required). Depending on the particular model it could receive frequencies from 500 kHz up to 1.75 GHz. Most software for the RTL-SDR is also community developed, and provided free of charge.

The origins of RTL-SDR stem from mass produced DVB-T TV tuner dongles that were based on the RTL2832U chipset. With the combined efforts of Antti Palosaari, Eric Fry and Osmocom (in particular Steve Markgraf) it was found that the raw I/Q data on the RTL2832U chipset could be accessed directly, which allowed the DVB-T TV tuner to be converted into a wideband software defined radio via a custom software driver developed by Steve Markgraf. If you’ve ever enjoyed the RTL-SDR project please consider donating to Osmocom via Open Collective as they are the ones who developed the drivers and brought RTL-SDR to life.

https://www.rtl-sdr.com/about-rtl-sdr/

And since the hardware is so affordable there’s lots of software and therefore things that can be done with it.