Shallow Thoughts : : Mar

Akkana's Musings on Open Source Computing and Technology, Science, and Nature.

Mon, 26 Mar 2018

Dust Storm Burma Shave Signs

I just got back from a trip to the Chiricahuas, specifically Cave Creek. More on that later, after I've done some more photo triaging. But first, a story from the road.

[NM Burma Shave dust storm signs]

Driving on I-10 in New Mexico near the Arizona border, we saw several signs about dust storms. The first one said,

ZERO VISIBILITY IS POSSIBLE

Dave commented, "I prefer the ones that say, 'may exist'." And as if the highway department heard him, a minute or two later we passed a much more typical New Mexico road sign:

DUST STORMS MAY EXIST
New Mexico, the existential state.

But then things got more fun. We drove for a few more miles, then we passed a sign that obviously wasn't meant to stand alone:

IN A DUST STORM

"It's a Burma Shave!" we said simultaneously. (I'm not old enough to remember Burma Shave signs in real life, but I've heard stories and love the concept.) The next sign came quickly:

PULL OFF ROADWAY

"What on earth are they going to find to rhyme with 'roadway'?" I wondered. I racked my brains but couldn't come up with anything. As it turns out, neither could NMDOT. There were three more signs:

TURN VEHICLE OFF
FEET OFF BRAKES
STAY BUCKLED

"Hmph", I thought. "What an opportunity missed." But I still couldn't come up with a rhyme for "roadway". Since we were on Interstate 10, and there's not much to do on a long freeway drive, I penned an alternative:

IN A DUST STORM
PULL OFF TEN
YOU WILL LIVE
TO DRIVE AGAIN

Much better, isn't it? But one thing bothered me: you're not really supposed to pull all the way off Interstate 10, just onto the shoulder. How about:

IN A DUST STORM
PULL TO SHOULDER
YOU WILL LIVE
TO GET MUCH OLDER

I wasn't quite happy with it. I thought my next attempt was an improvement:

IN A DUST STORM
PULL TO SHOULDER
YOU MAY CRASH IF
YOU ARE BOLDER
but Dave said I should stick with "GET MUCH OLDER".

Oh, well. Even if I'm not old enough to remember real Burma Shave signs, and even if NMDOT doesn't have the vision to make their own signs rhyme, I can still have fun with the idea.

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[ 16:05 Mar 26, 2018    More travel | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Sat, 10 Mar 2018

Intel Galileo v2 Linux Basics

[Intel Galileo Gen2 by Mwilde2 on Wikimedia commons] Our makerspace got a donation of a bunch of Galileo gen2 boards from Intel (image from Mwilde2 on Wikimedia commons).

The Galileo line has been discontinued, so there's no support and no community, but in theory they're fairly interesting boards. You can use a Galileo in two ways: you can treat it like an Arduino, after using the Arduino IDE to download a Galileo hardware definition since they're not Atmega chips. They even have Arduino-format headers so you can plug in an Arduino shield. That works okay (once you figure out that you need to download the Galileo v2 hardware definitions, not the regular Galileo). But they run Linux under the hood, so you can also use them as a single-board Linux computer.

Serial Cable

The first question is how to talk to the board. The documentation is terrible, and web searches aren't much help because these boards were never terribly popular. Worse, the v1 boards seem to have been more widely adopted than the v2 boards, so a lot of what you find on the web doesn't apply to v2. For instance, the v1 required a special serial cable that used a headphone jack as its connector.

Some of the Intel documentation talks about how you can load a special Arduino sketch that then disables the Arduino bootloader and instead lets you use the USB cable as a serial monitor. That made me nervous: once you load that sketch, Arduino mode no longer works until you run a command on Linux to start it up again. So if the sketch doesn't work, you may have no way to talk to the Galileo. Given the state of the documentation I'd already struggled with for Arduino mode, it didn't sound like a good gamble. I thought a real serial cable sounded like a better option.

Of course, the Galileo documentation doesn't tell you what needs to plug in where for a serial cable. The board does have a standard FTDI 6-pin header on the board next to the ethernet jack, and the labels on the pins seemed to correspond to the standard pinout on my Adafruit FTDI Friend: Gnd, CTS, VCC, TX, RX, RTS. So I tried that first, using GNU screen to connect to it from Linux just like I would a Raspberry Pi with a serial cable:

screen /dev/ttyUSB0 115200

Powered up the Galileo and sure enough, I got boot messages and was able to log in as root with no password. It annoyingly forces orange text on a black background, making it especially hard to read on a light-background terminal, but hey, it's a start.

Later I tried a Raspberry Pi serial cable, with just RX (green), TX (white) and Gnd (black) -- don't use the red VCC wire since the Galileo is already getting power from its own power brick -- and that worked too. The Galileo doesn't actually need CTS or RTS. So that's good: two easy ways to talk to the board without buying specialized hardware. Funny they didn't bother to mention it in the docs.

Blinking an LED from the Command Line

Once connected, how do you do anything? Most of the Intel tutorials on Linux are useless, devoting most of their space to things like how to run Putty on Windows and no space at all to how to talk to pins. But I finally found a discussion thread with a Python example for Galileo. That's not immediately helpful since the built-in Linux doesn't have python installed (nor gcc, natch). Fortunately, the Python example used files in /sys rather than a dedicated Python library; we can access /sys files just as well from the shell.

Of course, the first task is to blink an LED on pin 13. That apparently corresponds to GPIO 7 (what are the other arduino/GPIO correspondences? I haven't found a reference for that yet.) So you need to export that pin (which creates /sys/class/gpio/gpio7 and set its direction to out. But that's not enough: the pin still doesn't turn on when you echo 1 > /sys/class/gpio/gpio7/value. Why not? I don't know, but the Python script exports three other pins -- 46, 30, and 31 -- and echoes 0 to 30 and 31. (It does this without first setting their directions to out, and if you try that, you'll get an error, so I'm not convinced the Python script presented as the "Correct answer" would actually have worked. Be warned.)

Anyway, I ended up with these shell lines as preparation before the Galileo can actually blink:

# echo 7 >/sys/class/gpio/export

# echo out > /sys/class/gpio/gpio7/direction

# echo 46 >/sys/class/gpio/export
# echo 30 >/sys/class/gpio/export
# echo 31 >/sys/class/gpio/export

# echo out > /sys/class/gpio/gpio30/direction
# echo out > /sys/class/gpio/gpio31/direction
# echo 0  > /sys/class/gpio/gpio30/value
# echo 0  > /sys/class/gpio/gpio31/value

And now, finally, you can control the LED on pin 13 (GPIO 7):

# echo 1 > /sys/class/gpio/gpio7/value
# echo 0 > /sys/class/gpio/gpio7/value
or run a blink loop:
# while /bin/true; do
> echo 1  > /sys/class/gpio/gpio7/value
> sleep 1
> echo 0  > /sys/class/gpio/gpio7/value
> sleep 1
> done

Searching Fruitlessly for a "Real" Linux Image

All the Galileo documentation is emphatic that you should download a Linux distro and burn it to an SD card rather than using the Yocto that comes preinstalled. The preinstalled Linux apparently has no persistent storage, so not only does it not save your Linux programs, it doesn't even remember the current Arduino sketch. And it has no programming languages and only a rudimentary busybox shell. So finding and downloading a Linux distro was the next step.

Unfortunately, that mostly led to dead ends. All the official Intel docs describe different download filenames, and they all point to generic download pages that no longer include any of the filenames mentioned. Apparently Intel changed the name for its Galileo images frequently and never updated its documentation.

After forty-five minutes of searching and clicking around, I eventually found my way to IntelĀ® IoT Developer Kit Installer Files, which includes sizable downloads with names like

From the size, I suspect those are all Linux images. But what are they and how do they differ? Do any of them still have working repositories? Which ones come with Python, with gcc, with GPIO support, with useful development libraries? Do any of them get security updates?

As far as I can tell, the only way to tell is to download each image, burn it to a card, boot from it, then explore the filesystem trying to figure out what distro it is and how to try updating it.

But by this time I'd wasted three hours and gotten no further than the shell commands to blink a single LED, and I ran out of enthusiasm. I mean, I could spend five more hours on this, try several of the Linux images, and see which one works best. Or I could spend $10 on a Raspberry Pi Zero W that has abundant documentation, libraries, books, and community howtos. Plus wi-fi, bluetooth and HDMI, none of which the Galileo has.

Arduino and Linux Living Together

So that's as far as I've gone. But I do want to note one useful thing I stumbled upon while searching for information about Linux distributions:

Starting Arduino sketch from Linux terminal shows how to run an Arduino sketch (assuming it's already compiled) from Linux:

sketch.elf /dev/ttyGS0 &

It's a fairly cool option to have. Maybe one of these days, I'll pick one of the many available distros and try it.

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[ 13:54 Mar 10, 2018    More hardware | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Thu, 01 Mar 2018

Re-enabling PHP when a Debian system upgrade disables it

I updated my Debian Testing system via apt-get upgrade, as one does during the normal course of running a Debian system. The next time I went to a locally hosted website, I discovered PHP didn't work. One of my websites gave an error, due to a directive in .htaccess; another one presented pages that were full of PHP code interspersed with the HTML of the page. Ick!

In theory, Debian updates aren't supposed to change configuration files without asking first, but in practice, silent and unexpected Apache bustage is fairly common. But for this one, I couldn't find anything in a web search, so maybe this will help.

The problem turned out to be that /etc/apache2/mods-available/ includes four files:

$ ls /etc/apache2/mods-available/*php*
/etc/apache2/mods-available/php7.0.conf
/etc/apache2/mods-available/php7.0.load
/etc/apache2/mods-available/php7.2.conf
/etc/apache2/mods-available/php7.2.load

The appropriate files are supposed to be linked from there into /etc/apache2/mods-enabled. Presumably, I previously had a link to ../mods-available/php7.0.* (or perhaps 7.1?); the upgrade to PHP 7.2 must have removed that existing link without replacing it with a link to the new ../mods-available/php7.2.*.

The solution is to restore those links, either with ln -s or with the approved apache2 commands (as root, of course):

# a2enmod php7.2
# systemctl restart apache2

Whew! Easy fix, but it took a while to realize what was broken, and would have been nice if it didn't break in the first place. Why is the link version-specific anyway? Why isn't there a file called /etc/apache2/mods-available/php.* for the latest version? Does PHP really change enough between minor releases to break websites? Doesn't it break a website more to disable PHP entirely than to swap in a newer version of it?

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[ 10:31 Mar 01, 2018    More linux | permalink to this entry | comments ]