Linux as a Library: Unikernels are Coming
By Al Williams
If you think about it, an operating system kernel is really just a very powerful shared library that offers services to many programs. Of course, it is a very powerful library, but still — its main purpose is to provide services to programs. Your program probably doesn’t use all of the myriad services the kernel provides. Even a typical system might not fully use all the things that are in a typical kernel. Red Hat has a new initiative to bring a technology called unikernels to the forefront. A unikernel is a single application linked with just enough of the kernel for it to execute. As you might expect, this can result in a smaller system and better security.
It can also lead to better performance. The unikernel doesn’t have to maintain devices and services that are not used. Also, the kernel and the application can run in the same privilege ring. That may seem like a security hole, but if you think about it, the only reason a regular kernel runs at a higher privilege is to protect itself from a malicious application modifying the kernel to do something bad to another application. In this case, there is no other application.
This isn’t a new idea. Embedded operating systems have long built the application in with the kernel. However, Red Hat wants to bring Linux and open community into the unikernel landscape. The idea is that unlike other projects, this one will be based on Linux that is actively developed and maintained. According to Red Hat, previous systems either didn’t use Linux or mutated Linux to the point that it no longer benefits from the Linux community’s development efforts.
Linux has wormed its way into many embedded systems and it is easy to see how a unikernel would be handy for that or for some network appliances. Of course, you could always use a classic RTOS. For some applications, you might even consider just a basic framework like Mongoose.
November 18, 2018 at 01:00PM
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A 1940s Gangster-Mobile Gets an Electric Makeover
By Dan Maloney
When referring to classic cars, there’s a good reason that “they don’t make ’em like that anymore.” Old cars represented the limits of what could be done in terms of materials and manufacturing methods coupled with the styles of the time and cheap fuel. The result was big, heavy cars that would cost a fortune in gas to keep on the road today.
Some people just don’t want to let those styles go, however, and send their beast off for some special modifications. This 1949 Mercury coupe with an electric drivetrain conversion is one way of keeping that retro look alive. Granted, the body of the car is not exactly showroom quality anymore, from the light patina of rust on its heavy steel body panels to the pimples cropping up under its abundant chrome. But that’s all part of the charm; this comes from conversion company Icon’s “Derelict” line, which takes old vehicles and guts them while leaving the outside largely untouched. This Mercury was given a fully electric, 298 kW drivetrain. The engine bay and trunk, together roomier than some Silicon Valley studio apartments, provided ample room for the 85 kWh Tesla battery pack and the dual electric motors, with room left over to craft enclosures for the battery controllers that look like a V8 engine. Custom electronic gauges and controls that look like originals adorn the chrome-bedazzled dash. The beast tops out at 120 mph (193 km/h) and has a 200 mile (322 km) range before it has to find a Tesla supercharger. Or a lemonade stand.
Say what you want about the old cars, but they had plenty of style. We appreciate the work that went into this conversion, which no doubt cost more than all the gas this thing has ever guzzled.
Thanks to [Qes] for the tip.
November 18, 2018 at 10:00AM
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CNC Embroidery Machine Punches Out Designs a Stitch at a Time
By Dan Maloney
It’s doubtful that the early pioneers of CNC would have been able to imagine the range of the applications the technology would be used for. Once limited to cutting metal, CNC machines can now lance through materials using lasers and high-pressure jets of water, squirt molten plastic to build up 3D objects, and apparently even use needle and thread to create embroidered designs.
It may not seem like a typical CNC application, but [James Kolme]’s CNC embroidery machine sure looks familiar. Sitting in front of one of the prettiest sewing machines we’ve ever seen is a fairly typical X-Y gantry system. The stepper-controlled gantry moves an embroidery hoop under the needle of the sewing machine, which is actually the Z-axis of the machine. With the material properly positioned, a NEMA 23 stepper attached to the sewing machine through a sprocket and drive chain makes a stitch, slowly building up a design. Translating an embroidery pattern to G-code is done through Inkstitch, and extension to Inkscape. [James]’ write-up is great, and the video below shows it in action.
We’ve seen a CNC embroidery machine or two before, but our conspicuously non-embroidered hat is off to [James] on this one for its build quality and documentation. And the embroidered Jolly Wrencher doesn’t hurt either.
November 18, 2018 at 07:00AM
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Restoring An Apollo Guidance Computer
By Richard Baguley
The Apollo Guidance Computer is a remarkably important piece of computing history. It’s the computer that guided the Apollo lander to land on the moon. We’ve seen a few replica builds over the years, but [CuriousMarc] got a closer look at one of the real things. In this video, [Marc] gets a look inside as his colleagues take apart one of the original AGCs and get a closer look at the insides of this piece of computer history.
Thanks to collector [Jimmie Loocke], they got to take apart AGO#14, one of the original flight computers from a Lunar Excursion Module (LEM) that was used for flight testing. [Loocke] used to work at a NASA contractor and found the AGC in an electronics surplus store. He and [Mike Stewart] are working to restore the computer for the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing in 2019. The interesting thing about their AGC is that it is not potted: the chips aren’t coated in the epoxy resin or foam that protects them in flight. This means that they can take the system apart and examine the chips and the complicated wiring that connects them. And, hopefully, they can get it back up and running again. We will see: this is just the first video in a series, and this is an ongoing project. We got a look at the same computer in 2016 when [Carl Clanch] started working on it, doing things like building a replacement for the DSKY input and display panel, as the original is still in the LEM that this computer came from, which is on display in the Johnston Space Center in Houston.
November 18, 2018 at 04:00AM
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Generative Design Algorithms Prepare For Space
By Roger Cheng
NASA is famously risk-averse, taking cautious approaches because billions of taxpayer dollars are at stake and each failure receives far more political attention than their many successes. So while moving the final frontier outward requires adopting new ideas, those ideas must first prove themselves through a lengthy process of risk-reduction. Autodesk’s research into generative design algorithms has just taken a significant step on this long journey with a planetary lander concept.
It was built jointly with a research division of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the birthplace of many successful interplanetary space probes. This project got a foot in the door by promising 30% weight savings over conventional design techniques. Large reduction in launch mass is always a good way to get a space engineer’s attention! Mimicking mother nature’s evolutionary process, these algorithms output very organic looking shapes. This is a relatively new approach to design optimization under exploration by multiple engineering software vendors. Not just Autodesk’s “Generative Design” but also “Topology Optimization” in SolidWorks, plus others. Though these shapes appear ideally suited to 3D printing, Autodesk also had to prove their algorithm could work with more traditional fabrication techniques like 5-axis CNC mills.
This is leading-edge research technology though some less specialized, customer-ready versions are starting to trickle out of research labs. Starting with an exclusive circle: People with right tiers of SolidWorks license, the paid (not free) tier of Autodesk Fusion 360, etc. We’ve looked at another recent project with nontraditional organic shapes, and we’ve looked at generative designs used for their form as well as their function. This category of CAD tools hold a lot of promise, and we’re optimistic they’ll soon become widely accessible so we can all put them to good use in our earthbound projects.
Possibly even before they fly to another planet.
November 18, 2018 at 01:00AM
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Meat-Seeking Raspberry Pi Leads you to Flavortown
By Tom Nardi
[Patrick McDavid] and his wife had a legitimate work-related reason for writing some Python code that would pull the exact latitude and longitude of the individual locations within a national retain chain from Google’s Geocoding API. But don’t worry about that part of the story. What’s important now is that this simple concept was then expanded into a pocket-sized device that will lead the holder to the nearest White Castle or Five Guys location.
The device, which [Patrick] lovingly referrers to as the “Cheeseburger Compass”, uses a Raspberry Pi 3, an Adafruit 16×2 LCD with keypad, a GPS module, and the requisite battery and charger circuit to make it mobile. With the coordinates for the various places one can obtain glorious artery clogging meat circles loaded up, the device will give the user the cardinal direction and current distance from the nearest location of the currently selected chain.
[Patrick] has published the source code for this meat-seeking gadget on GitHub, but notes that most of it is just piecing together existing libraries and tools. As with many Python projects, it turns out there’s already a popular library to do whatever it is you were trying to do manually, so his early attempts at calculating distances and bearings were ultimately replaced with turn-key solutions. Though he did come up with a quick piece of code that would convert a compass heading in degrees to a cardinal direction that he couldn’t find a better solution for. Maybe he should make it a library…
Sadly the original Cheeseburger Compass got destroyed from being carried around so much, but at least it died doing what it loved. [Patrick] says a second version of the device would likely switch over to a microcontroller rather than the full Raspberry Pi experience, as it would make the device much smaller and greatly improve on the roughly two hour battery life.
This project reminds us of the various geocache devices we’ve covered in the past, but with the notable addition of hot sizzling meat. Talk about approving on a good thing.
November 17, 2018 at 10:00PM
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Vintage Rotary Phone Turned Virtual Assistant
By Tom Nardi
Like many of us, [Zoltan Toth-Czifra] has completely embraced 21st century living. His home is awash in smart gadgets and dodads, from color changing light bulbs to Internet-connected cameras. But he’s also got a soft spot for the look and feel of vintage hardware, like the rotary phone he keeps kicking around to remind him of the old days. He recently decided to bridge these two worlds by turning the rotary phone into a modern voice controlled assistant.
The first piece of the puzzle was getting the old school phone connected to something a bit more modern, namely a Raspberry Pi. He didn’t want to hack the vintage phone apart, so he picked up a Grandstream HT801, an adapter that’s used to convert analog telephones to VoIP. [Zoltan] says this model specifically fit the bill as it had a function that allows you to configure a number to dial as soon the phone is lifted off the hook. This allows the user to just pick up the phone and start talking without having to dial anything manually. If you’re looking to pull off a similar setup, you should check to make sure the adapter has this function before pulling the trigger.
With the rotary phone now talking a more modern protocol, [Zoltan] just needed to get the Raspberry Pi side sorted out. He installed a SIP server so it could communicate with the HT801 adapter, and then got to work putting together his virtual assistant. Rather than plug into an existing system, he rolled his own by combining open source packages for controlling his various smart devices with the aptly named SpeechRecognition library for Python.
Right now he’s only programmed a few commands that his system can respond to for controlling his lights and music, but mentions that the system is modular enough that he can add new functions easily. He’s put the source for his virtual assistant framework up on GitHub, which he notes was written in less than 200 lines of original code by virtue of utilizing existing libraries for a lot of the heavy lifting. Open source is a beautiful thing.
In the past we’ve seen rotary phones go mobile thanks to GSM upgrades and dragged kicking and screaming onto the modern phone network with a built-in Raspberry Pi. But we think there’s something especially appealing about the approach [Zoltan] took which preserves the phone’s original hardware.
November 17, 2018 at 07:00PM
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