Saturday, May 28, 2016

A new way to look at small project building.

When I got the 37 sensor kit a few years ago I figured out what was wrong with how normal arduinos are used to built circuits. Using these little sensors and devices mounted on tiny break out boards with connectors already in place, it was easy to connect them back to a breadboard for power and ground and wire up the data line to an Arduino data pin.  

The normal pinouts on an Arduino are difficult. You can't even mount a normal Arduino board on a breadboard (and visa versa), because one set of the pins are wrong.  Every model is lacking all the 5v and ground connections a normal project needs. The normal board is too big and the small boards have strange pinouts as well.

What we need is a board that will have rows of dozens of connections that accept a clip in connector.  And then have sensors be on tiny boards that accept the other end of that connector. I can see a 5 pin connector being used. ground, +5v, +3v, digital, and analog on the first 7 connections, or however many the built in chip supports . After that just have 4 pin connectors without the analog.   If an Arduino Mega was used for this kit you could have 16 analogs inputs. A Raspberry pi with an 8 or 16 port analog to digital converter could work too.

Have various length cables with the clip in connectors on both ends for building various projects.  This is similar to the tinker kit connectors, but with every option in every connector so you literally cannot hook it up wrong.

Come with a few simple devices already wired to the boards, just like the 37 sensor kit did, but make these connectors ones that clip in and are all wired identically, ready to go.  Have extra blank protoboards in the kit to let people build their own devices and connect the same way that the standard pins connected. Release the eagle files to let people build their own protoboards and designs as well. 

I would have the device and boards sit in a plastic carrier that is compatible with Lego, letting you build your projects on the Lego base plates.  As you get more advanced with your projects you could still wire up all the individual digital and analog pins up to a breadboard (also in Lego compatible bases.) Additional kits could be sold beyond the base kit to explore different technologies.  You could even have spi connectors with boards that let you daisy chain the boards together, but that used the same connectors and pins, but were wired a little differently. 

As for the software, I am picturing an extra program that you just say what you have connected up, and which connector you have it attached to, and then you push a button, it creates an Arduino project with the right libraries installed and names attached to the correct pins, and everything already initialized for you, and starts Arduino software loading that package to let you go from there.  

Think of this project as "Arduino For Everyone." 

Planning on building a new home server.

All my computer hardware is ancient at this point.  The old server that I got second hand blew up on me, so I am looking at getting back up to the trailing edge of technology again.

Start with an 8 core AMD processor with 16GB  of RAM, an over-sized power supply, a small 128GB SSD for the OS, and a 4 or 5 TB hard drive stuck in a tower case. Over time I want to double the RAM and add 5 more hard drives of similar size. If needed I can add a PCI hard drive controller with 4 more connections. Later I could copy the OS to a bigger SSD and put the smaller drive in a laptop whose hard drive just died.

The plan right now is to install Debian Linux and use LVM to mange the drives. This way as I add more drives in the future I can add new partitions and expand/move existing ones. I plan on creating partitions to store data the same size as the external usb drives I am currently using to store my files. This way I can always easily back up the data to the external drives as needed.  I can store the back up drives at other people's houses in case my own location suffers some sort of badness.  And everything should be encrypted on disk.

Use SMB to share files on my local network. Setup a media server on the box to share media files to my portable devices. Connect the OSMC raspberry pi box to the main server to see all its files.  This gets rid of a bunch of usb hard drives that sit behind my TV right now.

Use KVM to create virtual machines so I can run a dozen other operating systems at the same time.  Setting up development environments for different versions of windows and Linux.  Things like eclipse and rails have enough dependencies that conflict with other packages that they really need to be in their own bubbles of existence. I can't tell you how often doing some upgrade or install of one thing hosed another package on my desktop machine.  Not to mention just how bloated things get after a few years of constantly adding package after package to the same desktop.

Xen might be better.

And if I run a service like file sharing, that should be in it's own virtual machine.  In fact, I am actually leaning toward doing almost nothing directly in hardware and installing just a minimal operating system at the hardware level and actually running my own desktop as a virtual machine.  Open stack might be interesting to try out for these services.

And finally I want to use thin clients to access this server and the operating systems running on it.  A raspberry pi, even the $5 one, should have more than enough power to run a desktop as an X-terminal server.  And the $30 one now has wifi built in and bluetooth for a keyboard.  I would love to have a half dozen terminals scattered around my place, able to log into my desktop and access the virtual machines. There are actually some distros that give thin client access to many different systems.

The beauty of thin clients is that you save so much time by not having to configure and manage multiple laptops and desktops. If the terminal server dies, you can just switch to another screen and keep working.   Everything is done directly from the main server, so you only have one system to manage and backup.  And if you have multiple users on that same box and each user runs similar programs, the binaries only have to be loaded once, so that once one person runs a Chromium browser, that is in memory so for the next person their browser starts almost instantly.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Getting Pico/SVOX text to speech converter working under Debian 8

Pico TTS is in non free, and by default you do not have access to these repositories when you first install Debian.  In /etc/apt/sources.list  add 
contrib nonfree 
after main on all the jessie deb lines. 

Now you have to install the TTS library and some audio video tools.  Run the following command: 
sudo apt-get install libttspico0 libttspico-utils libttspico-data libav-tools
Now find the command line utility to allow you to create sound files from text, or just play them to the sound card. it is here:

Download these files, make them executable, and put them in a bin folder in your path. 
After you do that then run the different commands and they will tell you what their options are.  You can also just read the python script to see what the scripts can do for you.

And downloaded those two files, made them executable, and then used the following script to convert text to an mp3 file. 

./  --rate=80% --pitch=110%  --audible "false" --output "$1.wav" "$1"
rm -rf "$1.mp3"
avconv -i "$1.wav" -b 96k "$1.mp3"
rm -rf "$1.wav"

The Results

The output was far superior to espeak, and is very lifelike. When I was growing up I had a commodore 64 and we had an 8kb voice synthesizer called SAM.  So to see the progress in just a couple of decades is amazing to me. 

Future Projects

This would be awesome if I can get it to run on Raspberry Pi computers.