Puppy Linux Tahrpup on my Thinkpad T40

In November last year I decided to revive my very old (2003) Thinkpad T40 with Puppy Linux. Now eight months later I’ll give an update on Puppy Linux on my PC. Am I still happy with Puppy Linux?

Introduction

In November last year I decided to revive my very old (2003) Thinkpad T40 with Puppy Linux. Back then I was thrilled by the ease of installation and the speed of this Linux distro on this ancient laptop. Now eight months later I’ll give an update on Puppy Linux on my PC. Am I still happy with Puppy Linux?

Both Puppy Linux Slacko 5.7, which I had installed initially, and Puppy Linux Slacko 6.3 have been very stable on my T40 and I loved Puppy Linux because of it’s speed. However both of these Slacko distributions are based on Slackware. The one problem with this distributions is the lack of software. Some programs that I needed are just not available in the repositories. I could install software myself but only if I was able to find the right pet or sfs file (I cowardly didn’t try to compile the source files).

The standard TahrPup desktop with the beautiful stylized Ardis icons.

Tahrpup 6.0

To solve the problem with the software I decided to install Puppy Linux Tahrpup 6.0. This operating system is based on Ubuntu 14.04 Trusty Tahr. I liked it the minute I installed it. The look and feel are the same as with Slacko with the JWM as window manager and ROX-Filer file manager and all the helpful shell scripts (a lot of them written by Barry Kauler, the original creator of Puppy Linux). Also a lot of the pre-installed programs are the same such as Abiword, Geany and pfind, a file finding program MtPaint and Sylpheed, a mail client. The’re also notable differences. The default browser for Tahrpup is Palemoon instead of Firefox and the Simple Screen Recorder (I forgot the name of the default Slacko screen recorder but I never got it to work). The system is still very fast, exactly the reason why I chose for Puppy Linux in the first place.

Easily create your own operating system

Puppy Linux (and Linux in general) not only let’s you create your own desktop environment, where just about everything is customizable, it even let’s you customize the whole operating system. If you, for instance, don’t like the window manager or the file manager, you can change it. Try doing that on Windows or OSX. This way you can create your very own system doing honor to the acronym PC. TahrPup even has an option to easily change the Linux kernel, something that I couldn’t do with Slacko. With Remaster Puppy live-CD a copy of the personalized operating system can be written to either a USB drive or CD. For the latter a CD burner is needed of course. This copy of the personal operating system with all the favorite programs can be used to boot on any PC elsewhere e.g. on holiday or in school. On the Puppy Linux discussion forum many examples can be found of unofficial Puppy Linux distros such as Tahr NOP (Xfce desktop environment), Ami-Pup (an Amiga like interface) or Fatdog64 (a not so slim 64bit version).

Programming

Even with little experience in programming, additions can be made to the operating system using shell scripts. In fact plenty of programs that come with Puppy Linux are shell scripts. Pfind and pmount are good examples of this. Although this is not for beginners, shell scripts are relatively easy to write. An intermediate user should be able to improve existing scripts or write new ones. A script can be shared on the Puppy Linux forum as a contribution to the operating system and the community. This is a good start for programming for Puppy Linux. It’s also possible to use C or C++ as programming language for Puppy Linux but this is more complex¬†and outside the scope of this blog entry. A good starting point for programming for Puppy Linux is this link.

Puppy Linux with the setup shell script opened in Geany. Programming in Puppy Linux is easy using shell scripting and GTKDialog.

Tahrpup drawbacks

The only drawback so far is that the new Puppy Package Manager v2 (PPM) seems a bit slower on my old laptop than with Slacko. PPM is the equivalent of the Ubuntu Software Center or Pacman for Arch Linux and provides access to the repository with all the available packages for Puppy Linux. The numerous packages in Tahrpup are possibly the reason for this slower behaviour.

Conclusion

Eight months later my Thinkpad T40 is still very much alive thanks to Puppy Linux. With Tahrpup I gained easy access to a huge amount of programs satisfying my increasing PC needs. The best feature about Puppy Linux (and Linux in general) is that it feels like my very own operating system. It’s easy to get involved into Puppy Linux thanks to it’s open nature and the vivid community. A feeling that I’m severely missing in the proprietary OSX on my iMac, my primary computer. In fact, if not for my wife who is still attached to the iMac and OSX, I would exchange my iMac for a (Puppy) Linux PC without hesitation.

My T40 with Tahrpup background image and the JQBrased icons.

Adding radio streams to the cooler with a Raspberry Pi

Using a Raspberry Pi and the program MPD to enhance my audio cooler

Introduction

In my previous blog post I finished my audio cooler. It’s a small cooler with a tiny audio system that nevertheless sounds good. The only way to control the audio is through a wired connection. It would be a nice addition to have some kind of remote control either by WiFi or Bluetooth. While testing the cooler I’ve got the idea to connect a Raspberry Pi A+, that was still unused, to the cooler and stream audio over WiFi to the Pi.¬† This could be useful for a garden party or BBQ where WiFi is available and I don’t want to attach the smartphone to the cooler. In this blog post I’ll share my experience with installation and operating the software needed for this project on the Pi.

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Raspberry Pi A+ (in it’s Pimoroni Pibow case) connected with the headphone jack to the cooler. The Pi has a small Edimax Wifi adapter.

Installing music software on the Raspberry Pi

Since I run the Raspberry Pi headless I use SSH login to the Pi. SSH is available for most operating systems with the notable exception of Windows. I already had Raspbian installed on the Pi so first I updated the OS. Continue reading “Adding radio streams to the cooler with a Raspberry Pi”

OpenELEC maintenance

How to update OpenELEC without loosing settings, getting YouTube to work again and creating an OpenELEC backup. Make screenshots in OpenELEC.

Introduction

last year I built a PC especially for OpenELEC. For those of you who don’t know, OpenELEC is a Linux based system with the sole purpose to run Kodi, the all-in-one solution to play all media you throw at it. Because of this sole purpose OpenELEC is very fast, especially on the Intel based system that I built, and very reliable. Over time however some maintenance of the system is necessary to keep the system up-to-date and fully functional. Continue reading “OpenELEC maintenance”

Ancient laptop with Puppy Linux

The burglar that “visited” our house a couple of weeks ago took our laptops and tablets. Luckily our desktops were left alone (probably to heavy). Also a very old IBM Thinkpad T40 was left behind. The burglar probably thought it didn’t have any value. That was a bit of luck for me because with a little effort this 12 year old laptop is still very usable. After all these years the only thing that failed in this laptop was the battery. Everything else is still in excellent condition. These Thinkpads were (are?) very sturdy. On top of that they are very modular. Almost every component is easy accessible with just a screw driver. Very different from modern laptops that are almost impossible to open without special equipment.

The twelve years old IBM Thinkpad T40. Is it worth reviving it?

With a 1.4GHz Pentium M inside the T40 is, I suspect, hardly faster than the Raspberry Pi 2. I therefore needed an Operating System that isn’t a burden for this hardware. Since Windows XP isn’t an option anymore I looked at Linux and decided to give Puppy Linux 5.7 Slacko a spin.

Puppy Linux is very small and it loads into the ramdisk and is therefore very zippy , even on old machines. Installing it on the Thinkpad T40 was easy. It recognized all hardware even the wifi (which can be a problem with other distro’s). Unfortunately I can’t use the wifi chip inside the T40 because the WPA2 security protocol that I use in my network is unknown to this chip. This was easily solved with a wifi USB-stick.

Now I’m typing this blog from the T40. Firefox (version 17 ESR) works fine. I can access Google+, Youtube and other sites without problems although the rendering of some sites isn’t perfect. With Geany I can create html/css pages and code Python. Wordprocessing is done with Abiword and spreadsheets with Gnumeric.

Do I want my laptops and tablets back? Of course but in the mean time I thank Barry Kauler and Co for this wonderful distro.

Puppy Linux Slacko 5.7 runs fine on this very old laptop.

Typing my blog on the T40 without a problem.

Raspberry Pi security camera, first experience

Introduction

Last week I wrote about the Raspberry Pi, the camera module and Motion acting as a surveillance camera. I’ve been testing my Raspberry Pi surveillance camera for a week now and the results are satisfying although there are also some problems. I think much of the succes of the camera comes down to finding the best settings of the /etc/motion.conf file of Motion for a given scenario. The motion.conf file enables you to setup the Motion program. Everything from camera settings to motion detection can be changed in this file.

Image from a motion video. If someone (in this case my son) is entering our backyard it is perfectly recorded by Motion.

Threshold

I want my surveillance camera to record anyone entering my backyard but this sounds easier than it is. If the threshold parameter in motion.conf is too low all kinds of events are recorded that are completely irrelevant. E.g. on a rainy day raindrops falling on the window are recorded. With higher threshold values I might miss something relevant. After experimenting with different values of the threshold I found that a value of 1500 works best in my case.

Lens flare

On a sunny day bright sunlight can fall onto the camera lens causing lens flare. This reduced contrast and color saturation (see image below). More importantly the Motion program detect changes in lens flare as motion and records them. I think problem can easily be solved with some kind of lens hood.

Lens flare caused by sunlight reducing contrast and color saturation.

Night

A whole different problem is motion detection at night. My camera, the regular Raspberry Pi camera module, is just not up to this task. For detection at night I’ll need the NoIR Pi camera. This camera has no infrared filter. As a consequence colours at daylight look odd but you’re able to record at night, but only with infrared light illuminating the subjects. Several add-on boards for the NoIR Pi camera are on the market that do just that. These boards fit right over the camera module.

The regular Raspberry Pi camera module is useless at night.

Proper file permissions

I created a directory /home/pi/Camera on the Raspberry Pi. I want all my video files to be stored in this place however before Motion is able to do this I had to change the permissions. Motion (the Program) creates it’s own user motion so this user needs proper permission in the home/pi/Camera folder (that is created by the user pi). To do this I first changed the group ownership of the folder:

chgrp motion /home/pi/Camera

And next give the group the proper permission:

chmod g+rwx /home/pi/Camera 

Scheduled tasks

The number of motion video’s that are stored on the Pi increase rapidly over the days. My backyard is quiet but not that quiet (not to mention the false positive that I described above). Since the Raspberry Pi stores the files on an SD card I will easily run out of storage space. So I need a method to remove the files automatically e.g after five days. Cron is perfect for this since it let me schedule commands or scripts periodically. I wrote a shell script that removes avi files created by Motion older than five days and added this to my crontab file to be executed daily. The key command in this script is:

find /home/pi/Camera -mtime +5 -name “*.avi” -exec rm {} ;

Copying files to a PC

Whenever I want to check the motion files (e.g after one day) I copy them to my iMac using scp from the OSX terminal and then created a playlist in VLC by dragging all the files into it. The harvest of that one day is then displayed.

scp pi@192.168.178.27:Camera/*.avi to/destination/folder

What’s next

Next I’ll test the surveillance camera further until I’m satisfied with the settings and build a proper housing for the camera. Possibly I will switch from the regular camera module to the NoIR camera.

Homemade security camera with a Raspberry Pi

One week ago we’ve had a burglar in our house. Of course I immediately started improving the security of our home. After improving the usual stuff I felt the need for some kind of surveillance camera. This camera could provide me a good view of the backyard which is a very quiet place and therefore preferred by burglars. Because I like to make things myself I thought it was a good idea to use a Raspberry Pi and it’s camera module. I used them in the past for timelapse video’s of scenery but I hadn’t used it much lately.

The goal that I had set was a camera that detects and records motion and that I could access through our local network preferably a browser. I also wanted the camera to give decent images by day and night.


Hardware.

The heart of the system is a Raspberry Pi B with the Raspberry camera module. Furthermore I use an Edimax dongle for my wifi connection and a micro-USB power supply (1A). Initially I use an MDF case that I made to fit the camera and the Pi. It isn’t pretty but it protects both the camera and the Pi. If everything works as planned I probably built it into a dummy camera such as this one or may make a wooden enclosure myself.

Initially I had some problems connecting to the Pi through SSH. I discovered that this was caused by the Edimax dongle (8192cu wifi chip) that apparently goes into sleep mode after a period of inactivity. This was solved with a command line fix that disables power saving (see here on page 17 how to fix this).

Raspberry Pi B and camera module in an MDF enclosure.

Software

On top of Raspbian I installed Motion. Motion is a Linux program that monitors the video signal from camera’s and, very important to me, is able to detect motion. Motion is widely used and there is plenty of good information on it on the internet. A simple tutorial how to install Motion specifically on the Raspberry Pi and get it to work with the Raspberry camera module can be found on here (go to step 7 for software installation). However Motion has far more possibilities and it is worthwhile to explore these once you start using it.

Configuring and testing the system

Motion can support multiple camera’s but I’ll stick to one camera for now. Configuration of Motion for the Raspberry Pi and it’s camera module is done in the /etc/motion.conf file (not in the /etc/motion/motion.conf file). There is a very good YouTube tutorial on configuring Motion for Linux here and here. At this point I made only a few changes to the motion.conf file such as camera width and height, directory where the video is stored on the Pi and some camera specific variables.

The camera works great. The image quality is good and the system appears to be stable. I can open a stream of the surveillance camera in my browser by entering the url of the Raspberry Pi and the selected port (default 8081). My motion files are stored as avi’s on the Raspberry Pi. I can play them with VLC media player on my iMac. Next I’ll experiment with the settings of Motion (e.g. sensitivity of motion detection, resolution of the camera), test in under different circumstances (indoor, outdoor, night and day) and build a proper housing for the surveillance camera.

It doesn’t look pretty but the surveillance camera works great.