computers suck

My Raspberry Pi talks to my Oscilloscope

… it complains that the oscilloscope is always making waves.


Ahem. Anyway. I have a Rigol DS1102E 100 MHz Digital Oscilloscope. For such a cheap device, it’s remarkable that you can control it using USB Test & Measurement Class commands. I’d been wanting to use a Raspberry Pi as a headless data acquisition box with the oscilloscope for a while, but Raspbian doesn’t ship with the usbtmc kernel module. I thought I was stuck.

Alex Forencich turned up in the forum with an all-Python solution: Python USBTMC (source: alexforencich / python-usbtmc). I got this working quite nicely today on both the Raspberry Pi and my Ubuntu laptop. Here’s how I installed it:

  1. Check your device’s USB code with lsusb:
    $ lsusb
    Bus 001 Device 002: ID 0424:9512 Standard Microsystems Corp.
    Bus 001 Device 004: ID 1ab1:0588 Rigol Technologies DS1000 SERIES
  2. Ensure that libusb-1.0 is installed:
    sudo apt-get install libusb-1.0-0
  3. Create a new group, usbtmc:
    sudo groupadd usbtmc
  4. Add yourself to this group:
    sudo usermod -a -G usbtmc pi
  5. As root, create a file /etc/udev/rules.d/usbtmc.rules. You’ll need to put in your device’s ID values:
    # USBTMC instruments
    # Rigol DS1100 – ID 1ab1:0588 Rigol Technologies DS1000 SERIES
    SUBSYSTEMS==”usb”, ACTION==”add”, ATTRS{idVendor}==”1ab1″, ATTRS{idProduct}==”0588″, GROUP=”usbtmc”, MODE=”0660″
    (all of the SUBSYSTEMS to MODE= should be one one line)
  6. Download and install the latest pyusb (Raspbian version is rather old):
    git clone
    cd pyusb
    python build
    sudo python install
  7. Now get python-usbtmc:
    git clone
    cd python-usbtmc
    python build
    sudo python install
  8. For this simple demo, you’ll need to convert the USB vendor IDs to decimal:
    0x1ab1 = 6833
    0x0588 = 1416
  9. Now, start python as root (sudo python) then type:
    import usbtmc
    instr =  usbtmc.Instrument(6833, 1416)
  10. This should return something like:
    Rigol Technologies,DS1102E,DS1EB13490xxxx,

If you get the status line, congratulations! You now have a fully working usbtmc link. I haven’t had much time to play with this, but I know I can make really nice screenshots to an attached USB drive using the command: instr.write(“:HARDcopy”). Many more commands can be found in the DS1000D/E Programming Guide, available on Rigol‘s site.

I had a couple of problems, though:

  1. The library seems to need root privileges, despite the udev rule thing. After creating the udev rule, you will need to reboot. This is the simplest way of getting it to work without being root.
  2. Reading from the ‘scope’s memory  chokes on non-UTF8 characters. If I do:
    rawdata = instr.ask(“:WAV:DATA? CHAN1”)[10:]
    I get a lengthy Python error which ends:

    File “/usr/lib/python2.7/encodings/”, line 16, in decode
        return codecs.utf_8_decode(input, errors, True)
    UnicodeDecodeError: ‘utf8’ codec can’t decode byte 0x99 in position 10: invalid start byte
    I have no idea what that means, or how to fix it. Alex suggested using ask_raw instead of ask, and the data comes through with no complaints.

I’ve still got to work my way through the Rigol’s data format, but other people have done that before:

  1. Controlling a Rigol oscilloscope using Linux and Python | C i b o M a h t o . c o m
  2. Ken Shirriff’s blog: Four Rigol oscilloscope hacks with Python

I’ll post any updates here, along with the Raspberry Pi forum topic: USB Test & Measurement class (usbtmc) driver?

Incidentally, if you’re working with WFM data dumps from the Rigol ‘scopes (and you should, because they make storing data to USB drives quick), mabl/pyRigolWFM is basically magic. Not merely can it describe and decode those binary files, it can do pretty graphics with no thought required:

made by pyRigolWFMHat tip for the mention: MP3 Options & Oscilloscope Interfacing For Raspberry Pi @Raspberry_Pi #piday #raspberrypi « adafruit industries blog

Update, 2013-12-20: I’ve successfully managed to run most of Ken’s examples with Alex’s code. The major modification you have to do is use ask_raw instead of ask. Example code shown below:

# -*- coding: utf-8 -*-

Download data from a Rigol DS1102E oscilloscope and graph with matplotlib
         using  Alex Forencich's python-usbtmc pure python driver
scruss - 2013-12-20

based on
Download data from a Rigol DS1052E oscilloscope and graph with matplotlib.
By Ken Shirriff,

which in turn was
Based on
by Cibo Mahto.

import usbtmc
import time
import numpy
import matplotlib.pyplot as plot

# initialise device
instr =  usbtmc.Instrument(0x1ab1, 0x0588) # Rigol DS1102E

# read data
instr.write(":WAV:POIN:MODE RAW")
# first ten bytes are header, so skip
rawdata = instr.ask_raw(":WAV:DATA? CHAN1")[10:]
data_size = len(rawdata)

# get metadata
sample_rate = float(instr.ask_raw(':ACQ:SAMP?'))
timescale = float(instr.ask_raw(":TIM:SCAL?"))
timeoffset = float(instr.ask_raw(":TIM:OFFS?"))
voltscale = float(instr.ask_raw(':CHAN1:SCAL?'))
voltoffset = float(instr.ask_raw(":CHAN1:OFFS?"))

# show metadata
print "Data size:      ", data_size
print "Sample rate:    ", sample_rate
print "Time scale:     ", timescale
print "Time offset:    ", timeoffset
print "Voltage offset: ", voltoffset
print "Voltage scale:  ", voltscale

# convert data from (inverted) bytes to an array of scaled floats
# this magic from Matthew Mets
data = numpy.frombuffer(rawdata, 'B')
data = data * -1 + 255
data = (data - 130.0 - voltoffset/voltscale*25) / 25 * voltscale

# creat array of matching timestamps
time = numpy.linspace(timeoffset - 6 * timescale, timeoffset + 6 * timescale,

# scale time series and label accordingly
if (time[-1] < 1e-3):
    time = time * 1e6
    tUnit = "µS"
elif (time[-1] < 1):
    time = time * 1e3
    tUnit = "mS"
    tUnit = "S"

# Plot the data
plot.plot(time, data)
plot.title("Oscilloscope Channel 1")
plot.ylabel("Voltage (V)")
plot.xlabel("Time (" + tUnit + ")")
plot.xlim(time[0], time[-1])
computers suck

Faster MP3 options for Raspberry Pi

Hi there! This post is beyond ancient, and made sense back when the original Raspberry Pi Linux distributions didn’t have floating point support. With the multi-core Raspberry Pi 3, lame now runs at an acceptable rate. You should probably ignore this post unless you’re deliberately trying to recreate that bubbly old MP3 sound.

One thing the Raspberry Pi is not good at is encoding MP3s at any great speed. At best (using lame) you might get slightly better than 2× real time playback. If you’re using your Raspberry Pi to transcode to another format, that might be slow enough (with other system overhead) to make the output stutter.

While it would be nice to have the GPU as a general media encoder, we’re not there yet. If you must encode mp3s quickly on a Raspberry Pi, there are a couple of options:

Please note that both of these are based on the old ‘8hz’ mp3 encoder, which was a fairly literal interpretation of the original Fraunhofer code. They only start producing okay sounding files at high bitrates.

If you need to decode mp3s quickly, MAD is pretty good: It’s in the repos as ‘madplay’.


A Raspberry Pi robot #raspberrypi

Instagram filter used: Lo-fi

Photo taken at: Seneca@York Campus

View in Instagram ⇒

computers suck

Faster Java on Raspberry Pi

With the official announcement of Oracle Java on Raspberry Pi, Java just got usable on the Raspberry Pi. It’s still not super-fast, but I’m seeing ~10× speedup over OpenJDK.

To install it (on Raspbian):

sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get install oracle-java7-jdk
sudo update-java-alternatives -s jdk-7-oracle-armhf

By way of a baseline, here are SciMark 2.0 results on OpenJDK:

$ java -classpath ./scimark2lib.jar jnt.scimark2.commandline -large

SciMark 2.0a

Composite Score: 2.4987047508570632
FFT (1048576): 1.5550941987343943
SOR (1000x1000):   5.32030759023185
Monte Carlo : 0.6005590152716936
Sparse matmult (N=100000, nz=1000000): 2.3584905938878946
LU (1000x1000): 2.6590723561594847

java.vendor: Sun Microsystems Inc.
java.version: 1.6.0_27
os.arch: arm Linux
os.version: 3.6.11+

Here’s what the Oracle JDK cranks out (bigger numbers → better):

$ java -classpath ./scimark2lib.jar jnt.scimark2.commandline -large

SciMark 2.0a

Composite Score: 14.94896390647437
FFT (1048576): 6.953238474333376
SOR (1000x1000):   33.91437255527547
Monte Carlo : 8.869794361002157
Sparse matmult (N=100000, nz=1000000): 9.81896340073432
LU (1000x1000): 15.188450741026523

java.vendor: Oracle Corporation
java.version: 1.7.0_40
os.arch: arm Linux
os.version: 3.6.11+

That’s a tidy increase, and might make Processing and Arduino much easier to work with.

(It’s still not tremendously fast, though. My i7 quad-core has a composite score of nearly 1450 …)

computers suck

BeagleBone Black: slow as a dog

All benchmarks are artificial, but this one had me scratching my head. One hears  that the BeagleBone Black is screamingly fast compared to the Raspberry Pi; faster, newer processor, blahdeblah, mcbtyc, etc. I found the opposite is true.

So I buy one at the exceptionally soggy Toronto Mini Maker Faire. Props to the CircuitCo folks, they are easy to set up: just a mini-USB cable provides power and virtual network shell. And BoneScript — an Arduino-like JavaScript library — is very clever indeed. But I need to see if this thing has any grunt, and so I need a benchmark.

After hearing about the business-card raytracer, I thought it would be perfect. I compiled it on both machines with:

g++  -Ofast   card.cpp   -o card

and then ran it with:

time ./card > /dev/null

The results are … surprising:

  • Raspberry Pi: 4′ 15″
  • BeagleBone Black: 12′ 39″ → 3× slower

(In comparison, my i7 quad-core laptop runs it in 8½ seconds.)

I don’t have any explanation why the BBB is so much slower. It’s almost as if the compiler isn’t fully optimizing under Ångström Linux.

Raspberry Pi: system info

$ uname -a
Linux rpi 3.6.11+ #538 PREEMPT Fri Aug 30 20:42:08 BST 2013 armv6l GNU/Linux

$ cat /proc/cpuinfo 
Processor    : ARMv6-compatible processor rev 7 (v6l)
BogoMIPS    : 697.95
Features    : swp half thumb fastmult vfp edsp java tls 
CPU implementer    : 0x41
CPU architecture: 7
CPU variant    : 0x0
CPU part    : 0xb76
CPU revision    : 7

Hardware    : BCM2708
Revision    : 000f

BeagleBone Black: system info

# uname -a
Linux beaglebone 3.8.13 #1 SMP Tue Jun 18 02:11:09 EDT 2013 armv7l GNU/Linux
# cat /proc/cpuinfo 
processor    : 0
model name    : ARMv7 Processor rev 2 (v7l)
BogoMIPS    : 297.40
Features    : swp half thumb fastmult vfp edsp thumbee neon vfpv3 tls 
CPU implementer    : 0x41
CPU architecture: 7
CPU variant    : 0x3
CPU part    : 0xc08
CPU revision    : 2

Hardware    : Generic AM33XX (Flattened Device Tree)
Revision    : 0000

Both boards are running at stock speed.

Update: I’ve tried with an external power supply, and checked that the processor was running at full speed. It made no difference. I suspect that Raspbian enables armhf floating point by default, while Ångström needs to be told to use it.

computers suck

“Well, that was unexpected…”: The Raspberry Pi’s Hardware Random Number Generator

Hey! This is a bit old! Things may have changed and I haven’t necessarily fixed them.

Most computers can’t create true random numbers. They use a formula which makes a very long stream of pseudo-random numbers, but real randomness comes from thermal noise in analogue components. The Raspberry Pi has such a circuit in its SoC, as it helps making the seed data for secure transactions. It was only recently that a driver for this circuit was supplied. To enable it (on Raspbian): I think the module is enabled by default now for the different versions of the SoC.

  1. Make sure your system is up to date with
    sudo apt-get update
    sudo apt -y upgrade
  2. Install the module:
    sudo modprobe bcm2708-rng
  3. To make sure it’s always loaded, add the following line to /etc/modules (editing as root):
  4. For some RNG-related stuff, install rng-tools:
    sudo apt-get install rng-tools

The /dev/hwrng device should now be available, but can only be read by the root user.

Nico pointed out that you also need to:

  1. Edit /etc/default/rng-tools, and remove the # at the start of the line
  2. Restart rng-tools with
    sudo service rng-tools restart

What random looks like


Random data look pretty dull. Here are random RGB values made with:

sudo cat /dev/hwrng  | rawtoppm -rgb 256 256 | pnmtopng > random$(date +%Y%m%d%H%M%S).png

(you’ll need to install the netpbm toolkit to do this.)

What random sounds like

Two short WAV samples of, well, noise:

Yup, sounds like static. It was made with the script. You’ll need to install sox to run it.

This is not random

If it sounds like static, and even if it sometimes looks like static, it may not actually be true random noise. An infamous case of a pseudo random number generator being not very random at all was RANDU, which at first glance appeared to produce nearly random results, but close study showed it to be very predictable.

I wrote (what I think to be) a C implementation of RANDU: randu.c. While it produces appropriately random-sounding audio data (randu17.wav), if you output it as an image:

randu17_rgbThose stripes are a giveaway; there should be no order in the output. (Then again, I have no idea if I’ve implemented RANDU correctly.) Testing random data is hard, then — you really need a barrage of tests, and even some of them might fail even for truly random output. Thankfully, when you installed rngtools, it included rngtest, a simple checker for random data:

sudo cat /dev/hwrng | rngtest -c 1000
rngtest 2-unofficial-mt.14
Copyright (c) 2004 by Henrique de Moraes Holschuh
This is free software; see the source for copying conditions.  There is NO warranty; not even for MERCHANTABILITY or FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE.

rngtest: starting FIPS tests…
rngtest: bits received from input: 20000032
rngtest: FIPS 140-2 successes: 1000
rngtest: FIPS 140-2 failures: 0
rngtest: FIPS 140-2(2001-10-10) Monobit: 0
rngtest: FIPS 140-2(2001-10-10) Poker: 0
rngtest: FIPS 140-2(2001-10-10) Runs: 0
rngtest: FIPS 140-2(2001-10-10) Long run: 0
rngtest: FIPS 140-2(2001-10-10) Continuous run: 0
rngtest: input channel speed: (min=67.969; avg=921.967; max=1953125.000)Kibits/s
rngtest: FIPS tests speed: (min=842.881; avg=3208.336; max=6407.890)Kibits/s
rngtest: Program run time: 27658884 microseconds

We were lucky that none of the tests failed for that run; sometimes there are a few failures. RANDU, on the other hand fares very badly:

./randu 17  | rngtest -c 1000
rngtest 2-unofficial-mt.14
Copyright (c) 2004 by Henrique de Moraes Holschuh
This is free software; see the source for copying conditions.  There is NO warranty; not even for MERCHANTABILITY or FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE.

rngtest: starting FIPS tests…
rngtest: bits received from input: 20000032
rngtest: FIPS 140-2 successes: 0
rngtest: FIPS 140-2 failures: 1000
rngtest: FIPS 140-2(2001-10-10) Monobit: 730
rngtest: FIPS 140-2(2001-10-10) Poker: 1000
rngtest: FIPS 140-2(2001-10-10) Runs: 289
rngtest: FIPS 140-2(2001-10-10) Long run: 0
rngtest: FIPS 140-2(2001-10-10) Continuous run: 0
rngtest: input channel speed: (min=45.630; avg=14255.221; max=19073.486)Mibits/s
rngtest: FIPS tests speed: (min=23.694; avg=154.238; max=176.606)Mibits/s
rngtest: Program run time: 141071 microseconds

See? Lots of failures there. It’s hardly random at all. If you really want to get out testing randomness, there are the dieharder tests. They takes ages to run, though.

(Note: newish Intel machines also have a real hardware RNG in the shape of Rdrand.)

computers suck

Compose yourself, Raspberry Pi!

Years ago, I worked in multilingual dictionary publishing. I was on the computing team, so we had to support the entry and storage of text in many different languages. Computers could display accented and special characters, but we were stuck with 8-bit character sets. This meant that we could only have a little over 200 distinct characters display in the same font at the same time. We’d be pretty much okay doing French & English together, but French & Norwegian started to get a little trying, and Italian & Greek couldn’t really be together at all.

We were very fortunate to be using Sun workstations in the editorial office. These were quite powerful Unix machines, which means that they were a fraction of the speed and capabilities of a Raspberry Pi. Suns had one particularly neat feature:

Compose_key_on_Sun_Type_5c_keyboard(source: Compose key, Wikipedia.)

That little key marked “Compose”  (to the right of the space bar) acted as a semi-smart typewriter backspace key: if you hit Compose, then the right key combination, an accented character or symbol would appear. Some of the straightforward compose key sequences are:

  Compose +    
Accent First key Second key Result Example
Acute e é café
Grave ` a à déjà
Cedilla , c ç soupçon
Circumflex ^ o ô hôtel
Umlaut u ü küche
Ring o a å Håkon
Slash / L Ł Łukasiewicz
Tilde ~ n ñ mañana

Like every (non-embedded) Linux system I’ve used, the Raspberry Pi running Raspbian can use the compose key method for entering extra characters. I’m annoyed, though, that almost every setup tutorial either says to disable it, or doesn’t explain what it’s for. Let me fix that for you …


Run raspi-config

sudo raspi-config

and go to the configure_keyboard “4 Internationalisation Options” → “I3 Change Keyboard Layout” section. Your keyboard’s probably mostly set up the way you want it, so hit the Tab key and select <Ok> until you get to the Compose key section:

raspi-config: Compose key selectionChoose whatever is convenient. The combined keyboard and trackpad I use (a SolidTek KB-3910) with my Raspberry Pi has a couple of “Windows® Logo” keys, and the one on the right works for me. Keep the rest of the keyboard options the same, and exit raspi-config. After the message

Reloading keymap. This may take a short while
[ ok ] Setting preliminary keymap...done.

appears, you now have a working Compose key.

Using the Compose key

raspi-config hints (‘On the text console the Compose key does not work in Unicode mode …’) that Compose might not work everywhere with every piece of software. I’ve tested it across quite a few pieces of software — both on the text console and under LXDE — and support seems to be almost universal. The only differences I can find are:

  • Text Console — (a. k. a. the texty bit you see after booting) Despite raspi-config’s warning, accented alphabetical characters do seem to work (é è ñ ö ø å, etc). Most symbols, however, don’t (like ± × ÷ …). The currency symbol for your country is a special case. In Canada, I need to use Compose for and £, but you’ve probably got a key for that.
  • LXDE — (a. k. a. the mousey bit you see after typing ‘startx’) All characters and symbols I’ve tried work everywhere, in LXTerminal, Leafpad, Midori, Dillo (browser), IDLE, and FocusWriter (a very minimal word processor).
Special characters in Python's IDLE
Special characters in Python’s IDLE
Some Compose key sequences — Leafpad
Some Compose key sequences — Leafpad

To find out which key sequences do what, the Compose key – Wikipedia page is a decent start. I prefer the slightly friendlier Ubuntu references GtkComposeTable and Compose Key, or the almost unreadable but frighteningly comprehensive UTF-8 (Unicode) compose sequence reference (which is essentially mirrored on your Raspberry Pi as the file /usr/share/X11/locale/en_US.UTF-8/Compose). Now go forth and work that Compose key like a boß.

(If you’re on a Mac and feeling a bit left out, you can do something similar with the Option key. Here’s how: Extended Keyboard Accent Codes for the Macintosh. On Windows®? Out of luck, I’m afraid WinCompose!)

goatee-stroking musing, or something

Hint: I don’t do this for the money …

I don’t know why getting an e-mail like this one would disturb me so much:

Hi Stewart,

Just a quick reminder message – I’m currently working with [REDACTED], a top electronics and engineering tech company, and we’re still interested in collaborating with you!

We can provide bespoke content by [REDACTED]‘s own tech copywriters to give you something relevant for your readers, based on a topic that you’d like us to write about. We can also offer a $25 voucher to purchase any product of that value or less from the [REDACTED] website (http://www.[REDACTED].com/) which you could then use and review.

If you’re interested, I can send over some rough content ideas for you to have a look at, and you can let us know what grabs you.

Look forward to hearing from you!


It’s not spam; I’ve had this offer before via another channel. I can’t see why anyone would want someone else’s text under their own byline. Running this blog costs me a trivial amount of money, but I’m okay with that. Monetizing, SEO, sticky eyeballs (I’m showing my age …): feh. All I ever wanted to do with this blog is write my own drivel without someone else’s noise polluting the page.

computers suck

X11-Basic: Compiler Insanity!

Screen Shot 2013-03-11 at 22.13.31Markus Hoffmann has been very helpful with getting X11-Basic running on the Raspberry Pi. Remember how I said that the simple Mandelbrot Set test took nearly 1¼ hours to run using the interpreter? How about 2′ 6″ when compiled? That’s a speedup of 35 times! What you need to do is:

xbc -virtualm -o mandel-simple mandel-simple.bas

The “-virtualm” bit is the secret key to speed. Without it, the compiled code is a bit faster than interpreted.

If you’re running from the source code posted to SourceForge yesterday, you might want to replace xb2csol.h with this new xb2csol.h. It’s supposed to help with the compiled code. Just make clean; make; sudo make install to replace the code.

computers suck

Running X11-Basic (almost perfectly) on Raspberry Pi

Update: Markus Hoffmann uploaded a new version of X11Basic-1.20.tar.gz to SourceForge that addresses most of these problems. I’ve edited the article to remove the obsolete bits.

More than 20 years ago, I really liked GFA-Basic. It ran blindingly fast on the Atari ST, and when it didn’t crash on the Amiga, it ran blindingly fast there too. I even wrote a review of it for comp.sys.amiga.programmer, which you can read to this day in all its textual glory. One of the e-mail addresses in that article still works, too.

I still sometimes think in BASIC, and there is much wringing of hands (not by me, really) that there isn’t a good interpreter for Raspbian on the Raspberry Pi. So when I found X11-Basic — a cross-platform GFA-Basic-like system — I had to take a look.

While I have managed to get X11-Basic demos to run, I have to say it’s not running super well. I’ll show you how to install X11-Basic 1.20 and get it (mostly) running, but it’s a bit rough on the ARM. Incidentally, these instructions also work on Ubuntu 12.mumble LTS on x86.

First, you need to install some (okay, a lot of) packages:

sudo apt-get install libreadline-dev tcsh libncurses5-dev xutils-dev libc6-dev libsdl1.2-dev libtool

Now download and extract the package:

tar xvzf X11Basic-1.20.tar.gz
cd X11Basic-1.20

For X11Basic-1.20, you have to issue an extra command before the standard ‘./configure ; make ; make install‘ sequence:

sudo mkdir -p /usr/local/share/man/man1
sudo make install

This is enough to make a working xbasic interpreter. I made some screenshots of some of the graphics demos —

Screen Shot 2013-03-08 at 16.34.51 Screen Shot 2013-03-08 at 14.59.37 Screen Shot 2013-03-08 at 14.57.21 Screen Shot 2013-03-08 at 14.54.08 Screen Shot 2013-03-08 at 14.49.48As you can see, there’s some screen corruption, but most demos just worked. Incidentally, the Mandelbrot one took almost 1¼ hours to run. Took me right back, that did (or it would have, if I hadn’t been outside bombing about in the slush on my bicycle while it churned away).

In order to see just how fast the interpreter is, I ran the formerly fearsome Personal Computer World Benchmark #8 under X11-Basic. PCW#8 used to bring 8-bit home computers to their knees, typically taking more than a minute to run. Here’s the code, indented a bit and with a timing wrapper added:

	LET start=TIMER
	LET K=0
	LET K=K+1
	LET A=K^2
	IF K<1000
		GOTO L30

(yeah, GFA-style BASIC isn’t too pretty …)

It takes about ¼s to run. The old BBC B was supposed to take about 50s. By comparison, X11-Basic on a manky old dual-core Atom took 0.04s.

The native compiler xbc seems to work. To make a standalone binary of the above code, you do:

xbc -o PCWBenchmark PCWBenchmark.xbas

The compiled binary runs roughly twice as fast as the interpreted code. Not blazing fast, but a useful increase.

Unfortunately, the bytecode compiler xbbc doesn’t actually do anything on the Raspberry Pi yet. So here I leave it up to you to play with X11-Basic, and see what it can and can’t do.

computers suck

A Murder of Crows on your Raspberry Pi with Boodler

Boodler is rather fun. It generates ambient music based on user-defined or downloaded ‘soundscapes’. If you’ve got a modern (HTML5/Opus-capable) browser, you can hear a streaming demo here: It’s using the FM3 Buddha Machine samples in this demo, but it can run lots more: a tree full of crows, a thunderstorm, dripping water, …

It’s pretty easy to run on a Raspberry Pi running a recent version of Raspbian. The only technical glitch I had was that there’s something deeply confused about ALSA sound handling on the Raspberry Pi. I’m sure it’ll get fixed soon, but for now, you have to use PulseAudio. (If you want to read about my ALSA woes, go here.)

The installation prerequisites are simple:

sudo apt-get install pulseaudio pulseaudio-utils libpulse-dev python-dev

Now download and configure Boodler:

tar xvzf Boodler-2.0.4.tar.gz
cd Boodler-2.0.4
python build

It takes a while to do this, but make sure it does something useful when it’s building the various sound drivers. You don’t want it to say:

skipping 'boodle.cboodle_pulse' extension

If it says that, you haven’t installed Pulseaudio. Go back and check your apt-get line.

Once it’s built, now install it:

sudo python install

Now test it:

boodler --hardware --output pulse --testsound

Not merely should you get some pleasant tones from your Raspberry Pi’s audio, but you sound get some informative and non-threatening terminal output. Mine looks like:

Boodler: PulseAudio sound driver.
 PulseAudio library: 2.0.0.
 Sample rate is 44100 fps.
 Samples are 16-bit little-endian.
 Buffer size is 32768.
 21:37:46 (root) Running "Boodler test sound"

If that works, let’s get those crows a-cawin’. Download the soundscapes you need:

boodle-mgr install
boodle-mgr install

and run it:

boodler --output pulse com.eblong.zarf.crows/ParliamentOfCrows

Crows everywhere!

I really like the Buddha Machine samples. It’s quite big (> 80 MB), so this next set will take a while to download:

boodle-mgr install
boodle-mgr install

It’s worth the wait:

boodler --output pulse com.azulebanana.buddhaagent/ChangingLoops

Boodler has tons of options, prebuilt packages, and instructions to build your own: Boodler Documentation.

One thing I’ve tried to get working, but failed, is streaming from Boodler via icecast. Sure, I can install and run it, it’s just that the results are, um, undesirable. If you want to have a play, here’s how to install icecast:

sudo apt-get install icecast2 ices2 libshout3-dev

Icecast will configure itself, and ask for a couple of passwords. You’ll have to rebuild and reinstall Boodler for it to catch the new configuration. You can then try streaming:

boodler --output shout --define shout-password=mypassword --define shout-mount='/boodler-buddha.ogg' com.azulebanana.buddhaagent/ChangingLoops

If you open a web browser at this address http://raspberrypi:8000/ you should see a config page listing your boodler-buddha.ogg stream. Click on the M3U link next to it, and your streaming music player should start making a joyful noise …

… except in my case, something went very wrong, and it started to produce industrial ultra-glitch nightmare noise: boodler-streaming_test-fail. I’m sure it’s fixable with some tweaking, but I’m not there yet.

computers suck

X10 for Raspberry Pi on the Cheap [North American Edition]

Now I’ve got my X10 system running and know its limitations, I could have saved a wheen of money not buying stuff I don’t need. Our house appears to have been wired by an, um, spirited amateur, so powerline signalling is of limited use. Thankfully, the tiny and cheap X10 FireCracker CM17A (warning: too many flashing GIFs at this link!) can be driven from heyu [previously]. You can score these on eBay for under $10, and all you need is a serial adapter to drive them.

Leviton X10 controller - cheap!The really cheap bit in my system was discovered in Active Surplus. I found a case of Leviton “Plug-in Frequency Transceiver Modules” for $4/each. One was out of its case, and wouldn’t you know it, it’s the same as a RR501 module, which typically retails for about $30. Sure, these are old stock and are a nasty beige colour, but they provide a way of switching a two-pin appliance. They can also relay remote commands from RF to wired controls.

The only X10 controller I can’t get to work with the Raspberry Pi is the CM19a USB PC Transceiver. I suspect it draws a bit too much power to run from a Raspberry Pi, as it makes the machine unresponsive if it’s plugged it. Running from my bench setup it works fine with the mochad driver, but no dice with the other machine. The CM19a reads wireless RF X10 commands, and it would be useful if I’d added a motion sensor. As is, I’ll stick to the lights going on and off.

(Update: there’s a good chance that my CM19a problems are down to the ancient dwc_otg* fixes I still run on my Raspberry Pi’s kernel. You probably don’t need them, and this device could work fine. One day I will find time to fix ’em …)

(Incidentally, this is the “North American Edition” because X10 RF controls are completely different in Europe, and none of the above is useful to you. Yeah, I know this article is the equivalent of PC Load Letter to you; sorry.)

goatee-stroking musing, or something

hey, it’s the sun … heyu and sunwait and cron on the Raspberry Pi

Yep, springtime’s coming, and today’s the first day I know it, despite the -5.8°C outside. I know spring is coming because my sunrise-adjusted lights came on before my alarm today. I’m controlling them with a Raspberry Pi, cron, and X10.

I’d described how to build and use heyu previously, so I won’t go into it further. I use sunwait to control the timing relative to local sunrise and sunset. Sunwait is a simple C program which builds quickly, and you can put the executable somewhere in your path.

(NB: newer versions of sunwait use a completely incompatible command line format. Everything here refers to the 2004 version I linked to above, which does exactly what I need in the way it’s described here.)

You need to know your latitude and longitude to use sunwait. To check its setting for the day, you can call it with the -p option:

$ sunwait -p 43.729N 79.292W
Using location:             43.729000N, 79.292000W
Date:                        6 Feb 2013 
Local time:                  7:44 
Day length:                 10:13 hours
With civil twilight         11:10 hours
With nautical twilight      12:18 hours
With astronomical twilight  13:25 hours
Length of twilight:  civil   0:28 hours
                  nautical   1:02 hours
              astronomical   1:35 hours
Current specified time zone: EST (-5 from UTC) 
Sun transits meridian 1231 EST
                   Sun rises 0726 EST, sets 1736 EST
       Civil twilight starts 0656 EST, ends 1806 EST
    Nautical twilight starts 0622 EST, ends 1840 EST
Astronomical twilight starts 0548 EST, ends 1913 EST

So for me, today’s sunrise is at 0726, and sunset is at 1736. All sunwait does is wait until a specific solar time is reached, and then exit. Whatever command you call after sunwait, therefore, is what gets run at the right time. So if I wanted X10 device H1 to come on an hour before sunrise, I’d run:

sunwait sun up -1:00:00 43.729N 79.292W; heyu on h1

Remembering to run this every day before sunrise would be a pain, so this is where cron helps. cron uses a slightly odd config file that is edited using the crontab -e command. Here’s the relevant bit of my crontab, showing the light control times:

# m h  dom mon dow   command
 01 00   *   *   *   /usr/local/bin/sunwait sun up -1:00:00 43.729N 79.292W; /usr/local/bin/heyu on h1
 02 00   *   *   *   /usr/local/bin/sunwait sun up +1:00:00 43.729N 79.292W; /usr/local/bin/heyu off h1
 03 00   *   *   *   /usr/local/bin/sunwait sun down -1:00:00 43.729N 79.292W; /usr/local/bin/heyu on h1
 45 22   *   *   *   /usr/local/bin/heyu off h1

(you can view your crontab with crontab -l)

The columns in crontab are:

  • minute
  • hour
  • day of month
  • month
  • day of week
  • command

So the four crontab lines mean:

  1. Every day at 00:01, wait until an hour before sunrise and turn light H1 on
  2. Every day at 00:02, wait until an hour after sunrise and turn light H1 off
  3. Every day at 00:03, wait until an hour before sunset and turn light H1 on
  4. At 22:45, turn light H1 off.

So for quite a bit of the day, there are a couple of sunwait tasks just quietly waiting until sunrise or sunset to do their thing. cron, incidentally, is picky about executable paths; that’s why I specified full paths to both sunwait and heyu.

What I’d really like to do is have time on this machine update without a network connection, because it’s running from a particularly messy router set up in a spare bedroom. I should investigate a real-time clock, with GPS time updates from an I²C GPS, talking through a bluetooth console. In my copious free time, of course.

computers suck goatee-stroking musing, or something

Simple ADC with the Raspberry Pi

Raspberry Pi wearing an MCP3008

Hey! This is a really old article. You should really be using gpiozero these days.

I hadn’t realised it, but the The Quite Rubbish Clock did something that a lot of people seem to have trouble with on the Raspberry Pi: communicating using hardware SPI. Perhaps it’s because everything is moving so fast with Raspberry Pi development, tutorials go out of date really quickly. Thankfully, hardware SPI is much easier to understand than the older way of emulation through bit-banging.

SPI is a synchronous serial protocol, so it needs a clock line as well as a data in and data out line. In addition, it has a Chip Enable (CE, or Chip Select, CS) line that is used to choose which SPI device to talk to. The Raspberry Pi has two CE lines (pins 24 and 26) so can talk to two SPI devices at once. It supports a maximum clock rate of 32 MHz, though in practice you’ll be limited to the rate your device supports.

The device I’m testing here is an MCP3008 10-bit Analogue-to-Digital Converter (ADC). These are simple to use, cheap and quite fast converters with 8 input channels. If you hook them up to a 3.3 V supply they will convert a DC voltage varying from 0-3.3 V to a digital reading of 0-1023 (= 210 – 1). Not quite up there in quality for hi-fi audio or precision sensing, but good enough to read from most simple analogue sensors.

The sensor I’m reading is the astonishingly dull LM35DZ temperature sensor. All the cool kids seem to be using TMP36s (as they can read temperatures below freezing without a negative supply voltage). One day I’ll show them all and use a LM135 direct Kelvin sensor, but not yet.

To run this code, install the SPI libraries as before. Now wire up the MCP3008 to the Raspberry Pi like so:

 MCP 3008 Pin          Pi GPIO Pin #    Pi Pin Name
==============        ===============  =============
 16  VDD                 1              3.3 V
 15  VREF                1              3.3 V
 14  AGND                6              GND
 13  CLK                23              GPIO11 SPI0_SCLK
 12  DOUT               21              GPIO09 SPI0_MISO
 11  DIN                19              GPIO10 SPI0_MOSI
 10  CS                 24              GPIO08 CE0
  9  DGND                6              GND

The wiring for the LM35 is very simple:

 LM35 Pin        MCP3008 Pin
==========      =============
 Vs              16 VDD
 Vout             1 CH0
 GND              9 DGND

The code I’m using is a straight lift of Jeremy Blythe’s Raspberry Pi hardware SPI analog inputs using the MCP3008. The clever bit in Jeremy’s code is the readadc() function which reads the relevant length of bits (by writing the same number of bits; SPI’s weird that way) from the SPI bus and converting it to a single 10-bit value.

# -*- coding: utf-8 -*-
# - read an LM35 on CH0 of an MCP3008 on a Raspberry Pi
# mostly nicked from

import spidev
import time

spi = spidev.SpiDev(), 0)

def readadc(adcnum):
# read SPI data from MCP3008 chip, 8 possible adc's (0 thru 7)
    if adcnum > 7 or adcnum < 0:
        return -1
    r = spi.xfer2([1, 8 + adcnum << 4, 0])
    adcout = ((r[1] & 3) << 8) + r[2]
    return adcout

while True:
    value = readadc(0)
    volts = (value * 3.3) / 1024
    temperature = volts / (10.0 / 1000)
    print ("%4d/1023 => %5.3f V => %4.1f °C" % (value, volts,

The slightly awkward code temperature = volts / (10.0 / 1000) is just a simpler way of acknowledging that the LM35DZ puts out 10 mV (= 10/1000, or 0.01) per °C. Well-behaved sensors generally have a linear relationship between what they indicate and what they measure.

If you run the code:

sudo ./

you should get something like:

  91/1023 => 0.293 V => 29.3 °C
  93/1023 => 0.300 V => 30.0 °C
  94/1023 => 0.303 V => 30.3 °C
  95/1023 => 0.306 V => 30.6 °C
  96/1023 => 0.309 V => 30.9 °C
  97/1023 => 0.313 V => 31.3 °C
  97/1023 => 0.313 V => 31.3 °C
  98/1023 => 0.316 V => 31.6 °C
  99/1023 => 0.319 V => 31.9 °C
  99/1023 => 0.319 V => 31.9 °C
 100/1023 => 0.322 V => 32.2 °C
 100/1023 => 0.322 V => 32.2 °C
 100/1023 => 0.322 V => 32.2 °C
 101/1023 => 0.325 V => 32.5 °C
 101/1023 => 0.325 V => 32.5 °C
 102/1023 => 0.329 V => 32.9 °C
 102/1023 => 0.329 V => 32.9 °C
 103/1023 => 0.332 V => 33.2 °C

Note that the sensor had been sitting over the Raspberry Pi’s CPU for a while; I don’t keep my house at 29 °C. I made the temperature go up by holding the LM35.

So, you’ve just (fairly cheaply) given your Raspberry Pi 8 analogue input channels, so it can behave much more like a real microcontroller now. I remember from my datalogging days that analogue inputs can be pretty finicky and almost always return a value even if it’s an incorrect one. Check the chip’s datasheet to see if you’re doing it right, and if in doubt, meter it!

computers suck

qrclock, the demo reel

classy cable for the Quite Rubbish clock

The video of the Quite Rubbish Clock isn’t running the same code that’s in the listing. Here it is, showing off some of the handy code that’s in bgreat’s nokiaSPI Python class:

# -*- coding: utf-8 -*-
# qrmovie

import time
# need to use git://
import qrcode
from PIL import Image, ImageFont
import ImageOps
# uses bgreat's SPI code; see
import nokiaSPI

noki = nokiaSPI.NokiaSPI()              # create display device
qr = qrcode.QRCode(version=1,           # V.1 QR Code: 21x21 px
box_size=2, border=1)
bg ='1', (84, 48))           # blank (black) image background

# intro
for i in range(0,769,32):

# display is 14 columns by 8 rows
noki.centre_word(1, '')
noki.centre_word(3, 'presents')
noki.centre_word(1, 'qrclock')
noki.centre_word(2, 'the')
noki.text(" Clock")

start_time = time.time()
while (elapsed<12):
    newbg = bg.copy()                   # copy blank background
    s = time.strftime('%Y-%m-%d %H:%M:%S')
    qr.add_data(s)                      # make QR Code of YYYY-MM-DD HH:MM:SS
    qrim = qr.make_image()              # convert qrcode object to PIL image
    qrim = qrim.convert('L')            # make greyscale
    qrim = ImageOps.invert(qrim)        # invert colours: B->W and W->B
    qrim = qrim.convert('1')            # convert back to 1-bit
    newbg.paste(qrim, (18, 0))          # paste QR Code into blank background
    noki.show_image(newbg)              # display code on LCD
    time.sleep(0.4)                     # pause before next display
    elapsed = time.time() - start_time

noki.centre_word(1, 'for')
noki.centre_word(2, 'more')
noki.centre_word(3, 'details')
noki.load_bitmap("blogpost-nokia.bmp", True)
noki.centre_word(3, 'fin')
noki.centre_word(5, 'scruss, 2013')
for i in range(768,-1,-32):

(This source, plus nokiaSPI class:

Lines 43-58 show off the QR clock for a maximum of 12 seconds. Any more, and you’d get really bored.

The screen handling functions I used are:

  • cls() — Clears the screen.
  • led(brightness) — sets the backlight to brightness. For me, full brightness is at 768. A value of zero turns the backlight off. If you don’t have the screen LED connected to one of the Raspberry Pi’s PWM pin, this will either be full on (for any brightness >= 1), or off, for brightness=0. This is used to fade up the screen in lines 24-26, and fade it down far too theatrically in lines 72-74.
  • show_image(PILImage) — display a single bit depth black and white Python Imaging Library object PILImage. This can be no larger than 84×48 pixels.
  • load_bitmap(file, Invert) — load a single bit depth black and white BMP file of maximum size 48×84. If Invert is true, keep the colours as they are, otherwise swap black and white to make a negative image. nokiSPI flips images by 90°, so the image I loaded to show the URL of the blog post looks like this:
    (I know, I could have generated this in code, but I’d already made the image using qrencode. I couldn’t be bothered working out the image size and offsets.)

The text handling functions I used are:

  • gotorc(row, column) — move the text cursor to row, column. The screen only has 14 columns by 8 rows if you use the standard 6×6 pixel font, so keep your text short to avoid disappointment.
  • text(text) — write text at the current cursor position.
  • centre_word(row, text) — write text centred in row row. Since the text rows are a maximum of 14 columns, text with an odd number of characters will appear slightly off-centre.

There are many more functions in the nokiaSPI class; watch the demo, have a dig through the source and see what you can use.


can has gertboard? #raspberrypi

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computers suck

The Quite Rubbish Clock

Hey! This article is really old and probably doesn’t work any more: things have changed a lot in Raspberry Pi world since 2013 …

Update 3: code for the demo video is here.

Update 2: In which I actually post working code.

Update: Eep! This post was featured on the Raspberry Pi blog today. Thanks, Liz!

And now for something completely different:

… a clock that isn’t human readable. You’ll need a QR code reader to be able to tell the time.

Nokia screen on Raspberry PiThis, however, is not the prime purpose of the exercise. I was looking for an excuse to try some direct hardware projects with the GPIO, and I remembered I had a couple of Nokia-style surplus LCDs lying about that could be pressed into service. These LCDs aren’t great: 84×48 pixels, 3V3 logic, driven by SPI via an 8-pin header which includes PWM-controllable LED backlighting. They are cheap, and available almost everywhere: DealExtreme ($5.36), SparkFun ($9.95), Adafruit ($10 – but includes a level shifter, which you really need if you’re using a 5V logic Arduino), Solarbotics ($10) and Creatron (about $12; but you can walk right in and buy one). Despite being quite difficult to use, helpful people have written drivers to make these behave like tiny dot-addressable screens.

I’d been following the discussion on the Raspberry Pi forum about driving the Nokia LCD from a Raspberry Pi. Only when user bgreat posted some compact code that was supposed to run really fast did I dig out the LCD board and jumper wires. Building on bgreat’s class and a few other bits of code, here’s what I built to make this singularly pointless clock:

# -*- coding: utf-8 -*-
# qrclock - The Quite Rubbish Clock for Raspberry Pi - scruss, 2013-01-19

import time
# need to use git://
import qrcode
from PIL import Image
import ImageOps
# uses bgreat's SPI code; see
import nokiaSPI

noki = nokiaSPI.NokiaSPI()              # create display device
qr = qrcode.QRCode(version=1,           # V.1 QR Code: 21x21 px
                   box_size=2, border=1)
bg ='1', (84, 48))           # blank (black) image background

while 1:
    newbg = bg.copy()                   # copy blank background
    s = time.strftime('%Y-%m-%d %H:%M:%S')
    qr.add_data(s)                      # make QR Code of YYYY-MM-DD HH:MM:SS
    qrim = qr.make_image()              # convert qrcode object to PIL image
    qrim = qrim.convert('L')            # make greyscale
    qrim = ImageOps.invert(qrim)        # invert colours: B-&amp;amp;gt;W and W-&amp;amp;gt;B
    qrim = qrim.convert('1')            # convert back to 1-bit
    newbg.paste(qrim, (18, 0))          # paste QR Code into blank background
    noki.show_image(newbg)              # display code on LCD
    time.sleep(0.4)                     # pause before next display

(Convenient archive of all the source:, really including bgreat’s nokiaSPI class this time …)

To get all this working on your Raspberry Pi, there’s a fair amount of configuration. The best references are bgreat’s own comments in the thread, but I’ve tried to include everything here.

Enabling the SPI kernel module

As root, edit the kernel module blacklist file:

sudo vi /etc/modprobe.d/raspi-blacklist.conf

Comment out the spi-bcm2708 line so it looks like this:

#blacklist spi-bcm2708

Save the file so that the module will load on future reboots. To enable the module now, enter:

sudo modprobe spi-bcm2708

Now, if you run the lsmod command, you should see something like:

Module                  Size  Used by
spi_bcm2708             4421  0

Installing the WiringPi, SPI and other required packages

WiringPi by Gordon is one of the neater Raspberry Pi-specific modules, as it allows relatively easy access to the Raspberry Pi’s GPIO pins. For Raspbian, there are a few other imaging libraries and package management tools you’ll need to install here:

sudo apt-get install python-imaging python-imaging-tk python-pip python-dev git
sudo pip install spidev
sudo pip install wiringpi

Installing the Python QR code library

Finding a library that provided all the right functions was the hardest part here. I ended up using mozillazg‘s fork of lincolnloop‘s python-qrcode module. mozillazg’s fork lets you use most of the lovely PIL methods, while the original hides most of them. Since I had to do some image compositing and colour remapping to make the image appear correct on the Nokia screen, the new fork was very helpful.

To install it:

git clone git://
cd python-qrcode/
sudo python ./ install

The tiny 84×48 resolution of the Nokia screen doesn’t give you many options for sizing QR codes. For the time display of the clock, a 21×21 module Version 1 code with two pixels per module and one module margin just fits into 48 pixels. Using a medium level of error correction, you can fit the 19-character message (such as “2013-01-19 18:56:59”) into this tiny screen with a very good chance of it being read by any QR code reader.

(In the video, there’s a much larger QR code that’s a link to this blog post. That’s a Version 7 code [45×45 modules] at one pixel per module and no margin. This doesn’t meet Denso Wave’s readability guidelines, but the Nokia screen has large blank margins which seem to help. It won’t read on every phone, but you’re here at this link now, so you don’t need it …)

Wiring it all up

(Do I really need to say that you’ll be messing around with the inner delicate bits of your Raspberry Pi here, and if you do something wrong, you could end up with a dead Raspberry Pi? No? Okay. Just make sure you take some static precautions and you really should have the thing shut down and powered off.)

You’ll need 8 female-female jumper wires, and also some kind of pin header soldered in (I used right-angled ones). Note that the thick border of the LCD is the top of the screen. These boards are made who-knows-where by who-knows-whom, and there’s a huge variety of labels and layouts on the pins. My one appears to be yet another variant, and is labelled:

  1. VCC
  2. GND
  3. SCE
  4. RST
  5. D/C
  6. DNK(MOSI)
  7. SCLK
  8. LED

screen labelsThis is how I wired it (from comments in bgreat’s code and the GPIO reference):

 LCD Pin       Function      Pi GPIO Pin #   Pi Pin Name
============= ============= =============== =============
 1 VCC         Vcc            1              3.3 V
 2 GND         Ground        25              GND
 3 SCE         Chip Enable   24              GPIO08 SPI0_CE0_N
 4 RST         Reset         11              GPIO17
 5 D/C         Data/Command  15              GPIO22
 6 DNK(MOSI)   Data In       19              GPIO10 SPI0_MOSI
 7 SCLK        Serial Clock  23              GPIO11 SPI0_SCLK
 8 LED         Backlight     12              GPIO18 PWM0

GPIO wiringback of screen

Wire it up, and fire up the program:

sudo ./

Yes, code that accesses GPIO needs to be run as root. Pesky, but helps you avoid running code that accidentally scrams the nuclear power station you’re controlling from your Raspberry Pi …


Now this has given me an idea … #raspberrypi #qrcode

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Adding a Bluetooth serial terminal to Raspberry Pi

Hey! This article is really old. The advice given here will not work on a Raspberry Pi 3, and will need some care with recent versions of Raspbian.

Sometimes you find a computer component that’s so cheap, that works so well, that you’re amazed you managed to live without it for so long. The JY-MCU Arduino Bluetooth Wireless Serial Port Module is that component for me right now.

JY-MCU Arduino Bluetooth Wireless Serial Port Module from
JY-MCU Arduino Bluetooth Wireless Serial Port Module from

This little board is a cheap ($8.50!) Bluetooth serial port. It’s happy with the Raspberry Pi’s 3.3 V logic levels, and will communicate at standard rates between 1200 and 1,382,400 baud. It even comes with a nifty little cable which is just the right polarity for the Raspberry Pi’s GPIO pins. It’s really meant to do serial comms on an Arduino, but it’s not limited to that.

What this board allows you to do is connect to your Raspberry Pi’s serial console via Bluetooth. That way, you can have your Raspberry Pi hidden away somewhere, and yet still log in as if you were talking to it directly through a serial cable. Combine this with a USB wireless adaptor (like the Belkin N150 that I use) and you’ve got a wireless device you can always connect to, even if your network goes down.

In order to use this device with your Raspberry Pi, you’re going to have to do some reconfiguration. Exactly what reconfiguration you do depends on some additional hardware:

  1. If you have a USB-TTL Serial converter (like an FTDI Friend, FTDI Basic Breakout – 3.3V, or the one I use, the OSEPP FTDI), you can reconfigure the Bluetooth module to run at 115,200 baud, the default speed of the Raspberry Pi’s serial port.
  2. If you don’t have the serial converter, you’ll need to reconfigure the Raspberry Pi’s serial terminal to run at the JY-MCU Bluetooth adapter’s default 9600 baud.

To reconfigure the Bluetooth module to run at 115,200 baud

(I chose this option, as it allows me to use the Bluetooth module with Firmata on an Arduino, too.)

The JY-MCU board comes with no instructions, but all the reconfiguration commands you’ll need are explained here: hc06_linvor_1.5_at_command_set [[hc06_linvor_1.5_at_command_set]] (cached copy; original has gone) While you’re setting the communications speed, you’ll probably also want to change the device name (so you can more easily recognize your own board, as the default is something like “Linvor”) and PIN (for that warm feeling of security that only a four digit code can provide). The device is configured using AT commands (or as we eldsters call them, Hayes commands) by plugging it directly into a USB-TTL Serial device attached to your computer. Here’s how you wire it:

USB-TTL Serial    Bluetooth Serial
================= =================
GND               GND
VCC               VCC
TXD               RXD
RXD               TXD

Note that TXD and RXD are crossed. The Bluetooth unit runs on a 3.6-6V supply, but 3.3V logic. To enter the AT commands, start a serial terminal (Hyperterm, minicom, screen …) at 9600 baud talking to the USB-Serial adapter, and copy and paste these commands in:


You’ll have to disconnect the terminal and reconnect at 115,200 baud, as that last command just reset the Bluetooth device’s speed. You might want to use other settings than Bluey for the name and 4321 for the PIN, too.

Update: check that your Raspberry Pi’s /boot/cmdline.txt contains:


You will not get a login prompt otherwise.

Now go to Using the Device.

To reconfigure the Raspberry Pi’s serial terminal to run at 9600 baud

Serial terminals traditionally ran at 9600 baud, and that seems a bit slow these days. But, if you don’t have a way of setting up the Bluetooth device differently, 9600 is what you’re stuck with. You’ll need to edit your Raspberry Pi’s /boot/cmdline.txt so that the part that previously read:

console=ttyAMA0,115200 kgdboc=ttyAMA0,115200


console=ttyAMA0,9600 kgdboc=ttyAMA0,9600

Note that this file should only contain one line, so be careful you don’t add extra line breaks or your Raspberry Pi won’t boot. Save the file, reboot your Raspberry Pi, and go to the next section.

Using the Device

On your Raspberry Pi, connect the Bluetooth Wireless Serial Port Module as follows:

Raspberry Pi      Bluetooth Serial
================= =================
5V  (GPIO Pin  2) VCC

(Despite the minimum 3.6V rating, I’m happily running mine from the 3V3 power, GPIO Pin 1. YMMV.)

When the board gets power, but isn’t paired, the LEDs on the Bluetooth module flash quickly. Now you need to pair the device with your computer (use 0000 as the PIN, or whatever you chose if you changed it), and it will appear as a serial port on your machine. On my Mac, that’s a device called /dev/tty.Bluey-DevB. The LEDs stop flashing when the port goes into use. Open up a serial terminal, set the device and speed correctly, and if all goes well, you should see:

Debian GNU/Linux wheezy/sid raspberrypi ttyAMA0

raspberrypi login:


computers suck

X10 home automation with Raspberry Pi: heyu

I never quite get the hang of setting timers for lights. Either I forget daylight savings completely, or I set something so general that I find the lights coming on mid-afternoon when it’s still light. Minor annoyances require the over-application of technology, and fast!

I scored an X10 ActiveHome Starter Kit for cheap(ish) on eBay. X10 is a pretty old technology (1970s! Scottish!) and has some severe limitations (slow! prone to interference! unencrypted!) but has a large user base, and did I mention it’s pretty cheap?

The key component of a computer controlled X10 system is the CM11 computer interface. It takes serial commands from a computer, and pushes them out (slowly) as signals modulated over your house wiring. Various plug-in modules pick up these signals, and if the device address in the command matches that of the module, the module turns on (or off, or dims).

Since the version of the CM11 interface that I have is serial, I’ll need a USB→Serial converter. All I had lying around was a very old Prolific PL2303 interface, which works fine with Raspbian, but I’d prefer an FTDI one for more reliability. Long-term stability of USB Serial on the Raspberry Pi is currently questionable; there’s some good discussion on kernel parameters that might help.

To send X10 commands from a Raspberry Pi (or indeed, any Linux computer) you need heyu. You have to build it from source, but the instructions are clear, and it takes about 10 minutes to build on a 256 MB Raspberry Pi. The install script asks you where your serial port is, and for my device it is /dev/ttyUSB0.

(Update: I re-imaged the Raspberry Pi that runs these tasks today and rebuilt heyu without success. Don’t assume you can do a ./configure; make; sudo make install here. You have to run heyu’s own ./ first before make. It does some non-obvious magic. Read the README and you’ll be fine, unlike me …)

Most of the lights in our house are fluorescent, which is a problem for the standard X10 lamp modules. CFLs are not dimmable, and the standard lamp module doesn’t work with them. The lamp modules don’t work very well with low-voltage halogen lamps, either; extreme buzzing ensues, with a faint brownish light oozing out from the bulb and a vague burning smell. Best avoided, and better to use an appliance module, which is a simple mechanical relay.

The only controller that came with the kit that would work with my lights was the X10 transceiver, which also includes an appliance switch. I gave this device an address of H9 (house code H, unit code 9), and plugged in a lamp. To turn it on, I issued this command:

heyu on H9

After about 8-10 a couple of seconds and a loud CLUNK from the controller’s relay, the light came on (if it’s taking longer, read this comment). To turn it off, I told it:

heyu off H9

Whoa! Raw power! I can now turn AC devices on and off from my Raspberry Pi (Martin Creed, watch out!). I guess I could set up cron jobs to control the lights, but cron doesn’t know about solar time (Sunwait and SunCron do, if you want to futz with them). I’ve got MisterHouse running on the Raspberry Pi for more clever control, but more on setting that up later.

Incidentally, if you’re in Europe, Marmitek sell a variety of 220 V 50 Hz X10 modules. Their website is much clearer than the angry-fruit-salad that is It looks like X10 have updated their starter kit to include the newer CM15 USB interface which will likely not work with heyu.