Friday, 6 November 2015

Gadget reviews

Not that I'm really running after more gadgets, but sometimes, there is a need that could only be soothed through new hardware.

Bluetooth UE roll

Got this for my wife, to play music when staying out on the quays of the Rhône, playing music in the kitchen (from a phone or computer), or when she's at the photo lab.

It works well with iOS, MacOS X and Linux. It's very easy to use, with whether it's paired, connected completely obvious, and the charging doesn't need specific cables (USB!).

I'll need to borrow it to add battery reporting for those devices though. You can find a full review on Ars Technica.

Sugru (!)

Not a gadget per se, but I bought some, used it to fix up a bunch of cables, repair some knickknacks, and do some DIY. Highly recommended, especially given the current price of their starter packs.

15-pin to USB Joystick adapter

It's apparently from Ckeyin, but you'll find the exact same box from other vendors. Made my old Gravis joystick work, in the hope that I can make it work with DOSBox and my 20-year old copy of X-Wing vs. Tie Fighter.

Microsoft Surface ARC Mouse

That one was given to me, for testing, works well with Linux. Again, we'll need to do some work to report the battery. I only ever use it when travelling, as the batteries last for absolute ages.

Logitech K750 keyboard

Bought this nearly two years ago, and this is one of my best buys. My desk is close to a window, so it's wireless but I never need to change the batteries or think about charging it. GNOME also supports showing the battery status in the Power panel.

Logitech T650 touchpad

Got this one in sale (17€), to replace my Logitech trackball (one of its buttons broke...). It works great, and can even get you shell gestures when run in Wayland. I'm certainly happy to have one less cable running across my desk, and reuses the same dongle as the keyboard above.

If you use more than one devices, you might be interested in this bug to make it easier to support multiple Logitech "Unifying" devices.

ClicLite charger

Got this from a design shop in Berlin. It should probably have been cheaper than what I paid for it, but it's certainly pretty useful. Charges up my phone by about 20%, it's small, and charges up at the same time as my keyboard (above).

Dell S2340T

Bought about 2 years ago, to replace the monitor I had in an all-in-one (Lenovo all-in-ones, never buy that junk).

Nowadays, the resolution would probably be considered a bit on the low side, and the touchscreen mesh would show for hardcore photography work. It's good enough for videos though and the speaker reaches my sitting position.

It's only been possible to use the USB cable for graphics for a couple of months, and it's probably not what you want to lower CPU usage on your machine, but it works for Fedora with this RPM I made. Talk to me if you can help get it into RPMFusion.

Shame about the huge power brick, but a little bonus for the builtin Ethernet adapter.

Surface 3

This is probably the biggest ticket item. Again, I didn't pay full price for it, thanks to coupons, rewards, and all. The work to getting Linux and GNOME to play well with it is still ongoing, and rather slow.

I won't comment too much on Windows either, but rather as what it should be like once Linux runs on it.

I really enjoy the industrial design, maybe even the slanted edges, but one as to wonder why they made the USB power adapter not sit flush with the edge when plugged in.

I've used it a couple of times (under Windows, sigh) to read Pocket as I do on my iPad 1 (yes, the first one), or stream videos to the TV using Flash, without the tablet getting hot, or too slow either. I also like the fact that there's a real USB(-A) port that's separate from the charging port. The micro SD card port is nicely placed under the kickstand, hard enough to reach to avoid it escaping the tablet when lugged around.

The keyboard, given the thickness of it, and the constraints of using it as a cover, is good enough for light use, when travelling for example, and the layout isn't as awful as on, say, a Thinkpad Carbon X1 2nd generation. The touchpad is a bit on the small side though it would have been hard to make it any bigger given the cover's dimensions.

I would however recommend getting a Surface Pro if you want things to work right now (or at least soon). The one-before-last version, the Surface Pro 3, is probably a good target.

Friday, 30 October 2015

C.H.I.P. flashing on Fedora

You might have heard of the C.H.I.P., the 9$ computer. After contributing to their Kickstarter, and with no intent on hacking on more kernel code than is absolutely necessary, I requested the "final" devices, when chumps like me can read loads of docs and get accessories for it easily.

Turns out that our old friend the Realtek 8723BS chip is the Wi-Fi/Bluetooth chip in the nano computer. NextThingCo got in touch, and sent me a couple of early devices (as well as to the "Kernel hacker" backers), with their plan being to upstream all the drivers and downstream hacks into the upstream kernel.

Before being able to hack on the kernel driver though, we'll need to get some software on it, and find a way to access it. The docs website has instructions on how to flash the device using Ubuntu, but we don't use that here.

You'll need a C.H.I.P., a jumper cable, and the USB cable you usually use for charging your phone/tablet/e-book reader.

First, let's install a few necessary packages:

dnf install -y sunxi-tools uboot-tools python3-pyserial moserial

You might need other things, like git and gcc, but I kind of expect you to already have that installed if you're software hacking. You will probably also need to get sunxi-tools from Koji to get a new enough version that will support the C.H.I.P.

Get your jumper cable out, and make the connection as per the NextThingCo docs. I've copied the photo from the docs to keep this guide stand-alone.

Let's install the tools, modified to work with Fedora's newer, upstreamer, version of the sunxi-tools.

$ git clone
$ cd CHIP-tools
$ make
$ sudo ./ -d

If you've followed the instructions, you haven't plugged in the USB cable yet. Plug in the USB cable now, to the micro USB power supply on one end, and to your computer on the other.

You should see the little "OK" after the "waiting for fel" message:

== upload the SPL to SRAM and execute it ==
waiting for fel........OK

At this point, you can unplug the jumper cable, something not mentioned in the original docs. If you don't do that, when the device reboots, it will reboot in flashing mode again, and we obviously don't want that.

At this point, you'll just need to wait a while. It will verify the installation when done, and turn off the device. Unplug, replug, and launch moserial as root. You should be able to access the C.H.I.P. through /dev/ttyACM0 with a baudrate of 115200. The root password is "chip".

Obligatory screenshot of our new computer:

Next step, testing out our cleaned up Realtek driver, Fedora on the C.H.I.P., and plenty more.

Friday, 25 September 2015

Philips Wireless, modernised

I've wanted a stand-alone radio in my office for a long time. I've been using a small portable radio, but it ate batteries quickly (probably a 4-pack of AA for a bit less of a work week's worth of listening), changing stations was cumbersome (hello FM dials) and the speaker was a bit teeny.

A couple of years back, I had a Raspberry Pi-based computer on pre-order (the Kano, highly recommended for kids, and beginners) through a crowd-funding site. So I scoured « brocantes » (imagine a mix of car boot sale and antiques fair, in France, with people emptying their attics) in search of a shell for my small computer. A whole lot of nothing until my wife came back from a week-end at a friend's with this:

Photo from Radio Historia

A Philips Octode Super 522A, from 1934, when SKUs were as superlative-laden and impenetrable as they are today.

Let's DIY

I started by removing the internal parts of the radio, without actually turning it on. When you get such old electronics, they need to be checked thoroughly before being plugged, and as I know nothing about tube radios, I preferred not to. And FM didn't exist when this came out, so not sure what I would have been able to do with it anyway.

Roomy, and dirty. The original speaker was removed, the front buttons didn't have anything holding them any more, and the nice backlit screen went away as well.

To replace the speaker, I went through quite a lot of research, looking for speakers that were embedded, rather than get a speaker in box that I would need to extricate from its container. Visaton make speakers that can be integrated into ceiling, vehicles, etc. That also allowed me to choose one that had a good enough range, and would fit into the one hole in my case.

To replace the screen, I settled on an OLED screen that I knew would work without too much work with the Raspberry Pi, a small AdaFruit SSD1306 one. Small amount of soldering that was up to my level of skills.

It worked, it worked!

Hey, soldering is easy. So because of the size of the speaker I selected, and the output power of the RPi, I needed an amp. The Velleman MK190 kit was cheap (€10), and should just be able to work with the 5V USB power supply I planned to use. Except that the schematics are really not good enough for an electronics starter. I spent a couple of afternoons verifying, checking on the Internet for alternate instructions, re-doing the solder points, to no avail.

'Sup Tiga!

So much wasted time, and got a cheap car amp with a power supply. You can probably find cheaper.

Finally, I got another Raspberry Pi, and SD card, so that the Kano, with its super wireless keyboard, could find a better home (it went to my godson, who seemed to enjoy the early game of Pong, and being a wizard).

Putting it all together

We'll need to hold everything together. I got a bit of help for somebody with a Dremel tool for the piece of wood that will hold the speaker, and another one that will stick three stove bolts out of the front, to hold the original tuning, mode and volume buttons.

A real joiner

I fast-forwarded the machine by a couple of years with a « Philips » figure-of-8 plug at the back, so machine's electrics would be well separated from the outside.

Screws into the side panel for the amp, blu-tack to hold the OLED screen for now, RPi on a few leftover bits of wood.


My first attempt at getting something that I could control on this small computer was lcdgrilo. Unfortunately, I would have had to write a Web UI for it (remember, my buttons are just stuck on, for now at least), and probably port the SSD1306 OLED screen's driver from Python, so not a good fit.

There's no proper Fedora support for Raspberry Pis, and while one can use a nearly stock Debian with a few additional firmware files on Raspberry Pis, Fedora chose not to support that slightly older SoC at all, which is obviously disappointing for somebody working on Fedora as a day job.

Looking for other radio retrofits, and there are plenty of quality ones on the Internet, and for various connected speakers backends, I found PiMusicBox. It's a Debian variant with Mopidy builtin, and a very easy to use initial setup: edit a settings file on the SD card image, boot and access the interface via a browser. Tada!

Once I had tested playback, I lowered the amp's volume to nearly zero, raised the web UI's volume to the maximum, and raised the amp's volume to the maximum bearable for the speaker. As I won't be able to access the amp's dial, we'll have this software only solution.

Wrapping up

I probably spent a longer time looking for software and hardware than actually making my connected radio, but it was an enjoyable couple of afternoons of work, and the software side isn't quite finished.

First, in terms of hardware support, I'll need to make this OLED screen work, how lazy of me. The audio setup is currently just the right speaker, as I'd like both the radios and AirPlay streams to be downmixed.

Secondly, Mopidy supports plugins to extend its sources, uses GStreamer, so would be a right fit for Grilo, making it easier for Mopidy users to extend through Lua.

Do note that the Raspberry Pi I used is a B+ model. For B models, it's recommended to use a separate DAC, because of the bad audio quality, even if the B+ isn't that much better. Testing out use the HDMI output with an HDMI to VGA+jack adapter might be a way to cut costs as well.

Possible improvements could include making the front-facing dials work (that's going to be a tough one), or adding RFID support, so I can wave items in front of it to turn it off, or play a particular radio.

In all, this radio cost me:
- 10 € for the radio case itself
- 36.50 € for the Raspberry Pi and SD card (I already had spare power supplies, and supported Wi-Fi dongle)
- 26.50 € for the OLED screen plus various cables
- 20 € for the speaker
- 18 € for the amp
- 21 € for various cables, bolts, planks of wood, etc.

I might also count the 14 € for the soldering iron, the 10 € for the Velleman amp, and about 10 € for adapters, cables, and supplies I didn't end up using.

So between 130 and 150 €, and a number of afternoons, but at the end, a very flexible piece of hardware that didn't really stretch my miniaturisation skills, and a completely unique piece of furniture.

In the future, I plan on playing with making my own 3-button keyboard, and making a remote speaker to plug in the living room's 5.1 amp with a C.H.I.P computer.

Happy hacking!

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

GNOME 3.18, here we go

As I'm known to do, a focus on the little things I worked on during the just released GNOME 3.18 development cycle.

Hardware support

The accelerometer support in GNOME now uses iio-sensor-proxy. This daemon also now supports ambient light sensors, which Richard used to implement the automatic brightness adjustment, and compasses, which are used in GeoClue and gnome-maps.

In kernel-land, I've fixed the detection of some Bosch accelerometers, added support for another Kyonix one, as used in some tablets.

I've also added quirks for out-of-the-box touchscreen support on some cheaper tablets using the goodix driver, and started reviewing a number of patches for that same touchscreen.

With Larry Finger, of Realtek kernel drivers fame, we've carried on cleaning up the Realtek 8723BS driver used in the majority of Windows-compatible tablets, in the Endless computer, and even in the $9 C.H.I.P. Linux computer.

Bluetooth UI changes

The Bluetooth panel now has better « empty states », explaining how to get Bluetooth working again when a hardware killswitch is used, or it's been turned off by hand. We've also made receiving files through OBEX Push easier, and builtin to the Bluetooth panel, so that you won't forget to turn it off when done, and won't have trouble finding it, as is the case for settings that aren't used often.


GNOME Videos has seen some work, mostly in the stabilisation, and bug fixing department, most of those fixes were also landed in the 3.16 version.

We've also been laying the groundwork in grilo for writing ever less code in C for plugin sources. Grilo Lua plugins can now use gnome-online-accounts to access keys for specific accounts, which we've used to re-implement the Pocket videos plugin, as well as the cover art plugin.

All those changes should allow implementing OwnCloud support in gnome-music in GNOME 3.20.

My favourite GNOME 3.18 features

You can call them features, or bug fixes, but the overall improvements in the Wayland and touchpad/touchscreen support are pretty exciting. Do try it out when you get a GNOME 3.18 installation, and file bugs, it's coming soon!

Talking of bug fixes, this one means that I don't need to put in my password by hand when I want to access work related resources. Connect to the VPN, and I'm authenticated to Kerberos.

I've also got a particular attachment to the GeoClue GPS support through phones. This allows us to have more accurate geolocation support than any desktop environments around.

A few for later

The LibreOfficeKit support that will be coming to gnome-documents will help us get support for EPubs in gnome-books, as it will make it easier to plug in previewers other than the Evince widget.

Victor Toso has also been working through my Grilo bugs to allow us to implement a preview page when opening videos. Work has already started on that, so fingers crossed for GNOME 3.20!

Friday, 22 May 2015

iio-sensor-proxy 1.0 is out!

Modern (and some less modern) laptops and tablets have a lot of builtin sensors: accelerometer for screen positioning, ambient light sensors to adjust the screen brightness, compass for navigation, proximity sensors to turn off the screen when next to your ear, etc.


We've supported accelerometers in GNOME/Linux for a number of years, following work on the WeTab. The accelerometer appeared as an input device, and sent kernel events when the orientation of the screen changed.

Recent devices, especially Windows 8 compatible devices, instead export a HID device, which, under Linux, is handled through the IIO subsystem. So the first version of iio-sensor-proxy took readings from the IIO sub-system and emulated the WeTab's accelerometer: a few too many levels of indirection.

The 1.0 version of the daemon implements a D-Bus interface, which means we can support more than accelerometers. The D-Bus API, this time, is modelled after the Android and iOS APIs.


Accelerometers will work in GNOME 3.18 as well as it used to, once a few bugs have been merged[1]. If you need support for older versions of GNOME, you can try using version 0.1 of the proxy.

Orientation lock in action

As we've adding ambient light sensor support in the 1.0 release, time to put in practice best practice mentioned by Owen's post about battery usage. We already had code like that in gnome-power-manager nearly 10 years ago, but it really didn't work very well.

The major problem at the time was that ambient light sensor reading weren't in any particular unit (values had different meanings for different vendors) and the user felt that they were fighting against the computer for the control of the backlight.

Richard fixed that though, adapting work he did on the ColorHug ALS sensor, and the brightness is now completely in the user's control, and adapts to the user's tastes. This means that we can implement the simplest of UIs for its configuration.

Power saving in action

This will be available in the upcoming GNOME 3.17.2 development release.

Looking ahead

For future versions, we'll want to export the raw accelerometer readings, so that applications, including games, can make use of them, which might bring up security issues. SDL, Firefox, WebKit could all do with being adapted, in the near future.

We're also looking at adding compass support (thanks Elad!), which Geoclue will then export to applications, so that location and heading data is collected through a single API.

Richard and Benjamin Tissoires, of fixing input devices fame, are currently working on making the ColorHug-ALS compatible with Windows 8, meaning it would work out of the box with iio-sensor-proxy.


We're currently using GitHub for bug and code tracking. Releases are mirrored on, as GitHub is known to mangle filenames. API documentation is available on

[1]: gnome-settings-daemon, gnome-shell, and systemd will need patches

Thursday, 2 April 2015

JdLL 2015

Presentation and conferencing

Last week-end, in the Salle des Rancy in Lyon, GNOME folks (Fred Peters, Mathieu Bridon and myself) set up our booth at the top of the stairs, the space graciously offered by Ubuntu-FR and Fedora being a tad bit small. The JdLL were starting.

We gave away a few GNOME 3.14 Live and install DVDs (more on that later), discussed much-loved features, and hated bugs, and how to report them. A very pleasant experience all-in-all.

On Sunday afternoon, I did a small presentation about GNOME's 15 years. Talking about the upheaval, dragging kernel drivers and OS components kicking and screaming to work as their APIs say they should, presenting GNOME 3.16 new features and teasing about upcoming GNOME 3.18 ones.

During the Q&A, we had a few folks more than interested in support for tablets and convertible devices (such as the Microsoft Surface, and Asus T100). Hopefully, we'll be able to make the OS support good enough for people to be able to use any Linux distribution on those.

Sideshow with the Events box

Due to scheduling errors on my part, we ended up with the "v1" events box for our booth. I made a few changes to the box before we used it:

  • Removed the 17" screen, and replaced it with a 21" widescreen one with speakers builtin. This is useful when we can't setup the projector because of the lack of walls.
  • Upgraded machine to 1GB of RAM, thanks to my hoarding of old parts.
  • Bought a French keyboard and removed the German one (with missing keys), cleaned up the UK one (which still uses IR wireless).
  • Threw away GNOME 3.0 CDs (but kept the sleeves that don't mention the minor version). You'll need to take a sharpie to the small print on the back of the sleeve if you don't fill it with an OpenSUSE CD (we used Fedora 21 DVDs during this event).
  • Triaged the batteries. Office managers, get this cheap tester!
  • The machine's Wi-Fi was unstable, causing hardlocks (please test again if you use a newer version of the kernel/distributions). We tried to get onto the conference network through the wireless router, and installed DD-WRT on it as the vendor firmware didn't allow that.
  • The Nokia N810 and N800 tablets will going to kernel developers that are working on Nokia's old Linux devices and upstreaming drivers.
The events box is still in Lyon, until I receive some replacement hardware.

The machine is 7 years-old (nearly 8!) and only had 512MB of RAM, after the 1GB upgrade, the machine was usable, and many people were impressed by the speed of GNOME on a legacy machine like that (probably more so than a brand new one stuttering because of a driver bug, for example).

This makes you wonder what the use for "lightweight" desktop environments is, when a lot of the features are either punted to helpers that GNOME doesn't need or not implemented at all (old CPU and no 3D driver is pretty much the only use case for those).

I'll be putting it in a small SSD into the demo machine, to give it another speed boost. We'll also be needing a new padlock, after an emergency metal saw attack was necessary on Sunday morning. Five different folks tried to open the lock with the code read off my email, to no avail. Did we accidentally change the combination? We'll never know.

New project, ish

For demo machines, especially newly installed ones, you'll need some content to demo applications. This is my first attempt at uniting GNOME's demo content for release notes screenshots, with some additional content that's free to re-distribute. The repository will eventually move to, obviously.


The new keyboard and mouse, monitor, padlock, and SSD (and my time) were graciously sponsored by Red Hat.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

GNOME 3.16 is out!

Did you see?

It will obviously be in Fedora 22 Beta very shortly.

What happened since 3.14? Quite a bit, and a number of unfinished projects will hopefully come to fruition in the coming months.

Hardware support

After quite a bit of back and forth, automatic rotation for tablets will not be included directly in systemd/udev, but instead in a separate D-Bus daemon. The daemon has support for other sensor types, Ambient Light Sensors (ColorHug ALS amongst others) being the first ones. I hope we have compass support soon too.

Support for the Onda v975w's touchscreen and accelerometer are now upstream. Work is on-going for the Wi-Fi driver.

I've started some work on supporting the much hated Adaptive keyboard on the X1 Carbon 2nd generation.

Technical debt

In the last cycle, I've worked on triaging gnome-screensaver, gnome-shell and gdk-pixbuf bugs.

The first got merged into the second, the second got plenty of outdated bugs closed, and priorities re-evaluated as a result.

I wrangled old patches and cleaned up gdk-pixbuf. We still have architectural problems in the library for huge images, but at least we're up to a state where we know what the problems are, not being buried in Bugzilla.

Foundation building

A couple of projects got started that didn't reached maturation yet. I'm pretty happy that we're able to use gnome-books (part of gnome-documents) today to read Comic books. ePub support is coming!

Grilo saw plenty of activity. The oft requested "properties" page in Totem is closer than ever, so is series grouping.

In December, Allan and I met with the ABRT team, and we've landed some changes we discussed there, including a simple "Report bugs" toggle in the Privacy settings, with a link to the OS' privacy policy. The gnome-abrt application had a facelift, but we got somewhat stuck on technical problems, which should get solved in the next cycle. The notifications were also streamlined and simplified.

I'm a fan

Of the new overlay scrollbars, and the new gnome-shell notification handling. And I'm cheering on co-new app in 3.16, GNOME Calendar.

There's plenty more new and interesting stuff in the release, but I would just be duplicating much of the GNOME 3.16 release notes.