Archive for October, 2009

Atelier “Logiciel embarqué sur Milkymist”

Ceci n’est pas un workshop FPGA.
Cet atelier présente des techniques de base utilisées pour la plupart des développements logiciels “bas niveau” sur systèmes embarqués, toutes plate-formes confondues (microcontrôleurs, system-on-chips [un system-on-chip n'est rien autre qu'un "gros" microcontrôleur], calculatrices, cadres photo, …). Il présentera ensuite des aspects spécifiques au system-on-chip libre Milkymist tels que la programmation graphique et l’emploi de ses accélérateurs de calcul.

Les points suivants seront abordés:

  • Pré-test d’un programme sur PC
  • Installation et utilisation d’un compilateur croisé
  • Chargement du programme dans la carte de développement
  • Bases de programmation graphique bas niveau
  • Utilisation des accélérateurs graphiques sur Milkymist

Cet atelier s’adresse aussi bien aux débutants complets en programmation embarquée qu’aux personnes ayant déjà programmé sur plusieurs plate-formes et désirant se familiariser avec l’utilisation des périphériques de Milkymist.

  • Venez avec votre ordinateur portable sous Linux ou *BSD. De préférence Ubuntu ou Debian mais ce n’est pas obligatoire.
  • Connaissances de base sur la ligne de commande de Linux (cd, ls, rm, etc.)
  • Connaissances de base en C. Pour les fans de déambulateurs, je rappelle que le Arduino Programming Language(tm) est du C et que si vous savez faire clignoter une LED en l’utilisant c’est suffisant. Si vous programmez sur PC et que vous savez faire afficher les nombres de 1 à 10 avec une boucle, c’est également suffisant.
  • Si vous avez une carte à microcontrôleur AVR, vous pouvez aussi l’amener (pour pouvoir comparer). Les Arduinos sont tolérées.

Week-end de nerd
Vous êtes également bienvenus à l’atelier FPGA Workshop 4: Behind the Scenes le lendemain. Merci de vous y inscrire également si vous souhaitez participer.

Date: Samedi 7 novembre 2009, 14:00
Lieu: /tmp/lab
Merci de vous inscrire en éditant la page wiki.

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Looking for multimedia artists

We are looking for multimedia (mostly graphics) artists for a democompo project. You do not need to have an expert level in programming to participate (if your only contribution is good looking bitmap images, that’s already a lot!), even though a little background is advisable if you want to do animated thingies or some rendered effects (we could help you however).

This mini-project consists in developing a compo on the Milkymist open hardware system-on-chip platform that will present Sanobot, the toxic gas sensor and Twitter bot of /tmp/lab, a hackerspace set up close to a chemical factory.

We look forward to presenting it at demoparties (unfortunately it was not ready for Main#4).

What is a Demoparty:

More info on Sanobot:

More info on Milkymist:

Project wiki page (with scenario outline… that you are of course invited
to improve):

So if you think you could design some cool graphics for this project, contact sebastien dot bourdeauducq at lekernel dot net. There is nothing to win, except loads of geek fun, some technical background, and hopefully a demoparty prize ;)

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FPGA Workshop 4: Behind the Scenes (November 8)

In the previous workshops, we have seen that FPGAs can emulate any logic circuit without moving (mechanical) parts.

FPGAs are however not magic nor mystical devices and this workshop will shed light on how they work internally. After theoretical explanations on their functioning, we will program them very close to the “bare silicon” by configuring manually each logic element on the chip, without any Verilog or schematics.

This will give you a better understanding of the challenges involved with writing open source programming tools, reverse engineering existing FPGA designs, injecting backdoors into FPGA bitstreams, and squeezing the most performance out of an FPGA chip.

For the hands-on part:

  • Bring your laptop
  • IMPORTANT: Install Xilinx ISE. The installation takes a long time that we cannot waste during the workshop.
  • Bring a Xilinx FPGA board such as the Avnet Spartan-3A starter kit used in previous workshops.
  • The board must have a Xilinx FPGA. Boards with non-Xilinx chips cannot be used.
  • Your board must have at least 2 pushbuttons and 2 LEDs.
  • Bring any required programming (JTAG) cable and try to make sure that it works (driver installed etc.) before coming.

You can come to the workshop without a board, but obviously you might be unable to perform the manipulations yourself.


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Milkymist lecture at 26C3

images“Every year, between Christmas and New Years Eve, intergalactic Hacker-society meets up at Chaos Communication Congress.”

This year, the Milkymist project will be presented during the 26C3. The congress will take place in Berlin during December 27th to 30th.

The topics of the lecture will cover the benefits of open source hardware, a presentation of the Milkymist system-on-chip features, practical information for hobbyist FPGA development and some of the challenges involved with designing a high-performance and resource-efficient system-on-chip.

So, I hope to see you in Berlin; Chaos Communication Congresses are definitely events worth going to.

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Debian packages for Milkymist development tools

To make your life easier, Debian packages are now available for the LatticeMico32 GCC toolchain used for building Milkymist software and for flterm, the RS232 software upload program.

dselect view

dselect view

Add this line to your /etc/apt/sources.list:

deb ./

and install with:

apt-get update
apt-get install gcc-lm32 flterm

Those packages work under Debian Testing and might also be compatible with Ubuntu. Anyone tested?

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Hackers at CERN

The /tmp/lab is organizing a group visit of CERN, the world’s largest particle physics laboratory close to Geneva.

We have to give a 4-6 month advance notice, which probably brings the visit to February/March 2010. Because I must give an estimate of the attendees, I would be grateful if you subscribe before Monday Oct 19th.


EDIT (Oct 16): It’s sold out!

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One O’Clock Daily – A Prize For Layman Science

Original article (Creative Commons BY/NC/SA):—a-prize-for-layman-science.html.

Science today is rapidly approaching a new crossroads. The past hundred years have increasingly seen science become the domain of specialists cloistered in ivory towers and government laboratories. And the result of this is that science is falling from grace. Gone are the days when engineers were heroes, and when setting fire to the living room rug with his chemistry set was a child’s god given right. Instead, we live in an age where science is to be avoided, and where those who pursue it spend an extra decade in school, only to be paid worse than construction workers until they secure an ever-elusive professorship (and most PhDs do not).

Let’s face it. Science today fails to capture the public’s imagination, and as.a result, science, and the public both, suffer. No other human endeavor brings with it such possibilities and promises—that the future actually can be better than today—and so no other human endeavor should be so cared for. And all because science has grown divorced from the lives of people.

There is a painting of a horribly cruel thing that illustrates my point. The painting is from the 19th century, and depicts a family at home with a bell jar. Inside the jar is a bird, and the apparatus is connected to a primitive vacuum pump. The father and son watch to observe what is about to happen as the mother covers her eyes. Now, I’m not condoning the wanton killing of animals, but instead I’d like to point out that this painting, of a family in the 19th century depicts them as owning both a bell jar and a vacuum pump. Seriously. How many families today can say the same thing?

Instead we live in sanitized houses and cities, where fireworks are banned for their danger and the closest thing to science that happens in most households is putting mentos into bottles of diet coke. How many people today have shattered a hot dog after dipping it into liquid nitrogen? How many people today have zapped themselves with a home made battery? Hell, how many people today have ever performed an experiment, just to see what happens? It’s no wonder that most people don’t care about science at all—they don’t even know what science is!

The solution, then, must be to reintroduce the tools of science to people’s lives. If we can make the tools of scientific inquiry sufficiently widely available, then people will have the chance, and the means, to be curious. They will explore the world they live in, and so doing, discover for themselves what science is.

To this end, I’d like to propose four vital pieces of technology that, if they were made available in a cheap form—say, less than $100 each—would make all manner of scientific experimentation available to the layman.

First, we require a device capable of producing liquid nitrogen at the rate of at least 100mL an hour.

Secondly, we require a vacuum system capable of pumping down a volume of at least 10cm x 10cm x 10cm to, and holding a vacuum at, 0.01 atm (with pressure measurement).

Thirdly, we require the ability to view objects of small scale with up to 1000x magnification.

Finally, we require a functioning oscilloscope, capable of measuring at least two signals at once, and with multimeter capability, accurate in all measurements to within 1%.

If each of these pieces of technology could be made available for a total cost of $100, or less, a piece, then all manner of modern science could be conducted in garages. An interested person would be capable of doping his own semiconductors, of experimenting with crystal lattices, of examining all manner of things. I would even go so far as to say that alongside an alcohol lamp or Bunsen burner, there are no more important pieces of technology for layman experimentation than those I have described here today.

To bring science back into people’s lives, we must give them the ability to once again do science. To this end, I’d like to establish a $100 prize for each of the above technologies. If someone can demonstrate and provide a complete set of instructions (sufficient to allow another to duplicate the effort for $100 or less) for any of the technologies above, contact me, and upon verification, I’ll write you a check. It’s that simple. Now, let’s bring science back into living rooms and garages.

Edit (10-11-09):
Hey guys, I’m really surprised at the attention this has gotten, and so I’d like to clarify some good points that were brought up in the comments.
First, there were some questions about the specifications. I’ve updated all of those below to hopefully clarify any missing points (my apologies for the lack of specificity in the original post, I wrote it from my android phone on a bus to Boston…). After that, some people have expressed interest in contributing money to the prizes. I’m currently on the road to Portland, OR (set to arrive later this week), but I’ll look into setting that up ASAP when I arrive. I think it’s a great idea, and I’d love to see it happen. Finally, there were some suggestions for other pieces of scientific equipment. Once I get the donations set up, I’d like to open some of the suggestions up for people to donate prize money to if they’d like, to help create incentives for work.
Before I get into the specifications, though, I’d like to say a word about the philosophy behind this competition. I’m a big believer in open source work, and I really suspect that for many of these things, the only way to get them in at $100 or less is by “donating” your own time to build them. I think that there are a lot of clever ideas out there for repurposing different forms of existing equipment in pursuit of amateur science, and I’m really hoping that we’ll see some very clever ideas that people can implement on their own to construct these devices for themselves.
Now, on to the specifications!

The Terms of the Layman Science Contest 2009:

When: Entries will be accepted until the last moment of the year 2009, PST (that’s December 31, 11:59:59pm, PST, though I reserve the right to stretch the deadline by fifteen minutes or so if necessary). Any prizes not claimed this year will be made available again for entries into the 2010 contest (possibly augmented by more technological goals).

What: Right now, four technologies are being requested. Each request comes with a $100 prize. (This will be updated when I set up a system to accept donations). The requested technologies, and their requirements, are specified below. I’m not responsible for any injuries you may sustain while pursuing one of these described devices (you do so at your own risk). Please be safe, and don’t do anything you’re not comfortable with!

Technology #1 – Liquid Nitrogen Production Device
Requirements – We require a device capable of producing liquid nitrogen at a rate of 100mL in an hour. This should be measured by final produced volume (boil off from initial liquid contacting a warm vessel is not counted).

Technology #2 – Vacuum System
Requirements – We require a vacuum system capable of pumping down a volume of at least 10cm x 10cm x 10cm to, and holding a vacuum at, 0.01 atm. This system should include a pressure measurement gauge capable of measuring all pressures between 1 atm and the desired 0.01 atm.

Technology #3 – High Power Magnification
Requirements – We require the ability to view objects of small scale with up to 1000x magnification.

Technology #4 – Oscilloscope
Requirements – We require a functioning oscilloscope. The oscilloscope must be able to measure at least two channels, with provision for an external ground. The oscilloscope must have a bandwidth of at least 100MHz. The oscilloscope must allow for an external trigger. Finally, the oscilloscope must also allow for the measurement of voltages, currents, resistances, capacitances, and inductances with +/-1% accuracy.

Of course, all designs must be designed to be constructed for $100 or less. In the case of multiple submissions by the Dec 31 deadline, one solution will be chosen to win, on the basis of simplicity of design, reliability, and ease of construction/implementation/use.
I also want to clarify that I do not construe this competition as a transfer of IP of any sort. I’m not interested in anything except helping make decent scientific instruments cheaply available. If this competition inspires you to come up with a patentable design that has the potential to change the world and make you a millionaire, please go patent it, enter production, and make a ton of money. The world will be a better place with your invention out there, one way or another. Otherwise, leave a link in the comments, or send me an email with details of your idea. You should include enough detail for someone else to duplicate the device for $100 or less. Let’s make real science more accessible to everyone!

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