introducing sensors.py

sensors.py is a new python wrapper for libsensors of the lm-sensors project. libsensors is what you want to use to programmatically read the sensor values of your PC with Linux instead of parsing the output of the sensors utility.

sensors.py is not the first wrapper – there are two alternatives, confusingly both named PySensors.

PySensors (ctypes) follows a similar approach to sensors.py by using ctypes. However instead of exposing the C API it tries to be a object-oriented(OO) abstraction, which unfortunately lacks many features and makes the mapping to the underlying API hard. Furthermore it does not support Python3.

PySensors (extension module)  does not use ctypes and thus is more efficient, but if you write a python script probably compiling a extension module is worse than losing some performance when reading the values.
Additionally there is python3 support and also some OO abstraction. The latter is somewhere in between the C API and proper OO: sensors_get_label(chip_name, feature) is ChipName.get_label(feature) instead of feature.get_label().

So what makes sensors.py immediately different is that it does not try to do any OO abstraction but instead gives you access to the raw C API. It only adds minor pythonification: you dont need to mess with pointers, errors are converted to exceptions and strings are correctly converted from/ to utf-8 for you.

However working with the C API directly is tiresome at times – therefore there is also an optional iterator API, which is best shown by a demo:

import sensors

sensors.init()

for chip in sensors.ChipIterator("coretemp-*"):
    print(sensors.chip_snprintf_name(chip)+" ("+sensors.get_adapter_name(chip.bus)+")")
    
    for feature in sensors.FeatureIterator(chip):
        sfi = sensors.SubFeatureIterator(chip, feature)
        vals = [sensors.get_value(chip, sf.number) for sf in sfi]
        label = sensors.get_label(chip, feature)
        
        print("\t"+label+": "+str(vals))

sensors.cleanup()

result:

coretemp-isa-0000 (ISA adapter)
	Physical id 0: [38.0, 80.0, 100.0, 0.0]
	Core 0: [37.0, 80.0, 100.0, 0.0]
	Core 1: [35.0, 80.0, 100.0, 0.0]
	Core 2: [38.0, 80.0, 100.0, 0.0]
	Core 3: [36.0, 80.0, 100.0, 0.0]

for a more sophisticated example see the example.py in the repository.

Replacing your desktop laptop with a ITX workstation

If you use your laptop as a desktop replacement, you will at some point get an external display and a mouse/ keyboard for more convenient usage.
At this point the laptop becomes only a small case of non-upgradable components.

Now you could as well replace your laptop by a real case of comparable size.  This will make your PC not only easily upgradable, but allow higher-end components while being more silent at the same time.

Continue reading Replacing your desktop laptop with a ITX workstation

Streaming the Screen on Android

In this post I want to discuss way of getting the screen content of your Android device to the TV or monitor. If you wonder why one might want to do such a thing – just think about playing some Android games with a bluetooth gamepad or watching a movie where your PC is not available.

Specifically I want to introduce SlimPort. SlimPort is a feature of Nexus devices which is unfortunately not covered much in reviews.
Basically SlimPort is DisplayPort over the Micro-USB connection of your device allowing you to mirror its display.

But the future has arrived: we got Miracast!

One might wonder why one should go through the hassle of using a old-school HDMI cable.
You can get a Chromecast Stick for 35$ and nowadays it also supports Miracast so you can simply stream the images over WiFi.

Well Miracast is all nice if all you need to do is to put up some slides without carrying all possible adapters with you. But as soon as you try to stream a movie or a game you will reach its limitations.

Remember that Miracast works by grabbing the Framebuffer and compressing it with H.264. While encoding happens in hardware it still takes some time and it inevitably introduces compression artifacts. This means:

  • in games you get a noticeable lag – especially in FullHD
  • in movies you get noticeable artifacts – especially in FullHD
  • in both cases your battery will get drained for heavy WiFi and Encoder usage

Going old-school

Going with the old-school cable on the other hand you get HDMI 1.4 transfer rates for up to 1080p at 60Hz while saving the battery.

Configuring the second screen is quite straightforward in android. As Mirroring is your only option, there is actually nothing to configure. Once you connect the adapter android will set up your monitor based on its EDID information and transfer image and audio over HDMI.
In case you only want to have the image over HDMI, simply attach your speakers to the phone and android will re-route the audio.
The days where you had to manually set up everything are over.

Furthermore most adapters have an micro-USB port allowing to still charge your phone while using SlimPort.

Device Support

The downside is that most of the devices do not support SlimPort. The device list more or less boils down to

  • Google Nexus 4/ 5
  • Google Nexus 7 (2013)
  • LG G2/ G3

Samsung devices go with the alternative MHL. Comparing these two SlimPort has the bandwidth advantage of 5Gb/s vs. 3Gb/s of MHL so it does not have to compress that much. However both are clearly better than going wireless.

 

Secure Owncloud Server

This article is about how to securely configure the machine where your Owncloud instance will be running.
Even if you set-up your connection with Owncloud in a secure way,  your data still can be compromised by exploiting security flaws in the underlying architecture.

In the following we specifically will cover the underlying software stack and brute-force password hacking attempts.

Continue reading Secure Owncloud Server

How to manually update a deb package from source

Probably everyone has encountered a package in Ubuntu which was not the newest released version while one for some reason needed the newest one. The first step is to search for a PPA with the desired version. But what if there is no such PPA or you want to build the version yourself? This is where this guide comes in. Note however that this is not aimed at ordinary users – you need some experience with programming/ compiling to successfully build a package.

Before you start

Before you start make sure that you have source packages enabled in your software sources.
Next you obviously need the upstream source tar-ball of the new program which should look something like <packagename>-<version>.tar.gz.
Download this tar-ball to a new directory <somedir> and extract it there.

Updating Package info

For the following commands I assume you are in the previously created directory <somedir>.

First we need to get the old version of the source package

apt-get source <packagename>

This will download and extract the old source package into <packagename>-<oldversion>.

Now we need some helper scripts to perform the upgrading as well as the build-time dependencies of the package

sudo apt-get install dpkg-dev devscripts fakeroot
sudo apt-get build-dep <packagename>

Next change into the extracted sources of the old package and update the packaging

cd <packagename>-<oldversion>
uupdate -v <newversion> ../<packagename>-<newversion>.tar.gz

# change into the extracted new package
cd ../<packagename>-<newversion>

# update version info
dch -l ~ppa -D $(lsb_release -sc)

For more information see the Debian New Maintainers Guide.

Building the program

To trigger a rebuild of the program simply execute

dpkg-buildpackage

Uploading your version to a PPA

To upload a package to a PPA you first need to sign it to prove that you are the author. To do this you have to execute the following in the <packagename>-<newversion> directory

debuild -S

Furthermore you need the upload tool dput to actually perform the uploading

sudo apt-get install dput

Now change to <somedir> and execute

dput ppa:<your_username>/<repository> <source.changes>

You can find more information at Launchpad.

Secure Owncloud setup

While the Owncloud Manual suggests enabling SSL, it unfortunately does not go into detail how to get a secure setup. The core problem is that the default SSL settings of Apache are not sane as in they do not enforce strong encryption. Furthermore the used default certificate will not match your server name and produce errors in the browser.

In the following a short guide in how to set-up a secure Apache 2.4 server for Owncloud will be presented.

Continue reading Secure Owncloud setup

How to root Android using Ubuntu

The Big Picture

Android consists of three parts relevant to rooting

  1. the bootloader
  2. recovery system
  3. main system

typically only the main system is running, that is the Linux Kernel, the launcher, the phone app etc.. If we talk about rooting, that means we want to add an additional app to the main system which may access secured parts of the main system and also acts as a gatekeeper for other apps that want to get access too.

The problem is that we need access to the secure parts of the system in order to do so, which means that we cant simply install that app (e.g. an apk) from within the main system.

This means we have to go one level down. This is where the recovery system is. Typically you do not see it, as it is only active when the main system can not run – either because a system update is installed or because you do a factory reset.
As the recovery system can do a full system update, it means that it has also access to the secured parts of the main system – exactly what we need. Unfortunately the stock recovery system does not allow installing apps, so we have to replace it.
But before that we have to talk about the bootloader.

The bootloader is a tiny piece of software which decides wether to start the recovery or the main system (or another main system, like Ubuntu Phone). But in the default configuration in only starts systems that it knows and trusts. In this configuration the bootloader is called locked. Although it prevents malicious software to change the phone and spy on us, it also prevents us from replacing the recovery system. This concept is also coming to the PC btw where it is called secure-boot.

Here is a graphical overview of the Android components:

android-brs

So what we need to do in order to get root access is

  1. unlock the bootloader
  2. replace the recovery system
  3. install a superuser app

Note that unlocking the bootloader also allows attackers to circumvent any of the android security features. It is possible directly access all the files on the phone from the bootloader.
Therefore android will wipe all userdata when the bootloader is unlocked

Preparations

First you need to install the fastboot binary to be able to perform low-level communication with the device

apt-get install android-tools-fastboot

Next you have to allow non-root users to execute commands over USB, so you do not have to run fastboot as root. For this create the file

/etc/udev/rules.d/51-android.rules

with the following content

SUBSYSTEM=="usb", ATTR{idVendor}=="<VENDOR>", MODE="0666", GROUP="plugdev"

you can find the value for <VENDOR> on the page linked here.

Finally you have to reboot into fastboot mode. Usually there is a key combination you have to press on startup.

Remember this key combination as you will need some more times.

Samsung Devices however, like the Galaxy S3, do not support the fastboot mode – instead they have a download mode, which uses a proprietary Samsung protocol. To flash those you have to use the Heimdall tool. While this article does not cover the heimdall CLI calls, the general discussion still applies.

Unlocking the Bootloader

for google devices, like a Nexus 4 or Nexus 7 it is just

fastboot oem unlock

if you have a Sony Xperia device, like a Xperia Z, you additionally have to request a unlock key and then do

fastboot oem unlock 0x<KEY>

where <KEY> is the key you obtained.

Replacing the Recovery System

There are two prominent alternative recovery systems with the ability to install apps

Clock Work Mod (CWM) is probably most known so we will use that one. From the Website linked above download the recovery image which fits your phone.
Here you have the choice between the ordinary recovery which uses the volume buttons of your device for navigation and the touch recovery which supports the touch screen.

fastboot flash recovery <RECOVERY>.img

where <RECOVERY> is the name of the file you downloaded. For instance for a Nexus 5 and CWM 6.0.4.5 it would be

fastboot flash recovery recovery-clockwork-6.0.4.5-hammerhead.img

Installing the superuser app

Again we have several choices here

although SuperSU is the most prominent one, I would recommend getting Superuser by CWM, as it is open source and also nag-free as there is no “pro” version of it.

To install we need to get this zip archive and copy it to the device. To install it, we need to reboot into fastboot mode and then select “Recovery Mode” to get to the recovery system. Once in Recovery mode select

install zip -> choose zip from /sdcard

then browse and select the “superuser.zip” you just copied.

Once installed select

Go Back -> reboot system now

Once the system has started you should have a “Superuser” App on your device. Congratulations, you are done.

Optional: flash stock recovery

As the recovery is responsible for installing system updates it is a good idea to revert to stock version after you installed root, so the system can auto-update itself again. However a system update will also remove your superuser app so you will have to repeat the above procedure again.

If you have a Google Nexus Device, you can grab the factory images here.  There you will find a image of the stock recovery and restore it by

fastboot flash recovery recovery.img

Repairing the Philips HD4685 Kettle

The Philips HD4685 is one of the more advanced kettles, as not only automatically shuts-off when the water is boiled, but also allows setting a target temperature below 100°C. This is quite handy if you want to drink green tea, which is supposed to be boiled with only 80°C warm water. Unfortunately the extra electronics is another part which can make the Kettle fail. And this is exactly what happened to me.

Symptoms

I used the kettle for about 3 years on daily basis. One day however it stopped to make the “beep” which indicates that the water is ready when cooking at 100°C. But as this is not an essential functionality I just kept using the kettle. Unfortunately a few weeks later it did not cook at 100°C at all. Instead the kettle just turned off after reaching 80°C – even though 100°C were set.

Diagnosis

Under the hood one of the capacitors forming the capacitive power supply for the electronics started failing. Instead of supplying 0.47 μF, it merely supplied 0.1μF. So what was happening is that once more power consumer like the 100°C LED and the speaker were activated the power supply broke down and the whole circuit shut down.

So the solution is to replace the respective capacitor.

Therapy

Before you try to fix the kettle on your own, be aware that wrong assembly of the kettle can lead to a short-circuit that can cause a fire or lead to an electric shock. You should have fundamental knowledge of electrical engineering.

To access the faulty capacitor one must first disassemble almost the whole kettle:

  1. remove the screws on the bottom cover (torx 8)
  2. lever out the bottom plate with a flat screwdriver
  3. disconnect the power supply cables
  4. remove the screws on the top cover (torx 10). Then remove the top cover and the metallic ring. Also remove the handle cover.
  5. Pull out the electronics box, which is now free as you disconnected the power cables(3)
  6. unscrew and open the electronics box.
  7. replace the capacitor. (requires soldering) The capacitor specifications are MKP X2, 26.5 x 10 x 19 mm, 0.47 µF 275 V/AC ±10%, 22.5 mm pitch

For reassembly perform the steps in reverse order. The kettle should work now.

I would like to give credit to the according thread at elektronikwerkstatt.de, where I found the informations to create this post.

Final Words

I am not really sure if this is a case of planned obsolescence or just of insufficient testing, but I would really like philips to use higher quality capacitors and/ or rethink their power supply design. The kettle which is worth 50€ is still fully functional and just failed because of a 1€ part.

Flying RC helicopters in 3D

In case you are wondering what is so fascinating about flying RC helicopters – maybe you just got bored flying your own 4 channel helicopter – it is 3D flight. One might say that basically all helicopters are flying in 3D (up/ down, left/ right, forward/ backward), but 3D in this context means flying 3D pirouettes like loops and rolls which is not possible with an ordinary coaxial helicopter. See the following video to get an idea of what I am talking about

Continue reading Flying RC helicopters in 3D