Friday, July 17, 2015

OSX Bundling Soprano and other joys

Libferris has been moving to use more Qt/KDE technologies over the years. Ferris is also a fairly substantial software project in it's own right, with many plugins and support for multiple libraries. Years back I moved from using raw redland to using soprano for RDF handling in libferris.

Over recent months, from time to time, I've been working on an OSX bundle for libferris. The idea is to make installation as simple as copying to /Applications. I've done some OSX packaging before, so I've been exposed to the whole library paths inside dylib stuff, and also the freedesktop specs expecting things in /etc or whatever and you really want it to look into /Applications/YouApp/Contents/Resources/.../etc/whatever.

The silver test for packaging is to rename the area that is used to build the source to something unexpected and see if you can still run the tools. The Gold test is obviously to install from the app.dmz onto a fresh machine and see that it runs.

I discovered a few gotchas during silver testing and soprano usage. If you get things half right then you can get to a state that allows the application to run but that does not allow a redland RDF model to ever be created. If your application assumes that it can always create an in memory RDF store, a fairly secure bet really, then bad things will befall the app bundle on osx.

Plugins are found by searching for the desktop files first and then loading the shared libary plugin as needed. The desktop files can be found with the first line below, while the second line allows the plugin shared libraries to be found and loaded.

export SOPRANO_DIRS=/Applications/
export LD_LIBRARY_PATH=/Applications/

You have to jump through a few more hoops. You'll find that the plugin ./lib/soprano/ links to lib/librdf.0.dylib and librdf will link to other redland libraries which themselves link to things like libxml2 which you might not have bundled yet.

There are also many cases of things linking to QtCore and other Qt libraries. These links are normally to nested paths like Library/Frameworks/QtCore.framework/Versions/4/QtCore which will not pass the silver test. Actually, links inside dylibs like that tend to cause the show to segv and you are left to work out where and why that happened. My roll by hand solution is to create softlinks to these libraries like QtCore in the .../lib directory and then resolve the dylib links to these softlinks.

In the end I'd also like to make an app bundle for specific KDE apps. Just being able to install okular by drag and drop would be very handy. It is my preferred reader for PDF files and having a binary that doesn't depend on a build environment (homebrew or macports) makes it simpler to ensure I can always have okular even when using an osx machine.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Terry && EL

After getting headlights Terry now has a lighted arm. This is using the 3 meter EL wire and a 2xAA battery inverter to drive it. The around $20 entry point to bling is fairly hard to resist. The EL tape looks better IMHO but seems to be a little harder to work with from what I've read about cutting the tape and resoldering / reconnecting.

I have a 1 meter red EL tape which I think I'll try to wrap around the pan/tilt assembly. From an initial test it can make it around the actobotics channel length I'm using around twice. I'll probably print some mounts for it so that the tape doesn't have to try to make right angle turns at the ends of the channel.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Terry - Lights, EL and solid Panner

Terry the robot now has headlights! While the Kinect should be happy in low light I found some nice 3 watt LEDs on sale and so headlights had to happen. The lights want a constant current source of 700mA so I grabbed an all in one chip solution do to that and mounted the lights in series. Yes, there are a load of tutorials on building a constant current driver for a few bucks around the net, but sometimes I don't really want to dive in and build every part. I think it will be interesting at some stage to test some of the constant current setups and see the ripple and various metrics of the different designs. That part of he analysis is harder to find around the place.

And just how does this all look when the juice is flowing I hear you ask. I have tilted the lights ever so slightly downwards to save the eyes from the full blast. Needless to say, you will be able to see Terry coming now, and it will surely see you in full colour 1080 glory as you become in the sights. I thought about mounting the lights on the pan and tilt head unit, but I really don't want these to ever get to angles that are looking right into a person's eyes as they are rather bright.

On another note, I now have some EL wire and EL tape for Terry itself. So the robot will be glowing in a sublte way itself. The EL tape is much cooler looking than the wire IMHO but the tape is harder to cut (read I probably won't be doing that). I think the 1m of tape will end up wrapped around the platform on the pan and tilt board.

Behind the LED is quite a heatsink, so they shouldn't pop for quite some time. In the top right you can just see the heatshrink direct connected wires on the LED driver chip and the white wire mounts above it. I have also trimmed down the quad encoder wires and generally cleaned up that area of the robot.

A little while ago I moved the pan mechanism off axle. The new axle is hollow and setup to accomodate a slip ring at the base. I now have said slip ring and am printing a crossover plate for that to mount to channel. Probably by the next post Terry will be able to continuiously rotate the panner without tangling anything up. The torque multiplier of the brass to alloy wheels together with the 6 rpm gearmotor having very high torque means that the panner will tend to stay where it is. Without powering the motor the panner is nearly impossible to move, the grub screws will fail before the motor gives way.

Although the EL tape is tempting, the wise move is to fit the slip ring first.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Abide the Slide

The holonomic drive robot takes it's first rolls! This is what you get when you contort a 3d printer into a cross format and attach funky wheels. Quite literally as the control board is an Arduino Mega board with Atmel 2650 MCU and a RAMPS 1.4 stepper controller board plugged into it. The show is controlled over rf24 link from a hand made controller. Yes folks, a regression to teleoperating for now. I'll have to throw the thing onto scales later, but the steppers themselves add considerable weight to the project, but there doesn't seem to be much problem moving the thing around under it's own power.

The battery is a little underspeced, it will surely supply enough current, and doesn't get hot after operation, but the overall battery capacity is low so the show is over fairly quickly. A problem that is easily solved by throwing more dollars at the battery. The next phase is to get better mechanical stability by tweaking things and changing the software to account for the fact that one wheel axis is longer than the other. From there some sensor feedback (IMU) and a fly by wire mode will be on the cards.

This might end up going into ROS land too, encapsulating the whole current setup into being a "robot base controller" and using other hardware above to run sensors, navigation, and decision logic.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Unbrick the NUC

It seems there are many folks with the suspend of death on the NUC. When you suspend to RAM you can't get back. When you disconnect power for a while you can't turn it on again. Welcome to brickland, population: you. I found that following the advice on the forums if I disconnect the CMOS battery for a bit then I could turn on the NUC again.

The downside is that the CMOS battery is installed under the motherboard, so you have to remove the motherboard which is no easy task the first time. Then each subsequent time that the NUC bricks you have to take it apart again to such a great extent.

Luckily I found these extension leads which let me bring out the battery from the case. So hopefully now a debrick isn't going to involve a system teardown anymore.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Tiny Tim improves and gets Smaller

I finally switched Tiny Tim over to a lipo battery. Almost everything worked when I tested the new battery, the only thing that failed in a major way were the two 2812 LEDs which, either didn't come on or came on for a very quick moment and went dark. So Tim is now smaller again without the "huge" AA battery pack at it's tail.

The 2812 story was interesting. It wasn't going to be happy jumping to the 7.6v of the 2S lipo. So I tried various voltage divider setups which didn't work either. I ended up using a common 5v regulator and the lights work fine again. I think I was maybe using too high resistor values in the divider and the 2812s didn't like it. At any rate, they apparently want a good regulated power source, and I wasn't giving it one before I switched over to using the regulator.

On the whole, going from 5-6v of the AA pack to 7.6v has made it a snappier mover. I tried it initially with the battery on the bench and found it would lift the back off the desk under hard break.

Next up is probably attaching a claw or drop mechanism and ultrasound sensor and then take on the Sparkfun autonomous ping-pong ball into cup challenge. I'll probably control it via wireless from a second on board micro-controller. The drop, ultrasound, and autonomous navigation micro (and additional battery) can all be put into a single "module" that I can then bolt to Tim. All the navigation micro needs to do is control the differential drive like a remote control would. This way, the existing micro etc on Tim doesn't change at all in order for the challenge to be accepted.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Google Breakpad and the post crash experience

Google Breakpad has many components to it, but at the basic level it lets you capture information at the time a crash occurs and upload that to the net. A really cute part of Breakpad is that the binary doesn't need to have the debug symbols in it, you don't even need to have them on the client machine at any location. When you build version $githash then you use a breakpad tool to copy out the debug symbols into separate files. When the user discovers a crash they upload a minidump file to a server of your selecting. Then you can combine the extracted symbols from build time and the minidump file to generate a backtrace with line number information. So software users don't have to know about gdb or lldb or whatnot and how to make a backtrace and where to paste it.

I recently updated FontForge's use of breakpad to use a small server on localhost to report the bug. The application dmg file for fontforge will soon also include the extracted symbols for the build. By telling breakpad to use a local server, that server can lookup the symbols that are shipped and generate a human readable backtrace with line number information. Because its also a web interface and running locally, it can spawn a browser on itself. So instead of getting the Mac dialog supplied by the osx crash reporter app telling you that there was a crash, you get a web page telling you the same thing. But the web page can use jQuery/Bootstrap (or $ui tool of choice) and ask what the user was doing and offer many ways to proceed from there depending on how the user wants to report things. The site can be used to report without any login or user accounts. It's also rather handy as a place to checking larger backtraces that might be, maybe, 50-100kb.

But once you can upload to gist, you can get a http and other URL links to the new gist. So it makes sense from there to offer to make a new github issue for the user too. And in that new issue include the link to the gist page so that developers can get at the full backtrace. It turns out that you can do this last part, which requires user login to github, by redirecting to github/.../issues/new and passing title and body GET parameters. While there is a github API, to report a new issue using it you would need to do OAuth first. But in the libre world it's not so simple to have a location to store the OAuth secure token for next time around. So the GET redirect trick nicely gets around that situation.

For those interested in this, the gist upload and callback to subsequently make a github issue are both available. The Google Breakpad hands over the minidump to a POST method which then massages the minidump into the backtrace and spawns a browser on itself. The GET serves up all the html, css, js, and other assets to the browser and that served html/js is what I link to at the start of the paragraph which is where the actual upload/reporting of the backtrace takes place.

The only thing left to do is to respond to the backtraces that come in and everybody gets a more stable FontForge out of the deal. It might be interesting to send off reports to a Socorro server too so that statistics month on month can be easily available.