Culture / Open Source

Off-The-Shelf Hacker: How Linux Could Power Your Wearable Projects

19 Mar 2016 6:30am, by

My aging Asus duo-core notebook, the Raspberry Pi, the Beaglebone Black, several TV set-top boxes and certain in-vehicle infotainment systems all have something in common: Linux.

That’s right, Linux runs on a bunch of different hardware. That’s a huge advantage for Off-The-Shelf Hackers because regardless of your platform, the operating system is the same. Oh sure, you might have different flavors of desktops, applications and command line shells. The underlying infrastructure, file-systems, and Unix-like methodology are all the same.

Much like the Arduino IDE that you use to program the various generations of Arduinos, as well as, the ESP8266 WiFi chips, Linux offers a development and user environment that has become a defacto standard.

Have you heard of Apple’s iOS running on the Raspberry Pi? Nope, me neither. How about Windows on a Pi. Wait, yes, there is a version for the Raspberry Pi, called Windows 10 IoT Core. While it can run headless or with a display, the experience probably isn’t quite the same as on a notebook. The various versions of Linux that run on the Pi are capable of running big applications and doing general purpose input/output tasks at the same time, without any fuss.

LibreOffice is a pretty big productivity suite, like Microsoft Office. It runs on a Pi or a Linux notebook. There is also the time-tested open source graphics editor GNU Gimp. Yup, Gimp runs on Linux regardless of the hardware platform.

Want more proof of the power and flexibility of Linux?

Gen 4 - Steampunk Conference Badge display unit

Gen 4 – Steampunk Conference Badge display unit

Take my generation 4 Steampunk Conference Badge, for example. It’s a Raspberry Pi 2, with 1 GB of memory, an 8 GB micro-SD card and 1.8” color TFT display running on Raspbian Linux. The infamous “ozone tube” with its antique-looking glass bulb and tri-color pulsating LED “crystal” operate from the general purpose input/output pins. In this configuration, it’s considered a headless Linux machine because you interact with it over the network with SSH. SSH is an encrypted, secure application for logging remotely into a Linux machine. Typically I’d sit at my Linux-powered Asus notebook and log into the Conference Badge to change the movie playing on the little LCD, adjust the color of the “ozone tube” or edit start-up files.

Pretty much everything I can do on the Conference Badge can be done on my old Asus notebook. They both run Linux.

Also, it’s no big deal to hook the badge up to a big-screen LCD TV through the HDMI port along with a wireless keyboard, while I debug the system and ozone tube Python code.

One idea I’ve been toying with is running my slide stack from my Steampunk Conference Badge. How much fun would it be to walk into one of my tech sessions, unhook my badge from my lapel and plug it into the projector? I could then whip out a wireless Logitech keyboard/mousepad and proceed to carry out my tech talk and floor show, right there on the spot.

LibreOffice works great on a Pi 2, which is what I use for presentations (using LibreOffice Impress), spreadsheets (using LibreOffice Calc) and writing my tech articles (using LibreOffice Writer). If you want lightning-fast slide transitions, in Impress, make sure to compress images down to 250-500 KB’s or so before inserting them into your slides. Graphics are easily edited and compressed using the Gimp on either a Linux notebook or the Pi 2 itself.

I like the idea of a conference badge that seamlessly converts into a slide presentation machine and I think it will definitely impress my tech talk audiences.

Start thinking about how to combine the power of Linux with “wearables” and see if you don’t come up with some magical combinations of your own.

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