Canonical Voices

Posts tagged with 'hardware'


It’s somewhat ironic that just as Ubuntu readies itself for the starting wave of smart connected devices, my latest hardware hack was in fact a disconnected one. In my defense, it’s quite important for these smart devices to preserve a convenient physical interface with the user, so this one was a personal lesson on that.

The device hacked was a capsule-based coffee machine which originally had just a manual handle for on/off operation. This was both boring to use and unfortunate in terms of the outcome being somewhat unpredictable given the variations in amount of water through the capsule. While the manufacturer does offer a modern version of the same machine with an automated system, buying a new one wouldn’t be nearly as satisfying.

So the first act was to take the machine apart and see how it basically worked. To my surprise, this one model is quite difficult to take apart, but it was doable without any visible damage. Once in, the machine was “enhanced” with an external barrel connector that can command the operation of the machine:

Open Coffee Machine

The connector wire was soldered to the right spots, routed away from the hot components, and includes a relay that does the operation safely without bridging the internal circuit into the external world. The proper way to do that would have been with an optocoupler, but without one at hand a relay should do.

With the external connector in place, it was easy to evolve the controlling circuit without bothering with the mechanical side of it. The current version is based on an atmega328p MCU that sits inside a small box exposing a high-quality LED bargraph and a single button that selects the level, turns on the machine on long press, and cancels if pressed again before the selected level is completed:

The MCU stays on 24/7, and when unused goes back into a deep sleep mode consuming only a few microamps from an old laptop battery cell that sits within the same box.

Being a for-fun exercise, the controlling logic was written in assembly to get acquainted with the details of that MCU. The short amount of code is available if you are curious.

Read more

Last night I did a trivial yet surprisingly satisfying hardware hack, of the kind that can only be accomplished when the brain is in holiday mode. Our son has that very simple airplane toy, which turned out to become one of his most loved ones, enough to have deserved wheel repairs before. He’s also reportedly a fan of all kinds of light-emitting or reflecting objects (including the sun, and specially the moon). So the idea sparkled: how easily can that airplane get a blinking led?

With an attiny85, a CR2032 battery, a LED, and half an hour of soldering work, this was the result:

The code loaded in the chip is small enough to be listed here, and it gets away with blinking without waking up the main CPU clock:

    ; Set inverse OC1B pin as output for the led.
    sbi _SFR_IO_ADDR(DDRB), 3

    ; Enable timer TC1 with PCK/16k prescaling (attiny85 p.89)
    ldi r18, (1<<CS10)|(1<<CS11)|(1<<CS12)|(1<<CS13)
    out _SFR_IO_ADDR(TCCR1), r18

    ; Set OC1B on compare match (250), clear on 0x00 (attiny85 p.86,90)
    ldi r18, (1<<PWM1B) | (1<<COM1B0)
    out _SFR_IO_ADDR(GTCCR), r18
    ldi r18, 250
    out _SFR_IO_ADDR(OCR1B), r18

    ; Set the sleep mode to idle (attiny85 p.39).
    ldi r18, (1<<SE)
    out _SFR_IO_ADDR(MCUCR), r18

    ; Shutdown unnecessary MCU modules (attiny85 p.38)
    ldi r18, (1<<PRTIM0)|(1<<PRUSI)|(1<<PRADC)
    out _SFR_IO_ADDR(PRR), r18

    rjmp .-4

The power consumption in the idle mode plus the blinks should keep the coin battery running for a couple of weeks, at least. A vibration sensor would improve that significantly, by enabling the MCU to go into powerdown mode and be awaken externally, but I don’t have a sensor at hand that is small enough.

This is the assembly, and the final result:

Toy Airplane Hack

He’s enjoying it. :-)

Read more

About a year ago I ordered a pack of 10 atmega328p processors from China to play with. They took a while to get here, and it took even longer for me to get back to them, but a few days ago the motivation to start doing something finally appeared.

I’ve never actually played with AVRs before, and felt a bit like I was jumping a step in my electronics enthusiast progress by not diving into its architecture a bit more deeply. Also, despite the obvious advantages of ARM-based chips these days, the platform is still interesting in some perspectives, such as its widespread availability, low price in small quantities, and the ability to plug them in a breadboard and do things without pretty much any circuitry.

To get acquainted with the architecture and to depart from things I work on more frequently, the project is so far taking the shape of an assembly library of functionality relevant for developing small projects, built mainly around binutils for the AVR. I did end up cheating a bit and compiling the assembly code via avr-gcc, just to get the __do_copy_data initialization routine injected, so that I don’t have to pull up the .data section from program memory into RAM manually.

I started running the test programs with the chip itself, with the help of a Pirate Bus, to see if the whole setup was sound. Once it worked a few times, I moved on to use the simulavr simulator to make the process of running and debugging more comfortable. In addition to being able to attach gdb, and trace execution, one of the nice features of simulavr is being able to map a port from the emulated CPU and get bytes written into it sent to an arbitrary file in the outer world. That means we can easily implement a trivial println-like function in assembly:

.set    STDOUT, 0x20

loop:   ld  r17, Z+
        cpi r17, 0
        breq done

        sts STDOUT, r17
        rjmp loop

done:   ldi r17, '\n
        sts STDOUT, r17

Printing strings is only helpful if we do have strings, though, and with such a skeleton system there are no interesting ones yet. What we do have are registers, lots of them (32 in total). A good candidate for the next function would then be an itoa-like function that would put the proper bytes in memory for printing.

So, after going down that road for a bit longer, the lack of a proper way to run tests on the created code was an evident show stopper. There’s no way the created code will be sane without being able to exercise it, and write tests that can be rerun at will. Fortunately, it’s easy enough to apply traditional testing practices to such an environment, given the simulator features mentioned.

To drive those tests, a small tool named avrtest was written in Go. It takes an avrtest.list file that looks like this:

devices: atmega328


        ldi     r24, 128 ; dividend
        ldi     r22, 10  ; divisor
        call    div8u
        prnt8u  r24      ; result
        prnt8u  r22      ; divisor
        prnt8u  r20      ; remainder



cycle-limit: 400

        ldi     r24, 128
        call    itoa8u


and runs it, showing the typical test runner output:

% ./avrtest
div8u   ok  (784 cycles)
itoa8u  ok  (356 cycles)

or the typical failure, when appropriate:

div8u   failed: unexpected output

If the failure feels a bit cryptic, all of the intermediary files are kept under the ./_avrtest directory, including a detailed trace file. Here is a snippet of such a trace:

div8u.elf 0x0194: itoa8u      LDI R30, 0x0a 
div8u.elf 0x0196: itoa8u+0x1  LDI R31, 0x01 
div8u.elf 0x0198: itoa8u+0x2  PUSH R17 SP=0x8f6 0x1 
div8u.elf 0x0198: itoa8u+0x2  CPU-waitstate
div8u.elf 0x019a: itoa8u+0x3  LDI R17, 0x30 
div8u.elf 0x019c: itoa8u+0x4  LDI R22, 0x0a 
div8u.elf 0x019e: itoa8u_loop CALL 0x178 SP=0x8f5 0xd1 SP=0x8f4 0x0

Besides that, we should be able to attach gdb to any given test by running the command avrtest gdb <name>. That’s not yet there, but should be pretty soon, after the next cryptic breakage. :-)

That tooling is not organized for a proper release, but I’ll certainly push it up to a public repository as soon as I get a chance to clean up the sandbox.

Read more

What is this?

umockdev is a set of tools and a library to mock hardware devices for programs that handle Linux hardware devices. It also provides tools to record the properties and behaviour of particular devices, and to run a program or test suite under a test bed with the previously recorded devices loaded.

This allows developers of software like gphoto or libmtp to receive these records in bug reports and recreate the problem on their system without having access to the affected hardware, as well as writing regression tests for those that do not need any particular privileges and thus are capable of running in standard make check.

After working on it for several weeks and lots of rumbling on G+, it’s now useful and documented enough for the first release 0.1!

Component overview

umockdev consists of the following parts:

  • The umockdev-record program generates text dumps (conventionally called *.umockdev) of some specified, or all of the system’s devices and their sysfs attributes and udev properties. It can also record ioctls that a particular program sends and receives to/from a device, and store them into a text file (conventionally called *.ioctl).
  • The libumockdev library provides the UMockdevTestbed GObject class which builds sysfs and /dev testbeds, provides API to generate devices, attributes, properties, and uevents on the fly, and can load *.umockdev and *.ioctl records into them. It provides VAPI and GI bindings, so you can use it from C, Vala, and any programming language that supports introspection. This is the API that you should use for writing regression tests. You can find the API documentation in docs/reference in the source directory.
  • The libumockdev-preload library intercepts access to /sys, /dev/, the kernel’s netlink socket (for uevents) and ioctl() and re-routes them into the sandbox built by libumockdev. You don’t interface with this library directly, instead you need to run your test suite or other program that uses libumockdev through the umockdev-wrapper program.
  • The umockdev-run program builds a sandbox using libumockdev, can load *.umockdev and *.ioctl files into it, and run a program in that sandbox. I. e. it is a CLI interface to libumockdev, which is useful in the “debug a failure with a particular device” use case if you get the text dumps from a bug report. This automatically takes care of using the preload library, i. e. you don’t need umockdev-wrapper with this. You cannot use this program if you need to simulate uevents or change attributes/properties on the fly; for those you need to use libumockdev directly.

Example: Record and replay PtP/MTP USB devices

So how do you use umockdev? For the “debug a problem” use case you usually don’t want to write a program that uses libumockdev, but just use the command line tools. Let’s capture some runs from libmtp tools, and replay them in a mock environment:

  • Connect your digital camera, mobile phone, or other device which supports PtP or MTP, and locate it in lsusb. For example
      Bus 001 Device 012: ID 0fce:0166 Sony Ericsson Xperia Mini Pro
  • Dump the sysfs device and udev properties:
      $ umockdev-record /dev/bus/usb/001/012 > mobile.umockdev
  • Now record the dynamic behaviour (i. e. usbfs ioctls) of various operations. You can store multiple different operations in the same file, which will share the common communication between them. For example:
      $ umockdev-record --ioctl mobile.ioctl /dev/bus/usb/001/012 mtp-detect
      $ umockdev-record --ioctl mobile.ioctl /dev/bus/usb/001/012 mtp-emptyfolders
  • Now you can disconnect your device, and run the same operations in a mocked testbed. Please note that /dev/bus/usb/001/012 merely echoes what is in mobile.umockdev and it is independent of what is actually in the real /dev directory. You can rename that device in the generated *.umockdev files and on the command line.
      $ umockdev-run --load mobile.umockdev --ioctl /dev/bus/usb/001/012=mobile.ioctl mtp-detect
      $ umockdev-run --load mobile.umockdev --ioctl /dev/bus/usb/001/012=mobile.ioctl mtp-emptyfolders

Example: using the library to fake a battery

If you want to write regression tests, it’s usually more flexible to use the library instead of calling everything through umockdev-run. As a simple example, let’s pretend we want to write tests for upower.

Batteries, and power supplies in general, are simple devices in the sense that userspace programs such as upower only communicate with them through sysfs and uevents. No /dev nor ioctls are necessary. docs/examples/ has two example programs how to use libumockdev to create a fake battery device, change it to low charge, sending an uevent, and running upower on a local test system D-BUS in the testbed, with watching what happens with upower --monitor-detail. battery.c shows how to do that with plain GObject in C, is the equivalent program in Python that uses the GI binding. You can just run the latter like this:

  umockdev-wrapper python3 docs/examples/

and you will see that upowerd (which runs on a temporary local system D-BUS in the test bed) will report a single battery with 75% charge, which gets down to 2.5% a second later.

The gist of it is that you create a test bed with

  UMockdevTestbed *testbed = umockdev_testbed_new ();

and add a device with certain sysfs attributes and udev properties with

    gchar *sys_bat = umockdev_testbed_add_device (
            testbed, "power_supply", "fakeBAT0", NULL,
            /* attributes */
            "type", "Battery",
            "present", "1",
            "status", "Discharging",
            "energy_full", "60000000",
            "energy_full_design", "80000000",
            "energy_now", "48000000",
            "voltage_now", "12000000",
            /* properties */
            "POWER_SUPPLY_ONLINE", "1",

You can then e. g. change an attribute and synthesize a “change” uevent with

  umockdev_testbed_set_attribute (testbed, sys_bat, "energy_now", "1500000");
  umockdev_testbed_uevent (testbed, sys_bat, "change");

With Python or other introspected languages, or in Vala it works the same way, except that it looks a bit leaner due to “proper” object semantics.


I have a packaging branch for Ubuntu and a recipe to do daily builds with the latest upstream code into my daily builds PPA (for 12.10 and raring). I will soon upload it to Raring proper, too.

What’s next?

The current set of features should already get you quite far for a range of devices. I’d love to get feedback from you if you use this for anything useful, in particular how to improve the API, the command line tools, or the text dump format. I’m not really happy with the split between umockdev (sys/dev) and ioctl files and the relatively complicated CLI syntax of umockdev-record, so any suggestion is welcome.

One use case that I have for myself is to extend the coverage of ioctls for input devices such as touch screens and wacom tablets, so that we can write some tests for gnome-settings-daemon plugins.

I also want to find a way to pass ioctls back to the test suite/calling program instead of having to handle them all in the preload library, which would make it a lot more flexible. However, due to the nature of the ioctl ABI this is not easy.

Where to go to

The code is hosted on github in the umockdev project; this started out as a systemd branch to add this functionality to libudev, but after a discussion with Kay we decided to keep it separate. But I kept it in git anyway, given how popular it is today. For the bzr lovers, Launchpad has an import at lp:umockdev.

Release tarballs will be on Launchpad as well. Please file bugs and enhancement requests in the git hub tracker.

Finally, if you have questions or want to discuss something, you can always find me on IRC (pitti on Freenode or GNOME).

Thanks for your attention and happy testing!

Read more
John Bernard

This year’s Ubuntu Hardware Summit (UHS) will take place on December 8th at the Grand Victoria Hotel in Taipei. You can register your place at

Building on the success of 2010 (with over 200 attendees), the 2011 Ubuntu Hardware Summit promises to deliver more. With keynote speeches from various members of the Canonical team and a more focused technical delivery, UHS is created especially for product managers and engineers at ODMs and OEMs, with interest or responsibility in deploying Ubuntu on new computers and devices.

Highlights will include presentations on Ubuntu Server, deploying Ubuntu Cloud, QA, power management, hardware enablement….and much more! Details of the event can also be found on the new Ubuntu Hardware Debugging website at

UHS is sponsored by Canonical and free of charge.

To reserve your space, visit today as registrations will close on 29th November 2011.

Read more
Colin Ian King

Lost Circuits has written an in-depth article on hard disk media, covering aspects of HDD performance, such as transfer rates depending on the zone position (inner to outer diameters), discrepancies between internal transfer rates and benchmarked rates as well as the impact of track slew.

Some of the internal mechanical magic is also described, which helps explain how manufacturers configure their hardware and sector layouts to maximise performance. All very informative.

The website is slow, so be patient!

Read more
Colin Ian King

Hot Laptop

My Lenovo 3000N200 laptop has been playing me up. When I've been fully loading the processor or driving video hard it's been shutting down because of overheating. I suspect periodic SMIs are detecting an overheated CPU and the BIOS just stops the machine to avoid it turning into toast.

Suspecting that the latest 2.6.35 Maverick kernel was the cause I booted with a 2.6.32 Lucid kernel and that didn't help, so it didn't look like an obvious kernel regression.

Well, perhaps it's getting old and cranky - it's nearly 3 years old. Perhaps the thermal paste between the CPU and the heatsink is not working like it should. Since it was most probably a hardware issue I downloaded the service manual and got out the trusty screwdriver and opened it up. Lo and behold 5mm of dust had accumulated over the fan grill which wasn't going to help the poor machine offload all that heat out of the laptop case. I removed the fan, gave it a good clean and removed all the dust from the fan outlet grill.

After reassembly the laptop was good as new. Instead of rebooting at 95+ degrees Celsius the Lenovo now runs happily.

The moral of the story is that I should regularly service the fans on my machines. Cooking the CPU is something I would like to avoid in the future.

Read more
Colin Ian King

Makerbot - an open source 3D printer

This week I'm attending a Ubuntu Kernel Sprint and my colleague Steve Conklin brought along a fantastic gizmo - the Makerbot 3D printer. It is most fascinating watching it print 3D objects by extruding a thin ABS plastic trail of plastic in layers. It can print objects up to 4" x 4" x 6" - the imagination is the limiting factor to what it can print. Steve already demo'd it printing a variety of objects, the most impressive being a working whistle including a moving ball inside the whistle. It's not too slow either - it took about 25 minutes to print the whistle, which isn't bad considering the complexity and size of the object.

It's a cool piece of kit - doubly so because it's completely open sourced.

Read more
Colin Ian King

I acquired a 16Mhz 8 bit Arduino micro-controller development board last week from my colleague Steve Conklin. The Arduino is a cool little open source electronics development system and allows rapid prototyping - ideal for hacking up small controller projects. I downloaded the C toolkit and GUI development environment from and configuration was very simple and straight forward.

Basically, one can cruft up small C programs and download these to the board using a USB interface - the code is flashed onto the board so it can run stand-alone - sweet. Just compile, download and go!

Anyhow, today was my first opportunity to get some quality time to get hacking. I rummaged around in my loft and found a bread-board and a bunch of LEDs and resistors that I bought over 20 years ago and rigged up 4 LEDs to be driven from from 4 digital output pins. I quickly hacked up some code to enable the pin outputs and then drive the LEDs, see the video below:

The Arduino has a bunch of digital input/ouput pins and some analogue pins too - although I need to now read up about this to see what I can really do with this kit. Anyhow, thanks to Steve for getting this kit into my hands and walking me through the elementary stuff on how to select the right resistors so that I don't kill the LEDs and the Arduino; I knew I should have remembered all that basic electronics jiggery pokery when I did my Computer Science degree 20+ years ago...

My hope is to hook this up to various bits of hardware to enable me to do the usual debugging and hacking around. I've got various ideas of projects, such as an interface between my PC and my old Commodore 1541 disk drive, but I need to get some reference books out of my loft and do some more research before I get my hands grubby with real code.

What's neat is that I'm able to some relatively fast low-level 8 bit hackery without all that unnecessary OS nonsense making life more complex :-)

Read more