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Rock64 aarch64 development board

July 27, 2018 — BarryK

I posted yesterday about creating an aarch64 (64-bit ARM) Quirky Linux for the Raspberry Pi3 Model B. Works great, and I compiled some packages. Then I made the mistake of trying to compile SeaMonkey...

The setup is the Pi3 with usb 1TB hard drive (works on usb2, no external power adaptor), with the SM source on the hard drive. The hard drive also has a 9GB swap partition.

Note, I used to get the low-voltage warning with my Pi, so I now use a 5V 6A regulated supply, purchased from Hard Kernel -- frustrating, I still sometimes get the low-voltage warning!

Started the compile, about 20 hours later it was still going. I would jiggle the mouse occasionally to wake up the screen and view progress, however, at the 21 hour mark, jiggling did not wake the screen, nor any key presses.

However, the hard drive activity light was flashing, so I waited. At the 36 hour point, no change, hard drive light still flashing, so gave up, unplugged the power.

I need an aarch64 dev board with a bit more grunt, and cheap. Hunted around, and chose the Rock64, with 4GB RAM:

https://www.pine64.org/?page_id=7147

It has a eMMC socket, which apparently is compatible with those from Hard Kernel (the Odroid boards). I have a 64GB eMMC for my Odroid XU4, so save an extra expense. Note, the Odroid XU4 is, unfortunately, only 32-bit.

image

The Rock64 is reviewed here:

https://www.cnx-software.com/2017/07/16/rock64-board-review-part-1-emmc-flash-module-android-7-1-firmware-benchmarks-and-kodi/

The board made its first appearance mid-2017. There is an update scheduled for manufacture sometime around June/July 2018, with various improvements, including a RTC (Real Time Clock) with terminals to attach a battery -- have no info whether I will be getting the new one or not.

There is also a RockPro64, which is very impressive, however, I decided the Rock64 will do what I want.

Reading customer feedback from here and there, some reports of bad RAM. We shall see. Just putting my "toe in the water" with this manufacturer, and will report back after some hands-on.

I paid US$74.42, including the Rock64 4GB-variant, clear acrylic case, international power supply, stick-on heatsink, and postage to Australia.

Note, there is a metal case, not yet available, that looks like cast alloy from the photos, and it will act as heatsink for the CPU and RAM chips.

Tags: tech

Librem 5 phone progress report 15

July 17, 2018 — BarryK

I haven't backed the phone (yet) but have ordered the development-kit. Posted about the project recently:

http://bkhome.org/news/201806/librem-5-an-open-source-linux-phone.html

This is an exciting project, and I frequently visit the News page to see if there is any update posted. Today there is, Progress Report #15:

https://puri.sm/posts/librem-5-progress-report-15/

One thing that impresses me is that they are working with developers of other projects, engaging them and submitting patches. This is the way to go, an ambitious project like this needs lots of participants.

The dev-kit is promised for August 2018. I will be pleasantly surprised if it does meet that deadline, as they have only just designed the board and ordered the components. I think that they are using a CPU SOM module, which does make things easier. Hopefully the components will arrive, but even so, they are optimistic. Usually there are iterations, some boards made, tested, changes, then more made. 

Tags: tech

Still waiting for my Andromium Superbook

July 17, 2018 — BarryK

This was a Kickstarter project, that I backed on August 3, 2016, for US$134 plus US$35 shipping:

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/andromium/the-superbook-turn-your-smartphone-into-a-laptop-f

...yep, 2016, and I am still waiting.

image

Get regular emails explaining various reasons for more delays. For awhile now, there have been photos shown of palettes of them, ready to ship. A shipment have arrived in the USA apparently. Further manufacture has been delayed by one of the component suppliers failing to supply paid-for components.

Whatever. Things have moved on, I am not so certain anymore that the concept is useful. Don't want to judge yet, got to play with it first. Anyway, here is their website (Andromium is now Sentio):

https://www.sentio.com/ 


Tags: tech

Librem 5, an open-source Linux phone

June 12, 2018 — BarryK

We all recall the failed attempt by Canonical to crowd-fund a phone that would run Ubuntu Touch. More recently, another group had a go, a company named Purism. Their crowd-funding proposal was for the Librem 5, a phone that would run PureOS, their security-focused flavour of Linux.

Purism aimed for at least US$1,500,000, but reached US$2,479,000, so a success, and the project was underway. Crowd-funding page here:

https://puri.sm/shop/librem-5/

I was initially interested, but then it seemed that they were going to use the NXP i.mx6 CPU, which is 32-bit and very long-in-the-tooth. So, I lost interest, but it got piqued a few times, when there were some interesting announcements that came to my favourite Linux news site, lxer.com

A couple of those news items were that UBPorts, the team who are continuing to develop Ubuntu Touch after Canonical dumped it, signaled their intention to port to the Librem 5 phone. Also, the developers of Plasma Mobile, another Linux-based phone OS, will be doing the same.

So, there will be a choice of three OSs, most interesting.

I found out just a couple of days ago, all the latest happenings, at their blog:

https://puri.sm/posts/tag/phones/

They delayed the project a bit and decided to go for the i.MX8M CPU, a somewhat more modern and power-efficient 64-bit chip. That got me interested again. However, this chip is not really designed for phones, and does not have a modem (to provide the 2G/3G/4G connectivity). The modem has to be a separate chip, and I looked up the specs on the modem chip that will be shipping with the developer-kit, and it lacks 4G 700MHz (B28), a frequency extensively used by Telstra here in Australia.

So, interest waned again. However, I then read something most interesting, that the modem will plug into an m.2 socket in the phone, so they will be able to provide the right one for different regions of the world. I don't know if it is quite that simple though, as the antennas have to be tuned.

I was also pleased that they decided to go for a bigger screen. Originally, it was going to be 5 inches, but they have now upped it to 5.5 or 5.7, with 18:9 ratio.

I don't know if this phone will ever become more than a toy for developer-nerds like myself, but I decided I'm in. I contacted them after the deadline had expired for ordering the dev-kit, but they reckoned that they could find one extra for me, and accepted my late order.

Note for anyone else who wants to get involved as a developer: you will have to wait until the phone arrives in January (or more likely later, based on my previous experience with crowd-funded projects). The dev-kit is just a one-off production-run, and it is intended that development can be on the phone itself after it arrives.

So, a i.MX8M-based board, costing US$399, which came to AU$527, due in August/September ...so, I guess that I will have to pay GST when it arrives here. Specs are here:

https://puri.sm/posts/june-1st-last-call-for-librem5-devkit/

Here is a recent render of what the phone will look like:

photo

This is the layout of the dev-kit:

photo

I am intrigued that the dev-kit is pretty much what will be in the final phone, and that everything is going to be open-source, with all hardware specs published, and lots of guys working on getting the hardware to play nice with Linux.
I wonder how many of those interfaces will end up in the phone ...notice the smartcard socket.

My plan, after the dev-kit arrives, is pretty wide-open at this stage. Lots of learning to do of course. 

Tags: tech

Telstra mobile now works well

May 28, 2018 — BarryK

Well, well, this is interesting. I posted about issues with my Telstra mobile connection, domain-name-resolving and downloads hanging:

http://bkhome.org/news/201805/trouble-with-telstra-mobile.html

So, I bypassed the wifi-router, plugged a wifi usb dongle into the desktop PC, so it talks directly to my phone. My phone is my only means of Internet access, using the new Telstra "unlimited data" plan. This is a simplistic sketch:image

As soon as I did that, removed the router, the problems disappeared. For several hours afterward, have been very happily surfing and downloading.

The router is my local network, and bridge to the Internet via wifi to the phone. Why is it causing problems?

Actually, I have two wifi-ethernet-routers, and I am currently using the old one, TotoLink model N1000R+:

http://bkhome.org/news/201712/toto-link-wifiethernet-routerrepeater.html

It worked OK with Optus. I might try my newer one:

http://bkhome.org/news/201712/totolink-a2004ns-fast-wirelessethernet-router.html

Anyway, it is good to know that there is a fix.

Tags: tech

Trouble with Telstra mobile

May 27, 2018 — BarryK

I recently signed up for Telstra's new "endless data" mobile plan:

http://bkhome.org/news/201805/telstra-69-byo-endless-data-mobile-plan.html

At first I was pleased, however, I have been experiencing a couple of problems...

Firstly, my browser often reports "temporary failure in name resolution". Hit the button to retry, and it is usually OK. But, this is happening often enough to be very annoying. It also happens when I use 'wget'.

The second problem is the worst. When I attempt to download large files, the download just stops partway through. That's it, stopped, have to try and download again.

I reported this yesterday when trying to download a file from ibiblio.org. I resorted to using "wget -c <file>" and when it stopped (several times), hit ctrl-c then reran it.

Today, had to do the same with mozilla.org, to download firefox. Was getting both of the above problems. The first problem, wget reported:

wget: unable to resolve host address ‘ftp.mozilla.org’

Then had to do that ctrl-c and rerun 4-5 times.

A quick google shows that I am not alone. For example:

http://forums.whirlpool.net.au/archive/2532107

...however, that is not a mobile data connection.

I turned on QoS on my router, thought maybe slowing it down might help. Nup. Also tried rate-limiting with wget. Nup.

Well, I'm stuck with Telstra for 12 months, will just have to "get by". One thing I might try, is go somewhere else, see if it is just an issue at this location. I checked, Telstra have no issues reported for this area.

EDIT 28 May 2018:
Found the cause of the problems, see this later post:

http://bkhome.org/news/201805/telstra-mobile-now-works-well.html

Tags: tech

Telstra $69 byo endless data mobile plan

May 10, 2018 — BarryK

There is a revolution happening here in Australia. Two of the major telcos have released "endless data" plans for mobile phones.

Apparently, there are such plans in some other countries. but this is a first for Australia.

Vodafone's endless plan is $60 per month, you get 40GB, beyond which it is shaped, that is, restricted, to 1.5mb/sec (mega-bits per second, which is about 150 kilobytes/sec):

https://www.vodafone.com.au/plans/unlimited

It also includes 2000 minutes of international calls to selected countries.

This is a much better deal than Telstra, however, you do have to be in an area with a Vodafone tower not too far away.

Telstra has much better coverage in rural areas, which is one reason that they can get away with charging more. For example in one country town, Dumbleyung, Vodafone and Optus only have 3G coverage, Telstra has 4G.

The Telstra deal is also 40GB per month, tapered to 1.5mb/sec, but costs $69 per month. Also, there is no free international minutes:

https://www.telstra.com.au/mobile-phones/plans-and-rates/byo-unlimited-mobile-data-plan

image

I have signed up with Telstra for 12 months.

Already I have tested it on a country trip, and got continuous coverage throughout the trip.

One issue with Telstra, they use the 4G 700MHz band (B28) in most rural areas, and only one of my phones has it. Unfortunately, my favourite phone, my LG Nexus 5, does not have 700MHz.

As my phone is my only means of Internet access, and I use it as a wifi hotspot (tethering) for my desktop PC and laptops, I am very pleased to have the 40GB -- real luxury, as my prior Optus account was only 10GB per 28 days!

Yes, the Telstra endless-data plan does allow tethering.

One website that I found to be extremely helpful is this, as it enabled me to determine what frequencies the telcos were transmitting on at various rural locations:

https://oztowers.com.au/

Whistleout has excellent overage maps, that easily compare the three telcos. For example, looking at the small town of Dumbleyung:

https://www.whistleout.com.au/MobilePhones/Search?calls=10&sms=50&data=500&customer=Personal&address=Dumbleyung,+WA+6350&tab=postpaid

...scroll down to see the map.

Tags: tech