Friday, August 8, 2014

Playgrounds on the road

Here is a summary of good, well constructed public playgrounds that we've sought out on our travels with young children.  They are split into 6month-2yr, and 2yr+.  Each pin has a brief description and may have some photos.

The purpose of this collection of playgrounds is to help provide a useful resource to other parents who may have a 2 year old shouting "Park" every 5 minutes of a 14 hour drive.  The parents (or children) have no affliation or association with the parks listed.  They appear to all be public accessible play grounds provided by the municipalities.

If you would like to contribute to this map of playgrounds, please forward an email to playgrounds [at] dtmc [dot] ca with a description and photographs.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Garmin 60SCx, Mint 16 and qlandkarte

Garmin 60CSx used to just work... but as of U12.04/Mint 16 it isn't recognised without some tinkering...

1) Create file: /etc/udev/rules.d/51-garmin.rules  and add:
  ATTR{idVendor}=="091e", ATTR{idProduct}=="0003", MODE="0666", GROUP="plugdev"
2) Restart udev :
 sudo udevadm control --reload-rules
3) replug the Garmin
4) start qlandkarte

(If you mucked about with the qlandkarte device settings, select "Garmin" and remove anything from the "Serial Port" parameter box.)

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

As Easy As Pi

Raspberry Pi... it's easy, peasy, wheezy ...

The famous(?) $25 tag line is more like $110 plus shipping when you've got a reasonable collection of parts plus the RaspPi revB ($35).

That being said... wow... a polished hobbyist's experience ;o)

There are 100s of guides out there and easy to follow.  This is not a guide of any sort... just my experience with the RaspPi B and poking at it whenever I have spare time.

The Wheezy (Feb2013) install was easy (

Using SDHC Kingston Card Reader via USB2.0 takes ~20mins

~/Downloads$ sudo dd bs=4M if=./2013-02-09-wheezy-raspbian.img of=/dev/sdd
462+1 records in
462+1 records out
1939865600 bytes (1.9 GB) copied, 1260.12 s, 1.5 MB/s

Note: about 300Mb remains of free space.  On the rasp-config utility, you can reclaim the rest of the SD Card for the root filesystem.  In my case, I used a 16Gb SDHC so 14Gb was added to the root filesystem.

The configuration menu on first-boot-up, easy, connecting USB devices (keyboards, wifi dongle etc) just easy.

In some part, made easier by Adafruit suggesting/recommending parts that are known to work with the popular RaspPi distros.

I don't plan initially to do anything ground breaking with this little computer.
The two main applications: XBMC client and multi-Wifi-webcam client.

I have found a range of Ubuntu-style configuration guides on Raspberry Pi webpages and will likely create a third application: Wifi Router with an ARM version of OpenWRT or similar.

Headless Mode

The first boot up configuration asks whether or not to start the desktop.

The following guide shows you how to remove the desktop, if you plan on a headless installation:

You can re-run the config after the first time boot and adjust these settings.  I find using any of the desktop applications painfully slow although it was nice to see a Wifi Configuration (wpa_gui) included in this latest Wheezy edition.

Wifi Client

Note: the Feb 2013 Wheezy has a Wifi Manager GUI which was pretty straightforward to select an available AP and connect.

Copying files from my media server yields ~230KB/s with rsync. Other systems in the house are typically 2-3MB/s with the same backup script.

Web Cam Support

Using two C920 Logitech webcams I've found only 1 works 90% of time with "motion" and there is a 5-10secs delay on the live webcam.  52-100% CPU when there is motion detected.  Adding a second webcam has issues.  The 'motion' application sees both but in the process of bringing both online it seems to time out and close the stream for both webcams after ~60secs.

The other problems are related to stability of the webcam itself.  Probably C920 has poor linux support and has been unstable on U12.04.  The net-effect is that it seems to crash and break the USB bus rendering all attached USB devices useless to some degree.  This is pretty odd and unpredictable.  It is necessary to unplug the C920 webcam to address this problem.  (I've also seen the USB bus die without any webcams plugged in but this is very rare.)

Wifi Access Point

Attempting to turn my RaspPi into an AP I stumbled out the gate with what looks like a Wifi dongle that can't support AP mode.  With the cryptic "iw list" command yielding "nl80211 not found.".  This seems to be a problem with newer version of iw.

However, it is still possible to use hostapd to create an AP using these guides with various Linux networking guides to forward traffic:

I chose the Edimax USB dongle as it has been cited as working as an AP as well as a client.  I could not get the iw list command to work but proceeded to install hostapd but the version that blogger included the Edimax driver in.

The AP worked well, once, then I could not get any device to connect to it reliably.  Also,  starting hostapd blew away wlan0 settings that wpa_supplicant configured.
I also found installing the custom Edimax hostapd version from jenssegers' guide broke MPD audio playback completely.

In the end, I've given up trying to have two wifi dongles present and one present as an AP.


This page has a good list of debian based XBMC distros/releases for RaspPi.

I've tried this version on top of Wheezy and the results are so-so:

The XBMC GUI experience is sluggish.  Video playback did not happen until I installed the RaspBMC standalone without Wheezy being first installed.

Then I tried the ~800Mb XBian distro.  It looked ok with surrounding graphics/posters and icons a bit pixelated.   Video playback did work this time at 720p.

Network Music Player & Server

Using Music Player Daemon (MPD) on the RaspPi as a server and MPD clients on Android which is impressively efficient and effective.

(I've followed this guide without the USB-DAC changes and using the RaspPi audio chipset)

However, keeping MPD working with PulseAudio is another matter.  In the end I used XBMC installation and simply used XBMC as a headless media player. Using the remarkably complete Yatze XBMC Media Player on Android you can stream to the client device.

Pops and Crackles

The next link shows how to remove the odd and annoying crackle/noise when switching tracks.  Using Studio-quality headphones, I can still hear a faint whine between track changing but it's way better than without the fix from ALSA to Pulseaudio.

This worked for a short period, then stopped working and crack and pops came back.
There are plenty of posts stating pulseaudio is just not stable in Wheezy but the pops and crackle on audio is just unusable.

I searched (and searched) for various solutions but aside from newer in-testing firmware I couldn't find anything specific.  This site seems to give the best description of the problem and it's hardware related.  I ended up trying to find a configuration option between MPD and Pulseaudio in the end wound up with no sound coming out of MPD although test-sounds still worked from the command line.
Even the USB DAC systems reported that there were still playback issues unless the media was encoded at one of several sampling rates.  This is just a mess.

System Wide Pulse Audio

Ultimately, I found this guide set up MPD as a system daemon (in a headless pi configuration) and worked the most reliably for a day, then stopped for no reason.  You have to update /etc/pulseaudio/ setting to not suspend on idle.

Guide: system-wide pulse configuration guide.

Audio Pops and Crackles fixed by Firmware

There appears to be a 'fix' for the USB sound issue... using an experimental firmware fix:

This worked for me when I uninstalled pulseaudio completely.  However, pops and crackles can still be heard on boot up.  The easier route would be an external USB DAC.

Multiple Outputs

System-wide pulseaudio seems to keep the audio line powered and pop-free.  In addition, I have MPD using the 3.5mm jack and it's inbuilt HTTP streamer.

Power Cycling

Power cycling... so far the RaspPi as-is does not gracefully power-cycle.  Abruptly removing the power is problematic without shutting down is ill advised.  Using external RaspPi module, called


Seen "JBD2: Detected IO errors while flushing file data on mmc..." periodically.  Not sure if these coincided with the broken USB functionality when the webcams failed.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

XBMC 12.04 on Zbox

Upgrading the previous 11.10 release on this machine was a disaster.  A fresh install was necessary and 12.04.2 LTS installed fairly easily on the same Zbox unit.

Original setup on Zotac System ZBOX HD-ND02 Atom 330 (IONv1) :

NVIDIA drivers were installed and activated without any intervention.  From previous mythtv related posts the usual sound and video woes are still present but with some new twists (of course ;o).

The biggest pain is overscan by about 30-40pixels in every direction.   Possibly a combination of my Pioneer tuner and Panasonic TV which are both quite old now.
  • Auto-selects 1280x768 when 1360x720 worked previously (720p) and isn't a choice in the available resolutions.
  • Can't get xorg.conf file to be used/read by NVIDIA 304.64 driver
  • No overscan option in NVIDIA settings utility, apparently removed possibly because of artifacts being introduced.  Now convoluted way of reducing overscan.
  • HDMI S/PDIF 1 channel muted on initial Ubuntu install... have to unmute uses ALSA tool
Apart from that installation was fairly straightforward and the latest "startup-disk" creator created a USB stick which would boot first time.  Last attempt was less successful circa Ubuntu 10.10.

XBMC fortunately has overscan adjustment and VDPAU settings and so tearing and cutting do not seem to be a problem.  I did add the Composite Disabled fix to the xorg.conf anyway but as mentioned above the xorg-conf file changes dont seem to be applied.

Haven't tried MythTV yet.  There's very little to watch on OTA and I have another system that is working fine with MythTV, minus some audio problems.

(Other zbox system:

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Photo editing on Ubuntu... can be done...

These two tools are very impressive... and available for Ubuntu 12.04

  1. Rawstudio
  2. Noise Ninja (2.2 for Linux)
  3. Bibble (now Corel AfterShot Pro ;o(

Rawstudio is a pretty good RAW photo editor. Contrast, exposure etc.  It is blindingly fast at converting RAW to JPG once the editing is done.  I've not used a RAW editor that is so efficient and fast. I really like Phase One but it takes a long time to process the RAW to JPG files.

Noise Ninja is just great and works seamlessly on Windows or Mac.  I've always used the Standalone.  Fortunately, you can still get Noise Ninja for Linux but you have to pick older/alternative downloads.

You can find 5Dmk2 NN Profiles here

Editing, so far, I've only found GIMP.

There are numerous plugins (scripts) for GIMP, but the FX Foundary
Simple resizing etc can be done using GIMP Batch Processing using Davids Batch Processor (DBP) plugin mentioned here.

Another plugin/script for GIMP that is really useful, and frankly, necessary is paste-into-selection (.scm).

Bibble is really fast and works well on Linux/Ubuntu.  Unfortunately, Corel bought it recently, so it will likely die a slow death and be poorly supported. (At the time of writing Bibble supports Canon 5Dmk3 which the current release of RawStudio seems unable to parse the white-balance correctly.  RawStudio developer-version appears to support this change in RAW2 format but I've been unsuccessful in installing/compiling the nightly version of RawStudio on Ubuntu).

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Pixel King Flash Tx/Rx

I wanted a middle-of-the-road wireless flash solution.  With the low-end "Chinese dip-switched" systems at the bottom end and the PocketWizards at the top.

In recent years there are many more middle-of-the-road vendors.  So I did some research and in the end went for the Pixel King Canon wireless triggers.

The ebay, amazon etc descriptions of how they work and their compatibility seem appropriately vague and unclear.  Once received, the printed manual is equally impressively unclear.

So I set about configuring them and seeing what can be done without reading the manual.

I have a 5Dmk2 with the latest firmware, 2x 580EX and 1x 580EXII and an Opus Flash.

Points to note so far:
  • When the Pixel King says it is compatible with 580EX, it means it can trigger it.  The Pixel King only supports ETTL2 which is available on 580EXII.
  • There is a fair amount of chatter between Rx and Tx units whenever you focus the camera.  Some adjustments on the flash can occur... mode, zoom etc.
  • ETTL2 performance seems very marginal.
  • Basic wireless trigger works fine.
  • Opus Flash works well with a remote trigger and doesn't work very well with light sensor.
The most annoying thing BY FAR is the Canon 5Dmk2 "External Flash" menu system which must be used to control the flashes.  Different lines and features enable and disable seemingly at random.  Some make sense, some change, then bounce back to the original setting.  Titles of each External Flash setting sort of make sense but there are numerous key presses to change anything.

If/When I get a second 580EXII I will hope the A:B ratio logic works.  This was ultimately what I was hoping to use but it seems 580EX will not work with ETTL2 and Pixel Kings.  At least for now, presumably there may be a firmware upgrade available.

Which brings me on to the Windows firmware upgrade software and software release information on the website... OMG.  No idea if I upgraded the firmware.

Bottom line: expensive wireless flash triggers (~US$380 for 3 Rx and 1 Tx).  Either go cheap or go PocketWizard.

Bottom line 2: I've spent more time using the in-camera flash menu which quite frankly is very poor and often resets to default settings.  The reset seems to occur at the same time the Pixel King units reboot or freeze.  They seem to freeze as often as 1:3 times.  They also seem to confuse and upset the 580EX flashes periodically causing them to strobe.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Navfree GPS

This application is pretty good, considering its free, and seems to be actively improved upon as we speak.

Presently you may need a data-connection to search for addresses, however the map data is offline, stored on the phone.  For different countries/regions search facilities while offline are cropping up with updates to the app.

Google Market: Navfree GPS

So far, initial impressions are that the GPS on the phone is not that stable so the map jumps around a lot, especially when stationary.  In comparison to say the Garmin Nuvi 250 or 320, the maps are similar but the routing and stability of position is not as consistent.

Visually, the maps look great and there is a nice feature where you can fix map errors.  This feeds into the openstreet foundation map data-set.