Monthly Archives: January 2014

Crunchbang linux on macbook

crunchbang-logo

Yet another attempt at moving away from the macwindroid world, as I am totally, in principle, pro open-source, gnu libre linux big corps get your greedy finger off my (raspberry) pie.

But, having tried a couple of times to run linux on the PCs in my studio (red hat linux in 2005, ubuntu in 2009) and finding myself booting back into windows after a couple of days/weeks, I eventually regained the hard drive space and removed the linux partitions.

Perhaps re-motivated after seeing Richard Stallman, founder of the Free Software Foundation, speak at Lincoln University in October, I started looking around once more for a linux distribution (distros, as they are called in linux world, are variations on the linux operating system). This time I decided to install it on my main computer, a 2009 macbook pro. I tried ubuntu which I found too bloated, trying too hard to be user friendly, which it is only to a certain extent. I tried kubuntu, puppy, and finally settled on crunchbang (aka #!), a debian variation with a nice-stripped down, no messing around feel, a sort of geeky elegance I liked (screenshot of crunchbang’s default desktop below).

crunchbang-default-desktop

Furthermore, I was at the same time taking my first steps with a raspberry pi running Raspbian, another Debian distribution which I found rather pleasant to use. All went rather well, I first installed rEFIt on my macbook, a small app allowing choice of operating system at startup. Then I installed crunchbang from a downloaded install DVD, a straightforward business.

Almost all is running fine, but I am still not using crunchbang much. The reason is that after spending hours tweaking the parameters on the crunchbang trackpad controller (synclient) I never managed to match the smooth, transparent control offered by the mac version. I feel distanciated and frustrated when I use the machine under crunchbang. The human-machine interface all of a sudden becomes clumsy, making the machine unfriendly. It is a pain to have to use a mouse on a computer fitted with such a good trackpad.

rEFItLogomacbookA1181

Not giving up yet, I installed Crunchbang on an older macbook, a white plastic one from 2006. This one has a rough clickpad to start with, and it responded very well to the installation. All is working, even the sleep function (which does not work on the macbook pro).

I am going to get two days of training with real pros, the guys at Access Space in Sheffield. They have been running Linux on recycled PCs for more than a decade, training and converting many users to the joys and pains of open source computing. I will take my crunchbanged laptop up to their lab and hopefully get the beam of dark light I still need to make a more committed step into gnu-linux. In return for the training I shall deliver a robotic workshop to Access Space users in the near future. Watch this (access) space…

featurelarge_BNRAccessSpace

Day out at Flowering Elbow

FELogo

I went to Flowering Elbow‘s open day on Saturday. It took about 90 minutes to drive from Cardiff, and I finally arrived on top of a hill near Carmarthen where Sam and Steve have built a workshop extension to an existing farm building. Lots of TLC and sustainable design principles have gone into the building, as well as an impressive array of metal and wood machining tools.

Theme for the day was wood, and I chose to make a casing for a prototype small amplified speaker powered by a supercapacitor array. Steve and Sam suggested different bits of timber. I settled on geometrically challenging but good looking holly cuts that they gathered from a hedge nearby sometime ago. I used a bandsaw and a scary table saw to make small holly panels. There was no time to assemble the case, it is now on my homework to-do list.

I totally recommend attending Flowering Elbow’s next open day, Steve and Sam are very welcoming and knowledgeable, and they are keen to share skills and ideas. I have invited them to come to my studio soon, and spend a day on electronics and small scale digital fabrication.

Broken spindle

My old Chinese CNC router was cutting away a piece of plywood to make a housing for a supercapacitor power unit when I heard a crunching noise and a squeak, with smoke. The spindle of the router had finally died, after several months of decline.
Today I received my new spindle, a German one (Kress 1050 FME-1). Fear not stereotype, the German tool is definitely better than the original. It took a bit of twiddling to make it fit, including the 3D printing of a bright orange excentered collet to fit the narrower mount of the new device.
routersI had to lift up the work table by 30mm, which I did with crudely sawn MDF pads, not the job I am the proudest of… The plan is to eventually cut an aluminium plate mount to drop the spindle by 30mm and fit the table back to its original position.

Anyway, by the end of the day I had cut the three parts for my supercap battery housing. tomorrow I am off to Flowering Elbow’s open day near Carmarthen, where maybe it will all come together!

Four options for our future

Riding the train back from Swansea, UK, just delivered a talk to fine-art students, with a strong contextual part about contemporary technology and progress.

swansea
Good response from the students, they seem to share some level of technological anxiety. I told them about my take on the co-evolution of humans and machines and the four families of outcomes I categorised:
* the terminator, machines take over and eradicate
* the pripyat, after massive permanent techno-natural disaster(s) the global ecosystem recovers unhindered. Remaining humans, if any, go back to hunting-gathering (for a while).
* the amped, humans integrate machines internally, becoming hybrids for the next step of human evolution, homo-cyborg
* the teddy, human, robots and other machines benefit to each other’s well-being in harmony. This option includes best practice in agriculture, sustainability, social development, bio-engineering…

In my view, the future will be more complex than any of these outcomes, likely a combination.

teddyAI

Flowering Elbow open day

The team at Flowering Elbow have an open day at their cool workshop in Carmarthen on Saturday 25th January. A great opportunity to mingle with makers, share tips, play with recycled goods,  open source electronics, wood and metal….

floweringElbowSign