Captured with a cross-compiled tool.

Bridging the Gap: Cross Compilation for ARM

There comes a time when the tools are available to complete a task but the way forward isn’t exactly clear. More exotic tools often lack complete or generalized tutorials, and it falls to the individual to find out how to use them for their own purposes without explicit guidance from others. Of course, it doesn’t have to be this way; so here’s another tutorial for you all on how to set up an ARM cross-compilation environment on Linux.

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The arm control software, written in Python and GTK+.

Working Quickly

Sometimes, writing software can be a pain. It’s unfortunate, but true. Sometimes there’s a need to be filled, an itch to be scratched; and though it might be quite simple in concept, it’s often hard to translate that idea to code. Luckily, the team at Ubuntu has a tool for that: Quickly.

Quickly isn’t a new tool, but it is a useful one. The idea is to provide a shell command which will help take some of the obstacle out of programming for Ubuntu by automatically generating a PyGTK project’s boilerplate code for you. Just entering quickly create ubuntu-application foo creates a directory foo and adds the basic code needed for a simple GTK+ application. It even initializes a bzr repository for you and commits a first revision.

The tool aims to make some “opinionated decisions” about what is a good way to start. I think that’s a good way to go; it certainly makes getting started easier. Although the choices aren’t necessarily the best in my personal opinion (as you probably guessed, I prefer git), they are reasonable defaults and it’s even possible to change them using Quickly templates, which can be created by the user to match their favorites.

The arm control software, written in Python and GTK+.

The main downside, however, is the lack of documentation. There is a team working on writing some on Launchpad, but so far it’s rather sparse. Even knowing how to hook up the GUI to your custom code can require a fair amount of research, and it takes a little of the ease out of using the framework. That said, once you’ve familiarized yourself with the workflow and the structure of the generated code, it’s not too hard to ramp into productivity. I’ve even been using it to work on the robot arm’s control software.

Personally, I think it’s a great idea. It would be nice to have a GUI for it (I reflexively close terminals when I’m done with a few commands, and getting back to the right directory is a pain), but that could easily be written using Quickly itself! While it’s not a new language or even a new toolkit, it is a convenient synthesis of extant tools that have the capacity for powerful projects and are easy to use.

A Short Tutorial on Eclipse/EGit/GitHub

I wrote this to help out some of my collaborators on our AI project for class, but I figure it might help some other people get started using version control.

Step 1: Get Eclipse

If you don’t want to work in Eclipse, that’s fine; you can access the source files directly without it. You will, however, need to look up how to generate SSH keys for your platform and how to set up Git on your own. GitHub has a nice tutorial after you sign up; so skip to step 2 and then take it from there.

If you do want to work with Eclipse, download the latest version here: http://www.eclipse.org/downloads/ and get the Eclipse IDE for Java Developers. Once you have it downloaded, extract it to someplace you will want to keep it, and double click on the eclipse icon to start it. We need to install the EGit plugin to use Git from Eclipse, so go to the “Help” menu item and click on “Eclipse Marketplace”. Search for EGit, and install it (it should be the only item that comes up). Restart Eclipse when it prompts you to.

Eclipse is a powerful development environment because it’s open source and has a ton of plugins for development; but that also makes it slow sometimes. Let’s make it go a little quicker. Go to the “Window” menu and click on “Preferences”. In the window that opens up, expand the “General” item, and go to “Startup and Shutdown”. This will show all the plugins that get started with Eclipse. Unselect all of them and click Apply”.

Ok, now that we’re in our settings panel, go to “Network Connections” and expand it. It’s under “General”. Click on “SSH2”, and move to the key management tab. IF YOU ALREADY HAVE A PUBLIC/PRIVATE SSH KEY GENERATED, SKIP THIS STEP. IT WILL OVERWRITE ANY EXISTING KEYS, AND YOU WILL NOT BE ABLE TO USE THEM ANYMORE. Otherwise, click on “Generate RSA Key…” It will create a public/private key for you; copy the public key from the text area and hold onto it. Don’t do anything more with Eclipse at this point; we need to set up our GitHub account before we go further.

Side Note:
If you already have a public/private key pair, you can open up the public key file (should be in /home/yourusername/.ssh/id_rsa.pub on Linux) and copy it for the next step.

Step 2: Getting Your Account Set Up

Ok, first things first: We need to set up a GitHub account. To do this, go to the main page at http://www.github.com and click on “Plans, Pricing and Signup” in the middle of the page. (It’s big and blue.) At the top of the next page, it has a free hosting plan above all the paid ones; click on “Create a free account”. Type in your username, email, and password (Generally, using your real name is a help in these kinds of things, since employers/future project leaders/current collaborators can tell who you are and what you’ve worked on) and click “Create an account”.

Cool! So we have an account. Next thing to do is set up our SSH key. Go to “Account Settings” at the top of the page click on it. On the left sidebar is an option “SSH Public Keys”, click on that. We’ll want to set up another key, so click on “Add another public key”. Give it a descriptive name in case you need to modify it, and paste the public key from Step 1 into the big box. Save the key, and you’re done! If you haven’t saved your key in Eclipse, go back and do that now. Click “Save Private Key”, and put it into the default folder. If you want to put a passphrase on it, I encourage you to do so; if your private key gets stolen the thief has your identity and access to any server that uses that key.

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How to Run SolidWorks on Linux

So, you’re either lucky enough to be able to buy a SolidWorks license outright, a student with a dream, or like me and provided with one by your employer. Too bad you’re a Linux user too, right? Wrong! Once you have SolidWorks, running it in Linux might seem impossible. That’s technically true, but there is a workaround that I’d like to share with you.

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