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Snug as a Bug in a Beagle Board

Shawn Powers

Issue #188, December 2009

Here at Linux Journal, we take Linux very seriously. In fact, even my kids are embedded. No really, I tucked them in about 20 minutes ago. They're almost asleep. (See, every month you think Shawn can't possibly have another cheesy issue-focus-related joke.) Seriously though, when it comes to Linux, the biggest area of growth is in the tiniest of spaces—the embedded market. It sort of reminds me of a B spy movie:

Linux quietly takes over more and more devices; then one day Bill Gates wakes up in a hospital room.

Mr Gates: What happened, did the surgery go wrong? Did my pacemaker quit working?

Nurse: No Mr Gates, it's working just fine. Your pacemaker is running Linux...

Mr Gates: Nooooooooo!!!!!!

Okay, perhaps I should stick to editorials and not try my hand at writing movie scripts. With or without my movie, however, Linux really does dominate the embedded market. This month, we've got a wide variety of articles to help you learn more about developing for such markets or to introduce you to embedded Linux for the first time.

What better way to attract everyone's interest than with a remote-controlled rover? Kevin Sikorski tells us all about the Player Project. It's a software framework for interfacing with PC-based robots. For most of us, sending up missions like the Mars Rovers might be a bit much. However, after reading Kevin's article, a “Backyard Rover” might be possible—or at the very least, a robot that could find and fetch missing left socks from the laundry room. If you're not quite up to such a daunting task and would like to learn a little more about how embedded Linux systems actually work, you might want to read Johan Thelin's article first. It introduces the concepts and functions of embedded systems—possibly a primer course for your robot-building adventure.

If robots were the only type of embedded projects that ran Linux, it would be rough to devote an entire issue to it. The beauty of embedded Linux is that it can be so diverse. For instance, David Rowe shows us the Mesh Potato. It may seem like a simple wireless access point, but thanks to the operating system underneath, it's a lot more. This month, even Kyle Rankin is trying to embed Linux—onto his face, in fact. Check out his review of the Vuzix video goggles and see if they make him more awesome or more likely to be kidnapped by Romulans.

Don't worry if embedded Linux doesn't really tickle your fancy. Dirk Elmendorf shows us the Beagle Board this month. It's a full-blown computer system that you probably could fit in your wallet. Granted, it would make interacting with it difficult, and it likely wouldn't survive too many sit-downs, but because the Beagle Board is so tiny, hiding it in places a little more useful should be simple.

We have lots of non-embedded material for you this month too. Whether you want to run multiple operating systems from the convenience of a thin client (Jorge Salgado shows you how) or check your e-mail every minute of every day (Kyle Rankin explains a method you've probably never seen before), this month should satisfy. Plus, we've got book reviews from Reuven M. Lerner, shell scripting longitude and latitude from Dave Taylor and lots of new products from James Gray.

So make some chamomile tea, turn down the thermostat (possibly with the help of Jeffery Ramsey's article on controlling room humidity with an embedded system), and grab this month's issue of Linux Journal. Carefully crawl into bed and embed yourself under the covers. Enjoy an exciting month of projects and read well into the morning. If you have a hard time booting up in the morning, Christopher Hallinan's article on reducing boot time in embedded systems might help. Or, call in sick with your cell phone. It might just be running embedded Linux too.

Shawn Powers is the Associate Editor for Linux Journal. He's also the Gadget Guy for LinuxJournal.com, and he has an interesting collection of vintage Garfield coffee mugs. Don't let his silly hairdo fool you, he's a pretty ordinary guy and can be reached via e-mail at info@linuxjournal.com. Or, swing by the #linuxjournal IRC channel on Freenode.net.

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