Getting setup with the Intel Edison

Edison in handIntel Edison is an adorable little system on a chip packed with all the wireless and processing capabilities to build wearables and smart things. It features a dual-core Intel Atom processor @ 500 MHz, integrated Bluetooth 4 and wifi, USB controllers, 1GB of RAM and 4GB of eMMC flash memory, all in a tiny package. It also features a 32-bit onboard Intel Quark @ 100MHz that can be used as a micro-controller. Unlike the Raspberry Pi, it has no video output capabilities however. It runs Linux, specifically, Yocto Linux that is especially targetted for embedded systems.

If you’re interested in getting to know the Edison, I suggest purchasing a kit such as the Xadow wearable kit for the Intel Edison, which comes with a bunch of sensors and modules that you can use to build some useful applications. It comes with:

  • mini expansion board (a much smaller alternative to the Arduino expansion board),
  • barometer
  • 0.96″ OLED
  • vibration motor
  • NFC sensor with 3 programmable tags
  • a touch sensor
  • 3-axis accelerometer
  • buzzer
  • SD card module
  • breakout board
  • Li-Po battery
  • LED strip
  • FFC and power cables

All in all, a fairly comprehensive set of modules for a hobbyist connected device or wearables project. The kit does NOT include the Edison itself, which needs to be purchased separately. The folks at SparkFun has created a stackable set of “blocks” that can be used to build small form factor devices in a quite ingenious manner.

Fun fact: the Edison is powered by 3.3 to 4.5v and supports 40 GPIO pins that use 1.8v logic.

Step 1: To get started, take out the Xadow expansion board from the kit. It features a 70-pin hirose connector on the back where the Edison can be attached.

Expansion board and edison

Step 2: Place the Edison on top and press until you hear a click. You should then have a fairly firmly attached Edison to the Xadow expansion board.

Edison attached to expansion board

Step 3: Take the Xadow programmer module and a FFC (Flat Flexible Connector) cable from kit, flip open the connector locks on both the programmer module and expansion board. Place the FFC connector as shown below and close the connector lock to keep it in place. It should now look a little like what you see below. Flip the switch that’s highlighted in the red circle to the right, towards the “Device” label indicated by the arrow.

Programmer module and expansion board

Step 4: Connect two micro-USB cables to the connectors on the programmer module and the other end to the computer. This should power up the Edison.

Step 5: Head over to Intel to download and install the IoT Developer Kit for your operating system. As part of the installation process, it will flash your Edison with Yocto. I’ll be covering the flashing process and Yocto in a little bit more detail in a later post, but for now, let Intel do the magic for you.

Step 6: Your Edison should be mostly setup now. There’s one last thing you may want to do, which is configure it to connect to your home wifi. You should see the boards all lit up by now:

Edison all set

At this point, the only way to connect it to is via a serial connection made possible through the USB port by FTDI drivers installed with the IoT developer kit. In fact, on the mac, you should see a device such as /dev/cu.usbserial-* which will be used to initiate this serial connection.

To get a shell on the Edison, just run:

screen /dev/cu.usbserial-DA00ZEOX 115200 -L

Which will initiate a serial connection to the Edison at a baud rate of 115200. Press RETURN a couple times and you should see something like this:

Poky (Yocto Project Reference Distro) 1.6 edison ttyMFD2

edison login: 

Enter ‘root’ for the login and you’ll be dropped into a root shell on the Edison. By default it does not have a password. You may also notice that the first character that you type is lost in some occasions. This is due to the Edison being on low power mode at the time that causes the first character to be lost, before it spins up the device.

One thing to note is that exiting a ‘screen’ session is not as straightforward as a telnet or ssh session. You will need to type CTRL-a followed by CTRL-\ to get a prompt to exit the session.

Finally, to configure wifi on the Edison, run configure_edision –wifi command:

Configure Edison: WiFi Connection

Scanning: 1 seconds left

0 :     Rescan for networks
1 :     Manually input a hidden SSID
2 :     ZTE
3 :     ninsei

Enter 0 to rescan for networks.
Enter 1 to input a hidden network SSID.
Enter a number between 2 to 3 to choose one of the listed network SSIDs: 3
Is ninsei correct? [Y or N]: y
What is the network password?: ********
Initiating connection to ninsei...
Done. Network access should be available shortly, please check 'wpa_cli status'.
Connected. Please go to in your browser to check if this is correct.
root@edison:~# ping
PING ( 56 data bytes
64 bytes from seq=0 ttl=58 time=32.917 ms
--- ping statistics ---
1 packets transmitted, 1 packets received, 0% packet loss
round-trip min/avg/max = 32.917/32.917/32.917 ms

This allows you to ssh into your Edison over wifi using:

ssh root@

And you’re all set. Yocto comes preloaded with Node and gcc, so now you have in your hands a network enabled system on a chip for building that next great smart device.

To beacon, or not to beacon

The more I look into Bluetooth LE and beacon technology, the more I’m convinced that we’ve stumbled upon something very interesting and, even, *ahem* disruptive. I’m a bit reluctant to use the word “disruptive” as it has lost some of its meaning due to gross overuse, but I believe it describes the technology well. The wireless technology has being around for over a decade, but is now coming to the foreground specially on the micro-location front, which is showing a lot of promise. On another note, building a beacon using a Raspberry Pi seemed like an interesting project until I discovered that Bluetooth 4 USB modules are virtually non-existent in Sri Lanka. 

The PayPal beacon is a wonderful example of this at work. It’s very exciting to think about the possibilities that this could unleash. PayPal’s hands-free payments is completely re-defining the payment experience in a very novel way. It gets even more interesting when companies start carving out their own territories around this, as evidenced by Apple’s patent filings. My disgust for patents and the associated territorial pissing which in my opinion hinders innovation, is best left for another post.


2013, a retrospective

It has been an interesting year in ways that I did not anticipate. Looking back, I’d like to recount a few things so that I don’t forget the experiences that have dramatically altered my worldview, hopefully for the better. I’d like to remember these fleeting moments, as they’re too precious to be lost. Here they are, in no particular order.

  • It feels good to walk for the first time without support after an extended period on a hospital bed. The first unsure steps, like a child, are both exhilarating and scary. The slow steps, the deep breaths, and victory. The blessings of human mobility.
  • The seconds before general anesthesia. Unsure about what’s going to happen. Succumbing to the uncertainty. General sense of well being, even though NOT. Numbness traveling up the leg, starting at the fingertips. Fluttering of eyelids, coldness, and out.
  • Waking up thinking “Made It”, on more than one occasion. Colorful and vivid morphine-induced dreams.
  • Drinking water. Never did it taste so good. Thinking “why I didn’t I enjoy this more?”
  • Feeling satisfied and carefree when the last drain tube is out. Going for another walk without the chains and shackles this time, beaming and happy.
  • Taking bad news with a “crap, in a bit of a pickle”. Wishing there weren’t so many people around me. Thankful there weren’t some people around me.
  • Taking good news with a “hmm, that’s great”. Thinking “what’s next”, and where to go for lunch.
  • Waiting expectantly for the visiting hours and seeing Wathsala walk in at the strike of the clock. All is well.
  • Sleeping to the sound of a waterfall. My neighbor’s snoring and sleep-talk required me to explore this option. It worked out well.
  • Sleeping in my own bed and thinking how low-tech it is. The light streaming through an open window and a gentle breeze. It’s 11am on a Tuesday and I’m in bed and not at work.
  • Being breathless after a trip across the room.
  • Doing breathing exercises using a contraption that made me want to keep bettering myself to impress the nurses. Wathsala knew what was going on and was in silent support of it. Or so I presume.
  • The real beauty of loving and caring human beings. Honestly, there’s no bigger service than nursing someone to health.
  • Observing the activities of the Vietnamese drug lord and his two mistresses in an adjoining bed. His hefian mannerisms and attire intrigued the hell out of me. Didn’t see him after he was wheeled out for surgery. I figured he requested for a different bed. Wonder why.
  • Reading “Ape Gama” by Martin Wickramasinghe after many many years and thinking, “that is just beautiful”.
  • Visits from old friends.
  • Wearing the sarong like a boss. Proudly brandishing the national attire on the many trips abroad and vowing to stick with it for good. More “why I didn’t do this before?”.
  • Walking into the hospital like I owned the place. Being recognized. Probably as the guy who visits Mount Elizabeth wearing a sarong. Proud to be that guy.
  • Visits to the temple. More, “why didn’t I do this before?”
  • Hearing about those who were praying for my recovery from other people. Some who I had not even met, until just today.
  • Feeling grateful for my A team of Poh-Koh-Tan for pulling me out of a mess.
  • Dr. Liang banging his head on the table when he found out I was flying out the next day. He wanted more time to work with the “interesting case”. I granted him his wish.
  • Hearing old voices on the phone unexpectedly.
  • Hearing the sound of the crows outside the General Hospital in the morning. Inspiration shows up in unexpected places.
  • Being sick of soup. To this day.
  • Stories of talking dogs and cats and elaborate back-stories for doing what they did.
  • Shaking my cousins hand in the recovery room as I drifted in and out of sleep.
  • Waiting for the first rays of sunlight after a sleepless night.
  • Experiencing pain, and knowing it will pass. And it did.
  • Phone calls from my friends, following my every step of the way and helping me on.

It’s been an interesting year and I hope 2014 would be an interesting one too, and if all goes according to plan, it will. Stay tuned.

Software Freedom Day 2013 @ Virtusa

This last week, the fine folk at the Virtusa Open Source SIG organized an event to celebrate the Software Freedom Day where my good friends Mifan and Suchetha made keynotes. Also in attendance was Arunan, so it was a re-union of sorts with some old friends. It’s been a while since I have participated in anything open source / free software, and it was great to see the old flame is still alive at Virtusa, and I hope it helps in shaping their worldviews and brings as much purpose to them as it did to me more than 10 years ago.

The last SFD I attended was in 2008. I blogged about it here with some photos available in my surprisingly-still-around flickr account. It was in Chinatown in Boston and I drove up from Pennsylvania, mostly to get my mind off things. It was there that I purchased a copy of “Free Software, Free Society”, a collection of essays by Richard Stallman. Five years later, I picked up the dusty book from my shelf and re-read the GNU manifesto, to get my mind back to the core principles.



It was there, as I was flipping through the pages, that I saw RMS in a whole new light. His uncompromising tenacity in the face of control and oppression and unfaltering stance on ethics and morality of freedom. He is a true freedom fighter. His message sometimes gets lost in all the pandemonium we go through daily but the spirit of the freedom he preached is very much alive every time we believe that knowledge should be free and that everybody should have access to it. I hope this message continues to inspire folks for years to come.

Musings on Git

Having spent some quality time with Git over the holidays, my appreciation for the flexibility of this DVCS and the elegance with which it has been constructed has reached a state of awe. I remember following the BitKeeper debacle of 2005 on Kernel Traffic that spawned the project that would turn out to be git, and wondering why Linus would even think of going off on a tangent and building a VCS. I’m thankful that he did.

In a mail to the LKML, Linus mentions:

So I’m writing some scripts to try to track things a whole lot faster. Initial indications are that I should be able to do it almost as quickly as I can just apply the patch, but quite frankly, I’m at most half done, and if I hit a snag maybe that’s not true at all. Anyway, the reason I can do it quickly is that my scripts will not be an SCM, they’ll be a very specific “log Linus’ state” kind of thing. That will make the linear patch merge a lot more time-efficient, and thus possible.

What I find interesting is his statement that “my scripts will not be an SCM” sounds a lot like “won’t be big and professional like gnu” in an earlier mail to a different crowd. Pay attention when hackers sound humble and self deprecating. It’ll be easy to spot, since they’re not most of the time. I kid, of course.

Having hacked on Linux for a long time, I believe Linus really enjoyed taking a break and doing something different, and in this talk, it’s clear that he was quite proud of his creation. It’s also very clear that the entire system was thought up by a kernel hacker from the focus on making the system fast and efficient, not to mention being able to do a “fsck” on the git repository also shows which analogies were drawn in designing git.

Managing kernel contribution is a difficult process, and with over 1000 contributors to each kernel release makes it one of the most prolific open source projects in history. The benevolent dictator and the governance structure that he’s laid out for the kernel over the years seems to be able to manage this complexity and scale efficiently. Git has played a major part of this success and I expect will continue to do so in the coming years.