Converting Text Ebooks into Audio ogg files

Text to speechI’ve recently started a job that requires a 1 hour commute each way, and so I decided to make the most of it by listening to audio books.  I’ve finished about 3 audio books so far, but I realize that I will soon run out of interesting content to listen to (I’ve been listening to LibreVox free public domain audio books).

Exploring the world of Text To Speech (TTS) software led me to first examine espeak, which had too much of a robotic tone for my liking.  I then stumbled upon Pico TTS on my cheap android tablet, which sounded too good to be true.  Looking around, I found a linux project that uses it, PicoSpeaker. Pico is a TTS solution from the company SVOX Mobile Voices, which apparently specializes in text to speech solutions for devices.  I’m not sure how the product ended up in linux as the packages sox and libttspico0, but they are their, and they work reasonably well.  The frustrating problem I found, was that PicoSpeaker didn’t accept large files.  So frustrating was this problem, that I continued to look around at different fixes.

I then checked out Festival, installed better voices, and still found the quality lacking in comparison to Pico TTS.  I played with the gain, rate, pitch to make the different voices sound better to me, but it failed to make a difference (I tried out the MBROLA and CMU Arctic voices, samples here).    Even though I could convert a complete file with these, they didn’t sound as good to my subjective ears.

To cut a long story short, much of my Saturday was spent on getting a TTS solution which would help me convert Text books to Audio books.  To fix the file size limitation problem, I split up the file into 100 line parts with:

split -l 100 -d -a 4 Ebook_ Text_To_Convert.txt

This creates a set of text files with no extension, starting at Ebook_0000.  Next I created the following script, which I named convert.sh:

#!/bin/bash

if [ $# -eq 0 ]
then
echo “Type the base name of the file to convert, followed by enter:”
read name

echo “Type name of author: “
read author

echo “Type name of book: “
read book
else
name=$1
author=$2
book=$3
fi

for f in $name*;
do
echo “Converting $f ..”
cat $f | ./picospeaker -o $f.ogg;

echo “Now adding tag information”

lltag –yes –clear -a “$author” -A “$book” -t “$f” $f.ogg
done

I run this script by making the script executable (chmod +x convert.sh) and provide it with the base name (Ebook_ in this case), the title of the Author (“Henry Thoreau” for example), and the title of the book.  Note that if any of those have spaces, you need to put the words in quotes.

The end result is a pretty decent sounding audio book, that I can actually play at 120% (with the -r 20 flag provided to picospeaker) with all of the words intelligible. Here is a 6 minute sample of the audio, uploaded on Picosong (Picosong seems to be like the imgur of audio links, pretty nice service).  This is a sample of it as I like to listen to it.

You may need an additional step to convert the audio into an mp3 format, and to do that, add the following before lltag:

ffmpeg -i $f.ogg -ab 128k $f.mp3

Note that this creates a larger file than the ogg, I’m not sure of the settings to make it better, but for now it will work.  Better to ship something working, than nothing at all.

Flashing Arduino’s and AVR’s over the Network

PI + Pogo + LSCommander

Can flash over the network for Raspberry Pi’s, Pogoplugs, and normal Linux machines.

Ever since I read this post, I wanted to see if I could reliably flash Arduino’s over my network.  I’m pleased to announce that I can, and my plan is to share the juicy details so that you too can enjoy being able to reprogram your projects from the comfort of your main machine.

RFC2217 is a standard that lets you read and write to a serial port, over your local network.  It not only sends data, but it lets the remote client send RTS and DTS signals, which allow you to reset the remote AVR.  The general standard gives us some nice flexibility, letting the remote client control the serial port as if it was right there.

Why would you want to do that?  Well, I can do my main programming on my main machine at my comfortable desk, while having my AVR microprocessor in the hot garage next to the Raspberry Pi/Pogoplug, connected to the network.  Developing on a Pi or Pogo is slow, so if I can leverage my powerful system to do the development on, and delegate the Pi to just the flashing part, then it reduces one more barrier to having network capable, field re-programmable devices everywhere.

A big advantage for me is that now I can completely contain my development environment into a virtual machine, which can be backed up, moved to a different machine, or saved/resumed.  If there are enough requests, I can see if I can upload the machine somewhere for easy download.

The RFC2217 standard would allow for some pretty interesting things.  I could have an Linux Serial Commander connected to one computer, that controls the Raspberry Pi + monitor in the other room. With SSH tunneling, I think I could flash firmware over the internet (I will test this soon), so that all you would need is a Linux system on the wifi, to be able to reprogram any networked RFC2217 AVR within that network.  Another idea is if you need to reprogram your AVR based sprinklers, instead of bringing it inside, you just bring a Raspberry Pi + USB wifi adapter + batteries + serial cable to the unit.  Push a button, and the firmware is flashed from your remote computer.  Pretty awesome.

I’ve uploaded this updated LScreamer to bitbucket this time, a link to it should be in the side bar.  Feel free to ask any questions about getting started with LScreamer.

Newest Project: Linux Serial Commander

LSCommander on left, Raspberry Pi on right

LSCommander on left, Raspberry Pi on right

Recently I was playing around with the Raspberry Pi and thought of how useful it would be to pair an 16×2 character LCD + buttons with it so that I could control it on the go.  After a few hours of brainstorming, I came up with the Linux Serial Commander, which is an Arduino + LCD + buttons, paired with a Linux system running a python server that I wrote.

Here’s a short video of it in action (recorded using guvcview in Linux):

Linux Serial Commander operation from Dustin Robotics on Vimeo.

Continue reading

Using the Raspberry Pi as My Development Machine

300px-RaspberryPiAs many of my readers know, the Raspberry Pi is a $35 dollar ARM computer with 2 USB ports, and ethernet port, HDMI, and some GPIO pins.  My current plan is to use the Raspberry Pi as my main development machine, flashing all of my ATMEGA328 chips from it.  This will allow me to not only program anywhere, but should my computer crash, my development environment will be perfectly safe (provided that I keep it backed up).  This 700 MHz computer is pretty dinky, when I first ran the GUI several months ago, all I saw was how unreliable it was and that it would be impossible to get anything done on it.

Since then I purchased a high speed SD card from a quality manufacturer, and the performance is better.  I also learned that you can divide the memory between the GPU and the general purpose memory.  For my case, I decided to skip the monitor and keyboard, and SSH into it using KiTTY (an updated PuTTY client). I’m also using Xming to serve as a X11 Server on my windows system, so that I can do X11 forwarding of the Arduino IDE if needed.  I hope to use the command line version, arduino-mk, but currently it doesn’t work as well as the Arduino IDE does.

I also discovered that many of my existing programs no longer work on the latest Arduino IDE v 1.0.1, because the avr-gcc team changed some things around.  Luckily I have a backup of my old development environment, as well as a working VM with it on it, but my current plan is to update my existing code as needed, to work with the new versions, since they are the future.

Here’s a brief rundown of what I needed to setup on the Raspberry Pi to get it to work:

  1. Install the latest Rasbian onto your SD card following these instructions. I followed the Easy Way.
  2. I then connected the Raspberry Pi, SD, Ethernet, and power (from a reliable charger, I’m using a HP Touchpad USB charger).  You’ll need to find the IP of the raspberry pi by checking your router for newly connected devices.  Use KiTTY to SSH into it (using the IP and port 22).  Username / password is pi / raspberry.
  3. Go ahead and update things (sudo apt-get update, sudo apt-get upgrade).  I install vim, tmux, arduino and python-serial as well. I also copy a folder I made a while ago that has all of my vim, screen, and tmux settings.
  4. To get my usb-serial devices working, I need to update to the latest raspberry pi kernel.  To do this, we need to install rpi-update. With that installed, update the kernel.  As of this writing, the latest kernel is “Linux raspberrypi 3.6.11+ #414 PREEMPT”,
  5. Now you should be able to use LScreamer or Arduino to flash your projects!

What’s great about this setup, is that I can SSH into the raspberry pi from anywhere (provided I have opened up the right ports in my router).  Yesterday at my brother’s house I was connected to my Raspberry Pi on my workbench, trying to get an Arduino program to compile. As I work on my latest project, I may implement some improvements to this Raspberry Pi setup, possibly automatically controlling my Oscilloscope and my power supply.

I find taking little steps to big goals gives you small accomplishments that build up, giving you that much more motivation to finish.

Useful Tools for a Safe Internet Browsing Experience

magnifying-glass-300x200As I posted a few posts ago, Information: You don’t own it unless you take it, now I will provide the tools that will allow you to take control of your browsing experience.   The motivation for this post is that I’m discovering that some of the content that I enjoy on the Internet, is disappearing.

The following steps are listed in the order of most importance/impact, and are recommended by me to improve your browsing experience.

1. Update your Hosts file

A hosts file is used by most devices that access the internet.  When your browser needs to process a URL, it first looks at your hosts file to determine if any special rules exist for that URL.  By updating your Hosts file, you can make any attempt to load a malicious URL fail on your computer. You should consider installing a host file onto all of your computers and smartphones/tablets.

  1. Download a hosts file from http://someonewhocares.org/hosts/.
  2. Follow the instructions provided in the hosts file to install it.  I would recommend deleting the line in the hosts file which blocks adf.ly, since there is a decent amount of content (typically Minecraft mods) which is provided through adf.ly links.

2. Download Firefox and SeaMonkey

Why would you need 2 browsers?  To restrict and control what the websites you view, know about you.  I’ll also recommend some addons that will help protect you from being tracked by the advertising agencies such as Google or Facebook.

firefoxWhile Firefox doesn’t provide as many options as I would like, there are generally addons which fix the shortcomings of the browser.

 

seamonkey

SeaMonkey is a browser which is based on Firefox, but without the unnecessary changes to its User Interface.  It also combines a mail reader and address book to be a unified application for all of your internet correspondence.

3. Tweak Firefox

I recommend the following addons to improve security and your enjoyment of the internet.  Many of these purposefully break websites that you are viewing to allow You to control what content you wish to view.  Once you get these plugins installed and running, you may consider donating to many of them, since they really do make your browsing experience much better.

  1. NoScript blocks scripts from running on websites, many of which are designed to track you.  In the options for this plugin, under the General tab, you should enable “Temporarily allow top-level sites by default” and the option under which is “Base 2nd level Domains (noscript.net)”.  Under the Notifications tab, disable “Display the release notes on updates”. Generally when you visit a webpage, you may have to enable scripts, one at a time, to get the content to display.
  2. Adblock Edge blocks unwanted advertisements, and is based on Adblock. While many websites depend on advertising to remain in business, often they are not selective about what ads are displayed, and as a result, can install Malware and viruses onto your computer just from visiting a website.
  3. Startpage Https search replaces the insecure and privacy violated Google search engine with a search engine based on google, which removes the privacy problems (since Startpage is doing the searching for you).  Google is an advertising agency who releases free products used to gather information and sell their Ads.  Never trust a company who sells your information, and never provide such information freely.  If anyone can recommend a non-Google and non-Bing based search engine, I would be glad to hear it.
  4. Flash Block stops flash videos from automatically playing.  I’m not entirely sure who thought it was a good idea to have videos play automatically, but in my opinion it hampers the web browsing experience.
  5. Cookie Monster allows you to selectively allow, and delete, cookies for websites you go to.  Browsers are pretty broken in their current implementation.  A website like Facebook can not only interact with the cookie they hold, but also access all of your other cookies used in that browser.  Amazon updates your account anytime you search on amazon for anything, so by allowing the Amazon cookie to persist, they keep track of Everything you’ve ever searched.  Target does the same thing with shopping patterns and is very effective with it, detecting pregnancies and mailing targeted advertisements to expectant mothers.
  6. HTTPS everywhere allows you to have a secure connection between your browser, and the website you are trying to view.  With such a HTTPS connection, you can connect to a insecure wifi hotspot (or your work intranet for example) and securely conduct business.  Keep in mind that the URL of the website you are viewing can still be harvested, just not the content on that website.  Non HTTPS sites you view are sent in plain text, as well as all information you enter.  Look for the Lock icon next to the URL in your browser to determine if it is an HTTPS connection.
  7. Redirect Remover allows you to skip the middle man when trying to view links and contents.

The following addons are recommended to allow you to capture content easier, which can range from downloading all of the content on a website, to downloading full ad-free flash videos. One plugin is also provided to improve usability of Firefox.

  1. DownThemAll allows you to download all of the content you are viewing, to a selected folder on your system.  Useful for websites that directly host file downloads (such as a image hoster). Also get DownThemAll Anti-container.
  2. FlashGot allows you to download flash videos from some of the major video hosting sites.  This allowed be to download and keep a version of the video linked above :)
  3. Youtube MP3 Podcaster allows you to download flash videos as well, having two options can be pretty useful, I generally install both.
  4. Tree Style Tab shows your tabs on the left side of firefox, rather than across the top.  Given our obsession with wide screen monitors and laptops, I’m not sure why this isn’t more popular.  It allows you to have hundreds of tabs open where you can easily read the title of each (and have sub tabs).

4. Tweak SeaMonkey

Sadly many of my favorite addons available for Firefox, are not available for seamonkey.  Here’s a list of those I have found: Startpage HTTPS searchNoscript, NoRedirect, TrueBlock Plus (like AdBlock), HTTPS Everywhere (select Firefox to download), FlashGot, DownThemAll, DownThemAll Anti-Container, and Complete YouTube Saver.

5. Abandon Webmail

Email which is left on a server such as Google’s GMail, for at least 180 days, is considered abandoned, and can be read by any agency. While not paranoid myself, I do enjoy a certain sense of privacy, and I believe that a Court Order should be required to view my private information.  It is also important to keep in mind that Email is sent in plaintext, meaning everyone between your email server, and the destination email server can and will scan the contents of your email.  Email is just like a Post Card.  I would recommend using SeaMonkey as your email client, and set it up to download all of your email.

6. Secure your passwords

keepassYou should never let Firefox remember your passwords, because if someone gains access to your computer, your passwords will be easily harvested from your browsers.  I would recommend a password manager such as KeePass. Keepass allows you to save your passwords into an encrypted file, so that even if your computer is compromised, your passwords are safe.  It also provides a random password generator that allows you to create super strong passwords which are unique from other passwords you’ve used.

The general problem is that if the username and password for one website is compromised, many times that same username/password is used on different websites.  By having a unique username/password for each site, we limit the damage that can occur from our username/password being compromised.

7. Cleanup your Startup on Windows

ccleanerIf you are using the Windows OS, many programs that you install decide that they should start when windows starts, without providing you the option to disagree. CCleaner seems to me to be a very easy way to not only clean up things, but to remove unnecessary things from startup.  While I disagree strongly with their installation setup (trying to trick you into installing toolbars), there unfortunately doesn’t seem to be a better option.

8.  Perform your chatting using Pidgin

pidginPidgin allows for you to connect to different IM networks such as AIM, MSN, GMail Chat, Facebook, etc, without dealing with the interfaces for each of those.  Many of those IM clients come bundled with Advertisements, which may damage your system. I also download the Off The Record plugin which allows for secure communication over existing IM protocols.

9. Windows 7 Usability Tools

A part of my usual windows install includes installing Find and Run Robot, WinSplit Revolution, VirtuaWin,  and WizMouse.  These utilities allow you to quickly search for things, manipulate your windows, have multiple desktops, and to scroll inactive windows, respectively. I consider Windows quite unusable without these simple applications.

Conclusion

While it will take the reader some time to go through all of the plugins and applications presented, there generally isn’t a rush, so you can take your time to learn what each of them do, and decide if you trust them.  It has taken me over 5 years to find and use each of these tools, and I hope by presenting it in a logical format, it will take you less time to start being proficient in protecting yourself online.

Outlet 60 Minute Timer

Outlet 60 Minute Timer

As I was browsing reddit today, I found this nice simple project, an Outlet Timer. I remember leaving the hot glue gun on one day, and finding it the next day, still running as hot as could be. The glue that came out of it was orange, and I know that things would have been bad if I didn’t catch it when I did. Typically I try to be as cheap as possible, but for the importance of this project, I didn’t mind investing the $27.

Here are the parts that I used for this Outlet Timer

In true DIY fashion, I’ll go through the steps that i used to make it.  I first wanted to find out which wire was Hot (the conductor that is switched when you switch on/off the power strip.  I first pealed back the insulation, being careful not to nick any of the wires.  I picked this location so that it was pretty close to the strip.

Under the insulation, we find, 3 wires (white, black, green).

In my case, the switch was connected to the black conductor (I could tell by measuring the conductance between the black wire, and that socket, when I switched on/off the power strip).  I cut the wires, with a pair of wire cutters, and stripped the recommended length of conductor for the countdown switch.  After feeding both wires through the 1 Gang electrical box, I inserted the trimmed black conductor into the countdown switch.

Inserting Black wire into countdown switch, note that both ends of the power cord have already been fed through the 1 Gang electrical box.

After that, I secured both green wires together using a WireTwist wire connector, and I did the same for the white wires.

Securing green and white conductors with wire connectors

At this point, I wanted some strain relief, so that things don’t come undone if someone accidentally pulls the power strip.  So I took 2 black zipties, and fed it through the 1 Gang electrical box so that the power cable will be secure against the box.

Stress relieving the power cable using zipties

By far the hardest part of this project was screwing the Countdown switch to the 1 Gang electrical box.  Those flat-head screws weren’t fun.  I wrapped it up by putting the faceplate on.  I did a quick sanity check, by using my multimeter and checking conductance before it has been plugged in.  Ground and Neutral were always connected, Hot was only connected to the wall if both the timer was on, and the switch for the power strip was on.  I tested it using my plug tester, and it tested out :)

Price list

As always, proceed at your own risk.  If you make this project, and it messes up, you take full responsibility.

Outlet 60 Minute Timer

Cheap Breadboard Arduino with Wireless Module

I see that there is a good amount of demand in the community for a cheap “Arduino” clone with wireless. Many people, while grateful of the Arduino community and organizers, are frustrated, because everything seems so darn’ expensive! $30 Arduino Board + $20 wireless thing + $15 proto board makes almost $100 just to get you running. If you somehow found JeeNodes, they are $23. A RBBB, which just has the processor, is $13. We can do better than that though!

If you’ve clicked on the caption, you’ll see that it is possible to make a breadboard Arduino for just $7. The problem is that we still need a wireless module. XBee’s retail for $23, which is a pretty robust solution (configurable up to 19200 baud in real world situations, can communicate just with serial, standard footprint so there are lots of cheap adapters for it). But it’s expensive. You can check out the RF Bee, which is a $20 wireless solution, which actually contains an Atmega168 (running Arduino)! It’s tiny form factor is awesome, but it is $20. A RFM12B radio retails for about $6, which is pretty decent. It even has a good library for Arduino to go with it. But we can do better.

How about a $2.50 wireless module, that has a good library to go with it? That would bring our cost to $9.50, excluding shipping. That’s my cup of coffee. The hard part is finding the individual components you need, which I will help you out. Finding the cheapest parts from 20 different places is great, but the shipping will kill you. I’ll attempt to minimize the shipping cost, by ordering from a few places, getting what we need from each.

Parts:

Extra:

That brings the total for the required parts to $5.44…  wow.  Shipping would be about $5 from each place (roughly), but it isn’t included in our consideration.  Getting some different colored wire wrapping wire will help you out a lot, as well as getting a wire wrapping tool (which can be very useful).  Adding the $2.50 wireless module would bring you to $8, pretty nice!  This number scales down as you buy more, so if you buy enough parts to build 3 or 5 of them, it will be cheaper. Consider the pricing levels of the ATmega328p chips to figure out how many you should buy (you should always get spare protoboards :P )

I’ll do a post sometime soon on my recommended set of parts to have.  A quick update on the Carduino: I still haven’t put it in, I need to get up the motivation to start modifying wires and integrating it into my car.  I know eventually I’ll get to it, but in the mean time, I’m exploring the idea of making my own Watt Meter, with SD logging.  It would be hard to compete with that, but if I’m smart, I can end up with a meter that can work in RV’s, like this one does, using an external Shunt (small value, high wattage, precision resistor).  Till then!

Edit:  If I could make a schematic for this cheap Arduino breadboard, I would take the parts required to make it work, and customize it for each application after it.  The arduino is great as a platform, but for completed projects, typically the soldering connection is constant.    Here is a quick guide on wiring up the nRF24L01+ to a Arduino.  By following the Instructables post, you can get a general idea of how to wire it up.  I got the idea for the voltage regulator + resonator from JeeLabs, so the v5 schematic would be what you use to wire up the rest of it.  I hope this helps!

Updating power supply for Carduino

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It turns out when I ran the Carduino at about 15v, it would be stuck in a reboot loop, and it was because of the regulator. I decided to just swap it with a LM317 (it is good up to 28V, why not?). Well, it got hot, extremely hot (linear regulating 16v to 3.3v at 60mA is a good deal of power that needs to be dissipated).

Since I just needed 3.3V, I decided to just drop the voltage using the 1N4001 diodes, 5 of them. And it works, so I’m happy :)

Carduino! It’s Alive!!!

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Just a re-cap: This is a little project that will be embedded into my car, that logs the temperature of the engine, transmission, radiator, and interior to an SD card. If something gets too hot, it will show the warning led (decimal point) as well as make an audible notification (cue mario dying song). It can connect to my Controller 2.0 via a BTM-182 module, and if connected, it will display all 5 of the measured temperatures, as well as the voltage, on the controller (without needing any parsing by the controller). This will be my early alert system to warn me if something is getting too hot. In the future I may add sensors to detect the level of radiator coolant, but that is a nice-to-have, rather than need-to-have. The code for this, will be released shortly (Once I have this in my car I imagine).

It’s done! I admit, I did run into some problems. When I first powered up the Carduino main board, there seemed to be a short somewhere. I removed a diode, which of course didn’t help. After poking around, I discovered that the connections for the package of voltage regulator were wrong. After a quick rewire, it produced regulated 3.3v. After fixing a few forgot-to-solder’s, and a ‘soldered but didn’t make connection’, it fully works. I do need to do some tweaking of the software, so that it turns off at 12.3v instead of 14.0v (since I’ll be using a switch to turn it on/off).

Exciting times! Now I just need to get this in the car, and I’ll be set! I’ll need to take care of potential moisture in the temperature cable as well, but I’ll figure that out as needed :)

Carduino completed, now I need to test it (as well as wire up ethernet cable for display)

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If you notice I rearranged things a little bit, and I added a temperature sensor to the display (to record car temp, why not?). Wiring everything up with wire-wrap wire is so much easier than before. Tomorrow I’ll need to do some testing (detecting shorts, seeing if the voltage regulator is working), and once everything is cleared, I’ll put a processor in it and flash it with the latest firmware :)

Presumably later this week I’ll be putting it into one of my car’s. I plan to use a 2 part epoxy to attach the temperature sensors to the engine, transmission, and radiator. Considering JB-Weld, but I’ll need to check its upper temperature.

Looking forward to getting this project out the door, so I can start on the next one (Automated Gardening – Sati).