BeagleBoard – your personal computer smaller than your wallet

BeagleBoard XM

It is amazing how big progress was made in embedded systems recently. I remember when I had microcontrollers class at Wroclaw University of Technology (about 3 years ago) and we were programming in Assembly. When I heard (3 years ago) that the main language for programming microcontrollers is C++ I was so excited. It would be so much easier than in Assembly. Now (3 years later), I started working on my Master Thesis at Kansas State University. The ultimate goal is to create prototype of medical device using embedded computer BeagleBoard XM.

This board has 1GHz ARM processor (Cortex-A8), 512MB RAM, 4 USB ports and even HDMI output. Moreover, it has MicroSD slot which allows you to run Linux or Android Operating system!


There is also Ethernet port, which allows to update the Operating System without any external PC. The key part of the device is set of PWM pins, which will allow me to control the medical device engine.

I will use Ada programming language with cross-compiler from AdaCore. However you can install Java VM and run Java programs if you want! It blows my mind! Programming microcontrollers in Java (the very high-level programming language) instead of doing it in Assembly.

The cost of this Board is $149, which is another advantage of this device.

More info about the board can be found here.
It usually comes along with MicroSD card and Angstrom Linux on it. Additionally, you can find Angstrom images here. To update existing installation (of Angstrom) just do

opkg update
opkg upgrade

More info about OPKG Package Manager (Angstrom’s Package Manager) can be found here.

.NET Developer on Mac

I am PC person. I have never used Mac until I start my work as Research Assistant in SAnToS lab (Kansas State University). Now I am using it almost half year and I would like to summarize my experience.

I am using MacBook Pro (i5 2.4GHz, 8GB RAM and 128GB SSD) with Mac OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion.

MacBook Pro

First of all, I noticed missing features (which are available on PC/Windows):

  • Click on app icon in dock (dock is equivalent to taskbar in Windows) does not hide application. It can only move the app to the top. The only way to hide the app is to click minimize button.
  • Lack of good alternative for Total Commander, which is not available on Mac. There is muCommander (no tabs) and double commander (less functional), but both are way behind TC.
  • No Shift-Delete to permanently remove files. You need to move them to trash first, and then empty the trash.
  • No ‘cut’ in context menu (after right click). To have this luxury you need to install e.g. Total Finder (beyond the ‘cut’ option it also provides the possibility to have tabs and some other useful features).

Now, a few differences between Mac OS and Windows:

  • The default file manager is called Finder instead of Explorer.
  • In general, when you would use CTRL+KEY in Windows, then in MacOS you need to use CMD+KEY.
  • To change file name you need to click RETURN(ENTER) instead of F2(in Windows).
  • To open the file you need to click CMD+O, instead of ENTER (in Windows).
  • DELETE key is working like PC’s RETURN (delete character on the left side of the cursor).
  • Instead of HOME key you have CMD+LEFT_ARROW, and instead of END key – CMD+RIGHT_ARROW.

I use OneNote a lot. One of my favorite features is WIN+S, which allows me to make a screenshot of selected area in desktop. On Mac OS this feature is provided along with the operating system. CMD+SHIFT+4 saves the photo into Desktop, and CMD+OPTION+SHIFT+4 saves it into clipboard. Very useful feature. However I think Apple should consider to create some two-key shortcut like CMD+4 or CMD+F4, because clicking 4 keys in the same time is quite a challenging.

Another nice feature is possibility to use country specific letters like ę, ń, ś, ć, ä, ö even when you have english version of the system. You just need to hold the key and then there is small tooltip showing possible special letters. You can choose the letter with mouse or using keyboard (by picking the number).

MacBook special letters

The last thing I would like to mention is my favorite: the trackpad (touchpad). It is just awesome! Maybe it is not strict part of operating system, but the gestures are implemented in it. You can see the demo of the gestures here. The MacBook Pro trackpad is also well made. Much better than touchpad in all notebooks I have used before.

When you are working on Mac, you use Terminal a lot (when you are developer). In that case it will be nice to have ‘Open Terminal here’ option in finder, which open the Terminal in directory you have clicked on. That is just my wish to Apple 🙂

I think it took me about a month to become comfortable with using Mac.

EDIT: There is one more nice feature I just find out: you can past text without formatting by clicking CMD+ALT+SHIFT+V. And again…4 keys in the same time. But in this case I can’t push them all with one hand 🙂 Maybe CMD+SHIFT+V would be more user friendly?

Developer mouse

When you are looking for a good mouse, you always find lists of ‘top mouses for gamers’. However good mouse is also very important for developers. People who spend most of their time on computer. Usually we use various of applications and moving between them is like playing Call of Duty. When you want to click maximize button in VirtualBox or VMWare and you hit close instead, you are dead (VM start closing). You need to start your mission over (run the VM again). Some developers have problems with their hands (pain) caused by mouse use. It is good to invest some money in mouse instead of buying the cheapest or random one. However I have never spend on mouse more than $30. I tried various types of cheapest ones and medium-price.

A4Tech SnakeX-750BFRazer SamlosaLogitech M100

Five years ago I made one of my best purchase: A4-Tech XL-750BF. I paid about $20. It was very good mouse in the notion of precision and comfort. I like to have high DPI. This mouse has 6 modes: 600-800-1200-1600-2000-2500 DPI (adjustable by a little key on top). I use to work on 2500 DPI. Unfortunately, after 3 years the left key broke down. Not completely though, but when I was dragging items, sometimes they were dropped when key was still pushed (instead of MOUSE_DOWN I had MOUSE_DOWN-MOUSE_UP-MOUSE_DOWN sequence).

Then I decided to invest in better brand and I bought Razer Salmosa. I found good deal on eBay for ~$25. It was quite good, but too small for my hand, and not that comfortable as A4-Tech was. This mouse was good for less than 2 years. Then (again!) left button broke down. Maybe I am not using it appropriate?

A4Tech OscarX-748K

After that I thought my next mouse’s left button will probably be broken too after some time and I decided to buy the cheapest Logitech: M100 ($7 on eBay). It is good mouse, but only if you do not have any other. A few weeks after purchase I found new A4-Tech: X-748K. It had good reviews and I decided to buy it. And again A4-Tech becomes very good choice. I paid $20 and I love this mouse! It has also 6 DPI modes (like X-750BF): 600-800-1200-1600-2400-3200. It fits perfectly to my hand and is nice in touch. The slightly rough surface is very cool. I am using it almost three weeks and it’s working fine. It is the best mouse I have ever use. We’ll see how long it lasts 🙂