Custom PC, Issue 128

Custom PC Issue 128In this specially-numbered issue of Custom PC – the issue in which a signed eight-bit integer would overflow, in case it wasn’t obvious – my regular five-page Hobby Tech column covers turning a Raspberry Pi into a TOR proxy, using the Keyrah v2 on an old Amiga A1200 chassis, a review of the Intel Galileo, and a look at the daftest Pi accessory yet. If that weren’t enough, there’s also a two-page interview with the UEFI Forum’s Mark Doran to enjoy.

First, Hobby Tech. In this month’s tutorial, I show the reader how to turn a Raspberry Pi Model B – or Model A with optional USB network adapter – into a proxy that provides access to TOR, The Onion Router Project, a privacy-enhancing network that encrypts your internet traffic and shuffles it around before popping it out of a random exit node. Although it’s possible to run TOR software directly on a PC, having a hardware proxy can help get otherwise unsupported devices – like the Apple iPad – onto the TOR network.

The piece on the Keyrah v2 came about when I was looking for ways to use the chassis and keyboard I had replaced on my Amiga 1200. Although badly yellowed, the keyboard was fully working and throwing it away seemed a shame; thankfully, the Keyrah makes that necessary by interfacing with the Amiga keyboard and turning it into a USB keyboard for modern machines, while also providing two connectors for traditional joysticks. Coupled with yet another Raspberry Pi, it was possible to turn the empty A1200 chassis into a fully-functional computer – and surprisingly quickly, too.

Intel’s Galileo is the company’s first Arduino-certified device, and a showcase for its Quark processor. Based on the original Pentium architecture – complete with the F00F Bug erratum – the Quark is Intel’s attempt to take on ARM in the embedded space, and if the Galileo is any indicator it still has a way to go. Slower at general-purpose computing than a Pi and at IO than a true Arduino, the Galileo is hard to love – but the presence of a mini-PCIe socket on the back suggests it could find a home in more complex projects.

Finally for Hobby Tech, there’s a look at cooling a Raspberry Pi with the smallest active heatsink I’ve ever seen. Barely covering the tip of my finger, the heatsink was an impulse purchase from eBay and cost nearly as much as the Pi on which it is attached; it’s certainly eye-catching, however, and my core temperature readings may be of interest to anyone using a Pi in high ambient temperatures or in cases with otherwise stagnant airflow.

My last contribution to this issue is the interview with Mark Doran. While the extract published in Linux User & Developer concentrated mainly on Secure Boot and its increasing adoption after initial fear in open source projects, this extract looks more at UEFI itself and how it came to be. For historical interest, there’s also what I believe to be the first comprehensive time-line of the BIOS, beginning in 1975 with Gary Kildall coining the term to describe part of his CP/M operating system.

All this, plus the usual selection of stuff written by people who aren’t me, is available at newsagents, corner shops and supermarkets now, or digitally via Zinio and similar services.

Linux User & Developer, Issue 137

Linux User & Developer Issue 137In Imagine Publishing’s Linux User & Developer this month, you’ll find an interview with Mark Doron of the UEFI Forum nestled alongside my usual four-page spread of news.

For those unfamiliar with his work, the Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI) is the modern replacement for the aged and creaking Basic Input-Output System (BIOS) which can trace its roots all the way back to the original IBM PC. As Doran tells it:

When I first started working on this back in the late 90s, I had the interesting experience of going to IBM and talking to them about the need to change how firmware is constructed for Intel Architecture machines, based on limitations we were running into with conventional BIOS technology. A couple of the guys in the audience, no big surprise perhaps, were part of the original team from Boca Raton that was building the PC AT and the conventional BIOS with it. They said ‘you know, the mission we were handed originally was to build code that would support a product that was meant to be 250,000 machines to end-of-life; we had no idea when we sat down to do that that this code would still be kicking around 20, 25 years later.’

That impressive reign is coming to an end with the introduction of the far more flexible and easy-to-understand UEFI. Its adoption in open source projects has been slow, however: concerns over Microsoft’s role in signing binaries for the Secure Boot portion of the system, including fears that the technology could be used to lock third-party operating systems like Linux out of the market altogether, left a sour taste in the mouths of many.

That’s changing, with the Linux Foundation itself now a member of the UEFI Forum group. Much of my discussion with Doran, and in particular in this interview extract, centred around the improving adoption of UEFI and Secure Boot support in open-source projects – a shift he highlights as the result of a lot of bridge-building and better explanation of his group’s goals.

In addition to the interview, my regular four-page spread of news this month covers comments made in favour of open standards and open-source software by Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude, Nvidia’s contribution of open-source patch sets to the Nouveau project, the launch of the DARPA Open Catalogue, the impending launch of the revised Fuze Powered by Raspberry Pi design – complete with a small price reduction, and more.

Linux User & Developer Issue 137 is available at all good newsagents and a few not-so-good ones now, digitally via Zinio and similar services, or direct from Imagine Publishing via the official site.