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Old 17-01-2008, 03:24   #1
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The XO Computer for Navigation

Well I finally got my XO OLPC (One Laptop Per Child) computer. I had nearly given up that it would ever come as it had been nearly two months since I ordered it. Now I wanted to find out if it was capable of being used as an onboard computer.

In case you aren't familiar with the XO computer: Explore the XO

and Pleasseeeee let's not side track this thread with discussions about whether giving a laptop to a third world child is a good thing or not. I only want to discuss its capabilities as an onboard computer.

What really attracted me to the XO was that it draws very little current so it would be ideal for navigation on long passages when you're trying to save power. I'll have to take it down to the boat and check the LINK 20 to see exactly how much it exactly draws but I believe its less than one amp.

The other thing of course was the price, $200. Of course to get one I had to also buy another one for donation but thought it might be worth checking out. Also, it is suppose to be very rugged. They say it can be dropped off a desk with no ill affects.

To start with its very small. When closed its about 9" X 9.5 X 1.5". Look here for all of hardware features: Hardware specification - OLPC
When it was delivered I thought it was a hard covered book that I forgot about ordering. The computer has no hard drive just a 1GB flash drive but it does have 3 USB ports and an SD card slot (think it takes other cards too).

The first challenge was opening it. The only piece of documentation it had was one sheet of paper with instructions how to open it. Everything else is online documentation. You have to first put up the little WIFI rabbit ears that also act as latches. Then I installed the battery, booted it up and navigated to the Neighbourhood screen where I could see all the WIFI connections as little coloured circles. I tried to connect to my WIFI router but it kept rejecting the parameters I entered so I used one my neighbour's unprotected connection and managed to get on the internet. Later I went back and worked on my connection and found the only way to get it connected was to change the routers security form 64 bit to 128 . This meant I had to change all the rest of the computers in the house.

The next challenge was the operating system which is Linux. I guess a child would have found everything intuitive but I didn't. Anyway I finally found the terminal screen which is sort of equivalent to the DOS prompt screen. A search on Google found a hit that said Microsoft is working on getting XP to work on the XO, don't know if its true or not.

My biggest question was whether I could find a navigation program that runs on Linux. I finally found the Navgator Mariner program: NavGator Marine Charting and GPS Navigation that works both on Windows and Linux. I sent them an email and asked if they had ever run their program on an XO. They responded that they hadn't but had run it on other computers with far less computing power than the XO.

So I figued out the Linux command to download (WGET) the trial version of Mariner, then installed it using a TAR command. But when I started the program it complained about not having authority to the serial ports. After some digging around the internet and another email to Navgator I got a solution to make the user id have the right authority.

The next problem was getting charts for the program. The Navgator Mariner only supports raster charts. I had all of the NOAA charts installed on my Windows laptop so I downloaded a bunch of them to an SD card and then transferred the card to the XO. It immediatley recognized the card but it took awhile to figure out how to get the Mariner program to see them. I found a forum on Yahoo for the XO and posted my question. Within an hour someone responded with the answer.

So now the XO is running the Mariner naviagtion program. My next hurdle will be to get a GPS connected to it. To do that I will have to go down to the boat, which is laid up for the winter, and find one of my portable GPSs and a serial to USB cable and see it I can getting it working.

All of the above took place in one day. So far so good. I'll keep you posted.

Paul
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Old 17-01-2008, 07:45   #2
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Paul,

Sounds like you have probably the only software I know of that works under Linux. The next big hurdle is getting a decent USB to serial converter. Given raster charts you can get by with a less powerful computer. Vector charts require a lot more horsepower.

This is one of the good USB serial adapters that I know of and they seem to have Linux drivers too. That rules out about 90% of the rest of them.

USB to Serial USB adapter Cable converter adaptor

You can find a lot of USB serial adapters on the Internet that are a lot cheaper and don't work. So save money and get a cheaper one and throw it away. This one isn't that much money and it really does work well for a GPS. They have distributors all over the world too. If you need special cables they also have links to get those as well. I have had mine a few years now and it always works great. I run Windows not Linux but since they have Linux driver support I can't think of anything better.
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Old 17-01-2008, 09:18   #3
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As PB says, it isn't just a cable, you will need drivers because your computer won't know what to do with the cable. You may save a lot of pain by asking the XO folks which serial adpaters are KNOWN to work with their machines.

I think Acer(?) is also selling a very nice mini-laptop in the stores, 4GB onboard, Linux of some kind, about a 7.5" color screen, $450 or so. Since there is no hard drive, etc. they can make a compact low-power machine. The problem is...you've got to learn Linux and find whatever you need for it. 90% of the PC market, like it or not, pays homage to Microsoft. Supposedly a MS OS can be installed on the Acer machine, obviously a higher cost.
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Old 17-01-2008, 11:15   #4
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USB things

Thanks guys for the advice.

I haven't got my USB to serial cable yet but thought I try a few other things in the USB ports.:

1. 250Gig USB Hard Drive- works great
2. Microsoft Wireless Mouse - works great
3. Logitech Wireless Keyboard and mouse - Keyboard works but mouse only moves cursor vertically not horizontally
4. Two different DVD burners - neither worked
5. Kingston 4Gig USB DataTraveler - works
6. AnyCom Bluetooth dongle - doesn't work

This really impressed me. I didn't have to install any software or drivers for any of the ones that worked. Maybe will get lucky on the USB to serial cable.

As far as learning Linux, at my age you have to do what you can to stave off senility. So learning a new operating system should stimulate the gray matter.

Paul
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Old 17-01-2008, 13:02   #5
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"doesn't work "
All a matter of driver support, either bundled or available or not. Folks don't realize, one reason that XP is so bloated is because it ships with something like 10,000 hardware drivers built in. And of course, it still doesn't include them all.<G>
Does the XO include an antivirus and firewall? (WiFi essentials, in the US.)
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Old 17-01-2008, 14:09   #6
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Firewall:

Her is a quote from the OLPC site:

What antivirus & firewall security software is available?

Out of the box, your XO laptop is "safer than" your PC -- threats to Linux are rare.
Advanced users may be interested in Linux's free open source antivirus (ClamAV) and firewall (iptables) software, but these are NOT supported by OLPC.
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Old 17-01-2008, 14:26   #7
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I was thinking of trying the same thing with an eee pc... I will follow your progress
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Old 17-01-2008, 17:28   #8
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I seriously considered getting one of these, but since I had just layed down about 300 on a laptop back in September, I didn't really want to put anymore down so soon on something I wasn't really sure about. Still, I'm interested and I've always liked the idea and even the look of the XO. If i can ever get one for 200ish I'll definitely make the investment.
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Old 18-01-2008, 07:35   #9
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"threats to Linux are rare. " Yeah, but there are great WiFi hacking tools for Linux, too. The script kiddies don't need much to plant a trojan on you, regardless of OS. Having a rare one just challenges them a bit more. Open WiFi...too scary these days, unless everything on the machine is something you don't mind sharing.

I know the XO is supposed to ship with some unique security settings to prevent theft and such--at least in the bush. Was curious to know how it was prepared for the more urban jungle.
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Old 18-01-2008, 08:05   #10
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Firewall

Then I guess one should install the firewall suggested and the anti virus.
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Old 18-01-2008, 09:24   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by hellosailor View Post
"The script kiddies don't need much to plant a trojan on you, regardless of OS.
Unless a Linux system is grossly misconfigured, this is extremely hard to do without you cooperating, even unintentionally, with the script kiddies. Like clicking OK to execute a script with root privileges - and having to provide either your password (if your user account is setup properly in the sudoers file), or the root password. All in all, pretty hard to get infected if you're the least bit careful...

But you guys failed to point out the great qualities that make the XO a great boat laptop: it's pretty much water-proof, and is designed to put up with the inevitable abuse a 7-to-10 year old would give it. For browsing the web or reading e-mail while at an Internet cafe while cruising it would be just great. No sensitive hard drive, so if you accidentally drop it, it will probably survive.

I could kick myself for not taking advantage of the G1G1 (give one, get one) program before it expired. I'll have to wait and see how I can get one now...

Somehow I missed NavGator having a Linux version. My media PC for the boat will be Linux-based (MythTV), so having a third chartplotting option is always welcome. I'll have to try it out - and see if they can offer a pre-built RPM or DEB. And put together an online repository so yum or apt-get can download updates for it automatically. That's the great thing about Linux - you can set things up to automatically update ALL your applications. Unlike Microsoft where you have to hunt and peck around the Internet for updates to all your non-MS applications...
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Old 18-01-2008, 09:26   #12
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EeePC Power Drain Data

I was running my EeePC 4G overnight, hooked up to some power measurement stuff. For anyone who cares, here are the numbers I got:

All power data taken with EeePC operating (showing video, full-brightness screen), obviously with a sample-size of one. The only peripheral attached was a mouse, and I was running a WiFi connection to the computer. There were no external memory devices attached. The unit was run overnight prior to the test, in order to achieve some sort of stable operating condition (I hope).

The supplied "wall-wart" power supply provides 9.5V, EeePC draws 2.08A while operating. Unit switches to battery when external voltage (wall-wart output) drops below 9.1V.

Using a "Vanson SDR-30W" power adaptor (cigarette-lighter 12V in, 10V out to EeePC, purchased at Radio Shack):
house battery @ 15V, drain = 1.05A
house battery @ 12V, drain = 1.20A
house battery @ 11V, drain = 1.30A
adaptor drops out @ 10.2V and EeePC reverts to internal battery.

I also tried a Xantrex "Pocket Inverter 175", using it to power the AC wall-wart. It worked fine, but the current taken from the house battery was about 25% greater.

Compared to my laptop, this power data is all quite good. It is also better than the ITX / "car-computer" units I've looked at, but their published specs I'm sure don't tell the full story. The issues will be OS, and memory. I do not plan to use this as a chartplotter replacement, but to run other stuff 24/7 (if it all comes together).
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Old 18-01-2008, 09:36   #13
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DVDs they do work

Quote:
4. Two different DVD burners - neither worked
I retried the DVDs and I can see them both under the /media directory.
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Old 19-01-2008, 09:49   #14
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XO amps

Went down to the boat to get my GPS and serial to USB cables. I found the cables but not the GPS. Have to do some more digging around next time I am there. Right now its a bit of a mess as my other winter project is installing a windlass.

While I was there I checked out how much current the XO draws. I could not find a plug for the DC to DC converter that fit the XO so I just plugged its AC adapter into the 1500W inverter. While it was charging the XO battery it drew about 2.5Amps but after it was fully charged it was only drawing .6A when the I was on the lowest brightness setting for the screen and .8A on the highest.

Tried very hard to get the Bluetooth USB dongle working so I could connect to the Bluetooth GPS but can not seem to start bluetooth on the XO. Still working on it.
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Old 22-01-2008, 09:21   #15
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As a new owner of an XO laptop myself I find this very exciting. Alas, as a Linux novice I cannot get the TAR download to properly unpack..lots of issues around "permissions" and user id "locking". It took over an hour to merely locate the directory where the USB media stick was "hiding". Hours later I am still stuck. At the risk of being way off topic I wonder if you could post your TAR and subsequent Terminal sessions to get this great-looking program properly installed on the XO. Alternatively, could you send me this info by email if you think it not sufficiently general interest? thanks.
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