Barry’s Universal Gronkulator

Version 0.01
Another fine project of The Barry Bittwister Cabal

case1
case2

You Know You Want One

Barry’s Universal Gronkulator (BUG) is a project of the Barry Bittwister Cabal that has been ongoing for nearly ten years. The goal is to create a universal communicator, a device that can detect and usefully interact with any electronic communications medium. Further, BUG acts as a data portal, allowing you to access your own communications channels (email, fax, etc.) and data while roaming around in The Big Room.

Although the current incarnation of BUG is implemented on a Zaurus handheld computer, it is conceptually distinct from the hardware and OS it uses. The first version ran on an Apple Newton, then later on a Palm PDA. BUG doesn’t refer to any particular software, either. It refers to the system as a whole, not the pieces it is built from.

BUG is currently incomplete. Nonetheless, it is a useful and powerful tool. Like all powerful tools, it is possible to use the system in ways that are illegal or, worse, immoral. Always respect the privacy and resources of others.

Features:

  • 802.11 connectivity and wardriving features.
  • Infrared communications with other PDAs (such as Palm), and
    a variety of cellphones and similar devices.
  • Full complement of network and network security tools.
  • Web server and FTP server
  • Use supported cellphones as modems, with or without PPP.
  • Audio/Video player
  • Audio recording
  • Digital photography

Features Coming Soon:

  • Usage examples
  • Integration with VPNs
  • Acts as WiFi hotspot (with or without internet connection)
  • Universal IR remote control
  • Bluetooth
  • Mailserver
  • PPP Server
  • Fax

What’s here?

These pages describe the assembly of the BUG that we have built. This is not so much a howto as it is a record of the steps we took, along with special installation notes and configuration files, for our own reference when building our BUG. Hopefully, it will be of use to you anyway.

Conventions

These pages use a couple of assumptions and conventions. We strongly prefer to do all this installation at the command line, rather than using the GUI, so our instructions assume this unless they say otherwise. Either a ssh session or Opie Terminal works. Instructions that start with “Execute:” mean that you should enter the rest of the line exactly as it appears. Instructions that start with “Desktop:” mean that the instruction is to do something from the desktop computer, not the Zaurus.

Because we are installing software from the command line, when software comes with icons or other shiny widgets, they will not actually appear until you manually refresh the display. Early on, we’ll install a tool to make this easy.

For almost all of the instructions, we assume the Installation Card is in the slot. We use stuff off of it a lot.

Most of the instructions also assume that the Z has internet access so that applications can be installed from the OpenZaurus feeds.

NOTE: Should the default feeds be unavailable, there are mirror feeds you can use. The URLs of the mirror are the same as the ones that are preconfigured in /etc/ipkg.conf, except you should change the “www.openzurus.org” in each src line to “oz.pdai.org”

The Hardware

What We Have

  • Sharp Zaurus SL-5500 (required)
  • Desktop computer running Linux (sorta required)
  • Zaurus docking station (required)
  • Two CF memory cards (required)
  • One SD memory card (required, 64MB minimum)
  • Sharp CE-AG06 camera card
  • Linksys WCF11 802.11 card
  • Ambicom BT2000E-CF bluetooth card
  • personal stereo headphones
  • cellphone-style headset
  • Carrying case

We mention specific products, but (except for the Z) only do so because those are what we’ve used. Others may work better or worse. We don’t know.

If you’re following along at home, you may not have or want all of this hardware. As long as you have the equipment marked as “required”, you’re good to go. Just skip the sections that cover the hardware you’re missing.

The Linux desktop is “sorta required” because it’s not mandatory that it be Linux. However that’s what we’re using, so all desktop discussions will assume you are too. If you’re not, you’ll have to figure out the software and procedures that apply to your OS. If that’s Mac or Windows, then there are solutions for you, and you’ll probably find them by following some of the “more information” links on the relevant pages.

What We Want

  • Zaurus serial port connector
  • Modem to plug into the serial port (and avoid taking up the CF slot). Preferably battery-powered.
  • CF ethernet card

The Zaurus

BUG is based on a Sharp Zaurus SL-5500 handheld computer. The Zaurus provides a whole bunch of benefits for this task, not the least of which is that it runs a standard-variety Linux. This means that it can run most Linux apps (recompiled). It also has plenty of built-in hardware, is reasonably rugged, and is adequately fast. Even better, Sharp has introduced a newer model or two since the 5500, so you can find used ones fairly cheap.

There are two downsides: battery life and heat sensitivity. The batteries are the worst part. In normal use as a PDA, the batteries will last days. However, if you’re watching a movie on the Z, you can expect to deplete the batteries in about a half hour. When doing active networking over the 802.11 card, you’re good for a couple of hours. Heat sensitivity also causes occasional problems. Primarily, it prevents the Z from being used, on hot days, while it’s zipped inside the carrying case.

The Case

As you can see in the photos, BUG (with all the accessories) fits comfortably inside a cheap day planner case picked up at the local store. Plenty of room is left over inside the case for it to double as a wallet, carrying cash, credit cards, notepad, etc. The Zaurus is attached to the case with velcro, allowing easy removal.

The case fulfills a social as well as protective and organizational function. Such cases are so common that they are invisible and can be carried anywhere without drawing undue attention. You can operate the Zaurus while it’s zipped into the case (except on very hot days), for warwalking or to run visually anonymous WiFi hotspots.

BUG can also carried naked in a pocket or attached (with a velcro attachment) to the dashboard of a car.

See Also:

My Zaurus
Serial port pinouts
OZ Feed Mirror #1
OZ Feed Mirror #2