Fixing a Seagate 7200.11 hard drive with Arduino

I received a Seagate 7200.11 hard disk in a BSY (busy) state. The hard disk drive spins, but it’s completely invisible to the BIOS. Apparently all these models are affected by a bug in the drive’s firmware: ST31000340AS, ST3500320AS, ST3750330AS and others too.

I found this very well written guide on how to fix the BSY state on Seagate 7200.11 drive. I needed some sort of serial TTL adapter to hook up to the drive’s serial port, but didn’t have one at hand. Then I remembered that I have an Arduino clone Freeduino lying around and I knew that it already has a FTDI chip that does the USB to serial conversion for the Atmega chip. Ok, so it’s not technically Arduino AVR chip used to fix the drive, just the board.

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Installing custom ROM on a LY-F1/Alldro Speed 7″ tablet

So I got myself this neat little tablet and as you would expect from a budget device, the stock ROM is a complete rubbish. Custom ICS ROM fixes the following issues:

  • Gets rid of all the Chinese apps, folders and media files
  • Allows installation of any app from the Google Play store
  • Sorts out touch screen edges, because it was acting weird with stock ROM when I was putting fingers close to any edge

The installation is a lot easier compared to the Xoom ICS upgrade that I wrote about a while back. Essentially you need 4 things:

  1. Custom ROM
  2. LiveSuitPack v1.09 (it has English language support)
  3. Windows computer (I did this on a Windows 7 x64)
  4. LY-F1 tablet that has 1GB RAM

It should take you about 15-30 minutes so take a cup of your favourite beverage (coffee, tea or bear?) and lets begin.

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Raspberry Pi kernel panic

Got a chance to try out Raspberry Pi. It is very impressive of how much power has been crammed into such a small device. While I was doing a simple “apt-get install” command to download and install packages, I started getting messages similar to these with a bunch of kernel debug info:

  • “Unable to handle kernel paging request at virtual address …”
  • “Kernel panic – not syncing: Fatal exception in interrupt”

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Going beyond just a hobby


So I finally decided to take a plunge to make an electronics hobby into something more, maybe a full-time job. As one of the first things to getting there I bought the Rigol DS1052E digital oscilloscope. Decided to buy this one because it’s hackable: with a small firmware update it should be possible to make this 50MHz scope into a 100MHz one. Apparently this is the same hardware as DS1152E, just firmware needs to be updated to transform it into a twice more expensive instrument! More about this in another post.

A bunch of electronic parts are coming from China in the next couple of weeks (hopefully). Very exciting times indeed!

Getting rid of AVG safe search in Firefox address bar

Free does not usually mean that it comes without annoyances – a lesson learned from free AVG antivirus.  Apparently it likes to hijack my browser without my consent. Here are the steps to get rid of that pesky AVG safe search for Mozilla’s Firefox address bar:

  1. Type in the address-bar about:config and press Enter
  2. Confirm warning dialog
  3. Type in keyword.url in the filter
  4. Change value of keyword.url to by right clicking on it and selecting “Modify” from the popup menu

Installing Android 4.0.3 Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS) on Motorola Xoom

The first thing I did when I got my Motorola Xoom is to upgrade from Honeycomb to ICS. It’s not very easy for a newbie and the information is a bit scattered among forums, but it was very much worth the effort. I don’t take any credit for the information here as I just updated information that I found in forums. I added a few more details that didn’t seem that obvious and simplified this guide.

Installation of ICS depends on 2 main tasks: flashing custom recovery and installation of ICS. Please note that doing this can and probably will void your warranty.

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Forwarding USB devices on Oracle VirtualBox

I had some painful experiences while trying to set up USB device forwarding to a virtual machine for Oracle VirtualBox so decided to share how I managed to make it work.

My setup is:

  • Windows 7 64bit host
  • Windows XP x86 guest
  • Oracle VM VirtualBox 4.0.4

And here are the steps needed to set up USB device forwarding:

  1. Make sure that the guest virtual machine is turned off.
  2. Download Oracle VM VirtualBox Extension Pack if you don’t have it already installed. Install it by simply double clicking on the file.
  3. Restart VirtualBox application just in case.
  4. Select the virtual machine, click Settings button, open USB page and select “Enable USB Controller” together with “Enable USB 2.0 (EHCI) Controller”.

  5. Add USB device by clicking the button highlighted below.
  6. Once the device is added, select it and click on the edit button (one button below the add button). Make sure that Remote is set to Yes.
  7. Start guest virtual machine
  8. When it has started, go to Devices -> USB Devices and select the device you want to be available for the VM

Your device should now be available to the guest virtual machine.

Upgrading Thunderbird to version 3 in Ubuntu 9.10

Here is a quick guide on how to upgrade Thunderbird 2 that comes with Ubuntu 9.10 Karmic Koala to glorious Thunderbird 3. Hopefully this will save some lost souls out there. :)

Open Terminal and copy folder ~/.mozilla-thunderbird to the new location expected by Thunderbird 3:

copy ~/.mozilla-thunderbird ~/.thunderbird

All emails, settings and extensions in ~/.mozilla-thunderbird will be your backup.

Get Ubuntuzilla package signing key to your keyring:

sudo apt-key adv --recv-keys --keyserver C1289A29

Add Ubuntuzilla repositories to the list of your sources either by using main menu System > Administration > Software Sources on the Other Software tab:

deb all main

Hit Reload button when asked to update software list.

Alternativelly the above step can be done with the following two commands in your terminal:

echo -e "\ndeb all main" | sudo tee -a /etc/apt/sources.list > /dev/null
sudo apt-get update

And finally you can install the latest version of Thunderbird by running the following command:

sudo apt-get install thunderbird-mozilla-build

Don’t forget that you can erase the folder ~/.mozilla-thunderbird if the upgrade was successful. Have fun using the best email client in the world – Thunderbird 3! You can find it in the main menu Applications > Internet > Mozilla Build of Thunderbird.

Best hardware resources in UK for electronics hobyists

It’s hard to find good resources of electronic components and sensors for your projects, especially if you are just starting hardware hacking. Well, this is at least the way I felt a few months back, so here is my list of best UK based electronics hardware stores online where you can find pretty much everything you need for you next Arduino project.

Cool Components – great resource for Arduino shields, sensors and wireless communication hardware.

Robot Bits – wheels, chassis, gearboxes and various robotic kits ready for you to assemble based on Arduino.

Oomlout – great store for Arduino stuff, value starter bundles, essential tools, outstanding customer service and prompt delivery. With every component purchased you will get a very nice bonus – printed schematic for breadboard with instructions on how to connect the component to Arduino like this one.

Rapid Online – if you are more a do-it-yourself guy, this is an ideal resource for you. Store features everything from microcontroler ICs, LEDs to discrete semiconductors, sensors, gearboxes and complete robotic kits. Very competitive prices and free shipping for orders over £40.

I’d be very happy to hear of any resources that you know in the comments. :)

Arduino interfacing SRF05 rage finder with LCD screen

This is a another sample demonstrating Arduino MEGA, LCD screen and SRF05 ultrasonic range finder. The distance measurement from SRF05 is displayed on the LCD screen in centimetres.

Different from Infra Red range finder witch uses IR light to measure distance, ultrasonic range finder sends short high pitch sound pulses and measures the time for the echo to come back to the microphone. Here is a very good comparison of the two types of range finders. The code running on the Arduino:

// include the library code:
#include <LiquidCrystal.h>

#define echoPin 6             // the SRF05's echo pin
#define initPin 7             // the SRF05's init pin
unsigned long pulseTime = 0;  // variable for reading the pulse

// initialize the library with the numbers of the interface pins
LiquidCrystal lcd(12, 11, 5, 4, 3, 2);

void setup() {
 // set up the LCD's number of rows and columns:
 lcd.begin(16, 2);

 // make the init pin an output:
 pinMode(initPin, OUTPUT);
 // make the echo pin an input:
 pinMode(echoPin, INPUT);

void loop() {
 digitalWrite(initPin, HIGH);
 digitalWrite(initPin, LOW);

 pulseTime = pulseIn(echoPin, HIGH);

 lcd.print(pulseTime / 58, DEC);


Another application for SRF05 is a basic theremin by LuckyLarry. You can see it in action here:

A Basic theremin Piano theremin

Read on here: