Category Archives: Tools

Webtool for managing Motion on Raspberry Pi

Raspberry PI Morion Webtool

A few months ago I setup a small surveillance system at home with motion detection using a Rapsberry Pi, Motion detection software and a webcam, following roughly these instructions for a low cost Raspberry Pi surveillance camera.

For a while I managed the surveillance system via SSH on my smartphone. It worked great but I was getting tired of SSH, so I finally got my act together and developed a small web-tool to do the work for me. It’s a very simple tool and all it does is check the status of the system and allow me to switch it on or off via the browser on my phone.

Here is how you can install my web tool.

(For installing Motion and setting up your Raspberry Pi, please follow the instructions on the link posted above)

  • Install Apache ( sudo apt-get install apache2 )
  • Install PHP5 (sudo apt-get install php5)
  • Install PHP5-gd (sudo apt-get install php5-gd) – this will enable PNG support, used by the function that displays the On/Off buttons depending on the status of Motion.

Download and install the web-tool

  1. At the Raspberry PI console type these commands, pressing “Enter” after each of them.
  2. cd /var/www
  3. sudo mkdir motion
  4. cd motion
  5. sudo wget
  6. sudo tar zxvf motion-webtool.tar.gz
  7. Allow web server user www-data to run sudo commands for motion and pkill (pkill is used to kill processes by their names) – this is probably a little unsecure and lazy, but your RasPi should be only accessible within you network so it’s not a big deal – suggestions are welcome though.

Permissions – How to.

  • sudo visudo (to edit sudoers)
  • and add the following lines:

www-data ALL=(root) NOPASSWD:/usr/bin/motion
www-data ALL=(root) NOPASSWD:/usr/bin/pkill

  • To save press shift+o, Enter to confirm overwrite, shift+x to exit
  • Start Apache: sudo service apache2 start

Then access the tool via your browser: http://<ip>/motion (where <ip> is the ip address of your Raspberry Pi, which should have been setup as a static IP).

Linux distribution for Astronomy

Distro Astro

As a Physics undergraduate student (in my almost middle age) with great interest in Astronomy, Linux and Open source software, I cannot give enough thanks to team behind the Distro Astro – Linux for astronomers.


The distro

The Distro Astro is a Debian based distribution, you can test run it in full from the live DVD version without the need to install it first. Their latest version (2.0) is called Pallas and contains various software packages used by professional and amateur astronomers. It comes loaded with camera drivers, imaging software, tools for astrophotgraphy, planetariums, sky maps and charts, data analysis tools and much more.

A unique feature of Distro Astro is support for Nightvision Mode. This allows you to toggle between normal and red nightvision colors to preserve dark adaptation (of your eyes) while using the computer at night, especially during observations.

Help develop

In the spirit of true open source, the developers have asked for contribution from other developers and non-developers in packaging existing software, creating new tools and features, mirror hosting, bug testing, promoting the distro,  hardware support and financial sponsoring.

So if you have an interest in Astronomy, why no give Distro Astro a try.  You can also follow Distro Astro’s development on Twitter, Google+ and Facebook


External USB SATA Dock

External USB SATA Drive Dock 


Another very useful gadget from This one is on my shopping list.

I know Storage is cheap – less than a dollar per gigabyte. Music and video are being archived at home by everyone from you to your grandmother. Consequently, hard-drives are being upgraded constantly, and quite a few of them end up getting discarded. Just because they’re small, though, doesn’t make them useless.

Slip your spare hard drives into this USB dock and it mounts as an available volume on your Windows, Mac OS, or Linux computer via either a USB or an eSATA connector. Hot-swap with a new drive by pressing the center button on the base and jamming in a new drive. Making the dock even more awesome – it can connect equally well with big 3.5″ desktop SATA hard drives and 2.5″ laptop hard-drives.

Choose between our dual-dock that can hold two drives, or the single-dock unit that holds a single drive.

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Universal Network Cable

This little gadget from ThinkGeek has made life a lot easier for me. I keep it in my IT/Network tool box and take it with me almost everywhere. Since being given this Universal Network Cable as a gift from my wife I have never had to make another cross-over cable.

Universal Network Cable
Universal Network Cable

Just rotate the center to the cable you need If you’re a member of the IT crowd, it’s sometimes hard to explain to your management why you need things. Especially if they’re the type of people who think the internet is a black box with a red LED on top or people who believe that if you type “Google” into Google you’ll break the internet.

Try explaining to them that every time you need a patch cable that you have to dig through the giant box of everything cable-shaped for an eternity before finding the right one. To them, all cables are the same. So here’s what you’re going to say… ready? “Hey, last time I had to find a patch cable, it cost you $50 worth of my time. Buy me one of these and I’ll never have to waste that time again.” They don’t need to know that the Universal Network Cable adapter allows you to change wiring standard with just a click.

They won’t care about going from straight through to crossover. Their eyes will glaze over when you mention Cisco or T1 or DDS. Just tell them that the Universal Network Cable is THE essential tool for the IT crowd, and that you’ll save them tons of wasted man/grrl hours a year. (Don’t tell them that you’ll spend those newly-found hours playing World of Warcraft. Bad idea.)

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