Linux Setup For Software Installations

The Mac OS is great for creative production, but for computers embedded in new media software installations, Linux gives a lot more flexibility and control, ranging from the ability to schedule automated tasks to the full-on tweaking of most every part of the operating system.

The price you pay for that control, of course, is in complexity. Setting up Linux machines can mean hours of spent in forums and lots of trial and error. This tutorial is meant to save some of those headaches. It explains how to set up a Linux computer for running software installations, and some settings that will make maintaining them easier, too.

Below are some things I’ve found helpful when setting up Linux computers for this purpose. Casey Reas has some great tips for OS X users, and Rafael Lazano-Hemmer’s best practices for new media artworks is also very useful.

We’ll cover two common Linux distributions, though this may work on other versions as well:

  • Raspberry Pi computers running Raspbian – great for low-power needs, when a cheap, small computer will work
  • A “regular” computer running Ubuntu – I often use old Mac Minis for this, for when you need more computing power or a more fully-featured OS

This tutorial assumes you know the basics of the command line (but really, if you don’t know how to do that, using Linux for your project might not be the best choice anyway) and that you can figure out how to install Linux on your machine.

Above: a dissected Mac Mini running Ubuntu. Less overheating = less fan noise, and looks super cool too.

Continue reading “Linux Setup For Software Installations”

Tutorial: Node on Raspberry Pi (for Bots)


Almost all my bots have been written in Python, but I’ve been meaning to try Node.js for more interactive bots for some time. Daniel Shiffman’s excellent new tutorials were enough to get my jump-started, and I created @BotSuggestion, a bot whose only activity is following accounts suggested by Twitter, slowly conforming to their algorithm.

I run all my bots on a Raspberry Pi under my desk (see my tutorial on how to get that set up), but getting an ongoing Node server running took a little more work.

Continue reading “Tutorial: Node on Raspberry Pi (for Bots)”

Installing FFMPEG for Raspberry Pi


FFMPEG is one of those tools I use when I just want to quickly hack together a video and don’t need fancy things like editing, titles, or a user-interface. Compiling on a regular computer isn’t easy, but compiling for the Raspberry Pi takes a little more patience and care. I also wanted to include support for H264 video, which needs to be installed before compiling FFMPEG.

There are lots of examples on the web, but what worked for me was a combination of a few of them, so here’s what I did. Note many of these commands may require  sudo appended before (commands like git , ./configure, and make )

    Run the following commands, one at a time.
    Anything else you would like to install should be done now, before compiling FFMPEG. This includes MP3, AAC, etc.
    Add lines similar to the  --enable-libx264  for anything else installed above. This may take a REALLY long time, so be patient.

    As Malcshour notes, if you have a Model B+ you can use make -j4  instead of just make  to take advantage of all four cores!

    To test your new install, simply run the command ffmpeg . If you don’t get any errors, you’re all good. What did I do with my new tool? I built a bot that generates random guitar chords.


Setting Up Raspberry Pi To Run Bots


Where’s the server? It’s under the table next to the couch!

The Raspberry Pi can be used for lots of cool projects, but because it’s cheap, small, and consumes far less power than a regular laptop or desktop, it’s perfect for applications where a computer needs to be running constantly, such as a server for running Twitter bots!

I have seven bots running at the moment, tweeting things like art assignments, “would you rather?” questions, and links from a 1995 “internet directory” book. Most of them post once an hour at varying times during the hour, meaning I need to run them from a computer that is always on, 24/7. I had previously used a Mac Mini, but it felt wasteful to have such a powerful computer that consumed so much energy, just to post 140 characters to Twitter.

By way of comparison, here is the energy use of a 2012 Mac Mini and a Raspberry Pi Model B:


The Mac Mini also creates a lot of heat, even when not really doing anything. It’s average heat dissipation is 126 BTUs per hour, or the equivalent of 1/3 of a human!

Update: turning off video output (via RCA/HDMI) can save power consumption even more, especially for battery operation. Turn it off using the following command: /opt/vc/bin/tvservice -off, though it may not work on your device.

That’s enough convincing: let’s run some bots!

Continue reading “Setting Up Raspberry Pi To Run Bots”

Computers I’ve Owned

While working on a piece, I made a list of every computer I’ve owned or used regularly. I thought that we be 5-6, but the list kept growing and is not at 18.

1988-96Apple IIGSUsed in elementary and middle school, mostly to play Number Munchers and Oregon Trail
1994-96486 of some kindUsed at home for DOS games (didn't really know how to do anything else)
1996-98Compaq Presario 5140Used at home, used for games, going on AOL, graphics programs - all with that distinctive power/sleep button
1998-2000Some kind of eMachines desktopUsed at home for games, going on the real internet, using a cracked version of Corel Draw that Steve gave me, building webistes using hand-written HTML and launching on Tripod
2000-2004Apple Power Macintosh G3 (Blue & White)Used at college (I'm pretty sure this is the kind we had), used mostly for Photoshop, Illustrator, and writing papers
2002-2004Toshiba Tecra 8000 laptopUsed while in college (passed down from my dad's office), recorded some crappy little songs using the built-in sound recording app and a plastic mic
2004-2006Gateway laptop (still unidentified)Also used in late college and in early grad school, used for recording music on a cracked version of Cakewalk, making art using cracked versions of all kinds of software
2006-2009Mac PowerBook 12" laptopUsed during grad school and after for EVERYTHING, mostly on cracked software, too :)
2009-11iPhone 3GSMy first smartphone, bought after I lost the charger to my crappy cellphone, played lots of Scrabble on this
2009-13MacBook Pro 15" (2x)Used at first teaching job with NO cracked software! (2 different computers of the same model)
2011-13iPhone 4Replaced my previous smartphone, donated the old one to Angeles, played lots of Angry Birds on this
2012-presentRaspberry Pi Model BBought very early on, now runs all my bots
2013-preseNexus 10 tabletBought using a grant, mostly to run Processing sketches
2013-presentMacBook Pro 15" w Retina DisplayCurrent workhorse
2014-presentMac MiniAlso bought using a grant, mostly for installations (and formerly for and running bots)
2014-presentiPhone 5sCurrent smartphone, mostly use for email and directions/maps

* A note: by computer I mean anything that can do significant processing, like a smartphone, not anything that does computation or runs programs. I’m also excluding computers that I’ve used but don’t work here, like supercomputers :)