The Novena Open Hardware Laptop: A Hacker’s Dream Machine

Would you buy a high-end laptop built completely around open hardware and the Linux distro of your choice?
Novena offers that opportunity, but it comes with an out-of-the-box experience that might be beyond the reach of the typical computer consumer.

That said, the Novena laptop’s experimental technology has the potential to offer new options to a sluggish computer industry. Novena is an open-hardware computing platform that is flexible and powerful. It is designed for use as a desktop, laptop or standalone board.

Two engineers cofounded Sutajio Ko-usagi, an operations-oriented company focused on the manufacturing and sales of hardware to OEMs and hobbyists.

Since Sutajio Ko-usagi is difficult to pronounce in English, the Novena developers shortened it to
“Kosagi,” noted cofounder Andrew “Bunnie” Huang. Huang also runs the IP-oriented
Bunniestudios.

Kosagi cofounder Andrew

Huang teamed up with cofounder Sean “Xobs” Cross to change the market with a transparent notebook made of open source components. The concept started as an experiment in a make-it-yourself computer line. The niche offering is gathering momentum, however.

Kosagi cofounder Sean Cross

“One big advantage to building a fully open source laptop is the knowledge that manufacturers did not alter the design of the hardware to introduce security risks,” Huang told LinuxInsider.


Crowd Financing

Huang and Cross obtained financing for their startup’s operations
through crowdfunding on Crowd Supply. The Novena campaign ended May 18, after raising US$717,285 — far surpassing its $250,000 goal.

The engineers have tested the prototype, and pre-orders are coming in. They expect to start shipping by November or December of this year, according to Huang.

The Novena computers laptops are being manufactured by a contractor with whom they have worked previously. The distribution is being handled by Crowd Supply.

That is one of the advantages over funding through Kickstarter, said Huang.

The Hardware

Novena is a 1.2-GHz Freescale quad-core ARM architecture computer closely coupled with a Xilinx FPGA. It is designed for users who care about the free software and open source movement. It also targets users who want to modify and extend their hardware.

All the documentation for the printed circuit boards is open source and thus free to download. The entire OS can be built from source. Plus, it comes with a variety of features that facilitate rapid prototyping.

The i.MX processor family encompasses a quad-core platform running up to 1.2 GHz with 1 MB of L2 cache and 64-bit DDR3 or 2-ch. 32-bit LPDDR2 support. Integrated FlexCAN, MLB busses, PCI Express and SATA-2 provide excellent connectivity. The integration of LVDS, MIPI display port, MIPI camera port and HDMI v1.4 makes it an ideal platform for leading-edge consumers, automotive and industrial multimedia applications.

The Spartan-6 LXT FPGAs deliver up to eight 3.2-Gbps GTP transceivers and an integrated PCI Express Endpoint block. Both of these components are derived from Virtex FPGA family technology. They provide low-risk and low-cost solutions for serial connectivity.

Of course, this technology is probably much more high end than the typical Linux user needs. However, beyond hobbyist bragging rights, the Novena computer configuration could offer a computing solution not found anywhere else in the market — and it is open source technology.

Idea Kernel Grew Fast

When Huan first ventured into working with hardware, his efforts were fueled by the availability of schematics for his Apple II computers. He revisited that thrill by building a laptop of his own design from the ground up.

Last year, the two engineers gave a presentation at a conference where the idea for their own hardware surfaced. Interest in the project grew from there.

They built all the circuit boards. They built the chassis and everything that goes with it up to the operating system level. All of it is open hardware.

If You Build It, Will They Come?

Open source hardware has another benefit. That is, if you can hack it yourself, you own it. The laptop design includes everything a hands-on computer hacker would want to enhance and use his equipment, according to Huang and Cross.

Their reference to “hacker” refers to computer hobbyists who make innovative customizations to computer equipment.

The two decided to build an open hardware computing platform originally as a hobby. Both computer engineers, Huang and Cross spent their workdays designing equipment for other companies. They wanted to build a system for themselves for a change.

Hobbyist Hoedown

The Novena computer family has four models. All of them are built around a unique design. Still, they are not what an ordinary everyday consumer might want.

The screen uses a self-opening construction that lets users open the case easily to access the hardware under the keyboard.

Novena computer

The options are pricey, Huang acknowledged.

“The prices are a bit higher than you would normally expect to pay. Our customers are willing

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‘Extreme’ Computing and Other Linux-World Problems

Well another Independence Day has come and gone here in the land of stars and stripes, causing at least some in the tech blogosphere to turn their thoughts toward freedom.

“Digital independence day: Your guide to DIY, open-source, anonymous free computing” was the
offering over at PCWorld, for example. “It’s Time for IT Pros to Declare Their Technology Freedom” was the
thought du jour at CIO.

Unfortunately, for those of us here in the Linux blogosphere — where freedom has always been part of the plan — other headlines have had, shall we say, a moderating effect on all that enthusiasm.


‘NSA Classifies You as Extremist’

Linux Girl

“Use Tor? Read the Tails website? You’re on the NSA’s ‘EXTREMIST’ list”
read one, for example — mentioning respected publication Linux Journal, no less.

“NSA is now targeting people for bulking up their web security”
read another.

“Value Online Privacy? NSA Classifies You as an ‘Extremist,’ Collects More Than Metadata” read
another.

Perhaps using Linux — or reading LinuxInsider, for that matter — should be considered an extreme sport from now on, Linux Girl humbly suggests.


’7 Improvements the Linux Desktop Needs’

Well, at least we’re still free to put Linux on our desktops — though even that subject has been a contentious one lately.

“7 Improvements the Linux Desktop Needs” is the title of the
article over at Datamation. Down at the blogosphere’s Punchy Penguin Saloon, it stirred up quite a froth.

“The seven improvements are interesting, but at this point in the development of Linux, hardly required,”
Linux Rants blogger Mike Stone told Linux Girl over a fresh Freedom Foo Frappe, for example. “I would consider them ‘nice-to-haves.’”

‘The Push We’ve Been Waiting for’

Right now, “Linux only really needs that one big thing to push it into popular usage,” Stone added. “Windows maintains its dominance because of laziness, really — Windows is what comes on the computer, and for most people, it’s not bad enough to change for something else.”

Corporations, meanwhile, “are years behind where the actual industry is,” he said. “My own only migrated to Windows 7 last year.”

In short, “the Linux desktop doesn’t really need the stuff that most people seem to think it needs,” Stone concluded. “What it needs is a push, and Windows 8 along with SteamOS could very well be the push we’ve been waiting for.”

‘Gather and Find Some Standards’

Most of the requirements listed in the Datamation article are already met, Google+ blogger Gonzalo Velasco C. opined. “We have friendly distros — not only for system administrators or geeks — easy application centers and update managers.”

What would help Linux spread is for the developers of distros and desktop environments to “gather and find some standards,” he suggested — “always keeping the flexibility to change everything, as usual in GNU/Linux and not in other OSes.”

At the same time, “we need more critical mass and OEM support,” he added.

“How about: Take a break from adding new features and make sure all apps use the existing features as well as modern APIs?” consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack suggested.

‘I Keep Several Machines Around’

“For me, anything I want to do in a desktop can be done in one or another Linux desktop,” Google+ blogger Kevin O’Brien agreed.

“Where I can perhaps quibble is when one desktop does most of what I need, but is missing something I really like from another,” he added. “For example, in general I love KDE, but for many things involving audio, I have to switch to a different desktop.

“I like Unity as an alternative, but I really miss the panels and widgets I am used to on KDE,” O’Brien said. “So I keep several machines around, with different desktops, and use the one best suited to my needs at any given time.”

‘Some Seem Like Decent Ideas’

Compiz “already provides ‘viewport’ previews, which permits antialiased previews of virtual desktops,” noted
Hyperlogos blogger Martin Espinoza, reacting to one of the items on Datamation’s list.

“I used to use avant-window-navigator and compiz for a sort of like-OSX-but-better interface, with emerald for the eye candy,” he said, noting that Emerald is now out of date.

“I find the existing menu system to work fine, but people having trouble navigating can use a tool like gnome-do,” Espinoza suggested. ‘This is the same method of navigation every other major desktop operating system has adopted to make it simpler to find what you are looking for.”

As for the other items on Datamation’s list, “some seem like decent ideas, but I have to wonder if they’re not actually solved problems as well,” he concluded.

‘That Is in the Pipe’

“All of the latest and greatest features of

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Red Hat’s Inktank Buy Bears 1st Fruit

Scarcely two months have passed since Red Hat announced its plans to acquire open source storage company
Inktank, but already the union has produced results: Inktank Ceph Enterprise 1.2, which made its debut Wednesday.

Ceph is a scalable, open source, software-defined storage system that runs on commodity hardware, and the Inktank Enterprise version is designed to deliver object and block storage software to enterprises deploying public or private clouds.

Targeting enterprises with data-intensive applications, the new Inktank Ceph Enterprise 1.2 comes equipped with features to help users store and manage an entire spectrum of data, ranging from “hot” — or mission-critical — data to “cold” archival data.

“Our goal is to do for storage what Linux did for servers,” Ross Turk, Red Hat’s product marketing director for storage and big data, told LinuxInsider. More specifically, “our long-term goal is to provide an alternative to the proprietary storage appliances that own a lot of the industry today.”

Cache Tiering

Three key features star in Inktank Ceph Enterprise 1.2.

First is erasure coding, a feature that makes the platform suitable for archival storage by reducing the cost per gigabyte of storage.

Cache tiering, meanwhile, enables data to be moved onto high-performance media when it becomes “hot,” or active, or onto low-performance media when it is no longer active.

“The new archiving and tiering functionality enables users to define pools for storing data densely, and therefore more cost-effectively, as well as pools that serve data very quickly,” explained Neil Levine, Red Hat’s director of product management for storage and big data.

Finally, Calamari v1.2 updates the platform’s on-premises management and monitoring application with tools and performance data that simplify operational management and enable administrators to adapt to changes in their Ceph clusters.

As a result, administrators now can manage the core functionality of the reliable autonomic distributed object store (RADOS) storage cluster, including individual storage devices and pool policies.

Red Hat earlier this year announced that Calamari had been open sourced as part of the upstream Ceph community.

Red Hat’s Inktank Ceph Enterprise 1.2 is supported on Red Hat Enterprise Linux 6.5 and 7, and Ubuntu 12.04 and 14.04. It offers comprehensive integration with the new Red Hat Enterprise Linux OpenStack Platform 5, as well as version 4 of that platform.

‘Tons of Data’

“The highlights for me in this release are the erasure coding, which can reduce storage requirements, and the cache tiering, which can optimize performance by matching data to a storage medium appropriate to its importance,” Stephen O’Grady, cofounder and principal analyst at
RedMonk, told LinuxInsider.

OpenStack was the platform’s first big use case, and “that’s what we’ve become known for,” Red Hat’s Turk pointed out.

Now, “this opens it up for another, second use case” he added. “We’re looking at the traditional enterprise that has tons of data and is looking for ways to store it online that are economical.”

‘Critically Important Capabilities’

At one level, “this is simply a practical announcement of how Red Hat is integrating the capabilities of Inktank into its larger platform and ecosystem,” Charles King, principal analyst with Pund-IT, told LinuxInsider.

However, “that isn’t to denigrate the company or information in any way,” he added.

“Inktank brings significant new capabilities to Red Hat’s portfolio, particularly in regards to storage management, software-defined storage, private and public clouds and Big Data environments,” King said.

Those are “critically important capabilities” for Red Hat commercially — “especially given the company’s focus on delivering end-to-end data center capabilities for Linux-using enterprises and organizations,” he pointed out.

Overall, then, it’s “absolutely” a significant release, King concluded. “The company has notably broadened its storage offerings and capabilities in ways that existing customers will appreciate, and which should also be attractive to prospective enterprise clients.”


Katherine Noyes is always on duty in her role as Linux Girl, whose cape she has worn since 2007. A mild-mannered journalist by day, she spends her evenings haunting the seedy bars and watering holes of the Linux blogosphere in search of the latest gossip. You can also
find her on Twitter and
Google+.

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The Pod Power is an extension cable with extra outlets

If you’re always in need of more outlets, then you likely have several extension cables and power strips lying around. There are always different types of each for different scenarios, and you never know what you’re going to need until you need it. Possibly the most infuriating is having a power strip that is just too short, and using a long extension cable for that extra inch you need, or having a long extension cable, and not having enough in the way of outlets.

If you wish there was a nice in-between, then the Pod Power from Quirky may be the answer you’ve been searching for. This is a nine foot long extension cord that has an outlet every three feet. This is perfect for studying in a group, for use on a work bench, or along a wall where outlets should be but aren’t. Should you need to mount them, they do have adhesive pads which can be applied to anchor it to a flat surface or on a wall. Of course, you don’t necessarily have to stick it down on a table as there are grippy feet on the bottom.

Needless to say, this $19.99 option is one of the hundreds of thousands of combinations you can get for extension cables and power strips out there. While this is a neat idea, it would only be worth it if it fit your needs exactly, and even then it’s a tad pricey. For those in a college dorm or other small living space, this would be perfect (mainly because the woman who came up with this product only did so because she needed a way to spread outlets all over her home while at University).

Available for purchase on Quirky

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M48 First Aid Kit should find a place in every home

The scouts have this motto of being ready all the time, and as a family man (or even if you are single actually), it pays to make sure that you are well equipped to meet up with and bind any potential injury or wound. Having said that, you can never quite tell just when will disaster strike, and so, a first aid kit lying around at a reachable place is of utmost importance. Enter the $19.99 M48 First Aid Kit, where this particular first aid kit comes packed with goodies, comprising of 56 first aid items to help you bind all sorts of wounds and cuts.

It has been specially thought up of by professionals in order to help you (and your household, I presume) to survive at home as well as in the great outdoors. After all, the M48 name is starting to gain traction as the go-to company when it comes to tactical and survival gear, so to have them roll out their first first aid kit is really something. It covers most common ground with 56 items inside, helping to disinfect all your cuts, scrapes and bumps. Not only that, it also boasts of an extremely keen carrying case, where there are two holes in the handle for wall mounting. You can place it in your car, in your office or at home, it does not matter – what matters most is knowing how to make the most out of it. It might not be up to par with what the army offers, but it is a start.

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The Only Adjustable Focus Reading Glasses offers a greater degree of flexibility

Some of us loathe to wear glasses because we think that it would make us look silly, while others do not mind having having prescription glasses on as it helps us see things with greater clarity. Others instead will opt for a pair of contact lenses that does have its fair share of advantages as well as flip side to it. The thing is, a pair of prescription glasses works great in the beginning, but over time, most of us do suffer from a deterioration in our eyesight, and that would mean making yet another trip to the optometrist to get our eyes checked out. If only there was a pair of glasses that could be adjusted accordingly, now that would be swell.

The $99.95 Adjustable Focus Reading Glasses does answer this particular clarion call perfectly, as it is touted to be the only pair of reading glasses that will adjust the focus of each lens thanks to a simple turn of a dial. Thanks to the clever use of patented fluid-injection technology that has been specially developed by a physicist at Oxford, the lenses comprise of an elastic membrane that is held between rigid polycarbonate plates. Whenever the dial on either side of the frame is turned, the elastic membrane will bow inwards or outwards, subtly changing the prescription from -4.5 diopters to +3.5 diopters. This means users are able to adjust each lens independently, and should your vision change, you can simply give the side dials another twist. Fashionistas might think twice though, although you can choose from black or brown tortoiseshell shades. This pair won’t help you read in the dark light the LED Reading Glasses though.

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‘Emotive’ family robot assists and entertains, doesn’t do windows, Ep. 166

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    Click any icon for more information as they appear–don’t worry, we’ll pause the video and wait for you to come back.

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    City gets a ‘No Cell Phones’ walking lane, for now

    Point-and-shoot quality with your phone?

    Upgrade your camera photo game with these great additions.

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    Crave Ep. 166: ‘Emotive’ family robot assists and entertains, doesn’t do windows

    Point-and-shoot quality with your phone?

    Upgrade your camera photo game with these great additions.

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    Android Sets iPhone Cloning Factory in Motion

    Chinese company Wico has cloned the yet-to-be-released iPhone 6, if videos posted by
    86Digi can be believed.

    One video provides a detailed view of the clone:

    The other compares it to the iPhone 5s:

    “The similarities are eerily close,” Ramon Llamas, a research manager at IDC, told LinuxInsider, to the extent that the casual observer “may just simply accept this as an iPhone.”

    There are slight differences on the sides, such as the volume and power buttons and the headphone jacks, as well as the chassis overall, but “it’s not until you place them side by side that you can see the differences,” Llamas noted.

    The Wico phone’s start screen looks almost identical to that of the iPhone, as does its control panel, Llamas said. “Even the colors and fonts look alike.”

    The Wico phone apparently is named “i6,” based on its software, although the case displays an Apple logo and an iPhone label, including the claim “Designed by Apple in California” and an FCC ID number.

    How Apple’s Helping iPhone Clone Makers

    The iPhone’s launch reportedly has been delayed, and it’s now scheduled to be released in Q4, which let Wico steal a march on Apple.

    Apple reportedly was having production problems with the device’s in-cell touch panel and with uneven colors on the casing. The company introduced in-cell touch panel technology on the iPhone 5, so it’s not clear why it might be having problems in this area.

    There’s speculation the iPhone 6 will be available in a 4.7-inch and a 5.5-inch versions; that it will have a scratch-resistant sapphire front panel; that it will have a faster, more efficient Arm Cortex A8 processor; and that it will have slimmer bezels and a thinner chassis.

    As usual, Apple has not disclosed any details of the forthcoming iPhone 6, fueling the rumor mill and paving the way for clone makers to come in and steal Apple’s thunder, which Wico seems to have done.

    A Step Ahead

    Wico has “done a nice job anticipating where the next iPhone will go,” Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group, told LinuxInsider.

    The Wico’s rounded corners make it look thinner than it is, as well as more comfortable to hold, Enderle said. Both are changes “Apple would likely consider.”

    The Wico phone is about one inch longer and half an inch wider than the iPhone 5s, and “the end result is very close to what the market believes the iPhone 6 will be,” Enderle commented.

    “They even appear to have copied the Apple charging interface port and the sideswipe-to-start interface,” he said.

    Instead of Apple’s proprietary iOS software, the Wico clone reportedly runs a custom version of Android KitKat.

    Without Android, manufacturers couldn’t create a clone that worked well enough to be a threat, Enderle said. “Google remains the biggest threat Apple will ever face.”

    There’s just one niggling problem: Wico can’t be found on the Web — at least, not in its role as a smartphone maker. There are a lot of Wicos in China, however, as well as in the U.S.

    The China Syndrome

    Owning an iPhone or iPad is a mark of prestige among Chinese citizens, and two California men last year were charged with various crimes after making about US$4 million smuggling iPhones to China.

    Schoolchildren were being used to smuggle luxury goods, including iPhones, into China, according to reports that surfaced in April.

    China’s largest carrier, China Mobile, in January agreed to carry iPhones after six years of negotiations, but Apple’s prices are too high for the Chinese consumer. Its iPhone 5c, which sells for less than the flagship iPhone 5s, still was not a strong seller in the Chinese market.

    Politics comes into play as well. China’s government last week declared that the iPhone was a danger to national security because of its ability to track and time-stamp user locations.

    Further, the government is moving against subsidies by carriers, Enderle pointed out, which “will dramatically lower Apple’s market opportunity and create opportunities for lower-cost vendors in China with clones to make huge inroads into Apple’s space.”

    Still, “I’d expect threats of litigation before price cuts,” IDC’s Llamas suggested.

    That might not get Apple anywhere, though, Enderle said, because “the nature of the [Chinese] courts and the current relationship between the U.S. and China puts U.S. companies at a severe disadvantage.”


    Richard Adhikari has written about high-tech for leading industry publications since the 1990s and wonders where it’s all leading to. Will implanted RFID chips in humans be the Mark of the Beast? Will nanotech solve our coming food crisis? Does Sturgeon’s Law still hold true? You can connect with Richard on
    Google+.

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