Cool Project or Bust?

While I am between clients I have decided to start a learning project
to keep my skills honed and to add new experience to my portfolio. I
had to invent a project that would hopefully keep my interest and even
be sustainable once my next client engagement begins. Since I have an
interest in electric guitars I decided to attempt to make a guitar
effects project using an Altera Development board I have with a nice
large Stratix II FPGA and some audio ADC/DAC capability.

The new skills I chose to pursue are adding a NIOS processor to an
FPGA project and to load and launch an embedded application on
embedded Linux. This whole project is actually quite a bit of work and
alot of new technology. Rather than starting from scratch I hoped I
could not find some existing work to leverage. Blogging about this
project real-time is also a big risk since if I get too bogged down
and quit or get too busy with a new client and languish it could be
embarassing. However, if I don’t blog it while I am doing it, it won’t
get written. So I am taking the chance. I know sometimes it is nice to
read about failures but I would rather you read about someone else.

My first find was an interesting project at They
have a completed guitar effects project targeting an Altera FPGA DE
Board and a NIOS processor. The effects are all in parallel hardware
and the processor takes care of comminications and the UI. All I need
to do is retarget to my DE Board and port to NIOS with embedded
Linux. Then I can add my own ideas in Verilog for the effects and the
GUI in C. How long do you think that should take?

I decided my first step is to get familiar with NIOS and embedded
Linux and found everything I think I need to know at

The first thing I discovered is that I need a Linux desktop for
compiling the embedded Linux. I have two XP machines and although I
could pull an old x86 machine from my attic I decided to go the VMware

I installed VMware and although the wiki recommended a Centos5 or a
Fedora install they wanted to install from a burned disk and not an
ISO image. It appeared that VMware and I both like Ubuntu so I tried
that rather than fight those battles. By the way, if you haven’t run
Ubuntu in a long while, as I haven’t, ctl-alt-t gets you a terminal. I
installed as many of the recommended extra apps from the Altera Wiki
as I could easily find and started downloading the NIOS linux project
and the embedded linux distribution files.

With the long downloads and some interruptions all of the above killed
an afternoon so let’s see what happens next week.


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