The Big Red Button

The Big Red Button

I have a development harness for my Clojure systems called Jig. Jig has a feature that allows me to teardown and reinitialize the entire state of the system, while loading in any code that has changed since the last reset. It allows for a rapid development experience approaching that of Smalltalk and LISP systems a few decades ago.

Along with resets, there are other notable signals that are appropriate for the ceremony of pushing a ‘big red button’ (besides launching missiles at your enemy!).

  • signalling that a new code release should be deployed into production
  • telling your family that dinner is ready
  • instructing the quadrocopter to ignore all further signals from the trainee pilot, level off and gracefully descend to the ground

The Big Red Button at opensensors was bought from Dream Cheeky

Installing Mosquitto

As a pre-requisite, we’ll need to install an MQTT client.

For this, install mosquitto, an open source MQTT broker which comes with command-line client tools for publishing messages. Full instructions are here:

Detect button presses in Linux

The Big Red Button doesn’t come with a dedicated Linux driver, so we must write one. These instructions assume you’re using Arch Linux, if you’re using a different distribution then you may have to adjust them accordingly (file locations may be slightly different).

Adding the ~/dev/big_red_button~

First we need to create a Unix =/dev= character device that we can use to communicate with the Big Red Button.

Plug the big red button into a spare USB port and run the command =lsusb=. If your big red button is attached, you should an entry like this :–

$ lsusb
Bus 001 Device 003: ID 1d34:000d Dream Cheeky Dream Cheeky Big Red Button

We need to find the =ID_MODEL= of the device. We can do this by running =udevadm= and try disconnecting and reconnecting the device.

# udevadm monitor --environment udev | grep ID_MODEL=

Or we can find out with the =udevadm= command.

# udevadm info /dev/bus/usb/001/003
P: /devices/pci0000:00/0000:00:1a.0/usb1/1-1/1-1.3
N: bus/usb/001/061
S: big_red_button
E: ID_MODEL=DL100B_Dream_Cheeky_Generic_Controller

In this case, 001 and 003 correspond to the Bus and Device returned by =lsusb= respectively.

Now we can pattern match on that udev environment value. As root, create a file =/etc/udev/rules.d/50-big-red-button.rules= with the following content, making sure that the ENV{ID_MODEL} entry matches the correct string that we’ve just found using :–

ACTION=="add", ENV{ID_MODEL}=="DL100B_Dream_Cheeky_Generic_Controller", SYMLINK+="big_red_button", MODE="0666", RUN+="/usr/bin/mosquitto_pub -h -t /my/big/red/button -m Add"
ACTION=="remove", ENV{ID_MODEL}=="DL100B_Dream_Cheeky_Generic_Controller", RUN+="/usr/bin/mosquitto_pub -h -t /my/big/red/button -m Add"

This causes a new device to be added, =~/dev/big_red_button~=, with a mode of 666 so that we can read and write from it without being root. Also, every time the device is connected and disconnected, MQTT messages are published to the topic =/my/big/red/button= at OpenSensorsIO. We’ll use this topic for this example, but you should set this to something unique.

Reload the udev rules with the following command :–

udevadm control --reload-rules

To test, disconnect the big red button (pull out the USB plug) and reconnect it. Each time you do this you should see the device =~/dev/big_red_button~= disappear and reappear.

Writing the device driver

We need to write some simple code to control the device which will print events to standard out.

Copy and paste the following code into a file, for example, =~big-red-button.c~=

,* Copyright © 2013, Malcolm Sparks <>. All Rights Reserved.
,* A program to convert USB firing events from the Dream Cheeky 'Big Red Button' to MQTT events.

#include <fcntl.h>
#include <stdio.h>
#include <string.h>
#include <stdlib.h>

#define LID_CLOSED 21
#define LID_OPEN 23

int main(int argc, char **argv)
  int fd;
  int i, res, desc_size = 0;
  char buf[256];

  /* Use a udev rule to make this device */
  fd = open("/dev/big_red_button", O_RDWR|O_NONBLOCK);

  if (fd < 0) {
    perror("Unable to open device");
    return 1;

  int prior = LID_CLOSED;

  while (1) {
    memset(buf, 0x0, sizeof(buf));
    buf[0] = 0x08;
    buf[7] = 0x02;

    res = write(fd, buf, 8);
    if (res < 0) {

    memset(buf, 0x0, sizeof(buf));
    res = read(fd, buf, 8);

    if (res >= 0) {
      if (prior == LID_CLOSED && buf[0] == LID_OPEN) {
         printf("Ready to fire!n");
      } else if (prior != BUTTON_PRESSED && buf[0] == BUTTON_PRESSED) {
      } else if (prior != LID_CLOSED && buf[0] == LID_CLOSED) {
        printf("Stand down!n");
      prior = buf[0];
    usleep(20000); /* Sleep for 20ms*/

Compile the file

$ cc big-red-button.c -o big-red-button

and run the executable, testing it by opening the lid on your device and pressing the (big red) button (a few times!). You should get output looking a bit like this :–

$ ./big-red-button
Ready to fire!
Stand down!

If so, great, we now have a functioning device.

$ ./big-red-button | mosquitto_pub -l -h -t /my/big/red/button

Now go to and tune into the topic. Open the lid, and start pressing the button. If you’ve done everything correctly, you’ll see your messages in your browser.

Have fun!