Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Apple iPad - oversized iPhone or svelte new computer?

Despite the on-line communities' best attempts to spoil the surprise, I still admire Apple's ability to keep a secret. The launch today of the iPad seems to have kept the usual Apple sparkle, despite Steve Jobs doing basically a sales pitch for the new gadget, albeit in his usual slick style.

Time will prove whether Apple have created a truly popular & new computing form factor. Personally, I like the fact the software will be custom-built for the device, ensuring the interface is smooth and capable. At the same time, this will restrict what can be run on the device, which would frustrate me. If you can make phone calls on it then I think that would be an advantage. The device does appear to be very desirable, something which the more generic competition might struggle to match. As 2010 progresses then, I'll be interested to see how many iPads are sold, and how the competing, lower-cost, and possibly Linux-powered competition pans out.

For me (a Google fan), a sub-£200 tablet running Google Chrome OS might be a perfect alternative.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Porridge - the ultimate camouflage?

Anyone like me who works in an office will have experience of the office kitchen, complete with communal fridge. If everyone plays fair, what you put in the fridge in the morning will still be there at lunch time. Not always the case in my office, as today I was reminded of an incident almost exactly three years ago.

A software developer (who remains anonymous to this day), having had his sandwiches stolen once too often (so, twice then), decided to apply his engineering skills to catch the culprit. The next day, along with a stern warning note pinned to the fridge, an out-of-place box of Weetabix Seriously Oaty appeared on the adjacent water cooler. Below are a couple of photos I snapped at the time on my mobile phone - can you spot the subtle modifications?

The box had no wires, and was fairly heafty when lifted - which I'm sure was not down to a full bag of wholesome oats within. I couldn't work out whether just placing a bare camera in the same spot would have been just as subtle, as the package stuck out like a sore thumb. It must, however, have been effective as after just two days the device had gone. No doubt the sandwich thief in our midst had been banged to rights. Well, either that or someone had made off with an expensive wireless video camera!

Monday, January 11, 2010

TV as it should be...

...well, almost. Just wanted to share a link to the 'Remote Control' blog, which is able to sum up the cream of British TV like no-other. Go here to read more:

What caught my eye was the review of an episode of Nightwatch with Steve Scott from a couple of years ago, here. Anyone who has caught Nightwatch and ask themselves afterwards what were they thinking, well, you have a friend over at the Remote Control blog!

Friday, January 8, 2010

XBMC 9.11 Live on Acer Aspire Revo

I posted an entry last year detailing how to set-up the excellent Acer Aspire Revo as a high definition media streaming device using the equally excellent XBMC 9.04 software. The post proved quote popular, and thanks to everyone who commented on the article. Since then the XBMC have released the new 9.11 version, which I have recently installed onto my Revo.

Installing 9.11 is almost identical to 9.04, with a few steps removed due to 9.11 being more complete. In case it helps, below are the steps I took to get XBMC 9.11 working successfully on a Revo, using WPA protected wireless (with unhidden SSID only). I did note that some people have struggled installing from a USB memory stick. I've been using an external USB DVD-ROM drive which has simplified things, but I'm sure posts elsewhere can help regarding memory stick issues.

So, here's the installation sequence:

  • Physically install the Revo - connect HDMI, power, keyboard, Ethernet network cable (VERY IMPORTANT to start with) and in my case, a Windows MCE remote control USB IR adapter.
  • Switch on the power, and hit DEL to get to the BIOS settings. Disable Revoboot as this is not required.
  • Next, download XBMC 9.11 Live from this link.
  • I burned the ISO to a CD ROM, then plugged-in my USB CD drive to the Revo, inserted the CD, and rebooted.
  • Hit F12 to get the Revo boot menu. Select the CD ROM and proceed.
  • Follow the instructions to install XBMC Live to the hard disk, which is now a Debian-style text-mode installer. Just select the default options if in doubt. Once complete, reboot.
  • After about 20 seconds of boot time, I was greeted with the familiar XBMC welcome screen. Remote control working right out of the box. Before configuring XBMC itself, some system-level tasks are required first.
  • Since the WLAN does not work out of the box, I first install SSH from the command line by hitting CTRL+ALT+F2, logging in as XBMC user, and then typing: sudo apt-get install ssh
  • If you like, you can continue to use this command line to complete the set-up, but I found the text was cropped by my Sony TV, so instead I SSH'd from my main desktop PC using PuTTY.
  • Next, I performed a system update with sudo apt-get update and sudo apt-get upgrade. I then rebooted after this.
  • Next, SSH back into the box and install more essential packages for the WLAN to work: sudo apt-get install ntp wpasupplicant wireless-tools. Some of these packages are already installed in 9.11. I included NTP so the Revo can keep accurate time.
  • After another reboot, time to set-up the WLAN. My home network uses a hidden SSID which I have not managed to get the Revo to connect to. Having now unhidden my SSID it works. If anyone knows how to get this working with a hidden SSID then please post a comment! Additonally, I have WPA / WPA2 security enabled. First thing to do is sudo vi /etc/network/interfaces and make your file look just like mine:

# Used by ifup(8) and ifdown(8). See the interfaces(5) manpage or
# /usr/share/doc/ifupdown/examples for more information.

auto lo
iface lo inet loopback

auto eth0
iface eth0 inet dhcp

#iface eth0 inet static

auto wlan0
iface wlan0 inet dhcp
pre-up wpa_supplicant -B -Dwext -iwlan0 -c/etc/wpa_supplicant.conf
post-down killall -q wpa_supplicant

  • Next, you need to configure wpa_supplicant. Two pieces of information you need are: a) your SSID, and b) your WLAN password. In my example below, I will use your_essid and your_ascii_key to replace my actual values used. A good reference for this part can be found here. First thing then is to get your HEX password by using the following command: wpa_passphrase your_essid your_ascii_key
  • Which will give you, as an example, this output in a terminal:

psk=fe727aa8b64ac9b3f54c72432da14faed933ea511ecab1 5bbc6c52e7522f709a

  • Next, copy this, and then sudo vi /etc/wpa_supplicant.conf and make the file look like this:

proto=WPA RSN
pairwise=CCMP TKIP
psk=fe727aa8b64ac9b3f54c72432da14faed933ea511ecab1 5bbc6c52e7522f709a

  • Save this file and you are ready to test the connection. If all has gone well, running the following command will confirm you can connect via WLAN now: sudo wpa_supplicant -iwlan0 -c/etc/wpa_supplicant.conf -Dwext -dd
  • Hit CTRL-C to quit wpa_supplicant. You can now manually bring up the connection with sudo ifup wlan0, or just reboot.
  • And that's it for getting the WLAN working. The final base configuration required to ensure XBMC can play audio through the HDMI cable correctly is as follows:
  • Go into XBMC's settings, and select the following:
  • Audio output -> Audio output (digital) - Digital
  • Audio output -> Audio output device - hdmi
  • Audio output -> Passthrough output device - hdmi
  • Audio output -> Downmix multichannel audio to stereo - ON
  • The rest of the XBMC configuration is up to you, but having done the above, you have a solid, fully working system to build on.

Thanks for reading. Have fun!

Avatar 3D

I finally got around to viewing James Cameron's 3D Avatar last night at the local cinema. The most stunning visuals I've ever seen, and most likely the future of cinema. It does seem ironic though that a film which is meant to get you thinking about looking after the planet, will probably trigger many people to throw away their old flat-screen TVs and go out and buy new 3D ones later this year.

Certainly though the most comfortable, convincing, and beautiful 3D experience I've ever had.