Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Extending the Life of your Kodi Remote (& Your Mobile Phone)

I seem to be blogging about my mobile phone more than Linux at the moment. This is mostly because my phone is doubling up as my Kodi remote and it is a fabulous free/sunk cost alternative to purchasing new hardware (which may also require modification to work). However, my Samsung GT-19070i is three years old in October and the battery life had started to be problematic: I could no longer get through the day without having to recharge my phone.

So, I've bought myself a new battery and now I've got more than 50% charge at the end of the day! This is cheaper than buying a new phone and I should (fingers-crossed) get another year out of the device before needing to upgrade. I read yesterday, that mobile devices can last a decade or more but, in our consumption-oriented world, we're locked into much sorter upgrade cycles: so, I'm also doing my bit to save the planet.

"The Linux-based Puzzlephone project wants to extend the life of smartphones by making more of the phone replaceable, on the premise that most of the hardware can last a decade, but consumers are locked into a much shorter upgrade cycle."

Sources & References

Kodi - Remote Remedy

Try this if you can't get your remote working and you're using a Wifi Extender

After installing my new HTPC, I discovered that the Kodi remote app (on my Samsung GT-19070P) no longer worked. I'd get no connection or connection refused errors despite being attached to my wireless network and being able to connect to the Internet.

I tried everything from enabling/disabling UFW, opening/closing ports, rebuilding the host information, fixing the host's IP address, and rebooting the router. Nothing seemed to work. However, whilst rebooting my router via the web interface, I noticed that my phone didn't appear in the client list - hmmmmm.

I'd recently installed a wifi range extender in my lounge and my phone was connecting via this node: simply rebooting the device solved my problem and ended hours of frustration. I'm not entirely sure why the node was refusing to pass the datagram to the router, but it may have just been a glitch in the network layer. Anyway, the moral of the story; you can't reboot enough!

Sources & References:

DELL DIMENSION 8400 - Desktop of the Month

Taken last week from the Carneddau looking towards the Glyders - the Ogwen Valley is probably my favourite place.

Sources & References:

  • None

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

The HTPC Build - Final Specs

I finally got around to ordering the parts and building my HTPC: I'm thrilled with the results and the total build cost was less than £320.00!

So, here are the component specifications (aka parts list) & some detail about the operating system and media software.

Hardware

  • Chassis - Fractal Design Define Mini Series Micro ATX (Black Pearl). This is a stunning case which is beautiful for its simplicity. The optical drive is hidden behind the front (hinged) panel. Price at the time of purchase £56.98.
  • Processor - AMD A6 5400K Black Edition. This is my first ever build using an AMD processor and it took me a couple of minutes to figure out the FM2+ socket arrangements (perhaps I should have read the instructions first!). I've been stunned by the performance of this dual core processor and, from now on, I will always consider AMD for future builds. I'm using the stock fan for cooling which is as near silent as makes no difference and I'm thrilled by this budget processor - highly recommended! Price at the time of purchase £39.99.
  • Motherboard - Gigabyte GA-F2A88XM-HD3 (Socket FM2+): always a matter of preference, but I've always favoured Gigabyte boards. This board is tight to work on as you might expect, but it all went in and connected first time. Price at time of purchase £47.31.
  • Memory - 4GB G.Skill DDR3 PC3-10666 1333MHz Ripjaw Series. For a budget HTPC this is ample memory: however, if you intend to use your PC for other tasks (perhaps, vitalisation or video manipulation) you will want to ramp-up the RAM! Price at the time of purchase £35.95
  • Storage -
    • Boot Drive/OS - SanDisk 64 GB 2.5 Inch Internal SSD. Yes, I know that this won't be the fastest sdd available, but this was a budget build and I'm not writing huge amounts of data to or from this drive. It boots beautifully in under a minute and is, of course, silent! I've always been leery of Sandisk but this drive is changing my mind. Price at the time of purchase £32.18
    • Media Drive 1 - Weston Digital Green 1TB hdd - this is my salvaged drive from the NAS that failed last year. The drive still reports that it's OK (although, S.M.A.R.T recognizes it as an old drive) so it's been formatted and recycled. It's a sunk cost so I've counted it as £0.00.
    • Media Drive 2 - WD 1TB SATA III Desktop SATA Drive (Blue). I've not used this drive (although, I've installed it) - I still have over 400GB of space left on the first drive. Price at the time of purchase £40.60
  • Optical Drive - Samsung 24x DVD Writer. Other than the processor, this component is the best value for money in this build: this drive is superb. It comes with interchangeable bezels and is quiet (but not silent) in operation. Highly recommended! Price at the time of purchase &14.75.
  • Power Supply - Corsair Builder Series CXM 430W Modular 80 PLUS Bronze Certified ATX/EPS PSU. I've used and recommended these PSU for several years: they are quiet and reliable and packing plenty of bang for your buck. Yes, you can buy PSUs for under £20.00 - but don't! Price at the time of purchase £45.13
  • Networking - TP-Link TL-WN751ND. Another sunk cost but it's performing quite well. Nonetheless, I'll probably end up using a Powerline adapter and an ethernet cable in the long run. As a sunk cost, I've counted this as £0.00.
  • Peripherals -
    • Keyboard/Mouse - Logitech Wireless K400r. This is another sunk cost so I've counted it as £0.00. Nonetheless, I would recommend this keyboard for any HTPC project and, at the time of posting, it's worth every penny of the £27.15 that Amazon is asking.
    • Remote control - XBMC Remote running on my Samsung Advance GT-I9070P. Download the app free from Google Play or the Apple Store. Cost at the time of purchase £0.00 (excluding the hardware)
    • Speakers - DELL setup. Sunk cost counted as £0.00.

The connection to my Samsung TV is via the mobo's HDMI port. As a nice touch, you can rename your source (albeit from a predefined list) on your TV. You can also use the HDMI for sound, but I've opted to recycle my old DELL Dimension 8400 speakers which have always been of decent quality.

Software

The operating system is (after several false starts) Mint 17.1 with the Mate Desktop. Originally, I had planned on using Cinnamon, but I just couldn't get the graphics to play nice on the 43" screen. I also tried the openelec but, although it looked superb, it pretty much turned my brand new PC into little more than Apple TV. Nonetheless, Mate looks fantastic with the AMD Catalyst drivers & Control Centre installed and I don't need a graphics card. However, it would be nice to have a little more granularity over the graphics performance and I'm reserving judgement on whether to add a dedicated graphics card in the future.

For the HTPC software/media centre, I'm using Kodi (formerly XBMC): put simply, this is outstanding software and I'm still exploring all of its functions.

Conclusion

Notwithstanding several recycled/reused components, this little system is outstanding for around £300.00. The chassis looks beautiful and is endlessly upgradable: needless to say, I'm chuffed!

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Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Happy 2015

Well, 2015 is almost upon us and I'd like to wish my reader a Happy New Year!

Actually, I'm being a little hard on myself: Karmic Odyssey gets read by people from all over the world and has had over fifteen thousand page loads over the last five years: not earth shattering I know, but I hope that at least some of what readers found here was useful.

As for the new year, the HTPC will be my next project - cash be damned! I'm also hoping that the Ubuntu phone really will make an appearance in February. Whatever you find yourself doing and wherever life takes you in 2015, I hope that the World will be kind to you and that you have a happy and prosperous time.

See you all on the other side :)

Sources & References:

  • None

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Setting Up the XBMC Remote On Your Android Smartphone

In my post describing how to set up a Yatse remote on your Android smartphone, I opined that the Kodi/XBMC offering was a little trickier to set up. Nonetheless, I've found persevering with the setup to be a worthwhile experience and, despite some minor shortcomings, I've found that the XBMC remote is more reliable on my Samsung Galaxy Advance than Yatse.

In order to control Kodi/XBMC via any remote control, you must first make some adjustments to the host machine. The following instructions are taken from my setup using 13.2 Gotham & my Samsung Galaxy Advance (as the remote):

  1. Start Kodi/XBMC, navigate to SYSTEM and select Services
  2. Select the Webserver menu option:
    • Check the Allow control of XBMC via HTTP option
    • Set the - Port option to 8080 (this should be the default value)
    • The - Username & - Password options can be set to any value you choose (but you'll need to remember them)
    • Leave the - Web interface option as default.
  3. Select the Remote Control menu option:
    • Check the Allow programs on this system to control XBMC option
    • Check the Allow programs on other systems to control XBMC option
  4. Select the Zeroconf menu item and check the Announce these services to other systems via Zeroconf option.

Now we need to allow the remote control access to Kodi/XBMC (via HTTP) via the firewall (because you do have it enabled, don't you!). Both Yatse & the XBMC remote controls are web-based controls; that is, they send their commands via the local area network to the PC hosting Kodi/XBMC (as opposed to an IR or bluetooth remote). Open a terminal and do:

sudo ufw allow proto tcp from 192.168.1.0/24 to any port 8080 && sudo ufw allow proto udp from 192.168.1.0/24 to any port 9777

This is really two commands rolled into one. If you prefer, you can do each separately:

sudo ufw allow proto tcp from 192.168.1.0/24 to any port 8080

Followed by:

sudo ufw allow proto udp from 192.168.1.0/24 to any port 9777

Note, that you may need to change your IP range depending on your hardware. You can check that your firewall has updated its rules using:

sudo ufw status

And then restart your firewall (perhaps not entirely necessary) using:

sudo ufw reload

Now we can set up the remote! If you haven't already, download the XBMC remote from the Google Playstore.

  1. Start the XBMC remote app on your Android smartphone.
  2. From the app home screen, tap your phone's menu button and select Settings
  3. Tap Manage XBMC Hosts.
  4. Tap your phone's menu button and select Add Host.
  5. In the Add new host dialog:
    • Name of this instance: - anything that will identify your host. XBMC can manage multiple hosts, so this is simply a name that tells you which host you are connecting to.
    • Host or IP address: - I had no joy using host names - use your IP address. If you don't want to use ifconfig (from the terminal), from the Kodi/XMBC home screen select the System info sub-menu option from the System option and look under the Summary option.
    • HTTP API port: - leave this as the default 8080 (unless you've changed it for some reason)
    • Username: - You set this earlier (I did tell you to remember it!)
    • Password: - this is the password that you set for Kodi/XBMC and not your host password.
    • EventServer port: - leave as the default 9777 value (unless you've changed it for some reason
    • Leave all other settings at their default values and tap OK
  6. Tap your smartphone's back button
  7. Tap your smartphone's back button (yes, for a second time)

You should be able to connect to your host by tapping the smartphone's menu button & selecting Switch XBMC or from the right-hand applet on the XBMC remote's home screen.

On balance, I like the reliability and stability of the XBMC remote over Yatse, but Yatse is more configurable and looks great. In the end, this is a matter of user choice, but XBMC is free and there are no paid for upgrades.

Sources & References:

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Jogga's HTPC

Intended design of the HTPC (when I've saved enough money :)

Parts List

  1. CPU: AMD A6-5400K 3.6GHz Dual-Core Processor (£39.99 @ Amazon UK)
  2. Motherboard: ASRock FM2A88M-HD+ Micro ATX FM2+ Motherboard (£46.80 @ Amazon UK)
  3. Memory: G.Skill Ripjaws Series 4GB (2 x 2GB) DDR3-1333 Memory (£35.17 @ Amazon UK)
  4. Storage (Operating System & files): Kingston SSDNow V300 Series 60GB 2.5" Solid State Drive (£32.90 @ Amazon UK)
  5. Storage (Media): Western Digital WD Green 2TB 3.5" 5400RPM Internal Hard Drive (£59.90 @ Amazon UK)
  6. Case: Fractal Design Core 1100 MicroATX Mini Tower Case (£29.99 @ Amazon UK)
  7. Power Supply: Corsair Builder 500W 80+ Bronze Certified ATX Power Supply (£51.50 @ Amazon UK)
  8. Optical Drive: Samsung SH-224DB/BEBE DVD/CD Writer (£10.46 @ Aria PC)

Total: £306.71 (correct as of 17/12/14)

I'm living without a discrete graphics card (unless the build demonstrates a need to reconsider) and I'm recycling an existing TP-Link wireless card for networking. The speakers will probably be my existing DELL setup until I can afford a sound bar and I've already recycled a 1TB hdd from my busted NAS.

Control will be via my existing Logitech K400r wireless keyboard & my Samsung A3 advance smartphone.

The operating system will be Linux Mint 17 (obviously) although I have considered openelec. The media centre will be Kodi (formerly known as XBMC).

Criticism & advice welcome!

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