King Johns Castle

Limerick Street Art

I need your help with my little project. I’m looking to snap & map all the street art in Limerick.

So far I’ve got  6 10 but I’m certain there are more dotted around the city (like on Sexton Street). If you know of one let me know and I’ll pedal around to snap & map it :)

Update: Lots more on drawout.ie

Get in touch I’m @skehillr on Twitter.

 

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Chromecast now available in Ireland

The HDMI real estate at the back of the TV is really hotting up. Most TVs have 2 or 3 HDMI inputs. More and more devices are hitting the market that look to occupy these slots. Not everything will win.

In most cases {pick yours} Sky box, UPC box or Freeview/FreeSat/Saorview box will occupy the first. The 2nd will be contested by DVD, PVR, BluRay, Roku boxes, Android media boxes and now in Ireland the Google Chromecast.

I picked one up with last weekend for 40 yoyos in Currys/PC World. Or you can buy from Google for 39 euro. Inside the box you’ll get the HDMI Chromecast dongle itself, a power plug adapter and an optional HDMI  extension cable (for WiFi reasons). The setup is really easy. Plug in the dongle into a free HDMI slot and connect the power. The Chromecast will power up, update itself and prompt you to finish the setup using a laptop/mobile. You need a device on your wireless network to add the Chromecast device to your wireless network. All done in about 5 mins (most of this time was due to updating itself.. more on this later).

The Chromecast isn’t like any other devices I’ve used before. When you switch the TV to the HDMI source you’ll just find pretty images. No apps, no remote to control it – just pretty pictures.  Your phone/table/laptop is the main way to control the device.

It’s fairly intuitive  - from the mobile things like Plex/Netflix support ‘Casting’ so you’ll be able to send the video to your Chromecast by just clicking the cast icon.  It  works out of the box as you expect. (With one exception — See the Netflix Workaround).

There is a wide variety of apps that are supported like YouTube and most of the Google Apps as you’d expect.  I found sending YouTube videos sourced from Twitter to be really cool & changing the Twitter user experience.

The {US} Netflix Fail & Workaround

If you are using some kind of DNS redirect service to enable US Netflix when you cast  a Netflix video to Chromecast it won’t work. Why? Well it’s all to do with the DNS. Chromecast has Google DNS hardcoded into the device.  On your router you’ll need to have DNSMasq and point 8.8.8.8 / 8.8.4.4 to the DNS your redirect service provider. The update Chromecast does on first boot up makes sure you can’t root/ssh into the Chromecast. I’ve read on forums that it was once possible but alas no longer.

If your router doesn’t support DNSmasq – setup static routes (e.g. Asus routers) . Point everything to your routers IP address, netmask = 255.255.255.255, metric =2.

Other Apps

Just on the DNS redirect service you’ll find BBC iPlayer and other UK players work just fine too.

You’ll find a comprehensive list here on TNW (July 2014) but a lot of the Apps are geo-restricted/network restricted or need a subscription (e.g. BT Sport).

I installed the Chrome browser extension which allows you to send webpages on Chrome to the Chromecast. Very handy but you need to keep the laptop open/on while you’re casting the tab.

Bugbear

My biggest bugbear is the lack of a remote control. This is funny because this is actually one of Chromecasts main selling points.

I love the simplicity of Roku’s remote and I’m finding it hard (at the moment) to consider my phone to be a remote control for the TV. Not sure what the disconnect is but it’s there. Maybe it’s just me. I’ve got used to using Roku and the remote to navigate plex/netflix on the TV, pressing play and then losing the remote down the back of the couch :) . Also, navigating on the TV screen is social whereas navigating on the mobile phone is usually done by one person.

Pausing Chromecast means hitting the power button on the phone and tapping Pause whereas with the Roku it’s just a tap of the Pause button. Perhaps this is a use case for Pressy? Or programming a double click on the power button.

So, I am happy with Chromecast. Very much so {once I configured the network} and it’s just version 1. The next version should is where the really exciting stuff will start to emerge. For the next couple of weeks I’m going to ‘lose’ the roku remote and just use Chromecast.

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Cheap Plex {Roku} client for €15

I recently saw an Ad on the TV advertising Sky’s NowTV for 10 pounds (sterling), delivered.  The box looked very familiar so a quick Google showed up that it is in fact a Roku LT re-branded.  Roku LTs retail any where from 30 – 50 pounds (Maplin) .

I thought to myself.. bargain! but wait there is a catch, while you can buy the box on the sky nowtv website they won’t ship to addresses outside the UK. This is where ParcelMotel comes in handy. It’s in the UK so I shipped it to there. 3.50 euro later and the box arrives. Total cost 15 euro. Bargain.

What’s in the box?

In the box you get the Roku LT, Roku remote control, batteries for remote control and a decent HDMI cable.

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The box
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unboxing
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Plug and batteries

It looks and feels like a Roku box. Not much on the box just power, A/V out and a HDMI port.

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Connections

The setup was straight forward – connected to the wireless network no problem.

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Setup

I signed up to Sky Now TV and from reading other blog posts I thought I could get away without having to put my credit card details. Unfortunately I had to in order to activate the account. I stuck a pin on purchases so I can’t accidentally buy sky movies/sports etc.

What apps are installed?

The box comes with Roku Store and Sky Store, BBC iPlayer. 4oD, 5 Demand, Now TV, Sky news and BBC news. All worked for me* (nod, nod, VPN wink, wink) and the quality over the wireless connection was very good. UPDATE. For connections without VPN I  can confirm 4oD, Sky News and BBC news works.  BBC iPlayer and 5 Demand don’t work due to geo-broadcasting restrictions.

As you expect from the price Sky are heavily subsidising this box.  Because of this Sky have restricted what apps you can download from their controlled app (and Roku) store.  The Sky store has a lot of it carries over satellite but everything will result in you paying Sky.

On the Roku store there is no sign of netflix, plex, youtube, plex etc.  as you would expect because it’s controlled by Sky.
Notable mentions on the store include: Spotify, Tune in, Facebook, TED talks etc.

How-and-ever…

Slide loading Plex

Having recently put my own Roku box in to developer mode I knew it is possible to ‘side load’ apps on to roku boxes. (“Side load” you ask, well it’s the technique to install apps on to the Roku with out using the usual stores.) With the Sky NowTV box is essentially a Roku LT box it’s possible to side load.

To enable developer mode use the following command on the home screen.

Home 3x, Up 2x, Right, Left, Right, Left, Right

Do this nice and slow. Press the buttons deliberately. You should then see this (your IP will be different).

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IP Address for sideloading

 

I enabled the installer and the box restarted. Once rebooted using a laptop/computer open a browser and enter the IP of the roku and then upload plex or rarflix. (UPDATE: The version of plex linked here says it needs a plex-pass subscription beyond a 30 day trial. I’ve never this before so perhaps you are better off to use the Rarflix version.

Tada!! Plex channel good to go.

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Plex on the box

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AND100 Review ~ Media Android Box

I’ve been testing the AND100 Android Box from TV Trade. Dave and the guys sent me the box in December and I’m only getting around to blogging about it now (sorry guys!).

I have a Roku XS and it’s the benchmark when it comes to home media. I run a Plex client and Netflix off it. The Roku remote control is easy and simple – that’s what I like.
Any new media box challenging to sit full time under my TV must equal or surpass the Roku.

Let’s get the little niggly things out of the way first because the AND100 is a very good box in terms of flexibility and what it can do (way better than the Roku).

3 Dots

This is a version of Android that should be running on a tablet and it has 3 soft keys that are constantly displayed at the bottom of the screen. Since the TV isn’t touch screen these buttons have no purpose. They turn into 3 dots  while watching netflix etc. in full screen and there is no easy way to remove them either without rooting the box and using an APP. I decided I could live with the 3 dots.

Default Launcher

The front end launcher is terrible. It made no sense to me and I ended up going into the ‘Android’ option and browsing the apps from here. I felt the default launcher was really letting the box down so I installed the GO launcher HD (free). Once installed I added the stuff I wanted to quick access to (Plex, Netflix, RTE, BBC sport, News, etc). I increased the font size to make things a little easier to read from a distance. Once Go Launcher was installed the AND100 becomes a lot more user friendly and from here I felt the box was in its element. Compared to the Roku and how easy it is to launch apps  it’s not perfect but getting there.

Default Launcher - Android Box
Default Launcher – Android Box

The Good Stuff

You can install RTE player, Netflix, Plex, Hulu and pretty much whatever you want from the Google play store. This is where the AND100 is better than the Roku – you have full control. With Roku you are very much limited by what Roku offers (yes you can side load but that’s not for everyone!). The Roku has limited ability to play videos from a USB key whereas the AND100 had no problem at all.

The Box Itself

The box isn’t the prettiest box (black generic box)  but it’s small and well made. As you expect it is whisper quiet and the LEDs on the box are pleasant and not distracting. In terms of video-out ports it has HDMI and RCA  allowing it to be plugged into most TVs.

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The box itself
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USB Connections

I should point out I’m using the HDMI output from the box and it’s the only way to use it on big screens (+30inch). I tried the RCA cables and it was horrible to look at. It doesn’t come with a HDMI cable by default and if you forget to order one, don’t go to big name stores for HMDI cables – they will fleece you, try somewhere like Dealz and you’ll find a 1m cable for a bargain price of €1.49.

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RSA/HDMI and Ethernet

Network Options

For some reason I couldn’t get ethernet to work but the wifi was simple and very stable. (I think because most mobile device don’t have an ethernet port this version of Android OS doesn’t know how to handle the hardware correctly.)

Default programs

The box comes installed with your typically Google apps like maps, Gmail and with the wireless keyboard remote you can send/receive/read emails. You can install Twitter and Facebook and they all work great (unlike on the Roku). Since I view this is a media box, I turn off all notifications, I don’t want interruptions.  A lot of the apps that comes preinstalled with Android AND100 won’t be useful for the regular user and just adds to the clutter. This is why I think a better launcher is key.

Remote Control vs Mini Keyboard

I found myself ditching the wireless keyboard and just using the default little remote control that comes with the AND100 box. I used the wireless mini keyboard for surfing the web, entering search terms etc. but I didn’t really need a full keyboard. The little remote control is perfect for start/stopping media and up/down/left/right is all you really need to navigate Plex/Netflix.

Overall thoughts

Overall it is a good versatile box but if you have a Roku – it won’t replace it. It is very portable and I’ve brought the Andorid Box (AND100) on my travels and plugged it in to the hotel TVs. Plugging in a usb key with movies and the AND100 shows its value again over the Roku which doesn’t have a great standalone media player. Once up and running it had no problems with HD netflix or playing HD videos over plex so I was happy with it overall.

I think we’ll see more and more of these kind of boxes (not to mention chromecast).  I’m surprised not to see more dedicated free launchers on Google play for these kind of devices. There might be an opportunity for someone to come and along and put one together that covers everything. Maybe I’m missing something, I did find one that is close but it’s a paid app, (TV Launcher), which looks nice and simple.

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Alternative Launcher

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Startup tools & services.

I thought it was about time I put this post together: Essential tools & services  (mostly online)  for startups. It’s a collection of tools, services and stuff I use and find essential.

A lot of  services are free (it amazes me really!) others are monthly paid services. Let’s begin.

Finding a Domain Name

If you are just starting out, deciding a name for the company or product,  finding a web domain can be a pain.

Lean Domain Search is very clever – pop in key words and it shows a list of possible domain names and whether the domain (and twitter account) is available. As too is Instant domain search - just start typing and see if your domain is there.

These tools will only find available domain names – where you register them is up to you. I strongly suggest pick one provider and stick with them. We manage several domains and at the start we used different websites to register domains because it was cheaper etc.. When it came to renewals we getting (or not getting) emails and jumping over to websites to renew a domain. It wasn’t scalable and eventually found it hard to keep track of everything. In the end we moved all our domains to one single vendor to manage the renewals – now it’s all automated and renewals are seamless.

Choosing Hosting & Email

Now you’ve got a shiny new domain name registered it’s time to setup a website and email address(es).
Email is an easy one. Google Apps for business. You can’t go wrong. It comes with everything you need.. shared calendar, contacts, analytics, Google drive (more later) and hangouts/Google Talk/IM.

Hosting is a bit trickier. It really depends on what you want. Our business is in providing enterprise SaaS so we use Amazon AWS for  our primary production cluster. We have the option to scale up/down and throw more hardware if we want. We also host our non-product website(s) on a single  tiny and very cheap AWS micro-instance. If I was to recommend other scalable providers it would have to be  Joyent or digitalocean.com

If you’re not building a SaaS solution then you probably can go with some local providers (Blacknight appears to the best with people in Ireland- like everyone else they do have some downtime). Your CTO will advise you (read: tells you!).

If you are using Gmail Apps I highly recommend Yesware for tracking emails, setting reminders etc.  It uses the same kind of tracking used in email-marketing tools. It shows if/when your email is opened, where it was opened and how often. Very clever stuff.

Speaking of clever stuff check out  Gmelius. Gmelius is a browser extension that gives a cleaner and smarter Gmail  inbox. Removes ads, changes the label position etc.

Building a website

Since we provide an enterprise grade SaaS all our production code is hand-crafted from scratch. This code is sacred and nothing is allowed near it. We don’t rely on too many frameworks so the code is very clean and manageable.  I’ll encourage our tech guys to write up a post on how they develop & maintain everything.

When it comes to websites about the company we used WordPress. It’s hard to go wrong with WordPress and a decent (responsive) theme. With a couple of SEO plugins it will be up and running in no time. We also have a site based on twitters bootstrap which is pretty cool too. For our support website we use OSTicket.. it’s okay but it’s something I think we can improve on  we use freshdesk. Zendesk is also well work looking at.

As I mentioned all the non-product company websites run on a AWS micro instance – cheap but very powerful.

CRM & Accounting

There is a such a selection out here. My concern with a lot of them is integration with each other. When choosing make sure the CRM can talk with your accounting service and project management.  We use CapsuleCRM which plugs directly into Xero. As a policy we BCC our CapsuleCRM address on every customer correspondence. CapsuleCRM allows you to create sale opportunities, build a sales process, build a profile around a customer (twitter/linkedin), attach files and schedule tasks. It also integrates in Gmail – another big win.

If we were to switch (but we are too committed to CapsuleCRM)  it would be to onePageCRM (feature wise is now playing in the big league).

When it comes to accounting you need to be on top of the books. Again lots of alternatives but we choose Xero. The ability to handle multi-currency being the one feature that swung it for us. It does our payroll, expenses, invoicing, VAT calculation and bank transaction reconciliation. I could spend hours raving about how awesome Xero is but I won’t (I should be part of their sales team!). I’ll just say one thing: Xero has made life so much easier and I love using the service. Big shout-out and thanks to @domybooks (Ralph Smith). If you are looking for a Xero guru and top accountant give Ralph shout. One downside to Xero (and to be fair nearly all accounting packages)  you can’t connect Xero to your business bank feed (with AIB personal account I know you can.. but all our accounts are AIB Business). However, AIB and other banks allow you to export transactions into CSV which is a start. Use this site to convert them into the Xero accepted format and then let ‘auto-reconcile’ be your friend.

Programming related stuff

For API documentation – we use Apiary. It’s fantastic and we’ve been complimented a lot about how we present the API. No more out of date API docs.. and the great thing is that you can provide sample code and test an API call on the site. Also check out POSTman  for testing APIs.

Remote monitoring. If you are running a website you’ll need to know when something goes wrong. We have a fairly extensive way of monitoring our production cluster, in fact it’s a custom build as it’s an integral part of our failover mechanism. It’s a thing of beauty.  For non essential websites we use sites like Pingdom or monitor.us to keep tabs of things. Glad to say we don’t get many notifications. Pingdom also allows you to produce a public status page – which is handy.

 Desktop related tools should also get a mention

  • Sublime2 (best editor for just about everything)
  • Navicat (for SQL.. becoming redundant for us now)
  • MongoVue (Quick view of what’s going on in our mongoDB ) or RoboMongo
  • Putty/SSH/Winscp/Terminal for Windows (would be lost without these.. I live in them :) )
  • SourceTree (Gui for GIT)

DNS Management

<NerdFilter>. We got caught out by hosting our service on cheap and cheerful providers.. we then moved to AWS .. BUT .. the DNS management was still on the cheap and cheerful provider. We got stung when their DNS went down.. resulting in our API going down. We were not best pleased so looked around for provider. We choose DynDns - managed DNS. It’s quick and allows an API call to update DNS entries at a moment notice. Very useful when you offer 99.999% SLA and  implement failover. </NerdFilter>

Day to Day Apps

Dropbox – if you’re not using dropbox .. what’s wrong with you!? Dropbox changed the way we worked. Just copy a file to Dropbox and all the gang has it. You’ll never have to run a back up again. No more emailing files to people. If you (or someone else)  delete something.. no problem Dropbox will allow you restore it via their website.

One caveat with Dropbox – you’ll have issues if multiple people are trying to edit documents at the same time – so we just use Google Drive for editing docs/excel sheets. I still think MS PowerPoint is king of presentation tools (if you know how to use it properly!) but as for word documents and excel – we are using Google Drive more &  more.

Twitter – Tweetdeck not only does it provide a never ending stream of tweets for entertainment you can use it for monitoring tweets related to customers etc. It’s good to know, how & what your customers are doing/saying. You can also use it to find possible sales leads.

Linkedin - Brilliant for finding (out) people, finding possible sales leads, getting introductions and discovering events. Caveat – I’ve found the Inmails don’t work any more. You’ll need to be creative to get talking to the people you want to talk to.

Just a few bits and bobs I use every day.

  • MightyText (send receive SMS from your desktop/tablet/ using your phones SMS)
  • Any.do – great day to day reminder for mobile and desktop.
  • Evernote – never forget anything
  • Launchy – I hate messy desktops. I launch everything with launchy (not so much an online tool but I use it everyday!)
  • Skype - Enough said.
  • everything.exe (a realtime windows file search.. way better than the POS  that windows ships).
  • join.me – We run  all our web demos / screen share using this service. Worth every penny. It even comes with a conference bridge number (multi-country) but I’ve found the call quality to be hit and miss.
  • HelloFax/HelloSign – for sending Fax (yeah I know.. who sends Faxes these days!?) and for signing PDF documents.

So that’s my take on startup tools and services – I’ve probably forgot a few so will update when I realise it.

If you want to leave any of your recommendations… pop them in the comments.

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Bridging EPC3925 and using Asus RT-N16 instead

I got very frustrated with UPC’s default router. The EPC 3925. It’s a piece of junk. I wanted to remove it completely but that’s not possible.
Luckily you don’t have to use it for networking features like firewall, wireless distribution, DHCP etc. After much research, I bought an Asus RT-N16 (the N66u is also a fine router) , put the EPC3925 into “bridged mode” and used the Asus for sharing the internet to rest of the devices in the house. I haven’t looked back. It’s rock solid.

Here’s a how-to to enable bridged mode on the EPC3925  connecting the Asus RT-N16.  The guide should work for other ‘good’ standalone routers.  e.g wrt 54GL, Asus N66u etc.

Preliminary Setup

Disconnect every Ethernet cable from the cisco box.
Leave the co-ax cable screwed into the box via the ‘Cable’ connector.
Power up the Cisco.

Disable the wireless card in your laptop for the moment. (I sometimes don’t trust wireless which is funny considering my background :) )
Now connect a laptop to the Cisco box with an Ethernet cable via Port 1 (yellow ports in item 6 of the first diagram).

Step 1 Disabling Cisco wireless

Open a browser on the laptop, log into the cisco router via http://192.168.1.1
Login with your username / password combo.
Head over to the wireless setting and take note of the wireless name (SSID) and password. Also take note of the type of security used (WPA, WPA2 etc.)  You’ll need these later.
Disable the wireless part completely.
Check on the laptop (or phone/tablet) that the wireless network is now gone (enable the wireless on the laptop and make sure you don’t see the old SSID).

Step 2 Bridging the Cisco router

Now that the wireless part of the Cisco router is completely turned off – time to bridge it.
Via the admin page on Cisco box head over to Administration > Management
You should see an option for ‘Router Mode’ and ‘Bridged Mode’
* If you only see ‘Router mode’ then your Cisco box has an old firmware and you need to do an extra step (see 2.1).
Select ‘Bridged Mode’ and save settings.
The box will reboot. That should be the end of using the Cisco EPC3925.
You shouldn’t be able to connect to the Cisco box after the reboot. Don’t freak out. In bridge mode everything is turned off  by default like DHCP which allocates IP addresses. The epc3925 is now a very basic modem which connects to your internet provider and presents the internet as a connection for other routers to share. (if you do need to connect to it – it’s now at IP address: 192.168.100.1  <- note the different network number. You will need to manually set your laptop IP address to be something like   192.168.100.25)

NB: Bridging the Cisco router will not prevent your telephone from working as confirmed by comments below (Thanks Graeme & Paddy).

Step 2.1 – the extra step to enable bridging on older Cisco firmware

Only do this step if the option is not present on your epc3925. (If you have recently done a ‘hard’ reset on your Cisco box – please allow UPC time to update it.)
Follow the  instructions here to enable the bridging option on the Cisco:  http://www.boards.ie/vbulletin/showthread.php?t=2056758726

Use Opera (it’s the best for this). Once visible jump back to Step 2.

Note: Because the administration pages are just HTML at the end of the day, the ability to put the Cisco box into bridge mode hasn’t been disabled – The settings have just been hidden and the workaround allows us to see the setting again. 

 

Step 3 Connecting the Asus to the Cisco

Disconnect your laptop from the Cisco box but leave the cable plugged into Port 1 of the Cisco box.
Connect the cable that’s plugged into Port 1 of the Cisco box into the WAN port (  Blue ) of the Asus RT-N16
Power up the Asus.

Step 4 Connect the Laptop to the Asus

Connect the laptop to the Asus with another Ethernet cable. Use Port 1 (yellow port) on the Asus to connect the laptop.

On the laptop using a web browser go to http://192.168.1.1

If you need to upgrade firmware,  download from here and unzip the file. You should have a single .trx file  use this for the upgrade. Mine was old so I upgraded to 3.0.0.4.260 – the latest beta has Wake-on-LAN.  (Make sure nothing else is plugged in if upgrading. Use the Asus control panel to upload the .trx file. After a reboot you should see the new control panel. The upgrade is worth it!). Let the ASUS reboot.

You should now have the Asus dashboard.

If it’s the first time to use the Asus – follow the instructions on the Asus Quick Internet Setup wizard to setup your internet connection.

I found the wizard to be great – it did everything and the whole house was back up and running when completed.

I used the wireless network name SSID, security type and password from the Cisco (noted from Step 1) as the wireless name and password on the Asus. This mean’t I didn’t have to setup all the other devices again.
At this point you’re done. The Cisco is bridged and the Asus is now doing all the work with ease. No more bad WiFi or dropping of connection.

I disconnected the cable from the laptop  to the Asus and used the wireless connection instead.

If you have devices that connect via ethernet cables plug them into the yellow ports on the Asus.. Nothing (except the one ethernet cable going to the Asus WAN port) should be plugged into the Cisco.

 

Super Wifi Bonus Step – WindSurfer Antenna

Need to boost your wifi even more!? No problem. Use the windSurfer antenna.

Grab the stencil here print it out on stiff card, cover in tinfoil and cut out.

More video instructions here:

Extra info: Reversing the bridge mode

With the Cisco box in bridge mode it takes the IP address of 192.168.100.1
If you need to connect to it and want to reverse the bridge mode you need to do following
Disconnect the Asus router.
Reboot the Cisco.
Manually set the ip address of the laptop to be 192.168.100.50 (Note: 50 is not important it just shouldn’t be 0, 1 or 100 or greater than 255)
Connect laptop to the Cisco via port 1
In a web browser connect to http://192.168.100.1
Login with your usual username / password
Head over to Administration > Management and you should see the option to put it into router mode again.
Select ‘Router Mode’ save settings, the box will reboot and work as originally set.
Remember to undo the ‘manual setting’ of your laptop.

 

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A Phablet in the House

I picked up a 5 inch Android 4.0 3G smartphone tablet (a Phablet) on Amazon recently.

It’s very, very similar to the Galaxy Note from Samsung and made in China but don’t let that put you off. My expectations weren’t high… but boy am I a happy camper so far with this phone. My thoughts so far.

Here’s the deal – it’s a €132 (correct as Oct 2012)  on Amazon and the delivery wait was 10days which wasn’t too bad.

It has the following:

  • Dual Sim – yupe and it works really well.
  • A 5inch screen (it’s huge!) which is very responsive. The resolution is 480×800
  • 3g (it’s fast – got 5Mbps up and 1.25Mbps down)
  • Wifi / GPS
  • FM radio
  • Decent camera (haven’t tried video). 8.0 mega pixel
  • Android ICS 4.0
  • Analogue TV receiver (yes you’ve read that correctly – now defunct in Ireland/UK)
  • Two batteries / Back cover/ear phones and screen protector
  • Cortex A9, 1.0GHz + GPU Power SGX531T + 512MB RAM + 4GB ROM ( I don’t believe it’s an A9 processor see comment below )

 

It’s big massive and very bright. You need two hands to use this beast. It does pass the pocket test but not while driving. I make most of the calls using the headset but when I

Since I’ve got it – I have lost all the desire to get a tablet.. this thing covers sitting on the couch, tweeting, reading and looking stuff up. Voice commands work very well and search results are returned very quickly.

It’s no surprise that Google services works brilliantly on this Android phone. We use Google Apps in work and I use Gmail etc. for personal stuff and Android is great displaying both accounts on the phone. The phone notifies me of new mail before it appears on the desktop which is very impressive. With such a large screen email is a pleasure to read on the phone and with Swype (touch pal) replying to GTalk/texts and email is super quick. Twitter and Facebook work great too.

Favourite Apps

  • Google Gestures (wow! if you haven’t tried it.. what are you waiting for.. get to a contact/app/setting in a swipe of your finger)
  • Touch Pal (smart keyboard replacement)
  • Atooma (the IFFTT for mobile Android devices)
  • Media Apps including: Sky + / Plex/Netflix / Spotify / Google Music
  • Xero / Dropbox
  • Google Maps & Navigation
  • HulloMail
All the apps listed above work really well  on the phone and with the big screen makes the experience even better.
The battery last a day and half which is surprising considering the size of the screen.
The phone call quality is very good (after all this is the main function of a phone!)  and I seem to get very good reception everywhere I go. Can’t complain here at all.  I do however have some niggles.

Some complaints

WiFi  is fine if you are standing beside the router.. it’s otherwise a bit crap. Similarly with GPS the time to fix is poor and even though the device can see multiple satellites it’s slow to lock. When it did it was accurate.  I’ve read on forums that you can apply patches for both I haven’t tried this yet.

For some reason the phone’s English dictionary doesn’t want to work correctly. I installed User Dictionary Management and imported a standard dictionary. Problem solved but it shouldn’t have been a problem in the first place.

The phone says it has a A9 processor but netflix is a little stuttery and leads me to think it’s a different chip. Installing AnTuTu and running the bench mark shows it has similar results to that of Nexus S which has a A8 processor. Further digging shows infact it’s A7 processor. AnTuTu benchmarked the phone at 3717.

 

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Doing (Office) Business in Ubuntu

It’s been some time since I worked on just an Ubuntu box.  For the past few weeks I’ve been working and using solely Ubuntu 12.04.

For me the biggest draw back of Ubuntu was not having MS office. Most All of our customers use MS office and sending them a LibreOffice or open office document will leave them scratching their heads wondering what to do with it! Yes, you can use the free alternatives to create Office document in Ubuntu but they don’t do as good of job (not for me anyway) plus the document you see on your screen won’t be the same document your customer see’s on their screen. Formatting, comments etc. just don’t transition over correctly and it’s a bugbear for me to send something that doesn’t look 100%.  At Cauwill I just couldn’t live without MS Office so I needed to get Office working in Ubuntu. In my past academia life you could easily live without Office – in fact using MS Word for a dissertation/IEEE paper was a very bad sign indeed.

Solving the Microsoft  Office Ubuntu problem

I looked around and tried the good old usual WINE. No luck :( crash after crash got me very frustrated.

I looked at Google docs & MS Office365 but it’s still way too limited (I love creating a slick powerpoint deck + tricky animations to wow the audience… after a talk I often get asked  “What did you use to create your presentation?” )

After a bit of searching around I then found playonlinux and boy does it work!  I now have excel, powerpoint and word all working 100% – not one single crash in the past two weeks. I’ve loaded heavy documents and it seems very stable. I didn’t use the latest version of POL as I found some people were having problems with it so I used version 4.1.1 of POL Google it to find the version, install and then proceed to install Office 2010 using POL. I won’t bore you with the details of how POL works but it actually uses WINE with some voodoo magic. POL provides wrapper shell scripts with a .pol filename extension that specify the configuration of Wine needed in order to install and run a particular application. It choose the correct version and tweaks WINE to work for the application you are installing. Nifty!

Once up and running the biggest problem I then encountered was the lack of association of documents to the Office (Playonlinux) applications. Here’s a solution to that problem: How to associate files with playonlinux . A quick sudo apt-get remove libreoffice*.* and I had office 2010 fully working in Ubuntu 12.04.

For the record  - it’s a Sony Vaio VGN-SR19XN (4yo laptop) with 3Gb of RAM and a 140Gb SSD harddrive.

The biggest drawback for Linux nowadays is the lack of support for media clients like Plex and Netflix – I hope these get fixed soon and if the do I’ll let you know!

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Digital TV receiver Xoro DTV-M5

I got a new digital TV box (Xoro DTV-M5)  which is capable of receiving Saorview channels from the ever friendly guys over at  TvTrade.ie and I have to say I’m very impressed with it.

It’s a receiver capable of  displaying HD at 1080p,  digital teletext (Mheg5), subtitles, pause &  record (you’ll need to use your own USB key), view pictures & play movies (AVI) from external storage devices.

The box construction is sturdy, not the prettiest thing you’ll ever see but is quite compact. The remote control is functional and standard compared to a lot of boxes like this. The front of the box has USB slot (for external storage devices), a LED channel display, a channel up/down and a power button.

Around the back, are the SCART & HDMI outputs which is great for old and new TV’s. (see picture for other inputs/outputs).

Setting it up was really easy – connect antenna, connect hdmi to TV and plug in. Starting the box for the first time requests you to scan for channels.  It found all the Saorview channels (Tv/Radio) in a few minutes. Just so you know - I don’t have an antenna mounted on the house so I used my trusty small whip antenna which worked just fine once it was outside the house. As you can see from the photos in the gallery the strength wasn’t that great but the quality was good and I didn’t have any glitches with the picture.

Only RTE2 is broadcast in HD at the moment and you can really noticed the difference between SD and HD.  The 7 day EPG works as you expect and it’s easy to navigate no problems here.

Plugging a USB key into the port on the front enables the PVR features, hitting pause works well and is handy if someone rings you in the middle of watching the Father Ted or something ;) You can rewind, skip forward just like regular PVR.

The only problem I came across was with the USB key and recording. My USB key is quite old and was nearly full with about 400Mb free but it caused the box to freeze on one occasion. The remote couldn’t turn the box off so I had to unplug and restart it. I found a different key and couldn’t recreate the problem so it might have been the key.

The USB key happened to have a video file and it played just fine – the box supports a wide range of video formats: mpg, avi, vob, dat, asf, mkv, rm, wmv, tsf, and qt.

I didn’t try viewing pictures, nor did I try all the games.. only tetris but who really plays these kind of games on tv anymore? I also didn’t try the recording of programs listed in the future – when I do I’ll update the blog post.

TvTrade.ie have a real gem here with the Xoro DTV-M5. It delivers exactly what it promises and it’s a bargain with the current promotion of this new Digitial TV receiver!

The only downside of the box is that it doesn’t have a satellite FTA receiver built in – but at that price it would be impossible to squeeze it in and I can’t really complain as this box packs in so much already.

9/10

 

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