Playing with LinuxMCE and thoughts

July 29, 2012 by · 17 Comments
Filed under: Hardware, Linux 

Long time no writing for various reasons. I’ve played around with LinuxMCE for a few days as it looked like a really sweet solution for home automation etc. I’ve previously had a HTPC running mythbuntu as a main server for my home network, then switched for a Guruplug to save electricity and now finally decided for an Atom D525 platform to use as a personal NAS because it draws very little power (17’ish watts), I can hook up a lot of harddrives etc to it, and finally it’s i386 meaning a lot of stuff that was unavailable for the guruplug would start working again (management tools for my UPS for example).

Anyways, I also moved to a house in the last few weeks and decided to start fiddling a bit with home automation and to give one of the dedicated distributions a shot, LinuxMCE because it has support for such a hell of a lot of features etc. Unfortunately, after 2 days of trials I’m severely disappointed by all the bugs and stuff that just wont work with the default settings etc. For example, it took me 1,5 days to get a basic weborbiter (remote controller via web interface) to work. Secondly it took me another 4-5 hours to realize that LinuxMCE absolutely will not run properly with LVM. I have always used an LVM for storing files etc. The LVM currently consists of 2.5TB spread over 3 disks. The only solution I’ve been able to deduce is to get another set of disks, install in LinuxMCE, then copy all the files to that set of disks, and then have 3 disks that I don’t really need atm. On top of this, just getting the graphics output to work was … let’s just say, not easy, and will only work with a very limited set of hardware. On top of this, the Android qOrbiter is extreme alpha quality (crashes so much I can’t describe it, it’s completely useless on 3 different devices).

Over all, I think LinuxMCE could be a really badass solution, but it isn’t because of all the bugs and lousy documentation. Imho, the feeling I get is that the system is developed and installed by a limited group of people who knows about the issues and knows how to get around them. Ie, the claims that “similar” products cost XXXXX USD is offset by the fact that this system really requires a lot of knowledge about this system which will take weeks (if not months) to get and requires you to get a consultant to do the installation for  you.

After a few days of trying to set up a Core/Hybrid properly with a few remotes and a Media Director I just realized I’ll reuse an old harddrive in the machine that was to be the Media Director and set up mythtv on it, and setup the “supposed to be LinuxMCE Hybrid” as a Debian server which replaces the guruplug for network control and basic operations. I’ll have to figure something out when it comes to remote controlling music etc, I’m unsure what yet.I hate being this negative about LinuxMCE, but I really wish this system had worked a bit better for me because it ticks a _lot_ of boxes I’m interested in. I’m guessing the main issue that I stomped into this thinking I’d be able to preserve and reuse existing hardware and harddrives etc, which I’m apparently not able to and obviously caused a lot of headaches. If  you are still interested in trying this out, make sure to start from scratch, do not expect to reuse old tablets etc, get new (old) ones etc.

Guruplug arrived, sounds like a jet

October 8, 2010 by · 3 Comments
Filed under: Development, Hardware, Linux 

The first few paragraphs here are rather harsh vs the Guruplug that I received, and yes, GlobalScale deserves some really bad critique for how this has been handled, but please read the final parts to get a full picture. In all honesty, sometimes I think I should just change name to “Grumpy Fart”.

I finally received the Guruplug Server Plus last week that I ordered 3 months ago. My first reaction is a big WTF on this machine. Apparently, they’ve had big troubles with overheating in the Guruplug, so badly so that a lot of units died from it. Someone over at GlobalScale Technologies had the absolutely idiotic idea to put a fan into the machine. It’s not just any fan, it’s a 2 cm maglev fan running at 3-4000 rpm, and no powermanagement whatsoever and it is directly hooked up to the power source inside the Guruplug, hence it will not be possible to vary the rpm, ever, without a hardware hack. Also, the fan is absolutely horribly placed as is evident from several pictures on the net (and by opening the machine, voiding the warranty) — it is placed with 80-90% of the back of the fan covered by a metal plate (the two gigabit ethernet interfaces), and when the machine is closed up as delivered, it has a big plastic plate (power source cover) covering the front of the fan, with less than 2 mm clearance. All this means is that it is incredibly noisy (easily 30-40dB, way louder than my core 2 quad machine with 8 gig ram and 4 fans in it, while in bootup and before the nvidia graphics card has gone into power management), and has close to no effect at all.

I bought this machine when there was no fan, and there wasn’t even talk of a fan or any mails to acknowledge this design change, so I was heavily inclined at sending the thing back for a refund, but I realized that with my normal luck, it would take several weeks to find a new machine matching my needs, and then another few months before receiving it. Because of this, I winded up simply ripping out the fan, and voiding the warranty. So far so good, and nothing bad has happened. The plug is still running approximately at the same temperature as before, but slightly higher, and I hope there will be no ill effects.

Second WTF when I finally got the machine started up was the installation — first off it is a really nice debian install, I was prepared to start straight off with the jtag interface and installing images and reinstalling etc etc, but there was a perfectly working machine there, straight off. Nice. I thought. Then came the wtf moment, the machine booted up and set an ip address for the uap0 interface (wifi access point interface) to My plan is to use it hooked up to a wired network via gigabit, so I went straight at it, added the eth0 interface to /etc/network/interfaces with a static ip, delete routes and ip’s for uap0 and it worked… for an hour or so, then it stopped working. Reboot, still not working, notice that uap0 is back at it’s old location and routes are back, but nothing in the bootup scripts. Finally find out they have a /etc/init.d/rc.local file point to a /root/, which in turn does a heap of stuff — including setting up network parameters etc, overriding the normal configuration parameters in a nonstandard way.

Personally, I find this type of “hacked” environments to be despicable. For a private system in your home, fine do whatever you wish, but when it is a public server at a company, or something that you sell to customers, you wind up with a product that the other admins and/or customers can not trust the setup of. Luckily, the whole system is at least included in installed .deb packages. The, together with the fact that there is no way of recovering if you do a simple screw up of the network setup without the JTAG interface is a major drawback imho.

So… that is the “bad” part of my experience so far. At this point I was rather underwhelmed, but I have been pleasantly surprised by the performance of the little bugger, and except for the startup scripts, it is rather nicely installed from what I have see so far. It would be interesting to gather up a complete list of the “hacks” they have performed to get it all together. The machine is currently able to do exactly what I set out to do, in less than a 2 days of configuration/fixing/fiddling about/etc. I didn’t manage to get the “auto connect” of my usb disk to work, but mount commands work and I didn’t really look at how it’s supposed to work (might be that you need to reboot machine etc). The idea with the machine on my part, is to set it up as a 24/7 machine, replacing my other machine doing this work, but at a lower power consumption. So far, the machine is running the following services for me:

  • DHCP
  • Dynamic DNS
  • Samba and NFS filesharing
  • Ssh network login server
  • USB Disk/”NAS” function
  • Bittorrent (transmission-daemon with transmission-remote on all other machines)

Additionally I hope to use it for the following as well:

  • Printer server
  • Zeroconf/avahi
  • Firewall (possible use as a portable firewall?)
  • Temperature sensors etc via GPIO?
  • Bluetooth, still haven’t figured out what to do with this…

As you can see, the machine is very capable, and all at a very low power consumption of <5W compared to my old computer doing all this, running at 170W approximately. At current power costs, I am expecting to have made up the money I spent on the Guruplug within less than 9 months. Let’s just keep fingers crossed that the machine wont die of heat before that 🙂 .


In conclusion, I am really afraid to say anything but this, I can not really recommend this product, not unless you’re either ready to do some serious hacking, or you plan to run it in a garage or some such place. A wardrobe or closet is simply not enough, it sounds too much as it is. The idea and the thought behind the machine is great, I just wish the execution of it was as good.

Christmas ending

January 4, 2009 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Hardware, Linux 

So, christmas and new years holidays is coming to an end. A long and arduous autumn/winter at work has ended, and an equally joyful christmas holiday is ending. This has been the year of working for my part, and the experience has been incredible. In all honesty, I’ve never had the opportunity to work in such a stimulating environment as I have the last few months, and I’m very happy for it.

Me and the girlfriend had the bad habit of buying an Xbox 360 for ourselfs this christmas, which made us realize we have a really small tv, so within 5 days we bought a new one. Then, we realized how bad speakers we have, so we winded up buying a set of bose speakers and new spdif cables within 2-3 days as well. This in turn, and the fact that I finally had some spare time, lead to me spending a lot of time finally getting the HTPC configured and working.

The entire HTPC is worth mentioning since I’ve put it together from parts, and installed/configured everything on my own. My opinion is that mythtv and ubuntu (mythbuntu) has come a long way as a platform for end users, but they still have a long way to go I’m afraid. My biggest annoyance is still the same it was 12 years ago unfortunately, and I think it’s to some extent become even worse over time. Graphics and Sound drivers…

I personally have fairly new nvidia card which I want 3d graphics on, and all the hardware accelerations etc, in other words I’m stuck with the nvidia drivers. You would think it would be easy with the proprietary hardware drivers stuff in Ubuntu, but it’s not. It’s actually worse than some years ago when I last handled these setups, then all you had to do was compile and install drivers in the correct kernel modules directory. Now you have to fight with umpteenth other installers which crashes and overwrites eachothers and so forth, and then when you do an update, all of a sudden you overwrite your working drivers with nonworking versions and you’re stuck trying to figure out just what happened. Also, the choice of good graphics cards has become smaller imho. If you want something powerful, you’re stuck with nvidia or ati. Both drivers are completely horrible to get working. I’m hoping the rumours I’ve heard lately will turn true here, and we’ll finally see better support for open source software from both companies, at least if they could make a single decent installer for the proprietary drivers in the common Linux distributions.

And my final gripe, which isn’t so large as the other ones, the sound drivers. Sound was absolutely horrible back in the days with OSS, whatever soundcard I tried to install, I winded up with either having to run the trial OSS drivers, or choosing between no sound and buying the OSS drivers. This has become much better happily. It’s still not working flawlessly as I just found out (SPDIF took a few hours to get working, and I still haven’t gotten 5.1 output to work correctly over SPDIF).

These are critical areas of an OS (you expect sound and graphics to “work out of the box” these days, not having to screw around with settings/drivers/installers as soon as you deviate by a single micron from the specifications.

On top of this, I had some more serious issues with my iMON PAD remote, once again after reinstalling the system. That I can live with, but it’s a serious annoyance. For some reason, the configurations shipped with mythbuntu had a bunch of codes that where off by a few numbers every here and there, and then there was a lot of buttons not connected between lirc to mplayer and mythtv.

Apart from this, I’m very happy with the setup by now. The basic functionality is there, but it’s made for tweaking and having fun, so there’s still a lot of things I’m interested in doing on it :-).

By now, I’m mainly waiting for work to start again, I feel rested, I’ve gotten to fiddle with some hardware and software, and I got new energy for the new year. I just need to try and get working on my webpage and stuff like that a little bit more so I can finally finish it. Like all IT projects, it’s running very late ;-).

Removing U3 from a SanDisk cruzer micro 1gb memory

October 9, 2008 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Hardware, Windows 

Girlfriend has had a USB memory stick for a long long time now, and every time I plugged it into the computer, I’ve gotten completely raving mad at how retarded it is. The story is this, it has 2 separate partitions. 1 partition where you save files etc, and a “system” partition containing something called U3. U3 is closest described as a virus imho.

The system partition is read only and I found no way of easily making it read/write/formattable. Every time you plug in the USB stick, it will autorun a junk program called U3 launchpad with a lot of popups showing up to let you know about it, and it has a bad notion of trying to be a second “start” menu or something.

Anyways, I decided for the 3rd time to try and remove this crap from the USB stick, both times before I got about 10 minutes into the process, at which time the computer had locked up hard on me 2-3 times, and almost had me stomping on the memory stick out of sheer annoyance. Same thing happened this time. But, I had some more perseverance, and actually access to the internet this time, and started searching for others with the same kind of problem.

I found this: . The sheer idiocy of this amazes me. Let’s assume that here I am buying a memory stick to help me “when I have no access to the internet”, and I get some junk with me on the usb drive. The only way of getting rid of the junk, is to download an application off of the “thing I will likely not have access to”.

So, I download the application, and run it. It asked me if I wanted to backup the data on the memory stick. I did, so I choose to backup data on it, and continued. It downloaded the data properly to the harddrive it looked like, and continued to reformat the drive. At this point, it crashed, trying to replug the USB drive didn’t work — apparently the driver for the drive was already installed. So, reboot the computer, and it finally recognizes the drive again. It’s empty, no more U3, but the application never got around to actually formatting the new drive and reinsert the backed up data. No worries I think, I format the drive, and manage to search down the backup to C:Documents and SettingsApplication DataU3tempU3BkUpDir. Guess what, the application only copied the directory structure, no data is actually in the directories.

And they have the audacity to _really really_ try to talk me into “nooo, you want to keep this application, it will save your life” more or less. It’s a freaking virus. It’s actually harder to get rid of than quite a lot of viruses, and caused more of a havoc imho. Anyways, check out the above link to get rid of U3. And be prepared to backup data on your own

Linux iMON pad remote controller with lirc

September 11, 2008 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Hardware, Linux 

In short, the SoundGraph iMON PAD that came with my SilverStone LC20 doesn’t work very well with the default ubuntu 8.04 installation. I’ve previously discussed how to get the VFD running, and am now turning my attention to the remote control and how to get it decently working in mythtv with lirc.

Let’s start by looking at the following image:
In short, red files are “main steps” which the “packets” flow from the remote control, and finally reaching lircd where they are converted from a binary stream into something intelligeble (with the help of the lircrc file, which specifies names for the different hex codes).

blue boxes are configuration files, green boxes are “users” of lircrc — ie, they will connect to lircd and receive all the updates from lircd as needed. Finally, magenta boxes are different things needed to build to get stuff running.

Everything will work out of the (ubuntu 8.04) box more or less, except for the big blobby nice mousepad on the remote control. That one is a mouse — sort of — and doesn’t work at all for me, your mileage may vary however (ie, it didn’t work for me, it might change fast)

Install Xorg, mythtv, mplayer, linux-kernel sources (needed later) and lirc via apt-get or your prefered frontend. Configure the packages, start xorg and make mythtvfrontend start from the .xinitrc if you so wish, and then start via the startx script, or rather make it start up as you feel most comfortable with. I’m an old fart and I like my startx.

Once all this is set up, all things should work, except the remote control, as already said. Most buttons will work, but not the big blobby knob (a.k.a. mousepad).

Well, it’s time to hack the horrible hack I guess. Download lirc-0.8.3 from Also, download the pad2keys patch from

1. Unpack the lirc package.
2. Patch the lirc package with the pad2keys patch (it will most likely fail with some chunks, just look at the patch, and add the code manually, are you a hacker or not?!).
3. Configure and make the lirc package. Don’t install it.
4. run uname -r, note your kernel version (2.6.24-19-server for example).
5. run “locate lirc_imon.ko” (have you updated your locate database? man updatedb, hint hint). If there are more than one in the list showing up, find the one in /lib/modules//blah blah.
6. Copy lirc-0.8.3/drivers/lirc_imon/lirc_imon.ko to the file you found in step 5, and replace the old one.
7. Either reboot, or if you know how to rmmod lirc_imon.ko and modprobe the new one. This might fail if you followed my previous post on islcd=0 etc, if you did, remove that line again.

Don’t forget to edit your lircd.conf with the new IR codes from the webpage. Set PAD key’s to good values, such as this:

Up 0x690281B7
Right 0x688A81B7
Down 0x688291B7
Left 0x6A8281B7

Finally add them to your lircrc in a good way, such as this:

prog = mythtv
button = Up
config = Up
delay = 2
repeat = 1

prog = mythtv
button = Down
config = Down
delay = 2
repeat = 1

prog = mythtv
button = Left
config = Left
delay = 2
repeat = 1

prog = mythtv
button = Right
config = Right
delay = 2
repeat = 1

So, you’re now a hacker of immense proportions. Celebrate with some mead and grow a beard like the rest of the hackers ;-).

Ubuntu 8.04 lirc_imon VFD’s

September 10, 2008 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Hardware, Linux, Ubuntu 

I got a silverstone LC20 chassi with a built in iMON vacuum fluorescent display (VFD) and IR remote control. I recently upgraded to Ubuntu 8.04 from 7.10 — yes I know, I am a bit late, but generally you don’t have to deal with kinks like this one when that happens.

Ubuntu 7.10 -> 8.04 changed the behaviour of the lirc_imon module pretty little, yet radically. The old default was to treat all iMON driven screens as VFD’s, but it now defaults to treat all iMON modules as LCD modules instead.

This results in tons of errors being pumped out (10’s-100’s per second), like this one:

Sep 9 21:35:00 fs1 kernel: [ 71.481262] /var/lib/dkms/lirc/0.8.3~pre1/build/drivers/lirc_imon/lirc_imon.c: lcd_write: invalid payload size: 32 (expecting 8)

Also, the VFD will not work. To make a long story short, to fix it, you need to tell the kernel module that the VFD is in fact a VFD and not a LCD, by giving the kernel module the option islcd=0. For example, in /etc/modprobe.d/options:

options lirc_imon islcd=0

I hope this helps anyone out there. I will soon try to have something together on getting the iMON PAD working properly. The basics was simple to get working, but the “mousepad” has been a general pain to get up and running properly.

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