Thursday, 28 June 2012

Raspberry Pi running XBMC

As predicted my first play with the Raspberry Pi wasn't terribly productive. I installed Raspbmc a Linux  distribution specifically built to run XBMC on the Raspberry Pi.

I've been using XBMC since the first Xbox was released, it was in fact my soul reason for owning an Xbox. Since then it's grown into a multi platform media player. It runs on Linux, Mac, Windows computers (there's even XBMCbuntu, a Ubuntu based distribution) as well as running on some embedded devices for example Apple Tv (boo!).

XBMC lets you play pretty much any media file from a local drive, network stream or remote share.

The Raspberry Pi performed pretty well, even though the software is still in it's release candidate testing phase.

I had some problems trying to install it first time round, the Raspbmc CDN was being DOSd so it wouldn't install via the interwebs. I downloaded a pre built image file and used dd to image the SD card.

It ships with plug-ins for the BBC iPlayer, 4OD, ITV player and some other video streaming services, the usual audio streams are also included.

Plain sailing after that. The video below depicts me mumbling and sitting too close to the monitor, holding my phone in one hand and driving XBMC via the mouse in my other hand.

Full screen available:

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Yazoo - Signed poster

By request photo of my poorly framed Yazoo poster from the 2008 Reconnected tour. Signed By Alison and Vince.

Click to enbiggen

Brody quest makes everything better

You know it makes sense.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Crap nobody needs number 1

This is a genuine product:
Why would you hang a skeleton? Kids these days eh? An improvement on a pad and pen? Clearly not. For sale on

Can you fit a laserdisc on to a VHS tape?

In response to Can you fit a DVD movie on a VHS tape?

Laserdisc, it's the future (click to enlarge)
As you can see, the laserdisc can easily cope with two films on one side, so four films in total, or conversly, you'd need four videos to copy a laserdisc (both sides). Science you can't argue with.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Moonrise Kingdom - Wes Anderson

So it's been a while since Wes Anderson made a film and reminded us that there is beauty in the world. Below is the trailer for Moonrise Kingdom, which looks fantastic. 

And Check out the poster:

Click image to super size.
Obviously a must see film. While I'm on the subject, we're still waiting for BluRay releases of the Wes Anderson back catalogue.  

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Science is fun - Own your own Portal gun

Well not really. A friend sent me an email with the subject line "Want" and a link to this:

Sarcastic comments from GLaDOS not included
For 100 of your UK pounds you could own a replica Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device. A dream come true for some Portal fans. For some reason I'm reminded of the Christmas my brother got a Spiderman costume, and was upset because it didn't give him super powers.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Another Nvidia 8800GT dies?

I just got back from a friends, computer problems. Looks as though their graphics card has failed. This is the 2nd Nvidia based 8800GT, from around about the same purchase date, which I've investigated in the last three weeks. Could we be on the brink of another capacitor plague? I'll investigate shortly.

Monday, 5 March 2012

stretta - tour 252 case

Decent speakers or headphones required.

The amazing Matthew Davidson, no DAW involved:

Art Attack

While talking a well deserved lunch time walk after finding some rather annoying mistakes people had made at work, I saw a nice example of street art, albeit unfinished. Note the artist at work, partially obscured by the traffic lights.

Click for larger image.
Somewhat reminiscent of what I've seen a great deal of in Berlin, people working on old derelict buildings, enhancing the environment, if even for a short while.
Neil Buchannan would surely be proud.

Edward Art supply hands.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Vince Clarke / Martin Gore - VCMG - Spock

Human jukebox Mr. Vince Clarke (formerly of the wee Depeche Mode) and Mr. Martin Gore (still of the wee Depeche Mode) have recorded an album together, their first collaboration since 1981!

It's Vince Clarke captain, but not as we know it.
As a fan of their collective output I was keen to hear this new stuff. The mute youtube channel has a couple of releases, I'm excited to hear the work as a whole once it's released. Spock followed by Blip.

Headphones or good speakers recommended.

Mari0 - Super Mario Bros vs Portal mashup (Linux, Mac, Windows)

Over at you'll be able to download Mari0, a ground up recreation of the Nintendo classic Super Mario Brothers mixed with valve's modern classic Portal. Check out the action in the trailer:

Their blerb:

A complete from scratch recreation of Super Mario Bros. with a focus on perfectly imitating the feel the 1985 classic gave us. Then give Mario a portal gun, add puzzle game mechanics from Portal and there you go. And if that wasn't crazy enough, play 4-player coop, with everyone having their own Portal gun!

  • Complete recreation of SMB
  • Elements from Portal
  • Portal gun that shoots portals
  • 4-player simultaneaous coop
  • Level Editor that was used to create the levels in the game
  • 33 different hats
  • Downloadable Mappacks
  • Game modifiers for extra fun
So head over to for the download of the game for Linux, Mac and Windows. Source code available.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

PS3 - YLOD - Repair - The reflow

In order to reflow a yellow light of death Playstation 3 you're going to need a heat gun capable of 350 oC. I'd been looking at the Einhell BT-HA 2000, A 2000 Watt heat gun, with two modes mode one at temperature 350 oC, mode two is 550oC. Also included is various attachments, a paint stripping tool and a carry case.

I managed to pick this one up from a home bargains shop close by for £14.99, which is half the price the same model is on

Einhell BT-HA 2000 heat gun
The areas you need to reflow are marked in the red circles

PS3 GPU and CPU top
PS3 CPU and GPU bottom
Clean the thermal compound off the CPU and GPU. I've read that you want to heat these areas with a circular motion for between 15-30 seconds. Once you've done one side do not move the board for 15 minutes. After this time flip it over and reflow the areas on the other side.

So did it work? Well I can't find my thermal compound to re apply to the GPU and CPU before reassembly. I think I may have left it at my folks when fixing a Samsung netbook. Stay tuned for results at a later date.

PS3 yellow light of death - Fixable?

I was gifted (cheers Rachael!) a PS3 which has failed with the dreaded yellow light of death. The cause of the problem is usually due to overheating damaging solder points on the CPU/GPU. Switching in the PS3 results in a weird traffic light scenario, the LED starts off as green, then yellow and finally flashing red.

The problem can be resolved by a technique called reflow soldering. So off I trot to purchase a heat gun.

The galactic inquisitor - "Ignore me!" - KQ2A7ND23Q4C



Fail and Fail Often

Over the course of the last couple of weeks a lot of my time at work has been taken up with dealing with some problems our clients keep running into. There have been structural changes within their organisation, as a result their safe working practices seem to have been deteriorating for some time now.

Essentially, they're not learning from their mistakes, they're not listening to the advice they ask for. Making mistakes is an important part of the learning process, if you learn from your mistakes, make notes if required, and move on.

The current situation with out client sees none of this happening. It can be quite annoying when such problems get classed as 'high priority' (in this case, help with someone else's problems in addition to our own work load) and good advice, investigation/working practices suggested get ignored.

There may be a light at the end of the tunnel, with many failures they should have caught making their way into the production systems the problems have been escalated with the client, and a more senior (objective and level headed) manager assigned to the task. Perhaps he'll whip their team back into shape.

Signing off with 'Fail and fail often' by Jeri Ellsworth. Fantastic advice, applicable to more than electronics.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Open the pod bay doors HAL. Nasa loses International space station control codes

Yeah! Title. So Nasa lost (source) 5408 Laptops betwen 2010/2011 (they're not behind the couch, or on eBay, one of which contained the algorithms used to control the ISS, that's the International Space Station. How long before HAL refuses to open the pod bay doors and Sir Roger Moore is forced to blast off in a discontued space shuttle to defeat Sir (but not really) Hugo Drax? Wait, I'm confusing films again.

Sir Roger Moore, aged 52. Let's see if you look this good after so many years preparing quiche!

In reference to Stanley Kubrick's wee film 2001 I leave you with an IBM computer from 1961 singing "Daisy Bell" by Harry Dacre. It may sound synthetic but nowhere near as forced/false as Coldplay:

CyanogenMod - I miss you.

I've had my Samsung Galaxy S2 for a month now, it replaced my beloved HTC Magic as my daily phone. I am suffering buyers remorse.

When I first saw the HTC Magic available in the UK I decided it was the android device I had to have, I told my dad about the phone and Android, he managed to get one before I did. When I took deliver of mine, three of my friends were so impressed the ordered the exact same device. All well and good. Then came CyanogenMod, a replacement Android build which can be flashed (installed) to many devices (current devices list).

Cyanogen kicked my phone up a notch, it was faster than the Android build Vodafone (boo!) had installed, it didn't have any bundled apps which couldn't be removed (spunkware), I could tweak more settings, use features which the Vodafone build would never support (USB tethering, apps2sd etc).

Over the years the device naturally started to show it's age. My friends who had also bought an HTC Magic moved on to other devices (mostly the Galaxy S2). In November 2011 I was close to buying a replacement, Cyanogen had stopped supporting the old war horse, then I found Ginger Yoshi 1.5. Installing this gave my HTC Magic another, albeit not as hard, kick of life.  At this point my friends fancy Galaxy S2s were rocking Android 2.3.3, my trusty HTC Magic was running 2.3.5. 

Ginger Yoshi 1.5 - Squeezing as much into the HTC Magic as possible
For a while I struggled on, last month I took delivery of my Samsung Galaxy S2. As a long time user of 'after market' firmwares I'm less than impressed with the software. The hardware is great, don't get me wrong, O2 (my provider) have installed a lot of spunkware, ditto Samsung.

I'm currently holding off resolving the software stupidity until CyanogenMod 9 is released. I urge you to investigate CyanogenMod as an alternative to the Android build (and software) supplied by your vendor. It's cost free, though donations do go to a fund the ongoing development.

I still use the HTC Magic occasionally when the Samsung UI pissed me off.

I leave you with "The telephone call" From Electric Cafe by Kraftwerk

Pwnie Express - penetration testing pogo plug

So I just found out about the PwnPlug line of products. I remember reading about a couple of guys doing something like this (link) at Defcon ten years ago using a Sega Dreamcast, but this solution is more powerful, has more features and would look fairly innocuous plugged in to a socket in most offices.

Bringing a new meaning to the term 'Plug and play'

The main features listed on the site:
  • Maintains a covert, encrypted, firewall-busting backdoor into your target network [Details]
  • Includes "Plug UI" for simple web-based setup
  • Tunnels through application-aware firewalls & IPS
  • Sends an SMS message when SSH tunnel is activated
  • Preloaded with Ubuntu, Metasploit, SET, Fasttrack, SSLstrip, nmap, dsniff, netcat, nikto, nbtscan, scapy, ettercap, JTR, medusa, & more!
  • Unpingable and no listening ports in stealth mode
  • Includes stealthy decal stickers
That's quite the payload, delivered in something compact and stealthy. 

Half-Life 3?

On the way to work I noticed a suspicious van, and a shady figure lurking in the forground.

Click for larger image
Is the figure encircled Dr Gordon Freeman? Is the Orange box getting an update? Are Valve about to release Half-Life 3?

No, of course not, but they had better get a move on.

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Roomba - Serial port ahoy!

 In order to do anything fancy with the Roomba we're going to need to interface with it somehow. Fortunately iRobot have made this quite easy. The picture below illustrates the Roomba, simply sitting on my floor.

Roomba at charge, click the image for a larger version
Remove the tray and pop off the green decorative panel:

What have we here (click image above for larger version)
Note the little black circle on the right

Mini din connector (click image to for larger version)
The area encircled is a 7 pin mini din connector, click the image to get a better view. If your roomba was made after 2005 it should have one of these too. 

Access to all sensor information and Roomba functionality is available via this port.

I picked up an 8 pin mini din connector in Maplins (a UK high street components retailer) for £1.79:

8 pin micro din
They didn't have a 7 pin, and the 8 pin is compatible with the connector, so don't worry. Farnell are also really good for components in the UK, if you don't mind waiting for delivery. So the plan is to build a cable to allow me to communicate with the Roomba, and get it to do fancy stuff.

Cable you say? Trailing around the flat as that mechanical contraption leads it on a merry dance? Are you quite mad sir?

My plan is to use an Arduino board, with a wireless module which will sit on top of the Roomba, allowing wireless communication between the Roomba, my home network and the internet. 

Not my arduino, or my hand.
An Arduino is an open source microcontroller allowing rapid prototyping and interfacing with other devices. You program it using the cross platform (Linux, Mac, Windows) development environment/ Additional hardware can be added in the form of 'shields', which are stackable on top of each other. There are a great deal of shields on the market, providing different features/functionality. I plan to use one shield to provide the wireless network functionality I require.

I happen to have an Arduino lying around, they're not terribly expensive. As it's open source there are several other implementations of the Arduino on the market, often referred to as clones. Some are application specific, for example the LilyPad, an Arduino compatible board aimed at wearable computing/sewable electronics. The schematics, all code and development environment are Open Source, so if you have the time and the skills you could build your own Arduino compatible board.

I digress. In my next post I'll describe the process of creating the cable.

For now I'll leave you with highlights of the 12/12/2011 LA Monome meetup, I wish I had been there:

Raspberry Pi - Ordered!

From about 6 am onwards I attempted to order a Raspberry Pi, model B. As expected the web servers in question go hit hard. It was reminiscent of the first 'free day' Sparkfun had a couple of years ago. Eventually at 8:15 am I managed to get place an order with Farnell, half an hour later my confirmation email arrived.

Much bitching whining and over reacting on Slashdot, as expected, but I'm happy that I've got one on order somewhere, and it'll turn up at some point within the next couple of months.

To cheer up those who have yet to secure an order, Safety dance by Men without hats:

Raspberry Pi - Launch day?

So it's 5:56am, like many other people I set my alarm early to try and order a Raspberry Pi device. A $35 single board computer, ARM CPU, 256MB RAM, SD Card slot, HDMI and RCA output. There are two models A and B, the latter having an Ethernet port and two USB ports.

I've been following the ongoing saga, development issues and production setbacks for some time now, I've got some interesting plans for these devices.

A far cry from the Amstrad CPC 464 :)
There'd been a lot of buzz on the Raspberry Pi forums of late, a post recently on the site telling people expect an announcement. Many people, myself included expected to be able to order one of the first batch today, however the plan now seems to be to register your interest via Farnell or RS. Both sites are now flat lining under the load.

Just checked the BBC news site, they published a story at 6:01

Hang on in there folks, back to bed for me.

Monday, 27 February 2012

Roomba - It's alive!

Just a quick video showing the fully charged replacement battery in action. Roomba is returning to the docking station. I cut out the sound as I had radio 4 on in the background. Higher resolution video available on YouTube.

Note that when it's cleaning the floor it moves much quicker, this is docking speed.

As previously mentioned, the roomba required a replacement battery. In my next post I'll detail how to diagnose charging problems. Is the base station broken? Is the charger faulty? Is roombas battery not holding charge? Stay tuned for some top roomba power diagnostic tips. Multimeter required! - packaging and delivery fail.

Late last week my dad's graphics card failed, so I ordered a replacement. The card which failed was a Nvidia 8800gt 256MB. The replacement I ordered was an ATI Radeon 7750 1GB. My dad does some light gaming but mainly graphics editing, standard desktop application use and some video work, so for the price the ATI card was a good deal.

Shortly after ordering I received an email from telling me that the order had been shipped, the courier was DHL and a tracking number was provided. 

When I went to the DHL site their tracking system didn't recognise the reference number dabs provided.

Later that afternoon a package arrived at work, from Yodel, not DHL as dabs would have had me believe.

The graphics card with packaging measures 23.5x19x7.5cm, the box which arrived at work measured 49x59x30cm. What a crazy waste of packaging and space while in transit.

Wait, that's not a real woman!


Don't worry, I recycled the packaging and have made Dabs aware of the multi fail.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Welcome to the future

As a child of the 1980s as well as an unhealthy fear of nuclear war I grew up with various things which were constantly on my mind. I've always been interested in technology, it's applications and impact on society as a whole and to individuals.

For a while the shows like 'Tomorrows world', cartoons, the news and mainstream cinema made one thing clear, pretty soon we'll all have a robot in our house to do our bidding, whatever that may be at the time.

So towards the end of last year while browsing ebay I decided to bid on a robot I could have at home. For ~£50 I picked up an iRobot Roomba 530, sold as needing a replacement battery.

The Roomba is a circular robot which vacuums the floor. This is ideal for me, I can switch it on each day before I leave for work and it'll vacuum my flat, return to it's docking bay to recharge and all I have to do is empty it a removable section where the dust is stored into my bin. So while I'm getting paid to cut code and solve problems, the roomba is cleaning my flat.

A good clean (seriously, if you're going to sell stuff on ebay at least clean the items before you post them to someone) and a replacement battery was required before it was up and running.

This is a good start, but I want more from this device. I have a terrible habit of always wanting to modify or hack things I buy, the roomba is no exception.

This blog will start out with me describing my investigations into roomba hacks/mods. My basic research so far shows that with some basic DIY skills it's possible to add functionality to my roomba, some of which exists on newer more advanced (and expensive) models, some of which iRobot don't even support yet.

My next post will contain a breakdown of the roomba, outline the mods I initially plan on implementing,

I feel that a fitting way to end this introductory post is to sign off with a video combining Robots, Tomorrows world and Kraftwerk. So here's Kraftwerk's robots from around about 1991 (the Mix tour) on Tomorrows world: