Eee 701 Planetoid

2012/05/28

My Raspberry Pi – a Flickr photoset

Filed under: Hardware, Raspberry Pi — Tags: , , — Tim @ 08:13
Raspberry Pi Model B in PiHouse case - HDMI port-sideRaspberry Pi Model B, just after unboxingRaspberry Pi Model B atop Asus Eee 701SD netbookRaspberry Pi Model B in PiHouse case - Ethernet and USB portsRaspberry Pi Model B in PiHouse case - analogue audio and composite video outputRaspberry Pi Model B in PiHouse case - SD card slot
Raspberry Pi Model B in PiHouse case - undersideRaspberry Pi Model B in PiHouse case - operational

Raspberry Pi Model B, a set on Flickr.

I took delivery of a PiHouse case for my Raspberry Pi Model B over the weekend, and when I’d assembled and installed everything (I’ll try and put together a review shortly), I took a few photos and put together a Flickr photoset of “ryo-ohki” (my Pi), to show off the new case.

For “completion’s sake”, I also added in a couple of pics from when I first took delivery of my Model B. Hope you enjoy these 🙂

2012/05/26

Raspberry Pi: first impressions

Filed under: Hardware — Tim @ 08:15

So, late last week, just over two months since I “expressed an interest” in buying one (less than ten minutes after the proverbial shutters went up), my Raspberry Pi Model B arrived at home. There has been no shortage of reviews on the Web of the tiny cheap ARM-based computer, so I will content myself with a few points on my initial steps with the machine—I’ll have plenty of opportunity to write more before long 🙂

  • The very first impression I received when opening the box, was just how small the Raspberry Pi is. No amount of photos, video clips and articles referring to a “credit-card-sized” device, quite prepared me for removing the “bare board” from its anti-static bag, and realising that… well, it is credit-card-sized. It’s hard to believe that this tiny circuit board, with its array of various connectors arranged around the edge, can drive a flat-panel TV, accept USB peripherals and the rest, but so it can…
  • I have to wonder, how the various connectors on the board (USB, Ethernet, HDMI, etc.) will stand up to being plugged into and unplugged over time. The micro-USB power-supply socket in particular, is pretty stiff, and requires a moderate amount of force to connect and disconnect. As this latter is quite small, I am mildly concerned that it may break one day, especially as I am unlikely to be able to repair the connector myself. Time will probably tell.
  • Oh yes: power supply. Hold that thought.
  • The Raspberry Pi has a number of operating systems which it can boot and run from SD memory card—mostly ARM-based Linux distributions, but also some more exotic platforms such as RISC OS. I chose Arch Linux ARM, largely due to the experience I’ve gained from running Arch on my Eee.
    Aside from an initial refusal to boot—rectified by simply re-writing the OS to the SD card—I didn’t encounter any problems booting Arch/ARM on the RasPi. It started essential services without a blip, joining our home LAN (via Ethernet) and setting the clock from the Internet via NTP, all without manual intervention. I was even able to carry out a full package update (# pacman -Syu), which the Pi executed without a grumble. Pretty impressive for an ARM-based computer the size of a bank card.
  • Remember I mentioned the power supply earlier? If there’s one “fly on the Pi” to date, it’s a biggie: the machine is incredibly fussy about the power it receives over USB. If the current drops much below 1A, the Pi begins to behave erratically, or at worst will stop functioning altogether.
    Sadly, I’ve experienced one of the most common “low-power” issues: keypresses from the keyboard are repeated or missed out, making it well-nigh impossible to enter commands. I’ve tried both USB wireless and wired keyboards—the former does at least work (after a fashion, albeit exhibiting the repeat-keypresses problem), whilst the latter causes the OS to “kernel-panic”. Finally, I bought a Nokia AC-10X micro-USB power supply (higher output than most), and tried the Logitech K360 USB wireless keyboard we used (infrequently) for our Wii. One or both of these fixed the keypresses issue, so I was able to go onto more fun Pi-pursuits!

Stay tuned for further updates…

2012/01/17

Raspberry Pi: a PC in your pocket?

Filed under: Hardware, Uncategorized — Tags: , , — Tim @ 14:53
Raspberry Pi

Raspberry Pi,
originally uploaded by ubuntunewsru.

If you follow the tech and gadget press—and perhaps even the “regular” media’s technology supplements—you may have got wind of a British-initiated IT project which has garnered a considerable amount of interest in recent months… and has now grabbed my attention too 🙂

The product in question is the Raspberry Pi, and although it is officially aimed at schools and the education market, the device already has computing and Linux fans straining at the leash to get their paws on one.

Judging by the coverage, the reasons are not hard to understand. In short, the Raspberry Pi is a functioning computer, with (on the “Model B”) an ARM processor, 256Mb RAM, a OpenGL-capable graphics system with HDMI and component video output, audio out, 10/100 Ethernet, USB and 5V micro-USB power… all built onto a circuit board the size of a credit card, and likely to cost around UKP25. Initially, the device will be sold “as is”, without a case or enclosure, though from what I have read, there is no shortage of enthusiasts stepping up to design custom cases, or suggest alternative enclosures (an empty tin of Altoid mints seems to be a popular one!).

There are plenty of news sites picking up on the potential of a device like this. To pick one out at random, The Guardian has given the Pi some attention in its Education section, focusing on the avowed aim of the project to revitalise the teaching of computing in schools (and perhaps even inspire a new generation of coders and ‘hackers’ (in the non-criminal, inventive sense of the term)).

OK… so why am I posting on my Eee blog about the “R-Pi”? One reason is that I’ve always been interested in small and inexpensive computers, from the Psion Series 3x and Series 5mx I owned in the late 90s, through to the Eee 701 itself, and the Raspberry Pi looks like it packs a lot of functionality into a very small and cheap package.

Furthermore, as a leaf through this very blog should reveal, I am a keen Linux “tinkerer” when it comes to my Eee, and the R-Pi provides ample scope for experimentation, with HDMI, USB and Ethernet connectivity in a low-power device. There are a number of prominent Linux distributions which have been ported to the ARM processor family, including Debian and Fedora, but most of interest to me is Arch Linux ARM, as I could hopefully “port” my experience with Arch’s x86 sibling to the R-Pi.

Finally: quite simply, my imagination is fired by the idea of a usable computer which could fit in a pocket. Any HDMI display could be used as a monitor, as well as just about any keyboard or pointing device with a USB interface—even a combined one with a wireless “dongle” should work—so the device should be usable wherever you could find a “spare” TV or HDMI-equipped monitor. I’m not the only one thinking that the R-Pi could make an extremely affordable “media centre” computer, and look forward to seeing how that pans out…

The word is that the Raspberry Pi will be made available to purchase from their Web site from the end of this month (January 2012), and I for one will be keeping an eye on this very closely.

2011/09/15

Hot-rodding an Eee 701: upgrading the RAM

Filed under: Hardware — Tags: , , , , — Tim @ 20:43
Photo of RAM and SSD in an Eee 701SD

RAM (lower) and SSD (upper) in an Eee 701SD

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about how I have been thinking for some time, about various ways to boost my Eee 701’s performance—partly by a change of Linux operating system, but also by upgrading the RAM and SSD (storage) to larger/faster alternatives.

I explained that whilst I felt upgrading the SSD was desirable, but would need to wait (on the grounds of cost and complexity), boosting the RAM was something of a “no-brainer”—it was more affordable, easier to undertake and would hopefully result in noticeable performance gains. With that in mind, I put in an order for a 2GB DDR2 memory module from Kingston’s ValueRAM range (around £15), figuring that a 400% increase in RAM capacity would be sure to have an obvious effect… wouldn’t it?

The module arrived this morning, and when I got the opportunity, I reached for the screwdriver and popped off the RAM/SSD cover on the Eee’s underside. Thankfully, Asus made upgrading the RAM pretty straightforward—simply release the two metal clips either side, give the module a gentle lever-up at the “middle” end, and it springs up at a slight angle, allowing you to swap over the RAM modules.

Readout in "hardinfo" (note the "Total Memory" figure)

Readout in "hardinfo" (note the "Total Memory" figure)

Aside from a brief scare when the Eee wouldn’t power on (I think the battery wasn’t plugged in fully!), I was soon looking at the output of “hardinfo” (a system diagnostics app for X), informing me that the system was now looking at a nice 2GB of RAM.

If you’ve read this far, I expect you’re curious to hear whether I can notice any difference in the Eee’s performance yet. Well, it’s early days yet, but first impressions are undoubtedly positive.  Before the upgrade (512Mb RAM), bubblemon showed about 30% “water” (i.e. RAM used) simply by starting the X display, and opening Chromium (even without loading a Web site) would push the level up to more than 50% (not a “scientific” benchmark, but you get the idea). Opening more than four or five “multimedia” tabs (e.g. YouTube) in Chromium would slow the system to a crawl, and I didn’t really want to “push” this, as the Eee has no swap partition (to avoid excessive wear on the SSD). I didn’t know what would happen if I ran out of system RAM with no swap to fall back on…

Now, when I start X, under 5% of RAM is in use, and starting Chromium still leaves me with over 90% RAM free—the “rubber duck” in bubblemon hardly has any water to float on! I haven’t done any proper benchmarking tests, but subjectively the Eee seems to run a bit more smoothly than before, with application windows opening and closing more quickly. Perhaps later on, I should replicate the “five YouTube tabs” test of a few days ago!

So, it’s a bit soon to proclaim a huge difference in performance, but so far I’m very pleased by the Eee’s new RAM “ceiling”, and hope it should be enough for the rest of the machine’s lifespan.

The irony of owning a laptop with 25% as much RAM as data storage capacity (for the unitiated, an extremely high proportion for a computer that’s not a mobile phone), is not lost on me, and I haven’t ruled out the possibility of upgrading the SSD in the future, once I can be sure of overcoming the potential (and actual) issues, such as “cloning” the contents of the old drive to the new one, and ensuring I buy the correct model of SSD…

…but for now, I think I’ll stick happily with what I have 🙂

2011/09/05

Hot-rodding an Eee 701: first thoughts

Filed under: Hardware — Tags: , , , — Tim @ 18:32

Perhaps this is a particularly British phenomenon, but I have never entirely understood why some young men bother taking a small car like a Nissan Micra, and “modding” it—i.e. sticking a more powerful engine in the front, installing blue LED strips on the underside, replacing the exhaust pipe with one of HMS Belfast‘s spare guns (judging by the size and the volume), and so on.

I didn’t really want to understand any of this, especially a few years ago, when some local “boy racer” would roar up the road in their souped-up Rover Metro or whatever, and definitely not when they’d just woken up my baby daughter in the process.

All the above sprang to mind recently, when it occurred to me that for some time, I have been considering something similar for my trusty Eee—a spot of “hot-rodding”, if you will. You could say I have already taken a first step on the “performance upgrade” path, by installing Arch Linux—the system now runs subjectively faster and smoother than its predecessor, even before I start looking at other, more hardware-orientated changes I could make to speed things up further.

And on that note…

Peering under the bonnet

In the nearly two years since I bought my Eee, surprisingly I’ve never got around to unscrewing the plate on the bottom of the machine, which provides access to the bay containing the RAM (and, I believed, the solid-state drive (SSD)). I’ve often thought about whether I could upgrade one or both of these—the Eee 700-series models vary on exactly what one can easily upgrade, but mine (the 8Gb, sometimes known as the Eee 702) is supposed to offer the best options—so during my summer break I finally got the chance to peek inside and find out what the options were.

Photo of RAM and SSD in an Eee 701SD

SSD (top) and RAM in an Eee 701SD

Summary: it’s the best news possible, in that both the RAM and SSD are upgradable by the user. The photo I took shows the SSD “on top”, with the DDR2 memory module below it—the RAM chip just unclips, and the SSD is screwed in, but both can be upgraded without much “hacking”.

Memory first: the RAM module in my Eee is the 512Mb one it came with (complete with “void warranty if removed” sticker—no worries on that account here!). I am planning to replace it with a 2Gb chip in the near future, as one can find these for under £15 online (barely more than a 1Gb module), and I hope this will improve performance noticeably, as I use ramdisks for temp file storage, and have no swap space on the SSD to save drive wear.

The SSD is another matter. Undoubtedly, the 8Gb drive in my Eee is getting a bit cramped, and it would be nice to have more “headroom” for files on there. I have heard that third-party SSDs generally offer faster file access too, though I don’t know how much I would notice the improvement in practice.

Even now, however, SSDs aren’t cheap, especially as the Eee 700- and 900-series machines use SSDs installed into Mini-PCIe cards (a bit specialist, with a price tag to match). I am eyeing up one of Super Talent’s 32Gb Mini-PCIe SSDs, but am not 100% certain yet whether my Eee can use the SATA model. From scouring the likes of the EeeUser.com forums, I believe it can, but with a price tag of about £60 for a 32Gb unit, and the apparent possibility that you can “brick” the drive and/or the computer if you get the installation wrong, understandably I’d like not to make a mistake!

I’m also put off by hearing that I may have to do a fresh OS install on the new drive, as the hardware differences (e.g. PATA and SATA interfaces) between the old and new SSD might cause problems if I merely “clone” the contents of the old drive to the new one. Hopefully this wouldn’t be necessary, but it does give me pause for thought: would upgrading to a larger/faster SSD be worth the cost, effort and risks involved?

So, plenty to think about in the time ahead, but it’s fair to say I’m very likely to upgrade my Eee’s RAM to 2Gb in the near future—it’s cheap, relatively simple to carry out and (it seems) generally less risky and fraught with potential issues than an SSD upgrade. I might still go for the latter option too, but I think it will require more thought—not to mention the cash 🙂

Stay tuned to this blog for more on how all this pans out…

2010/07/14

Using a Symbian phone’s GPS over Bluetooth in Eeebuntu

Filed under: Hardware, Linux, Software — Tags: , , , , , , , , — Tim @ 20:00

It’s becoming increasingly common for laptops and other mobile devices to incorporate GPS facilities, and for more and more software applications—both installed on the machine, and Web-based—to have the ability to make use of positioning data.

From time to time, since I acquired my Eee 701, I’ve thought how it might be handy to link it up to a GPS receiver, as even a 7″-wide screen is larger than the display on my Nokia N95 GPS-equipped “smartphone” (which I’ve used for navigation until now). Seeing as the 701 obviously doesn’t have GPS built-in—and I’m not the type to start “modding” my Eee to put a GPS unit in!—this obviously leaves me with a few options for external GPSes:

  • A USB GPS “dongle”—these can be found for under £20 if you search online, but they require physical connection to the computer, and you’d probably need a USB extension cable to place the unit where it can get a position fix.
  • A “proper” GPS unit (e.g. the Garmin eTrex)—far more likely to get a “lock” on the satellites quickly (and keep it), but they cost more, and many of these units have only a serial (RS232) port for a cable connection, so a USB-serial adapter cable would probably be required.
  • A Bluetooth GPS receiver—these have come down in price (under £30 online) and are often small enough to fit on a keyring, but I have read that they are barely better than a mobile phone in terms of acquiring and holding a position fix.

None of these options were really ideal for me, not least because I didn’t think I could justify buying any of them. Then, not so long ago, I realised I had been overlooking the obvious: is there a way to access my phone’s position data from my Eee, as if the Nokia were a dedicated GPS unit?

With my Nokia N95, the simple answer is: yes, but not out of the box (at least, not that I was able to find). Thanks to Ken Murray’s excellent HOWTO “How to share the GPS in your N95 with your laptop via Bluetooth in Linux” (from which I took quite a few tips for this article), I found Symarctic ExtGPS, a Java applet which works perfectly on the N95. In short, ExtGPS hooks into the phone’s GPS receiver and basically turns it into a Bluetooth GPS unit.

For what follows, I’m going to assume you have the following hardware:

  • An Eee (or other laptop) running Linux—obviously, I have an Eee 701SD running Eeebuntu v3 at time of writing, but most of the following is probably transferable with some effort.
    • I’m also assuming that you have some experience with using Bluetooth on your machine, and that the Bluetooth software stack is running with no problems.
    • If your Linux system doesn’t already include it (as Eeebuntu v3 doesn’t, though Eeebuntu 4 and Ubuntu Lucid Lynx do), I strongly recommend installing Blueman (a Bluetooth manager for GNOME) via your package manager, as it improves massively over bluez-gnome (the default in Eeebuntu 3) in many ways, and will simplify the Bluetooth part of the setup considerably. The instructions below will tell you how to connect the Eee to the N95’s GPS using Blueman; if you prefer to use the command line, Ken Murray’s HOWTO above gives you further details.
  • A Symbian-based mobile phone with GPS capability, such as my Nokia N95—again, you may be able to do the following with another phone platform like Android, but you’re on your own working that out 😉
  • A Bluetooth adapter—I’m using a cheap “nano”-type dongle, but it works well enough.

Using the package installation method you prefer (I go for apt-get or Synaptic), first install the gpsd (the GPS ‘daemon’, or server) and gps-clients packages, as these are the minimum requirements for most of what we’re going to do here. In a (technical) nutshell, gpsd reads the data from the GPS receiver, and makes it available to applications on TCP port 2947. Amongst other benefits, this means that instead of one app hogging the GPS data, you can have multiple programs accessing it at once.

Screenshot of ExtGPS

ExtGPS running on a Nokia N95

Now reach for your phone, and activate Bluetooth if it is not already running. Assuming you have downloaded and installed ExtGPS on your phone, start the program from the “Applications” menu. The phone will take a few moments to lock onto the GPS signals and acquire a fix, at which time the “middle” of the three status readouts will show a green “light”, and a message along the lines of Satellite: Fix NMEA-0183.

Go back to the Eee and start Blueman (or check whether there’s a Bluetooth icon in the top panel), then left-click on the icon to bring up the Blueman interface window. Your machine should scan the local area for Bluetooth devices; when it locates your phone, right-click on it in the list and select “Refresh Services”. This tells your computer to retrieve the list of Bluetooth services your phone advertises.

Now, right-click again on your phone, and bring up the “Serial Ports” sub-menu. If all is well, you should see “Symarctic GPS” in the list; if not, refresh the services list again. Select “Symarctic GPS”, and a Bluetooth connection will be made between your computer and the phone’s GPS receiver. (Blueman should display a message like “Serial port connected to /dev/rfcomm0”; remember the latter detail, as this is the virtual serial port you’re connected to, and you’ll need it in a moment.)

Whilst you could connect directly to this port if your application allows it, most Linux apps which use GPS prefer to connect to gpsd, so we need to start this daemon. This is done like so:

sudo gpsd -N /dev/rfcomm0

The -N flag means “run this in the foreground”; I suggest keeping this open in a terminal window as long as you need it, then use Ctrl-C to stop gpsd when you’ve finished.

To test whether GPS data is being received from the phone, you can either telnet to port 2947 (telnet localhost 2947) and look at what appears in the terminal, or you could launch xgps (which is installed with gps-clients) and achieve the same effect in marginally more style 😉

Phew—if you’ve made it this far and have positioning data streaming from your phone to your Eee over Bluetooth, congratulations! In the next instalment in this series, I’ll suggest some Linux apps for making practical use of this data, whilst concentrating on the one I personally find most useful.

Until next time…

2010/06/08

Using a USB-serial cable in Linux: first steps

Filed under: Accessories, Hardware, Linux — Tags: , , , , — Tim @ 20:24

When it comes to connecting external devices, the PC user of 2010 really doesn’t know how easy they have it. Thanks to the now-ubiquitous USB port, getting most peripherals to work with your computer is frequently as simple as plugging it in (perhaps with a spot of driver installation if it’s a bit non-specific).

Of course, it wasn’t always this straightforward. Look at the back of a PC older than about 2005, and you start seeing some perhaps unfamiliar sockets. That big thin wide one? Parallel port—used to be used mostly for printers, and early Iomega Zip drives (yes, I had one in the 90s, but that’s a long story).

And what’s that vaguely D-shaped socket with nine chunky metal pins? Now that’s what we’ve come to look at: it’s a DE-9 connector for a serial port (otherwise known as an RS232 interface). Before USB became standardised, serial ports were used to attach peripherals like pointing devices, digital cameras and modems. Whereas even USB 1.0 can shift around 12MB (megabits) of data per second, a fast RS232 serial port is usually limited to about 115,200KB, so the latter is much slower in operation, and also needs some manual setting-up to work properly.

In a nutshell, most modern PCs no longer have serial ports installed, as USB has superseded RS232 for most uses. However, there are still uses for serial ports:

  • “Legacy” devices with a serial connection, may still be of use (e.g. modems).
  • A surprising number of modern devices still use serial ports, as the hardware is cheap and reliable, and the software is easier to write than with USB. A small and random selection of such devices include:
    • many standalone GPS receivers, such as the Garmin eTrex;
    • computer-controllable telescopes, e.g. Meade and Celestron;
    • more specialist computing equipment such as routers and UPSs;
    • point-of-sale equipment, such as cash registers and receipt printers.
  • Some audio/visual equipment (for example, certain Humax digital video recorders) have a serial port for firmware upgrades, requiring a PC to be connected via serial port to transfer the new software.
Photo of USB-serial adapter cable

USB-serial adapter cable

The easiest way to add a serial port to a computer which does not have one installed, is usually a USB-serial adapter. This looks like a cable with a USB A-type connector on one end, and a 9-pin male serial plug on the other; however, it is not a “dumb” cable, as there is a hardware chipset (usually the PL2303) built into the serial connector, which performs the necessary USB-serial conversion.

I bought a USB-serial cable via Amazon recently as an impulse purchase, as it cost less than £4 with free shipping (far cheaper than the likes of Maplin, who ask £15-20 for much the same item). I figured it would be fun to experiment with; it might come in handy one day; and for the price of a large Starbucks coffee: what the hey? 😉

Getting the adapter to work under Linux (certainly, with Ubuntu or the Eeebuntu install on my Eee 701) is easier than Windows or the Mac, both of which require a driver download. The kernel module (driver) for the PL2303 chipset in the adapter, is already present in the system, and the first-time installation is straightforward (on Linux, anyway—if you’re running Mac OS X or Windows, look elsewhere):

  1. Plug the USB end of the cable into your computer.
  2. Wait a few seconds, then open a terminal window and run dmesg You should see some messages in the list along these lines:
    [11563.579898] USB Serial support registered for pl2303
    [11563.579958] pl2303 5-3.4:1.0: pl2303 converter detected
    [11563.582588] usb 5-3.4: pl2303 converter now attached to ttyUSB0
    [11563.582623] usbcore: registered new interface driver pl2303
    [11563.582628] pl2303: Prolific PL2303 USB to serial adaptor driver
  3. If this is the first time you have connected the cable, you may need to load the kernel module manually (just enter sudo modprobe pl2303). You should only need to do this once; at least on Ubuntu and derivatives, after the first time, everything is loaded automatically on connection.

If all has gone well, your cable is now installed and ready for action, but “where” is it? Windows and DOS have a standard port naming sequence for serial ports (COM1, COM2 and so on), but what is the serial port called in Linux? To cut a long story short, as with all “devices” in Linux, it’s in the /dev/ part of the filesystem: as this is a USB-based serial port, it’s called /dev/ttyUSB0 (the “tty” comes from “teletype”, which tells you how far back this goes :-)). Whichever application(s) you use, you will need to specify the serial port as /dev/ttyUSB0, so the software knows where to look.

So, hopefully you now have an operational serial port on your previously non-serial machine—what next? Well, that depends on what you want/need a serial connection for in the first place, but in the next instalment, I’ll look at a couple of things you could try, and the Linux apps you may need for it.

2010/04/21

TV on the Eee 701: First steps with a working tuner

Filed under: Hardware, Linux, Software — Tags: , , — Tim @ 19:57

So, once I’d got my new USB TV tuner stick working on my Eeebuntu Linux-powered Eee 701 (this is the Maplin Value model; basically, a rebranded KWorld 395U), it was on to the next task: scanning the frequencies for the digital TV channels available.

First nugget of useful experience to share here: unless you live very close to your nearest transmitter, you’ll need to connect up your tuner device to a powered/boosted aerial, as in my experience the “cat’s whisker” bundled with the Maplin Value tuner stick is practically useless. We have one installed in our house, due to living in an area with a comparatively weak digital terrestrial signal (though it has increased in power since the analogue TV service was turned off), so in testing I plugged into this main aerial, and it worked like a treat. (I’ll probably have to look at a small, portable powered aerial next, for those times when I can’t sit next to the lounge TV 🙂 )

Scanning for channels

The Linux experience when it comes to handling TV tuner hardware, has improved markedly in recent years. However, at the point where you need to tune into specific channels, unless your chosen “front-end” application offers a more friendly interface, you will probably need to install and use the dvb-utils suite of command-line utilities (and possibly others, such as scan-w) in order to set up your system.

At this point, you may find it helpful to find out the name of the nearest transmitter group to your current location. If you are based in the UK, the telecoms regulator Ofcom provides a set of downloadable maps, which should tell you which transmitter covers your area—other countries presumably have similar arrangements.

The command-line utility scan is part of the dvb-utils suite. To use scan, you will need the frequency information file for your nearest transmitter—these are kept in various locations in different Linux distributions, but in Ubuntu they can be found at /usr/share/dvb/dvb-t/. The following command will scan the frequencies and write what it finds to a file called channels.conf:

scan /usr/share/dvb/dvb-t/[transmitterfile] -o zap | tee ~/channels.conf

replacing the file path if necessary, and [transmitterfile] with the frequencies file for your locality.

You need this channels.conf file, as most TV-viewing applications use the file to find out how to switch channels. Bear in mind that if you want to use the TV tuner in a different location covered by a different transmitter, you will need to rescan your channels, so it is advisable to keep backup copies of any channels.conf files you produce this way, to save time when you return.

If you do not know the transmitter which covers your location, you can use another utility, scan-w. This is slower in operation than scan, as it has to scan the entire TV frequency band from scratch, but scan-w will generate a channels.conf file from what it can pick up in the area. (Tip: run scan-w with the -X option, as it will produce a channels.conf file more likely to be compatible with likely TV apps.)

Once you have the channels.conf file (assuming tuning has been successful—I finally managed it with my 701), you can finally start watching TV 🙂 The question is: what application to use?

A few possible answers, will follow in the next instalment…

2010/04/20

Maplin Value USB DVB-T TV tuner works on my Eee 701

Filed under: Hardware, Linux, Software — Tags: , , , , — Tim @ 12:12

I was in the process of writing a big long post about how I got my latest “toy”—a USB digital TV tuner stick—working on my Eee 701 under Linux (Eeebuntu v3).Whilst I’ve kept the draft of what I’ve written thus far, I’m going to “sit on” the original for the time being; mainly because I have no idea what I did that suddenly made it start working.

For a few days, no matter what kernel modules I compiled and loaded, what firmware files I acquired, or what aerial I plugged into the tuner stick (the bundled one, or the boosted aerial in the lounge at home), the thing just wouldn’t tune into any TV channels.

Suddenly, tonight, after all my tinkering, I hooked up the 701 and the TV tuner to the lounge aerial one more time, and set off the scan utility to find the TV stations. To my amazement, it worked for the first time, and within a few minutes I was channel-hopping to my heart’s content (via VLC, as it was the first program I tried). I suspect the boosted aerial connection may have helped, but I’m not sure that’s the entire story…

But anyway: in the meantime, I thought I’d jot down a few things I learned in the process, which I am pretty sure will be of some use to someone following the same path as me 🙂

Maplin Value USB DVB-T TV tuner and bundled aerial

Maplin Value USB DVB-T TV tuner and (useless for me) bundled aerial

The USB TV tuner stick I bought, is a Maplin Value USB DVB-T (digital terrestrial) single-tuner unit (Maplin being just about the closest the UK has to a store like Radio Shack). At UKP20, this stick is the cheapest USB TV tuner in their range, and I wondered if I’d be able to get it running under Linux; at least if I couldn’t, I figured I would not have lost much money on it!

To cut a very long story short: after lots of Googling, running various Linux terminal commands and the like, I found out something rather interesting about the Maplin Value USB TV tuner: it is basically an unbranded KWorld 395U tuner stick… which Maplin also sells, for UKP5 more (as their “DVB-T USB Free-To-Air Stick”).

The unit is supported in Linux; indeed, most of the more recent kernels include the driver for the AF9015 chipset and QT1010 tuner in the stick. You’ll need to ensure that you download the firmware for the AF9015 and save it in /lib/firmware/[your kernel version]/, and once you plug in the tuner stick, you should run dmesg to check the kernel messages. (You should see things like “KWorld… 395U successfully identified”; anything which looks like an error, and it’s time to start troubleshooting. If anyone’s interested, I can post some of what I found during my setup attempts.)

One piece of advice: unless you live close enough to the transmitter to see it, I wouldn’t bother with the bundled “cat’s whisker” aerial—it delivers nowhere near a strong enough signal to allow the software to scan for and pick up TV channels (at least in my experience). I had to hook up to our house’s main aerial socket (which has a signal booster) to get any channels, so now I’m looking for a small but effective powered/boosted aerial to use with the tuner.

I’m also trying to find a suitable TV application for Linux. VLC does a basic job, but I’d prefer something which makes recording/scheduling programs easier. I found Me TV (at least the version in Eeebuntu’s repositories) a bit erratic, and I thought I might give Freevo a try, but that’s all to come.

Anyway, hope this helps someone, and I’ll post back here another time to let you know how I’m getting on.

DVB-T USB Free-to-Air Stick

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DVB-T USB Free-to-Air Stick

2010/01/07

Setting up a Nokia N95 as a 3G modem in Eeebuntu 3

Filed under: Hardware, Internet, Mobile — Tags: , , , , , , — Tim @ 19:13

In yesterday’s post on Eeebuntu, I mentioned in passing that I wished Eeebuntu made it easier to configure PPP-over-Bluetooth, to use a mobile phone as a 3G modem wirelessly.

Whilst that particular gripe still stands, I’m pleased to report that if you don’t mind using USB instead of Bluetooth, the maintainers of Eeebuntu have made it quite straightforward to set up Internet access via a 3G phone (and, according to this forum post, at least some USB 3G broadband “dongles”).

The author of the above forum post, stated that all he had to do was plug in a USB dongle, and a “wizard” dialogue box popped up, allowing him to configure the device as a modem. I wondered if the same would happen if I plugged in my phone (a Nokia N95), so I did so, remembering to set the phone’s connection type to “PC Suite”.

Lo and behold: up popped the “wizard”, asking me for my country and 3G network provider; within sixty seconds, an option for a 3G connection was added to my list of available networks.

Yes, a wireless (Bluetooth) option would really “ice the cake”, but for now, I’m pleased to report that in many cases, setting up a 3G modem in Eeebuntu is as easy as plugging it in and following a couple of easy steps.

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