Archive for the ‘Tech’ category

iPhone Virgin / Orange APN Fix

June 1st, 2012

In 2010 I won an iPhone 4 at Over the Air for my Hole Mapper mobile app. I was having some problems getting the phone going because I had not purchased the phone at an Orange shop, and in the end I was forced to pay £25 for a PAYG SIM to do anything (and I am still grumpy about that). I could then enable the phone for T-Mobile’s network as part of there network sharing, and this meant I could use my Virgin SIM again (after a little trimming).

Anyway, back to today… My phone on Virgin has worked well for well over a year but recently Virgin have also started sharing the Orange network in the same way that T-Mobile customers have been, and my data does not work on Orange by default. This is because the settings are being picked up from the network and for reasons I won’t go in to they are wrong for me and I can’t change them on my iPhone because the settings are locked down.

The solution was to go to that created a profile containing the APN setting. Just go to the side ON YOU PHONE and follow the instructions to set the APN. The UK and Virgin are preconfigured so when you click to create the profile, and allow it to be instilled your phone will magically start working when you fall on to the Orange network.

The official solution is for you to call Virgin Mobile and they will disable the roaming. This obviously means you can’t use Orange’s coverage, but as Orange coverage is poor where I live I often end up with a blue circle on Orange where there is a good 3G signal form T-Mobile/Virgin so I might have that done anyway, but lets see how thing go.

Hibernating Unbuntu on the A0751h

May 30th, 2012

This is a blog post I started almost 2 years ago but got side tracked and never finished it. Having just needed some information from it I dicided I would finish it off and post it just in case it is helpful. Please remember that there may mow be a more appropriate solution available though.

A couple of years ago I bought a reconditioned Acer Aspire One A0751h. It is a lovely little machine. It is rather slow and the graphics chipset has huge compatibility problems, but it is still a nice machine. It came with Vista installed but now has Ubuntu 10.04 LTS installed.

One problem I had with the graphics chipset driver is that the machine would not hibernate properly. The quick fix to this was to replace the latest hibernation applications with the old ones that still work with these drivers.

First of all you will need to install the Debian Userspace Software Suspend package with the command…

sudo apt-get install uswsusp

…and then we need to remap the commands to the new (or should that be old) binaries…

sudo rm /usr/sbin/pm-hibernate
sudo echo -e "#bash\ns2disk" > pm-hibernate
sudo mv pm-hibernate /usr/sbin
sudo chmod a+x /usr/sbin/pm-hibernate

sudo rm /usr/sbin/pm-suspend
sudo echo -e "#bash\ns2ram --force" > pm-suspend
sudo mv pm-suspend /usr/sbin
sudo chmod a+x /usr/sbin/pm-suspend

sudo rm /usr/sbin/pm-suspend-hybrid
sudo echo -e "#bash\ns2both --force" > pm-suspend-hybrid
sudo mv pm-suspend-hybrid /usr/sbin
sudo chmod a+x /usr/sbin/pm-suspend-hybrid

Canonical make the point that the fact that Ubuntu’s suspend not working is a fault with the power management routines and should be these should be fixed instead of just replaced. Using the Debian USS works but is not supported under Unbuntu and may have other issues.

Remember that this is not an officially recommended solution and to return thing to normal you can run the following…

sudo rm /usr/sbin/pm-hibernate
sudo ln -s ../lib/pm-utils/bin/pm-action /usr/sbin/pm-hibernate
sudo rm /usr/sbin/pm-suspend
sudo ln -s ../lib/pm-utils/bin/pm-action /usr/sbin/pm-suspend
sudo rm /usr/sbin/pm-suspend-hybrid
sudo ln -s ../lib/pm-utils/bin/pm-action /usr/sbin/pm-suspend-hybrid

What I am doing about the EU cookie legislation

May 26th, 2012

You may or may not have heard about the new(ish) cookie law that has come in requiring web sites to get the users permission before sending out a cookie that can be used to track a user across web sites. Although aimed at increasing online privacy it is causing a problem for most people who have a web site including me.

I have done an audit of my sites that use cookies and I actually use them very irregularly. In fact I am only serving them from my server for two forums running PHPBB and several WordPress installations. As both of these are an opt in with a privacy policy mentioning cookies I am quite happy that I am already complying with the legislation. I used the Buisness Link templates for these policies (that have vanished from their site but I can send a copy) if you want to do the same.

The problem I have is with third party services serving cookies, most specifically AdSense and Google Analytics. The new legislation gives both Google (as the service who sends out the cookies) and me (as the user of there service) equal responsibility to get the users agreement before service the cookies. The problem is I have no control over what Google serve and they don’t appear to have a solution in the pipeline. As the Information Commissioner’s Office, the organisation charged with enforcing the legislation, have said they are taking a light touch approach to enforcement “where there is a low level of intrusiveness and risk of harm to individuals” I will, like many, continue to take the wait and see approach and hope that Google comes up with a more defined solution in the near future.

So, in summery I am already compliant with the exception of some Google services, and I am now hoping Google will supply a recommended solution for me and many millions more across Europe.

Update: Things are changing already with new advice from the ICO saying that we can presume implied consent. As a result I can now just bring up a one time message (perhaps just for European visitors but I will need to check in to that) letting the user know I am using Google Analytics cookies and taking there continued use of the site as implied consent. Clearly I am missing the deadline on implementing this but will have it coded and active soon.

Goodbye to my global status updates

May 21st, 2012

Back in 2007 I created a centralised status updater that allwed me to post a short message to Twitter, Jaiku and Facebook at the same time. Later on I extended this to use so I could additionally post to Plaxo Pulse, Plurk and YouAre.

Now Jaiku have been swallowed by Google, Plaxo has closed Pulse, Plurk is still there but no one I know uses it any more, and YouAre closed down, there is little point in using this any more. Additionally is about to be closed down, so I would need to do some more coding if I wanted to keep it going.

As a result of all this I have decided to closing down my status updater and use Twitter and Facebook directly. I also am experimenting with the Twitter Facebook app that cross-posts tweets to Facebook that seems to be working well for my tweeting style.

I have a Raspberry Pi :-)

May 11th, 2012

Yes, I was one of those geeks who got up at 6am to order a Raspberry Pi. It has been a long wait since then but I now have my Pi to play with. This is a quick blog post to summarises what I have learnt from it in my day of playing.

Despite completing the RS form in the first minute and getting an order in on the Farnell site (in between it falling over) I was not quick enough in the first batch, but out of the blue I got an email from RS saying that I could now order one, and that I did, and it arrived yesterday. :-)

It is important to remember that the Raspberry Pi is at the moment just a development board that requires quite a few bits and bobs to get up and running. Fortunately I managed to scavenge…

  • Power supply with a micro USB connector (Normally used for myy Mifi)
  • A fast SD card (Spare card for my digital camera)
  • HDMI to VGA converter (Purchased from for £15)
  • USB Keyboard and Mouse
  • Network cable and access point set up as client

Yes, I don’t have a TV or monitor with an HDMI input but the converter works well, and using the wifi access point as a client means I don’t need to run a cable through the house.

I downloaded the recommended Debian “squeeze” image listed on the Raspberry Pi web site using BitTorrent on my Windows machine. Creating the SD card was easy although it took an age to work out what was an advert and what was the download link for Win32DiskImager. Writing the image was easy but the the image was for a 2GB card and I was using a 4GB one. It worked fine but I was wasting half the card. In the end I needed to use a Linux machine to resize the partition to use all the card.

The Pi running squeeze boots quickly enough. Officially you can not run YouTube on the Pi yet but you can install Google’s Chrome (just type “sudo apt-get install chromium-browser” in to the command line) and that will allow flash and HTML5 videos to [just about] play. It manages a frame rate of around half a frame a second at best. The Broadcom chip set is capable of playing accelerated video but there is a little work to be done yet.

I have not been able to get the sound working yet but this could be because the sound is being sent to the HDMI port instead of the 35mm jack socket. I will have to look further in to this.

So that is as far as I have got. To summarise the Raspberry Pi is a lovely little computer. I don’t feel it is in a position for people to start really learning on until the operating system matures. In fact it is currently more complex than the average home computer, but we should remember that this is currently a development board and not pretending to be ready for the classroom yet.

Following several comments online I also note is that there are plenty of other board around and the Pi is not built of bleeding edge technology any more, but that is not the point. It’s success will be built on it’s community, and the media hype and low cost can only help broaden this community and make the Pi a success. It is not really challenging the Arduino as it is not comparable, and it is not going to take much business from other boards as it is creating a new market and not competing in the same market.

There is one thing that does worry me though. One key advantages of the BBC B microcomputer, that the Pi is frequently being compared to, is that you could programme it out of the box following a few simple instructions. This is not the case with the Raspberry Pi yet. This is not to say that this will not come, but at the moment you need to go out of your way to programme something and it appears we are relying on the community to rectify this. Much of the community seem more keen to make it do cool things instead of make it easy to programme and we can’t blame anyone for that.

Finally, like many, I ordered from both RS and Farnell and have already paid Farnell for one. Because of demand we are only supposed to have one Pi and I am planning honour this by selling the second one locally at cost to someone deserving. If that could be you let me know, but I am not expecting in until the end of June.

On Film4

March 9th, 2012

On the quiet there are a lot of good movies on Film4. This is now available for free through the UK on Freeview, on satellite and on cable. The problem is that I keep missing so many good films or turning on just at the end. Because of this I decided to come up with an over engineered solution to this problem. Ladies and Gentlemen I give you my hack On Film 4.

What this hack does is to take the Film 4 TV listings and tweets on @OnFilm4 10 minutes before the film starts. I also check if the film will be repeated and include that information in the tweet. This has already proved most useful and there have seen a few films that I would otherwise have missed, albeit on in the background while working.

I then decided that I needed a way of summarising the listings so I could easily scan the for good films coming up and set the PVR to record them. I did this by setting up the On Film 4 Google Group that sends an email a couple of times a week with the films that are upcoming on the channel. I try and sort these with the most popular first.

There are several sources of Film 4 programme listings but I have opted to use Andrew’s web site as it is simple and reliable. So I don’t put a load on Andrew’s server I only pull down any days I don’t already have listings for at random times of day. I also update listing for the day ahead in case it has changed. The result of this is I should have a complete weeks listing, accurate for the next day at least, but by only pulling a few KB in two files.

The system also looks up each film on The Movie DB and caches the film information. TMDB is a great community supported resource and I am now helping support it by identifying errors and unlisted films as part of this process. Currently I am not doing much with this information but I intend to do more with it in the future. I am experimenting with using the data to order the films in the email although I have found that going by user vote alone tends not necessarily identify the popular films.

I feel I should also say that this is not intended to be a replacement to the Film4 Twitter stream that is a far more rich and interactive service.

If you find this useful or have any suggestions on how I can improve it then please get in touch.

MakerSpace Arduino Day

February 28th, 2012

This Saturday gone we held our first notable event at Maker Space, that being the MakerSpace Arduino Day. We had a good turnout to the point of reaching capacity. People were working on a few projects from laser games to wireless railway signaling, and a lot learning about the Arduino.

I spent most of the time not in fact working on Arduino code, but working on optimising and improving the development environment. My plan is to blog about this in the near future when I have finished my experimentation. The best tip I have is to turn off your virus scanner when compiling Arduino code.

We will no doubt be holding other maker gatherings and workshops in the future, and I suspect we will have another Arduino day soon so keep an eye on the email list. We are also continuing with our drop in sessions on the 1st and 3rd Wednesdays of every month. If you have something to show, need some help or advice with something, or just want to join in the chat then come along.

I can give up BarCamps any time I want to…

February 12th, 2012

…I just don’t want to yet. I have blogged before about the BarCamps I have attended, and then again about a few more, and now I need to bring the list up to date. So here is the list…

  • BarCampBlackpool2, 3rd June 2010, Geek event wifi
  • BarCampBrighton5, 2nd – 3rd September 2010, What apps should I install on my new phone?
  • BathCamp2010, 30th – 31st October 2010, Flash Talks + Duck365 replay
  • BarCampLondon8, 13th – 14th November 2010, HTTP: What it is and how it works
  • BarCampBournemouth3, 26th – 27th Feburary 2011, Can we do Backstage without the BBC?
  • BarCampSheffield2011, 16th / 17th Apr 2011, The low level details of QR Codes
  • BarCampNottingham, 23rd – 24th July 2011, Playing with GPS, DRM, and a World Service TX
  • BarCampNorthEast4, 13th – 14th August 2011, Organiser + PowerPoint Karaoke presentation
  • BarCampBrighton6, 10th – 11th September 2011, Building
  • BarCampMediaCityUK, 17th – 18th September 2011, Be Happy
  • BarCampBlackpool3, 15th October 2011, Let’s make a pop video
  • BarCampLondon9, 29th – 30th October 2011, I am on a startup accelerator

There is the list, taking me to a grand total 41 BarCamps attended over 5 years.

I also hold a rather unusual record still, that being I am the only person who has attended all the overnight UK BarCamps. It is not a record I have gone out my way to keep, and sadly that is a record about to come to am end. BarCampBournemouth4 is scheduled for the 1st weekend in March when I will be assisting with the ThinkVis conference in Leeds. It had to end at some point and I am surprised it has taken 5 years, but end it must.

So here is to BarCamps in 2012! I hoping there will be lots of new and smaller ones as I am enjoying these a lot more than the larger ones. If you want to organise one near you then feel free to ask for help and encouragement. It is easer than you might think and unless we have new people put there hands up and say we want to do that then the movement is in danger of fizzling out in time.

How not to do Twitter support

January 25th, 2012

Warning: This is a rant. I do it now and then when something annoys me. Call it therapy.

I have an xbox 360 that was kindly given to me by a friend who had a spar, and I am currently working through another friend’s game collection. I say working thought, I am still on the first game, but I am not the biggest games player and you can’t rush these things you know.

Anyway, I was wondering a while ago if the BBC iPlayer was available for it and when I checked I found that it was not because Microsoft insisted on charging for it and the BBC was not allowed to do so. Then last year it was announced that it will now be available on the xbox early this year. If it is available for free then I decided I really should wire up the console to the Internet, and it would make life easer if I know this before next week’s broadband install. It has not been clear if it will in fact be free so earlier this evening I thought I would do something radical and ask.

I was going to use the support section of the web site but as the xbox twitter support account claims to be the “Guinness World Record Holder” of the “Most Responsive Brand on Twitter” so why not ask them on Twitter? This is a transaction of what happened…

Alistair MacDonald (@alistair) 25/01/2012 18:00
@XboxSupport When the iPlayer is released will it be free to use or will I need to pay like the other TV services?

Xbox Support 2 (@XboxSupport2) 25/01/2012 18:02
@alistair We don’t have that information, unfortunately. ^PC

Alistair MacDonald (@alistair) 25/01/2012 19:01
@XboxSupport2 Thanks. Any pointers to find this out would be welcome.

Xbox Support (@XboxSupport1) 25/01/2012 19:04
@alistair Sorry, we don’t have any info. ^PJ

Alistair MacDonald (@alistair) 25/01/2012 19:09
@XboxSupport1 Do you not have the ability to escalate queries you can’t answer?

Xbox Support (@XboxSupport1) 25/01/2012 19:11
@alistair We do, but that info has not been released yet. ^PJ

Alistair MacDonald (@alistair) 25/01/2012 19:14
@XboxSupport1 Wait a moment, I thought you said you did not have any info. Are you saying it is secret at the moment? When will it be out?

Xbox Support (@XboxSupport1) 25/01/2012 19:16
@alistair We don’t have any info regarding that. Let us know if you need anything else. ^PJ

Alistair MacDonald (@alistair) 25/01/2012 19:19
@XboxSupport1 If you could escalate my inquiry that would be great. Thank you.

Xbox Support (@XboxSupport1) 25/01/2012 19:23
@alistair Cheers! ^PJ

Alistair MacDonald (@alistair) 25/01/2012 19:24
@XboxSupport1 When and how will I get a response?

Xbox Support (@XboxSupport1) 25/01/2012 19:29
@alistair We are unable to respond with more info on that. ^PJ

Alistair MacDonald (@alistair) 25/01/2012 19:35
@XboxSupport1 Sorry but I feel like you are sticking two fingers up at me. Can I make a complaint? Do you have an email address?

Xbox Support (@XboxSupport1) 25/01/2012 19:37
@alistair Sorry you feel that way, but we aren’t able to assist. We do have report card coming out, you can check your DM’s for those. ^PJ

Alistair MacDonald (@alistair) 25/01/2012 19:53
@XboxSupport1 I have found the contact details I require through the web site and will take it from there.

Xbox Support (@XboxSupport1) 25/01/2012 19:54
@alistair Ok, sounds good. Let us know if you need anything else. ^PJ

It is true that I always got a response from Twitter, although I can’t say it answered my simple question. For reference I called the xbox live support number on the web site after this last tweet and got an answer straight away. The answer being yes I will need to pay for “gold membership” to access the iPlayer on the xbox, and that is just not going to happen. Why could they not tell me this on Twitter?

Now I don’t claim to be a Social Media expert, but I am an advanced social media user and I know how not to treat people on Twitter. Microsoft got a lot right here in fact, but the big thing they got wrong is treating a person like an idiot and not having a next step when the canned responses they have fail them. Even if they could not tell me then they should have taken the conversation off twitter and politely said that they were really sorry but we can’t tell you yet and why.

Okay, rant over (for now).

Broadband and line rental for £8.56 a month!

January 23rd, 2012

It is a constant surprise to people that I have not had ADSL broadband at home, ever. In truth I do have a 3G Mifi that is essentially a portable wifi access point and at £8 / month for 5GB transfer (an old half price offer that I still have) and I use it when at home and away.

With last year’s VAT rise I was paying £12 a month for the fixed phone line with evening and weekend calls. I was looking for a cheaper option and considering going mobile only when I spotted a great deal from Plus Net. I sign up for an annual contract with the monthly cost is £12.73 (offer expires 14/02/2012). So now I can have an expected 16mbps broadband with a 10GB transfer limit for just 73p more than I was paying for just the line. I could have had a monthly contract instead of an annual one for a few more quid and a setup fee but I went for an annual one.

In the past I had a Plus Net business connection at my old office, and two family members use them, so I have confidence in there service. They are owned by BT (shudder) but run as a separate company with decent support. You might also find it amusing that they own the company I am moving away from.

What is better is that I used Quidco and got another £50 cash back (offer expires on 31/01/2012). I recommend checking Quidco for all big inline purchases as it has saved me over £200 over time. So now for the next year my monthly cost is the equivalent to £8.56, a whole £3.44 cheaper than I was paying for the phone alone. I am oddly pleased.

If you want to do the same then please consider using my Quicdo affiliate link to place the order. It will not cost you any more and I get a small kick back of you do. Also as part of the Plus Net signup process please enter that “alistairuk” refereed you for the same reason. If do not want to then that is fine, I still recommend taking the offer if you can.