Tesco Broadband – For Masochists Only (aka my schizophrenic router)

So, I moved to a new flat in November and obviously one of the first things I did was order a new broadband connection.  Tesco Broadband were the cheapest I could find for an uncapped package (although it was a close call with plus net) so I figured I’d give them a try.  Mistake number one.

After indicating I’d need a new line installed (not possible under my tenancy agreement, and not necessary given that the previous tennant’s Sky phone line had been deactivated just weeks before) but said this is just standard, that the BT Openreach engineer would call out and just flick a switch.  To be fair this is exactly what happened, but why not say so up front?  And why does it take 6 long weeks (not Tesco’s fault I realise, but still frustrating as hell).

Speedtest.net results: Download 2.5Mb/s, Upload 0.85Mb/s
Absolutely ridiculous broadband speeds for central London in 2013.

Anyway, after promising speeds “between 8 and 12 Mbps” they flick the switch and I discover to my disappointment I’m getting a lowly 2.5 Mbps – I’m in central London here, not the Outer Hebrides!!  No worries, they say it sometimes takes a week or so after connection for the line to automatically adjust to get the best speed.

Sure enough, a week (or two) later… nothing.  Still the miserably slow speeds I’ve been getting.  And some serious swearing.

Eventually I send them a tweet deriding my miserable speed and after a bit of to and fro they “open a fault with BT”.  Hmm… I am sceptical that this will achieve anything but go along with it.  Weeks pass.  Nothing.  I send a tweet asking for an update.  Another week passes.  Another tweet.  Another week.  Nothing.

So tonight, I’m getting my home network sorted out with my shiny new powerline ethernet (or “homeplug”)  adaptors so I can shift my Microserver out to the spare room.  Only when I try to connect my second router up and log into the Tesco Broadband router to get some configuration details I realise that I no longer have a Tesco Broadband router.  Oh no, my router now thinks it’s a BT Home Hub.  Not only this, but somehow the password has changed so I can’t login – but what I can see is that there are a handful of devices showing up as connected that I don’t recognise, including an Apple TV, an iMac, an iPad and an Asus router.  Now I don’t own any of these devices and my router has WPA2 encryption on… doesn’t it?  I checked and the wireless key is still active, so how did these devices connect?

BT Homehub web admin home screen, showing strange devices connected to my network
When I tried to connect to my Tesco (Technicolor) router, I realised that it now seemed to think it was a BT Homehub.

I wonder if BT and/or Tesco have done something as part of this fault resolution process without telling me, like forced some new firmware or something down the line.  I’ve no idea and I ended up on hold for about 40 minutes trying to talk to someone in Tesco’s technical support.  I was just about to give up getting someone before 10pm when a friendly sounding voice came from the phone, just as I’d left the room for a minute to plug something back in in the living room.

Thankfully he didn’t hang up when it took me a second or two to come back and even more, he sounded like he actually knew what he was talking about rather than just reading off a script.  When I mentioned my firmware theory he at first seemed sceptical but having exhausted the other options (basically that I’d connected to someone else’s WiFi or a different router) he said he’d have to pass it on to Level 2 support, but gave me the username and password I needed to use my other (non-compromised) router until they came back to me and told me what the hell was going on.

So now we play the waiting game.

Argos 39-inch Bush TV

I recently purchased a 39-inch Bush LCD TV from Argos at Swiss Cottage for what seemed like a reasonably good deal of £229.  OK, it was a Bush TV – but how bad could it be?  I was also worried that a 39″ TV would be too big for the lounge but when I got it set up it looked to be  a perfect size!  (The stand that I bought with it is also good, although for £60 it would need to be nice!)

The TV set up was fine.  I was a bit nervous it took so long to tune in the Freeview (DTV-B) signal but it got there in the end.  I was a little disappointed that the catalogue listing had made it appear that it was Freeview HD – but it isn’t.  It’s Freeview, and it’s HD, but never the twain shall meet.

Photo of catalogue page showing "Freeview" and "HD" logos close together, side-by-side
The arrangement of the logos implied to me at the time that the Bush TV was Freeview HD. It was only after I tuned it in I realised it wasn’t.

Anyway, I was prepared to accept that as a lesson that I should double-check everything but then I hit the real problem: the picture quality.  Despite having a review score of 4.5/5 on the Argos web site, the picture quality is absolutely awful.  The brights are too bright and the darks are too dark, and it seems no amount of playing with settings will change that.  People’s faces positively glow when they’re in any kind of brightly lit scene, and any attempt to mitigate this means that darker colours all merge into one dark mess in indoor scenes (think the pub in Eastenders).

I went back to the reviews on the Argos web site because I can’t believe these people are describing the same TV.  I was slightly suspicious of reviews on the site selling the product and whether there would be some form of censorship in play.  When I tried to leave an honest review reflecting the true quality of this TV I couldn’t find any option to do this, though I think their site was redesigned the other day, so hoping this is just an oversight there rather than anything sinister.

So it turns out that the Bush TV was indeed pretty bad – I should’ve paid more heed to my dad’s opinion of Bush products but it seemed like a good deal.  Talk about buyer’s remorse!  It needs to go back to the shop, Argos should really be embarrassed to be selling products like that in the first place, much less trying to make out they’re worth £350.

I’m publishing this in the hope that some other poor sod about to make the same mistake will be spared the disappointment.  Do yourself a favour, go to Richer Sounds instead – or at least somewhere you can see the TV you’re getting in action.  Or failing that, just don’t buy a Bush TV – they are as bad as you think!

Lubuntu Update Manager Won’t Install Updates – Doesn’t Ask For Password

My Lubuntu is annoying me. Again. When I login to Lubuntu over remote desktop from my laptop, I often find Update Manager popping up to tell me there are updates, so being the security-conscious person I am I click on “Install Updates” – at which point the system thinks about doing something but then decides to do nothing at all instead.  The Update Manager window stays open and there is no error message but it’s clear nothing is happening.

Screenshot of Update Manager at login showing updates to be installed
Lubuntu 12.04 Update Manager

What should happen is it should ask for my Admin password to install the updates but it won’t.  It seems there is a similar known issue with “muon” (the update manager) in Ubuntu 11.10, but I’m on 12.04 and this was supposedly resolved.  Also the other reports seem to refer to error messages which I’m not getting.

A mystery for now but I’ve posted a query on Ubuntu Forums to see if I can get any help there.

Adding DNS Server to Lubuntu 12.04 with Webmin

I’m trying to set up my Lubuntu box as a test server for some web development (PHP) work and have decided this means running a DNS server so I can set up my own domain names (site1.local, site2.local etc).

A quick Google suggests installing and configuring a DNS server manually could be painful, and it looks as though the simplest way to do this would be to use Webmin*, a web based interface for administering Unix-like systems.

Unfortunately when I followed the Webmin install instructions I got an error telling me that:

W: Failed to fetch http://webmin.mirror.somersettechsolutions.co.uk/repository/dists/sarge/Release Unable to find expected entry ‘contrib/source/Sources’ in Release file (Wrong sources.list entry or malformed file)

W: Failed to fetch http://download.webmin.com/download/repository/dists/sarge/Release Unable to find expected entry ‘contrib/source/Sources’ in Release file (Wrong sources.list entry or malformed file)

Looking at the messages you can see it is failing to find some files called “sources”, which explains why the solution I found at SuperUser worked.  Just tell apt-get to stop looking for sources!  When you add the repositories in the install instructions, it looks like Linux is adding the corresponding source repositories, when all we really want are the binaries to run the program.  So you can either manually edit /etc/apt/sources.lst and comment out the offending lines (which should be at the end of the file and prefixed with deb-src) – or you can use Ubuntu’s “Software Sources” utility and just remove them.

Now you can run apt-get install webmin again and it should be fine.

* Actually, the simplest way is probably to just edit the HOSTS file on my laptop(s) as I’ve done previously, but I’m trying to do this in some way ‘right’.

PowerPoint Tip – Rename Objects Using Selection Pane

I’m putting together a PowerPoint 2007  slide at the moment and wanted to add some custom animation to ensure objects in a diagram appear one at a time.  Simple enough, but there are 20 odd pictures on the slide and having them all with generic names like “Picture 1”, “Picture 2”, “Picture 3” etc. was annoying me.

I know that if I ever want to change the order for whatever reason it will just be irritating, so I wanted to change the names but couldn’t see an obvious way to do this (in other words, right-clicking didn’t work!  Worse, there was nothing in the context-speicfic “Format” panel of the ribbon).  What to do.

It took some slightly less than intuitive Googling but I found Ellen Finkelstein’s post on her PowerPoint Tips blog: “The wonderful Selection pane lets you easily hide objects, select them and even rename them” – which did exactly what I wanted.  Cheers Ellen.

You just need to go to the Home tab -> Editing panel and choose Selection -> Selection Pane.  Then you can just edit the names of any objects on the slide. Easy.

PowerPoint 2007 screen shot illustrating the location of Selection Pane under Selection in the Edit pane of the Home tab
The Selection Pane under Selection in the Edit pane of the Home tab in PowerPoint 2007 (click to enlarge)

PS – I haven’t got PowerPoint 2010 to verify this yet so let me know if something similar works there.

AArgghhh!! Lubuntu Server Can’t Ping the Internet (not even IPs!)

Well the good news is I figured out why my server can’t download updates through the update manager – it turns out the server can’t see the internet.

This is exceptionally weird because the internet can see it.  I’ve set up port forwarding on my Virgin Superhub router so I can SSH into the server, but can’t reach the internet on the way out!!

Also can ping the router etc. just fine.

Turned out I’d screwed something up in my router last night – I had set up a MAC filter for the server, and since the default was Allow All, anything in the filter list was blocked.  OOps.

All good now, but my “Update Manager” still doesn’t seem to work at all.  Problem for another day though.

Setup HP Proliant Microserver with Lubuntu & Remote Desktop (RDP)

I had had a few goes at installing Linux on my HP Proliant Microserver N40L fairly recently and thanks to a recent cockup involving an OS corruption, I’ve been presented with an opportunity to start from scratch again and document exactly what I want to do and why.

First, my rationale for purchasing the server.  Well aside from the fact that it only cost me in the region of £130 after cashback, I did actually believe I had uses for a low-powered, energy-efficient server, namely:

  • Sharing files across the home network (2-3 Windows laptops, 1 Windows PC and a couple of android mobile phones and an Android tablet)
  • Remote access to said files via SFTP
  • Streaming media to a PlayStation 3
  • Potential future ventures such as coding, developing/hosting websites, running a DNS server and other assorted geekery.

First thing’s first – get the OS installed!

After some experimenting I eventually settled on Lubuntu as my Linux distribution.  Fedora had refused to work with Wake on LAN and Lubuntu is a cut-down, light-weight variant of the Linux distribution I know best, Ubuntu, which replaces the rather ‘heavy’ GUI with something more light-weight – LXDE.
Installing Lubuntu itself is pretty straightforward, just download it from Lubuntu.net, use Live USB Creator to create a bootable SD (since the N40L has no optical drive) and run the installer.

Remote Working

Now since I don’t have a dedicated monitor for the server, the first thing I want to do is get it set up for Remote Desktop.  You obviously need some sort of RDP server like xrdp to do this.  Easy, either install it from the Synaptic Package Manager or hit up the terminal with:

sudo apt-get install xrdp

Now, this allowed me to connect to the server but when I try to login I get a message that just said “Error – problem connecting”.  Eventually I tried to connect from PuTTy and realised that I hadn’t installed an SSH (secure shell) server this time.

Connection Log <br />connecting to sesman ip port 3350 <br />sesman connect ok <br />sending login info to sesman <br />xrdp_mm_process_login_resposne: login successful for displa[truncated] <br />started connecting <br />connecting to 5910 <br />tcp connected <br />error - problem connecting
Error received trying to connect to Lubuntu server from Remote Desktop Connection in Windows 7
At this point I wish I could tell you how I fixed the problem, but the  sad truth is I’ve no idea. I installed an SSH server (sudo apt-get install openssh-server) and this seemed to allow me to connect, but displayed a blank screen with an X-shaped cursor.  I resolved this by some editing the configuration XRDP uses to kick off a new session, but then when I uninstalled the SSH server everything still worked.

The answer to the desktop was to edit the file /etc/xrdp/startwm.sh – replacing the last line (a call to /etc/X11/Xsession) with:

exec /usr/bin/lxsession -s Lubuntu -e LXDE

Et viola le desktop.

Lubuntu Desktop through Remote Desktop Connection
Lubuntu’s LXDE window manager showing through Remote Desktop Connect.

Massive thanks to celem at UbuntuForums.

PS3 Media Server As A Linux Service

In a previous blog I detailed how I’d managed to get PlayStation 3 Media Server (PMS) up and running on my Lubuntu box, and had it starting automatically.  At this stage there were 2 problems with the setup:

  1. PMS was running as root, which is a self-evidently Bad Thing TM
  2. It was serving every folder from “/” downwards – when all I really wanted was a TV and a Film folder, both mounted under /media

So my goal for today was to complete the following steps to rectify this and have my PMS running on startup, and only showing the correct folders.  My plan was:

  1. Create a user (‘pms’) to be responsible for running the PlayStation 3 Media Server program (reference)
  2. Give the user (minimal) permissions needed to do this (reference 1, reference 2)
  3. Change my startup routine to make sure the PMS started as the right user
  4. Sort out the configuration so only the right folders are shown to the clients

So let’s get started

Continue reading “PS3 Media Server As A Linux Service”

Lubuntu 11.10 Wake On LAN

I’ve been doing a lot of messing about with different flavours of Linux over the past few days, and as I mentioned in my PS3 Media Server post, had one or two minor headaches.  One of these was that while my HP Microserver supported Wake-On-LAN (WOL), this didn’t seem to work with Fedora 16 (x64), but did with Ubuntu.

Eventually though I moved on to Lubuntu, and while I could have sworn blind WOL worked fine on Saturday night, it definitely wasn’t working last night – so my first task today was to rectify this, which I have done largely thanks to a WOL guide at a blog called Confounded Tech (and the comments following it).

So what went wrong and how did I fix it?

First thing I did was download ethtool using sudo apt-get install ethtool and then checked the output from the command ethtool eth0 (where eth0 was my network card).  What I was looking for was a “g” in the “Wake-on:” line, indicating that WOL was enabled. It was there – so while a lot of the guides talked about enabling this setting on startup, I figured I was ok to ignore that bit as it seemed to be ok.

Rather, the problem seems to be that Lubuntu wasn’t shutting down the network card correctly when I sent the shutdown command.  Rectifying this meant creating a script and putting it in two directories: /etc/rc6.d/ and /etc/rc0.d/.  The rcx numbers correspond to Linux “run levels“, with 0 being halt and 6 being shutdown & reboot.  The script would basically just make sure the network interface was closed correctly each time.

In the rcx.d directories there are a lot of scripts, all of which get called when the OS is entering the relevant run level. scripts starting with an S start a job and scripts starting with a K kill a job.  The numbers following the level indicate priority, where S (or K) scripts with a lower number are executed before those with the same letter but higher number.  My system had S35networking which presumbaly does some fancy stuff to shut down networking programs.

The following script should be created and placed in both /etc/rc0.d/ and /etc/rc6.d/ – I called mine S34wol.sh, hoping that would ensure it was executed at the right point in the shutdown process.

ifconfig eth0 down

And… ?

Well now my server responds to WOL packets sent from my Windows 7 Laptop using FUSION WOL.  It still, for some reason, refuses to respond to WOL packets sent from my phone using mafro’s Wake On Lan app.

Installing PS3 Media Server on Lubuntu – and Running at Startup

One reason for purchasing the HP Proliant Microserver (N40L) was to run it as a media server (since the Linkstation Live NAS drive I already have, while a decent fileserver, doesn’t seem to play nicely with the PlayStation 3 for some reason).

I looked at a few options and eventually decided on PS3 Media Server as my DLNA server – despite the name, it supposedly serves media to all sorts of devices.  Oh and after trying Fedora 16 (no wake on LAN), Ubuntu (dodgy RDP display quirks), Kubuntu (software updater refused to work) and openSuse (just too different from Ubuntu) I settled on Lubuntu – a light-weight Ubuntu variant with the LXDE (Lightweight X11 Desktop Environment).

So my day has been spent trying to install the PS3 Media Server, get it to work (easy) and – now here’s the tricky part – get it to run as a service (i.e. in the background, and on startup – before I’ve logged in).  This involved a lot of learning about things I’d never heard of before, or had completely forgotten, like init.d, Linux run levels, shell scripts, putty, PPAs and loads more – but I’ll try and keep this as simple as I can.

So the first bit is easy, thanks to Ubuntu Help’s PS3 Media Server page.  Installation can be done using Ubuntu’s standard apt-get.  PS3 Media Server isn’t in Ubuntu’s built-in repositories but someone has helpfully created a “Personal Package Archive” or PPA (whatever that is) that apt-get can install from.  So you need to fire up your terminal and run:

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:happy-neko/ps3mediaserver
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install ps3mediaserver

As far as I can tell these three steps tell Ubuntu to add a new repository (the ppa) to the package manager, update the list of packages available (to add the packages in the ppa) and then install the package it’s just found called ps3mediaserver.  Easy, right?

Now you can play about with it (you’ll find it at /usr/bin/ps3mediaserver) and a guide to some of the PMS settings is available online. But if you’re running a home server like my Microserver, you’ll probably want it to run at startup (before any user login).  This is trickier.

According to the docs, it’s not recommended to run PS3 Media Server as a daemon on Linux… oh dear.  (If you want an easy life, it seems you can run it as a Windows Service easily enough).  However it looks like it is possible.  First, I recommend learning a little about the /etc/init.d directory and rc.d – for which I found an explanation of init.d and  a helpful introduction to Linux services.

Basically the init.d directory seems to be a collection of scripts, each one designed to manage (stop/start) a specific application on start up.

In addition to this I’d been looking at Leigh Henderson’s guide to installing PS3 Media Server where the author had the same objective – running as a ‘headless’ service.  However, he had downloaded and installed the files himself (not using the PPA) which seems to work slightly differently.  Leigh talks about using a script (PMS.sh, which comes with the manual download) to start the program, which I simply didn’t have.

I did manage to take Leigh’s instructions and make them work for the apt-get installed version of the server though.  After messing about with the ps3mediaserver script that was already in init.d (a much more complicated beast), and not being able to make it do what I want, I decided to write my own version of Leigh’s simple script.

Despite my initial trepidation, it seems all that was necessary was to call the executable /usr/bin/ps3mediaserver instead of his script at /opt/pms/PMS.sh.

i.e. create a script in /etc/init.d (I called mine pmsautostart) with the following content:

nohup /usr/bin/ps3mediaserver &

You’ll need root permissions (sudo) to save this file.  The nohup help tells me that nohup simply runs a command but then ignores ‘hangup’ signals.  As far as I can tell these are signals sent from the OS when a user logs out, telling the program to quit.

And you should be good to go!  Please let me know if the above works for you.

Note that I take no responsibility if you repeat what I did and break your OS.  I’m just learning this stuff myself and, for example, already know that this solution leaves your PS3 Media Server running as root (and I’m sure this is a bad idea so my next task will be trying to figure out how to run it as someone else).  Nevertheless, you’ve been warned!

PS – The only other thing I haven’t figured out so far is how to get PS3 Media Server to not show every directory on my system to the PS3.  I tried restricting the shared folders using the GUI but that doesn’t seem to do anything. If you figure this out before I do please let me know that too!