Early Gripes with Sky Broadband

I’ve recently joined Sky Broadband from PlusNet – hey, a year’s free broadband and a £100 pre-paid Mastercard on top of over £77 TopCashBack is hard to turn down!  However, I have already come across two major annoyances – one which I’ve carried over from my days at PlusNet and one which is new.

Screenshot from Sky Hub's Dynamic DNS screen showing a list with a single entry.
What passes for “choice” when you’re a Sky customer

Let’s start with the new one. It turns out, the Sky router (sorry, “Sky Hub”) only lets you ‘choose’ from a list of one Dynamic DNS providers. Since I’m not interested in paying $40 a year for something that I know I can get for free this is not an acceptable solution for me.

So instead I came across this old post on AskUbuntu which pointed me towards a program called ddclient.  This perl-based program will run on my Linux server and update the No-IP service from there, bypassing the router instead.  Not ideal as far as I’m concerned, but workable.

The second issue is one that was also a problem at PlusNet in that, for whatever reason, ISPs these days seem reluctant to let you bypass their DNS servers (cutting their load and doing part of their job for them!) and so remove any option related to this from their routers.  I managed to get round this at one point with Plus Net by telnetting into the router itself and updating the settings manually (not for the feint-hearted!) but this Sky Hub is a different router make so I will need to do a bit more digging on that one.  A task for another day methinks.

Needless to say, Sky and I aren’t off to the best of starts.

Local Home Network DNS – how hard can it be?

So I wanted to do something I thought would be fairly straightforward.  I have a home network with a PlusNet-provided Technicolor Gateway router and behind that I currently have my (Windows 7) laptop and my HP Proliant Microserver running Lubuntu.

In addition to a media server I want to use my Lubuntu box as a development environment for multiple websites, but I want to be able to access each website from the laptop.

Running multiple sites is easy enough with Apache’s Virtual Hosts feature, and I can configure the /etc/hosts file on my server to let me access them locally.  However I want to be able to do the actual work /testing on my laptop (for starters) and have an easy to remember name for each of the virtual hosts.

So here’s what (I think) I need to do:

  1. Install Apache (and PHP/MySQL) and configure the virtual hosts – check.
  2. Set up a DNS server on my server
  3. Configure the laptop to query that server for DNS (preferably through the router config so it applies to the whole network…) let’s come to that later.

Piece of cake, right?  Read on for completion of step 2.

Continue reading “Local Home Network DNS – how hard can it be?”

Swap UK Keymap for US on Lubuntu using XRDP

OK so my home server is up and running at my new place and I have been tinkering, installing Ruby etc. and as I started writing a bit of code I realised I couldn’t tolerate the getting a US keymap any more.

I hasten to add that this problem only occurred when I logged in over Remote Desktop so I figured it was something to do with XRDP – and I was right.  Thanks to a very useful post at Component Parts, I was able to update it in just a few minutes.

Just download the keymap file (km-0809.ini) into the XRDP keymaps directory – /etc/xrdp/ – and then run:

sudo chown xrdp.xrdp /etc/xrdp/km-0809.ini
sudo chmod 644 /etc/xrdp/km-0809.ini
sudo service xrdp restart

I suspect you’ll want to log out of Remote Desktop and use a shell client like PuTTY for that last part – I assume if you restart the xrdp service while you’re connected to the server, you’re gunna have a bad time!

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.

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”

Kubuntu Muon Software Centre Crashes on Opening

I’ve recently installed Kubuntu 11.10 on my HP Proliant Microserver (N40L). This was my third attempt at installing a Linux OS that I wanted to operate using Wake on LAN and Remote Desktop (RDP) from my Windows 7 laptop, so I was determined it would be third time lucky and I wouldn’t have to try another OS or reinstall.

After Ubuntu’s unity interface caused issues over RDP where nothing on the desktop displayed, and prior to that Fedora just outright refused to Wake on LAN, I was pleased that Kubuntu both Woke on LAN and let me login (and actually do things) over Remote Desktop. The only problem was that the installation seemed to be broken, as any time I tried to open Kubuntu’s “Muon” Software Centre, it crashed on startup with an error saying

Executable: muon-installer PID: 2165 Signal: Segmentation fault (11)

I could still install software using the command line (which is how I got a remote desktop server installed to know that this worked!) but I’m not yet au-fait enough with this for this to be an acceptable solution, plus I didn’t like the idea of my shiny new toy being anything less than 100% capable, so off to Google I went.

I did find a thread on Ubuntu Forums which sounded very familiar: like another poster, (same error, 64-bit OS version, and I had to interrupt an update post-installation because it stalled about half-way), but none of the proposed solutions in the thread worked. The suggestion seems to be that Muon is just Kubuntu’s own fucked up mangling of KDE’s standard package manager.

I may tru Ubuntu again and try enabling the GNOME fallback, but someone in that thread did mention OpenSUSE – a distro I hadn’t considered to date. Maybe it will be ‘4th OS lucky’!

HTC Desire: WANT!!

I realise I haven’t written anything here in a while but I thought recent developments warranted a post.  Basically my mobile phone contract with Vodafone is up for renewal.  My contract expires at the end of May and I’m already into my "eligible for upgrade" period.

I have decided on a phone. I want an Android phone. I simply MUST have an HTC Desire. So much that I already want to start writing apps for it!

Things looked good at the start of April when it was available on T-Mobile for £15/month and £129 up front for 24 months.  This came with 300 minutes, unlimited texts (they say 300 but you get a choice of flexible booster free and mine would go on unlimited texts)  and "unlimited" (1GB) data.  This is much better than what I’m currently paying Vodafone £30 a month for!!

Unfortunately while the plan is still available on T-Mobile the price of the phone was hiked to £191 fairly quickly.  It’s still a very competitive contract, and still better than what Vodafone were offering, but I was already nervous about taking out a contract on a network known (to me) mostly for shit signal, based partly on my experience with them about 6 years ago, so I went to do more research.

I’ve spent a lot of time researching the best deals from all networks (except O2 who don’t stock it yet, but I’ve found ways round that) from at least a dozen retailers.  Really it would be a waste if I kept this information to myself and didn’t share what I’d found out with the world (or the 3 random people who happen to stumble on this blog over the next year and probably don’t even speak English).

Anyway, to got a long story short(er), I’m going to post a summary of what I’ve found over the next couple of days. Keep your eyes peeled.