19
Jun 14

Raspberry Pi update

So, it’s been a while, and I thought I should post up an update to my travails with the Raspberry pi.
Since I last posted about it, I’ve probably pivoted like twice on what I’ve used it for, but all that isn’t important. What’s important is what it’s being used for at the moment.
On a related note, one of the pi’s died out on me recently. I blame the terribly inconsistent power supply and unstable power generating sets. It could just be that the SD card slot has a bent pin though. I haven’t really had time to examine it, and all the lights still come up when I put it on, so I’m still hopeful.
Since I have another pi and, for now at least, only need one, I’m not too bothered.

So, on to what I’m doing with it.
I decided that using one pi only for xbmc and another as a file server was a waste, so I decided to combine both functions into one, and so far, it seems to work quite nicely.
I am now running Raspbmc as the base distro, which is based on Raspbian, so I have a very familiar debian base to work with.
Once I got xbmc up and running, doing all the updates and what not, I installed “XBMCtorrent” addon.
XBMCtorrent basically does the same thing as Popcorntime, but it proceeds it. It works as you’ll expect, and if you don’t know what popcorntime is, Google it.
Once I had that installed, I configured a static IP so I could SSH into the OS from my laptop.
From console on my laptop, I did an apt-get update, installed samba and bit torrent sync.
I then configured some folders to sync from my laptop to the external hdd connected to the pi. Again, if your unfamiliar with samba or bittorrent sync, Google it! :).

So, now, I’ve got a fully functional xbmc box with online media streaming capability via xbmctorrent, and local storage via the external hdd connected to it where I have my media collection properly indexed with metadata by xbmc.
On the same box, I also have shared folder capability with samba, even to Windows boxes,  and Dropbox like syncing, albeit on a local network, across all my devices.

It’s a pretty sweet setup that I’m sure I’ll continue tweaking in the future, plus, now I have to look for something for the other pi to do, assuming it’s still working of course.


22
Apr 14

It’s live!

image

CBC site homepage

It’s been a long time coming, but this past Sunday the CBC media team launched the Central Baptist Church Website over at http://centralbaptistchurchphc.org. It’s a mouthful, I know. We’re probably gonna have a shorter redirect for that in the future.

The site is built on joomla 2.5 with a premium template which has been heavily modified. It features several joomla for sliders, calendars, etc.

The site is still a work in progress as several pages are yet to bring filled. There is still lots to get done.
Kudos to all the guys in the team for rushing to ensure we had something presentable for Sunday.


21
Mar 14

Raspberry Pi as File server

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Raspbian running on the Pi

I’ve been using the Raspberry Pi as a home theatre PC for a while now, however, since it doesn’t have a dedicated storage, I have had issues getting media on to the TV. I initially used  Plex, with Plex media server running on my laptop, RasPlex running on the RPi and Plex clients for Android and iOS on my phone and iPad respectively. This setup worked for a while, but it meant that I had to have my laptop on all the time. Also, updates to plex would routinely break some of the functionality, and after a while, this got pretty frustrating. I finally decided to dump this method and reloaded the Pi’s SD card with OpenELEC.

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OpenELEC XBMC

OpenELEC is basically a stripped down embedded operating system running XBMC. It is lightweight and runs smoothly on the Pi. Once I had that installed though, I had to figure out a way to get my media to OpenELEC without needing my laptop to be on all the time. Theoretically, I could just connect an external hard drive to one of the USB ports of the RPi and play the media that way, however, that would mean I would have to remove it and connect to my laptop whenever I need to add or remove a file to it. This can get tedious really quickly. Instead, I decided to buy another Raspberry Pi, this time locally from the fine folks at CoCreation Hub.

I setup the second Pi as a file server which acts as storage for my media files streaming to OpenELEC on the other Pi, as well as general storage and backup server. For this, I used Raspbian (Debian Linux for Rapsberry Pi) with is the recommended Linux distribution for the Pi.

I did some preliminary configuration such as setting a static IP and creating users directly on the device with its video out hooked up to a tv and a keyboard connected to it.
Once I had it on a network, I did the rest of the configuration like device automount and samba (smb) file sharing over SSH on my Ubuntu laptop.

I also configured weekly backup of my files from ubuntu using the default backup utility over SFTP, as well as adding a permanent bookmark to the network drive to my file manager for easy access.

After doing all these, I now have an almost complete media centre and file storage/backup solution.

I’ll still continue tweaking and making necessary changes as time goes by. For example, i’m considering replacing OpenELEC with Raspbmc. I already have it flashed to a spare SD card. Its major advantage over OpenELEC for me at the moment is that it runs on a more traditional Linux OS foundation, and so I can do more with it, like running most XBMC addons, even those not in the official repos. That’s something to consider for the future.
For now though, I’m pretty happy with how things stand.

I didn’t go into a lot of details about the specifics of what I did, because most of it is already available online.

For now, the next thing to do is to complete migrating my media collection to the external Hard drive connected to the File server Pi, and then index it with movie posters, album art and all that good stuff.

I used a very nice tutorial from Linux Journal for pointers in configuring the Raspbian server, and everything you need to know about OpenELEC is readily available on their site and Wiki.

For reference, you can check out previous posts I have done on what I’ve been doing with the Raspberry Pi here and here.


21
Mar 14

Setting up Raspberry Pi as a Media Centre device

In the last post, we looked into setting up the Raspberry Pi in general, and what that entails.

This article is gonna focus on setting it up as a Media Centre device.

I have lots of media (Music, Movies, TV Series, etc.) on my laptop and I’ve always wanted a stress free way to have that content available to me on all my devices, be it on my TV, iPad or Phone.

The perfect solution for this came in the form of Plex Media Server.

Plex Media Server

Plex Media Server is a free (but closed source) Media server application that indexes and organizes all kinds of media from Music to TV shows, Movies, Anime, etc. It also downloads Album art, Show banners and other metadata, even down to TV Show theme music. Plex media server is very easy to setup and is available to install on all major OSes.

I run Ubuntu on my laptop, so naturally, that’s where I installed my Plex Media server instance. After installation, Plex Media server runs as a background service which autostarts on booting the system. It has a web UI (pictured above) for managing your media collection. Its all really straightforward and easy to follow. I did have a little issue where some of my media wasn’t being recognized, but after changing file permissions, I was able to fix that.

The initial indexing of my vast media collection took a while and at the end, about 1gb of data, but it was definitely worth it. Once I had plex setup as a media server on my laptop, I could then move on to setting it up on the Raspberry Pi.

RasPlex

Plex doesn’t have an official Home Theatre app for the Raspberry pi (or Linux), even though they have one for iOS, Android, Windows and OSX.

Some fine folks over at RasPlex have fixed this though, by creating RasPlex which is based on OpenELEC, which is in turn based on XBMC, which the original Plex Home Theatre app is based on. So, they are all more or less the same. :D.

Installing RasPlex on the Raspberry Pi has been made quite easy by the RasPlex team. There are installers available for Windows, OSX and Linux. Once the Installers are downloaded, they can be used to download the latest version of RasPlex, and also flash it to a compatible 8gb SD card. Pop that SD card into the Raspberry Pi’s slot and voila!, you have a working install of RasPlex.

As long as your Raspberry Pi is connected to the same network as your Plex media server, RasPlex should detect your media collection and allow you to play media directly on your TV.

Issues

I ran into a major issue after setting up RasPlex on the Raspberry Pi. Although it worked just fine on the big TV in the sitting room while connected via HDMI, it refused to display a thing when connected via composite video to the smaller TV in the room. After a bit of googling, I discovered that RasPlex is configured to use HDMI only by default. I guess the developers assumed nobody would be using TVs without HDMI input in 2013. Thankfully, there’s a workaround and it only involves editing a text file. I did have to do the edit on a windows machine though (something to do with those pesky file ownership and permissions issue), but apart from that hickup, it was a quick fix.

Once that was done, the RasPlex displayed properly on the TV and once I got a “3.5mm audio jack to composite audio converter cable”, I could also get audio into the TV.

OpenELEC

OpenELEC is another Media Centre platform available on the Pi. RasPlex is built on OpenELEC, as evidenced by the OpenELEC splash screen that comes up when booting RasPlex.

However, if you want something as close to running generic XBMC on your Raspberry Pi, OpenELEC is the way to go.

Installing OpenELEC, like most installations on the Raspberry Pi is as easy as flashing the image unto a memory card. There are instructions on how to do this for each platform on the OpenELEC wiki. I did this on my trusty Ubuntu laptop and it worked perfectly.

Booting up OpenELEC on the Pi takes you to a generic XBMC UI. Its clean and uncluttered.

Mr preferred solution, of the two, is RasPlex.

Controlling your Media Centre

Although the Raspberry Pi supports both USB Mouse and Keyboard, these are not ideal when dealing with a Media Centre platform. One would not like to get up to the TV in order to change the media playing.

Thankfully, this is remedied by a host of Remote applications available for both iOS and Android.

For RasPlex, my favourite remote app is simply called “Plex Remote”. Its a free app in the play store, and so long as your android device is connected to the same network as the Raspberry Pi, it detects your RasPlex instance immediately and allows you to control its UI and launch your media.

For OpenELEC, any plain old XBMC remote would work. There are several of them on the Play store, but I haven’t tried out any since I did not decide on using OpenELEC in the long run, so I can’t recommend one.

Miscellaneous

The solution above allowed me to elegantly stream my media collection from my laptop acting as the server the Raspberry Pi connected to my TV. However, at other times, I might want to stream the same content to my phone or tablet instead.

Plex has awesome applications for both iOS and Android that do just that. Both applications cost $4.99 on their individual stores. They automatically connect to the Plex server and allow you to stream your content directly to your device.

The centralized nature of the media ensures that you can do cool things like marking videos as “watched”, filtering videos by genre, and even resuming from your last position across all devices.

So, I can start watching a movie on my phone, and later on, go over to the TV and continue from exactly where I stopped the last time.

Plex Media server uses Universal Plug and Play (UPnP) to stream media across devices. Therefore, if for some reason, you don’t have $4.99 to give the Plex developers, you use one of the free UPnP applications available on android. I can confirm that BubbleUPnP does recognize the Plex server and allows you to play your media, but you do lose some of the cooler features such as the resume feature highlighted above.

Its nice to be able to setup your home media centre using the Raspberry Pi, and stream your content from a central server to multiple devices. However, sometimes, your media might be on your phone or tablet. One might not be inclined to first copy it to your server, index it, and then stream it.

Luckily, there are ways to stream content directly from your phone or tablet to your Raspberry Pi powered TV, and we will explore that in the next post!.


21
Mar 14

Getting Started with Raspberry Pi

After being constantly hounded by several people, I’ve finally gotten around to writing this post.

Instructional blog posts on getting a Raspberry Pi to do just about anything imaginable are a dime-a-dozen on the internet. That means, a lot of the stuff I’m writing in this post are not new, and are stuff I also learned from reading blog posts and wikis. I however am bringing a uniquely Nigerian perspective, and this might be useful to others trying to accomplish something similar in a similar environment.

Now, without much ado, lets get into it.

What exactly is a Raspberry Pi?

According to the guys that made it,

“The Raspberry Pi is a low-cost credit-card sized computer that plugs into your TV and a keyboard”.

It was originally designed for the educational purposes, especially for kids, but its uses have ballooned over the years and now, it can be found doing stuff like running Home Theatre software, controlling robots, home automation/ surveillance systems, etc.

I was originally interested in the Raspberry Pi just as a device for experimentation, and the extremely cheap price of $35 made it even more appealing. I bought this pack from Amazon and got the Pi along with a clear case, HDMI cable, Micro USB power pack and an 8gb SD card preloaded with some Pi software for Noobs.

I got it sent to Nigeria through Shippyme.

Setting up

Setting up the Raspberry Pi is relatively easy to do, even more so if you have Linux experience (as I do), but still fairly easy if you don’t. The Raspberry Pi folks officially recommend a variant of Debian Linux called Raspbian. Since that was one of the preloaded OSes that came with my SD Card, I loaded it up first to see how things ran. If you don’t go the route of getting the pack, you would have to install Raspbian yourself. The setup process is relatively painless but the download would set you back 500+ Mb.

Raspbian is a full featured debian distribution with all its binaries recompiled against the ARM architecture which the Pi’s CPU has. It comes with a modern Desktop environment and has all the important bits of any OS. Overall, its pretty boring. Of course, there are things that can be done to spice up Raspbian and add some extra features, but I didn’t linger on Raspbian to try any of them out.

The Raspberry Pi is essentially a Computer board. Therefore, in order to use it, accessories such as a Keyboard, Mouse and even power supply have to be added externally. The Pi possesses two full USB ports for the peripherals, as well as a HDMI port for Digital Video/Audio output, Composite video and 3.5mm audio jack for Analogue output. The Pi doesn’t have a Wireless receiver, but it does have an RJ45 Ethernet port for all your networking needs. This turned out to be a bit of a limitation for me, but I was able to overcome it later with a bit of spending.

Issues

The only major issue I had while setting up my Pi was the fact that I use a MiFi device to connect to the internet. The device broadcasts a wireless network, and doesn’t have an Ethernet port. Since the Raspberry Pi doesn’t have a wireless card, this posed a bit of a problem as regards getting the Pi connected to the internet.

I eventually overcame this by getting a fairly cheap Wireless Access point (TP-Link WA701ND) which has one Ethernet port as well as broadcasting a wireless network. The device doesn’t have a SIM Slot though, so it can’t be used to replace my MiFi.

I setup the TP-Link access point as a Wireless repeater to the network propagated from the MiFi. This essentially made the access point connected to the same network as MiFi, and meant that any device connected to the Access point via LAN (in this case, the Pi) also got connected to the same network originating from the MiFi. This fixed my issue with getting the Pi online.

Using the Raspberry Pi.

Once you have everything setup the way you like, its time to actually use the device to get some work done (or not, depending on what you want). In my case, I was interested in using the Pi as a Home Theatre PC. This meant Raspbian wasn’t a good fit for me. Luckily, there are two excellent solutions available for the Pi in this field, both based on XBMC. OpenELEC and RasPlex.

In the next article, I’ll discuss how I got both setup, my experiences with them, and also discuss how to get content streamed from your media server PC, phone or tablet to your Raspberry Pi.

This post was originally published on my Tumblr, but I devided to repost it here since I nolonger post there, or link to it anywhere again.


09
Mar 14

Aaand… I’m back!

In a bid to make myself blog more, I switched this domain over to a tumblr blog, but I quickly realized that it was a mistake. I’ve now switched back to good old wordpress and would be transplanting my posts from tumblr over here presently.

Feels good to be back!


03
Sep 13

We made it!

tumblr_msekyrDwYR1srfki0o1_1280Turns out I am really geeky, atleast a lot of people agree on that fact. Thanks to everyone who supported and voted for me. Couldn’t have done it without y’all!


28
Jul 13

How geeky am I?

I’ve got a confession to make. I’m a geek!. Yeah, but you already knew that didn’t you?
I still need to prove my geekiness from time to time though, most recently and prominently, in the Etisalat Geek Force Internship Contest. I am still participating in the contest at the moment at an undisclosed location in the heart of Lagos Island :D so I can’t really say much about it on this blog. However, I thought I should post something up on this blog about it, if only to act as a mile marker of my life which I can look back on later cos everyone knows no one reads this blog but me. See what I did there?

In a bid to prove to the folks at Eti-baba just how geeky I am, I made two videos which came out pretty nicely. I thought I should post them here so whichever poor sod is reading this post can see them for himself and bask in my geekiness :).

Here you go!

Hopefully, I will share some more info and maybe some good news on the competition in the future, but for now, pacify yourself with these fine videos :D


06
Jul 13

Nigerian ATM woes and the threat of a cashless society

The queue was definitely longer than this

The queue was definitely longer than this

Yesterday, I spent the better part of my afternoon at a Bank trying to withdraw some cash from the ATM. The disturbing trend of barely functional to non-functional ATM machines seems to have escalated of recent. Some speculate that since banks are no longer get a kickback from ATM transactions, they have decided to no longer care about the state of those machines. I don’t know if I will go so far as agreeing with these people but one has to admit that the time-line is troubling. This is even more evident now that the CBN in its infinite wisdom has seen it fit to begin enforcing its “cashless” initiative.

What we find everywhere these days are queues of such lenghts that they curve several times over like a giant snake. In some places, people are just hanging around, dejected looks on their faces as they wait for the persistent “out of service” message to change.
Yesterday, I was among this second batch of people. I got to the bank to find two out of the four available ATMs functional. This isn’t an unusual sight for most Nigerians, as it is quite strange to find all available ATMs working at any given location, even during the week days, as yesterday was.
It didn’t take long though for the two functioning ATMs to begin misbehaving. Finally, a third stopped working altogether, and we all migrated to the queue for the sole remaining functioning machine. This too soon went the way of the others and we were left moping.
As most Nigerians who frequent banks know by now, there is no use looking for ATMs at another location because the problem most likely stems from the ominous “network” whose reliability is almost at the level of PHCN. So, we did the only thing we could, wait. Some people who couldn’t wait left, probably to go back home and look for change under the mattress or something.

Eventually though, the machine began spitting out cash again, the queue reformed and I was finally able to get my money. In 2013, if trying to withdraw my own money from an ATM can be described as an exercise in patience, I wish to submit that Nigeria is nowhere near ready for a cashless society, and the CBN should probably reconsider her priorities.


01
Jul 13

RIP Google Reader. So long and thanks for all the LOLs

As most of us know by now, today marks last day of Google Reader’s existence. By the end of today, it will be shutdown and we would have lost one of the most important and pivotal parts of my internet experience. Google Reader has had a monumental influence on me, all the while ensuring it stayed out of my way while it did so.

I haven’t yet decided on a replacement for Google Reader (Despite a plethora of new options springing up) but whatever I choose, I have a feeling it will not completely fill up the hole Google reader has left in its wake.

RIP Google Reader. So long and thanks for all the LOLs!

- muyiscoi