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Ubuntu Edge sells out

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Earlier this week Ubuntu's CEO, mark Shuttleworth unveiled a crowdfunding model to get people to buy into his concept of a converged PC/smartphone device.

The appeal hit its first million within five hours and became the fastest crowdfunding campaign ever to reach $2 million, hitting this milestone in 7 hours, 59 minutes and 58 seconds. It has already also beaten Indiegogo's previous highest ever campaign, which stood at $1,665,380.

In fact, at the time of writing (3pm GMT, July 24 2013), all 5000 of the $500 device have been "pre-ordered". I'm being quite deliberate with the words I have used here: yes, I think Shuttleworth's Ubuntu Edge campaign is a bit like pre-ordering a new brand product on Amazon, that isn't shipping yet (like the xBox One) or Playstation 4).

OK, both these products do exist - unlike Ubuntu Edge. But, Shuttleworth is not really selling a product. He is selling an idea, allowing people to get in at an early stage and become early adopters.

The campaign aims to raise $32 million over 30 days, for a limited production run of 40,000 devices.

Get into Linux in under an hour on a Raspberry Pi

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Raspberry Pi

Raspberry Pi (Photo credit: CesarCardoso)

It's been a while since I raved about losing a weekend getting to grips with Linux on a home project to build a music server.

It took a weekend to get the open source Squeezebox music server software to run on Ubuntu - that was two years ago.

Now thanks to the Raspberry Pi, it is entirely possible to get going in under an hour - if you can Google instructions and are comfortable copying and pasting bits of code.

All you need is a £30 Raspberry Pi (the Model B with 512 MB of memory), a micro USB power supplier (standard Android phone charger should work), a 4 GB or bigger SD card (I used a £12  8 GB class 10 card from Maplins), and a network cable to plug the Pi into your router.

There's plenty of places to find out how to get started. I'll link to the stuff I found useful.You'll need to decide which Rasberry Pi Linux distribution to use, download it from a standard PC then copy the "image" file onto the SD card.

You will need a special program to copy an image of the Raspberry Pi Linux distribution to the SD card, as standard Windows file copy will not work. Again a Google search will show a number of applications that will work: I used Win32 Disk Imager.

Unplug the SD card and plug it into your Pi, connect the network cable to your router and boot up!

This gets you going, the Pi will light up and you're up and running but you won't be able to see anything as no monitor or keyboard is connected.

My preferred way to work with a Linux system is by remote access using the excellent Putty tool to connect using SSH.

To use Putty you will need to find the IP address of your Pi. This is found though your router management console. On my D-Link router I log into http://192.168.1.1 and click on the Network tab, which lists all the devices connected to my home network. It detected the Raspberry Pi - mine had a machine name of RaspPi, and I was able to reserve the IP address.This way, I can use Putty with the same IP address to log into the Pi.

Once Putty is running, you will need to log in using the user name (pi) and password (raspberry).

The Linux distribution I chose was SqueezePlug. This allows you to set up a SqueezeBox music server and/or a player to access your existing server. The player can be controlled wirelessly from an Android or iOS device (such as the free Logitech Squeezebox controller in the Google Play store).

That's it - and it can be installed and running in under an hour.

Going forward, try the Raspbmc Linux distribution, which allows you to run a media centre on the Raspberry Pi. I have been able to use the Pi to stream Freeview, BBC iPlayer and ITV Player to my Nexus 7 Android tablet using the TVHGuide client app. it is also possible to access these streams from any device running an XBMC client.

This time, you need to plug the Pi into a display, you'll also need a powered USB hub, a compatible USB digital TV receiver and a Wi-Fi adapter. There's quite a few steps:

1. Get  tvhead going

2. Add MP2 licence to Rasp

3. Configure tvheadend and enable external devices to connect to it

3. Download iPlayer add-on

4. Install iPlayer Add-on to RaspBMC



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A vision for open data to revolutionise urban life

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ODCC.jpgGreg Hadfield, a former Fleet Street journalist and internet entrepreneur, is organising the United Kingdom's first Open-data Cities Conference. In this guest blog post, Hadfield discusses the opportunities of open data.

Imagine a city where your car tells you the location of the nearest vacant parking space. Or a city where you are notified as soon as a neighbour submits a planning application. Where up-to-the-minute listings of every cultural event and venue are available - all the time, wherever you happen to be. Imagine if you could discover the asking price of the cheapest two-bedroom home that has just gone on sale, in the catchment area that will guarantee your child a place at the best-performing school.
This is the thinking that led to the United Kingdom's first Open-data Cities Conference, which will be held at Brighton Dome Corn Exchange on Friday, April 20.
It's not technology that is holding us up. Although the rate of change will be greater as we progress towards ubiquitous, free, high-speed internet access available to everybody via a myriad devices.
For open-data cities to become reality, we don't have to wait until connectivity - and the "connectedness" it engenders - is the air we breathe.
Nor do we have to wait for the "internet of things", of which all kinds of objects - not just computers, tablets and phones - will be a part.
Emerging technologies associated with a semantic web of data are already sufficient to power innovative applications, services, and enterprises that will compete and combine to meet the needs of communities in the 21st century.
It is lack of data that will limit our ambitions. It is a dearth of data that risks keeping our cities in the slow lane to the future.
In a post-digital era - when the differentiation between analogue and digital, between "real" and "virtual", will finally be blurred beyond relevance - we will live in the age of data.
Even now, data is everywhere, all the time. It defines, describes and determines the world we live in.
The more data that is released - without strings attached, in machine-readable and non-proprietary "open" formats - the more likely it is that businesses and developers will use it to build the applications and services that world-class cities need.
Of course, I'm not urging the release of personal data relating to identifiable individuals.
The civic data I'm talking about is data about schools, catchment areas, and property prices; about bus times and bus-stops, taxi ranks, car parks, and traffic congestion; about energy use, CO2 emissions, and carbon footprints.
The crucibles for global change will be "open-data" cities - cities which self-consciously and collectively decide to make available unimaginable quantities of data, openly and freely.

 

Linux Squeezebox sound server and player: a project for the weekend

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If you have ever wanted to learn about Linux, then why not try making something useful and fun. Here's how to put together a Linux sound server. The basic configuration is a a good start for any novice trying to get under the covers of Linux and networking.

 

This weekend I decided I would build a headless Linux server (ie no keyboard or display). Why? because I wanted to run an old PC as a sound server and Linux is by far the cheapest way to do this. The PC is a seven-year old Hush, a 1.2 GHz Via system with 40GB hard disk and 1 GB of memory...so barely enough to run Windows.

The Hush is, in my opinion, the best-looking PC ever - it uses a fanless design, based on a mini-itx motherboard, and is housed in an aluminum case, which doubles as a heatsink. As the name suggests, it is extremely quiet and looks perfectly in place in a hi-fi rack.

hush.jpg

"In my experience, installing a sound server on Linux is one the best ways - and also a pretty rewarding way - to improve your understanding of how computer systems work."

Setting up Ubuntu is pretty straightforward. I chose the 10.04 LTS distribution as it's recommended for legacy hardware. It can be downloaded as an ISO image from a Windows PC. You then burn the .iso file using a DVD writer.

On the Hush PC, all I did was pop in the newly burnt Ubuntu CD and switch on. Obviously you need a working keyboard and display to install Ubuntu and you may need to change your Bios settings to boot from CD-ROM first.

The keyboard and display can be unplugged once the operating system software is running and you have enabled remote access (see below).

The installer has several options and the Function keys should be used to set things like keyboard, language etc. At this point, make sure you select the console-only version as a graphical user interface is a bit redundant - and a big overhead - for a server that will not require a keyboard, mouse or display.

Once Ubuntu has installed and rebooted,, make sure you have network access.

Try ifconfig which will give you the IP address of the PC (such as 192.168.1.12) , then ping 192.168.1.12.

If this works try ping google.com

And finally ping another computer on your network. If anything fails at this point you'll need to do some googling from another PC and check out Ubuntu network problem posts >>

In my case, the Ubuntu PC was unable to ping other machines on the network when it was connected directly to my wireless router, but it works perfectly when connected to a wireless bridge.

Linux is notoriously bad at wireless support - particularly on legacy gear. To overcome this,  I use a D-Link DAP-1522 802.11n wireless bridge to connect the Hush PC Ubuntu machine to my LAN via an ethernet cable.

Finally is important to log into your router's admin console and add the IP address of your new Ubuntu machine to the DHCP reserved list.


Remote Terminal
On my setup I wanted to manage the Ubuntu machine remotely. OpenSSH can be used for this. See >> http://principialabs.com/beginning-ssh-on-ubuntu/

On Ubuntu you issue the following command:
sudo apt-get install openssh-client openssh-server

I use a Windows PC running Putty (http://www.chiark.greenend.org.uk/~sgtatham/putty/) to access the Ubuntu machine remotely. So for everything needed to do, I simply logged in remotely to my Ubuntu console from Windows using Putty.

Squeezebox Server
Squeezebox is a great basis for a sound server on Linux project because there is a load of open source stuff out there, which you can use instead of, or to add to, Logitech's own excellent Squeezebox hardware like the Touch below.

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Basically it's possible to get a Squeezebox system running for free, or you can enhance an existing one with more players and controllers using an Android device as a Wi-Fi remote control and any spare PCs or laptops, to distribute music to another room. Just plug-in a pair of speakers or headphones!

Everything you need to get started can be found on the Squeezebox Wiki (http://wiki.slimdevices.com/index.php/DebianPackage)

To install the latest stable release it is necessary to update your Ubuntu /etc/apt/sources.list to include:

deb http://debian.slimdevices.com stable main

One of the great things about Squeezebox is that the Squeezebox server can be managed from any LAN computer with a web browsre. Simply type:

http:[enter the IP address of the ubuntu server here eg 192.168.1.12]: 9000

So in my configuration I use the following address in Firefox: http://192.168.1.139:9000

svr-adm2.jpg


In my setup I wanted the music files to be stored n a NAS drive. This requires Samba.  Here is a great explanation of how to mount a NAS server at boot time using Samba >> (http://ubuntuforums.org/showthread.php?t=280473)


If all you want is a Squeezebox server then that's it.

But I also wanted to use the Ubuntu box to play music as well...

Getting Sound working
This is why people hate Linux. Sound can very tricky. From my own experience, plenty of Googling "Alsa", finally gave me what I needed - basically the alsa-base, alsa-lib and alsa-utils Ubuntu packages need to be installed and configured. There are many variations of things that can go wrong. See the Ubuntu Sound Trouble Shooting Guide here >>

I eventually got sound out of the Ubuntu box - but be warned, this was quite traumatic.

Install Squeezeslave
There are plenty of Squeezebox clients,  like SoftSqueeze, a Java client and SqueezePlay a native Squeezebox player. But these rely on the Gnome desktop GUI. For a text-only player, there's SqueezeSlave.

Now this is what open source is all about...to get SqueezeSlave working it is necessary to compile it for your system. This is not as bad as it sounds

First you need to install the various utilities require for compiling:
sudo aptitude install build-essential

A guide to getting it installed can be found on the SqueezeSlave Wiki here >>


sudo apt-get install subversion
sudo apt-get install libasound2-dev
sudo apt-get install libncurses5-dev
sudo apt-get install liblircclient-dev
svn checkout http://squeezeslave.googlecode.com/svn/squeezeslave/trunk/squeezeslave
cd squeezeslave
make -f makefile.linux26-alsa-display realclean
make -f makefile.linux26-alsa-display


You will need also to install LAME. Here's how to do it >>

There is a good set of tips on making sure Squeezeslave is working and it also shows how to start Squeezeslave at boot time at http://forums.slimdevices.com/showthread.php?t=79526

If you have installed the console-only version of Ubuntu, you may need have difficulty hearing any audio from the root user (which runs when the machine starts up).

I added root to the audio group. See: http://www.brunolinux.com/02-The_Terminal/The_Groups_Command.html

You will also need to make sure the volume works (my setup uses the SPDIF output, which, strangely I had to mute to hear sound using sudo alsamixer!). Here's a pic of the Android Squeezebox controller on a Sony X10 Pro. This software can be downloaded for free from the Android Marketplace.

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Once it is going
You can try a wealth of the Squeezebox plug-ins such as the great BBC iPlayer plug-in. One of the most useful ones I have discovered is svrpowercontrol, which lets you power down the server.




Learning to live with MeeGo

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I have been using MeeGO 1.0 for almost four weeks. My first impression is that, out of the box, MeeGo is an excellent OS for Net Book users. It boots up quickly and has a clean desktop user interface, which makes it very easy to see running apps. It is nice to see that Intel is now demoing a version with touch functionality, which will make the UI truly excellent for mobile phone and Net Book users.

 

The main problem with MeeGo - and for that matter any Linux distro - is that if you want to do something not included in the distribution, things can become increasingly difficult.

 

I spent last weekend hacking the MeeGo OS to try and get Audacity, the open source sound editor, to work. You'll need a load of source code/dev.lib packages, to provide the development tools and various libraries, in order to ./configure audacity successfully. My estimate, is that a make compilation takes around 40 mins. Installation through make install puts the Audacity icon on the MeeGo desktop, which does save an awful lot of time figuring out how to do this.Here's a screenshot of it running on MeeGo...but it's not quite working yet. I still need to figure out how to configure Audacity to use my sound device.

 

audacity.jpg

Intel: Netbooks just for children...you've got to be kidding

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Intel looks like it's fed up with the success of the NetBook. Anand Chandrasekher, Intel senior vice president and general manager of the Ultra Mobility Group has said that NetBooks are for kids. Apparently grown-ups need a grown-up laptop.

This is utter rubbish. I travel every day into London on Southern Trains. Many grown-up commuters actually prefer them to larger laptops that don't fit easily on the tiny amount of table space we have on the train.

 

I've used a 7 inch Linux-based Asus eeePC and now an 8.9 inch Windows XP-based Fujitsu Amilo. I've used both machines abroad and in the UK, to send and receive Word and Open Office document; I have edited and uploaded 70 MByte WAV audio files using Audacity and today I imported a 48 MByte raw image file into Gimp...and three other applications were runnig  at the same time. Earlier this week I used the Citrix ICA client on a fast LAN to access our corporate systems seamlessly. I wasn't running a heavyweight laptop - the Amilo uses a 1.6 GHz Atom processor, and  has just 1 GByte  of RAM and a 60 GByte hard disc.

 

Intel is worried that we are happy with NetBooks. It is worried people won't buy machines that use its expensive Core 2 mobile processor chips, rather than the cheap and cheerful Atom-based NetBooks 

 

Don't be fooled into thinking the NetBook isn't particularly powerful. They are not as fast as a state-of-the art laptop, but I think they do most things reasonable well. Okay, so the screen may not be that great, sound may be tinny, touch-typing is tricky but all of these problems are not show stoppers, particularly when a device that costs around £200 and weighs 1 kg is revolutionionising portable computing..

IBM/Sun: what it could mean?

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What will IBM gain by buying Sun? Today, under Jonathan Schwartz's leadership, I think Sun's more of a software company than a Unix server and workstation firm.IBM could benefit from taking over Java and OpenOffice. I'm not too sure where the hardware fits. OK, IBM will increase its market lead by about  9%. But it already has the Power family of risc processors. It doesn't need Sparc, nor does it need another family of Unix servers and workstations.

Sun's customers could benefit from the massive global support and stability IBM can offer, but I fear Sun's innovative culture may drown in Big Blue culture.

Open source: a remedy for IT recession

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Recession, job cuts, IT budgets slashed...surely now's the time to think smart, and use free or open source products to drive through new IT projects? For certain applications, I think open source is a viable alternative to commercial software. It's not very good as a replacement for Windows and MS Office, because end users generally don't like change, and I believe enterprise support for Linux desktop is much more expensive than Windows.

But on the server side, where we don't have to worry about end users, why not use open source products? Open source products exist for almost every niche in business software. However, many people, even senior IT directors and managers, seem to associate open source with Linux. Some believe the open source products lag behind commercial software. Open source is a way of deferring payment for a software product until it is actually deployed. You can build a proof of concept, show the business case...you only need to pay when you need enterprise support.

Given the budget pressures we all face, surely now is the time to consider using open source alternatives?

GSM World Congress: the mHealth programme for developing nations

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Mobile Health is provding health workers with a way to support te population in developing nations. In this podcast, I speak to Claire Thwates, head of Vodafone Foundation and United Nations Foundation Partnership about how  SMS text alerts can be used to enable patients to adhere to their prescriptions, education programmes to improve health awareness, data collection and training of health care workers.

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Reaching Remote Populations Through Mobile Health


Who will trust MS now?

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It's far too easy to catch a virus off the internet these days. In fact I did just that last Saturday, visiting a site through a Google search that had been hacked. Home users will continue to run PCs without AV protection if they have to pay for anti-virus software subscriptions. This software really should be free - a free subscription bundled with your monthly ISP bill.

Now Microsoft has a huge responsibility to protect users. Vista is sold as being more secure than Windows XP, yet it has had to issue an emergency patch to protect everyone's PC from a flaw in its software, a flaw that would not have been so catastrophic if it's software was designed better.

Microsoft has been working on improving the quality of its software through an initiative called Trustworthy Computing. Windows cannot be secure by design. The software that Microsoft writes has far too many links to the internal workings of Windows. If IE was a third-party application, we wouldn't be faced with such a major update. But Microsoft insists on making its bloody web browser integral to the Windows operating system - unlike Firefox, Safari, Opera, Chrome etc.

The more its software becomes integrated, the greater the risk of a problem in a single component affecting the whole operating system.

Frankly, I think the only way to achieve Trustworthy Computing is to separate the operating system components from application software using some kind of microkernel architecture.It may be slower than monolithic designs like Windows, but such an approach should limit the effect of buffer overflow attacks

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