XBox Media Centre

Posted by : Rob Stevens | Sunday, December 06, 2009 | Published in


I've been looking for some decent media centre software for a while. Most of the ones I've tried had some sort of killer flaw, whether it be a horribly complicated interface or a database backend that hogs far too much of the system resources.
A friend recommended that I have a look at XBox Media Centre (XBMC). I'd seen it before, a few years ago on a friends chipped XBox, but I hadn't realised that it had been ported to other platforms. It's available on Windows, Linux, and Mac, as well as the original XBox and has a good sized community behind it providing a wide range of skins, plugins, and scripts that add shinier interfaces and additional functionality. A couple of good plugins that I've found have been the YouTube and National Geographic add-ons that can be found on XBMCZone.

The program seems to run smoothly with few glitches in the interface. My only gripe is that the search that adds media to the library can be a bit finicky about odd file and folder names that contain characters such as square brackets.
The interface is very intuitive and has a range of different view options that provide a variety of levels of information. This information and the related images is automatically downloaded and applied to the media providing quite an attractive user environment.

I've been using XBMC for less than a day but thus far I'm much happier with it than other efforts. Best of all, it's open source and therefore free. Always a plus.


Homepage
XBMCZone.com
Lifehacker XBMC Set Top Box Build Guide

Edit: I've also found quite a cool free iPhone app called XBMControl that lets you use your phone as a remote for the media centre. It's a little buggy and I'll probably keep looking at alternatives as I know there are a fair few RC apps around.

Busy Busy

Posted by : Rob Stevens | Sunday, November 01, 2009 | Published in

It's amazing how work tends to eat up time. All my good intentions for putting more into this blog seem to have come to naught for now. At least I'm starting to get into the swing of the day to day stuff for the job meaning that it's no longer one big constant frantic rush to keep on top of things.

I've had an interesting variety of things to deal with over the last couple of months. It's ranged from more things like hard drive repairs and malware removal, through to more interesting work with servers and networking kit. I'm starting to get more to grips with things like server hardware and OS maintenance and am slowly bringing my networking skills to the level they need to be at.

I'm studing to do some more certifications. The ones penciled in at present are the Microsoft 70-291 (Implementing, Managing, and Maintaining a Microsoft Windows Server 2003 Network Infrastructure) and 70-653 (TS: Windows Small Business Server 2008, Configuring) as SBS is one of the main platforms that I work with a the moment. Most of the systems I work with are Server 2003, but it's more than likely that the number of 2008 system we work with will increase, so I may as well look into the most up to date cert. Once I have the 291 exam done it's only a couple more to get my MCSA. May as well crack on...

It gets better

Posted by : Rob Stevens | Sunday, August 09, 2009 | Published in

Still loving the new job. A generally brilliant opportunity to start applying my skills. It's quite a surprise to see how much I'm finding myself starting to do something, scratching head, looking up how to do it, then the penny dropping - I know how to do this! Definitely a matter of learning how to apply things in certain contexts. At the moment it's still very much a case of learning the basic everyday stuff to do with actually participating in the day to day business. Hopefully that'll all become second nature soon and I can get on with sharpening up and learning new skills.

One of the most interesting things I've been doing is installing and configuring Draytek dual WAN routers for VPN usage. Interesting stuff to do, very satisfying to get working, and much easier to do than the Cisco stuff I did at uni! (On a side note I'm hoping to get around to writing a review on this kit at some point. Watch this space...)

I've also been up to some test server configuration - revising setup of RAS and NAT on Server 2003, and learning how to configure the same box as a VPN gateway. I was able to do this using the companies backup Internet connection so I could dial in from an external connection, something I've not been able to do before and made things much more realistic. More to come. The thirst for knowledge has returned.

Graduation and New Job

Posted by : Rob Stevens | Tuesday, July 14, 2009 | Published in

Well, that's graduation over and done with. Was pretty tedious in places, but overall I'm glad I did it. It draws a line under things, so to speak. For anyone who's interested, have a pic of me in my academic finest.



I also started my new job today. Pretty promising so far. Did a couple of client visits today - simple stuff, but all part of the job, built a server, set up my work machine, etc. and tomorrow I'm off to visit the company data centre. I'm pleased that everything is turning out as expected thus far.

Definitely a week to remember.

Google Notebooks

Posted by : Rob Stevens | Sunday, July 12, 2009 | Published in

Providing a blinding example of how much attention I've been paying, I've just found out that Google have ceased development of their excellent Notebook service back in January. Seems a shame as I find it an excellent tool. The reason I haven't noticed is because Google are still providing the service to those who were already using it, but not letting new users sign up. Seems a bit odd to me. Why have it there and not let everyone use it? They are recommending the use of Google Docs as an alternative, but for me it just doesn't have the same functionality.

Very strange.

Change to Google DNS IP Address

Posted by : Rob Stevens | Friday, July 10, 2009 | Published in

If like me you use a domain name provider that doesn't let you use CNAMEs for your DNS server entries, and you use Google services (such as Blogger) with your private domain name you may have noticed a problem with accessing your page/service/whatever in the last few days. This seems to be because the IP address of ghs.google.com that was floating around on various forums (72.14.207.121) no longer works.

Yes, I know Google specifically says not to use the IP address for exactly this reason, but unfortunately I don't have a choice. A Records only with my domain supplier. For anyone having the same issue, change your DNS forwarding IP for ghs.google.com to 74.125.77.121 and give the DNS changes time to propagate. That should be problem solved. I found this solution by simply pinging ghs.google.com and using the returned IP, which seems to work. Good luck.

Job!

Posted by : Rob Stevens | | Published in

Got me a decent sounding job at last. Officially titled ICT Support Technician, it'll be working with a local IT service provider doing things like network and server installation for small (or less small) companies, supporting them once the systems are in place, etc., performing backup services, loads of stuff - basically doing the work for those without the specialist in-house knowledge, or who are too small to warrant their own IT team. Sounds like exactly the sort of thing I want to be doing to start putting some practical experience and applying the stuff I've been learning. Can 't wait. I start next week, and also have my graduation. Should a good week.

I'm hoping that getting some hands on work in the networking field will also gove me a more original base of material to write about. Fingers crossed and all that jazz.

Degree Results!

Posted by : Rob Stevens | Wednesday, July 01, 2009 | Published in

Got notification through today that I've passed my honours degree. Now I can put letters after my name and everything. The foolish hat wearing ceremony (or graduation,) is in two weeks time.

On with the job hunt... Someone give me something interesting to do!

UK Cyber Strategy

Posted by : Rob Stevens | Friday, June 26, 2009 | Published in

Several sites are reporting on the UK government's recent announcement of its "cyber" attack and defence capabilities. The closeness of the timing between this announcement and a similar one from the US government may raise a few sceptical eyebrows, as will the likelihood that this is old news being pushed out by the government to divert attention from their recent failings and make it look like they're doing something worthwhile. I fail to believe that even our current beloved Labour overlords hadn't bothered to put something like this into place before now.

Or maybe I'm being overly sceptical.... I really should ignore politics. It just makes me cross.

Securezip

Posted by : Rob Stevens | Wednesday, June 24, 2009 | Published in

I've just been reading about an interesting product from PKWare. SecureZip is your bog standard compression program with public key infrastructure bolted on allowing for encryption and/or digital signing of the contents. I haven't had much of a chance to use it yet, but setup was very easy, and hopefully I'll get an excuse to put it into action soon.

Nobody who has a clue what they're talking about disputes that encryption and digital signing are necessary technologies. They keep your data secure and un-tampered-with both in storage and during transmission across the Internet. The two main problems with encryption are:

1) It's a pain to set up - SecureZip gets around this. It's very easy to configure - all you need is an email address and it pretty much does the rest for you.

2) Persuading people to use it. I've played with several different encryption technologies before and very rarely end up putting them into use. This is because very few people care enough to bother using encryption and signing (until it's too late and they've had their data stolen).

This second point is the greatest hurdle. You can have the simplest setup in the world, but until you can persuade someone else to start using it there's not much point yourself. Yes, I secure my personal files locally - Transparently encrypting folder contents makes this simple, but the same can't be said of files that I'm sending to people by email, or any other transmission medium. An example that's occurred to me recently during my job hunting is my CV. I've applied for a huge amount of jobs, sending my CV to virtually all of the prospective employers. Whilst I have no real problem with them having the personal details contained in my CV, I wouldn't want those details to be available to all which, as a result of sending out my CV by plain text email, they potentially are. The problem here is that I doubt that the people on the other end would have the necessary systems in place to receive encrypted mail and documents, and as a result my application would probably be discarded. A widely used approach to problems like this is to 'educate the users'. No. I disagree. The Users aren't going to voluntarily do anything that makes their life more complicated. Most of them don't even understand why their work systems have to be password protected. The solution here (I think) is to not give them a choice. In this age of government idiots leaving the entire countries' financial data on a train or whatever, people handling sensitive data should be made to encrypt it. It's possible to do this transparently so that it doesn't impact them too much, and would make stupidity/carelessness based data loss less of a problem.

I'm probably preaching to the choir here. Those who know what I'm talking about agree, those who don't... well, don't.

Backups

Posted by : Rob Stevens | Thursday, June 18, 2009 | Published in


It's often said that the computer savvy are the worst at practicing what they preach, and in the case of a decent backup system I've been no exception. I decided that my lack of regular backups was probably pretty foolish and the result of just not bothering. I don't even currently have the excuse of no time. So, after a hunt through the different suggestions offered on LifeHacker I decided to give a solution called Mozy a try. It runs as a service in the background and after you've told it what you want backing up you can then just forget about it. I'm currently using the free version which gives me 2 gigs of remote storage space. Once I'm a bit more financially solvent I'll probably cough up the £6 a month that it'll cost to have unlimited backup space for 2 computers. My only gripe is that it doesn't work on Linux, so the Kubuntu install I have on my laptop still isn't as protected as I'd prefer.

However, whilst looking for this I came accross an excellent product called Dropbox. This is a file syncing application that works on Windows, Linux and Mac and allows automatic syncing of files placed in a certain folder across all computers. Files are transfer securely using Schneiers' Blowfish encryption. This is excellent for people like me that often work on the same thing on any one of 3 or 4 different machines and installations and saves messing around looking for things on file shares. Again there's a free version and again its 2 gigs. Well worth checking out.

Good stuff, bad stuff

Posted by : Rob Stevens | Tuesday, June 16, 2009 | Published in

Been a week of ups and downs. The Faith No More gig was amazing. One of the best things I've ever seen and I hope they keep going for long enough for me to see it again. I saw them at the Download festival, which seemed generally very good. The crowd seemed very relaxed and was clearly just there for the music, unlike other music fests I've been to where a large proportion of people going were just there to cause trouble.

On the down side, the job didn't work out. Got there to discover that I'd be pretty much lied to about what the job entailed and that they actually wanted someone with no technical knowledge or any ambition to sit and do mindlessly simple and repetitive end user support of the sort that could be totally eliminated if the end users were provided with adequate (or indeed any) documentation. It opened my eyes to how truly appalling some very large companies IT infrastructures (or in this case lack thereof) are. Dodged a bullet there methinks, however it does leave me in the rather unfortunate position of being temporarily unemployed. What I'd really like is a network technician position where I can start getting some experience and hopefully land myself a network admin/management position in the future. Unfortunately I seem to have graduated at the worst time in god knows how long. Any offers?

Oh Yeah and...

Posted by : Rob Stevens | Tuesday, June 09, 2009 | Published in

FAITH NO MORE ON FRIDAY!! Going to be amazing!

New Job

Posted by : Rob Stevens | | Published in

Got myself a job. First line IT support. Maybe not the challenge I was hoping for, but I guess one can't be too picky on the first one, and I'm sure it'll be easier to get a decent networking position from an IT job, rather than a bar job. It's temp to perm, so that gives me a chance to see what I think as much as it does them. Fingers crossed and all. It'll be nice to be working with computers rather than beer, and the latest I'll be working will be 7 at night. Maybe I'll have a time for a life again!

So, a week off before I start (first 2 weeks of shifts start at 7am. Guh!). Must try and make sure I don't spend the entire week playing computer games...

Done!

Posted by : Rob Stevens | Wednesday, June 03, 2009 | Published in

That's it. The degree is finally finished. Now the long wait for the results and the start of the job hunt. Not a great time to be doing it, but never mind. Now hopefully I'll actually have time to do stuff that people with lives do. Got a stack of books to get through - a friend gave me a load of Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke. And I should hopefully have more to say on here. Lack of posting recently has been down to lack of time to read anything but uni related stuff, so had very little to rant about!

Graduation is mid-July. Maybe I'll post a picture of me in a silly hat.

KDE 4.2

Posted by : Rob Stevens | Wednesday, February 04, 2009 | Published in

The Kubuntu page saw the announcment a few days ago of the projects release of their KDE 4.2 packages.

I added the repository, updated my system and (a couple of small glitches aside) am very impressed so far. It looks brilliant. Much better than 4.1 (which was itself quite pretty). All of the annoying glitches in things like the system tray have disappeared and the menu and other moving features are smooth and slick.

I haven't used it enough yet to be sure, but it seems faster than 4.1.

A few updates should make this a sound release.

Did I mention that it's pretty?

Trip Wolf

Posted by : Rob Stevens | Monday, January 26, 2009 | Published in


Whilst I have neither the time or the money to do much of it, I love to travel. I'm very rarely happier than when I'm exploring somewhere I've never been and I really enjoy the experimenting with new foods, and experiencing different cultures that comes with it.

Because I don't get to do as much travelling as I would like at present I generally try to avoid torturing myself by looking at travel sites, articles, pictures, etc. Trip Wolf however has caught my eye. It's quite a clever idea - all of the various travel review sites, photo sites, forums and blog sites rolled into one with a social networking aspect added for flavour. I haven't had much of a chance to fully explore it yet, but it's definitely something I reckon I'll use, hopefully more so soon!

The main standout feature of the site is that it lets you create scrapbooks of the information you find about your destination of choice, grouping it all nicely together for you, and it lets you create a personalised travel guide in pdf form using that info. The site is also developing a trip planning section. I'll be quite interested in seeing what features they put into this once it's done. Something to keep an eye on, and a useful tool/toy for any tech-savvy traveller.

Anyone joining or already on there that wants to add me can find me here.

Red Alert 3

Posted by : Rob Stevens | Sunday, January 25, 2009 | Published in

I've just completed the latest in the Command & Conquer series, Red Alert 3. This is an excellent follow on from the last Red Alert title, the inventively named Red Alert 2 (I hadn't realised it's been nearly 9 years since that was released). The new version is even more over the top (in a good way) than the last one with new toys like trained attack bears and giant 3 headed robots with swords...

Excellent stuff. Maybe now that's done I can get on with some work! ;)

How To Open A Bottle Of Champagne With A Sword

Posted by : Rob Stevens | Thursday, January 08, 2009 | Published in

And why not?...




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Day Of Defeat

Posted by : Rob Stevens | Monday, January 05, 2009 | Published in

I've been playing a bit of Day Of Defeat:Source Again recently. Originally developed as a Half-Life mod, this is an excellent team-based FPS set during WWII and available on the Steam platform. Haven't played in a while and am pretty bad at it, but it's been fun to do some online gaming again.

If anyone fancies a game and wants to add me to their friends list, my profile is here.


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Happy New Year

Posted by : Rob Stevens | Thursday, January 01, 2009 | Published in

Happy new year all. Hope people had good nights, and that there aren't too many sore heads.

A relaxing new years day, doing as little as possible and catching up on sorely neglected gaming is the way forward here.