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OSMC = Debian + Kodi for Vero 4K

Note: Update for 25-Mar-2018: I've given up on this junk. Essentially the YouTube app keeps losing its mind and locking us out for 24 hours at a time. While the hardware seems nice the software is definitely a work-in-progress, at best. I'm now quite happy with the better, and cheaper, Xiaomi Mi Box 4k

Note: Updated with additional security issues on 12-Sep-2017

I've gotten fed up with the nonsense that is Chromecast (slow, limited), Apple TV (slow, limited), and Fire TV Stick (slow, limited). I ran across the Vero 4K, which was announced in February, 2017. Besides good reviews about good hardware, the responsive and active half-way decent, half-asshat forum (using Discourse), the system uses OSMC (open source media center) which is an Embedded Linux (Debian) system that uses Kodi as the default UI. In addition, the main developers contribute upstream. This is something I can support, and it looks like a viable way toward a more functional set-top-box/iptv/pvr/media-center. OSMC can be used on a Raspberry Pi and some other hardware, so the cost premium above a DIY hardware is in terms of higher performance components and software improvements. Price is around $150 USD with free international shipping, and if I recall correctly, I got mine (shipped from the UK to Thailand) within a few days, which is surprisingly fast.

User Friendliness vs. Extensibility

It is claimed that the Vero 4K is user friendly. Nonetheless, it still requires either familiarity with Kodi or decent technical skills (linux) and an openness to learn how this platform works. To be honest, the user friendliness is not stellar, though it could be worse. The primary reasons are twofold: - The system necessarily combines the complexity of Debian with the complexity of Kodi. Now, certainly, OSMC is meant to try and marry these two together in a way that makes the whole better than the sum of its parts. And it does do that, though at times it is a marriage of convenience. - However, as we venture down the path of functionality, configuration, and customization, the complexity of the underlying derivative operating system and packages, and also the UI/GUI and its customization and management, begins to show a bit.. Extensibility trumps user friendliness (of that extensability), if kept within reason, and OSMC and the Vero 4K does pull through.

Diversity of Use Cases

The ultimate media center might control all media / devices from a single or set of remotes. It might also allow for slinging media from other devices. As well it might have mutliple outputs (screens, speakers), as well as multiple inputs. With all these possibilities, and certainly without all of them converging, there are a variety of configuration scenarios.

SSH and Debian Linux

SSH can be enabled along with a web interface (mentioned below). The OSMC Linux distribution is based on Debian and runs systemd and the apt package manager.

What to install on OSMC Linux

Several apps and utilities help a bit: - apt install htop - apt install firewalld - apt install mosh Note that Kodi is the GUI. To exit Kodi and drop down to a command prompt, choose Exit from the menu. To restart Kodi, type startx. > Note added Sep 2017: firewalld and mosh are no longer in my repetoire, as I now run straight up iptables and autossh (client-side reconnect).

Better Security for OSMC

The security model for the OSMC is quite anemic. In fact, no firewall or iptables configuration is provided out of the box, and default username and passwords are identical on all devices (which means people will leave them that way, making large-scale attacks possible. The first things are to change the username (which can be done in the OSMC interface), and then set up SSL keys. - When logging in, change to root use sudo su. - Change the password of the logged in user - Create a username and password for the web interface (if not used, disable) - Change the default port of the remote web interface - Create a new user for remote login - Generate SSL keys for the user - Disable the ability to login with password and only accept an SSL key Secondly, configure iptables. Do this first by finding out which ports are actually in use, and then block everything else. Simple really, unlike the desire to open everything and block one or two things, which seems to predominate in the OSMC forum.

netstat

Web Interface

The built-in webserver, once enabled, allows for web-based control of certain aspects of OSMC (though not all). I found it a bit flaky. The web server is based on libmicrohttpd. They key point to recall is that this web server is a part of Kodi. This is found via: Settings (gear) > Service > Control > Webserver I've had trouble with this, and it is a bit slow and throws some errors. Likely I do not have the use case for it (since all it really does is control a few settings, and also what is playing or queued).

OSMC Apps

There is an app store in the main OSMC interface, symbolized by a shopping cart. The following apps are available as of June 2017: - TV Tuner - SSH - FTP Server (not needed if using SFTP which SSH provides) - Torrent Client - Samba (SMB) Server (for accessing media via network shares) - Cron Task Scheduler SSH and the Torrent Client are likely the most useful, and the rest are largely unneeded unless there is a bit of Cron or a TV Tuner needed.

Transmission Torrent Client

  • Setting up Transmission
  • Address to access the Transmission web client:
    • http://:9091/transmission/web/ To be honest, I don't see what the fuss is. Using Transmission from a desktop and then moving files to the media center repository makes more sense than fiddling in a web interface. Even simply connecting external drives and navigating their file structure is sufficient. Controlling everything through a single device is surely laudible, but still kludgy. Not to mention presenting potential additional security concerns.

TV Tuner Integration

VPN for OSMC

Airplay, DRM, Codec Incompatibility

As of Kodi 17 there are various issues which make Airplay Mirroring, DRM content such as Netflix, and YouTube mobile apps not work with OSMC. It is possible in the future that these issues will be resolved, but as of late June, 2017 the experience with IOS is fairly wretched, especially with Iphone5 and earlier models, and with OSX Yosemite and earlier. Supposedly Kodi 18 fixes these issues, though expect a 2018 release. Alternatively (or in addition) an Android release for Vero 4K might help in these matters, though nothing forthcoming as of September, 2018. As far as asking in the forums? Nah, don't bother.

Repositories, Sources, Add-ons, Updates

There are lots of scams out in DIY-PVR land, and the main reason has to do with access to pirated material. Money is to be made in purporting to (illegally) help/assist/provide-access-to media that would otherwise cost more to gain access to. First, what is needed is a tier 1 repository that would provide fairly regular updates and a wide assortment of add-ons, apps, etc. Pretty much that is the official Kodi repository. Second, the key add-ons need to be identified, and installed, hopefully from a repro that would provide updates (rather than a simple source that might not). Again, Kodi.

Kodi Add-ons

A partial list of Kodi Add-ons: - Al Jazeera - Apple iTunes Podcast - Apple iTunes Trailers - BBC iPlayer (useless unless one is in the UK or has a UK VPN) - Guardian - Log Viewer for Kodi - Pluto.tv has Bloomberg TV, along with some other news sources - SomaFM Radio - Soundcloud - Syfy Channel - Vice Media - Vimeo - YouTube

Vero 4K Remote Control

The remote control seems fine to me. There is a little learning curve on what to press when in specific parts of the menu, but the responsiveness is generally fine. Included in the box is both a USB remote receiver dongle (presumably radio) and an infrared extender cable (for use with other remotes). One option that is possible is to remap the keys to include volume up/down. This is one of the obvious advantages of an open system based on open systems. The fastest/easiest approach to do this is to install the Keymap Editor, a system add-on that allows for remapping of keys. First, select the key function desired, then click through and select the key on the remote to remap. I've remapped the skip-ahead/skip-back keys to volume up and down. Volume controls on the Vero remote are a bit slower, but if one wants to use a single remote, this is the approach (if desiring to use the Vero remote by itself). I've done this, so that the fast forward and reverse buttons are volume buttons, but the reality is that we generally have both remotes nearby and the general remote is reached-for in order to change the volume. So practically, it is not used much, if at all.

Fonts for Foreign Language Support

Thai fonts do not appear to be supported with the standard OSMC + Kodi setup. Apparently they need to be placed in a certain folder, as well.

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Apple Battery Woes

Lots of Apple devices suffer from the innovation of Apple Computer, including the iphone/ipod touch and macbooks.

Some reality

First, let's just say that non-replacable batteries certainly are replaceable. I've had the batteries replaced (with new ones) in my 2011 Macbook Air, and two 2012 iphones. This happened in 2016.

Batteries and heat

See also the idiotic approach to OSX cooling

Coconut Battery App for OSX and IOS

Coconut Battery is an OSX app which provides useful battery information in a GUI, and can also display battery information about connected IOS devices.

More Battery Troubleshooting Resources

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Thoughts on Amazon Echo Show

The new Amazon Echo Show looks great. Watching the video, it is striking that the interface appears so clean. This is obvious when using voice, since buttons don't really count. Also, the fact that this is not just a piece of hardware and natural language interface, these are applications being shown. In terms of video/voice calls, there is quite a bit of competition, including Facebook, Whatsapp (Facebook again), Viber, Line, Telegram, etc. Oh, and don't forget about Nucleus who seemed to have the idea before Amazon (who is an investor). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WQqxCeHhmeU The fact that the Echo dominates the smart speaker market should be a cause for concern by the likes of the slower-moving Google (who bought Nest years ago), not to mention molassas-like Apple has HomeKit, though that requires that OEMs actually buy Apple chips and integrate them into their devices. Amazon's open approach to connected devices is a repetition of Android vs. IOS. Sure, there are a lot of iphones and even ipads, but the notion that this same rather small minority share will be able to co-opt the vast other connected devices, not really thought out very well. The interaction with other Echo Show devices and other smart devices shows off what is at stake here: Echo as a platform for the home.

Missing from Amazon Echo Show, Release 1.0

My first few thoughts about using this new device in the home are what is missing. - There is no video output, but definitely connecting to a monitor or a TV screen makes a lot of sense (that is, it could perform the function of a FireStick). - There is no keyboard input (but it is a touchscreen, of course), perhaps bluetooth mice/keyboards will work? Not a real deal-breaker - Generic browser user included? We did not see anything resembling such. I get it. This is not meant to become a computer. Rather as its' own unique platform, it will be the heart of the connected home. Which leads to the following significant motivation.

The Future Home will require Echo-integrated Devices and Services

Apparently there are an ever increasing number of devices available to Echo. Certain smart hubs can act as extenders, such as the Almond+ which happens to be our Wifi for the first floor. This is an insight for anyone making buying decisions regarding any kind of home device. Even moreso, those software services which Echo can interact with will have an additional layer of functionality based on that fact alone. This means, for example, that my music cannot be stored only in Google Music (where it reposes for free) but I will need to also ship over the 11,000 songs into Amazon Music (for $25/year), and only then will that become available on the Echo platform. That said, there will be ways of doing some DIY integration, such as using Alexa to interact with Foscam cameras via IFTTT: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pUwNGSzFvQo

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No More Underpowered Devices

I've reached the end of my patience for underpowered devices. I've entertained quite a few thin clients, including: - Various Netbooks - Chromebook - Apple TV - Chromecast - Fire Stick - Intel Compute Stick - NEC MobilePro 770, 780, 790 (more on this below)

Return on Investment

The return on investment (ROI) of any device can be considered on the dimension of time (how long one uses it) and performance (how much one can do with the device). There are several approaches to this: buy something new and keep for a long time, turnover new devices quickly (lease approach), or buy something used but with a lot of life left, and turnover as needed (once the next generation appears at the same price/performance point). Underpowered devices make no sense for any of these approaches. Underpowered (or poor quality on other dimensions) only makes sense on a short-term, immediate purchase price consideration.

Underpowered Wastes Time

Underpowered generally means slow, but it also means feeble. This is where the Chromebook has a significant disadvantage. It is fine as an appliance of some kind, but ultimately falls short. Chromebooks do have a fast boot time, but then there is the time spent using the device. If one spends little time on the device, then little time is wasted. But that just means the use case has not been thought out very well.

Underperforming Set Top Boxes

The same goes for AppleTV, Chromecast, and the Fire Stick (and maybe the Fire TV, but I have not tried that). Boot times are ponderously slow. Responsiveness to the remote is horrible (and for the older AppleTVs, the use of the infrared port is maddening). These are all shit devices. Those who think Apple will make its AppleTV product better are dreaming.

The Failure of Voice Commands

Voice commands are still gimmicky and frankly ridiculous. There is such a high failure rate that it becomes painful and frustrating to use, nearly every time. > I think the approach of general AI/natural language processing is simply wrong. See Coming of the 'Bots and Rise of the Chat 'Bots.

The Underpowered Apple Devices

Being an Apple product user on a budget, I've been subjected to my choices being generally underpowered. From the MacBook Air (restricted to 4gb of RAM back in 2011), to the iPhone 5 (restricted to 16gb of storage, at the low end). Even the so-called entry level Mac Mini still has an HDD (or a fusion drive option for a hefty price increase) and starts at 4gb of RAM and only goes to 16gb. The 2gb ipod shuffle has not been updated since September 2010. Really? This kind of storage limitation is insulting. As one writer put it back in 2015, Apple just doesn't care about Ipods anymore. Close, but really they don't care about you. That is you as in y'all as Tim Cook might say. They don't give a shit about much except for that profit margin. A better ipod shuffle? Won't move the needle, so F*ckoff consumer. Even in the area of watches, the competition is putting forward offerings that while less expensive, have as good or better functionality and use cases.

Fully Powered, Fully Functional

By fully powered and fully functional, for computers, we mean decent video, decent processors, lots of RAM and SSD drives, and the ability to be expanded in the future (that is, if one wants 16gb of RAM now, the device will support 32gb, if one wants to add another internal SSD, a controller is available, etc.).

Future Laptops and Desktops

For a fully-powered laptop, the future Lenovo x270 may be the model that fills all the needs. For the desktop it is the Intel NUC that has grown up to be a significant platform, that is still quite affordable and extremely frugal when it comes to power consumption. But looking to the past, we do see a need for special devices that can fit into a certain niche. However, for things like smart TVs, home audio and video, and general purpose devices, I say no more underpowered devices.

NEC MobilePro 770, 780, 790

The NEC MobilePro series is a slightly different factor. For one thing, it ran Windows CE -- aka WinCE -- and did not have internal storage (though CF cards could be connected). It operating pretty much as a writing (and sometimes reading) device, with a 92% keyboard size and the ability to quickly take notes. I loved this device and had several units over several years. It was invaluable in my graduate studies for classroom notetaking. It was small, light, instant on and instant off, and the battery lasted a long time. It also had a modem, and could connect rudimentarily over wifi for a little email, if a special cf card modem were attached. The browser was super slow and frankly it was so underpowered one couldn't try to do things beyond its capabilities. However, what it did, it did better than anything else (and I still have not seen anything to beat it in terms of a speedy typing input device).

Kindle and other Ebook Readers

There are special devices for special use cases, such as the NEC MobilePro. Another great example is the Kindle. It is good for reading books (and searching for/buying books). The browser doesn't really work well at all. However, what it does (store hundreds to thousands of books, provide an easy-to-read interface that is not tiring on the eyes, has a battery that lasts weeks, and is fairly light and easy to carry), it does well.

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New Battery for 5 y/o MacBook Air

Macbook Air Battery It cost me 3,300 THB for a new battery array for my 5 year old MacBook Air (2011). Bought new, the system is not often used on battery, but almost daily as my primary computer. > Why replace a battery in a five year old computer? Just buy new. Sure, it only has 4gb of ram, and that is a problem, but otherwise it is a very effective tool for many tasks.

Great Hardware, Adequate Software

I spend perhaps 50 hours per week. It simply works. Even with the meagre ram, the solidity is palpable. Even at 5 hours a day, 5 days a week, we are talking about 100 hours per month at 1,000 THB = 10 THB per hour for this machine that cost a bit over 53,000 THB new. Let's just say 15 THB as there are other expenses such as mice, cables, etc. > 15 THB/hr ($ 0.50 USD), 200hr/month on average, capital expense over 5 years Sure some part of the time spend on the computer is frustration, maintenance tasks, and the like, but there are no systems that have any less. I've tried and still use such systems (Windows, Linux) and they fall short. The hardware is where the system shines, while the operating system less so.

Magic Com - Magical Apple Repair - Chiang Mai

Magic Com My Mac guy -- Magic Com in Pantip Plaza -- took a while to get the part (about 6 weeks which was fine, as I wanted a replacement as a preemptive measure). It took another 10 minutes to swap out the battery array (4 screws and one connector) and get rid of an amazing amount of dust inside (the system hadn't been opened since birth). Can't say enough good stuff about the service, professional, fast, good prices, with a smile, English and Thai, responds to text messages.

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Future of the Desktop

> 05-Nov-2016 - Note: I've reached the conclusion that I will entertain no more underpowered devices as they are ultimately so limited their return on investment vastly underperforms overpowered devices. This means Intel Compute Sticks are no longer acceptabe acceptable. The Intel NUC is now what I consider to be the future of the desktop. I've seen the future of the desktop, and it fits in your pocket. Sure, we've all seen this, it's called a mobile phone or mobile device. But really, the desktop, by its nature and definition, sits on a desk top. But that really means that a decent-sized monitor, a keyboard and mouse sit there. As we've seen with all-in-ones, the computer can basically live inside the monitor casing. The one advantage is that there are no unsightly cables, or large form factor to get in the way, much less dust and a greater power footprint. With much smaller systems, usually size is counteracted by cost, though netbooks were a nice happy medium (and could be connected to a larger display). How about something even smaller, and yes while power and capacity are still fairly low, the cost issue is beginning to vanish, since we are now dealing with almost off-the-shelf processors (Atom, CoreM).

Intel Compute Stick

My Intel compute stick was purchased at a local retailer. They have good prices, but in Thailand computers are generally a little more expensive, and this one did not contradict. Everything would be a little cheaper in the US, but still this seems reasonable, and without the need to order and import via ebay. The cost for a 2gb ram/32gb ssd, Atom processor, and Windows 10 Home edition included, was 5,700 THB. While the ram is not upgradeable and an Atom is a bit slow, the experience was fairly good. Sure Windows is a bit odd, but for this price being able to test out

AOC LED IPS Monitor

Add on a 22" AOC led ips monitor for 4,200 THB, and a wireless logitech keyboard/mouse for another 1,290 THB. Total is under 12,000 THB / $ 350 USD and is available inside Thailand today (as of 01 July 2016). Ridiculously reasonable for a great monitor, adequate keyboard and mouse, and a supremely small but functional computer. This being the future of the desktop. All-in-ones are simply not worth the prices when best of breed components are available for significant savings.

Prices and Sourcing

Apparently as of 14 July 2016 Lazada has even better prices on the Intel Compute Stick 1A32WFC. For the newer model with the same specs, try STK1AW32SC. Goodspeed Computer in Icon Square still has the best price on an AOC 22 inch LED IPS. Keyboards/mice can be found most places, including Lazada, if needed. Make sure the devices are compatible and/or tested with the system that is purchased (for fewer headaches).

Future of the Intel Compute Stick

A roadmap of the Intel Compute Stick is interesting. Roadmap of the Intel Compute Stick Thumbnail From what I can tell there are some nice chips coming later in 2016. Unclear on pricing, which will make a big difference, but everything with 4gb is targeting a desktop, though headless servers are also an interesting idea.

Windows Versions (and Linux)

Some of the older Compute Sticks come with Windows 8.1 and either with or without an upgrade to Windows 10. Others come with Windows 10 installed. Check to ensure as the very same model numbers can have different OS versions. Oh, and yes Linux can be installed on these. (There is a crappier spec version of the Intel Compute Stick which has Linux pre-installed, but who wants 1gb ram, 16gb sdd? Ok, for $50 USD you could have a dedicated machine on the home lan, true enough.)

See Also