Turn your PC into a media hub

For those who have not yet come across this awesome software, here’s a shout-out to all those who donated (and still do!) their minds and heart to the Open Source XBMC project. The project involves developers and programmers who have poured their collective creativity and “mind power” into turning your Personal Computer (PC) into a slick and user-friendly “media and entertainment” hub. This means that you are able to install the software and enjoy watching your favourite movies or browse your picture collection.

The first thing you need to do is to grab a PC that has been gathering dust since its hardware requirements simply do not “stand up” to the requirements of the modern memory and processor-hungry software. Make sure you find one with:

  • A decent graphics card – one which knows what “24 bit” graphic display resolution is.
  • A decent enough processor, one that’s just above the 400MHz+ range. I suspect anything slower, with at least 256+ RAM will find the going a bit tough. Processing video is no mean feat, thus the higher the specs of the machine, the better it will perform – the graphics will be smoother, little or no movement drag (jerky pictures) and the sharpness will be greatly enhanced. On the other hand, since it will only be used as a “HUB”, it won’t be smart to use your latest PC for this. It would be like using a fighter jet to do cropdusting – complete overkill.
  • A hard disk of about 10G for the installation only. Make sure there are some USB’s on the motherboard since you’ll need them to plug in that terabyte USB drive with all your picture and movie files on them.
  • A LCD (or equivalent) flatscreen. The rule of thumb here is, the bigger the screen size, the better. A word of caution though … if you want to go HD (High Definition), you’ll need a HD capable video card and screen.

I scratched around a bit and found an old PC with a  VGA (yep, they used to be top of the line way-back-when) and installed the Linux Version of XBMC. My 32 inch HD Ready (.. not full HD 🙁 ) has never looked better. Original DVDs play like I’ve never seen them – the software allows you to “zoom in” and get rid of those pesky black bars on the top and bottom of your widescreen movies. So, you lose some of that “widescreen” details but you get the full screen experience. The software also allows you to adjust the ratio of the display. Have you noticed how some screens “stretch” your videos and the faces become “squashed” – this one has a handy “square” tool that will let you “correct it”.

Linux install

There are two versions, Windows and Linux (and others for the XBox, etcetera). Having given both a whirl, my vote goes to the Linux installation. The Windows version works fine but is best described as “moody”. It  was installed on an XP and Windows machine and a number of the functions simply refused to work or would lock up the Windows PCs. On the Linux box, for which it was originally written, it’s been running without any hitches (yet). Hopefully this will continue to be the case over the next couple of week.

I salute all those who donated their time and know-how to produce this awesome piece of software. You’ve got all three thumbs up from me – if I had three. Keep up the good work!

Now… back to watching my video collection all over again….! I’ll start with the Matrix trilogy, full screen, with surround sound.

The Missing (upgrade) Link

Sandboxes are useful places where you can fool around in and not do any real damage. In upgrading this version of WordPress, running it on a “SandBox” LAMP server sitting in my basement, saved both time and money. Installing it on a live site can have serious consequences if mistakes are made and your web server or site’s security is put at risk.

LAMP, short for Linux-Apache-MySQL-PHP configuration of a web server, is an Open Source solution maintained by developers from around the world. The idea is to keep technology running the web open and accessible to those who wish to install and tinker with it. The development and implementation of a site like Facebook, for example, would have been nearly impossible to develop and troubleshoot without access to technology like LAMP and its various plug-ins. There are various”flavours” of LAMP – from the “enterprise” (high-end) to the low end, entry-level sandboxes.

Easy to install

TurnKey Linux was the flavour best suited for the task at hand. An old piece of hardware with a 800MHz Processor, 128MB of RAM and a 10G hard disk and network card (plus keyboard and mouse) was dusted off and the web server installed. Booting it from the CD, the hard disk was formatted (wiped clean!) and the screen prompts were followed. A root password is required during the setup – don’t skip it and don’t get it wrong otherwise you won’t have access to the configuration afterwards. For those new to Linux (LAMP) this a good place to start  BEFORE attempting an installation.

Once successfully installed, web-based software using the LAMP configuration can be installed and put through its paces – to discover if or how well it works. Usually, if there are too many issues with an installation it turns out to work “not as claimed” another solution is found.

Before installing WordPress 3.2.1 on this site, it was put through its paces on the local web-server, off the internet. Configuration was tested, plug-ins installed and tweaked and the posts and comments imported to see if (and how well) it would work. After some hours of testing to see if everything works, it was time to “go live”.

The upgrade of WordPress now enables the use of the latest developments and improvements, necessary to keep up with the web’s evolution.

Update:

One of the main reasons for the upgrade was to enable mobile devices to access the blog. If anyone is not able to do this, please let me know. I’ve tested it on my “non-smart” (dumb?) phone and it looks fine.

Open mobile web a click closer

The Internet is abuzz with discussions and comments about Mozilla’s announcement that it intends developing a complete free and open mobile platform to unshackle us from “proprietary software” structures. Having been a user of Linux for a number of years, such intentions never fail to grab my attention (and imagination), causing my stubby fingers to take on a life of their own – furiously pecking at my keyboard.

Although still an “idea” at this point, and judging from how Mozilla Firefox has made surfing the web a more enjoyable (not to mention faster) experience, keeping my eye on this development should not be too taxing. As with most such good intentions, there seems to be more naysayers than trumpeters. A quick search will point you in the direction of some of these opinion, but in the end you need to make up your own mind.

Open it …

An irritation which is very hard to ignore is when Open-source projects such as Android are not really open. Yes, you can get hold of the code, dissect and tinker with it until an “Ah-Hah” moment hits you. Ask any developer, if that moment hits, you’ve got to put your insights into code before they dissipate. The next thing you know, there’s another “killer app” to download for your Android, for instance. However, the “app”  is still tied to Android, owned by Google. The developer has in fact now “worked” for Google – at no cost – to improve the Android through such “add-ons”, winning over more users to an essentially proprietary system.

If the new mobile OS will “free” users from being “locked in” by the threesome Apple, Mac and Windows, together with the giant Google, it deserves a horn-blowing. Imagine being able to use your mobile phone to “talk to” you tablet, your E-reader, digital camera and digital VCR without downloading software and plug-ins which will cost you a fortune (sanity, aside).

In the words of a 10-year-old … that would be AWESOME.