Raspberry Pi Media Centre

R-Pi Logo

After a long wait for delivery, I finally received my Raspberry Pi just before Christmas.  Although the Raspberry Pi is being used for all sorts of interesting projects, my first project is to set the Raspberry Pi up as a networked media centre pc, with remote control from a smart phone.  This will essentially turn an old, dumb TV into a smart TV.

Raspberry Pi

Existing Media Server 

I already have a Windows 8 Media Centre PC, connected to a 42″ Kogan TV, which handles Live TV and recording, plus storage of movies, TV and music files.  Live TV signals are handled using a Winfast DTV200DS dual digital TV tuner.

XBMC Screen

This Windows 8 PC runs XBMC 11 (Eden) with PVR support, and is called AMD-XBMC.  It has a static IP address of 192.168.1.3

I setup AMD-XBMC to allow remote control using port 9999.

Installed MediaPortal TV Server to stream Live TV to other instances of XBMC.

 

Raspberry Pi

SanDisk Ultra 16GB SD CardThe Raspberry Pi comes with 2x USB ports, which will be populated with a TP-Link WN821N 300M Wireless adapter, a Logitech MK320 Wireless KB/Mouse dongle.

Using the Windows 8 PC, I downloaded and installed Raspbmc on to a 16GB Class 10 SD Card.  Although a little more expensive, a Class 10 SD Card is designed for HD Video use.

 

Raspbmc Logo

After installing Raspbmc, I inserted the SD Card into the Raspberry Pi and booted it.  After the normal Raspbmc setup procedure, XBMC started and I renamed this instance of XBMC to Pi-XBMC.

I assigned a static IP address to the Pi-XBMC of 192.168.1.4 using the Router administration page, and setup network details inside XBMC.

I purchased licence keys for MPG and WMV codecs from Raspberry Pi store, which cost AU$4.85.  I input the codec details into the Raspbmc settings inside XBMC, which updates the Raspberry Pi’s config.txt file.

I setup Pi-XBMC to allow remote control using port 9999.

 

Toshiba L650 Laptop

I also have a Toshiba L650 Laptop running Ubuntu 12.04 which will be used to display media at times.

xbmc logo

I downloaded and installed XBMC (Frodo) and named this instance of XBMC as Toshy-XBMC.

I assigned a static IP address to the Toshy-XBMC of 192.168.1.5 using the Router administration page.

I setup Toshy-XBMC to allow remote control using port 9999.

 

Samsung Galaxy S2XBMC Remote

I am controlling the XBMC using a Samsung Galaxy S2, running the Official XBMC Remote app for Android.

XBMC Remote logo

Within the XBMC Remote app, I setup AMD-XBMC on 192.168.1.3, the Pi-XBMC on 192.168.1.4, and the TOSHY-XBMC on 192.168.1.5 – with all 3 using port 9999.

I note that the XBMC Remote app is still in Beta form and therefore has a few error messages popping up on screen from time to time, but remote control functionality is perfect.

 

Currently streaming media from AMD-XBMC to Pi-XBMC, using the smart phone as a remote control.

[Project in progress – updates to come]

 

Merry Christmas 2012

 Merry Christmas 2012
Tailormade IT Solutions would like to sincerely thank all our customers for their business in 2012, and wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a wonderful 2013.

 

Tailormade IT Solutions will close on the following days:
Tuesday 25th December 2012, Wednesday 26th December 2012 and Tuesday 1st Jan 2013.

My New Years Resolution for 2013 is that everyone keeps a backup of their important data !

Reason: It’s likely that Ransomware will continue to spread in 2013, and the only effective solution is to have a backup, that is not normally connected to the PC.

Symantec Whitepaper: Ransomware a growing menace

After infecting your PC, ransomware can encrypt your personal data and then display a message encouraging you to pay for the data to be un-encrypted.  Some messages say your PC has been locked by police due to downloading illegal material, and you must pay a fine before your data will be released, earning the bad guys $5 million a year.

AFP-Ransomware

Click picture to zoom in

 

It’s quick and easy to get a decent backup in place, using online storage, or a USB drive and some automated backup software.  This protects your important data from ransomware and/or Hard Drive failures.

TIS Logo

 

Avoiding Browser toolbars

What are browser toolbars ?

Browser toolbars are add-ons that sit inside popular internet browsers, such as Internet Explorer, Firefox and Chrome.  They are often bundled with downloaded software and installed unknowingly.

Legitimate makers of browser toolbars use them to track users, view their latest activity, or see who’s online at any given moment, what buttons users click on toolbar, what keywords they use, and what they search for. (Source)

Other toolbars are actually spam or even keystroke loggers that offer themselves up as toolbars.  Learn how to avoid Browser toolbars.

 

Toolbar overload

Click on this picture to zoom in

Ridiculous: You can hardly see the webpage for the toolbars!

 

How do I avoid browser toolbars ?

When downloading and installing software, you can no longer just select “Express/Standard/Normal” install. This almost guarantees you will also receive a free, unwanted toolbar.

Using Custom Install

You need to select “Custom install” instead. Ignore statements made about it being un-preferred or for advanced users – the only ‘advanced’ thing you need to do is un-tick a box or two, and click “Next” a few times…

 

As you step through the installation process, look out for check boxes such as “Include useless toolbar” and “Change my Homepage to useless.com” and un-tick them. In this example we need to click “Decline” aswell.

Unticking 'useless toolbar' option

In the above example, downloaded from the popular C-Net Download.com, selecting “Standard Install” would have also installed the Ask toolbar, and changed your internet start & search settings to Ask.com.

 

What happens if you have multiple browser toolbars installed? (as shown above)

1. Your internet browser runs very slowly when first loading all of the toolbars.

2. Your internet surfing habits are being collected, transmitted and stored.

3. The browser toolbars may try to update often, even if the browser itself is at the latest version.

4. Your PC is likely to be infected with a malicious browser toolbar.

 

How do I get rid of browser toolbars?

Browser toolbars can be removed using a number of methods – this is dependant on the type of toolbar.

1. Legitimate toolbars can be disabled within the browsers settings, and are also likely to have an uninstall feature in the Control Panel / Add-Remove Programs list.

2. If you have malicious toolbars that you can’t uninstall with step 1, try a virus scan – this may find and remove it.

 

If these methods fail to remove the browser toolbar, then its time to contact Tailormade IT Solutions for further assistance.

 

For more information visit:

http://www.tailormadeitsolutions.com.au/services/computer-support

Windows 8 Upgrades

Windows 8 is now on sale and Tailormade IT Solutions has already upgraded a number of PCs. Windows XP SP3, Windows Vista, or Windows 7
Here’s the details of Microsoft’s new Windows:

Windows 8 on sale  – $39.99!

Until January 31, 2013, you can upgrade any Windows XP SP3, Windows Vista, or Windows 7 PC to Windows 8 Professional for $39.99. *

http://windows.microsoft.com/en-AU/windows/buy

 

Windows 8 Upgrade Offer – $14.99 !

If you purchased your Windows 7 PC between 2 June 2012 and 31 January 2013, then you can upgrade to Windows 8 Professional for just $14.99. *

http://www.windowsupgradeoffer.com/en-AU

 

Windows 8 Media Centre Pack for FREE

Until January 31, 2013, you can also add Windows 8 Media Centre for FREE. *

http://windows.microsoft.com/en-AU/windows-8/feature-packs

 

Thinking of upgrading to Windows 8 ?

If you are thinking of upgrading your PC to Windows 8, first download and run the Windows 8 Upgrade Assistant, which will produce a compatibility report.

http://windows.microsoft.com/en-AU/windows-8/upgrade-to-windows-8

Tailormade IT Solutions can discuss this compatibility report with you and advise you/conduct the upgrade for you.

 

Windows 8 Metro

 

* The terms and conditions of these promotions are shown on the Microsoft website.

Family Safety

Family

 

The kids are online and you’re busy – Family Safety is there to help. Use this tool to generate activity reports to monitor your kids’ computer activity. Choose the websites, games, and programs they can access. Even set time periods when they can use the computer.

 

Microsoft Family Safety

Click the Weekly Activity report above to see an example

 

Microsoft Family Safety is almost indispensable for families with young children who have already learnt how to use computer.  So go ahead, be busy.  Let Microsoft Family Safety help keep an eye on things.

The program is available for Windows Vista and Windows 7, needs signing in with Windows Live ID, and can also bundled with Mcrosoft Live Essentials suite.  Family Safety is included as standard with Windows 8.

 

 

 

Using ReadyBoost

Need a cheap way to get more PC performance ?

 

ReadyBoost LogoReadyBoost is a feature built-in to Windows Vista and  Windows 7 and Windows 8, that enables you to use a USB drive/Memory card to give your PC a memory boost.

While it’s normally wiser to install additional memory, ReadyBoost is ideal people running older PC’s and laptops that are only capable of holding a small amount of memory – ie: Have a 1-2 GB RAM limit.

How does it work? When PC’s run low on memory (RAM) they can borrow some additional thinking space from the Hard Disk Drive – however most hard disk drives are mechanical and are slow compared to electronic memory, USB drives or Memory cards.  ReadyBoost enables your PC to use electronic media rather than mechanical hard disk space.

To start using ReadyBoost

Simply plug-in a spare (blank) USB drive in to your Computer and follow these prompts:

  • Click on ‘Computer’ and then right-click on your USB drive.
  • Now click ‘Properties’ and select the ReadyBoost tab, as shown below.

ReadyBoost Properties

  • Select ‘Dedicate this device to ReadyBoost’ and click ‘OK’.

 

You’re now making the most of Windows ReadyBoost features, harnessing the extra memory available to you in external USB devices to give your computer’s memory a boost and speed up its performance.

It can now borrow memory from your nominated USB drive rather than your hard drive, which is much faster.

TIS Logo

Notes:

  • Not all USB drives are capable of being used for ReadyBoost.
  • This feature is useful if your computer doesn’t have enough RAM.  If you do have enough RAM, ReadyBoost won’t really help.
  • If your computer has a hard disk that uses solid-state drive (SSD) technology, you might not see an option to speed up your computer with ReadyBoost when you plug-in a USB flash drive or flash memory card. This is because some SSD drives are so fast they’re unlikely to benefit from ReadyBoost.

 

Sharing Outlook Data

Sharing Outlook Data can be confusing and quite expensive, and a number of small business owners have asked how to share data between PCs running Microsoft Outlook.

 

In larger businesses, sharing Outlook data is normally performed by a Microsoft Exchange Server.  This allows for shared contacts, calendar and mail folders.  However the cost of Microsoft Exchange (US$708) makes this choice not viable for many smaller businesses.Vaita Logo

Tailormade IT Solutions to the rescue !

Tailormade IT Solutions has just signed a deal with Vaita, the makers of OSASync which is an add-in application for Microsoft Outlook 2000, 2002, 2003, 2007 and 2010. 

This means you can now have the improved productivity of using shared Outlook data, for a fraction of the normal price.

 

For example, if you run a business with a Shop PC and a Laptop PC, this product will allow your business to view and record customer bookings on either PC (using a shared calendar) and update customer details on either PC (using shared contacts).

Outlook Shared Calendar using OSASync

 

There is also a FREE cut-down version called OsaSync Lite, which will share or synchronize your Outlook Contacts across 4 computers.

 

Cheaper Printing

Canon MX410

Canon Pixma MX410

New inkjet printers are very affordable, and include scanners and fax machines – but the cost of replacement ink cartridges soon ads up.

Canon Ink Combo

The Canon Pixma MX410 printer shown above normally uses Canon PG510 (Black) and CL511 (Colour) ink cartridges, available in a combo pack for $51.99 at OfficeWorks.

These cartridges contain just 9ml of precious ink, and have a page yield of 200-250 pages (approx), which is why they run out so often.

 

Looking for a cheaper option ?? 

I purchased a Rihac Constant Ink Supply Solution (CISS) for $115 which includes a 100ml refillable ink tank (pre-filled with High Grade UV Dye ink) which allows for countless refills.

Rihac CISS

Although a little fiddly to install initially, the system is mess free and the tank can be eventually be topped up using 100ml bottles of ink.

The savings speak for themselves.

According to Rihac, this system saves up to 90-95% on your printing costs!  “*Equivalent to approximately 60 standard cartridges. Epson cartridges have approximately 10 mls of usable ink inside. Our CISS allows you to print continuously. Epson cartridges are approximately $23.52 each (officeworks). Our CISS is pre-filled with 100mls of each coloured ink, so in dollar terms that is approximately $1,400.00 worth of cartridges if bought separately.”

 

Rihac CISS - OutsideRihac CISS - Inside

Click on the pictures above to see the Rihac CISS installed.

 

The Rihac CISS works with a range of Brother, Canon, Epson & HP printers.  If you are looking for cheaper printing, I recommend using a Rihac Continuous Ink Supply Solution.

To see if your printer can use a Rihac CISS, visit: http://www.rihac.com.au/inklink8482-ciss-units-c-26.html

Encrypted backups using DropBox

DropBox is a very handy service which many people use to backup data.  They offer free 2GB accounts which allow you to store backups off site.

I’m sure Dropbox is an excellent company with its user’s interests at heart, I simply wanted an additional layer of privacy and security to an already great, and secure, service.

I’m working on a new backup application, which will automatically convert a specified folder of data into an encrypted vault, and then upload the vault to the DropBox website.  This will occur automatically at a set time.

Encrypted DropBox

Tip: Ensure your backup data is always encrypted when stored online.

This means that before your backups leave the computer you physically control and own, they’re encrypted.  They stay encrypted while being synchronized, until they’re back in your physical control.

 

Update: The main programming code was quite short and now is in beta testing.

Run(TrueCrypt & ” /v ” & $VaultName & ” /lx /p ” & $Password & ” /a /q /b /s”)
DirCopy($SourceFolder, “X:\” & $VaultName, 1)
Run(TrueCrypt & ” /q /d”)
FileCopy($VaultName, $DropBoxFolder, 9)

Avoiding password stress with Sticky Password

There are so many websites and communities out there that require unique credentials for logging in. Over time, if you’re like me, you’ll end up with a whole pile of different usernames and passwords for every which place.

Sticky Password Pro 6 steps in to solve those problems. The program acts as a master database of all of your usernames and passwords, taking care of the memorization and letting you relax your brain just a bit.

Sticky Password is your personal password and form filling manager. It makes browsing, website and application login fast and secure. It protects your passwords, personal notes and bookmarks on your computer and on the road.

With Sticky Password, you can:

  • login automatically to your favorite websites
  • fill in online forms with one click
  • generate, encrypt, and store strong passwords
  • protection against identity theft, phishing and key-loggers
  • easily manage your application and website passwords
  • USB portable version: take all your passwords with you

Click the video below to see Sticky Password in action