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Projects and software by Matt Collinge @ www.mattcollinge.co.uk

Archive for the ‘Technical’ Category

Foscam FI8910W Review, Unboxing, and tips

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foscam Over the past 3 years I’ve had the Edimax IC-1310 working in my home without many problems. It’s great to be able to monitor the house when I’m away & know that I’ll not have any nasty surprises when I get back.. well at least from a living room point-of-view.

The Foscam range of webcams caught my eye, specifically the FI8910W which can use a wireless network connection, and is steerable. I like the fact that this gives it a lot of placement flexibility.. just needing a power source & off it goes. This newer model has an IR-Cut filter which gives better colour reproduction from it’s predecessor. I paid about £65 for the white version from the official UK-based Foscam distributor; there was a 10% coupon code floating around on the web, which brought the price lower than Amazon.

Here’s what’s in the box;

Initial setup of the camera is supposed to include you installing some Windows app to find the camera’s IP address on your network; my router gives me a list of connected devices, so I chose to forego the app and use the router’s info instead. I could log into the camera once I had it’s IP address, and configured it to connect over wifi, altering a few other settings as I went (disabling the DDNS service, since my Edimax camera is already updating dyndns.org with my externally visible IP).

As long as you’re used to fiddling with things like port forwarding you’ll have everything set up within 10-15 minutes; there’s not a lot to it & these days it’s handy to have a phone on 3G to check things are working correctly. I added a few extra user accounts, and had TinyCam Monitor for Android working in no time at all.. specifying the local network IP on the main settings, and the DynDNS address on the extra 3G settings page.

Being able to steer the camera is really handy.. when you have it pointing in the right direction, you can save it as a preset, both from your browser, or from an app like TinyCam Monitor. I’ve set mine to mostly look out of the back window, but can swivel it round to look into the kitchen & hallway.. even up to the skylights, etc.

The quality of the images is pretty decent, but at 640×480, they’re not exactly HD quality. Motion detection is a tad limited.. even compared to my 3yr old Edimax. There’s no way to specify zones for motion detection, and it only uploads 2 .jpeg files for each motion capture event (the Edimax can upload 5 second videos!).

Annoyingly, even if you turn off the IR LEDs, they’ll switch back on the next time the camera is rebooted.. which is a real pain when the camera is looking out of a window (you only see the bright glare of the LEDs shining back at you!). Hopefully that’ll get fixed in a future firmware update, but I’m not betting on it. Talking of firmware, make sure you upgrade it.. the latest versions include some (unspecified) security fixes.

Overall, I’m still impressed with the camera.. the price point is just right when you compare it with the features and annoying niggles.

For anyone who wants a direct URL to a jpeg snapshot from the camera, then this is the correct URL format;

http://your-external-ip:port/snapshot.jpg?user=whoever&pwd=letmein

That should be handy for anyone who has a HTML dashboard page, or a desktop widget that accepts webcam image URLs.

And here’s a sample image from the camera as it points out of my back window.. a window that needs a clean! And yes, that’s a sink plunger on the patio.. for some bizarre reason the kids enjoy playing with this more than the billion toys they’ve got ;)

Foscam FI8910W snapshot

Written by Matt

June 25, 2013 at 6:02 am

Posted in Blogroll, Gadgets, Technical

Tagged with ,

ASUS RT-N56U Wireless Router Review

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The Belkin 54G wireless access point I’ve been using for a few years has been suffering since we extended the house.. there’s just not enough range on it, and it tends to temporarily lock up if it’s hammered a lot.

Finding a replacement took a lot of research, but I eventually decided on the ASUS RT-N56U, costing about £85, after reading some great reviews, including one in PC Pro. It’s worth reiterating that it doesn’t contain an ADSL router.. so if you’re on that type of broadband you’ll still need one of those in your set up. I’m happy with that, since the master socket isn’t where I want to place the wireless router anyway.

Configuration was straight-forward, aided by a decent web interface. As soon as I plugged it in I upgraded the firmware to the latest version from ASUS. I’d also seen that there are unofficial firmwares from a Russian group which are meant to fix a bunch of stuff & add new features. I’m sticking with the ASUS firmware unless I hit stability problems or find that I want to tinker later on. I certainly like the option to have a customised firmware should the need arise.

After having it running for a few days I’m really impressed with the speed and coverage across the house. It allows you to either use one SSID for 2.4Ghz and one for 5Ghz.. which lets you decide which band you want a device to use. Or set the same SSID for both, and it’ll automatically switch you over to the fastest band according to the signal strength. I was in the kitchen, and it connected on what must have been the 2.4Ghz band (due to the distance), then moved to the living room where the speed shot up & was obviously using the 5Ghz band.

Here’s a table showing how the signal strength has been affected by the upgrade;

  Signal Strength (dBm)
Postion ASUS Belkin
Utility Room -70 -75
Kitchen Diner -76 -85
Lounge -45 -63
Bedroom -61 -75
Bathroom -76 -85

And here’s my unboxing video;

Written by Matt

February 21, 2012 at 7:16 am

Custom Firmware on the Humax HDR-Fox T2

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After the untimely death of my Topfield box, and less than stellar performance of the 3view box, I ended up sending that back & buying the Humax HDR-Fox T2. Since I bought it over a year ago there’s been a huge amount of progress on a custom firmware which enables you to install ‘packages‘ that add a whole bunch of new features, including;

- Web-based interface for controlling the box, searching the EPG, etc.
- Smartphone optimised web interface
- Auto-filing script for placing series linked programs in designated sub-folders
- Remote scheduling interface for setting timers on the box remotely
- Recording trimming to cut off unwanted segments of recordings
- Custom TV portal (offering Sky Player support)
- And loads more!

There are some videos on YouTube that show a lot of these features in action, together with a guide showing exactly how to install it onto your box. It’s a simple, and reversible process & the guys that have worked on it have helped improve the features on the box no end!

Written by Matt

January 17, 2012 at 6:30 am

NZB-to-Server Automation

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The HTPC I’m using is also my download box. It started to get really tedious to VNC onto it & surf for NZB files, and manage things that way. Now I do it all from my laptop and use a relatively simple batch script to get the NZB files onto the server.

Here’s what’s involved;

Automatic Save Folder – Firefox Add-On

This useful Firefox add-on is used to save the NZB files to a specific folder without even prompting me where to put it. Saves a few clicks and having to re-select the same folder all the time.

Batch Script

One I’m done with the NZB files I then use this simple batch script to map a network drive to the server & move them into a specific folder. This script is then pinned into my Windows 7 Programs folder so that it’s simple to run with a few keystrokes.

Rem EXTRACT ALL ZIP FILES

c:\progra~1\7-zip\7z x "C:\Users\blah\Documents\_altbinz\nzbs\*.zip" -o"C:\Users\blah\Documents\_altbinz\nzbs"

Rem DELETE ZIP FILES

del "C:\Users\blah\Documents\_altbinz\nzbs\*.zip"
del "C:\Users\blah\Documents\_altbinz\nzbs\*.nfo"

Rem MAP NETWORK DRIVE (TEMPORARY)

NET USE T: \\192.168.1.10\htpc /Persistent:No

Rem MOVE ALL FILES TO SERVER

move "C:\Users\blah\Documents\_altbinz\nzbs\*.nzb" "t:\usenet\nzbs-import\"

Rem UNMAP NETWORK DRIVE

NET USE T: /DELETE

pause

Alt.Binz Auto-Import Feature

The alt.binz client allows you to automatically import NZB files from a speified folder. It does this automatically & can delete the NZBs after it’s done. This is perfect for what I’m attempting to do here.

Written by Matt

March 25, 2011 at 7:30 am

Posted in HTPC, Technical

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Harmony 600 Replacement

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Due to a clash with a toddler and my Harmony 555 all-in-one remote I bought a Harmony 600 in September last year. In the last month it’s been repeatedly rebooting/restarting. A new set of batteries sorts the issue out, but only for a couple of weeks, and then it starts happening again. There’s a thread on Logitech’s support site which talks about the problem, so it’s not an isolated issue.

The good thing is, that after raising a support ticket on Sunday, it only took a couple of message exchanges before they said it was faulty & shipped a new remote. They don’t even ask for the old one back, since they can de-activate it on their servers so that it can never be updated online.. pretty much rendering it useless, because there’s no way to update it without using their online app.

Kudos to Logitech for sorting this out so quickly! Really impressive.

Written by Matt

March 23, 2011 at 7:05 am

Slow Cooker Power Consumption

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When I was looking to buy a slow cooker I didn’t find much on specific power usage. I guess it depends on your model, but even general figures were hard to find. Now I’ve got one, here’s the deal;

Morphy Richards 3.6 litre crockpot (bought from Argos in Sept 2010)

High 160w
Low 118w
Warm 37w

The readings I took for cooking a full meal for 10.5 hours (high at the start, the low for most of it, then warm for a while), used 1.23kw of electricity. There’s no thermostat so it idles along at whatever power setting you’ve chosen. At today’s UK energy prices you might be looking at 12p per kw of energy, and therefore about 15p to slow cook a meal.

It’d be interesting to know how much energy it would take to cook this purely on the hob, in some ways I’m guessing it might be cheaper, but the convenience of the slow cooker for some meals is what appeals.. plus 15p isn’t exactly expensive.

Written by Matt

November 2, 2010 at 6:23 am

Using Wireshark and MITM to explore a STB

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I’ve recently bought a new Freeview HD box from 3view. It has a whole host of features and can be considered a “connected” device. As with most high-end set-top-boxes (STB) it pulls software firmware updates from the web, and I was interested to see where it went to get these updates & how it knew they were available.

I know about using tools to sniff network traffic, but have only done this to sniff traffic coming directly out of the PC I’m running the capture software on. Buying this 3view box gave me more of an inventive to expand my knowledge & figure out how to capture the traffic from other devices.

It was actually relatively easy. I decided to do a Machine in the Middle (MITM) ‘attack’ which was documented over at the Wireshark wiki.

In my case I didn’t have 2 network cards, but did have a laptop with one network card, and a wireless card. In Windows XP I bridged the NIC to the Wireless adapter, then plugged in a cross-over cable that linked the 3view box to my laptop. Then, after a bit of messing about with IP addresses it started working.. my 3view box was accessing my wireless router via my laptop.

Now that all the traffic from the 3view box was going via my laptop, all I then needed to do was fire up Wireshark & take a look at the packets.

Intercepting the traffic allowed me to see where the box was going for it’s updates, and the User Agent. That’s been documented over at the 3viewer community website I set up for 3view owners.

http://3viewer.elementfx.com/

Written by Matt

September 11, 2010 at 1:49 pm

Moving ISP – Not so difficult

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This post will probably end up sounding like an ad, but that’s not the point of this post. Basically, I had to move ISPs because O2 were wanting heavier users off their network & don’t care if any downloads are limited to the early hours of the morning.

The hunt was on for a new ISP and BT looked half decent with a cap of 100Gb (at 80Gb they start sending you emails to warn you). Then a mate of mine said he was with IDnet; I took a look at their website & it was a breath of fresh air.. they actually publish their usage limits! If only more ISPs were as transparent as this!!

Migration only took 5 working days, and the new ADSL2+ service is really speedy.. I don’t get any problems watching iPlayer at peak times like I did with O2. Fantastic stuff!

Written by Matt

May 16, 2010 at 8:44 am

Posted in Internet, Technical

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3view Community Website – Forums and News

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Last week I put in my order for a new Freeview HD box from 3view.. the box is due to be shipped on the 27th May 2010. Apart from the official 3view Facebook group, there were no forums or news sites to speak of, so I’ve set up a site called 3viewer which is hosted on some free space with x10hosting.

http://3viewer.elementfx.com/

Site performance isn’t going to blow anyone away (it seems especially poor when the US is awake), but it’s got full PHP support, MySQL databases and everything I needed to set up Joomla and phpBB. Other free hosting (such as Zymic) runs into problems with Joomla extensions because it doesn’t support unzipping of files, which is a bit rubbish.

If you’re in the market for a new Freeview HD box then check out the coverage of the 3view box over at 3viewer.. it looks as though it’ll be a decent box with some interesting Internet-connected features. I’ll be posting independent reviews and videos as time permits.

Written by Matt

May 9, 2010 at 6:59 pm

Google Maps Navigation – Data Usage

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Google unlocked the GPS navigation feature in the UK last week & one thing I wondered is how much data it used up as you drive the route it’s suggested… this is of interest to anyone on a metered tariff from their mobile provider. In my case I’m on an O2 business tariff that lets you download 200mb a month.

Google Navigate - Image from Mashable

To see how much data it used I first installed 3G Watchdog from the Android Market. Then I planned a route from work to home and headed off. From my unscientific tests it downloaded around 1mb of data in my 8 mile journey. Whether the duration of the journey makes a difference I’m not sure.. i.e. if you’re suck in traffic does it still pull/push data at the same rate as when you’re travelling? I’m assuming it won’t transfer as much, but it’ll still transfer something.

UPDATE: The actual per-mile download rate can’t be found by the method above. When you first plan the route, it’ll download and cache the data, then download small updates as you drive along. If you therefore plan your route at home whilst on a Wifi connection, then drive away (with route updates coming over 3G), you’ll get different results to what I documented above.

Written by Matt

April 26, 2010 at 7:09 am

Posted in Android, Internet, Technical

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Ethernet Camera Review – Edimax IC-1310

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Last week I bought one of these cameras to keep an eye on the house. After initially thinking I wanted the old D-Link DCS-900 I stumbled across the Edimax range of cameras. Here’s a summary of what they have available:

  • Edimax IC-1500 – Older model
  • Edimax IC-1510 – Updated version of the IC-1500 – ~£40
  • Edimax IC-1510wg – As per IC-1510 but adds wireless – ~£65
  • Edimax IC-1310 – Same as the IC-1510 but adds audio – ~£48
  • Edimax IC-1310wg – As per IC-1310 but adds wireless – ~£78

I went for the IC-1310 because I thought the audio might be useful, even if I didn’t use it at first. I also couldn’t justify the more expensive wireless model when I’ve got a couple of Belkin wireless APs in the loft that could be hooked up to add wireless at zero cost to me.

One week on, this camera is great, especially for the price! In low light the images are pretty decent, and in daylight they’re great. Some of the features require that you use Internet Explorer; e.g. getting audio as well as video requires their ActiveX control, as does the initial setup of the motion detection. However, most other features work through other web browsers like Firefox (I don’t think some people read all the documentation!) it’s all in the ‘CGI Commands’ manual on the Edimax website. You can get straight to the MJPG video stream or individual JPG images through whatever browser you like. However, I’ve not yet been able to get the audio and video stream mixed together on other browsers. The ActiveX control also doesn’t seem to work through corporate proxies.

Network setup is relatively trivial for anyone who knows their way around port forwarding in a router. It took me about 10 minutes to set everything up & make it available using a DynDNS host name for external viewing.

It hooked up to my Android phone without any problems, streaming the video over 3G using apps like ‘Tiny DVR‘ (which I’d recommend) or ‘IP Cam Viewer Lite‘. Over 3G the frame rate was about 1-2fps.. enough for a quick check on the house. Edimax have their own app for those with iPhones.

If you don’t need audio then go for the cheaper Edimax IC-1510 (which is currently about £40). I’ve had mine wired through a ethernet cable so can’t comment on the wireless side of things; if you want wireless then you need to see whether it’s worth the extra £30 to go from the IC-3010 to the IC-3010wg.

URLs that work through most non-IE web browsers are:

Single-image, not logged in (you define the file name to use);
http://IP:web_port/loginfree.jpg

MJPG Stream
http://IP:web_port/mjpg/video.mjpg

MJPG Stream with authentication
http://admin:password@IP:web_port/mjpg/video.mjpg

Written by Matt

February 22, 2010 at 7:17 am

QR Code Bookmarklet

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QR Codes are a useful way of getting data to your mobile phone using it’s built-in camera. They’re basically 2D barcodes that can carry things like URLs and contact details. On Android I’d recommend using the app called Barcode Scanner to read QR Codes.

There were instances where I wanted to open up a webpage with a long URL on my phone & didn’t want to go through the hassle of copying and pasting it into one of those online QR Code generators.

This bookmarklet for Firefox and newer versions of IE lets you create a QR Code for the page you’re on.. it’ll default to the current page, but you can also override this with something else (like a URL from your clipboard, or whatever).

Add a new bookmark to your toolbar, and set the URL to the code below (I’d have put the proper link on here but WordPress disables the Javascript);

javascript:var%20sCode=prompt('Enter%20URL%20to%20encode',window.location);void(window.open('http://chart.apis.google.com/chart?cht=qr&chs=300x300&chl='+encodeURIComponent(sCode),'Qr%20code','top=100,left=200,width=350,height=350,status=yes'));

Written by Matt

January 29, 2010 at 7:44 am

3view Q&A – Freeview HD

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This year Freeview goes HD.. but as yet there isn’t any hardware available to consumers. I’ve been keeping my eye on 2 boxes, the Humax DVB-T2 HD and one by a new British company called 3view.

3view has peeked my interest because of some of the more innovative features they’re including, like the support for VOD, apps (e.g. Facebook), and web-browser that allows you to view sites like Channel 4′s 4oD.

There’s a feature list on their site, but I also emailed them to clarify a few things. What I asked may be of interest to others, so here’s what they said;


Q: Now that the BBC intends to restrict the EPG data, is that something that won’t be available on the 3view box?

A: We are currently in discussions with BBC about this. There shouldn’t be any problems and the EPG data will be available on the 3view box.


Q: Is the box able to play back DivX/Xvid?

A: DivX5 or higher – no problem but the older version codec hasn’t been tested. We have tested Xvid and that’s fine too.


Q: With the H264 support, I’m assuming these can be in an MKV container? Will it play back 1080p video without a problem? And how about support for pass-through on DTS soundtracks? Oh, and embedded subtitles?

A: There won’t be any problems with playing back 1080p videos. Embedded subtitles tracks will not work in the current version, once recorded. We may add that in the future.


Q: Is there any way for users to customise the software on the box? I love the Topfield TF5800 because you can add user-written apps to plug gaps in functionality and generally make the box so much better.

A: Not yet- once we have a solid code base we may allow some customer tinkering – but not from launch, as bug tracking will become too complex for a V1.0.


Q: Is the remote control IR, or Wireless?

A: It is IR – BUT we have zwave installed and may offer zwave remotes in the future for extra web interoperability


Q: Are you able to record 2 programs, and watch 1 other (as long as it’s on the same multiplex as one of the recorded programs)?

A: Not at the moment – it’s record one and watch one. We will be adding that in a future upgrade.


Q: Do you think the box will be firmware upgradable to include support for the BBC’s Canvas project when that starts to get finalised & implemented?

A: We anticipate a YES but we cannot be sure as it is not a reality yet.

Written by Matt

January 26, 2010 at 7:50 am

Android Apps – Pick of the best stuff – Jan 2010

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Here’s my pick from the thousands of Android apps that are available as of Jan 2010.. all of these are free!

Media

  • Listen – Google’s podcast subscription & listening app
  • beebPlayer – Stream content from the BBC’s iPlayer
  • Rev3Remote – Stream video content from Revision3

Screen Candy

  • chompSMS – View SMS conversations like the iPhone
  • SMS Popup – Nice pop-up notification of SMS messages
  • Endless Walls Wallpapers Lite – Wallpapers
  • Backgrounds – Wallpapers
  • Retro Clock Widget – Nice clock + date widget
  • The Weather Channel – has a nice widget

Developer / Techie / Advanced stuff

  • Quick Settings – Quick access to settings, e.g. turn off wifi
  • ASTRO File Manager – Access files on your SD card
  • AppsInstaller – Install apps from your SD card
  • Free Advanced Task Manager – Task management & app uninstaller
  • Wifi Analyser – Wifi graphing (like Netstumbler)
  • GPS Status – Detailed GPS info
  • android-vnc-viewer – VNC Viewer

Barcodes / Shopping

  • ShopSavvy – Read barcodes and it’ll find the product online
  • Barcode Scanner – Recommended for reading (and creating) QR Codes

Augmented Reality

  • Google Sky Map
  • Reality Browser 3.0

Misc Useful Stuff

  • RealCalc Scientific Calculator
  • Voice Recorder
  • Text Edit
  • Compass
  • DrawNoteK – Draw notes on the screen
  • Bubble – Spirit level

App Versions of Websites

  • Quickpedia – Mobile optimised Wikipedia
  • Seesmic – Twitter client
  • Facebook for Android – Official Facebook app
  • Bloo – Unofficial Facebook app that includes notifications

Games

  • Labyrinth Lite
  • Phit Droid
  • Frozen Bubble
  • Coloroid
  • Bebbled

Written by Matt

January 18, 2010 at 6:55 am

Posted in Android, Internet, Software, Technical

Tagged with , ,

iPhone and Android development with Titanium

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Over the past few months I’ve worked on a couple of mobile applications for the iPhone and Android platforms. I’d looked at Phonegap some time before that, but determined that it wasn’t up to the job, but more recently I stumbled across Titanium from Appcelerator. The idea is that you code up your apps using HTML and Javascript. The Javascript calls the Titanium API to create things like lists, dialog boxes, and phone features such as geolocation.

Some of the advantages of using Titanium are:

- No need to learn Objective-C (iPhone) or Java (Android)
- Leverage existing HTML + Javascript skills
- Write one version of the code that can be deployed to both platforms
- Code is compiled up into native applications which are accepted in the App Store
- Potential to deploy to other platforms in the future (e.g. Blackberry, Symbian)

The level of support provided by the Appcelerator staff on the official forums is brilliant, and the tutorial videos are good for those who want to get an overview of creating apps without wading through documentation.

You’ll still need a Mac if you want to develop for the iPhone, because Titanium makes use of the iPhone SDK. But if you just want to do Android development then you can use Window or Linux as well.

Although you’ll be developing 1 set of code for both the iPhone and Android, you’ll probably want to customise the UI slightly differently for each platform. For example, Android apps often hide away items such as ‘Settings’ and ‘Help’ under the Menu button. It’s simple to code this kind of thing up:

	if (Titanium.Platform.name == 'android') {
		var menu = Titanium.UI.createMenu();
		menu.addItem("Help/About", function() {
			displayWindow('Help / About', 'window_about.html');
		}, Titanium.UI.Android.SystemIcon.HELP);
		Titanium.UI.setMenu(menu);
	} else {
		data.push({title:'Help / About',image:'tabicon_help.png', color:'#ffffff'});
	}

That code will create the Help/About option under a menu on Android, and add it to the home screen’s list on the iPhone. Simple.

Titanium is an awesome framework so if you’re considering developing for the iPhone and/or Android then I’d highly recommend you take a look.

Written by Matt

January 13, 2010 at 7:10 am

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