Plug Computer: Part 4 Lift Off

June 8, 2012 Leave a comment

Getting Putty to work with the dream plug and JTAG and SSH

Lets just get this bit out the way. I can confirm that the instructions here do work. It  is a pain but you only have to do it once and it works.

Upgrading the DreamPlug

So to recap, the plug computer seem a cheap way to have your own bit of the cloud both in terms of capital cost and running costs.

The DreamPlug works. I know this because I can log into it through the JTAG connection. I also know it has an old version of bare bones version of Debian (Lenny) on it. Usable but not for much.

The first thing I wanted to do was upgrade the OS to something more recent but still stable. So Debian Squeeze seemed a likely candidate. There are a number of ways to change the OS on the DreamPlug. You can even multiboot from external memory be it SD card or USB stick. I wanted to keep the interfaces free so that meant storing it on the internal memory. Again there are (probably) a number of ways to do that, however since the internal memory is just an internal SD Card I decided to remove it and reimage it. Removing the four rubber pads from the DreamPlug gives you access to four small screws. Remove this and the case comes apart pretty easily revealling the SD card.

Images can be found for varios sizes of SD at the NewIT website. I used the instructions from the website to copy the image across from my laptop to the SD card. This involved using a linux command shell and I used the OpenSUSE build for that.

Booting the device through with the JTAG attached showed no problems so on to the next stage.

Joining the network

Out of the box, the DreamPlug is configured to to use DHCP to get an IP address. Connecting it to my network via ethernet posed no problem and it picked an ip address. Looking at my Fritz!box router allowed me to determine which one and from that point on I could connect via ssh rather than the JTAG module using Putty. At this point you are going to have to learn how to use a text editor with a command line interface. I haven’t used one in years but you are not going to get anywhere without using one. I used “vi” but there are others available. My intention was to give the DreamPlug a static IP address and this along with other sytem changes requires changes to a number of text configuration files. However after following the instructions here and here it steadfastly refused to stick with the address I gave it. (actually i had misconfigured the “interfaces file” as it turned out. The perils of using command line text editors made abundantly clear). In the end I reserved an addess in the Fritz!Box router and tied it to the MAC address the DreamPlug. The Fritz!Box has a “sort of” DNS server. You cannot change the domain name which is “” unless you hack under the skin. I could not be bothered changing it so the local IP address resolved to the DreamPlug hostname appended to the domain name. for example. From this point on, the DreamPlug hardware has become inconsequential an it behaves like a standard Debian linux machine connected to the internet. I followed this HOWTO to set the server up. This gives me a Webportal to manage the server and I no longer feel like I have to do keyhole surgery using Putty. I haven’t thought about any other functionalty for the DreamPlug yet – such as a media server for example as I am still playing with what I have already installed. But what I do have is a fully capable server sitting next to my toaster in the kitchen. The hardware is not a consideration now as it behaves as any normal server would. Don’t believe me – Try here if you don’t believe me (assuming it is still working :-)).

The only remaining hardware related things to do will be to turn off the laser bright LED’s and the Bluetooth and Wireless connections. They draw power, I don’t need them for now and they are security attack vectors.

Plug Computer: Part 3 DreamPlug, JTAG and Windows 7

May 23, 2012 Leave a comment

I was probably getting ahead of myself but I have committed myself to plug computer. At least in the financial sense. It came down to the dirt cheep Sheevaport or more expensive DreamPlug. In the end it was down to connectivity. As a home server it will need to be able to do a lot of stuff. None of it will be heavy duty but it needed to be versatile, or at least have the potential to be able to be versatile. So the DreamPlug won the day. Besides if this project fails, I think it would be easier to sell. Not that I am planning on failing but you never know. Aesthetically it looks more impressive too. The spec according to NewIT where I sourced it is:

  • Marvell Sheeva core 1.2GHz speed
  • 512MB 16bit DDR2-800 MHz
  • 4 GB on board micro-SD
  • 2 x Gigabit Ethernet 10/100/1000 Mbps
  • 2 x USB 2.0 ports
  • 1 x eSATA 2.0 port -3Gbps SATAII
  • 1 x SD socket for user expansion
  • WiFi 802.11 b/g
  • Bluetooth BT2.1 + EDR
  • Audio Interfaces

I’ve also bought a JTAG module to interface with it. I’m not sure it is entirely needed but it provides options.

It arrived 24 hours after ordering. Unboxing it and assembling it was the easy bit. Everything else so far had just been hard. Truth be told I haven’t achieved very much. My instinct is I am highly likely to brick it so I my first task is get the JTAG module operational.

Plugging the JTAG module into my laptop’s USB was as far as I got. The intention was and still is to use Putty to communicate with the DreamPlug via the JTAG interface. To do this you need some USB drivers. Can I find them one that will work? No. Most of the online help points you to various Linux solutions using Minicom. If I have understood correctly, Ubuntu should automatically recognise the JTAG. OpenSUSE 12.1 clearly doesn’t out of the box. Installing another Linux distribution seems a bit over the top but I might have return to that option. So I am still pursuing the Windows option. NewIT has been helpful and very prompt in this respect. They have pointed me at a Wiki article where it seems I might have to doctor the driver files in order to get it to work. It does seem strange I have to do this but at least someone has gone to the effort to explain how to do it.

As I said earlier, the JTAG option may not be needed ultimately but as I am not confident in what I am doing, it would be nice to have the option. Besides, it is good experience, however if this is an indication of what is ahead then this is going to be a long journey.

Plug Computer: Part 2 First Steps

May 20, 2012 Leave a comment

Decision made so lets get started. First thing was to choose a domain. I’m rather pleased with the one I found. I could also be regarded as a very sad choice depending on your perspective. My ISP registered it and set up the DNS record. Originally it pointed solely to their mail server so I had to add an additional MX record that pointed to my currently non existent plug computer. I can modify the records directly online, however I managed to screw it up but thankfully my ISP came to the rescue. I really can’t imagine being able to have this type of support with one of the larger ISP’s out there.

So when I ping my domain now I get the desired results. Result. So onto the mail server. As I mentioned before, I decided to trial it on my laptop which can boot to OpenSUSE 12.1. The idea was to run Postfix.

OpenSUSE have a configuration ‘wizard’ that suggests it can set up Postfix. It doesn’t. I tried it a couple of times and it returned an error after installing a heap of stuff. Unsurprisingly, Postfix wouldn’t start. I am not having a happy time with OpenSUSE 12.1. on my HP Laptop. Things just stop working on it every now and again. However, on my Samsung NC10 it is really good. The build is pretty much the same so it’s hard to see why it should be this way. Anyhow….

I uninstalled Postfix reinstalled it as part of  iRedMail. This open source software includes:

  • Postfix: SMTP service
  • Dovecot: POP3/POP3S, IMAP/IMAPS, Managesieve service
  • Apache: Web server
  • MySQL: Storing application data and/or mail accounts
  • OpenLDAP: Storing mail accounts
  • Policyd: Postfix policy server
  • Amavisd: An interface between Postfix and SpamAssassin, ClamAV. Used for spam and virus scanning.
  • Roundcube: Webmail
  • Awstats: Apache and Postfix log analyzer

It also works on Debian which will probably the distribution I will use on the plug computer itself. Postfix certainly worked this time but I am still struggling with the configuration. It is a long process but I am making progress. I can send emails and emails are now accepted by the server which it was reluctant to do at first. I’m not sure what it does with them however and I haven’t managed to get an email client to work with it yet. Obviously more configuration required. Still I am making progress so I will keep ploughing on. I will start to consider buying the actual plug computer I need over the next few days.

Plug Computer: Part 1 The Beginning

May 16, 2012 Leave a comment

So I thought about it. I know it is going to get emotional. But I am going to make a home server out of a plug computer. I was looking for a reason fornot doing this. Cost was looking a likely candidate. Not the hardware or the software but the internet costs that might be incurred if this was to be fully functional, useful even. Fortunately, or unfortunately when it comes to my mental health, my ISP (AAISP) are hopelessly helpful. Kudos to them. In order to set up an internet mail server I needed them to register a domain and configure their DNS server. Apparently they will do all that as part of my contract. So no extra cost then.

The other reason for not doing this is that it simply isn’t flavour of the month. On the other hand Cloud computing is flavour of the month, or at least we are told this. Incessantly. But I smell a rat. Think about the humble telephone. When life was in black and white you used to pick up the handset, rattle the hook loudly to wake up the cloud and shout “OPERATOR!” The cloud or operator would then make the connection for you. Flash forward to technicolor and you do it yourself – or at least you can do with a Fritz!box router. What stalls the transition is the hold of corporate giants and their vested interests. The “Cloud” smells of this to me. I want my own cloud and not be tied into a silo. So I am going to do it because I am bloody minded.

However fools rush in etc, so I am going to do this in stages. Remember, I haven’t a clue what I am doing. Once the ISP side is wired up I will start experimenting with linux on the OpenSUSE set up I have got on my laptop. I am not sure what packages I will end up using at this stage but Postfix looks a likely starting place. So it starts…

Categories: Plug Computer Tags:

Plug Computers – it’s a thought

May 15, 2012 Leave a comment

As I mentioned in my last post, Plug Computers have caught my attention. The computational power of a mobile phone when you consider the form factor size, reliabilty, power consumption, etc is astounding. They are quite capable of being used for a range of functions that wouldn’t normally be associated with mobile telephony. But there lies the problem. Mobile phone are best at being mobiles phones and take a lot of persuasion and a lot of compromise to be anything else. So a mobile phone as a home server is probably not the most elegant of solutions. This is where Plug Computers come in. In theory, devices with a similar form factor but without the the constraints of mobile phone functionality could fullfil the brief. This was my line of thinking at least. Alas, it isn’t that simple. Researching this a bit seems to indicate that plug computers are far from being a mature product. This is a bit suprising since if you take the Sheevaplug as an example, the concept has been around since 2009. There are a number of derivatives of the Sheevaplug but these can’t really be considered to be mature consumer products. They remain in the specialist or even experimental domain. This aspect suprises me as you would have thought there was a demand for an easy to configure minutirised homeserver. But what do I know. So if I am to embark on this journey, I am going to face some unpleasants truths.

Firstly, I am going to have to get my hands dirty. If you have read any of my other posts then you will know that I really rather not venture outside of a GUI. However there is precious little out there that is pre configured or even installed on these devices. Where it has been done, you are confined to the selction of the reseller/distributor and the user base is so small and specialised it is difficult to determin if they are any good. An example would be AMAHI. So essentially I am going to have to build my on system and do that through terminal sessions. Grim

Secondly, the hardware itself doesn’t seem that reliable. According to some, the GuruPlug had a tendency to overheat. A subsequent model had a fan fitted but that apparently sounded like a hairdryer. So you might get 24/7 availability but it might not be for a long time.

Finally, the level of support out there is minimal. From what I have seen there is an assumption (or a need) to have a level of skill or experience that I simply don’t have before you can get into a meaningful dialogue with those who might be able to help you.

The upshot of all this is that it seems pretty clear that Plug Computers are in their infancy in every repsect and as a server they are not a place to keep or operate on essential information. But the price is compelling and as an experiment I am tempted. What could possibly go wrong?

Categories: Plug Computer Tags:

Its been a whil…

May 10, 2012 Leave a comment

Its been a while since I last took the time to write anything. I guess this has been a period where I have taken stock on and just enjoyed life. This of course has been enhanced by the gadgets nominally under my command.

The Fritz!box, Opensuse 12.1, Samsung NC10 and Shrew VPN ensemble got put to the test while on holiday in Europe. It worked just fine. So that is annoying because I can’t drone on about that anymore.

My Xiaomi MiOne mobile phone continues to be excellent. I get the weekly MIUI v4 development updates and they have reached a very usable degree of stability. I haven’t added any news updates about Xiaomi as the situation is fundamentally the same. Everytime Xiaomi release a batch of phones in China it sells out in minutes. Stronger rumours exist about new models of Xiaomi including quad processors but with the current level of domestic demand in China I am not sure whether they will reach western shores – at least not officially. In that respect, things have changes. There are quite a number of MiOne users participating on the MIUIAndroid forum now so you there is a degree of support available that doesn’t require Google translate. Tales of phones being bricked and then recovered abound which is in itself quite reassurring. I am planning to go back to China this year so get a better view on whats there. The handset by Oppo looks interesting.

One thing that has attracted my attention has been the Raspberry PI. Like the MiOne, it has sold out but I do have to wonder about my motivation in wanting it. I suspect it is similar to the proverbial father who wants to buy their child a train set but ends up playing with it themselves while the child wanders off. Eventually it gathers dust in the attic. So on that basis I won’t get one, however it did get me thinking. I have always wanted a server. To be fair, the Fritz!box 7390 behaves pretty much as a server but even that has limits. It is not a mail server or a webserver for example. Up to recently, the main option for a domestic home server was to mutilate an old PC and slap Linux on it. Fine to a point but noisey and with the energy consumed it wasn’t really a 24/7 option. However the Raspberry PI and other “Plug Computers” are cheap, energy efficient, and have a small footprint. But are they really feasible as a server?

I need to think that one through but it seems better than playing with a model train set.

Categories: Uncategorized

Opensuse 12.1 Fritz!box 7390 and VPN – did it

April 8, 2012 Leave a comment

So the idea was to be able to access my Fritz!box 7390 router from the outside via VPN and to be able to do this on my Samsung NC10 which now runs solely on OpenSUSE 12.1. The Fritz!box comes with an IPSEC installed and AVM provide a bespoke VPN client (in german) for Windows7 to work with it. It isn’t that stable and it is limiting in what you can do with it. When it comes to OpenSUSE they provide nothing and you are on your own. Suggestions in comments indicated the Shrew VPN client would be the way to go. As a straight replacement on Win7 it works fine. You have to manually edit the configuration file. It is pretty simple job to cut and paste the relevent details from the Fritz!box configuration file to the Shrew file. This option only allows you to route to your home network only. Getting it to route through the Fritz!box out to the internet (which I wanted to do) is a bit more problematic. You will need to edit the Fritz!box config file and the and the Shrew file directly to alow this to happen. Anyway, after some experimentation it works.

So on to OpenSUSE 12.1. The theory says you just copy the shrew config file over and just use it in the linux client. Before that there are a couple of things you need to do. Obviously you need to install Shrew from the repository. This should bring in the IPSEC packages too. Before you even start Shrew you need to run IKE. If you want to run it automatically you will need write a script. I couldn’t be bothered so I run it from a terminal. From that point on Shrew behaves like the Windows version….. except that it didn’t. For some reason I couldn’t fathom domain numbers were not resolving to IP numbers. Shrew has the option to automatically find a DNS server and secting that did the trick. So I can now VPN through the Fritz!box to the internet using OpenSUSE. It should have been easier though. Next job might well be to get my Xiaomi MIONE phone to VPN through it.

Categories: AVM, Fritz!box, Linux, OpenSUSE 12.1, VPN

Xiaomi MI ONE with MIUI v4 ICS. The story so far…

March 18, 2012 10 comments

So I promised myself I would be good with this phone. If you’ve been following you will know that I got the MI ONE as a MIUI daily use phone (and because it is astonishingly cheap), and I would use my HTC HD2 with the more experimental ROMS. So that was the plan and I stuck with it for 3 months.  The MI ONE has been an astonishingly good daily use phone. Certainly better than the HTC HD2 if only for its battery life.

So while I was being good, I stuck with the stable stock MIUI ROMs supplied “Over The Air” by Xiaomi. The current ROM as I write is 2.3.5n. That is a Gingerbread MIUI V3 ROM and it is excellent. The one issue is that not everything is translated from Chinese. Not a huge issue for me as although I am not Chinese, it is one way or another a major part of my life. Besides, MIUI is a Chinese ROM after all. But for some it is annoying if only for the inconsistency.

However, the Xiaomi website forum has been giving tempting screenshots of MIUI v4 ICS for a while now, and the latest versions of MIUI Music, lockscreens, etc. have appeared on various sites. So it was only a matter of time before I cracked and tried a development ROM. The one thing holding me back was the translation issue. The development ROMs are exactly that. There is no guarantee with them as they are part of the development process and things can and do go wrong. Even Xiaomi say they will not be responsible for the damage caused and you will blow your warranty. So if something went wrong, it would be really helpful if it went wrong in English. And as that was not going to happen I was confident of staying good. Enter MIUIAndroid.

Owning a MI ONE outside of China is a bit of a lonely existence. I have never met another owner. When I go to China later this year I will be surprised if I meet one there either. But at least on MIUIAndroid there are a couple of people there that have the phone on the forum. What I didn’t expect was any ROM support. It is not as if there going to be a huge demand for it as opposed to a Samsung or HTC device.  So it was quite touching that they produced a translated version of the  MIUI v4 ICS development ROM (currently 2.3.16). Worse, I felt obliged to try it after all the effort put in. So how did it go?

Well first up I ignored Mark’s clear instructions and there were clear consequences. Bricked phone like clear consequences. Not to worry though as there are a multitude of ways to recover a MI ONE and provided you have used MIUI backup before hand it isn’t a disaster. I ended up putting the MI ONE in fastboot mode and used the MI-flash facility to get it back from the dead. I then applied the new ROM as instructed.

So it loads and it has issues but then that is why it is a development ROM. Mark at MIUIAndroid put in a lot of time make it usable and it pays dividends… and MIUI V4 does look stunning.

So if there is a point to this post at all it would be:

1) MIUI V4 ICS needs a bit more work but the potential is exciting

2) The Xiaomi MI ONE doesn’t seem to mind being abused by a fool like me

3) If you have a MI ONE outside of China, you are no longer alone,  and that perhaps is the nicest thing to find.

Miui Android takes on the Xiaomi M1

March 12, 2012 Leave a comment

Just a quick one. Kudos goes to Mark at Miui Android for doing an English translation of the latest Miui v4 ICE ROM for the Xiaomi MI one. I will let you know how I got on.

Categories: MIUI, Xiaomi M1, Xiaomi MiOne

Xiaomi News Round-up February

February 26, 2012 Leave a comment

I expected February to be a quiet month for  Xiaomi with the lunar festival but it didn’t exactly turn out that way.


The big news this month was the open sourcing of some the components that make up the MIUI ROM – sound recorder, notes and so on. You can find these on Github here. Hopefully Xiaomi will release more over time.

Xiaomi M1 phone updates

ICS is still in beta for the Xiaomi M1(MiOne) phone so I have not moved to that yet. I did get the monthly Gingerbread OTA update (2.3.5n) last night. Can’t say I have noticed any changes but I have not looked at the changelog

Xiaomi M1 CDMA phone

Back in November Lei Jun ran a poll on the Xiaomi website asking whether there would be any interest in a CDMA variant of the Xiaomi phone. The vote was a resounding yes and now it is here. The variant can also be bought off the Xiaomi site or from China Telecom. Originally, the phone was to cost a little more as the processor is upgraded from the current Qualcomm MSM8260 to Qualcomm MSM8660, which is also a 1.5GHz processor. However, currently priced the same. The speculation is that this device will be the device aimed at the international market – should that ever happen.

Xiaomi Availabilty

Supply of both phones remains problematic in China and virtually impossible outside due to its popularity. The knock off manufacturers have been leaping in to fill the demand. Xiaomi have highlighted the issues here (Chinese). You don’t really need to translate this as the pictures give a pretty good idea of the size of the problem.

Xiaomi Corporate Strategy

Quite what Xiaomi’s strategy has been has always been a bit of a mystery. What is known is that they don’t wish to make profit through hardware sales. So the Xiaomi M1 is sold pretty much at cost price. So where will the revenue come from. Well this month it didn’t become much clearer. Xiaomi indicated they are prepared to take losses for 2 to 3 years and they are following Amazon’s Kindle strategy to build up a user base. But to sell what?

Xiaomi Tablet?

Well not quite. A tablet from the Kingsoft stable of companies. The Eden tablet is being released in Japan and does not have MIUI so the link is probably a bit tenuous for end users at least.

So all in all a quiet month!

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