Archive for May, 2012

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…

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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?

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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.

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