OmniROM - Community Android at its best

For a while now, I've been slowly migrating my private data away from Google to a few self-hosted options. For file sync, I've used ownCloud - which comes with built in contact (CardDAV) and calendar (CalDAV) support.

On Android, I used DavDroid to sync my contacts to ownCloud. One thing that I missed the most moving from Google Contacts was that I could no longer create contact groups. It seems that the Almighty Goog in its 'wisdom' restricted the creation of groups ONLY to Google Accounts. This is one feature that I used heavily, and seems hotly requested for support in DavDroid. The problem was, Groups was a Google only thing. DavDroid recently supported groups, but you would get thwarted by Android.

I was discussing this with pulser on the #omnirom irc channel on FreeNode, and pointed this issue out - and that the DavDroid author thought it should be a simple fix within Android to make groups work on all account types. Less than an hour later, the patch was born AND tested. Less than 12 hours later, the patch was included in all currently shipping OmniROM nightlies.

Now, groups sync correctly - and can be edited from any source - the ownCloud web interface, Thunderbird or OmniROM - and sync perfectly between devices. All without giving your data to Google.

THAT is the power of open source software.

Avoid CentOS 7 / RHEL 7 for now

I've been looking at the latest release of RedHat Enterprise 7 and its 'clone' CentOS 7 recently.

Sum it up in a single word? DAFUQ? (is that technically one word?).

If you currently run EL6, for $diety's sake, stay on it. There are so many problems at the moment that you are much better to stay well clear until the dust settles.

List of current issues:

  1. rsyslog - no longer works. Everything is now in a 'journal'
  2. logwatch - no longer works. Does not support journal logs
  3. gnome3 - If you use a desktop, you're pretty much forced to use Gnome 3
  4. systemd - requires all kinds of hacks and workarounds to get anything more than basic functionality
  5. systemd - Service files missing from a lot of tasks (eg: BZ 1060347)
  6. up to 50% speed reduction in virtual machines - BZ1104748
  7. No thunderbird packages available as yet.
  8. No Xen Dom0 support in EL7 - despite the upstream kernel version supporting it
  9. Wholesale shipping of packages out to EPEL to avoid support requirements

This is just scratching the surface at the moment... There are many more gotchas just waiting to bite.

Backups and Filesystem deduplication

Recently, I've been looking at backup solutions to replace TSM. In my opinion, TSM is great for VERY large organisations, but versions beyond TSMv5 seem to be much more bloated than useful in smaller installs. There are a number of backup 'solutions' for Linux, however none seem to have a permanent and consistent state without doing various bits of magic.

I've moved all of this onto its own page so I can update things easier as the scripts evolve with feedback / ideas.

Nexus 5 wireless charging

Recently I upgraded from my aging Samsung Galaxy S2 to a Google Nexus 5. Its a massive leap forwards in technology - and a very impressive upgrade. One of the biggest things I wanted to play with was wireless charging.

I found this Qi Universal Wireless Charger from the range at MobileZap.

The Nexus 5 uses the Qi wireless charging standard which uses unidirectional communication using backscatter modulation to talk to the charger at 2kbps. The charging 'transmitter' uses RF at 110kHz–205kHz and received by the Nexus 5 and turned into a suitable voltage to charge the battery.

Initial testing seems to show that both the wireless Qi charger and the wired micro USB charger BOTH charge at around the same rate (averaged over several tests at around 34% per hour).

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As far as the actual charger goes - apart from having a UK power supply (19v 1A), the only thing I would improve on this charger is getting the blue LED that indicates that there is a device charging would turn off when the device was fully charged. The Qi charging spec supports this, but it doesn't seem to be implemented in the charging plate.

I really am impressed with wireless charging. I always thought it would be a fad - however the amount of wear this saves the micro-usb port in devices fitted with wireless charging could almost pay for itself over the life of a device - its much cheaper to use a wireless charger than to get a USB port replaced on any kind of device!

Infinite Jukebox? Wow. Just wow.

Every now and again you come across something special on the net. Something that you are just in awe over. The is one of those things. The Music Hack Day at MIT spawned this creation - and it is certainly worth the reputation surrounding MIT and cool projects.

What does it do? The FAQ states it best:

For when your favorite song just isn't long enough. This web app lets you upload a favorite MP3 and will then generate a never-ending and ever changing version of the song. It does what Infinite Gangnam Style did but for any song.

How does it work?

We use the Echo Nest analyzer to break the song into beats. We play the song beat by beat, but at every beat there's a chance that we will jump to a different part of song that happens to sound very similar to the current beat. For beat similarity we look at pitch, timbre, loudness, duration and the position of the beat within a bar. There's a nifty visualization that shows all the possible transitions that can occur at any beat.

What you end up with, is this:


The Most Played Songs is a fairly wide selection of music that showcases how good this code has been developed. If you don't watch the visualiser, you wouldn't notice the majority of the jumps around.

I am VERY impressed. Great work by all involved in the project.

I know where you've been

I've been meaning to write an article on methods of tracking people in public spaces using every day devices. I finally got around to writing a blurb on how easy it is to track peoples whereabouts using wifi and bluetooth - even if you never connect to a network.

So here it is: Tracking people via WiFi

The same techniques are already in use in many places - and target bluetooth as well as WiFi. Comments are welcome on the article.

Fixed OpenWRT images for WD N600 & N750

I noticed recently that images I'd generated for the WD N600 / N750 weren't booting properly. It seems from r39891 built on the 13th March that something changed causing the image to never actually work on the router after being flashed.

I spent a bit of time yesterday debugging this and now as of r40004 things are back in order and working correctly.

Sorry if this caught anyone out!

Acer refurbished nightmares

I finally got around to ordering a new laptop via the Acer Factory Outlet. In a nutshell, they refurbish systems and sell them on. I settled on an Acer Aspire V5-573G. The specs were quite good:

  1. CPU: 4th Gen Intel® Core™ i5 4200U 1.6GHz (Turbo boost upto 2.6GHz)
  2. RAM: 4GB DDR3-SDRAM 1066MHz (1 slot free)
  3. HDD: 500GB Hard Drive 5400RPM
  4. Screen: 15.6" HD 1366x768 LED LCD Screen
  5. GPU: NVIDIA Geforce GT 720M 2048 MB Dedicated Graphics
  6. 802.11a/g/n, bluetooth etc etc

It came in at $599AUD including shipping. My old Asus EeePC 1005P netbook was getting rather slow (some web sites would tax the CPU to death - even on scrolling) - so I decided to take the plunge.

I was very surprised when the laptop arrived in under 12 hours from placing the order. This was a very good sign - however more surprises were in store - it didn't work.

Being the techhead that I am, I played around - using the keyboard shortcuts to attempt to turn the screen on or try the external HDMI port. Everything resulted in the same - power light coming on, no BIOS beep, no display, no signs of life. Tried the hard reset button, nothing. Damn.

I then gave the Acer Support Line a call. Firstly getting told I'd have to ship it back to them for assessment and repair. I wasn't too happy at this option - after all, it was dead out of the box. One would assume that even though it is a refurbished laptop that item #1 in the Q/A check list is "Does the machine power up". After voicing my opinion that a DOA should be replaced by a working laptop on arrival, not sent for repair the moment it arrived I was transferred to "The DOA team".

What these guys actually do, I'm not sure. So far, I've been given a case number and told "Someone will contact you in 24 to 48 hours". When I chased this up at about the 44 hour mark, I was again told "someone will contact you in 24 to 48 hours, so it may be Monday". So now I'm at a point wondering if their standard reply for everything is "24 to 48 hours".

While on this same phone call however, I was told that my only options may be to have the unit repaired, that they may not have this model in stock anymore, have it replaced with a model of the same value, or a refund. While this sounds good in theory, they don't have anything near the model that I bought. The closest is ~$100 more with no dedicated graphics onboard. As such, this is starting to sound like a classic bait'n'switch tactic by Acer.

This leads me to wonder - has anyone dealt with Acer before for problems like this? Did you get a refurbished laptop that worked? Did you get one that was DOA? I'll update this post as things progress, but for now, I'm not a happy camper!

Update 25/02: I got a call from the 'Account Manager' today. Apparently now I have to talk to the web store people to get a refund. Someone from there should contact me in (you guessed it) 24-48 hours. I can see the path this is going down - so today I also started the process for a chargeback on my credit card. Lets see who issues a refund first ;)

Update 27/02: Still chasing this up today. Today I got transferred to someone in accounts. After going through the case history, I was told someone would get back to me in (you guessed it) 24-48 hours. At least this time I have a direct contact number to talk to the same person tomorrow. Progress? Time will tell....

Update 05/03: Today I got sent a connote via email after following this matter up with the Australian contact centre. Attached it to the box today and its ready for pickup tomorrow. Hopefully, this should be the end of this saga!

Update: 10/03: Well, I think I spoke too soon. The dead laptop still hasn't been picked up. Today is a public holiday though - so at best case, I can expect a pickup tomorrow. I really wouldn't think it would be so hard to do basic logistics.

Update: 23/03: This issue still isn't resolved. A whole month and nothing to show for it. The pickups haven't happened, the refund hasn't been processed - and I still am none the wiser as to when this will be resolved.

Update: 04/04: Still ongoing. I have been told I should receive a refund by today - but (surprise, surprise) nothing as yet...

Update: 12/04: A couple of days ago I figured I'd had enough. I had given Acer enough rope - and they hung themselves. I contacted the new Managing Director for Australia Pacific - Darren Simmons. I got a reply within an hour asking various people to chase this up. Yesterday, I still hadn't heard anything so I asked Darren if there was any update. The reply was encouraging - the refund had been processed! Today, I look at my credit card statement - and behold! A refund!

Thankfully, after nearly two whole months of frustration, I can bring this saga to an end.