Category: Ubuntu

The Linux equivalent of Little Snitch, ZoneAlarm, and similar per-application firewalls?

Important
This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared on a blog called The Michigan Telephone Blog, which was written by a friend before he decided to stop blogging. It is reposted with his permission. Comments dated before the year 2013 were originally posted to his blog.

EDIT: This article is very old and outdated. For more current information, see OpenSnitch: The Little Snitch application like firewall tool for Linux.

If you are a Mac user, you’ve probably heard of Little Snitch.  It’s a commercial (as in, not free) program that lets you allow or deny connections to the Internet from individual applications.  One reason for using such a program is to detect software that should have no reason to connect to the Internet nevertheless attempting to do so.  For example, you download a free screensaver (dumb move to start with) and it sends all the personal information it can find on you to some group of hackers on the other side of the world.  A program like Little Snitch would let you know that the screensaver  is trying to connect to the Internet, and allow you to deny that connection.  In the Windows world, I believe that ZoneAlarm has a similar capability, and it’s also a commercial (as in, not free) program.

Leopard Flower personal firewall for Linux OS screenshot
Leopard Flower personal firewall for Linux OS screenshot

It appears that these is a similar program for Linux users, and it IS free!  It’s called Leopard Flower and it’s described as a “Personal firewall for Linux OS (based on libnetfilter_queue) which allows to allow or deny Internet access on a per-application basis rather than on a port/protocol basis.”

Looking at the screenshot it appears to have very much the same per-application blocking functionality you’d get in one of those other programs.  I have not personally tried it yet, but I wanted to create a post about it so if someday in the future I am trying to remember the name of this program, I’ll know where to find it (yes, this blog does sort of serve as my long-term memory!).  🙂

Since this article was originally published, I have been made aware of another similar application called Douane: Linux personal firewall with per application rule controls – here are a couple of screenshots:

Douane personal firewall for GNU/Linux screenshot
Douane personal firewall for GNU/Linux screenshot
Duane configurator screenshot
Duane configurator screenshot

The only downside to this one is that as of this writing the only available package is for Arch Linux but if you want to try to build it for a Ubuntu or Debian system, they provide a page showing the needed dependencies.

There is an older similar program called TuxGuardian but apparently is hasn’t been updated since 2006, so I have no idea if it will even work with current versions of Linux. And as for you Android users, try the NoRoot Firewall app.

If your Linux-based PC with NVIDIA graphics started booting to a black screen or text only, here is the fix — maybe!

 

Important
This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared on a blog called The Michigan Telephone Blog, which was written by a friend before he decided to stop blogging. It is reposted with his permission. Comments dated before the year 2013 were originally posted to his blog.
Image representing NVidia as depicted in Crunc...
Image via CrunchBase

I’ve seen this happen several times now on Ubuntu-Linux based systems that have NVIDIA graphics.  What happens is that “Update Manager” pops up and tell you there are updates for your software, and you accept them.  It then tells you that your system has to be rebooted.  And when you do that, you get no video, or text only.  What probably happened was that the updates you installed included an update to the Linux kernel, and the NVIDIA graphics driver currently installed on the system was compiled against the OLD kernel.

Note that this generally can only happen if you manually updated the NVIDIA graphics driver at some point. If you always installed it from the standard repositories for your distribution, you’ll probably never see this issue. So a word to the wise — when you finally get around to doing an upgrade of your Linux distribution, try to avoid manually installing the NVIDIA graphics driver. Instead, let the distribution pull it from its repository. After that, you should not have this issue in the future. By the way, if you currently are running Ubuntu, we recommend upgrading to Linux Mint rather than a newer version of Ubuntu. Linux Mint is very similar to Ubuntu, but leaves out some of the things that users seem to hate about newer releases of Ubuntu. More to the point, they are not currently talking about switching their base graphics system from the X window server system to a new display manager, which I have a feeling might cause problems for some NVIDIA graphics users.

But if you’re not yet ready to do a full reinstall of Linux, the fix for this problem is easy IF you had the foresight to set up SSH access to your Linux system BEFORE the trouble started.  If you didn’t, and you’re not a true Linux geek, you may be kind of screwed.  So if you’re reading this and your system is working fine, and you haven’t yet set up SSH access, you may want to do that.  There are several sites that tell you how to do that; here are two that I found using Google:

Basic SSH Setup On Ubuntu 10.04 Lucid Lynx Using OpenSSH Server
SSH—OpenSSH—Configuring

If you didn’t do this beforehand, you may still be able to do it if you can get to a command prompt.

Anyway, the actual fix is to (re-)install the latest NVIDIA driver for your system. They will be compiled against the new Linux kernel and then everything should work fine. To find the correct NVIDIA driver, go to the NVIDIA Driver Downloads page, and use the dropdowns to select the correct driver for your system.  Download it to your local system, then upload it to your Linux PC (if you have SSH access working then you can use an SFTP client, such as WinSCP or Transmit, to upload your driver file).  Once you have it on your PC, from a command prompt navigate to the directory where you put the driver and then change the permissions to make it executable:

sudo chmod +x driver_upgrade_script_filename

Now try running the script (it should have a .run extension):

sudo ./driver_upgrade_script_filename

It should not complain that the Gnome Display Manager or KDE Display Manager is running (if it were, you wouldn’t be in a state of near-panic right now), but if you were just doing a regular update you’d have to do this when the GDM/KDM is stopped. For a guide that covers that scenario, see How To Install Official Nvidia Drivers in Linux, or just know that to stop the display manager,

sudo /etc/init.d/gdm stop

should stop the Gnome Display Manager, or if you’re using KDE then the command would be

sudo /etc/init.d/kdm stop

Most sources I’ve seen suggest that you answer yes to any questions the installer may ask. The only one I’d be cautious about is letting it create a new xorg.conf if you are using a customized one (which you may well be if you’ve used any of my previous HTPC-related articles). If you have edited xorg.conf, then I’d make sure you at least have a backup before letting the installer create a new one, so you can revert back to your custom one (or compare the two and insert your customizations into the new one) if necessary.

Under Ubuntu, you may get a message similar to “Provided install script failed”. That will happen every time you update the NVIDIA driver this way and it is normal. Just ignore it and continue the installation. If you get “Error locating kernel source”, run  sudo apt-get install kernel-source  from the command prompt, then run the driver upgrade script again.

When the installer has successfully finished, reboot the system and when it comes back up, hopefully you should be happy again!

ASRock Vision 3D or other Home Theater PC and "Sparklies"

 

Important
This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared on a blog called The Michigan Telephone Blog, which was written by a friend before he decided to stop blogging. It is reposted with his permission. Comments dated before the year 2013 were originally posted to his blog.

Just a quick note that may save someone a lot of frustration.  This problem was observed with an ASRock Vision 3D system but could affect other HTPC’s as well.

If you are getting single-color (probably red) “sparklies” (pinpoints of light that don’t belong) in certain scenes, or when viewing certain static images, it may NOT be a software problem.  It seems that on certain systems the HDMI output may be running a little “hot” (not referring to temperature, but rather output levels) and may be overdriving the HDMI input of a connected TV.  To the best of my knowledge, there is absolutely nothing you can do to fix this in software – it’s a hardware problem, perhaps a hardware defect.

But what you can try is attenuating the HDMI signal just a bit.  If you have a HDMI switch (preferably an unamplified one), try making the connection through that instead of directly to the TV.  In at least one case, that solved the problem.  Or, if you have a very long but unamplified HDMI cable handy, you could try that (remember, any additional amplification of the signal will probably only make the problem worse!).

And if you found this article by searching on “ASRock Vision 3D”, I will just say that in my opinion, it’s not worth the price they are currently getting for it.  It’s kind of a hassle to get it working under Ubuntu Linux, and although it costs about two to three times as much as, say, an Acer Asprie Revo, you don’t get two to three times the performance (in my admittedly subjective evaluation), and you might get the HDMI output issue mentioned here.  Whether it works any better under Windows I wouldn’t know – even at the price they charge they don’t supply a copy of Windows, so we opted to use Ubuntu, which worked fine back when we set up the Acer Aspire Revo’s (if we were doing it today, we’d probably choose Linux Mint instead).  In my personal opinion, you might be a lot happier with something else unless you are a real Linux geek and don’t mind tinkering until you can get everything working right, or perhaps if you plan to splurge for a copy of Windows — again, can’t say if that would work any better.

A Perl script to send Caller ID popups from Asterisk to computers running Notify OSD (such as Ubuntu Linux) or any command-line invoked notification system

 

Important
This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared on a blog called The Michigan Telephone Blog, which was written by a friend before he decided to stop blogging. It is reposted with his permission. Comments dated before the year 2013 were originally posted to his blog.

This is basically an update to my article, A Perl script to send Caller ID popups from Asterisk to computers running Growl under OS X on a Mac or Growl for Windows, and you should still use that article if you are sending notifications to a computer on your local network that runs Growl or Growl for Windows as the notification system.

I wanted to find a way to send Caller ID popups to a Ubuntu Linux box, and in the process I discovered a different method of sending such notifications.  There are pros and cons to using the new method, so let me explain those first:

Pros:

  • Can send notifications to any computer that supports command line generated notifications (so it could also be used with Growl, if you can use growlnotify from a command prompt to generate a notification).
  • Can send notifications to any computer that you can SSH into, provided you have it set up to use public/private key authentication rather than password authentication.

Cons:

  • Notifications typically display a couple of seconds later than under the previous method.  I suspect this is due to the SSH authentication taking a second or two.
  • It’s a little bit more complicated to set this up, though not horribly so.
  • Because this uses SSH and requires that Asterisk be granted permission to establish an SSH connection as the super user (by using sudo), there may be unforeseen security risks.

Read that last point again, and please understand that as with all projects on this site, I offer this for experimental purposes only.  I explicitly do not warrant this method as being 100% secure, nor will I tell you that it could not be exploited to do bad things on your system.  I don’t think it can (and feel free to leave a comment if you think I’m wrong), but I just don’t know that for sure.  So, if you decide to use anything in this article, you agree to assume all risks. If you’re the type that likes to sue other people when something goes wrong, then you do not have permission to use this code.  We’re all experimenters here, so no guarantees!

As with the previous method, you must have the Perl language installed on your Asterisk server, and you must have the Asterisk::AGI module installed (I’m going to assume you know how to install a Perl module from the CPAN repository – if you have Webmin installed, it can be done from within Webmin). Chances are you already have Asterisk::AGI installed, unless you built your Asterisk server “from scratch” and never installed it.

There’s one additional thing you must do on the Asterisk server before this will run, and that’s allow Asterisk to run the ssh command as root. So, add this to your /etc/sudoers file (probably at the very end, but in any case it should be obvious where to add this because it will be in a section where Asterisk is granted similar privileges with regard to other programs):

asterisk ALL = NOPASSWD: /usr/bin/ssh

Next you want to copy and paste the following Perl script to the filename /var/lib/asterisk/agi-bin/notifysend.agi on your Asterisk server (to create a non-existent file, you can use the touch command, and after that you can edit it in Midnight Commander or by using the text editor of your choice). If this code looks somewhat familiar, it’s because it’s adapted from some code that originally appeared in a FreePBX How-To, which I have modified.

#!/usr/bin/perl
use strict;
use warnings;
use Asterisk::AGI;
my $agi = new Asterisk::AGI;
my %input = $agi->ReadParse();

# Next two lines fork the process so Asterisk can get on with handling the call
open STDOUT, '>/dev/null';
fork and exit;

my $num = $input{'callerid'};
my $name = $input{'calleridname'};
my $ext = $input{'extension'};
my $user = $ARGV[0];
my $ip = $ARGV[1];

if ( $ip =~ /^([0-9a-f]{2}(:|$)){6}$/i ) {
    $ip = $agi->database_get('growlsend',uc($ip));
}

# OMIT this section if you don't want IP address
# checking (e.g. you want to use foo.bar.com)
unless ( $ip =~ /^(d+).(d+).(d+).(d+)$/ ) {
    exit;
}

if ( $ARGV[2] ne "" ) {
 $ext = $ARGV[2];
}

my @months = (
    "January", "February", "March", "April", "May", "June",
    "July", "August", "September", "October", "November", "December"
);
my @weekdays = (
    "Sunday", "Monday", "Tuesday", "Wednesday",
    "Thursday", "Friday", "Saturday"
);
my (
    $sec,  $min,  $hour, $mday, $mon,
    $year, $wday, $yday, $isdst
) = localtime(time);
my $ampm = "AM";
if ( $hour > 12 ) {
    $ampm = "PM";
    $hour = ( $hour - 12 );
}
elsif ( $hour eq 12 ) { $ampm = "PM"; }
elsif ( $hour eq 0 )  { $hour = "12"; }
if ( $min < 10 ) { $min = "0" . $min; }
$year += 1900;
my $fulldate =
"$hour:$min $ampm on $weekdays[$wday], $months[$mon] $mday, $year";

# Next two lines normalize NANP numbers, probably not wanted outside of U.S.A./Canada/other NANP places
$num =~ s/^([2-9])(d{2})([2-9])(d{2})(d{4})$/$1$2-$3$4-$5/;
$num =~ s/^(1)([2-9])(d{2})([2-9])(d{2})(d{4})$/$1-$2$3-$4$5-$6/;

my $cmd = qq(./remotenotify.sh "$name" "$num calling $ext at $fulldate");
$cmd = "sudo ssh $user@$ip '$cmd'";
exec "$cmd";

Also, if you want to be able to specify computers that you wish to send notifications to using MAC addresses rather than IP addresses (in case computers on your network get their addresses via DHCP, and therefore the IP address of the target computer can change from time to time), then you must in addition install the following Perl script (if you have not already done so when using the previous method). Note that if you have a mix of computers on your network and you are using both the new and old methods, you only need to do this once — it works with both methods (hence the reference to “growlsend” in the database and “gshelper” as the name of this script). Call it /var/lib/asterisk/agi-bin/gshelper.agi and note that there is a line within it that you may need to change to reflect the scope of your local network:

#!/usr/bin/perl
use strict;
use warnings;
my ($prev, @mac, @ip);
# Change the 192.168.0.0/24 in the following line to reflect the scope of your local network, if necessary
my @nmap = `nmap -sP 192.168.0.0/24|grep -B 1 MAC`;
foreach (@nmap) {
    if (index($_, "MAC Address:") >= 0) {
        @mac = split(" ");
        @ip = split(" ",$prev);
        `/usr/sbin/asterisk -rx "database put growlsend $mac[2] $ip[1]"`;
    }
    $prev=$_;
}

Make sure to modify the permissions on both scripts to make them the same as other scripts in that directory (owner and group should be asterisk, and the file should be executable), and if you use the gshelper script, make sure to set up a cron job to run it every so often (I would suggest once per hour, but it’s up to you).

Now go to this page and search for the paragraph starting with, “After you have created that file, check the ownership and permissions” (it’s right under a code block, just a bit more than halfway down the page) and if you are using FreePBX follow the instructions from there on out (if you are not using FreePBX then just read that section of the page so you understand how this works, and in any case ignore the top half of the page, it’s talking about a different notification system entirely). However, note that the syntax used in extensions_custom.conf differs from what is shown there, depending on whether you are specifying an IP address or a MAC address to identify the target computer.

First, if you are specifying the IP address of the target computer, then instead of using this syntax:

exten => ****525,1,AGI(growlsend.agi,192.168.0.123,GrowlPassWord,525)

You will need to use this:

exten => ****525,1,AGI(notifysend.agi,username,192.168.0.123,525)

Note that username is the account name you use when doing an ssh login into the destination system, and it should also be the desktop user on the system (not root!). Let’s say that the system is currently at IP address 192.168.0.123. In order for this to work, you need to be able to ssh into your Ubuntu box from your Asterisk server, using the following command from the Asterisk server’s command line:

ssh username@192.168.0.123

If it asks for a password, then you need to follow the instructions at Stop entering passwords: How to set up ssh public/private key authentication for connections to a remote server, and get it set up so that it will not ask for a password (if you don’t like my article, maybe this one will make it clearer).

It’s probably easiest to configure each computer that is to receive notifications to use a static IP address. But note that if you use the above code and have the gshelper.agi program running as a cron job, then after the first time it has run while the computer to receive the notifications is online you should be able to use a computer’s MAC address instead of the IP address. This only works if you’ve used the modified script on this page, not the one shown in the FreePBX How-To. As an example, instead of

exten => ****525,1,AGI(growlsend.agi,192.168.0.123,GrowlPassWord,525)

as shown in the example there, you could use

exten => ****525,1,AGI(notifysend.agi,username,01:23:45:AB:CD:EF,525)

(the above is all one line) where 01:23:45:AB:CD:EF is the MAC address of the computer you want to send the notification to. Once again, just in case you missed it the first time I said it, this won’t work until the gshelper.agi script has been run at least once while the computer to receive the notifications was online. If for some reason it still doesn’t appear to work, run the nmap command (from gshelper.agi) including everything between the two backticks (`) directly from a Linux command prompt and see if it’s finding the computer (depending on the size of your network, it might be several seconds before you see any output, which is why I don’t try to run this in real time while a call is coming in).

If you are NOT running FreePBX, but instead writing your Asterisk dial plans by hand, then you will have to insert a line similar to one of the above examples into your dial plan, except that you don’t need the four asterisks (****) in front of the extension number, and if it’s not the first line in the context, you’ll probably want to use n rather than 1 for the line designator (and, you won’t be putting the line into extensions_custom.conf because you probably don’t have such a file; instead you’ll just put it right in the appropriate section of your dial plan). In other words, something like this (using extension 525 as an example):

exten => 525,n,AGI(notifysend.agi,username,192.168.0.123,525)

This line should go before the line that actually connects the call through to extension 525. I do not write Asterisk dial plans by hand, so that’s about all the help I can give you. And if you don’t write your dial plans by hand, but you aren’t using FreePBX, then I’m afraid you’ll have to ask for help in whatever forum you use for advice on the particular software that you do use to generate dial plans, because I can’t tell you how to insert the above line (or something like it) into your dial plan.

Now is where it gets just a bit more complicated than in the original method. If you have followed the above instructions, you’ll be able to send the notifications to the remote system using SSH, but there will be nothing there to receive them. So we have to create a small script on the receiving system to do something with the received notifications. That script will vary depending on the receiving system, but it must be named remotenotify.sh and it must be placed in the destination user’s home directory, and don’t forget to make it executable! Here’s one that will work in most Ubuntu installations that have Notify OSD installed:

export DISPLAY=:0
notify-send --urgency="critical" --icon="phone" "$1" "$2"

Those two lines are all you need. On a different type of system (or if you have multiple displays) you may need to or wish to do something different. For example, as I mentioned above, if the destination system is running Growl then your remotenotify.sh script will need to call growlnotify, but beyond that I wouldn’t know what to use there (EDIT: But if the target system is a Mac that is running OS X, a pretty good guess would probably be that you’d only need one line, something like this:

growlnotify -s -p 1 -a Telephone -m "$2" $1

In this case it should make the notification sticky until dismissed by the user, give it a priority of 1 — the default is 0 — and use the application icon from the “Telephone” application if you have it installed. Instead of -a to specify an application’s icon you could use -I followed by a path to an .icns file that contains an icon you want to use.  Type growlnotify –help to see all the growlnotify options.  Oh, and before you can make an SSH connection to a Mac you have to go into System Preferences | Sharing and turn on Remote Login).

The beauty of this approach is that you can make the remotenotify.sh script as simple or as complicated as you need — you could even make it forward a notification to other devices if you wish, but figuring out how to do that is up to you (if you come up with something good, please leave a comment and tell us about it!).

If you’re running Ubuntu on the target system, here’s a few articles you may wish to use to help you get your notifications to look the way you want them to appear:

Tweak The NotifyOSD Notifications In Ubuntu 10.10 Maverick Meerkat [Patched NotifyOSD PPA Updated]
Get Notifications With A Close Button In Ubuntu
Configurable NotifyOSD Bubbles For Ubuntu 11.04: Move, Close On Click, Change Colors And More

If you want to be able to review missed notifications, you may be able to use this (as a side note, why don’t they have something like this for Growl?):

Never Miss A NotifyOSD Notification With “Recent Notifications” GNOME Applet

The idea behind the shell script that runs on the target system was found in a comment on the following article, which may be of special interest to MythTV users:

Send OSD notification messages to all systems on a network

There are links to other original sources throughout the article, so feel free to follow those if you want more in-depth commentary.

How to change the format of the time and date in Ubuntu’s clock applet

 

Important
This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared on a blog called The Michigan Telephone Blog, which was written by a friend before he decided to stop blogging. It is reposted with his permission. Comments dated before the year 2013 were originally posted to his blog. Also this article is obsolete since recent Ubuntu versions now use the Gnome desktop, and to change the way the date and time are displayed in Gnome you would use a Gnome shell extension such as Panel Date Format (here’s How to install Gnome Shell Extensions on Ubuntu 20.04 Focal Fossa Linux Desktop). Then, if using the Panel Date Format extension, to set the format of the date and time you use a dconf command from the Linux terminal, for example:

dconf write /org/gnome/shell/extensions/panel-date-format/format "'%A, %B %e, %Y  %l:%M:%S %p %Z'"

This is a quick-and-dirty post because it took me a long time to find this but in the end it was simple to do.  Note the graphic below – this is the top menu bar (part of it anyway) and the gconf-editor, which you can get to by entering the program name in a terminal window (in later versions of Ubuntu this appears to have been replaced by dconf Editor, which you may need to first install from the Ubuntu Software Center, then use the second screenshot below).  The important parts are highlighted.  First note the time display in the top menu bar, then note the highlighted settings that were changed to make it that way:

Screenshot of top menu bar and gconf-editor program

When in the gconf-editor, you need to go to /apps/panel/applets/clock_screen0/prefs and then change the custom_format and format parameters as shown (double-click on a parameter name to change the value). The original information was found in this thread.

Note this was done in Ubuntu Karmic, and may or may not be applicable to some newer versions. In more recent versions of Ubuntu that use dconf Editor, this is where the settings are:

Screenshot of dconf Editor program in Ubuntu 12.04

When in the dconf Editor, you need to go to /com/canonical/indicator/appmenu/datetime and then change the custom-time-format and time-format parameters as shown (double-click on a parameter name to change the value — time-format is not highlighted in this screenshot, but you do need to change it to custom).

My custom (time) format string is:

%A, %B %e, %Y  %l:%M:%S %p %Z

If the seconds don’t change (that is, if they always stay at 00) then scroll down (if necessary) in the prefs list and make sure the show_seconds or show-seconds box is checked.

If you don’t like my format and want to create your own, you can find the codes for the various parts of the date format here.

Note that if you are using the XFCE desktop, you need only right-click on the time, select “Properties” from the dropdown, and when the Clock Options come up, select “Custom Format” from the dropdown and then enter your custom format in the text box just below the dropdown.

An overscan fix for the Sharp LC-42SB45U television set when connected to a computer with a Linux operating system (Ubuntu, etc.)

 

Important
This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared on a blog called The Michigan Telephone Blog, which in turn was reposted with the permission of the original author from a now-defunct Macintosh-oriented blog. It is reposted with his permission. Comments dated before the year 2013 were originally posted to The Michigan Telephone Blog.

If you bought a Sharp LC-42SB45U TV, perhaps because it was on a super great (and very lightly advertised) deal at Wal-Mart back in November, and then later tried to hook up a home theater PC to it, you may have been disappointed to discover that unlike most flat screen digital TV’s it doesn’t have a “pixel-to-pixel” or similar 1:1 pixel mapping mode. The result is that when you hook up a computer to one of the HDMI ports, there is a serious overscan problem — for example, if you are running Ubuntu Linux (or some other version of Linux) you won’t see the top or bottom menu bars, because they are outside the visible screen area. If you use XBMC or Boxee, you can go into that program’s settings menu and apply overscan correction from within the program, but most other programs and video players don’t offer an overscan correction option.

The problem is not that there’s no “Dot by Dot” setting in the Sharp TV — it’s just that it’s a (very) hidden option, and as far as I know, there is nothing you can do using the buttons on the TV or on the remote to make it appear (I’d be very happy to be proven wrong on this point; if there is some sort of hidden remote control key sequence that can make the Dot by Dot option always appear, I wish someone would spill the beans so we can fix this issue the right way). But with one small tweak in a Linux configuration file, you can make it appear, like so:

Sharp LC-42SB45U TV showing Dot by Dot option

My first approach to this came at a cost: I read that if you could send the Sharp a non-standard vertical sync frequency (refresh rate) a bit below the normal 60 Hz, the alternate View Mode would appear.  That did work, and in my non-scientific testing, I found that 59.55 Hz was about the cutoff point.  Anything above that, and you get the normal menu of View Mode options when you press the View Mode button on the remote.  Anything at about that or below,  and you get the View Mode options menu shown above. However, this was certainly less than ideal because of the non-standard refresh rate. I got started on that path after reading a forum post that suggested a custom ModeLine in your /etc/X11/xorg.conf file to give you a 1816×1026 display.  While this will work to fix the overscan, it also cuts down on the pixels available to programs, and makes things not quite as sharp (no pun intended) as they should be.

Now, the idea of using a custom ModeLine in your /etc/X11/xorg.conf file is not a bad idea, and the above-referenced post did contain some good information  (especially about disabling some unwanted Ubuntu packages that might cause your xorg.conf to be ignored).  So I tried the xorg.conf shown in that post, except I used the original ModeLine shown (which is correct for the Sharp LC-42SB45U as long as you don’t mind the overscan).  I then read in another forum post (on a different site) that someone had found that the Dot by Dot option would appear if the refresh rate were set to 59 Hz rather than 60 Hz.  However they were doing that on a Windows machine, not a Linux box, if I recall correctly.

But again, that had the disadvantage of a non-standard refresh rate.  I’ve read on several sites that the ideal refresh rate is 59.94 Hz (it’s very close to 60 Hz and is exactly twice the ATSC 1920×1080 progressive scan frequency of 29.97 Hz) so my goal was to get as close to that as possible. I then read that someone had actually accomplished this on a Windows box by changing the timing to something called “CVT reduced blank” (the procedure on a Windows box is to bring up the NVIDIA Control Panel, then click on Change Resolution, then Add Resolution, then Create Custom Resolution, then in the “Timing” section find the “Standard” drop-down box and select CVT reduced blank. Make sure the other settings look sane, click the Test button and go from there. Mac OS X users can do something similar using a program called SwitchResX — see Brian Semiglia’s comment in the Comments section for a link to instructions. The reason this doesn’t work under Linux is that the Linux version of the NVIDIA Control Panel doesn’t offer this level of functionality, and also, some might encounter this issue even if not using NVIDIA graphics). So my goal was to find a ModeLine that would do the CVT reduced blank but not use a non-standard screen size nor refresh rate. After searching the web, playing around with an online Calculator for video timings which I saved to a local drive and then hacked a bit to display four decimal points of precision on some key values, and generally spending more time than I intended, I came up with a working ModeLine.

First, let’s look at the original 1920×1080 ModeLine from the above-linked forum post:

ModeLine "1920x1080" 148.50 1920 2008 2052 2200 1080 1084 1089 1125 +hsync +vsync

If you change the pixel clock frequency value in a ModeLine (the 148.50 in the line shown above) you change the refresh rate, and if you change certain other values you change the other timings.  I cheated a bit and used Google to search for a working ModeLine that provided 1920×1080 at 59.94 progressive scan, and found one that was very close (59.93, actually) so I tweaked the refresh to give me exactly 59.94.  This is the final ModeLine I came up with:

Modeline "1920x1080" 138.5141 1920 1968 2000 2080 1080 1083 1088 1111 +hsync +vsync

Okay, so you may think it ridiculous to specify the pixel clock frequency out to four decimal places, but hey, it works! So, this is what I’m now using for an xorg.conf file (by the way, if any of the ModeLines in this article are truncated on your display, just keep in mind that the last two values in each line are +hsync +vsync — if you copy and paste any of the long ModeLines, hopefully you’ll get the complete line).  Bear in mind that I’m using this with an Acer Aspire Revo, so some of these lines are specific to the NVIDIA graphics chipset, but the principle of changing the ModeLine probably should work with this model Sharp TV even if some other graphics chipset is used on the computer:

# nvidia-xconfig: X configuration file generated by nvidia-xconfig
# nvidia-xconfig:  version 1.0  (buildmeister@builder75)  Tue Dec  8 21:04:28 PST 2009

Section "ServerLayout"
    Identifier     "Layout0"
    Screen      0  "Screen0"
    InputDevice    "Keyboard0" "CoreKeyboard"
    InputDevice    "Mouse0" "CorePointer"
EndSection

Section "Files"
EndSection

Section "InputDevice"
    # generated from default
    Identifier     "Mouse0"
    Driver         "mouse"
    Option         "Protocol" "auto"
    Option         "Device" "/dev/psaux"
    Option         "Emulate3Buttons" "no"
    Option         "ZAxisMapping" "4 5"
EndSection

Section "InputDevice"
    # generated from default
    Identifier     "Keyboard0"
    Driver         "kbd"
EndSection

Section "Monitor"
    Identifier     "Monitor0"
    VendorName     "Unknown"
    ModelName      "Unknown"
    HorizSync       15.0 - 75.0
    VertRefresh     55.0 - 76.0
    ModeLine       "1920x1080" 138.5141 1920 1968 2000 2080 1080 1083 1088 1111 +hsync +vsync
    Option         "ExactModeTimingsDVI" "TRUE"
    Option         "DPMS"
EndSection

Section "Device"
    Identifier     "Device0"
    Driver         "nvidia"
    VendorName     "NVIDIA Corporation"
    Option         "ModeValidation" "NoEdidModes"
    Option         "HWCursor" "false"
    Option         "DynamicTwinView" "false"
EndSection

Section "Screen"
    Identifier     "Screen0"
    Device         "Device0"
    Monitor        "Monitor0"
    DefaultDepth    24
    SubSection     "Display"
        Modes      "1920x1080"
        Depth       24
    EndSubSection
EndSection

Section "Extensions"
     Option         "Composite" "Disable"
EndSection

This seems to work well on a Acer Aspire Revo running Ubuntu Karmic Koala (EDIT: and I’ve also used it under Maverick Meerkat), though I imagine it would work with other Linux distributions that use an xorg.conf file (including XBMC Live), however as far as I know this trick only works with the Sharp LC-42SB45U TV and no other model.  With this xorg.conf I don’t have to tweak the overscan settings in XBMC or Boxee at all. It works for me, but it may or may not work for you.  Standard disclaimers apply – I’m not telling you to do this on your setup, and if you break something, you own all the pieces, but from me you’ll get nothing more than perhaps a bit of sympathy. Don’t even think of doing this if you are not willing to assume any and all risks.

EDIT: If you don’t want to go through all the hassle I went through to calculate the correct ModeLine, you can run the cvt program with the -r option from the Linux command prompt, like this:

cvt -r 1920 1080

That’s for a 1920 x 1080 display. On my system this generated the following output:

# 1920x1080 59.93 Hz (CVT 2.07M9-R) hsync: 66.59 kHz; pclk: 138.50 MHz
Modeline "1920x1080R"  138.50  1920 1968 2000 2080  1080 1083 1088 1111 +hsync -vsync

You’ll notice this is nearly identical to the ModeLine I generated (the vsync is the opposite, though — don’t know if that would be an issue). What I’ve read is that you paste the generated ModeLine into your xorg.conf file and make sure you also have the line

Option         "ExactModeTimingsDVI" "TRUE"

in your xorg.conf (to force it to use your generated ModeLine) and that may be all you need. Certainly simpler than how I did it, but I didn’t know about the cvt program. (End EDIT).

By the way, if you want to hack that Calculator for video timings, just save the HTML page to your local hard drive, open it in a text editor and look for this section (it’s very close to the top):

function TwoDecimal(number) {
 number=((Math.round(number*100)/100));
 return number;
}

Change that second line to

number=((Math.round(number*10000)/10000));

Then load the page into your favorite browser (with JavaScript enabled). That will display a couple extra decimal points on some of the critical values.

Some notes on creating a home theater PC using the Acer Aspire Revo

 

Important
This is a heavily edited version of a post that originally appeared on a blog called The Michigan Telephone Blog, which was written by a friend before he decided to stop blogging. It is reposted with his permission. Comments dated before the year 2013 were originally posted to his blog.

This article was originally published in January, 2010. Things have changed considerably since then, and most of what was shown in the original article is no longer necessary. You install Ubuntu, then you install XBMC, and it pretty much just works. And if you want an even better experience, you might want to look into installing XBMCbuntu. There may be a few hints in this article that are still applicable but you are very likely going to find that most things just work. One thing you may (or may not) need to do is completely uninstall and then reinstall lirc, because it may not show you the window that lets you select your remote (assuming you have purchased an infrared remote that has a receiver that connects to the USB port), and on the re-install of LIRC you should see the selection window and be able to pick your correct remote.  Or, better yet, you can skip the removal/reinstall by running dpkg-reconfigure lirc from a terminal prompt (which will bring up the remote control selection window).

Another thing that you might want to do is consider using Linux Mint rather than Ubuntu, particularly if you hate the new Unity interface.

The original genesis of this installation was an article at the Lifehacker site entitled Build a Silent, Standalone XBMC Media Center On the Cheap. While that article is probably outdated, you may still want to read it first, then come back here.

The first thing you need to know is that there are several different models of the Acer Aspire Revo out there.  You want the highest powered model you can get, and in particular, the most memory and highest number of processors.  Even the high-end ones are very reasonably priced if you shop around, and even moreso if you can score a good, gently-used unit.  Note that you CAN buy an Acer Aspire Revo with some version of Windows installed, but it will cost you more and (especially in the higher end models) and for a standalone media center, Linux works better anyway, so why pay extra for an operating system you may never use?

You’ll need a wireless or USB keyboard and mouse during the setup phase.  Some Revo sellers include a wireless keyboard and mouse, while others don’t, so just be aware of that when ordering. Read specifications VERY carefully and know what you are buying! Also consider, if you get a defective keyboard (we did), will it cost more to ship it back than what you’d spend to buy a replacement locally (probably yes, if you buy from an overseas seller)? Don’t overlook pre-owned Revo’s — as long as they are still in good working condition and have a model number in the 3000 series or above, they should be fine (the main thing to make sure of is that they have the maximum amount of memory). Be aware that some early models did not have a digital audio output, so if that’s important to you (and it probably is in this application), be careful what you buy.

Also, the Lifehacker article wants you to install the operating system from a thumb drive.  If you have an external CD or DVD drive (that connects using a USB port) do yourself a favor and use that (just install from the distribution CD). By the way, speaking of USB ports, at least some Revo models have a sixth (hidden) USB port. It’s right next to the power switch, on the narrowest part of the case — if you see a small, rubbery insert with a USB logo on it, you can peel that off with your fingernail to reveal the hidden USB port (not that you’d want to unless you really need the sixth port).

Probably the most important thing in that Lifehacker article is the BIOS tweaks. Note that most newer Revos don’t seem to have the “Boot to RevoBoot” option, so if you can’t find that setting, don’t worry about it. Also, if you get a newer, higher end unit with more memory, set the iGPU Frame Buffer Size to 512MB, not the 256MB that the article suggested for the low-end unit that Lifehacker used for their build.

Installing Ubuntu is easy; you basically answer the few questions asked during the installation, and stay with the defaults when you are not sure how to answer. You probably do want it to take over the entire hard drive, so make sure you have saved anything you might want from that drive before you begin the install. We strongly recommend using a 32 bit version of Ubuntu – even though the Revo technically supports a 64 bit operating system, we have found that many things simply don’t work right with the 64 bit OS. If you insist on trying the 64 bit version, you’l probably at the very least need to work through several issues.

If you’re totally inexperienced with Linux, you probably should grab the latest full install disk image of Ubuntu and burn it to a CD, or if you really want to try installing it from a USB memory stick, a visit to the Pen Drive Linux site may help you get the image onto the USB stick in the first place. We used the Ubuntu Minimal CD Image for the install, to save time downloading a huge CD image that is mostly replaced during the software update process. If you go that route, be sure to read the instructions on that page carefully, or you’ll be scratching your head wondering why it’s not working! When you type “tasksel” to select the system to install as instructed, you’ll want to install the standard Ubuntu Desktop but there may be other options you’ll want to install as well, such as an ssh server and/or samba server (those might already be present in the Ubuntu desktop install, but it won’t install anything twice, so I just checked those to be on the safe side).

If you do as most users probably will, and download an ISO file, burn it to a CD, and install from that (using an external CD or DVD drive), just be sure that you check any boxes to install additional codecs or to use additional repositories, if offered any such options.

After installing the operating system, if the nVidia drivers were not installed (very unlikely unless for some reason your video hardware wasn’t detected properly), the next task is to install them.  The system should offer to do this automatically (look for an icon in the top panel).

You can install Software using the Ubuntu Software Center, but not all available software is available there. You can also install Synaptic if you wish, from the Ubuntu Software Center or using apt-get install synaptic from a terminal window. When I mention installing software, I suggest you try the Ubuntu Software Center first, and if you don’t find it there, then try Synaptic or apt-get.

You might want to start by installing mc (Midnight Commander) – I wouldn’t have a Linux box without it, but that’s just me.

In newer versions of Ubuntu you may also want to consider installing ClassicMenu Indicator, which is a notification area applet (application indicator) for the top panel of Ubuntu’s Unity desktop environment. It provides a simple way to get a classic GNOME-style application menu for those who prefer this over the Unity dash menu. Like the classic GNOME menu, it includes Wine games and applications if you have those installed. It looks like this:

ClassicMenu Indicator
ClassicMenu Indicator

If you want to be able to access your HTPC from other computers on your local network using SSH, install openssh (you don’t need to do this if you installed an ssh server using the minimal install, or if you find that ssh already works) and (optionally) sshguard.  Then edit /etc/ssh/sshd_config and change the PermitRootLogin value from “yes” to “no” (for the sake of system security).

Another thing you want to do is make sure that the system time be kept synchronized with Internet servers.  Right click on the clock applet in the top panel, then select Time & Date Settings, and make sure everything looks right there (especially that the option to set the time “Automatically from the Internet” is selected).

Now it’s time to install XBMC.  If you don’t find it in any of the standard repositories or want to make sure you get the latest release version, then do this from the terminal window:

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:team-xbmc
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install xbmc
sudo apt-get update

You might also want to install MythTV, or at least a MythTV frontend. See Links: A complete guide for setting up MythTV from start to finish for more information on that. Note that MythTV can be installed from the Ubuntu Software Center, and that’s the only recommended method, since they tend to offer a more stable version.

If you happen to have a Wii remote control, see the document Building an ION powered HTPC with XBMC and in particular, Module 6 : Using a Wii remote control. The following notes on an IR remote do not apply if you are using a Wii remote!

If you have an infrared remote control and infrared receiver (these generally come together as part of a package; check the XBMC forums to see which are recommended), run XBMC at least once and then run dpkg-reconfigure lirc from a command prompt (terminal window) to select your particular model of remote control.

You will likely want to be able to launch XBMC using the remote.  As a PRELIMINARY way to accomplish this, we opened or created (can’t recall which) a file called .lircrc (note the leading dot character) in the user home directory and put the following lines in:

begin
 prog = irexec
 button = KEY_BLUE
 config = xbmc --standalone &
 repeat = 0
end

begin
 prog = irexec
 button = KEY_POWER
 config = /usr/bin/gnome-session
 repeat = 0
end

begin
 prog = irexec
 button = teletext
 config = sudo shutdown -r now
 repeat = 0
end

This starts XBMC if you push the blue button on the remote.  It also returns to the desktop if you push the power button (however, it may leave whatever program you were in running in the background), and reboots the system if you push the teletext button, but for the latter to work, you must add the following line to the end of your /etc/sudoers file:

%admin ALL = NOPASSWD: /sbin/shutdown

EDIT:  In later versions of Ubuntu the above line does not always work as shown, however, substituting the user name for %admin apparently does.  So for example, if you had users named larry, moe, and curly on your system, you could do this (if you wanted all of them to be able to use the remote button to reboot the system):

larry ALL = NOPASSWD: /sbin/shutdown
moe ALL = NOPASSWD: /sbin/shutdown
curly ALL = NOPASSWD: /sbin/shutdown

Note that this is just to get you started — you can do more complex operations by running an external script rather than the selected program directly, to make your remote work the way you want it to.

By the way, the irexec program must be running for the above to work, so you can use the Ubuntu Startup Applications program to make it run at startup. You should run it with the -d option, e.g. irexec -d in order to make it run as a background process.  Note that you need to do this even in newer versions of Ubuntu.

Startup Applications — Add Startup Program
Startup Applications — Add Startup Program

You will probably want to set up one or more shared folders on your system so you can move videos, etc. into those folders. Be aware that you do have to enable file sharing for each folder you want to share.  This is pretty straightforward in Ubuntu — select the folder you want to share, right click on the folder icon, click on “Sharing Options”, and then give the share a name and check the appropriate boxes:

Folder Sharing options
Folder Sharing options

Check “Share this folder” and give the share a name (I called this one “shared”). Check “Allow others to create and delete files in this folder” even if you are going to require a valid login to do so, otherwise even you will not be able to copy files to that folder or delete existing ones from a remote location.  Check “Guest access” if you want anyone on your local network to have access without the need to supply a user name and password.

If you are trying to get VNC screen sharing (in Ubuntu it’s called Desktop Sharing, but it’s actually VNC) to work, when setting up Desktop Sharing Preferences, make sure that “You must confirm each access to this machine” is UNchecked (it is checked by default).

Desktop Sharing Preferences - UNCHECK "You must confirm each access to this machine"
Desktop Sharing Preferences – UNCHECK “You must confirm each access to this machine”

Then, use the CompizConfig Settings Manager (see How To Change The Settings Of Ubuntu Unity With CompizConfig Settings Manager) and uncheck all the options under “Effects” (except that “Window Decoration” is okay to keep). Apparently, the use of any visual effects is enough to make the remote desktop non-functional:

CompizConfig Settings Manager — Effects
CompizConfig Settings Manager — Effects

The nice thing about this is that even if you have the overscan issue discussed below, when you access the shared Desktop you see the full screen including the top and bottom panels, so you don’t have to guess where you’re clicking! In theory, you could disconnect the keyboard and mouse from the Revo, and just use the Remote Desktop when you need to do system maintenance work, or whatever.

One major issue you may encounter when using a HDTV as the display device is something called “overscan” – that means the desktop is actually larger than the area shown by the HDTV display, meaning you can’t actually see your top panel, etc.  While XBMC has a ways to correct for overscan, it’s better to correct it for the entire system.  In recent Ubuntu versions, the NVidia drivers are installed when Ubuntu is installed (probably only if the installer detects you have NVidia graphics hardware), and the newer drivers do sometimes expose an Overscan Compensation slider that can be used to correct the problem:

NVIDIA X Server Settings (Overscan Compensation slider near bottom)

This slider doesn’t always appear for some reason, and even when it does, you really should try NOT to use it (except, perhaps, during initial setup and configuration) because if set to anything other that “0” it WILL degrade picture quality somewhat.  The proper place to cure overscan is at the HDTV itself.  Most HDTV sets have a setting that will fix overscan, but the problem is that there is no standard name for this setting — I’ve seen it called things like pixel-to-pixel, dot-to-dot, 1:1 display, exact image, etc.  It’s often buried a submenu or two deep (remember that owner’s manual you got with your TV?  Now might be a good time to dig it out!). I’ve found that if you look hard enough, most newer TV’s have this setting, although some do a pretty good job of hiding it (the Sharp LC-42SB45U being an extreme case – it won’t even display the option unless the timing of the signal you send meets certain specifications!).  You really should try very hard to find this option, because it’s much better to correct the problem at the hardware end than by using any software method (that includes the software overscan correction built into XBMC) – you’ll get a sharper picture and quite likely fewer issues with video flickering, etc.  Even if you have to resort to building an xorg.conf file to make it work, that’s better than trying to do software overscan compensation in the video driver or XBMC — use that method only as a last resort.

If your TV set just doesn’t have a setting such as the one mentioned above — and some don’t — there is a page of instructions to help fix the overscan problem here.  We originally wanted this for the aforementioned Sharp LC-42SB45U TV and wasted a huge amount of time trying to find an overscan fix, and you can read what we finally came up with for that particular make and model TV only here: An overscan fix for the Sharp LC-42SB45U television set when connected to a computer with a Linux operating system (Ubuntu, etc.) (and if you have that model TV, it’s preferable to use the xorg.conf file given at that link rather than the Overscan Compensation slider). No matter what, you can see the full screen if you use the VNC/Desktop Sharing service mentioned above, and some have even resorted to using a little workaround to make the overscan less annoying, assuming you don’t find the workaround more annoying than the original problem! And for the more technically astute, it’s always possible to tinker with the ModeLine in xorg.conf (which, again, is preferable to using the Overscan Compensation slider).

Note that the following few paragraphs (up to, but not including, the one about HDMI audio issues) were applicable at the time this article was originally written, but are likely no longer valid due to updates in the nVidia driver and in Kodi (the new name for XBMC).

Irregardless of whether you have overscan issues, if (and ONLY if) you can see any flickering or “tearing” or other weirdness during video playback, it would probably be a good idea to follow the instructions one of these three posts: Either Howto achieve judder free perfectly synced playback at 23.97/59.94 Hz, XBMC and fixing the 24p issue, or HOW-TO setup XBMC and Linux with correct resolution (xorg.conf) (and I’d recommend them in that order — start with the first, and only go on to the second or third if you still have unresolved issues, except that if after trying the technique in the first link, you still see a bit of flicker during the playback of video files then I’d jump right to the third link — that’s the one that fixed it for us on one installation) — in those articles they tell you to modify /etc/X11/xorg.conf and add a couple of lines. I’d suggest a few additional modifications there, if not already mentioned in whichever article you used — under Section “Device” add one or both of these lines

Option "HWCursor" "false"
Option "DynamicTwinView" "false"

The first of those lines is a “blinking cursor fix” and it’s supposed to help if you find an unwanted blinking cursor you can’t get rid of (I haven’t encountered that particular problem yet). The second line enables 1080p 24Hz mode for smoother playback of certain videos (probably most of them, actually). That line can actually go in either “Device” or “Screen” section – I added it to both just to be safe, but that’s probably overkill. Also, at the bottom of the xorg.conf file, add this:

Section "Extensions"
     Option         "Composite" "Disable"
EndSection

That’s supposed to provide better H264 acceleration.

If you added the “DynamicTwinView” “false” option as shown above, and you know for a fact that your monitor supports 1920 x 1080 @ 60 Hz (you should be able to determine that if you followed the instructions in the aforementioned post) then that mode should become available in XBMC — in the XBMC GUI, go to Settings | System | Video Output to select your desired output mode, and see if that mode is available. If, for some reason it is still not available, you might be able to force the issue (you really should not need to do this if you started with the posts linked above, but I’ll leave this information here anyway in case someone needs it) – in order to do that, open a terminal window and do this:

cd /etc/X11/Xsession.d
sudo touch 45custom_xrandr-settings
sudo nano 45custom_xrandr-settings

Paste into this file the following lines, but take the parameters for the first line from the Modeline you created in the previous step, except use “1920x1080_60.00” instead of “1920×1080”.  The first line below is an example (do not copy it verbatim, use the settings from your Modeline) but the second and third can be copied and used as is:

xrandr --newmode "1920x1080_60.00" 173.00 1920 2048 2248 2576 1080 1083 1088 1120 -hsync +vsync
xrandr --addmode default 1920x1080_60.00
xrandr --output default --mode 1920x1080_60.00

One other thing that might improve the video quality in XBMC is to go to Settings | Video | Playback settings and change the setting Adjust display refresh rate to match video to On start/stop (you could also try Always). This fix may be of particular help if you are trying to watch Live TV, or recorded TV from a PVR backend, and the picture doesn’t appear quite as sharp as it should. Leave Pause during refresh rate change set to Off. Obviously, this would be most noticeable if you are trying to view a 1080p source. In some areas you may need to play with the de-interlacing options as well, but that is beyond the scope of this article, and we didn’t find a need to do that.

If you are having audio issues when trying to send audio via HDMI, first of all open a terminal window and enter alsamixer and when it comes up press F6 to select your sound card (most likely HDA nVidia) and then make sure that none of the S/PDIF outputs are muted (this will me indicated by “MM” whereas an unmuted one will show “00”). Pay particular attention to S/PDIF 1 as it is often the culprit – use the arrow keys to select it and then press M to unmute it, then ESC to exit. I know this doesn’t make sense since you are trying to send audio out the HDMI port and not the optical audio port, but trust me, you need to do this. Then, if you are finding that audio is coming from the wrong speakers (center and LFE channels are mixed up with left and right surround channels) go to this page: HOW-TO:Remap HDMI audio on Gen 1 ION – Linux – I suggest using the settings under “1.3.1 ALSA Configuration” and below, but read the entire page first to get the full overview. Note that after following the instructions on that page, if you are also running the MythTV frontend you may have to set the audio to use ALSA:hdmi_direct and that this will NOT appear in the dropdown – you should first select one of the other compatible HDMI card options and then edit the Audio Output Device field to show ALSA:hdmi_direct. This is all necessary because the NVIDIA MCP79/7A HDMI hardware has incorrect channel mapping. This problem does NOT appear when using the S/PDIF (optical) output.

If you want to use a web browser to view videos that require the Flash plugin (such as many YouTube videos), particularly if you will be trying to view them in fullscreen mode, you should know that the Flash plugin will not use the Revo’s onboard nVidia graphics unless you tell it to. But, if you don’t do that the videos will most likely be too jerky to watch. So here is what you need to do from a Linux command prompt:

sudo mkdir /etc/adobe/
sudo nano /etc/adobe/mms.cfg

Now insert the following two lines into the file you’ve just opened:

EnableLinuxHWVideoDecode=1
OverrideGPUValidation=true

Then press CTRL+X followed by Enter to save the new file.

Note that this fix does not work absolutely perfectly, so you might still see some video issues now and then, and it might not work on all sites or in all browsers (it does work in Firefox, however). In many cases the video will be far more watchable than without the fix, but on some systems this fix could cause browser crashes and if those become frequent you may need to try removing the /etc/adobe/mms.cfg file. Also, note that this fix will only improve videos played using the Flash plugin.

If you need to (re)format a hard drive to use with your system, and you don’t want any wasted space on the drive, be sure to read this: Free Disk Space by Reducing Reserved Blocks

If you want your system to have a fixed IP address on your local network, click on the networking icon in the top panel (up and down arrows side by side), then Edit Connections, then find the connection you are using and edit it appropriately. For example, under the Wired tab I see Wired Connection 1, and if I click on that and then click the Edit button, I can then select the IPv4 Settings tab, change the method to Manual, and then enter the appropriate settings for my local network.

You may find that you need to go to the “Misc” section of /etc/samba/smb.conf and set domain master = no — otherwise you may find that certain network shares randomly disappear from other computers on your network. If you don’t have the problem of shares disappearing from other computers on your network, or if you don’t have any other servers or computers that are also trying to assert themselves as a master browser, then this may not be an issue for you.

If you have Macs on your local network and would like to use AFP (Apple File Protocol) to move files around, see How to set up AFP filesharing on Ubuntu.

If you hate typing in a password each time you ssh into your Revo, see Stop entering passwords: How to set up ssh public/private key authentication for connections to a remote server.

If you want to reduce startup time when using Ubuntu or Mint (and you do not have more than one operating system installed), do this:

sudo nano /etc/default/grub

Then look for this line:

GRUB_TIMEOUT="10"

Change this line to read:

GRUB_TIMEOUT=0

Then follow the instructions at the top of the file: “If you change this file, run ‘update-grub’ afterwards to update.” This also must be done as root, so after you save the file and exit nano, do this:

sudo update-grub

If you allow the Update Manager to install certain types of updates (particularly nVidia driver updates) — and you should update your software when updates are available — you may find that XBMC won’t start up, but instead displays a message that stats with the words, “XBMC needs hardware accelerated OpenGL rendering.” Typically, simply rebooting the system will fix that issue.

If you are using the Perl script we posted a couple of years ago that monitors a Linksys or Sipura VoIP device and provides Caller ID popups when a call comes in, you may be interested to know that by adding one line to the Perl script and making some minor configuration modifications, you can also have Caller ID popups in XBMC. See our article BETA Perl script for Caller ID popups when using Linksys/Sipura devices for information. Alternately, if you have an Asterisk server, you can send Caller Id information to XBMC by adjusting the XBMC configuration as in the aforementioned article, and then adding a line to your Asterisk dial plan in the form:

exten => extension-number,n,TrySystem(wget -b -O /dev/null -o /dev/null "http://HTPC-IP-address:8080/xbmcCmds/xbmcHttp?command=ExecBuiltIn&parameter=XBMC.Notification(Call%20from%20%22${URIENCODE(${CALLERID(name)})}%22%2C${CALLERID(number)}%20calling%20extension-number%2C15000%2C%2Fhome%2Fusername%2Fphone.png)")

Note that is all one line, and be sure to change the bold, italicized values to something appropriate for your configuration, and also be sure to see the aforementioned articles for XBMC configuration information and to get the phone.png icon.

If you would like to occasionally play music without the need to have the TV running, you might want to install a program called Audacious. The nice thing about Audacious is that it offers a LIRC plugin (under the General plugins section) and if you enable that, and then add a section to your .lircrc file (for an example, follow this link and then scroll down to the section “Configure Audacious(2) to use Lirc“), you can control the program using your remote.

Audacious Preferences

If you set Audacious to “Continue playback on startup” (under the Playback section of the preferences), and then create a .lircrc entry to start Audacious, you could use your remote to turn on Audacious and resume wherever it left off on your playlist.  This is really beyond the scope of this article, but I just thought I’m mention it for those who have your Revo hooked up to a receiver and would like to be able to play audio without wasting electricity running a TV you’re not watching.

Addendum for those who wish to use Boxee under Ubuntu 12.04:

Boxee has discontinued support for desktop platforms, but you might be able to install the last Linux desktop version by following the instructions on this page to install Boxee (note particularly the unmet dependency that must also be installed), and then if you are using a MCE remote, you must also follow the instructions in this post to make the remote work correctly with Boxee.

BETA Perl script for Caller ID popups when using Linksys/Sipura devices

 

Important
This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared on a blog called The Michigan Telephone Blog, which was written by a friend before he decided to stop blogging. It is reposted with his permission. Comments dated before the year 2013 were originally posted to his blog.

Creative Commons License photo credit: bcostin

PLEASE NOTE: This  article has been updated as of December 30, 2008.  This now works with a Mac or Win32 computer (and Linux computers with libnotify installed or readily available, such as those running Ubuntu) and has been updated to reflect that fact. Also, please note that previous versions may have failed on devices/phones with more than two lines – this is (hopefully) fixed as of version 0.7.

If all of the following are true:

You have a Macintosh computer with OS X installed, or a PC with any 32-bit version of Windows installed (basically Windows ’98 through XP), or any version of Linux with libnotify installed

Growl icon
Image via Wikipedia

You have Growl (if you have a Mac) or Snarl (if you have a PC) notifications installed (EDIT: There is now a version of Growl for Windows but at the moment I only have an experimental version of the script for that – see bottom of this page for more information.  It MIGHT work with 32-bit OR 64-bit Windows 7 – feel free to test it).

You have a Linksys or Sipura VoIP adapter on your local subnet or home network and receive calls over it

You would like to see Growl, Snarl or libnotify popups on your computer when a call comes in, showing the caller’s name and number, along with the line that the call came in on and the time and date the call arrived (in case you are out when the call comes in)

You have previously run Perl scripts on your computer, OR are reasonably good at following instructions and problem-solving

AND you are willing to run a script that comes with NO WARRANTY whatsoever (if it breaks, you can keep all the pieces)

Then download this file (now at version 0.92), unzip it and read the Instructions.txt file in the folder appropriate to your computer.

This script is being offered under the GNU General Public License, so if you want to modify it to work on other platforms, you can do that under certain conditions (see the Instructions.txt file for details). Mainly, I’d hope that you’d contribute the modifications back (and please leave a comment on this article if you do that).

I don’t have any kind of regular web page up for this yet, for one thing it’s very rough (very little error-checking) and for another I’m very tired, having spent way too many late nights trying to get this to work. So this post will be more terse than most of my posts, but I think most everything you need to know is in Instructions.txt (and for Mac users, the “How to run at login.rtfd” file) inside the .zip file. Feel free to repost this information to other forums if you think anyone else might be interested.

For those Mac users that wish this were an app: I understand that there is an app called Platypus that allows Perl scripts (and any other types of scripts) to be converted to OS X app bundles. However, what it does not seem to include is any way to specify the command line options, or to load any missing Perl modules. So for now, this script will probably only be usable by those with sufficient knowledge to run a Perl script on their Mac. If I were a bit more knowledgeable, I’d build a preference pane to go in System Preferences, and then have the script read that for its configuration options. But I still have no idea how to make an app install missing Perl modules, particularly when OS X does not come with “make” installed until and unless the Developer Tools are installed (adding something like 3 GB of stuff that is mostly useless to non-developers to your hard drive!).

EDIT: I read somewhere that you can install make without installing the bloated Developer Tools package if you instead install Fink. Then, from a terminal prompt, you can type fink -b install make and supposedly that will do the trick. However, I am told that Fink has not been updated for Snow Leopard, but there is a make package in Rudix that should work with Snow Leopard (mind your paths – Rudix installs make in the /usr/local/bin directory and by default CPAN expects it in /usr/bin, so you may want to adjust the path during CPAN setup, or make a symbolic link in /usr/bin). Since I have not personally tried either of these I have not updated the instructions in the download to reflect this, but if it works you can skip the whole process involved in installing the Developer Tools.

Because this is a Perl script, it lends itself to custom modifications. For example, let’s suppose you have this script running on a Mac, and you are sending Growl notifications to the Mac, but you also have a home theater PC that runs XBMC and/or Boxee, and you’d like to send Caller ID notifications to it as well.  Assuming that Boxee and/or XBMC is configured to allow control via a Web interface, at a fixed IP address and port (192.168.0.150 port 8080 in this example), you could add a line such as this to the script (this is all one line; select and copy to get it all if it gets truncated on your display):

eval {get "http://192.168.0.150:8080/xbmcCmds/xbmcHttp?command=ExecBuiltIn&parameter=XBMC.Notification(Call%20from%20%22$displayname%22%2C$phonenum%20calling%20$lineid[$count]%2C15000%2C%2Fhome%2Fusername%2Fphone.png)"};

The above assumes that you have placed the icon file phone.png (shown at right — right click on the icon and save it) in the user home directory on the destination system (the one running XBMC or Boxee), and that you change ‘username’ to the actual name of the user’s home directory. Note that the icon path requires %2F in place of forward slashes (therefore %2Fhome%2Fusername%2Fphone.png really means /home/username/phone.png) Phone icon - right click and copy imageand this refers to the icon directory and filename — if you choose not to use an icon then leave that part out, along with the %2C that comes just before it.  If you are running XBMC or Boxee on the same system that’s running the script then you should be able to replace 192.168.0.150 with localhost or 127.0.0.1. The above line should be inserted just above the comment line “# Make output string in chosen format” near the end of the Perl script. Keep in mind that this won’t work if you don’t enable control via Web server in XBMC or Boxee, and make sure the port number matches the port in your added line.  Depending on the skin you use, this is generally accomplished by going to Settings, then Network (and in Boxee, then Servers). Then check “Allow control of XBMC via HTTP” (in XBMC) or enable the Web server (in Boxee) and verify the port number is correct.

Starting in Version 0.7 there is a minimal logging function, allowing all detected incoming calls (whether answered or not) to be saved to a text file and/or a comma-quote delimited file. I probably could support other simple formats, but don’t even think about asking for anything more complex (like a rather humorous friend of mine who asked for MySQL integration – considering that he knows how little knowledge I have about Perl programming, and that I have even less knowledge about databases, I’m sure he thought it extremely amusing to make that request). The one thing I really don’t like about offering these scripts in Perl is that it requires the user to know how to install modules from CPAN (or an alternative source if using Win32), but I barely know how to do this stuff in Perl and don’t know any other languages (well, except for QBASIC under MSDOS, but that’s even less compatible across platforms than Perl!).

Starting in Version 0.9 you can use a plain-text file of number-name substitutions, so (for example) if calls from a particular number always display a cryptic Caller ID name, you can change them to say “Uncle Bob” (or some other name if Bob’s not your Uncle, or it’s someone else’s number!). Read the sample config file to see the file formats. Note that the plain text file of number-name substitutions is a separate file, not a section of the optional configuration file, and also note that you must enter the numbers exactly as your VoIP provider sends them (in other words, if they send 8005551234 and you use 18005551234 or 800-555-1234 it will NOT match!).

Starting in Version 0.91 you can use a plain-text file of number-path/file substitutions, so (for example) if calls from a particular number are always from Uncle Bob, you can display Uncle Bob’s picture as the icon whenever a call arrives from that number. Read the sample config file for more information. Note that the plain text file of number-path/file substitutions is a separate file, not a section of the optional configuration file, and also note once again that you must enter the numbers exactly as your VoIP provider sends them.

Version 0.92 sets a rather short timeout on page fetches (still much longer than should be necessary to get the data), in an attempt to resolve a problem where very occasionally the script would just go into a coma, not exiting cleanly but still using memory and CPU cycles, without doing anything useful. I have been running this version for over six months now and have yet to see the script go into a coma, as it often seemed to do in previous versions.

(EDIT added September, 2010:) NOTE regarding EXPERIMENTAL version to work with Growl for Windows.  You should still download the main archive to get the instructions and such, but if you’d prefer to use Growl for Windows rather than Snarl, you can try this experimental version of the script. If you do try it, please let me know if it works as expected (and thanks to Andy Singh for his help with getting this working under Windows 7). Please read the Perl source code to find the module requirements (mentioned on or near line 15 of the script) as they differ slightly from the Snarl version.

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