Cheap Plex {Roku} client for €15

I recently saw an Ad on the TV advertising Sky’s NowTV for 10 pounds (sterling), delivered.  The box looked very familiar so a quick Google showed up that it is in fact a Roku LT re-branded.  Roku LTs retail any where from 30 – 50 pounds (Maplin) .

I thought to myself.. bargain! but wait there is a catch, while you can buy the box on the sky nowtv website they won’t ship to addresses outside the UK. This is where ParcelMotel comes in handy. It’s in the UK so I shipped it to there. 3.50 euro later and the box arrives. Total cost 15 euro. Bargain.

What’s in the box?

In the box you get the Roku LT, Roku remote control, batteries for remote control and a decent HDMI cable.

2014-04-15 18.05.21
The box
2014-04-15 18.05.32
unboxing
IMG_20140415_180629
Plug and batteries

It looks and feels like a Roku box. Not much on the box just power, A/V out and a HDMI port.

2014-04-15 18.05.44
Connections

The setup was straight forward – connected to the wireless network no problem.

IMG_20140415_181012
Setup

I signed up to Sky Now TV and from reading other blog posts I thought I could get away without having to put my credit card details. Unfortunately I had to in order to activate the account. I stuck a pin on purchases so I can’t accidentally buy sky movies/sports etc.

What apps are installed?

The box comes with Roku Store and Sky Store, BBC iPlayer. 4oD, 5 Demand, Now TV, Sky news and BBC news. All worked for me* (nod, nod, VPN wink, wink) and the quality over the wireless connection was very good. UPDATE. For connections without VPN I  can confirm 4oD, Sky News and BBC news works.  BBC iPlayer and 5 Demand don’t work due to geo-broadcasting restrictions.

As you expect from the price Sky are heavily subsidising this box.  Because of this Sky have restricted what apps you can download from their controlled app (and Roku) store.  The Sky store has a lot of it carries over satellite but everything will result in you paying Sky.

On the Roku store there is no sign of netflix, plex, youtube, plex etc.  as you would expect because it’s controlled by Sky.
Notable mentions on the store include: Spotify, Tune in, Facebook, TED talks etc.

How-and-ever…

Slide loading Plex

Having recently put my own Roku box in to developer mode I knew it is possible to ‘side load’ apps on to roku boxes. (“Side load” you ask, well it’s the technique to install apps on to the Roku with out using the usual stores.) With the Sky NowTV box is essentially a Roku LT box it’s possible to side load.

To enable developer mode use the following command on the home screen.

Home 3x, Up 2x, Right, Left, Right, Left, Right

Do this nice and slow. Press the buttons deliberately. You should then see this (your IP will be different).

IMG_20140415_184236
IP Address for sideloading

 

I enabled the installer and the box restarted. Once rebooted using a laptop/computer open a browser and enter the IP of the roku and then upload plex or rarflix. (UPDATE: The version of plex linked here says it needs a plex-pass subscription beyond a 30 day trial. I’ve never this before so perhaps you are better off to use the Rarflix version.

Tada!! Plex channel good to go.

2014-04-15 18.45.54
Plex on the box

Startup tools & services [Jan 2015]

[Updated Jan 2015]

I thought it was about time I put this post together: Essential tools & services  (mostly on-line)  for startups. It’s a collection of tools, services and stuff I use and find essential.

A lot of  services are free (it amazes me really!) others are monthly paid services. Let’s begin.

Finding a Domain Name

If you are just starting out, deciding a name for the company or product,  finding a web domain can be a pain.

Lean Domain Search is very clever – pop in key words and it shows a list of possible domain names and whether the domain (and twitter account) is available. As too is Instant domain search – just start typing and see if your domain is there.

These tools will only find available domain names – where you register them is up to you. I strongly suggest pick one provider and stick with them. We manage several domains and at the start we used different websites to register domains because it was cheaper etc.. When it came to renewals we getting (or not getting) emails and jumping over to websites to renew a domain. It wasn’t scalable and eventually found it hard to keep track of everything. In the end we moved all our domains to one single vendor to manage the renewals – now it’s all automated and renewals are seamless.

Choosing Hosting & Email

Now you’ve got a shiny new domain name registered it’s time to setup a website and email address(es).
Email is an easy one. Google Apps for business. You can’t go wrong. It comes with everything you need.. shared calendar, contacts, analytics, Google drive (more later) and hangouts/Google Talk/IM.

Hosting is a bit trickier. It really depends on what you want. Our business is in providing enterprise SaaS so we use Amazon AWS for  our primary production cluster. We have the option to scale up/down and throw more hardware if we want. We also host our non-product website(s) on a single  tiny and very cheap AWS micro-instance. If I was to recommend other scalable providers it would have to be  Joyent or digitalocean.com. Google have now entered the scene too but are more expensive.

If you’re not building a SaaS solution then you probably can go with some local providers (Blacknight appears to the best with people in Ireland- like everyone else they do have some downtime). Your CTO will advise you (read: tells you!).

If you are using Gmail Apps I highly recommend Yesware for tracking emails, setting reminders etc.  It uses the same kind of tracking used in email-marketing tools. It shows if/when your email is opened, where it was opened and how often. Very clever stuff.

Speaking of clever stuff check out  Gmelius. Gmelius is a browser extension that gives a cleaner and smarter Gmail  inbox. Removes ads, changes the label position etc.

Building a website

Since we provide an enterprise grade SaaS all our production code is hand-crafted from scratch. This code is sacred and nothing is allowed near it. We don’t rely on too many frameworks so the code is very clean and manageable.  I’ll encourage our tech guys to write up a post on how they develop & maintain everything.

When it comes to websites about the company we use WordPress. It’s hard to go wrong with WordPress and a decent (responsive) theme. With a couple of SEO plugins it will be up and running in no time. We also have a site based on twitters bootstrap which is pretty cool too. For our support website we use OSTicket.. it’s okay but it’s something I think we can improve on  we use freshdesk. Zendesk (it allows the same support portal to be branded as different products which is very handy).

As I mentioned all the non-product company websites run on a AWS micro instance – cost effective and very powerful.

The majority of our ports are closed but that doesn’t stop bad guys hitting and attacking the servers. You might want to look at OSSEC for a bit of security.

CRM & Accounting

There is a such a selection out here. My concern with a lot of them is integration with each other. When choosing make sure the CRM can talk with your accounting service and project management.  We use CapsuleCRM which plugs directly into Xero. As a policy we BCC our CapsuleCRM address on every customer correspondence. CapsuleCRM allows you to create sale opportunities, build a sales process, build a profile around a customer (twitter/linkedin), attach files and schedule tasks. It also integrates in Gmail – another big win.

If we were to switch (but we are too committed to CapsuleCRM)  it would be to onePageCRM (feature wise is now playing in the big league).

When it comes to accounting you need to be on top of the books. Again lots of alternatives but we choose Xero. The ability to handle multi-currency being the one feature that swung it for us. It does our payroll, expenses, invoicing, VAT calculation and bank transaction reconciliation. I could spend hours raving about how awesome Xero is but I won’t (I should be part of their sales team!). I’ll just say one thing: Xero has made life so much easier and I love using the service. Big shout-out and thanks to @domybooks (Ralph Smith). If you are looking for a Xero guru and top accountant give Ralph shout. One downside to Xero (and to be fair nearly all accounting packages)  you can’t connect Xero to your business bank feed (with AIB personal account I know you can.. but all our accounts are AIB Business). However, AIB and other banks allow you to export transactions into CSV which is a start. Use this site from Sean Blanchfield to convert them into the Xero accepted format and then let ‘auto-reconcile’ be your friend.

For collecting payment on-line  we would recommend Stripe. It works really well with invoices generated in Xero.

Programming related stuff

For API documentation – we use Apiary. It’s fantastic and we’ve been complimented a lot about how we present the API. No more out of date API docs.. and the great thing is that you can provide sample code and test an API call on the site. Also check out POSTman  for  adhoc testing APIs

Remote monitoring. If you are running a website you’ll need to know when something goes wrong. We have a fairly extensive way of monitoring our production cluster, in fact it’s a custom build as it’s an integral part of our failover mechanism. It’s a thing of beauty.  For non essential websites we use sites like Pingdom or monitor.us to keep tabs of things. Glad to say we don’t get many notifications. Pingdom also allows you to produce a public status page – which is handy.

For checking the status of an API we’ve started using runscope and use the results to create an API Status page for our customers. For testing the morethan160 dashboard we use Ghost Inspector which has been recently purchased by Runscope.

 

 Desktop related tools should also get a mention

  • Sublime2 (best editor for just about everything)
  • Navicat (for SQL.. becoming is redundant for us now)
  • MongoVue (Quick view of what’s going on in our mongoDB ) or RoboMongo
  • Putty/SSH/Winscp/Terminal for Windows (would be lost without these.. I live in them 🙂 )
  • SourceTree (Gui for GIT)
  • Firebug

DNS Management

<NerdFilter>. We got caught out by hosting our service on cheap and cheerful providers.. we then moved to AWS .. BUT .. the DNS management was still on the cheap and cheerful provider. We got stung when their DNS went down.. resulting in our API going down. We were not best pleased so looked around for provider. We choose DynDns – managed DNS. It’s quick and allows an API call to update DNS entries at a moment notice. Very useful when you offer 99.999% SLA and  implement failover. </NerdFilter>

Day to Day Apps

Dropbox – if you’re not using dropbox .. what’s wrong with you!? Dropbox changed the way we worked. Just copy a file to Dropbox and all the gang has it. You’ll never have to run a back up again. No more emailing files to people. If you (or someone else)  delete something.. no problem Dropbox will allow you restore it via their website.

One caveat with Dropbox – you’ll have issues if multiple people are trying to edit documents at the same time – so we just use Google Drive for editing docs/excel sheets. I still think MS PowerPoint is king of presentation tools (if you know how to use it properly!) but as for word documents and excel – we are using Google Drive more &  more.

Twitter – Tweetdeck not only does it provide a never ending stream of tweets for entertainment you can use it for monitoring tweets related to customers etc. It’s good to know, how & what your customers are doing/saying. You can also use it to find possible sales leads.

Linkedin – Brilliant for finding (out) people, finding possible sales leads, getting introductions and discovering events. Caveat – I’ve found the Inmails don’t work any more. You’ll need to be creative to get talking to the people you want to talk to.

Just a few bits and bobs I use every day.

  • MightyText (send receive SMS from your desktop/tablet/ using your phones SMS)
  • Any.do – great day to day reminder for mobile and desktop.
  • Evernote – never forget anything
  • Launchy – I hate messy desktops. I launch everything with launchy (not so much an online tool but I use it everyday!)
  • Skype – Enough said.
  • everything.exe (a realtime windows file search.. way better than the POS  that windows ships).
  • join.me – We run  all our web demos / screen share using this service. Worth every penny. It even comes with a conference bridge number (multi-country) but I’ve found the call quality to be hit and miss.
  • HelloFax/HelloSign – for sending Fax (yeah I know.. who sends Faxes these days!?) and for signing PDF documents.

So that’s my take on startup tools and services – I’ve probably forgot a few so will update when I realise it.

If you want to leave any of your recommendations… pop them in the comments.

Bridging EPC3925 and using Asus RT-N16 instead

I got very frustrated with UPC’s default router. The EPC 3925. It’s a piece of junk. I wanted to remove it completely but that’s not possible.
Luckily you don’t have to use it for networking features like firewall, wireless distribution, DHCP etc. After much research, I bought an Asus RT-N16 (the N66u is also a fine router) , put the EPC3925 into “bridged mode” and used the Asus for sharing the internet to rest of the devices in the house. I haven’t looked back. It’s rock solid.

Here’s a how-to to enable bridged mode on the EPC3925  connecting the Asus RT-N16.  The guide should work for other ‘good’ standalone routers.  e.g wrt 54GL, Asus N66u etc.

Preliminary Setup

Disconnect every Ethernet cable from the cisco box.
Leave the co-ax cable screwed into the box via the ‘Cable’ connector.
Power up the Cisco.

Disable the wireless card in your laptop for the moment. (I sometimes don’t trust wireless which is funny considering my background 🙂 )
Now connect a laptop to the Cisco box with an Ethernet cable via Port 1 (yellow ports in item 6 of the first diagram).

Step 1 Disabling Cisco wireless

Open a browser on the laptop, log into the cisco router via http://192.168.1.1
Login with your username / password combo.
Head over to the wireless setting and take note of the wireless name (SSID) and password. Also take note of the type of security used (WPA, WPA2 etc.)  You’ll need these later.
Disable the wireless part completely.
Check on the laptop (or phone/tablet) that the wireless network is now gone (enable the wireless on the laptop and make sure you don’t see the old SSID).

Step 2 Bridging the Cisco router

Now that the wireless part of the Cisco router is completely turned off – time to bridge it.
Via the admin page on Cisco box head over to Administration > Management
You should see an option for ‘Router Mode’ and ‘Bridged Mode’
* If you only see ‘Router mode’ then your Cisco box has an old firmware and you need to do an extra step (see 2.1).
Select ‘Bridged Mode’ and save settings.
The box will reboot. That should be the end of using the Cisco EPC3925.
You shouldn’t be able to connect to the Cisco box after the reboot. Don’t freak out. In bridge mode everything is turned off  by default like DHCP which allocates IP addresses. The epc3925 is now a very basic modem which connects to your internet provider and presents the internet as a connection for other routers to share. (if you do need to connect to it – it’s now at IP address: 192.168.100.1  <- note the different network number. You will need to manually set your laptop IP address to be something like   192.168.100.25)

NB: Bridging the Cisco router will not prevent your telephone from working as confirmed by comments below (Thanks Graeme & Paddy).

Step 2.1 – the extra step to enable bridging on older Cisco firmware

Only do this step if the option is not present on your epc3925. (If you have recently done a ‘hard’ reset on your Cisco box – please allow UPC time to update it.)
Follow the  instructions here to enable the bridging option on the Cisco:  http://www.boards.ie/vbulletin/showthread.php?t=2056758726

Use Opera (it’s the best for this). Once visible jump back to Step 2.

Note: Because the administration pages are just HTML at the end of the day, the ability to put the Cisco box into bridge mode hasn’t been disabled – The settings have just been hidden and the workaround allows us to see the setting again. 

 

Step 3 Connecting the Asus to the Cisco

Disconnect your laptop from the Cisco box but leave the cable plugged into Port 1 of the Cisco box.
Connect the cable that’s plugged into Port 1 of the Cisco box into the WAN port (  Blue ) of the Asus RT-N16
Power up the Asus.

Step 4 Connect the Laptop to the Asus

Connect the laptop to the Asus with another Ethernet cable. Use Port 1 (yellow port) on the Asus to connect the laptop.

On the laptop using a web browser go to http://192.168.1.1

If you need to upgrade firmware,  download from here and unzip the file. You should have a single .trx file  use this for the upgrade. Mine was old so I upgraded to 3.0.0.4.260 – the latest beta has Wake-on-LAN.  (Make sure nothing else is plugged in if upgrading. Use the Asus control panel to upload the .trx file. After a reboot you should see the new control panel. The upgrade is worth it!). Let the ASUS reboot.

You should now have the Asus dashboard.

If it’s the first time to use the Asus – follow the instructions on the Asus Quick Internet Setup wizard to setup your internet connection.

I found the wizard to be great – it did everything and the whole house was back up and running when completed.

I used the wireless network name SSID, security type and password from the Cisco (noted from Step 1) as the wireless name and password on the Asus. This mean’t I didn’t have to setup all the other devices again.
At this point you’re done. The Cisco is bridged and the Asus is now doing all the work with ease. No more bad WiFi or dropping of connection.

I disconnected the cable from the laptop  to the Asus and used the wireless connection instead.

If you have devices that connect via ethernet cables plug them into the yellow ports on the Asus.. Nothing (except the one ethernet cable going to the Asus WAN port) should be plugged into the Cisco.

 

Super Wifi Bonus Step – WindSurfer Antenna

Need to boost your wifi even more!? No problem. Use the windSurfer antenna.

Grab the stencil here print it out on stiff card, cover in tinfoil and cut out.

More video instructions here:

Extra info: Reversing the bridge mode

With the Cisco box in bridge mode it takes the IP address of 192.168.100.1
If you need to connect to it and want to reverse the bridge mode you need to do following
Disconnect the Asus router.
Reboot the Cisco.
Manually set the ip address of the laptop to be 192.168.100.50 (Note: 50 is not important it just shouldn’t be 0, 1 or 100 or greater than 255)
Connect laptop to the Cisco via port 1
In a web browser connect to http://192.168.100.1
Login with your usual username / password
Head over to Administration > Management and you should see the option to put it into router mode again.
Select ‘Router Mode’ save settings, the box will reboot and work as originally set.
Remember to undo the ‘manual setting’ of your laptop.