My incessant ramblings
A few years ago, before the release of Google’s Chromecast and Amazon’s Fire Stick in the UK, I bought my father an inexpensive Android TV stick to allow him to watch streaming video on his TV. I looked around a bit and came across the REKO MK803 on the popular Hong Kong import site DealExtreme, though it is currently out of stock, the REKO MK803 can still be viewed on the DX site here. Though usable, the REKO MK803 has always been a bit slow, frustratingly slow sometimes. The TV stick shipped with a slightly customised build of Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean, according to the system information, this particular build was from 2013 (homlet_sugar 4.2.2 JDQ39 20131021 test-keys). I bought the Amazon Fire stick for my father when it was released here in the UK, which he has been happily using since then, though he recently asked me to help him set up his old REKO MK803 on one of his spare TV’s, which I thought was long due for an update.
Searching Google for REKO MK803 will yield very little results, let alone searching for REKO MK803 update. And so began my search for updating this little TV stick. Crawling through various blogs and Chinese websites, I unsurprisingly discovered the MK803 is likely to be a rebadged version of other hardware, and that a lot of inexpensive Chinese Android hardware are very similar. This particular TV stick is based on the Allwinner A20 CPU, which is also known as the sun7i. Digging around some forums, I found that people had reported using other Android roms on different A20 hardware, be it tablet or fire stick, with success. This led me to stumble across Sunxi. In their own words:
“sunxi represents the family of ARM SoCs from Allwinner Technology, a Chinese fabless semiconductor company. Their best known products are the sunxi SoC series, such as the A10 (sun4i), A13 (sun5i) and A20 (sun7i) chips, which were very successful in the low-budget tablet market. See Allwinner SoC Family for more information on the different Allwinner chips.”
Sunxi shows various different ROMs that run on Allwinner hardware and also have flashing guides which show how to get this roms onto your device, though it is in no way associated with Allwinner. In fact they go as far to show the following disclaimer on the Sunxi site:
“Allwinner does not actively participate in or support this community. In fact, it is violating the GPLv2 license in several ways and has so far not shown willingness to resolve this.”
Reading on the Sunxi site, I found that there is a Chinese mini PC, akin to the Raspberry Pi, based on the Allwinner A20 CPU named the Cubieboard. Sunxi list different Cubieboard roms here, the latest being 1.07 from 2014, unfortunately all the links here are broken, since the Ubuntu One online file storage shut down in 2014 and even the links to Cubieboard site are dead and looking around on the Cubieboard site, they are nowhere to be found.
Digging around a bit more, I found a few sites that host the 1.07 image file (cb2-nand-v1.07_8188eu_1080P.img.tar.gz), some behind signup walls, such as Baidu, which require a Chinese mobile phone number to sign up to, and some extremely slow download links. After a few hours I finally got hold of the rom and have posted it here for now for others to grab here cb2-nand-v1.07_8188eu_1080P.img.tar.
Flashing the REKO MK803 is quite simple, thanks to the guide on Sunxi. I can confirm that their Debian/Ubuntu instructions do work on Xubuntu 14.04 64bit, though I had to restart to make the the kernel module take affect and to be safe I ran the following command again (as root) to make sure the awusb module was loaded:
depmod -a modprobe awusb.ko
After pulling the LiveSuit flashing tool from the Sunxi GitHub repository, launching the application and loading the rom, it’s time to plug in your MK803. This is tricky, but try to plug the device in (from the OTG micro USB port) to your computer while using a paper clip or something similar to hold down the “RE COVER” button on the device. You should be prompted to wipe the MK803 partition or not, at this point you may release the RE COVER button and choose, I selected “Yes” just to be on the safe side.
After this is complete, you should be ready to plug in your newly flashed REKO MK803.
After booting up the MK803, the first think you’ll notice is the Cubieboard custom Android launcher, which appears to be slightly visually broken in this build, the colours under the navigation options appear to the left of the icon and not below. Though everything else seems to be pretty close to stock Android. Initially, this build seems to be very snappy while navigating around the interface and everything seems to work fine, WiFi and the HDMI video and sound, though after booting the TV stick does state that tethering mode is enabled, which can be dismissed by turning on and then off tethering again. There is also a cell network icon in the bottom corner, which is redundant as there is nowhere to insert a sim card in the MK803, and in the settings the device is referred to as a tablet. Though the device still shows up as a SoftwinerEvb.
After installing the Google Play Store updates and installing Netflix, Plex and Eurosport, the MK803 again starts to feel slow, especially when launching these apps. I also experienced a crash and reboot of Android, similar to the original build of Android shipped on the TV stick.
While this is better for now, I have been searching around for some different Android roms to try on the REKO MK803 and will post my findings here.
Still not being happy with the Cubieboard ROM, I had search around for more compatible Allwinner A20 ROMS. Again, on Chinese websites, I stumbled across some newer Android builds for the A20 (sugar_B360-eng 4.2.2 JDQ39 20141224 test-keys) this being the latest from December 24th 2014, yet amazingly still built on Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean.
Recently I have been tinkering around with SSL and HTTP/2 on my personal portfolio site and have been benefitting from the speed increases it provides. But then I decided to try and take it further and decided a Pagespeed module WordPress installation would be the way to go after a bit of research.
Before I start, I should outline my current setup:
Google make installing their Pagespeed module on Ubuntu with Apache very easy, it’s just a case of downloading the .deb installer and running it which also adds their repo to Ubuntu to keep you up to date.
From all the WordPress mod_pagespeed guides I’ve seen online, this is where setup can end if you wish to use the default settings. Unfortunately for me, this was not the case. Though I could see the x-mod-pagespeed header in my network requests, none of my resources were being optimised. But why?
Further investigation led me to a bunch of similar unanswered questions on Stack Overflow, so I fired up the Pagespeed module documentation, cracked open my pagespeed.conf file and began to tinker.
If you open the conf file in your favourite text editor, found at:
and scroll down to towards the bottom you should see a block of text starting with:
Explicitly tell mod_pagespeed to load some resources from disk.
Then uncomment the line that reads:
and add your own domain and path to it, for example:
ModPagespeedLoadFromFile "http://example.com/wp-content/" "/var/www/html/wp-content/"
and hey presto! The Pagespeed module should now be working its magic on your site, sit back and enjoy your new Pagespeed Insights score.
If, like myself, you use the popular cheap VPS hosting service DigitalOcean, it’s likely that you used their one click WordPress droplet. In my experience, DigitalOcean seem to change this droplet quite often, in the past I’ve stumbled across some missing extensions, like PHP_GD which is required for creating thumbnails, or virtual hosts being defined inside the Apache main conf file instead of in sites-available. In my droplet the standard Apache directory structure was a little different, the html directory was not there. If your droplet is the same, your ModPagespeedLoadFromFile line will look more like mine:
ModPagespeedLoadFromFile "https://www.mrjose.ph/wp-content/" "/var/www/wp-content/"
For our final session on industry perspectives, we were joined by Ben Templeton of Thoughtden and Preloaded on Monday 16th of March.
By far one of the most memorable talks, Ben’s session was more of an interactive series and thought exercises via the use of Google polls.
For Ben’s final project, he created a web based 3D map version of Amsterdam, pre-dating the Google maps versions available today. The university were so impressed with his project that they paid him £10k to create a version of Bournemouth University with the same technology. Two years later he was approached by Portsmouth University to do the same again, this time for £16k. This gives my hope that my final project can have a large impact on my working career after university, reinforcing the idea that it is important to spend a lot of time crafting a well polish project. After graduating, Ben started an agency, Thoughtden, which he is still the founder of today.
For the bulk of our session with Ben, he gave us a huge insight into how agencies work behind the scenes through the use of polls in which we all had to live vote on. These polls consisted of budgets, team sizes and total work hours on real projects that Ben has been involved with in the past. This is the first time I have personally be introduced into the inner working of agency pitches and the work that is involved in managing projects and teams. Though I find these things interesting, I really have no desire to become a project manager or equivalent in an agency, and this really reinforced these feelings for me.
On Friday 13th of March, we were joined by Seeper founder Evan Grant. Seeper is an arts and technology collective which employees graphic designers and programmers etc, much like a traditional digital agency.
When describing how it all started, Evan recalls a time in 1995 when he came across a midi file version of a song by No Doubt on the internet. Being blown away by the is, Gavin decided to study media at college. After graduating college in 1998, he applied to Bournemouth University as, like still today, its Digital Media Design (under a different name, New Media Design) had a very good reputation. Unfortunately has application was not successful and joined a similar degree in Lincoln. Part way through the first year, after hearing some people had left the degree at Bournemouth University, Evan reached out to Mik Parsons. After faking a portfolio he was allowed to continue his degree and BU.
At this time BU was teaching CD-ROM design. Seeing the writing on the wall, Evan argued for web technologies but BU insisted on CD-ROM. Evan decided to pursue web technologies anyway and started his own company using a VW Camper as his office with some of his fellow students. At this point, Evan wasn’t attending university much, deeming it more important to follow his passion. The university tried to remove him from the course, but he fought for his place as was able to successfully complete his degree. I admire Evan for defending what he believed for and his belief in pursuing what at the time was a new technology. I hope to be able to do something similar with my final project which uses a lot of new technologies and combining them together.
Eventually, Evan grew tired of screen based technology and decided to pursue his interested in other fields of interactivity. For TED talk in 2010, he designed an installation that consisted of a mutli-touch inflatable ball, which Google saw and asked him to create an updated version featuring Google Maps and YouTube videos from around the world in an attempt to making data physical. Similarly with Fishrod, I really like the concept of bringing the digital world in the physical world.
During the session with Evan, he told us that ages from three to ninety should be able to use and interact with his installations with no instructions. This is a concept I have tried to use in my own project, making it as intuitive as possible. Unfortunately, as I am using Google Glass, I have very little control over how a user interacts with it, but I have made it possible for everything to be controlled by simple, plain English voice commands.
On speaking about career paths, Evan had some advice for us that I found really helpful. He says people are most successful in doing what they are most passionate about. Getting excited about a subject in infectious, this type of positively can flow through other people.
On Monday 2nd of March, Gavin Williams and some of his team from Fishrod Interactive came to visit us.
Gavin graduated in 2010 as mature student like myself, and he founded Fishrod Interactive shortly after graduating with another student. They started off focusing on creating websites and had some big clients such as Fiat and Sky. Not being happy with just websites, Gavin decided he want Fishrod to be different and began to move into experiential marketing, which is creating a whole digital experience for a brand.
These new core services include interactive experiences, iOS and OSX apps, hardware integration web apps and APIs.
Some products I personally found interesting was a social roulette wheel game for the iPad for WWE in Germany. Players had three tries to win items and then come back in one hour and share it on Facebook. Doing this would encourage players to come back and play more and spread the word about the game to their friends. Using the free to play model that has had a lot of success with mobile phone games.
Throneoke was a karaoke game for players to sing a long to the Game of Thrones television theme tune. Fishrod created a piece of OSX software that works like Lips or the vocal part of Rock Band and called in Soundcheck. They have kept the rights to this piece of software and have since recycled it for other projects, such as a karaoke game for the Disney movie Frozen.
For Sky and Westfields (a large shopping centre in London), Fishrod created a news section video for the users. With the use of a green screen, users would be inserted into a news report on the fly catching a cricket ball.
I like the fact that Fishrod work on and retain the rights to their own intellectual property, allowing further development on their own software that can be resold to many different clients. However, I think that by limiting themselves to Apple products only could be detrimental to themselves. Relying solely on one company for your income can be troublesome, especially a company such as Apple which has a reputation of changing things on a whim.
I am very interested in combining digital media with physical items in the real world. Seeing that Fishrod have had success with installations gives me more confidence in my final project, Home Automation for Google Glass.
On Monday 23rd of February we were joined by five alumni from the Digital Media Design degree (previously known as Interactive Media Production) which have all stayed local to work in different agencies.
Tim Stone graduated in 2012 and started working in Zeta after university and has currently worked at Red Web for the last two years as a lead front end developer. Red Web started as a graphic design agency fourteen years ago. It now has over 130 employees and over 50 contractors in London.
Ralph Saunders who graduated in 2013 also works with Tim Stone at Red Web on the same development team, but specialises in front end design. Red Web differs from a lot of agencies as it offers long term support contracts as opposed to finishing a design for a client and then ending the contract.
Frank Clark also graduated in 2012 and currently works at Folk Digital in Branksome as a Technical Consultant (mainly PHP development). Frank has worked for Folk Digital since graduating. Initially, the agency started with twelve employees based above a shop. Currently the agency has expanded to 223 employees and they specialise mostly in Magento framework based commerce sites.
Chris Rogers, also graduated in 2012 currently works at Zeta. After graduating he decided to make his own startup agency with a classmate, which unfortunately failed. Afterwards he joined a financing company named Ratio which is part of the Richmond group at Richmond Hill in Bournemouth as a PHP developer, but due to ethical reasons he decide to leave. His current employer, Zeta, now have fourteen employees an open plan office in Poole. Chris started as a front end developer, but now also does iOS, Android and back end development.
Will Squire graduated in 2014 and started working in house for a property company after leaving university. He now works for an agency that also specialises in property as a senior developer specialising in PHP working with frameworks such as Drupal, WordPress and Symphony. Two evenings a week, Will also teaches workshops for current Digital Media Design students at Bournemouth University.
A common theme linking all of these alumni together is the fact that they are all developers. In fact this theme seemed to run through most of the industry perspective module. As I consider myself a developer, this is very reassuring to me. But in the current third year, I would say less than one quarter of students consider themselves to be a developer, while the rest are designers. This is probably something the degree needs to address. The panel advised us that knowing a little about a lot of things is very beneficial, completing online courses, such as those Lynda.com offer can give us the edge when applying for jobs. Good writing skills are often overlooked but are also very important, for things such as writing documentation and comments in code. Going to industry events was also highly advised in order to help us to meet potential employers and colleagues. When finally applying for jobs we should aim for high salaries and not put ourselves or our skills down. Digital Media Design students are very valuable and sought after.