Finding a private location check-in service

Foursquare decided that it was too hard for them to compete with location services like Yelp and split their app into two separate apps. Whilst that might make sense to the 4Square CEO and his VC masters, it makes no sense from a users perspective. Foursquare can be a bit of a battery hog already, and having 2 apps to open and “annoy” you with notifications is not an improvement by any means. And if I wanted Foursquare to be Yelp – I would have used Yelp in the first place. So no – I do not want to install another separate check-in App (called Swarm). One battery hogging location app was enough.

no checkins here by leogaggl, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License   by  leogaggl 

The other argument used by 4Square’s CEO is that he didn’t want users confused about the “gamification” aspects of 4Square. I personally think that this is highly patronising to the Foursquare user base. I am sure most users would be able to work out what it is useful for.

Since I have always used 4Square mainly as a means to get some analytics of my movements and historic record of where I was at what time (I always downloaded my checkins to Thinkup on my own server) I was trying to find something that would fit the same use case. Meet Ushahidi ( – an excellent geo-coded “reporting” service developed in Kenya. I have been following this project for years already.

Dynamic Timeline

Track your reports on the map and over time, filter your data by time, and see when things happened and where.

Interactive Mapping

One of the most powerful ways to visualize information is to display it on a map. The Ushahidi platform give you rich information mapping tools.

Multiple Data Streams

The Ushahidi Platform allows you to easily collect information via text messages, email, twitter and web-forms.

Free & Open Source

The Ushahidi Platform is free for you to download and use. It is released under the GNU Lesser General Public License (LGPL).

Installation information for your own Ushahidi Server can be found on GitHub – or you can use their hosted service called Crowdmap.

Whilst this is obviously not an option for everybody it works for me. I will miss some the social aspect of 4Square as I had a small number of people I was sharing my check-ins with and it did bring about some by-chance meetups & conversation about other people’s check-ins. But the Ushahidi instance can be shared between multiple people. Maybe some will come along for the ride.

So long Foursquare – it was nice while it lasted ! If you treat your users like sheep – all you will be left with is sheep…

And for those who want to delete their Foursquare account:

ARD Mediathek offline viewing on Ubuntu

Since I am a bit of a sucker for German “Krimis” as well as some their excellent documentaries I like to watch ARD Mediathek IPTV. However there are several problems with this when you live at the opposite side of the world. ARD has a block for any films that are 15+ years outside of 20.00h-6.00h GMT+1. Which makes it pretty much impossible to watch at a reasonable time in Australia. I also like to watch these things on the plane which requires download of the media files.

Install JSON Parser

sudo apt-get install jq

Download script

chmod +x


./ -f save_as_filename.mp4 -q 3 MEDIATHEK-URL

The -f and -q parameters are optional.
-f filename.mp4 (or full path + filename to save in different directory). Defaults to original filename
-q quality setting from 0 to 3 (where 0 is lowest and 3 highest quality). Defaults to highest quality

Please leave a comment if you find any issues or log an issue on GitHub.

NOTE (2014-07-06): If you are only interested in the Tatort series I suggest you look at this script by Felix Knecht (see comment below)

Ubuntu 14.04 Amazon EC2 Cloud Desktop using LXQT

Using Amazon EC2’s free usage tier to host your own cloud desktop is a very economical way to to have a desktop at hand anytime you can not be near one. Since I quite often use Chromebooks these days when on the road this is a particular handy way should I need a full desktop for certain tasks.

Since Ubuntu 14.05 is my default desktop on my normal hardware I obviously want to have my cloud desktop running the same underlying OS. However I don’t think running Unity as the desktop interface would be appropriate via a low-bandwidth remote desktop connection. For this reason I chose LXQT. If you need total stability you probably should go for the more mature LXDE instead, but I have already tried LXQT on an old EEE PC and was very impressed by the speed and low resource usage.

NOTE (Edit: 2014-11-03): Please find an updated (and easier) version of this blog here. I was experiencing some issues with LXQT (which is understandable as it clearly states that it is not a release version)

Provision Ubuntu 14.04 LTS EC2 Instance

EC2 Choose Image

Instance details

  1. Connect to AWS Console and go to EC2 Service
  2. Choose OS Image: “Ubuntu Server 14.04 LTS” (see screenshot)
  3. Choose a “Micro Instance” if you want to use Amazon’s Free Usage Tier
  4. Choose Instance details – the defaults will generally be fine
  5. Add Storage (I generally add a separate Volume for /home but default should do)
  6. Tag instance (just give it a name to that makes sense to you in the console if you have more than one)
  7. Configure Security Group – I only set SSH which is the default (see Firewall config below). Add any other ports needed
  8. Review & Launch the instance. You need to choose your RSA Access Keys in this step. If you haven’t got any and download. DO NOT LOOSE the private keys or you will not be able to connect.

Setup Desktop & VNC

Connect via SSH to the EC2 Instance you just created (using the IP in the control panel and your RSA Key)

sudo apt-get install software-properties-common
sudo add-apt-repository ppa:lubuntu-dev/lubuntu-daily
sudo add-apt-repository ppa:gilir/q-project
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get upgrade
sudo apt-get install lxqt-metapackage lxqt-panel vnc4server

Start VNC server under the desired user account. This will create the desired configuration files. Kill after the startup process is finished.

#after successful start
vncserver -kill :1

Edit xstartup files

vim ~/.vnc/xstartup
Paste the following:
# Uncomment the following two lines for normal desktop:
#exec /etc/X11/xinit/xinitrc
exec openbox-session &
startlxqt &
[ -x /etc/vnc/xstartup ] && exec /etc/vnc/xstartup
[ -r $HOME/.Xresources ] && xrdb $HOME/.Xresources
xsetroot -solid grey
vncconfig -iconic &
#x-terminal-emulator -geometry 80x24+10+10 -ls -title "$VNCDESKTOP Desktop" &
#x-window-manager &

Create startup script

sudo vim /etc/init.d/vncserver
Paste the following:
# Provides: vncserver
# Required-Start: $syslog
# Required-Stop: $syslog
# Default-Start: 2 3 4 5
# Default-Stop: 0 1 6
# Short-Description: VNC Server Startup Script
# Description: Author: Leo Gaggl (
[ -f /etc/vncserver/vncservers.conf ] && . /etc/vncserver/vncservers.conf
prog=$"VNC server"
start() {
. /lib/lsb/init-functions
echo -n $"Starting $prog: "
ulimit -S -c 0 >/dev/null 2>&1
for display in ${VNCSERVERS}
export USER="${display##*:}"
if test -z "${REQ_USER}" -o "${REQ_USER}" == ${USER} ; then
echo -n "${display} "
su ${USER} -c "cd ~${USER} && [ -f .vnc/passwd ] && vncserver :${DISP} ${VNCUSERARGS}"
stop() {
. /lib/lsb/init-functions
echo -n $"Shutting down VNCServer: "
for display in ${VNCSERVERS}
export USER="${display##*:}"
if test -z "${REQ_USER}" -o "${REQ_USER}" == ${USER} ; then
echo -n "${display} "
export USER="${display##*:}"
su ${USER} -c "vncserver -kill :${display%%:*}" >/dev/null 2>&1
echo -e "\n"
echo "VNCServer Stopped"
case "$1" in
start $@
stop $@
stop $@
sleep 3
start $@
if [ -f /var/lock/subsys/vncserver ]; then
stop $@
sleep 3
start $@
status Xvnc
echo $"Usage: $0 {start|stop|restart|condrestart|status}"
exit 1

Mark the startup script as executable and create the config file for the startup script.
sudo chmod +x /etc/init.d/vncserver
sudo mkdir /etc/vncserver
sudo vim /etc/vncserver/vncservers.conf

Paste the following:
VNCSERVERARGS[1]="-geometry 1024x768"

update-rc.d vncserver defaults 99

Start the VNC Server

sudo /etc/init.d/vncserver start

Firewall configuration

By default VNC will use port 9501 (and subsequent ports for each session). Since VNC password authentication is generally very weak I personally do not expose this port through the firewall. I use SSH port forwarding to tunnel the VNC port through SSH (encrypted) which means only the SSH port is open and can be properly secured.

ssh -L 5901:localhost:5901 -i /path/to/your/aws/keyfile.pem YOUR.EC2.IP.ADDRESS

You should then be able to access VNC via localhost:

VNC Viewer

Hopefully you should see the LXQT Desktop:

Ubuntu LXQT


If you want to access this from a Chromebook this blog might help.

Upgrading Nokia X to CyanogenMod 11 (via Ubuntu)

The Nokia X seems to be a nice piece of hardware for just around $125 AUD. Nothing spectacular in terms of computing power, but much better build quality than your average cheap Chinese Android clone. I have always been a fan of Nokia hardware until they decided to commit suicide by firstly adding CEO Stephen Elop and ditching all of their software for Windows Mobile.

The problem with the device out of the box is that is has a horribly butchered version of Android. And by horribly I mean way worse than the usual bloat and crapware that poor Samsung, HTC or Sony users are normally subjected to. Hopefully this is only Nokia’s first step to a more open platform, but I wouldn’t hold my breath on that one.

Before committing to buy this device I made sure that I could flash it to CyanogenMod as soon as it arrives. Sidenote: I purchased from Mobicity AU – which turned out to be a big mistake. Do yourself a favour and go somewhere else unless you have weeks to wait.

Nokia X - CyanogenMod 11

Boot Mode – Nokia X

Nokia Recovery Mode:

1. Turn off your device
2. Press Volume + and Power Button 15 seconds


If you haven’t got the Android SDK or tools yet you need to install

sudo apt-get install android-tools-adb android-tools-fastboot

USB Configuration

sudo vim /etc/udev/rules.d/51-android.rules
#add the following line
SUBSYSTEMS=="usb", ATTR{idVendor}=="0421", MODE="0666", OWNER="plugdev"
sudo service udev restart

vim ~/.android/adb_usb.ini
#add at the end of the file

sudo adb kill-server
sudo adb devices

Rooting the device

Download ClockWorkMod Recovery (or TWRP if you prefer).

Check USB debugging in “Settings –> Developer Options” (it seems that the NokiaX has debugging enabled out of the box)

Boot into Recovery (see above)

sudo adb reboot bootloader
sudo fastboot -i 0×0421 flash recovery cwm-6028-normandy.img
sudo fastboot reboot

Installing CyanogenMod 11

Please note that currently this is not an official CM release but an unofficial port, however CM has already committed to taking this device onboard as an officially supported one in the near future.

EDIT 2014-06-17: WIFI is currently not working which should be a showstopper for day-to-day use.

Boot into Recovery (see above) – this should now be CWM Recovery rather than the previous Android Recovery.

Download files:
CM 11 ROM for Nokia X (Android 4.4.2)
Google Apps for CM 11

EDIT (2014-09-29): There seems to be a more complete version of CM11 here:

In CWM recovery, select “Data Wipeout / Factory reset” option and wipe the data.
Select “Wipe Dalvik cache” from the Advanced Option
Select “Install ZIP –> Install ZIP from sideload”

sudo adb sideload

Select “Reboot system now”

Note: the reboot can take about 1 minute to get started due to a bug in the current CWM Recovery.

Enjoy !

EDIT 2014-07-22: Since there doesn’t seem to be any active development on the CM port for Nokia X (which seems a shame since they are so cheap) I found an AOSP ROM (based on Android 4.1.2) which seems to be workable as a day-to-day phone.
ROM Download:

Upgrade Rikomagic MK902 Android MiniPC from Ubuntu

If there would be an Oscar for the WORST firmware upgrade procedure (and associated drivers, documentation and general quality of software) Rikomagic should win this by a country mile !

Rikomagic MK902

Since all the information I found on the interwebs said Linux was not supported I ended up borrowing friends notebooks (as I don’t own any Windows machinery anymore). My main Toshiba Ultrabook seemed to have issues with picking up the USB from a Windows Virtual Machine). After not being able to get the absolute crap USB drivers that come with the firmware download with any of the machines (Vista & Win7_64) I was ready to throw in the towel and put the purchase of this unit (in hindsight I would not do it again anyway) down as a total waste.

I tried a last search on upgrading using Linux it turns out there was a very recent Rockchip Linux Upgrade Tool release.

Download Upgrade Tool


If you haven’t got the Android SDK or tools yet you need to install

sudo apt-get install android-tools-adb android-tools-fastboot

USB Configuration

sudo vim /etc/udev/rules.d/51-android.rules
#add the following line
SUBSYSTEMS=="usb", ATTRS{idVendor}=="2207", MODE="0666", GROUP="plugdev"

Restart udev
sudo udevadm control --reload-rules

vim ~/.android/adb_usb.ini
#add at the end of the file

Restart the adb server

adb kill-server
adb start-server

You should be able to test with
adb devices

The output should be like the following:

adb devices
* daemon not running. starting it now on port 5037 *
* daemon started successfully *
List of devices attached
0123456789ABCDEF recovery

Please note: for adb to recognise the device it needs to be booted in recovery mode (as per the instructions in the so-called “documentation” from Rikomagic).

Boot into recovery mode

  1. Plug in USB Male-to-Male connector into the port marked “Slave” – not the other 3 hubs
  2. Press the “Reset” button using a paper-clip or similar pointy object (I used a letter opener which at times I would have loved to use on whoever came up with the crap Windows-only drivers and wasted hours of my life I will not get back… :P )
  3. After 3-5 seconds release reset button and plug the other end of the USB Male-to-Male connector into the Ubuntu box.


This bit took me a little while to work out. Turns out the device was in recovery mode and for the firmware upgrade process needs to be in bootloader mode.

Boot Device in Recovery Mode

Set the device into bootloader mode with adb.

adb reboot bootloader

Testing the bootloader mode

sudo ./upgrade_tool

./upgrade_tool List of rockusb connected
DevNo=1 Vid=0x2207,Pid=0x310b,LocationID=10c Loader
Found 1 rockusb,Select input DevNo,Rescan press ,Quit press :

Run the final upgrade of the downloaded image.

sudo ./upgrade_tool uf RKM_MK902_4.4.2_20140515.img

Helpful Resources

Thanks to the respective authors !

NOTE: If you haven’t bought this device yet and you are thinking of it – my advise is have another look somewhere else unless you have a lot of time AND are a very patient person …..

Install Google Earth on Ubuntu 14.04

Trying to install Google Earth on Ubuntu. You could just download the .deb file and run dpkg command, however I prefer to use it via a repo to make sure upgrades are installed as part of the system upgrades.

Google Earth

Google Earth Screenshot

Google Keys

Note: this should not be necessary if you have use the GoogleTalk plugin or similar package from the Google DEB Repo

cd /tmp/
sudo apt-key add

Add Google Earth Repo

sudo vim /etc/apt/sources.list.d/google.list
#add the following line
deb stable main

sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install google-earth-stable

NOTE: While this should be enough on 32bit versions of Ubuntu 14.04 unfortunately it turns out that there is a dependency problem with the 64bit version

Fix 64bit dependency issues

sudo apt-get install libc6:i386 lsb-core

The problem is even after the installation of the i368 libraries the .deb file from Google will still not install on 14.04 due to the missing dependency ia32-libs (which was removed). My solution was to download the 64bit .deb file from the link above and extract to a temporary folder and repackage on current system (without ia32-libs). If you find a more efficient way please let me know in the comments.

cd ~/tmp
mkdir google-earth-stable_current_amd64
mkdir google-earth-stable_current_amd64/DEBIAN
dpkg-deb -x google-earth-stable_current_amd64.deb google-earth-stable_current_amd64/
dpkg-deb -e google-earth-stable_current_amd64.deb google-earth-stable_current_amd64/DEBIAN
dpkg -b google-earth-stable_current_amd64
sudo dpkg -i google-earth-stable_current_amd64.deb
rm -rf google-earth-stable_current_amd64*

You should now be able to run


Android SDK issues on Ubuntu 14.04 64bit

Since the upgrade to Ubuntu 14.04 (Trusty Tahr) I have had issues running the Android SDK Tools. For example this error:

bash: ./adb: No such file or directory

Check the multi-arch architectures installed on the system.

sudo dpkg --print-architecture

Mine only showed ‘amd64′. Turns out you need to add the i386 architecture and install libc6:i386,libncurses5:i386,libstdc++6:i386 library packages.

sudo dpkg --add-architecture i386
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install libc6:i386 libncurses5:i386 libstdc++6:i386
sudo ./adb

LXQt – extending the life of my trusty old EEE PC (even further)

My old Asus EEE PC 900 is the oldest piece of hardware I own. With an old Intel Atom processor and 1GB of RAM it’s never was the fastest kid on the block (in fact I never considered the Windows XP version of the same unit usable as it was very sluggish). However after owning it for nearly 7 years I am very surprised I can still use it. Granted I only use it occasionally when I am at home, but thanks to LXDE it was still usable. I recently learned that LXDE is merging with the Razor-Qt project (great idea!) to create the combined LXQT – an ultra-low resource window manager.

Warning: LXQt is still considered a work in progress. So probably not a good idea on your prime work machine.

I started with a clean re-install of LUBUNTU LTS 14.04 – to add LXQt you need to add the lubuntu-daily PPA.

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:lubuntu-dev/lubuntu-daily
sudo add-apt-repository ppa:gilir/q-project
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get upgrade
sudo apt-get install lxqt-metapackage

Log out and log in back to LXQt desktop environment. Voilà !

LXQT Screenshot

LXQT Screenshot

After using it a little while it really is a joy to use and extremely responsive even on such a resource constrained old unit.

Great work !