How to communicate with USB and networked devices from in-browser Javascript

I recently combined a few tools on Linux to create a local Websocket listener, which could forward raw data to a USB printer, so that it could be accessed using Javascript in a web browser.

Why would you want this? I have point of sale applications (POS) in mind, which need to send raw data to a printer. For these applications, the browser and operating system print systems are not appropriate, since they prompt, spool, and badly render pages by converting them to low-fidelity raster images.

Web interfaces are becoming common for point-of-sale applications. The web page could be served from somewhere outside your local network, which is why we need to get the client-side Javascript involved.

The tools

To run on the client computer:

And to generate the print data on the webserver:

We will use these tools to provide some plumbing, so that we can retrieve the print data, and send it off to the printer from client-side Javascript.

Client computer

The client computer was a Linux desktop system. Both of the tools we need are available in the Debian repositories:

sudo apt-get install websockify socat

Listen for websocket connections on port 5555 and pass them to localhost:7000:

websockify 5555 localhost:7000

Listen for TCP connections on localhost port 7000 and pass them to the USB device (more advanced version of this previous post):

socat -u TCP-LISTEN:7000,fork,reuseaddr,bind=127.0.0.1 OPEN:/dev/usb/lp0

Web page

I made a self-contained web-page to provide a button which requested a print file from the network and passed it to the local websocket.

This is slightly modified from a similar example that I used for a previous project.

<html>
<head>
    <meta charset="UTF-8">
    <title>Web-based raw printing example</title>
</head>
<body>
<h1>Web-based raw printing example</h1>

<p>This snippet forwards raw data to a local websocket.</p>

<form>
  <input type="button" onclick="directPrintBytes(printSocket, [0x1b, 0x40, 0x48, 0x65, 0x6c, 0x6c, 0x6f, 0x20, 0x77, 0x6f, 0x72, 0x6c, 0x64, 0x0a, 0x1d, 0x56, 0x41, 0x03]);" value="Print test string"/>
  <input type="button" onclick="directPrintFile(printSocket, 'receipt-with-logo.bin');" value="Load and print 'receipt-with-logo'" />
</form>

<script type="text/javascript">
/**
 * Retrieve binary data via XMLHttpRequest and print it.
 */
function directPrintFile(socket, path) {
  // Get binary data
  var req = new XMLHttpRequest();
  req.open("GET", path, true);
  req.responseType = "arraybuffer";
  console.log("directPrintFile(): Making request for binary file");
  req.onload = function (oEvent) {
    console.log("directPrintFile(): Response received");
    var arrayBuffer = req.response; // Note: not req.responseText
    if (arrayBuffer) {
      var result = directPrint(socket, arrayBuffer);
      if(!result) {
        alert('Failed, check the console for more info.');
      }
    }
  };
  req.send(null);
}

/**
 * Extract binary data from a byte array print it.
 */
function directPrintBytes(socket, bytes) {
  var result = directPrint(socket, new Uint8Array(bytes).buffer);
  if(!result) {
    alert('Failed, check the console for more info.');
  }
}

/**
 * Send ArrayBuffer of binary data.
 */
function directPrint(socket, printData) {
  // Type check
  if (!(printData instanceof ArrayBuffer)) {
    console.log("directPrint(): Argument type must be ArrayBuffer.")
    return false;
  }
  if(printSocket.readyState !== printSocket.OPEN) {
    console.log("directPrint(): Socket is not open!");
    return false;
  }
  // Serialise, send.
  console.log("Sending " + printData.byteLength + " bytes of print data.");
  printSocket.send(printData);
  return true;
}

/**
 * Connect to print server on startup.
 */
var printSocket = new WebSocket("ws://localhost:5555", ["binary"]);
printSocket.binaryType = 'arraybuffer';
printSocket.onopen = function (event) {
  console.log("Socket is connected.");
}
printSocket.onerror = function(event) {
  console.log('Socket error', event);
};
printSocket.onclose = function(event) {
  console.log('Socket is closed');
}
</script>
</body>
</html>

Webserver

On a Apache HTTP webserver, I uploaded the above webpage, and a file with some raw print data, called receipt-with-logo.bin. This file was generated with escpos-php and is available in the repository:

For reference, the test file receipt-with-logo.bin contains this content:

Test

I opened up the web page on the client computer with socat, websockify and an Epson TM-T20II connected. After clicking the “Print” button, the file was sent to my printer. Success!

Because I wasn’t closing the websocket connection, only one browser window could access the printer at a time. Still, it’s a good demo of the basic idea.

To take this from an example to something you might deploy, you would basically just need to keep socat and websockify running in the background as a service (via systemd), close the socket when it’s not being used, and integrate it into a real app.

Different printers, different forwarding

The socat tool can connect to USB, Serial, or Ethernet printers fairly easily.

USB

Forward TCP connections from port 7000 to the receipt printer at /dev/usb/lp0:

socat TCP4-LISTEN:7000,fork /dev/usb/lp0

You can also access the device files directly under /sys/bus/usb/devices/

Serial

Forward TCP connections from port 7000 to the receipt printer at /dev/usb/ttyS0:

socat TCP4-LISTEN:7000,fork /dev/usb/ttyS0

Network

Forward TCP connections from port 7000 to the receipt printer at 10.1.2.3:9100:

socat -u TCP-LISTEN:7000,fork,reuseaddr,bind=127.0.0.1 TCP4-CONNECT:10.1.2.3:9100

You can forward websocket connections directly to an Ethernet printer with websockify:

socat -u TCP-LISTEN:7000,fork,reuseaddr,bind=127.0.0.1 localhost:7000

Other types of printer

If you have another type of printer, such as one accessible only via smbclient or lpr, then you will need to write a helper script.

Direct printing is faster, so I don’t use this method. Check the socat EXEC documentation or man socat if you want to try this.

Future

I’ve had a lot of questions on the escpos-php bug tracker from users who are attempting to print from cloud-hosted apps, which is why I tried this setup.

The browser is a moving target. I have previously written receipt-print-hq/chrome-raw-print, a dedicated app for forwarding WebSocket connections to USB, but that will stop working in a few months when Chrome apps are discontinued. Some time later, WebUSB should become available to make this type of printer available in the browser, which should be infinitely useful for connecting to accessories in point-of-sale setups.

The available tools for generating ESC/POS (receipt printer) binary from the browser are a long way off reaching feature parity with the likes of escpos-php and python-escpos. If you are looking for a side-project, then this a good choice.

Lastly, the socat -u flag makes this all unidirectional, but many types of devices (not just printers) can respond to commands. I couldn’t the end-to-end path to work without this flag, so don’t expect to be able to read from the printer without doing some extra work.

Useful links

Some links that I found while setting this up-

Get the code

View on GitHub →

How to use HiDPI displays on Debian 9

I recently added a 4K monitor to my Debian box, and had to set a few things to make it display things at a good size. These high-density moniotors that are becoming common on laptops and desktops are known as “HiDPI” displays.

Currently I get the best results with:

  • Window scaling factor of 2
  • Font scaling 0.90 to make text slightly smaller

Note that “window scaling” is not “upscaling” (stretching an image). In this version of Gnome, it means “single/double/triple DPI”. The implementations are in the process of changing: Soon you should be able to set any scaling factor.

This post assumes a Gnome version around 3.26, which is what you would get as a default if you installed Debian 9 today.

Apply to one user

Under Settings → Devices → Displays, set the Scale to 200%.

Under Tweaks → Fonts, set the Scaling Factor to 0.90.

Next, add these variables to ~/bashrc to apply similar scaling to QT apps.

QT_AUTO_SCREEN_SCALE_FACTOR=0
QT_SCALE_FACTOR=2

Log out and back in to ensure that the settings have applied everywhere.

Apply to any user

If you have a shared system (eg. domain accounts), or want to style the login box as well, then you can set the same settings as below.

These steps are based on answers to the Ask Ubuntu question: Adjust text scaling factor for all users.

nano /usr/share/glib-2.0/schemas/org.gnome.desktop.interface.gschema.xml

Set the text-scaling-factor to 0.9, and the scaling-factor to 2.

<key name="text-scaling-factor" type="d">
  <range min="0.5" max="3.0"/>
  <default>0.9</default>
  <summary>Text scaling factor</summary>
  <description>
    Factor used to enlarge or reduce text display, without changing font si$
  </description>
</key>
<key name="scaling-factor" type="u">
  <default>2</default>
  <summary>Window scaling factor</summary>
  <description>
    Integer factor used to scale windows by. For use on high-dpi screens.
    0 means pick automatically based on monitor.
  </description>
</key>

Re-compile the schemas:

glib-compile-schemas /usr/share/glib-2.0/schemas

Next drop some similar environent variables for QT apps in /etc/profile.d/hidpi.sh to apply it to all users:

export QT_AUTO_SCREEN_SCALE_FACTOR=0
export QT_SCALE_FACTOR=2

After this, reboot. If the setting has applied, then the gdm3 login box will be scaled as well.

How to boot Debian in 4 seconds

This blog post is a throwback to “Booting Debian in 14 seconds” from debian-administration.org, where the author went through some fairly advanced steps to get his low-spec Debian laptop to boot quickly. Debian was version 4.0 at the time, and I recall it taking around 40 seconds to boot on a default desktop install.

In a rare exception to Wirth’s law, waiting for a computer to boot is no longer “a thing”. A default desktop install of Debian includes systemd, and uses a multi-core CPU and SSD quite efficiently. Also, sleep/wake works more reliably than it used to, so boot speed is not as important as it used to be.

On a modern desktop PC, booting Debian 9 (default desktop install) takes me 14 seconds with no extra configuration, so that’s our new low water mark.

.

Mainly to illustrate how far open source operating systems have come, I’m going to step through a boot process speed-up, the way it looks in 2018.

Summary

Out

You will read about some of these older tricks if you search for Linux Boot speed, and they are all quite irrelevant in 2018, in my humble opinion-

  • Swapping the /bin/sh shell to dash (already the default, also, init scripts are no longer used).
  • Using readahead (gains are tiny unless you have a HDD).
  • noatime” setting on mounts (“relatime” is a default mount option since Linux 2.6).
In

New things that you wont find in pre-systemd guides:

  • systemd-analyze to instrument the boot
  • systemctl to exclude processes from boot
Still relevant
  • bootchart is still useful for drawing pretty graphs
  • Configure GRUB & UEFI not to prompt for input
  • Don’t enable services you don’t need

Process

Remove bootloader delay

Between UEFI and the OS, you will get the bootloader, which will wait for 5 seconds by default to see if you want to select a different item. Start by switching the grub timeout from 5 seconds to 0.

sudo nano /etc/default/grub

Set GRUB_TIMEOUT=0.

Run:

sudo update-grub2
Look at systemd

Use the tool systemd-analyze to draw a picture:

systemd-analyze plot > plot.svg

In my case, it was clear that 9 seconds of the boot was an optional “waiting for network” step.

So, (thank you askubuntu), I disabled that service and rebooted:

$ sudo systemctl disable NetworkManager-wait-online.service
Removed /etc/systemd/system/network-online.target.wants/NetworkManager-wait-online.service.
systemd-analyze plot > plot2.svg

The boot was still taking 4.4 seconds, so, more analysis was in order:

The systemd-timesyncd service was holding things up.

This service runs early in the boot process, reads an old time from a file, and tries to update time over the network. Since I have a working RTC, this is all unnecessary for me, so I removed it and replaced it with chronyd, which is happy to operate in the background.

sudo systemctl disable systemd-timesyncd.service
sudo apt-get install chronyd
sudo systemctl enable chrony

After another reboot:

systemd-analyze plot > plot4.svg

There we go, down to 4.096 seconds with a few minutes of effort. I think that’s acceptable.

The systemd developers are quite certain that you can boot in under 2 seconds, but I wasn’t willing to customise my system to that extent.

How to use parallel to speed up your work

GNU Parallel is a tool to execute multiple commands at once. In its basic usage, you would list your commands in a file, so that it can execute them, several at a time.

It gives the most benefit on processes that don’t fully utilise your CPU. Almost every laptop, desktop and single board computer now has multiple CPU cores available, so you are probably missing out if you frequently perform batch operations without it.

Installation

On Debian or Ubuntu:

sudo apt-get install parallel
parallel --cite

On Fedora the package name is the same:

sudo dnf install parallel
parallel --cite

Example 1: Convert loops to pipes

Using the ImageMagick tool to convert a folder of GIF images to PNG format can be done in a loop:

for i in *.gif; do convert $i -scale 200% ${i%.*}.png; done

Or, you could print each command in a loop then pass them to parallel.

for i in *.gif; do echo convert $i -scale 200% ${i%.*}.png; done | parallel

The second command is many times faster on a multi-core computer.

Example 2: Replace xargs with parallel

This command executes a single “pngcrush” command on each PNG file in a directory, one at a time.

find . -type f -name '*.png' -print0  | xargs -0 -n1 -r pngcrush -q -ow -brute

To convert this to use parallel, you would use the following command-line:

find . -type f -name '*.png' | parallel "pngcrush -q -ow -brute {}"

Don’t use xargs in parallel mode

Expert command line users will also know about xargs -P, which seems to do the same thing at a glance.

xargs is good at making really long command-lines, and not so good at executing multiple commands at once. It will mix the output of the commands, and requires you to specify the number of jobs to run.

Parallel is designed to do lots of things at once, and it does it well. It will choose some good defaults for the number of processes to execute, and adds an insane collection of features that you need for large batches. To name just a few:

  • Control spawning of new jobs based on things like available memory, system load, or an absolute number of jobs to keep running
  • Distribute jobs to remote computers
  • Show progress
  • Control of when to terminate the jobs

How to set up Docker containers in Travis CI

This post outlines a method for using Docker for testing on Travis CI. It may be useful to you if you are a web application developer who uses GitHub.

I use this setup in my web-based word puzzle generator, so that every change is spun up and tested with a web browser before it is merged.

I got the idea for writing this from a few lines in the docker-compose documentation, which suggested that Docker is an easy way to perform automated testing over a running application:

$ docker-compose up -d
$ ./run_tests
$ docker-compose down

This snippet was missing some setup and an example app, but these three lines do all the heavy lifting.

The Docker setup

In order to focus on the Docker setup, I made a server which simply responds to TCP requests on port 5000 with the text “Hello World”.

This file is called server.sh, and sits in a directory called foo_server:

#!/bin/sh
while true; do
  # Send 'Hello World' to anybody who connects on port 5000
  echo "Hello World" | nc -l 5000
done

Alongside it, I added a Dockerfile to instruct docker to execute this tiny ‘application’ in a container, after installing the dependencies. This machine is built from the Docker-official Debian image:

FROM debian
ADD . /usr/share/test-server
WORKDIR /usr/share/test-server
RUN apt-get update && apt-get install --assume-yes netcat-openbsd
CMD ./server.sh

Lastly, a .dockerignore file is used to avoid loading the Dockerfile to the container:

# Ignore docker files
Dockerfile
.dockerignore

In the directory above, a simple test script, test.sh is used to see that the server is returning the expected output:

#!/bin/sh
set -e
expected="Hello World"
actual=`nc -v localhost 5000`
echo "Expecting: $expected"
echo "Server says: $actual"
if [ "$expected" != "$actual" ]; then
  echo "Test failed"
  exit 1
else
  echo "Test passed"
  exit 0
fi

Alongside the test file, a file called docker-compose.yml instructs Docker to create a container out of the foo_server example, and forward port 127.0.0.1:5000 to it.

version: '2'
services:
  foo:
    build: foo_server
    ports:
     - "5000:5000"
    container_name: foo_1

To try it out for yourself, you need a relatively recent version of Docker and docker-compose. The versions provided in Debian were not new enough to execute the examples, but the Docker project provides repos containing newer builds for Debian & Ubuntu. For my distro, the install was:

curl -sSL "https://get.docker.com/gpg" | sudo -E apt-key add -
echo "deb https://apt.dockerproject.org/repo debian-stretch main" | sudo tee -a /etc/apt/sources.list
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install docker-engine
sudo pip install docker-compose

The versions this got me were docker 1.11.2, and docker-compose 1.7.1. Straight after the install, I could deploy & test an example locally:

$ docker-compose up --build -d
$ ./test.sh
$ docker-compose down

The CI setup

I’ll assume that if you’re reading this, you are familiar with the basics of Travis CI. The large block of code below is the .travis.yml file to set up the test machine, then execute the tests against a container.

---
# Use Ubuntu 'trusty' distribution
sudo: required
dist: trusty

install:
  # Update docker-engine using Ubuntu 'trusty' apt repo
  - >
    curl -sSL "https://get.docker.com/gpg" |
     sudo -E apt-key add -
  - >
    echo "deb https://apt.dockerproject.org/repo ubuntu-trusty main" |
     sudo tee -a /etc/apt/sources.list
  - sudo apt-get update
  - >
    sudo apt-get -o Dpkg::Options::="--force-confdef" \
     -o Dpkg::Options::="--force-confold" --assume-yes install docker-engine
  - docker version
  # Update docker-compose via pip
  - sudo pip install docker-compose
  - docker-compose version

before_script:
  - docker-compose up --build -d

script:
  - ./test.sh

after_script:
  - docker-compose down
...

Note: This uses Travis CI’s trusty distribution, which at the time of writing is the newest stable build platform available on Travis CI. This shipped an outdated version of Docker, which had to be installed over. Because the existing Docker was configured, I had to override a debconf prompt, which is why the apt addon syntax was not used to set up dependencies.

Result

The build result for each commit is displayed in Travis CI:

2016-06-ci-result-1

Under this, the output of the passing test script is shown, showing what has been set up:

2016-06-ci-result-2

Using this setup in practice

Moving this from a demo setup to a real setup would be fairly simple:

  1. Replace the installation with a real software stack
  2. Replace the server run with a command to serve the application (such as a Apache HTTP, Tomcat or Node)
  3. Replace the tests with real tests (such as Cucumber or Selenium).

The example in the pre-amble installs a LAMP stack and tests it with Selenium in its CI build.

If your application is a bit larger, your only extra complexity will come from running multiple containers with docker-compose.

Get the code

All of these scripts in a working CI example are available on GitHub:
mike42/minimal-docker-ci

How to edit emulator flags in Android Studio

I’ve recently updated to the new IntelliJ-based Android studio 2.1.

I ran into some issues attempting to launch a “hello world” project in the emulator, which I’m writing up here for the benefit of others.

For context, I run Debian GNU/Linux Jessie on an AMD64 box, with Radeon graphics card, using the free drivers.

The OpenGL error

2016-05-22-android-1

When attempting to launch a simple project with the emulator, the emulator died with the following message:

Cannot launch AVD in emulator.
Output:
libGL error: unable to load driver: radeonsi_dri.so
libGL error: driver pointer missing
libGL error: failed to load driver: radeonsi
libGL error: unable to load driver: swrast_dri.so
libGL error: failed to load driver: swrast
X Error of failed request:  GLXBadContext
  Major opcode of failed request:  155 (GLX)
  Minor opcode of failed request:  6 (X_GLXIsDirect)
  Serial number of failed request:  49
  Current serial number in output stream:  48
libGL error: unable to load driver: radeonsi_dri.so
libGL error: driver pointer missing
libGL error: failed to load driver: radeonsi
libGL error: unable to load driver: swrast_dri.so
libGL error: failed to load driver: swrast
X Error of failed request:  GLXBadContext
  Major opcode of failed request:  155 (GLX)
  Minor opcode of failed request:  6 (X_GLXIsDirect)
  Serial number of failed request:  49
  Current serial number in output stream:  48
libGL error: unable to load driver: radeonsi_dri.so
libGL error: driver pointer missing
libGL error: failed to load driver: radeonsi
libGL error: unable to load driver: swrast_dri.so
libGL error: failed to load driver: swrast
X Error of failed request:  BadValue (integer parameter out of range for operation)
  Major opcode of failed request:  155 (GLX)
  Minor opcode of failed request:  24 (X_GLXCreateNewContext)
  Value in failed request:  0x0
  Serial number of failed request:  33
emulator: WARNING: VM heap size set below hardware specified minimum of 228MB
emulator: WARNING: Setting VM heap size to 384MB
  Current serial number in output stream:  34
QObject::~QObject: Timers cannot be stopped from another thread

The console logs that the command being executed is:

/home/mike/Android/Sdk/tools/emulator -netdelay none -netspeed full -avd Nexus_5X_API_23

Fixing on the command-line

Quick list of things that didn’t work:

  • Installing more libraries via apt-get
    apt-get install libstdc++6 xserver-xorg-video-radeon
  • Pre-loading libraries
    LD_PRELOAD='/usr/lib64/libstdc++.so.6' /home/mike/Android/Sdk/tools/emulator -netdelay none -netspeed full -avd Nexus_5X_API_23
  • Attempting to understand LibGL’s debug output
    LIBGL_DEBUG=verbose /home/mike/Android/Sdk/tools/emulator -netdelay none -netspeed full -avd Nexus_5X_API_23

But the solution turned out to be this very specific flag:

$ ./emulator -help | grep libstdc++
    -use-system-libs               Use system libstdc++ instead of bundled one

So launching the emulator from the CLI worked for me, using this command:

/home/mike/Android/Sdk/tools/emulator -netdelay none -netspeed full -avd Nexus_5X_API_23

Fixing in the IDE

So this was fantastic progress, but without being able to launch this emulator from Android Studio, the development environment wasn’t really integrated yet.

Apparently there used to be a feature for adding command-line flags to the emulator, but this is now gone.

So, adapting a post here, I jumped in and replaced the emulator binary into a wrapper to inject some flags.

 $ cd ~/Android/Sdk/tools/
$ mv emulator emulator.0
$ touch emulator
$ chmod +x emulator

I then opened up the emulator in a text editor and punched in this:

#!/bin/sh
set -ex
$0.0 $@ -use-system-libs

Result

Success!

2016-05-22-android-2

Quick guide: Running stock Debian on the Raspberry Pi 2

At the time of writing, the ‘Raspbian’ port of Debian is often used on the Raspberry Pi. It was created to match the CPU architecture, for better performance. These reasons don’t apply to the newer Raspberry Pi 2, so if you’re a Debian desktop or server user, you can do away with the fork and just run Debian Jessie armhf.

The info from Debian is: https://wiki.debian.org/RaspberryPi2

A bit more background about why this only applies to the Raspberry Pi 2-

  • The Raspberry Pi 1 uses ARMv6 chipset with hard floats
    • The Debian armhf port requires ARMv7
    • The Debian armel port doesn’t use hard floats, so is unnecessarily slow on the Pi.
    • So Raspbian was created for the Raspberry Pi 1’s ARMv6 w/ hard-floats, and gets the most juice out of the CPU on the Raspberry Pi 1.
  • The Raspberry Pi 2 uses ARMv7 with hard floats, so Debian armhf port is fine.

Install the image

Image is linked to from this page:

I will assume that your machine has an SD card slot. To find the device name, list out disks and look for one of the correct size, which appears when you plug in the card:

df

Download a copy of the image, extract it out, and dd the file on to the card:

wget -c https://images.collabora.co.uk/rpi2/jessie-rpi2-20150705.img.gz
gunzip jessie-rpi2-20150705.img.gz 
sudo dd if=jessie-rpi2-20150705.img of=/dev/sdX bs=4M
sudo sync
umount /media/$USER/*

Plug in the Raspberry pi, and then log in. If you are using SSH, then arp-scan is a good tool to pick up devices on the network:

sudo apt-get install arp-scan
sudo arp-scan -l
ssh root@x.y.z.w

Configure pi- Things like screen resolution and HDMI go here:

cd /boot/firmware/
nano config.txt

Perform a software upgrade:

nano /etc/apt/sources.list
apt-get update
apt-get dist-upgrade

Start fixing security defaults. Remember that this is not a clean install, so start by setting your own passwords:

passwd

Check that there are no other accounts with passwords set:

cat /etc/shadow

Regenerate all SSH Server keys (commands from here):

ssh-keygen -f /etc/ssh/ssh_host_ecdsa_key -N '' -t ecdsa -b 521
ssh-keygen -f /etc/ssh/ssh_host_dsa_key -N '' -t dsa
ssh-keygen -f /etc/ssh/ssh_host_rsa_key -N '' -t rsa

Lastly, generate some locales:

sudo locale-gen en_US en_US.UTF-8 en_GB en_GB.UTF-8

Convert a PC to a HTPC with Debian and Kodi

I recently converted an old workstation to run as a home-theatre PC (HTPC). I’ve noted down the setup here for others who are making an installation like this. Some steps depend on using a radeon chipset, and will need to be adjusted for your computer.

Hardware

First up, Desktop ‘towers’ are not a good form-factor for sitting in TV cabinets. If your PC is this sort of size, then source a small form-factor case and power supply, and load the computer’s components into it:

2016-02-htpc

I also used a Logitech k400r keyboard and mouse for wireless input.

Install Debian and apps

Write the latest copy of Debian Stable to a CD or flash drive (this is version 8.3 at time of writing), and install it on the computer. Check “Debian Desktop environment” / GNOME during setup.

After installation, open a terminal, and type “su” to get root privileges.

su

Edit the software sources to include ‘contrib’ and ‘non-free’, as well as ‘jessie-backports’.

nano /etc/apt/sources.list
deb http://ftp.us.debian.org/debian/ jessie main contrib non-free
deb-src http://ftp.us.debian.org/debian/ jessie main contrib non-free

deb http://security.debian.org/ jessie/updates main contrib non-free
deb-src http://security.debian.org/ jessie/updates main contrib non-free

# jessie-updates, previously known as 'volatile'
deb http://ftp.us.debian.org/debian/ jessie-updates main contrib non-free
deb-src http://ftp.us.debian.org/debian/ jessie-updates main contrib non-free

# jessie-backports
deb http://ftp.us.debian.org/debian/ jessie-backports main contrib non-free
deb-src http://ftp.us.debian.org/debian/ jessie-backports main contrib non-free

Update sources and install Kodi:

apt-get install --install-suggests kodi

Also install the firmware packages that you may need.

apt-get install firmware-linux-free firmware-amd-graphics

Tweaks

Sudo

sudo allows you to run commands as root from your regular user account. Install the package and add yourself to the sudo group:

apt-get install sudo
usermod -a -G sudo mike

To apply the change, log out and back in again. The rest of this guide assumes you are logged in as yourself, and will use sudo where necessary.

Auto-start Kodi

Open the tweak tool, and locate the list of startup programs.

gnome-tweak-tool

Add Kodi to the list, log out, log in, and Kodi will launch automatically.

Auto-login

For a PC attached to a TV, user permissions are not so importnat, so set the user to log in automatically.

sudo nano /etc/gdm3/daemon.conf

Un-comment this block and enter your username:


# Enabling automatic login
#  AutomaticLoginEnable = true
#  AutomaticLogin = user1

Plymouth start-up screen

Install plymouth and configure grub to change the Debian boot sequence (a menu with timeout, followed by lots of text) into a graphical splash screen. This takes a bit of configuration.

sudo apt-get install plymouth

Set it up according to these instructions:

sudo nano /etc/initramfs-tools/modules

Set drm correctly for your chipset:

# KMS
drm
radeon modeset=1

Configure grub:

sudo nano /etc/default/grub
...
GRUB_TIMEOUT=0
...
GRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX_DEFAULT="quiet splash"
...
GRUB_GFXMODE=1920x1080
...

Update grub, set the theme in Plymouth:

sudo update-grub2
sudo /usr/sbin/plymouth-set-default-theme --list
sudo /usr/sbin/plymouth-set-default-theme joy

Run update-initramfs to apply the changes

sudo update-initramfs -u

Samba

Samba will let you share folders over your network. A basic folder with guest read/write is simple to set up:

sudo apt-get install nautilus-share samba libpam-smbpass winbind
sudo usermod -a -G sambashare mike

Log out, and back in to apply the group change, and then share the Public folder over the network by right-clicking on it and opening the “Sharing Options”:

2016-02-samba-share

Gnome will warn that the folder as shared if you open it:

2016-02-samba-shared

Test the setup by typing smb://localhost into the address bar:

2016-02-samba-test

Overscan correction

In my case, I was able to set the TV to treat the input as a “PC” input. If that doesn’t work for you, then use xrandr in a login script:

Find the name of your input:

xrandr --query

Set underscan (get the horizontal and vertical values by trial and error):

xrandr --output HDMI-0 --set underscan on
xrandr --output HDMI-0 --set "underscan hborder" 32 --set "underscan vborder" 16

Kodi plugins

Add these as needed. The Australian catchup TV plugins repository from GitHub worked well.

Kodi RSS

The RSS feed shows Kodi updates by default, and is part of your user profile.

2016-02-feed-file

Edit the configuration file, and adjust the paths to your news sources of choice.

2016-02-feed

Boot speed

Readahead is the tool of choice for boot speed optimisation. Install it, and reboot.

sudo apt-get install readahead
sudo touch  /.readahead_collect
sudo reboot

Desktop Apps

If you quit Kodi, you are dropped back to the GNOME desktop. These apps are simply to improve the desktop user experience.

Google Chrome

Download the .deb file for Chrome from Google, install with dpkg, and then clean up dependencies:

dpkg -i google-chrome-stable_current_amd64.deb 
apt-get -f install

Firefox

Download and extract the Firefox for Linux tarball from Mozilla.

Move it to /usr/share, and change the owner to match other applications there.

mv firefox /usr/share/
cd /usr/share/
ls -Ahl
chown root:root firefox
chown -R root:root firefox

Find the main menu editor, and add Firefox to the menu.

2016-02-menu

Name
Firefox Web Browser
Command
/usr/share/firefox/firefox-bin
Icon
/usr/share/firefox/browser/icons/mozicon128.png

2016-02-firefox-icon

2016-02-firefox-menu

Test the new icon by searching:

2016-02-ff

Auto-clear browser profiles

Because you don’t need a password to log in to the user account, you can add this as a bit of insurance so that your box wont remember any passwords or sessions.

crontab -e

This job removes the Firefox and Chrome user profiles each boot.

@reboot rm --preserve-root -Rf --~/.config/google-chrome ~/.cache/google-chrome ~/.mozilla/firefox ~/.cache/mozilla/firefox

VLC

For file format support, best to have another media player:

sudo apt-get install vlc

Result

You should now have a PC which boots into Kodi for media and TV, and lets you quit into a desktop to browse the web or run regular desktop apps.

2016-02-kodi

2016-02-gnome

On the 1GB RAM / dual core workstation, it still took around 45 seconds from the BIOS handing over control to Kodi being ready.

Update 2017-12-29: Re-installing this setup on an SSD shortened this time to 21 seconds. This includes boot, login, and an application start.

How to print red/black on an impact receipt printer

I recently deployed an Epson TM-U220 impact receipt printer. These printers work by striking a ribbon onto the paper, like a type-writer. One of the up-sides to using these intead of a thermal printer is the ability to install a red/black ribbon in place of the default (black) one:

2015-10-colour-receipt-printing-1

2015-10-colour-receipt-printing-2

I connected up my printer using a USB-parallel cable, so my previous posts (Linux, Windows) apply for the connector setup.

Using the escpos-php driver on GitHub, a line of red text is printed like this:

<?php
/*
 * Example of two-color printing, tested on an epson TM-U220 with two-color ribbon installed.
 */
require __DIR__ . '/autoload.php';
use Mike42\Escpos\Printer;
use Mike42\Escpos\PrintConnectors\FilePrintConnector;
$connector = new FilePrintConnector("php://stdout");
$printer = new Printer($connector);

try {
    $printer = new Escpos($connector);
    $printer -> text("Hello World!\n");
    $printer -> setColor(Printer::COLOR_2);
    $printer -> text("Red?!\n");
    $printer -> setColor(Printer::COLOR_1);
    $printer -> text("Default color again?!\n");
    $printer -> cut();
} finally {
    /* Always close the printer! */
    $printer -> close();
}

With this result:

2015-10-colour-receipt-printing-3

How to connect a USB receipt printer up on Mac OS X

This post will show you how to set up a USB receipt printer on Max OS X. These steps were written on Yosemite, but should work on 10.6 onwards (ie, also Snow Leopard through to El Capitan).

This is another post in a series, which has so far covered direct USB printing on Windows and Linux. The printer tested here is this Epson TM-T20:

2015-03-printer-back
2015-03-printer-top

CUPS is the printing system that’s used on Mac, but most users would be more familiar with the system print dialog:

2015-11-mac-usb-epson-12

In our case, we need to set up the printer via the CUPS web interface. This is accessed via a web browser at this address:

http://localhost:631

At first, you will get knocked back:

2015-11-mac-usb-epson-0

To fix this up, open up Applications → Utilities → Terminal and type in:

cupsctl WebInterface=yes

You can then reload the browser and click through to Administration:

2015-11-mac-usb-epson-1

Click Add Printer and log in:

2015-11-mac-usb-epson-2

2015-11-mac-usb-epson-3

Select the USB printer from the list, and optionally share it:

2015-11-mac-usb-epson-4

2015-11-mac-usb-epson-5

Click Select Another Make/Manufacturer, and select Raw → Raw Queue:

2015-11-mac-usb-epson-6

2015-11-mac-usb-epson-7

2015-11-mac-usb-epson-8

Use the defaults for the other options:

2015-11-mac-usb-epson-9

Test print

Type some junk into a file called foo.txt and attempt to print it, using the CUPS printer name:

nano foo.txt
lpr -o raw -H localhost -P EPSON_TM-T20 foo.txt

The prints will be delayed for a few moments, as CUPS spools the jobs.

Disable CUPS web

Once you’re done, for security reasons you should reset this option from before, to disable the web interface to CUPS:

cupsctl WebInterface=no