Tag Archives: Ubuntu

Setting up Logitech Harmony on Ubuntu

On a recent UUPC podcast, we talked about setting up my (borrowed) Logitech Harmony remote control on Ubuntu.

 

DSC_0078

The Logitech Harmony is a family of universal remote controls. Logitech maintains a database of all the devices (well, nearly all) on its server in The Cloud. You connect your Harmony to your laptop via USB and set it up using a piece of desktop software or a browser plugin. As far as I can tell, the browser plugin works only on Windows. The desktop software is available for Windows and possibly Mac.

Happily, the Ubuntu Software Centre contains a piece of software called Congruity. It has stunning reviews claiming it Just Works. And it has a graphical interface; not some obscure set of commands. So I installed it and it did Just Work. Here’s how you can too…

(Apologies for some of the patchy instructions; I had to do parts of this from memory. I’ll update as and when I do some of the updates again.)

Getting going with the Logitech Harmony on Ubuntu

  1. Install the Congruity software from the Software Centre.
  2. Go to http://members.harmonyremote.com/ in your web browser. (This isn’t easy to find if you browse from their website as they keep funnelling you towards the Windows setup instructions and installing Silverlight.)
  3. Register with the site. You can’t avoid this because a large part of the setup is through connecting to their database in the clouds.

Registration

Before you start, life is easier if you know the model numbers of your devices (eg TV etc). I have an old-ish TV, an old-ish Blu-ray player, and a new Virgin Media TiVo (PVR).

  1. In your browser, go to http://members.harmonyremote.com/ and log in.
  2. It’ll probably tell you that your software is out of date, but that’s fine. Just click Next.

firstscreen
3. You will probably be on the Home screen now (I can’t get back there now my remote has been set up!).
4. From here, you basically follow the instructions to set up your devices. It’ll ask for your device models and guide you through setting them up.

Basic setup

There are two concepts to remember:

  • Devices
    The things you want to point your remote control at, such as the TV, the DVD player, etc. You can control pretty much anything as long as it’s controlled by an infrared remote control. You can’t control something that uses radiowaves (eg home automation systems).
  • Activities
    The things that you want to do. Basically, Logitech help you care about what you want to do, not how you want to do it. So when the Harmony is set up, you can just tell it you want to watch TV (as you can see in the photo above). You don’t have to tell it to switch on the TV and the digital box, and switch to input AV5, etc. To this end, even the setup process predicts as much as it can for you.

If you choose the automatic option for setting up the activities, it’ll look at the devices you’ve added and work out all the most likely activities you’ll want to do using them. You can then choose whether you want to configure those activities.

Don’t get too clever first time through. Just let the wizard get the basics set up for you so that you can test it out. You can go back later to fine-tune the buttons.

  1. When you’ve set up your devices and some activities in the webpage wizard, you need to update your Harmony with its new settings.
  2. First of all you’ll get prompted to save/open a file called Connectivity.EZHex. In the instructions on the web page, they’ll tell you to run the file. Don’t do that; that’s for Windows users. Instead, save the file (to your Desktop is fine).
    Screenshot from 2014-08-19 21:04:12
  3. When it’s downloaded, double-click the file and it launches Congruity:
    Screenshot from 2014-08-19 21:04:36
  4. Check that your Harmony is connected to your laptop via USB (the Harmony will display a USB CONNECTED message on its screen).
  5. Click through the short wizard. This just identifies the Harmony to the website/database.
  6. Next you’ll need to actually update the Harmony. Follow the instructions on the webpage and you’ll be prompted with another file to download, called Update.EZHex. Again, just save it to your desktop.
  7. Double-click the file and it launches Congruity again.
  8. It’ll check again that it can connect to the Harmony. If it struggles to find your Harmony (mine sometimes does on the second time round), unplug and re-plug the USB cable.
  9. Follow the wizard through. This time it’ll actually do the update to the Harmony:
    Harmony remote update
  10. And you’re done.

It’ll tell you to test it and help you diagnose problems if it doesn’t work as expected. To use the Harmony, just press the Activities button then select the activity you want (eg Watch TV).

A nice, if slightly spooky, extra touch is that when you choose an activity or when you switch off the activity (press the power button on the Harmony), the Harmony displays a message to check with you that it’s working. If, say, the TV switched on but the TiVo box didn’t, you can then press the Help button. The Harmony then tries a couple of things and checks each time to see if that solved it. As I say, a bit spooky but clever.

Tweaking settings

If buttons aren’t doing what you’d expect them to do, you can go back into the website and adjust the settings then go through the same update process of downloading and running the Connectivity.EZHex and Update.EZHex files.

If the Logitech database doesn’t know the command you’re trying to program the Harmony with, you can customise the buttons for the individual devices or for the activities you’ve set up (or both).

When you start the Watch TV activity (for example), the Harmony’s buttons send commands to the TV or to the TiVo box according to what makes sense (eg volume buttons send commands to the TV; the record button sends the command to the TiVo). If you want to control a specific device for some reason, you can press the Devices button on the Harmony to switch to control a specific device (eg the TV). All the buttons then send only to the TV. (Press Activities to get back to controlling all the devices in the activity.)

If you tend to work in the ‘activities’ mode rather than controlling each specific device separately (afterall, that’s why you’re using the Harmony!), make sure you customise the activity (on the Home page, click the Customize link next to the activity) not the device.

You can even train the Harmony to learn commands from your device’s native remote control. If you go through troubleshooting a button’s function, the wizard will eventually suggest doing this. It prompts you to download another file, LearnIr.EZTut. When you double-click this file, it launches Congruity to run a tutorial. You basically point the remotes at each other when prompted. And it works!!

Dell XPS 13 Ubuntu: 12.04 bug fixes

Back in July, I bought a Dell XPS 13 Ubuntu (aka Developer Edition) laptop. It is a thing of beauty; the screen, awesome (1920 x 1080; full HD). The XPS 13 comes with Ubuntu 12.04 installed by default, along with some additional software from Dell to make the hardware work. 12.04 was, afterall, a year old already by then.

Unfortunately, not everything works out the box. This post is about how to make them work. I might, another time, write about the pleasant but frustrating Dell ’24/7′ ProSupport  warranty process (though @DellCaresPRO is pretty responsive).

 Problems in 12.04 for the Dell XPS 13 Ubuntu laptop

These are the problems I found (almost all of them had already been reported as bugs on Launchpad or on Dell’s dedicated community forum):

    1. Intermittent freezing.
    2. Wifi dropped out frequently.
    3. Logitech wireless trackball frequently not detected on boot.
    4. Problems mounting devices as harddrives using USB2.0 port.
    5. Touchpad ‘edge scrolling’ doesn’t work and the acceleration/sensitivity settings don’t seem to do anything.
    6. Bluetooth file transfer from my phone doesn’t work.

 Fixes

I installed the following two packages from the Ubuntu repositories:

linux-generic-lts-quantal
xserver-xorg-lts-quantal

These install kernels and associated graphics drivers from future versions of Ubuntu. Basically, it means that when the bugs are fixed in future versions, you can use those fixes without having to upgrade the rest of the machine. The packages you’ll get are listed on the Ubuntu wiki. You can check which kernel version you’re using on your laptop by running the command ‘uname -a’.

The newer kernel version fixed problems 1 to 4. It also seems to have fixed most of problem 5 except for ‘edge scrolling’. I now use two-finger scrolling on the rare occasions I use the touchpad so I’m not too worried about this.

Problem 6 (for anyone, like me, who didn’t know this) is intentional. Receiving files by bluetooth is switched off by default in Ubuntu 12.04. I can see why that might be, but it’s not obvious how to switch it on. Someone pointed me to the answer on Ask Ubuntu.

Upgrading Ubuntu

Alternatively, you could just try upgrading the whole laptop to a newer version of Ubuntu. A friend bought an XPS 13 at the same time as me and he immediately installed Kubuntu 13.04 (same as Ubuntu 13.04 where it matters here) on it and had no problems. Similarly, a recent post on Dell’s forum suggests 13.10 works well.

There were three reasons I didn’t upgrade:

  1. I wanted to stay on the LTS (long-term support) version of Ubuntu which is currently 12.04.
  2. The XPS 13 Developer Edition is sold as working so I was keen for this to actually be the case!
  3. I use a Logitech universal receiver trackball and there were problems with the drivers in later kernels. However, I think this has now been fixed.

My opinion

I think it’s pretty bad that all this stuff isn’t installed and working out-of-the-box and that the 24/7 ProSupport warranty isn’t really worth much in practice (the support people I spoke to were fine but Dell needs to improve its support processes for this product).

I do, however, love the laptop. Now it’s working, I’m very pleased with it. Did I mention how lovely the screen is?

Ubuntu UK Podcast – Season 4: Listen along!

Hello, and welcome to the Ubuntu UK Podcast! It’s Tuesday the 1st of March 2011 and with me this week are….

And with (something like) that, this Tuesday at 8.30pm (UK time), we’ll be kicking off Season 4 of the Ubuntu-UK Podcast. And you can listen along. Live.

Regular listeners might be aware that we attempted a couple of episodes live last season. It mostly seemed to work. The weak excuse for broadband in Studio A held up well enough that we’re going to give it a go properly. So every two weeks, you can listen along with us live on the Internet.

While you listen, please join us in the chat room, on Twitter or identi.ca and offer feedback and other contributions as we go.

If you’re new to UUPC, it’s a one-hour Internet radio show on which we mostly talk about stuff relating to computing and the world of Open Source Software. If you can’t listen live on Tuesdays, you can download the show as a podcast from our website or from iTunes. We’ve been called “the Radio 4 of Linux podcasts” – basically, we’re family-friendly (no swearing) so you can listen around the house or in the car. We like to think we’re entertaining and a bit humorous. And we drink tea and eat cake when we can (though not while we’re talking!).

If you’re curious, have a listen to a past episode or to Tony’s Episode 0 teaser which he released last week.

See you Tuesday for: