Monday 15 October 2018

Junkendriven - New car related content only on Youtube

My new series is coming to Youtube shortly, named #junkendriven

Don't miss out, subscribe to my youtube channel and be ready for the new series to start soon!

Tuesday 11 September 2018

UniFi APs and time scheduling

UniFi has been my choice for WIFI access points for a while, I've put quite a few in now in large and small installations. The smallest being at home where I have two APs.
One in the house and one in the garage to cover the drive, garden, etc. They work pretty well and I get good coverage generally. I've gone with setting them both to the same channel for the same SSID. In some ways this is frowned upon as you get overlap and arguing over channels, but I find it works really well and some of my older devices quite happily shift between access points.
They're the older 11N/B/G units so nothing amazing, but for home use pretty good.

The biggest problem I have is their configuration. UniFi APs have no way of configuring them directly, they require the "UniFi controller" which is a java (Urgh... Really... Urgh) web control panel that drives it all. The panel is actually pretty good, shows client connections, signal strength, number of APs, nearby channels, lets you control guest access, etc. Here is where UniFi is nice and "just works", you can setup guest wifi hotspots, with doorway pages, terms to agree to, or just limit how long people can spend on the AP. You can also set wifi access times (Times of the day/week that the Wifi SSID is broadcast/available), block/permit MAC addresses, use VLANs and other clever parts that are all just built in.
As mentioned before, the issue is their configuration. Their method of the APs being remote to the controller means after making most changes to the controller the APs have to re-provision to then take the new configuration. This re-provision causes them to STOP traffic/drop the SSID's, update and then come back online. This is a major headache as means after each change your entire wireless network drops, configures then comes back. Not really good for production use that! There isn't a clear indicator as to what changes cause a wifi drop either, so you're sometimes left guessing whether wifi will drop or not.

WiFi access times - This is a feature I really wanted, it'd allow me to control my guest and kids wifi network, whilst leaving my own alone.

Here you can see it setup to only allow access 8am-6pm 7 days a week. Firstly, you'll see you can't have multiple schedules per day, only one ON and OFF per day.
There was another issue with this, if you want to make a one-off quick change to the schedule you can't really, you have to modify the time or disable/enable WLAN schedule (WARNING: If you disable it, when you go back to re-enable it, the times are all reset back to defaults). So this doesn't give you the option for dynamic changes to add time if needed, etc.

At present this feature has been continuously requested from Unifi but no success. I've therefore been looking for alternatives, and at the moment have only a partial fix to this.
There is a PHP class that provides access to the UniFi controller through scripts ( that I've used for a quick script that allows me to switch on and off the relevant SSID's on demand.
The problem is that this makes a change to the controller, and so in turn all the APs go back through provisioning and cause all wifi clients to drop!

No solution to that at the moment, so I'm open to suggestions, even if that might be to move to an alternative wifi product (Microtik maybe?).

Thursday 9 August 2018

Xgody D24 and the nasty background app

As my previous blog posting mentioned, I decided to get a cheap (less than £100) android phone from ebay, it's a chinese import and it's the Xgody D24 Pro. It's a really nice phone and I'm liking it, it's fast enough, designed well and other than poor battery life has been great.

That is until around 2 weeks of ownership and then it seems to cause problems. It gets really hot at the back top (I'm assuming where the CPU is), battery life starts to suffer and then it starts switching wifi OFF.
This was the biggest pain for me, as switching to my limited 4G data service wasn't ideal, so why was it switching wifi OFF. Annoyingly searching Android and permissions it seems the ability to turn wifi on and off is not a system/secured function and so pretty much any app can do this. I wanted to see if I could spot the app doing it so started to use adb to debug and view the logs from the phone. This is trival on most Android devices. Get into debug mode by going to about the phone and clicking 7 times on BUILD NUMBER, and you get the developer options. Enable USB debugging and you can then start using adb shell, logcat and others. This is good as we can now see debug output from the phone and get a shell.
Unfortunately root doesn't seem an option at the moment as none of the traditional Mediatek methods of rooting work so far, so I'm still hunting for this.

Anyway, back to debugging and nothing showed the wifi getting switched off, other than the android system messages showing the wifi trigger to switch off had occurred. So this didn't give me anything useful unfortunately. So I then wondered what the phone was doing, why did it want to switch wifi off, and why did it hate my wifi so much! It's not my WIFI as loads of other devices in the house were happy, so to me the phone was deciding to switch it off and move to 4G.
I therefore started to capture what traffic the phone was doing, and in doing so got quite alarmed. I did this firstly by just capturing what DNS queries were being made, I run my own caching dns at home as I then filter out known dodgy websites, adverts, etc, so this was my biggest thought. Some app on my phone didn't like that I was stopping their ad revenue and circumventing my block! So looking at the DNS queries should help, here is a small extract:

08-Aug-2018 18:17:36.176 client -redacted-#37694 ( view internal-view: query: IN A + -redacted-
08-Aug-2018 18:17:36.245 client -redacted-#46380 ( view internal-view: query: IN A +T -redacted-
08-Aug-2018 18:17:54.151 client -redacted-#61674 ( view internal-view: query: IN A + -redacted-
08-Aug-2018 18:17:54.198 client -redacted-#41326 ( view internal-view: query: IN A + -redacted-
08-Aug-2018 18:18:05.719 client -redacted-#41059 ( view internal-view: query: IN A + -redacted-
08-Aug-2018 18:18:06.490 client -redacted-#47730 ( view internal-view: query: IN A + -redacted-
08-Aug-2018 18:18:07.553 client -redacted-#62811 ( view internal-view: query: IN A + -redacted-
08-Aug-2018 18:18:58.558 client -redacted-#37185 ( view internal-view: query: IN A + -redacted-
08-Aug-2018 18:18:58.660 client -redacted-#39907 ( view internal-view: query: IN A + -redacted-
08-Aug-2018 18:18:58.963 client -redacted-#40249 ( view internal-view: query: IN A + -redacted-
08-Aug-2018 18:18:59.497 client -redacted-#44690 ( view internal-view: query: IN A + -redacted-
08-Aug-2018 18:20:01.643 client -redacted-#53189 ( view internal-view: query: IN A + -redacted-
08-Aug-2018 18:20:02.847 client -redacted-#42812 ( view internal-view: query: IN A + -redacted-
08-Aug-2018 18:20:03.019 client -redacted-#34487 ( view internal-view: query: IN A + -redacted-
08-Aug-2018 18:20:03.198 client -redacted-#55749 ( view internal-view: query: IN A + -redacted-

So these weren't great, but I can see how they were working, tracking on various software, phone-home stuff, click trackers. Not things I like seeing, but I can kind of see why, there are some googleapis in there, some facebook stuff, so unsurprising.
But then the ones that worried me came along:
08-Aug-2018 18:20:53.374 client -redacted-#11447 ( view internal-view: query: IN A + -redacted-
08-Aug-2018 18:20:53.599 client -redacted-#4099 ( view internal-view: query: IN A + -redacted-
08-Aug-2018 18:20:53.829 client -redacted-#21446 ( view internal-view: query: IN A + -redacted-
08-Aug-2018 18:20:54.132 client -redacted-#23448 ( view internal-view: query: IN A + -redacted-
08-Aug-2018 18:20:54.517 client -redacted-#26753 ( view internal-view: query: IN A + -redacted-
08-Aug-2018 18:20:54.789 client -redacted-#27880 ( view internal-view: query: IN A + -redacted-
08-Aug-2018 18:20:55.167 client -redacted-#18179 ( view internal-view: query: IN A + -redacted-

The last one was the one I was concerned about. What was coinhive? Cryptomining was the answer that google provided, and it was a method of embedding mining into websites, apps, in fact almost anywhere you could hide one. This was starting to sound a bit suspicious, why would my phone be mining? Well it's obvious when you stop and think.
Cheap phone, potentially cheaper than cost of manufacture, how do you subsidise the cost? Get it to click on banner ads, and mine cryptocurrencies when the user isn't using it! At least that's my guess. So now I have an idea what's going on, the phone is doing this in the background and of course needs to phone home to upload it's progress, completion, etc. Well my DNS at home is blocking this (sending it to loopback) so it can't do that, so next option? Try to switch to 4G and go that way.

This would also account for the hot CPU, as cryptomining uses CPU cycles to do the work, so that is also contributing to the battery running down so fast and as mentioned the heat generated. So now finding it should be straight forward, just wait for the thing to get hot and look at what process is using the CPU. It didn't take long to find it:

User 95%, System 3%, IOW 0%, IRQ 0%
User 796 + Nice 0 + Sys 29 + Idle 12 + IOW 0 + IRQ 0 + SIRQ 0 = 837

  PID USER     PR  NI CPU% S  #THR     VSS     RSS PCY Name
 5515 system   16  -4  91% S    93 1300280K 190604K  bg com.mediatek.factorymode
  834 system   20   0   3% S   114 1253876K 118232K  fg system_server
 6170 shell    20   0   1% R     1  12588K   1596K  fg top

Here you can see the CPU is at 95% use (the phone was sat with screen off, idling here) and the process at the top was a strange background process "bg com.mediatek.factorymode". Which is again odd as the phone wasn't in "factory mode" or anything like that, it was in normal operation. So that was the suspect. Occasionally when I unlock the phone that process went away (I'm guessing it lowered its cpu use accordingly) and then when idle again popped straight back up. So this one I think is the problem.

It's stored into the heart of the factory ROM, as I did a factory reset and this didn't remove it. The APK is stored at /system/vendor/framework/mediatek-res/mediatek-res.apk (SEE NOTE BELOW, I REALISE THIS IS WRONG!)
However without root, I'm struggling to stop it from running. Ideally with root you'd stop the apk from being called at boot time and that would stop it in it's tracks, but without root this gets tricky.

Luckily I've found what is currently (as I type) working, and so far the app hasn't restarted itself. I'm unsure if it will and how it is called, so only time will tell.
I've used the Android developer tools themselves to help here.
Go into Settings and Developer options. Down to "Running services" and click "Show cached processes" to see as much as you can. I then went down the list and found:
"FactoryTest" showing 1 process and 1 service.
Clicking it shows a service called "Vmaezz" which is a bit unknown so I hit STOP on it.
I then had to also find "FactoryMode" when showing cached services and you can hit STOP on that too. When I did that, the process went away.

So what you look for is:

system    10762 345   1146172 155852 futex_wait 00000000 S com.mediatek.factorymode

And once I stopped those processes that went away. Whilst that app isn't running, the wifi didn't switch off and the cpu idled away at pretty low values.

The problem? What causes the app to run, there is probably another app somewhere that calls it, or schedules it to run, so no doubt it'll be back, so I really need to get onto the bigger challenge and find out how to root and kill this app.

In the meantime, I'm going to extract and try to reverse engineer mediatek-res.apk to discover what I can about it and see if I can spot the triggers, etc.

Wherever you saw me referring to mediatek-res.apk please note this is WRONG information! Don't break mediatek-res.apk as you'll get a bootloop which is evil on these no-name chinese phones!

I did further discovery and found the key apk:

So that was the one to focus on.

I went ahead and used an online analyser of the APK to see what it said:

Two interesting things appeared here in the services section. The first is that it had a wifistatelistener, so that makes me think it could check wifi. Second is the Vmaezz class which was the one I killed in android developers, so that does indicate that's the main process/class that's running this. Curiously this didn't report the app as malicious, but it depends on what this scanner was looking for.

As of now, I killed the app around 20 minutes ago and it's not come back yet, and wifi has remained on, so hopefully this is the "solution" for now until I can dig further into it and extract the code from the apk.

To try and get into the code, I've found that the .apk is a compile-at-boot type, so that produces an .odex file. In combination with the devices own "boot.oat" I then extracted the DEX and from that the majority of sourcecode. Viewing it with jadx-gui shows something interesting:

What looks like the factory (Mediatek factorymode) code is at the top with the normal attribute names and definitions.
There is then an unusual one added below, so almost like a second program hiding within the first. This second program:
I'd guess is what we want to investigate, so opening some of the source up reveals:

Sure enough, there is our vmaezz code that we keep killing off.

I now started looking through the code for what looked to be interesting code. I found quite a few things, udplistener events, trigger and http download events, and this one which watches the network changes taking place:

So this lets the app recognise when a wifi state change happens, so this looks potential as if it watches for this change perhaps it also influences it.
Couple that with the handler:

I think we can see that it likes to watch and take action on changes to this state.

I've also discovered from adb I can stop the application "automatically" by calling
adb shell am force-stop com.mediatek.factorymode
So as a short-term solution I've written a small shell script:

while [ /system/bin/true ]; do
/system/bin/am force-stop com.mediatek.factorymode
sleep 1

Uploaded it to /data/local/tmp and set executable. Then ran it with & to background it. It appears to stay running and does kill the process before it finishes starting. It's not very elegant but it'll work for now.

Slowly, I'll figure out how to kill this thing off!

--UPDATE-- 13/08/2018
I've found that the script above is working great, killing the process off the moment it tries to start (It works in my favour that it takes a few seconds to start up fully as it has to de-odex itself). So my shell killer is working. However battery life has reduced, I'm guessing because my shell script isn't letting the phone go to sleep.
I'd also installed Blokada which is an interesting blocking method for non-rooted phones. It creates a local VPN (to itself) and then blocks known ad networks, etc. It seems to be working REALLY well, and added to the previous fixes seems good. I'm not sure if this is also eating my battery, but it seems worth it.

I've just improved on my shell script killer:

while [ /system/bin/true ]; do
if /system/bin/pgrep "com.mediatek.factorymode" >/dev/null
/system/bin/am force-stop com.mediatek.factorymode
echo "Not running"
sleep 10
I'm not sure how long I can push the sleep timer to, so might experiment further on this.

I've had Xgody reply to my queries, I'd opened discussion on them over the process using 100% CPU and if there was an updated ROM/firmware. They've flatly said there is no ability to update the ROM at all, but have now offered a partial refund of the cost of the phone which is an odd offer. I'm probably not going to take them up on this though.

Friday 13 July 2018

Xgody D24_Pro android 4g phone

My latest "basic" phone is the Xgody D24_Pro, which runs android 7.0 (Kernel 3.18.35) with baseband MOLY.LR9.W1444

(PS the photos are stock ones, as it's difficult to take a photo of it, using itself as that's the only decent camera-phone I currently own!)

This phone was purchased for under £100 as a temporary phone due to another phone being on order as I need something that did 4G and run latest android apps. It was bought from an ebay seller who seemed to be the Chinese importer of these, so as usual registered address was in China, but it's some UK shipping address, so it arrived after 2 days and it looks really good!
The outside on mine was a blue metallic on the rear, and a lightly curved full front screen without bezel.
It comes with the usual cheap power usb charger (1amp), charge lead, rubber casing and screen protector. This edition has the removable back revealing the battery, two sim card slots and memory card slot.. Taking the protective tape off the battery and connecting it to charge it showed a worrying 1% initial charge so I left it for 24hrs on charge to let it fill up and go happy.
Powering it on, it's the usual android thing, setup, add google play credentials, go online, etc, and it was working great, really fast going through the setup and no apparent issues.

The screen was very clear, if anything a little too bright/high brightness and the automatic brightness control seems to always prefer to be brighter than what I'm used to, but that's probably my preference.
The phone boasts a fingerprint sensor on the back, headphone slot and usual high-def screen. Inside it's got a quad-core processor at 1.3Ghz and a decent 2Gb of RAM along with internal 16Gb storage for the o/s, apps, etc. I always put an SD-card in for photos and all the other stuff.
Cameras aren't bad, rear 13MP is decent, if a little sluggish at waking up and focusing (processor?) and at first I was worried as the previewed photos looked poor quality, but after looking at them on a laptop they are really good. You also can use the UHD mode for really fine-grain detail. Front camera is 8MP which should do my snapchats decently (one for the kids there!).

The battery looks like it's the weak point, specs show only 2400mAh and I've started to notice that I don't get a full day's use out of it so ending up by around 5/6pm down to 30%, so I then pop it on charge again. It's also not equipped to use fast charge, so pulls current at around 0.8amps on charge, so full charge is around 2hrs something like that, which isn't too bad.

The buttons keep catching me out, but I think that's just because of what I'm used to.
On the side are (from top to bottom) volume up, volume down and power. I've always preferred power on the top, but that's from HTC phones! You can also wake it up by putting your fingerprint on the fingerprint reader which is nifty and works pretty accurately I've found.


  • Battery life/capacity/charging
  • No NFC (no android pay, etc)
  • charge port is at the top
  • Screen a little too high brightness (slightly whited out)
  • Camera slow to react
  • Price (Less than £100 for a VERY good android smartphone)
  • Fast - Processor and memory work well so keep android flying along despite all my apps
  • screen - slightly curved and really clear
  • weight - not too heavy at all, similar to most others
  • Camera - good front and rear cameras that take good photos
  • Android - 7 installed (updated Jan2018) and with NO bloatware installed, just raw android pretty much so it's very sleek
  • Good looking - I like the electric blue casing
  • Fingerprint - for unlock and in apps that support fingerprint unlock.
  • Removable battery - I always like the ability to remove the battery in case of problems, and in theory you can replace it (Not sure how easy that is with Xgody not being a popular/known brand)
So all in all, I'm really impressed with my "cheap" android phone buy!

Update: After a week, and it's still working great, battery life I've learned to live with, charger plugged in and it's fine. The screen is a little brighter than I'd like (Perhaps causing the poor battery) but running it almost constantly on lowest brightness seems fine in all conditions I've tried so far.
Fingerprint unlock is proving really good, I use that all the time now.

Saturday 7 July 2018

Smart Watch - Bakeey HB08S

I've done it again, I've looked at smart watches, and again got confused and surprised by the range and prices they go for. Sure, you can spend several hundred pounds on a smart watch that looks amazing and does all sorts, but generally I'm not a watch wearer, I don't use it as a fashion statement, so my main requirements:

  • Alerts me of messages/chats on my watch and lets me see the contents/partial info
  • Easily adjustable for my tiny/thin wrists
  • Comfortable, not square and unweildy
  • Extra functions of stepcounter, heart-rate, etc, a nicety
  • Actually shows the time
  • Battery life longer than a couple of days
So not the biggest range of requirements, but enough to discount a lot of the cheaper brands that are in the low £10-30 it seems.
This is the one I've ended up with, the Bakeey HB08S which should normally cost £40 (In this case I got it free, as a free gift so non-sponsored item!).

The first thing that stands out is the strap, it's really quite impressive and I'd never seen this type before. It's a sort of chain-main strap, BUT with a twist, it uses a strong magnet to fasten, so simply slip it round to the right place and let the magnet catch any part of the strap. That's great for me, as no fixed fastening holes or positions, so you can get the comfort level just right, and let's you adjust it constantly, so for a non-watch wearer like me, getting used to it is easier.

Next is the watch face, it's not huge, it's rounded and actually looks OK. When the screen is on you can see the simplicity of it though, the screen is square and just goes into a round bezel, but it's clear and shows the info you need.

I prefer the first two options for display, I was a little disappointed there was no "classic" watch display graphic, but these do work and give you a few good bits of info just when the screen turns on:
  • Time and date (month-day fixed format)
  • Heart rate at last sample
  • Stepcount
  • Bluetooth status (not too reliable, or I kept reading it wrong!)

Next up is battery life. AMAZING, it lasted me for 5 days before needing a charge on my first test run (Which admittedly was without being paired to a phone), but so far whilst paired to a phone it's made it two days and battery still shows 90+% so that's good. Also the battery level indicator works well, full is 4 bars and they go down slowly, no sudden drops/jumps. That also takes me onto the charger. It's a nice neat little 'rest' charger, just place the watch onto it (you see the contact pins on it) and it charges, so far it's always just sat right on it and didn't move off, so again, really easy for charging.

The alert reminder goes with the app itself you install "iband" and out of most of the chinese applications, this one works really well! Setting it up and connecting to the watch was quick, and all the settings in the app seem to work without a crash or problems.

You can set how it wakes up (I set it when I turn my wrist, and it's surprisingly good at detecting when you lift your wrist and look at the screen!), medium brightness (It's fixed, so in bright light it can be difficult to see) and the various notifications so I get alerts based on txt messages, whatsapp, etc. You can't add all notifications to be alerted to, which is a shame, but they include the main ones.
The alerts are pretty clear, when you get a TXT message the watch vibrates and shows you the first 6 characters of the name of person sending and a letter icon. You then touch the watch to see the contents of the message, and it will scroll through each page of the message, which is really impressive! The text is very blocky, not very elegant, but it works well.

It's difficult to comment on the step count and heart rate as don't have a good frame of reference, but the step count does seem reasonably accurate based on me counting my steps and seeing how it increases on the watch, so it seems close enough for what I'd want! The sync back to the phone is regular and shows steps, activity, sleep cycles, heart rate over monitored period (It does periodic checks), blood pressure (Unsure on this one!) and the last one, SP02 in percent (No idea!).

So in summary, I'm liking the watch, it's not stylish or particularly clever but it does the job really well and compared to a lot of the Chinese "smart" watches I think this one is really impressive.

One problem: I'm not sure how, but I managed to crack the plastic casing of it, which meant the front watch face was starting to come off. Taking a peak inside I could see the battery li-ion package is glued to the base and the screen with the circuit is attached to the face, so if you do prise it apart, you need to disconnect the thin ribbon that joins the two before you lift the screen too far. Prising it from the bottom of the face looks the best option! I used a few dots of superglue to put it back together, hopefully it will hold.

Saturday 9 June 2018

Draytek router hacks and odd DNS

This is quite a common thing when you work in IT, you hear about exploits, hacks and malware doing the rounds. In fact you get slightly immune to it over the years, you hear so much about it, so many hacks and general attacks going on you start to ignore it all as noise. Risky? Yes, but unfortunately part of the territory.

Well, I'm in such a situation, I've seen so many releases about exploits or denial of service to Cisco, HP, Windows, Linux, Android and various hardware that I now don't often read them or if I do it's glancing due to workload and lack of time! So it had to be the case I'd be bitten by that lack of attention.
In this particular case it's due to a Draytek exploit, but I didn't know that at first. The issue? My HIVE home heating system wasn't connecting to the outside world, so I couldn't control my heating/hot water remotely!
Not exactly earth shattering, but being a techie I had to figure it out. So I started looking at the units (rebooted them all, obviously!), checking why they couldn't talk, and nothing seemed right, they looked fine, I could see them on my local network.

So I went to plan-B, change the gateway of the hive hub in my house to my server IP and then sniff the traffic it was sending and receiving to see if that gave any clues.
After changing the gateway for the device in my DHCP server and restarting the service, I watched the logs to see the hive unit get a new IP to confirm it had moved.
I then started to see something odd, complaints about NAK and an alternative DHCP server giving replies. I checked the IP and it was my Draytek router.

Now on my network, the draytek router does very little, it does FTTC to Ethernet conversion, does the PPP auth and then sends all the raw public stuff to my server. So why it would be handling DHCP is an odd question.
A while back when having DSL issues I did temporarily use it for DHCP whilst BT checked out problems, but I was sure it was set back!
So checking the web interface for the Draytek it revealed it DID have DHCP enabled, and then I spotted an odd DHCP DNS server address.
What is that address, not one I recognised. The secondary was my normal secondary DNS but that primary was odd.

I simply switched DHCP off to let my server do the work, suddenly the HIVE started to work. So it looks like it was that DNS entry to blame. I decided to search for it and then all the security advisories came up! I've pasted a couple here for info:

Not good, so it appears somebody had hacked my router, switched DHCP back on and set this rogue DNS server. But it's an odd thing to do. You can glean a certain amount of information from this hack, you can see what websites are being visited, and you can do a redirect to try and grab sensitive information.
For example, say our rogue server gave out their OWN IP address for something like your banks website, presented a fake banking website and got you to enter your details.
Now think of this on a larger scale, they'd only be able to re-create SOME banking websites, SOME online account websites on their hack servers, so it's quite a limited attack depending on what they're targeting and trying to achieve.

Now I suspect I've been lucky here, being in the UK there are fewer websites I suspect the attackers will have re-created or redirected. I'm also curious what their aim was, but nobody seems to know much about it.
The IP is innocent enough, hosting webspace in the USA, so I suspect it will have been shutdown quite some time ago, and checking DNS queries today to it fail, so looks like it's been stopped. But even so, that's odd, and how long was it sniffing my traffic?

My guess is it's been a couple of weeks for me. That's when I had "odd" behaviour, the HIVE hub stopped connecting, etc.

The answer? PATCH, I went to Draytek and updated my firmware, which is something we all have to start getting used to. Keep updating, keep patching, etc.
What a chore! Maybe there is a better way, but for now we have to be aware, and watch for this sort of thing and not let it wash over us!

Saturday 19 May 2018

Cheap car radio antenna

For a while my car radio reception has been pretty poor. I suspect it's a poor ground somewhere on the aerial, the aerial itself is a loop in one of the rear windows, so all sorts of problems are potentially there. Also with it being a large car, the wiring run will be long too which won't help.

So rather than fix the problem (!) I decided to look for alternatives, as I know you can buy cheap antennas that fix to windscreens, hidden away, etc, and have an amplifier in it too.
So I trawled various websites and there is very little on reviews on what is good and bad! So I decided to take a look and take a chance on a cheaper powered unit.

This was what I thought I'd try, as it was cheap but still had powered circuitry in it and from a UK seller.

It arrived quickly which was good, so I fitted it into the car. It arrived looking like this:

Two wires marked red and black were for 12v power to it, then it had the standard round connector for antenna into the radio.
I wired it up, and placed it on top of the dashboard, powered on.

Signal was TERRIBLE, really bad. To be honest a bit of wire was probably about the same quality. I'm not sure why it was so pathetic, but it really wasn't working at all.
I checked connections, power, etc, to be sure but no it just was a pile of junk.

So after removing it and swapping back I thought I'd take a look inside the boxes. To my surprise there was actually electronics in there (I was half expecting an empty box!)

I'm going to take a look a the components and circuit as I'm not sure exactly what it's doing. From what I can see there are a few resistors and a couple of either gates or diodes on there, so i'm going to try and figure the circuit out and see what it was trying to do!

The other end looked pretty unremarkable:

I should have known better really!

Sunday 29 April 2018

Fitting an Android head unit into a Vauxhall Corsa D (2011)

This came about when I tried to fit an aftermarket stereo into my Wife's Vauxhall Corsa (An Xtrons, see the blog post here ).

However after just a short amount of use it turned out to be a really poorly made unit, and so I was looking for an alternative to fit that wouldn't cost much. Luckily a friend at work was selling his old android double-din head unit so I bought that off him.

It's a typical cloned android head unit, but had the advantage of having various physical buttons, and I knew it to work well from my friend at work, so I bought it, not really thinking it through. Got it home and take a look at the size:

Here you can see the xtrons unit still in, with it's plastic surround and the new unit. You'll notice the Vauxhall panel is tapered at either side, so it isn't a straight rectangular fit, so this may prove difficult!

First steps were to remove the old xtrons unit, this just clips in so just pull it out and the bracket came with it. Disconnected all the power and audio connections from it so we've got it free (Apart from the power cables which were wired in, due to the Vauxhall radio connector not having an ignition power wire, more on that later).

So now I got the chance to see what the fit might start to look like:

So it did start to fit in the hole, but this was as far as it went at first. On each side of the head unit there were the mounting brackets with clips, luckily these were just screwed into place, so removing those and the unit slid all the way back:

Not exactly a perfect fit though, and so make it fit flush would mean taking the Dremel to the dashboard. I had considered this, since it's something I've done in my Chrysler, however in this case that plastic bezel around it is actually almost the entire lower section of dashboard, so to replace would mean replacing almost the whole plastic dashboard trim, not something I wanted to pay out for, nor do should I want to return it to factory for when it gets sold.

Therefore I thought we'd just live with it not being flush, and work to mounting it as securely as possible. In this case the only solution would be either from the top or bottom of the radio. Luckily there were a few screw holes in the top of the unit, so these would act as our securing points.

So to get to the top of the radio, above the radio is the air vent, door lock and passenger air-bag cancel button unit (in silver on this edition), so this needed to come off.

***WARNING : Before you do this DISCONNECT the battery. I didn't and when you disconnect the airbag disable button it triggers the airbag warning system which needs an SRS code reader/reset to remove!***

** EXTRA NOTE - After almost 2 months the airbag light has gone out of it's own accord, so it does reset, it just takes a VERY long time **

To remove this panel the first thing you do is remove the small speaker grill from the top (This has the lump that looks like an alarm sensor), that pops out using a thin screwdriver. Once out you'll see a single hex screw. Once that's undone you gently prise and pop the clock display piece out. You'll see from the photo above the clock display is separate to the silver vent housing, so that clips out (It folds upwards towards the windscreen). The clock has a clip connector behind it, so does the speaker. The speaker is a pop/plug connector that just pulls out. The clock connector has a mini lever on it you press and turn to disconnect.

Once that's out you can then remove the further 3 hex screws which hold the air vent unit in, this again is clipped in at either side of the vents and then with two clips downwards towards the radio position. This whole unit then comes out, again the connector at the back for the airbag, etc, is a mini lever that once you release the clip on it, turning the lever will disconnect it and let you remove it. REMEMBER: DISCONNECT BATTERY FIRST!
You can see the connector in the middle of this photo:

That's the unit removed, so now we have the plastic surround that the radio sits against (It's the piece with the connector sitting on it, so that's the top of our radio mount). In this case I thought the easiest was to drill two small holes into this, and then use a screw through this plastic piece and into the radio to hold it in place.

Once the screws were in and tested I turned to the wiring. Luckily the connector Vauxhall uses is almost identical to the one used by Ford, so this was just a clip in plug.

The above is similar to what I used, you need the antenna power/can unit for the Vauxhall Corsa. Clipping the main block into the factory car connector was easy, however as I found before, there is NO ignition switched power on this factory connector (It uses the CANBUS car network to control it), therefore the alternative wire I'd put in from elsewhere was needed again. This was a separate wire I put in that provided power from the ignition, and so would control the radio on/off, etc. So I cut the wires that went to the connector and wired these into my ignition. Wired in the power to the antenna amplifier block (the silver can), and added the rear reversing camera connections to it (Already fitted a while ago). Turned the ignition on and it all powered up perfectly! Audio was good, and actually really loud for the car, using only 4/5 volume setting and it was perfect.

To fit it back in I fastened the two screws in place that holds the radio in, then refitted the silver fascia and then the top clock/plastic. Something else I found, the silver fascia was a difficult fit back in, due to the radio being slightly larger, so potentially this might not fit properly in future, will keep an eye on it and see if it pops back out!
There is also the heater/blower vents at the back which are soft plastic, make sure you check at the back and line them up as they can easily be squashed when you push the fascia back in if it's not fully lined up.

However, not a bad piece of work and the results are pretty good, even though it sticks out a bit!

Tuesday 24 April 2018

Daylight running LEDs (DRL) and indicator signals on Chrysler

This is a short post on fitting daylight running LEDs to my Chrysler Grand Voyager 2.8CRD. This should work with most editions of the GV, I'd expect right up to the newer facelift editions, so right through to 2007/2008 I believe.

So the first step is ordering the right DRLs, I went for ones that have DRL and indicator function built in, as some information suggests when indicators are on the DRL should switch off to avoid confusion to oncoming drivers, I also like this 'look' where the DRL goes off, the indicator flashes and when indicators are cancelled then the DRL will come back on. This needs units with a little electronics but you can buy these for around £10 easily in the UK. I went for the longer 60cm lights, and went with the light 'bar' type where the LEDs are inside a plastic diffuser to give a more even illumination.
The next job was how to connect into the indicators, I took the headlight unit out (3 flathead screws at the top of the headlight assembly), undid one bolt that holds the plastic facia of the bumper around them for easier access and the headlight comes out. Checking the connector I identified the wire and spliced a wire into it using push/crimp connectors.
That connection goes to the orange wire on the DRL for that side, you then run two other wires, one is ground to either the nearest grounding point, or a post on the battery terminal. The other needs to feed back to an ignition switched live, I went for in the fusebox a small piggy-back fuse splitter and connected this to the cigarette lighter/acc socket fuse. This allows the DRLs to be on whenever the ignition switch is on (Remember the DRLs are very low current draw).

Fitting them, I had the option of above or below the existing lamp, both are relatively easy, but to squash the led bar in nicely I went for underneath, which gives good results, the light actually shines a little through the existing lens so it partially lights the main light up in duller weather.

Results were good.
Here you can see the position of the LED tubes underneath the lens.

It took a little pushing/pulling to get in the right place, I'm not 100% happy as they're not even over the whole headlight lens but I'm going to fix that by moving them around and possibly using dots of superglue to hold them against the headlight.

These are pretty bright when on and give off a nice glow:

And when the indicator is on the white DRLs go out and replaced by a flashing (in time with your indicator flash) orange bar:

(Catching the flash was difficult, here you can see the 'off' part of the sequence, hence it's not as bright as it actually looks!)

All in all for £10 and an hours work it went really well!

Monday 16 April 2018

Letsencrypt Google Chrome and blogger

Here's something new, my blogger site (on my personal domain) now has HTTPS support! This was added by Google, and has been something talked about for years.

The tricky part from Google's point of view is that this is on my own domain, so adding an HTTPS would normally involve certificate chains, authorisation from the domain owner to validate who you are, etc.
But it works! And looking into it, you can see how. The certificate is from Letsencrypt. This is a novel certification body that are completely free and willing to 'certify everyone', they do basic checks that you own the domain (Uploading a file to the website, changing your DNS records, etc) and then will issue a short-term certificate (A few months) so you need to keep re-certifying.
I've done this a few times on my own servers, and running a script to keep generating the certificate is easy enough.

So that seems to be how Google and Blogger are doing it, generating Letsencrypt certificates for the customer blog domains. This also gives further weight to letsencrypt knowing that one of the 'big boys' like Google are using them for blogger blog's.

So enjoy, and use my blog on HTTPS now

Wednesday 21 March 2018

Alienwork IK watch review

Hi folks,
This is my review of the Alienwork IK stainless steel watch, if you read below you can also get a discount if you order using my discount code!
The watch comes in great packaging which you can use if you're giving the watch as a present, it's inside a protective plastic pouch and then inside a soft folding wallet, you can see them below:

The watch itself is really well made, and feels 'solid' which probably comes from the fact that it uses a stainless steel casing and watch strap.
I'm not normally somebody who wears a watch, so I don't like something that feels too heavy or restrictive on my wrist (In fact I'm really weird about anything touching my wrists, but that's another blog entry!) so I was a little weary when it arrived and I felt it had a bit of weight to it, and the metal strap.

However, I'm really impressed! I've been wearing it for several days and I've not noticed any discomfort or really found any issue with wearing it. I've adjusted the strap down to my very thin/narrow wrists. The strap adjusts very small, you unclip it and move the adjustment down as far as you want, so if it fits me, it'll fit anyone!
The watch keeps time beautifully and is very stylish, looks good, especially the one I got in all black with the milanese band.

All in all I'm really impressed with it, and wearing it every day now, which for a non-watch wearer is a huge improvement!

If you'd like to order one then you can using the Amazon link below:
And if you use the discount code: L7K45I3S
You can get 50% off the product cost! Which makes it really good value too (RRP around £20)

Note: This was a sponsored blog post from Alienwork

Thursday 15 March 2018

MightyText for tablets on android

I've been using MightyText for a while now, it's an app you install on your phone and register with, it then sends your SMS to their servers and you can login to your account from your browser and send/receive messages.
It works really well, just does what it's supposed to, and despite that meaning 'they' have a copy of all your text messages, it's a great idea and I use it regularly to type a message from my computer instead of phone screen.

Therefore when I needed an app for my tablet I went for MightyText for tablets, thinking this is great, an app for the tablet that will work the same, let me send and receive. However, everytime I tried to use it, you couldn't see the messages as the screen was so cluttered:

This is the popup window that appears when a message comes in. The text of the message is missing, it should appear below the time and above the "Type message" prompt, but due to the screen being in landscape orientation it appears like that.

If you then open MightyText itself you see messages, but again not much room:

You can make the message out this time, but only the first line of it. If you then go to reply the keyboard then squeezes the screen so none of the message is visible.

This initially just looks like how the dialogues are generated and perhaps the font/text being used. I therefore contacted MightyText about it:

    Hi, the view on the tablet app causes messages to not be visible due to a
    very small message window due to all the other dialogues.
    I've attached a couple of photos showing both the popup message alert and
    the main window.
    Please can advise how to fix this display problem?

And I got a reply from their tech support:
Sorry to hear that. Just confirming, is your Tablet in landscape mode when you 
see this issue?

Which I confirmed, and I then received this reply:
Got it, this is currently the expected behavior. We may change this in the future.

So that's it, basically they know this, they do it on purpose (Expected behaviour?) and that they aren't really doing anything about it.

Really disappointing this, so I'm on the lookout for a similar app that will work correctly on my tablet screen.

Monday 12 February 2018

Xtrons 3" Single Din Car Radio

This was something I bought for my wife as a present, to upgrade her car radio. She has a Vauxhall Corsa and wanted similar to mine to play music from an SD-card or USB stick.
I searched and found the XTRONS 3" HD Car Stereo 1 DIN Head Unit Radio MP3 Player USB SD AUX FM + Camera input.

This looked ideal, single DIN to fit a facia for her car, inputs for USB, SD card and AUX too, FM tuner (No CD but that's generally not a problem) and it had phone buttons too.

It was at a decent price too (Under £80), so I ordered it as a present. It was only when I got to fitting it that the problems began.

Firstly, no i hadn't noticed the writing along the bottom of this photo stating "Attention: this car stereo doesn't have Bluetooth function", so I'd missed that, my fault, so I was annoyed at myself already!
After powering it up for the first time, I found the first problem. It's so non-intuitive to use. The arrows don't search/scan on FM at all, there are two preset station buttons 1 and 2, there are up to 10 but you have to get to them by cycling through using the arrow buttons.
It also doesn't have RDS, Radio text or anything like that, so whilst tuned into a station you only get the frequency displayed. This also means it won't auto-hop between frequences if you cross regions or anything like that.

The physical buttons are clicky and rattle in their sockets, which doesn't give a good feel, but it's a nice positive click when you press them which is good for driving. The multi functions of the buttons aren't very intuitive, so you have to work out long-pressing and short pressing do two different actions which isn't always obvious to get into the menu you want.

The volume button presses in, and a short press allows tone and balance control, a long press gets you into the setup menu.

I fed a rear camera into it, and selected reverse (I already had the wiring in) and the radio did switch to a video input and muted the audio, but no matter what I did, I constantly had "NO SIGENAL" showing. Yes that was spelt incorrectly! I'm going to investigate further to verify the camera signal input, but it did work (from a dashcam) so I'm not sure if there is something wrong with the head units camera/reverse input signal.

After tuning to the FM stations I wanted, I stored them into 1 and 2, the signal was good (The antenna conversion kit I used had an inline booster so this probably helped get a really good signal) and the audio was decent quality with a good bit of volume.
The volume adjustment wasn't great, it uses a huge volume scale, so you have to twist the volume knob many turns before you went between very quiet to very loud!

Going into the setup menu, there was little to configure, date/time, language and audio preferences (balance, fader, equaliser settings) so nothing really needed to tweak in there. You can set brightness and contrast separately though to get the best out of the 3" screen, which was back-lit well and pretty clear.

Boot up speed was quick, from standby and from completely disconnected, which you'd expect as the unit isn't running any complex operating system, it appears to be running it's own custom firmware from xtrons.

All in all, I'm pretty disappointed, it was supposed to be an upgrade but I'm sat wondering if due to it's difficult to navigate UI and clunky buttons that it's not really an upgrade at all. I was even contemplating putting the Vauxhall unit back in as I was that unhappy with the results I'd achieved in an afternoon of wiring.
(The Vauxhall wiring is not great, there is no switched +12v from ignition so you have to manually wire into the aux/cigarette lighter socket)

UPDATE1 - The very next day after installation we went out to the car and was going to show the unit off to my wife for the first time. Turned ignition on, radio powered on and the radio channel I left it on started playing, but the screen was totally white. Several power on and off's and it just wouldn't do anything. So this wasn't a good sign, it appears the screen has given up, with less than 1hr of use!
The next day my wife used the car and the screen came on, so I'm not sure if this is related to temperature or it's got an intermittent fault.

UPDATE2 - The screen has failed again with a totally white display.

UPDATE3 - March 2018 - It's a pile of trash! Don't waste your money. The white screen issues continue and more often than not it's a white screen (I think it's related to temperature, cold temperatures) and even when it's not the biggest problem.
You cannot navigate folders/choose songs from folders. The music from SD/USB simply searches the Sd card/USB for all music it can play, and then gives that to you in a huge list. You can skip songs, but without being able to jump, search or choose with any more refinement, that's as good as it gets.

Avoid at all costs is my advise on this one!

Chrysler dash bulb replacements

This is a quick bit of info on how I replaced the bulbs on my Chrysler Grand Voyager 2.8CRD, this may seem odd, but Chrysler in their infinite wisdom decided to solder bulbs straight onto most circuit boards, so panel illumination is handled by this design.
So when the bulbs give up, the panel goes dead and you can't easily replace them, so I've done a few replacements over the years trying to find the best solution and I think I have now found it! Replacing with LEDs is the obvious solution, but getting small and 12v versions was the challenge.

First, here's the challenge. This is the heated seats, wiper and emergency indicators panel, easily removed from the dashboard with 3 hex screws, then gently unclipping the back of the unit (Keep it flat, the buttons are held in but you need to keep them in the same position to avoid complications when putting back together).
Once open you can see the front of the circuit board as below. You can see one blue panel illumination LED shown, the hazard bulb has been removed, adn the right heated seat I've placed an LED bar/hobby LED bar to give an idea on scale.

So the problem, remove the old blue bulbs (They're white bulbs with a blue rubber cover over them) and replace, however they are small and not very tall, so a regular LED would be too big, and also these run at 12v so need to have an inline resistor somewhere too.
The LED bar shown is a hobby/train set illumination which at first looked ideal, it had an inline resistor and two LEDs on a flexible circuit, however even this small size was too big to comfortably fit.

So the second solution was to use SMD LEDs, and I found some in the form of replacement speedo/cluster illumination panels.

These come with the base black plastic fitting for your dash, then the green plastic casing topped with a square SMD LED and inline resistor. Gently pulling the package apart we can see this:

This was perfect, cutting the legs down to just at the resistor let it sit around the same height as the original bulbs. Cover one leg with heatshrink to avoid any shorts when you push it back together, solder it onto the main board and problem solved!
For reference, when you have the board sat like the top image, positive is on the LEFT, so I wrapped the negative lead in heatshrink and soldered it on, you can see the end result below:

These worked great, fit back in no problems and they look super bright. The problem now is that the rest of the dashboard illumination is too dark by comparison!

NOTE: On the above the one missing indicator was the hazard warning LED, this was due to a mistake when soldering, so I've removed and replaced that one and now it's lit up!

The parts I used were old, from Amazon but you can probably source similar parts easily.

There are many similar on ebay which are much smaller (You could use SMD resistors too on the back of the LED package, which would make them much more compact) so hope this helps!