Life with Pi – XBMC, VPN, Proxy server…

The wireless mouse and keyboard receiver is almost as big as the Pi. Madness

I’ve been meaning to write this post for ages. And now I’ve started, I realise that I don’t have much to say that will add to the brilliant tutorials already out there.

So, I’m going to link to those tutorials. No point reinventing the wheel.

I got a Raspberry Pi for Christmas. Not the type with pastry, the circuit board type with a world of joy inside. Since I’d been wanting one for the best part of a year, I figured I’d better make good use of it.

Here are the basics:

  • Find a good mobile phone charger which matches the power specs the Pi needs, 5V 700ma. Any less and it won’t work.
  • You will also need an SD card, 2Gb minimum. Use the guides here to download and install your OS I chose to use Raspbian, despite wanting XBMC.
  • Buy a USB hub with AC power. The Pi has two USB slots which can cope with a mouse and keyboard, but any more and the power drain will cause the Pi to cut out or the peripherals to fail. If you want to add a wireless adapter or an external drive, a powered hub is a must.
  • Get hold of an HDMI cable, or a composite AV cable if you don’t have an HDMI capable telly.
  • If you want to talk to the outside world you will also need an ethernet cable, at least to start with.
  • Plug in key board and mouse, ethernet, connect to TV, insert SD card, then power on.

I also had a laptop nearby to follow tutorials with, and the official guide to the Raspberry Pi. A basic understanding of Linux does help, but it’s not essential. And beer. Did I mention beer?

There’s a great quick start guide on

I wanted to do one thing immediately – set up a Media Centre. I don’t have an internet enabled TV and I wanted one!  A lot of Googling and research convinced me that XBMC was the way to go. But most guides used Raspbmc as the OS (A dedicated media centre distribution). I wanted to use Raspian. Because I like to be awkward, I guess.

Step one, get the wireless working because the router is beside the cat litter trays and that gets old fast. This tutorial helped with that

Then I gave the RPi a static IP, to make life simpler

Finally, in terms of preparation I set up tightvnc so that I didn’t need to crouch on the floor in front of the telly because the wireless keyboard and mouse only seemed to work at a distance of less than 2 feet. HINT: I bought a USB3 powered hub. Logitech products, in the main, seem to hate USB3. I could not get any of them working. This tutorial was great for tightvnc, and it helped to have already set a static IP

One large beer later, we were onto the XBMC setup. If you’re not wanting to Raspbmc ad not up for compiling programs yourself, or have no idea what I am talking about when I say compile, this is the tutorial for you The only thing it does not include are the libraries to let you work your RPi installation of XBMC using your TV remote. I can live with that. Or I could compile it myself. Which is unlikely.

Follow each step carefully and you should be all set. There are some issues with installing the required libraries, but the comments are really helpful. The only step I had major issue with was updating the firmware to give 128MB to the GPU

cp /boot/arm128_start.elf /boot/start.elf

I thought the command had run but the XBMC installation became really glitchy really quickly. I tried the command again and got an error. However, the set up interface of the RPi gives you a basic graphic interface to do the same thing – run sudo raspi-config, and choose the memory split option, and voila! I chose not to overclock the Pi, and considering I am running it over Wifi, my streaming is almost flawless.

Then I had to learn about XBMC. I’ll let you google that yourselves. The following helped:

And as the icing on the cake, I downloaded the XBMC Android app so that I can use the phone as the remote. Stonking.

So, to watch programmes using XBMC, I boot up the Pi, login using tightvnc, run XBMC and then use the phone remote to control it.

Then I had a few weeks break. In the last few evenings I have added to the Pi’s skillset.

I decided VNC was for wusses and learnt about SSH. Now I can SSH into my Pi from any location using a Hamachi VPN network, thanks LifeHacker. And just for the craic, I turned the Pi into a proxy server using Privoxy (same tutorial). HINT: When installing Hamachi, the Lifehacker tut fails to mention that you need to add the following to the code to get it going on RPi

add –force depends –force architecture to the dpkg command, before the file name – thanks to

So now I can browse the web from anywhere, securely routing through my Pi, and when I get home I can use it to watch pretty much anything I fancy. For under £50 all told.

Note: I am not an expert, I read tutorials and then I press buttons. Fiddle with your Pi at your own risk. It’s not for the faint hearted. But it’s SUCH FUN.


2 thoughts on “Life with Pi – XBMC, VPN, Proxy server…

  • 26th January 2013 at 8:10 pm

    Would you say it’s a useful bit of kit or a toy though? Looks like fun but not sure if it’s got a bigger purpose.

    • 26th January 2013 at 8:25 pm

      It’s definitely fun. I think it’s a useful learning tool. But if I’m honest, it’s mainly a toy. Try as I might, I can’t work effectively on Linux for my day job and rely on my Win7 laptop. RPi is my evening sport.


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