Tag Archives: software

Using a Raspberry Pi as a Squeezebox

I have recently been playing around with using Raspberry Pi devices as streaming music players within a Squeezebox-based system. I’ve arrived at quite a comprehensive arrangement, which includes a Pi as a player:SqueezeboxSystem

This is a rough illustration of my current implementation of a network of Squeezebox players linked to a NAS (GrumpyBox) running Logitech Media Server (LMS). It consists of several Logitech Squeezeboxes, a couple of iPads that are playback-capable through apps such as SqueezePad and iPeng, and the software Squeezebox emulater, SqueezePlay. To this I have recently added a Raspberry Pi running piCorePlayer. I also have a second Raspberry Pi running Squeezeplug, which has its own instance of LMS (not shown in the diagram).

I’ve summarised the usage cases of the three setups I have tried in the table below. My opinion can be summarised as:

  • If all you want to do is run a media player connected to an existing LMS, choose the piCorePlayer option.
  • If you need to set up a media server as well as a player, choose the Squeezeplug option.
  • By far the most versatile of the two DAC cards I’ve tried is the Wolfson DAC – if you want to use this, then Squeezeplug or the custom Wolfson kernel options are best.
  • Both Squeezeplug and piCorePlayer work well with USB DACs
Squeezeplug piCorePlayer Wolfson kernel
URL website website website
Usage Convenient low cost LMS server and player Low cost and easy to use player. Configured via web interface. Wolfson supply a patched image supporting the DAC. Squeezelite can easily be installed and configured
LMS yes no no
Guide Squeezeplug wiki I also described this installation here. Instructions at the piCorePlayer website  I described this here
Wolfson DAC  supported not supported supported
HiFiBerry supported supported
Notes

1, 4

2, 3

  1. May require powered USB hub if a USB-powered hard drive is used with LMS
  2. piCorePlayer is run solely from RAM. The Pi can be powered off without corrupting the SD card
  3. Also supports the Sabre DAC and the HiFiBerryDigi card though I’ve not tried these
  4. I set up a script for a button press to shutdown the Squeezeplug (and the Wolfson kernel) systems so the Pi can be safely powered down. See here.

For both the Raspberry Pi based devices I use, you do need to think about how you interact with them. I use the LMS web interface (usually found at http://IPaddress:9000) with a laptop, or one of the many tablet or smartphone apps that are available (such as the afore-mentioned SqueezePad and iPeng).

Installing any of these devices is much easier if you have a reasonable amount of experience with the Linux command line. On the other hand, a Raspberry Pi is a pretty good way to learn the Linux command line!

 

A Second Raspberry Pi Squeezebox

In my first foray into Raspberry PI, I set one up as a Squeezebox networked music player using piCorePlayer – this one has a HiFiBerry DAC card and is remarkably easy to use – to switch it on or off you just plug in or unplug the power respectively. For the new project, I wanted to try the new Wolfson DAC card from Element 14, particularly as I was getting occasional crackles and pops from the USB output in Raspian. This DAC isn’t currently supported by piCorePlayer, so I was keen to take a different route.

I ended up with a media player that didn’t have an obvious way of shutting it down, other than via the command line. So I wanted to figure out how to add a pushbutton that would shut the Pi down to state in which it can be powered down. Continue reading

Ubuntu 11.10 Oneiric Ocelot

The latest version of the popular Ubuntu distribution of GNU/Linux was released a few days ago, version 11.10 Oneiric Ocelot.  I’ve been playing with this release of Ubuntu  for a week or so on an old notebook (Sony VGN-TX5XN) since a beta 2 release was available, and since release day on a Dell Zino HD desktop PC (dual boot with Windows 7).  This post is really a pointer to a few tweaks and mods I’ve done (mostly as a reminder to myself) which I found dotted around the internet  As usual, I found that the upgrades went well, though I decided to do a clean installation on the Sony, as I’d accumulated a whole pile of cruft.

Overall, I find the appearance and functionality of the (admittedly controversial) Unity desktop fabulous, and from being an unwilling user with Ubuntu 11.04 – I eventually returned to Gnome 2 – I find this iteration of Unity very usable.  Here’s a snapshot of my notebook’s desktop.  It’s using one of the stock desktop images and the default theme (I think it’s called Ambiance). Continue reading

iCloud – underwhelming for this user

I updated my MacBook Pro with the latest Lion update and my iPad to iOS5.  This brings with it the much-heralded iCloud.  But I’m not exclusively a Mac user, so I’m not convinced it’ll be particularly useful.  I don’t have an iPhone (or any other phone for that matter).  I only have one iOS device, a first generation iPad (so sharing purchased apps seems pretty unimportant!).  I don’t buy music from iTunes. I don’t use the dreadful iTunes desktop app to manage my music – indeed I ditched a 2nd generation iPod Touch in favour of a Cowon music player to escape iTunes.  This seems to limit any real utility for iCloud.  Apparently I can:

Synchronise my Mail, Contacts, Calendar and Notes.  Well, that happens already, doesn’t it?  I have a variety of email accounts that I access wherever I am, either through mobile broadband or WiFi.  And my iPad notes turn up in my gmail account (which I can access on any computer).

Bookmarks.  This refers to Safari, which I rarely (if ever) use, and then only on my single iOS device.  On all of my other computers,  I use Chrome, which synchronises my bookmarks to all my devices (except the iPad) – whether they be Linux, OS X or Windows.

Photo Stream. No idea what this is for, it doesn’t say, and my installed iPhoto is too primitive to take advantage of it anyway.

Documents & Data.  Well, this might have been worthwhile for Pages, Keynote and Numbers, where I have the iOS and OS X versions.  However, since I cannot see a way to share files between OS X and iOS devices, and given that I have but a single iOS device, I cannot see what I can share these files with.  But for everything else, I don’t think I can share with Linux, so any advantage over Dropbox is questionable. At least I can use Dropbox to transfer files to my iPad!

Back to my Mac. Don’t know what this is. Apparently this is to connect with a desktop Mac.

Back to My Mac lets anyone with an Apple ID connect remotely to their home or office Mac over the Internet and control the keyboard, pointer and file system.

Ho hum.  Only really useful for those fully assimilated into the Apple collective.  My office PC runs Ubuntu Linux, as does my home desktop PC and my Mythbuntu PVR.  I can (and do) get to these through other applications that use standard VNC protocols, using either my iPad or my MacBook, or my Ubuntu notebook.

Find my Mac.  I think this is a way of tracking a Mac if it goes AWOL.  Could be useful, but I already have a third party app for this.

I am rather underwhelmed.

Oh, but isn’t today Ubuntu 11.10 release day?

Geek joke: X11 (xkcd)

Well, here’s another spectacularly geeky cartoon from xkcd:

X11

I’ve just been playing with the beta release of Ubuntu GNU/Linux 11.10 (Oneiric Ocelot, if I have the spelling correct), due for release this week – tomorrow if memory serves.  I had some issues with screen resolution, so this cartoon resonates with me.  If there’s one thing I hate, it’s trying to sort out screen resolutions that haven’t been detected.

Incidentally, the latest release of Ubuntu seems to me to have sorted out many of the issues I’ve had with the Unity desktop, and I have new-found enthusiasm for it.  Perhaps I’ll write a bit more about Ubuntu 11.10 later this week

Removing (or hiding) iTunes!

Having written just the other day why I view the iPad as an appliance or a gadget rather than a personal computer (my judgement revolved around limits to what the user is able to do with the device), I found myself limited by iTunes 10.4 running on Mac OS X Lion.

The problem surfaces for two reasons.  I dislike iTunes because it’s clunky and painful to use, and I dislike iTunes because it seems to limit how I deal with digital music – I like to choose the file format in ways that iTunes appears not to like, for example.  Anyway, I investigated removing iTunes, and it turns out OS X throws a bit of a wobbly when you try this, claiming that it’s required by OS X.  Now, I don’t know whether that’s true or not, but even having found a method of doing this I thought it better not to try (most such efforts are a prelude to making a clean reinstallation).  I don’t synchronise my iPad to my MacBook, and I’ve recently replaced an iPod Touch with a more reasonable device from Cowon (review part 1, part 2) partly to get away from iTunes.

No matter, I thought, I’ll simply assign the default application for opening audio files such as mp3 to Songbird, and that’ll deal with the issue or iTunes opening every time I open an mp3 file.  Well, I can report that on my MacBook at least, iTunes refuses to relinquish its role as the audio player foisted upon me by Apple.

Irritated, I had a bit of a Google about, and found recommendations to try an application called RCDefaultApp.  This seems to over-ride the iron grip of Cupertino and forces iTunes to take a back seat!  The whole episode does seem to reek rather of control-freakery and reminds me of one’s inability to remove Internet Explorer from Windows.  I do wonder how required iTunes really is for OS X…and whether this is symptomatic of a move of OS X towards the iOS way of working.

Cowon X7 PMP review, Part 2

A review update for the Cowon X7 Personal Media Player.

I’ve still really only explored the audio functions (though I did try the radio player).
I have played about with four UCIs (User Contributed Interface, I think), which I believe significantly enhance the usability of the device:

Lynx – An excellent desktop replacement, with useful widgets – an absolutely vital addition to the X7. It offers customised wallpaper art and a very usable interface.
Sense – A replacement for the original music player, offering among other things good album art display.  I understand that the device as supplied has a bit of trouble displaying/resizing album art.
Leaf – A music browser app, which is not only visually appealing but offers several search options.
Vision – Photo album, less important for my purposes, and it seems to pick up a lot of cover art files (a legacy from the music collection).

All four of these UCIs were written by Kizune, who posts frequently at the iAudiophile forums (indeed he may be the administrator there).  These forums are an invaluable resource for the new Cowon user.   In use, I’ve had a couple of occasions when something’s got corrupted and the system no longer recognises the music files on the hard drive. The only sensible way I’ve found to rectify this is to replace the system files on the Flash drive.  I guess it might be possible to identify which files are responsible for the problem, but I haven’t done so yet.  On the first occasion this happened, upgrading the firmware (in this case from 2.07 to 2.08) corrected the problem.  The second time I tried to reinstall the firmware, but it didn’t help.  I then made a back up of the Flash drive and deleted the lot, reinstalled firmware 2.8 and copied back the UCIs I’d installed. This is a faff, since you have to go back and configure the device from scratch.

For future use, I’ve made a backup of the Flash drive in a functional state, and I’ll see if merely replacing the Flash drive files with that will sort matters out.

I’ve seen reports that using a Mac for file transfer can responsible for this situation arising. I was indeed using a Mac, but it doesn’t seem to happen particularly frequently – I have connected the device many times daily for file transfers and only suffered this issue on two occasions.

I think I’d have to conclude that the Cowon X7 is an excellent player, but that the user needs to be prepared to fiddle and troubleshoot the device on occasion.  Fortunately, I quite like tinkering!

Groklaw to stop publishing on May 16th

I don’t suppose most people are aware of the continued threats against Linux by those companies who feel threatened by the growth of Linux.  Many out there believe that Linux is just some minority OS that’s not user-friendly and is not going anywhere.  Actually Linux adoption bubbles along just below Apples OS X – at least on the desktop.  Interestingly, Linux (in the form of Android) is doing well in mobile devices, in web servers, and in supercomputers.  Anyway some years back, an excessively complex and convoluted legal assault on Linux was mounted by SCO, a Utah company formerly engaged in selling a Linux distribution.

The whole farrago of legal action seemed to many in the Open Source world to be a campaign to nobble Linux adoption, by spreading FUD – with conspiracy theorists seeing Microsoft as one of its financial backers (there was a suggestion that MS took a Unix licence to help fund the lawyers).

Chief in the pro-Linux camp (and some might actually say pro-truth camp) has been the weblog Groklaw, which began when paralegal Pamela Jones wanted to write about these issues on the net – from May 16th 2003, Groklaw has been the number one place for the truth about SCO’s attempt to squash Linux (and several other stories): in the 8 years since then, PJ has suffered considerable abuse from SCO and their lawyers, and has stuck to her mission to sift out the truth in this tortuous legal case.  At all times, she’s maintained her position on the moral high ground.

Now PJ has announced that from May 16th, 2011, Groklaw will no longer publish new articles ( Groklaw Articles Ending on May 16th): it’s time for her to move on in her life.

I just wanted to say how much I have enjoyed PJ’s coverage of the SCO affair, and the other stories she’s presented.  Groklaw has been a fascinating read at all times, and has been an excellent example of what can be achieved by a community effort on the web.

Thank you, PJ.

My year in tech

2010 has seen some shifts in my usage of computer technology.

After many months pooh-poohing the iPad (after all, what would I need an unfeasibly large iPod Touch for, anyway?), I had something of a change of heart. This was largely brought about by a trip to the USA for a conference – after a bit of thought, I picked up a 64Gb WiFi iPad, which proved an excellent device to cart about documents, pdfs, books, music and video. I’ve previously posted an overview of my favourite apps for the iPad, but this list just keeps on growing. Recent additions to the roster include:

  • Air Display – this enables the iPad to be used as a second monitor for a Mac or PC, though sadly not Linux. It’s pretty cool, but it remains to be seen how useful it is in practice.
  • World of Goo – I recently bought the ludicrously popular Angry Birds for the iPad, but in my view, World of Goo (originally available for several platforms including Wii, Windows, OSX and Linux) is possibly the most charming app I’ve bought, beats Angry Birds hands down, and is a game format which works almost perfectly with the iPad’s touch screen display. In my less well-guarded moments, I’ve been known to comment it is the kind of thing the iPad must have been invented for.
  • Flipboard is a neat app which uses a neat and intuitive interface to let you rapidly and easily access news from a variety of sources, including Twitter, Facebook, Google Reader, and more beside. This is a useful an imaginative way to get at these feeds. I’d previously used The Feed to monitor Google Reader, but it seems to be rather flaky since the iOS 4.2 update.

In any event, the iPad has become a pretty indispensable tool for me, not only at home where I use it for web browsing, controlling the Squeezebox music system etc, but at work, where it’s a star turn for MS Outlook related activities, note taking and holding my collection of pdf documents.

Every so often, I come across an iPad app that really changes the way I think of interacting with a computer (even if the iOS family of devices should really be classed as ‘appliances’, rather than computers).  Even my initial antipathy towards the App Store and it’s Jobsian control freakery has lifted somewhat.  I’m very much less enthusiastic about the prospect of the soon to be launched Mac App Store (of which more later).

Just as that seemed to be pushing my usage of Linux into the background, I had so much hassle delivering a PowerPoint presentation that included video clips that I decided to plump for a Mac laptop, choosing a 13″ MacBook Pro. Since that time, I’ve spent a fair amount of my computer use with OSX. Interestingly, and this perhaps reflects my own preferences and expertise, I don’t find OSX as wonderful an operating system as its often very vocal supporters would have it. While I hugely prefer it to Windows 7 (a aesthetic disaster in my opinion, though it does seem pretty solid and a big improvement over Vista), I don’t find the Mac way of doing things superior to the configurability of a decent Linux distribution such as my favourite of the last few years, Ubuntu.  I occasionally toy with the idea of installing Ubuntu on the MacBook…

Mostly I dislike OSX’s use of an application dependent desktop menu bar (I don’t know what it’s called in OSX). This seems to fly in the face of reason, and makes it a bit harder for me to know what windows are open. And why can’t finder include a toggle to show/hide hidden files? Anyway, using the MacBook pro is generally speaking a delight, not least because of the physical quality of the hardware.

As for the App Store for Macs (to be launched early in January, I believe), well, I’ve been very happy with the Debian derived Ubuntu repositories from where software can be installed pretty much at will.  And as it’s all open source, generally at no additional cost.  One of the disturbing things about buying into a closed source OS ecosystem is that a new computer comes with little in the way of serious applications, in contrast to the typical new Linux installation.  It’s amusing to see how I’ve pretty much stocked my new MacBook Pro with a variety of open source software (sometimes not open source but free in the financial sense) that I’ve used for a long time on my various Linux machines, applications such as GIMP, OpenOffice.org, Firefox, GoldenCheetah, Filezilla, Mendeley Desktop – the list goes on.  I even found a file manager (XFolders) which lets me see hidden files!

Having said that, I picked up iWorks quite cheaply when I bought the MacBook, mostly for Keynote, but I’ve found Pages to be rather a nice word processor too.  I have the iPad iWorks apps as well.

At work I was supplied with a new desktop PC, and even better I’ve been allowed to install Linux on it!  Of course, I’m on my own in terms of configuring it…not much Linux support at work unfortunately, outside of a neighbouring Department’s Linux cluster.  I’ve already got it synchronising my documents folder with its counterpart on rather aged (nearly four years old now) Sony Vaio notebook which currently runs Ubuntu 10.10.

At home I configured an old desktop PC with Mythbuntu.  This works really very well (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3), but the case is so unsightly that I’ve removed it from the sitting room. I’m now planning to reversion an old laptop as a Mythbuntu front-end for it.  In fact  the Mythbuntu box proved to be very much more reliable than our Humax box (which needs to be reformatted two or three times a year).  I guess I’ll work on this over the coming weeks.

I’ve extended the home network to include a Squeezebox Radio, and couple of Squeezeslaves running on the MacBook Pro and on a desktop PC running Ubuntu 10.10.  So I’ve got music systems all over the house…