Logitech announces termination of mysqueezebox.com - consternation ensues!

I've posted in the past about the Squeezebox network music players, most recently owned by Logitech until discontinued in August 2012. These devices require a network connection to a server - either an instance of Logitech Media Server (LMS), running on the local network, or the Logitech-provides server at mysqueezebox.com (MSB). The two server systems do have functional overlap which does cause confusion in the user base, of which more later. However, on 25th January 2024 the announcement was made via the support forum that the MSB service would be terminated in February 2024.

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Volumio Music Streamer

 

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iPod Nano repair

A few years ago, I obtained a 6th Generation iPod Nano by virtue of a product recall (the 1st Gen nano had a battery problem). I've used the replacement iPod far more than the 1st Gen version, so I was a bit dismayed when the power button stopped working a month or so ago.Repair via Apple didn't seem terribly worthwhile, so I investigated whether it might be possible to sort this out myself. When the 6th Gen iPod Nano was released, iFixit wrote a teardown guide - there's an astonishing amount of stuff crammed into a tiny case! I found a blog with a description of how to fix the power switch problem, which seems to be relatively common. After a bit of procrastination, I set about attempting the repair.It's not quite clear what the malfunction really is - there's a surface mounted switch (it's the gold coloured circle mentioned in step 7 of the repair instructions), and I guess that something wears out or gets dislodged making it inoperative.I didn't really have the specialised tools needed - I used the plastic lid of a Bic biro pen as a spudger/lever, the tweezers from a Swiss army knife, and the small blade of the knife as a screwdriver. To get in, I used a hairdryer to melt the glue and the knife to lever up the screen. I avoided disconnecting the screen or detaching it completely, and once I had the battery loose, I used a rubber band to hold it to the screen. I noted that of the four screws you remove for the repair, there are three different sizes (all tiny!) - I took a quick photo and labelled it so I knew where they go. I fashioned a small square of plastic to glue to the gold switch with contact adhesive.Too much of the original glue was lost, so I reattached the screen with a contact adhesive using a bulldog clip to hold the screen down while the glue set. The result was a bit messy, and I doubt the unit is waterproof any more. But hey, once I had reassembled the iPod, the switch was working again. Who knows how long for...

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Mini HiFi

I have posted before now about the excellent Squeezebox streaming audio system from Logitech that is sadly now discontinued. Since Logitech knocked their line of Squeezebox players on the head, the system seems to continue flourishing, thanks to the open source nature of the server software. Most recently, the BBC decided to implement a very poorly publicised change to the internet streams of live and listen again radio programmes (see, for example, this blog post).  Within days users of the Logitech Server had access to these streams restored, thanks to the efforts of developers who post on the forums. In contrast, users of just about every internet radio on the market and other streaming systems such as Sonos have to make do with pretty low resolution mp3 streams (and these are not a long term solution).At the moment, I am running a Squeezebox Touch and two Squeezebox Radios in my network, with an old Squeezebox 3 held in reserve. I also have three Raspberry Pi computers set up with piCorePlayer as Squeezebox players, and can stream via several apps on iPads and Android devices. So, all in all, a very versatile system, that Logitech should be ashamed of failing to support properly. Anyway, enough grumbling. Here's a neat little mini HiFi I've just set up - ultimately for use in my office.[caption id="attachment_3413" align="alignnone" width="1000"] A new, and very tiny, Squeezebox based HiFi[/caption]This uses a Raspberry Pi model B, fitted with a HiFiBerry Dac, connected to an Amptastic Mini-1 amplifier. The Mini-1  is seriously tiny, with a footprint smaller than a CD jewel case. I've just added a pair of QAcoustics bookshelf speakers. The whole shebang sounds pretty good for the price of around £300. In the office, I may well be using an old 1st gen iPad to stream music either from Spotify or via a VPN link from my home music server, rather than the Raspberry Pi.

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Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 - the return of the stylus

So far, I have owned and used iPads (first generation iPad, third generation iPad and a first generation iPad mini for work). I posted previously about my search for a usable stylus for iPad (Smartphones, tablets and styli). This was pretty much unsuccessful: iPad styli were always inadequately precise, either because they had a rubber blob of a tip that mimicked a fingertip, or because the bluetooth system used wasn't precise enough.A couple of years ago, I made my belated entry to the smartphone market, with a Samsung Galaxy Note 2 (I recently updated to a Galaxy Note 4). This device comes with the S Pen, an interesting device that gives a really good screen response when writing. Coupled with excellent handwriting conversion, this meant that text entry by scribbling on the screen was a realistic proposition. Here's a good description of how the S Pen works. Essentially, from that site:

An electromagnetic field is generated from a circuit behind the screen. The S Pen picks this up and uses it to power itself and figure out its position relative to the screen. It sends this, along with information from the S Pen button and the nib at the end, back to the Note.
At that point, it was abundantly clear that my next tablet purchase was likely to be a Samsung Note device. And on a recent visit to a department store I had a little play with a Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 tablet - and my partner bought one. After a weekend of seeing this device in action, I bought one too - reduced in price to £324. Anyway, for me (and the work I do) this is an iPad killer - for example:
  • Bigger screen, at a very decent resolution
  • Android 4.4.2 (this is like climbing over the wall of the Apple prison)
  • The S pen, which offers realistic sketch pad and handwriting recognition
  • Easier file transfer to and from the device than iTunes allows
  • Ability to add to the 32Gb onboard memory - I added a 64Gb card
  • Most of the apps I use on the iPad are also available on the Galaxy, and those that aren't have perfectly good alternatives
  • You can run up to 4 apps simultaneously onscreen.
This is basically a power user's tablet, and I really can't fault it. But it's the S Pen that really sells it to me. Here's a very detailed review dating from March last year, when the beast retailed at about £649. I think it's a pretty accurate review. I doubt I'd have been keen to cough up £649, but at £324 this seemed a great deal - I presume the discounted price means it's either discontinued or a new model is due shortly.

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Bizarre design flaw in the Cowon X7 media player?

After Apple replaced my 2 gigabyte first generation iPod Nano with a nifty little 8Gb sixth generation model (due to a product recall), I found myself using that in preference to my Cowon X7, even though the latter has 160Gb storage. The consequence of this is that I allowed the X7 to completely discharge.

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Rune Audio media player

I’m always interested in tinkering with alternative audio usage of my Raspberry Pi devices. As standard, I’m using them as Squeezebox substitutes, running the minimalist OS piCorePlayer, though I’ve also tried Squeezeplug and Raspbian for this. Rune Audio, which I think is derived from RaspyFi as a fork at the time RaspyFi became Volumio (though I may have that the wrong way round), recently released a version 0.3 beta for the Raspberry Pi, so (being naturally curious) I decided to try it out.

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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: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
SqueezeplugpiCorePlayerWolfson kernel
URLwebsitewebsitewebsite
UsageConvenient low cost LMS server and playerLow 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
LMSyesnono
GuideSqueezeplug wikiI also described this installation here. Instructions at the piCorePlayer website I described this here
Wolfson DAC supportednot supportedsupported
HiFiBerrysupportedsupported
Notes

1, 4

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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.

Installing the Wolfson DAC

Installing the Wolfson DAC card is pretty straightforward. It uses a set of sprung connectors to conenct to the P5 header of the Raspberry Pi, pushes on to the P1 header and fixes in place with a plastic screw. The screw is important to make sure the connectors are held against the P5. I didn’t bother with trying to set the DAC up with a stock Raspbian OS - Element 14 have an image file of a modified Raspbian with all modules etc set up from the get-go. It can be downloaded from here, though I found that the file wouldn’t unzip on my Mac, unless I used Keka, a third party archiver utility available from the App Store. There’s some discussion on the Element 14 discussion forums about the unzipping problem.I set up wifi and installed squeezelite as described in this tutorial - all pretty straightforward as I have a fair bit of Linux experience. I’m using an unbranded wifi USB stick that steadfastly refused to work with piCorePlayer - but it seems fine in Raspbian.In use, the Pi starts squeezelite when it boots, and it’s then visible to the LMS web interface and other squeezebox control apps such as SqueezePad and iPeng. I was using a terminal to shut the Pi down via the command line before powering down. This seemed less than ideal, so I investigated setting up a ‘shutdown’ push button switch for an easier and more orderly shutdown.

 3 Pin Header on the Wolfson DAC

The Wolfson DAC pretty much covers the main set of header pins, and makes three of these available via a three pin header on the card (referred in this thread).

Wolfson_Card_J8-1:RPI_TX  ->  RPi: P1-08 - TXD0 (ALT0) - GPIO14Wolfson_Card_J8-2:RPI_RX  ->  RPi: P1-10 - RXD0 (ALT0) - GPIO15Wolfson_Card_J8-3:GND

[caption id="attachment_2527" align="alignleft" width="400"] The J8 Header[/caption](GPIO14 is the pin closest to the edge of the DAC card, and GND is the one furthest from the edge). I connected a pushbutton switch on a breadboard to GPIO14 and GND for testing purposes.

Setting up the shutdown script.

Bearing in mind I’d never done any prior work with hardware interfaces, and never done any python work, this proved an interesting exercise!First, I installed RPi-GPIO:
sudo apt-get updatesudo apt-get -y install python-rpi.gpio
I don’t recall installing the time and os Python modules, so I assume they are there by default. I copied the shutdown code (from here) and saved as /home/pi/scripts/shutdown2.py. Note that the comment lines indicate sources - all I had to do was to edit the pin numbers from the original to use Pin 14.
# This script will wait for a button to be pressed and then shutdown
# the Raspberry Pi.
# http://kampis-elektroecke.de/?page_id=3740
# http://raspi.tv/2013/how-to-use-interrupts-with-python-on-the-raspberry-pi-and-rpi-gpio
# https://pypi.python.org/pypi/RPi.GPIO
 import RPi.GPIO as GPIO
import time
import os
 # we will use the pin numbering of the SoC, so our pin numbers in the code are
# the same as the pin numbers on the gpio headers
GPIO.setmode(GPIO.BCM)
 # Pin 14 will be input and will have its pull up resistor activated
# so we only need to connect a button to ground
GPIO.setup(14, GPIO.IN, pull_up_down = GPIO.PUD_UP)
# ISR: if our button is pressed, we will have a falling edge on pin 14
# this will trigger this interrupt:
def Int_shutdown(channel):
# shutdown our Raspberry Pi
os.system("sudo shutdown -h now")
# Now we are programming pin 14 as an interrupt input
# it will react on a falling edge and call our interrupt routine "Int_shutdown"
GPIO.add_event_detect(14, GPIO.FALLING, callback = Int_shutdown, bouncetime = 2000)
# do nothing while waiting for button to be pressed
while 1:
        time.sleep(1)
To run the script at startup, I added this line to rc.local:
sudo python /home/pi/scripts/shutdown2.py
One reboot, and voila! My first attempt to use Raspberry Pi GPIO pins was a success! I’ve now soldered the switch to a couple of push-on connectors which fit to the J8 pins 1 and 3 (GPIO14 and GND respectively), so it’s a little fragile in the absence of a proper case! Pressing the shutdown button shuts the system down. I suspect that a reset button connected to Header 6 would re-start the device from that state, but I’ve yet to investigate.I’m presently using this Pi as a small player to drive a pair of headphones - it sounds rather good. Here's a photo of the finished device:[caption id="attachment_2526" align="alignleft" width="1000"] Raspberry Pi with Wolfson DAC (click to enlarge)[/caption]

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HiFiBerry DAC for the Raspberry Pi

I mentioned at the end of my previous blog article on the Raspberry Pi that I had a DAC board in transit. Well it has arrived, I’ve fitted it and after a few trials and tribulations, it is set up and working well.The attraction of having an onboard DAC in the Pi is really one of neatness. It also frees up one of the USB ports that I would otherwise use to feed a USB DAC (for example I can boot the Pi into Squeezeplug, and use the Pi as a Logitech Media Server with Squeezelite as a player). The case that I’m using for the Pi doesn’t really offer a lot of room for manoeuvre when installing additional boards, but in the end I bodged together a neat enough solution.The HiFiBerryThe HiFiBerry DAC is a small printed circuit board about half the area of the main Raspberry Pi board. It attaches to a set of 8 connecting pins - the onboard sound connector P5 - you have to solder an 8-pin header to the Raspberry Pi main board first.I’d ordered the board with two RCA connectors, but no headphone style jack plug. The RCA connectors were three pin sockets, obviously intended to be soldered to the board. It was immediately clear that this would mean the Pi would no longer fit in the case, so I decided to connect the RCAs via wires to the board, and mount the RCAs in the lid of the case. The board came with the GPIO and P5 sockets already soldered.AssemblyStep 1 - I soldered the P5 header to the Raspberry Pi board. This proved pretty easy. The P5 sits right next to the GPIO connectors.Step 2 - I soldered four wires to the output terminals intended to output to a 3.5mm jack. Two from GND to the GND tag of the RCA sockets, and one from the L and R channels to the appropriate tag of the RCA sockets.Step 3 - I drilled two holes in the case lid. I also needed to remove some bits of plastic from what appear to be strengthening ribs in the case lid to allow it to fit over the HiFiBerry board. I fixed the RCA sockets into the holes, which needed a spot of araldite to hold them firm.Step 4 - I mounted the HiFiBerry board on the P5 connector - it also slots onto the GPIO header for added support. The card came with a polythene pillar and screws to further support it in place, so I fitted those.Step 5 - I assembled the case back together, inserted the SD card and booted the Pi.[caption id="attachment_2499" align="aligncenter" width="300"] Upper side of HiFiBerry board[/caption]You can see the wiring I added to connect the RCA sockets to the board. Obviously, the sockets supplied are intended to be soldered to the board in the positions labelled 'Left' and 'Right'.[caption id="attachment_2501" align="aligncenter" width="300"] The underside of the HiFiBerry board[/caption]There's not much to see on this view of the HiFiBerry - other than my soldering, and the two connectors that attach the board to the Raspberry Pi - the board came with these already fitted.Using the piCorePlayer web interface, I selected the option for the HiFBerry DAC, determined the ALSA settings for the HiFiBerry and entered them, and saved the whole setting to the SD card. Then I excitedly hooked up the phono cable to my amplifier, booted the Pi and sat back to listen to the music.Well, I could listen to the right hand channel, but the left channel was sadly absent!A problem!Clearly I’d done something wrong! I referred to the forums on the HiFiBerry site. Most people having this sort of trouble had evidently made minor cockups with soldering, though there were hints that some cards may have been defective. A quick email elicited a rapid response suggesting I check the connectors for evidence of shorting out. I did this, finding no problems. As an aside, I found Daniel at CrazyAudio very responsive and polite in the face of a neophyte solderer asking questions.A little while later, it occurred to me that the two non-ground pins of the RCA connector might not be equivalent - in particular, it wasn't easy to see how they connected within the socket. I plugged in an RCA plug into the L channel socket and used my multimeter to determine if the signal wire from the plug actually made electrical contact with the tag to which I’d soldered the wire from the board. It didn’t, so after a bit more investigation I detached the wire and soldered it to the third tag of the connector. At this point the Pi was properly outputting audio from both channels!Triumph!So, how does the Pi perform as a media player with the onboard DAC? First impressions are that it compares well with the two external DACs I have available, though both are budget items (a Cambridge Audio DACmagic 100 and DACmagic XS). More on this later, though I'm not really a serious audiophile and I've no way of doing a proper blind test.

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piCorePlayer - Squeezebox on a Pi

Adventures in Raspberry Pi LandWhen the Raspberry Pi was announced a few years ago, I was rather attracted by this low power but very flexible educational computer but never bought one until recently, when I fancied having a bit of a play with setting up a Raspberry Pi as a Squeezebox player.After a bit of a sidestep in the ordering, I ended up with the following:

  • One Raspberry Pi Model B, with SD card containing NOOB
  • One USB WiFi USB stick (not the Edimax stick I originally planned - more on this later)
  • One clear plastic case
  • One power supply
piCorePlayer installationThe SD card that came with the Raspberry Pi had the NOOB collection of operating systems. However, I began by overwriting the SD card with the piCorePlayer 1.12a image. I connected the Raspberry Pi to my router with an ethernet cable, and booted it up. Booting piCorePlayer takes only a few seconds. Connecting vis SSH was trivial with Terminal on the MacBook. Recent piCorePlayer releases include a rather nifty web page based configuration system, so it really didn't take long to set up the connection to the Logitech Media Server, rename the device, and set up the audio via the spare USB port to a small Cambridge audio DacMagic headphone amp. Here's a quick snap of the device with ethernet connection to the left and power supply to the right with the SD card protruding. You can see the WiFi stick to the left, next to the ethernet connector.So far, so good.PiCorePlayer successfully saw the Wifi network. I entered the SSID and password, but the wifi stick resolutely refused to play ball after a reboot, leaving the device uncontactable except via ethernet. I subsequently investigated reviews of the Wifi stick I'd chosen. Turns out that the thing won't work with piCorePlayer, but will with Raspbian. Ho hum! I then ordered an Edimax device, which I should have done in the first place.In use, the Pi seems to work well, and plays audio robustly, no pops, clicks or other audio artefacts. In its transparent case it looks quite attractive in a 1970s Blake's 7 budget SciFi kind of style, what with the various flickering and flashing LEDs.A couple of days later, the replacement WiFi stick arrived. By this time, piCorePlayer version 1.12c was released. I reflashed the SD card, and repeated the setup routine. I also expanded the second partition to fill the rest of the SD card. This should allow me to install further extensions to piCore. The Edimax WiFi stick does seem to play ball with piCorePlayer, which can now take up residence next to the HiFi. I note that selecting the correct ALSA parameters for the external DAC is important to avoid pops, clicks and other audio degradation. PiCorePlayer's web interface makes setting up the audio (and Wifi) very easy and straightforward.The Pi is hooked up to a Cambridge Audio DACmagic 100, and thence to a Naim Nait3 integrated amplifier and Mission 720 speakers. I also tested it using a Cambridge Audio DACmagic XS DAC/Headphone amp.Next up...I have a HiFi Berry DAC card in transit. I have also soldered up an expansion board for a 2 x 16 LCD display.

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Raspberry Pi as a Squeezebox

I’ve blogged in the past about the really rather wonderful but sadly discontinued Squeezebox system of networked media players (see for example 2013 – My year as a music consumer and Squeezebox RIP). It hadn’t escaped my notice that the tiny computer Raspberry Pi has been used as a low power Squeezebox, and I fancied a spot of tinkering to make a backup Squeezebox device should some of my current Squeezeboxes conk out (though it has to be said that I have two Squeezebox Radios, one Squeezebox Touch and one Squeezebox Classic, and I’ve never had any hardware problems to date).I looked around the web for tutorials on setting up a Raspberry Pi as a Squeezebox, and there do seem to be several ways to achieve this.First up would be to install Squeezeplug. This sets up the Raspberry Pi not only as a player, but as the Logitech Media Server (LMS) itself. As far as I can deduce, this setup would be useful as a low power media server that would be left running 24/7 - obviously with an external drive to hold the music files. Since I’m running LMS on a QNAP NAS already, I think this might be overkill!I then found this tutorial on installing Squeezelite on an Raspberry PI, with the stock Raspbian operating system - Installing Squeezelite Player on Raspbian. The same author decided to use a different OS to make a device that could be switched on and off without problems, resulting in...Unpluggable Squeezelite Player on TinyCore. This uses a small linux distro, PiCore (based on TinyCore) which runs in RAM and uses the Raspberry Pi’s SD card in read-only mode, meaning it can be switched on and off with no damage.As an alternative, there’s a pre-built version of the above, called PiCorePlayer. This may be the most straightforward way to set up the Raspberry Pi, and will be my first foray into the world of Raspberry Pi.Just now, I’m eagerly awaiting the arrival of my Model B Raspberry Pi (complete with SD card), a small plastic case and a USB WiFi stick.

Cost so far:Raspberry Pi Type B with 8GB SD card               £27.40Edimax Wireless Nano USB Adapter                     £8.95Case-CLR 1 Raspberry Pi Type B Case - Clear      £3.99Total (inc VAT) is                                                    £48.41

The 8Gb SD card is probably overkill for the purpose I have in mind. The RS website says it has the stock Raspbian OS, but I could put the multi-distro NOOB on it. I probably have a modestly sized SD card kicking around - the PiCorePlayer site says the entire thing is only 26Mb (though the latest img file is around 57Mb).I need the WiFi adapter because running an ethernet cable to the eventual location of the device is likely to be impractical. I expect to do all the set up on the command line, starting with the device hooked up by ethernet until the WiFi is setup, though if necessary I can borrow a keyboard and mouse for the setup. I have several 5V USB power power supplies that should fit the bill according to the Raspberry Pi website.My immediate plans are to hook the PiCorePlayer to a DAC via USB. Another future possibility would be to add a HiFiBerry DAC card. This would be rather fun as it’d require me to get out the soldering iron!

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Smartphones, tablets and styli

It’s always struck me that handwriting was a natural way to use a tablet computer, though maybe this is a hangover from my days as a Pocket PC user! But the Apple Way is not to use a pen or stylus but to poke at a touch-sensitive screen with a finger tip.Steve Jobs famously disliked the idea of using a stylus with a tablet.

(Steve Jobs) It's like we said on the iPad, if you see a stylus, they blew it.
So iPad users generally have to make do with either their finger or a third party ‘stylus’ that mimicks a finger tip, usually with a squishy rubbery tip that frankly is not much use when it comes to writing. I’ve tried a few of these, without really finding the experience useful for writing - they are a bit more practical for scribbling quick diagrams in my experience.I also have a Samsung smartphone, the Galaxy Note 2. I bought this largely because it comes with a stylus and surprisingly good handwriting recognition software. I can use the stylus for text entry for most, if not all, of the apps for which it would be appropriate. The stylus fits snugly and neatly into the phone’s case.  It’s not a simple device - (this article explains how the thing works - Break It Down – How Does The S Pen Work?) but it works admirably, giving the real sensation of writing. In contrast to the spongy rubber blob of a typical iPad stylus, you pretty well know where the line you’re writing will appear on the screen. The S-pen is good enough in use that it may well be the deciding factor in which model of tablet I buy to replace my iPad3 in the future.There are several iPad apps I’ve always felt would benefit from the use of a stylus:
  • Any of a number of note-taking apps - ideally with handwriting recognition.
  • Sketching apps (which would include the Evernote app Penultimate).
  • Pdf annotation apps such as iAnnotate or Papership. Papership is particularly useful to me as it accesses my library of pdf files indexed and organised in Mendeley.
  • Evernote. This would be a dream, but really I think script entry would be limited to Penultimate. On my Galaxy Note 2, I can scribble into Evernote to my heart’s content.
A few weeks ago, the Evernote Market Place (which pops into my awareness from time to time when using Evernote) advertised the Jot Script iPad stylus by Adonit, which has the nearest thing to a pen-like point that I’ve seen in an iPad stylus. For a third-party iPad stylus, it’s a bit on the pricy side but I thought it would be worth a punt. This is something of a preliminary review after a few days of use.The Jot Script stylus works with all iOS devices, though you need to have Bluetooth 4 for all the advanced features such as palm rejection - this includes iPad3 and later models (and the iPad minis). Also, unlike the Samsung S-pen, it’s powered (by a AAA cell). You need to turn it on and let it pair with the iPad. In the hand, the Jot Script feels very much like a pen - it’s got a pretty fine point to it, and it’s pretty much the same length and weight as a largish ballpoint pen.I’ve tried the Jot Script with the following apps:Penultimate. This is a graphics app for sketching that’s part of the Evernote family, so your sketches and scribbles end up in Evernote. The difficulty I’ve had so far (only a few days in) is that the line being drawn doesn’t always appear where you think it will. I imagine this may get better with practice. I don’t find my handwriting particularly legible. The software offers quite good protection against accidental ‘inking’ by one’s wrist. Penultimate also offers a ‘drift’ function where you can zoom in to a page, and it drifts across as you write. This allows you to generate pages with reasonably fine text, but it strikes me as a ridiculous workaround of a pretty glaring defect in iPad design - the lack of a really functional stylus from the get-go. Still, it is quite good, and works quite well.JotStudio - made by Adonit, this is a pretty basic sketching app. It has a few pen types, and limited ‘pressure sensitivity’ - line width seems to be mostly dependent on the speed at which the line is drawn (this is true also for Penultimate). Only seems to function in landscape orientation. This works quite well, but has limited functionality.WritePad - this app features handwriting recognition and is made by PhatWare who used to make handwriting apps for the old PocketPC platform. I have trouble here because, as with the other apps, there’s a bit of uncertainty where the line will appear and when it’ll start appearing. I find it quite difficult to write sufficiently clearly (given the limitations of the iPad screen and the stylus) for effective speed writing and handwriting recognition. I find that if your wrist contacts the screen, you can’t write with the stylus (and you make a random squiggle where your wrist touches the screen). Limited use for me, but perhaps it’ll get better with practice.iAnnotate. Perhaps the leading pdf annotation software. The stylus is useful for freehand annotations. Works pretty well, though the highlighter tool seems to select rather more text than I intend to with the stylus.Papership. This is a pdf viewer and annotater that works with Mendeley libraries. The app is free, but the full range of annotation tools needs a £2.99 in-app purchase. This is worth it in my view. Papership is for me one of the killer apps. Annotated pdfs are snychronised back up to the Mendeley server, so the annotations are visible on your desktop PC or laptop. The Jot Script stylus makes reading and annotating research papers really easy and intuitive.My conclusion is that the iPad remains pretty much unworkable (for me at least) for text entry with a stylus, but that for quick diagrams and, more importantly for me, annotating pdfs, the Adonit stylus is a useful addition and one that's much easier to use than a finger tip or the more usual blunt rubbery stylus.For handwriting entry on a tablet or phone, I reckon that Samsung’s S-pen wins. When (or if) I’m in the market for a new tablet, I will try out the Galaxy Note 10.1 with the S-pen.

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Spotify, its business model and its future

Prompted by an article in The Guardian (Spotify opens up analytics in effort to prove its worth to doubting musicians), I visited a Spotify website which seeks to de-mystify the periodic brouhaha around Spotify's business model and whether or not artists are paid properly for their music which is streamed via Spotify. The article by Spotify is really a series of mini-blog articles on a new site (www.spotifyartists.com).It's an agreeably affable page that makes a series of assertions:

Spotify’s model aims to regenerate this lost value by converting music fans from these poorly monetized formats to our paid streaming format, which produces far more value per listener. The chart below shows the money a Spotify Premium customer spends per year compared to the average spend of a US music consumer who buys music (not including those who spend $0 on music).

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More objections to Spotify

Here's a BBC News page with a segment from a recent Newsnight programme discussing Spotify and whether it does artists a disservice -Spotify - friend or foe of musicians?We still see the issue of low royalty rates for the musicians, but increased ticket sales as a consequence of exposure via Spotify is mentioned as a bonus. But, at the risk of sounding like a stuck record (!), why has no-one actually looked into the effect of music-streaming services on music purchases? Perhaps I am an oddity who buys more because I can listen first, and extensively before buying an album?The internet offers a hugely diverse route into finding music, particularly the social aspects of last.fm, Spotify, Bandcamp and Soundcloud (all of which I use), and many others I don't have time for. Maybe this isn't all about piracy, lost sales and the like but is a new way of business that needs to be grappled with.

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Spotify. Good or bad?

I've been a Spotify subscriber for about 9 months now, and I view it as a really exciting and useful way to listen to new music. But some in the music industry view it more darkly - see for example comment articles by David Byrne and Thom Yorke. These two articles provoked a response from Dave Allen, who takes a different view.Personally, I think there's a fundamental problem with the discussion (though I think I tend towards Dave Allen's view): that is that none of these articles really contain hard data on music purchasing within the Spotify subscribers (and indeed comparing those people with non-subscribers).For my part, I'm of an age where my music listening and buying has seen several game changes. My first record was this:[embed size="compact"]https://open.spotify.com/track/2A0VyjrAJQPXVKxRzxEePG[/embed]And my first LP was Dark Side of the Moon:[embed size="compact"]https://open.spotify.com/album/3a0UOgDWw2pTajw85QPMiz[/embed]But in those days, finding and buying music was very different. I spent loads of time browsing through the inky music papers (NME in my case), listening to friends' LPs (and taping them), and above all frequenting dark record shops. Most of those record shops were bizarrely idiosyncratic in their owners' attitudes (see this listing for examples!). My memories of those days are obviously coloured by rose-tinted spectacles, but the sense of community was great, along with pressures of poverty meaning that every music purchase was most definitely considered thoroughly. And not just in terms of the music itself - peer group issues were very definitely an issue! My affection for vinyl remains because my shelf of LPs, perhaps 5 feet of LPs, contains records firmly registered in my memory as markers of my life: I can recall the circumstances in which I bought virtually every one of them. I recently digitised the majority of them, and the process became the most astonishing memory trip. I suppose the affection I have for vinyl is obviously related to the the packaging, almost invariably superior to a CD package, but also relates to the need to look after, cherish, the object.CDs became the medium for music (I ignore the cassette tape). Oh how wonderful it was to not have to worry about scratches, crackles and generally damaged product. But something was lost for me - buying records became a rather humdrum and unexciting business, and as internet ordering became the norm, I found myself less and less likely to actually visit record shops. I live in a town almost bereft of record shops now, and the overall effect was that my interest in, and purchase of, music reached an all time low.A few years ago, a review of a device made by Logitech - the Squeezebox - in a Linux magazine piqued my interest. I've blogged before about this system, sadly discontinued by Logitech, though it lives on beyond the grave (see also other systems such as Sonos). I quickly began ripping my CDs to disk - running a music server on an old Ubuntu linux box, I made the initial false move of ripping to mp3. Recognising my mistake, I re-ripped to flac! Listening to music through my home network really revitalised my interest music. There were so many advantages in accessing albums without ferretting around shelves of CDs, searching for obscure tracks became so much easier and so forth. Over the years, my Squeezebox system grew. Now I operate a Squeezebox Touch, my original Squeezebox 3, two Squeezebox Radios, plus I use a software player on my MacBook Pro, and apps on iPads and Android devices. Along the way, I started using last.fm as a way of interacting with others, and trying to find new music. But still, accessing new music remained an issue, despite buying Mojo (for classic rock music and dead, decrepit and generally missing in action musicians) and The Wire (for my more avant-garde tastes).Enter Spotify. Admittedly, I was a little late to the music streaming party but I've been enthusiastic ever since. I rapidly upgraded from the advert-laden free account to a paid Premium account, largely to enable listening on my iPad. I only interact with one friend on Spotify, but even that is enough to open my eyes to a wide variety of music I wouldn't normally here. I frequently don't like her suggestions, occasionally hate them, but quite frequently really enjoy her playlists. I also widely use Spotify to check out albums I've read reviews of.So, in all this, what effect has Spotify had on my music listening? Well firstly, it's enabled me to listen to music I'd ordinarily never hear. Secondly, it allows me to check stuff out before shelling out for it. I can use Spotify in conjunction with the Squeezebox to generate "Smart Playlists", uncovering some hidden gems.And guess what? I have greatly increased the numbers of albums I buy. This is an impact on the music biz that doesn't seem to be considered in many commentary articles on music streaming services. Maybe I'm an outlier here, but the exposure to music leads to increased purchasing, at least in my case. And I blundered across a review of music listening/purchasing trends among 'young' people (with a foreword by Feargal Sharkey) which as I recall seemed to indicate an unexpected (to me) desire to own the music rather than merely have a download. Another important factor is that the young do have a lower disposable income, and I would expect them to use copying to increase their music collection - much as I and my fellow students did with cassette tapes back in the 1970s. I guess what I'm trying to suggest is that this whole issue of fair remuneration for artists is wholly unresolvable without a robust dataset. And, of course, we can add to the discussion the role of the music companies in all this.

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BackupPC - a smart backup application!

BackupPC This is a very flexible backup system. I'm presently using it to backup a WinXP and two Ubuntu 7.10 laptops on a daily basis to my home server. It's pretty easy to configure, especially following this guide.

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  25 Hits