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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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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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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Indoor Training Part 2 - TrainerRoad

In Part 1 I described the hardware I use for cycle training indoors. In Part 2 I’ll describe the principal software package I use for indoor training, TrainerRoad. Part 3 will cover the other software I use, and Part4 the software I use for monitoring my progress (with some hardware comments).

There's a wide variety of apps out there for use with smart trainers. For some of these I'll only give a brief description in Part 3, while others I'll keep my comments very brief as I haven't used them extensively enough to form a valuable opinion.

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Geek joke: X11 (xkcd)

Well, here's another spectacularly geeky cartoon from xkcd:[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="319" caption="X11"][/caption]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

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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?

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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).[caption id="attachment_1731" align="alignnone" width="287" caption="Ubuntu 11.10 Unity desktop (click for full size image)"][/caption]You can see along the top panel a variety of indicators showing the status of some apps and other functions (Dropbox, UbuntuOne, weather etc).  The vertical panel on the left is the main panel of icons.  I've also kept Docky, as I don't like the icon stacking effect when the main panel is full, and I find it similar to OS X, which I also use.Default applications include the Thunderbird email client, Firefox web browser, and the Libre Office office suite.  The GIMP isn't included in the default installation, but is easily available via the Ubuntu Software Centre.  Personally I quickly installed Synaptic, as I prefer that (or the command line) to the Software Centre.  The breadth of the software available from the software centre is impressive, particularly since most of it is free.  The software centre itself is bright, colourful and easy to search or browse, though it seems a bit slower to install software than Synaptic and especially the command line.In both a fresh install (on the notebook) and the upgrade (on the desktop PC) I had absolutely no issues with hardware or peripherals, including the notebook's wireless card.  Setting up network printers and scanners is quick and easy.  A basic Wacom Bamboo graphics tablet just worked.Compiz Settings. If you're an inveterate tinkerer and have extensively mucked about with compiz settings (as I had), you might find the Unity desktop is a bit oddly behaving.  This was certainly the case for my desktop PC.  These commands reset things so that Unity works.

gconftool --recursive-unset /apps/compiz-1gconftool --recursive-unset /apps/compizconfig-1
Weather app. To add the weather app on the taskbar:
sudo apt-get install indicator-weather
It's pretty obvious how to set this up...I decided to use Google, and it found my location pretty easily. Apart from saving you having to peer out of the window to see what the weather's like, it supplies a four day forecast.UbuntuOne app.  This plonks a notifier about the UbuntuOne status on the taskbar:
sudo add-apt-repository ppa:rye/ubuntuone-extrassudo apt-get updatesudo apt-get install ubuntuone-indicator
Sysmonitor. To put a system monitor on the taskbar:
sudo add-apt-repository ppa:alexeftimie/ppasudo apt-get updatesudo apt-get install indicator-sysmonitor
To install config tools:
sudo apt-get install dconf-tools
If my old notebook had a bit more oomph, I'd be likely to be using Ubuntu as my main mobile OS.  As it is, my work and home desktop PCs both run Ubuntu, and it has crossed my mind once or twice whether to dual boot my MacBook Pro...

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A variety of iPad apps

Over the year and a bit that I've had my iPad, I've tried a variety of apps.  Many of these I've spotted in reviews on a variety of tech websites, and some of which I've located myself in the app store (which can actually be surprisingly difficult).  Some are imposed by Apple when iOS is updated.  Here's a brief review of some recent apps I've tried. The recent iOS5 update seemed to go quite smoothly for me at least.  As an aside, I decided to do that update because of updates to Pages, Keynote and Numbers, though the real impact of those changes seems pretty invisible to me.  One of the things that appeared on my iPad desktop was the Newsstand app, which is effectively a folder for organising magazine subscriptions.  If you don't want it, tough, you can't get rid of it.  Anyway, I was already a subscriber to New Statesman magazine - this is an app operating outside Newsstand, and really is only of interest for the weekly download of a copy of the magazine.  It behaves pretty much like a pdf reader - OK but not exciting.  The rest of the New Statesman app seems pretty ineffective.The GuardianBut when I noticed The Guardian was to be available in Newsstand, I was interested.  Especially since it's free for the first few months before it moves to £9.99 per month.  I downloaded it and I've been using it for about a week and a half.  It presents The Guardian six days a week, with rapid download of each new issue (though I've noticed that the download sometimes needs a couple of attempts). Each issue remains on my iPad for a week (this cam be 1 day to 1 month, but 1 week is the default).  The newspaper is presented with an attractive tiled front page that lets you get to the sections and stories pretty quickly.  Navigation is well thought out and intuitive.  Onward links in each story aren't as frequent as one might have expected - but when they are there, they're very useful.   Highly recommended, and it's likely I'll take up a sub in January.ProCyclingRegular reading of this blog will know I'm interested in cycling.  I've had a paper sub to ProCycling for several years, and I noticed that it was available in Newsstand.  Obviously I wasn't going to subscribe while my paper sub was still active, so I downloaded a sample issue.  This doesn't seem to be much other than a direct version of the print issue, looking very much like a pdf version with a convenient page navigation along the bottom edge.  Email addresses are activated by a tap, as are URLs  relating to some of the product reviews.  But the advantages of the iPad don't seem to be realised - where The Guardian scores and ProCycling loses is in the ability to navigate around the magazine and beyond.Media PlayersI have a couple of uPnP media devices on my network (separate from my music system, of which more later.  I've tried three uPnP media players to handle viewing images and short videos in my photo library (TwonkyMedia on my NAS box) and recorded TV programmes on my mythbuntu box.Plugplayer (£2.99) is able to see both the TwonkyMedia and Mythbuntu servers, but I think is best as a photo viewer (though every photo is preceded by a low resolution thumbnail image generated by the NAS photo gallery app).  With the Mythbuntu server, video playback seems to be a bit unresponsive.  Airplayer (£2.99) , on the other hand, works well with the photos albeit with slow loading.  Video playback from the Mythbuntu server is quite smooth.  Unfortunately, stepping through a recording is a bit hit and miss.  Subtitles are supported. The smoothest video replay comes with 8player (£2.99) - it has a lovely front page with customisable image and icon sets.  Video playback from Mythbuntu is great, it's easy to fast forward and rewind within the video, and subtitles are available.  What's not so good on my system is viewing photos on TwonkyMedia - all I see are the thumbnails.  Each of these three apps works with some aspect on my multimedia, and each quickly and accurately identifies the servers in my home network. 8player is my choice for video playback, and Airplayer for the photo gallery.I am not a particularly enthusiastic game player.  I tend to try and like smaller arcade style games to occupy an occasional 5 minutes or so, rather than spending long periods of time playing games.  But as a long-time Tintin afficionado, I just had to try the iPad Tintin game (The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn - The Game).  Unfortunately the whole thing comes across as a marketing exercise for the Spielberg film.  The film is getting mixed reviews, with some absolute stinkers from the serious Tintin fans out there in the press.  So far, I haven't had the patience to persist with the game, so that's as far as this review can go.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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Favourite iPad apps

This is a listing of my favourite iPad apps:Dropbox - Absoutely invaluable for shifting files too and from the iPad; synchronise files between iPad and other computers; useful for collaborationsSqueezepad - Excellent and easy to use interface for Squeezebox Server.  Logitech's series of Squeezebox audio devices are really rather a nice way of managing and playing digital audio files.iAnnotate - read and annotate pdf files.  Aji Reader Service can be used to synchronise pdf files between Mac or PC and iAnnotate.  I use this to synch my pdf collection which I manage on the Linux and Mac notebooks using Mendeley.  Unfortunately the current version of the Mendeley iPhone/iPad app leaves quite a lot to be desired.iWork - three iWork applications have iPad versions: Pages, Numbers and KeynoteSkype -VOIP telephony via the iPad.  No video of course, but the rumoured second generation iPad may have video.  Works well on my WiFi model iPad.The Feed -Interfaces with Google Reader to help keep on top of your RSS feeds (I usually follow around 120 or more feeds).Tweetdeck - Not quite as full-featured as the desktop version, but still pretty good for emitting thoughts into the twitterverse.  Has a useful browser panel.Headspace - A kind of hybrid task manager, planning, to-do list app that is really quite versatile.  Three dimensional effects!Wolfram - Very useful if your web searches aim to pull out numerical analyses.  Reasonably good value when I got it on special offer, but I guess one could always access Wolfram Alpha via Safari.  A bit too focussed on American data.Notes Plus - very versatile note taking app, with diagrams and text.  No character recognition - for this try WritePad.  Works best with an iPad stylus.Quickoffice - read and edit MS Office documents.Penultimate - a neat and easy graphic note-taking app.  Works best with a stylus, otherwise you're finger-painting

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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...

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App stores on PCs...Macs...Linux

Following the announcement of the upcoming OSX app store, it's reported that Microsoft is (supposedly) working on a Windows app store, too.Hang on - isn't this what we do with Ubuntu?One of the things that delayed my buy-in to the iPad was the whole walled-garden of the thing - without jailbreaking (with it's attendant consequences) I'm committed to only obtaining and running software available through the App Store.  Now, I eventually concluded that the iPad, like the iPod Touch, is actually a consumer device rather than a computer per se, and I can see why Apple have gone down that route. And I've found the iPad to be an impressive device fr many of my day to day work (and entertainment) activities.Regarding the proposal of an "App Store" for Mac OSX, I was rather relaxed.  After all Linux distros have really had this kind of facility for years - in the form of the repository system used by whatever packaging system used.  In Ubuntu I either access this via the command line or via Synaptic.  There is of course the "Ubuntu Software Centre", which seems to me moving from just a listing of free software to also offering commercial software.In that sense, moving to an App Store model for distributing software for computers isn't particularly innovative, unless it becomes the only way to install software.  It appears that the OSX app store is to be incorporated in next year's OSX 10.7 and added to the current OSX 10.6 pretty soon (Mac OS X 10.7 "Lion" - Sneak Peek).I'm a little uneasy about this move: I don't want to work in a completely closed software ecosystem, and I'm not getting a sense of whether this will be the exclusive mode of software installation. I guess this will be resolved quite soon, as it's coming to OS X 10.6 in the coming months.Update:  Ars Technica's review of yesterday's Apple media shindig (Mac OS X 10.7 Lion: "Mac OS X meets the iPad") quotes Steve Jobs as saying that the Mac App Store won't be the only place to get applications—just "the best place." So that's OK -  for now...

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Rhythmbox vs iTunes vs last.fm

I've had an iPod Touch for some time now (it's one of the 2G versions, with 32Gb storage), and the device is exactly what I need - something to play music from, to access my email & calendar, and to run a few apps.  I don't often use it for twittering or blogging or browsing the web,  What I don't particularly like is iTunes, for which I have to boot into Windows (and it's one of the few things I would be using Windows for), it's always seemed rather clunky to use.  In fact, because until recently Windows PCs were in rather short supply in my house, I've been running iTunes on a small partition on a dual boot laptop, with the actual music files on a USB hard drive.So.  The latest version of Ubuntu (10.04) uses Rhythmbox as its default music player, and this (it turns out) can work neatly with an iPod Touch.  At last!  I can add and remove music without going near iTunes.  I've since bought and uploaded several albums.  Now, I like to scrobble my listening to last.fm - so how to do that?  Well, not problem when playing music from the iPod through Rhythmbox as there's a scrobbler plugin.I noticed there was an app in the App store, iScrobble Premium (there's also an advert-filled free version).  Being rather tight, I thought I'd install the free version to try out.  I decided the purchase price of the premium version was worthwhile, so I did so.  Well here's where my problems started, as I decided to hook the iPod up to iTunes to remove the free iScrobbler app (and one or two other apps).Booted up the WinXP laptop, plugged in USB hard drive , started iTunes.  Nothing appeared to be untoward.  I removed some apps from the iPod, and did a sync.  Some warning messages appeared, which seemed a bit confusing.  I did notice that the space consumed on the iPod seemed a bit reduced.  Only later, when all the cover artwork had disappeared from my iPod did I suspect a problem: it turned out the USB hard drive hadn't been recognised by the laptop.  Ho hum, I thought, I'll remount the drive, restart iTunes and re-sync the iPod.  Well, that took a few hours, and at the end about half the artwork was incorrectly associated with albums.So now I've removed all the music, and I'm re-syncing once again to see if that will cure the problem.  Hope so, this is going to take some time!Update: well that sorted the artwork.  Now to wrestle with iScrobbler!Update 2: tried using iScrobbler, and all the artwork vanished!Update 3:  reloading all the music. Again!

Posted via email from grumpybob's posterous

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I fought iTunes, and iTunes won!

Just a brief addendum to the previous posting about iTunes, iPod Touch and Rhythmbox.  Since then, I've ended up with updating iTunes on two PCs.  I intended to shift everything to the new Win7 PC (though in truth I rarely boot it into Windows), as I though its higher spec might enable iTunes to run at some speed other than glacial.Anyway, I tried updating my iPod to iOS 4.0.2 with the new computer and it threw up some cryptic message about losing all my downloaded apps.  So back to the antiquated laptop, where I bit the bullet and went through the whole rigmarole again.  I really don't know why I'm compelled to install Quicktime, nor do I understand why an application which exists solely to manage a bunch of files on a device connected by USB comes as a download of around 95Mb.I'm pleased to report that the iPod ugrade, while going at a bit of a snail's pace appears to have worked.  Disappointing that the voice memo app is still there (given that as far as I know, iPods have no microphone.  I can see visual changes throughout, particularly in the music player.And the app that started me down this road - iScrobble Premium?  It seems to work better under iOS4.  Next up, to try pairing the iPod with Rhythmbox.  I came across this tech site with instructions on updating a bunch of stuff related to allowing Rhythmbox to sync with iPods running iOS4.  So the battle with iTunes may have been lost, but I've got my eye on the outcome of the war...

Posted via email from grumpybob's posterous

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Microsoft to contribute to Joomla. Oh no.

Via The Register, I came across a link to a blog article (Microsoft Contributing More to OSS | Josh Holmes) enthusing about a move by Microsoft permitting its employees to contribute to the open source CMS Joomla!. [Edit: Josh Holmes is a Microsoft employee, so one might expect him to be enthusiastic about this development]. This interests me since this site (and about three others that I run) are constructed using the Joomla! CMS.  There's also an announcement on the Joomla! site (Microsoft signs the Joomla! Contributor Agreement):

Microsoft has signed the JCA (Joomla! Contributor Agreement), and we've got some of their code in the Joomla! 1.6 trunk. There, I said it. It feels like it should be so much more doesn't it? Don't worry, I won't end the blog post there.
I'm sorry. but I don't share the enthusiasm of these two articles (and nor do many of the commenters).  Microsoft is a very dangerous company to get into bed with, and its track record on open source software is not glittering. Remember Microsoft's strategy: Embrace, Extend, Extinguish.I'm not about to re-version my websites just yet.  But I'm going to start thinking how to move them to another platform that's not associated with Microsoft so I'm ready when the shit hits the fan.  Perhaps Drupal beckons.Update: Mary-Jo Foley over at ZDnet says (Microsoft signs agreement to contribute to Joomla open-source project)
In an April 27 post to the Joomla Community Portal site, the Joomla team noted that some of Microsoft’s code is in the Joomla 1.6 trunk. About half the commentors on the Joomla site were upbeat about Microsoft’s involvement in Joomla, noting that the Redmondians have been sponsoring many PHP events, as of late. But the other half were skeptical of Microsoft’s interest and involvement in open-source in general, and Joomla, in particular.Microsoft has been working on its own open-source CMS platform, codenamed “Orchard.” Microsoft recently transferred responsibility for Orchard to the CodePlex Foundation, and a handful of Microsoft employees working on Orchard have been assigned full-time to the Foundation for three years. Microsoft also has its own paid CMS platform in SharePoint Server.
Doesn't this worry the Joomla! guys?

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Firefox Ghostery plug-in causing grief?

I've been using the Firefox plug-in Ghostery for some time now to prevent web-tracking scripts, except when there was a buggy release that prevented Firefox from closing down cleanly.  I just upgraded Ubuntu GNU/Linux to 10.04 (Lucid Lynx), and as ever, the process was pretty much flawless.  The upgrade brought with it a newer version of Firefox (3.6.3), and when I started it, a few updated plugins were installed, including Ghostery 2.1.It seems however that Ghostery 2.1 might not be playing ball with a couple of websites.  In my work Outlook web access, all links (e.g. to open mail messages) are dead.  And FaceBook gives blank pages (no bad thing, one might think!  Disabling Ghostery brings back functionality to both sites.

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First thoughts on Ubuntu 10.04 Lucid Lynx

A few days into the newest release from Canonical, Ubuntu GNU/Linux 10.04 (Lucid Lynx), what are my initial opinions?  On the whole the upgrade from 9.10 went very smoothly.  Since I'm using a customised desktop with Compiz effects, I didn't see too much in the way of visible changes.The seemingly much-discussed move of window control buttons from the right to the left of the window title bar completely passed me by, as this is how I've had my desktop for a few years now.Not much different in boot-up times, but this is a seriously tweaked notebook which slows it down post-login.  On my desktop PC, boot seems very quick, as does the post-login desktop setup.The new version of the Gwibber social networking app seems a big improvement.  It now seems to filter out the vile Farmville crap from FaceBook!  A simple interface as well, enabling access to different feeds (though I'm only using two Twitter accounts and Facebook).The big news for me is that iPod Touch support is there.  I believe that on a fresh installation this would probably work out of the box.  In my case I had to install ifuse (easy enough via synaptic).  Now I can add music to my iPod without having to go to a Win PC and load iTunes.  This worked well, but appeared to disrupt album artwork for those albums I'd already uploaded via Windows iTunes.  I restored the iPod, and repeated the album transfer, and this time, everything went smoothly - no artwork corruption, so perhaps this was just a coincidence.I picked up a tip (from somewhere out there on the web) to edit /etc/fuse.conf and uncomment the line

#user_allow_other
to
user_allow_other
This seems to have helped the upload of music files to the iPod.Related to this is the development of Rhythmbox as an alternative to iTunes.  I buy the occasional DRM-free mp3 album from Amazon: Rhythmbox has links to three other online music stores, including Ubuntu's very own Ubuntu One.  I decided to have a go with Ubuntu One.  This proved a bit interesting!  The interface is clean and easy to use: making a purchase of an album was pretty straightforward.  However downloading seemed a bit complex, though probably this was just because it was different to systems I'd used before.  Firs, the files get transferred to one's Ubuntu One cloud storage, of which there is 2Gb for free (you can upgrade to 50Gb for $10 per month).  From there, manual downloads are a bit of a nuisance: as far as I could tell you have to download each file one by one.Firefox was updated to 3.6.3 - no major issues.  (while this is nothing to do with Ubuntu, one of my plugins got updated and broke some website JS functions - this was Ghostery version 2.1, now inactivated until such time as the Ghostery developers get their act together - this isn't the first time the Ghostery plugin has affected Firefox function)

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Easter projects - Drupal vs Joomla! and tangling with Mythbuntu

[caption id="attachment_685" align="alignleft" width="90" caption="Mythbuntu"][/caption][caption id="attachment_679" align="alignleft" width="65" caption="Drupal"][/caption][caption id="attachment_680" align="alignleft" width="75" caption="Joomla!"][/caption]Usually, the short holidays such as Xmas and Easter provide me with the opportunity to put some time aside to deal with ongoing projects, often related to websites and/or computing.  This easter was no exception - I decided to overhaul a Drupal site I maintain, and to install Mythbuntu on an old desktop PC.  Both of these projects were a little challenging, but for different reasons.Drupal and Joomla! CMSI find myself in the position of maintaining and/or building several websites. These range from the "low-effort" Team Grumpy blog hosted by Google's Blogger site to several sites built on Joomla! (this site, plus the North Bucks Road Club, Team Grumpy, and Northwood Wheelers sites). I also use Wordpress as a standalone blogging platform (Wonderful Life) and also integrated within this Joomla! site.Another major open source CMS platform is Drupal. I know from reading about this that it's widely considered to be superior to Joomla!, for reasons which escape me in detail - though it's often said that Drupal has better security.  Indeed at work we seem to be moving over to Drupal from a confusing array of other CMS systems (some apparently custom-built), and in previous blog articles, I've described my initial forays into using Drupal to build websites for my work - largely in comparison with Joomla!.Since last autumn, and upon joining the executive committee of the British Society for Research on Ageing, I've been managing the BSRA website. I inherited this as a slightly outdated installation of Drupal version 5. One of my first actions was to update it to the most recent minor version of Drupal 5 (I believe 5.22 at the time).More recently I've been keen to update it to 6.16, as fairly soon Drupal 5.x will cease being supported.  This turned out to be fairly simple, if time-consuming - each contributed module has to have an updated version identified and downloaded,  It does seem to me (as a user of Joomla! for three or four years) that there are lots of features which really ought to be included in Drupal in the default installation, rather than in contributed modules.  Notable among these is a WSIWYG editor - why on earth one isn't included in Drupal is a bit of a mystery to me.On the other had, the flexibility in user roles afforded by Drupal is rather refreshing after working with Joomla! - it allows a degree of fine-tuning not available (at least in a stock install) of Joomla! - and the extensions available for Joomla! are rather fiddly.Identifying modules for particular tasks isn't easy.  As so often the case, a variety of modules for each task is available, and it's not obvious to me which is the best.  A case in point is my desire to incorporate a slideshow of images within a page in my Drupal site - I've spent the morning floundering around among various modules (and in one case entering a "dependency hell" as more and more dependencies were uncovered).  I have become heartily sick of the deep blue Drupal site, and the minimal documentation that seems to be available for some Drupal modules (on the other hand, some are excellently provided for in this regard).  I guess this is all part of the learning process.MythbuntuWe've had a Humax PVR device for a few years now, and on the whole, it's been fine. However, recently it's been misbehaving, with symptoms rather like those described here. Essentially, the stored files get corrupted, allocated to the wrong programme title, and often cannot play.  The only remedy appears to be to reformat the hard drive, thereby losing all the recordings.  It's unfortunate that the Humax device seems to use non-standard systems, and it's is functionally very difficult to extract data from the Humax hard drive (the supplied Windows software has never worked satisfactorily for me), though I do know of various hardware modifications that enable this.  It was with this backdrop that I decided to buy a Hauppauge TV card and set about installing Mythbuntu on an old desktop PC.Mythbuntu is a derivative of Ubuntu GNU/Linux that aims to simplify the installation of MythTV.  If Mythbuntu is simple, I dread to think how hard MythTV is!  So far, I have:

  1. Installed Mythbuntu 9.10
  2. Replaced NetworkManager with WICD, so I can set the PC to set up the network connection at boot - network connection is via a NetGear USB WiFi stick.  I would prefer to avoid having a monitor/keyboard/mouse attached to this PC.
  3. Failed to configure the TV card
  4. Failed to enable DVD playback.
So essentially, I have another Ubuntu box, with a limited set of functions.  In my own defence, and that of Mythbuntu/MythTV, I ought to point out that actually the issues I face are due to my near-zero knowledge of TV features.  So quite a bit of fun and games on the horizon before this kit is fully functional.

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