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.

Tags:
  24 Hits

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!

Tags:
  23 Hits

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.

Tags:
  19 Hits

My month in cycling - January

I'm a little late with this update, but since things are as usual a bit quiescent in January that's not so important. After the New Year's Day '10', I've been trying to knuckle down to some proper training. As usual, this corresponds to quite a lot of turbo training, and if anything this aspect has assumed greater proportions than in previous years, since the weather has been frankly hideous! Unfortunately my working pattern has made effective training something of a challenge.It's too early to say whether my form is coming along well (my feeling is that I've plateaued a bit since Christmas), but at least I've survived so far without illness or injury. I managed to cock up some dates in March, so due to work commitments I won't be riding the usual season-opener, the Port Talbot Wheelers 2-up '25'. Instead, Team Grumpy will ride a '10' on a similar course - solo of course - a week earlier.On website matters, the site devoted to a defunct bike club - the Northwood Wheelers - that I maintain had a bit of a boost over Christmas after a former member made contact and sent some memorabilia, including 20 issues of the club newsletter/magazine dating from the 1950s. These have now been scanned in and can be read online.After the last North Bucks Road Club AGM, I've taken over the club chairman role. This means I have to attend all the meetings so I can chair them! This as well as maintaining the club website...

Tags:
  40 Hits

2013 - My year in cycling

2013 was a bit of  a mixed bag for me cycling-wise. In terms of results, my racing was decidedly sub-par. We didn't have our usual cycle tour in Scotland. But I did at least hang in there and not give up!Time Trials. Once again, illness and injury really hammered my season, and I found form very difficult to come by. I suppose my advancing years didn’t help! Things were looking really good up until Christmas 2012, when I fell ill with a horrid cold that left me with a hacking deep cough that took an age to shift. Then when it did shift, I put my back out (once again) that set my training back to at least April. Most of the year seemed to be spent desperately trying to get under the hour for 25 miles, which was not good at all! I didn’t race at any distance above 25 miles this year, and in fact rode only a few open events, probably my lowest number in any season in the last decade.Once resumed, training seemed to go pretty well, though I was still far from fully fit when Team Grumpy regrouped for the 2013 Duo Normand. We were therefore rather pleased with our second place in the Corporate category since one of us was rather unwell, and we had no realistic chance of beating the eventual winning team anyway.New tandem. Following our second front tyre blowout on the Dawes touring tandem, and taking into account the bike’s age, we decided to take the plunge and fork out a wad for a new Thorn tandem. This was quite a big step, and we made the most of it when specifying the kit for the tandem. Notably, we plumped for S&S couplings, which means we can transport the tandem inside our car (albeit with the back seats folded down) rather than on a roof rack. You can see my multi-part review of the tandem elsewhere on the site (Part 1; Part 2; Part 3; Part 4; Part 5). Suffice it to say that six months down the line we’re still happy with the tandem, though the flat stoker bars had to go. Needless to say, the Dawes hasn’t been disposed of, and we now house three tandems!Changes to our work calendar meant that we had no Scottish cycle tour this year, but two trips to Normandy compensated. We took the new tandem to France and had a great time in very nice (some would say too hot) weather. Plenty of excellent food, too.Team Grumpy. As far as I can recall, the 2013 Duo Normand was the only 2-up outing for Team Grumpy in 2013. We did regroup for the Port Talbot Wheelers ’25’ in early March (our usual season-opener), but unfortunately my back was so painful I could barely stand. Unsurprisingly, we didn’t ride. Anyway, given Team Grumpy’s lack of form, the Duo went pretty well, indeed better than we might have expected, particularly given the aftermath of a nasty cold suffered by one of us. We to second place in the Corporate category (behind a team that we frankly had no chance of beating, barring misadventure).New kit. For the last few years, I’d been using the ‘poor man’s power meter’ - the Polar system that uses chain tension and vibration to estimate power output. When it worked, it did well, with consistent data values (though perhaps on the high side). Unfortunately it was so unreliable as to be pretty much useless on a day to day basis. Eventually I cracked and coughed up for a Hed Disc with a Powertap hub. I selected this over other systems for several reasons. Firstly, I wanted an ANT+ power meter so I could hook it up to my Garmin Edge 500. Secondly, I wanted something that could be easily transferred between bikes. Reading up on the ANT+ Garmin pedal based system led me to believe that switching the pedals between bikes might not be so straightforward, and the crank-based systems aren't really an option for rapid shift between bike.The Hed disc wheel was quite pricey, but is so much easier to use than the Polar system. It delivers data to the Garmin Edge 500 via ANT+, connects reliably and calibrates easily. I’ve been using this not only for time trials but for turbo training as well (it’s effectively a spoked wheel with bonded on carbon sheets). I still don’t believe that training to specific power levels is necessarily the best way, and actually think that training to a measure of one’s physiology is smarter - i.e. heart rate.

  21 Hits

New Year's Day 10

Having missed last year's New Year's Day '10' through illness, I was particularly keen to ride this year. Of course the weather looked less than promising, with strong winds and rain forecast for mid-morning. Despite the forecast, at the time I got the bike ready to go out, things looked pretty promising and I decided to stick with the front trispoke. As it turned out, this was something of a mistake.By the time we lined up at the start, the strength of the wind had increased considerably...and the rain had not only started but had become quite heavy. I hate racing in bib tights or leg warmers, so I'd removed my bib tights. I quailed at taking my rain jacket off, and decided to leave it be for the race. Some of the riders had been out on the course and had reported how tough it was over the first couple of miles. They weren't far wrong...I grovelled up to the dual carriageway section where things, if anything, got much much worse, at least for those of us who'd made an unwise choice of front wheels. I was confronted by a stonking headwind that alternately tried to throw me rightwards into the carriageway and leftwards into the verge. Most alarming was the sensation of being lifted off the road as I passed under the first flyover. I'm almost embarrassed to related the lowest speeds I noticed during the outbound section - 13.5mph. I was struggling so hard to control the bike that I really couldn't even think of putting much effort in.Once round the turn, things became a bit better. I horsed back along the dual carriageway in top gear, feeling much advantaged by what was by now a major tailwind. Things became a bit more blustery heading back to the finish, but it was gratifying to be cheered on by a bunch of riders in a layby (mostly Bossard Wheelers I think). I finished in 27:59 - the slowest '10' I can recall in many a year, but rather delighted I'd finished without any mishap. Full results can be found over at the North Bucks Road Club website.

Tags:
  22 Hits

2013 - My year as a music consumer

2013 was the year that I started to take music streaming seriously. I embarked upon a premium subscription to Spotify around February (largely  for playback via an old iPad while training in the garage), and it has revolutionised my music habits. Not only have I experienced music that I wouldn’t normally have encountered, but it gave me opportunities to share music that I’ve not been able to take before. I’ve taken quite an interest in how Spotify may or may not impact on the music business, and I do believe that there’s a lack in understanding how it does affect individual expenditure on music. As Dave Allen points out (Musicians versus Spotify: It’s about scale), Spotify itself is still a relatively small player in terms of numbers of consumers. My view is that too little information is available out there on how Spotify impacts on cash flow within the music business. I’m quite prepared to accept that I’m unusual in not stopping buying music in favour of streaming, but I’d like to see some decent information on this. I can’t believe that these studies haven’t been conducted as part of basic market research. Here’s one writer’s take on Spotify as a replacement for a music collection: Spotify, you’re wonderful, but I have to quit. Here’s a clue - it’s not a replacement!For my part, I’ve shifted far more towards buying downloads rather than physical media - mostly because I live in a small house. There are some exceptions, notably the extravagantly produced Deluxe edition of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ album Push the Sky Away, which includes CD, vinyl and a reproduction of Nick’s notebook. Unfortunately I missed out on the autographed edition!   The Velvet Underground’s second album White Light/White Heat gained its 45th anniversary Super Deluxe Treatment - with stereo and mono mixes plus a live CD housed in a hardback book, it was a little less over the top than last year’s VU and Nico 6 x CD reissue, but still nice. In particular, some of the out takes and the mono version of the album are rather good.The upshot of subscribing to Spotify has been a substantial increase in the amount I’ve spent on music. And mostly this isn’t the big name acts that get all the press as Spotify “high earners”. At the same time, I occasionally buy hard copies from the very excellent Norman Records in Leeds.Having bought into the Squeezebox system of streamed audio a few years ago, it was disconcerting in August 2012 to find that Logitech had ended the line. Squeezebox users have ended up in a kind of ‘phony war’, where the Logitech maintained server mysqueezebox.com still continues, and the various devices in my house still run my local music collection via Logitech Music Server running on a small QNAP NAS. At the moment I have a fair variety of players - a Squeezebox Touch, a Squeezebox 3, two Squeezebox Radios, software that turns my two iPads into Squeezebox music players (iPeng and SqueezePad), and the software player SqueezePlay (which emulates a Touch on my laptop). So there’s life in the system yet. There seems to be considerable open development of hardware and software out there to keep a similar system up and running for some time yet - Daphile, Squeezeplug, Wandboard, Raspebrry Pi and others frequently pop up for discussion in the Squeezebox forums.Of course, I’ve been looking for commercial alternatives in case my Squeezeboxes start conking out. I’m attracted by Bluesound, but its appearance on the market seems to be rather slow, and I don’t see how it can gain traction against the likes of Sonos. It doesn’t appear to have an equivalent of the Squeezebox Radio. Sonos is probably the market leader, but also has some limitations (for me, a major issue is again the absence of an equivalent to the Squeezebox Radio), including file data types and, for those with rather larger music collections than I have, an upper song limit of 65,000 tracks. I also find the superior and evangelical tone in the Sonos user forums rather off-putting, in the same way as one sees in Apple forums (and I’m OS-agnostic, I use OSX, iOS, WinXP, Win7, several Linux distros and Android). But that the plug and play ethos of Sonos and (I expect) Bluesound would win at the expense of the more flexible Squeezebox system was perhaps inevitable.I’m gratified that HiFi makers have stepped up to the mark with their streaming systems, though from my perspective it shouldn’t take much in the way of hardware to stream bits accurately to a HiFi: the quality sound experience must surely be derived from downstream analogue processing. Hence the profusion of software packages aimed at utilising budget computing platforms such as Raspberry Pi and Wandboard.Some of my top albums of 2013:[embed size="compact"]Teho Teardo – Still Smiling[/embed]Interesting collaboration between Teardo and Bargeld.[embed size="compact"]Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Push the Sky Away[/embed]The dear old blokes just keep on hitting the spot with their excellent new album.[embed size="compact"]Wooden Shjips – Back to Land[/embed]Modern guitar-psych, and strangely reminiscent of Suicide at times.[bandcamp album=1105741548 bgcol=FFFFFF linkcol=4285BB size=grande]Immensely entertaining surf-punk from Leeds.[embed size="compact"]Simon Fisher Turner – The Epic Of Everest[/embed]Excellent soundtrack to the eponymous film released 2013 using the original footage from the ill-fated Mallory-Irvine Everest expedition[embed size="compact"]Black Pus – All My Relations[/embed]Crashing noise-fest from Brian Chippendale. Excellent on the turbo trainer.[embed size="compact"]Nine Inch Nails – Hesitation Marks[/embed]I'm not the world’s greatest NIN fan, but I did like this. I have both the regular and audiophile versions, but on my iPod the difference is marginal!Reissue of the year : The Velvet Underground - White Light/White Heat super deluxe 45th anniversary reissue.[embed size ="compact"]The Velvet Underground – White Light / White Heat[/embed]I also caught up with some other albums I’d missed out on in previous years, and discovered an affection for ‘near-ambient’ music!

Tags:
  22 Hits

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).

Continue reading
Tags:
  21 Hits

My month in cycling (soundtrack of my training) - October 2013

Been a while since I posted about cycling - the explanation is that I've mostly been in the garage pounding the turbo. To deal with the tedium that is turbo-training, I've been listening to a variety of music via Spotify (via an old 1st generation iPad). In no particular order, here's some recent training music:[embed size="compact"]Mindflayer – It's Always 1999[/embed]Loud, fast, noisy - just what's needed. You can't listen to gentle ambient when you're trashing the turbo!On the other hand, a bout of mid-70s nostalgia led me to It's Alive, a double live album by the Ramones. I mean, what can you say beyond One Two Three Four![embed size="compact"]Ramones – It's Alive[/embed]Sadly, It's Alive seems to be unreasonably expensive as a download, presumably because many sites price albums on the basis of the number of track. And when most songs are about 2 minutes long, there are a lot of them!And an Oblivians album:[embed size="compact"]Oblivians - Desperation[/embed]Related to Mindflayer, and in a very similar vein is Lightning Bolt:[embed size="compact"]Lightning Bolt – Hypermagic Mountain[/embed]On the other hand, recovery sessions on the turbo don't demand such an aural assault, and the latest album from Wooden Shjips fits the bill.[embed size="compact"]Wooden Shjips – Back to Land[/embed]This is billed as "psychedelia" - to be honest it sounds to me at times like Suicide but played with guitars.As ever, you can view my listening habits over at last.fm.And how is the training actually going? I've returned to the training programme that has served me well in the past, the Black Book (a.k.a. The Annual Manual) by Pete Read. This training manual seems to have achieved mythical status and appears to be hard to come by. Essentially, it describes a month by month progressive turbo training programme, based on heart rate. I guess it pre-dated the advent of affordable power meters. In any event I still prefer to train using heart rate over power, on the grounds that HR better reflects my physiology and the effort I'm putting in. I use the power meter data to better understand how a particular turbo session went and to estimate my fitness level as I move through a training plan.I do have a bit of experience with turbo training and, with a bit of work-life balancing, now train on the turbo early in the morning before cycling to work. This gives a good balance of higher intensity work with easier recovery style riding. The big hope for this winter is that I can make it to the 2014 season without a Christmas cold, or a recurrence of my lower back problems - both of which had a dire impact on my racing last year.The metrics as analysed using Golden Cheetah seem pretty encouraging, and I'm looking forward to the club's New Year's Day '10', about 6 weeks away. At the moment, I'm optimistic.

Tags:
  35 Hits

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.

Tags:
  40 Hits

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.

Tags:
  23 Hits

New tandem, 100 days in

Thorn Cycles have a 100 day return policy (with some obvious conditions). Those 100 days are pretty much expired. Will we send the new tandem back? Absolutely not. See the multi-part review for the explanation.

  88 Hits

Duo Normand 29/9/13

I haven't written a preview of the 2013 Duo Normand, principally because both of us have had particularly lacklustre seasons this year for reasons of pressure of work and of illness and injury. However, on a recent joint holiday to Normandy, we did seem to see the vague signs of returning form. I built on this by riding five events between coming back from Normandy and returning for the Duo Normand. Everything seemed to be falling into place. From my perspective, at least. Things began to change a few days before we were due to leave for the Duo Normand - Gerry reported he'd picked up a cold. What was worse, it appeared to be quite severe. Not to worry, I observed, it'll probably pass before the race itself. But I found myself sharing a cabin on the overnight ferry to Caen on the Wednesday before the race with a severely bunged up and coughing team mate. It was looking a bit bleak for our tenth outing at the Duo Normand.

Tags:
  23 Hits

Norlond Combine 25 15th September 2013

This event was the second time trial of the weekend. It is also likely to be the last event to be held on the F1/25, as scheduled roadworks are expected to affect the Black Cat roundabout, and may leave a legacy of traffic lights. I've never really got on with this course in recent years and usually find myself floundering on the return leg - there's often a head wind on those exposed sections of road.I got up quite early and sorted out my kit in advance of being picked up. I noted it was really very cold, with a real end-of-season autumnal feel. I could also hear owls hooting as I pumped up my tyres. I travelled over to Tempsford with Katja, a friend from work who's quite new to time trialling - this was her first ride on the F1, I think. The sun was low in the sky, and there was quite a bit of low lying mist. Over on the F1, things were pretty clear as we got our numbers and set out to try and warm up.By the time I started, I was thoroughly chilled - my Garmin data for the event showed that it was around 8 degrees, and it had bee colder than than. I had a good start and rode off to join the A1. Coming down the slip road onto the A1, I picked up a decent amount of speed, though it was obvious that the southbound sections would, as so often is the case, suffer from a nagging headwind.Once round the Sandy roundabout, my speed picked up with the tailwind, and the northbound leg was pretty nice. Except for my Assos skinsuit, the legs of which were riding up. This had been evident at the start, where another competitor had noted that this showed off my leg tan quite nicely. This, however, wasn't really uppermost in my mind, as the skinsuit was rather uncomfortable. In an email exchange with my Team Grumpy colleague and so-called team mate, it was asserted that this problem must have been due to my stick thin legs. I prefer to claim that the leg grippers are defective. Anyway, this situation made the photograph that David Jones took look remarkably odd  - to the extent I am reluctant to post it (oh, vanity).Despite the sartorial defects of my ride, by the time turned at Buckden (unusually, I was held up there by traffic), I was becoming increasingly confident that I might record a decent time. One of the ways I try to keep focus is to continually recalculate my ETA at the finish line. At some point before crossing the Black Cat, I'd concluded I was possibly going to do a long 57. This spurred me on, and indeed I crossed the finish line in 57:52, my best time on the F1/25 since August 2010 (and 2010 was my last good season, when I was knocking out 6 season best times). 

Tags:
  127 Hits

Astwood 10, 14th September 2013

The weather continued in its cold, wet and windy trajectory for this North Bucks club event on the Astwood circuit. I set out on the bike in a a pretty heavy drizzle, and I was thoroughly wet after  a couple of miles. By the time I got to Astwood, I was pretty cold too. Amazingly five other idiots hardy souls turned out for this event. I had pictured being the only one!I was warming up in Astwood when I spotted a very large diesel spill on the road - this really isn't the kind of thing one wants to see when riding a bike on wet roads. Up to this point, the main road hazard had appeared to be the large numbers of road kill amphibia littering the tarmac!Anyhow the six riders lined up to do their best (I was #3). And off I went. Fortunately the short queue of traffic waiting to join the main road that had built up while I waited to start all managed to clear by the time I started. Unfortunately, once out on the road I realised that the diesel spill was out there as well. It was big enough that almost the whole of our carriageway was covered - just a couple of feet in the gutter was clear. I was somewhat apprehensive, particularly when choosing when to pass a rider on this section. This state of affairs continued all the way to Chicheley, and it wasn't until after turning off towards North Crawley that the roads were free of drizzle.Once round that corner, the wind provided immediate assistance (it had been a bit tough to Chicheley, but the diesel offered enough of a distraction!) and I made pretty good speed at least until the road began to rise up towards North Crawley. Oddly, I was finding my neck a bit uncomfortable while in an aero tuck, which is quite unusual and which left me worrying about tomorrow's '25' and, indeed, the upcoming Duo Normand.Anyhow, I pressed on, catching a second rider before finishing in 24:55. I was in second place behind a guy on a road bike with mudguards! However, being the only veteran meant I was first on vet's standard. Oh, such is life that I need to grasp at such straws!That was the last club time trial of 2013, with only the Hill Climb Championship remaining on 5th October.

Tags:
  523 Hits

Icknield RC 10 7th September 2013

This was my second '10' of the day, just as it was almost exactly a year ago to the day. The reason this sticks in my mind is that in last year's Icknield RC '10', I was brought down at around 26mph by a couple of kids messing about on the old A421. This, of course, was occupying my mind a bit, as was the prospect of charging down Brogborough Hill at the start of the F15/10 on a fairly windy afternoon (also on my mind was that I was starting as #30, a position not really warranted by my time trial performances over the last couple of years).The last time I rode on the F15/10, roadworks forced a last minute change to the course, so I suppose that it shouldn't have come as a surprise that this had happened again on this event. Fortunately this time the amended course was still 10 miles (last time we'd been reduced to 6.5 miles!). The new course, as described verbally by the organiser, used the section between the two roundabouts twice. We were to start heading west, turn at Marston Moretaine RAB, head east to the usual turn RAB, return to the Marston Moretaine RAB, head east once more to the usual turn, then head back to finish somewhere before the start point. This was all rather confusing, as the description didn't leave me with a clear picture of how far it was from the start to the first RAB turn, or where the finish would be in relation to the start. Still, I was sure it'd all become crystal clear!I rode down to find the start in plenty of time, and rolled up and down the road until nearly at my start time. This was rendered rather alarming by the large numbers of kids messing about on BMX bikes and scooters (see opening paragraph) - surely history wouldn't repeat itself! I stopped briefly to explain why all these oddly costumed cyclists on weird bikes were riding up and down the road to a couple of small kids and their mother. It was interesting to hear that they'd figured out this was a time trial (presumably recent TdF and Olympic success is responsible), but they thought we were racing on a residential street! I said we were actually racing on the main road.As I started, I wasn't sure how far the start was from the first roundabout. As it turned out it was just under a mile. Unfortunately I'd thought it was going to be a bit less, and had kept the gear a bit lower than I'd normally use in preparation for the roundabout. Oh, and did I mention the headwind? Once round the first roundabout, things got a bit quicker due to the tailwind. On the first eastbound leg, I was quite surprised by the distance between the finish line and the start point, but at least having clocked its position, I had a bit of clarity regarding the course layout.I was relieved that there were no children at all playing on the course, and indeed the event went quite well. Overall there were three sections heading west and into the headwind, which broke up the difficult sections quite nicely.I thought this amended course was rather good, though I suspect that the finish line time-keeper must have had an interesting time, with riders coming past twice in the event. I suppose that if the finish could be on an exit road from the course, things would have been easier. To be frank, I preferred this course to the 'real' F15/10 despite the multiple RABs.I finished with 23:47, which at least was consistent with the morning's '10'. I left before all the results were out.

Tags:
  19 Hits

Stoke Hammond 10 7th September 2013

Rather a cool morning, which I suppose indicates autumn is now upon us! There was also a rather stiff breeze as I rode over to the start area for the first of two 10 mile time trials (the other being the Icknield RC '10' on the F15/10). Also rather annoying was that the problems I'd been having with my cadence sensor while in France recently were persisting (erratic readings often at least double the real readings), and indeed compounded by absolutely no HR data being received from the chest strap. Ho hum. And we can add another of those cases where the Garmin couldn't start up properly.Nevertheless I lined up to start while trying not to think about the defective computer. I'd been warned about a trench-like road defect at one of the roundabouts, and I had my eye out for that - particularly since I had had an alarming incident on this course last time due to a roundabout pothole. In the run up to the first roundabout, some twonk driving a khaki coloured van or 4x4 towing a big trailer scared the pants off me by driving close and hooting his horn. Apart from that, I had no trouble with traffic, despite the traffic volume, which at 9am on a Saturday was somewhat higher than we see in the evening events. At some point just before the second roundabout, the Garmin decided to announce, via a loud beep, that it had begun to function.As I'd thought as I rode out to the event, the ride up to the dual carriageway was into a rather stiff headwind, what was rather depressing was that this persisted after turning onto the dual carriageway. Still, I thought, it'll be easier on the return leg. And so it proved, at least until the final straight (which always feels much harder to me than it looks like it ought to). With one eye on the Icknield RC event later in the day, I did try to keep the gears a bit lower than usual, but I found as usual that this just slowed me down!I finished with 23:41 - quite reasonable given the conditions - and wondered what the afternoon's event would be like - particularly the fast descent at the start - in the windy conditions. Results at the NBRC website

Tags:
  32 Hits

New tandem, part 5

This is merely a brief addendum to the previous four parts of this tandem review, and really addresses any additions and/or modifications to the original spec of the tandem as delivered. While I think this tandem is a real tandemist's tandem - by which I mean that the frame and component choice have been really well chosen - I do think that fine-tuning even such a high quality tandem is inevitable.

Tags:
  38 Hits

Stoke Hammond 10 14/8/13

The rain was just starting as I left work to ride down to that start of this club event. It was also rather twitchy riding in blustery wind, so the signs weren't great! When I got down to sign on, I found a clutch of riders sheltering from the rain in the lee of Tony's car discussing whether or not we should ride. Some did not, but a core of nutters (including me) decided we'd go ahead.By the time we lined up at the start, Anthony B. had decided that having ridden round the course he wouldn't start - he reported the roundabouts may be a bit slippy. Another rider joined him in not starting, leaving the rest of us entertaining all sorts of doubt. However, at the appropriate time, I found myself launching off up the road in the a stiff and blustery wind. This had the effect of making my front wheel really twitchy. Nevertheless, I pressed on to the first roundabout which I negotiated with some care, given Anthony's warnings - and the fact this one's ridiculously potholed. For much of the rest of the event, I was mostly either whizzing along with a bit of wind assistance or grovelling along trying to control the bike.The only truly alarming moment came when I was crossing the last roundabout (i.e. the first one in reverse) and I hit a pothole. This threw my front wheel to such an extent that I thought I'd bought it! Somehow I managed to regain control and made a final effort to the finish. Third place with a paltry 23:50.Here's the Garmin trace, and the full results at the NBRC website.

Tags:
  37 Hits

Bedfordshire Road CC 25 11/8/13

This was only my third '25' of the season, and on the F1B/25, the somewhat less flat version of the F1. This course heads south from Tempsford to turn at the Baldock interchange, just where the A1 changes into the A1(M).A nice enough morning heading out to the event, but by the time we reached the race HQ at Tempsford hall, the skies had clouded over and light had fallen a bit. Fortunately, by the time we started, things had improved a fair bit. As regards the event itself, it was marred somewhat by a stiff sidewind, which at one point threatened to overturn me! I had a pretty clear run through all the roundabouts.There was an annoying diesel spill at the miniroundabout near the start, but I don't think it caused any trouble with the riders.All in all an uneventful ride - I finished in 59:49, and went home to feed Tony blueberry pancakes!Here's the Garmin trace.

Tags:
  21 Hits