August 2008 Archives

Sun Aug 31 06:27:41 CDT 2008

Squeezebox Duet, digital music

For several years, at home, i'd been listening to digital music in FLAC format with Amarok on a NetBSD desktop. (I didn't rip my CD collection into iTunes, because ALAC is Apple's proprietary (lossless) format, and i don't like my data being (ultimately) controlled by someone else. And i'm not going to rip into a lossy format like MP3... CDs are bad enough as it is.))

But with the move to the new house, the computer table, monitors, and NetBSD desktop were relegated to a powerless existence in the closet -- something had to give when i lost 100 sq. feet of interior space. So i became a laptop person, and now i spend my home computing time at my kitchen counter, perched on a stool. (Which sounds incredibly uncomfortable, but i have been OK with it so far, which is sort of odd.)

Since moving to the new place, my method of playing music was using Firefly on the (linux-based) NetGear (nee Infrant) file server appliance to convert (on demand) the FLAC music into MP3-format and stream it to iTunes on my trusty old Pismo (Macintosh PowerBook G3... circa 2000), which is plugged into some amplified speakers.

But the Pismo's headphone jack has been flakey for awhile, again: broken solder joint. I repaired it once before, but it takes around 3 hours to totally disassemble the Pismo to get at the jack... pretty much all the parts have to be removed. A few months ago, i could sometimes wiggle it into full, buzz-free stereo, but no more. Best i can get now is one channel and no buzz. (Though i can get buzz in both channels, but that drowns out the music.) And even with MP3 quality sound, this is less than ideal.

So, time for a new way to play music. My audiophile-ish friend, Eric, has had a Squeezebox for several years and likes it (he was probably also who first told me about the FLAC format, come to think od it), so i did a little research and bought a Squeezebox Duet for about $380 from Crutchfield.

It's two main parts: a "controller" and a "receiver," the latter is the player. So you run an OpenSource perl script streaming server on your Mac or whatever -- in my case a Netgear file server appliance. Then hook the receiver up to a set of powered speakers like your stereo, and use the controller (or a web browser, too) to tell the receiver to play. What's interesting (to me) is that the communication between the controller, receiver and streaming server is happening via Wireless networking: 802.11.

So i can play anything from the 200 GB of FLAC i've ripped, or i can play Internet radio stations, or Podcasts, even. (Right now i'm listening to a podcast of Polyhymnia's Sunday sunrise set from Burning Flipside 2008.)

And because it's 802.11 as opposed to the trad. infrared, the controller works from different rooms -- no need for line of sight. And it will control multiple receivers. So $150 or so buy another receiver, which i think can operate in sync or independent. I may buy another... i was listening to This American Life while taking a bath earlier, and i realized that speakers in the bathroom would be good, if i'm to properly honor Douglas Adams' (supposed) predilection for spending large amounts of time in the bath.

And to top it all of, Logitech has taken a very open source approach to at least part of this, encouraging inde development. And i can enable a root ssh login on the handheld controller, and login to it. Which sort of freaks me out -- when i started logging into Unix machines, they were often the size of a refrigerator... sometimes several refrigerators if you counted the storage. And now they weigh only slightly more than my cellphone, fit in my hand, and have wireless networking built-in.

So anyway, of course the first command when i get logged in is "dmesg" in the hopes that i will find out what type of CPU they chose when they designed it. As it turns out, it's an S3C2412. Which i google, and find is made by Samsung. Which leads me to a sales pamphlet, containing this colorful marketing image, which i just cannot help but find rather humorously bizarre and sexist.

First, Samsung is a Korean company, but the two people in the photo look very Northern European to me. That's the bizarre part. They're standing somewhere rural, in the woods, and the woman is holding what's probably supposed to be a GPS device and the guy is pointing the direction they are facing. Which is the sexist part. If she's holding the device then presumably she knows how to work it, and therefore how to read it, and therefore, she knows which damn direction she's facing, and so she doesn't need this goon to hold his arm out like, "THIS WAY!" Like she can operate a handheld GPS device, but somehow cannot comprehend that the direction the device tells her she is facing is... well... is the direction she is facing.

I cannot figure out what else this picture is supposed to be saying. She's holding the thing that tells them where they are, and the guy is pointing, which is totally unnecessary, and actually pretty insulting (and amusing, when you think about just how stupid it is).

Putting on my once-was-an-English-major interpretive hat, i guess the subtext is that if you are a geeky, Northern European engineer project manager, who's selecting which chip to use in your company's new GPS device, you should pick this one, because it comes with a cute blonde (also Northern European) woman. A woman who is apparently smart enough to work a device that tells her which way she wants to walk, but nevertheless she will be paralyzed with doubt and indecision unless you are there to hold your big hairy arm up and point, just to make sure she understands what the device she is controlling is telling her.

So never fear, dude, you haven't been totally replaced by machines yet, and can still feel worthwhile doing one other semi-useful thing, besides opening jars that is.

It's funny where the Internet takes me.

Back at the original subject: i really like the Squeezebox, despite two short comings:

1) It has an album shuffle mode, but i don't think a way to say "next album."

2) It does not come with a cute, blonde Northern European woman who's loads smarter than me and owns a device to lead us to safety, but pretends she needs me to point out the obvious, so i can still think that i'm In Charge.

Posted by johan | Permanent link | File under: randomweirdness

Sat Aug 30 06:10:02 CDT 2008

not your ordinary falling star

I saw a falling star a litle while ago, about 05:40. I was sitting on the porch, i guess looking East, which is intersting, because if the Earth is rotating that direction, then this was falling in the same direction the Earth turns, not against it. It was pobably just a moving across the sky in a heading slightly north of East. Regardless, it was the brightest falling star i've ever seen -- without a doubt. And i've seen a lot of falling stars in my life -- i've gone out and stared at the sky during many incarnations of both the Leonid and Persiod meteor showers. And what i saw just now was much bigger, much brighter, and different in color. It had a distinct, greenish hue, at least sometimes. And it was big. I couldn't see much of a tail, because it's pretty bright here, in the city, but the body was quite bright, and... odd. Satellite re-entering? Alien space craft? Sign that my not-so-random thoughts of the moment have some potential?

Posted by johan | Permanent link | File under: randomweirdness

Mon Aug 11 22:58:53 CDT 2008

Vermont and New Hampshire trip.

I had a great visit with my Aunt and Uncle in Vermont (and New Hampshite) 28 Jul - 2 Aug. Flew in and out of Manchester, NH, and rented a car -- just couldn't find a more reasonable (time balanced against money) way to get from Manchester to around Dartmouth. On the way up, i'm pretty sure Ralph Nader was on my Austin -> BWI flight. I don't think many guys like that fly Southwest, so gotta give him props there. The weather was awesome -- lows around 56F, highs around 84F. It rained a bit, but nothing too heavy. The people were friendly, the microbrews and local cheese were yummy, and the little i saw of countryside was gorgeous. I hear the winters can be a bit chilly, though (lows as low as -10F) and real estate is not cheap. Some pictures. Ooo and the Manchester airport has free WiFI!

Posted by johan | Permanent link | File under: Traveling