Smart Radios

For a couple of years I have been running mpd (music player daemon) on an Alix, connected to a stereo in the office. The Alix runs headless, but I have a variety of options to control it: gmpc on the notebook, Droid MPD client on the phone and fookebox in the browser. Over the years I read a multitude of articles about home built jukeboxes based on something like a RaspberryPi, a simple display and some buttons. I thought, that’s cool, but I didn’t have the requirement for this in the office.

Some time last year, I thought it would be cool, if my wife could access our full music collection from the kitchen. As her old radio started to disintegrate, I had an idea for christmas. So the first idea was to build something myself. But the kitchen is not the ideal place for something thrown together with loose wires, and I couldn’t expect her to reboot it in case something locks up. So I was looking for something pre-made and a bit more consumer friendly. I didn’t want to loose freedom though, so the ideal would be if it was also based on mpd. I didn’t find the device I was looking for, but the device that came up most in my searches was the UE Smart Radio from Logitech. It seemed to cost a lot more than a RaspberryPi with some additional components, so I looked further and went to several shops. The selection in this area is very sparse, which surprised me a lot. All the other devices in the shops, except the insanely expensive ones, sounded like through a long cardboard tunnel. But the UE (Ultimate Ears) one, although mono, sounded really good. Another feature that made it stand appart from much of the competition is, that in addition to the WIFI, it also offered connectivity through an ethernet port. This one was a must, since my Wife is very concerned about electro smog.

So I went for the UE Smart Radio from Logitech. It was received well by my wife. At first we only used it to listen to live streams of radio stations around the world. It worked perfectly for that. But connecting it to our music library didn’t work out so well. I assumed, It could just access the files over a network share. So I set up a samba share on the server that contained all the music files. After all, that’s how the media players fetch the movies as well. I just couldn’t figure out how to find the music from the radio. All it said was to install some proprietary software on the computer and the phone. I don’t particularly like such proprietary stuff, and always try to find ways around, but this time I had to bite the bullet. The android app gave some additional configuration and remote control options, but insisted on installing also something on a computer to be able to stream the private music collection. So I had a look at http://www.uesmartradio.com. It offers the download only for Windows and Mac. Now this is where I started to question the purchase. I agree that some clueless managers might be familiar with only these two options on the desktop. But do they really insist on everybody having their desktop computer running just to listen to their music in another room? No way!!! I think by now at least a NAS system if not a small server is in most households that care to have their music available electronically for devices like this radio. And what operating system do they usually run? Windows? MacOS? They must be joking!

At first, I wanted to dissect the Windows package in the hopes to being able to reverse engineer it to get something workable. But all information I found about that package on the internet, indicated that it is an unholy mess consisting of a multitude of dlls and executables. So I checked on the MacOs package. The information I found indicated something perl based and much cleaner than the Windows version, but I had no tools readily available to decompress it. Luckily I found a forum thread where other people already complained about the very same issue. One pointed out that there are unofficial nightly builds for a range of other targets, one of them being a debian package. That solved the problem for the moment. Installation was smooth, and so was setup and operation. The only soar point that remains was also confirmed by the Logitech support: The packages for the more useful platforms are not officially supported and they don’t know if they will continue to build them at all.

K810 Bluetooth Keyboard

With a keyboard also from Logitech I had a similar issue. I have always preferred standards such as Bluetooth over proprietary protocols such as Logitech’s Unifying. So I was delighted when I spotted a slim, nice looking bluetooth keyboard in a store some years ago. It was meant for the iPad, but I thought, if it’s bluetooth, it should work with my computer and phone too. Pairing was no problem, as was operation under Android. The problem arose when I wanted to use it with the Computer. The keys that were there, worked perfectly, but the problem was the missing function keys (F1 – F12).  Without them it’s very hard to operate just about any debugger in an IDE that I know of.

So, I was even more delighted, when I discovered the K810 in a store last year. It can pair with three devices, and easily switch between them. So I could for example use it with the workstation, the notebook and the phone without having to re-pair each time. The first one I bought was for the office. And I became a huge fan of this keyboard. So I bought also one for at home. I noticed in the office, that the default mapping of the function keys is awkward to say the least. By default, the alternative functions like the brightness of the key back light or the multimedia controls are activated, and to use the regular function keys, you have to press the FN key. It’s hard to guess what they smoked when they decided to make this the default. Imagine your mother wants to refresh the page in her browser by hitting F5 and instead the keys get brighter. Or imagine she wants to rename a file by hitting F2, and instead the keyboard disconnects from the computer and sends subsequent key-presses to the phone. Let alone operating a debugger. Luckily this setting is easy to change with the Logitech SetPoint software….. unless …. there is no SetPoint software for everything but Windows and MacOS.

Luckily somebody already reverse engineered the relevant information, and compiled a small utility program, that corrects this setting. Thanks Mario for sharing. Your utility saved my day.

Mountain Wagas

Every season has its virtues. What I like to do during the winter season is Wagas games, and the Fronalpstock is perfectly suited for that. Wagas are usually performed by flying close to sand dunes in the constant sea breeze, but powder snow is just as soft as sand. Instead of the constant sea breeze for soaring, we have some altitude difference in the mountains. Well, to be honest, the snow didn’t look particularly soft last Sunday, hence my Wagas games ended up being even more cautious.

Here are some pictures:


And a video:

vim meets VisualStudio

There are two camps of neckbeards: Those who use emacs, and those who use vi or vim. I can’t tell which is better, and most of the arguments seem to be rhetoric. Until about three years ago, I perceived both as insufferable. I was however curious to learn either of them. The question was which one to pick. During my uncertainty, vim was praised more on hacker news. So I gave it a try. At first, it was awkward to work with, but after a while I managed to get along. People often tell how blazingly fast you are editing with vim. But for a long time, I was not nearly as efficient as with other editors. At the moment I’m reading the book “Practical vim” which has a ton of good tips. It seems the flood of shortcuts is never ending. In a way memorizing more commands and shortcuts is like having more keys. That kind of reminds me of an article, I once read. It compared working with a GUI vs on the console to listening radio vs playing piano. I can’t find the article right now, but it had similar reasoning as this one.

So I’m constantly improving my vim skills. In the meantime I’m about on par with how efficient I am at using the style of editors, that I have been using for two decades. To improve further, I thought I would need to practice more. So the natural progression was to use it on the job. For work we use VisualStudio, and unless I could easily compile and debug out of vim, switching back and forth would be counter effective. So I was thrilled to find out that there is a plugin to bring vim style editing to VisualStudio. I only just started using it, but it certainly looks promising.