Tom Solari

Things that 'Rustle My Jimmies'

The Home Theatre

Some of you may remember that I planned out a home theatre quite a while back… and finally I can say that it has come to fruition, albeit in a very different form than originally planned. Check it out here!

AirPlay music streaming on Raspberry Pi

Ever since I got my Raspberry Pi(s), I’ve been looking for something for them to do. AirPlay was an answer to that, but as I found out, it is a little harder to get music streaming over AirPlay to a Raspberry Pi than videos or photos. Who would have thought!

Everybody knows XBMC don’t they? If not, you should, as it is one of the bigger open source media centers out there. And it supports AirPlay! And someone has ported XBMC to the Pi. Yes! Raspbmc is the name of this XBMC Pi port so I went ahead and downloaded and flashed the image so an SD card. I then found out that XBMC doesn’t actually receive streamed audio over AirPlay due to “broken code”. What?! Music was one of the main reasons I want to set up AirPlay in my house. Sigh. 

After searching some more, I found Shairport, basically just a bunch of Perl scripts. I also stumbled across a Minimal Debian Wheezy image for the Pi which contains updated audio drivers. Things are starting to look up. So I downloaded it all, copied, flashed, installed, updated and ran Shairport and a bit of troubleshooting later, I had a music-streaming-capable AirPlay client! So here is how I did it.

Installing Shairport

  1. Download and flash Debian Wheezy Minimal to your SD card.
  2. Don’t forget to apt-get update and apt-get upgrade once you have the Pi up and running
  3. Now for the sound drivers - apt-get install alsa-utils 
  4. Load the sound driver - modprobe snd_bcm2835
  5. Set the default sound output to headphones jack (replace the 1 at the end with 2 for HDMI output - amixer cset numid=3 1
  6. Now for Shairport. Download this to a directory of your choice on the Pi
  7. Un-zip it (unzip file.zip if you don’t know how)
  8. Download the dependencies for Shairport - apt-get install build-essential libssl-dev libcrypt-openssl-rsa-perl libao-dev libio-socket-inet6-perl libwww-perl avahi-utils pkg-config
  9. Compile - make 
  10. And done. Now you can run Shairport and you should be able to stream music to your Pi - perl shairport.pl
Now you can stream music to your Raspberry Pi via AirPlay. You can either go and bathe in its awesomeness or continue on with this to make Shairport a service.

Making Shairport a service
  1. Install Shairport - make install
  2. The sound driver needs to be loaded upon reboot for audio output to work so we need to cater for this, otherwise AirPlay will cease to work.
  3. Edit shairport.init.sample with your favourite text editor - nano shairport.init.sample
  4. After the initial comments add the following line, then save and exit- modprobe snd_bcm2835
  5. Now copy the sample file to the init.d directory - cp shairport.init.sample /etc/init.d/shairport
  6. Get Shairport to run at start-up - insserv shairport
  7. Starting the Shairport service manually - /etc/init.d/shairport start
You are now finished installing Shairport as a system service. This means you can take your Pi anywhere, plug in power, ethernet and sound and have an AirPlay music streamer instantly (well, after it boots up).
There are also some simple settings you can tweak with this. Open up shairport.pl and starting from around line 50, you have some simple settings to tweak including name, password and even port, if you dare to touch it. If you want to change these, do so before you install Shairport otherwise you will need to reinstall it for these changes to take effect. Enjoy!
Credit to:

Tweeting from a Cisco 7940

Well The Verge (tech news site) set a challenge to get people to tweet from ‘ancient devices’. CHALLENGE ACCEPTED!

I managed to get my Cisco 7940 IP Phone to tweet (proof and more proof) using some PHP and XML so I thought I’d share how I did it! 

Firstly, you need a (preferably local) web server with PHP and PHP-cURL installed and a Twitter account. Duh.

  1. Download this.
  2. Un-zip this archive and place the files contained into a externally-facing folder on your web server.
  3. Head over to Twitter Dev and sign-in. 
  4. Click Create an app and fill out the details.
  5. Once the app has been created, copy the CONSUMER_KEY and CONSUMER_SECRET into tweet.php.
  6. Under Your access token in Twtter Dev click Create my access token.
  7. Copy OAUTH_TOKEN and OAUTH_SECRET into tweet.php.
  8. Edit the <URL></URL> in services.xml to match the address of the tweet.php.
  9. In your TFTP root folder, edit your SIPDefault.cnf and include the following line “services_url: “http://[web-server]/services.xml”
  10. Hard reset your Cisco Phone (keys *+6+Settings) and wait for your phone to reboot.
  11. Press services and tweet to your hearts desire!

Planning time: Home Theatre

I’ve always wanted a place to grab a drink at the end of a day and just sit and watch TV. Or a movie. Or whatever I feel like watching. Somewhere where friends and I could pull all-nighters in comfort and quality. Que home theatre. During my semester break, I needed to entertain myself, resulting in me planning out something that most likely never happen. Oh well, here it goes.

TV - Samsung 55” LED FULL HD SMOOTH MOTION BULL CRAP LED LCD TV THING

This seems to be the run of the mill, standard HD LCD TV. Fifty-five inches of glorious, crisp and invigorating screen. If only the Australian TV networks could match such a screen with quality programming, but alas, we do not live in a perfect world. We have to factor in air-resistance and other forms of friction when analysing the motion of objects, unlike high-school Physics. Back to the TV, I’ve only seen it in-store at JB HiFi where the environment has been modified so as to illustrate each and every screen stacked on the endless shelving, as the proverbial ‘bees knees’ or knee. One doesn’t simply know how any given TV will stand up in the real world, with actual TV.

Besides all that marketing, I have always had a thing for Samsung screens. In fact this post is being written through one. They have always looked the best, both image-wise and design-wise. For $1500, I would have no problem with including this TV into my home theatre.

The only down-side I can see with that TV is that it features this smooth motion (100Hz refresh rate) crap which, apparently, is best for watching sport. I cannot either confirm or deny this claim, as the only place I will be caught watching a sport is at an AFL ground. Bomberrrrsss! One thing I can say about having a refresh rate this fast, is that your average sitcom/soap looks like it was filmed and produced by an amateur. It just doesn’t look right. Luckily you can disable it, phew.

Other than this slight annoyance, this TV has HDMI in, optical (TOSLINK) out and a HD tuner. All that I need in a TV.

Total: $1596

Sound YAMAHA YHT698AU

Not wanting to spend too much of the budget on a higher-end, custom sound setup, but still wanting something better than your average Joe, I’m opting for what I consider to be a decent consumer system. The receiver has 4 HDMI inputs, USB connectivity. Another plus about this system is that the sub is powered, translating to it actually producing an audible sound. (I’ve had bad experiences with receiver-powered subs.)

The speakers look decent and look as though they will provide a more adequate experience, though appearance can be deceiving. Never judge a book by its cover. They will be put through their paces at a JB-HiFi near you.

Total: $1187 + $1596 = $2783

Now for the technical stuff.

Mounts

TV: Canohm 37-60” Wall Mount - $119

Rear Speakers: Canohm Black Speaker Mount (Pair) - $43

Nothing to say about them. Next section.

Total: $119 + $43 + $2783 = $2945

Wiring

TV Wallplate: Alectro CWPFH272 x 2 - $88

Apart from power, this is all that will be plugged into the TV.

Front speaker wallplate: Alectro CWPFH901 x 2 - $60

Only getting these for the front speakers as they are floor speakers and I can’t hide a whole in the wall that well at eye-level (when sitting).

TOSLINK Cable: 10m Generic ‘High quality’ Cable - $40

Buying off eBay because JayCar don’t sell any longer than 5m and I’m betting Middys don’t have anything better.

HDMI Cable: 10M Selby HDMI - $48

For the run from TV to receiver akin to the TOSLINK cable.

Antenna: 4 Way Antenna Splitter - $9

Already have a decent antenna mounted, just a matter of sharing the love. I already have ~30m of DTV antenna cable.

Speaker Cable: Heavy Duty Generic Stuff 30m - x4 - $100

Just to be safe. This looks to be decent cable blah blah blah.

Total: $88 + $60 + $40 + $48 + $9 + $100 + $2945 = $3290

Computer

Now I don’t really believe in Smart TVs, DLNA streamers and the like. I think a good old PC would do just fine. I have a Windows server with a 1TB drive (soon to be upgraded) shared via SMB and CAT6/802.11n 2.4 and 5Ghz all over my house. As you would expect there is quite the collection of TV and Movies, legal of course, on the server so just about any computer connected to my network can have a good ol’ time.

The computer I would include as part of my home theatre is as follows:

  • Core i3
  • 4GB RAM
  • 60GB SSD
  • Corsair 430w PSU (yes, I know. Scorptec no longer stock my favourite Seasonic 430w so this is a compromise.)
  • Blu-Ray Reader
  • SilverStone Black Slim HTPC Case
  • HD TV Tuner w/ Remote
  • Detailed components here

This computer would run a stock install of Windows 7 with Windows Media Center for use with the TV tuner. I just love how easy it is to record TV using Media Center.

Total: $624 + $3290 = $3914

Raspberry Pi

It certainly wouldn’t be my work without the inclusion of a Raspberry Pi somewhere. Whilst on break I have been tinkering with my new toy and have installed Raspbmc on it. This is just your normal XMBC install, modified to run on the Pi. Now why would I need XMBC if I already have a PC, you might ask. Well, XMBC has one cool feature, disabled by default, that really excites me. AirPlay. 

Instead of buying a $100 proprietary Apple product, namely the Apple TV, for media streaming, all you need to do is grab a Pi and after a couple of hours of hacking, you have a $25/$35 dollar version of one. I love AirPlay. It is awesome. You can stream just about any type of media from/to any compatible device, including from your Windows PC and Android device. It wouldn’t be a proper home theatre without the freedom of AirPlay.

Total: $0 + $3914

Sum Total: $3914.

I think that is all. Comment if you think I have missed something, but hopefully this plan is taken into action before the new year! It would be truly awesome! Thanks for reading and maybe it could be of some use to somebody as well as hopefully myself!

Shoutout to @OZDJ (Derek Jenkins) for answering my numerous questions and enlightening me to some of what you have just read! 

We need a ‘FTTH’ NBN

Image: m0php/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Well lately on Delimiter, there has been a lot of talk about the NBN and what will form this National Broadband Network. Now yes, I am a NBN supporter, for obvious reasons. We all know Australia isn’t renowned for its internet access and this can be accredited to many things, but something needs to be done about it.

Telstra’s network. Certain aspects of it have been in existence for serveral decades. It works, for the most part. It is used every day for everything from calling family to sharing files, with strangers, on the other side of the continent.

To liken it to something which we all have experience with, cars. They age, and as they age, they need more maintenance. This can lead to them being increasingly prone to breaking down, and because of this, becoming more expensive to run. In many ways, this is true of Telstra’s network.

Aspects of this network need to be upgraded, repaired, and expanded upon in order to accommodate Australia’s growing population and our hunger for a better connection. At the moment, Telstra are only just keeping up with everything.

I myself only have access to ADSL 1. Yet I live in one of the larger suburbs of eastern Melbourne. It was only in February of this year that Telstra upgraded the horribly congested back-haul to my exchange, allowing me to now get speeds of around 450kB/s. Pathetic for this day and age.

Distance. Because we Aussies have so much land, any infrastructure that is going to be installed here is going to be expensive and take time. That is just the nature of things. There is nothing we can do about it.

The NBN. There is quite of a lot debating/arguing in our government, as per usual. One topic of dialogue between Labor and Liberal is the NBN. They are both yet to agree on what they classify the NBN. Rudd and Gillard, with the help of that idiot, Conroy, have come up with what is known as a Fibre to the Home (FTTH) network. In this plan, the majority of houses in Australia will have a fibre optical connection to the rest of the internet. Through this connection, Australian residents will have access to speeds of 100Mbps downstream and 40Mbps upstream initially. There was talk, when details for this network were first released, of these speeds being upgradable to 1Gbps or even faster with relative ease. 

Evidence time. Now Verizon have come out and stated that with FTTH networks, there will be reductions of up to 80-90% in the cost of maintaining said network compared to a copper network. Analysys Mason have also done some calculations and concluded that the on-going costs of a FTTH network will be “in the region of 30% lower than the costs of operating the current copper network”. Although there is a large discrepancy between the two estimations, they both still show that running a FTTH network will end up being cheaper in the long run.

The other plan, which Liberal are pushing, is the Fibre to the Node (FTTN) network. Effectively, this is what we already have in the majority of places, via Telstra’s network. The back-haul to the majority of exchanges in Australia is fibre. This connection is then shared across the hundreds, if not thousands of customers connected to that exchange. That is basically what a FTTN network entails.

Malcolm Turnbull said this week that the cost of maintaining Telstra’s current copper network is cheaper than alternative solutions. Sure it may be cheaper, but hell, Aussies are already behind in the internet connectivity department and by the looks of it, some who should care, really don’t.

At the moment, maintaining our current copper/cable network is all well and dandy but we don’t even know what this cost Turnbull mentioned is or what it is based on. If we want to continue to use our current network for the next decade, there will need to be some major upgrades happen.

Peter Cochrane, a well-known UK telecommunications expert and ex BT (British Telecom) CTO has expressed his thoughts on FTTN networks, saying they are a “mistake”. He outlined that they end up limiting the bandwidth available to the customer as well risking the reliability of the network. 

The FTTN network which BT are currently rolling out, can achieve speeds up to 80Mbps down and 20Mbps up. We already have faster cable internet available in Australia! Yet, despite this, Turnbull is using BT’s FTTN network as an example of his version of the NBN. This type of network is little, if not, no improvement over Telstra’s current network. (What an idiot!)

We need the NBN. And not what Liberal is calling the NBN. We need the FTTH NBN. There is no denying it. If Australia wants to keep up with the times, something needs to be done and as with anything, there is always an initial cost. But it is not as if the end result is not going to match that cost, which shouldn’t be a problem once the network is fully installed.

OPINION: Is the iPad 3 display revolutionary?

The iPad 3 display. What some might say is the defining feature of the third generation Apple tablet. It may be one of the main features of this latest edition to Apple’s product line, but is it any good? Can it be classified as revolutionary?

Before I start proving my point, let us just define “revolutionary.”

revolutionary: refers to something that has a major, sudden impact on society

Personally, the new display in the iPad 3, isn’t revolutionary. It just isn’t. It isn’t a “major, sudden impact on society.” Before you confuse me for a hater, I do like the new display. Things on it, look great. Especially text rendering, text even when zoomed up to 30x-40x it’s original size, looks great.

This display is a really nice addition to the iPad line, one which was needed after the iPhone 4 received its high resolution display. Apple’s engineers have done a good job of fitting a display that has this high resolution, into a device which is smaller than an A4 piece of paper. All whilst maintaining the 10 hours battery life. 

This is all well and good, but this update to the iPad was rumoured and almost expected to come a whole year earlier, with the iPad 2. 

It started to get to the point where people may start to accuse Apple of neglecting the iPad, if they didn’t update the display. This is hardly the definition of a revolution. I remember the morning after the iPad 3 announcement, feeling quite under-whelmed by the whole ordeal. This display update was rumoured for several months before the announcement, hence that feeling when nothing else, apart from faster graphics were announced.

On the other hand, when the iPhone 4 was announced, the ‘retina’ display was revolutionary. It lead to Apple’s competition, revamping their phones to include higher resolution, better looking screens. Apple is definitely a big trend setter in this regard, where they have other manufacturers chasing to catch up to them. But I’m sorry, I just don’t find this resolution bump in the iPad, revolutionary. 

Note: this can also be found on TECHGEEK.com.au.

Hands on with iPad 3

Well I got the opportunity to play with an iPad 3, so immediately I grabbed my camera and set to work. I do apologise for the poor lighting of the photos, and I intend on taking some nicer photos at a later date. But for now, enjoy what you have either already experienced, or just plainly don’t care about.

Also, I took some screen-shots from both iPad 2 and iPad 3 so you guys can compared the difference. iPad 2 #1iPad 2 #2iPad 3 #1iPad 3 #2.

You can find the gallery either here: http://500px.com/tomrsolari/sets/ipad_3_# or here: http://techgeek.com.au/2012/04/17/gallery-hands-on-with-the-ipad-3/

Logitech stealing Apple’s swagger

We all have seen/experienced Apple’s ever so ambiguous product announcement invitations, yes? And they seem to have worked well, especially at sparking off rumours amongst the associated fan-boys. Now Logitech Australia has uploaded quite a poor quality image to their Facebook page, which I think is a copy of Apple’s marketing strategy, specifically ‘the new iPad‘.

As you can read from the above image, Logitech appear to be announcing something ‘here’ (Facebook maybe?), at 10pm, next Tuesday. From the the rather blurry outline, it appears that this new product of theirs is going to be some sort of speaker dock, maybe with something to do with the iPad 3. Oh my, the Logitech fan-boys, a group which doesn’t exist, are going to be happy about that!

Maybe, just maybe, I am bring a tad harsh on Logitech. Though I still can’t help feel that they just copied Apple with this announcement. I will give them credit for trying something different, something other that the usual, boring “look at our new line of products that no one will ever notice”. But next time, try to be different. Please.

This post was originally seen on TECHGEEK.com.au

whatdoestheinternetthink?

Note the irony in the picture above (Tip: read the article first) - Screenshot/Tom Solari

Well what does the internet think? Now you can find out! Head over to http://whatdoestheinternetthink.net to try it out.

You can now find out the internet’s opinion of anything and everything, providing Bing can find results (granted that is somewhat of a rarity). This can now be used to, once and for all, settle differences and debates between friends and family right through to federal law court.

Before you know it, people will be questioning the internet to find out it’s opinion of their lunch/girlfriend/possible baby name. #firstworldproblems

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