AirSonos on the Raspberry Pi

I just posted about my little Raspberry Pi server.

The other thing I’m running on it currently is AirSonos. We love our Sonos Playbar sitting beneath our TV. We use it all the time.

But it doesn’t support Airplay, and sometimes you want to use Airplay. I’ll get home from work listening to a podcast on Overcast. I walk in and want to play it on the Sonos while I clean or cook dinner. I can use headphones. I can turn on the TV and Apple TV, and Airplay it to the Apple TV to listen to it through the Sonos.

Or, using the little raspi home server running AirSonos, I can now Airplay it directly to the Sonos. It’s pretty awesome. There’s a little lag when you start it up, but once it gets going, it works swimmingly.

The little raspi is turning into a wonderful addition to our home. I find new uses for it every day (maybe this is next).

My Raspberry Pi Home Server

A month or two ago, I saw a link to Nick Farina’s awesome little node service Homebridge. Homebridge allows things in your house that don’t work with Apple’s HomeKit, say a Nest thermostat, to work with HomeKit. HomeKit enables you to do fun stuff like “Siri, set the temperature downstairs to 66 degrees.”

You know, really important stuff.

I’ve been trying to reign in our power use. We have laptops and iPads and iPhones and a couple of TVs and a WiiU and XBox and DVR etc. That’s a lot of juice. I’ve replaced all (well, most) of our lights with LEDs. I’ve played with power settings and anything else I can find to try to reduce our overall power usage.

The last thing I needed was to run my iMac full time as a home server.

Enter the CanaKit Raspberry Pi.

I’d been looking to muck around with a Raspberry Pi (from here on out, a raspi) for a bit, but never had a good reason to. Here’s a perfect use: a super low power, tiny, always on home server.

I got it last week and spent a few hours getting it configured. Then I setup Homebridge.

(After mucking with my network and nearly breaking everything … ) It all worked.

Homebridge has a bunch of plugins. Our Nest thermostats were added, but I also added our Sonos. And, eventually, I’ll add other devices (I have a Twine in our basement keeping an eye on the temperature – I may work out a way to scrape it’s data and push it to Homebridge).

It’s not the greatest thing in the world, but there’s something nice about being able to tell Siri to turn the temperature down. If I get a smart plug, I could tell Siri that I’m going to bed, and have it turn off the living room lamp, turn the temp down, and (with a little bit of work), maybe even have it turn off the TV.

That’d be pretty cool. And it all runs off a server the size of a couple of packs of cards that makes no noise and probably costs < $10/year to run.

ImageOptim and iPhoto

ImageOptim is a simple Mac app that bundles a few image optimization tools to reduce the file size of your images by 10–20%. Handy, but not a big deal, right?

I ran it against my 40GB iPhoto library (lots of people have even bigger libraries). There are 3 folders in your iPhoto Library that have images:

  • Masters/Originals
  • Thumbnails
  • Previews

It took me about a day of crunching images (just moving back and forth to the computer dragging folders over into the application). I could have scripted it, but I was lazy and walking over to the computer every hour or so was easier.

When finished, it saved about 1.5GB of useless information from my library. That’s not a ton, but that’s basically “free” free space. It’s incremental, and the nice thing about how iPhoto stores your pictures is that you can grab a folder each month and drag it in, and it’ll take about an hour a month or so. It his, however, diminishing returns if you’re using something like an iPhone as a camera. It seems that images generated by the iPhone are already reasonably well optimized, only maybe saving 8–10%.

Anyway—if you’re looking to squeeze a little bit more space out of your disk (maybe you’ve got an SSD), you’ll probably find a free GB or two in optimizing your image collection.

True Inbox Zero

Want to know the simplest way to get to Inbox Zero?

Make it so people can’t send you mail.

The other day I updated the SSL cert I have for my site. I use it on my own mail server so that most mail servers can talk over TLS and exchange mail securely.

When I updated my cert, I was an idiot. I didn’t properly update my postfix config. Postfix would still run and accept mail, but anyone trying to connect via TLS would fail. It turns out that Google (understandably) tries to connect via TLS. When they can’t connect, they don’t try to reconnect using plain SMTP. They just bail out.

So, short version: I’m an idiot. But, for about 12 hours, I didn’t get any mail. It was glorious.

Handy Travel Technology

I’m expecting I’ll be traveling a bit more for work this year and, in preparation for that, I asked for a couple of things for Christmas to help make that a bit easier. There are three devices that I think have become integral to my travel, just in terms of making life a little bit easier.

When you travel, iPhone batteries seem to take a beating. You tend to move around places with weak cell coverage and intermittent wi-fi coverage that keep your phone radios fired up and burning battery. There’s lots of downtime where you’re using your phone to check on fight status, or read the news, or just entertain yourself while waiting for a flight. A couple of years ago I picked up a Mophie Powerstation battery pack. It’s 4000 mAh, which basically means it can charge an iPhone full more than two times, and can also charge an iPad. I charge it, throw it in my bag, and then if I feel like my phone might die that day, it’s small enough to keep in my pocket. One recommendation: get a small cable so that you don’t have to carry the traditional long Lightning cable around with you.

Hotel wifi is notoriously bad. In some hotels, you either pay for each device, or logging one device on bumps another device off. When listening to an episode of Mac Power Users, I heard about the Edimax N150 Travel Router. Basically, it’s a little USB powered wifi router. Once you set it up (it’s not the most straightforward thing), you hook it either into the hotel’s ethernet or wifi. That way, you have one device that’s always connected to the hotel’s internet, and then you connect to it. Since it’s not moving around (the way you often are when using an iPad or iPhone), you don’t worry about losing signal. And, it’s advanced enough to broadcast a hidden (and protected) network so that other folks won’t jump on your connection.

Since it’s USB powered, it fits perfectly right into the Belkin BST300bg. This is a surge protector, USB charger, and outlet expander all in one. So many hotels have only a couple of power outlets, and they’re usually located in the most horrible place possible. You plug the Belkin into any outlet, and it’ll give you 3 surge protected outlets (great for your laptop) and two USB ports. Use one to charge your device, and plug your little Edimax wifi router into the other. Even better at the airport when you need to charge your gear and you’re fighting over one of those airport outlets. Throw this in and share the love.

If you shop smartly (and the links above are to Amazon, so I’ll get a tiny kickback if you buy one), you can pretty much get all three of these for less than $100. That’s $100 well spent, and it’ll make your travel much, much happier.

Quick Review: Sonos Playbar

Thanks to my wonderful future in-laws, we found ourselves in possession of a really awesome Sonos Playbar. In our new living room, we had been using the TV speakers of our new Samsung HDTV for our audio, whether via the TV or when playing music via the Apple TV or Pandora on the TV.

It was fine. Or maybe slightly less than fine. Not nearly as good as the surround sound setup we had in our condo (which isn’t a good fit for our living room). Certainly not good enough to use to play music while making food in the kitchen, or having a little party on the first floor.

We had jokingly asked for a Playbar, mostly since I had convinced myself that I would get one for myself for my birthday. Well, Merry Christmas, we got one six months early.

Let’s start with the handful of cons:

  • The price. It’s expensive. It’s really nice, but that doesn’t make it not expensive.
  • It doesn’t come with a mount. I was sort of astounding it doesn’t come with a mount. Now, the mount isn’t all that expensive, but for what you pay, you’d expect that to be included.
  • No Apple Airplay support. It’d be awesome if it acted as an Airplay receiver so you could throw any old iOS/Mac audio right at it without having to turn on the Apple TV.

There are a lot of pros:

  • Integrated apps. For things like Pandora, or SiriusXM, or Amazon music, or Spotify, you just plug in your info and then you can manage the thing via the Sonos app. And it works quite well. You can control it from almost anywhere in the house.
  • The sound. It sounds great. Really great. Much better than TV speakers, and good enough that I’m not sure we’ll rush to add surround sound to our living room. It’s been great watching movies and Netflix and listening to music.
  • It looks good. Our TV is mounted on a corner mount, so mounting the Sonos wasn’t easy. I had to buy a soundbar mount that mounts to the TV mount, and then mount the Sonos mount to it. It took a bit of work to get it working, and I think we nearly dropped our TV, but in the end, it looks really nice mounted right below the TV.
  • It’s expandable. We like the Sonos enough that I may get another speaker (like a Play:1) and be able to control them all simultaneously.

For the Sonos, you’re paying a premium, and there’s not a lot of discounts available. So you need to really want one (or have some really nice family members). But, so far, it feels like it’s been worth the money.

Where’s This Guy Been?

No blocking. If a consumer requests access to a website or service, and the content is legal, your ISP should not be permitted to block it. That way, every player — not just those commercially affiliated with an ISP — gets a fair shot at your business.

No throttling. Nor should ISPs be able to intentionally slow down some content or speed up others — through a process often called “throttling” — based on the type of service or your ISP’s preferences.

Increased transparency. The connection between consumers and ISPs — the so-called “last mile” — is not the only place some sites might get special treatment. So, I am also asking the FCC to make full use of the transparency authorities the court recently upheld, and if necessary to apply net neutrality rules to points of interconnection between the ISP and the rest of the Internet.

No paid prioritization. Simply put: No service should be stuck in a “slow lane” because it does not pay a fee. That kind of gatekeeping would undermine the level playing field essential to the Internet’s growth. So, as I have before, I am asking for an explicit ban on paid prioritization and any other restriction that has a similar effect.

So, I guess it takes getting your ass kicked in the mid-term elections and realizing you’ve got nothing to lose to go out and fight for the things you campaigned on.

Better late than never.