Amazon Music app hooked to sound system

Smartphone with Amazon Music app hooked up to sound system in media room

stereo phone plug to RCA phono plugs cable connects the wifi-only smartphone to phono jacks on our A/V receiver. You can use available audio inputs on your receiver, such as TAPE or VCR. Just don’t use PHONO; it requires a much lower voltage input.

The phone charges from a powered USB hub already there for use with the hacked Wii.

A downside is no remote control of music selection, but since I brought my turntable and cassette deck back into the media room, I’ve gotten used to that again.

Another free music opportunity: the Amazon Music with Prime Music app.

If you have an Amazon Prime membership, you can listen via headphones on your Android device, via on your PC’s browser, or less simply, by connecting your phone to your stereo system. (An additional way I just thought of: If you have a Chromecast device, cast from your Chrome browser.)

If you have purchased any music in any form from Amazon previously, it is likely to already be in your library. But note, some songs may be missing; see About Your Past AutoRip Purchases.

You can also upload 250 of your own MP3s free. After that it costs you. (That fact, and the internet bandwidth you use when you stream from the Amazon Cloud got me onto free Plex as a way to use our own home network for music and video at no cost.)

But in addition, a large number of new and classic albums are available for streaming by Prime members on the app. Add any album that tickles your fancy to your library. Free streaming playlists and “stations” a la Pandora are also available.

(There is an Amazon Music Roku channel, but it displays only the AutoRip music and what you have uploaded yourself, not this Prime material.)

Years ago, when I bought an LP album I really liked, I found that it went through three phases:

  • The hot period – Listen to it every day or week.
  • The rotation period – It still gets onto your turntable fairly frequently.
  • The dormant period – Revisit it on a yearly or decade-ly basis (or even longer!)

In the early 1990s, many people replaced their LPs with CDs. I bought a few CDs of my all-time favorite albums, but found that after one listen to the CD, it often returned to dormant status. Not really a good way to spend $$.

I did hang onto my LP collection, and I’m glad I did.

chicag-chicag_51analogjune1971But I traded my copy of Chicago Transit Authority to my brother for who-knows-what decades ago. It had long reached the dormant phase by the time we made the trade.

(I still have the June 1971 issue of Analog Science Fiction / Science Fact I bought with it.)

I got a yen to listen to it again recently after literally decades.

The other day, I listened to Chicago Transit Authority, plus Chicago II, and Blood, Sweat and Tears on Amazon Prime.

(My brother still owns all three albums. We saw Chicago at the Tulsa Assembly Center in 1972.)

Good music there, but it doesn’t all have quite the same effect after all my listening in the intervening years.

CTA’s “Free Form Guitar” remains excruciating, but Chicago’s earnest early political posturing didn’t wear well, especially in light of their jettisoning it after Chicago V to become mostly hit-making smooth balladeers.

bloods-bloods_02I also might have soured a little on BS&T’s big hits from that album (“Spinning Wheel”, “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy”), having heard them way too many times in the 70s and beyond.

Plus, I recently saw two Merv Griffin shows circa 1970 on getTV, featuring Vegas entertainers working out on the BS&T hits with cheesy dance moves. No doubt these performers were baffled by the “kids’ new music” and grabbed onto the big band charts like a life preserver.

Nevertheless, the musicianship and diversity of material of both groups is still worth listening to.

georgebenson_breezin_107nGeorge Benson’s Breezin’ is an album I never owned, but whose hits were ubiquitous on the radio. It was too smooth for my taste at the time, but I remember seeing him with Glen Campbell on TV at some point in the 70s and realizing he is a monster guitar player (as was Glen Campbell).

It’s enjoyable today. A lot more was on it than just the overplayed hits, and even they benefited from a less time-compressed treatment.

(I saw him live at the JVC Jazz Festival in Houston in 1990 along with Miles Davis and Wynton Marsalis. My thought then was “You can take the man out of Vegas, but you can’t take the Vegas out of the man.” But he is still an incredible player, and has returned somewhat to his jazz roots.)

robintrower_rootsandbranches_5gmyMy Robin Trower LP collection stops at In City Dreams (1978). I was disappointed with the next one, Caravan to Midnight, and traded it at a used record store years ago.

But yesterday I listened to three of his more recent albums on Amazon Prime: 20th Century Blues (1994), Roots and Branches (2013), and Something’s About To Change (2015).

Dam’, the guy hasn’t been standing still. I hear nuances and harmonies that are definitely not from his original classic period.

(I saw him in the later 70s. What a massive sound “Long Misty Days” had in the Tulsa Assembly Center! I want to see him again next time he makes it to T-town.)

Crafty Amazon figures this is a good way to get you to try-before-you-buy. Albums available on Prime today may not be there tomorrow, necessitating a purchase if you still want to hear it. That’s OK with me.

This new music source goes well with my LP cover art slideshow on Chromecast, which reminds me of music I have and like.

PIXEL, the new desktop for the Raspbian OS, on the media room screen.

Browsing the previous post on the Cord-Cutting Blog.

Browsing the previous post on the Cord-Cutting Blog.

Just yesterday, a new desktop environment for the Raspberry Pi computer’s Windows-style Raspbian operating system was released:

Introducing PIXEL (from the Pi Blog)

PIXEL makes big-screen browsing an even better experience, not least by the addition of Chromium (Wikipedia link), a minimalist version of the Google Chrome browser.

With my wireless mouse and keyboard, it’s a way to browse on a large scale from the comfort of the Laz-E-Boy.

I followed the directions to upgrade the Raspbian image I had on microSD card via command line entries on a system terminal. (Click icon at the top of the desktop to get a terminal.)

If you are starting fresh, you can download the entire image. (By the way, I just made this blog edit while in Chromium on our big screen.)

I also like a new feature, RealVNC (Wikipedia link). I am able to look at and manipulate the desktop of any of our Windows PCs.

Another fun feature for the media room. Did I mention PIXEL is free to download?

Read all about it at the above link.

(Click to enlarge)TrekScrn2TrekScrn3

Sequence: 3 layers of menu (Click screenshots to enlarge.)

I started with a nearly useless Android tablet, but after gaining root access, ended with a highly usable one.

It now sports a stylish Star Trek user interface inspired by the current movies, just in time for Star Trek’s 50th anniversary.

My wife’s 2012 Google Nexus 7 tablet had become increasingly sluggish almost from the git-go. My various efforts to improve its performance for her were not lasting.

This model has proven problematic for many users, due to its relatively weak processor, limited memory, and a few other cost-related shortcomings.

A couple of years ago, she moved on to an iPhone for business, and an iPad for fun. As usual, I inherited the cast-off Nexus 7 and her old phone, a Samsung Galaxy Note II.

I didn’t put much more effort into trying to rehabilitate the Nexus 7, since the Note II was doing everything I needed as a wifi-only smartphone.

But now I could really use a tablet as a portable TV screen to watch “Morning Joe” in our Tiki room, recently equipped with an LED reading lamp beside the futon sofa bed.

A few ways a tablet can become a TV:

Run the Emby app to stream our own live and recorded broadcast TV, and the Plex app to stream our TV/movie/music library.

Watch free streaming cable news channels (including msnbc, CNBC, CNN, and Fox News) with the free Puffin browser.

Pony up for the CBS All Access app. An app-exclusive season of Big Brother is coming up hard on the heels of the current broadcast season this month, and 24/7 BB live streams are available now. A new Star Trek series will be shown only on the CBS app next January.

(See previous posts Watch live local TV anywhere via Emby app and Use Chromecast to watch online cable news.)

As poorly as the tablet was working by now, there wasn’t much to lose. So I decided to “root” it.

Getting root access to your Android device allows you to alter system applications and settings, run special apps, and do other things a normal Android user can’t.

I had rooted one phone previously, my wife’s even older Motorola Electrify. (I still use this smaller smartphone with an armband to listen to my recordings of KWGS’ weekend music programs while running and working out.)

It was somewhat a white-knuckle experience, because it is possible to “brick” the device if you aren’t careful or don’t know what you are doing (and I didn’t entirely).


Don’t brick Picard!

(From the all-time great Star Trek NextGen two-parter, “Best of Both Worlds”)

Mr. Data attempted to use a neural link to Locutus/Picard to attain root access to the Borg collective in order to shut down their power and defense subsystems. He failed.

But fortunately, he WAS able to plant a sleep command, since the Borg regeneration subsystem had a lower level of security.

I found a YouTube with a step-by-step procedure for the 2012 Nexus 7 on Android operating system 5.1.1 (“Lollipop”), to which I had previously upgraded in yet another failed attempt to speed up the lagging tablet.

It went fairly smoothly this time, thanks to the video. Of course, not everything went exactly according to plan, but I was able to get through the process. I added my own comments for the benefit of future readers.

After attaining root access, I installed apps to exploit the root capabilities:

3C Toolbox allowed me to reduce lag by optimizing read-ahead cache size for the I/O Scheduler. It also enabled automatically running File System Trimmer (fstrim) at boot time, which improves performance by trimming blocks of storage not in use by the file system. This is useful for solid-state drives and thinly-provisioned storage, which definitely describes the Nexus 7.

With DisableService, I was able to turn off a number of unneeded, always-running processes of the tablet (e.g., Bluetooth, Google+, Google Hangouts, Google Play Newsstand, and parts of the massive Google Play Services), saving memory and processing power.

Greenify identifies and hibernates resource-consuming apps it (e.g., Facebook) while letting them function minimally (e.g., letting notifications through). This is similar to what the Apple iOS does.

Not only was the tablet downright snappy after all this, but battery life was considerably extended.

Finally, I found a fantastically detailed, modifiable, and functional Trek theme for the tablet: TREK ✦ Total Launcher Theme. Every action has a fun little Trek sound. Warning: setting it up takes sticking with it.

(For other fun Trek-related gadgets, see the TTM aStore Star Trek pages.)

mikecompcrop2I was in front of the set on September 8, 1966 for the first broadcast episode, “The Man Trap”.

Fifty years later, I watched it again on MeTV’s “Super Sci-Fi Saturday Night”, this time, armed with slick future Trek tech to control theater room devices, and mood lighting (via the X10 Commander app).

I would have been thrilled to hear all about that back in 1967, when my computers (and I) looked like this–>

(from Boing Boing, “Origins of Cyberspace auction: brainiac memories“)

Also see previous post Sci-fi Saturday fun in the theater room.

New Raspberry Pi 3 with Ethernet, & USB dongles: IR remote control, wireless keyboard.

New Raspberry Pi 3 with USB dongles: IR remote control, wireless keyboard/mouse.

For once, I spent birthday cash on a specific fun item: the new Raspberry Pi 3. The Pi with clear case and power supply cost $50.

A few needed extra expenses:

Two Kingston Digital 8GB microSDHC Class 10 UHS-I microSD cards: $11 total

Wireless USB PC Computer Remote Control Media Center Controller: $8

Logitech MK270 Wireless USB Keyboard/Mouse Combo: $20 (already had one to use with the hacked Wii)

This new Pi has a quad-core processor, ten times more powerful than my original Pi (which has a new job, plugged into our bedroom TV). That makes for much snappier response in OSMC (Open System Media Center), an adaptation of Kodi software for the Pi and other devices.

I loaded one of the microSD cards with OSMC, then customized it. That’s easy by now, having previously explored most of its many available settings and options.

The other microSD card I loaded with Raspbian, a Windows-like operating system for the Pi.

For the first time, using Raspbian, I can efficiently browse with the 65″ theater room TV as a monitor using a wireless keyboard and mouse.

I recall presuming back in the early 2000s that big-screen browsing would be coming soon. It turned out that laptops were a much better way. (The height of boredom is watching someone else browse.) But this would be great for demonstrating a site to a group of people.

As much fun as I have with the Pi, I must admit that a Roku/Chromecast/Apple TV/Fire TV-type device can do almost everything it can do for home theater.

The Pi on OSMC/Kodi definitely can’t replace one of these devices, as it does not have proper addons for Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu.

But the Pi still does a few unique things for me:

Serves Windows Media Center PVR recordings to the TV. But I wouldn’t need the Pi for that if the WMC PC had an HDMI output.

Plays back practically all audio and video formats.

For example, I use VLC media player with Windows Scheduler on a PC to record weekly radio shows from KWGS online. The highest quality stream offered is in the advanced audio coding format AAC+. The Pi/OSMC is a good way to take advantage of this .m4a stream delivered via Plex, my current preference in music/video library systems.

Chromecast can handle some .m4a files, but not these (tried it per How to Stream Local Media from Desktop, Android and iOS to Chromecast); my Roku 3 wouldn’t play them, even using the Roku Media Player channel.

Skip directly and easily to specific times on audio/video recordings with a Kodi smartphone app, such as Kore or Yatse. Roku can play my .mp3 files, but no skipping allowed.

OSMC has a slicker and more comprehensive interface than Roku. It includes current Yahoo weather for your zip code and a news ticker, just in case you shut yourself off from the outside world a little too much.

Free Kodi addons of various stripes, e.g., ESPN3.

More tinkering (and hair-pulling) possibilities.

As I mentioned, the original Pi has moved to our bedroom. I added a USB wifi dongle, got it onto the current version of OSMC, added PlexBMC and a few other music and video addons.

But honestly, the Roku LT is sufficient in there. I will be thinking about what else I might do with the old Pi, e.g., RISC OS, Software-Defined Radio, etc. (See previous post $8 USB tuner turns PC into FM radio/recorder.)

Update, 10/6/2016: I wound up moving the old Pi running OSMC back to the theater room; the new Pi is also there running PIXEL (Raspbian OS). With the Logitech Harmony remote, I can switch between the two rather than changing SD/microSD cards.

My original Pi