Just got an email from the Tulsa City-County Library (where I volunteer):

Hoopla is a great new service available to Tulsa City-County Library cardholders that allows you to instantly borrow free digital movies [and some TV], music, eBooks [and eComics], and eAudio 24/7 with your library card.”

Sign up, look over their offerings, check out 3 items per month.

No need to return them when finished, they are automatically returned when the lending period is over.

On the first of each month, you get 3 more borrows.

lesliewestinfiltratorsMy initial movie choice is “The Infiltrator” (2016) starring Bryan Cranston (72 hour lend).

My first music choice is Leslie West’s “Unusual Suspects” (2011) with guests Joe Bonamassa, Billy Gibbons, Slash, and more (one week lend).

First comic/graphic novel: VARGR (3 week lend).

You can watch, listen, or read on your mobile device or browser.

The free Hoopla Android app (or iOS app) lets you Chromecast movies to your TV, making it a great Netflix/Amazon Prime substitute or supplement.

You can download music to your device for offline listening, but the app always plays music on your device, even if you try to Chromecast it. So to put the music onto your TV/sound system, ‘cast it from a Chrome browser on your PC. Or plug your device into your sound system.

Take advantage of all your tax-paid resources to improve your cord-cutting experience.

007 graphic novel: VARGR (2015) by Warren Ellis and Jason Masters

Geekish postscript:

I was Chromecasting this Leslie West album from the laptop I am typing this on. But there were interruptions in the music occasionally when I did something CPU-intensive, this being a relatively weak Pentium dual-core.

So on the quad-core PC in our office, I opened up Hoopla on a Chrome tab and started Chromecasting from there. This I did remotely from the laptop via a TightVNC viewer. I can do so from my phone as well.

But probably the best and easiest way I can play Hoopla music in our media room is to bring it up on the Chromium browser on my new Raspberry Pi 3, running PIXEL. I just discovered that it is the best way to play free Amazon Prime music as well.

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.

If you have a Chromecast device, cast from your Chrome browser up to the big screen and sound system.

(See update at bottom for yet another way.)

Amazon Prime membership offers a free music opportunity: the Amazon Music with Prime Music app.

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 and Emby as ways 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 have quite the same effect after all my listening in the intervening years.

CTA’s “Free Form Guitar” remains excruciating, and 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.

Update, 11/16/2016: Just realized while writing the free Tulsa library music post that Raspberry Pi/PIXEL with Chromium browser is my best way of playing Amazon Music. No phone needed. Just a wireless mouse.

However, playing albums on the Amazon Music page (but not the Hoopla page) makes the Pi 3 run hot (a little thermometer icon pops up), yet I had attached the little adhesive heat sinks that came with the CanaKit Raspberry Pi 3 Kit I bought. There is no built-in fan. This is the first time I’ve seen a temp problem on the Pi 3.

Popping off the designed-to-be-removed clear case top improved air flow, but the icon eventually came back. A small external fan solved the problem. I ordered this USB-powered fan from Amazon for a permanent solution. Incidentally, the fan also lowered the temp of my original Pi by almost 30° F!

I learned the following from the Pi forum and Reddit/r/Firefox:

“All browsers are resource hogs. On the RPi you should NEVER open more than a few web pages at the same time. It will soon start swapping, because the browser will need more memory. You should restart the browser from time to time because it is caching a lot and will therefore use lots of memory.

“Both Firefox and Chromium are multi-threaded and use multiple cores. Some web pages are simply programs written in JS [Javascript] which are running all the time. This will take a lot of your processing power although nothing really seems to happen and especially when you are connected to multiple websites of this kind.

“A heat sink won’t help much without a good airflow. With most RPi cases the airflow is terribly bad or there is none at all. For my RPi3 I use a case with open sides and it almost never starts to throttle, even when all 4 cores are running at 100%.”


There is A LOT of JS loaded with Amazon. Was amazed when I watched my proxy logs and saw Amazon load.”

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.

Update, 11/17/2016: PIXEL is the perfect way to play free Tulsa Library Hoopla music and free Amazon Prime music in the media room. But I found that the Amazon site with all its Javascript imposes a heavy CPU load which can cause overheating of the Pi. No other activity, including video, has ever made the little thermometer icon show up! Read more in the footnote on the Amazon Music post.

(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.