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All posts for the month September, 2016

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 WordPress.org 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).

datalocutus

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.