Chromecast

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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 then always plays music on your device, even if you try to Chromecast it. So to put the music onto your TV/sound system, you would need to ‘cast it from a Chrome browser on your PC. Or plug your device into your sound system. But the best way appears to be to not download at all so you are able to Chromecast from the app.

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

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 music.amazon.com 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%.”

(And)

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

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. And Emby is capable of doing the same, only better!

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

Robin Trower "In City Dreams" on Chromecast LP cover art slideshow

Chromecast LP cover art slideshow. In person, color is saturated and sharpness is outstanding.

I discovered a way to do something I have wanted to do since the 1970s. (No, I didn’t get rich selling bongs.)

Like most music fans of the era, I would put an LP on the turntable, then sit and stare at the album cover and read the liner notes while listening.

I had always wanted to display an array of LP art on the wall, but never found a way that was satisfactory.

One thing I really missed when CDs came in was the large-scale cover art.

Recently, I moved my old 1977 turntable and 1984 cassette deck into the theater room. They are now integrated into our system using my Logitech Harmony remote. When I select Phono or Tape, among all the many other “Activities”, the receiver is set to the correct input.

Of course, I still have to get up to change the records or tapes. Maybe I will have a robot to do that, and serve cocktails as well in a decade or so. (Other things that may happen in the future: The lighter side of transhumanism)

I currently participate in a Facebook group that discusses “analog music of all types and the equipment we play it on. Cassette, reel-to-reel, 8-track and of course, vinyl.”

Just a few days ago, I mentioned there that you could use a Chromecast device to show photos and art from Google while listening to your analog recordings.

But then I thought of using Chromecast to display custom LP cover photos. Turned out to be easy.


If you use any Google online apps such as Gmail, Google Drive, YouTube, etc., you already have access to your own Google Photos account. You can upload an unlimited number of photos to it without using any of your Google Drive storage allotment, and create photo albums for free, as long as you select High Resolution in Settings rather than Original resolution. The High setting is more than adequate for this purpose.

I found a site called AlbumArtExchange.com with a vast catalog of easily searchable LP cover art. I downloaded a few favorites into a folder on my PC, then used Google Photos to upload them. Then I created a photo album there called “LP Covers” and added the images to it.

Now using the free Android Google Cast app on my smartphone, under Devices, I selected Edit Backdrop. I turned off every source of photos and art except Google Photos.

Under Google Photos on the app, my new LP Covers photo album appeared. I checked its box.

Voila, when I turned on the TV and selected the Chromecast device input, there was a great-looking slideshow with my art! Note that it creates an attractive backdrop for the art as well.

Aside from finding lots more LP covers to upload, I did a few more things:

While looking at my LP Covers album on the Google Photos browser page, I clicked More Options, selected Sharing Options, and turned off sharing. This is because of the terms of use for the images on AlbumArtExchange.com.

Used the app to control the speed of the display (sped it up). Note that your photos are downloaded from the internet, so it will use some bandwidth. We have the next-to-bottom tier of service with Cox. But even with all our TV/movie streaming, we have rarely used more than half our 250 GB allocation in a month. I looked at the past several days of usage to see if there was an increase. Couldn’t tell any difference. Just an FYI.

Started a free account with AlbumArtExchange.com. The advantage is not having to complete Captcha boxes so often.

Again, make sure you have selected High Resolution rather than Original in Settings, so you don’t use up any of your free space with Google.

I also added “soft” buttons on my Harmony remote’s Chromecast Activity so I can switch between turntable, cassette, FM tuner and Chromecast sound without disrupting the ongoing slideshow.

If you don’t have a fancy remote like this, just select Chromecast on your TV, and operate your old-school equipment separately.

I love the result. I’ve been adding lots more images to the show. Mostly I have covers from my old favorite LPs, but some are for CDs, and a few albums that I have only on mp3. Another benefit is the stream of reminders about music I really like. I used to sit in front of my album collection and mull over which one I wanted to hear next.

As you can see above, this beats any possible previous idea I might have had for displaying cover art. It even shows the time, temperature and a current conditions icon for Tulsa!

Hope you enjoy it, too.

Wet neighbor cat Albert relaxing after a chamois-down.

Neighbor cat Albert relaxing after a sojourn in the rain this weekend.

On Amazon Prime last night, we watched an episode from the eighth and final season of HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm”, which stars Larry David, co-creator of “Seinfeld”. Clearly, Larry had a huge influence on the Seinfeld series, and “Curb” is a hilarious show, too. A “Seinfeld” reunion is part of the plotline in the late 7th season.

Rather than gobble up the remaining episodes, we next turned to an episode of the short-lived HBO series, “Hello Ladies” (also on Amazon Prime). It stars Stephen Merchant, Ricky Gervais’ writing partner on the original British series, “The Office”. It’s about an out-of-it lonely guy on a quest for romance.

This episode ended with the Al Stewart tune, “Year of the Cat” (an easy year in Vietnamese astrology), in bitterly ironic juxtaposition to the story line. I can certainly identify with Stephen’s geeky character. It doesn’t hurt that he is a lanky 6’7″, which I also was when the song was on the charts. (I’m now a slightly less lanky 6’6″.)

1977 was the year of “Year of the Cat” on the radio, but it wasn’t my year for soft contemplative songs. But as sometimes happens, the brilliant use of a song as counterpoint in a movie or series forcefully reminds you how good it is.

This also happened to me with Nancy Sinatra’s version of “Sugar Town” in the third season of the HBO series, “Girls”. (The tune was written by Lee Hazlewood, born in Mannford, Oklahoma.)

I often missed the meaning of songs in the 70s, due both to inattention and my inability to parse out the lyrics. For example, at one point in “Year of the Cat”,  I had thought he said “sweet Delores” when it’s really “Peter Lorre”. Pathetic.

So I went in quest of both the lyric and its meaning this morning. Quite a few interpretations out there, but on the most basic level, the song is about an unexpected romantic, cinematic interlude in an exotic foreign land (see lyrics and comments at http://songmeanings.com/songs/view/17850).

I now realize the song has grown on me. It probably helps not being as hung up on hot-lick guitar playing anymore.

In one of the comments at the above URL is a YouTube clip (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ppIL5V-fcQ8) with a brief explanation of the lyric by Al and a TV performance (lip-sync) of the song.

All this research was done on my smartphone, and I now have an easy way to get a YouTube from it up to the big screen: Chromecast.

I copied the URL, but found that the YouTube app doesn’t have a place to paste it. So I pasted it into Google, hit search, and it asked which app in which to complete the action. I selected YouTube and up it came on the phone.

Paused it immediately, then clicked the ‘cast icon at the top right in the phone’s YouTube app. It found my Chromecast device and I selected it. The video appeared on the big screen, displacing “Morning Joe”, which I had ‘cast up there from a Chrome browser tab on the office PC.

When through watching, click the cast icon again and select disconnect.

Typical YouTube exploration is more natural with Chromecast than with Roku or other set-top devices.

Over the weekend, my Roku LT (back in service after the Roku 3 got fried by lightning) developed a new habit of going to sleep and not waking up until rebooted. I decided to do a Factory Reset and re-register it, but Roku’s servers were swamped by all the Xmas shoppers with their new Roku SEs. I put it aside for a few days and have been using the Chromecast and the TiVo instead.

The one big deficiency of Google Chromecast is that it lacks Amazon Instant Video. The two corporations are arch-enemies; Amazon does not support the Chromecast device and banned both it and Apple TV from their site; Google has not released any of its own apps for Amazon’s Fire devices.

So we watched the shows last night on TiVo’s Amazon app. But if you use Netflix, Hulu Plus, etc., Chromecast could do it all for you.

After Thanksgiving dinner last week, I showed one of our phone-centric nephews how to get his iPhone’s NFL Sunday Ticket app up onto our big screen TV. He liked it a lot.

The new Chromecast.

The new Chromecast.

As a result, both nephews will be receiving the newest version of the Chromecast for Christmas. There is a really good deal at the Google Store today (“Cyber Monday”), 2 for $50. Since it’s for Christmas, I got them the festive red and yellow ones. The color will remind them to take the device with them after using it at friends’ houses.


The Year of the Cat, a year of ease and relaxation, comes every twelve years. The last one was 2011, next is 2023. But for Albert (pictured at top), it comes every year.