Category Archives: General

Amazon Prime Music and Bluetooth Speakers

I’ve had Amazon Prime Music for a while, and have been paying $25 a year so I can upload as many CDs as I want, up to 250,000 songs which is at least 200,000 more than I have. That’s peanuts. Literally: We spend about $100 a year on peanuts.

All the big guys have cloud music services (Apple, Google, Microsoft, etc.), but Amazon is the best for me because:

  • When I first signed up, hundreds of albums were already there because I had bought the CDs from Amazon over the years. (My first from Amazon was Bruce Springsteen’s Songs, in 1998.)
  • Most new CDs I buy from Amazon are also automatically added to my cloud library.
  • When I rip and upload a CD, Amazon almost always recognizes it and skips uploading the actual bits, since it already has them. (I don’t know if the others can do this.)
  • There are apps for all iOS and Android devices, and all my computers.
  • I get Prime Music (part of my Prime subscription), in addition to my own stuff. The best part is the curated playlists.

I mostly play Amazon Music through my desktop and a seldom-used Google tablet connected via a cable to a Bose Acoustic Wave player that I bought about 20 years ago. To that I decided to add a bluetooth speaker so I would have something near my favorite chair, to take outside, and for road trips.

That brought me to those online bluetooth speaker reviews, of which there must be at least 10,000. Reviewers like to talk about deep bass from a speaker about the size of a water bottle; I’m used to deep bass coming from a sub-woofer the size of a small refrigerator. Or styling, which means nothing to me; they all look like speakers, and I’m fine with that. (But the UE Booms look like Christian monuments. Not for me.)

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Prices at Amazon are between about $9 and $800. My range was between $100 and $200, which limited me to about 300 choices. So, I did what I always do in cases like this: Spend a half day reading reviews and clicking around on Amazon until I’m at the point when all of the ratings and opinions cancel each other.

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In the end I bought a JBL Charge 3 on sale at Target for $130. It has one unusual feature: It can charge an iPhone (or any other USB device). JBL says 20 hours of battery life, so I’m sure I’ll get at least 10 (less if I’m charging my phone). It’s also waterproof. Not that I’m going to dunk it, but I might spill a beer on it.

Does it sound better than any of the other 300 or so other choices? Definitely! It was top rated in reviews! Well, the reviews in which it was top rated, anyway. In other reviews it was a dog, but I don’t have to read those, right?

Anyway, at this point it’s the speaker next to my chair, the others aren’t, and it sounds just great. Compared to my all-B&W home theater, it’s garbage. Compared to the Bose, it’s pretty good, although the Bose is better. But the B&Ws are downstairs and the Bose is in another room. And neither is portable.

So, I guess I’m recommending the JBL Charge 3. If you want something else, there are probably 20 speakers at roughly the same price that sound just as good. The trick is to take home just one and leave the others in the store.

Time for a serious Ubuntu experiment

I’ve had a Chromebook for over three years now, bought with the idea that when I’m not actually in my office, I spend nearly all of my time in Chrome anyway, so maybe a $250 laptop is all I need. That idea turned out to be correct. I started looking into Chrome Apps, and even wrote a book for O’Reilly about how to develop them. My committee work for the Conference on World Affairs (CWA) uses Google Docs mostly, so that made the Chromebook even more useful.

Still, there are two kinds of things the Chromebook can’t do: Handle my photography post-processing, and develop and maintain my mostly-PHP websites, such as the one I built for the CWA.

So, I thought, maybe a Linux computer could do more of what needs doing than a Chromebook? I had an unused monitor, a bunch of unused keyboards and mice, so all I’d need would be the computer itself. I had several of those, too, huge monsters that are heavy, too large for the space on my desk, noisy, and power hungry. Not at all the sort of thing I’d want anywhere on the main floor of the house. And, if I have to go downstairs to use the Linux machine, I might as well just use my iMac. I wanted something cheap, quiet, small, and low-power.

What a great excuse to get a little Intel NUC! They’re available from just over $100 to $400+ depending on how powerful a CPU you want. I decided that a Core i3 NUC would do fine. The NUC plus some essential parts (WiFi card, memory, and SSD) cost me about $355 at Amazon. For that I got 4GB of RAM and 250GB of “disk.”


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The best thing about the NUC is that it screws to monitor’s VESA mount. I strapped the NUC’s transformer to the monitor as well, as you can see in the photo. It’s an all-in-one!

Ubuntu has come a very long way since I last played with it a few years ago. I found a utility for the Mac that copied the live-disk ISO to a USB stick, booted the NUC off that, and Ubuntu installed without a hitch. It even found the WiFi card. (I used an Intel card, to increase the likelihood that its driver would be installed automatically.)

Ubuntu is really well done. All sorts of things worked without the hassle that I used to expect with Linux. A USB3 external drive, a Bluetooth mouse, and my Epson scanner worked perfectly with no need to install any drivers. (I couldn’t get my ancient Apple wireless keyboard to pair, but maybe a solution to that was just beyond my grasp.)

Installing Apache, MySQL, and PHP on Ubuntu were very easy, as you’d expect (they’re the last three letters in LAMP), and my favorite MySQL admin tool, MySQLWorkbench installed easily, too. There was a hassle getting it to connect to the instance hosted by Siteground, but that was their fault (quickly and courteously corrected by them), certainly not Ubuntu’s.

I’ll miss Coda for editing and updating the website, but a utility called weex works very well to copy just changed files to the server, so I don’t really need Coda for that. I haven’t bothered to chase down all the various Linux text editors to see which one I like; the included gedit seems to be OK, at least for now.

Installing Chrome required a few dependencies to be chased down (Chromium is in the standard Ubuntu repository, not Chrome, but I wanted Chrome), but it, too, got installed in just a few minutes. Of course, it’s identical to the version on the Chromebook and the Mac, so everything worked as it should have, and my apps worked, too. (An advantage of Chrome over Chromium is that it gets updated by Google and doesn’t rely on the Ubuntu update system.)

Anyway, based on the first few days, this Ubuntu/NUC computer is going to be just fine. My photography has to stay on the Mac (but see last paragraph), because while Linux photography apps, such as Darktable, show promise, they’ll probably never catch up to Lightroom and the Topaz plugins I like, and I have no plans to produce inferior photography just to further the cause of open source.

Still, treat this as a glowing review of Ubuntu, and of the NUC, too.

My long-term plan is to see if I can use the Mac for photography only, which means using just my own Ingestamatic, Lightroom (with the Topaz plugins), and Photoshop. If I can get that far, I can move my photography work to a Windows system, since those apps all run on Windows, and then use the Mac only for truly Mac-only jobs, such as maintaining my Mac apps. Why do this? Two reasons: I hate Apple, and my iMac isn’t fast enough any more to be pleasant to use. I don’t want to spend more money with Apple, so a fast Windows box may be the answer. But, I’m not there yet. I need to see how far I can get with Ubuntu on the NUC first. Stay tuned.

Rebuilding My Tall Ships Montage

(A reprint of a post I wrote on 25-Nov-2007.)



In 1976 I sailed, as a passenger, on the Roseway (see below) from Camden, Maine, to New York for Operation Sail, a gathering of hundreds of sailboats to celebrate the Bicentennial, on July 4, 1976.
The main attraction was 16 tall ships.

“Tall ship” doesn’t have an exact definition, but they are all large and square-rigged.
The Roseway isn’t a tall ship—it’s a schooner that’s only about 130 feet long and squeezes in about 35 passengers plus crew.



I shot a few hundred pictures during the 2-week voyage from Maine to New York and back.
My camera at the time was a completely manual Konica FP SLR.
(Shortly thereafter I switched to a Canon AE-1, the first entirely electronic SLR.)
Later in 1976, as I was going through my 4×5 prints, I made the happy discovery that I had at least one photo of each of the 16 tall ships.
I didn’t remember all of the names, so I matched the photos against those in an Op Sail ’76 guidebook I had bought somewhere along the way.
Then I arranged them into a 4-by-4 grid and mounted them in a large frame.
I must have been pleased with my work because I took a picture of it (above).

Years later, the pictures all fell from the mounting board (I recall that they were fastened with double-sided Scotch tape) and collected in a pile at the bottom.
None of the pictures were labeled, but they had been arranged in alphabetical order.
The guidebook disappeared, too.

Earlier this year [2007] I scanned all 1000-or-so of my slides, including the few hundred from Op Sail.
Just today, I decided it was time to try to find the original 16 photos that were in the montage so I could put it back together, but this time digitally.
I didn’t have the original prints (I’m sure they’re around somewhere), but I did have that shot of the framed arrangement.
Also, I remembered seeing that guidebook and found it on the basement shelves where I keep my old books.

I got them all matched except for the Mircea (bottom-left).
I either lost that slide or didn’t scan it, but, rather than go back to the slide tray to see, I just used another taken a few seconds later.

Here’s the result: All digital, rearranged into the same montage (without tape, this time).
Note how I was able to improve the white balance and exposure with Lightroom.

Larger versions of these images, along with the names and countries, are on my
SmugMug site.

ZipVerifier 1.01

A few bugs fixed that resulted in external verification failing when the archive was good. Any archives reported as good were good.

 Download here.

Verifying and Uploading Large Archives of Photos with ZipVerifier and S3BigUpload

Introducing two new apps for preparing large image archives and uploading them to Amazon S3 and Glacier. Designed for the backup of last resort, to be retrieved only if all other backups have been destroyed. The emphasis is on verifying that the archive is absolutely correct and that the upload, which could take days, completes and is correct.

Read all about it here.

Changes coming

Starting very soon, I’m going to write some actual articles here, not just short notes about app updates. I’ve done this on and off over the years, and now it will be on.

ChromeNote

The only Chrome App that syncs with SimpleNote. With the apps available at Simplenote.com, you
can have notes on iOS, Android, Mac OS X, the web, and, with this app, anywhere that Chrome runs (Mac, Windows, Linux, ChromeOS).

Click here to get it for free from the Chrome Web Store.