State of Drobo and Mac Mini
#273 Henry, Monday, 27 July 2015 6:06 PM (Category: Apple)
(Tags: macmini drobo dlna)

After the last disappointing post about the Mac Mini and the Drobo, I left the Drobo disconnected. The Mac Mini proved to be rock solid after that, with no crashes, no kernel panics, no problems at all. That is really good.

But having the Drobo sitting there, not connected, doing nothing at all was bugging me. Last week I connected it to the Mac Mini and started the Drobo Dashboard. It told me there was a firmware upgrade for the Drobo. I installed the firmware upgrade, and rebooted the Drobo and then the Mac Mini (just for fun). I was interested in that firmware upgrade, wondering if would solve the problem of the Drobo improperly ejecting frequently. I did the backup I had planned doing, and instead of removing the Drobo, I left it on and connected. Judging by previous occurrences, I would have expected an improper dismount at least once with 24 hours. It didn't happen. I left it on, left it on all weekend, left it on today, and so far there have been no improper dismounts. I have done many backups, moved data to it, and there have been no problems.

It looks like Apple fixed my Mac Mini by replacing the motherboard, and Drobo have fixed my Drobo with a firmware upgrade. As each day passes, I am feeling happier about the hardware.

I will not move the media server back to the Mac. My Linux media server with miniDLNA has proven to be rock solid, and a delight to use. I love being able to maneuvre around the hierarchical directories. I have long hated Apple's iTunes' spreadsheet mode. Now I have an alternative and I am extremely happy with it. We've been using the Roku Stick with the Linux media server, and haven't used the Apple TV in ages. Not sure if I will even keep it, as we simply don't need it. Maybe if I do some streaming from the Met Opera to the iPad, I'll get a chance to use it.

So that's where we are with most problems resolved, and happy users.

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Colour palettes
#267 Henry, Thursday, 09 July 2015 3:50 PM (Category: Web Development)
(Tags: colour palette web)

I have a lot of little websites that are set up for my own use. No-one else ever looks at them, which is really good as they are really ugly. I do not have a good eye for making attractive websites. The best I hope for something that works well and is useful to me, and isn't too ugly.

I found something yesterday that has become a great help. I am a big fan of Wes Anderson films. They are very stylish, and the colour palettes are amazing. Grand Hotel Budapest was a feast of colour.

Yesterday I stumbled upon a Tumblr page that displays colour palettes from Wes Anderson's films. Each palette has a photo from the film, and a set of colours beneath it displayed like the colour palettes in Paper.

I grabbed a copy of each image, which contains the still and the colour circles and saved them. I can load each of them into this colour picker page, click on each of the colour circles and it will tell me the RGB numbers required. Then I apply them in the CSS files for my websites and magically they are transformed from tawdry, colourfully-offensive sites, into gentle pleasing sites that do not make my eyes bleed. No-one else is going to see this, but it sure makes my day more pleasant seeing my sites looking smart and harmonious.

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App gestures
#272 Henry, Wednesday, 17 June 2015 12:39 PM (Category: Apple)
(Tags: app gestures)

It's easy to irritate me. I sometimes think I go through life almost permanently irritated.

Today, my irritation is with gestures in apps. More and more apps are relying on gestures to provide options. I can understand this, as there isn't a lot of real estate on a smartphone for an elaborate menu system. So, gestures.

I look at Marvin and my list of my books. How do I delete one? Swipe left on the list of books? Swipe right? Press down for a second, then swipe right? Or left? Or up or down? After a few futile swipes, I find how to do it and I delete my book. I'll remember it for next time.

But then I use a different app, and I have to go through the same experimental process to find out how to do something with it. Up, down, left, right, press and left, press and right, holy shit, I want to punch some developer in the face.

By the time I have cycled through a small number of the 300 apps I regularly use, and almost every single one of them has implemented gestures slightly differently, I can't remember which bloody gesture for which bloody app does what I want.

Standards, people, standards. Do it the same as everyone else. If you are going to have hidden options using gestures, then make them all work the same.

I remember back in the 1990s when GUIs were new and icon buttons were all the rage and some idiot thought it would be sexy to leave off the text and just have the image on the icon. And then everyone did it and everyone use different icons. Did you print with the icon with a dot matrix printer on it, or the one with the smiling dog, or the trapezium (probably a piece of printer paper), or the one with what looked like a toilet bowl (but was really a laser printer)? The answer was all of the above. Eventually standards came in and everyone started using the same stylised icons for the same task.

We need standardisation of gestures.

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Roku Stick
#271 Henry, Tuesday, 16 June 2015 10:11 PM (Category: Gadgets)
(Tags: roku dlna)

I had a coupon for Best Buy, and I had a left over gift card at Best Buy, and I wanted to use them up. I wandered the aisles for hours, looking at DVDs and CDs and gadgets. It came down to Bluetooth speakers for my iPhone (a complete waste of money) or a Roku Stick (a venture into the unknown).

In the end I bought the Roku Stick and it cost me $5 in cash. It looks like a Chromecast, and it acts like a Chromecast, but it has a bluetooth remote control with it. The remote control is bigger than the Roku Stick.

The stick plugs into a HDMI port on the TV, and to power it you connect the stick to the TV via a USB cable. If the TV doesn't have USB, they supply a USB power adapter. It powers up, you connect it to your wifi network and you are up and running. Except you have to supply a credit card in case you buy anything from the store. You aren't going to get anything working till you supply this credit card. I very nearly pulled it out at this point, but came back a few hours later and very ungraciously supplied my credit card details.

You get a few standard channels. One is Netflix so I connected it to my Netflix account and that worked quite well. I experimented with the free channels and that was all fine too, but a bit limited. The other channels that cost money, or need an account to work, they didn't interest me.

These devices are not there to be charities. They are there to make money for someone else. They are designed to allow you to connect to someone else and pay for the privilege of consuming media. They are not really in the business of giving you free access to your own collections. They want you to stream or subscribe or buy on a regular basis. I do not want that.

Then a thought hit me. Does it have a DLNA browser built-in? I did quick research and installed the free channel Roku Media Player. Even though Roku don't say anything about it, it really is a DLNA browser. It saw my new DLNA server and it let me browse and watch. Awesome. It looks a little prettier than the built-in DLNA browser in my TV, but that doesn't matter. I now have two ways to access my DLNA server, and both work as well as the other.

So currently I am using the Roku Stick to access Netflix (occasionally), and to access my DLNA server (almost all the time).

I have completely bypassed the Apple TV to iTunes chain. I still use the Apple TV for some stuff that I stream to my iPad and then Airplay to the Apple TV so I'm not going to get rid of the Apple TV. It still has its uses.

And I still have a Google Chromecast in a cupboard somewhere. It does much the same as the Roku Stick, but it doesn't have a remote control. I should get rid of it now.

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DLNA
#270 Henry, Sunday, 14 June 2015 11:51 PM (Category: Linux)
(Tags: dlna)

I've been sitting here without access to my music or video. The Apple TV relies on access to iTunes on my Mac Mini, which relies on the Drobo to store the music and video. The Drobo won't stay connected, so I've turned it off. So the Apple TV has nothing to draw from. This is not a good situation.

What I really want is the Apple TV to iTunes type of arrangement but on Linux. Is there such a thing? I had Plex running at some stage, but Plex bugs me. I have a Chromecast that has a Plex browser on it. As far as I can tell, the Plex browser connects out to Plex Central which knows about my Plex server inside the house and it helps the two connect. If the Internet is out, the Plex browser can't connect to Plex Central so I cannot stream from my Plex Server in my house to my Plex browser inside my house. I am against this. I do not want to rely on outside services to connect my devices inside my house.

I remembered that when I was playing around with Plex last year, my Samsung TV saw it and used the acronym DLNA. I did some research on DLNA.

DLNA is Digital Living Network Alliance. It's a protocol for devices to share media. Plex might even be built on top of it. My TV has a built in browser. Lots of things have built in browsers. What I need is a DLNA server.

I fired up sbopkg on my Slackware desktop and searched on DLNA and there is an entry for minidlna - a Linux based DLNA server. I installed it and in seconds I had a DLNA server running on my desktop and serving up my music. My TV saw it and I could play music. I got the DLNA server to look at some videos, and it streamed them out to my TV and I watched them. Nice. The proof of concept worked.

I pulled in a small computer that was being idle, installed Slackware, installed ffmpeg and a few dependencies, installed minidlna and connected three big external hard disks. I synced all my music and videos to the hard disks (8 terabytes), told minidlna to use them and hey presto, I had replaced the Apple TV - iTunes chain with a Linux based solution.

To be honest, the DLNA browser is a little rough, but it works reliably. There's more I can do with it, but it works. Best of all, it works the way I like. iTunes displays the music and video in one big spreadsheet format. That works just fine if you have a few hundred items, but when you have a few thousand, scrolling to the end is a pain. I found I was watching movies that started with A or B or C, rather than scroll for half an hour to catch the R, S or T films. DLNA can do both. You can use the spreadhsheet mode if that's what you like, but you can also do it the hierarchical way. It follows directories.

My movies and music are already stored hierarchically, broken by genres and collections. With following directories down, I can locate a film or TV show in seconds, which if I have to scroll for would take me many minutes. This is a better way to do it, for me and the size of my collection.

So now I am back in action with music and video, and it's a Linux based solution.

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