Sunday, July 31, 2016

$5 Music Box Server

After posting about the uniqueness of the Raspberry Pi 2 last year, I have purchased a 3 and a Zero.  This has all been tinkering, figuring out how low cost internet of things computers like the Raspberry Pi family can be put to good use.

This Blog post is about using the Zero 1.3 version to host a music library and shuffle songs to a stereo for listening. I am using a standard Raspbian Jessie operating system that was originally built on the Raspberry Pi 3, but works in the Zero with no issues. It is loaded on a 16 GB microSD card which boots the Zero. My only issue with the Zero is limited USB ports. If I had one more USB available, I could remote control the Zero music using WiFi.

I like Banshee music player because it has a graphic equalizer and has an Android phone app for remote control. I can't say that I understand all the Banshee functionality, but it seems to work for this particular application. Here is the music box server story.

Busy photo showing Raspberry Pi Zero (lower right) and other peripherals.
A few years ago I ripped all my music CD's to FLAC files, a lossless format that I thought would be good for future use. I now have many music folders, and 7,000 music files to choose from that were originally my CD music collection. I put them all onto a $35 hard drive for archiving, the Western Digital PiDrive with 314 gigs of storage, of which about 200 gigs is used by the FLAC file storage.  You can get any storage device you choose, not endorsing the WD hardware. I don't consider this hard drive cost associated with the music server because it is a backup archive. That hard drive is shown in the photo above. It has a bright white light. That is connected to the USB power cord, which then sends the power to the Raspberry Pi Zero. The hard drive USB data cable is connected to the USB data hub (red light in above photo) which also has a wireless keyboard, wireless trackball mouse and USB audio card. The red wire is the analog music which delivers the music to my stereo amplifier. Lots of wires.

The Raspberry Pi Zero has a HDMI mini to standard plug which the monitor is plugged into.

The monitor, wireless keyboard and mouse can be removed from the setup once the music is playing and in shuffle mode.  I have checked the power usage, it is 37 watts with the monitor, and 4 watts without. The hard drive, Zero and USB hub with peripherals use only 4 watts of power.

4 watts of power used for music box server without monitor.
The power is managed by a plug-strip with monitor, high amp output USB power and the USB hub power. Turning the plug-strip on boots up the Zero and goes into desktop mode. I click on the Banshee program and wait until it is fully loaded by watching processor utilization. Then select all artists and hit play. It shuffles the songs, and I get to listen to a random selection of my own music. I assume I could automate the process of running Banshee and automatically playing if necessary.
Raspberry Pi Zero ver 1.3 Running Music Box Server
As far as the music quality is concerned, it is OK. The very inexpensive USB music card has both audio output and microphone input. I assume I can get a DAC solution with much higher quality, I just haven't seen the right solution for my purposes yet. Waiting on some Kickstarter Pi DAC that can provide a SPDIF input (Please don't tell me about the Cirris Logic DAC, way too complicated).

This $5 Zero version 1.3 isn't easy to purchase. I had to wait on vendors mailing lists until they were back in stock. It seems amazing the functionality/price ratio for these systems on a chip (SOC) devices. There are peripheral costs. The Raspberry Pi Foundation keeps the costs low by not having additional functionality which each use case may not require.

Hope this is an interesting Blog. Feel free to comment. Thanks.

This post has been included in an audio evaluation has been broken out into the following audio sections:

And a related post, Uniqueness of the Rpi.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Garbage at Ski Area Slopes

In a few day's time I was able to visit four different ski areas and perform a standardized exploration of how much garbage could be found. Here is that experience.

First steps in this journey were taken at Mary Jane ski area in Winter Park Colorado on July 4th. I walked up the Panorama lift up to Parson's Bowl and then came back down a different route. Along this and all the journey's I used existing foot paths as much as possible. I left as little footprint as possible at all times. For this first trip, I was targeted at getting some of my own garbage that had been left, a telemark ski binding cable. I had lost it in 20" of snow powered on-top of 12" more powder. But found it exactly where I had remembered loosing the piece.

At the bottom of the ski slope I collected all the garbage and took a picture to document the amount of garbage. Below is the Mary Jane litter.

Then, I was taking a trip from Colorado to San Francisco and decided to stop at ski areas along the way. First stop was Park City Utah. I standardized the trip up the mountain, going 1,000 feet up, under a random ski lift, then came back down a different route.

Next stop was Heavenly Valley just south of Lake Tahoe in California. Same routine, 1,000 feet up, then a different route down.

Last stop on this journey I stopped at Alta just east of Salt Lake City. 

plus there was this extra garbage that I had collected, but didn't have space to carry up and down so left on the well traveled maintenance road.

Looking back on the photos it appears to me that Park City was the cleanest. But I had thought Alta was best. At least the wild flowers were the best I have ever seen. 

There are many more examples of garbage on the ski slopes in the form of abandoned infrastructure. Concrete foundations, piping, wires left exposed. 

When traveling back I was possibly going to hike up Steamboat Springs, but while traveling through I didn't have the energy. Some Forest Service people told me that those slopes have lots of garbage. What I would like is to have a Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management (BLM) relationship that first develop the standard audit process, then can grant access to ski areas to compare and contrast the land stewardship cultures. Hope this journey helps keep our ski areas as clean as possible. The irony that I had my own trash that needed to be picked up isn't lost on my experience. 

Of course, the air travel miles that skiers use is far greater an environmental impact than any of this litter.  

Whale Story

Wrote this a few days ago, July 9th, 2016. It was a four part message.

Part 1

Stayed over in Stinson Beach last night, then this morning moved to the public parking area and backed the car into a space right at the beach. Had some excellent Prius brew coffee and a crock pot stew of chipotle sauce with tuna on previously home toasted corn tortillas. Then I headed out walking north on the beach. Hadn't really explored that previously. Took some photos along the way, one of a ocean surge wall to protect the beach property next to a home with PV panels. Two different strategies for climate change. It was overcast but burning off, cool ocean breezes.

As I was contemplating the waves, each new wave sweeping out the old and bringing in a new event, new opportunities, new reality, I noticed a paddle boarder up ahead.  Not much happening that time of the morning. Earlier I had seen some boats close to shore, couldn't tell if they were tour boats or fishing boats. There was some bird commotions too. And then I saw a whale's back. The paddle boarder was right near it, and paddling in the direct the whale was heading. Then I saw a clearer sighting, took my phone out and started shooting photos. Some really good views of the whale(s) feeding very close to shore, possibly 100 to 200 yards off shore. The feeding died down, whales gone, and the paddle boarder was moving along in the same direction as I was and then came to shore in front of where she was staying. Her camera battery had died, but I sent her some photos I had taken to her e-mail account. One very excited paddle boarder.

Continued to walk as far as I could north, 2.5 miles, then turned around. I began wondering why I didn't  go into the ocean when I saw the whales? They were so close, I could have swam with them. People travel the world and pay enormous fees for such an opportunity. How would that work? Is it too cold? Would it be safe? How far out would the whale need to be for me to go swimming? Could I strip down to my underwear, they are black and look like swim trunks?

Let me know if you want to know the rest of the story.


Whale Story, Part II

Where was I, oh yeah, walking back. Planning, thinking if I see another whale what would be the conditions that would get me into the water. If I was to take off my clothing I would need to weigh them down because it was getting a little windy. I picked up a rock and continued walking carrying the rock.

Well guess what?

Up ahead there were more people on the beach in one place. This was noticeable because the beach was quite empty.  They were looking out into the ocean. And again, the tell tale signs of birds. Then, again, spotting of a whale back's. It was feeding time again, but the whale(s) were a bit out, possibly too far out to safely go swimming closer. As I walked towards the people, a humpback came up out of the water filling it's mouth with fish. It smiled, it's head two yards out of the ocean surface. And it was closer, possibly a football field away. The people watched, and I did too. It seemed like things were dying down as I passed the people. They were dispersing. I sat down on the high side of the beach, took my shoes & socks off and removed my hat, sat down. Waited..waited, like coyote waits. Then it happened, a whale, closer, came out of the ocean heading my way. I made my move. 

Took off my long sleeve highway-orange shirt, dropped my pants, packed them into my hat along with the rock and went into the ocean. I swam out as far as I could still stand in the water. Waited. Yes, it was cold. Colder than I would have thought, but not the coldest ocean I've experienced. A whale, again looked like a humpback, was slowly going down the shore line feeding. It came about 100 yards away. Nice to see up closer. Of course I was sending it telepathic messages to come see me. It seemed like I was in water that was too shallow for a face to face meeting. The whale(s) came up a few times.

It calmed down again, and to keep from getting too cold I rode a wave to the shore and got out drying myself next to my tiny beach camp site.

Again, whale(s), so I went back into the ocean. Why not, I was still a little wet, and this time the whale looked even closer. So I ran in, yelling to a couple standing there "It's headed this way!"

I went a little further out, still able to stand, on my tippy toes and still breath air. I noticed the whale was breathing too, heading right towards me. I was 50 yards out, and it was another 50 yards. Birds were flying above, feeding on scraps a whale might have missed. It was now perpendicular to me and the beach, rising up out of the ocean, more than usual, crusty mouth of what looked to me like a humpback's head. We said hello, and it was on its way past. A few more feedings, then gone. I rode an excellent wave back to the shore, standing up after the ride in one foot of water. Walked back and dried off. As I left my beach site I remembers to look back and my hat was still in the sand. Further down the beach I couldn't find my sunglasses. So went back to my camp but they were not there. A pair of sunglasses I had found were now lost. Funny, I had just picked up some broken sunglasses off the ground at Heavenly Valley ski resort the day before. Waves of ownership. No worries, I have one more pair of sunglasses that I had found still in the car.

It feels like I have good whale karma. I remember seeing a whale every day while in Hawaii at each of the different islands. It just seems to happen. Like it did today. Maybe someday I will be able to ask a whale if we have met before?

But the story doesn't end there, something else just happened....


Whale Story Part 3

So the other thing that happened later on in that day was after I had taken a nap in the car.

But first I have to explain a little bit more why I got out of the water the last time. You remember, I had been swimming within 50 yards of the whale? Well, at the same time I saw a dorsal fin. Now, I am no Marine Biologist, but I thought to myself that is either another whale or possibly a shark. Well, seeing as there was  feeding going on, and again I am not a marine biologist, I thought it would be a good idea to get out of the water.

Now, back to the afternoon event after I had taken a nap in the car. I walk out to the ocean, and right there and then there is a whale with its nose sticking up out of the ocean having just grabbed a mouth full of fish. Ocean water running out of its mouth. More wales were feeding up and down the coast. I tried to get a selfy photo of myself and a whale. You have any idea how difficult that is? Getting a picture of a whale back or a whale coming up out of the ocean is tough enough. I don't know if I was successful, many photos but I can't see off my phone if there are any successful whale selfies. Will let you know...

The next morning I got up early and drove away from Stinson beach, but not before going out to the beach. Deserted except for a person sleeping on the life guard stand. No whales, no boats, no other people.

However, as I drove up, up and up out of the low lying town I noticed something else. Let me know if you are still interested in one more installment of this story.


Whale Story Part 4
As I was saying, I was driving up up and up out of the town of Stinson Beach after having spent a day with whales.

As I drove up, I notice boats heading towards the beach, and more boats, and in the distance even more. Then I noticed the tell tale signs of blow holes spewing water out into the air above the ocean surface. From the high vantage point I was able to see many different areas where whales were coming above the water. And then I saw it, for the first time, a tail. The ocean was so calm that morning not like the day before when it was choppy. I hadn't seen any tails. I didn't see any mouth above the ocean, but lots of black backs. At one point I counted five blow hole events at the same time. Hard to say how many of the majestic mammals where under the surface that day.

There seemed to be a mad rush for the boats of all different sizes to get to see the whales. I don't know how long the whales had been there, and don't know if they have left, but I did. And feel blessed to have been so close, so lucky to have seen this event. That is my whale story.

And then this happened a few day's later in the San Francisco Bay: