Pi Update

Hold the presses! There has been a change of plans. After playing around with OSMC and some more thinking and drawing, I am going to change course with my Raspberry Pi project. Instead of a fancy pants media center, I am working towards a very nice audio system for the basement living room. My last real stereo was too many years too count and was a very nice Yahmaha system. Tuner, amp, CD, and booming speakers. It has long since gone and have been stuck with my laptop or iPhone with headphones to listen. 

So I have moved in that direction. While working with OSMC I found an inexpensive audio DAC (Digital Audio Converter) HAT, (pizereoaudio.com) for the RPi. 

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When it showed up I heated up the iron and with help of a little hot glue to hold the headers in place was able to solder it in place. 

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Don’t be harsh on some of the joints. While above beginner I am still in amateur phase. 

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I downloaded Volumio2 as the streaming distro. After doing some reading and comparing it seemed like a good package to do with. It supports audio streaming (of course) from local media and network devices. It also supports AirPlay but my first couple of attempts with it haven’t really gone so well. 

The DAC setup was quite easy. In Volumio2, under the menu is the Playback options menu. In there it was as easy as selecting the HiFiBerry DAC. And before I knew it my RPi was singing to me. The Pi Zero Audio DAC is based on the NXP 1334A. A low-power, low-priced DAC. The card was cheap compared to some of the other HATs out there. There is only line out installed on the card, but there are pads on the board is one is so inclined to add RCA jacks. Their documentation is sparse to proceed with caution if take this route. 

Since the pieces and parts are hanging together I whipped up a quick stand for it. 

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It is a piece of sheet metal from something and I superglued 4 standoffs to it. Simple and works for its purpose.

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Here is my proof-of-concept for my streaming player. I tossed on an old set of Altec speakers I had in the Studio. I have to say it really doesn’t sound hateful. Nothing high-end, but working well for what it is. 

Now that I am moving in this direction, I am starting to pick up some parts for the goal of this project, something which has gelled up nicely over the past few days. The end product is to be a single speaker streaming device. The pictures will work better than my words. I will share the drafts of how I want the case for it to look. 

I order the Pi Zero W that will be used for the end product. It came it quickly and I was pretty jazzed to get the headers soldered on and start to set it up as the main streamer.

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Pretty cool huh? And hands to Adafruit for getting it here so quickly. Help me here though, what is wrong with my picture? Where are the headers you ask? Someone forgot to order them. I remember the mini HDMI connector, and the rotary encoder I am going to use for the volume knob, but no headers! DOH! Well, off to eBay and now I am waiting for them to show up. Which is fine, I am still working the my Volumio installation. Songs needs sorted in various directories and playlists, AirPlay needs to be debugged, and I am learning how to add streams for my local radio stations. 

I have found a couple of nice speakers on Amazon from Viston and Dayton. I need to check them out a little more and pick one of them. From Adafruit I have my eye on the 20W amp for the speaker. I am still working on how I want/will power it all. I still have some time for thinking on that one. 

Stay tuned, I will be back to write up on what I have found about the DAC scene for the RPi and a little more about Volumio2. 

Changing the world one person at a time – A quickie review

A proud Old School Apple Mac Fanboy since 1986!

I like to keep up on the new OSes when they are released. For many years I had a developer subscription to make sure I could get a hold of the beta releases for software compatibility testing. Jobs change, but fortunately so did Apple’s policy to providing public betas. 

I had a couple hours of down time at work the other night so I decided my spare MacPro 6,1 (12-core/16GB/1TB) would be my High Sierra (10.13) guinea pig. It used to have 10.12 installed along with my work apps. It seems like a good baseline as there is a current OS installed and some third-party apps. I proceeded to the App Store and downloaded it. 

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My finger was a bit twitchy as the cursor hung over the Install button. “Go for it” I hear in my head. Click. It was going to take some time so I wandered away to get a couple of actions items done. 

I headed back over about 45 minutes later and it was ready for me. I didn’t have a lot of time so this is the quick review part plus I wanted some time left to install the toolchains and apps I used for my maker/hacker projects. 

The new filesystem, AFS, conversion went just fine and to date I have not noticed any missing or corrupt files. It is wicked fast compared to the HFS+ it replaces. This alone gives this aging machine a nice boost. It is good to see Apple finally addressing this issue. I was a little jealous of the linux systems running ext4 and ZFS. The new Safari seems nice. The block autoplay is a nice feature and one that seems like it should have been there before now. I will keep poking around and post new tidbits as I find them. 

As for the maker tools I wanted to see how the Arduino IDE, esptool.py, and KiCAD would fare. I took things one by one. I grabbed a copy of the Arduino IDE and it fired right up without argument. I had my traveling Arduino Mini clone with me, so I opened one of the example scripts and uploaded it with no problems. Alright, step two. I get esptool.py and install it. As of this post, 10.13 has Python 2.7.1 installed. Again I was able to install it without issue. Since I was working on my ESP8266 + OLED + NTP clock I brought it out and hooked it up. After updating the Arduino IDE preferences and boards and was able to successfully upload the code to the ESP8266 NodeMCU clone. 

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Lastly with time running out, I launched KiCAD (I already had it installed). With just a quick look I was able to open my current project and make a couple of quick edits and save the project. 

I have not stirred the puddin’ with the above apps, but on first run there seems to be great promise for an easy transition to High Sierra this fall. I will keep on adding more tools and beating up on ones I already have installed and then reporting back here. 

OSMC part 2

During my downtime I have been reading up on the OSMC (Open Source Media Center) package for my media center project. It seems to be a nice, well put together, distro that does/is what its’ name says. I checked out some reviews online and this was the version pointed to if you wanted a clean, easy to use, well-supported solution. Checking out their web site definitely gives you the feeling they may have something going on. 

Installation was really easy, I must say the easiest of all distros (about 3) I have dealt with so far. When you head to their downloads page, you click on your OS and it downloads an installer package.

PickInstaller

Have your SD card ready for the next part. 

Note I was using a SD card that had Raspbian on it. I used SD formatter to format the card before trying to use the OSMC installer. Don’t use SD Formatter. In my case, it would not mount the card properly. I had to use Disk Utility to format the card using FAT. 

Double-click on the installer. You can see the installer icon to the left of the Welcome to OSMC screen. 

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Pick your language and hardware platform. Once you click on the next arrow it will guide you through a couple of other steps such as if you want to configure networking. Both wired and wireless are supported. It will then ask you if you want to use a local repo or download a copy from the net. Since I didn’t download it yet, I let the app do the work for me. 

Download

The speeds finally did increase as I was tempted to head upstairs and grab a snack if it was going to take this long. 

Once it was complete I ejected the card from my MacBook and popped it in the Pi. Once the Pi gets booted up and begins the real installation of OSMC to the card. 

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This doesn’t take long, about 5 minutes. 

When it reboots it comes up with the OSMC interface and it is ready for configuring. At this point it is 1:30am and time for a little rest. Tomorrow night will come with AirPlay test. This is one feature I am really looking for. Not so much for the video but most defiantly for the audio. I am also on the hunt for the available options for listening to radio. We don’t have a home stereo any more. After years, moves, and kids, parts were either worn down, lost, or broken. Part of this project is to try and create an updated home media/audio center. I miss just turning something on and having it play int he background or for active listening. 

So if you are interested, stay tuned and I will keep posting about progress, pitfalls, and ideas. 

Raspberry Pi

Yes, another platform, another project. My Raspberry Pi has been floating around for a couple, three months now. I have been playing around with it, futzing with the OS installing and uninstalling things, all while trying to find a home for it. At first I thought I would use it with Domtiz and monitor various things around the house. After jotting some ideas down on paper the idea just kind of died on the vine. 

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There are a couple of retro gaming distros out there. They look fun, but not sure I want to dedicate this board to another console/computer/gaming system in the house. I downloaded xxx and have it on a SD card so I can pull it out and have some fun, but was still looking for its home, its purpose. 

Recently we got cable back. We had tossed Time Warner save the internet connection and didn’t look back at not having cable. Between not watching as much and Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon there wasn’t much reason to have it back. Then Spectrum bought TW and gave us a deal we couldn’t much pass up. In the process we have a new cable box and a Tivo that won’t much work with it anymore. Oh well. Then I had a spark of an idea, why not use it for a media center! That’s the ticket. 

I went out and started to do my homework on which distro will be best suited for my needs. I figured there has to be more than one of them out there with the popularity for the Raspberry; and there is. After a couple of days of reading and checking them out, I have decided on OSMC. It seems one of the easier ones to setup and use. So I have downloaded it and have it ready on a card. 

During this process, I have given up (temporarily) on getting the Sain Smart 7” LCD on working with the Pi. It is a sharp screen, it worked for a few minutes once, then I changed a setting, nutz! I broke down and bought a cheap, $3.99 HDMI to VGA convertors. It will work as I setup the rig and test it out. Once done I will move it out to the family room with the big screen. 

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For now the convertor works wonderful with my $2.00 monitor find. It might be a bit old and 4:3 not 16:9, but it is clear and works nicely. I am glad to have a spare monitor for the bench. To test it out I made it a third monitor on my Mac. How many do I really need? 

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This is a project that is going to blow out in scope as well. I have the goal of finishing up the audio amp I have on my bench and hooking it up to 2 bookshelf speakers that have been laying around for a while. It should make a nice little media center for the basement family room. 

Memorial Day Weekend

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This morning we went out with the Boy and Girl Scouts to the Dayton Veterans Administration park this morning to place flags on those gravestone at the Dayton VA cemetery. It is wonderful to see so many patriotic people coming out to remember those who have given their lives to see that our Freedoms stay strong. 

Thank you to those who have given their lives. And may God Bless the families and love ones they left behind. We are all very grateful. 

So when you crack a beer or flip a burger this weekend, say a little prayer for all of our Military personnel. God Bless America!

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NeXTStep VM

In light of my issues with my real NeXT hardware, I decided to try and get NeXTStep installed on a VM. We use Parallels for the Mac OS X platform here at work, so that is where I started. 

I was able to find some useful information over at the nextcomputer.org site. It was a little old, but much of it still very pertinent to this install. 

It kept on coming up with errors on the install. It would hang when trying to boot from the CD image. After various combinations suggested from the web and then a few I made up on my own, I will still left with a broken install process. 

Nuts! but I didn’t give up. The windows people use VMware for their VM pleasures. A while back I had received a copy to test and try and make a Mac OS image. I dusted it off, gave it a quick update and tried it with VMware. I am not sure if it is better software (Parallels has never let me down before) or a little luck tossed in, but it worked well installing on Fusion. 

NS33 Installing

There are still some drivers I need to track down and get installed. From my reading they are needed to get some better video and networking up and going. I am kind of looking forward to pulling out OminWeb from the OmniGroup, and seeing how it looks compared to now. It was (and still is) a wonderful web browser. I don’t use it as much as I used to as they don’t update it very often anymore. There tabs and workspace features are ones I wish I would see elsewhere. 

It was welcoming after the past hours of frustration trying to get this up and working to finally see that wonderful Welcome screen. 

NS33 Welcome

From here on out it was a few clicks before I reach the desktop. What a site for sore eyes. 

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The desktop is a little tight don’t you think? I know I do. I am going to go on the hunt for the drivers tonight and see what I can scare up. 

I will also post my notes out on the NeXT site in case there are a couple of other crazies out there. 

ESP8266 + OLED + graphics = frustration

I have decided to make a clock; a simple one to begin with. I started with an ESP-01, an OLED, and some base code. It was fairly easy but did the job quite well. It would go out and fetch the time from a NTP (Network Time Protocol) server and display it on an OLED screen 128×64. These screens are cheap on the market and serve well for displaying a few lines of text, sensor readings, and/or graphics. One has to enter in a username and password for the wireless and the display text for the time was static on the screen, something these little displays don’t like. After a few days or couple of weeks there is bound to the burn in on the screen. I thought a poor man’s screen saver is in order.

I don’t have a picture of the ESP-01 all wired up and working, my apologies. It was getting to be a pain programming it overtime I made changes. So for development purposes I moved over to an Aamica NodeMCU dev board. This makes debugging and programming changes much easier (IMHO). And when the project is done I am able to move it over to the ESP-01. The ESP8266 is such a wonderful family of chips to work with.

To deal with wireless I downloaded and added WiFiManager to the sketch. This allows me to bring a wireless device, in this case my clock, to any wireless network and set it up for it. For example, if I bring my clock into work it won’t know which or how to access the network. Not a problem, power up the device, connect to its own AP, open a browser and give it the proper credentials. It is a very nice library to use! I thought when/if I give away a clock it will be easy for the recipient to setup and use in their own space without having to dink with changing code and uploading it.

Now the screen saver. This is straight forward (FAMOUS last words) or at least I thought it would be. After a set amount of time, blank the screen, and draw a graphic, blank the screen and bring up the time. In theory I have it working. My problem is with the graphics. I do know that graphics work and display as seen with my known eyes in the demo, but I wanted something different than a WiFi logo. I thought the Hackaday logo would do nicely.

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The story on the web is to head over and use either LCD Assistant or BMC-LCD to convert an image into the HEX code that is required. I kid you not when I tell you that I have tried over 26 iterations of file types, sizes, bits, etc. and all of them come up bubkiss.

The best I have been able to achieve is with a crossed line, which still shows some defects.

SIGH – I will not be deterred. Tonight I am off to the forums to see if I can scare up and help from there. I will be sure and update the site if I find out what the magic incantation is or what silly mistake I made.

NeXTStep(s)

And then it freezes up. . .

It fired up once, so I figured why not one more time and try and break into it.  I had some limited success. I will be posting a video of it, but I need to edit it before I can upload it. During the process I found some great resources for the NeXT geeks out there. The best resource I have found is over at http://www.nextcomputers.org.

Command + ~ dumped me into the ROM monitor. From here I was expecting to be dropped into single-user mode and reset the password for it. I was able to get into the monitor, but as you can see from the shot, it never went beyond that. I tried more than a couple of times and different methods, but always came up with a crash.

A sidenote, the keyboard is a joy to use. I am not sure what it is about some of the old school keyboards, but they have a feel to them that one just doesn’t find very often. The mouse is built to last and does have some heft to it. Which is fine by me as I get frustrated with those mice that feel so light that they might blow away.

I kind of expected it in a way. The hardware is old and the system hasn’t been fired up in over 15 years. I won’t give up yet. It is just time to re-evaluate the project. In my research travels I have found a couple of place that seem to sell hardware. The hard disk replacement will be on my research list next. While this one is spinning up, it is a bit of a noise maker.

I still do have a copy of 3.3 on disc, but didn’t have the boot floppies around. I had sold them a ways back, they were part of my Mac OS collection I had. Anyhow, I was able to find them and download images of them. I figured if I couldn’t get the hardware up a going then get it going on a VM; Parallels by choice. I have started the process of trying to get it going. I have found a couple of guides that have some good information. Once I have it going I will post it here and hopefully over at nextcomputer.org too.

I enjoy keeping around an older OS. Pretty much just to keep it around, but also there are a couple of games I still like to play on the older OSes like the original Dark Castle. And HyperCard is fun to mess around with every now and again. I need to search for my link where I got this one from and share it when I do.

 

Blast from my past

I used to LOVE this game! It is one of the original Mac games I can remember. For a while they were few and far between. 

If you are looking for a distraction and/or need a break from the present to blast to the past, check out the link below. 

https://archive.org/details/mac_Lode_Runner

A pleasant distraction

About a week ago an idea stuck in my head of what to do with some of the spare Jimmy wood I had laying around. Jimmy is a brother of mine who works at a manufacturing shop here in town. The wood he gets comes from the tops of the crates which they receive their parts. They are pretty nice (really nice considering they are free) and I had used most of the them to panel the walls in the basement, but I become distracted. 

Since I had some left over and always looking for new spaces to put books, I figured why not a bookcase! Alright, game on. I stewed over the idea that night. Goal one, a bookshelf, goal two, use the wood on hand, goal three keep it simple and sturdy. Simple is important as my table saw is down for the count. I still have the circular which served me well. After that I admit to working on the fly. 

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I made the size simple, the length of the longer boards I have for the outside frame, and the shelves. I cut shorter sections of boards to go in between the shelves. I wanted to add some strength and give it a look of bulk and sturdiness. 

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It took most of the morning to finish. I still need to sand off some of the marks and peal a sticker I have missed, but not bad looking. And best of all, ready to display a little more of our library. 

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