PSA: Hurrah for the internet again!  I’m the recent owner of a new vehicle with Bluetooth integration in the stereo system.  While I was eager to get everything up and running, connecting my Android smartphone to my car, it wasn’t without a hitch.  Hilariously, each time I started the car the Bluetooth would connect and start playing music from my phone with no interaction from me at all.  Strangely enough, this feature doesn’t automatically route the audio to the speakers in the car – and instead will default to whatever you were listening to prior (like radio, or satellite or CD, etc.).  In those situations, my phone is happily playing random music in my collection, but I may be completely unaware of this.  Not great for battery life on a smart phone to say the least.

Just speculation on my part, but it seems that these car stereo units are developed such that they will effectively press the “play” button to connect to your device initially.  Unfortunately, for us Android users, this gets immediately routed to the app that is currently handling the Bluetooth media buttons.  Your app will likely dutifully do as told and start playing Slayer at full volume on your device.

After a brief search, I stumbled across a few smart individuals on the Android forums who discovered a free app that is perfectly suited to solve the problem.  It’s called Media Button Router (Google Play Link) and unsurprisingly does exactly as it’s title suggests.  The app will, instead of routing the button press directly to the default music application, it will let you choose which application you’d like to route it to.  And if you don’t select one in a certain period of time (this is easily modifiable in the settings) it will default to ignore the button press altogether.  Problem solved.

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FreeNAS Small

This is a nerdy tech post. You have been warned.

Those of you who read this blog (all two of you) may remember a previous post where I talked about setting up a RAID array under Ubuntu. My intended purpose was to store all of my pictures, movies and music on a independent set of disks as a backup. In case my main OS HD failed, I’d have a mirrored backup on standby. And it paid off! Just months after I implemented this, my main OS HD failed and I lost everything on that drive. Luckily, I had my RAID backup which had everything conveniently backed up. I simply bought a new hard drive, re-installed the OS and restored the data from my RAID array. Needless to say, I’m sold on RAID backups. This solved my personal backup needs, but it became evident that my wife also needed a solution when her iPod hard drive got wiped and her music collection disappeared (thought we found a backup on her laptop HD). Purchasing a NAS (Network Attached Storage) solution was expensive and pretty much out of my league. Until now…

After doing some internet searches, I discovered FreeNAS. I guess I should have known that there would already be a perfect solution in the open source community. But this software is truly phenomenal. It’s polished, simple, and perfect for what I need. Folks, this thing is open source software based on FreeBSD (an open source OS), and it all fits on a 32MB USB Flash Drive.

Lets back up for a moment, what is FreeNAS exactly? It basically provides you with all the software you need to setup a fully featured network attached storage system. All you really need to do is supply the hardware. This means you can take that old Pentium III system sitting in your closet, and turn it into a fast, powerful home server. It can serve up movies, music and pictures to your laptop, desktop, WMA, XBOX, or Media PC. No need for a keyboard, mouse or monitor. All you need is a network cable and power to the system and this thing can sit anywhere in your house.

The list of features on this is mind boggling. RAID0/1/5, JBOD, SMB/CIFS, FTP, uPNP, RSYNC, and on and on… The web user interface (featured as my graphic above) is incredibly slick and easy to use. I literally had this thing setup and running in under 5 minutes. Seriously. It installs just that fast. It’s the perfect use for my tiny Intel D201GLY board, which has a built-in CPU and runs completely silent (no fans).

This experiment wasn’t without it’s issues. When I started, I was using a Promise 4-Port SATA card, which after extensive testing I discovered was the source of my problems. Using this card exhibited some really unstable behavior, especially under heavy network loads. I finally decided that I didn’t really need four ports for my little home project and removed the card. And I’m happy to say that it works flawlessly with the two onboard SATA ports.

All I need to do now is find a case for this thing and put it up on the bookshelf. I have to say that I’m super happy with this project and I hope to put it to full-time use soon.

Until next time…

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Work continues to drag on. This marks my third consecutive weekend of work and the days seem to blend together now. I dream of the office, with it’s grey walls and carpets. Breathing the outside air, seeing the sun, enjoying my time away from the office are all but memories. My body is tired. My mind is numb. I think I’m coming down with strep throat, or the flu, or something. I need some time off.

I finally did it. I finally “hacked” my router at home with the DD-WRT firmware. Why it took me so long? I haven’t any idea. But had I know it was so darned simple to do, I would have done it much sooner. So far I really haven’t had time to play with any of the new features. I can say that it has a much cleaner no-frills user interface which I really like. It has all the base functionality that my LinkSys WRT54G had before, plus more. If I wanted to, I can boost the signal strength beyond the factory settings, breaking FCC rules, but giving me much more range. Apparently you can enable “Afterburner” which is some kind of speed enhancement for devices that support that. Not sure if I’m going to bother with that. I’m really looking forward to enabling OpenVPN. Although it looks a bit complex, I think it will be really cool to securely log into my home network.

Too… much… apathy… to continue… sigh.

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my desktop**Warning – Geek Post** Recently I posted pictures to my gallery, and you probably didn’t notice, but it was the first time I used Ubuntu Linux to go through the entire process. To be more specific, my previous process involved the following:

First I have to set about resizing my photos from 6 MegaPixel behemoths (2816×2112 2.5MB Files) to more web friendly sizes (640×480 100KB Files). On my windows box, I searched high and low for a piece of software that could batch process (process/convert multiple files at once) all of my photos to a new directory which I call “resized”. I used PicSizer, which had a nice GUI, was slow, but did a good job of resizing my pictures.

After the resizing, I carry out the more simple tasks of getting things ready for transfer. I review & delete the less visually appealing photos. I’d use the WindowsXP picture viewer to browse through the resized photos and delete the ones that I didn’t like. After all this, I used ZipGenius (a great free Windows App that integrates into the shell) to zip up the resized directory. Upload the file to the server via FTP and do a local import into my Gallery.

Now that I’ve made the switch to Linux, I needed to modify my process above and use new utilities. Thus, more research had to be done. After poking around the internets I decided that the best way to accomplish the resizing step above was to write a script in the shell. Using the pre-installed ImageMagick command line utility I was able to write the following script to create the “resized” directory and process a set of selected of files from the nautilus interface:

# !/bin/bash
# Resize Image Script
# Copyright (C) 2007 Ben Parmeter

# Make a directory for the resized pictures
mkdir resized

# Loop through all selected files
while [ $# -gt 0 ]; do
picture=$1
jpg_file=`echo “$picture” | sed ‘s/.w*$/.jpg/’`
#Convert Pictures to 640×480
/usr/bin/convert “$picture” -resize 640×480 resized/”$jpg_file”
shift
done

Save this to a file(I called this ‘resizepix’), properly chmod it so that it is executable (sudo chmod +x resizepix) and place it in the nautilus scripts folder (~/.gnome2/nautilus-scripts) in your users home directory. (Here’s a great how-to for adding scripts to your right click menu: https://help.ubuntu.com/community/NautilusScriptsHowto)

That’s it! Now you can right select a set of JPG files, right click, select ‘Scripts’ and select ‘resizepix’ to run the script. It will make a directory called resized, and place all the resized versions of the selected pictures in that directory.

right click menu

From that point I use the default application to view the resized pictures and delete the ones that don’t make the grade. When I’m done deleting photos, I just right-click the selected resized folder and create a ZIP archive. (this feature is built into nautilus)

And all of the software is free. Linux is outstanding.

UPDATE 1/27/2008: I just recently stumbled upon this site which has an even better script which uses Zenity (Gnome Dialogue Manager) which allows you to choose the resize size. It’s way slicker than my previous method.

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25. June 2007 · 1 comment · Categories: musing, tech

hack-meIn this day and age, every technological gadget out there on the market is eventually hacked into. There are literally hundreds of websites dedicated to such hacking. It’s a social phenomenon that is built into nearly every geek out there. They all want to dissect their toys, spilling their guts to see how it all works inside.

Well, I believe I’ve found a gadget that hasn’t been hacked up yet – and damn well should be. Let me explain myself here. Since I’ve recently switched to Linux, things have been going really smoothly. I haven’t had to switch back to Windows one single time since I made the conversion. Oh, I’ve been somewhat tempted, but Linux has a wonderful piece of software called Wine which emulates Windows within the Linux X environment. It does a great job of running windows apps that I need to use within Linux. That is, until today.

After mowing my lawn, I noticed that there wasn’t much grass in the bag (not as much as usual) and portions of my lawn that are particularly exposed to the sun were starting to brown-up. For my lawn, that’s a clear sign that the grass isn’t getting enough water. That makes sense, because I haven’t changed my sprinkler timing schedule since the winter. I happen to have a swept up sprinkler timer from Toro, called the ECXTRA. It’s basically the same as any other sprinkler timer except that it comes with a USB gadget which I can plug into my computer and program using their Windows software. It’s a super-cool idea – perfect for a guy like me.

Two problems. 1. The Toro software leaves a lot to be desired. Created to be easy to use with Macromedia, it’s actually really cumbersome, slow, difficult to use and it doesn’t allow me to save(or edit) profiles (in case I want to load an old program). I’m not saying its bad, I just want more power-features. 2. It doesn’t work under Linux/Wine. Erg.

Thusly – I have an open call to all hackers. Open this thing up, figure it out and make me a piece of software that I can use, for heavens sake. My yard begs you!!

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ubuntu logoAbout to get geeky on you – so I apologize in advance. I’ve been thinking about it for a long darn time, but hadn’t yet put my money where my mouth was. That’s right, I’m talking about going 100% legal. Legal software that is. I’ve been about 90% legal for several years actually. All the application software that I’ve been using on my home PC is legit. There’s great open-source free software that is just as good and in some cases much better than the stuff that you have to pay for. And I’ve actually shelled out cold hard cash for the software that I can’t live without. There’s always been one piece of software, that’s critical, that’s been in the gray area of legality. The OS. I’ve been using licenses from work, up until now (and previous versions have really been legit), but I’ve always felt just a bit uneasy about using that. It seemed wrong for some reason.

After seeing some very impressive you-tube videos recently, and after several discussions with Suzy’s bro, I decided it was time that I gave Linux a try. I set out to read everything I could about Linux and what software would be a good equivalent to what I’m using in my current OS. I finally decided it could be done, and the distro of choice would, of course, be Ubuntu. So I downloaded a copy of 6.10, also known as Edgy Eft or just Edgy for short. I wasn’t brave enough to try out Feisty Fawn (version 7 is now in Beta), but it looks even better. Using some open source CD burning software, I burned an image of Edgy onto a CD. After a quick reboot, the system boots to the Live-CD which is basically the Ubuntu OS running off of the CD. It’s only temporary though, and any software installed will be wiped away with a reboot.

I wasn’t completely sold yet. I had some concerns. The first concern is that I have a good amount of data, pictures, music, video trapped on my current OS install. I need read/write access to that stuff and it needed to be air-tight and crash proof. I’d heard that NTFS was read-only in current linux distros so I was worried about this. I quickly discovered NTFS-3G which so far, has been rock-solid. It couldn’t have been any easier to install with Ubuntu. I just added the package, ran the configuration utility and blam-o! My drives are up and running with full read/write capability.

I also have several critical peripherals that need to work, and work well with the OS. The first being my iPod, the most important device that attaches to my computer. Secondly, my digital camera. You’ll be happy to know that both are fully supported and are actually a breeze to use. Dare I say, easier than my previous OS to configure. Actually, I can say it confidently, it’s MUCH easier now. I’m in LOVE with Amarok. I am serious. In my humble opinion, Amarok is years ahead of anything else available. I laugh at iTunes, WinAMP and all those other klunky pieces of software I used to use. This program alone makes the switch to Linux worth it. It synchs with musicbrainz, tags, album-arts, organizes, manages the iPod, makes playlists, shows lyrics and band information, you name it… it looks pretty to boot.

So far, so good, I’ll keep you posted. I’ve been living in a tux for almost two weeks now and loving it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not for the faint of heart (you’re still required to use the terminal prompt – can’t live in the gui all the time), but it’s getting there and it’s good enough for what I need it for.

Until next time…

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