Creating a hotel-friendly portable media centre with Raspberry Pi

In which I detail how I built a portable media centre that can be used in any house or hotel room, allowing me to watch HD movies, YouTube, and other video content, stream Rdio, Spotify, Soundcloud and more – all using the £25 Raspberry Pi. Read on for a walkthrough and some handy pointers…

Its been both fun and frustrating messing around with my Raspberry Pi, as I continue to find that the big wins are easy enough (e.g. installing an operating system) whilst supposedly simple tasks can become painfully frustrating. Wireless networking is one such area, and I’ve lost more time than is healthy trying to get my R-Pi up and running with wifi.

Ultimately, I’ve concluded that you’re far better off taking the path of least resistance. Where WiFi is concerned, that means using an adapter that uses the Realtek RTL8188CUS chip, because someone created a very useful script that will do all the configuring for you. I bought the MicroNet N150 adapter for this reason – plus it is tiny and runs on minimal power, which means it won’t require any powered USB hub in order to ensure consistent performance.

So why the fuss over WiFi? Well, because what I had in mind was a portable XBMC build which I could then use wherever I was – be that a hotel room, a relative’s house or whatever. The aim was to build a system that could run on WiFi easily, because this provided two big benefits: firstly, I could stream media or whatever I wanted as desired. Secondly, it meant I could also control XBMC using the official XBMC remote app for iPhone. That would mean no keyboard or mouse would be required, ensuring I could travel light.

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A few open questions around the UMG/EMI merger

Various questions have come to mind when pondering the UMG/EMI merger and the divestments around them. Here’s a few with my own conjecture:

Who will buy up the back catalogue being divested?
I would imagine the likes of Union Square must be readying bids for some of the Sanctuary catalogue, as its a perfect match. Where Mute is concerned I would think Daniel Miller is readying to buy back what he built up, though I wonder if it is equally plausible that some of the larger artists may choose to buy back their own catalogue with investment support to enable them more control over their own releases. Depeche Mode leapt to mind as one example, though I’ve no idea what contract they’re on etc.

If Co-Op goes to PIAS, what will follow?
Clearly, some labels are not happy about the notion of this merger, which begs the question: would another similar venture to Co-Op appear in due course? After all, any of the unhappy labels would presumably have means to exit their deal as they desire. For example, what if the new head of Warners (now that Lyor Cohen has resigned) were to start a new label services venture? Would that pull over any of the unhappy labels, and if so where would that leave the value of the rumoured Co-Op/PIAS deal? The same can be asked of Co-Op’s staff too; key players could walk, and if they did, would that also affect what PIAS have taken on?

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UPDATED: Has Facebook retired geo-locking posts? (Hint: yes, it would appear so)

A colleague of mine in the US just tipped me off to the fact that Facebook appear to have retired the ability to geo-lock posts from artist Pages. The whole geo-targeting aspect of Pages has gotten a little confusing of late, as Facebook introduced means to geo-lock (ie no one in country X can see the post) and a separate means to geo-target (ie only people in country X see the post in their News Feed, but the post itself is viewable to all on the Page itself). Confusing? Just a bit – and I’m happy to admit I fell foul of it at least once.

Now though, it would appear the geo-locking feature has been turned off. If you’re an admin on a Page, go to post something, and click on the globe icon on the bottom right. Previously, clicking on this would bring up geo-locking options. Now it appears to be greyed-out; you just can’t click it.

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This coverage of most-downloaded artists is far too focussed on hard numbers

Its been interesting (though perhaps “depressing” might be a better term) reading the various articles springing from the BBC’s collaboration with MusicMetric to show the most illegally downloaded artists around the world.

The Guardian’s comment piece was plain outdated, making all manner of claims that generally made the article read like something from 2002, not 2012. “iTunes has been successful but it depends on a user having an Apple product to put the music on after they’ve paid for it, and an average kid doesn’t have money lying about for an iPhone”, it stated. No, but they do have money for an iPod Touch. Let’s not paint these devices as being insanely expensive; pound for pound I suspect they’re no different to the decent Walkmans of the 1980s. “Streaming sites like Spotify for music and Netflix, which offers a similar service for film and TV, are an interesting idea and growing rapidly, but at present they are still nowhere near popular enough to challenge torrents, filesharing and the attraction of free music”, it continued… Again: wrong. With Spotify I would think the case study of their growth and impact in Sweden could pretty much shut that argument down in one.

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Why is moving your CD library to streaming services so hard?

Last week I thought I’d finally bite the bullet and start getting rid of some of my CD collection. The simple fact of it is that I now use Rdio for the bulk of my listening, with Spotify occasionally getting some use too. Compact Disc has gone from being a prized possession to a fairly anachronistic format for me and, out of sheer laziness if nothing else, I find myself simply reaching for my phone and plugging it into the nearest stereo or iPod dock when I want to listen to music.

My rules for The Big Cleanup were simple: if its on Rdio or Spotify, its out of here. Before I got rid though, I wanted to catalogue what I had to some kind of ordered database. That way, in the event of a service going down, losing my albums or generally disappearing, I had some kind of backup of what I’d owned. Having asked around, Tom Davenport recommended the excellent Delicious Library 2. The killer USP of this Mac program is that you can scan the barcode of your product using your webcam and it will identify the item and catalogue it accordingly. Unlike other programs I’ve used, its lightning quick and in no time at all, I’d built a complete, structured database of not just all my CDs, but also all my DVDs too (the next target in my “move to a digital library” initiative).

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In praise of Blue Note’s Spotify app

Its been fantastic to read the unilaterally glowing coverage of the Blue Note label’s Spotify app, and if you’ve not tried it yet I strongly urge you to go and do so. The best review I saw from a friend was just two words: “worm hole”. He’s right too: you can lose hours to this.

I’ve looked into creating Spotify apps a few times in the past, and have always suffered the same problem: without an incredibly deep catalogue to mine, your options are fairly limited. When contemplating an artist-specific app the same conclusion was always drawn: how interesting can this be when you can only really have text, images and links to audio? (Note: you can have video in a Spotify app, but it cannot be from YouTube, which for most artists makes it a no-no.) At best, it would be like a fairly average website and therefore not something likely to pull fans in. The exception is heritage artists like Dylan, McCartney, Springsteen et al, where you have a vast array of content to make use of. For any artist who has been around less than 10 years, however, I’d say it is a no-go; there’s just not enough content to mine.

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458 John Peel shows now online to stream and download [UPDATE: killed by the BBC]

Mother of God… for me this is like being handed a time machine to go visit any point in my musical history. I could write volumes talking about how much John Peel informed my broad musical tastes growing up as a kid in the Shires; aside from grabbing Melody Maker and other music mags and zines, this was the only way to hear about all that other crazy stuff going on out there. Even now my memories are less of his playing Nirvana, The Pixies and the like that occupied the indie movement around ’90/’91, and more of the bands I never managed to find beyond his show. Wig, Belt, 7 Seconds of Nausea and Puffball are all names that stick in my memory precisely because I tried like hell to find their releases and failed. I eventually found a download of Wig’s “Just Obscene” just 12 months ago – so around 20 years after I first heard it!

I’m told that in due course every single piece of radio broadcast by the BBC will be made available to stream online, as part of the BBC Open program. I almost fear when that day comes, because I’ll lose days if not weeks to trawling the treasures that lie within. For now though, I’ll make do with this motherlode… as fine a surprise as I’ve ever had of a morning. Enjoy!

UPDATE 12/09/12: Inevitably, it looks like the BBC have issued a complaint to Soundcloud and the Sets are now empty. Boooo!! That said, they appear to have totally missed the fact that all the individual tracks are still up (for now). So, get searching!

With Teeth: Is it time for Spotify’s play counts to be made public?

Note: this post originally appeared in my comment section over on Music Ally.

It’s been interesting reading Grizzly Bear’s thoughts on Spotify over this weekend. One comment that particularly caught my eye was this one:

“Not saying that Spotify doesn’t spread the word, but at least radio and venues look at YouTube counts. With Spotify, its nothing”

I can’t speak for the USA, but certainly here in the UK its long been an open secret that Radio 1 – the kingmaker of stations as regards most campaigns aspiring to big sales – looked at YouTube plays almost exclusively as an indicator of buzz. In recent times, that has changed slightly and the open secret now is that R1 looks at Next Big Sound’s publicly available data to measure how a band is faring in terms of plays, fan growth etc. That’s deeply flawed (for too many reasons to go into now), but at least better than just looking at YouTube.

But here’s the problem: Spotify’s play counts are not public. For balance, neither are they on most other streaming services. As a consequence then, none feature on Next Big Sound’s charts, where YouTube and Vevo play counts tally up on the graph. So, as an indicator of buzz around an artist, they’re entirely absent.

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No more paying for extortionate hotel wifi…

Getting online when travelling is often a pretty painful experience. Or at least, a very expensive one, as hotels often charge criminal amounts just to access their wireless network. As if that isn’t bad enough, the connection speeds are usually rotten once you do get online. The irony of course is that 9 times out of 10, there is an ethernet port in your room as well, which has infinitely faster speeds and costs nothing to use.

Having had this a few times in the past when travelling, I decided to look into an alternative. In doing so, I stumbled upon this portable router, which looks like an absolute godsend. You plug it into the ethernet port in your room and it becomes a wireless hotspot for all your devices. So, you get the benefit of a safer wireless connection and faster network speeds by bypassing the hotel’s own wireless routers.

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