skip to Main Content

Laptops Past & Present

This is gonna come off as self-indulgent. Since this non-commercial blog, I’m gonna go with it anyway. It’s a collection of thoughts brought about by the purchase of a new laptop, a process that was not simple. It could have been, but it wasn’t.

You see, it’s been along time since I last bought a laptop. All the way back in January 2013. I had forgotten a lot of things in the intervening six-and-a-half years.

The last laptop I carried when I worked for Pixel Power was an HP 8510W. This was not standard company issue. In the UK, they had a standard issue laptop (I think.) In the US, lacking central admin, we were given a spending allocation to go procure something for ourselves.

Read More

Sensibo Sky: The Newest Gadget in my Home Office

It’s that time of year once again, when the mercury rises and I am reminded of how the air conditioner in my home office is so critical to comfort and productivity. This is a little story of how I recently enhanced the now nine-year-old master of cool.

The Fujitsu Halcyon ductless mini-split air conditioner installed here is one of the larger models they make. It’s rated for 30,000 BTU (2.5T if you prefer) which is quite large for the 400 square foot office. It was sized to accommodate a full-height rack of broadcast equipment that used to occupy a corner in my office.

Back when it was installed, it was enough that it did the basics. It kept the space cool and dry, without being noisy. It meets those requirements even today.

The Master of Cool

With no controls on the device itself, it’s operated using a simple IR cordless remote control. The remote functions are very basic; on/off, target temperature, mode (cool, dry, auto) and control of the motorized vanes that direct air flow. I hardly had to use the remote control beyond on/off. Since it’s an IR remote, it only works when pointed directly at the indoor unit.

I can’t fault the Fujitsu air conditioner, since it’s installation we have become more sophisticated users. We’ve had a Nest thermostat installed in the house for years. We’ve become accustomed to the ability to program a schedule of temperature changes to minimize energy use. We also appreciate remote control from our smart phones, whether we’re home or elsewhere. This leaves the mini-split feeling primitive and costly to run.

Sensibo Sky

A few weeks ago I discovered Sensibo Sky, a small IoT device that adds all the remote control flexibility of a Nest thermostat to a split ductless unit with IR remote control. It’s similar to the Logitech Harmony remote control scheme, in that it emulates the IR emitter of the original remote, connecting it to our Wi-Fi, and making it accessible via the web and smart phone apps.

Originally priced at $149, Sensibo Sky initially seemed a bit pricey. I found a recent offer of $99 with free shipping too good to pass up, so I bought one.

Read More

Logitech Squeezebox 3 vs PiCorePlayer on Raspberry Pi 3B+

Long, long ago, in the earliest days of this blog, I described my DIY approach to a whole house audio system. The strategy centers around a collection of Logitech Squeezebox 3 streaming audio players, each mated to a pair of powered audio monitors. All this worked great until the aging SB3s started to fail. Drying electrolytic capacitors cause arthritis in electronics.

Squeezebox_v3

Faced with failing SB3s, and the occasional desire to grow the installation, I resorted to using a most excellent combination of the Raspberry Pi3 B+ single board computer running PiCorePlayer in combination with a HifiBerry DAC. I’ve got HiFiBerry DAC+ where –10 dbm RCA output is suitable and DAC Plus Pro XLR where +4 dbm XLR balanced output is required.

hifiberry dac  in steel case

The RPi, HiFiBerry and PiCorePlayer combination work great! They outperform the original SqueezeBox 3 in every way, save the lack of an IR remote control. Also, they cost less, even with the fancy metal case.

hifiberry pro xlr in case

All the above is preface to help explain something that I discovered this past weekend. There’s a fundamental difference between the behavior of the SB3 and a RPi/HFB combination.

Read More

Awaiting a New Laptop

After 6 years with the Lenovo X1 Carbon (Gen 2 circa 2013) I’m seriously considering a new laptop. In truth, the existing X1C still does most of what I need. The display is getting dimmer. The battery life is shorter. It’s short on ports. The 256 GB SSD feels a bit constrained, but it remains a basically functional machine.

My experience has been so good that I would buy another X1 Carbon (Gen 6), but Lenovo has thrown me a curve in the form of the X1 Extreme. It’s an enhanced model that include more; bigger display, more ports, more potent CPU, and most significantly a more capable nVidia GTX GPU. The second generation of the X1 Extreme is about to be released, which has my purchase plans temporarily on hold.

The discrete GPU is a real benefit to anyone who does any kind of live streaming. My favorite tools, vMix and OBS, can both leverage the hardware H264 encoders on a GTX card, offloading a ton of work from the CPU.

Read More

Power-Over-Ethernet Splitters are Good Fun!

Power-over-Ethernet is for more than IP phones, Wi-Fi access points and surveillance cameras. It can be used anywhere there’s a low-power device that would benefit from continuous power and the reliability of Ethernet connectivity. Assuming your network switch (or POE injector) is connected to a UPS, POE allows the attached devices to remain powered in the event of a power failure.

In my home and office, I use POE to connect and power a number of Raspberry Pi single-board computers configured as music players. The RPi3 B+ isn’t natively POE capable, so I use a POE splitter like the one pictured here.

Anvision POE splitter

Given a POE-capable switch upstream, this wee splitter provides 5 VDC at up to 2.4 A via a standard micro-USB connector. This model from Anvision is under $10. A 4-pack is just $37 on Amazon.com. 

Read More
Back To Top