Hedders' Ramblings

Gaming, home tech, politics, music, whatever really

Category: Nerdery (page 1 of 3)

Recording PC audio to MiniDisc – digitally

Having acquired not one but two MiniDisc players (the first one I bought turned out not to be a recorder – probably why it was so cheap) and a bunch of MiniDiscs, the next job was to work out how to actually get some music onto the ruddy things.

I had assumed that my Denon HiFi would have a S/PDIF optical out, and that I would be able to record MiniDiscs from there like one did back in the day. I assumed wrong. They’re both optical ins, it can’t output digitally.

Bugger.

I could record from an analogue signal, but I really wanted to keep it digital rather than lose quality by going through multiple conversions.

So I turned to my PC. Now, normally I get audio out of my PC using this glorious little USB DAC, which sounds wonderful and which I highly recommend for a real upgrade over built-in PC audio, but – by its very nature – it outputs analogue audio. No dice.

After a bit of research, I happened upon the Behringer UCA222 USB audio interface, which (amongst quite a few other things) can output direct to S/PDIF via toslink.

I’ve had to muck about with the recording levels on my MiniDisc recorder a fair bit (digital distortion is not a nice sound) but this seems to be a good solution: I can play a CD or a FLAC playlist on my PC, tell the playback software to output to the Behringer, and then hook the Behringer up to the optical in on my MiniDisc recorder. Hit record, hit play, wait a while. The Behringer allows you to use headphones to monitor, and you can switch between monitoring input and output so you can check levels etc.

So, yeah. I can now listen to music on a thoroughly obsolete technology. Because reasons.

MiniDisc adventures

I have a thing about old/obsolete media formats, especially ones that were a) good and b) never really took off as they ought to have. Witness for example my mild obsession with Iomega Rev drives. What need do I have, really, for 70GB removeable cartridges in an age where you can pick up a 1TB USB3 drive for less than 40 quid? None at all; and yet, I still use them for some non-core backups. For no reason other than that I find them pleasing.

So it is that I’ve finally turned my attention to the grandaddy of all the also-ran formats: the MiniDisc.

Back in the 90s, I was dimly aware of MiniDisc: a few rich kids had them, and towards the late 90s / early 00s as I was pratting around in bands and things, I came across them as field recording devices and handy tools in the sound engineer’s arsenal for backing tracks and the like. Never owned one myself though, until now.

In a spate of probably ill-advised late night eBaying, I have now acquired:

  • A Sharp MiniDisc recorder
  • A tiny Sony MiniDisc portable player
  • A USB to TOSLINK adapter for my PC
  • A bunch of new-old-stock MiniDiscs

Why? I have absolutely no idea. But I’m going to have a ton of fun making mixtapes and the like.

PMG on Athene

Well. This is quite the thing. Watch and judge for yourself.

Chris Bratt sure has come a long way from being perplexed by a Spectrum +2:

Why social media companies suck at moderation

Came across this fascinating article on Hacker News and thought I’d share:

Turns out, “Ban the Nazis” is not just a technology problem and amazingly it’s, like, really really hard.

eM Client

Just following up on my last post, my attention has been drawn (or rather, drawn back) to eM Client. It’s early doors, but so far it’s like night and day. So fast. So straightforward. Proper support for Gmail, without arsing around. A proper unified inbox.

All it needs now is for its developers to team up with Tutanota and I will have email Nirvana. How about it, guys?

UPDATE: I just asked it to mark over 12,000 archived Gmail messages as read and it showed me the spinny wheel of Aaargh for a grand total of about 3 seconds before quietly shoving the job into the background and giving me back control. Damn, this thing is impressive. Me like.

It surprises me …

… just what a shit email client Outlook is.

I mean, think about it: it’s been around for 20+ years, it’s been through umpteen versions, it’s expensive, and nearly everybody uses it. So why is it still so crap?

Really need a better desktop email client. Suggestions?

TIBO Bond Mini

I have a stereo in the living room. A proper one, as in I-bought-it-from-Richer-Sounds proper. Yes, that does make me old-fashioned, but the kind of music I like wasn’t mixed to sound good on shitty little speakers, and I still like to buy music on CD. So there.

That said, I do have our whole CD library ripped to our Plex server for ease of access from our phones and cars while out and about, and for a while now I’ve had an Amazon Echo Input hooked up to the stereo and used Alexa’s Plex skill to stream music from Plex to the living room stereo.

It works well, but like many people I’ve started to worry about the privacy implications of Alexa technology. So, I started looking around for some alternative streaming solutions, and based on reviews and so on eventually settled on the TIBO Bond Mini as offering everything I needed except voice control, for a reasonable amount of money.

The first thing that struck me when I opened up the box is just how dinky the thing is – it’s little bigger than a ring box. Setup is, according to the quick start guide, a matter of hooking it up to the stereo, powering it on and following the steps in the companion app to hook it up to the wifi network. Simples.

Or so I thought. Here is where I hit my first snag. It seems that the Bond Mini doesn’t support 5Ghz wifi. My home wifi is dual band and uses the same SSID for both, because the mesh system allows 5Ghz devices to fall back to 2.4Ghz in some of the dodgier areas (old house, thick brick walls, therein hangs a tale ….).

Happily it offers an alternative means of setup. You can use your phone to join a temporary wifi network fired up by the Bond Mini and configure it from there.

Except that, of course, my phone is too bloody clever by half, realises that the temporary wifi network doesn’t have internet access, and falls back to 4G. The only way to get around this seems to be to put it into flight mode and then manually re-enable wifi. With that done, the app could at least see the device, but the device apparently couldn’t see my home wifi network and so the setup wizard couldn’t continue.

There is a third and final way offered to configure it, which is again to hook up to the temporary wifi network and then configure the device manually using its web-based interface. Finally, that worked and I was able to get the thing onto my home network.

It then resolutely refused to see my Plex server through DLNA. I even went so far as to give the Plex server a restart. No joy. So, I restarted the Bond Mini, whereupon the control app stopped seeing it and it apparently completely forgot the wifi config and went back to first setup mode.

It being a school night, I gave up at that point. I will have another go this weekend, but I have to say, first impressions are less than stellar.

UPDATE 29/09/19: I’ve managed to get it onto the network reliably. Still won’t see any bloody DLNA servers though. Gah. I’ve contacted support. We shall see.

Very good article on the hubris of “unicorns”

I come across a lot of startups in my work. This article is pretty much everything I could ever want to say on the subject, but expressed far more artfully and concisely than I ever could. Read, enjoy, and possibly get very cross:

https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2019/09/unicorn-delusion/598465/

GL.iNet 750M travel router

I move around a lot for work, and find myself having to hook up to all sorts of dodgy wifi networks. When all else fails, I end up tethering my phone, which – as any lawyers reading this will know – makes working with iManage like trying to run through a ploughed field in wellies. I need a better solution. One that will insulate me from the vagaries of questionable public wifi, and that will give me a better 4G connection than my resolutely mid-range work phone.

After doing some digging around, I think I may have found that solution in this bad boy.

It’s about the size of a pack of fags, weighs next to nothing, draws 2A from a micro USB power source and is a full-blown 2.4/5Ghz wifi router/firewall. For the untrust port, it can use ethernet, another Wifi network, or a 4G USB dongle (compatibility list here – I have a Huawei E3372 with a GiffGaff SIM and it’s fine).

So far so what, you might think. But this thing has two killer features.

Firstly, it runs on OpenWRT. So, there is a ton of power and configurability there.

Secondly, the GUI makes setting up the untrust port (i.e. Internet connection) an absolute doddle. It’s literally a few mouse clicks. It deals particularly elegantly with those public wifi networks that require you to sign in through a browser before it lets you on.

It offers other features too, like Cloudflare DoH, OpenVPN support (although to be candid I have yet to get that working properly), and file sharing off of a MicroSD card. Quite what you would use that last one for, I don’t know. Ad hoc collaborative working, perhaps.

Either way, for 75 quid this little gem is an absolute bargain. My only criticism, and it is a mild one, is that it does seem to take a while to start up, like 5-7 minutes. Of itself that’s not a deal-breaker – my practice has become to plug it in when I arrive in a hotel room, and then to let it boot up while I unpack etc.

So, yes. Two thumbs up from me.

Commodore 64!

Thanks to the tremendous skills of Mutant Caterpillar Games, the breadbin 64 given to me by a colleague lives once more!

This is another one of those machines that I didn’t have as a kid, and really really wanted. That sound chip … man, it still sounds good today.

I’ll update this post with some pics and whatnot once I have decent daylight.

Meantime, I’m going to go play Armalyte.

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