Thursday, September 08, 2011

Itch 2: Electric Boogaloo

My computer play has been pretty desultory lately: I keep sitting down in front of my laptop, wanting to do something "computerey" and creative, and I can think of nothing I want to do, and I just end up surfing. But, finally driven by rainy-weekend boredom, I decided to take a look at that GRAMPS genealogical software, and sat down Sunday morning to figure out my family tree.
I'm totally hooked. It took a while to figure out how to use the software, but it seems logical enough once you get the hang of adding data and navigating among people and relationships. I input the stuff I knew, the low hanging fruit like my family, parents and grandparents, brothers and their families, cousins etc, with birth dates if I knew them offhand -- this "vital statistics" kind of biographical info is a big part of genealogy, and the genealogical software, but I know very few birth, death and marriage dates for even my closer relatives -- then broke out a history of my father's family (written by my mother) and spent Sunday afternoon and Monday parsing it for stuff I could use. I exhausted that family history, got in touch with some cousins on my mother's side, who'd done their own family tree research and got some online stuff from them, and in the course of that I contacted someone at, who has info about the ancestry of my father's paternal grandfather, but needs info on his descendants and is willing to trade (I'm waiting to hear back)...
Like I said, I'm hooked; I found something to scratch my itch. I think I have most of my ancestors, their names at least, to about four generations back, and pretty much all their descendants; now I just need to start fleshing them all out with vital statistics, photos, and family stories.
Here's a story: My father's father died the year before my parents met, but my paternal grandmother was still alive when I was a small child. According to my mom's email, she died in August of 1967, which would be when I was four years old, and the month before we moved to Englishtown, and about the time of my earliest memories. (The earliest memories that I can date are of Kevin and me, arguing over whether I was still older when we were both three for a time, which means it would be late March or early April 1967, and some from the summer of 1967, when we visited the construction site for our new home -- but those might be mixed up with photos and 8mm movies of those visits.) So I'm guessing then that the one time I remember meeting my grandmother was (obviously) before August 1967, but not too much before.
It's just a few jumbled images: she was in a wheelchair, and maybe that wheelchair was on a a sort of dais or podium, and she seemed out of it, or possibly just unable to communicate, but happy. She had longish white hair and was maybe wearing a brownish cardigan; the walls might have been a light green but floor and furniture were brown wood, and the wheelchair seems to be wood and wicker in my mind's eye. My mom and dad sort of introduced us and put me in her lap, and she held me for a moment. They probably did the same with Kevin and Chris but I don't remember. It was the only time I can remember meeting her, and it was possibly the only time I ever did meet her.
Speaking Of "The Itch:" My dad tells stories about a really downscale second-run movie theater in his childhood neighborhood, nicknamed "The Itch" because it was a good place to end up with lice if you leaned back in your seat. I googled it once, and found that it was a generic NYC name for that type of theater back in the day. Who knew?

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Why Can't I Just Have What I Want?

I'm looking to set up a wireless music connection to the stereo at home, a bridge receiver, or media bridge, I think it would be called. Something that connects wirelessly to the home network, and has audio output for the stereo, so we can stream music wirelessly from our computers -- my Ubuntu machine as well as Anne's Mac, plus Emmi's or Ben's, or any visitor's, laptop. Sounds simple, right?

(This is actually what we have right now via a Bluetooth receiver, which shows up as headphones on your Bluetooth-enabled laptop or smartphone:  You have your music program send the audio signal to the "headphones" instead of the normal speakers and it comes out the stereo. Very simple and easy to use, and music quality is OK, but the Bluetooth range is so short it's almost useless -- I usually just use my phone's music, and lay the phone on the stereo while things are playing, so I might as well have connected the phone to the stereo by headphone jack. The range issue is why I'm thinking of going with wifi.)
Some parts of my wishlist make this less than simple, though: I would prefer that no additional software needs to be installed on any computer, and I would also like the music to be played (ie, the file decoded and turned into an audio signal), or at least controlled, by the music program on the laptop, and the system must be usable with Linux, Mac and Windows systems.

In other words:

1. Data enters the hypothetical device via wifi, and leaves via some audio jack.
2. The device can be accessed by any computer connected to our home network, and can play any music stored on those same computers, without having to modify those computers (ie add new software:,I would prefer if the device were controlled by the standard music player on each computer).
3. The device either simply pumps an audio signal from the network into the stereo, or can handle audio encoding formats besides the standard MP3 -- I'm thinking specifically of FLACC and Ogg Vorbis.

The biggest problem I've found so far is Apple. ITunes is ubiquitous, but the Mac stuff has a lot of DRM in the way, and Macs work best -- or at all? -- only with the Mac-approved products. My Linux laptop can handle the reverse engineered Apple protocol (DAAP), at least earlier versions before Apple re-crippled it, as well as the more common DLNA/UPnP, which actually seems more like what I want anyway.

My solution: It's not a perfect match to my needs, but I just bought a Logitech Squeezebox Touch. It needs special software to run, but that software is available for Mac, Windows and Linux, and the interface is via web browser. (There are also Squeezebox controller apps available for smartphones, so our iPhones and Droids can be used as remotes.) I don't know what the story is yet about oddball file formats, but I guess if it comes down to it I can do some kind of on-the-fly transcoding.

The main thing is that it receives the music via wifi -- the only other serious choice, the Sonos ZonePlayer 90, does not use wifi but its own wireless network, so at least one component of your system has to be physically attached (by Ethernet cable) to your router, and what that means is that if the router and stereo are not near each other, you either have to run Ethernet cable between them or buy a second Sonos device for a non-wifi wireless connection.

Anyway, we should be up and running by next weekend.