How-To: Streaming stuff around your house

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In this increasingly wireless world, it seems odd that it’s actually kinda difficult to get music or other media from one device to another.

In my case, I have photos, movies and music all stored on a central storage device on my network — a Network Attached Storage device, or NAS.

Getting to that media easily with other devices means I have to have a something running and acting as a server to manage access to the media. In my case, it’s a small windows based computer that acts as the server.

Or should I say ‘servers’ because to get my media streamed around the house is a feat that requires more than just one piece of software.

ituneslogo.jpgLet’s start with iTunes
I have that running  and sharing its library (which is pointed at the media on the NAS). iTunes allows any other copy of iTunes running on my network (and that I’ve enabled Home Sharing on) to see the shared library and use the media on it.

So now any computer running iTunes can play music from my shared iTunes library. This means my Apple TV (2nd Gen) can see my media library too.

But moving a computer from soundsystem to soundsystem is a little clunky, so read on, gentle reader, read on.

iPad, iPod Touch, iPhone
It’s fairly easy to plug your iDevices into most home sound system these days, so I won’t go into details on that, but that’s how I get the music to the room I want listen in.

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WiFi2HiFi

Now things get a bit more complex. Streaming media to these devices requires another piece of server software running on that server box. And a matching application on the iOS device.

The iDevice is the receiver, and the Server is, erm, the server.

There are currently three solid iOS receiver apps (and matching free server software):

With all three, the basic principal is the same:

1) Point the server software (on the PC) at the directories you want to share with the iOS devices
2) Let the server software build a catalogue

Now things get a bit different
With Air Video and Stream To Me, you just:
3) Point the app (on your iOS device) at your server (usually using an IP address).

If you’re using WiFi2HiFi, it’s easier — you just start the server software, and it automatically detects your iOS device with the app running and streams all your computer’s audio to it. So whatever you’re playing on your computer will be streamed to the iOS device.
4) With Stream-To-Me and Air Video, you have more control. The matching server software lets you view your media libraries and select the media you’d like to stream.

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Stream-To-Me

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Air Video

As of this writing, Air Video only streams video (with on the fly conversion or queued conversion), while Stream-To-Me sends most video and audio formats without conversion.

So depending on your needs, you’ve got hardware and software options for getting your media to you using your existing devices. Very cool, and convenient way to get your stuff to where you are.

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Hardware helps information be free

i1_300.jpgInformation wants to be free, an interesting phrase summing up the concept that technology has the potential to be liberating, rather than oppressing. It was first used in the 1960’s and attributed to the founder of the Whole Earth Catalog.

Today, that phrase is often used to support open file sharing activities. And recently I found two hardware projects that facilitate the ‘freeing of information’.
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Dead Drop
This one hit the news in October of last year. Basically a USB stick stuck in a wall. Hook up your device to it, and check out the contents.

I am ‘injecting’ USB flash drives into walls, buildings and curbs accessible to anybody in public space. You are invited to go to these places (so far 5 in NYC) to drop or find files on a dead drop. Plug your laptop to a wall, house or pole to share your favorite files and data. Each dead drop contains a readme.txt file explaining the project.

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Pirate Box

This one is new. It’s a server, router, and batteries in a portable box.

Using the PirateBox is easy. Simply turn it on and transform any space into a free file sharing network. Users within range of the device can join the PirateBox open wireless network from any wifi-enabled device and begin uploading or downloading files immediately.

Usages
Aside from the obvious, popular, and questionable sharing of copyrighted software or media, how else could these be used? Here’s how.

Let’s say I’m in a moderately popular indiband and I’m looking for ways to get the band in the news, and get our music heard.

i4_300.jpgWhat better, and inexpensive way than to install dead drops (loaded with our band’s tunes, natch) around the major cities that I’m interested in targeting.

Then ‘leak’ the word to our fanbase, tech blogs, boing-boing, and our name is in the news, and our tunes are getting heard.

Or I’m an author and use the Pirate Box to serve out copies of my books to people attending my Book Signing or speaking events.

Or I’m a citizen in a country where the news media is controlled by the state… yes, you can see the potential.

It’s cool to see this kind of tech being developed. The potential uses and real-world impact are as vast as the imagination, beyond sharing the latest Justin Bieber tune to my friends.
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Grocery lists made easy — seriously.

Yes, look at that headline. Grocery lists. In a tech blog. What’s this world coming to.

But yet, if you bear with me for a moment, you’ll understand why this is cool.

You see, if you throw an iPhone or iPod Touch into the mix, you’ll realize that ‘ah, maybe that Brad fellow’s on to something’.

So here’s the deal, for me the iPhone and iPod touch has not excelled at managing and sharing simple lists, like a grocery list. Which store carries what, and oh, is that what it’s really called or did you mean this. Confusion, at least for me, until we picked up (and shared via Apple’s iTunes Home Sharing system) GroceryIQ.

Quite simply, GroceryIQ is a list manager with a few cool bells and whistles:

  • Auto-suggest: Start typing and Grocery iQ will suggest grocery items you can quickly select.
  • Barcode scanning: Take a picture of a barcode with your iPhone camera to add an item to your list.
  • Favorites and History: Add frequently- or previously-purchased items to your list with just a few taps.

Behind the scenes, GroceryIQ relies on a local (to the device) product database as well as updates which are hosted on the mothership – coupons.com.

When you’re building a list, the app often calls home and tries to match the text you’re entering with items it knows about. This is good, because I didn’t know there where quite that many variants on Condensed Milk.

1+1=5
Another cool feature, and this is where it’s neat to have the app running on two devices in the same household. In this case it really does improve the usability of the app when you share it. List sharing – from the FAQ:

You can share your list with multiple people by sending an invitation to sync with them. If anyone with access to the list makes a change to it, everyone’s list will reflect that change. List sharing can be turned off at any time and will not delete or affect existing lists. You can also invite more people to share a list at any time.

So by keeping your lists sync’d up, anyone at the grocery store can easily see what’s missing in the fridge.

And, since the GroceryIQ also allows you to tag items as Favourites, it’s easy to build the list every week with commonly purchased goods.

I know in our household, since we’ve started sharing the list, I’ve had a better success rate at the grocer by having a list that is actually current 🙂

Oh, and this lively little app is only .99 at the iTunes App store.

How to find good music online with social media

In a recent post over at the Future Shop Techblog I started talking about various Internet Radio ‘stations’. Today I realized I didn’t talk about one of my ‘go-to’ online music sources blip.fm

It’s not your average music service.
Blip.fm is a hybrid social media site and music discovery service, focused around the concept of Blips. To quote the FAQ:

What exactly is a ‘blip’?
A blip is a combination of 1) a song and 2) a short message that accompanies it. The way you create a blip is to first search for a song that you want to hear (or a song that you want your listeners to hear), then add a short message (under 150 characters), finally you submit it. Submitting a blip is also referred to as “blipping”, so from here on out, when you read “he blipped my favorite track” it means “he submitted a blip that had my favorite song attached”.

When you join Blip.fm, you assume the role of a DJ, running your own ‘station’ with a playlist. As you explore Blip.fm music, you’ll see that songs were ‘blipped’ by varioius DJs. Check out their playlists (here’s mine).

You’ll see a list of blips that they found interesting, likely from other DJs — a great way to see what tunes they thought were interesting.

Got Props?
If you like a tune you find on the main page, or listen to in someone’s playlist, then give that DJ Props:

What are “Props”?
On Blip.fm props are tokens of respect that can be given from one DJ to another – say for blipping a good song or being a good DJ in general. Everyone starts with 10 credits that they can use to give props to other DJ’s. As you earn props from the community, your props will increase and so will the credits you have to give. 1 props earned = 1 credit in your bank. The number of props you’ve earned can only go up, but the credits you have goes down as you use them throughout the site. Check out our blog entry for a more detailed explanation.

Social Media Integration
Of course, it’s no good to be listening to music without being able to share it. Blip.fm will send your tunes, as you listen to them, to the following Social Media services.

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Friendfeed
  • Tumblr
  • Livejournal
  • Audioscrobbler
  • Ping.fm

In my case, I don’t usually ‘blip’ tunes I’m listening to my followers — it could get annoying after a couple of tunes. But, perhaps in the evening, I’ll feel like going ‘all DJ on my peeps’…hopefully they forgive me in the morning.

So check it out, check out my playlist, and let me know what you think.

I get a new label

The following post is a QuickHit(tm) — an article or post I found online and thought was important enough to share directly with you. Of course, you’ll see my thoughts or opinions prepended or appended to this post, otherwise I’m just scraping content, and that’s not the intent.

According to this article on MarketingDaily, I’m a Techfluential…though I could be a bit ‘old’ 🙂

Technology and electronics marketers may want to begin 2010 targeting a small but influential group of consumers who have some undue weight when it comes to influencing the purchases of others.

According to David Krajicek, managing director of technology with GfK Custom Research North America, this group of “techfluentials” is made up of highly connected individuals (indexing mostly under 30) who like to share their opinions about products that make their lives easier.

Or am I just an opinionated guy that likes to talk tech?

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