1302 – Things Goin’ On

It’s Friday, I’m on the train to Carinthia, and here is one more bike.

You may remember, I’ve decided to stop buying plastic. If at all possible I buy my music in the form of digital downloads now. Why not? The first thing after I got a CD was ripping it anyway. For years now I’ve heard my music almost only at the computer. Almost. With one exception: When I have guests in Vienna, we normally sit in the kitchen, cook, eat talk and hear music. I have a NAD amplifier, a pair of small Linn speakers and a portably Sony CD player there, a setup that’s absolutely enough for my aging ears.

You see, I have a kitchen problem. How can I hear digital downloads in the kitchen? I tried to re-activate my iAudio X5 60GB portable audio player, but not having used it for more than two years seems to have completely ruined its battery. Well, I have stopped using it on my way to work when I began photographing, and with its 60GB it would be much too small for my collection anyway.

The solution that I finally tried is the Logitech Squeezebox Touch, a small but surprisingly heavy gadget consisting basically of a touch screen with all kinds of plugs on the backside, a remote control, a small mains adapter and a cable for connecting it to my amplifier.

The device can play MP3, OGG, FLAC and a couple of other formats that I don’t use, and it can get the music via WiFi or Ethernet from the Internet or from my computer, from a USB storage device and even from an SD card. Of course I use WiFi to stream it from the computer in the living room.

What’s so special with this device you ask? Well, it works. It is simple. It is very, very usable, even with a collection of 35.000 tracks. It is fast. Browsing through my collection is not only perfectly possible, it’s actually fun. Honestly, I didn’t expect that. I expected all kinds of compromises, but this thing is just perfect.

When I opened the box, I first searched for the CD, but there was none. The manual advised me to download the software from www.mysqueezebox.com which I did. Hmm … if I think of it, that’s what I would have done anyway. I rarely install from a CD that comes with a new product. Normally there is an updated version on the web site.

After installing the software on Windows 7, I had to configure the location of the music library and the name of the account for the automatic start of the service at boot time. The info tab in the Squeezebox control panel told me about the port numbers used, and I made exceptions in my firewall configuration for these three ports, allowing access from my local network. At that time the Squeezebox server software was already busy scanning my collection, a process that took maybe ten minutes.

In the meantime I went into the kitchen, plugged the player to the tuner input of the amplifier, connected it to the power supply and it booted.

First it asked if I was ready to connect it to a network. I chose wireless, selected my network from a list of networks that it automatically found within a second, entered the encryption pass phrase on a quite usable keyboard that popped up on the screen, and then it was connected. Next it checked for a software update, found one, downloaded and installed it, and after a reboot it was ready. When I chose “My Music” from the main menu, it had already found my server. Now tell me, is that painless?

Of course there’s more to it. After all, this is a small computer, connected to the Internet. It can run a couple of so-called Apps, one of them allowing to view Flickr images, one that allows me to see the feed from my Facebook wall, it can connect to Last.fm, can tune in to Internet radio stations and probably much more. Oh, and when I turn it off, the display acts as a digital clock. Pretty sweet, huh?

Well, that was yesterday. Today, here on the train, I acquired and installed the new Topaz Denoise 4 Photoshop plugin. I didn’t even bother to try it, so impressed have I been with their recent product Topaz Detail.

I’ve done some quick tests, compared it to Noise Ninja, and although the promise that it makes ISO 1600 just as noise-free as ISO 100 is obvious marketing nonsense, it really seems to be better than Noise Ninja. Probably not by a big margin, but at least a bit. I can’t say anything decisive now, but that’s the first impression. You’ll hear more about it as I learn it 🙂

The Song of the Day is “Things Goin’ On” from Lynyrd Skynyrd’s 1973 self-titled debut album. Great music, hear it on YouTube.

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