RPi resurrection – Pt. III – Plex Media Server

The third good use one could put the Pi to, and use it thoroughly is as a Media Server. And that’s where Plex comes into the picture! I know, it’s nothing new — since probably the inception of RPi, there have been numerous such apps and OSs which have done the same — XBMC ports, Kodi, and likewise. But I have had mixed experiences with them — beyond the initial “aha!”, the experience wasn’t what one could “delightful!” in the long run. I think the biggest hassle for me was loading the media, to start with. This was followed by other aspects, like account management, supported formats (or the lack of it), and what not.

Plex interface on Chrome mobile browser

However, Plex seems to have upped the game several notches. Or maybe the people at Plex know how to impress this Netflix-addicted population — the ones who would want to be stream on any. device, support both app and browser based streaming, continue from where they left off, be able to load media directly, share their (in-house) media server with their friends/family, be able to restrict content per account, etc. (I am sure you see what I did there.)

Again, I will abstain from listing down the installation steps for Plex — there are numerous websites that have those.

Loading the media just requires following a specific and simple directory format. A spare hard disk which could auto-mount could be attached to the RPi for it. Of course, the advantage of using portable media is that one could attach it to any other media source, and directly modify the media to be made available via Plex. Or, for the geeky ones — a cron job could be written to rsync the media over ssh to this Pi.

There is however, restrictions on the “Free lunch”. If one wants to use the Plex client app, one would have to pay a nominal fee. This, of course, enables a host of features not available otherwise.
The “Free” option, of course, is the browser based client, which can do everything that the app can do, albeit at a slightly less of a convenience. I am not complaining, though. ūüėČ

RPi resurrection – Pt. II – NFS

The second good use you could put your Pi, more so if you have unused external HDDs lying around, is to make an NFS out of it! I’ll spare mirroring the details here, there are many good references on how to go about creating a Samba server. For example, this one.

Since my laptop’s storage is limited, oftentimes it started complaining, as soon as any space-consuming operation started. At that point, I often had to make some hard life choices! :), you know, of the “shall I keep the big file or zap it!” kinds.

On top of that, I am not sure about others, I have realised that OSX has made working with an external HDD as painful as possible! A FAT32 formatted HDD takes forever to be recognised! To top it all, there’s that eternal irk of having to “safely removing the drive”. I mean c’mon. Windows has done it — how long will OSX take??

Anyway, so those were the reasons. But, I guess, the basic reason was: because I wanted to. ūüėÄ

Once, your NFS is in the network, on Mac, it’s just a few more steps to make your new storage available, and ready to use!

The HDD did need to be formatted, as the original format of FAT32 did not go too well with the Raspberry Pi OS (erstwhile called Raspbian Buster) — in that the auto-mount used to fail. I formatted it as FAT to keep it OS-neutral, even though there are trade-offs but the benefits outweighed!

So, yes, that it.

RPi resurrection – Pt. I – Pi-hole

Couple months ago, got to know about the Pi-hole project. It’s an ad-block server that can you can configure at the network level. That is, it can be configured as the DNS in your home router.

Of course, the benefit of network-wide ad-blocking is that it does its job in all of your home devices. If however, your router does not allow configuring a DNS — then you’d have to configure the DNS on a per-device level. While it may sound painful, but trust me, it’s worth it!

Thanks to online advertising — reading even a simple news article has become painful. While a lot of people use ad-block plugins, these plugins are, limited to browsers. How do you deal with ads on devices where one does not use the browser — e.g. while playing games, etc? That’s where a network-level ad-blocking gets an upper hand!

Okay, I just realised that I haven’t talked about why is “RPi” there in this post’s title. The thing is, I came across a post on Pi-hole as I was looking for a better (read: any) use for a legacy Pi2 — which was lying about mostly unused — thanks to it being trumped by newer Pis that I got later.

Seems being a Pi-hole server is one of the best uses that I could’ve put it to! The admin console is a rich and responsive UI, which allows your to further tweak the Pi-hole server as per your needs, for example: for explicitly allowing/denying any ad server, blocking specific keywords, etc.

Pi-hole Admin Console

Depending upon your privacy requirements, there’re also options to not log, or enable data masking/anonymise the data that is logged.

Anyway, as Apache Indian would have put it: ‘nuff said! Do go ahead and try it out this amazing project and may you bask in the glory of an ad-free world! And oh, btw, one doesn’t really need a RaspberryPi for Pi-hole — you can potentially install it on anythingandd…there’s a Docker image as well!

Tying snips.ai, Strava & Google Speech Engine

So, this happened a couple months ago, and I had lots of fun doing it (watch the video):

A detailed post would follow. (And yes, as mentioned in the video description, kindly ignore the choice of LED colours :)).

Alexa + Raspberry Pi = Fun!

So, after a week a of grappling, trying to make Alexa AVS¬†work on a humble Raspberry Pi 2 Model B, I finally had success! Yayyy!¬†Now, thus far, the responses I have received on declaring this little victory of mine have been more or less like “meh!”, but still, I write about it because for me the experience was far more satiating.

So here goes.

I was fascinated by Amazon Echo, and the fact that Amazon has thrown open¬†the doors to the developer community to build its (what is known as) skills. Since Echo is not widely available in this part of the world yet, plus, getting an Echo and getting it to work doesn’t sound like ‘fun’; I decided to look for Alexa (soft-) implementations for other platforms.

Continue reading Alexa + Raspberry Pi = Fun!

Adafruit WebIDE

If you’re looking for the best place to start¬†tinkering with a RaspberryPi¬†(RPi)¬†or¬†BeagleBone¬†(BB), I would highly recommend Adafruit’s WebIDE. As the names suggests —¬†it’s a web-based IDE,¬†and facilitates physical programming (for RPi — manipulating the GPIO) on your device.

Picture of Adafruit webIDE in action
Adafruit’s WebIDE for RPi and BB

The installation steps are clearly laid-out, and mostly smooth (for RPi I remember having to take care of a few easy-to-fix issues). Once it’s up and running — it’s a delight to work with!

Here’s a big shout of “Thanks” to Adafruit!

Trysts with a "Legacy" keyboard

Everybody loves mechanical keyboards! Ah! the satisfaction of the “click” on each keypress is indeed alluring. Sorry for sounding more poetic than needed, but, I guess, you get the drag.

In my quest for finding a good, in-house keyboard for the Raspberry Pi * (RPi); I dug into my electronics junk and got hold of my old TVS Gold mechanical keyboard.

TVS Gold Mechanical Keyboard

It might not mean anything to the techies of today, but in our times, early 2000s, it was the keyboard to have. There were of course plenty of soft-touch keyboards (Samsung and the likes), but TVS Gold stood out as being the most reliable, robust and pleasant keyboard to have.

As much as I would have liked to use it, I was taken aback by the discovery that it has a 6-pin serial port interface. That came as a rude shock because I was so looking forward to use it with the RPi. Some googling got me a very discouraging responses like “get a new keyboard man!” from various forums.

However, I have decided not to give up that easily! Various forums and sites also led me to believe, that the biggest bottleneck (pardon the paradox), in using such legacy keyboards via a USB interface is the amount of power they draw. Since I have been (had to be) obsessed with externally powered USB devices (USB hubs), I have decided to give a shot to the probability of powering this keyboard externally.

So, expect a follow-up post soon on how it goes. I so so want to get this working!

* I got my Raspberry Pi a few weeks back and have been mostly involved in finding low-cost solutions to various interfaces for it.

Update: Unfortunately, even with external power supply (5.5V@0.5A), I could not get the keyboard to work with Pi. Once in a while it responds, but, in no way can it be called usable. Damn!