bringing the thinclient back

I had to solve a problem. The problem was that I did not wanted to have the exact same session and screen shared across different work places/locations simultaneously. From looking at the same screen from a different floor to have the option to just walk over to the lab-desk solder some circuits together and have the very same documents opened already and set on the screens over there.

One option was to use a tablet or notebook and carry it around. But this would not solve the need to have the screen content displayed on several screens simultaneously.

Also I did not want to rely on the computing power of a notebook / tablet alone. Of course those would get more powerful over time. But each step would mean I would have to purchase a new one.

Then in a move of desperation I remembered the “old days” when ThinClients used to be the new-kid in town. And then I tried something:

I just recently had moved all house server infrastructure over to Linux and Docker. So what would keep me from utilizing the computing power of that one beefy server in the basement to host all of my desktop needs?

It turns out: Nothing really. Docker is well prepared to host desktop environments. With a bit of tweaking and TigerVNC Xvnc I was able to pre-configure the most current Ubuntu to start my preferred Mate desktop environment in a container and expose it through VNC.

If you wanted to replicate this I would recommend this repository as a starting point.

Even better I found that the RaspberryPi single board computers come with a free pre-licensed and accelerated version of RealVNC.

So I took one of those RaspberryPis, booted up the Raspbian Desktop lite and connected to the dockers VNC port. It all worked just like that.

this is the RaspberryPi client with the windowed docker container VNC session

The screenshot above holds an additional information for you. I wanted sound! Video works smooth up to a certain size of the moving video – after all those RaspberryPis only come with sub Gbit/s wired networking. But to get sound working I had to add some additional steps.

First on the RaspberryPI that you want to output the sound to the speakers you need to install and set-up pulseaudio + paprefs. When you configure it to accept audio over the network you can then configure the client to do so.

In the docker container a simple command would then redirect all audio to the network:

pax11publish -e -S thinclient

Just replace “thinclient” with the ip or hostname of your RaspberryPI. After a restart Chrome started to play audio across the network through the speakers of the ThinClient.

Now all my screens got those RaspberryPIs attached to them and with Docker I can even run as many desktop environments in parallel as I wish. And because VNC does not care about how many connections there are made to one session it means that I can have all workplaces across the house connected to the same screen seeing the same content at the same time.

And yes: The UI and overall feel is silky smooth. And since VNC adapts to some extend to the available bandwidth by changing the quality of the image even across the internet the VNC sessions are very much useable. Given that there’s only 1 port for video and 1 port for audio it’s even possible to tunnel those sessions across to anywhere you might need them.

active noise cancellation does not suck on your eardrums

If you ever traveled on a train or plane with good active noise cancellation headphones you might agree how much more pleasant the trip was with much less noise reaching your ears.

When I tried active noise cancellation for the first time I had that weird sensation as if the pressure around suddenly changed. Like being in a very fast elevator or going for a quick dive. It felt weird but luckily it went away and the aww of joy replaced it. Quietness. Bliss.

Now there seem to be people for whom that feeling won’t go away. They get headaches and cannot stand the feeling when using active noise cancellation.

I’ve never had any explanation to this phenomena – until now. I ran across an article on SoundStage describing that in fact the feeling is not caused by actual changes of pressure but…

According to the engineer, eardrum suck, while it feels like a quick change in pressure, is psychosomatic. “There’s no actual pressure change. It’s caused by a disruption in the balance of sound you’re used to hearing,” he explained. 

eardrum suck – the mystery solved

Aha! The brain gets confused by signals reaching your ears that naturally would not exists. Those signals make no sense so the brain tries to make sense of it. And voilá something is sucking your ear drum!

Apple Airplay for SONOS (in Docker)

We’ve got a couple of SONOS based multi-room-audio zones in our house and with the newest generation of SONOS speakers you can get Apple Airplay. Fancy!

But the older hardware does not support Apple Airplay due to it’s limiting hardware. This is too bad.

So once again Docker and OpenSource + Reverse-Engineering come to the rescue.

AirConnect is a small but fancy tool that bridges SONOS and Chromecast to Airplay effortlessly. Just start and be done.

It works a treat and all of a sudden all those SONOS zones become Airplay devices.

There is also a nice dockerized version that I am using.

The band bis is back!

One of the great pop bands of my youth are back in business and they are going to release a new album after a (too) long while! I’ve written about them in the past here and here and here…

That’s really good news for the start of the year and in fact the first new song they released today comes with good vibes end-to-end!

“2018 sees the band finally back in the studio and signed to homegrown label Last Night From Glasgow. With new songs slowly creeping into the live set and becoming fans favourites in waiting, the infamous punk/disco heartbeat may be due another lease of life yet.”

Of course todays new pop songs need a fancy new video:

use case #3 – sonos auto bookmarker for audiobooks and podcasts

So you’re listening to this audio book for a while now, it’s quite long but really thrilling. In fact it’s too long for you to go through in one sitting. So you pause it and eventually listen to it on multiple devices.

We’ve got SONOS in our house and we’re using it extensively. Nice thing, all that connected goodness. It’s just short of some smart features. Like remembering where you paused and resuming a long audio book at the exact position you stopped the last time. Everytime you would play a different title it would reset the play-position and not remember where you where.

With some simple steps the house will know the state of all players it has. Not only SONOS but maybe also your VCR or Mediacenter (later use-case coming up!).

Putting together the strings and you get this:

Whenever there’s a title being played longer than 10 minutes and it’s paused or stopped the smart house will remember who, where and what has been played and the position you’ve been at.

Whenever that person then is resuming playback the house will know where to seek to. It’ll resume playback, on any system that is supported at that exact position.

Makes listening to these things just so much easier.

Bonus points for a mobile app that does the same thing but just on your phone. Park the car, go into the house, audiobook will continue playback, just now in the house instead of the car. The data is there, why not make use of it?

p.s.: big part of that I’ve opensourced years ago: https://github.com/bietiekay/sonos-auto-bookmarker

using the RaspberryPi to make all SONOS speakers support Apple Airplay

Airplay allows you to conveniently play music and videos over the air from your iOS or Mac OS X devices on remote speakers.

Since we just recently “migrated” almost all audio equipment in the house to SONOS multi-room audio we were missing a bit the convenience of just pushing a button on the iPad or iPhones to stream audio from those devices inside the household.

To retrofit the Airplay functionality there are two options I know of:

1: Get Airplay compatible hardware and connect it to a SONOS Input.

airportexpress_2012_back-285111You have to get Airplay hardware (like the Airport Express/Extreme,…) and attach it physically to one of the inputs of your SONOS Set-Up.  Typically you will need a SONOS Play:5 which has an analog input jack.

PLAY5_back

2: Set-Up a RaspberryPi with NodeJS + AirSonos as a software-only solution

You will need a stock RaspberryPi online in your home network. Of course this can run on virtually any other device or hardware that can run NodeJS. For the Pi setting it up is a fairly straight-forward process:

You start with a vanilla Raspbian Image. Update everything with:

sudo apt-get update

sudo apt-get upgrade

Then install NodeJS according to this short tutorial. To set-up the AirSonos software you will need to install additional avahi software. Especially this was needed for my install:

sudo apt-get install git-all libavahi-compat-libdnssd-dev

You then need to get the AirSonos software:

sudo npm install airsonos -g

After some minutes of wait time and hard work by the Pi you will be able to start AirSonos.

sudo airsonos

And it’ll come up with an enumeration of all active rooms.

Screen Shot 2014-06-25 at 11.38.47

And on all your devices it’ll show up like this:

IMG_1046

and

Screen Shot 2014-06-25 at 12.38.27

 

Source: https://github.com/stephen/airsonos

I give you: the SONOS Audiobook / Podcast Auto Bookmarker – never lose your Listening Progress again…

Since the SONOS system I’ve bought turned out to be highly hackable I’ve spent some quality-time this weekend fixing the worst downside I’ve found so far that the SONOS system had for me

I am listening to a lot of Podcasts and Audiobooks. And it turns out that those two Genre are not particularly good supported by SONOS. When you’re listening to a 4 hour podcast and you stop it to play a song in between (since you stretch the listening of that podcast to several days) the next time you start that 4 hour podcast the SONOS system did not remember the position that you stopped at the last time and restarts the podcast from the beginning.

If you did not remember where you left of the last time, you’re lost. The same goes for Audiobooks.

Now this is the first feature I am teaching my SONOS system. And I am opensourcing it so you can do it as well.

SONOS Auto Bookmark Tool

Everything you need can be run on a RaspberryPi:

  1. You need NodeJS and node-sonos-http-api installed and running.
  2. You need MONO and sonos-auto-bookmarker (change the configuration.json file in bin/Debug after you xbuilded the .sln file)

Now the Auto Bookmarker Tool will, with the help of the sonos-http-api, monitor your household and whenever something longer than 10 minutes is played and stopped it bookmarks the last played position. Whenever you restart that track it will then seek to the last known position automatically.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eqk3SyNv8sE[/youtube]

Source 1: https://github.com/bietiekay/sonos-auto-bookmarker

Let the SONOS hacking begin!

I always wanted a networked multi-room audio solution as you can easily see here and here and here and here. Now it seems I’ve finally found something that integrates very well into our music listening habits and our infrastructure. And on top of that it turned out to be highly hackable.

I’ve went with SONOS for that multi-room solution. After trying two speakers for two rooms I’ve invested the budget into the full-house solution (not all speakers on below picture). And finally everything is as I always wanted.

Be warned: If you buy one speaker, you will definitly buy more.

IMG_0367

So what’s in those boxes? Besides beautiful and high-quality speakers there’s a 250 Mhz linux powered computer inside each speaker. It got 64Mbytes of memory and wireless adapters to span it’s own wireless mesh network (hidden by default).

Each speaker on it’s own can be controlled and accessed through the SONOS controller applications (Windows/Mac/iOS/Android) or through several tools that open up new possibilities.

Screen Shot 2014-03-22 at 17.52.10

There will be more articles coming on the topic of hacking SONOS, adding functionality and using it for things not officially planned for by the manufacturer. Joy!

Update:

Source 1: http://splok.org/sonos_interface