Amazon Music

Now that I have an Amazon Echo in the house, I wanted to be able to play my music collection by just asking Alexa to do it. Since the Echo relies on the cloud, it can only play local music when it’s paired to a device as a speaker. So I could pair my iPhone or PC to it and play music from iTunes, but that’s so … manual! In order to say “Alexa, play some Oingo Boingo” and have her look at my own tracks instead of what’s available for free on Prime Music, those music files needed to be in Amazon’s cloud so I decided to try Amazon Music.

Prime subscribers can upload up to 250 tracks to their Amazon Music library for free, but I have about 20x that many songs so I paid the $24.99 for a year of the service, which increases the limit to 250,000 songs (a lot more than I have). This is in line with what Apple charges for iTunes Match but Google Music (which I’ve been using as just another cloud backup for my music library) is free up to 50,000 tracks. The Echo doesn’t work with Google Music though, obviously, as Amazon wants to keep you in their ecosystem, so I paid for the subscription, downloaded the app, and started uploading my library.

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TiVo Bolt

TiVo BoltIt’s been three years since I bought my last TiVo and now that I have a 4K TV I wanted to be able to watch some 4K content. Despite Rovi’s purchase of TiVo and the uncertainty of the future of the hardware business, I purchased TiVo’s latest Series6 model, the TiVo Bolt UES (Unified Entertainment System).

I went with the smaller (500gb for 75 HD hours) hard drive model because in retrospect, my six tuner, 3TB Roamio Pro seemed to be overkill for my needs: even with two Minis in the house I didn’t see a lot of tuner contention and that DVR’s hard drive hardly went above 20% utilization. Hard drive upgrades are pretty simple, though, should I need to expand the Bolt’s recording capacity. This is also the first TiVo I’ve owned since my original Series2 boxes that I haven’t purchased the lifetime service plan for. Instead, I went with the annual fee, figuring this would make it financially easier to replace the box in the next few years if something goes wrong with it (lifetimed units aren’t eligible for the Continual Care Warranty), or a newer, better model comes out (despite the Rovi’s ownership) and I want to upgrade.

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Amazon Echo

Amazon EchoFor Father’s Day I got an Amazon Echo, Amazon’s voice-activated smart home speaker. You may know it (her?) as Alexa. If you’ve followed the blog, or even just glanced at it, you know I love tech gadgets and am also no stranger to dabbling in home automation so the Echo has been a fun toy to play with so far.

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Time to update that graphic … Cavs win!

Tears. Cleveland is used to that, although for 52 years they’ve been salty. The sports history in that town is more than ready to welcome a new addition. From The Fumble to The Drive to The Shot, there is finally something to hug: The Championship.

Unbelievable. For the first time in franchise history, the Cleveland Cavaliers are NBA Champions, defeating the Golden State Warriors 93-89 in Game 7 (the first time in NBA history a team has come back from being down 3 games to 1 to win it all). Finally the networks can update this graphic I seem to see every year one of our teams is in the playoffs:

Cleveland Sports

Now they can finish “Believeland.” Congratulations, Cavs, and thank you!

Netgear GSS108E managed click switch

Netgear GSS108ELast week at work we received a pair of Netgear ProSafe gigabit managed click switches (the 8-port GSS108E and 16-port GSS116E) to outfit a conference room. I was impressed with the mounting options and after seeing the 8-port one was less than $50 on Amazon, I decided to get one for my home office.

The GSS108E replaced a TRENDnet TEG-S80g (a sturdy metal, 8-port gigabit switch), which I had sitting on top of my standing desk. The click switch can be mounted in four different ways, and the power cable attaches in two different ways to accommodate most installations. I attached the plastic mounting plate to the underside of my desk (with the included screws but opted not to use the additional adhesive pads), clicked the switch onto the plate, and then re-ran my cabling. The result is a cleaner desktop and some extra USB charging ports easily accessible under the desk. Unfortunately in this position the labels on the ports are upside down, which seems like a slight design oversight.

The plastic GSS108E and metal GSS116E are managed switches, so you can log into their web interfaces and do some basic configuration like setting up VLANs, enabling QoS, configuring mirror ports, performing cable tests, or turning off the LEDs. Not features I need in my home office but not bad for a sub-$50 piece of hardware.

Samsung UN50JS7000 50″ LED 4K SUHD TV

Samsung UN50JS7000After over 11 years of faithful service as our primary family room TV, my 42″ Panasonic plasma died last week. Time to do some TV shopping!

It’s hard to believe we’ve been using an ED (that’s right, 480P) television as our workhorse display for the past 11 years. When we bought it, we couldn’t quite afford the hefty price tag of the new HDTVs. My priorities at the time were lots of jacks (composite, component, HDMI, etc.) and the CableCARD slot for future digital cable. Over the years I’ve had all sorts of equipment connected to the TV (VCR, DVD changer, DVD burner, Wii, multiple TiVos, etc.) but never actually used the CableCARD slot (thanks to my first HD TiVo in 2006).

While connections are still important, my setup is now significantly simpler: the only thing I have connected to the TV is the TiVo Roamio Pro (via a single HDMI cable) and an optical audio cable to the receiver (which is 16 years old and still kicking!). So my priorities this time around were picture quality, size (the TV needs to fit in some built-in shelving), and miscellaneous extras like network connectivity, Bluetooth, etc.

After doing all of my normal Consumer Reports research, reading internet reviews, and doing price comparisons, I selected the 50″ Samsung UN50JS7000 (the 55″ model was unfortunately just a smidge too tall to fit in my cabinet) and picked it up a at local Best Buy (who also took care of recycling my old plasma for $25).

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eXamining the Xenial Xerus

Ah, April. The Stanley Cup Finals have started and my Tampa Bay Lightning have already advanced to round 2. The NBA Finals have also started and my Cleveland Cavaliers are looking to sweep the Pistons on Sunday and move on to the conference semi-finals. We’re about a month into the new baseball season and both my Rays and Indians are off to slow starts. The NFL draft starts in a few days, which mean new hopes for the Browns (including RG3) and Bucs.

Besides the confluence of sporting events, though, April means a new Ubuntu release! 16.04 LTS, Xenial Xerus arrived this past week and per my usual, I proceeded to immediately upgrade my server.

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Let’s Encrypt! Switching to HTTPS …

Let's Encrypt SSLYou may notice something different about ‘chmod 644’ today … a green HTTPS padlock in your browser’s address bar. That’s because my domain is now using an SSL certificate from Let’s Encrypt.

The Let’s Encrypt project is a certificate authority (CA) that aims to bring free and open encryption to the web. I first heard about it back in 2014 on episode #483 of Steve Gibson’s Security Now! podcast. The project went into public beta in December 2015 and at the time I played around with generating a certificate but then got busy and never ended up actually using it. Certificates issued by Let’s Encrypt need to be renewed every 90 days so in early March (shortly after the 1 millionth certificate was issued) I received a notification that it was going to expire and, since I still didn’t have the time to properly implement SSL, I just let it.

Finally, the other week, I had some time and decided to give it another go, starting from scratch.

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