I finally broke down and bought myself a pair of AirPods yesterday. I didn’t get the fancy new AirPods Pro, just the regular AirPods, with the regular case (not the wireless charging case). They were on sale for $140 at Costco. I’ve considered picking up a pair a few times over the last year, but never quite talked myself into it. But I’ve been reading and watching a bunch of headphone reviews recently, and stopped at the Apple Store over the weekend to try out both the older AirPods and the newer AirPods Pro. The “Pro” model didn’t fit my ears well, though I only tried the medium tips. But it was the kind of thing where I was pretty sure that none of the tips was going to be quite right. (And I didn’t want to pay $300 either.)

The AirPods don’t fit my ears that well either, honestly, but they’re good enough. My “use case” for them will probably be for listening to music at my desk at work, podcasts and audiobooks at home, and maybe podcasts & music on the train occasionally. So I’ll usually be fairly stationary when I’m using them. Still, I may pick up a pair of these tips from Comply or these Earhoox things to get a better fit.

I had a lot of resistance to adding a new battery-powered device to my life. I feel like I have too many of those already. I had a lot of resistance to the Apple Watch for that reason too, but I’ve really gotten to like the watch. I suppose I’ll get used to the AirPods too. I plan on charging them right next to the Watch, on my computer desk, overnight. I had to buy a new two-port USB charger so I could do that, since I didn’t have a spare AC outlet near there. (And the AirPods don’t ship with an AC adapter anyway, just a Lightning/USB cable.)

I used the AirPods a bit at work today, and they worked well. The sound quality is similar to the old Sony earbuds that I’ve been using at work, but maybe a little better on the bass end. I listened to some rock, classical, and ambient music today, and they sounded fine on all of that. The ambient music sounded best, probably because it had the most bass. The classical (some Itzhak Perlman Mozart stuff) was not terribly impressive, but I wouldn’t expect it to be. You need good headphones or speakers to really get the full effect from something like that.

There are a few semi-interesting things that you can do with the AirPods that you can’t necessarily do with other headphones. I played around with Live Listen for a bit yesterday, and I’m curious to play with that some more. I do have some problems hearing, and I feel like that might help me out in certain circumstances.

I’m also curious to try them with my Apple TV. I do sometimes use headphones while I’m watching TV, but the way I do it now is a little inconvenient. (I’m using wired headphones connected to my stereo receiver.) I’m curious to see how the AirPods would work when watching a movie on Apple TV.

I haven’t used them for a phone call yet, but I’ll try that at some point. And I need to look at the Apple documentation to see if there’s anything else I can do with them that might be worth trying.

Overall, they’re fine, but they’re not life-changing, and I’m not sure they’re really worth more than $100. (But hey, what else am I going to spend my money on?)

2018 reading goals

I’ve been thinking about my habits around book-reading, and reading in general, lately, since it’s the start of a new year. As I mentioned in my New Year’s post, I completed my Goodreads challenge last year, reading over 100 books, though most of them were comic book collections. So far this year, I’ve completed 5 books: one audio drama, and four manga volumes. So I’m not patting myself on the back yet. I’m definitely on a manga kick right now, so this year’s reading may be pretty manga-heavy.

I just finished reading an old New Yorker article about a guy who was in prison for ten years, and used the time to read 1046 books. Not to be overly dramatic, but I feel a little like I’m in prison today; it’s so cold out that it’s really not a good idea to go outside for anything that’s not completely necessary. (So far, I’ve only left the apartment to take out my garbage, and that was pretty painful.) It’s a really fun article, one that I bookmarked a couple of years ago and just rediscovered via my attempt to clean up my bookmarks (see previous post), so that effort hasn’t been entirely pointless.

I also recently learned of the 52book subreddit, which is all about the idea of challenging yourself to read a book a week for the year. I can definitely do that, if comic books count. Otherwise, I think I’d have to be in prison or at least unemployed to manage a reasonably-long novel or non-fiction book a week.

I spent a little time organizing my audiobook “library” a bit more this weekend. I have several that I bought from Audible, several from Apple, a bunch from Humble Bundles, and some random ones I bought on CDs and ripped; I haven’t really been doing a great job of keeping track of them all. (In fact, I seem to have two copies of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere: one on CD and one from Audible.) I’d like to get a bit more into audiobooks and audio dramas this year, mostly due to issues with my tired old eyes making it hard for me to read at night.

I’m also trying to start up a meditation habit this year, so let’s see where any of this goes. It may all go out the window if it warms up and I can actually get out and do stuff outside again.

Super-Fast Podcasts

I like this article on People Who Listen to Podcasts at Super-Fast Speeds from BuzzFeed. Mostly, I like the fact that I haven’t fallen down the hole of feeling like I need to listen to podcasts at 10x speed or whatever, like these folks. I’m perfectly fine listening to them at 1x, and allowing Overcast to delete old episodes from my iPhone, even if I haven’t listened to them yet.

In the old days, I used to let podcast episodes pile up on my Mac, and I’d let myself feel a little bad if I didn’t keep up with them. Nowadays, I just have Overcast set up to keep the most recent 5 (or, for some podcasts, 10) episodes. If a new one comes out, and I haven’t listened to the oldest one yet, it just gets deleted regardless.

And I do sometimes use Overcast’s “Smart Speed” feature, which will generally speed things up to 1.1x or 1.2x without it being really noticeable. But, if I’m listening to, for instance, Judge John Hodgman, I usually don’t bother with Smart Speed, since I’m listening to stuff like that largely to relax, so it doesn’t make any difference if I get through an hour-long episode in 50 minutes or 60 minutes. (And I can relax a bit better if people aren’t talking too fast.)

I do sometimes wish I could jam more episodes of .NET Rocks into my head at a faster pace. There’s a lot of good stuff on that show, and it comes out 2 or 3 times a week. I wind up skipping a lot of episodes. Listening to it at  high-speed would, I think, just result in me understanding even less of it than I do now, so I’m sticking with regular speed on that one.

AD&D games and Doctor Who audio

I’ve blogged about AD&D gold box games a couple of times in the past. I finally got around to buying a bunch of them from GOG last week, when they had some game bundles on sale for 50% off. So I only spent $10 and got about a dozen games.

The last thing I bought from GOG was Neverwinter Nights, which I started playing over this summer, but got sidetracked from at some point. I haven’t played it in more than a month (though I do really want to get back to it).

So I’m probably not going to actually play any of those gold box games any time soon. But that’s OK. They’re DRM-free and multi-platform, so they’ll be there whenever I get around to it. And they include PDF files of all the cool extras that came with these games, so I’ll have some fun browsing through them at some point. It’ll bring back some fun memories.

I’ve also recently started listening to Big Finish’s Doctor Who audio dramas again. I hadn’t really listened to any of them at all this year, so it’s fun to get back into those. I’ve still got 4 or 5 of them that I haven’t listened to yet, so I’m in no danger of running out. But they had a Halloween sale this weekend, so I went ahead and bought one more: a box set of Fourth Doctor “lost stories.” I haven’t listened to any of Big Finish’s Tom Baker stuff at all, so I’m looking forward to that.

So I’ve got plenty of nerdy entertainment options to get me through the fall and winter!

Audible Channels

I’ve never had a subscription to Audible, but I have a few books in my Audible account that I’ve gotten for free over the years. I saw that the audiobook for Mike Carey’s The Girl with All the Gifts was on sale for $3.95 yesterday, and it looked interesting, so I went ahead and bought it. I’ve read and enjoyed other stuff by Mike Carey, and this book seems to be well-reviewed, so I’m hoping it will be good. I usually try to buy audiobooks only if I can get them in DRM-free format, either on CD or as MP3s, but I’ll buy a DRM’d audiobook if it’s cheap enough.

After buying it, I opened up the Audible app on my iPhone, with the idea that maybe I’d go ahead and download it. It wasn’t logged in to my account, and I get the feeling that I hadn’t actually launched Audible since getting my iPhone SE earlier this year. That’s not surprising, since I haven’t been listening to any audiobooks lately.

After I logged in, I got a popup screen, letting me know about Audible Channels for Prime, a free service from Audible that lets Amazon Prime members stream and download a bunch of podcast-like material. There are some original series on there that look interesting (including stuff from Jon Ronson and Eugene Mirman), along with some stuff that’s already available elsewhere (including most of the podcasts from WNYC). I don’t think I’d want to use the Audible app to listen to podcasts that I can get elsewhere; as an app, it’s not going to be nearly as good as Overcast. But the original content looks like it’ll be worth delving into.

They’re also making a limited number of audiobooks free for Prime members, but they’re streaming-only and can’t be downloaded. There’s not much there, but there are a few interesting books that I wouldn’t mind listening to.

Poking around in my Audible account reminded me that I never finished listening to Metatropolis, which I got for free from Audible back in 2010. I remember that I’d listened to the first two of the five stories in that book, so I started in on the third last night.

I may start listening to more audiobooks and audio dramas again. It’s a good change of pace from reading regular books (both print and ebooks), and it’s much easier on the eyes.

playing with Volumio and organizing my music

Without really intending to, I would up spending a bunch of time today organizing my music collection and copying stuff over to my little Volumio box. I set up Volumio about a year ago, and still haven’t quite finished copying music over to it. But I’m now all the way through to the letter “P”, so that’s pretty good. I don’t use the thing too often, but I use it enough to justify the time I spent setting it up, I think.

My adventures today started out with a desire to listen to the Gorillaz album Plastic Beach last night. I was pretty sure I had it on CD, but I couldn’t find it anywhere, nor did I have it ripped on my Mac or PC. After spending too much time looking around for it this morning, I decided to just buy a new copy of the CD. So I wouldn’t have two copies of exactly the same thing, I bought a used copy of the “experience edition” version on eBay, which should include a bonus DVD. (I’m really not sure if I ever actually had a copy, but I think I did.)

That got me interested in getting back to organizing my MP3s and CDs a bit more, and copying more stuff over to the Volumio box. I got through the letters “O” and “P” today. There’s wasn’t much under “O”, but there was a lot under “P”, including Paul McCartney, Pink Floyd, and Phish!

My McCartney collection was a little disorganized, so I tried to fix that up. I found that I had exactly one song in there that was a DRM’d iTunes file. I thought I had replaced all of those with the DRM-free versions quite some time ago, but I guess I missed this one somehow. Normally, this wouldn’t bug me at all, since I can listen to it on my Mac, PC, and iPhone, no problem. But Volumio, of course, can’t handle DRM’d files. There’s supposed to be a way now to delete and re-download a track in iTunes, in such a way that you replace the DRM’d file with a DRM-free version. But I couldn’t get that to work. I just kept getting the same DRM’d file. I thought about just buying a new MP3 copy of the song from Amazon for $1.29, but decided to just live with it for now. I get the feeling that it’s going to bug me enough that I’ll eventually do something about it, though I’m not sure what.

And, when I got to Phish, I remembered that I had a copy of the Live Phish 01 two-CD set that got ruined by spending too much time in the trunk of my car. The “Live Phish” series of CDs were packaged in a weird way; the CDs are in a folded plastic page that can be inserted in a binder. It’s kind of nifty, but if you leave it in the heat for too long, the plastic melts a bit and adheres to the CDs, rendering them useless. And I’d never ripped those CDs. So, today, I decided to just go ahead and buy the FLACs for that concert from So now I have those CDs back, but in FLAC form. And FLACs play fine through Volumio, so that’s good. (I’m listening to it right now, and it sounds nice.) If I want to listen to it in my car, though, I need to figure out how to press FLACs to CD, or convert them to MP3 or something like that. It’s been a while since I was on a FLAC kick. I did a little research on that, to refresh my memory, but decided that I didn’t want to go too far down that particular rabbit hole today. Maybe tomorrow!


I listen to a lot of podcasts these days, and I’ve noticed that I’ve changed a few things up recently, so I thought I’d write up a blog post.

First, I’m still using Overcast. I switched to that, from Instacast, when that app/service shut down a while back. Marco Arment released a new version of Overcast just recently and wrote a blog post about it. He’s obviously the kind of guy that cares about what he’s doing, and it shows in the finished product. It’s easy to use and reliable. One of the interesting things he recently added to the app is the ability to upload files for personal use. This feature is only available to “patrons” who pay a modest recurring fee. I’m currently using Huffduffer to do something like this, so I don’t really need this feature, and I haven’t set myself up as a “patron” for Overcast, though I might do it at some point. (I had paid for Overcast back before he discontinued the paid version and made all features free, so I don’t feel like a freeloader or anything.)

In terms of podcasts I’m following regularly, I’ve added a few new ones recently, and also dropped a few. And I’m thinking about dropping some others.

For tech/programming podcasts, I still subscribe to .NET Rocks, Hanselminutes, and Mac Power Users. Hanselminutes is interesting most of the time, and is a weekly, 30-minute show, so it’s not hard to keep up with.

.NET Rocks (DNR) is about an hour long, and comes out three times a week now, so it’s a bit harder to keep up with. The way I have Overcast set up, I keep only the five most recent episodes of any podcast, and I’m often about three weeks behind, so this means that DNR episodes often drop off before I’ve listened to them. And if I didn’t cull some out, or rearrange them in my playlist occasionally, none of them would ever make it to the top of my playlist. Luckily, a lot of recent DNR episodes have been covering stuff that I’m not that interested in, so it’s easy to skip those. The “geek out” episodes that they do periodically, though, are really great, so I’d keep subscribing to DNR just for those, even if none of the other episodes were interesting to me. What I’ve been doing is occasionally deleting episodes that don’t look interesting, and/or rearranging my playlist to move the “geek out” episodes up.

Mac Power Users (MPU) is weekly, but is generally around 90 minutes long, so that one is also a bit hard to keep up with. I enjoy MPU, and have gotten a lot out of it, but I’m finding that, after listening to it for several months now, I’m not always getting a lot of new information from it. So this is another one where I’ll skip shows occasionally. I might even drop my subscription to it for awhile, then maybe come back and give it another try in six months.

Long ago, I used to listen to a number of music podcasts. Most of them went away some time ago, and I didn’t really replace them with any new ones, so I haven’t had many music podcasts to listen to lately, and I’m trying to address that.

My favorite music podcast, from way back, was Insomnia Radio (IR). This was a great show that stopped releasing new episodes several years ago. The main show spawned several spin-off shows, but I never followed any of those. I recently visited the old IR website, to see what was up, and was pleasantly surprised to see that the IR UK show was still up and running. But it doesn’t seem to be releasing on a terribly regular schedule. I added a subscription to it in Overcast, so it’ll be there whenever it does update. And the main IR show has been resurrected, though there’s only been one new show, posted in February, and nothing since, so who knows if Jason will do any more, but I’m definitely hoping that he will. IR also does a “daily dose” show that’s just a single song. I don’t currently subscribe to that, but I should add it, since that feed is still pretty active.

I’m also still subscribing to Warren Ellis’ SPEKTRMODULE, which is released only sporadically. (Only one show has been released in 2016 so far.) But it’s a cool podcast, though infrequent.

And I subscribe to The Many Moods of Ben Vaughn, which still comes out weekly, and is always worth listening to.

For humor podcasts, I subscribe to Judge John Hodgman, which is great. It comes out pretty consistently, once a week, and is always fun to listen to. I also subscribe to The Bugle, but that podcast went on hiatus a while back. They did a new one recently, and will hopefully do them more regularly this year, but who knows. I think they’re shooting for one a month.

For “miscellaneous” podcasts, I’m still subscribed to StarTalk with Neil deGrasse Tyson. That’s still a lot of fun, but many of the episodes recently have just been the audio portion of the National Geographic TV show, so I generally delete them, since I’ve already seen the show on TV. And a lot of them are rebroadcasts of old shows, so I will often delete those too, if I’ve already heard them.

I’ve recently added a number of NPR podcasts. Note To Self is a pretty good one. It’s usually weekly, and 15 minutes long, so it’s easy to keep up with. It’s a tech podcast, but with a different angle than most other tech podcasts.

I’m also listening to Planet Money now. This one is also really good. Most shows are about a half-hour long, and are very well-researched, well-written, and well-produced. They generally do a deep dive into an obscure financial topic that illuminates something that’s important, but maybe not well-understood.

And I just added Pop Culture Happy Hour. I haven’t actually listened to any of those yet, but it looks interesting. So that’s enough NPR stuff that I’ve grouped them all into an NPR playlist in Overcast.

So I guess now I have a nice broad selection of interesting podcasts to listen to, whenever I’m in the car, or looking to listen to something before bed, or whenever. And I have separate playlists for tech, music, humor, and NPR podcasts set up, so I can switch between them depending on my mood.

HiFiBerry DAC and Volumio setup

My HiFiBerry DAC arrived from Switzerland yesterday. (Amazing how fast something can get from Switzerland to NJ for only $11.) I took my Raspberry Pi out of the old case, plugged the DAC into it (and screwed everything together) and put the whole thing into the new case. Getting Volumio to use the DAC was easy; it’s just a selection from a drop-down menu under the settings page.

The new case is a nifty little snap-together thing made out of transparent plastic. (A small part of it cracked off while I was putting it together, but it’s fine.) I’m not hearing a huge difference in sound quality compared to using the headphone jack on the Pi, but I think I can detect some difference. (It might just be my imagination though.) Keep in mind that I don’t have a terribly high-end setup, so “your mileage may vary” as the saying goes. Also, I haven’t tried any lossless files yet, just regular MP3s and AACs.

And I got a 128GB USB thumb drive from Amazon, which is now plugged into the Pi, in place of the 32GB drive I was previously using. I’m going through my music collection alphabetically, and copying selected stuff over to it. I’ve done A through H now, and still have plenty of space left.

So I think I may have hit on a good working setup for this thing now. It’s relatively convenient to use, sounds good, and doesn’t take up much space, make any noise, or use much power.

playing with Volumio

I’ve made some progress with Volumio, and I’m having fun with it, so I thought I’d write a follow-up to my previous post.

The DAC that I ordered from HiFiBerry has shipped, but it turns out they’re in Switzerland, so it’s going to take a while to get here. (I’d have know that if I’d read their about page.) So I’ve decided to go ahead and start using the Pi as-is, through the headphone jack. Sound quality is OK, but I’m hoping the DAC improves it.

I’ve installed MPoD on my iPhone, and I think that’s the best way to control Volumio, though it doesn’t let you start a web radio station; it’s just good for your local music. But it’s much better for navigating my music collection than the Volumio web interface. I may mess around with other MPD clients at some point, and see if I can find a good one for Mac and/or Windows, but I’m fine with just MPoD for now.

I’m still not sure how I want to hook up my music collection to the Pi, but for now, I’m using a 32 GB USB thumb drive. As of this morning, I’ve copied over about 6GB worth of music, which is enough to mess around with, but not really a significant portion of my collection. Yesterday, I saw a 128 GB thumb drive on sale for $30, so maybe that’s the way to go.

I wasn’t initially that interested in the web radio functionality of Volumio, but I think it might come in handy. Where I live, I don’t have much luck receiving radio signals (too far from both New York and Philly), so I don’t listen to much radio at home. But, if I can get a few interesting stations set up, maybe that will be useful. Volumio ships with a bunch of stations already set up, but around half of them don’t work. I figured out enough to add a couple of stations on my own, but I only got one working, WXPN, which is a Philly station that I can usually pick up on my stereo, but not always. I’ve also tried getting WQXR set up, but I haven’t gotten that working. And WFMU is one of the stations in the default list that works, so that’s cool. I used to listen to them a lot, before I moved out of their range.

So I’m having fun with this. It’s giving me a chance to dig into my music collection, and find stuff I haven’t listened to in a long time. And it’s motivating me to organize the collection a bit more.

And it’s fun to play with the Raspberry Pi. I have a few ideas about other uses for a Pi, so I may find myself ordering another one at some point.

Fun with the Raspberry Pi

I ordered a Raspberry Pi kit earlier this week, and it showed up in the mail yesterday. I ordered this kit from Amazon. It’s a nicely-packaged kit, with the Pi, a case, a power supply, a wifi dongle, an SD card, and a few other things.

The SD card comes with the standard NOOBS image on it already. My intention was to wipe that out and install Volumio, but I thought I’d give the standard setup a try, just to see how it worked. To do that, I had to hook the Pi up to a USB keyboard and mouse, and an HDMI monitor. My normal computer monitor doesn’t have HDMI, so I had to use my TV instead. That was a little awkward, since I don’t have a good surface for the mouse close enough to the TV, but I managed. The standard setup is quite easy, and doesn’t require an internet connection. Basically, it just allows you to set a few parameters, then it installs Raspbian Linux onto the SD card. From there, you can use the command line or start a GUI shell. I messed around with that for a while, then unhooked everything, so I could get Volumio installed.

To do that, I had to download the Volumio install image, and write it to the MicroSD card. I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to do that, since I don’t have a MicroSD slot on my PC, but I managed to find a MicroSD to SD adapter in my pile of random memory cards, and used that to get the MicroSD card into my PC. From there, I followed the simple instructions on Volumio’s site, cross-referencing this useful blog post. You can set up Volumio without hooking up a monitor or keyboard. You just need to plug the Pi into a wired Ethernet connection to get the initial setup done. So I did that, and got it set up through the browser interface at volumio.local. I set up my wifi card, then unplugged the Ethernet cable, rebooted, and all was well. To test it, I copied a Paul McCartney album to a USB thumb drive and plugged it in. I also plugged headphones into the audio out jack. Volumio had no trouble seeing the USB drive, and the audio played through the headphones, no problem. The audio quality coming out of the standard output jack isn’t great though. (I also plugged it in to my receiver, to try that out, and it sounds OK there, but still not great.)

So I ordered a DAC with RCA output jacks from HiFiBerry this morning. And a new case from them too, since the one from CanaKit isn’t going to work with the DAC on top of the Pi. I’m hopeful that this will give me acceptable sound quality. Between the kit from CanaKit, and the stuff from HiFiBerry, I’ve now spent more than $100 on this project, so I’m going to feel a little stupid if it doesn’t sound at least as good as a $100 CD player.

The next part of the project is going to be figuring out how I want to get my music collection hooked up to the Pi. The USB thumb drive I used for testing was formatted as FAT, so I’m glad to see that I don’t have to use an EXT4 formatted drive, or jump through any hoops to get the Pi to recognize a FAT drive. I had bookmarked a good writeup on dealing with different file systems on the Pi, but I don’t think I’ll need to worry about it. So I should be able to use either a USB thumb drive, or a USB hard drive for my music. The thumb drive would be easier, since I won’t have to worry about power. I have a 32GB thumb drive that I’m not using, but that’s not quite big enough for everything. A 64GB drive would only cost about $20 and would be big enough to fit my main MP3 collection. I also have several USB hard drives gathering dust in my apartment, including a small 120GB drive that would probably be perfect for this. I’m not sure if the Pi would provide enough power for it though, so that could be an issue. So I guess the next part of this project, while I’m waiting for the DAC to get here, will be to experiment with hard drives and thumb drives.