My favourite home media server… Plex

My favourite home media server… Plex

plex1If you have spent any time around me talking computer stuff, you have undoubtedly heard me talk about Plex.  I love Plex.  Today they released version 1.0 of the server, so I thought it was a fitting day to blog about it.  It is an amazing piece of software (well, several pieces of software that hook together actually).  Plex allows you to set up a home media server to manage/share your media such as music, movies, tv shows and photos.  You install the software (free) on a computer (Windows, Mac, Linux) and then point it at the folders you store your media in.  You need those folders to be somewhat separate (keep Movies/TV/Music in their own folder) and named in a way that makes sense (the filenames are used to do look ups).  The software will then go out to the internet and get all the pretty artwork and details about your media.    What format does the media need to be in? Pretty much any, the Plex server will handle any converting in the background if a player requires it.

plex2Once you have your media in Plex, you can then access that media using a Plex client.  There are LOTS of Plex clients available.  iOS, Android, Windows OS all have Plex clients available.  The new Apple TV has a client.  Xbox and Playstation have Plex clients.  Some Smart TVs and media devices like the Roku have a Plex client.  There is even a web version of the client, so you can use any web browser to act as a client. This essentially allows you to access any of the media stored on your Plex server from any of those Plex clients anywhere you have a network connection, AND if your internet is fast enough, anywhere you have internet access!  You can even share your media to a friend that is running a Plex client.

What that means is that in our house, we have access to plex3all our media on every TV, computer, tablet, and phone.  I can start watching media on one TV, and then resume it on another.  Once I watch a show, it marks it as watched so I don’t have to remember where I left off.  And if you don’t have a network connection or don’t want to use up all of your mobile data?  Well some of the clients support using Sync to put those files on your device before you leave the house.  It requires the purchase of a Plex Pass subscription for that, but it is highly worth it (I bought a lifetime subscription).  We always have a few shows and moves on the iPhones and iPads for emergencies or when we travel.  Nothing calms a toddler down quicker than being able to watch his favourite show.

Hmmm…. but if all of your media is on a server, what could the kids stumble across?  Well Plex thought of that too.  You can set up user switching for everyone that has access in your house and keep content locked down from some users.  You can set up an account for your kids so they don’t have access to anything but kids shows, or shows movies G.  All very handy.  Again, another feature of the Plex Pass.

So I did say I have access to all my media on all my TVs.  Well I don’t have Smart TVs in the house (yet) so I had to add a little additional hardware/software to do it.  If you are an iOS household and have an Apple TV, you can use the plex client on your iOS device to airplay to your Apple TV.  Newer Apple TVs have a Plex client you can install and control directly with the Apple TV remote.  But I don’t like having to depending on using my phone or ipad to watch.  So I bought a couple cheap Raspberry Pi computers and installed RasPlex on them.  It is a dedicated (and free) client for the Raspberry Pi computer.  You can then use any of your devices to remote control the plex player, or you can get a remote to control the RasPlex computer just like you would a DVD player or PVR.

So as you can see, it really is an awesome piece of software and what I consider a must for anyone that has a large collection of media to manage.  There are even more features available (Channels of content, auto photo upload, etc) that I currently am still learning about.  It truly is a must for the techy home media enthusiast.  Where you get all your media from will be your problem to solve, but once you have something started and organized, this is a must to put on top of it.

And what do I use for a computer to store all these files and run my Plex Server?  Well that is a story for another time 🙂

All for now,


PS – And as a reminder, buy the Plex Pass!  It is soooooo worth it, and it supports the hardworking developers behind this project.

My music on the go….

I’m sure everyone has their preferred way of listening to music these days.  Whether it is buying it online from a music store like iTunes or listening via their favorite app, everyone seems to have something they have locked on to.  I figured I’d share my experience and what I use.  I’m currently doing a little of both, putting music files on my phone and streaming music for things I don’t have.

sht_main[1]First, the music I have, I put in iTunes.  I hate iTunes.  It sucks.  It is buggy, it is slow, it doesn’t handle big music libraries very well.  BUT, if you are using an iPhone and want to store music on your phone (and have access to control the music from most newer car audio systems), it is pretty much the only real option.  I wish there was better, but I just haven found it.  So my tip, what I do is convert everything to mp3 before putting in iTunes.  Almost every player will support that.  Then I use the program mp3tag to ensure all the tagging/artwork/etc is all filled out and consistent.  I may do a blog on that piece of software later on, it is really handy.  then I put in iTunes.  I also go through iTunes and rate songs with the star rating system.  I do that so I can set up smart playlists using genre and rating.  (My country playlist is all songs with a genre Country and rating 4 stars or better).  It takes a little time but it makes for easy management of a few favorite playlists.

I also tried Sirius radio for a while.  I have it in the car (a small bank of time transferred from our other vehicle when we sold).   They have an app too for streaming.  It was alright, but I found what you pay for isn’t worth it.  After a while the channels start to play pretty much the same playlists and you are at the mercy of what they play.  I also found live sports were hard to find or non-existent, a benefit this should have.  I took my Sirius budget and put it into streaming instead.

For streaming, I’ve tried a bunch of options.  I tried to give Apple Music a try because it has better pricing for families and *should* integrate with iOS better.   Problem is, it doesn’t.  The UI is awful, and it is confusing what is on your phone and what isn’t.  It also doesn’t integrate very well.  I was expecting it to work great with my two vehicles since they support iPhone, but it is buggy and only a few auto generated playlists show up.  I couldn’t seem to find a way to make the apple music play nice like the music on the phone.  All the things Apple Music should be, it isn’t.  It is just a streaming app with access to a large music library and a weak interface.  Maybe the next version in the fall will be better.

IMG_4983So I ended up with Spotify.  I like it quite a lot.  They have support for many platforms, including Windows, iOS, Android, etc.  In it you can search for Artists/Albums/Genres/Moods/Etc.  You can create your own playlists or pick from other playlists already curated.  You can even share playlists.  If you pay for the app $9.99 per month, you get no music ads and can skip and pick/choose to your hearts content.  The free version (Apple Music doesn’t have one) is ad supported and limits skips/etc.  The other benefit of buying is that you can sync playlists down to your device so you can listen to it without using mobile data or needing a connection.  It has a large music library, not everything is there, but a large chunk can be found.  I don’t find I’m missing much.  I also find sound quality suitable to my taste.

IMG_4982There are still some downsides to Spotify.  It won’t integrate with your car stereo super well.  You will need to pick what you are listening to on your device first and then you may be able to skip forward/backward/pause from the head unit.  I’m hoping it will have Siri integration in the future to make that better.  Secondly, the pricing isn’t great in Canada.  $9.99 per month per user, no family discount.  And you can only stream on one device at a time.  they have family pricing elsewhere but haven’t brought to Canada yet.  It would be nice to be able to get for the family for $15-20 per month for all the devices.  And lastly, I find that all the curated playlists are fairly short and quality wise don’t seem to be the greatest.  What that means is that you can be constantly searching for a new or better playlist.  I’m hoping as more people come on board and share, this will get better.    If you are hunting for a playlist, I have created a Coffee Cafe playlist that is currently at 74 songs and growing.  You can add it to your Spotify here.  I hope to keep adding to and working on my playlists as I continue to grow my library.



Our Vacation…. complete with pictures

Our Vacation…. complete with pictures

We just returned from our first family of three vacation (overdue, I know right?).  We decided to do a trip to Calgary (well, we stayed in Strathmore, a stone’s throw away).  Our loose plan was to spend the week and sometime during the that week go to the zoo, the science centre, the Lego store, and catch up with friends/family as time permitted.  We didn’t want to over-schedule, since this has been a stress point on some of our previous outings.  This turned out to be a great idea, and as it turned out, we got a tremendous amount in during the vacation week.  I have included a sample of pictures from the trip (narrowing them down was a challenge) and here are the highlights:

We hit the road and Cole crashed pretty quickly.  Win!  Along the way (on the advice of one of Erin’s clients) we took a scenic route and stopped to check out the hoodoos just outside of Drumheller.  It was hot, a fun place to explore, and Cole got his climb on.  It was a nice break from the vehicle and he burnt off some energy before we hit the road again for the last stretch.

Our hotel in Strathmore was great, the Days Inn.  In walking distance we had a Walmart, 2 Grocery stores, a Starbucks (for Mom) and a playground (for Cole).  We booked it initially for the King Suite with separate bedroom (excellent), price (excellent), swimming pool (a tad on the cool side) and the water slide (a bit too fast and covered for Cole).  It was a great starting point for our adventures.

From there we began our adventures.  Over the course of the first couple days we got to swim in the pool, visit the zoo (Cole wasn’t super interested, but he and mom persevered) and shop at the Lego store (Cole got police Lego, surprise surprise).  At this point, we got our first visit in, with our friends that arrived from Medicine Hat.  Their two boys and Cole got along as thick as thieves.  We were lucky enough to have them join us for a picnic supper at the park and at the Science Centre (amazing, I highly recommend) before heading back to home.

The following day, we got our second visit in.  My Aunt Francie was able too coordinate most of her clan (Uncle David, Cousins Darren (Pam) and Alan (Sheri, Joely)) to come out for a fantastic feast she had made up.  Cole had a blast entertaining everyone, and we quite enjoyed the home cooked meal.  I always enjoy when we can get together with the Olive clan, especially since we are so far away.

Having got all our TODO list in, we gave it a shot to see if we could get one more visit in before wrapping things up.  We gave a call to our friends Dave & Kyla and luckily enough they were both home that Friday.  Luck would have it, it was Kyla’s birthday, so we took her for brunch to the Bro’kin Yolk (thumbs up, get the bacon poutine).  We got a good visit in while Cole had a much needed power nap.  Angry Birds was playing at a nearby theatre on our route home.  We stopped and added that to our list of activities completed.  The movie was so-so, but Cole seemed to enjoy it.

That wrapped up the week, so we packed up and headed for home.  One last stop in Drumheller to see (and climb) the giant dinosaurs and then we made the long trip back to Warman.  A nice conclusion to a great week.  Cole traveled well (a win for the first vacation) and other than a couple minor hiccups, we had a great time.  Look forward to the next one!


GPS – My phone…. it gets me where I’m going

GPS – My phone…. it gets me where I’m going

So, you may or may not be away of this, but most modern smart phones have GPS built in.  It can tell where you are when the location services settings for your phone are turned on.  It generally drains the battery when it is running, but it offers many useful functions.  Your pictures can tag where you are when they are taken, you can check-in at your location on Facebook to show where you are shopping, you can have different events fire off when you are entering or exiting a particular area.  More and more people are writing cool little tools and functions to take advantage of this useful hardware piece.  I’m sure you’ve opened up the maps application on your phone (Apple Maps, Google Maps) and found it can tell you where you are, and even give you driving directions where you are going.  It’s great, but it generally requires a data connection (internet access) the entire time you travel.  While that is becoming less and less of an issue with modern data plans and cellular coverage, it can be an issue it areas of the country, and if you are travelling outside of Canada can really cost you big bucks while roaming.  I’ve also fund the interface to not be as nice as some of the dedicated GPS systems on the market.

NavigonSo I bought an application for my navigation purposes.  I use an application called Navigon.  Navigon has been in the market for a while, making dedicated GPS systems for car navigation, and are now owned by Garmin, a name I’m sure you will recognize.  They make a great (and not that cheap product).  I purchased the Navigon North American edition (maps available for US and Canada).  It is a $60 app (look for it on boxing day and other holidays as it can sometimes be 50% off) and if you have family sharing or multiple devices you only need to purchase once.  Then inside the app, you use the map manager to choose the maps you want to install (the areas you plan to travel).  You can change those maps at any time.  There is an add one you can buy to then get fresh maps every time they release one (about once a quarter).  Once the maps are there, you don’t need a cell connection any more to work.  If you roam to the US or if you are in an area with no coverage, you can still navigate.  Points of interest, gas stations, restaurants, etc are all available to so you have information available if you arent online.  This has come in very handy to me.

GlympseI installed this on my phone as well as my wife’s.  She uses it all the time for work.  If you have bluetooth in your car, it can actually announce directions even when you aren’t listening to your phone for music.  Very handy.  It’s also nice to have the GPS on your hip at all times and not be tethered to your car’s navigation system or carrying around another device.  The device also has a couple other nice features I use regularly.    One is that it integrates with an app called Glympse which allows you to share your travel with another person.  Gone are the days when you have to “phone us when you get home” with your parents.  Just send them a glympse and they can watch your travel, stops and all.  (internet needed for that).  The other feature I like is the app allows opening with coordinates from a URL scheme.  What does that mean, well simply I can use the app to send anyone that has Navigon a link to a specific spot and it opens  in their app to start navigating to me.  If you have coordinates for a location, you can pass those in to the app to directly pick that spot to navigate to.  And for me, I used one of my other fancy automation tools to write a little program that lets me quickly take a picture and send the coordinate to a friend so they can quickly open the link and begin navigating to my location.  Great for those “Come and get me, here I am, I’ll be standing here” type conversations.  (Don’t worry, I’ll share in an upcoming blog)

So if you are looking for something with offline navigation that is a bit more robust than the standard built in applications, I highly suggest purchasing this app.  It is fantastic.  I would never consider buying a standalone GPS again.  It does have an app for Android, Windows Phone, and iOS.

IFTTT…… Did you follow along?

So, did you follow along with my blog about IFTTT?  Have you installed the app and set up any channels?  If you have, turn on the Feed and the Email channels and you can use these recipes below to get emailed when I update the website or make a blog entry tagged as technology or iOS.  Just something to get you started 🙂 – J

IFTTT Recipe: Lemonfresh > Email Feeds connects feed to email

IFTTT Recipe: > Email iOS/Technology Feeds connects feed to email

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