ted & pamela

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Logitech Squeezebox and Sonos

Tuesday, November 9th, 2010

A few months ago, I set up the ability to stream music around the house using Firefly and DAAP clients. It worked, but wasn’t a very elegant solution. For example, to play music in the living room, we had to turn on the laptop connected to the receiver and connect to the Firefly server before we could play anything. It doesn’t sound too hard — and it wasn’t — but it was just enough effort that Pamela and I rarely every bothered to do it.

I discussed this with Pamela, and we agreed that we would both probably play a lot more music around the house if it was easier to do so. Thus, I went back on my journey to find a better solution.

Since I had already exhausted the free options in my last attempt, this time I turned to proprietary solutions. In particular, I was looking for some sort of dedicated hardware solution, since my previous DAAP-on-a-laptop approach was too cumbersome. After a bit of research, I narrowed by focus to the Logitech Squeezebox and Sonos lines of devices.

At first, I was leaning toward getting a Squeezebox Dual for the living room and Squeezebox Radio for the bedroom. It looked like it would solve my problem nicely — the Dual would provide a dedicated controller for selecting and playing music in the living room, while the radio would give us something similar for the bedroom and double as a clock radio. The price point was reasonable too — $300 for the Dual and $150 for the radio. After reading some reviews, however, I started having my doubts — the interface for the Dual just wasn’t that nice, and it would be even harder to select music through the buttons and menus on the Radio. There also wasn’t any way to change the music from a computer; the only way to control a Squeezebox device was through the device itself.

Sonos solves the interface problem by decoupling the controller interface from the streaming devices. This allows you to do cool stuff like link and control multiple Sonos devices at the same time, synchronize music playing from different devices while adjusting their volumes independently, control devices from your computer or smartphone, etc. Unfortunately, it’s much more expensive to get a set of devices comparable to the Squeezebox solution in terms of basic coverage — with Sonos, I’d have to get the ZonePlayer 90 for the living room, the ZonePlayer S5 for the bedroom, and the Sonos Controller 200 to control them… for a grand total of about $950. Ouch.

Well, I thought about it for a few days and was actually leaning toward purchasing the Squeezebox system, when I discovered that my employer (Google) has a 20% corporate discount on Sonos products! That decided things for me. I went ahead and bought the Sonos package (note that they don’t do bundle discounts anymore, according to the friendly phone sales representative), and it ended up on my doorstep two days later.

Setting it up was as easy as advertised. I installed Sonos’s software on my (Mac) laptop, connected one ZonePlayer to my network, and paired it with the computer as directed. When it asked me for a music source, I pointed it to a public folder on our home NAS. A few minutes later, it finished indexing all ~11k or so songs on the drive, and played music!

Since then, we’ve also set up the second ZonePlayer, configured the Sonos Controller, and installed the Sonos software on a few other computers, without a hitch. Overall, except for a few nitpicky flaws, the Sonos system does everything you’d expect it to do, and does it really, really well. For example, there’s virtually no delay between selecting a song or changing a setting and hearing the change — the immediate feedback is a nice change from the experience I’m accustomed to from most network-bound devices. The decoupling of controller from player also made for some amusing moments, where Pamela and I would fight for control of the music from our respective laptops. It’s also really cool to see that when another person changes the volume, the volume slider moves around on your own Sonos controller. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it actually succeeded in getting us to play more music — for example, this evening when I got home, Pamela had some music playing in the living room — and she never did that with the old system.

So what are some of these nitpicky flaws? Well, here are a few:

  • Sometimes after drilling down through a few menus on the Sonos controller you can’t back up again. This is likely some odd disconnect between the way the controller actually works and my cognitive model of how the controller works, but I never figured out why/when the back button sometimes gets disabled.
  • There’s no way to edit song attributes from the controller. Sometimes I notice an error in the artist, album, or another field and want to change it, but it’s read-only.
  • After doing a keyword search, there’s no way to play all search results or add all search results to your queue. Sometimes Pamela and I like to search for a random word, e.g. “rain” and play all music associated with that word.
  • There’s no official controller app for Android, though there’s an unofficial one that works pretty well.

Overall, our Sonos experience has been awesome, and we highly recommend their products.


Saturday, September 25th, 2010

Google gave out some cupfuls of dirt at the beginning of the summer season, claiming that they were strawberry plants. Well, I planted one, and look! Strawberries in the first season!

That is all.

Replacing the main water shutoff valve

Sunday, May 23rd, 2010

About a month or two ago, I finally got around to replacing the angle stops underneath the sink in our den, since they were corroded to the point that you couldn’t turn them by hand.  Naturally, the first thing I did before starting to work on them was to go outside an turn off the main water supply.

This must have been my first attempt at doing so, because I quickly discovered that it… didn’t work.  The valve turned, all right, but apparently it wasn’t attached to anything because it came right out.  That’s right, the handle of the valve came out, along with the stem attached to the handle, and water started flowing out from where the stem used to be.

After discussing the problem with Pamela’s father, who used to work as a plumber, we determined that the valve needed to be replaced.  I decided that I was too n00b to attempt a main water valve replacement, so I turned to Redbeacon for help.  I’d never used the site before, but it worked pretty much as promised.  Within 48 hours, I found a reputable plumber willing to do the job for the flat rate of $100 (including parts).

I’m *really* glad I didn’t try to do it myself.  He first stripped the paint off the existing pipe and found that it was copper – I had told him that the pipe was probably galvanized, because all of the plumbing inside the house is galvanized.  Since it turned out to be copper, this meant that he had to take a blowtorch (or something that looked like a blowtorch at least) and de-solder the existing valve from its surrounding pipes.  He then had to cut new copper pipe to the correct length, sweat the joints and solder them – all tasks I’ve never seen done before, much less performed myself.

Anyway, it looks like he did a good job, because the main water shutoff valve works now!  Perhaps now that I’ve seen it done, I’ll be brave enough to attempt a similar repair in the future.

Afterwards, I managed to replace the angle stops in the den as I originally intended… but that will be an adventure story for another time.

Stuff I learned:

  • Our exterior plumbing is copper
  • Pipe sizes are usually printed on the side of joints and other plumbing fixtures
  • What a copper pipe soldering job looks like

I still don’t know:

  • Where the copper plumbing changes to galvanized iron
  • What the pipe size numbers are actually measuring – they don’t seem to correspond to inner diameter, outside diameter, etc.
  • Why our house inspector didn’t check the main water shutoff valve before we bought the property

On water shutoff valves and rusty faucets

Friday, January 29th, 2010

The upstairs hall bathroom in our house has a sink faucet that sprays water pretty much every way but down. This has annoyed me every time I use that faucet, so this week I resolved to take a look and see if I could do anything about it.

I’m guessing that the problem is that the aerator on the end of the faucet spout is filled with particles, probably mostly bits of copper and iron corrosion, based on the appearance of the aerator. Pamela suggested that we try to take off the aerator to get out all of the crap restricting the flow; I kind of wanted to just replace the entire faucet because I thought it was ugly anyway. See below: it’s pretty disgusting.

bathroom sink faucet

Yesterday morning I finally got around to taking a closer look. I started by going under the sink to shut off the water, and… well… sadly, I didn’t get much farther. Both the hot and cold water shutoff valves were impossible to turn by hand, possibly from years (decades?) of neglect. I managed to turn the cold water valve a bit with a plumber’s wrench, but it was slow going, and the space under the sink was obviously not intended for a tool as large as a plumber’s wrench. On top of that, after about a quarter turn clockwise, the valve started leaking.


I turned the valve a clockwise a bit more, and not only was it not enough to turn off the water, it also caused the valve to leak more quickly. The only good news was that turning the valve clockwise with the plumber’s wrench had loosened it enough that I could (just barely) turn it back counter-clockwise with my hands. Back in its original position, the valve stopped leaking.

Giving up on turning the water off, I decided to focus my attention back on the faucet itself. My first few attempts to unscrew the aerator failed because my wrench just stripped off layers of corrosion every time I turned. Eventually, I got it to turn a bit, but it felt like the corrosion had completely annihilated the screw threads. I was pretty sure that if I got the aerator off, I’d never get another one back on. That might be okay, actually.

At that point, I was running late for work, so I decided to leave it there for the time being. I just hope the water shutoff valve doesn’t start leaking again…

So now I have a few dilemmas. I’d like to fix the valves so that I can actually turn them with my hands, and I’d like the one I turned to stop leaking. I’d like to replace the faucet, but it looks like I’d have to take out the entire sink basin to give myself enough space to do so. Most of all, I’d like the faucet to stop spraying water everywhere when I turn it on.

Thoughts, suggestions?

underneath the sink

Home maintenance, part 2

Tuesday, October 20th, 2009

Before we bought the house, we knew from the disclosures that the downstairs toilet was loose.  A plumber we had at the house earlier had told us that since the seal wasn’t leaking, we could probably just tighten the screws holding the bowl to the floor a bit, but not so much that the porcelain bowl cracked.  This sounded easy enough for me, so I attempted it one evening.

Well, in the process of tightening the screws, I must have moved the water reservoir tank, because it started leaking quickly on one side where a screw held the tank to the base of the toilet.  To avoid a flood, I shut off the water supply and flushed the toilet to get out as much water as possible, then inspected the screw.

It looked like the screw and the rubber gasket that were supposed to prevent the water from leaking out had come loose.  I didn’t know what to do about the leakage, so I suggested to Pamela that we replace the toilet. Luckily, she quickly shot me down and said that we could probably just replace the screw assembly.  (Now that I’m thinking about it again after the fact, we might have been able to fix the problem just by tightening the existing screw, but that didn’t occur to me at the time…)

Anyway, she was right, of course.  I went to Home Depot (they’ve been getting a lot of business from us lately) and found that they sell replacement parts for exactly this problem.  I bought the little bag of parts (two screws, some rubber gaskets, washers, nuts, etc.) for our brand of toilet.

Back at home, it was a messy but straightforward repair process.  I unscrewed the tank from the base of the toilet and the water supply, cleaned it up a bit, then followed the instructions on the bag to reassemble everything with the new parts.  I was a bit surprised when I turned the water supply back on and everything worked!  No leaks, no bugs, no additional feature requests.  Whew.

I think this makes me a level 2 homeowner.  Still noob, but a little more experienced.