New Music – April 2016

April has been a good month for music. I’ve found plenty to listen to on freezing walks to the train station in the morning, and significantly warmer journeys home. I’ve bought a few records, spent hours listening to Spotify, and yet this list only really scratches the surface of the music that’s been released over the last month. It’s still a long list though, and probably about as much new music as I can reasonably listen to (as opposed to hear) in a month when I’m working every day and doing all the other things I do.

May will be a different kind of month as I’ll be at home more; with a two week break from work and a couple of long weekends. I’m not sure if that will change how I listen to music (or what I listen to), but I know I am very much looking forward to it.

I’m not sure what my favourite record from this list is, although I do have a soft spot for Direction of Travel by She Makes War. I’ve had this record a while, but it was properly released this month and I really hope a lot more people get to hear it. I’m also growing increasingly fond of The Magnetic North’s – Prospect of Skelmersdale which manages to make the town of Skelmersdale sound both beautiful and appealing (somehow).

My list for April is:

Black Mountain – IV
She Makes War – Direction of Travel
Yeasayer – Amen and Goodnight
The Magnetic North – Prospect of Skelmersdale
Mogwai – Atomic
Frightened Rabbit – Painting of a Panic Attack
Kevin Morby – Singing Saw
P.J. Harvey – The Hope Six Demolition Project
Rufus Wainwright – Take all my Loves
Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeroes – Person A
Tinpan Orange – Love is a Dog
Face+Heel – Our Prince’s Quarry
Brian Eno – The Ship

Managing for efficiency and effectiveness

The latest module of my ILM5 training was called Managing for efficiency and effectiveness. I was a lot more comfortable with this as a subject than budgetary control, and my main learning point was that I was on the right track with a lot of the things I’m already doing, and that the way I organise myself and my time is fairly efficient and effective without me needing to make huge changes to how I work. I found it useful to compare the material in the session to research I’ve already done into Lean IT and Lean Six Sigma, and I’ll be doing further comparison once I’ve gone through Lean Six Sigma Yellow Belt training which starts tomorrow.

The only mildly uncomfortable thing we covered was around feedback, and as part of the assignment I’ve got to ask people I’ve managed, supervised or otherwise lead to feed back on my management style. I wrote some questions yesterday, made them into a questionnaire this morning, and will start sending it out to people tomorrow. I’ve never been particularly comfortable asking for feedback, but it’s something that I think is very important as I think that regardless of how self-aware I might be, I’m always going to have blind spots.

As well as writing an assignment based on this feedback, I’ll also be starting the main phase of my final project, which involves planning and executing a major change in the workplace. The work I’m going to be doing is related to Lean IT, and making the flow of work through a system as efficient as possible by optimising working processes. I’m hoping to start the serious work on this in the next couple of weeks, and will be presenting the results at a talk in June (which I’ll probably repeat a couple of times for my team if all goes well).

Building a media centre with a Raspberry Pi and OpenELEC

My project for the Easter vacation has been to build a media player using a Raspberry Pi and Open ELEC. Setup was fairly straightforward, but I thought it was worth writing up anyway – especially as I’m probably going to make further changes to the setup as I find new features to add.

Hardware

I went with the new Raspberry Pi III, which is plenty powerful enough for this project. I also used a 16Gb SD card (the largest unused one I currently have), and a case that looked like it would handle being jostled around in my bag. The device also requires power and HDMI cables (which I already had), and a keyboard/mouse/monitor/ethernet cable for setup.

Software

OpenELEC is one of the installation options on the NOOBS image, so I simply downloaded that, copied it to the SD card, and installed it from there. It requires a network connection to install, but is a lot easier than having to copy the image using dd. I went with the default options in all cases, although it’s worth noting that if you enabled ssh access then it’s not possible to change the root password at all, so you’ll need to disable it after setup (not that setup, or anything else, requires shell access).

Once installation had finished the device booted into the default Kodi interface. A web-based remote could be accessed by browsing to the device’s IP address, and it could be accessed as network based storage from all of my computers. Then it was simply a case of dropping some media files (movies and music) into the respective folders and testing that content could be played. I copied across some MP3, MP4 and AVI files, all of which played fine.

Addons

The original plan for this project was that I’d end up with something that could play movies and music on my TV, and that could handle storing a small amount of content locally so that when I end up in a hotel room with a few hours to kill I have something interesting to watch. The solution I’ve built ticks all those boxes, but I was curious to explore what else OpenELEC could handle.

After exploring the interface and available software for a little while I found channels for Last.fm scrobbles, BBC iPlayer and TED talks. All of these installed and worked fine. Adding iPlayer started me thinking about other free to view TV channels, and at this point I remembered that the last edition of Linux Format had an article on using a Pi Mini for a similar project, and that there were instructions for adding a whole host of other services. Their instructions for adding ITV player were as follows:

Navigate to System > File Manager. Select ‘Add Source’ followed by ‘’, enter http://www.xunitytalk.me/xfinity and select ‘Done’ followed by ‘OK’. Hit Esc then choose System > Settings > Add-ons > Install from ZIP file. Select xfinity from the list of locations, select ‘XunityTalk_Repository.zip’, hit Enter and wait for it to be installed. Now select ‘Install from repository’ followed by .XunityTalk Repository > Video add-ons, scroll down and select ITV. Choose Install and it should quickly download, install and enable itself.

This worked fine, and also gave me access to a lot of other channels that I could add.

There are a lot of things I’ve not explored on this device yet, but at the time of writing I’ve got BBC and ITV channels (live and catchup), TED talks, and a variety of locally stored media. Music I play scrobbles to Last.fm, and I can drop new media onto the device from my computer. I figure that all I’ll need to travel with is a power cable, a HDMI cable and a small mouse (all of which I already have), and I should be sorted. I also tested a trick I’ve used before which involves sharing a wifi connection via ethernet on my laptop to get the two devices to talk to each other long enough to add/remove media, which might also prove useful.