Three things from this week.
If binge-watching old TV were a part time job then I pulled a double shift this week. My niece mentioned some news about Dr Who to me mid-week and that was all it took. That night I scrolled back to the newest episode that I was pretty sure I’d seen and hit play. Suddenly I’ve now regained consciousness and days have passed. Unfortunately this isn’t a new thing for me. There are ups and downs in the day where I’m more or less susceptible to get drawn into distraction and, at the right moment, some TV shows hit me like a purpose-built distraction machine.
Dr Who is a particular weakness for me. When I was young and even more impressionable I was a card-carrying member of the Detroit chapter of the Dr Who fan club. There was a paper newsletter in the mail and everything. The card I carried was thermal dynamic, as was the badge I wore. It’s amazing what kids will do to provide novel avenues for ridicule from their peers. My older brother had discovered the show and I looked up to him a lot. We watched the shows, we read the books, and my mother even brought us to a convention four hours away in Chicago. This was a big deal. I got to see a bunch of like-minded fans in one place and I even got an autograph from Tom Baker.
The “new” series in the 2000s didn’t catch my interest at first. I was excited to hear that it was being made. But I think I caught a glimpse of a Dalek flying and decided this wasn’t going to be a show for me. How could they ruin such a central tenet of the show? Daleks famously can’t go up stairs. You can’t just make things fly because they’re alien. After a few years I did give in and I suppose I’m glad I did. The show has always been campy. It’s never been really accurate sci-fi, maybe closer to science fantasy. I do like to imagine that it was a little more internally consistent in the original series but I honestly don’t remember enough to say that’s true either. As a kid who watched a lot of TV which had very, very little representation of any kind of technology or science. At least this was a show which introduced the concept of time as a dimension. K-9 got me excited about robots. The show had plenty of rayguns and lasers but they weren’t generally the most important part.
So I’m still not up-to-date on the show and I’m basically resigned to the fact that it’s going to continue to drain away hours that I should be sleeping until I finally do catch up. But this is the time when I usually tell you about three things from this week, so what else was this week about?
RPi with a medium screen
There was a brief moment when Pimironi in the UK had the Raspberry Pi 4B in stock as part of a kit. I decided that it would be a good excuse to pick one up along with the Pi 7" Touchscreen LCD. If you do the same, I strongly recommend figuring out your case at the same time. The last time I ordered this LCD it sat around for months being generally unusable because the little FPC cable really wants the RPi to be placed correctly on the back of the display. But if you don’t have a way to hold things in place then you really can’t operate it in any kind of temporary setup. Eventually I built that display into a tablet following the Adafruit guide. The tablet was pretty cool and the case design is up on Thingiverse.
Remembering how long it took me to get around to printing and assembly, this time I decided to try Pimoroni’s Pibow Touchscreen Frame. It’s made from a few sheets of laser cut acrylic and some nylon screws. I don’t love the stack of acrylic but it is definitely an expedient solution. I was able to assemble it quickly even while giving 90% of my attention to Peter Capaldi trying to impress horned-helmet Vikings with his yo-yo and sunglasses.
While I definitely already watch too much TV, I’ve installed OSMC on the RPi with the display for now. I’ve also been trying out Jellyfin on my home server though. Basically I’d like to be able to play my local media collection like DVDs and Bandcamp MP3 downloads on the TV or a Bluetooth speaker from a purpose-built box with a screen on it. The touchscreen seems like a good user interface for selecting a music playlist or video and I’ll run an HDMI output to the television. So OSMC might make a good front-end for Jellyfin but if not then VLC would be fine too. Jellyfin provides a DLNA/UPnP server which VLC can browse and stream. And VLC also has an HTTP plugin with an app for the phone. There’s a lot of overlap in these projects so I expect I’ll need to experiment and narrow things down to get something simple and low hassle.
Home media solutions seem to need some bespoke element for every household. Jeff Geerling’s described his Jellyfin-based setup quite thoroughly and a lot of his setup is quite reusable. It takes some planning to get things right but it takes some experimenting before the planning to set realistic expectations.
Our kids are grown, our house is small, and we aren’t excited about 4k or hi-def sound. I think each hacker building their own media centre should figure out the priorities for their collection. But that kind of thinking takes some patience and attention, so it has to be done in one of those precious moments when the TV is off.