While,my updated page is still under construction, it will have more information related to photography gear and I will update it for new stuff and when I have time.
I decided to kick my photo website to the curb and work on updating the Photo page on this site. I would love to keep a website just dedicated to photography, but I just don't have time to keep it updated enough to make it worthwhile.
While,my updated page is still under construction, it will have more information related to photography gear and I will update it for new stuff and when I have time.
A few months back, I had the perfect music streaming app for my needs. The service was MOG, but in 2012 Beats music bought it. In May, they killed off MOG and sent invitations for MOG users to enjoy two free months of Beats. The service is a far cry from the simplicity of MOG and actually removed "artist radio" and "continual play" which were hallmarks of the MOG service.
There are some great things about Beats, namely their "Just for You " page which has recommendations. However, the missing stuff was annoying and I started looking for a better option for my needs.
I tried a few services...Spotify, Google Play Music, and Rdio. I almost ruled out Rdio because I read that they use 192k files, while the other services are using 320k. I read recently that Rdio is moving to 320k, so I decided to try the service thinking that I could just switch when they completed the move if I liked the service. Here are the things I wanted and why I chose Rdio for now, despite the fact that they are using 192k (NOTE: Rdio now streams in 320k AAC for premium accounts, so this point is no longer a reason to avoid Rdio):
1. iPad app - Google Play does not have a native iPad app. This ruled them out from my consideration. I tried the iPhone app on my iPad and it is ugly compared to iPad native apps.
2. Desktop app - Another shortfall of Google. They want you to sign into a browser and I don't want to do that just for listening to music. Also, Google, as a rule is too creepy for my tastes. I use some of their services, but avoid them if they don't have a far superior service that makes the creepiness/benefit ratio worth it.
3. Bluetooth in my car - while they all work for audio, Rdio has the only implementation that works perfectly for seeing the current song that is playing and album art on my nav screen. Beats has the worst integration and I contacted them, but it isn't fixed. It was the main, but not only, reason I ruled them out. I should point out that my car may need a firmware update, but it doesn't explain why Rdio is the only one that works properly.
4. User Interface - This is personal, but Rdio has the best looking user interface for my taste. It looks clean and it is easy to get to anything you want, quickly. Beats looks great, but it takes forever to get to basic features like new releases. Spotify has a photo of hands reaching up at a concert on a dark background, I prefer the light blue used by Rdio.
5. Autoplay - I don't use playlists. I don't want to spend the time choosing music when I would rather just let the service I am paying for do that for me. With Rdio (like MOG), I can choose an album and it will continue to play similar music (slowly moving to my regular favorites) when the album is over without direct intervention from me. This was a major feature that I use at work every day and I did not see the feature on Spotify.
6. Artist radio - On the Rdio desktop app, you can choose to play one artist or mix in more artists using a scale from "Artist only" to "Adventurous". It is similar to MOG's slider and I could not find another service with anything similar. I don't believe their iOS app has the same level of choice (Edit: This feature is available on the iPhone, it isn't easy to find, so I may have missed it or they added the feature after I wrote this original article) , but you can log into a browser, pick "artist only" and if your iPhone is currently playing it will switch to artist only. I can't stream using my computer at work, but I can log in and make this change. Not perfect, but the closest thing to MOG.
Google's best feature is the integration of your own library with theirs. While I liked this feature, it offers minor convenience when compared to iTunes Match (which I currently have). The upside to iTunes Match is that it is integrates into Siri, so I would rather use it for my own music on the road. At home, I would rather use my iTunes library that houses my lossless audio collection. Also, the downside to having your library in the app is that it takes a lot longer to load the app. I have around a 20,000 file library to load, so that could be the reason, but when I want to listen in my car, I don't want to wait to listen. In fact, I usually like to start the album before I drive the car.
Rdio will scan your collection, but they don't copy up files that aren't in their library. Therefore, I can't access the Beatles music I have in my library using their app, like I could with Google. Not really a big deal for me, though.
I was intrigued with Spotify Connect when I first heard about it. I thought it would be great to be able to have Spotify running on a computer while controlling what was playing via the Spotify app on my iPhone. However, Spotify Connect is not available on computers at this time. It only works on mobile platforms, which I find much less useful.
Rdio, on the other hand , already has a similar feature that does work on their desktop apps, mobile to mobile, or on their web interface. While I did not even consider this an important feature, after using it, it helped push me over the hump to switch to Rdio. Here is the way I use it at home and I am not suggesting that everyone has a similar setup, but you could probably find a use for it.
A list of stuff that can be used from my current setup:
1. Mac Mini (any computer will work) wired directly to the internet
2. Mini is hooked up directly to a DAC using optical out and to a Denon receiver using HDMI (see more about my setups on my other webpages)
3. Airplay Express units (used first generation versions can usually be found for around $50) around the house (some wired, some wifi)
4. iOS devices and laptops around the houses
5. Roomie Remote, Airfoil and Airfoil Remote app, Splashtop
How I use Rdio with this stuff:
1. I usually keep Rdio up on the Mini, but I can use Roomie Remote app (or Splashtop) to launch it using my iPhone/iPad.
2. Once it is launched, I can use Splashtop or AF Remote app to hit play. AF Remote will also allow you to see album art or change songs using an iOS device. Splashtop simply takes over your desktop, so it has the same functionality.
3. Once Rdio is playing on the desktop, I can send that signal directly to my Denon receiver via HDMI or to any or all Airport Express units using Airfoil or my Mac's audio settings (for PC you need Airfoil or a similar program to do this). I prefer Airfoil since I can pick the Airplay device from the AF Remote app. Below are some screenshots from the AF Remote app (you would have to scroll down on the app to get more Airplay devices since they don't all fit on the first page):
Once you have it playing on the Airplay unit(s) or direct connection of your choice, you can control what is playing using Rdio's app. It has complete control of the desktop app, so you can search for artists, start new albums, playlists, etc. and play them directly from the computer.
The advantage this has over just using Airplay directly from iOS is that it most likely will use less of your iOS device battery since it is only working as a remote. Actually, once you have it playing, you can just turn the phone off. Secondly, if your Airplay device is on wireless, you don't need to use wifi to your iPhone and back to your Airplay device. You are only sending it from the computer (which is hooked to ethernet) over wifi. This should halve your wifi use. Also, if your Airplay devices are wired, you aren't using wifi at all, except for remote control. This is nice if you have poor wifi reception. (I should mention that these are nice features to have if they are given to you free as part of an app. I would not pay extra for this ability because it isn't a necessity in my setups. Sonos has similar functionality (even without a computer) if you don't mind giving up the Rdio user interface for the one Sonos wants you to use and you don't mind paying a King's ransom for the functionality).
Here are some pics of Rdio's iOS interface working as a remote. As you can see, you can use it as a remote or change the Rdio audio stream to switch directly to the iOS device:
Notice the choice of "artist only" or "adventurous" and the ability to "tap to play here instead" . Also I like the way the top of the screen will use the same colors that are in the album cover:
You have similar control when you are using a laptop or another computer in the house while using the main computer to play the music. For example, I use the Mac Mini to run the app and listen to music while I am on the couch using a laptop. The laptop can use the Rdio app to control what is playing on the other computer, but I like the way it will actually show the title of a new song from the top of the screen, even though the song isn't originating from the laptop.
My main issue with Rdio is the fact that they are using 192k files. I haven't done a comparison of them vs the 320k services, but I don't think audio approaches transparency until you reach 256k (with most music). However, it isn't so bad that I don't want to listen to it or notice it. In the winter, I listen to more music inside via headphones, so I may switch to another service if Rdio still hasn't made the switch at that point. *(see note below)
The great thing about these services is that they don't require a long term contract, so I can switch back and forth if I feel like it. My favorite app for now is Rdio. Beats could catch up if they tweak a few things. If Apple adds Beats Music to iTunes and to Siri, it would be a game changer for my usage. However, I will live with Rdio and hope they change to 320k sooner than later.
(Note: While adding links for services above, I noticed that Spotify has 3 months for the price of 1 month. I went ahead and signed up for the service, so I will be able to listen to 320k if I decide to use headphones this summer. While Rdio is my preference, it doesn't hurt to have a fall back for better audio and this price makes it possible. I will just decide which one to carry forward in September. Hopefully, Rdio will be using 320k by then.)
I have made no secret about my love of Airplay. However, some people have mentioned difficulty when they have a weak wireless connection in parts of their home. I have never had this issue, but I have had issues getting a wifi signal to my iPad when I am out on the patio, which made it difficult to connect to the Airport Express we have in our sunroom, so I can relate.
I wrote an article about using Home plug ethernet powerline adapters in the past, but I mainly discussed using them for connecting a laptop directly to ethernet for a faster connection to a NAS which houses my digital photos.
Since I liked the way the plugs increased speed for the laptop, I decided to put them in a couple more spaces. I started with one next to my usual position on the couch, but I also wanted one next to my favorite chair and headphone setup:
The great part of using the Home Plug adapters is they can be added just about anywhere you have a power socket. Some of the adapters have a power socket built into them, so you don't have to give up the ability to use the socket for plugging in a lamp (for example). The cheaper adapters don't have a power socket built in, but you can always use a powers strip with the other socket to make it more useful.
I own both of the models pictured below.
Since I have Airplay devices in nearly every room of my house, I also had one next to the red chair (I use this space with headphones). I have a new Airport Express in this setup, so I figured I would also make the wireless Airport Express wired instead. The new Airport Express units have a two ethernet ports, so you can connect a laptop directly to the Airport Express via a wired connection, but I found it to be too slow for using for Lightroom and moving large photos back and forth. I bought a cheap (~$18) 5 port gigabit switch and connected the Home Plug adapter to it and then sent a wired signal to the Airport Express and a wired ethernet connection to my laptop. It also allows some flexibility to add more devices later, if I have the need.
At this point, I now have my two main photo editing spaces wired and get the extra benefit of having my Airport Express wired, too. However, I bought a pair of these, so I also put one out in the sunroom. As I mentioned before, the wifi signal out in the yard is spotty. Also, I have wireless security cameras out there that seemed to lose signal more often than I like. I have one of the first Gen Airport Express units out there, so it didn't have the option to run the ethernet out of it, like the new Airport Express units, so I added a TP-Link switch to the setup, too. Then I set the Airport Express up as a wifi access point (extended my network connection). This gave me a perfect connection from anywhere in the yard, including the patio and deck. The side benefit is that my security camera is wired and gets a better signal. The other benefit is that I can change to wired-only security cameras in the future, if I want to upgrade.
Now I have three wired Airport Express units and all three are expanding my wifi connection. It helps because I have three additional Airplay receivers (Phillips speaker, AppleTV, and Airport Express) that are still wireless getting a stronger wifi signal now.
Another benefit is that when I listen to music on these wired Airplay setups, I can send the audio signal to them without it ever leaving a wired connection for wireless, if I prefer. I use a mac mini for serving my iTunes library, so I can control what is playing via my iPhone's "Remote" app and select where the signal is playing. The only thing wireless is the remote. I can also use an app like Rdio on the mac mini and control it via my iPhone. While direct streaming does have benefits, like when you are running a microwave nearby, having wired Airport Express units expanding the wireless network via wired connections, makes the wireless stronger everywhere.
As you can see, these power line ethernet adapters, working in combination with Airport Express units, can be great for expanding your wifi network and for optimizing your audio. For me, they were money well spent.
I have been wanting to try brisket on the Big Green Egg for a while now. However, I was recently down in Seaside, FL and had the opportunity to try brisket from Barefoot BBQ (one of the Airstreams parker out front) and I was inspired. (The picture above doesn't really express just how big this thing was.)
I live in Memphis and it is a pork town, so finding a brisket requires some work. Luckily, we have Charlie's Meat Market and they were able to find a 13 pound USDA Choice "Packers Brisket" for me. I have never bought a 13 pound pork shoulder, but I do know that it would be a lot cheaper than the $60 I a paid for the brisket!
Once I was ready to prepare the brisket, I slathered it in mustard and Dale's steak Seasoning and coated it in some John Henry's Pecan Rub. I also threw a little bit of Dizzy Dust on to give it a little spice and wrapped it in cling wrap and put it in the fridge for the night. The next day, right before throwing it on the grill, I pumped it up with some Dale's steak Seasoning (injection method), since this was my first brisket and I was afraid of having it dry out on me.
I put it on the grill, fat down, around 7PM at around 205 degrees and let it cook until about 7AM the next morning. I had planned to just cook it on the egg, but the temperature on my BGE thermometer and the Maverick thermometer (remote temperature monitor) were about 80 degrees apart and I wasn't sure which one was correct. I should mention that I actually calibrated both thermometers before the smoke, but I thought this behavior was weird. I decided to pull it off the grill, wrap it in aluminum foil and pour about a half can of Mountain Dew over it. Then, I stuck it in the convection oven (in the house) on a cooking sheet to cook until it reached 205 (this is a method similar to what "TexasBBQRub" suggests).
About 11.5 hours later, the brisket was ready. I should note that their was A LOT of juice that came off the brisket in the oven. So much so that I would recommend using a pan instead of a sheet for finishing off in the oven. By the time I noticed, my cooking sheet was nearly spilling over the side (which it did when I pulled it out to drain it into a bowl). After that first draining, I drained it about once an hour, which made it easier to manage without spilling anything.
One it was ready, I let it sit out for about 30 minutes while wrapped, I then put a small amount of The Shed Southern Spicy Sweet BBQ Sauce over it, and let it sit about 45 minutes unwrapped (we were starving, so we couldn't wait any longer). Unfortunately, I realized that my knife wasn't sharp enough to carve it in "pencil thickness". I had to make slightly wider cuts of the flat, but the meat was juicy and tasty and the bark was fantastic!
The first night, we made sandwiches with it and put on BBQ sauce to taste. I took "the point" and put it on a separate plate. It was very, very juicy, so I mainly cut it into cubes and shredded it away from any fat left on the bottom. I should mention that I didn't carve off a lot of fat before the cook, only huge areas of it where thinned out because I read that it would be easier to remove later. I think this is a personal decision, but you will miss more fat if you try to remove it after the cook. The exchange for cutting it off early could be a dryer brisket, from what I have read, though.
The sandwiches were delicious, but we had a lot left over. I decided to use the point section for making pizzas since it was already cut in small portions and it would be easier to shred and layout over the dough. The next day, I made the dough using the recipe in Cook's Illustrated magazine, but they say you should keep it in the fridge for at least 24 hours, and I made one of the pizzas about 3 hours after I let the dough rise on the counter in a bowl. I did make enough dough for 4 pizzas. The dough for 2 pizzas went in the freezer and the dough for the fourth pizza went in the fridge to make a couple days later.
Once the dough for the first pizza was ready, we put a layer of Shed BBQ down and then put the meat over it:
Then we added a thin layer of parmesan and smoked provolone cheese:
Unfortunately, I didn't do a great job of separating the dough equally, so I ended up with a huge first pizza. It was so huge that the ends hung over the edges of my pizza stone on the Big Green Egg (it would have helped to make it more circular) and left the ends scorched. Also, Cook's suggested letting the stone cook for an hour before adding the pizza and I found that to be too long considering the fact that this pizza needed to be cooked longer than a normal pizza:
The crust was burned on the ends, but the rest of the pizza was awesome.
A couple days later, we made the second pizza. We had taken the juices I poured out of the cooking sheet and put it in a bowl when we first prepared the brisket. We stuck it in the fridge so the fat and juice would separate. We then heated it up for several seconds in the microwave and separated the fat. We took took the juice and sprinkled some of it over the meat after we put together our second pizza. This pizza was smaller and turned out even better than the first.
Between the sandwiches, eating it by itself, and having it with two pizzas, I think we got our money's worth from this meat. Since this was my first try, I am sure there are things I could have done differently and I plan to try some different techniques in the future. We will probably only make it for special occasions since it was so expensive and I would rather not eat brisket all week, if possible. I should mention that my pups were very helpful when it came to finishing it off. If you look closely, you can see one of them waiting for a slice in the pic below:
Everyone is fat and happy, but we are , unfortunately, back on our regular diets now.
Dog loving, Big Green Egg worshiping, Tech enthusiast, residing in Memphis, TN. Home of the Tigers, Grizzlies, Elvis, Al Green, Stax, Hi Records, Ardent Studios, Beale Street, Peabody Ducks, etc.. I have also added the Jeep Wrangler to the list of things I am enthusiastic about.
Flickr pics below