PurpleBlu – My First Pi-Powered Wi-Fi Speaker

It’s been a long time since I last blogged about a technology-related thing I did. I miss that. After talking politics, public policy, and everything else that’s wrong with the world, let’s talk about something cool and exciting – hacking!

During my recent trip to Alberta I got to tour some of the maker spaces and hacker labs. I got inspired – I wanted to build something cool. For years I’ve had little bits of technology sitting around from various projects that were started and stopped. One of my limits was the space I’ve had. When you live in an apartment it’s tough to justify keeping lots of tools around. Plus cleanup can be quite messy.

When I got home, my girlfriend and I talked about her need for a portable speaker for playing music at dance lessons. It got me thinking. “I have an old model 1 Raspberry Pi that I’m not using. I’ve also got an old, cheap guitar amplifier. Maybe I could build a powered Wi-Fi speaker that we could stream to?”

So that’s exactly what I set out to do. I was finally at the magical intersection: I had the tools to pull off the job, the equipment needed, and the skills and patience to pull it all off.

Step 0: Prepare the Pi

I decided to use Pi MusicBox for this project. It pretty much worked out of the box. Simple configuration (had it on the Wi-Fi on the first try), and I was able to stream from the iPad direct to it. The Pi was ready in about 10 minutes actually.

Step 1: Modify the amplifier

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The first step was to connect the Raspberry Pi to the amplifier. Since this was a proof of concept, I wasn’t too concerned about the quality of sound. I decided the easiest way would be to solder a 1/8″ (headphone plug) wire to the input jack on the amplifier. I connected both left and right channels together (it’s a mono speaker) and soldered them to the input jack. That way the front input is still usable. I then tacked the wire down with hot glue.

Important disclaimer notice: this particular amplifier directly exposed the mains (120V AC) input. I’ve got lots of experience with electronics. Do not poke around randomly if you’ve never done this before. That’s more than plenty of power to kill you very quickly. 

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Step 2: Cut a hole for the Raspberry Pi

One of my objectives for the speaker was to be able to plug in a USB thumb stick and play music from it. Since I didn’t want to add a separate jack for USB, I decided the easiest route was to cut a hole in the back of the amp where the Pi would stick out.

Dremel time!

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I first traced out the rough shape of the Pi with a permanent marker. Then I drilled out pilot holes to help get the cuts started. Finally I attached a reinforced cutting wheel and started hacking away.

A few things I learned while using the Dremel to cut this hole.

  • Wear a mask. A lot of dust is going to get kicked up.
  • Don’t use a cutting wheel. Use a cutting bit and a press attachment.
  • Do it all outside. I ended up moving outside after the initial holes were drilled.

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A dry fit later and it all came together nicely! Looks pretty good too.

Step 3: Assembly and Details

The assembly was rather simple. I added 3M Command Strips to the underside of the Pi case to keep the Pi secure.

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The space was large enough for me to run an HDMI cable and the Power Supply for the Pi on the outside.

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After a few more dabs of hot glue to keep the audio cable secure, I screwed everything back together.

Future Plans

What’s next for this speaker? Well, there’s a few things I don’t care for right now.

  • The speaker included sucks. It produces okay sound when the settings are just right, but it’s not great. I’d like to replace it with a full range driver at some point.
  • Two plugs. The amp has one plug and the Pi power supply has another. I’d like to add an internal power strip that the amp and Pi plug into, then the power strip has one lead coming out that plugs into the wall.
  • The HDMI wire just hangs out there. I really only need it for debugging. I might add an HDMI keystone jack at some point.
  • No indicator that the Pi is ready. I’d like to add an LED or some other status indicator to let me know the Pi is booted and ready to rock.

In the meantime, I’ve drawn up plans to build a small audio system for our kitchen. I’ll post about that soon.

Have fun hacking your Pi! Have you tried something like this before?

Disconnected – How Politicians Have Overlooked Rural Ontario’s Internet Poverty Crisis

Following the 2018 Ontario election has been like watching someone channel-surf. In mere weeks we’ve covered more issues than prior elections could ever cover in months. The Liberals are trying promise after promise to find an issue that will stick with voters. The PCs have screamed about the Liberals non-stop. The NDP have campaigned on their typical social issues, with some success.

Yet there is an issue nobody in the campaign has talked about. It’s a big symptom of what’s wrong with Ontario.

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Too Much Information?

It’s been entertaining to watch the Cambridge Analytica story over the Iast week. When it broke, you would be forgiven for thinking that it was a scandal of some sort. Basically this company used personal data from Facebook to craft political messages that would all but guarantee the election of Donald Trump. It’s certainly not their first rodeo either. They’ve got extensive experience in other campaigns, hut this one was one of the most prolific. The company has since been banned from the platform as they acquired the data inappropriately. The damage has been done though.

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You Are Your Brand

Two years ago, I did a massive relaunch of my company, Northern HCI Solutions. I worked with a designed to come up with a new look, logo, and brand identity. My copy-editor and I came up with some beautiful brochures describing the new service we would provide: the Total Systems Health Check. My company was a member of the London Chamber of Commerce and had a booth at the Mega Business After Five networking event. I was ready to grab the bull by the horns and launch this puppy.

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What Should Our Mayor Do?

If you’ve read the London Free Press today, you’ve no doubt found out about the “inappropriate relationship” between Mayor Brown and Deputy Mayor Cassidy. As usual in instances of political affairs, some are calling for the mayor to resign, while others are saying he is fit to lead.

What should Mr. Brown do next?

Whether or not Mr. Brown should continue as mayor hinges on one argument: Some people are capable of separating their personal lives from their professional ones. We have to ask, is this a valid defense for Mr. Brown?

During his campaign in 2014, he was described by Metro News as someone who draws his inspiration from family. When he released his platform as part of the campaign, he emphasized “zero tolerance for poor behaviour and bad ethics.”

What is ethically acceptable to one person may not be to another. Ethics are relative. Despite this, one could argue that his reaction to his actions (the “affair”, “inappropriate relationship”) runs counter to his personal ethics, or in other words, is bad ethics. If the actions violate his personal ethics, then if someone else were to commit them, he would likely consider that to be poor behaviour.

By applying his admission (“inappropriate relationship”) to his own campaign test (“zero tolerance for poor behaviour and bad ethics.”), what Mr. Brown should do next becomes very clear.

Stopping Gun Violence

As people continue to mourn the victims in Sunday’s horrific shooting in Orlando, a familiar debate is starting again: what to do about gun violence. Talk to someone, and you’ll most likely hear the phrase, “it feels like every time I turn on the TV, I hear about killings somewhere.”

What can we do to stem these acts of violence?

Some groups say that these killings are the reason why people should be allowed to carry firearms. Others believe that further gun restrictions are the solution. If one analyzes the situation objectively, there are valid arguments on both sides.

Could increased gun ownership and conceal-carry laws help prevent these types of shootings? Perhaps. In Penn & Teller’s Bullshit, they suggest that more people with guns tilts the balance of power in our favour. It increases the risk to a criminal that a potential victim may be armed. On the other hand, it could needlessly escalate a situation. What if pulling a gun on a potential shooter caused them to have a fight-or-flight reaction and start shooting? What if a would-be hero misses the criminal and hits an innocent bystander?

This is where I believe the problem lies with our discussion of gun control. If you strip away the fanatics on both sides, you are left with rational arguments that are equally valid. However, these questions and solutions do not address the underlying cause of violence.

I don’t believe that more gun control laws will make a big difference. Why? Well, in my video about the Paris attacks, I discuss similar ideas.

With ISIS and other terrorist groups, you have a group of people who have been so disenfranchised that killing a group of people is a rational option. More details are emerging about the shooter, Omar Mateen. His ex-wife has said he had a violent temper and had emotional issues. The imam at his mosque said he rarely interacted with the congregation.

Once again, disparate data points suggest that Omar was somehow isolated from society. However, these points alone are not enough to definitively explain why he opened fire. Claiming that he is just “a radical Islamist” is also not an explanation. Nobody is asking why Omar became a killer. What triggered him to kill someone?

Until we seriously look at the root cause of gun violence in society, we will continue to have mass shootings. No amount of adjustment to gun control (less or more) will have an impact on gun violence numbers. Guns are a weapon, just like knives, crossbows, and pressure cooker bombs – they need someone to use them in order to kill.

LRT: A Failed Branding Exercise

If you are among the three people who have watched me talk about Free to Use Public Transit for London, you know that I love a well-funded and efficient transit system. As receptive as my Ignite audience was to the idea, presenting this case to the City of London went nowhere. My fault, as I still suck at persuasion.

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Is Clinton Really the Democratic Nominee?

If you were following the results of last night’s primary race in California, it looked as if Hillary wrapped up her nomination. The Associated Press and other news outlets seemed to confirm this as well. But did she really pull off the historic victory she and AP claimed, and is there a conspiracy on the part of the media to ensure that Hillary Clinton becomes the Democratic nominee?

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