New Raspberry Pi Open Source Media Center setup

I’ve been using a Raspberry Pi as my media centre PC for about four years. I like the idea of having a computer hooked up to my TV for playing local media. For Netflix, I use my (now ‘obsolete’) Wii U.

Previously, I had a dedicated media server (running Open Media Vault). The Pi was a ‘front end’ of sorts for that server and it ran OpenELEC (a Pi variant of Kodi).

Unfortunately, I had to change this long-standing setup. The server bit the dust – likely an electronic short. This new setup is a less complicated replacement and kind of an experiment to see if I can function without the dedicated server. Also, OpenELEC, as a platform, has fallen out of favour so I’m using Open Source Media Centre (a fork of the ELEC) which has a slicker interface and better support.

Hardware

The hardware setup is pretty simple. I have a Raspberry Pi 2 and a 1TB WD Red Drive. For those at home, a Pi 3 will give you better performance.

The hard drive, which is designed for network-attached storage, has been put into a nice enclosure which doesn’t require any tools. This allows me to swap out the storage easily (say if the drive dies). The drive is formatted to exFAT so I can write to the disk using Windows or macOS.

Pi 2 (left) and drive inside the enclosure (right).
Here you can see how the enclosure works. Flip-top gives you easy access to the drive. This setup can’t really sit vertically. Also has a very smooth-feeling power button on top.
This is the external drive closed. Has kind of a cool look.
I control the system using a cheap wireless keyboard-mouse combo from Logitech.

The nice thing about this setup is how easy it was. Both the Pi and drive/enclosure have external power. To make them talk to each other, you just plug the drive into one of the Pi’s USB ports. Done.

When it’s all hooked up for the first time, it’s a little messy. Plugged into the Pi, is an ethernet cable (highly recommended over wireless), the keyboard/mouse dongle, and USB cable for the drive. For this Pi, I bought a power supply that has an on/off switch. I highly recommend this, as it allows you to setup your hardware without automatically starting up the Pi.

Again, you can see the dedicated power cables for the Pi (on the left) and the drive (bottom).
Looks a little leaner from this side 😉

When you boot OSMC for the first time you’ll get a blue screen (of life?) with the operating system logo.

To make this hardware setup more visually attractive, I put both the Pi and drive behind my DVD player. In the dark, all you can really see is the blue and red lights.

The interface is very intuitive and I recommend using the Kodi interface Estuary. There are lots of add-ons for OSMC for YouTube, TWiT, Food Network, etc.

Connecting over the network

Once you have the hardware hooked up, it’s pretty simple to connect to OSMC over the network using SAMBA. From my Mac, I can see the Pi and the external drive from the Finder. This is a great feature because it allows you to transfer new files to the Pi over your local network.

Screen Shot 2018-02-25 at 1.24.55 PM

That’s about it!

Resources

OSMC using Raspberry Pi Guide

OSMC download

ISSOTL Poster Presentation: “Open Enough? Choices and Consequences​ When Transitioning from Closed to Open Resources and Courses​”

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Image by Johannes Plenio from Unsplash

I’m thrilled to be conducting a poster presentation at the 2017 International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Conference, with my colleague Michael McNally.

Location: Exhibition Hall E, #379 @ 6pm Oct 12, 2017

In preparation for the poster session (and for those who can’t make it) I’ve posted a link to the poster and a digital handout.

Poster: http://hdl.handle.net/11205/352

Digital handout: http://bit.ly/2wPNDMe

A couple points about the digital handout. The link allows you to make comments! If you want to know more about something, feel free to ask questions or make suggestions.

If you have any questions about this research, please don’t hesitate to contact Michael or me.

Erik Christiansenechristiansen@mtroyal.ca / erik@erikchristiansen.net
Twitter: @eriksation

Michael McNallymmcnally@ualberta.ca

The feeling of being behind

I’m certain anyone who’s worked in academia has felt ‘behind’. I would bet many early career academics feel this way constantly.

I admit that I have (and still) get myself into a headspace where I’m saying things like “I should be doing more” or “this should be done by now.” My university recently opened our new state-of-the-art library and learning centre – filled to the brim with exciting new technologies and teaching spaces. While I can’t speak for my colleagues, I feel there’s more pressure to deliver this Fall. However, a couple of recent experiences have grounded my expectations and made me take pause.

I recently read a 2016 blog post by Zack Kanter which outlines why we feel behind. Most of us have a vision of our perfect self and we constantly compare ourselves to this vision. Kanter’s summary is perfect.

The question that finally helped me break the cycle was: behind compared to what? Some alternate-reality version of yourself without flaws, a relentless Terminator on the Perfect Course of Life, chasing down and slaying goals and if you stop to catch your breath for one second the cyborg-take-no-prisoners-has-no-bad-days-or-relationship-or-family-issues-and-never-binge-watches-Netflix ‘you’ will just fly by and you will never be able to catch up no matter how hard you try?

I will tell you a secret. There is no other version of yourself, there is only the version sitting here right now. You are not behind (or, for that matter, ahead): you are exactly where you are supposed to be. So take a deep breath and relax.

The perfect version of myself has already published the two research projects I’m currently working on, planned all his classes, and has pre-read all the committee materials. But, putting unnecessary pressure on one’s self-doesn’t lead to greater productivity.

During a recent conversation with a colleague, this feeling of being ‘behind’ came up. She asked me about my current research projects and what teaching strategies I planned on implementing, to which I provided a lengthy explanation. Her reply was, “You’re doing a lot! You should slow down.” I was taken aback. Her comment was followed by a book recommendation – The Slow Professor. The book argues that “corporatization has engendered a pervasive time pressure” in academic life. In the book’s ‘slow manifesto’, the authors say this:

While slowness has been celebrated in architecture, urban life, and personal relations, it has not yet found its way into education. Yet, if there’s one sector in society which should be cultivating deep thought, it is academic teachers… Slow Professors advocate deliberation over acceleration. We need time to think, and so do our students.

It’s ok to stop and think. It’s ok to breathe. I still think being ambitious and productive are good goals. So instead of feeling behind, I’m feeling motivated. The difference? Tempering expectations. Assume what you want to achieve will take longer than you think. Learn to appreciate the small accomplishments along the way.

My process for qualitative web research

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CC0 image – Rachael Gorjestani

I’m a bit of a research methods geek. As I’ve become more familiar with qualitative methods and coding data, there’s a few tricks I’ve learned which I’ll discuss today. Disclaimer: I’m not a methods “expert” (though I’m not sure many people are), and I developed this approach from experience and exhaustive reading 👨🏼‍💻 of the academic literature.

I enjoy working with both numbers (quantitative data) and documents (qualitative data). Qualitative methods are interesting because they provide the researcher an enormous amount of flexibility, and the data often provides a great depth of understanding. The downside to qualitative approaches are that they’re a bit fuzzy. There’s also A LOT of qualitative techniques. You have to be comfortable with loose approaches to analyzing data and, occasionally, creating your own method – usually derived from one or more existing approaches – to fit your project. However, while the methods can be flexible, it’s important to employ your method as consistently as possible.

First, some background. I’m currently conducting a content/policy analysis of Open Education Resources Policy in Western Canada. You don’t have to know what that is. What’s important is that my data is 100% web documents. There are no experiments to run, no statistics to gather, and no people to interview. (Well… I chose not to interview this time around).

Within the documents I collected, I’m looking for snippets of text that make mention of my topic and I’m assigning those snippets a “code.” If you’re not familiar with coding I’ve included a couple of solid resources:

So, here’s what I’m looking at…

This is one of my Excel sheets. I prefer to organize data I’ve found using Excel because programs such as NVivo don’t seem as flexible. Each row is a separate document and the columns label the information in each cell.

Tip 1: Colour Code and Prioritize

It looks like a mess, I know, but there’s a logic. Green rows means I’ve read and coded the document. White rows mean that I’ve skipped those documents for now. These docs might be useful, but certain types of documents are hit or miss with regards to relevance. Conversely, others are DEFINITELY what I want. Time is precious, so working in order of relevance, not chronological, is key.

At this point you might be thinking “What a waste of time! Why collect irrelevant documents?” But, wait!

Tip 2: Collect everything you find as you go, and deal with it later

Time is precious, and it’s likely I’m going to do a “similar” project on the same topic (because it’s interesting). Re-finding documents I’ve already come across is a waste of time, so it’s best to collect them as you find them. Always be thinking of how documents could be useful to you one, two, three, or ten-years down the road. All documents that could be useful later are indicated by the dark blue cells on the left. This process also helps limit the scope of what you analyze. A minute saved is a minute earned? (I just made that up).

Tip 3: Multiple Excel sheets!

It’s imperative to have multiple sheets when coding with Excel. Snippets of text are on the left, and a code is assigned to each snippet.

Text snippets and codes are blurred because… it’s not ready yet!

I also have the document details on the right, in the same format as the previous sheet. Some people don’t agree with this approach because you’re not separating yourself from the documents when creating themes from your codes. My work around is to cover up these details when I organize my codes into themes. Just temporarily shade cells you don’t want to see in black. Problem solved!