Tag: <span>Airport Express</span>

“It just works”, they said.

“Except when it doesn’t” they didn’t say.

What follows is a bit of a rambling post about random playback issues I’ve experienced when using iTunes to stream music to an Airplay. Simply put, for no reason I can fathom, iTunes playback across Airplay will stop. The track is still playing in iTunes but there is no sound passed to Airplay. Searching for this issue has helped me narrow it down to the problem being iTunes, beyond that I’m stuck.

Read on for some lessons learned…

Media Tech

Well, I’ve finally done it. I’ve ditched my Windows PC and bought a MacBook Air so all my PC tech is now Apple.

Am I a fanboy? Possibly. But for me it’s more about things working easily, and I’m not really into hacking stuff these days so the fact I can plugin an Airport Express in and instantly I can bounce music to a nice beefy set of speakers across the room, or fire up a video on either my MacBook, iPhone or iPad and bounce it to Apple TV to watch on my big screen… well it’s simple, easy and works. For me.

I don’t feel “locked in”, I still use a hybrid service for things like email and calendaring (Google), and I don’t use many of the default Apple apps (Sssshhhh I have Microsoft Office installed on my MacBook!). It all just works for what I want to do, I will continue to tweak things like that but I’m very happy that things are just working (I won’t mention the failed hard drive in my NAS box the other day..).

I’m very aware it’s materialistic but I’d argue that having a simple, reliable system for entertainment, is good for me. It lets me relax and as I don’t watch to all that much TV, being able to bounce 6Music round my flat is a just wonderful. I no longer spend frustrating hours trying to get something ‘simple’ to work and whilst I don’t ‘hack’ things all that much these days it’s still nice to not have that stress in my life.

Tech

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I’ve had a long term aim to move away from a big ‘box’ of a computer to a smaller laptop with a nice big storage system. Last week I took the last step towards that goal. I’ve been waiting several years for this and, in retrospect, should never have bought the last Dell machine I did (it’s a good enough PC but I was already thinking about going ‘laptop’ at that point).

It will also mean that, for home use, I will be completely Apple Mac based, MacBook Air, iPad, iPhone, Apple TV, Airport Extreme, Airport Express (and, errr… a Synology NAS box).

Oddly, one of the main reasons for this switch isn’t actually anything to do with technology. It’s more about simplicity, minimalism and the desire to have ‘less’. A slim sleek laptop , a minimal desk setup, with as much as possible tidied away.

And yes, I was very VERY tempted by the retina display but, as yet, can’t really justify that extra cash… anyway, in a few years time when I’m ready to upgrade, EVERY laptop will have a “retina” style display.

Just for kicks, and because I asked for suggestions on Twitter (and someone obliged with a blog post), I’ll post about the apps I pick up to get my Mac running the way I need it. I’ve done this in the past and it’s good to have it all written down somewhere as I have a shockingly bad memory.

Roll on the 16th July, delivery day!!

Tech

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I cannot be bothered with faff.

This is one personality trait that has definitely changed as I’ve gotten older, or perhaps it’s just a reaction to the years I spent indulging my ‘gadget-geek’ and allowing myself to think that jumping through 5 hoops to get a simple task done was “OK”.

My mindset these days is very much that technology is there to serve me. If something starts getting in my road I’ll work around it, or replace it completely, ruthlessly.

I’m about to talk about a technology company which I know some people don’t like, but bear with me.

I have an iPhone, an iPad, Apple TV and an internet connected Samsung TV. The bulk of my content consumption happens through those devices. I have a desktop PC, running Windows 7, which is where all of my content creation occurs. More of my time is spent consuming content so I recently bought a NAS drive to allow me to remove the desktop PC (and it’s large hard drive) as a middleman.

I can now watch movies on my TV that I created (ripped from bought copies) on my desktop PC as they now live on my NAS drive. I can view photos the same way.

I can also browse and play music from my NAS drive using my iPhone, or iPad. Unfortunately I can’t hear it.

My plan was to use an Airport Express, connected wirelessly to the NAS box, with audio out to a dedicated set of speakers. I have an old (“g” standard) Airport Express and bought some new speakers (AudioEngine 2).

Alas, the plan is failing and whilst I’m still not sure why, it’s getting the Airport Express setup that is causing the problems. That might be down to the Airport Express itself, or the Windows box, or even the router (a Thomson box supplied by O2). I’ve tried every set of instructions I can find but still nothing.

What are my options now? I could buy a newer Airport Express in the hope that works easily, or I could buy Airplay enabled speakers and be done with that extra step.

Too much faff ya see. If it had just worked I wouldn’t even be moaning about it here.

Tech Work

File this in the “idle window shopping for stuff I don’t need” category.

BUT.

If can anyone see any gaps or improvements to the following (and yes, I am largely going with Apple because it is easy to setup and I have no desire to hack, configure or otherwise spend ages of my time to get the thing working), please let me know. You might save me a lot of money.

Not that I’m gonna be spending anything on any of this, no no, that’d be silly and I have more important items to buy soon, like a bed, that kind of thing. This is purely and utterly an academic exercise, a small indulgementation if you will to keep me from going stir-crazy in this house.

So, the proposed new system is as follows:

  • A Mac Mini – which will be hooked up to the TV
  • Drobo S – which will (in the short term) hold two 500GB drives from my PC with music/photos/movies/work stuff
  • Airport Express – so I can stream iTunes to a set of speakers
  • Karmon Soundsticks – because they look and sound good

I’ll pick up a wireless keyboard and mouse for the Mac Mini as well. Which means that, when version 2 of the iPad comes out, I can slot that in for ‘casual web usage’ and the like.

My thinking is that I want a quiet and energy efficient machine that I can stream music from, and do a little web design work on too (with a nice big 40″ screen!). The Drobo allows me to easily add more storage space (just slot a new drive in), and if I want music elsewhere I can always buy another Airport Express (or stream through my iPhone/iPad?). Mind you, I’ll be moving to a flat so not much need for that in the near future.

Yes, it’s a bit pricey as it’s Apple equipment but it gives me a system that SHOULD just plug and play (previous experience suggests this to hold true), and is expandable to meet my needs. I could probably get the same with another (cheaper) system but having looked into it, PC/Linux equivalents require a level of configuration that I just can’t be arsed with any more, happy to pay more to have it just work.

Am I missing anything? Performance wise the Mac Mini will be more than enough for me for many years, and they’ve good reliability. The Drobo I’ve heard a lot of good things about and I’ve used an Airport Express before with my PC. I think it’s about as future proof as it can be, add in a USB hub for things like card readers and whatnot and I don’t think I’m losing out on anything.

Well, apart from the money to buy it all with…

Life Tech Work

I’m a planner. I plan. It’s what I do. I’ve always found planning and designing more fun than doing. I am the guy who can take multiple ideas and stream them into one thing. I am largely INTJ. I’m quite happy being that person.

However it doesn’t sit well with the fact that I (largely) don’t trust other people to do things the way I want them done. Tha sounds worse than it really is, so let’s just say that some people do things in a way that I find odd. I’m sure those people say the same about me. So with my desire to plan and my tendency to want to do things my way, in my own time… well… things can take a little time to get done. Take, for example, the shelves in our kitchen.

When we moved in there was a multitude of things to do, and we decided to do things in a certain order. The redecorating was done first, then smaller jobs that would make the house more ‘live-able’ were tackled later. In the kitchen there was a gap of about a foot between the end of the kitchen units and the wall. It was crying out for some shelving and after some measuring up my Dad provided the wood. All I had to do was drill a few holes, cut a few batons, and so on. Not a big job.

Yet the wood for the shelves lay around our house for 4 years, being moved around as we shuffled rooms, stubbing toes and generally getting in the way wherever I moved them. There is no good reason that I didn’t put them up for that length of time. I just didn’t.

But I digress.

You see, I have this week all planned, mainly because it’s what I do, and largely because it’s my way of ‘coping’ whilst Louise is away. No I don’t mean I can’t ‘cope’, I’m perfectly capable of cooking, cleaning and… what’s that chore called where you use the hot thingy to make your clothes flat…

Of course, plans are all well and good but sometimes, frequently as it happens, the “can be bothereds” get in the road. But that doesn’t stop me planning. It’s what I do.

So, for the record, and because typing it up helps me with the planning exercise, here is my plan for the week.

Life

Out for a jog again last night, and the difference in pace within the group is starting to tell. A few of us ended up quite far out in front and ended up turning back… only to end up way out in front again. My new shoes are definitely making a difference though, not a niggle or tweak to be felt. It’s like running on, um, gel-filled trainers I guess.

~

Home to some paperwork as it’s re-mortgage time again. We are hoping to use the raised value of our house (it’s gone up by over £20k since we bought it) to get rid of a higher interest loan. Thanks to the Motley Fool website I can now understand people speaking mortgage-ese, and the lovely people at London and Country have been very helpful and very prompt. I spoke to Katie yesterday and received a thick envelope from them this morning, very impressive.

~

Tonight we will be visiting my father-in-law as he flies back to Spain tomorrow. Three weeks he lasted, one more than we thought he would, and all told I think Louise will be happier once he’s home. I’ll just be glad that we get our spare Sky box back as the footie season has started and, as we use it for the spare TV upstairs in the bedroom, it means Louise will be able to watch telly when I kick her off the sofa.

~

That aside there ain’t much going on. We’re trying to save some cash as we are away for a couple of days at the end of the month, and I’m always wary that the change of mortgage will incur more fees than I expect, so we’re having a quiet, cheap, weekend.

Oh wait, it’s only Thursday. Damn.

~

Almost forgot. Netgear Wireless Router (WGT624) installed and working. Yay! I had to switch my cable modem (Webstar 100) from being a USB connection to a CAT (network cable) connection (BlueYonder installation gave me USB, not my choice). It was pretty simple actually, although I’m not completely sure what goes on behind the scenes, here’s what worked for me:

First up you need to release your IP address, go to a command prompt and type “ipconfig /release” (without the quotes).

Next you need to uninstall the USB driver software from your PC, usually from Add/Remove Programs.. in the Control Panel.

Then turn off the cable modem, and remove the USB cable completely.

You need to leave the cable modem off for three or four minutes – apparently they need this so they can ‘forget’ the details passed to it by your ISP.

Then you can turn on your cable modem, and let it start up before doing anything else. My cable modem has flashing lights on the front so just wait until they settle down and you should be OK. Shouldn’t take more than a minute.

Next up, connect the wireless router to the cable modem using a CAT cable and turn on the wireless router. It’ll run through it’s own diagnostics and again mine has lights on the front that indicate what it’s doing (to a point) but shouldn’t take long either, let’s say another minute to be safe.

Then you can connect the wireless router to your PC, CAT cable again, and then step through the setup instructions that came with your wireless router – usually you’ll go to a web address. I didn’t need to specify a domain or system ID for my router.

So I now have the wireless router in my network and can connect through it (via cable) to the internet. Next step is to connect to it wirelessly. And that’s the bit I’m having problems with. My laptop is at work, but I have my Airport Express here. But for some reason I can’t find ANY Wireless connections. It’s almost like Windows has forgotten about them… I’ve got no icon in the system tray, and nothing in Network Connections. Had a quick Google last night but to no avail, I’ll try again over the weekend. Bloody annoying though, especially considering the hassles I had getting the Airport Express to work in the first place!

Life

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Finally!!!

Considering the amount of hassle I’ve had trying to setup and configure my new Airport Express, I’ve jotted down some information which I hope may be of use to others.

I may end up waffling my way through this so, if you want, skip straight to the summary.

Firstly some notes on my setup as it will differ from many. I am on Telewest Broadband (UK) and my cable modem is a Scientific Atlanta Webstar 100 connected to the PC using a USB cable (as installed by Telewest). My wireless connection is provided by a D-Link AirPlus G DWL-G122 USB Adapter (NOT a Wireless Router but it offers the same functions for a third of the cost), and I am running Windows XP Pro SP2. My Airport Express is versioned at 6.2 and I’m using iTunes 6.0.1.3.

Ohh and before I detail how I got it working, some snippets of info to note, this may be useful if you too are having hassles setting up Airport Express on Windows XP.

The gotchas

  1. If you have a cable modem that is connected to your PC using a USB cable DO NOT EXPECT TO SEE A CONSTANT GREEN LIGHT. Flashing amber is the best you can hope for (because you are not using an ethernet cable to connect your cable modem to your PC) … given that piece of information you should also note that…
  2. A constant green light means that the Airport Express has been correctly assigned an IP address. It does not necessarily mean it is connected properly (this threw me for a while).
  3. Patience is a virtue. It takes five minutes or so for my wireless connection to kick in and for the connection to be made to the Airport Express. It may show up via the Admin Utility before then but leave it alone for a wee while if you can. No I don’t know why.

So enough of the trivia, how did I get it to work?

Well the secret, for me, was to alter the “binding order” of my PC’s network connections. You can do this by:

  1. Opening the Network Connections control panel.
  2. Selecting Advanced from the menu bar, and then select Advanced settings.
  3. On the Adapters and Bindings tab you will see a box labelled Connections.
  4. Re-order the connections to ensure your broadband connection is first, and your wireless connection comes after that (for me I also moved my Bluetooth connection to last).

Contrary to what I’ve read elsewhere, you CAN let Airport Express use DHCP to grab an IP address. In my head the rationale is – based on re-ordering the network connections – that the cable modem gets assigned an IP address first, then the Wireless connection gets assigned an IP address, then when that is done it connects with the Airport Express and it too gets assigned an IP address.

If the network connection order is wrong you end up with the Airport Express trying to assign the IP address for the PC and the Wireless connection, this is all well and good except that it breaks your internet connection. Not ideal, I’m sure you’ll agree.

Note: the previous two paragraphs might not be technically accurate but I THINK they explain what happened to me.

I spent hours mucking around trying to set the IP address manually, all to no avail (see the “green light gotcha” above) and whilst I managed three or four times to get music to stream to the Airport Express it was always at the expense of my internet connection. Re-ordering the network connections seems to have sorted that out.

So far so good then. I had fallen prey to the “audio drop” issue and turned to some of these suggestions, specifically changing the channel and turning on “interference robustness” but the key seems to be leaving the Admin Utility running. No I don’t know why either.

A final note. If you turn off your PC at night, you’ll need to restart the base station when you turn your PC back on or you won’t be able to connect to it (because it needs to have the IP address re-assigned ya see… I hope you are still following all this).

Frankly the Airport Express is not inspiring much confidence, a first for when me it comes to Apple products.

To summarise (and re-order things) then:

  1. Check your network connections order before you start.
  2. Use the setup tool, the Admin Utility can be confusing if you aren’t 100% sure what you are up to.
  3. If you don’t need to, don’t use any security.
  4. Don’t worry if you don’t get a green light, the Airport Express may still function correctly.
  5. If you restart your PC, restart your Airport Express (highlight the base station in the Admin Utility/Base Station Choose and select the Base Station menu then Restart).

I’d like to publically thank a man called Henry B. who managed to help me solve my problem. The discussion is here and may be of use to others. I’d also point out that the Discussions area on the Apple website is surprisingly open, active and helpful. A small beam of light in the quagmire that has been the “Airport Express experience”.

In closing then… no I’m not including any screenshots in this writeup as my problems were a lot simpler than I had realised. No Bonjour didn’t help (it’s only really concerned about wireless printing on the Windows platform). Yes this has lowered my opinion of Apple products.

Right, I’ve got a beautifully crafted playlist sitting in iTunes, so I’m off downstairs to listen to it!

Media Tech Work

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