Category Archives: Music

Configuring an Apple TV with an iPhone

Apple has developed a reputation over the years of producing products that “just work” and are easy to configure and use. With the introduction of iOS 7, Apple provides a quick and painless way for you to configure your Apple TV using just your iPhone.

The third-generation Apple TV enables you to stream a variety of content from the Internet or an AirPlay-enabled device that is connected to the same network. For example, this means you can load a video on your iPhone and transmit it to your TV through the Apple TV.

To facilitate easier set up of the Apple TV, Apple added iBeacon, a new feature to any iDevice using the iPhone’s iOS 7. Using the iDevice’s built-in Bluetooth wireless technology, iBeacon enables an iPhone or other current iDevice (iPhone 4s or later, iPad third generation or later, iPad mini, or iPod touch fifth generation) to connect with a third-generation Apple TV that is running the 6.0 version of the operating system. It also uses Bluetooth to transfer all the information needed for the Apple TV to connect to your local wireless network. And iBeacon transfers the information needed to connect your Apple TV to the iTunes Store, so you can purchase music, movies, and TV shows and display them on your TV through the Apple TV.

After you unpack your Apple TV, use an HDMI cable to connect it to your television and then plug it in to a power outlet. Your Apple TV then powers on for the first time. A setup screen appears that prompts you to choose which language you want to use during configuration (for example, English, Spanish, and so on).

Now you’re almost ready to use your iPhone to configure your Apple TV. First, you need to make sure your iPhone is unlocked (swipe the lock bar on the bottom of the screen and, if necessary, enter your passcode) and is connected to your local wireless network.

You also need to enable Bluetooth. If you haven’t already done so, open the Settings app on your iPhone, tap Bluetooth, and then move the slider to the right so that the background becomes green.

The next step is to lightly tap your iPhone once on the top of your Apple TV. After you do this, move your iPhone where you can still see the screen, but make sure it is within 8 inches of your Apple TV. After tapping wait for a prompt to appear on your iPhone asking you if you want to proceed. Tap Yes.

On your iPhone screen you should now see the prompt to enter your Apple ID and password. Enter those and then click the OK button in the dialog box. You now see two prompts: The first asks if the Apple ID should be saved on the Apple TV, so you can make purchases from the iTunes store, and the second asks if the Apple TV can send diagnostic information from the Apple TV back to Apple. After you answer those questions, the Apple TV begins the configuration process. Though your setup screen won’t change and it may look like nothing is happening, configuration is happening; just be patient. It should take roughly 1 minute. When the configuration is done, your Apple TV is connected to your local Wi-Fi network and your iTunes Store account is set up. When this automatic setup is complete, your Apple TV is ready to use.

If your chosen wireless network is hidden (that is, not publicly broadcast), or if several Wi-Fi networks are in range that your iPhone can connect to, you may get the following message during setup: “There was a problem connecting to the network. The Wi-Fi network you are attempting to join cannot be found.” If this happens, just press Menu once on the Apple TV remote, select Other, and then, using the remote, begin to enter the name for the wireless network you want to use. When the Apple TV recognizes the network you enter from the ones available on the iPhone, it automatically proceeds with the setup.

 

Remote Alternatives – Or Other Ways to Control Your Apple TV

Now that your Apple TV is ready to use, you can choose between using the remote that came with it or one of two alternatives that make it easier to operate.

The small remote shipped with the Apple TV offers a range of services but it isn’t very user-friendly. If you read the reviews for the Apple TV, one of the complaints you see most often is that the Apple TV ships with a minimalstic remote control. It has only three input buttons and four directional arrows that make it hard to quickly set up or navigate your system. Because the remote doesn’t have a keyboard, inputting passwords and moving through menus is clumsy and time-intensive. Using the remote, you see four tabs on your TV screen that you need to bounce back and forth between to enter required information like network names, passwords, and so on. Needless to say, this process can be incredibly frustrating when entering complex words or phrases (like a password with uppercase and lowercase letters, numerals, and symbols)!

But don’t despair…there are two available options that can improve the remote’s usability.

Bluetooth technology comes in handy again because you can use it to improve the control of your Apple TV. Just about any Bluetooth-enabled keyboard can be used. If you don’t already have one, you can buy Apple’s wireless Bluetooth Keyboard, which works well.

To pair your keyboard with your Apple TV, make sure the keyboard is in “pairing” mode by pressing and holding the power button until the small light on the top right of the keyboard blinks.

Then, use the arrow and select buttons on the Apple TV remote to go to Settings -> General -> Bluetooth, and the Apple TV looks for and displays any Bluetooth devices within range that it can pair with. You should see the Bluetooth keyboard in the list. Select it using the remote. You see a four-digit code appear on the TV screen. Enter the displayed code on the Bluetooth keyboard and press the return key. This pairs your Bluetooth keyboard to your Apple TV, and you can now use it when you need to control the Apple TV.

Go app to offer secure access to database content

For a business of any size, having a custom iPhone or iPad app developed is an expensive and time-consuming undertaking. Typically a far more cost-effective, versatile, and efficient solution is to develop a custom database using FileMaker Pro 13 and then grant employees access to it from an iOS mobile device using the FileMaker Go app.

In fact, the latest editions of FileMaker Pro and FileMaker Server, as well as the companion FileMaker Go app, work even more seamlessly together and can provide customized database management solutions to companies in a wide range of industries.

FileMaker’s main attraction, especially for small businesses, is the capability to quickly and inexpensively create highly customized and branded solutions for handing a diverse range of tasks.

To see a small sampling of what’s possible using the FileMaker platform in conjunction with the FileMaker Go app, FileMaker has created a demonstration website.

As you’ll discover, most tasks that previously involved completing or accessing information from paper-based forms, spreadsheet data, and/or that required any type of data collection can now easily be handled using a custom database created with FileMaker Pro and accessed using FileMaker Go.

Companies have implemented FileMaker-based solutions related to point-of-sale applications (that involve processing credit card payments and capturing signatures in the field); time management and scheduling; guest list management for events, sales and customer management; Customer Relationship Management (CRM); invoicing; inventory; asset management; resource scheduling; project management; time billing; and on-site job estimates.

Using FileMaker Go with an iOS mobile device enables information to be collected and shared from anywhere—whether it involves manually entering data using a mobile device’s touch screen and virtual keyboard, capturing signatures on the touch screen, taking photos using one of the mobile device’s built in cameras, or scanning barcodes.

The same FileMaker Go app can also access and display data from a centralized database, or present customized reports on an iPhone or iPad’s screen.

When FileMaker Go is used, everything is managed from a secure server, and the FileMaker platform offers total control over who has access to what data. As a result, it’s never before been so easy to automate a wide range of tasks and ensure that everyone in a company or on a team can access the precise information they need, when and where they need it.

It’s important to understand that there are countless stand-alone database applications available for the iPhone or iPad, as well as for Macs and PCs. Many of them offer some level of customizability, but this is often limited. Plus, each database on each device or platform typically needs to be managed separately, even though it’s often possible to sync data between devices and platforms.

FileMaker has changed this database management approach entirely, allowing for one database to be custom created and then securely accessed by PCs, Macs, and iOS mobile devices, or any web browser.

FileMaker, as a company, is a subsidiary of Apple. The FileMaker database platform has been around since 1998, and has sold more than 20 million copies worldwide for PCs and Macs. The latest edition of FileMaker Pro, which was released in December 2013, represents a major evolution in the platform, with greater emphasis on ease-of-use, flexible design, as well as mobile device and online integration.

FileMaker Pro 13 offers more than 50 new features, including major improvements to its database design tools that require far less training to use than ever before.

The ability to access FileMaker databases remotely using an iPhone or iPad has allowed companies to envision and implement entirely new ways in which this database platform can be used to collect and disseminate information. In fact, as of February 2014, more than one million copies of the FileMaker Go app have been downloaded from the App Store for use in conjunction with FileMaker Pro 13 and FileMaker Server.

Now, within just a few hours, any company can use FileMaker Pro 13 to create a customized database solution that will be fully compatible with PCs, Macs, and iOS mobile devices, and also be accessible online. Yet, all data remains encrypted and secure.

FileMaker Pro 13 continues to be a complex application that has a learning curve associated with it. However, a wide range of free and fee-based training materials (which you can learn about by visiting http://www.filemaker.com/support/training) are readily available in book, online, and video form. Once a custom database solution is created, it can be accessed and used by anyone with ease and virtually no training.

FileMaker Pro 13 includes 16 predesigned templates that can be fully customized to meet a company’s most popular database-related needs. Using one of these templates speeds up the “getting started” process. However, someone who understands how to use the FileMaker platform can just as easily create a fully customized and highly complex database application from scratch using the latest collection of tools that’s offered.

When most people think online search

When most people think online search, they think Google. That’s what’s happened to the online search market – it’s dominated by one (very good) player, with a few minor competitors (Bing and Yahoo!) picking up the scraps.

But it wasn’t always this way. There was a time when Google was just an interesting experiment, and users had a dozen or more viable search engines and directories to choose from.

So strap on your goggles (not your Googles!) and get ready to take a trip into the search engine past – way back into the mid-1990s!

 

Searching the Internet – Before the Web

The Internet today is primarily the World Wide Web – that “www” in all website addresses. But the Internet was around long before web pages and hyperlinks became common, since the 1970s in one form or another.

Users back in those pre-Web days still had the same issues that users today face – namely, sorting through all the junk to find the golden nuggets of information they needed. Just as now, information back then was stored on a multitude of servers around the globe, and being able to search those servers for specific information was an essential task.

If you’ve never seen the pre-Web Internet, know that it wasn’t pretty. There weren’t any fancy graphics and clickable hyperlinks, which means that all the data back then existed in text format only. And there weren’t any search engines per se, not like Google or Bing, anyway.

So how did users search for information before there was the Web? They used one of four primary tools:

  • WAIS, which stands for wide area information server. This tool let you use the old text-based Telnet protocol to perform full-text document searches of various Internet servers.
  • Archie, which was a client for searching for files across multiple FTP sites. (The word “archie” is the word “archive” with the “v” removed.) FTP sites still exist, but Archie is long gone.
  • Gopher, which was a tool for organizing files on dedicated servers. Gopher was surprisingly popular in universities across the U.S., which is where most of the information back then was housed. (Gopher was created at the University of Minnesota – home of the Golden Gophers.) Each Gopher server contained lists of files and other information, both at that specific site and at other Gopher sites around the world. Gopher worked similarly to a hierarchical file tree like that used in Windows Explorer – you clicked folder links to see their contents and navigated up and down through various folders and subfolders.
  • Veronica. When you wanted to find information on a specific Gopher server, you used a Gopher client for that server. But when you wanted to search across multiple Gopher servers, you used Veronica. Veronica was the Archie for Gopher servers. (Archie and Veronica – get it?) This software client functioned kind of like one of today’s search engines – you entered a query and clicked a Search button, which generated a list of matching documents found on various Gopher servers.

These tools were all rather primitive, at least by today’s standards. And after the Web came along, these old tools went the way of the horse carriage and buggy whip.

 

Enter the Web – and Web Directories

With the advent of the World Wide Web in 1994 (or thereabouts), data started migrating from Gopher and FTP servers to Web servers. Boring old text documents got dusted off and spruced up with graphics and hyperlinks, and Microsoft and Netscape started battling back and forth about who had the better Web browser. (This was after Mosaic paved the way, of course.) In short, the Internet was stood on its head as the Web became the dominant infrastructure – and as millions of new users flooded the Internet monthly.

As the number of individual Web pages grew from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands to millions, it became imperative for people to quickly and easily find their way around all those pages. With the explosion of the Web, then, came a new industry of cataloging and indexing the Web.

The earliest attempts to catalog the Web were all done manually. That’s much different from the way today’s search engines do it, with automated web crawlers and indexing software. Instead, back in the day, real honest-to-goodness human beings physically looked at individual websites and pages and manually stuck each one into a hand-picked category. When they got enough Web pages collected, they ended up with what was called a directory.

It’s important to know that a directory (and there are still a few around today) doesn’t search the Web, it only catalogs chosen Web pages, which themselves represent a small subset of everything available. But a directory is very organized and very easy to use, and lots and lots of people back in the mid-90s used Web directories every day.

In many ways, those Web directories looked and worked like traditional print Yellow Pages. (Which are also facing extinction today, by the way.) When you wanted to find something, you clicked through the various categories and subcategories on a given directory site until you ended up with a list of pages recommended by the directory’s editors. You didn’t get the magnitude of results you get today, but what you got were choice. It’s the old quality versus quantity thing.

Smart Glass with Xbox One

If you are currently using Xbox 360 and would like to know more about using Smart Glass, then I encourage you to check out my book “My Windows Phone 8.” There is an entire section that covers using Smart Glass on Windows Phone 8 devices.

 

Supported Devices

Although the Xbox One is capable of running various apps, the Smart Glass app does not run on the Xbox One console. Instead, it runs on the device that will act as the second screen. Supported devices include:

  • Windows Phone 8 devices
  • Windows 8 and Windows RT tablets
  • Windows 8 PCs
  • iPod Touch (4th and 5th generation)
  • iPhone (3GS, 4S, 5, 5C, and 5S)
  • iPad (2, 3, 4, and air)
  • iPad Mini (generation 1 and 2)
  • Android (4.x and higher, tablets require at least a seven inch screen)

 

Installing Smart Glass

The procedure for installing the Xbox Smart Glass app varies depending on the type of device that you are using. Generally speaking, the Smart Glass app is installed in the same way that you would install any other app. For example, if you wanted to install the Smart Glass app on a Windows 8 PC or on a Windows RT tablet, you would simply log into the device, open the Windows Store, search for and install the app.

In order to work correctly, the Smart Glass app does have to be connected to your Microsoft account. The interesting thing about this however, is that Smart Glass appears to work even when a different account is actively being used on the Xbox One console.

To give you a more concrete example, my wife and I both have profiles on our Xbox One console. Last night, my wife was playing Need for Speed Rivals while I was working on something on my Surface RT tablet. Out of curiosity, I opened the Smart Glass app. Even though it was my wife who was logged into the Xbox One console, a message saying “Hello Brien” popped up at the bottom of the screen (without disrupting the game) as soon as I opened the Smart Glass app. In other words, the Xbox One console was smart enough to realize that I have a profile on the console even though I was not the one who was actively logged into the console.

Incidentally, this behavior can be changed.  From the Home screen, click on Settings. When the Settings screen appears, go to Preferences. The Preferences screen allows you to choose which (if any) Smart Glass connections will be allowed. For instance, you can choose to accept Smart Glass connections only from profiles signed into the console.

Another thing that I noticed right away was that Smart Glass for Xbox One is a lot more responsive than the Xbox 360 version was. The Xbox 360 version of the Smart Glass communicates with a remote datacenter, which relays a signal to the Xbox console. In contrast, the Xbox One version of Smart Glass communicates directly with the Xbox One console without the need to relay the signal through a remote datacenter.

 

Using Smart Glass with Your Xbox One

Smart Glass has a variety of different uses. Its actual functionality is context sensitive, meaning that Smart Glass behaves differently depending on how you are currently using your Xbox One.

 

Home Screen Navigation

One of the most basic things that you can do with Smart Glass is navigate the Xbox One home screen. Smart Glass can display a set of controls that mimic those of an Xbox One controller. You can use these controls to navigate the Start screen, just as if you were using the controller. In case you are wondering, the Smart Glass controls cannot currently be used for playing games.

 

Browser Control

Xbox One includes Internet Explorer. The browser actually works surprisingly well, but entering long Web addresses through an Xbox controller can be a bit tedious. However, Smart Glass can augment the browsing experience by turning your mobile device into an on-screen keyboard. This makes browsing the Web or entering information into Web forms much easier.

 

Movies and Television

Although it does not work for every movie, Smart Glass provides timed synchronized content for some movies. For example, you might see facts about the movie or quotes from actors or from the director as you watch the movie.

The same basic concept also applies to television shows. HBO for example, provides Xbox Smart Glass enhancements for many of their shows.

Best USB Microphones for Your Recording Need

A lot of folks are doing podcasts and voiceover work and even recording music on their home PCs and mobile devices. Even if you’re not doing this type of recording, chances are you’re chatting on Skype or Google Hangouts.

However you’re talking to your PC, you want to be heard – and heard well. The number-one thing that most affects the quality of your recording is the microphone you use. The better the mic, the better you’ll sound.

For computer-based recording, you need a microphone that connects directly to your PC’s USB port. While you can use mics with traditional XLR or 1/4″ connectors, going direct to USB is the best way to get that audio signal into your computer.

So how do you choose the best USB mic for your needs? Well, the best mic isn’t always the most expensive one. Let’s look at the top 10 USB microphones on the market today, and see which are best for your own recording needs.

 

Choosing the Best USB Microphone for Your Needs

When you’re recording your voice or instrument on a computer, the easiest way to connect is via USB. Most computers simply don’t have the XLR or 1/4″ inputs used by traditional recording or stage microphones. (XLR is a round, three-pin connector; the 1/4″ connector looks like any regular plug.) So you can either use an XLR-to-USB converter (which we’ll discuss at the end of this article), install some sort of outboard pro sound box (or internal audio card), or just use a microphone equipped with a USB connector. Naturally, the USB microphone is the easiest (and lowest price) of these alternatives.

How does a USB mic differ from a traditional microphone? In addition to the USB connector at the end, a USB mic contains its own preamplifier (not relying on an outboard preamp) and an analog-to-digital (A/D) converter. Aside from these unique components, a USB microphone contains all the normal elements found in a traditional mic – capsule, diaphragm, and the like.

Using a USB microphone is easy. All you have to do is plug it into an open USB port on your computer and you’re ready to go. (You may have to install a device driver for the mic, but that’s easy peasy.) USB mics are ideal for podcasters, voice actors, recording musicians, and anyone wanting better sound than that provided by their notebooks’ built-in microphone.

When you’re shopping for a USB mic, you want the highest quality sound at the lowest possible price. Obviously, different needs require different quality levels, and everyone has his or her own specific budget. Still, it’s the sound quality that matters, whatever your price range may be.

Most USB microphones are condenser mics, like those used in professional recording studios. A condenser mic captures sound waves via a thin conductive diaphragm. Condenser mics create a detailed sound that’s good for vocals, acoustics guitars, and other low- to medium-volume sound sources.

(The alternative to a condenser mic is a dynamic mic – although there are few dynamic USB mics. A dynamic mic works via electromagnetic induction, and is ideal for use on stage or where higher sound levels are present.)

By the way, many traditional condenser mics require an outboard power source (dubbed “phantom power”) to operate. A USB condenser mic derives this phantom power from the computer it’s attached to, via the USB connection.

All that said, let’s look at the 10 best USB mics for your recording needs, presented in alphabetical order.

 

Audio-Technica AT2020 USB

Audio-Technica is a Japanese company that produces microphones, headphones, and similar audio equipment for both the professional and consumer market. A-T mics are found in professional recording studios worldwide, and they’ve recently moved into the USB microphone market.

The AT2020 USB is a cardioid condenser mic, which means it’s fairly unidirectional; sounds from the side and rear are mostly suppressed. It’s a low-noise microphone, which makes it ideal for podcasting and similar voiceover work.

The AT2020 USB has a suggested retail price of $229, but you can find it as low as $99 at some retailers. Given the relatively high performance and affordable price point, this is the go-to mic for home artists concerned with recording quality.

A Streaming Media Server

There are lots of ways for you to enjoy your favorite movies and music. There’s streaming services, of course, like Netflix and Spotify. But what about all the flicks and tunes you’ve downloaded from the Internet or ripped from CDs and DVDs? How can you play your local media on your home TVs and home theater systems?

The key is to set up one of the computers on your home network as a streaming media server. This server than then stream your local media[md]movies, music, and photos[md]to compatible playback devices throughout your home.

 

How DLNA Works[md]and Sometimes Doesn’t

When you want to playback media stored elsewhere in your home, look for a device that is DLNA certified. Said device might be a “smart” TV, networked audio/video receiver, or standalone streaming media player, such as a Roku box or Google Chromecast; just look for the DLNA certification in the specs.

DLNA stands for the Digital Living Network Alliance, a trade organization concerned with the sharing of digital media between multimedia devices. DLNA certification means that the given device can find and play compatible media stored elsewhere on your home network. It’s all about interoperability for digital media devices.

A DLNA-certified device uses Universal Plug and Play (UPnP) technology to recognize and control the playback of your digital media. In theory, you should be able to use your DNLA-certified device to navigate to any shared folder on any computer on your network, and open the files found there. That’s in theory, anyway.

Sometimes it all works as promised, with the playback device accessing and playing your local media with no problems at all. In other instances, however, UPnP doesn’t work completely as promised. Some DLNA-certified devices are limited in the types of files with which they’re compatible. Other DLNA-certified devices can’t access the host computer, don’t see any media files where they’re supposed to be, or will have trouble playing back the stored files. It’s not a technology standard without its kinks.

For example, you might find that a given DLNA device, like a smart TV, can’t see the media files on a given computer on your network. Or perhaps it sees the files but won’t play them, or won’t play all of them. Or maybe the playback is slow and stuttered.

In my own case, I have a lot of media files in formats that most DLNA-certified devices can’t read. While the DLNA standard technically supports just about all major media file formats, individual DLNA devices don’t have to (and often don’t) be compatible with them all. I happen to have my audio files stored in WMA Lossless format; both my Onkyo A/V receiver and WDTV Live media player will play regular WMA files, but not lossless files. So I can’t access my large digital music library from either of these two DLNA devices.

The solution is to make an end run around DLNA and use a streaming media server, instead. Media server software makes media streaming more foolproof; it makes all your files accessible to all the media devices on your network, and even transcodes stored files into formats that can be read by specific media player devices. When DLNA isn’t working for you, setting up a streaming media server on your network will more often than not make things right.

Build Solar Powered Robots

Your initial thought might be, “Simply add solar panels for free energy!” Not so fast. As I alluded to in Chapter 3, “Rolling Robots,” it’s not that simple. Even if you have a panel big enough to power your rig the way you like it, there’s no guarantee the sun is out. Furthermore, even if the sun is out, the earth’s orbit makes it appear to move across the sky, meaning the voltage generated will fluctuate.

All that being said, there’s a lot to like about solar-powered robots. You can store them away for a couple years and they’ll still work. You don’t have to buy new batteries periodically. Finally, you can do some intriguing things with robotics, like create autonomous crawlers that creep around your yard like a friendly robo-insect. However, even if you do use batteries in your robot, you can have a solar panel as well, to continuously charge the batteries. The best of both worlds!

In this chapter, you’ll learn about how to use these panels in your projects. Then you’ll bone up on breadboarding, which is a cool way of temporarily constructing circuits. Finally, you’ll build two sweet projects. The first is a solar-powered battery charger, and the second is a simple robot that is entirely powered by sunlight .

 

How Do Solar Panels Work?

Solar cells are layers of semiconductive materials (shown in Figure 4.2) that create an electrical current when exposed to light. The earliest recorded observation of the photovoltaic effect took place in 1839 when Alexandre-Edmond Becquerel’s experiments with silver chloride produced voltage and current when exposed to light. By 1959, all satellites launched into space bore solar panels, and a little more than 50 years after that, we’re using them to power robots.

You often hear different terms associated with solar technology. A solar cell is a piece of photovoltaic material, usually crystalline silicon. Solar cells are often connected into groups on a support structure, and these are called panels. A group of panels is an array.

Solar cells are rated for direct current (DC) output under certain test conditions—a sunny June day in San Francisco, for instance. Measurement is in watts as well as photovoltaic efficiency. Finally, because the output is DC, you’d need an inverter to run household appliances off of it.

There are two kinds of solar cells. The most common are the crystalline silicon wafers I’ve been describing, which are covered in glass or plastic to protect the fragile cells.

The other kind of solar cell is flexible plastic. Called thin film solar cells, or TFSC, these consist of photovoltaic material deposited on a substrate. Originally used for solar-powered watches, flexible-film solar cells are more expensive than crystalline silicon and have a lower efficiency. However, they’re useful for situations where the panel needs to flex, or the weight of the panel becomes a consideration.

Local radio station on your computer or smartphone

You may not know this, but many, if not most, local AM and FM radio stations stream their broadcasts over the Internet. That means you don’t need a radio to listen to your favorite radio station. All you need is a computer or smartphone and an Internet connection.

Although many stations stream their broadcasts from their own websites, it’s often easier to use a streaming radio service or app that can access feeds from multiple radio stations. These services/apps, such as iHeartRadio or TuneIn, let you listen to practically any radio station in the United States, and many more globally. This way, you can keep in touch with your local stations when you’re away from home—or listen to the best of the best from anywhere in the world!

 

Using TuneIn

My favorite streaming radio app and service is TuneIn. This service streams live broadcasts from more than 100,000 radio stations around the world for free, to any computer, smartphone, or tablet. TuneIn is also available on “smart” TVs from Samsung and Panasonic, and on Roku and Sonos streaming media boxes.

What I like best about TuneIn (as opposed to iHeartRadio, discussed next) is that it’s truly a global service. You can find local stations from virtually every country around the world, which enables you to listen to the best music of any type, anywhere. You’re not limited to primarily U.S. stations, nor to stations owned by a single media conglomerate. (And, yes, TuneIn includes all the Clear Channels stations that also make up the bulk of iHeartRadio’s options.) You get the most stations of all genres from all countries, period.

To listen on your smartphone or tablet, you need to download the TuneIn mobile app. It’s available (for free) for iOS, Android, Windows Phone, and Blackberry devices. On your computer, you listen in by pointing your browser to http://www.tunein.com.

After you sign up or sign in to your free account, the TuneIn website displays some recommended stations, based on your past listening experience, along with playback controls for the currently selected station at the bottom of the page (see Figure 1). Use the menu bar at the top of the page to access stations by location, format, or name. (To search for a specific station, enter the call letters into the search box at the top of the page.)

Personal Photos from Being Hacked

It’s all over the news: Somebody hacked into the iCloud accounts of Jennifer Lawrence, Rihanna, Ariana Grande, and other female celebrities and posted their nude selfies out on the Internet for the entire world to see. Now, this sort of activity is not just an invasion of privacy; it’s also theft, and whoever did it (if he gets caught) could face some serious jail time.

But the fact remains that the hacker did do it. Somehow, he was able to access these celebrities’ private iCloud accounts, where all the photos and files from their iPhones are automatically backed up to and stored. Just how did this character break into these private accounts? And how safe are your smartphone photos?

 

Where Are Your Digital Photos Stored?

Just about everyone these days uses their smartphones to take and share digital photos. These photos are stored on your smartphone, of course, but also end up in lots of other different places.

For example, any smartphone can back up all your photos to your desktop computer. This may happen automatically when you physically connect your phone to your PC, or you may have to initiate the backup manually. Apple’s iPhone goes one step further, activating an automatic wireless backup whenever your phone is on the same WiFi network as your computer. In addition, your iPhone may back up or transfer your photos to other Apple devices in your household, including an Apple TV unit, if you have one.

So right away you see that your photos are spread out all over the house, not just on your phone but also on your computer and other devices. But the photographic migration doesn’t stop there; most smartphones are configured by default to back up your photos online. This type of online backup is referred to as cloud storage, because your photos and other files are stored somewhere in that amorphous cloud of servers on the Internet.

A robot via the Web to perform some activity

Radio control of a robot is one thing, but what if we built a robot that connects to the Web, so we could control it from around the world? It doesn’t get much cooler than that!

Chapter 7, “Harnessing Infrared,” in my book Robot Builder: The Beginner’s Guide to Building Robots shows how to build an Arduino-equipped dart gun that detects intruders with a passive infrared (PIR) sensor and blasts them with a foam dart. In this tutorial, I’ll show you how to give the dart gun (shown in Figure 1) the ability to send you a message via Simple Notification Service (SNS) whenever the gun fires. Talk about intruder detection!

 

Types of Web-Interacting Robots

What exactly can you do with a web-connected robot? As it turns out, quite a lot! This section covers some of the possibilities.

 

Sniffer

Sniffer robots search the Internet collecting keywords, and then their programming does something with that collected information. For example, some gumball machines dispense only if a certain keyword appears on Twitter. Some organizations have an LCD screen scrolling with recent keyword mentions.

One advantage of a sniffer system is that it can be controlled remotely with no need for additional hardware—merely a Twitter account. The downside is exactly the same—in that anyone can hijack your robot.

 

Autotweeter

Autotweeter robots send out a Twitter message (tweet) when certain events take place. The classic example is a kegbot that monitors and controls a beer keg. It dispenses beer and measures its temperature, accepts payment, and sends out a tweet when the keg pours a pint.

Recently Twitter changed the way it interacts with external devices, and some old methods of sending out tweets no longer work. However, as long as Twitter continues to be popular, there will be a way to interact with it.

 

Telepresence

As an introvert, I always dreamed of a robot that could go to family functions and school dances in my stead. I could sit back and direct the robot to roll around, with a camera and screen allowing me to interact with guests. One category of robots actually does that—telepresence bots.

At its simplest, a telepresence robot rolls around carrying an iPad or other tablet, with videoconferencing running on the computer. The home base could include a desktop PC that controls the robot remotely. Some clever hacks have piggybacked the control functionality on top of the videoconferencing feed—one bot creator used black-and-white cards to trigger a light sensor positioned at the corner of the screen.

 

Interactive

Some robots, like the gumball machine I mentioned in the sniffer section, are designed to be controlled remotely. Robot arms can be directed from websites, with webcams positioned to show what’s happening. A whole subcategory involves pet toys that let you play with your cat or dog from a remote location.

Some interactive bots are games, such as chessboards with players separated by miles; others are much simpler, the equivalent of robot soccer. Typically interactive robots (like a lot of robots I’ve described here) are designed for fun rather than to accomplish a serious task, but it doesn’t have to be that way!

 

Home Automation

One category of serious web-connected robots is for home automation. Imagine being able to adjust your window blinds with your smartphone, or having a program that varies lighting schemes when you’re on vacation. These robots can send you data on the status of your alarm system, tell you whether your home’s furnace is running, and more.

This category also includes agricultural automation such as greenhouse controllers, which turn on fans and trigger water valves, measure temperature and soil moisture, and turn on grow lights as needed.

 

Sensor Net

One of the most intriguing aspects of all these devices connected across the Net is the possibility that you could have all of them measure the same thing and publish that data to the Web, giving you a real-time map of an area.