Unexpected Benefits of a Network Media Player

I have a Kdlinks HD700 Network Media Player, but the model doesn’t matter much in this context as long as it is DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance) certified (with digital media renderer).  DLNA devices on your home network can use each other for media sources or as media players.

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The primary function of my HD700 is to play media files from my network storage drive to my home theater, so I have full-time access to music and movie files without leaving any computer turned on.  So I can get my movies and music onto my home theater system, laptop or Kindle Fire HD over a wired and wireless network connection.  That’s why I bought it and it does the job well.  But over months of use, I have discovered some unexpected benefits related to using it as a DLNA device.

From Networked Computers

In Windows Media Player 12, networked DLNA devices can be used as an output destination.  Just right-click a media file name in WMP12 and choose the “Play To..” option to start playing on your network player (In this case my home theater system).

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Or create a playlist in WMP 12 and choose the little “Play to device” icon to start playing to your device.  This is a great feature for my use, since the HD700 isn’t very agile at making playlists on-the-fly.

PlayTo2

See how it referred to my device as a “Media Renderer”?  That’s the key.  If your network player has a compatible media renderer you’ll be able to set this up.

Apps From the Kindle Fire HD (or other Android device)

Two come to mind here, Skifta and Twonky Beam.  Both are free at the Amazon App Store.

SkiftaoneSkifta lets you connect a network media source to a network media renderer from the Kindle Fire screen.  The sources (in my case) include the files on the Kindle Fire HD, files from network computers (that are turned on), online files (like at DropBox) and files from my network storage.  Then I can choose my HD700 (Realtek Media Renderer) as the player.  This set up allows me to control the media through the Kindle screen, which is convenient.  You can also install a desktop version to allow you to use your computer as a player destination.

twonkyTwonky Beam lets you send streaming media from selected internet sources to your media player device.  It only works through a few select web sites, but does include YouTube.  When viewing an internet video on the Kindle Fire HD using Twonky, a “Beam” button appears.  Click “Beam” and the video starts playing on your selected destination device.  This makes it easy to watch some internet streams on the TV screen.

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Steampunk Rainmeter Layout

I am a big fan of Rainmeter desktop customization.  I just finished putting together another Rainmeter desktop layout for my laptop computer. 

This one is based on steampunk themed (think lots of gears and brass) skins created by Customize.org member, Mordasius.  The majority of my layout is from the Big, Bold & Brassy collection of Rainmeter skins available for download from customize.org.  My laptop has a native resolution of 1366 x 768 and you can see in the screenshot that this makes for a tight fit. 

SteampunkDesktop

I added a different analog clock from another Mordasius skin (available here), which features animated gears with a piston that appears to vent steam every minute. 

I found the background “wallpaper & wainscoting” by searching for “steampunk backgrounds” with Bing.  And finally, I adapted my own stock market skin (lower right corner) to fit the theme.  You can read all about the features (e.g., WiFi, network, music player, RSS reader, etc. skins) at the customize.org link above.

The Discovery of Fluorine

Introduction

Fluorine (elemental symbol: F) is the lightest and most reactive of the halogen elemental class. While many sources state that fluorine is too reactive to be found naturally, that’s not exactly true since small amounts of fluorine gas can be found trapped in some violet crystals of the mineral fluorite.

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Until the Atomic Age there was no large-scale production of fluorine gas (F2). But large quantities of fluorine were needed to isolate the isotopes of uranium (U) from gaseous UF6 . Today, fluorine gas is available commercially in pressurized cylinders and is handled with the utmost care. In modern laboratories chemists take care to avoid any accidental production of fluorine gas. But the story of the first laboratory production of fluorine gas highlights the excitement and risks inherent in scientific discovery.

Hints and Suspicions

In 1530 Georgius Agricola image describes a mineral he called fluorspar after the Latin fluere (to flow) which had use as a flux to help the flow-ability of molten metals. Fluorspar, also known as fluorite, we now know contains calcium fluoride (CaF2) and large deposits are widely distributed around the world.

fluorite fluorite

In 1670 Heinrich Schwanhard image was the first to report that a mixture of fluorite and acid produced a gas that was useful in etching glass. This process led to decorative frosted glasses. The etching agent was later identified in 1771 by Carl Scheele image, a pharmacist, as hydrofluoric acid (HF). Scheele is credited with the first discovery of oxygen, citric acid, hydrogen cyanide and other chemicals in addition to hydrofluoric acid.  After Scheele’s work on hydrofluoric acid, the hunt was on in earnest for fluorine. At the time there were already successful attempts in isolating the related element chlorine from chloride salts and hydrochloric acid by electrolysis (Both Humphrey Davy and Scheele achieved this.) By the 1810‘s many suspected that a new element (fluorine), similar to chlorine but probably more reactive, was present in hydrofluoric acid.

The Dangerous Endeavor

While “Scientists learn more from their failures than their successes.” is a common saying, this is true only if you survive the failures.  Although, other scientists would learn not to repeat your fatal mistake.

The quest for fluorine was going to take a toll on health and lives. In hindsight, you might want to have known:

  • that fluorine reacts with nearly every element,
  • that fluorine and hydrogen fluoride (HF) are very damaging to soft tissue (killing the cells, penetrating to and reacting with bones),
  • that hydrogen fluoride causes damage to respiratory tracks even in small amounts,
  • that fluorine and hydrogen react with each other explosively,
  • that “fluorine fires” are usually unquenchable and
  • that fluorine can react with heavy metals to form poisonous gases.

But at the time, none of these were known, although some of these properties were suspected based on the observed effects of chlorine and hydrogen chloride. The scientists did take reasonable precautions, however, the power of fluorine was surprisingly dangerous.

1813: Sir Humphrey Davy image fails to isolate fluorine via electrolysis of fluoride salts. He experienced damage to his eyes and fingernails from HF but recovers. He accurately predicts some of the properties of fluorine.

Joseph Louis Gay-Lussac image assisted by Louis-Jacques Thenard successfully prepare concentrated hydrofluoric acid. Both needed time to recover their health after probable exposure to HF vapors.

Paulin Louyet image accidentally inhales HF during his electrolysis experiment and dies of ensuing complications.

Jerome Nickles image also dies from HF exposure while working on electrolysis.

1836: George and Thomas Knox image used an apparatus constructed from fluorspar (since fluorine seemed to react with everything else) to heat fluoride salts of mercury in a chlorine atmosphere. Thomas was nearly killed and George was bed-ridden for three years from HF exposure.

1856: Edmund Fremy image was the first to prepare potassium bifluoride (KHF2) and used it to isolate and identify hydrogen fluoride (HF), the mysterious gas that was making fluorine investigations so dangerous. He attempts the electrolysis of fused potassium fluoride (KF) – possibly producing some fluorine gas, but was unable to isolate any of the very reactive gas.

1862: H. Kammerer image tries heating iodine (I2) with silver fluoride (AgF) unsuccessfully.

1869: George Gore image barely escapes injury from a hydrogen/fluorine explosion during the electrolysis of liquid fused silver fluoride.

H. B. Dixon image heated an unstable uranium fluoride salt in oxygen – unsuccessful.

1881: B. Brauner image heated lead fluoride and cerium fluoride – unsuccessful.

1886: Henri Moissan image successfully isolates fluorine gas in a platinum vessel via electrolysis of anhydrous (water-free) hydrogen fluoride plus potassium bifluoride at -23° Celsius. Following this success, he continued his work determining the properties of fluorine. In his experiments Moissan was poisoned several times.

image Portrait
Apparatus for isolating fluorine Henri Moissan

In 1906, Henri Moissan won a Nobel Prize for his work on the isolation of fluorine, a feat that had eluded scientists for 75 years. He also famously pioneered work with high temperature furnaces, creating many previously unknown compounds. He died suddenly (after surgery for an appendicitis) in early 1907 shortly after returning from the Nobel Prize ceremony.

Add Favorite Channel Icons to a Harmony One Remote

The Logitech Harmony One universal remote control is a great device that works with all kinds of hardware and is customizable.  Just one of the cool things you can do is set up custom channel icons as buttons on the touch screen.  Here is how to do it.

Visit this website: http://iconharmony.com/icons/home and click the indicated panel.

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On the next page, search for your channels – checking the box for each desired icon as you go.  When you have all the icons you want, click the “Zip Icons” button.

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On the next screen click the “download” button.  And save the file on your computer.Image9

Unzip the downloaded file to a folder on your computer.  Now hook up your Harmony remote to your computer with the USB cable and run the Logitech Remote software. Choose “Settings” under your TV-viewing “Activities”

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Next select “Set Up Favorite Channels and add icons”. Click “Next”.

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Now enter the channel number and choose “Select Image…”.

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Browse to the folder with the unzipped icons and choose your channel icon.

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Repeat for all of your favorite channels.  Finally, update your remote to store the changes.

Building a Polyhedron Model

Pictures on this site show several models of polyhedra that I’ve constructed from paper card stock.  The model I’m building in this article is a compound (combination) of a dodecahedron and a icosahedron.  These two polyhedra are ‘duals’ of each other – a dodecahedron has 12 faces with 5 sides each and 3 faces meet at each of 20 vertexes, while an icosahedron has 20 faces with 3 sides each and 5 faces meet at each of 12 vertexes.  In the model, it appears that each vertex of the dodecahedron penetrates the center of a face on the icosahedron, and vice versa.

STEP 1:  Templates for parts

I use a software program (Great Stella written by Robert Webb) to design my models, but many templates are available for free as PDF documents on the web.

Model_Templates

STEP 2: Making parts

With the templates in-hand I use a large pin to make small holes at each corner.  I’m making the dodecahedron in white and the icosahedron in dark blue.  Put the template on some card stock and use the pin to transfer the corners to the card stock.  Now use a stylus or point of a school compass with a ruler to score all of the edges and fold lines between the pinholes on the card stock.  Cut out the part leaving tabs (as shown above).   Carefully fold all tabs and fold lines along the scored lines you made.

Part

STEP 3: Construction

This model requires 20 of the dodecahedral parts and 12 of the icosahedral parts.  Each of the pentagonal icosahedral parts is surrounded by five of the dodecahedral parts.  I use either a small film of water-soluble school glue (like Elmer’s) or spread a small dab of household cement on one tab, then position the pieces and pinch the tabs until the glue just sets.  Sometimes a flat-sided toothpick is necessary to get glue into tight spots. Also tweezers with a rubber band used to hold them closed make good clamps to hold tabs while they set.  I like to mix up the tasks and work on making more parts while I wait for the glue to dry.  Try to get every glued edge straight and aligned, small errors build into big problems by the time you get to gluing the final part.

Construction

PART 4: Finishing

The last piece is usually difficult as you have to work through a small hole and you can’t use clamps anymore.  It’s useful to make small tools from bent wire which you can use through the hole to push against tabs while they set.  The model in the picture uses metallic card stock and is finished as soon as the last part is set.  For normal card stock I spray the completed model with a light coat of matte clear polyurethane.  This gives the model a slight protection from water and allows it to be dusted and handled without worrying about fingerprints or smudges.  The glued tabs act like ribs and make the model fairly rigid.

Model
Icosahedron + Dodecahedron

REFERENCES

Using Network Attached Storage (NAS) with a Home Theater

I have a Seagate BlackArmor 110 NAS drive that has 2 Terabytes of storage attached to my home network.  I purchased the unit primarily to hold my DVD movie collection, which I play back through my LG BD-390 Blu-ray player.  The NAS drive plugs into my router, as does my desktop computer and my Blu-ray player using Ethernet cables.  The NAS is also accessed wirelessly through the router by my laptop computer.

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The NAS drive is setup as a standard network drive (not as a DLNA media device).  Accessing the drive from Windows or from the Blu-ray player’s built-in ‘Media’ menu, shows a normal tree-like structure with folders and sub-folders.

FileMenu

Additionally, I’ve mapped some folders to drive letters on the computers, which makes them accessible to even non-network savvy Windows programs.  And, even though it was not my original intention, I backup the C: drive of both computers to the NAS once a month.

The BD-390 can access and play .avi, .divx, .mpg, .mpeg, .mp4 and .mkv files.  It can also play .vob files directly, but most DVD movies are split into a few .vob files, and while the player will play them in order, there is a pause between files.  I used the freeware program Handbrake to convert most of the DVDs to .mkv files.

Handbrake Settings:

Container MKV file
Video/Video codec H.264(x264)
Video/Quality Constant = 69.61% RF 15.5
Video 2-Pass, Turbo first pass
Video/Grey scale encoding On (for B/W movies only)
Audio/Audio codec AC3 or DTS pass-thru

These settings usually produced files ranging in size from 1.1 – 3.0 GB with excellent video and audio quality.  Each movie took ~1.8 hours to encode and ~25 minutes to transfer to the NAS drive.  Some of the black and white movies with mono sound were converted using Divx Plus Converter which produced very good results and slightly smaller file sizes.  File size was not a big factor in this process.  The 200 movies only occupy about 36% of the 2 TB drive space.  Even with my entire CD music collection and backups for the PC and laptop I’m running at 46% full on the drive.

Before I had the NAS, I hosted media files on my PC which I played through my home theater system.  The downside for that setup was that my PC had to be turned on (or left turned on) and it has a hefty power supply drawing 600 watts.  Now I get all of the same capabilities (and more) with the NAS — drawing less than 20 watts (and it even goes into a sleep mode which draws less power).

I have a folder on the NAS dedicated to RSS video feeds which my PC downloads.  Then when I’m using the home theater I can browse and play these files through the BD-390 menu.  Now when I download almost any file, I set it to be saved in a ‘Download’ folder on the NAS, then the file is available to both the PC and laptop whenever I need it.  And finally, I use the NAS as a file server so documents can be accessed by any of my home systems.

Pros and Cons of this Setup

  • (+) I watch my movies more often, since it is very simple to browse and play the video files.
  • (+) No DVD/CD storage in living room.  They moved into another room for storage.
  • (+) No wear and tear on discs.
  • (+) Like for movies playing CD albums or individual tracks is easier.
  • (+) Absolutely no lag or pauses when playing files from the NAS (HD video is smooth).
  • (+) the network files can be part of Windows Libraries in Windows 7.
  • (+) Power savings.  If you serve files from a PC it has to remain  turned on.  The NAS only draws a few watts (and goes to sleep when not in use).
  • (-/+) Conversion of movies for home theater does not (in some cases) make them available to other devices.  For instance, encoding with DTS audio prohibits playback on the PCs.  I would need to convert a second time to PC-compatible settings.
  • (-) The BD-390 does not have a playlist capability for either video or audio files, but it will play files in alphabetical order.
  • (-) The internet access system for the Seagate NAS is practically useless for large files.

Perhaps some of the cons will be addressed by future firmware updates for the BD-390.

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