The Raspberry Pi as an open set top box

A remote control and a partial screenshot of the XBMC interface showing videos

The Raspberry Pi may be designed as a cheap educational computer, but hardware-wise it has a lot in common with set top boxes. However, set top boxes are traditionally locked down and not easily modifiable by the user, the Pi is the opposite and is open to user experimentation. People have been building their own media centres for years and now the Pi offers a very cheap route into learning about this area. XBMC defines itself as a "software media player and entertainment hub" that is packed with features and offers a fairly friendly user experience which follows the ideas in the ten foot user interface. It has also been ported to work on the Pi. I've been experimenting with OpenELEC - a minimalistic Linux distribution that hosts XBMC and makes setting up this sort of environment on your Pi not as difficult as you might think.

Using PhoneGap, RSS and text to speech to generate a traffic report

A little while ago I was driving my car and a traffic report came on the radio. It gave some useful information but also a lot of information about roads I was not going to be using. As the report was trying to satisfy lots of people it ended up telling me lots of information I didn't need to know while missing out information that could be useful. I began thinking it would be great to have a personalised traffic report and given that my mobile has text to speech functionality and can connect to the Internet on the move maybe it could generate it (especially as I purchased the SVOX Victoria app which gives the mobile a rather charming accent). Digging around I found that the Highways Agency publishes some great RSS feeds for key roads so I thought I would have a go at building an app. To keep the development time for this experiment to a minimum I decided to use PhoneGap.

The Nokia N900 as a mini media centre

Back in December I was sent a Nokia N900 on a six month trial. I've been living with it as my everyday mobile phone in a special test and having the device for this extended period of time has allowed me to find out lots about this tiny Linux computer. Now that the trial is nearing an end though it is a good time to take things down a gear and relax by listening to music or watching some videos. However, just listening to some local MP3 files on it would be dull, so what else can it do? The N900 has some interesting features in this department, and the inclusion of a TV-out lead and an FM transmitter adds an unusual twist.

Extreme mashup: Turning a text RSS feed into a radio station

One of the joys of using an open source operating system like Ubuntu is that you can experiment with all sorts of ideas and not worry about constantly purchasing software or coming up against artificial limitations. By chaining some open source packages together we can do some quite interesting things, so it is fun sometimes to try a challenge. In this post I will show you how to take a text RSS feed and make it into an Internet radio broadcast that can be received on a dedicated device, so instead of being stuck in front of a screen you can catch up with your RSS feeds while sunbathing in the garden! The solution here is not intended to be production ready, and might be tough going for beginners, but the idea is it will give a basic overview which you can then go and experiment with. I'll be using Icecast2 to stream the broadcast, Ices to feed Icecast2 with files to broadcast, Espeak to generate text to speech audio files and a small custom PHP script to convert the text feed into a format suitable for ESpeak.

DAB: Will it survive?

I was sad today to find out that a radio station I really quite like has shut down. That radio station was Captital Life, which broadcasted on the UK's digital radio system (DAB), a nice radio station that played a lot of music without lots of interruptions from presenters and adverts.

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