Tag Archives: Plex

The Last of FM

I dunno, but I think I’m done with Last.fm. It was neat, I guess, but after five years, I’ve determined that it’s just not useful to my life.

Essentially, supported music players could be connected to your Last.fm profile and every song play is tracked (it’s called “scrobbling”). Ostensibly, it was a way to discover new artists or find music that you’d be interested in. And, on occasion, when you visited your profile, they might offer some free downloads of music that might interest you. All statistics, really. They then bolted on this social aspect to it so you could compare your tastes to those of your “friends” and make new “friends” out of strangers. I guess that’s useful if you live in a society where your identity is tied to what media you consumed (like the one I grew up in). But I don’t live in that society anymore.

I guess my musical enjoyment has waned in the past five years I’ve been using the service (since June 13, 2009). I mean, they’ve tracked 40452 of my song plays on all my linked media players (Winamp, Banshee, Rhythmbox, Amarok, etc.). So I’ve listened to a lot of music, but on every playback there’s this background paranoia that my activities are being logged and put on display to anybody who visits my profile. That paranoia existed in the noise floor of my life, always below the squelch level since I had this feeling that the service was a Good Thing. But my feeling now it that it’s not exactly all that great or useful, so the squelch level has been adjusted lower to be more sensitive, and that nagging in the gut is sharper than ever.

These statistics are serving Last.fm (and their parent corporation CBS Interactive) more than they’re serving me. I guess that’s what burns me a little. A look at my own data tells me a few things, but nothing I didn’t much already know. And it certainly doesn’t accurately predict who my favorite artists are – it just predicts whose songs I play the most (aye, there’s the rub – if an artist produces long albums with short songs, Last.fm thinks you are absolutely in love with that band, because look at all the songs you played!). So, according to Last.fm, my top artists are as follows:

Rank Artist Plays
1 Nine Inch Nails 865
2 Shpongle 846
3 Depeche Mode 829
4 Stellardrone 784
5 VNV Nation 629
6 Skinny Puppy 626
7 Gary Numan 573
8 mind.in.a.box 504
9 The Orb 497
10 The Future Sound of London 487
11 U2 476
12 The Cure 459
13 Rush 457
14 The Knife 445
15 Type O Negative 403

Sure, quite a few of these bands are my all-time favorites, I’ll grant that. But Stellardrone, for instance, was a recent addition only because I grabbed the artist’s discography and used it judiciously to mask background noise while trying so sleep for my graveyard shifts (a recent concern in the past year). The problem is that this data doesn’t reflect my entire history of listening to music since I got my first Walkman in high school – I love so much more than these top bands (where is Pink Floyd, Yes, or Sarah McLachlan, for instance?). This data reflects only my logged plays on connected devices since 2009. Any passing fascinations with such-and-such a band during that time artificially carries stronger weight than it naturally would have carried in the grand scheme of things. Statistics are funny like that.

I uninstalled the Last.fm scrobbler plugin from my laptop’s Winamp over 2 years ago – that was kinda the beginning of the end (really, it was just another piece of software stealing precious processor cycles from my low-powered laptop). I’ve also stopped linking any new software to my profile, just letting the old ones fade out due to upgrades and attrition so that only the Banshee software on my Linux desktop is reporting my song plays. But after recently becoming acquainted with the Plex Media Center, where I’ve been going through my collection at random as the mood fits, I noticed something was missing: the paranoia. Nobody’s watching! (*That I know of, but since Plex is a network-based service linked to a single-sign-on at the plex.tv site, even though the media is hosted at my own house, they could very well be tracking plays on the back end). The scrobbler is still installed on Banshee, and may stay installed for a long while, but I have disabled scrobbling.

So yeah, I’m kinda done. There is so much in my music collection that I adore, so much that I’ve loved in the past, so much that I want to listen to more of, but the thought that I’m being watched (voluntarily, mind you) kinda puts a wet towel on that fire. I want to enjoy my music again without looking over my shoulder. I volunteered all that data, and now I’m voluntarily opting out. The payout just hasn’t been worth it.

Plex Transcode, Vex Commode

What good is a streaming media server if it doesn’t stream media? No good, that’s what.

Some time after installing the Plex Media Center plugin on my FreeNAS file server, I tweaked some settings. One of those was “Transcoder temporary directory”, which I set to be some folder I created inside my Plex chroot jail. A few days later, after forgetting all this, I attempted to play some movie through the PlexWeb player, and the player just sat and spun forever. So I opened XBMC and attempted to play; that worked just fine. On a Windows machine, the Plex standalone player worked just fine, also — until I changed the streaming settings to disable Direct Play and Direct Stream and have Plex standalone request a lower bitrate (to go over my cable modem). Playback ceased to function. So, what gives?

Turns out, the transcoder was failing silently, so it wasn’t feeding any lower bitrates to either the Plex standalone or the PlexWeb player. So among the list of settings I was jabbing at I cleared the Transcoder Temporary Directory setting and boom the playback started working again. Huh? It took several minutes of digging into the jail chroot to figure out that the problem all along was a Unix file permissions issue — the folder that I had created through FreeNAS to store the temporary transcode files was owned by a user that wasn’t the Plex software’s user and by a group that the Plex software was not a member of, and the “other” permissions were read-only. Huh! So I chmodded the folder o+w and tried again. Success.

This simple fix was a slap to the forehead after monkeying around with settings for weeks, trying to find logfiles, restarting the jail, even reinstalling the Plex plugin in FreeNAS. It seems the obvious fixes are not so obvious to the oblivious.