Plazmatic X dual beam lighter

There are lighters and then there are lighters, the Plazmatic X dual beam lighter definitely falls into the second category.

The lighter is 7.3cm x 3.6cm x 1.25cm which makes it about twice as high as it is wide (which feels slightly wrong, being used to a Zippo to size), this is probably needed to fit a decent battery and the high voltage electronics.

Amazingly the lighter doesn't use any fuel (no gas or petrol to worry about) as it uses plain old electricity to produce a dual plasma beam. Say lighting a cigarette, you hold it near the beam and suck and the beam bends and quickly ignites the cigarette. Very satisfying experience. It's also mean to be able to light all sorts of other smokables (no judgement here).

The lighter can also be used in all sorts of weather conditions including wind as the plasma beam will still be generated (as long as there's a charge of course).

A full charge will give 50-100 lights (though it's so pretty that it's likely people will just click on the button to see the effect. It charges via a micro USB port (USB cable supplied) and charges to full in about 2 hours.

The lighter comes in various finishes (though they seem to be skins attached to the same base model rather than say anodising the body itself).

The lighter is available directly from the Elementium website for $59.95 (there's free shipping at the moment to the US). This may seem a lot for a lighter, though never having to buy fuel should offset it.

Rate: 9/10 (only because of the case).


Garmin Dashcam 35

The Garmin Dashcam 35 is a little camera that can be mounted on your card dashboard and then as soon as power is applied it will start recording. It's size is 9.43 cm x 4.85 cm x 3.89 cm and it has a 3" TFT LCD display and weighs about 113g.

The supplied mount need to be pushed into the socket on the front of the camera (it takes a fair bit of effort to snap it in) and the mount then attaches to the windscreen with a sticky pad. Unfortunately that means the mount is pretty well permanently attached to the the windscreen as it's pretty strong glue, it's a shame there aren't other types of mount that say attach to a heating grill or some other part of the dashboard that can easily be removed. A bodged mount can work by attaching some sticky tape to the mount and the bottom of the camera and it will just about sit on the dashboard with an unobstructed view ahead.

The system records HD video (1080p or 720p) and will stamp the video with GPS coordinates and the system records in a continuous loop i.e. if it runs out of space it will overwrite older video. The system should come with a 4GB microSD card (though the unit supplied didn't have one) which is enough for about an hour of video. It supports up to 64GB cards.

It also has a microphone which records what's happening in the car!!! There's also an accelerometer which will detect a collision (and start recording if it isn't and log GPS coordinates) which is detected as an "event". However when it's recording an event can be pushing the mount into it or it falling off the dashboard on to the car floor.

There's no software in the box, though Garmin's Dash Cam Player is available for download (for Mac and Windows) through their site. This will show the video and the GPS route next to it (when run it will look for an attached camera or videos on the SD card and import them on to the PC/Mac). The actual video files are MP4 so can be viewed in pretty much any video player. The player shows the route taken, speed and time (there is a pointer on the route that moves as you play the video).

A quite nice feature is that it's possible to select Bing (default)/ Baidu or OpenStreetMaps for the map display. It's also possible to convert any unsaved videos to saved (on the PC/Mac), export GPS positions to a GPX file and take a screen shot.

It's also possible to by a Cyclops subscription from the Garmin store (for various countries including UK/Europe) which will alert the user to speed cameras etc.

Apart from the niggling permanent windscreen mount, it's a nice little unit. It retails for £159 from Garmin, but can be had on-line for at least £20 cheaper.


Misfit Ray, it might actually be the first wearable that actually looks like jewellery

A while back, Misfit released the Ray. Basically a tube with a single LED and straps coming out either side (initially only silicon, which are a bit ugly, but now leather straps are available, which look much nicer - though obviously not made for sports/water). The tube is made from aluminium and comes in Carbon Black or Rose Gold.

Apart from the lack of LED's, the Ray has pretty much the same functionality as the Shine2 and measures steps, activities and sport and works with Misfit Link to trigger actions (and can link to IFTT to trigger pretty much anything).

Progress is tracked by the LED flashing different colours (under 25%, 25%+. 50%+, 75%+ and 100%+ i.e. goal met) and it flashes blue when syncing with the Misfit app over Bluetooth (it supports Bluetooth version 4.1). It will;l also indicate incoming calls, incoming texts and wake-up alarm.

The Shine2 uses a single CR2032 battery while the Ray now uses 3 x 393 button cells (which should also give 6 months usage).

The Ray is also 50m water resistant so can be used for swimming.

Misfit are promising a range of new straps and other accessories so it can be worn, say, as a pendant.

The sport band version retails for £72.87 and the leather for £87.45, not the cheapest units out there, but probably (at least for now) the prettiest.


Speed-up your headless Mac Mini

The Mac Mini is Apple's smallest Mac and though it can be used as a workstation, it's often used as a server for offices/workgroups and even in datacentres. Apple even supplies software to make it function as a server (unsurprisingly called OS X Server - currently v5.0.15 is the release version and the beta variety v5.1 beta 2).

The server software supports various functions including a mail server and even remote Xcode compilations. However sometimes it's useful to remotely access the Mac Mini using Apple's remote desktop so getting a virtual screen on to the unit itself. Unfortunately if it's in headless mode, the on-board GPU is not enabled and all graphics is handled by the main CPU, which can make the system seems extremely slow as the CPU is spending it's time rendering the screen, animations and doing screen refreshes etc.

Now there is a solution to this and Newertechnology have produced an HDMI Headless Video Accelerator (t's about the same size as a small Bluetooth or WiFi adapter) that is plugged into the HDMI port and then the Mac Mini then thinks a screen is attached and thus the GPU is enabled meaning all screen handling is done by the GPU rather than the host CPU and everything runs smoothly again.

The adapter supports a maximum resolution of 1080p (and up to 3840 x 2160 on a late 2014 model). Other models supported are Mid 2010 through to the latest. OS X 10.6.8 is the earliest version of the operating supported (no drivers are required).

It can be found on-line for around £21.99. A really useful little edition if using a Mac Mini in headless mode and accessing it remotely (it's also true for using it for remote animation and anything that uses the GPU).


Techstars London opens applications for next cohort

Techstars has opened applications for their 5th London program which will run from June 20th with the demo day taking place in September.

They will be accepting 10 to 12 teams and interested companies should apply on-line through F6s.

Techstars has some great mentors (there may be some bias here) and some great companies have come out of the program. It's progressed a lot since Springboard days.

The Gadget Show Live show returns to the NEC

The Gadget Show Live once again returns to the NEC in Birmingham on 31st March to the 3rd April 2016.

Channel 5 Gadget Show presenters Jason Bradbury, Jon Bentley, Ortis Deeley and Amy Williams will be on the stage and this year a TV episode will be filmed giving members of the public a chance to appear on the show on TV.

There will be 5 areas (including the main stage): -

  • Better Life - Products that can help people or are beautiful in the home
  • Power Up - technology to power their lives which is anything from wearables, fitness devices and in-car kit
  • The Lab - Future/inspirational tech
  • The Arcade - which is all about gaming

Tickets are available on-line and cost

Child (Thurs) £9.99
Adult (Thurs) £16.99
Child (Fri, Sat, Sun) £11.99
Adult (Friday, Sat, Sun) £18.99


Ofcom publishes regulations for 'TV whitespace' tech

Ofcom, the Super Regulator, (in December) published the new regulations for TV Whitespace technology which came into force on the 31st December 2015 allowing equipment that meets the regulations to operate on a license exempt basis.

In the new digital era of terrestrial TV, there are digital multiplexes across the UK, these multiplexes use different channels, so neighbouring transmitters don't interfere with each other, which means there is a lot of potentially unused spectrum in a particular area. Multiplex sit in the UHF band which covers 470 - 790 MHz.

In order to avoid interference with existing (licensed) spectrum users, devices will need to communicate with databases which apply rules, set by Ofcom, to put limits on the power levels and frequencies at which devices can operate. There is also a 'kill switch' function whereby the database can tell a device to stop operating completely if interference is found to be occurring.

The UHF TV band is currently allocated for use by Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) broadcasting and Programme Making and Special Events (PMSE). Currently, Freeview TV channels are broadcast using up to ten multiplexes. Each multiplex requires an 8 MHz channel. Multiplexes are transmitted at different frequency channels across the country in the frequency range 470 to 790MHz.

Whilst a total of 32 channels each 8 MHz wide are reserved for DTT in the UK, normally only one channel per multiplex is used at any given location. In other words, the majority of channels are unused for DTT transmission at any given location. This is required because high-power TV broadcasts using the same frequency need geographic separation between their coverage areas to avoid interference.

The channels that are not used by DTT at any given location can be used by lower- power devices on an opportunistic basis. This opportunistic access to interleaved spectrum is not new. Programme making and special events (PMSE) equipment such as radio microphones and audio devices have been exploiting the interleaved spectrum for a number of years, and Ofcom issues more than 50,000 assignments annually for this type of use.

Ofcom refer to the spectrum that is left over by DTT (including local TV) and PMSE use as TV White Spaces (TVWS). By this we mean the combination of locations and frequencies in the UHF TV band that can be used by new users, operating in accordance with technical parameters that ensure that there is a low probability of harmful interference to DTT reception, PMSE usage or services above and below the band.

The following organisations have signed contracts and completed qualification to run the white space databases (WSDB): -

The 'master' devices that talk to the databases should report their height, if they don't the database will use a use conservative default values for the purpose of calculation of operational parameters i.e. it will use height values that would result in operational parameters that are equal or more restrictive than they would be had the device reported its height.

Though the regulations do not specify an update time (for master devices to communicate to the databases), Ofcom has stated a maximum time of 15 minutes which strikes an appropriate balance between the need to be able to act quickly in the event of interference and limiting the practical burden on databases of maintaining frequent communications with potentially large numbers of devices. This may be revised if found to be unsuitable.

The WSD Regulations apply to the United Kingdom and the Isle of Man. They do not extend to the Channel Islands.

A master device is a device which is capable of communicating with and obtaining operational parameters from a database for the purpose of transmitting within the frequency band 470 MHz to 790 MHz.

A slave device is a device which is capable of transmitting within the frequency band 470 MHz to 790 MHz after receiving slave operational parameters from a master device.

Type A equipment as equipment which has an integral antenna, a dedicated antenna or an external antenna11 and is intended for fixed location use only.

Type B equipment as equipment which has a dedicated antenna or an integral antenna and is not intended for fixed location use.

WSDs must not be used airborne.

WSDs must be configured in such a way that a user is unable to input, reconfigure or alter any technical or operational settings or features of a device in a way which (i) would alter the technical characteristics of the device which are communicated to a database (this includes the master and slave device characteristics), or (ii) would cause the device to operate other than in accordance with master operational parameters or slave operational parameters, as applicable. An example of (ii) would be the antenna gain. If this parameter is set to be smaller than the actual gain of the antenna, then the device could radiate at a higher level than the limit communicated by the WSDB.

A master device:

  • must be able to determine its location
  • must provide device parameters (defined now as its ‘master device characteristics’) to a database, in order to obtain operational parameters from the database. The device parameters include the location and the technical characteristics of the device listed below. The operational parameters indicate to the device the channels and power levels that it can use, together with other constraints.
  • must only transmit in the UHF TV band after requesting and receiving operational parameters from, and in accordance with, operational parameters provided by a database
  • must apply the simultaneous operation power restriction (described at paragraph 3.23 above), if it operates on more than one DTT channel simultaneously and the master operational parameters indicate that this restriction applies
  • must report back to the database the channels and powers that the WSD intends to use – the channel usage parameters – and operate within those channels and powers.
In addition, where its operational parameters stop being valid, a master device must tell slave devices that are connected to it to stop transmitting and must stop transmitting itself. The operational parameters stop being valid if:
  • a database instructs the master device that the parameters are not valid
  • a master device cannot verify, according to the update procedure, that the operational parameters are valid.

In order to support more WSDBs Ofcom also intend to publish on our website a machine-readable version of that list on a website hosted by Ofcom so that it can be selected by a WSD through a process known as “database discovery”. Ofcom would expect that list to include those database operators which have informed Ofcom that they are ready to start providing services to white space devices.

It is interesting that Sony is moving into this space, which probably means they will start producing equipment that uses white space technology for short range communication, such as say a PS4 to its peripherals.


Intel Edison, jack of all trades, but maybe master of none

The Intel Edison is a small system-on-chip (SoC) that measures about 35.5 × 25.0 × 3.9 mm (on its carrier PCB) which has a connector on it allowing it to be plugged into other things (it is possible to get the SoC on just the PCB without the edge connector).

The SoC board can then be plugged on to various boards from Intel, one is a breakout board which exposes various pins and has some USB sockets, there's also an Arduino compatible PCB allowing Arduino shields to be used.

The Edison tries to be everything to everyone, but doesn't always succeed. It actually has two processors inside, a dual thread dual core Atom running at 500MHz and a Quark 32 bit micro-controller running at 100MHz. The Atom runs Yocto Linux and the Quark a Real-time Operating System (RTOS).

It has 1GB of RAM and 4GB of Flash, 802.11 a/b/g/n WiFi and Bluetooth 4.0

There's a total of 40 I/O pins that can be configured to be: -

  • SD card - 1 interface
  • UART - 2 controllers, 1 with full flow control
  • I2C - 2 controllers
  • SPI - 1 controller with 2 chip selects
  • I2S - 1 controller
  • GPIO - 12 with 4 capable of PWM
  • USB 2.0 - 1 OTG controller
  • Clock output - 32 kHz, 19.2 MHz

Intel provide multiple ways of programming the system: -

  • Arduino IDE (v1.6+, no longer requires an Intel specific build)
  • Eclipse supporting: C, C++, and Python
  • Intel XDK supporting: Node.JS and HTML5

There are other environments that also support Edison (in Arduino or direct mode) such as the node.js Johnny-Five system. Node-red can also be installed directly on the Edison and accessed through its web server. Google's Brillo is also an option now.

Running Linux does have benefits if you're into Linux environments as there's lots of packages that can be downloaded for it or indeed built as required.

You'll either love or hate Intel's development environment (XDK).

Integrating Edison into your own projects does give you a lot of flexibility, though the power requirements aren't as low as some other Arduino types (but by the time shields have been added to give the same functionality, power requirements increase with them). In theory it is possible to put the Atom to sleep and have the Quark micro controller do background non CPU intensive tasks and then it can wake the Atom up to do some hard processing or data transfers through WiFi say, but it's not meant to be 'easy' to actually implement.

The basic Edison (just the board) is around £42, on the small breakout board it's about £72 and on the Arduino base it's £96 though on-line pricing varies.

Overall the Edison really does tries to be everything to everyone and it's a pretty powerful computer (well 2), but it may be too generic for lots of things and the variety of programming modes etc can be confusing.