19/04/2017

Fitbit Alta HR - a pretty little fitness tracker

Fitbit are the leading manufacturer of fitness trackers (and foraging into the smart watch market with the purchase of Pebble assets last year). The Alta was released a while back and it was the prettiest of Fitbit's offerings. Now comes the Alta HR which is the name suggests, supports heart rate monitoring. Fitbit have managed to squeeze the LED system into the base of the unit (next to the skin) and still keep the same size as the original Alta.

There are various modes and the Alta HR can be set to record heart rate automatically or manually and to background sync etc. The different options will affect battery life, which is about 7 days on a full charge.

The Alta HR will track steps (and a run if you're inclined that way), distance travelled (but it's calculated as there's no GPS), calories and sleep (if you wear it to bed). If you do wear it to bed it will also calculate your resting heart rate as well as show your type of sleep (light, deep, REM and awake).

Though splash proof, it's not waterproof so no swimming or showering. When you remove the unit it should stop trying to read your heart rate, but sometimes it seems to continue to try to read it (the LEDs flicker) for quite some time.

The smarts is in the Fitbit companion app (Apple Health compatible on iOS) and that where most of the information is displayed.

There are a variety of standard bands that can be bought in different colours. They're made of a fairly chunky silicon that 'feels' pretty solid and use a standard pin/hole clasp to close so can easily be adjusted for size.

Fitbit are now selling premium leather bands and even metal bands which turn the Alta HR into bracelet, though they're pretty expensive and as they're solid, heart rate tracking may not work (as the unit may not be snug on your skin).

Fitbit make other trackers that are more functional, but the Alta HR is definitely the prettiest, but it's reasonably expensive at £129 or more for the premium versions. It's a lot compared to something like the Mi Band2 which can be had for about £16 (it's not as pretty) for almost identical functionality and the battery life on the Mi is over a month.

04/04/2017

Engie helping people with sick cars

There are quite a few devices out there which connect to your car's OBD port (all modern cars have one, they're usually under the dashboard and provide access to diagnostics about the car).

Engie comes in 2 parts, an app that can be downloaded from an App Store (both iOS and Android versions are available) and the device that plugs into the OBD port (the Android and iOS devices differ). It's possible to download the app for free and set-up an account and order a device through the app (which sends you to the website) or just order the device from the site directly.

Once the device is plugged into the OBD port and the engine turned on, launch the app, search for the device and then connect. The app will then show how the car is performing. There's various modes which can show things like engine temperature, actual trip costs (using real petrol pricing that you have entered), however the real USP of the app is that if there is a fault, Engie will tell you what it is and can then send you to a local garage - the app knows where you are and has a large garage database.

The only downside is that if your car doesn't have any faults, then there's no real advantage to using Engie compared to other OBD devices and other free software that's out there.

The Android device is £14.99 and the iOS device is £19.99 available directly from Engie (it arrives quickly once ordered).

29/03/2017

Mi Band2 - a lot of band for not much

Xiaomi are a Chinese company that make stuff - a lot of stuff and they tend to make it well and very cheap. The Mi Band2 is no exception. It's a fitness tracker with a heart rate sensor.

The actual tracker unit is about 4cm long (a bit like a flat capsule) and it fits into a silicon strap. The top is a monochrome OLED display with a single capacitive button on it which allows various modes to be displayed. Underneath is the optical heart rate sensor. Once removed form the strap, it can be charged using the supplied USB charging cable which it pushes into.

There's an accompanying app (both iOS and Android) that sets the Band up (and upgrades the firmware if necessary). The app isn't the best in the world but it shows the number of steps etc. The band is also configured through the app i.e. what's displayed on the band and what notifications it gets. The app can also record activities (running).

The band will autodetect and track sleep, though there are two modes - one uses more battery life and is more accurate as it measures heart rate more often though the basic mode seems to work well too and battery life is very good, so far the band is on 82% charge after a week and a half of wearing so should get a month out of a charge.

Though not recommended for swimming it is IP67 splash resistant so can be used in the shower.

Considering the competition the price should be over £100, however it's available off Alibaba for around £16 including shipping to the UK.

09/03/2017

KERV minor update

Use code ETN10 for a 10% discount until the end of March at KERV

There's been a few curve balls, but KERV has arrived

KERV is a ring with an NFC chip embedded so it can be used for contactless payments. Well it's actually more than just a ring as there's a whole payment eco-system behind it.

KERV actually started life on Kickstarter - quite a while back - and there's been a few issues moving the project forward. But it's now possible to actually go on-line and order a ring in a variety of colours (white or black exteriors with varying interior colours).

The ring can be used anywhere that a MasterCard contactless card can be used as it behaves a an M/Chip contactless payment device.

The ring is made from a ceramic called Zirconia, so it's pretty tough (the only things that should be able to scratch it are sapphire and diamond) so it should last a while. When using the ring it needs to be held parallel to the reader (not placed on top with your finger flat i.e. bend your finger and the top of the ring should be parallel with the reader).

The website is available to users which allows activating the ring (a unique 'visual' code is distributed with the ring which is then used to activate it on the site). Users can also activate a virtual MasterCard (you get to print out a copy) which can be used for on-line/over the phone purchases. It's actually pre-paid MasterCard so it needs to be topped up. The ring can then be linked to the card too so only one top up is needed for both.Top-ups can be done using another card or by transferring money into the Kerv bank account with a unique reference generated by Kerv.

Being contactless it also means it can be used on the London Underground just by putting your finger near the reader and 'tapping in'.

The ring currently costs £99.99 from the KERV store if you use code ETN10 you'll get a 10% discount until the end of March.

It should be worn as below: -

04/01/2017

Wicked Cool Shell Scripts

The exact title is "Wicked Cool Shell Scripts, 101 scripts of Linux, OS X and UNIX systems, 2nd Edition" by Dave Taylor and Brandon Perry from No Starch Press.

It's been a while since the first version of the book came out (2004) and a lot has changed in the world of UNIX since that time so though many of the ideas from the first version are still valid, it has been updated to take into account systems like macOS and even Windows.

The book is broken into the following sections

  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • Chapter 0: A Shell Scripts Crash Course
  • Chapter 1: The Missing Code Library
  • Chapter 2: Improving on User Commands
  • Chapter 3: Creating Utilities
  • Chapter 4: Tweaking Unix
  • Chapter 5: System Administration: Managing Users
  • Chapter 6: System Administration: System Maintenance
  • Chapter 7: Web and Internet Users
  • Chapter 8: Webmaster Hacks
  • Chapter 9: Web and Internet Administration
  • Chapter 10: Internet Server Administration
  • Chapter 11: OS X Scripts
  • Chapter 12: Shell Script Fun and Games
  • Chapter 13: Working with the Cloud
  • Chapter 14: ImageMagick and Working with Graphics Files
  • Chapter 15: Days and Dates
  • Appendix A: Installing Bash on Windows 10
  • Appendix B: Bonus Scripts
  • Index

It's a long book at 305 pages, and it's probably more of a reference book for ideas on shell scripting and what you can do rather than reading it from start to finish - though if you're new to the subject, it's probably worth reading Chapter 0 before moving to other chapters.

If you want to get more out of using the command line (on pretty much any UNIX like OS) this could be the book for you.

It's available for purchase direct from No Starch Press for $34.95 Print Book and FREE Ebook or $27.95 Ebook (PDF, Mobi, and ePub), slightly more through O'Reilly (but you can get it through their Safari service) and considerably cheaper through Amazon.

05/12/2016

Canon EOS 5D Mark III - The Guide to Understanding and Using Your Camera

This post should have been published a LONG time ago.

O'Reilly are known for their computing books, but they also do technology on other subjects through Rocky Nook. Here's a review on the Canon EOS 5D Mark III - The Guide to Understanding and Using Your Camera from Paul Clark (a professional photographer).

Having worked through the EOS range from 40D, 50D, 5D2 and now to the 5D3, this book has unlocked many things I thought I already knew about Canon digital cameras, even before we get to the new features of the 5D3. It's usefully laid out - in part, going through each menu feature much like the manual does, but adding a lot of When and Why to the How of the manual's basic descriptions. For the first time I really understood what the stopping down preview was all about, and some of the Live View functions. As well as the feature dissection, the book also goes into great detail on some of the really complicated areas that benefit from a chapter to themselves. Focus, and in particular the 5D3's sophisticated autofocus settings are really well explained. I suspect that the actual range of functions is so vast and complex to set up that in the field one would hardly ever have time to do more than a couple of familiar settings, but it's nice to know what's on offer anyway.

The illustrations are clear and plentiful, and the text very readable. I'm a big fan of the style, but if I could pick out one area for improvement it would be a stronger steer towards "what really works" for different shooting scenarios - e.g. which of the many options on focus point selection might work best for a particular settings, or what three custom settings should be the shooter's priority when preparing. There are a few of these "opinions and tips", such as whether the Rate button really offers any value, but there's always room for more in a book like this.

Overall: excellent.

Next time publishing will be in a more timely manner.

24/11/2016

Tide, now washing the web

Tide, the on-line business account has now moved into beta. The app can be downloaded from Apple's App Store and it's now possible to access Tide through the web (through it ties into the mobile app and certain things will be authorised through the app).

Tide is a new kind of business account designed for small businesses, it's incredibly easy to sign up (takes under 3 minutes), you immediately get a sort code and account number and you can set-up sub accounts too (so say one is your main business and one for consulting). A card arrives a couple of days later which can be used in ATMs, stores and on the web to pay for things.

As posted before there's an invoicing part of the app and the template can be customised with your logos etc and then if it gets paid, it will tie the payment to the invoice, if it isn't paid, the invoiced person can be automagically reminded from time to time.

All transactions can be tagged (like Sales, Loan, whatever) so easy to see what's happening with your money.

If you haven't signed-up, do it now.

p.s. there are no bank charges as such, though some transactional fees will be taken (like in future when accepting card payments through the app).

Geek? Get some cheap ebooks

There's a deal on at the moment at Hummbebundle, you can pay what you want (starting at $1), but paying more unlocks more books.

The basic bundle contains: -

  • Unix in a Nutshell, 4th Edition
  • sed & awk, 2nd Edition
  • lex and yacc, 2nd Edition
  • Learning the bash Shell, 3rd Edition
  • Linux Pocket Guide, 3rd Edition

Increasing to $8 gets you: -

  • bash Cookbook
  • Classic Steel Scripting
  • Learning GNU Emacs, 3rd Edition
  • Unix Power Tools
  • Learning the vi and Vim Editors, 7th Edition
  • Bash Pocket Reference, 2nd Edition
  • Learning Unix for OS X, 2nd Edition

And then for $15 you further get: -

  • Essential System Administration, 3rd Edition
  • TCP/IP Network Administration, 3rd Edition
  • DNS and BIND, 5th Edition
  • Network Troubleshooting Tools

The are all O'Reilly books, DRM free and come as Mobi and ePub.

Useful arsenal of tools and for $15, a real bargain.

AliveCor Kardia band for Apple Watch

AliveCor make things that can read your ECG (EKG) and they've now released the Kardia band which is an Apple Watch strap.

It's easy to install, just press the release buttons on the underside of the Apple Watch, slide the original straps out and insert the Kardia Band ones (the sensor band goes into the one at the bottom of the Watch).

The watch rebooted after the sensor strap was inserted, but it came back fine.

You need to have the Kardia app installed and register an account, then make sure it's installed on the Apple Watch.

Running the app on the phone doesn't do much (it's designed to work with other AliveCor products). Opening the app on the watch then gives you the option of recording an ECG. It's best to have your hand resting somewhere and not moving much (there are options in the app to select which region you're in and whether you're in a 50Hz or 60Hz mains area).

The sensor strap has two sensors, one underneath the strap and one on top. Say the watch is on your left hand, lay that flat somewhere and place the right hand on to it and your finger on the top sensor. Hit record (well you'd probably do that before, you're given some time before a reading is taken) and a countdown timer starts, stay as still as possible until it finishes. After the reading is taken is does some calculations and you can scroll through your ECG and the watch app tells you if it's normal or not (couldn't test the not normal reading) and you can save the results.

It's possible to allow another user to use the app, but the watch needs to be placed on them.

The band costs £99.00 direct from the AliveCor site in both 388mm and 42mm versions. It's a nice quantified self device to have, but expensive and unless you have a heart problem, don't know if really worth it and have to wait to find out how it affects battery life of the watch.