27/04/2015

MIPS "open sources" CPU

Imagination Technologies who make graphics chips and bought the chip designs of MIPS have made the underlying MIPS processor design available to academic institutions for free.

The CPU has all the features (MMU, cache controllers, debug interfaces, etc.) that a modern operating system needs to run (such as Linux and Android). The actual RTL is included in the release.

This will allow the running of the CPU on an FPGA (field programmable gate array) and Imagination Technology hope that it will lead new new innovations in the Internet of Things, mobile and automative arenas.

This is the first time a complete commercial CPU has been released and is pretty innovative of Imagination. There is a site Opencores and someone did post an ARM compatible CPU, but it was pulled at the request of ARM.

18/03/2015

Beddit - tracking your sleep

Beddit is a device that has a little computing/Bluetooth module and a ultra-thin film sensor that's placed on the mattress that measures your sleep. The strip should be placed on the bed, approximately where your chest is.

Older versions of the device used a Bluetooth 2.0 module which meant the accompanying app (iOS and Android) took forever to connect, while newer versions have a Bluetooth 4 (SMART) module and as soon as the app is opened it connects almost immediately.

The app then tracks sleep quality, respiration and heart rate. It shows how many times you got out of bed, when you went to bed and when you got up. Unfortunately currently you need to start the app to do this which means if you forget, say because you're drunk - when you'd really like to know how you slept, it won't measure anything.

If you do remember to pen the app, then you get a nice display of min/max heart rate and averaged breaths per minute and then a visual graph of what kind of sleep you were in.

The next version of the app should automatically connect when near the Beddit sensor and then know when you go to bed and automatically track your sleep. It may also have a live display showing breathing and/or heart rate.

If you have problems sleeping, this won't cure them, but will show you your sleep patterns and maybe help you improve them.

If you're a Misfit user, Beddit also works with the Misfit app (so will use the Beddit to track your sleep rather than the Misfit Shine/etc).

Prices vary widely on-line, but it can be had for as little as £61.

12/03/2015

Ofcom to hold "beauty contest" for Suffolk

Ofcom, the Super Regulator, is advertising the Local Radio Multiplex Licence for SUFFOLK. This is a DAB radio license which is a standard VHF DAB channel known internationally as ‘Frequency Block 10C (centre frequency of 213.360 MHz).

Any application will be considered in a beauty contest process, whereby the applicants suitability is judged against Ofcom's criteria.

There is an application fee of £5,000 per applicant which is non refundable under any circumstances.

Arqiva will provide the infrastructure for transmission services and capacity must be made available for the provision of BBC local radio (Radio Suffolk in this instance).

The system must not interfere with foreign transmission from Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands and Belgium.

The applications process is contained within the document at the above link.

Ofcom to undertake a Strategic Review of Digital Communications

Ofcom, the Super Regulator, is holding a Strategic Review of Digital Communications to promote competition and investment in converged digital communications services.

This is mainly concerned with infrastructure services such as broadband, but will also cover mobile 4G and future 5G services and "over-the-top" services (i.e. services deliver on top of Internet services such as VoIP, messaging systems such as WhatsApp which is replacing SMS, etc).

Ofcom last held a review 10 years ago after BT's infrastructure operation was separated into a distinct entity (BT Openreach, though still part of BT Group).

There have been many changes since the last review such as the merger of T-Mobile and Orange into EE (which has subsequently been purchased by BT) and consolidation in the ISP market (02, Tiscali, AOL, Be, Easynet).

Since 2005

  • broadband adoption has increased from 31% to 78%
  • take-up of bundled services has risen from 29% in 2005 to 63% today
  • significant commercial and public sector investment in superfast broadband has resulted in 78% availability five years after deployment started. Adoption of this new service is now 27%
  • mobile broadband availability has increased significantly, with 3G increasing from 82% to 99% of premises, and 4G services available to 73% of premises. Mobile broadband take-up is now 67%
  • new entrants have shown strong growth in some areas (for example, local loop unbundling now accounts for 44% of broadband connections, up from 17% in 2005)

While Ofcom can not predict the overall output it will likely encompass

  • Efficient investment: How can incentives for efficient private sector investment and innovation be maintained and strengthened, to ensure widespread availability and high quality of service?
  • Competition: What should be the focus of competition policy in future networks (the 'enduring economic bottlenecks')?
  • Deregulation: What is the scope for deregulating networks and services downstream of any 'enduring bottlenecks'?

Ofcom is planning to complete the review by Summer of 2015.

Nominet consult on .uk WHOIS

Nominet who are the registry for the .uk domain are holding a consultation on what data the .uk WHOIS database contains.

Currently the .uk WHOIS data is what's considered "thick" will full registrant and other details given out by the WHOIS server i.e.

Result of WHOIS query:
Domain name:
     shinycleanhouse.co.uk
 Registrant:
     Andrew Other
 Registrant type:
     UK Sole Trader
 Registrant's address:
     Minerva House
     Edmund Halley Road
     Oxford
     OX4 4DQ
     United Kingdom
 Data validation:
     Registrant contact details validated by Nominet on 10-
Dec-2012
 Registrar:
     Efficient Registrar Limited [Tag = EFF]
     URL: http://www.efficientregistrar.uk
 Relevant dates:
     Registered on: before Aug-1996
     Expiry date:  06-Dec-2015
     Last updated:  25-Nov-2013
 Registration status:
     Registered until expiry date.
Name servers:
     nom-ns1.nominet.org.uk 213.248.199.16
     nom-ns2.nominet.org.uk 195.66.240.250 2a01:40:1001:37::2
     nom-ns3.nominet.org.uk 213.248.242.70

While many registries only return a "thin" version such as .com i.e.

Domain Name: EXAMPLE.COM
   Registrar: TUCOWS DOMAINS INC.
   Sponsoring Registrar IANA ID: 69
   Whois Server: whois.tucows.com
   Referral URL: http://www.tucowsdomains.com
   Name Server: NS.GBNET.NET
   Name Server: NS0.DEMON.CO.UK
   Name Server: NS1.DEMON.CO.UK
   Name Server: NS1.GBNET.NET
   Status: ok http://www.icann.org/epp#OK
   Updated Date: 08-dec-2014
   Creation Date: 23-dec-1994
   Expiration Date: 22-dec-2015

When the original policy was set in 2002 the registrant info was probably the main source of information about a domain, however with the advent of social media this situation has changed considerably.

Now there are valid reasons for not having the full registrant details available to everyone (via public WHOIS) and though Nominet does allow individuals' details to be excluded, that's pretty much the only exception to having the information published. This has also led to the development of privacy services, whereby the domain is registered to an organisation and then transferred to the privacy organisation so they information is displayed.

This has lead to issues with domain dispute issues as Nominet operate a "3 strikes" rule and if the dispute is over a domain held by a privacy organisation, then that can affect them (when it's really a customer of their's).

Nominet is looking at various options to solve these issues.

Interested stakeholders may submit a response on-line.

05/03/2015

Wonderluk goes metal

Wonderluk, the 3D printed jewellery site has now added metal pieces to their collection. Metal jewellery isn't new (well jewellery makers have been using metals for hundreds of years), but 3D printing with it is.

Though other sites like Shapeways have had metal 3D printed jewellery for some time, it's very unlikely a fashion conscious female is ever going to look there to find it, these types of sites are destinations for 3D print geeks who want to sell their own designs or buy other people's.

Wonderluk is different in that it's becoming a destination site for women's fashion accessories and therefore if someone's looking for jewellery they'll look at a site that specialises in it. The designs are also different in that many can not be produced by traditional jewellery methods (using 3D design software allows designers to make designs based on mathematical models etc).

In the past there has been some criticism that all the jewellery and accessories were made out of nylon (though pieces can be customised for size and a choice of 10 colours - excluding the base white), but now that's changed and pieces are available in sterling silver, rose or yellow 18 carrot gold plated brass and some in 18 carrot rose or yellow gold.

Nylon pieces are now generally under £50 (some are more as they contain a lot of material) and silver pieces start at over £100 (and gold plated pieces are the same price as silver). The 18 carrot gold pieces are over £1,000 but then it's a high-end piece of jewellery.

There's now the option to order completely bespoke designs, whereby the customer describes the item they want (and can link to pictures of something similar) and then a Wonderluk designer will get to work and create it.

This is definitely the future of jewellery and though only small now, Wonderluk does have the opportunity to disrupt this age old industry. Hopefully the next step will be wearables and that can only be a good thing.

16/02/2015

Girls, tech sex and dating

Well almost. On Weds 11th of Feb in the very nice Lyst studios in Hoxton Square, Girls in Tech London held an event about Dating, Sex and Technology.

Oddly it was a packed out event (not just Girls in Tech, but sex and dating too) and there was a good smattering of men in the audience (as well as one of the panelists).

Girls in Tech was started in San Francisco in 2007 and now there are over 60 chapters around the world with thousands of members. It's aim is the promotion, growth and success of female entrepreneurs, innovators and technologists. Tech start-ups tend to be male dominated and though there are a growing number of females they are quite often hidden in the swathe of their male counterparts. It's also encouraging that although it's female focussed men are encouraged to attend and also take part in the panels (though it is a requirement that females are on them too). As well as the larger evening events, there are also more intimate (if that's the right word) smaller breakfast roundtables too which tend to focus on specific topics.

The panel was moderated by Radhika Sanghani who writes for the Telegraph and is the author of Virgin, a book about the effect apps are having on our behaviours and experiences, and what the future might hold for dating tools.

The panelists were: -

  • Barbara Galiza from Dattch (a lesbian and bisexual/bicurious dating app)
  • Hatty Kingsley-Miller from Antidate (men are visible in the app, while women aren't and have to make the first move)
  • Marie Cosnard from Happn (Hyperlocal app which allows member sto find each other if they've crossed paths but not met)
  • Dimo Trifonov from 3nder (every sexuality is the norm and anyone can find people with the same interests)
It was an interesting panel it definitely shows that 'sex sells', however (IMHO) it also showed that some sites hadn't a clue about monetisation which can be a huge problem when growing and suddenly infrastructure costs overwhelm the company.

All in all a very enjoyable evening and definitely worth another visit to the next event.

21/01/2015

The new Mu's are out and they're bigger and better

TheMu came to the worlds attention with their UK plug folding USB charger (they wanted to do a folding plug, but that never came into commercial fruition). The Live and Neutral lugs swing 90 degrees so it's flat and the side walls then fold to cover. Unfortunately due to the vastly over-engineered UK plug specifications, the side wings have to be of a certain size while the Earth, Live and Neutral pins have to be of another, so the side wings can never completely cover them. The earth pin protrudes quite a bit, but it's plastic so shouldn't damage anything. The other pins only protrude a very small amount and it's only really noticeable on the curve of the side wing.

The original only had enough power capacity to charge your phone and tablets were left out in the cold.

Now The Mu comes in two more varieties the Mu Duo and

The Mu Tablet
They also now come in black and white variations.

Both support USB 5V at 2.4A which is enough to charge your iPad. The Mu Tablet is designed to do just that (and it should also charge your iPhone faster), the Duo can charge two phones, though it can also charge a tablet if only one USB port is used.

That should the Mu Tablet closed and the protrusion of the pins.

Then with the side flaps open and the live/neutral pins rotated.

It's a shame the UK plug standards are so strict (BS 1363 if interested), however the Mu does it's best to be as flat and small as possible and it would be relatively simple to build a cover that covers those protruding pins (maybe someone could start a business selling Mu covers or construct something with Sugru).

Aside from the small protrusions the Mu's will just slip into laptop bag without much danger of scratching anything which is MUCH better that a normal USB charger like the Apple standard one which is a normal UK plug with the electronics in the top and all pins protruding ready to scratch all your nice shiny Apple (or other) gear. Being thin and flat they'll also slip into a backpack pocket too.

The original Mu costs £15, with the Mu Tablet £20 and Mu Duo costing £22 from their on-line shop.

Definitely recommended if you want a higher power charger that will slide into a bag/backpack etc without scratching everything to pieces (or being bulky width ways).

Project Ara, a nice idea

Google's next big thing, Project Ara - a modular phone with an exoskeleton that will last 5 years. That's their story and they're sticking to it.

Most people don't realise that there's a huge complex certification process that mobile phones have to undergo including the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the US, CE in Europe, and the Mobile Networks Operators (MNOs)/carriers etc.

Building a modular phone is all very well, but the phone as a WHOLE has to be certified. Mobile networks don't like users being able to change bits, they certify that a phone's compatible with their network and that's it, change something and the phone needs to be re-certified.

There's an opinion out there that operating systems are open source, and a lot of it is. The guts of it that talks GSM or GPRS or 3G isn't, in fact it's highly encumbered. Networks REALLY don't want you to mess with those bits as you can do nasty things to the network (in the good old days of TACS/ETACS you could REPROGRAM the network and set transmitter power levels etc.). That's why networks liked nice phones where you could only do certain things through the APIs and SDKs, there was no concept of 'root' and root couldn't play with those bits of code that operators didn't want you to mess with.

Google can afford the whole process, add a new module, certify the whole thing, it works. It all falls down when they allow 3rd parties to change things. The certification isn't for the module it's for the whole phone. Maybe Google have the clout to change the certification process, but as it stands it's not going to be easy to get carrier approval let alone regulator approval.

It's all well and good producing a modular phone, but is it going to work on real networks? Take your Ara with your custom modules, yes it may work (on a public network, but it's probably illegal), you might get away with it at Burning Man.

Yes Google 'could' certify every variation of the Ara that comes out, but it's unlikely.

Maybe the regulations need to change, but that's going to be a lengthy process and very expensive (well Google can sort out the second bit).

So though Ara may be the future of mobile phones, it's not going to be mainstream for a while and 3rd party modules even longer.

19/01/2015

Google Glass isn't quite pushing up the daisies

There's been a lot of noise about Google Glass being killed off which is slightly odd considering: -

Intel announced at CES that the next version of Glass would be powered by an Intel CPU.

  • The Glass team are moving from the secret projects labs thing to the Nest division i.e. mainstream.
  • The CPU used in the current version of Glass is a TI OMAP processor, TI don't make OMAP processors any more.
  • The Explorer version was a technology trial.
  • The Explorer version is ugly as hell and not the easiest thing to use.
  • Google have made some nice relationship with eyewear vendors.

There's a fair number of Glass applications now (Glassware) and the technology works, it wasn't consumer ready, it wasn't even techie ready, it was early adopter and developer ready.

There's sure to be a new version in the works, it might not even be consumer ready, but it will be more functional, it will look nicer, run faster and do things better. It might not even be sold by Google but their eyewear partners with Google just supplying the tech.

Whatever happens, Glassholes will be around for a long time and it's not quite a Norwegian Blue ...

Why the UK needs more ways to wiretap .... NOT

David Cameron has recently come out with the UK needs new laws to curb evil terrorists and as part of this process banning end-to-end security in messaging applications and putting back holes into encryption protocols so GCHQ and the Security Services can do more snooping than they already do.

Edward Snowdon has already shown how much the NSA and GCHQ already have been complicit in installing back doors in routers and other devices and they have talked with security companies to put back doors in existing systems.

They even built a (mini) GSM network so they could tap what various people were doing when they came to the UK (that pretended to be the normal networks, but intercepted all voice, text and data traffic, put it through their network first and then sent it on to the normal networks). That caused a bit of a row and the Germans didn't much like it (so much so they promptly made everyone in Government use Blackberry's which do support encryption and secure traffic).

The Government already has powers of intercept. It can force anybody that has infrastructure in the UK or operates in the UK to hand over data records (RIPA has been around for a while).

Cable and Wireless (now Vodafone) used to be a big player in International data pipes and a lot of their undersea cables land in a small bay in Bude, Cornwall. There's a little C&W building above the beach where the cables terminate and then shoot out to the rest of the UK. Oddly there's a GCHQ listening station right next door (allegedly GCHQ don't even have to tap the fibres, C&W just give them a direct split) and the listening station is just a big data centre that can hold 30 days worth of data and it's a big FIFO (first in first out). The bods at GCHQ can look at the connections (which is generally who was talking to who, whether that's a person talking to another person or a person to a particular website) and then drill into the actual connection data when it's interesting to them.

The US have a big 'listening' station at Menwith Hill (in the UK).

Unfortunately giving the Government more power to do interception and weaken encryption isn't going to help anyone. Encryption technologies tend to be the same whatever the application. So the same encryption that may protect a messenger protocol is also the same protocol used to protect the web protocol (i.e. https rather than http). By reducing the encryption (or worse putting back doors in) it's not just the messenger protocols that suffer, it's also the services that should be secure that are affected too.

The other main problem is that it doesn't really affect the terrorists that the Government want to stop. They are going to CONTINUE using encryption whether the Government wants them too or not. The UK can't mandate non-encrypted (or reduced encryption) outside the UK, so everyone who wants security moves their services to a place that does allow it.

Disallowing or reducing the effectiveness of encryption is not the answer to terrorism.