22/12/2015

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.

04/12/2015

Socksy, get new socks every quarter

Socksy held their relaunch party last night at the Groucho club in Soho.

Socksy is a socks as a service company (SaaS), you sign-up and then get 3 pairs of high quality socks (street, neat or chic) delivered to your door every three months. They come in an A4 box so it will fit through your letterbox and the box can then be used to file papers etc.

The socks are all high quality and though the preferred Socksy method is for the subscriptions, it's also possible to buy them individually.

Socksy Mens' socks are generally knee length which takes a bit of getting used to if your used to wearing ankle length socks, but they're meant to be the 'real deal' and they're not socks if not knee length. Who knew?

If anyone wants to use the service there a 25% discount off the normal £60 per month service, by using code "lucky feet" (without quotes) the subscription fee is reduced to £45 every 3 months, so that's 3 pairs of high quality socks i.e. £15 a pair.

Socksy are also on Twitter , Facebook, Instagram and Tumblr.

30/11/2015

Last chance to control your home with nCube

nCube is a home hub that connects to your home network and then allows you to control devices in your home through the nCube app.

It works with lots of home devices such as Nest thermostat, Philips Hue and LIFX lights, sonos music and Belkin WeMo plug-in & lightbulb products.

Protocols supported are WiFI, Bluetooth and Z-Wave.

The device is secure (the phone app must be set-up on the home network) and the nCube device uses a VPN into the nCube cloud services.

As well as being functional the nCube app is designed to be easy to use and has won several design awards.

The nCube Kickstarter campaign finishes in 3 days so get backing, it's still possible to get one for an early bird price of £99 (it will retail for £139).

16/11/2015

Ofcom consults on Walkie Talkies, Level Crossings and DECT phones

Ofcom, the Super Regulator, is holding a consultation on Licence Exemption of Wireless Telegraphy Devices.

Walkie Talkies or as they're officially known as Private Mobile Radio (PMR), are allowed to operate in license exempt status in the band 446.0 - 446.2 MHz. Previously this was split into to bands, 446.0 - 446.1 MHz for Analogue PMR446 equipment and 446.1 - 446.2 MHz for Digital PMR446 equipment.

Ofcom is proposing to make the whole band available for both analogue and digital PMR446 equipment, whereby: -

  • the band 446.0-446.2 MHz for the use of analogue PMR 446 with a channel plan based on 12.5 kHz spacing where the lowest carrier frequency is 446.00625 MHz
  • the band 446.1-446.2 MHz for the use of digital PMR 446 with a channel plan based on 6.25 kHz and 12.5 kHz spacing where the lowest carrier frequencies are 446,103125 MHz and 446.10625 MHz respectively
  • the band 446.0-446.2 MHz for the use of digital PMR 446 with a channel plan based on 6.25 kHz and 12.5 kHz spacing where the lowest carrier frequencies are 446,003125 MHz and 446.00625 MHz respectively as of 1 January 2018
  • analogue PMR446 equipment operating in the frequency range 446.1-446.2 MHz should use more robust receivers as specified in ETSI TS 103 236 or equivalent technical specifications

This would allow any device to transmit max 500mW while NO fixed basestations are allowed and the maximum transmit time would be 180s, This would all come into effect in Jan 2018.

Ofcom also wish to change mandated exclusion zones around radio astronomy sites for level crossing radar to that of co-ordinated exclusion zones i.e. level crossing radar in the exclusions zones could be used with the coordination of the Radio Astronomy sites. The methodology, decision and appeal processes to determine whether a device can be deployed in the coordination zone is to be agreed between the rail network operators and the Radio Astronomy service.

The current exclusion zones are

SiteNGRExclusion zone
Jodrell BankSJ 79650 5095020 km
CambridgeTL 39400 5400020 km
DeffordSO 90200 44700 20 km
DarnhallSJ 64275 6226520 km
KnockinSJ 32855 21880 20 km
PickmereSJ 70404 76945 20 km

DECT equipment has been license exempt for a number of years, operating in the band 1880 to 1900 MHz. Currently the document exempting the equipment states that a handset connects to a basestation and it is proposed to just change the to a short range device (SRD) to make it more applicable to handsets that aren't connected to the telephone network.

Stakeholders wishing to respond may do so using Ofcom's on-line form.

03/11/2015

Misfit Shine2 - it's not shiny

Misfit have produced the prettiest wearable for a while, the original Shine tracked steps and was one (if not the) first to do automatic sleep tracking. It was a small disk (27.5mm across and 3.3mm high) which contained the electronics and a changeable CR2032 coin cell which lasted for about 6 months. It came with a silicon strap and a silicon magnetic clip so it could be worn on the wrist or clipped on to a t-shirt, bra, shoes, trouser pocket or wherever suited the user. It's also possible to buy socks and t-shirts with a dedicated Shine pocket and a necklace too. It links back to the Misfit app (Android and iOS) using Bluetooth 4.0.

Now the Shine2 is out it's bigger (it's 30.5mm across and 8mm height) and comes in matt black (carbon back as Misfit describe it) and rose gold. It's also 50m water resistant. The original Shine had 12 white LEDs around the edge and the have been upgraded to RGB LEDs, there's also a 'buzzer' inside that can notify you of various things. The battery is still a CR2032 which should last for around 6 months and Bluetooth is now 4.1 which allows for faster data transfers.

The Shine2 can now wake you up by its buzzer (you set the time in the app), the original Shine had the smart alarm feature, but you'd need the phone by your side. It can now also notify you of calls and texts.

The strap and clip unfortunately don't feel as well made as the smaller ones with the original Shine, but then there'll probably be a slew of new accessories for you to spend more money with Misfit.

Having used the Shine2 for a day, sync'ing definitely seems faster, though you definitely notice the size increase.

Still a very pretty wearable compared to most.

It retails for $99.99 from the Misfit Store (they do ship to the UK using DHL so add shipping costs and import duties/VAT).

02/11/2015

Ofcom tackles Pirate Radio

Ofcom, the Super regular has published a report on how it has worked with Haringey Council to remove equipment used for Pirate Radio broadcasting from buildings operated by the council. 19 stations were closed in 2014.

Ofcom and Haringey estimate that this has saved the council £90,000 in enforcement and maintenance costs. Ofcom is meeting with other councils on the 3rd of November to report their findings from the Haringey cooperation and if this is rolled out across London could save councils £1m per annum.

Though Pirate radio is illegal it can form a basis for community radio, unfortunately it can cause real issues and NATS has reported 55 incidents of interference from Pirate station. There have also been complaints from emergency services and licensed commercial users.

There are schemes in place for local broadcasters to legally broadcast and Ofcom has even allowed DAB stations to be set-up using off-the-shelf hardware and open source software which means a DAB station can be set-up for around £6,000. These use Linux and efforts from OpenDigitalRadio and commercially available software defined radios.

Pirate radio has been groundbreaking in the past and it will be a shame if all Pirate radio stations disappear, but if Ofcom genuinely allow more open access using local commercial DAB multiplexes maybe it won't matter.

14/10/2015

ARM doesn't quite open source M0 processor

ARM, the company that licenses it's CPU technology, is now offering the designs of it's Cortex-M0 for 'free'.

It isn't quite free, but the IP is available to designers to integrate into their own System-on-Chip (SoC) designs pre-commercialisation, along with supporting peripherals. There's then a fast track process to license the IP when the chip goes into production.

The designs will allow prototyping the the CPU and peripherals on a field programmable gate array (FPGA) before committing to actual silicon.

ARM is also supplying access to the ARM Keil MDK (software developer kits) for 90 days so developers can test their designs.

Once a commercial license has been obtained, ARM will provide use of the ARM Cortex-M0 processor IP, SDK, and Keil MDK development tools, along with ARM technical support.

This should allow start-ups who wish to develop specific SoC solutions to utilise the ARM M0 in their designs without having to pay traditional (large) licensing fees upfront.

13/10/2015

There's a new smartwatch on the BLOCKs

After a 2 year wait, the BLOCKS smartwatch is now live on Kickstarter. It has a round face and comes in 3 colours (Onyx Black, Marble White, Sunrise Red) with a 360 x 360 colour display with haptic feedback.

Inside it's got quite a lot of technology inside the core itself: -

  • Snapdragon 400 CPU
  • WiFi supporting 802.11b/g/n
  • Bluetooth 4.1 (Bluetooth Low Energy/Bluetooth SMART)
  • 512MB RAM
  • 4GB Flash (ePOP
  • 1.35" fully round display
  • Accelerometer / Gyroscope
  • Power button
  • Microphone
  • Vibration (motor)

It runs a (full) version of Android Lollipop (not Android Wear) which gives the core module much more functionality than standard Android based smartwatches. It doesn't stop there as the watch can be upgraded with modules (blocks) which can be thought of as strap links. A large wrist will support 4 blocks, while a more petite wrist should support 3.

Though designed to support extra modules, the watch core (i.e. the main round watch bit) will function by itself and the lowest cost option is just the core and a strap.

The BLOCKS smartwatch is fully compatible with both iOS (v8+) and Android.

The exciting bit is the additional modules, the following are available via the Kickstarter campaign: -

  • Extra battery (the main battery lasts about a day and a half, this extends the period by at least 20%)
  • Heart Rate module - uses and optical sensor
  • GPS module
  • NFC Module - may support contactless payment
  • Adventure module - it measures altitude, pressure and temperature

Next year the following modules are planned (Phase 2): -

  • GSM module - insert a SIM and leave your phone at home
  • Fingerprint module - authenticate things, maybe NFC payments
  • LED module - a torch?
  • Button module - use for emergency alerts or anything else you can think of using a button for

Then at a later date the following modules might come into being: -

  • Air Quality module
  • Camera module
  • Flash Memory module
  • Stress Levels module

The smartphone app allows further modules to be purchased (BLOCKstore), customise watch faces and buy watch apps (BLOCKSware?).

The basic BLOCKS core (and strap) starts at $195. The Super Early Bird (sold out) was at $250, the Early Bird (one left at time of publishing) was $260 and the Late Early Bird is $275 which goes up to $285 when all the early birds have gone. All of the later pricing includes for modules and further modules can be purchased for $30. There are also options to purchase multiple units.

BLOCKS has now been fully funded (the campaign launched at 5pm UK time) and has raised over $300,000 of a $250,000 target, that's $300,000 in under 2 hours!!!

11/10/2015

New NFC ring, better with twice the NFC

Last week seems to be the week of NFC (Moo launched it's Business Card+ NFC cards, see previous article) and John McLear has launched the second series of his NFC ring.

The original NFC ring was launched on Kickstarter and though the campaign was a success, rings took far longer to arrive than expected due to production difficulties. Now there's a second NFC ring (also launched on Kickstarter, the campaign is active), which is nicer and better than the first.

The new ring is made from ceramic and looks much smarter than the first series. It has TWO NFC inlays based on the NTAG216 NFC chip made by NCP semiconductors. This allows to the ring to be dual use and store both public and private information. Use one NFC chip to store something like a website address and use the other to store secret info which could be used to unlock a phone (and with the appropriate hardware even a house lock etc). The chips work in the 13.56MHz band and can store up to 888 bytes of information (and that info will be held for up to 10 years). The chips support 100,000 write cycles (unlikely people will change the info stored that often, but in a retail environment that could happen).

The ring is laser engraved with the NFC logo on the inside making it easy to differentiate which is the public and private side of the ring.

The NFC supports 3 modes: -

  • open, which allows the user to write the data into chip (and also anybody else who might have an NFC writer in the vicinity)
  • closed, whereby once set, the data in the chip can never be changed again
  • code lock, this allows setting a code and data on the chip can only be set once the code has been verified by the chip

Currently code lock is not implemented in the Android app that accompanies the ring, but it will be in the future.

The early bird price for the NFC ring was £18 (all gone), but it's still possible to pledge £23 and get one (it's possible to order multiples too). It's also possible to get 2 NFC inlays for £5 and 4 for £10 so users can build their own ring designs (the inlays are 20mm by 6mm by 0.2mm).

Unfortunately NFC is only really usable on Android/Windows and Blackberry users (there's lots of programs available to program the chips including ones by NXP themselves). Since Android 5.0 the smart lock application is included in the base operating system so a phone can be unlocked with an NFC tag.

MacOS X/iOS users are once again out of luck as there's no real native support in the operating systems themselves, though 3rd party NFC add ons are available.

In future it may even be possible to pay for goods with the NFC ring utilising contactless payment technology (though it will require addition security so the crew card tokens/keys can be securely stored in the rings).

The Kickstarter campaign ends on the 21st Oct 2015.

09/10/2015

Moo Moovs beyond the traditional business card

Moo, the company founded by Richard Moross MBE, which traditionally focussed on making very pretty business cards and other stationary has now added NFC technology to its portfolio.

It's has branded the technology as BusinessCard+ and users can utilise all the normal Moo tools for designing a regular business card, but sandwiched inside is an NFC chip and antenna. It's possible to have the cards preprogrammed before they leave Moo which is a boon for Apple users as NFC support is lacking.

The Moo NFC service can be set-up in several ways: -

  • Embed a URL
  • Action Library
  • 3rd party Actions
  • Maker Channel

The embed a URL just puts in a standard URL (with the length limitation based on the storage of the NFC chip), this could point anywhere such as a website.

The Action Library is really a Moo URL redirector, whereby the URL in the chip points to Moo, which then deliver an action which can be: -

  • Website Link i.e. a standard URL
  • Digital Business Card i.e. the redirection points to a vCard
  • Connect your social network i.e. a social network URL
  • Promote your app i.e. a link to an app download

3rd party actions can be: -

  • Connect on LinkedIn i.e. points to your LinkedIn URL
  • Navigate with CityMapper i.e. a link to a CityMapper location
  • Videochat with appear.in i.e. a link to your appear.in user
  • Listen with Spotify i.e. a Spotify URL
  • Meet with Sunrise i.e. a Sunrise link

The Maker channel supports an IFTTT recipe.

Once a URL has been put into the card, it's difficult to change (well for Mac/iOS users anyway), Android, Blackberry and Windows users are in luck as the OS has native support for NFC and many devices have NFC readers/writers in them and it's easy to get software to support them which means the URL can be changed.

For users that don't have the ability to write to the NFC chips, the Moo Action libraries are really the way to go, as then the actions can be changed on the fly but just logging into Moo and accessing their Paper+ service which allows users to enter what action should be performed from now on for the particular cards selected.

Mac users are really left out in the cold here, though the iPhone 6/6+ and Apple Watch (and newer versions) have NFC bits in them, they're only currently accessible for contactless payment and there's no direct access to the NFC subsystem from the operating system. MacOS X users are also currently out of luck as though there is some support in the operating system, it's drastically changed in recent version of MacOS X and old card reader/writer software no longer works. It is possible to 'hack support', but not really easy for 'normal users', see RFIdiot.org.

28/09/2015

Ofcom approves sale of spectrum to Vodafone and Hutchison 3G UK

Ofcom, the Super regulator has approved the sale of the 1452 - 1492 MHz from Qualcomm UK Spectrum Ltd to Vodafone Limited and Hutchison 3G UK Limited.

Vodafone got 1452-1472 MHz and Three got 1472-1492 MHz.

Ofcom didn't consider that these transfers raised sufficient competition concerns to justify further analysis.

As explained in an earlier article, Qualcomm made a tidy little profit.

26/08/2015

Qualcomm flogs off its L-Band spectrum

As reported in this blog in 2008, Qualcomm UK Spectrum Ltd won all the lots of the UK L-Band spectrum (lots LA to LQ) which it paid the gainly sum of £8,334,000.

Qualcomm was pushing its MediaFlo wireless broadcast technology at the time and was going to use this spectrum to deliver MediaFlo services to the UK. Unfortunately that required handset vendors to license the tech and install it in their handsets, which didn't happen. It did get some traction in the US, but people rapidly lost interest. Soon after Qualcomm closed it's Media FLO division and Europe had gone the way of DVB-H (Digital Video Broadcast - Handset) anyway.

Qualcomm looked to be sitting on a bit of a spectrum white-elefant and probably wished they hadn't bothered and the who Media FLO thing and their spectrum would just go away.

Move to the present and it seems Qualcomm have just sold their 1452-1492 MHz (40MHz) spectrum to Vodafone and Three for a rumoured £100m. Nice little profit of £92m (maybe enough to cover all the Media FLO tech they gave up on).

The L-Band spectrum can be used for both supplemental download links and supplemental upload links (SDL and SUL respectively) which are part of 4G and allow operators to add extra capacity to mobile terminals (i.e. phones). Unfortunately very few if any current phones support SDL services let alone the L-Band frequencies. As phones use more and more bandwidth maybe this will change in the future.

Where the operators can use this, is for more bandwidth to basestations and it may be an easy way to boost network capacity.

As this spectrum was offered many years ago, though it was technology neutral, it wasn't covered by spectrum trading agreements and officially the spectrum trade has to be agreed by Ofcom., which may bring a slight spanner into the works. There should be no reason why Ofcom won't allow the transfer, however the annual license fees on this spectrum were calculated on the sell price (i.e. £8m). The mobile networks are charged rather more on their aggregate spectrum, so there's likely to be a hike on the spectrum fees.

Time will tell if it was a sensible purchase or not (though Qualcomm are probably now laughing while they head to the bank).

29/07/2015

Huawei E5776s-32 MiFi and Cellhire SIM

MiFi devices have been available for some time and Huawei seem to be the market leader. They act as a local WiFi hotspot and allow other devices to connect to them and they connect to the Internet over a GSM/GPRS/3G or 4G network.

Initially MiFi units were quite simplistic, but they now have quite a lot of functionality built-in and can be configured through a web interface.

Huawei's new E5776s-32 supports a 4G connection and 2.4 Ghz at B,G and N. It has a funky monochrome LCD screen and takes a TS9 connector for an external antenna allowing for extra radio sensitivity. The manual with the device claims the following:

  • offers up to 6 hours of working time and up to 300 hours of standby
  • supports 10 WiFi clients
  • provides up to 150 Mbps 4G LTE and 43.2 Mbps 3G download
  • supports 2.4 GHz and 5GHz WiFi 802.11b/g/n
  • features menu-style LCD UI with support for multiple languages

In testing, the device didn't support WiFi over 5GHz, but maybe this will come later with a firmware update. The unit is configured through a web page access through a browser on a connected device.

The 4G connection is a class Cat 4 giving the unit a maximum throughput of 150Mbps on the mobile radio interface along with 150Mbps/s for the N wireless so should allow for decent bandwidth through the unit. The settings are easy to configure withou too much baffling information and so it should only take 5 mins to get up and running.

It's customary to test units in an urban environment where 4G is well established but there is also a lot of Wi-Fi around, much of which is free. In order to do a more useful test, the MiFi was taken to Wales. The unit was placed into the glove box of the car with the external antenna connection to an aerial on a magnetic mount stuck to the outside of the car. This gave an incar hotspot for the duration of the trip. The Huawei gave a very good signal for most of the journey where as the Note 4 would indicate a poor signal. Doing a straight comparison between the phone and the signal with the Huawei and aerial showed that in every location the E5776s got a better signal.

There were some times where it looked like there was enough signal through the mobile phone network for the E5776s but phone and latop refused to connect to the E5776s for periods of up to 10 minutes, the phone showing that is was waiting for the internet quality to improve, but this may well have been a congested cell in Vodafone's network or other network issue. Generally though it was worth using the superior connection of the MiFi.

In conclusion it makes sense to use the Huawei MiFi in rural areas with an external aerial so it can handle the connection to the mobile network and devices connect over WiFi. If it's your mobile phone connected the battery will last noticeably longer as it won't have to use battery power talking to cells that are a long distance away.

The MiFi came with a Cellhire SIM which allows International roaming for a fixed cost (though not particularly cheap), the SIM is guaranteed to work abroad and cost are capped which is more suited to the business traveller. As the SIMs are 3G and 4G you'll get access to those networks when travelling, quite a lot of consumer services only give access to slower 2G networks.

Urban situation 4/10 Everywhere else 8/10

21/07/2015

Ofcom rules Vice isn't subject to UK On-Demand fees

Ofcom, the Super Regulator has upheld an appeal by Vice UK that it's video service is not subject to Authority for Television On Demand (ATVOD) regulation and is thus not required to pay fees as an “on-demand programme service” (ODPS) for the purposes of Part 4A of the Communications Act 2003 (the Act).

ATVOD originally determined that Vice (specifically the "tab" at Vice Video was subject to ODPS regulation and thus subject to ODPS fees.

Ofcom have overturned this decision as the Vice Video tab is under editorial control from the US and thus outside the regulatory auspices of Ofcom/ATVOD.

The full response from Ofcom can be found here as a PDF.

15/07/2015

Xaomi MI smart band - Chinese tech at Chinese pricing

There are lots of smartbands on the market at the moment all claiming to aid fittness by quantifying activity on a daily basis. Many companies have been preaching expensive devices which limit their attractiveness to the general market, however there are now devices coming out at the lower end of the market (such as the Jawbone UP Move which was reviewed recently). Lower pricing means that more consumers will use these devices and start tracking what they're doing.

Xaomi are a Chinese mobile phone maker who have been producing a range of phones that compete with Samsung's Galaxy offerings. It has recently been branching out into other products such as Internet TV's and fittness products.

Xaomi recently launched the Mi band, originally only available in China, it's now available to the wider market. The Mi band arrives in a rather plain card box box and contains the Mi unit (in aluminium) which fits into a silicon strap with 'pop' style clasp so it's easy to fit. There's also an odd looking USB charging cable and some Chinese instructions. Not a lot in the box but it's pretty much self explanatory.

First thing to do is charge the Mi unit by placing it on to the charging cable and plugging it into a spare USB port. Then download the app (available for iOS and Android, search for Xaomi) and then it's ready to start measuring.

There's no display on the band, just 3 LEDs. These correspond with either pairing or the amount of effort you have made to complete your steps. The band paired with a Galaxy Note 4 and it's lasted several days without a recharge.

The interface on the "Mi fit" app is faily simple with a round counter showing how far you've progressed towards your step goals. It tracks sleep and steps like most of the others and does a good job. Compared to other apps such as the S Health app on the phone and another band it showed the similar data for steps and mileage. The interface is relatively simple as can be seen below:

The app shows how you have been doing everytime you open it. There is no background syncing going on, which may be a good thing for battery life. The band tells you with a buzz when you have reached your step goal anyhow. The app does though have a couple of differences, compared to others. It shows you the amount of fat you have burned which is fairly depressing. A US band probably wouldn't show this information because it could be seen as negative. There are also no goals to reach like Nike and there are no pep talks such as Fitbit and Jawbone. Very plain and simple and to the point. Sleep tracking is automatic without having to press anything which is a nice feature (the Misfit Shine also does this and though the Microsoft band has a sleep mode, it can auto-detect sleep if you forget to manually set it) but there is no info apart from a histogram about what it looked like.

Bacause the Xaomi Mi band is basic, it also misses some of the accelarometer information of some of the other devices and it cannot necessarily differentiate between different activities like other apps. There is also no way of telling it what you are doing and for how long. For example last week having walked about a bit and cycled about 35 miles the Samsung app shows this:

While the Xaomi App shows this:

Conclusion

So even though the Xaomi Mi band is not great at everything and there is still some work to do its not a bad piece of kit. The fact you can also get it for £15.99 on Amazon is an amazing deal!

4/5 for general getting fitter (walking and running) 1/5 for sports people

17/06/2015

Apple gets big connections

Apple are building up their connectivity worldwide. They already had connections into LINX (the London Internet eXchange), unfortunately they don't say what connectivity they have. Now Apple has taken more connectivity into LONAP who do publish what connectivity their members take, and Apple have taken a big chunk 4*10GE + 4*10GE + 4*10GE + 4*10GE, which makes a whopping 160GB of bandwidth (the next largest members only take 2 x 10GE).

Apple's huge bandwidth requirements could be for many reasons, but it's likely that they'll be pushing stuff into the exchanges rather than getting traffic from other sources. This is likely to improve Apple's download services (there's always big spikes in exchange traffic when say, Apple release a new version of MacOS X or iOS).

More likely it's to support Apple's new Apple Pay service that is coming to the UK in July (along with the latest version of iOS), supporting the alleged 250,000 merchants who are going to offer Apple Pay on it's release, means a lot of potential traffic back to Apple (though the wireless terminals will connect back to the merchant services servers such as Barclaycard), but mobile users paying for stuff in-apps/etc will go back to Apple.

Another reason for so much traffic is Apple's new streaming music service that launches soon (they want to replace Spotify) and streaming music does require LOTS of bandwidth.

After examining LONAP's member list, it seems the total bandwidth of all the members is around 630Mb/s (excluding content providers such as the BBC, Netflix, Google and Microsoft), so Apple's connectivity accounts for 25% of all their bandwidth. Google only have 40Gb/s, Microsoft 20Gb/s, BBC 20Mb/s and Netflix 30Gb/s.

12/06/2015

Jawbone Move, cost effective tracking

The Jawbone Move retails for £39 which is pretty reasonable for a tracker. It does look a bit cheap as it's made of plastic and comes with a clip that can attach to your clothes (pocket or belt) and also a silicon strap. Unfortunately the strap isn't particularly strong and relies on tension to keep it together, which may not suit all sports activities as it can get loose when wearing tight fitting sleeves and then come off when removing your top (which happened and the initial version disappeared one day). When wearing the strap it does look a bit like wearing a 'ladies' watch which some may not like.

The boxed product is very minimal as it just contains the Move and the clip and simple instructions on how to set it up (which means installing the Jawbone UP app, available on both Android and iOS).

The UP software is pretty good, though pretty American-centric with a lot of "YEAH" "YOUR GREAT!!" and stuff going on but it is nice and it makes interesting reading. The sleep function is excellent and encourages you to improve your sleep patterns which seemed to work. Just press the button on the sensor before you go to bed and it records sleeping patterns. It also showed that any night drinking sleep patterns changed so that is all very useful stuff. Sleeping is as important as exercising so Jawbone is right on the money here with that feature. It was a little disappointing that the app cannot distinguish between the various exercises easily. A good example of this is with cycling. The sensor has the ability to track any walking or running through the fact that steps make it jolt so it tracks all walking but is a bit vague when running. However, when cycling your hands are on the handlebars so they are not moving and it misses all of this tracking which can be quite a bit of exercise. The app seems to have complete reliance on the sensor to give the app what data it need's, but the app itself is not being clever enough to know that you're moving (even though GPS is turned on so why not sample it), the app could make a rough guess at what's happening as it knows it's moving and what speed it's doing (even without the sensor) so could guesstimate exercise being done. So ultimately the reason for buying this product is to quantify oneself. This means the question is: Does it work and is it useful? Well, wearing the Move daily for everyday useit does work. It tells you if you have done enough exercise and tells you if you have slept enough and it gives some handy hints on what you could do better. Here's some data from a normal day.

what you see is a rolling view of how you're doing compared to your friends. How they slept and exercised versus your view. The competitive person will use that as motivation to be better than your friends.

To summarise: If you are in the market for a budget fitness tracker then this is the one to go for right now. For £39 its got enough features to allow you to understand how much movement you need to achieve to be fitter and to lose those Lb's and get back to a "you" that is more what you want. The app is great and doesn't take up that much battery for what it does and although could do with working out more activities its plenty good enough for the person wanting to get fitter and needs a helping hand.

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.