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.