07/12/2017

Get your SIGFOX fix, for free

SIGFOX is the the narrowband radio technology that runs in the license exempt 800MHz band (868-869MHz).

It's a closed protocol but there's lots of equipment available for it and it's being rolled out in lots of countries, a device can send up to 140 messages which have a payload of up to 12 bytes per day. Note the payload can be zero bytes, which will just indicate the device is alive. The network can send a maximum of 4 messages to devices per day and the payload is up to b bytes.

In the UK the SIGFOX network was run by Arqiva, but they didn't move very quickly and they didn't understand start-ups particularly well, so now WND UK has taken up the reigns with a very aggressive roll-out plan, with a fully funded commitment to cover 94.8% of the UK by end 2018.

Even though the roll-out is aggressive, some areas may not be covered and this may not suit someone developing a SIGFOX solution, so WND is now offering small companies who are developing IoT proof-of-concept solution a FREE SIGFOX gateway and licenses for up to 100 devices to access the network. This actually works well for WND, as every gateway added increases network coverage and even if multiple gateways cover an area, they are mainly receiving messages so the network would sort that a message is a duplicate.

With LoRa networks already springing up (generally piggybacking on generic home or business connections), this gives SIGFOX the ability to do the same and may get some customers who are still awaiting solutions from the mobile networks with their LTE-M or NB-IoT solutions slowly coming on-line.

The WND contact for a SIGFOX PoC solution is Tim Harris.

24/11/2017

The Gemini PDA, it's as close to a Psion as you'll get (and it's real)

Before the iPhone or even Blackberry, there was a PDA made by a company called Psion, well several, eventually culminating in the Series 5. It was a clamshell design with a keyboard on one side and the monochrome screen on the other. It could run applications and it did basic things like had a calendar, calculator and word processor, all driven by a toolbar running along the bottom of the screen. It also had a 'view' screen to see what was happening throughout your life (well days/weeks anyway).

Unfortunately Psion is no more, however a company called Planet Computers is trying to change that and though the actual Psion can't be resurrected, the Gemini is born. The company was set-up by Dr Janko Mrsic-Flogel who used to resell Psion hardware and develop software and has developed a lot of mobile cloud solutions under another company (Private Planet Ltd).

The Gemini looks and feels like a Psion 5

The PDA on the left is an actual working Psion 5 and the PDA on the right the Gemini - they do look remarkably similar. It's worth noting that the Gemini is also running a view screen that emulates the Psion calendar view, giving access to what's coming up in an easy to read manner.

The next picture shows another comparison, but with a lot of test keyboards too.

The various keyboards are for testing different membrane thicknesses and how 'clicky' the keys are. The current thinking is a softer keyboard which will probably appeal more to modern computer users who are used to the light touch, while programmers would probably prefer the keyboard with a deeper travel and more 'Cherry mechanical' keyboard feel (the programmers will probably lose out). But either way, it's perfect possible to touch type on either one.

Underneath the keyboard sits a big battery (removable Li-Ion 4220mAh) giving 12 hours talk-time and a full 2 weeks in standby.

The screen is a 5.99 inch FHD (18:9) with a resolution of 2160x1080 at 403 ppi and full colour. It looks very good. The Gemini doesn't come lightly spec'ed either with: -

  • CPU - Mediatek MT6797X Helio X27 with 10 cores (2 x Cortex A72 @ 2.6GHz, 4 x Cortex A53 @ 2.0GHz, 4 x Cortex A53 @ 1.6GHz
  • GPU - Quad core Mali T880 MP4 @ 875MHz
  • RAM - 4GB
  • ROM - 64GB
  • Sound - Stereo speakers (either side of display)
  • Microphone - integrated behind display and external 3.5mm jack
  • Bluetooth - v4.0
  • GPS - GPS and AGPS
  • USB - 2 USB C ports (OTG support)
  • Camera - front facing 5MP
  • Sensors - accelerometer, gyroscope, compass, magneto-sensor, light sensor
  • SD Card slot - takes at least 128GB, may take 256GB

The Gemini comes in 2 versions, WiFi only and WiFi with 4G. The specs for the 4G model are: -

  • WiFi - 802.11a/b/g/n/ac
  • GSM - 850/900/1800/1900 Mhz
  • CDMA - 850/1900 Mhz BC0 BC1+ EVDO
  • WCDMA - 900/2100 Mhz
  • LTE - 1/2/3/4/5/7/12/17/20/41 and VoLTE

The 4G models has SIM slot (under the top lid) and both have an external camera module space (for a later rear 5MP camera module). There are also 5 fully programmable RGB LEDs on the lid, which can be programmed for fun, but also to light up to indicate, say, who's calling. When the phone rings, it can be operated without ever opening the case.

The Gemini's default operating system is Android (currently 7.1) and it will run many standard Android apps, but in order to make it more Psion like, there's a toolbar at the bottom of the screen that can launch specified apps (as well as using various Psion like key combinations).

There's a dedicated voice assist button giving access to Google's voice system.

A quirk is the Gemini can also dual-boot and the second partition holds Linux (currently Debian, but Planet will open source at least enough of the Linux side so other variants can be installed). Linux can also be run as a VM under Android (yes it does work).

All Planet apps can be run locally (with no need for access into the cloud), or they can link into the Private Planet cloud service (or Google's).

There will be a range of peripherals, but on launch there's a USB-C to HDMI adapter and a USB-C hub with 3 USB-A sockets, Ethernet port (and maybe others). There's also a USB-C mains charger and a nice leather pouch.

Using the HDMI adapter, an external HD display is easily driven running video/etc.

The Gemini is currently selling 'in-demand ' on Indiegogo (the original target was for $200,000 and it's now at over $800,000).

The WiFi only version sells for $299 and the WiFi + 4G is $399 (prices are likely to go up by $200 after the campaign).

The Gemini is a very nice unit and completely usable as a mobile phone, but with a full features of a PDA with a touch-typable keyboard so allowing productivity apps and leisure apps like video to run, even at the same time and it will fit into a jacket pocket.

20/11/2017

It's a badge of honour, that changes face

Another day, another Crowdfunded project, this time it's a Bluetooth connected connected badge (or Pin as those over the pond like to call them).

Pins Collective are the people behind the badge (which is round) is about 2 inches across and the colour display has a resolution of 300 x 300 pixels. Information is sent to the badge using an iOS of Android app (using BLE i.e. Bluetooth version 4+ so it's needs to be a reasonably recent phone). The battery lasts around 6-72h depending on what the badge has to do (animation, backlight, etc).

Currently the app is pretty basic (in iOS) allowing selection of an image and sending it to the badge (and of course pairing the badge in the first place).

The badge will display GIFs (including animated GIFs, so you can get some spiffy moving images). The app will I,port and convert various image file formats to the correct version for the badge. Images bigger than 300x300 will be cropped.

Wearing pictures of your colleagues can be quite annoying to them.

Currently they're available to pre-order through Indiegogo at $69.

20/09/2017

Alivecor Kardia

Alivecor make products that read your EKG. The Kardia Band was previously reviewed and although convenient as it's always on your wrist (it's an Apple Watch add-on) it's extremely susceptible to movement, external interference and lots of other constraints so it's not always easy to get an accurate reading. It also takes a while to process the result as a lot of noise has to be filtered out.

The Kardia Mobile is much easier to use. It's a unit with two electrode pads on it (underneath there's a battery compartment which holds a CR2016 coin cell) which should give about 12 months of use.

Download the free iOS or Android Kardia app and then set-up an account. Then take a reading and the app will search for the Kardia Mobile device and pair with it (it uses Bluetooth 4 so a recent'ish iOS or Android phone must be used with a recent OS).

The app will wait a while, while you put your first and second fingers from both hands on either pad, then relax and the app will record your EKG. It needs to read about 30 seconds to get a sensible heart rate reading.

After the reading is saved it will tell you if there are any abnormalities or anything. As the pads are large and the signal is being received from across the body, the results are much cleaner and less susceptible to interference (compared to the Watch version).

The EKG Characteristics are single lead ECG, 10 mV peak-to-peak input dynamic range, 30 second to 5 minute recording duration, 300 samples per second sampling rate at 16 bit resolution.

There are extra features such as unlimited storage and history, summary reports for your doctor, blood pressure monitoring and tracking weight and medication (though the last two need manual intervention) that are available through the premium service which is available as an in-app purchase.

There's also a phone attachment strip that allows the Kardia Mobile to be carried with the phone (glues on to the phone).

The Kardia Mobile costs £99 direct from Alivecor.

19/09/2017

Xiaomi Huami AMAZFIT A1603 Smartband

Xiaomi make lots of stuff, but they also work with partners and specifically Huami who make wearables (under the AMAZFIT brand). In the US it's known as the Amazfit ARC.

Though the functionality is almost identical to the Xiaomi Band 2, it looks much nicer and the silicon strap has a 'hatch' effect on it which is very comfortable to wear. The actual unit is permanently attached to the strap and has a soft 'brushed' metal feel. Underneath there's an optical heart rate sensor and charging pins and the top is a UV coated scratch resistant OLED display.

Like most trackers it measures steps but also sleep (you obviously have to wear it at night), distance and active calories. The battery life is VERY good (Huami claim 20 days). It can also display notifications from your phone (currently iOS and Android are supported).

As a bonus it's also water proof and can be used when swimming, though it doesn't track swimming.

There's a USB charging cable that is magnetically polarised so it 'snaps' on to the charging pins on the bottom of the unit, this also stops you getting it the wrong way around.

There is an Amazfit app available and through it's pretty basic, it does support all the devices features and notifications, alarms etc can be set through it. However, it the ARC also works with the Xiaomi Mi Fit app, which has a lot more features and links with Apple Health and Android Fit on the relevant platforms. The Mi Fit app also seems to have a few more advanced features like being able to track heart rate when sleeping which give more accurate results (though reduces battery life).

It's definitely a cut above the Mi Band2 in terms of looks and comfort and on a par with traditional fitness trackers from established US companies, though at a very competitive price. However, the apps of more expensive western vendors are generally quite a bit better with more functionality.

The list price is $99 from the US Amazfit site, but various Asian sites have it available for around £30 including shipping.

22/08/2017

Kardia Band - an ECG monitor for your Apple Watch

The Kardia Band is made by AliveCor and is a watch strap for the Apple Watch (it comes in both 38 and 42mm versions). It replaces the standard Apple Watch strap and there's a big chunk of metal in the bottom strap.

To record your ECG place your thumb on the metal blob and your fore-finger onto the other side of your wrist. Run the Kardio app, sit back and RELAX. It's VERY sensitive to any kind of movement. After 30 seconds it will beep and then press save and it will try and filter out your ECG. If you move or there's lots of electric interference it's unlikely you'll get a good reading. Assuming you're not moving around much and the software processes the data, you'll then get a normal (or not) reading and you can scroll through the waveform, like it's been printed on paper and you move along along it.

AliveCor also make a Bluetooth version where you place your fingers on which is actually considerably cheaper and I'd guess gives better readings, but then you have to remember to take it with you or buy their special iPhone cases which wil hold the device.

The Kardia band does work and it's not reported any abnormal heart readings, which is probably a good thing. It's nice that you can take a reading whenever you like (as long as your wearing your Apple Watch), but it's very sensitive to environmental conditions.

The Kardia Band costs £199 in the UK directly from the AliveCor site (it's not available in the US as it's not FDA approved). The watch strap and metal insert have been improved since earliy version when the metal bit tended to fall out.

The Kardia Mobile Bluetooth sensor is available for £99 from AliveCor and is also available in the US.

02/08/2017

Hologram - a developer friendly international SIM

Hologram is a US company that offers both a hardware cellular device called a Dash, back-end cloud services and international SIMs that can be used globally.

The Dash is programmable through the Arduino IDE (and is supported out the box in recent versions) and the Dash firmware directly supports Holograms cloud services.

The cloud services know about Dash devices and then various routes can be set, which allow things to be sent to the Dash or from the Dash to another service (like IFTTT, Slack, etc).

The SIM is a standard 2G/3G SIM that can be fitted in a Dash and then be used on any supported mobile network. There are various pricing models with paid plans starting at $0.40 per month with data costing $0.60 / MB (billed by KB) in a pay-as-you-go service or pre-pay: -

>
DataZone 1Zone 2
500KB$0.59------
1MB$0.99$1.29
2MB$1.49$1.99
3MB$1.49$2.99
5MB$2.99$3.99
10MB$3.99$6.99
20MB$5.99$12.99
30MB$6.99$16.99
50MB$7.99$28.99
100MB$14.99$47.99
125MB$18.99$59.99
250MB$32.99------
500MB$55.99------

There are also US only plans: -

$8.00250MB
$12.00500MB
$20.001GB
$36.002GB
$70.005GB

SMSZone 1Zone 2
INBOUND (to device)FREEFREE
OUTBOUND (from device)$0.19 / Message$0.30 / Message

Zone 1 is EU, US etc and Zone 2 Canada, bits of Africa/South America and other odd countries.

Hologram have just announced a Developer plan (1 SIM ONLY), which gives 1MB per month absolutely free (and then $0.60 per MB billed by KB) and they'll even ship it for free using code "DEVPLANBLASTOFF" (no quotes).

That's pretty useful so testing the service is easy, without spending a lot of data charges.

The Dash has some pretty nice features too, such as being able to sent program and even firmware updates OTA (though that's going to quickly eat data, especially for firmware updates).

25/07/2017

Google Glass Zombie Edition

Google launched its "augmented reality" device (Google Glass Explorer Edition) in 2013 to much fanfare, though the hype soon overtook the realities of the product. Though never aimed at consumers (it cost around £1,000), the media, and to some degree Google, positioned it as that. Then came the crash and people wearing Glass were known as "glassholes".

Google Glass Explored Edition was just that, a platform that "explorers" i.e. developers, could start experimenting with augmented apps. Though the device did have a camera and wearers could take snaps of things they saw and camera info could be used by apps, Glass is really more of a Head's Up Display (HUD).

In 2015 Google stopped production of the Explorer Edition, but quietly in the background apps were developed and Glass found a market in the industrial, scientific and medical (ISM) arenas. Think surgery and having access to patient data or access to information about the operation, or in industry working on some device and instant access to pertinent information maybe an instruction or service manual. The list goes on and in these areas, lightweight HUD technology is a big winner.

Now it's 2017 and Google have announced Google Glass Enterprise Edition. This will be sold by resellers and positioned squarely for the ISM markets and launch partners were in those very fields. It's definitely NOT a consumer device. Google were right all along and there's a good chance they sell lots of units in those specialist areas.

The other contender is Microsoft Hololens, again people are writing it off as an expensive tech gadget, but Hololens is to Microsoft and Glass is to Google.

12/07/2017

So long Arquiva, hello WND

SIGFOX, the low power wide area network system have dumped Arqiva and now selected WND (who have successfully deployed SIGFOX networks in Brazil, Mexico, Columbia and Argentina). WND have already installed 50 base-station since they launched in March 2017 which covers 34% of the UK's population and have committed to 95% by 2019.

SIGFOX is a narrow band system using the license exempt 868MHz band in the UK (and EU in general), it's low power and long range so is designed for deployments that can be powered off batteries or power scavenging techniques and then left alone to monitor whatever they're designed to monitor.

SIGFOX supports 140 uplink messages per day (12 bytes in size, bit packed format determined by the user) and 4 downlink messages per day (8 bytes bit packed format). Uplink is from the remote site to the SIGFOX network and downlink is from the central service, though SIGFOX to the remote service.

There are other competing technologies such as LoRaWAN and specifically The Things Network, but their service sits on top of existing ISP connections, so there may be regulatory and other issues as well as a lot of unlicensed operators out there.

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.