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

There are also US only plans: -


SMSZone 1Zone 2
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).


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.


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.


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.


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).


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.


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: -


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.