21/11/2018

Is Twitter on the menu? if not get Twizzy

The macOS Twitter client is dated and hasn't been updated for a while, it also can take up a fair bit of screen space. There are other clients out there, but many don't offer that many more features than Twitter's own.

Now there's Twizzy, it's a neat little app that sits in the menu bar of macOS and clicking it allows sending a quick tweet (can put images etc in there too). There is a window that's around all the time, which shows DMs, but that can just be minimised and kept out the way until needed too.

It's really just a quick post tool, but good to have something without distractions that allows you to post that something just when you need too.

It costs $4.99 from the Twizzy site (inc VAT).

15/11/2018

Have a little light in your life

Beryl as was Blaze have released a new light designed for portability. It's called the Pixel.

It's quite small being an oval about 2cm long with a ring of LEDs around the edge and a single push-button in the middle. Surprisingly in this day and age it uses micro-USB to charge and not USB-C (Charging cable supplied). There's also a clear clip that the Pixel oops into. The flip can then be attached to a pocket or belt or using the supplied rubber strap attached to a bike or other mode of transport.

There's also a velcro strap which will allow the clip to attach to a helmet.

There are 4 modes that are accessed using the central button, long press and the Pixel will turn on (by default it is all white). A single press then cycles to all red, the next press goes to pulsating white and finally to pulsating red, then solid white again. A long press will turn the Pixel off. The solid white and red are pretty bright.

Beryl claim 10 hours of use on a single charge.

The Pixel costs £19.99 direct from Beryl.

08/11/2018

Linking without Libya (well an alternative), try Poplinks

Many sites want to have short links that point to their content for use on Twitter or other social media accounts. There are quite a few sites already doing this, but do you want you link to be hijacked if the regime say changes in Libya?

There's now an alternative called Poplinks and they have some quite neat features (there's also a free plan so you can trial the service). Though the choice of .io is controversial (but probably for another post) and Poplink is moving to the pool.ink domain soon.

Poplinks allow you to enter a URL that you want the Poplink to point to, the actual link can be named whatever you want i.e. say popl.ink/mysensiblename and then this can be called form a button, an image or Mailchimp.

Custom domains can be used which point the domain to Poplink (i.e. your own domain can be used).

Once the campaigns/links have been set-up, there's a nice dashboard to track it all.

It's quite a useful service and really easy to use and much nicer than supporting the Chocolate Factory or Libya.

There's currently a promotion on which gives 70% off all plans using code POP70OFF, sign-up at Poplink.

25/10/2018

When need you're in in need of power get InCharge

There's a lot of rubbish on crowdfunding sites and a lot of projects don't deliver. In August InCharge's campaign finished with the promise of a USB charging cable that actually looked pretty neat.

Two versions were on offer, the dual and all in one. The dual offers micro usb and lightning and the all in one micro usb, lightning and USB-C.

It's quite a clever design.

The image shows the all in one and amazingly one actually arrived today and does exactly what it promised to do. It's really compact and can fit on a keychain, the ends are magnetic to stay closed, but are easy enough to open.

They are still available on Indiegogo, though presumably they'll be available through the InCharge site shortly.

How to make 20 Easy Pies

Well actually "20 Easy Raspberry Pi Projects" is a book from Nostarch Press and takes the user through a variety of projects that can be built around the Raspberry Pi.

  • Table of contents
  • Introduction
  • Primer

  • LEDs
  • Project 1: Blinking an LED
  • Project 2: Pushbutton LED Flashlight
  • Project 3: LED Dimmer Switch
  • Project 4: A Graphical User Interface for a Multicolor LED
  • Project 5: Rainbow Light Strip

  • Displays
  • Project 6: An LCD Reminder
  • Project 7: Mini Weather Forecaster
  • Project 8: Pong with a Sense Hat

  • Sensors
  • Project 9: All-In-One Weather Sensor Station
  • Project 10: Intruder Alarm with Email Notifications
  • Project 11: Gas and Smoke Alarm
  • Project 12: Temperature and Humidity Data Logger

  • Cameras
  • Project 13: Burglar Detector with Photo Capture
  • Project 14: Home Surveillance Camera

  • Web Applications
  • Project 15: Building Your First Website
  • Project 16: Connecting Your Electronics to the Web
  • Project 17: Internet of Things Control Center with Node-Red

  • Games and Toys
  • Project 18: Digital Drum Set
  • Project 19: Make a Game in Scratch: Hungry Monkey
  • Project 20: Wi-Fi Remote-Controlled Robot

  • Appendix A: Raspberry Pi GPIO Pin Guide
  • Appendix B: Decoding Resistor Values

All the projects are built using the Pi, some external hardware and then programming the Pi using Python or Node Red.

You don't really need to fully understand programming and in-depth Python to get the most out of the projects, the book goes through the code and explains what the various code segments do.

Node Red is more complex and also simpler as it runs on the Pi and is accessed via a web browser and then the various actions are all performed by wiring bits together. All the actual programming is done behind the scenes. Some libraries and other bits and bobs have to be installed to support various bits of hardware, but the book goes into enough details of how to do it.

Each chapter ends with some tasks that the user can extend the project and though the basic knowledge of programming in the chapter should give these enough of a background to modify/extend the code, to really extend it, it;'s probably learning Python more fully.

All in all if you want to hook a Raspberry Pi up to some hardware, access the hardware through Python (or Node Red), then this book is no doubt a good starting point. However it is just that a starting point and doing more complex things with both the hardware and Python in particular will require more in0-depth knowledge and a more in-depth programming knowledge.

Saying all that, it's a great start and easy to follow and even with a basic knowledge of Python (just basing code on examples from the book) it should be possible to build all the projects and extend most of them without too much fuss.

03/08/2018

CRL Demo Day

It was a hot Thursday evening on the 19th of July at U+I's London HQ. The audience hushed which meant it was the started of the Central Research Labs' Demo Day.

CRL specialises in hardware start-ups and runs an accelerator in the old EMI Vinyl Factory in Hayes (which was also the home of EMI's Central Research Laboratory's where the accelerator took its name from).

There was an intro from Matt Hunter of CRL and then Marcus Shepherd, U+I’s Chief Finance Office and then Hadeel Ayoub of BrightSign and Andrie Danescu of Botsandus who presented their entrepreneurial journeys and vision for the future.

The 5 start-ups that went through the program and they were: -

  • Waalflower - a smart charging solution for tablets/phones presented by Arun Thangavel
  • @waalflower
  • Ignius - a device to keep women safe when leaving work, mainly for the Indian market, founded by Chakshu Saharan.
  • Animaro - a design studio led by Matt Gilbert making an 'animated' solstice clock.
  • Gilaasi - make glasses with an LCD film that can be instantly switched from clear to dark and vice versa worn by Bukki Adedapo.
  • Chip[s]board - an MDF replacement made from potato waste products and fried by Rowan Minkley & Robert Nicoll.

Some really interesting companies there and it's going to be exciting to see what happens as CRL expand to other sites across the UK.

02/07/2018

The next generation of built-it-yourself Smart Robot is here and it's Smartibot

There are some very clever people in this world and Ross Atkin is one of them. He's more widely known from the BBC TV program The Big Life Fix (with Simon Reeve).

In the past he did a previous Kickstarter project, The Crafty Robot (now with it's own website), over 4,000 robots were sold on the campaign.

Now Ross has launched the next generation of robot, the Smartibot again with a Kickstarter Campaign.

By backing £1 you'll get a PDF so you can print your own mini Smartibot case, though for £35 (£30 earlybird) you get the main board, 2 motors, a battery box and all the components and all cardboard parts to build teabot, AI Bot and Unicorn.

£60 get you the Genius kit which also includes a LED matrix board and distance and gesture sensor.

The most expensive kit is £100 and includes 3 of everything so all 3 bots can be built and a limited edition shiny version cases (gold AI, rainbow Unicorn and silver Teabot - all numbered and signed).

The AI bot (it's not really Artificial Intelligence, but Machine Learning that runs on your phone - beware it can eat your battery) that can do nice things like track an object and follow it.

The main board can actually control up to 4 DC motors and 10 servos all controlled from an app. Microsoft is also involved which will allow Smartibot to be programmed using their MakeCode system (that can be used to program the Micro:Bit used in schools) using a block language or javascript.

Though Smartibot will launch with the two expansions boards (LED/distance) more are planned in the future.

The kits do come with cardboard (cut-out) cases, but Smartibot can be embedded in anything, including a potato. However cases can be 3D printed or even built out of Lego. Of course Smartibot can also be put into existing toys with electric motors and used to control them, so you could make your RC car and give it some smart brains and make it autonomous.

Don't delay and get your Smartibot now

06/04/2018

Burglars around? You can now Blink outside too.

Blink for Home is a nice wireless home security system. It uses a sync module and the wireless camera modules (that record in HD). The cameras are battery powered and should last for around 2 years of normal use (it's not quite clear what 'normal' is, but assume you're not going to be burgled every day).

The cameras are only for indoor use, which might be an issue as if someone's already in your home, it's probably too late.

Welcome to the Blink XT. It's bigger than it's indoor version and it's black (though other cases are available), it's also battery powered, so no need to wire power externally and again it has a long battery life.

The biggest issue installing the camera was getting the screw into the door frame (actually positioning it to get a good signal is imperative too, initially it was installed outside where the boiler was inside - which seemed to block the signals). Once installed it just works.

Various parameters can be tuned sensitivity, how quickly it should re-check, length of clip, should audio be included etc. They are all controlled from the app.

Under the casing there's also a switch which will turn the recording LED on or off (so select that before you install the camera, as the case is watertight it can be a bit of a struggle removing it). You also need to know the serial number of the device to add it to the app, but there's also a QR code printed where the serial number is and the app can scan that rather than having to type it.

The XT also comes with a sticker saying your protected with Blink that you can attach to a window, which might be a legal requirement to let someone know they might be being filmed.

All in all it was pretty simple to install and just works. It's been up for a few days now and not detected anything, which is a good thing.

The Blink XT is available online for around £119.

It can also be purchased as part of a complete system or multipacks.

03/04/2018

Was 8.8.8.8 your default? well there's a new server in town and it's 1.1.1.1

The DNS wars are hotting up (well maybe if there was a DNS war in the first place), but there's a new player in town trying to topple Google's dominance in the domain name serving business.

Up until now, the generic default for putting in your resolv.conf (or equivalent) was Google's 8.8.8.8 public DNS IP service, well now Cloudflare have launched their own public DNS on 1.1.1.1 and it's fast.

The service was announced on April 1st, so many thought it was a spoof, a joke (it also happened to be Easter Sunday and Pesach) but it was real and it works. 1.1.1.1 is actually under the auspices of APNIC (the regional registry for the Asia Pacific region, more specifically their research group) and many a misconfigured service has a DNS entry of 1.1.1.1 - APNIC always wanted to research what traffic was bound there, but every time it was published, traffic overwhelmed whatever network it was pointed to.

Cloudflare offered to handle the traffic and analyse it, and then use it for DNS, which they have done and done it not for commercial gain (though presumably they get a lot of insight into DNS traffic and DNS use) but for the good of a healthy Internet.

As well as supporting standard DNS queries, 2 types of transport layer security are also supported, DNS-over-TLS and DNS-over-HTTPS which are both open standards.

More info can be found at 1.1.1.1

21/01/2018

Humax to the max with the FVP-5000T

The Humax FVP-5000T is the latest (and greatest) personal video recorder. It supports FreeviewHD+ which is basically Freeview and FreeviewHD and access to the various UK TV Internet players which currently is: -

  • BBC iPlayer
  • ITV Hub
  • All 4
  • Demand 5
  • UK TV Play

There's also YouTube and Netflix - though the latter requires a normal subscription and even if you have a subscription that supports 4K, the Humax box only supports standard HD (is that a thing, maybe just HD rather than UHD?).

There are 5 tuners, so 4 programmes can be recorded simultaneously while watching a 5th.

The remote control is a bit gaudy and 'plasticky', with dedicated big buttons for Freeview+ services, Netflix and On Demand. There's also an Guide (EPG) button as well as normal buttons to control playback and recording, channels, etc.

The EPG gives access to a week's worth of future viewing (7 days).

Recording can be done through the EPG and an individual program can be recorded or there's the option to record a complete series.

For the more adventurous there's an iOS and Android app that can be used to: -

  • Stream live TV from your recorder to your smart device
  • Stream your recordings from your recorder to your smart device
  • Set remote reminders
  • Schedule remote recordings
  • Access the TV guide from the myHumax portal

The actual box isn't huge (280 x 48 x 200 mm) and should fit under or next to a TV.

Looking at the rear where the connectors are, there's an Ethernet port (100Mb/s which is a good thing) though it also supports WiFi.

There's an antenna in (with a standard co-ax connector) and a loop out (to go to the TV). Then there's RCA out (CVBS/L/R), HDMI (1.4a with HDCP), optical S/PDIF and 2 USB ports (one on the rear and one on the side, USB 2.0).

The unit review had a 500GB disk which allows for 250 hours of SD or 125 hours of HD, though 1 and 2 TB versions are available too.

Accessing features is pretty instantaneous i.e. pressing the Freeview+ button or the Guide and navigation is pretty straight forward.

The system can also play content from a plugged in USB stick or over the network from a UPnP or Samba source.

Rather than review the system myself, my mother tried it (she's in her 80's) and to be honest, she has managed to use all the services, including recording individual programs, series and accessing on-demand (this is no mean feat!!!) and likes it. Having big buttons is a bonus for her.

If watching a SD channel where there's a Freeview HD version, the box will prompt you to hit OK to change to the HD channel (it pops up every now and again at the top left of the screen, so it's not too intrusive).

The only unusual; quirk is that sometimes, she has turned subtitles on, then turned them off again and after the unit is turned on sometime later, they have mysteriously turned themselves on again. Not a major problem, but I can be annoying, though easy enough to turn-off again (just entering the settings section seems to set them back to how they should have been set).

Though not tested the system can be used with the Humax H3 Espresso smart media player which can be used to access content stored on the FVP-5000T or live TV (it will use one of the available tuners).

There's also the Humax Eye which is IP-TV camera that stores its data in the cloud and that can also be watched through the PVR.

The 500GB version can be found on-line for £219.

Highly recommended (by my mother) which really is saying something as a general hater of technology.