Updates from January, 2013 Toggle Comment Threads

  • Urban 08:00 on 18 Jan. 2013 Permalink  

    Smart Watches, Dolphins and Evolution 

    Watches seem to be a bad fit in the modern world where time is all around us. Glance at your phone or your tablet, and there’s a clock. Glance at your computer screen, TV, car dashboard or digital camera, and there’s a clock. Fish your Fitbit out of your pocket, and it has a clock. Today, keeping time is so cheap that even your oven has its own clock.

    It wasn’t always so; 500 years ago, the clocks might have only been on clock towers. 250 years ago, they came to our living rooms. Then, to your grandfather’s pocket. And then, in an endless feat of miniaturization, they came to your wrist.

    However, in today’s world of Apple iPhones and Google Glass, the uni-tasking device on your wrist has been reduced to a fashion statement and/or a status symbol. But you don’t really need it.

    At least, I don’t.

    What would come in handy, though, is something else — an external screen for my phone. Something to display text messages, incoming calls, e-mails, weather info, and all the things the phone can think of, so that I don’t have to reach for it every time it blips.

    That’s why I’ve been testing a smart watch (Metawatch Strata, more below). It pairs to your phone using Bluetooth Low Energy and does all that, with hopefully more to come.

     

    A quick review

    Here’s some of the features:

    • It shows texts; see below for notification from one of my servers reporting some stats.1
    • Shows events from calendars synced to your iPhone; this includes Gmail, Exchange, and surprisingly, FB birthdays
    • Displays weather forecast, which is of course location-sensitive; the phone already knows your location, so weather can always be local
    • Shows stocks and phone battery level
    • Displays incoming calls, which you can also reject by pushing a button
    • Has media player controls,
    • Features a vibrating motor to alert you to a call, text or a calendar event,
    • as well as a 3 axis accelerometer and an ambient light sensor, both unused in the current firmware.

    mwstrata

    sms

    All this works by pairing the watch to your iPhone (Android is supported, but currently lacks many features). In fact, you have to pair it as a Bluetooth 2.1 device for displaying texts and incoming calls (as you would your Bluetooth car kit), and as a Bluetooth 4.0 device for everything else.

    Once paired, you run the app (MetaWatch Manager) that manages the widgets on the watch. You get 4 screens and you can place on them anything from 4 small widgets to 1 large widget occupying the entire 2×2 grid.

    photo

    The software is supposed to be open source, and there’s plenty of projects doing more with it. Haven’t looked into it yet.

    One of the more peculiar things is its display, which is nothing I’ve ever seen before. It’s a Sharp low-power memory LCD (video) with 96×96 pixel resolution, but there’s no black or white pixels; the only two states are mirror-reflective and white. This takes some getting used to, so be sure to check if you like it before buying. All photos are cleverly set up to reflect only black, so the effect is not obvious unless you check it in a video. On the bright side, it requires almost no energy when it’s not updating (similarly as e-ink), so the battery lasts for about a week.

     

    So, is this wearable computing?

    MetaWatch is of course not alone; there’s Pebble, which is just about to ship, with similar features. Pebble uses an e-ink display, so the battery life is reportedly similar (around a week). There’s also the Italian i’m Watch, which is entirely Android powered and uses an active display (hence the battery only lasts for about a day).

    It’s quite obvious something is going on in that space, and that a new computing form-factor is emerging.

    And if you think back, the exact same thing has already happened before: computers started out as large mainframes, where all the computing power was centralized. They were accessed only by a dumb terminal, which was little more than a remote keyboard and screen. Yet, gradually, technological progress killed the mainframe and made the dumb terminal the new protagonist. It became smart enough to survive by itself, sitting under your desk, then on your lap, and finally in your pocket. The smart phone in your pocket is indeed more powerful than your desktop computer was 10 years ago.

    And yet again, there are new dumb terminals to take place of the old. Smart watch is nothing but a dumb terminal for the mainframe in your pocket. Right now it can’t do much more than display what the mainframe has to say. But it might not be long before you won’t need the mainframe anymore.

     

    The meandering path of evolution

    I’ve been thinking lately how all this relates to biology. Watches seem to have had a similar evolutionary path as dolphins.

    You see, first there were fish (bear with me). Gradually, some fish got tired of water, became mammals, grew lungs and legs and came to land. They evolved further, and eventually they became us. But something else also happened: a group of mammals got tired of land and went back to water. Dolphins are a part of that group, and so are whales. They might swim like fish, but they have lungs and have to come to the surface for air. And funnily, today they mostly hang out with other fish (which have always been fish) and get confused with them by almost everybody.

    Compare that to watches. A clock, as an ideal of craftsmanship, the ultimate precision mechanism, gradually evolves into a mechanical Babbage machine that fills an entire room. Later, that becomes a computer, and the computer gets smaller and smaller, until it becomes wearable, and finally migrates to your wrist. There, it hangs out with the old mechanical relics, only to be confused with them for years to come.

     

     

    1. I’m using Nexmo to deliver those, costing me 1 cent per message []
     
  • Urban 00:07 on 12 May. 2011 Permalink  

    A little home server that could 

    My home server is an old EEE 701 netbook with a 2TB WD elements attached. My selection process was mostly guided by three factors: I wanted a small and silent system with low power consumption.

    I was considering many alternatives, among them a PC Engines Alix machine (500MHz Geode + 256MB RAM) with only 3-5 watts of power consumption, but eventually I decided on a 7″ EEE, for the following reasons:

    • integrated UPS (laptop battery with >2hrs of life; saved me more than once)
    • integrated monitor and keyboard (priceless when things get dirty)
    • expandable RAM (I installed 1GB)
    • low power consumption (with disabled wifi, screen and camera) at 7-9W
    • slightly faster CPU than Alix (EEE is underclocked from 900 to 600MHz, which should extend battery life. I played with overclocking, but concluded it was not worth the fear of an occasional unexpected freeze)
    • much lower power consumption than modern-day quad cores, but just as much CPU power as high-end PCs 10 years ago (much more is not needed for a file server anyway)
    • small form factor
    • cheap (can obtain a second-hand replacement for a small price, should one be needed)
    • had one lying around anyway, collecting dust.

    I run on it a n-lited Windows XP. I gave this a lot of thought and was deciding between XP, Ubuntu and the original Xandros. Still have two of them installed (on separate media: internal SSD and a SD card), but eventually XP won because of the following reasons:

    • On-the-fly NTFS compression (reduces used storage on 4GB SSD system disk from 3.9GB to 2.8GB and my data from 1500 to 1200GB; in other words: with more than 1GB of junk installed in program files, the 4GB internal drive is still only 65% full; NTFS also supports shadow copies of open files and hard links for rsync link farm backups).
    • Some windows-only services and utils I use (EyeFi server, Fitbit uploader, Total CommanderWinDirStat, etc.).
    • Actually *working* remote desktop (as compared to various poor-performing VNC-based solutions).
    • N-lited XP (with most of unnecessary services completely removed) has a memory footprint of <100 MB and easily clocks 6 months of uptime.

    I do occasionally regret my choice, but for now familiarity and convenience still trump unrealized possibilities. But upcoming BTRFS might be just enough to tip the scale in favor of Linux.

     

    What I run on it

    • Filezilla server for remote FTP access (I use FTP-SSL only)
    • Rsync server (Deltacopy) to efficiently sync stuff from remote locations
    • WinSSHD to scp stuff from remote locations
    • Remote desktop server for local access
    • Windows/samba shares for easy local file access
    • Firefly for exposing MP3 library to PC/Mac computers running iTunes (v1586 works best, later versions seem to hang randomly)
    • A cloud backup service to push the most important stuff to the cloud
    • EyeFi server, so photos automatically sync from camera to the server
    • “Time Machine server”, which is nothing but a .sparsebundle on a network share, allowing me to backup my Mac machines (tutorial)
    • Gmailbackup, which executes as a scheduled task.

     

    Some other random considerations and notes

    • Disable swap file when using SSD (especially such a small one).
    • No more partitions for large drives: I just “split” the 2TB drive into dirs. The times of partitioning HDDs are long gone and such actions brought nothing but pain when a small partition was getting full and needed resizing. Think of dirs as of “dynamic pools”.
    • No WiFi means no reliability issues, more bandwidth, more free spectrum for other users and more security.
    • WD Elements runs 10ºC cooler than WD Mybook when laid horizontally and is also cheaper.
    • Use Truecrypt containers to mount sensitive stuff. When machine is rebooted, they are unmounted and useless until the password is entered again.
    • Use PKI auth instead of keyboard-interactive authentication for publicly open remote connections.
    • Use firewall to allow only connections from trusted sources.

    In any case, this is just a file/media/backup server and I’ve been quite satisfied with it so far (I’ve been using it for over a year). However, all my web servers are virtual, hosted elsewhere and regularly rsynced to this one.

     
    • dare 19:30 on 12 May. 2011 Permalink

      i’m impressed. se posebej, da mas cas merit temperaturo diska v razlicnih legah 🙂
      seriously, mene si preprical. pravis, da se dobijo rabljeni po 100 EUR?

      ej, kaj ce bi tole cross-postal na Obrlizg? men se zdi ful fajn geeky stuff

    • wujetz 08:58 on 13 May. 2011 Permalink

      mene tud preprical…

      sam eno vprasanje – a je zadeva dovolj mocna, da postavis gor se kak game server (BF, CS,…)?

    • Urban 21:58 on 13 May. 2011 Permalink

      @dare: tole s temperaturo sem odkril slucajno, ker vsake toliko zalaufam odlicen in zastonj CrystalDiskInfo (pove kdaj se v SMART zacnejo nabirat napake, kar pomeni da bo disk odletu). Tam je blo pa z velikimi rdecimi crkami pisalo 60ºC, kar ni good; WD Elements ne pride cez 45ºC.

      za rabljene poglej na bolho; zdele lih edn prodaja za 99eur celo z 2GB rama..

      @wujetz: nimam pojma kok to pozre cpuja; stock frekveca je underclockana na 630MHz, normalna je nekih 900MHz, lahko ga pa navijes celo do 1GHz (enostavno izberes brzino iz menija odlicnega utilitija http://www.cpp.in/dev/eeectl/ ).
      Giga je ze solidna brzina, ampak za to mors met neko mal bolse hlajenje (vsaj ventilator na max)

      za kej vec info prever forum zagrizenih userjev: http://forum.eeeuser.com/viewforum.php?id=3

  • Urban 22:39 on 2 May. 2011 Permalink  

    Pot pod noge 

    There is nothing like walking to get the feel of a country.  A fine landscape is like a piece of music; it must be taken at the right tempo.  Even a bicycle goes too fast.  ~Paul Scott Mowrer, The House of Europe

    Ko skočim na kakšen oddih, ponavadi pešačim, da na koncu dneva bolijo noge (ne samo, da tako veliko vidiš, še zdravo je). Zdaj, po prvomajski turi Budimpešta-Bratislava-Dunaj, imam prvič vsaj približne gabarite: kje se gibljejo številke in koliko imam prehojenih kilometrov, če ne šparam s koraki.

    Sicer s sabo že dolgo vlačim tudi Garmina, vendar se po mestih, kjer je zaradi stavb vidno le malo neba, ne znajde prav dobro (pa tudi baterija mu hitro izdihne). Že zato je za merjenje razdalj praktično neuporaben (da ne omenjamo pokritih prostorov).

    Tudi moj hack GPS-a na telefonu se je v tujini izkazal za precej neuporabnega. V Sloveniji je še dobro delal, kot je razvidno s spodnjega zemljevida. Potem pa je telefon zamenjal omrežje in ker sem imel izklopljen roaming, je navigacija odpovedala. Za geolokacijo s Cell ID ali WiFi BSSID je namreč potrebna podatkovna povezava (d’oh), ki pa jo brez roaminga ni. Na GPS brez asistence prav tako ni za računati, ker rabi približno 5 minut za hladen štart. Torej bolj malo datapointov.1

    Fitbit to the rescue. Sicer nimam lokacij kjer sem se sprehaljal (nekaj točk vseeno ima telefon, če sem bil dovolj časa na odprtem, da je GPS dobil fix), imam pa kilometrino.

     

    Spodnja statistika je presegla moja pričakovanja in je krepko nad nenehno izmikajočimi se 70.000 koraki (~50 km) na teden:

    • v 10 dneh prehodil 232.208 korakov
    • skupaj čez 175 km (peš), kar je cele 4 ‰ Zemljinega obsega 🙂
    • oz. v povprečju 17+ km na dan

    Oz. drugače, nekdo ki bi vsak dan naredil “samo” 17 km, bi v dobrih 6 letih prepešačil celoten obseg Zemlje na ekvatorju: 40.075 km.

    V glavnem, hoja je precej podcenjena. Čeprav je naše telo zgrajeno zanjo, se danes umika prevoznim sredstvom, dvigalom in tekočim stopnicam, mi pa postajamo sedeči zombiji.

    Avtor strani Zenhabits takole pravi (v svoji objavi “38 stvari, ki sem se jih naučil v 38 letih”), in najbrž ima prav:

    20. A good walk cures most problems. Want to lose weight and get fit? Walk. Want to enjoy life but spend less? Walk. Want to cure stress and clear your head? Walk. Want to meditate and live in the moment? Walk. Having trouble with a life or work problem? Walk, and your head gets clear.

    Vir: Zenhabits

    29. Don’t sit too much. It kills you. Move, dance, run, play.

    (ibid)

    1. Ko pa sem data roaming vključil, je telefon začel nalagati goro podatkov, in tokrat sem celo razumel zakaj: kot je razložil Jobs zaradi afere “locationgate”, telefon ob določenih lokacijskih zahtevah naloži crowdsourcano bazo bližnjih Cell ID-jev in WiFi MAC naslovov, da lahko kasneje lokacijo pridobi tudi v offline načinu; vir []
     
    • dare 22:55 on 2 May. 2011 Permalink

      jep, tudi jaz zadnje case veliko prebiram o hoji in vedno bolj verjamem vanjo.

  • Urban 01:31 on 18 Mar. 2011 Permalink  

    Fitbit ali ne fit bit 

    Pisal sem že o merjenju: po eni strani zato, ker res verjamem, da brez podatkov o tem, kje si, ne moreš vedeti kam moraš iti, da bi prišel do cilja (oz.: kako sploh veš, da nisi že na cilju?). Po drugi strani pa je tudi vedno bolj jasno, da so podatki tisti manjkajoči člen, ki lahko gamificira katerokoli aktivnost.

    Marsikje je to postalo že logično. Vsakemu lastniku spletnega mesta je samoumevno, da spremlja podatke o obisku strani na Google Analytics in na podlagi tega poskuša oblikovati vsebino in obliko tako, da bi povečal obisk. In vsakemu razvijalcu iPhone in Android aplikacij je samoumevno, da spremlja podatke o prodaji aplikacij na App storu in išče strategije zniževanja cen, oglaševanja, ipd.

    Da bi dobil kakšen tak osebni stream podatkov, sem oktobra z veliko navdušenostjo nabavil Wifi tehtnico1. Poleg spremljanja grafov na sajtu in v iPad aplikaciji, sem zadevo polinkal tudi na Google Health, upajoč na Googlovsko nirvano podatkovnega zlivanja (če lahko napovedujejo gripo, pa naj še iz mojih podatkov kaj pametnega potegnejo). 🙂

    Ampak tam žal vidim samo en graf. Podatki zaenkrat samevajo med vsemi polji, ki jih Google Health podpira (višina, količina spanja, krvni tlak, idr.). Večino ostalih parametrov je namreč treba vnašati na roke.

    Google Health ima kakopak tudi API, preko katerega lahko vnašamo poljubne podatke, vendar pa to enostavno ni primerna platforma za ostale tipe podatkov, ki jih trenutno beležim (lokacijo in število kilometrov, ki jih dnevno opravi moj telefon, število tipk in klikov, ki jih dnevno odtipkam). Drug problem je dejstvo, da je potrebno urediti precej nekih detajlov, da Google pusti vpisovanje (API je namreč produkcijski, namenjen predvsem resnim institucijam, in zahteva vse od registracije sajta do SSL certifikata — vse to za par grafov).

    Zadnjič pa sem slučajno opazil v Healthu postavko “opravljeni koraki” (steps taken). Takoj mi je kliknilo, da se že dobro leto govori o zanimivem gadgetu z imenim Fitbit (nazadnje sem slišal Tima O’Reillyja, ki se je lani na Web2expu hvalil, koliko bolj je motiviran za športanje, odkar ga ima). Od takrat sem se nekajkrat že sam smukal okrog njihovega sajta, vendar še vedno dostavljajo samo v US. Na koncu sem se odločil, da ne bom več čakal, in sem ga naročil kar preko posrednika na eBayu.

    Nekaj prvih vtisov: presenečen sem bil nad robustnostjo; bal sem se, da ga bo vsak tresljaj vrgel iz tira, ampak očitno je to kar zrelo področje in jasno je, da mora upoštevati samo nek ozek pas frekvenc med hojo in tekom.

    Uporabniški vmesnik pedometra ima samo en gumb. S pritiskom preklapljaš med prikazom korakov, prehojenih kilometrov, kalorijami in rožico, ki raste glede na to koliko se giblješ (in še adaptivna je: bolj kot si fit, težje raste). Dolg pritisk pomeni začetek ali konec spanja, s čimer lahko beležiš trajanje in kvaliteto spanca. Ni pa on/off stikala. Če ga hočeš dejansko ugasniti, ga priključiš na dok in stisneš reset na doku. Ponovno pa ga vklopiš tako, da ga vstaviš v priključen dok.

    Tudi namestitev je dokaj enostavna — poveš samo višino, in kar sam določi povprečno dolžino korakov za hojo in tek, ki jih lahko kasneje po želji tudi popraviš.

    Fitbit seveda omogoča tudi sprotno uvažanje v Google Health — za to sem ga pravzaprav želel. Vedno se mi je zdelo, da je iz vseh teh podatkov mogoče iztisnit precej več kot 2 grafa, in sem računal, da bo to nišo prej ali slej nekdo zapolnil (če ne Google, pa kak startup).

    Zdaj pa se mi vse bolj zdi, da je mogoče prav Fitbit tisti startup: njihov lasten sajt je pred kratkim dodal še integracijo z zgoraj omenjeno Wifi tehtnico, tako da sedaj lahko avtomatsko in na enem sajtu spremljaš:

    • težo in % telesne maščobe (preko API-ja od serverja za tehtnico)
    • število peš kilometrov, opravljenih na dan
    • število kalorij, porabljenih na dan (vsota bazalnega metabolizma — to je kar porabiš, če nič ne delaš — plus kalorije ki jih porabiš ko se giblješ)
    • čas, ki ga prespiš (s pritiskom na gumb za 2s poveš, da gre za spanec)
    • kvaliteto spanca (akcelerometer beleži premikanje med spanjem, ki pomeni slab spanec)
    • procent nizke, srednje in visoke aktivnosti, in procent časa ki ga presediš (24h minus čas aktivnosti, minus čas spanca)

    Njihov sajt pa že zdaj omogoča tudi ročno vnašanje drugih podatkov: pritisk, srčni utrip, krvni sladkor, beleženje zaužite hrane, popite tekočine, in celo počutja (precej več in bolj prijazno kot Google Health).

    Glavna prednost pred Google Healthom pa so vizualizacije — kup lepih grafov, ki so (vsaj po mojem občutku) skrbno izbrani tako, da so čimbolj informativni. In količina informacij, ki so jo iztisnili iz samo 1 senzorja — akcelerometra — je impresivna.

    In da ne pozabim na gamification. Če si dodaš prijatelja in z njim tekmuješ kdo peš naredi več kilometrov, potem ti postane še kako pomembno, da kdaj parkiraš malo dlje. 🙂

    Nad eno stvarjo sem pa razočaran. Nimajo izvoza podatkov, in to bom že še uredil, pa četudi s svojim proksijem.

    So pa informacije na internetu dokaj skope. Sajt sicer lahko uporabljaš tudi brez fitbita in različne podatke vnašaš na roke; ni pa nobene demonstracije produkta in nobenih uradnih posnetkov na Youtubu. Tole spodaj je še eden boljših pregledov:

    1. ki btw. dela že pol leta povsem brez vzdrževanja in še s prvimi baterijami []
     
  • Urban 20:50 on 17 Nov. 2010 Permalink  

    Naredi si sam — iPad stylus 

    Vem, nič novega. Spodnji tutorial je star že pol leta in če bi imel prevodno peno, bi zadevo poskusil že prej.

    Zdaj, ko sem ga končno izdelal, pa se obnese presenetljivo dobro, celo v primerjavi z enim komercialnim produktom (ta, ki ga imam, je preveč gumijast in imaš podoben občutek kot če bi pisal z radirko).

    Velikost običajnega kulija bolje sede v roko kot tanjše palčke, poleg tega pa tudi lažje pišeš ne da bi roko naslanjal na zaslon (ker s tem motiš pisanje). V končni fazi je občutek podoben kot če bi pisal s flumastrom na tablo (kjer prav tako ne naslanjaš roke).

    Evo še demo, z naslovom “Jesen” (narejeno v brezplačnem Adobe Ideas). Zasloni na dotik vseeno še ne bodo kmalu zamenjali raznih Wacom tablic, za kaj na hitro skicirat pa bo.

     
    • Roman 22:59 on 18 Nov. 2010 Permalink

      Hudo. Nc vec posusenih flomastrov in pobarvanih prstov 🙂

    • božo 11:43 on 19 Nov. 2010 Permalink

      sedaj pa na projektor priklopit zadevo pa iza mize predavat 🙂

      PS: samo v vednost – včeraj in danes brez problema dostopam do tvojga bloga (od doma in službe, preko vseh 3 PC-ov)… dva dni prej (zapored) pa nikakor ni nalovdalo tvoje domene (vsaj zvečer od doma ne)?

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