Review – Google Chromecast

ChromeCast BrainFreeze

I think the above error message from ChromeCast really applies to it, in that Google should really try again to make this device, but this time with an eye to making it work for most people! I was hoping this would be a fairly positive review for an “up and coming product”, but unfortunately my executive summary for this is:

Don’t buy it – wait for the next generation

I’d always delayed getting an Apple TV and wanted to test the waters of IPTV, so when I heard it was out I added it to our shopping list. Couldn’t wait to get it home and give it a try…

Set Me UpSetup took me 2 1/2h, which really is a bit much. Theoretically, it should only take 5-10 mins, but that’s only if you have the right router – what’s that?

I had a middle of the road router which worked for a few days and then ChromeCast stopped working with it. Even to get my router (a Netgear WNR 2000 – not exactly unusual, in fact widely used in the UK) working, I had to throttle it back from 802.11n (the current fast standard) to 802.11a (the oldest and slowest standard) which is a well known problem with my router and ChromeCast – see the bottom for more info.

Ready To CastAs mentioned, ChromeCast actually worked once I dialed my router back and it certainly had some cool features, such being able to “cast” the tab of a browser which is unfortunately broken as it’s extremely slow (as in – is not usable if there’s video in the tab).

What does work is YouTube and an extremely nifty Chrome extension called VideoStream. If you do have a ChromeCast, then you should definitely get it as VS allows you to play files from your laptop which as the apps tag line says “What you bought your ChromeCast for”

Chrome Cast ExplosionSo what went wrong?

I thought I’d be able to play around a bit with ChromeCast and it’s potentially cool applications until I went to show it off to my neighbour a few days later – that’s funny, it wasn’t registered on my iPad… Nor was it on the windows laptop…

Ken is a fellow geek, so he hung around for about 10 mins as I rebooted everything in various combinations but to no avail.

That was basically it! I suppose I could of done more web research or whatever but frankly I’d lost patience with ChromeCast as it is supposed to be a consumer device that I could plug and play with. Instead, it was plug and play and break and fix and pray and play and break and fix and … well, I just couldn’t be bothered.

Routers

The main problem is WiFi

As mentioned before, I have a Netgear WNR 2000 router. It works with my iMac, a Windows 7 laptop, iPad and 2 Android phones from Samsung and HTC at full 802.11n speed or fallback. Unfortunately, to get ChromeCast to work with my router, I had to set the speed right back to 802.11a! Not good – I was actually prepared to set up another ‘special slow router’ for ChromeCast, but then it just stopped working after 2-3 days and as mentioned. This was not what I expected or would tolerate. To their credit, PC World accepted the unit back without argument (maybe this wasn’t the first?). Was it just me though? A search of ChromeCast Problems yields about 15M results, so there must be something going on here…

The funny thing was that my router is OK on the ChromeCast Router Compatibility table. But note, that’s only when it is with the “default settings”. I’ve obviously got quite a few customisations on mine and there was no way I was going to set everything back to factory just for one little device.

But why the good reviews? you may ask… as looking around, it mostly seems to get from 3-5 *’s out of 5 from most mainstream outlets. I think this just indicates that they didn’t thoroughly test the device, took materials from press releases, were “favourably biased” or just plain incompetent – take your pick ;-)

Anyway, caveat emptor and fortuna, si emere

Posted in Computing, Hardware, Products, Review | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Simplify

http://www.spectrumphotographytips.com/images/simplify2.jpg

About a month ago when I returned from a month in Aus, I had a few things to do in a day which combined to get me thinking about simplification as it seems that despite all our wonderful “web technology” (what are we on – 3.0?) we seem to reaching the stage where we are making things that worked about a year ago complex and harder to use for no reason! For illustration, here are the two web based tasks I had that day:

  1. Reserve an item in store at Curry’s
  2. Reset a password for a Google account

Sounds simple enough? As mentioned, a year ago each of these would have taken max 5 mins each. Instead, each took 1/2h! What’s going on???

complex flower pattern

1. Reserve an item in store at Curry’s

Sounds so simple, doesn’t it? Last time I did it, it was – you clicked reserve & collect, entered your postcode, selected a store, input your name, email and that was it! You’d get a confirmation email with reservation number and the item was held for 24 hours for you. Just go and pick it up :-)

What went wrong this time? You click Reserve & Collect and are given a message that it’s available for Reserve & Collect! Really? I’d hope so, but my money says there are some items where you click on this link and are told it’s not available for R&C…

Anyway, I persisted and was now asked also for my phone number (which I input a false one for – it’s wasn’t relevant) – why? After declining the privilege of being contact by Currys and various 3rd Party organisations I then tried to reserve the item – nothing, nada, nicht!

OK, I’ll try phoning the number on the web site. After being led down 2 IVR blind paths I gave up and drove to my local store. I noticed that there was a B&Q (hardware store) nearby and went there first, so I took some “consumer action” – they had the item and I was happy, but after a long and tortuous route I would have preferred not to take.

2. Reset your Google Password

In the afternoon, I was doing some “IT Support” for my 80 year old neighbour and he forgot his password for Google. “No problemo” said I (naively). I then went to the appropriate link where you’re asked for the email address and put it in. Last time I did this, you got a “check your email” message and off you go. Now, I got a security question (his cars numberplate) – ok, they’re beefing up security a bit – that’s good…

NO IT WASN’T! They’d beefed up security so much that we were asked another 5 or so questions about which Google products he used, when he started using them and even how much he used them! Although we were told that the system would allow for some mistakes, we were both sweating as we attempted to prove that Ken was indeed Ken!

Unlike the store, we couldn’t just go somewhere else, so after (what seemed like) 10-15 minutes looking up various bits and nervously waiting for Google’s assessment of his “Ken-ness” we finally PASSED – WOOHOO! I now have a backup record of his password, as neither of us want to go through that again…

brazil computerSTOP Complexifying!

What just happened? My two consumer type actions on the web in one day were a disaster! They wouldn’t have been a year ago…

Both systems seemed fine, but have now been bureaucratically engineered beyond their intent and optimal usability. If this keeps going on, we really will have computers like in Brazil

The Justifications

After too many years working for such organisations, I can take a pretty good guess at why both “enhancements” were done:

  1. The original R&C was probably a side project which worked great. But either the great Hammer of IT or EA came down and demanded compliance with their CRM strategy. This would have demanded more information be collected so they could “engage” aka annoy their customers. The system was obviously not fully working and the IVR, well that was probably a disaster (as are most) from the get-go.
  2. Due to increased identity fraud etc, there is clearly a need for increased security, especially around password resets. Unfortunately, some CRM / Security people got involved and thought of a whole bunch of questions which only they could answer. Us mere mortals never stood a chance :-(

solutionSome Solutions

With quite a bit of Solution Architecture experience, I’m going to put my SA hat on and suggest some potential low impact solutions to both these ?

  1. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! This system should have been left as is as it was the minimum usable implementation. “But we need to populate our CRM system” you may say. Well, in that case do it, but progressively. Give people the option and motivation to give you information and respect their choice if they choose not to (which is a subject of a whole other post).
  2. Stop being so damn “smart”, because it’s not really! Google have a history of only hiring the “best and brightest” and this is one of their products, so no real surprise here. There are so many dimensions of information that Google have on people. Create questions that people (and not machines or people who are like machines ;) can relate to. Use information such as IP’s, location to reduce the need for the “20 genius questions”.

Deep Human Solution

There’s a common theme here
- both solutions were supposedly “improving” a system. Both had a common problem of an over and mechanistic engineering of the solution. Maybe part of the problem is the implicit “continual growth” in capitalism. Why can’t we sometimes just leave parts of a system as they are because everyone is happy with them?

kayakerOnRiverFurthermore, if we do have to change something, how about we do it in a humane way? As the Antimatter Principle from @flowchainsensei would say, being sensitive to the needs of the real user rather than some abstract entity cooked up for the convenience of analysts, technologists or even worse, the business or their CRM system!

If you are ever in the position of dealing with a system which interfaces with people, then assuming you want it to be “nice” ask some questions like this: “Would I personally want to use a system like this?”, “Would my partner and children want to use this system?”, “If the CEO of the company used this system” (which they rarely do, but that’s another problem ;) “what would they think?”

If you’re in the position of allocating funds / priorities for systems, you may want to ask questions like “What is this doing for our customers?”, “Is it making their lives better / easier?”, “Politics aside, is this really the best way to spend the companies money?”, “What would happen if we didn’t do this change?”, “Is there something else in the organisation which could make better use of the money if we didn’t do this project?”

Posted in Agile, Agile, Architecture, Business, Change, Coding, Computing, Process | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

FuseDay – Installation

JBoss FUSE cloud
I’ve decided to do a bit of a “deep dive” in to the Fuse ESB, which is now owned by Red Hat, to upgrade my technical skills in this area. I’ve actually ended up using a product called Fuse Service Workbench instead of this and will eventually do a post similar to this on how to install it. The directions given here will work though if you want to set up “Basic Fuse” along with the Developer Studio.

One thing I have discovered (by getting FSW up and running) is that due to various bugs in Oracle’s JDK 1.7 on Apple – you should use it, at least for this. Instead, you need to use Apple’s JDK 1.6, making sure that you set JAVA_HOME to the real path, not a symbolically linked one (of which there are many). I’m assuming 1.7 is OK on Windows (as the doc says it should be) – feel free to let me know your experiences in the comments section.

Installation

For simplicity, I’m using the RedHad FUSE ESB which includes: Installers, Testing, Performance, Third party verification, Centralized management of uniquely configured brokers with Fuse Fabric and Incremental patching. It’s a 30 day trial, but I’m just using it for the quick and easy installation.

1. Install JBoss FUSE Beta (6.1)

Get it from http://www.jboss.org/products/fuse, unzip the file, uncomment the (last) admin user line from etc/users.properties:

admin=admin,admin

and start the ESB, so you should get something like this:

JBoss-FUSE rwest$ bin/fuse	 	 
Please wait while Fabric8 is loading...	 	 
100% [=============================================================]	 	 
      _ ____                  ______	 	 
     | |  _ \                |  ____|             	 	 
     | | |_) | ___  ___ ___  | |__ _   _ ___  ___	 	 
 _   | |  _ < / _ \/ __/ __| |  __| | | / __|/ _ \	 	 
| |__| | |_) | (_) \__ \__ \ | |  | |_| \__ \  __/	 	 
 \____/|____/ \___/|___/___/ |_|   \__,_|___/\___|	 	 
  JBoss Fuse (6.1.0.redhat-328)	 	

http://www.redhat.com/products/jbossenterprisemiddleware/fuse/

Hit '<tab>' for a list of available commands	 	 
and '[cmd] --help' for help on a specific command.	 	 
Open a browser to http://localhost:8181 to access the management console	 	 
Hit '<ctrl-d>' or 'osgi:shutdown' to shutdown JBoss Fuse.

As mentioned above, you can then go to http://localhost:8181 and login

JBoss FUSE login

which should give you the welcome screen!

JBoss FUSE welcome

Congratulations – you’ve almost got FUSE running as what you have at the moment is a Fabric, which is kind of like a ‘mini cloud’

Now you should shut FUSE down using

JBossFuse:karaf@root> osgi:shutdown
Confirm: shutdown instance root (yes/no): yes
JBossFuse:karaf@root> JBoss-FUSE rwest$

so you can …

2. Install JBoss Developer Studio 7.1

Get it from https://www.jboss.org/products/devstudio.html and just open it – as it’s a jar file, on a Mac (which I use) it will just run the installer:

JBoss DevStud first

If you’re on a Mac, then the JVM/JDK will probably be set to your browser’s JVM, which is not correct – it should be set to your JDK. In the case of Apple, it should be 1.6:

>> TODO: Update Diagram Below

JBoss-DevStud-JVM

Contrary to the screen above, you can use the “Visual Page Editor” on a Mac if you do a 32-bit installation. At the end you can then start the IDE and at a minimum you should install all of the “Integration Stack” items as some of these work with FUSE:

JBoss DevStud updates

and there’s some pretty cool stuff such as support for Rules systems like Drools and Guvnor. You’ll probably get a warning about “unsigned content”, but that’s just someone (in Red Hat) being lazy.

After the installation, JBoss DevStudio will want to reboot and then you’ll be right for development with FUSE which we’ll cover in the next installment…

NOTE: Still a bit more updating to do, but most of the above should be correct.

Posted in Agile, Architecture, Coding, FUSE, Products, SOA | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Don’t Spy on Us!

2 Crypto KeysIt’s the end of the day here, and what a day it’s been with 3 causes, 2 manifestos and so many hashtags I lost count! ;-) Organised chaos springs to mind… But it’s been worth it. I’ve done my best to spread the word and went to my first CryptoParty (and Unconference :) at English PEN, which I just thought I’d briefly recap. The function was at their offices in London which were probably a bit small for the event even though there was a small lecture theatre space included.

EncryptionLuckily as the numbers were limited it wasn’t too crowded,  just very comfy. The mix was interesting – a few business people, some good hackers, information & freedom people, quite a few IT people (like me :) and just many who were interested and wanted to find out more. There was certainly a wide range of topics covered (in no particular order):

  • Secure SMS
  • Smart Phone Security
  • Secure Storage
  • Encrypting Mail
  • Safe Web Browsing
  • Why Bother? I have nothing to hide…
  • A Secure OS – Qubes OS
  • How Google and Facebook make money from you
  • PGP
  • Politics
  • TruCrypt (the software Snowden et al use)

nsa Utah Data Centre

In all, I’d say a Total Success! I was able to chat with many people and my wife was educated on many issues, some of which I’d talked about. The great thing was that it wasn’t just me blabbering on and there were some interesting freedom and rights perspectives that were also given.

Big Brother Is NOT Watching YouFor me, it was great to meet others of like mind, that simply want to be able to express themselves freely and without fear of any consequences now and in the future.

One of the key messages was that privacy should be the default (ah – remember the good ‘ol days ;) and that we should politically move towards this.

In the mean time however, we need to implement “stop gap measures” that increase peoples privacy by encrypted communication, storage and working. This has given me some focus for my contribution.

I’d planned on leaving Google this year anyway and blog about it. I can now see that I actually have a greater need to reclaim my privacy, and I’ll be blogging about that also. I can’t wait to see what happens on next years The Day We Fight Back, Necessary and Proportionate, to Stop The NSA, and Stop Spying on US! Or as I’d like to call it – Information Freedom Day :-)

Posted in Change, Future, Life, Miscellaneous, Networking, People, SocialMedia, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

The Day We Fight Back

The Day We Fight Back

Updates: Just in today:

Big Brother Is Watching YouWelcome to my meager effort in the push back against unconditional mass surveillance. At the moment I’m waiting on some treatment for a pinched nerve that means I can’t use my right arm much for typing, which is literally a pain. Still, nothing will stop me blogging on this auspicious occasion which I passionately believe in!

Anyone who knows me virtually or physically knows that I am a passionate believer in people, humanity and freedom – some of the core principles of The Magna Carta and The American Constitution. For this reason I’m fully signing up to The Day We Fight back. To me, this means a sort of non-violent revolution along the lines of
How to Start a Revolution by Gene Sharp

which has been behind many recent revolutions such as the Arab Spring and Eastern European ones. Ironically, we now need tools such as this to ensure our own freedom in Western Civilisation…

We are here to keep you safeWhy? Because the USA (NSA) and other countries such as the UK (GCHQ) and Australia (ASIO) seem to be heading down a very dark path based around the darker side of human nature. This has been trodden before and never ended well for anyone…

The current situation with mass surveillance will soon be beyond what George Orwell warned against in his book and the movie 1984. Even allowing for the fact that people have “nothing to fear” if they “obey the law”, there have already been numerous instances of NSA Employees abusing the current system and the NSA helping US corporations conduct corporate espionage. Here in the UK, we’re now looking at our confidential health information being sold to whoever wants it which is a total violation of patient-doctor confidentiality.

Benjamin Franklin

Underlying all of this is the dangerous assumption that large institutions (be they government or corporations) can tramp over the rights of individuals (aka people :) and exploit them as they would any other resource for their own ends. I think it’s time people really understood the value of the privacy and took it back so we don’t all end up going somewhere where most people don’t want to be and won’t enjoy. The choice is yours…

Dark Light Path

PS If you’re in the UK, although it’s not on the official page, there’s a (CyberParty) event at English PEN tonight – seems like there are still tickets available…

Posted in Change, Future, Life, Miscellaneous, People, SocialMedia | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Intuos Manga Review

Intuous Manga

SummaryDon’t buy an Intuos Manga*, Do buy an Intuos Pen & Touch if you are in the right market segment…

*Assuming you’re not a comic book illustrator – see note at end

There, with that out the way, hopefully no-one else will get sucked into the useless combo that is Intuos Manga! Why do I say that? Because Version (4) of Manga software which is included in the package is absolute crap from a UX perspective (think Windows 95) and is one (very significant) version behind the current version.

I’m jumping a bit ahead here though, so I’ll go right back to the start as there are a few things I found out along my pen tablet journey. I was obviously in the market for a digitiser to do a bit of mucking around and to start work on some “RSA Type” animations for Right Shifting**. As I’m not a professional illustrator and would only use this occasionally I was trying to keep the cost down.

For this review I’ll be using the recent/new model names as Wacom “recently” (2013) “updated” their line in that some of the names are changed, so Bamboo is not Bamboo, it’s now Intuos and Intuos is now Intuos Pro. What’s Bamboo?…

bamboo padIt’s new and would be the most seemingly obvious budget solution, until you read the reviews. It really is a new product and the digitisation and pressure don’t seem too good even for a low end product. Hopefully Wacom will fix this as it’s a great concept, form factor and price point and I’d buy one just to use beside my Mac regularly.

IntuosPenandTouchThat leaves us with the Intuos range. Wacom have managed to achieve what Apple seems unable to – their digitizer can co-exist with a mouse! The Pro versions really are what they say – I don’t see any need to buy them unless you  are using them professionally. As mentioned, the Intuos’ really are the upgraded version of the old Bamboo, but with (optional) touch. I initially (unknowingly) ordered the pen only one and immediately returned it as touch really does make a difference in usage as highlighted in the video below – apologies in advance for the slightly strange colours, but iMovie suddenly decided to saturate it. I’ve done the best I can with some manual tweaking to make it viewable (which the original wasn’t):

So why did I buy the Manga, which is an Intuos Pen / Touch with Manga Studio 4?ArtRage

Because I was in a hurry and didn’t bother researching MS4 thoroughly. It would seem that comic book illustration is a very specialised area and MS is certainly one of the leading products. I’m sure it’s usable after a steep curve (I’d shudder to think how long it would of taken to get to a point of doing that video above with it, but we are talking days to weeks rather than hours!). If you’re an amateur or just someone who wants to do some “graphic noodling” then what to use?

Easy – Art Rage! It’s a fantastically intuitive and flexible package which you can also get for your iPad or iPhone

I hope this has been of help to anyone considering a digitising pad, which you should if you have any interest in drawing, painting etc… Feel free to drop me a note in the comments if you have any questions or experiences you’d like to share.


* Unless you really do comic illustration – Manga really does seem to be regarded as one of the best packages for comic illustration, as I discovered this is a world away from intuitive art tools like ArtRage

** Want to find out more about Right Shifting? The best place to start is the guy who came up with it – Bob Marshall, the @flowchainsensei and his blog, especially the Rightshifting section. More questions? Probably best to ask him…

Posted in Art, Hardware, Review | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

DARPA Robotics Challenge Trials

DARPA Robotics ChallengeFor those of you who aren’t Robot Geeks and missed DARPA’s Virtual Robotics Challenge mid this year, don’t worry! Only one day ago the DARPA Robotics Challenge Live Trials have just completed

(Spoiler Alert – I’ll reveal the winner later on :)

http://media1.s-nbcnews.com/j/msnbc/Components/Photos/051009/051009_ROBOTRACE_hmed.grid-6x2.jpg

In case you’ve never heard of the DARPA Robotic Challenge and are wondering it’s significance, they had another one called the Grand Challenge for Autonomous Vehicles. It started in 2004 and no vehicle could complete it! They then scheduled another for 2005 which Stanford won with a tricked-out VW Touareg R5 called Stanley. This wasn’t the end though…

http://www.cmu.edu/news/image-archive/Boss.jpgWe then moved on to the Urban Challenge, which was won by Boss, a Chevy Tahoe with Stanford getting second place with Junior. Why is that significant? Because Sebastian Thrun (in the photo above) is the Director of the Stanford AI laboratory and also a Google Engineer. Yes, the Google Car is based on Junior, a modified Volkwagen Passat Wagon which came second in the Urban Challenge. Now back to the present and the Robotics Challenge…

You can find out more at the actual DARPA Robotics Challenge site or from the DARPA YouTube Channel which has a lot of content! If you want a bit more background, first watch Robotic Expectations & The Challenge History. The teams are all over the place, so here’s a slightly more structured curation of teams that had their own unique robots:

Yes, that’s a female robot! Uses flexible “muscles”
A mostly 3-D Printed robot Which is based on a chimp
Essentially built from one component! A clever multi-limbed robot
A lightweight robot One of the few Japanese designed robots
An Open Architecture Robot!!!  

And there were a number of other teams: IHMC Robotics; WRECS WPI; TRACLabs; ViGiR; TROOPER; MIT who all used the Atlas robot:

which is made by Boston Dynamics – the same people who bought you Big Dog, Cheetah (the fastest robot) and many others.

So who won? Unfortunately there were some pretty bad summaries for Day 1 & Day 2 and a number of 10h(!) archives of robots doing things extremely slowly…

In the end though, the top 8 (who will receive continued funding) were:

  1. Schaft (27)
  2. IHMC Robotics (20)
  3. Tartan Rescue (18)
  4. MIT (16)
  5. Robosimian (14)
  6. TRACLabs (11)
  7. WRECS (11)
  8. TROOPER (9)

I’ve bolded and underlined the ones based on Atlas (which are 1/2). Why is this significant? Because Google just bought Boston Dynamics, who manufacture Atlas!!! What’s more, Google also owns Schaft who won! Monopoly anyone?…

Atlas Frontview 2013As we saw from the Vehicles, it doesn’t matter whether a Google team actually wins. One thing you can guarantee – Google will be making robots in a few years which will be commercially available by the end of this decade. Given Google’s “record” – i.e. blatantly violating peoples privacy and who knows what else, I’m not sure how good this really is…

Yes, I know they’ve feigned disgust at various NSA revelations, but remember that their chairman Eric Schmidt, once said “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place”

I’m still waiting for him to mail me his social security number and bank account details, because hey, he’s obviously an upstanding guy who has nothing to fear… ;-) How would you feel about having a Google Spy (oops Robot) in your home?

http://www.digitalworldtokyo.com/entryimages/131205_NewAsimo.jpgOne question remains though – where are Honda in all this? Ironically, the Japanese did win this challenge, but using technology which is pre ASIMO. I think HONDA are quite rightly keeping to themselves as what do they really need to prove? If you look at any recent ASIMO information you can see that it’s way beyond where all the DARPA people are, which is not to say they won’t catch up, but who knows what’s in HONDA’s labs?… The last information we have is from 2011 which is pretty awesome!

Also, they don’t really need to participate in the “DARPA Challenge” as they’re already working on a Disaster Response Robot Based on ASIMO and are using ASIMO to Act as an Autonomous Explaining Robot – beat that DARPA door opening droids! ;-)

My hopes and predictions (since we’re getting near New Year) for the future on Robots?

Google will obviously have a number of models with military and civilian applications which will become a major profit centre for them (thanks military industrial complex :) – not a surprise considering all the “hard AI” work they’re doing with Kurzweil – stay tuned next decade…

Honda will enter with ASIMO and buddies around the same time. They’ll probably be more expensive but will be more consumer friendly and secure (i.e. they (hopefully) won’t be spying on you).

Open Source will have something, and Hubo definitely looks like a good start – I like the concept that I could own a robot that I can trust and improve :-)

Posted in Artificial Intelligence, Business, Computing, Future, Hardware | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment