Feb 15

Six months with Carplay

I thought I’d write some notes on using this for a while because no one else seems to have, and other people might find it useful.

It might not be clear from the product pages and reviews but it’s important to remember – Carplay runs on the phone, it just uses the head unit in the car as a dumb touch screen, and steering wheel buttons as additional hardware. The content on the car unit is not available, indeed it runs in parallel. Use the unit GPS directions, and music off the phone or vice versa. That means at any time there may be two different UIs in play. Yes, that is a bit rubbish.

I’ll admit I’m an early adopter and maybe more tolerant of rough edges and glitches. Any one one of these might put off someone with a less tolerant attitude:

– Crashes, usually right off connecting the phone up. So much so, I usually reboot the phone before connecting, this avoids that. I have an iPhone 5 so that may be less prevalent on newer ones.

– Audio mix sometimes plays both car radio and iTunes. It gets confused I guess. Fixable, but annoying.

– Siri is ok at best, but generally not all that great for commands. ‘Hey Siri’ as a command prompt rarely works. Pressing the button does. Siri weirdly works much better dictating a text message.

– Physical positioning of a touchscreen, that you have to see to use, way down the centre column is… not ideal from a safety point of view. Also directions are a little sparse, so glancing down is also not ideal. In newer, dedicated vehicles with a popup screen nearer the line of driver-sight this might be less of an issue.

On the plus side:

– Apple Maps, and the directions in it are quite good, better than I expected, but not as good as a Tom Tom (or the really good Tom Tom iOS App).

– Sound, the head unit upgrade massively improved the audio quality over the standard VW/Audi stereo.

– Speech control over text messages and dictating a (short) reply is good and genuinely cool (and safe).

– Music, in sync with your iTunes, is really nice to have.

– Not tried apps like Spotify, but users report many problems

– Your car unit software is now tied to your phone OS for updates, so rather than improvements very rarely (if ever) regular iOS updates *should* bring improvements quicker. Or problems, as I did with 8.1.2, needing a downgrade. Ah well.

So, overall – it’s interesting, better than the terrible factory radio I had but probably not for everyone.

Jun 14

Retail futures, mediated through our phones

I’ve spent the past 18 months working for the “digital arm” of a global telco. They liked to call themselves a digital telco, but I don’t think that means anything.

The bit I worked for no longer technically exists, being absorbed into the even more massive parent company; a robustly traditional telco doing a few digital, webish, appish and big data-y things at the margins.

I worked a bit on a personal data concept, what would be a useful ‘locker’ for real people? I’ll talk about that in a future blog post. Most recently, I’ve spent 6 months on looking at using sensors, data and networks on shops and shopping. Most of the mobile telcos are doing similar things, as are many startups.

I can tell you this though, the efforts of this (and probably all) mobile telcos will make cities basically unlovable if you have an aversion to advertising and ‘offers’, or value your privacy.

The desire for the owners of the data to hook up your location, your past movements, your shopping habits, your phone is very strong. It reeks of money.

To pinpoint you in a store, or just passing, and attempt to engage your wallet via personalised messages is quite possible. Cross reference with history, social media data and the rest is a bit further off but probably on everyone’s roadmap.

The slick user story of personalised service, smoothly delivered to the wealthy relaxed consumer as they browse the aisles is seductive. We told ourselves we were “improving” the experience. The reality is going to be every single store, shouting with a desperate digital screech, delivering invasive messages and insta-deals.

Why is this going to happen? Because the mobile telcos are covetous of the advertising business model Google has built, and angry about the close relationship that has grown between phone OS and user. The telco thinks, “That is MY customer, I deserve to benefit from their activity”.

While you, the consumer, is currently their customer – the user they should be delighting – the telcos would much rather not have to worry about that, and instead would like to be in the advertising business where their customers are other big companies and you, the users, are just sold as an audience. The product.

I’ve seen the future, and it’s not pretty.

Jan 14

2013 Best Gadget

I’m sure I’m not alone in looking back over the year and amongst the many other things I might have bought, I probably bought a few gizmos and gadgets. Before I get to the best one I bought, there are a couple of runners up.

3. Cintiq 22 HD Wacom Tablet
I’d been always curious about one of these. I use a tablet, mostly for a mouse that weighs nothing and uses no batteries. I find the pen on a wacom tablet really hard to get the hand-eye coordination. Looking at the screen to paint, while you can get used to it, never feels really natural.

But this – THIS – is the daddy. A little low-res by todays retina screens, it’s still a dream to draw on. I mostly use it at the moment for a guilty pleasure of tracing and reinking Moebius comic art. It’s nice to knock out quick work before refining with a mouse too, especially in Illustrator, but mostly my current work doesn’t get down to tons of drawing, sadly. Maybe this next year will result in more drawing, as I’m on one long/wide project.

2. IOIO Board
This was learnt from scratch for a project that started in November. We wanted a custom app on an Android phone to talk to physical hardware – lights and buttons. The interface needed to be physical, with audio as a secondary feedback – no screen.

We could have made a more complicated Arduino solution, but that felt more complicated than needed with two separate codebases and two controllers (the phone running code + and arduino running code). This little board on the other hand can be coded directly from Android, and adds physical IO libraries. Bit of wiring, and it worked out ok (…eventually! mostly my zero Android skills took the time). Still, I got quite a lot out of using these over a couple of months. Fun to play with, and use in anger.

3. Stihl Cordless Chainsaw
When we took over the smallholding we knew we’d need one – the house used wood to cook, heat and provide hot water. I’d never used one. The cutting work and safety wasn’t my issue: the hassle over mixing petrol and 2-stroke oil seemed like a messy faff in the 21st century. So we got one of these instead.

After a few weekends cutting logs from the masses of felled trees on site already, I’ve really got better at seeing how best to slice and dice the trees, avoiding pinching and kickback from even the most precarious tangle of limbs. Logs is one thing. Trees is another.

When a tree fell on the service road along the farm, it was a tremendously satisfying task to reduce it to log sized pieces in minutes. Really good.

I think I might check out the Stihl cordless hedge trimmer next.

Best gadget 2013 / Stihl MSA 200 C-BQ Cordless Chainsaw

Feb 10

Week 474

Wow, week flew by and it’s a saturday weeknote.

Good stuff done: a couple of reskinned mockups of our product concept for a couple of rock legends.

Let me explain in english. I built a mockup of a *potential* future product in After Effects. Not having gone through a proper design and prototyping process, it’s an impression of a product rather than anything real. Thing is, it looks nice so we use it to show people (artist management usually) the vision and get them to sign up to a shinier, digitally immersive future.

Luckily, After Effects lets me do a quick reskin per artist fairly quickly now. It’s not progressing the product design, but it is building momentum with People Who Matter, which in turn means we’ll get to build deeper, better products when the time comes.

I’ve started on really working out a mobile version of the above now too, whereas before “mobile” was a couple of boxes and arrows on a diagram, it’ll be nice to see what really fits, what needs folding, and what needs reworking completely. I may be some time.

I also managed to get a few minutes to play with iTunes LP and some HTML5 experiments. The people at ituneslp.net have some great guidance on getting the most of of this platform, usually not using Tunekit and expose a couple of undocumented features like sampling the waveform of the playing audio. I couldn’t get any processing.js to work but that’s more likely my incompetence rather than a major technical hurdle. I did get an opensource asteroids javascript+canvas game to work while playing a suitably themed song, which is immediately 10x more fun than any real iTunes LPs!

Jan 10

Week 471

Another jam packed week, but quite busy so this will be shorter than usual.

Presented first draft of the design I’ve been working on, wireframes quickly thrown into a deck and a 1 minute UI ‘visual sketch’ which hopefully got across some of the more experiential elements I was hoping to include.

Obviously it’s quite exciting to present new work, but this was tempered with the reality that this is a first draft and it felt it. Response was muted. Clearly there is more work to be done. Things need exploring more, some things need to be made simpler. Some need to go. We’ll be bashing out details this afternoon to take another run at it for a second draft.

During the lull of midweek I popped along to the Toy Fair up the road at Olympia. It was a bit depressing really. I’d previously first visited about 15 years ago, and a few times since, but this seemed to have had the life sucked out of it. No videogames, or interactive things really. Very much ‘old’ toys and very many of those with licensed brands. This year: Toy Story 3, Iron Man 2 the  big properties. All a bit lifeless. All a bit constrained by already professionally imagined worlds.

And then there was the launch of the iPad. Literally a blank canvas: lovely, exciting, endless new possibilities. Not least, possibilities for toys. Games, drawing, music, PLAY – all these things should shine on the iPad. I literally cannot wait and have downloaded the iphone SDK to fiddle, maybe even learn some basic app programming skills.

May 09

The Future of TV (again)

Now, far be it from me to dare rerun the entire 10 years of my life, but let’s just say I’ve fiddled with a lot of possibilities for “the future” of TV, including attempting a web2.0 startup around that whole gig. Seen and done quite a bit, nothing has quite hit the home run yet.

This makes me pretty picky when it comes to what I use myself to watch TV on, so it’ll come as no surprise that I was a UK TiVo user (one of the few) for years, supplemented by a Phillips Streamium for content, er, acquired from elsewhere.

We didn’t get TiVo upgrades, so it eventually withered on the vine a bit, I had cable and a V+ PVR box for a while with an Xbox360 replacing the struggling Streamium and while quality was good, UI was worse than earlier days.

Now I’m back on the Freeview set of channels (fine by me, didn’t watch much OwlTV to be honest) and immediately felt the pang of missing PVR so bought a Topfield (Toppy) for the tinkering potential. A good job it can be tinkered with too as the UI is not good to start with and the user community improvement MyStuff is better in some ways (++ functionality, capability) and worse in others. The main problem is shoehorning a load more functions into the existing, already very poor remote control.

So, let’s network it, stick a bespoke web interface between me and the mess and use an iPod touch and iPhone as über-remotes. Here is a bunch of notes, steps and links to make this project happen.

1. Set up a convenient network for the Toppy

The Toppy has USB, but only has the connectivity of a dumb storage device so needs a smart box to sit beside it. I bought a Linksys NSLU2 (the Slug) off ebay for £50, and extended my existing wifi network (ZoomADSL box handling DCHP wired to a Time Capsule handling wireless) using an old Airport Express as a WDS remote. This was not easy, but these articles helped:

Apple Support Doc : Using The Airport Express on WDS networks

O’Reilly.com : Taming an Airport Express WDS network

But after getting the WDS network to actually work, speed was very poor. Setting the Airport Express to not allow wireless clients resolved this …eventually.

2. Hacking the Slug

The Slug needs a hacked firmware to turn it into a very small, quiet web/ftp server. One roadblock on the official route (http://www.nslu2-linux.org) – firmware uploading Mac OSX software Upslug2 is only available as a PPC binary, but “here’s the source, here’s macports.org, go compile your own” – oh, please just give me it already. (Thank you Paul O’Brien for saving a whole bunch of people a whole bunch of time and bandwidth.)

Next up, I seemed to have trouble getting the only USB flash drive (512MB) I had to hand formatting correctly on the Slug, so tried a new, larger (4GB) one which formatted as ext3. I’ll also try recycling another old bit of kit by adding a USB SATA enclosure for the Macbook drive I upsized a few months ago.

The rest of the instructions for Unslung and unslinging the new OS onto the flash drive are very clear and straightforward.

3. Connecting to the Unslung Slug

Using a browser to the web GUI of the Slug worked fine, couple of gotchas:

– telnet needs to be reactivated each time the Slug gets rebooted
– turn off the built in FTP server on the Slug from the web GUI
– install ftpd-topfield as documented
– connecting using Transmit worked fine

4. Installing MWI (MyStuff Web Interface)

Following the instructions I installed all the packages. I didn’t quite understand when it came to configuring the mysql install, getting errors instead of running – this was solved by typing the m in rather than copy & paste, so assume it was a line ending or stray character error. Anyway, copying the text in BBedit for the mysql setup worked too. The rest of the config was easily done in vi.

Next issue was getting the files across – sftp needs adding (which I had assumed was added with openssh, but no)

ipkg install openssh-sftp-server

You will also need to change the /dev/null permissions, otherwise you will get an SFTP connection error:

 chmod 777 /dev/null

Feb 09

Xbee enabled beehive

So I’m doing the urban beehive thing this year, the empty hive constructed and sitting in the garden to get the neighbours used to the idea. While it’s unlikely to reap much honey in the first year, it might be useful to supply me with some data. Here’s the plan.

XBee Hive

Feb 09

Learning Processing – Blobs

Yes, always late to the party but my old code plaything of choice (Director) seems to be at the end of it’s very long road so time to learn some new tricks. Xbee integration is some way off, but on my roadmap. 


Aug 06

Bootcamp Hal.dll Fix

Partly for my own memory, and partly for what seems to be lots of people having Bootcamp problems when installing XP:

Problem: Nice clean Bootcamp partition – Check! Nice clean pukka XP SP2 disk – Check! Install and go… nuts – what is this C: \windows\system32\hal.ddl corrupt or missing you speak of? Ekk! Knowing *nothing* about this level of windows hacking I’m off to a bad start here. Here’s how i got it working on my MBP.

Fixes: Apparently some people have had luck waiting till the setup off CD lets you hit ‘R’ and do some repair from the command line, specifically del C:\boot.inibootcfg /rebuildfixboot

Apparently that has been know to work, but didn’t work for me – this did though: Back in OSX use the Bootcamp assistant to remove then recreate the partition. Then boot off your XP install CD and when setup gets to your disk selector, delete the Bootcamp partition, and delete the 200mb partition bootcamp has also quietly made. Then create a new windows formatted partition from here and install. All should proceed well this time.

I’m not entirely sure why this works but it does and I get to play Half Life 2 now. Yay!

Aug 06

Getting Organised

So I’ve been entirely swamped for most of this year, working a minimum of two freelance gigs at once while keeping tabs on and shepherding TIOTI in the gaps. It has been exhausting and I’m starting to feel it, the breathers I get when I’m actually on top of all the things going on are too infrequent. So it’s time to get organised!

First thing is the hellish .Mac performance these past few months – Sync? You must be kidding. It’s rubbish, and I do rely on iCal to plan as well as record billable days. But its not working, nightmare. After messing with .mac sync once again i’m going to give MySync a whirl and report how that goes. I’m also going to try out OSX Leopard as that has entirely new syncing built in, and it’s retro-fittable to Tiger too. Report will follow.

Ok, so that’s my time, future and past, sorted. Next up, words and ideas. I’m trying out a few notetaking apps at the moment, to make sense of the far too much RSS surfing I do. Omni Outliner looks like the leader so far, but annoyed me by being seemingly unable to alphabetise a list of email addresses. Yo Jimbo looks good, has .Mac syncing of notes and deserves a more robust playing with. I’m also trying out Sidenote which sort of works for me but has a couple of bugs that have irked me already.

I’m going to give them all a week or two longer and see what works for me, but if anyone has suggestions, please tell.