I bought a copy of Mamma Mia! The Movie on Blu-ray. To celebrate Universal’s 100th anniversary, it’s releasing some of its films with ‘augmented reality’ (AR).
Which sounds cool.
As you can see in this photo, the front cover of the cardboard sleeve (why is a cardboard sleeve necessary?!) contains a sticker claiming “I COME ALIVE THROUGH YOUR SMARTPHONE”:
Which sounds exciting.
Imagine my joy when, whilst watching the movie, I could point my phone at the TV and get contextual information about the film (commentary, background information about the beautiful locations, song lyrics, etc).
Ah, no. That’s what happened in my head.
In reality, I followed the instructions on the back of the box. I downloaded the Universal 100 app, pointed my phone at the front cover of the DVD, and got this:
Basically a sort-of movie trailer for Mamma Mia! in response to recognising the image on the front of the box. The video is displayed inside an AR-style, 3D surround.
Kinda fun but disappointing and not really what I was expecting from the hype on the box that claimed the Universal 100 app would “reveal the magical 3D movie experience”.
The best use case I can think of for it is that people can point their phone at the box in a real-world shop to watch the ‘aura’ (the video) before buying it. Not that anyone buys DVDs/Blu-rays in shops any more.
Anyway, so I Googled “aurasma”, the technology inside the app and found a TED talk that explains what Aurasma is. I’m a bit more impressed now.
It’s probably actually what one of the Sony apps on my Xperia phone is based on. That app does cool things like recognise the label on a wine bottle, gives you information about the wine, and tells you the nearest place to buy it. Oh, and adds dinosaurs or fish when you point your phone at your friends.
The Logitech Harmony is a family of universal remote controls. Logitech maintains a database of all the devices (well, nearly all) on its server in The Cloud. You connect your Harmony to your laptop via USB and set it up using a piece of desktop software or a browser plugin. As far as I can tell, the browser plugin works only on Windows. The desktop software is available for Windows and possibly Mac.
Happily, the Ubuntu Software Centre contains a piece of software called Congruity. It has stunning reviews claiming it Just Works. And it has a graphical interface; not some obscure set of commands. So I installed it and it did Just Work. Here’s how you can too…
(Apologies for some of the patchy instructions; I had to do parts of this from memory. I’ll update as and when I do some of the updates again.)
Getting going with the Logitech Harmony on Ubuntu
Install the Congruity software from the Software Centre.
Go to http://members.harmonyremote.com/ in your web browser. (This isn’t easy to find if you browse from their website as they keep funnelling you towards the Windows setup instructions and installing Silverlight.)
Register with the site. You can’t avoid this because a large part of the setup is through connecting to their database in the clouds.
Before you start, life is easier if you know the model numbers of your devices (eg TV etc). I have an old-ish TV, an old-ish Blu-ray player, and a new Virgin Media TiVo (PVR).
It’ll probably tell you that your software is out of date, but that’s fine. Just click Next.
You will probably be on the Home screen now (I can’t get back there now my remote has been set up!).
From here, you basically follow the instructions to set up your devices. It’ll ask for your device models and guide you through setting them up.
There are two concepts to remember:
The things you want to point your remote control at, such as the TV, the DVD player, etc. You can control pretty much anything as long as it’s controlled by an infrared remote control. You can’t control something that uses radiowaves (eg home automation systems).
The things that you want to do. Basically, Logitech help you care about what you want to do, not how you want to do it. So when the Harmony is set up, you can just tell it you want to watch TV (as you can see in the photo above). You don’t have to tell it to switch on the TV and the digital box, and switch to input AV5, etc. To this end, even the setup process predicts as much as it can for you.
If you choose the automatic option for setting up the activities, it’ll look at the devices you’ve added and work out all the most likely activities you’ll want to do using them. You can then choose whether you want to configure those activities.
Don’t get too clever first time through. Just let the wizard get the basics set up for you so that you can test it out. You can go back later to fine-tune the buttons.
When you’ve set up your devices and some activities in the webpage wizard, you need to update your Harmony with its new settings.
First of all you’ll get prompted to save/open a file called Connectivity.EZHex. In the instructions on the web page, they’ll tell you to run the file. Don’t do that; that’s for Windows users. Instead, save the file (to your Desktop is fine).
When it’s downloaded, double-click the file and it launches Congruity:
Check that your Harmony is connected to your laptop via USB (the Harmony will display a USB CONNECTED message on its screen).
Click through the short wizard. This just identifies the Harmony to the website/database.
Next you’ll need to actually update the Harmony. Follow the instructions on the webpage and you’ll be prompted with another file to download, called Update.EZHex. Again, just save it to your desktop.
Double-click the file and it launches Congruity again.
It’ll check again that it can connect to the Harmony. If it struggles to find your Harmony (mine sometimes does on the second time round), unplug and re-plug the USB cable.
Follow the wizard through. This time it’ll actually do the update to the Harmony:
And you’re done.
It’ll tell you to test it and help you diagnose problems if it doesn’t work as expected. To use the Harmony, just press the Activities button then select the activity you want (eg Watch TV).
A nice, if slightly spooky, extra touch is that when you choose an activity or when you switch off the activity (press the power button on the Harmony), the Harmony displays a message to check with you that it’s working. If, say, the TV switched on but the TiVo box didn’t, you can then press the Help button. The Harmony then tries a couple of things and checks each time to see if that solved it. As I say, a bit spooky but clever.
If buttons aren’t doing what you’d expect them to do, you can go back into the website and adjust the settings then go through the same update process of downloading and running the Connectivity.EZHex and Update.EZHex files.
If the Logitech database doesn’t know the command you’re trying to program the Harmony with, you can customise the buttons for the individual devices or for the activities you’ve set up (or both).
When you start the Watch TV activity (for example), the Harmony’s buttons send commands to the TV or to the TiVo box according to what makes sense (eg volume buttons send commands to the TV; the record button sends the command to the TiVo). If you want to control a specific device for some reason, you can press the Devices button on the Harmony to switch to control a specific device (eg the TV). All the buttons then send only to the TV. (Press Activities to get back to controlling all the devices in the activity.)
If you tend to work in the ‘activities’ mode rather than controlling each specific device separately (afterall, that’s why you’re using the Harmony!), make sure you customise the activity (on the Home page, click the Customize link next to the activity) not the device.
You can even train the Harmony to learn commands from your device’s native remote control. If you go through troubleshooting a button’s function, the wizard will eventually suggest doing this. It prompts you to download another file, LearnIr.EZTut. When you double-click this file, it launches Congruity to run a tutorial. You basically point the remotes at each other when prompted. And it works!!
I made something. Better still, I upcycled the festival wellies I bought for WOMAD 2010. Ta-da:
This is what they looked like when I started:
Then I drilled holes for drainage in the soles:
I just used a 6.5mm wood drill bit (the largest I had) and drilled from the outside in. I didn’t worry about the heels because they’re probably harder to drill and the water should just run down from them anyway.
I filled the wellies about two-thirds high with compost. The trick here is to make sure you do it a bit at a time and don’t leave air gaps. Make sure the compost goes right down into the toes for ballast and it’ll probably make the plants happier too. (I forgot to take a photo of this bit.)
I planted the large plants (one in each), added a bit more compost, and then planted two little plants (that you can’t really see in the photo) in front of them. You can see in the before photo that the wellies have adjustable straps on the side. I loosened these to make as much space as I could.
I fastened the two wellies together once standing using a couple of clothes pegs. This is just to make them a bit more stable.
And here is my festival welly planter with added cat:
I decided to reinstall from scratch. I should probably have done this in the first place because the original installation was the one Dell did with all their custom packages to make the hardware work. The Dell XPS 13 packages (for the laptop I bought in July 2013 anyway) are now all in the official Ubuntu repositories. I think my problems were probably caused by clashes of some kind between the old and new packages.
Almost all my data files are backed up in Dropbox so that bit’s easy. The Windows 7 virtual machine I use for PhD software is about 26 GB but I can rebuild it if the HDD dies, so I don’t bother backing it up (the data on it goes into Dropbox). I figured, however, that backing it up to my USB stick might be useful and save me some time. Annoyingly, that’s the bit that took most of the time. Downloading the Ubuntu ISO and creating a USB installation disk took no time. Then installing it was pretty quick too.
#Ubuntu upgrade and Dell XPS 13 fans, upgrade not so good. But fresh installation of 14.04 great so far…
It’s doubly annoying that the virtual machine took so much of the time (I finished about 1.30am, leaving Dropbox doing its thing while I slept). After waiting for the files to copy back to my newly-installed laptop this morning, I discovered that I’ve been working in a VirtualBox snapshot. So the 13 GB Snapshots folder that I’d not copied was kindof essential to things and the virtual machine wouldn’t boot without it:
Oh well, so much for backing up my VM. Forgot I was using the snapshot I didn't copy with it. Now rebuilding afterall…
I can’t find my Nvivo 10 CD either but I imagine installing Windows 7 and its updates will take most of today anyway. Fortunately it’s sunny so I might just leave it installing and go do (PhD) reading in the garden.
After Monkigras 2013, I was really looking forward to Monkigras 2014. The great talks about developer culture and creating usable software, the amazing buzz and friendliness of the event, the wonderful lack of choice over which talks to go to (there’s just one track!!), and (of course) the catering:
The talks at Monkigras 2014
The talks were pretty much all great so I’m just going to mention the talks that were particularly relevant to me.
Rafe Colburn from Etsy talked about how to motivate developers to fix bugs (IBMers, read ‘defects’) when there’s a big backlog of bugs to fix. They’d tried many strategies, including bug rotation, but none worked. The answer, they found, was to ask their support team to help prioritise the bugs based on the problems that users actually cared about. That way, the developers fixing the bugs weren’t overwhelmed by the sheer numbers to choose from. Also, when they’d done a fix, the developers could feel that they’d made a difference to the user experience of the software.
While I’m not responsible for motivating developers to fix bugs, my job does involve persuading developers to write articles or sample code for WASdev.net. So I figure I could learn a few tricks.
A couple of talks that were directly applicable to me were Steve Pousty‘s talk on how to be a developer evangelist and Dawn Foster‘s on taking lessons on community from science fiction. The latter was a quick look through various science fiction themes and novels applied to developer communities, which was a neat idea though I wished I’d read more of the novels she cited. I was particularly interested in Steve’s talk because I’d seen him speak last year about how his PhD in Ecology had helped him understand communities as ecosystems in which there are sometimes surprising dependencies. This year, he ran through a checklist of attributes to look for when hiring a developer evangelist. Although I’m not strictly a developer evangelist, there’s enough overlap with my role to make me pay attention and check myself against each one.
One of the risks of TED Talk-style talks is that if you don’t quite match up to the ‘right answers’ espoused by the speakers, you could come away from the event feeling inadequate. The friendly atmosphere of Monkigras, and the fact that some speakers directly contradicted each other, meant that this was unlikely to happen.
It was still refreshing, however, to listen to Theo Schlossnagle basically telling people to do what they find works in their context. Companies are different and different things work for different companies. Similarly, developers are people and people learn in different ways so developers learn in different ways. He focused on how to tell stories about your own failures to help people learn and to save them from having to make the same mistakes.
Again, this was refreshing to hear because speakers often tell you how you should do something and how it worked for them. They skim over the things that went wrong and end up convincing you that if only you immediately start doing things their way, you’ll have instant success. Or that inadequacy just kicks in like when you read certain people’s Facebook statuses. Theo’s point was that it’s far more useful from a learning perspective to hear about the things that went wrong for them. Not in a morbid, defeatist way (that way lies only self-pity and fear) but as a story in which things go wrong but are righted by the end. I liked that.
Ana Nelson (geek conference buddy and friend) also talked about storytelling. Her point was more about telling the right story well so that people believe it rather than believing lies, which are often much more intuitive and fun to believe. She impressively wove together an argument built on various fields of research including Psychology, Philosophy, and Statistics. In a nutshell, the kind of simplistic headlines newspapers often publish are much more intuitive and attractive because they fit in with our existing beliefs more easily than the usually more complicated story behind the headlines.
The Gentle Author spoke just before lunch about his daily blog in which he documents stories from local people. I was lucky enough to win one of his signed books, which is beautiful and engrossing. Here it is with my swagbag:
After his popular talk last year, Phil Gilbert of IBM returned to give an update on how things are going with Design@IBM. Theo’s point about context of a company being important is so relevant when trying to change the culture of such a large company. He introduced a new card game that you can use to help teach people what it’s like to be a designer working within the constraints of a real software project. I heard a fair amount of interest from non-IBMers who were keen for a copy of the cards to be made available outside IBM.
On the UX theme, I loved Leisa Reichelt‘s talk about introducing user research to the development teams at GDS. While all areas of UX can struggle to get taken seriously, user research (eg interviewing participants and usability testing) is often overlooked because it doesn’t produce visual designs or code. Leisa’s talk was wonderfully practical in how she related her experiences at GDS of proving the worth of user research to the extent that the number of user researchers has greatly increased.
And lastly I must mention Project Andiamo, which was born at Monkigras 2013 after watching a talk about laser scanning and 3D printing old railway trains. The project aims to produce medical orthotics, like splints and braces, by laser scanning the patient’s body and then 3D printing the part. This not only makes the whole process much quicker and more comfortable, it is at a fraction of the cost of the way that orthotics are currently made.
If you can help in any way, take a look at their website and get in touch with them. Samiya and Naveed’s talk was an amazing example of how a well-constructed story can get a powerful message across to its listeners:
"This is supposed to be a compliment, but your talk made me cry" – @monkigras
Every Summer, I wish for a pair of sandals that are comfortable but have some style so that they can feel a bit smart as well as casual. And I’m rubbish at finding them – I don’t really like shoe-shopping at all, which doesn’t help. Enter MOHOP sandals.
I was browsing Kickstarter projects over Christmas and came across the MOHOP sandals project. Basically, you get a pair of sandal bases, some ribbon, and some design cards. You then thread the ribbons on the bases according to the design cards (or your imagination). The bases are flexible with wooden heels and are suitable for vegans and people with a range of other ethical shopping goals (inc, if you’re from the US, made in the US).
(Although the bases shown have high heels, they’re also available as flats or different heights of heel.)
They’ve apparently been going for some time (at mohop.com and on Etsy) but were struggling to meet demand. They’re taking the Kickstarter route to fund expanding their production capabilities (inc creating local jobs).
I think the sandals are a great idea. They’re fun to look at, comfy to wear (according to the reviews), and infinitely re-designable, which appeals to my crafty side. You can thread decorations on to the ribbon or replace the ribbons completely with strips of sari, shoelaces, or anything else that occurs to you.
At the moment, the cheapest pair is $45 for a pair of flats (though there are lower-cost ‘perks’ available if you just want to contribute without buying any shoes). I’ve gone for the $100 ones that have low heels. They’re looking for $50,000 of funding by the 25th January so that they can open their new production place. They’ve got some way to go yet so if you like the look of them, consider supporting this cool idea!
Here’s their video about manufacturing their shoes:
If you’re reading this, you’re familiar with using devices to access information, communicate, buy things, and so on over the Internet. The Internet of Things, at a superficial level, is just taking the humans out of the process. So, for example, if your washing machine were connected to the Internet, it could automatically book a service engineer if it detects a fault.
I say ‘at a superficial level’ because there are obviously still issues relevant to humans in an automated process. It matters that the automatically-scheduled appointment is convenient for the householder. And it matters that the householder trusts that the machine really is faulty when it says it is and that it’s not the manufacturer just calling out a service engineer to make money.
ThingMonk 2013 was a fun two-day conference in London. On Monday was a hackday with spontaneous lightning talks and on Tuesday were the scheduled talks and the evening party. I wasn’t able to attend Monday’s hackday so you’ll have to read someone else’s write-up about that (you could try Josie Messa’s, for instance).
Sadly I missed the previous day when it seems Nick and colleagues, Dave C-J and Andy S-C, won over many of the hackday attendees to the view that IBM’s MQTT and NodeRED are the coolest things known to developerkind right now. So many people mentioned one or both of them throughout the day. One developer told me he didn’t know why he’d not tried MQTT 4 years ago. He also seemed interested in playing with NodeRED, just as soon as the shock that IBM produces cool things for developers had worn off.
Ian Skerrett from Eclipse talked about the role of Open Source in the Internet of Things. Eclipse has recently started the Paho project, which focuses on open source implementations of the standards and protocols used in IoT. The project includes IBM’s Really Small Message Broker and Roger Light’s Mosquitto.
There were a couple of talks about people’s experiences of startups producing physical objects compared with producing software. Tom Taylor talked about setting up Newspaper Club, which is a site where you can put together and get printed your own newspaper run. His presentation included this slide:
Matt Webb talked about producing Little Printer, which is an internet-connected device that subscribes to various sources and prints them for you on a strip of paper like a shop receipt.
Patrick Bergel made the very good point in his talk that a lot of IoT projects, at the moment, are aimed at ‘non-problems’. While fun and useful for learning what we can do with IoT technologies, they don’t really address the needs of real people (ie people who aren’t “hackers, hipsters, or weirdos”). For instance, there are increasing numbers of older people who could benefit from things that address problems social isolation, dementia, blindness, and physical and cognitive impairments. His point was underscored throughout the day by examples of fun-but-not-entirely-useful-as-is projects, such as flying a drone with fruit. That’s not to say such projects are a waste of time in themselves but that we should get moving on projects that address real problems too.
The talk which chimed the most with me, though, was Claire Rowland‘s on the important user experience UX issues around IoT. She spoke about the importance of understanding how users (householders) make sense of automated things in their homes.
The food was, as expected, amazing. I’ve never had bacon and scrambled egg butties that melt in the mouth before. The steak and Guinness casserole for lunch was beyond words. The evening party was sustained with sushi and tasty curry.
Back in July, I bought a Dell XPS 13 Ubuntu (aka Developer Edition) laptop. It is a thing of beauty; the screen, awesome (1920 x 1080; full HD). The XPS 13 comes with Ubuntu 12.04 installed by default, along with some additional software from Dell to make the hardware work. 12.04 was, afterall, a year old already by then.
Unfortunately, not everything works out the box. This post is about how to make them work. I might, another time, write about the pleasant but frustrating Dell ’24/7′ ProSupport warranty process (though @DellCaresPRO is pretty responsive).
Problems in 12.04 for the Dell XPS 13 Ubuntu laptop
Logitech wireless trackball frequently not detected on boot.
Problems mounting devices as harddrives using USB2.0 port.
Touchpad ‘edge scrolling’ doesn’t work and the acceleration/sensitivity settings don’t seem to do anything.
Bluetooth file transfer from my phone doesn’t work.
I installed the following two packages from the Ubuntu repositories:
These install kernels and associated graphics drivers from future versions of Ubuntu. Basically, it means that when the bugs are fixed in future versions, you can use those fixes without having to upgrade the rest of the machine. The packages you’ll get are listed on the Ubuntu wiki. You can check which kernel version you’re using on your laptop by running the command ‘uname -a’.
The newer kernel version fixed problems 1 to 4. It also seems to have fixed most of problem 5 except for ‘edge scrolling’. I now use two-finger scrolling on the rare occasions I use the touchpad so I’m not too worried about this.
Problem 6 (for anyone, like me, who didn’t know this) is intentional. Receiving files by bluetooth is switched off by default in Ubuntu 12.04. I can see why that might be, but it’s not obvious how to switch it on. Someone pointed me to the answer on Ask Ubuntu.
Alternatively, you could just try upgrading the whole laptop to a newer version of Ubuntu. A friend bought an XPS 13 at the same time as me and he immediately installed Kubuntu 13.04 (same as Ubuntu 13.04 where it matters here) on it and had no problems. Similarly, a recent post on Dell’s forum suggests 13.10 works well.
There were three reasons I didn’t upgrade:
I wanted to stay on the LTS (long-term support) version of Ubuntu which is currently 12.04.
The XPS 13 Developer Edition is sold as working so I was keen for this to actually be the case!
I use a Logitech universal receiver trackball and there were problems with the drivers in later kernels. However, I think this has now been fixed.
I think it’s pretty bad that all this stuff isn’t installed and working out-of-the-box and that the 24/7 ProSupport warranty isn’t really worth much in practice (the support people I spoke to were fine but Dell needs to improve its support processes for this product).
I do, however, love the laptop. Now it’s working, I’m very pleased with it. Did I mention how lovely the screen is?
Today is Tony‘s birthday. Tony is a life-long Doctor Who fan. Here’s a short video from when he appeared on WAC90, a children’s Saturday morning TV programme in 1990:
When the new WAC90 ‘The Fanatic’ segment was announced, Tony wrote in about his love of Doctor Who. In no time at all, he and his family (Mum, Dad, and brother) were whisked up to Manchester and put up in a hotel overnight, ready for their very early start in the Granada TV studios the next morning. This wasn’t his family’s only beyond-the-call-of-duty support for Tony’s Doctor Who enthusiasm but, this time, I think it may have been mitigated somewhat by getting to meet Michaela Stracken.
His Mum once took him to an auction at Bonhams where she helped him bid on, and buy, some costumes from the TV show. On another occasion, his Dad, having chauffeured Tony to a convention, struck up conversation with Colin Baker in the foyer and made him late getting on stage for his panel!
Ever since I met Tony’s family, they’ve told me gleefully about this WAC90 appearance. But it’s taken us 14 years to dig out the VHS tape and digitise the recording so that I could actually watch it for myself.
We felt we should share this moment from TV history.
We’re now into our sixth series of the Ubuntu Podcast (@uupc) and we’ve been asked many (well, some) times why we don’t stream video of our recording sessions, especially as we live-stream the audio during the recording sessions. The sad truth is that our (Tony and my) broadband connection just hasn’t been able to hack it. We were pleased the audio stream worked; video was but a dream. Then BT ran ‘fibre to the cabinet’; specifically, and importantly, fibre to our cabinet (the one that serves our house, anyway). So now we have BT Infinity and 18 times the broadband speed that we had before.
(If you wondered why I disappeared at about 13:55, it was because I was quite ill. I started the evening feeling a little queasy but figured it might pass. As the opening music started, I realised it wasn’t going to pass. By about 10:00, I’d pretty much stopped listening to the others and just wished they’d shut up so I could read my news item and get it over with. I think I actually managed to hang on for a bit after that but lots of lip-biting and a gulp of water didn’t help and I eventually gave up. Ah well, maybe next time.)