the itjerk

my adventures with technology

Category Archives: New Product

raspberry pi 3, a02082 (Sony, UK)

Yes, back at it. I got an Logitech Wireless Touch keyboard for Xmas and just got around to setting it up with my Raspberry Pi 3. I have the rPi connected to my TV via HDMI and all that mess of keyboard and mouse wires was just too much. So given that the rPi 3 – I have the one made in the UK – now has built-in bluetooth and wireless, connecting the keyboard was a snap.

I re-flashed the SD card with the latest NOOBS 2.11 and reinstalled Raspbian Jessie (8) with Pixel. Pixel is the new desktop environment for the rPi. It now has Chromium browser preinstalled (which does not crash!) and after using it, I can say that the Raspberry Pi has finally arrived: It’s a usable operating system, perfect for connecting to my giant TV.

wireless-touch-keyboard-k400r-glamour-lg-jpg

 

 

google home

Yeah, I’m a sucker for IoT things like this. Amazon’s Alexa found a new home via eBay in Rockford, and I have to admit, we felt a little empty with the gap she left. “Alexa, what’s the weather” mostly.

So I jumped on board when Google announced their own voice-activated assistant, Google Home. I preordered directly from Google for $129 sometime in October, and it arrived just this week. Setup required me to download the “Google Home” app on my android phone, and I was then prompted to enter my Google account info. A simple process, it did some updates, knew somehow it was in my kitchen, and connected to my home wifi network.

Firstly, there is no privacy with these devices. Google knows who I am, where I live, and can listen to all the conversation maybe even in the entire house. That near-field technology is quite good, and even when laying down in an adjacent room Google Home could hear my commands, all given with the obligatory “Okay Google” salutation.

Unlike Alexa, Google Home, or rather the Google Assitant is quite smart, rattling off answers to questions like “Who just won the World Series” and whatever else we could think of. The biggest surprise was when I asked her to play some music. I have precious little in Google Play, but based on one album I bothered to upload sometime ago (The Blossom Toes’ Ever So Clean), she offered a quite satisfying playlist of late 60s psychedelia I could imagine. Bravo.

So here she will sit, ever listening and patiently awaiting our commands, until we too get bored with her!

project fi from google

I dumped T-Mobile. Not because there was any issue, rather, since upgrading to a phone that supports LTE I’ve been quite please with them. No, this was strictly based on price. Instead of paying $64 per month, I am now down to $38 for the same service: unlimited talk and text, plus 1GB of cellular data.

What’s Project Fi? It’s Google’s virtual wireless service. It uses the chip inside the Nexus 5x or 6 to pass calls between Wifi and cellular networks. Of the latter, it includes T-Mobile, Verizon and now US Cellular. So that’s the catch: you have to use their specific phones, which for me was fine because I already had one. If you don’t have their Nexus phone, Google offers a no-interest payment plan.

Upside? It’s less expensive for at least equal service. I do notice that in buildings where cellular service was spotty (you know, those dark back stairwells and basement tunnels), Wifi can fill in the gaps in coverage. Downside? Well, when the kids start youtubing on a cellular network. Since you only get charged for the data you use, if you have a month where you’re under what you signed up for, you’ll get a credit on your next bill. The flip side however is that you’ll also get charged (at the same data rate) when you go over your data limit. T-mobile would allow me to go over my data limit for the same cost, but at excruciatingly slower speeds.

Screenshot_20160613-120248

On the web: Project Fi

 

yes, I joined the u-verse

Sixteen years is a long time, that’s how long I’ve been using my Speedstream 5360 ADSL modem to jump on the information superhighway. The service was first provided Ameritech, then SBCGlobal, and finally AT&T. The latter has been pestering me for a while now to “upgrade” to the digital services of U-verse, and I got suckered by a Customer Appreciation Days letter to make the call.

The good news is it was a simple transition. The tech came to the house and checked out my wiring, made a few changes (replaced the wall plate with their own) and backported the telephone to other jacks in my house. ^I changed my old trusty router WAN connection to connect to the AT&T equipment, that way I don’t need to use their Wifi, and can point my router out to the internet. I also set the DNS on my WAN connection to use OpenDNS servers.

(^To put your router on the internet, go to Firewall>Applications, Pinholes & DMZ and select (1) your router and (2) DMZplus mode. Restart your router and it will have an internet IP (not the one from the U-verse Router)).

U-verse replaces copper wire with fiber-optic technology from the node (box in the alley) to the central office. It’s faster, offers voice-over-ip telephony and tv services. Deals aside, it is slightly less expensive for the same services, but with a better 6mbps internet connection.

Goodbye Speedstream router and goodbye POTS!

raspberry pi 3

You know, every time I get a new raspberry pi computer, a month or so later there’s a new and improved model out. So that rPi 2 B I got the kids for Xmas is now rendered obsolete by the latest rPi 3 B. Built-in wifi and bluetooth, faster processor  from the 64bit 1.2GHz quad-core chipset, faster RAM and GPU, and hopefully the same footprint because I really like the fancy “official” case they are in.

BTW, I did pickup a rPi Zero for $5, but until I find an HDMI-mini to HDMI cable that costs less than $5, I guess it will just remain in its wrapper.

nexus 5x

New phone time! It’s been three years of 3G phone service on my Nexus 4, so I wasted no time to pre-order Google’s Nexus 5X when it was announced a few weeks ago. Offering LTE service was the main reason to make the purchase ($349), but having a new “modern” phone was the real enticement. The phone is again made by LG, and while the specs aren’t that amazing (those are reserved for the pricier Nexus 6P), they present an upgrade in processor, screen resolution, and significantly, camera from my old phone. Let’s face it, our phones OUR are cameras!

unnamed

I did have to walk down to my local T-Mobile store to purchase ($15) a nano SIM card in order to activate my phone, and I’ll need to replace all my USB cables with “c” type in order to connect/charge it with my computers. Speaking of which, there’s a menu now to select what type of connection you want when you connect the phone to a computer:

Screenshot_20151021-092828

The Nexus 5X has the latest Android, Marshmallow 6.0, which wanted to update itself immediately upon starting the phone. I was impressed with the lack of crap-ware preloaded on the phone, and having an extra 8GB of storage is great for my use. The fingerprint sensor took me a little bit to get my head around exactly how it works, but it works like a charm. After scanning a fingerprint and entering another security method for backup (if your fingerprint doesn’t work, or for another user), you just touch the senor on the back of the phone and viola! the phone is both on and unlocked. As one who hasn’t every used a lock on my phone because of the hassle of entering it, this is indeed an upgrade.

Anyway, I chose to install everything from scratch (and not transfer devices) because a clean start is great. But with Google Play, going to My Apps and the All tab shows what apps you’ve put on your other devices.

I received my $50 Google Play credit received three days later, and purchased a case from Amazon. All set.

On the web:
Nexus 5X at iFixit

windows 10, not

win10

amazon echo, arrived

echo
I received my Amazon Echo unit this week, several months after ordering it. The $99 (with Prime Membership) unit is sleek, solid, and very black. While it should have been simple to configure – get the app for Android (or via the web, as long as it’s on one’s wireless network) and follow the instructions – getting it to sign into my wifi required a call to Amazon and then a talk to the development team. (Seems the issue was with the app not recognizing WPA/WPA2 correctly). Anyway, that aside, I was up and running.
Alexa has problems understanding:
“What time is it in a stop stop?”
“Would you like to eat it blueberries?”
“when is the next bus gonna be at at us an in game”

And knowing pretty basic stuff:
Who did the chicago blackhawks play tonight?
Q&A
Sorry, I couldn’t find the answer to your question.

But she’s kinda funny:
“Would you like to eat a blueberry?
Q&A
I don’t have preferences or desires.

Are you a man?
Q&A
I’m female in character.

Are you hungry?
Q&A
I don’t get hungry or thirsty, but thank you for asking.

The kids love her,
What is eighty one minus twenty eight?
Q&A
81 minus 28 is 53.

Yet her pronunciation isn’t so good (“Jonathan Toes” vs “Toews”)

The Echo App logs “cards” of what Alexa has heard, allowing one to send feedback to Amazon, which presumably will help improve her.
She’s perfect for playing music and sounds very good, but wouldn’t it be great if she could find a UPnP server on my local network and access that? So yes, the possibilities of Echo are boundless – think Wikipedia reader, think Translator, think Sports – but she’s definitely a work in progress. I can’t wait however until I can call her Samantha or… Sudo!

this is beep

Just before the holidays I received Beep, a $99 music streaming device. It’s a very simple thing, whose purpose is to provide wireless streaming capability to dumb systems, like a pair of powered speakers, stereo system, boom box, well, just about anything that has an audio input that accepts either 3.5mm analog or digital optical output. I especially like that last part, digital. The Beep runs on 5VDC, sports a metallic finish and consists of a large multifunction knob (start/pause/skip/stop/volume) and some cool flashing lights.

It’s controlled by an app, available on either Android or iOS, that also helps you setup the player on your network. When I first got it, Beep was pretty limited. I could play either Spotify or Pandora, or in my case, neither (because I don’t use either service), though it now also supports SomaFM radio. Okay, it’s still pretty limited. No support for Google Play, Amazon Music, that iTunes thingy, etc.
Screenshot_2015-03-09-17-01-40
Recently however, Beep have added support for DLNA music servers. This is great news, because I can now play all the music on my local media server via the Beep. In order for me to do so, I first installed MiniDLNA software on my Ubuntu box using apt-get, manually edited the config file to get it setup, and opened a few ports in my computer’s firewall, 8200 TCP and 1900 UDP to let MiniDLNA out. It would have been easier if the Beep would just connect to my Squeezebox Server (aka LMS), but it’s just not there, yet…

It would also be better if Beep were a little more stable, and transparent. Throughout the day it randomly lights up “smiley face” (looking for network connection) and “sun shining” (all lights glowing, who knows what this means). That’s ultimately going to be the hard sell on Beep: without a display, no one wants to decode blinking lights; what’s it doing? why is it doing that? It just needs to work.

To use Beep as a renderer (something that plays media from a DLNA server), I had to get another Android app, BubbleUPnP. It’s a fairly straight forward app, though I did have to install the “demo server” in order for it to find my MiniDLNA server. Not sure if this is me or the app, but it was not very intuitive to figure out. That done, however, I can stream my server’s music library to whatever I connect my Beep to.
Screenshot_2015-03-09-16-50-06

On the web:
Beep | Bringing music to every room in your home
MiniDLNA
BubbleUPnP Server

raspberry pi 2 b

Well, just about six weeks after I purchased a raspberry pi b+ a new, vastly improved model is released. Faster multicore processor and double the RAM mean it’s much nearer to a real PC than ever. One will probably need recompiled software to take advantage of the multicore processor.

  • A 900MHz quad-core ARM Cortex-A7 CPU (~6x performance)
  • 1GB LPDDR2 SDRAM (2x memory)
  • Complete compatibility with Raspberry Pi 1

On the web: http://www.raspberrypi.org/raspberry-pi-2-on-sale/