Some years ago I used to do a podcast called LugRadio. We did it for four years, delivered 140+ episodes, had 2 million downloads, and it spawned five live events. We wrapped it up as I moved to the USA, but then a little later Stuart Langridge and I experimented with a new show caled Shot Of Jaq. It was a different format and very focused on post-show discussion. We did 60+ shows.
We wrapped up Shot Of Jaq about three years ago and I had been getting the itch to do a show again. This time I wanted to do something more like LugRadio; four presenters, 45 mins to an hour long, include an interview, but this time for it to be a little less anarchic and more like Top Gear.
As such, I am delighted to present our new show Bad Voltage.
Bad Voltage takes a fun and amusing take on technology, music, politics and anything else we think we and our listeners would find interesting. It is not just about Open Source and Linux, but will naturally gravitate to those topics based on our experience.
The show has an amusing line-up with a diversity of experience. It includes Jeremy Garcia (founder of LinuxQuestions), Stuart Langridge (Web Development Consultant, co-founder of LugRadio), Bryan Lunduke (NetworkWorld writer, co-founder of the Linux Action Show, creator of Linux Tycoon), and myself.
The show takes a fun, loose, and amusing take on the topics we present. It is 45mins to an hour long, features an interview, a review of a product/service/software, features some topics for discussion, a letters segment where we read out and respond to letters to the show, and more.
We launched the show (Season 1 Episode 1 ‘Socially Awkward Headgear’) on Thursday and it includes:
Go and check it out here, and be sure to subscribe to it in your fave podcasting client or on iTunes!
The response had been fantastic. We have had over 60GB of downloads, 2000+ people check the show out, 120+ people join our Google+ Community, 90+ people join us on Twitter. We also have ‘#badvoltage’ on Freenode. Our community is forming, and they are cool people…they are Bad Voltage people.
Bad Voltage is all about the community, so be sure to come and join us and send over your feedback and thoughts on the show to email@example.com – we will read your emails out on the show and we really want to tighten up the format and make it as good as possible, so your thoughts on what works well and what works less well is appreciated.
Why? A combination of wanting to do something different coupled with the desire to reclaim my second bedroom, which is currently tied up as an office.
Working in an office in the future will be weird ("You mean I have to get dressed every day?!") but hopefully not unduly burdonsome.
My two-year plan still remains in effect: Pay off this flat as soon as possible, then purchase another and rent this one out. Giving me some income of my own, which I will need.
The "five" year plan involves me quitting work, so that I can stay home and raise children. That makes sense because sometime next year I'll become the partner who earns the least amount of monies, and I'll also be the partner with the lowest upper-bound on salary potential (short of moving to London/similar which I've always ruled out).
Having rental income for myself means I'm not utterly dependant on other money, and all being well this place will be 100% paid off within 18 months.
(After that lots of saving will take place for a deposit for the second place. We did bid on a couple of places locally, which were outstanding, but it is perhaps for the best we didn't win them. No more looking at ESPC!)
Bytemark now becomes a company I recommend 100% for hosting in the UK. In the past I've always said nice things, but I've not strongly recommended them/us, because I'm too biased.
All my personal hosting, except for one virtual machine, will remain at Bytemark indefinitely. Lovely, flexible, and great.
(I have one outside guest for the purposes of diversification. That currently lives at Mythic Beasts.)
I’ve been playing around with a Sony SmartWatch 2. Herein some thoughts on wearable devices and smart watches.
There’s been several iterations of the smart watch idea. The Verge smartwatch roundup covers the state of play; The Independent has an interesting article on why a Google smartwatch makes sense, and the Samsung Galaxy Gear advert demonstrates nicely the desire for these “James Bond” gadget watches over the years.
The Sony Smart Watch 2 is really nice hardware. It’s a decent size, but doesn’t feel too heavy or cumbersome on the wrist.
The “standby” watch face screen is easy to read. It also has a clever power saving feature where the display is turned off completely unless it detects you. I haven’t figured out how the detection works – presumably motion, touch, proximity or resistance. When the screen is on full it is bright and readable. The watch display is responsive, and swiping from screen to screen is fast and smooth.
The watch needs to be tethered to a phone, and this symbiotic relationship makes sense (up to a point). The watch on your wrist is more accessible than the phone in your pocket, so it’s easier and more natural to glance at the watch to see information. The challenge is figuring out what information you want to see, and getting that information displayed. For example, if you’re using a bluetooth headset and you receive an incoming call, caller ID is handy, along with the ability to accept or reject the call. SMS notifications are useful, but email notifications are too frequent and too verbose to be of much use.
Since the watch is strapped to your wrist and always on you, it allows nice features like warning you when you leave your phone behind. This works, and is useful. On the Sony watch, I achieved this using Augmented SmartWatch Pro; it vibrates the watch when the bluetooth connection to the phone is lost. It looks like similar functionality is on the Samsung Galaxy Gear.
You can’t install apps directly on the watch, you have to go via a management app on the phone. That makes sense, as the watch screen is not well-suited to browsing and buying from an app store. Sony claims more than 300 apps for the Smart Watch / Smart Watch 2. There’s a major flaw, however: you quickly realise that you want to customise the standby screen and watch faces, but those can’t currently be modified. So the alternate watch face apps are useless – you have to turn the watch display on, then navigate through the Sony watch face in order to see the alternate app. Or, you leave the app running and watch your battery drain in a matter of hours. It’s somewhat mitigated in that apps receiving notifications can light up the screen themselves. Apps like Augmented SmartWatch Pro go some way to offering useful alternate screens, even if they can’t be permanently displayed:
On the screen above: the weather forecast for my location, upcoming meetings, time, current temperature, phone battery status (graduated colour bar on the right) and watch battery status (left; non-existent).
Speaking of battery life: I’ve found it to be better than a phone, but still only lasting a few days (depending on usage). In a world where we get used to plugging in our phone every night that wouldn’t be so bad, except that the cover over the micro-USB charging slot is fiddly, and plugging in multiple devices quickly gets boring. This would have been a killer use case for wireless charging; leaving the watch on a powermat on the bedside table makes perfect sense. Without it, I have to check the battery status before deciding to wear the watch in the morning. VentureBeat reports that Sony is working on one hour wireless charging, which would be great but I’ll believe it when I see it.
So does the smart watch make sense? Almost. Some features are genuinely useful: answering calls from the watch using a bluetooth headset, seeing SMS messages, checking missed calls, reading the name of the Spotify track playing. None of these amount to “killer” features, and I’m not sure enough consideration has been given to what people could actually use a smart watch for – but perhaps that’s up to third-party developers to innovate and discover.
On the down side, there’s not enough fine-grained customisation or control over what content is delivered to the device. For example, I’d like only mail from certain people or with certain GMail labels to reach the device, rather than everything in my inbox. I’d like Twitter direct messages and certain hashtags to reach the device, but not all timeline tweets. I’d like to customise the watch face to display day of week, date, outside temperature, the time in other timezones, and custom notifications such as number of steps, but this isn’t currently possible. For a second-generation device, I’d hope many of these things would have been figured out by now. This is probably why Apple are waiting to release a watch – in order to answer the what, why, and how questions that Sony and Samsung have failed to cover.
Are smartwatches the future of gadget technology? Possibly. There’s genuine utility in the smartphone/smartwatch/bluetooth headset combination, even with the rough edges. The watch is killer screen real estate in a way the phone can never be, so the challenge is to figure out how to make best use of it.
Many of you will have heard about Ubuntu’s convergence goals on the client side — running a single, consistent code-base and experience that adapts to phones, desktops, tablets, and TVs…but are you aware of our convergence on the cloud?
Ubuntu and our cloud orchestration service, Juju, provides a platform and the tools to be able to deploy your service (from a simple blog to a full enterprise and production deployment) across a range of clouds…be it a public cloud, private cloud, or bare metal. Prototyping, staging, deploying to production, and scaling up are simple.
At the heart of Juju are the charms…the range of components that form a service (e.g. WordPress, Hadoop, Mongo, Drupal etc). Inside each charm is an encapsulation of best practice from domain experts for each component that automates how charms relate together in your service. Best practice connected to best practice in a service that easily scales is the backbone of Juju.
In much the same way we are building a consistent experience and set of features that run across phones, desktop, tablets, and TVs, we are also building a consistent experience and set of tools for delivering services across different clouds, bare metal, or local containers. Ubuntu for clouds is not merely bound to a single cloud…the point is that what matters is your service and you can easily migrate your service between public and private clouds and bare metal. Again, a converged experience across multiple services.
On the client side this convergence means a more consistent user experience with no fragmentation, consistent platform for deploying content across devices that is cheaper to deploy, and makes multiple product lines available to vendors and builds institutional knowledge across different product lines.
On the cloud side this convergence means that you are in control of your service. When you or your staff know how to use Ubuntu and the cloud orchestration tools we provide (such as Juju), you are in control of your service and you can prototype and deploy it where you want easily, whether a private or public cloud or bare metal, scale out when required, and build consistent institutional knowledge.
What makes Ubuntu on the cloud even more interesting is that Juju GUI also crosses the chasm between service topology on the office whiteboard and a running service – you can literally draw your service and everything spins up effortlessly.
Ubuntu is all about convergence and bringing simplicity and power to our devices, to our clouds, and all powered by Open Source.
I’ve just got back from an epic weekend at OggCamp. For my money this was the best event yet. There was a great atmosphere from the start. The exhibitors and hardware hackers kept everyone entertained and the Leaf tea shop provided the fuel necessary to get through a day. We even had giant beanbags and free arcade machines that took a pounding. There were some great scheduled speakers, the live podcast was good fun, and the famous rafflecast rounded off the event in style.
But the crowd really make the event what it is. Because it’s an unconference, things can just happen spontaneously. One talk prompted questions on the version control system “git”. So three OggCampers got together and gave a talk on it an hour later. Other things that “just happened” included a good-natured showdown between Firefox OS and Ubuntu Touch, and a demonstration of tri- and quad-copters.
There were great parties too, at the Leaf on Bold Street and the Racquet Club – easily the poshest OggCamp party venue yet!
I was busy tweeting as @oggcamp throughout the weekend, accompanying this post are some of the photos from the weekend.
Thanks to the sponsors and crew who make it possible, and of course everyone who attended.
— Félim Whiteley (@felimwhiteley) October 21, 2013
— Charlie Don't Surf (@sonniesedge) October 20, 2013
Feel fired up to give a shit about the world I live in, in a way I haven't for a while. Thanks #OGGCamp.
— Mark Holmes (@eyesparky) October 21, 2013Pin It
Just a quick note to say our October meeting will be on Wednesday night at 7.30pm, usual place the Courtyard in Hereford on the mezzanine floor.
If you attended our Software Freedom Day event in September, please feel to come along on Wednesday.
The meeting will start at 7:30pm as usual. I've been out of the loop a bit recently, with family issues to deal with, so haven't had any opportunity to get any agenda planned.
I was encouraged to purchase a Fitbug as part of the healthcare scheme I’m a member of. The more I walk around, the more benefits I get from the scheme. Of course this makes sense – a fitter, healthier, more active me is less likely to have expensive healthcare requirements.
I’d been curious about the whole wearable fitness device market for some time, after seeing friends with Nike Plus gadgets and Fitbits. So the extra incentive of a healthcare bonus was enough for me to take the plunge.
I bought the Fitbug Air, which is a simple pedometer that can sync to an iPhone or iPad via Bluetooth. It’s a simple gadget with an LCD and three buttons on the front. It comes with a lanyard and a belt clip. The Air comes with a subscription to the Fitbug website, where you can track your daily calorie intake, add other exercises, set goals, and review previous activity. There’s an iOS app that lets you review basic information and sync your device’s data to the website, and there’s also a simple website that walks you through the Fitbug setup.
As a motivator to encourage more exercise, it definitely works. If you get toward the end of the day and your steps are measured in the hundreds rather than the thousands, you know you’ve been very lazy and it’s time to go for a walk.
In theory, the device is simple enough to just leave in your pocket and ignore. In practice, there are a few problems with this approach.
When in the pocket, the buttons have the tendency to get pushed accidentally if you lean against a desk, kneel in tight jeans, or have a shoulder bag. You then have to figure out which button was pressed. For example, it’s possible to accidentally alter your stride length, which throws out the measurements. This is exacerbated by the fact that the device comes with no useful documentation for the buttons. There’s various modes (for example, viewing historical data), but you have to work it all out for yourself.
The device is supposed to automatically sync via bluetooth to the iOS app whenever there’s been activity in a (configurable) 30 minute period. In practice, the sync stops working unless you restart the iOS app occasionally. Here, for example, the Fitbug stopped uploading for a couple of days, until I checked the app and kicked it:
The app is supposed to support multiple devices (only one device in the UI, but multiple devices can sync to the website), so that several people can use Fitbugs without everyone having to own an iOS device. It took a call from the (extremely helpful and friendly) Fitbug support team to get this working for me.
Speaking of multiple devices, the second device I received shipped with a spare battery and other bits and pieces. I contacted Fitbug to ask why the first device didn’t come with this, but have yet to hear back.
You also can’t update nutrition information through the app, which makes logging data on the move during the day hard work. You can use the website, but it’s not entirely mobile-friendly.
The Fitbug website is schizophrenic. When I started using it, there were two versions of the site; an old version and a new one “with a bit of KiK”. I’ve no idea what “KiK” is, and it’s not documented anywhere.
The “new” site is pretty, and the infographic-style presentation of information is nice, although much of the terminology isn’t explained. For example, “you’ve hit pink!” on the nutrition section presumably means you’ve eaten the right amount.
Unfortunately, despite all the work that’s been done on the shiny new site, when you receive your weekly Fitbug update email, and click for the progress report, it takes you to the old-style website. This means customers have to be familiar navigating around both sites.
As if two sites weren’t enough, with the recent release of the Orb, Fitbug has replaced their new site with a new new landing page, which is one of the most buggy website implementations you’re ever likely to see. Check out the placement of the login/register buttons in the top-right of this screenshot for example:
If you resize the browser window, making it narrower and then wider again repeatedly, those icons gradually move off the top of the page.
One nice feature of the Fitbug site is that it frequently asks you for feedback. I must have filed a dozen bugs by now, including suggestions for usability tweaks. Unfortunately, over the course of the last few months I haven’t seen any changes as a result of this feedback, so I’ve stopped submitting any.
At this point, you might be forgiven for thinking that as a new entrant to the market, Fitbug are still working out a few teething troubles. But surprisingly Fitbug has been around since 2005, two years ahead of better-known competitors such as Fitbit. So it’s somewhat disappointing that they are not much further ahead. I don’t mean to belittle the challenges of building an integrated hardware and software business, including mobile apps, an extensive website, and partnerships, but there just seem to be rather a lot of loose ends and a lack of polish. This is a booming industry, with fierce and rapidly-evolving competition.
Despite all the glitches and issues, I’ll still be using the Fitbug and, on the whole, I’m glad I’ve got it. I’m definitely walking more, and the website calorie counter provides a useful motivational tool – when you see your daily calorific intake, it provides additional motivation to take it easy on the snacks or to adjust your diet.
Now that I’ve got into fitness tracking device ownership, I’d like to try out alternative devices and apps. Unfortunately, I can’t (or at least, not without continuing to use the Fitbug as well). The sensible way to manage activity measurements would have been for healthcare providers to have an open API that any device can talk to, so that consumers can pick which pedometer they want to use. What’s happened instead is that healthcare providers only recognise one supplier, locking out choice and stifling innovation. It’s a familiar story in the technology world, and companies never seem to learn the lessons of the past. It’s not necessarily Fitbug’s fault, but I’d be a little more lenient toward them if they applied a little more polish to their offering.
Right, I’m off for a walk.
A year and a month since the last list. I need to update this more often.
Here’s what I’ve been reading. Disclosure: links are affiliate, so if you buy through them I in theory get some money (although I haven’t seen a payment from Amazon in years … probably why I’m so grumpy with them).
I’m preparing a blog post with a list of the latest books I’ve read, and in the process, I’ve been reminded of the awful Amazon experience.
For starters, I’d like to have better integration between my Kindle, goodreads, calibre, and this blog, so that I can automate the generation of reading lists and manage all my books. Why doesn’t Amazon make this easier out of the box? It would surely drive ebook sales. Instead, Amazon seem to delight in making life harder.
For example: Amazon used to list Kindle orders separately, and if you look under your account, they still have a menu item for “View Kindle Orders & Charges”:
But when you follow the link, instead of a custom list of all your Kindle purchases, Amazon now throws Kindle orders into the list of all other orders, with a banner message at the top:
This means that you have to search through all your Amazon orders to find the books. Perhaps you can get a list of your books by searching for “Kindle”:
That doesn’t seem too bad at first glance, so why doesn’t Amazon change the “View Kindle Orders & Charges” link to https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/css/order-history/search=kindle? It would be a better user experience. Let me tell you why: not all books are tagged “kindle”, and so you can’t search for all your kindle book orders. This is so brain-dead stupid. The only way you can track all of your books is through the “Manage Your Kindle” link, which provides a horribly-limited view onto your library (limited to 15 items at a time, no view of the book covers, and only a few columns of information on each book).
It’s strange that Amazon boasts that even the most basic kindle holds “up to 1,400 books – take your library wherever you go” whilst at the same time making the library management experience so awful.
I’d like to see future Kindles automatically organise books by author. I’d like to see the Kindle website provide a better library browsing experience. And right from the library, I’d like to see where other books from the same author are available to buy. If Amazon improved the experience just a little, I’m sure book sales would jump significantly. I guess the problem is they are selling well already, and no-one else in the marketplace is really challenging them and giving them a reason to innovate.
Speaking of user experience – there are a number of sites popping up that help discoverability of books. They don’t have quite the same feel as browsing through the sci-fi section of the local library, breathing in that slightly musty book smell, feeling the crackle of the plastic book covers, picking up books with cool-looking cover art. But they do allow you to do things like browse books based on the award they won, or see books your like-minded friends are reading. Of particular interest:
Are there any better ways to manage Kindle content? Are there any better sites for book discovery?
Here’s a quick summary of the articles I’ve posted over on the Adobe Experience Delivers blog. This is in some small part an apology for being so quiet here. Again.