Muzzling the Google Home Mini?

Google Home Mini at home

When I bought my Google Pixel 2, I received a free Google Home Mini as part of the pre-order deal. While in Madeira it finally came and today I went to Irlam to go get it.

I’ve never liked the idea of the Amazon Alexia and all devices which are listening for an activation word. I get the convenance but it doesn’t equal the given up privacy in my view. I turn off on my phones unless my screen is unlocked and I’m on the home screen (actively using the phone). I’ve been watching and reading how The Google Home mini has already received a ton of privacy strikes and disabled the touch controls.

My justification for getting the Google Home mini was purely to connect it to my Philips Hue lights. They are great but only if you have the app as the controls on the wall are way too simplistic to change colours, brighten and dim.

Unboxing the Google Home mini and getting it online, was pretty straight forward. I currently have it set with the mic on mute and the touch controls seem pretty basic (volume only). I’m surprised its powered with a micro USB cable not USB C and if I had a choice of colours, would have picked a darker colour instead of Chalk. Out of the box the home mini’s top touch fuctionality is disabled, I assume the firmware was updated when I setup the wifi.

Google Home Mini

I’m dispointment that there seems to be no way to connect the google home mini to the hue lights without doing it via the Philips Hue web. I currently blocking external access at my router for hue lights, so theres no way to control them remotely, although everything is on the same network. Honestly find it annoying that it can’t talk locally, especially since there is a good API via the Hue Bridge. I understand it needs internet access to do some processing but to control the lights? Sure this can be done locally?

I’m keeping an eye on dev sites to see what might come up, but right now its little use and I’d like to see more ways to muzzle its use to keep things local unless essential.

Docker & Tiny Tiny RSS sorted finally

TTRSS Php error

I have had on my task list for a long time to fix two problems with my Tiny Tiny RSS setup.

  1. Fix the problem I’m having connecting to TTRSS in a browser since a upgrade
  2. Sort out a decent RSS reader for Ubuntu

Originally it was working fine then a upgrade broke the web interface for me and many others. The confusing and joyful thing for me, was any application which talked to the API was unaffected. Meaning my Android clients were fine including the one on my eink tablet. However all the RSS clients on Ubuntu would either not connect to ttrss, were generally rubbish or wouldn’t work in later versions of Ubuntu (like RSS Owl). The advice seemed to point to using a browser extention.

The first problem was something to do with the PHP which seemed pretty easy to fix but all the solutions assumed you were running it all on a standard webserver and had control over everything. Of course I was running it within Docker and had no idea where config.php was or even where docker had installed anything.

After actually sitting down and looking around my server as a sudo not myself (its the first time I actually dedicated time to do), I found the Docker install and learned what docker was actually doing. My ttrss docker image is actually located under /var/lib/docker/aufs/mnt/{random hash}/var/www/ttrss/.

Under that I could find the config.php file and make changes so it was only accessible over my Vpn connection – yeah, I thought this was very clever but maybe obvious to everyone else. So the only way to hit the web front end of my ttrss install is via my Vpn but API calls are done without the Vpn.

As I found the root of ttrss, I was also able to finally install feedreader which is hightly rated by many. The problem I’ve always had is feedreader complained that it needed a certain plugin installed under ttrss’s plugin directory, which previously I couldn’t find to install. Of course now I know where it is and could copy it there, I was very pleased with myself. Next stop brunch at Ezra & Gil and wait for Feedreader to pull down full text for 8500+ items.

Dead pebble…?

Dead pebble 2 watch

On my leui half day, I decided to hit the Spa – keep me away from work stuff. Knowing the Pebble is waterproof I was kept an eye on how much time I was spending in the Steam room. To be honest I’ve used in many spas and swimming pools no problem but today it was stuck on the preference screen. I held the left button in and it felt weird and then collapsed in on its self. unfortunately (or stupidly) I did this while in the jacuzzi. It wasn’t in the water but I got the feeling my wet finger might have caused some water to go inside.

Later I tried to start it up after leaving it in the locker with ventilation, but it didn’t help as its now totally dead. Although I haven’t tried the bag of rice water damage trick.

Dead pebble 2 watch

It feels like my arm is naked right now and having to look at my phone to see the actual time or why its buzzing is almost as weird. I had thought about buying another pebble 2, now they are not being made. Looks like I’ll be doing that now, just hoping it will reach me before I go to Madeira. I guess thats the point of Amazon Prime?

Update – The next day

Dead pebble watch

So I hooked up my dead pebble to the charger and it kicked into action. After a long time and looking up the pebble SOS site with a bunch of searching the pebble forums; I was able to get it repaired with my phone again and usable again. I say usable but its never going to be waterproof again.

Dead pebble watch

I also noticed the rubber seal which I assume protects the inners of the watch is coming loose; plus the battery is depleating far quicker than usual. After half a day the battery was down to 50%. I’m assuming it might be the bluetooth discovery trying to connect to my phone killing the battery but I wouldn’t be suprised if it was down to the water damage in someway.

Right now its usable but the back button doesn’t work at all, even pushing the microswitch inside does nothing anymore. This means any sub menus can’t be reversed. I actually found the only way to get back to the clock, is to open the pebble app on my phone and switch the clockface. Not ideal but this means it can work enough for a short while, as notifications and messages automatically switch to the clock after a while.

It could be worst I guess…?

I bought a Google Pixel 2 and its bloody fast

Google Pixel 2

After my Google Nexus 5x died a few weeks ago, I switched back to my very old Nexus 5 with the broken screen. It was painful, especially with no fingerprint and of course the pixel filled screen. Knowing I would be switching, I put the bear minimum amount of apps on it and played the wait game with my google authenticator.

In the end I pre-ordered the Pixel 2 (which keep calling the Nexus 2) from Carphone Warehouse (mainly because I needed to guarantee I could get it at a certain day, before heading away)

It costed so much my credit card company rejected the transaction and I didn’t get the ability to say it was me before they rejected it. Yes the cost was eye watering but mainly because I’m use to the Nexus lines of £200 ish. Yes I considered other phones but I liked having pure google and the reviews of the Pixel2 were good (I didn’t get the XL version with the odd colour screen). The alternative colour ones were going take too long so stuck with pure black.

When I finally got my hands on it (Thursday) I was surprised how smooth, silky and solid it was. Compared to my Nexus 5x, it was quite a different feeling. You can feel the quality of design and build compared to the Nexus range.

Pixel 2

There are a lot of reviews of the in-depth Pixel 2 reviews so I won’t try and do that. But some surprises I had.

The speed of the fingerprint is out of control now, my nexus 5x was fast but this is like warp speed. The general speed of Oreo is zippy, especially compared to my dead Nexus 5x which got the upgrade soon before it died. I had some problems with the wifi but a reboot seems to have fixed it. Having 128gig of space online is kind of crazy, so finally my Plex life time subscription is making a lot more sense. I’m syncing all my podcasts and a lot of audiobooks. Trying to decide if I should put all my single tunes on it or not?

Moving things over was a bit painful only because I only had my backup Nexus 5 with the basic number of things on it not the Nexus 5x. The USBC to female USB A dongle was pretty handy I have to say, although I have done similar with NFC previously to start the pairing process.

Not having a audio jack isn’t a big pain for me as I’ve been monitoring how often I actually use the audio jack since the iphone jack removal; and it was low to not at all. The USB C jack is included and I also have a number of Bluetooth audio jacks I can use easily enough including on my helmet. Battery life so far seems very good with a whole day of my non-use taking only 38% of the battery. The figure said I had another day and a bit of battery use. I had a problem with the Wifi for a bit, which was only noticeable in things streaming like Yaste and Plex but after its second ever restart its all good now.

The camera is insanely fast and I reduced the resolution down because shooting 12+ mega pixel pictures is not so needed generally, although there is plenty of space. For the first time, I have also reduced my font size down to smallest across the whole of the phone, because the screen dpi is excellent enough for me to read the tiny text comfortability; oh and the Redshift feature finally means I loose twilight.

Generally I’m quite impressed with the Pixel 2 (but the price is still eye watering) but its only its 3rd day. Its super fast on everything including unlocking, switching tasks and taking pictures.

Update – Sunday 12th Nov

 

I felt like I needed to do a quick update.

I still am impressed with the Pixel 2 but every once in a while, the phone will just turn off (its happened 4 times so far). It always happens when using the Bluetooth headphones; I’ll be walking along and it will suddenly go silent like its lost the bluetooth connection, but my headphones doesn’t say its lost the connection. When I pull out my phone its blank and needs to be reset. Only then does the headphones say its lost the siginal. Its weird and I’ve done everything except reinstalling the phone

Besides this the phone is pretty solid and reliable. The Battery is still excellent and most of the time its only used 15-25% over the course of a day. I seen Google are rolling out updates for the Pixel 2 XL screen problem hopefully this will be high on their bug list too.

Goodbye Nexus 5x?

I left my flat Thursday heading for a train to York. Turning on my bluetooth headphones I noticed my Nexus 5x wasn’t connecting. One look at my phone and I noticed the screen was off. So I turned it back on and noticed the bootloader loop I had heard so much about.

While I made my way to York University, I tried multiple times to turn it on using different methods and it was in the taxi when I could actually type in my code to unlock the storage. Of course once it rebooted, it was back to the loop again. I also remember at some point watching the boot loader animation throw a error message which I wasn’t quick enough to snap. But I do remember it saying the storage was corrupt and it needed servicing?

By the time I was home again, it was dead. No matter how much I held down the buttons nothing would happen. I charged it up but there was no lights. Luckily I still have my Nexus 5 with the messed up screen, I had also thought about switching to the Google Pixel 2, but at £629 for the 64gig version, I just can’t bring myself to hit order (its a serious load of money especially since my Nexus 5x was £200) especially since I wasn’t sure if I would be in Manchester to actually get it. I had not realised it not actually officially available yet!

In the end after working with my Nexus 5 for a day, I decided to get the Pixel 2 with 128gig and buy it from Carphone warehouse only because I can pick it up from Manchester or London if needed. Just he last 24hours has made realise how much I use my phone for things like Monzo, 2 factor auth and much more. In the meanwhile I’l struggle through with the minimum number of apps on my Nexus 5 & 7.

I may attempt to un-brick my Nexus 5x when I got more time and in our R&D lab with the right tools. But seeing how I was waiting for the Pixel 2, I guess its time really.

Android Oreo upgrade on my Nexus 5x

Nexus 5x with Oreo upgrade

3 days ago I received the OTA update for Android Oreo on my Nexus 5x. I wasn’t really expecting it, as I’ve been keeping an eye out for my next phone (which is likely to be a Google Pixel 2 even at its much higher cost than my Nexus 5x)

Honestly I haven’t seen much differences except the background tasks are now in your face. Which isn’t a problem as I don’t have a lot running all the time (Timeused, Pebble & Twlight), be interesting to see how long apps like Uber stay in the background

I have noticed a drain on battery, for example my battery is at 88% right now and will stay alive for the next 9 hours. But to be fair its a old battery, I think the same use on Android N would be closer to 92% maybe.

Some of regular menus are shifted around and the small text which I have my phone set to, really is actually small. I am surprised there is no native bluelight filter (redshift, twilight, etc) but I guess it might upset all those apps which do this.

The upgrade was painless, it took 42mins as I was watching an American TV show as it upgraded its self.

Generally I’m happy with the state of the upgrade and although I know this is the last upgrade for the Nexus 5x; it might keep the phone going even longer.

Quantifying your smartphone usage mentioned recently

There’s a recent BBC documentary titled Secrets Of Silicon Valley, its not a bad watch at all. In part 2, the presenter installs an app to see how much time he spends on his phone through out the day. Very similar to what happened at the Quantified Self 2017 conference, but even I almost coked on my tea when the final figure of over 5 hours was announced for the day.

My monthly smartphone usage

Looking at my own usage, over the last month I spent 19hrs 1minute over 384 pickups, looking at my mobile phone.

I admit this is so very low in comparison to others.

By the way I’m still looking for a decent way to do this without abundance of features, battery use and in a data ethical way.

There’s life in Pebble still

Pebbles growing in work
Me, Jimmy and Alex – Photo credit to Jimmy Lee

Its ironic that since Fitbit bought Pebble and even Vector. There has been a bunch of interesting projects to keep Pebble going. Even Fitbit have been friendly to the idea of keep it going once they switch off their servers later this year.

At least two projects are hot on my task list.

What I find really interesting is the amount of Apple watch users who have switched to Pebble. First it started with my line manager (phil) who bought a pebble 1 a while ago, scratched it then sold it to me. He then bought a Apple Watch to go with his new apple phone; but it wasn’t long till he was frustrated with the charging and not being able to see the screen without the shake. I made clear my reasons for kickstarting the Pebble 2 and left it at that.

One day he totally surprised me one day with a pebble 2 watch in white and green. Good choice I said, even with the fear of what Fitbit would do with Pebble still looming.

I also sold my old pebble 1 watch to Andy at work with the warning of what Fitbit might or rather not do, but he was happy with the price.

Third was Jimmy, who had a old classic Casio watch he use to wear. He one day rocked up with a black pebble 2 watch and suddenly I felt the waters was turning.

Pebble 2.0

But the final surprise recently was with a Apple die-hard, Alex. Alex has apple stamped on his heart; me and Jimmy once had a conversation about the turning tide of pebble watches in work and thought who could be next? Jimmy did suggest Alex and I said nahh never, too tied to Apple. I even remember having a conversation with Alex about the Apple watch vs Pebble. I somehow forgot Alex use to own a Samsung Galaxy S4 plus a long time ago, mainly for VR.

He agreed on the advantages, and as designer to designer we critiqued the design decisions of the LCD screen and wondered if jobs would be happy with the one day battery? (to be fair me and Jimmy had a similar discussion before he turned up with one) Any way, that was a while ago and I almost fell out my chair when recently Jimmy announced Alex had ditched his Apple watch for a Pebble 2. I honestly thought he was kidding then I saw it on him.

Jimmy & Alex also have found services doing interesting custom watch faces, but I’m on the look out for more diverse apps (makers would be a plus). As I’d really like to see more things like ifttt on pebble. For example why not Monzo, Paypal balance status?

Pebble 2

Right now you can buy a Pebble on Amazon for between £40 – £90 depending on which one you get. I’d also say if you were considering a smartwatch, the pebble is still the only one I would consider even now.

My weekly smartphone use…

At the Quantified Self conference a few weeks ago there was a very interesting conversation & social experiment about smartphone use. Ever since I’ve been getting more interested in the good and bad uses of smartphones, even gave a summary of ideas collected over the different sessions.

But I’ve been thinking about my low usage at the conference and decided to seek out an app which just counts the usage and nothing more (most have other types of permissions to do all types of other things). Found Timefactory’s Time used did pretty much this (although I’d like a proper data export option), seems low on resources and very simple.

So above is my regular usage of my Nexus 5X over the last week, and this week was a regular go to work everyday and social event most evenings kind of a week.

Its low, agreed but I didn’t go out to not check it or anything. I carry my Nexus with me pretty much everywhere. But having my pebble smartwatch and other devices around me certainly has a massive effect on how many times I actually have to turn on the phone screen.

Look forward to sharing the month summary too.

Standardnotes my alternative choice to Evernote

Standardnotes

This is continuous fight I keep having with myself… For quite some time I’ve been looking for an alternative to Evernote on Linux & Android. I got it down to 3, Turtl, laverna and standardnotes.

In the end I decided Standardnotes mainly because I needed something which easily syncs like simplenote and I guess evernote. I liked the idea of being able to run my own standardnote server in the future. But the biggest thing for me was being able to convert my evernote notes. Yes it costs but I was happy with the terms (client side encryption) and comfortable with the payment which is less than evernote anyway. I also been looking a little deeper at Standardnotes. The privacy and sustainability statements are just stuff of dreams. Theres very few other services which can say and do these things.

What about the others?

Turtl, was good but the interface drove me a little nutty, having to login each time and no offline support? Maybe in a few years if the project gets more development it grow into something special and I’ll check it out again.

laverna is also good and is very quick and easy to get going but its mainly built around the browser as it uses javascript. There is a android app coming but its not there yet and syncing is tricky because it stores everything in the browser. I think you can move this to a sync container like dropbox, google drive, etc.

Standardnotes

With Standardnotes., I have added it to Wavebox, installed the Android apps (doesn’t install on my ereader as it needs Android 5+) and paid for a year subscription.

So far so good!

I do still use Simplenote for quick and temporary notes, but not I installed the the Linux app, this may go away too. Now I just need to sort out my imported 2177 evernotes!

Wavebox for productivity wins

Wavebox intro

I was using Wmail for a while since I got a little fed up with using Gmail in Chrome, it was good but sometimes I found it zapping resources. I tried using Evolution, Thunderbird and a few other native email apps but missed some of the nice things Gmail does and supports. So when I first saw Wmail I thought I’d give it a try even with the slight skepticism from some around Electron.

So impressed with Wmail, that I donate to the development for it. It wasn’t long till they got in touch and said they were moving to Wavebox and as a nice extra I would get a year subscription to Wavebox pro.

The things I love about Wavebox is being able to hook up multiple gmail accounts including drive, contacts, calender, etc. Trello works great as does Slack (but I opted to keep the slack app for now). But the killer is being able to hook up any site you like. For example I use Mastodon and WordPress (the official linux app locks up a lot). I was tempted to setup Evernote and maybe laverna, standardnotes, a few other things but this will do for now.

The Verge seem to agree too

Its pretty great and the ability to add almost any site is pretty useful, especially with the lack of Linux support for some things. Yes you have to pay for the pro features but its worth it.

There is also a misconception that I won’t pay for software and thats rubbish. Its about the terms, for example Wavebox is actually open source but the terms of what you pay for are fine with me.

Tiny tiny RSS experience a week later?

I have had quite a bit of feedback from my post about moving away from Feedly to a self hosted solution called Tiny Tiny RSS.

Some interesting questions have emerged from people and to be fair it certainly deserves a follow up.

I made my instance of TT-RSS available on the public netw, because I didn’t see the point of installing my VPN software on my eink reader. I also installed the official TT-RSS app which is a 7 day trail before you buy the full version for 4 pounds. I haven’t bought the full version yet because the app doesn’t seem to work well when offline? It would be great if the app understood if the device was offline and automaticilly disabled the update feeds option. It currently doesn’t seem to do this well… I much prefer Greader for this, but ttrss app isn’t far behind.

Simon commented he paid for Feedly because of the IFTTT options, but it seems weird to pay for this  because you can easily turn most of TT-RSS into a another feed and IFTTT has a RSS option which you can use to trigger most things. This reminds me of my work along while back about pipelines.

Because of this, I have been thinking about feeding Greader with the RSS from my TTRSS install. The only real disadvantage is nothing would be synced to the server? This is also something I’ve been thinking about with a linux desktop reader like thunderbird because I can’t seem to install a TTRSS reader which works.

I tried a few but each has had problems.

Feed the Moneky looked very promising but when I finally get the appimage loaded, it shows nothing? Feedreader looked great and after finally getting flatpak working, I’m faced with the error that I need to install the api-feedreader plugin in my TTRSS server. How I do this when I’m using docker is a question I have no answer for, except it seems I need to use another docker container?

So generally its going well but hitting a few points which need straighing out. It would be so useful to compile supported applications into a wiki page.

Oh I found this useful when understanding about appimages, snap, flatpak, etc.

Over 10 years of serious Ubuntu

Desktop Screenshot

Its ironic to hear Microsoft Windows Vista has finally come to its end of life (i’d argue it was dead on arrival), it was the move to Vista which sparked me to stop running Linux on a spare machine/as a second operating system and wipe windows XP off. One day I decided enough playing around, I’m not moving to Vista, I’m moving to Ubuntu 7.04 Feisty Fawn.

Before then I was playing with Knoppix, Debian and earlier versions of Ubuntu 6.06 and 6.10 but it was 7.04 when I took things serious. Since then I’ve not really looked back. It quite amazing to think how Ubuntu has changed over the last 10 years, especially with Unity and Gnome; but the dominance of linux generally is fascinating.

Hater: Dating against humanity

hater app on iphone
The first dating app that matches people on the things they hate.

I’m hardly surprised… hate conjures up many feelings and heck I even include in my dating profile, things I hate. Because of this I get some very strongly worded messages one way or another.

If I was on this service, I would hate, hater for not having a android app (can’t get much more meta than this?)

But it was a surprise to see the cards against humanity used for this. Had to take a second glance as I suddenly thought there was a connection to my TedXManchester 2016 talk.

Sony’s new digital paper

It was Steve who first pointed me at Sony’s new digital tablets. Its impressive but of course I don’t read japanese, even with google translate. But of course others do and did the work for me.

sony dpt-rp1 eink A4 tablet

Although it looks amazing, I can’t help but think about the software.

Using the digital pen, users will be able to annotate PDF documents, as with the previous version, but the compatibility is still locked to that format, so you won’t be drawing on anything other than PDFs unfortunately.

Maybe I’ve been slightly spoiled by the Eink tablet I bought, which runs Android 4.3 allowing most Android apps to run smoothly. I can’t imagine living within Sony’s view of the world hoping someone will hack it. It reminds me of the Ipad pro in more than just looks.

Updated

Jason pointed me at remarkable which I hadn’t seen before. Its also pretty pricey but looks very nice. The worry is lack of support for 3rd party applications and their FAQ doesn’t really encourage any joy.

The reMarkable will not initially ship with an officially supported SDK. We might initially, however, release an unsupported SDK for developers we choose to work with.

Shame… but interesting tablet regardless.