The pebble maybe water resistance but not spa resistance…

Dead pebble

Sadly its the 2nd Pebble smartwatch I have lost to my love of spas. First one died during a spa visit in the Midland hotel, weirdly about a year ago. I instantly got another one exactly the same as my kickstarter version. It worked great but I didn’t learn the lesson and kept wearing the smartwatch at spas and swimming pools.

Then a few days in a hotel spa in London and Liquidrome in Berlin, caused my smartwatch to fail again.

Dead pebble

Looking at the damage I think its the intense steam of the steam room (to be fair, was in the steam room for over 30mins) mixed with the heat of a sauna. Then floating in a salt water pool just killed it for good. I really should have done the bag of rice trick but I was mitte, Berlin and well bags of rice wasn’t easily available at midnight while leaving Liquidrome.

After a few days in Berlin with no smartwatch I realised how much I missed it and looked online to get a replacement. Black pebble 2’s were closer to the 400 pound mark, while the white one was less than half that brand new. So I got a white one.

All the my pebbles
From left to right, My dead pebble from 2017, then my new white pebble and finally the one which just died in Berlin

I did spend some serious time looking at alternatives to the pebble but couldn’t find a decent alternative for anywhere near the price. My list was simply this…

  • Non LCD, so I can get more than 3 days battery on a charge
  • Basic apps to do sleep/fitness tracking, read Google tasks, etc
  • Clear display in sunlight and darkness
  • Replacement straps which are not custom to the device
  • Android WearOS support to get notifications, etc

Nothing too complex but the smartwatch still seems lacking in diversity. As most seem to be clearly copies of previous with beefed up specs. I even consider the Fitbit charge but I hated the straps and the size was massive.

How good is the Oura ring tracker?

Its a nice looking device, seems to work well but at £300+ its a high price.

I do find the back story interesting however, especially since its been floating around the Quantified Self community for quite some time.

My usual worries about data-portability, app access (the android app looks like it needs work), etc all come into play but as a replacement for myband2 and sleep tracking on my pebble smart watch. It does interest me.

I don’t usually wear rings but I did obviously have a wedding ring and also did try wearing one of those cheap NFC rings.

Making Slack useable on x64 Linux?

 

Slack

Its been a while since I reinstalled my work laptop; one thing I haven’t reinstalled properly is the Slack app.

The amount of times I use to start it up and go and make a tea because it would make my ubuntu install act like Windows 95. Most of the time I would come back to find my laptop completely frozen.

I tried removing the amount of slack workspaces I had attached to the app but it made little difference. So I decided to hell with the slack app, which seems to be a wrapper for Chrome, with each slack instance being another instance of chrome!

This time I’m using Slack in Firefox and limiting how many I have open at a time. I noticed if you login into the different slacks, the cookie will hold them open for you without using the resources. This can be done from the main page using the Workspace options.

Slack home

I also noticed the enterprise slack version also has a front page which can be used to reach the other slacks.

Recently I decided to give Flatpak Slack a try. Interestingly I found you can launch the Slack app from the slack pages mentioned above.

It sounds like a lot of hassle but it works and mean my ubuntu system is fully useable.

Hopefully this will be useful for other Linux Slack users?

I bought a Chromebook

The other day my work Dell XPS 13 which has been running Ubuntu 16.04.1 asked me to upgrade. This message has been coming up for a while but I decided it was time for a upgrade, 18.04 was running well on my server and well it was time.

However the upgrade broke and I was left with Ubuntu 18.04 with Busybox. I had backups but as it was a BBC R&D build of Ubuntu, I needed to go to work for them to reinstall it. All of this was just before I went away to Mydata 2018 in Helsinki. On top of that my ubuntu server also had a problem.

Double wammy!

It was clear I could reinstall Ubuntu quickly but I would need to do a bunch of configuration and that takes time. I have a task to create a live CD with a bunch of configurations just for me, incase similar happens again.

I’d been looking at Chromebooks since I bought one for my parents ages ago and seen how ChromeOS has matured. I’m not the only one. It was the ability to run Android and Linux apps which pushed to get one.

Google Makes it Easier to Run Linux Apps on Chromebooks

So I bought the Asus chromebook flip c302, and I’m quite impressed with it. The size is good and the performance is good. As a backup laptop its ideal. It also kinda a solution to my lack of a decent tablet now my Nexus 7 is pretty much dead. I was tempted with the Google Pixelbook but it seemed too close to what the Dell XPS 13 is for.

I did consider getting a second hand XPS and sticking ChromeOS on it myself actually.

Dataportability and Dock.io

Dock.io stack

You may have gotten an invite to dock.io which is a service which reminds me of the late atomkeep;

Atomkeep helps users sync their profile information on social networks, job boards and other Internet sites. Users gain a streamlined way to validate and control their social identity across multiple sites.

The nice thing about the Dock.io is they are doing things more correctly. The potential of blockchain is being talked about everywhere but its great to have these services showing the actual potential.

I always found Atomkeep interesting but found it heavy on the trust and apis. Dock.io benefits from dataportability and GDPR, as I was able to get my Linkedin data dump and drop it in dock.io. Export and import, now thats good! Dock.io reminds me of openhumans as you can have applications which run on top of the protocol which then talks to the actual data.

So far so good, sure to write more about it soon including the use of Ethereum and IPFS.

Love your pebble, don’t want to see it turn into plain watch? Setup a rebble account now!

Pebbles growing in work

If like me you love the pebble and although I hate that Fitbit bought them, can’t really slate their support to keep the watch alive and working with the rebble team.

The Rebble team have been literally everywhere urging pebble users to create an account on the rebble servers before the pebble servers are switched off for good.

The Rebble account system is up and running, and now is the time for you to create your accounts. Head over to Rebble Auth and log in using your preferred site. You’ll then be asked to link your Pebble account. Please do: we will use this to import information from the Pebble servers before they shut down in order to help make the transition smoother.

It is especially important for developers to link their Pebble accounts now. Once the Pebble services shut down at the end of this month, we will no longer be able to identify developers who did not link their accounts, and so we will be unable to let them update or otherwise change their apps.

We are also going to use the number of accounts created to assist us in determining service usage and attempt to validate our assumptions about the number of users we expect to see.

That’s all there is to do right now: there is no app to install, and we are not yet ready for users to switch over to Rebble services. We will be sure to update you when we are!

Do it now, it takes a minute or so and will save you a lot of heartache later!

The realm of third-party trackers on Android

Luman android root cert

I was excited to learn about Lumen Privacy Monitor, as I’ve always wondered about the apps I have installed even when I have restricted the permissions wanted from the installed app.

New research co-authored by Mozilla Fellow Rishab Nithyanand explores just this: The opaque realm of third-party trackers and what they know about us. The research is titled “Apps, Trackers, Privacy, and Regulators: A Global Study of the Mobile Tracking Ecosystem,” and is authored by researchers at Stony Brook University, Data & Society, IMDEA Networks, ICSI, Princeton University, Corelight, and the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

“This is the start of a long project to uncover all the hidden data collection and data dissemination practices on the internet,” Nithyanand explains.

“There’s a huge lack of transparency around how mobile applications behave,” adds Narseo Vallina-Rodriguez, a co-author and researcher at ICSI. “People install software, but don’t know what that software is doing.”

The paper’s introduction lays out a troubling scenario: “Third-party services inherit the set of application permissions requested by the host app, allowing them access to a wealth of valuable user data, often beyond what they need to provide the expected service.”

To study this scenario, the researchers used Lumen Privacy Monitor, an Android app they built themselves over a two-year period.

So I installed it just to see what was going on with my Android devices. But there is a problem… Best summed up in this comment from Wcat.

Not open source? TLS interception? Before you install this stop and think about TLS interception. “Those who would trade privacy for security deserve neither.”

Luman asks for permissions to install its own root certificate, and this deeply worries me. TLS inception isn’t a trivial thing to be honest, I know its needed but it had me questioning how I really want to monitor the apps? Also if I remove the app, will the certificate be removed too/how would I know?

Right now, I’m keeping an eye on the app but haven’t installed the root cert yet.

Google clip, decentralised intelligence?

The reviews are appearing about the Google Clip camera. Its not great but to be honest, the only thing I found interesting about it on the announcement, was all the logic/intelligence was onboard. Google has become well known for doing the logic via their own cloud systems, so this was a surprise.

the main reason Google Clips isn’t as worrying as “Google camera that recognizes your family’s faces and records them automatically” sounds is that Google made a few carefully considered technical choices to protect its users’ privacy.

The first is that everything on Clips happens locally. Nothing is synced with Google’s cloud at all — except the photos you save into Google Photos. All the facial recognition happens on the device using its own processing power. None of it is paired up with whatever facial recognition you may have set up in Google Photos. It doesn’t pair faces with names, it just recognizes faces it sees a bunch over time. It also tries to ignore faces it doesn’t recognize. So if you’re at a park with your kids, Clips will endeavor to only take photos of your kids.

The clips the camera takes are also stored only on the camera itself. They don’t try to sync over to your phone unless you ask for them. They’re also encrypted on the camera, in case you lose it.

On first look, I thought it might be a similar replacement for Google Glass, then I thought maybe its the Google GoPro but it doesn’t seem to operate like a point and shoot. So I thought maybe a lifeblogging devices like the autographer and narrative clip. But it seems to be a different category all together.

Its a interesting device, but certainly pricey for a new category camera.

Google maps you have a speech problem

Google Maps

I love google maps but it has a problem.

I use it as a GPS when travelling around on my scooter, which means I don’t have a screen in front of me. Instead I’m reliant on the audio output to tell me where to go and when. I imagine for most people this sounds kind of crazy because they want to see the map and directions, but when it works it really works well. It says before the turning and then again just at the point of the turn. Pretty much once you get use to it, its just great and I find it weird sitting in peoples cars when they are not listening to the voice.

However there is a bug/problem.

I use to think it was just my Nexus 5X but its happened with my Google Pixel2 making it clear its a google maps issue.

Every once in a while, google maps stops talking and leaves you with silence.  This seems to be solved with a restart, which is hardly great when driving along. I imagine most users tend to have the display and don’t care too much about the voice. But if you are reliant on it, when it suddenly goes quiet you start to wonder. Worst thing about it is Google maps doesn’t say anything when you don’t need to take a turn. Meaning if you are going down a motorway you have to assume everything is fine.

Google maps fail

This is what happened as I drove down the M6 towards London not Bristol on Monday afternoon, wondering when the M5 turn off was coming. Now to be fair I was on the right motorway but when I came across the M6 toll road, I took it and that led me towards London.

M6 toll
Taking the M6 Toll road
M5 from Birmingham
The M5 I should have took

Google maps said nothing, so I just kept going expecting something over the headset when the turning came. To make things even more difficult I had my pixel 2 phone locked in the scooter charging, meaning I couldn’t see the phone unless I pulled over and turned off the engine. Once again not ideal.

Ok this example is quite extreme (but it happened) and you could say I should have been aware but I honestly didn’t see a sign for the M5 south. Its likely I wouldn’t as I took the M6 toll road.

Google maps has a speech problem and I’m not the only one who has experienced this.

Anyone else?

Nexus 5x issues ongoing…

Google Nexus 5x
I like the irony of the good place paired with the problems of the phone

I recently got my Nexus 5x back from Carphone Warehouse. This follows the sudden bootloop of my Nexus 5x in November.  They replaced the motherboard as it was still under its 2 year warranty. I was hoping they would just refund me for it, as I bought the Google Pixel2 on its launch.

But it will do for now, till it happens again and I’ll be demanding more. Right now its a spare/backup phone with my pay-as-you-go 3 sim inside. I did pause to think if I should upgrade to Android Oreo, but decided I should do it.

In the mean while its interesting to see some of the solutions people have come up with including this one using salty ice to keep the CPU cool.

Nexus 5x under ice

Riding the Bitcoin bubble up and out?

Bitcoin market price over last 8 years

Bitcoin is something everyone is talking about right now. I wouldn’t be surprised if my parents asked me about it soon.

It was a while ago when I received some bitcoins from a friend via tipjar.  I added the tipjar link on my blog and every once in a while I received a very small amount of bitcoins as tips. The amounts were so small that I didn’t really take note till I needed to move the wallet.

That was when I noticed the amounts were adding up to less decimal places  in bitcoin and the value in British sterling was also starting to add up to a few coffees. After the move to blockchain.info (no matter what I thought about the founder), I decided to keep an eye on the figure but forgot about it. Wasn’t till about a week ago, when I decided to have a quick look at the amount it was worth and was pretty shocked.

The tips were adding up to something quite big and thats when I decided maybe I should convert some to sterling and ethereum. I have never put any money into bitcoin, its all been donated or paid to me in return for something, I treated it as a bit of a joke to be honest. But over the last few weeks it became very real as I transferred quite a bit out and still had some left over, just in-case the bitcoin bubble keeps growing. But i’m simply not motivated enough to track its progress and put money into it. Ethereum I’ve found interesting since I first saw the videos about it so I’ll keep an eye on that too.

Thanks to everyone who tipped my blog or paid into my wallet over the last 3 years,  I owe a great gratitude to all those people. I’ll keep writing… feel free to keep tipping.

Do you trust grammarly?

grammarly - better writing made easy

Been looking at Grammarly for a while and to be fair they have been massively advertising too. Obviously Google & Facebook know I’m dyslexic and I imagine Grammarly are targeting people like me.

But I’m not keen on the process of sending the text to their centralised server. I understand but I think there is another way to do this, however that way conflicts with their business model. Maybe its a another case for something which should be a public service not left to the private sector?

I’m not the only one asking questions; I have been browsing the terms and conditions too and not keen on what I’ve read so far, the privacy policy alone speaks volumes.

I’ve been using Language tool as their privacy policy seems more reasonable to me and it can work offline and in a more decentralised manner.

Be interested to hear how others get on with it, maybe the benefits greatly outweigh the data ethical concerns?

 

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…?