I may reconsider getting a Google home mini now

Google local apk diagram

When I got my Pixel 2 it came with a Google home mini. I decided I would give it a shot so other people can control the Hue lights in my flat.

However I was deeply disappointed to find I could only make it work if I open up two holes in my firewall, allowing Google Home mini to talk to Google then Google talking to Philips who then talk through my other hole in my firewall to my Hue lights!

Even saying the above is a clear sign of how stupid the whole thing is…

So annoyed I sold it straight away. But it looks like I wasn’t the only one who fed back to Google how stupid this all was and early last year they included some code in their SDK to include local access.

Now it looks like its ready and I noticed Philips Hue and TPlink are one of the first lot of services to support this.

If this works as it says I may buy a Google home mini or I noticed the Google home hub is going for half price right now. Of course I’ll make sure the firewall stay closed and will be watching how people find the local access. What a field day people will have if Google screw this one up…!

Only 5 months later and face unlock is fixed

Its one of those things which I wasn’t happy about with my Pixel4. Who on earth over looked the fact you could use the face unlock without your eyes open! It doesn’t take a lot to think about the abuses including spouses with trust issues.

Finally over the last few days Google rolled out a fix which requires your eyes open if you enable it! Only 5 moths later

It was the first thing I did when I installed the update. Till that point I’ve been enabling lockdown mode when going through sensitive areas like airport security

Any interest in buying a HP Chromebook 14?

I finally got my Pixel reward, a HP Chromebook 14.

Its taken 4 months to reach me and I’m wondering if its worth it, but its going up on ebay pretty soon. It will be in its original box, untouched, unused and If anyone is interested do get in touch. Otherwise I’ll post the ebay link soon.

I have sold the untouched chromebook sorry…

Do I agree to Google’s new privacy terms?

Google's new privacy termsGoogle is making some changes to its privacy terms and is urging us to read them.

We know it’s tempting to skip these Terms of Service, but it’s important to establish what you can expect from us as you use Google services, and what we expect from you.

I’m slowly making my way through the terms but one thing I’m certainly going to do is related to the location of my data in googles data centres.

I’m not down with this part… I understand why they would do it but in the same way I voted to stay within a block of countries with harden data privacy laws. I need to personally do something.

Because of this I’m switching away from Gmail and deleting lots of archived emails. I’m also going to start using encryption more with google drive. I have been a bit lazy with this all, weighing up the balance of convenience and effort. Google provide a lot of useful things to me, but I think its time to move some more critical parts way, starting with email.

So I’m torn between Protonmail and Tutanota but also been looking at others.

/e/OS: The beauty of open source

/e/os on a phone

I was quite impressed with the /e/OS project. I hadn’t really heard of it before but as I’m considering the balanced of google service and data in my life; especially with the plans to move UK citizens data/accounts outside the EU.

Taking the AOSP Android Open Source project and removing all the google parts is quite impressive. A real testament to the power of open source.

The interview with itsfoss is a good read, starting off with the question of what and why

Why did you create this Eelo or /e/ project in the first place?

Gael: In 2017, I realized that using Android and iPhone, Google and many mobile apps was not compatible with my personal privacy.

A later study by a US University confirmed this: using an iPhone or and Android phone sends between 6 to 12 MB of personal data to Google servers, daily! And this doesn’t count mobile apps.

So I looked for reasonable alternatives to iPhone and Android phones but didn’t find any. Either I found options for hobbyists, like Ubuntu Touch, that were not compatible with existing apps and not fully unGoogled either. Or there were alternative ROMs with all the Google fat inside, and no associated basic online services that could be used without tweaking the system.

Therefore, an idea came to mind: why not fork Android, remove all the Google features, even low level, such as connectivity check, DNS…, replace default apps with more virtuous apps, add basic online services, and integrate all this into a consistent form that could be used by Mum and Dad and any people without tech or expert knowledge?

I’d be interesting in what apps run on the operating system, as Google really have embedded Play services into everything now. When I first got my recent e-reader, it came with its own app store till you enable play services. That store was super small but it doesn’t have to be that way if you look at F-droid for example.

If I still had my Nexus 5x, I would likely give /e/os a try. I could run it on my Nexus 5 I guess but the screen is maybe too broken.

I have been thinking, following my use of Firefox multiple account containers use. Maybe something of a mashup of Blackberry’s Android profiles (anyone remember this?) and Firefox containers.

This certainly feels like a design challenge which could be massively beneficial to many, and showcase the beauty of opensource

Hey google, read me this page out for me?

I won’t lie, I’m pretty impressed again with Google when it comes to text to speech and speech to text. Like Robby, my use of Google Assistant may also sky rocket.

My regular, daily use of the Google Assistant is likely to skyrocket with this new feature that was just rolled out: the ability to read any web page aloud. Whether or not this sounds awesome to you in this moment, just go with me for a second as we unpack what is going on here and why it will likely be incredibly useful for many.

At its most basic, this new feature does exactly what you expect. It allows the Google Assistant to simply read web pages aloud to you in a natural-sounding voice with a nice cadence. Pauses for commas and periods are dictated the way you’d expect and the decidedly-digital voice sounds very natural. The Assistant reads off the title, the author, and then begins to read through the entire article, highlighting each word spoken along the way.

But it gets better. Way better. When you start a reading session, the entire thing happens in a dedicated media player that gives you options to play/pause, skip ahead or back, and change the playback speed from 0.5x all the way up to 3x. On top of that, the player behaves just like any other media player in that it provides the ability to continue playing when the screen is locked and gives you a rich notification with playback controls as well. This allows you to start up the reader for a long article and go about doing something else while the Assistant reads the entire thing to you. I will 100% start using this for my daily walks or when driving to ingest news that I would otherwise put off in hopes of finding time to read later.

Even better is the fact that websites don’t need anything special in place to take part in all this. No extra code, no tags, no meta data: the Assistant can read any web page unless the web developer for that site has included the proper meta tag that disallows this. I’m sure there are fringe cases where this would be needed, but I’d assume most sites you visit will be readable by the Google Assistant out of the box.

Its very impressive, and my only issues are not being able to read text out of other apps like wallabag or tiny tiny rss. Not being able to playlist a number of pages for reading. Also using Chrome is a bit of a pain (I tried to do this in Firefox for example)

 

Is the pixel 4 worth it?

My Google Pixel 4 battery stats

I was reading through my feed and saw this review of the Pixel4 4 moths later.If I was to write a review of the Pixel 4 months later, I would have some choice words to say. Many more than what I originally wrote.
BatteryThe Pixel 4 battery is weird. For example I’m on 43% and it will last till 9:30am tomorrow morning. However a few weeks ago I looked at my phone and noticed it was on 5% and I have no understanding why?
Generally I only charge it when I’m sleeping, but its only been 4-5 months. I think it might be one of the only phones I might need to replace the battery of in 18 months.There is hope of a ultra low power mode, which if its like Doze could be a game changer.SoliI have to echo the reviewer, as its sums it up and I turned it off except when using the Face ID.

For several years, Google has been working on Project Soli: a radar-based sensor system allowing a device to sense gestures with utmost precision. Fancy videos of the system in action show how virtual dials and buttons can be controlled effortlessly by the snap or flick of a finger. No touching the phone required.

The Pixel 4 and 4 XL are the first two phones to ship with Google’s radar-based system – and it’s bad on so many levels. First of all, its use is extremely limited. With a wave over the screen you can skip songs, mute alarms, or play with your Pokemon live wallpaper. That’s it, really.

To make things worst I turned off active edge and other sensing things as its just not important for me. Weirdly enough every few times I pick up my Pixel4 it vibrates.

Is it worth it?

Well its a good phone but a lot of the features have made it down to the Pixel 2. The Cameras are great but should I have waited for the Pixel 5 or 4A? I do feel I maybe should have replaced the battery on my Pixel 2 and maybe waited…

And where the **** is my Chromebook, Google?!pixeloffer chromebook statusI’m pretty annoyed about the Pixel4 chromebook offer. It was meant to come a little later after buying the Pixel4 but its been 4-5 months!

Every once in a while its a win win for all, except the algorithms

Tampon box in disabled loo

Every once in a while I like messing with the algorithms which rule our world. As Cory says in this critical piece, found via Ade,

Machine learning is fundamentally conservative, and it hates change. If you start a text message to your partner with “Hey darling,” the next time you start typing a message to them, “Hey” will beget an autosuggestion of “darling” as the next word, even if this time you are announcing a break-up.

This isn’t a new thing and I have to thank Miles who gave me the idea a long time ago to mess with the algorithms every once in a while.

Every once in a while, when I feel the recommendations are getting pretty good I buy something completely different. For example with Google I’ve done some very strange things, but the impact isn’t so clearly felt as with shopping algorithms.

Recently I bought tampons which were 2 for the price of 1 on Tesco online. I bought them because I wanted to screw up the algorithm but more importantly I wanted to support my female colleagues (extra special shout out to Jasmine) who have been fighting the good fight to provide women & girls with free sanitary products in BBC buildings. As they really should have!

Maybe this is a triple win, one for my colleagues, two for messing up Tesco’s recommendations and three for my pocket? What ever it is, I noticed Tesco recommendation now includes pointers to shampoo products which I certainly don’t need  but makes me laugh the algorithm is so easily manipulated.

Already planning similar on Amazon and Ebay…

The smart home needs a narrative

living room of the future

I was reading this post and was thinking living room of the future in my head.

So I get why Google has backed off the smart home moniker and instead begun labeling the connected home as “helpful.” It needs to dial back expectations to something it can deliver. That’s likely to consist of an assistant pulling in device data so it can remind you to lock your front door when you go to bed, or lowering the heat when you leave your home so as to save on electricity. Even things like Amazon’s Guard, which listens for glass breaking to determine if a burglar has broken in, is only of minimal interest to consumers.

Because while these are nice functions, they are not glitzy functions. And they are not going to persuade people concerned about privacy, longevity, added complexity, security, or costs to shell out for connected devices. Another good example of this ambivalence to the smart home could be seen on a panel about smart TVs, connected displays and voice. The panel featured executives from Warner Media and Fox representing the content business. Neither of them were able to offer a compelling reason for being at a show all about the IoT other than wanting to make it easy for people to access content around the house, in their car, and on their phone.

I’ve felt this lack of creativity for a while. Everyone who has been watching this space has. Maybe it’s because the first decade of the smart home has been such a messy free-for-all and we need some space to clean things up, lower expectations, and focus on making devices and integrations usable

That lack of creativity is felt everytime I look at the new silos which are being built. The whole thing is being driven in the wrong direction and ultimately into the ever so cold arms of surveillance capitalism.

Its currently difficult to imagine IOT without some kind of service which is either monetizing or hoovering up data. But its exactly that which holds everything back?

Google Stadia early reviews

There’s been a rash of reviews about Google Stadia but I found Android Authority one of the best video reviews. The verge have good coverage if you prefer to read.

I found data usage quite surprising…

Stadia data usage at 720p

When playing Stadia on my Windows PC through the Chrome browser at 720p, Stadia used between 12 and 20Mbps. In contrast, a Netflix stream used about the same amount, but Netflix can buffer content to stop streaming constantly. Because Stadia is always pulling data and can’t buffer, it will use a lot more data.

You could technically use Stadia connected to a mobile hotspot, but I’d strongly advise against it if you have a limited data plan. Playing Stadia at 720p used about 7GB per hour.

Don’t expect to be playing Stadia at your local coffee shop without some comments or a lot of lag. I wonder if most of the cheap routers can sustain bandwidth like that anyway?

Could a hybrid smartwatch be a replacement for the pebble?

fossil hybrid HR smartwatch face

I was reading about the Fossil hybrid HR smartwatch recently, and on the face of it (pun intended) it looks like a good smartwatch with all the features I would be after to replace my pebble smartwatch.

What’s the difference between a hybrid smartwatch and a regular smartwatch? In the hybrid category, Fossil’s Hybrid HR mixes physical watch hands with an always-on display that shows information and notifications. It almost feels like an old-school Pebble watch fused with an everyday analog-style watch.

I always swear by eink for these type of things, and I’m happy to hear its using eink too.

Keeping a smartwatch charged is incredibly annoying. Fossil’s newest line of hybrid smartwatches may have found an answer, and it’s E Ink. The Hybrid HR’s added display feels less like a screen and more of an extension of the watch, the sort of basic readouts that you might expect on a digital watch. Or, like what Google’s Wear OS watches offer, but in E Ink. To be clear, though, this isn’t Wear OS. It almost reminds me of what the TicWatch Pro tried for by layering an always-on display on top of a feature-packed smartwatch, but the Hybrid HR looks a lot nicer.

Earlier this year, Google reportedly paid $40 million for Fossil smartwatch technology that could enable hybrid watches. The Hybrid HR looks like it is, indeed, the watch tech that earlier reports thought Google was interested in… and it’s here now.

I will be keeping en eye on this category, because although I like the Hybrid HR, I’m not so keen on round faces and I’d need to get a sense if theres sleep tracking support? Or more so if theres going to be a standard for watch apps like WearOS and the Pebble OS.

The Google Pixel 4 battery needs some help

89% battery on my Pixel4

There is a lot of discussion about the lack of battery for the Google Pixel 4. To be fair its been pretty good to me, but its certainly not the same type of battery life of my pixel2 or nokia8 which lasted a few days at ease.

More details about the battery use
Fedilab what the?

The picture above is with Wifi, Bluetooth (with my pebble, motiv ring attached), NFC,  KDEconnect, dark mode and most of the apps I run daily.

To be fair I don’t use the screen much, relying on my pebble watch, KDEconnect for some interactions.

34% battery on my Pixel4

After a day of usage, I end up with 34% but it claims to last till 8:15 if I decided to keep it going, however I think that would drop massively with my sleep tracking.

Its all workable right now but I do hope they will drop the high refresh rate in favor of better battery life? Its super slick but I was happy with my Pixel2, so I’m not so bothered about higher refresh rates.

As I talk about the Pixel4… here’s a few things which I have done.

I turned off the radar ambient stuff because I found it annoying, so it won’t do the face unlock till I press the power button on the side. As usual I turn off the ambient display because like notification lights/sounds its annoying. The Face unlock is stupidly fast and its worked in almost every single scenario including a pitch black room with no lights. I do find the no eyes quite scary as I do take security pretty seriously and find Google’s lockdown not the most workable thing but its a stopgap. I do wish there was a fingerprint option or something to fill the void between the two, as typing in passwords each time is quite painful, especially when I have some stupid length passwords.

Expect more about the Pixel4 soon…

 

Why I bought the Google Pixel 4?

I decided after watching the Made by Google Pixel event, that its time to upgrade my Pixel 2 with a new phone. The biggest issue I have had with the Pixel 2 recently is the Bluetooth support with my Pebble watch but more importantly the battery life of the phone is down to 18 hours.

The Pixel 4’s camera looks amazing but I was most impressed with the live transcription which google claim works offline and is done completely on the device. This is impressive if it really works, although I expect it won’t be perfect it will be impressive and powerful for myself as a person with dyslexia. Easily overlooked by most people I guess.

There seemed to be more offline and on-device based processing across the google range which is great but I will desperately miss the fingerprint ID because I’m not super keen on the face ID stuff as proven in the recent news.

Google Titan key security problem?

I was sure I tooted/tweet a thank you to the Google team in Berlin’s Re:publica conference. But it looks like it never quite happened due to connectivity issues with the wifi at certain points of the day.

So first of all I want to say thanks for giving me a titan security key for spending time listening to what changes Google had made to their security as announced in Google IO 2019.

I was surprised to see Google there with all the ill feeling about the 5 stacks, their monopoly and business practice.

But before I could get home try the key/system, I saw a bunch of problems with the key.

Google Titan Bluetooth Security Key Can Be Used to Hack Paired Devices

Titan-ic disaster: Bluetooth blunder sinks Google’s 2FA keys, free replacements offered

Obviously I was a little concerned, although I had not added the titan key to my google 2 factor auth yet.

After a bunch of reading, it seems its not completely flawed. The Google security blog confirms my research.

The problem is with the Bluetooth fob which to be honest is super convenient wasn’t the most secure idea in the world. The bluetooth stack is limited in its range but because of that, its not got as much security as most things on the net.

Due to a misconfiguration in the Titan Security Keys’ Bluetooth pairing protocols, it is possible for an attacker who is physically close to you at the moment you use your security key — within approximately 30 feet — to (a) communicate with your security key, or (b) communicate with the device to which your key is paired. In order for the misconfiguration to be exploited, an attacker would have to align a series of events in close coordination:

When you’re trying to sign into an account on your device, you are normally asked to press the button on your BLE security key to activate it. An attacker in close physical proximity at that moment in time can potentially connect their own device to your affected security key before your own device connects. In this set of circumstances, the attacker could sign into your account using their own device if the attacker somehow already obtained your username and password and could time these events exactly.

Before you can use your security key, it must be paired to your device. Once paired, an attacker in close physical proximity to you could use their device to masquerade as your affected security key and connect to your device at the moment you are asked to press the button on your key. After that, they could attempt to change their device to appear as a Bluetooth keyboard or mouse and potentially take actions on your device.

This all being a big mistake, Google has offered a replacement key. However because my key hasn’t been added to my account yet, I get a message saying no action is required but a email to override this. However after double checking my key is a type T3 meaning it wasn’t effected.

Good work Google…

Google starts transcribing podcasts?

Android police podcats transcribed

Google is finally transcribing some podcasts… It made sense a long time ago and its happening for real. No april fools.

Google Podcasts is now automatically generating transcripts of episodes and is using them as metadata to help listeners search for shows, even if they don’t know the title or when it was published.

Its a shame its only for use in Google podcasts, but I guess nothing is free when it comes to tech corps.  I remember thinking Google was going to start doing this when Google talked about podcasts, and what a time to start doing it I guess?

But there are questions about which podcasts are transcribed, is there a waitlist, how do you opt out and of course horrible errors from an automated process.