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.

The good home project in Milan

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I love what Alexandra does, super talented, creative and resourceful. But unfortunately I’m not able to be involved in the goodhome project at this stage. Shes collaborating with other smart people to show a vision of the home in the future which doesn’t scream nonsense wrapped in toilet tissue, like this recent video.

If you happen to be in Milan or going to the Milan furniture fair, make sure you stop by Fuori Salone and visit the Good Home. Wednesday 13th – Saturday 16th April.

Visit our second Good Home during Fuori Salone, the city-wide festival of design that accompanies the Milan Furniture Fair. We will be exhibiting product ideas around the future of the home.

Hope to make up for this in the near future at Mozfest 2016 and maybe London Design Festival 2016.

Highlights of Thinking Digital Manchester

Thinking Digital Manchester

Thinking Digital is a breath taking conference which always wows and has become a stable part of the conference scene in the UK.  It was great to hear that Manchester would play host to the conference, but there was a worry that it wouldn’t live up to the dizzy highs of Newcastle?

Herb and the team set about taking the core elements of Thinking Digital and mixing it with Manchester. The results were great… It made perfect sense, rather than roll into Manchester with a exact formula, they will let it grow and mature like how Newcastle did. The conference took place in the darken space of the largest cinema at HOME, so my pictures didn’t come out too well. It certainly wasn’t the intimate feeling you get in Newcastle but I’m sure that will change and mature over time.

So enough blabbering, lets talk about the highlights…

Thinking Digital Manchester
Eddie Obeng

I missed Eddie when he talked in Newcastle, mainly as he was the first on, the 2nd day but I like his presentation style and what he had to say about counter intuitive thinking. Social media is broken, video conferencing is broken and we are digitally obese from the sugar, salt and fat of the digital era. Aka easy to use, convenience, and free. Very interesting metaphor

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Conrad Wolfram

When ever I hear Wolfram talking about what they have done recently, I always think darn they are really doing stuff I could use within BBC R&D. It certainly was big data to better intelligence. The notion of insight is always a tricky but wolfram certainly seem to be leading this emerging field. Great to see a British innovator leading the field.

Thinking Digital Manchester
Julian Treasure

Julian I wrote about before at another Thinking Digital and his TED talk is something quite special with 4+ million views and very positive comments. Excellent talk and lots to think about when talking with purpose, which to be fair should be a lot of the time really.

Thinking Digital Manchester
LJ Rich

Herb must say to LJ, you have this much time and yes to anything you want. Shes an amazing woman with some seriously amazing ideas. Her thoughts about looking at the other senses, is exactly what I’ve been thinking for a long while. Why does Media have to be visual and audible? What about media which you feel and or smell?

LJ crafted a performance which was amazing to hear and see but also tightly focused around what you feel too. This was done with popping candy. At the right moment we all put the popping candy on our tongues and were treated to a wonderful symphony of interactive glitching with audio and video, representing a meteor storm.

I can only start to express how this all connected together to create a immerse experience like nothing else I can really explain while sitting in your seat.

I had the joy of talking to LJ about maybe doing something together in the future, so watch this space… Its one of those great things about Thinking Digital

Thinking Digital Manchester

Stephen Waddington

Stephen pretty much said most of the things me and Marie talked about in our workshop the day before on increasing your personal impact. There were things which we had to cut short including lots about the Cluetrain Manifesto. I think I was nodding my head through most of his talk, amazing a lot of this hasn’t just made its way into the conciousness of most people by now.

Thinking Digital Manchester
Pam Warhurst

Pam is a force of nature and I have written about her and her incredible (pun intended) work. I also got the chance to point out her wikipedia page is using the photo I shot at a previous thinking digital. I even told her I visited Todmordern purely because of her great work.

This time she talked about her aspirations to build a network joining all the other communities working on similar projects together. She is seeking people to get involved and help with the technical side of it all. I already said I was interested and just waiting for her to get in touch.

The idea of more civic/community driven startups (if thats the right classification) is something I’ve thought about a lot. It also reminds me that I must start that Civic startup manifesto following a conversation I had in BarCampManchester6 and attributing the excellent/crowd storming work the geeks of london did with the hackday manifesto.

Maybe I could link them in some way for the benefit of everybody?

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Tom Chatfield

Tom’s talk was like a episode of Freakonomics live. He covered so much in his talk that I struggled to keep up.

Really interesting to hear about limited mental resources we all have, or as I prefer attention. He went off into a blog post I pretty much wrote a few days ago around swipe left or right culture. Which was a result of the substitution of difficult questions with easy ones (swipe left or right). Then talked about how difficult questions make us feel stupid and somehow ended up with what are we and physical stuff is a feature not a bug.

Good talk, wish I spent some more time at the social chatting to him. I was sandwiched between Wolfram and Tom, and to be fair I thought it would be better if they were sitting next to each other.

Thinking Digital Manchester
Lemn Sissay

Another new person I have never seen or heard of, till about half way through his talk. Reminded me of Jason Silva in his poetic wording and unique style.

Like Tom, so much was said and indicated, it was hard to tie the talk down to one singular thing. But the diversity aspect was well said and had me silently clapping and grinning.

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I wrote down uniqueness and quality on my mindmap for Lemn’s talk, very fitting. Interesting the effect of uniqueness. I recently had a lot of comments about my latest trainers (Adidas Spring blades).

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Thinking Digital Manchester was a very good conference with lots to take away, it doesn’t quite yet touch the legendary Newcastle events but I remember the original Thinking Digital in 2008, I can imagine in a few years time, it will be another jewel in the Thinking Digital crown. Home is a excellent venue with the bar, food and plenty of social space. But the cinema layout doesn’t have a patch on the sage two’s theatre. Imagine Thinking Digital Manchester in the royal exchange…now that would be something!

Regardless, the whole event was run very well and you felt like there was just not enough time in the day. It was seamless even with the new rash of technical faults (never happens at TDC usually). The format also worked well, but I did feel the social did need more emphases, as a lot of people didn’t realise the main social was on the night before the conference. Which makes for some fuzzy mornings I can imagine.

Excellent work Herb Kim and team… Me and Marie are looking forward to coming back with a even better workshop next year

The global connected village at Mozfest

Mozfest 2014

In two weeks time (November 7-8th) I’ll be spacewrangling once again in for Mozfest 2015.

Sometimes I think I must be crazy but its always amazing how everything comes together on the weekend. You are literately fielding the water with your hands into channels, but far down the river, it all collects into a massive lake of tranquillity and calm.

This year, we are not just running an area, like last year. Oh no that was too easy (I of course joke) nope this year its the global (connected) village which is about 5-6 connected spaces.

What is the Global Village? A collection of self-contained but interconnected places from around the world where participants at Mozfest meet, learn and tinker with tomorrow’s places. The Global Village cultivates leading practitioners to build, teach and advocate for an Internet of things that empowers its users.

Turn off your screen. Close your book. End that meeting. Pick up a sketchpad, a pair of scissors, a hot-glue gun, some parcel tape and come cry “If We Build It They Will Come.” This is a springboard for tomorrow and welcoming place for those inclusive citizens and communities.

The spaces each take a part of the home (note I say home not house) and are then run by friends of  For example our big space which connects to all the others is a library (or even study if you restrict it down to a house). Each unique space will explore the future of that space and challenge the typical notions which make up the future home. The spaces will be littered with provocations and there will be themes around narrative, diversity, inclusion, connection,  wellness and humanity.

If you don’t have a ticket for Mozfest 2015 yet, its time to get one before they sell out.

What a waste of all that power…

Xbox

Adrian retweeted a post from the Guardian about Microsoft commissioning original content and popular stuff like Game of Thrones.

Microsoft’s move into original programming pitches it deep into Netflix and Amazon territory in the battle to control the living room. The company has so far publicly revealed a slate of just six shows that will air on its Xbox games console – including a Steven Spielberg-produced TV series based on its hit game franchise Halo, a documentary on former console giant Atari, and a remake of Swedish scifi drama Humans in conjunction with Channel 4. However, the intention is to build a TV powerhouse.

My instant thought was… what a waste of all that power. Not only processing power but sensors and data. In my opinion, if Microsoft were smart they would commission content which is perceptive. Make it exclusively for xbox users and narrow the gap between TV and Games. For goodness sake they already have the ability to layer graphics over the top of programming using the HDMI pass through!

Its almost a crying shame that they have all this in place but seem doomed to follow the rest of the industry. Specially with all those patents they have in this area!

Disruptive this is not… yes another step towards another stack growing but not a leap forward

Google buys a Nest

Well well, remember when Kevin Rose interviewed Matt Rogers from Nest… very telling indeed

It just hit and everyone on twitter is saying Google buying Nest for 3.2 Billion dollars is far too much.

I think its high but not insane.

Here’s why… Google has been a data service for a long while, they aimed to revolutionise the mobile market, kicked started the driverless car thing, recently bought Motorola’s manufacturing arm and now there making a real play for the internet of things by buying Nest. They also did this before Apple got there polished hands all over them. I’m actually surprised they didn’t do something in this area already.

The internet of things powered by the juggernaut of cloud based data and logic is something closer to the reality of the semantic web (or even the singularity dare I say it) than anything before it.

Can you even imagine the data, usage patterns and algorithms which will be built. And its all in the home! Trust me 3.2 Billion isn’t too bad.

Scary or exciting?

Who knows but like Google Now it will divide opinion. The best services always do.

As for the big price tag? Well like Youtube, I’m sure in years to come it will look like a total steal.

My home network explained again

My Home network setup

So this is a turn around from my now usual ranting about dating…

Last Friday, we were in the northern quarter and some how got around to talking about networking. I mentioned I had 3 gigabit switches and everyone asked why the heck have you got 3 gigabit switches? To which I tried to explain, very badly. So I promised to do a diagram of why I need those switches and not just extra long cables.

So here it is… Funny enough its not the first time I’ve explained my home networking setup. With a little more time I might have done something a lot more attractive.

First thing is the rooms are serial not exactly how you see them above. Aka the bedroom is as far away from the living room as possible and the spare room is in the middle of them both. Ok maybe I should consider redrawing them… The ADSL2 line works best off the main socket in the cupboard (Its how I can achieve my 1.5meg upload consistently rather that 1meg upload). The next room with power is the spare bedroom, where the ADSL2+ router lives. The router is only 10/100, so I use it just as a modem but I’ve recently been turning on the 54G wireless and using it for guest connections. Turns out at the time it was very difficult to get a ADSL router with gigabit wired points, might not be true 2 years later.

The next step into the network is the WRT firmware upgraded Switch complete with 108N wireless. Because its running WRT I can do many things like Quality of Service (QoS), VPN and port knocking for remote access. I class this part the inners of my home network.

Due to the room layouts, I’ve decided to string the network together by putting a gigabit switch in each room. This means I only have to feed one cable room to room rather than 4+. As you can see I have about 4 devices in the bedroom and living room and thats not including a spare one for guests.

So why wired and not wireless? As I live in a set of flats, theres a lot of people with those BT/Sky boxes on random channels (would show how messy it is but you can imagine). The wireless is good but not really for sending full HD videos to my TV without waiting 5 secs for it to buffer and maybe some pauses in the middle. If I switch to wired 100megbit networking, its fine but if I start to do a large transfer over the network, for example if I’m working on some footage on the server at the same time, its noticeably slower and you may get slight pauses. Now I’m certain it might actually be a IO issue with my 54000rpm disks. But I get nothing like this with my gigabit network.

Once I went Gigabit, everything just worked smoothly. I don’t ever see any latency issue, even when streaming stuff to the Xbian in the bedroom at the same time. I once did a test of both my Lenovo XBMC and RaspPI playing Inception at 1080p with me pulling the same file to my laptop. Although the PI struggled playing it back, everything seemed to work as expected. I bought into Gigabit at the point when it just dropped in price. My laptop, Server, Lenovo XBMC box, etc have gigabit ports so it was a no brainier really.

I am keen to try out 802.11AC but right now my main focus is to replace my Lenovo XBMC box which outputs in VGA to the LED screen. This is why I was trying out Simon’s Ouya. I already removed all other desktop machines from the network (got 3 mini desktop machines in the spare room to get rid of).

So thats the crux of why I got 3 gigabit switches…

Feel free to talk about other solutions but they need to be cheapish and not interfere with much else. Its worth pointing out the runs of cables between the rooms are roughly 20meters long. I will at some point drill into the walls but not quite yet. Finally I looked into powerline solutions but there pricey and I’m not sure of how good they are in a set of flats. Think I prefer a ethernet cable, as I would end up with a setup similar to what I have now.

Changes to the home network

Just about to make a number of changes to my ageing network.

First up, its time to upgrade my XBMC box in the living room, to something more modern and smaller. Right now I’m using a Lenovo Thinkcentre  A55 mini desktop machine to something smaller and can handle full HD without struggle (specially now I got my new full HD TV). A friend has suggested the Feteko MyGica EnjoyTV 510B, but what puts me off is the 10/100 networking and it runs Android.

My home network backbone is gigabit and most devices are gigabit including the Thinkcentre but after doing some recent reading and tests, I have concluded that the speed of reading data off the hard discs is slower than pushing it around the network. I was using NFS mounts for a while which seemed more efficient but I’ve switched back to Samba after not really understanding how NFS mounts work correctly and installing Plex Home server. Seems my Samba setup isn’t caching as much as I would have liked. This all in all means 10/100 device should be ok to receive media from around the network.

Android? My biggest issue with Android as the background operating system is I’m not certain its as flexible as Ubuntu and XBMC is still in beta on Android. Because this is my main XBMC box, it needs to be super reliable and play everything. I do want to get the live TV functionality in the Frodo release of XBMC working too.

On top of all that… I’m also looking to firmware of the Edimax BR-6574N router I have to the classic DD WRT firmware, mainly because I want to sort out a VPN into my home network.

Yes quite a few changes… luckily I got to use up my holidays before April

Fan Art on everything…

I love movies and decided a long time ago to hang them in my living room instead of the usual pictures.

However recently I’ve grown tired of the movie posters. There always too brash in my mind or don’t include the parts which are movie defining.

I got the idea a while ago to blow up Fan Art using Rasterbator and then replace my crappy movie posters with them. It might seem slightly cheeky but if I’m not replacing any of the attribution and I’ll happily point to where I got the art. I know Deviantart do sell poster sizes of some of the art but I quite like the rugged non-descript way Rasterbator makes Fan art.

So for my first piece I did one for Inception…

I used PosteRazor which is one of the most ugly linux apps I’ve ever used (but it does the job) and created a A2 sized poster out of some excellent Fan Art. Then bought an Ikea frame.

The result is…

Inception poster

And this is only the start… Not bad for the first attempt, although the line up isn’t right and I’m not so happy with the framing…

Certainly like the idea of changing the art around every once in a while too

My new home in New Islington

The stunning view from my new flat (islington wharf)

So I’ve finally got the new flat about right, there was plenty of unpacking and even more putting together of furniture thanks to my great parents and lovely friends Sheila and Glyn (who traveled all the way up from London to see me and help me move in, I will never forget that)

I just last Friday put up the last piece of Ikea furniture (the Lack coffee table) and shifted things around in the flat. I expect theres plenty more shifting needed for everything to fit and work in the spaces I have put them in. I still have a ton of flatten Cardboxes in my main bathroom because the recycling is totally filled up and there too large to take somewhere else for recycling.

One of the best parts about the new flat is the amazing view I have in the main room. There is 2 walls of double glazed glass so you really get a fantastic view of North East Manchester (including the New Islington area aka Ancoats). I can easily see the Manchester City stadium, Chips (the weird shaped urban splash flats), 3Towers (another urbansplash set of buildings), Tutti Furti (the self build scheme), Royal Mills flats, the new east Manchester tram line and lots more. On a clear day, you can see the mountains/hills which are the start of the pennines which split Leeds from Manchester. The clouds are also pretty amazing at this height. You can almost see the rain clouds coming in slowly and the thunder storm we recently had was pretty impressive. You could almost see the lightning hit the ground in some places. Wish I had found my camera earlier, as it was simply stunning.

So if you didn’t know already, I bought this place. So I’m now a home owner again. I won’t say how much I got the flat for but its a very reasonable deal with the old governments homebuy scheme. Unfortunately I can’t recommend it much because the new government got rid of it on the 1st August. Its a good scheme no wonder they killed it off. Either way, my monthly mortgage is well below my rent for the other place, I’m actually quite shocked how low it is. Of course its fixed for the next few years, which should give me plenty of time to re-morgage at a lower rate in the future.

All in all, I’m really enjoying the new pad at islington wharf and friends of me look out for the flatwarming party which will most likely take place in the secret garden instead of my flat. If the weather keeps up, I might turn it into a massive bbq instead….