Archive for the ‘Gadgets’ Category
The subwoofer we had in our home cinema setup died a few weeks ago, so I did my research and found a nice replacement. The only thing I didn’t spot was the fact it never goes into standby if there’s no signal (unlike the old one). I tried using some eco plugs which turn off peripherals when the TV was turned off.. but it learns the TV remote signals, and completely turns the TV off as well.. meaning that you have to hit the power button twice to turn the TV back on; that doesn’t work well with the Harmony all-in-one remote we use.
What I decided to do was buy an Energenie socket, which can be switched on/off wirelessly from a Raspberry Pi. The kit comes with 2 sockets and a transmitter to attach to the GPIO headers on the Pi, and costs about £20.
In my subwoofer scenario I basically want it switched on when the TV is on, and off when the TV is off. The TV has a Chromecast plugged into it which is visible on my local network. If you’ve got a Smart TV on your network, maybe that’ll be visible in the same way. So when the TV/Chromecast appear on the network, we know to switch on the power socket.
Here’s the small Energenie transmitter attached to the GPIO headers on my B+.. it’s pretty tiny and the case I’ve got still fits over the top. Notice the small hole where you can attach an aerial.. if you want extra range, then you’ll need to solder one on.. I added a 135mm wire, since the range I got out of it just wasn’t enough to get from the dining room cupboard to the living room.
To put this together, we can use the Raspberry Pi Network Spy code I wrote in my previous blog posts on element14;
All we need is a new PHP page that’ll call one of the functions we’ve already written.. we need a list of the MAC addresses that are currently visible on the network, then check whether the Chromecast is there. Once we know whether the TV/Chromecast is on or off, we then call a Python script that will turn the Energenie socket on/off.
Here’s the PHP;
The Python script could follow the Energenie example script, but there’s actually an even more simple Python package which I’ve used in this project. To install it I did the following;
sudo apt-get install python-pip
sudo pip install energenie
Then I wrote this helper Python script (which we’ll call from PHP) that accepts a couple of parameters, like this callenergenie.py [on|off] [switch_number];
from energenie import switch_on, switch_off
print ‘Please specify arguments like this callenergenie.py [on|off] [switch_number]’
print ‘eg. callenergenie.py on 1’
print ‘eg. callenergenie.py off 2′
on_or_off = sys.argv
which_switch = int(sys.argv)
print ‘Switching on ‘, which_switch
print ‘Switching off ‘, which_switch
Now that we’ve written the PHP & Python, all we need to do is run the PHP every minute to scan the network and do the switching. We’ll do this using another cron job;
*/1 * * * * sudo /usr/bin/php /var/www/arp-chromecast.php
The latest software update to the Samsung Galaxy S3 upped it to use Android 4.3, but included a whole bunch of Samsung bloatware. From a full charge, it was only taking 20 hours to run down flat, with it feeling slightly warm all the time. There was also a really annoying app that was requesting I sign into Facebook after each restart.
From what I can see, there are a bunch of things that you can disable to improve the battery life & get things back to normal. Here’s what I did;
Go to.. Settings > More > Application Manager > All
Open & disable each of these.. (obviously if you use a particular service, like Dropbox, leave it alone);
Music (the official Top 40 app)
Samsung Backup Provider
Samsung Browser SyncAdapter
Samsung Calendar SyncAdapter
Samsung Cloud Data Relay
Samsung Cloud Quota
Samsung Contact SyncAdapter
Samsung Push Service
Samsung SMemo SyncAdapter
Over the past 3 years I’ve had the Edimax IC-1310 working in my home without many problems. It’s great to be able to monitor the house when I’m away & know that I’ll not have any nasty surprises when I get back.. well at least from a living room point-of-view.
The Foscam range of webcams caught my eye, specifically the FI8910W which can use a wireless network connection, and is steerable. I like the fact that this gives it a lot of placement flexibility.. just needing a power source & off it goes. This newer model has an IR-Cut filter which gives better colour reproduction from it’s predecessor. I paid about £65 for the white version from the official UK-based Foscam distributor; there was a 10% coupon code floating around on the web, which brought the price lower than Amazon.
Here’s what’s in the box;
Initial setup of the camera is supposed to include you installing some Windows app to find the camera’s IP address on your network; my router gives me a list of connected devices, so I chose to forego the app and use the router’s info instead. I could log into the camera once I had it’s IP address, and configured it to connect over wifi, altering a few other settings as I went (disabling the DDNS service, since my Edimax camera is already updating dyndns.org with my externally visible IP).
As long as you’re used to fiddling with things like port forwarding you’ll have everything set up within 10-15 minutes; there’s not a lot to it & these days it’s handy to have a phone on 3G to check things are working correctly. I added a few extra user accounts, and had TinyCam Monitor for Android working in no time at all.. specifying the local network IP on the main settings, and the DynDNS address on the extra 3G settings page.
Being able to steer the camera is really handy.. when you have it pointing in the right direction, you can save it as a preset, both from your browser, or from an app like TinyCam Monitor. I’ve set mine to mostly look out of the back window, but can swivel it round to look into the kitchen & hallway.. even up to the skylights, etc.
The quality of the images is pretty decent, but at 640×480, they’re not exactly HD quality. Motion detection is a tad limited.. even compared to my 3yr old Edimax. There’s no way to specify zones for motion detection, and it only uploads 2 .jpeg files for each motion capture event (the Edimax can upload 5 second videos!).
Annoyingly, even if you turn off the IR LEDs, they’ll switch back on the next time the camera is rebooted.. which is a real pain when the camera is looking out of a window (you only see the bright glare of the LEDs shining back at you!). Hopefully that’ll get fixed in a future firmware update, but I’m not betting on it. Talking of firmware, make sure you upgrade it.. the latest versions include some (unspecified) security fixes.
Overall, I’m still impressed with the camera.. the price point is just right when you compare it with the features and annoying niggles.
For anyone who wants a direct URL to a jpeg snapshot from the camera, then this is the correct URL format;
That should be handy for anyone who has a HTML dashboard page, or a desktop widget that accepts webcam image URLs.
And here’s a sample image from the camera as it points out of my back window.. a window that needs a clean! And yes, that’s a sink plunger on the patio.. for some bizarre reason the kids enjoy playing with this more than the billion toys they’ve got ;)
We have a tablet that we put in a headrest mount for the kids to watch on longer journeys. In the past I attached an FM transmitter so that audio could be fed through the car stereo, and I could control the volume from the dash. The only problem with that was local radio stations in other regions stomping over the FM signal I’d pre-set earlier in the journey.
I bought the Bluetooth audio receiver from Justop. It’s the BTR006 model which apparently has some updated chipset. It’s about £15 on Amazon.
This tiny unit draws power from its built in li-on battery (or any USB port) and when fully charged will allow for 8-10 hours of use, and something like 250 hours of standby.
It was easy to pair up with my Samsung Galaxy S3, and Blackberry Playbook.. both of which will be using A2DP. The signal travels 5-10m without problems, but at extremes, the signal gets scrambled by walls/people. For my use, which is for in the car (tablet with the kids in the back) it works a treat.
The only thing I don’t particularly like is the tiny power socket which uses some non-standard plug instead of micro or mini USB. That’s a real pain when I have loads of micro USB-ended adapters kicking around.
In Feburary 2012, Blackberry updated the OS for their 7″ Playbook tablet to v2.0. This introduced compatailbity with Android-based applications whereby developers can simply repackage, code sign, and submit their Android apps into BlackBerry App World. It also means you can take any Android app (that hasn’t gone through this process) and sideload the app yourself.
Since I develop mobile apps for iOS and Android using the Titanium platform, I was interested in how much effort it would be to get my existing apps working on the Playbook. There are plenty of posts on how to take an APK and sign it correctly for App World, but what took me a while to figure out, was which version on Titanium was compatible with the Playbook.
After some experimentation, I’ve found that if you package your app against Titanium SDK 1.7.5, it’ll work nicely on the Playbook. Version 1.8.x won’t work (hmm, maybe it’s V8 vs Rhino.. V8 definitely doesn’t work…). Certain pieces of code may also cause the app to crash (whereas it won’t crash on a proper Android device). The one thing I hit, was passing url:null, into Titanium.UI.createWindow will crash the app, whereas that’s absoutely fine on iOS and Android.
The other small advantage of using the 1.7.5 SDK is that the resulting APK is a lot smaller, although since the current Playbook only has Wifi this is less of an issue than it is on a mobile phone.
Now we have the APK, you just have to go through the app packaging/signing process as detailed elsewhere on the web, or in Blackberry’s official documentation. This new GUI-based tool looks like a good place to start if you don’t like working from the command line.
The Belkin 54G wireless access point I’ve been using for a few years has been suffering since we extended the house.. there’s just not enough range on it, and it tends to temporarily lock up if it’s hammered a lot.
Finding a replacement took a lot of research, but I eventually decided on the ASUS RT-N56U, costing about £85, after reading some great reviews, including one in PC Pro. It’s worth reiterating that it doesn’t contain an ADSL router.. so if you’re on that type of broadband you’ll still need one of those in your set up. I’m happy with that, since the master socket isn’t where I want to place the wireless router anyway.
Configuration was straight-forward, aided by a decent web interface. As soon as I plugged it in I upgraded the firmware to the latest version from ASUS. I’d also seen that there are unofficial firmwares from a Russian group which are meant to fix a bunch of stuff & add new features. I’m sticking with the ASUS firmware unless I hit stability problems or find that I want to tinker later on. I certainly like the option to have a customised firmware should the need arise.
After having it running for a few days I’m really impressed with the speed and coverage across the house. It allows you to either use one SSID for 2.4Ghz and one for 5Ghz.. which lets you decide which band you want a device to use. Or set the same SSID for both, and it’ll automatically switch you over to the fastest band according to the signal strength. I was in the kitchen, and it connected on what must have been the 2.4Ghz band (due to the distance), then moved to the living room where the speed shot up & was obviously using the 5Ghz band.
Here’s a table showing how the signal strength has been affected by the upgrade;
|Signal Strength (dBm)|
And here’s my unboxing video;
In the last few weeks the price of the Blackberry Playbook has plummeted further, to £169 in the UK from retailers such as PC World. At that price it deserved some research into what it offers & whether it’s worth a look. The tablet itself is solidly built, with a decent amount of processing power & good multi-tasking abilities. There’s an app store that offers a fair number of apps, including the obligatory Angry Birds, Plants vs Zombies, and useful stuff like free VNC clients.
The 7″ screen looks crisp & vivid, and isn’t as cramped as I’d imagined it would be. I’d viewed someone’s Samsung 7″ tablet so knew what to expect. Browsing the web on it is slick & fast, plus it’ll play Flash videos, so iPlayer, 4oD and other sites all work on it without a hitch.
The OS is soon to get v2.0, and that’s where things get even more interesting; that opens the Playbook up to the Android Market, allowing it to run a majority/proportion (not sure which yet!) of Android apps. OS2.0 will also offer MKV support, but what codecs are actually covered is unclear.
Built-in storage is limited to what you initially purchase (e.g. 16Gb), and there’s no SD card expansion. However, if you root the Playbook, there’s a method to add USB-host functionality, allowing you to attach USB flash drives.
A micro-HDMI connector allows it to mirror the display to a TV without proprietary adapters & it just works!
Here’s what you need if you want to hook it up to a TV (a few different cable lengths included):
Micro HDMI to HDMI adapter = £3.56
And here’s what you’d need to connect a standard USB flash drive
For the back of the car, I’ve gone for a generic headset mount that can also mount an iPad:
And to protect it from scratches and minor droppage in the house I bought the official faux leather convertible case, which beats the hell out of the horrible case it ships with.
After a few hours of research I knew it was a good deal, bought one & haven’t been disappointed. It *is* a bargain for what you get :)