Archive for Life

Exclusive: Intel announce new 3D-MAN’D memory technology!

I am incredibly proud to bring you the news that Intel have chosen Tekhead.it exclusively to announce their new memory technology today, known as 3D-MAN’D!

Information on this new technology is still reasonably scarce, but Intel have informed us that the new semi-volatile memory can provide automated selective filtering of data both inline and at rest, with snapshots, deduplication and compression enabled via an addon “alcohol” license.

Other data services such as replication are in the pipeline, and Intel will tell you about that when you’re old enough!

The technology is capable of storing billions of transactions, images, and movies for up to 100 years, though latency is wildly variable, and tends to degrade over the lifetime of the media.

Lastly, the solution is based on a serial interface, so application developers will need to rewrite code to avoid multi-threading / multi-tasking as this can cause corruption of data.

brain-inside

Exciting times ahead!

UPDATE: For more information on this ground-breaking technology, please see Intel’s own announcement here.

UPDATE2: Great news! We have another exclusive update / correction from a senior source at Intel:

100th post and time for a change…

Wow! Little did I think that when I posted my first couple of silly posts in May 2010, that 6 years later I would actually be doing this thing on a regular basis and that it would have given me so many amazing learning and networking opportunities!

I originally built the blog both to remind myself of stuff by blogging about it and to test out running Ubuntu in my homelab; more fool me however, I chose Joomla as my CMS platform…

I’m sure it’s a great product, but frankly as a novice blogger it was really not a friendly platform, which discouraged me from actually using it, and for the first two years I managed a sum total of three posts! Woohoo!

I then made what was in hindsight, a very sensible decision to switch to WordPress. Since then I haven’t looked back… averaging a couple of posts every month for the past 4 years.

Novice Blogger

The funny thing I have found about blogging over this time is that I do this mostly for the enjoyment of writing and sharing information etc, yet I find myself in a permanent state of mental flagellation over not producing enough content or publishing often enough.

Like everyone I have my excuses, not least my two small children and crazily busy job, but I do what I can! I am always in awe at the amount of content some bloggers manage to generate, whilst still staying sane and having a personal life!

I don’t believe I’m the only one who feels like this… Perhaps we should start a support group and give the condition a name? How about “Bloggers Contrition”?

New Post

Anyway enough jabbering…

As to the title above, if you are a regular visitor to the site you may already have noticed some small changes going on with the domain name and titles. I am not rebranding, but I felt that switching from .org to .it and dropping the www was a nice way to give the site a bit of a refresher going into 2016.

http://tekhead.it/blog

The process itself will probably take me a couple of weeks to complete as I want to make sure I have all of the right 301 redirects in place before the final switch, but I am not anticipating this being a huge issue. If for any reason you happen to spot any of the content becoming unavailable, please let me know via a wee tweet!

Anyhoo, I’ll just wrap up by saying thank you all very much for allowing me to continue ranting on this little corner of the internet and for all the positive comments and feedback over the years. I shall endeavour to keep it up – if I can think of anything to write about!

And now for something completely different… British Gas Hive Smart Thermostat Review

Having recently had the Hive smart thermostat system installed in our house by British Gas, I’ve been asked by a handful of people subsequently as to whether it is any good, so here are a few notes to that end… being a thermostat review of course, it does have the potential to be the most boring blog post ever! With that in mind, if you have narcoleptic tenancies or have pretty much anything else to do, I suggest you stop reading now!

Installation
We didn’t get off to a great start as there were some scheduling issues with BG getting the right engineer to come and complete the fitting (not all of their engineers are currently trained to do so). That aside, the actual install was relatively quick and simple, with a minor niggle when the engineer had to contact the Hive team to reset the device and get it to make its original connection “back to base”.

The thermostat is also completely wireless (using standard AA batteries), so we we’re able to relocate it as part of the installation, into our living room. Point to note, it is ideally meant to be installed at a height of 1.5m from the floor, something which our engineer didn’t actually mention when fitting it below this height. The wireless feature is very handy though, as the location of our old wired thermostat was not ideal and this will now more accurately allow us to control the temperatures based on where we spend the most time.

Functionality
Ultimately it’s a thermostat, so functionally it simply:

  • Turns our upstairs hot water on and off on a schedule (downstairs is on demand already).
  • Turns the heating on until it reaches the defined temperature.

But, compared to a standard on/off thermostat, it also:

  • Allows different temperatures at different times of day, instead of just being based on whatever temperature your legacy thermostat is currently set to.
  • Has built in freeze protection, so even if you turn it off when you leave the house, if the temperature drops below 5 degrees, it will automatically turn on your heating; very useful indeed!
  • Geolocation – Can use your current location (via the smart phone app) to turn your heating on / off depending on whether you are in the house, or within a specified distance of it.

Usability
Between myself using the app and my wife using the wall unit for the past week I can confirm that it is fine, but the wall unit UI is not quite as intuitive as it perhaps could be. For example changing the current scheduled temp will temporarily show the desired temp, then switch back to showing the current temp. This led my wife to believing that it had not accepted her new temp! Perhaps a better UI would have been to show both temps (current and target) on the same screen in different size fonts…

I have not yet tested the Geolocation feature so won’t comment on that yet, other than that I hope Hive are not keeping a track of your location history on their systems – this is not made clear on their FAQ website and would be a bit creepy if they were!

Configurability
Temperature on the thermostat can be set to the nearest 0.5 degrees, which is granular enough for us.

The only minor bugbear I found was that the original firmware delivered was based on a 4-slot schedule. For example:

  • 0600-0900
  • 0900-1600
  • 1600-2300
  • 2300-0600

That’s all very well if you are out during the day every day or want the same temperature most of the time, but what about weekends, or even if you have young children at home during the day. The recently added functionality to the system is a 6-slot schedule. So now you can have (for example):

  • 0600-0900
  • 0900-1200
  • 1200-1400
  • 1400-1600
  • 1600-2300
  • 2300-0600

This is much more useful, particularly for heating. I have found the 4-slot schedule perfectly adequate for the hot water schedule.

Customer Service
So far my only interaction with customer services was when I posted a tweet that I could really do with the 6-slot schedule (not rolled out to everyone at this point). A very polite customer agent at Hive picked up on my tweet:

He got my account details via DM, pushed out a firmware update to my device to add the functionality, and DM’d me again to let me know when it was updated a couple of hours later. How about that for customer service?!

Performance
The app can be a little slow refreshing your current heating status and temperature at times, even on a decent 3G connection and occasionally even on wifi. Other than that it’s pretty quick and easy to use. Telling the thermostat to increase the temperature usually results in the boiler kicking in 5-30 seconds later.

Security
As I understand it, Hive uses the fast growing industry standard ZigBee protocol, which uses 128-bit AES encryption for its communication between devices.

The hub itself is apparently an AlertMe SmartHub Nano, which runs a variant of Linux. This should be reasonably secure assuming it has been locked down, and that BG provide regular security patching to the device, especially in light of recent major security issues such ShellShock. Ultimately the device does not require you to open inbound ports on your router, so assuming all comms between hub and central system are SSL encrypted as they are with the apps, then it’s no less secure than your laptop accessing a secure website over wifi.

Money Saving & Costs
It’s too soon to tell whether it has saved any real money, but I do know that with the more specific schedules than we could achieve with our old thermostat I think it is likely that it will save money. Whether we get close to the claimed £150 pa on the website, I’m not convinced, but even if it only achieves a third of that, then it should pay for itself within 3 years.

The system comes with a one year warranty. Beyond that we use British Gas HomeCare, so any issues are covered by BG as part of our service plan. If you are not using BG HomeCare, then your mileage and potential costs may vary!

Moving House
Interestingly, if you move house or move into a house which has a hub, you can still use the standard thermostat functionality and configure it using the wall unit, but you would need to buy a new hub to get the online and app features, which seems somewhat unreasonable and wasteful to me!

Conclusion
Overall I’m pretty happy with the system and I think it will likely save some money in the long run, whilst providing a more convenient experience and comfortable home. My wife is less so, but then again, she still uses a BlackBerry!

Fingers crossed it lives up to expectations and that reliability proves good over the coming months and years!

Tools to Reduce Information Overload – Part 1 – RSS & Podcasts

Like many in the IT industry I am finding more and more that keeping up to date with the latest technology advances, whilst remaining sane and keeping my wife from killing me, is becoming trickier by the day! Between the tens or hundreds of blogs, podcasts, Twitter, Facebook (ok that’s more personal, but you get the idea!) feeds, its hard to both a) manage that information, and b) keep up with the sheer volume. This is especially true when you consider the volume of brilliant content being produced by bloggers within the virtualisation / Cloud (gag) industry alone…

I used to be fortunate enough to work from home 80% of the time, which meant that it was relatively easy to keep up with all the different streams, feeds, etc by simply having a second machine and screen up and running when in the house. Since starting a new role as a Solution Architect, I am lucky to be at home one day every few weeks, so I have been forced to rethink my strategy.

Devices
I have always been a bit of a fandroid, however after starting the new role, I was presented with a shiny new iPhone! After I got back from gagging in the loo, I had to think about how to integrate the Apple app ecosystem into my current Android (tablet and phone) setup, so the number one requirement moving forward was that apps should be able to communicate, access and share information outside of their walled gardens!

Having done some fairly in-depth research on different free and paid apps available on both Android and iDevice, I have re-jigged my setup for each information stream as follows:

Blogs / RSS Feeds

My old method for keeping up with blogs was to simply add them into Outlook’s built-in RSS reader. This was brilliant as you can then assign Outlook rules to feeds, to remove any junk articles, or move articles you wish to highlight into other directories –  a superb feature! Unfortunately this doesn’t have any feasible remote access / sync options (other than RDP which I already use if I am online) so I decided to move all my feeds up to Google Reader to track instead. The migration was really simple as I just exported all my feeds (over 50 of them!) from Outlook as an OPML file, which I was then able to import into Google Reader. Much quicker than having to add each manually! The only thing you lose at this stage is their folder structure, but you can then go to Options\Subscriptions and add the blogs into a single layer of subdirectories. I choose to separate mine by subject, e.g. Virtualisation / Networking / Storage / Tech News / Training etc.

Filtering the Junk –  FeedDemon Pro
To get rid of any articles you are / aren’t interested in, you need the ability to mark them as read / unread in your Google feed. After testing a few different apps, the best I found (for now) is called FeedDemon Pro (currently version 4.1). The free version is a a simple RSS reader with tagging, podcast sync, etc but the pro version (paid for) allows you to filter articles as either “mark as read if…” or “mark as read unless…”. The biggest bugbear with this app is that you can only do a positive or a negative filter on each feed, but not both. I would love to see this ability added in future versions, for example I follow the HotUKDeals feed, where I like to keep any post with tags like “SSD”,”Kindle” etc, but I want to remove any posts with the word “Win”, “Competition” etc. This was possible with Outlook, but not FeedDemon, which is a shame.

This app is left running 24/7 on my workstation VM at home, as it is only able to filter content whilst running (obviously). There have been a number of sites which have come and gone over the past few years offering filtering of Google Reader content, but I can’t see there being an easy way to monetise them, which probably explains why they have virtually all gone offline within a year or two. For now I will stick to the local filtering option but if a clear SaaS-type google reader filter emerges and sticks around (such as perhaps FeedRinse), I’d happily take their service (and even pay a couple of quid a year for it!). Frankly I don’t know why Google don’t just add this functionality natively?…

Once the feeds have been filtered, I needed a way to access them on each of my devices. For that I use the following apps (which each mark items read / unread in the feed so they all stay in sync, irrespective of vendor and device!).

Android –  gReader
Not the prettiest interface, but a great app which works on my phone and tablet, and provides all the usual sharing options, plus the ability to offline cache whole articles should you wish to do so. It also has generated voice options so you can listen to blogs if you so wish (e.g. in the car).

iPhone –  Reeder
I really like the nice clean interface, and the huge array of sharing / integration options. For me, this is the app to beat when it comes to mobile RSS reading. If it came to Android I would be first in line to purchase!

PC –  Outlook integrated Google Reader
This takes advantage of Outlooks ability to display whole webpages within Outlook folders. As per this article on Lifehacker “Just right-click on the folder, choose Properties, enter the URL to Google Reader on the Home Page tab, and then check the box for “Show home page by default for this folder”. You can even use the full URL to a specific folder in Google Reader, or create extra folders in Outlook and use a different URL for quick access to different views.”

Podcasts

Many of the above applications will support auto podcast downloading, but to keep things simple and seperate out this high storage requirement (average podcast is 30–100mb in size), I prefer to have a dedicated app. My preference is to listen to podcasts in the car as it passes the time a little quicker on my 35–45 minute journey to and from work, and you can generally listen to a podcast a day that way.

Android –  BeyondPod
My preferred app (which I use solely on my Android) is BeyondPod. This app has been designed brilliantly and integrates perfectly with my car’s audio system via bluetooth, auto playing the current podcast playlist as soon as bluetooth connects, pausing for phone calls, and saving my place when i turn off the ignition ready to continue where it left off on my next journey! In addition it will auto connect my phone to my wireless network overnight and download the latest podcast episodes I have subscribed to, ready to play at my convenience.

I have also just noticed time running away with me, and this article doing the same, so I think I will split this out into a couple of pieces covering Twitter, email and offline reading / Pocket next time. Please feel free to comment on how you manage your feeds or anything else related? More next week!…

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