Showing posts from 2013

Robotics to make life better: Sockrates debut

It can't be any surprise to any of my friends that I love the point where electronics and the physical world collide. And robotics is part of this.

Hence my Arduino controlled heating at home, my banana clicker, my HTTP light bulbsCAT6 Christmas lights and cyborg stories.

So, you can't imagine how excited I am to see some public rumours (I don't have more Google Internal information *yet*) on what Andy Rubin is up to now. Automation.

So - as a tribute to Andy and an early "Merry CHRISTmas" to you all, here's another Biehler invention... just for fun, inspired by a singing dog in a shop window nearby.

For those interested (really?) in the tech behind it... it's deadly simple.

Now I can formally claimed that I've shared some of my (not so) dirty laundry on YouTube :)
If only I can get that robot to sort out the socks, find the missing ones and put them away...

Tip for Hangout lighting...

I've recently made my son a lego camera. It's just an OLD camera lens, and a lego caddy that could be adjusted to carry the lens backwards and forwards (focus), and a piece of paper as a "display" or target. And then some more lego to enclose it so that we don't have too much stray light.

What struck me with this thing, was again the importance of light. More light, better photos.

And the same goes for Hangouts. When you do a Hangout (and I'm sure the same will apply to Skype or Facetime or whatever you choose...), make sure there is light pointing *to* you. The standard mistake is to simply sit with your back to the window. Don't. That means your face is in the shadow, the camera get fooled by a lot of light (from around your face), and it's just dark..

Like this...

The picture above was taken while sitting on the red sofa in Google CSG, London. Instead, I moved to the blue seat, and now the light comes in from the window to light up my face. And no…

Printing Glass

And then, of course, there are other ways to get Google Glass, if you wanted some, but did not yet manage to get yours... and you are not happy with the #Lego version...

Just print your own.

A Googler colleague just asked me: "Do they work?"  And the answer, I guess, depends on what you want to achieve, what you hoped they would deliver...
(Now that I've done both, I think the Lego version is much more flexible, agile, smooth and colourful... now #ifonlyihadglass for real...)

Google Glass (made from Lego)

Continuing on from the theme on things I did when entertaining an audience at #GoogleATU on Friday... (also see banana and homopolar motor)

#ifIhadglass I would not have had to do this, but since I don't have glass, I had a problem. On numerous occasions I wanted to show off and talk about Google Glass in the broader context of new form factors, innovation, wearable computers, internet of things or #whenamapisnotamap.

What do you do if you want glass, and don't have it? (BTW - Working at Google has not yet solved that problem for me either... but I'm not giving up hope!)

Until then, the solution for me has been to build my own with lego.

OK Google?

Step 1:

Step 2:

Step 3: Step 4:

Step 5: Stick this to your glasses with blue tac.
I've done this at a few events, and people just assume it's the real thing. On one occasion, the customer even asked me to try it on. I detached the lego & blue tac, and handed this to the customer... who then took it (carefully as if …

Banana clicker recipe

Next up, following from the Homopolar motor, is the banana clicker.

This is a great way to impress your audience at any presentation, so I'll now need to find another trick... but I'll share this with you for your pleasure... just don't tell anyone until you've used this to impress your next audience.

Instead of using a fancy clicker to advance your slides, use your banana.

In short: buy this (or one of these), plug it in, connect banana and impress.

In a bit more detail (and cheaper set-up): An Arduino has a USB plug, and can pretend to be a computer USB keyboard if it is running this program. (You could buy or build your own Arduino, and just download the open source code...)
The code effectively looks for conductivity between connectors, and when it measures conductivity, it sends the "key press". A banana conducts (providing you hold on to the other (ground) wire... or you can hook it up to ideally a steel lectern). Other fruit works too, do experim…

Simplest motor - screw, magnet, wire and battery.

I've recently presented some fun bits at a Google Event (#GoogleATU), and I had so many requests for more info, that I decided I'll write up my tricks for all to enjoy.

if ((technology == magic) && (magician's code))
  return (void);           // nah, ignore

First up: Homopolar motor. It's not my idea, I have to confess. It was Farraday's idea and he first did this demo in 1821.

What do you need:
1) A battery. Round ones work best. Just take a normal AA battery, one that you won't mind throwing away, as you'll pull a lot of current through it.
Expert tip: For best results, find one where one of the poles on the battery is not perfectly flat. You ideally want it to be a bit rounded or with a slight tip on it to reduce the friction with the screw
2) A screw.
Expert tip: This could be a nail or anything else really, but it needs to a) conduct electricity and b) magnetic field. You want one that is as heavy as your magnet can hold. Too heavy, and it will f…

Crowd funding works

It's no secret that I'm Arduino crazy. And I've got (and need) a few.

One I bought from Farnell for about £17. Then I learnt how I could build my own on a bread board, and then I just finished a soldered version on protoboard yesterday.

The DIY route is cheaper... and the components probably cost me about £10, plus several hours of labour. But the cheapest and best option, was this Indiegogo "$9 Arduino". It's my first experience of putting my own, real money in some crowd-funded project, and the results are stunning:

On 26 July, I paid $22 for two Arduinos, and the promised delivery date was 20 September. The campaigned got 14x the backing planned (target $12k, actual $164 401), yes delivered on time, and increased the value to me (because of the greater backing received) by adding more goodies for free. And the kit works as expected, so I'm super impressed.

This certainly would not have happened without a really dedicated project manager Harold Timmis,…

Atmega328 Avery labels

I'm running a class on Arduino at Google for Googlers... and this came in very handy today in remembering which pins are which... printed to Avery 7x2 labels.
End result looks something like this:

Arduino without arduino

Atmega328p is the brains of an Arduino and could be used on it's own.
1) (Once only) Burn bootloader
2) Program is by plugging into your Arduino Uno board
3) move to breadboard by just providing power and an external clock.
Have your favourite blink program running for £3.

I'm hooked on Arduino. It allows me to have a touch pad (made of foil) to toggle my LED strips in my house on and off, to have a laser trip-wire in my front garden, control my heating and provide a cool flickering-fire effect night light to my kids... but with only one Arduino board, I can only do one of these at a time.

First, I got excited about Arduino at <£20. But many times <£20 is still a lot. Then I got excited about the <$10 Arduino, and ordered a few (due for delivery very soon, I'm told).

And then, thanks to a Google-run electronics course, I discovered what many others know already. You can have all the benefits of a micro controller without an Arduino... just buy a ..…

Ask not what I can tell them... ask what they want to hear

One of the things that energize me most, is to deliver a compelling and memorable presentation to a large audience. When Amit Singh (Google, President: Enterprise) recently referred to these Forbes tips, I thought it's worth forwarding them, as I think they serve as a great reminder how to deliver a great speech.

(This picture was taken at Aalborg, Denmark. I can recall the moment... pausing... and having the audience attentively wait in anticipation. What fun!)

And it also reminded me of some of my worst speeches. Many moons ago (and when I still had no grey hair) I delivered a keynote at a Gartner Symposium on Collaboration, where I woefully misunderstood the brief, and prepared a sales pitch instead of an industry analysis. And to make matters worse: As I realised I'm going down, tried to redeem my poor judgement with some lousy humour. Oh dear!

Right - let me get back to prep from my presentation later this week in Madrid!

Meeting new inspiration

I've just had the fantastic opportunity to meet with two young and very talented people that friends at Telegraph is coaching.
I just love coaching people: It's such a rewarding experience to help someone develop! And hats off to teachers who do that day in and day out (when paperwork and red tape allows).

Thanks for your time today, Jennifer and Ross!

NASA SmartSatellites based on Nexus S

I remember Bill Gates on stage at a Microsoft employee conference talking about the progress in computing power, and how he envisaged that the humle Windows CE (or Pocket PC at the time?) could power everything...
He had a Windows CE phone device with an external keyboard and TV screen, which basically was a sub $300 "computer" for emerging markets. And he mentioned (probably before 2000) how satellites could potentially run off Windows CE. How sad (for Microsoft) that they did not capitalise on the opportunity they had then. Where they just too early, or where the execution and focus just not there?
(I also remember saying that Google and phone would never work :) )

I've been dreaming of sending a phone into space, but it's been done so many times, that I'm not sure just replicating it would be much of a challenge... I'm hunting for that special twist that will make it much more interesting.

More seriously, NASA is now doing it too... powering a satellite w…

Spotify is back!

I've been an early Spotify fan, and recently presented on behalf of Google, sandwiched between Apple and Spotify Executive presentations in Denmark. But... I had to call good bye to Spotify some time ago when I've moved over to being 100% on the web, loving my Chromebook. (I've been using Grooveshark since then.)
Today, a friend told me that Spotify is back... and there is a browser-only version of Spotify that works fine on my Pixel or Chromebox. And I'm writing this post while listening to some cool notes...

Thank you Spotify!

Home automation plan progress

So, as mentioned before, I've embarked on building a custom home automation solution. Why? Because I can't find anything that will do all I want it to do. So, by having a custom solution that can talk GPIO, Serial and Ethernet... and possibly a few extra bits via GPIO (such as IR, RF, Zigbee and more), I can also hook in Hue and EasyHome and more...

I'm glad to report that I'm making good progress. I've got the bare bones working:
My Arduino can switch things on and off, dim things and follow instructions. It's the core brain in my set-up. It does some of the switching through some opto coupler relays, and I can later do more like IR and RF, and have some LEDs connected through PWM to do dimming.

But because it does not talk natively to the outside world well, I'm using a serial interface to a Raspberry Pi (via USB). And on the Pi, I'm running Apache and I've built a simple API that will allow me to call it via commands like http://pi/switch.php?re…

Pixel's hidden beauty Easter egg

I've always been a fan of corporations poking fun at themselves and making, creating, engineering fun. The Pixel is a thing of beauty and design, and as Google's own site claims... it's got some LEDs "just to make it look cool". And today, I found a fun way to fire up these LEDs beyond the subtle glow that it normally gives.
On the Pixel keyboard (not an external keyboard) tap the following:
<up> <up> <down> <down> <left> <right> <left> <right> b a
Now I've got another way to get attention in a meeting :)

A single pixel don't often get me this excited...

I'm posting this from a Pixel, and have my first chance to get my hands on it... and I'm impressed!

Why? It's really well made and beautiful. The screen is exceptionally sharp, and the machine is lighting quick. Opening up my gmail account was instantaneous... no wait, no loading screen... and this is on a machine that has never seen me before.
Back lit keys, key weight, screen image (from any angle), touch pad surface, build quality all count towards just a beautiful, slick experience.

And I'm sure the touch screen will just become the norm over time. Triaging a few emails by touching the screen made for a welcome change, and it's very usable.

I like it! On the down side: I'm looking forward to a UK keyboard, more touch geasture aware sites and built-in 3G or faster mobile data access.

Would I buy one now? If money was no object, absolutely!

Speed of development (Arduino, Raspberry Pi and Hue)

I've got a big plan to build a all singing & dancing lighting (& automation) system for our new home, and decided to use Arduino to act as controller unit (with lots of IO). I got hold of an Arduino board, and within a few hours of playing with it, I've got my own code on the Arduino now switching on/off a couple of relays based on other sensors.
Next, in order to control the lighting from a tablet or phone, I wanted some way to address the Arduino via an IP network, some JSON API or something. One option is to get the Ethernet shield for Arduino, but as it was as expensive as a Raspberri Pi, I opted to buy the Pi. In again less than two hours of playing, I've got my RPi up and running with an Apache web server that I can interact with.

The point is this: In under a week elapsed time (including shipping!), just spending a few hours in the evening in front of the TV, with no prior knowledge of Arduino or Raspberry Pi or even any prior Linux experience, it was easy …

My light bulbs now respond to HTTP requests

I recently bought Hue Light bulbs, and I am very excited about the possibilities of these bulbs. And, as hoped, they can (subject to deep pockets as they cost £50 per bulb!) become the backbone of a nice lighting system @ home.
Essentially, these are LED light bulbs that just screw into a 220V light bulb socket. (Cheap, compact bayonet cap converters are available.) They switch on/off like a normal light bulb, but save a bit of energy and fade in/out so it's a bit nicer.

But wait. There's more. They can change colour too. And all can be controlled by an iPhone or Android app. And the idea is that you can set up a scene that has one corner of your room a bit more red, and the rest a bit more orange so that you get the feeling the sun is setting right in your living room, or blue & white to remind you of your Greek holiday...

Technically, the bulbs contain some Zigbee 2-way device to device communication that talks to the Philips Hue hub. The hub connects via Ethernet to yo…

My Chromebook now does dual screen

On turning on my Chromebook at work today (I don't bother brining my Mac to work any more), I noticed that, instead of the usual screen mirror or switch, I can now view my desktop on *both* my Chromebook screen and external monitor with no problem... at full resolution, just like what Windows or a Mac could do.

If you spend most of your time on the web, a Chromebook really becomes more and more compelling!

Science of persuasion

Thanks for the tip +Allister Frost - the "Science of persuasion" is a good reminder of the things we could be doing every day to increase our ability to influence.