Thoughts ahead of the iPhone 7 launch 

So it’s the Apple iPhone launch tomorrow, presumably to be labeled as ‘iPhone 7/plus’. 

Expect to be told it’s the best iPhone yet. And expect to be told that the decision to ditch the 3.5mm headphone jack is because Apple are by nature one of the most forward looking visionary technology companies in the world. 

Prepare to marvel at the incredible duel lens array camera on the iPhone 7+ and be inspired by the ability to shot 4k video at 60 frames per second. Perhaps even let them tell you why you absolutely need 256GB of storage. And expect to be blown away by the new black colour. 

My thinking over the last few months has significantly shifted away from these annual launches. 

Mobile phone technology peaked about three years ago. In my opinion, if your phone is an iPhone 5 or newer, is working fine and still holding its battery charge then keep it.

If you do wish to get a new phone, for the first time in years, I think I’ll genuinely find it difficult to recommend spending Apple iPhone amounts of money anymore. 

Premium prices for premium handsets feels pretty unnecessary in 2016. Companies such as OnePlus offer top spec flagship phones for less than half the price of typical top spec iPhones or Samsung Galaxy lines. 

I’ve reluctantly concluded that the value proposition for an iPhone is no longer there anymore. 

Of course I’ll be watching the launch tomorrow – if only to see how the heck they justify selling a phone without a headphone jack.

Using the web overseas: a field guide

I have spent the last few years of my life overseas. Being a geek, I’ve always been fascinated by the technology that makes life abroad that bit more bearable. So I thought I’d share some of experiences of how I use technology overseas. This post focuses on using the web.

A secure connection: Obvious – I know. But it’s worth stating the obvious. The internet has literally transformed how we communicate and entertain ourselves over recent years. But sadly, the tradition of the open web is changing fast. Services including media streaming and news sites are often limited by geographic location (BBC iPlayer is a good example). In addition to this, countries around the world have differing perspectives on internet freedom. Many countries increasingly choose to intercept citizens web-browsing and sites are often blocked. Much will depend on where you are. For example, if you’re on a public hotspot or on hotel wifi it’s probably not a good idea to download email, use social media sites or do online banking. My approach around this has always been to maintain a VPN account with a UK provider that I trust (or at least trust more than unfettered open internet access). These VPN accounts can cost as little as £5 per month and can be configured on all modern hardware from smartphones through to laptops. As I’m living permanently overseas I’ve gone one step further and actually invested in the ASUS N66U DSL router which includes VPN support. It’s a couple of years old now, so ASUS probably have improved models by now. In effect, all my devices that sit under the router sit on a virtual UK network. This approach enables me to use UK geo-fenced apps on the devices which don’t support VPNs directly, such as my Apple TV and my LG TV.

Mobile connectivity: One of the most frequent questions people ask me is around ‘roaming’. You’ll be surprised, how many people get stung on failing to:  1. turn data roaming off on their mobile phone and 2. underestimating the cost of making and receiving calls outside of the EU.

My advice is simple. If you’re outside of the EU – do not make and receive calls on your UK phone. The first thing to do is pick up a local SIM and pay for a data/SMS/call bundle.  It will almost always be cheaper than using your UK sim. To do this you will obviously need a carrier unlocked phone first – so come prepared.

TuGo: My approach, which I highly recommend is to have an O2 account. O2 launched a few years ago a game changing service called ‘TuGo’. It’s incredible. Basically you can make and receive UK calls/SMS via their TuGo app on your smartphone or tablet. Essentially, all you need is some form of internet connection (fixed line/wifi or cellular).  I use it daily and the service is exceptional.

Worth also flagging that if you’re a Three member then you can also benefit from their ‘Feel at Home’ deal.  It’s limited to 18 or so countries at the moment (mainly Europe and other developed nations). In a nutshell you can use data and make/receive calls/SMS without incurring roaming charges.

Combine the local data service with your VPN service and you’re good to go.

Two factor authentication: People under-estimate the importance of a good password. Many sites, such as Google, Evernote, Twitter and Facebook all support two-factor or two-step authentication. Essentially, this requires you to: 1. correctly input your site password when logging on for the first time on a new device and 2. enter a unique random code generated by a two factor authentication app such as (Authy). My advice, where possible use two step authentication. At the very least, if your site password is compromised, you can take assurance that they physically need access to your phone to generate the second authentication code.

The Pebble 2 and Pebble Core – I’m backing them

I’ve been a fan of the smartwatch company, Pebble since buying their first gen Pebble a few years back. I love the flexibility of the OS, customisation and battery life of the watches. Most recently, I bought the excellent Pebble Time, water proof to 30 metres, an e-ink colour display and 7-day battery life.

So I’ve just decided to back them on Kickstarter for their new product line:

I’m pretty excited about the hack-able possibilities of the Pebble core. Plus the promise of 10 day battery life on the Time 2 combined with an HR monitor and bigger display is compelling.

 

My home network explained

IMG_4460A number of people have asked me about my tech setup at home. So I thought I’d post about it. A lot of the hardware I use is legacy kit, acquired over the years. However, recently the kit I have bought is deliberate and in support of the design aims of my setup.

Design principles: My aim, when pulling it all together was to build it around my reality of limited and, relatively slow, internet connectivity. Where I currently live, I don’t have the luxury of a fast internet connection. It’s getting better – and I now have a decent connection peaking at around 11mbp/s. However, it’s capped (depending on what tariff I use). So I have tried to make my setup as bandwidth efficient as possible – no bad thing anyway.

Router – ASUS N66U

At the heart of the network sits the ASUS N66U DSL router. I choose this router primarily because it has VPN support, so I am able to directly connect my VPN service to the router. Another reason I choose the router is because ASUS are all in on OpenWRT, an open source firmware alternative to vanilla router firmware. I’m running the latest build of MerlinWRT and I choose it because it gives you some neat additional features, whilst closely replicating the UI of the standard ASUS firmware. There are newer models out there now but for my needs the basic prerequisite for any router is VPN support and good coverage.

Netgear ReadyNas 214

With limited internet bandwidth and data-caps I wanted to limit (if not completely stop) media streaming. This powerful, pro-sumer grade NAS really fits the bill. I love it. Because this sits at the heart of my network and serves all my media, I wanted to invest in a decent bit of kit. It’s running a 4-bay SATA drive RAID 5 array (each 2TB) and has a particularly powerful processor and fully loaded with enough RAM for my needs. I use it for a number of reasons:

  • Plex Media/file server: It’s recommended by the Plex folk and is more than capable of doing all the complex trans-coding and streaming of media across my numerous devices. I mostly use Plex via my LG Smart TV or via my 4th gen AppleTV . It’s also more than capable of quickly trans-coding and syncing my Plex media to my devices (such as my iPad Pro and iPhone), useful for when I travel. I wanted to highlight Plex because I believe it’s one of the most capable and brilliant services/apps I have ever used. In a nutshell – I love it and demonstrated my loyalty by buying the lifetime plan.
  • iTunes my library: I have close to 8000 tunes (around 40GB) and really value my collection. I deliberately like to run my devices with light SSD’s so didn’t want to waste drive space on any given Macbook. So I transferred my library over to my readyNAS, pointed my iTunes app to the directory – and it just works. I tend to purchase most of my music from Amazon and so point the downloads directly to the NAS directory too. That way it all stays in sync. I also maintain iTunes match and cloud storage too – that way I’ve always got access to my music on the go. Essentially, my NAS acts as a backup and as close to a‘physical’ home for my collection as possible. But it also has one more vital function; I point my Sonos system to the NAS iTunes library. Doing so ensures that a) I don’t have to have my iTunes library permanently connected/open and b) I can avoid having to stream my cloud music collection ( I also sync the library on Google Music) over the internet.
  • Apple Time Machine backups: There are three Macs in my household and at the very least; I always ensure they are backed up using Time Machine. (Plus I use SuperDuper clones on external drives). Rather than using individual hard drives connected to each Mac, the ReadyNas 214 supports multiple instances of Time Machine. Again, it all just works, and I’ve run a few restores just to check that they are all working – and they are.
  • File server: Obviously. In the few instances where I have documents to store locally I use the NAS for all my needs. I also run an automated backup for my camera photos – just as a fail-safe.
  • WordPress testing/backup server: I run a few websites so I have an instance of WordPress installed on the NAS and use it for testing purposes.

Sonos

I made a decision a few years ago to invest in Sonos. And in my opinion haven’t regretted it at all. I’ve played around with Apple’s Airplay and am not a fan. I need more granularity in my music system – and Sonos delivers. Perhaps the biggest reason for investing in Sonos is because of their superb underlying technology. They operate a mesh network which sits on top of your existing network. It’s incredibly robust and has never dropped out for me. Sonos support multiple media streaming services such as Spotify, Tune In Radio, Google music etc. Whilst the app is a bit clunky, the sound is incredible and I’m able to either play all the speakers together in ‘party mode’ or independently. I also like the flexibilty to configure the speakers for multiple setups. At the moment I have:

Lounge

  • 1 X PlayBar (hooked up to my TV via an optical link)
  • 2 X Play 1’s as surround speakers

Studio 

  • 1 x Play 3

Upstairs lounge 
  • 1 x Play 1
Ideally, I’d be running a Sonos Sub on the lounge setup. But it’s a big piece of kit and would be a challenge to have it delivered. So for now I can live perfectly without one.
I’m a big fan of the Hue lighting system. And recently they launched an Apple HomeKit hub which has opened up Siri voice commands to the system. I upgraded to the new hub about 4 months ago – and its great. I’m able to command the lights by voice and by extension via calling out ‘hey Siri’ to my Apple Watch. The ability to say ‘turn all the lights purple’ or ‘turn all the lights off’ is an incredible feeling.
I also combine the hue lighting with IFTTT, so thanks to the IFTTT supported APIs I’m able to have the lights turn on automatically at dusk and off automatically at midnight. IFTTT is an incredible service and the list of hacks are endless. For example, I can have the Hue lights flash a particular colour when I hit my 10,000 steps target on Fitbit, or flash a colour when I get a new Twitter follower. The possibilities are endless.
I currently have 3 hue lights at my overseas home. And a few back in the the UK.

WeMoo switches

Unfortunately these are not HomeKit supported yet. But I’m running a couple to remotely control a couple of lamps. Useful and again, the ability to have the automatically turn on a dusk is handy.

iOS devices

Just two at the moment (soon to be a third if I get my way and buy the gorgeous iPhone SE).

My new iPad Pro 12.9″ is incredible. I’ve already posted about how much finally able to produce my weekly podcast on it. But additionally it’s now become my primary computer. I recently bough the outstanding Logi keyboard cover for it. It’s essentially a full blown keyboard that takes its charge from the new smart connector on the iPad (so no need to rely on Bluetooth). Sure, it adds bulk and is actually bigger and heavier than my MacBook Air. However, I can all the advantages of having an iPad. I absolutely love the thing.

iPhone 6plus: an iPhone obviously. Great device still, but I’m actually getting a bit tired of the form factor. Hence the reason I may ‘minigrade’ to the iconic design of the iPhone SE. I’m taking a punt that the next iPhone 7 will be too similar in design to the iPhone 6/plus (which I’ve never really liked). So my plan is to get an SE (gaining a better camera and form factor) and hold out for the radically new iPhone 8 in 2017.

Macbooks: Until recently when I bought my iPad Pro, my 2010 MacBook Air was my production computer. It’s aged exceptionally well and is still rock solid. But I’m just finding the display a bit too small these days and the lack of retina really shows. So I’ve essentially retired it from use now. My MacBook Pro Retina 2014 is now my main computer at home. It’s gorgeous, and that Retina display is incredible. Plus it’s sporting 8GB of ram and they i5 processor flies. Lastly, is the classic original 2008 MacBook (aliminum). I’ve recently put in a new battery, 8gb of ram and a 480 ssd. This has literally given it a new lease of life and it performs surprisingly well for an 8 year old machine.

Less interesting but worthy of a mention is the neat little ‘Transporter’ hardware I have connected to a spare USB drive I have. This turns my harddrive into a ‘personal’ cloud, accessible via my local network or on the web.

Oh and I should mention – I still love to hack Linux occasionally, and use my Raspberry Pii 2 for that.

Well there you have it. That’s my current network/setup.

Producing a podcast on an iPad Pro (12.9”)

ferriteI successfully used Ferrite to produce show 271 of blackonblues using my iPad Pro 12.9.

Overall, I was very impressed. The app itself was simple to use and made really good use of the large display on the iPad. It felt surprisingly natural using my fingers to move tracks around and editing was particularly easy using Apple Pencil. It was also simple to import in tracks (in my case using Dropbox). I have no doubt that I will soon be able to use it permanently as part of my workflow for each weekly show. But there were some drawbacks which, for now, mean I’ll continue to use my Macbook for weekly production. Here’s what I found:

1.      Bandwidth constraints: not a criticism of Ferrite, but I found pulling in tracks individually from my Drop-box account a very slow process.  Where I live, I suffer from a slow internet connection. It would also be good if Ferrite could have a feature to import multiple tracks into the library. That way, I could select all the tracks for the show (normally around 14 or 15) and just leave it running in the background. (almost like a sync capability).

2.      M4a verses MP3: I understand the reasons for sticking with Apple’s AAC format, but I’d still really like to  have the option to export out as an MP3 file. At the moment, I’ll still need to use my Macbook to convert from M4a to MP3.

3.      Export track to an FTP client: An ability to export the final file to an FTP client such as Transmit would be good. At the moment, I would have to export to iCloud Drive and then, using Transmit, upload from iCloud Drive to my web server.

I know that much of these issues are in part due to the lack of a file directory in iOS so I’m even more impressed with how Ferrite works around that challenge. But I’m really hoping to use my iPad Pro as my weekly podcast production device. Given just how much Wooji Juice have achieved so far with Ferrite, I’m sure it’s just a matter of time till I can switch over full time to the iPad Pro.

I ditched Facebook

The biggest responsibility for geeks in an age of ubiquitous internet is to inform, educate and share with friends the importance of understanding online identity and privacy.

The freedoms and foundation of the web we enjoy today are based on transparency and open standards. The most basic action of typing in a URL and visiting a web address through to emailing someone  is thanks to a community of individuals who were committed to sharing and innovating open standards to make the whole experience friction free.  Most users will not even be aware of this – it doesn’t really matter. But what does matter is when these users (500m and growing) join a website which hides behind the veneer of simply sharing and connecting people .

On the face of it Facebook is great. You get to connect with old friends, family and play the odd game from time to time. But that’s not enough for Facebook – they want more from you, much more. They now want your identity. This pitch to become the self elected owner of your online identity came to a head when they flipped your privacy settings recently. So, without your consent (or at least your approval), they decided to make your photos, friends list, date of birth, home address etc… public. Suddenly,  information that you kept private become public. Okay – they informed people. But how many people actually bothered to make any changes within their privacy settings?  And why should you – you didn’t sign up for that sort of treatment.  And frankly – where do you begin? Try reading the privacy policy which is in excess of 5800 words…

Another great concern is the new ‘like’ button which is now appearing all over sites lately. By innocently clicking on it – you are sending valuable data on the sites you visit back to the Facebook mothership. Pretty soon  – they build a neat picture of your online habits.

To compound matters further Facebook begun sharing your identity to Microsoft and other third party sites such as Yelp.

I recently made the decision to quit Facebook. I value my privacy and want to be in control of it online. However, even that experience was far from straight forward. First up, there is a difference between deactivation and deleting your account. ‘Deactivation’ only disables your account (which is kept dormant) . A simple mistake of logging on to their site will reactivate it. ‘Deleting’ your account is hidden somewhere under their help pages.  Make sure you select this option is you want to close your account – permanently. To make matters even more frustrating it takes 2 weeks to close your account!

For existing users of Facebook. I cannot tell you what to do. But, at the very least do a bit of research around the implications of Facebook and your identity. Become an informed user.

Jason Calacanis made it clear about why people should abandon Facebook. He makes the argument for leaving very compelling. Check out his thoughts below too:

http://www.youtube.com/v/Vb6wcSDjW-s&hl=en_US&fs=1&

So goodbye and good riddance Facebook.

Welcome back Microsoft

Now I’ve always been a critic of Microsoft.

But not critical of the nature of their business and market domination (that doesn’t bother me), but critical of their lack of innovation and, until Windows 7, their sub-par operating systems.

With all the innovation, elegance and success of Apple it’s easy to dismiss the folks at Redmond as a dinosaur, a relic of the past. A software company surviving on former glories. To compound these views further, with the rise of Google and other increasingly important web companies – I was beginning to think Microsoft no longer matters in a world of cloud services and internet devices.

But I was wrong. Reading the tech news blogs last week I stumbled across a story, which, if true – has the potential to bring the cool back into Microsoft.

The leaked images and video of ‘The Courier’ tablet/journal, have quite honestly stunned me. If true, this product is everything the iPhone and now the iPad will never be. Aside from the book-like form factor, the video would suggest this device is the closest to experiencing an electronic ‘paper’ notebook ever seen. The combination of being able to write and draw on the device along with web integration offers genuine human interaction never seen before.

Okay it’s not an official product yet. But I can’t help but think that even if the final product is half as good as the leaked reports then the Courier promises to be special. Very special. So many pretenders out there churn out endless poor Apple imitations. Not Microsoft . They have taken their time to really think about what human interaction means with an electronic device.

No doubt we will hear more about the Courier in the coming weeks. But for now I’m betting something ground breaking is being cooked up by Microsoft.

Running a podcast 20 shows on..

TandridgeRadio.com, the weekly podcast I set up with my friend and local journalist, Kevin Black is 20 shows old today.

Hard to believe that the show has been running now since January this year.

I can honestly say I find it some of the most satisfying and creative work I have ever done. Firstly, I have always wanted to run my own business. The fact that I am in control and running all aspects of the work is incredibly rewarding.

Secondly, I am able to be creative. For some time now I have tried (and failed) to run a podcast. What I have known and what I continue to learn is that content is always the key to making a podcast work. Without it the audience will just not show up.

The most satisfying aspect for me is the sense of creating something. I often argue with people about the nature of web 2.0 and the digital commons more broadly. With such a wealth of information out there that people draw on daily – I often ask people ”what have you done to contribute to it’. People take from the web – but do they give to it?

As I gain experience in post-production my editing is getting much quicker now. I can turn around a 30 mins show in around 2 hours. I am learning more about subtle differences in audio levels and much quicker at pulling together jingles.

The show is gaining in popularity within the Tandridge community too. We have now introduced a monthly new feature with our local MP. The show is fast becoming a voice for the local community.

But there are small challenges. Sponsorship requires more work than the team can commit to right now. We are covering our costs – but we are a ‘ for profit partnership’ and we are running the show, in part, to make a living.

There are reasons we cannot reach out for more sponsors – which we are working on to overcome.

The most satisfying part of the work is responses from listeners. It is fast becoming a talked about feature of community life. We are moving towards even greater market share with a few sponsorship deals in the next few months.

Small steps. But I am at least a step closer to my goal. Within 10 years I want to be running in this space full time. My office will be a coffee shop and my tool my laptop. I’m getting closer and enjoying every minute.

You can catch the show by visiting : Tandridge Radio

My podcast experiment – 5 shows on part 1

A significant part of my private time lately has been on managing and producing a new weekly podcast. www.tandridgeradio.com. I wanted share my experience, the first part is below :

1. Shifting the good idea to reality

I actually found the transition of the
idea to reality quite simple. I suspect, due to the strength of the idea and the genuine desire from the team to pull it together. From the very outset, the content flow was already there. And in our case, working with an extremely well known and connected journalist (who gets this new media stuff) proved the key.

2. The tech part

I am no expert in web design and certainly not media production. But I like to play and my past experience in this space certainly helped.

Pulling together the wordpress based site was simple. Editing the show in GarageBand was, and still is an absolute joy. As with anything, I learn and improve (I hope) after each show.

3. Awareness raising and support

We are fortunate to have access to a ton of good people who can spread the word locally about the show. But we need to be better. I suspect it takes time to get the message out but we keep pushing.

4. New and old media styles – a role for both

New media producers frequently jibe at old media people – claiming their approach is outdated and no longer relevant. I disagree. In our case we couldn’t have done it without our ‘old school journos’. Their understanding of good content and their interview skills is key to the show.

In summary – so far it is hard work – but equally a labour of love.

A new year a new podcast

For at least three years now I’ve had an itch to scratch. Being an avid listener and supporter of podcasts I’ve wanted to produce my own.

A few years ago I had an idea for a show based on micro finance. I think the idea was sound enough but my heart wasn’t in it and I could not see a sustainable route for gathering the content.

I recall listening to one of Leo Laporte’s shows where he talked about content being the key to any good podcast. Additionally the need for the host to be genuine about that content.

I thought about about technology as content . But quickly realised that hundreds of podcasts occupy that space. Any attempt by me would simply be drowned out.

So with content and sincerity of host in mind I assessed options. I quickly realised that the answer was closer to home. I would produce a local podcast, presented by a local journalist covering local issues.

Working with two local journalists in the Tandridge district of east Surrey we have put together Tandridge Radio. A weekly show covering news, views and interviews from Tandridge.

Early days yet. But so far so good. There’s a good team behind it and If we can keep the momentum going I think it might work out.

I know it will not have global appeal. That is not the aim. We are catering for a small niche – and , we believe, that niche audience is enough to sustain it.

I also genuinely believe in local voice and accountability. By providing a service to that little part of the world I think we are giving local residents a voice.

You can grab the first show (and subscribe if you like it) over on www.tandridgeradio.com .

Let me know what you think.