Saturday, April 16, 2011

A new Arrival in our Household

People normally use this phrase to announce the birth of a child. I don't love my gadgets as much as I love my children, but the arrival of my latest new gadget is a reasonably big deal.

I wrote before about how I needed to have my weather station constantly attached to a running computer in order to have the collected weather data instantly uploaded to my personal weather site on the internet. Since I don't want to waste power by leaving my desktop PC plugged on all the time, I needed to look for alternative options.

My initial thoughts was that I could use an Arduino device, but an Arduino expert that I met at the Young Scientist advised me that it wouldn't really be up to the task. I then decided to check out one of the new "plug computers". This is a newly emerging form factor for low power computers which look just like a voltage converter (see the picture of my new device beside a pair of sunglasses for comparison.

I looked at a few options on the Internet, before finally settling upon a TonidoPlug, which is an Ubuntu 9.04 based PC which comes complete with a specialised home server package installed upon it (which is optimised for sharing files and other things that you might want to do).

The device was trivially easy to set up. I had my home server up and running in about 5 minutes after opening the package. It took me a little longer to get the weather station installed and configured, but there were no major problems since I am already fairly familiar with Ubuntu, and now my personal weather station is being kept constantly up to date instead of having  to depend upon me remembering to manually upload data.

The device was not completely perfect. I had assumed that it would come with WiFi support but it didn't so I am going to have to leave it close to a network port until I get around to buying a new WiFi card for it. In addition I was hoping that I would be able to attach my 1 TByte USB drive to the Tonidoplug, but it seems that the USB ports don't provide enough power so I am going to have to make do with a 8 GByte USB card for now.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Cross Posting from MyTracks to DailyMile

As I wrote before, I find that the My Tracks application from Google is a very useful and easy to use utility to use for tracking my running training. Howver, I have noticed that many people I know seemed to be using an application called DailyMile to post details of their exercise activity on Facebook.

This integration with Facebook seems to be great fun and it allows people to give and receive motivational messages, so I decided to register for DailyMile myself to see how it worked. When I started using it first I was surprised shocked to find that people are expected to manually enter details of the routes that they run. It struck me that there should be an application to automatically upload GPS traces to DailyMile, but when I asked a few friends nobody knew of one. However, my asking sparked a colleague Ben Hardill from IBM's Hursley lab to take on the challenge of building such an application. It only took him a few days to get it working and he describes his progress on his blog.

He has not yet officially released the application, but he asked me to be one of the Beta testers. It works brilliantly, with one limitation which means that you must use a regular DailyMile account rather than logging into DailyMile with your Facebook credentials. This bug is caused by a limitation in Daily Mile's implementation of OAuth rather than a limitation in Ben's code and in any case doesn't bother me, because I don't have any significant Daily Mile history to worry about abandoning

The existence of this application provoked me to go for a run this morning before work just so I had something to use to try out the application. I am glad to say that it worked great.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Great Ireland Run

Today myself and my brother joined several thousand other athletes in the Great Ireland Run.The sunshine was glorious and it definitely was uplifting to see so many people of varying levels of fitness out in the open air enjoying themselves.

All credit must go to the organisers who did a great job - coordinating thousands of runners cannot be easy.

According to the record I kept on my phone,  I took 1 hour and 3 minutes for the 10km route. I started recording before I crossed the official start line, so my official time will probably be slightly faster. However, I don't think I achieved my personal goal of completing under the hour mark.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Why I uninstalled Lotus Traveller from my Phone

I recently enrolled in the Beta program for Lotus Traveler  on Android. A number of friends have asked me how I am getting on with  and they are amazed to hear that I have removed it from my phone. Therefore I thought I should write a short note to explain why.

First to explain that Lotus Traveler is a product which allows people to read Lotus Notes email from their mobile phone. The product has existed for some time, but only recently added support for the Android platform.

The product itself works very well and while a mobile phone is not an ideal platform for reading and replying to emails, it can occasionally be convenient to be able to check for urgent emails or have a quick glance at my scheduled meetings for tomorrow without having to open my laptop.

The only problem is with the IBM security policy which insists that any device which has access to our email infrastructure is protected by an automatic screen-lock that is secured by a password which is at least 8 characters long and contains a mix of upper-case lower-case characters and non-alphabetic characters. This policy is entirely reasonable and I have no problem in typing such a complex password to unlock my work laptop. However, the logistics of typing such a complex password on a small touch screen phone make it rather annoying - especially when I am simply trying to make a phone call on my own personally owned phone.

In addition I eventually decided that it was better for work/life balance if I didn't have constant access to my work email at all times and so I removed Lotus Traveler and reset my phone to use a simpler unlock pattern which is more appropriate to this type of device.