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Philips Hue Personal Wireless Lighting Review

Posted by Andrew at 12:51 AM on December 16, 2013

Kevin Ashton coined the phrase “The Internet of Things” back in 1999, but a decade later most of the on-line gadgets in my house are still recognisable as being technology. My fridge is still a fridge, my front door still needs a key and my house doesn’t talk to me.

That was the situation until a couple of weeks when I received a Philips Hue “Personal Wireless Lighting” kit which lets me control the colour of light bulbs from my smartphone, both in the house and from outside across the internet. That’s the Internet of Things.

I can imagine that a number of GNC readers are going, “Huh? Why would I want to control the colour of my lightbulbs from my smartphone?” Until you see in action, you can’t believe how much fun and how cool it really is. Not only can you turn your house lights on as you drive up the road, you can co-ordinate the lighting with your mood or your decor. Want a Christmassy green and red? Not a problem. We’ll see exactly how it works a little later on.

So let’s take a quick look at what’s in the box of Philips Hue in more detail.

Philips Hue Box Exterior

Opening it up reveals two of the three main components, the wireless bridge and the bulbs themselves.

Philips Vue Interior

The bridge connects to your network via an ethernet cable and communicates with the light bulbs using Zigbee.

Hue Bridge

The bulbs are standard ES bulbs and there are GU10 and GR30 (SES) variants available as well. There doesn’t seem to be any bayonet cap versions (BC) so if you only have BC light fittings you might have to get some converters.

Hue Light Bulb

Setting up the system is very easy. Screw the bulbs into the lights. Connect the Hue bridge to the network with the ethernet cable and plug in the power adaptor. Load the Hue app onto your Android or iOS smartphone or tablet. Job done. It’s that straightforward. The first time the app runs, it looks for the Hue bridge on the network and once it’s found, you authorise the app to access Hue by pressing the button in the middle of the bridge. It’s a layer of security that stops unauthorised people or apps from accessing the Hue.

The Hue app lets you control all the lights connected to your bridge mainly via “scenes” which act as presets for each light’s colour settings. Here’s the main screen. Each mini photograph is a preset for a number of lights and it can be just one or all three.

Main Screen

Typically the settings are based on colours picked out from the picture associated with the scene. The screenshot below shows that lamp 1 will be orange and lamp 2 will be magenta.

Colour Scenes

It’s all a bit abstract until you see it in action, so here’s a short video of my controlling one lamp using a series of the scenes to run through some colour changes. It was filmed with my smartphone, so don’t expect too much! Remember too, that this is just one light  and try to imagine all three lights working together to colour a single room.

Philips have opened up Hue to developers and are steadily building an ecosystem around both their products and other apps developed by third parties. If you are already have a Philips TV with Ambilight, Hue can further enhance the experience with additional colour lighting. Light strips and Philip’s Living Colors Bloom can take the lighting effects beyond lights and lamps.

There’s a solid community behind Hue with people contributing their own scenes and I’ll be taking a look at some of the 3rd party apps in a follow up post next week, along with a further look at the main Hue app.

Philips Hue is available from the Apple Store and the starter kit used here costs a little under £180, which isn’t cheap, but compared with the costs of some of the custom solutions in this space, it’s a bargain. Note that although it’s sold through the Apple Store, it works with both iOS and Android devices.

Finally, Philips are running a Facebook competition to come up with inspirational ways of using Hue, if you want to win some Hue goodies.

Thanks to Philips for the loan of the Hue starter kit.

Two Million Passwords Stolen by Hackers

Posted by JenThorpe at 6:36 PM on December 4, 2013

Trustwave logoOn November 24, 2013, researchers at Trustwave discovered that hackers have obtained up to 2 million passwords for websites like Facebook, Google, Yahoo!, Twitter (and others). Researchers learned this after digging into source code from Pony bonnet. It appears that information about this has only been made public very recently.

Here’s some quick stats about some of the domains from which the passwords were stolen:

* Facebook – 318,121 (or 57%)
* Yahoo! – 60,000
* Google Accounts – 54,437
* Twitter – 21,708
* Google.com – 16,095
* LinkedIn – 8,490
* ADP (a payroll provider) – 7,978

In total, Pony botnet stole credentials for: 1.58 million websites, 320,000 email accounts, 41,000 FTB accounts, 3,000 remote desktops, and 3,000 secure shell accounts.

According to Trustwave, around 16,000 accounts used the password “123456”, 2,221 used “password” and 1,991 used “admin”. Now is a good time to go change your passwords into something strong and secure.

Doing so won’t make it entirely impossible for hackers to crack it, but it could make it more difficult. Trustwave noted that only 5% of the 2 million passwords that were stolen had excellent passwords (meaning the passwords had all four character types and were longer than 8 characters).

Is Cyber Monday also Nexus 10 Day?

Posted by Alan at 1:54 AM on December 2, 2013

Android LogoRumors of a new Nexus 10 tablet began way back in June when Google released the new seven-inch version of the tablet. Subsequently, the current ten-inch model went out of stock in October, never to return and adding momentum to the rumor mill. We thought it may come with the Nexus 5, then there were stories of a November 22nd release date.

The latest word is a Cyber Monday announcement, though admittedly this doesn’t seem to have much traction. It was reported by Phone Arena and failed to generate any real attention. “Unfortunately, there is nothing concrete about this rumor, and it still leaves a couple big questions hanging over the new tablet, like what the specs may be”, the report reads. Yes, that doesn’t sound very credible.

But then, curiously, Android Central, which does get good information had a rather interesting post from its editor later in the evening that began “I should really know better than to actually say ‘I think I’m done traveling for the year’ out loud. Because here I find myself, in Palo Alto, Calif., once again. In the same hotel, actually, that I stayed at for Google’s Honeycomb event back in 2011″. Nickinson went on to point out that he couldn’t yet say why he was there, but we’d find out in a few weeks.

This can obviously go several ways. One, it has nothing to do with the Nexus 10. Two, Google is showing off something under NDA and plans to release the new Nexus while it just happens to have the reporters all gathered. Or, three, it’s the Nexus 10, but it isn’t ready yet for release. Which do you think it is?

YouTube Acknowledges Spammy Comments

Posted by JenThorpe at 9:56 PM on November 28, 2013

YouTube logoHave you noticed an increase in the amount of spammy comments on your YouTube page in the past few weeks? You aren’t alone. YouTube has acknowledged on its Creator Blog that they have received a lot of feedback from creators about the increase in comment spam.

The increase in spammy comments began after YouTube decided to make new YouTube comments powered by Google +. The idea was that this would allow the content creators on YouTube to more easily see the comments from the people that mattered to them (like their friends, for example). Instead, something unexpected happened. The YouTube Creators Blog notes:

While the new system dealt with many spam issues that had plagued YouTube comments in the past, it also introduced new opportunities for abuse and shortly after the launch, we saw some users taking advantage of them.

To combat this problem with spam comments, YouTube is going to do some updates. The updates will include better recognition of bad links and impersonation attempts, improved ASCII art detection, and a change to how long comments are displayed. They are working on improving comment ranking and moderation of old-style comments. YouTube is also going to release tools that will allow creators to do bulk moderation soon.

YouTube Identity Crisis

Posted by tomwiles at 9:10 PM on November 16, 2013

Google has created a real identity mess. Between my original YouTube account and my main Gmail account, I have somehow ended up with two separate Google identities with no easily apparent way of straightening things out.

Of course I had a YouTube account long before YouTube was purchased by Google. Once Google owned YouTube, they seemed to merge my previously-existing YouTube identity with my main Gmail identity. Google seemed to have a single identity across all Google-owned properties and all seemed to be well.

What The   $&!@%&)&   Were They Thinking?

That is, until now. Somehow I now have two separate Google identity “channels” when it comes to both YouTube and Google+. Of course, the 236 existing videos I have uploaded to YouTube over the years were on my original YouTube sign-in. Maddeningly, if I now make comments with that original sign-in they DO NOT appear on the Google+ identity that I have invested my time and effort into since the inception of Google+ that seems to be tied to what I thought was my main Google identity.

Google’s very unhelpful “Help” suggests that the only way to correct the situation is to delete and re-upload the videos under the so-called “channel” identity I wish to use. Are they insane? Of course, I’m NOT going to do that.

If I post comments in YouTube they will go to the Google+ identity that will only receive YouTube comments, rendering my regular Google+ identity less valuable.

If I’m forced to keep switching back and forth between these two separate identities (that somehow magically share the same Gmail address and password) in order to make a post to the Google+ identity I’ve invested my time and effort into, the net result is likely that I will completely avoid the hassle of switching back and forth and just forget about posting to Google+.

The net effect is that I now have a genuine disincentive to avoid using Google+.

People are always going on and on about how smart the folks at Google are overall. Really? With this move, perhaps not so much…

A Microsoft Future

Posted by Andrew at 5:56 PM on November 14, 2013

Microsoft Windows 8Last week’s “Microsoft Fantasy” here on GNC suggested that Microsoft was in danger of fading into irrelevance; that it should retreat to servers and gaming; that it should re-orient its mobile strategy around Android. I suggest that Microsoft is now very well positioned to offer far more than its competitors. And to negate any ad hominem attacks, I’m no Microsoft fanboy – I’ve a Linux desktop, Android tablet, Nexus smartphone and a Chromebook – but I can see a better strategy in Microsoft than defeat and retreat.

There are three players in the OS space – Microsoft with Windows, Google with Android and Apple with iOS. Each of these pairings has strengths and weaknesses. Microsoft is strong in servers, PCs and gaming. Google is good in mobile. Apple’s strength lies in PCs, entertainment and mobile. Obviously there are other players, such as Sony who are strong in gaming, but they can be discounted without OS aspirations.

Microsoft is a large organisation. It can be slow to respond and doesn’t always identify and embrace future technologies as fast as it should. The internet and Internet Explorer is a pretty good example. Other times, it moves into new markets, starting slowly and building up: look at the Xbox – it’s the market-leader. Certainly Microsoft has never been strong in the smartphone market being overshadowed previously by Blackberry and Palm, but it has a track record of trying tablet-type devices. Anyone remember Windows XP Tablet Edition? No, you probably don’t, but it existed.

But let’s think about how Microsoft’s competitors can realistically move in on their turf. For all the rise of BYOD, most large organisations use Windows on the desktop, Exchange for email, Ms Server on the tin. Google is trying hard to offer software as service in the cloud but there’s still lots of nervousness about the cloud and the leaks about US snooping aren’t going to help. Apple isn’t big in business by any stretch of the imagination and this is unlikely change. Both Apple and Google are into entertainment but neither have expressed much interest in hardcore gaming. It’s certainly not impossible for a hot Android or iOS console to come out but for now I think we can discount that.

Accepting then that Microsoft is reasonably unassailable (without being complacent) in gaming or business, let’s look at mobile and tablets in particular. Both Apple’s iPad and Android-based tablets are great devices, but even the most ardent fan will admit that tablets are generally best for consumption rather than production – it’s watching videos, surfing the web, listening to music. For creation, most people return to the keyboard and mouse on a desktop or laptop. Looking at business, while opportunities exist for tablets in business without a doubt, the bread and butter is still going to orient around Word and Excel.

The trend to mobile has been going on for years: from the desktop to the laptop to the tablet. But it’s extension to new devices, not extinction of the old. When laptops came out, did all the desktops go away? No. And it will be no different with tablets. We can see the rebalancing in the slow down of PC sales but this is entirely to be expected.

And this is Microsoft’s killer advantage – a potentially seamless suite of devices and form-factors from servers, through desktops, laptops, tablets and smartphones. Business in particular want to use what they have already invested in – ActiveDirectory, Group Policies, Sharepoint. Microsoft and its partners are responding to this with devices that offer both a touch interface via the Modern UI and a traditional desktop for legacy applications where a keyboard and mouse is needed. The bottom line is that there’s no longer any need to shoehorn in Apple or Android onto the infrastructure at extra cost.

But what about the consumers? They’re not businesses, they’ve no investment, they’re not going to be swayed by ActiveDirectory concerns. They want apps! Absolutely, but let’s be honest about apps – most key apps and popular games are available across all platforms, and the relative low cost of apps means that it is easier to jump ship to a different OS.  Windows 8 isn’t perfect, but I would lay good money that if a 7″ Windows-based tablet was available for Nexus 7 money, they’d sell shed-loads. A similar argument follows for smartphones and Windows Phone has actually been doing quite well recently with solid gains according a recent IDC survey.

Microsoft is ahead of the game in recognising that the future is not a tablet future, but a touch future, and building touch into the core of Windows is a winner. For me, all Microsoft needs to do it get the prices down, tweak the usability of Windows 8 and continue with the “Windows Everywhere” advertising. It’s a Microsoft future.

Practical Meter for USB Charging

Posted by Andrew at 5:09 PM on November 13, 2013

Practical MeterWith the plethora of USB charging power sources and charging rates, it was probably inevitable that someone would develop a meter to measure the power going to a device. The bragging rights go to Utah-based Power Practical and the Practical Meter, a USB in-line power meter. Looking much like a USB dongle, 5 LEDs show the power transfer from 1 W up to 10 W.

Originally a Kickstarter campaign that met its funding back in the July raising nearly $170,000, the Practical Meter has been today recognised as International CES Innovations 2014 Design and Engineering Awards Honoree.  “Just last week we shipped out the 10,000 pre-order units we received during our Kickstarter campaign to have the Practical Meter come to market,” says Matt Ford, CEO of Power Practical. “It’s crazy that a week later we’re being honored by something as prestigious as the CES Innovations awards.

As a pure USB device, it will work with anything that charges via USB such as smartphones, mp3 players or battery packs. Practical Meter is available now for $24.99 online and includes a 3-in-1 fast charge cable with mini-USB, micro-USB and Apple connectors.

Practical Meter Charging

AVG Android Social Apps

Posted by Andrew at 11:05 AM on November 12, 2013

AVG LogoToday’s Android apps from AVG are aimed at social media users rather than performance junkies whose needs were covered yesterday. AVG has two apps in this space, Image Shrink & Share, and Privacy Fix. Very different apps themselves but both are worth a look..

AVG Image Shrink & Share works on the premise that the average smartphone camera takes photographs which are unnecessarily large for social media purposes. Most people can’t be bothered to downsize the photos and risk incurring bandwidth charges by uploading the large photos anyway. Image Shrink & Share solves this problem by resizing photos on the fly before passing them onto the relevant social networking app. The original photo is not affected and stays on your phone or tablet.

Here’s how it works. Let’s say you want to share a photo on Facebook. You review the photo in Gallery or Photos as normal. Hit the share icon and choose AVG Image Shrinker instead of the app you would normally use (it’s on the left in the screen shot which is from the new Photos app which has a different layout and background).

AVG Shrink & Share Apps Onward Sharing Apps

Then you are prompted for the final app that you want to use to post the photo, say, Facebook or Google+. Image Shrink & Share resizes the photo based on your default selection and then passes it on to the social media app (or other app) for comment and posting.

You can setup the default size for each application individually in the Settings menu. If you turn an app off, it doesn’t show in the second list presented by Shrink & Share, so it’s a useful way to declutter your sharing screen as well.

Social Media App wpid-Screenshot_2013-11-11-18-53-01.png

In practice, I found that it worked very well and solves the problem very neatly. Images resized correctly and looked good. If I had one suggestion, it would be to have a native resolution option on the resize settings so that photos can be passed through without alteration. I know that it’s not strictly necessary as I can simply choose to share directly to the app, but it makes the process consistent.

Overall, if you post lots of photographs to social media sites, this is a must-have app. Personally I’ve found it handy for uploading images to WordPress as it has a 2 MB limit on photos, so AVG’s tool gets round that problem for me.

Moving on, AVG PrivacyFix is less about sharing and more about controlling your exposure on Facebook and Google+. It’s a complementary app to the PrivacyFix website which covers LinkedIn too, but the app currently only looks at Facebook and Google+. It’s simply a case of giving the app access to your accounts after which PrivacyFix will make some comments and recommendations.

PrivacyFix Start

Here are the recommendations PrivacyFix gave me for Facebook and Google+.

PrivacyFix Facebook PrivacyFix Google+

You can tap through each and PrivacyFix will give you some information on the impact of changing the option and if you wish to proceed, show you what was done. Here’s some info on turning off Search History and then the output from opting out of ad tracking.

PrivacyFix Implications PrivacyFix Ad Tracking

AVG PrivacyFix is another great app. It’s certainly not one that you are going to use everyday, but it’s definitely worth running every month or so to check that your exposure on social media is at an acceptable level. Clearly you can use the PrivacyFix website to cover LinkedIn, but I hope AVG extend the Android app to cover LinkedIn and perhaps others such as Twitter, Flickr, Instagram, etc. I also think that this would be a great tool for parents to check the privacy settings on their children’s accounts and that’s a feature that AVG ought to promote directly within the app and website.

Both Shrink & Share and PrivacyFix are free apps, so go ahead, download them from Google Play and try them out.

iGoogle Officially Shut Down… For Now

Posted by J Powers at 9:42 AM on November 4, 2013
iGoogle

iGoogle

They talked about it for over a year. People were confused why the personal homepage was shuttering. But is the page really gone, or just hiding?

iGoogle Shut Down

On November 1st, iGoogle – the webpage that allowed you to add RSS feeds, widgets and more – went offline. It was over a year in the making when Google announced they were shutter the service.

iGoogle launched in 2005 as an Ajax driven browser. You could create your own widgets using the Google Gadgets API. Of course, you could add RSS feeds for news from your favorite web sites.

Yahoo Capitalizes

Yahoo was one of the original creators of a customizable home page. If you were an IT administrator back in 2000, you saw the majority of employees that either wanted or had Yahoo as their homepage.

If you do a search for iGoogle, you will get www.yahoo.com/igoogle - pointing to the newest version of Yahoo’s customizable home page.

Is iGoogle Really Dead?

While Matt Eichner said it is no longer relevant 16 months ago, it might still be a part of future Google’s plans. Since Google is pushing more into their social network Google+, could iGoogle eventually reform into some type of page within Google+?

Chrome also has bounced back and forth on homepage ideas. It could easily add an iGoogle-esque option. all without having to type in iGoogle.

Of course, Google is moving to HTML5 and the Ajax driven iGoogle just wasn’t in the plans.

Pandora now on Chromecast

Posted by KL Tech Muse at 1:25 PM on October 31, 2013

Pandora When the Chromecast first came out in late July it connected to very few things. You could cast YouTube, Google Music, Google Movies and Netflix. Hulu Plus was added in mid October. Today Pandora has been added to Chromecast.

It works great on my HTC One which is an Android phone. The icon shows up at the bottom and it works exactly like all other Chromecast enable app. It also works on the iPad. However I did run into a glitch while trying to run it on my iPad mini. First it took me some time to find out where the icon was, if you tap on the volume button it is right there next to the Airplay button. Like the Android device the iPad version connects perfectly and starts playing and you can control everything on the iPad.   The problem came when I was trying to disconnect Pandora from Chromecast. On my HTC One you simply hit disconnect and it stops casting. On the iPad there is no disconnect button. I tried to switch to iPad as my choice, but it continued to casting to my TV. Then I started to play a different song on the iPad but the older song continued to play on the Chromecast. The only way I could get it to stop casting was to start YouTube and cast that and then disconnect. I suspect that this is something that will be fixed in the next update.  Other than this glitch it works great.

If you are a Pandora user and don’t have a Chromecast I recommend getting one. I think it adds value to the Chromecast, which in my opinion already was well worth the $35.00 I spent on it.   Being able to play Pandora through my big screen TV which is connected to my full sound system and control it on my tablet or phone is great.