Category Archives: Information

The Smart nCube Home



The smart home marketplace is growing rapidly at the moment with new entrants on an almost daily basis. The original “one-trick ponies” like Hue, Nest, Hive and Ring are expanding their single USP feature into a portfolio of smart devices, and well-known electronics companies like Belkin and Panasonic are setting up shop too. Most of these big names sell their own branded accessories creating a small ecosystem and a straightforward user experience. Once familiar with the smart home space, it’s easy to spot that the branded accessories are often rebadged OEM items from specialists.

Underneath the big names, there is a veritable housing development of home automation hubs, including Fibaro, Cozify and nCube, each with their own speciality. Finnish Cozify has more radios than most and works with devices using 433 MHz, whereas Polish outfit Fibaro excel at the user interface with dedicated touchpads and visual controls.

British outfit nCube are notable for three things. First, the hub is blue which makes a change from the usual white; second, they only make the the hub and connect to other manufacturer’s sensors and systems; third, all local processing is done on the nCube hub, ensuring privacy and retaining personal information at home. It also means that it’s not a big problem if the internet connection goes down. Yes, interfaces to other cloud-based systems won’t work, but other activities will continue as normal, e.g. turning on a power socket at a certain time.

As nCube Home doesn’t make anything other than the hub, they connect to a wide variety of other people’s gear, with support for over 120 devices. For Z-Wave gear, nCube works with Everspring, Popp, Fibaro, TKB, Philio, Danfoss and Aeotec, covering heating, lighting, sensing, switching and alarms. As expected, nCube integrates with other home automation systems such as Hue, Nest, LIFX, Sonos and Belkin. Amazon’s Alexa now has an nCube skill, so you can talk to nCube via Echo and Echo Dot.

Done right, this is a great opportunity for an open system giving more choice to the consumer.

As expected, nCube have an app for iOS and Android, bringing together all the devices and controls into a single convenient home. “Cubes” is their term for automation, which could be a command like, “At 7am turn the bedside light on and play music at 20% volume.” Security features can be built in Cubes too, “If water’s detected under the sink, send a text message.”

Originally a Kickstarter project, nCube Home is based around the Raspberry Pi. I interviewed nCube back in 2016 at the Wearable Technology Show and the hub was just about to come to market. You can listen to the interview on Geek News Central.

The nCube Home can be purchased from nCube for GB£149.


Blizzard’s Battle.net App Adds Appear Offline Feature



Blizzard Entertainment announced the new social features that are now available in the beta version of the Blizzard Battle.net desktop app. The one that is likely going to get the most attention is the ability to appear offline.

The Appear Offline feature allows you to set your status to show you as “offline” to your Battle friends while remaining connected to Battle.net. You can launch the app and game away without distraction. That being said, it’s not exactly a “cloak of invisibility”:

Appearing offline will show you as offline to everyone in your Blizzard friends list. Once you have joined a game, the experience of appearing offline might be slightly different depending on which game you are playing. In the case of World of Warcraft, your guildmates will see your character come online and enter WoW’s in-game chat channels, and anyone who has you as a character-level friend will see you online on their friends list. Everyone outside of the same game as you will not see you online or playing any games.

Based on that description, it looks like players won’t be able to use the Appear Offline feature to avoid dealing with guild drama. That feature also won’t help a player to avoid a guildmate who has made them uncomfortable or who has been harassing them.

Another new change allows a player to send a message to a friend who is offline (or appears to be offline). Players who are using the Appear Offline feature can send and receive messages in the app. Blizzard points out that this allows players to decide when they want to respond to those messages. This is a step in the right direction, but it would also enable a mean person to quietly harass someone.

In addition, the beta Battle.net desktop app has a new Social Tab for managing all your various social interactions. Blizzard Groups is a new way for you to connect with your friends and plan your next mission.

Players can create and join Groups based on their common interests. Each Group can have multiple text and voice chat channels, and Group administrators will have tools to manage memberships, invites, and more. To me, this sounds like Blizzard is competing with Skype, Discord, and other similar things people currently use to talk to their friends in-game.


Blizzard and DeepMind Announce StarCraft II AI Workshop



Blizzard Entertainment is the creator of StarCraft II (and several other popular video games). They have teamed up with DeepMind, the world leader in artificial intelligence research and its application for positive impact. Together, the two will co-host the StarCraft II AI Workshop.

The workshop is an opportunity for AI researchers, academics, bot programmers, and industry professionals to get together, exchange ideas, and collaborate on all things AI, utilizing the recently-released StarCraft II Learning Environment and StarCraft II API as a development platform.

The event is described as BYOC, meaning that you need to bring your own computer. Attendees will be provided with power drops, dedicated wireless internet access, and a catered lunch. Engineers and researchers from Blizzard and DeepMind will meet with attendees and answer questions about SC2LE and SC2API.

Space is limited. Those who want to attend need to apply by filling out a questionnaire. A final group of attendees will be selected out of the applications. The workshop will take place November 3 and 4, 2017, at the Hilton Anaheim hotel. The workshop is not part of BlizzCon (which will be happening at the same time in the Anaheim Convention Center.)


Slack Collaborates with Marriott and Starwood



Slack simplifies communication for people who work for the same company. It provides a shared workspace where conversations are organized and accessible. Slack is now collaborating with Marriott and Starwood to make it easier for co-workers who need to attend a conference to figure out which hotel to stay at.

Slack has collaborated with Marriott International and Starwood Rooms. You can now compare and book Marriott and Starwood rooms directly through Slack. (This is possible because Marriott and Starwood merged in 2016.)

To do it, you need to add the Marriott Rewards app to Slack. Type /Marriottrewards and the city where you want to book hotel rooms into any Slack channel. You, and everyone else who is in that channel, will be able to see all available rooms and rates.

Not sure how it works? Slack has put together an example of a group of people looking at hotel information and voting on which one to pick. Personally, I found that watching the example made it a lot easier for me to understand how to book a hotel room on Slack. This might be very useful for people who are planning to attend BlizzCon this November.


OxyLED T35 LED Desk Lamp Review



The OxyLED T35 Desk Lamp is a small silver grey LED desk light powered by USB. It’s a neat idea given the availability of USB ports and reduces the need for mains power sockets, which are always in short supply. Let’s take look and see if the T35 can replace my Anglepoise.

The T35 has three main parts – a weighted base, an upright with microUSB power socket and a cross-piece with two rows of white LEDs at the end of the longer side. The cross-piece is hinged at the upright to raise or lower the light. and can fold parallel to the upright. The base is 13.5 cm across and with the cross-piece horizontal, the light is 24.5 cm tall. At full reach, the T35 is just under 45 cm. From a distance the silver grey finish does a fairly good impression of being metal, but it’s obviously plastic when you touch it.

In the box, there’s the lamp itself along with a 1.5 m USB cable. The cable is white, which might appeal to Apple lovers, but I would have preferred a colour matched cable in dark grey. Even black would have been better in my opinion. It’s also a pity that the microUSB port isn’t a bit lower down the the upright…or a right-angle microUSB plug would have been good too.

Some descriptions of the T35 refer to the lamp as being USB-charged but let’s be clear here: it’s USB-powered as there’s no battery. Pull out the cable and the light goes off. Obviously the T35 can be run from a USB battery pack if needed. The low voltage is good for children too – no-one’s going to get a shock off this.

On the plus side, the OxyLED lamp can adjust the LED brightness. Tap the on/off button once and the T35 comes on full power (160 lm), but now hold the button and the brightness will slowly fade to the desired level. Tap it again and the light will go completely off. I like this feature as I can get the light level just right. The LEDs put out a slightly yellow colour, which is much better than the harsh blue white of some LEDs.

The max power output of the T35 is 4W so clearly there are energy-saving benefits over a normal desk lamp that at worst, has a 60W incandescent bulb. The LEDs are expected to have a 20,000 hour lifespan. That’s over 2 years.

Where it goes wrong for the T35 is the price – it’s currently on Amazon.co.uk for a penny under GB£40 (though it’s a slightly more reasonable US$29.99 on Amazon.com). That’s too expensive for a plastic light without a battery no matter how stylish. I think somewhere around £15-£20 would be about right.

Thanks to OxyLED for providing the T35 for review. Unboxing video below.


12th Annual Podcast Awards



Nominations open on July 1st for the 12th Annual Podcast Awards, as the founder of the awards I am excited to see how the event progresses this year as we have updated the website, rules from top top to bottom.

With last years GoFundme campaign and registrations from last year our investment of $5000 to update the site has gone well. We have a lot more work to do but we will see where the budget is at the end of the process.

If you have not yet registered for the podcast awards you need to get registered now and have your audience prepared to nominate your show starting on July 1st.


Running of the Trolls Raised Money for The Trevor Project



The third annual Running of the Trolls took place on June 10, 2017. The event takes place inside World of Warcraft. The purpose is to raise money for a good cause – The Trevor Project. It’s always awesome when people who play video games get together in an effort to help others.

The Running of the Trolls was inspired by another event that takes place inside of World of Warcraft – the Running of the Gnomes (which raises awareness and money for breast cancer treatment.) Both events are run by Dravie.  That being said, Blizzard Entertainment is going to turn the Running of the Gnomes into an in-game micro-holiday this October.

Trolls, and Gnomes, are two of the races that a player can choose in World of Warcraft. Trolls are part of the Horde, and Gnomes are part of the Alliance. Anyone can roll a brand new, level one, Troll (or Gnome – depending on which event is taking place) and participate.

All players gather in a specific place and attempt to run from there to another location within the game. This is difficult, because low level player characters will get attacked along the way by non-player characters (animals, monsters, humanoids, etc.) that are a higher level.

This year, the goal for Running of the Trolls 2017 was to raise $2,000 for the Trevor Project. The event raised $2,692 from a total of 107 donations. They beat their goal!

The Trevor Project was founded in 1988. It is the leading organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) young people ages 13-24.


The Modern Economy in 50 Things



The rapid advance of technology might seem to be the defining feature of today’s world but tech is only one piece of a complex puzzle. From lightbulbs to TV dinners, shipping containers and public key cryptography, the BBC World Service reveals Fifty Things That Made The Modern Economy.

The programmes are a little under 10 minutes long and examine an eclectic range of inventions, ideas and philosophies that underpin much of which is familiar to us. Some are obvious, such as the smartphone and iPhone in particular. Others less so, such as the Haber-Bosch process. The supporting evidence for each thing is provided via a reading list for every episode on the website. There’s no fake news here, Mr Trump.

The series is a little over halfway through (episode 30 is the latest) and all the past programmes are available for listening on demand from the BBC. For true hipsters, it’s on the Wireless – times vary with location.

Add it to your playlist for something a little less ephemeral and a little more enduring.


PlayOn Cloud comes to Android



If you aren’t familiar with PlayOn, It is a portal to over 100 streaming websites, allowing you watch multiple shows. And the Cloud acts as a DVR, allowing you to download shows and then watch, even offline.

Now that Cloud capability comes to the Android platform. This includes shows on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Video, Yahoo View, ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, HBO NOW, PBS, The CW, and YouTube.

The company announces “We have officially launched PlayOn Cloud for Android. Now you can record and download any show or movie from top streaming providers like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, HBO and more, with a simple touch of a button on your Android device.

There is more good news. Thanks to new optimizations and processing improvements that are designed to bring down the cost for all of this. The company claims it will now be $0.20 per recording. You’ll have to buy credits from the website.

If you have severed your ties with cable and satellite TV then PlayOn may be something you want to look at. That said, there are plenty of others as well.


Get SoundCloud Go+ for 3 Months for $1



SoundCloud has a limited time offer going on right now on SoundCloud Go+ which is great for people who have considered using SoundCloud but have not yet signed up. New users can get SoundCloud Go+ for 3 months for $1. This offer is not available in Quebec, Canada.

It should be noted that SoundCloud Go+, and SoundCloud Go, are two different plans.  There is also a SoundCloud Free plan.

SoundCloud Go+ includes the following features:

  • Access the world’s largest music streaming catalog, a constantly expanding mix from established and emerging artists
  • Full access to all 150M+ tracks
  • Offline listening
  • No ads
  • Millions of premium SoundCloud Go+ tracks
  • No previews

It has more features than the SoundCloud Go plan, which does not give access to the premium SoundCloud Go+ tracks, and which has previews. SoundCloud Go was released earlier this year.

By “no ads”, SoundCloud means “no interruptive audio or visual experiences.” Those who want to buy the limited time offer need to give SoundCloud their credit card (or PayPal) information, and will be billed for $1.00. The free offer lasts a total of 90 days. When the 90 day free offer is over, your subscription to SoundCloud Go+ will automatically renew every 30 days at a rate of $9.99. SoundCloud says that you can cancel at any time.

Only new users are eligible for the limited time offer on SoundCloud Go+. However, people who are currently using the SoundCloud Free plan can take advantage of an offer on SoundCloud Go. Try it free for 30 days. When the 30 days is over, SoundCloud Go costs $4.99 a month.