Geek News: Latest Technology, Product Reviews, Gadgets and Tech Podcast News for Geeks


Philips Hue and IFTTT

Posted by Andrew at 3:48 AM on January 2, 2014

Hue Personal Wireless LightingIn my first post on Philips Hue, I referred to “The Internet of things” where normally dumb devices such as fridges and washing machines are connected to the network. Having a washing machine with an IP address may mean that I can check whether the spin cycle has finished without getting out of my chair, but the real value of the internet of things comes when the devices start communicating among themselves. Not in a nefarious SkyNet way, but in a more practical sense: the washing machine counts the number of washes and when the soap is getting low, automatically orders your preferred brand from your preferred grocery service.

Obviously, it’s going to take a little while until this is a reality, but the web site IFTTT is beginning to show what is possible as more and more services are on-line and cloud-based. IFTTT is an abbreviation of “IThis, Then That” and reflects what IFTTT can do. It automates “If something happens, then I want that to happen”. In IFTTT-speak, a trigger on a channel generates an action on another (or the same) channel. A channel is typically an on-line or cloud-based service such as Twitter, Dropbox, Gmail, Evernote or Weather. An example of what could happen is, “If I get a tweet on Twitter, copy it to Evernote” or “Every morning at 7.00 am, text me the weather forecast”. These are recipes, as IFTTT calls them, and there’s a large range of them already cooked up on the IFTTT web site.

It’s at this point in the story that Philips Hue comes in as a channel on IFTTT, which means that the lights in your home can be controlled by external events via the recipes on IFTTT. Here are some examples of recipes already available; at sunset, turn on the lights; when it’s freezing outside, turn the lights blue; when you receive an email from a particular person, blink the links; when the stockmarket closes down, turn the lights red. Some recipes are perhaps more useful than others, but the range of channels means that there’s tremendous flexibility. There are currently 77 channels on IFTTT and you can browse by channel, so it’s easy to see all the recipes that involve Philips Hue.

Setting up your Hue to work with IFTTT is two step process but it only has to be done once. The first step is to register with the Philips Hue website and allow the site to access the bridge unit within your home. Once you’ve done this and have a username and password, you can control your lights from outside your home using the Hue app on your smartphone too, so it’s probably something that most Hue owners have already done.

Back at IFTTT, the second step is then to activate your Hue channel. You’ll need to supply your Hue username and password, and authorise IFTTT to access your account.

Activate Hue

Now I’m going reuse a recipe that someone else has already created. In this instance, I’m going to flash the lights when I receive an email with the latest GNC podcast. I’ve already activated my Gmail channel.

Gmail to Hue

All I have to do is put in the email address - geeknews at gmail.com - and any time I get an email from Todd, the lights flash. This is the basic recipe; there are others that use keywords or other information likely to be in an email. If I want to, I can choose one particular light or all of them. Once the information is typed in and the recipe has been activated, all I have to do is sit back and wait for the latest podcast email to come in. Blink, blink.

That’s it. All pretty straightforward. If you are more adventurous, you can delve deeper into the recipes to customise them to your needs but there are plenty on IFTTT to get you started and provide inspiration. Philips Hue aside, the insight into the possibilities of the “Internet of things” is incredible.

I hope you have enjoyed this short series of articles on Philips Hue. It’s the first time that I’ve done this kind of short serial, so I’d welcome feedback in the comments on whether to actively search out similar opportunities.

Thanks again to Philips for the loan of the Hue Personal Wireless Lighting System.

No Open Ports

Posted by tomwiles at 10:28 PM on March 29, 2013

It started out with me not being able to remote in properly to multiple devices on my home network while I was traveling for work. I got home a week and a half later, thinking I’d probably just need to reboot my DSL router and perhaps a few other network devices and everything would quickly be back to normal.

Well, not so fast. It seems that my trusty and heretofore reliable telephone-company-provided Siemens Speedstream 4200 DSL router had somehow lost it’s configuration data – things like the phone number, the username and the password. I put all of that back in, and everything seemed to return to normal. That is, until I decided to see what would happen if I pulled the power plug. To my chagrin, it suffered yet another total identity crisis. Something must be wrong with it.

Hummm. The DSL installer had given me a second modem just in case the first one didn’t work when he initially got the DSL installed a couple of years ago, a unit designated as Sagem Fast 1704. I pulled it off the shelf and plugged it in to my system. This one is not nearly as user-friendly as the Siemens Speedstream 4200. After an extended amount of wrangling with it I got it working, but I still couldn’t get my remote IP camera, a Loftek CXS 2200 (an excellent inexpensive IP camera by the way) to work. I was doing everything exactly right, and it was still no go. The Loftek IP camera could not connect to the outgoing email server, and no matter what I did I couldn’t remote in to the camera itself from outside of my home network.

After wasting hours trying to determine what I might be doing wrong, I finally got the idea of going to a website where I could scan my home network IP address for open ports, and I immediately discovered what the problem was. Even though I was enabling port forwarding in the Sagem Fast 1704 DSL router, virtually ALL ports were closed. No matter what I did, unless I’m missing something, the ports cannot be opened on this router.

The moral of the story is if you are having problems with your router and port forwarding, potentially save yourself a bunch of time and go to a site such as http://www.yougetsignal.com/tools/open-ports/ and find out if the ports you are working with are actually open or not.

Additionally, I took advantage of Geek News Central’s DynDNS discount offer and quickly set up an inexpensive account that enables me to easily view my Loftek IP camera without messing around with finding what my dynamic IP home IP address has switched to.  With a camera app on my phone and other mobile devices, I can simply open up the app and always get a live view without having to go through any additional steps.

Surviving Allergy Season – With Technology

Posted by JenThorpe at 7:58 PM on May 3, 2012

Right now, we are going through what has been called the worst allergy season ever. I live in California, and have been suffering from allergies for weeks. Your experience may vary depending on where you live and exactly how severe your allergies happen to be. Personally, my allergies are so extreme that I’ve been told more than once that I should live in a “bubble”. If only I knew how to make that happen!

Fortunately, there are some online tools that can help me, and my fellow allergy sufferers, to survive this horrible season. Now seems like a good time to share them.

Pollen Forecasts

Benadryl.com has a simple pollen forecast. Look for the part that says “See Today’s Pollen Forecast”. Click the link that says “change location” and put in your zip code. It gives you a number, from zero through 12, that indicates how high the pollen count is. It also shows the three most predominant forms of pollen.

Allegra.com also has a pollen forecast. To use it, you have to type in your zip code. You get a bar graph that shows how high the pollen count is today, tomorrow, and for the next two days. It also tells you the two most predominant pollens.

Claritin.com has a pollen forecast that isn’t quite so informative. As always, you need to type in your zip code. Today, it says that the pollen where I am at is “medium”, (but it doesn’t assign it a numeric value). It tells me the two most predominant pollens. It shows tonight’s pollen count, tomorrows, and the next two days.

The Weather Channel also has a pollen forecast. The advantage of using this pollen forecast is that it isn’t hosted by a company that makes an allergy medication. The disadvantage, at least for me, is that it won’t give me information about what the pollen is like where I am at. Punch in your zip code and see if it works for you.

The best thing about all of these pollen forecasts is that I can look at them and, at a glance, know how dangerous it would be for me to go outside today. I can see how bad my allergies would be without having to leave my house.

Image: She Suffers A Cold by BigStock

Social Media for Children – KidzVuz

Posted by Andrew at 12:57 AM on February 8, 2012

KidzVuz LogoKidzVuz is an on-line community for children that lets them review and comment on kids’ gear. Andy and Don talk with co-founder Rebecca Levey about the site’s features and how they’re tailored to children.

Children are often left out of the on-line world as the major social networking sites such as Facebook enforce age restrictions on their members, and rightly so. KidzVuz encourages junior members to join in but addresses child protection issues by seeking parental permission, moderating all content and preserving anonymity. The site is completely COPA-compliant.

KidzVuz encourages children to upload video reviews of toys and games; to reward participation, many activities are turned into games with worldwide leaderboards. The site is categorised with different areas such as games, books and film. Food and travel has proved popular with children reporting back on family holidays.

KidzVuz is free to use by children and there is complementary blog for parents.

Interview by Andy McCaskey of SDR News and RV News Net, and Don Baine, the Gadget Professor.

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Mahalo.com cuts 10% of Workforce after Google Algorithm Change

Posted by J Powers at 11:12 PM on March 1, 2011
Mahalo

Mahalo

Just a day after Google announces they changed their Algorithm, Jason Calacanis and Mahalo sends word to their staff that 10% will be laid off. Since there are only 20 people working at Mahalo (according to Wikipedia), that means only 2 are being let go. Unless that is 10% of the content providing staff, then those numbers are greater.

I remember when Mahalo started. Jason was on a uStream connection talking about this great new site that lets people create pages and monitor content. A pay content farm. I signed up for the site, seeing if it would fit what I was doing. Alas, I couldn’t find a niche and so I decided to favor Digg over Mahalo.

A content farm is a site that regurgitates information. Let’s say you wanted to know how to tie your shoe. These sites would give you instructions, with ads blaring all around you. The information is something a 3rd grader could write, except for the fact it had to be rich in keywords. That way, they profit and give the writer of the article about 10%.

Therefore, if I write an article on my site about how to tie a shoe – maybe talk about a new easier way to do it, I could get overshadowed by a content farm. Nobody sees my site and I lose on any revenue from ads.

Over the weekend, Google changed the algorithm a bit to knock down link farm sites. Web pages like Mahalo, ezinearticles.com, business.com, examiner.com (etc) got hit hard. The top content farm hit hardest was a site called wisegeek.com. Sistrix.com put out a report of the top 25 content sites affected. Mahalo lost about 70% of their keywords on Google and the remaining keywords were downgraded severely.

Some sites got caught up in the new algorithm. CultofMac was one of them. Google is working with these sites that don’t really fit the profile to get them back up to par.

As for sites like Mahalo, it’s more about making a $ on what others can minimally create. Of course, this will cause these sites to retool the business to turn a profit in a different way. We’ll see what Calacanis does to counter the move. Maybe put some original thought into the site?

In the end, the hope is to find those top websites that were buried by other sites trying to make a profit off minimal work. That is really what it boils down to.

SourceForge changes it’s name to Geeknet

Posted by Mike Dell at 12:01 AM on November 5, 2009

SF04925LOGO SourceForge, Inc. announced on Wednesday that it has changed its name to Geeknet, Inc. to more accurately reflect the company’s business and the growing market it serves. The name change also supports the company’s intention to expand the reach of its online advertising services into new categories.

Sourceforge has always been a place to find open source applications and tools.

“Renaming the company Geeknet is the latest step in our rapid transformation,” said Scott L. Kauffman, President & CEO of Geeknet. “Our new name is a more accurate articulation of our business. With Geeknet as our calling card on Madison Avenue, we are now able to clearly define the audience we serve and more effectively capture the business opportunity that we are addressing.”

The Geeknet network, also includes  Slashdot, ThinkGeek and Ohloh, among others, and serves  more than 40 million geeks each month.

Geeknet has laucned it’s new website over at www.geek.net. Read the full announcement on geek.net

The sourceforge.net site will remain as it was.

I’ve downloaded a lot of great software from there over the years. It looks like they will be around for the long haul!

EduFire says it can help students learn and teachers make extra money

Posted by J Powers at 12:07 AM on September 23, 2009

edufireA couple years ago, I talked with a friend who was a teacher. We put together an idea for a website to help teach. It never made it off the planning stages, but I knew something would eventually come along.

It’s hailed as the “eBay for teachers”.  EduFire is a site that has been around for a year and has over five thousand teachers creating hundreds of classes with over 30 thousand students. For $30 a month, you get a Superpass to all courses.

Teachers get a cut of all students that take their lessons. EduFire gets 85% commission. It’s not unlike a musician renting a practice room for lessons or a personal trainer for a Pilate session. A good teacher that gets hundreds of students per course could easily make some good extra cash.

But is it a quality education system?

With five thousand teachers and growing, you would have to keep up with the content being published. There seems to be no accreditation needed to teach or tutor. Sign up for an account and go.

There is a “Tutor score” to weed out the bad ones. 1-4 = minus 1 point, 5-6 = 0 points and 7-10 – 1 point.

Still, it might be a great place for your kid to get the extra help needed to pass the ACT, or improve an individual academic. It even looks like a place to help those kids who have English as a second language. The flash card section is also pretty interesting.

Bottom line – if your child is partaking in the course, keep an eye on it. Make sure they are not giving misinformation. If you are a teacher, it could be some good extra money, but make sure it’s not going to cause any problems with your regular job.

As for my friend, I am going to point her in this direction. It looks like everything we discussed a couple years ago. I think this will be right up her alley.

How to survive disaster

Posted by todd at 6:17 AM on April 4, 2008

If you haven’t seen the Danger Room blog at Wired yet, it mainly focuses on what is new in National security issues. While it does post about some serious topics it also has a fantastic series on how to survive particular disaster situations. By far my favorite so far is the guide to how to survive a zombie apocalypse.

With heaps of useful tips on what tools and weapons will help you the most in different situations. There is also some warnings about problems you might encounter like trying to shoot straight in a stressful situation, and to keep a close eye on the fuel level in the flamethrower. Reading this will prepare you whether it is a demonic ‘evil dead’ style (“this is my boom stick”) or a mysterious spreading plague style a’la Romero living dead style attack.

It is only a matter of time before the zombies rise so best to be prepared.

Test your password strength

Posted by todd at 9:08 PM on April 2, 2008

An interesting litttle app that will give a measure of how secure your password is. One extra that others like this have not offered before is the ability to download an offline version so you don’t have to enter your prospective passwords into a web site you do not control. It does not yet solve the problem that secure passwords are a pain to remember, but it can least give you an idea of the effect small tweaks to your existing password, like a random capital or susbstituting a letter for a number or symbol.

One trivial criticism I have with their algorithm is that some of their subtraction logic doesn’t stand up. If I enter the password “h@3B6)sR?” it gets a score of 100%, but if I add extra characters “h@3B6)sR?xxxx” it drops back to 0% because of the repeated characters. Technically any character combination that is secure cannot be made less secure by adding more characters whatever they are. However this is a very small issue with a very good, very simple app.

Found via lifehacker.