Doug Toppin's Blog

My thoughts on technology and other stuff

Bose QC-35 Bluetooth Headset Review

A quick review of the Bose QC-35 wireless headset. I’ve been using a QC 15 at work for some time and regularly catch the audio cable on something (chair arm most of all) and half the time yank the cable out. I got tired of the enough last week to buy the Bose QC 35 wireless headset. It works like a champ but one caveat on it. The 15 has a solid throw switch for on/off. The 35 on/off switch is a different design and more flimsy. It appears to be easy to abuse. It feels different to your fingers and I have a tendency to push it in in addition to sliding it. I’ve learned to look at it and turn it on before putting the headset on. Audio quality is at least equal to the 15, over ear comfort is the same. It also has a rechargeable battery in it with a usb charging cable. I’ve been wearing my 15 much more often at work lately to reduce surrounding office environment noise.

It connecting to up to 2 BT sources means that if you are listening using one of them (such as your MBP) while connected to your phone if a phone call comes in you get a spoken notification with the option to switch BT sources. Worked very well for me minutes ago.

My only complaints are that the power button seems flimsy and asking to break and it would be nice to connect to more than 2 BT sources. In my case my source are iPhone, MBP personal, MBP work and iPad so being able to do 3 at any one time would work best for me.

Tesla Fatality and Autonomous Vehicles

I keep thinking about some of the implications of the recent Tesla driver fatality and a few aspects came to mind regarding autonomous vehicles.

One is did the car detect the accident (the top was sheared off I think) and if so how? Does it have accelerometers that detect a jolt indicating an accident and react accordingly? Would this event even have been noticed by an accelerometer?

In this case the car drove under a flat bed truck and may have continued at least for a bit. The accident might have had a better outcome if the car had impacted the truck directly rather than the way that it did which was bad luck.

Another consideration is related to the car awareness of the driver condition. By that I mean what if the driver had a heart attack or seizure and did not touch anything that would get the car’s attention. Is it possible that a driver could become incapacitated or even die and the car not be aware of it and continue on until it reaches a destination? The stipulation of driving modes such as this is that the driver is supposed to maintain continual awareness. The reality is that it will become easy and tempting to do something else. Aircraft autopilots have been criticized because they reduce pilot direct flying activities, increase dependence on the autopilot and may erode pilot skills as a result.

The idea of a driver becoming a systems monitor will probably not become mainstream anytime soon.

This accident will likely delay the appearance of the fully autonomous vehicle because it raised the awareness of the complexity of driving and visibility conditions and unexpected events.

Until a vehicle can mimic the same level of vision, particularly field of view, and interpretation of what is seen, heard and felt by a human I am not sure that full autonomy will occur without continued risk.

Book Review: The Reapers Are the Angels: A Novel

Somewhat different than the typical Zombie Apocalypse Fiction

The main character was born around after the time of the Zombie Apocalypse (ZA) and did not know of any other life. An unusual aspect of the dialog was that it is not in quotes, instead almost looking like thoughts. I don’t believe that I have seen this before and I liked it. Since the ZA had happened some years previously the grammar is poorer. This was the first depiction that I’ve seen of life well after the ZA and the inevitable erosion or even disappearance of structured education. The result of this would include some no longer being able to read or write for example.

I did find that some infrastructure elements like water, power, some gasoline stations and vehicles still operating were unexpected given the passage of time. I don’t believe that the original cause was discussed which I appreciated because that is covered excessively in most other books on the subject. Not to include any spoilers, I only mention that the Z and some survivor depictions also included differences that I have not seen before that added to the interest.

If you are looking for ZAF that is thought provoking and different this is an excellent example and I recommend it.

You can find it at The Reapers Are The Angels: A Novel

Amazon Echo and Engaging Your Audience

An example of an interesting Amazon Echo skill is “Seinfeld Fan Trivia”. This asks 5 multiple choice questions about the series. If you have watchers/subscribers it is an example of engaging your audience outside your medium.

Also, I recently got the Amazon Echo Dot. It is a smaller version (smaller speaker) of the Amazon Echo. The Echo is a device that listens for it’s name and a question or statement and when it hears it will respond to you. Examples are things ranging from “Alexa, what’s the weather forecast?” to “Alexa, how old is Cher?”.

We’ve been pretty impressed with our Echo so I wanted to try the Dot to see how it sounds. I would probably just advise using the Echo over the Dot in general just because of the better audio quality but the Dot can also use external speakers which works well too. You might get the Dot if you have a good sound system and don’t need the Echo built-in speaker.

I’m still trying out different configurations for it. One advantage that is apparent so far is that once a BlueTooth speaker has been paired with it you can use it by saying “Alexa, connect to my xxx”. I’m gong to try a couple of different speakers today to see how easily it switches. My biggest comment is that the Dot speaker is definitely “tinny” sounding. I have tried cabled speakers and 1 BT (Bose SoundLink) so far.

There is no lack of opportunity with this device/service and the voice interface in general.

AWS IoT Buttons

Amazon has a series of buttons called ‘Dash’ buttons that let you easily order stuff. They also have a version of this button called the IoT (Internet Of Things) Button that you can use to interface with AWS Lambda. You can then write your own logic on what to do with a button press event.

They recently started selling these buttons but sold out pretty quickly. I would not be surprised if they pop up again so if you like messing with the AWS and IoT type things you should give it a try.

I got a couple and have been fiddling around a bit with them. I will post more on this later.

https://aws.amazon.com/iot/button/

Telepresence and Elder Care?

The increase in an elderly population has raised my interest in technologies that can assist. One of those has been evaluating whether or not the Amazon Echo helps with mental stimulation, being useful for someone unable to use any phone/tablet technology and providing some degree of companionship.

I’ve been thinking about other tools that might help. Apple Facetime is an obvious one but many elders are unable to use a mobile device at all. Another that occurs to me is a telepresence type device with the Double (doublerobotics.com) solving several issues. The Double is intended for remote workers but I think it may be applicable in other situations as well.

The advantages include the following.

  • remotely controlled
  • no knowledge or involvement required by the elder
  • very applicable for a single story or no stairs environment
  • the remote controlling person can start/stop it as needed at any time
  • it can charge itself, again the elder does not have to do anything to keep it functioning
  • provides video and audio interaction
  • allows the remote controller to assist in directing the elder by watching and talking
  • keeps the elder involved with the remote controlling person as frequently as desired

I suspect there are others as well. The cost is obviously a concern but not having to drive over or ask someone to stop by for trivial matter can save a lot of time and inconvenience.

Engineers and Coffee Podcast

Fascinating discussion towards the end of this Engineers & Coffee episode at http://engineers.coffee/episodes/2016/4/ about DropBox moving from AWS. They mention a number of very good points including spending money to simply move to their own hosting rather than adding features, using CapEx expenses to make their IPO appear more attractive and several others.

There are some interesting details to consider about letting your cloud costs escalate. Examples of them might include object storage and data movement. Your architecture planning and design should include not only near-term requirements and needs but also take a long-term view. The long-term view would mean estimating the eventual size of your given given some amount of success with bringing in customers. Consider what gigabytes and terabytes of storage might mean in costs and whether or not you can include approaches that will not cause significant costs later if you are successful.

Vendor Lock-in and Cloud Providers

I have heard the phase (fear of) “vendor lock-in” used several times in the last few weeks associated with cloud providers. I’ve been wondering if there really is such a thing? By that I mean taking advantage of any cloud provider facilities/capabilities may save you time and reduce cost. Moving to another provider just means mapping your interfaces/functions to the new provider features or else implementing what is missing.

This means that you are not locked in in the sense of never being able to change providers. To me it means that if you should ever have to move you might have to use some of the money that you saved in the first place to implement or re-architect what does not exist in the new environment.

If you do not take advantage of any provider facilities you have increased your costs and lengthened the schedule for a potential future move that might never be necessary or happen.

Amazon Echo and Commercial Integrations

I have had an Amazon Echo for a few months and am satisfied with what it can do. The Echo is a device that you use voice commands to interact with it rather than a keyboard or mobile application. It comes with a number of basic capabilities including weather, news and playing music. One of the nice aspects of the Echo is that additional applications (what are called “Skills”) can be written for it and enabled by users. A recent addition that is an excellent example of an innovative commercial integration for it is the Capital One skill. This provides Capital One account holders with the ability to get account information and even make credit card payments. I am impressed that Capital One has taken this step to provide more convenience to their customers.

I am confident voice interactions have a large number of practical usages that we will see added to the Echo capabilities. I also expect that we will begin to see numerous other appliances and devices start providing a voice interface.

AWS IoT and the MQTT.fx Client Updated

In the previous post http://blog.dougtoppin.name/blog/2015/10/09/aws-iot-and-the-mqtt-dot-fx-client/ I passed along a few tidbits about using the MQTT client with the AWS IoT service.

Since then both the AWS IoT service and the MQTT client have been updated. I decided to do an updated post with any new info. The AWS IoT configuration pages have noticeably changed.

The current MQTT client can be found at http://www.jensd.de/apps/mqttfx/1.0.0/. There are a few visible differences in the client configuration.

The IoT resources main panel now looks like this.

The certificate resource page now looks like this and the downloads will save as files that help with identifying which they are used for.

The cert names will appear something like these

xxx-certificate.pem.crt
xxx-private.pem.key
xxx-public.pem.key

In the previous post I had to replace newline characters in the cert files but this time I did not and was able to use them as is.

The MQTT client connection settings page will look something like this.

The root-cert can be found in the AWS IoT document here.

The pub/sub functions in the MQTT client worked without any trouble. The Log tab in the client can provide useful information if you run into any trouble. If there are any connection issues the cause should appear in the Log.