Running Android on a netbook

This content is 12 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

I’ve been thinking for a while it might be an interesting experiment to get Android running on my netbook. Amazingly, it was incredibly simple, thanks to a bit of ‘net research and the Android x86 project.

Sam Cater’s Android on your netbook post covers all the basics of downloading the software and preparing a USB stick to boot it (using UNetbootin). Depending on your hardware, you may find that you need a different version – I couldn’t get the Ice Cream Sandwich (Android 4.0) RC to work on my Lenovo S10e, for instance, but a deprecated generic version of Froyo (Android 2.2) seemed to boot with no issues.

It doesn’t even seem to matter that there is no touch support in my chosen hardware – the mouse and keyboard seemed to do the job for me. It will need some more work for me to get Wi-Fi into action (this thread might help) but, for now, I’m happy that 10 minutes on the ‘net (and that’s all it was – 15 at the most) found a use for an old USB stick and gave me a chance to have a play.


How sending email to SMS led me to a world of event-driven programming

This content is 12 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

A couple of nights ago, I was messing around with SMS alerting after checking out some websites to let me know the best times to see the Northern Lights in southern Britain. Lancaster University’s AuroraWatch UK site, has an alerting system including advice on sending emails to a phone via SMS.  The exact steps are carrier-specific, however O2, who operate the network I use (Giffgaff), works with MMail (send a text consisting of the word on to 212 and a confirmation from 21203 will tell you your email address, which should be – turn it off again with an off text to 212).  Even so, it is a risky service to leave active as each text message sent or received costs the recipient (it’s supposed to be 10p, but for me it seemed to be £0.20), so it’s possible for a spammer to run up a hefty phone bill for you… on that basis, MMail doesn’t sound so attractive.

There are a variety of SMS services available from SMS2Email but a little bit more digging around (on the Giffgaff forums), turned up reference to If This Then That (Ifttt) – a website that someone had mentioned to me recently but which I hadn’t looked at yet.

My verdict? Wow! Event-driven programming is cool.

Register at the site and build tasks that match the “if this, then that” construct, based on:

  • Triggers – the this part.
  • Actions – the that part.
  • Channels – the “things” that triggers and actions take input from or output to .

Tasks poll for input every 15 minutes but they can be turned on/off and you can also create recipes for sharing tasks, so for example, I’ve created a task/recipe that polls the AuroraWatch UK Twitter RSS and sends an SMS message when there is a red alert (i.e. a chance of spotting the Northern Lights anywhere in the UK). I’m sure there are loads more things that can be done with Ifttt as there stacks of channels to build from – in fact, wading through the recipes that people have shared brings up some pretty cool ideas.

Ifttt is definitely worthy of further investigation…

Giffgaff gotcha

This content is 12 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

A few months ago, I wrote about Giffgaff – and I’m still very happy with paying less for a mobile service on the O2 network than I would from O2 (and earning credit for referrals, answering questions, etc. in the process).  Unfortunately I fell foul of a little complexity in the service this week and I think it’s worth mentioning.

Giffgaff account detailsAfter getting cut off a call mid flow, I logged into the Giffgaff website, under My giffgaff, looked for the My account panel, and saw that my credit had reduced from around £5 to just 16p.  The reason was that my “Goodybag” (a bundle of calls, text and data) had expired and that the “Auto Top-up” only applies to my “credit” balance (a separate pay as you go balance for chargable services that are not included in the Goodybag, like 0845 numbers).

It is possible to buy your next Goodybag to pick up where an expired one has left off (as you can see, I’ve done this now) – but that’s not the same as Auto Top-up.  (Quite why my Auto Top-up didn’t trigger is anyone’s guess but I’m kind of happy it didn’t as I would have carried on chatting and surfing, thinking I was using my included minutes/megabytes, but actually spending money…)

Get a free giffgaff SimAs I recommended Giffgaff to readers of this blog (indeed, I still do recommend them), I thought I should highlight this potential source of confusion, in case anyone else trips up like I did!

[Update 18 June 2012: Giffgaff have announced that they will launch recurring Goodybag topups on 20 June 2012)

Northern Lights

This content is 12 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

AuroraI love the idea of watching the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) and was equally pleased to learn of the existence of Southern Lights (Aurora Australis) which I’m sure would be just as fascinating to watch in the night sky.  So far, I’ve not seen either of these phenomena but, with the increased levels of solar activity of late, it’s possible that, with a clear sky, it may be possible to see the Northern Lights, even where I live in Southern England and I was pretty hopeful this evening.  Sadly the forecast has changed and a display here now looks unlikely.

Even so, whilst I was hunting for advice on how best to see the Northern Lights, I found some really good information about the auroras and it’s probably worth sharing it here:

Image credit: Aurora, by well_lucio on Flickr. Licenced under Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0).

A week of BYOD discussions

This content is 12 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

My corporate laptop infuriates me* – which might explain why I’m such a big advocate for the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) model that a lot of people are talking about right now (and which I’ve written about previously).

This week saw the culmination of a couple of initiatives I’ve been working on in this space and I thought it might be worth sharing some of what I found.

First up is some work I’ve been involved in with University College London, presenting an industry view on BYOD to students studying a Soft Systems Methodology (SSM) module as they work towards an MSc in Human Computer Interaction.

SSM is an approach to information gathering and analysis, not really oriented towards problem solving but for arriving at a situation where all stakeholders can work with some form of concensus. The students have listened to views on BYOD from me (as an IT technology and services supplier) along with IT directors from the government, education and media sectors and, earlier this week, I found myself on a panel listening to the students presenting their findings.

It was interesting to see what they had to say and, whilst the SSM approach didn’t necessarily answer my problem (which is helping customers to adopt BYOD without negatively impacting their business), there were some little nuggets that I thought were worthy of highlight:

  • Firstly, the students told me that my company needed to think about “consumer-driven product design”. Basically, they want sexy laptops [preferably ones with aluminium cases and an illuminated picture of an apple on the lid?] but seriously, vendors like HP, Dell and Lenovo [Fujitsu?] need to either, leave the consumer market to others (because it’s massively commoditised anyway) or come up with something that’s attractive to consumers, rather than to IT departments.  Whilst I can’t comment on what Fujitsu might do in future – it was good feedback – and some of the recent announcements at MWC and CEBIT might show some direction towards meeting this demand.
  • The students also told me that IT vendors need an expanded portfolio of device-agnostic services, that meet security requirements for protection of corporate data, yet provide flexibility (I happen to agree entirely – let IT managers concentrate on data, not devices – more on that in a few paragraphs’ time…)
  • They also want consumer-driven support services, citing AppleCare as an example. I did quip that they meant “expensive” then, but again, it’s interesting to see Apple held up as the gold standard in the eyes of today’s young consumers (many of whom also have jobs – I have to admit having been surprised to see that many of the students were not 22 year-olds straight from their first degree but mature students, studying whilst balancing family and work pressures).
  • Interestingly, generation Y does not think that the demand for BYOD is in any way generational (I’ve long since thought this was something used by companies for marketing, rather than a true phenomenon) – their assessment was that desire for BYOD is more driven out of an attitude to change, combined with personal needs. In addition the students felt that cognitive ability (the ability to abstract or problem-solve) presents an opportunity upon which to focus training in the workplace, and one group suggested the provision of training that provides each generation with an understanding of how others work. Another group felt that BYOD could even be an equaliser between generations.
  • One group felt that, where BYOD is a step too far, the choose your own device (CYOD) model (employed by Avanade, I believe) could work – with employees choosing one of a number of standard devices from an approved list.
  • And another consideration was that not everyone wants to carry a device around with them – either through fears of security with high value items on public transport (that may be a London thing: I’ve taken my devices on buses and trains for years) or because of social activities after work.

Then, yesterday, I was with a group of senior architects, listening to CIO Connect present on some of their research findings in the BYO space, before I gave my own take on things (and how we, as an organisation, can respond to our customer’s needs in this area). For obvious reasons, I won’t be spilling the beans on my employer’s plans but it was interesting to see what CIOs are saying about the trend:

  • Consumerisation is the second-largest change CIOs have seen in their careers, behind ecommerce, joint with business re-engineering and ahead of cloud computing [I found cloud’s position surprising – maybe that’s because I work for a systems integrator].
  • Many BYOD initiatives are being driven from the boardroom (e.g. the CEO’s Christmas present) but there are advantages across the business (dependant upon role).
  • Benefits are employee productivity (44%), employee satisfaction (29%), end user innovation (15%) and cost reduction (12%).
  • Funding model is split with 48% using company funds, 15% co-funding and 37% requiring employees to fund the device costs.
  • Concerns are mostly around security/leakage, company/brand reputation, technical support, costs and software licensing.

In terms of the solutions being employed, I found a little too much emphasis on what I would call transitional technologies (sticking plaster, if you like) – virtual desktops, and hosted shared desktops – but if that’s helping to move things forward in terms of device ubiquity then I guess it’s a step in the right direction.  Ultimately BYOD depends on greater adoption of service-oriented architectures (which is being driven by adoption of cloud applications); on de-perimiterisation (moving from a system of trusted endpoints and secure networks to a new model based on a combination of user, device, application and location); on switching from a mindset that sees devices as assets to one where the data is the asset; and on a willingness to work through a plethora of non-technical issues.

I’m sure I’ll be returning to this subject in future…

*My Fujitsu Lifebook S7220 is a perfectly good machine – and was great when I used to run lots of virtual machines to do lots of techie stuff – but the BIOS doesn’t support client hypervisors, my IT department has crippled it with some awful disk encryption software (not BitLocker, which is built into Windows) and it’s just too big and heavy. In my current role I’d like something a bit smaller and lighter – an ultrabook would be nice… I just have to wait for mine to hit it’s fourth anniversary so I can order a replacement.

Fit at 40: Nearly there!

This content is 12 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

It’s been a few months since I gave an update on my Fit at 40 challenge but last weekend I ran the Milton Keynes 10K, which marks my third major race since taking up the challenge. Whilst my time was best described as disappointing, I did at least run the whole course (for which the last mile or so is all uphill!) in torrential rain and I don’t think I’ve ever been so cold…

Meanwhile, the weight loss continues: inevitably, Christmas saw a couple of pounds added (although it was mostly the pre-Christmas celebrations – over Christmas I continued exercising – including spinning on Christmas Eve and a run with my brother-in-law on Boxing Day) but I found it really difficult to push through my previous milestone and was stuck at 100kg (15st 10lbs) for a couple of weeks until, suddenly, I managed to blast through it.  Since then I’ve been religious about counting calories, making full use of the Weight Loss Resources website and making sure that I’m getting plenty of exercise (tracked on Runkeeper). Sadly an injury in January – immediately followed by snow and ice in February – meant I couldn’t run for a bit, but I kept up the swimming and spinning… and I seem to be fixed up now.

After getting stuck again at 97kg (15st 4lb) and 95.25kg (15st 0lb), I weighed in on Saturday and was really pleased to be able to say that I’ve now lost my third stone placing me at 93.5kg (14st 10lb). That means I still have 3lbs to lose before 5 April but I’m confident that I’ll make it. And, for the first time in goodness-knows how many years I’m now simply overweight, instead of obese (my BMI is now 29.5, down from 35.5 at the start of the challenge)!

As for the running, well, I was tempted to enter the adidas Silverstone half-marathon (I did say I might try for a half-marathon at the end of the challenge) but I’m starting to feel the odd twinge at about the 5 mile/8 km mark so I don’t really want to risk injury right now.  I’ve entered the Bupa London 10,000 again in May – and hope to knock 10-12 minutes off my 2011 time. After that, I may see if I can build up to a half marathon but, for once, I listened to my wife’s advice and decided not to risk the whole challenge by pushing my body too far – I may feel better than I have in years, but I’m not 25 any more and my knees are certainly telling me that 10K is about my limit at the moment (I ran just over 13K once, when a bridlepath was closed and I had a 3 mile diversion to get across the river!).

JustGiving - Sponsor me please!As for my fundraising for The Prostate Cancer Charity, so far I have raised around £1100, with another £650 pledged from friends and family, but I’d really like to make it to £2000 (plus gift aid). You can donate on the Internet or, in the UK, by SMS (text message) – just text MWIL72 £1 (or whatever your donation is!) to 70070.

So, where next? Well, “Fit at 40” was a good start, and going from almost no exercise to my current levels, whilst losing just over three stone was no small achievement. I know that some friends and colleagues have doubts – after all they see me eating badly from time to time but we all do that – and the whole point has been about making sustainable lifestyle choices – not living like a saint.  I could have “gone on a diet” but past experience tells me I’ll pile it back on.  This slow, steady, sustainable weight loss seems to be working (and its always good when people comment how much weight I’ve lost).

I still have a bit of a belly though, so I’m not stopping here – it would be great to lose another couple of stones over the next year – and I’m going to give it a shot.  I won’t be pestering friends for sponsorship but it’s my personal goal.

My health is improving too – I did recently start taking medication to control my high blood pressure but that in itself is not an illness – I have a family history of hypertension and if I can keep it under control then that should help prevent serious illness as a consequence. More seriously, at 6.3mmol/L my cholesterol level is too high. Importantly though, that’s down from 6.9 when it was measured 5 years previously – and the ratio of “good” (HDL) cholesterol to “bad” (LDL) cholesterol is improving – clearly “Fit at 40” is working and will continue to work as I lose even more weight (really, I need to get that number down below 6mmol/L and ideally to around 5).

Finally, I recently read an article on the Sydney Morning Herald website about people turning 40, and turning to exercise… well – maybe that’s what’s happening here. Perhaps the sports car, etc. will have to wait until my 50th…

Thoughts on consuming newspapers with a Kindle

This content is 12 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

I’ve become a bit of a Kindle convert of late. First Amazon added the ability to send documents to the Kindle app (it was previously just for “real” Kindles). Then, I discovered the highlighting and social sharing. More recently, after buying my wife a Kindle, I’ve been reading the newspaper.

I don’t normally read a daily paper – I might pick up one of the free papers (Metro or London Evening Standard) on the train to/from work and I’ll flick through the local rag (Milton Keynes Citizen) when it drops through the door but most of my news is consumed from the BBC (website, Radio 4, or the ten o’clock news). If we get a quiet weekend though, I do enjoy one of the weekend papers – Sunday Times for me (at least, until the “phone hacking” scandal uncovered so much evidence of wrong-doing at News International) or The Guardian on Saturday for my wife (if only it had a decent technology/motoring section).

So we decided to try The Guardian and Observer Kindle Edition, partly due to the existence of a free 14-day trial.

Unfortunately, once the trial is over, the cost for the Grauniad on Kindle in the UK is £9.99 a month, whilst it’s $9.99 in the United States. We’re used to US prices coming across with almost 1:1 parity over here but this is not a simple import duty/sales tax mark-up  – it’s just plain wrong  (remember, this is a UK newspaper). That leaves me feeling ripped off, and less likely to extend my occaisional 99p single issue purchase (which would just be 75c in the States) to a full month.

It’s not that I think £9.99 is a lot of money for a months’ worth of newspapers – actually, I think it’s fair, given that the cost of distributing electronically must be so much lower than in print but that newspapers still need to derive a revenue stream to avoid declining into the pit of dumbed-down celebrity trivia that threatens real journalism.  My issue is that US consumers of The Guardian on Kindle pay so much less – perhaps as part of Guardian Media Group’s drive to gain a foothold in the United States?

So, back to the point, what’s it like reading the paper on a Kindle?

Actually, it’s rather good – all of the paper laid out by subsections with sensible navigation.  If you’re reading on an E Ink device, then there may be limited value in some of the illustrations (remember the days of black and white newsprint?) but in the Kindle app on my iPad, I see the paper in glorious colour.  I also like that the paper is there for me in the early hours so that when I leave home to catch the 06:52 to Euston it’s ready for me to read on the train.

Unfortunately though, there are some downsides. Despite being delivered in the Kindle app, the digital edition lacks highlighting and social sharing – so many times I’ve wanted to highlight something, tweet and link to the online version of an article… only to find that to do that I have to drop out to the website. And I can’t even bookmark articles to come back to and look up on the web later – surely that’s a missed opportunity for integration of online and offline content?

Perhaps The Guardian would rather that subscribers didn’t realise how good the website is?  It seems that a lot of the tech news that hits me on the web via various Guardian Twitter aliases/podcasts is absent in the print edition and that, sometimes, the Guardian website might be a better place to spend some time than flicking through the paper… (but don’t get any ideas about paywalls – that’s why you never see me tweeting Times or Financial Times stories…).

My subscription to The Guardian Kindle Edition runs out on Friday and, sadly, I won’t be renewing. I may buy the odd copy on a weekend but, then again, I might buy a different paper instead (perhaps The New York Times, or The Telegraph?)… and the challenge for newspapers to find a new business model for the digital age continues.