With another successful orbit around the sun completed, its time for us carbon based lifeforms to dream up some list of ‘Things we would like to improve on’ in 2016. Since we all lack the telepathic mind controlling abilities to force these improvements upon others on a global scale, it is perhaps more prudent to start with ourselves. So here are 5 things you might want to “improve on” for those of you who have not taken the plunge into the wonderful world of cross platform computing.
1: Stop being such a fanboy.
Are you “This guy/girl” at every party that religiously promotes brand/platform XYZ and gets into countless arguments on which is the better brand/platform/phone with your friends and relatives ? Have you spent most of Christmas eve explaining to your cousin why Android is far superior to IOS ? How about you stop doing that in 2016 ? Seriously. Somehow you are playing out the exact scenario that marketeers have planned out for you. Somewhere, somehow you have developed this religious devotion to a certain brand or platform that is just (for a lack of a better word) STUPID.
If you have ever gotten into a situation where app/platform/brand X has NOT been more then satisfactory, yet ignored this issue (To yourself and your peers.) because it didn’t line up with your beliefs / previous statements, then you’re a fanboy and you need to stop. So stop droning on about how your iPhone is superiour to all other phones on the planet and actually take the time to try out some of the alternatives. God forbid .. you might like them.
Have you ever gotten into a situation where app/platform/brand X has NOT been more then satisfactory, yet ignored this issue ?
2: Stray away from your favorite applications.
“I can’t move to platform X because I use application Y”. I’ve heard it a dozen times over. ‘Nope, Can’t switch to Linux because I NEED Outlook.’ Surprise: You don’t NEED an application, you need to perform the process that is TIED to that application. You don’t NEED Outlook, you NEED to be able to communicate via Email. The correct statement would actually be: ‘Nope, Can’t switch to Linux because I am afraid to learn how to work with another Email client.’ So try to get out of that sticky situation by NOT devoting ALL your time and energy using JUST your favorite apps. Whether its an app on your phone or one on your desktop .. there are probably plenty alternatives out there that you can tinker with, just for the fun of it. God forbid … you might like them.
You don’t NEED Outlook, you NEED to be able to communicate via Email.
3: Give one flavor of Linux a try this year, for real this time.
Any self-respecting geek HAS taken the time to “Play around” with Linux. For some this means a devotion to the platform where they live out their entire geek-lives in the command line, but for most this means just slapping in a live-boot thumb drive, fiddling around with it for 20 minutes before deeming it “too slow” and going back to whatever OS you used before.
This year, try something different. Devote an old PC (and some of your time) to actually giving it a go as a primary operating system for a week. Write up a blogpost about what you like and what you hate. If a complete desktop experience is too much for you, try out something small like playing with a Raspberry Pi and tinkering with one of many interesting projects you can build. God forbid .. you might like it.
Devote an old PC (and some of your time) to actually giving it a go as a primary operating system for a week.
4: Lean on the communities.
You might be spending a lot of your online time aimlessly scrolling through 9gag, Facebook or Tinder. So why not spice things up a little by going out of your way to find some online geek communities you can learn from ? If any of the cross platform endeavors stated above trigger you to learn more or get some help .. lean on the communities ! There are plenty of forums, sub-Reddits and Google+ groups about the topic you are diving into. They will be able to provide you with excellent feedback and support. Why waste hours on Googling when you can just ask the experts. God forbid .. you might like it there.
There are plenty of forums, sub-Reddits and Google+ groups about the topic you are diving into.
5: Give something in return.
And if, on your adventures into cross platform computing, have learned something new ? Why not give some back ? Post your experiences back to the forums, comment in the discussions and put your new found experience to good use by helping others. If you are feeling truly daring, why not try your hand a podcasting. Recording a simple episode on your phone and submitting it to the Hacker Public Radio podcast is a great way to get started. You will learn that the best way to learn,is to teach. God forbid .. you might like it.
You will learn that the best way to learn,is to teach.
So let 2016 be the year for you where you step out of your comfort zone and try something new. Try a new OS, a different brand of phone or some geeky new project that lets you control your home lights from the internet. We at Knightwise.com wish you good luck in your endeavours.
Lets face it, Reviewing stuff is cool. From time to time we get stuff in the mail that we can tweet or blog our opinions about. This lets us play with some pretty cool stuff, and sometimes we even get to review stuff that you can’t just ship. So when LG asked us to review their 55 inch 4K Oled TV, we thought we were going to need a bigger mailbox. It turns out WE got to go and review IT for a night in a fancy penthouse suite in Brussels. The life of a blogger is hard.
After we had settled into the little penthouse and managed to tear away our eyes from the wonderful view, it was time to check out the tv. The lightly curved 4K 55 inch monster is quite elegant for its size. No overdone “HERE I AM” pimped out casing, no blinking lights.. Just a 55 inch slightly curved monolith … and its “full of stars” !
Black is Black.
Once you turn it on you see what OLED is all about. For those of you who don’t know. Regular LED tv’s have “lightbars” at the edges of the screen, “lighting up” the pixels as it where. This means that pixels that are set to “black” still “bleed” some of this light through resulting in dark grey tones instead of actual black. Depending on the quality of your LED tv this might vary.
With Oled every pixel generates its own lightsource. So when the pixel is told to go BLACK it just switches off … resulting in true black. This is of course a lot of technobabble, so what is the result ? The end result is that the colors are amazing and that black is really black. During our first demo, a scene from “House of Cards”, where Claire is standing with her back to the edge of the frame wearing a black dress, there was no way to distinguish the black dress with the black edge of the tv. Impressive !
So how about this 4K stuff ?
Double the resolution of an HD Tv and you get 4K. That’s a resolution of 4096 by 2160 pixels. Result ? Watch yourself some 4K Netflix and you get to see a whole new level of detail. During the pilot episode of “The Blacklist” we saw small motes of dust floating through the scene. Each individual hair that was somehow out of place on the head of the lead character was visible. 4K will be a makeup artists nightmare ! The level of detail is so uncanny that at some point we noticed a booger (yes a booger) up the left nostril of one of the characters. We seriously shit you not: Much resolution, So 4K wow !
One thing that was familiar on the LG was the Smart OS that runs it. One could not tell by the looks but the “smart” part is actually HP’s WEB OS. Yeah, that’s the OS that never made it to the tablet space and died in a dark corner at Wallmart. But its offspring is alive and kicking. You can control it with the remote, using the buttons OR using it as a pointer. The interface is fine and responds pretty snappy. We liked it.
The only thing we were not that impressed with was the sound. Although the Tv features Harman Kardon speakers, the sound was a little ‘flat’. But I guess when you have the budget to buy one of these beauties, getting a 600 euro sound bar is peanuts.
So in the end ?
The LG 4k TV is a little bit like driving a Tesla for a day. Its awesome, its fantastic, its the best of the best and .. its also the price of 3 kidneys. At 3999 euro’s for the 55″ model and 5999 for the 65″ model, things might be a little bit outside our price range. We worry a little about the amount of 4k content that is available right now. Sure there is some on Netflix (Costs you a little extra though) but does it satisfy the purchase today ?
Our review of the LG 55EG960V Ultra HD 4K TV (as it is officially called) showed us a peek in whats to come in the near future of TV entertainment. Bight colors, solid blacks, awesome resolutions and hopefully a more affordable price range. And lets not forget new drinking games where you have to take a shot every time you see a booger up the nose of one of the lead characters !
This weeks guestblog is brought to us by Daniel Messer, aka the Cyberpunk librarian. Find out more about Daniel, his podcast and his awesome website over at Cyberpunk librarian.Com
Digital signage is a passion of mine which is odd because, for the most part, I hate advertising. When you think “digital signs” you have to think about advertising because the two go hand and hand, right? You see them all over the place from your local big box store where they use monitors on end-caps to sell you stuff you don’t need to the trendy Apple store where they’ll use an iPad Air 2 as a digital sign.
That’s a baseline US$500 device sitting there. It kicked off the tablet revolution and ushered in a so-called “Post PC Era.” And there it is, bolted to a table, telling you why you’d want to buy a PC. That’s irony so thick you could spread it on toast.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
As a public library webmaster, one of my jobs is managing the digital signs in our branches. I don’t create the content so much anymore, but I handle the tech side when needed. These things run off of small, dedicated PCs running Windows 7. Their administrative interface is lousy, the PCs are overkill as they’re rolling glorified PowerPoint presentations, and the big screen monitor and PCs kick out enough heat to keep you warm in the winter.
For the record, I live in Phoenix. We really don’t have a winter here.
When I first got my hands on a Pi, I knew this would be better for getting the library’s messages out on digital signs. They’re tiny, produce little heat, could be velcroed to the back of a monitor, and they run on free software. Diving into different software packages I played withScreenly OSE, Concerto, RiseVision, and others before landing on something I really liked — an idea I got at an airport.
The Phoenix Mesa Gateway Airport, aka AZA, uses Pis for almost all of their digital signs from the ones dropping ads to the ones that tell you when your flight departs and from what gate. Even the monitors beside the gates use Raspberry Pis to display the gate number, flight number, destination, and so on. I talked with a couple of their IT staff to find out what they used and the answer was surprising and refreshing.
They use a web browser. When you look at those signs, you’re simply looking at a website, in a browser, in full screen mode. The website refreshes itself every so often, and there’s a quick blank screen while it does this, but then you’re presented with the latest information.
I went back to my desk and got to work.
An old server bound for surplus found new life in our racks with an Ubuntu Server installation. I knew I’d have to do things slightly different as our library district covers a huge area while the airport covers a single large building. Instead of using the Pis to call a website, I’d have them bring up web content stored locally, but synced from the server.
I installed Chromium on the Pis because I like how easily you can feed it switches through a command line. That’ll be useful later. I also need to make sure that the screens don’t go blank or into power-save mode. Turns out there are a couple of ways to worry about this, but an easy way to handle it is to simply install XScreenSaver and then disable it.
My Pi OS of choice is Raspbian, which uses LXDE as its desktop environment. That’s excellent because to make all the necessary changes I just need to edit a couple of files, maybe three if you’re running the latest version. Opening up LXTerminal and then running
sudo nano /etc/xdg/lxsession/LXDE/autostart
I added the following lines:
@xset s off
@xset s noblank
@chromium --kiosk --incognito /home/pi/display/index.html
(Depending on your version of Raspbian, you might need to put the @chromium line in
The other three can go in the first file.)
The first three lines disable all the screen blanking stuff that Raspbian would normally do, which forces our screen to stay on. The last one launches Chromium, in a full screen kiosk mode which. When you launch Chromium in incognito mode it won’t remember any previous shutdown errors and thus, never throws an error on startup. Then it displays my index.html in a local directory. Since we’ve put these in the autostart file(s), they will automatically happen when the pi user logs into the GUI. (Which you can set to happen immediately after boot up through
But how to update it?
Since the geographic area covered by the library district is bigger than some east coast states, I wanted things to update quickly, in the background, on a schedule, while reliably pulling down the data and resuming the odd failed transfer. Fortunately, you can do all of that with rsync and cron.
Remember that old server now running Ubuntu? That’s the only place I update the code and content. I can change and add slides, modify the code, save everything, and ten minutes later all the Pi displays are updated. Here’s how that works:
On each Pi, I set up rsync to talk to the server. To do this without a password you need to set up a keypair for the Pi and the server. First thing to do is make sure ssh works between the Pi and server. If so, generate a keypair on the Pi using ssh-keygen. Don’t use a password to generate the keypair and don’t use sudo as the user pi will be doing all the work. Once you have the keypair transfer it to the server using:
ssh-copy-id -i ~/.ssh/id_rsa.pub user@servername
Replace the user@servername with the user on the server where you’re hosting these files. In this case, the syncing directory is under my own username, dan, in a directory called display.
ssh-copy-id will ask for your login password to the server and, if all goes well, that’ll be the last time it asks for it. Once the keypair is set up between the Pi and the server, you should be able to ssh and rsync without a password.
Now we’re ready to sync things up! Set up a cron job using:
crontab -e -u pi
This will launch nano and you can set up a cron job to call rsync as you like. Me, I do it every ten minutes. That means that, on the very outside, any change I make to the master files will take up to twenty minutes to reflect on the monitors in the branches. I could set it to go more often, but there’s nothing so critical as flight information on those screens. So my cron job looks like this:
*/10 * * * * rsync -az --partial dan@piserver:/home/dan/display /home/display/
Looking back, let’s see what we’ve built. We’ve got a Raspberry Pi, connected to a monitor in a remote location. It’s running a slide show through Chromium and all the content is local, so it comes up fast with no lag. That content is synced to a server via rsync running as a cron job and everything updates every ten minutes, both the browser and the content.
So in the end, we’ve used no software geared specifically towards digital signage. The digital sign is powered by open source operating systems, running open source software, on open source hardware. As a librarian into open access, that’s the kind of thing that really makes my day.
“Wanting is more pleasing then having” : It’s not logical, but it is the truth. It’s a line Spock must have quoted in some long gone Star Trek episode somewhere (please don’t ask me, I can’t remember which one). For some reason it has stuck in my mind for the longest time. “It’s not logical but it’s the truth” is the follow up line .. completing the entire statement and lifting it to the realm of existence-pondering quotes out there.
I don’t wear sandals and have a neck beard.
“There is an app for that ! “. How many times have you heard that phrase, probably uttered by some smartphone waving geek who instantly shows you how to fix problem Xyz in your life using a pre-packaged app. And there is nothing wrong with that.. as long as there IS an app. But what if there is not ? What if you spend hours online looking for an app that doesn’t exist or doesn’t quite do what you want it to do ? Wouldn’t your wish to be able to TELL your computer exactly what to do ? Well there is ! It’s called programming. Don’t worry if it sounds weird but before the time of beard-sporting iphone hipsters with 5997 apps on their smartphones we used to PROGRAM our machines to work for us.
A great way to start to learn how to program is by using a raspberry pi. The inexpensive mini computer is a great place to start when you want to learn how to program. The Pi is geared heavily towards the Python language and offers great tools which you can use when you want to learn how to code (or teach your kid on how to code). But where do you start ?
The Full Circle magazine has been running a series on “how to program in python” for quite some time. They have collected all these articles into 3 PDF Issues of their magazine that you can download for free. Its a great way to start your first baby steps into Python scripting and discovering you don’t always need an “app for that”. Even with a few basic programming skills you can upstage those app-jockeys by saying ” I WROTE a script for that !”. So download the tutorial, grow a beard, put on sandals and start screaming profanities towards closed source software, because you’re on your way to becoming a Python Programmer !
Tracking to-dos or tasks has been a problem for me for some time. My struggle with it has been well documented so I won’t get into a long explanation here. TLDR: I keep switching task tracking tools because they all seem to have major drawbacks.
Several weeks ago I accidentally came across an app that I had downloaded at some point in the past, but that I couldn’t ever remember using. That app is Todoist.
Todoist is, quite simply, a to-do list app. At it’s most basic, it allows you to put tasks on a list, and check them off when they’re done. If your needs are simple your usage of the tool can be that simple. The biggest benefit I’ve found with todoist isn’t that it has a number of additional features that can help you track and manage your tasks so that you can get more done. The features are handy to be sure. The biggest seller for me is that those features stay out of my way unless I actually want to use them.
Some of the most obvious out-of-the-box features are things like Projects and Due Dates. By associating with a project you can group tasks together either for a specific focus or a GTD-like review session. By adding Due Dates to tasks they will show up in some of the views that exist in the app like Today and Next 7 Days. These views provide an excellent burn-down list for getting through your day.
The app will also allow you create sub-tasks. This can be done either by selecting a “Parent” task when editing a to-do item, or just by dragging things around on the task list. Tasks slide around seamlessly. Sub-tasks provide a nice visual way to break down complex work items into simpler constituent parts.
Todoist will also let you filter tasks. The filters will allow you to show you just a specific subset of tasks. The one I find the most useful is one of the built-in filters “No Due Date” for finding things which I either haven’t decided when they need to be done, or have forgotten to tag with a deadline.
The last of the basic features I want to touch on is something found throughout the app. It’s use of natural language for things like due dates and filters is fantastic. If something is due today, set the due date to “today” and it will figure it out. “Tomorrow”, “next thursday” and “four days from now” will all get you the correct due date for your tasks. If you want to see things for which you missed the date, simply type in “overdue” as the search or filter query.
While not a feature specifically, there is also some gamification at work in Todoist. The app will award you “karma” points (unless you opt out) for both using the system and getting your tasks completed on time. It sounds dumb… but to some degree, for me at least, I think it does provide a bit of an incentive for me to keep sticking to the system.
Todoist also has a premium version which adds a ton of features, most of which I’d never use, but there are a few key ones. The first is being able to add notes or attachments to tasks. This is great for tracking the status of a long-running task or something with a few intermediate actions (which maybe should be their own tasks, but I digress…) The other key feature is task backups. The app will backup your task list and maintain an archive so that you can restore from a recent backup. The cost of the premium service is $33 USD / year. I’ll be renewing my premium subscription next month. A handy comparison sheet is available on the website to show the differences between the free and paid tiers.
The last thing I wanted to touch on is platform availability. Todoist is available pretty much everywhere. Android, iOS, phones and tablets are all covered. Mac and Windows clients are also available. There are also a number of browser extensions. The basic web-based UI is fantastic. This is truly a cross-platform juggernaut.