the discordian calendar on your wrist

I’ve finished my little coding exercise today. With a good sunday afternoon used to understand and develop an iOS and Watch application from scratch I just handed it in for Apple AppStore approval.

The main purpose, aside from the obvious “learning how it’s done”, is that I actually needed a couple of complications on my watch that would show me the current day/date in the discordian calendar.

I have to say that the overall process of developing iOS and Watch applications is very streamlined. Much much easier than Android development.

The WatchKit development was probably the lesser great experience in this project. There simply is not a lot of code / documentation and examples for WatchKit yet. And most of them are in Swift – which I have not adapted yet. I keep to Objective-C for now still. With Swift at version 5 and lots of upgrades I would have done in the last years just to keep up with the language development… I guess with my choice to stick to Objective-C I’ve avoided a lot of work.

Anyhow! As soon as the app is through AppStore approval I will write again. Maybe somebody actually wants to use it also? :-)

With writing the app I just came up with the next idea for a complication I just really really would need.

In a nutshell: A complication that I can configure to track a certain calendar. And it will show the time in days/hours/minutes until the next appointment in that specific calendar. I will have it set up to show “how many hours till wakeing up”.

IoP – the internet of pets – predictive maintenance of a cat

In the interesting field of IoT a lot of buzz is made around the predictive maintenance use cases. What is predictive maintenance?

The main promise of predictive maintenance is to allow convenient scheduling of corrective maintenance, and to prevent unexpected equipment failures.

The key is “the right information in the right time”. By knowing which equipment needs maintenance, maintenance work can be better planned (spare parts, people, etc.) and what would have been “unplanned stops” are transformed to shorter and fewer “planned stops”, thus increasing plant availability. Other potential advantages include increased equipment lifetime, increased plant safety, fewer accidents with negative impact on environment, and optimized spare parts handling.

Wikipedia

So in simpler terms: If you can predict that something will break you can repair it before it breaks. This improvse reliability and save costs, even though you repaired something that did not yet need repairs. At least you would be able to reduce inconveniences by repairing/maintaining when it still is easy to be done rather than under stress.

You would probably agree with me that these are a very industry-specific use cases. It’s easy to understand when it is tied to an actual case that happened.

Let me tell you a case that happened here last week. It happened to Leela – a 10 year old white British short hair lady cat with gorgeous blue eyes:

Ever since her sister had developed a severe kidney issue we started to unobtrusively monitor their behavior and vital signs. Simple things like weight, food intake, water intake, movement, regularities (how often x/y/z).

I’ve built hardware to allow us to do that in the most simple and automated way. In the case of getting to know their weight we would simply put the kitty litter box on a heavily modified persons scale. I wrote about that already back int 2016.

When Leela now visits her litter box she is automatically weighed and it’s taken note that she actually used it.

A lot of data is aggregated on this and a lot of things are being done to that data to generate indications of issues and alerts.

This alerted us last weekend that there could be an issue with Leelas health as she was suddenly visiting the litter box a lot more often across the day.

We did not notice anything with Leela. She behaved as she would everyday, but the monitoring did detect something was not right.

What had happened?

The chart shows the hourly average and daily total visits to the litterbox.

On the morning of March 9th Leela already had been to the litter box above average. So much above average that it tripped the alerting system. You can see the faded read area in the top of the graph above showing the alert threshold. The red vertical line was drawn in by me because this was when we got alerted.

Now what? She behaved totally normal just that she went a lot more to the litter box. We where concerned as it matched her sisters behavior so we went through all the checklists with her on what the issue could be.

We monitored her closely and increased the water supplied as well as changed her food so she could fight a potential bladder infection (or worse).

By Monday she did still not behave different to a degree that anyone would have been suspicious. Nevertheless my wife took her to the vet. And of course a bladder infection was diagnosed after all tests run.

She got antibiotics and around Wednesday (13th March) she actually started to behave much like a sick cat would. By then she already was on day 3 of antibiotics and after just one day of presumable pain she was back to fully normal.

Interestingly all of this can be followed up with the monitoring. Even that she must have felt worse on the 13th.

With everything back to normal now it seems that this monitoring has really lead us to a case of “predictive cat maintenance”. We hopefully could prevent a lot of pain with acting quick. Which only was possible through the monitoring in place.

Monitoring pets is seemingly becoming a thing – which lead to my rather funky post title declaration of the “Internet of Pets”. I know about a certain Volker Weber who even wrote in the current c’t magazine about him monitoring his dogs location.

Health is a huge topic for the future of devices and gadgets. Everyone will casually start to have more and more devices in their daily lifes. Unfortunately most of those won’t be under your own control if you do not insist on being in control.

You do not have to build stuff yourself like I did. You only need to make the right purchase decisions according to things important to you. And one of these things on that checklist should be: “am I in full control of the data flow and data storage”.

If you are not. Do not buy!

By coincidence the idea of having the owner of the data in full control of the data itself is central to my current job at MindSphere. With all the buzz and whistles around the Industry IoT platform it all breaks down to keep the actual owner of the data in control and in charge. A story for another post!

how do you organize your tasks?

For about 2 years now I am using Todoist as my main task management / todo-list service.

This lead to a lot of interesting statistics and usage patterns as this service seems to integrate oh-so-nicely into a lot of daily tasks.

What kind of integration is it? Glad you asked!

At first we were using all sorts of different ways to manage task lists across the family with the main lists around everything evolved being the personal tasks and todos of each family member as well as the obvious groceries shopping list.

We’ve been happy customers of Wunderlist before but then Microsoft bought it and announced they will shut it down soon and replace it with “Todo” out of Office 365. Not being an Office 365 customer did lead to a dead-end on this path.

And then Amazon Alexa showed up and we wanted to naturally use those assistants around the house to add things to shopping and todo lists right away. Unfortunately neither Wunderlist nor the intermediate solution Toodledo were integrated with Alexa.

Then there suddenly was a window of opportunity We wanted Alexa integration and at least all the features we knew from Wunderlist and Toodledo and Todoist delivered right out of the box.

It takes todos and shopping items from Alexa, through the website, through Apps, Siri can use it and in general it’s well integrated with lots of services around. You can even send it eMails! Also we’ve never experienced syncing issues whatsoever.

And it’s the little things that really make a difference. Like that Chrome browser integration above.

You see that “Add website as task”? Yes it does exactly what you would expect. Within Chrome and two clicks you’ve added the current website URL and title as a task to any of your lists in Todoist. I’ve never been a fan of favourites / bookmarks in browsers. Because I usually do not store any history or bookmarks for longer. But I always need to add that website to a list to work through later the day. I used to send myself eMails with those links but with this is a much better solution to keep track of those links and not have them pile up over a long time.

What’s also very nice is the way Todoist generates statistics and tracks your progress over time. There’s a system in Todoist called “Karma”.

Which allows you to marvel at your progress and sun yourself in the immense productivity you’ve shown.

But hey – there’s actual value coming from this. Like if you do it for a year or two you get such nice statistics which show how you did structure your day and how you might be able to improve. Look at a simple yearly graph of how many tasks have been completed at specific times of the day.

So when most people in the office spend their time on lunch breaks I usually complete the most tasks from my task list. Also I am quite early in “before the crowd” and it shows. Lots of stuff done then.

And improvements also show. On a yearly base you can see for example how many tasks you did postpone / re-schedule when. Like those Mondays which are currently the days most tasks get postponed. What to do about that?

bringing the thinclient back

I had to solve a problem. The problem was that I did not wanted to have the exact same session and screen shared across different work places/locations simultaneously. From looking at the same screen from a different floor to have the option to just walk over to the lab-desk solder some circuits together and have the very same documents opened already and set on the screens over there.

One option was to use a tablet or notebook and carry it around. But this would not solve the need to have the screen content displayed on several screens simultaneously.

Also I did not want to rely on the computing power of a notebook / tablet alone. Of course those would get more powerful over time. But each step would mean I would have to purchase a new one.

Then in a move of desperation I remembered the “old days” when ThinClients used to be the new-kid in town. And then I tried something:

I just recently had moved all house server infrastructure over to Linux and Docker. So what would keep me from utilizing the computing power of that one beefy server in the basement to host all of my desktop needs?

It turns out: Nothing really. Docker is well prepared to host desktop environments. With a bit of tweaking and TigerVNC Xvnc I was able to pre-configure the most current Ubuntu to start my preferred Mate desktop environment in a container and expose it through VNC.

If you wanted to replicate this I would recommend this repository as a starting point.

Even better I found that the RaspberryPi single board computers come with a free pre-licensed and accelerated version of RealVNC.

So I took one of those RaspberryPis, booted up the Raspbian Desktop lite and connected to the dockers VNC port. It all worked just like that.

this is the RaspberryPi client with the windowed docker container VNC session

The screenshot above holds an additional information for you. I wanted sound! Video works smooth up to a certain size of the moving video – after all those RaspberryPis only come with sub Gbit/s wired networking. But to get sound working I had to add some additional steps.

First on the RaspberryPI that you want to output the sound to the speakers you need to install and set-up pulseaudio + paprefs. When you configure it to accept audio over the network you can then configure the client to do so.

In the docker container a simple command would then redirect all audio to the network:

pax11publish -e -S thinclient

Just replace “thinclient” with the ip or hostname of your RaspberryPI. After a restart Chrome started to play audio across the network through the speakers of the ThinClient.

Now all my screens got those RaspberryPIs attached to them and with Docker I can even run as many desktop environments in parallel as I wish. And because VNC does not care about how many connections there are made to one session it means that I can have all workplaces across the house connected to the same screen seeing the same content at the same time.

And yes: The UI and overall feel is silky smooth. And since VNC adapts to some extend to the available bandwidth by changing the quality of the image even across the internet the VNC sessions are very much useable. Given that there’s only 1 port for video and 1 port for audio it’s even possible to tunnel those sessions across to anywhere you might need them.

work and walk

Working in the IT industry requires us to spend copious amounts of time focused on our screens mostly sitting at our desks. But this does not have to be that way.

For me sitting down for long times creates a lot of unwanted effects and essentially leads to me not being able to focus anymore properly.

In 2015 my wife and I attacked that “health problem” as a team. And in the 12 months until 2016 we both lost 120 kg / 260lbs added up together in body weight and completely changed the way we deal with food and sport.

With that I also changed the way I work. Sitting down was from now on the exception.

Coincident with this lifestyle change my then-employer Rakuten rolled out it’s then new workplace concept and everyone got great electric stand-up desks that allowed you to change the height up and down effortlessly.

When I started with SIEMENS of course their workplace concept included standing desks as well!

For those times I am working from home one of the desks is equipped with a standing desk with an additional twist.

pictured is a LifeSpan TR1200-DT5

So this desk let’s you work while standing. But it also allows you to walk while you work. You can set the speed from 0 to 6.4 km/h.

Given a good headset I personally can attend conference calls without anyone noticing I am walking with about 4 km/h paces.

When I am spending a whole day working from this desk it is not uncommon to accumulate 25-40 km of total distance without really noticing it while doing so. Of course: later the day you’ll feel 40km in one way or the other

monthly distance … something between 50 and 350km … only 50km at the desk when walking outside is possible.

It took a bit of getting used to as your feet are doing something entirely different from what the rest of the body is doing. But at least for me it started to feel natural very quickly.

I’ve put two curved 24″ monitors onto it and aside from the docking ports for a company notebook I am using thinclients to get my usual work machines screens teleported there. There’s a bit of a media set-up as well as sometimes I am using one of the screens for watching videos.

For those now interested in the purchase of such a great walking desk: I can only recommend doing so! But be aware of some thoughts:

There are not a lot of vendors of such appliances. And those vendors are not selling a lot of them. This means: be ready for a € 1000+ purchase and be ready to shell out some good money on extended warranties.

My first desk + treadmill was replaced 3 times before. It was LifeSpans first generation of treadmill desks and it just kept exploding. I actually had glowing sparks of fire spitting out of the first generation treadmill.

I’ve returned it for no money loss and waited for the second generation. This current, second generation of LifeSpan treadmill desks is really doing it for me for longer than the first generation ever had without breaking. Looking at the use of the device I would see it as a purchase over 5 years. After 5 years of actual and consistent use I wouldn’t be overly annoyed if the mechanical parts of the appliance would stop working. I am not expecting such a device to live much longer anyhow.

Energy consumption wise it’s quite impressive how much energy this thing consumes. I wasn’t quite expecting those levels. So here’s for you to know:

this is a 28km workday with some pauses

So just around 500 Watts when in use. The 65W base load is the monitors and computers on top.

did you know: Linus Torvalds used to use a first generation model – the one that broke on me many times

I can only recommend to try something like this out. Unfortunately it’s quite hard to find a place to try it out. At least I was not able to try before buy.

But then again I could answer your questions if you had any.

Digital assistant language teacher

Since a couple of months we are trying harder to learn a foreign language.

And as we excepted it is very hard to get a proper grasp on speaking the language. Especially since it is a very different language to our mother tongue.

And while comfortably interacting with digital assistants around the house every day in english and german the thought came up: why don’t these digital assistants help with foreign language listening and speaking training?

I mean Google Assistant answers questions in the language you have asked them. Siri and Alexa need to know upfront in which language you are going to ask questions. But at least Alexa can translate between languages…

But with all seriousness: Why do we not already have the obvious killer feature delivered? Everyone could already have a personal language training partner…

a scientific paper a day

I am long-time subscriber to a service that is delivering a curated choice of scientific papers to your inbox every morning.

And even better: On top of the choice and link of the paper you also get a great summary with additional links and hints on the topic.

The Morning Paper: a short summary every weekday of an important, influential, topical or otherwise interesting paper in the field of computer science.

https://blog.acolyer.org/about/

Depending on your specific interests the papers chosen will give you deep insights into certain topics. Recently a lot of AI related topics show up there.

The papers are delivered by eMail, by RSS feed of by just reading the blog.

How to get me to actively avoid your products

It is a simple one step process: shove unasked advertising in my face. Bonus points for loud full blast audio right of the start.

If I ever see unasked advertising that tried to be sneaky or not do sneaky I am going to block it without noticing from whom or for what it was.

But when it’s shown so often and is so intrusive that I take note of your brand. That brand is not considered for future business anymore.

That is especially for services where I am the product paying with my data.

Sample 1
blocking
Sample 2