japanese puns?

Learning a new language is full of discoveries along the way!

As I am spending more time on learning the Japanese language the more different things seem to unlock. One of those things is the apparent fun Japanese companies have with puns/slight writing mismatches.

Like this one – I think (as I can not be 100% sure yet…learning!):

こわはたんの活わだ?or これはたんの活わだ?or こわはたんの汚わだ? or これはたんの汚わだ?

This is an advertisement in a supermarket for a laundry detergent. It is themed to an Anime called “Attack on Titan” – properly because the detergents name is Attack. So when I tried to make sense of the text I first read it wrong, of course.

Let’s look at it step-by-step:

I first started reading the Hiragana portion and make sense of it. There I made my first mistake which is to misread the first second character. For some reason my brain went for (wa) when I should have gone for (re).

Then I typed away further and came to the Kanji. I read a (katsu) when it in fact was a (kitanai).

Given that you’ve typed those into Google Translate you will get very interesting results. I had a good laugh by then:

I am not sure if this is on purpose or not – as I do not yet know if I am just making a mess on this or if this is intentionally done so that, given your level of Japanese reading and attention-spent reading it, you get very different and funny results.

Any Japanese readers that can add some explanations? Am I far off with the thoughts?

I see artificial people

When people think of artificial intelligence, AI, they think of Alexa, Siri, Google Home and self-driving cars.

When an AI dreams of humans it dreams up their faces. No really.

Generative Adversarial Networks (GAN) are a relatively new concept in Machine Learning, introduced for the first time in 2014. Their goal is to synthesize artificial samples, such as images, that are indistinguishable from authentic images. A common example of a GAN application is to generate artificial face images by learning from a dataset of celebrity faces. 

Style-based GANs – Generating and Tuning Realistic Artificial Faces

This is some highly impressive stuff given that the system does produce fairly believable results without lots of distortions. You can see some distortions if you click on the image below and keep refreshing. Evertime it will generate a new face for you…

You definitely will not know this person:

exercise: develop a Watch app + complication

I’ve started to write a watch app for iOS/WatchOS which is going to display the current calendar information according to the discordian calendar.

Since there’s no watch support on any of the calendar apps in the AppStore and I wanted to have easy to use watchface support I had to try it myself.

I will update here on the progress but so far it looks like this:

using calendars to automate your home

When you want to make things happen on a schedule or log them down when they took place a calendar is a good option. Even more so if you are looking for an intuitive way to interact with your home automation system.

Calendars can be shared and your whole family can have them on their phones, tablets and computers to control the house.

In general I am using the Node-Red integration of Google Calendar to send and receive events between Node-Red and Google. I am using the node-red-node-google package which comes with a lot of different options.

Of course when you are using those nodes you need to configure the credentials

Part 1: Control

So you got those light switches scattered around. You got lots of things that can be switched on and off and controlled in all sorts of interesting ways.

And now you want to program a timer when things should happen.

For example: You want to control when a light is being switched on and when it’s then again been switched off.

I did create a separate calendar on google calendar in which I am going to add events to in a notation I came up with: those events have a start-datetime and of course an end-datetime.

When I now create an event with the name “test” in the calendar…

And in Node-Red you would configure the “google calendar in”-Node like so:

When you did wire this correctly everytime an event in this calendar starts you will get a message with all the details of the event, like so:

With this you can now go crazy on the actions. Like using the name to identify the switch to switch. Or the description to add extra information to your flow and actions to be taken. This is now fully flexible. And of course you can control it from your phone if you wanted.

Part 2: Information

So you also may want to have events that happened logged in the calendar rather than a plain logfile. This comes very handy as you can easily see this way for example when people arrived home or left home or when certain long running jobs started/ended.

To achieve this you can use the calendar out nodes for Node-Red and prepare a message using a function node like this:

var event = {
'summary': msg.payload,
'location': msg.location,
'description': msg.payload,
'start': {
'dateTime': msg.starttime,//'2015-05-28T09:00:00-07:00',
'timeZone': 'Europe/Berlin'
},
'end': {
'dateTime': msg.endtime,//'2015-05-28T17:00:00-07:00',
'timeZone': 'Europe/Berlin'
},
'recurrence': [
//'RRULE:FREQ=DAILY;COUNT=2'
],
'attendees': [
//{'email': 'lpage@example.com'},
//{'email': 'sbrin@example.com'}
],
'reminders': {
'useDefault': true,
'overrides': [
//{'method': 'email', 'minutes': 24 * 60},
//{'method': 'popup', 'minutes': 10}
]
}
};
msg.payload = event;
return msg;

And as said – we are using it for all sorts of things – like when the cat uses her litter box, when the washing machine, dryer, dishwasher starts and finishes. Or simply to count how many Nespresso coffees we’ve made. Things like when members of the household arrive and leave places like work or home. When movement is detected or anything out of order or noteable needs to be written down.

And of course it’s convenient as it can be – here’s the view of a recent saturday:

get your calendar (one each)

In less than 10 days the season of chaos will end and discord will take over.

To be prepared and to not miss any important days – as some sort of public service announcement – I hereby link you to the discordian calendars adjusted for the current year 3185 (2019).

A holyday not found on any calendar. A calendar not found on any planet. A planet not found in any universe. A universe not found in any imagination. An imagination not found.

cliche internet alias

pushing notifications in home automation

I was asked recently how I did enable my home automation to send push notifications to members of the household.

The service I am using on which all of our notification needs are served by is PushOver.

Pushover gives you a simple API and a device management and allows you to trigger notifications with icons and text to be sent to either all or specific devices. It allows to specify a message priority so that more or most important push notifications even are being pushed to the front when your phone is set on do-not-disturb.

The device management and API, as said, is pretty simple and straight forward.

apparently we’re sending a lot of notifications to these devices…

As for the actual integration I am using the NodeRed integration of Pushover. You can find it here: node-red-contrib-pushover.

With the newest client for iOS it even got integration for Apple Watch. So you not only are limited to text and images. You can also send our a state that updates automatically on your watch face.

As Pushover seems consistent in service and bringing updates I don’t miss anything – yet I do not have extensively tested it on Android.

a new header

I had redone the header of this blog a while ago but since I was trying around some things on the template I wanted something more dynamic but without any additional dependencies.

So I searched and found:

Tim Holman did a very nice implementation of this “worm generator” with only using the HTML5 canvas tag and some math. I made some very slight changes and integrated it into the header graphic. It will react to your mouse movement and resets if you click anywhere. Give it a go!

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…

“kachung” + shutter sound

When you take a picture with an iPhone these days it does generate haptic feedback – a “kachung” you can feel. And a shutter sound.

Thankfully the shutter sound can be disabled in many countries. I know it can’t be disabled on iPhones sold in Japan. Which kept me from buying mine in Tokyo. Even when you switch the regions to Europe / Germany it’ll still produce the shutter sound.

Anyway: With my iPhone, which was purchased in Germany, I can disable the shutter sound. But it won’t disable the haptic “kachung”.

look ma! no mirror! (yes this is an iPhone 6)

It’s interesting that Apple added this vibration to the activity of taking a picture. Other camera manufactures go out of their way to decouple as much vibration as possible even to the extend that they will open the shutter and mirror in their DSLRs before actually making the picture – just so that the vibration of the mirror movement and shutter isn’t inducing vibrations to the act of taking the picture.

With mirror less cameras that vibration is gone. But now introduced back again?

Am I the only one finding this strange?

testing video

One thing I cannot do without linking to external sources or having control over the content storage is to have videos here on the pages.

There are a couple of options to achieve this and I am evaluating some of them right now. The goal is very clear:

  • no external links
  • no external resources embedded or included
  • 720p/1080p/2160p quality levels, ideally with bandwidth scaling

So let’s see some options tried out:

720p
1080p
2160p