and then there’s Chrome OS.

I recently wrote about how I am using ThinClients in our house to always have a ready-to-use working environment that get’s shared across different desks and work places.

To complete the zoo of devices I wanted to take the chance and write about another device we’re using when the purpose fits: ChromOS devices.

A little bit over a year ago I was given a HP Chromebook 11 G5 and this little thing is in use ever since.

The hardware itself is very average and works just right. The only two things that could be better are the display and the trackpad. With the trackpad you can help yourself with an external mouse.

The display works for the device size but the resolution being 1366×768 is definitely a limiting factor for some tasks.

What is not a limiting factor, astonishingly, is the operating system. I did not have any expectations at all when I first started using the Chromebook but everything just fell into place as expected. A device with almost no local storage and everything on the google cloud as well as a device that you can simply pick up and start using with just your google account may not sound crazy innovative. But let me tell you: if you start living that thin client, cloud stored life these Chrome OS devices hit the spot perfectly.

Everything updates in the background and as long as you are okay with web based applications or Android based applications you are good to go.

being productive?

Did I miss anything functionwise? Yes. At the beginning there was no real shell or Linux tools available for Chrome OS natively. This has changed.

Chrome OS comes with linux inside and exposed now.

Would I buy another one or do I recommend it and for whom? I would buy another one and I would recommend it for certain audiences.

I would recommend it for anyone who does not need to game anything not available in the Google Playstore – anything that can be done on the web can be done with the Chromebook. And as long as there is not the requirement of anything native or higher-spec that requires you to have “Windows-as-a-hobby” or a beefy MacOS device sitting around I guess these inexpensive Chrome OS devices really have their niche.

For kids – I guess this would make a great “my-first-notebook” as it works when you need it and does not lock you in too much if you wanted to start exploring. But then again: what do I know – I do not have kids.

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:

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!

wireless mesh network

Since AVM has started to offer wireless mesh network capabilities in their products through software updates I started to roll it out in our house.

Wireless mesh networks often consist of mesh clients, mesh routers and gateways. Mobility of nodes is less frequent. If nodes constantly or frequently move, the mesh spends more time updating routes than delivering data. In a wireless mesh network, topology tends to be more static, so that routes computation can converge and delivery of data to their destinations can occur. Hence, this is a low-mobility centralized form of wireless ad hoc network. Also, because it sometimes relies on static nodes to act as gateways, it is not a truly all-wireless ad hoc network.

Wikipedia

With the rather complex physical network structure and above-average number of wireless and wired clients the task wasn’t an easy one.

To give an impression of what is there right now:

So there’s a bit of almost everything. There’s wired connections (1Gbit to most places) and there is wireless connections. There are 5 access points overall of which 4 are just mesh repeaters coordinated by the Fritz!Box mesh-master.

There’s also powerline used for some of the more distant rooms of the mansion. All in all there are 4 powerline connections all of them are above 100 Mbit/s and one even is used for video streaming.

All is managed by a central Fritz!Box and all is well.

Like without issues. Even interesting spanning-tree implementations like from SONOS are being properly routed and have always worked without issues.

The only other-than-default configuration I had made to the Fritz!Box is that all well-known devices have set their v4 IPs to static so they are not frequently switching around the place.

How do I know it works? After enabling the Mesh things started working that have not worked before. Before the Mesh set-up I had several accesspoints independently from each other on the same SSID. Which would lead to hard connection drops if you walked between them. Roaming did not work.

With mesh enabled I’ve not seen this behavior anymore. All is stable even when I move actively between all floors and rooms.

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.

celebrate the discordian holyday: Chaoflux

allow me to explain by quoting wikipedia:

Dicordianism is a paradigm based upon the book Principia Discordia, written by Greg Hill with Kerry Wendell Thornley in 1963, the two working under the pseudonyms Malaclypse the Younger and Omar Khayyam Ravenhurst.

According to its primary historian, Adam Gorightly, Discordianism was founded as a parody religion. Many outside observers still regard Discordianism as a parody religion, although some of its adherents may utilize it as a legitimate religion or as a metaphor for a governing philosophy.


The Principia Discordia, if read literally, encourages the worship of Eris, known in Latin as Discordia, the goddess of disorder, or archetypes and ideals associated with her. Depending on the version of Discordianism, Eris might be considered the goddess exclusively of disorder or the goddess of disorder and chaos.

Both views are supported by the Principia Discordia. The Principia Discordia holds three core principles: the Aneristic (order), the Eristic (disorder), and the notion that both are mere illusions.

Due to these principles, a Discordian believes there is no distinction between disorder and chaos, since the only difference between the two is that one refers to ‘order’.

This is likely a major reason for the inconsistency in the wording. An argument presented by the text is that it is only by rejecting these principles that you can truly perceive reality as it is, chaos.

wikipedia

And given that information you can expect a discordian calendar to exist. This calendar defines years (YOLD = year of our lady of discord) and seasons and days. And holydays:

Chaosflux is a Holyday of the season of Chaos. It is celebrated on Chaos 50 (Discordian calendar) or February 19 (Gregorian calendar).

Very little is known about this holyday. What we do know is pretty much made up as we go along.

discordia wikia GFDL

So now back to the holyday itself. How would you celebrate such a distinguished day?

I will use the services of theuselessweb.com to click 5 times on their most interesting button and then meditate on what comes up:

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

data security and privacy on this website

As of early 2019 I’ve started to bring back my content output stream to this website/weblog.

So far I am feeling quite confident publishing content here and even with changing legislation I am doing my best to provide an as good as possible experience to each visitor.

As of End-of-February 2018 this blog is being provided securly encrypted with SSL certificates from Let’s Encrypt.

So security is one thing. Data privacy and safety another.

Apart from the commenting and searching there’s no functionality provided to enter/store data.

comments

When you enter a comment the assumption is that this is your call for consent. Your comment will be stored. With the information you’ve entered and can see on-screen as well as the IP address you’ve used. Akismet then is used to provide Anti-comment-SPAM functionality – so part of this data is transferred over to Akismet for processing. After moderation the comment is visible for everyone under the article you’ve created it.

cookies and browser local storage

No cookies are used or required by the website.

server logfiles

There are no logfiles. No access and no error logs. There is no tracking or analysis. There is no advertisting or monitoring. All I can see is an nginx and php process delivering websites. Your IP address is know to the server for as long as it takes to do his job of delivering the asset you asked for. Nothing gets stored on server side for your read requests.

content loading

No content is loaded from other domains or websites. Everything is hosted on my server. No data is exchanged with externals to bring you this website.

two factor mandatory for apple developers

Apple has started to force developers that want to develop and publish on the MacOS and iOS platform to enable two-factor authentication.

Two-factor authentication (also known as 2FA) is a type, or subset, of multi-factor authentication. It is a method of confirming users’ claimed identities by using a combination of two different factors: 1) something they know, 2) something they have, or 3) something they are.

wikipedia

When I just got around enabling it for one of the apple accounts I’ve got there seems to be a much much higher security barrier in place already…

That’s probably some sort of zero-factor no-authentication. I guess. Anyway: Kudos to Apple for finally forcing people to minimum standards. Properly integrating the second factor will make this so much simpler for users. Apples ecosystem solution already is quite well integrated.

Have you switched all your daily used services to two-factor authentication yet?

disaster warning!!! This is just a test.

Apparently yesterday somebody pushed the wrong button. Twice.

Like most countries Germany got a system in place to broadcast out warnings to the public in case of disasters or else.

And it proved to be quite useful in the past when it comes to the occasional storm or heavy snowfall/rain/lightning.

Seeing that they run a test and then again send out an apology to have run a test is puzzling and funny at the same time. Everyone has a “bad hair” day, right?

can your kitchen scale do this trick? – ESP8266+Load Cell+MQTT

Ever since we had changed our daily diet we started to weigh everything we eat or cook. Like everything.

Quickly we found that those kitchen scale you can cheaply buy are either not offering the convenience we are looking for or regularly running out of power and need battery replacements.

As we already have all sorts of home automation in place anyway the idea was born to integrate en ESP8266 into two of those cheap scales and – while ripping out most of their electronics – base the new scale functionality on the load cells already in the cheap scale.

So one afternoon in January 2018 I sat down and put all the parts together:

ESP8266 + HX711 + 4 Load Cells
my notes of the wiring… this might be different for your load cells…

After the hardware portion I sat down and programmed the firmware of the ESP8266. The simple idea: It should connect to wifi and to the house MQTT broker.

It would then send it’s measures into a /raw topic as well as receive commands (tare, calibration) over a /cmd topic.

Now the next step was to get the display of the measured weights sorted. The idea for this: write a web application that would connect to the MQTT brokers websocket and receive the stream of measurements. It would then add some additional logic like a “tare” button in the web interface as well as a list of recent measurements that can be stored for later use.

the web app. I am not a web designer – help me if you can! ;-)

An additional automation would be that if the tare button is pressed and the weight is bigger than 10g the weight would automatically be added to the measurements list in the web app – no matter which of the tare buttons where used. The tare button in the web app or the physical button on the actual scale. Very practical!

Here’s a short demo of the logic, the scale and the web app in a video:

You can grab the sourcecode for the Arduino ESP8266 firmware as well as the source code for the web application here.

try to read/listen to japanese

I am at the stage of “trying to comprehend” the japanese spoken language.

I’ll be a happy camper if I would understand most of what is being said and could follow daylight normal conversations pointed towards me japanese. Like, you know, when trying to make a purchase or having to ask for that one bit of information.

For this, apart from excessive exposure to the spoken language, I am using some tools to help with reading to a small degree.

For those completely out of the loop:

Japanese has no genetic relationship with Chinese, but it makes extensive use of Chinese characters, or kanji (漢字), in its writing system, and a large portion of its vocabulary is borrowed from Chinese. Along with kanji, the Japanese writing system primarily uses two syllabic  scripts, hiragana (ひらがな or 平仮名) and katakana (カタカナ or 片仮名). Latin script is used in a limited fashion, such as for imported acronyms, and the numeral system uses mostly Arabic numerals alongside traditional Chinese numerals.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_language

Here’s a list:

Anki

icon this blog

I’ve written about the progressive web application functionalities provided by this blog. But I’ve missed to explain in all simplicity what it means for most of you trying to read.

This is where Volker explains in simple terms what to do:

Step 1: Tap this icon in your browser:
(maybe someone can send me an android icon that does this?)

Step 2: Find and tap on “Add to Home Screen”
Step 3: give the icon a name

Enjoy the quick access to this blog.

Japan related YouTube channels I regularly watch

If you ask me for an estimate on the main sources of entertainment we use in our household I would say it’s easily 80% YouTube these days. Mainly we’re watching the content created by small independent content creators while working out or during dinner.

None of this consumption is through the YouTube website or any official clients (like the abomination pre-installed on the TV) but through a carefully handcrafted series of scripts that watch certain playlists and download everything appearing new there automatically to the house in best quality. This then can be watched at any time from any TV in the house.

The playlists that are being monitored are either those directly curated by the YouTube channels or a playlist that get’s filled directly by us from recommendations / social media links.

So here are some recommendations from our heavy-rotation list:

Some more “special ones” – Musashi-Kosugi Station is the station at my preferred home-base when in Tokyo. I like the more off-the-center vibe of Musashikosugi and this is the main station live cam there:

This would not be a complete list without this: Nippon Wandering TV is one of several channels that do one thing: walk or cycle through Japan and record it. Simple, eh? – This stuff is playing as “screensaver” on every screen in the house when not used to watch anything else:

japanese festival calendar

Last year I had started to create a calendar that would hold all the events and festivals (まつり / matsuri) in Japan – especially Tokyo – I can get ahold of.

Since it has become a custom in my family to spend several weeks several times a year in the Tokyo area this calendar is used and updated frequently.

Of course it is a calendar you can export, import and subscribe to with any iCal / ICS capable device at your disposal. And probably that means any device that has a calendar app or a browser.

You can click this link and subscribe through google calendar: japanese matsuri calendar

progressive web applications

These days even heise online is writing up about the wonders of PWA (progressive web applications).

PWA simply put is a standardized way to add some context to websites and package them up so they behave as much like a native mobile application. A mobile application that you are used to install onto your phone or tablet most likely using an app store of some sort.

The aim of PWA is to provide a framework and tooling so that the website is able to provide features like push notifications, background updates, offline modes and so on.

Very neat. I’ve just today have enabled the PWA mode of this website, so you’re now free to add it to your home screen. But fear not: You won’t be pestered with push notifications or any background stuff taking place. It’s merely a more convenient optional shortcut.