Seeing Double – Duet Display for iPad

There has been a lot of noise this week about a new iOS app called Duet Display. This allows you to turn your iPad into an extra display for your Mac. This has been done before but the difference with Duet Display is that it claims to have no lag as it is connected over the lightning/dock cable rather than using wifi.

Duet Display was release yesterday afternoon and I installed it on my iPad Mini and iPhone 6 along with the mandatory companion app on my iMac.

The good news is that it certainly works as described. I was able to manage the device as an additional monitor through System Preferences dragging it to where I wanted it to appear in relation to my other two existing monitors. I was then, as you can see from the images, able to drag Skype to my device and use it from there. The touch screen works on the device allowing you to move the cursor around the screen and interact as you would with a mouse, which is pretty cool.

The bad news is that it has made my iMac incredibly unstable with Chrome and the Messages apps both crashing at will. How can I be certain that this is to do with Duet Display? Because as soon as I quit the app normal stability was resumed.

So right now I couldn’t recommend the app. Of course your mileage may vary, as they say, and I haven’t seen any problems highlighted in the reviews I have read but for me it is unfortunately unusable.

Duet Display on iPhone 6

Duet Display on iPhone 6

You can download the app from here.

Fitbit vs Misfit on the Pebble Smartwatch

I’ve been a happy Fitbit Flex user for some 18 months now but when Pebble released an update that allowed activity tracking I thought that I would give it a go to see how the two compared.

The first thing to point out is that I am only interested in two things: accuracy and battery life. The second thing is that while I am happy with both the watch and fitness band on my (non-dominant) wrist I would prefer it all in one package.

I chose to run the test over a couple of weeks. The first when I would be at home and doing little walking (I work from home so the number of steps from the bedroom to the office is about 10) and the second when I was on holiday when I would be doing a lot of walking. This would allow me to do a comparison between low and high usage.

Accuracy

Of the two criteria this was the most important for me. I know that neither will be 100% accurate but I do want them to be close. In order to baseline the tests I ran a small test where I recorded the step count on both devices before taking 130 steps and the recording the counts again. As you can see from below in this very unscientific test the Fitbit was spot on and the Pebble out by a factor of 35%.

  Start End Difference
Pebble 116 200 46
Fitbit 234 362 2

The graph below shows the number of steps recorded by each device over a two week period.

Fitbit-Misfit

What is pretty clear is that the more steps you take the greater the divergence between the Fitbit and the Pebble. At the high end this difference was about 25% meaning that you had to do many more steps in order to reach your goal, which in both cases was 10,000 steps. I found this a bit dispiriting and meant that I hardly ever saw this:

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Battery Life

The first thing to note here was that battery life on the Pebble could vary enormously. One one occasion I got only 24 hours of usage from a single charge but this was exceptional and I don’t think that this had anything to do with the step tracking, for me Pebble battery usage varies wildly for no apparent reason.

I was surprised to find that the battery life from both the Fitbit and the Pebble was almost identical coming in at an average of four days usage between charges. This is certainly less than Pebble quotes as expected life between charges but is still better than both my phone and the forthcoming Apple Watch.

The graph below shows the battery usage on the Pebble as it wasn’t possible to get an accurate battery level from the Fitbit.

pebble-battery

Given that both devices are pretty small and therefore have a correspondingly small battery I don’t think that four days between charges is too bad (providing it is consistent, which it wasn’t on the Pebble). It is, however, considerably easier to charge the Pebble but in both cases it won’t be logging while being charged. This may be more of an issue if you use either device to monitor sleep and usually charge overnight.

Conclusion

As I have already said I am very happy with my Fitbit but as I already wear the Pebble if it too could carry out the same functions then that would be a win for me. Unfortunately I just didn’t get the sense that the accuracy of the Pebble step tracker was as accurate as the Fitbit and that knocked it on the head for me. Also at the time of writing it isn’t possible to synchronise your stats from the watch to your Misfit account meaning that I cannot keep a history which is something I also wanted to do.

Of course it is possible that these are software issues and that the accuracy can be improved with future revisions of the Pebble firmware. If that is the case I will happily come back and revist.

Your Own Link Shortener (Yourls)

I have written about the Yourls system previously that allows you to host your own link shortener. I have been using it for years now and it works incredibly well.

However, when I logged in last week I noticed that it had been flooded with spam entries. I immediately changed my api key and password but neither stopped the entries. I was confused until I read this post on the Yourls blog.

I removed all the sample-*.php.txt pages and all the spam went away so I strongly suggest that you do so too. I ave looked at the latest release and those files don’t seem to be present any more so this may only apply to old versions.

iStick – USB Flash Drive for iPhone and iPad

When I upgraded my iPad Mini I made a huge mistake by not checking the memory size of my existing device. Consequently I got home and discovered too late that I had purchased one with only 16gb. I was (and am) distraught over having to judiciously manage the apps and the space they use in order to be able to do what I want and need to do. If only there was a way to increase the capacity of an iPad.

Well, thanks to a Kickstarter campaign that successfully funded last June there now is a way. Effectively it is a memory stick that has the normal USB connection at one end and a slider reveals a lightning connector at the other. I pledged for a 32gb version and it was delivered yesterday.

It looks and feels like any other flash drive and using the USB end it operates exactly the same as any other drive. It was detected by my Macs without issue and allowed me to transfer files between them without issue, something that these days I would normally use Dropbox for.

Of course it is not that functionality that I wanted the iStick for. Sliding the button on the iStick reveals a lightning connector which allows it to be plugged into either an iPad or and iPhone. You can only access the memory stick through the free app. You can see both in action below:

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From the app you are able to view content such as photos and watch movies, crucially without having to copy them onto the device. The movie is slow to start but once it gets going worked fine. You can also copy other documents onto the stick and using the iOS share sheet open the file in another app, such as opening a spreadsheet in Excel. This, however, does copy the file to your device so takes up additional space.

There is also the ability to backup your contacts and pictures. I’m not sure of the value of the former as they are synced across multiple places anyway but being able to get photos off and onto the stick is really useful. Unfortunately while you can copy them onto the iStick you cannot then delete them. I would much prefer a move option.

So that’s the good. The bad is the the companion app is a bit clunky and not terribly intuitive, it really needs some work. Not only because it is essential for the useful operation but also because it is incomplete compared to what was agreed as part of the funding stretch goals which were as follows:

$1.0M: Airplay/Subtitle support in movie player. API for 3rd party apps (Unlocked!)
$750K: Dropbox, Box, OneDrive, Google Drive Integration (Unlocked!)
$500K: Passcode/Password functionality for iStick (Unlocked!)

To date none have been delivered but it’s early days yet and as long as these are I will be happy with the iStick and maybe it will save me having to replace my iPad earlier than I would have otherwise.

iOS 8 Quality Control

Since it was first released there have been a couple of upgrades to iOS8 but, for me at least, problems continue, particularly around keyboards. Some of the issues I get you can see below but they seems to be concentrated around spotlight search and the messages app.

Now I don’t know if this is something that is only affecting me but I suspect not, so the question is why aren’t Apple dealing with it? The quality of this release is without doubt the worst of all that I have used so, I believe, that Apple need to concentrate to making what they have work before packing the next version with new features.

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What is this keyboard?

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Is there an update or not?

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How can I type without a keyboard?

 

Flic: The Wireless Smart Button

Flic__The_Wireless_Smart_Button___Indiegogo

There is something about the simplicity of Flic that I like. That it has no interface and is just a single button but can do so much really appeals to me. Example of what can be achieved with the Flic are:

  • play music
  • control lights and heating
  • take a picture
  • send a distress signal
  • notify someone of your location.

There are also a good number of integration partners:
20141116152213-Logos

Of course like other crowdfunding products what is delivered might not live up to the hype but this is sufficiently different to have a reasonable chance of delivering on its promises. Come March next year we should find out, although these things are always later than planned.

You can order a Flic over on Indiegogo.

Can you have too much cloud storage as Microsoft offers unlimited space?

Recently Microsoft announced that everyone with an Office 365 subscription would be granted unlimited storage on OneDrive, their Dropbox and Google Drive competitor. If it doesn’t seem long ago that they bumped up the storage from 15gb to 1tb then it’s not, because that announcement was made just last June.

On the face of it this seemed like great news – all the space to store whatever you want. However, the reality is somewhat different. Firstly this is a syncing service (as they all are) and so the absolute maximum you can sync is the size of your hard drive so about 1tb on my iMac but my MacBook Air has considerably less than that so you need to selectively sync there.

To make any use of the space above the size of your hard drive you have to upload this via the web interface and not synchronise it and suddenly it becomes more difficult to use and less useful.

The second issue is one specific to OneDrive and its Windows roots and relates to this message:

Airmail

This occurs when the file name and path comes to greater than 256 characters as that is the maximum that the Windows (DOS?) file system can handle.

This in itself wouldn’t be a great issue but the way that OneDrive deals with this is to throw the error and then log you out. Worse is that when you restart the client you have to go through the whole set up process once more, which is a huge inconvenience to say the least.

If you intend to stick with OneDrive and you are on a xNIX machine then you could try running the following to list out a list of files with their paths sorted by length and then modify any that are likely to be too long.

find ~/Documents/* | awk '{print length,$0}' | sort -rn | less

I decided to take an alternative route and signed up for Dropbox Pro which doesn’t suffer from this issue and seems to have a more robust synchronisation routine. And now that there is Office365 integration too it seems to be the prefect solution.

Enforced Posting Silence

You may have noticed that there haven’t many (any) posts for a while. This is due to the following email I received from my existing server host:

Thank you for your years of loyalty. We regret to inform you that VPS Unlimited will be closing permanently on November 17, 2014. All customers must move their data off to another provider before this date. This is a hard deadline. All data will be destroyed on November 18, 2014. There will be no way to access your VPS after this date.

Insert your own expletive here.

Given that I have about eight WordPress sites, four web apps and some beta sites all running on that server moving them all and getting them working again in the space of 30 days was going to be challenging and something that I obviously hadn’t planned for. On the other hand I’d had problems with the old server on and off for a while and I had always meant to move anyway so this was just forcing me to get on with it.

The first decision I had to make, where to move to, was pretty easy for me as we have been using Amazon’s AWS at work for a couple of years now and so I was familiar with their setup which would make the change quicker. This did mean moving from Ubuntu to CentOS which is fairly straight forward once you remember the apache user is “apache” and not “www-data”!

On the old server as I had spawned new blogs I just created new WordPress installations. This quickly became a nightmare as I had to update multiple installations so this time I went with WordPress multi-site which would have advantages for management. However, I knew from previous experience that it eats through memory if not configured correctly and so was the case this time. I’ll write up a separate post on how I ended up configuring Apache to lesson the load but it made a huge difference.

The other major change was to move the database and email services off the local server to RDS and SES respectively. While there is obviously an additional cost involved in doing this it does make management easier, increase security and offer better performance on the web server.

So with three days to go I have almost completed the move with just a few bits of tidying up to do, including a massive final backup of the old server because I am bound to have forgotten something.

I wouldn’t have chosen to do the move in such a short time frame but now that it is done I’m glad I did it. And you will be too as the site will be quicker, more responsive and up more often!

iOS 8 Keyboard Issues

iOS8’s introduction of custom keyboards is one of my favourite features but like so much in this release it is very buggy. I’m not sure if the issues are with iOS or the keyboards or a combination of both but they are frequent.

Some of the issues I have encountered are:

1. keyboards not appearing
2. no words appearing when I type
3. no button to change the keyboard appearing (and not just in passowrd fields)
4. keyboards appearing all over the place (see below)

I’m sure that all this is fixable but right now I would describe the custom keyboards as alpha at best.

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