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November 27, 2015

Martin's Mobile Technology Page

Is the Raspberry Pi Zero The First Computer Shipped As A Magazine Supplement?

When I was a teenager it took me two years to convince my parents to buy me a computer. I would have taken anything, big small, TV output, LCD display, whatever, just programmable please. I finally got one but it took too long, mostly because even home computers were expensive at the time. Well, times have really changed, haven't they!?

Yesterday, Eben Upton, one of the creators of the Raspberry Pi, announced the $5 Raspberry Pi Zero. It's much smaller than a "normal" Raspberry Pi, has fewer connectors but is more powerful than the first Raspbery Pi and can act as a fully functional as a desktop computer as it has an HDMI (mini) out and old fashioned TV interface (for which a connector has to be soldered onto the board). Even better, to get one, just go around the corner to a newsstand (at least in the UK) and pick up the latest edition of the Magpi magazine for 6 pounds in which the Raspberry Pi Zero is included as a supplement. Wow, I just imagine myself as a boy having done that instead of having had to preach to my parents for years about the need for having a computer.

I wasn't quite sure when I started writing this article but while writing it, I found this video in which Eben confirms that the Pi Zero is the first "real" computer ever shipped as a magazine supplement! True, an SD card is needed as a mass storage device in addition to an HDMI cable to connect it to a TV as well as a mouse and keyboard which easily exceed the price of the Pi itself, but hey, compared to two years preaching that's a hurdle that can be overcome easily as all of these things are available in abundance and can probably be gotten second hand for next to nothing.

A "real" computer as a supplement in a computer magazine that can be bought at a news stand! I'm sure the late Steve J. would agree, this is insanely great!

by mobilesociety at November 27, 2015 07:34 AM

November 26, 2015

MobileMonday London

Apps World 2015

Thanks to Informa, the organisers of Apps World, we were able to offer eight free stands to the Mobile Monday London community.

Thanks to all of you who came to see us, especially those who made it to the pop-up tea party, and well done to the stand winners for making the most out of the opportunity.

We have some pictures and comments below.


Ivo Weevers , pictured in the middle above, is from Albert - the financial buddy for self-employed on their mobile. Their premise is that current finance and accounting tools are not designed with a mobile-first mindset at all - they are scary and incredibly hard-to-use. As result, millions of freelancers are still dealing with excel files, bags of receipts, and often are not on top of their finances. Albert solves this by making finances on a mobile extremely simple and accessible to everyone. It helps with invoicing, expenses and payments. His team are the people who also created the mobile apps for Natwest, RBS and the BBC Sports, and they are in the Wayra accelerator. Here is what he said about it:  "...It was a great event for us: We made valuable connections for future events, with potential partners from the industry and some people trialling our app and it was great to meet the other startups too..."


Trevor Loveland, (right above), was delighted to show off his new ‘Cash-Free Events’ system. He said "...interest was higher than I ever expected and we got some really good leads that we are following up on. We made contact with some potential collaborators and I found out that I’m able to make a big claim for ‘R&D Tax credits’ for all the work we’ve been doing!..."


Sean Redmond, CEO of Vertizan (pictured above) used the opportunity to launch his new Vitaq 3.0 App Test Automation tool. With test automation technology used in the high integrity software development world, Vitaq is typically used to verify API's in air traffic control, IoT network stacks and safety critical software in automotive applications. They use formal techniques (rules) to automatically create dynamic tests. Over the last year they have integrated this technology with App test frameworks like Appium, Calabash and RealVNC. Here is what he said about his experience 

"...We were swept off our feet from moment the doors opened at Apps World. We demonstrated Vitaq connected with Appium to automatically test the Amazon App on a android mobile phone to over 50 groups of App developers. With our formal techniques based test description, Vitaq acts like a intelligent virtual user. It does everything to the App that a user would, accept that it never gets tired. Vitaq runs twenty four seven creating new test inputs pushing the App through its paces functionally testing and checking. It also monitors, measures and analyses the test coverage against defined use case scenarios. Using this highly automated approach, it is easy to compare the results of your app running on all popular devices.

We were delighted with the quality of the attendees. The buzz about our App test automation rippled through Apps world. The Gartner test automation analyst came to see us, having heard from others about this new highly automated approach to testing Apps.  We had App developers from big companies like American Express, Marks & Spencer and Travelex. We had many indie developers drop by. We even had security experts who were looking for new ways to do vulnerability (PEN) testing of Apps, which Vitaq is very capable of doing. We learnt an enormous amount in the two days and are now ready to exploit this fabulous opportunity..."

by Julia Shalet (noreply@blogger.com) at November 26, 2015 10:57 AM

November 25, 2015

Martin's Mobile Technology Page

The Nibbler 4-Bit CPU Project - Flashing The ROMs

Tl866a-flash-hardwareThere we go, soldering the Nibbler circuit board is almost complete. One thing I've never done before, however, is to flash ROM chips, which is required for the two Microcode ROMs and the program ROM. In other words, that part is black magic tor me. But even black magic can be tackled given the right equipment.

In my case I bought a TL866A Flash programmer which seems to flash pretty much every Flash and EPROM on the planet. Having ordered it at a store in Germany it cost me around 90 euros. Yes, I know, it can be had for much less via eBay straight out of Hong Kong, but I wanted to have it quick and hassle free. I expected some major hardware Vodoo before the microcode and programs would end up in the ROM chips but the whole process was surprisingly hassle free. Selecting the IC type, selecting the ".bin" binary file to be flashed which just has to be the same size or smaller than what the Flash or ROM chip can handle and then pressing the "Program" button and the job was done in 10 seconds per IC. The software also lets one read the IC to verify afterward if program has actually ended up on it.

Flash-programmer-screenshotEverything looks good now, my 3 ICs are programmed so I'm ready to go. The two images on the left show the TL866A Flash programmer connected to the PC and a screenshot of the software. Obviously I immediately got comments from friends pointing out that I've strayed from my "Linux-only" on the desktop at home approach. Agreed, a small "OS sin" on my part but since it was my first time I didn't want to start using the hardware via Windows in a virtual machine. Now that I know how things work, I'm pretty confident that that would work as well, so the "OS sin" would at least be jailed in a virtual machine :-)

by mobilesociety at November 25, 2015 05:32 PM

November 23, 2015

Cloud Four Blog

Seriously, Don’t Use Icon Fonts

Icons are everywhere. These “little miracle workers” (as John Hicks described them) help us reinforce meaning in the interfaces we design and build. Their popularity in web design has never been greater; the conciseness and versatility of pictograms in particular make them a lovely fit for displays large and small.

But icons on the web have had their fair share of challenges. They were time-consuming to prepare for every intended display size and color. When high-resolution displays hit the market, icons looked particularly low-res and blocky compared to the text they often accompanied.

So it’s really no wonder that icon fonts became such a hit. Icons displayed via @font-face were resolution-independent and customizable in all the ways we expected text to be. Sure, delivering icons as a typeface was definitely a hack, but it was also useful, versatile, and maybe even a little fun.

But now we need to stop. It’s time to let icon fonts pass on to Hack Heaven, where they can frolic with table-based layouts, Bullet-Proof Rounded Corners and Scalable Inman Flash Replacements. Here’s why…

Screen Readers Actually Read That Stuff

Most assistive devices will read aloud text inserted via CSS, and many of the Unicode characters icon fonts depend on are no exception. Best-case scenario, your “favorite” icon gets read aloud as “black favorite star.” Worse-case scenario, it’s read as “unpronounceable” or skipped entirely.

They’re a Nightmare if You’re Dyslexic

Screenshot of icon issue after replacing fonts on GitHub

Many dyslexic people find it helpful to swap out a website’s typeface for something like OpenDyslexic. But icon fonts get replaced as well, which makes for a frustratingly broken experience.

They Encroach on Emoji Turf

Most of the time, we rely on automated tools to choose which Unicode characters are assigned to which icon. But Unicode’s also where our beloved emoji live. If you aren’t careful, they can overlap in confusing (albeit hilarious) ways. My favorite example: Etsy’s “four stars and a horse” bug. More recently, our own Jason Grigsby encountered random fist-bumps on ESPN’s site.

They Fail Poorly and Often

Microsoft's example missing glyph characters

When your icon font fails, the browser treats it like any other font and replaces it with a fallback. Best-case scenario, you’ve chosen your fallback characters carefully and something weird-looking but communicative still loads. Worse-case scenario (and far more often), the user sees something completely incongruous, usually the dreaded “missing character” glyph.

Custom fonts shouldn’t be mission-critical assets. They fail all the time. One look at Bootstrap’s icon-related issues and it’s no wonder why they’re removing them entirely from the next version.

Worse still, many users will never see those fonts. Opera Mini, which frequently rivals iOS Safari in global usage statistics with hundreds of millions of users worldwide, does not support @font-face at all.

They Never Looked Right

Detail of Stackicons' octocat in IE11

The way browsers hint fonts to optimize legibility was never a good fit for our custom iconography, and support for tweaking that behavior is all over the place.

Multicolor icons are even worse. The technique of overlaying multiple glyphs to achieve the effect is impressively resourceful, but the results often look like their printing registration is misaligned.

You’re Probably Doing It Wrong

“But Tyler,” I hear you say. “You’ve completely ignored Filament Group’s Bulletproof Icon Fonts, complete with feature tests and sensible, content-driven fallback solutions.”

And you’re right. Those techniques are great! If you’re using an icon font, you should definitely follow their recommendations to the letter.

But you probably won’t.

What you’ll probably do is adopt whatever your framework of choice has bundled, or drop in some massive free icon font you can use right away. You won’t modify how they work out of the box because that’s really hard to prioritize, especially when they look great on your monitor with virtually no effort at all.

Or maybe you will do the work, designing and curating a custom icon font, choosing your Unicode characters carefully, documenting and evangelizing the importance of implementing your icons in an accessible way with appropriate fallbacks. Then one day, Dave forgets to add a fallback image to that iconographic button he added (which looks great, by the way), which Roberta reuses for her related Pull Request, and before you know it, your app has devolved into a fragile, hack-littered wasteland once more.

These examples are not hypothetical (though names have been changed to protect the innocent). I’ve seen them happen to multiple organizations, all of them starting with the best possible intentions.

There’s Already a Better Way

SVG is awesome for icons! It’s a vector image format with optional support for CSS, JavaScript, reusability, accessibility and a bunch more. It was made for this sort of thing.

But I hear a lot of excuses for why teams avoid using it, even for brand-new projects. Here are a few…

“SVGs can’t be combined into sprites.”

They totally can. There are even really great tools like svg-sprite and IcoMoon that can help automate that process.

“SVGs are larger in file size.”

Usually when I hear this, the team’s comparing a single binary icon font to multiple, uncompressed SVG files. The gap narrows dramatically when you optimize your SVGs, combine reusable ones into sprites, and deliver those with active Gzip compression or embedded in-page.

Occasionally I’ve heard the gap is still too wide when hundreds of icons are included. This begs the question: Why are you including hundreds of icons on every page?

“The icon markup is too verbose by comparison.”

Let’s compare:

<!-- Typical @font-face icon: -->
<span class="icon icon-search" aria-hidden="true"></span>
<!-- Typical SVG icon: -->
<svg class="icon">
  <use xlink:href="path/to/icons.svg#search"/>

The SVG markup is barely more verbose, and way more descriptive and semantic than some empty, ARIA-hidden <span> element.

“Browser support for SVG is worse.”

As of this writing, global support for SVG is up to 96%… 4% higher than the same stat for @font-face. Plus, SVGs are way more accessible and their fallbacks are much more straightforward.

“The framework we chose already has an icon font.”

If your framework told you to jump off a bridge, would you?

Don’t Be “Table Guy”

I was in school when the Web Standards movement hit critical mass. While the majority of my instructors saw the merits of semantic markup and embraced it wholeheartedly, one passionately held out. “Table Guy” argued that no layout tool could usurp <table>, that it was inherently better-suited for crafting grid-based designs. He boasted of how quickly and easily he could achieve the “Holy Grail” layout with his trusty table cells. He cited the wealth of cross-browser inconsistencies that continued to plague CSS.

Table Guy and I kept in touch. Today, he freely admits he was wrong about CSS. He feels embarrassed to have been so married to a technique that was so clearly misappropriated in hindsight.

If you won’t stop using icon fonts for people with screen readers, people with dyslexia, people with browsers that don’t support @font-face, people who randomly didn’t load the icon font once for some reason, or designers who just want their icons to look right on-screen…

Then do it for yourself. Don’t be Table Guy.

by Tyler Sticka at November 23, 2015 05:39 PM

November 19, 2015

Martin's Mobile Technology Page

The Nibbler 4-Bit CPU Project - Soldering Things Together

Nibbler-solderingA few days ago, the printed circuit board (PCB) for my 4-bit do-it-yourself CPU project has arrived. The next step was to get the parts together. That's a bit of a tricky thing as many components, especially the 74HC181 chip that implements the Arithmetic Logic Unit (ALU), while having been quite popular in the 1970's, are a bit on the antique side these days.

In the end, I bought the parts in 3 different stores. Most of the parts came from Digikey in the US and I was surprised how fast they delivered. I ordered on a Monday evening European time and the parts were delivered two days later on Wednesday morning. As I was ordering parts for more than 65 euros, delivery to Europe was free of charge and Digikey took care of customs procedures, taxes. etc. An incredible turn-around time, looks their logistics are quite optimized.

Other, more common parts, like most logic chips came from an electronics store in Germany with an equally impressive turn-around time. The 74HC181 ALU IC was a special case, neither Digikey nor the German electronics store had that part in stock. Thanks to Google, I was able to find the ALU at Darisus, another electronics mail delivery company in Germany that had it in stock. All parcels arrived Wednesday so I was set to go in less than two days. Quite a difference to the days when you ordered by mail and expected a response a week or two later...

The picture on the left shows my current progress. Most parts and the IC sockets are already soldered, the next step is to flash the microcode- and the program ROMs.

by mobilesociety at November 19, 2015 06:53 AM

November 15, 2015

Martin's Mobile Technology Page

Book Review: CHRONOS

ChronosApart from books on computing history, well written techno-thrillers are another favorite of mine. I'm quite picky when it comes to this genre and I can't stand novels with unrealistic plots or technology descriptions. Quite some time has passed since I read a techno-thriller so I was glad when William Hern, a long time colleague of mine approached me earlier this year and asked me if I was interested in proof-reading the novel he was working on.

The book's called "CHRONOS" and the plot is as geeky and realistic as it can possibly be in a techno-thriller. The book starts with a quote that so very much describes the real world that I have to repeat it here:

“… most of the people in this world accept the fruits of technology in about the same way as a kitten accepts milk”

Jerry Pournelle

I could start talking about the story line now but as it twists and turns right from the beginning I would just end up writing a spoiler. So I won't and just leave you with my recommendation that if you are into realistic techno-thrillers, want to learn a few interesting things along the way and if you know or do not know who Satoshi Nakamoto is, this is the book for you. Ups, already a spoiler right there...

Have fun!

by mobilesociety at November 15, 2015 12:52 PM

November 10, 2015

Martin's Mobile Technology Page

5G Above 5GHz - More Than Just A Few Meters?

Last month I had a post about 5G heavily relying on spectrum beyond 5 GHz and the catch that today's consumer devices using such spectrum can only cover a few meters. In other words, using spectrum in the 30 or even 70 GHz range (called millimiter-waves, or mmW for short) won't work for cellular networks where base stations are several hundreds of meters apart from each other even in dense population areas. Fortunately, not everybody agrees.

After I posted my article I was made me aware of this very interesting IEEE article in which the authors describe their study of how such ultra high frequency ranges could become usable in a cellular environment. Their conclusion, based on experiments in a real environment, is that by using a high number of tiny antennas for beamforming in mobile devices and base stations, it's possible to overcome the high attenuation of the air interface in the 30 and 70 GHz bands and thus significantly increase the transmission range. They predict that the combination of beamforming and using large 1 GHz carriers can increase overall air interface capacity by an order of a magnitude compared to the 20 MHz carriers used for LTE today.

As antennas are small, a space in a smartphone of 1.5 to 1.5 centimeters could hold 16+ tiny antennas which would be enough to achieve the desired beamforming effect. The authors note, however, that with the current approach of treating each signal path separately it is not feasible to process so many inputs and outputs and that new methods have to be found, especially on the smartphone side, to master this new level of complexity while keeping the amount of energy necessary for the processing in check.

Another challenge pointed out by the authors is indoor coverage, because even with beamforming, millimeter waves are still not penetrating walls and other solid obstacles well. In other words, mmW base stations must also be put inside buildings to also go beyond today's data rates there. In many cases it's unlikely that several operators can deploy their mmW equipment inside a single building so the authors note that a new business model might be required where a third party offers mmW access equipment for interconnection to traditional mobile backhaul networks.

While beamforming holds the solution to extending the range of millimeter-wave systems to usable distances one issue that is created by this is how synchronization and broadcast channels that have to be transmitted omnidirectionally can reach devices. In addition, the channel state from and to each device needs to be continuously tracked in order to keep the beams aligned to individual devices. This is likely going to impact a device's power saving abilities as the transmitter can't be off for long periods even if no data has to be transmitted.

The authors list many further points that have to be considered due to the completely different nature of using mmW in combination with beamforming compared to today's LTE systems. It's by far not a drive-by read so bring some time if you want to explore the paper, it's definitely worth it.

Thanks to Guy Daniels for pointing this the paper via his article on the topic here!


by mobilesociety at November 10, 2015 06:49 PM

Cloud Four Blog

SVG 101: A Gentle Introduction

Fun fact: Cloud Four’s design team really digs SVG. Our enthusiasm for the image format accumulated gradually over many months, thanks in large part to Sara Soueidan’s tireless documentation of its most mysterious features and quirks. It was during the process of designing the Responsive Field Day site that our collective interest level hit fever pitch, which caused our coworkers to wonder what all the fuss was about!

It turned out to be a difficult question to answer. Most of the resources we found online either covered the very basics of the format, or jumped right into the nitty-gritty of coordinate systems, complex animation, automated sprite-building, etc. So fellow Cloud Four designer Sara Lohr and I decided to put together an internal presentation with reveal.js to bring everyone up to speed.

SVG 101: A Gentle Introduction →

Perhaps unsurprisingly, we learned a ton from the process of organizing what we thought we knew about SVG into a presentation format. Sections were revised multiple times as we uncovered new information. At one point I even engaged with Sara Soueidan and GreenSock on Twitter to help demystify the landscape of JavaScript-powered SVG animation frameworks… and by now that info is already out of date!

In spite of those challenges, the talk was a hit. I think we introduced concepts in a way that made sense for the audience, emphasizing the sorts of things they’d find most useful day-to-day.

Then again, maybe it’s just easy to win people over with demos like “Jasonflower”:

See the Pen Jasonflower: CSS by Tyler Sticka (@tylersticka) on CodePen.

It’s hard to argue that SVG isn’t the greatest format ever once you’ve seen that.

by Tyler Sticka at November 10, 2015 05:55 PM

November 03, 2015

Brad Frost » Brad Frost | Web Design, Speaking, Consulting, Music, and Art

Beyond Tellerrand 2015 Intro Video

This title video by Sebastian Lange for Beyond Tellerrand in Berlin is freaking amazing. I’m chocolate.

by Brad Frost at November 03, 2015 06:37 PM

Nail style guides with this mini masterclass

The folks at Net Magazine asked if I’d be interested in answering some reader questions about style guides and pattern libraries. Of course I said sure. I answer some questions about container queries and keeping pattern libraries in sync and useful.

by Brad Frost at November 03, 2015 04:42 PM

November 02, 2015

MobileMonday London

Apps World 18-19 Nov - Discounts, Pop up Tea Party & Support our Start-ups!

Join us for Pop Up Tea Party at 3.30pm on the Wednesday 18th. By registering with us for tea here, http://momolo-and-moblacad-atappsworld.eventbrite.co.uk/, you will also get a free pass to the full 2 days. You will find our Mobile Monday London / The Mobile Academy Startup Village clearly marked on the exhibition map (else, just listen for the whooping!).

If you want to go to the paid parts of the exhibition, you can get a 25% discount by registering here http://bit.ly/1VN5cmI and entering code I8RTYMOMO25.

We are delighted also to announce the winners of our competition for a stand in our Startup Village. Do pop over and say hi!

Double is like Tinder but for double dates. You sign up with a friend and then get matched with other pairs nearby. Anonymously like or dislike pairs that Double suggests in you area. If a pair you’ve liked likes you back then it’s ‘Double Trouble!’ and you can have a group chat inside the app. Our vision is to make dating more fun, less awkward and safer for our generation.

Additional Numbers for Calls & Texts  
Swytch offers you the ability to use additional mobile numbers on your existing handset without adding a SIM card or changing your provider. Get immediate access to as many mobile numbers as you need. It's easy, instant and completely hassle free. A great way to separate business and personal communications, obtain temporary numbers for dating or marketplace services - good for travellers, ex-pats and businesses based abroad.

In-App Feedback and Visual Bug Reporting Solution for Android and iOS apps making the bug reporting process seamless by allowing testers to report issues directly from app with the help of Screenshots, annotation and Screen Recording so it is easier for testers to report and pinpoint the issue and for developer to see and understand the issue clearly.

Minority Report style billboards that change as you walk towards them displaying your social media profile photo, products that match your demographic profile and interests. And now it also scans what's you're wearing and build ls a style profile.

Personalised broadcast of Live events: the viewer creates own  virtual experience by choosing from multiple camera angles, on the fly!

Albert is the financial buddy for the self-employed on their mobile. Millions of freelancers are still dealing with excel files, bags of receipts, and often are not on top of their finances. Albert solves this by making finances on a mobile extremely simple and accessible to everyone, helping with invoicing, expenses and payments. Albert is built by the people who also created the mobile apps for Natwest, RBS and the BBC Sports, and is in the Wayra accelerator.

BibShot is the sports photography marketplace for athletes and spectators to buy and sell photos. We will soothe athletes' pain by offering an affordable, mobile first and mobile best solution.

Vitaq test automation  
Vitaq is a UK developed, Bletchley Park based, innovation of the year award winning test automation tool suite. Vitaq has just been extended to App testing using Python and the Selenium Appium open framework.  Vitaq becomes your intelligent virtual user that will create controlled random exploratory test sequences to push through your user requirement tests. It is proven to find functional bugs and defects that other approaches miss. Let your compute resource do the heavy lifting of release testing, rather than the hugely expensive, cumbersome and error prone methods of development and QA test script writers.

by Julia Shalet (noreply@blogger.com) at November 02, 2015 03:38 PM

Martin's Mobile Technology Page

No Google Play Store In China

When I was recently in China a number of my fellow travelers asked me if I could access the Google Play store. Over a Wi-Fi connection without a VPN I couldn't. I wasn't really all that much surprised, most Google services, Facebook, etc., etc, and most VPN services with servers outside of China are blocked as well, so why should the Play Store be accessible?

Well, for one thing I thought at first, because there are said to be 700 million Android based smartphones and tablets in China. As we are all taught how important it is to download software only from a carefully controlled App store these days, how are those 700 million devices getting software and updates? So I asked one of my local friends with a Chinese Android device if Chinese Android devices can access the Google Play store. As expected I got the answer that the Play store does not work in China and that people just search for Apps on Baidu (the local Google search equivalent) and install it right from a web page. Baidu offers and app store for Android as well but direct installation from web pages seems to be quite popular as well. So much for security screened apps and automatic updates.

Perhaps 700 million Android devices without access to the official store is one of the reasons why Android still makes it easy to download apps from, what is called, "unknown sources" in the user interface and allows to use alternative App stores (of which there seem to be quite many in China). If I were a cynic I would probably be thankful for the censorship so I have more freedom.

Which makes me wonder what kind of concessions Apple had to make as their app store can be accessed in China...

by mobilesociety at November 02, 2015 06:58 AM

October 31, 2015

Martin's Mobile Technology Page

3G Mobile Video Calls Are Dead - Long Live Mobile Video Calls

Incredible, I made my first video call only or already a decade ago, depending on how you look at it. At the time I was convinced it would become a mass market phenomenon once more people had 3G phones. It didn't really work out like that, however, and I have to admit that the service never really became popular, perhaps because most network operators massively overpriced the service and failed to continuously innovate and evolve the service.

Today, 3G video calling is still in the same state as it was 10 years ago. For today's devices the resolution and frame rate of the video is far too low and picture quality on the large screens of today's devices is far from what people expect. In the meantime some network operators have even given up on the service entirely and have begun blocking the service for new subscriptions.

But I'm glad that others haven't given up and have continued to innovate. Facetime on mobile has reached some popularity, e.g. see my post from New York from back in 2011. Personally, I use Skype for smartphone and tablet video telephony. Over LTE and even 3G, the video resolution and frame rates are fantastic. These days, I'm seeing more and more people engaged in video calling, especially at airports. Still a niche when compared to the billions of voice minutes generated every day, I agree, but nevertheless quite mature and useful today.

by mobilesociety at October 31, 2015 06:04 AM

Old DVDs And New Drives Don't Make A Good Pair - Hello Old PC

Optical DVD drives are getting out of fashion in notebooks these days. In theory, that's not a bad thing as it saves space and weight and one can always buy an external USB DVD drive for a few euros should one really need one. The problem is that those I tried in recent weeks are of such bad quality that they fail to read many of the DVDs and CDs I wanted to read.

Read issues often do not appear at first when inserting a CD or DVD but only later when I'm already halfway or two thirds through the content. Sometimes, a DVD that can't be fully read in one drive but works o.k. in another and vice versa. Sometimes a DVD fails in both but at different locations. Quite a mess.

But then I remembered that I have a 15 year old PC still standing around in the corner with 2 DVD drivers from back then, solidly built and quite expensive at the time. Despite their age, though, they've so far been able to read each and every DVD and CD that was partially unreadable on those crappy USB connected DVD drives for a couple of euros.

Perhaps it's time to convert my CDs and DVDs while that computer still works...

by mobilesociety at October 31, 2015 05:44 AM

The Nibbler 4-Bit CPU PCB Has Arrived

Nibbler-pcb-smLast month, I've reported about a great 4-Bit Self-Made CPU project called "The Nibbler". It continues to fascinate me as the tools that are freely available such as an assembler and a simulator for it help me to get a deeper understanding of how "computers" work at their core. But while simulating the CPU is great fun I'd really like to build the real thing myself. Wire wrapping is not my thing so I went ahead and ordered the printed circuit board for self assembly. Despite being shipped out of Canada it only took a week to arrive. I was quick to order it because there were only a few left. In the meantime the PCB is sold out but there's a waiting list. I guess if there are enough requests there might be second batch. Great, now the hunt for the parts begins :-)

by mobilesociety at October 31, 2015 05:09 AM

October 30, 2015

Brad Frost » Brad Frost | Web Design, Speaking, Consulting, Music, and Art

Pencil Vs Pixel Book

A while ago I was on Cesar Contreras’s podcast Pencil Vs Pixel. We talked about a lot of things, including my little mantra: work hard, don’t be an asshole, share what you know.

Cesar put together a book based on some of the episodes, which includes my segment. You can check out the book by signing up for the Pencil Vs Pixel newsletter.

by Brad Frost at October 30, 2015 04:47 AM

October 29, 2015

Brad Frost » Brad Frost | Web Design, Speaking, Consulting, Music, and Art

Designing for Touch

I remember sitting at my desk tuned into a virtual conference, listening to Josh Clark give a talk about creating tapworthy mobile experiences. My co-worker sitting beside me was also listening in, and after his talk he turned to me and said “that guy’s a genius.” I have to agree.

Josh has thought longer and harder than anyone about all that goes into designing touch-friendly experiences. That’s why I was absolutely honored when he reached out to me to write the foreword for his new A Book Apart book, Designing For Touch. The book encapsulates all the smart things I’ve had the pleasure of hearing Josh preach on about over the last few years. I could go on about what a great book it is, but instead I’ll just share what I came up with for the foreword:

And just like that, the floodgates opened, releasing a seemingly endless torrent of different-sized glass rectangles on an unsuspecting public. We, the designers of the world, had no choice but to flail our arms in an effort to keep our heads above the waterline of this new sea of devices.

But swim we did, as we slowly but surely began to make sense of this new mobile medium. Native designers sank their teeth in and explored the unique capabilities of these devices, creating experiences that pushed the medium into even more amazing territory. And on the web front, we witnessed the rise of responsive design, which allowed designers to reflow layouts so they looked and functioned beautifully on any device, irrespective of screen size. Nowadays, squishy sites abound on the world wide web, and designers have an arsenal of tools to ensure their layouts work on phones, tablets, and everything in between. Mission accomplished, right?

If only it were that simple. You see, reflowing layout is one piece of this giant multi-device design puzzle. We also interact with our newly squishy interfaces with these clumsy sausages we call fingers. This forces our hand (har har) as designers to ensure our user interfaces aren’t just viewable on different-sized screens, but are also finger friendly.

Ergonomics, posture, context, and the tactile nature of touch all have real ramifications on how our tap-happy users experience our designs. A design may look fine on a mobile handset, but how does it feel? Accounting for touch is of utmost importance as more of the screens in our lives have touch capabilities, but where can you go to learn how to properly execute thoughtful, touch-friendly designs?

You’re in luck, because Josh is here to touch on these subjects in a big way.

Josh Clark is a treasure trove of touch design insights, and has the uncanny ability to discuss high-level principles and in-the-weeds details alike with clarity and candor. In this book, Josh will help you understand key principles for designing for touch, along with constraints and opportunities for both native platforms and the web.

There will be rules of thumb, but also pragmatic advice on when to break those rules. Josh doesn’t just bestow years of hard-earned, practical touch design knowledge on you; he delivers it with wit and an enthusiasm for the subject that’s downright contagious. I have no doubt by the time you’re done with this book, your brain will be bursting with ideas on how to tap, pinch, swipe, and scroll your way to design nirvana. Enjoy!

If you’re making things for all these different-sized glass rectangles, do yourself a favor and go pick up Josh’s book.

by Brad Frost at October 29, 2015 05:41 PM

Martin's Mobile Technology Page

HTTPS Public Key Pinning (HPKP) Is Great - But Mobile Support Is Only Half Baked So Far

A couple of months ago, Chrome, Firefox and perhaps other browser have begun to 'pin' the HTTPS certificates used by Google, Twitter and others for their web pages. This significantly improves security for these web pages as their certificates can no longer be signed by any of the hundreds of Certificate Authorities (CAs) that are trusted by web browsers but only by one or a few select ones. So far, this functionality was part of the web browser's code. Recently, however, most desktop and mobile browsers have added support for the generic HTTPS Public Key Pinning (HPKP) method standardized in RFC 7469 that enables any HTTPS protected web site to do the same. Time for me to add it to my Owncloud and Selfoss servers too to protect myself from man-in-the-middle attacks.

HPKP-headerHPKP works by adding a public key pin header string to the HTTP response header section that is returned to the web browser each time a web page is loaded. On first request, the web browser stores these and whenever the page from the same domain is loaded again afterward compares the hashes of the HTTPS certificate it receives with those previously stored. If they don't match the page load process is aborted and an error message is shown to the user that can't be overridden. For the details of how to generate the hashes and how to configure your webserver have a look here and here.

The first screenshot on the left (taken from Firefox'es Webdeveloper Network console) shows how the public key pin looks like in the HTTPS response header of my web server. In my case I set the validity of the pinning to 86400 seconds, i.e. to one day. This is long enough for me as I access my Owncloud and Selfoss servers several times a day. As I don't change my certificate very often I decided not to pin one of the CA certificates in the chain of trust but be even more restrictive and pin my own certificate at the end of the chain.

On the PC I successfully verified that Firefox stores the pin hashes and blocks access to my servers by first supplying a valid certificate and a corresponding public pin hash and then removing the pin header and supplying a different valid certificate. Even after closing and reopening the browser, access was still blocked and I could only access my Owncloud instance again after I reinstated the original certificate again. Beautiful.

Opera-hkpk-errorOn Android, I tried the same with Firefox Mobile and Opera Mobile. At first I was elated as both browsers block access when I used a valid certificate that was different from the one I pinned before. The second screenshot on the left shows how Opera Mobile blocks access. Unfortunately, however, both browsers only seem to store the pin hashes in memory. After restarting them, both allowed access to the server again. That's a real pity as Android frequently terminates my browser when I switch to other large apps. That's more than an unfortunate oversight, that's a real security issue!

I've opened bug reports for both Firefox and Opera mobile so let's see how long it takes them to implement the functionality properly.

by mobilesociety at October 29, 2015 11:25 AM

October 24, 2015

Volker on Mobile

Smart Citizens – Populating Smart Cities

I have recently been thinking a lot about the advances we are seeing in the Internet of Things (IoT) and Smart Cities. The impact on everyones’ lives will be significant and I believe –...

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by Volker at October 24, 2015 11:18 PM

October 22, 2015

Martin's Mobile Technology Page

The Politics Behind LTE-Unlicensed

For some time now, interested companies in 3GPP are pushing for an extension to the LTE specifications to make the technology also usable as an air interface technology for the 5 MHz unlicensed band, currently the domain of Wi-Fi and other radio technologies for which no license is required to operate (i.e. it's free for everyone to use). I wrote about the technology aspects of this earlier this year so have a look there for the details. Apart from the technical side, however, another interesting topic is the politics behind LTE-Unlicensed as not everybody seems to be thrilled by LTE marching into unlicensed territory.

Some parties in 3GPP are totally against LTE becoming usable in an unlicensed band, fearing competition from companies that haven't paid hundreds of millions for beachfront spectrum property. Some cautiously support it in it's current incarnation, which is referred to as LTE-LAA (License Assisted Access), as it requires an LTE carrier in a licensed band to control transmission of an LTE carrier in an unlicensed band. In effect that keeps the would be upstart competition at bay. And then there are those who want to completely release the breaks and extend LTE to make it usable in a standalone way in unlicensed bands. Perfectly irreconcilable. I'm writing all of this because I recently came across an article that sheds some light on what's going on which I found quite interesting.

by mobilesociety at October 22, 2015 05:57 AM