A Novel Widget: fit-statUSB from Compulab

Here’s a cute new widget from Compulab, makers of my beloved Airtop-PC. A first glance, fit-statUSB looks like a very small USB memory key, but it’s actually a programmable color status LED.

Costing just $12 this wee LED looks like a serial port to the host computer. You can send simple commands to the com port to set its color, brightness, make it sequence, etc.

fit-statUSB

It’s easy to think of many possible use-cases. I can imagine a rack of gear where a servers process status is indicated by a front mounted fit-statUSB. When a critical process goes down the LED indicates this immediately, without requiring a sophisticated management or monitoring system. Just a few scripts.

Might be fun to play with one (some?) of these one day soon.

Asterisk on Raspberry Pi now has FXO, FXS and GSM Interfaces

The combination of Asterisk and Raspberry Pi harkens back to a time when I was seeking to run Asterisk on an small, embedded platform. I was a little ahead of the curve, seeking this before Digium released AsteriskNOW. I tried Michael Iedema’s Askozia PBX and settled upon Astlinux on a Soekris Net4801, which I used for a couple of years.

Of course, all this was before the now ubiquitous Raspberry Pi was released. It makes sense that someone would try that low-cost SBC as a host for Asterisk. However, there hasn’t been much hardware support for that effort until recently.

oak2_1

Today I read that SwitchPi is now offering modular and multi-port FXO/FXS interfaces, as well as a GSM interface.

  • OAK8X base module (4 onboard Asterisk FXO channels) $130
  • OAK8X base module with 8 channels (8 Asterisk channels, 4 FXO plus 4FXS) $180
  • OAK8X base module with 8 channels (8 Asterisk channels, 8 FXO) $180
  • PiGSM single channel GSM interface $99
  • PiTDM base module $89
  • PiTDM 2 channel FXO module $20
  • PiTDM 1 channel FXS module $10

This is exactly the sort of hardware I tinkered with when I was using Asterisk. I used a TDP400P card with FXS and FXO interfaces. I also used a SIP-to-GSM gateway, documenting the project in the early days of this site.

SwitchPi seems have started in January 2018. It’s good to see hardware support for running Asterisk on Raspberry Pi evolving and affordable.

Warning! Avoid Everquote.com

We’d all like a deal, right? Most especially a better deal on something that you have to buy anyway, like car insurance. So it was that a couple of weeks ago I succumb to an online ad for EverQuote, a company that purports itself as disrupting the insurance business. I regret the decision to try the service. It was a moment of weakness that haunts me still.

We’ve been with the same company for auto insurance for a long time. They are not the company that has our household insurance. I had thought that it would be worth the time, on a Saturday morning, to see if this disruptive young startup could provide me with a couple of quotes. My hope was that, with just a few minutes at the keyboard (actually my phone in this case) I’d have some insight as to whether we were paying too much.

It didn’t work out that way.

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Dodoid Presents: A History of SGI

Last evening I stumbled upon a couple of interesting things on YouTube. Dodoid is a channel run by a young man who seems to have a thing for old technology, in particular computers from SGI. He has accumulated a series he calls, “The Complete History of SiliconGraphics (1982 – 2009)” It’s a nice romp through some history reminds me of the early parts of my working life.

No, I didn’t work at SGI. I was involved in video production. Some of the people I worked with were occasionally involved in graphics and animation, which is where I first crossed paths with SGI. That was about the the time of the SGI Personal Iris Workstation.

Later, when I moved into helping to sell graphics systems to post-production and broadcasters, I occasionally competed against software solutions running on smaller SGI systems. This was back in the mid-90s when PCs really didn’t do video in a serious way.

I recall being at Fox in LA and seeing their editorial teams working on SGI Onyx systems. Back then they ran Autodesk’s Flint or Fire software for editing, and Flame for special effects. I see that Flame still exists.

Smaller animation houses would run Softimage 3D animation on Indigo or O2 workstations, with an Octane or Onyx to render.

The Indy workstation included “IndyCam” a small fixed focus cameras intended to make it possible for users to video chat in real-time. As such, it may well be first computer to include what we now think of as a “webcam.”

IndyCam

Some of the sales people I worked with across the US were also resellers for companies that has SGI-based products. I can still recall the utter heartbreak some felt when SGI turned away from Irix on MIPS processors, turning to Windows NT running on Intel CPUs. There was a palpable sense of abandonment by a sales force that had fought hard to differentiate professional workstations from common PCs.

It’s nice that some young people, like Dodoid, are drawn to this corner of computing history. Although, I do admit that remembrances of troubleshooting SCSI interfaces still gives me a headache.

Then there was the time that Majortech thought they might get into selling IBM’s Power Visualization System, aka PVS. That was IBMs attempt to compete with SGI for the high-end of the entertainment business, leveraging hardware they had designed for industrial and medical imaging. That’s a story for another day.

Kudos Where Due: Phillips Hue Smart Bulbs

We’ve had remote control lighting of some kind for almost twenty years. In the early days it was simple X-10 remote controlled outlets. For a while it was some Z-wave stuff. For the past two years it’s been Phillips Hue lights, which leverage Zigbee.

A few weeks ago one of the Phillips Hue bulbs began to occasionally turn itself on, completely on it’s own. This particular bulb was in my night stand. After going to bed, I’d ask Alexa to turn off the bedroom lights, which she would do as usual. A few minutes later my night stand lap would turn itself on.

The first time this was completely unexpected, and quite a shock. The second time wasn’t so shocking, but each time got progressively more annoying.

One Sunday morning I reached out to Phillips via the contact page on their web site. Also, via their Facebook page. Surprisingly, someone responded to the FB query with some simple suggestions; disable all third-party app integration and see if it still occurred. Also, try moving the bulb into a different lamp.

I removed the Hue connections to Yonomi and IFTTT, the two smart home apps that I’d used in the past. Over time the Hue and Alexa apps had themselves grown to encompass the functions I wanted without using these services.

Disabling all third party apps meant severing the link between the Hue lights and our Amazon Echo devices. Thus the only remote control of the lights was be via the app on our Android phones. No more asking Alexa to turn lights on or off by room. That was sure to annoy the Mrs. Nonetheless, it was only for a day or two as a diagnostic process, so I did as they requested.

As a backup, I ordered a Phillips Hue dimmer that would give us acceptable remote control of the bedroom lights. This dimmer acts in the Zigbee realm, so we’d have remote control even if we took the Hue hub off our local network. Taking it offline is the ultimate act of isolation from third-party apps.

Even before the new dimmer arrived the bedside lamp again misbehaved. On that basis, we know that the problem is not some remote app or service. We were narrowing the scope of possible causes.

Then something unexpected happened. Someone from Phillips called me. They were responding to the email contact. Given the experiments I had already run they were quickly able to point to a fault bulb as the most likely cause.

Further, they were able to decode the serial number to determine when that bulb was manufactured. That would suggest if it might still be under warranty. The bulb in question was made in June 2016, and most likely purchased in October 2016. Thus it was under warranty and Phillips would replace it.

Just knowing that the bulb itself was the cause of the behavior was useful. Until it can be returned, I moved it to a different location where its odd behavior would not cause a problem.

Kudos to Phillips for being in touch and being informed.

Sennheiser’s New SDW-5000 DECT Cordless Headsets

A Polycom VVX-600 and Sennheiser DW Pro2 headset are my workaday tools of choice. They have been for years. Polycom VVX remains best-in- class. The DW Pro 2 gives me hands-free flexibility and cordless mobility, sufficient to reach the coffee machine, which is clearly a critical issue.

This pair addressed my quest for practical tools leveraging HDVoice. They explain why I’ve not put much effort into reviews of new desk phones in recent years. The matter has been largely settled hereabouts.

However, they not perfect. There’s room for improvement. In particular, the advent of WebRTC brought a tide of Opus-capable services that would benefit from full-bandwidth audio. The 16 KHz sampling required to support G.722 was great in 2010, but nearly a decade down the road it seems more than a little limiting.

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