Tagged: google

Review – Google Chromecast

ChromeCast BrainFreeze

I think the above error message from ChromeCast really applies to it, in that Google should really try again to make this device, but this time with an eye to making it work for most people! I was hoping this would be a fairly positive review for an “up and coming product”, but unfortunately my executive summary for this is:

Don’t buy it – wait for the next generation

I’d always delayed getting an Apple TV and wanted to test the waters of IPTV, so when I heard it was out I added it to our shopping list. Couldn’t wait to get it home and give it a try…

Set Me UpSetup took me 2 1/2h, which really is a bit much. Theoretically, it should only take 5-10 mins, but that’s only if you have the right router – what’s that?

I had a middle of the road router which worked for a few days and then ChromeCast stopped working with it. Even to get my router (a Netgear WNR 2000 – not exactly unusual, in fact widely used in the UK) working, I had to throttle it back from 802.11n (the current fast standard) to 802.11a (the oldest and slowest standard) which is a well known problem with my router and ChromeCast – see the bottom for more info.

Ready To CastAs mentioned, ChromeCast actually worked once I dialed my router back and it certainly had some cool features, such being able to “cast” the tab of a browser which is unfortunately broken as it’s extremely slow (as in – is not usable if there’s video in the tab).

What does work is YouTube and an extremely nifty Chrome extension called VideoStream. If you do have a ChromeCast, then you should definitely get it as VS allows you to play files from your laptop which as the apps tag line says “What you bought your ChromeCast for”

Chrome Cast ExplosionSo what went wrong?

I thought I’d be able to play around a bit with ChromeCast and it’s potentially cool applications until I went to show it off to my neighbour a few days later – that’s funny, it wasn’t registered on my iPad… Nor was it on the windows laptop…

Ken is a fellow geek, so he hung around for about 10 mins as I rebooted everything in various combinations but to no avail.

That was basically it! I suppose I could of done more web research or whatever but frankly I’d lost patience with ChromeCast as it is supposed to be a consumer device that I could plug and play with. Instead, it was plug and play and break and fix and pray and play and break and fix and … well, I just couldn’t be bothered.

Routers

The main problem is WiFi

As mentioned before, I have a Netgear WNR 2000 router. It works with my iMac, a Windows 7 laptop, iPad and 2 Android phones from Samsung and HTC at full 802.11n speed or fallback. Unfortunately, to get ChromeCast to work with my router, I had to set the speed right back to 802.11a! Not good – I was actually prepared to set up another ‘special slow router’ for ChromeCast, but then it just stopped working after 2-3 days and as mentioned. This was not what I expected or would tolerate. To their credit, PC World accepted the unit back without argument (maybe this wasn’t the first?). Was it just me though? A search of ChromeCast Problems yields about 15M results, so there must be something going on here…

The funny thing was that my router is OK on the ChromeCast Router Compatibility table. But note, that’s only when it is with the “default settings”. I’ve obviously got quite a few customisations on mine and there was no way I was going to set everything back to factory just for one little device.

But why the good reviews? you may ask… as looking around, it mostly seems to get from 3-5 *’s out of 5 from most mainstream outlets. I think this just indicates that they didn’t thoroughly test the device, took materials from press releases, were “favourably biased” or just plain incompetent – take your pick ;-)

Anyway, caveat emptor and fortuna, si emere

Simplify

https://i1.wp.com/www.spectrumphotographytips.com/images/simplify2.jpg

About a month ago when I returned from a month in Aus, I had a few things to do in a day which combined to get me thinking about simplification as it seems that despite all our wonderful “web technology” (what are we on – 3.0?) we seem to reaching the stage where we are making things that worked about a year ago complex and harder to use for no reason! For illustration, here are the two web based tasks I had that day:

  1. Reserve an item in store at Curry’s
  2. Reset a password for a Google account

Sounds simple enough? As mentioned, a year ago each of these would have taken max 5 mins each. Instead, each took 1/2h! What’s going on???

complex flower pattern

1. Reserve an item in store at Curry’s

Sounds so simple, doesn’t it? Last time I did it, it was – you clicked reserve & collect, entered your postcode, selected a store, input your name, email and that was it! You’d get a confirmation email with reservation number and the item was held for 24 hours for you. Just go and pick it up :-)

What went wrong this time? You click Reserve & Collect and are given a message that it’s available for Reserve & Collect! Really? I’d hope so, but my money says there are some items where you click on this link and are told it’s not available for R&C…

Anyway, I persisted and was now asked also for my phone number (which I input a false one for – it’s wasn’t relevant) – why? After declining the privilege of being contact by Currys and various 3rd Party organisations I then tried to reserve the item – nothing, nada, nicht!

OK, I’ll try phoning the number on the web site. After being led down 2 IVR blind paths I gave up and drove to my local store. I noticed that there was a B&Q (hardware store) nearby and went there first, so I took some “consumer action” – they had the item and I was happy, but after a long and tortuous route I would have preferred not to take.

2. Reset your Google Password

In the afternoon, I was doing some “IT Support” for my 80 year old neighbour and he forgot his password for Google. “No problemo” said I (naively). I then went to the appropriate link where you’re asked for the email address and put it in. Last time I did this, you got a “check your email” message and off you go. Now, I got a security question (his cars numberplate) – ok, they’re beefing up security a bit – that’s good…

NO IT WASN’T! They’d beefed up security so much that we were asked another 5 or so questions about which Google products he used, when he started using them and even how much he used them! Although we were told that the system would allow for some mistakes, we were both sweating as we attempted to prove that Ken was indeed Ken!

Unlike the store, we couldn’t just go somewhere else, so after (what seemed like) 10-15 minutes looking up various bits and nervously waiting for Google’s assessment of his “Ken-ness” we finally PASSED – WOOHOO! I now have a backup record of his password, as neither of us want to go through that again…

brazil computerSTOP Complexifying!

What just happened? My two consumer type actions on the web in one day were a disaster! They wouldn’t have been a year ago…

Both systems seemed fine, but have now been bureaucratically engineered beyond their intent and optimal usability. If this keeps going on, we really will have computers like in Brazil

The Justifications

After too many years working for such organisations, I can take a pretty good guess at why both “enhancements” were done:

  1. The original R&C was probably a side project which worked great. But either the great Hammer of IT or EA came down and demanded compliance with their CRM strategy. This would have demanded more information be collected so they could “engage” aka annoy their customers. The system was obviously not fully working and the IVR, well that was probably a disaster (as are most) from the get-go.
  2. Due to increased identity fraud etc, there is clearly a need for increased security, especially around password resets. Unfortunately, some CRM / Security people got involved and thought of a whole bunch of questions which only they could answer. Us mere mortals never stood a chance :-(

solutionSome Solutions

With quite a bit of Solution Architecture experience, I’m going to put my SA hat on and suggest some potential low impact solutions to both these ?

  1. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! This system should have been left as is as it was the minimum usable implementation. “But we need to populate our CRM system” you may say. Well, in that case do it, but progressively. Give people the option and motivation to give you information and respect their choice if they choose not to (which is a subject of a whole other post).
  2. Stop being so damn “smart”, because it’s not really! Google have a history of only hiring the “best and brightest” and this is one of their products, so no real surprise here. There are so many dimensions of information that Google have on people. Create questions that people (and not machines or people who are like machines ;) can relate to. Use information such as IP’s, location to reduce the need for the “20 genius questions”.

Deep Human Solution

There’s a common theme here
– both solutions were supposedly “improving” a system. Both had a common problem of an over and mechanistic engineering of the solution. Maybe part of the problem is the implicit “continual growth” in capitalism. Why can’t we sometimes just leave parts of a system as they are because everyone is happy with them?

kayakerOnRiverFurthermore, if we do have to change something, how about we do it in a humane way? As the Antimatter Principle from @flowchainsensei would say, being sensitive to the needs of the real user rather than some abstract entity cooked up for the convenience of analysts, technologists or even worse, the business or their CRM system!

If you are ever in the position of dealing with a system which interfaces with people, then assuming you want it to be “nice” ask some questions like this: “Would I personally want to use a system like this?”, “Would my partner and children want to use this system?”, “If the CEO of the company used this system” (which they rarely do, but that’s another problem ;) “what would they think?”

If you’re in the position of allocating funds / priorities for systems, you may want to ask questions like “What is this doing for our customers?”, “Is it making their lives better / easier?”, “Politics aside, is this really the best way to spend the companies money?”, “What would happen if we didn’t do this change?”, “Is there something else in the organisation which could make better use of the money if we didn’t do this project?”

DARPA Robotics Challenge Trials

DARPA Robotics ChallengeFor those of you who aren’t Robot Geeks and missed DARPA’s Virtual Robotics Challenge mid this year, don’t worry! Only one day ago the DARPA Robotics Challenge Live Trials have just completed

(Spoiler Alert – I’ll reveal the winner later on :)

https://i0.wp.com/media1.s-nbcnews.com/j/msnbc/Components/Photos/051009/051009_ROBOTRACE_hmed.grid-6x2.jpg

In case you’ve never heard of the DARPA Robotic Challenge and are wondering it’s significance, they had another one called the Grand Challenge for Autonomous Vehicles. It started in 2004 and no vehicle could complete it! They then scheduled another for 2005 which Stanford won with a tricked-out VW Touareg R5 called Stanley. This wasn’t the end though…

https://i0.wp.com/www.cmu.edu/news/image-archive/Boss.jpgWe then moved on to the Urban Challenge, which was won by Boss, a Chevy Tahoe with Stanford getting second place with Junior. Why is that significant? Because Sebastian Thrun (in the photo above) is the Director of the Stanford AI laboratory and also a Google Engineer. Yes, the Google Car is based on Junior, a modified Volkwagen Passat Wagon which came second in the Urban Challenge. Now back to the present and the Robotics Challenge…

You can find out more at the actual DARPA Robotics Challenge site or from the DARPA YouTube Channel which has a lot of content! If you want a bit more background, first watch¬†Robotic Expectations & The Challenge History. The teams are all over the place, so here’s a slightly more structured curation of teams that had their own unique robots:

Yes, that’s a female robot! Uses flexible “muscles”
A mostly 3-D Printed robot Which is based on a chimp
Essentially built from one component! A clever multi-limbed robot
A lightweight robot One of the few Japanese designed robots
An Open Architecture Robot!!!  

And there were a number of other teams: IHMC Robotics; WRECS WPI; TRACLabs; ViGiR; TROOPER; MIT who all used the Atlas robot:

which is made by Boston Dynamics – the same people who bought you Big Dog, Cheetah (the fastest robot) and many others.

So who won? Unfortunately there were some pretty bad summaries for Day 1 & Day 2 and a number of 10h(!) archives of robots doing things extremely slowly…

In the end though, the top 8 (who will receive continued funding) were:

  1. Schaft (27)
  2. IHMC Robotics (20)
  3. Tartan Rescue (18)
  4. MIT (16)
  5. Robosimian (14)
  6. TRACLabs (11)
  7. WRECS (11)
  8. TROOPER (9)

I’ve bolded and underlined the ones based on Atlas (which are 1/2). Why is this significant? Because Google just bought Boston Dynamics, who manufacture Atlas!!! What’s more, Google also owns Schaft who won! Monopoly anyone?…

Atlas Frontview 2013As we saw from the Vehicles, it doesn’t matter whether a Google team actually wins. One thing you can guarantee – Google will be making robots in a few years which will be commercially available by the end of this decade. Given Google’s “record” – i.e. blatantly violating peoples privacy and who knows what else, I’m not sure how good this really is…

Yes, I know they’ve feigned disgust at various NSA revelations, but remember that their chairman Eric Schmidt, once said “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place”

I’m still waiting for him to mail me his social security number and bank account details, because hey, he’s obviously an upstanding guy who has nothing to fear… ;-) How would you feel about having a Google Spy (oops Robot) in your home?

https://i1.wp.com/www.digitalworldtokyo.com/entryimages/131205_NewAsimo.jpgOne question remains though – where are Honda in all this? Ironically, the Japanese did win this challenge, but using technology which is pre ASIMO. I think HONDA are quite rightly keeping to themselves as what do they really need to prove? If you look at any recent ASIMO information you can see that it’s way beyond where all the DARPA people are, which is not to say they won’t catch up, but who knows what’s in HONDA’s labs?… The last information we have is from 2011 which is pretty awesome!

Also, they don’t really need to participate in the “DARPA Challenge” as they’re already working on a Disaster Response Robot Based on ASIMO and are using ASIMO to Act as an Autonomous Explaining Robot – beat that DARPA door opening droids! ;-)

My hopes and predictions (since we’re getting near New Year) for the future on Robots?

Google will obviously have a number of models with military and civilian applications which will become a major profit centre for them (thanks military industrial complex :) – not a surprise considering all the “hard AI” work they’re doing with Kurzweil – stay tuned next decade…

Honda will enter with ASIMO and buddies around the same time. They’ll probably be more expensive but will be more consumer friendly and secure (i.e. they (hopefully) won’t be spying on you).

Open Source will have something, and Hubo definitely looks like a good start – I like the concept that I could own a robot that I can trust and improve :-)