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Large American Technology Companies Abusive Practices Against Bloggers

September 10th, 2016 53 comments

OK the title might be a little over of the top, but within the last month or so, I’ve been a “victim” of three American companies’ requests, via third parties, namely their customers or technology partners, never directly, to delete or amend the content of this blog. One which I believe is justified albeit not really necessary, and two are just ridiculous, with the latest one prompting me to write this post.

us_companies_against_free_speech

The first issue was about a post entitled “Allwinner A64 based Pine A64 and Banana Pi M64 Boards Can Now Run Windows 10 IoT Core“, where I shared .ffu firmware file links that I found directly via a page on Microsoft Azure github about Banana Pi board. There were accessible without any EULA, or agreement. So The Internet being the Internet, where you can freely share links that don’t break any sort of copyrights or promote hate, I added the links to my post, as well as a video showing the board with Windows IoT.

Two days later, I received an email from a company telling Microsoft had been asked them to ask me to “remove the ffu links from the article as MS are quite sensitive about publishing them” and “could you remove the video?”. I reluctantly did it, since I’ve received DMCA requests from Microsoft in the past for allegedly infringing on their copyrights in that post, but the way Google words them, it’s nearly impossible to find out why exactly. Google will normally comply with Microsoft request, so the page was removed from Google Search results, but funnily enough I can find it in Bing… On the bright side, there’s a lawsuit against DMCA by the Electronic Frontier Foundation in progress… Who knows, this might also help terminate YouTube’s “you’re guilty until proven innocent” policy regarding fair use of copyrighted audio and video…

The second US company asking me to modify my content this month was Intel, against by proxy, through their customer. The post was “Intel Atom C3000 Denverton Processor Targets Low Power Servers“, and a company contacted me to remove two pictures, and references to a specific company, as Intel had seen this was in conflict with an NDA. I got the picture and info from Anandtech, but I was explained that there’s been a misunderstanding with Anandtech when they published the pictures, and I could see they had themselves removed the pictures, so I did it too as I felt it was a fair request. However, I still have a hard time understanding how those two pictures can negatively impact Intel business, and IMHO they’d better focus their efforts on more important things. It also took them around 50 days to report the issue…

Netflix was the third company asking me to remove content or even delete a post by proxy. The interesting part is that I did not have any input from any company involved when I wrote “MINIX NEO U9-H 4K HDR Amlogic S912-H Android TV Box Coming in October“, as I got all my info from HDBlog Italia, except for one confirmation about the use of Amlogic S912-H processor. The post was written five days ago, and today I received an email by a third party asking me to remove the post. Wow, that’s quite a request without explanation… So I asked why and whether I could amend part of the post instead, and I was told that Neflix was quite unhappy about my post because of the text in bold below:

One interesting point is that Widewine Level 1 DRM is supported, so some premium video streaming app will support HD and maybe 4K UHD. It does not mean Netflix HD/4K will be supported however, as this requires an extra agreement with Netflix, but it’s still a step in the right direction.

It’s quite a well known fact that Netflix HD and 4K does not work on all devices, and Netflix even have a list of working devices. It’s quite hard to understand why this comment would become an issue, unless Netflix feels like it makes them look like the deliver a poorly supported service… Anyway, I changed the “inadequate” post by removing the text in bold, and wrote this post instead to make everybody happy 🙂

Coowell V4 Android TV Box Review – Part 2: Camera, Skype, Google Hangouts and Duo

September 4th, 2016 7 comments

Coowell V4 Android TV box is based on Rockchip RK3368 octa-core processor with 2GB RAM, and 16GB flash, and also includes a camera. In part 1 of Coowell V4 review, I have already taken photos of the device, and torn down the device to have a closer look at the board, and the camera which is based on a GC2145 2MP image sensor. Today, I’ll mostly test the camera and microphone, including firmware compatibility with Skype, Google Hangouts, and the latest Duo by Google app. Finally, it’s been a while since I’ve tested a RK3368 TV box, so I’ll run CPU-Z and Antutu again.

Coowell V4 Hardware Setup and Launcher

Coowell V4 hardware setup is pretty usual, and I connect an Ethernet port, and the USB RF dongle for MINIX NEO A2 Lite air mouse, as well as a USB keyboard to take screenshots. However, while normally I’d use my own HDMI cable, I had to use the provided cable since the device features a mini HDMI port.

Android_TV_Box_Camera_Coowell-V4Once you connect the power the power button LED on the unit turns red, and you need to press the button to boot it up, with the LED switching to blue color. A typical boot takes about 30 seconds. If you don’t use the camera, you can fold it down when you don’t use it if you have privacy concerns.

Click for Original Size

Click for Original Size

The launcher is optimized for TV use, and the user interface has a 1920×1080 resolution. It includes shortcuts to other “folders” like Online Video, My recommend, My Apps, Music, or Local, and a shortcut to Settings. It also features a customatizable row of shortcut right under the main buttons. The status bar is there. but can also be hidden. I went to the settings to check video output was set to 4K 60Hz, and it was the case.

Coowell V4 Camera

But let’s get to the main selling point of the TV box: its camera. I’ll start with the camera app.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

The quality is what you’d expect from a 2MP camera, and it will save 1600×1200 JPEG photos, and record 1280×720 MP4 videos.

Coowell V4 Video Conference

Most people who probably such TV box for video conference purpose, so I’ve tried what I consider the most popular video conference apps in Android: Skype, Google Hangouts, and the latest Duo by Google. I’ll describe my experience first, but you can also jump directly to the video demo further below if you want.

Skype

Skype is pre-installed, but I still tried to install the latest version with Google Play, and for some unknown reason type “skype” would make Google Play crash just went I typed the letter “e” with the air mouse. When I tried the pre-installed Skype, I could register an account and login, but calls would not work. So I searched in Google Play again using the USB keyboard, and it let me update the app.

I could use the Echo services to test audio calls successfully, and I also successfully called another laptop for a video call.

Google Hangouts

I had no problem install the app from Google Play, and the first time I tried I got both the caller and callee videos on the screen, but subsequently I lost video on the Android TV box, but both video feeds would still show on the laptop, and audio was still working. So there may have been a network issue in one direction…

Google Duo

Duo is the latest one to one video calling app by Google, which is supposed to be very easy to use compared to something like Hangouts. SO I was eager to test it, but it’s incompatible with the TV box. [Update: I’ve just tried Duo on my phone ,and it requires a phone number, so that’s probably why it won’t work on any TV boxes]

Coowell-V4-Google-Duo

You can watch the device in action with the Camera app, Skype and Google Hangouts in the short video below.

Coowell V4 System Info and Antutu Benchmark

I think my latest RK3368 TV box review was with Zidoo X6 Pro in October 2015, so it’s probably a good idea to check if any have changed since then by running CPU-Z and Antutu 6.x.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

While all other devices with Rockchip RK3368 showed it clocked at up to 1.2 GHz, but RK3368 inside Coowell is instead clocked at up to 1.51 GHz, not that we should not always blindly trust CPU frequencies returned by the kernel. Other info shows 2GB RAM, 12.42 GB internal storage, 1920×1080 screen resolution, and Android 5.1.1 running on top of Linux 3.10.0.

So with that faster CPU clock, we should expect a higher Antutu score, right?

Coowell-V4_Antutu-6

Nope. The score was just 23,445 points, while this type of device should have a score in the 3x,xxx. I repeated the test again in case something went wrong, but the device only achieved 22,870 points in my second try. I also noticed audio noise instead of music, during 3D graphics benchmarks for both tests.

GearBest kindly provided Coowell V4 review sample, and they are currently selling it for $72.30 shipped. You’ll also find the device on Aliexpress for $68 and up, as well as eBay and Amazon US.

Google QUIC is a Secure UDP Protocol Aiming to Replace TCP + TLS

August 10th, 2016 7 comments

A lot of traffic over the Internet goes through  secure https connections. Under the hood this requires a 3-way handshake to establish a TCP connection, followed by even more packets exchanged between the client and server to negotiate TLS in order to establish a secure connection.  Google is now working one the new experimental QUIC protocol that uses the “send and forget” UDP protocol, together with its own crypto, and its own way to making sure the connection is properly establish.

Software Architecture - TCP + TLS vs QUIC

Software Architecture – TCP + TLS vs QUIC

The whole idea about QUIC is to reduce the effect of latency (e.g. ping time) by exchanging less messages to achieve the same secure connectivity. For example, if there’s a 200ms latency between a server and a client, and if a TCP connection requires 4 packets, while a QUIC/UDP connection requires only 1 packet, you’ll save about 600ms.

One downside with UDP according to Jim Roskind, designer of QUIC, is that UDP ports are blocked by some enterprise customers, however he expects that to change overtime, as in the past they also blocked TCP port 80 (used to browse the web), and that eventually QUIC could displace TCP, potentially becoming “TCP/2”. This would require a lot of work, as it would have to supported in Windows, Linux, and other kernels/operating systems to really take of.

You can find a detailed technical write up on QUIC on Mattias Geniar blog. You may also want to check out QUIC Chromium page, as well as the code for proto-quic standalone library for QUIC, currently only working with Linux, and tested on Google’s Ubuntu clone.

Thanks to Nanik for the tip.

Categories: Linux, Programming Tags: google, internet, quic, security

Google Research PRUDAQ is a 40MSPS ADC Data Acquisition (DAQ) Cape for BeagleBone Black & Green

July 21st, 2016 2 comments

Engineers at Google Research wanted to measure the strength of a carrier signals without having to use a bulky oscilloscope or DAQ (Data Acquisition) system,  so they looked into several makers boards to achieve this task, eventually decided to go with BeagleBone Black / Green, and created their own PRUDAQ cape capable of sampling 40 million samples per second, and open source it all.

PRUDAQPRUDAQ cape specifications:

  • Dual-channel simultaneously-sampled 10-bit ADC (Analog Devices AD9201)
  • Up to 20MSPS per channel (40MSPS total) theoretical
  • 0-2V input voltage range (DC coupled)
  • 4:1 analog switches in front of each channel provide a total of 8 single-ended analog inputs. (See here for differential input)
  • SMA jacks for direct access to the 2 ADC channels
  • Flexible clock options:
    • External input via SMA jack
    • Internal on-board 10MHz oscillator
    • Programmable clock from BeagleBone GPIO pins
  • Powered via BeagleBone headers – no external power needed
  • Fully exposed BeagleBone headers on top to connect/stack more electronics or another cape
  • Dimensions – 87mm x 56mm (+/- 1mm)
  • Weight – 29 grams

The complete software and hardware documentation can be found on the Wiki and source code and design files in Github. The software is based on BeagleLogic logic analyzer, and you can retrieve and analyze the data on your computer using the command line with a typical output looking like:

The Beaglebone Black already has an ADC input, but PRUDAQ allows for much faster sampling, suitable to capture radio waves for example. Bear in mind that it’s not really suitable to be used as an oscilloscope due to limitations such as 0 to 2V range, and others. Any specific questions about PRUDAQ project can be asked on PRUDAQ users Google Group.

While the add-on board has been designed by Google Research engineers, it is not a Google product, and it’s made by GetLab, and currently sold on GroupSets for $79 for the cape only, or $159 as a bundle with a BeagleBone Black, PRUDAQ cape, an 8GB micro SD card pre-loaded with BeagleLogic image, one 64GB USB 3.0 Thumb Drive, one BNC-M to SMA-M RG-58 Cable, a USB mini cable, and 3 jumpers.

Android 7.0 is Finally Codenamed Android Nougat, Release Scheduled for this Fall

July 1st, 2016 No comments

Despite Nutella clearly having won the popular vote, Google has finally chosen a different name most likely for trademark reasons, and Android 7.0 will be called Android “Nougat“.

Android_NougatSince Google had already released several Android N previews, we’ve already known the main changes for some times including better virtual reality support, multi-window support, improved security, faster performance thanks to Vulkan API and new JIT compiler, and so on.

Smartphone and tablet manufacturers will release hardware and firmware updates based on Android 7.0 starting this fall, and some TV boxes will likely start to run Android Nougat a little later, probably in 2017 and beyond.

Categories: Android Tags: Android, google, nougat

Infineon Showcases the Radar Board used in Google’s Project Soli, and Sense2Go Development Kit (Video)

June 30th, 2016 2 comments

Google’s Project Soli sensing technology uses a miniature radar to detect touchless gesture interactions, so that you can control devices such as wearables using gestures without having to physical touch the product. The 60 GHz radar technology used in the project has been developed by Infineon, and the company was recently interviewed by Arrow Electronics where they showcased Soli board, as well as another 24 GHz radar development kit called Sense2Go.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

The Soli board called BGT60TR24 features Infineon XMC4500 ARM Cortex M4 MCU, and a 60 GHz “CRIS20” radar chip designed specially for Project Soli by Infineon, and allowing 20mm resolution, falling to less than one millimeter with Google’s algorithms. The micro USB port will be used for power and programming. This board should be the one included in Project Soli development kit to be shipped to developers this fall.

Infineon also have a Sense2Go 24GHz sensor development kit that can detect motion, speed, and direction of movement in applications such as indoor/outdoor smart lighting, intruder alarm, motion detectors, intelligent door openers, and more.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

Sense2Go board specifications:

  • MCU – Infineon XMC 4200 ARM Cortex M4 MCU @ 80 MHz with 256 KB flash, 40 KB RAM
  • Radar – BGT24MTR11 24 Ghz radar transmitter and receiver IC
  • USB – 1x micro USB port
  • Debugging – Cortex debug connector
  • Misc – 2x User LEDs, 2x 10-pin headers
  • Power – 5V via micro USB port or header
  • Dimensions – 4 x 3.5 cm

The CPU is already preprogrammed using Infineon’s DAVE development tool, and the module comes bundled with a standalone firmware for movement detection without the aid of a PC. It samples up to 2 IF channels of the transceiver chipset and communicates via USB interface to a connected PC, and provided PC application GUI (Windows XP/Vista/7/8) can be used to display and analyze acquired data in time and frequency domain.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

The kit also includes a User’s Manual, schematic and Bill-of-Materials of the module, and a micro USB-to-USB cable. Sense2Go can be purchased from various distributors using part number, including Future Electronics ($244) and Avnet.

Raspberry Pi Zero Based Google’s Project Bloks Aims to Teach Programming to Young Children

June 28th, 2016 No comments

Visual programming development tools such as Scratch or Blockly are now becoming more popular to introduce school children to programming, and Google Research is now working on bringing the software visual programming concept to physical blocks “programming” though Project Bloks targeting younger children who may not be able to write or read yet. It might also help older children grasping programming concepts faster than when programming by typing on a keyboard.

Project_Bloks

Project Bloks is comprised of three main hardware components connected together:

  • Pucks – Those are the buttons, dials, switches, and other inputs from the project. Pucks have no active electronics, and even a piece of paper with some conductive ink could be a Puck.
  • Base Boards –  They read a Puck’s instruction through a capacitive sensor, and forward a Puck’s command to the Brain Board.  Each Base Board is also fitted with a haptic motor & LEDs, and can trigger audio feedback from the Brain Board’s built-in speaker.
  • Brain Board – Built around the Raspberry Pi Zero, and adding WiFi, Bluetooth, and a built-in speaker, the Brain Board take care of all the processing, provides the other boards with power, and sends the Base Board(s) instructions to any device with WiFi or Bluetooth connectivity
Brain Board

Brain Board

Children can then assemble Pucks, a Base Board, and the Brain Board together in various forms and shapes to create projects. Google partnered with IDEO to create Coding Kit reference device to show researchers, teachers, and developers how kids could learn basic concepts of programming.

More information can be found on Project Bloks website.

Via HackerBoards

Project Ara Modular Smartphone is Not Dead After All, Just Not Quite as Modular as One Would Wish For

May 22nd, 2016 8 comments

A few weeks ago, one person asked me if Project Ara, Google ATAP project aimed to design a modular phone was still going on. I did not know, but it surely did not seem good with the official website showing a black page at the time, many developers claiming they’ve yet to receive the development kit, a lack of communication, and Google ATAP latest tweet was dated December 2015. That’s until Google I/O, where a project update was given during the event, and the developer kit will be provided in Q4 2016, while a consumer version will be for sale in 2017. That’s the plan at least.

Project_Ara_Developer_KitIf you have 10 minutes, you may want to watch the part of Google I/O 2016 video about Project Ara on YouTube.

The developer phone supports up to 6 hot pluggable modules, meaning you can just insert or replace a module, and use it straightaway with turning off your phone. When you want to remove a module, you’ll need to let the phone know you want to eject the module, and/or you can use voice control to eject the camera module with “OK, Google, eject the camera” as shown in the demo during the presentation.

They’ve also re-explained how it works with UniPro high-speed interface technology, and Greybus protocol to handle the communication with modules (up to 11.9 Gbps) including hot-swapping, as well as specially designed baseplates, connectors and latches.

Project_Ara_ModulesThe other good news is that they collaborate with other companies such as Samsung, Micron, Toshiba, Panasonic, and others to develop modules with speakers, high resolution cameras, extra storage, secondary display, sensors, and so on. They also plan to work on a glucose meter module for people suffering from diabetes. Google also wants to extend modularity to tablets, and other computing platform, so Project Ara is not just for smartphone.

However, since the Ara frame “contains all the functionality of a smartphone”, the processor, memory (RAM), and main display are part of the body, and can’t be updated by module, so they have to scaled down the ambitions of the project when it was first announced. I’m not even sure the battery is replaceable in the developer phone shown by Google, which would be sad.

If you’re a developer and would like to design a module, or develop software for Ara scroll down to the bottom of Project Ara website to leave your details.

Categories: Android, Hardware Tags: google, project ara