Over the last several years I've been dealing with various stages of disability thanks to ALS. My goal is to share solutions and review various products/tools/devices that I have found particularly helpful.

Saturday, 21 December 2013

The Blue Ant

No… not this guy!
A few months back I came a cross the blue ant commute hands free device, which seem to address an issue I've been having with my iPhone. Which is, hands-free answering, and while I've jailbroken my iPhone to allow hands-free control, the one big thing that's missing is the ability to verbally answer a call. Sure, I can activate Siri and place a call. But if someone is calling me, I still have to pick up my phone and physically answer it.

Honestly, I think this is probably the single biggest accessibility feature missing from Apple products. Voice triggering. I really wish they would add it, if they had I very likely would not have jail broken my iPhone.

What caught my attention was that once this devices. With your phone, it acts like any other hands-free device but allows voice activation. I could toggle Siri simply by saying "launch phone control", which is essentially the same function provided by the jailbreak with hands-free control. But if someone were to call me, the blue ant would ring, in the same way as it would a Bluetooth headset but, having integrated with my phonebook it will verbally tell me who's calling and all I have to do is send say "answer".

Needless to say, with failing dexterity this is rather interesting.

I've been using it on and off for couple months and surprisingly I'm not finding it quite as useful as I had hoped. First of all, I'm told that the audio quality for the person I'm talking to is quite good. Better than with other hands-free devices. However there are three things which I find really get in the way of regular usage.
  1. Voice to text speech recognition… Not so hot.
    I use this far more frequently than I do for making or answering phone calls.. Updating my status on Facebook, sending text messages or quickly replying to an e-mail. I use voice to text quite a bit. I have found that going through the blue and commute significantly diminishes the recognition accuracy. Which is really quite unfortunate.
  2. Another device to carry around…
    For me, the whole point of going to the iPhone and keeping with my was the reduction of things that they needed to have attached to my waist. Providing the maximum amount of functionality for the least amount of stuff. The blue ant commute, would require me to carry around another device. And at this point, verbally being able to answer calls does not add sufficient utility to justify.
  3. Cannot verbally hang up
    we've all been there
    It's great to be able to answer hands-free, but if you can't have some other means to end the call. You're still required to manually terminated either by manipulating your iPhone or the blue ant itself. This might not sound like that big of a deal, but when you want to get off the phone with the telemarketer or someone who just… Won't… Shut… Up…
The blue ant commute usually retails for around $100 Canadian. I however found it on sale for about $70.

Don't get me wrong, the device does have its usefulness and is I've said, the audio quality for regular phone calls is really quite good. It is small (almost the same dimensions as the iPhone 5), easily portable and is something that can easily be attached to the side wheelchair, your belt and so forth as it's intended to be mounted on the sun visor of your car. I should however point out, I've not used it in the car yet.

So, if you do not want to jailbreak your iPhone (and with IOS 7, you presently can't anyway) this could be a pretty good way to get some hands-free control back. Sure, the Bluetooth range on the blue ant isquite good and I can probably use it throughout my house, but because of the limitations mentioned above, I still prefer to carry around my iPhone. It is presently Velcro to my waist. 

The utility of the blue ant is good, but just not sufficient to completely address my needs for day-to-day use at this point in time. So in conclusion:

Friday, 6 December 2013

Remote PC Start up Tools & Siri proxy

This is a little project that is kept me occupied for some time now, partly to do with a few difficulties in implementation. But the idea is to allow me to remotely start my computer without having to find my way to the basement to do so.

So why would someone want to remotely start the computer? Well I download quite a bit of media which is stored on the hard drive of my desktop and I use media streaming to send this content to one of my gaming consoles so I can watch it in the comfort of my family room which is on the ground floor. My desktop PC is in the basement separated by a flight of stairs with big nasty scary teeth and with mobility issues, I don't always feel like taking the chance. Especially when the lighting conditions are a little dark. For some reason this really messes with my balance, making stairs downright hazardous at times.

I tried a couple different apps, and hit a few speed bumps on the way that were not expected. Here's what I found.

First off, the speed bumps

Every motherboard on your computer nowadays will have a wired network connection. If you go through the BIOS is just about guaranteed that it will support some sort of wake on LAN functionality. Simply enable it, and you should be good to go right?

Well, not so much.

I have an older Asus motherboard that those sales for wake on LAN. I figured this should be enough. Enabled it, set the magic package and would only work immediately after shutdown. The motherboard power savings would shut down the network connection is well after a period of time. This caused quite a bit of annoyance.

So for about $10, about it PCI express network card. This solves the problems. Once the BIOS was set, the PCI express port maintained power, even after the PC shutdown.

Secondly, not all routers will support away, and set up. In particular Linksys routers (which is what I have) don't allow you to set the subnet mask which is required to forward the magic packet the subnet mask needs to be set to Contact Linksys cares technical support via twitter. They were very helpful with me for sorting this out.

How does it work?

Very simply, we will be using a computer or a smart phone to send what's called a magic packet over your local area network to the desired (powered down) computer. Once you BIOSes appropriately set up, your network card essentially never sleeps and monitors the network for the appropriate magic package.

There are a couple ways to send this.

iShutdown Is probably about the easiest way to go. Simply install the app on your smart phone and then from the link here, install the service on your desired desktop. Once everything is installed, with your PC running simply search for the server via the smart phone app. It should detect it right away. This will allow you to remotely start and stop your computer and has a very nice interface. It's also very easy to monitor several computers if you so choose.

This simplicity makes it well worth the $2

Your next the best option would be to try send a magic packets with depicus.com. This is also a very good app. Works flawlessly, but is a little bit more technical as it exposes you to more of the raw details. It however also has the scanning function to find computers on your network. But what is very interesting, is that also offer a free wake on LAN packet sniffer which will allow you to view magic packets that are being sent and received by your PC. Very useful when you're setting things up to make sure things are going to the right places

This is also $2 on the App Store.

Then there is the Siri proxy… My personal favorite!

If you've already figured out how to get Siri proxy running on raspberry pie, this edition is actually really quite easy, and it's free! If you are running Debian like me. Go here for information on the install
  • open terminal and type
    aptitude install wakeonlan 
  • test the install
Once you are sending and receiving magic packets from your raspberry pie to your PC via terminal, is just a simple matter of adding the recognition block into your Siri proxy script, editing your Mac address, rebundling and restarting your Siri proxy.
#wake on LAN-------------------------------------------------
   listen_for /wake up my (computer|PC|desktop)/i do
    say "waking up your computer"
    system 'wakeonlan -p 7 YOUR_MAC_ADDRESS'

    request_completed #always complete your request! Otherwise the phone will "spin" at the user!
And this should be enough to get your serial proxy sending magic packet.

But having set this up, if I decide to watch a movie I simply voice activate my iPhone, tell her to wake up my computer and within a minute or so the media servers visible on the network.

Very convenient, very fun. :-)

If you're looking to set up a wake on LAN, I hope this helps you set one up.