Friday, 7 February 2014

Facial Recognition App Stirs Controversy

A new software ('glassware') for Google Glass was demoed this week, called NameTag - in a nutshell, it's a facial recognition app for Glass. It works by taking a picture of a face and having that face processed through NameTag's database for a match - the database in question scrapes information from social media websites, dating websites, sex offender registries and more for a match in real-time. It aims to display a brief, but relevant points about this person to you. Here's a video demo:

I'm in two minds about this. First of all, I absolutely love the idea of Google Glass and when possible; I'll definitely be getting one. I wrote a post earlier about some of my concerns for augmented reality with Glass and they still stand. This app somewhat extends my concerns but I feel like taking a different stance with this certain app.

The trouble with Google Glass is that, while the technologies behind it themselves are quite basic - realistically it's just duplicating information from one screen (your phone) to another via elegantly designed apps. It's the method that I think is both amazing & scaring people. This sleek, futuristic Star Trek-type technology is wearable and happening now. If we go back a decade or two - the elements that Glass provide are nothing but a wet-dream - all of this information accessible to you like a video game. So why are people so afraid of the implementation now?

This app has great potential and I fully understand the reasons why it's great - if you're terrible at forgetting names; if you're too shy to talk to somebody and want a good conversation opener - if you're worried this person might be dangerous - this database checks against sex offender registries!

We live in a world where everybody is looking down at their phone and nobody wants anything to do with anybody while we're out and about. This app can help you connect with people who are willing to connect. NameTag have stated this app is about connecting the world with people who want to be connected. 'Don't be a Stranger'.

I think that it's not the technology people are afraid of - it's the potential of the people who could abuse it. Whether it be the creepy guy at the bar (who totally didn't take a hint when you said you had a boyfriend and your gal-pal shooed him off) wants to find you the next day for 'a second chance'. Or the advertisers who want to pay NameTag's database owners for your information. Oh, Jon took a photo of Charlotte at this GPS co-ordinate at this time of day?

Now, I know what you're thinking:
"I don't strangers to know my information! My information is personal and I didn't say they could look at it. That's just creepy!"

This is my biggest quarry here and it's something that our generation overlooks - any information that NameTag displays is information that you have chosen to post online. Whether you realise it or not.

Social networks are not designed to be private, they never have been and never will be. Even if your profile is set to private; the pictures and details of yourself that you posted are unfortunately, still available online to anybody. Websites like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn etc. have this information at hand and make a lot of their revenue through advertisers who pay for this information and target advertisements towards you. A lot of games on Facebook request permissions before you install them - a lot of these permissions often involve scraping your information.

A huge problem this the new generation (and my own) is that we feel the need to share everything and want to know everything - how many times have you stalked a stranger's Facebook profile out of curiosity? We've all done it. Why is Glass the exception because it's a wearable technology?

It's important to note that NameTag allows (or will allow) you to opt-out of being in their database. Also that Google has repeatedly imposed an anti-facial recognition stance on their technology. But, as technology should be open; we all know it's inevitable that somebody will do this.

Thursday, 30 January 2014

12 Months with Raspberry Pi - Still Hungry For More

Over 6 months ago, I'd published a post entitled "6 Months With The Raspberry Pi: A Reflection" - a sort of mini review for the Raspberry Pi. Now, it's been over a year since I'd bought the little thing, so how about another post?

I'd stated it many times in previous posts; but my mission statement for the the Pi was:

To have a highly customisable; easy to use; affordable home media center that can interact with other devices (all on different operating systems) seamlessly in my home.

The device is at this point now - I'm at a point where I am happy with it, so let's see what I'm working with:

- XBMC running on Xbian (Overclocked to High)
- Quartz Skin (Apple TV themed)
- Yatse Remote for Android & XBMC Remote for iOS
- Raspberry Pi Board
- USB WiFi Dongle
- USB Hub with Power Supply
- 1TB USB 2.5" Hard Drive\
- 2TB WD Storage (plugged into our Router)

Both hard drives have 'TV' and 'Movies' folder - the Western Digital hard drive was a present from me for my parents; knowing they have a hell of a lot of content. For ease of use, any content added to either hard drive is automatically added into XBMC. I've set the device to scan every 4 hours for new content. I'd like to have it update instantly with an addon called Watchdog - but for some reason this wasn't letting either hard drive spin down as it was constantly looking for new content, I decided a 4 hour interval would more than suffice.

The two hard drives merge into one library on the Raspberry Pi - locally and streaming over the network. I've run a few tests and the Pi has been able to handle any media being streamed over the network with no buffering. It takes about 5 seconds to initially grab the video but from then it's clear sailing. There has been a few hiccups; but nothing outrageous. The Pi can of course handle local 1080p flawlessly and any file type you want to throw at it (one of my main reasons for purchase was file handling).

I'm using the Quartz Skin - It looks just like an Apple TV, is lightweight on the Raspberry Pi and is simple to use. Plus, I've always been a sucker for the Apple TV's. The skin is quite snappy at the moment. It can struggle but again, it's nothing too major. It can get unusable if there's too many background processes, so I try and keep them at a minimal.

I've installed XBMC on everybody's phones, tablets. Yatse for Android and the official remote for iPhones. I wanted the device to be as easy as possible to use and once I showed my family how to initially use the remote it kind of explains itself. I'd recommend the apps to anybody with XBMC.

Another thing was that I wanted the files themselves to be easily accessible. I had to allow read and write access for the whole network (this can be done over SSH) so we could easily change, copy and add files if needs be, on any device. Both hard drives are accessible over the local area network (both on Windows and Android (via ES File Explorer)) - this means that if my sister's in the living room with the Pi and my I wanted to watch one of my shows, I can just fire up my phone, access the Pi via ES File Explorer and stream straight to my phone, PS3 or Windows 8 computer. Flawless, no messing around -exactly what I wanted!

Addons I've got installed are:

- YouTube
- iTunes Latest Trailors

The benefits of Android is that I can send media straight from my phone to the Pi with Androids integrated 'Share' feature. I can 'Send to XBMC' at the click of a button. It's also worth noting that Xbian supports AirPlay from iPhones!

I'm incredibly happy with the device and what it can do - especially at the price it's been running 95% flawlessly. Xbian occasionally throws out errors but I guess that's down to it being in BETA. My family and girlfriend are happy with using it so I guess it was a big victory!

Yesterday I experimented with PseudoTV Live. If you don't know, PSTVL uses your home media (and web streams) to allow you to channel surf with your content. Think a DIY Virgin or Sky box with customisable channels for your content. The program itself is great, but was too much for the Raspberry Pi to handle, I'd found. I guess this means I could start moving from the Pi to a dedicated miniPC soon. I'd like more power on a home theatre PC device to really beef it out with add-ons and skins. I'd had to keep things relatively lightweight for the Pi.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Croft Sessions #23 - Fossil Collective "Let It Go"

Over the summer of 2013, Croft Sessions were privileged enough to be invited to film at a handful of festivals; including 2000 Trees, Green Man, Moseley Folk and more.

We had the amazing opportunity to film Fossil Collective at Green Man 2013 - where they performed an acoustic version of the first track 'Let It Go' off their album 'Tell Where I Lie'

I think it sounds absolutely incredible, the harmonies sound great and it does so much justice to the original track.

I hope you enjoy it, if so - please check out our library of sessions and Subscribe to our YouTube!

More of Croft Sessions:

Tuesday, 1 October 2013


I've never considered myself a bad person - I've done bad things; but that by all means doesn't make me a bad person. When it comes to it, I've always prided myself on wanting to do the best for those close to me. Be there when they need me, give them whatever advice I can and at least try and get them back on their way.

I guess I don't like seeing people close to me give up on themselves - or assume negativity about themselves. It sometimes shocks me that even I can't see the light myself, I'll shine whatever I can onto their life and see what's good about them. (When it comes to taking advice, I can be a stubborn little bastard).

Which brings me to Ben.

Some backstory:

On the lonely Sunday night of September 29th - my £12 Megabus left Cardiff at 9pm and was due to arrive in Coventry at 12:55am. I filled my time watching episodes of Community and Doctor Who on my phone and giving 'Yeezus' another listen. The journey didn't bother me, I knew where I was going, where I had come from and why I was taking this journey.

About 30 minutes towards the end of the journey; I realised I had to save battery to grab a taxi number, use Google Maps etc.. So I turned my Nexus off and nodded off. When we arrived; I was amidst a sea of work-re-locators, international students & travelers, but no taxi's.

"Which way to the city centre?" I overheard a voice to the driver. He sounded nice enough; so I asked him if he's going to the city centre we should split a taxi, because the walk was over an hour and a half, only seemed fair. I could sense a bit of tremble and fear in his voice - so during the taxi-calling smalltalk, I asked him where he was from

"A very, very far away place" He slowly muttered.

My curiosity raised my concerns, he continued to explain that he lived in Cardiff and had caught the Megabus from Bristol to Cardiff and fell asleep for that long that the route went back to Coventry. Yeah, he literally had only woken up in Coventry. I looked at him in sheer disbelief and let out a polite laugh. It wasn't long before my instincts to help this guy kicked in, he seemed like a good guy in an awful situation, . I knew it was what I needed when it happened to me.

This guy had little money, two dead phones, no phone chargers, no contact numbers and was 130 miles away from home at 1am on a Monday morning.

We hopped in our taxi and I managed to make him laugh, as did he to me; I could see in his eyes he was terrified, but his laughter made me realise he was like me - trying to bring light to the insane scenario. His original plan was to get a train back, hoping for a 1:30am line - but once we arrived there; the next train wasn't until 5am. So we took to the streets. I walked him to McDonalds, he bought me a McDonalds out of thanks, though I insisted he didn't need to. I looked up Travelodge prices, locations, train times, coach times, all prices etc, gave him my spare phone charger - even walked him to the Travelodge at 2am to make sure he was okay.

I did like the guy, we sat down and discussed music, clubs, scenes, history in depth and bonded I guess. I don't think I'd have helped him this much if I didn't have a good feeling about Ben. When we said goodbye, we shared a hug and he said "I'll see you soon"

We didn't exchange numbers or Facebook names, nothing. I just find it crazy that, I sat and shared a big night with this guy and I'll probably never meet him again, it kind of makes it nice for me.

My head isn't in the best position now - with University I feel like I'm lost and am somewhere I shouldn't be - I guess these events conjured a metaphorical balance to my head. While I've spoken to numerous amounts of family, friends, colleagues and classmates about it - I still feel like I'm on this stranded boat.

I guess this entire scenario of Sunday night has grounded a metaphorical balance in my head - that no matter how lost you are; there'll always be people around you to bring you back up to surface.

For that, I am eternally grateful.

Friday, 30 August 2013

LIFE UPDATE: Croft Sessions & Wino Janoski Pickup

Wow! It's been a very long while. I hate to use the old jaded excuse, but I've been so busy lately to even begin to start putting pen to paper (Is that outdated now?) fingers to... keys? It's just coming to 8am now, I arrived home about 45 minutes ago after Charlotte heading off to Paris so I have some time to kill before my day officially "begins" so here we go.


In the past 2 years; I'd like to think Croft Sessions has really took off. Since my last blog post, so many things have happened! The first main thing is that we finally have an active running website. I made it from scratch with Photoshop & Notepad++. As of now; the website is fairly primitive. It's more of a gallery at the moment - with extended write ups for each artist. I love it; it's simple and efficient. Also, check out our randomizer! (This is what I'm most proud of).

We've also hit a massive 20 sessions, with 52 individual songs on our YouTube page. As of writing this, we're actually at 24, yet to be released! For #20, Chris and I rode up to Leeds to film The Coopers - an energetic and very friendly band who made the best biscuits I've ever had. It was my first time in Leeds and I loved it; I wanted more time to explore and ahem shop. We rung around in some coffee shops - Laynes Espresso and Mrs Athas where I met sneaker legend and all-round nice guy Warren Jones. I'm planning to head to Leeds again later this month, so that should be nice.

In other Croft Session news; Chris was lucky enough to head to Green Man & 2000 Trees this year; where he captured so many great stuff. I'm gutted I was trapped at work, but I'm incredibly humbled and proud of the work he's done for the project.

I'll be joining him at Moseley Folk Festival this weekend - continuing with SoFar sounds that was last night in Birmingham! We filmed for Songs From A Room again in a lovely garden in Moseley. Talent played as the sun set in a wonderful atmosphere and it was just great. It's so nice to be surrounded by so many people with mutual aspirations & interests. I'd definitely recommend going to a SoFar show if there's ever one by you.

Nike SB Stefan Janoski Wino / Terra Brown
I finally got what I consider to be one of my grails - The Wino Janoski. I've been looking for these for so long it's unbelievable. It's ridiculous how hard it was to get these shipped to the UK for a decent price (a little over retail + shipping!). These came from a nice guy in Thailand from - I'd recommend that website for sneakers if you're hesitant on Facebook groups. I think I prefer these over the Digi Floral Janoski. Safe to say that I'll be taking extra care of these.

Going on from that, apparently I'm into sneakers now? My "collection" is minuscule compared to those I know - considering that a year ago I was the type of person to buy and wear one pair at a time for months on end, I've branched out a bit. At the moment, I have a few Janoski, Jordan 4, Roshe & Air Max 1's - I'm looking to branch out to Asics, New Balance and maybe some Saucony's in the coming weeks, though.

On the Supreme front; I picked up a 2012 Comme Des Garcons x Supreme Polka dot Pullover for little over retail - another Supreme 'grail'. I think that's me mostly done with Supreme for a while - the new season and characteristics of the community treating the brand like a religion is irritating, So I'd only really look for older 'preme.

- Jon

Sunday, 23 June 2013

6 months with the raspberry pi - a reflection

In January, I posted about picking up a Raspberry Pi, and touched on what I planned to do with it - since it's been 6 months since that purchase & post, I've decided to check in on how it's going.

If you don't know - the Raspberry Pi is a credit card sized micro-computer built with the intention of teaching basic programming to kids (and new programmers). As it's intended to be fiddled with, there have been a wave of great projects for it - networked hard drives, mini-robots, LED signs, home automation, theatre PC's and much, more.

When I purchased mine, I only really had one main intention for it: a multi-purpose Home Theatre PC that was cheap and had a variety of options. I wanted it to make it easy to have quick access to media that had a nice interface ("girlfriend friendly", if you will). I think in a lot of aspects the Raspberry Pi has fulfilled this request, although I have come across a fair few downsides & limitations.

The Positives

It's Cheap.

- The actual board --- ~£25
- Spare 8GB SD Card --- Free!
- USB WiFi Dongle --- £5
- USB Hub with power supply --- £10
- 500GB USB Hard Drive --- £40

Total: £80

While £80 is obviously higher than the initial "Wow,a £25 computer!" excitement - £80 is still very good for a PC that can playback full 1080p HD without a hickup. Which brings me next...

It's played every file I have
My biggest annoyance with having a PS3/360 has a Media Centre is that it could only play certain filetypes - to play I had to convert them - which can be very time consuming and a tricky split for my aging PC. The Pi pleased me by playing any format I've thrown at it without a problem. 1080/720p HD .mp4 & .mkv without an issue - leaving me very pleased with the quality. As well as the older (and bigger) .avi files - no issue. XBMC automatically scales each video to supply the best quality. A lot of older content does look very pixelated on my 40" TV, though.

Wireless Drag and Drop

I have linked my Raspberry Pi to my home network - making it accessible via my main PC where I obtain my media. Meaning I can obtain media, access the Raspberry Pi's file-system & copy it to the Pi from my computer, without having to fiddle with the Pi's setup. What's great about this is that the Pi will scan new content and automatically organise & attach information to the media such as cover art & synopsis.


I have installed software called XBMC - Xbox Media Centre. software designed to be installed on the modified original Xbox's with the intent of having a home theatre. XBMC's since been ported to other systems, but the name's stuck!

Anyway, third party developers are able to create and upload their own add-ons. So far, I only installed Project Free TV, 4oD, iPlayer & TVCatchup. There are plenty more available in a variety of genre's - but I do like that these addons are free available.

- It's easy to use once configured
- It uses low power
- It's silent
- It's very small

- I can control it with an app on my phone
- I can send YouTube videos from my PC to play on the TV
- It supports AirPlay

There are a bunch of negatives which I have come across - some understandable - (it is a £25 PC of course), some which are irritating - and some which are down right embarrassing when you have company!

It can be very laggy
I'm running RaspBMC on a 512MB Rapberry Pi - initial bootup takes ~30 seconds; which is fine - I want to leave it on all the time anyway so I can instantly add media. But the menu's can often be quite laggy depending on what theme you have. I'm currently running "Quartz Light" which is a mimic of the Apple TV interface optimised for the Raspberry Pi. There are so many beautiful, convenient skins out there, a lot of which are simply too much for the Raspberry Pi to handle, I tried some.
There have been times where I've been navigating to watch something and the interface simply freezes, before responding after a bump. It's something that isn't too annoying but after it repeatedly happens...

The WiFi Drops
This is something that never used to happen - and it's not something I'm specifically blaming the Pi for as it could be some settings I've changed myself, or how my internet is now configured - as I control the Pi with my phone over WiFi - if I leave the Pi inactive for a certain while, the WiFi seems to sleep and I'm unable to wake it up with my phone - so I have to reboot the Pi and it tells me off "The Pi was not shut down properly!"

Of course, this leads to another wait while the Pi reboots, then scans my media etc. - it's something that is irritating if I want to come home and watch something without fuss - or even worse when Charlotte and I want to watch a film, I feel very awkward!

It is obviously, limited

While the Pi is open to so much, it does have it's limitations. as mentioned the user interface lagging - streaming TV from TVCatchup has been iffy (my actual freeview box is a pile of crap...) and streaming seems to be very hit and miss from Project TV. A lot of the graphic intense stuff seem to hold it down everywhere but the actual video playing.

It's a great device, I'm not going to fault that. I think with every flaw it has I do have to take in consideration it's cost & admire how much it can do for how little I paid. When I brought it I wasn't expecting it to be an absolute powerhouse of a PC but it has done what I originally wanted it to do.

Whether I keep it as my main Theatre PC or replace it with an Android box - or maybe even buy a small "conventional" PC to use as a Home Theatre PC, the Raspberry Pi is going to continue serving me very well.

Although, I do like the idea of turning it into a retro gaming station...

Thursday, 13 June 2013

iOS 7 is hungry for Ice Cream Sandwich

This past week, Apple unveiled to the world their long anticipated iteration of their mobile software, iOS 7. The software update comes with new features as you'd expect - but also the first major design overhaul the iOS has seen since it's launch in 2007. A pretty big deal for Apple - considering it's taken 6 years for a change.

Apple had always taken baby steps when it comes to design revisions and feature additions when it came to the iPhone - for instance video recording being added in iOS 3 and being able to set a background in iOS 4. This is because Steve Jobs had been quoted in saying that 'customers don't know what they want until you show them' - a business philosophy to which Apple stays loyal to - however, it does intrigue me as to why these simple features weren't available on a premium phone from the get go.

For context, I had the original iPhone, back in 2008 I think - then the 3G; until I moved to Android. I've since worked closely with all sorts of phones from all sorts of brands. I did love my iPhone, I really did. The design is sleek, the build is solid and it did feel good owning one. After a while however, limitations did show. I couldn't do many things without needing to jailbreak (gaining root access to the phone to be able to truly modify it to your own needs) the phone.

Back when I had an iPhone; here's how it went. The jailbreaking community would always stay 2 steps ahead in terms of offering tweaks and features in which Apple did not want to include. Many of the official iOS updates generally started to include these features. Video recording? Bluetooth Transfer? Tethering, Quick Settings? Jailbreak beat ya to it. If it wasn't for Cydia and the third party apps, I wouldn't have enjoyed the iPhone experience as much - and this brings me to iOS 7.

SBSettings - the original "control centre"

I am very happy that Apple is progressing and finally adding such features into their OS - it's a good step. The thing that bugs and irritates me is that they will introduce these things as 'revolutionary' and 'amazing'; but the fact is that hell of a lot of these features have been lifted directly from Android (lockscreen anybody?) and have been available many years before the iPhone even came to be.

The lockscreen has been taken from Ice Cream Sandwich (Android 4) - the multitasking interface taken from HTC's Sense - the 'control centre' has been deemed similar to Android's quick settings (but look at SBSettings above..) and AirDrop is rivalling NFC transfer and Samsung Beam  etc. etc.

I feel like at one point - Apple was at the top of the game in terms of smartphones - hell, it is literally because of the iPhone that we had the influx of smartphones and the true innovation & progress we've seen from our handheld devices within the past half-decade. I think that now every other company has played catch-up and, inevitably overtaken Apple in terms of out-of-the-box features (not including third party apps) - Apple seems to be the one who need to catch up. In doing so, the mass redesign is seen as a radical move in hopes of breathing new life into iOS - without forgetting the irresistible force of Apples dominate marketing team.

The icons are ugly, though.