Solar…portable…renewable

Anyone who knows me will know that I’ve always been a fan of solar (photovoltaic) energy production. This goes from tiny little solar panels that I used with Coder Dojo to wire up fans and LEDs to larger scale panels that are used to keep my phones and other devices charged when out and about.

My latest purchase is the Anker 14W Solar Panel Foldable Dual-port Solar Charger.

I was pretty pleased with the package – it was smaller than I expected and seemed sturdy enough. It fits neatly into my hiking backpack when I’m not using it and when I am using it, I’ll tie it using cords to the back of the back – the built-in rings seem very resilient. The company advises using the included pockets for holding devices you’re charging (to keep them out of the direct sunshine). I’d like them to be a little bigger but that’s only because my devices are a little bulkier.

Anker14WSolarCharger

I tested this during the week in some weak summer sunshine here in Northern Ireland and I was able to generate nearly 7 Watts (5.09 Volts, 1.35 Amps). That’s about 50% of the potential output of the panel but considering I was just sitting in a park with plenty of surrounding tree cover, no effort being made to optimise the angle and a little bit of cloud cover – coupled with the weak Northern Irish sunshine – I was happy to see I could easily power and charge a phone.

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Your phone likely needs 5 Watts of Power (5 Volts, 1 Amp). The average PC USB port outputs 2.5 W (5V, 0.5A). Your iPad needs about 12 W (5.1V, 2.1A). The device I’m using to measure this is a pass-thru USB power monitor by PortaPow. It can check any USB port for power output and is cheap as chips. For the aspiring geek it’s a useful informational tool.

I’ll be using this panel to charge an Anker 13000 mAh portable battery (superseded by newer models like the Anker Astro e7 with double the capacity). 25600 mAh seems like a lot but the iPhone 6 has a 1810 mAh battery and therefore I’d expect to get 10 charges out of this. Which should be good enough for a week of outdoor usage (assuming I’m using the screen a lot).

Next week I’ll be testing the charger in Southern Spain. I’m interested to see what the difference in throughput will be and how fast it will charge my external battery.

There’s Digital Hubs and digital hubs.

There is an inevitability of a concentration on the digital knowledge economy for Northern Ireland. We have a thriving group of developers and designers in Belfast, a huge amount of ambition in the North West and a heap of activity building in the Southern and Western counties of the province.

Last week I went to the Digital Hub along with Momentum, Belfast City Council, InvestNI and representatives from DCAL and OFMDFM.

We heard the spiel about how it brought some regeneration to the area, that they still have a considerable subvention from the government after 10 years (less than €2m a year, but overall investment has been around €30m since inception and may not include transferred assets).

I also spoke to some of the guys in some of the businesses. They said they wish the Hub was one mile closer to the city centre, that the reason they use bikes and public transport is because they don’t want to bring their cars to that area of town and even the big lads feel a little concerned leaving the Hub with a laptop.

It re-iterates my belief that a city centre location for a Belfast Hub is essential. Not least because Davy Sims put together a map of Digital Media companies in Northern Ireland back in February of 2010 and discovered most were within a square mile in the city centre.


View Belfast Media Square Mile in a larger map

I don’t think we want a straight property play like the Hub in Dublin. We’re a small region with a big ambition so we have to think much more strategically about what goes where. We also need to be 100% joined up. I think I have the support of the Digital Circle steering group in my opinions and in my vision for a digital hub-type infrastructure in Northern Ireland. It’s a big plan, an ambitious plan, even an audacious plan and if it delivers, it will bring the concept to the province as a whole rather than just to a small region.

To build for tomorrow, we have to plan today.

The Economist: Nokia tries to reinvent itself:

ASK Finns about their national character and chances are the word sisu will come up. It is an amalgam of steadfastness and diligence, but also courage, recklessness and fierce tenacity. “It takes sisu to stand at the door when the bear is on the other side,” a folk saying goes.

We have this feeling. We have it. We likely don’t have a word for it. And that’s a damn shame.

We need something to change. Northern Ireland will always have difficulties because we lack the environment we need to excel. Part of this is historical, part of it is just the way our culture is built. We have the talent, we have the brains, we just lack part of the execution. We will never have the same number of angels and funds as Silicon Valley. So we have to make better use of what we have. We will never get the massive DoD contracts that Israel secured so we’re going to need to find other ways to make our mark. We need to have the foresight to prepare for the future, the charisma to make friendships that will last and the heart to build it. Not for our own gain but for the gain of tomorrow. Well, starting from today, the first week of January 2010, we’re going to change that.

We’re going to start an incubator.
We’re going to start building a fund.
And we’re going to do it in Belfast.

So I’m looking for a word in Irish to express something. To express the passion about how I choose to spend my free time. There’s some candidates here – and the front-runner so far in bold.

dream brionglóid
sight radharc
To hell with you! Go hIfreann leat!
friendship cairdeas
The big race An rás mór
connection, bond ceangal
feat, achievment gaisce
nerve, courage, morale, heart misneach

Workplace 2010

Workplace 2010 is an initiative within the Civil Service. I recently met with Mark Bennett, who works for the Department of Finance and Personnel (DFP) and is specifically charged with OpenDataNI along with a team of talented anarchists within the walls of the Civil Service. Mark took the time to show me around Clare House which is the home of the DFP (as well as other departments including the Strategic Investment Board).

I took a short video:

This shows some of the facilities, including the circular meeting rooms, a glimpse of some of the ‘standing room’ for visitors as well as the copious amounts of hot-desking space and collaboration areas. This, a booth not dissimilar to that found in a restaurant, was my favourite:

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A booth with ethernet, power and a monitor. Plenty of room to spread out or work with someone. Perfick!

Did I mention the entire place was flooded with WiFi? (BTOpenZone so not perfect but still, progress, and from somewhere you would not expect).

Muni WiFi: escape the Dialup Dark Ages

A few years ago I approached Belfast City Council with the idea of my company putting a large chunk of cash into a Meraki WIFI mesh which would then provide free WiFi to Cathedral Quarter. Cathedral Quarter was and still is plagued by having historic cobbled streets which prevent the laying of new lines – but for my business it was an opportunity. If Belfast City Council would pay for two or three ADSL lines in some buildings, we would sink a heap of capital into the network hardware and handle all of the installations. What would we get out of it? A bit of advertising to the Creative Centre of Belfast. That’s all we wanted. The response we got back was that the area already had BTOpenZone, which, if you investigate is notable for it’s absence in the area.

Undeterred I believe that Belfast needs a free-to-access Municipal Wi-Fi network.

There are providers around but the cost and subscription burden of many providers (and lack of basic interoperability, never mind poor user interfaces for mobile travellers) makes the current WiFi subscription set up to be a very unsatisfactory experience for the average traveller.

Belfast allegedly attracted 800,000 people for the Tall Ships event recently.

“Around 800,000 people crowded to the city’s docks for the biggest event ever staged on the island of Ireland. This included 100,000 holiday-makers who visited the city especially for the event – and 250,000 people believed to have watched the magnificent Parade of Sail out of Belfast Lough.”

(Doing the maths: This means there were 200,000 per day. Which means 10,000 per hour or so during the four days the Tall Ships were here. I call bullshit but hey).

Either way – there were thousands of people present and over 1000 crew from those ships. Would a free WiFi service have been useful to them? Of course. Last time I travelled to the US, I had to pay nearly £1000 in data and voice roaming charges and my next trip will likely be as bad if not worse. It is essential to the Tourism economy in Northern Ireland that we have a tourist-friendly environment. Rather than the tourist not using voice or data services (or worse, spending hundreds of pounds on roaming data paid to their home carrier), we should be providing that service free of charge and permitting them to use Skype or other voice services to call home. We need to build Northern Ireland as a progressive traveller-friendly destination.

Recently in the news, San Francisco is pioneering with Solar-Powered WiFi bus stops.

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By 2013, San Francisco is planning to construct 360 new Muni bus stops that’ll further the causes of both solar power and blanketed Wi-Fi at the same time.

and Toyota created a bit of a news story with their new Prius advertising campaign:

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Toyota planted five 18-foot tall “solar flowers” in Boston’s Prudential Plaza and provided free Wi-Fi and electricity that was “partially powered” by the solar panels attached to the petals and stem.

Think of where the roaming charges go. This money is not being used to build the Northern Ireland economy, they’re not being used to upgrade our infrastructure, build our schools or assist local business. The money goes somewhere else.

So, lets unwire Belfast. Let’s break the stranglehold on communications held by the mobile carriers where they can charge £6 per megabyte downloaded or uploaded which, frankly, drags us back to the dialup dark ages.

Convergence

@DesTraynor pointed out this link on lukew.com.

“Hardware Becomes Software”

There’s a really entertaining graphic illustrating the point below.

In other words, convergence has gone far beyond just adding camera to phones. We now have phones potentially replacing digital instruments, guitar tuners, GPS SatNav devices, pocket video cameras, compasses, voice recorders, barcode readers, remotes, dictionaries and game consoles.

I’d even hesitate to say that my laptop often has the additional purpose of being a ‘charger’ for my iPhone. Convergence? As my Twitter client on iPhone is better than the one I use on desktop, has my laptop been converged onto my phone?

Dicking around with QR codes..

picture-3

This was generated using Rafael Machado Dohms’ QR Code Generator widget for Mac OS X’s Dashboard.

I then tested it using Christian Brunschen’s Barcodes app from the iPhone App Store – which worked perfectly.

I’m interested in QR codes simply from the point of view of using it to hide messages, whether this be for my own nefarious purposes or for communicating ideas in a Alternate Reality Game.

Over the next couple of days I’m going to see what sort of data I can get in there and still make it legible for the iPhone (which has possibly the worst camera in existence).

Then the game will begin.

More on battery power.

I get about 2/3 of a day out of my iPhone battery.

Guy Kawasaki recently explained how to lengthen your iPhone battery. Turn off a load of stuff.

Balls to that.

I have two phones. An iPhone 3G which lasts about 8 hours. And a Nokia 6300 which lasts about 3 days.

Strike one for Nokia. Er, no. Because the only thing the Nokia actually does is sit there and do nothing. The iPhone is constantly downloading twinkles, grabbing email every 15 minutes (and receiving email pushes constantly) and footering with the GPS.

So it lasts 8 hours. Buy a PowerMonkey and get over it.

Nomadic Power

One half of the issues of being ‘Bedouin’ is the relative scarcity of net access. There’s heaps of WiFi out there, 3G and EDGE connections but every now and then you find yourself bereft of networks to attach to, for instance, in the middle of the North Sea. You can still work especially if you have a laptop with you and even if you’ve just got your iPhone or other ‘relatively smart’ phone, you can hammer out some ideas, prepare some emails to be sent when the network returns or do those boring jobs which you’ve been putting off.

Power, on the other hand, is a must. It’s not usually a problem at home or in the office but what do you do when out and about. First thing is to look for any power sockets you can find – it’s worthwhile noting where they are in cafés (and on the Ferry/HSS). Not surprisingly, most vendors take a dim view of plugging in even if you’re a paying customer.

So what do we do to deal with that? I’d blogged previously about The FreeLoader but I’ve added to this with a third party battery booster (which provides ONE good charge for an iPhone) and also a PowerMonkey eXplorer.

Check this out. A charger that can harvest enough motion from walking to replenish cell phones or other small gadgets, like GPS devices. It says that six hours of cumulative motion can add 30 to 60 minutes of talk time to a cell phone. The idea is to place the charger inside a purse or backpack and let it charge in the background

SSH client for iPhone released

pTerm, a new SSH client for the iPhone has been released – but seems to be only in the US App Store.

Why is this important to me?

Because I’m managing customers while away from the office. That’s the way things go when you work alone.

Thankfully there’s been no emergencies and all requests were handled using a web interface which works fine on the iPhone. It would be nice to have SSH though because for my hosts with Pair, I would be the only person checking on them. The servers with host.io would be checked elsewhere.

So, roll on the UK release. Means I’ll be able to relax better.