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Wonder workshop cue and learn to code with Blockly January 11, 2018

Posted by Steven in The-Web.
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Here is a little neat thing I picked up via this year’s CES.

Apparently there is a huge movement (which I’ve kind-of missed) which tries to make coding more accessible. That is a great idea. AI and robotics is everywhere and the skills we need to learn is how to make these technologies work and how to code for our new robot friends and so on.

So two things I read about yesterday: A neat toy which seems really great and really good for teaching kids how to code and a framework or kind-of graphical language which makes it easy to learn and understanding what a programming language is and how to make simple software.

Wonder Workshop cue

cue is the toy robot your kids may want. It is a neat little gadget which you can customize physically and via elaborate software. It can talk to you with several different personalities and you can play games with it as well as teach it new things to do. All the demos I’ve seen looked amazing.

I hope eventually toys like this – triggering coding skills – will become the new ‘Lego’ of our time. Allowing kids to experiment, get closer to coding skills and enabling them to build cool stuff.


Google Blockly

What is Blockly: in my own words – it is a Google project (open source) which gives you a framework for using visual blocks as a kind-of programming language. In other words it is an easy to learn and purely visual thing which let’s you code or understand code more easily. It is not easy to explain :-) but I would really encourage you to try out some Blockly things.

I started with Googles Blockly Games. A set of playful missions which you need to solve using Blockly “code”. It’s fun and really teaches you how ot use the Blockly blocks.



CES 2018 January 9, 2018

Posted by Steven in In-Media.
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It’s that time of the year again! The Holiday festivities are largely over and all tech journalists are eager to blog and write about the Consumer Electronics Expo in Las Vegas. A local publication once said that there is so much to see in the continent-sized Las Vegas Convention Center.

So let’s break it down or even better, let’s jot down some guesses or predictions what will be shown.


In my view 4k (UltraHD) television systems are on the rise. They will be present in high-end tech but conquer mid-range sets in 2018. Also OLED is on the rise. OLED offers high contrast, superior color reproduction and the ultimate black (but it may lack regarding screen refresh rate).

Last year we have also learned that HDR (high dynamic range) can help produce superior images – and that superiority may be more noticeable than the actual move to a higher resolution (fun fact – 4K resolution is just 3840 × 2160 px – about 6.2 million pixel up from the FullHD resolution of 1920 x 1080 px). But last year also brought a big mess of strange hard to explain HDR standards. By the time of autumn the industry did a good job explaining to end-users that dynamic HDR is what you want. So basically the light / color distribution settings are provided and optimized for each scene (not for the whole movie – as it is in static HDR).

As far as I can see there are two dynamic hot shot formats now: Dolby Vision and HDR10+. And my prediction for TVs for 2018 is: We are going to see more and more affordable 4K TVs which support both standards and also the hot shot 3d Audio formats. So it’s less up to the consumer to check what standards his specific home cinema solution needs to support. It will become more generic and just known as HDR works.


I don’t think we are going to see groundbreaking news in the mobile space. Maybe we’ll get some more rounded up (Android) tablets. And probably some more exotic handsets i.e. smartphones with built in projectors or more wild built in VR / AR capabilities.


New laptops are always a safe bet for CES. So what could be the trend here: I believe the trend for slim but powerful laptops will continue. We will see more talk about the AR / VR capabilities of these mobile computers. Furthermore I see two specific trends: Intel’s 8th generation chips plus AMD Ryzen for laptops plus unified i/O – meaning we’re going to see USB 3.1 Type-C – hopefully multiple USB-C ports per device (but also pointing to the need for adapters). Second: Windows on ARM. That was big news at the end of 2017 and I believe we’re going to see some nice always on Windows machines.

Virtual Reality

Augmented and Virtual Reality applications will be shown all around. You will see a lot of screenshots and photos of people wearing VR headsets. I must say right now I can not really point to sensible real world applications for this technology. For sure the VR googles will get smaller and the need for tons of wires and for high powered PCs will vanish. We’re already seeing parts of this with HTC’s wireless adapter: https://www.theverge.com/2018/1/8/16863304/htc-vive-wireless-adapter-features-ces-2018

Cars / Mobility

Last year we’ve really seen a big push with strange Chinese company “Faraday Future” showing their vapor ware car the FF91 driving like one meter at CES for the first time. Well I’m not sure we are going to see more of that – but I predict that electric vehicles and the future of mobility will be big topics at CES.

Machine Learning / Digital Assistants / Home Automation

or as we call it today: Alexa everywhere. This already happened well in 2017 – the big battle between Google Home and Amazon Alexa showed every consumer that digital assistants are an interesting and not too expensive proposition. Well I have a more critical view on these things but I can’t say that this isn’t a big push. Especially Alexa is catching on in my circle of friends and in my family. It is really quite clever how Amazon pushed their own ~30 / 40 bucks devices. Even the upgrade to full Amazon Music for one of these Echos is a proposition which my friends use (3,99€ per month for a full music streaming service on one echo device).

We are going to see a lot of gadgets and a lot of companies trying to take advantage of this hype. Alexa will be put everywhere, in wearables, in gaming and media gear, in more cars and so on.

Philips already mentioned they are going to reveal more flexible devices for their home automation systems (something more exciting than a hue bridge – maybe a hue bridge that hooks up to your stereo with Amazon Alexa in it?).


So that’s it for now :)  I hope we are going to have a great and entertaining CES 2018!

Do-it-all Media Center and Streaming Media Player January 5, 2017

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I know I am whining too much about this. But I would like to give my backstory here. Years ago I thought about the perfect home theater solution. And basically I could not find the perfect gadget. So I bought an off the shelf Windows PC. The machine is big and generates fan-noise but hooked up to the HD TV it can do almost anything (play DVDs, stream, play MKV files and so on). Now the PC is 5 years old and I’ve got trouble with it again. It’s horribly strange: Windows 7 won’t check for updates and some strange hang-ups and crashes happened – although there was never an error message or bluescreen. Oh well slowly I said to myself the much used system is reaching its end of life.

This brings me once again to the search for the perfect home theater system.

If I won’t be able to rely on the good old Midi Tower anymore I would have to find something else suiting my needs. And given my needs seemed basic enough (more on that later) I refused to think of another $1000 PC tower as the next media center. If I just need to play files off my hard drives and stream Netflix and Amazon Video and be able to stream one of the European live TV providers as an alternative to Antenna TV then there should be a simpler and quieter box which can do all this.

The Search Continues…

Well it turns out the search for an answer here is still -in 2017- very hard. Here are my absolute requirements again:

  • Play MP4 and MKV (mostly h264 encoded) video files off of several USB hard drives (most drives around 2TB in size and formatted with NTFS)
  • Stream Netflix
  • Stream Amazon Video
  • Easy Access to YouTube
  • Play music via Radio App and from large MP3 folders
  • Full HD

Nice to have features would be:

  • Stream content from an iOS device to the box
  • Stream content from an Android device to the box
  • Play content from network attached storage – i.e. via DLNA
  • Access to a Web Browser
  • Some comfort would be great – speed, easy setup, easy remote control, sleep timer and so on.
  • I don’t have a huge stack of 4K content but If the solution can support 4K – great

The market for streaming boxes is quite large – there are things like the hugely successful Amazon FireTV (Android) or many people praise the possibilities of the low cost Raspberry Pi (Linux). Then there are specialized solutions like the AppleTV (iOS – Apple aiming to re-invent TV with Apps). To be honest I believe these solutions totally make sense. There shouldn’t be a need for an Intel i7 processor and a dedicated graphics card for organizing some well established HD media files and streaming some stuff.

But when looking into these solutions and taking into account my basic feature requirements there are still some question marks.

I have summarized my current findings in this table:


So a couple of quick take aways from that :-) : There is quite a price range between the products. A cheap and basic Raspberry Pi (Version 3 – with integrated bluetooth and wifi) can do a lot of the heavy media lifting. On the other end of the spectrum would be the sleek and capable Playstation 4.

Apart from the price range and the related additional features – the core app support (according to my feature list) is interesting. Netflix seems well established and independent enough that it is supported by almost all the devices (except for the Raspberry Pi – I guess the open platform and a very compact linux is still a challenge for streaming well-secured video formats). Amazon may be more of  a new comer here and it clearly follows a strategy to support its own devices first (FireTV and FireTV Stick). Support for other platforms is more a nice to have for Amazon. Another note rg. the Raspberry Pi: There are hacky unofficial solutions to getting Netflix and Amazon Video to run. I skimmed through some of the articles online but I decided for me: This stuff is too complex right now.

The other hotspot for me is the USB hard drive support. It is staggering how hit or miss this is. I still have large drives lying around with tons of shows (whole seasons) and movies on them. I take it it is mostly a sin from the past when networks were not that fast and when downloading a file first and thus avoiding heavy buffering was a real plus. Also in a mobile / on the go life it is good to store and manage some entertainment locally (so it won’t eat up your data cap). For convenience purposes most of the drives are formatted in NTFS format. This may pose a challenge for modern linux and Android platforms – as NTFS is an older but proprietary format developed by Microsoft. It is however interesting to see how a compact linux for the Raspberry Pi can read and write to NTFS and loads of otherwise capable Android distributions can’t. Nvidia must have built something into their Shield devices so there it seems to work but on other devices (even on rooted FireTVs) playing a file off a NTFS formatted drive is a real challenge. Conventional antenna driven TV is coming to an end at least it is getting more and more fragmented throughout Europe and the US. In central Europe the DVB-T2 standard starts to mature but usually HD channels are encrypted and require a yearly subscription fee (which to some extend seems expensive when there are alternatives to watch TV online on multiple devices for a similar fee). I researched Zattoo and Magine.tv as good enough alternatives for me to watch some live TV. These services do not offer apps on all platforms but they are already moving to consoles and have been well established for iOS and Android so my hope is eventually they will be broadly available on most platforms.


Going back to the introduction: It’s a shame the good old windows PC is showing its age. Even with all the research my conclusion is: A Windows PC does it all and still in this day and age it feels like a great tool. All these fancy new gadgets promise much but don’t really fit into my every day life.

The best candidates for me right now seem to be the Nvidia Shield and the Xbox One. Both support my core use cases and seem to be fast and reasonably mature. The Xbox has a great game library for me and a nice controller – while the Shield can be accessed easily from iPhone and Android Phones. Well I would say the search continues and one has to keep an eye on this type of technology.


OnePlus Two revealed July 29, 2015

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The famed flagship killer from 2014 is back. In the latest incarnation the OnePlus 2 is now the 2016-flagship killer!

That seems to be a bit of a stretch – as no one knows what 2016’s flagship phones will look like and whether the OnePlus 2 can keep up.

Nevertheless the OnePlus 2 has been revealed and it brings a huge bag of interesting features for quite an interesting price.

  • 5.5-inch touchscreen display with 1080p resolution
  • 2.0 GHz (underclocked to 1.8 GHz) octa-core 64-bit Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 v2.1
  • 16GB or 64GB of storage
  • 3300 mAh non-removable battery
  • USB Type-C charging port (so it is easy to plug in the included charging cable whichever way you want / no more fiddling with the connector)
  • Fingerprint sensor via physical home button
  • Dual SIM
  • Mute switch

The design is also quite interesting. A brushed metal frame is bordering the huge full HD display. The sandstone backing of the original OnePlus One is also back and gets company in the form of additional StyleSwap back panels. Bamboo and kevlar are joined by wood finishes include ‘black apricot’ and rosewood.

OnePlus 2 Invite System

Same procedure as every year: You cannot simply go and buy a OnePlus 2. You have to be invited to get one. The Chinese company claims it has much more devices ready for sale and there will be more invites around.

But the system essentially works like last year: Sign your name onto a waiting list, keep an eye out on social media channels and get in touch with friends who may already plan on getting a OnePlus 2.

Once you get your hands on a precious invite code then you have 24 hours to buy the phone in the company’s online shop.


Home-Theater: Who builds up to date and affordable media players? December 30, 2013

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Back in the days when I was picking out my first DVD player I was so up to date with all the set-top box and media player manufacturers. But today? Now when every $60 Samsung and Sony Bluray player plays back all kinds of files.. where are those companies that are leading the market?

I had to do some research.

I found there some promising and reasonably priced products from a handful of manufacturers out there.

Sadly xoro – the brand that I gave my money for a decent dvd player – seems not to play a leading role in the media player space nowadays.

But when you look closely there maybe some promising options out there:

  • Western Digital makes WD Live TV which is a decent sub $100 player
  • The Popcorn Hour A-300 and A-400 seem like solutions for the better off with a heft of ports and price tag of >$200
  • I quite liked the mid-range Dune D1 frome dune-hd and Xtreamer Prodigy boxes. They cost between $100 and $200 and they both seem really capable with a huge software package


Interesting Tablets: Lenovo Yoga Tablet 8 or 10 October 31, 2013

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Second edition of me exploring current Tablet choices in the market.

Today the Lenovo Yoga Tablet. Specs over at The Verge…

Also a box full of interesting ideas. This is a little Android metal tablet with an included kick-stand. It comes in 8 inch and 10 inch flavors and was promoted heavily by Lenovo and Ashton Kutcher. Here is what one would get:

  • 8 or 10 inch
  • Android 4.2
  • 16 GB Flash
  • Prices around 229 – 349 (then with LTE and 10 inch) €
  • 1280 x 800 resolution
  • Quad Core 1.2 GHz
  • 1 GB Ram
  • microSD

From my perspective the ideas are great. Seems like great and solid build quality. Nice materials and a great kick-stand. But why put such an outdated SOC into the thing? Why only 1280 x 800 resolution? Okay the price is amazing especially when comparing it to a 500 USD iPad with non-expandable storage. Still I am undecided about this one – I would love to try it out and then report back.

+ Amazing Prices

+ Great kick-stand ideas

+ Great battery life of approx 18 hrs

+ LTE is available and the build-quality seems good

– low resolution

– brains / CPU = slightly on the slow side

Interesting Tablets: ASUS T100 TA October 31, 2013

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Fact of the matter: I have sold my iPad 3. It’s a strange story.. I loved my iPad .. but also I became increasingly unhappy with the space on it and with me managing app updates / game downloads / cleaning up on the iPad. Also after updating the iPad to iOS 7 – it felt a bit sluggish. So basically I am on my iPhone all the time and I had this big iPad lying around which looses value by the day and it didn’t really make me happy anymore.

So I sold it – and I am happy with that decision.

Now I am totally aware that a tablet for me (as for most people) is a luxury device (a “third” device next to phone and laptop / computer). So I said to myself I don’t immediately need a new tablet. Also the market is so interesting right now so I want to explore all options.

So with this little series I am taking a look around at the options in the market.

First up: ASUS T100 (Transformer Book T100 TA as it is called in my country). Specs at gdgt….

I must say: I am absolutely surprised by this device. Reviewers throughout the web are touting how well it’s build how versatile it is and at 379 € what a reasonable deal it is.


  • Full 32bit Windows 8.1
  • 10.1 inch
  • Atom Baytrail SOC (Quad Core – 1.3 GHz)
  • 32 GB SSD
  • microSD
  • 2 GB RAM
  • HD Ready Resolution – 1366 x 768 Pixel (IPS Panel)
  • USB 3.0
  • Tablet mode / Laptop mode (dock with keyboard included)

Performance seems really good and as I said this may be a reasonable device. Just the resolution is no quite retina and not up to par with things like the iPad.

+ more capacity then the compatition

+ included dock

+ good performance and reasonable price

– lower resolution

– Windows 8.1

January 2013 Reminder: Windows 8 Upgrade Offer Ends November 22, 2012

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Windows 8 Pro Pack Shot

Just as a reminder.. just until 31.January.2013 you can buy and download a cheap 29,99 € upgrade for your Windows Vista or Windows 7 from Microsoft. All the details are summarized in Microsoft’s document:



Windows 7 Installation – User folders to different drive June 4, 2012

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Recently I had to work my way through the task to re-install Windows 7 and to do that properly I wanted the quicky stuff on the primary SSD and the User and Configuration stuff on a regular large hard drive.

I came across this nice article describing the process at length:

Here is the quick rundown of what I’ve done:

  • New Windows 7 installation
  • When setup asks to confirm computer / user name: don’t. Press CTRL SHFT F3 instead. This will launch “Audit Mode”
  • In audit mode get the above script. Save it / name it: folders.xml and put into easy accessible location.
  • Reboot using this command: sysprep.exe /audit /reboot /unattend:U:\folders.xml
  • Then reboot into “OOBE” Out of the box experience
  • should be all done.


Here is the copy’able version of the XML:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?>
 <unattend xmlns="urn:schemas-microsoft-com:unattend">
     <settings pass="oobeSystem">
         <component name="Microsoft-Windows-Shell-Setup" processorArchitecture="amd64" publicKeyToken="31bf3856ad364e35" language="neutral" versionScope="nonSxS" xmlns:wcm="http://schemas.microsoft.com/WMIConfig/2002/State" xmlns:xsi="http://www.w3.org/2001/XMLSchema-instance">
     <cpi:offlineImage cpi:source="wim:h:/sources/install.wim#Windows 7 ULTIMATE" xmlns:cpi="urn:schemas-microsoft-com:cpi" />

Thoughts on New iPad Delivery (3rd Generation) March 15, 2012

Posted by Steven in Apple, gadgets, In-Media.
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It is no secret: I am a fan of the PC era and also the post PC era! I love using my iPad! It is a gorgeous device, fast, powerful, easy to use and it beats the use of any netbook attempting to compete with it. I was simply blown away how fast I could get things done on a train: Just get the iPad out of its sleeve.. turn it on.. watch a movie.. switch to the email app – and answer some mail.. It’s beautiful!

So also no surprise I ordered the new iPad 3rd generation one day after the keynote (8th March 2012) via the German Apple Online Store. I was one of the lucky ones in the 1 and a half day period where the estimated delivery is the launch day (16th March 2012). Since then I have been trying to figure out if I am really getting my iPad(s) tomorrow and how they are going to reach me. Here are some thoughts on that:

  • I actually ordered two iPads both 64GB one with 4G and one WiFi only
  • The WiFi model: supposedly shipped with Hermes Logistics Group Germany
    • The Hermes bit is interesting: Hermes is an ultra cheap logistics company mainly active in Germany. Apple’s decision to rely on Hermes for the majority of its German iPad delivery summoned an outrage on the interwebs…
    • It also resulted in some coverage of the German Apple community…
  • The 4G model: supposedly shipped with UPS
    • In my tracking view on ups.com I see that Apple used International Express Saver
    • I have checked with the ups.com calculator what that means if one ships a packaged from Amsterdam to Frankfurt (see picture above / and more on that later) and it seems to work: UPS Express Saver offers guaranteed delivery next day by end of day – fingers crossed
  • In Apple’s Online order overview they always mentioned the iPads shipped on 10th March / 11th March
  • However it seems Apple uses some sort of logistics service to bring the iPads into the Netherlands
  • During the time where Apple brings the iPads from China to the Netherlands there is no shipment tracking possible for German customers
  • Once the iPads are in Amsterdam – which seemed to be the case some time early 15th March – then tracking via Hermes or UPS becomes possible

so fingers crossed for a timely delivery on 16th March!

iPhone Website CSS Animations Explained March 13, 2012

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In a very illustrative demo John B. Hall shows how Apple employed smart CSS effects on their website presentation of the iPhone 4S. Kudos to John!

Product Watch List from CES 2012 January 10, 2012

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Here are a couple of newly introduced products to watch out for:

Samsung Camera WB850F


D-Link All-in-One Mobile Companion (DIR-505)

  • lightweight
  • Wireless-N router, network repeater
  • USB recharger
  • Media streamer (with an external HDD)
  • 75 USD


Samsung Series 7 Monitor

  • integrated TV Tuner
  • 1080p
  • Wireless connectivity (strange interfaces though)
  • brilliant computer monitor


Elgato Portable Thunderbolt Drive 120/240

  • Portable / no power brick
  • SSD quick and should be durable
  • Pricey 399euro and up



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