tiistai 8. syyskuuta 2015

More Health Gadgets - Withings BPM

Yay, another gadget arrived today! For a long time, I've been a Withings weight scale user, and have liked the device a lot. But now I got a blood pressure meter from Withings. This is a review of the device, based on my initial experiences.

The Good

First things first, the design is quite cool, the hardware is sturdy, the finish is perfect. The overall idea is great, your measurements sent to the Internet over Bluetooth. The user interface for looking at the measurements is easy and looks great. Furthermore, Withings allows you to download their data easily, as well as upload other measurements to their database. This makes moving your data to your own storage or other providers easier; it avoids the customer lock problem.

And, most importantly, two days have passed with this device and I have made more measurements than I made with the previous equipment all summer. I need to take measurements and have an idea later what numbers I have seen. Having to open a computer to take notes is make-work.

History graphs show developments over longer period of time. Like in this case where (sadly) my weight keeps increasing:

The Bad

There are some complaints, as well, however. A practical issue was that it took half an hour for me to get the device to work with my iPad. Android phones, iPhones, and iPads are all listed as supported devices, and the connection instructions are simple - pair the Bluetooth device, then push the start button and wait instructions from the application.

Except that in my case the application did not react in any way. Nothing. The device was paired, but not recognised by the application. The instruction booklet said nothing useful about this case.

After some googling it turned out that there's a bug that prevents the measurements to start, if the application is already running. But exiting it didn't help; the application did not start when I pressed the button the device.

Some more googling revealed that while iPads are supported, there is no iPad application. One has to download an iPhone application, and only that application supports running the measurements, even if the iPad application supports showing all measurements. And that was the one that I had used for the weight scale as well.

The software installation initiated by Bluetooth pairing was also cumbersome. The pairing takes you automatically to Appstore for loading the application, but to a place that finds no applications and offers just wrong choices for what to do next (like redeeming a voucher). The instruction booklet says that you should either install the application or update it, but nothing about the case where the application is already installed and most recent version. And that is of course the likely situation if you already own a previous Withings product.

The silly thing is that all this could have been easily avoided if the pairing process would have downloaded the right application or if the instruction booklet would have included separate instructions for iPad users.

The other annoying this is that the meter has a "Start" button. But that button doesn't actually start the measurement -- it just starts the application, and then you have to press the real Start button in the application.

Internet of Things Architecture Thoughts

This is just one of the many examples where we buy things that are bonded to our smartphones. You cannot operate them without your phone. Granted, you are not likely to stop carrying your phone around any time soon. And the ability to see the measurements on high-quality user interface is very helpful.

That being said, I cannot help wonder if there's a better way to do this. In particular, there are many devices that are not designed to be used on a person; they could not rely on a smartphone in any case. And even for the blood pressure monitor, I would just like to take a measurement, and not have to press buttons on my iPad.

What the smartphones are useful for is the initial configuration, and the user interface when you need it. So perhaps instead of being a mandatory part, a forced hop on the path of packets, maybe the smartphone could be the way to configure these devices to use the relevant mobile network or wireless LAN, and then use them for the user interface when they are present? And when they are not present, the devices could just work, and connect to the Internet directly. Like this:

This would also be a great way to configure devices that you do not carry around, e.g., home appliances. Configure once, let them do their thing on the Internet on their own.


This is an overall nice product, well produced and easy to use once you get going. I keep wondering if there would be a way to make it similar to my weight scale; no iPads or iPhones or anything needed. Just the Wireless LAN connection.

You can buy the BPM from the Withings webshop (but be careful to choose the right webshop, there are different ones for different continents).

Photos (c) 2015 by Jari Arkko.

lauantai 18. heinäkuuta 2015

Fast Cars and Networks

How fast can you make a 23-year old Volvo 740 go? Turns out that you can make it go pretty fast... at least 200 mbit/s, maybe more.

I recently got interested in maintaining my old car. Well, it was either maintain it or take it to the scrapper. I chose maintenance, and decided to make two important actions: first, get rid of the rust and repaint the car. And second, add high-speed Internet. With IPv6, of course.

I acquired an LTE Advanced subscription from my local operator (DNA) and a router that can support fast connections. LTE Advanced is a new variant of the 4G LTE standards, capable of speeds up to 300 or 450 mbit/s, using techniques such as carrier aggregation.

To be clear, these are some very fast speeds. My current ADSL connection at home is 18 mbit/s, so there is potential for 10-20x improvements. But the deployment of this technology is just beginning, so it is available only in select areas, and of course, carrier aggregation works best when there's enough spare capacity in the network and not too many other users. I do not yet have a lot of experience about this, but in most places I get 50-80 mbit/s easily, and saw also speeds approaching 200 mbit/s. Cool!

Someone asked what I use the network for. Well, to be honest I don't know. Once the technology is there, ideas for applications can come. What Internet function would you like to see in a car?

Details: I am using Huawei E5186 as a router, and have generally good experiences with this device. It is easy to setup and both IPv4 and IPv6 just work. Some configuration is possible, but isn't strictly speaking needed - the system works out of the box.

For IPv6, the DNA service provides IPv6 for all customers, and as long as the router supports this, devices attached to the router get it too.

On the network side, I believe DNA uses Ericsson network equipment.

For fast connections, the internal network in the car needs to be fast too; I'm using 802.11ac, so the router and devices need to support that.

All this equipment is of course mostly made for non-car use. The router draws 2A of 12V. I'm a bit reluctant to use the car's electricity directly, as the voltage tends to vary quite a bit. Unfortunately, voltage regulators for 12V to 12V weren't in the stock for the local electronics store, so I went for an inverter to 220V and then back to 12V. Not pretty, and uses too much electricity, but it is a temporary solution.

Photos (c) 2015 by Jari Arkko.