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REVIEW: Raspberry Pi B+

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This is a guest post by Fiona O'Cleirigh

The Raspberry Pi is small - 'a credit-card sized computer' says its blurb - and flexible, good for both general desktop use and electronics projects.  And there's a new version out.

If the Raspberry Pi were a car, what would it be?  Not a Bugatti, appealing as it does to the Heath Robinson end of IT society.  It's cheap, so Bristols and Rollers are out too.  It isn't as ubiquitous as Ford nor as staid as a Volvo.   And you wont see it on Top Gear.

Computer Weekly has therefore rolled up its sleeves and taken the new Model B+ for a test drive. 

With literally no expenses spared, the squad was recruited from top experts. Running the CW driver's team was a senior enterprise architect who works for a global financial services firm.  For the sake of professional anonymity, we shall call him 'Jim'.   

Our three teenage drivers - 'James', 'Edward' and 'Nicholas' - were picked for speed and resilience. And also because they happen to live in a house where there is always at least one computer nearer than the nearest London rat, ie within twelve feet (3.66 m). 

So, what's under the bonnet?  The new Pi is really an upgrade, rather than a new model, improving the B type's performance and layout. 

The B+ has the same processor, the same RAM and can run the same software.  Although it is the same size, however, the B+ won't fit into the case designed for a B-type, due to the rearrangement of the board.

RasPi basic .jpgThe new B+ upgrade

All the ports are now neatly arranged on two sides, rather than distributed around the board, and there are now four USB ports compared to the model B's two.  A four-pole composite and audio interface - a jack of all trades, one might say - has replaced the video and audio sockets.

Pi aficionados are excited by the replacement of the old plastic SD slot - which could also handle micro SD - with a metal micro SD-only slot.  This reviewer was not so pleased, as it meant finding a new micro card.

And while the new slot is undeniably sturdier, compared to other computers the rest of the Pi is physically as delicate as a Meissen teapot. 

The Pi's fragility belies the robust new power circuitry, which has been rearranged and made more efficient with a switching regulator.  If you use batteries, they should last longer, and the Pi should be better equipped to tolerate irregular or low voltages .

Despite its exposed components, encasing the Pi in Perspex makes less sense for the B+, than its predecessor. The back of the board is almost as interesting to the adventurous as the front, with lots of test points included.  And for those looking to hook their machine up with real world objects, there are an extra 14 General Purpose Input Output pins, making a grand total of 40. 

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Checking the undercarriage

A Pi shares some of the characteristics of the human baby.  Cute to behold and costing next to nothing itself, the bill for accessories can stack up.  

One bundle that CW has admired (and would very happily review if one is sent over) is the very pretty and pretty useful portable HDMIPi screen set.

Made by CynTech and designed especially for your favourite cheapo computer, the HDMIPi monitor comes in various packages, from the no-power-cord-included version (£75) to full bells and whistles (£160), with assorted cables and wireless inputting devices.

For this enterprise, however,  we fitted our fitted B+ into a more traditional rig of monitors and mice.  Wired up into a networked testbed, it faced a punishing schedule, designed to answer three key research questions. 

(1) Does the Pi meet its PR claims? (2) More importantly, can you run a high graphics game on it? (3) Is it useful for odd standalone projects?

Other than the features that can be checked off visually (yes, all pins present), the testable upgraded features are the improved power circuitry and audio.  With no particular desire to hit the Pi with transformers, testing was restricted to seeing which Pi, the B type or the B+, played a certain Rodrigo y Gabriela flamenco number more impressively. 

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It's an audio jack, Jim, but not as you know it ...

The Results were inconclusive due to a dead heat. Neither would play anything. This may have been down to tester error or, more likely, according to our technical specialist, "something up with the speakers".

For those with more time, or less need to move on to more pressing tasks such as playing Minecraft, audio configuration instructions are available online.

Cue the teenage driving team. There were two options for Minecraft, the open world game of building and territorial exploration. 

The game can be run with the RAM and processor-challenged Pi acting as server or as client, but not both.

For the first pass, we decided to set it up in server mode. Nicholas slid behind the controls with what can only be described as practised ease. The Pi was less responsive, striving gamely to deliver but running with a 9 second  lag and stalling at critical moments.

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"Oh look, I'm playing Minecraft on a bad server"

The Pi was much happier serving as client, although its tester clearly was not.  The game was at its most basic with, critically, no pigs, an essential ingredient in the modern version of the game. Nearly as bad, the TNT barrels did not explode in this rudimentary version.  Check out Minecraft.

All three testers piled in joyfully to play a variety of early computer games, all written in Python, including Snake, Tetris - "Ha!  It's just one block at a time!" - and the messy favourite, Ink Spill. 

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Ink Spill

Scoring not very highly for graphics use, the B+ was then dedicated to a nobler cause.

Our testing team finished late in the evening, after testing the Rasperry Pi's capability with encryption. More on that later.  

Our conclusion: the Pi is not an all-terrain vehicle. Something of a rugged but not so speedy army Land Rover on the encryption front, it is, quaintly, the Robin Reliant of gaming. 

In terms of neoclassical looks and general desirability, it seems more Mini Cooper than Lamborghini.  And with the exchange rate set at over five hundred Raspberry Pis to the modern Mini Cooper, we're not complaining.  Perhaps a trip to the Arduino trailer-park is in order...

Cognitive enhancement devices - can accessories really make you smarter?

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We're being launched into the days of smart technology, where our phones are better than computers, we're wearing devices that can monitor our every move and even our fridges are connected to the internet. 

It isn't surprising that manufacturers have been toying with devices designed to make you smarter, and we managed to get hold of a gaming headset. This uses an electrical current to stimulate particular parts of your brain to 'improve' your thinking power. 

However, a recent policy paper by researchers at Oxford University's Oxford  Martin School has urged for greater regulation for devices such as this.

In this video, Computer Weekly interviews Adrian David Cheok, professor of pervasive computing at City University. Cheok tries out a cognitive enhancement device (CED) to see how it makes him feel, and whether it does indeed make him 'smarter'.

During the testing process, Cheok stated that the device made him feel as though his brain was more stimulated, and he did perform better with the headset on. But he also said that it left him with a strange sensation in the area the headset was touching, as well as sensitive skin.

These devices are currently used by consumers in gaming and education in order to enhance their performance.

But according to Hannah Maslen, lead author of the Oxford Martin paper entitled "Mind Machines: The Regulation of Cognitive Enhancement Devices", this device by is the first commercially branded cognitive enhancement device, and people have previously attempted to make these devices themselves. 

Maslen emphasised that consumers should be provided with "evidence based information so that users will be able to decide for themselves if the risks are worth taking."

Currently though, there is a distinct lack of regulation around devices such as this, which according to Maslen and other authors of the report could be dangerous, as these devices change the electrical activity of the brain. 

In Europe, these devices are only required to pass product safety requirements, even though the electrical signals used by these devices have the potential to alter the brain's electrical activity. 

Similar devices are under trial in the medical industry to attempt to treat illnesses such as depression and Parkinson's.

But because CEDs do not provide any kind of medical diagnosis or therapy, they do not come under the Medical Devices Directive, and can therefore not be governed by the same rules.

In the paper, Maslen and fellow authors Thomas Douglas, Roi Cohen Kadosh, Neil Levy and Julian Savulescu, outline a pathway to designing a regulatory model for the use of CEDs.

They recommend that devices such as this should come under the EU Medical Devices Directive as they provide some of the same medical risks as similar devices used for medicine. 

When it comes down to it, it's all about consumer safety. Maslen says: "It's about making sure that devices that we're sold are as safe as they can be."

Love your smartphone? Huawei thinks you could love it more

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At Huawei's most recent innovation day in Milan, there was a lot of talk about innovation in Europe, research and development centres, and the highly anticipated 5G. 

Quite clearly very passionate about the technology, chief Huawei device designer Joonsuh Kim told me that the main aim for him was to make people fall in love with Huawei devices. Kim hopes to provide consumers with something other than just technology.

He said: "Literally we are touching the consumer's heart. That means you can feel that you are emotionally engaged with a Huawei device."

To Kim, the device is all about user preference, and he believes that once consumers start adapting to their devices, they will want to use them for everything. 

He states that even though the Huawei brand may not be big yet, it's starting to get through to consumers. Its aim it to deliver users with a "pleasant surprise" through usability, comfort, and a perfect combination of hardware and software.

When building the concept for a phone, Kim considers several user scenarios to make sure there is always a device that caters to what consumers want - including the ability to have multiple SIMs, a more professional device which is lighter for increased portability, low-cost devices, or a personal-only device.  

The design team make sure that the hardware appeals to the user they are targeting, providing particular features to appeal to different types of audience such as business professionals, young users and entry-level users. 

Kim also believes that using Huawei's knowledge and connectivity in networking, it can be a leader in 5G when the time comes. 

During a presentation on device innovation, Kim used Angelina Jolie as an example of a perfect human being (following up by commenting that although she might have been considered the most attractive woman in the world, that was several years ago... ouch) and that aesthetics are very important when targeting the appropriate market. 

It just goes to show that even the smallest tweaks in design can make the biggest difference to consumer behaviour.

INFOGRAPHIC: The real cost of business downtime

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Many a business has suffered the wrath of IT downtime, and in 2013, networking firm Enterasys claimed that businesses grew when investment had been made in important business backbones, as sufficient preparations are in place should things start to go downhill.

This infographic from TSG shows the effect downtime can have on small to medium sized enterprises, including what can cause outages, the knock-on effect that outages can have, and a formula that can be used to calculate how much a downtime can cost an organisation. 

The Real Cost of Business Downtime Infographic.jpg

INFOGRAPHIC: The importance of communication

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Valentine's Day is upon us, and as we text, email, PM, snapchat, IM and tweet our loved ones a special message, we realise the importance of communication in this technology-centric age. Many a relationship has failed due to lack of communication, and cloud-based communications provider j2 Global has made this special infographic to display how better means of communication could have saved these doomed movie relationships:

Happy Valentine's Day!

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Huddle for Office - A new integrated experience

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It has been a busy year for Huddle, with its launch of the Huddle Note app for collaborative file sharing and its partnership with Tibbr for file sharing in the cloud.

Now, Huddle has announced that it is integrating with Microsoft Office to allow employees to collaborate on documents in the Huddle secure cloud via Microsoft Office applications.

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Users will be able to save their work directly into their Huddle accounts through Microsoft Office, and Office documents such as Powerpoints, Word documents and Excel files will have the Huddle comments stream alongside it to allow users to interact and collaborate on work.

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Huddle believes the next step for business is to move into the cloud, and provides content collaboration platforms for enterprises and governments.

Huddle for Office integration will allow users to save documents directly to the Huddle cloud, comment on files directly from Office applications, view recent files instantly and track changes, comments and updates via Huddle's full audit trail.

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Alastair Mitchell, Huddle CEO, said: "Skipping between the applications on your desktop and cloud service to share information and discuss files with people is time-consuming and disrupts your workflow. With Huddle for Office, you can continue working in the desktop tools you're used to, but all of your feedback, files and updates are stored and shared in Huddle's secure cloud.

Huddle's Office integration is available now. 

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Stephen Fry explains the evolution of technology

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Databarracks has teamed up with Cognitive Media to produce this neat little animation describing the journey of mankind through the ages of technology. And who better to narrate such a video than gadget-man Stephen Fry.

From the abacus to neural networks, Fry talks us through the business computing revolution, explaining how utility based computing has evolved into cloud computing, increasing the availability of powerful technology to even the smallest business.

Fry rounds up by explaining the key components that Databarracks provides for business success: communication, collaboration, customer relations, logistics, human resources, finance and enterprise resource software - described as the "lightbulbs of modern computing."

It's just a bit of fun, so if you have five minutes let Fry talk you through the revolution of business computing that is cloud technology. 

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British Airways deploys Panasonic Toughpads to help turnaround time for flights

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I was invited to take a flight to the Isle of Man with BA Cityflyer to see a demonstration of the Panasonic Toughpad, which is used for flights from London City Airport to keep tabs on flight data.

As our plane landed, a transfer of several paper documents occurred - one of the things this new innovation is working to reduce.

The Toughpad is essentially a more practical upgrade from the previous Panasonic Toughbook, and is used in combination with Electronic Technical Log (ETL) software from NVable to record and sign off flight and maintenance information.

The airline wanted something durable and practical. There can be no room for error of any kind during flights, especially hardware failure. The Toughpad meets these criteria, as not a single Toughbook or Toughpad device has been returned for repair in the years that BA has been using them. It also has better battery life and is 50% lighter than the Toughbook.


Dave Cooper, line maintenance manager for BA CityFlyer, explained that there are mandatory documents that must be signed for every flight so that all of the people involved in the flight process know how many times an aircraft has flown and when checks need to occur.

The Toughpad and NVable ETL software allow this information to be entered via the tablet and immediately transmitted to the BA Cityflyer maintenance system so that engineers and flight crew can access the information. The quick availability of data has contributed to reduced turnaround times for flights, and also cuts down on mistakes made when information is transcribed from paper into digital systems.

When showing me the system, he pointed out the maintenance list for the plane we were on. Some of the items on the list had a bright yellow exclamation mark next to them - not the most comforting sight to see when in the air. He assured me that it just meant the plane would need examinations carried out later that day, information that had already been transmitted to the maintenance system.

Once we were safely back at City Airport, I asked the pilot Klaus Egge how the Toughpad had improved the data recording process. He admitted that the Toughpad method reduced human error, and that using the Toughpad in the cockpit is much more convenient than paper or the previous Toughbook.

He said that automatic functions, such as warning when inspections are due, are a great benefit of the new system. "In the past we'll have to check that manually by paper," he said. "It will be more accurate which is probably more important, the most beneficial part is that it will take away mistakes."


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Huddle partners with Tibbr to provide micro blogging for the enterprise

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Huddle and Tibbr have announced a strategic partnership to connect customers with each company's innovative cloud and social solutions.

This partnership will allow Huddle users to use Tibbr's social platform to connect, share and manage their content in the cloud, from within the Huddle environment. Tibbr customers will be able to attach Huddle files to their updates for information and feedback, while remaining in the Huddle cloud.

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Companies now realise they need apps - files for content and an interface which is connected to major file systems. "Users are demanding a seamless experience," said Alastair Mitchell, CEO, Huddle, and they are looking towards cloud solutions such as Huddle, Box and Google Drive. 

Customers are also looking for social platforms to compliment their cloud offerings.

Mitchell said existing users of Huddle were asking the company to recommend a social platform, and Huddle was unofficially recommending Tibbr.

Now, new and existing customers of Huddle and Tibbr will be recommended the other platform and be given a free trial.

Mitchell said that before the partnership had even launched, Huddle managed to secure a major deal with a US federal agency, which has now moved entirely into the cloud.

"These are multimillion pound deals," he said. 

He said that companies are saying 'we're moving people into the cloud' but not completely committing, "Now they're moving ten thousand people into the cloud."

Tibbr had previously had a partnership with Box, and has now chosen to partner with Huddle for content collaboration. "This repositions our position in the market," said Mitchell. "And it shows are we are delivering solutions to larger and larger organisations."

Tibbr was launched by TIBCO the enterprise software company in 2011 as a social media system for the workplace which potentially allows a company to reduce and remove email. 

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MessagEase - the alternative touch keyboard

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We started off texting using a numerical keypad on our Nokia 3310s. Slowly and painfully keying out "How r u m8?" by repeatedly sequencing through a group of letters sharing a button with a number on your handset. 


Next came predictive text, where our phones acted clever and would try to guess what you were typing through single key presses. But this didn't always go to plan. 

One of the decent things BlackBerry did was popularise the QWERTY keyboard, so we all went back to typing out full words on our smartphones, fingers frantically moving across the screens.

Now, there's MessagEase, a new text input technology designed particularly for smartwatches, smartphones, wearables, tablets, and smart TVs. The keyboard is designed for two finger usage - capitalising on new technology's small retail estate. 

The video below shows how the nine large keys can be used with only two fingers. It looks rather baffling - but so did predictive text messaging when it first came out.

Ready as an app for iOS, Android and Windows 8 tablets, the technology could revolutionise typing if it can get on the smartwatch bandwagon - a screen which is particularly smaller than what we are all used to. 
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