2018 has opened lots of opportunity for us to focus on more data and IoT projects recently, including Staffordshire-based environmental measurement and control company Meaco.
“(Meaco provide) a range of environmental monitoring and control equipment to include data loggers, handheld devices, humidifiers, dehumidifiers and controllers”.
They specialise in providing products and services for high profile national treasures including museums, industrial archives, heritage sites and financial institutions.
Bitjam are to provide a modern solution to replace the current, soon-to-be outmoded hardware and provide effective and highly secure software. To discover more about the project, we’re using our R&D cycle to decipher the requirements, to accurately develop and test hardware and to build appropriate software with scalability in mind.
Currently we’re in the process of getting two units working in the field trial. This has involved the setup of Raspberry Pi’s with software and security configuration, and installing in two different real-situation environments such as a museum or bank.
The project is part of a longer process of working in partnership with Meaco to replace existing software to more modernised and scalable cloud-based technology.
The technology will revolutionise the way that Meaco provide high profile partner services, who deliver a mostly public sector service themselves. This boost of their services has a social benefit so it’s an appealing project to us, as it’s our preference to work in partnership with companies who have a similarly social vision.
We are working in partnership with Meaco director and system creator Michael Hall to innovate the entire system, which has given us a very hands-on experience (something we very much prefer to do at bitjam!). Together we’re working through the challenges of innovating the systems in such a way that business as usual is not affected and that clients are not disrupted during the transition.
If you have an IoT project with a social or public sector benefit and need a partner to develop both hardware and/or software, get in touch! You can drop us an email for a chat at [email protected]
Also, if you have requirements for an environmental monitoring system, we can highly recommend Meaco.
Contact Michael at [email protected]
Linux is a free operating system that broadly denotes a family of free and open-source software operating system distributions. We interviewed bitjam web developer Jakub to provide a useful guide to the Linux operating system, it’s affect on IoT and why it’s a system that’s not going anywhere fast.
In layman’s terms, can you explain what Linux is?
Linux is another operating system, just like Windows and Mac OS, but it’s completely free. It’s actually closer to Mac OS as they both are from the UNIX family. Most operating systems are built from certain components so you can interact with it in a graphical way, such as using the browser or office suite.
These components are:
Kernel: the operating system’s heart that controls everything
Desktop environment: it renders all of the elements that you are used to, such as graphical windows and their controls (for example close, minimise, maximise buttons, etc)
Why is Linux such a major operating system?
Many people would say it’s because it’s free. As much as this is true, there are some other factors to its popularity. Linux architecture is built in such a way that it is very easy to make it minimal, and easy to scale to satisfy many different needs. Security is very strong in Linux as too.
Combine all those and you have the perfect package for a server. Each website that you visit every day needs a server. Free, strong security and scalability allow Linux to serve more than 90% of all websites on the planet. This is unlikely to ever change.
Why is it important to understand Linux as an OS?
It’s important for different reasons depending on your profession or merely personal preference. For me – a web developer – being able to understand the system makes it easier to deploy websites and also make them more secure, and efficient. For other people one such reason could be privacy. With the recent Windows 10 release there were a lot of privacy concerns that Microsoft collects various data from you without notifying you about it. There are options to disable some of them, but it has been proven that you cannot disable all data collection, which can concern some people.
What are the benefits of using Linux?
Linux is free to download and use. Because of it’s architecture it’s very easy to customise it and fit to your needs. You can change how your system looks visually, meaning that you can change your theme, icon style, cursor style. Almost anything! Those things are not easily achieved on Windows or Mac, especially not for free.
Linux does not collect your personal data without your knowledge. Because Linux is built by many different communities there are no single entities like Microsoft or Apple that could make use of you as the consumer. Be it data collection or forcing you to use your PC, not in the way you want to but how they want you to.
What are the challenges?
GAMING GAMING GAMING. Although it’s much much better than it was 5 years ago gaming is still challenging on Linux. There are some big titles available on Linux, but there are 2 fundamental problems:
Firstly, graphic drivers. Companies like NVIDIA or AMD don’t support Linux drivers with the same attention as Windows or Mac. Because of this reason, game producers do not put enough effort into Linux development as it causes them additional problems that are not worth getting into. This is slowly changing with the efforts of companies like Steam though.
Another challenge for many people could be the lack of MS Office or Adobe products support on Linux. There are alternatives available but people in many cases don’t like the change or additional learning curve.
How did Linux influence the explosion of “Internet of Things?”
As mentioned above there several factors that make it the perfect system for IoT:
Low system resource requirements
Low system requirements make it the perfect system to drive IoT devices. In many cases they are small devices with restricted processing speed, memory and data capacity. For example, you could install a perfectly functional Linux system that would only take less than 400MB disk space (because IoT devices in most cases will not need a graphic environment), whereas if you were to install Windows you would need a fair few gigabytes, not to mention the processing power and memory required. Security is another added benefit as the product is instantly more secure straight out of the box, an important factor as there is so much networking between devices in the IoT world.
The fact that Linux is also free encourages developers to tinker with the devices without breaking the law as they don’t need to possess any kind of licences, so in theory, anybody (from their bedroom) can contribute to IoT.
Can you give examples of where Linux is present in public sector technology such as healthcare?
A few examples include Cancer Research, BBC, Keele University, bmj.com and healthsites.co.uk. Surprisingly the NHS website is on a Windows server. This is perhaps due to the fact that back when the NHS website was created Windows was more popular in the UK. Moving such a large site as NHS to Linux would be a VERY expensive and long process, however there are some early developments currently underway that are working to change the digital practice of medicine by making improvements to sharing information and learning.
What does the future look like for Linux?
Linux is not going anywhere. I see Linux crashing Windows and Mac in the future, but perhaps not during my lifetime! If Microsoft won’t change their strategies Linux will dominate in the server space forever. If it comes down to general computer usage, Linux is always the prefered choice, especially among developers like myself.
Recently at Spode it was the Acava Studios: Spode Works Open Studios event, and a chance for us to open our doors to the public and invite people to see what we’ve been up to lately here at bitjam.
We’ve introduced you already to ANNA, but if you didn’t see our last two blogs, ANNA is a learning algorithm that analyses poetry and audibly delivers it in an old-fashioned regional Potteries dialect. The open studios event was the chance for us to play around with ANNA, test her abilities and see if we could get a computer to understand and be able to reproduce Stokie dialect – something that’s famously difficult to do for non-natives!
Well, ANNA was, as NASA would say, a successful failure! She was designed from an idea that our senior developer Liam had had, as he has a background in machine learning from the work he did for his dissertation. So our objective was only to take a playful look at neural networks and how they might be trained to learn local dialect. We didn’t exactly expect to achieve it, rather we were curious to see what the results might be. We got ANNA to recreate snippets of prose and dialect, and at times she successfully pieced together and understood some of the dialect, but she sounded a bit more like actress Joanna Lumley than local storyteller and actor Alan Barrett (he helped us with the machine text input. You can read our Q&A with Alan about Stokie dialect here).
But what was amazing about this project was the ways in which is pulled people together from around the area, and got them talking about Potteries accent and dialect, from Keele University to artists and locals. It was a great celebration of the UK City of Culture bid and an opportunity to prove that Stoke does have digital creativity.
Special thanks to actor and storyteller Alan Barrett and local author Jason Snape for their contribution to ANNA, and to Roger & Ian Bloor for providing their Father Wilfred Bloor’s Jabez Tales (the Jabez character is a countryman living in the shadows of industrial Potteries).
In other news, our weather station “Thee Weather Duck”, will be going up in the Spode Works studios, giving artists and visitors the chance to tweet the weather in Stokie dialect. Something that came up in conversation time and time again during the ANNA project, is that young people are losing their accents, and are becoming very unfamiliar with old-fashioned Stokie dialect because of moving away to other areas for their studies, and the influence of the media and the rising popularity of standardised received pronunciation (RP). According to our recent Q&A with Alan Barrett, retaining dialect is a positive reflection on the community, and helps to establish and retain links to our cultural heritage and history. So maybe you’ve got children at university who need a reminder of home? Follow Thee Weather Duck on Twitter (@theeweatherduck) and RT the Stokie weather to them! The machine works with data collected from the weather station, and converts the results to Stokie dialect, for example “Iteside Temperature: Foetayn deegraze. If thees got chance, goo sunbeethin tidee!” (Translation: Fourteen degrees. If you’ve got chance, go sunbathing today!).
Our recent projects such as ANNA and Thee Weather Ducky are examples of “The Internet of Things”, a subject we’ve discussed in a previous blog post. The ‘Internet of Things’ is the interconnectivity of physical devices such as smartphones, WiFi modems and software, to the internet. We’ve got more projects coming up working with sensor data, redesigning systems, working with data from different types of sensors to create an interactive product, and we’re able to use our experience and knowledge of neural networks to complement these projects.