The Demise of Pebble as a Platform

Despite owning five, including the original Pebble, I’ve always been somewhat skeptical about smart watches. Even so, the leaked news that Fitbit is buying Pebble for “a small amount” has me sort of depressed about the state of the wearables market. Because Pebble could have been a contender, although perhaps not for the reason you might guess.

Pebble is a pioneer of the wearables market, and launched its first smartwatch back in 2012, two years before the Apple Watch was announced. But after turning down an offer of $740 million by Citizen back in 2015, and despite cash injections from financing rounds and a recent $12.8 million Kickstarter, the company has struggled financially.

An offer of just $70 million earlier this year by Intel reflected Pebble’s reduced prospects, and the rumoured $30 to $40 million price being paid by Fitbit must be a disappointing outcome for a company that was riding high such a short time ago.

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A Rebel Alliance for Internet of Things Standards

Back when the original Internet, the digital one, was being brought together there was a vicious standards war. The fallout from the war fundamentally underpins how we use the Internet today, and what’s surprising is that things didn’t work out how everyone expected. The rebel alliance won, and when it comes to standards, it turns out that’s a lot more common than you might think.

Looking back the history of the Internet could have been very different. In the mid eighties the OSI standards were the obvious choice. In 1988 the Department of Commerce issued a mandate that all computers purchased by government agencies should be OSI compatible starting from the middle of 1990, and yet two years later the battle was already over, and the OSI standards had already lost.

In fact by the early nineties the dominance of TCP/IP was almost complete. In January of 1991 the British academic backbone network, called JANET (which was based around X.25 colored book protocols), established a pilot project to host IP traffic on the network. Within ten months the IP traffic had exceeded the levels of X.25 traffic, and IP support became official in November.

“Twenty five years ago a much smaller crowd was fighting about open versus proprietary, and Internet versus OSI. In the end, ‘rough consensus and running code’ decided the matter: open won and Internet won,”

Marshall Rose, chair of several IETF Working Groups during the period

This of course wasn’t the first standards battle, history is littered with innumerable standards that have won or lost. It also wasn’t the last the Internet was to see. By the mid noughties SOAP and XML were seen as the obvious way to build out the distributed services we all, at that point, already saw coming. Yet by the end of the decade SOAP and XML were in heavy retreat. RESTful services and JSON, far more lightweight and developer friendly than their heavyweight counterparts, had won.

“JSON appeared at a time when developers felt drowned by misguided overcomplicated XML-based web services, and JSON let them just get the job done,”

“Because it came from JavaScript, and pretty much anybody could do it, JSON was free of XML’s fondness for design by committee. It also looked more familiar to programmers.”

Simon St. Laurent, content manager at LinkedIn and O’Reilly author

Yet, depending on which standards body you want to listen to, ECMA or the IETF, JSON only became a standard in 2013, or 2014, respectively and while the IETF RFC talks about semantics and security, the ECMA standard covers only the syntax. Despite that it’s unlikely many people have actually read the standards, and this includes the developers using the standard and even those implementing the libraries those developers depend on.

We have reached the point where standardization bodies no longer create standards, they formalize them, and the way we build the Internet of Things is going to be fundamentally influenced by that new reality.

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Jenkins and Slack Report Build Failure! Light the Beacons!

When you have a large software development team working on a project, monitoring the build server is an important part of the process. When a message comes in from your build servers, you need to take time away from what you’re doing to make sure the build’s not broken and, if it’s broken because of something you did, you have to stop what you’re doing, start fixing it and let people know that you’re on it.

[ridingintraffic]’s team uses Jenkins to automatically build their project and if there’s a problem, it sends a message to a Slack channel. This means the team needs to be monitoring the Slack channel, which can lead to some delays. [ridingintraffic] wanted immediate knowledge of a build problem, so with some software, IoT hardware, and a rotating hazard warning light, the team now gets a visible message that there’s a build problem.

An Adafruit Huzzah ESP8266 board is used as the controller, connected to some RF controlled power outlets via a 434MHz radio module. To prototype the system, [ridingintraffic] used an Arduino hooked up to one of the RF modules to sniff out the codes for turning the power outlets on and off from their remotes. With the codes in hand, work on the Huzzah board began.

An MQTT broker is used to let the Huzzah know when there’s been a build failure. If there is, the Huzzah turns the light beacon on via the power outlets. A bot running on the Slack channel listens for a message from one of the developers saying that problem is being worked on, and when it gets it, it sends the MQTT broker a message to turn the beacon off.

There’s also some separation between the internal network, the Huzzahs, and the Slack server on the internet, and [ridingintraffic] goes over the methods used to communicate between the layers in a more detailed blog post. Now, the developers in [ridingintraffic]’s office don’t need to be glued to the Slack channel, they will not miss the beacon when it signals to start panicking!

Barely-There GSM GPS Tracker

What’s the most un-intrusive GPS you’ve ever seen? How about for a bike? Redditor [Fyodel] has built a Teensy-based GPS/GSM tracker that slides into your bike’s handlebars and really is out of sight.

The tracker operates on T-Mobile’s 2G service band — which will enable the device to work until about 2020 — since AT/T is phasing out their service come January. Since each positioning message averages 60 bytes, an IoT data plan is sufficient for moderate usage, with plans to switch over to a narrow-band LTE service when it becomes more affordable. [Fyodel] admits that battery life isn’t ideal at the moment, but plans to make it more efficient by using a motion sensor to ensure it’s only on when it needs to be.

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Waiting For A Letter? This IoT Mailbox Will Tell You Exactly When It Arrives.

If you’re waiting for a much sought-after letter, checking your mailbox every five minutes can be a roller-coaster of emotion — not to mention time-consuming. If you fall into this trap, Hackaday.io user [CuriosityGym] as whipped up a mailbox that will send off an email once the snail-mail arrives.

The project uses an Arduino Uno, an ESP 8266 wifi module, and an idIoTware shield board — making specific use of its RGB LED and light dependent resistor(LDR). Configuring the RGB LED on the idIoTware board to a steady white light sets the baseline for the LDR, and when a letter is dropped in the box, the change in brightness is registered by the LDR, triggering the Arduino to send off the email.

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Botnet Recall of Things

After a tough summer of botnet attacks by Internet-of-Things things came to a head last week and took down many popular websites for folks in the eastern US, more attention has finally been paid to what to do about this mess. We’ve wracked our brains, and the best we can come up with is that it’s the manufacturers’ responsibility to secure their devices.

Chinese DVR manufacturer Xiongmai, predictably, thinks that the end-user is to blame, but is also consenting to a recall of up to 300 million 4.3 million of their pre-2015 vintage cameras — the ones with hard-coded factory default passwords. (You can cut/paste the text into a translator and have a few laughs, or just take our word for it. The company’s name gets mis-translated frequently throughout as “male” or “masculine”, if that helps.)

Xiongmai’s claim is that their devices were never meant to be exposed to the real Internet, but rather were designed to be used exclusively behind firewalls. That’s apparently the reason for the firmware-coded administrator passwords. (Sigh!) Anyone actually making their Internet of Things thing reachable from the broader network is, according to Xiongmai, being irresponsible. They then go on to accuse a tech website of slander, and produce a friendly ruling from a local court supporting this claim.

Whatever. We understand that Xiongmai has to protect its business, and doesn’t want to admit liability. And in the end, they’re doing the right thing by recalling their devices with hard-coded passwords, so we’ll cut them some slack. Is the threat of massive economic damage from a recall of insecure hardware going to be the driver for manufacturers to be more security conscious? (We kinda hope so.)

Meanwhile, if you can’t get enough botnets, here is a trio of recent articles (one, two, and three) that are all relevant to this device recall.

Via threatpost.

Internet Doorbell Gone Full-Hipster

There are things and there are Things. Hooking up an Internet-connected doorbell that “rings” a piezo buzzer or sends a text message is OK, but it’s not classy. In all of the Internet-of-Things hubbub, too much attention is paid to the “Internet”, which is actually the easy part, and too little attention is paid to the “Things”.

[Moris Metz] is a hacker in Berlin who has a bi-weekly national radio spot. (Only in Germany!) This week, he connected the ubiquitous ESP8266 to a nice old (physical) bell for his broadcast over the weekend. (i”Translated” here.) Check out the video teaser embedded below.

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