Showing photos on the large screen in your dual-screen setup

You may want to show pictures from a laptop to a big TV screen

You may want to show pictures from a laptop to a big TV screen

You have ended up with a collection of photos on your computer that you want to show using the video projector or large-screen TV. This may be like having that carousel of slides ready to show on the old slide projector – here you had this collection of slides ready after you came back from that trip or event.

This situation can apply to a range of use cases such as:

  • A person who is previewing pictures they have taken on a large screen so you can assess them in a better manner
  • Returning travellers who want to show their relatives or friends pictures they have taken during their travels
  • Businesses showing pictures of their latest products or pictures from a trade show
  • Churches who are showing their congregations the photos taken during outreach or missionary events

You may think that your presentation, AV-playout, worship-lyrics-projection or similar software may do the job for you but this will typically involve copying or importing each and every photo to a presentation and creating a presentation file which can be very inefficient. This is more so if you have had the images properly edited and sequenced so they are in a ready-to-show manner on another computer, then transferred them to the computer you are showing them with using some form of removeable media.

Similarly, you may be going through the pictures that you just took with your digital camera then imported to your computer and want to use the large screen such as your home or hotel-room TV so you can assess them more critically.

What do you need to be sure of

Windows folder with pictures in numerical sequence

Pictures in numerical sequence in known folder

The pictures, which are of a bitmap format that your computer’s  operating system can handle directly like JPEG or PNG, need to be kept in a known folder anywhere on your computer’s file system. This means that they can exist on your computer’s hard disk, on an optical disc that you or someone else “burned”, on a USB memory stick or an SD card such as what you took out of your camera. In some cases, it can also extend to online storage services if they are in sync and you are using native software to integrate them as part of the file system. As well, this may apply to your camera or smartphone if you have “tethered” it to the computer using a USB cable and it works to PTP requirements.

Photos on your camera's memory card

Pictures on your digital camera’s memory card or downloaded from your camera will be numbered in this order

The pictures will also be in a known numerical sequence. If they came off a digital camera or mobile phone, they will have a file name with a number that increases with every shutter-click. If you have edited them or had images from other sources, you will most likely make sure they are numbered to reflect the order in which they are shown as highlighted in the illustration.

What I refer to as the “large screen” in these instructions is a projector or a large-screen TV/monitor connected to your computer as a secondary display and what you want your pictures to be shown on. This display has to be configured to “extend” your computer’s main operating screen which I refer to as the “computer screen”.

Windows 7, 8.1 and 10 with Windows Photo Viewer

Here, you use Windows Photo Viewer which comes standard with Windows from version 7 onwards. This program can run a slide show based on image files without taking up too much computer resources/

  1. Open the folder where the pictures that you want to show are located
  2. Open the first picture in the folder or the first picture you want to show in the case of a large collection with Windows Photo Viewer 

    Image in Windows Photo Viewer

    First image of the collection opened in Windows Photo Viewer

  3. Click Play or press F11 to have the picture full screen on the computer’s screen. This will also start the pictures automatically advancing
  4. Pause this slide-show by right-clicking the currently-showing image and selecting Pause
  5. Press “Windows”-“Shift”-“Right Arrow” together to throw the image to the projector or large screen. This step is important or you won’t have it on that big screen.
  6. To manually advance the pictures, press the right arrow key to go forward or the left arrow key to go back. This option is useful when you are showing the pictures to accompany a presentation in order to avoid them being “out of sync” with the presenter, or if you are going through a collection of images like what you just took.
    When you have finished, press ESC on the keyboard to close the program
  7. To automatically advance the pictures, right-click the picture on the large screen and click Play or press F11 (auto advance). This is the option best used for images to be shown in the background.
    Image on screen

    One of the pictures now up on the screen after you follow this procedure

    You have the ability to vary the slide show will appear by clicking on “Shuffle” to have the slides shown in random order (useful when showing as background “wallpaper”) or to vary how long they stay on the screen by clicking the “Slow”, “Medium” or “Fast” options.
    Press “Windows” to regain control if you want to use the computer during an automatic slide-show. You will also see a square “picture” icon in the Taskbar on your computer screen, which is an indicator that Windows Photo Viewer is running.
    To stop, click on that “picture” icon that represents Windows Photo Viewer and press ESC on the keyboard

Once you know how to quickly run a slide show with a pre-edited collection of images and using software that doesn’t require you to “prepare” them for showing, you can make use of the large screen more easily to show those photos.

This article will be updated as I gain more knowledge on how to use other cost-effective or supplied software in other platforms to quickly show a bunch of image files on the large screen without having to prepare a presentation.

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What is a GPU all about?

Article

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Ultrabook

The GPU, whether dedicated or integrated is what paints the picture on your computer screen

What Makes A GPU Different From A CPU? | Gizmodo

My Comments

A graphics processing unit or GPU is a special data-processing chipset that effectively “paints” the images that you are to see on your computer screen. This is compared to the central processing unit or CPU which is focused on handling the data that your computer is dealing with at your command and being the system’s “commander” processor.

The idea of a separate processor is to effectively work with the shapes, pixels and colours that constitute what you see on the screen and the highly-sophisticated GPUs handle this using multiple “cores” or unique processors. Another factor worth considering is that video editing, animation and transcoding programs are making use of the GPU to transcode the video material between different formats or rendering an animation or a sequence of shorter video clips in to one longer video clip.

Gaming rig

A “gaming rig” tower desktop computer equipped with high-performance display cards

The higher-performance GPUs, typically offered as display cards that are installed in desktop computers especially “gaming rigs” set up by computer-games enthusiasts, use multiple “cores” or unique processors so they can realise the high-resolution graphics very quickly and responsively. Some of these cards even implement setups like “Crossfire” with the ability to gang two display cards together for increased performance.

Integrated vs dedicated GPUs

Typically the difference between an integrated or dedicated GPU is that a dedicated GPU has its own memory and other resources for “painting” the graphics images while an integrated GPU “borrows” resources like RAM memory from the system’s CPU. As well, a lot of these dedicated GPUs are designed and developed by companies who specialise in that field.

The benefit of a dedicated GPU is that it can turn out the graphics images required by demanding applications like games, video editing, CAD and the like efficiently because its resources are focused on what you see while the CPU and system RAM are focused on working out what is to happen.

Sony VAIO S Series ultraportable STAMINA-SPEED switch

Sony VAIO S Series – equipped with dual graphics with an easy-to-use operating-mode switch

For example, a game needs the use of the CPU to answer the players’ commands, apply the game’s rules and position each of the elements while it needs the GPU to visually represent where everything is. Here, the dedicated GPU can handle how everything is represented without encumbering the CPU’s tasks relating to how the game runs.

The main disadvantage with dedicated GPUs that affects laptops and other portable computers is that they can quickly drain the computer’s battery. This has been answered in a few ways like equipping laptops with integrated and dedicated graphics chipsets and adding logic like NVIDIA’s Optimus to switch between the different chipsets, in a similar vein to how the overdrive or “sports mode” in some cars work. In most cases, this logic engaged the dedicated graphics if the computer was running a graphics-intensive program like a game or video-editing program or was running on external power.

External GPU docks

Alienware high-performance laptop computer with Graphics Amplifier external GPU module

Alienware high-performance laptop computer with Graphics Amplifier external GPU module

A new trend that is starting to appear and benefit laptop-computer users is the “external GPU” dock or module that connects to the laptop computer. These appear in two different forms – a “card cage” like the Alienware Graphics Amplifier where a user can install a desktop graphics card, or a graphics module which has the graphics hardware installed by the manufacturer.

Initially these devices were connected to the host computer using a connection that was proprietary to the manufacturer but now they are implementing the Intel Thunderbolt 3 via USB Type-C connection due to it offering PCI-Express data-transfer bandwidth, thus allowing for increased interchangeability between computers and docks. Most of these implementations will have the ability to send the graphics back to the host computer’s screen or to an external display that is connected directly to the external GPU module.

Alienware Graphics Amplifier expansion module

A graphics expansion module that could option up budget and mainstream laptops

These devices have appealed as a way to “option up” laptop, all-in-one and similar computers for high-performance dedicated graphics. It is more so where you don’t need to have dedicated graphics all the time, rather when you have that laptop or 2-in-1 “back home” and ready to work or play.

Conclusion

The graphics processors or GPUs, whether integrated on a computer’s motherboard, installed on a display card or housed in an external GPU module, are processors that look after “painting” the images you see on your computer’s screen.

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Creating “download-to-print” material for a distributed-printing campaign

Brother HL-L8350CDW colour laser printer

Brother HL-L8350CDW colour laser printer – could work with “download-to-print” campaigns

Increasingly, it is becoming feasible to turn out flyers and other print-ready material that can be printed on a distributed basis. That is where people can use their own inkjet or laser printers to turn out the material, underscoring the role of these printers as a small-business short-run printing press, or deliver it to a print shop for higher-capacity better-quality printouts. For that matter, the big office-supply-store chains like Office Depot, Staples and Officeworks do this kind of printing for reasonable prices.

Churches and similar organisations can use this method as a way to distribute documents like monthly calendars because the congregants can turn them out using their own printers and pin it up on the fridge. Similarly, the Country Fire Authority used “download-to-print” as a campaign tool in their fight against the reduction of the volunteer firefighters’ role in this fire service.

How do you achieve this?

But how do you do this? Here, you author your document to a known common paper size using your favourite word-processing, desktop-publishing or presentation software and when it is finished and approved, you export it as a PDF file. This file is then placed on your Website for your supporters to download then print or take to a print shop.

Brother HL-3075CW colour LED printer control panel detail

You can print PDF documents from a lot of printers’ control panels

This is because the Adobe PDF file format has become the de-facto “electronic hard copy” format and most print shops and copy shops can print from this format. Most printers like a lot of the equipment reviewed on this Website have the ability to print from PDF files held on a USB memory key or similar storage medium just by you selecting the document using the machine’s control panel.

You can use this procedure with email-based campaigns by attaching the PDF file to the email or providing a link to the PDF file on your Website in the email. Here, you need to be sure that the PDF file is a properly-formed PDF file because malformed PDF files can be used to transport malware.

What paper sizes to use

If you are in a country that uses the ISO 216 “A” series of paper sizes such as A3, A4 or A5, the job is made much easier. It is because this paper standard implements what is known as the “silver rectangle” which has the aspect ratio of 1:1.4142135 (square root of 2), thus allowing you to print on a page size smaller or larger in the series than what it was authored for. Here, you can get away with authoring a document for an A4 sheet yet it turns out properly on the large A3 sheet or smaller A5 sheet. This will also appeal because an increasing number of office inkjet printers, especially from Brother, are offering A3 printing.

Countries like the USA may require you to author the document for the targeted paper size like the common Letter paper size. On the other hand, you may have to have a Ledger or Tabloid paper size for something that is to be large or “half-letter” for something that is to be smaller than Letter.

The DL and similar paper sizes are hard to print from an office printer because most of these printers and the PDF software don’t readily support multiple-copies-on-one-sheet or require the operator to perform a lot of trial and error to print these sizes. These are best turned out by a print shop who can then print and cut the documents. On the other hand, you may have to engage staff or volunteers to cut out the documents and this can take a fair bit of time especially with odd-shaped documents.

Use of colour in your campaign

An issue that may crop up with your “download-to-print” effort is the ability to print colour. This will be of concern if one or more people are using monochrome laser printers to turn out their documents.

Here, your goal is to turn out a “best-case” document that looks the part in colour but yields a high-quality black-and-white output when you use that mono laser printer. This is similar to what was achieved for TV through the early years while colour TV came on the scene – the picture had to look adequate on a black-and-white set while being able to look the part on a colour set.

This may not be of concern with documents that are primarily text-based and you use colour to highlight certain words, but if you are using background graphics like photos to decorate the page, make sure that you have good contrast especially around text. You could configure your colour printer’s driver to print the document in greyscale to see how it will look when you print it on a monochrome printer.

Conclusion

Once you know how to choose the proper page size for the “download-to-print” documents and can turn them out as PDF files, you can easily establish that distributed printing campaign whether participants use their office printer or ask a print shop or the local office-supply store to turn out the documents.

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Product Review – Brother ADS-2800W network document scanner

Previously, I reviewed the Brother PDS-6000 sheet-fed document scanner which scans both sides of a document at once very quickly. This model connects directly to a host computer and would work with most document-management software. Now Brother have released the ADS-2800W which is a network-capable sheet-fed document scanner that allows you to direct a scanning job to a computer or a file server / NAS, and this is the machine that I am reviewing now.

RRP AUD$899

There are some more expensive variants of this network document scanner that can scan at higher speeds but I am reviewing the entry-level model.

Brother ADS-2800W network document scanner

Scan Scan to Connection
Sheet-fed

600 dpi

Single-pass Auto-duplex

USB Mass-Storage

CIFS/FTP/HTTP network storage

Online Services

SMTP E-mail

USB 3.0

Ethernet

802.11g/n Wi-Fi

The scanner itself

Setup

Brother ADS-2800W document scanner document path

Single-pass document scan, easy to service if anything goes wrong

Brother have avoided the tendency to create a separate setup regime for the ADS-2800W network document scanner, which will be a bonus if you have stuck with this brand for your multifunction printer. Here, the software interface both at the scanner and at the computer are very similar and you can even use the ControlCenter 4 software to process your documents.

Brother ADS-2800W network document scanner Wi-Fi connectivity

Wi-Fi connectivity

It was simple to connect this scanner to the home network although I used the Ethernet connection which is what I would prefer for normally-sessile devices. Here, it can be connected to a Wi-Fi wireless network segment or a wired Ethernet network segment (which also works with a HomePlug network segment) with the former network type working properly if nearer the wireless router. Personally, I would recommend that you use the wired network (Ethernet or HomePlug) at your home or office as I would recommend for sessile equipment.

Walk-up and mobile operation

Brother ADS-2800W network document scanner - Web services

It scans directly to Dropbox

There is the ability to use a Web-based interface to set the Brother ADS-2800W network scanner to be able to scan to a computer, file server or NAS without the need to run a scan monitor on that computer. Here, the unit deposits the files to a known directory on the destination device in a predetermined form. As well, it can be set up to “scan and send” where it can send a document via SMTP-based email.

It also exploits the Brother Web Connect infrastructure to allow you to enrol it with Evernote, OneDrive, Dropbox, Facebook and other online services so you can use them as a destination for your scanned documents. You can also scan documents and images to your mobile device as long as you run the Brother iPrint&Scan mobile app, which is how I scanned some snapshots to be destined to Dropbox. An improvement I would like to have would be to see the scanned picture appear on the scanner’s screen so you can have the picture or document the correct way up.

Computer-based operation

The fact that this scanner makes use of Brother’s ControlCenter 4 software and uses the same scan monitor if you are running a Brother MFC alongside it means that you are not having to install extra software on your computer. When I ran the CD to install the drivers because I had issues with the Website, the installer detected the existence of the driver software associated with Brother printers and effectively updated the scan monitor to work with this scanner.

I even had the software set up so that blank pages were skipped even though the Brother scanner scanned both sides of the document when I was handling regular documents. This allowed for a single-side document to be worked on yet be ready to scan double-sided documents when dealing with “print-sign-scan-send” documents.

Scanning results

The Brother ADS-2800W network document scanner, like its stablemate the PDS-6000 implements a straight-through document feed which makes the scanning job quick but is kind to the documents because there is no curved path involved.

A job that I have been putting the Brother ADS-2800W network document scanner to over the past week is to scan a collection of snapshots due to the passing of someone whom I knew well. Here, I had set the Brother scanner to scan at the normal-for-35mm-snapshots “10x15cm” size with a resolution of 600dpi and fed the minilab prints in vertically. The document scanner had turned out the high-quality images while it was able to handle small batches of prints at a time like as though I was handling a multiple-page document. But I would like to see a “photo-optimised” scanning profile that copes with the glossy snapshots and works at a high resolution. As well, there could be the ability to determine whether a photo has a landscape or portrait orientation.

I had found that a bit of dust had ruined a scan of a photo and it was a cinch to remove that bit of dust from the scan head simply by opening up the scanner so I can see the scan heads. Then I was able to blow off the dust from the scan heads.

When I scanned a regular “print-sign-scan-send” document, the Brother ADS-2800W scanner made light work of this job and turned out the right number of pages based on what was marked. This avoided the creation of a 2-page PDF for a document that was written on one side only.

Limitations and points of improvement

A feature that would benefit the Brother sheet-fed document scanners, especially the network-capable units, would be to have functionality that gains the best out of photo scanning. This could be in the form of a “photo-optimised” high-resolution scan mode for scanning snapshots and / or a transparent-media scan mode with negative conversion for scanning film strips such as negatives.

Conclusion

I would recommend the Brother ADS-2800W network sheet-fed document scanner as a network-focused high-speed document-scanning solution especially if you want a high-speed dedicated-purpose scanner that can work independent of a regular computer.

For example, this could work well if you destine documents to the like of Evernote or Dropbox or to a NAS. Similarly, if you are wanting to get that hard copy document to be able to be viewed on something like an iPad, the Brother ADS-2800W and its peers can do the job properly.

But these devices would earn their keep if you scan many documents rather than the occasional few documents that have few pages and I would see it perform well with most businesses including tax agents who scan the receipts that are part of their clients’ “shoeboxes”.

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Windows 10 Tiles not functioning? You may have to restart Explorer

Article

Windows 10 Start Menu

If you are seeing blank tiles in this view, you may have to restart Windows Explorer

Windows 10 Tip: Fixing Live Tile Counts and Blank Tiles | Supersite For Windows

My Comments

If you are running Windows 10 and are enamoured by the “tiled interface” that is part of its Start Menu or Tablet Mode view, there are times where you may find it not working “up to scratch”.

With this interface, you may find that the Live Tiles that are regularly updated simply go blank or are stagnant. The normal response to this situation would be to restart your computer, which would then fix the problem.

Task Manager with Windows Explorer called out

The Windows Explorer process in Task Manager

On the other hand, you may only need to restart the Explorer process to fix this problem without the need to reboot your computer. This can also apply to other user-interface abnormalities.

Here, you run Task Manager by either right-clicking the Taskbar or holding your finger on the Taskbar in the case of a tablet or 2-in-1, then clicking Task Manager, or pressing Ctrl-Shift-ESC together on the keyboard. Then you find Windows Explorer in the list of processes. Right-click this item and click Restart and it won’t take long for it to come good.

Task Manager - Context menu with Restart called out

Click the Restart option on the context menu to restart Windows Explorer

At this point, the Windows Explorer process will recover and update the tiles including reloading the data that populates the tiles from its source rather than working of corrupted data.

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How to effectively establish that Wi-Fi-based mobile network

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 Wireless Mobile Thermal Printer

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 Wi-Fi mobile printer – one of the mobile peripheral devices pitched to smartphone and tablet users

A major trend that has become strong over the last few years is the arrival of mobile network devices that connect to each other and to client computer devices via Wi-Fi wireless networking technology.

These are represented in the form of:

  • mobile network-attached-storage devices
  • mobile printers
  • wireless speakers, and
  • mobile broadcast-LAN tuners that work with terrestrial or satellite broadcast systems,
Network setup for mobile NAS and smartphone

Network setup for Wi-Fi-based mobile peripheral devices

What is common about all of these devices, and is treated as a key marketing feature by their vendors, is that they can be set up to be their own access point with their own DHCP server as well as being client devices to existing wireless networks. Some of these devices like most mobile NAS devices are able to work effectively as bridges or routers between an existing wireless network and the network that they create.

This may work well if you are just using the one mobile peripheral device with your mobile client devices but may not work well when you intend to run two or more mobile peripheral devices. Here, you will end up switching between different wireless networks just to benefit from the different mobile peripheral devices.

Mobile NAS as bridge setup

Wireless NAS as a bridge between mobile client devices and another Internet-providing network

But you may want to run one or more of these wireless mobile devices together to serve multiple laptops, tablets or smartphones. Situations that may come about that will call for these setups would be where you are using a mobile NAS and, perhaps, a camera that has Wi-Fi functionality or one of the new Wi-Fi-capable mobile printers. This will call for you to create a proper mobile wireless network for all of these devices.

Use a router-class device as the main device

Here, you would have to run one wireless network device as a DHCP server and “master” access point and this function can be best served by a router-class device.

"Mi-Fi" portable wireless router

A typical “Mi-Fi” portable wireless router for a mobile-broadband service

The most common examples of devices of this class that apply to “on-the-road” use are the “Mi-Fi” mobile routers that work with a mobile broadband service or one of the travel routers pitched to work with a hotel’s wired Internet service. Some mobile NAS devices may also do this wireless-bridging functionality in an adept manner and could be the hub of your “travel network”. Similarly, one of the mobile-broadband wireless routers being integrated in to some new cars by the likes of BMW and Chrysler may also answer these needs.

You may think of using your smartphone’s Wi-Fi mobile-broadband-router functionality but this may encumber your smartphone for what you want to really use it for.

Some highly-sophisticated “Mi-Fi” and travel-router devices may also expose an Ethernet connection for LAN use, perhaps through an optional extended-functionality dock. This can come in handy if you want to increase your coverage area with another wireless access point or want to use devices like games consoles with your mobile network.

You may find that you don’t need to run the Internet connection on the Mi-Fi or travel router if you are simply establishing a link between multiple mobile peripheral devices and client devices and aren’t reliant on Internet functionality for their operation. Similarly, by having your mobile devices working this way, you avoid the need to authenticate with a Wi-Fi hotspot that implements Web-based authentication to do something like gain access to your mobile NAS’s data from your iPad.

Set up known wireless network parameters

Mobile network wiht "Mi-Fi" router and 2 Wi-Fi-capable mobile peripheral devices

Mobile wireless network for two or more mobile devices and mobile client devices – uses a router-class device like a “Mi-Fi” router

When you set up your “Mi-Fi” or travel router, you make this device the hub of your mobile network and have every device “point” to this device’s local-network by associating with its SSID (wireless network name) and security parameters.

Most of the mobile network devices that work on an “open-frame” approach can be quickly associated to this “mobile hub” thanks to WPS-based push-button setup. For devices that don’t support this quick setup mode like most Apple devices, you will need to note down the “mobile hub’s” SSID and security passphrase.

For that matter, a good practice would be to assign a unique SSID for your “mobile hub” device i.e. your Mi-Fi or travel router. This is important when you use these setups in campgrounds, caravan parks or hotels where many of these devices will be used at once.

All wireless devices to link with router-class device

It will also mean that the mobile NAS, mobile printer or other similar device has to work as a client device rather than as its own access point. This also applies to your computing devices like laptops, tablets and smartphones which also associate with the “mobile hub” device.

When positioning your mobile-network devices, make sure that they are in the range of your “mobile network hub” device i.e. the Mi-Fi or the travel router. All the wireless traffic that goes between these devices will pass through the “mobile network hub” device rather than between the devices themselves.

You may find that if you want to avoid draining your “Mi-Fi” router’s battery too quickly, it may be a good idea to have it run from a USB charger that runs from house current or your vehicle’s cigar-lighter socket. Similarly, a high-capacity USB power-pack can also earn its keep with these devices if you are away from power.

What I stand for when reviewing or researching mobile devices

When I review any device for this Website that is capable of being its own wireless network such as a mobile NAS or mobile printer, I test the device with my home network’s Wi-Fi wireless segment as if it is a client device. This is so I am sure they can work in this kind of setup as well as the highly-promoted “own access point” setup. As well, as part of researching a mobile device that uses Wi-Fi wireless technology as part of its link with client computer devices, I verify that it can work as part of an existing wireless-network segment as well as being its own segment.

Similarly, when I research a mobile router-class device like a Mi-Fi or travel router, I would expect the device to support WPS single-push connectivity along with other essential Wi-Fi connectivity and security standards. Similarly, such a device would have to be easy to configure including setting up the SSID and passphrase. As well, the Mi-FI device can’t be very thirsty with its battery if the goal is to have it as a “hub” device.

Conclusion

Once you are able to set up a mobile multi-device network, you can then be able to use it to store or print data while you are “on the road” without needing to constantly switch networks for each different task.

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External Blu-Ray burners to link your Ultrabook to archiving, games or box-sets

Article

Best external Blu-Ray drives | Windows Central

My Comments

Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro convertible notebook at Rydges Hotel Melbourne

You could use optical discs with this Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro convertible notebook thanks to an external optical drive connected to the USB port

It may be tempting to think that in this day and age of Netflix streaming, Dropbox data-transfer, and Spotify music streaming that the optical disc has been declared extinct. But the optical disc, be it a CD, DVD or Blu-Ray, is still hanging on as an unalterable archive medium and as a cost-effective way to deliver audio and video content in a collectible packaged form.

In the case of video-based content, the optical disc still remains as a sure-fire medium of viewing this content offline which would be of benefit when you are travelling. You may even find that you could pack a movie or a season or two of your favourite TV series in the briefcase or laptop bag to have ready to binge-watch during that long-haul international flight without worrying about how much of the Ultrabook’s small SSD you are taking up.

Inspector Morse DVD box set

This is more so with optical media like DVDs being the surefire way to deliver collectable video content

A Windows Central article highlighted and compared a selection of USB-connected external Blu-Ray burners that can work with computers that don’t have any form of optical-disc reading or writing built in to them. Most of these units are slightly larger than 2 CD “jewel-cases” and they connect to the host computer via a USB 2.0 or USB 3.0 cable depending on the unit. Some of them implement a USB “Y-cable” as a way to solicit extra power from the host computer but you may find that a self-powered USB hub or, in a portable context, a high-capacity USB external battery pack connected to the “power” part of the cable could serve as a way to keep these optical drives powered when used with a host computer that has few USB connections.

These, like other USB storage devices, will present to most operating systems using the USB Mass-Storage device-class driver but do come with at least DVD-playback or advanced optical-disc-authoring software but you can use other software to do the job. Most of these Blu-Ray burners have the ability to burn to the 100Gb BDXL discs which would earn their keep with archiving a large amount of data. Some of these devices even write to M-Discs which are an optical-disc variation that is optimised for long-term archival storage.

Those of us who have a computer with an integrated optical drive may find the external optical drives good for such tasks as adding an extra optical drive for disc-to-disc copying, ripping a multiple-disc CD set to FLAC or extending the optical-disc capabilities of your existing computer. Here, this situation may come in to its own with laptops, all-in-one computers or low-profile desktop computers. Similarly, these optical drives could become a fail-over measure if the internal optical drive failed.

What is being proven with these portable optical-disc drives is that the optical disc still exists as a medium for data-archiving or distribution of collectable content.

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Google to bring Chrome and Android as a third major computing-platform force

Article

Dell Chromebook 13 press image courtesy of Dell Inc.

Could these Chromebooks be the third force in personal computing

Here Are the Security Implications of Android Apps Coming to Chromebooks | Supersite For Windows

My Comments

Could the Google operating systems be the third mainstream computing force?

Google’s Chrome OS operating system has initially been pitched as a low-cost Web-browsing cloud-computing platform with not much in the way of applications or games written for that platform. Typically this ended up with the platform ending up in the cost-conscious K-12 education market, most likely computers used in the classroom and in a similar vein to how Acorn had various computer systems pitched towards the UK’s education market.

Sports scoreboard app

.. like these Android phones

But lately there have been some efforts to have Android apps and games run on the Android mobile-computing platform work with the Chrome OS platform so that the game I play, the Evernote front-end I use or the sports scoreboard app I keep tabs on that football match with on the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 could be easily be run on a Chromebook. Here, Google is encouraging the development of apps that implement responsive layouts and the ability to work with a traditional keyboard and pointing device which may not require much effort for most app types.

One of the core issues that has always concerned computer use has been data security including proper program behaviour. Here, Google will implement the same kind of sandboxing that was used on Android apps sold through the Google Play app store also for Chrome OS. This will be more so as Android apps will be able to run on Chromebooks in a “just-works” manner, something that will appear initially on the Chromebook Flip but is to appear on a subsequent version of the Chrome OS.

Google will also follow Microsoft’s and Apple’s lead towards a monthly software-update cycle for both Android and Chrome. This will include them taking over the software maintenance process so that OEMs and mobile carriers can’t control the process to push through their bloatware and branding. The OEMs and mobile carriers are wanting to still cry out for their launchers and apps but it may have to be about separately delivering them such as running them as Play Store apps so that an operating-system update isn’t contingent on the update working properly with their apps.

They will also be efforts to “clean up” the Play Store to get rid of dangerous apps and have it in a similar standard to the Microsoft Store and iTunes App Store – a “rubbish-free” app store. Corporate and educational IT admins will rejoice about the ability not to have the Google Play Store appear in their Chromebook or Android deployments or restrict their deployments to a whitelist of approved apps.

This is very similar to desktop computing in the late 1980s where there were three main forces for popular desktop-computing platforms i.e. the IBM platform running MS-DOS offered by many different manufacturers, the Apple Macintosh platform. and the Commodore Amiga platform. The different platforms coexisted for a while then because of their particular attributes and specialities such as graphics and multimedia.

The big question to raise for Chrome OS is whether it will be brought up to the same level of performance and flexibility as Windows or MacOS or will this platform be kept as an entry-level baseline computing platform?

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ISPs another vector for tech-support scams

Article

Tech support scams target victims via their ISP | BBC News

Fraudsters impersonate victims’ ISPs in new tech support scam | Graham Cluley Blog

My Comments

Previously, as I have known from close friends’ experiences, there have been the fake tech-support phone calls claiming to be from Microsoft or another major software vendor. This was with me congratulating a person who wasn’t computer-literate immediately hanging up on one of these calls along with someone else asking another of these scammers for their Australian Business Number (equivalent to a VAT number in Europe).

These scams have evolved to a pop-up message pretending to be from one of the major software firms but asking them to call a number listed on that message. Typically this comes in the form of a virus or pirated-software alert as the message and some of these messages even appear on the lock screen that you normally enter your password.

Now the messages are appearing to come from ISPs, typically the ones who have most of the Internet business in the US, UK and Canada. But this is about the ISP detecting malware on the customer’s system with a requirement to call a fake customer-support number.

In this case, they identify a customer’s ISP based on a “spy pixel” ad on a site infected with malware or a “malvertisement”. The ads are typically served through large ad networks offering low-risk advertising products. This is used to identify the customer’s “outside” or WAN IP address which effectively is the same for all computers accessing the Internet from the same router.

Here, most residential and small-business Internet services have this IP address automatically determined upon login or at regular intervals and is obtained from a pool of known IP addresses that were assigned to that ISP to give to their customers. There is logic in the malware used to identify which ISP a customer is with based which IP address pool the IP address is a member of.

In these cases, call the ISP using the number they have provided you for technical support: typically written on their own Website which you should type in the URL for; written on any documents that you receive from them like accounts or brochures, as part of doing business with them; or by looking them up in the phone book. As well, don’t give any account numbers or personally-identifiable information to unsolicited approaches for technical support that you are not sure about.

But in all cases, you are most likely to initiate the call for personal or business tech support yourself when you need this support because you know your computer and network and how these systems perform. Typically you will approach one of the computer experts in your community, your workplace’s IT department if they have one, or your computer supplier for knowledge or assistance.

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What will Bluetooth 5 be about

Article – From the horse’s mouth

Bluetooth SIG

Press Release

My Comments

Bluetooth are to release the 5th major version of their wireless personal-network specification by between late 2016 to early 2017. But what will this offer?

This is more about increasing broadcast capacity, data bandwidth and operational range for Internet of Things applications while working with the unlicensed 2.4GHz ISM waveband. The extended range will be seen in the smart-home context as reaching beyond the walls of a typical house while there is the improved operational robustness affecting this class of application.

One of the key benefits is to reduce the need for “device + app” setup for Internet-of-Things setup. This typically requires that you go to the mobile platform’s app store to download a special “enablement” app for your Internet-Of-Things device to your smartphone or tablet and then logically associate that device with your mobile device before you can benefit from that device. This applies also to “beacon” setups where the venue has to develop a mobile-platform app to make sense of the beacons that they use for indoor navigation / location setups.

The question that could be raised is whether this will lead towards a “Web-app” setup where beacons and Internet-of-Things devices will run their own mobile Web pages for showing data about themselves or their current status. Similarly, could this also lead to the creation of a platform-detecting “interface page” which leads people to install mobile-platform apps from the correct mobile-platform app store.

There will also be the question about assuring the privacy and data security for end-users and their mobile client devices so as to prevent Bluetooth 5 beacons and IoT devices from being a malware-distribution vector. Here, it may be about implementing a “trust-based” system which is based on factors like suppliers, venues, software developers and the like. Similarly, it may be more valuable to have this kind of setup based around “pull-based” content acquisition where the end-user is involved in the process of acquiring the data rather than the data being automatically delivered to the end-user’s mobile device.

There are other use cases that can take advantage of this large data capacity in the context of beacons and the Internet Of Things especially if the “device+app” setup is still maintained. One of these would be to allow field-based software and data maintenance where a new Webpage or firmware could be supplied to a Bluetooth 5 IoT device from a mobile client. Similarly, you could upload and download operational data between the IoT device and a mobile client or portable computer with building security, data-logging or smartwatches being a key application. For example, it could be a simple and quick task to deploy a rich watch-face or app to a smartwatch while syncing data like contacts-lists and health data to your smartphone at the same time.

The Bluetooth 5 technology will benefit the smart-home, enterprise and industrial applications. Some of the use cases being called out in the form of indoor navigation for airports and shopping centres, asset or warehouse-inventory tracking, improved emergency response like the “enhanced 911” service that benefits mobile-phone users along with the ability to assist visually-impaired people around the cities. An advertising-based application may involve a beacon-type device at an event being used to provide further information like a PDF or HTML “e-brochure” hosted on that device.

Like with every evolution of the Bluetooth standard, this will require newer Bluetooth 5.0 compliant hardware on the client device and this will typically be provided with newer client devices after mid-2017. Regular computers could be upgraded to this standard thanks to USB Bluetooth modules which could be seen as a way to upgrade Windows laptops, 2-in-1s or tablets. This also applies to some embedded devices that provide some form of “after-the-fact” functionality upgrading like the Yale and Lockwood smart deadbolts that use a wireless-connectivity module for smart-home functionality.

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Bone-conductivity technology rises in the common space once again

Article

Check out these cool sunglasses with built-in bone conducting headphones | Android Authority

From the horse’s mouth

Zungle

Kickstarter campaign

Video – click or tap to play

My Comments

In the early 1980s, an electronics company tried out a common application for bone-conductivity personal audio technology by selling to a mail-order gadget-supply company and to Radio Shack (Tandy) an AM/FM stereo headphone radio that implemented this technology. This radio, known as the “Bone Fone” and powered by 4 AA batteries, dropped around your neck like a shawl and used bone-conductivity technology to bring your favourite broadcast’s audio to your ears.  You were able to hear your music privately through the sound being transduced through your neck clavicle bone to your ears.

It was found to be heavy but the technology has resurfaced in another application that would be seen to be popular. This time it is a pair of sunglasses that use an integrated Bluetooth headset that exploits this technology. These Zungle Panther sunglasses, modelled on the Oakley Frogskins, don’t require you to wear headphones or an earbud to hear your music or caller due to this technology. Rather they use your skull bone as the transducing surface.

These glasses link to your smartphone using Bluetooth 4.1 technology as a way to save battery runtime for both devices. They also implement a jog wheel to allow you to control audio playback as well as implementing a noise-cancelling microphone when you make and take calls or ask something of Siri, Google Now or Cortana.

For their power, the bone-conducting Zungle Panther glasses implement a 300mAh battery that uses the same microUSB charging connectivity as most of the current Bluetooth headsets.

Because of what they do, they may be considered to be bulky like a set of 3D glasses used for watching a 3D movie at the cinema but they weigh in at 45g. They were found to earn their keep for cyclists and other road users who want to keep their ears open to hear for traffic.

There is actually a Kickstarter campaign to get the bone-conductivity glasses idea off the ground with a starting price of US$99.

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BT raises the bar for a carrier-supplied modem router

Article BT brand identity Enquiries about this image can be made to the BT Group Newsroom on its 24-hour number: 020 7356 5369. From outside the UK, dial +44 20 7356 5369. News releases and images can be accessed at the BT web site: http://www.bt.com/newscentre.

UK ISP BT Launches New Smart Hub Wireless Broadband Router | ISP Review

My Comments

BT have offered new consumer-premises equipment that has raised the bar for Wi-Fi performance that has been said to be “beyond ordinary”.

Typically a carrier-supplied modem router has been designed as a low-cost item to provide to new customers who are taking on Internet service through that carrier. This typically had customers purchase modem routers with better specifications from anywhere that sold computer equipment with some of these devices having improved throughput or Wi-Fi reception.

But BT’s latest DSL modem router which is now known as the Smart Hub but could have been known as the Home Hub 6 has circuitry that places its Wi-Fi performance on a par with the better retail DSL modem routers. This circuitry is driven by some highly-strung up-to-date Broadcom processors (Broadcom 63137. 4366 and 43602). It also implements 7 antennas to set up a 3×3 802.11g/n MIMO Wi-Fi segment (up to 217Mbps) on the 2.4GHz band and a 4×4 802.11a/n/ac MIMO Wi-Fi segment (up to 1700Mbps) on the 5GHz band.

This modem router implements a “smart-tune” logic to set itself up for the optimum operating frequency for both the bands when it is set up along with other “smart-scan” logic to keep the Wi-Fi segment working in an optimum manner. There is also extra filtering circuitry added to the Wi-Fi circuitry to deal with overloading from radio activity on the neighbouring wavebands, which is said to happen with UK 4G mobile-broadband deployments.

This kind of technology was causing BT to rate the Smart Hub as the UK’s strongest carrier-supplied Wi-Fi router and I personally see this as appealing to other carriers like Telstra who want to choose the kind of equipment to provide to their customers.

Of course, it has up-to-date Gigabit Ethernet LAN as a four-port switch along with ADSL2+ / VDSL2 modem on the WAN (Internet) side. From what I have read, I am not sure if this modem also offers an Ethernet WAN connection for FTTP or G.Fast (next-generation DSL used for some fibre-copper networks) broadband deployments that implement a separate modem. Similarly, if this modem router implemented a field-programmable “software modem” for its DSL modem, there could be the ability for it to be updated to work with G.Fast technology expected to be used with fibre-copper deployments.

There was also some reference to the BT Smart Hub being compact enough to fit through most of the letterbox slots installed in most UK front doors, with a view of the device being supplied to customers without them needing to be present. But my question about this is whether the size that is quoted is for the unit itself or the unit when it is packed in its box with all its accessories and cables.

BT does sell the Smart Hub for GBP£50 with VAT inclusive or you can have it for free if you choose to “roll over” your BT Infinity Internet service contract or start a new BT Infinity service. Stumping up that £50 for this modem router and setting it up as an access point for your existing wireless router could come a long way as something to extend Wi-Fi coverage or simply “ramp up” an existing home network’s Wi-Fi performance.

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A USB expansion dock that complements the latest high-end ultraportable computers

Article – From the horse’s mouth Minix Neo-C USB-C Multiport Adaptor press image courtesy of Minix

Minix

Neo C USB Multiport Adaptor

Product Page

Canohm (Australian distributor for Minix)

Press Release

Purchase here (AUD$119)

My Comments

Lenovo Yoga 900 - stand mode press picture courtesy of Lenovo

Lenovo Yoga 900 – can benefit from the Minix Neo-C USB-C Multiport Adaptor

Minix, a computer manufacturer based in Hong Kong, has released a USB Type-C expansion module that has the same calibre as most of the current-issue ultraportable computers that it is targeted for.

The Minix Neo-C USB-C Multiport Adaptor has a high-quality metal finish to complement the Apple MacBook 12, the latest HP Spectre and most of the high-end Ultrabooks and 2-in-1s that have the USB Type-C connector.  There are three different finishes available to match the finishes that the MacBook 12 is available in – a “space grey”, silver or gold finish.

Minix Neo-C USB-C Multiport Adaptor press image courtesy of Minix

Available with HDMI for the current and latest displays

It has 2 USB 3.0 Type-A connections along with a card reader for SD and microSD memory cards which come in handy with your Android mobile phone or digital camera’s “film”.

Minix Neo-C USB-C Multiport Adaptor press image courtesy of Minix

.. or VGA for older displays and projectors

There is also a Gigabit Ethernet socket so that you can connect your ultraportable to a wired Cat5 Ethernet or HomePlug powerline network. But this requires you to download and install a software driver for the network-adaptor functionality to work – the operating-system vendors and the USB-IF need to define a class driver for network adaptors.

The device comes in two variants – one with a VGA connector that works to Full HD resolution and can earn its keep with that economy data projector; and one with an HDMI connector that works to 4K HDR resolution which I would consider more “future proof”. Of course, you can connect your ultraportable’s charger or a USB-C peripheral to the USB-C socket on this expansion module.

Minix Neo-C USB-C Multiport Adaptor press image courtesy of Minix

You can connect your Ethernet or HomePlug network to your laptop here

You have to connect your laptop’s USB-C charger to this device rather than run it just from your laptop if you are using it to connect a large USB storage device like a USB hard disk or USB optical drive to that laptop.

One of the use cases that Minix were pitching included the ability to fill in your ultraportable’s missing functions and connections. This is important where an increasing number of these computers omit connections like USB Type-A ports, video ports or SD card slots in order to preserve their slimline look and lightweight build. In some cases, your computer may have an SD card slot but it may have malfunctioned and you still need SD-card capabilities for something like your digital camera. The small size and lightweight design of this expansion dock may allow you to stuff it in your briefcase.

Another use case that has been highlighted is using the Minix Neo-C as part of creating your “primary” workstation at your home or your office. It is a practice that I have noticed a lot of people do when they want to use a laptop or ultraportable computer as their main or sole “regular-platform” computer. Here, you connect a full-size keyboard, mouse, large monitor and, perhaps, a USB external hard disk or optical drive to the laptop computer and set up a dual-screen computing arrangement when you work at that workstation. This device simplifies the connectivity procedure and requirements down to one cable that you connect and disconnect from your laptop computer while all the peripherals are connected to the expansion dock.

There are a few reasons why I like the Minix Neo-C USB-C expansion dock. One of these is that it is presented in a manner that complements all of the current-issue premium ultraportable computers. This is more so where the manufacturers are placing equal importance on the looks of these computers to convey the position that these computers are pitched for. Another of these is that it has enough connectors to suit most applications whether to deal with the MacBook 12 that has no other connections or to provide extra connectivity for computers that already have other connections. Similarly the small size can go well for those of us who want to have a small expansion dock in our laptop bag or briefcase to connect to an external monitor or wired network segment or add that USB peripheral.

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Dealing with the bloatware that comes with your computer

Article

Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro convertible notebook at Rydges Hotel Melbourne

Being able to keep stock of the software that comes with your laptop or all-in-one computer can prevent unwanted conduits to your data.

Windows PC makers hang customers out to dry with flawed crapware updaters | PC World

My Comments

A common issue with laptop and all-in-one computers sold through the popular retail channels is the supply of “bloatware” or “crapware” with these computers. This is typically low-value software including trial or demo packages that are pre-installed on consumer-grade computers but doesn’t necessarily include drivers or manufacturer-supplied software that enables the particular features that the computer has. I have covered this issue before in relationship to the Superfish software that Lenovo had furnished with some of their consumer-focused laptops.

This can also apply to software delivered on a CD-ROM with retail-pack system parts, peripheral devices or consumer-electronics devices like digital cameras or keyboards. Some of the software is ostensibly supplied as a way to give the customer a “foot in the door” when it comes to a particular function or computing task, which tends to apply to trial versions of desktop security software or entry-level video editors and DVD / Blu-Ray playback software.

This wouldn’t necessarily happen with computer systems supplied to big businesses or contractor-supplied equipment because it is easier for these customer groups to call for a standard operating environment when they purchase their technology. Similarly, the traditional desktop computers that are built and sold be independent computer stores and dedicated computer-store chains aren’t as likely to be full of the “bloatware”.

The key issue that has been raised is the poor quality-assurance that occurs when it comes to supplying and maintaining this software. Here, there isn’t a secure path for software delivery especially whenever the software is updated or upgraded to a paid-up premium version. The software can be substituted by a man-in-the-middle attack that can be easily facilitated on an unsecured public-access Wi-Fi network. As well, there isn’t any way to verify the authenticity of the software updates, whether it is the software intended to be or actually delivered as part of the update.

This is part of the culture associated with the low-value software that the OEMs are paid to deliver with the systems that they sell to consumers and small businesses, but can affect the device drivers and functionality-enablement software.

Respected software names like Microsoft and Apple implement a secure delivery path for both server-to-device delivery and backend data transfer. As well, they implement a digitally-signed manifest (“shopping list” of files to be substituted in an update) and digitally-verified software files so that the programs can’t be altered surreptitiously.

Dell and Lenovo implement a TLS secure path for the software-manifest delivery while Lenovo implements a digitally-signed software manifest. But these policies are not applied across a manufacturer’s product line.

What can we do?

The best practice for consumers, small businesses and community organisations to do is to “strip back” the bloatware that isn’t being used. Most such software can be uninstalled through the “Programs and Features” option in the Windows Control Panel or through the uninstall routine in the software. Preferably, they should keep just the drivers and functionality software on their system.

On the other hand, they could facilitate a supervised semi-automatic software update for the OEM-supplied software and do this on their home or small-business network. If they are using any of the third-party software that has been provisioned by the OEM, it may be a better idea to visit the software developer’s Website and draw down newer versions of that software from there.

What is needed for OEM-supplied software update processes

If an OEM wishes to provision extra software with a computer, peripheral or consumer-electronics device; they need to make sure that this software is of high-quality, and respects customers’ security, privacy and data sovereignty wishes.

This includes a secure software-maintenance policy such as:

  • a secure software-delivery path with latest standards and protocols between the device and the software-provisioning servers and the software distribution backbone
  • digitally-signed software files and update manifests with verification occurring before and after delivery

Third-party software developers who wish to package software with a computer systems should be required to maintain this software to the same standard as what would be expected if they sold the software to customers themselves or through a traditional retailer. This includes allowing a person to upgrade from an OEM version to a premium version or instigate a subscription through their storefront rather the OEM’s storefront.

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Belkin offers a USB-C car charger that ticks the boxes for that standard

Article

Belkin USB-C Car Charger press picture courtesy of Belkin

Belkin USB-C car charger – works tightly to USB expectations to make sure your gadgets work properly

Belkin’s new USB-C car charger will intelligently charge your phones and tablets | Android Central

From the horse’s mouth

Belkin

Product Page

Press Release

My Comments

Belkin have launched a USB-C car charger that can charge up one of the newer smartphones, tablets or ultraportable laptops that are powered through the USB Type-C connector, which is becoming the trend for today’s portable computing equipment. This also comes in handy if a passenger wants to use that tablet or 2-in-1 during that car journey without compromising the device’s battery runtime.  Think of activities like being on the Internet or even viewing online video material to while away the journey would be considered risky for your 2-in-1’s battery.

One may think that the Belkin USB-C car charger that plugs in to the cigar-lighter socket in the car and sells for US$50 is too expensive for this class of device but there is more to it to assure that the device it is connected to is properly and safely powered so it lasts a long time.

This car charger implements advanced universal-supply circuitry to stabilise its output current, which prevents the power surges associated with starting up the engine from getting to the equipment it supplies. As well, this circuitry matches the power supply to the equipment’s needs to prevent any risk of damage the that equipment.

It is also compliant to USB-PD to assure proper power supply to one of the new smartphones, tablets or ultraportable computers and can supply a load of up to 27 watts. The requirement for power supplies and cables to be compliant to this standard has come about because of the market’s awareness of substandard USB cables and power supplies placing the expensive personal-computing and communications devices we have at risk of damage. Here, Amazon have tightened their rules regarding the purchasing of USB accessories where they won’t procure these accessories for sale through their channels unless they are certified compliant by USB-IF.

The supplied cable which has a USB Type-C connector on each end has a length of 4 feet or 1.2 metres which would reach from the dashboard to the back seat of most cars or the first row of seats in a vehicle with multiple rows of seats. Of course, you could use it with existing smartphones and tablets when you use a USB Type-C adaptor cable – a USB-C to Micro USB cable for most Android and Windows devices or a USB-C to female USB-A cable along with an Apple Lightning cable or an Apple USB-C to Lightning cable for your iOS devices.

This USB-C car adaptor could earn its keep with powering or charging the newly-released portable computing equipment on a long journey so you have enough power to use it at the destination.

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