Using Bluetooth audio devices with your laptop computer

Braven BRV-X outdoor Bluetooth speaker

Braven BRV-X outdoor Bluetooth speaker – another of many Bluetooth speakers with speakerphone functionality

There is an increasing number of Bluetooth-connected wireless audio devices available for  use with smartphones and similar devices. But you may want to use these headsets, audio adaptors, Bluetooth speakers or Bluetooth-integrated audio devices with your laptop instead of those tiny speakers that are the norm for these computers. The best example for the speakers would be the Bose SoundDock speakers, especially the SoundDock 10, due to its good bass response, when used with the Bluetooth adaptor. As well, I ran a test setup with the Motorola DC800 Bluetooth adaptor connected to an older Sony boombox and had the review-sample Fujitsu LH772 laptop being fed through this Bluetooth adaptor.

Similarly, there are those of us who may want to use a Bluetooth headset like the Plantronics BackBeat Pro with a laptop computer so you can roam around the office or home listening to your favourite tunes or podcast or as a contingency measure to avoid missing that important VoIP call.

How a Bluetooth audio setup would function for a laptop

You can achieve these setups with Bluetooth-equipped laptops that run Windows 7, MacOS X Snow Leopard and Linux and newer versions of these operating systems. This is due to the supply of a class driver for the Bluetooth A2DP audio profile  and Hands Free Profile as part of the operating system distributions.

Initial setup

First, you have to set up the Bluetooth A2DP-capable audio device to become discoverable. The method for this is explained in the instructions that come with the device but you typically may have to hold down a setup button to achieve this goal.

Plantronics BackBeat Pro Bluetooth noise-cancelling headphones

Headphones you can treat your laptop to

Then you have to put the computer in to a “Bluetooth setup” mode in order to annex the device to the operating system. In WIndows 7, you would have to click on “Devices and Printers”, then click “Add Device”.

After you complete these procedures, both the device and the computer start to pair up and identify themselves to each other. The computer would then find and install the A2DP audio-device class drivers that are part of the operating system. In some cases, the class driver may be fetched from Microsoft’s or Apple’s Website. The same thing will also happen with the Bluetooth Hands-Free Profile or Bluetooth Headset Profile when you initially connect a Bluetooth headset, headphone audio adaptor or other device equipped for communications functionality.

Now the Bluetooth audio device is defined as a sound device and some Windows setups may have it run as the default audio device for all of the laptop’s sound output.

Which sound device

Bluetooth device listed alongside default audio device

List of audio playback devices including the Bluetooth audio device

But you may want to have a split setup so that music and video sound go to the Bluetooth speakers and all of the notification sounds come via the laptop speakers. Here, you would have to set the integrated sound subsystem as the default audio device. Then you would have to set iTunes, Windows Media Player or other media-management software to use the Bluetooth A2DP audio device.

This latter setup may not work well with software like games, the Spotify desktop program or Web browsers where there isn’t an option to specify the sound output device for that application. Here, you would have to specify the Bluetooth audio device as your default audio device to have the soundtrack from video on demand including YouTube videos, or your Spotify playlist coming through that device.

Bluetooth headsets and speakers with speakerphone functionality will cause Windows to purpose the Bluetooth Hands-Free Profile or Headset Profile as a Communications Device and may cause Windows 7 to determine it as a Default Communications Device.

The controls on these Bluetooth devices should map through to the applications’ controls courtesy of operating system support for Bluetooth AVRCP control profile for media navigation and the call-control functionality of the Hands-Free and Headset Profiles. This will apply to applications that currently have the focus for media playback or communications.

Multipoint Operation

The Sony SBH-52 Bluetooth Headphone Adaptor - supports multipoint operation for two devices

The Sony SBH-52 Bluetooth Headphone Adaptor – supports multipoint operation for two devices

An increasing number of communications-capable Bluetooth devices have support for “multipoint” operation where they can work with two different source devices. This function is typically to support people who use two mobile phones such as a “personal” one and a “work” one.

As I discovered when reviewing the Sony SBH-52 Bluetooth headphone adaptor, I fund that this function can also work with a computer. This can be of use if you are maintaining a playlist or listening to Web content on your laptop.

Here, you have to determine which device is your “priority” device which allows the headset to primarily control that device. This is something you would do either through the device’s setup menu, a desktop or mobile control program or a certain keypress sequence depending on the device. You may be able to at least use the call-control button to answer and end calls when you are using your secondary device. It is a good idea to set the laptop as the priority device when you are playing content from it or are wanting to use a VoIP app that may come across as being rickety.

Conclusion

Once you know what your Bluetooth-capable laptop can do with those Bluetooth audio accessories, you can then let it perform at its best with these devices and they don’t need juhst to be considered for mobile phones anymore.

Updates

This is to reflect newer Bluetooth hardware that I have reviewed along with highlighting the Bluetooth Hands-Free Profile used for communications purposes and multipoint operation offered by an increasing number of Bluetooth devices.

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Product Review–Plantronics Backbeat Pro Bluetooth noise-cancelling headset

Introduction

I am reviewing the Plantronics Backbeat Pro Bluetooth noise-cancelling headset which is my first attempt at reviewing a headset equipped with two key features: Bluetooth wireless connectivity and active noise cancelling.

The former feature links to mobile devices and laptop computers via Bluetooth wireless technology while the latter detects noise associated with transport or fans using microphones and applies a “counter-noise” to this noise through the headset’s speakers. When you listen to program content or take a call, the sound from the external device such as the music or your caller’s voice is mixed in with the aforementioned “counter-noise” so you can hear that sound more clearly.

Plantronics BackBeat Pro Bluetooth noise-cancelling headphones

Price

RRP:  AUD$349 (Street price AUD$299)

Type

Headphone Assembly Traditional over-the-head
Driver Positioning Circum-aural (over the ear with sound-containing foam wall)
Driver Enclosure Closed Back
Microphone Position Integrated microphone
Connectivity
Headset 3.5mm headset socket wired for Apple (CTIA)
Bluetooth
– A2DP audio with aptX
– Headset Profile
– Handsfree Profile with HD Voice
– Multipoint for 2 devices
Adaptors 3.5mm four-conductor headset cable

The headset itself

Connectivity and Usability

I was able to pair the Plantronics BackBeat Pro headset with my Samsung Galaxy Note 4 smartphone very quickly – this supported NFC-based pairing which is currently implemented in Android only. But with devices that don’t support it, you can start the pairing process without needing to hold down a button on the headset.  There is support for multipoint use with a simplified call-handling experience where you just touch one button to answer calls from any phone.

Plantronics BackBeat Pro Bluetooth noise-cancelling headset - right side earcup

Right side earcup with volume control and call handling button on earpiece

There is a 3.5mm four-conductor headset jack which connects to your device via a supplied cord that is wired for CTIA / Apple setups. This overrides the Bluetooth headset functionality so you can use the Backbeat in an airliner.

It is powered via an integrated rechargeable battery that lasts a long time – you could get a day or more out of the headset’s battery life when you are using it as a Bluetooth headset or as an active-noise-reduction headset with another device.

Plantronics BackBeat Pro Bluetooth noise-cancelling headset - right earcup

Left-side earcup with track navigation toggle, play-pause button on earcup and noise-cancellation switch

The controls are easy to discover with a large ring on the right earpiece to adjust the sound volume, a large ring on the left earpiece to move between tracks, a large button on the left earpiece for playing and pausing music and a large button on the right earpiece for handling calls. The power and noise-cancel slide switches are easy to discover and locate with the former on the right earpiece and the latter on the left earpiece.

Plantronics BackBeat Pro headset - sockets

Connectivity options – USB charging socket and 3.5mm headset input jack (wired for Apple / CTIA)

There is a motion sensor that starts and stops your music device when you put the headphones on and take them off. But this can be very erratic in some situations such as a rough road or rail ride or sometimes even putting them on a table and subsequently picking them up has me find that they start playing too early. A supplied configuration program can be used to adjust this function but I would prefer a hardware switch to enable and disable this function.

Comfort and Durability

The Plantronics Backbeat Pro has the same kind of comfort level expected for most circum-aural headsets and could be worn for a significant amount of time. You could feel that they were there without it feeling as though they are crushing on your head and the padded headband provided that feeling as if they were just there.

Plantronics BackBeat Pro Bluetooth noise-cancelling headset

Cloth speaker grilles assure comfortable long-time use

The ear surrounds even didn’t come across as something that could end up being sweaty. As well, your ears rest on foam cushioning with cloth lining the earpiece areas so as to allow for increased comfort. Here you even have the sides that each earcup represents written on the cloth lining itself. The only comfort tradeoff you may find with the Plantronics BackBeat Pro and its peers is that due to their hard construction, they may feel uncomfortable to use when you are sleeping if you sleep with your head on your side.

As for build quality, I would expect them to last a long time. This is through the use of durable design practices like thicker plastic and placing a plastic conduit which houses the cabling between the earpieces against an aluminium strip.

Sound

I was able to run the Plantronics Backbeat Pro headset at lower volumes while the sound is still audible which makes for a headset that is designed with efficient drivers. This would then allow for the headset to run on its own batteries for a long time yet be useable.

Music

The music came through loud and clear and with that desirable amount of bass response. I even disabled any equalisation curves in my media player and any in my phone to identify whether the bass response was there without the need for added equalisation and found that these headphones still delivered the punch in the music.

Video and Games

The Plantronics Backbeat Pro has come up trumps with video content in that it was able to yield clear dialogue and give punch to those effects. I was even keeping an ear out for effects like gunshots or vehicle moment while watching Kurt Wallander because they are the kind of effects used in some of the games liked by “core” gamers and they came through with that desirable punch.

Communications use

I have made and taken a few phone calls using the Plantronics Backbeat Pro Bluetooth headset and have noticed that the conversation came through clearly for both myself and the caller. I also tried the headset a few times with Google Now and the voice assistant could parse what I was saying easily. The headset call button worked as expected with the ability to tap twice to call the last number or tap and hold to invoke Google Now or Siri depending on your mobile device.

Noise reduction and handling in noisy environments

I used the Plantronics Backbeat Pro headset in the back of a transit bus and had noticed some level of noise reduction when the bus was at speed and was able to hear my music content more clearly.

Active Noise Cancelling

The Active Noise Cancelling function is available when the headset is switched on and can work either with a wired connection or the Bluetooth connection. Here, you then enable it using a slide switch on the left earpiece and can notice the difference.

Here, the rumbling associated with trains and the like is cancelled out using so-called anti-noise. There was a noticeable difference when I used it on the train in Melbourne’s City Loop because I heard very little of the rumbling associated with through-tunnel train travel but could have my music at a decent volume. The experience was also the same when I used this headset in a few different transit buses and the noise from the engine was significantly reduced. As well the noise-cancelling function had no effect on the BackBeat Pro’s bass response. In some situations, I could hear the destination announcements that were called over the train’s intercom or a radio station played over a rail-replacement charter bus’s sound system more clearly and intelligibly even if I had my music going.

The only problem with using Active Noise Cancelling is that if you want to simply just run that functionality without the headset working with another audio device, you have to plug something in to the 3.5mm jack to override the Bluetooth transceiver. This may be of annoyance for those of you who are trying to sleep on the overnight train or that night flight or use the Active Noise Cancelling to effectively mute out the air-conditioner’s noise while trying to go to sleep..

Limitations

The active noise cancelling function  could be set up to run independent of Bluetooth operation or having the headphone cable plugged in. This could be handy when you are in a noisy environment without needing to deal with a cable that can entangle you. An example of this could be to claw some sleep when you are in the plane or in a motel room where there is a noisy old air-conditioner.

The microUSB charging socket on this headset could be set up to work as a way to connect the headset to a computer and have it serve as a USB audio sound device for that computer. The controls could also be mapped through as USB Human Interface Device controls for multimedia and telephony use. This would earn its keep when you are on the plane and using a laptop which is set up for “flight mode”, or are using the headset with a desktop computer for online communications and gaming, especially as traditional “three-piece” desktop computers don’t necessarily support Bluetooth.

The Plantronics Backbeat Pro could benefit from a hardware switch to enable or disable the sensors that allow it to play or stop the music source if you take the headset off. This can be of importance where the ride is bumpy and this function could be susceptible to false triggering.

As well, the headphone cord could benefit from a switch which selects between OMTP / Apple (CTIA) headset wiring mode. This is because not all mobile phones and communications devices are wired for CTIA (Apple) mode and you may want to make sure that your BackBeat Pro could work with anything your present to.

As for adaptors, the Plantronics Backbeat Pro Bluetooth headset missed out on an inflight-entertainment adaptor which is considered abnormal for a noise-cancelling headset that would be typically used in an aeroplane.

Conclusion

I would recommend the Plantronics BackBeat Pro for those of you who value a Bluetooth noise-cancelling travel headset that excels on usability especially when you use your smartphone as a music player when you are travelling on public transport. As well, it would earn its keep with those of you who aren’t necessarily after the fashionable headset brands but are really after something that does the job.

If you do need to use this headset as an active-noise-reduction headset without the use of any program-source device, you could use a 3.5mm plug which you could purchase from an electronics store and plug this in to the audio jack on the headset.

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Telephone Interview–UPnP Forum (Wouter van der Beek)

Introduction

UPnP Forum logo courtesy of UPnP ForumI have had the chance to interview Wouter van der Beek who is the Vice President of the UPnP Forum which defines the standards and specifications associated with UPnP technology. This interview is primarily about the direction that the UPnP Forum and this technology is heading in the face of current personal-computing trends like cloud computing and the Internet Of Things.

What is UPnP

This is a collection of standard for interlinking network-connected devices at an application level. It is to facilitate discovery of the devices by other devices on that network along with the ability to benefit from what the device has. The idea had been seeded 15 years ago when the home network was becoming commonplace thanks to affordable but powerful computers along with affordable broadband Internet services, but there needed to be foolproof ways to allow most people to set up, manage and benefit from these networks without requiring extensive computer skills.

Freebox Révolution - courtesy Iliad.fr

Freebox Révolution – an example of equipment designed with UPnP in mind

This has been facilitated initially with the Internet Gateway Device which has simplified management of Internet access for devices on a home network. If you use a UPnP-capable router and have its UPnP IGD function enabled, you don’t have to meddle around with different settings to get an online game or Skype to work via the Internet.

DLNA collections listed as sources on the TV

DLNA content collections listed as sources on a Samsung Smart TV

It has also been facilitated with DLNA-capable media devices which use the UPnP AV MediaServer or MediaRenderer device control protocols. This is where you could use a smart TV or a Blu-Ray player to discover photos or vides kept on your computer or network-attached storage device or “push” music from a Windows computer, NAS or Android smartphone to a Wi-Fi-enabled wireless speaker. Here, it has become to that point where UPnP and DLNA have become so synonymous as an expectation for anything that uses the home network to provide or play / show multimedia content in a similar way that Dolby noise reduction was an expected feature for good-quality cassette players.

The foolproof way of setting up and using UPnP-capable network equipment has, for that matter, had me look for devices that support these specifications when I am involved in buying or specifying network equipment.

New Directions for UPnP

UPnP’s New Zones of Relevance

Previously, the Universal Plug And Play technology was confined to the home network which encompassed computers and related devices that existed in one’s home and connected to a router which served as the network’s Internet “edge”.

Thanks to trends like the highly-mobile devices like smartphones, tablets and laptops; the online services and cloud computing, and the increasing role of social media in our lives;  the UPnP technology and, to some extent, the home network has changed its zone of relevance. This encompasses the following zones of relevance:

  • Personal, which would encompass the devices we take with us or have on ourselves like smartphones, tablets, smartwatches and fitness bands
  • Home, which would encompass what we have at home such as computers, routers, NAS units, home AV, appliances and the like, even encompassing devices associated with comfort, energy management and security
  • Car, which encompasses the technology associated or integrated in our vehicles like infotainment systems or powertrain-management systems
  • Workplace / Business which encompasses the computing and communications technologies used in the office and would also encompass devices associated with comfort, energy management and security
  • Industry which would encompass systems that provide the backbone for the modern life.

It also encompasses the Internet Of Things where devices can be required to be sensors or actuators for other devices and services in a universal manner.

An example of this was to establish some Device Control Protocols like the Telephony DCPs with a view to look towards the many zones of relevance and increase the UPnP ecosystem’s relevance to more users.

Cloud and Remote Access now part of UPnP

One major change is to integrate cloud computing, remote access and online services in to the UPnP ecosystem. Previously, a UPnP ecosystem was encompassing just one network, typically your home network and required each endpoint to be on the same network.

Different zones of relevance

UPnP is now about online services and remote access

Now situations have risen such as the desire to gain access to your content held at your home from your friend’s home or a hotel, or exhibit pictures held on Facebook or Dropbox on our smart TVs at home. Similarly, even in the same home, not all devices are connected to the same home network such as portable devices drifting in to Wi-Fi “dark spots” where there is very little reception or devices that are connected to a “guest network” on our routers.

Now cloud and remote access were written on as an annex to the UPnP Device Architecture but support for this is a requirement for UPnP+ certification. This is to factor in the ability for a UPnP “realm” to transcend across multiple logical networks.

One of the key additions was to integrate XMPP in to UPnP as part of the Cloud initiative in order to provide a level open playing field for cloud-driven applications. This also will provide for secure transport of the necessary data. It is more centred around the concept of creating virtual rooms which UPnP devices and services are invited in to as needed with these rooms being part of different logical networks or IP subnets.

Making UPnP “safe for business”

Empire State Building picture courtesy of <a href="http://ny-pictures.com/nyc/photo/photographer/604482/araswami">araswami</a> and <a href="http://ny-pictures.com/nyc/photo/">New York Pictures</a

UPnP – to be safe for business

You may also wonder whether there are steps to make UPnP technologies “safe for business”? There are some steps that have taken place to assure this goal because the different zones of relevance like workplace / business and industry place a key emphasis on security.

One of these is the DeviceProtection DCP which allows the creation of a “network of trust” amongst UPnP Devices and Control Points. This will be mandatory as part of UPnP+ certification whereas it was simply an optional feature for UPnP networks. Other DCPs that will become mandatory for UPnP+ certification include the “management” DCPs: DeviceManagement, ConfigurationManagement and SoftwareManagement which look after how a device is set up and updated.

Of course, these are considered “retrofit” solutions which assure secure links and setups and any security concept is primarily about “buying time” from hackers.

As well, DLNA had integrated various content-protection measures in to the VIDIPATH specification which encompasses UPnP AV standards to assure secure content delivery for premium content like Hollywood films and big-league sports.

The Internet Of Things

Rethinking Device Control Protocols

Previously the UPnP Forum placed emphasis on the Device Control Protocol as being the way to describe a UPnP device and what it can do. This ended up with each of these protocols taking a long time to develop, whether at the initial stages or as they were being revised.

Examples of these were the UPnP Internet Gateway Device which described what a modem or router was about and this was shaped by telcos and network-equipment vendors; and the AV Device which described media storage, playback and control with this being shaped by most of the main consumer-electronics names.

As well as the long time it took to develop a Device Control Protocol, there was the risk of focusing these protocols on an application-specific vertical plane with functionality being duplicated amongst multiple protocols.

The new direction was enshrined in the “Internet Of Things Management And Control” DCP which is focused around the particular tasks a sensor or actuator device can do. This also enshrines language and data models that can be used to define applications. But it allows a sensor or actuator which does the same thing to be described the same way.

There were two examples we talked of: – a temperature sensor, and a lamp used as part a home automation or building automation setup. A temperature sensor measures temperature but it could be part of a room thermostat, a weather station or a fridge, but it does the same job by measuring and reporting the current temperature. A lamp is turned on and off or has its brightness increased or decreased but this could work as part of a “smart home” setup or as part of a building automation setup for an office building or an apartment block.

As well, the data models can be evolved for particular applications and there is a short turnaround time required to set a data model in stone. This could allow one to define an application-level device class based on a collection of sensors and the kind of measurements to be used.

Network Bridges

Another reality that UPnP would face is devices based on other standards. This encompasses sensor and similar devices that work on networks like Zigbee, Z-Wave and Bluetooth that don’t work on an IP/Ethernet-based structure or Ethernet-based technology that doesn’t implement IP as a way to liaise with devices at higher levels. In a lot of cases, these networks have come about due to an expectation that battery-operated sensor and similar devices are expected to run for six months or more on a single set of commodity “dry-cell” batteries like AA-size Duracells or CR2035 “button-size” batteries.

The UPnP Internet Of Things effort also includes Device Control Protocols to address Network Bridges so they can work in a UPnP or UPnP+ ecosystem. This should solve a very common problem with “smart-home” devices typically smart locks and central-heating controls, where Internet-connectivity bridges for these devices are supplied by the manufacturer and are designed to work only with that manufacturer’s devices.

Achieving vendor universality

The UPnP Forum has made big strides in achieving vendor universality but it still relied on the use of logo programs like DLNA or Designed For Windows or potential buyers pouring through specifications to achieve this goal when buying or specifying devices. But some competing ecosystems typically required one physical device such as a wireless speaker to have physical and logical support for each of them, thus the row of logos that adorn the top edge of a device.

But they would like to use concepts like Network Bridges to provide support across different logical ecosystems and have UPnP as a “glue” between the ecosystems.

Conclusion

By stripping the UPnP platform to functions that are on an elementary level, it means that the ecosystem can be evolved to newer requirements that work across any computing zone-of-relevance independent of where the data source or destination is.

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Telstra announces a set-top box that supports all three video-on-demand services

Article

Telstra TV media player (provisional design) press picture courtesy of Telstra

Telstra TV media player (provisional design)

Telstra TV will offer Netflix, Presto and Stan | PC World

From the horse’s mouth

Telstra

Press Release

My Comments

Telstra are putting forward another online TV platform that will be sold alongside the T-Box PVR platform and the Foxtel pay-TV platform which they have a share in.

This will be based around a Roku-designed box which will represent the first time a Roku product has been offered in Australia. Telstra’s use of an existing platform for their Telstra TV service will allow for the quick rollout of new services to customers.

The headline feature for Australian customers is that this box supports all three main subscription video-on-demand service i.e. Stan. Presto and Netflix. They will be offered alongside Telstra’s BigPond Movies and various catch-up TV offerings.

As for network connectivity, The Telstra TV box connects to your home network via 802.11g/n Wi-Fi or Ethernet, which I would prefer people to use when they use these services if they want real reliability. Here, you can use Ethernet wired directly from your router or use it with a HomePlug AV powerline-network segment if you don’t want to deal with new wires.

The device uses an SD card and a USB port for removeable-media storage but also allows for Miracast and second-screen operation with Netflix and YouTube. Of course it comes with an infra-red remote control so you don’t always have to use your smartphone to control this device.

A question I am raising is whether it can support DLNA or VidiPath functionality for use with media held on your home network or if Foxtel bites the VidiPath bullet for whole-house pay-TV. Since this is a work in progress, one is not really sure.

It does show that Telstra want to have their fingers in many different online-video pies and they could make this box play with their existing T-Box or Foxtel video services if they want to really make it sing.

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Google’s impending arrival in Raleigh raises the bar for Internet service quality

Article

Linksys EA8500 broadband router press picture courtesy of Linksys USA

Competition for Internet service is real where Google Fiber passes

Google Fiber Network Build underway in Raleigh | Broadband News & DSL Reports

From the horse’s mouth

Google Fiber

Deployment Page for Raleigh-Durham

My Comments

Google had just started rolling out their Google Fiber next-generation broadband service in Raleigh, North Carolina. But even when Google announced the impending arrival of this service to that neighbourhood, the existing ISPs took notice and were suddenly on their good behaviour.

They were infact rolling out higher-speed networks or improving the speed of their networks in that area. Someone posted in to the article’s comments thread a picture of an AT&T door hanger on his front door announcing the arrival of their improved U-Verse fibre-optic service in the commenter’s neighbourhood.

What is showing up in that once some serious competition comes on the scene, the existing carriers will do their best to keep their customers. But Uncle Sam still needs to work hard to encourage this competition by overriding any state laws or local ordinances written at the behest of the cable-TV / Baby-Bell cartels that control the Internet service in those neighbourhoods.

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Making it easier to safely remove that USB flash drive in Windows

Safely Remove Hardware icon in Notification area

Notification area space where hidden icons exist – click on Customize to determine how they will appear

You may want to be sure you are doing the right thing when it comes to properly and safely removing that USB flash drive, external hard disk or SD card but it may be hard to find the “Safely Remove Hardware” icon in the Notification bar at the bottom right of your screen.

What tends to happen if you haven’t been doing anything regarding removable storage is that icon becomes sidelined and available behind the up-arrow on the Taskbar. This is more so if other applications have claimed space on the Notification Bar and seldom-used icons exist behind that up-arrow.

Notification Area Icons customisation screen - when you click on Customize

Notification Area Icons customisation screen – when you click on Customize

There is a way to work around this problem by customising the Notification Bar icons to make sure that certain icons appear always.

To do this, click on the up-arrow at the left of the Notification Bar to pop up all of the icons. These will appear in a white square and you will also see the word “Customize”. Click “Customize” to see a list of the icons with each icon having its own drop-down box that determines how and when it will appear.

Options available for each icon in the Notification Area Icons customisation screen

Options available for each icon

The different modes are:

  • Show icon and Notifications. This will have the icon appear at all times and “pop up” any notification messages. Here, you may want to have the icon always visible and accessible especially if you instigate tasks from that icon.
  • Hide icon and Notifications: The icon won’t appear at all in the Notification Bar even if there is a relevant notification or it changes state. This may be useful where you find an icon always popping up messages
  • Only show notifications. The icon pops up when there is a relevant notification and will show that notification. In some cases, this icon may appear if it changes state. It may apply to “sentinel” icons that appear to crowd out the Notification Bar even though they seldom yield a notification or change state.
Preferred seting for Safely Remove Hardware And Eject Media icon

Preferred seting for Safely Remove Hardware And Eject Media icon

Here, having the “Safely Remove Hardware” icon set to “Show icon and Notifications” means that while there is a USB storage device connected to the computer or an SD card inserted in the computer, this icon will appear. This will make it easy for you to know what to click when you need to remove the USB hard disk USB memory key or memory card.

You may also find this of us with other Notification Bar icons where you are always instigating tasks from or needing to keep an eye on incase they change state like the Skype icon.

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ASUS Zenbook UX305–World’s thinnest Ultrabook

Article

Powerful Silence: What You Can Expect From The World’s Thinnest Ultrabook | Gizmodo

From the horse’s mouth

ASUS

Zenbook UX305 Ultrabook

Product Page

Purchase direct from ASUS

My Comments

ASUS is raising the bar when it comes to designing ultraportable computers by offering the Zenbook UX305 which has been identified as the “World’s Thinnest Ultrabook”. This is because it comes in at a thickness of 12.3mm and a weight of 1.2kg.

This has been achieved through the ability to dispense with a fan for keeping the system cool during use thus also allowing for ultra-quiet operation. There is also the benefit that the system implements a 256Gb solid-state drive which also gives extra cause to the ultra-quiet operation.

But it is a 13” computer  which has been pitched not just as an auxiliary note-taking copy-creating laptop but an all-rounder thanks to implementation of the Intel Core M processor (5Y71). The Gizmodo review reckoned that it could be your only laptop but if you are thinking that way, I would head down the path which most “laptop-as-only-computer” users have gone. This is to run the computer with a larger external monitor, an external keyboard and mouse along with an external USB hard disk for data storage for your primary office setup.

The Zenbook has 4Gb RAM along with the 256Gb solid-state drive which would be up to snuff for a laptop. As well, it uses 802.11ac Wi-FI networking and Bluetooth 4.0 connectivity along with having 3 USB ports and a micro HDMI display connection. The screen does support Full HD resolution but doesn’t support touchscreen functionality. ASUS is still hanging on with Bang & Olufsen for their audio-related design and tuning needs even though HP have signed up this Danish hi-fi name for the same needs and this laptop uses the B&O icePower power-amplification technology for a powerful amplifier that takes less space and can run cool.

A good question is whether the ASUS Zenbook UX305 could serve as a work-home laptop, a laptop that you use in the main office but also frequently use in your favourite “second-office” café or bar or as the only computer you need. This is more so as ASUS was selling the machine through their store for AUD$1399 and is becoming more so as the ultraportable laptop computer with the traditional clamshell form factor is facing stiff competition from the “2-in1” convertible and detachable computers that also serve as tablets.

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Fiat Chrysler are now facing the security issues associated with the connected car

Articles

Jeep Grand Cherokee outside family house - press picture courtesy of Fiat Chrysler North America

Jeep Grand Cherokee – make sure that the uConnect system runs the latest firmware

Jeep drivers: Install this security patch right now – or prepare to DIE | The Register

From the horse’s mouth

Fiat Chrysler

Blog Post

UConnect Website (Go here to update your vehicle)

Vehicle list

Model Model-years affected
Chrysler
200 2015
Dodge
Durango 2014
Viper 2013-2014
Jeep
Cherokee 2014
Grand Cherokee 2014
RAM
1500 2013-2014
2500 2013-2014
3500 2013-2014
4500 / 5500 2013-2014

The vehicles affected would be equipped with a uConnect-capable 8.4” touchscreen radio system.

My Comments

The connected car is now being highlighted as a device that has security issues. This was exemplified previously by BMW when they rolled out a patch for their connected infotainment system in the newest vehicles because of a security risk.

Now it is Fiat Chrysler’s turn where their UConnect connected infotainment system which has a stronger link with the car’s powertrain was needing a software update because of this same issue. It was brought about by a discovery that a pair of hackers found in relation to a 2014 Jeep Cherokee owned by one of these hackers concerning undesirable remote control of this “family 4WD”. The software can be downloaded by vehicle owners who have an affected 2013-2015 vehicle and can be done by downloading the update file from the UConnect Website to a USB memory stick then transferring that file to your vehicle. If you are not confident with this process, you can have the mechanics at the dealership where you bought the vehicle from perform this upgrade, while your vehicle is being serviced by them.

At the same time, the US Congress is legislating for security standards concerning connected vehicles including software protection for the vehicles’ powertrain, steering or braking in the form of the “Security and Privacy In Your Car Act” (SPY Car Act). This is in a similar vein to various design rules and standards that nations require vehicles to comply with for safety like seatbelt or lighting requirements. Even the US Senator Markey called out that drivers shouldn’t have to choose between being connected or being protected.

Again, this is a class of devices which is easily driven by the marketing impetus to have them on the market. But there needs to be a culture to encourage a secure environment for connected vehicles as there is for desktop computing.

One way would be a continual update process for the firmware associated with the connected vehicle, including aftermarket setups that have any effect on the vehicle’s steering, brakes or powertrain. This would preferably be in the form of a blind-update process like what happens with most operating systems when you set them to automatically update and patch.

Personally, this could be facilitated by having the connected vehicle work with the home network whenever it is garaged at home. This would then allow it to download the updates overnight while it is not in use. As well, the motorist should have the chance to choose what updates are provided like with enterprise variants of operating systems.

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Set-top boxes to increase the richness of additional information for video content

Article

Freebox Révolution - courtesy Iliad.fr

Freebox Révolution – – to have a better integrated information system for video content

Les fiches de films et séries sont de retour sur Freebox Révolution | Freenews.fr (French language / Langue française)

My Comments

Free.fr have integrated Gracenote’s video-information resource in to their latest firmware for the Freebox Player which is part of the Freebox Révolution.

This is a sign where companies like Gracenote and Rovi create data storehouses of information about every movie, TV show and key celebrity. This accurate information is provided as a service to set-top box manufacturers and TV service providers so that viewers can bring up this information on the big screen relevant to the programme they are watching or are showing interest in on the EPG. These are also designed to be “source-agnostic” so you can link to shows available on air, on a video-on-demand or catch-up TV service and held on your PVR or home network.

For films and TV shows, you have access to rich synopses, cast / crew lists, mood information, genre information and the like. As well, you could bring up information about a celebrity’s biography or their filmography – which films or TV shows they were involved with. You could do this with IMDB on your smartphone or tablet. But these set-top-box / smart-TV solutions are more about having the information one click away from what you are watching or showing interest in while some implementations have the ability to work across two screens – your mobile device and the main screen.

They would also allow for the ability to highlight “like content” that is currently available to view so you can discover what else is worth watching. But a lot of these services don’t really support any externally-curated watch-list functions where a film critic, radio personality or similar person can supply a list of shows worth viewing. This is more so with people who follow sources of quality journalism like public broadcasters, broadsheet or “compact” newspapers or the good newsmagazines; along with those of us who follow blogs about films or TV content.

Personally, I would have this function based around a Webfeed that you can “send” across your home network or the Internet to your set-top box so you can see what shows to search for based on that film critic you are following.. It would also play hand in glove with movie reviewers who want to simply provide supportive reviews to these information services.

What I see of this is the ability to pull up more about what you are watching, especially when you are watching the content with someone who is a “walking encyclopedia” about films or you see someone in that show whom you remember seeing in other TV shows.

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The BBC Model B computer returns with a pocket-size vengeance

BBC Model B microcomputer By Soupmeister (Acorn BBC Model B) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

BBC Model B personal computer – the core of an original computer-education project that took place in the UK during the early 1980s

Article

BBC reveals Micro:bit, a programmable PC that fits in your pocket | PC World

Micro:bit : la BBC veut distribuer des nano ordinateurs aux enfants britanniques | ZDNet.fr (French language / Langue française)

From the horse’s mouth

BBC

Press Release

Microsoft

Press Release

TouchDevelop Website

Video

Bluetooth SIG

Blog Post

My Comments

In the early 1980s, the BBC undertook a computer-education project which was based around a series of television programmes along with a specially-commissioned computer. This computer, known as the BBC Model B computer and built by Acorn who were a relatively-new home-computer manufacturer in the UK, was sold to schools so that students can work along with the TV programmes which explored, amongst other things, coding in BASIC and interfacing and controlling other devices.

One feature that the BBC Model B had was an 8-bit user port which was used for directly interfacing digital circuits along with a “game port” typically used for analogue joysticks and knob-style “paddles” but serving as an analogue input. Some of the printed and visual courseware associated with this computer was dedicated to teaching how to use these “real-world” interfaces.

This system was Acorn’s main founding stone and Acorn evolved to become a company who sold RISC-based microprocessors and defined the ARM microarchitecture used in most of today’s smartphones, smart TVs and similar devices.

But Acorn had clawed back to their roots with an ARM-based pocket-sized board computer similar to the Arduino and Raspberry Pi. This computer has been developed in conjunction with the BBC in order to continue on the legacy left by the original BBC Model B computer.

It has 25 LEDs that can be programmed to light up and flash messages, 2 user-programmable buttons and sensors in the form of an accelerometer and compass along with input-output connections for users to connect to other circuits. It uses Bluetooth Smart (BLE) technology to interface with other devices including regular and mobile computer devices. As well, it can connect to a computing device via USB and be programmed via a browser-based software development kit called TouchDevelop which Microsoft worked on.

The TouchDevelop setup uses the Web-based interface along with a choice of programming languages as a way to program the device. It also involves two-stage compilation with the Block Editor script being compiled to turn out C++ code which is then subsequently compiled and linked to turn out machine code to be downloaded and flashed to the BBC Micro Bit.

Like the previous BBC Model B computer, this will be delivered in to UK secondary schools and students will have their own Micro Bit computer so they can learn how to program the Internet Of Everything as part of their computer education.

The goal is to have this computer replicate what the BBC Model B computer had done for British computer education and the success in bringing about a UK-based software industry. Here, they want to have Britain putting a clear foot in the door for Internet Of Things.

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Microsoft makes a foldable version of its universal Bluetooth keyboard

Article

Microsoft Universal Foldable Keyboard (side) - press picture courtesy of Microsoft

Microsoft Universal Foldable Keyboard

Microsoft Releases Universal Foldable Keyboard | Tom’s Hardware

Previous Coverage

Microsoft Hardware now offers a Bluetooth keyboard that works with all mobile platforms

From the horse’s mouth

Microsoft

Microsoft Universal Folding Keyboard

Press Release

Video

My Comments

Microsoft Universal Foldable Keyboard (open) press photo courtesy of Microsoft

The keyboard folded out

Microsoft previously released a universal keyboard pitched towards those of us who use smartphones and tablets. This Bluetooth keyboard is designed to be operating-system agnostic so you can use it with your iPhone, iPad, Android smartphone or tablet or your Windows Phone or tablet. This is facilitated with a hardware switch that allows you to select between different devices and keyboard layouts.

Now they have issued a variant of this keyboard that folds up like a book. They haven’t neglected the keyboard’s intended use and working around the problems associated with this. Rather, the Universal Foldable Keyboard is designed to be durable so as to allow for frequent and heavy “on-the-road” use which also involves throwing it in to backpacks, handbags and other similar personal luggage. The key pitch and keyboard switch design makes it similar to most small notebook computers, thus allowing for accurate touch typing.

At least this is an example of a keyboard that isn’t just about catering to an iPad or an Android tablet. Rather it is one that can even cater to a lot more devices that have Bluetooth connection for input devices, including desktops equipped with USB Bluetooth dongles or smart-TVs, games consoles and other video peripherals that have Bluetooth functionality and support use of Bluetooth keyboards. It is also about something that is neat and compact and ready for travel with your mobile devices.

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