Product Review–Braven Mira Bluetooth speaker


I am reviewing the Braven Mira which is a small single-piece portable Bluetooth speaker that is designed for use in the bathroom or kitchen. This circular speaker is designed to be water resistant so it can be used in the shower or near the sink and has a kickstand that can double as a hook to hang over the showerhead or something similar.
Braven Mira Bluetooth speaker


The unit itself:

RRP including tax: AUD$129

Form Factor

Single-piece speaker


Input Count as for a device
Audio Line Input
(connect a tape deck, CD player, etc)
1 x 3.5mm stereo socket
Digital Audio Input Bluetooth
Bluetooth A2DP and Hands-Free Profile with NFC setup


Output Power Watts (RMS, FTC or other honest standard) per channel Stereo
Speaker Layout 1 2 full-range drivers
1 passive radiator

The unit itself

The Braven Mira is a circular portable Bluetooth speaker pitched for use in the bathroom, kitchen, laundry or pool area. This is due to it being water-resistant to IPx5 standards which means that it can survive water splashes or rainfall. But you have to make sure nothing is plugged in to it and that the cap covering the sockets on the side is closed properly.

Braven Mira Bluetooth speaker with kickstand

The C-shape kickstand that doubles as a hook

It also has a C-shaped kickstand that allows it to become a hook so you can hang it on a shower head, a tap (faucet) or door knob. This allows for versatile positioning options that suit your needs perfectly.

Like other Braven Bluetooth speakers, the Mira has four main operating controls with two that double as volume / track navigation controls. To make the speaker discoverable for pairing, you have to hold the PLAY button until the speaker makes a repeated beep tone. It doesn’t support NFC “touch-and-go” paring for “open-frame” (Android and Windows) personal-computing devices.

A feature that is very common on this class of speaker is that the Braven Mira can serve as a speakerphone for whenever you want to talk hands-free on the phone or engage in a videocall.

I have used the speaker with my phone and when I have run it at the maximum level, it sounds very similar to a small radio. You wouldn’t expect high-quality sound from a speaker like this one or any of its peers but it is loud enough to fill a small room.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

Personally, I would like to see Braven add two extra buttons to the Mira for track selection rather than you holding down the volume buttons to change tracks. This can avoid operational mistakes when you skip a song when you intend to turn it down. As well, the controls could be embossed more distinctively so you can identify them at a touch especially if you are having to contend with shampoo in your eyes.

Like with some of their other Bluetooth speaker products, Braven could offer variants that have an integrated broadcast-radio tuner so they can serve as ordinary portable radios.


I would still see the Braven Mira earn its keep as a multipurpose utility speaker that you can use with your phone, tablet or 2-in-1 especially if these devices don’t put up much in the way of sound output for your needs.

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Product Review–Brother PDS-6000 document scanner

I am reviewing the Brother PDS-6000 high-speed sheet-fed document scanner which is intended for use as part of workflows where many paper documents have to be scanned. This machine offers a higher throughput than the scanners integrated in most multi-function devices due to the fact that it implements a “straight-through” paper path.

There are two variants of this scanner – the Brother PDS-5000 which can scan at 60 pages per minute and the Brother PDS-6000 which can scan at 80 pages per minute. The model I am reviewing is the Brother PDS-6000.

Scanning speed Price (RRP – tax inclusive)
PDS-5000 60 pages / minute AUD$1399
PDS-6000 80 pages / minute AUD$2199

Brother PDS-6000 high-speed document scanner

The scanner itself

Brother PDS-6000 high-speed document scanner - loaded deck

Ready to scan a document

The Brother PDS-6000 connects to your computer using a USB 3.0 cable and requires you to use the CD-ROM optical disc to install its driver and utility software. I would like to see Brother provide a complete always-updated one-click-install software package on its Website especially as we are moving away from optical discs as an installation medium especially with ultraportable computers.  For people who own Brother multifunction devices, they could provide a software plug-in that works with the existing Brother Utilities and ControlCenter4 software so you can scan in to that from this machine.

I scanned an old police-statement document using DS Capture and this worked properly, turning it in to a multi-page PDF very quickly. I also scanned a snapshot photo that I took in the 1990s using this same scanner and it turned out as a very sharp JPEG and without destroying the original photo. Similarly, this scanner worked well on single-pass duplex-scanning when I scanned a memento letter for someone else.

USB 3.0 connectivity on Brother PDS-6000 document scanner

USB 3.0 connectivity on Brother PDS Series scanners

As well, I raided my wallet and scanned a payment-terminal receipt that I had in it using this scanner to see how it handles those thermal-printed till receipts associated with many a transaction. This represented the typical crumpled condition that a lot of these receipts end up in when they live in wallets or shoeboxes until it comes the time to reconcile them for tax or reimbursement purposes. Similarly, you may be tempted to run the transaction journal from your cash register or your payment terminal through this machine to save it as a PDF file.

Brother PDS-6000 document scanner control panel detail

Control panel

The Brother PDS-6000 was able to handle this job well and turned out an accurate copy of this receipt without jamming. Brother recommends you using a carrier sheet that they sell as an optional accessory if you are doing many of these receipts or other small or brittle documents at a time. It is because the scanner uses a simple straight-through paper path that doesn’t involve going around bends which primarily allows for high-speed scanning but is gentle on documents.

There is the ability to start scan jobs from the scanner’s control surface but I primarily started these jobs from the computer more as a way to configure the machine for job-specific requirements.

Easy access for maintenance or rectifying paper jams

Easy access for maintenance or rectifying paper jams

As well, the Brother PDS-6000 document scanner opens like a clamshell so you can easily rectify paper jams or perform maintenance on it. This avoids you having to grope around the inside of the machine and ruin your fingernails if the paper was jammed in it.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

One improvement would be to supply an always-updated installation package that can be downloaded from Brother’s Website or use local storage within the machine as a more valid alternative for deploying the driver and scanning software on optical disc. The software could support tying in with the software that Brother supplies with their multifunction printers so that you don’t need to go to different programs to scan from different devices.

It could then be a chance for Brother to build out an improved document/image scanning application that allows for functions like page reordering or deletion so you can effectively edit out scanning mistakes for that document you are electronically archiving like deleting pages or manually split and combine PDFs. This application, which could come with their scanners and MFCs or be available as a separate download, can come in handy if you are scanning parts of a document from your MFC’s platen while scanning other parts from a sheet-feed scanner or your MFC’s automatic document feeder. Such an application would appeal to those who do a lot of “scan-to-PDF” work.

As well, Brother could have it feasible that this device connects directly to one of their MFCs to supplement the integrated scanner on these machines. This could allow quick “scan-to-copy” for their laser products or quick “scan-to-fax / scan-to-email” for fax-enabled products and could allow the unit to integrate with the business’s network. Even connecting this to an HL-series laser or LED printer could enable these printers to work as copiers.

A feature that these scanners could have is a “slow throughput” mode which allows you to run delicate documents through the machine without a risk of them being damaged. Here, this may work with various optimised imaging modes such as being able to scan letters written on thin paper including the “aerogramme” letters that were commonly used for sending personal correspondence by airmail.


I would recommend the Brother PDS family of high-speed document scanners for professionals where there is a requirement to scan many paper documents to electronic form. This is especially with tax accountants who are working for employees or small businesses and need to scan all the receipts in their client’s receipt shoeboxes.

Similarly a law firm will find this useful for handling all the paperwork associated with litigation or other legal processes so they can have their electronic copies of the documents.

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You can rip CDs to FLAC using Windows 10’s Media Player

Naim NDS network audio player

You can use Windows 10 to re-rip your CDs to allow network media players like this Naim NDS to sound their best

Previously, I had covered the fact that Windows 10 has native support for the FLAC lossless digital-audio codec which is seen as the way to go for best-sounding file-based audio. But I thought this was limited to Windows 10 natively playing any FLAC file you throw at it. This is important if you connect your computer to an audiophile-grade USB DAC or use network media players that are up-to-snuff for your top-notch hi-fi system.

But I discovered for myself when I ripped the “Too Slow To Disco 2” CD to my computer’s hard disk that Windows Media Player does rip to FLAC and have set it up that way. This will lead to sound that is properly CD quality from any of your CDs that you “dump” to your computer’s hard disk to transfer to your DLNA-capable NAS or FLAC-capable open-frame smartphone or media player. For that matter UPnP AV / DLNA does support FLAC audio files in a de-facto manner and most, if not all, hi-fi network media players that work to UPnP AV / DLNA standards will stream FLAC files.

Windows 10 Media Player Options menu - Rip Music settings

Rip Music settings in Windows 10 Media Player Options menu

How do you set Windows Media Player to rip to FLAC

  1. Start Windows Media Player in Windows 10
  2. Select Tools then Options
  3. Click on the Rip Music tab
  4. Change the format option to FLAC (Lossless)
  5. Adjust the Audio Quality slider to “Best Quality

If you are about to rip a CD like I was, click on “Rip Settings” when you see your CD’s track list in the window. Then click on “Format” and click “FLAC (Lossless)” to have it ripped in FLAC.

Rip Settings menu when you are about to rip a CD

Rip Settings menu when you are about to rip a CD

In this mode, if you were playing a CD and you wish to commence ripping it, the music will stop playing until the rip is complete. This is to achieve best results. As well, I would prefer to rip to the computer’s local storage to provide for increased stability and better sound quality. These files then can be copied out to your NAS so you can have them playing on your network-capable CD receiver.

FLAC re-rip of CD

FLAC re-rip of Mick Jagger’s “She’s The Boss” CD

If you re-rip your CD collection to FLAC, each re-ripped album will be marked as “FLAC” on the album cover. But Windows Media Player doesn’t make it easy to update playlists and have them point to the new FLAC files. Instead, you have to go through each playlist and identify tracks from the albums you just re-ripped, add the tracks from these re-rips, move them next to the original track and remove the original track from the playlist.

There are ways Windows Media Player could go about this better. One way would be to create copies of each playlist with references to all the member tracks. Then as you re-rip your CDs, it then discovers the FLAC files  The copy could be tagged as a “FLAC” playlist while your existing playlist could be kept as a MP3 or WMA playlist which you could then use for portable equipment. On the other hand, Windows Media Player could work through each playlist and have them point to your FLAC re-rips.

Those of you who value open-frame computing can get on board with Windows Media Player in Windows 10 as a way to get your CDs on to the higher-quality FLAC format to see if it is right for you before committing to more expensive CD-ripping software.

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Achieving the goal of a competitive Internet service

Linksys EA8500 broadband router press picture courtesy of Linksys USA

A competitive Internet service market is lively and for the end user

The common problem

A market with one Internet-service player, described as a monopoly, is at risk of poor customer service and prices that don’t represent real value.  A similar situation can occur where there are two or three players colluding together and this can be described as a cartel or oligopoly.

In some situations, the Internet service providers can engage in activities that are hostile to the customer such as bandwidth limiting, contracts with onerous terms and conditions or simply refusing to invest in the Internet service they provide.

How is the Internet service constructed?

The Internet service that we buy consists of various components, namely the wired or wireless infrastructure that brings the service to the customer’s door, the off-ramps from various national and global Internet backbones and the Internet services which are provided on a retail basis to the customers.

Ownership approaches

The North American approach

Infrastructure for the exclusive use of the communications company

In the USA and Canada, the retail Internet service is provided by companies who own the infrastructure, the off-ramps from the backbones along with the “to-the-customer” functions. Sadly this has led to a situation where few companies exist to provide this service – one for each wired or wireless broadband medium. This is represented by a cable-TV firm providing cable-modem service, a “Baby Bell” telephone company offering ADSL or fibre-optic service along with one or two wireless (cellular) telephone providers offering mobile broadband.

The European model

An established telephony infrastructure owned by the incumbent telephony company but leased to other ISPs.

But in Europe, Asia and Oceania, there is a different approach. This is where multiple companies, including the incumbent telephony companies provided wholesale Internet service which was sold by different retail ISPs that used the same physical infrastructure which was the copper telephone cabling.

These countries typically had an incumbent telecommunications company that was initially part of the national government’s post-telephone-telegraph ministry and was typically split from the post office, ran as a government entity then fully privatised. Such companies were often charged with providing the universal telephone service including the public payphones installed in the streets and managing the national emergency telephone service i.e. 999, 000 or 112 and they owned the abovementioned established telephone infrastructure.

But there was still the ability for other companies like cable-TV companies to use other wired and wireless infrastructure for their Internet offerings.

The problem here was that the incumbent telephony provider “taxed” the other providers for using the established telephone infrastructure to provide an ADSL service in an unfair manner, such as by requiring the rental of their equipment and requiring customers to subscribe to a local “dial-tone” telephony service through these providers even if they just want Internet service.

Key issues

Access to established infrastructure by competitors

One issue that is always raised is allowing competing telecommunications providers to have access to established telecommunications infrastructure, especially wireline infrastructure. There were issues where the incumbent telecommunications company would frustrate this access through onerous costs or service requirements levied on competing providers and their customers who wanted to use this infrastructure.

Unbundling the connection between the customer’s premises and the exchange

Instead, this has lead to the arrival of “local loop unbundling” or “dégroupage” where the wires between the customer’s door and the telephone exchange were effectively handed over to the competing operator. Typically this is facilitated through the incumbent telco renting rack-space in their exchanges out to competing operators and connecting the subscriber to the competing ISP’s equipment in that rack-space. A variant of this technique is “sub-loop unbundling” where the competitor connects to the subscriber at the local telecommunications distribution point in the street or the telecommunications wiring closet in a multiple-tenancy building.

ADSL service that is independent of dial-tone telephony service

Another tactic is to allow the sale of a “naked” or “dry-loop” DSL service which doesn’t require the customer to rent a local “dial-tone” telephony service from the incumbent telco. This meant that the wires were just to be used just to provide Internet access and a voice telephony service was either provided as a VoIP service or the customer had to subscribe to a mobile telephone service. This has been practices in Australia, France and a few other countries but not in the UK.

This service appeals also to customers who used to maintain a separate telephone line for a fax machine or dial-up Internet but want to use those wires for a dedicated ADSL data path with all the benefits of better throughput.  They can maintain their main telephone line for their classic voice telephone service with a traditional telephone as a “lifeline” independent of local power conditions or a “catch-all” phone number for the household.

Removal of infrastructure control from the incumbent telco

But this elephant of monopolistic practices didn’t go away while the incumbent telco had control of the wires to the customer’s door. Instead, some countries used various procedures to remove the infrastructure from the incumbent telco’s control and either require these assets to be divested to a separate company or to be nationalised where they owned by the nation’s government.

If this was a separate legal company that was owned by the telco, the situation was called “functional separation”. This would require the telco to sell retail service through its own entity while access is sold via that separate legal entity.An example of this is BT Openreach who maintains the infrastructure for the UK’s telephony and Internet service while BT supplies retail telephony and Internet service to customers but competitors use Openreach to provide telephony and Internet service.

On the other hand. “full separation” would require the infrastructure to be nationalised or owned by another entirely different business entity and the incumbent telco would be required to rent the infrastructure and use the infrastructure to sell their telecommunications services. This is while competitors can rent this same infrastructure to sell their telecommunications services.

Competing infrastructure providers

There has been the creation of competitive infrastructure, typically in the form of coaxial cable by cable-TV providers and cellular radio setups for mobile-telephony services. These were then set up for Internet service through the gradual evolution of technology. Similarly, some towns had their own copper and fibre infrastructure that was owned by a separate entity to provide a telecommunications service for that area or leased back to the incumbent telco.

But this idea was taken up in a strong manner in some markets where competing infrastructure companies who just owned the wires and leased these wires to other providers and/or offered a retail Internet service to these markets. The UK have moved along this path with some fibre-optic deployments in rural areas, more as a way to seek independence from British Telecom. It is a similar path in France where multiple retail ISPs established partnerships who owned particular fibre-optic infrastructure.

An issue that is being examined by regulators is the ability for competing interests to build infrastructure of the same technology in the same area for the same purpose, commonly described as “build-over”. This could allow a retail ISP to choose a particular infrastructure for the best package or allow them to provide the same service across multiple infrastructures.

Similarly, in North America, the established telcos and cable-TV companies were paying US state governments to prohibit the deployment of infrastructure for competing Internet service. It was perceived as a way to stop local government and other public-minded organisations from spending public money on providing free wireless Internet as a community service in competition to the established operators. This allowed for comfortable oligopolies to exist between these established players and, among other things, had ruined the quality of service and value for money Internet users experienced.

Google and a few other private operators set up Gigabit fibre Internet service at prices that most could afford in a few neighbourhoods using their own infrastructure and this opened up the floodgates of competition. This along with various laws and regulations put up by Uncle Sam had improved access to Internet service which was about better value for money.

Pay-TV and multiple-play services

Foxtel IQ2 pay-TV PVR

Access to desirable content by all Pay-TV providers including telcos and ISPs helps with competitive Internet service

Another issue that is creeping up in some markets is the provision of subscription multiple-channel TV. This was typically provided by a cable-TV provider or a satellite-TV provider who owned the infrastructure on an “end-to-end” model.

But there is interest amongst telecommunications and Internet providers in the concept of providing a pay-TV service as part of a “multiple-play” offering, something which the traditional cable-TV providers could do with their infrastructure. These “multiple-play” packages typically include landline telephony, pay-TV and/or broadband Internet with some packages offering mobile telephony and mobile broadband Internet.

Such services appeal to most of us because of the ability to have “all the eggs in one basket” with only one account to think of and pay to obtain telephony, pay-TV and Internet.

Previously, a telco or ISP would deliver these services if they had a contractural arrangement with a cable-TV or satellite-TV provider and this involved installation of extra infrastructure at the customer’s premises. Now this involves a “single-pipe triple-play” setup based on IPTV technology which makes it feasible for an ADSL-based or fibre-based provider to offer multichannel pay-TV as part of their service offerings without needing to support new infrastructure.

These providers may run their own pay-TV service such as what Telstra, BT and most of the French ISPs do and solicit the content to show on these services themselves. On the other hand, they would sign up to an IPTV franchise which solicits the content itself and provides it to multiple telcos and ISPs. An example of this is the Australian Fetch TV franchise who offers pay TV to independent ISPs. In some cases, a traditional pay-TV provider could offer their services as an IPTV service as well as through their own end-to-end infrastructure and franchise it to ISPs and telcos.

Access to desirable TV content

A problem that is showing up in the UK and could show up in Australia and other markets where there is a dominant pay-TV provider like Sky or Foxtel is the availability of desirable TV content, whether as particular channels or shows, only through that dominant TV provider rather than through other pay-TV services like IPTV services.

Typically a content provider like Viacom or the BBC would offer channels of particular content like MTV, Comedy Central or BBC First for people to subscribe to. A dominant pay-TV provider would obtain the content on an exclusive basis so that a competing pay-TV provider like a telco or IPTV franchise can’t make these channels available to their customers for the duration of the contract.

This is augmented if the local outpost of a particular channel which is supplied via the dominant pay-TV provider obtains exclusive TV rights to a popular sports event or movie. The UK example would be for Sky Sports owned by Sky TV obtaining exclusive rights to the  Premier League soccer (association football) matches while the Australian example is for one of Foxtel’s premium channels to obtain exclusive rights to “Game Of Thrones”. Here, they can play a rough hand with these shows by: running them on premium channels only available to “platinum-package” subscribers, even making it hard for commercial (hotel/restaurant/bar) subscribers to play these shows; not completing their screening obligations in order to inhibit access to the show by free-to-air TV, “over-the-top” video-on-demand services or home video; or even trying to frustrate access to radio-broadcast or online-service rights for the hot games so you can’t get play-by-play commentary unless you subscribe to their sports channel.

Such situations lead to customers taking out multiple pay-TV subscriptions and dealing with multiple set-top boxes in order to get the video content that they want. That is if the dominant pay-TV provider will only deliver their service in an “end-to-end” fashion requiring the customer to install their infrastructure and set-top box.

Personally, I would like to see limitations placed on exclusive-access contracts for pay-TV channels so that a particular MVPD (multichannel video programming distributor – a Pay-TV provider) cannot tie up channels for their own exclusive access. It could be facilitated through an open “wholesale-retail” market for each content provider and pay-TV provider where content packages and channels are sold to pay-TV providers as though the content provider is a wholesaler and the pay-TV provider is a retailer.

In the USA, the FCC have achieved this goal with satellite TV by making it hard for cable-TV companies to tie up content so that DirecTV and DISH can’t screen that content or have to pay too much. They are working towards extending the rules about that situation to encompass telcos and others using IPTV methods.

There will be other issues that need to be looked at such as differentiating between “first-run” and repertory screening when determining the conditions of a contract affecting a show’s broadcast in order to prohibit tying up of shows so it takes too long for them to appear on home video or other screening platforms.

Net Neutrality

Another key issue that is raised in the context of Internet services is Net Neutrality. This is where everyone has equal access to the Internet as a highway.

It is compared to practices by various telcos and ISPs who would make it hard for customers to gain access to Internet services unless the company providing these services paid the ISP for a high-throughput path. This was feared because it would make it harder for small-time publishers and new startups to be seen by their customers.

It has been the subject of debate and is something I mention in the same breath as competitive Internet service. A competitive Internet market would provide proper benefit to customers in the form of value for money and if a customer couldn’t benefit from a particular Internet resource like, say, Wikipedia; they would want to “jump ship” to someone who provided the proper throughput.


To maintain a healthy Internet-service market that allows us to make the best use of this technology, there needs to be a strong effort to assure sustainable competition. This includes government departments that oversee telecommunications and competitive-market issues maintaining that level of competition by removing encumbrances and protections for established operators along with limiting market consolidation.

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Windows 10 Start Menu–not your father’s old station wagon

Windows 10 Start Menu

Start Menu in Windows 10 – the pop-up look from Windows 7 with the tiles from Windows 8

Windows 7 and its predecessors had a traditional pop-up start menu with an option to see all the programs or the frequently-used programs on your computer. This was presented in a list rather than a cluster of icons or tiles.

But Windows 8 headed down a totally different path with a dashboard-style layout hat has all of the programs or a user-defined set of programs represented as tiles. This had thrown many computer users off the operating system and caused some unnecessary worry.

The Start Menu

Windows 10 brought back the pop-up Start Menu that looks like a combination of the traditional Start menu and Windows 8’s tile-based look. This includes the famed “Live Tiles” that are always updated with new content thus working like a dashboard.

In the early days of your experience with Windows 10, you can mess around getting that tile-based Start Menu area looking how you want. If you run Windows 10 on a touchscreen laptop or a computer with a touchscreen monitor, this menu style can work just as well for you.

Getting it right!

You can organise your tiles in to groups by dragging them in to the space between two groups to create a group or dragging them in to a group to have them part of that group. This can be done in both the traditional pop-up view and the Tablet Mode view mentioned later on at the end.

Then you can name each group by right-clicking or “dwelling” your finger on the group name then typing in the name you want to give it.

Browsing for that program

Windows 10 Start Menu - All Apps highlighted

Looking for that program – click All Apps on the Start Menu

This will be a situation for those of you who have held out with Windows 7 or its predecessors, where you will be wanting to know where all of your programs have gone even though they aren’t on the Start Menu or Taskbar.

Browsing for that particular program? Click on “All Apps” to see a list of all programs on your computer. Then, click on any of the letters to bring up a list of alphabetical letters. Subsequently, you just need to click on the first letter of the program’s title to be sent straight to a list of the programs beginning with that letter.

You then have two options to have your program readily accessible. One is to “pin” your program to the Taskbar so it is always accessible and this setup may remind you of the station-preset buttons on your car radio. On the other hand, you could “pin” your program to the Start Menu where it will appear as a tile which you shift around until it is in the right place for you.

Tablet Mode

Windows 10 Tablet Mode

How Windows 10 looks when you use Tablet Mode

The Tablet Mode gives you a view that is not dissimilar to how you have operated your Windows 8 or Windows 8.1 computer. It is automatically selected if you detach a keyboard from your detachable-style “2-in-1” tablet or fold over a convertible notebook so the screen becomes a tablet. But you can manually select this mode on any Windows 10 computer.

Windows 10 Notification Menu buttons wiht Tablet Mode highlighted

How to select Tablet Mode manually

As I have said just before, this doesn’t just those of you who work with tablet computers or 2-in-1 devices. You can use it with a laptop or desktop computer and it doesn’t need a touchscreen to benefit from this function. Rather you would use your mouse or trackpad to navigate around the screen and a scroll-enabled mouse earns its keep by allowing you to scroll downwards. In the Notification Menu, you have a button labelled Tablet Mode which you can use to toggle between this mod and the regular Desktop Mode.

I would recommending having your screen in the Tablet mode if you are trying to sort out the Start Menu groups after an upgrade because you can use the whole of your screen’s real estate to do this.

Search Bar

There is an always-visible Search Bar on the Taskbar which you can fill in your search requests for local or Web-hosted resources. This works with Cortana which is the personal digital assistant in the same vein as Siri or Google Now.

Here, ordering a search is as simple as clicking or tapping on the search area and typing in what you are after.


Anyone who has worked with any of Windows’ incarnations will find the Windows 10 Start Menu as something that doesn’t daunt you but allows you to get more out of the operating system.

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Work in progress on

Hi everyone! is undergoing a few improvements. One of these is to have a new look that works well for mobile, tablet and regular (desktop and laptop) computers so you can still enjoy reading the good articles on whatever device you are using.

Soon, those of you who follow this website by email or RSS (Webfeed) methods will be moved towards the FeedBlitz system. This will be in order to benefit from better feed targeting and also newer email subscribers will benefit from an improved onboarding experience where you can catch up with previous featured articles.

It will take some time to iron out the bugs here and there but you will benefit when things become smoother.

With regards

Simon Mackay

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Digitally-delivered content now has the same level of consumer protection as other products

ArticleHouses Of Westminster - copy Parliament UK

UK consumer rights laws now cover digital downloads | Engadget

Consumer Rights Act 2015 Could Aid Clarity on Broadband Prices |

From the horse’s mouth

UK Government – Department of Business, Innovation & Skills

Press Release

Consumer Rights Act 2015 (UK)

Chapter 3 (covers digital content)

My Comments

Software delivered via app stores now under the same consumer-protection remit as physical goods

Software delivered via app stores now under the same consumer-protection remit as physical goods

A consumer-affairs issue that often crops up when it comes to goods and services that are digitally-delivered is how customers are protected if things go awry with these goods. This is because software, books and other content are increasingly being delivered “over the wire” from the supplier to the user such as through app stores rather than as a physical package. As well, an increasing amount of computer software including games that are sold through “bricks and mortar” retail stores are being delivered as a “physical+digital” form. This is typically a box containing a CD or USB stick with a download client or a software-entitlement card with a product key number but the full installation requires you to download the software on to your computer.

.. as movies and games delivered to games consoles and set-top devices via the Internet

.. as movies and games delivered to games consoles and set-top devices via the Internet

But a lot of jurisdictions tend to place different standards of consumer protection on the digitally-delivered goods and services compared to physically-delivered goods and services like refrigerators, computer and home-network hardware, books or Blu-Ray Discs.They seem to allow for balky downloads or for a digital-content supplier to implement digital-rights-management technologies to protect their content. Typically this has shown up as electronically-supplied goods being covered under a separate statute with lesser “teeth” while other goods are covered under the main consumer-protection statutes. This also applied to services like broadband Internet, landline and mobile telephony, and Webhosting-type services.

The UK have tackled this issue by amalgamating digitally-delivered goods and services under the same consumer-protection law as regular goods and services when they enacted the Consumer Rights Act 2015. Here, there are legal rights of remediation if the digital items came through faulty like a bug-ridden game, including situations where a feature in that program and was part of the description doesn’t work. This even encompasses situations that may come about if the host device crashed due to a buggy program; as well as assurance of access continuity if the service provider’s equipment went AWOL.

There needs to be a similar level of protection for small businesses and community organisations when it comes to the supply of technology so that these users have the same level of protection as the ordinary consumer. This is because these kind of users will purchase goods in the same manner as the ordinary consumer, including purchasing “residential-rated” goods due to the limited know-how of their staff / volunteers and their budget. As well, they don’t have continual access to legal resources in the same manner that a big business would have, so they wouldn’t be in a position to have supply contracts properly assessed. This also applies to people who are running “micro-businesses” from their home for such activities like blogging / small-time journalism, Web-site development, cleaning services and the like.

Another issue that has to be raised is supply of these goods and services across national borders, which is something that is very common with digitally-supplied goods and services. What would happen if a piece of downloaded software that was bought from an American supplier by a Briton failed or if a British software developer supplied a balky WordPress theme to an Australian blogger?

What I see of this law is for a major jurisdiction to bring the spirit of proper consumer protection normally enjoyed with physical goods to digitally-supplied goods and encompass it under one statute. Jurisdictions that work to the Westminster style of government, like most of the British Commonwealth countries, may find this legislation easier to implement with very few changes.

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AT&T charging less for Gigabit Internet service in some cities–Why?

Article US Flag By Dbenbenn, Zscout370, Jacobolus, Indolences, Technion. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Want cheaper AT&T gigabit service? Move to a Google Fiber city | The Register

My Comments

Linksys EA8500 broadband router press picture courtesy of Linksys USA

A competitive Internet service market coming to more US cities

Regular readers will know about Google Fiber showing up in an increasing number of US cities and bringing real competition to the US fixed-line broadband Internet market.

Before Google Fiber came to these cities, there was a very cosy cartel between the local “Baby Bell” telecommunications company who provided DSL Internet service and the local cable TV company who provided cable Internet service. This led to a woeful Internet experience where there wasn’t value for money and, in some cases, there was poor customer service, something that affected householders and small-business owners in most of the USA. The big telcos and the cable TV companies even were working with state governments to frustrate the creation of competitive services so that they can maintain the status quo.

Now the presence of Google Fiber has even raised the idea that you could sign up to AT&T’s 1Gbit/s GigaPower service for an ask of US$70 in Nashville or Atlanta while the same service would go for US$110. There was even a situation in Raleigh where the existing ISPs were deploying high-speed networks in that city with a photo of AT&T’s U-Verse announcement door hanger on someone’s front door appearing in the comments trail of that article.

Personally, I would see it become real that any American city that Google Fiber touches will become an attractive city to live or run a small business in because the costs of decent Internet service have reduced due to the arrival of competition.

Keep up the work, FCC and the competing Internet service providers including Google!

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York to become the UK battleground for next-generation broadband


York UK aerial view courtesy of DACP [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

York is intending to become a battleground for next-generation broadband Internet

Battle for your broadband custom in York hotting up | ThinkBroadband

Sky first ultrafast broadband connections | Advanced Television

From the horse’s mouth

Sky Broadband

Press Release

My Comments

York in the UK is showing up as a market where there is some intense competition for next-generation broadband Internet service.

This has come about due to fibre-optic infrastructure being laid down by CityFibre in conjunction with Sky and TalkTalk for a fibre-to-the-premises network capable of operating to 940Mbps. Just lately, Sky had connected their first customer to this network.

It brought out a war of words about what qualifies a city as an “ultrafast” or “gigabit” city when it comes to the presence of next-generation broadband Internet service. The European Union and the UK Government qualified a residential Internet service “ultrafast” as being greater than 100Mbps “at the customer’s door”. But CityFibre were using the term “Gigabit City” to qualify where there is an Internet service with a bandwidth capable of close to a Gigabit per second and is an actual revenue-providing service rather than a trial service.

It is feasible to call many of the UK’s cities as being “ultrafast” when it comes to next-generation broadband deployment because there was services of at least 152Mbps bandwidth penetrating 90% of these cities. Then the other qualifier was the presence of fibre-to-the-premises service with Kingston Upon Hull having 30.9% coverage.

Questions were also raised about BT Openreach providing full fibre-to-the-premises service in York with their central-activities district having native FTTP coverage of 12.4% and the rest of that city having 3.25%. As well, Hyperoptic had wired a large number of apartment blocks in York with FTTP broadband,

The competition issue that may need to be resolved is whether there is any “building-over” taking place where competing infrastructure providers are deploying their infrastructure in to each other’s territory. In a similar vein, there is also the issue of the availability of competing retail Internet service across many or all of the different infrastructures that exist. This could come to a point where the UK will need to determine a policy that affects competing next-generation broadband Internet services delivered using competing last-mile infrastructures in urban areas. This will have to encompass competitors “building over” each others’ infrastructure including access to multiple-premises buildings like apartment or office blocks and shopping centres.

What is happening in York could lead to a very interesting road for delivering fibre-based next-generation broadband in the UK’s urban areas. As well, it could lead to next-generation broadband Internet that is increasingly affordable for most households and small businesses in these areas and yields increased value for money for these users.

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Telstra offers the Android answer to the classic brick phone

Article Telstra T-logo courtesy of Telstra Corporation Australia

Telstra takes on the bush with a rural-friendly phone | GadgetGuy

From the horse’s mouth


Tough Max Android smartphone

Product Page

ZTE (OEM supplier)

Product Page

My Comments

Telstra have shown some interest to the rural community by offering long-distance phone tariffs that are cheaper than their competitors for calls from rural and regional communities to the nearest state capitals which represents the kind of long-distance call someone would frequently make when they live in these areas. Similarly, I have always recommended Telstra or any “mobile virtual network” operator that uses the Telstra mobile-telephony infrastructure as a preferred mobile-telephony service for those of you who are in rural areas or make regular forays to these rural areas such as to visit that “bush bolthole” or maintain that farm that you have a few head of cattle on.

Now they have shown their chops again for this community of telecommunications users by offering an Android-based answer to that classic Motorola “brick” mobile phone that was so beloved of tradesmen and other outdoor types because of its simple ruggedness.

Unlike most Android phones, this phone has the ability to be connected to an external antenna which would improve on reception in rural areas as well as a cellular-network front-end optimised for long-distance reception. It is housed in a rugged casing which absorbs drops and is rated to IP67 which means the Telstra Tough Max is dust-resistant and can survive being dunked in a pool of water up to 1 metre deep.

This phone works on Android 5.0 Lollipop which means it can gain access to the apps on the Google Play app store. It has a 4.7” HD screen which may not match most of today’s desirable Android smartphones, uses removable microSD storage and can link with Bluetooth peripherals or your Wi-Fi home network. But surprisingly, it will support wireless charging when you pair it with a Qi charger. It doesn’t necessarily have all the frills of today’s smartphones but, like the Motorola “brick”, it is pitched towards users who place importance on durability.

The Telstra Tough Max is available for around AUD$500 outright or best paired on a subsidised-equipment contract with any of Telstra’s mobile phone plans to take advantage of what this network has to offer with the cheapest of these starting from AUD$62 per month.

If Telstra keeps going with phones that please the “bush brigade” like this one, they could work towards a phablet-style unit with NFC as a higher-end model to court this market along with similarly-rugged accessories. Similarly, they could work towards a Mi-Fi or wireless NAS that also espouses this same level of ruggedness, courting this same community.

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BT to go IPv6 across their consumer Internet services

ArticleBT 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:

UPDATE3 BT to Deploy IPv6 Across Entire Network by December 2016 | ISPReview

My Comments

Another step towards widespread IPv6 adoption has taken place with BT, one of Britain’s major ISPs, moving their UK customers including households towards IPv6. This is after Comcast had provided a 100% IPv6 rollout to their customers in August 2014 and is a sign of the times for big ISPs who have the large customer bases because they are running out of public IPv4 addresses to issue to customers.IPv6 logo courtesy of World IPv6 Launch program

There is a goal to have half of the UK covered by April 2016 then to have all covered by Christmas that year. They will also want to get this going with a soft launch rather than with a lot of publicity.

This will typically be in a dual-stack setup like most other IPv6 ISP developments but customers who use their Home Hub 5 routers. Home Hub 4 routers will be IPv6-ready after an upgrade.  But this can also work with third-party routers that implement IPv6 in a dual-stack manner, a feature that is being asked of for recent premium and mid-tier equipment but is starting to become more common. Some of you may use a router that can be enabled for IPv6 after a firmware upgrade and it is wise to check at your equipment manufacturer’s Website for any newer firmware that allows for this. Typically, you just have to enable IPv6 on your router’s WAN (Internet) connections to have this function enabled which is something you do via its management Web page.

As for your equipment, your computer, tablet and smartphone will be IPv6 ready if it is running a recent operating system and most of the high-end home and small-business NAS devices will support IPv6. At the moment, if you are after a network-capable printer that supports IPv6, you will probably have to purchase a small-business device from one of the big names.

What it is showing is that IPv6 will become a strong reality for the provisioning and sustenance of your current or next Internet service. If BT can go IPv6 for their Internet services, why can’t Telstra do it for their BigPond Internet services?

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TPG poised to be Australia’s Hyperoptic


TPG to offer fibre-to-the-basement Internet to these kind of apartment blocks

TPG to offer fibre-to-the-basement Internet to these kind of apartment blocks

TPG Is Still Building Its Own Competitor To The NBN | Gizmodo Australia

My Comments

As some of you may know from a few previous posts, Hyperoptic is an Internet service provider who runs their own fibre-optic infrastructure and services apartment and office buildings and similar developments in an increasing number of UK cities with next-generation broadband. They are standing as viable competition against BT Openreach who are effectively owned by British Telecom and offering increased value by deploying FTTP installations in to these buildings whereas the Openreach setup will be based around fibre-copper setups, either FTTC (fibre to the street cabinet) or FTTB (fibre to the basement) setups with VDSL2 to the customer’s premises.

As well, they even offered customers the option to sign up for this service “by the month” rather than a 12-month or longer contract. This was pitched at people who are on short-term work placements or are living “month-by-month” and may not rent the same apartment for a year or more.

In Australia, iiNet recently started to offer a competitive fibre-to-the-building Internet service for apartment blocks and similar developments to answer the National Broadband Network efforts concerning next-generation broadband and this effort has continued since TPG took over iiNet. Like Hyperoptic’s effort in the UK market, this is based on fibre-optic infrastructure that they own rather than the National Broadband Network who are working in a similar manner to BT’s Openreach, thus allowing them to charge cheaper prices for their Internet service and offer better value.

They are different from Hyperoptic because they implement fibre-to-the-building technology where there is copper cabling between the basement and the customer’s apartment, office or shop. But TPG could be in a position to offer fibre-to-the-premises for these users if they so wished to.

A question that will be raised in conjunction with these competitive deployments is whether NBN and competing next-generation-broadband infrastructure can coexist with each other in the same neigbbourhood or building; including whether a retail operator can sell their service on one or more different infrastructures . This could open up infrastructure-level competition for Australian users who live or run businesses in these developments. Similarly, it could be about lighting up “Gigaclear-style” fibre-optic rollouts to rural, regional and peri-urban areas using infrastructure not under the control of NBN.

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HP integrates secure firmware practices in to their enterprise laser printers


HP adds protection against firmware attacks to enterprise printers | PC World

My Comments

An issue that has become a reality with dedicated-purpose devices like printers, network infrastructure hardware and the Internet Of Everything is making sure these devices run software that isn’t a threat to their users’ safety and security and the integrity of their users’ data.

Most device manufacturers tackle this through a regular software-update program but this requires users to download and deploy the newer firmware which is the software that runs these devices. It is also the same path where, in some cases, these devices acquire extra functionality. AVM, a German network-hardware manufacturer, took this further by providing automatic updating of their routers’ firmware so users don’t have to worry about making sure their router is up to date and secure.

But Hewlett-Packard have approached this issue from another angle by implementing watchdog procedures that make sure rogue software isn’t installed and running on their devices. Here, the printers implement a detection routine for unauthorised BIOS and firmware modifications in a similar manner to what is implemented with business-grade computers. This effort is based on their experience with developing regular computers including equipment pitched at business and government applications.

Here, when the printer validates the integrity of its BIOS during the start-up phase and loads a clean known-to-be-good copy of the BIOS if the software in the machine is compromised. Then, when the machine loads its firmware, it uses code-signing to verify the integrity of that firmware in a similar manner to what is done with most desktop and mobile operating systems. The firmware also implements an activity checker that identifies if memory operations are “against the grain” similar to well-bred endpoint-protection software. The watchdog software will cause the machine to restart from the known-to-be-good firmware if this happens.

Initially this functionality will be rolled out to this year’s LaserJet Enterprise printers and MFCs with any of the OfficeJet Enterprise X or LaserJet Enterprise machines made since 2011 being able to benefit from some of this functionality courtesy of a software update. There is a wish for this kind of functionality to trickle down to the consumer and small-business desktop printers that HP makes.

What I like of this is that HP has put forward the idea of continual software integrity checking in to embedded and dedicated devices. This isn’t a cure-all for security issues but has to be considered along with a continual software-update cycle. Personally these two mechanisms could be considered important for most dedicated-purpose device applications where compromised software can threaten personal safety, security or privacy; with the best example being Internet routers, modems and gateways.

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Hotel guestroom phones expected to integrate with our devices


Hotel guestroom telephone

There is an effort to see these in-room phones earn their keep further

How guestroom phones have become multipurpose tools | Hotel Management

My Comments

This article has highlighted how the phone in a hotel room has earnt its keep. Primarily, this was seen by a hotel or motel as a revenue-generating device because of the local, long-distance and international calls placed by guests. It is even though guests who wanted to save money used services that allowed calls to be charged against prepaid cards, one’s own telephone account or credit cards; or made a brief call and asked the respondent to call them at the hotel.

This was taken further with guests carrying their own smartphones where they (or their employer / business) picked up the tab for the calls, along with VoIP services of the Skype or Viber ilk that offered voice or video calls for free.

But these phones still earn their place in the hotel room. Commonly they are used to contact hotel services like Housekeeping, the Front Desk or the restaurant to facilitate dinner bookings or in-room dining. For some older people or those at risk of strokes, diabetic comas or seizures, the phone can be used as part of an “are-you-OK” arrangement, something that has been of benefit for me. This also leads to these phones serving as a “preferred emergency contact point” because of it relating to the room you are calling from.

Increasingly hotels are deploying smartphone apps to allow you to facilitate these services in a more “express” manner and these work alongside the apps that run on the in-room iPads. Young people do use these apps but the in-room phone still serves as a fallback if you need to ask further questions or convey further details. this fallback applies if your smartphone’s battery dies or you want to use it for another activity.

But the phone suppliers are realising now that these phones can do more than just be a telephone extension. Traditionally, they offered a phone that has a built-in AM/FM clock radio but they are taking it further by integrating USB charging ports for your gadgets and / or Bluetooth speakers for music playback and speakerphone functionality.

What can be done to improve on these phones?

One way to improve on them in the hotel context is to have a site-configured Bluetooth device identity that reflects the hotel name and your room number. This would make it easier to identify what you are pairing your smartphone to.

Similarly, there will be an expectation for increased synergy amongst all of the technology within a hotel room including the devices a guest brings along with them and this synergy will be primarily room-focused. For example, it could be desired to pair your smartphone to the hotel room’s phone then have your music that you have on your phone play through the TV’s speakers for better and louder sound.

To some extent, USB connectivity can also be about adding functionality to these phones such as serving as an audio device or USB hub for computing devices.


What really is happening is that although it becomes so easy to write off certain technology due to other technology supplanting it, such technology can still serve a complementary role. This is important if we look at the devices beyond what they current do and look at what they can do.

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