simonmackay Archive

The Nickname field is now of use for mobile assistant platforms

Article

Samsung Galaxy Note 2 smartphone

Android and iOS can support contacts’ nicknames with Google Now and Siri

Use Nicknames With Siri And Google Now To Reach Contacts Faster | Gizmodo

My Comments

Most smartphone operating systems have in their contact list a field called “Nickname”. This is typically of use when you have a personal nickname, relative-shortcut name like “Mum” or similar name for a contact. But in most cases, this field isn’t shown up on call logs or contact lists.

Now Siri and Google Now make use of the Nickname field to interpret instructions to call particular people. Google Now does provide inherent support for relationship-shortcut names but you can use the Nickname field for manually determining a contact’s nickname. Both voice assistants can query which person a nickname pertains to which can come in handy if you are calling one of many siblings or someone with an obscure nickname or a nickname that is spelt a certain way but pronounced another way.

How could this be improved upon?

Nicknames appearing in the contact-display context

At the moment, the nickname functionality only works in the contact-search context but I would like to see it also work in the contact-display context especailly when a call or text comes in from the contact or you browse through your contact list or recent / missed call logs. This could be facilitated through the use of a “Display As” field which shows a user-chosen field or combination of concatenated fields for a particular contact.

Support for a phonetic representation of a nickname

These systems could support the ability to store a phonetic representation of a nickname which can come in handy when you say that nickname one way but have it written another way. The phonetic representation would be used for voice-based search and voice-based call announcements.

Security issues with nicknames

Nicknames may expose security issues when they fall in to the wrong hands. It is because people use these nicknames as a “password” or “word of trust” within their community.  But confidence tricksters using familiar nicknames as a way to “get in to someone’s mind” and have them acquiesce to their inappropriate scheme. In some cases, a nickname that is a symbol of endearment may be used as a weapon against one or both of the participants.

Having nicknames as a “secure” field which is only shown to trusted users is important to preserve this kind of security. For example, if a phone shows a list of missed calls or text messages on the notification screen, it could show a standard “first-name last-name” or “company-name” while locked but show the nickname while unlocked. Similarly, voice-level biometrics can be used to authenticate a user who is “searching by nickname” using a voice-based personal assistant.

Further improvements needed for phone contact lists

Handling of common phone numbers

Another area where a lot of contact list programs miss out on is handling phone calls or other communication that comes in from pbone numbers, emails or other contact addresses common to two or more contacts.

The most common example is a landline phone number that serves as a “catch-all” number for a household, workgroup or business. In this case, you may instruct the voice assistant to call a person on that landline by saying “person-name Home” or “person-name Work” or something similar. This will place the call to that landline. The same thing will happen if you contact someone else who lives or works behind that common phone number.

The problem rears its ugly head when a call comes in from that phone number or you review your call logs and you see the first alphabetically-listed contact related to that “catch-all” number even though other contacts in your contact list are behind that number. Here you don’t know whom it was who called you or whom you placed that call to.

This could be facilitated using a dynamically-concatenated display field for phone numbers with something like [<company-name>(caller-name-1. caller-name-2, or caller-name-n] for callers with a populated company-name field; or [caller-name-1, caller-name-2 or caller-name-n] for callers missing a company-name field i.e. households. Or you may create a dedicated contact entry for the “catch-all” phone number such as a distinct “name-address-number” entry for a company or household. Then you add “common fields” like work number, home number or company name to the entries associated with the people with that same “roof” in common. The name associated with the dedicated contact entry shows up in the call log when you call that number or on your phone’s screen when they ring you from that “catch-all” telephone.

Conclusion

At least something is being done to make sure that the contact management software and voice-activated personal assistant software  is tied in to how we view our contacts so we see our contacts our way.

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A code of conduct is now called for advertising bandwidth on UK small-business Internet services

Article

Ofcom extends speed code of practice to business broadband | ThinkBroadband

My Comments

Pantiles - Royal Tunbridge Wells picture courtesy of Chris Whippet [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The Pantiles at Royal Tunbridge Wells – representative of a shopping strip with small businesses

Previously, I wrote an article about the main UK ISPs working on a code of practice for selling Internet service to small businesses. This is mainly about calling a minimum service quality for these Internet services.

But BT Business, Daisy Communications, KCOM, Talk Talk Business, Virgin Media, XLN and Zen Internet have agreed to a code of practice for selling business Internet service, which will come in to effect from 20 September 2016.

This code of service primarily affects the bandwidth and service quality concerning the business Internet service.

It calls for transparent accurate information on broadband speeds at the point of sale. This covers providing knowledge of estimated download and upload line-level speeds and, where available, the “real” throughput speeds as early as possible through the sale process. There will also be detailed information about the bandwidth of the service after the sale and on the ISP’s Website. The service speed that is disclosed has to be as accurate as possible and the ISP has to deliver this information to their resellers and solution providers who onsell the service.

If there are issues with the business Internet service not “hitting the mark” when it comes to throughput, the ISP has to manage these issues and help the business customer when that problem is raised by the customer.

The code of practice also include a “walk-out” right where the business custome can leave the Internet-service contract without penalty if the dowload speed falls below and is consistently below the agreed speed even after the ISP and business customer have had an opportunity to rectify the issue. Of course, the business would have to return any customer-premises equipment leased to them by the ISP.

A question that was called out in the article was whether a business customer on a multi-year contract could walk out due to substandard performance encountered during a time where the Internet service is overloaded at a time where residential users are placing intense demand on that service.

But there are a few gaps missing that may affect small businesses.

One of these is that the code of practice doesn’t apply to fixed-line-speed services like cable-modem services or fibre-to-the-premises services. Nor will it apply to “dedicated-line” business services like leased-line services, Ethernet-First-Mile services and Ethernet-over-FTTC services.

The Ethernet-over-FTTC service was called out in the article’s comment trail because it is offered as an entry-level dedicated-line service for small and medium businesses. Here, it is known to exhibit performance traits where the core-network bandwidth is predictable but the access-network bandwidth isn’t predictable.

But the commenters raised the possibility that a business could sign up to an Internet service that has a service-level-agreement which would cover situations and services beyond the code-of-practice’s scope. Similarly, could it be feasible for an ISP or telco to strike a service-level-agreement that is modelled on this code of practice and uses it as a fallback measure?

There is another issue that wasn’t addressed in this code of practice which can affect many small businesses and community organisations. It is where a business cannot see out a contract due to events in the business’s or organisation’s life-cycle such as when the business changes hands or the worst comes to the worst. Similarly, it doesn’t address a situation where a business changes location and the dynamics of the Internet service can be affected by that change.

At least a few steps are taking place to provide the same level of customer protection for small-business owners that consumers would enjoy when they sign up to Internet service.

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New ISP players working against established players to provide competitive Internet service

Article

Gigaclear and Hyperoptic Highlight Problems with UK Broadband and BT | ISPReview.co.uk

My Comments

The articl

Aylesbury Vale countryside picture courtesy of Adam Bell (FlyingDodo)

Questions are now raised regarding independent operators providing real broadband to the countryside

e I read in ISPReview has highlighted some problems that affect the existence of competitive next-generation broadband Internet service in the UK. These same problems can also affect other countries like those in the North American, South East Asian and Australasian areas to varying degrees.

It is based on interviews with Matthew Hare from Gigaclear, Dana Tobak from Hyperoptic and Scott Coats from the Wireless Infrastructure Group, all whom are running up against an incumbent telecommunications company who effectively owns the infrastructure in most of the country and is effectively given a fair bit of blessing from a national or regional government. This can be through state aid as part of a broadband-improvement scheme or through a legal “right of way” that proscribes competitors from operating in the area of concern. In the case of the UK, it is Openreach who is a BT spin-off that manages the telecommunications infrastructure in that country and they have been dominating the state-assisted “Broadband Delivery UK” projects that provide next-generation broadband to most of rural UK.

Apartment block

.. and apartment blocks in big cities

Issues that were raised were:

  • The dominance of a particular entity when it comes to delivering infrastructure for next-generation broadband in the UK
  • The costs associated with deploying new infrastructure
  • Business-hostile local-government property rates that affect the provision of service infrastructure by a private company, especially fibre-optic cable used for next-generation telecommunications
  • The difficulty of gaining access to the “pits, poles and pipes” infrastructure that BT Openreach owns or has exclusive access to; and
  • Whether BT and Openreach be fully and legally separated such as to make Openreach an entity controlled by the national government or local governments; or have it as a separate company.

Gigaclear are providing a 5Gbps fibre-to-the-premises service in to rural areas and commmuter towns in East Anglia and some of the Home Counties while Hyperoptic are providing a 1Gbps fibre-to-the-premises service to large multi-dwelling units in most of the UK’s main cities.

Gigaclear has effectively invested GBP£1000 / property and has found that the operating costs for pure-fibre setups are less than the costs for fibre-copper because there is no need to run electricity down the line and it is a modern robust technology. But they have paid many times the projected cost for some deployments like in Kent due to shodddy workmanship.

Matthew Hare from Gigaclear was highlighting BT swallowing up most of the BDUK contracts but he has picked up a few smaller Phase 2 contracts like projects in Gloucestershire, Essex and Berkshire. He had noticed a few of the local authorities being helpful about these rollouts like in Kent where Kent county council de-scoped (provided exclusive access) for Gigaclear projects compared to Rutlant where the Rutland county council and BT overbuilt Gigaclear with FTTC service.

This comes to the big question about whether an overbuild by one or more competing operators permit real infrastructure-level service competition. Some countries, most notably France have found that an overbuild by a competing infrastructure provider can achieve this level of competition.

Dana Tobak from Hyperoptic highlighted that fibre-copper technology like fibre-to-the-cabinet is a short-lived asset. She also highlighted the issue of access to the “pits, poles and pipes” owned by Openreach being a burdensome process for competing operators. This ranged from costs to onerous procedures and restrictions sucn as not being able to provide business broadband services.

There was also the issue of business-level property rates and taxes levied on the infrastructure where the workflow associated with these costs was onerous thanks to the Valuations Office Agency. This made it difficult for an operator to factor in the property rates due on the infrastructure when they are costing a rollout. To the same extent, the property taxes levied by a local government could be seen as a bargaining chip especially where the local government is behind the rollout in order to see effective increase in their local land value and tax base.

The question associated with an independent Openreach managing the infrastructure was whether this would breed real service competition. An issue that was highlighted was that Openreach could focus on the premium pure-fibre-based service and make life hard for small-time operators like regional-focused operators or startups who want ot serve the British market. But Matthew Hare reckons that it is better for the UK, especially rural areas to see Openreach as an independent operator.

Here, ISPReview have raised the issue of competitive next-generation broadband provision with independent “own-infrastructure” operators and covered some of the main hurdles facing these operators. This includes proper management of costs including infrastructure-based property taxes and rates; the creation of sustainable competition including build-over rights; incumbent operators’ behaviour including preferential treatment by governments; and access to the same  “pits, pipes and poles” by competing operators.

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Elementary video software available for peanuts

It is worth knowing that if you are wanting to dabble with video editing, there are some options out there that offer more functionality than what Apple and Microsoft offer for their platforms but are within the budget range of most hobbyists, small businesses and community organisations.

NCH and Wondershare offer video-editing and video-conversion tools that are easy to use for someone with modest computer skills but don’t cost an arm and a leg. Here, the video conversion options are NCH Prism (US$50) and Wondershare Video Converter (US$50) and your video-editing options are NCH VideoPad (US$69) and Wondershare Filmora (US$50).

I have experienced these tools or seen them in action for myself with, for example, my former pastor turning out a video of my church’s recent overseas missionary trip using Wondershare Filmora. He was able to get a very impressive video without having to face a steep learning curve.

These video tools can earn their keep for turning out “small-time” video efforts without having to face either paying through the nose for the software or taking a long time to learn the software. In some cases, they may make you justify the use of the video abilities in your DSLR or premium compact digital camera or you buying a digital camcorder.

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Rotating videos shot with smartphones

When you shoot video using a smartphone or tablet held in the vertical (portrait) position, it will come out vertical and you may have to rotate your head to watch it comfortably on most display situations. Even if you use a camcorder or high-end digital camera to shoot your video footage, you may find that you have shot some footage at an awkward angle and may want to correct that.

But you can rotate the video footage so it appears right-way-up when you play it. Here, the video will come out in a “pillar-box” form when played full-screen with black borders on each side of the vision.

You can do this with both the main regular-computer operating systems using either an application that comes with the operating system or available as a free download from the vendor.

Apple Macintosh

Current versions of QuickTime Player for OS X have the ability to rotate the video and save a rotated copy.

To do this, open the video in QuickTime Player, then select “Rotate Video” under QuickTime Player’s Edit Menu to get it the “right way up”. Once you are satisfied, press Command-S on the keyboard to save a rotated copy of the clip.

Windows

If you download Windows Movie Maker, which is part of the free Windows Live Essentials package available from Microsoft, you can use this elementary video editor tool to rotate your video clips.

Here, you import your video clip to Windows Movie Maker, then you rotate your video clip using the Rotate buttons on the toolbar. Once you are satisfied, save a copy of the clip in any of the formats that Windows Movie Maker supports.

Conclusion

At least Apple and Windows offer inclusive solutions to correct your video footage that you take with your smartphone so you can make it comfortably watchable.

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Infocus ups the capacity for its Kangaroo mini-PC

Article

The $170 Kangaroo Plus pocketable PC doubles the RAM and storage | Windows Central

Previous Coverage on HomeNetworking01.info

InFocus Presents A PC As Big As A Smartphone

From the horse’s mouth

Infocus

Press Release

My Comments

InFocus, known for their range of value-priced projectors, had previously released the Kangaroo mini-PC which is about the size of a smartphone. But like most of the “Next Unit Of Computing” devices which represent the ultra-small “fixed-location” computers, this model used an Intel Atom CPU, 2Gb RAM and up to 32Gb solid-state storage. This made people think of them as being “toys” rather than tools.

But InFocus raised the game for this series of computers by offering the Kangaroo Plus “deluxe” version of their small-form-factor computer. Here, this is equipped with 64Gb of data storage capacity and 4Gb RAM which is considered iy most computer users to be a realistic amount of baseline memory. It was offered in response to customers expressing a need for real capacities on both the “primary-storage” RAM and the non-volatile secondary storage.

There is still the ability to use an Apple iPad as the display and input surface for the InFocus Kangaroo through the use of a special cable and an iOS app. It also works with the Kangaroo Dock expansion module so you can safely upgrade your existing Kangaroo pocket computer to the bigger-capacity model without dumping that accessory.

Could this be a sign of hope for small-form-factor desktop computers to have specifications that can allow for most elementary desktop uses? Would this also be a sign that these computers could end up being specified as part of a standard operating environment?

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Product Review–Brother PJ-773 Wireless Mobile Thermal Printer

Introduction

I am reviewing the Brother PJ-773 PocketJet wireless mobile thermal printer which is a highly-compact wireless-network-capable mobile printer. It is also the first mobile printer that I have reviewed that can work with a Wi-Fi network rather than having to be connected to the host computer for it to work. There wasn’t even a need for me to install or plug in a network adaptor for this functionality to come about.

This mobile printer implements direct-thermal printing technology that was initially used by fax machines to turn out incoming faxes. But Brother has rebuilt their faith in this technology for on-the-road transactional printing by using thermal-printing paper that is better than those rolls of thermal paper used with those fax machines.

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 Wireless Mobile Thermal Printer

Print Paper Trays Connection
B/W A4 single-sheet USB 3.0
Direct Thermal A4 paper roll with roll attachment 802.11g/n Wi-Fi wireless
IPv6

Prices

Printer

The machine’s standard price: AUD$879

Optional Extras:

DC car charger (cigar lighter): AUD$49.00

DC car charger (direct wire): AUD$49.00

Carry Case and roll holder – rugged design: AUD$99.00

Rubber carry case: – rugged design: AUD$39.00

Vinyl carry pouch: AUD$19.00

Car mount with roll holder: AUD$199

Paper Guide – cut sheets: AUD$69

Paper Guide – paper rolls: AUD$69.00

Thermal paper

Standard A4 thermal paper (100 sheets): AUD$19

20-year A4 thermal paper (100 sheets): AUD$24

A4 perforated thermal roll (100 pages per roll, 6 rolls): AUD$89

A4 thermal roll (15m per roll, 6 rolls): AUD$99

The printer itself

Brother PJ-773 Wireless Mobile Thermal Printer printing

Brother PJ-773 turning out a document – the printing side is on the back of the paper

The Brother PJ-773 Pocket-Jet wireless mobile thermal printer is based on direct-thermal printing technology which was first implemented in a mobile-printing scenario by Pentax when they released the PocketJet mobile printer in the early 1990s as laptops were becoming more common. Here, this printer used the typical fax paper which was ubiquitous then as its printing medium while being a compact printing device.

But Brother had purchased Pentax’s printing assets including the PocketJet thermal-printing technology in 2008 and started to use their branding in 2009on the PJ-5 series of these printers. Then they started to apply their innovations when they manufactured the PJ-6 series of these printers.

Here, this printer is slightly wider than the narrow edge of an A4 or Letter sheet of paper but as thick as a bar of Toblerone chocolate. This means that you could easily stash it in your laptop bag without it taking up much room.

Setup

Brother PJ-773 Wireless Mobile Thermal Printer right hand side connections

USB and power sockets on the right side of the printer

The Brother PJ-773 printer is capable of operating on a lithium-ion battery pack or on an external power supply which would be the supplied AC adaptor. But you can purchase through Brother one of two DC adaptors that allow you to use it in your vehicle – one that plugs in to the vehicle’s cigar-lighter socket and one that is capable of being directly wired to the vehicle’s electrical-accessories wiring.

I have set up the Brother PJ-773 thermal mobile printer with my regular Windows computer and used software that was downloaded from Brother’s Website rather than the CD-supplied software. This software worked properly first time and found the printer over the USB connection.

Wi-Fi setup

Brother PJ-773 Wireless Mobile thermal printer printing mechanism

Very small print mechanism due to thermal printing technology

The Brother PJ-773 printer is capable of being set up to work with a Wi-Fi network. This means that it can either work as its own Wi-Fi access point or it can be part of a small Wi-Fi network or a large enterprise-grade Wi-Fi network. It also is future-proof where you can use the printer with an IPv6 network which is becoming the way to go.

You have to configure it for your network by connecting it to a regular Windows or Macintosh computer via USB and running the USB Device Settings Tool program. The only exception is if you are connecting the printer to a Wi-Fi router or access point that uses WPS “push-to-connect” setup where you hold down the Wi-Fi button on the printer for 5 seconds to instigate this setup routine at the printer.

This also applies if you wish to switch your Brother PJ-773 printer between using an existing Wi-Fi network or creating its own Wi-Fi network. Here, you have to determine whether to use “Wireless Direct” for the printer to be its own access point or “Infrastructure” for it to be a part of an existing network.

Printing

Brother PJ-773 Wireless Mobile Thermal Printer alongside Windows test printout that it printed

Slightly smaller than the A4 printed page that it turns out

The Brother PJ-773 had worked properly with Windows 10 and with Android using both the Mopria printing abilities and the Brother iPront&Scan printing app. The latter situation may not work properly if you are using the Wireless Direct printing setup because the Android iPront&Scan software is dependent on an Internet connection for rasterising the documents for printing.

If you want to see the document come out more sharply, you may have to increase the density settings in the driver or app to see something darker.

I completed a document-copy test with the  to see how documents would turn out when copied using a regular inkjet multi-function printer. This included whether the thermal paper used for this printer would misfeed through an automatic document feeder. The reason I performed thsi test is because one could copy or scan a “print-and-sign” document as part of their workflow, such as to scan an invoice or repair quote for tax or insurance purposes.

Here,  I used the previously-reviewed Brother MFC-J5720DW business multi-function inkjet printer to perform these tests and printed the document using default settings for the PJ-773 and copied it using the default settings for the MFC-J5720DW. The thermal-paper original passed through the automatic document feeder on the multifunction without any problems while I found that a standard text document could copy properly on default settings. With some documents, you may have to increase the copy density on the MFC or copier if they come out a bit pale.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

The Brother PJ-773 Wireless Mobile Thermal Printer could benefit from improvements as far as Wi-Fi setup is concerned.

Firstly, it could benefit from a hardware switch on the printer itself that allows you to select between Infrastructure or Wireless-Direct operation so you can have it work with an existing wireless network or as its own network without having to go through the rigmarole of connecting it to a regular computer via USB and running a configuration app to perform this switchover.

As well, it could support a “wireless repeater” mode like some mobile NAS units such as the WD MyPassport Wireless mobile NAS so you can have access to an Internet-supporting Wi-Fi network and the printer’s access point network at the same time. For setup in Wireless Direct mode, the Brother PJ-773 could implement WPS-PBC “push-to-connect” as a way of establishing a connection between it and a Windows or Android client device.

Brother could improve on the Pocket Jet direct-thermal printing platform by supporting duplex printing with suitable double-sided paper. This can appeal to applications where you need to turn out a 2-page document without needing to feed through two sheets of paper.

Conclusion and Placement Notes

I find that the Brother PJ-773 Wireless Mobile Thermal Printer earns its keep with basic “on-the-road” transactional printing from both regular computers and mobile devices. This is more so if you are turning out a receipt, invoice or similar document which only covers up to two A4 or letter pages. You may have to use the paper-roll kit of you expect to torn out a document with many pages at a time.

For best results, I would recommend thay you run the printer with the image density setting on 6 or 8. Here, you can have documents that last a long time and can be copied easily on most multi-function printers without any need to configure them. You could use the premium “20-year” paper to turn out legal-requirement documents such as safety and compliance certificates associated with installation work, or for tax invoices in those jurisdictions where you have to keep tax documents for over five years.

Similarly, it may be worth bargaining in the cut-sheet paper guide if you expect to use your Brother PJ-773 to frequently print multi-page documents. Buying the ruggedised carry case with integrated roll-paper holder may make for a practical no-fuss “ready-to-print” option for your briefcase.

On the other hand, you may have to use a Canon or HP mobile inkjet printer if you are expecting to turn out many pages at a time and place emphasis on on-demand colour or greyscale printing such as printing of photos, or you value a choice of media for “on-the-road” applications.

Therefore I would consider the Brother PJ-773 Wireless Mobile Thermal Printer as a tool for tradesmen and other mobile workers to have in their mobile office.

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System recovery images–how about updatimg them

Lenovo ThinkPad Helix 2 connected to Wi-Fi hotspot at Bean Counter Cafe

The recovery image on these computers could be part of an update program to simplify refreshing them with the latest version of the operating system if they fail

Increasingly a lot of computer systems, especially laptops and tablets, are making use of so-called “recovery” images. This same practice also applies whenever an organisation is using a disk image with the operating system and applications that are the software component of a standard operating environment.

These are a disk image of all of the operating system and supplied applications that are delivered by the system manufacturer or value-added reseller and installed on the system when it is first set up. The computer makes use of these images if the computer has to be taken to “ground zero” due to a virus or corrupt data or before the user hands the computer to someone else. Newer operating systems use these images as part of a system refresh routine in order to remove corrupt data and bring stability to the computer’s configuration.

But what can happen is that as operating system and application developers keep refining their software, what exists on these system recovery images represents software that is way out of date. This reminds me of a support visit where Microsoft Word was continually crashing on a desktop computer and I had discovered that the computer was running an “out-of-the-box” version of Windows Vista which hadn’t had any service packs installed.

Typically, this will lead to reinstalling any and all patches and updates that were rolled out since the recovery image was created. But how can this be resolved?

One way would be for the manufacturer or value-added reseller to create a “recovery image service pack” and deliver that either as a USB stick or through an authenticated download to the computer users. Then the users install this service pack to replace the original recovery image to have an up-to-date reference image. This cond be created at regular intervals such as every six months.

Another way would be to create a dynamic system image that consists of the latest versions of the operating system and application files. The changed files can be added ot that image as part of installing the latest patches. Similarly, an “image update” app could check for newer hardware drivers for the hardware that is integrated with the computer system itself.

These issues may involve determining how installation and recovery disk images are built wiht a view to focus on the images referring ot major versions and editions of the software concerned along with any peripheral drivers. In the latter case, it may be about obtaining hardware-series-specific drivers rather than drivers that focus on that particular piece of hardware.

As well, with operating systems like Windows and OS X being offered with free major-version updates, the recovery image may also be about installing the latest major version of that operating system’s edition.

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The Microsoft Surface Pro becomes another of personal computing’s Holy Grails

Apple MacBook Pro running MacOS X Mavericks - press picture courtesy of ApplePreviously, all the laptop vendors were trying to design their products to have a similar look to Apple’s MacBook product lineup. This ended up with the Apple MacBook product lineup along with the Apple iMac product lineup being seen as personal computing’s “Holy Grail” when it comes to design, construction and specification. This was involving computers that have the same slimline look to the Apple MacBook Air series along with some media-capable laptops like the HP Envy 15-3000 having a similar styling and capability to the Apple MacBook Pro.

Microsoft Surface Pro 4 press image courtesy of Microsoft USA

Microsoft Surface Pro 4 – considered to be the Holy Grail for Windows-based detachable-tablet 2-in-1s

But what has just been happening at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas was a run of detachable-tablet 2-in-1 computers that have a very similar look to the Microsoft Surface Pro.  For example, when the keyboard is attached to the Surface Pro and the kickstand is brought out so it is used as a notebook computer, the setup raises the keyboard at a slight angle; while the tablet part is very much a glass-covered slate.

This ended up with the Microsoft Surface Pro, especially the latest generation, being considered the “Holy Grail” whein it comes to detachable-tablet 2-in-1 computers.

All of the contenders have the detachable keyboard supplied with the tablet even if you purchase the baseline variant in their product lineup. This is while they achieve that slimline look that the Microsoft Surface has attained as a tablet.

They also offer features that Microsoft wouldn’t provide as part of the Surface Pro’s spec like use of common “open-frame” connectors such as the USB Type-C connector. HP’s Spectre x2, for example, even adds an Intel RealSense camera for Windows Hello facial recognition.

As I have noticed over the last year, the Microsoft Surface Pro lineup has also been aggressively targeted at those of us who would buy the Apple MacBook Air or own one of these computers. This is through the use of style to woo these customers along with TV commercials that show you what you can do on the Surface Pro but can’t do on the MacBook Air and pages on Microsoft’s Website giving instructions on how to move off Apple’s Macintosh platform to the Surface.

Could this be another trend for computer manufacturers to achieve “Holy Grail” products for their product class which which other comptuer designers aspire to? But on the other hand, the desire to imitate can ruin the desire to innoviate and make products that carry their unique look and design characteristics.

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Advanced wallpaper images–could this be real?

LG's 4K OLED curved TV press picture courtesy of LG America

These LG 4K OLED TVs could be showing a tasteful wallpaper image while music plays

Increasingly, there is an interest in creating subtle wallpaper-type images and displays that can work effectively in the background whether with or without music.

Most home AV systems, especially those kept in a lounge area include a television or similar display device but if you intend to play audio-only content like music, you end up with a device that becomes useless in these environments. You typically end up with a blank screen which could be put to better use.

But you may want something that is effectively serving as a visual wallpaper that can exist in the background without destroying the flow of the conversation. This is more so if you are intending to play background music and something like a karaoke-style lyrics display or a music video may simply look out of place and end up more as a distraction.

A small cafe

Cafes like this could benefit from advanced video wallpaper displays rather than ordinary television

Businesses will also see this appealing as a merchandising tool for promoting their products and services and community organisations may want to exploit these concepts as a way to “set the mood” prior to running an event or promoting their efforts. Even cafes and bars would value the idea of creating a dynamic visual wallpaper rather than showing ordinary television content to set the ambience.

It is infact something that theatres and cinemas have practiced, typically before the programme session starts or during an interval where they show still images, typically advertising while background music plays.

What is being achieved with existing technologies

The concept has been tackled in various different manners such as DVD / Blu-Ray players, network media players and the like showing a screensaver-style image while audio-only content is being played.

A good example that stays in my mind is a Sony DVD/VHS combo that was used to play music CDs through the TV’s speakers and this unit showed a screen which changed between different colours while the music played. Similarly, some hotel TV systems may show a photograph and a text description of the radio station, or the radio station’s logo if the TV is being used to play a radio station, with better implementations showing the current song’s title or other dynamic information that is obtained from tha station’s RDS or similar datastream. Most regular-computer platforms have the ability to run a screensaver which typically is a pattern or animation that comes in to play when the computer is not being used. Or you could set up some network media players to pick photos up from your DLNA media server and run them as a slideshow while you have music playing from that same media server or another media server.

Static image from Christian playlist video used at church gathering that I cited

Static image from Christian playlist video used at church gathering that I cited

Sometimes, when people put up music on YouTube, they set up a visual wallpaper that accompanies that music. This may typically be a static image that never changes, or an image that may change at some point. A good example of this that I saw during a church get-together hosted at someone’s house was this YouTube “static-screen” video with the top 50 of the newer Christian contemporary praise-and-worship songs as its audio content while a static slide having a picture of a flying dove and “Because Your lovingkindness is better than life” appearing as a text quote at the bottom that picture. This is similar to how some people have created “continuous-music” DVDs which show one or more static images but have music playing. These and similar examples were based on a practice that WPIX-TV in New York City undertook since the 1950s where they showed a Yule Log burning in a fireplace (YouTube) with some classic Christmas carols and songs playing through the TV’s speaker.

How could this be taken further?

Live Wallpaper

There can be better ways to go about this. One would be to take a leaf out of Android’s book and exploit the “Live Wallpapers” concept which can allow you to create customised wallpaper images that can show real-time information or update the display in a dynamic manner. For that matter, Google could extend this concept to the Android TV platform which Sony is supporting for their 4K Smart TVs and Free have based their latest Freebox on. This could be in the form of showing selected pictures from one or more sources such as your photo collection or a stock-photo library, which could apply well to pictures of a city or country or some general pictures.

Cinemagraphs and short video loops

Beach shot

A beach image could be animated with the waves splashing in

A trend that is starting to become real is the concept of “cinemagraphs” which are video loops that appear like an ordinary photo but have subtle movement taking place. An example of this is a picture of someone sitting by the fireplace with the fire’s flames flickering, a Christmas tree with the twinkling lights or a beachside image with the waves rushing in. Even a close-up of someone may have some accidental movements like twitching or lips puckering.

Apple placed a revision in to the iOS 9 camera app which implements “Live Photos” that allows you to grab a short moment of animation just by taking that photo. Facebook and Tumblr even has integrated support for these “Live Photos” to be contributed to a user’s Facebook or Tumblr presence using the latest versions of the social networks’ iOS native-client apps. Third parties have opened up some desktop software and Websites which turn Live Photos in to animated GIFs which can be uploaded to Websites.

Microsoft’s research division is taking a step in the right direction by completing final research on “cliplets” where a short video can be broken in to “layers” with the ability to create separately-programmable loops for different objects in the video.

Enabling programmatic control of advanced wallpaper

Once a particular file type is defined for these kind of photo-video hybrid images to permit the creation of separately addressed video loops, it could be feasible to have these images driven by external properties like the time of day. This can range from one or mroe different text messages appearing under programmatic control to a graphic that is altereted depending on certain conditions.

An example of this could be a hybrid picture of London’s Big Ben showing the current time of day or a beachside image showing a dusk view when it is dusk. This could also allow for one or more text layers to be created to show text like quotes from a “quote library”, current song metadata, current time or weather information and the like. A media player that supports this file type could then show these for a user-defined time period then show another regular image or hybrid image for that time period.

Conclusion

This will become a constant issue as people want to use visual wallpaper on their display screens especially as these screens become increasingly large thanks to 4K UHDTV technology. Here, people may want to look at ways to keep these screens showing something appropriate during social events but not distracting their guests or patrons; or a business wants to keep their clients aware of their special offers.

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