simonmackay Archive

Recent research projects that lead to independent and dignified living for the elderly and disabled

The kitchen that keeps an eye on Alzheimer’s patients by using digital technology | Mail Online

Elderly shoppers to get ‘sat nav’ gadget to find their way around supermarkets | Daily Telegraph

My Comments

These projects that have been recently developed in the UK are implementing technologies that may be trivialised by most of us in order to help elderly and disabled people gain the right to a dignified lifestyle.

For example, the kind of motion detectors used in the Nintendo Wii’s controllers or those new pocket projectors that may only have trivial uses are being implemented in the kitchen to help Alzheimers patients know their way around cooking processes. Similarly, the use of GPS and cellular location technology is being implemented to help older people navigate the typically-large supermarket which has layouts that change at the whim of the product managers.

The home network can be the key backbone of these assistive technologies by being a data conduit and a gateway to the Internet. It doesn’t matter whether it is based on hardwired Ethernet, WiFi wireless technology or existing-wire technologies like HomePlug power-line or MoCA coaxial cabling; or a mixture of these technologies.

Yet there are some challenges that need to be achieved to make this kind of idea feasible at a cost-effective level and in a wife-friendly attractive manner.

One challenge could be one or more standard computing platforms for building security and automation applications, in a similar vein to what has happened for home and office computing setups; handheld devices like smartphones and PDAs; and network-attached storage devices. This would allow for heterogenous systems that work with hardware and software from different manufacturers to suit the specific and evolving needs of householders and building owners.

Another would be to encourage the development and commercialisation of indoor location technology in conjunction with common smartphone platforms as a way of allowing one to navigate large shops. This could then be implemented through a piece of software that is loaded on to a common smartphone device and the maps being available through the Internet or similar means.

Another would be to encourage the support of  building security and automation as well as home IT as a key to improving the quality of living for the elderly and disabled amongst us. This would have to include encouraging the state’s social-welfare arm and the charity sector, both secular and faith-based, to provide access to these technologies.

The effort would certainly go a long way to providing a dignified and independent lifestyle for an older population which will certainly increase as the baby-boom generation enters the senior years.

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Bluetooth 3.0 with High Speed Transfer – What does this mean?

Bluetooth Special Interest Group press release

WiFi Planet article on Bluetooth 3.0

My Comments

Bluetooth has hit the “big 3” by introducing a high-throughput version of its wireless personal network specification. This same technology used for sending pictures or phone-number data between mobile phones in the same space or streaming sound between mobile phones and car handsfree kits can do such things as wirelessly transferring one’s music library between a laptop computer and an MP3 player or “dumping” the contents of a digital camera to a computer.

It primarily allows data streams conforming to the Bluetooth protocols to be transmitted over the 802.11b/g WiFi network just by using the media-transfer levels of that specification. This takes advantage of the fact that a lot of the smartphones and the laptop computers have Bluetooth and WiFi wireless technology built in to them; and that premium MP3 players like the Apple iPod Touch will offer WiFi and Bluetooth on the same device. This is a situation that will become more common as chip manufacturers develop “all-in-one” WiFi / Bluetooth radio chipsets. For applications requiring a small data stream, the device just engages a single Bluetooth transceiver with the regular Bluetooth stack, which can save on battery power.

Intel had developed “My WiFi” which is a competing standard for a personal area network based on the WiFi technology with the devices using the full list of protocols and standards applicable to regular LAN applications. The idea was to have the laptop “split” its wireless-network ability into a client for a WiFi LAN and a very-low-power access point for a WiFi LAN which is the personal area network. At the moment, this technology is limited to laptops based on the Centrino 2 platform and requires that the laptop, being a general-purpose computer, becomes a “hub” device for the personal area network. But what could happen could be that other WiFi chipset vendors would license this technology and implement it into their designs, which could extend it towards other applications.

This would lead to a highly-competitive space for technologies that connect the wireless personal area network together, especially if the primary device of the network is a laptop computer. It could also incite manufacturers of devices like digital still and video cameras to include WiFi and Bluetooth in to these devices.

Who knows what the future will hold for the wireless personal area network.

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NETGEAR Digital Entertainer Elite Now Shipping Worldwide | eHomeUpgrade

NETGEAR Digital Entertainer Elite Now Shipping Worldwide | eHomeUpgrade

My Comments:

Previously, I had made some comments about the NETGEAR Digital Entertainer Elite network media receiver / server that was previewed last year. I had mentioned about Netgear considering the possibility of extending its functionality as a DLNA media server, especially since it has a user-replaceable 500G SATA hard disk built in.  The original model that was talked up happened to be the EVA-9000 but this model that is now released is the EVA-9150, but this unit is part of the same series.

Now it is released worldwide rather than being “dribbled out” in to different countries over the year. It is selling for a manufacturer’s retail price of USD$399 which may mean a likely street price of USD$300-350. This may make the unit more suitable for people who have invested in good-quality flat-screen installations.

It would also come off as being useful in the “small-business” context for “digital signage” and similar applications, whether you upload the pictures to the hard drive or hook the unit up to a computer or NAS running a suitable DLNA server. Here, a “showcase” of regularly-used material can be kept on the hard disk, but other material can be held on computers that are on the business network.

I am certain expecting that this could bring Netgear further in to the network media receiver market and will make this market competitive.

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Getting the most from Windows Vista

Over the past few weeks, I had received a recent-issue motherboard, CPU, graphics card and RAM as a gift from a friend who likes to “tinker” with computers. Then I had moved my Windows Vista-based installation to this installation and had noticed a significant difference in the performance of this operating system.

Previously I was running Windows Vista on a very old motherboard, CPU and graphics card and it was definitely sluggish. This was more so with how the system handled graphics and the older setup had a Windows Experience Index of 1.0 with the graphics card holding it down. The card was an older AGP-based card with an older ATI chipset that didn’t have drivers optimised for proper operation under Vista.

Now the system is reporting a 3.0 Windows Experience score with the ability to use the full Windows Aero Glass trim and quicker response from the display.

You are much safer buying a new computer if you want to work with Windows Vista. On the other hand, if you intend to deploy Vista to an existing computer, make sure that the system is running with hardware made since 2006. You have a greater chance of the computer performing properly for Vista and working with drivers that take advantage of this operating system.

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My comments on the new National Broadband Network in Australia

There has been recent news coverage regarding the upcoming National Broadband Network that the Australian Government has recently launched. Initially it was meant to be a fibre-to-the-node setup for most of the populated areas built by a private company who has won the government tender to build it. The last year was dogged with so much bickering about whether Telstra, Optus or other companies and consortia are fit to build the network. Now the Australian Government wrote off the tenders and decided to make the network a publicly-funded “nation-building” exercise on the same scale as the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Power Scheme.

Their idea would be to cover 90% of Australian premises with “fibre-to-the-premises” service with the remainder served by high-bandwidth wireless or satellite connections. This will be with Tasmania being a test-bed for this service and greenfield developments being prepared for fibre-to-the-premises.

But there are a few questions that need to be asked concerning the deployment of this service.

Deployments in multiple-tenant-unit developments

In most of the densely-populated areas of Australia, there are many multi-tenant-unit developments like blocks of flats, office blocks and shopping centres with many households and/or businesses in the same physical building. Similarly, there are high-density developments where multiple households or businesses in many buildings exist on one privately-owned block of land. There have been two different ways of connecting these buildings to a fibre-to-the-premises network.

The cheaper method, known as “Fibre To The Building”, is to run the fibre-optic network to the building’s wiring closet, then use copper wiring to bring the service to the customer’s door. This may be achieved through dedicated Ethernet cabling to the office, shop or apartment or use of existing wiring that is used for providing telephone or TV service to these locations but using VDSL2 or DOCSIS technology to move the data on these cables.  It would be similar to the “Fibre To The Node” setup which was originally being considered for the National Broadband Network, except that the coverage of a “Node” would be the building.

The other method, known as “Fibre To The Premises” or “Full Fibre To The Premises” would be to run the fibre-optic network to the customer’s door.  This would be similar to how the fibre-to-the-premises network would be provided to a sole-occupancy building like a house and would have a fibre-optic socket or optical-network terminal in the premises.

This issue could be answered by prescribing an installation standard for setups in all current and future multi-tenant developments or by allowing the building owner / landlord to determine which methodology to use for their property. Similarly, there would be the question of whether an existing building should be cabled the moment the infrastructure is rolled out past it or

Carriage of TV and telephone service over the NBN

There has been talk about the high bandwidth availability being the key attraction to the National Broadband Network. This has brought up the concept of video being transferred through the NBN and this may be considered a threat to commercial television and its stakeholders.

Most, if not all, of the high-bandwidth broadband networks in operation or currently being deployed are answering this issue by providing free-to-air and subscription television service through the networks. This has also allowed supplementary services like catch-up TV or video-on-demand to be provided over the same network. As well, the companies who provide retail Internet service based on these networks typically will resell subscription TV service with the service being delivered over the same pipe. There is also benefit for community and vertical-interest television providers because they can use the same bandwidth to broadcast their shows.

The standard for TV service that is available with this broadband technology would be a “best-case” standard which permits full high-definition picture with at least a 5.1 channel surround-sound audio mix and full two-way interactivity.

The landline telephone service hasn’t been mentioned in any of the discussion about the National Broadband Network. Yet it can benefit from the same technology through the use of VoIP technologies. This can lead to cheap or free calls around the country and can lead to households and “Mom and Pop” business users having the same kind of telephone service that is taken for granted in most of big business and government.

The same technology can bring through telephone conversations which have a clarity similar to FM radio. This would benefit ethnic groups who have a distinct accent; women; children; people with a speech impediment as well as voice-driven interactive telephone services. As well, the concept of the videophone, largely associated with science fiction, can be made more commonly available.

Could this be the arrival of the “single-pipe triple-play” service on the Australian market?

This is best exemplified by the typical “n-Box” (Livebox, FreeBox, Bbox) service that is being promoted by nearly every major Internet service provider in France. It is where a customer buys or rents an “n-Box” which is a WiFi router that connects computers to the Internet and works as a VoIP analogue telephone adaptor for two phones; as well as an IPTV set-top box that connects between the “n-Box” and the TV set. The customer pays for a single-pipe triple-play service with cut-price telephony, broadband “hot-and-cold running” Internet and many channels of TV.

Universal-access service and the cost of the service

There is the promise of 90% coverage for Australia but will this promise be of reality? As well, there will need to be a minimum standard of service for all to benefit from the Internet using this technology.

I have talked elsewhere in this blog about achieving a standard of universal access for the Internet in a similar manner to the landline telephone service and other utilities. Issues that may need to be raised include reserving funds for the big infrastructure projects that need to reach certain communities and whether to create subsidised access plans which provide a basic level of service at a very low price or for free.

This would then cover access to decent Internet service for disadvantaged communities including indigenous people, income-limited people and migrant / expatriate communities who would benefit from this technology.

Conclusion

Once the questions regarding about how the National Broadband Network will be implemented are answered, we will be able to gain a clearer picture of the service that it will provide for all customers.

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SmallNetBuilder – Thecus Adds Dual-Bay Hot-Swap Mini 2.5" SATA NAS

SmallNetBuilder – Small Network Help – Thecus Adds Dual-Bay Hot-Swap Mini 2.5" SATA NAS

My comments on this “midget” NAS

The 2.5” laptop hard disk as part of a highly-portable dual-drive network-attached storage has matured as a form factor with Thecus competing with Buffalo Technology in this product class.

The reason that these network-attached storage devices, which would be nearly the same size as a regular single-drive unit that works with a 3.5” hard disk is that they can offer what the what the regular single 3.5” hard disk units offer but with more advantages like reduced power consumption and operating noise as well as the advantages of being able to work as a RAID device.

The Thecus NAS has improved on the Buffalo design by offering BitTorrent support and the ability to work with a USB webcam as a time-lapse video recorder / network camera server as well as the usual file storage and DLNA media-server functionality.

As more companies sell these small dual-disk NAS boxes that use laptop hard disks, this could open the floodgates for network data storage applications where size or reduced power and operating-noise matters. It doesn’t matter whether you are dealing with

Point of innovation

An opportunity for innovation that can exist with this class of NAS devices is for them to work on an automotive or marine power supply environment. This is a power supply which runs nominally at 12 or 24 volts DC but would typically have varying-voltage conditions due to situations encountered in these situations like whenever the engine is started. These units would also need to shut down if the power is below a critical level for vehicle use so the engine can be started. As well, it may be desirable to support “ignition sense” so the unit can go in to different operating modes depending on what position the vehicle’s ignition switch was set to.

If this is achieved, these NAS devices could provide data storage to an in-vehicle LAN (which may have a wireless wide-area-network router at the edge) in a cost-effective manner. It could then lead to DLNA-based media handling on the road and improved network-based local data storage for “office-on-wheels” applications. With the Thecus NAS mentioned in the article having USB webcam support, it could allow for the use of a cost-effective USB webcam-based “black box” video-surveillance system for mobile applications like, for example, buses operated by community organisations and schools; or delivery vehicles.

At least there are signs of progress towards the small-form-factor NAS boxes becoming a reality and increasing the application space for these devices.

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Now using Internet Explorer 8

Over the past month, I have been running Internet Explorer 8 RC1, but now am running the officially-released version of this browser. The official version has been “tightened” so it can run more smoothly. As well, it has the newer functions like an easy-to-use address bar which highlights the domain you are working in and when you key in a URL, it gives you a selection of where you have been for that URL with the location most visited at the top. Easy as!

There isn’t much of a learning curve for IE7 users and people who have used “tabbed” browsers like Firefox can easily get the hang of it here. But the tabbing has improved with colour-coded grouping if you right-click on a hyperlink and select “Open in new tab”. This is similar if you use any of the new “accelerators” which are task-specific options available at the right-click of the mouse for searching, defining, translating and other tasks.
I would say it is certainly a definite improvement for the Internet Explorer family and one of the best “operating-system native” desktop browsers around. I also think why should the US Department of Justice and the European Union target Microsoft’s inclusion of Internet Explorer with Windows while other proprietary operating-system vendors like Apple supply browsers like Safari with their operating systems or device builders integrate browser function based on their own code in to their device’s firmware. Is this because Microsoft is seen in the same context as McDonalds and Starbucks – the “arch-enemy of world peace”?

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Increase in poor service quality with Web-based e-mail services

 

LiveSide article about Hotmail service outage (March 12, 2009)

BBC Technology article about recent GMail blackout (February 24, 2009)

An increasing number of people are using free Web-based e-mail services like Windows Live Hotmail, Google GMail and Yahoo Mail because of their free, anywhere access model. What is happening now is that these popular services are groaning under the weight of their huge userbase and traffic demands.

This is manifested through slow response time during sessions and, lately, the services enduring significant amounts of downtime. I have even observed this with a friend’s GMail service which was off-air for a significant amount of time and this friend worrying about e-mail they or their correspondents were meant to receive. The situation ends up with users losing faith in the services or wondering what is happening with their incoming and outgoing e-mail, especially if the service is their primary e-mail address.

Most of these services typically run huge server farms on a high-availability arrangement, but they may need to identify ways of identifying potential bottlenecks and spreading the load. This could involve localisation of the user experience or simply extra machines or server farms providing a failover role.

Some of the recent Web-mail failures have been targeted not at the e-mail storage or handling but at the user-experience servers. A few people in the IT industry reckon that some of these servers are being subjected to DDoS (distributed denial-of-service) attacks by computer hackers.

The situation that is happening with GMail and Hotmail needs to be observed by Web-based Internet services like the Bebo, Facebook and MySpace social networks; and the photo-sharing and video networks like Picasa and YouTube. This is in order to keep the Web 2.0 services alive and resilient.

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The Mobile Internet Devices becoming the trend for this year

O2’s Joggler, formerly OpenFrame, launches in UK this April

Over the past few months, a new device category has started to emerge in the form of the Mobile Internet Device. It would have the functionality of one of today’s smartphones except for cellular voice and data communications.

The device would link to a home or other network using 802.11g or 802.11n WPA2 wireless or use a Bluetooth-connected mobile phone as its modem when it wants to benefit from the Internet. They will work as a media player, a games machine or an Internet-based information device. Some of these devices may benefit from extra software being downloaded on to them through a Web portal set up by their manufacturer or supplier. The primary user interface on all of these devices is a touch screen, but they may have extra keys for access to regular functions. They would mainly use a standard or micro SD card and / or built-in flash memory as their user storage and have their software loaded on other flash memory.

Interestingly, Clarion, one of the most respected car-audio brands, had developed the ClarionMIND which is a combination of a portable navigation device and a mobile Internet device. This gadget provides in-car and on-foot satellite navigation as well as Internet information access and media playback. If it is installed in a matching dock, the unit works like a high-end portable navigation device, passes its audio through the car stereo system and matches its display to “day” or “night” mode according to how you operate the car’s headlight switch.

The iPod Touch was one such device that predicted this device-category trend. It had the ability to play or show media held within it and was able to benefit from a wireless home network by being able to browse the web or add on software through the iTunes App Store.

But could they make the smartphone or connected electronic picture frame / portable navigation device / portable media player redundant? Not really. I would see them as a companion device for all mobile phones and a device which can perform functions complementary to these other devices.

For example, a mobile Internet device could become a DLNA Digital Media Controller / UPnP AV Control point for the DLNA Home Media Network. Similarly, they could perform other control functions that are becoming part of networked home automation. As well, they could be seen as an alternative to handheld games consoles by being able to download games from the Web portal. Other applications would include Web activities where very little text entry needs to be done such as monitoring information pages.

It would be certainly interesting to see how the new Mobile Internet Devices fit in to the personal computing ecosystem as they start to appear on the market.

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Personal and amateur photos on Web sites – need for improved security

Facebook scam: Ferrari man’s true identity revealed – BizTech – Technology

The recent Facebook scam with the image of a man standing beside a Ferrari had involved images lifted from a holiday album that was published on Picasa although intended to be private.

One of the main thrusts in this scam involved the photographer’s pictures being used without knowledge or permission of the album’s owner and a possible privacy and reputation threat for both the album’s owner and the Ferrari’s owner (if the Ferrari had front number plates).

One thing that needs to be looked at regarding photos published on Web sites like social networking and photo sharing sites is a secure way of publishing these pictures. Some would say that the most secure way is not to use these services at all, but to send pictures using removeable media (optical disk or USB memory key) via at least “snail mail”, preferably certified mail or courier service.  But many people want to still use these services due to the ability to quickly share large numbers of pictures with people over long distances.

Issues that can be looked at could include a watermarking system for personal images so that users can detect improper use of their images; and improved security practices for online services that handle personal and amateur pictures. The watermark system could use a machine-readable watermark and the option of a visible watermark and could be provided by an ISP, enterprise, Web-hosting facility or a photo-sharing / social-network service. The machine-readable watermark should be able to be detected in thumbnails and low-resolution images; synthesised images such as “photoshopped” images and collages; as wel as high-resolution images. This can work in hand with users, ISPs and hosting services using agents that can scour for improper use and let the users know.

Other practices could include a limit on how the picture is seen by untrusted users, such as “low-resolution only” viewing or inability to download, copy (Ctrl-C / Command-C), print or zoom into the actual picture. As well, the systems that host these sites could be checked regularly for hack attempts.

What needs to happen is for action to be taken concerning misuse of amateur and personal images that have been put to the Web, This could be achieved through codes of practice and / or technology implementations.

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