simonmackay Archive

You can find out what Cortana has recorded

Article

Harman Invoke Cortana-driven smart speaker press picture courtesy of Harman International

You can also manage your interactions with the Harman-Kardon Invoke speaker here

How to delete your voice data collected by Microsoft when using Cortana on Windows 10 | Windows Central

My Comments

Previously, I posted an article about managing what Amazon Alexa has recorded when you use an Amazon Echo or similar Alexa-compatible device.

Now Microsoft has a similar option for Cortana when you use it with Windows 10. This is also important if you use the Harman-Kardon Invoke smart speaker, the Johnson Controls GLAS smart thermostat as long as they are bound to your Microsoft account.

Windows 10 Settings - Accounts - Manage My Microsoft Account

Manage your Microsoft Account (and Cortana) from Windows 10 Settings

In most instances such as your computer, Cortana may be activated by you clicking on an icon on the Taskbar or pressing a button on a suitably-equipped laptop, keyboard or other peripheral to have her ready to listen. But you may set her up to hear the “Hey Cortana” wake word to listen to you. This may be something that a Cortana-based smart device may require of you for expected functionality when you set it up.

This may be a chance where Cortana may cause problems with picking up unwanted interactions. But you can edit what Cortana has recorded through your interactions with her.

Here, you go in to Settings, then click on Accounts to open the Accounts screen. Click on Your Info to which will show some basic information about the Microsoft Account associated with your computer.

Privacy dashboard on your Microsoft Account management Website

Privacy dashboard on your Microsoft Account management Website

Click on “Manage My Microsoft Account” which will open a Web session in your default browser to manage your Microsoft Account. Or you could go directly to https://account.microsoft.com without needing to go via the Settings menu on your computer. The direct-access method can be important if you have to use another computer like a Mac or Linux box or don’t want to go via the Settings option on your Windows 10 computer.

Microsoft Account Privacy Dashboard - Cortana Interactions highlighted

Click here for your Cortana Voice interaction history

You will be prompted to sign in to your Microsoft Account using your Microsoft Account credentials. Click on the “Privacy” option to manage your privacy settings. Then click on the “Activity History” option and select “Voice” to view your voice interactions with Cortana. Here, you can replay each voice interaction to assess whether they should be deleted. You can delete each interaction one by one by clicking the “Delete” option for that interaction or clear them all by clicking the “Clear activity” option.

Details of your voice interactions with Cortana

Details of your voice interactions with Cortana

Your management of what Cortana has recorded takes place at the Microsoft servers in the same vein to what happens with Alexa. But there will be the disadvantage of Cortana not having access to the false starts in order to use her machine learning to understand your voice better.

These instructions would be useful if you are dealing with a Cortana-powered device that doesn’t use a “push-to-talk” or “microphone-mute” button where you can control when she listens to you.

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Instagram is offering a video service that competes against YouTube

Article

Instagram – now supporting IGTV and competing with YouTube

Instagram is launching its YouTube clone, IGTV, on Android in a few weeks | Android

IGTV in action

Authority

Meet Instagram’s YouTube Clone: IGTV | Gizmodo Australia

Here’s IGTV: Instagram’s vertical answer to YouTube | FastCompany

My Comments

There have been some recent situations where YouTube has become arrogant with how they treat end-users, content creators and advertisers thanks to their effective monopoly position for user-generated video content. One of these was a fight that Google and Amazon got into over voice-driven personal assistants and this led to Google removing YouTube support from Amazon’s Echo Show smart display. I even wrote that it is high time that YouTube faces competition in order to lift its game.

Initially Framasoft who is a French developers got working on an open-source video-distribution mechanism called “PeerTube” with a view to have it compete against YouTube.

But Instagram, owned by Facebook, have set up their own video-sharing platform called IGTV. This will be available as a separate iOS/Android mobile-platform app but also allow the clips to appear on your main Instagram user experience.

Initially this service will offer video in a vertical format for up to 1 hour long. The format is chosen to complement the fact that it is likely to be used on a smartphone or tablet that is handheld. The one-hour length will be offered to select content creators rather than to everyone while most of us will end up with 10 minutes. This may also appeal to the creation of “snackable” video content.

Currently Instagram offers video posting for 60 seconds on its main feed or 15 seconds in its Stories function. This is why I often see Stories pertaining to the same event having many videos daisy-chained.

The IGTV user experience will have you immediately begin watching video content from whoever you follow on Instagram. There will be playlist categories like “For You” (videos recommended for you), “Following” (videos from whom you follow), “Popular” (popular content) and “Continue Watching” (clips you are already working through).

The social-media aspect will allow you to like or comment on videos as well as sharing them to your friends using Instagram’s Direct mode. As well, each Instagram creator will have their own IGTV channel which will host the longer clips.

A question that can easily come up is whether Instagram will make it work for usage beyond mobile-platform viewing. This means support for horizontal aspect ratios, or viewing on other devices like snart-display devices of the Echo Home ilk, regular computers or Smart TV / set-top devices including games consoles.

It is an effort by Instagram and Facebook to compete for video viewers and creators but I see the limitation to the vertical format as being a limitation if the idea is to directly compete with YouTube. But Facebook and Instagram need to look at what YouTube isn’t offering and the platforms they have deserted in order to provide an edge over them.

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Product Review–Brother QL-1110NWB label printer

I am reviewing the Brother QL-1110NWB wide-format network label printer which is the premium model for Brother’s QL-1100 series of wide-format label printers. It is seen as something that can work with applications where barcodes, graphics or extra details like weights and use-by dates are to be placed on a label like with packaging or commercial-kitchen food management.

There are two machines that are part of the Brother QL-1110 Series label printer lineup – the QL-1110 and the QL-1110NWB. The QL-1110 can only connect to the host computing device via USB and also supports USB-host connectivity for HID-class USB barcode readers. Android users can use USB OTG or USB Type-C adaptor cables to connect their devices to this printer and print using the Brother apps.

Brother QL-1110NWB network label printer

The QL-1110NWB supports the abovementioned USB connections but also supports network connectivity via Wi-Fi or Ethernet along with support for wireless connectivity via Bluetooth or direct (own access point) Wi-Fi connectivity,

Both of these machines run from AC power using an integrated power supply where you are not dealing with a “wall-wart” or “power brick” to supply power to them. Rather you are simply using the same kind of AC cord that you would use to power a portable radio and that leads towards a cable you can easily replace if the original one goes missing.

Connection to your computer or network

Brother QL-1110NWB network label printer connections - USB to host computer, USB for peripherals, Ethernet

Brother QL-1110NWB network label printer connections – USB for direct to host connection, USB for barcode readers and Ethernet

The Brother QL-1110NWB can connect to your network via Ethernet or Wi-Fi wireless as well as being able to print from mobile devices using either Bluetooth or Wi-Fi Direct connections. But if you are setting up this machine for Wi-Fi-based network connectivity, you have to connect it to a regular computer running Windows via USB and run the supplied Printer Setting Tool to configure it. This doesn’t apply if you use WPS “push-to-connect” Wi-Fi setup or Ethernet connectivity on a small network.

I had found that the Printer Setting Tool was not surefire in its approach for Wi-Fi network setup and couldn’t even get it connected to my home network. But I could simply plug it in to the Ethernet connection which can be of use for setups where your premises is wired for Ethernet or you use a HomePlug powerline setup.

There is support for Web-based configuration but this only applies if you have it connected to your network.

It also supports Apple’s AirPrint driver-free printing standard so it can work with iOS and MacOS hosts without needing driver software.

Personally, I had found that the Brother QL-1110NWB label printer yielded a surefire connection when I used it with an Ethernet connection or a USB direct-to-host connection.

The label printers also have an integrated guillotine which makes it simpler and more elegant to manage the labels. This works under programmatic control or you can cut the labels manually through a push-button on the machine’s control panel.

Loading label stock in the label printer

Brother QL-1110NWB network label printer loaded with standard label tape

Loading the label tape in the Brother QL-1110 Network Label Printer

The Brother QL-1110 Series label printers can take the same standard-width label stock as the rest of the QL series reel-feed label printers. But they can take label stock that is wider than normal thus allowing for the creation of larger labels including the possibility of printing out standard name-badge or address labels in landscape form.

Loading any of the Brother QL-1110 Series label printers is a relatively simple chore no matter whether you are using the wide label stock or the narrow label stock. These label printers use a clamshell design and you release the lid by operating two latches at the same time, which doesn’t require much pressure. Then you drop the label reel in, making sure it engages with the ridge on the right hand side of the compartment.

Then you thread the label paper through the machine taking care to make sure the paper is under a black sensor box on the right side of the compartment while it emerges through the front. Here, there is very little effort needed to make sure that the paper is threaded properly.

The Brother label printer uses microswitches that sense mouldings and holes on the reel along with other microswitches that sense the width of the reel to determine what kind of label tape is in the printer including whether it is a wide-format label tape. Here, you would have to be careful that the correct label tape is on the correct reel if you want this unit to work properly.

System-integration support

A systems integrator or yourself could upload label template designs created using P-Touch Editor and set up a “computer-free” label-creation arrangement for data read from barcodes. This can work with an HID-compliant barcode reader connected to the USB host port (both models) or linked via Bluetooth (QL-1110NWB only). That setup would then appeal to stock-control and similar applications.

There is also support for ESC/P printing codes so that these label printers can work with other third-party labelling or similar software that implements this kind of output control.

Supplied software

All the Brother label machines including these units support the P-Touch Editor software which works as a quick way to turn out labels. If you use a smartphone or mobile-platform tablet, the Brother iPrint&Label app works in the same vein for turning out labels from these devices.

If you use P-Touch Editor, you could set it that way by selecting “Vertical” in the Orientation setting under the Paper tab. This means that it will print out parallel to the printer. Here, I would recommend this if you want to exploit the wide-format label tape for turning out address labels or name badges.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

Brother could make sure these label printers support any and all device classes to do with printing for POS, gaming and allied applications no matter the connection type as well as supporting other driver-free printing standards like Mopria Alliance and IPP Everywhere,

Similarly, Brother could look towards the use of other USB or Bluetooth input devices like keyboards or digital scales as a way to enter data for use with stored label templates. Here, it could work well with environments where you can’t use a smartphone or regular computer to enter data for a labelling environment.

I have always called on Brother to add a “measuring-tape” creation function to their P-Touch Editor software. Such a function would allow someone to use a label printer loaded with continuous-tape label stock to create a measuring tape that could be stuck to something like a worktop edge or door frame thus making that surface something to measure length or height with. This feature would appeal to laboratories, the medical profession, child care, education or a whole host of other professions who are always measuring things like people’s height for example.

As well, the P-Touch Address Book software could support country-specific addressing better by using nation-specific address layouts or omitting the ZIP Code barcode for non-USA addresses. It could be taken further through the implementation of machine-readable barcoding techniques that other countries may use to improve mail delivery.

Conclusion

The Brother QL-1100 Series label printers have become an example of legitimising wide-format thermal-based label printing for small businesses. This would be of importance for logistics and inventory-management applications where there is requirement for more detail on the label or to make heavy use of large barcodes.

But I would recommend the Brother QL-1110NWB specifically for those setups where you expect the printer to be located away from a regular computer.

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My Experience with the USB-C connection type

Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 Ultrabook - USB-C power

USB-C as the power connection for a Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 Ultrabook

I have given a fair bit of space on HomeNetworking01.info to the USB-C host-peripheral connection type since it was launched. It was more to do with a simplified high-throughput high-reliability connection type that will grace our computers, smartphones and similar devices.

But just lately I had upgraded to a new Samsung Galaxy S8+ Android smartphone due to my previous smartphone failing. But I had some previous experience with the USB-C connection through my reviewing of the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 convertible Ultrabook, which was powered using USB-C as its primary connection type. The previous Android smartphones that I had before implemented a USB microAB connection for their power and data-transfer needs and recent iterations of Android which I experienced on the Galaxy Note series of phones supported USB OTG host-operation modes.

USB-C connector on Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus smartphone

Samsung S8 Plus Android phone using USB-C connection for power and data

The main feature that I liked was the simple approach to connecting devices to my phone. Here, I didn’t have to worry about which way the cable plugged in to my phone, something that was important when it came to connecting it to a charger or power pack.

A situation I was previously encountering with the USB micro-B connector on the previous phones was the need to replace USB cables due to the USB micro-B plug wearing out in the USB micro-AB socket in these phones due to frequent connection and disconnection. This would be typical in relationship to connecting a phone up to a charger for charging then subsequently disconnecting it from the charger for regular use. Then I ended up buying replacement USB A to USB micro-B cables to remedy this problem.

Now I am ending up with a sure-fire connection experience for USB devices similar to using the regular USB connections commonly fitted to regular computers or peripherals.

That situation was often brought on through the use of leaf-spring-type lugs on the USB micro-B connector that were used to make sure the plug fitted properly in the common USB micro-AB socket fitted to smartphones. Here, they can easily wear out and lose their springiness through repeated use. The USB-C connector doesn’t make use of those leaf springs to secure the plug in the socket thanks to it being one plug design for data input and output.

Memory card reader connected to USB-C adaptor for Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus smartphone

USB-C also works for connecting this phone to a memory card reader for reading photos from my camera

Another benefit that I have experienced is the ability to use the same kind of connector whether the phone is to be a host to a peripheral or to be connected to another computer device. This avoids the need to worry about having to use a USB OTG cable if, for example, I wanted to use a photo from my camera’s SD card to post on Instagram. But I still needed to use a USB-A (female) to USB-C adaptor with the SD card reader but would find this useful if I wanted to use the SD card reader or a USB memory key with any USB-C host device.

Again, I wouldn’t need to worry about which way the cable plugged in to a computer or smartphone equipped with this connector. This can come in handy if I was dealing with USB memory keys attached to keyrings or USB peripherals hanging off a USB cable.

Personally, I see the USB Type-C connection appearing as a viable connection type for laptops, tablets and smartphones especially where these devices are designed to be slim.

One way this connection can be exploited further would be for smartphone manufacturers to install two USB Type-C connectors at the bottom of their products. Similarly, a USB battery pack with USB Type-C connectivity could have have three USB-C sockets and have USB hub functionality. This could then allow for multiple devices to be connected to the same host device.

This article will be built out further as I deal with more connection setups that are based around the USB Type-C connector.

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What can be done to support secure email?

Personal and business Internet users are showing interest in the concept of secure email. This is to assure that confidential emails only end up being viewed by the eyes of their intended recipients.

It is being driven by issues relating to confidential personal and business information being leaked to the Web along with a common personal worry regarding government surveillance in the age of terrorism and extremism. Along with this, activists, journalists and the like are wanting to rely on secure communications to pass through critical information in areas that are hostile to freedom of speech and the press. In some cases, people travelling through countries known to be hostile to freedom of speech like Russia and China have been encouraged to keep their data highly secure due to the espionage taking place in these countries.

Compose Email or New Email form

More work needs to be done on secure email

There is a slow increasing prevalence of secure email platforms appearing on the Web. These platforms such as the Swiss-based ProtonMail and the secure iteration of Google’s GMail service are dependent on a Web-based user interface. Along with this, most of us are implementing instant-messaging platforms like WhatsApp, Viber and Telegram to send personally-confidential material to each other.

But they offer a series of features intended to assure personal privacy and corporate data security. They offer end-to-end encryption for the emails at rest (while they are on the servers pending delivery) and in transit (while they are being moved between servers). They also offer the ability for users to send seif-destructing emails that don’t stay in the recipient’s or the sender’s storage space after they are read unlike with conventional emails which stay in the user’s storage space after being sent or read. These self-destructing emails cannot even be forwarded to others or printed out (although it could be feasible to take a screenshot of that email and print or forward it). Some of these setups even have the ability to detect screenshots and let the sender know if the recipient took one of a confidential email. As well the metadata about the emails isn’t held on the servers.

But there are current limitations associated with these services. One of these is that the privacy features are only available to users who subscribe to the same email platform. This is because the common standards for secure email such as S/MIME, PGP and GnuPG only support basic key-based encryption and authentication abilities and the common email protocols like IMAP and POP3 don’t support email-handling control at the message level. As well, these services rely on a Webmail interface and require users to click on links sent as part of standard emails to view the secure messages if they aren’t part of that system.

There are certain features that need to be added to IMAP4 to allow for secure email handling. One of these is to permit message-level email control to permit self-destructing emails and to allow the sender to limit how the recipient can handle the messages. But the message-control features may run against legal-archive and similar requirements that will be asked of for business correspondence. In this situation, there may be the ability to indicate to senders or recipients if the emails are being archived as a matter of course and message-level email control can’t be assured.

Of course this may be about a newer feature-level email standard, preferably open-source or managed by many in computing academia and industry, to add this kind of secure email control.

Then there is the requirement to encourage the use of encrypted-email / authenticated-email standards like S/MIME or PGP within email endpoints, both Web-based and client-based. It will also include the ability for users to create asymmetrical key pairs and store their correspondents’ public keys in their contact manager software. There will also have to be the ability to support automated public-key discovery as a new contact is added, something currently feasible with encrypted messaging platforms that maintain their own contact directory.

Other questions that will come up in the course of building a secure email ecosystem is how the encryption keys are stored on the end-user’s system and whether an end-user needs to create new encryption keys when they change devices along with how to store them securely. This can be of concern with most computer users who typically maintain multiple devices, typically a smartphone along with a regular desktop or laptop computer and / or a tablet of the iPad ilk. Similarly there is the fact that one may not have the same computing device for the long haul, typically due to replacing one that has broken down or upgrading to a better-performing device.

There will also have to be the issue of security and portability thanks to issues like users temporarily using different computer devices such as friends’ computers, work / school computers or public computers. Here, it may be a question about where contact-specific encryption keys are held, whether on a server or on removable media along with how email sessions are handled on these temporary setups.

What will need to happen is for email platforms to support various secure-messaging features in a manner that can exist on a level playing field and without the need for correspondents to be on the same provider.

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Matthew Hare granted an OBE Honour for rural broadband in the UK

Articles

Fibre optic cable trench in village lane - press picture courtesy of Gigaclear

Fibre to the premises courtesy of Gigaclear

Queen’s Birthday Honours for CEO of Rural FTTP ISP Gigaclear | ISPReview

Matthew Hare awarded OBE for services to broadband provision | ThinkBroadband

From the horse’s mouth

UK Government – Cabinet Office

Queen’s Birthday Honours List

Previous coverage about Matthew Hare OBE

Interviews (2011,2015)

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

Gigaclear hits the big 10,000

First it was Hambleton, now it’s Uppingham to have fibre-optic broadband in Rutland

My Comments

I have given a fair amount of coverage to Matthew Hare and his company, Gigaclear, on this Website. This is due to the effort put in by Matthew Hare and this company to put fibre-to-the-premises broadband in to a significant part of rural England like East Anglia, the Home Counties and now Devon.

As I have highlighted before, rural areas do have a real need for urban-grade broadband Internet service. This is due to the many small businesses that serve these areas, including people who run these businesses from home along with people who live a significant distance from friends and family who are based in city areas. In some cases

It has also encouraged other independent fibre-to-the-premises networks to exist like the Hyperoptic urban network and the B4RN communitiy-driven rural networks.With these networks, the provision of current-expectation Internet service has been about working independently of BT Opennreach who look after the main telecoms infrastructure of the UK.

As I have covered before, Gigaclear have invested GBP£1000 / property to provide a standard of broadband not normally associated with a rural-broadband deployment. It is to provide a symmetrical Gigabit service using fibre-to-the-premises technology rather than a fibre-copper technology which can introduce many variables like decrepit infrastructure.

Just recently, Matthew Hare and Gigaclear received FTTH awards from the FTTH Council Europe who represent European fibre-to-the-premises network providers. This was because of his successful use of that technology in British rural areas.

Now Matthew Hare has received an Order of the British Empire as part of the 2018 Queen’s Birthday Honours thanks to his groundbreaking effort in providing broadband Internet service that is beyond ordinary for rural areas. This Honour, fully referred to as “Officer of the Order of the British Empire” was cited as for “Services to Broadband Provision in the UK”.

There have been some other Royal honours issued in relationship to providing independent Internet service using independent high-grade infrastructure within the UK. One of these is Dana Tobak CBE, whose Honour was granted as part of the New Year’s Honours list in 2017-2018 for her work with Hyperoptic and two granted in 2015 in relationship to the B4RN effort – Christine Conder OBE and Barry Forde MBE.

What these awards are showing is that someone has gone out of their way to provide a high standard of Internet service to Britain’s rural community and has broken the ground to offer it independently of an established incumbent telco or ISP.

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Sonos launches the first soundbar that works with multiple voice-driven home assistants

Articles

Sonos Beam soundbar connected to TV - press picture courtesy of Sonos

Sonos Beam under the TV

Sonos says its new Beam speaker will be able to talk to Siri, Alexa, and Assistant | FastCompany

A closer look at Sonos Beam: Smaller, smarter and more connected | Engadget

Sonos introduce cheaper, smarter Sonos Beam soundbar | PC World

From the horse’s mouth

Sonos

Sonos Beam (product page – direct purchase opportunity, press release)

My Comments

Sonos Beam soundbar (black finish) press picture courtesy of Sonos

Sonos Beam soundbar

Sonos has offered a smart speaker that not just is part of their own multi-room ecosystem but can work with multiple different voice assistants. Now they have taken this concept further by offering the Sonos Beam compact sound bar which can do this same trick.

They have taken this approach due to a reality with people operating two or more different voice-driven assistants. The classic reality would be someone who has an Amazon Echo at home but uses Siri in their iPhone or Google Assistant in their Android smartphone. But these assistants don’t complement each other effectively or even work with each other at all.

But this has been taken further with the Sonos Beam soundbar which is seen as a competitor to JBL’s Link Bar soundbar that has integrated Android TV set-top box functionality and can work with the Google Assistant. Initially it will come with Amazon Alexa but Siri and Google Assistant will be delivered as firmware updates through the year. A firmware upgrade will fully enable the Sonos Beam for Apple’s AirPlay 2 ecosystem which is Apple’s take on a full-blown multiroom setup centred around their products.

Sonos multiroom system press picture courtesy of Sonos

Works equally well with the rest of the Sonos multiroom system

For the sound, the Sonos Beam soundbar uses a digital-enhancement approach to draw out the bass from its compact cabinet. But you could team it with Sonos’s “Sub” subwoofer if you find that this may offer a better job at providing that extra bass. As well, thanks to the Sonos setup, you could team two of their standard speakers if you want to set up the full surround-sound experience.

The Sonos Beam “hears” you through an integrated far-field microphone array. But you can control whether it hears you or not by pressing a microphone-mute button on the speaker – this will have a “mic” icon located on it. The ability to control the microphone on this device reduces the risk of nuisance triggering which can easily happen when TV content is being played. Thanks to the HDMI-CEC standard facilitated by the HDMI-ARC connection, there is the ability to voice-control your TV in relation to sound volume (including muting the advertisements) or power status.

A limitation most of us will find with this soundbar is that it only has one HDMI connection for HDMI-ARC connectivity to the TV for its sound. This can be very constraining for those of us who use a TV that has very few HDMI connections and you use all these connections for various video peripherals.

But it is another effort by Sonos to prove that a smart-speaker device could support multiple voice-driven assistant platforms on the same device. Could this also be a reality with other equipment manufacturers soon? On the other hand, could this device become a virtual friend for that lonely person by providing better sound for daytime TV or being someone to talk to?

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Fingerprint scanning now available as a reasonably-priced add-on for your computer

Article

Fujitsu Lifebook S-Series SH771 trackpad and fingerprint reader

Fingerprint readers like what this Fujitsu laptop is equipped with are now available at a reasonable price for your existing computer

Best fingerprint scanners that let you use Windows Hello on older PCs | Windows Central

My Comments

I have reviewed a significant number of laptop computers, usually business-grade laptops, that have come with integrated fingerprint readers. This is a feature that is becoming common with premium and business-grade laptops but is also showing up on premium-grade smartphones and tablets.

Here, this allows you to scan your finger to log in to your device, with it able to be used as an additional authentication factor or as the only authentication factor. During my tenure with the various fingerprint-reader-equipped laptops, I set things up so that I log in to these computers using my fingerprint and this provided an effectively simplified but secure login experience to the system and online services like Facebook.

But you can have this with your existing Windows computer thanks to add-on fingerprint scanners that are reasonably priced. Similarly a fingerprint-reader attachment may be the answer if your have a computer with an integrated fingerprint reader but this has failed or has compatibility issues with Windows 10.

Previously, purchasing a fingerprint scanner for your desktop or existing laptop was about buying a piece of overpriced hardware pitched for larger enterprises who care about their security. As well, there was the risk of compatibility issues with these devices and the operating system.

Now these reasonably-priced devices called out in the Windows Central article are designed to work out of the box with Windows 10 especially with its class drivers and Hello simplified-login functionality. In most cases, these devices are a single-piece device that plugs in to the host computer’s USB port. This can work well for most laptop users and could work well with a desktop computer if you use a USB hub or a directly-connected peripheral that has USB hub functionality and at least one USB port flush with its outer surface.

The BIO-Key EcoID device exists on the end of a USB cable which would be a boon for desktop users but may be considered as something that gets in the way for laptop users. It also has the one-touch scan setup which is a similar user experience to what happens for smartphones or recent-issue laptops like the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 convertible Ultrabook.

All of these USB fingerprint readers listed in the article are available through Amazon with most of them retailing for between AUD$30-AUD$45 per unit. At least it is a way to set up your existing Windows 10 computer for one-touch secure logon without needing to fork out for a business-grade laptop. You also then have that same level of security if you bought a business-grade laptop with this feature but you want to equip your desktop PC or gaming rig with this level of security.

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You can find out what Alexa has recorded

Article

Amazon Echo on kitchen bench press photo courtesy of Amazon USA

You can find out what Amazon Alexa has recorded through your Echo device

How To Find Out What Your Alexa Is Recording | Lifehacker

My Comments

Recently, the computer press went in to overdrive about an Amazon Echo setup that unintentionally recorded and forwarded a family’s private conversation and forwarded it to someone in Seattle. Here, the big question that was asked was what was your Amazon Echo or similar smart speaker device recording without you knowing.

Amazon Echo, Google Home and similar voice-driven home-assistant platforms require a smart speaker that is part of the platform to hear for a “wake word” which is a keyword that wakes up these devices and has them listening. Then these devices capture and interpret what you say after that “wake word” in order to perform their function. One of the functions that these devices may perform is audio messaging where they could record a user’s message and pass that message on to another user on the same platform.

I had previously covered the issue of these voice-driven assistants being at risk of nuisance triggering including mentioning about the XBox game console supporting a voice assistant that triggered when an adman on a TV commercial called out a spot-special for the games console by saying “XBox On Sale” or “XBox On Special”.

Here, I recommended the use of a manual “call button” to make these devices ready to listen when you are ready or a “microphone mute” toggle to prevent your device being falsely triggered. As well, I recommended a visual indicator on the device that signals when it is listening. This is a practice mainly done with voice-assistant functionality that is part of a video peripheral’s feature set or software that runs on a platform computing device. Google’s Home smart speaker instead uses the microphone-mute button to allow you to control its microphone.

But you can check what Alexa has been recording from your Amazon Echo or other Alexa-compatible speaker device and delete private material that she shouldn’t have captured. This is also useful if you are troubleshooting one of these devices, identifying misunderstood instructions or are developing an Alexa Skill for the Alexa ecosystem.

  1. Here you launch the Amazon Alexa mobile-platform app on your smartphone. If you are using the Amazon Alexa Website (http://alexa.amazon.com) as previously mentioned on this site, there is a similar procedure to go about identifying your Amazon Echo sessions.
  2. Then you tap on the hamburger-shaped “advanced operation” icon on the top left of your screen.
  3. Tap on Settings to bring up a Settings menu for your setup. Go to the History option in the Alexa Account section of that menu.
  4. Here, you will see a list of interactions with any Alexa-ecosystem hardware or software front-end related to your Amazon account. These will be categorised by what has been understood and what hasn’t been understood. There is an option to filter the interaction list by date, which is handy if you have made heavy use of your Amazon Echo device through the months and years.

You can play each interaction to be sure of what your Alexa device or software has recorded. With these interactions, the current version of the interface only allows you to delete each unwanted interaction on by one. The effect of the deletion is that the interaction, including the voice recording, disappears from your account and the Amazon servers. But this could degrade your Amazon Alexa experience due to it not having much data to work on for its machine-learning abilities.

Here, at least with the Amazon Alexa ecosystem, you have some control over what has been recorded so you can remove potentially-private conversations from that ecosystem.

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What is happening with driver-free printing

What is driver-free printing?

HP OfficeJet 6700 Premium business inkjet multifunction printer

Driver-free printing like AirPrint allows for use of printers like this HP OfficeJet without the need to install drivers or extra software on host computers

This is to be able to use a printer with a host computing device without the need to install drivers or additional software on that device.

The current situation with most operating systems is that since the rise of page-based printers, you had to install additional driver software to get all the software on your computer to work with your printer.

This involves one having to know what make and model the printer was and how it was connected to the host device. Then one would be  downloading the software from the printer manufacturer’s Website or the computer platform’s app store and installing it on that computer or loading it from media supplied with the printer by the manufacturer.

Of course, how your printer connects to your computer or mobile device, be it through a USB cable, a Bluetooth link or a network is about the physical link to that printer. Most of the standards associated with these connection methods don’t provide support for driver-free printing.

Why is there an imperative for driver-free printing?

Mobile computing

You could print from a mobile-platform tablet like this Lenovo to a range of printers without installing lots of extra apps. Infact you can use Mopria to print from this Lenovo Android tablet driver-free.

A key imperative behind driver-free printing is the concept of mobile computing. It is about using highly-portable computing devices like laptops, smartphones and tablets for personal computing no matter wherever you are. This may include being able to use someone else’s printer or a public printing facility to get that document or photo printed there and then.

Similarly it can be about paying a service provider to perform advanced printing tasks such as bulk printing and document finishing for a small business or community organisation, or a photo lab to turn out a special photo as a large high-quality print on glossy paper.

Dedicated Computing Devices

Furthermore, it can be about the idea of providing a computing device, especially a dedicated computing device with printing abilities. A key application would be interactive TV supported by a smart-TV or set-top-box platform. In this scenario, a viewer could do something like print out a recipe from a cooking show that they view on demand just by using the remote control.

Accessible Computing

In the case of accessible computing, some blind users are using PDA devices which use tactile data input similar to a Perkins Braille typewriter and voice or Braille tactile output. Here, these users want to yield information in hard-copy form for sighted users but these devices have the same software requirements as a dedicated computing device. Typically they would have to work according to common standards for driver-free printing.

Similar devices are being constructed to allow people to live a life independent of particular disabilities and these will benefit from driver-free hard-copy output.

Efforts that have taken place to achieve this goal

In the early days of personal computing, Epson used their ESC/P codes as a defacto standard for determining how dot-matrix impact printers format the characters they print if anything beyond ordinary ASCII text was required. This was effectively used by every manufacturer who offered dot-matrix and similar printers whether through licensing or emulation.

A similar situation took place with Adobe with PostScript and HP with PCL as common page-description languages for laser and inkjet page printers. Again, other manufacturers took this on with licensing or emulation of the various language-interpreter software for their products.

These standards fell away as GUI-based operating systems managed printing at the operating-system level rather than at the application level. This was underscored with some printer manufacturers working with Microsoft to push forward with GDI-based host-rasterised printing leading towards cost-effective printer designs.

There have been some initial efforts taking place for driver-free printing in particular application classes, especially where dedicated-function devices were involved. This was through the persistence of ESC/P and the ESC/POS derivative printer-control protocol within the point-of-sale receipt printer space, along with the use of PictBridge as a driver-free method for printing photos from consumer digital cameras.

Similarly some managed-business-printing and service-based-printing platforms implemented a “single-driver” approach for printing using these platforms. This was to achieve a goal towards one installable program needed to become part of the platform and print to any machine the user is authorised to print to regardless of make and model. But it didn’t really answer the need for true driver-free operation for a printing environment.

As the home network became more common and was seen as part of the home-entertainment technology sphere, the UPnP Forum and DLNA made attempts at driver-free printing as part of their standards. It was positioned as a way to allow, for example, Smart TVs, electronic picture frames and set-top boxes to yield hard-copy output of photos for example. HP were the only vendor whose mid-tier and premium consumer printers answered these standards as I have discovered while reviewing some of their products.

The Printer Working Group started working on IPP Everywhere as a way to achieve driver-free printing via the network or direct connections for both consumer and business applications. This even was about exposing printer capabilities and features without the need of adding in special software to do something like stapling or supporting PIN-driven secure job release.

One of the standard page-description languages specified for IPP Everywhere was the Adobe PDF format which is infact used for “download-to-print” situations. This is because it is seen as a file format that represents “electronic hard copy” and the common practice in the “download-to-print” use case is to prepare a document as a PDF file before making it available. The IPP Everywhere approach also included and defined a use case of “printing by reference” where the printer “fetches” the PDF document off the Web server for printing rather than the user downloading it in order to turn out a hard copy of it.

Apple iPad Pro 9.7 inch press picture courtesy of Apple

Most iPhones and iPads implement AirPrint to allow for driver-free mobile printing

Apple was the first to make a serious breakthrough for driver-free printing and the IPP Everywhere goal when they added AirPrint to the version 4.2 of the iOS platform. This was important for iOS due to the desire not to add any extra machine-specific code for particular printers since the iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch were mobile devices with constrained memory and storage space.

Google initially achieved something similar with their Google Cloud Print ecosystem which was being pitched for ChromeOS and Android. But this worked as a cloud-driven or hosted variation of print management solutions pitched at enterprises which offered a form of driverless or universal-driver printing to that user base.

But the Mopria Alliance have made a serious step closer with driverless printing by creating a network-based printing infrastructure for the Android platform. Google followed up the Cloud Print program with the Android Print Service software ecosystem which uses “plugins” that work in a same way to drivers. Here, the Mopria Alliance, founded by Canon, HP, Samsung and Xerox, worked towards a single plugin for driver-free printing and had these companies install firmware in their machines to present themselves across a logical network to Mopria-compliant hosts as well as process print jobs for these hosts.

What needs to happen

All printers that work with any network need to support AirPrint, IPP Everywhere and Mopria no matter what position they hold in a manufacturer’s product lineup. This will then incentivise the idea of driver-free network printing.

The IT industry also needs to investigate the use of device classes / profiles within the USB and Bluetooth standards to facilitate driver-free direct printing. This is because USB and Bluetooth are seen as connection types used for directly connecting a peripheral to a host computer device rather than connecting via a network. As well, driver-free direct printing could open up more use cases involving printing from dedicated-function devices.

Similarly, Microsoft needs to implement Mopria and/or IPP Everywhere in to Windows as part of a default print driver delivered with the desktop operating system. This would then allow for truly-portable printing from laptops, tablets and 2-in-1s running the Windows operating system.

Driver-free printing could come in to its own with interactive TV especially when you are dealing with cooking shows like MasterChef

A use case that needs to be put forward for driver-free printing is its relevance with interactive TV. In this case, it could be about watching a TV show whether linearly or on-demand, including watching content held on Blu-Ray discs and being able to, at a whim, print out resources relating to that show. Situations that can come up include printing a “white paper” associated with a public-affairs show or printing a recipe that was demonstrated in a cooking show. Even advertising could lead towards the ability for users to print out coupons in response to advertised specials, something that would be valued in the USA or complete a booking for an advertised event with the printer turning out the tickets. Such a concept can also extend to other “lean-back” apps offered on a smart-TV platform by providing a printing option to these apps.

But this would be about achieving a user experience that is about selecting the resource to print and instantiating the print job from a 10-foot “lean-back” user experience using a limited remote control. It would also include advertising the fact that printable resources exists for that show that you can print using the interactive-TV platform. Similarly, interactive-TV platforms like HBBTV, media-storage platforms like Blu-Ray, and smart-TV / set-top-box platforms like tvOS, Android TV or Samsung Smart Hub would need to support one or more of the driver-free printing platforms. In the case of tvOS, Apple could simply add AirPrint functionality to that set-top operating system so you could print from your Appl

The idea of driver-free printing will also be relevant to the smart home especially if it is desirable for devices therein to be able to provide hard copy on demand. For example, kitchen appliances that have access to online recipe libraries, an idea positioned by most of the big names in this field, may benefit from this feature because you could configure them to be set up for a particular recipe while your printer turns out the actual recipe with the ingredients list. But this concept will need to be driven by the use of “print by reference” standards for access to online resources.

As well, a driver-free printing setup should be able to recognise label and receipt printers in order to permit transaction-driven printing using these devices. For example, address labels could be turned out as a sheet of paper with all the labels on a regular printer or as a run of labels emerging from a label printer.

How could this affect printer design and product differentiation

The use of driver-free printing won’t deter printer manufacturers from improving their products’ output speed and quality. Infact, the use of standard page-description languages will lead towards the development of high-speed coprocessors and software that can quickly render print jobs sent to them in these formats.

There will also be a competitive emphasis on the number of functions available at a multifunction printer’s control panel with this being driven by app platforms maintained by the various printer manufacturers. Like with smart TVs, it could lead towards third parties including alliances developing app platforms for manufacturers who don’t want to invest in developing and maintaining an app platform.

Let’s not forget that printer manufacturers will maintain the “horses for courses” approach when it comes to designing printer models for both home and business use. But it will lead to an emphasis on refining the various product classes without needing to think about shoehorning driver and print-monitor software for the various host devices.

Conclusion

Once we see driver-free printing, it can lead towards simplified real plug-and-play printer setup for all kinds of users. Similarly it opens up printers towards a large class of device types beyond mobile and desktop computing devices.

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