Category: Feature Article

Set Windows not to interrupt your presentation or movie

Article

Presentation shown on retractable screen

You don’t really want Windows to throw pop-up notifications during that important business presentation

How to disable notifications while presenting on Windows 10 | Windows Central

My Comments and how to go about this further

Most of us encounter times in our work and personal computing lives where we don’t really like Windows to “pop up” too many notifications while we are concentrating. Situations where this is more so include running a presentation, watching video material, engaging in a videocall or playing games where we really crave the minimum of distractions.

Screenshot of Acorn TV website

.. nor while watching that bit of video-on-demand content on your computer

There are multiple approaches to reducing distractions caused by Windows when it pops up those notifications. These depend on the screen setup you are running with.

One screen

Quiet Hours button on Windows 10

Quiet Hours button in Action Center on Windows 10

Most of you who are using that laptop or convertible 2-in-1 will be using this machine’s screen to view your long-form video or show that presentation to two or three people at the “second-office” café. Or you are using a traditional desktop computer like that “gaming rig” and don’t want Windows to distract you from that game you are playing.

Quiet Hours option - a right click away - Windows 10

Right click on the bubble to pop up this menu

Here, you can enable the “Quiet Hours” function to prevent Windows 8 or 10 from popping up notifications when you don’t want them. This can be enabled using a “button” in the Windows 10 Action Center or by right-clicking on the Windows 10 Action Center bubble at the right-hand corner of the screen then selecting “Turn on Quiet Hours”. This will mute all notifications coming in so you aren’t disturbed.

When you have finished, you then disable “Quiet Hours” by repeating the above process. If you right-click on the Action Center bubble, the option that will show up will be “Turn Off Quiet Hours”.

Two Screens – Duplicated display

Windows 10 - Hide Notifications When Duplicating Screen

Use this option to hide notifications when you have two screens replicating each other

Some of you who have a laptop may connect your computer to the projector or large-screen TV and set it up to “duplicate” the display. This is often seen as a simplified approach to putting things up on the large screen especially if both displays have the same resolution and aspect ratio.

As well, this scenario may please those of us who are using Windows Media Player, Windows Photo Viewer, the Windows Store apps or similar software that doesn’t address displays separately, or are simply working with the Web.

Windows 10 has a dedicated setup for this scenario where if you are duplicating the display, you don’t see any of the notifications appearing on both screens. This is a separately-selectable option in the Notifications And Actions settings screen as “Hide Notifications When I’m Duplicatiing My Screen”.

Two Screens – Extended display

Extended Display setup for a secondary display as a dedicated screen - Windows 7

Extended Display setup – for a secondary display as a dedicated screen – Windows 7

There are those of you who have your computer connected to an external display in the “extend” mode. This may be because you are using presentation software that can separately address the external displays or are using the extended multiple-screen desktop.

In this scenario, you would be having your notifications appear on your setup’s primary screen such as your laptop screen. This is although, in a presentation setup, you would be having the presentation appear on the large screen.

But you may want to be sure that you are not disturbed during the presentation or video content. Here, you can follow the instructions for enabling “Quiet Hours” as described in the “One Screen” context.

Managing your system’s sound

On the other hand, you may not mind the visual notifications on your screen such as when you are watching a video or engaging in a videocall. This may be because you want to make sure you don’t miss that message for example.

But you may want to play things a bit more discreetly and not have chimes or bells associated with incoming messages or error notifications disturb you. This is more so when you have the sound coming through a sound system or a large-screen TV’s speakers, and these sounds at the default volume level can be increasingly annoying to hear.

This situation shows up very strong where the software you are using doesn’t allow you to determine which sound-playback device it should play through and you have to use the Windows “default sound device” typically shared by the system for its notification purposes. This situation applies mainly with Web-based situations, UWP / Modern / Metro apps that you get from the Windows Store or some online-service clients like Spotify.

There is the ability to turn off audible chimes for apps that put up notifications but let them put up the visual notifications. Here, you may have to use the Notifications settings screen and work through each app and turn off the “Play a sound when a notification arrives” option on each app. Then you would have to do this rigmarole again when you want the audio prompts back.

Volume Mixer in Windows 10, similar to other Windows versions

Volume Mixer in Windows – System Sounds are the notification chimes and dings

Here, you can work around this problem by using the Windows Volume Mixer to reduce the System Sounds volume output so that those beeps and chimes don’t come through very loud. You can even slide that volume right down so that those sounds can’t come through at all. If you are using Windows Store apps like some of the Windows 10 clients for the various online video services, you could use “Ear Trumpet” (Free download from Windows Store) which is an advanced volume mixer that works with these apps as well as Desktop (classic) apps as well as integrating with the Windows 10 look and feel.

Ear Trumpet volume mixer app for Windows 10 - manages Windows Store apps

Ear Trumpet volume mixer app for Windows 10 – manages Windows Store apps

What Microsoft could do

Microsoft could support a “notifications profiles” setup in Windows where you can turn off the notifications abilities for particular apps and save these setups as one or more profiles. Here, it could be useful to allow users to create situation-specific profiles such as one to have when watching video content, running a business presentation or going to bed.

It could be implemented also with notifications being assigned “priority” levels so as to allow users not to have “hints-and-tips” or similar unimportant notifications come through at “do-not-disturb” times yet have important notifications come through. For email, messaging and similar software, user could assign priority levels for their contacts so that they don’t miss messages from the contacts that matter like the boss.

The sound-management software in Windows could allow you to create situation-specific sound-level settings like what happened with the Symbian-based Nokia phones. This was where you could create sound-level scenarios for particular situations by varying different sound outputs like ringtone, notification tones and multimedia sounds (music or video playback). This also appeals to other ideals like being able to relegate sound classes like system notifications to particular output devices independent of other sound classes like multimedia and communications.

Conclusion

Once you know how to manage the notifications that pop up in Windows 10’s Notification bar, you can be able to make sure you aren’t distracted by this noise when you want to run that important presentation or watch that favourite Netflix. Similarly, adjusting the sound output of your apps, especially those that are only about notifying, can allow you to achieve that quiet environment while you enjoy music, watch videos or give presentations.

Send to Kindle

What is my computer’s file-storage system about?

Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro convertible notebook at Rydges Hotel Melbourne

How is your data organised on your computer, whether on its main disk or any removable storage connected to it>

A computer always needs to be able to hold programs and data in a non-volatile manner so users can get back to this data when they switch the computer on again. Here this has evolved through different methods and technologies that answered these needs in different ways.

What were these technologies that were available for home computers?

Initially, home-computer users used to have to use audio cassette tapes to store this data. Subsequently, the magnetic diskette, commonly known as the floppy disk due to it being like a piece of card, became the preferred storage method for computers. Typically, the better computer setups would end up with two floppy-disk drives so that two disks can be accessed at once.

USB external hard disk

A USB external hard disk

The early 1980s saw some manufacturers offer high-capacity fixed-disk drives, which were known as “hard disks” as a storage option for computers with this being preferred by business users. These storage devices earned this name as them being seen as an alternative to the old floppy disks.

Subsequently, Sony brought forward the hard-shelled 3.5” “micro-floppy” and this was brought out alongside a similar technology offered by Hitachi and a few other companies. It was to provide a higher-capacity smaller data-storage magnetic disk that was more rugged than the previous designs and appealed to the design of highly-portable computers.

The optical disk, which is based on CD technology, came in to being as an affordable software-distribution and large-data-distribution technology during the mid 1990s. Subsequently, solid-state non-moving flash storage came to fruition from the late 90s as a removable storage medium for digital cameras and PDAs but became more viable for regular computers since the late 2000s.

Since the magnetic disk came on the scene, there was an increased importance placed on organising where the data existed on these storage systems, with an emphasis on such concepts as file systems, volumes and folders or directories. This was because the various magnetic-disk systems were becoming more and more capacious and users needed to know where their data existed. Here, the file system effectively became a hierarchical database for the information you store on your computer and provided a logical relationship between the files and where the bits and bytes that represented them existed on the storage medium.

Desktop computers required the ability for the user to insert and remove any removable media at a moment’s notice but this required the user to be sure that all the data that was written to the medium before they could remove it. This is in contrast to what was required of mainframe and similar computer systems where an operator had to type commands to add the disk to the computer’s file system or remove it from the file system as part of physically attaching and detaching these disks.

This concept changed when Apple brought in the Macintosh computer which used the Sony 3.5” microfloppy disks. Here, they allowed you you to insert removable media in to that computer but required you to “drag it to the Trashcan” before the disk could be removed. Some advanced removable disk types like the Zip disk implemented this kind of removal in the Windows and other operating system by providing what has been described as a “VCR-style” eject routine due to its relationship to how you used an audio or video recorder. Here, you pressed the eject button on the disk drive which would cause all the data to be written back to the disk before the disk came out.

Now the modern computer has at least one hard disk and / or solid-state disk fixed inside it along with USB ports being used for connecting USB-connected hard disks or memory keys. You may also be inserting your camera’s SD card in to an SD-card slot on your laptop computer or in to an SD-card reader module that plugs in to your computer’s USB port if you were downloading digital images and videos. Some of you may even have an optical drive integrated in your computer or connected to it via a USB cable and use this for archiving data or playing CDs and DVDs.

Your operating system’s file manager

Windows 10 File Manager - logical volumes

All the logical volumes available to a computer – representing hard disks with their logical partitions along with removable media

The operating system that runs your computer will have a file manager that allows you to discover and load your files or move, copy, rename and delete files amongst the logical volumes available to your computer. In Windows, this used to be known as File Manager, then became known as Windows Explorer but is now known as File Explorer. The Apple Macintosh describes this file manager simply as Finder.

This used to be a command-line task but since the arrival of the Apple Macintosh, the file manager is represented using a graphical user interface which shows a list of files, folders or logical volumes that you are dealing with.

Clicking on a folder or logical volume will bring up a screen to show you what is in that folder or logical volume. But clicking on a file will cause it to be opened by the default application or, in the case of a program, cause that program to run.

Moving or copying files nowadays is simply a drag-and-drop affair where you drag the files from the source to the destination, but you may have to hold down the Shift key or use the right-hand mouse button to modify a default move or copy action.

As well, the modern file managers have a “two-stage” delete action for files on a hard disk or other fixed storage where they end up in a “holding-bay” folder known as the Trashcan or Recycle Bin when you delete them. This is to allow you to find files that you may have unintentionally deleted. But to fully delete them for good, you have to delete the contents of this “holding-bay” folder, something you can do by right-clicking or Ctrl-clicking on this folder to bring up a context menu and selecting an “Empty” option.

What is my computer’s file storage system about

The logical volume

Most operating systems represent as their storage system every logical volume be it a removable disk or each partition of a hard disk as its own element. It was the only way to work in the early days of computing because each fixed or removable disk didn’t hold much in the way of data and was its own element. As hard disks became more capacious, there was a requirement to partition them or break a single physical hard disk in to multiple logical volumes because the operating systems of the early days couldn’t hold much data per volume. You can also set up some operating systems to present a folder on a NAS or file server available to you over a network to appear as a logical volume, a practice that was important before networks were commonplace and personal-computer operating systems could address network resources directly. All removable media are still represented with one logical volume per disk, card or stick.

Each logical volume would have the ability to be given a volume name and be represented as a distinct icon which is part of a “Devices”, “Volumes” or similar cluster in the file-management system that is part of the operating system. The icon is typically a crude representation of the storage medium that the logical volume exists on.

Windows, harking back to the Microsoft MS-DOS days, would also assign each logical volume a “drive letter” owing to the fact that each disk drive on the original IBM PC was assigned its own letter with A and B reserved for the floppy disk drives.

The Apple Macintosh represented on the right side of the Desktop screen a “disk” icon for each logical volume currently available to the system. But recent iterations of the Macintosh’s operating system provided a setting so that all of the logical volumes that represented the computer’s fixed storage didn’t appear as desktop icons.

The mid 1980s showed up a situation where an operating system had to identify what kind of disk a logical volume was on because hard disks were becoming more viable and a computer could have multiple disks of different kinds. This was also being augmented by the arrival of networks and file servers where you could “pool” your files on a common computer with larger storage, and CD-ROMs in the early 90s being a cheap way to deliver large amounts of software and data. Thanks to the graphical user interface, this was represented via an icon that represented the kind of disk being handled.

How are they represented?

In Windows, each logical volume, whether fixed or removable,is represented in Windows Explorer or File Explorer by an icon in the left hand panel under “This PC” or “Computer” or something similar depending on the version. If you click on this icon, you will see a list of all the logical volumes available to your computer.

On the Macintosh, you would normally have each of these volumes represented by an icon on the right hand side of your desktop, where you would click on that volume to invoke a Finder window to see all of the files in this volume. On the other hand, Finder would represent all of the volumes in a separate left-hand-side pane.

In both cases, each logical volume would be represented at least with its logical volume name and icon. With some systems, if there is a device that can hold removable media like an SD card reader, floppy disk drive or an optical drive, you will see that device listed but greyed out or de-emphasised if there is nothing in it.

Some operating systems like MacOS X may represent a removable volume like an SD card, USB memory key or optical disk with a distinct icon to highlight their removeability. This will typically be an “eject” symbol which you can click to safely remove that volume. Windows even lists the “eject” word in the right-click option menu for all of the volumes that are removable.

Folders

The folders that exist on a system disk

All the folders that exist on a hard disk, this time the system disk

The Macintosh and, subsequently, MS-DOS and Amiga brought around the concept of directories or folders as a way of organising data across increasingly-larger data volumes. Here, you could organise the data in to smaller clusters that relate to a common theme or purpose with the ability to create a folder within another folder.

Some operating systems like some versions of the Macintosh operating system allowed you to represent a folder with a graphical icon but this was used mainly by software developers when you installed software on the computer.

But all of the computers typically allocate a special folder on the main logical volume for storing all the programs that you run and, in some cases, even create a temporary folder for keeping data that a program stores on an as-needed basis.

How are they represented

On the graphical-user interface, these were represented as a folder icon that is  a part of how the contents of a logical volume was represented. Clicking on this folder icon will allow you to see the contents of that folder.

What is the main or system disk of your computer?

The Main Disk or System Disk for a Windows computer

The Main Disk or System Disk for a Windows computer

The main disk on your computer, which is a hard disk or fixed solid-state-device, stores all the files that are to do with its operating system and all the applications you run on your computer. Such a disk is listed as C: in Windows or MACINTOSH HD on the Macintosh. It is also described as the system disk or the boot disk because it has the operating system that the computer has to load every time it is started, a process described as the “boot” process.

Where the programs that you run exist

It will also contain the data you create but all of the files needed to run the operating system and the applications will be kept in particular folders. For example, the  “Applications” or “Program Files” is kept aside for the applications and games the user installs, with each application you install creating its own subfolder of that folder. This is while a separate folder like “Windows” or “System” is kept for the operating system’s files. Some operating systems like MacOS may also use another folder for keeping plug-ins, fonts and similar common application resources while others may keep these with the applications / programs folder, usually as a subordinate folder.

Where the Desktop is represented

As well, all the icons and files that you store on the Desktop will be kept on a “Desktop” folder which represents everything that exists there.

The data you have created

But you will also end up with user-data space like “Documents”, “Photos” and the like where you save all of the data you create with your computer’s applications. Your e-mail program may store your emails in that folder or in a separate folder on this same disk.

Some operating systems, most notably Windows and earlier iterations of the Macintosh operating system, even let you create folders on the System Disk that aren’t earmarked for a purpose for you to use as your data folders. This also includes other programs keeping the user-created data in their own folders.

The secondary holding place for deleted files

Then there is the “Trashcan” or “Recycle Bin” folder which is used as a holding space for files you delete should you regret deleting them. When you delete a file from one of your folders on the main disk or other fixed disks in your computer, these files will end up in this “holding space”. Then if you want to remove them permanently, you have to delete them from this folder.

Removable Storage

USB memory key

USB storage device – an example of removable storage

All of the removable storage devices work on a freeform method of organising data across each of their logical volumes because there typically isn’t a requirement to keep certain folders for certain system processes.

This is except for memory cards associated with digital cameras because of the digital photography industry’s desire to implement a “Digital Camera File System”. Here, you have a DCIM folder for all digital-camera images and your camera will keep the pictures and videos you take in a subfolder of that DCIM folder, This was to simplify the searching process for digital images when you used a printer, photo-printing kiosk or electronic picture frame. There is also a MISC directory where DPOF print-order files are stored when you order photos to be printed using your camera’s control surface and either insert the camera card in to you multifunction printer or a photo-printing kiosk.

When you delete a file from removable storage, it is gone for good. As well, you need to make sure that you properly remove memory cards, USB memory keys and similar removable storage because most operating systems won’t write back all of the data changes to that storage device as they occur. Some operating systems like Windows allow you to immediately remove the classic floppy disks but most of them require you to use a “safely remove” or “eject” routine to properly write all the data to the removable medium before you can remove it. The Macintosh even allows you to drag the removable medium to the Trashcan to safely remove it.

Conclusion

The file system that your computer has is one of the key tenets of managing your data on your computer and it is about how your data is organised across multiple storage devices and within these storage devices.

Send to Kindle

Creating your own electronic signage for your organisation

Any of the flat-screen TVs on the market including the 4K models can serve as electronic signage

Any of the flat-screen TVs on the market including the 4K models can serve as electronic signage

One use you can put flat-panel displays (including TVs) and projectors to is as an electronic signboard for your business or organisation. This can be alongside a computer that you set aside for that task or a having the display itself or a video peripheral like a Blu-Ray player do the task of showing the signage.

Here, you can use common computer software to create the signage that you can keep revised and updated as your needs change and either show them using this software or create JPEG files of the signage to show using your display or video peripheral.

Create the signage material

Microsoft PowerPoint - useful for creating electronic signage

Microsoft PowerPoint – useful for creating electronic signage

Use a presentation program like Microsoft PowerPoint, OpenOffice Impress or Apple Keynote to create your slides. Here, make sure you have the page layout set up for a 4:3, 16:9 or 16:10 screen when you set up your presentation with the aspect ration dependent on what most of your equipment can work with natively.

Sometimes, you may find that the DL paper size may be able to provide that “wide expansive look” for your signage on a 4:3 or 16:9 display. Other layout sizes that can also work include the “business-card” size or the classic 3:2 layout associated with still images taken on 35mm film.

Some of you may base your signage on other printable collateral that you have created like handbills, flyers or business cards. The best formats for the collateral that you want to use would be most of the common paper sizes with the document set in landscape format. In this case, you simply make a high-resolution JPEG or PNG bitmap from the PDF master file for the printed collateral.

You may decide to implement animation in your signage using the presentation program if it supports that feature but the program must be able to export these signs as a video file that most devices can understand. Here, you may want a particular sign to have an animated effect for the duration of that message, including an effect that happens when it appears and another when it disappears.

If you are using an electronic picture frame or a tablet purposed as one and you have this set up in a vertical (portrait) manner, you may find that you could use a vertical page layout here.

How should it look

You may find that your electronic signage may work really well if you use bright features like text or graphics set against a darker background. This will effectively make the text and graphics “pop” against the background and is also more flexible for use with video projectors.

As well the text is best set up using sans-serif fonts like the Helvetica or Comic Sans font families rather than serif fonts like the Times Roman or Courier font families. This is more so where you are using a projector or a large display that is likely to be viewed at a distance. Here, such text becomes easier to read from a distance. But you can make use of mixed-case lettering to make best use of the space as well as allowing for improved legibility.

Learn from example

Presentation shown on retractable screen

These presentations can be a good example of what you can do for electronic signage

If you are looking for good examples to work from, pay attention to some of the work others have done in this field, especially if this is your first effort at visual merchandising.

For example, look at the slides that are shown before the main film when you are watching a movie at the cinema, or the slides shown at business presentations during any conference or expo you attend. Similarly, when you are loafing on that couch watching TV, look at the announcement or advisory slides that are shown before or after the TV shows or any of the menus and warning notices shown before DVD or Blu-Ray video content.

Here, you observe things like text pitch and layout along with how the text and other highlights look against the background. Similarly, it may be worth noticing different colour combinations that are used in this material.

Export your slides to high-resolution picture or video files

PDF2PNG or PDF2JPG can come in handy for creating bitmap images of your electronic-signage PDFs

PDF2PNG or PDF2JPG can come in handy for creating bitmap images of your electronic-signage PDFs

Once you have finished with creating your masterpiece slides and you are satisfied with them, export a PDF copy of the presentation. Then you use a PDF-to-JPEG export site to export your PDF-based presentation to high-resolution JPEG files that work with most TV screens. I have highlighted this process in my article and SlideShare presentation about how you can create better high-resolution JPEG output form PowerPoint.

This process is important if you aren’t using the same or compatible presentation tool to show the electronic signage or are using consumer-electronics devices as the display tools.

If you create a highly-animated screenshow using your presentation tool, export it as an MP4 (H.264) or other common video file which your displays will support. Here, you don’t have to add any sound to the file because this will come alive with just the vision. If you have to convert the animation file, you may find that most video-editing or video-conversion utilities can do this job very adequately. Here, you may find that you could make video files for each slide rather than for the whole presentation so as to allow for devices to randomly show the slides or to allow a mix of animated and still signage.

Showing them on the screen

Using your network and UPnP AV / DLNA technologies

DLNA collections listed as sources on the TV

DLNA content collections listed as sources on a Samsung Smart TV

If you have a NAS or file server that is running DLNA media server software, (most of these would be), you can use UPnP AV / DLNA as a way to show the electronic signage. Here, you use a TV that has DLNA functionality integrated in it like most, if not all, of the smart TVs; or have a TV, monitor or projector connected to a DLNA-capable video peripheral like a Blu-Ray player, network media player or games console.

Here, you use the remote control on the TV or video peripheral to “pull up” the images that are in a folder shared by the server device’s media-server software. Or an increasing number of devices can respond to DLNA-standard media-controller software like the “Play To”/ “Cast To Device” function offered in Microsoft Windows operating systems since Windows 7, allowing you to “throw” the pictures up on the screen using your regular computer or mobile device.

Pioneer BDP-160 Blu-Ray Player (Pioneer Europe press image)

Pioneer BDP-160 DLNA-capable Blu-Ray player – can enable a cheap flat-screen TV, monitor or projector to be used for electronic signage

But you have to have all of the “signage” slides in a folder that is accessible to and shared by the DLNA media server software. On some NAS units, you may be able to add an option for a shared-folder tree anywhere on the NAS to be indexed and shared by the DLNA media server; or you may be required to keep your media content under a certain shared-folder tree. Then you maintain sub-folders that relate to particular occasions or campaigns and put the relevant electronic-signage JPEG files there.

Removable Media

Panasonic VIERA AX900 Series 4K UHDTV press picture courtesy of Panasonic

Just about all flat-screen TVs could work with USB memory keys to show electronic-signage images

Most of the large-screen TVs, Blu-Ray or DVD players, network media players or similar devices are providing the ability to show still images held on a USB memory key or SD card. Similarly, you could burn a CD or DVD full of digital images and show these on most, if not all, recent-issue DVD and Blu-Ray players  As well, an increasing number of the portable video projectors are even offering as a differentiating feature the ability to allow you to show pictures or videos from a USB memory key or SD card.

Here, you can upload a campaign’s worth of images to a USB memory key and plug it directly in to your display device or video peripheral. To the same extent, you could put these images on an optical disc and show them using most recent DVD and Blu-Ray players.

Using removable media works best if you are working with one or two display devices to show your signage material. Similarly, it can work very well if you are not likely to change the material very frequently.

You may also find that some of these display devices or video peripherals will run the images at the sharpest resolution that the display can support. Here, the playout hardware integrated in the display is working directly with the display rather than at an “agreed” resolution.

A computer connected to a large display

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Ultrabook

Desktop or laptop computers when used with external displays can earn their keep for electronic signage

Some of you may customarily hook up a computer to a large display like a projector and will want to use it for showing the electronic signage. It would be of importance for churches and other houses of worship where a computer is used to show worship material; or cinemas and theatres where a computer is used to show the program material.

Here, you could use a presentation program to do the job especially if you used the same presentation program or a compatible piece of software to create those slides; or just get by with a photo-viewing or media-playout tool like even Windows Photo Viewer to do this job without installing extra software. I have written up some instructions on how to press this program in to service with a larger display when you have a dual-display setup like a laptop connected to a large screen or a desktop with a monitor and a projector for showing to the audience.

Sometimes you may find that the one presentation tool doesn’t answer all of your needs with your computer or some of these tasks may be difficult to perform with that tool. For example, you, as a church AV manager, may find that a worship-lyrics program of the EasiSlides ilk can cut it just fine for the song lyrics that are part of your worship service while a program like Windows Photo Viewer can cut it for showing many JPEG images. On the other hand, you may come across that presentation tool that can satisfy main-program applications as well as the electronic signage applications.

An iPad or similar tablet

One of these tablets could work as counter-top electronic signage

One of these tablets could work as counter-top electronic signage

Most tablets have a screenshow application but you would have to upload the signage in to the tablet whether via Dropbox or similar cloud storage; connecting the tablet to your computer to transfer the files; or plugging in a microSD card or USB thumbdrive in to an Android tablet that supports USB OTG or removable media. You may also find that a DLNA media client running on your tablet can also fulfil this task effectively if your tablet and NAS are part of the same network.

It can be taken further with an Apple TV or Google Chromecast device that purposes your TV screen as the external screen for your tablet. Similarly, running a DLNA media-controller client on that tablet to “throw” the signage to DLNA MediaRender-capable devices like Smart TVs could answer your needs. But these situations may not allow you to use the tablet’s screen and the external screen simultaneously.

These would work well when you want to have this signage on a bar or reception desk for your visitors to see up close.

Conclusion

Once you know how to use your favourite presentation program to create electronic signage and that you can use cost-effective equipment to display it, you can then have a digital display that you can always have updated regularly with new information.

Send to Kindle

FLAC–now the audio filetype for archival use

Naim NDS network audio player

This high-end Naim NDS network audio player is an example of equipment that can handle the lossless FLAC file type

If you work with audio content, whether to “rip” CDs to the hard disk or home network, or record speech or music content for audio projects, you may have been dealing with various compressed filetypes like MP3 or AAC as your main recording format.

But most of these filetypes work on a lossy principle where data is effectively lost and when the file is played back, the software reconstitutes that file to make it something to listen to. Now an open-source file format has been released to allow for lossless compression of audio content.

This recently-issued format, known as FLAC or Free Lossless Audio Codec, has answered many audio technicians’ prayers because the sound is encoded in a manner as to prevent the loss of audio content through recording or playback. This is in a similar manner to how a ZIP or RAR “file-of-files” is prepared in order to conserve disk space or bandwidth. You still have the advantage of a compressed file not taking up too much storage space or transmission bandwidth. Being an open-source free codec, it means that audio applications can implement this codec without the need to pay royalties to particular organisations and there are very few other encumbrances on that codec.

FLAC re-rip of CD

FLAC – a better archival format

One of the best analogies that I came across for using FLAC in the audio-archival context is that it is like if you are a wine collector and you purchase a premium wine-cellar to keep your collection. Here, the wine-cellar is keeping the wine collection at an ideal temperature and humidity for long-term storage. But when you want to serve that drop at the dinner party, you have the bottle sitting on the sideboard and resting until it is at the ideal serving temperature.

Previously this required a user to download and install a FLAC codec on their computer to be able to record, play or edit these files. Then the Linux and Android operating systems had native support for this filetype built in to tie operating system and various audio applications provided application-level support for working with these files. Similarly, high-end sound cards and USB DACs furnished this codec as part of their software. Now Windows 10 has provided native support for FLAC files including ripping CDs to these files.

How can I use FLAC in my audio workflow

Creating your digital-audio content

If you use a computer or a file-based digital-audio recorder (including some digital mixers) to record audio content, make sure that you record as a PCM form like a WAV or AIFF file; or as a FLAC file. You may find that some equipment like a lot of the digital mixers with integrated USB recording abilities may only work with USB hard disks or solid-state drives that use high-speed data transfer if you have them record to WAV or similar files.

Then you use an audio editor like Audacity, NCH WavePad, or Rogue Amoeba’s Fission; or an audio converter program like NCH Switch, dbPowerAmp or Foobar2000 to convert the WAV or AIFF file in to a FLAC file. You may find that some video converters may offer audio-to-audio conversion for the FLAC file.

dbPoweramp Music Converter - one of the audio converters worth using out there

dbPoweramp Music Converter – one of the audio converters worth using out there

You could do this to your audio file once you have that file in “master-ready” condition – you have edited it and applied any audio transformations to that file to get it sounding right and it is ready to distribute. On the other hand, you could also create a “raw” FLAC file from the WAV or AIFF you have recorded before you perform any of the editing and audio transformation work. In this situation, you then use this “raw” file as your reference file if you needed to approach the editing in another way.

Even if you are salvaging audio content from legacy media like LPs, open-reel tapes or cassettes, you can still use FLAC as your audio filetype for these efforts. Here, you can use theses FLAC files simply as the digital archive for this media.

As you create or edit a FLAC file, you can add metadata about the content you recorded to that file and, like with MP3 files, that data which describes the song title, performer, genre, album and other attributes stays with that file. This will work properly with smartphones or media players that play these files; along with DLNA media servers that distribute these files across small networks – these servers can index them and have them found according to the metadata that describes the content.

Distributing your FLAC-based audio content

When you distribute your content, you can then use the FLAC file as your source file – you could simply copy that file if you are targeting newer FLAC-compatible  “open-frame” equipment like Android or Windows 10 smartphones or Windows computers, or convert to MP3, AAC or Apple Lossless for Apple and other equipment that doesn’t support FLAC. Similarly, most current-issue DLNA-capable NAS units can work from FLAC files especially if you have FLAC-capable playback equipment on the network.

The FLAC file is also useful as a “master” audio file if you are creating an Audio CD because it is a compressed audio file that has has the same audio qualities as a PCM WAV or AIFF file. Similarly, you may have to convert the FLAC to a WAV or AIFF if you are importing it in to a video editing program for use as part of your video project’s soundtrack.

Conclusion

Once you use FLAC as your main file type for audio recording and editing or simply convert legacy audio files to FLAC, you are then ending up with a digital-audio file that can be used as an archival or distribution-master form.

Send to Kindle

Avoiding a mess-up with your small business’s or community organisation’s IT

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

Make sure you know where you stand with your small business’s or community organisation’s IT software and services

A very common situation that can come about with a small business that is starting out or a community organisation that is running with a handful of core volunteers is that you can end up with a messy information-technology situation.

Typically this happens because the people who are behind the organisation typically buy the hardware, software and services out of their own pocket, assuming that the organisation is running on the “smell of an oily rag” with very minimal funds. This situation affects organisations in the religious, charitable or voluntary sector where they want to spend as little on office-related or capital expenses as possible so the money that comes in is focused on the organisation’s raison d’etre.

What can happen especially with software is that the it ends up being licensed in the name of the contributor or volunteer while a service like Web-site hosting and domain-name renewal is paid out of a member’s or volunteer’s personal funds and managed in the name of that member. In the case of operating systems or other software that are furnished with donated computer hardware, the software can also be licensed in the name of the donor rather than the beneficiary and no procedure takes place to technically and legally transfer this ownership.

Then you can end up with issues like software piracy and non-compliance or a service being paid for by someone who has left the organisation then you don’t know where that service is going or whom the computer software should be in the name of. You also have the issue of where the organisation legally stands when it come to using the service and this can also place the continuity of that service in doubt.

Do you know the organisation’s legal entity?

Here, you have to know how the business or organisation is legally referred to and represented. This includes a business, company or other legal name that represents the organisation as well as its trading or other “public-facing” name. Typically, the organisation’s legal name may be written out in any stationery associated with its bank account.

Software

Make sure that any software that the organisation uses is bought in the name of the organisation, If someone wants to donate a program to the organisation, they need to either donate the program’s value to the organisation as cash through the normal paths like a church’s offering plate or basket. Or they could buy the software as an unencumbered package using their funds and hand the software package over to the organisation.

Some “buy and download” software providers may allow you to register a copy of the software in one name while allowing you to pay using a credit card or PayPal account in a different name. This measure is typically provided to allow one to give the software as a personal gift.

Services

Increasingly business IT is being focused towards the purchasing of services like Web hosting, domain names and the like, with a an increasing amount of IT functions like software suites being sold “as a service”. Typically this involves someone having to pay for the service on a regular basis.

Payment for the services

What these organisations can do is to maintain a business debit card based on a major payment-card platform and drawing from the organisation’s funds. The organisation adopts strict usage and accounting procedures with establishing payments using this card and uses it primarily for paying for business services that can only be paid with a major payment card. On the other hand, they could make sure that the service they want to engage can accept a standing direct-debit order as the payment method. Anyone who wishes to donate the cost of a service could do so through a cash payment to the organisation in the usual payment path.

Whose name is the service under?

As for these services, make sure that they are registered or set up in the name of the organisation. For example, a domain name’s WHOIS data must reflect the name of the organisation and whoever is in executive position. For organisations who have a home as their office, it may be better to supply a mailing address like a PO box or a mail-drop; or use the shopfront’s address as a mailing address if they do operate a long-term physical shopfront.

Login details and user accounts

All login details like usernames and passwords associated with these services have to be known to authorised personnel currently in that organisation. This could be achieved through either a paper document or electronic-form document file that is on a USB memory key which has to be kept in safe storage on the organisation’s premises like a safe. Here, you could use a “secure” USB memory key which uses encryption and password security for this purpose and keep the password for that in a separate envelope. This list of passwords needs to be updated every time these passwords are changed and they should be changed regularly such as whenever people leave the organisation.

You may find that it is better to use multiple user accounts for these services so you can add and remove users easily and allow these users to determine their login parameters. The multiple-user-account setup also gives you the benefit of limiting what privileges a user’s account has, so that the privileges reflect the expected job function for the account-holder But the administrator password for these services needs to be kept on the above-mentioned organisational password list that is to be kept in safe storage.

Similarly, you may find that the multiple-user-account setup that a service uses may work with single-sign-on so that the credentials are verified with a third-party platform like Microsoft.com, Google or Facebook with the service receiving the “all-clear” in the form of a token. This may be OK to pursue if the employee or volunteer agrees to using the account associated with one of these platforms as part of single sign-on.

Conclusion

Once your small business or community organisation has their software and services properly under their own umbrella, they can make sure that they know where it stands through the life of the software and services rather than dealing with a dog’s breakfast.

Send to Kindle

Using audio-editor software to salvage legacy media

Linn Sondek LP12

You may want to get those old familiar records on to your computer to play on your home network

A task that you will want to do is to record content held on vinyl, cassettes and other legacy media to your computer. This may be to copy it to a CD or have as audio files that you can play on a computer, mobile device or through your home network. It is a task you will end up doing either for family-memory recordings or recorded material where there isn’t a chance of it being reissued on modern audio formats.

What do you need?

Here, you will need to use an audio-interface device such as a sound card or sound module to connect the turntable or tape player to the computer; along with an audio-editing program which records the sound and allows you to edit these recordings.

Creative Labs Sound Blaster Digital Music Premium USB sound module press image courtesy of Creative Labs

Creative Labs Sound Blaster Digital Music Premium USB sound module – useful for copying old media to your home network

Audio-interface devices need to be equipped with line-level input connections so you can connect them to an amplifier’s tape-recorder connections or to a source device like a tape deck that has these kind of connections. On the device’s side you will typically have a 3.5mm stereo audio phone jack that is typically highlighted in green or marked LINE IN or some better sound modules may be equipped with a pair of RCA sockets that are similarly marked.

If you are using a laptop computer, an “all-in-one” computer or a small desktop computer, it is a good idea to purchase a sound module that connects via USB, Thunderbolt or similar connectivity technology and use that as your audio-interface device because most of these computers don’t implement line-level input connections on their integrated sound hardware. Similarly, a dedicated sound card may work wonders for sound quality and computer stability if you are using a traditional desktop computer that can be outfitted with standard expansion cards.

Audacity audio-editor software recording

Audacity – a typical and common audio-editor program

One common software tool is the open-source Audacity program which is highly capable advanced tool but may take a bit of time learning. On the other hand, there is NCH’s Wavepad which comes across as a “free-for-personal-use” program for basic tasks or you can buy a fully-function program for under $100. This one does provide an interface that you can easily get a grip of for most editing tasks. It is also worth noting that you may have ended up with an audio-editor program if you bought an audio-interface device for your computer like a USB sound module; or it may have been bundled with a comprehensive multimedia package or perhaps your computer.

How do I go about this?

Create a software monitor path using your audio-editing software

Here, you create a “confidence monitoring” path to be sure that the sound that you want to record is getting from the source device to the software. This can be useful if you want to hear the source coming through that software or as a troubleshooting tool.

Audacity - audio inputs

Audio inputs on Audacity

Select the “recording device” or “source input” that your source device or amplifier is connected to directly on the audio-editor software. Typically this refers to the actual jack on the sound-card or sound-module that your source device is connected to. Then you select the “playback output” or “playback device” directly on audio-editor software if the software allows you to do so.

Audacity - audio outputs

Audacity – audio outputs

If you use a hi-fi amplifier with a “tape-monitor” switch, connect the sound module’s audio input and output to the amplifier’s tape input and output connections. Then you select the source you want to record using the input selector and enable the tape-monitor function on the amplifier if you want the monitoring ability.

Some highly-sophisticated amplifiers have the ability to select which audio source is recorded by a connected tape deck such as through a “record select” switch, or there are amplifiers and receivers that have two tape loops but have a “dubbing” switch that determines how the sound flows between those connections. In the former situation, you may have to set the “record select” switch to the appropriate input and in the latter situation, you may have to select “Source” on the tape-dubbing switch unless you are recording from a tape deck connected to the other tape loop, where you would select that recording device using the tape-dubbing switch.

For the software, you would have to select the sound-module audio input connected to the tape output as the recording device and the sound-module audio output connected to the amp’s tape input as the playback device. Then you would have to enable software monitoring, also known as “software playthrough” in the audio-editing software to verify that the sound is coming through. On the other hand, modern Windows operating systems have the “Listen” tab in the Recording Devices Properties dialog box to allow you to “listen” to the source through your computer’s default audio-output device or an audio output device of your choosing, again useful for verifying your setup.

Setting recording level and parameters

Most of the software will have a level meter but this may require you to enable a “monitor” function on the software to see the meter in action. It is also the time where you can troubleshoot any connection problems.

VU meters on Philips DCC-900 in play mode

VU meters that indicate playback output level

If you are playing a a recording on a playback device equipped with VU meters that show the output level during play, check these meters for audio output coming from that recording. As well, if the equipment uses an adjustable level for its line-level outputs, adjust this control to at least 75% or 80% of its maximum level. Then you use the software’s level meters to determine the recording level, making sure you allow a bit of headroom on the meters. On the other hand, you may try adjusting the software’s recording level to maximum and winding back the source equipment’s output-level control to achieve the right signal level if the source equipment is connected directly to the audio-capture device.

As well, you set the digital-recording parameters to 16 bit quantisation and 44.1 kHz sampling rate for all legacy recording media if you use an analogue signal path. Also set up the recording parameters to record in stereo unless the recording was recording from a mono source or recorded with mono equipment, whereupon you set the parameters for mono recording. Using 44.1 kHz sampling rate works properly for burning to CD, or you could use 48 kHz if you are working towards using the material in a video project, but you can use either

You may find that using one of the audio filter functions on your amplifier like a “subsonic filter” may come in handy when recording vinyl for example. Similarly, using the Dolby noise-reduction function on your cassette deck may benefit the transfer process for a suitably-recorded tape.

Assuring proper computer performance

It may be a good idea to make sure that as few applications and tasks are running on your computer before you commence recording. This is because you need to dedicate your computer’s processor and RAM resources to the recording task and make sure that it will record reliably and properly.

This may involve closing email clients, games, office applications and Web sessions before you commence the recording session. Then, while you are recording, you make sure you aren’t using any other app on the computer that is doing the recording.

For laptops, it may be better to have them connected to AC power so that the recording session isn’t destroyed due to the battery dying. Sometimes, you may have to set your computer’s power-usage behaviour to “full-on” or “high-performance” for your recording job so that it doesn’t go to sleep during recording.

Recording

When you are ready to record, start the software recording then start your legacy media playing. Once the recording is complete, make sure that you save the sound file or project depending on the software so you don’t lose the recorded sound.

Use your turntable's cueing lever or button to lower the arm when you start playing that record

Use your turntable’s cueing lever or button to lower the arm when you start playing that record

If you are recording from vinyl using a manual or semi-automatic turntable, use the cueing function if it has one to lower the stylus to the record rather than actually lifting the arm on. It is typically represented by a lever at or near the arm’s pivot or some turntables have a button on the front of the base or near the front edge. This will protect the stylus from being chipped and avoids unnecessary loud clicks.

What you will end up with is a large WAV or AIFF uncompressed PCM file for the whole recording or a side of the recording if you record different files for each side or program.

Changing the media during recording

If you have to attend to the medium such as to change sides on a record or tape, you could pause the software’s recording function before you turn the record or tape over. This has all of the album recorded as one file and may be found to reduce glitches.

On the other hand, you may want to stop and save the recording before you attend to the medium then start recording the other side to a new file. This can work well with most studio recordings which are centred around individual tracks or where each side represents a logical part in the recording.

Some audio-editing programs support a silence-based automatic pause or stop function so as to have the recording stop when the source material hits the end of the side.

Editing

Most such software offers the ability to edit a recording that you have made. This can range from simple “cut-and-splice” editing such as to split a recording in to multiple files, combine two recordings in to one recording or remove unwanted noise from a recording.  Anyone who has worked with open-reel tapes or MiniDisc will be familiar with these editing techniques. Your first recording will be a time to become familiar with how your software implements these editing techniques and the way you perform them.

Audacity and some other audio-editing tools allow you also to “mark up” a recording file with index markers kept as a separate file or as part of a logical “project” file. This may be used to facilitate exporting of the file as individual tracks, but allow you to use the effects to adjust the sound across the whole of the audio recording. On the other hand, you may use the cut-and-splice editing techniques to break up the audio files in to individual tracks.

These audio-editor programs also offer the ability to adjust the sound of the recordings courtesy of built-in “effects” or audio-processing routines. There are the elementary effects like equalisation (tone adjustment) or dynamic-range compression but a lot of the programs offer routines geared towards this activity like audio-level normalising, noise-removal and speed adjustment (handy for tapes that have been recorded on portable equipment with half-dead batteries or using a turntable that is only capable of working at 33rpm and 45rpm to work with 78s).

A good practice is to save your recording when you get your editing perfect. Sometimes you may want to save the recording as a copy if you are trying an edit or effect out so you don’t ruin your original recording or a successful edit or effect treatment. This may be an important practice as you become familiar with your editing software and will be of value if you are trying to “bring out” poorly-recorded material like cassette recordings made using portable recorders with their integrated microphones.

Editing techniques for legacy media transfer

A good editing technique would be to trim off silence at the start and end of the whole recording and excess silence that has existed between sides or programs of that recording.  For example, some recordings especially those that are on a tape have a longer silent period before the end of the side to preserve a logical program break but have extra space available on the medium for that side.

You could also be removing unnecessary clicks and pops, especially those that are loud and are typically of equipment being started or stopped.

As well, you use the normalising function to bring the tracks’ peak volumes louder but preserve any dynamic range that exists in the recordings. You may have to set up channel-independent normalisation if you have recorded form most consumer-focused equipment because there is a tendency to make one of the stereo channels stronger than the other.

Similarly, the amplify function can come in handy for those recordings that have come through very weak but this is simply about multiplying the volume in that recording and can lead to clipping and distortion if you aren’t careful.

Various filter and equalisation function can be of use to remove unwanted noise such as tape hiss or vinyl rumble. Here, you may have to save a “reference” version of your file and toy around with these filters if you are trying to remove the noise.

Exporting

Most audio-editing software allows you to export the audio content in to different file formats like MP3, FLAC, WMA or AAC compressed forms or a WAV or AIFF uncompressed form. Some of the programs even allow you to “burn” an audio CD from the files you create thanks to an integral CD-burning software engine.

If you use another program to burn audio CDs, make sure that you export your audio content to WAV or AIFF uncompressed PCM files with one file per track. These are the best-quality audio files you can work with when you are targeting these CDs.

Most exporting procedures also allow you to add metadata to CDs as CD-Text data or to files as integral ID3 data. Here, fill in as much metadata as you can about the recording and assign genres particular to the recording’s content. It is important when you copy the files to your DLNA media server or smartphone, or make use of CD-Text when you burn CDs.

Then, you can get away with exporting your legacy-media salvage effort to FLAC files which are a lossless file being handled by most good-quality audio equipment. Similarly, you could export the recording to a 320kbps MP3 file if you want widest compatibility with older MP3-playing equipment.

Conclusion

Once you use a suitably-capable audio interface device connected to your hi-fi equipment along with audio-editing software, you can use your computer as a tool for recording LPs that won’t ever be released anymore or salvaging family memories thus having them on your home network.

Send to Kindle

What is a GPU all about?

Article

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Ultrabook

The GPU, whether dedicated or integrated is what paints the picture on your computer screen

What Makes A GPU Different From A CPU? | Gizmodo

My Comments

A graphics processing unit or GPU is a special data-processing chipset that effectively “paints” the images that you are to see on your computer screen. This is compared to the central processing unit or CPU which is focused on handling the data that your computer is dealing with at your command and being the system’s “commander” processor.

The idea of a separate processor is to effectively work with the shapes, pixels and colours that constitute what you see on the screen and the highly-sophisticated GPUs handle this using multiple “cores” or unique processors. Another factor worth considering is that video editing, animation and transcoding programs are making use of the GPU to transcode the video material between different formats or rendering an animation or a sequence of shorter video clips in to one longer video clip.

Gaming rig

A “gaming rig” tower desktop computer equipped with high-performance display cards

The higher-performance GPUs, typically offered as display cards that are installed in desktop computers especially “gaming rigs” set up by computer-games enthusiasts, use multiple “cores” or unique processors so they can realise the high-resolution graphics very quickly and responsively. Some of these cards even implement setups like “Crossfire” with the ability to gang two display cards together for increased performance.

Integrated vs dedicated GPUs

Typically the difference between an integrated or dedicated GPU is that a dedicated GPU has its own memory and other resources for “painting” the graphics images while an integrated GPU “borrows” resources like RAM memory from the system’s CPU. As well, a lot of these dedicated GPUs are designed and developed by companies who specialise in that field.

The benefit of a dedicated GPU is that it can turn out the graphics images required by demanding applications like games, video editing, CAD and the like efficiently because its resources are focused on what you see while the CPU and system RAM are focused on working out what is to happen.

Sony VAIO S Series ultraportable STAMINA-SPEED switch

Sony VAIO S Series – equipped with dual graphics with an easy-to-use operating-mode switch

For example, a game needs the use of the CPU to answer the players’ commands, apply the game’s rules and position each of the elements while it needs the GPU to visually represent where everything is. Here, the dedicated GPU can handle how everything is represented without encumbering the CPU’s tasks relating to how the game runs.

The main disadvantage with dedicated GPUs that affects laptops and other portable computers is that they can quickly drain the computer’s battery. This has been answered in a few ways like equipping laptops with integrated and dedicated graphics chipsets and adding logic like NVIDIA’s Optimus to switch between the different chipsets, in a similar vein to how the overdrive or “sports mode” in some cars work. In most cases, this logic engaged the dedicated graphics if the computer was running a graphics-intensive program like a game or video-editing program or was running on external power.

External GPU docks

Alienware high-performance laptop computer with Graphics Amplifier external GPU module

Alienware high-performance laptop computer with Graphics Amplifier external GPU module

A new trend that is starting to appear and benefit laptop-computer users is the “external GPU” dock or module that connects to the laptop computer. These appear in two different forms – a “card cage” like the Alienware Graphics Amplifier where a user can install a desktop graphics card, or a graphics module which has the graphics hardware installed by the manufacturer.

Initially these devices were connected to the host computer using a connection that was proprietary to the manufacturer but now they are implementing the Intel Thunderbolt 3 via USB Type-C connection due to it offering PCI-Express data-transfer bandwidth, thus allowing for increased interchangeability between computers and docks. Most of these implementations will have the ability to send the graphics back to the host computer’s screen or to an external display that is connected directly to the external GPU module.

Alienware Graphics Amplifier expansion module

A graphics expansion module that could option up budget and mainstream laptops

These devices have appealed as a way to “option up” laptop, all-in-one and similar computers for high-performance dedicated graphics. It is more so where you don’t need to have dedicated graphics all the time, rather when you have that laptop or 2-in-1 “back home” and ready to work or play.

Conclusion

The graphics processors or GPUs, whether integrated on a computer’s motherboard, installed on a display card or housed in an external GPU module, are processors that look after “painting” the images you see on your computer’s screen.

Send to Kindle

How to effectively establish that Wi-Fi-based mobile network

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 Wireless Mobile Thermal Printer

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 Wi-Fi mobile printer – one of the mobile peripheral devices pitched to smartphone and tablet users

A major trend that has become strong over the last few years is the arrival of mobile network devices that connect to each other and to client computer devices via Wi-Fi wireless networking technology.

These are represented in the form of:

  • mobile network-attached-storage devices
  • mobile printers
  • wireless speakers, and
  • mobile broadcast-LAN tuners that work with terrestrial or satellite broadcast systems,
Network setup for mobile NAS and smartphone

Network setup for Wi-Fi-based mobile peripheral devices

What is common about all of these devices, and is treated as a key marketing feature by their vendors, is that they can be set up to be their own access point with their own DHCP server as well as being client devices to existing wireless networks. Some of these devices like most mobile NAS devices are able to work effectively as bridges or routers between an existing wireless network and the network that they create.

This may work well if you are just using the one mobile peripheral device with your mobile client devices but may not work well when you intend to run two or more mobile peripheral devices. Here, you will end up switching between different wireless networks just to benefit from the different mobile peripheral devices.

Mobile NAS as bridge setup

Wireless NAS as a bridge between mobile client devices and another Internet-providing network

But you may want to run one or more of these wireless mobile devices together to serve multiple laptops, tablets or smartphones. Situations that may come about that will call for these setups would be where you are using a mobile NAS and, perhaps, a camera that has Wi-Fi functionality or one of the new Wi-Fi-capable mobile printers. This will call for you to create a proper mobile wireless network for all of these devices.

Use a router-class device as the main device

Here, you would have to run one wireless network device as a DHCP server and “master” access point and this function can be best served by a router-class device.

"Mi-Fi" portable wireless router

A typical “Mi-Fi” portable wireless router for a mobile-broadband service

The most common examples of devices of this class that apply to “on-the-road” use are the “Mi-Fi” mobile routers that work with a mobile broadband service or one of the travel routers pitched to work with a hotel’s wired Internet service. Some mobile NAS devices may also do this wireless-bridging functionality in an adept manner and could be the hub of your “travel network”. Similarly, one of the mobile-broadband wireless routers being integrated in to some new cars by the likes of BMW and Chrysler may also answer these needs.

You may think of using your smartphone’s Wi-Fi mobile-broadband-router functionality but this may encumber your smartphone for what you want to really use it for.

Some highly-sophisticated “Mi-Fi” and travel-router devices may also expose an Ethernet connection for LAN use, perhaps through an optional extended-functionality dock. This can come in handy if you want to increase your coverage area with another wireless access point or want to use devices like games consoles with your mobile network.

You may find that you don’t need to run the Internet connection on the Mi-Fi or travel router if you are simply establishing a link between multiple mobile peripheral devices and client devices and aren’t reliant on Internet functionality for their operation. Similarly, by having your mobile devices working this way, you avoid the need to authenticate with a Wi-Fi hotspot that implements Web-based authentication to do something like gain access to your mobile NAS’s data from your iPad.

Set up known wireless network parameters

Mobile network wiht "Mi-Fi" router and 2 Wi-Fi-capable mobile peripheral devices

Mobile wireless network for two or more mobile devices and mobile client devices – uses a router-class device like a “Mi-Fi” router

When you set up your “Mi-Fi” or travel router, you make this device the hub of your mobile network and have every device “point” to this device’s local-network by associating with its SSID (wireless network name) and security parameters.

Most of the mobile network devices that work on an “open-frame” approach can be quickly associated to this “mobile hub” thanks to WPS-based push-button setup. For devices that don’t support this quick setup mode like most Apple devices, you will need to note down the “mobile hub’s” SSID and security passphrase. Some “Mi-Fi” devices that have a display may be able to show these details on their display, perhaps at the request of the user.

For that matter, a good practice would be to assign a unique SSID for your “mobile hub” device i.e. your Mi-Fi or travel router. This is important when you use these setups in campgrounds, caravan parks or hotels where many of these devices will be used at once.

All wireless devices to link with router-class device

It will also mean that the mobile NAS, mobile printer or other similar device has to work as a client device rather than as its own access point. This also applies to your computing devices like laptops, tablets and smartphones which also associate with the “mobile hub” device.

When positioning your mobile-network devices, make sure that they are in the range of your “mobile network hub” device i.e. the Mi-Fi or the travel router. All the wireless traffic that goes between these devices will pass through the “mobile network hub” device rather than between the devices themselves.

You may find that if you want to avoid draining your “Mi-Fi” router’s battery too quickly, it may be a good idea to have it run from a USB charger that runs from house current or your vehicle’s cigar-lighter socket. Similarly, a high-capacity USB power-pack can also earn its keep with these devices if you are away from power.

What I stand for when reviewing or researching mobile devices

When I review any device for this Website that is capable of being its own wireless network such as a mobile NAS or mobile printer, I test the device with my home network’s Wi-Fi wireless segment as if it is a client device. This is so I am sure they can work in this kind of setup as well as the highly-promoted “own access point” setup. As well, as part of researching a mobile device that uses Wi-Fi wireless technology as part of its link with client computer devices, I verify that it can work as part of an existing wireless-network segment as well as being its own segment.

Similarly, when I research a mobile router-class device like a Mi-Fi or travel router, I would expect the device to support WPS single-push connectivity along with other essential Wi-Fi connectivity and security standards. Similarly, such a device would have to be easy to configure including setting up the SSID and passphrase. As well, the Mi-FI device can’t be very thirsty with its battery if the goal is to have it as a “hub” device.

Conclusion

Once you are able to set up a mobile multi-device network, you can then be able to use it to store or print data while you are “on the road” without needing to constantly switch networks for each different task.

Send to Kindle

Web page on a big screen–How?

Facebook and Dropbox desktop

You may want to use the large screen to show people how to use social media to promote their business

Do you want to show that Web-based resource to a large group of people?

You may want to do this as part of training for concepts like social media, Web analytics and the like. Perhaps, you may want to show a particular blog post to a group or even show pictures and video from a Website or video platform but the device doesn’t have native support for that.

There are two different methods of going about this:

  • Mirroring – you see the same display on both the device’s screen and the large screen
  • Extended or Dedicated View – you can see what you want to show on the large screen but have a minimal control view on your

I will be listing the options available to you by the different equipment combinations.

Using your home or other small network

This involves using devices that connect to your computer via your home or other small network.

The common requirement for these setups is that the set-top device connected to your display and your host computer must be on the same logical network. It doesn’t matter what medium (Wi-Fi wireless, Ethernet or HomePlug powerline) is used to connect the host computer or the set-top device to your network.

This setup may not work properly if you are attempting to use a public-access network to connect your set-top device or host computer and this network implements Web-based authentication.

iOS + Apple TV

Equipment Requirements:

  • Relatively recent iOS devices (iPad 2 onwards, iPhone 4 onwards, iPod Touch 5th generation onwards) running iOS 6 or newer
  • Apple TV (3rd generation onwards)

    AirPlay devices discovered by iPad

    AirPlay devices discovered by iPad – when you tap AirPlay icon

Mirror your iPad’s display

  1. Go to Shortcut menu (tap Home button twice, slide to right)
  2. Click AirPlay button and select Apple TV
  3. Select Mirroring
  4. Bring up Web page using Safari

Dedicated Display

This requires you to use one of two apps that you buy from the iTunes App Store: AirWeb ($1.99) or AirBrowser ($6.49). These are Web browsers which present the page on to the display that is connected to the Apple TV device and use your device as a tool to navigate the Web page.

Apple TV - Mirroring on - iPad

Set up iPad for mirroring to Apple TV

AirWeb simply has your iOS device work as a mouse with the external display serving as a screen while the more expensive AirBrowser offers a more polished response and has more capabilities.

Apple Macintosh + Apple TV

Equipment Requirements

  • Apple Macintosh to run MacOS X Mountain Lion (10.8) or newer
  • Apple TV 3rd generation onwards

To connect your Apple Macintosh to your Apple TV

  1. Click AirPlay icon on the Menu Bar at the top of your screen
  2. Click the “Connect To AirPlay Display” option and select the Apple TV device you want to use
    This procedure makes the AirPlay-connected Apple TV device work as an extra monitor similar to if you had connected another monitor or projector to your Mac.

Mirrored Display

  1. Select the Mirroring option to show your system’s Desktop display on the big screen
  2. Open the Web page using your preferred browser

Extended or Dedicated Display

  1. Select the Extended Desktop option
  2. Open the Web page using your preferred browser and drag it to the new screen

Google Chromecast + Google Chrome on Windows or MacOS

Equipment Requirements:

The computer you are using to bring up the Web pages with has to run the latest version of Google Chrome browser and have the Google Cast extension installed.

Mirrored Display

  1. Click the Cast square at top right corner on Chrome in Windows
  2. Using the drop-down menu, select the “Cast this screen / window” option

Dedicated Display

  1. Start Chrome and browse to the Webpage you want to show on your large display
  2. Click the Cast icon on the tab and choose the Chromecast you want to show it to

Google Chromecast + Chromecast App on Android

Equipment Requirements

Your Android smartphone or tablet has to run the latest version of the Chromecast app, which you can download from the Google Play store.

Mirrored Display

  1. Run Chromecast app on Android device
  2. Click on the Navigation drawer (hamburger icon) on the Chromecast app’s user interface
  3. Select the Cast Screen option
  4. Select the Chromecast that you want to use, The Android device’s screen will appear on your larger screen
  5. Use Google Chrome or your favourite Android Web browser to load your site

Dedicated Display

Like the iOS platform, you will have to install a browser that shows its output on the external screen. Here, your Android device will be the control surface while you see the Webpage on your large screen.

For Android users, you will need to purchase and install the Web2Cast app which costs $1.99.

Directly-connected screen

These setups require you to connect your host computer directly to the display device, preferably via HDMI. It is a task you can perform easily with the regular-computer platforms i.e. Windows, Macintosh or Linux because this practice is performed more commonly in offices for multi-screen displays or to show presentations using a projector.

Therefore the procedure to use a directly-connected external display to show that Web page comes across as being simple.

The setup procedures are very consistent across the different major versions of these operating systems.

If you are using some “all-in-one” desktop computers, you may find that an HDMI port may be used as an input port or output port. This functionality is typically to allow one to use the computer’s display and speakers with another video peripheral like a games console or set-top box. Here, make sure that this port is set up to become an “output” port for use with external displays when you are showing a Web page on a larger screen that is connected to this HDMI port.

Windows computer

Equipment preparation

Display setup for a secondary display as a dedicated screen - Windows 7

Display setup for a secondary display as a dedicated screen – Windows 7

Connect the external display to Windows computer and make sure that Windows detects the presence of the display. Here, you may have to use Display Settings to verify that this display is properly detected. You may also have to make sure the external display is switched on and the correct input is selected.

Mirroring

  1. Right click on the Desktop and select “Display Settings
  2. Select Duplicate These Displays to see same screen
    Most laptops may allow you to invoke this setup by pressing Windows+P together
  3. Load the Webpage on your preferred Web browser and browse it as normal

Extended Display

  1. Right click on the Desktop and select Display Settings
  2. Select Extend These Displays
  3. Drag the screen which represents the external display, which should be marked as 2, to the top or right of your main screen. This is a way to help you remember that you are setting up a “big screen”.
  4. Load page on your preferred Web browser, and drag to “big screen” before you browse it.
    Windows 10 makes this process easier by allowing you to click the square “All tasks” button where there will be icons representing both the screens. Then you just drag the Web browser to the “other” screen

MacOS X

Equipment Preparation

Like with Windows, connect the external display to your Mac and make sure that MacOS X detects the presence of this display. As well, make sure that the correct source is selected on your display.

Mirrored Display

  1. Click the System Preferences menu in the Apple menu
  2. Select the Displays menu in the View menu
  3. Check Mirror Displays to show the Desktop on big screen
  4. Open the Web page in your preferred browser

Dedicated Display

  1. Click the System Preferences menu in the Apple menu
  2. Select the Displays menu in the View menu
  3. Uncheck Mirror Displays for extended desktops
  4. Drag the newly-created screen to the top of your existing screen and make sure that your existing screen is kept as the primary screen. This is a way to help you remember you are setting up and using a “big screen”.
  5. Open the Web page in your preferred browser and drag it to the external display.
Send to Kindle

Achieving the goal of a competitive Internet service

Linksys EA8500 broadband router press picture courtesy of Linksys USA

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

The common problem

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

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

How is the Internet service constructed?

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

Ownership approaches

The North American approach

Infrastructure for the exclusive use of the communications company

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

The European model

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

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

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

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

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

Key issues

Access to established infrastructure by competitors

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

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

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

ADSL service that is independent of dial-tone telephony service

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

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

Removal of infrastructure control from the incumbent telco

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

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

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

Competing infrastructure providers

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

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

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

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

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

Pay-TV and multiple-play services

Foxtel IQ2 pay-TV PVR

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

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

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

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

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

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

Access to desirable TV content

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Net Neutrality

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

Send to Kindle