Category: Feature Article

Setting up a mobile NAS to work with your home network

WD MyPassport Wireless mobile NAS

The WD MyPassport Wireless mobile network-attached storage – can offer data to the host Wi-Fi network when set up in hotspot mode

Increasingly, data-storage device manufacturers are adding to their mobile network-attached storage devices the same kind of network-based data storage and access features typically offered with a standard desktop NAS device. This is rather than these devices just being a lightweight file server for smartphones and tablets connected to the device’s own Wi-Fi access point.

I had previously reviewed one of these devices in the form of the WD MyPassport Wireless mobile NAS which demonstrated this kind of functionality. In the review, I had called out the DLNA-compliant media server that was part of that mobile NAS’s feature set, where you had the ability to show your photos and videos on one of the latest Smart TVs via the home network the TV is connected to.

Mobile NAS with hotspot mode set for “secure” or “private” mode

As well, some of the increasingly-sophisticated devices like the WD MyPassport Wireless Pro also are offering the same kind of Samba-based (SMB / CIFS) file transfer method that you can do with other NAS devices so you can transfer resources to these devices using your regular computer’s operating-system’s file manager and its network file transfer protocols. Similarly, the devices may implement FTP, WebDAV or other common network-file-transfer protocols primarily to allow you to upload photos and footage from your Wi-Fi-capable digital camera or camcorder to the mobile NAS if the camera honours these standard protocols.

How to have this work properly?

Here your mobile NAS unit needs to be set up for connection to an existing small Wi-Fi network as a client device of that network. It also needs to be set up to share its resources to that client network in addition to the network it creates using its own wireless access point.  Most of this configuration that I would be talking about here would be something you would do using the vendor-provided native mobile-platform app or, perhaps, a Web page that the mobile NAS creates as its management page.

Mobile NAS with hotspot functionality set up for file sharing mode

Typically, you may set this up as part of enabling a “Share Wi-Fi Connection”, “Wi-Fi Hotspot” or similar function that effectively shares a logical network connection between multiple devices that connect to the portable NAS’s access point. This function is similar to what most travel routers offer as a way to share the one logical (and usually permitted) connection to a hotel’s guest-access Wi-Fi service amongst the personal computing devices you and your travelling companions own. Similarly, this same function creates a “trust circle” between multiple devices connected to the mobile NAS’s access point allowing them to be discovered by each other even if the public-access Wi-Fi network that the NAS is connected to is configured properly with client isolation enabled.

When you enable the “hotspot” function on a sophisticated mobile NAS like the WD MyPassport Wireless / Wireless Plus series or the Seagate Wireless Plus, you will have an option to set this function to work in a “private” or “secure” mode or a “sharing” mode.  In the “private” mode, the data held on the NAS becomes available only to devices on the Wi-Fi network created by the mobile NAS’s access point. Conversely, the “sharing” mode will make the data available to devices on the network which has the Wi-Fi segment you connected the mobile NAS to as part of the “hotspot” mode.

Availability of data held on mobile NAS Sharing mode Secure / Private mode
Host wireless network Yes No
Wireless network created by mobile NAS’s access point Yes Yes

To allow the mobile NAS to share its resources on your home network, you need to enable the “sharing” mode or disable the “secure” or “private” mode while setting up the “hotspot” functionality. It is a wise practice not to use the “sharing” mode on a Wi-Fi network used as a public-access network and this function wouldn’t work with these networks that are properly set up with client isolation enabled.

What can the manufacturers do to improve the Wi-Fi bridging functionality on these devices?

The “Wi-Fi hotspot” or “Shared Wi-Fi” functionality could be improved upon by allowing users to create preset operating modes for particular Wi-Fi networks. This would work in a similar way to the way Windows allows the user to classify each network they connect to as being a “home”, “work” or “public” network, causing it to adopt an exposed persona suitable for your home or office network or a private person for that public-access Wi-Fi network. Such parameters could be to determine whether to share resources with the host network or to always clone the client device’s MAC address when connecting along with remembered Wi-Fi network passwords.

Here, as a user connects the mobile NAS to a Wi-Fi network for “Shared Wi-Fi” operation, they are invited to save the configurations they have established for that network. Then, when they reconnect to that network, the mobile NAS assumes the operating modes that the user previously defined. These details can be referenced by the host network’s ESSID or a user-defined name for that network.

Conclusion

Once you know how to set up that highly-capable mobile NAS device and exploit the “private” or “shared” operating modes that these devices offer with setting up the “Shared Wi-Fi” or “hotspot” mode, you can then use them to make resources held therein available to other small networks you connect them to.

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How to look after your video projector properly

Praise and worship at church

Making sure your video projector is looked after properly will mean that it will serve your organisation for many years to come

You have bought that new video or data projector for your small business or community organisation and are excited to have it as the “go-to” device to show large images on that wall but you need to make sure it lasts a long time. This is easily achievable if you look after it properly.

This also applies to those of you who purchase a video projector for that home-theatre setup that you invest time and money in to.

With projectors that aren’t based on solid-state “lamp-free” LED/laser-based lighting technology, the lamp that shows the image on the wall or screen also generates a significant amount of heat while it is on. Preventing a build-up of heat in the projector avoids damage to the machine’s lamp and other electronics installed in the unit.

I have written out this information especially for situations where your projector is likely to be used by many different people such as a small business with a high staff turnover rate or a community organisation that has many different volunteers coming through. It is also available as a download-to-print PDF reference sheet that you can keep with your projector’s documentation or operating procedures for your AV setup.

Make sure you set up the projector on a sturdy surface before you turn it on.

This is especially important for transportable setups where you set up the projector before each showing and pack it away when you are finished with it. The table or desk that the projector is to sit on must be stable and in good order. As well, if you use something to raise the front and/or back of the projector to get the picture right, make sure that the setup that you use is sturdy.

Economy data projector with VGA input sockets

The projector has to be on a sturdy surface

In the case of an integrated installation, you must use a good-quality mount kit and make sure that the projector is properly anchored to the mounting surface which should be installed properly.

Make sure you properly shut the projector down at the end of the session

Projector remote control - power button called outUse the standby switch on the projector’s control panel or its remote control to shut down the unit.

At this point, the projector’s fan will run for some time to remove the built up heat from inside the unit while the lamp and electronics is switched off. This will be indicated with a different light that flashes or glows during this process.

You are ready to disconnect the projector from the AC power when its fan stops and only the “standby” light glows or no lights glow on the projector that indicate operation.

Avoid the temptation to turn the projector on and off too frequently

If you need to blank the screen during your show, such as while you are preparing other material to be shown, use the Mute or Blank button on the projector’s control panel or remote control or use the similar “blank-display” function on your display computer’s software or source device.

If your projector uses filters that are easily replaceable, clean them on a regular basis.

Also cleaning the projector’s ventilation grilles on a regular basis can also help towards maintaining proper cooling for that machine especially if it is used or stored in a dusty area. This can be done with your vacuum cleaner’s nozzle.

Be aware of how your projector’s fan sounds while you are using the unit or shutting it down.

The fan should be making no more than a quiet whirring or whooshing sound. If you hear excessive noise like a grinding, buzzing or squealing sound from the projector’s fan, it is a telltale sign that the fan’s bearings are on the way out and it could cease to do its job as well as distracting your audience. This leads to unreliable operation and excessive heat buildup.

When you hear the excessive noise from the projector’s fan, have the projector taken to a repair workshop to have the fan replaced.

Conclusion

Once you know how to look after your projector by avoiding unnecessary heat buildup, you can be sure it will serve you reliably for a long time.

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How is software being installed on most computers

Windows 10 Pro buy-to-download screen

Windows 10 Pro – an example of software delivered by download

Increasingly most software is being supplied to users using a form of online delivery, whether through an app store or through a download from the developer’s Website. It is also leading to the process of buying a voucher card to facilitate the download rather than a box of media and documentation when you buy software from a bricks-and-mortar shop.

But there are two different approaches to this method of delivery. One of these is for the user to download a monolith installer that has all the necessary files to get the program up and running on your computer’s platform. Here, you would download the large file and the installer would “unpack” that large file and put the software components in place then set thing up with the host computer’s operating system so the program runs as expected.

Monolith software-installer file for offline installation

Monolith software-installer file for offline installation

This installer resembles the traditional delivery method of supplying computer software where the program was delivered on packaged media to be loaded on the computer. It also is a practice that was used for delivering shareware and other software that was downloaded from a bulletin board or Internet download site. In the latter case, the software was delivered as a “file of files” like a ZIP file which the user expanded using a utility before they ran the software.

Lightweight installer file used for online installation

Lightweight installer file used for online installation

The other way that is preferred by major software and game vendors when they deliver their major titles is to have the user download and run a lightweight installer which downloads the rest of the software components on an as-needed basis. It appeals to companies who want to establish an end-to-end software-delivery infrastructure, as well as providing the files that the user really needs. This method is also preferred because it allows the software developer to deliver the latest stable version of the software’s files.

A problem that I have noticed surfacing with some lightweight installers is that some of them may crash during an installation phase and could, at worst, leave corrupted files on the host computer. This can also happen if the Internet connection becomes sub-par and the download becomes interrupted. There is also the requirement to have the Internet connection alive for the duration of your download which may be a limiting factor for costly Internet connections like mobile broadband.

A computer-support job that I had done involved the installation of some Adobe Creative Cloud software on a Mac. The person who owns the computer I am talking about bought this software through a “bricks-and-mortar” retail store but it was delivered as a software voucher which they had to redeem through Adobe’s Website. But the redemption page required us to download and run a lightweight installer to start deploying this software in the Mac.

Here, this installer wouldn’t start and would show confusing error messages. But Adobe implemented an alternative path for deploying this software. This was in the form of a “trial pack” that was a monolith installer that carried everything needed for the software to be installed on a Mac but could run either as a trial version or a full package once you supplied the credentials associated with the software voucher that they bought.

If you are finding that a lightweight installer for that new package has failed to run or the install has malfunctioned, it may be a good idea to look around the software developer’s site for an alternative installation. This may be found in the support section as something like an “offline installer” or, like in Adobe’s case, may be the trial package that “becomes the full version” when you supply the software-voucher or voucher-redemption details like a serial number or activation code.

Some if the better-behaved “lightweight-install” setups like Microsoft’s operating systems implement a quality-check process through the install process and are able to “pick up from where they left off”. Here, they can revise the files already downloaded to make sure they are error free while the download any missing or corrupted files. As well, if a download was interrupted, they identify which files have been properly downloaded and which ones haven’t so that they can fetch the remainder of the software package when the connection comes good again.

Personally, I would like to see the lightweight installer still exist as a way to deliver an always up-to-date package that represents your needs, along with one or more monolith packages representing popular packages for offline deployment or as a failover measure. As well, lightweight installers could offer an option to “start from the beginning” during the download phase for whenever you are dealing with bad downloads and you want to be sure of a good download process.

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Understanding the new distributed-Wi-Fi systems

NETGEAR Orbi distributed WiFi system press image courtesy of NETGEAR

NETGEAR Orbi distributed WiFi system – understanding these devices and whether to purchase them or not

A new class of home-network device has been appearing over the last year or so in the form of the “distributed Wi-Fi system”, sometimes known as the “mesh Wi-Fi system”.

These systems consist of two or three modules, one working as your home network’s router and the other modules working as access points. But they have features that are different to setups where you use an ordinary access point and wired-network backbone or a range extender to extend your Wi-Fi wireless network’s coverage.

Some ISPs are even offering distributed-Wi-Fi systems as a product differentiator for their premium packages or as an add-on that customers can buy. They are offering these devices in response to their customer base complaining to their support desks and “bricks-and-mortar” storefronts regarding poor Wi-Fi coverage.

Core features

Simplified setup and self-tuning

When you set up these devices, you don’t have to determine the operating frequency for each of the modules nor do you have to deal with multiple devices for your network to run properly.

Typically the only hands-on requirement is to work with one management interface when adjusting your network’s settings. You may even find that this interface is where you set up things like your Internet connection parameters or your network’s ESSID and enable / disable any particular features the system has.

You may find that the procedure involved with enrolling additional node devices to an existing distributed-Wi-Fi system may be as simple as pairing a network client device to a Wi-Fi network using WPS push-button pairing. This would simply be about pressing a button on the new device then pressing a button on one of the existing devices or the main node.

These systems continually re-adjust the operating frequency and other parameters so as to cope with changes in operating circumstances.

For example, if one or more of your neighbours set up new home networks or add access points and range extenders to these networks, you may find that your network underperforms due to the neighbouring networks operating on the same frequency. Even someone running a “Mi-Fi” mobile router or using their smartphone’s “Internet-share” mode could affect the network’s performance.

But the typical distributed-Wi-Fi system will automatically tune itself to different frequencies when these situations do occur. As well, it may implement other tactics to provide the best signal strength for your client devices.

Automatic creation of a single Wi-Fi network

A problem that users will have especially with wireless range extenders is that your network is split up in to multiple extended service sets or Wi-Fi networks. This can cause problems with users having to switch between different network names to gain the best coverage, something that can daunt a lot of users.

If you set up a traditional access-point setup with a wired (HomePlug or Ethernet) backbone, you have to “copy” the SSID and security parameters to each access point’s setup interface. A few HomePlug access points simplify this task using a WPS-based “Wi-Fi Clone” function where you activate this function then press the WPS button on your router to “copy over” the network parameters to the access point.

But these systems allow you to create your network’s SSID and security parameters with these being reflected across all of the modules that are part of the system. This includes implementing these parameters across all wavebands that these distributed Wi-Fi systems support.

This leads to a network that has the same kind of “roam-ability” as what would be expected for larger Wi-Fi networks with multiple access points. It is similar to what you would have expected with a properly-set-up traditional access-point network.

System types

Mesh-based distributed Wi-Fi system

Mesh-based distributed Wi-Fi system – each device links with each other

There are two different approaches being implemented with distributed Wi-Fi systems. These affect how the wireless backhaul signal is provided between each of the system’s modules.

Mesh system

The mesh method, implemented by Linksys Velop, Google WiFi, and eero require the use of three or more modules with one of these serving as the “edge” router for the network.

Here, the wireless backhaul works on a mesh approach where each module effectively receives signals from and transmits signals to the other modules that are in range. There is some fault-tolerance in these setups where the receiving module (node) can rely on other transmitting nodes if one of them fails. On the other hand, the receiving node aggregates the bandwidth it receives from two or more nodes of the network for higher throughput.

Router-extender / hub-satellite system

Hub-satellite distributed-Wi-Fi system

Hub-satellite distributed Wi-Fi system – uses extender devices connected to a router

The other approach, followed by the DLink Covr and the Netgear Orbi works in a similar vein to a traditional router and range-extender setup or traditional multiple-access-point setup.

Here, the satellite nodes in this system provide a single backhaul link to the hub node which typically is the router. The better designed systems like the NETGEAR Orbi use a dedicated wireless link for their wireless backhaul. This avoids competition for bandwidth by the portable client devices and the satellite nodes wanting to repeat the signal.

Features and limitations regarding these systems

Router-only or access-point functionality

Most of the distributed wireless setups are connected to the Internet in the same vein as a router where they create their own logical network. This setup appeals to users who have a modem that provides a media-level connection to their Internet service like a cable modem, optical-network terminator or a wireless-broadband modem.

This will be a limitation for users who have a modem router like most xDSL connections or users that implement a router that offers very advanced functionality like a VPN endpoint or VoIP gateway.

If you have one of these setups and want to use a distributed wireless system, look for one that offers access-point functionality or network-level bridging functionality. Here, these systems just connect to an Ethernet LAN socket on the existing router but you would have to disable the Wi-Fi functionality on the router if you use one of these systems if the node is closely located to the router.

Dedicated wireless backbone

Better-designed systems will implement a separate wireless backbone that isn’t used by any of the client devices. These systems will use specific radio front-ends and create a separate wireless network specifically for this backbone while each node has other radio front-ends that simply serve as the Wi-Fi access point for that area.

The benefit that is provided here is that the backhaul isn’t being shared with client devices that in the node’s good-reception area. That allows for optimum bandwidth for your distributed-Wi-Fi setup.

Alternative wired backbone

A handful of these systems are offering a wired backbone as an alternative setup for the network that they establish. This is provided through either an Ethernet LAN connection on the nodes or a setup may implement HomePlug AV500 or AV2 powerline networking as the wired backbone.

This feature may be of value for environments where the wireless backhaul just won’t perform as expected such as houses with interior walls made of highly-dense materials. Or these setups can come in to their own with multi-building home networks, where a wired link like HomePlug AV2 powerline networking for existing setups or Ethernet for new setups could link the buildings. On the other hand, if you wired your home for Ethernet, a distributed wireless system that implements support for an Ethernet wired backbone can exploit this infrastructure by allowing you to push out the network coverage further.

These systems should be able to treat the wired backbone as though it is another wireless backbone or part of the mesh. With some of these systems, you could push out a wireless backbone that refers to one of the nodes connected to the wired backbone as its “master” node rather than the main router.

Internet-dependent operation

There are some distributed-wireless systems that are dependent on an Internet connection for them to operate and for you to manage them. Most likely this is evident if the user interface is through a mobile-platform app that links to an Internet resource; along with heavy talk of “cloud operation” in the product documentation. This kind of setup is one that some new Silicon-Valley outfits are heading down the road towards as they want us to join the Internet-dependent “cloud bus”.

On the other hand, a system that isn’t dependent on an Internet connection for you to manage the network will allow you to visit a Web-page dashboard through a local network address or resource name and fully manage your network via that dashboard created by the router or node. Some of these systems that have UPnP IGD or management functionality enabled may make themselves discoverable using a Windows computer on the same network if you open Windows Explorer / File Explorer and see it listed as a Network device.

This is the traditional practice for most home and small-business network hardware and such a setup may offer the ability to be managed within your network using a mobile-platform app that points to the local resource. But this setup allows you to manage or troubleshoot your network even if the Internet connection is down. You also benefit from the ability to get your network ready before your Internet service is provisioned or deal with service-provisioning scenarios like changing your service provider or connection technology, or dealing with Internet services that authenticate with usernames and passwords.

What should I buy?

Not every distributed-Wi-Fi setup suits every house. This is because different houses come in differing sizes and compositions.

I would pay attention to those distributed-wireless systems like the NETGEAR Orbi that offer a choice of different nodes that have differing signal strengths at different price points. The benefit with these systems is that you can effectively shape your Wi-Fi network’s coverage to your premises size and shape.

For example, an entry-level package with a low-output satellite node could earn its keep with providing coverage to an area at the edge of your small house or apartment where you sometimes have good reception but could do with “pushing out” the coverage a bit further for better response from smartphones and mobile-platform tablets used in that area. But you would find that a standard distributed-wireless package may be overkill for this situation. Here, it is similar to creating a HomePlug powerline segment to serve a baseline HomePlug wireless access point to fill in that dark spot and achieve that same goal.

But for most homes, you could get by with running a standard distributed-Wi-Fi system that just has two nodes. Here, you install one where your Internet connection would customarily be while the other one either is at the centre of the house or towards the opposite side. A two-storey or split-level building may simply require one of the nodes to be placed upstairs while the other one is downstairs. You may find that houses with a large floor plan may require three or more nodes and/or a mesh-based system for optimum coverage.

Systems that support an Ethernet or HomePlug AV wired backhaul in addition to the wireless backhaul earn their keep with those houses that use dense building materials for one or more of their interior walls. If a system only supports an Ethernet wired backhaul, you can team it with a pair of “homeplugs” to gain the benefit of the powerline-network technology which may answer your need with that old house that has a thick brick or sandstone interior wall.

As for system management, I would prefer to use a distributed-Wi-Fi system that implements Internet-independent setup and management. This means that if the Internet connection should go down and you had to re-configure your system or you chance service providers, you can do so.

Personally- I would like to see these systems be able to support the ability for one to determine the SSID and security parameters for the wireless network that they are creating. This is important for those of us who are using one of these systems to improve our existing network, whether to supplant our existing router or its Wi-Fi functionality. In this situation, you may want to convey your existing network’s parameters to the new network so you don’t have to go around to each client device that uses Wi-Fi to set it up for the network. It is although the procedure is simplified with most of these systems implementing WPS-based “push-to-connect” client-device setup on each module.

Use an access point and a wired backbone or one of these kits?

The distributed-Wi-Fi systems do appeal to people who don’t go for a “hands-on” approach in optimising their home network’s Wi-Fi performance. They are also useful for those of us who live in a high-turnover neighbourhood where people are moving in and out frequently. You will also have to be sure that you are not dealing with radio obstacles like interior walls made out of dense materials like that double-brick home that has am extension.

On the other hand, a traditional access point linked to an Ethernet or HomePlug wired backbone can work well for those of us who don’t mind a hands-on approach to set up the system and don’t face a situation where they have to readjust their home network regularly.

It is also important if we want to use a mix of equipment from different vendors or place high importance on a wired backhaul for reliability. To the same extent, the traditional access point with the wired backhaul is infact the surefire path for dealing with a multiple-building situation such as reaching the granny flat or man-cave garage.

Conclusion

At the moment, the distributed-Wi-Fi system, especially the mesh-based variant, is a technology still in its infancy. What needs to happen for this technology to become more accepted is that it can work in a purely heterogeneous vendor-independent manner, something that has to be facilitated through the implementation of standards that cover mesh networking and simplified setup / configuration requirements.

But the fact that major home-network vendors are coming in on the act rather than it being owned by Silicon-Valley startups means that the product class is becoming increasingly viable as a solution for poor Wi-Fi network coverage.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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