Category: Network Lifestyle And Activities

Audio–Video Newscasts On Demand–Could this be real

Kogan Internet table radio

Traditional radio and TV broadcasters could augment their newscasts by having them on-demand

A question that can be raised in the online era is whether radio and TV broadcasters need to place their latest newscasts “on demand” alongside running them at the appointed times.

This is to encourage us to find relevance for traditional broadcast media in an age where the preferred source for information and entertainment is from online media services including social media. It is also about finding ways where traditional public-service and commercial broadcast media can maintain their influence in an age where Silicon Valley is obtaining more clout.

The typical newscast situation as it stands

What typically happens with radio is that most stations will ordinarily run a short-form newscast of up to five minutes long on the hour. Some of them even run an additional newscast on the half-hour during the breakfast programme as people are getting ready for work. It doesn’t matter whether the radio station serves as an informer like the talk-based stations or as an entertainer like music-based stations. Some stations who don’t have their own news-gathering team usually syndicate another station’s short-form newscasts to keep their listeners up to date with the news.

For TV, the traditional broadcasters, especially free-to-air broadcasters, frequently run regular short-form news updates, commonly known as “newsbreaks”, inserted between programmes or during commercial breaks. They are typically used to announce breaking news or updated news items or provide a succinct overview of what’s going on. This is in addition to the main long-form half-hour news bulletins run during breakfast, midday, early afternoon, early evening (which is TV’s prime time) and late evening.

Some of these stations may run dedicated newsbreaks focused on particular themes like local weather or financial / business news. The TV stations who advertise on local radio during the afternoon drive-time programme are more likely to run an audio equivalent of a newsbreak as their commercial for that daypart in order to create public interest for their main evening news bulletin.

Let’s not forget that all these broadcasters will run newsflashes, even interrupting regular programming, when there is significant breaking news.

The current way we consume media

But we are living in an environment where we rely on on-demand entertainment like Spotify, podcasts, Netflix and catch-up TV services. We even end up in an environment where sports is the only reason for watching or listening to linear real-time broadcast content. Similarly, some of us use PVRs to record TV shows and may find ourselves with “banked up” TV-show collections on these devices especially if we travel or not watch any TV for a while.

But most radio and TV stations’ Websites provide news clips for each of the news items that occur through the day, more as a way to allow people to learn more about particular events or share them on blogs or the Social Web. This is based on the “portal” idea that was started when the Web cam in to the mainstream and these broadcasters wanted to augment their daily broadcasts with a Web-based newspaper.

How can radio and TV news fit in with today’s media habits?

Amazon Echo, Google Home or similar platforms could be used to summon the latest news

But having the latest radio and TV news available in an on-demand context can earn its keep with a significant number of use cases.

For example, a short-form newscast like a radio news bulletin or TV “newsbreak” could earn its keep with a voice-driven home assistant where you could ask for the latest news. In this case, you could say “Hi Alexa, what is the latest news from the ABC?” and you would hear the latest local ABC Radio newscast together with the ABC’s newscast signature tune we have loved. If you are dealing with a voice-driven home-assistant device equipped with a screen like Amazon Echo Home, you could ask the voice assistant for the latest news from a TV station like the Seven Network whereupon you would see the latest newsbreak. In those situations where you have separate short-form newscasts for finance, sport, weather and other topics, it could be feasible to ask the voice assistant for one of these newscasts.

Amazon Echo Show in kitchen press picture courtesy of Amazon

Even a device like Amazon Echo Show could run the latest TV “newsbreak”

Similarly, a podcast or music player app could support the insertion of short-form news bulletins between podcasts or between tracks after a certain time has passed. A TV network having the latest newsbreaks online through their catch-up TV services or through YouTube can allow users to “pull up” short-form news content as required.

There could be the ability to draw down that long-form prime-time TV news bulletin via a “catch-up” TV service so one can catch up with the day’s news at a time they see fit. Even offering an audio-only version of one of these bulletins could earn its keep with a range of users like vision-impaired people or drivers.

What can broadcasters do?

Most broadcasters and networks don’t have to do anything with the news content that they make available through their channels. They simply have to keep the recordings of short-form and long-form news bulletins available and indexed according to time of publication.

Radio stations can even record the bulletins that are not normally recorded like traffic bulletins to provide an experience similar to what Blaupunkt achieved with their Traffic Information Memo feature on some of their 1990s-era car radios. This was where the car radio would operate in a standby mode for three hours when the car is parked and record traffic bulletins as they come through from the last-tuned radio source. It relied upon established standards commonplace in Europe for providing machine-to-machine signalling for these broadcasts, namely the RDS system. Then the driver would be able to press a blue “TIM” button to hear the last four traffic bulletins that were recorded.

This can be facilitated in a manner similar to what happens with podcasts where the latest content is available through an RSS Webfeed. Most talk stations would be familiar with this practice when they make their shows available as podcasts or for syndication to other stations. But they also need to keep their “branding” alive with these newscasts like maintaining the use of their news signature tunes at the start of each bulletin so people know they are dealing with their favourite broadcasters. Let’s not forget that a single URL should then be used to provide a Weblink to the latest news bulletin for the various voice-driven-home-assistant skills, mobile apps and the like to locate that resource.

The idea could be augmented by having a standard metadata flag for RSS Webfeeds containing audio or video content like podcasts that represents the fact that the feeds are news bulletins. Here, it could allow “podcatcher” and similar software to treat them as a news bulletin then retain and play just the latest newscast. As well, if the software has always-live Internet access, it could make sure it’s always up to date with the latest news bulletins that the user wants.

As well, broadcasters and allied organisations can create “skills” for voice-driven home assistants along with “channels” for on-demand video services. It can extend to linking them to standard application-programming interfaces to facilitate “news-on-demand” apps and services.

There has been some investigation by online media providers, especially those who have advertising in their business model to permit free or freemium access like Spotify or YouTube to allow the insertion of newscasts in online-advertising spaces. Similarly, providing it as an optional service or “channel” on a streaming service is being seen as a way to add value to these services.

But this kind of application especially where newscasts are inserted in to a playlist could be seen as heretical by the Millennial generation who want to break away from traditional broadcast media and the methods they use. This is although having the latest radio and TV newscasts on demand through various mechanisms is really about mass customisation.

Conclusion

What will be required of traditional radio and TV broadcasters who maintain a strong profile with their newscasts is to “think outside the box” with how they are used. This means being able to take them further and integrate them with Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant & co; or effectively have them as part of “custom-content” strategies.

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Microsoft’s Bing search to have the same intelligence as Google

Articles

Microsoft Bing Search screenshot

Now has the same intelligent-search abilities as Google

Microsoft is giving Bing more intelligence—and a dash of Reddit | Fast Company

Microsoft announces new AI-powered search features for Bing | The Verge

My Comments

Microsoft’s Bing search engine is inching closer to be on an equal footing to Google Search by implementing a host of new features that will be of benefit to users, metasearch providers and voice-driven assistants.

Recently, they provided support for fact-check tags so that users can know whether a news story is for real or not. This has been enhanced with the ability to show the fact-check results as supplied by the fact-checking organisation in the search-results list so you don’t need to visit the link to verify a claim.

Now they are interlinking with Reddit to bring forth results that have been drafted out through that forum. There is also object recognition for image-based searches along with machine reading to parse text and extract the meaning from it.

Bing will also support conversational search functionality, an effort based on Microsoft’s previous chatbot projects. It will also include aggregating resources about news events from multiple sources and with multiple perspectives, most likely from a list of news sources trusted by Microsoft.

This effort associated with Bing is also based on information search and analysis features that are being baked in to Microsoft’s Office 365 “software-as-a-service” functionality for their established Office desktop productivity suite. It is also in conjunction to the Insight functionality that Microsoft has just baked in to Excel.

What I see of this is a strong effort for Microsoft to become a viable competitor to Google in the “intelligent search” competition as far as full search engines (those who run their own search robots and build their own indexes) are concerned. I see this in response to Apple switching away from Bing to Google as the “driver” search engine for the Siri voice-driven assistant and Spotlight, the integrated search functionality baked in to MacOS.

But I also see this benefiting a range of Internet actors such as metasearch engines which aggregate results from established search-engine indexes, companies who want to integrate Web search in their product’s or service’s functionality as well as voice-driven assistants of the Alexa or Cortana kind. In this context, it is capitalising on a stronger partnership that Microsoft recently struck with Amazon so they can work together and share knowledge to improve the Cortana and Alexa voice-driven assistants.

It is a step in the right direction to provide a competitive intelligent-search function for the Web rather than having Google own the marketplace for this level of search functionality.

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France takes steps towards a YouTube competitor

Articles – French language / Langue Française

Map of France

France sowing the seeds for a YouTube competitor

Nouveau monde. Un YouTube “libre” à la française | France TV

From the horse’s mouth

Framatube.org

My Comments

I have previously raised the issue of people and companies based in Europe building online services that compete with what Silicon Valley offers but respect European values. This has been more so in respect to the European Commission taking legal action against the Silicon Valley IT titans like Google and Facebook due to issues like user privacy and respect for European values.

Subsequently, in answer to Google denying Amazon access to YouTube for their Echo Show product, I wrote an article about YouTube needing to face competition when it comes to online video services.

Here, I was calling out issues like individuals and small businesses needing affordable options for sharing their video content while they maintain effective control over it. It also includes issues like monetisation options for video content providers along with proper fair dealing for content creators and rightsholders when it comes to using copyrighted works in the content creators’ videos. The latter issue focuses on users using a relatively small part of a copyrighted work like a phrase from a song or a few seconds of vision from a film or TV show in an incidental manner.

Amazon Echo Spot press picture courtesy of Amazon

Could this be a chance to make user-generated video available on devices like Amazon’s Echo Spot?

In the same context, I was calling out the availability of native-client apps for various IT platforms, whether as a separately-installed app for a regular-computer or mobile operating system or as something baked in to firmware for a device like a set-top box or smart speaker. This is so you aren’t always heading down an inefficient path of using a browser to view videos or find that you can’t use the platform’s or device’s assets for this task.

The French have taken off with this goal with Framasoft, a French open-source software developer, working towards a peer-to-peer approach.

The “PeerTube” approach is based on free open-source software and implements a “federation” model. This is where a host could store video uploaded to it directly but also share video uploaded to other hosts. This can please media companies, the education sector, Webhosts and other companies who have multiple servers or data centers in differing geographical locations and make sure these hosts serve viewers closer to them.

It is being driven by the “WebTorrent” concept of integrating BitTorrent peer-to-peer file-sharing technology to video streaming in an effort to reduce latency. Again, it is implementing free open-source technology to achieve the same goal.

At the moment, the “PeerTube” effort is at an alpha stage but there is a goal to have it to beta by March 2018. Framasoft are raising money to get this idea off the ground and have raised EUR€16,032 at the time of writing. There is also the issue of creating a Web-based portal to show what’s available along with providing source code to make native clients for a PeerTube content delivery network.

Personally, I would see the “PeerTube” concept working tightly with Webhosts, content delivery networks and the like to make audio and video distribution affordable for the small-timer. There will also be their idea of data centers including edge computing being used as a way to expedite reliable access to “catch-up TV” and similar video content pools.

What needs to happen once PeerTube is proven is that it needs to be sold as a viable alternative for YouTube when it comes to offering user-generated video content.

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How about enabling multilingual search in the main search engines

There are those of us who are proficient in two or more languages or are wanting to become so. This is due to countries like Canada, Belgium or Switzerland or even parts of countries like the South West USA that are inherently or officially multilingual.

It also extends to societies that maintain a multicultural character; as well as people who are setting themselves about to learn languages in addition to their native one. In some societies, a desire to work across multiple languages has been enhanced through activities like the increased viewership of subtitled foreign-language film and TV content like European thrillers or Nordic Noir; or particular cultures bestowing attention to particular countries such as the gamer culture’s obsession with Japan being known for manga / anime and fast cars.

The current problem

But using Google or similar search engines may become awkward for those of us who are or want to be multilingual. Typically, you have to know a concept in a particular language if you want to see the results in resources based in that language and you only see those resources. But if you are multilingual, you may want to see the resources in the languages you are familiar with, even if you type the search terms in one of the languages you are familiar with.

What needs to happen is for a search engine to implement “on-the-fly” translation of search phrases from one source language to a multiplicity of user-chosen target languages. Then the search engine would show the resources that are natively written in the target languages.

At the moment, most search engines can work across dialects of the same language such as to understand American or British English, showing resources in either dialect.

Questions that can be raised concerning this idea would be to assure a grammatically-accurate translation of the source search terms, including where there are multiple equivalents specific to that language.

Handling language peculiarities

There are situations where source and target languages maintain particular peculiarities when referring to some concepts or objects.

An example of this would be a reference to the lightweight commercial vehicles which are described as a van if they are enclosed or a pickup truck in most of the English-speaking world or a “ute” in Australia and New Zealand in the case of those with an open tray. But the French refer to these vehicles as either a “camionnette” or a “fourgonnette” while the Germans would use “Lieferwagen”, “Kastenwagen” or “Transporter” for a van for example.

Similarly, there are loanwords that are used across multiple languages to mean the same thing although some languages like French cut back on the use of these loanwords to maintain language purity. It may be preferred to use the loanwords or the language-specific equivalents or both as search terms for searching within a particular language. The same issue can also apply to proper nouns where there isn’t a language-specific equivalent such as place names, trademarks or business names.

There is also the issue with some Asian languages like Chinese and Japanese which use different writing styles. This can cause problems if search terms are provided in one writing style but you are confident in using the other writing styles offered by that language and want to see resources offered in those styles.

Handling multilingual resources

As for showing results, some Web resources, typically resources written by organisations in or targeting multi-lingual areas, tend to provide resources in multiple languages. This practice has been encouraged in Europe since the adoption of the Maastricht Treaty which underscores the Single European Market under the banner of the “Are you ready for 1992”. This approach may be through a translation process that the author implements as part of their editorial workflow or some end-users simply “pipe” the resource through a site-wide machine-translation resource when they view the site.

A situation that can come up with some multilingual Websites is that the site carries more comprehensive information in the site’s native language or a few other languages than in the other languages. Or if the site is targeted to multiple countries like all of the European Union’s resources, the translations may be deeply localised such as to refer to governmental workflows specific to that country.

A search engine could allow the user to set preferences for multilingual searches such as preferred languages and / or language priority. This would mean that the user would see the results from resources written in the languages they specify; along with the ability to have certain languages appear first. The language priority could be fixed by the user or be determined by the search engine if the user supplies the search expression in a language-specific form. But if a resource carries translations, the user could see results from that resource in the highest-priority translation first plus a reference to their other chosen translations.

Similarly, a search engine could compare the amount of information that is available in multilingual versions of the same resource to identify language peculiarity or content richness.

User preferences concerning multilingual search

A search engine that implements individual user preferences such as being linked to a user account could implement a set of preferences for multilingual search.

This could be through a list of languages that the user knows so as to prioritise resources in those languages. Similarly, a user could determine whether to place a multilingual resource’s native language as a higher priority over the translations.

Providing a multilingual results list

A multilingual results list could have each native language as a sorting or grouping factor when ordering the results. It may also allow results that come from a multilingual resource to be identified as appearing in the chosen languages.

To cater for multilingual resources where there is a differing level of comprehensiveness amongst the languages. the user interface could identify which languages have more comprehensive results. It can also be used to call out translations that underscore area-specific terminology or colloquialisms.

Catering to language learners

Some users who are learning a language may want a multilingual search interface to provide features conducive to this task.

This may include the ability to show their “home” language under foreign-language headlines in a search list using a different typeface so they can build their vocabulary up for example. Some user interfaces like the traditional mouse-based interface or a touch-based interface that allows the user to dwell for more options may allow for a “pop-up” or similar translation. This can also apply to languages that implement an intermediary phonetic script along with one or more different written scripts.

An augmentation that can work with text-to-speech setups may allow for the user to have all or part of a foreign language read aloud. This could permit them to hear how the word is pronounced in the context of the sentence.

Conclusion

What needs to be provided with a multilingual search option is to accept searches in multiple languages and to show resources that are native to different languages in a search-results page.

It also includes dealing with multilingual resources including resources that are focused towards a few languages along with supporting a multilingual user’s preferences.

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It is time for YouTube to face competition

Amazon Echo Show in kitchen press picture courtesy of Amazon

Google not allowing Amazon to provide a native client tor the popular YouTube service on the Echo Show highlights how much control they have over the user-generated video market

Over the last many years, YouTube established a name for itself regarding the delivery of user-generated video content through our computers. This included video created by ordinary householders ranging from the many puppy and kitten videos through to personal video travelogues. But a lot of professional video creators have used it to run showreels or simply host their regular content such as corporate videos and film trailers, with some TV channels even hosting shows for a long time on it.

After Google took over YouTube, there have been concerns about its availability across platforms other than the Web. One of the first instances that occurred was for Apple to be told to drop their native YouTube client from iOS with users having to install a Google-developed native client for this service on their iOS devices.

Recently, Google pulled YouTube from Amazon’s Echo Show device ostensibly due to it not having a good-enough user interface. But it is really down to Google wanting to integrate YouTube playback in to their Google Home and Chromecast platforms with the idea of running it as a feature exclusive to those voice-driven home assistant platforms.

YouTube Keyboard Cat

Could the Web be the only surefire place to see Keyboard Cat?

These instances can affect whether you will be able to view YouTube videos on your Smart TV, set-top box, games console, screen-equipped smart speaker or similar device. It will also affect whether a company who designs one of these devices can integrate YouTube functionality in to these devices in a native form or improve on this functionality through the device’s lifecycle. The concern will become stronger if the device or platform is intended to directly compete with something Google offers.

There are some video services like Vimeo and Dailymotion that offer support for user-generated and other video content. But these are services that are focused towards businesses or professionals who want to host video content and convey a level of uninterrupted concentration. This can be a limitation for small-time operators such as bloggers and community organisations who want to get their feet wet with video.

Facebook is starting to provide some form of competition in the form of their Watch service but this will require users to have presence on the Facebook social network, something that may not be desirable amongst some people. Amazon have opened up their Prime streaming-video platform to all sorts of video publishers and creators, positioning it as Amazon Video Direct. But this will require users to be part of the Amazon Prime platform.

But for people who publish to consumer-focused video services like YouTube, competition will require them to put content on all the services. For small-time video publishers who are focusing on video content, this will involve uploading to different platforms for a wider reach. On the other hand, one may have to use a video-distribution platform which allows for “upload once, deliver many” operation.

Competition could open up multiple options for publishers, equipment / platform designers, and end-users. For example, it could open up monetisation options for publishers’ works, simplify proper dealing with copyrighted works used within videos, open up native-client access for more platforms, amongst other things.

But there has to be enough competition to keep the market sustainable and each of the platforms must be able to support the ability to view a video without the user being required to create an account beforehand. The market should also support the existence of niche providers so as to cater to particular publishers’ and viewers needs.

In conclusion, competition could make it harder for YouTube to effectively “own” the user-generated consumer video market and control how this market operates including what devices the content appears on.

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Acer raises the bar for convertible 2-in-1 laptop performance

Articles

Acer goes after casual gamers with upcoming Nitro 5 Spin convertible laptop | Windows Central

Acer Nitro 5 Spin: Gaming Convertible with 8th Gen Core Power | Laptop Mag

From the horse’s mouth

Acer

Press Release

My Comments

Before, the idea of a 2-in-1 convertible or detachable laptop having any sort of gaming or mobile-workstation acumen was considered ludicrous. These systems were simply more about computing that matched your lifestyle rather than something that was about performance.

Lenovo offered the 15” Yoga 720 which was specced with a NVIDIA GTX 1050 graphics processor but this was pitched more as a productivity machine or, should I say, a “prosumer” machine for video hobbyists, animators and the like.

But Intel recently announced the 8th Generation “Coffee Lake” range of Core CPUs with a focus towards high-performance portable computing. Acer came hot on the heels of this announcement by announcing a 2-in-1 convertible laptop incorporating this technology optimised for casual gaming.

Here, the Acer Nitro 5 Spin, which is a 15” convertible laptop equipped with the 8th generation Intel Core i7 CPU and NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050 GPU, is optimised and promoted specifically for casual gamers. There is up to 512GB of solid-state storage space which makes this machine earn its chops as your primary or only computer where you would harbour a lot of data. The display is a 15” Full HD display while the sound is looked after with a 3-speaker setup involving 2 properly-placed speakers and a subwoofer.

There is the backlit keyboard as expected for premium computer setups while the computer is secured using a Windows-Hello-compliant fingerprint reader. As for connecting to your home network, its 802.11a/g/n/ac MU-MIMO Wi-Fi infrastructure is augmented by Acer’s OmniAmp omnidirectional antenna setup which avoids your computer losing the optimum connection no matter how you set it up. It is also worth noting that Acer places a promise for the battery on this computer to run for 10 hours before it dies out, but I am not sure if this is with the computer running a game or video content, or simply doing light computing tasks.

As the sales pitch goes, the use case would be someone who is a casual gamer rather than the core gamers who want the highest-performing computers. The class of user would be someone who, for example, plays one of the Civilization games to while away the long flight or plays games streamed from a console that has the ability to play a console game on a regular computer. But the Acer Nitro 5 Spin would also appeal to people who view the game streams like what is offered on the Twitch platform.

Let’s not forget that the powerful CPU and GPU in the Acer Nitro 5 Spin makes the computer earn its chops with people who are dabbling with video editing, animation and the like. It could also appeal as a “foot-in-the-door” towards mobile workstation territory for engineering, graphics arts and similar students, but I would like to be sure it has a Thunderbolt 3 connection for use with eGPU modules kitted out with Quadro or similar workstation-class graphics cards.

The initial price that Acer called for the Nitro 5 Spin in the US and Canada market is US$999.

Personally, I would see Acer’s Nitro 5 Spin underscore the viability of integrating the versatile positioning abilities of the 2-in-1 convertible with the concept of high-performance computing for a lot of applications.

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Another effort to turn a smartphone in to a pathology lab

Article

Android main interactive lock screen

An add-on could allow a smartphone to become a portable pathology lab

Researchers create tech that turns your smartphone into a medical diagnostic tool | Fast Company

University resources

Multimode smartphone biosensing: the transmission, reflection, and intensity spectral (TRI)-analyzer | Professor Brian Cunningham, University of Illinois

My Comments

In most situations, pathology testing has required that the samples be sent away to a central laboratory to be analysed in to something meaningful for the professionals who prescribe them. This would typically take more than a day unless the laboratory was co-located with the facility that collected the sample such as in a hospital.

But there are some steps being taken to use a common smartphone as the equivalent of a pathology lab for most of the common tests. The goal with these devices is to allow the analysis of the sample and communication of the results to the end-user with a very short lead-time.

The first one of these solutions was a portable spectrograph device developed by Columbia University that connected to a smartphone’s headphone jack and worked with a special app to identify the presence of pathogens associated with certain diseases. There was also a view to have it work with less-expensive devices that could run user-installed software like the iPod Touch or low-tier Android phones, along with the ability to work on very low power.

The second one of these solutions attaches to an existing compatible smartphone and makes use of that phone’s camera and LED “flash” light to analyse the sample. It could also be set up to work with an integrated green-light laser diode as an alternative analysis light source.

This time, the sample of blood, saliva or urine is collected in a special microfluidic cartridge which means that the same “lab” could be used for multiple tests. There is a goal with this technology to adapt most of the common pathology tests to be performed with this hand-held “path-lab” and the goal can be achieved by reprogramming the software that is the companion app for this device to suit the test.

Personally, I would see these technologies initially work with the common ailment-specific “screening” tests or various “wellness” tests like cholesterol tests. There will also be an appeal to implement them with various drug tests where there isn’t a goal to achieve forensic-level accuracy. Similarly, medicine-level tests associated with chronic-illness treatment could be evolved to this technology.

But why is the idea of purposing a smartphone or similar device as a portable pathology lab appealing?

The key driver is to obtain there-and-then results suing highly-portable cost-effective equipment.

One use case is to do one or more pathology tests on a patient as they are transported in an ambulance to hospital and have the results communicated to the emergency department before the patient arrives. This also extends to situations where there are many casualties such as on a battlefield or other disaster zone. In this case, the smartphone with the handheld “path-labs” would be able to provide better-quality information for on-site treatment teams, rather than having to transport many samples to ultra-busy laboratories who may not communicate the results in time.

The rural community will also benefit in the context of routine tests especially where the nearest capable pathology lab is a long distance away from the village or town. Here, flying-doctor services, district nurses and the like can perform the common tests at the patient’s home and pass them on to regular general-practice doctors or specialists as well as making the patient and carer known of these results. It also augments the use of mobile devices as part of telemedicine efforts that can benefit this community.

But the same situation also applies to delivering healthcare in to third-world countries, something typically facilitated by the many volunteer organisations who answer this need. Here, the volunteer organisations can use this technology for identifying disease risks or organising the right treatment in a “there-and-then” manner.

Then there is the ability to use this technology as part of at-home healthcare programs including supporting the concept of ageing-at-home. This can be about using it as part of medicine management or monitoring long-term illnesses and assessing the effect of treatments without needing to go to a doctor’s clinic or hospital.

What is being seen here is the ability for cost-effective smartphones and similar highly-mobile devices that are based on platforms that support user-installable software to be used as part of personal healthcare in any part of the world.

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Are Siri and Alexa being seen as personal companions?

Article

Is Siri ending up as your personal companion?

Conversations with virtual assistants like Siri, Alexa may be signs of loneliness | First Post

Talking to Siri often? You’re probably lonely | Times Of India

Do YOU rely on your phone for company? Human-like gadgets can offer relief from loneliness in the short term | Daily Mail

Older adults buddy up with Amazon’s Alexa | MarketWatch

My Comments

Hey Siri! Why am I alone now?

A situation that has been drawn out lately is someone feeling comfortable with their iPhone in their hand or sitting at the kitchen table beside an Amazon Echo speaker, trying to build a conversation with Siri or Alexa rather than simply asking something of these voice-driven assistants.

Amazon Echo on kitchen bench press photo courtesy of Amazon USA

Is this smart speaker becoming your personal companion?

Here, a Kansas University study found that Siri, Alexa and co are being seen as a short-term panacea for social exclusion and loneliness. This is something that is being brought on by broken relationships or an increasing number of work situations where one is spending significant amounts of time away from their significant other or their normal communities. It is also symptomatic of a loss of community that has come about in this day and age.

It is also worth knowing that older and disabled adults are using Alexa or Google Home as a companion in the context of managing lights, or simply asking for the time or a music source. These devices are deliberately designed to look like other pieces of consumer-electronics or IT hardware rather than the typical bland look associated with assistive devices. They also do serve as an aide-memoire for dementia sufferers but only in early stages of this condition before it becomes worse.

But Siri, Alexa, Cortana and co are not perfect replacements for real-life friends, There is the long-term risk of you losing real human interaction if you rely on them as your companions. Here, you simply keep them serving you as a voice-operated “digital concierge” that helps with finding information or setting up your smart home rather than the be-all-and-end-all digital companion.

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Being aware of fake news in the UK

Previous HomeNetworking01.info coverage on this topic UK Flag

Silicon Valley Starts A War Against Fake News

Fact Checking Now Part Of The Online Media Aggregation Function

Useful UK-focused resources

FullFact.org (UK independent factchecking charity)

BBC Reality Check

Channel 4 News FactCheck

Political Parties

A few of the main political parties to watch in the UK

Conservatives (Tories)

Labour

Liberal Democrats

Green Party

UK Independence Party

Scottish National Party

Plaid Cymru (Party Of Wales)

Ulster Unionist Party

Sinn Fein

My Comments and advice

A key issue that is affecting how newsworthy events are covered and what people should become aware of in the news is the rise of propaganda, satire and similar information disguised as news. This situation is being described as “fake news”, “post-truth” and “alternative facts” and a significant number of academics have described it as a reason why Donald Trump became President of the USA or why the British citizens wanted the UK to leave the European Union.

I am giving some space in HomeNetworking01.info to the fake-news topic because an increasing number of people are obtaining their daily news from online sources using a smartphone, tablet or computer. This may be in addition to the traditional papers or the radio or TV newscasts and current-affairs shows or in lieu of these resources.

There have been many factors that have led to a fertile ground for fake news to spread. One of these is that most of us are using online search / aggregation services and social media as our news sources. Similarly, due to reduced circulation or ratings, various well-known news publishers and broadcasters are cutting back on their news budgets which then reduce the number of journalists in the newsroom or reduce news coverage to a quality not dissimilar to a news bulletin offered by a music-focused radio station.

Add to this the fact that it is relatively cheap and easy to set up a Website that looks very enticing thanks to low-cost “no-questions-asked” Web-host services and easy-to-use content management systems. It has led to the rise of Websites that carry propaganda or other material dressed up as news with this material being of questionable accuracy or value. Let’s not forget that it is easy to use Twitter or Facebook to share articles with our friends or followers especially if these articles support our beliefs.

Autocomplete list in Google Search Web user interface

Google users can report Autocomplete suggestions that they come across in their search-engine experience/

It is also made worse by the cross-border nature of the Internet where one can set up a Website or social-media presence in one country to target citizens in another country with questionable messages. This makes it easier to run the propaganda but avoid being caught out by a broadcast-standards or election-oversight authority or the judicial system in the target jurisdiction.

The fact that the UK are going to the polls for a general election this year means that Britons will become more vulnerable to the fake-news phenomenon. This is a situation that is also affecting France and Germany, two of continental Europe’s major economic, political and population centres who either are in the throes of completing a general election.

Reporting autocomplete suggestions in Google Search Web user experience

What you see when you report autocomplete suggestions in the Google Search Web user experience

The Chairman of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, Damian Collins (Conservatives), has raised this issue concerning Facebook and urging them to filter out fake news. This is although Silicon Valley have been taking steps to combat this problem through the following actions:

  • “turn off the money-supply tap” by refusing to partner their ad networks with fake-news sites or apps
  • engage with fact-checking organisations and departments that are either part of established newsrooms or universities to simplify the ability for their users to check the veracity of a claim
  • implementing a feedback loop to allow users to report auto-complete search suggestions, “snippets” answers, social-media posts and similar material shown in their sites, including the ability to report items as fake news
  • maintaining stronger user-account management and system security including eliminating accounts used just to deliver fake news and propaganda
  • modifying search-engine ranking algorithm or “trending-stories” listing algorithms to make it harder for fake news to surface.

What can you do?

Look for information that qualifies the kind of story if you are viewing a collection of headlines like a search or news-aggregation site or app. For example, Google has implemented tagging in their Google News aggregation site and apps such as “satire”.

Trust your gut reaction to that claim that is being offered in that Facebook post before you share it. If you find that the story sounds like exaggeration or is “off the beam”, it sounds like fake news. As well, the copy in many fake-news articles is written in a way to whip up anger or other immediate sentiment.

Check the host Website or use a search engine to see if trusted sources, especially the ones you trust, are covering the story. As well, if your browser offers a plug-in or extension that highlights fake-news and questionable content, it may be worth adding this feature.

Following news from one or more trusted news sources (including their online presence) may be the way to go to verify news being pushed around on the Internet.

For example, switching on the radio or the telly for the news may be a good idea so as to be sure of what really is going on with this election. In the case of the radio, you may find that BBC Radio 4, BBC Local Radio or a talk-focused independent station like LBC may be the better resource for deeper coverage of the election. Music stations who are part of the same family as a news or talk station such as the BBC stations or Capital, Heart and Classic FM who are part of the same family as LBC can also be of value if you use their short news bulletins as a news source. This is because their news bulletins are fed by the newsroom that serves the talk station.

As well, visit the online sites offered by trusted publishers and broadcasters to check the news in relationship to what the parties are saying. It also includes heading to Websites operated by the various parties or candidates so you can get the facts and policies “from the horse’s mouth”.

You also must take advantage of the feedback loop that Facebook, Google and other online services offer to call out questionable content that appears during the election period. Typically this will be options to report the content or autocomplete hit as something like being inappropriate.

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Competition arises for the online games storefront

Articles

GOG Galaxy client app (Windows)

GOG Galaxy client app (Windows)

Steam vs. GOG Galaxy: Which is service better for PC gamers? | Windows Central

Why I’m switching from Steam to GOG for PC gaming | Windows Central

From the horse’s mouth

Good Old Games (GOG)

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My Comments

When computer games developers moved away from delivering their game software to regular-computer users from packaged media to “download-to-own” digital delivery, there wasn’t really any competition. The options that become available were to supply the software through an online storefront that the developer creates for their imprints, a platform-specific app store run by the operating-system developer like Apple’s Mac App Store or Microsoft’s Windows Store, or to end up using Valve’s Steam online storefront.

Steam – the established games storefront

Steam was considered a good-quality online games storefront and gaming community but they got to that point where they became too proud of themselves and started to strip away desirable features or throw their weight around such as banning users for offering negative reviews.

The competition that is now rising up is Good Old Games or GOG for short. This electronic storefront and gaming community ran by CD Projekt have answered what computer gamers have always wanted. One of these is to offer value for money such as offering DLC (downloadable content – the extra content that extends a game’s value) as though it is part of the game rather than a separate title. Another was to offer DRM-free games that are really “download-to-own” along with underscoring an honour-driven carrot-based approach to tackling software piracy.

This means that you could do something like run the game without needing to be signed in to the storefront or be connected on the Internet. This can be of a bonus with those of us who use a laptop for gaming while away from home and you don’t have to lose your gaming content if GOG collapsed or was taken over by someone else. Some games can also benefit by allowing users to install copies of the game on multiple computers connected to the same network thus opening up to traditional network-based multi-player multi-machine gameplay. Thee is still the ability to save your game in the cloud along with a chat community which you would want to log in for.

One of the key features being drawn out is for GOG to support reissues of vintage and classic game titles. Here, they have revised these games to convey the same legacy feel that they offered yet are able to have them run on today’s hardware.

What I like about the rise of competition in the online retail games storefront space is that everyone involved has to treat their customers better and underscore value for money when it comes to selling games. It also means that there is pressure for these storefronts also to treat the games developers fairly and provide more avenues for these studios to sell their wares, rather than the developers having to reinvent the wheel by creating their own storefront every time they want to sell their games online in a location other than Steam or platform-specific app stores.

It could be seen as GOG being like the “indie” bookstore, record store or video store that appear in inner-urban areas of the major cities, the college towns or other areas that have that “cool” factor. This is compared to Steam positioning itself like one of the major book, music or video store chains that appears in most suburban areas or regional cities.

Similarly, it could open up the idea of Amazon and other online storefronts reaching towards the “regular-computer” gaming scene by setting up their own gaming storefronts. Here, it can lead to a vibrant multi-platform regular-computer (Windows/Mac/Linux) gaming marketplace that pleases both the gamers out there as well as the games developers including the indie studios. As well, like what is happening with the video-on-demand marketplace, it can open up the idea of niche gaming storefronts that cater to particular classes of gamers.

It is the sign of things to come for regular-computer gaming to see multiple retail online games storefronts starting to appear thanks to GOG.

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