Category: Network Lifestyle And Activities

Swiss Customs agency to have own mobile-platform app for travellers

Swiss Customs sign - courtesy Wikimedia CommonsArticle – German Language / Deutsche Sprache

Zollverwaltung plant Smartphone-App | Netzwoche (Switzerland)

Verzollung per Smartphone geplant | PCTipp.ch

From the horse’s mouth

Swiss Customs Authority (Eidgenössische Zollwerwaltung EZV)

App download site

My Comments

The country who turns out the most precise and most premium traditional watches has taken anther step further with e-government. Here, the Swiss customs authority have worked on a mobile-platform app that overseas travellers use for calculating customs duty and VAT on goods they intend to bring back to Switzerland or registering these goods. This is also part of a simplification effort concerning how Swiss citizens have to deal with importing goods privately such as part of online shopping.

There are questions on what level of functionality this app will provide such as provision of other customs-related information or whether this will work just for private importers only with different software for businesses.

But at least it is an example of a customs authority implementing their e-government goals to more than just large importers. It also is a government department implementing the mobile platforms like smartphones and tablets in this role rather than just using a Web view on a desktop computer for this kind of e-government application.

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Getting girls and women to develop computer games using the summer-camp model

Article

Inaugural ‘Girls Make Games’ Summer Camps Fight Industry’s Gender Gap | Mashable

My Comments

Women and girls are increasingly dabbling in computer games, especially the strategy and casual types on mobile platforms, as I have seen lately with the likes of Candy Crush Saga and Piano Tiles being played by them on iPads and similar devices. But a lot of games, especially “core” games are being developed by men for men.

Just lately, there is activity taking place to encourage women and girls to develop these games and this is taking place in the form of a “summer-camp” or “school-camp” model where groups of them stay at particular locations to work together on this goal. This is an attempt to fight an industry gender gap and increase interest in this activity amongst under-represented groups. One of the issues that was raised was creating interest in “STEM” (science, technology, engineering, maths) subjects amongst women and girls to have them show interest in programming and related disciplines/

It is also being cultivated through the existence of “indie” game development which is brought along with the rise of mobile devices, especially tablets like iPads and the Sony VAIO Tap 20, as a gaming platform along with the increased capabilities that these devices offer.

But could the participation of women and girls change the landscape of game content? Personally, I would find that they could provide games that appeal to more users such as middle-aged and older people along with other younger women. As well, they could work towards opening up computer gaming as a leisure activity for more people across the board. One thing to be aware of is to encourage the use of the platform’s abilities when it comes to graphics, sound and interaction rather than being “basic” with the games.

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It’s “Game on” for the two major mobile platforms

Article

Apple: New ‘Metal’ Platform to Improve iOS Gaming | Mashable

My Comments

Android has come a long way ahead with mobile games performance courtesy of the NVIDIA Tegra chipsets and similar high-performance chipsets being implemented in the top-end tablets. This has also be brought up with variants of that operating system being compiled and shoehorned to exploit these chipsets leading to tablets showing up with the kind of performance expected of by hard-core gamers.

Now Apple’s not leaving itself behind with their iOS platform. They have written in to iOS 8 some code that takes advantage of their latest A7 chipsets by implementing the “Metal API”. This allows the operating system to have the games work directly with the iPhone’s or iPad’s processor to yield smooth performance rather than using OpenGL for this purpose, which could allow game developers to target the latest iPads as a games platform for the “full-on” titles. There was even a “demo” of this being shown today at the WWDC Apple-platform developers’ conference based on the Unreal Engine 4 gaming engine to prove what this was about.

There are questions that have to be raised about the “Metal” API regarding battery runtime because some of the games may ask more of the iOS device when in full flight. Similarly, games for the mobile platforms may only be seen to work well for “short-play” casual or strategy titles where continual interaction may not be seen as important.

Could this mean that all of the main mobile platforms could come up with the kind of gaming expected of console and regular-computer platforms, where there is the high level of responsiveness being expected?

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Venice’s independence referendum is the proving ground for e-voting

Article

E-voting comes of age in Italy with Venice independence referendum | PCWorld

My Comments

Venice - Creative Commons  2.0 - Courtesy of word_virus

Venice – a city that could be legitimising the online vote

As you think of wafting down those canals in Venice in a gondola, or listen to that piece of classical music by Vivaldi who was born in Venice , you don’t know that this area has just been a turning point for a change that could affect how you vote.

This neighbourhood became fed up with the way the Italian state was taxing them but not putting much back in to that area. The sentiment whipped up some interest in the secessionist movement and, due to an increase in the IT industry in that area, the idea came across to run a referendum for secession using the Web.

This required that each person registered to vote receive a unique identity number for that election where they logged in to a Web page using that number to cast their vote online with a computer, tablet or smartphone. There was also the ability to use a regular telephone to cast your vote for the referendum. There were measures in place to detect and prevent voter fraud using this system and it would also have used the SSL technology to assure a secret vote on the Web front.

Of course, the mainstream Italian media, most of whom was controlled by Silvio Berlusconi, called the vote a farce but this was able to be seen in Italy and other areas as a mature proving ground for the Internet-driven e-voting concept. Other areas like Switzerland have implemented e-voting for various referenda and Norway has eyed this technology as something to implement in their municipal elections.

Some countries may still cast doubt over the idea of electronic voting technologies, usually due to breaking perceived “comfort zones” or fear of an increased risk of electoral fraud. Even postal voting in Australia has been considered acceptable only as an “away-from-home” voting option or on a municipal level by all but a minority of councils.

What would be considered important for any online voting system would be to have a unique number for each registered voter relating to a particular election or referendum, not correlating to other “primary-key” numbers used as part of public service or commerce like tax numbers, social-security or public-health (NHS / Medicare) numbers. As well, this number is provided to each voter by regular post with one envelope for each voter even though multiple voters reside in one household such as parents and children of voting age. This would be considered a “use-once” number to assure “one person one-vote one-value” and not relate to the vote being cast.

As well, an online system would have to have highly-scrupulous security measures like use of SSL (https) Web pages with even the option of an on-screen keyboard to deter keystroke logging to assure everyone of the secret ballot. Even making sure that client-side software such as mobile-platform apps are approved would be considered important to avoid the creation of “Trojan horse” apps that work against democracy by betraying users’ votes.

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Scalextric releases a power module to connect your slot car set to your smartphone

Article

App-Connected Slot Cars Give You Mario Kart-Like Power-Ups and Damage | Gizmodo

From the horse’s mouth

Scalextric

Press Release

Product Page

New Scalextric RCS system

Digital RCS Pro Power Base

Digital RCS Air Power Base

My Comments

The smartphone is about to be married with the slot-car race set by providing a way to help you improve how you race with these sets. The functionality allows for simulation of various motor-racing conditions like fuel-supply. tyre-wear and vehicle damage, yellow-card conditions and the like. It also allows for one to engage in a variety of different motor-race competitions like Grand Prix races, “qualifying” races, drag races and endurance races.

This is achieved through the use of an iOS/Android smartphone or tablet that links to the power-base via Bluetooth 4.0 LE a.k.a. Bluetooth Smart technology. This is facilitated with an app that provides the advanced control abilities. They also use a wireless link to the handheld controllers which are still used by the competitors to control their vehicle’s speed on the track.

This unit is able to work with any standard 1:32-scale slot car track by allowing a user to replace a power base used in the existing layout with this power base. Here, the user just has to swap in a “full-straight” part of the track for this device. The Digital RCS Pro system, which offers more control, uses a special chip to be installed in the actual cars themselves, with most of the recent cars having “plug-and-play” installation.

What this has been highlighting is that today’s smartphones are being able to work with some of the “old-school” hobbies by offering extra functionality and capabilities.

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Alliance to provide a level playing field for Internet Of Things

Articles

A New Alliance Will Let "Internet Of Things" Devices Talk To Each Other  | Fast Company

Home Appliance Makers Connect Open Source Internet Of Things | PC World

From the horse’s mouth

AllSeen Alliance

Web site

My Comments

As the hype builds up about the “Internet Of Things” where devices can use a heterogenous network for exchanging data or receiving commands, there is oomething that can easily go wrong here. This is where particular vendors see the “Internet Of Things” as being the “Internet Of Things Around Our Products”, something that can stifle competition and, especially, innovation.

But steps have been taken towards creating a truly heterogenous Internet Of Things which is similar to what has happened with Bluetooth and Wi-Fi wireless technologies. Here, it involved the creation of industry-based multiple-vendor alliances who put forward what is required for all devices working to a technology to communicate with each other.

The Linux Foundation have set up the AllSeen Alliance in conjunction with Qualcomm with their AllJoyn protocol which was just lately made “open-source”. The goal is about implementing heterogenous transport layers that work without need for Internet connectivity and work in a vendor-independent manner.

At the moment, they are working on modular services that look at the following functions: discovery, pairing / set-up, message routing, and data security. THis will include proper user interface requirements including a rich user experience with the Internet of Things; along with an application-specific requirement  for streaming audio over many connected speakers.

There will still need to be an effort to assure secure interoperability on a function-based level so that a system based on units from different vendors can work as a system rather than having he need for software or hardware function bridges to allow devices of one manufacturer to work with those of another.

Once this happens, this can allow the Internet Of things to be affordable for most users and be a breeding ground of innovation.

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Quality control to arrive for regular-computer gaming

Article

PC Gaming Alliance Launching Certification Program in March | Tom’s Hardware

From the horse’s mouth

PC Gaming Alliance

Program Page

My Comments

Sony VAIO Fit 15e on dining table

Quality is now part of the games experience on these computers

A major part of the personal computer’s history has been about integrating the playing of games on these computers and every personal-computer platform had ended up with many different game titles available in a retail context or, in some cases, available for download. This has been the basis for heroes like Leisure Suit Larry and Carmen Sandiego in the late 1980s and early 1990s let alone people practising flying and golfing or solving puzzles on these computers as a spare-time activity.

There are those of us who still like to game on with our regular computers, be they desktops, all-in-ones or laptops or that they run Windows, MacOS X or Linux. This is although mobile devices like smartphones and tablets, along with games consoles of the XBox One and PS4 variety are being viable alternatives to the regular computer. Similarly, newer tablet and touchscreen-equipped convertible computers have been showing up, working under Windows 8.1 which is still considered a “regular-computer” operating system. This has extended to the likes of the Sony VAIO Tap 20 and its ilk which have a strong gaming appeal.

HP Envy X2 detachable-screen hybrid tablet-notebook computer

HP Envy X2 detachable-screen hybrid tablet-notebook computer – now to be a viable games machine

Of course, a significant amount of time on a regular computer is spent on various games whether they be conquering many worlds, setting up many empires, mimicking real life or engaging in car races or test flights. And I wouldn’t put it past flight attendants who work the long-haul flights to see these games being played on laptops through these flights.

But, unlike the games consoles and the mobile platforms where there is oversight through the companies behind these platforms, there hasn’t been a strong level of oversight when it comes to game quality. Some people have continued to raise issues about EA’s software quality especially in the light of the recent SimCity fiasco.

Sony VAIO Tap 20 adaptive all-in-one computer as a desktop

These “adaptive all-in-one” computers like the Sony VAIO Tap 20 are ending up as games machines

There have been a few quality-assurance programs out theire like the Microsoft “Games For Windows” program and Apple’s developer-assistance program for the Macintosh platform along with Valve’s Steam ecosystem. But the PC Gaming Alliance want to have a quality-assurance platform that is open and not bound to a particular developer in order to keep with the open nature of the regular-computing platforms.

One technical goal is to have a regular computer paint the graphics for a game to the 720p HD specification at 30 frames per second under load as a median requirement. This could allow the game to run on a modest processor like the Intel i5 processors which could typify a modest computer. Similarly, games titles that benefit from a console-style game controller as their user interface should benefit from these controllers and the games should take advantage of large-screen displays. The latter requirement would come in to its own with someone who wants to connect their laptop to a large-screen TV or projector to get the most out of their game.

Personally, I would like to see this apply across Windows, Macintosh and Linux builds of a game title so that no matter the platform, there is consistent software quality across the games. The companies representing these platforms could then be part of this alliance in order to encourage quality games development for their platforms.

Similarly, the games would have to be as though they are a part of the operating environment like what used to happen with Sierra’s and Broderbund’s output where these games worked smoothly with their host platform, exploiting what these platforms offered. It could also encompass network-game compatibility whether online or local-hosted and encompass multi-platform games where console players cam play alongside regular-computer or mobile-device players or play part of a game across different devices.

Could this be a chance for EA and others to lose their tarnished image when it comes to software quality for regular-computer gaming?

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CSIRO to use mobile-platform app as part of system to support ageing at home

Article

CSIRO app to help older people live at home safely | Aged And Community Services Australia

My Comments

Increasingly, the home network is becoming a key feature to support the “ageing at home” concept where an older person can live in their home yet is monitored for signs of ill-health or is assisted as they complete regular tasks using the technology supported by these networks.

One of the main goals is to support the concept of deinstitutionalisation in aged care and allied health care, which is becoming more relevant as we see an increasingly-ageing population accelerated by the baby boomers reaching the old age. This concept also reduces the need to build many aged-care facilities which also reduces the costs associated with building them.

There have been efforts in the UK to provide for dignified independent living for older people including the use of projected text to remind Alzheimer’s patients of stages in a cooking procedure and a GPS system to help with shopping. Similarly, IRIS who is a company in the US is distributing through an American chain of  hardware stores products and services that also are about keeping tabs on one’s elderly relatives. This is being augmented by Fujitsu refining technology that makes a digital-camera image sensor measure one’s pulse which comes in handy with in-home aged care.

In the latest effort, the CSIRO have established a system to help with this concept. This is based around a mobile-platform tablet that works along with a system of sensors to observe the health and well-being of the senior citizen.

Energy sensors aren’t just to “be green” in this case, but to monitor use of appliances as part of a healthy daily lifestyle. For example, knowing if they have used the kettle to make a cup of coffee or tea at all or the use of a “cooking device” such as the stove, the microwave oven or toaster oven indicates if the person is well and looking after themselves. Similarly, knowing if they have left the oven or stove hob on for too long can indicate a dangerous situation.

Similarly, those motion detectors that are part of a security system can also identify whether the person has entered particular rooms like the kitchen as part of their regular activities. These work alongside various health sensors like blood glucose monitors or pulse monitors to observe the health of the older person.

This information is presented on a mobile-platform tablet to allow the person to see how they are keeping with life and a carer or the person’s loved ones can know what is going on if there are abnormalities. There are options in this system to help with assuring data privacy so that people only have access to this data only if they need it as part of the health-care plan for the elderly person.

Some other devices can work as part of this same equation such as the new breed of residential “smart locks” that effectively work as a business-grade access-control system for our homes. Here, they could be able to identify whether the door was locked or not and, preferably, identify whether it was locked or unlocked from inside or outside. This could, for example identify whether they got up and went outside to get the paper or mail for example thus knowing if they are well.

There can be questions raised about the use of technology as part of “ageing at home” in the context of over-monitoring the elderly population or stripping out the personal aspect of the care that is to be provided to this population. What needs to happen is that relatives and friends, along with professional carers need to engage with the older person for their health and welfare and not just have these systems monitor them for abnormalities.

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Why do I support DropBox and where do I see it be relevant?

Through this Website, I will cite and highlight Dropbox when I am talking about cloud-based file-share services and how they can be used.

One feature that I like about Dropbox is that it is not tied to a particular vendor like Microsoft or Apple. Here, you can benefit from the fact that you can share or exchange files with other users no matter their desktop or mobile computing platform. This includes the provision of first-party and third-party software that strengthens the link between the operating platforms and Dropbox.

This is extended to some NAS vendors providing software support for the Dropbox platform through desktop software or software that is part of the NAS’s operating system. Increasingly, Dropbox integration is becoming a function for many network-enabled multifunction printers where you could print from or scan to a Dropbox folder.  To the same extent, there are people who are building server-side software that integrates their server to the Dropbox platform, making it become an “on-ramp” or “shadow store” for Dropbox.

Like similar file-storage services, Dropbox is not a social network although it can work with Facebook and Twitter. For example, it can work as a file store for Facebook Groups as well as supporting single sign-on with these services.

There is a free entry-level allowance but you can buy more capacity or do things to increase capacity like inviting others to the Dropbox ecosystem so they integrate it with their regular computer. Some vendors like Samsung also provide free extra capacity to users who integrate it with their devices.

Dropbox has answered business’s needs by offering a business package that has secure encrypted storage, the ability to remotely unlink devices and other manageability expectations. This has even extended to having on one login a Dropbox personal account for personal data and a Dropbox For Business account for work data.

The main use I see for DropBox is to exchange a large number of files or large files like videos between two or more different people rather than serving simply as personal or business offsite storage.

For example, I would upload a large collection of photos or videos to a folder on Dropbox and share this folder with other people that I choose. Or it could be to pass a large document between two or more people as part of the revision process for that document. or want to work the one document across two different computers such as a desktop and an Ultrabook. Similarly, I may use Dropbox to create a reference library of documents such as reference manuals for business or for that shared property that you are responsible for.

What I see Dropbox as is simply a agile cross-platform invitation-only file exchange for individuals and small businesses.

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A Wi-Fi-based clinical observation thermometer appears on the scene

Article – From the horse’s mouth

Solwise

http://www.solwise.co.uk/wireless-cadisense.htm

CadiSense

Product Page

My Comments

There have been some trends taking place to make the home network become part of in-home health care. One of the previous trends was Fujitsu using a digital camera like what is equipped in a smartphone or Webcam as a tool for measuring your pulse. Similarly, another company implemented a set of urinalysis “control sticks” that can be assessed not through a reference chart on the packaging but by a platform smartphone app that uses the phone’s camera to read these sticks.

Now a device has been launched in the UK through Solwise which uses a wireless temperature sensor to provide continual body temperature monitoring using the home network. This device, known as “Cadisense” implements a wireless temperature sensor that attaches to the patient’s nappy (diaper) or undergarment and touches the lower abdomen to measure the temperature. This device sends these temperature readings to a plug-in network bridge that connects to your home network via Wi-Fi or Ethernet, with the network bridge keeping a long-term record of these observations that are taken every 30 seconds.

The data can be viewed on a Web server integrated in the network bridge that is accessible through the home network or via a remote link like what is used for most network devices that implement “remote access” or “cloud” functionality. The “dashboard” Website hosted by this Web server is optimised for viewing on a regular computer, tablet or smartphone and has the ability for regular-computer users to download the observations to the hard disk as a CSV file to import in to a spreadsheet application or email to their doctor. There are also the mobile-computing apps that work tightly with the iOS and Android platforms

At the moment, this device is focused towards observation-based clinical temperature measurement but shows that this concept can be proven beyond this application. There is a current limitation where the Cadisense temperature sensors can only work with the supplied network bridge but it is made up for the fact that the network bridge is a “3-way” wireless network device that can be either a Wi-Fi client bridge, a Wi-Fi range extender or an infill Wi-Fi access point.

For that matter, Cadisense are on a good wicket with their design because they could work this platform for a lot of in-home health-care applications including “ageing at home”. For example, their network bridge could come in to its own with the Ekahau Wi-Fi Pager Tags to be the core of a network-based “emergency-call” system that is a necessary part of caring for older people.

Once a system like this is built around industry-accepted standards like Z-Wave or Zigbee, it could mean a lot more for at-home health care and wellness applications amongst other applications like security and home automation.

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