Category: Computing Tips

A timely reminder to beware of suspicious emails in your inbox

Windows Live Mail client-based email interface

Slow down when you check those emails so you are safe

Increasingly people are receiving emails that are becoming very dangerous to their personal or business security.

This happens during November and December, especially between when the American community celebrates Thanksgiving (last Thursday in November) to Epiphany / Twelfth Night (January 5), where there is a lot of Christmas-driven communications and most, if not all, of us are thinking about Christmas. This includes responding to the shopping offers that are being made available through this time. Here, these emails are being sent in a manner as to “get at” the user and take control of their computing equipment or data..

Over this past weekend, some friends of mine from church had approached me about email issues and I had found out that the husband fell victim to a phishing attack against his Outlook.com Webmail account with it ending up being used to send spam messages. Here, I visited these friends on Monday night for dinner and to help him change his account’s password and report it as being compromised. Then a close friend of his rang him about receiving the Australia Post phishing emails and I suggested to that friend to delete that email immediately.

One example is to supply  malware as an attachment typically obfuscated as a compressed “file of files” or a malformed document file; or direct users to pick up the questionable software at a Web link. The idea is to get users to install this software of questionable provenance on their computer so that it makes it become part of a large botnet that is intended to wreak havoc on other computer users, steal your personal or business information, or extort money from you.

Another example is a link that send users to a forged login or other customer-interaction page for a Webmail, banking, Social Web or similar online service to steal their personal details. This is typically to steal the user’s money or identity, create a bank account or similar financial account for laundering ill-gotten gains, or use an email mailbox and contact list to send further spam to computer users.

The email is suspicious if

It is out-of-character with the sender

This may be reflecting a situation that you know the sender is not in, such as them or their business being in financial dire straits. It may also simply be an email of a kind the don’t normally send.

Contains nothing but enticing “click-bait” text

You may find some enticing text written in the Subject line or in the body of the message that gets you to either open the attachment or click on that link.

Implores on you to open it or click on the link under pain of losing service continuity or something similar

Looks very official and has copy that threatens you that you will lose access to your funds or continuity of a service you use, or something similar; and requires you to click on a link in that message to take action to remedy the situation. This may also be about the pending arrival of a parcel or some funds and you have to click on a link or open an attachment to print out a “claim form”.

What to do?

Do not click on the links in that email or open the attachment

Under no circumstances should you click on any links in the suspicions email or open any attachment that is part of that email.

Check the email out

In the case of a personal email, check the email address that purports to be in the name of your contact to see if it is one that you and your contact regularly use. Here, some people may operate a business email address alongside a personal email address and you need to confirm these addresses through conversation, business collateral that they supply, amongst other things.

In the case of a business email, check to see if the email looks as though it genuinely represents that organisation. If the email is requiring you to do something to assure “continuity of service”, access to funds, etc. contact that business directly using their customer-service number or email.

One obvious red herring would be if you receive a contact from a bank or other business you don’t do any business with. Another red herring is an email that isn’t addressed to you personally, rather it uses a generic “all-call” salutation like “Dear Customer”. Yet another red herring is the quality of the document. Here, you look out for whether the email represents the company’s current “trade dress” such as current logos, colour schemes and the like. As well, you look for the quality of the document to see that it reflects what is expected for a business document coming from the company’s location of business, such as spelling, grammar, punctuation, etc.

Sometines, what may appear in the “To” list may be contacts, including “virtual contacts” which represent a cluster of email address, whom you don’t have anything to do with. This is also a sign of a suspicious email.

Check with the sender

If you receive an email from a contact of yours which appears to be out-of-character with them, contact them about that email. You must do this not by replying to that email but by either calling them on the phone, sending an SMS or instant-messaging message to them or sending a separate email to them.

If it is business-related like correspondence from your bank or other organisation, log in to the business’s Website yourself using its commonly-publsihed or commonly-known Web address. Here, you type the address in to your Web browser’s address bar or, if you do regular business with the site, go to the bookmark or favourite link you have created for it. As well, it may also be of value to contact the organisation on their published phone number to check the veracity of that email. Here, you may find this in the regular business correspondence that you have for them or use the common telephone directory or the organisation’s Web page to find that number.

Report the email then delete it

If you are using your Webmail provider’s Web-based user interface, you may have an option to report that email as spam, hacking, fraud or something similar. If you are using a client-based email setup, forward the email as an attachment to your ISP’s or email provider’s email address that has been set up for reporting email abuse or fraud.

Business users who work for a company that has an in-house or contracted IT team should let that IT team know about the suspicious email. This will also apply to those of us who study at a school or university which has its own IT team.

As well, if the email appeared to be in the name of the bank or other organisation, look on the organisation’s Website for a “report fraud” link or email and use that to report the fraudulent emails that you received. Here, they can engage local or national law enforcement to take further action especially if the behaviour is consistent.

Then delete the fraudulent email immediately.

Security tips

  • Keep the computer’s operating system and application software up-to-date with the latest patches
  • Make sure you are running a good anti-malware utility and that it is updated frequently and regularly. It may also be a good practice to run a full scan with this software
  • Make sure that you have strong and preferably unique passwords on your online services
  • Make sure that your home network hardware is on the latest firmware and has strong non-default passwords.
  • Consider using a password manager program or service. As well, it may be worth it to implement a two-factor authentication setup on your online services with your smartphone showing a key number as a “second factor”.
  • As well, you may find that if you have an account with a major online service like a Microsoft service or one of the popular social networks, you may have the opportunity to implement a single sign-on. This may be worth using especially with games, forums, comment functionality, online music or similar services so you don’t have to work out extra passwords.
  • Back up the data you created yourself using your computer to a NAS and/or USB hard disk and preferably make a separate copy of this backup in a separate location
  • Only visit Websites and online services that are known to be reputable
Send to Kindle

The best path for turning a PowerPoint presentation to PNG or JPEG files

A high-resolution image from PowerPoint on a DLNA-capable Smart TV

A high-resolution image from PowerPoint on a DLNA-capable Smart TV

I have discovered a weakness that Microsoft PowerPoint has when it comes to exporting presentations to PNG or JPEG raster-file formats. Here, the built-in rasterising function that this common presentation software has can only rasterise the presentations to resolutions that are very low for today’s expectations. This problem may also beset some other desktop presentation programs and may frustrate you when you want those high-resolution bitmaps.

The technique also applies to illustration software, CAD software and similar graphics programs as long as they can export to PDF or other common vector-based formats.

Why the need for high-resolution PNG and JPEG files?

Your camera, smart TV and similar devices work natively on high definition

But why have the PowerPoint presentations turned out to high-resolution formats? A typical digital camera in current circulation can take a picture with a resolution of at least 3000 x 4000 pixels and this applies to the cameras integrated in to smartphones and tablets. As well, the typical flat-screen TV has a resolution of at least 1080p for high-definition TV.

PowerPoint works to preserve sharpness when showing presentations

But all the artwork in a typical PowerPoint presentation i.e. the text, the pie-charts and other graphs,  but excepting any of the photos, is typically vector graphics that is drawn by the program.

This doesn’t lose any resolution no matter how big the display that the presentation is shown on is. Some of us may insert high-resolution photos such as pictures off our digital cameras in to the presentations and scale or crop them to suit the presentation. Here.the software could preserve the resolution of the photo or excerpt and implement this as a “relative scaling” to preserve the positioning, but keep the sharpness that is in the picture.

Allow our Web-site visitors to view a presentation, graph or diagram in detail

Some of us may want to use the PNG or JPEG files on a Web page which is handled by software that supports high-resolution delivery and server-side scaling. This would allow for “detail viewing” of photos and diagrams or best-quality display on high pixel-per-inch screens like the Retina-equipped Apple iPad. This is very important for diagrams, charts and similar graphics that can convey extra detail.

High-resolution bitmap-graphics layers for photo and video editing projects

Use PowerPoint to export presentation as a PDF file

Use PowerPoint to export presentation as a PDF file

Similarly, we would be using PowerPoint to create simplified graphics layers to use with a photo-editing tool like Photoshop. To the same extent, you could be using PowerPoint to prepare the menu tree for your DVD or Blu-Ray project and your DVD / Blu-Ray authoring program can only handle the raster files when you are preparing the menu screens.

Impressive and clear on large high-resolution displays

As well, we could be using PowerPoint to create digital signage and want to use a DLNA-based setup to show the signage on a DLNA-capable Smart TV, or a video projector or regular flat-panel TV hooked up to a DLNA-capable Blu-Ray player or network media player. It also extends to plugging a USB memory key full of the slides in to the side or back of the TV to show them on its screen as best as it could do.
In this case, you are able to benefit from the high resolution that a lot of these display devices offer. This also extends to you using the recent crop of mobile tablets, such as the Apple iPad 3 with Retina Display or the Samsung Galaxy Tab S, as digital picture frames but benefiting from their ultra-sharp displays.

How do you do this?

  1. Prepare your presentation

    Make up your presentation using PowerPoint or similar software as you would normally do. Keep saving the work in the software’s native format to avoid losing your work.

  2. Export to a PDF file

    Exporting using PDF2PNG, preferred for Web-targeted applications

    Exporting using PDF2PNG, preferred for Web-targeted applications

    Export the presentation as a PDF file. This is typically offered as the PDF file type for PowerPoint’s “Save As” option. This will have PowerPoint turn out a vector-based multi-page PDF of your presentation.

  3. Convert the PDF file to a PNG or JPEG file

    Use a Web-based PDF-rasterising tool that can rasterise to a PNG or JPG file. Good examples of these converters include PDF2PNG.com or PDF2JPG.net which turn out high-resolution PNG or JPG files respectively. There may be also some desktop PDF-rasterising tools available for all of the regular-computer platforms (Windows, Mac OS X, Linux) that can rasterise PDF files at high resolutions, which you could download or buy. These include Adobe Acrobat and some of the good PDF-management tools.

    The download file exported by PDF2PNG if you collect the ZIP file.

    The download file exported by PDF2PNG if you collect the ZIP file.

    In the case of the Web-based tools, you upload the PDF file and select the “Convert” option. If you have a resolution option, I would suggest using the higher-resolution options if they are available to you. Then, after you have submitted the conversion job, you will receive a ZIP file with all the slides as PNGs or JPGs.
    As well, there are similar online or desktop tools that can rasterise common vector-based graphics formats to high-resolution PNG or JPEG images, which may come in handy for your favourite graphics software.
    It is also worth knowing that JPGs may work more reliably when you are intending the image to be used on a TV screen or digital picture frame. This doesn’t matter whether you are using a USB memory key / SD card to directly transfer the images or use the display as part of a DLNA-capable network setup. It is because most of these devices can handle images from a digital camera or camcorder, and this may also apply to baseline video-editing or DVD-authoring software.

  4. Use the converted bitmap files how you want

    These are turned out as best-case high-resolution images fit for even a 4K UHDTV

    These are turned out as best-case high-resolution images fit for even a 4K UHDTV

    Expand the ZIP file to your computer’s file system in order to claim all of your bitmap files that resulted from your conversion job and store them where you want to get to them.
    In the case of showing them on a TV or digital picture frame, you can expand this file to a USB memory key that you are going to plug in to the side of the set, or move the JPG or PNG files to a (computer or NAS) folder that is used to share images by your computer’s or NAS’s DLNA media server.

Once you know how to rasterise you PowerPoint presentations to a high definition using external software, you can dodge PowerPoint’s bullet that limits you when you want to create high-resolution images fit for Webpages or today’s smart TVs.

Send to Kindle

You may have to pay special attention to your online services when you move location

Article

House

Keeping your details up to date when you move location may not be difficult

Moving houses can leave you disconnected | The Australian

My Comments

You may be moving house or business location for one of many different reasons but one common mistake many people make especially with their online life is not to factor it in when you do your move. This can lead to problems and customer-support calls when you have established yourself in your new location.

Your communications services

As soon as your move is imminent, make sure that your utilities including your communications services are set up to be connected and enabled at the new address by the day you move. If you can, make sure that you can keep the existing service going at your old address for the weeks that are bracketing the date of your move.

You may have to identify which of the communications services you can carry with you when you are moving. If this is a short move that is happening across town, you may be able to use the same services but longer-distance moves may require you to change operators. This is more so when you are moving in to an area where your current operator doesn’t have a footprint or cannot provide the service with the same level of continuity as before.

Your mobile phone may be a strong ally here

Your mobile phone may be a strong ally here

During the first week of your arrival at your new premises, you may have to spend some time “tweaking” your Wi-Fi network so that it is not clashing with your neighbours’ Wi-Fi networks. Here, you would have to change the channels that the router and/or access points work on, but you don’t have to change your SSID or security parameters.

Online services

As part of your move, you would be updating your contact details with your employer, your bank, the electoral registry, the taxman and similar organisations. But you may also need to manage other details like cloud-based storage services, online subscriptions and similar services. This may, for some services like social networks, require you to update your current physical address, email address or telephone numbers.

Some of these services may have particular dependencies like your email address or telephone number, especially for verification or authentication purposes. Here, they may allow you to supply multiple email addresses as “alternate” addresses and you can make use of this through the weeks or months that are bracketing your move date. As well, services that use an email address rather than a username as the login parameter may allow you to maintain this address as the login parameter even though you have changed email addresses.

Skype with uncluttered Modern user interface

Skype can serve as a temporary telephone service

If your service is dependent on an email address, you may have to supply an email address that isn’t related to a fixed Internet service for the duration of the move. This can be an address related to a Website you create, your workplace’s email address if you work for the same employer or simply a Webmail address like Gmail.com or Outlook.com (formerly Hotmail) . This is important if the fixed Internet service doesn’t operate in the territory you are moving into or you simply want to use your move as an excuse to change Internet-service operators.

If your service is dependent on a phone number, you may need to associate it with a currently-operating mobile phone number. Here, you may be able to add your mobile number to the phone numbers associated with the service or replace any defunct numbers with your working mobile or VoIP number.

For that matter, Skype offers an inbound VoIP service for an extra cost so you can allow people to contact you on your Skype account and software by dialling the equivalent of a landline number that is in a locality of your choosing. But some localities like Germany may make this difficult to preserve the integrity of their landline numbering plan.

Other issues you may look at include the feasibility of having your email and phone calls diverted to your new phone number or email address or, in the case of an email mailbox associated with a fixed broadband provider, keeping that mailbox open for as long as possible independent of you maintaining the broadband service. Depending on the service provider, this may be provided for a modest fee or for free especially if you are moving or your premises is undergoing renovations.

Special cases

Moving to temporary accommodation

Rydges Melbourne

What if you have to move to a hotel or similar location as part of a temporary move?

Some of you may be moving to temporary accommodation like a friend’s home, a short-term rental or a hotel for a significant time. This may be due to various reasons like major repairs or renovations taking place on your home, a project that is part of your work or until you find permanent accommodation when you move in to a new area.

Here, you may have to see if you can gain access to your fixed broadband service’s mailbox or simply shift your mailbox over to a geographically-independent email service like a Webmail or workplace/business account. You could then implement your mobile or VoIP service as the phone number for your online services and use this to receive all your calls.

Some hotels and similar locations may support inbound direct dial to the room’s phone, typically with a standard phone number that has the room number as the last digits. Here, it is worth asking the Front Desk in these places about whether these places offer this service and the number you need to give out. This will play its part as a specific landline number for the duration of your temporary stay there and can work with those services that can work with landline voice services.

Moving overseas

Another special case would be to move to another country. This ma be typically due to work or similar placements or the desire to simply emigrate somewhere else.

This is more about uprooting all your online services. Here, you may have to establish a mobile service in your destination country with a number local to that place and use this as your primary phone service. This can be facilitated with various “SIM-only” plans that most of the local providers have.

As well, you would have to use the geographically-independent email mailbox as your email address. Here, you can keep most of the cloud-based services going using the email address, and you can implement app-based two-factor authentication for those online services that rely on your mobile phone number as the second factor if they support app-based authentication.

Conclusion

When you move between locations, you need to make sure you can move your digital life. This includes having an email address or phone number that you can gain access to through the move associated with your online services and updating your details with these services so you can gain access to them at all times.

As well,it is also about making sure you have continual access to your communications and Internet services whether through the previous provider or a newer provider.

Send to Kindle

Why is that program failing to start?

Just recently, I was talking with a friend from the church that I go to and she was telling me that iTunes for Windows was failing to start on her computer. This happened after Apple rolled out an update for that music management system which also works as a bridge to one’s iPhone or iPad.

What I suggested for her to do in this case was to use Windows Control Panel to uninstall the software, then to visit Apple’s Website to reinstall iTunes. She thought that she would lose her music library and other settings associated with the program but, after she reinstalled iTunes as I had suggested, the program worked properly and she had access to her music library.

Most software programs rely on many different library and support files for them to work properly and these are typically delivered as part of an installation or software-update routine. But all it takes is the main executable file or one of these files to be corrupted and not carrying expected data for the program to fail to start or to run abnormally and slowly. As well, an increasing amount of software is dependent on resources held by other programs for it to perform certain functions.

How could these files be corrupted especially after an update? They can be corrupted by glitches in an Internet or network connection as the file is drawn down from the download server. Similarly, a hard disk may be starting to “lose it” and carry corrupted data especially as it becomes more fragmented and full of different data and this happens more as an update procedure substitutes older runtime files for newer files which may be larger or loads extra runtime files.

But a complete uninstall and reinstall routine allows the program to reconstruct all of its files that it needs to work with and rebuild all of the data associated with its settings that affect how it runs.

In some cases, identifying a program that is failing to start or affecting other programs and performing a complete uninstall / reinstall routine on that program may fix these problems. As well, it can cause a program to run more smoothly and quickly.

Send to Kindle

Managing multiple sound devices in Windows

A common situation that will face most of us who use Windows or Macintosh regular computers is the issue of dealing with multiple sound-output devices with these computers.

There are examples of this such as:

  • USB speakers with a laptop

    USB-driven hi-fi speakers with a laptop

    Desktop or laptop with regularly-used sound system (integrated speakers, desktop speakers served by installed sound card or integrated sound subsystem)

  • A hi-fi-grade “USB DAC” connected to or integrated in a hi-fi amplifier or home theatre receiver for high-quality sound reproduction.
  • Bluetooth speakers, headsets, and audio adaptors or AV equipment that has Integrated Bluetooth A2DP functionality as I have covered in another article.

    Pure Jongo T6 wireless speaker

    A Bluetooth speaker that could be an extra speaker for a laptop

  • A media hub or “jack pack” in a hotel room that works with a flat-screen TV installed there, or a home theatre receiver or flat-screen TV that is connected to the computer via HDMI or DisplayPort
  • Virtual-sound-card programs like Airfoil or Jamcast that use network-connected devices as a computer’s sound card.
In-room AV connection panel

In-room AV connection panel at Rydges Hotel Melbourne – HDMI connection

But you can have problems with these kind of setups. Some programs like Windows Media Player, Skype or some games may allow you to determine the sound-output device they use but you may have to switch the default sound device you are using to suit most programs like Web browsers and Spotify where you can’t determine the sound-output device for the program. A few of the games may allow you to run a headset from a separate sound device for online game chat or voice recognition.

Similarly, a computer’s audio subsystem may have different output or input connections such as a line-out jack or an SP/DIF jack on a good sound card or an integral microphone and an audio-in jack on a laptop’s sound subsystem. These can be listed as separate sound devices depending on the device driver in place.

Bluetooth device listed alongside default audio device

List of audio playback devices in Windows – the one with the green tick is the Default Device

Microsoft Windows from version 7 onwards allows you to determine two “default sound devices”:

  • Default Communications Device, which defines devices you would use for VoIP, video telephony and similar applications
  • Default Device, which covers all sound-output needs including music, video, games and system notifications as well as communications sound.

The idea behind this setup is that you could have a device like a mono Bluetooth headset or not-so-good speakers like your laptop’s speakers being used by a softphone application while a pair of good speakers or a hi-fi system is used for music playback or game sound-effects purposes.

It is feasible to determine a device as being a Default Communications Device or Default Device in the context of recording or sound-capture only. This is achieved in the Recording Devices menu when you right-click on the Speaker icon.

Selecting a Default Device in Windows

Right-click sound menu

Pop-up menu when you right-click on the Speaker icon on the Taskbar

Windows 8 and 8.1 users will need to use the Desktop view rather than the Modern tiled view to select the Default devices.

  1. Right-click on the Speaker icon on the Taskbar
  2. Select Playback Devices
  3. You will see a list of audio output devices on the screen
  4. Right-click the device you intend to use and select Default Device or Default Communications Device depending on your needs.

How do you cope with temporary devices?

A temporary device like a Bluetooth headset or HDMI-connected TV is one you wouldn’t be connecting to your computer all the time.

Here, you make your temporary device the “Default Device” when you start using it. What happens when you disconnect the device, whether logically or physically, is that the computer will fall back to the sound subsystem it last used before you connected the temporary device.

Bluetooth devices

A computer will remember all Bluetooth devices that have been paired with it previously but those that aren’t logically connected to the computer are listed as “disconnected” devices.

If you use a Bluetooth device between multiple source devices, you will have to make sure you disconnect it from the existing source device before you logically connect it to your PC. Some source devices like iOS devices may require you to “unpair” the device rather than logically disconnect it. Then, when you want to use that source device with your Bluetooth device, you have to connect it or pair it again.

Bluetooth headset as two devices

A Bluetooth headset or other device with A2DP and Hands-Free functionality is represented as two devices

A Bluetooth headset, car Bluetooth subsystem or other Bluetooth with A2DP audio playback and hands-free / communications-headset functionality will be listed as two sound devices – a Headset device which represents its communications functionality and a Headphones device which represents its A2DP music-playback functionality. Here, once you have logically connected the headset, you make the Headset device the Default Communications Device if you just intend to use it as a communications headset for VoIP and similar applications. On the other hand, you make the Headphones in that device the Default Device when you want to play music and other audio content in private and this also makes the Headset in the same physical device the Default Communications Device.

Sony devices with NFC have simplified the process of connecting and disconnecting by allowing you to touch the source device to the output device to connect or disconnect them. But this may only work with computers that have the NFC functionality in them.

To connect a previously-paired Bluetooth device in Windows 8.1

Windows 8.1 has introduced a “connect / disconnect” routine to Bluetooth audio devices so you can properly connect and disconnect these devices without having to go through a pair-up routine.

  1. Make sure the device is logically disconnected from your phone or other source devices and is paired to your computer or set up your Bluetooth device to work in Multipoint mode.
  2. Right-click on the Speaker icon in your Desktop
  3. Select “Playback Devices”
  4. Right-click on the device you want to connect
  5. Select “Connect” to connect the device to your system
  6. Once it says “Connected” under the device’s icon, right-click on the device and select “Default Communications Device” or “Default Device” to suit which of your computer’s sound output will come through that device.

To disconnect a previously-paired Bluetooth device in Windows 8.1

  1. Right-click on the Speaker icon in your Desktop
  2. Select “Playback Devices”
  3. Right-click on the Bluetooth device you are currently using
  4. Select “Connect” to disconnect the device from your system

What can be done here?

Allowing a user to class certain devices as “temporary” devices or “permanent” devices.

A common situation that can happen here is the use of temporarily-connected devices like Bluetooth headsets, USB DACs or HDMI connections. Here, a user could class these as “temporary” devices and the computer determines them as default audio or communications devices when they are connected.

But when they are disconnected, the computer falls back to its “permanent” devices such as its integrated speakers or regular desktop speakers.

Other “default sound device” classes for audio-video playback, games or system notifications

It could be easier to implement an application-specific “default sound device” for applications beyond communications. Here, it could be feasible to implement an application class for audio-video playback or gaming so that you could make sure that system notification sounds don’t play through the hi-fi speakers for example but you have Spotify playing through those speakers.

A Tile or Charm on the Modern view for selecting sound output devices.

The Windows 8 Modern view a.k.a. Metro view could benefit with an option directly selectable from that interface for managing the sound devices. This could be in the form of a Modern-View app downloadable from the Windows Store that puts up a dashboard for managing your sound input and output devices.

Send to Kindle

Make sure you properly log off Web services when you are finished with a shared computer

Log out properly of GMail by clicking "Sign Out"

Log out properly of GMail by clicking “Sign Out”

A common situation that affects most home users is the existence of a desktop, laptop or tablet computer used by many people of the household. This computer may not just be used by members of the household but also by the household’s guests. I was infact talking about this with someone who had come in from overseas and was using a commonly-used iPad to work a few Web-based services like his GMail and Facebook accounts. Here, he and I were underscoring the need to properly log out of these services when done with them as well as clearing Web-browser history on these devices.

Log out properly of Facebook by clicking "Log Out" in Settings

Log out properly of Facebook by clicking “Log Out” in Settings

But as one operates their Web-based email, social-networking and other services using these computers, it can be easy to leave a session of these services going especially if you are called away for some reason. This could lead to other members of the household snooping around your account or doing something on that account in your name like playing a practical joke.

A wise practice with these computers is to make sure you log off your Web-based services as soon as you have finished with these services and before you leave the computer. To do this properly, you have to click or tap the “logout” or “sign out” button on the Web-based service’s user interface, which causes the service to log you out as far as it is concerned while cleaning up any cookies and other data held on your machine relating to that session.

Familiarise yourself with the option to remove your Web-browsing history on your browser

Familiarise yourself with the option to remove your Web-browsing history on your browser

Similarly, clearing your Web browser’s history especially when finished using these commonly-used computers is also a wise practice. This avoids other users “tracking back” in to previous sessions for Web-based services or having people snoop on what previous users been browsing the Web for. The latter situation could either cause some nasty gossip to float around or, at worst, put the user in danger.

Use of multiple logins

Some operating systems like Windows and Android 4.2+ tablet implementations allow for the creation of separate accounts on that system so that each user can have their own operating environment. This can be beneficial because you can avoid the situation where someone can “snoop” around your Web history or someone’s Web email or social-network session that hasn’t been logged off properly.

Here, you could use one login as a “common-user” login while creating separate logins for the computer’s regular users. The regular users then use their own logins when they use the computer so they don’t have to worry about this kind of issue. Similarly, the separate logins can be personalised with wallpapers, “favourite Website lists”, customised colour schemes and the like as well as supporting application-level links to various social-network and other sites.

Windows 8 and 8.1 also implement a login setup which can be ported and synced across multiple computers thus allowing you to carry your computing environment between, say, a desktop and a laptop or to operate your computing environment on both your personally-used machine and a commonly-used machine.

Here, it is still a good practice to log off these accounts or enforce a lockout on them when you have finished at the computer so you can keep them private and less at risk of being meddled with.

Once you get in to the habit of logging off Web-service or user accounts on commonly-used computers and clearing Web history lists on these computers, you can avoid placing yourselves in a vulnerable position with your Internet use.

Send to Kindle

The AV connection panels in hotel rooms–a very useful amenity for the connected user

In-room AV connection panel

In-room AV connection panel at Rydges Hotel Melbourne

A feature that is starting to appear in an increasing number of hotel rooms is the AV connection panel. Sometimes known as a “jack pack”, ”media panel”,  “aux panel” or something similar, these are wall-mounted connection panels or connection boxes located near the TV which provide a simplified way to allow you to connect your portable computing equipment to the TV and make use of it as a display and amplified speakers.

Here, these panels are a way to provide a “walk-up” method for guests to connect their technology to the TVs while the TVs remain anchored in place on the wall or in the cabinet. It also avoids the need for guests to grope around the back of the set to find the appropriate connections and risk unplugging existing equipment or plugging something in the wrong hole, which can cause an unnecessary maintenance request. This is in response to guests “bringing their own content” with them and wanting to view it from their gadgets on the large-screen TV in the room rather than watching regular TV or pay-per-view movies.

I have used one of these when staying overnight at Rydges Melbourne to connect my Galaxy Note II smartphone to the TV’s speakers to play music that is held on the smartphone. Here, this is a wall-mount panel that is equipped with RCA and S-Video sockets for stereo audio and analogue video, a VGA input and a 3.5mm audio input for computers alongside an HDMI input for most of the recent crop of laptops and other video equipment. There is also a USB “plug ’n’ charge” socket where you can connect your smartphone or other gadget to charge it. As I had previously mentioned, you can use the 3.5mm audio-in jack to connect your smartphone or other personal-audio device to amplify it through the TV’s speakers.

This particular setup has you selecting the different inputs as though they are “virtual channels” where you enter a particular channel number to select that input, similar to how some TVs and video recorders had you select a particular channel number to use the video inputs. Here, these “virtual channels” are listed on a reference card that is usually kept on the desk near the media panel.

If you are playing an audio device, you will find that the TV will show the blue screen and a reference to that channel as a way of showing that the selected input is working.

Who would benefit from these setups?

Laptop / notebook computer users

HP Envy 4 Touchsmart Ultrabook at Intercontinental Melbourne On Rialto

An Ultrabook that can easily benefit from these AV connection panels

Connecting your laptop or notebook computer to the TV via the media panel’s HDMI input or, for older laptops, the VGA input for display and 3.5mm audio input for the sound, can open up increased functionality for these computers.

If you use the Internet service provided by the hotel, you can take this further by playing online media services like “catch-up TV” / video-on-demand services through the big screen. You also have the same benefit when you play video files that exist on your computer’s hard disk or use an integrated or USB-connected optical drive to play DVDs and Blu-Ray discs.

Those of you who like to play games on the laptop as a form of relaxation can benefit from the hotel room’s TV serving as a large screen for that game. It would be something that could impress business associates who do like to see these games as a way to rest between delivering those presentations.

Speaking of which, the large screen can come in handy for reviewing that presentation you have to give so you can be sure the graphics are in the right place and that each slide doesn’t look too overcrowded or dull. You are also at a better position for seeing the presentation from how your audience would see it. It is also a good chance to “dry-run” that multimedia presentation that you are running on your laptop so you are sure it is going to go to plan without things going wrong.

Similarly, the large screen will earn its keep with videoconferencing applications like Skype and Lync. Here, you can see your correspondent’s face on the large screen and hear your correspondent’s voice through the better-sounding speakers which may make their voice easier to understand.

Tablet and smartphone users

Toshiba AT300 10" Android tablet computer

Toshiba AT300 10″ Android tablet computer – can benefit from the large screen when you are watching online video

If your tablet or smartphone has an HDMI or composite video output, you can benefit from the TV being a large screen for these devices when it comes to gaming or playing online or stored video content. Here these devices will most likely use an MHL jack which works with these panels if you use an MHL-HDMI active patch cable. Older smartphones may also use the 3.5mm headset connector as a video / audio output and you would need to use a 3.5mm – 3xRCA breakout cable to play composite video from these smartphones.

As well the TV can simply serve as amplified speakers for these devices simply by you connecting the 3.5mm audio-input jack on the panel to your smartphone’s or tablet’s headphone jack using one of those 3.5mm plug-3.5mm plug cables..

Digital still and video cameras

You can preview your still images or footage you have taken on that large screen if your camera or camcorder has an HDMI or composite video output. Most of the recent digital cameras will implement a “mini HDMI” connector and/or composite video output via a 3.5mm multi-conductor jack due to their low-profile design.

The benefit you have with this is that it makes it easier to have “many eyes” looking for imperfections in the images and footage you have taken or have the benefit of a large screen to review those images or footage more easily. Even the speakers built in to these TV sets would do rings around the cameras’ integrated monitor speakers

Other personal audio and video players

Those of you who use portable DVD players or portable media players can have these devices play through that large screen in your room as an alternative to what is available on the pay-per-view movie service.

Similarly, your iPod Classic, MP3 payer, Discman or other legacy-media personal player (think cassette or MiniDisc) can benefit from being able to be played through the TV’s speakers with a louder sound. If you are using a handheld “note-taker” recorder, whether tape-based or digital, the TV speakers may allow you to hear the recording of that meeting that you made more clearly compared to the small integrated speakers that these recorders have. This could allow you to hear the muffled or soft voices, the voices with hard-to-understand accents or the distinctly-important background sounds more clearly.

Tips to get the most out of these connection panels

  • Keeping a supply of cables handy
    A good practice to gain advantage from these media panels is to keep a supply of cables with you when you travel. These should allow you to connect your gadgets either to 3.5mm stereo jacks or RCA jacks for audio or HDMI, S—Video or RCA composite video for video applications. A good starting point when it comes to smartphones is my article on “essential smartphone accessories” where I mentioned about making sure you are equipped with a 3.5mm-2.5mm stereo patch cord along with a 3.5mm – 2xRCA patch cord for your smartphone’s audio needs.
  • What sound playback device is this
    The HDMI input's audio function serves as its own soundcard

    The HDMI input’s audio function serves as its own soundcard

    Laptop users who use the HDMI connections on these media panels will find that the HDMI audio connection is enumerated as a separate sound device. Here, they may have to use the Sound Devices option in their operating system or application to direct the sound through the TV’s speakers with this connection.

  • Avoiding distorted sound through the TV speakers
    To avoid distorted sound from these setups especially if using the RCA or 3.5mm connections, adjust the sound volume at your device to 75%-90% volume level and turn off any equalisation or sound-processing on the device if the device or software has this kind of adjustment. Here, you could get by with turning your device up to maximum volume and backing the device’s volume adjustment off slightly to set the input volume. Then you adjust the sound volume to your taste or programme content using the TV’s remote control. Some mobile devices implement a “Line-out” mode which bypasses all tone controls and sets the device’s output level to a nominal level so it works with external amplification.
  • Setting up effective wireless operation
    Pure Jongo A2 network media adaptor

    A Bluetooth audio adaptor can allow you to wirelessly play the music on your smartphone or tablet from your bed or armchair

    You can set up a level of wireless operation with these media panels using an A2DP-compliant Bluetooth audio adaptor for music from your Bluetooth-capable laptop, smartphone or tablet; or a Wi-Fi-Direct-based Miracast adaptor for audio and video with Miracast-compliant laptops and Android devices.

  • What are the channels to select for your equipment when you stay at that hotel?
    If you are a regular guest at a particular hotel, it is a good idea to make note of the “virtual channels” used for particular device connections in your travel notes. This is more so as you bring particular gadgets, especially newer gadgets, on to the scene when you travel.
Send to Kindle

Making cloud-based file-share services work with your DLNA-capable NAS

The typical media-sharing situations with cloud-based file sharing

Dropbox folder to DLNA-capable TV availability concept

Dropbox folder to DLNA-capable TV availability concept

You attended your friend’s wedding and took a lot of choice pictures during the celebrations on that day. Now you import your pictures to your computer, use a media-management program to curate them all and manage them in to a folder tree representing that wedding and sync them to your DLNA-capable NAS for backup and availability on your fantastic smart TV.

But you want to share the images with the lucky couple without supplying a disc, or USB stick or dealing with unwieldy email attachments. You may want to post them on your Facebook or other Social Web presence or photo-share service. Here, you could use a cloud-based file-share service like Box.com or Dropbox to share these pictures so they have access to “original resolution” images to view, print out or take further.

Why “original resolution” images? Some of us want to be able to print out the pictures to put on the mantelpiece. As well, one of these pictures such as the one of the couple having the “obligatory kiss” as part of the wedding may be worth printing as a larger feature picture that is to be on the wall. Today’s cameras can yield image resolutions that are to a standard fit for printing but you need the high resolution available at the print shop.

Similarly, you may be pushing out visual-merchandising content to your two shops that you own and you want to use Dropbox as a reference point for this material. Then you want this material appearing on the TV screen attached to the DLNA-capable Sony BDP-S390 set up at each of these locations.

Using a cloud-based storage service like Dropbox as a file exchange

Typical this involves you having an account on one of these services, such as Dropbox. The reason I exemplify Dropbox in this article and others on cloud-based file-storage services is because of it being available across all regular-computer and mobile platforms as a native application along with it being available through a Web user interface thus making it suitable as a file exchange.

Dropbox native client view for Windows 8 Desktop

Dropbox native client view for Windows 8 Desktop

But if you use another cloud-based storage service, make sure that there is an application for your regular-computer platform that integrates this cloud-based storage service with the operating system’s file system as a folder tree. It also must be able to mirror the contents of your storage service’s account on your computer’s main secondary storage such as the hard disk as a way to gain quick access to the contents. As well, the storage service must have a native front-end program for at least the popular desktop and mobile computing platforms.

Then you upload a folder-tree full of the choicest images to your Dropbox and sharing that with the couple and others you want to share it with. Here, you have to know each recipient’s email address so you can send an invite to view the folder full of photos. Of course Dropbox identifies through the email those who already have Dropbox accounts and lets them know that the photos are available in their Dropbox view. But if a person doesn’t have a Dropbox account, they get an email invite to set up an account for free as part of the invitation to view the pictures.

Media contents in Dropbox folder available on DLNA-capable Samsung smart TV

Media contents in Dropbox folder available on DLNA-capable Samsung smart TV

Here, they may want these pictures up on their Smart TV so they can show their family group the pictures that you took. Similarly, you have a Dropbox account and someone shared some of their choices pictures and videos with you. But you want them to be visible on your Smart TV for group viewing whenever you want.

The goal is not to share the entire contents of your Dropbox account to everyone because you may be simply using Dropbox as a data drop-off point for most of your personal and business data such as works-in-progress along with exchanging the media with your friends. Here, most Dropbox front-ends that are implemented by NAS untis typically operate on an “all-or-nothing” approach and don’t readily integrate the DLNA abilities that the typical NAS unit has nowadays.

Creating a DLNA-sharable folder for your Dropbox folder

Here, you could copy the Dropbox tree over to the NAS’s media folder. Some NAS units may allow you to add extra folders to the publicly-sharable mount point that you can share using DLNA. Here, you use the NAS’s Web control panel to add these extra root folders to the DLNA server’s folder list. In this case, you could create and share with your network a “Dropbox-Incoming” folder for this purpose.

In all cases, you need to have SMB/CIFS access to your NAS’s DLNA media directories. This would be achieved if you are already “dumping” media to your NAS and it is a good idea to create a shortcut to this on your operating system’s desktop.

You will need to perform these tasks using a competent file manager which is part of most regular-computer operating systems such as Windows, Apple Macintosh or Linux. Examples of this include Windows Explorer for the Windows environment or Finder for the Apple Macintosh environment. Things may become awkward if you are using a mobile operating environment like iOS or Android.

Manual sync methods

Using the Dropbox native front-end

Dropbox folder copied to DLNA Media folder on NAS

Dropbox folder copied to DLNA Media folder on NAS

Make sure that you have the shell-integrated Dropbox front-end that you download from Dropbox installed on your regular (desktop or laptop) computer. This effectively integrates your Dropbox folder tree with your operating system’s folder tree and presents itself as though it is a member of Windows Explorer or Macintosh Finder. This includes making a file-by-file “mirror” of you Dropbox account’s directory layout and contents as part of your operating system’s directory tree.

Here, you use Windows Explorer or Macintosh Finder to copy the folders containing the media from Dropbox to your NAS’s DLNA media directory. You are not altering the contents of this folder in the Dropbox account but are copying it out to your NAS.

Do not move the files from the Dropbox folder because if you move them, you effectively delete them from everyone else’s Dropbox view.

In some cases, you may want to selectively copy images and videos from the Dropbox folder to your NAS for viewing on your DLNA media device. This may be important with a large media pool or a directory that contains office documents along with media files.

Using the Dropbox Web page

If you use the Dropbox Webpage to work your files, you download the folder that you want on your NAS as a ZIP file. Here, you right-click the folder (Ctrl-click with an Apple Macintosh that has a single button mouse) and select “Download” to cause the folder to be downloaded to your local hard disk as a ZIP file.

Then you use a file-decompression utility to expand the contents of this ZIP file to your NAS’s DLNA folder and make sure this is under a subfolder of its own in the DLNA folder.

Both these methods may allow you to “boil down” the folders so that you only have on your NAS the media files in that folder. This may involve a bit of hard work by you manually deleting the non-media files like executable programs, documents, PowerPoint presentations and PDF files.

Automatic sync method

Using FreeFileSync, Dropbox’s native front-end and your NAS to take advantage of a media pool

FreeFileSync sync job to automatically synchronise media from Dropbox folder to DLNA folder on NAS

FreeFileSync sync job to automatically synchronise media from Dropbox folder to DLNA folder on NAS

Some of you may set up on Dropbox an improved “media pool” where each of you can contribute photos and videos of a special event, something the lucky couple could do after a wedding for example. Or the proud parents may create a media pool of their best images and videos of their children for the doting relatives and friends to see. This could be something where relatives and friends can have “contribute” rights to so they can pool what the baby had done while in their care.

This could be set up instead of or alongside Facebook’s new photo-pooling feature so as to provide “best-quality” images, to support videos as well as not disenfranchising people who aren’t Facebook Friends of yours.

To do this, you install FreeFileSync on your regular computer which should also have the Dropbox front-end installed. As well, you create a subfolder in your NAS’s media folder accessible by its DLNA media server that represents this media pool. Then you set up up a manual or timed sync job in FreeFileSync which links to the Dropbox folder and the aforementioned subfolder on your NAS’s DLNA media folder.

Ideas to make Dropbox work this way

Your children’s life

As you have children, you will be taking photos of them and want to share some of these photos with your relatives and friends. As well, your relatives and friends take pictures of your children at events they attend or when they have your children in their care. Similarly, when you have their children in your care or attend their events, you end up taking pictures and videos of them.

Here, you could create a shared folder in Dropbox which has all the pictures that you and your relatives or friends copy pictures and videos to concerning your children during these times. Both you and these doting relatives and friends can then see the moments that are important.

That special celebration

One person that I know of used to create a “photo board” for their parties with their guests supplying pictures that they took to appear on this photo board. A Dropbox folder which you share with each of your guests can serve as the digital equivalent of this “photo board”.

For events like weddings where there is the likelihood of many celebrations along the way like the engagement party, bucks’ night and hens’ night, you could create a “master folder” with subfolders for each of the celebrations. This is so you can maintain a master theme for the group of celebrations while you have particular folders representing, for example, the wedding day.

They are in town

Your relatives or friends have come in to town to enjoy your town’s assets and catch up with you. Most likely you establish a Facebook album for the visit, knowing they are on Facebook. But you want them to have access to the higher-grade pictures, perhaps allow them to “pool” their pictures that they took and do more. Similarly, you want them to have these pictures end up on their NAS so they can view them on their DLNA-capable TV or print them out on their printer.

Here, you could create and share a Dropbox folder tree that represents this visit alongside the Facebook or Google+ albums that you set up with them. Then they take their pictures and videos and add them to this folder tree while you shoot your pictures and videos and contribute them to that tree. This could be done for each “phase” of the trip such as specific outings.

In memorium

You can use Dropbox and your DLNA-capable NAS to memorialise a relative or friend who has passed away. Here, you raid your physical photo albums and scan all of the best pictures or go through your digital photo collection and copy pictures of them in to a folder that is shared with contribute rights amongst the family and friends via Dropbox.

The pictures then are shared across Dropbox as a way of creating a group-based memorium of the deceased person

Business promotions

Having your DLNA-capable Smart TVs or Blu-Ray players play media off a DLNA-shared visual merchandising directory on your NAS can become a powerful business tool. Then you use a business-capable cloud service to keep your visual-merchandising material with it being synchronised to the DLNA-shared visual-merchandising directory can permit you to create the content from home or have others like PR teams and commercial artists contribute this content off-site with the goal of this material appearing on your displays.

Here, the sync routine could be set up on a daily or twice-daily basis for your on-site server or office computer so you always have fresh material available and on the screens regularly. This could be performed as a manual task or you could use FreeFileSync to synchronise the promotions folder on Dropbox to your NAS.

Conclusion

The new consumer and business cloud-based file sharing propagated by the likes of Dropbox, SkyDrive and Box.com can be easily integrated in to the DLNA Home Media Network once you use a NAS as your media server and can use a regular computer as part of the equation.

Send to Kindle

Want to check on what is being printed using Windows 8.1

Modern User Interface - Device Charm menu when print job is in progress

Modern User Interface – Device Charm menu when print job is in progress

Those of you who have moved to Windows 8 and 8.1 may have found it difficult to know what’s printing when you send out a print job to your printer. Here, you may be used to the “Devices And Printers” window since Windows Vista where you could click on the printer icon to check what print jobs are being printed at a given time.

Here this routine has been simplified in Windows 8 and is available in both the Desktop and the Modern UI views as a consolidated list. This is easier for those of you who have two or more printers like a laser printer that you run as a “printing press” alongside a baseline inkjet printer for ordinary document printing.

Modern User Interface (Metro User Interface)

  1. Bring forward Charms (hidden task-specific option buttons) on right side.
    Touchscreen users simply swipe from the top right-hand corner while mouse users move the pointer in to the top right-hand corner.
  2. Click or touch Devices.
    The “Check Printing Status” text lights up when a print job is pending or in progress
  3. Click “Check Printing Status” to view the jobs list
Right click on Printer icon in Desktop notification area to bring up these options when a print job is in progress

Right click on Printer icon in Desktop notification area to bring up these options when a print job is in progress

Traditional Desktop User Interface

  1. Right click Printer icon in Notifications area in Taskbar
  2. Click on Printer icon
  3. Click on Open All Active Printers for all jobs sent to all printers
  4. Click “name of printer” to show this printer
  5. Desktop UI users can also follow the Modern UI steps as another way to bring up the pending print jobs.

Microsoft could improve on this by having the Devices Charm change colour when a print job is in progress or change to a different colour when something needs attention.

Send to Kindle

Using FreeFileSync to sync media files out to your NAS

You use a regular Windows or Macintosh computer to curate your pictures, music and video files and store these files on your computer’s hard disk. Then you buy a high-capacity network-attached storage device to make these files available on your home network at all times and also as a backup or “offload” measure.

Normally this will require you to use Windows Explorer or Macintosh Finder to copy the files out to the NAS every time you synchronise them out to your NAS. This can be annoying especially if you have made changes to a few of the files or added a handful of files to the collection such as the latest downloaded images or a CD “rip”. Here, you have to answer a file-owerwrite prompt that the operating system puts up every time you write over an existing file as part of a copy process and this can be awkward if you did something like modify your files’ metadata or edited a photo, You could select the “Yes to all” prompts but this runs a slow copy process which transfers redundant data or work through each folder and file manually and find that you hadn’t reflected all the changes you had to reflect..

There is a free open-source application called “FreeFileSync” which automates the process of keeping your files that exist on two locations in sync.  This is available for Windows, Macintosh OS X and Linux and can work with locally-mounted drives or SMB network-shared folders.

Here, you can set up a “there-and-then” sync job or create a sync job affecting certain files and folders on both the source and destination in a particular way. A sync job that you save can affect multiple pairs of files and folders thus avoiding the need to create one job for each folder pair.

Prerequisites

FreeFileSync must be downloaded and installed on your computer

You download FreeFileSync from FOSSHub or Download.CNET.COM and install it as you would for downloaded software for your operating system.

Identify on your computer where your media manager software is storing your music, photos and videos.

Media libraries in Windows 8.1

Media libraries in Windows 8.1

In iTunes, this is found under the “Advanced” tab in the Preferences menu. Windows Media Player and Windows Live Photo Gallery use the Pictures and Music or “My Pictures” and “My Music” libraries created by Windows. Other media-management tools may use a particular folder that you set in their options or preferences window as the place for their media library.

CD rip location in Windows Media Player

CD rip location in Windows Media Player

Most audio-based media management tools like iTunes and Windows Media Player typically use the library as their import folder for when you “rip” a CD or purchase music through their online store whereas a lot of photo and video tools may have you create a separate import folder away from your library for images and video you import from your camera or scanner. This then allows you toe edit the images and video before adding it to your library.

Identify and make available the “media” folders that you are using to store your media on your NAS.

A NAS that uses a DLNA media server and an iTunes media server typically references a folder tree like “Media”, “Shared Media”, “Shared Music” or something similar. These are typically at the “Public” SMB mount point and are accessible using SMB/CIFS as well as these media servers.

If your NAS uses one shared media folder, create a sub-folder for the music files, another for the images and home video and another for other video like “download-to-own” content.

Create a media sync job

Setting up FreeFileSync for media syncing

Setting up FreeFileSync for media syncing

These actions are for a Windows computer and most NAS units

  1. Open FreeFileSync
  2. Click ProgramNew
  3. For each root folder representing your media collection kinds,
    a) Drag the root folder representing the media type on your computer to the left file list pane
    b) Drag the destination media folder for the media type on your NAS to the right file-list pane
    c) Click the + symbol to add extra media type pairs to your sync list.
  4. Click the gear icon next to the Synchronize button to determine the kind of synchronisation to take place
    In this case, you will have to select the “Update” option for this job. This effectively contributes new and modified files and folders that exist on the computer to the NAS without deleting any files that have been removed from the computer’s media folder. This is important if you just keep your files on your regular computer just to curate them before adding them to your media collection, or you “shift” older files to your high-capacity NAS to create space for newer files.
  5. Click on the “Update” button to select this option.
  6. Click on the “Save As” option to save this sync job as a file. Give it a name like “MediaSync” or “MediaNAS” to reflect the goal of it syncing your media to the NAS.

Manually running this sync job

Here, you open FreeFileSync, select the name of the “media sync” job and click “Synchronize” to start the sync process.

When to run this

Run the :FreeFileSync” job whenever you have done significant work on your media library like importing new media or editing existing media including the metadata. This can also be done as part of a backup routine before you start off the main data backup on your PC.

Send to Kindle