Product Review – Pure Evoke Flow portable Internet radio (Frontier Internet Radio Platform)

Pure Evoke Flow This radio that I am reviewing is the top-end network-enabled model of Pure’s popular Evoke series of DAB digital portable radios. All of the models have different functionality but a very similar style, with an oval-shaped accent encompassing the speaker and control area. The lower-end units have a wood cabinet and a plastic front panel which is varied according to the model.

Description

This particular unit has a gloss-black finish with a large yellow OEL bit-map display and knobs for the volume and tuning controls. Other functions are operated using touch buttons that are lit up in yellow where applicable. This is intended to make the set look more classy, especially with the “piano-black” finish.

OEL display on Pure Evoke Flow The OEL or “organic electroluminescent” display is based upon the displayed letters and segments needing the power to light up rather than the LCD display being dependent on a backlight to be easily visible. This is similar to what is used on my Nokia N85 phone reviewed in the blog and is very appropriate as a display method for devices that work on low power. I even refer to the OEL display as the “vacuum fluorescent display” for battery-operated devices because of the fact that the display yields the same brightness and contrast as the typical self-illuminating vacuum fluorescent display often used as a user-information display on VCRs, DVD players, home theatre receivers and similar equipment but doesn’t chew through the batteries to achieve that aim.

The Evoke Flow, like the rest of the Pure Evoke range of radios, is capable of operating as a two-piece stereo set when you purchase and use the optional matching external speaker. Similarly, this radio, like the rest of the Evoke range, can be used as a battery-powered portable radio when you buy a Pure rechargeable battery pack from the same retailer that you bought the set. These accessories haven’t come with my review sample, so I won’t be able to assess how it works with these accessories.

Features

As well as its Internet-radio and network media player functionality, this set is also capable of receiving DAB+ digital radio and FM radio with RDS RadioText.

For connectivity, it also has a 3.5mm auxiliary input jack for playing music from an iPod or portable CD player and a 3.5mm line-out jack for use with external amplifiers or recording devices. There is also a 3.5mm headphone socket as well as the socket for the accessory stereo speaker. All these connections are located on the back of the set, in a similar manner to the Kogan and Revo Internet radios reviewed in this blog. I have always preferred these sets to have the headphone jack located on the front panel of the set, or at least on the side, to permit “walk-up” headphone use where you didn’t have to move the set to plug in a pair of headphones which are used on an ad-hoc basis. This is a practice I have often seen with most portable audio equipment I have seen and used through the 1970s and 1980s.

Pure do supply an iPod dock as an optional accessory for this radio but it doesn’t have a power input connector so the iPod can be run on external power while playing through the radio. Instead, I would use the Apple Universal Dock or an iPod dock with a USB, Apple Dock or DC socket so that I can connect an external power supply to the iPod or iPhone that is in the dock.

The set can connect to the home network and the Internet via a 802.11g WiFi network segment but this network can be secured to WEP, WPA-PSK or WPA2-Personal standards. This is the same for other Internet radios, which also means it can’t log in to a “corporate-standard” WPA(2)-Enterprise network or a wireless hotspot that uses Web-based authentication.

An improvement I would like to see on the setup when it comes to enrolling the set with a WiFi network would be to allow it to keep configuration details for multiple networks. This is more so because this radio is an easily-portable design and capable of working on batteries. thus could be taken between locations at a moment’s notice.

It can also stream audio from DLNA-compliant media servers like TwonkyMedia Manager or Windows Media Player (Windows Media Connect) or most NAS units.

The unit has the built-in Internet radio directory but benefits more if you associate it to the Pure Lounge portal. Here you benefit from facilities like persistent Internet radio presets and extra content. The Lounge service also provides background sound-effect loops like waves for situations where a sound-effect loop is needed. Such applications may include having the sound of waves to help you drift off to sleep or the sound of thunderstorms to help in getting a dog used to thunderclaps. This also includes a reference tone set representing the strings of a guitar for use when tuning your guitar.

Use

When you use the Internet radio, you can browse a worldwide directory of all the stations registered with Pure’s Internet-radio directory or use a “form-based” search to narrow down the list. Here, when you touch the “Search” option, you see a form and select the attribute to filter the list by. This can be by “Genre”, “Country”, “Availability”, and “Bit Rate”. Then you press the Tuning knob to set the attribute’s value. After that, you touch the “Go” option to see your reduced selection. This is different to the Kogan and Revo radios where you went through a menu tree to select the Internet-radio station that you want.

Unlike the Kogan and Revo radios, there isn’t a row of preset buttons for allocating favourite stations. Instead, you select the “Favourite stations” which is marked with a heart symbol to go to your preset list and browse through the preset list and press the Tuning knob to play that station. When you listen to a station that you want to add to the list, you touch the “Add to Favourites” option to set it in your preset list.

The set can work as a DLNA music player but you can only play the content by using the set’s controls rather than over the network using software like TwonkyMedia Manager.

FM tuning is based on a “seek by default” method so that when you turn the knob, the radio finds the next strongest signal. The DAB function is based on selecting from a list of stations sorted by alphabetic order. There is a “trim station list” option for clearing up dead station entries, which is handy if you move the set between cities or the DAB multiplexes are being reorganised.

Sound and Useability

The set sounds more “soft and rich” compared to most small portable radios, including the Kogan and the Revo, but has a similar sound output level. Like the other Internet radios I have reviewed, there isn’t a tone control, whether as an easily accessible control or within the menus.

The OLED display is much more legible than the typical LCD display found on most Internet radios and is a bit too bright for night-time use. There is the option to dim the display or to have the display dark whenever the set is turned off. The clock display is large enough for easy reading across a room. Even if you dim the display, it is still legible, which can be a bonus if you have the set in your bedroom as a clock radio or have it in a hall or other room and still like the clock display to work as a “nightlight”.

Fit and finish

The set’s fit and finish represent a high-quality product that is enjoyable to use. The knobs even have a feel associated with you operating a piece of quality equipment. The main limitation with the black gloss finish is that it could harbour fingermarks too easily and you may have to wipe those off frequently.

The telescopic aerial that you need to use for FM or DAB reception is much different from what I have seen in use on most portable radios that I have used. Here, this set, like a National Panasonic RX-C52 “ghetto blaster” that I have had once,  has a dedicated screw for anchoring the aerial. This will definitely make it easier the user to buy and fit a replacement aerial if this aerial is damaged, as is common with a lot of portable radios that I have seen and used. Good marks to Pure for realising what often happens with many portable radios and making the aerial easy to replace on their Evoke radios.

Points of improvement

The Pure Evoke Flow isn’t a perfect portable digital / Internet radio and needs a few points of improvement for its product class. One would be for Pure to release a cheaper “junior model” in the “Evoke Flow” line that has a finish similar to the rest of the Evoke series and uses a two-line alphanumeric display rather than a bitmap display.

As far as connectivity is concerned, I would at least like to see the headphone socket located up front or on the side to allow “walk-up” headphone use. For battery use, there could be the possibility of the set working on any of the “regular battery sizes” i.e. AA, C or D through the use of an add-on battery module that takes these batteries, so that one can use these commonly-available “Duracell” or “Energizer” batteries with the radio.

The wireless-network connectivity could be improved through support for WPS “quick-setup” and / or the ability to work with multiple networks to suit its nature as a portable radio. The set could provide information that is necessary for enrolment to the “Lounge” portal on the display through a set-up option.

Conclusion

The set’s “piano-black” look will appeal to people who like a “classy look” for their Internet radio solution. This would typically encompass a lot of office users, especially professionals. It may also look the part with a home office or on a shelf in that classy kitchen. But it can definitely work very well as a “floater” portable Internet radio that can be taken around the house as required because of the light size and integrated handle. The fact that the handle doubles as a snooze bar may make the set appeal as a clock radio, although you have to descend through menus to set or enable the alarm clock, sleep timer or countdown timer.

The set’s display would be suitable for people with limited eyesight and the fact that you use knobs to adjust the volume and select stations may make the set appeal to mature and older users who are more comfortable with using knobs to select stations or adjust the sound.

The main limitation with this set is that it is significently expensive, usually around AUD$400-600 depending on the retailer.

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Facebook Tip: Is someone saying things “off the wall” on the (Facebook) Wall about you? Who can read it?

Today (November 26) , a close friend of mine had a very bad experience with Facebook where he was pilloried by one of his Facebook Friends. He had become aware of this through viewing his Homepage and feared that he was going to be embarrassed by the post-writer in front of his other friends who have Facebook presence. This may be the usual reaction of many social-network users, especially Facebook users, when someone else posts something stupid on their Wall or page about the user.

If someone writes a post to their Wall, all of the post-writer’s Facebook Friends can see that post on their Home Pages which they see when they log in, and on the author’s Profile. But this post doesn’t appear on their own Profile. Nor can any of their other Facebook Friends see this post unless they have the post-writer as their Facebook Friend. A different situation may occur if someone writes the remark on someone else’s Wall. This may have it that the friends of both parties may see the remark.

It still is worth checking for mutual friends between the post-writer and yourself, especially if any of the mutual friends have become “sworn enemies” such as through a personal, workplace or business fall-out. A good utility to install on your Profile is the “Friend Wheel”, which allows you to see “who’s got whom” of your Friends in the Friend List. This tool, which I have on my Profile, draws a circle with all your friends as “nodes” and rules lines that indicate Facebook links between your friends. When you click on the “Click to enlarge” option, you will be provided with a dynamic circle where you can highlight a person’s name and it will show just their friends.

Similarly, browsing in the post-writer’s Profile may be of use so you can determine who are their Friends, especially any Mutual Friends. This is especially true where people browse around friends’ profiles to find out if the person they are after is on the social network.

Once you understand this situation, you can reduce the panic that you may feel with yourself in front of your friends if someone says something “off the wall” on their Wall.

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Application-distribution platforms for smartphones and other devices

At the moment, there are an increasing number of PDAs, smartphones and mobile Internet devices that can be given extra functionality by the user after they buy the device. This is typically achieved through the user loading on to their device applications that are developed by a large community of programmers. This practice will end up being extended to other consumer-electronics devices like printers, TVs, set-top boxes, and electronic picture frames as manufacturers use standard embedded-device platforms like Android, Symbian or Windows CE and common “embedded-application” processors for these devices. It will be extended further to “durable” products like cars, business appliances and building control and security equipment as these devices end up on these common platforms and manufacturers see this as a way of adding value “in the field” for this class of device.

From this, I have been observing the smartphone marketplace and am noticing a disturbing trend where platform vendors are setting up their own application-distribution platforms that usually manifest as “app stores” that run on either the PC-device synchronisation program or on the device’s own user-interface screen. These platforms typically require the software to be pre-approved by the platform vendor before it is made available and, in some cases like the Apple iPhone, you cannot obtain the software from any other source like the developer’s Web site, competing app store or physical medium. You may not even be able to search for applications using a Web page on your regular computer, rather you have to use a special application like iTunes or use the phone’s user-interface.

People who used phones based on the Windows Mobile or Symbian S60 / UIQ platform were able to install applications from either the developer’s Website or a third-party app store like Handango. They may have received the applications on a CD-ROM or similar media as the mobile extension for the software they are buying or as simply a mobile-software collection disc. Then they could download the installation package from these sites and upload it to their phone using the platform’s synchronisation application. In some cases, they could obtain the application through the carrier’s mobile portal and, perhaps, have the cost of the application (if applicable) charged against their mobile phone account. They can even visit the application Website from the phone’s user interface and download the application over the 3G or WiFi connection, installing it straight away on the phone.

The main issue that I have with application-distribution platforms controlled by the device platform vendor is that if you don’t have a competing software outlet, including the developer’s Web site, a hostile monopolistic situation can exist. As I have observed with the iPhone, there are situations where the platform vendor can arbitrarily deny approval for software applications or can make harsh conditions for the development and sale of these applications. In some cases, this could lead to limitations concerning application types like VoIP applications being denied access to the platform because they threaten the carrier partner’s revenue stream for example. In other cases, the developer may effectively receive “pennies” for the application rather than “pounds”.

What needs to happen with application-distribution platforms for smartphones and similar devices is to provide a competitive environment. This should be in the form of developers being able to host and sell their software from their Website rather than provide a link to the platform app store. As well, the platform should allow one or more competing app stores to exist on the scene. It also includes the carriers or service providers being able to run their own app stores, using their ability to extend their business relationships with their customers like charging for software against their customers’ operating accounts. For “on-phone” access, it can be facilitated in the form of uploadable “manifest files” that point to the app store’s catalogue Website.

As well, the only tests that an application should have to face are for device security, operational stability and user-privacy protection. The same tests should also include acceptance of industry-standard interfaces, file types and protocols rather than vendor-proprietary standards. If an application is about mature-age content, the purchasing regime should include industry-accepted age tests like purchase through credit card only for example.

Once this is achieved for application-distribution platforms, then you can achieve a “win-win” situation for extending smartphones, MIDs and similar devices

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Soft-goods being available on demand at retailers – could this be real?

Big W disc kiosk lets customers burn on demand

My comments

This concept that Big W is trying, as well as the “on-demand” book-printing machines being tried at some bookshops could easily upset the applecart when it comes to the distribution of “soft-goods” (books, music, video and computer software). It would be achieved through an Internet-connected server installed at a “soft-goods” retailer which is connected to optical-disc burning and/or high-speed “print-to-finish” document-printing hardware that is also installed at the same retailer. These setups could typically take up the same space as a free-standing office copier and be based on today’s computing and networking technology.

Similarly an online content retailer like Amazon could engage in using the technology to “print and deliver” titles without needing a huge warehouse to run their operation from. In some cases, they could use smaller offices to fulfil “print and deliver” orders local to the delivery locations. As well, there have been proposals to set up “buy-download-burn” arrangements so that people can buy music or video material and make it to optical disc on their computer equipment at home. This is in conjunction to the supply of legally-downloaded music through the likes of iTunes, Destra and Big Pond Music and the various proposals to provide legally-downloaded video material, such as AACS’s “Managed Copy” that is currently practised with Blu-Ray.

There could be the idea of titles still being available even though they reach the end of their print run and the contract with the author may preclude further print runs. This definitely can be of benefit with titles that have demand that outstrips agreed supply and it can allow publishers to liaise with the author about whether to do extra runs or not. Similarly, there could be less risk of shops dedicating shelf space to slow-moving titles, yet these titles can be made available irrespective of this fact.

Similarly, there could be “mass-customisation” being available for particular classes of titles. For example, there could be the ability to have computer-software disks full of appropriate programs for the customer’s needs. Similarly, a reference-type title like a Bible or dictionary could be printed with indexing that suits the customer’s needs, such as “white-on-black” for the current letter in a dictionary or a book of the Bible.

What I see with this kind of technology is that content creators who want total control over their content will find that they have lost that control. This may be of concern to content providers who want to be sure of a limited number of copies in existence or make sure of having their content “vaulted” for significant time so as to create a public “want” for re-releases.

It will be interesting to see whether this concept will achieve the mass-market as a way of providing current and legacy “soft-goods” or just simply flounder.

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Where’s Outlook Express or Windows Mail gone in Windows 7?

In Windows XP and Vista, there was a free entry-level desktop email client that could work with most Internet mail systems as part of the operating system. This client, either Outlook Express in XP or Windows Mail in Vista, often offered enough for people who used their home ISP’s POP3/SMTP or IMAP email facilities rather than use a Web-mail service like Hotmail, GMail or Yahoo Mail.

Windows Vista also had a free calendar program, known as Windows Calendar, as part of the distribution.

This situation was primarily reflected in the provision of Microsoft Office 2007 Home And Student Edition, which didn’t come with Microsoft Outlook. The user would typically run Windows Mail or Outlook Express for their POP3 email or use a Web-hosted mail service for their email and online calendar needs.

The Windows 7 situation

Now Microsoft have removed the email client from the Windows 7 distribution. most likely to comply with various competition directives and orders. It is also because there are a few desktop personal-information-management programs available for free as companion tools for some of the other Web browsers like Firefox and Opera. This would require the user to work with a Web-email service or, if they want to do so, use Windows Live Mail as their desktop email service.

The Windows Live Mail program can work with multiple POP3 or IMAP email services and even become a front-end for Microsoft’s Windows Live Hotmail service. It also has an integrated calendar function and the contacts are integrated with Windows Live services. This may mean those of you who use Windows Live Messenger / MSN Messenger can keep the contacts’ Messenger IDs as part of the contact database, which can allow the program to show “presence” information about the contacts.

There is some improvement in handling the sending of digital images. Here, if you register with Windows Live, you can send a “photo email” when you send pictures by email. This is an email message with thumbnails of the pictures, but the pictures have a hyperlink to the high-resolution image that is also held on the Windows Live server for a month. Any user who views the email in an HTML-enable desktop email client or Webmail service can click on the pictures to view or download the high-resolution image. 

You also benefit from the ability for Windows Live Mail to monitor your RSS feeds that you subscribe to through the Windows Feed Platform that is part of Internet Explorer 7 and 8. This will provide a “river of news” view sorted by the “press time” of each article; but can allow you to view the contents of a particular feed. It also can handle newsgroups based on the classic USENET method if you do still subscribe to them.

Where do I get Windows Live Mail?

You have to download the program for free from Microsoft’s Web site at http://get.live.com and if you want to benefit from Windows Live fully, you don’t have to maintain a Hotmail account. Instead, you can create a Windows Live account with your regular email address such as the email address your company or ISP gave you.

You also have the chance to pick up Windows Live Photo Gallery, Windows Live (MSN) Messenger, Windows Live Writer which is a “blogger’s friend” (and the software I use for writing articles for this blog), Windows Live Movie Maker amongst other good software, It is also worth knowing that Windows XP and Vista users can run Windows Live Mail and these other programs on their computers if they are after better functionality.

Once you have this program set up on your Windows XP, Vista or 7 computer, you have the essential tools needed for personal email and information management.

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Windows 7 – How it will benefit the small business and work-home laptop users

There have been some significant advances in Windows 7 that benefit the small business and the mobile laptop users. This includes people who use their computers for both their work use and home / community use.

Location Aware Printing for “work-home” laptops

If you run Windows 7 Professional or above on your laptop, this operating system has another feature to support the “work-home” laptop. It is in the form of “Location Aware Printing” where the default printer is determined based on which network the computer is connected to. The network can be determined by factors like the domain Windows is associated with, the SSID of a wireless network or the MAC of the Internet Gateway or DHCP Server that it gets its IP address from.

The printer can be a network printer that exists on the network like the HP OfficeJet at your workplace or your Epson WiFi-enabled all-in-one at home, a locally-connected printer like your Canon portable USB printer or a software-based virtual printer like your fax software’s “print-to-fax” function or “print-to-PDF” software.

At the moment, there isn’t ready support for handling location-aware printing in locations where there are many printers in the same facility, such as the typical workplace or educational institution with its many rooms.

Inherent support for mobile broadband services

Windows 7 has inherent support for 3G wireless broadband services thus eliminating the need to run operator-provided software to use the 3G modem. It also caters for laptops that have integrated 3G modems, which is a feature becoming more common with units that are supplied through mobile-phone outlets. In some cases, you may not need to install any software provided by the 3G provider to use wireless broadband Internet service.

This is similar to when Microsoft implemented Dial Up Networking in Windows 95 and users didn’t have to run any other software to get online with their dial-up Internet service.

Wi-Fi Wireless Flexibility for the business partner and hotspot surfer

Windows 7 has improved the Wi-Fi wireless infrastructure thus allowing a Wi-Fi equipped computer with an appropriate hardware driver for its wireless card to do more tricks. It can become a wireless-wireless LAN bridge which can allow for such things as running Wi-Fi devices that can’t go beyond regular WPA2-PSK authentication and don’t have an easy-to-use Web browser with networks that implement WPA2-Enterprise authentication at workplaces or Web-based authentication at hotspots. A good use for this could be for a business partner to take pictures with his Wi-Fi digital camera and upload them to his laptop or a site worker who wants to play his Roberts Stream 202 Internet radio at a wireless hotspot just by using his laptop (which will alert him to new work) as a gateway. It can also allow for “bonding” of multiple Wi-Fi signals for greater throughput, which can come in handy with multi-access-point networks.

Improved business network functionality

The Windows 7 Professional or Ultimate computer has improved business network functionality, which can come in handy with corporate or business-partner networks. One feature that I like is “network-specific” security that accounts for VPN and DirectAccess network setups. Here, you can set up a “domain-driven” business network profile for the VPN tunnel while you have a “private-network” security rule that applies to your home network or a “public-network” security rule that applies to public networks like wireless hotspots. This still allows business-driven network tools like system management tools or desktop-based MIS “dashboards” to operate “through the tunnel” with your computer being secure enough for the network you are in.

Speaking of DirectAccess, this is an improved IPv6-IPSec VPN replacement provided with Windows 7 Ultimate that does away with the need for extra weight associated with a lot of VPN software. The software sets up a separate IPv6 path to the DirectAccess server that your employer or business partner provides and makes the access to business resources more transparent. This function will require the use of a Windows Server 2008 R2 box installed at the workplace by your employer or IT contractor and your computer to run Windows 7 Ultimate.

Conclusion

This series of Windows 7 articles shows how your Windows-based computer and network can be improved when you deploy Windows 7.

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Christmas post

Christmas treeI wish all of you who are reading this blog or are following it a very merry Christmas and a happy and prosperous New Year.

I have written some information that can become useful as you decide what to buy during the Christmas shopping season and the Boxing Day sales, whether as gifts or for yourself. This also includes references to articles that I have written over the year to explain newer products and services that have appeared since.

What to consider buying

Improving your home network’s infrastructure

If you are thinking of improving your home wireless network, it may be worth upgrading the existing router with a unit that works to the recently-ratified 802.11n standard with WPS quick-setup. This is more so if your existing unit is at least two years old and you or your company are deploying laptop computers from this financial year onwards. You may want to make sure that it has Gigabit Ethernet ports for future multimedia computing needs. Some newer ADSL routers may offer an Ethernet WAN port so you can move from ADSL to cable or fibre-optic networks if you move house or they lay super-fast broadband technologies like fibre-optic broadband past your door and you sign up to these technologies.

You can also augment your home network with a HomePlug AV kit as a wireline connectivity solution which doesn’t require new wiring to be laid down. This is because the HomePlug AV solution uses the house’s AC wires as its backbone. As well, if you run an existing HomePlug segment based on the 85Mbps technology, adding a HomePlug AV segment won’t upset this setup, which you can then use for low-bandwidth applications like printer sharing or network gaming.

Newer hardware that can work with your network

You may want to buy newer computers either as an upgrade for existing equipment or as additional equipment. One option that may come before you is a low-cost “netbook” or “nettop” computer. These are low-powered computers that have enough power for most Internet and word-processing tasks but don’t work well with full-screen video or the latest action games. On the other hand, these computers can come in handy with Web-based casual games like what is available at Miniclip or MSN Games. Some parents may consider them suitable primarily as a computer for kids to use and focus their mind on serious homework, but these computers can find an application beyond that. Older people may find them handy as an uncomplicated online communications terminal to stay in contact with their relatives. Similarly, these computers, especially the netbooks can come in handy as a supplementary computer for use around the house while looking up information, doing Web-based e-mail or using social-network sites like Facebook or Twitter.

A network-attached storage (NAS) device may be worth considering for your network because of what it can do. It can become a backup device for your computers’ data and can be used as a central storage point for music, pictures and video files. If you dabble with BitTorrent or other downloading, you can set most of these devices to work as a “download endpoint” that fetches files from the various download locations for use on your network.

When choosing a NAS device, look for a single-disk or dual-disk unit with as much storage space as you can afford. If you buy the device as a “bring-your-own-disk” enclosure, try to negotiate a good deal on the hard disks or buy the hard disks as a “cleanskin” OEM unit from an independent computer store. These “cleanskin” hard disks are just simply packaged in a clear plastic crate rather than a cardboard box with the manufacturer’s logo over it. The dual-disk option allows for a second hard disk of equal capacity to work as a “fail-over” disk if one of the hard disks dies; and can provide high disk-network throughput for media files. Some units may provide “online” RAID servicing where they can continue to work while you replace the hard disk. The NAS unit should support SMB/CIFS for general network file access, DLNA (UPnP AV) for media access, DAAP support for any iTunes clients and either SMB, LPR/LPD or IPP for printer sharing.

It may be worth considering a network printer because these printers, which hook up to your network via Ethernet or WiFi, are becoming more affordable. There are even some steps taken to make these printers easier to integrate with your computers. In some cases, this may have the printer being automatically discovered by the computers or you may just need to run an install CD to enable network printing. The multi-function printers may support “push” or “pull” network scanning and may also work as a fax server.

Revo iBlik RS - close-up An Internet radio can be a very good gift idea especially if you or the recipient like offbeat radio content or like the sound of “local radio from other countries”. Most of these radios can work well as a network music player if you have music files stored on your computer or network-attached-storage unit. I have written a buyer’s guide to help you go about buying the right Internet radio for your needs and network. I have also reviewed a few sets – the Revo iBlik RadioStation and the Kogan WiFi Digital Radio with iPod dock.

No doubt, the kids will want to get new games consoles for Christmas. These consoles, whether “TV-attached” or handheld, will have suppoPS3rt for some network and Internet functionality like online gaming. I have set up an article with some video guides produced by Netgear on how to connect the popular games consoles to your home network and the Internet. This article also mentions particular connectivity accessories that your console(s) may need for particular network setups, which you can get from the same place you bought your console.

Getting the most out of your home network

There are a few feature articles in this blog that are worth reading and will help you get the most out of your network equipment. In some cases, you may avoid the the situation where you need to take any of your home-IT purchases back to the store.

I have an article on how to make sure your wireless network is secure so your personal and business data is safe from prying eyes. This should be read whenever you unwrap that new computer or router and get it going.

The “Understanding 802.11n wireless networks” article describes what the recently-ratified 802.11n wireless network standard has to offer and how to set up your 802.11n wireless router to suit your network as it evolves.

The DLNA Media Network series gives information on establishing a DLNA-compliant home media network. This covers establishing such a network by sharing your media held in your computer when you buy an Internet radio or other DLNA-compliant network media player. It also covers how to get your DLNA Media Network to a point without needing your computer switched on all the time including the use of NAS devices, and the concept of network-controllable media players and the 3-box DLNA media network. Classical-music fans are taken care of with information to organise the metadata for their music so they can play symphonies, concerti and the like straight through or pick a favoured movement as well as achieving sound quality that does justice to the music.

Further More

After I have moved the blog to this domain and to a flexible site at GoDaddy, I will build it to become a site focused on providing high-quality information about IT issues that will affect home, small-business and community-group computer users.

Merry Christmas and a very Happy New 2010

Simon Mackay

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Rovi brings the car closer to the DLNA home media network

News articles

Rovi Home Network Media Syncing Automotive Solution Announced | eHomeUpgrade

Rovi hooks cars up to home media collection | TechRadar (UK)

From the horse’s mouth

Rovi’s own page about their automotive network solutions

My comments on this topic

Mustang dashboard with Eclipse head unit What Rovi is doing is integrating the vehicle in to the home network and its content pool. This will, as far as car entertainment companies are concerned, legitimise the feasibility of a hard disk / solid-state drive and/or WiFi network connection in the car AV system.

Key features

Content-description metadata would be available for CDs, DVDs and Blu-Ray discs in a manner similar to the current practice with iTunes or Windows Media Player. This can also work well with setups that have a built-in hard disk and a “rip-to-hard-disk” function for CDs. This can be updated with new data over the network connection or with the user transferring data from their PC using removeable media.

There would also be the ability to have improved content lookup available for applications where the media is stored as files in a file system like in an SD card, USB memory key, mobile phone or MP3 player like the Apple iPod.

Another key feature that Rovi has established in the press collateral has been the concept of transferring and syncing media content between the vehicle and a media collection hosted on a DLNA media server. This again would work with a 2.5” hard disk that is located in the car and used as the data storage.

There is even the concept of sharing data held in the vehicle or devices plugged in to the vehicle with associated networks which could allow for such things as map updating for satellite navigation and, I may have said this before, collection of diagnostic information from the vehicle.

Where do I think this will exist

The concept will typically appear initially as equipment installed at the factory in high-end cars and / or as high-end aftermarket car AV equipment that appeal to young men who turn their highly-customsied cars into “mobile discos”.Also these kind of markets are based around people who are usually more willing to spend big on the new technologies.

The primary form factor for aftermarket deployment may typically be in the form of the 2-DIN car navigation/audio/video head-unit with a large touchscreen on the front. It is because these head-units will typically have room for an integrated hard disk alongside a CD drive.

Some manufacturers may move towards moving the hard disk out of the head unit so as to reduce costs or design equipment that fits in to a 1-DIN car accessory space. This will typically allow for a USB or eSATA hard disk in an enclosure with an automotive-rated power supply located somewhere in the dash. On the other hand, highly-compact SSDs could become part of 1-DIN head-units which become part of the home network.

The network connectivity issue may be worked out either with an integrated WiFi-Bluetooth radio platform in the head unit or a WiFi network adaptor on the end of a USB cable or WiFi-Ethernet bridge on the end of an Ethernet cable located near the windscreen (windshield) or the rear window.

Conclusion

Once Rovi have established this technology, it could mean that the car will exist as part of the home entertainment and information network.

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Britt Lapthorne Inspired I Am Safe IPhone App By Tim Hine

Britt Lapthorne Inspired I Am Safe IPhone App By Tim Hine | The Age Digital Life

I Am Safe – Home Site 

iTunes App Store Direct

My comments

The “I am safe” application was written primarily in response to Britt Lapthorne’s disappearance in Croatia, but may have been brought about by the kidnap and murder of British tourists, Peter Falconio and Joanna Lees, in Northern Territory, Australia during July 2001.

It effectively “copies” the primary panic-alarm function on the typical monitored security system to your smartphone by sending out e-mail messages, SMS and / or voice messages to designated contacts as well as recording sound and providing a real-time update of the iPhone’s location on a Google map once you start this app.

There is a two-tiered delay arrangement where, after a few seconds, the phone will ring to indicate that it is gaining the location and starting recording. Then it will wait a few more seconds before sending out the e-mails and SMS messages. The messages will have a URL with reference to a “monitoring” Web page that hosts the Google map and an audio feed from the phone.

Equivalence to “panic” mode in a building alarm system

I had thought about this application further and related it to the “panic” or “hold-up” mode available on most, if not all, building alarm systems. This is usually where the user can press a dedicated “PANIC” key or, on most 12-key codepads, the * and # keys at the same time, to cause the alarm to signal to the monitoring service that the user is under threat. Similarly, some installations may use a remote panic button or wireless transmitter to fulfil this function. Some of the installations may also cause the local siren to sound in this condition.

From what I read, I also found that there are risks that can become real if tourists are faced with a nervous or paranoid attacker. One main issue is that the tourist could be forced to cancel the alert cycle or shut down the phone if the assailant is aware that the device could “rat on” them.

Possible software improvement ideas

An improvement that I would be wanting to see for this software is a PIN-to-cancel option where the user must key in a user-defined PIN number or the phone’s PIN number to cancel the alarm cycle. This would prevent the attacker from immediately cancelling the alarm cycle.

As well, I would like to see a “duress code” function as part of the PIN-to-cancel option where the user keys in a “decoy code” to immediately start the alarm cycle and transmit a special “attempt to cancel under duress” message as part of the alert message. This is again similar to most building alarm systems offering this function where the user knows a “decoy code” or "decoy modifier” for the user code that they use when they are disarming the system under duress. These systems then send a “duress” signal to the monitoring station and, in some cases, cause the local alarm to sound.

Need to port to other smartphone platforms

As well as addressing the security issues with the author, I also raised the issue of porting the program to other smartphone platforms. It’s too easy to agree that the Apple iPhone is the only smartphone on this earth but there are other platforms like the Blackberry, the Symbian S60 (Nokia phones) and the Windows Mobile platforms out there in the field. Some of these platforms, such as the Blackberry, have won hearts with the business community; and the Nokia phones have won hearts with European users. In fact, I have used Nokia Symbian S60 phones over the last two 24-month mobile-phone contracts with Telstra and am using a Nokia N85 on another 24-month plan, again with Telstra.  As well, the Google Android platform is coming up as a serious contender for the Apple iPhone.

The various “ports” could provide for platform-specific features like use of the phone’s hardware keypads that are common in some of the platforms; as well as use of series-specific hardware switches. For example, the software could allow the user to press and hold down * and # together on the phone keypad or press and hold down a button on the phone’s side to instantly start the alarm cycle.

Conclusion

The “I am safe” application has definitely provided the concept of adding the equivalent of a monitored alarm’s “panic” or “hold-up” function to a smartphone for use around town or around the globe. It would certainly provide peace of mind for all travellers, their loved ones and their business partners / employers.

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Windows 7 – What does it mean for multimedia and the home media network

Improved sound-reproduction infrastructure

Some of you may use two or more sound cards in your computer; such as using the sound circuitry that is part of your motherboad as well as an aftermarket sound card. Windows 7 caters for that by allowing you to relegate a particular sound subsystem to a particular program or activity. A common use would be to use a Bluetooth headset for Skype and related VoIP communications, gaming taunts and similar applications while you have your music playing through the main speakers. Similar you could connect a “good” sound card to a good sound system for recording and playback while the onboard sound infrastructure can be used for system sounds.

Even the ability to send digital audio signals to home-theatre equipment via the HDMI port has been improved. It includes the ability to pass the high-definition audio streams from BluRay and similar applications as a raw bitstream. It will also provide the multiple-sound-device functionality as mentioned previously with HDMI audio setups that use a dedicated sound infrastructure rather than feeding an SP-DIF audio bitstream from the computer’s main sound card.

As well, there is functionality that permits the music or video sound to be reduced in volume whenever a VoIP or similar call comes in even if the call goes through a different sound device, which makes life easier when you take these calls using the computer.

DirectX and Gaming

DirectX in Windows 7 has been taken up to version 11 and this has brought forward a lot of improvements as far as computer games go. This also includes a lot of work “under the bonnet” to improve game responsiveness with the screen and sound and bring up PC gaming to current-generation console level.s

Streamlined network management

The network management functions are similar to what Windows Vista users have expected in the Network And Sharing Center, But this interface has been streamlined and made easier to use. The “full map” is still available and you can gain access to shared resources or UPnP-provided device management pages when you click on the various devices.

HomeGroup

This feature is a way of establishing a “circle of trust” within a home network when it comes to sharing resources around that network. This is based on a computer-generated password that is used across the HomeGroup to authenticate all of the computers on the network to the resource pool. At the moment, this only works across Windows 7 boxes on the network, but it may be worth keeping an eye out for Microsoft and third-party downloads that allow Windows 2000 / XP / Vista, Macintosh and Linux boxes to work in with a HomeGroup setup.

This is another way that Microsoft implemented a practice commonly associated with locks and keys, Here, the identifying factor that only allows the lock to work with particular keys is already determined by the tumblers that are integrated in the lock’s mechanism and these tumblers are configured to work that way either by the manufacturer or by a locksmith when you have the lock rekeyed.

The first instance of this was with Windows Connect Now, which was implemented in Windows XP Service Pack 2 as a way of configuring a highly-secure wireless network. Here, the WPA-PSK passphrase was determined randomly by Windows Connect Now and used as part of a “configuration manifest” file to be transferred to routers and other computers using a USB memory key. This was extended to Windows Vista through the WPA-PSK passphrase being uploaded to a compliant wireless router using an Ethernet connection, and was integrated in to Wireless Protected Setup which is implemented as part of Windows Vista Service Pack 2.

Another advantage provided with HomeGroup is that it can work with “work-home” laptops that move between a domain-managed business network and a home network. HomeGroup can also cater for other small networks, because there is the option to share particular resources with particular users as you were able to do son with any Windows-based CIFS network.

Improved DLNA support

Windows Media Player 12, which is part of the Windows 7 distribution or, in some cases, available as a free download from Microsoft, has DLNA built in to its ecosystem. This doesn’t just stop at sharing media files with DLNA / UPnP AV media devices or streaming media files from other DLNA / UPnP AV media servers like NAS boxes. It allows you to “push” content to DLNA / UPnP AV media devices that present themselves as “MediaRenderer” devices. This is typically provided in the form of the “Play To” right-click shortcut for multimedia files.

Remote Media Streaming

You can stream content from one Windows 7 computer to another over the Internet as long as you use the same identifier, like a Windows Live ID. with each of them. This can be useful for situations like temporary accommodation like hotels, holiday homes or serviced apartments where you may have your computer at home running and you may want to play media at your temporary location. I have discussed this feature before on this blog and have raised issues regarding VPN operation and the computer that is pulling the media being able to serve it to DLNA-compliant media hardware on its local network.

Inherent support for current digital-TV standards and Internet TV

Windows 7 provides its Media Center application with inherent operating-system support for currently-deployed digital-TV standards so there isn’t much need for TV tuner card manufacturers to supply software to work with the current standards. As well, this operating system provides improved support for “over-the-top” Internet TV services that may be released in your country. In some cases, this may do away with the need for the coaxial TV cable to the computer or the need to sign up to cable services full of “fodder channels” to gain access to the “good channels”.

Next article in the series will touch on how Windows 7 will benefit the small business and the work-home laptop.

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