Microsoft launched at this week’s Surface hardware product launch a new Bluetooth mouse that is made from recycled plastics.
Here, the mouse, known as the Microsoft Ocean Plastic Mouse, is made from the various items of plastic litter that are found in the bottom of oceans and waterways. This achievement has been brought on thanks to the involvement of Saudi Basic Industries Corporation who is a subsidiary of Saudi Aramco.
Some could see this as an attempt by Big Oil to greenwash but they are moving towards investing in plastic technologies due to reduced demand for oil as a transport fuel thanks to the takeup of electric vehicles. But this effort here is about using a significant amount of recycled plastic to build housings for consumer electronics and allied devices where the look does matter.
The Microsoft Ocean Plastic Mouse connects to the host device via Bluetooth and even implements Bluetooth 5.0 LE technology for this connection. This means that it does away with you having to deal with a USB receiver dongle that you could easily lose.
As an input device, this mouse is technically similar to other Microsoft mice released over the last few years and this includes the availability of buttons that can be defined by the end-user. For power, it can run one a single AA Duracell with a promised run-time of 12 months.
Microsoft is expecting to launch this mouse to the US market on October 5 and for it to cost USD$24.99. But it is a way not just of providing environmental credentials in a product’s design but also about Bluetooth operation.
As part of the ongoing effort to tackle the COVID-19 coronavirus plague, many a jurisdiction is setting up COVID-19 testing facilities around their cities and towns. These are to identify who has and hasn’t caught this virus so proper measures can be taken.
In most situations the tests being done are PCR-based tests that require a mucus sample to be taken from the patient’s nose and throat for analysis, with the results coming through by at the most 24 hours. An increasing number of these facilities are of the “drive-through” kind where the patients drive up to the facilities and the nurses take the swabs from the patients while they sit in their cars.
But staff at one such “pop-up” facility in Melbourne noticed that most of the patients coming through that site had a dog with them in their car. Typically patients did this due to the pet being a security blanket or simply to take the dog out in the car with them. As well the staff, who were working long days in full PPE clothing, found that the presence of these furry companions in the patients’ cars as something to lift their spirits.
One of the staff noticed this and asked patients if they can take photos of their canine companions then, when the patient agreed, they took the photos. These ended up on a special Instagram account which was effectively a “photo reel” of these dog and other animal pictures.
This has started to come popular with more staff at other drive-through COVID testing clinics contributing these images to the account’s photo roll especially as pop-up testing clinics relocated around the city. Even other drive-through testing sites around Australia and the rest of the world were contributing the pictures of their patients’ furry companions to this reel. Of course, being started in Australia, the “SwabDogsOfInsta” account features a few kelpies and Australian Cattle Dogs (Blue Heelers) as part of the montage.
The “SwabDogsOfInsta” ended up as a popular Instagram account to follow around the world with significant media coverage about it. People would leave various lovely comments about these dogs with some referencing the animal in the photo being similar to one they had at some point in their life journey. As well, these pictures come in to their own to cheer everyone up during these difficult times.
If Instagram had the ability to work with any screen-saver, electronic picture frame or similar image-display setup and have the ability to show particular accounts’ images, this could be the kind of account that would work well with such a setup.
But simply, it’s a good account to add to your Instagram “follow” collection if you are wanting something that takes your mind off difficult times.
Microsoft is the first major company with an Internet presence that is implementing a password-free option for signing in to their Microsoft Account. This is the main sign-up for most of Microsoft’s enterprise-facing and consumer-facing services.
Most of us are likely to run a Microsoft account if you are using Windows 10, the Hotmail / Outlook webmail service, Office 365, OneDrive, Skype or XBox at least. You may also find that Microsoft may bind LinkedIn on to this authentication platform soon or allow this to work with online services that use Microsoft accounts as an optional credential pool for single sign-on.
But what does this password-free setup mean for us? This setup has it that the Microsoft servers don’t retain or use your password to verify you as a legitimate user. Rather the verification takes place at the client device such as you using a fingerprint reader or entering a PIN on the device to log in. Or you use another device like a smartphone with an authentication app or a hardware token like a USB or NFC security key to authenticate with the online service when you log in. Here, these approaches release a machine-to-machine session token to allow you to log in for that session.
In some ways, it is similar to single-sign-on or “social-sign-on” where you authenticate with another credential pool like Facebook, Google or Microsoft when you use some online services.
Microsoft will facilitate this with their Hello-based device-level authentication infrastructure in Windows 10, a FIDO2-compliant hardware security key, a smartphone running the Microsoft Authenticator mobile-platform app or a one-time verification code sent via SMS or email.
This is something you can set up on the Security page in your account.microsoft.com dashboard for your Microsoft account. But you may have to create app passwords for some client software and setups that doesn’t work well with authentication approaches other than passwords. It may be an approach for password-free setups where consumer electronics and IoT devices are concerned until this kind of onboarding and login are able to work with most of these devices.
But for a major software vendor or online-services provider to provide the option to go “password-free” and rely on device-based credentials as an authentication approach is a bold step. As well, Microsoft are in a good position here due to them making sure that the authentication tools are available on a wide range of platforms.
Who know who else will head down the password-free authentication approach for their consumer-facing online services?
It will soon be feasible to control your XBox Series S and X games consoles using your TV’s remote control or have “one-touch” access to your games session.
This feature is currently in pre-release testing and is to be part of an upcoming major feature update for the XBox games consoles’ operating systems, It is to be dependent on your TV supporting HDMI-CEC functionality under its various names like Simplink, Anynet+, Viera Link or Bravia Sync. This is something that respected TVs should be equipped with in order to simplify the user experience when you have multiple video peripherals.
You could even use the TV remote control to watch Netflix on your XBox Series X or S console.
There is already some HDMI-CEC functionality going on with these consoles where the TV will switch on and switch to the input you have connected the XBox to when you switch on your console. But this is about extra functionality with both the TV’s remote control and the XBox game controllers.
Firstly, it will be about using the TV remote controller’s D-pad to navigate the XBox’s menus or any menu to do with content-streaming apps on that console. It may also be about using the transport buttons (play, pause, etc) to start and stop video content you are watching on the XBox. This will come in to its own for those of us who use these consoles for watching Netflix or similar video-streaming services using the XBox S or X.
But it will also mean that the “XBox” (stylised green X) button on the game controllers will also be a way to switch the TV and audio equipment on and over to the XBox console ready for some gaming. Here, it may be advantageous where you just leave the XBox on so it can download game updates or newly-purchased games as necessary but either turn the TV off or “switch away” to another source like broadcast TV or another media player between games. That leads to purely a “one-touch” experience when it comes to wanting to get going with your favourite XBox games.
What I see of this is you being able to use the appropriate control device for the activity you want to use the XBox S or X console for. That means to lounge back in the armchair with your TV remote if you want to watch Netflix or to use the game controller if you want to play that game.
Intel is kicking on with increasing the number of semiconductor fabrication facilities around the world in response to the chip shortage. This includes their effort of opening these factories up as semiconductor foundries where they make the silicon chips for other designers and companies.
Intel to have two factories within the European Continent
This includes some action within Europe, although Intel already has an operational chip factory within Ireland. Here they are determining the location of two large semiconductor fabrication plants that have foundry abilities within Continental Europe. This could be within France, Belgium, Germany, Netherlands or Poland.
It is part of an Intel worldwide plan to have 8 new factories established and turning out silicon chips over the next ten years.This is part of repairing and improving the silicon supply chain so there is less dependence on an Asian-focused supply chain for CPUs and other advanced silicon chips.
For Europe, this is about gaining technological sovereignty especially where European manufacturers are turning out finished products that implement advanced microelectronics. Firstly, today’s vehicles are being built in such a way where they are effectively a computer on wheels and Europe has a very strong automotive industry.
I see it also extending to Europe’s strong domestic and commercial appliance sector. This is where equipment like ovens, fridges and washing machines are effectively controlled by advanced computer technology, sometimes offering advanced user interfaces like touchscreens. Again these appliance manufacturers
France would also benefit strongly in other ways. For example, Toulouse is still seen as the hub of Europe’s aerospace technology thanks to the likes of Airbus. Even for general-purpose computing, France has come to the fore with Qarnot who manufacture server computers that double as room heaters or water boilers by passing off their waste heat for heating a room or giving you a hot shower.
Further on, European governments are behind this effort in order to encourage Europe to gain its prowess in the technological fields. This may be seen as a way to gain their original “clout” when it came to consumer and business tech during the 1960s and before; or it could be a way for European companies to carve out their distinctive technological niches.
Similarly this is about encouraging the development of general-purpose computing, especially server / cloud computing within Europe. Here, it can be about the goal of computing clouds that are owned by European companies and working to European values.
At least Intel is enveloping Europe as a major part of its strategy to rectify the silicon-chip shortage that has come about lately.
The Kwikset Kevo is an example of a smart lock which also supports the traditional key
Some smart locks maintain the metal key as an outside-access option, while others don’t have this ability, often being marketed as “keyless or key-free”. The keyless smart-lock setups use external power as a fail-over means of allowing user access if the smart lock’s batteries fail. This is facilitated through 9V battery terminals or a USB power-only socket on the outside of the lock.
The limitation here is that you need to have or acquire the correct external-power means to operate the smart lock if it has dead batteries. This also doesn’t work around logic failures or configuration errors that can affect a smart lock or problems associated with balky smartphones that frustrate user access.
Why traditional keys
There are two obvious cases where the traditional key is valued for a smart lock. One is for rental or other managed-building setups where a landlord, estate agent or property manager need access to your premises at all times. This is typically part of your conditions of occupancy set out in documents like leases. Some of these situations require that the lock be part of a traditional master-key setup that encompasses the building, often with the keying system being a restricted-key setup.
The other is where there are people who reside at or visit your premises who are more comfortable handling traditional keys rather than cards, fobs, codes or smartphones as a means of access. This can be something associated with older generations who are still familiar with this access technique and don’t want to learn a new approach.
Even retrofit kits for your existing lock like this August Smart Lock kit for “bore through” cylindrical deadbolts allow use of the traditional key
A smart lock equipped with a traditional-key cylinder is designed so that there is mechanical linking between the cylinder and the bolt independent of the electronic and electromechanical aspects that it has. This allows for sure-fire secure fail-over access with the traditional key that is something most users would be familiar with.
It works around both the dead-battery situation and other situations that can occur with computer-based devices like general hardware and software failure. As well, if you use your smartphone as the access means for your smart lock and your phone’s battery dies or a software failure occurs within your phone, your keys can be used as a failover measure.
Some manufacturers even establish a “privacy” or “security” operation mode with these locks that disable electronic access and only allow access with the traditional key. The use case outlined with this operating mode is to give a copy of the metal key to those who really need access to your premises at all times such as a close relative or friend. Then you disable the smart-lock functionality with the codes or cards given to other people who don’t always need access to your premises when you want surefire privacy.
How is this being delivered?
The retrofit kits that convert existing bore-through deadbolts or Euro-profile mortice locks to smart locks are designed to maintain use of the traditional key that is associated with the lockset that is being converted.
The Le Poste solution available in France that adds smart lock functionality to a Euro-profile lock
But there are some new-install smart locks on the market that are designed to be able to work with a traditional key from the outside. This is in addition to the electronic access means that the typical smart lock will offer. Most of these come as a deadbolt or key-in-lever entrance set designed for “bore-through” installation. Let’s not forget the Gainsbourough FreeStyle TriLock smart lock that is intended to be able to replace an existing Gainsborough TriLock “bore-through” entrance set or be installed anew.
What this may entail
If you need to maintain the existing key that you were using or have to have the traditional-key-capable smart lock part of your building’s master-key or restricted-key environment, you would need to have a locksmith perform the necessary modifications. This job may be about “transferring” the keying setup from your existing lock to the mew smart lock.
But also be aware if your traditional-key-capable smart lock has a standard interchangeable cylinder part, something that is common with the Euro-profile retrofit kits. Here, you can supply the key or outside cylinder from your existing lockset as a reference for this transfer operation.
How could it be improved on
A major way that traditional-key support in a smart lock can be augmented is for activity relating to the metal-key cylinder being treated in the same way as use of codes, cards or smartphones. That is in the same context as having the internal thumbturn that you use to manually operate the smart lock from inside treated in the same way.
Here, using the traditional key to open the door or locking the door from the inside using the thumbturn could be logged as an access instance or seen as an event in the context of your smart home technology. This could be about letting you know if someone who normally uses the traditional key has arrived. Or it could be about enabling your home in to “occupied” mode thus having the lighting come on or the heating / air-conditioning come on to a comfortable temperature.
The traditional metal key is still important when it comes to the newer smart locks. Here, it is more so as a secure surefire failover access solution or to maintain as a means of access for people who are comfortable with these keys.
Telstra has joined the large number of private-sector actors including its airline equivalent Qantas in running campaigns for us to get ourselves vaccinated against the COVID-119 coronavirus plague.
Here, Telstra is exploiting its position as a mobile telephony carrier to tackle the 5G mobile-broadband myths that are often run in the same breath as anti-vax myths. This is due to the fact that anti-vaccination conspiracy theorists run other themes like the harm caused by 5G mobile broadband and other non-ionisating radiation sources.
Mark Humphries who is the voice of this campaign, uses a comic line to underscore the way these conspiracy theorists approach you to spill all their nonsense. He even uses the same humour to play on these remarks so as to have you sort the truth out from the nonsense that they tell you.
Even that line “do your own research” that they quote is turned around to mean to do research from proper knowledgeable sources who are qualified to talk about these things.
But I like the fact that he comes at the vaccination issue from the same kind of approach used by those who peddle this disinformation which can often include people within our social circle.
Here, the proper information is that these COVID vaccines like both doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine which I had are delivered purely as a liquid to be injected using garden-variety medical-use syringes and needles. They have been tested for safety and efficacy before being approved and have nothing to do with 5G (or other non-ionising) radiation, microchips or magnetism.
Don’t fall for the nonsense! Get those proper vaccination jabs and stay safe!
A handful of NBN-based ISPs are offering month-by-month plans to the Australian Internet market.
These kind of Internet plans are not dependent on you being on a contract for say 12 to 36 months but require you to bring your own home-network router rather than use a carrier-provided piece of equipment that you have to pay off. That is equivalent to terms like “no-wires” or “BYO modem” for Internet services where the provisioning is done by the provider at their office without the need for any of their staff to deliver or install any equipment or infrastructure at your premises.
Firstly, you have to have an NBN connection of some sort installed at your premises. You will have to use an NBN-supplied modem or optical-network terminal for installations other than FTTN or FTTB installations, with this equipment being NBN’s responsibility. Here, you would need to use a broadband router with Ethernet WAN connection for setups other than FTTN or FTTB while you would use an up-to-date modem router for FTTN or FTTB installations.
Some of these providers offer a timed-discount approach with a few months at the start of your subscription being cheaper. As well, all of the plans listed in that article have unlimited data allowances and they don’t have any setup fees associated with getting on board the service. But the cost typically comes around AUD$75 – AUD$80 for a 50Mbps “NBN 50” plan. It is worth clicking on the Gizmodo article’s link at the top of this article to have a look at what is available for you bandwidth needs.
One of the providers called MATE even offers an option to annex a SIM-only mobile service to their broadband package and save money on both those services. This is one that is delivered under a mobile virtual network arrangement with Telstra’s mobile network under the context for wholesale service.
Who would want these plans?
They are being pitched for those of us who want to be able to walk away from our NBN Internet deal at a moment’s notice, typically to join a competing NBN or non-NBN ISP. Here, it would be about the pending arrival of infrastructure-level competition in your building or neighbourhood, be it Optus pitching their 5G mobile broadband service as a fixed-wireless setup or something like Spirit Broadband being in your apartment building.
The article even talked of a person who would be likely to go over to mobile broadband or low-earth-orbit satellite broadband like Starlink due to them shifting out to the country or shifting around Australia.
Another usage scenario is to cater towards those of us who are likely to engage in month-by-month placement work contracts where one is likely to be in a different town, city or country at a moment’s notice. This can also apply to people who are likely to move even within NBN’s service-coverage area but may face contract issues due to changing location.
It may become a requirement for ISPs to offer a “bring your own equipment” deal that operates on a month-by-month basis without any minimum-length contract. This may be a way to court users who don’t necessarily want to run a long-term service contract or may want to be able to use competing infrastructure offers.
ViewSonic VG1655 – an example of a portable monitor
Over the last six months, we are seeing a significant number of “portable monitors” being introduced to the personal and small-business IT market.
What are these portable monitors?
These portable monitors are 12” to 17” LCD screens that are designed primarily to be used with a laptop as a second screen. Most of these units are equipped with a USB-C port that takes advantage of power transfer and display data transfer over the one physical cable, a feature that most well-bred laptops issued over the last few years are equipped with. As well, all these displays have a built-in kickstand so that they can be free-standing.
These screens are even being pitched at people who use mobile platform devices for work or play so they can benefit from a larger screen. This is also expedited with the USB-C or Lightning connections supporting display output and power transfer at the same time on these devices.
What can they offer computer users?
A typical use case for a portable monitor – as a secondary screen for a laptop computer
A key selling feature with these screens for laptop users is to benefit from dual-screen productivity while on-the-go or where they want that minimalist desktop.
Even users who use a multiple-screen setup with their laptop or desktop computer and a larger monitor do stand to benefit from these portable monitors. For example, one of these displays set up in portrait mode could earn its keep with something like an email or instant messaging client. To the same extent, this arrangement could come in handy with a tall spreadsheet or document that you are referring to or a whole lot of source code that is important for that computer program you are working on. This can also come in to its own if the main monitor doesn’t support portrait-mode orientation or you want to have a dedicated portrait-mode display.
Most of these screens will also have at least a standard HDMI connection and / or , perhaps, a standard DisplayPort connection. This can work with computer and video equipment that isn’t equipped with a USB-C with DisplayPort alt connection.
For photographers and videographers, this connection comes in to its own with digital cameras and camcorders equipped with HDMI output connections. That means that the screen serves as a better larger preview screen than what your camera or camcorder offers whether that comes in handy while you compose your shot or review what you have taken.
These portable monitors even serve as small playback / presentation monitors when you want to show something to another person. In a one-to-one meeting, you could be setting the portable monitor to mirror you laptop’s display so that who you are meeting with can see what you are bringing up. Here, this would come in to its own when you are sitting face to face at a table and want to “drive” your computer without always swivelling it around.
Similarly, you could use portable monitors equipped with a standard HDMI input and HDCP support as personal video monitors for devices like DVD / Blu-Ray players or set-top boxes. For example, using one of these portable monitors along with a digital-TV set-top box could allow you to have the equivalent of that portable TV which you use or have previously used for monitoring a news or sports event while in the office, kitchen or garage.
In the same context, they can end up as a portable gaming display for games consoles like the Nintendo Switch, the Sony PlayStation or Microsoft XBox family. This may be for larger-screen personal gaming use. At the moment, most of the current issue of portable monitors aren’t rated for regular-computer gaming due to them being set for 60Hz “productivity-use” frame rates.
Let’s not forget that these screens could simply end up as a “fail-over” display if your laptop’s display doesn’t work. This would be more important for those of us who are pushing that old laptop out further.
It may also benefit mobile-platform device users, especially smartphone users, who want to use them with a large screen at least. Some companies like Samsung are even pushing this idea of using a smartphone or mobile-platform tablet as a full-on productivity device especially when you use one of these monitors and a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse.
What features to look for
The screen that your portable monitor should have is a Full-HD or equivalent resolution and a high-quality display.
The connectivity offered by these screens should be at least one USB-C port with DisplayPort Alt and PowerDelivery support; along with a standard HDMI port with HDCP support. It would be nice to have a second USB-C PD-compliant port as a bonus which means you could plug your laptop’s USB-C PD power supply in to the monitor to supply both the laptop and monitor with power. As well, having a standard DisplayPort connection can be nice to have if you have equipment that has this connection.
Some of these portable monitors will implement MicroHDMI connectors and / or will use the USB-C port as an audio output. Here, you will have to rely on adaptor cables that should be packaged with the monitor in its box.
Most of these screens will have audio support of some sort and most likely have an integrated speaker. But they should have a standard headphone jack so you can plug in a set of headphones or better powered speakers for improved sound. They also should have an easy-to-operate volume control so you can adjust the sound quickly and easily.
If you expect a lot of away-from-AC-power use out of a portable monitor, it should have its own battery with a preferred minimum capacity of 5000mAh. As well the monitor should be efficient on the battery life. As I have said before, I would look towards these monitors having two two USB-C ports with PowerDelivery operation where one can accept power and the other can share power to the host computer. This could allow you to power your laptop and the monitor at the same time.
A nice-to-have feature for a portable monitor is touchscreen input support. This effectively adds touchscreen abilities to computer setups that don’t have this function.
Something worth paying attention to with these portable monitors is that some manufacturers could combine a portable monitor with Android tablet functionality. This is something that Lenovo is lining up with their Yoga Tab 13 tablet that is expected to be launched some time this year.
As well, look out for any of these portable monitors that offer gaming features like 144Hz refresh rate because these could be coming that way as part of one or more manufacturers’ lineups. They would be important for people who have gaming-grade laptops and want to have the same kind of performance across all displays.
The portable monitor will earn its keep with those of us who want to have multiple-screen computing with our laptops in a portable setup. As well, they will be likely to be of use as an ancillary personal-use large screen for a range of activities.
There are a significant number of public-access Wi-Fi hotspots set up in places like hotels, caravan parks, convention facilities and the like for guests to use. These networks include “headline” public-access Wi-Fi networks installed in apartment blocks, retirement villages, resorts and the like.
But a lot of these networks implement Web-based “captive-portal” login arrangements to onboard or authenticate potential users. This is typically about assenting to terms and conditions for using a free network, enabling advertising in an advertisement-funded network, you entering something like a room number to use the network or to facilitate payment whether that be directly or through a voucher you buy from the venue.
These setups require you to keep a Web-browser session or page open to “stay valid” on the network. As well, they can be very difficult to implement on devices that don’t have a Web-browser user interface, such as games consoles, set-top boxes, smart speakers, Internet radios and the like. It can even be difficult if you want to bring your own smart TV to that retirement-village apartment you are moving in to.
GoZone, who provide various Wi-Fi public-access-network solutions have just released the SecurePass feature that allows users to use one of these devices with publc-access Wi-Fi powered by their technology.
SecurePass effectively creates a logical wireless VLAN with own SSID and password for each successfully established guest account. This allows a public network user to connect an Internet radio, Amazon Echo, XBoc One or Chromecast to this logical network as if they are connecting the device to their home network or a similar small network. This setup can work with the currently-applicable business model that the public-access network is working on.
– as could connecting that Chromecast to a hotel-room TV
Some businesses may take advantage of SecurePass as a way to connect devices like Internet radios or smart TVs that they or their employees use onsite to their network in a secure manner. That is to keep the line-of-business network purely for those devices relating to the company’s business.
But there are questions about this setup where it may be desireable to establish a connection between a device that was used to provision the connection using the Web-based portal and the device that was connected to the VLAN associated with that service. This may be to enable AirPlay / Chromecast / DLNA streaming from a laptop, tablet or smartphone to your media device or to print stuff out from your laptop using your Wi-Fi-capable printer. Similarly, it could be about creating a private device cluster for sharing files between devices using standard network-file-transfer protocols.
Another question which I see relevant to hotel and similar setups is providing access to network resources that are intended for a guest’s use. Examples of these includes streaming to your room’s or a common lounge area’s Chromecast-capable TV or network printers that support AirPrint or IPP/Mopria and are set up for guests to use. This can include opening up printing access to a business printing infrastructure from guest-owned devices either as complementary or paid-use.
Of course there will be security and privacy issues regarding any approach to create private virtual local-area networks within networks typically set up for public Internet access. This can be about issues like using the network infrastructure for observing data being transferred in a point-to-point manner or providing privileged access to private resources through these networks for example.
But what is being realised is that when you are at a place where there is a public network for residents, guests or the public to use, yon need an experience similar to a typical home network while your privacy and data security is assured.
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