IKEA have added another speaker to their Sonos-based SYMFONISK multi-room speaker lineup, continuing their idea of an affordable path to the Sonos network multi-room audio platform. These work in the same way as Sonos speakers and you can establish a Sonos-based multi-room audio setup based on a mix of Sonos or IKEA SYMFONISK speakers and use your home network’s Wi-Fi segment to transmit the sound.
The previous SYMFONISK speakers came in the form of a traditional bookshelf speaker and a table lamp. But this latest product has been described as appearing in the form of a picture frame but you have to use IKEA’s decorative art panels for these speakers. Here, it is more about the front of these speakers serving as the speaker grille that allows the sound to come out.
These speakers are able to be mounted on a wall or can stand on a table. But the framework and legs that allows them to stand on a table is designed to allow them to reproduce sound without adding extra vibration or noise to that sound as what is expected for a speaker enclosure.
There are hardware buttons on the IKEA SYMFONISK wall-art speakers to adjust the volume and start or stop the music with. But you use the Sonos mobile-platform apps or desktop software to choose what you want to hear through these speaker.
It is expected for IKEA to sell the SYMFONISK wall-art speakers for US$199 each with replacement wall-art fronts for US$20 each. But it will be interesting to hear whether these speakers can displace the SONOS One when it comes to sound quality
From what I have seen, it seems like IKEA have bothered to stay on with the Sonos-driven SYMFONISK network multiroom audio platform if they have bothered to design and market another SYMFONISK speaker. But it could mean that people who use the Sonos multiroom audio platform could be buying these IKEA speakers to build out their setup in a cost-effective manner.
Songwhip link – availability on streaming or download-to-own services (7”single equivalent)
Beatport (download-to-own music service pitched at DJs) – 7” single equivalent
There is an album of the same name and recorded by the same artist featuring this song as an “album-length” track. It is available as an LP record or as a CD. You can get this at Amazon or your favourite record store may have a copy of it on hand or can order it for you if you want it playing on your turntable or CD player.
Over this past year, a South-African song with Zulu lyrics ended up becoming a musical symbol of hope through this COVID season.
This song, “Jerusalema”, was recorded in 2019 by Master KG but when it appeared online in 2020 along with a set of associated dance moves, it became very popular. There were a series of dance challenges where individuals or groups of people performed the dance associated with this song and uploaded music videos of their performances.
It was all concurrent at the time when the COVID-19 coronavirus plague was an unknown quantity and governments implemented measures to limit the spread of this virus. Such measures manifested in the form of border and travel restrictions, stay-at-home orders and lockdowns; mask-wearing and social-distancing mandates; amongst other things.
At the same time, there was Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro who were treating this pandemic with contempt and creating disdain against these necessary public health restrictions and the medical-research races for treatments and vaccines. Even the act of honouring one or more of these public-health measures became politically-charged within the USA.
It was also aggravated by the death of George Floyd at the hands of American police offices which brought on the Black Lives Matter protest movement. This movement also highlighted how divisive things were within the USA when it came to civil rights and the treatment of marginalised minorities in that country and was aggravated by Donald Trump’s behaviour during the protests.
The song, its music and the associated dances conveyed a comfortable “feel-good” vibe along with a thread that unites the various communities of people whether “over-the-wire” using the Internet or face-to-face where the various restrictions allowed it. This helped with boosting public moral through this season. There was also a celebration of the survivors and of survival.
Let’s not forget the Zulu-language lyrics and the associated melody were conveying a message of escapism from the continuing barrage of bad news we were facing. This is very much like how other catchy popular music songs played by oneself during hard times can be seen as a form of escapism.
As well, “Jerusalema” has caused us to show interest in Afrobeat and placed Africa on the popular-music map. This follows on from the way African-heritage diasporas have contributed to popular music over the past century and a bit through the form of jazz, funk, soul, disco and similar musical styles along with musical techniques like rapping and breakdancing.
YouTube and similar services are replete with videos of these dance challenges done by various groups of people. There are even some European airlines who have had aircrew groups perform this dance and make a video in the name of the airline as a way of saying that we will be back in the air again. The Irish Gardai national police and the Swiss federal police each had some officer teams within their forces create similar videos as an effort to boost public morale within their nations.
There are also some videos existing on YouTube about how to perform the dance routine associated with this song. These resources can be worth referring to if you want to know how to perform the dance.
“Jerusalema” and its associated dance routine will be seen in the same light as some of those songs which had or acquired their own dance routines that market out particular years or eras. Think of songs like “YMCA” by the Village People; “Forever” by Chris Brown with its wedding-dance video; “Macarena” by Los Del Rio; or “Vogue” by Madonna.
But it will also continue to be seen as a song of hope for the COVID-19 season just like Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” became a song of hope through the 1970s or John Lennon’s “Imagine” being a song of hope through the Vietnam War era.
The rise of low-earth-orbit satellite technology to enable decent Internet service for regional, rural and remote parts of the world has gained a bit more traction.
This time, it is the German Federal Government (Bundesregierung) with its Transport ministry who are subsidising Starlink installations across rural Germany. The US’s FCC has engaged in some form of subsidisation for Starlink but this is at a corporate level as part of their US-government-based program for enabling decent rural Internet service there.
The German approach is to provide EUR€500 towards Starlink hardware purchase for installation in Germany’s rural areas. This doesn’t just apply to Starlink but to any satellite or other radio-link-based Internet service provided on a retail level. It is intended to be consumer-focused and provider-agnostic in the same manner as what is expected for the provision of broadcasting and telecommunications in modern Germany.
It doesn’t apply to ongoing service costs that customers pay to keep the service alive. In the case of Starlink, the monthly service costs are EUR€99 / month at the time of writing.
.. to improve access to real broadband in German rural areas
This was just announced as Tesla were about to commence work on building its European Gigafactory near Berlin and was riding on the fact that Tesla and SpaceX Starlink are owned by Elon Musk. The Bundesregierung need to seek approval from all of Germany’s 16 Federal States for this retail-level subsidy to go ahead.
The question that will come up is whether public subsidies for satellite or other radio-based Internet service is the way to go to bring decent broadband Internet to rural areas. This is compared to current efforts by local or regional governments in cohort with local chambers of commerce to bring fibre-optic Internet to rural and regional areas.
There will also be the issue of whether to extend this kind of subsidy to people living in boats along Germany’s inland waterways. Think of retirees who have riverboats on the Rhine, Elbe or Wupper rivers or cabin cruisers on the likes of Lake Constance (Bodensee).
Personally, I would see Starlink and similar technology come in to play for sparse rural areas while fibre or similar deployments are considered for more dense settlements. The long fibre-optic trunk link between towns or to serve a remote employment / industry area should never be forgotten as a way to encourage economic growth along its path.
At least Germany is taking another approach to dealing with the rural Internet deficiency issue by subsidising the installation of Starlink and similar technology in its rural households.
There are factors that may drive you towards upgrading your home network’s router at some point in its life. Here, you may think that it is still performing adequately for your current needs including your current Internet service level.
You may find that when you sign on to a new Internet service, you may be offered a new Wi-Fi router for your home network as part of the deal. In most cases, this may see you through quite a number of years with your service. But on the other hand, you may choose a “bring-your-own-router” option for your new Internet service so you could keep your existing equipment going for the long haul. But going down that path may not be ideal unless you intend to use up-to-date equipment that can support your new Internet service and current computing devices to the best it can.
If you find yourself frequently turning your network’s router and modem off and on to reset your Internet connection, this may be an indicator that your equipment is on its last legs. A good indicator would be if you are on average doing this routine more than once a week.
Another factor to observe is whether your online experience has degraded especially with multimedia content that you are streaming or when you engage in videocalls. Look for situations like excessive buffering or stalled connections that can indicate your router is becoming unreliable.
You may want to make sure that you are taking advantage of the bandwidth you are paying for so you get your money’s worth.
This would be important if you are upgrading to a service tier that offers more bandwidth for example. For that matter, you may find that after two or three years on the same service plan, you may be aware that your telco or ISP is offering a deal that has more bandwidth for the same price you are currently paying.
Another factor is how sluggish is your home network. This may be noticed with use of network-based media setups like AirPlay or Chromecast yielding substandard performance or print jobs taking too long when you print via your home network. Similarly, it can be noticed if you have many people in your household or business and the network’s performance is sub-par while they use it at once especially for multimedia.
If you Internet connection is provided using a separate modem and router setup, you may want to check if the router is at fault by connecting a computer to the modem directly via Ethernet and using that to assess speed and latency.
Network Security and Software Quality
You may find that some devices like the FritzBox 5530 Fiber will have continual firmware updates and keep themselves secure
Another factor that may be worth considering is whether the router’s vendor is supplying regular firmware updates for your unit. This is important in relationship to bugfixes or patches to rectify security exploits discovered within the firmware.
This factor is important due to data-security issues because a bug or security exploit within the router’s firmware can increase the risk of a cyberattack on the network or its devices.
Some vendors may continue to supply software-quality and security updates for their older equipment but cease to provide feature updates that add functionality to these devices. But you have to be careful where the vendor ceases to supply any updated firmware after they have declared end-of-life on that device.
Newer network technology arriving
Newer routers like the carrier-supplied Telstra Smart Modem 2 are most likely to be engineered for today’s Internet service and home network expectations
Increasingly your Internet service may be upgraded to newer technology in order to allow for faster throughput. It is something that will be continuing to happen as Internet service providers increase capacity and speed for newer use cases and applications. You may even find that you have to upgrade your home network router if you are revising your Internet service or moving premises to an area with better Internet service.
If you are using a modem router and you upgrade your Internet service to something that uses newer technology, you may have to replace the modem router with different equipment that supports the new technology properly.
In the case of some fibre-copper setups like fibre-to-the-node, fibre-to-the-cabinet or fibre-to-the-basement that implement DSL-based connectivity, you would have to make sure the modem-router can support the latest DSL specifications fully and properly for that link. Here, a lot of older DSL modem routers support ADSL2 at the best but you need equipment to work with VDSL2 or G.Fast links that a DSL-based fibre-copper link would use.
In some cases, the installation may require the use of a separate modem connected to a broadband router that has an Ethernet WAN connection. Examples of this would include satellite, fibre-to-the-premises or most cable-modem installations.
As well, you may want to improve your network’s speed and security. This is more so with Wi-Fi networks where you may find that you have relatively up-to-date smartphones, tablets and computers on your network. In this case, you would be thinking of Wi-Fi 5 or 6 with WPA2-AES or WPA3 for security.
You may even be considering the use of a distributed-Wi-Fi setup like the NETGEAR Orbi to increase Wi-Fi coverage
Another thing worth considering is whether to implement distributed-Wi-Fi technology a.k.a mesh Wi-Fi to increase coverage of your home network’s Wi-Fi segment across your home or small business.
But most distributed-Wi-Fi setups are dependent on working with equipment sold by the same vendor. That is unless the equipment supports Wi-Fi EasyMesh which offers a vendor-independent approach. At the moment, there are still some early teething points with the EasyMesh standard with some vendors not running with software that is polished for true interoperability.
This solution may come in to its own if you are thinking of bringing your home network up-to-date by replacing an old router that uses very old technologies on the LAN side.
If you are dealing with a very old home-network router that is becoming very unreliable or slow, you may have to look at these factors when considering whether to replace that router with a newer unit.
Since I had bought my Dell XPS 13 9300 laptop computer, I had found that the charger that Dell supplied with that laptop was able to charge my Samsung Galaxy S8 Android phone quickly. It is in addition to this charger being an external power supply for use with this laptop when it’s away from my desktop and the Dell WD19TB Thunderbolt dock used as the hub there. This is thanks to both devices implementing the USB-C connection and USB Power Delivery specification.
But if you are using a gaming laptop, you will have found that you have to use a highly-powerful power supply to charge that computer up or run it from the mains. Dell had used some sort of proprietary kludge to allow some of their high-performance business computers to work with their WD-19 series of USB-C and Thunderbolt docks.
and docks similar to this Dell WD19TB Thunderbolt 3 dock will support that class of computer in a “single-cord” manner independent of whoever manufactures the host computer product.
Now the USB Implementers Forum have revised the USB-C Cables and Connectors standard to version 2.1. This creates an “Extended Power Range” class of cables and power supplies which has been scoped in to the USB Power Delivery specification. It allows the delivery of 48 volts at 5 amps but is required to support 50 volts at 5 amps at the most.
Effectively this is to extend the power supply capability for a USB Power Delivery setup to 240 watts and will apply to all USB and Thunderbolt standards that implement the same physical and electrical connection.
What kind of benefit will this achieve? It will be about high-performance computers like gaming laptops benefiting from a “single-pipe” connection that also supplies the power these computers need. It will also open up the market for cheaper higher-powered power supplies that can serve these computers no matter the power-source kind (AC mains power, DC automotive power or battery packs). This will be facilitated more with the use of GaN power electronics in these power supplies which will allow for highly-compact designs.
Some also see the idea of the USB Extended Power Range cables being able to power computing peripherals like 4K monitors or inkjet printers. In the case of 4K monitors, it may be about reducing the number of power outlets needed to power a multi-screen computing setup where some of the screens work at that resolution.
Could this also open up an extra feature for gaming-ready 4K TVs?
But I also see the idea of home-entertainment equipment like 4K gaming-ready TVs or home-theatre receivers being equipped with USB-C sockets that support PD to the Extended Range level along with DisplayPort alt connectivity.
Here, this would come in to its own where one cable powers a gaming laptop while running video and audio from that laptop to the TV’s screen or, in the case of home-theatre equipment, a connected TV or projector. The benefit here would be a “quick-to-connect, quick-to-disconnect” setup when it comes to using that big-screen TV in the main lounge area for playing games.
At least the USB Extended Power Range addition to the USB-C Cable and Connectors specification will underscore the idea of making sure that the USB Type-C is the universal multipurpose connector for today’s tech life.
For that matter, I had bought the Dell XPS 13 9300 laptop and the WD-19TB Thunderbolt dock at a discount from Dell thanks to my reviewing of some of their computer equipment on this site.
Apple’s up-and-coming Apple TV 4K is to capitalise on the idea of using set-top and smart-speaker platforms to provide enhanced stereo sound or home theatre setups that they, Google and Amazon are dabbling in.
Here, it is about using the smart speakers as a means to play the sound from video content streamed through the Apple TV, Amazon Fire or Google Chromecast with Google TV set-top devices. This is about either using a pair of like smart speakers to provide increased stereo separation for the video content’s sound. As well, it can be about using a smart speaker for remote listening to the video content’s sound.
As well, there have been approaches towards having various video peripherals offer their own audio output abilities usually for their own sources along with soundbars and the like implementing HDMI-ARC to play TV audio through their own speakers, In some cases, some of the soundbars that are part of network multiroom speaker platforms have the ability to stream sound from the TV to one or more remote speakers.
The next direction for set-top-box and smart speaker platforms
But Apple is bridging their Apple-TV/AirPlay/HomePod set-top and smart-speaker platform with HDMI-ARC technology including the eARC revision to do more. This time, it is to allow a user to stream audio from the TV’s own sources such as the broadcast-TV tuner to Apple HomePod speakers. This can be about remotely listening to a sports call or 24-hour TV news channel via a HomePod speeaker or using a pair of HomePod speakers to have better stereo separation for your favourite TV shows.
At the moment, this is intended to work with the original HomePod speakers rather than the HomePod Mini, with this causing confusion in the press as Apple is discontinuing the original HomePod speakers. The question that will come up is whether this kind of setup will apply to other AirPlay-compatible devices connected to your Apple TV 4K set-top box, including an AirPlay-based multiroom setup which your Apple TV device is part of.
This could have Amazon and Google looking towards ARC / eARC support for their set-top devices with the idea of playing TV audio via their Echo or Home / Assistant smart-speaker products.
As I mentioned in my article about video peripherals offering audio-output abilities, there will be the issue of using HDMI-ARC and HDMI-eARC more for delivering TV audio to these devices and how that can be improved upon. For example, I would see a requirement for an “any-HDMI-socket” approach to ARC/eARC connection rather than connecting the ARC-capable audio peripheral to one particular HDMI socket. Similarly, a TV may have to support streaming TV-show sound to multiple HDMI-ARC ports concurrently as well as passing PCM or bitstream audio streams representing surround sound to multiple HDMI-ARC ports.
But I am surprised that Apple supports HDMI-ARC with their Apple TV 4K device and HomePod smart speaker setup which would facilitate access to traditional broadcast TV via their equipment. That may be considered “out of touch” by some of the trendy Apple fanbois who aren’t necessarily in to the traditional way of consuming TV content. But I do see this as a significant trend in bringing traditional TV to smart-speaker platforms especially where a company owns a set-top media player platform and a smart-speaker platform.
Portable computing with a laptop like this Dell Inspiron 14 5000 2-in-1 after those COVID lockdowns is something to think of
There is a slow return to laptop-based portable computing at offices or “third places” in jurisdictions who have successfully tamed the COVID-19 coronavirus plague and have allowed increased freedom of movement. It is becoming more so as the vaccines are being rolled out to more people in more neighbourhoods; and more of us take the opportunity to get these shots in our arms as they become available in order to limit COVID’s effective spread.
This includes an increase in returning to offices for meetings or part-time work there or heading to cafés, bars and libraries to work there. Some workplaces are even examining the idea of mixed on-site / off-site working arrangements such as working some days of a workweek on-site and others remotely. This kind of work, known as hybrid working, is being encouraged by local governments as a way to keep the CBD or major business areas active during the workweek even though workplaces are seeing more of the benefits of remote work.
Even if your work ends up being “home-based” including those of us who run our own businesses from home, you will end up engaging in more portable computing. This could be to use that café or library as an “away from it all” workspace or even to make use of co-working facilities for that same purpose. Those of us whose effort has a public-facing storefront of some sort may want or will have to use our laptops at that location for some IT needs. This is more so as we make use of these storefronts more as they can be opened up to the public more frequently.
Making sure your laptop computer is ready for increased portable computing
What you may be thinking of is how to make sure your laptop is ready for this kind of computing. This is more so if you were using your laptop at home due to the requirement to work or learn form home.
One issue that will come about is how the battery will perform for all-day computing activities. Here, if your computer has power management software built in like most Dell and Lenovo Windows laptops have, you may have to run it on an adaptive setting rather than “primarily AC” or similar settings that you may have used as a measure to conserve battery life due to you staying at home. The “adaptive” setting adapts the battery charging and discharging limits to suit your current needs whereas the “primarily-AC” setting was often about managing charging and discharging so that the laptop can run from external power without compromising the battery life.
You may even consider the idea of undergoing a “dry run” with your computer before you start heading out regularly. That is to run it in a portable or “on-road” usage scenario for a significant part of your day, including to do some productive computing activity during that time so you can know if it will last the distance at your favourite “third places” without the need to look for power outlets to plug it in to.
An example of this would be to use your laptop at seasonally-comfortable locations like the backyard, balcony or garden during warm weather or at the fireside during colder weather.
A travel mouse like the Logitech MX Anywhere 3 as used with my Dell XPS 13 9300 can work well for on-road use
Such a practice would be about running your laptop only on battery power for a significant amount of time during the day in order to effectively “drain out” the battery. That then has the laptop able to charge for a longer time and get used to increased amounts of portable use.
It will also be a chance to adapt between use at your primary desktop workspace which you have kitted out with better (and multiple) screens and input devices; and portable use where you are just using the laptop’s keyboard and trackpad / thumbstick. Here you may think of whether to take a travel mouse like the Logitech MX Anywhere 3 with you if you are still comfortable with “mousing around” while on the go.
You may also need to think of accessories that you can stuff in your bag or briefcase with the laptop computer. Here, you need to focus on portability and work towards small lightweight durable accessories to suit your needs. If you are likely to be absent-minded, you may want to buy a spare charger for your laptop. Here, you could keep it in a drawer in your home office even if you have a device like a USB-C dock powering your laptop at the primary workspace. This is in addition to the charger you would be keeping in your bag.
A small-sized USB-C dock or hub could be worth keeping in your laptop bag
For example, if you are dealing with an ultraportable computer that uses nothing but USB-C-based sockets, you may want to keep a compact USB-C travel hub so you can connect USB, display or other peripherals to that computer. Most of these will support “charge-through” operation, commonly known as “pass-through” charging. This is so you plug your laptop’s USB-C charger in to the travel adaptor that is connected to the laptop in order to run the computer from external power without forfeiting the ability to use the peripherals connected to that dock.
It may also be a good time to check that your laptop bag or similar hand luggage that you use to transport your computer with when on the road is still “fit for purpose” even though you may not have used it for a long time. Here, you may have to check that it is still intact and in good condition, including to check that zippers, press-studs (snap-fasteners) and other fasteners still work properly. You may even have to lubricate the zipper by rubbing a candle, dry bar of soap or a “lead”(graphite) pencil along its teeth if it is stuck. It may also be a good time to get rid of any dust, vermin or other stuff that has accumulated on or in that laptop bag which you haven’t used.
As always, make sure that your computer’s operating system and other software is up-to-date with all the latest patches before you head out. This is to make sure that your computer runs smoothly and securely as it should be. Business users who use company-provided hardware may need to check with their IT-support professionals associated with their employer regarding keeping their computer up-to-date with the latest software updates and patches.
Then you are able to confidently return to work or to your favourite “third places” and use your laptop there.
The CAPTCHA is being used as a means to prevent spam emails or comments on Websites or to assure that people who register in an online context are real people.
But these measures, typically ranging from transcribing letters or identifying objects, can be very frustrating for many people. This is caused by hard-to-read or small letters or instructions relating to object identification being difficult to understand on a language or cultural context. As well, some of these CAPTCHAs don’t work well for mobile setups like smartphones which is increasingly the common way to use the Internet. That leads to abandoned registrations or online-shopping carts or people not joining in to online services for example.
you scanning your fingerprint on your flaptop’s fingerprint scanner or you entering your device’s PIN code to prove that a person is entering the data
CloudFlare are working on a different approach to authenticating the personhood of a device user without resorting to letters to transcribe or objects to identify. Initially they are using USB security keys for this purpose but are moving towards full WebAuthN implementation for this purpose.
This approach will work with WebAuthN-capable browser and operating-system setups and work in a similar vein to password-free authentication for online services using that technology. This will require you to enter your device PIN, use face recognition or use the fingerprint reader, operate a USB security key or an authenticator app on your smartphone to prove your personhood, as if you are enrolling in to an online service that implements WebAuthN technology.
The success or failure of the WebAuthN test will simply allow you to submit that form or not on the Website. The logic won’t cause any extra identifying factors to be stored on the online service’s server under default setups. But it may store a device-local cookie to record success so as to treat the session as authenticated, catering towards data revision approaches in wizard-based forms or long data-entry sessions.
A question I would have with this CloudFlare approach is how it can work with computing setups that don’t support WebAuthN. This will also include shared computing setups and public-access computers where the use of this kind of authentication may not be practicable for a single session.
But Cloudflare’s effort is taking WebAuthN further as a way to prove that a real person rather than a robot is actually operating an online account in a manner that is universal to abilities, languages and cultures.
Intel and NVIDIA had just released new processing silicon for laptops and similar use cases that is about high-performance computing. This is although there is a processor-chip shortage that is affecting the computing, automotive and allied industries.
Intel is offering the newer performance-focused 11th-generation Tiger Lake H-Series Core CPUs. This is in addition to business-focused H-Series Core CPUs that come with vPro security / management facilities. All of these will at least support Thunderbolt 4 connectivity for increased expansion.
But NVIDIA have released the RTX 30 series of discrete graphics processors optimised for mobile and low-profile use cases. These GPUs, especially the RTX-3050 and RTX-3050Ti variants are pitched as affordable capable mobile units to court the gaming and creator market segments.
They are optimised to offer screen refresh rates of more than 60fps for a Full HD 1080p display. That understands the preference for laptops being equipped with Full HD 1080p screens for their built-in displays due to that offering battery efficiency for this use case.
Lets not forget that these GPUs will offer ray-tracing abilities at affordable prices and in the mobile context. This will benefit computer games and similar graphics applications where realism is important.
Intel and NVIDIA are pitching this silicon combination to budget gamers, creators especially the “prosumer” type and high-performance thin-and-light laptops. I would see this more as laptop manufacturers offer performance variants of their mainstream product lines that can appeal to university students. budget gamers and similar users where cost and performance matter.
But I would see NVIDIDA’s new graphics silicon also appealing to external graphics modules especially in the form of highly-compact types that use soldered-in GPUs. As well, this mobile-focused silicon could also appeal to ultra-compact NUC-type desktop computers where a performance variant is important.
Here, most of the computer manufacturers refreshed their lineup of performance-focused Windows laptops with this new silicon. This included creator/prosumer 15” and 17” thin-and-light laptops intended to compete with Apple’s MacBook Pro.
All this new silicon is about bringing desktop-class graphics performance to mobile use cases especially where you don’t have to pay a lot for this kind of performance. NVIDIA was even putting forward the idea of increased graphics power at a price students can afford, but I see this as an all-round GPU that doesn’t depend on their continued interest in engineering, architecture or statistics for example. It is also about being suited to rest-and-recreation gaming as well.
It is another example of the increased investment in regular computers that run desktop operating systems that has taken place over the last six months. This is underscored by the increased use of these computers during the COVID-19 pandemic and associated lockdowns to work, learn, play and communicate at home. As well, an increased and continued interest in working away from the office on a part-time or full-time basis is driving more interest in this class of computer.
Here, the laptop form factor is being preferred due to its combination of portability and power and the investment in more power mobile silicon is showing this reality for most computer users.
An issue that is raised in the context of fake news and disinformation is a campaign tactic known as “astroturfing”. This is something that our online life has facilitated thanks to easy-to-produce Websites on affordable Web-hosting deals along with the Social Web.
I am writing about this on HomeNetworking01.info due to astroturfing as another form of disinformation that we are needing to be careful of in this online era.
What is astroturfing?
Astroturfing is organised propaganda activity intended to create a belief of popular grassroots support for a viewpoint in relationship to a cause or policy. This activity is organised by one or more large organisations with it typically appearing as the output of concerned individuals or smaller community organisations such as a peak body for small businesses of a kind.
But there is no transparency about who is actually behind the message or the benign-sounding organisations advancing that message. Nor is there any transparency about the money flow associated with the campaign.
organized activity that is intended to create a false impression of a widespread, spontaneously arising, grassroots movement in support of or in opposition to something (such as a political policy) but that is in reality initiated and controlled by a concealed group or organization (such as a corporation).
The etymology for this word comes about as a play on words in relation to the “grassroots” expression. It alludes to the Astroturf synthetic turf implemented initially in the Astrodome stadium in Houston in the USA., with the “Astroturf” trademark becoming a generic trademark for synthetic sportsground turf sold in North America.
This was mainly practised by Big Tobacco to oppose significant taxation and regulation measures against tobacco smoking, but continues to be practised by entities whose interests are against the public good.
How does astroturfing manifest?
It typically manifests as one or more benign-sounding community organisations that appear to demonstrate popular support for or against a particular policy. It typically affects policies for the social or environmental good where there is significant corporate or other “big-money” opposition to these policies.
The Internet era has made this more feasible thanks to the ability to create and host Websites for cheap. As online forums and social media came on board, it became feasible to set up multiple personas and organisational identities on forums and social-media platforms to make it appear as though many people or organisations are demonstrating popular support for the argument. It is also feasible to interlink Websites and online forums or Social-Web presences by posting a link from a Website or blog in a forum or Social-Web post or having articles on a Social Web account appear on one’s Website.
The multiple online personas created by one entity for this purpose of demonstrating the appearance of popular support are described as “sockpuppet” accounts. This is in reference to children’s puppet shows where two or three puppet actors use glove puppets made out of odd socks and can manipulate twice the number of characters as each actor. This can happen synchronously with a particular event that is in play, be it the effective date of an industry reform or set of restrictions; a court case or inquiry taking place; or a legislature working on an important law.
An example of this that occurred during the long COVID-19 lockdown that affected Victoria last year where the “DanLiedPeopleDied” and “DictatorDan” hashtags were manipulated on Twitter to create a sentiment of popular distrust against Dan Andrews. Here it was identified that a significant number of the Twitter accounts that drove these hashtags surfaced or changed their behaviour synchronously to the lockdown’s effective period.
But astroturfing can manifest in to offline / in-real-life activities like rallies and demonstrations; appearances on talkback radio; letters to newspaper editors, pamphlet drops and traditional advertising techniques.
Let’s not forget that old-fashioned word-of-mouth advertising for an astroturfing campaign can take place here like over the neighbour’s fence, at the supermarket checkout or around the office’s water cooler.
Sometimes the online activity is used to rally for support for one or more offline activities or to increase the amount of word-of-mouth conversation on the topic. Or the pamphlets and outdoor advertising will carry references to the campaign’s online resources so people can find out more “from the horse’s mouth”. This kind of material used for offline promotion can be easily and cheaply produced using “download-to-print” resources, print and copy shops that use cost-effective digital press technology, firms who screen-print T-shirts on demand from digital originals amongst other online-facilitated technologies.
An example of this highlighted by Spectrum News 1 San Antonio in the USA was the protest activity against COVID-19 stay-at-home orders in that country. This was alluding to Donald Trump and others steering public opinion away from a COVID-safe USA.
This method of deceit capitalises on popular trust in the platform and the apparently-benign group behind the message or appearance of popular support for that group or its message. As well, astroturfing is used to weaken any true grassroots support for or against the opinion.
How does astroturfing affect media coverage of an issue?
The easily-plausible arguments tendered by a benign-sounding organisation can encourage journalists to “go with the flow” regarding the organisation’s ideas. It can include treating the organisation’s arguments at face value for a supporting or opposing view on the topic at hand especially where they want to create a balanced piece of material.
This risk is significantly increased in media environments where there isn’t a culture of critical thinking with obvious examples being partisan or tabloid media. Examples of this could be breakfast/morning TV talk shows on private free-to-air TV networks or talkback radio on private radio stations.
But there is a greater risk of this occurring while there is increasingly-reduced investment in public-service and private news media. Here, the fear of newsrooms being reduced or shut down or journalists not being paid much for their output can reduce the standard of journalism and the ability to perform proper due diligence on news sources.
There is also the risk of an astroturfing campaign affecting academic reportage of the issue. This is more so where the student doesn’t have good critical-thinking and research skills and can be easily swayed by spin. It is more so with secondary education or some tertiary education situations like vocational courses or people at an early stage in the undergraduate studies.
How does astroturfing affect healthy democracies
All pillars of government can and do fall victim to astroturfing. This can happen at all levels of government ranging from local councils through state or regional governments to the national governments.
During an election, an astroturfing campaign can be used to steer opinion for or against a political party or candidate who is standing for election. In the case of a referendum, it can steer popular opinion towards or against the questions that are the subject of the referendum. This is done in a manner to convey the veneer of popular grassroots support for or against the candidate, party or issue.
The legislature is often a hotbed of political lobbying by interest groups and astroturfing can be used to create a veneer of popular support for or against legislation or regulation of concern to the interest group. As well, astroturfing can be used a a tool to place pressure on legislature members to advance or stall a proposed law and, in some cases, force a government out of power where there is a stalemate over that law.
The public-service agencies of the executive government who have the power to permit or veto activity are also victims of astroturfing. This comes in the form of whether a project can go ahead or not; or whether a product is licensed for sale within the jurisdiction. It can also affect the popular trust in any measures that officials in the executive government execute.
As well, the judiciary can be tasked with handling legal actions launched by pressure groups who use astroturfing to create a sense of popular support to revise legislation or regulation. It also includes how jurors are influenced in any jury trial or which judges are empanelled in a court of law, especially a powerful appellate court or the jurisdiction’s court of last resort.
Politicians, significant officials and key members of the judiciary can fall victim to character assassination campaigns that are part of one or more astroturfing campaigns. This can affect continual popular trust in these individuals and can even affect the ability for them to live or conduct their public business in safety.
Here, politicians and other significant government officials are increasingly becoming accessible to the populace. It is being facilitated by themselves maintaining Social-Web presence using a public-facing persona on the popular social-media platforms, with the same account-name or “handle” being used on the multiple platforms. In the same context, the various offices and departments maintain their social-Web presence on the popular platforms using office-wide accounts. This is in addition to other online presences like the ministerial Web pages or public-facing email addresses they or the government maintain.
These officials can be approached by interest groups who post to the official’s Social-Web presence. Or a reference can be created to the various officials and government entities through the use of hashtags or mentions of platform-native account names operated by these entities when someone creates a Social Web post about the official or issue at hand. In a lot of cases, there is reference to sympathetic journalists and media organisations in order to create media interest.
As well, one post with the right message and the right mix of hashtags and referenced account names can be viewed by the targeted decision makers and the populace at the same time. Then people who are sympathetic to that post’s message end up reposting that message, giving it more “heat”.
Here, the Social Web is seen as providing unregulated access to these powerful decision-makers. That is although the decision-makers work with personal assistants or similar staff to vet content that they see. As well, there isn’t any transparency about who is posting the content that references these officials i.e. you don’t know whether it is a local constituent or someone pressured by an interest group.
What can be done about it
The huge question here is what can be done about astroturfing as a means of disinformation.
A significant number of jurisdictions implement attribution requirements for any advertising or similar material as part of their fair-trading, election-oversight, broadcasting, unsolicited-advertising or similar laws. Similarly a significant number of jurisdictions implement lobbyist regulation in relationship to who has access to the jurisdiction’s politicians. As outlined in the RNZ article that I referred to, New Zealand is examining astroturfing in the context of whether they should regulate access to their politicians.
But most of these laws regulate what goes on within the offline space within the jurisdiction that they pertain to. It could become feasible for foreign actors to engage in astroturfing and similar campaigns from other territories across the globe using online means without any action being taken.
The issue of regulating lobbyist access to the jurisdiction’s politicians or significant officials can raise questions. Here it could be about whether the jurisdiction’s citizens have a continual right of access to their elected government or not. As well, there is the issue of assuring governmental transparency and a healthy dialogue with the citizens.
The 2016 fake-news crisis which highlighted the distortion of the 2016 US Presidential Election and UK Brexit referendum became a wake-up call regarding how the online space can be managed to work against disinformation.
Here, Silicon Valley took on the task of managing online search engines, social-media platforms and online advertising networks to regulate foreign influence and assure accountability when it comes to political messaging in the online space. This included identity verification of advertiser accounts or keeping detailed historical records of ads from political advertisers on ad networks or social media or clamping down on coordinated inauthentic behaviour on social media platforms.
In addition to this, an increasingly-large army of “fact-checkers” organised by credible newsrooms, universities and similar organisations appeared. These groups researched and verified claims which were being published through the media or on online platforms and would state whether they are true or false based on their research.
What we can do is research further and trust our instincts when it comes to questionable claims that come from apparently-benign organisations. Here we can do our due diligence and check for things like how long an online account has been in operation for, especially if it is synchronous to particular political, regulatory or similar events occurring or being on the horizon.
Here you have to look out for behaviours in the online or offline content like:
Inflammatory or manipulative language that plays on your emotions
Claims to debunk topic-related myths that aren’t really myths
Questioning or pillorying those exposing the wrongdoings core to the argument rather the actual wrongdoings
A chorus of the same material from many accounts
We need to be aware of astroturfing as another form of disinformation that is prevalent in the online age. Here it can take in people who are naive and accept information at face value without doing further research on what is being pushed.
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