simonmackay Archive

Intel to make graphics driver updates independent of PC manufacturer customisations

Article

Dell XPS 13 Kaby Lake

Laptops with Intel graphics infrastructure like this Dell XPS 13 will benefit from having any manufacturer-specific customisations to the graphics driver software delivered as a separate item from that drive code

Intel graphics drivers can now be updated separately from OEM customizations | Windows Central

From the horse’s mouth

Intel

Intel Graphics – Windows 10 DCH drivers (Latest download site)

My Comments

Intel is now taking a different approach to packaging the necessary Windows driver software for its graphics infrastructure. This will affect any of us who have Intel graphics infrastructure in our computers, including those of us who have Intel integrated-graphics chipsets working alongside third-party discrete graphics infrastructure in our laptops as an energy-saving measure.

Previously, computer or motherboard manufacturers who wanted to apply any customisations to their Intel integrated-graphics driver software for their products had to package the customisations with the driver software as a single entity. Typically it was to allow the computer manufacturer to optimise the software for their systems or introduce extra display-focused features peculiar to their product range.

Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming laptop

.. even if the Intel graphics architecture is used as a “lean-burn” option for high-performance machines like this Dell Inspiron 15 7000 Gaming laptop when they are run on battery power

This caused problems for those of us who wanted to keep the driver software up-to-date to get the best out of the integrated graphics infrastructure in our Intel-based laptops.

If you wanted to benefit from the manufacturer-supplied software customisations, you had to go to the manufacturer’s software-support Website to download the latest drivers which would have your machine’s specific customisations.

Here, the latest version of the customised drivers may be out-of-step with the latest graphics-driver updates offered by Intel at its Website and if you use Intel’s driver packages, you may not benefit from the customisations your machine’s manufacturer offered.

The different approach Intel is using is to have the graphics driver and the customisations specific to your computer delivered as separate software packages.

Here, Intel will be responsible for maintaining their graphics-driver software as a separate generic package which will have API “hooks” for any manufacturer-specific customisation or optimisation code to use. Users can pick this up from the Intel driver-update download site, the manufacturer’s software update site or Windows Update. Then the computer manufacturer will be responsible for maintaining the software peculiar to their customisations and offering the updates for that software via their support / downloads Website or Microsoft’s Windows Update.

It may be seen as a two-step process if you are using Intel’s and your computer manufacturer’s Websites or software-update apps for this purpose. On the other hand, if you rely on Windows Update as your driver-update path, this process would be simplified.

The issue of providing computer-specific customisations for software drivers associated with computer hardware subsystems will end up being revised after Intel’s effort. This will be more so with sound subsystems for those laptops that have their audio tuned by a name of respect in the audio industry, or common network chipsets implemented in a manufacturer-peculiar manner.

At least you can have your cake and eat it when it comes to running the latest graphics drivers on your Intel-based integrated-graphics-equipped laptop.

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Product Review–Brother DSMobile DS-940DW mobile scanner

Introduction

I am reviewing the Brother DSMobile DS-940DW Wi-Fi mobile scanner which is a highly-portable pure-play document scanner pitched towards the mobile office.

This battery-powered mobile scanner can scan to a regular computer via a USB connection or via a Wi-Fi link , whether you are using the one it creates or an existing small or home Wi-Fi network. As well, you can use it to scan documents to your iOS or Android mobile device using a Wi-Fi link, either one it creates or an extant small network.

As well, you can use it offline to scan documents to a removable microSD card so you can then download them as files to your computer at a later stage. In this case, you can remove the card and install it in your computer’s SD card reader to get at your documents or while you have the scanner connected to your regular computer you see that SD card as a removable storage device with all your scanned documents.

Photo – Insert high-resolution photo of product INLINE

Brother DSMobile DS-940DW Wi-Fi mobile scanner

Scan Connections
Colour USB 3.0
600dpi x 600dpi

Single-pass auto-duplex

Wi-Fi
Own-access-point Wi-FiIPv6

Price

Scanner

Recommended Retail Price: AUD$299

The scanner itself

Brother DS-940DW Wi-Fi mobile scanner scan heads detail

Two scan heads allow the Brother DS-940DW Wi-Fi mobile scanner to scan both sides of a page simultaneously/
The clamshell design makes it easy to remove jammed paper.

The Brother DSMobile DS-940DW Wi-Fi mobile scanner is powered from an internal rechargeable battery or an external USB-based power supply which you have to provide. That could be through your computer, a USB charger or a USB powerbank. But the same USB power supply also charges the battery whether you are running the scanner or not.

Connectivity and Setup

The Brother DS-940DW mobile scanner has an easy-to-find slider switch on the right-hand side that selects between SD card operation, direct USB connection and Wi-Fi network connection. This makes it easier for the user to switch between the mode appropriate to their scanning needs, be it to scan to their laptop via USB or to their mobile device via Wi-Fi or simply to scan to the installed SD card.

Direct connection

Brother DS-940DW Wi-Fi mobile scanner USB 3.0 microB socket

You connect the scanner to the host computer or a power supply using a USB 3.0 or USB-C cable with a USB 3.0 microB plug on it

If you intend to use the Brother DS-940DW scanner with your regular computer via USB, you connect it to the host computer using a USB 3.0 cable supplied with the scanner.

But if your computer is equipped only with USB-C connectors like some new Ultrabooks or you use a USB-C charger to power your scanner, you would need to purchase a USB Type-C to  USB 3.0 microB cable (OfficeWorks Australia, Office Depot USA, B&H Photo Video USA,Walmart, Amazon) rather than use the supplied USB Type-A cable.

Brother DS-940DW Wi-Fi mobile scanner microSD card slot

microSD card slot for offline scanning to microSD cards

In this case, if you did use the scanner offline and scanned documents to an SD card installed within the machine, the SD card will be presented to your computer’s operating system as another logical storage volume. This is similar to what happens when you are using a USB memory stick or an SD card reader.

Wi-Fi network connection

Brother DS-940DW Wi-Fi mobile scanner operation mode switch

It is easy to change between WI-Fi, dirrect or offline scanning at the flick of a switch

The scanner can be connected to the computer via a USB cable or via a Wi-Fi network, whether one that it creates or an existing small network. But setting it up to work with an existing Wi-Fi network requires you to work it as its own Wi-Fi access point then log in to a specified Web page which has a “Wireless Setup Wizard” to associate it with the existing network. You can use WPS-based push-button or PIN setup if your access point or router supports these methods. For this function, there is a hardware button located on the side of the scanner near the operation mode switch.

I am identifying the issue of having this mobile scanner on an existing small Wi-Fi network due to the idea of setting up these mobile devices as part of a mobile network where there are more than two devices to be on that network. It is in addition to having this same device work as part of your home or small-business network.

Brother DS-940DW Wi-Fi mobile scanner control panel detail

Control panel with buttons to start scanning, determine whether to scan in colour or black and white or scan both sides of the page. Another button allows you to determine whether the scanned results are to be a JPEG image file or a PDF document file

When the Brother DSMobile DS-940DW mobile scanner is connected to the host computer via USB, it exposes a Mass Storage device class for the internal microSD card reader. This is in conjunction to vendor-specific devices that depend on the host computer running a Brother-supplied driver and scan-monitor software.

There is a default arrangement that if you enable Wi-Fi mode on the scanner, it will check for previously-configured networks before it goes to own-access-point mode which is indicated by a steady Wi-Fi light. Successful connection to a previously-configured network is simply identified by a steady Wi-Fi light after a bit of flashing.

Software installation

If you are setting the Brother DS-940DW mobile scanner to work with your regular computer, you would need to install the drivers from the Brother support Website for this machine to work. You will also be supplied with the Brother iPront&Scan software which can do most of the essential scanning tasks.

Brother throws in complementary software like a business-card scanning app so you can scan your pile of customers’ or business partners’ business cards in to a contact-management database. This is software you can install when you download the driver and software package or install at a later date.

Mobile users will need to install the Brother iPrint&Scan app from their mobile platform’s app store. Here, they will need to use this simple software to scan the documents in to their device and “take them further” as they see fit.

Document Handling

Brother DS-940DW Wi-Fi mobile scanner ready to scan A4 page

Scanning a standard A4 or letter document page

The Brother DSMobile DS-940DW can only handle one page at at time but can scan both sides of that page at once. The double-sided scanning approach is similar to some of Brother’s multifunction printers that use single-pass duplex scanning.

When you scan a document, you need to make sure that the black paper guide is lined up against the original document’s edge before you start the scanning process. Here, you are making sure that the document isn’t skewing or likely to jam.

To deal with paper jams, you press the front of the scanner above the document-feed slot in order to expose the scanning heads to remove the misfed original. Here, the “clamshell approach” makes it easier to rectify any paper jams.

Brother DS-940DW Wi-Fi mobile scanner ready to scan an ID card

Ready to scan an ID card of standard “credit-card” thickness and with embossing – it can.

The Brother DS-940DW was able to scan ID cards, even those with embossed characters properly. I would see this as being important where users have to scan them to prove a customer’s identity during an “on-the-road” transaction.

Walk-up functions

The Brother DS-940DW has a built-in SDHC-compliant microSD card drive so you can scan documents offline to a microSD card. This is presented to the host computer as a standard USB Mass Storage Device and you use your operating system’s file manager to get at your scanned files which exist on that SD card.

I wouldn’t really expect this to work properly with the idea of showing your scanned photos through a smart TV or similar device that has its own USB port. It is because most of these dedicated-purpose devices don’t do a good job at handling multiple-function devices connected to their USB ports thanks to their firmware not supporting USB hubs as a device class.

Computer functions

I have used the scanner with the Brother iPrint&Scan software and found that it is competent as a basic scanning package whether to store the scan to your computer’s file system or to an online storage service.

At the moment, the Brother iPrint&Scan desktop scanning software works on a “pull-scan” approach where you have to start the scanning job from the software rather than a “push-scan” approach pressing the machine’s START/STOP button to initiate the scan job. This is due to the scan monitor software associated with the machine and providing this functionality not installing properly. I have addressed this issue previously on this site due to various scan-monitor programs taking time to respond properly when you start a scan job on the printer or scanner, with the idea of operating systems undertaking this role.

The Brother DSMobile DS-940DW network mobile scanner works with the Brother iPrint&Scan mobile app available on both the Apple and Google app stores. Here, it worked properly where you can simply save the scan to your mobile device or share it with other apps that handle the supported file types using the “share to” shortcut that iOS and Android provide.

Scan speed and quality

The machine can scan the pages you feed through it quickly and yields a high-quality reproduction of these pages. I had tried it with an ordinary A4 document, a snapshot photo, two till receipts and two ID cards and this was proven for each of them. With the photo, there wasn’t any difference with the colour saturation that was yielded.

If you are scanning till receipts with the scanner, it is a good idea to set the machine or your scanning software to scan the receipt single-sided. This will avoid problems with reverse-side text that may “come through” during the scan which may be a problem with receipts coming from devices that are loaded with “branded” paper that has advertising material printed on the back.

Limitations And Points Of Improvement

A key issue that I found with the Brother DS-940DW mobile scanner was a poor user experience when I enrolled it with an existing Wi-Fi home network from my smartphone. This could be improved upon through having a native mobile platform app for configuring this scanner’s network connectivity. It can include the ability to transfer a network’s connection details that are stored in your mobile device to the scanner as part of configuring that device.

For those of us who use a regular computer and the scanner’s Web user experience for configuring it to work with an existing Wi-Fi network, that user experience could be improved with an indicator that highlights successful connection to that network. As well, a hardware switch could be used to toggle between the scanner’s own network and an existing network, which may come in handy for troubleshooting or if you don’t want to use an existing network that you set up the scanner for.

It could also benefit from the full set of USB 3.1 specifications including the Type-C connection and USB Power Delivery for quick charging. Most likely I would see Brother offer this connection in a newer portable printing devices as the USB Type-C connection becomes the norm for portable computer equipment.

I also see the Brother DSMobile DS-940DW network mobile scanner being an ideal device to implement Mopria Scan driver-free scanning technology (Mopria Alliance press release PDF) which is currently implemented as an app for Android devices.

As well, it could support a transparency-scanning mode that capitalises on the single-pass auto-duplex scan method. Here, one of the scanning heads could simply be a white backlight while the other simply reads the image on the film. This would come in to its own with a wide range of applications like photographers with their negatives and slides, the medical profession with their film-based X-rays or businesses who have archived documents using microfilm and similar technologies.

Conclusion and Placement Notes

I do see the Brother DSMobile DS-940DW network mobile scanner as an agile highly portable pure-play document scanner that can answer many different needs. Here, it works well with anyone whose office is the driver’s seat of a car or the back of a van and can even answer the requirements to use mobile-platform devices as one’s primary workplace technology.

It is easy to consider a mobile scanner, especially a network-capable machine, to be a toy but I do see the Brother DSMobile DS-940DW mobile scanner as a tool. This is more so for mobile workers who need to scan receipts for work transactions incurred while travelling or to scan documents such as work authorisations and customer ID at the customer’s premises.

The fact that you can switch between scanning to an SD card, a USB-connected host or a Wi-Fi-connected host using a hardware switch makes the job of selecting the right mode for the job easier. For example, a mobile professional could switch the scanner over to “scan-to-card” mode and scan the fuel receipt to an SD card installed in the unit and serving as a “digital receipt shoebox”. Then they scan that work authorisation that their customer had signed when they visited and use the Wi-Fi link with their iPad running an email app to send the signed authorisation to their office.

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Moving towards a converged smart-home experience

Article

Nest Learning Thermostat courtesy of Nest Labs

The smart home is moving towards a converged approach for managing the many protocols associated with controlling devices like these room thermostats

Interoperability: CHoIP, Zigbee, Z-Wave, OCF } Parks Perspectives (Parks Associates)

My Comments

There are at least four key smart-home standards (CHoIP, Zigbee, Z-Wave and Open Connectivity Foundation) that work across multiple levels of the protocol stack for this kind of usage. Most of these have backing from some of Silicon Valley’s big names like Amazon, Apple and Google and some will work on particular low-power wireless transports like Zigbee and Z-Wave.

The problem that will come about is the apparent disparity between these standards both at transport / media layers and at the higher layers like the application layer. What will come about is to achieve software-level convergence between the various standards, typically to provide some sort of logical interlinking between them.

This will be worked on for both device-to-device and cloud-to-cloud use cases. The former arrangement would best describe where a device like a sensor or control device is simply reporting to another device like a heating system while the latter would describe setups that liaise with online services but could represent multiple smart-home systems within the same property.

Amazon Echo on kitchen bench press photo courtesy of Amazon USA

It is more so as smart speakers of the Amazon Echo kind become part of the smart home

A question that will come up is having a standard to logically identify devices by their function, capabilities and attributes in a consistent manner no matter the protocol and vendor. This includes exchanging commands, status reports and events between the devices and others dependent on them.

As well the reality for most of us would be to “start small” and build out a smart-home setup. This may involve dealing with room-based or function-based logical clusters with multiple endpoint devices reporting to cluster-based “hub” devices. In this situation, these “hubs” may end up having to share information with each other to have the setup work as a larger one.

A good example of this may be a smart speaker based on a particular voice-driven home assistant platform that also has home-automation hub functionality being brought in to one’s home even while there is the home-automation central unit facilitated by the end-user’s telco as part of a multiple-play Internet-service deal already in service.

The same situation will also come about with smart-home devices having increased processing power and being able to do more; as well as factoring in a mix of older and newer devices that satisfy particular needs.

What I see that could be happening is the creation of a few shared-code or open-source software stacks that encompass the main home-automation protocols. It will then allow for a wider net to be cast when it comes to developing those smart-home solutions due to the ability for software developers to concentrate on the “rest of the package” for their solution without “reinventing the wheel”.

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Safe computing practices in the coronavirus age

Coronavirus Covid-19

The coronavirus plague is having us at home, inside and online more….
(iStock by Getty Images)

The Covid-19 coronavirus plague is changing our habits more and more as we stay at home to avoid the virus or avoid spreading it onwards. Now we are strongly relying on our home networks and the Internet to perform our work, continue studying and connect with others in our social circles.

But this state of affairs is drawing out its own cyber-security risks, with computing devices being vulnerable to malware and the existence of hastily-written software being preferred of tasks like videoconferencing. Not to mention the risk of an increasing flow of fake news and disinformation about this disease.

What can we do?

General IT security

But we need to be extra vigilant about our data security and personal privacy

The general IT security measures are very important even in this coronavirus age. Here, you need to make sure that all the software on your computing devices, including their operating systems are up-to-date and have the latest patches. It also applies to your network, TV set-top and Internet-of-Things hardware where you need to make sure the firmware is up-to-date. The best way to achieve this is to have the devices automatically download and install the revised software themselves.

As well, managing the passwords for our online services and our devices properly prevents the risk of data and identity theft. It may even be a good idea to use a password vault program to manage our passwords which may prevent us from reusing them across services.  Similarly using a word processor to keep a list of your passwords which is saved on removeable media and printed out, with both the hard and electronic copy kept in a secure location may also work wonders here.

Make sure that your computer is running a desktop / endpoint security program, even if it is the one that is part of the operating system. Similarly, using an on-demand scanning tool like Malwarebytes can work as a way to check for questionable software. As well, you may have to check the software that is installed on all of the computing devices is what you are using and even verify with multiple knowledgeable people if that program that is the “talk of the town” should be on your computer.

If you are signing up with new online services, it may even be a better idea to implement social sign-on with established credential pools like Google, Facebook or Microsoft. These setups implement a token between the credential pool and the online service as the authentication factor rather than a separate username and password that you create.

As well, you will be using the Webcam more frequently on your computing devices. The security issue with the Webcam and microphone is more important with computing setups that have the Webcam integrated in the computer or monitor, like with portable computing devices, “all-in-one” computers or monitors equipped with Webcams.

Here, you need to be careful of which programs are having access to the Webcam and microphone on your device. Here, if newly-installed software asks for use of your camera or microphone and it is out of touch with the way the software works, deny access to the camera or microphone when it asks for their use.

If you install a health-department-supplied tracking app as part of your government’s contact-tracing and disease-management efforts, remember to remove this app as soon as the coronavirus crisis is over. Doing this will protect your privacy once there is no real need to manage the disease.

Email and messaging security

Your email and messaging platforms will become an increased security risk at this time thanks to phishing including business email compromise. I have covered this issue in a previous article after helping someone reclaim their email service account after a successful phishing attempt.

An email or message would be a phishing attempt if the email isn’t commensurate with proper business writing standards for your country, has a sense of urgency about it and is too good to be true. Once you receive these emails, it is prudent to report them then delete them forthwith.

In the case of email addresses from official organisations, make sure that the domain name represents the organisation’s proper domain name. This is something that is exactly like the domain name they would use for their Web presence, although email addresses may have the domain name part of the address following the “ @ “ symbol prepended with a server identifier like “mail” or “email”. As well, there should be nothing appended to the domain name.

Also, be familiar with particular domain-name structures for official organisation clusters like the civil / public service, international organisations and academia when you open email or surf the Web. These will typically use protected high-level domain name suffixes like “.gov”, “.int” or “.edu” and won’t use common domain name suffixes like “ .com “. This will help with identifying whether a site or a sender is the proper authority or not.

Messaging and video-conferencing

Increasingly as we stay home due to the risk of catching or spreading the coronavirus plague, we are relying on messaging and video-conferencing software more frequently to communicate with each other. For example, families and communities are using video-conferencing software like Zoom or Skype to make a virtual “get-together” with each other thanks to these platforms’ support for many-to-many videocalls.

But as we rely on this software more, we need to make sure that our privacy, business confidentiality and data security is protected. This is becoming more important as we engage with our doctors, whether they be general practitioners or specialists, “over the wire” and reveal our medical issues to them that way.

If you value privacy, look towards using an online communications platform that implements end-to-end encryption. Infact, most of the respected “over-the-top” communications platforms like WhatsApp, Viber, Skype and iMessage offer this feature for 1:1 conversations between users on the same platform. Some, like WhatsApp and Viber offer this same feature for group conversations between users on that same platform.

Video-conferencing software like Zoom and Skype

When you are hosting a video-conference using Zoom, Skype or similar platforms, be familiar with any meeting-setup and meeting-management features that the platform offers. If the platform uses a Weblink to join a video-conference that you can share, use email or a messaging platform to share that link with potential participants. Avoid posting this on the Social Web so you keep gatecrashers from your meeting or class.

As well, if the platform supports password-protected meeting entry, use this feature to limit who can join the meeting. Here, it is also a good idea to send the password as a separate message from the meeting’s Weblink.

Some platforms like Zoom offer a waiting-room function which requires potential participants to wait and be vetted by the conference’s moderator before they can participate. As well these platforms may have a meeting-lockout so no more people can participate in the video-conference. Here, you use this function when all the participants that you expect are present in the meeting.

You need to regulate the screen sharing feature that your platform offers which allows meeting participants to share currently-running app or desktop user interfaces. Here, you may have the ability to limit this function to the moderator’s computer or a specified participant’s computer. Here this will prevent people from showing offensive imagery or videos to all the meeting’s participants. As well, you may also need to regulate access to any file-sharing functionality that the platform offers in order to prevent the video conference becoming a vector for spreading malware or offensive material.

Fake news and disinformation

Just like with the elections that count, the coronavirus issue has brought about its fair share of fake news and disinformation.

Here, I would recommend that you use trusted news sources like the respected public-service broadcasters for information about this plague. As well, I would recommend that you visit respected health-information sites including those offered “from the horse’s mouth” by local, regional or national government agencies for the latest information.

As well, trust your “gut reaction” when it comes to material that is posted online about the coronavirus plague, including the availability of necessary food or medical supplies. Here, he careful of content that is “out of reality” or plays on your emotions. The same attitude should also apply when it comes to buying essential supplies online and you are concerned about the availability and price of these supplies.

Conclusion

As we spend more time indoors and online thanks to the coronavirus, we need to keep our computing equipment including our tablets and smartphones running securely to protect our data and our privacy.

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What do I mean by a native client for an online service?

Facebook Messenger Windows 10 native client

Facebook Messenger – now native on Windows 10

With the increasing number of online services including cloud and “as-a-service” computing arrangements, there has to be a way for users to gain access to these services.

Previously, the common way was to use a Web-based user interface where the user has to run a Web browser to gain access to the online service. The user will see the Web browser’s interface elements, also known as “chrome” as part of the user experience. This used to be very limiting when it came to functionality but various revisions have allowed for a similar kind of functionality to regular apps.

Dropbox native client view for Windows 8 Desktop

Dropbox native client view for Windows 8 Desktop- taking advantage of what Windows Explorer offers

A variant on this theme is a “Web app” which provides a user interface without the Web browser’s interface elements. But the Web browser works as an interpreter between the online service and the user interface although the user doesn’t see it as that. It is appealing as an approach to writing online service clients due to the idea of “write once run anywhere”.

Another common approach is to write an app that is native to a particular computing platform and operating system. These apps, which I describe as “native clients” are totally optimised in performance and functionality for that computing platform. This is because there isn’t the need for overhead associated with a Web browser needing to interpret code associated with a Web page. As well, the software developer can take advantage of what the computing platform and operating system offers even before the Web browser developers build support for the function in to their products.

There are some good examples of online-service native clients having an advantage over Web apps or Web pages. One of these is messaging and communications software. Here, a user may want to use an instant-messaging program to communicate with their friends or colleagues while using graphics software or games which place demands on the computer. Here, a native instant-messaging client can run alongside the high-demand program without the overhead associated with a Web browser.

The same situation can apply to online games where players can see a perceived improvement in their performance. As well, it is easier for the software developer to write them to take advantage of higher-performance processing silicon. It includes designing an online game for a portable computing platform that optimises itself for either external power or battery power.

This brings me to native-client apps that are designed for a particular computing platform from the outset. One key application is to provide a user interface that is optimised for “lean-hack” operation, something that is demanded of anything that is about TV and video content. The goal often is to support a large screen viewed at a distance along with the user navigating the interface using a remote control that has a D-pad and, perhaps a numeric keypad. The remote control describes the primary kind of user interface that most smart TVs and set-top boxes offer.

Another example is software that is written to work with online file-storage services. Here, a native client for these services can be written to expose your files at the online file-storage service as if it is another file collection similar to your computer’s hard disk or removeable medium.

Let’s not forget that native-client apps can be designed to make best use of application-specific peripherals due to them directly working with the operating system. This can work well with setups that demand the use of application-specific peripherals, including the so-called “app-cessory” setups for various devices.

When an online platform is being developed, the client software developers shouldn’t forget the idea of creating native client software that works tightly with the host computer platform.

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The cassette adaptor has been and is still an important audio accessory

Article

Cassette adaptor

A cassette adaptor that allows you to use your smartphone with a cassette-based car stereo

The Car Cassette Adapter Was an Unsung Hero at the Dawn of the Digital Age | VICE.com

My comments

An audio accessory that I still consider as being important and relevant even in the day of the smartphone and tablet is the cassette adaptor.

What are these cassette adaptors and how do they work?

This is a device invented by Larry Schotz during the mid 1980s to allow one to play CDs in the car using their car’s cassette player and their Discman-type portable CD player. It has a cassette-shaped housing that has a head that faces the cassette player’s playback head along with a mechanism to prevent that tape player from acting as though it’s the end of a tape side.

The head in this housing is wired to the portable audio device using a cable that is attached to the adaptor itself in a manner to cater towards different tape-loading arrangements, and plugged in to that source device via its headphone or line-out jack using the 3.5mm stereo plug. When in place, the audio content from the source device is transferred in to the cassette player’s audio electronics using a simple inductive-coupling process between the head installed in the cassette adaptor and the player’s head.

Even if the tape player ended up being mechanically defective typically by “chewing-up” tapes, the cassette adaptor was still able to work. This is because it is not reliant on tape that is at risk of being pulled out of the cassette.

As well, the same arrangement was able to work with home or portable cassette equipment like boomboxes or low-end “music centre” stereos by enabling its use with other audio sources. This was more important as the omission of a line-level audio input was seen as a way to cut costs when designing budget-priced equipment.

How did these cassette adaptors become respected audio accessories?

Cassette adaptor in use with a smartphone

A cassette adaptor being used to play a smartphone’s audio through a car cassette player

At the time this device was introduced, the cost of a car CD player was way more expensive than what a Discman-type portable player would cost and these car CD players were out of the league for most people. It was also a reality that if a person installed a car CD player or any other advanced car-audio equipment in their car during that time, they had to pay more for their vehicle’s insurance coverage and, perhaps, install a car alarm in their vehicle. This was because of a high frequency of “smash-and-grab” car break-ins where the advanced car-audio equipment was stolen from the vehicle.

For that matter, I had made sure that if I bought a Discman-type portable CD player, I would buy one of these cassette adaptors as an audio accessory for that unit. Gradually, consumer-electronics manufacturers offered Discman players with a car power adaptor and a cassette adaptor as accessories that came with the unit.

During the 1990s, the in-car CD changer became popular as an original-fitment or aftermarket car-audio option. This setup had the user place CDs in to a multiple-disc magazine which was installed in a changer unit located in the back of the car. Then the user controlled this unit using a radio-cassette player that has the ability to control the changer with the sound from the CDs emanating from the speakers associated with that unit.

But a portable CD player along with the cassette adaptor ended up being useful as a way to play another CD in these changer-based setups without having to swap out discs in the changer unit. This approach became relevant if, for example, you bought a new CD album and are eager to listen to it or have temporary use of a friend’s car but want to run your own CD-based music without worrying about discs you removed from the changer’s magazine.

The rise of MiniDisc and file-based MP3 players and, in the USA, satellite radio assured the continual relevance of these cassette adaptors as a way to play content hosted on these formats using your cassette-equipped car stereo.

Infact I was following an online discussion board about the MiniDisc format and one British member of that board, who was in a position to buy a new car, preferred a vehicle with a lower trim-level rather than a premium trim level that he could afford. In this case, the vehicle builder offered the cheaper variant of the car with a cassette player as its car-audio specification while the more expensive variant had an in-dash CD player as its only car-audio option. This is in order so the forum-participant can continue listening to MiniDiscs in the car with their MD Walkman player and cassette adaptor.

Different variants of these cassette adaptors

Ion Audio's new Bluetooth cassette adaptor

Ion Audio’s new Bluetooth cassette adaptor

There have been some variants of the cassette adaptor existing with one unit being an MP3 player that work as a stand-alone portable player along with units that worked as Bluetooth audio endpoints. This included one of these adaptors being a Bluetooth handsfree with a microphone module that was linked by wire to the cassette adaptor itself in order to facilitate phone calls or voice-assistant operation.

The Bluetooth cassette adaptors will become very relevant with newer smartphones as these forego the standard 3.5mm stereo headphone jack. Here, they use a Bluetooth link between the smartphone and the cassette adaptor fir the audio link. Let’s not forget that the ordinary cassette adaptor can be used with a full-on Bluetooth audio adaptor equipped with a 3.5mm stereo output jack on the unit itself rather than a flylead that plugs in to a 3.5mm AUX socket.

How are they relevant nowadays?

These cassette adaptors still maintain some relevance in this day and age primarily with vehicles built between the mid 1970s through the mid 1990s being welcomed in to the classic-car scene. This is very much underscored by the Japanese cars of the era acquiring a significant following amongst enthusiasts.

That same era saw the concurrent rise of the audio cassette as a legitimate mobile-audio format and car cassette players of that era represented a mature piece of in-car audio technology. Here classic-vehicle enthusiasts are preferring to keep working cassette players, preferably the original-specification units, in these newly-accepted classic vehicles. This is also about keeping the vehicles as representatives of their generation.

Similarly, there are a significant number of vehicles built from the late 1990s through the 2000s, especially in the premium sector or at higher-cost trim levels, where an integrated audio system with a CD player and cassette player is fitted in them by the vehicle builder. Here, these vehicles don’t necessarily have any auxiliary input for other audio sources and it is hard to fit aftermarket equipment in to these vehicles without doing a lot of damage to their looks and functionality.

These devices have effectively converted a car cassette player’s tape-loading slot in to an auxiliary input so other audio devices can be used in conjunction with these players especially on an ad-hoc basis.

Conclusion

The cassette adaptor has highlighted the fact that some accessories do still remain relevant to this day and age and has stood the test of time.

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Smart speakers and broadcast radio

Amazon Echo on kitchen bench press photo courtesy of Amazon USA

Smart speakers like the Amazon Echo are outselling traditional radios

The traditional radio broadcast industry are finding that the smart speaker as a threat to their business models.

This is because that there are more Amazon Echo, Google Home or similar smart speakers being bought than traditional radio sets. It is in addition to us using smartphones that don’t have traditional broadcast-radio tuners as our “go-to” information and entertainment devices.

Although these smart speakers can, at your voice command, pull up a traditional radio station thanks to TuneIn or similar Internet-radio directories, an increasing number of users are using them to summon podcasts or music playlists through the various podcast and music-on-demand services.

Pure Sensia 200D Connect Internet radio

Pure Sensia 200D Connect Internet radio – an example of how to keep the traditional radio relevant

At the moment, traditional radio whether through traditional broadcast technology or Internet streaming is primarily being listened to in the car or at businesses we frequent. It is also being seen, whether for information or entertainment, as a valid casual-listening content-source by Generation X (people born from the late 60s to the early 80s) and prior generations thanks to it being seen that way for a long time. This is due to the ubiquity of increasingly-affordable radio sets in many different form factors along with radio stations making a strong effort to keep listeners tuned to their output.

It is although advertisers and others have seen and are seeing the younger generations as “where the money is”. Here, they end up sponsoring podcasts or playlists to reach that audience with their message in order to stay relevant.

ABC Radio Podcasts

The ABC, like other traditional broadcasters, are offering their own podcasts, whether to do with an existing radio show or not

But what can be or is being done about this? At the moment, traditional radio stations are creating podcasts, whether as a byproduct of an existing radio show or as a new product. Similarly as I have experienced, most radio stations are planting their regular broadcast output on the Internet and making sure this still happens so as to work with smartphones and smart speakers. It is even though they face battles with music rightsholders and sporting leagues about international streaming rights for music or sports content.

RadioDNS “hybrid radio” has surfaced as a way to bring together traditional radio and the Internet. The key method offered by this platform is through a “single-dial” approach that provides a seamless handover between local radio frequencies / DAB multiplex locations and Internet streams for the same radio station.

Revo Domino Internet radio tuned in to Heart London

This Internet radio is tuned in to Heart London and is playing the same audio as what would be delivered on FM or DAB from the “Turn Up The Feel Good” station within the London area

Reliance on Internet audio streams as often done with smart speakers and smartphones can be problemsome if you don’t have the right kind of network and Internet connection. This represents the typical home or small-business network connected behind most home / small-business routers.

You will run in to problems with setting up a smart speaker or similar device to work with a headline public-access / guest-access Wi-Fi network that depends on Web-based authentication or having these devices work with an enterprise-grade network that uses per-device-based authentication approaches. It also includes dealing with mobile broadband services that charge an arm and a leg for continual bandwidth use but services that operate in a highly-competitive market may make this factor easier.

TuneIn Android screenshot

The stations listed on the TuneIn Internet radio app are the Internet-hosted simulcast stream of their regular radio output

Similarly broadcast-radio technology tends to appeal to listenership on battery-operated devices because the technology associated with it is optimised to work for battery efficiency. It is due to the broadcast-radio technology working on a one-way approach to receiving the radio signals rather than being dependent on a two-way transceiver demanded of Wi-Fi or mobile-broadband.

What can be done to bridge these technologies

One approach would be to have an Internet radio that also receives radio content via broadcast technologies work with at least one of the common voice-driven home assistant platforms.

This can be in the form of the radio working alongside a smart speaker based on the common platforms and using RadioDNS to pull up local radio stations under voice control.

An Internet radio can also serve as a speaker for online audio resources like on-demand music services, podcasts and Internet radio especially if the radio doesn’t have network-audio / Internet-radio functionality. The latter concept is being underscored with the Google Assistant platform where you can direct audio from an online-audio service to a device that supports the Google Chromecast protocol. Even if the radio has network-audio / Internet-radio functionality, it could be part of a voice-driven home-assistant platform, which a lot of manufacturers are heading towards and can be of relevance for the “big sets” like hi-fi systems and the network multiroom audio platforms.

A cheaper option could implement RadioDNS across a Bluetooth link with the voice-driven home assistant platform handling the RadioDNS logic. It may require the creation of a Bluetooth profile for sending RadioDNS-specific data between the radio and the smart speaker’s platform i.e. a set-appropriate pointer to the station on the broadcast bands.

It can also be about an Internet-radio / smart-speaker combination device, like the many combination devices available over the years that integrated radio reception and at least one other function. Such a set would have the ability to be an Internet radio but it would have a microphone array and a button to activate Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant, whereupon you would have the full “smart speaker” abilities of an Amazon Echo or Google Home speaker. As well, it would tie in with the RadioDNS functionality to pull up stations on the local wavebands as if you are pulling them up using the assistant’s Internet-radio functionality.

Conclusion

To keep the classic radio medium going, the manufacturers, broadcasters and other stakeholders need to look at whatever technologies can be used to make it relevant in this day and age.

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Sonos dumps the device-bricking Recycle Mode

Previous HomeNetworking01.info coverage Sonos multiroom system press picture courtesy of Sonos

The Sonos debacle has raised questions about our personal tech’s life cycle

My Comments

In January, Sonos introduced the “Recycle Mode” which effectively disabled your Sonos network-multiroom-audio device after a certain number of days. It was seen as a way to detach the device from your Sonos-based network-multiroom-audio setup and wipe all of your data out of the device when you relinquish it to an e-waste recycling facility.

It was part of them establishing an end-of-feature-support rule for their older devices made prior to 2015 due to newer faster processing silicon in the newer devices. That is where older devices will only receive software-quality updates and won’t benefit from any newer functionality that Sonos releases.

But there is a reality with this kind of equipment where it is effectively “pushed down” to secondary areas as a way to build out that Sonos audio setup. As well, people do give the equipment away to family, friends and community organisations they are a part of, or sell the equipment through the second-hand market where those of us “putting our foot in the Sonos door” may buy this equipment at a cheaper price.

The social-media users were concerned about the use of that “Recycle Mode” which disabled the Sonos equipment due to it not being available for giving away or selling to the second-hand market. Sonos have answered this issue by removing the “Recycle Mode” and requiring users who are done with a particular piece of Sonos equipment to perform a factory-reset procedure (Sonos instructions) on that unit.

It is a procedure you may do if the equipment is faulty and you want to bring it to a “known quantity” as part of troubleshooting it. But performing this procedure before you relinquish the equipment effectively detaches it from your Sonos account and multi-room audio system while removing any personal configuration data from it including parameters associated with your home network.

They still have to address the issue of a Sonos audio setup consisting of legacy and newer equipment and what happens when newer features come out. The problem still raised is the fact that older equipment would preclude modern equipment from receiving functionality updates. It is although a Sonos multiroom setup will benefit from software-quality updates even if it cannot receive functionality updates.

As well, they would need to address what happens when an online media service revises their software links that enable access to their service via consumer-electronics devices. Would a software update to accommodate this revision be considered a feature-update or a software-quality update whether the result is to provide the same functionality as before or accommodate the service’s new features?

What is being called out is how a high-value network-media device with an expectedly-long service life should he maintained through its service life. It includes how long should it be supported for and what should happen towards its end-of-support time.

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Google Nest Mini uses edge computing to improve search performance

Articles

Google Nest Mini smart speaker press picture courtesy of Google

The Google Nest Mini smart speaker – a follow on from the Home Mini smart speaker and having its own local processing to improve Google Assistant’s responsiveness

Google Nest Mini gets louder and gains onboard Assistant processing | SlashGear

Google debuts Nest Mini with wall mount and dedicated ML chip | VentureBeat

From the horse’s mouth

Google

Nest Mini

Nest Mini brings twice the bass and an upgraded Assistant (Product Blog Post)

My Comments

The Google Nest Mini smart speaker, which is the successor to the Google Home Mini smart speaker, shows up a significant number of improvements including a richer sound. But it has also come about with the idea of locally processing your voice commands for better Google Assistant performance.

The traditional approach to processing voice commands that are said to a smart speaker or similar device is for that device to send them out as a voice recording to the cloud servers that are part of the voice-driven assistant platform. These servers then implement their artificial-intelligence and machine-learning technology to strip background noise, interpret the commands and supply the appropriate replies or actions back to that device.

But Google has improved on this by using a leaf out of the book associated with edge-computing technology. This is where some of the data storage or processing is performed local to the user before the data is sent to a cloud computing system. Here, Google uses a dedicated machine-language processor chip in their Nest Mini smart speaker to do some of the command processing before sending data about the user’s command to the Google Assistant cloud system.

It reduces the idea of your Google Nest Mini smart speaker being a simple conduit between your home network and the Google Assistant cloud. The key benefit is that you see a quicker response from the Google Assistant via that device. You also have the benefit of reducing the Internet bandwidth associated with handling the voice-driven home assistant activity, avoiding reduced performance for online gaming or multimedia streaming.

Google is working on taking this further with having Google-Assistant-based devices that have this kind of local processing process logic associated with user requests and programmable actions locally. It also includes keeping the logic associated with the Assistant liaising with other smart devices local to your home network, allowing for improvements to performance, user privacy and data security.

It could be seen by Amazon and others as a way to improve the performance of their voice-driven home-assistant platforms. This is more so where the competition between these platforms becomes more keen. As well, there could be a chance for third-party Google Assistant (Home) implementations to look towards using local processing to improve the Assistant’s response.

An issue that will crop up is having multiple devices that have this kind of local processing existing on the same home network help each other to increase the voice-driven assistant’s performance. This can also include using a software approach to make the devices equipped with the local processing provide improved performance for those that don’t have this processing. It will be an issue with the likes of Google Nest Mini and similar entry-level devices that appeal to the idea of having many installed around the house, along with the idea of equipping smart displays with this kind of local processing.

What I see of this is that the use of edge-computing technology is coming to the fore as far as improving responsiveness in the common voice-driven home-assistant platforms.

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Using Google Assistant as part of an in-home-care service

Article

The Google Home now part of ageing-at-home and working with a home healthcare service

Feros Care plugs into Google Assistant to boost seniors’ independence | IT News]

My Comments

The technology industry is working on making themselves relevant to the “ageing-at-home” sector where senior citizens, including the ageing Baby Boomer population, can live in their own homes or in supported accommodation but preserve their own privacy and dignity. But the goal of improved dignity for these seniors includes using the technology that doesn’t look out of place in an ordinary home environment.

This system, ran by Feros Care, implements Google Assistant technology as a base platform and uses Google Home smart-speaker devices as a voice-driven interface with the client who the agency is looking after. It also facilitates visual display through the Android TV smart-TV platform and the Google Home Hub smart display.

This is facilitated through the development of Google Actions and DialogFlow natural-language processing with some custom application-programming-interface (API) software “hooks” to work with the agency’s MyFeros IT portal. It provides the client access access to details about carer appoints, further assistance amongst other things while the MyFeros portal captures service-provider to client interactions.

It is more about allowing senior citizens who use this agency for assisted living to manage their experience with the agency themselves and maintain their independence.

The use of the Google Home / Assistant voice-interaction technology can work around situations where the senior has had a fall and cannot gain access to the phone to summon help. Similarly it works well when they are recovering in bed and don’t have a tablet or phone at their bedside. The Android TV / Home Hub smart-TV technology can be used to show up visual information like details of alternate carers who are “filling in” for a regular carer who is ill or on leave and cannot attend

Even smart-lock technology is coming in to play in order to allow staff who are rostered on to care for a particular client access to that client’s home for the duration of their shift. This is due to older people with limited mobility taking a long time to reach their front door to admit the carer in to their home. The smart-lock integration will also work in hand with “visit-verification” requirements that will be demanded within the home-based healthcare industry thanks to various health-insurance or public-healthcare requirements.

Feros Care underscores that the technology is not about staff efficiency and productivity by to serve the needs of their service’s end-users and protect their dignity and independence.

But what I like about this approach is that they aren’t reinventing the wheel in implementing this technology and having to implement new devices for their field of work. Rather they use common “horizontal-market” technology like Google-Home-compatible smart speakers and smart displays compliant with Google’s smart-display technologies – such equipment able to be purchased “off the shelf” at any consumer electronics outlet and blend in to an ordinary home.

I also see Feros Care in a position to offer the necessary software logic as a “white-label” solution for all sorts of home healthcare agencies, supported-housing facilities and the like who want to implement it in their client-carer IT-portal setups. But there will be issues like adapting to other consumer-focused voice-driven home assistant platforms like Alexa, along with making it work with the widest range of home-automation devices.

Here, it is about implementing whatever common home-networking technology as part of assisted-living simply through using software to provide this kind of integration.

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