Author: simonmackay

Chapter marking within podcasts

Android main interactive lock screen

Smartphones are facilitating our listenership to podcasts

As we listen to more spoken-word audio content in the form of podcasts and the like, we may want to see this kind of audio content easily delineated in a logical manner. For that matter, such content is being listened to as we drive or walk thanks to the existence of car and personal audio equipment including, nowadays, the “do-it-all” smartphones being connected to headphones or car stereos.

This may be to return to the start of a segment if we were interrupted so we really know where we are contextually. Or it could be to go to a particular “article” in a magazine-style podcast if we are after just that article.

Prior attempts to delineate spoken-word content

In-band cue marking on cassette

Some people who distributed cassette-based magazine-style audio content, typically to vision-impaired people, used mixed-in audio marking recorded at high speed to allow a user to find articles on a tape.

This worked with tape players equipped with cue and review functionality, something that was inconsistently available. Such functionality, typically activated when you held down the fast-forward or rewind buttons while the tape player was in play mode, allowed the tape to be ran forward or backward at high speed while you were able to hear what’s recorded but in a high-pitch warbling tone.

With this indexing approach, you would hear a reference tone that delineated the start of the segment in either direction. But if you used the “cue” button to seek through the tape, you would also hear an intelligible phrase that identified the segment so you knew where you were.

Here, this function was dependent on whether the tape player had cue and review operation and required the user to hold down the fast-wind buttons for it to be effective. This ruled out use within car-audio setups that required the use of locking fast-wind controls for safe operation.

Index Marking on CDs

The original CD Audio standard had inherent support for index marking that was subordinate to the track markers typically used to delineate the different songs or pieces. This was to delineate segments within a track such as variations within a classical piece.

Most 1980s-era CD players of the type that connected to your hi-fi system supported this functionality. This was more so with premium-level models and how they treated this function was markedly different. The most basic implementation of this feature was to show the index number on the display after the track number. CD players with eight-digit displays showed the index number as a smaller-sized number after the track number while those with a four or six-digit display had you press the display button to show the track number and index number.

Better implementations had the ability to step between the index marks with this capability typically represented by an extra pair of buttons on the player’s control surface labelled “INDEX”. Some more sophisticated CD players even had direct access to particular index numbers within a track or could allow you to program an index number within a track as part of a user-programmed playlist.

As well, some CDs, usually classical-music discs which feature long instrumental works that are best directly referenced at significant points made use of this feature. Support for this feature died out by the 1990s with this feature focused on marking the proper start of a song. It was considered of importance with live recordings or concept albums where a song or instrumental piece would segue in to another one. This was of importance for the proper implementation of repeat, random (shuffle) play or programmed-play modes so that the song or piece comes in at the proper start.

There was an interest in spoken-word material on CD through the late 1990s with the increase in the number of car CD players installed in cars. This was typically in the form of popular audiobooks or foreign-language courseware and car trips were considered a favourite location for listening to such content. But these spoken-word CDs were limited to using tracks to delineate chapters in a book or lessons within a foreign-language course.

But CD-R with the ability to support on-site short-run replication of limited-appeal content opened the door for content like religious sermons or talks to appear on the CD format. This technology effectively “missed the boat” when it came to support for index marking and most CD-burning software didn’t allow you to place index marks within a track.

The podcast revolution

File-based digital audio and the Internet opened the door to regularly-delivered spoken-word audio content in the form of podcasts. These are effectively a radio show that is in an audio file available to download. They even use RSS Webfeeds to allow listeners to follow podcasts for newer episodes.

Here, podcast-management or media-management software automatically downloads or enqueues podcast episodes for subsequent listening, marking what is listened to as “listened”. Some NAS-based DLNA servers can be set up to follow podcasts and download them to the NAS hard disk as new content, creating a UPnP-AV/DLNA content tree out of these podcasts available to any DLNA-compliant media playback device.

The podcast has gained a strong appeal with small-time content creators who want to create what is effectively their own radio shows without being encumbered by the rules and regulations of broadcasting or having to see radio stations as content gatekeepers.

The podcast has also appealed to radio stations in two different ways. Firstly, it has allowed the station’s talent to have their spoken-word content they broadcast previously available for listeners to hear again at a later time.

It also meant that the station’s talent could create supplementary audio content that isn’t normally broadcast but available for their audience, thus pushing their brand and that of the station further. This includes the creation of frequently-published short-form “snack-sized” content that may allow for listening during short journeys for example.

Secondly a talk-based radio station could approach a podcaster and offer to syndicate their podcast. That is to pay for the right to broadcast the podcast on their radio station in to the station’s market. It would appeal to radio stations having programming that fills in schedule gaps like the overnight “graveyard shift”, weekends or summer holidays while their regular talent base isn’t available. But it can also be used as a way to put a rising podcast star “on the map” before considering whether to have them behind the station’s microphone.

Why chapter marking within podcasts?

A lot of podcast authors typically ran their shows in a magazine form, perhaps with multiple articles or segments within the same podcast. As well, whenever one gave a talk or sermon, they would typically break it down in to points to make it clear to their audience to know where they are. But the idea of delineating within an audio file hasn’t been properly worked out.

This can benefit listeners who are after a particular segment especially within a magazine-style podcast. Or a listener could head back to the start of a logical point in the podcast when they resume listening so they effectively know where they are at contextually.

This can also appeal to ad-supported podcast directories like Spotify who use radio-style audio advertising and want to insert ads between articles or sections of a podcast. The same applies to radio stations who wish to syndicate podcasts. Here they would need to pause podcasts to insert local time and station-identity calls and, in some cases, local advertising spots or news bulletins.

Is this feasible?

The ID3 2 standard which carries metadata for most audio file formats including MP3, AAC and FLAC supports chapter marking within the audio file. It is based around a file-level “table of contents” which determine each audio chapter and can even have textual and graphical descriptions for each chapter.

There is also support for hierarchical table of contents like a list of “points” within each content segment as well as an overall list of content segments. Each of the “table of contents” has a bit that can indicate whether to have each chapter in that “table of contents” played in order or whether they can be played individually. That could be used by an ad-supported podcast directory or broadcast playout program to insert local advertising between entries or not.

What is holding it back?

The main problem with utilising the chapter markers supported within ID3.2 is the lack of proper software support both at the authoring and playback ends of the equation.

Authoring software available to the average podcaster provides inconsistent and non-intuitive support for placing chapter markers within a podcast. This opens up room for errors when authoring that podcast and enabling chapter marking therein.

As well, very few podcast manager and media player programs recognise these chapter markers and provide the necessary navigation functionality. This could be offered at least by having chapter locations visible as tick marks on the seek-bar in the software’s user interface and, perhaps allowing you to hold-down the cue and review buttons to search at the previous or next chapter.

Better user interfaces could list out chapters within a podcast so users can know “what they are up to” while listening or to be able to head to the segment that matters in that magazine-style podcast.

Similarly, the podcast scene needs to know the benefits of chapter-marking a podcast. In an elementary form, marking out a TED Talk, church sermon or similar speech at each key point can be beneficial. For example, a listener could simply recap a point they missed due to being distracted thus getting more value out of that talk. If the podcast has a “magazine” approach with multiple segments, the listener may choose to head to a particular segment that interests them.

Conclusion

The use of chapter marking within podcasts and other spoken-word audio content could make this kind of content easier to deal with for most listeners. Here, it is more about searching for a particular segment within the podcast or beading back to the start of a significant point therein if you were interrupted so you can hear that point in context.

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How regional next-generation infrastructure providers enable competitive Internet service

Previous Coverage

Gigaclear fibre-optic cable - picture courtesy of Gigaclear

Gigaclear – laying their own fibre-to-the-premises within a rural area in the UK

What is happening with rural broadband in the UK

Further Comments

In some countries like the UK, Australia and Germany, regional broadband infrastructure providers set up shop to provide next-generation broadband to a particular geographic area within a country.

This is used to bring next-generation broadband technology like fibre-to-the-premises to homes and businesses within that geographic area. But let me remind you that fibre-to-the-premises isn’t the only medium they use — some of them use fixed wireless or a fibre-copper setup like HFC cable-modem technology or fibre + Ethernet-cable technology. But they aren’t using the established telephone network at all thus they stay independent of the incumbent infrastructure provider and, in some areas like rural areas, that provider’s decrepit “good enough to talk, not good enough for data” telephone wiring.

In the UK especially, most of these operators will target a particular kind of population centre like a rural village cluster (Gigaclear, B4RN, etc), a large town or suburb (Zzoom), city centres (Cityfibre, Hyperoptic, etc) or even just greenfield developments. Some operators set themselves up in multiple population centres in order to get them wired up for the newer technology but all of the operators will work on covering the whole of that population centre, including its outskirts.

This infrastructure may be laid ahead of the incumbent traditional telco or infrastructure operator like Openreach, NBN or Deutsche Telekom or it may be set up to provide a better Internet service than what is being offered by the incumbent operator. But it is established and maintained independently of the incumbent operator.

Internet service offerings

Typically the independent regional broadband infrastructure providers run a retail Internet-service component available to households and small businesses in that area and using that infrastructure. The packages are often pitched to offer more value for money than what is typically offered in that area thanks to the infrastructure that the provider controls.

But some nations place a competitive-market requirement on these operators to offer wholesale Internet service to competing retail ISPs, with this requirement coming in to force when they have significant market penetration.That is usually assessed by the number of actual subscribers who are connected to the provider’s Internet service or the number of premises that are passed by the operator’s street-level infrastructure. In addition, some independent regional infrastructure providers offer wholesale service earlier as a way to draw in more money to increase their footprint.

This kind of wholesale internet service tends to be facilitated by special wholesale Internet-service markets that these operators are part of. Initially this will attract boutique home and small-business Internet providers who focus on particular customer niches. But some larger Internet providers may prefer to take an infrastructure-agnostic approach, offering mainstream retail Internet service across multiple regional service providers.

Support by local and regional government

Local and regional governments are more likely to provide material and other support to these regional next-generation infrastructure operators. This is to raise their municipality’s or region’s profile as an up-to-date community to live or do business within. It is also part of the “bottom-up” approach that these operators take in putting themselves on the map.

In a lot of cases, the regional next-generation infrastructure providers respond to tenders put forward by local and regional governments. This is either to provide network and Internet service for the government’s needs or to “wire up” the government’s are of jurisdiction or a part thereof for next-generation broadband.

Legislative requirements

There will have to be legislative enablers put forward by national and regional governments to permit the creation and operation of regional next-generation broadband network infrastructure. This could include the creation and management of wholesale-broadband markets to permit retail-Internet competition.

There is also the need to determine how much protection a small regional infrastructure operator needs against the incumbent or other infrastructure operators building over their infrastructure with like offerings. This may be about assuring the small operator sufficient market penetration in their area before others come along and compete, along with providing an incentive to expand in to newer areas.

It will also include issues like land use and urban planning along with creation and maintenance of rights-of-way through private, regulated or otherwise encumbered land for such use including competitors’ access to these rights-of-way.

That also extends to access to physical infrastructure like pits, pipes and poles by multiple broadband service providers, especially where an incumbent operator has control over that infrastructure. It can also extend to use of conduits or dark fibre installed along rail or similar infrastructure expressly for the purpose of creating data-communications paths.

That issue can also extend to how multiple-premises buildings and developments like shopping centres, apartment blocks and the like are “wired up” for this infrastructure. Here, it can be about allowing or guaranteeing right of access to these developments by competing service providers and how in-building infrastructure is provided and managed.

The need for independent regional next-generation broadband infrastructure

But if an Internet-service market is operating in a healthy manner offering value-for-money Internet service like with New Zealand there may not be a perceived need to allow competing regional next-generation infrastructure to exist.

Such infrastructure can be used to accelerate the provision of broadband within rural areas, provide different services like simultanaeous-bandwidth broadband service for residential users or increase the value for money when it comes to Internet service. Here, the existence of this independent infrastructure with retail Internet services offered through it can also be a way to keep the incumbent service operator in check.

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Apple, Google and Amazon create home theatre setups around their platforms




Apple Amazon Google (coming soon)
Set-top device Apple TV (tvOS 11 or newer) Fire TV Stick
Fire TV Cube (2nd Generation or newer)
Chromecast with Google TV
Audio Devices HomePod or
AirPlay-compliant audio devices
Echo (2nd Generation), Echo Dot (3rd Generation) or newer Echo smart speaker devices Nest Audio smart speakers
Apple TV 4th Generation press picture courtesy of Apple

The Apple TV set-top box – part of a HomePod / AirPlay enhanced audio setup for online video content

Apple, Amazon and Google have or are establishing audio-video platforms based around their smart speaker and set-top devices. This is in order to allow you to stream the audio content from video you are watching through their companion audio devices.

The idea with these setups is to “gang” the platform-based set-top box and the speakers together to provide improved TV sound for online services like Netflix. Some like Amazon describe this approach as home theatre but what happens is that if you have a pair of like speakers ganged with the set-top device, you have stereo sound with increased separation at least. It is based around these companies building it to their platforms the ability for users to have two like speakers in one room set up as a stereo pair for that same goal. Amazon’s setup also allows you to use their Echo Sub subwoofer module to improve the bass response of their setup.

Amazon Echo press image courtesy of Amazon

These new Amazon Echo speakers can work as part of an enhanced-audio setup for the Amazon Fire TV set-top platform

It is in addition to being able to stream the sound from an online video source you are watching using these set-top devices to a smart speaker of the same platform for remote listening.

The current limitation with these setups is that they only work with online sources provided by the set-top device that is the hub of the setup. This is because neither of these devices support HDMI-ARC functionality in any way, which allows sound from the TV’s own tuner or video peripherals connected to the TV to be played via a compliant audio device.

These companies who are part of the Silicon Valley establishment see the fashionable way to watch TV content is to use online video-on-demand services facilitated by their own set-top devices. But some user classes would benefit from HDMI-ARC support in many ways.

For example, the TV’s own tuner is still relevant in UK, Europe, Oceania and some other countries due to these areas still placing value on free-to-air broadcast TV. This is centred around the ingrained experience of switching between channels using the TV’s own remote control with the attendant quick response when you change channels. It is also becoming relevant to North America as cord-cutting picks up steam amongst young people and they look towards the TV’s own tuner alongside an indoor antenna to pick up local TV services for current news or local sport.

Google to have Chromecast with Google TV work with their Nest Audio speakers at least

As well, some users maintain the use of other video-peripheral devices with their TVs. This will apply to people who play games on their TV using a computer or games console, watch content on packaged media like DVDs, use PVR devices to record TV content or subscribe to traditional pay TV that uses a set-top box.

It will be interesting to see whether this operating concept regarding set-top devices and smart speakers that is driven by Apple, Google and Amazon will be developed further. Here this could exist in the form of set-top devices and platforms that are engineered further for things like HDMI-ARC or surround sound.

There will also be the question about whether these setups will ever displace soundbars or fully-fledged home-theatre setups for improved TV sound. On the other hand, they could be placed as a platform-driven entry-level approach for this same goal.

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Microsoft to support Android on Windows further

Articles

Computer - smartphone interlink concept

Android and Windows are getting closer with Microsoft working on having Android apps run on Windows 10 in a virtual machine

Microsoft’s ‘Project Latte’ aims to bring Android apps to Windows 10 | Windows Central

Microsoft is working on an Android subsystem for Windows 10 | Bleeping Computer

My Comments

Microsoft is intending to have Windows able to run software written for the Android mobile operating system.

There was a previous attempt in the form of Project Astoria to simplify the process of porting Android apps to Windows 10. But recently the “Your Phone” subsystem offered to people who use certain Android phones the ability to run their apps in Windows. This worked around having Windows 10 working as a graphical terminal for your Android phone in order to run the Android software.

But Microsoft is using Windows Subsystem for Linux, currently used to run text-based UNIX/Linux environments on Windows,  as a basis to run Android software on your Windows computer. Firstly, Android is a Google-based fork of Linux intended for mobile-platform devices and this may make Microsoft’s job more easier.

Here the Android app will be run within an Android virtual machine on your Windows computer. This is in conjunction with WSL gaining support for X11 (X Window) and Wayland GUI subsystems for UNIX/Linux computing so that graphically-rich software for those platforms, including shells like GNOME can run on Windows 10.

There will be a requirement to make the Android app independent of Google Play Services because Google won’t release this functionality to devices other than native Android or ChromeOS devices. But this could be part of repackaging the software for the Windows platform.

This kind of compatibility will encourage Android software developers to write software that takes advantage of devices with large display surfaces like tablets and Chromebooks as well as smartphones. It will also make this software relevant to people who use Windows-based 2-in-1s like the Dell Inspiron 14 5000 or the Lenovo Yoga range.

There will be some app classes that will benefit from being made available through the Microsoft Store to run on Windows computers. Some apps like native clients for video-on-demand services will be about being able to enjoy these online video services on your laptop. The same holds true for sports scoreboard apps and mobile-platform “guilty-pleasure” games. Also there will be the idea of having Instagram, Snapchat and co running on your regular computer which will be valued by those of us who see a social media presence of importance for ourselves or our business efforts. Let’s not forget taxi and rideshare booking apps where there is the desire to use them from a regular computer perhaps to book rides for others.

Another use case is software written to make your Android phone a control surface for the smart home. It is primarily exhibited through “app-cessory” software that is written to convert your smartphone in to a control surface for various devices with the link facilitated using Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. But it can be software written to manage a smart-home platform like Amazon Alexa or Google Home and there may be the desire to have this run on a regular Windows computer.

Microsoft will need to have extra people to vet software that comes in to the Windows Store in order to keep malware out. This is because Google was overwhelmed with Android-based malware creeping in to their Play app store and they had to increase the number of people taking control over what ended up there. This danger will increase especially if it is feasible to “write once run anywhere” for both Windows and Android.

It is part of having Microsoft Windows 10 as the most flexible open-frame desktop operating system thanks to it supporting a wide range of software types: Progressive Web Apps, Win32 native Windows apps, Universal Windows Platform apps, UNIX/Linux software via Windows Subsystem for Linux and, to come, Android through Project Latte.

Having Windows, desktop Linux or ChromeOS on the desktop and Android on the mobile devices could be about building out a computing ecosystem that is totally about flexible open-frame computing.

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Zoom even makes it easier to deal with Zoombombing incidents

Article

Zoom (MacOS) multi-party video conference screenshot

Zoom to give more control to meeting hosts

How to stop a Zoombombing | Lifehacker

From the horse’s mouth

Zoom

3 New Ways We’re Combatting Meeting Disruptions (Blog Post)

My Comments

During the COVID-19 pandemic causing us to work or study from home, we have been seeing increased use of videoconferencing platforms like Zoom.

It has led to the convergence of business and personal use of popular multiparty videoconferencing platforms; be it business platforms of the Zoom and Microsoft Teams ilk serving personal, social and community needs; or personal platforms like Skype and WhatsApp being used for business use. This is more so with small businesses, community organisations and the like who don’t have their own IT team to manage this software. The software developers even support this convergence through adding “personal and social” features to business users that also gain free social-user tiers or adding business features to personal platforms.

But this has brought along its fair share of miscreants. A key example of this is “Zoombombing” where these miscreants join a Zoom meeting in order to disrupt it. This manifests in disruptive comments being put in to the meeting or at worst all sorts of filth unfit for the office or family home appearing on our screens. Infact there have been a significant number of high-profile Zoom virtual events disrupted that way and a significant number of governments have encompassed this phenomenon as part of raising questions about videoconferencing platform security.

This has been facilitated by Zoom and similar business videoconferencing platforms allowing people to join a videoconference by clicking on a meeting-specific URL This is compared to Skype, Viber, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and similar personal videoconferencing platforms operating on an in-platform invitation protocol when joining these meetings.

But these Weblinks bave been posted on the Social Web for every man and his dog to see. There have been some online forums that have been hurriedly set up for people to solicit others to disrupt online meetings.

Zoom recently took action by requiring the use of meeting passwords and waiting-room setups and operating with that by default. As well meeting hosts and participants have been encourage not to place meeting URLs and passwords on any part of the Web open to the public. Rather they are to send the link via email or instant messaging. As well, they are encouraged to send the password under separate cover.

They also have the ability to lock the meeting so no further attendees can come in, which is good if the meeting is based around known attendees. There is also the ability for the host to control resource-sharing and remote-control functionality that Zoom offers. Let’s not forget that they also added meeting-wide end-to-end encryption for increasingly-secure meetings.

But Zoom has taken further action by offering meeting hosts more tools to control their meeting, a feature available to all client software and to all user classes whether free or paid.

There is the ability for the Zoom meeting host to pause the meeting. Once this is invoked, no activity can take place during the meeting including in any breakout rooms that the meeting has spawned. They also have the ability to report the meeting to Zoom’s platform=wide security team and to selectively enable each meeting feature. They can also report users to Zoom’s platform security team, which allows them to file the report and give the disruptive user the royal order of the boot from that meeting.

Another feature that has been introduced thanks to the “join by URL” method that Zoom supports is for meeting hosts to be alerted if their meeting is at risk of disruption. Zoom facilitates this using a Webcrawler that hunts for meeting URLs on the public Web and alerts the meeting host if their meeting’s URL is posted there such as being on the Social Web. Here, they are given the opportunity to change the URL to deflect any potential Zoombomb attempts.

But this year has become a key year as far as multiparty videoconferencing is concerned due to our reliance on it. Here, it may be about seeing less differentiation between business-use and personal-use platforms or the definition of a basic feature set that these videoconferencing platforms are meant to have with secure private operation being part of that definition.

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Intel to launch a white-label Tiger Lake based laptop design

Articles

Intel NUC M15 Tiger Lake white-label laptop design press image courtesy of Intel

Intel NUC M15 Tiger-Lake-based white-label laptop design for small-time manufacturers to work from

Intel Shows Off New NUC M15 Whitebook Laptop | Tom’s Hardware

Intel’s NUC M15 laptop to launch in 2021 | TechRadar

My Comments

Intel has just premiered a design for a white-label laptop that implements their Tiger Lake silicon.

This computer, which is a mainstream productivity laptop and known as the NUC M15, is intended to be offered by small-time manufacturers and retailer or distributor private labels. Intel previously offered a white-label laptop design in the form of the XPG Xenix 15 gaming laptop.

This will use what is expected of a Tiger Lake laptop and will be used as a machine for smaller operators to have Intel Evo-certified products in their lineup. This means it will come with 11th Generation Core i5 or i7 CPUs, Xe integrated graphics, Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5 and Thunderbolt 4 as part of the feature set.

The small-time manufacturer or retail / distributor private label can be in a position to compete with larger manufacturers like HP, Dell, Lenovo, Acer and Microsoft. But there should be the ability to vary the design to suit particular needs. It is also seen as a way for these kind of manufacturers to have Intel Evo-certified laptop products in their lineups.

A question that can come about is whether this is seen as a fertile ground for a small-time partner manufacturer or private label to use this as the basis for a bespoke design. It is especially where there are small-time manufacturers who focus on equipment for specialist use cases. An example of this could be a manufacturer whose niche is a highly-ruggedised computer setup.

But could these systems also be about “working out” a Tiger-Lake-based reference design for a mass-market laptop product. The machines that I am thinking of are similar to HP Pavilion or Dell Inspiron product ranges for ordinary households, HP Probook or Dell Vostro product ranges for small-business consumers, or HP Elitebooks, Acer Travelmates and Dell Latitudes for enterprise users. These are usually with 15” screens, have average graphics expectations and aren’t necessarily thin and light.

It may be a step to see decent performance and battery life available for laptop users no matter the class of portable computer they are working with, thanks to Intel’s latest iteration in its persistent innovation for this type of computer device.

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Microsoft integrates the Trusted Platform Module in to computer CPUs

Articles

Microsoft brings Trusted Platform Module functionality directly to CPUs under securo-silicon architecture Pluton | The Register

Microsoft reveals Pluton, a custom security chip built into Intel, AMD and Qualcomm processors | TechCrunch

Microsoft Pluton is a new processor with Xbox-like security for Windows PCs | The Verge

From the horse’s mouth

Microsoft

Meet the Microsoft Pluton processor – The security chip designed for the future of Windows PCs (Blog Post)

My Comments

Most recently-built desktop and laptop regular computers that run Windows, especially business-focused machines offered by big brands, implement a secure element known as the Trusted Platform Module. This is where encryption keys for functions like BitLocker, Windows Hello or Windows-based password vaults are kept. But this is kept as a separate chip on the computer’s motherboard in most cases.

But Microsoft are taking a different approach to providing a secure element on their Windows-based regular-computer platform. Here, this is in the form of keeping the Trusted Platform Module on the same piece of silicon as the computer’s main CPU “brain”.

Microsoft initially implemented a security-chip-within-CPU approach with their XBox platform as a digital-rights-management approach. Other manufacturers have implemented this approach in some form or another for their computing devices such as Samsung implementing in the latest Galaxy S smartphones or Apple implementing it as the T2 security chip within newer Macintosh regular computers. There is even an Internet-of-Things platform known as the Azure Sphere which implements the “security-chip-within-CPU” approach.

This approach works around the security risk of a person gaining physical access to a computer to exfiltrate encryption keys and sensitive data held within the Trusted Platform Module due to it being a separate chip from the main CPU. As well, before Microsoft announced the Pluton design, they subjected it to many security tests including stress-tests so that it doesn’t haunt them with the same kind of weaknesses that affect the Apple T2 security chip which was launched in 2017.

Intel, AMD and Qualcomm who design and make CPUs for Windows-based regular computers have worked with Microsoft to finalise this “security-chip-within-CPU” design. Here, they will offer it in subsequent x86-based and ARM-based CPU designs.

The TPM application-programming-interface “hooks” will stay the same as far as Windows and application-software development is concerned. This means that there is no need to rewrite Windows or any security software to take advantage of this chipset design. The Microsoft Pluton approach will benefit from “over-the-air” software updates which, for Windows users, will come as part of the “Patch Tuesday” update cycle.

More users will stand to benefit from “secure-element” computing including those who custom-build their computer systems or buy “white-label” desktop computer systems from independent computer stores.

As well, Linux users will stand to benefit due to efforts to make this open-source and available to that operating-system platform. In the same context, it could allow increasingly-secure computing to be part of the operating system and could open up standard secure computing approaches for Linux-derived “open-frame” computer platforms like Google’s ChromeOS or Android.

Here, the idea of a secure element integrated within a CPU chip die isn’t just for digital-rights-management anymore. It answers the common business and consumer need for stronger data security, user privacy, business confidentiality and operational robustness. There is also the goal of achieving secure computing from the local processing silicon to the cloud for online computing needs.

Microsoft hasn’t opened up regarding whether the Pluton trusted-computing design will be available to all silicon vendors or whether there are plans to open-source the design. But this could lead to an increasingly-robust secure-element approach for Windows and other computing platforms.

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Samsung launches two monitor models that have Smart TV abilities

Articles

Samsung M7 Smart Monitor press image courtesy of Samsung

The new Samsung M7 and M5 monitors also double as Internet TVs with direct access to Netflix & co

Samsung’s latest monitor is a smart TV with PC features | Engadget

Samsung’s new Smart Monitor is like a TV for your PC | The Verge

Samsung’s M7 Is A Monitor And A Smart TV All-In-One | UberGizmo

Samsung Releases its New M7 Smart Monitor | ETeknix

From the horse’s mouth

Samsung

Samsung Announces Global Availability of New Lifestyle Smart Monitor (Press Release)

Samsung 32M70A M7 32″ 4K UHD Smart Monitor (Product Page)

My Comments

Samsung is launching two computer-monitor models that have Smart TV capabilities. It is similar to the likes of LG offering some computer monitors with integrated broadcast-TV tuners.

Samsung M7 Smart Monitor press image courtesy of Samsung

Good enough for that personal space where you work and live in

This class of computer monitor addresses use cases where one would put one of these monitors to service not just with their computer for work or advanced gaming but also for ordinary entertainment purposes. The classic examples of this use case include a bedroom or den that serves as one’s office and personal space; or a person who moves in to a small apartment or bungalow where one large room serves as their living room, dining room and office.  It also includes university students who live on campus in a student-accommodation facility like a dorm or residence hall or workers who live in employer-provided accommodation facilities as part of their job.

I did some previous coverage on this topic in an article about having a TV serve as a computer monitor or using a computer monitor as a TV and nowadays some TV manufacturers are offering large-screen TV models that are optimised for computer games with the video electronics equivalent to what is offered in a current-spec gaming monitor. This is due to a realisation that one could be bringing that Windows-based gaming rig or that current-spec games console in to the living room to play games on the big screen TV.

But the Samsung M7 (32” 4K UHD) and M5 (27” or 32” Full HD) monitors have Samsung’s Tizen-OS-based Smart Hub smart-TV platform. These include access to apps for locally-popular video-on-demand entertainment services delivered through that platform. Both sets connect to your home network via Wi-FI 5 technology and they support peripheral connectivity via Bluetooth 4.2 or USB. The Wi-Fi functionality even goes further to work with Wi-Fi-based mirroring technologies and allows the monitor to be part of your DLNA Home Media Network. As well you can stream audio and video from supported Apple devices using the AirPlay 2 protocol.

There is even support for Samsung’s Wireless DeX capability where your Samsung Galaxy S8 or newer Android phone uses the TV as a desktop-style interface. Add to this a virtual-machine which works with Microsoft Office so you can work with Office-based documents stored in the cloud.

The monitors have a remote control so you can manage the smart-TV interface in a “lean-back” manner. This even has the ability to work with the Samsung Bixby voice assistant thanks to a microphone integrated in the remote control. As well, they have two HDMI inputs that support HDR10 and HDMI-CEC. That means you have room to connect your computer and another video peripheral like a set-top box or games console. The M7 model also has USB-C with 65W Power Delivery, Display Port alt connectivity and USB-hub functionality to boot.

A question that will come up is whether the monitors will have an integrated broadcast-TV tuner of any sort. As far as I know, they don’t have that kind of feature although the initial models are being launched in to Canada, the USA and China. But this may be a feature considered of importance for customers in the UK, Europe, Asia, Australia and New Zealand. This is because these countries place significant importance on access to free-to-air TV especially from their national public-service broadcasters.

On the other hand, the DLNA ability that they offer may work hand in glove with broadcast-LAN boxes and PVRs that support this standard. Or Samsung could build SAT>IP client support in to these monitors where they are targeted to British and European markets at least. This is due to this standard being supported for satellite broadcast-LAN devices and, in some cases, terrestrial and cable TV within those markets.

But what I do see of Samsung’s effort with the M7 and M5 monitors is that they are maintaining interest in the market niche where a computer monitor is expected also to serve as a TV for entertainment purposes. This market niche can be further supported through having a wide range of these types of monitors including some game-ready variants and units that can work well with multi-display setups.

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A business Thunderbolt 3 dock that is also an external graphics module

Article

Lenovo Thunderbolt 3 Graphics Dock product photo (UK package) courtesy of Lenovo

Lenovo Thunderbolt 3 Graphics dock – a Thunderbolt 3 business docking station that has external graphics module functionality

Lenovo Thunderbolt 3 Graphics Dock review: Glorious external NVIDIA GTX 1050 graphics | Windows Central

My Comments

In the average business context, Thunderbolt 3 is seen primarily as a powerful “connection pipe” for port-replication docks. The external-graphics-module benefit isn’t considered an advantage in this use case unless the user is doing multimedia editing, computer programming or number-crunching workloads involving large data sets.

But in 2018, Lenovo issued to the US market and some other markets their Thunderbolt 3 Graphics Dock (model: G0A10170UL) that has external-graphics-module functionality as well as port-replication dock functionality which includes RJ45 Gigabit Ethernet connectivity. This uses a soldered-in NVIDIA GTX 1050 graphics processor and 4Gb display memory, with this GPU considered as the economy model in NVIDIA’s desktop-class dedicated graphics processor lineup.at the time of release.

The Lenovo Thunderbolt 3 Graphics Dock is not just seen as being fit for a desktop workspace but also being fit for travel. This is due to its relatively small size compared to the typical “card-cage” external graphics module. It is because the device has the same size and weight as the typical business-class port-replicator dock with the power supply unit being of a similar size to those that accompany this class of product.

The article mentioned that, at the time of review, there were issues with software bugs including not cooperating with onboard dedicated graphics setups in some laptops. Usually this will have been rectified through firmware, BIOS and driver updates that should have taken place by now.

But, like a lot of small external graphics modules that have soldered-in graphics silicon, the capability may be enough to give your laptop a bit of extra “pep” for some non-demanding graphics-based tasks. This may be about lightweight photo and video editing or people who aren’t really “core” gamers.

The Windows Central article also raised the prospect of number-crunching activities with large data sets. But the problem that shows up here is that regular office productivity software, especially spreadsheet software like Microsoft Excel, doesn’t offer the ability to take advantage of high-performance computing setups like discrete graphics processors.

As I have mentioned before, the combination of Intel integrated graphics and Thunderbolt 3 connectivity for a laptop computer can encourage the use of external graphics modules as a fit-for-purpose upgrade path. This is being underscored with Intel Tiger Lake silicon that comes with Intel Xe integrated-graphics silicon that is highly capable compared to before along with Thunderbolt 4 connectivity compatible with Thunderbolt 3 hosts and peripherals.

It is also another example where Lenovo thought outside the box when it came to offering external graphics modules. Here, the Lenovo Legion BoostStation “card-cage” external graphics module didn’t just come with the space to install a graphics card, but it also came with space to install a 2/5” or 3.5” SATA-connected hard disk or solid-state drive. This is compared to a lot of “card-cage” types that only have capacity to install a graphics card and can woo those of us moving away from desktops to laptops.

By seeing the idea of external-graphics-module products pitched towards everyday business users and their cost-conscious IT departments, it could legitimise this product class towards mainstream computer users. But further work needs to take place to see a wider range of business-class eGPU docks with differing peripheral-connection and graphics-silicon options, including whatever offers mid-tier multimedia-creation abilities, and to see multiple vendors offer these docks to the market.

Mainstreaming these external-graphics-module devices can also make them appeal to user classes who don’t necessarily have the disposable income to spend on high-performance computing. This is due to downward pressure on these devices’ prices and can be facilitated by Intel becoming a third force when it comes to performance-level graphics silicon.

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Alternative “free-speech”social networks are coming to the fore

Article Parler login page screenshot

‘Free speech’ social networks claim post-election surge | Engadget

My Comments

A new breed of social networks are becoming popular with user groups who see Facehook, Twitter, YouTube and co as being equivalent to mainstream media, especially the popular TV channels.

These networks are based in North America, yet outside Silicon Valley. This means that they don’t subscribe to the perceived groupthink associated with Silicon Valley / Northern Californian culture.

As well, they came to the fore in response to Facebook, Twitter and Google responding to the issues of fake news and disinformation with these online companies implementing fact-checking mechanisms and flagging questionable material. Let’s not forget that there is social and business pressure on the established social media companies to clamp down on racial and similar hatred. That meant they had to implement robust user and content management policies to manage what appeared on these sites which is something that can be very difficult with large networks.

Previously the only way to offer content that isn’t controlled by the social media establishment was to set up and run a blog or forum. This required a fair bit of technical knowhow and you had to also have a domain name and a business relationship with a Web hosting service. Then you would have to run something like WordPress, phpBB or vBulletin so you can concentrate on running the blog or forum.

It also included exposing your content amongst your desired audience which may require you to use established social networks but use codified dog-whistle language in your posts. As well, you would have to make sure that your presence on the established social networks exists simply to draw traffic to your site. To “make it pay”, you would have to set up a shopfront on the Website to sell merchandise, offer advertising space typically to small businesses, or even run the site on a freemium model with a subscription-driven membership system.

The networks are Parler and MeWe which also have iOS and Android native clients available through Apple’s and Google’s mobile app stores. Gab also exists but Apple and Google won’t admit native clients for this service to their app stores. Rumble offers a video-focused service that works similarly to YouTube, with this service being cross-promoted on Parler, MeWe and Gab.

These alternative social networks implement business models that are less dependent on advertising like subscription-driven “freemium” setups. Along with that, the networks adopt “light-touch” policies regarding the management of users and the content they share, with them billing themselves as “free-speech” alternatives.

There has been strong interest in these networks over the past year which has been highlighted in the number of accounts created and the number of native mobile clients downloaded from the mobile-platform app stores. This is due to the USA’s knife-edge Presidential election and the COVID-19 coronavirus plague and there are some people wanting to seek out information that isn’t “fit for television” i.e. accepted by traditional media and the main Silicon Valley social networks.

Unlike previous alternative-media setups like community broadcasting, small-scale newspapers, computer bulletin boards and the early days of the Internet, these networks are gaining a strong following amongst the hard right including conspiracy theorists and Trump loyalists. There is even interest amongst the USA’s Republican Party to shift towards these services as a way to move from what they see as the “left-leaning media establishment”, something that is symptomatic of how hyper-partisan the US has become.

A question that will be raised is how large these networks’ user bases will be in a few years’ time after the dust settles on Donald Trump and the COVID-19 pandemic. But I see them and newer alternative social networks maintaining their position especially for those who relate with others that have opinions or follow topics that are “against the grain”.

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