Commentary Archive

Could a logical network be a data-security attribute?

Telstra Gateway Frontier modem router press picture courtesy of Telstra

The local network created by one of these routers could be seen as a way to attest proximity or effective control of these devices

In data security, there has to be a way to attest that a user has effective control of their computing devices when they are authenticating with a device or service. Increasingly, most of us are handling two or more devices in this context such as to move data between them, use one of them as an authentication factor or to verify mutual trust between two or more people.

The logical network, also called a subnet, represents the devices connected to the same router irrespective of what media they use to connect to this network like Ethernet or Wi-Fi wireless. It is represented at Layer 3 (Network Layer) on the OSI network model stack and is represented by IP (Internet Protocol) whether version 4 or 6. Routers that implement guest or hotspot/community network functionality create a separate logical network for the guest or hotspot network.

But a hotspot network can be set up to cover a large public area like a bar or cafe’s dining room or even the whole of a hotel or apartment block. As well, if a hotspot network is properly set up for the end users’ data security, it shouldn’t be feasible to discover other devices on that same logical network. This is thanks to IP-based isolation functionality that the router that serves the hotspot offers.

Here, the existence of devices on the same logical network can be used as a way to attest proximity of these devices or to attest effective control over them.

Use cases

Enhanced two-factor authentication

Increasingly, most of us who implement two-factor authentication use an app on a smartphone to provide the random key number that confirms what we have along with what we know. But in a lot of situations, we have the smartphone and the computer we want to use to gain access to the resources existing on the same network. This may be our home or business network, a public-access hotspot or tethering our laptop to a smartphone for Internet access via the mobile network.

Having both devices on the same network could be seen as a way to assess the security level of a multifactor authentication setup by assessing the proximity of the devices to each other. It is more so if the devices are communicating to each other behind the same Wi-Fi access point or Ethernet switch. This concept would be to prove that both devices are effectively being controlled by the same user.

It can also work as an alternative to Bluetooth or NFC as a device-to-device link for a transcription-free multi-factor authentication setup if you are thinking of two devices that are able to connect to a network via Wi-Fi. This is more so where the issue of phishing of multi-factor authentication setups involving the transcription of a one-time passcode has been raised.

Discovery of devices in the same network

The same concept can also be examined in the context of interlinking between devices that exist on the same network or even determining one’s “home” domain in the context of AV content rights. In some ways, the concept could also be about tokenised login for online services where a user’s credentials are held on one device like a smartphone but a session-based token is passed to another device like a set-top box to facilitate login from that device.

It is a practice that has been used with UPnP and Bonjour technologies primarily for device and content discovery. The most obvious situation would be to use Apple AirPlay or Google Chromecast to throw content to the big screen from a compatible mobile device. It also works in the same context when you set up and use a network-based printer from your computer or smartphone.

Across-the-room discovery and mutual-user authentication

Another use case this concept can apply to is “across-the-room” device discovery and mutual-user authentication. This would be used for data transfer, social networks or online gaming where you intend to share a resource with someone you talked with, invite them as a friend / follower in a social network or engage them in an online game.

Proof of presence at a particular location

Use of a logical network’s attributes can be a tool for proving one’s presence at a particular location. This is more so where the Internet service for that network is being provided using a wired-broadband or fixed-wireless-broadband approach for its last-mile, like with most home and business networks. It may not work with “Mi-Fi” setups where a mobile broadband network is being implemented for the last-mile connection.

Here, it could be used for time-and-attendance purposes including “proof of presence” for home-based carers. Or it could be used to conditionally enable particular functionality like app-based on-premises food-and-beverage ordering at a venue. To the same extent, it could be used to protect delivery services against orders that were instigated at one location being sent to another location.

Methods

Both devices existing on the same network

In a premises-specific network like most small networks, testing that both devices are on the same subnet / logical network behind the same gateway device (router) could be a way to attest that both devices are in the same premises. The same test can be performed by the use of a “hop count” on Layer 3 of the OSI network-layer tree, which also determines the number of logical networks passed.

It is a method used with a wide range of network-based AV and printing applications to constrain the discovery and control of devices by controller software to what is local to you.

But assessing whether the two devices are connecting to the same access point on a Wi-Fi network can be used to attest whether both devices are in the same room in a large Wi-Fi setup. It may not work in a network setup where different devices connect to a network using different connection media like Ethernet, Wi-Fi Wireless or HomePlug powerline. This also includes situations where multiple access points cover the same room or floor such as with large rooms or open-plan areas.

Another approach that can be used for Wi-Fi hotspot networks honouring the Hotspot 2.0 / Passpoint setup would be to read the “venue” metadata for that network and compare whether both devices are in the same venue. If this technology is able to support subdividing of a logical venue such as based on floors or rooms, this could work as a way of further attesting whether both devices are in close proximity.

A Wi-Fi wireless network can be attested through the use of the BSSID which identifies the same access point that the devices are connecting through or the ESSID which is the network’s “call sign”. The BSSID could be used for a public hotspot network including a “hotzone” network ran by a local government or ISP,or a large network that uses many access points while the ESSID approach could be used simply for a small network with a few access points.

Trusted networks with authentication certificates

On the other hand, there could be the concept of creating “trusted networks” where authentication certificates relating to the network are stored in the network’s gateway device or in infrastructure devices associated with that network. It could be used to work against man-in-the-middle attacks as well as a stronger approach to attesting trust between the client device and the network it proposes to access.

The initial appeal for this concept could be to attest the authenticity of a business’s network especially in the face of business partners or customers who want to use that network as a gateway to the Internet or use the host business’s resources.

It could have some appeal to the food, beverage and hospitality industry where particular cafes and bars are often seen by individuals and workgroups as favoured hangouts. In this context, if an individual wants to use the Wi-Fi public-access network in their favourite “watering hole” or “second office”, the “trusted network” approach can be used to verify to the customer that they have connected to the venue’s network at the venue to avoid “man-in-the-middle” attacks.

This approach is being implemented with the Wi-Fi Passpoint / Hotspot 2.0 technology to provide for the simple yet secure public-access Wi-Fi network.

The same approach can be used with a home network if the router can store data like digital certificates in onboard non-volatile memory. Then this data could be created by the ISP as a “known trusted network” with a network-specific certificate relating to the router and network equipment. Such a service could be offered by an ISP as a value-added service especially to cater for “proof-of-presence” applications.

Conclusion

Using a logical network as a data-security attribute can be effective as a security tool for some use cases. With current network equipment, this can be a surefire way of assessing device proximity.to other devices. But use of certificates stored on network-infrastructure devices like routers and provided by ISPs or similar entities can be of use for authenticated-network or proof-of-presence applications.

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Cross-platform online game leaderboards–how about it?

Lenovo Yoga Tab Android tablet

Playing that game on a mobile tablet or..

Most video and computer games nowadays implement an online leaderboard as part of the way they operate. They typically require you to log in to the leaderboard to persist game data “in the cloud”, support social gameplay including discovering newer opponents or the maintenance of challenges and leaderboards so players can compete against each other on the game.

Game studios tend to write their own leaderboard that is specific to that game’s needs but the game-distribution platforms are running their own leaderboards to offer this same functionality to all studios and games.

USB-C connector on Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus smartphone

a smartphone or..

It typically leads to a game-recommendation engine to recommend games similar to what you play a lot, subscription-driven gameplay or digital software locker functionality for the titles, typically to keep you with that platform. In some cases, they offer a means to measure your prowess as a gameplayer or as a specialist in particular game types, typically to match you with opponents of a particular skill level in that kind of game.

The leaderboards offered by the distribution platforms make it feasible for a small-time or indie studio to have this functionality without the game developer having to create a leaderboard and rent the necessary server space by themselves.

Sony PS4

a games console like the Sony PS4 or ..

But there is a reality for users who play the same game title across multiple platforms. It is highlighted through someone owning or regularly using computing devices based on different platforms for gameplay such as a “gaming rig” that runs Windows 10, a smartphone that could either run iOS or Android, and perhaps a mobile-platform tablet running either iOS or Android along with a set-top box or games console. The set-top box situation is very real as an increasing number of set-top and smart-TV platforms like the Apple TV or the “décodeurs” offered by French telcos as part of their “n-box” triple-play platforms within France are moving towards the kind of performance associated with games consoles.

Dell XPS 13 9360 8th Generation clamshell Ultrabook

a laptop like the Dell XPS 13 9360 8th Generation clamshell Ultrabook or ..

Increasingly, it encourages game studios to port titles to many different platforms but there has to be an approach that allows the player to carry the online experience between the platforms. At the moment, Facebook has achieved the goal of a cross-platform leaderboard but it requires players to be part of this social network which may put some people off the idea due to the various controversies about this Silicon Valley giant. Facebook’s leaderboard supports “provisioning” from one’s Facebook account along with support for native and Web-based games.

Microsoft has extended their XBox Live leaderboard beyond the XBox One games console and Windows 10 computers by providing limited support for iOS and Android mobile platforms. But this is focused towards a Windows 10 or XBox One setup as your main gaming platform.

Apple TV 4th Generation press picture courtesy of Apple

a set-top device like the Apple TV should lead towards you keeping score and matching opponents on one or more cross-platform online leaderboards

What needs to happen is an effort towards a truly platform-independent gaming leaderboard that facilitates cross-platform gameplay and appeals to multiple game developers and distributors. It has to appeal to a userbase and developer-base that wants to stay away from large social-media powerhouses who see users’ data as the new gold.

A key feature would be to provide support for native-coded and Web-coded games including the newer Progressive Web App games. This is more so as independent game studios work on “free-to-play” games that are written as Web-coded games for play in a Web browser as well as being ported in a native-coded form to iOS and Android mobile platforms. As well, the Progressive Web App is being pitched as a “write once run anywhere” app solution for mobile, tablet and desktop computing.

XBox leaderboard app in Windows 10

The expected functionality would include:

  • the ability to persist gameplay data and scores in the cloud
  • support for challenges and leaderboards including allowing venues, sponsors and others who partner with the game developer to run their own challenges
  • social gaming with opponent discovery on a local and global basis, in-game chat on a one-to-one or party-line basis, and gift exchange for in-game items like microcurrency or game lives.

The leaderboard would have to be child-safe according to established norms and protocols like requirement of parental permission for signing in or participating in sponsored challenges, and support for minimum ages.

Google Play Games app

Google Play Games – the online leaderboard for the Android platform

The issue of allowing venues and marketers to use the leaderboard to run their own challenges may be of concern to some people who want a life free from marketers and commercialism. But there are people who want to build a tighter relationship with the brands that they value and allow these brands to participate in their online life. Similarly, some games studios may associate with various popular brands to underscore their players’ relationship with these brands and as a monetisation tool.

As well, user privacy would need to be valued in many different ways like user discovery or game-chat access. It also includes whether a notification about gaming accomplishments or level-up scenarios should be shared on to outside social networks, which social networks should be used and who should see this information.

It also includes the ability to provide a single-sign-on experience that can work with a wide variety of credential pools. This is important where a user maintains a set of personal credentials with multiple different credential pools like Apple ID for iOS, MacOS and Apple TV devices; Facebook; Microsoft Account for Windows 10 and XBox One; and Google for Android and ChromeOS.  The reason this can happen is due to playing the same game across the multiple platforms.

This could be a goal for companies who are behind content-streaming services, IP-telephony services and the like to engage in if they do want to diversify their offerings. European companies could even jump on the bandwagon especially if they want to tout their end-user privacy and data-security prowess.

What needs to happen is for the games studios to gain access to one or more highly-capable cross-platform game leaderboards so that users can play the games and benefit from leaderboard or game-recommendation functionality no matter the platform they use without being required to “reinvent the wheel”.

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Using Bluetooth as part of the hybrid radio concept

Pure Sensia 200D Connect Internet radio

Pure Sensia 200D Connect Internet radio – a representative of the current trend towards the “hybrid radio” concept

Previously, I have covered the concept of “hybrid radio” which is being put forward by RadioDNS. This is about integrating the reception of audio-based radio content from a radio station either through the traditional analogue or digital broadcast technologies or through the Internet.

It is based on the common Internet-radio application where traditional radio stations transmit a simulcast of their broadcast output as an Internet stream. You would experience this with an app like TuneIn Radio or by using an Internet radio, of which I have reviewed many. This has been used to listen to overseas radio stations by those of us who like the “vibe” of a particular country or to learn a new language, but has been used as a way to hear a national radio station that isn’t received in one’s local area, a situation that is common in rural Australia.

It is intended to provide automatic switching to an Internet-based simulcast of the radio station if you are out of the reception area for a broadcast transmitter and you can’t be “handed over” to a better transmitter’s output of the same station. It is also underscored by the concept of a “single-dial” tuning approach to select stations without worrying which broadcast methodology they are using, whether traditional or Internet-based. here is also the availability of richer metadata that can be shown on screens that support rich graphic displays along with an electronic programme guide for radio broadcasts.

This functionality is dependent on the radio having Internet connectivity of some sort. It is typically with the set being equipped with Wi-Fi or Ethernet connectivity for use on a small network, or a car radio being equipped with a mobile-broadband modem provisioned with mobile-broadband service.

This may not work properly with enterprise or public-access networks that require authentication beyond a Wi-Fi passphrase or WPS-PBC setup or we have to make sure the mobile-broadband service is provisioned for the car radio that we are using in the way the radio expects. This was something I had come across when someone posted a question about attempting to use the Internet capabilities of the Sony CMT-MX750Ni Internet-capable bookshelf music stereo system with a “headline” public-access Wi-Fi network in the place they were living in.

As well, the Internet connectivity is offered by consumer-electronics manufacturers as a product differentiator with it typically ending up on the premium products in the range. Similarly, some manufacturers want to steer clear of Internet-connectivity as a feature for their consumer-electronics product ranges.

But an increasing number of radio sets and audio equipment are implementing Bluetooth technology typically to allow streaming of audio content from mobile devices paired with the set. In the car-audio scene, this is to facilitate a safe hands-free telephone setup that allows the driver to keep their hands on the wheel and eyes on the road.

USB-C connector on Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus smartphone

Smartphones or tablets could be used to provide “hybrid-radio” functionality

The RadioDNS hybrid-radio concept could be extended to the Bluetooth link by a standard application-level class or profile for the Bluetooth specification. Here, this would work in conjunction with a computing device that runs companion “hybrid-radio” software and is linked to the radio via Bluetooth in order to enable full “hybrid-radio” functionality.

This could allow for broadcast station selection using the companion device or the display of rich metadata for the currently-listened-to station on the companion device’s display irrespective of the source of the metadata. This would be of benefit to those sets that can’t show rich graphic metadata such as what DAB+ or Digital Radio Mondiale are capable of.

The concept cam make use of the voice-driven home assistants like Amazon Echo or Google Home for many options. Here, it would exploit the idea of having a device like Amazon Echo or Google Home provide the Bluetooth – Internet bridge to your small Wi-Fi network and play network-hosted or Internet-hosted audio content through the radio’s speaker. It would be important where the radio’s amplifier and speaker does a better job at reproducing music compared to what the Amazon Echo or Google Home device.

… as could devices like the Lenovo Smart Display

For example, you could ask Alexa or Google Assistant to select a station and the local broadcast signal will then play. Or if you use something like Google Home Hub, you could have the station’s audio coming through the radio while a graphically-rich interface for that station appears on the Home Hub’s screen.

What RadioDNS needs to look towards is the idea of using Bluetooth or similar peripheral-level connections as a way of allowing a companion computing device to facilitate hybrid radio functionality for equipment or use environments that don’t support integrated Internet connectivity.

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Are we at an era where the smartphone is the new “idiot box”?

The TV era TV, VHS videocassette recorder and rented video movies

From the late 1960s through to the 2000s, the television was seen by some people as a time-waster. This was aggravated through increasingly-affordable sets, the existence of 24-hour programming, a gradually-increasing number of TV channels competing for viewership, remote controls and private broadcasters including many-channel pay-TV services.

It led to an increasing number of users concerned about various idle and unhealthy TV-viewing practices. Situations that were often called out included people dwelling on poor-quality content offered on commercial free-to-air or pay-TV channels such as daytime TV;  people loafing on the couch with the remote control in their hand as they idly change channels for something to watch, known as “flicking” or channel-surfing; along with parents using the TV as an “electronic babysitter” for their children.

Even technologies like videocassette recorders or video games consoles didn’t improve things as far as the critics were concerned. One talking point raised during the early 1990s was the ubiquity and accessibility of violent video content through local video stores with this leading to imitative behaviour.

We even ended up with the TV set being referred to as an “idiot box”, “boob tube” or similar names; or people who spend a lot of time watching TV idly having “square eyes” or being “couch potatoes”. Some people even stood for “TV-free” spaces and times to encourage meaningful activity such as for example not having a set installed at a weekender home.

There was even some wellness campaigns that were tackling unhealthy TV viewing. One of these was the “Life Be In It” campaign ran by the Australian governments during the late 1970s.  This campaign was centred around a series of animated TV “public-service-announcement” commercials (YouTube – example about walking) featuring a character called “Norm”, which showed different activities one could be engaging in rather than loafing in the armchair watching TV non-stop.

The rise of the personal computer, Internet and smartphones

The 1980s saw the rise of increasingly-affordable personal-computing power on the home or business desktop with these computers gaining increasing abilities over the years. With this was the rise of games written for these computers including some “time-waster” or “guilty-pleasure” games like Solitaire or the Leisure Suit Larry games.

During the late 1990s and the 2000s, the Internet came on board and gradually offered resources to the personal computer that can compete with the TV. This was brought about with many interesting Websites coming online with some of these sites running participant forums of some form. It also had us own our own email address as a private electronic communications channel.

Also, by the mod 1990s, most Western countries had implemented deregulated competitive telecommunications markets and one of these benefits was mobile telephony service that was affordable for most people. It also led to us being able to maintain their own mobile telephone service and number, which also lead to each one of us effectively having our own private connection. This is rather than us sharing a common connection like a landline telephone number ringing a telephone installed in a common area like a kitchen or living room.

The smartphone and tablet era

USB-C connector on Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus smartphone

The smartphone is now being seen as the “new TV”

But since the late 2000s the Internet started to head down towards taking the place of TV as a centre of idle activity. This was driven through the existence of YouTube, instant messaging and social media, along with increasingly-portable computing devices especially highly-pocketable smartphones and tablets or small laptops able to be stuffed in to most right-sized hand luggage, alongside high-speed Internet service available through highly-affordable mobile-broadband services or ubiquitous Wi-Fi networks.

Issues that were underscored included people looking at their phones all day and all night to check their Facehook activity, watching YouTube clips or playing games and not talking with each other; smartphone anxiety where you have to have your phone with you at all times including bringing it to the dinner table, and the vanity associated with the social-media selfie culture. Sometimes browsing the Social Web including YouTube ended up being seen as today’s equivalent of watching the low-grade TV offerings from a private TV broadcaster. Let’s not forget how many of us have played “Candy Crush Saga” or “Angry Birds” on our smartphones as a guilty pleasure.

Apple iPad Pro 9.7 inch press picture courtesy of Apple

Or the iPad being used to brows around the Social Web and watch YouTube

This issue has come to the fore over the last few years with concepts like “digital detoxification”, an interest in Internet-free mobile-phone devices including “one-more-time” takes on late-90s / early-2000s mobile-phone designs, mobile operating systems having functionality that identifies what you are spending your time on heavily, amongst other things.

Educators are even regarding the time spent using a computing device for entertainment as the equivalent of idly watching TV entertainment and make a reference to this time as “screen time”. This is more so in the context of how our children use computing devices like tablets or smartphones.

Even smartphone manufacturers have found that the technology has hit a peak with people not being interested in the latest smartphones due to them not being associated with today’s equivalent of idle TV watching. This may lead to them taking a more evolutionary approach towards smartphone design rather than heavily investing in ewer products.

What it has come down to

How I see all of this is the existence of an evolutionary cycle affecting particular forms of mass media and entertainment. It is especially where the media form allows for inanity thanks to the lack of friction involved in providing or consuming this kind of entertainment. As well, the ability for the producer, distributor or user to easily “shape” the content to make a “fairy-tale” existence where the “grass is always greener” or to pander to our base instincts can expose a media platform to question and criticism.

In some cases, there is an ethereal goal in some quarters to see the primary use of media and communications for productive or educational purposes especially of a challenging nature rather than for entertainment. It also includes reworking the time we spend on entertainment or casual communications towards something more meaningful. But we still see the lightweight entertainment and conversation more as a way to break boredom.

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USB-C Audio modes–something worth understanding for this new connector

Articles

USB-C connector on Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus smartphone

There needs to be some work to make USB-C a worthwhile replacement for the 3.5mm audio jack on a smartphone

What you need to know about USB-C audio | Android Authority

My Comments

At the moment, the USB-C audio application case isn’t being implemented consistently across all mobile devices that rely solely on that connection form.

There are two operating modes – a “passive” accessory mode which creates inbound and outbound analogue audio paths as if it is a 3.5mm audio jack, and an “active” mode which uses USB Audio device classes and outboard digital-analogue audio circuitry to create the sound to be heard via the accessory.

Passive setups

The former passive setup is primarily exploited by USB-C jack adaptors and basic headset implementations, especially “earbud-style” headsets. Here, the host device which is typically the smartphone or tablet would use an onboard audio chipset to convert the sound between an analogue and digital representation.

If there is some form of remote control, a basic implementation may be in the form of a single button that starts and stops media or answers and ends calls. On the other hand, if the USB Human Interface Device specifications are implemented properly in mobile operating systems, it may allow for a device to support advanced multifunction remote control.

At the moment, it may be a case of trial-and-error to find out if a USB-C Audio passive-mode headset or adaptor will work across USB-C-equipped regular computers. So for, to my knowledge, recent iterations of the Apple MacBook lineup of laptops that use this connection will provide some support for this setup.

Active setups

The latter active setup would be targeted at premium or audiophile applications such as highly-strung USB digital-analogue adaptors, noise-cancelling headsets or headsets with highly-strung digital-analogue circuitry. In some cases, this setup may also support accessory devices that implement multiple-microphone arrays.

It may also apply to wired setups involving home or car audio equipment. In this case, one would be thinking of this kind of equipment providing digital-analogue interface, power to the host device and remote-control / accessory-display abilities.

Here, they have to fully implement the USB Audio Device Class 3 peripheral class as expected in the “textbook”. As well, iOS and Android need to provide a native class driver for this device class and implement its code as expected for a mobile device which will do communications and / or multimedia. This would mean that microphones have to be used as an audio endpoint for communications purposes including regular telephony as well as for multimedia purposes. It may be a non-issue with regular computers running the Windows or MacOS desktop operating systems where it is easier for the operating system or application software to “purpose” an audio endpoint.

USB Audio Device Class 3 provides inherent support for audio-processing so accessory manufacturers don’t need to reinvent the wheel by creating their own software to implement any sort of sound processing. As well, Android and iOS need to support the inclusion of audio-processing logic in the inbound or outbound audio-signal paths in a purpose-specific manner.

Power and connectivity

There will be power and connectivity issues raised for both implementations of the USB-C Audio application. Active devices will need to draw power from the host unless they have their own battery. But with proper implementation of USB-C Power Delivery, it could allow a USB-C Audio accessory with a very high capacity battery to provide power to the host smartphone.

The passive setup wouldn’t work properly with USB-C hubs or devices that have this function unless it is assured that the hub will assure a proper clean electrical connection between the host and the accessory.

Remote control and accessory display

Another issue yet to be raised is implementation of USB Human-Interface-Device Classes and Usage Tables when it comes to using a USB-C accessory as a control surface for the host. The key issue here is whether there is proper operating-system support especially in the mobile operating systems. In the same context, there will be a market requirement for the accessory device to be able to view host-device-held lists like call lists, message lists and track lists.

The functions considered relevant to this usage case would be sound volume and transport control (play / pause / next track / previous track / etc) for multimedia; and caller volume, microphone mute and call control for communications. Accessory-based display would also need to be factored in with USB-C audio adaptors and in-line remote-control modules which implement an LCD or OLED display.

There may be use cases where multiple remote control devices are used in the same setup, typically to offer complementary functionality. Examples of this may include a USB headset with elementary remote-control for volume and a single-button control for multimedia “start-stop” or call “answer-end” functionality; along with a display-equipped inline remote control which allows for track navigation or advanced call-control.

Broadcast-radio reception

There will also be an issue regarding use of the USB-C cable as an aerial (antenna) for broadcast-radio reception whether the tuner is built in to the smartphone or the accessory. It is because of a long-standing design factor for Walkman-type radios with separate headphones where the headphone cord served as the radio’s aerial. Similarly single-piece headphone-based personal radios implemented the headband as their aerial.

It also extends to the ability for mobile operating systems to control broadcast-radio tuners integrated within smartphones or accessories to the fullest extent possible. This would include preset-station management, “follow-this-station” operation for stations appearing at other broadcast locations, graphical identifiers amongst other things.

Conclusion

If the smartphone and audio-accessory industry wants us to think of using the USB-C connector as the point to connect all peripherals, they need iOS and Android to have full native USB Audio Device Class 3 support including support for advanced-audio modes. As well, the operating systems need to have USB Human Interface Device class support for remote-control and accessory display abilities. Similarly, there would have to be proper support for broadcast-radio operation with USB-C-based mobile-device setups.

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The NAS as an on-premises edge-computing device for cloud services

QNAP TS-251 2-bay NAS

QNAP TS-251 2-bay NAS – units like this could become a capable edge-computing device

The high-end network-attached storage system is a device able to augment the cloud computing trend in various forms. This is by becoming a local “edge processor” for the cloud-computing ecosystem and handling the data that is created or used by end-users local to it.

High-end network-attached-storage systems

We are seeing the rise of network-attached-storage subsystems that are capable of running as computers in their own right. These are typically high-end consumer or small-business devices offered by the likes of QNAP, Synology or NETGEAR ReadyNAS that have a large app store or software-developer community.

The desktop variants would be the size ranging form half a loaf of bread to a full bread loaf, with some rack-mounted units about the size of one or two pizza boxes.This is compared to servers that were the size of a traditional tower computer.

But some of the apps work alongside public cloud-driven online services as a client or “on-ramp” between these services and your local network. A typical use case is to synchronise files held on an online storage service with the local storage on the NAS unit.

These high-end network-attached-storage devices are effectively desktop computers in their own right, with some of them using silicon that wouldn’t look out of place with a traditional desktop computer. Some of these machines even support a “local console” with a display connection and USB connections that support keyboards and mice.

Cloud computing

Cloud computing takes an online-service approach to computing needs and, in a lot of cases, uses multiple computers in multiple data centres to perform the same computing task. This is typically to host the data in or close to the end-user’s country or to provide a level of scalability and fault-tolerance in the online service approach.

Lot 3 Ripponlea café

A cafe like this could benefit from big-business technology without paying a king’s ransom thanks to cloud computing

Small businesses are showing an interest in cloud-driven computing solutions as a way to come on board with the same things as the “big end of town” without paying a king’s ransom for hardware necessary for an on-premises computing solution. In some cases, it is also about using different endpoint types like mobile-platform tablets for daily use or as a management tool, underscoring such concepts as low cost or portability that some endpoints may offer.

Typically, this kind of computing is offered “as a service” where you subscribe to the service on a regular, usually monthly or annual, basis rather than you spending big on capital expenses to get it going.

But, due to its nature as an always-online service, cloud computing can cause reliability and service-availability issues if the Internet connection isn’t reliable or the service ends up being oversubscribed. This can range from real-time services suffering latency towards a cloud-computing experience becoming unresponsive or unavailable.

Then there is the issue of privacy, data security, service continuity and data sovereignty which can crop up if you change to a different service or the service you use collapses or changes hands. It can easily happen while cloud-computing faces points of reckoning and the industry goes in to consolidation.

Edge computing

But trends that are being investigated in relationship to the “Internet Of Things” and “Big Data” are the concepts  of “edge” and “fog” computing. It is based around the idea of computing devices local to the source or sink of the data that work with the locally-generated or locally-used data as part of submitting it to or fetching it from the cloud network.

It may allow a level of fault-tolerance for applications that demand high availability or permit scalability at the local level for the cloud-computing application. Some systems may even allow for packaging locally-used data in a locally-relevant form such as for online games to support local tournaments or an online movie service to provide a local storage of what is popular in the neighbourhood.

The ideas associated with “edge” and “fog” computing allow for the use of lightweight computer systems to do the localised or distributed processing, effectively aggregating these systems in to what is effectively a heavyweight computer system. It has been brought about with various early distributed-computing projects like SETI and Folding@Home to use personal computers to solve scientific problems.

What is serving the edge-computing needs

Qarnot Q.Rad press image courtesy of Qarnot

This Qarnot Q.Rad heater is actually a computer that is part of edge computing

Some applications like drones are using the on-device processing to do the local workload. Or we are seeing the likes of Qarnot developing edge-computing servers that heat your room or hot water with the waste heat these computing devices produce.  But Amazon and QNAP are working on an approach to use a small-office NAS as an edge-computing device especially for Internet-Of-Things applications.

The NAS serving this role

Here, it is about making use of these ubiquitous and commonly-available NAS units for this purpose as well as storing and serving data that a network needs. In some cases, it can be about the local processing and storing of this locally-generated / locally-used data then integrating the data with what is available on the cloud “backbone”.

For some applications, it could be about keeping enough data for local needs on the NAS to assure high availability. Or it could be about providing scalability by allowing the NAS to do some of the cloud workload associated with the locally-generated data before submitting it to the cloud.

Netgear ReadyNAS

The NETGEAR ReadyNAS on the right is an example of a NAS that is capable of being an edge-computing node

This may be of importance with IT systems that are moving from a totally on-premises approach towards the use of cloud-computing infrastructure with data being stored or processed online. It is where the focus of the cloud infrastructure is to make business-wide data available across a multi-site business or to provide “portable access” to business data. Here, a NAS could simply be equipped with the necessary software to be a smart “on-ramp” for this data.

For small and medium businesses who are moving towards multiple locations such as when a successful business buys another business in another area to increase their footprint, this technology may have some appeal. Here, it could be about doing some pre-processing for data local to the premises before submitting to the cloud as part of an online management-information-system for that small effort.  As well, it could be about keeping the business-wide data “in-sync” across the multiple locations, something that may be important with price lists or business-wide ledgers.

This kind of approach works well with the high-end NAS units if these units’ operating platforms allow third-party software developers to write software for these devices. It can then open up the possibilities for hybrid and “edge” computing applications that involve these devices and the network connectivity and on-device storage that they have.

Conclusion

What needs to happen is that the high-end network-attached-storage systems of the Synology or QNAP kind need to be considered as a hardware base for localised “edge computing” in an online “cloud-computing” setup.

This can be facilitated by the vendors inciting software development in this kind of context and encouraging people involved in online and cloud computing to support this goal especially for small-business computing.

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How about the expansion docks with room for extra secondary storage

Sony VAIO Z Series and docking station

Like with this (Sony) VAIO Z Series ultraportable, an add-on module with integrated optical disk or other storage could add capabilities to today’s small-form-factor computers

A key trend affecting personal computing is for us to move away from the traditional three-piece desktop computer towards smaller form factors.

Here, the traditional desktop computer’s system unit was a large box that was about the size of a hi-fi component or a large tower. As well the smaller form factors we are heading towards are laptops / notebooks; ultra-small desktop computers of the Intel NUC ilk; or all-in-one

USB-C (also the physical connector for Thunderbolt 3)- the newer connection type that can make better use of add-on modules

which integrate the computing power with the display.

With these setups, it is assumed that we are moving away from on-board data storage in the form of hard disks or staying well clear of packaged media in the form of optical disks. This is driven by online software delivery and the use of streaming audio and video services.

Intel Skull Canyon NUC press picture courtesy of Intel

.. with this applying for small-factor desktops like the The Intel Skull Canyon NUCvideo services.

What was often valued about the traditional computer design was that there was extra space to house more storage devices like hard disks or optical drives or the ability to install high-performance graphics cards. This is why these form factors still exist in the form of high-performance “gaming-rig” computers where performance is more important and there is the likely of more data being held on these machines.

But for some of us, we will still want to maintain access to prior storage media types like optical disks or use high-performance graphics chipsets especially at home or our main workspace.  For example, the traditional optical discs are still valued when it comes to media in an always-accessible future-proof collectible form.

There is also the idea of maintaining a secondary hard disk as extra storage capacity specifically for data, whether as a backup or as an offload storage location. This is more so where you are dealing with laptop computers that are equipped with solid-state storage of up to 256Gb and there is a desire to keep most of your data that you aren’t working with somewhere else.

Laptop users often answered this need through the use of a “dock” or expansion module to connect a cluster of peripherals to a single box which has only one connection to the host laptop computer. But Thunderbolt 3 facilitated the rise of external graphics modules which add extra graphics horsepower to laptops and similar low-profile computers.

This concept can be taken further with USB-C or Thunderbolt 3 expansion docks that have integrated optical drives and/or mounting space for hard disks. These would present to the host as Mass Storage devices, using the operating-system class drivers for this kind of device. Of course there would be the expansion abilities for extra USB devices, as well as an Ethernet network interface and/or onboard USB audio chipset with own SP/DIF or analogue connections.

Video to the displays could be facilitated via DisplayPort alt or USB DisplayLink for devices not implementing an external graphics module functionality. In the latter situation, it is like “hotting up” a car for higher performance.

Of course they would have to be self-powered with a strong USB Power Delivery output for the host and USB peripherals. There could be research in to having USB ports head in to optimised charge-only mode when the host computer isn’t active for example.

Most of the onboard devices will be required to represent the devices according to standardised device classes. This will typically lead to a “plug-and-play” setup routine so you aren’t downloading extra software to run the devices if you use recent versions of the main operating systems.

Manufacturers could see these devices as something that complements their ultra-small desktop computer product lines. This is in an approach similar to how consumer hi-fi equipment, typically devices of a particular model range are designed and marketed. Here, the importance would be on having equipment that shares common styling or functional features but encouraging the ability to expand the ultra-small desktop computer at a later date.

The idea here is to allow users to adapt portable or small-form-factor computers to their needs as and when they see fit. It is as long as these computers implement USB 3.1 connections in Type-C form or, for faster throughput and support for external graphics modules, implement Thunderbolt 3 over USB-C connections.

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Facebook clamps down on voter-suppression misinformation

Article

Australian House of Representatives ballot box - press picture courtesy of Australian Electoral Commission

Are you sure you are casting your vote or able to cast your vote without undue influence?

Facebook Extends Ban On Election Fakery To Include Lies About Voting Requirements | Gizmodo

From the horse’s mouth

Facebook

Expanding Our Policies on Voter Suppression (Press Release)

My Comments

Over recent years, misinformation and fake news has been used as a tool to attack the electoral process in order to steer the vote towards candidates or political parties preferred by powerful interests. This has been demonstrated through the UK Brexit referendum and the the USA Presidential Election in 2016 with out-of-character results emanating from the elections. It has therefore made us more sensitive to the power of misinformation and its use in influencing an election cycle, with most of us looking towards established news outlets for our political news.

Another attack on the electoral process in a democracy is the use of misinformation or intimidation to discourage people from registering on the electoral rolls including updating their electoral-roll details or turning up to vote. This underhand tactic is typically to prevent certain communities from casting votes that would sway the vote away from an area-preferred candidate.

Even Australia, with its compulsory voting and universal suffrage laws, isn’t immune from this kind of activity as demonstrated in the recent federal byelection for the Batman electorate. Here, close to the election day, there was a robocall campaign targeted at older people north of the electorate who were likely to vote in an Australian Labour Party candidate rather than the area-preferred Greens candidate.

But this is a very common trick performed in the USA against minority, student or other voters to prevent them casting votes towards liberal candidates. This manifests in accusations about non-citizens casting votes or the same people casting votes in multiple electorates.

Facebook have taken further action against voter-suppression misinformation by including it in their remit against fake news and misinformation. This action has been taken as part of Silicon Valley’s efforts to work against fake news during the US midterm Congressional elections.

At the moment, this effort applies to information regarding exaggerated identification or procedural requirements concerning enrolment on the electoral rolls or casting your vote. It doesn’t yet apply to reports about conditions at the polling booths like opening hours, overcrowding or violence. Nor does this effort approach the distribution of other misinformation or propaganda to discourage enrolment and voting.

US-based Facebook end-users can use the reporting workflow to report voter-suppression posts to Facebook. This is through the use of an “Incorrect Voting Info” option that you select when reporting posted content to Facebook. Here, it will allow this kind of information to be verified by fact-checkers that are engaged by Facebook, with false content “buried” in the News Feed along with additional relevant content being supplied with the article when people discover it.

This is alongside a constant Facebook effort to detect and remove fake accounts existing on the Facebook platform along with increased political-content transparency across its advertising platforms.

As I have always said, the issue regarding misleading information that influences the election cycle can’t just be handled by social-media and advertising platforms themselves. These platforms need to work alongside the government-run electoral-oversight authorities and similar organisations that work on an international level to exchange the necessary intelligence to effectively identify and take action against electoral fraud and corruption.

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What are the full-featured desktop NAS units about?

Article

Synology DiskStation DS415play NAS with media transcoding - Press image courtesy of Synology

Synology DiskStation DS415play – an example of these full-function network-attached-storage units

Synology DSM vs. QNAP QTS: Which NAS is right for you? | Windows Central

My Comments

Increasingly Synology and QNAP have become strong rivals when it comes to full-function network-attached-storage devices that do more than what WD, Seagate and others offer. Here, they are made by two NAS specialists who are running high-end NAS-focused operating systems that can be run headless or with a screen and keyboard “head”. Some manufacturers like NETGEAR and ASUSStor are following on with Synology’s and QNAP’s efforts to join in the pack when it comes to

QNAP TS-251 2-bay NAS

QNAP TS-251 2-bay NAS – another example of what a full-function NAS is about

offering full-function NAS units for home and small-business use.

Recent iterations of these devices typically have the same kind of computing power as a relatively-recent low-end regular personal computer but put this power towards file handling and serving. Most of them will support at least a two-disk RAID setup in the low-tier varieties with the mainstream models having four or five disk bays for a RAID 5 setup. The “brain” in these devices will be mostly an ARM-based CPU but higher-spec variants may use an Intel or AMD processor expected in a very low-end laptop computer. You may also find some NAS units like the Synology “play” NAS units running a graphics processor as a co-processor for media transcoding. A significant number of models will even support upgradeable RAM to allow them to work more quickly and handle more data traffic.

But the operating system is of a similar standard to one that would drive a regular personal computer. Most likely it would be a variant of a desktop Linux distribution and would be regularly updated as well as allowing users to install apps from the NAS vendor’s app store. Once you log in through a Web-based user interface or a keyboard / screen / mouse “console” attached to the NAS, you would experience a user interface similar to Windows, MacOS or desktop Linux running a graphical user interface.  But most of these user interfaces can’t allow for cut-and-paste between the host computer and the NAS user interface.

The apps will typically convey particular file-handling functions like syncing to online storage platforms, BitTorrent server functionality and DLNA-compliant media-server functionality. There is also apps that “tie” the NAS to native mobile-platform client apps supplied by the vendor to allow transfer of data between the NAS and a mobile-platform tablet or smartphone. It is typically a way to push a NAS as a “personal cloud” by working with a vendor-hosted “DNS-mapping” arrangement to allow you to upload content from your iPhone to your NAS even while you are out and about and connected to the Internet. This is in addition to various “client-backup” server tools for regular-computer platforms along with NAS-NAS backup tools.

Let’s not forget software like media-player functionality or IP-camera videosurveillance recording functionality. In some cases, there are various server apps for email or WordPress content management so you could easily purpose these units as a business information server. In some cases, adding peripherals to these NAS devices opens up paths for extra functionality with, for example, TV-tuner modules converting these NAS units in to Tivo-style PVRs that can share live or recorded TV content over the network.

QNAP’s QTS and Synology are very similar in many ways but Synology is focused towards simplified operation while QTS is focused towards taking advantage of faster better hardware. There are other similar full-featured NAS platforms like Netgear’s ReadyNAS or the ASUSStor NAS platform existing but there doesn’t seem to be the same kind of third-party developer base built up around these platforms.

But what can be done to make the full-featured NAS market better? One approach could be to allow the licensing of one or more of these NAS operating systems and app platforms to other companies on a “white-label” basis so they can launch their own full-featured NAS product range. This can avoid the need for a company who wants to develop their own NAS product to “reinvent the wheel” when building software.  As well, the creation of one or more large platform bases for NAS operating systems can give software developers the confidence to create software for these devices. Therefore it can avoid the home and small-business NAS market becoming like the games-console market which is focused towards vendor-specific solutions with a limited path for delivering additional software.

Personally, I would recommend the full-function NAS units of the Synology or QNAP ilk as being suitable for those of us who want more out of a network-storage device. In some cases, I would see it as appealing for an upgrade path for people who see their NAS device do more than just host files from your computer and share them to your Smart TV. Similarly it would appeal to those of us who want the basic abilities like DLNA media serving to be done in a more capable manner.

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What could be done to simplify your router upgrade

Telstra Gateway Frontier modem router press picture courtesy of Telstra

There needs to be a standard filetype to simplify the process of upgrading your home network router without reconfiguring your home network

An issue that will crop up through the life of a home network is to upgrade the router. This will be brought on with replacement of carrier-supplied equipment with retail equipment, replacing that half-dead router that you are always powering off and on many times a week, or upgrading to higher-performance equipment.

But you will end up having to transcribe out configuration data from your old equipment so you can enter it in to your new equipment especially if you want to avoid having to reconfigure other network equipment on your same home network.

Most routers offer a way for users to back up the current configuration details. This is typically to allow a user to do things like perform a factory resent or to test a configuration without losing a prior known-to-work state.

The process typically requires the user to download a configuration file to the computer they are configuring the router from in a similar manner to downloading a resource from the Web. But there isn’t a consistent file schema for storing this data in a manner for transferring to devices supplied by different vendors. In some cases, you may not be able to transfer the configuration data to newer equipment from the same vendor such as to install a newer router model.

AVM have taken steps in the right direction by allowing users to save a configuration from an older Fritz!Box router and upload it to a newer Fritz!Box router running a newer version of the Fritz!OS firmware. It is also to factor in allowing the router to persist your configuration to a newer version of the firmware.

But what can be done to make this work better would be to use a standard file format, preferably an XML-based schema which could be used for storing a router configuration. This would have to be agreed upon by all of the vendors to provide true vendor interoperability.

There would also be issues about providing multiple methods of storing this data. It could be about maintaining the traditional HTTP download / upload approach with Web clients on the same local network. Or it could also be about transferring the data between a USB Mass Storage device and the router such as to facilitate an out-of-box install.

Such a setup could allow for a range of scenarios like simplifying the upgrade path or to make it easier for support staff to keep information about different configurations they are responsible for.

The configuration data would have to cater for WAN (Internet) and LAN details including details regarding Wi-Fi wireless network segments, advanced network setups like VLAN and VPN setups, VoIP endpoint setups as well as general and security-related data.

Of course an issue that will crop up would be assuring the user of proper network security and sovereignty, something that could be assured through not persisting the management password to a new router. Also you won’t be able to keep Wi-Fi channel data especially if you deal with self-optimising equipment, because you may have to face an evolving Wi-Fi spectrum landscape.

What will need to happen is to provide methods to allow seamless upgrading of devices that serve as your network-Internet “edge” so you can simplify this upgrade process and get the most out of the new equipment.

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