USB-C PD battery packs–are they worth it for your laptop?

Article

Dell XPS 13 8th Generation Ultrabook at QT Melbourne rooftop bar

This Dell XPS 13 can be charged from a USB-C Power Delivery battery pack for long-haul use

The 10 Best Laptops You Can Charge With a Power Bank | MakeUseOf

List of USB-C Power Delivery chargable laptops | Wikipedia

My Comments

The USB-C connection and USB Power Delivery specification bas brought forward the idea of using a USB external battery pack a.k.a a USB powerbank for charging your laptop computer. This is in addition to using these battery packs for charging your smartphones or tablets.

For example, you could be using these battery packs to “stretch out” your laptop’s run-time while you are away from power, something you may be doing while playing a Civilization game on one of the new many-hour long-haul flights for example. Or you could simply charge up a laptop that has a battery that is depleted. It may also be of use where a battery inside the computer is nearing its end-of-life and is not likely to hold enough charge to permit use away from power.

Here, you have to look towards a USB-C PD-compliant battery pack which can put up at least 30 watts. For air travel, the battery pack would have to have the ideal battery capacity of 2600mAh because of air-transport limitations on lithium-ion batteries larger than 2700mAh for this class.

Features worth looking for include some USB-A connections for mobile phones and tablets along with another USB-C Power-Delivery-compliant connection. Having the two USB-C connections can allow you to charge the battery pack up while you are charging your laptop or running it from AC power – no need to carry extra chargers and travel adaptors with you.

This is mostly relevant to 13” laptops, 2-in-1s and similar devices. You may be able to get some more run-time out of larger-screen devices and other USB-C Power-Delivery devices if you don’t really expect to fully top up the battery in your computer.

The Dell XPS 13 in its clamshell and 2-in-1 forms as reviewed and covered extensively on this site can be charged from these battery packs. The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon or Yoga variants can do this job as can the HP Spectre X2 detachable and the ASUS Zenbook 3. For gaming-grade performance, you can power the Razer Blade from one of these USB-C battery packs.

Mac users can rejoice with all of the USB-C-equipped Apple MacBook family able to he charged or powered from these external battery packs. Chrome OS users also can know that the Google Pixelbook and the Asus Chromebook Flip C302 can work from these same power sources.

The Wikipedia article will list more laptops that can work from a USB-C Power Delivery battery pack and there is a strong likelihood that newer iterations of the abovementioned computers will run from USB-C Power Delivery in this manner.

You may be able to work around the battery-power limit regarding these batteries if you take two or more USB-C PD battery packs that is within the limits but it is best to confirm these limits with your national government’s air-safety Website.

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Mopria driver-free printing now arrives at Windows 10

Article – From the horse’s mouth

Brother HL-L3230CDS colour LED printer

Windows 10 users can print to these printers using a Mopria class driver baked in to the operating system

Mopria Alliance

Press Release (PDF)

Fact Sheet

Previous Coverage on driver-free printing

What is happening with driver-free printing

My Comments

There are sure steps being taken to print fully-formatted documents from a computing device without the need for driver or companion software to be installed by the user.

It is to allow a person to print a document like a boarding pass using the printer local to them without worrying about make or model it is in order to install any drivers. This effort has been focused towards mobile platforms like iOS and Android thanks to the inherently-portable nature of devices that run these operating systems. But there are other use cases like dedicated-function devices such as set-top boxes or accessible-computing scenarios where you use specially-designed hardware for people with particular challenges.

Dell Inspiron 13 7000 2-in-1 Intel 8th Generation CPU at QT Melbourne hotel

No need to find and install drivers for that printer you have to use with the Windows 10 laptop

But it can apply to regular computers, especially laptops that are likely to be taken from place to place. Apple facilitated this through integrating AirPrint in to the Macintosh platform since MacOS X 10.7 Lion so you can print to an AirPrint-compliant printer without needing to install drivers on your Mac computer.

Now Microsoft is using the Mopria Alliance technology to enable this kind of driver-free printing from Windows 10. This is facilitated through a class driver baked in to the operating system since the October 2018 feature update (Build 1809). The class driver is offered as an option of last resort if Windows 10 cannot find the device driver for a newly-installed printer through existence on the host computer or through Windows Update.

You can still install and update vendor-supplied driver software for your printer, something you would need to do if you want to exploit the scanner abilities on your multifunction printer or use advanced monitoring and quality-control abilities that the manufacturer offers. It would work if you are in a foreign place like your business partner’s office and you needed to print out a document “there and then”.

In the case of managed-IT scenarios, the Mopria approach avoids the need for inhouse or contracted IT personnel to install drivers on the computer equipment they are managing to have it work with a particular printer. It also applies to task-specific Windows 10 builds where you want to have the minimum amount of software on the device yet allow for printing. As well, creating a standard operating environment or a dedicated-function device based on Windows 10 code like a point-of-sale system can be made easier especially where you want flexibility regarding the printer equipment you deploy or your end-users end up using.

I would like to see Microsoft improve on this by having a standalone Mopria class driver available for prior versions of Windows and ready to download from their download sites. This is especially useful for organisations who maintain task-specific standard-operating-environments or devices based around these earlier operating systems.

What is happening is the idea of driver-free printing is being seen as a reality especially for mobile computing scenarios and all the popular operating environments are coming to the party.

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Microsoft runs a Super Bowl ad about inclusive gaming

Article

Microsoft’s moving Xbox ad was the best thing about the Super Bowl | CNet

Microsoft Super Bowl Ad video – Click or tap to play

My Comments

In the USA, the Super Bowl football match isn’t just the final NFL football match of the season. It is a TV-viewing experience that encompasses the half-time show and a showcase of highly-polished commercials along with the football game. Here. you enjoy this with your friends while digging those chips in to some fabulous dips or chomping on those chicken wings and drinking plenty of beer or soda (soft drink).

One of the ads that was ran during this showcase was to promote Microsoft’s XBox Adaptive Controller. This is a game controller specifically designed for children and adults who have mobility or dexterity limitations and is about having these children being able to play video games with the XBox console or Windows-based computer. It is also designed to accept a range of assistive devices as user-input devices thanks to various standard connections like dry-contact switches or USB analogue joysticks.

The software supplied with Windows 10 or XBox One also allows accessory controllers that are connected to this device along with this device’s buttons to be “mapped” to particular functions, leading to the most custom gaming experience. Even the packaging is designed to allow people with limited mobility or dexterity to open up the box, something that works well when these controllers are given as a gift for an occasion.

The CNet article called out the ad as going against the grain of sports and video-gaming cultures where people who don’t fit the expected mould of a participant i.e. the young male able-bodied person are effectively shut out. The fact that it was shown during America’s big sporting event of the year hammered this concept home regarding opening up video and computer gaming to more classes of people.

It also goes along with Microsoft’s “open-frame” approach to computing and gaming which allows the creation of games and applications for Windows 10 and the XBox One games console. This can also allow the development of therapy-focused games that can help people with special needs or undergoing particular therapies, and underscores the idea of using this kind of technology in a therapeutic role.

It also shows that computer and video gaming can be part of the course for people who have limitations affecting their mobility or dexterity through the use of assistive technology that is accepted by others who are more able.

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Business-email compromise phishing now affects consumers

Article

House in Toorak

The sale of a property is an area where consumers can easily be caught up in a business-email compromise scam

Email crooks swindle woman out of $150K from home sale | Naked Security blog

An email scam has caused $200,000 in losses to real estate agents and home buyers in Victoria | Smart Company

My Comments

Ordinary householders can be at risk of a “business email compromise“ phish attempt in the same way as those in large business.

The business email compromise scam

This scam typically has the trickster research as much as they can about their victim and his or her employer or business partners. The victim that is usually targeted is someone who is likely to facilitate business-sensitive transactions or handles business-sensitive data like the payroll. They will find out whom they report to within the organisation such as the chief financial officer, or beyond the organisation like their accountant, lawyer or the tax department.

Then they place an urgent request to the victim to wire funds to a particular account as part of a wire fraud. Or they could be asked to reply to the email with organisationally-sensitive data like employee data typically presented as a “wages and tax-witholding” statement like a W2 (USA), P60 (UK and Ireland) or Group Certificate (Australia) to facilitate identity theft against the business’s staff.

How can ordinary people get caught up in these scams?

Apartment block in Elwood

as can having that rental apartment managed by someone else

But this kind of email scam can similarly happen with personal transactions, especially those that are high-stakes in nature, typically requiring the engagement of legal counsel. A key example of these transactions would be the sale of real-estate, businesses or investments.

Similarly, the probate settlement of a deceased estate or a property settlement after a divorce or separation could be at risk because these can involve a collection of items including high-value goods like real-estate or collectables. In that case, you are dealing with a real-estate transaction along with the valuation and sale of items.

It can also extend to transactions where you are delegating an agent to manage assets. Examples of these include trust funds typically for minor children, powers of attorney, or rental properties managed by a property manager or estate agent.

These transactions typically involve the frequent exchange of documents during the closure or settlement period where the transaction is in the process of being realised. They also involve dealing with different entities like conveyancers, law firms, estate agents and the like to facilitate the transactions. In addition, due to electronic transaction technologies like online document signing, there will be many emails between the parties that will have links to various resources like document repositories including document-signing platforms or results pages. They are also vulnerable towards the end of the settlement period where a last-minute change could be rushed in “under the radar”.

What can happen, for example, is that a fraudulent email could be used to “steer” the proceeds of a house sale away from the vendor’s account towards a fishy-sounding account.  Or funds due to an estate’s beneficiary could be steered away to an account not under the control of that person.

What can you do?

Compose Email or New Email form

Protect yourself against this scam by practising safe email habits

To protect yourself, make sure everything about the transaction is properly “cut and dried” as it evolves. This includes identifying and documenting sources, currencies and destinations of any funds along with procedures affecting the high-stakes transaction at the start of the transaction. Especially be careful of last-minute changes that crop up towards the end of the settlement.

Protect email accounts that are party to the transaction such as implementing security measures that the email service or client software would provide. With Webmail services,using multi-factor authentication may work as a secure measure, as will verifying that you log in to the service at its known proper address.

Carefully examine emails associated with the transaction to be sure they come from the proper email addresses. As far as links to online resources are concerned, make sure you know the proper domain name for these resources and that the links point to resources at that domain name. Attachments should also come through as proper representations of their filetype and you may have to use your endpoint security software to scan for document-laden malware.

Similarly, you may have to make sure Word documents or Excel spreadsheets are viewed in “Protected View” where macros cannot be run or the document can’t be edited. You would need to exit this mode if you are editing the document such as filling in a form or amending a spreadsheet, or printing it out.

In some cases, a regular personal computer running desktop applications and Web browsers may become a better device to use for verification than a mobile-platform device like a smartphone or tablet. This is because the desktop operating system and software tends to offer a more detailed user experience than their mobile equivalents.

If someone changes their email or other communications details, confirm these details through another communications means that you and them trust. You may have to use one of the prior or alternate communications details as a tool for confirmation if a significant number of details is changed such as through a change of employment.

You may have to double-check invoices, account numbers and the like directly with the other party especially if these details are changed. It is best to do this in person or on the phone using independently-verified phone numbers such as numbers you already have for them.

Avoid the use of untrusted networks like insecure public-access networks to do your sensitive business. Here, you may find that using a mobile-broadband connection and/or a VPN may work with this kind of business if you are away from home or office networks you can trust.

Be especially careful about creditors where the payment-destination account number, the payment method or currency changes during the course of your business. There may be a legitimate reasons such as a creditor changing banks or accounts for something that suits their needs better. But an impostor could be steering money that you owe them to an account under the control of the grifter who is impersonnating them.

If the high-stakes transaction has any international dimension about it, don’t be afraid to seek consular help regarding any aspect of that transaction. It may mean talking with your country’s foreign-affairs government department or the embassy or consulate associated with the foreign country. This is now important with people relocating overseas while maintaining assets like homes in their own or other countries, or goods being purchased via the Internet from foreign sellers.

For example, participants of a transaction conducted across international borders can use consular help to verify each others’ identities. Similarly, they can organise official translation of any official documents that are part of the transaction and are in a language that one of the parties doesn’t understand. Or you simply may need to confirm the legitimacy of that transaction in the foreign country including any steps you need to take.

Conclusion

We as consumers can become vulnerable to the business-email compromise scam when we are dealing with high-stakes transactions like real-estate purchases. To protect yourself, it’s about secure computing and email practices along with making sure everything in the transaction is “cut and dried” including verifying changes through another communications path you trust.

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Laptop screen protectors and privacy screens–are they worth their salt?

Article

Dell XPS 13 8th Generation Ultrabook at QT Melbourne rooftop bar

A screen protector or privacy screen can be a valuable cost-effective accessory for that laptop

Do laptop screen protectors affect touchscreen sensitivity? | Windows Central

My Comment

An accessory that you could get for your own laptop computer or give to someone who owns one is a screen protector or privacy screen. These accessories are considered very affordable and you would be safe to give one as a gift for any occasion. It is not hard to come by these accessories, typically found in accessory departments of computer, consumer-electronics, office-supply or similar stores or available online through the likes of Amazon.

The screen protectors, typically made of plastic or tempered glass, protect the screen from scratches or dust. The plastic option is an economy option but it itself can be scratched and is not always likely to cover the whole of your screen as well as itself becoming a “dust magnet”. The glass option costs extra but is more damage resistant and will cover your screen fully. That is more important especially for tablets and 2-in-1s due to you interacting with the screen more frequently.

Privacy screens are a screen protector that uses a fresnel-lens approach thanks to polarisation to limit the viewing angle to directly in front of the screen. This is to prevent others who are sitting beside you from viewing what’s on your screen, but if a person is directly behind you, they can see what you are doing. It is good if you are using your computer to work on confidential material in a high-traffic area regularly like making use of that “second office” cafe or bar, or using it to do your work on public transport or while flying.

Dell Inspiron 13 7000 2-in-1 Intel 8th Generation CPU at QT Melbourne hotel - presentation mode

This is more so with these 2-in-1 convertible laptops

You may expect to have reduced sensitivity from touchscreens or active-pen setups due to the extra material but this may be a slight effect. In some cases, a screen protector that has a textured surface may provide a better inking surface than using a glossy screen alone or a smooth-surfaced protector. This is more so if it has a paper-style texture.

When choosing a screen protector or privacy screen, pay attention to ease of installation and removal. This is important if you find that it doesn’t fit your computer properly or suit your needs or the screen becomes too dull as you use it. In some cases, you may find that particular screen protectors may fit a particular model of laptop rather than working for a particular generic screen size.

Something else you may may have to pay attention to is whether the screen protector does impact your computer’s screen brightness for comfortable use over its lifespan. This is more so if you have to increase the screen brightness which can have an impact on battery runtime. Let’s not forget how the automatic brightness functionality on some screens may be affected by the use of the screen protector and you may have to raise the brightness slightly.

Considering these points can allow you to choose the best value screen protector or privacy screen for your laptop or tablet so you can gain long-term use out of these accessories.

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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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Mercedes-Benz to offer vehicle options like add-on computer software

Article

Android Auto in Chevrolet Malibu dashboard courtesy of © General Motors (Chevrolet)

Vehicle infotainment options could be delivered like computer software rather than a special vehicle order at time of purchase

Mercedes wants to treat certain vehicle options like video game DLC | CNet

My Comments

An issue that will become a key trend for how new cars are sold is the supply of options like navigation, smartphone integration or advanced broadcast-radio technology like DAB+ or HD Radio at the time of purchase or after the fact/

Typical realities that come about include when a vehicle changes hands and the new owner wants to add on newer technology; the fact that the existence of some newer features on an older vehicle may raise its resale value; along with “ready-to-go” vehicles existing at a particular dealership such as one in an outer-urban location not being kitted out with a particular option leading to customers who want these options to order a suitably-equipped vehicle from the factory.

But Mercedes-Benz has taken the “software-defined” approach to this situation to allow options to be delivered as if you are downloading an app for your smartphone from the app store. Most of it is facilitated through things like the broadcast-radio tuner in the car radio being a software-defined receiver for example.

It will also appeal as a cost-effective approach towards updating data associated with particular functions like maps that are part of a navigation system or Gracenote music-recognition data for a CD player. It could also appeal as a way to make a newer option available across the manufacturer’s car fleet even after the vehicle is on the road, such as something that is required as part of compliance with newer expectations.

The vehicle will have to be connected to an Internet connection and be based on the Mercedes.me platform to allow users to buy and implement these updates. There may be some options that will require the installation of hardware like, for example, an optical-disc player in a vehicle that didn’t come with one so you can play CDs.

Like with the CD changers that were offered as an option during the 1990s, these features may command a higher premium that something offered through the independent aftermarket. There may also be issues about what is available in a particular country, something that can be of concern for expats that ship their vehicle with them or areas like Europe where one can head to another country by road or a short affordable ferry trip.

I do see this as a trend for vehicle builders that invest in their infotainment systems to implement software-based option delivery for existing and newer vehicles. It may also be a way for mature drivers to acquire newer infotainment functionality without going down the path associated with the “four-wheeled ghetto blaster” often associated with young men who trick out their cars.

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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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European Union’s data security actions come closer

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Map of Europe By User:mjchael by using preliminary work of maix¿? [CC-BY-SA-2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

The European Union will make steps towards a secure-by-design approach for hardware, software and services

EU Cybersecurity Act Agreed – “Traffic Light” Labelling Creeps Closer | Computer Business Review

Smarthome: EU führt Sicherheitszertifikate für vernetzte Geräte ein | Computer Bild (German Language / Deutschen Sprache)

From the horse’s mouth

European Commission

EU negotiators agree on strengthening Europe’s cybersecurity (Press Release)

My Comments

After the GDPR effort for data protection and end-user privacy with our online life, the European Union want to take further action regarding data security. But this time it is about achieving a “secure by design” approach for connected devices, software and online services.

This is driven by the recent Wannacry and NotPetya cyberattacks and is being achieved through the Cybersecurity Act which is being passed through the European Parliament. It follows after the German Federal Government’s effort to specify a design standard for routers that we use as the network-Internet “edge” for our home networks.

There will be a wider remit for EU Agency for Cybersecurity (ENSA) concerning cybersecurity issues that affect the European Union. But the key issue here is to have a European-Union-based framework for cybersecurity certification, which will affect online services and consumer devices with this certification valid through the EU. It is an internal-market legislation that affects the security of connected products including the Internet Of Things, as well as critical infrastructure and online services.

The certification framework will be about having the products being “secure-by-design” which is an analogy to a similar concept in building and urban design where there is a goal to harden a development or neighbourhood against crime as part of the design process. In the IT case, this involves using various logic processes and cyberdefences to make it harder to penetrate computer networks, endpoints and data.

It will also be about making it easier for people and businesses to choose equipment and services that are secure. The computer press were making an analogy to the “traffic-light” coding on food and drink packaging to encourage customers to choose healthier options.

-VP Andrus Ansip (Digital Single Market) – “In the digital environment, people as well as companies need to feel secure; it is the only way for them to take full advantage of Europe’s digital economy. Trust and security are fundamental for our Digital Single Market to work properly. This evening’s agreement on comprehensive certification for cybersecurity products and a stronger EU Cybersecurity Agency is another step on the path to its completion.”

What the European Union are doing could have implications beyond the European Economic Area. Here, the push for a “secure-by-design” approach could make things easier for people and organisations in and beyond that area to choose IT hardware, software and services satisfying these expectations thanks to reference standards or customer-facing indications that show compliance.

It will also raise the game towards higher data-security standards from hardware, software and services providers especially in the Internet-of-Things and network-infrastructure-device product classes.

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