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Author Archives: Alex Kidman

How can I tell if my gadgets are safe?

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The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) recently issued a general warning around the use of electronic gadgets inflight after an incident where a passenger’s headphones exploded inflight en route to Melbourne from Beijing.

They didn’t release a whole lot of additional details regarding the make or model of the headphones, or whether there were any other issues with the device prior to its failure. That makes it hard to discern what went wrong. All we know is that something did go wrong, and as with anything that could cause a fire on a plane, that’s a big concern. For the record the person involved was slightly burned but beyond that, and a foul smell in the plane there’s no indication of further worries.

Of course, it wasn’t that long ago that airlines would generally prohibit the use of electronic devices during takeoff and landing, citing concerns about communications safety during those critical times. Now, outside of much smaller planes you can be assured of being able to use most devices from gate to gate, although you’re still prohibited from using anything with a radio transmitters.

There’s a huge gap between a radio transmitter and a set of headphones going up in flames, however. While we don’t know much about the case beyond that it happened, it does highlight some general safety principles for any mobile gadget, whether it’s a battery pack, mobile phone, tablet or laptop. If you’ve been on a flight recently you’ve probably heard that safety demonstration that tells you not to try to move your seat if your phone drops down into it. That’s easy to understand, because if you crunch the batteries in your phone, very bad things can happen above and beyond crushing your device. Likewise, you’re not allowed to have larger capacity batteries in your checked luggage, because if anything goes wrong inflight, nobody might notice until it’s way too late. Those are sensible precautions for inflight, but what can you do to check that your device is electrically safe? Most of us don’t have the relevant tools or ability to safely open up devices run on lithium ion batteries, especially if we want them to stay within warranty.

Typically the issue that causes most concern is battery failure, because that’s where fires or explosions can start. If a Lithium Ion battery is about to fail, however, there are usually a few warning signs. The battery (whether it’s a battery pack, phone, tablet or laptop) may bulge and expand in size; this is often more evident in a thin phone than a laptop where there’s more space, but if that describes your device, stop using it immediately. Likewise if it leaks fluid or warms up a great deal more than it used to. The discharge of a battery and its use will lead to some heat, but if it’s gone from tepid in the hand to territory where you could fry eggs on it, it’s a good sign that something’s going bad.

It’s not just inflight that you should worry about such issues, of course. Samsung’s Note 7 recall last year was due to phones catching afire in houses and cars, and that’s not something that anyone wants to face. Yes, getting a repair or replacement device will cost some money, but nothing compared to the damage, physical and financial, that an exploding device could cause. Simply put, it’s just not worth the risk.


Optus’ NBN stumble highlights the need to be prepared

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For years now we’ve been promised a bright shiny NBN future of broadband for all. It’s been bogged down by political boondoggles (no matter which side of the political fence you sit on) and an often significantly delayed rollout schedule, but the reality of the NBN is starting to hit more and more Australians as the implementation gains speed. This was always going to be the case, no matter which fixed line technology you were set to receive; for customers on the more remote satellite service it was always a matter of getting the satellites up in the air, at which point the interim service would be shuttered. That happened at the end of February, and while satellite NBN isn’t a patch on the fixed line variant, for those under its umbrella it’s still a marked step forwards.

For the rest of us, bearing in mind that fixed line NBN is the majority play within a few different technology types, now is the time to start thinking about your NBN switchover plans. You don’t get a choice as to the technology you’re connected to, with a mix of full fibre, fibre to the node, fibre to the curb and HFC (that’s the older Foxtel/Optus/Telstra cable) all part of the NBN mix. You also don’t get a choice once your premises are declared NBN ready. The practical way that NBN manages this is with an 18 month shutoff window from when a premises is declared “NBN-ready” (which is to say that there’s a connection point nearby, whether that’s fibre, fibre to the node or HFC), after which traditional broadband services will be disconnected, along with phone services that run along the same lines.

Or at least that’s the way it’s meant to happen. As reported by the Sydney Morning Herald, Optus has been using strongarm tactics for customers currently in its HFC servicing areas in Melbourne, informing customers on HFC that they only have 30 days to switch and (not surprisingly) suggesting Optus NBN plans to switch to.

What Optus is doing here flies in the face of NBN’s position of an 18 month switch off window, although it states it’s working within a 90 day rather than 30 day period. Essentially because it controls the HFC network for now, it can make the business decision to cease services declared “NBN Ready” (which in this case means largely switching to what was Telstra HFC, because Optus’ own network was judged to be beyond repair or upgrade when handed over to NBN) on its own HFC infrastructure.

If it was in an ADSL space, you could conceivably switch to another provider in the short term, but with no HFC competitors, you’d be stuck. What’s rather more suspect here is that some of Optus’ communications to customers appear to be suggesting that their only choice would be to switch to an Optus-provided service. That most definitely isn’t the case, because one key plank of the NBN is that multiple providers will be available across different technology types.

The Optus example may not hit you, although if you are on Optus cable it’d be wise to be planning ahead. That same planning should be being undertaken by anyone with a current internet connection regardless. I suspect the noise being made around Optus’ business decision may come to haunt the ISP, and it may well back down and give customers a little more time.

Still, if the NBN rollout can keep to its 2020 timeframe for completion, that means that the clock is ticking for every Australian to be aware of their NBN options when the time comes. Simply waiting out the 18 month window will only see you lose phone and internet connectivity, because there won’t be any ADSL or cable services to provision. Lining up a connection takes time, so leaving it to the last minute will do you no favours at all.


At Mobile World Congress, Mobility doesn’t just mean phones

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I’ve recently been at the huge Mobile World Congress conference in Barcelona. Mobile World Congress (MWC for the sake of brevity) is the world’s largest mobility event, held annually in Barcelona, and typically where the big phone manufacturers announce their flagship phones, excluding Apple. Apple doesn’t play well with the other children, you see, and has its own launches. But typically, you can expect to see between 3-6 flagship phones launched there, along with announcements about mobile networks, mobile payment and the future of mobility generally.

This year’s event was a little different, primarily because manufacturers took a differing view of what mobility meant.

If you were Nokia (or to be strictly accurate, HMD Global, the company that has the right to produce phones under the “Nokia” brand), mobility meant a range of mid-range Android phones along with the surprising re-emergence of the Nokia 3310. If you had a mobile back in the early 2000s, chances are high it was a Nokia, and probably the 3310, although the new model is much brighter and slightly more feature-packed than the original. Yes, it still plays Snake, but don’t get your hopes up for it in Australia, as the model announced is a 2G only phone, and by the end of September, there won’t be any mainland 2G signal at all on any network. If you live on Christmas Island you’ll still have 2G signal, but that feels like a small market to me.

For Sony, mobility was the launch of the very impressive Sony Xperia XZ Premium. It’s Sony’s third “flagship” phone in a little under a year, but this one really does seem to bring the goods, with a Snapdragon 835 processor under the hood, 4K HDR-ready display and a truly stunning camera that can record slow motion video at up to 960 frames per second. If you’ve ever played with the slow motion feature on your phone, these typically top out at around 240 fps. 960 is an entirely new level, and while the Xperia XZ can only handle recording at that rate for 0.6 seconds, it’s then able to stretch that recording out to a full six seconds of playback time. The results, even for normal motion events, is mesmerising.

Sony has a challenge, though, because rival Samsug has the early exclusive on that Snapdragon 835 processor that powers the Xperia XZ. For its part, LG and Huawei played it safe on that score, with the LG G6, which will launch in Australia before the end of March running on the older Snapdragon 821, and Huawei’s P10 using its own Kirin processor.

The Snapdragon 835 will (pending testing) probably be this year’s best processor for mobile devices. We’ll see it first in Samsung’s own Samsung Galaxy S8, but we didn’t see it at MWC. Instead, Samsung will announce that phone on the 29th of March. Samsung instead used its MWC event to showcase new productivity tablets. The Galaxy Tab S3 is a stylus-enabled Android tablet, while the two new Galaxy Book tablets are full Windows 10 machines, available in 10.6 and 12 inch sizes. The 12 inch model is by far the better option if you want a 2-in-1 style device, with a faster processor, better display and more ports. Is mobility a tablet? Samsung thinks so.

Then again, it wasn’t alone. Budget phone maker Alcatel unveiled a trio of mobile phones, including the LED-backed A5 LED phone that lights up like a disco dancefloor, but it also showed off the Plus 12 Windows 2-in-1, which will launch in Australia in July $649 outright. While the specifications at that price are much more mid-range, one of the interesting aspects of the Plus 12 is that it’s LTE-ready, so you can drop a SIM into it for on-the-go mobility. That’s not an entirely new play for laptops to speak of, except that Alcatel has placed the SIM card slot into the detachable keyboard of the Plus 12. That means that it can also act as a standalone Wi-Fi hotspot for other devices, which is a neat trick. Not to miss out on the nostalgia vibe, Alcatel’s parent company, TCL also launched its licensed BlackBerry phone, the KEYone. It’s an Android device with that classic BlackBerry keyboard built in, and from my brief testing time, quite a compelling device to boot.

The reality here is that as mobile devices have become more powerful, the focus on what mobility actually means has expanded rapidly. As we race towards the practical emergence of 5G networks, that’s not likely to slow down any.


When will smartwatches prove themselves?

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Google has recently announced the release of Android Wear 2.0, its updated operating system for wearable computing devices. You could put Android Wear 2.0 on just about any wearable technology, but the key market for Android Wear to date has been smartwatches.

The first Android Wear 2.0 watches that will launch with the new OS installed are made by LG with Google apparently having significant input into their design and specifications, although not quite so much that it wanted to brand them as “Google” devices, as it does with its Pixel phones, and previously its Nexus devices. LG has two new models, the LG Watch Sport and the LG Watch Style. There’s even a model that incorporates LTE mobile data connectivity, so if you wanted to go all Dick Tracy while out and about, you could do so just from the watch with no phone required.

Before you get too excited, however, sadly LG Australia has announced that it has no plans to bring the new watches to the Australian market. There are some Android Wear 1.0 devices that will see the update, but not all of them. If you’ve got an Android Wear 1.0 device, you should be prompted by it if the upgrade is going to appear, as happens with existing Android and iOS updates.

There’s a pattern here for wearables. We won’t see the LG Watches down under, and last year Motorola released its 2nd generation Moto 360 here many months after it was available elsewhere on the planet. This isn’t just a matter of ignoring Australia for its own sake, but much more the reality of smartwatch sales. Specifically, while manufacturers don’t release sales figures, all the available evidence suggests that the category that was meant to be “the next big thing” simply isn’t, or at least isn’t to the degree that most smartwatch manufacturers might have hoped it would be.

The issue from my perspective — and I’m someone who wears a smartwatch every day — is that the essential problem that smartwatches are best at solving was fixed from day one. That’s notifications, whether it’s of an incoming call, although not every watch can actually answer calls, or text messages or emails. If you’re busy and need quick notification, glancing at your watch makes a lot of sense.

Outside of that use case, however, things become murkier. Most smartwatches have integrated fitness tracking, but that’s something that’s rather easily available more affordably with a dedicated fitness band that doesn’t require charging every day. Manufacturers have tried to throw every other “app” style category at smartwatches that they can try, from social media to photos, but there are some real challenges when you’re dealing with a display that has a diameter of around 1 inch.

It’s not the same situation as we saw with smartphones, where once the app ecosystem developed you could add all sorts of functions to devices that otherwise were best used for calls and texts. Smartphones have given rise to social media in the mainstream, services like Uber or AirBnB and plenty of others.

Smartwatches, however are good for notifications, and maybe a few other niche cases. They tell the time, but if you’re fussed about wearing a watch (and I’m in that camp, being slightly OCD about the whole matter) you could already do that. Android Wear 2.0 brings with it some interesting side features, but we’re still really waiting for that so-called “killer app” use of the devices to make them a must-buy gadget.


Will inflight Internet be a boon or a bust?

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If you’ve travelled internationally, and especially in the USA, you may have hit the opportunity to use internet services while flying. This is usually at a cost, sometimes a quite severe cost depending on your flight status and quantity of access required.

For many of us, stepping onto a plane is precisely when we step outside of the online world. That’s especially true for domestic flights in Australia. Or at least, it was true.

Qantas has announced that from late February, selected domestic flights will have free Wi-Fi internet access offered to all passengers. The airline has been testing inflight internet for domestic travel purposes for some time, and the intention is to gradually roll it out to its entire fleet of Boeing 737 and Airbus A330 aircraft by the end of the year.

This does mean that if you’re flying on the smaller, older Qantas branded flights (often branded as QantasLink) then you won’t get the service, at least for now. As per Qantas’ statements regarding the service, it will be free for passengers to use.

What’s interesting here is both Qantas’ confidence in the service, and the way that it plans to make it available. Qantas announced the plans specifically calling out streaming services from Netflix, Spotify and Foxtel as being able to be accessed from its inflight Wi-Fi service. Netflix and Spotify both offer 30 day trials if you’re not already a subscriber, and on the Foxtel front, passengers will enjoy a complimentary 3 day access pass with no ongoing subscription every time they fly.

Netflix and Foxtel’s services require a solid broadband connection, even just for standard definition video streaming, so Qantas clearly has some confidence in the quality of signals it’s going to be able to beam to planes. It’s going to use spare capacity from the NBN’s freshly launched SkyMuster satellites to provide inflight internet.

As an aside, SkyMuster NBN plans are now available if you’re part of the very small section of the population whose NBN compatibility is limited to satellite delivery. That means that the interim satellite service that previously provided your internet connection is set to be decommissioned from the 28th of February. If you haven’t yet made the move to switch over to SkyMuster services, do so now, as from the end of February it’s going to get awfully quiet if you try to connect to an interim service which is no longer there.

Providing such services for free is a canny move. I can envisage situations where, as happens so frequently with mobile broadband services over 4G networks, that the signal is so congested from every single passenger trying to stream video at once that nobody can get all that much done. If it’s free, and you’re really on the plane to get from point A to point B, whether that’s for business or pleasure, you’re not likely to complain too much.

Where it gets more interesting is in the social aspect of inflight Internet usage. It’s fair to assume that more, shall we say, socially unacceptable content would probably be filtered so that you’re not suddenly faced with an eyeful of something generally unacceptable, but it does raise the spectre of not being able to escape the online world while you travel.

That means that work email, and indeed work issues could chase you all the way from Perth to Cairns, and anywhere in-between. I’ve certainly been known to work on planes, where the reality of small seats allowed for it, but largely in an uninterrupted, focused way precisely because I can’t be contacted. Persistent online access rather puts an end to that.

Even if you’re travelling for pleasure rather than business, it raises some interesting challenges. Many flights have quite decent inflight entertainment, and adding Netflix, Spotify and Foxtel to the mix might not be a bad thing, except if it doesn’t work. I’d certainly suggest if you’re a Netflix subscriber that adding a few offline playback titles to your tablet or phone might not be a bad precautionary measure. If it works inflight, then great, you have an expanded choice. If not, your choice is constrained to those titles you’ve already downloaded, but at least that’s better than staring out the window for the whole flight.


New malware uses old tricks

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It can be a tricky business keeping an internet connected PC or Mac safe from viruses and malware. Yes, I said PC or Mac; the days when Mac users could happily promote the idea that Mac OS was free from any kind of rogue applications are long gone, although it is fair to say that the vast majority of exploits target the Windows environment. That’s largely a numbers game. While Apple has done well in recent years in terms of expanding its overall market share, it’s still simply dwarfed by the number of Windows PCs connected to the Internet. If you were a bad guy wanting to infect computers and there were a thousand of one type and ten million of the other type, you’d hit the ten million first, every time.

However, as I stated at the outset, not even Mac users are automatically secure any more. That’s why having a decent AV package is a very good idea, simply because they can save you from what’s so very often the actual weak link that allows viruses and malware to spread. It’s not always the case of so-called “zero-day” exploits (problems within code that aren’t known about) or for that matter known exploits that get hit because people don’t run security updates in a timely fashion.

After all, if you were writing dodgy software, you couldn’t be assured that a system hadn’t been patched, or that it was running the right version of the software for which a zero-day existed or worked reliably. No, the most reliable way to gain access to computers, whether you’re after malicious damage, encryption of systems for blackmail purposes or simple identity theft is to go for the weakest link in the security chain. All too often, that’s you or me.

As an example, a recent attack on Macs used, of all things, Word Macros to attack potentially vulnerable machines. Macros are simple chunks of code designed within the Microsoft Office environment to allow automation of tasks, and they can be very powerful productivity boosters. Equally, though, they can allow for some very bad things to happen, which is why on the PC side of the fence they’re almost an archaic form of attack.

A recent malware attempt was sent around via a Microsoft Word For Mac document entitled “U.S. Allies and Rivals Digest Trump’s Victory – Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.” Which doesn’t sound that thrilling to me, but maybe your tastes vary.

If you opened it, and you had allowed Macros to run, it would run a check to see if a particular Mac firewall was running, and if it wasn’t, download and try to execute an encrypted file from the Internet. The file itself (thankfully) didn’t work, but the whole enterprise relied on the idea that you’d either allow Macros by default (terribly dangerous behaviour) or, more likely, that you’d blithely click through allowing Macros in order to read the document.

You’ve probably hit those warnings on PC or Mac about files or applications making changes to your computer, especially when installing any new app. Chances are decent you’ve blithely clicked through them, thinking of them as a mere annoyance. Next time you hit one, stop and think. Because if the weakest security link on your PC is you, the way you strengthen that link is by using your brain.


Telstra outage shows a weakness in two factor authentication

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Telstra recently suffered an outage in its network thanks to an unexpected fire in one of its exchanges located in Chatswood, New South Wales. For a couple of hours, and mostly (but not exclusively) if you were in NSW and on Telstra’s network, you may have had limited access to calls, mobile data and texts.

That’s annoying, but to pour a little salt into the wound, the erratic status of the network also meant that some text messages, rather than sitting around waiting to be delivered to their intended recipients, went to the wrong numbers entirely. Social media comedy ensued, and Telstra halted texts across the network to sort matters out. Eventually, normality returned to its mobile network.

One of the odd side effects of the outage could have hit you, as it did me, if you were trying to log into any service that requires two factor authentication.

As a quick refresher, two factor authentication logins require two elements for verification for a given online service. The idea is that even if you’ve used a common password, or for that matter inadvertently given your password away, your accounts will still be secure because that second factor acts as an effective second lock for your data, whether that’s an online storage service for your private photos or the contents of your bank account.

Quite commonly, because access to them is near universal, services that require two factor authentication will do so by getting you to log into a service, and then verify your identity by way of a one-time code delivered as an SMS.

In my case, I was setting up a password manager whose vault was stored in an encrypted fashion on a cloud service. For that kind of data, which controls access to all sorts of services I use on a daily basis, the inclusion of two factor authentication is generally a big plus, because I’d rather have that secondary lock.

Except, of course, when the second lock doesn’t actually have a key. To my benefit, the way the SMS key was sent through gave no indication as to what service it was for or any of my own details, so if it was mis-sent to somebody else, it would be merely baffling rather than a way into my accounts. That should be standard for any decent two factor authentication service.

So what can you do in a circumstance where a second factor such as an SMS can’t be procured? It depends on the service. Some will allow other factors to be enrolled, such as biometric fingerprint or iris recognition services, or a message sent to a specific email address, but typically those services do have to be set up in advance.

Most will allow you to tell the service that you can’t access the preferred authentication factor — because, say, you’ve lost your phone or similar — but this typically involves a slower authentication verification process. Again, that’s actually sensible policy, because the last thing you’d want is a miscreant who had conned you out of a password being able to rapidly change the two factor authentication method in use to a method they could easily access. If that happens, the locks that are meant to keep them out could easily keep you out instead.

In my case, while it was less than vital, I made do with accessing my password manager on another device that was already authorised and just painstakingly copying passwords across character by character. Less than ideal, but after a couple of hours wait, with the network back up again, the relevant verification codes came flooding in, and I had access again. Sometimes a little patience can be the best solution.


Can an all-Aussie streaming service survive?

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Streaming video as a category has seen explosive growth in Australia in the past couple of years. The ACMA estimated back in 2015 that around 3.5 million Australians regularly used streaming media services, and that number will only have grown since then. While streaming media can chew up your broadband allowance, the allure of services such as Stan, ABC iView, SBS on Demand and most notably Netflix has seen increasing numbers of Australians adopt streaming media as a valid entertainment option, and for some, their primary source of new video content.

At the same time that Netflix has expanded, it’s not been quite as smooth sailing for other competitors. Foxtel’s low-cost streaming service Presto recently closed its doors in favour of a slightly cheaper general Foxtel Play package if you want video on demand via its services. Fairfax/Nine’s Stan continues to compete in the wider content space, but the generally available figures suggest that its subscription base is considerably smaller than that of Netflix. Whether that’s original content, pricing or simple brand identification is a tough thing to identify, but the perception (not necessarily the reality) that Netflix has more content probably plays into that.

In the middle of all of this, a little quietly on Australia day, a new streaming provider emerged. OzFlix very much does what it says on the tin, offering up films that are Australian produced, and largely those for Australian audiences. That’s a niche play, but then delivery over the Internet does allow for the survival of more niche services, as long as there’s demand. OzFlix is taking a more rental rather than subscription style approach to its content, however. Rather than pay a flat fee for access to a library of content, it’s offering individual Australian films for a set rental fee. If you’re after a more recent Aussie film you’ll pay $6.79 for a rental, while older more classic fare costs $3.79.

That puts OzFlix more up as a competitor to services such as Apple’s iTunes, Google Play or BigPond Movies, all of which offer rental services akin to the good old video store model. Here, though, OzFlix has a few conditions that might make them a less compelling option. They’ll happily rent you a flick for your PC or Mac, but external casting via an Apple TV or what OzFlix calls any “external display” isn’t supported from a PC or Mac. Although oddly Google’s Chromecast is supported for exactly that purpose. For Mac users, Safari isn’t supported at all, and the same is true if you’re a PC user running Windows 7 and Internet Explorer 11. Predictably you’ll need a broadband, not dialup connection, but that’s true for any streaming video service these days.

OzFlix promises adaptive streaming, which means if your broadband service is up to it, it’ll give you a full HD stream of your movies (if available for your chosen title), but if you’re on a more stuttery connection, as many of us are, you’ll get a lower quality stream but hopefully less delay due to buffering.

Will OzFlix survive in the local marketplace? Ultimately that comes down to content and audience. Australians have shown that we’re very interested in stories about ourselves, although at launch there’s not a huge range of absolutely exclusive content that only OzFlix can offer. If you’re an Australian film nut it’s probably nirvana, but for the rest of us, it’s more likely to be something that you might look up to chase down a classic film or two that doesn’t happen to be on Stan or Netflix.


Computers continue to shrink, but you’ve got to be keen to use them

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It’s an oft-used adage that over time, technology devices shrink remarkably. The very first computers were the size of entire rooms and, while revolutionary for their time, wouldn’t even power a small child’s toy today, but over time we’ve managed to shrink down the core components of computing into the devices that we use today, whether they’re laptops, desktops, tablets or mobile phones. Admittedly, to be fair, back in the era of flip phones a la the Motorola RAZR line, it was expected that phones would get even smaller and that hasn’t happened, but that’s because of screen size, not internal componentry.

As the internal components have shrunk and hit true mass production, the actual cost of computing has also dropped remarkably. In a pure processing sense this means that the laptop you can buy for $2,000 today is an order of magnitude more powerful than the $2,000 machine you might have purchased at the turn of the century. Go back a decade or two and the comparison may as well have been with an abacus.

What’s also happened in the recent past has been the explosion of low power, low cost tinkering computers, headlined by the Raspberry Pi. It’s a tiny computer on a board that’s nearly always described as being credit card sized, and who am I to mess with tradition? Sold by itself, the Pi won’t do much until you add an SD card for storage, microUSB power and a screen, at least at first, although plenty of Pi projects eschew a permanent screen display.

The original Raspberry Pi and its later descendants were designed for low-cost educational computing, making resources available to those who couldn’t afford full-process PCs, as well as encouraging tinkerers. Raspberry Pi doesn’t have the field to itself however, with plenty of competitors, many of which you’ve probably never heard of all offering their own very small form factor systems.

It’s not just all no-name systems, however. Asus recently launched its own take on the Pi-style concept, dubbed the Tinker Board. It’s a slightly more powerful machine, capable of 4K output which sells in the UK for £45 (around $75). Just a few years ago, the concept of a 4K-capable PC for under $100 might have seemed like fantasy, and yet here we are.

Before you rush to the internet, credit card at the ready and figuring your old laptop or desktop can just rust, you do need to be aware that these types of systems represent absolute bare-bones computing, and that’s kind of the point. While there are resources out there, especially for educational computing, the idea is that you tinker with these systems to build not only new gadgets, but also your own computing knowledge. Command line coding will almost certainly be involved, so while you could build a simple Linux PC from one of them, they’re not always going to be smooth sailing. At the same time, if you’ve ever wondered what home computing was like in the late 70s, when simple build-it-yourself systems were still very much the geeky fashion, or you’ve wanted to tinker with a simple project that requires simple computing power, they’re a pretty small investment to get started with.


Is your display screen hurting your vision?

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If you’ve used technology for any period of time, you’ve probably had one of those days where you step away from the screen and realise just how sore your eyes are. Computer eye strain is definitely a problem for anyone who has to stare at a bright screen for any length of time.

Typically speaking, it’s the way that your eyes tell you that enough is enough, but the effects can go further than that, because the same blue light that makes up a lot of the output of computer screens is also part of how we as humans moderate our sleep cycles. In other words, a lot of blue light might not only leave you with tired eyes, but also with a brain that won’t make it easy to actually get to sleep.

Often, however, the needs of the day mean that you have to keep staring at that screen into the wee hours of the night. Exposure to bright computer screens, and more specifically the blue light that makes up much of the white background of most computer and phone displays can leave you extremely uncomfortable, although there’s no hard and fast rule for how much is too much, because individual tolerances can vary. The research is far from settled on this issue, but if you’re concerned there are steps you can take to reduce your overall eye strain.

The most obvious step is to simply step away from the screen for as long as feasible, but that’s often not something that’s easy to do. Thankfully there are options if you’re worried about excessive eye strain.

Apple introduced a night shift mode in iOS 9.3, covering the iPad Air and newer devices that works off a nighttime schedule to subtly change the colour output of your iPad’s display screen. That reduces the blue light that the iPad puts out, reducing probable eye strain and making it easier to doze off at night.

Microsoft has announced that as part of its upcoming Microsoft Creator Update for Windows 10, it will introduce a similar blue light reduction feature that ties into local sunrise and sunset schedules, making it more comfortable to view your screens for longer.

However, you don’t have to wait for the Creator Update if you’re concerned about eye strain you could consider a free utility such as f.lux (https://justgetflux.com/), a utility available for PC, Mac and Linux that manages the same sunset and sunrise schedules to adjust screen colour and intensity over time.

Again, this isn’t a matter of settled science, but certainly something that both Microsoft and Apple have taken seriously enough to incorporate into their products. You may find that a screen dimming utility does nothing to improve your eye strain issues, but you’ve got little to lose by testing it out to see if it makes a difference for you.


Recent News

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You don’t need to stick with your current Internet Service Provider when you switch across to the National Broadband Network, but your ISP will do its best to twist your arm. While the NBN aims to offer many Australians decent broadband for the first time, for the country’s ISPs it’s a once-in-a-generation game of musical… More 

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The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) recently issued a general warning around the use of electronic gadgets inflight after an incident where a passenger’s headphones exploded inflight en route to Melbourne from Beijing. They didn’t release a whole lot of additional details regarding the make or model of the headphones, or whether there were any… More 

finance

If your paperwork piles up while you’re away from your desk then it might be time to streamline your business with a cloud-based finance package. Paperwork is one of those necessary evils when you run a business. You might prefer to spend all your time focusing on your passions, but the business won’t get far… More 

nbn

For years now we’ve been promised a bright shiny NBN future of broadband for all. It’s been bogged down by political boondoggles (no matter which side of the political fence you sit on) and an often significantly delayed rollout schedule, but the reality of the NBN is starting to hit more and more Australians as… More