Archive for May, 2020

Review: Ever Widening Circles

Posted in Products with tags on May 29, 2020 by itnerd

Right now we live in a world of bad news regardless whether we’ve talking about the pandemic, or we are talking about the economy, or politics. And the news that we see reflects that. It’s downright depressing at times.

So what if I said that you could download an app that would serve up more positive news to you. There’s a new mobile app called Ever Widening Circles which is available via the Apple Store or Google Play that allows you to take a few moments from your day to experience the lighter and more uplifting side of the 24/7 always-on news cycle. I took a few minutes to download the app onto my iPhone and spent a lot of time going through it. Here’s my observations on this app:

The front page of the app shows the latest articles that are on offer. I like the fact that it gives you an estimation of how long it will take to read.

The articles themselves are very rich when it comes to media. It’s not just text, there are Instagram and YouTube links as well. This makes each article a very engaging experience.

There are a rather large number of categories available. I noted that they had TED Talks, Life Hacks, Science and Technology. Whatever you are interested in, it’s likely here.

What’s interesting is that there is a core team behind all the articles that work to put all of this together. That means that the stories that you get are curated and that you won’t see anywhere else. They promise no agenda: no politics or commercial biases. And from what I can tell, there isn’t any of that. Sources are cited as well which I appreciate. And to top it off, there’s a pretty clear privacy policy that doesn’t ring any alarm bells for me.

The app is free to download. But there are two subscription plans:

  • A $0.99 monthly subscription plan with the first month free.
  • A $9.99 yearly subscription plan with the first month free.

If you want to brighten up your day and take your mind off the news that can drag you down, Ever Widening Circles is a good way to do it. And it is worth your time to download it and have a look.

Review: Taotronics SoundLiberty 79 Smart AI TWS Headphones

Posted in Products with tags on May 29, 2020 by itnerd

True wireless headphones, meaning a pair of Bluetooth headphones that are not connected by a wire are officially a thing as the millennials would say. Apple has dominated this category, but players like Sony, Sennheiser, and others have joined the party. But I tripped over a serious contender from a brand that you may not have heard of. That brand is Taotronics and the true wireless headphones in question are the SoundLiberty 79 Smart AI TWS Headphones:

Here’s what comes in the box:

Starting from the top left are the headphones themselves along with their charging case. Then on the right is a very short USB-A to USB-C cable, and below them are a package with extra wing tips and ear tips.

Here’s a closer look at one of the headphones. You can see the copper charing pins as well as the wing tips and the ear tips. I should note that the ear tips which are purple are not the ones that come with these headphones. More on that later.

The front of the headphone looks sleek and low key. The silver tip is the only thing on it that could be considered to be “bling”. In other words, they won’t attract attention while you are wearing them. The outside of the headphone support tapping to control your music and allow you to answer calls. More on that in a bit.

The headphones charge by USB-C and for those who want wireless charging, it doesn’t support that. The headphones will last 8 hours on a single charge and another 22 hours in the charging case. That’s a total of 30 hours. During my testing, I couldn’t get the headphones to run out of juice during a day of Zoom calls or listening to music.

There are four buttons on the front of the case. When you plug it in, it will display 1 to 4 lights to indicate the level of charge. And when it’s not plugged in and the headphones are inside of the case, you’ll get the lights that you see above which indicates that it’s charging both headphones. The case is small and easy to pocket.

Pairing them was easy via Bluetooth 5.0. Open the case, and wait for it to pop up in your Bluetooth menu. Done.

So how well do these headphones work? Here’s my observations:

  • I used them for several hours on Zoom calls. The default ear tips which were the medium ones worked fine and were comfortable to wear for the four or so hours that I was doing Zoom calls as I felt no discomfort whatsoever. The sound quality that I heard was absolutely crystal clear. And people on the calls had no problem hearing me. You will not have any complaints here. After that I checked the battery status. I started out this day with three dots on the case which indicated that I had about a 75% charge. By the end of day I had two dots on the case which indicated about a 50% charge. I will note that I put the headphones in the case to recharge between calls.
  • I did a test call with my wife and she said that I sounded crystal clear. She sounded crystal clear as well. You will not have any complaints here either. In both cases, you can thank built in noise cancelling which makes your voice sound better.
  • These headphones seal off outside noise effectively. Which is great for calls and music But I should note that there’s no transparency mode to let outside noise in.
  • I listened to music using one of the audio torture test playlists that I use for testing the audio systems in cars. The audio profile is designed to produce a very neutral audio profile. By that I mean that it will not produce a lot of bass or treble artificially. That’s what I tend to prefer when I listen to music. The stereo separation was excellent and there was a lot of detail to the music. You will not have any complaints on this front.
  • The headphones are IPX7 water resistant which means it can survive immersion for 30 minutes to a depth of 1 meter. That means I had to test it during a workout. So I took it on a workout on my bike indoors on the Zwift platform. While these headphones are comfortable, they will not stay in your ears once you get sweaty. That’s a bit unfortunate. But it does highlight the one weakness with these headphones which are the ear tips. They are comfortable, but also thin enough that they tear easily if you are not careful while removing them so that you can change them to a different size. This is why I used the purple ones that you saw in the pictures above that I had lying around as they were more robust while producing no difference in the sound quality.
  • The headphones support a variety of tapping commands to do everything from controlling your music to summoning the voice assistant of your choice. But the area that you need to hit to do any sort of tapping is small enough that I found it easy to miss. In the end I gave up and used my Apple Watch to control the music and answer phone calls. I suspect that this might be a your mileage may vary thing.

The bottom line is that I was impressed with the Taotronics SoundLiberty 79 Smart AI TWS Headphones. The sound quality is great, they are comfortable to wear, and your voice will be crystal clear. Though they are not perfect as the ear tips are not that robust and the surface to tap out any commands is hit and miss. But given that they go for $59.99 USD, this is a great value. And I would say that you should consider taking a trip to Amazon to grab a pair.

Element AI Announces Collaboration with Veritas Consortium led by Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS)

Posted in Commentary with tags on May 28, 2020 by itnerd

Element AI, a global developer of artificial intelligence-powered (AI) solutions and software, today announced a new collaborative relationship with the Veritas Consortium led by Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), to assist with developing a framework for driving the responsible adoption of AI in the financial services industry.  The consortium has an overarching mandate to implement the FEAT principles (Fairness, Ethics, Accountability, Transparency) as critical considerations for the deployment of Artificial Intelligence and Data Analytics (AIDA) technologies within financial institutions.

The FEAT principles and the Veritas initiative are part of Singapore’s National AI Strategy, aimed at building a vibrant and responsible environment for AI adoption within the financial sector.  As one of the AI technology providers to the consortium, Element AI’s involvement aims to include a range of research and development activities in support of this mandate. One of the first initiatives being undertaken is in collaboration with United Overseas Bank (UOB), one of the lead consortium members. Together they will develop a set of quantifiable metrics for financial institutions to assess the extent to which data and the algorithms or models used to evaluate credit scoring for unsecured lending meet the principles of Fairness. 

The consortium’s goal is to publish a research report on the project and to open-source the code for the metrics for AI practitioners to review and to eventually use within their own organizations. The report is expected to be published in the second half of 2020.

To learn more about Element AI advisory & enablement, and AI-powered solutions, visit:https://www.elementai.com/.

Aptum Launches Managed DevOps Service Powered by CloudOps

Posted in Commentary with tags on May 28, 2020 by itnerd

Aptum, a global hybrid cloud and managed services provider, today launched its Managed DevOps Service in partnership with CloudOps, a cloud consulting and professional services company specializing in DevOps. The Managed DevOps Service offers a cloud-based DevOps platform that allows customers to automate their development pipelines and reduce application delivery times. Customers are also provided with hands-on training on DevOps practices and tools so they can succeed. Through this offering, customers gain access to two highly sought-after skillsets – DevOps and Kubernetes – allowing teams to focus on developing applications without having to worry about navigating the complexity of the DevOps ecosystem alone or the operations of their DevOps platform.

The Managed DevOps Service from Aptum is a fully managed stack, running on cloud infrastructure. It can be deployed over Aptum’s managed private cloud, Azure, AWS and GCP. The service is based on a Kubernetes container orchestration system, which automates the deployment, scaling and management of containerized applications.

Aptum’s Managed DevOps Service solves several common DevOps challenges for customers:

  • Speeds up application development times
  • Avoids costs and time involved in hiring and retaining DevOps platform talent
  • Multi-cloud support enables agile and flexible deployments- Supports hyperscale and private clouds, allowing companies to choose the most cost-effective option
  • Customizable deployment of the data and control plane to comply with data sovereignty regulations.

The Managed DevOps Service is available immediately to customers in North America, United Kingdom and Europe. Additional details can be found here: https://aptum.com/services/cloud/managed-devops/.

Heads Up To macOS Catalina and High Sierra & Mojave Users…. You Can’t Ignore Software Updates Anymore

Posted in Commentary with tags on May 28, 2020 by itnerd

I’m sure that most users when they see a prompt on their macOS computer to apply some sort of software update, they ignore it most of the time. Now to be clear, you likely shouldn’t. But that’s not how the real world works. And it seems that Apple is aware of that which is why they’ve implemented this change in High Sierra, Mojave, and Catalina. I noted that this was in the release notes for the 10.15.5 update for Catalina:

Major new releases of macOS are no longer hidden when using the softwareupdate(8) command with the  --ignore flag
This change also affects macOS Mojave and macOS High Sierra after installing Security Update 2020-003.

Now this doesn’t sound like a big deal. But it is. If you run High Sierra, Mojave, or Catalina, the Software Update section of System Preferences will display a prominent upgrade button for Catalina and a notification badge on the System Preferences icon in the Dock. If you didn’t want that, you could always run this command (at your own risk of course) in the terminal to stop this from being displayed:

 softwareupdate –ignore “macOS Catalina” 

Now with the updates that Apple has released earlier this week, this command no longer works. And the likely reason for this is that Apple wants to ensure that users update to newer versions of macOS as soon as possible. Which makes sense as Apple would like to ensure that a certain amount of “herd immunity” exists within the macOS community. Though I am going to go out on a limb and suggest that there are users who have set up their Macs in a way that installing a software update would create some sort of major problem for them. At the moment, I do not see anything that indicates that Apple is forcing software updates on their users. But Apple does have the ability to do that. For example, when a serious root level exploit surfaced a few years ago, Apple forced a fix onto those who didn’t instantly apply said fix when it was released the next day. But I suspect that if they went there, users would revolt.

As a result of this seemingly innocuous tidbit, I am going to read through the release notes in more detail as clearly there’s more here than meets the eye.

Zoho Takes On Slack With Remote Work Tools For Cliq

Posted in Commentary with tags on May 27, 2020 by itnerd

Zoho Corporation, a global technology company that offers the most comprehensive suite of business software applications in the industry, today announced Remote Work Tools on Cliq, an enhanced version of its chat software that allows employees to check-in to work, greet co-workers and interact as they would at the office, no matter where they’re working from. Available now, the enhanced platform brings the office into Cliq to ensure teams don’t miss out on the little things.

As businesses shifted to working remotely in the wake of the global pandemic, Cliq usage skyrocketed. The platform saw a 225% increase in message volume and a 1200% increase in calls made per day, with group calls growing 10x in the U.S., 25x in Europe and 15x in India. As remote work became widespread, teams faced the challenge of collaborating as they would in their physical office space. Cliq with Remote Work Tools addresses this by solving what traditional chat software can’t.

Key Remote Work Tools on Cliq features include:

Easy Check-in. With a simple click connected to human resource management systems, employees can check-in and check-out to work from Cliq as if swiping their ID when walking into or out of the office.

Availability transparency. Team members can easily update their work status (available for collaboration, engaged with work, having lunch or taking a short break), allowing co-workers to see who’s available and who’s busy as if walking the office floor.

Auto-timed status updates. Work status is synced based on activity across other Zoho Apps, letting co-workers easily see if teammates are in a remote session in Zoho Assist or attending a meeting in Zoho Meeting.

Live video feeds to see who’s available. A virtual equivalent to peeking at a co-worker’s desk to see if they’re free before heading over for a quick discussion, live feeds enable teams to see if it’s the right time to connect with a co-worker.

Instant group calls. Group calls are initiated with the touch of a button, allowing teams to collaborate when the situation calls for a quick face-to-face meeting.

Team work-hour reports. Integrating reporting allows teams to quickly view a summary of average user availability and check the team’s status and summary reports in their human resource management system.

Easy document management. Integration with Zoho Writer enables teams to preview, share or export documents from the document link.

Instant leave approvals. Managers can approve leave requests directly from chat to quickly update resource management.

Integrated extensions. Messages can be turned into project work items, such as adding a technical issue to Zoho Projects using an integrated extension.

With these and many other features, Cliq with Remote Work Tools brings the in-office experience home for improved team morale, collaboration and productivity. Teams can even build their own tools with widgets that integrate with users’ everyday apps to create a custom home view directly inside Cliq. For more information on Cliq and other Zoho apps, visit www.zoho.com.

AppDynamics Releases The Agents of Transformation Report

Posted in Commentary with tags on May 27, 2020 by itnerd

In light of COVID-19, businesses have turned to digital like never before with IT performance facing its toughest challenge to date. Today, AppDynamics, a Cisco company and the world’s largest and fastest growing APM vendor, released a special edition of its global research study, The Agents of Transformation Report, which reveals the pressures technology professionals are experiencing. 

The comprehensive study surveyed 1000 IT professionals across 10 countries. 

AppDynamics’ global survey of IT professionals found: 

  • 81 per cent of Canadian technologists state that COVID-19 has created the biggest technology pressure for their organization they have ever experienced.  
  • 64 per cent of Canadian technologists confirm that the pandemic has exposed weaknesses in their digital strategies, creating an urgent need to push through initiatives that were once part of multi-year digital transformation programs.  
  • 69 per cent of IT professionals in Canada say digital transformation projects in their organization have been implemented within weeks rather than the months or years it would have taken before the pandemic. 
  • 94 per cent of organizations changed their technology priorities during the pandemic. 

The report is very interesting and is worth your time to read today. Especially if you’re an IT professional.

Rainbow Six Canada Division Qualifiers Open Through The End Of The Week

Posted in Commentary with tags on May 27, 2020 by itnerd

Ubisoft’s new North American League launch for Rainbow Six Esports is just around the corner. This week is the last chance for Canadian teams to sign up for the competition of a lifetime. As a first of its kind for Canadian Esports, there’s no better opportunity to enter the frontline of competitive gaming in Canada!

Teams are able to register until May 29th. Open Qualifier matches will begin on May 30th, then the top 16 teams from the Open Qualifiers will earn their place in the Closed Qualifier on May 31.

The top four placing teams after the Closed Qualifiers will form the official NA League: Canada Division beginning in June 2020. For more information on how to register your team, dates and times of the qualifiers and game mode, please check out FaceIt.

BREAKING: Belkin Extends Wemo NetCam Kill Date To June 30

Posted in Commentary with tags on May 27, 2020 by itnerd

I guess that the public pressure was getting to Belkin as I have been tipped off that an email is hitting inboxes as I type this which states that the date that Belkin plans to EOL the Wemo NetCam and the back end services that they rely on has been moved to June 30th. This is reflected in an updated support document, and this text was in the email that I was sent:

We want to send out this reminder that on June 30, 2020, your Belkin Wemo NetCam will no longer work as the servers will be shutting down. Your camera will still function up to that day, but after that the service will end.  

We don’t want to leave our loyal customers out in the cold. Depending on when you purchased your NetCam you may be eligible for a refund or another offer. Please visit our website at  www.belkin.com/netcameol  for more information.

We’ve truly appreciated your support over the years and so, will continue to create best-in-class products that make your life better, easier, and, hopefully, more fulfilling. 

From all of us here at Wemo, thanks and stay safe! 

You’ll note that they aren’t saying that this has been extended. Let me show you the original email that was sent by Belkin:

And here’s today’s email from Belkin:

I am guessing that Belkin was hoping that nobody would notice.

I am not sure that this will stifle the anger from NetCam that has surrounded this announcement since it appeared a few weeks ago for the following reasons:

  • Belkin decided to kill perfectly working cameras that their customers rely upon during a pandemic.
  • This announcement has sent users of these cameras scrambling for alternate camera systems. Which in the middle of a pandemic is a challenge.

Thus I will continue to watch this story, and the reaction to it. Because I am pretty sure that this is far from over.

Apple Has Finally Posted Security Information Related To Their Recent Updates…. Here’s My $0.02 Worth…

Posted in Commentary on May 27, 2020 by itnerd

Readers of this blog will know that I’ve been very critical of Apple and how they have handled some recent security issues. And if you’re thinking that I’m going to back away from being critical of Apple due to the fact that they released the security information related to the recent updates that they’ve released in the last week, well… Stay tuned.

Let’s start with that mail exploit that Germany said was critical and needed to be fixed, according to this it’s fixed:

It is also fixed in iOS 12.4.7. Which is good for users of that OS. Now there is that Messages bug, well it has been fixed based on this which fits the description of the issue:

However this doesn’t appear in the release notes for iOS 12.4.7. Which is curious. I will have to do some digging on that front.

My only thought as to why Apple had not released all the security information is that they haven’t released updates for earlier versions of macOS as well as macOS 10.15.5. Some of the issues if you read through the security info clearly traverse multiple Apple OSes because they are based on the same code base. So Apple may have wanted to keep what they fixed under wraps until users were able to install all the updates.

You can go through the rest of the security info as it is a very interesting read as Apple has really killed a lot of security issues. Which is good as iOS security is kind of bad at the moment. Though they need to kill one more thing that enables jailbreaking. Expect that to appear at any time as Apple has tended to take a dim view of anything related to jaibreaking. Which is another way of saying that Apple wants to maintain control.

So, did I thrash Apple? No not really. But as far as I am concerned, they don’t get a pass on this. I think Apple could have done a much better job of communicating this information in a more timely manner. That would allow people, especially enterprise customers make informed decisions about whether to install these updates. Which to be clear that they should because of what is fixed. But it’s a whole lot easier to make that call if you have all the information at hand. Which in this case Apple didn’t do in a timely manner. And that is a #Fail.