Wednesday 2 December 2015


I have previously written about activity trackers, devices which you can use to track your fitness and general activity. The market has now moved on to integrate this technology into wearables. These are traditionally watch like devices that have technology embedded in them to communicate with your smart phone. The Apple Watch was released in April this year and has set the trend for fashionable wearable technology. The touch screen face is in a rectangular shape and there is a button and rotary knob on the side.  There are many choices of bands to suit your style and these are easily interchanged. In terms of functionality, the Apple Watch can provide all your smartphone notifications to your wrist, which is convenient as long as you customise the settings so you are not constantly bombarded with irrelevant email notifications. You can also read your messages and emails on your the device. as well as take phone calls Dick Tracy style as the Watch includes speakers and a microphone. You will need to be in bluetooth range of your phone for this functionality to work though. The Apple Watch retails from $799 to over $1600 depending on the model and accessories chosen.

Samsung have released their second iteration of smart watches with the Gear S2. This has a more traditional round watch face which I prefer the look of. It is probably suited to a male wearer as it is sizeable, equivalent to a sports watch. I had a look at one of these when I was passing through Singapore recently. I really liked the way the screen could be flipped though using the rotating bezel on the outside of the watch face. It is an elegant design feature. The screen is also touch operated and shows the usual notifications, much like the Apple Watch. Unlike the Apple Watch the Gear S2 is not able to make or take calls directly but it can notify you who is calling and allow you to reject the call or send a preset text message. The device is IP68 certified which means it is dust and water resistant up to 1.5m, but I would not be taking it for a swim any time soon. Integration with the Samsung fitness app provides a wealth of fitness metrics too. The device charges on a wireless dock which is a neat feature. The Gear S2 retails from $499.
If you want a wearable that is not brand specific you can look at the Android Wear, which is compatible with all Android phones. Traditional watch brands like Tag Heuer are realising that they need to adapt to the changing market and have started to develop smart watches too. There are also a number of cheaper wearables on the market but features will vary along with the price and these may leave a bad impression due to their limitations.

Tuesday 10 November 2015

Travel Tips

If you are planning on travelling and want to be able to keep your apps and data handy, then here are some useful tech tips. You will need a USB 3.0 portable hard drive, VeraCrypt encryption software and the Portable Apps program. 1TB portable drives are available for under $100. You can use this to store your photos and documents and to load the Portable Apps program to access useful programs such as Chrome, Skype etc.

It is a good idea to encrypt your hard drive in case it gets lost or stolen while you are travelling. Encryption is just a means of obscuring the contents of the hard drive. A password is required to make the data visible. VeraCrypt is a free encryption utility that can be used for this purpose. To be able to load VeraCrypt on any computer it is advisable to create a separate partition on the external drive. This creates a 2 logical drives on the external drive so when you plug in the drive it will come up with 2 drive letters (one for the veracrypt files and the other for the encrypted data). You can use PartedMagic to create the new partition. This only has to be a small partition to load the VeraCrypt files. I recommend making it 32GB. The rest of the drive is then free to be used for the encrypted data (on a 1TB drive this will be about 900GB). Load VeraCrypt and create a new volume. Choose Encrypt a non-system partition/drive then choose Standard VeraCrypt volume. Select the data partition you created earlier and then the level of encryption required. VeraCrypt will then prompt for a password that will be used to decrypt the volume. Once this has finished encrypting you can setup the smaller drive with the VeraCrypt files. Go to Tools | Traveler Disk Setup in VeraCrypt. Select the small partition you created (which is unencrypted, in my case the 32GB drive) and then click on Create. This copies the VeraCrypt files to the drive which allows you to load the encrypted volume in any computer. Note that if you login to a computer with a limited user account (i.e. does not have full access to the system) you may not be able to load the encrypted partition. Most home computers won't have this problem though.

Now you can install the Portable Apps software on the encrypted drive. Choose which apps you want to use. Once this is all installed you can dismount the encrypted volume and unplug the portable drive.So what you now have is a drive with your favourite portable apps that is securely encrypted and can be loaded on most computers. For more information follow the links.

Sunday 4 October 2015

iPad Pro and iOS9

Apple have released their latest version of the iPad. It is called the iPad Pro and it is distinct in that it is has a 12.9 inch screen compared with the iPad Air 2's 9.7 inch screen. This model will be available in Australia in November. Pricing has not yet been released but you can choose from a 128GB wifi and cellular model or a 32GB or 128GB wifi model. I am pleased to see that 16GB is no longer available as this is a very limited capacity and leaves hardly any room for other apps and data once the iOS and updates have been installed. Other than the larger screen size and a newer CPU, the Pro appears to have the same specifications as the iPad Air 2. This is no surprise as Apple like to drip feed features so they have something to market at the next hardware release cycle. For those wanting a larger screen experience the iPad Pro should be a welcome addition to the Apple line up. 

Speaking of iOS, Apple have updated this to version 9. This is to improve features such as multitasking on the larger iPad screen (you can have a split screen with 2 apps running simultaneously). There are supposed improvements to Siri, which include helpful suggestions (paper clip anyone?). In addition battery life should be improved with smart use of sensors that can tell if the phone is facedown and other improvements to the operating system. Apple have also realised that people don't want to download monolithic OS updates and have allowed for smaller updates in the future. 

One feature that people may need to be wary of is the Wifi Assist option. This detects if you are in a marginal wifi area and switches to the cellular (or mobile) network to improve network performance. There have been reports of people using 3 times as much data on the their mobile plans, so it is recommended that this be turned off if you have a limited data quota (let's face it who doesn't at the rate the telco's charge us for mobile data). Lastly it is wise to make sure you have backed up your data before upgrading the operating system. A reboot often helps to clean up any misbehaving apps as well. Better to be safe than find you have to reset your device and start from scratch.

Tuesday 1 September 2015

Avoiding Adware

Adware is becoming more than just annoyance. It can cripple your internet speed and slow down your computer. There is some serious money to be made by adware makers as they direct your internet traffic to their sites. The end result is a lot of popups and irrelevant search results in your web browser. Adware developers are getting sneakier at luring people into installing their products. The unassuming internet user can easily download a malicious verison of a legitimate product. The installation may look the same but in fact it is just a wrapper for adware. 

To avoid this mistake, make sure you only download from legitimate websites. Also whenever installing a program make sure you only select the features you actually want and not the unnecessary additions. This can be hard to do as software developers try and hide the tick boxes and optional choices from the unsuspecting end user. Anti virus software is not always capable of detecting adware installations and will allow you to override any warnings it may present. Games, free ring tones and video converters are amongst some of most common vessels of infection. Any download can be a potential vector for infection so it pays to use the legitimate app stores and websites. Drive by infections can also occur through malicious web page ads. There have been cases of popular websites serving up malicious ads (most recently MSN). These are rare occurrences though. 

There are some things you can do to protect yourself: Make sure your programs and operating system are current; Install an ad blocker/privacy protector (my current favourite is Ghostery), and check for adware infections on a regular basis. My stock go to for this is ADWCleaner (downloadable from toolslib). For more persistent infections Malwarebytes is a good option. Lastly check your browser search engine settings. Make sure it is set to Google, Yahoo or Bing, anything else that you have never seen before should be deleted. The search engine settings can be found in your web browser options.

Monday 31 August 2015

Windows 10

Windows 10, Microsoft's latest operating system, was released at the end of July in Australia. If you are wondering what happened to Windows 9, Microsoft decided to skip a number and go from Windows 8.1 to 10. It seems that Microsoft's marketing team want to seperate the latest Windows release numerically and figuratively from the unpopular Windows 8 family. Although extensive testing was carried out in Windows 8, the focus was primarily on the ability for Windows to become a tablet interface and largely ignored the dissatisfaction from traditional Windows desktop users. Now the pendulum is swinging back to the desktop space and Windows 10 has included features that make it easier to use in this modality, such as the beloved Start Menu. They have also made Windows store apps run in the desktop and not full screen as they used to (e.g. Mail and Calendar), which will actually make them useable in my opinion. The good news is that if you are currently running Windows 8 and would prefer a better desktop experience, you can get a free upgrade to Windows 10. This also applies to Windows 7 PCs. Microsoft has been very aggressive in pushing out the free upgrade and would be keen to remove any vestiges of Windows 8 from the planet. My opinion is that this is probably a good thing, especially for current model PCs, but older Windows PCs may not benefit as much from the upgrade (although Microsoft seem confident that Windows 10 will be compatible with most devices). If you do want to upgrade you will need to download the 3GB update from the Windows store. Do a google search on "Windows 10 upgrade" to find the exact details. 

Some other notable features of Windows 10 is the new Web browser called Microsoft Edge. This has the ability share and edit web pages on the fly and store favorites and PDF documents all in one place. Cortana is Microsoft's version of Siri, the voice recognition software. I have always found these apps to be limited so I don't hold out much hope on the accuracy of Cortana's interpretations. In addition I worry about the privacy aspect of sending my voice and images to Microsoft. This is true for any of the vendors that provide these interpretive services so it pays to check the privacy settings for these apps.

Overall Windows 10 promises to be an improvement and an apology to faithful Windows fans for mistakes of the past. Microsoft seems to have struck a reasonable balance between the tablet and desktop modes which people are operating on these days. For more information check out the following sites:

Friday 3 July 2015

Internet access in our region

Last month I released a survey to measure internet usage and satisfaction in our region. I received 57 submissions. ADSL and mobile broadband are the most common means of accessing the internet. Most people thought the value of broadband had remained the same and 31% stated value had decreased. Most people thought wireless broadband was a serious option for internet access. Generally households have multiple computers with the majority of people using the internet for web browsing, email and social networking. Interestingly a high percentage of households use the internet for studying (61%) and either working from home (57%) or running a business (52%). Sentiment towards the NBN was equally weighted between positive and negative but analysis of the comments showed the negativity was due to the unlikelihood of it reaching residents or inability to access it. A common complaint was the high cost of data and lack of coverage in the area. On the positive side, people are looking forward to improvements the NBN can provide and additional competition that can improve the cost of internet access. Over half of the respondents would connect to NBN if it was available, 3% wouldn't and 40% were not sure if they would. The most common choice for speed of access was the highest possible (250Mb/100Mb, although this is not being offered by the NBN) with a large number not sure what speed they would choose. People are prepared to pay between $50 to $100 for internet access, while 10% were prepare to pay whatever it costs to get it.

Overall there seems to be a lot of interest from residents in improving internet access and speed in the area. Some good news is that the Federal Communications department has approved funding in round one of the mobile blackspot programme and this combined with the Royalties for Regions-funded Regional Telecommunication Project will provide funding for four areas in the Shire of Chittering (Bindoon West, Upper Chittering, Lower Chittering and Wannamal). Local government planning approval will be required for new towers. In Bindoon, some local residents have been vocally opposed to the tower on Bell Hill, while NBN have argued it is the best site as it reaches the most people. Hopefully a suitable resolution can be found to resolve the deadlock so the deployment of improved communications can be progressed. It would good to hear what the councillors have to say on this matter and what options are being proposed to resolve this issue.

Survey results can be seen accessed at
Map of mobile blackspot funded areas (filter on funded mobile blackspots)

Monday 1 June 2015

Internet Satisfaction

This month I am interested in the level of satisfaction that you have with your internet service. To gauge this and the level of interest in the NBN, I have setup a 10 question survey. The survey is anonymous and aggregated results will be published in my article next month. The survey should only take a couple of minutes. Note that I am not being asked to do this by any 3rd party, I am interested in the community sentiment regarding internet services and possible access to NBN in the region. The survey can be accessed from here

On a related matter,  at the ordinary meeting of council on the 20th of May, the Chittering Shire council debated the planning proposal for the NBN tower on Bell Hill Reserve in Bindoon. While the planning officer's recommendation was to approve the application, Council decided to split proposal in two motions. The first motion was for the Shire to gain rezoning of that area for telecommunications purposes from the department of Land Administration. If successful, NBN would then need to enter into a lease agreement with the Shire. The second motion included a number of environmental conditions as well as the co-location of the DFES pager service on the tower (which will improve coverage for emergency service pagers). The first motion was defeated with 2 councillors supporting the motion and 5 rejecting it. This meant the planning approval for the NBN tower was rejected. The second motion was no longer relevant but was also defeated 2 to 5. It is not clear what the next step is for the NBN progress. Alternative sites may need to be reviewed or NBN may attempt to take the planning request to a higher authority. Either way the deployment of NBN in the region is going to be delayed. The Bindoon tower is required in order for the NBN network to link between Gingin and Lower Chittering and so  a delay to the tower in Bindoon delays the deployment throughout the region. For a full reading of the details (all 44 pages of it!) you can download the minutes from the shire website at

Thursday 14 May 2015

Internet Streaming Services

Netflix, Stan, Presto, Quickflix. If these names don't mean much to you then read on. They are part of the new generation of internet streaming services that have been released in Australia. Streaming services allow legal downloading of media content, such as movies and TV series, to a suitable device, such as a mobile device, computer or smart TV. Service providers charge a flat monthly fee to access their online content. The pricing is quite competitive as the providers jostle for customers in this new market.  Netflix's are the cheapest with their basic plan at $9 per month with most providers plans starting from $10. This allows access on unlimited devices but only one stream (i.e. only one device can view the service at a time). The down side is the video quality is only standard definition (SD), which is not ideal for larger high definition (HD) TVs but suitable for mobile devices. If you prefer the option of HD content you can choose a more expensive plan. That being said SD will not use as much data as HD. Which brings me to the other possible downside of the streaming services. 
You will need a reasonably fast connection  and a healthy monthly data quota to use these services. The average SD movie will use about 1GB per hour and a HD movie will use 3GB per hour. This is an important consideration if you have a limited amount of data per month, especially if you get charged if you go over your quota. Telstra has been upgrading monthly quotas to cater for the increased bandwidth demand. Optus and iiNet have unmetered plans for  Netflix service (which means that Netflix downloads won't affect your monthly data usage). 
Another consideration is the content that is available from the providers. Netflix is US based and has some in house content but also partners with traditional content providers such as The Walt Disney Company and Roadshow Entertainment. Rights for Australia were not as inclusive which is why the US subscribers get access to 7000 more titles than Australian viewers. Presto is backed by Channel 7 and the Foxtel consortium (with links to Telstra) and also have distribution deals with other content providers. Stan seems to have one of the better TV show partnerships with access to Sony, SBS, CBS and more content providers. In addition to streaming online content, Quickflix offer a DVD/Bluray postal delivery service for $12.99 per month (postage is included).  
So in short, you won't be able to get all titles from any one provider and it would pay to research which shows you prefer before signing up with them. Alternatively you can just get subscriptions for each service, as long as your internet connection can handle the downloads. Happy viewing.

Wednesday 1 April 2015

Camping Apps

This month I'll be taking a look at apps that can help you with your camping holiday. For iPad users the Campee by Mud Map is a free community based app that provides information about campsites and caravan parks around Australia. WikiCamps Australia is a similar app that will run on both Android and iPad devices, but it costs $4.99. Another handy free app is First Aid by the Red Cross. This has a guide to the basic first aid procedures, useful if you are stuck somewhere remote and need to apply first aid.

It is also useful to know what the weather will be doing when you are camping and there a number of weather apps available for this. The bureau of meteorology now have a mobile friendly website at This shows forecasts and weather radars in an easily accessible mobile format. Another popular weather app is weatherzone. While this is free is it is ad supported, but it does provide a lot of information with a slick looking interface.

Lastly, camping would not be complete without appreciating the beauty of the night sky. Now you can use your mobile device to tell you which planet is visible and what the constellations are. Planets by Q Continuum is free and has lots of features on the iPad. It can also be used on Android, but has less features. Sky Map is a free alternative on Android devices. These apps provide an augmented reality view where you can point the device at the sky and it will tell you what is in that location.

So wherever you go over the holidays, hopefully these apps can make your camping experience a better one. Happy travels.

Sunday 1 March 2015

Text-to-speech apps

If you spend a lot of time reading electronic documents then it may be worth giving your eyes a rest and let your mobile device do it for you. Apple's iOS has a built in feature for accessibility purposes that allows you to select a block of text (whether it is in an email, on a webpage or a PDF document) and you can then convert the text to speech. You can turn the text-to-speech (TTS) feature on in the accessibility area of the settings app. While this is useful it is limited as you have to manually select the text you want read, which can be a tricky process. Another option is to use an app that can read text automatically. Voice Dream is an app I have been using to read articles for me while I am driving.  It costs $13 on the app store and comes standard with the built in iOS voice and one other voice. You can purchase additional voices that have a more natural intonation as well as US, British or Australian accents. These range in price from $3.74 to $6.49. There are a few free TTS alternative apps such as SpeakPad and Voice Generator, they also have the option to purchase additional voices.

For Android tablets there are several TTS apps. There is the built in Google TTS and if you have a Samsung device there is also the Samsung TTS. These can be configured under the Settings | Language and input menu. The built in engine is not supported by all apps but you can use it to read Google Play books. Ivona Text-To-Speech is a third party app that has more natural sounding voices and is currently in beta (so is free). Once again you can purchase additional voices in the app. Happy reading.

Monday 2 February 2015

Some handy apps

With the fire season upon us I thought I would take a look at an app that can help identify emergencies in your area.  The app is called Emergency Aus and is free to download to your mobile device from the Google play and Apple App store. The purpose of the app is to advise you of any emergencies in your area. This is achieved by crowd sourced observations and official sources such as DFES and BOM alerts. Firstly you set your home area in which alerts will be notified, you can choose how large the radius for this is. Making on observation is relatively easy, you can choose from preset options such as storm is coming, smoke plume, heavy rain etc. or you can make your own detailed observation. This observation uses your current location and then alerts others in the area. The more observations made, the more likely there is an issue in the area. Official warnings are still present from DFES and BOM but this is a quick way of seeing what is happening in your area based on crowd sourced information.

If you have more than one computer near each other and are constantly juggling keyboards and mice then you'll like Mouse without Borders. This is a free program from Microsoft which allows you to use your keyboard and mouse on multiple computers. Once installed, you can freely move your mouse between screens as if they were all connected to the same computer. This does require the computers to be on the same network. I have found this to be very useful and eliminates confusion about which mouse is connected to which computer. You can even drag and drop files between computers.  More information on these apps can be found here:

Sunday 4 January 2015

Activity Trackers

If your new year's resolutions includes getting fitter then you may want to look at activity trackers that are currently available on the market. Traditional fitness trackers have been in the shape of watches and have been able to measure your pulse and distance as well as track your time. With the advent of smartphones, activity trackers now include a lot more features that make use of the smart phone technology. By combining the fitness apps with the tracker sensors, you can measure just about any physical activity. As an example, if you want to start a new diet you can measure the number of calories you are burning based on your daily activities such as walking, jogging or cycling, as measured by the tracker. In addition you can manually specify the meals you are eating and measure the number of calories you are ingesting as well. Current model Android and iPhones include fitness apps by default but there are plenty of free apps available through the relevant app store. Activity trackers have their own apps as well. The most common brand of trackers are Jawbone and Fitbit, but there are plenty of others available. The latest Jawbone tracker, the UP3, seems to be the most advanced yet. It is is in the form a wrist band (not a watch like many others) and is water proof to 10m, so can be worn when swimming. Resting heart rate is measured using galvanic skin response, which is different to other trackers as they typically use a light source to measure the blood flow. The UP3 is also allegedly capable of detecting the form of activity automatically, which is very convenient. In addition it can also track the various stages of sleep, so it gives you plenty of information about your activities. Setting goals is a standard part of the tracker features and is a good way to track how you are progressing with your daily activities. You can view your historic progress and see how you have been fairing over the last day, week, month or more. 

I have been using the Samsung Gear Fit and beside the usual activity tracker benefits, it also provides notifications from my phone for things such as emails, SMS messages, calendar alerts and so on.  The Gear Fit will also use the  GPS capabilities when paired with the phone so you can track your distance and altitude when running cycling or hiking. The amount you can see on the Gear Fit  is limited by the screen size, but it is a useful way to see what is happening on your phone instantly. The range and capability of wearable technology is just starting to mature so keep an eye out for products that may suit your lifestyle and help you achieve your new year's resolutions.