Thursday 1 December 2016

Broadband for Regional Areas

Broadband (or internet access) can be delivered in a variety ways. These are ADSL, Cable, Fibre, Wireless (fixed or mobile) or Satellite. In regional areas, the nbn network is providing a wider range of choice when it comes to Internet service providers. This is because nbn is the wholesaler and they sell access on to retail service providers (RSPs). Your location will determine what is available. To see if you are able to access the nbn network go to and enter your address to check nbn coverage. Most properties will be able to access nbn's satellite service (Sky Muster) but if you are in a townsite or a new development you may have other options. Smaller towns (up to 500 premises) will get fixed wireless. Larger communities may get wired options which can be comprised of many different technologies.  Regardless of the technology used, connection speeds will be a minimum of 12Mbps which is suitable for web browsing and email. This is also equivalent to many ADSL services that people are currently using. Faster connections will allow for video streaming (netflix etc.) and better online gaming performance. Speeds can go up to 25, 50 and 100 Mbps but this will depend on the technology that is available in your area.  

Another factor to consider when choosing an internet plan is the amount of that that is included in your plan. If you want to be able to stream movies or have a lot of people in the house that will be using the internet, then you are better off choosing a more expensive plan that includes enough data for your usage. There are many RSPs to choose from so compare the plans and determine what you will need for the best deal.

Tuesday 1 November 2016

Professional Email Management

Email has become one of the most common methods communicating electronically. It is fairly instant and easy to do. Emails do have some limitations as it is not easy to know if your email has reached the intended audience or whether they have acted upon it. It can also be tricky to manage email addresses and communication preferences. The Spam Act 2003 prohibits the sending of unsolicited emails so it is important that organisations manage recipients' communication preferences. Fortunately there are some solutions available to make email management easier and more professional. MailChimp is one of the leaders in this field. They offer a free service that allows up to 2000 subscribers and 12,000 emails a month. Paid plans allow customisations and greater subscriber and email numbers.

To use MailChimp you need to create an account and fill in details about your organisation. This is used in correspondence so is important to supply correct information. Once the account is correctly setup you can then start creating campaigns. Campaigns are like an email message. MailChimp offers a range of preconfigured templates for you to layout your message. Putting some pictures and making the email look interesting helps with subscriber engagement. You can add in fields for names and addresses which allows you to customise the email for each subscriber. MailChimp has a comprehensive help system to guide you with this. Once you have created your campaign you can then test it with a preview. To send your campaign you will need to create a subscriber list. This contains all the email addresses of the people you want to communicate with. You can then send your campaign to the list. At this point you can then track how many subscribers have opened the email and if they clicked any links that were in the email. You can also tell if people have unsubscribed. MailChimp also allows you to create a form for signing up subscribers from a website. The system is fairly easy to use so take a look at for more info.

Saturday 1 October 2016

Mobile point of sale

Last month I wrote about making purchases using your smartphone. This month I am looking at how merchants can receive payments anywhere by using a mobile payment device. These devices are the size of a small phone and can accept payment from credit cards, either by contactless, swiping or manual card number entry. The main difference between the traditional EFTPOS card devices (which you use at shops) and a mobile payment device is that it can be used anywhere, as it connects through a phone or tablet to perform transactions. Mobile payment devices can be purchased from the major banks (costing between $100 to $200). Banks charge either a monthly fee, which includes a certain number of transactions, or a pay as you go (PAYG) model, where transaction fees are deducted from each sale (typically around 1.5% to 2%). Fees will vary so it is worth shopping around.
I purchased a Paypal Here mobile card reader. This uses a PAYG fee system and the card reader cost $150, which can be purchased online or from Officeworks. This works well for low cost or intermittent transactions as there are no monthly fees to be paid. A verified business account is required in order to register for the Paypal Here account. You can link your existing bank account to this Paypal account. Transactions are performed in Paypal and funds can be transferred to your linked bank account, although this can take a few days. Once your Paypal Here account is approved, you can download and sign in to the Paypal Here app on your smartphone or tablet. The app will communicate with the card reader via bluetooth. To make a sale, enter the details through the app and then charge it to the connected device. The customer will then use their card on the device to pay and this is then confirmed through the app on the smartphone. Once the transaction is approved there is the option to send a receipt via SMS or email. If the customer's credit card is linked to Paypal, then the email or mobile number will come up automatically, but the customer does not need a Paypal account to use the service. Note that Paypal Here only accepts credit cards and can't be used for cash accounts.

I have found that customers often like the convenience of being able to pay by credit card, so the cost and effort of setting up a mobile payment system is worthwhile for me. It is a good idea to research options that are suitable for your situation. For more information, follow the links below.

Friday 2 September 2016

Paying with your Phone

The time is approaching where all you will need to take with you on your shopping trip is your smart phone and car keys. The ability to pay for transactions through your phone is becoming a reality as the current generation of smart phones have the hardware to support this process, using Near Field Communication (NFC) technology. This allows for contactless payments in the same way you currently use your credit card.  Android phones (Samsung, HTC, Nexus etc.) can use the Android Pay service which supports any Android device with the NFC chip and Android KitKat. This opens up the majority of the smart phone market. Apple have an equivalent service, Apple Pay, which works on iPhone 6 and later models. While the smart phones may have the hardware and software to run the service, it also requires the retailers and banks to offer the payment solutions. In Australia, Android Pay rolled out to over 30 banks and financial institutions in July, although of the big four banks, only the ANZ have signed up with the other stated as coming soon. Apple Pay, by contrast, is currently only supported by ANZ bank and American Express. The reason for this is that Apple only allow access to card payments through the Apple Wallet. The banks are arguing that this limits choice as they would prefer to be able to use their own apps to access payments (which is allowed on the Android Pay service). The major banks have even applied to the ACCC to allow them to bargain with Apple as a cartel, but this is currently under review. This is a major issue for banks as they charge over $3 billion a year for processing credit and debit card transactions.  

To setup the pay service on your Android phone download the Android Pay app and run through the card setup process. This involves taking a photo of your card and confirming your details. You may need to download your bank's app for verification of your bank details. Once this is completed, you can then use the phone at contactless terminals for payment. Your card details are kept secure as a virtual account is used and not your card info when making payments. On an iPhone you add your credit card details to the Wallet built into iOS. You are required to unlock the phone or use Touchid when making payments. You can also use your Apple watch for payment (which requires unlocking the screen to allow payments). Your credit card details are kept secure through a unique device account number that is allocated to each card in your Wallet. This is used instead of the card details when making purchases.  

While it is still in the early stage, I predict that mobile payments will eventually remove the need for physical credit cards in the future. Just as smart phones have replaced the need for a camera, the payment apps will eventually replace the need to carry a credit card. 

Monday 1 August 2016

2016 Australian Census

Census night is the 9th August 2016 and this is when all Australians will be called upon to provide details about themselves to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). The census has been run every five years since 1911 and this information is used to capture population data that can be used to inform Government about policy and funding decisions. This is includes areas such as housing, transport, education, industry, hospitals and the environment. This year there are a couple of major differences in the collection and analysis of census data. This is the first year that electronic lodgement of census forms will be available. Letters should be arriving in your post box shortly to provide you with your unique login to the census website. It is still possible to lodge a paper form if that is preferred. A reminder letter will be sent to households that have not completed the census and field officers may provide a follow up visit. 

The second change to the data collection is that names and addresses will be retained for four years (as opposed to 18 months) to allow for better matching of individual information across different data sets. In previous years, name and address data was not used for data matching, which has limited the scope of statistical analysis. In this census, information will be anonymised by creating a unique key from name and address data. Access to the anonymised data will need to be approved by senior level committee. The ABS states that "Other government agencies, private agencies and direct marketing companies will not have access to personal information that you provide on the Census form. This is protected by law."   

For more information follow the links below.

Friday 1 July 2016

Creating online surveys

Online surveys are a useful way of gathering information about a specific topic. There are a number of sites that offer the ability to create surveys. They can vary based on price and features. Beware sites that offer free surveys as they usually have limitations with their free offering. Most of the free sites offer a basic service which will be restricted to the number of questions you can ask or have limited flexibility in the layout of the questions. Some other restrictions can be a lack of ability to export your survey results which can severely limit the usefulness of the data collection. Paid offerings can provide analysis of the data in a graphical format as well as the ability to export your data in various formats. Some of the most popular paid sites are and 

There is one exception to the limitation of the free offerings. Google offers a free survey building service through their Forms service. You will need a Google account to use this as it relies on the Google Docs engine to store the data. Google Forms offers a wide range of options for formatting questions that should cover most needs e.g. radio buttons, multiple choice answers, date picker. You can also add validation to your questions so you can ensure that the data entered is accurate. e.g. you can create a regular expression that can ensure that a proper email address is entered in the Email field.  Google Forms can also be used to create a printable copy for offline processing of a survey (for those who don't have access to the online form). Once you have collated your responses you also get a well formatted summary complete with graphs and summary tables.  For more information on Google forms go to

Wednesday 1 June 2016

Dr Watson I presume?

In computer science theory there is a test of a machine's ability to think like a human. It is called the Turing test and involves a scenario where a participant will converse with two people that are in other rooms. One of the two people is in fact a computer and the other is human. If the participant cannot tell which is not human then the machine has passed the Turing test. This test was proposed by Alan Turing in 1950, well before we had the computing power available today. It seems we may have achieved this milestone. Jill Watson was one of 9 teaching assistants helping computer science students with online questions at Georgia Tech, and to most students she was very helpful. The only difference was that she was not human but powered by IBM's Watson cognitive computing platform. Jill had actually passed the Turing test. 

Cognitive computing can be used for distilling large amounts of information and providing relevant answers to specialist questions. In an age of massive online open courses (MOOCs) where 1000's of students enroll in free courses, this augmented assisting can provide support where human abilities are not feasible nor capable. But it doesn't stop there.  Watson is helping cancer patients find the best treatment based on medical research and patient history, providing legal advice, guiding financial planners to find the best advice for their clients and helping travellers find the best destination for them based on the best deals and social, economic and cultural preferences. In the information age, cognitive computing can provide the interface between humans and the large amount of data that is available. This is why Google have been so successful with their search engine. IBM's Watson has now commoditised this ability and we will be seeing it used in many other areas that we interact with.  There is also an open source project, called NuPIC, which has an active community developing cognitive computing solutions based on streaming data (such as tweets or GPS information).  There are many possible applications, these are exciting times indeed.

Sunday 1 May 2016

Setting up a media centre PC

I have previously written about internet streaming services such as netflix and presto, but if you don't have a suitable internet plan which allows for streaming services then you are probably limited to TV as a source of entertainment. The free-to-air stations have increased the number of channels available and the content provided so it is worth looking at ways to optimise the access to programs you are interested in. I have been using TiVo for a while but these devices are no longer sold so commercially available personal video recorders (PVRs) are limited by comparison to the features offered by the TiVo service. As a result I decided to build my own PVR, or media centre PC. I wanted to setup a system that would allow me to record shows on a regularly basis and pickup shows that I am interested in. In addition a media centre can gather all the photos and videos on my home network and make it convenient to view these in one place. There are a number of free options available if you have the time and inclination to set them up. Firstly there are some architectural concepts to be familiar with.

Basic requirements are a PC, a DVB-T tuner card (which connects to your TV antenna) and obviously a TV or display for viewing the content. Media centres have a backend or server component, which handles the tv tuner hardware, electronic program guide (EPG) and recording aspects. The front-end or client components are used for displaying the tv content and interacting with the home theatre system (remote controls etc.). It is possible to combine these functions on one computer, or they can be split between two computers, or more if you want multiple front end systems for different rooms. Ideally you want a quiet PC for the client computer otherwise you will have to contend with a noisy fan whilst watching TV. There are systems you can buy which are low powered and quiet, or if you want to make your own then the raspberry Pi is a good option ( There is media centre option that includes a remote control and the latest version of raspberry pi for $159 plus shipping. You will also need the media centre software in order to run the front and backend hardware. If you have Windows 7 you may already have Windows Media Centre included with your system. Later versions of Windows do not include this option ( This is not a problem as there are good alternatives available such as Media Portal (, Next PVR ( and Kodi (used to be XBMC, It is worth going through the setup guides provided by these sites as they can be complex, particularly downloading the extended EPG for additional information in your TV guide. One word of caution, I have found the Linux version of the Kodi front-end to have limited functionality when it comes to TV support. It may be better to stick with Windows on the front and backend to ensure compatibility with all features.

Friday 1 April 2016

Windows 10 Forced Upgrade

If you are still running Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 and don't want to upgrade to Windows 10 then you will may be surprised to find out that Microsoft are now pushing Windows 10 onto these systems automatically. Microsoft are forcing this through the Windows updates as a "Recommended" update (which most systems will install automatically). Not only is this a big change for people who are used to their current systems, it also requires 2GB of internet data to download this upgrade. If you are restricted to expensive internet access then this can be a costly upgrade. That being said if you have multiple computers on your network you can enable peer sharing of the update for the other computers on your network, which will save you having to download the upgrade multiple times. The setting can be accessed from the Update menu in Windows 10. Just make sure you select the option to share updates on your network only and not to the internet, otherwise you'll be sharing updates to the rest of the world, which can chew into your bandwidth as well (see link below for details).

Fortunately there is a way to prevent automatically upgrading to Windows 10. A utility called Never 10 is available for free from security researcher  ( You only need to run this utility once to disable the automatic upgrade to Windows 10.  Despite the name you can choose to upgrade to Windows 10 at a later date if you want to move to Windows 10. Microsoft recommend upgrading as they insist that Windows 7 is getting old (10 years now) and newer devices may not be supported in the future. The reality is that it is cheaper for Microsoft to maintain security updates for 1 operating system rather than 3. Microsoft have committed to providing support for Windows 7 until 2020 so you still have time to get the most of the system until then. If you are looking at alternatives and prefer not to move to Windows 10, then take a look at Linux Mint. This is a free, open source operating system based on Linux. I will provide more details in a future article but if you want further information on this distribution take a look at

Tuesday 1 March 2016


Imagine having a wireless connection that can travel at the speed of light. This is the promise of new technology being developed called LiFi. It uses LED lights to transmit data using the visible light spectrum. This means you can easily network any part of your house or office where you have lights installed. The technology is still under development with a prototype showing early promise. It is likely to make an impact over the next few years with smart phones and tablets probably being the first to take up the technology.

The popularity of WiFi means that in highly populated areas wireless networks can compete for bandwidth and can get congested. LiFi provides an alternative to wireless technology and so can avoid this congestion. A weakness and strength is that LiFi requires direct light exposure in order to work. This limits the range as the connection won't work through walls, but can also make it more secure if you live in a dense area and don't want your neighbour siphoning off your internet. This technology can also make it easier to connect household devices, such as toasters, fridges even coffee machines, to the internet (also known as the Internet of Things or IoT). While you may wonder about the usefulness of this trend, with the increasingly connected lifestyle we live in, it will become the norm that we can turn on the coffee machine before we get home to have the perfect coffee waiting for us when we arrive. Another potential use for LiFi is in medical areas, such as hospitals and operating theatres, where electromagnetic interference can cause problems with sensitive medical equipment. LiFi could happily co-exist as it doesn't compete with the WiFi spectrum and poses no risk to the operation of other equipment.

So if the adoption of internet connected devices continues as predicted (50 billion by 2020), there will be a great need for this sort of technology, so watch this space.

Monday 1 February 2016

DIY Home Security Camera Software

I have been playing around with open source camera software that can turn most webcams or network cameras into security cameras. The software is called iSpy and is free to use and download from

All the features are available in the base product but if you want to be able to access your camera stream from the internet you will need to pay a subscription, which starts at $8/month. That is not a big deal as you can use it for free on your home network to capture video and images. iSpy can use motion detection to start recording or trigger an alert to email. It can even detect license plate numbers which can be used to identify visiting vehicles. 

iSpy offers many features and as a result can be complicated to configure, but with a bit of tinkering you can fine tune it to your needs. Depending on the features of your camera, you can use it as an intercom and even control the pan-tilt-zoom (PTZ). If your camera has this option then you can enable motion tracking which will follow moving objects (within the range of the camera movement of course). You can also setup a virtual fence so only movement within a certain zone is tracked. This is useful if you are monitoring a high traffic area but only want to detect movement in a certain area (e.g. near you front door which faces a road). 

I have already mentioned license plate recognition but iSpy also has plugins for facial recognition, text overlay and detection and barcode scanning. Additional plugins can be purchased for advanced features from One thing to note is that iSpy only runs on Windows PCs. A MacOS video product is available from with a pro option that is chargeable.

Friday 1 January 2016

Bushfire Tech Tips

With the holiday and fire season upon us, it is a good time to review what tech options are available for staying safe this time of year. From a fire perspective there is the usual alerts page from DFES ( which provides information on larger incidents, these can take a while to become published but are the authoritative source of information on these fires . If you want to get details on what is happening in real time during a fire, the DFES central command radio channel is broadcast on the internet through broadcastify ( This provides communications between fire fighters and DFES, such as  situation reports, on a regular basis. To keep a watch on weather conditions consult the bureau of meteorology's fire weather forecast at Landgate Firewatch provides a map of current fires (with a couple of hours delay) as well as lightning strikes. This can be accessed from It also pays to be aware of  total fire bans and vehicle movement and hot works bans. These can be found on the DFES website and your local shire webpage. It also worth keeping an eye on your regional facebook page, but the reliability of information may not be guaranteed. That being said, it is one of the quickest ways for information to be shared, but it always pays to verify the information before jumping to conclusions. 

If you are concerned about a local fire then keep an eye on the horizon to see if there is a smoke plume and what direction it is travelling in. Being aware of local weather conditions, such as wind speed and direction can help you assess the fire danger. This may be the best way to verify for yourself what is going on. I have setup a personal weather station for this very reason (see my blog for setting up a personal weather station). It also pays to have a bushfire plan in place well before you need it. DFES provide a lot of good resources for preparation of a bushfire plan

Lastly, if you really want to know how to deal with a bushfire, join your local bushfire brigade where you can get trained and take part in protecting your local community. Contact your Shire for further details.