My feature on how to secure your Amazon Echo was published in TechRadar last week. Here is my take on why securing these intelligent home hubs is of vital importance.
Buttons are obsolete. Simply by conversing with my Alexa I can control my central heating and the lighting around my house and garden; I can buy products with my voice, check my personal calendar, set alarms or reminders, update my things to do list, read my favourite book or play any song, album or playlist on Spotify. With my voice.
Hear no Evil
The convenience this offers is staggering and, in a little over three months since I plugged it in and powered it on, my Amazon Echo has already changed many behaviours in our household. For the better? I think so. However…
With convenience comes compromise, especially when it comes to security. We should never be blinded by the utility of any new piece of technology.
I made one mistake in extolling the virtues of our Amazon Echo above. You see, all of these amazing things and more can be commanded not only with my voice, they can be asked by anybody’s voice.
Voice Recognition versus Speech Recognition
While Alexa has enviable speech recognition – the ability to understand and interpret natural language input by speech – she has yet to learn the skill of voice recognition. Often confused, voice recognition is the ability to uniquely distinguish between different people’s voices by analysing physical and behavioural characteristics.
With voice recognition Alexa would know whether it was me (ie authorised) ordering that Nintendo Switch console from Amazon Prime, or if it was my Mario Kart-loving daughter trying her luck (sorry, denied). Did I just ask Alexa for a 2am alarm call or was somebody outside my living room window attempting to play a prank?
Amazon has no plans to introduce voice recognition into the Amazon Echo just yet. Nevertheless, there are steps that Echo owners can take to make sure they enjoy the convenience of a virtual assistant without the worry of being woken up by a 2am prank alarm call.
Pop over to TechRadar to read my 8 top tips to lock down your Alexa.
It’s a familiar tale: any time I once made to play Metal Gear Solid, Pro Evolution Soccer or PaRappa the Rapper has long since been eroded by the glamours of parenthood and an erratic work schedule. Mario Kart Wii still gets spun up, as much of an occasional treat for me as it is for my kids.
I am the ‘lapsed gamer’.
But I do still play games. Armed with my smartphone or tablet, pocket puzzlers like the stunning Monument Valley, gory graphic novel epics such as The Walking Dead or riddlers including Mr Robot help ensure that train platform dead-time can still be game-time.
I’ve yet to tire of exploring new places with Pokémon Go, and I stand firm that the Swift Playgrounds lessons are every bit as satisfying as a good Sudoku puzzle – plus I get to learn a valuable skill.
I am the ‘on-the-go gamer’. Living the smartphone gaming dream I am part of the fastest area of revenue growth in the games industry.
So, when Nintendo formally announced its latest console last Friday I wondered if it was an attempt to appeal to gamers like me.
Nintendo Switch is a hybrid tablet/TV games console, as comfortable in your hands as it is hooked up to your television. Accompanying the hardware is a strong first year line-up of titles including new the Zelda Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey adventures.
But the big question is whether Nintendo has given itself enough of a fighting chance with the Switch to emerge from the shadow of the debacle that was the Wii U, to overcome the console behemoths that are Microsoft and Sony, and to take on the smartphone gaming market.
That was the topic of the story I wrote this week for Mobile World Live: “Will Nintendo fanboys make the Switch?”.
After going hands on with the Nintendo Switch at the London launch event, including playing the new fun fighting game Arms, I headed over to BBC Broadcasting House to report back for two live spots with the BBC News Channel and BBC World News:
A challenge as a technology journalist is making sure more complex material remains accessible to your audience without compromising accuracy. With a daily UK readership of 1.895 million the Metro newspaper’s audience is broader than most, so when writing here I’m at pains to check that I’m maintaining clarity without sacrificing substance.
An example: faced with an assignment on Digital-to-Analogue Converters for this week’s Connect section of the paper I pitched hard with my editor to include an introductory paragraph to give some background. The format doesn’t normally allow for this, and even though we knew we would lose word-count elsewhere in the piece she agreed. It was the right decision.
A bit more about DACs:
A DAC or Digital-to-Analogue Converter takes the 0s and 1s from your digital music source – a CD, mp3 or Spotify stream for example – and pumps out the analogue signal necessary for speakers, subwoofers and headphones to function*. You’ll find them in phones, PCs, TVs, DVDs, games consoles, even digital radios – anything that plays audio from a digital source.
While this sounds like it should be a consistent digital activity there is variation in the specification of DACs which can result in audio quality differences. Bluntly, the DACs integrated into our devices may not be making the most of the audio source, particular if from high-resolution or lossless audio formats.
That’s where an external DAC comes into play, squeezing as much detail as possible from good quality digital audio files. They can also add some extra power to the output too – I for one find the volume on my Apple iPhone 6 Plus a little too soft when on the train, tube or in other noisy environments. There is additional significance here for iPhone owners given that Apple has pulled the plug on the ubiquitous 3.5 mm headphone jack in its newer phones – something these jack-equipped headphone amps can help to work around.
I did try to name the feature ‘What’s Up DAC?’ but my editor overruled me. A shame, but once again it was probably the right decision : )
* I was curious to discover whether purely digitally-driven speakers exist: it turns out they do in theory but are impractical for mass adoption – there are precious few resources online but here’s what Wikipedia has to say about them.
A lot of my work right now is around cyber crime and cyber safety. My Hackageddon feature this week’s Connect section in The Metro illustrates some ways in which our online data might be vulnerable.
While there are precautions we can all heed and best practices we can each adopt when online – good password hygiene among the most important – we are still at the mercy of the organisations we trust to safeguard our data. Sadly, too many of these have been found wanting, with poor security contributing to the estimated 500,000,000 personal records that were leaked or lost in 2015 alone (source: Symantec).
In the Metro feature I look at passwords and password managers, the rise of ransomware, and how to check if your data has already been leaked. We also see how Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg may take care to keep his details safe now, but how his previous poor security choices recently came back to bite him.
Read the full feature in the Metro e-edition here.
As a side note, the feature coincides with season two of Golden Globe-winning cybercrime drama Mr Robot airing on Amazon Prime Video. I enjoyed the first series – it’s a good drama with plenty of technical authenticity – and can’t wait now to get stuck into the second.
October is National Home Security Month, the last week of which is Smart Home Security Week. Writing once again for The Metro newspaper I revealed six app-connected cameras for your connected home that give you piece of mind and, if necessary, help to catch crooks red-handed.
Amongst those I reviewed were flyaway Kickstarter success story Canary, home security heavyweight Piper nv and the innovative app-only Manything, which helps you to put to old smartphones to good use.
September is one of the busiest periods in the technology calendar as manufacturers race to announce and release the consumer products they hope will make their Christmas a happy one.
Not only a great time of year to be working in technology but a great time to be reporting on it too. Over the last few weeks I’ve joined the technology desk at International Business Times UK to report on breaking news from Apple, Samsung, Sony and more.
Alongside announcements of new smartphones, tablets and watches I wrote about topics as diverse as Virtual Reality video and fallen enterprise mobile player Blackberry and its attempts to remain relevant.
However, I want to share a couple of video stories here. First up is my bite-sized take on the major announcements at IFA 2015:
New smartphone announcements by Apple are a highlight for many tech-watchers but, frankly, they do go on a bit. I produced an extremely cut-down version of the Apple press conference revealing everything you need to know in roughly three minutes – saving you about an hour and forty minutes of your life.
Yes, it’s official: dashcams are now a thing.
Famously popular in Russia, these windscreen-mounted cameras have enjoyed an impressive boost here in the UK too with analysts GfK saying dashcam sales figures have skyrocketed by 918% in the last year alone.
What’s more, with so-called ‘crash for cash‘ and ‘flash for cash’ scams on the increase (not to mention malicious car-keying incidents) UK insurance companies are now beginning to offer substantial discounts to dashcam owners.
Writing a piece in The Metro newspaper last Friday I went hands-on and researched a glovebox full of dashcams from a variety of manufacturers. Eventually I whittled them down to my top three, highlighting a budget, mid-range and feature-packed high-end device.
I’m no sooth-sayer but I do predict dashcams will feature in many Christmas wishlists this year; I also expect to see dashcam features integrated into many new high-end and mid-range cars before too long; and that we will see dashcams being given out for free by insurance companies to entice new customers.
Mobile newsgathering has come of age.
Broadcasters and journalists know it, entertainment and social networks know it, unwitting citizen news-breakers and proud parents catching their 5-yo master their bicycle know it too.
Recently I wrote a feature for TechRadar on how mobile journalism will impact media coverage of the UK general election.
In the feature I speak to key mobile newsgathering practitioners from BBC, Sky News and Trinity Mirror to learn the role of mobile in the newsroom. Contributors (to whom I’m incredibly grateful) include Nick Garnett, Marc Settle, Harriet Hadfield and Alison Gow.
This came off the back of participating in MoJoCon 2015 in Dublin, the first international conference of its kind for mobile journalism and smartphone filmmaking.
Mojocon proved to the industry that mobile newsgathering – in all its forms – is now a primetime tool. It’s no longer a case of ‘why would you use a smartphone for video/audio/broadcast?’, it’s simply ‘why the the hell wouldn’t you?’.
Hosted by the Irish public service broadcaster RTÉ and attended by journalists and filmmakers from across the world, MoJoCon was a celebration of smartphone creativity and newsgathering ingenuity. It was the brainchild of mobile journalism pioneer and activist Glen Mulcahy.
I was particularly involved in the professional smartphone filmmaking stream, including hosting a session in the main hall featuring luminaries such as Neill Barham, boss man and Cinegenix, developer of go-to iOS videography app FiLMiC Pro (in my questioning I successfully ‘outed’ an upcoming and long-awaited Android version of the app); Taz Goldstein, author of Hand Held Hollywood (a book I downloaded when I first began filming on my phone); Newsshooter.com editor Dan Chung, and mobile film directors Conrad Mess, Michael Koerbel and Ricky Fosheim. You can watch the full session here.
— David McClelland (@DavidMcClelland) March 29, 2015
Head over to TechRadar to read my feature on mobile journalism and the UK General Election 2015 and keep an eye out on the Mojocon Twitter feed for more details on the next Mojo Conference.