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The Metro

Metro Connect: HACKcess All Areas?

In today’s Metro I investigate whether the CIA really can ‘hackcess all areas’. Plus, I ask if wearable tech has fallen from fashion. Hold on tight, it’s time to Connect…
Is Your TV Spying On You?

Last week’s WikiLeaks document dump professes to reveal how the CIA has – with help from agencies including MI5 – been collecting and developing an arsenal of hacking tools, exploits and cyber skeleton keys to pick its way into the devices we use every day.

We shouldn’t be surprised. Covert surveillance is a tool widely used by intelligence agencies to maintain national security and counter terrorism.

But if the good guys can find a backdoor into our connected kit, surely the bad guys can too? Read on in the Metro e-edition…

Wearables Watch

The Apple Watch launched less than two years ago. I know this because on the day of the launch I confidently declared that ‘wearable tech is the next big thing’ on stage at the Gadget Show Live, enthusing about the upcoming Pebble Time smartwatch and the latest Jawbone and Fitbit gear.

How times change.

Wear NextLess than two years on and the wearables phenomenon has failed to catch on, leading analysts to rein in their optimism.

Back to the Apple Watch.

Many – myself included – saw the launch of Apple’s highly-anticipated wearable as a watershed moment. Indeed it was, but rather than sparking a wearables revolution it had the opposite effect. ‘Oh, is that it?’, was the consensus.

However, as Bill Gates once quipped, we tend to over-estimate the impact of a technology in its first two years but underestimate its impact in ten. It might be in the depths of the trough of disillusionment but I can’t see anything other than wearable tech to playing a huge part in our future.

Last week I was at the Wearable Technology Show in London to see how the latest wearable devices are looking to make an impact sooner rather than later…

The Metro

Fantastic Visual Effects and Where to Find Them

In today’s Metro I embark on a tour of Soho to see how London’s Oscar-winning visual effects firms are lighting up cinema screens around the world.

Visual Effects Feature in The Metro

Central London is home to many of the movie world’s most innovative visual effects firms. With the 89th Academy Awards this Sunday I wanted to understand more about what goes into making VFX-heavy Hollywood films.

In researching the feature I spoke to Foundry co-founder Simon Robinson. His company’s software titles Nuke, Mari and Katana are used by post-production houses the world over – in fact, every film nominated for a best VFX Oscar in the last six years has used its software.

I also spoke with Matt Fox, joint MD for film at Framestore; his team worked on year’s Best VFX Oscar nominee Doctor Strange as well as 2013’s six-time Oscar winner Gravity.

As well as talking technology I also learnt about the immense manpower required to turn around a typical movie, and ethics around the digital character resurrection that saw Peter Cushing and Paul Walker brought back to life for the big screen.

The 2017 Oscars take place this Sunday 26th February 2017, with five films nominated for Best Visual Effects: Doctor Strange, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Deepwater Horizon, The Jungle Book, and Kubo and the Two Strings.

Read the full story in the Metro e-edition here.

 

The Metro

Putting DACs On Test in Metro

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.

Anyway, that’s the background to an On Test piece in which I test drive three class-leading high-end, mid-price and great value DAC options.

DACs On Test in The Metro

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.

Hackageddon | The Metro

Hackageddon in The Metro

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.

Hackageddon | The Metro

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.

Manything

Smart Home Security in The Metro

This autumn I’ve been busy talking about cybercrime, data breaches and online safety, but let’s not forget about the need security in real life too.

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.

David McClelland tests the best connected cams to help you catch crooks red-handed

Image: The Metro, 30 October 2015

The Metro

Avoid ‘Crash for Cash’ Scams with these Dashcams

Yes, it’s official: dashcams are now a thing.

Metro Logo

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.

Dashcams Metro

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.

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