Transcription services are a rising career field in the work-from-home sector.

Transcription services are a rising career field in the work-from-home sector. As the advancements in digital technology increase, the need for qualified transcriptionists is increasing at a significant rate. Medical and legal transcriptionists typically turn shorthand-style notes from court reporters and medical doctors and documents into readable content. A specialized course, degree or certification is typically needed for becoming a certified medical or legal transcriptionist. Audio transcribers take audio clip from videos, colleges lectures and medical conferences and turn them into typed documents.

To get started as a medical or legal transcriptionist, you will need to take a course and get a certification in either specialty. Court and medical reports use a specific type of shorthand to document word-for-word conversations. A course in legal and medical transcription will help you learn this language and teach you how to turn these dictations into full reports. A two or four-year degree is not necessary, but you will need to complete a course at a local community college or adult education center; many online schools offer transcription courses that are self-guided and can be completed in your spare time. These schools often offer job-search help for graduates upon completion of the course. You do not need to have any special certification to become an audio transcriber, but you do need to have specific equipment, excellent command of the English language and fast typing skills.

 

Most transcribers have transcription headsets, a laptop or desktop computer with excellent upload and download speeds through their internet provider, a medical dictionary, and speed typing or voice-recognition software installed. In addition, many professional transcribers also invest in a foot pedal; this device lets you control playback with your toes. You can play, rewind, fast forward and stop dictation by tapping different sections of the pedal with different parts of your foot. It can be hard to find this type of equipment out in the retail marketplace. Online shopping, at a site catering to transcribing professionals, can offer a one-stop-shop for all your transcription tools. VoiceWare Servers, http://www.voicewareservers.com/headsets.aspx, is an example of a company offering everything new transcriptionists need to start their career off on the right foot.

 

Once you are ready to embark on this new journey, you can search local job boards, virtual assistant websites and work-from-home job sites and forums to find a plethora of available transcription jobs. Many Fortune 500 companies also hire remote transcriptionists.

Razer Blade Laptop Gets Intel Kaby Lake Processors, 4K Display

Razer, a popular gaming hardware brand, has refreshed its popular Razer Blade gaming laptop once again. The latest iteration features bumped-up specifications while maintaining the same sleek design profile. Last year, it introduced Skylake processors in September, and now the refreshed version integrates the latest Intel Kaby Lake CPUs.

Razer Blade Laptop Gets Intel Kaby Lake Processors, 4K Display

The new 14-inch full-HD (1920×1800 pixel resolution) Razer Blade laptop model gives you a 2.8GHz Core i7-7700HQ Kaby Lake SoC with 16GB of RAM, Nvidia GTX 1060 GPU, 6GB of VRAM and 256GB/ 512GB/ 1TB SSD storage options. Design wise, as mentioned, it looks just like its predecessor. For the upgrade, Razer is charging $100 (Rs. 6,700) more i.e. the price tag starts from $1,899 (roughly Rs. 1,27,800).

Port wise, the new Razer Blade has one USB Type-C Thunderbolt 3 and three USB 3.0 ports, HDMI 2.0 video and audio output, and 3.5mm headphone/mic combo jack. It weighs about 1.86 kgs and the dimensions measure 345x235x17.9mm. Razer has added a 4K UHD (3840×2160 pixel) touchscreen option as well alongside the full-HD screen variant, and it weighs a bit more at 1.95 kgs.

Razer has already made available the full-HD variant on its company website, the price of which starts at $1,899. US retailers will start selling the refreshed Razer Blade from February 20. The full-HD variant is expected to rollout to international markets sometime in March, while the 4K UHD variant will arrive sometime in the next quarter. The 4K UHD variant’s price starts at $2,399, and it is only available in 512GB and 1TB SSD options.

With the purchase of the Windows 10-running laptop, users are eligible for a free download and full license of the professional music production suite FL Studio 12 Producer Edition as well.

The Year That Was

2016 really was a year like no other. We had yet another election defined by the misuse of analytics — and folks seem to be getting worse rather than better at this. We had a rush to robotics, particularly self-driving cars, and some firms even leaped ahead to self-flying, people-delivering drones (which we called “flying cars” just a few years back).

We had a wave of fake news, mostly paid for by Google, because that company, as always, has no compass. It appears to be shaming nations into regulating it, suggesting it has no sense, either. We also had a lot of interesting products, but I think one stood out as the next iPod, and it didn’t come from Apple.

I’ll go further into all of that this week, as you recover from what I hope was a wonderful Christmas day full of presents, family, and a sense of dread for January, when we all have to go back to work. Sorry, that was my inner Scrooge.

 Analytics Miss

If one thing stood out for me this past year, it was the election. After two elections in which Obama, a Democrat, out-executed his Republican rivals with analytics, we had Trump do the same thing to Clinton in the last 10 days of the election. That was in spite of the fact that Clinton was the candidate tech loved, suggesting someone really missed a meeting.

This takes me back to the oft-heard criticisms of Clinton’s opponents who maintained she showed bad judgment. The lesson here is that tech can’t fix bad judgment, and it is a force multiplier. So, if you have bad judgment, it likely will make things worse. You know, it still strikes me that if folks spent more time understanding why someone screwed up so badly rather than just finding folks to blame and shoot, things might improve over time. Just saying…

Bad Judgment

Speaking of bad judgment, Meg Whitman likely takes the cake. She came out late against Donald Trump and for Hillary Clinton, even though she is tied at the hip to the Republican Party. Maybe it would have resulted in a minor cabinet post for Whitman had Clinton won, but getting this wrong made her look not only like a traitor to her party, but also like a foolish one.

This is the sad part: HPE sells analytics products, suggesting Whitman has no better handle on that technology — even though her firm sells it — than Clinton does. I guess this means she’ll have to go back to executing a strategy that will make HPE small enough to fit in the garage it started from.

Good Judgment

Peter Thiel stands out as the tech executive of the year, largely because he was the only one who saw that there were enough people in both parties who were sick of politicians to get Trump elected.

Unlike virtually every other tech exec, he focused on tech, which is what he knows — not politics. Thiel has had a material and largely positive impact on Trump’s agenda, so much so that at a meeting earlier this month, Trump asked what he could do to help tech firms rather than yelling at them for their lack of support.

In the end, I think Thiel may showcase how tech and government should work together to make the U.S. a better place. It won’t be by donating money, as tech leaders did with Clinton, but by sharing and using the very technology they sell to make the nation better — and that should be a bipartisan goal. Sadly, Thiel is the exception and not the rule, but the industry learns from example and he is one hell of an example.

Fixing Judgment

That is a sharp contrast on judgment. Intel CEO Brian Krzanich, backed by my old friend Genevieve Bell, earlier this year made a timely announcement on focusing AI to help folks with their judgment. Both Clinton and Whitman should sign up for the alpha test.

This is really the eventual promise of analytics. It’s not a tool that multiplies the impact of a decision, good or bad, but a tool that helps people ensure their decisions are good ones. I think we all could use a tool that would help us with our judgment from time to time.

Dell Technology

In 2016, we saw the birth of the new super-company in tech, Dell Technologies. Instead of mucking around with politics, Michael Dell buckled down and took EMC private, saving Joe Tucci’s legacy and creating the most powerful hardware company in tech.

This is important in a market increasingly defined by cloud companies like Amazon, Google, and now even Microsoft. It still strikes me that Dell has the best acquisition and merger process, yet largely stands alone when using it. However, I did talk to an Intel exec who told me Intel recently adopted something similar, so that’s good news for you folks in smaller tech firms. If this is a trend, you are less likely to get a surprise layoff in 2017 due to a bad acquisition.

Product of the Year Runners-Up

Dell’s XPS 13: This was my go-to laptop for much of the year, though I actually came to prefer the XPS15, largely because it was better for playing Ashes of the Singularity, my new favorite strategy game. The XPS 13 is a nice balance of size, style, battery life and functionality, with the only downside being the lack of a good fingerprint reader.

Dell XPS 13

Dell XPS 13

Lenovo Yoga Book: At launch, this was a breakout product — ultra-thin, ultra-portable and very reasonably priced. Artists raved over it. It reminds me a lot of the Courier tablet that Microsoft’s advanced development team came up with, which effectively led to its being disbanded. Sadly, I’m not an artist — it is best for those who are.

Lenovo Yoga Book

Lenovo Yoga Book

Varonis: As I noted last week, this product and its entire class of intrusion and behavior monitoring tools could have changed the U.S. election outcome, had both the U.S. government and DNC had used them. Varonis would have prevented the hack of the DNC (and other) email servers. However, it wasn’t used and didn’t have the impact it should have had (granted, if it had, we never would have known).

BlackBerry DTEK 60: This phone showcased that you actually could have a secure BlackBerry. Thin and with glass on both sides, a decent camera, a fingerprint sensor (sensibly placed on the back of the camera, not the front), and a full Android implementation, this is the phone that BlackBerry should have made a long time ago, and it has been serving me as my primary phone ever since I got it. In a world increasingly defined by breaches, this phone is a godsend because it is secure.

BlackBerry DTEK60

BlackBerry DTEK60

Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 Solution: This was big — the only ARM solution that has been blessed by Microsoft for Windows. Microsoft hadn’t considered another platform since the 1980s, and to make the jump to Snapdragon was a huge win for Qualcomm and for users who want laptops with battery life comparable to tablets.

It also suggests that Apple is likely close to a similar decision, since it’s rumored that it has been exploring the same jump for MacBooks. However, products won’t show up until 2017, suggesting we’ll revisit this next year.

Mercedes GLA 45 AMG: I liked this car so much I bought it. The car has been a dream — Mercedes not so much. First, we had a trip from hell to pick it up in Germany. Then, to make it up to me, the company put me through its advanced driver course. However, Mercedes so overburdened the instructors that the thing became unsafe as a consequence, and there was an accident. Finally, Mercedes actually configured my car wrong, making a last-minute change that eliminated one of the features I expressly had ordered and paid for. It’s a great car, but I think I’m done with Mercedes.

AMD RX-460 Card: We are ramping to VR, but the best solutions are way too expensive as you jump from a US$100 dollar range headset for your smartphone to a $3,000 solution for a full PC with an HTC Vive or Oculus Rift solution. Well, AMD pushed back and brought out its Radeon 460 card, which dramatically lowered the cost of entry for those wanting to get in on VR.

Nvidia Drive PX2: Perhaps the greatest sleeper product in the market was the Nvidia Drive PX2. Basically it is an AI system in a box, and I’m convinced it is capable of much more than driving cars. This product and its predecessor vaulted Nvidia into the lead with autonomous cars, and likely will help move it into autonomous aircraft at some point. There no doubt will be other circumstances where having an AI in a box that can see and make decisions would be useful.

The Amazon Echo Dot is the product Apple should have built. The Dot and its siblings have everyone from Google to Microsoft and Intel, among others, looking to build similar offerings. It is the critical link between homeowners and their IoT future, and it has cut through the market like a hot knife through butter.

The Dot was my go-to gift to relatives this year, and at under $50. it remains one of the true bargains available. I think the Amazon Echo is this decade’s iPod, and we’ll soon see if Amazon can do as good a job locking everyone else out of the market as Apple did.

It is licensing the technology, suggesting that next year we could be up to our armpits in Echo clones and competitors. Overall, though, the Echo has become the core driver for in-home IoT. When a product spins a market on its head, that showcases true market power, and my product of the year needs to showcase leadership and power.

Amazon did that — first with the Echo, and now with the Echo Dot, making the Echo Dot my product of the year. Congratulations, Amazon and thanks also for offering it in bundles of six, because I now have one in nearly every room of the house

More Apple Security Flaws, Cyberattacks, Hacktivisim

More security vulnerabilities will appear in the software of Adobe and Apple than in Microsoft’s, more attacks on the Internet’s infrastructure will occur, and cybersecurity events will stoke international tensions. Those are a few of the predictions for 2017 that security experts shared with TechNewsWorld.

Users of Apple desktops and laptops for years have been relatively insulated from the kinds of malicious activity that has besieged those in the Windows world, but that’s going to change next year, warned Trend Micro.

More software flaws will affect Adobe and Apple in 2017, compared to Microsoft, the company noted in a security predictions report.

Declining PC sales and an exodus to mobile platforms have dampened interest in targeting devices running Windows, Trend Micro explained. Microsoft also has upped its security game in recent times, which has made it more difficult for attackers to find vulnerabilities in Windows.

 2017-predictions-security

Follow the Money

Signs of hackers’ increased interest in Adobe and Apple started appearing in 2016, Trend Micro noted. Zero day vulnerabilities — flaws unknown to researchers until malicious actors exploit them — numbered 135 for Adobe compared to 76 for Microsoft.

Meanwhile, Apple’s vulnerability count during the same period increased to 50, shooting up from 25 in 2015.

The increased attention Apple has drawn from criminals can be associated with its growing success in the desktop and laptop market.

“There’s a much broader use of Apple products now,” said Ed Cabrera, vice president of cybersecurity strategy at Trend Micro.

“The criminals go where consumers and enterprises are,” he told TechNewsWorld. “If consumers and enterprises are utilizing more Apple products, then that’s where they’re going to focus their activity, because that’s where the money is going to be.”

Upstream Attacks

Distributed denial of service attacks long have functioned as a cyberweapon against websites, but their use reached a new level in 2016, when they disrupted Internet service in parts of North America and Europe by choking an important piece of Net infrastructure: the domain name system.

The DNS converts domain names into corresponding IP addresses. If a domain name can’t be paired with its IP address, then a browser becomes lost on the Net.

More “upstream” attacks on the Internet will take place in 2017, said Chase Cunningham, director of cyberoperations at A10 Networks.

“If you’re an enemy of someone who depends on the Internet for business or commerce, last year it was shown that if you upstream a little bit and launch a crafted Denial of Service attack, you can bring down large provider websites and infrastructure,” he told TechNewsWorld.

“In 2017, we’re going to see more upstream attacks, and DDoS is going to make a comeback as a cyberweapon,” Cunningham said. “We’re going to see a powerful denial of service attack on something that will cause problems for a national infrastructure.”

Geopolitics Feeding Cyberattacks

Simmering tensions over nations hacking nations will come to a boil in 2017, predicted Tom Kellermann, CEO of Strategic Cyber Ventures.

“Geopolitics will be the harbinger for cyberattacks in 2017,” he told TechNewsWorld.

Those cyberattacks will be fostered by both old and new presidents of the United States.

“Due to the president elect’s rhetoric against China, Chinese hacking will begin again with increased vigor,” Kellermann said. “North Korea will leverage IoT for more denial of service attacks against the West.”

In addition, he continued, Trump’s anti-Muslim statements during the presidential campaign have increased the membership of cyberterrorist organizations — like al-Qaida and the Cyber Caliphate — that will use their new resources to dismantle and destroy U.S. infrastructure in the coming year.

Russian cyberattacks also will increase.

“Once President Obama takes revenge upon Putin for the hacking of the election and other things, you will see increased cybermilitia activity via Russian proxies in Eastern Europe against the U.S.,” Kellermann said.

Election Hangover

A cyberhangover from a divisive and inconclusive presidential election also can be expected in 2017.

“Disillusioned American voters will become more inclined toward hacktivism,” Kellermann predicted.

That hacktivism will be more destructive than it has been in the past, he said. For example, ransomware will be used to encrypt data solely for denying access to that data and not for ransom. Malicious software delivering “wiper” payloads, which destroy data, also will increase.

Voter disillusionment could give old line hactivist groups, like Anonymous, a new reason for being.

“Anonymous has been fractured for some time,” Kellermann noted. “On Jan. 20, you could see a consolidation of Anonymous once again, for the cause of acting out against the incoming administration.”

Breach Diary

  • Dec. 12. Quest Diagnoistics, a medical lab operator based in New Jersey, says it’s investigating data breach in November that placed at risk the personal health information of some 34,000 people.
  • Dec. 13. KFC in the UK advises some 1.2 million members of its Colonel’s Club loyalty program to reset their passwords because of an intrusion at program’s website.
  • Dec. 13. Data for more than 200 million people allegedly from credit agency Experian is being offered on sale on the Dark Web for US$600, CSO Online reports.
  • Dec. 13. A 17-year-old youth who previously admitted to cyberattack costing UK telecom company TalkTalk $75 million is sentenced to 12-month rehabilitation order in British court.
  • Dec. 13. October data breach at Peachtree Orthopedics in Atlanta put 531,000 people at risk of identity theft, WSB-TV reports.
  • Dec. 13. Frederick County Public Schools in Maryland says some 1,000 students who attended public schools between November 2005 and November 2006 are affected by data breach discovered in September.
  • Dec. 14. Owner of adultery website Ashley Madison agrees to pay $1.65 million to settle state and federal cases stemming from 2015 data theft of personal information of 37 million users.
  • Dec. 14. Yahoo says it’s discovered data breach from August 2013 exposing accounts of more than 1 billion users.
  • Dec. 14. Joshua Samuel Aaron, 32, arrested in New York City by federal authorities and charged with stealing contact information for more than 100 million customers of American financial institutions, brokerage firms and financial news publishers.
  • Dec. 15. Threat intelligence firm Recordfed Future says it’s discovered evidence that Russian-speaking hacker may have compromised more than 100 access credentials at U.S. Election Assistance Commission.
  • Dec. 15. Protenus reports that the number of healthcare data breaches in November reached an annual high of 57 but records exposed during the month declined from October to 458,639 from 776,533.
  • Dec. 15. Prosecutors in Los Angeles issue arrest warrant for Austin Kelvin Onaghinor, 37, for launching cyberattack on county that placed at risk confidential information of 750,000 people.
  • Dec. 16. President Barack Obama vows to retaliate against Russia for interfering with U.S. elections by stealing information from computer systems of the Democratic Party.
  • Dec. 16. Bleacher Report alerts its online and mobile users it is resetting their passwords in 72 hours due to a data breach of its systems.

Upcoming Security Events

  • Dec. 20. Insiders Are the New Malware. 1 p.m. ET. Webinar by Presidio. Free with registration.
  • Dec. 22. Part 2: How Is This Yahoo! Breach Different from Their Other Breach? 1 p.m. ET. Webinar by Fidelis Cybersecurity. Free with registration.
  • Jan. 6. The 2017 Threatscape. 10 a.m. Webinar by Cyber Management Alliance. Free with registration.
  • Jan. 9. 2017 Predictions: Authentication, Identity & Biometrics in a Connected World. 11 a.m. ET. Webinar by BioConnect.
  • Jan. 12. 2017 Trends in Information Security. 11 a.m. ET. Webinar by 451 Research. Free with registration.
  • Jan. 12. The Rise of Malware-Less Attacks: How Can Endpoint Security Keep Up? 1 p.m. ET. Webinar by Carbon Black. Free with registration.
  • Jan. 12. FTC PrivacyCon. Constitution Center, 400 7th St. SW, Washington, D.C. Free.
  • Jan. 13. I Heart Security: Developing Enterprise Security Programs for Millennials. 5 p.m. ET. Webinar by NCC Group. Free with registration.
  • Jan. 13-14. BSides San Diego. National University, Spectrum Business Park Campus, 9388 Lightwave Ave., San Diego. Tickets: $30 (includes T-shirt).
  • Jan. 16. You CAN Measure Your Cyber Security After All. 1 p.m. ET. Webinar by Allure Security Technology. Free with registration.
  • Jan. 26. The True State of Security in DevOps and Expert Advice On How to Bridge the Gap. 1 p.m. ET. Webinar by HPE and Coveros. Free with registration.
  • Jan. 31. Using GDPR To Your Advantage To Drive Customer Centricity and Trust. 5 a.m. ET. Webinar by Cognizant. Free with registration.
  • Feb. 4. BSides Huntsville. Solutions Complex building, Dynetics, 1004 Explorer Blvd.,Huntsville, Alabama. Tickets: $10.
  • Feb. 13-17. RSA USA Conference. Moscone Center, San Francisco. Full Conference Pass: before Nov. 11, $1,695; before Jan. 14, $1,995; before Feb. 11, $2,395; after Feb. 10, $2,695.
  • Feb. 21. Top Trends That Will Shape Your Cybersecurity Strategy in 2017. 11 a.m. ET. Webinar by vArmour, American University, TruSTAR and Cryptzone.
  • Feb. 25. BSides NoVa. CIT Building, 2214 Rock Hill Rd.#600, Herndon, Virginia. Tickets: conference, $25; workshops, $10.
  • Feb. 28. Key Steps to Implement & Maintain PCI DSS Compliance in 2017. 1 p.m. ET. Webinar by HPE Security.
  • March 28-31. Black Hat Asia. Marinia Bay Sands, Singapore. Registration: before Jan. 28, S$1,375; before March 25, S$1,850; after March 24, S$2,050.

Lenovo Surprises With Home Tech Play

Lenovo watchers expected the company to announce a number of new laptops when CES rolled around, but the company surprised on Tuesday when it also unveiled new products aimed at the home technology market.

“The Smart Assistant and Smart Storage line probably caught everyone off guard,” said Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst at Moor Insights and Strategy.

Lenovo developed its Smart Assistant with Amazon. Like Amazon’s Echo, the Lenovo assistant uses the Alexa cloud-based voice services to respond to a user’s spoken commands. It can do such things as conduct Web searches, play music, create lists and provide calendar updates.

Pricing for the Smart Assistant starts at US$129.99; the Harmon Kardon edition starts at $179.99. The units are offered in three colors: light gray, green or orange. They are scheduled to go on sale in May.

Lenovo also raised the curtain on a new controller, the Lenovo 500 Multimedia Controller. The palm-sized wireless keyboard of the unit acts as both a keyboard and Windows 10 gesture-supported touchpad.

Lenovo 500 Multimedia Controller

The unit is designed for convenience. Every key is within a thumb’s reach, and the controller’s wireless range is 65.6 feet, more than double the range (32.8 feet) of conventional wireless remotes.

Scheduled for sale in March, the 500 Multimedia Controller is priced at $54.99.

Smart Storage

Lenovo announced a new network storage device, Lenovo Smart Storage, that offers 6 terabytes of disk space. It supports dual-band wireless access and multidevice synchronization, as well as built-in facial recognition software for managing photos by faces.

Lenovo Smart Storage will sell for $139.99 when it becomes available in May.

The company announced the immediate availability of its Phab 2 Pro smartphone ($499.99).

Phab 2 Pro

The Phab 2 Pro supports Tango, a technology for running virtual and augmented reality applications. For example, an app called “Measure,” which is included in the Phab 2, allows users to measure interiors and real world objects.

 “More than any other PC company, Lenovo has aggressively tested the waters for new categories and accessories,” observed Ross Rubin, the principal analyst at Reticle Research.

“Clearly, more immediate revenue will come from its upgraded laptop lineup,” he told TechNewsWorld. “However, it is showcasing products that take on AR, VR and smart home.”

Beneficial Partnering

Teaming up with Amazon on the Smart Assistant is a good move on Lenovo’s part, since the device has the highest volume opportunity of all the products in the new categories, said Rubin.

“Since it was developed with Amazon, we can bet on Amazon.com featuring it pretty prominently, helping with distribution,” he added. “That’s been a weak point for many of the company’s previous product category explorations.”

Although the companies collaborated on Smart Assistant, Lenovo may have made a device that outshines its partner’s.

“With the Harmon Kardon Smart Assistant, it appears they are offering a better product than Amazon’s Echo,” Moor Insights’ Moorhead told TechNewsWorld — “which is ironic, because it uses Alexa from Amazon.”

New Laptops

In addition to its new products for the home, Lenovo announced a number of new notebook computers:

ThinkPad X1 Family
  • The ThinkPad X1 Carbon, available in black or silver, squeezes a 14-inch display into a 13-inch form factor. It’s light, at 2.5 pounds, and its battery can run 15 hours between charges, according to the company. The unit supports Thunderbolt 3, LTE-A Wireless WAN and WiGig. It has a fingerprint sensor with a dedicated chip to handle biometric processing, and it has an infrared camera for logging on to the computer through facial recognition. The notebook goes on sale in February starting at $1,349.
  • The ThinkPad X1 Yoga has a 14-inch OLED display and is being offered in a new color, silver. It has a redesigned rechargeable pen and rise-and-fall keyboard. The Yoga will be available in February, starting at $1,499.
  • In the detachable-screen notebook department, Lenovo is offering up the Miix 720, which has a 12-inch QHD+ display, a touchpad-enabled keyboard, Thunderbolt 3 support, and an infrared camera for facial recognition.
    Miix 720

    It’s being offered in two colors — champagne and iron gray — and will start selling at $999 in April.

  • Lenovo also announced a new gaming line of notebooks, called “Legion.” There are two models — the Y720 and Y520 — that have Nvidia graphics, Dolby Atmos sound and the latest Intel Core i7 processor.
    Lenovo Legion

    The Y720 starts at $1,399 and will be available in April, while the Y520 starts at $899.99 and is expected to hit retail shelves in February.

Better Pen

To go along with the Miix 720, Lenovo is offering its Active Pen 2, which will be available in February at $59.99. This edition of the pen tries to address a bothersome problem with digital pens.

“They’ve increased the friction element to the pen to give it a more natural writing experience,” said Rhoda Alexander, director of tablet and notebook research at IHS Markit.

“That’s something users constantly indicate they want on a laptop, so it feels more like pen on paper,” she told TechNewsWorld.

Many users also will appreciate Lenovo’s decision to install Microsoft’s Optimized Signature Image on their new laptops, which should mean less bloatware.

“Maybe we won’t have Candy Crush Soda Saga on our business laptops anymore,” Eric Grevstad, a contributing editor to PC Magazine, told TechNewsWorld.

Solid Lineup

The biometric and connectivity features give the new notebooks a leg up on their competitors in the market, especially in the eyes of enterprise buyers, but that advantage may be short-lived, noted David McQueen, a research director at ABI Research.

“Lenovo has a window of opportunity to get these devices into the enterprise because of the biometric and connectivity features,” he told TechNewsWorld, “but they have a limited shelf life and will be replicated by others relatively soon.”

Overall, Lenovo’s new notebook lineup is solid, observed Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT.

“The updates to the Thinkpad X1 family are solid extensions of that platform, and the Legion laptops should put Lenovo on a more equal footing with other gaming PC vendors, like Dell and HP,” he told TechNewsWorld.

“It’s hard to say at this time how advantageous the new Smart Assistant, 500 Multimedia Controller and Phab 2 Pro will be,” King added, “but that’s mainly because I expect numerous other vendors to deliver similar devices at CES.”

FastComputer: Fussy but Fixable

It is poorly designed, has little community support, and lacks its own home base and identity, all of which contribute to an identity crisis. Its home — on Sourceforge.com — lacks much in attractiveness, as does the distro.

The Linux OS offers developers and users choice among desktop options and OS standards. Linux’s greatest strength is its ability to provide customized distributions with a variety of features. Distros that offer users something new and more inviting are great finds. FastComputer is not one of them.

Linux distributions run the gamut — from very specialized and finely tuned to garden variety. Some are very innovative. Others are little more than look-alikes that offer no distinguishing features or benefits to set them apart from other options.

FastComputer Linux falls into the latter category. In its present iteration, this distro offers users an ordinary OS experience that leaves much to be desired. What should make it especially inviting is its ties to legendary Suse Linux developers. It falls far short of delivering, however.

FastComputer Linux

FastComputer Linux is an openSuse-based distribution that ships with a solid collection of software.

Linux Heritage

FastComputer’s developer, Andrei Ionel, who is based in Romania, represents it as a perfect privacy and security product that comes fully configured out-of-the-box. It is based on openSuse Leap 42.1 64-bit x86. It is a relative newcomer to the Linux distro scene.

The latest version is 2.2.1, but that is not solely the developer’s choice. He apparently has been in a holding pattern for new builds until the Suse Studio staff solves the “Error retrieving status information” bug that is affecting all distros built on openSuse Leap.

As advertised, FastComputer offers four desktop environments: GNOME, GNOME Classic, IceWM and MATE. But only the GNOME desktop was provided in the download options.

 Look and Feel

The GNOME desktop does not excite me on a well-oiled distro. GNOME can be rather plain Jane in its desktop integration — or it can be tweaked by the developer to include additional settings to provide more user features.

GNOME on FastComputer falls into the former category. It is rather plain and ordinary. Still, GNOME 3.0 and GNOME classic (which is a distant relative of the forked MATE) are popular, because they are more traditional and easy to use.

I would have been more pleased with an opportunity to try the IceWM and MATE desktops running on FastComputer. The ICEWM could be a problem solver for some of my memory-challenged computers that still thrive on the likes of Puppy Linux.

Spoiler Alert: I am still curious about revisiting FastComputer running a planned Cinnamon desktop version once the Network Manager issue is fixed (see below). So I have hope that some promise exists for a happier computing experience with FastComputer.

“A Cinnamon version is on the way,” FastComputer’s Ionel told LinuxInsider.

Critical Fault

Included are three Web browsers: Mozilla Firefox, Iron and QupZilla. Normally, I would be singing the praises of these three options, but FastComputer issued an error message on every bootup stating that the Network Manager needed to be running and to contact the software vendor. So I was not able to access the Internet.

At first, I thought the error was caused by the Broadcom wireless in my test laptop. That is often the cause when there is a glitch during testing of Linux distros.

When that happens, my usual workaround is to plug in the cable and go hard wire — but there was nothing for the hard-wired connection to grab without the Network Manager running.

The cause was a deep-down OS issue.

I had just about given up on doing any more testing of FastComputer Linux. Then I loaded it into a virtual machine. That was a Eureka moment! The connectivity issue went away.

My guess is FastComputer piggy-backed a connection from the host computer. I ran it from the same ISO file that I used to burn to the installation DVDs that produced the Network Manager error. At least Fast Computer remains viable with an Internet connection.

What You Get

The FastComputer ISO is packed with an impressive bundle of installed software. This is not a lightweight or stripped-down release.

FastComputer also comes with the antivirus package Comodo with a special Linux OS antispam component. That was a pleasant surprise. I like the GUI and operation of this package compared to ClamTK, my usual choice.

As a side note, Comodo is not available from the Synaptic Package Manger or any of the distro-based software repositories that I checked.

Another bit of hyped advertising is that FastComputer runs Windows programs courtesy of a WINE installation. WINE is not a distinguishing feature for a Linux distro, other than you do not often find WINE preinstalled.

FastComputer ships with Adobe Flash Player installed. Its default office suite is WPS Office (also known as “KingSoft Office”) instead of LibreOffice.

Ignoring the connectivity problem, the software that comes preinstalled on FastComputer Linux is substantial:

  • torrent client: Deluge;
  • two IM apps: Skype and Pidgin;
  • mail app: Claws Mail;
  • remote controlling app: TeamViewer;
  • three graphics apps: GIMP, Pinta Paint and Shotwell;
  • three sound and video apps: VLC, Clementine and Cheese;
  • Leafpad;
  • four terminals: Terminator, GNOME Terminal, MATE Terminal and XTerm;
  • Oracle Virtualbox; and
  • four games: Nibbles, Winemine, SuperTuxKart and SuperTux.

The GNOME Desktop

The GNOME 3 panel bar sits at the top of the screen. Its only purpose is to display a few notification icons.

An activity button in the upper-left corner of the screen does sort of what a menu or start button does in other desktops. It exposes a thumbnail view of the virtual workplaces along the right edge of the screen and the favorites bar along the left screen edge.

The favorites bar has the menu button at the bottom of the icon row. GNOME uses a full-screen icon display of installed software rather than a pop-up two-column title index.

Bottom Line

Let’s assume that the developer soon will issue an updated or fixed version so the Network Manager will work outside a Virtual Machine window. That will give FastComputerLinux a shot at being more useful to those who want a good out-of-the-box simple OS solution.

I am not sure that this distro’s name is an indication of speedy performance. I tested it on several machines looking for speed.

As expected, the live session DVD was very sluggish. It was much peppier on the VM. I was expecting a little bit better speed performance on my test gear with a hard drive installation.

Other than the apparent malfunction of the Network Manager, my biggest disappointment is the lack of more than one virtual desktop. Unlike other GNOME 3 integrations, FastComputer offers no way to add additional virtual desktops, the developer confirmed. So if you rely on this flexibility, look elsewhere.

Want to Suggest a Review?

Is there a Linux software application or distro you’d like to suggest for review? Something you love or would like to get to know?

Please email your ideas to me, and I’ll consider them for a future Linux Picks and Pans column.

And use the Reader Comments feature below to provide your input!

Customizing a Computer? Here's What You Need

There are plenty of reasons to build a custom computer. While custom computers may initially be more expensive than prepackaged desktops or laptops, they can provide you with nearly endless possibilities, whether you’re looking for a top-notch gaming machine, a system for mixing music, or the ideal choice for developing Web applications.

A custom computer is the way to go if you want both performance and flexibility. Upgrading individual parts often is less expensive than buying a new computer, which could save you money in the long run.

Processor and Motherboard

The component to start with is the processor, which will dictate your selection of other necessary parts, like the motherboard. UserBenchmark’s exhaustive list of user-rated processors is a good resource to help you decide. AMD and Intel are the top manufacturers, but I prefer Intel.

Intel is the industry standard when it comes to processors, so you can’t go wrong if that’s your choice. Its Core series comes in three families: i3, i5 and i7. The i3 series is good for average computing needs, while the i5 offers a little more horsepower. The i7 series offers you the best performance. For the price, a Core i7-6700k really can’t be beat.

After you choose your processor, select a motherboard to go with it. Make sure it is USB 3.1/3.0-capable for optimal speed. One factor to consider is whether you plan on overclocking, which involves running your PC at a speed higher than manufacturer recommendations.

computer motherboard

While you can benefit from short-term performance boosts, overclocking may lead to a shorter lifespan for your computer, so you’ll need to consider a compatible motherboard if you plan to do it.

Storage and Memory

Next, choose the storage you want to use. HDD drives are the traditional hard drives that most computers have, and they are extremely affordable.

computer hard disc

However, SSDs are the choice for sheer performance, and their prices are dropping.

I prefer a hybrid option that includes both. A computer built with its system files on a smaller SSD will boot faster, while a larger and cheaper HDD in the 2-TB range gives plenty of storage.

Decide how much RAM you need. If you plan on running a 32-bit OS, then you only need 3 GB of memory since the OS won’t support any more. Most likely, though, you will be using a 64-bit architecture where 4 GB is the minimum.

RAM is a relatively cheap upgrade for the performance you get in return. Choose 8, 12, or 16 GB for a better user experience.

You can also put in a DVD/CD drive, though it is not necessary, thanks to portable storage and cloud-based software.

Video and Audio Cards

If you intend to play video games, create digital graphics or edit video, you should invest in something more advanced than a basic video card.

For enhanced graphics, AMD, ATI or Nvidia cards will do the trick. The AMD Radeon RX 460 is a reasonably affordable option that can also handle the needs of most casual gamers.

The same goes for your audio card: If you are editing audio files, you should always opt for a higher-quality card that’s compatible with the peripheral equipment you want to connect.

Case, Power and Cooling

You have to buy a case to hold all of that amazing hardware! There are many types of cases on the market with different features. Many cases have a rudimentary power supply and cooling fans. However, if you are building a high-performance system, they are probably inadequate.

All that performance generates heat. Too much heat will cause your computer to crash and may even damage hardware, so be sure to invest in some quality computer cooling fans.

At a minimum, you will want one attached to your CPU heatsink, one larger fan to exhaust heat from the case — and if not built in, one to disperse heat from your graphics card.

The more powerful your components, the more power you’ll need to run your system properly. You don’t want to burn through a cheap power supply and have everything shut down on you.

Plan on at least a 500w power supply, but if you’ve opted for a bigger processor, graphics card, and the requisite fans, you’ll need something with more juice. Your components may come with recommended power allowances. If not, I suggest at least a 750w power supply.

Final Thought: Don’t be afraid to invest more money up front, as your custom machine can provide years of use before you’ll need to upgrade it again. Good luck with your project — and most of all, have fun!

BlackBerry, Microsoft and the Ever-Smarter Connected Car

In a couple of interesting briefings last week, BlackBerry announced that its turnaround was finished, and Microsoft finally provided some information on its new connected car deliverables.

One strange thing was that after CEO John Chen excitedly pointed out that BlackBerry had displaced Microsoft in Ford, he then announced a strategic initiative to work more closely with Microsoft’s Azure platform on BlackBerry’s own market-leading QNX car operating system. That showcased not only the massive changes in both companies, but also the really strange way this market is evolving.

I’ll close with my product of the week: a very low-cost wearable smartphone display that could get you through your next dentist appointment or boring sermon.

blackberry-qnx

BlackBerry’s QNX

With all the focus on the coming autonomous car and on BlackBerry’s old phone business, most don’t know that QNX, the operating system that BlackBerry acquired, is dominant in the car market, largely for car operations. To give you an idea, it currently is in 60M — yes, that’s million — cars. It is ranked No. 1 in telematics and automotive software entertainment, and its main advantage is that it just works and continues to meet all of the car companies’ start of product deadlines.

Chances are that if you like the software running the different parts of your car, it is QNX. The car companies like it because it is very secure, their own software developers know it (it’s been dominant for a number of years), and it works on both 32- and 64-bit hardware platforms from folks like Intel, Qualcomm and Nvidia.

As you’d expect from any modern system, it is set up for over-the-air updates, similar to Tesla. In effect, QNX has become the equivalent of Android or Windows, but for the car — and it dominates the segment.

BlackBerry introduced the Karma folks at the briefing to talk about their most advanced offerings. Karma is what became of Fisker — the firm that tried, with some significant drama, to compete with Tesla. (Karma also showcased why Tesla’s decision to use Panasonic batteries turned out to be brilliant.)

Karma’s current car is physically identical to the Fisker Karma, with the exception that all of the electronics have been revamped completely, so it now is reliable. (I was an old Jaguar mechanic, and given the issues the Fisker had with its electronics, I’ve always wondered if they were done by Lucas electrics, which were almost always at the heart of Jaguar reliability issues in the 1960s and 70s.)

However, I spoke to the Karma executives at the event, and their point was that it took them only 15 days to bring up the software on their redeveloped car. (By the way, the new Karma is about US$140K, and it is still a looker.)

BlackBerry currently is pivoting to support the next generation of technology, which includes autonomous vehicles.

Now you’d think that Microsoft and BlackBerry would be at each other’s throats. While BlackBerry has pivoted away from focusing exclusively on secure phones and email, Microsoft has pivoted away from its focus on tools and operating systems.

Microsoft: It’s About Azure

Microsoft has changed a lot over the last several years, since Satya Nadella has been running the firm. I really didn’t get that initially, so the company had to set up a special retraining meeting. I had covered Microsoft for so long that my brain apparently was hard coded to think of it in just one way — and it isn’t that company any more.

Microsoft’s big push with automotive is with Azure now, which is a good thing, because its in-car efforts over the last two decades weren’t that great.

I actually had an AutoPC for a number of years. It was very advanced for its time, but truly flawed — so much so that my wife still threatens to throw something at me — and in those early years it was the AutoPC — if I ever suggest something like that again.

To be fair, that product was crippled by an underperforming processor — but I have to say, there is no misery like having a GPS system that can’t navigate at anything exceeding 25 miles per hour. Of course, I put the AutoPC in her new car, not my own, which in hindsight likely wasn’t that wise. (Yes, I’m also often surprised I’m still married.)

Anyway, Microsoft’s current effort is to provide the cloud resource for cars, so that updates, maintenance, and even some cloud intelligence can be delivered — bad weather, reported accidents, or even neighborhoods in flux and potentially unsafe — in order to improve not only the car maker’s connection to the car, but also the driver’s connection to the car maker.

You see Tesla — particularly when it pulled an Apple and got hundreds of thousands of pre-orders for a car that wouldn’t arrive for years — woke up the traditional vendors with a holy crap moment. Now they realize that if they can’t provide some level of better-connected support in the next few years, they’ll likely be gone.

Those companies don’t trust Google at all, for the most part, (which is largely why Google had to spin out its own car effort), and they appear to be more comfortable with Microsoft than with Amazon.

Wrapping Up

Both BlackBerry and Microsoft have changed a lot, and while BlackBerry is focused like a laser on operating systems and related services, Microsoft largely has pivoted to the cloud as its premier platform, and that means they can partner much more easily going forward.

In effect, the firms have pivoted away from each other in terms of focus — and that means rather than having a cage match to the death, they now can cooperate to create something far more powerful.

It is possible that with their combined autonomous car efforts, these companies could do together what neither firm could do individually, and thus dominate the next generation of ever-smarter cars. Go figure.

The Vufine+, which started out as a Kickstarter project, is basically a small head-mounted display, priced at around $180, that’s useful for watching video or looking at your PC, tablet or smartphone screen while you are moving about.

Vufine+ Wearable Display

Vufine+ Wearable Display

I wouldn’t suggest using this while driving, running or bike riding, though, as it isn’t a ton less distracting then holding up your phone when watching a video. It is a rechargeable device, but battery life is about an hour and a half, suggesting that if you want to use it longer you should carry a long USB cable and a cellphone booster battery.

There are some downsides: It isn’t wireless, and it works well only on your right eye (cables stick up if you put it on your left). Unlike Google’s Glass, which used a projector, this is a screen — so lining it up can be a tad difficult the first time.

However, Glass cost something like $1,500 and this is $180, so it is a great little device to figure out what works for you and what doesn’t.

Some people use their Vufine+ to see both their drone and what it sees, but my ideal use is in a dentist’s office where I can watch a movie while having my teeth cleaned and not be bored to tears.

At $180, if I accidentally lost it I wouldn’t be likely to have a coronary.

It works with phones and tablets that have HDMI out and the same with laptops. It comes with an HDMI to Micro-HDMI cable, so clearly it’s expected that you’ll start out with a laptop, even though you are more likely to use a Micro-HDMI to Micro-HDMI cable (about $10 on Amazon).

Oh, don’t forget headphones or earbuds — wireless if you don’t have a separate HDMI jack or headphone jack on your device — and be aware, your laptop may see an audio component in the device and switch your speakers to it so you can’t hear sound. Go into your control panel and switch that to whatever you actually want to use, or you’ll be listening to the sounds of silence.

The Vufine+ solved a problem for me: It gave me something that allowed me both to watch video and pay attention to the oral hygienist, transforming what always has been an incredibly boring experience (I get really tired of watching the ceiling fan spin) into a more interesting, far faster-moving one. As a result, the Vufine+ is my product of the week.

Tech Industry Reacts to Trump's Immigration Order

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick on Thursday resigned from President Trump’s business advisory council amid fierce blowback against the president’s recent executive order on immigration, and in the wake of reports that several major Silicon Valley firms, including Facebook, Apple, Microsoft and Google, have been circulating a draft letter opposing Trump’s action.

Kalanick said he no longer would participate in the council after consumers railed against Uber for continuing to operate at John F. Kennedy International Airport over the weekend. The Taxi Workers Alliance in New York had gone on strike, refusing to pick up fares at the airport, to protest Trump’s executive order on refugee resettlement and travel from seven predominantly Muslim nations.

“Earlier today I spoke briefly with the President about the immigration executive order and its issues for our community,” Kalanick wrote in a memo to employees. “I also let him know that I would not be able to participate on his economic council. Joining the group was not meant to be an endorsement of the President or his agenda, but unfortunately it has been misinterpreted to be exactly that.”

In the memo, Kalanick said he was proud to work with Thuan Pham, Uber’s CTO, and Emil Michael, the company’s senior vice president of business, both of whom are refugees who “came here to build a better life for themselves.”

Policy Backlash

A number of major tech players have been contemplating the publication of an open letter protesting not only Trump’s so-called Muslim ban, but also other proposed changes that they fear could damage their companies’ ability to conduct business around the world, according to published reports.

The draft letter, first reported by ReCode and Bloomberg News, calls on the Trump administration to reconsider several key policies in addition to the halt in refugee resettlement into the U.S.

The letter also urges the administration to reconsider its policies with regard to Dreamers — that is, children of illegal immigrants who face deportation and the breakup of their families, a group that President Obama wanted to protect.

The Silicon Valley leaders’ concerns go to the heart of the ability of their firms to recruit staff and conduct business. Many of their top executives, as well as professional programmers and engineers, have been recruited from Asia, the Middle East, and other parts of the world that are impacted directly by the Trump administration’s recent and proposed executive orders.

Thousands of Silicon Valley professionals work under H-1B visas that allow highly skilled foreigners to remain in the U.S. as long as they continue to work for the companies that recruited them.

After Trump signed the immigration ban, it was not only foreigners attempting to reach the U.S. for the first time who were impacted. Visa holders who were traveling overseas on business also were caught up in the chaos.

Key Contributors

Immigrants are twice as likely as native-born Americans to start new businesses, said Arnobio Morelix, senior research analyst and program officer in research and policy at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.

More than half of the billion-dollar startups in the U.S. were launched by immigrants, and 70 percent of those unicorn companies have immigrants as key members of their management or product development teams, he told TechNewsWorld.

More than 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies were launched by immigrants and their children, and Silicon Valley is the metro area with the most immigrant entrepreneurs in the country, the foundation’s data shows. Immigrants account for 41.9 percent of entrepreneurs in the San Jose metro area.

It’s unlikely that the Trump administration will back down on the immigration issue, despite the concerns raised by the technology industry in the draft letter that’s been circulating, according to Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group.

“I doubt it,” he told TechNewsWorld, as “the president is pretty set on his plan, and it was a key campaign promise.”

It such an open letter were published, it might upset Trump to the point where he would rescind his pledge to help the technology industry by cutting back on government regulations, Enderle feared.

Secondary Strategy

It’s doubtful the letter tech leaders reportedly are signing would have any effect on the president’s opinion or his executive order, suggested Charles Kind, principal analyst at Pund-IT.

“In the first two weeks of his administration, Trump has shown himself to be willful, combative and quick to take offense — none of which are qualities one associates with a desire to seek compromise,” he told TechNewsWorld.

That said, “simply writing the letter could be as important for tech companies as finding a way to get through to the administration,” King continued.

“The fact is that the impact of the executive order on Silicon Valley’s employment of foreign-born engineers is just one of the elements in play here. More important will be the effect that Trump’s unilateral actions and ‘America first’ intentions have on foreign markets, many of which are crucial to the current and future health of U.S. tech companies,” he explained.

“If Mr. Trump sparks crises,” said King, “including trade wars with formerly friendly allies — and it seems likely that he will — the immigration letter signers’ willingness to confront the president could help them maintain their good standing with trusted partners and customers who are otherwise threatened by the administration’s policies.

BenQ CH100 Portable LED Projector Launched in India

Taipei-based technology major BenQ on Wednesday launched CH100, a portable LED projector designed for Web designers and graphics artists. Priced at Rs. 1,50,000, the BenQ CH100 is said to deliver accurate picture quality with sRGB colour fidelity and full-HD resolution.

BenQ CH100 Portable LED Projector Launched in India“We’re passionate about design ourselves, and we know that creative professionals will go to any length to breathe life into their ideas,” said Rajeev Singh, Managing Director of BenQ India. “That’s why we purpose-built the CH100 specifically for the creative class to make sure that their technology keeps pace with their vision.”

With short throw and five picture modes for any business presentation situation, the portable device activates instantly from its long-life, 20,000-hour LED light source to project a professional impression anytime, anywhere.

The company in a statement added, “the LED light source produces highly saturated colours, triggering the Helmholtz-Kohlrausch effect to boost CH100’s perceived brightness appear twice as bright as its 1,000 ANSI lumens rating, for comfortable viewing in well-lit venues accommodating as many as 10 attendees.”

The BenQ CH100 portable LED projector can project large 81-inch images from just two metres away, the company said. An optional QCast wireless full-HD 1080p streaming dongle can also be bought alongside.