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Video Conferencing and Screen Sharing – easy and seamless September 20, 2017

Posted by Steven in In-Media.
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I’ve recently had the opportunity to meet some talented developers from the distinguished city of Nuremberg. It was inspiring to learn how they specialized on certain skills and how distributed teams work together seamlessly.

I generally observe that freelance developers and smaller companies can tap into new and innovative tools much quicker than large companies (partly of course due to regulatory reasons applied to large institutions).

Appearin Illustration Banner

For easy stand-up-meetings and to pull distributed teams together they used “appear.in“.

Their tag-line says it quite well: appear.in  –  one click video conversations. But it can do even more. It can share your screen and it works nicely on an Android device or on an iPhone. I tried it out and I was surprised how easy, hassle free and quick it is.

Essentially you:

  • go to their site: https://appear.in
  • pick a name for your room (any kind of name – I know there may be Security concerns for confidential meetings but for quick team huddles it is really nice)
  • and a second later you’re in your meeting room (which seems to use a nice web standard front-end / no flash or plugins needed)
  • you can invite others and start chatting
  • there is easy text chat and screen sharing capabilities as well
  • and as far as I can see: it’s free!

 

And to cater just a little bit for the fine print: they seem to be based on Norway and their terms of service states that they don’t store any transcripts or call content on their servers. Also they have a nice blog and seem to be a cool bunch of people :) go say hi.

go try it out and let me know what you think in comments.

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Great Spots Showcased: Awwwards June 13, 2017

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Always on the run for inspiration and for great spots on the world wide web. Now I found one little service that makes for a good starting point.

http://www.awwwards.com

In my own words: it’s a website aggregator which allows users and jury members to assign grades (1-lowes 10-highes) to website projects. It’s updated daily and provides a great overview of well designed or very usable websites. A good place to skim for inspiration.

 

Great Spots on the Web – made with Squarespace May 2, 2017

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Just yesterday I met with a friend who is planning to start her own business. It was an inspiring afternoon with lots of great ideas and the true free spirit of getting things done and working on things who make sense.

This inspired me and I brainstormed some of my own ideas again. So here we go – directly from the brainstorming session: Some great examples of sites which use Squarespace:

sites made with squarespace (illustration)

quick observation: apparently everyone needs huge images :-)

 

Windows 10 Activation Technology January 8, 2017

Posted by Steven in Software.
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Microsoft attempted to make a lot of things very easy and straight forward with Windows 10. This operating system of the cloud-age is supposed to be a no brainer for everyone. Easy to upgrade, initially offered as a free upgrade and not to forget fast and safe for everyday use.

When I recently contemplated the upgrade to Windows 10 for an older living-room PC myself I found some aspects that are quite complicated. Thus today I’d like to talk about Activation.

I believe Microsoft’s intention was to make the upgrade process very smooth end easy for everyone. However this lead to more activation options and to an more complex situation overall if things go wrong.

More Activation Options

  • Microsoft provides a nice overview here: https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/help/12440/windows-10-activation
  • Today there are two activation routes (Windows setup will chose which one fits your situation).
  • First possible route: Digital Entitlement / Digital License
    • Rule of thumb: everyone who used an activated previous version of windows and took Microsoft’s offer for a free upgrade will get a digital license.
    • There are other cases where the setup will chose digital license (explained in detail by Microsoft)
    • So what is a digital license? Basically it is a digital marker, a license which microsoft creates when you use one of the free upgrade offers or when you are a windows insider. In order to fix issues with that methodology Microsoft has built a functionality to link your digital license with your Microsoft account (and this should help with re-activating Windows after hardware change).
    • Additionally it is important to understand: The digital license is build in such a way so that it is tied to your current hardware configuration
  • Second is the classic Product Key Method
    • What is it and when will it be used?
    • It seems quite obvious: the other more expensive ways to get Windows will in most cases use a Product Key and the classic transfer of some PC data and product key to Microsoft for activation. These more expensive ways include: buying a Windows 10 copy, buying a digital download for Windows 10 or getting Windows 10 with a new Laptop.
    • With the Product key that you acquired there should be no issue re-activating Windows.

As you can see the different routes may make for more options and maybe more issues when changing hardware. The following links can also provide some guidance if you run into issues:

License FAQ
http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/ultimate-windows-10-activation-license-faq/

Versus. Background Info
http://pureinfotech.com/how-activation-works-windows-10-digital-entitlement-vs-product-key/

Preparing for hardware change
http://www.windowscentral.com/how-re-activate-windows-10-after-hardware-change

Windows 10 Setup Considerations when using a free upgrade
http://www.howtogeek.com/266072/you-can-still-get-windows-10-for-free-with-a-windows-7-8-or-8.1-key/

Do-it-all Media Center and Streaming Media Player January 5, 2017

Posted by Steven in gadgets.
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Perfect-Home-Theater

Introduction

I know I am whining too much about this. But I would like to give my backstory here. Years ago I thought about the perfect home theater solution. And basically I could not find the perfect gadget. So I bought an off the shelf Windows PC. The machine is big and generates fan-noise but hooked up to the HD TV it can do almost anything (play DVDs, stream, play MKV files and so on). Now the PC is 5 years old and I’ve got trouble with it again. It’s horribly strange: Windows 7 won’t check for updates and some strange hang-ups and crashes happened – although there was never an error message or bluescreen. Oh well slowly I said to myself the much used system is reaching its end of life.

This brings me once again to the search for the perfect home theater system.

If I won’t be able to rely on the good old Midi Tower anymore I would have to find something else suiting my needs. And given my needs seemed basic enough (more on that later) I refused to think of another $1000 PC tower as the next media center. If I just need to play files off my hard drives and stream Netflix and Amazon Video and be able to stream one of the European live TV providers as an alternative to Antenna TV then there should be a simpler and quieter box which can do all this.

The Search Continues…

Well it turns out the search for an answer here is still -in 2017- very hard. Here are my absolute requirements again:

  • Play MP4 and MKV (mostly h264 encoded) video files off of several USB hard drives (most drives around 2TB in size and formatted with NTFS)
  • Stream Netflix
  • Stream Amazon Video
  • Easy Access to YouTube
  • Play music via Radio App and from large MP3 folders
  • Full HD

Nice to have features would be:

  • Stream content from an iOS device to the box
  • Stream content from an Android device to the box
  • Play content from network attached storage – i.e. via DLNA
  • Access to a Web Browser
  • Some comfort would be great – speed, easy setup, easy remote control, sleep timer and so on.
  • I don’t have a huge stack of 4K content but If the solution can support 4K – great

The market for streaming boxes is quite large – there are things like the hugely successful Amazon FireTV (Android) or many people praise the possibilities of the low cost Raspberry Pi (Linux). Then there are specialized solutions like the AppleTV (iOS – Apple aiming to re-invent TV with Apps). To be honest I believe these solutions totally make sense. There shouldn’t be a need for an Intel i7 processor and a dedicated graphics card for organizing some well established HD media files and streaming some stuff.

But when looking into these solutions and taking into account my basic feature requirements there are still some question marks.

I have summarized my current findings in this table:

MSHTPC

So a couple of quick take aways from that :-) : There is quite a price range between the products. A cheap and basic Raspberry Pi (Version 3 – with integrated bluetooth and wifi) can do a lot of the heavy media lifting. On the other end of the spectrum would be the sleek and capable Playstation 4.

Apart from the price range and the related additional features – the core app support (according to my feature list) is interesting. Netflix seems well established and independent enough that it is supported by almost all the devices (except for the Raspberry Pi – I guess the open platform and a very compact linux is still a challenge for streaming well-secured video formats). Amazon may be more of  a new comer here and it clearly follows a strategy to support its own devices first (FireTV and FireTV Stick). Support for other platforms is more a nice to have for Amazon. Another note rg. the Raspberry Pi: There are hacky unofficial solutions to getting Netflix and Amazon Video to run. I skimmed through some of the articles online but I decided for me: This stuff is too complex right now.

The other hotspot for me is the USB hard drive support. It is staggering how hit or miss this is. I still have large drives lying around with tons of shows (whole seasons) and movies on them. I take it it is mostly a sin from the past when networks were not that fast and when downloading a file first and thus avoiding heavy buffering was a real plus. Also in a mobile / on the go life it is good to store and manage some entertainment locally (so it won’t eat up your data cap). For convenience purposes most of the drives are formatted in NTFS format. This may pose a challenge for modern linux and Android platforms – as NTFS is an older but proprietary format developed by Microsoft. It is however interesting to see how a compact linux for the Raspberry Pi can read and write to NTFS and loads of otherwise capable Android distributions can’t. Nvidia must have built something into their Shield devices so there it seems to work but on other devices (even on rooted FireTVs) playing a file off a NTFS formatted drive is a real challenge. Conventional antenna driven TV is coming to an end at least it is getting more and more fragmented throughout Europe and the US. In central Europe the DVB-T2 standard starts to mature but usually HD channels are encrypted and require a yearly subscription fee (which to some extend seems expensive when there are alternatives to watch TV online on multiple devices for a similar fee). I researched Zattoo and Magine.tv as good enough alternatives for me to watch some live TV. These services do not offer apps on all platforms but they are already moving to consoles and have been well established for iOS and Android so my hope is eventually they will be broadly available on most platforms.

Conclusion

Going back to the introduction: It’s a shame the good old windows PC is showing its age. Even with all the research my conclusion is: A Windows PC does it all and still in this day and age it feels like a great tool. All these fancy new gadgets promise much but don’t really fit into my every day life.

The best candidates for me right now seem to be the Nvidia Shield and the Xbox One. Both support my core use cases and seem to be fast and reasonably mature. The Xbox has a great game library for me and a nice controller – while the Shield can be accessed easily from iPhone and Android Phones. Well I would say the search continues and one has to keep an eye on this type of technology.

 

Tame Gatekeeper in OS X 10.9 – macOS Mavericks December 27, 2016

Posted by Steven in Software.
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Apple set up Gatekeeper as one of the prime methods to protect users from malicious software. It’s basically a security system integrated into macOS which checks executable software against a list of malicious stuff.

I recently noticed that in Apple’s latest desktop OS “Mavericks” (10.9) there is no Gatekeeper setting for allowing any kind of software to run on your Mac. You can find Gatekeeper settings in the “Preference” App under option “Security” in the “General”-Tab. There you are now limited to allow App-Downloads (just) from the Apple App Store; or from the Apple App Store and from verified Developers.

Previously there was a setting for ‘allow from – “Anywhere” ‘. This was useful to me in certain situations – basically during troubleshooting certain Apps.

Here is how you get this “Anywhere” Option back under Mavericks:

Open Terminal and enter this command (confirm with Admin Password):

sudo spctl --master-disable

And that’s it. The formerly available Option returns to your “Preferences” App.

Portals for Design- / Webdesign-Services December 19, 2016

Posted by Steven in The-Web.
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DAS AUGE
https://dasauge.de

Dribble
https://dribbble.com/

Designen Lassen
https://www.designenlassen.de/

Fiverr
https://www.fiverr.com/

Content.de
http://content.de

Freelancer.com
http://freelancer.com

German Startups to watch (Top Startup Growth 2016) December 19, 2016

Posted by Steven in In-Media.
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Informative Twitter Account to watch: https://twitter.com/bilanz_de

Brief list of fast growing German Startups (value = growth given in relative percentage):

1. Lesara (Berlin): 1.425 percent
fashion and interior online retail

2. Gastrohero (Holzwickede): 1.345 percent
appliance / tool sale for the food service industrie

3. Uberall (Berlin): 754 percent
marketing software

4. Unu (Berlin): 725 percent
e-scooter sale

5. Rebelle (Hamburg): 660 percent
used clothes and accessories sales

6. Contentful (Berlin): 646 percent
content management solutions

7. Thermondo (Berlin): 638 percent
modernization of heating systems

8. Foodpanda (Berlin): 567 percent
online food delivery service

9. Digidip (Berlin): 564 percent
marketing focus on online shop links

10. Montredo (Berlin): 520 percent
time pieces online retail

11. About You (Hamburg): 516 percent
online retailer for clothes and accessories

12. Schmuck-Elfe (Leipzig): 477 percent
online retailer for jewelery and accessories

13. Smartpatient (München): 473 percent
advice concerning medication use

14. Koro-Drogerie (Berlin): 456 percent
online retail for groceries

15. RNTS-Media (Berlin): 444 percent
online marketing and advertising

16. Amorelie (Berlin): 425 percent
online retail for erotic products

17. Metacrew Group (Osnabrück): 381 percent
strategy advice for online retailer

18. Brillen.de (Wildau): 380 percent
online retailer for glasses

19. Hellofresh (Berlin): 363 percent
delivery service for food & groceries

20. TVsmiles (Berlin): 305 percent
Sales raffles and coupons

21. Finanzchef24 (München): 273 percent
insurance comparison

22. Yieldlove (Hamburg): 264 percent
online advertising comparisons

23. Sentinel Systemlösungen (Hamburg): 239 percent
IT security and system administration

24. Applause (Berlin): 223 percent
App testing

25. Deematrix (Fürstenwalde): 216 percent
energy storage (focus on renewables)

26. Allbranded (Hamburg): 201 percent
online retail for promitional products

27. Newsletter-2-go (Berlin): 199 percent
E-Mail marketing

28. Pickawood (Hamburg): 197 percent
customized furniture online sales

29. Mobisol (Berlin): 195 percent
online sale of photovoltaic equipment

30. Meinunterricht.de (Berlin): 190 percent
lesson preparation for teachers

31. Ecratum (Berlin): 186 percent
tool in order to optimize supplier relations for small shops

32. Honestly MT (Köln): 180 percent
non-public review system

33. Golf-Post (Köln): 175 percent
online magazine for golf topics

34. Screwerk (Lüdenscheid): 169 percent
screw sales

35. Blacklane (Berlin): 163 percent
chauffeur services

36. Data-Virtuality (Leipzig): 161 percent
database system for data analytics

37. Springlane (Düsseldorf): 161 percent
kitchen- and kitchen tools sale

38. Cerascreen (Schwerin): 151 percent
lab-test / health-test sales

39. Fincite (Frankfurt am Main): 149 percent
development of financial algorithms

40. Travador (München): 137 percent
travel package sale (short trips)

41. Webdata-Solutions (Leipzig): 132 percent
peer-group- / competition analysis

42. Fastbill  (Offenbach am Main): 118 percent
billing for freelancers

43. Greenyogashop (Wyk auf Föhr): 115 percent
Yoga items sales

44. Finanzcheck.de (Hamburg): 104 percent
online loan comparisons

45. Streetspotr (Nürnberg): 98 percent
analysis for mini-sales-portals

46. Myposter (Bergkirchen): 97 percent
online printing (focus: large format)

47. On-apply (Frankfurt am Main): 94 percent
job applicant management software

48. First-Colo (München): 92 percent
server and computing-services leasing

49. Windeln.de (München): 90 percent
online retail for toddler products

50. Milk-the-sun (Münster): 82 percent
services for photovoltaic products

German consumer advice center offers portal for shipment issues December 12, 2016

Posted by Steven in Freetime.
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It’s Christmas time and thus the biggest period for retail and online retail. In case of online retail this also means extreme traffic on the logistics and shipment services industry. I myself have experienced an increasing amount of hick-ups even with large companies like DHL. Thus this portal might be a good idea to keep in mind. It promises to analyze and list the issues in a neutral way and also outlines that companies will be approached with the list of issues and a request for comment.

https://www.verbraucherzentrale.de/paket-aerger

Domain Name Server settings for times of need November 28, 2016

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Recently a large German telecom provider suffered some technical issues in its network. Several publications traced the issue back to an outage of the company’s DNS Servers. So in cases of need please find some information below how to configure your devices to use an alternative DNS Server.

The most commonly known alternative to the legacy telco servers is the google DNS server:

  • 8.8.8.8 and 8.8.4.4
  • beware of privacy issues though

Secondly I came across the Chaos Computer Club which provides some information regarding open and privacy safe DNS Servers:

 

Mac: Use dropbox to sync documents and desktop folders September 23, 2016

Posted by Steven in Apps.
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With regards to yesterday’s post briefly touching on symlinks used to backup an iPhone to an external harddrive – I would like to provide another exciting use case for handy symbilic links on a Mac.

This article caught my eye:

http://www.zdnet.com/article/beyond-icloud-syncing-your-desktop-and-documents-between-macs-using-dropbox/

I really like dropbox. For me it is a quick and reliable way to synchronize  files between a Mac a PC and a smartphone. The general way how dropbox works on computers:

  • you download an app from dropbox.com
  • it sets up a folder “dropbox” and keeps the contents of this folder in sync with other machines and with  the cloud side of dropbox

For more fancy use cases it would be nice if you could pick several important folders outside of the dropbox folder to keep these files backed up or in sync as well.

Well using symbolic links you can do that! As the article neatly describes: The basic way is: create a symbolic link for example for your desktop  or documents folder. Then rename the original folder and go on syncing. However if more than one  Mac should sync the  documents folder for example it is important that in the first round of “Rippling the change across computers” one must  manually take care of the different files from different Macs all ending  up in one dropbox. The article describes all the details.

A simple symlinc command would be:

 

sudo rm -rf ~/Documents

ln -s ~/Dropbox/Documents ~/Documents

eventually the second command has to be “sudo”ed as well:
sudo ln -s ~/Dropbox/Documents ~/Documents

 

And please read the article:

http://www.zdnet.com/article/beyond-icloud-syncing-your-desktop-and-documents-between-macs-using-dropbox/

 

Update 1 / September: 

  • I’ve just tried the above method in order to sync the “Desktop” and “Documents” folder of a MacBook Pro Retina March 2015 model and a late 2013 iMac. The MacBook running OS X El Capitan (10.11) and the iMac running Yosemite (10.10)
  • The effort ultimately succeeded but I must admit it was a little more difficult than I originally expected
  • Here is what I have done in detail
    • First we had to set up an approriate dropbox account – we had to log into dropbox using the browser and then download dropbox for Mac
    • We ran the installer and confirmed the login in the dropbox software
    • After that I opened “Terminal” and typed in the commands – starting with the linking for the  “Documents” folder
      • So I ran the rm then had to type the admin password then ran the ln (also I repeated with sudo ln)
      • Visually in the finder I tried to inspect the results of these commands
      • I opened a new Finder window and jumped to the user’s folder. Then there was a Documents folder. But it was blue’ish with the icon (so it looked unchanged from a vanilla OS X installation) when I opened the documents folder I saw just one Link there which pointed to the correct folder in the Dropbox.
      • So that  was not what I wanted: It looked like the standard “Documents” folder (which the rm command tried to remove) was still there and there was a link inside of it. Strange because ln …. with  the target “~/Documents” should have created something in ~/ not below Documents
    • On the 10.11 MacBook it seemed to help if I did the following
      • make sure  you are in the user’s main user directory (that is usually the case when you open Terminal). Otherwise you can check using ls and cd commands
      • Then I repeated the commands but  given  I was already in the main user direcctory I modified them slightly:
      • sudo rm -rf Documents
        sudo ln -s ~/Dropbox/Documents Documents
      • That seemed to work (I checked after the first command and for the first time the documents folder on the mac really was completely gone)
    • I can’t fully describe it but the 10.10 iMac seemed to behave slightly different.
      • I tried to run the ‘slightly modified’ commands straight away in the iMac
      • But initially it would not work (I saw a documents link in  the documents folder again)
      • Then I used the original commands and then the new commands and it worked
      • hard to explain / maybe it was just a visual glitch (I checked too quickly in finder etc.) but my impression was, that I had to run the commands multiple times and then it would work
  • Closing remarks:   Phew in the end it worked and that was good!  (I read somewhere, that you could approach a syncing effort from the dropbox side: Go to your dropbox folder and place links to your Desktop inside your Dropbox) – this worked briefly but it’s more a backup solution. For keeping two Macs in sync this method is not so practical.
    So in the end I had a user on two Macs and the default Documents and Desktop folders were removed and replaced with symlinks to Dropbox-counterparts. The dropbox software was running and keept things really nicely up to date on both machines! I will keep a close eye on this and I hope it will enable a smooth and safe workflow for the user.

How to Back Up an iPhone or iOS device to an External Hard Drive via iTunes? September 21, 2016

Posted by Steven in Apple.
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The amount of data on my iPhone keeps growing and growing (I regularly use a 128GB model) – while my trusted old MacBook Air from 2011 keeps loosing and loosing free SSD storage space. Also in terms of strategies to backup an iPhone, for the general public there are two strategies:

  • You could either go with Apple’s iCloud service. The name is the game – it is a cloud based service which gives you all kinds of stuff, for example space for syncing your photos across your i-devices. And it also gives you a wireless, cloud based backup service.
    Basically the app user data and phone settings will be backed up to Apple’s servers. Apple gives you 5GB of free storage space and offers additional paid plans. Recently a new pricing was announced – and there is now a new top tier plan which provides 2TB of storage for $19.99 per month ($239,88 per year).
  • Or you could go with the traditional iTunes backup. Meaning you would hook up your iPhone with your PC or Mac (either via lightning cable or via Wi-Fi) and backup using the iTunes software. There are a couple of things to keep in mind when considering this method. Basically the backups will be stored locally on the respective PC or Mac (in kind-of the user library folder of iTunes – more details on folders later on). So you have to make sure there is enough space on the computer and if the computer breaks your backup is gone as well. One thing I regularly ran into: Your computer’s iTunes software has to be fairly up to date. Usually with iOS updates come updated versions of iTunes. So quickly powering up an old PC with lots of TB storage space usually involves downloading and installing iTunes updates.

I personally believe for my use case iCloud is to expensive (and in some scenaries too dependant on my internet speed at home). So my backup method of choice used to be the iTunes variant – until that time that my MacBook is running out of space.

So I was looking for a decent way to back up my iPhone 6s Plus to an external hard drive.

For Macs running iTunes there seems to be an elegant solution (I am not so familiar with symbolic links on Windows – however it seems that a similar solution  could work on Windows: Guide at TechinOurLife.)

My internet search surfaced this very useful guide: https://discussions.apple.com/thread/3421834?tstart=0

  1. Pick an external hard drive and make sure there is enough space. Create a folder named “Backup” on your external drive. This can be done via Terminal with this command:
    1. "mkdir /Volumes/<ExternalDriveName>/Backup"
  2. Rename the local / standard iTunes backup folder on your Mac. Again the Terminal command:
    1. "mv ~/Library/Application\ 
      Support/MobileSync/Backup
       ~/Library/Application\ Support/MobileSync/Backup2"
    2. (this will keep the old local backups around – so make sure to clean this folder up if you need space / if you no longer need older backups)
  3. Create a symbolic link (these work well on OS X – I use them for a swift dropbox integration). This will look like the local iTunes Backup directory but it will point the computer to the external folder drive (specifically the folder we created in 1.). Again the Terminal command:
    1. "ln -s /Volumes/<EternalDriveName>/Backup 
      ~/Library/Application\ Support/MobileSync/"
  4. Launch iTunes and initiate the backup
  5. done

Please note: when the external disk is not connected the iTunes backup process will result in an error.

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