Surface Dial Review

by 12/03/2016 01:30:00 AM
Is the $99 Surface Dial worth it even for non-artists? Let's find out in today's review
Microsoft's Surface Dial is a new accessory that non-creatives may not much need, yet it intrigues anyone who sees it. The Windows 10 add-on has a ton of potential for artists, engineers, and maybe even you soon.
Why is it so cool? I look at what the Surface Dial can do today with an eye on the future.


What it is

The Surface Dial is a small, Bluetooth-enabled…well, dial. Think of it as an accessory, or a secondary – or even tertiary – level of input while using Windows 10.

Who can use it?

The Surface Dial is compatible with any Windows 10 PC running the Anniversary Update. Microsoft introduced the world to Surface Dial as an accessory for the Surface Studio but the device pairs and works on any computer with a Bluetooth connection.
Microsoft Surface Dial
The one current limitation involves using the device physically on the screen. Only the Surface Studio can do that although Surface Book and Surface Pro 4 should also get a firmware update early next year to allow users to place it on their display.
If you do not have a Surface Studio – aka most you – you just put it near your keyboard (preferably the left side if you're right-handed and use a mouse).

What does it do exactly?

The million-dollar question: Why would you need this? Surface Dial is primarily aimed at artists, engineers, and graphic designers. The device lets users call up pen, paint, brush, and measuring tools without lifting and moving the pen off the display. In short, it's an aide for drawing or creative shortcuts.
The kicker is that any app can support Surface Dial. Microsoft has open APIs for the device so that a developer can add support and specific functions unique to their app. That means there is a lot of potential here that will take a few months to be realized.

What apps support it?

Right now, Surface Dial supports the following apps:
  • Bluebeam
  • Drawboard
  • Mental Canvas
  • Sketchable
  • Smith Micro
  • Spotify
  • Staffpad
  • Windows (limited system interactions)
  • Word, PPT, Excel (desktop versions)
  • OneNote (UWP version)
  • Windows Maps
  • Plumbago
  • Sketchpad
  • Groove Music
  • PewPew Shooter
  • Microsoft Photos
  • Paint
For instance, I'm using Surface Dial on my main PC as I write this review in Word. The Dial lets me scroll the document using my left hand with ease. I can also change functions and enable Zoom, Undo, or control the system volume (good for music).
Some of the options for Surface Dial that work even in Word
To change features, you just press down on the Dial for one second. The device vibrates and displays an on-screen radial dial with a choice of function.
In Groove Music, you can switch tracks, scrub the track, control volume, or skip to the next track. In Microsoft Edge, you can scroll the web page, zoom, etc. Surface Dial instantly adapts to each app that is currently active with new choices set by the developer.
The Surface Dial settings let you configure default functions and add custom ones
Obviously, for artists Surface Dial does a lot more useful things like pick the paint color, set brush width, zoom, undo, and more.

So, what's the big deal?

You may be wondering why is the non-artist stuff even interesting? Good question. Here is what I can tell you: Surface Dial allows for very fine-grain movement that is more sensitive and accurate than a mouse, keyboard arrows, volume buttons, etc.
The Surface Dial's bottom has a laser-etched rubber pad for optimal tackiness
Surface Dial feels like a luxurious knob for Windows 10 that lets you gently scroll, undo, navigate and more. While not an essential tool it's one of those 'nice to have' features for your high-end PC setup. In other words, you can make use of it every day for little tasks.

Worth the $99?

I don't need to convince the artists, engineers, and designers out there that they want to buy Surface Dial. There are other similar devices on the market already for those fields, and Surface Dial is just a new take on an old idea for those who draw on their PC or Surface.
At $99 Surface Dial is a simple add-on that takes two AAA batteries and easily pairs with any Windows 10 PC. For the quality of the device (it's made from aluminum) with its gentle, haptic-enabled feedback $99 seems fair for the Surface line, which has never been cheap or affordable.
Speaking of batteries MIcrosoft estimates that the two AAA batteries will last one year assuming 4-hours-a-day of regular usage. Some question why the Dial is not rechargeable and I think the answer is just really long battery life.
Microsoft Surface Dial
If you do not plan to draw on your PC or use Surface Dial in a professional creative manner, the $99 is harder to justify. I would not classify it as a must-have accessory that will revolutionize your daily activity – and Microsoft is not promoting it as such anyway.
Nonetheless, like a lot of Surface technology, it's just damn cool and fun to use even if you don't' draw.
Developers are just getting started with Surface Dial; there's no reason why we couldn't see support added to non-drawing apps or even light-action PC games. While I doubt there will be a required use for Surface Dial, there is a lot of potential here for this genre, and I'm excited to see what people can do with it.
Artists, get it now. Non-artists, you should only plunk down the $99 if you have nothing better to spend your money on, but keep an eye on what happens next.
Microsoft is taking pre-orders now for Surface Dial for December 15 ship date although your local Microsoft Store may have some already in stock.


Is quantum computing a genie we will wish we kept in the bottle? (OFF TOPIC)

by 12/01/2016 06:30:00 AM
Quantum computing is poised to drive a profound leap in computing if companies like Microsoft successfully build practical quantum computers.
The advancements it may bring will be akin to the differences between modern PCs and the abacus.
Microsoft wants to build a platform of quantum tools integrated into its products and services ecosystem, and they're not the only one pursuing such endeavors. Considering the profound privacy, economic, governmental, defense, and artificial intelligence implications of quantum computing, who will be responsible for monitoring the ethics of its use?

Playing with fire?

The promise of quantum computing rests in the power of quantum bits, or qubits. These microscopic particles that, via superposition, can exist as both a 1 and 0 simultaneously can do twice the calculations as a regular bit; which exists as either a 1 or a 0 and is processed sequentially.
Silicon processors are approaching the physical limit of how small we can make the transistors we cram inside them; Microsoft and others are investing in developing quantum computers to address this and the world's most challenging problems.

Microsoft is determined to bringing quantum computing to the masses.
Source: https://youtu.be/7__vKLECrnk
Unlike the more academic approaches of IBM and Google, Microsoft is making a pragmatic investment beyond the controlled and unstable research environment. They're building a quantum system based on topological qubits (more stable versions of quantum bits) within the context of its "platform company" and "do more" vision. This strategic course toward a stable, scalable system is key to bringing quantum computing to the masses.
We're at the start of a long journey toward that goal. Despite the promise of such technology, a candid look at humanity's history and the current state of the world demands caution.

The app doesn't fall far from the tree

Quantum computing may enable unprecedented information access, enhance our prediction capabilities, and give AIs and bots unimaginable boosts in intelligence. An honest acknowledgment of our tendency toward negative uses of technology isn't just merited, it's necessary.
We've used the boundless promise of the atom to forge weapons. Microsoft launched a learning chatbot and within a day our baser public nature trained it to spout racist slurs. History is littered with the powerful using information (and the manipulation thereof) to maintain the status quo. So who will "mind the till" to ensure that quantum systems are not abused by those with power and ill intent?
Regulating human behavior is more complex than quantum computing.
More power is often an irresistible draw for any entity, be it an individual, government or corporation (or maybe even an AI). As complex as quantum computing is, the regulation of human behavior in relation to its power is likely far more complex.

What can go wrong?

Quantum computing's potential for running simulations of years of research could yield incredible benefits for medicine, agriculture, municipal planning, environmental science, and much more.
In the wrong hands it could help produce unimaginable weapons, manipulate markets, drive state-sponsored hackings and more. Cyber warfare could reach unprecedented levels.
Will quantum computing empower enhanced government surveillance of citizens?
Governments may employ enhanced surveillance under the premise of security. Apple refused to build tools to unlock an iPhone for the FBI, but a quantum-capable government wouldn't have to ask for a "back door"; they could make their own key.
As 9/11 propelled the Patriot Act, will current and unpredictable threats lead to the legitimizing of unequaled surveillance of our digital lives that quantum computers might enable?
If Microsoft becomes a quantum computing platform for the masses, will it become a center of power with unprecedented influence and access to the information of billions of users, industries and government agencies? Who will monitor Microsoft and other quantum corporations — the companies, the industry, or government?

AIs growing up or out of control?

Current digital assistants like Cortana and Google Now are not self-directing and work within set parameters. The immense processing power that will be available to cloud-based AIs and botswithin a quantum system may vastly improve autonomy.
A quantum Cortana may be able to "think" autonomously.
Could we end up looking at a friendly AI like KITT or Samantha from Her, or something more nefarious like SkyNet or The Matrix's Architect. These are not just fanciful sci-fi musings; renowned physicist Stephen Hawking warned:
It will bring disruption to our economy. And in the future, AI could develop a will of its own—a will that is in conflict with ours.
In response to these concerns, Hawking established the Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence (CFI). This collaboration of researchers, policymakers, industry representatives and policymakers will address issues around AI and autonomous weapons that even concerns Bill Gates.
If I had to guess at what our biggest existential threat is, it's probably that [AI].
I'm increasingly inclined to think that there should be some regulatory oversight, maybe at the national and international level, just to make sure that we don't do something very foolish.
To "keep an eye on what's going on", Musk invested in AI projects like Deepmind and Vicarious (along with Mark Zuckerberg and Ashton Kutcher). Vicarious is attempting to recreate the neocortex — the part of the brain responsible for language, movement and vision — to build a computer that can think like a human.

The wild west world of quantum computing

During the westward conquest of what is now the United States, there was little governing authority for those pioneers who settled the lands occupied by Native Americans. Those who set out to lay their claims in new territories did so with little oversight. Cruelty, lawlessness and abuses often ensued: the Wild West.
Will the "anything goes rules" of the wild west's world be the context of our pioneering of quantum computing? Or will we head anarchy off at the pass with thorough, just and appropriate checks and balances?

How to set up multiple time zone clocks on Windows 10

by 12/01/2016 06:00:00 AM
Windows 10 lets you view up to three different time zone clocks — here's how to set up and keep track of even more.
Displaying multiple time zone clocks comes in handy when you're dealing with work, friends, or family across the world. Heck, it can even be useful in figuring out when a live event (like a Microsoft Build keynote) is when it's in a different time zone.
Windows 10 allows you to configure up to three different clocks: the primary clock set to your local time, plus two additional clocks with different time zones. You can view all three by clicking or hovering over the clock in the system tray.
In this Windows 10 guide, we'll show how to set up time zone clocks, and also how you can track even more time zones using the Alarms & Clock app.

How to add multiple time zone clocks to Windows 10

  1. Open Settings.
  2. Click on Time & language.
  3. Click the Add clocks for different time zones link.
  4. In Date & time, under the "Additional Clocks" tab, check Show this Clock to enable Clock 1.
  5. Select the time zone from the drop-down menu.
  6. Type a descriptive name for the clock.
  7. Repeat steps 4, 5, and 6 to enable Clock 2.
  8. Click Apply.
  9. Click OK to complete the task.
After completing the steps, you can hover over or click the clock in the system tray to view the additional clocks.

How to view even more time zone clocks on Windows 10

While Windows 10 offers a quick and straightforward way to view multiple time zones, you're still limited to only three clocks. If you want to keep track of even more time zones, you can easily do this by using the Alarms & Clock apps on Windows 10.
To keep track of more time zones, do the following:
  1. Open the Alarms & Clock app.
  2. Click on World Clock.
  3. On the bottom-right, click the "+" button.
  4. On the top-left, you'll see a search box, type the location you want to see its time, and click the result to added to the map to complete the task.
Perhaps the only caveat is that you need to open the app every time you want to see the clocks, but here is a quick tip to fix that: Right-click the time zone in the map, select Pin to Start, and voilà now you have multiple time zones at your fingertips.
How often do you check different time zone times? Tell us in the comments below.

Microsoft's "do more" vision of quantum computing

by 12/01/2016 05:10:00 AM

On November 20, 2016, Microsoft announced its next step in the field of quantum computing.
Per Corporate Vice-President of Microsoft's quantum computing program Todd Holmdahl, they're "at an inflection point in which [they] are ready to go from research to engineering." This could result in a historic exponential leap in computing.
Microsoft's venture into this unknown future is a baby step into what even sci-fi fans would have thought impossible in our lifetimes. Granted, we won't see a useful quantum computer tomorrow. Still, Microsoft's laying the groundwork for a profound "quantum-computing-as-a-platform" future.
Microsoft wants to be the world's quantum computing platform.
Before considering the implications of Microsoft's ambition, we'll answer the question, "What's quantum computing?" We'll then entertain its profound impact.
Microsoft is a platform company. With the Cloud, an aggressive Windows 10 push and the Universal Windows Platform, Redmond wants to be the platform for personal computing.
With that in mind, what might that ambition look like if Microsoft becomes the world's platform of history-defining quantum computing-based tools and services?

What is Quantum Computing?

Quantum computing is where computer science and quantum physics meet. Scientists like Isaac Newton gave us an understanding of how the physical universe behaves on a macro, or large scale. At the microscopic level, however, particles behave differently. On a molecular scale, particles can enter a quantum state called superposition where they exist in two distinct states simultaneously.
Source: https://youtu.be/7__vKLECrnk
Superposition's impact on computing is profound. Current computers process individual units of data or bits, which present as either 1s or 0s.
Qubits and superposition increase computation power exponentially.
Today's computing is limited to a linear flow of 1s and 0s that must be processed sequentially.
A quantum computer will use quantum bits, or qubits. Qubits, because of superposition, can exist as both a 1 and 0 simultaneously. Thus, qubits can do twice as many calculations as a bit. Consequently, a quantum computer, with strings of qubits, could solve in a fraction of the time the kind of problems that would take conventional computers years.

Building a Quantum Computer

Holmdahl heads the team of researchers and engineers tasked with making this scalable quantum hardware and software a reality. As Microsoft is leveraging its strength as a software company in this venture Matthias Troyer, a leader in the field, said:
Similar to classical high-performance computing, we need not just hardware but also optimized software.
Source: https://youtu.be/JhHMJCUmq28

Microsoft has deliberately torn down walls between disciplines to bring the necessary players to the table. Quantum computing expert, Charles Marcus added:
I knew that to get...to the point where you started to be able to create machines that have never existed before, it was necessary to change the way we did business. We need scientists, engineers of all sorts, technicians, programmers, all working on the same team.
As the team takes shape, they're working on producing a topological qubit system; which yields a more stable version of a qubit. Holmdahl shared, "A topological design is less impacted by changes in its environment." This allows the qubit to persist in the required quantum state longer.

The do more (quantum) company

CEO Satya Nadella said this of Microsoft's vision to help individuals and organizations to do more:
We're the company that enables people to do more, play, have more fun, create more. Sometimes we refer to ourselves as the "do more" company....I want us to be able to take that focus and innovation forward.
As a company that provides an intelligent cloud, a universal platform, a range of widely used products and services and a growing family of category-defining hardware, Microsoft's ecosystem is a comprehensive personal computing platform for industries and individuals.
A quantum platform will help Microsoft help people do even more.
Nadella's goal for "every individual and organization to get more out of every moment in their lives" will take on new meaning if Redmond successfully builds a quantum computing platform to power its ecosystem.

Imagine the power

Data encryption, database searching and simulations are some areas quantum computing is expected to impact.
Current computers would take years to crack the strongest encryption used today. Conversely, a quantum system could do the job with ease. Such technology would be courted by governments for both international and domestic surveillance. On the flip side, quantum-based security could bolster Microsoft's device management services and infrastructure exponentially.
Microsoft's quantum platform would empower diverse industries.
Furthermore, an intelligent quantum cloud could empower any industry to run an unprecedented number of complex simulation scenarios simultaneously. Predicting outcomes and potential paths of action would be possible with incredible accuracy. Long-term effects of medications could be predicted, the impact of urban projects could be calculated, military offensives could be anticipated, years of academic research could be reduced to days. The list goes on.
Moreover, a quantum system could make searching for information vastly more efficient. An intelligent system that knows a user, recalls past behavior, monitors current activity, and accesses relevant data from the general activity of others could potentially anticipate (via proactive background simulations) the reasons for a particular query rather than just recognizing that a query was made. This could yield results so tailored to a user's immediate need that it seems almost magical. Not unlike how a spouse who's frantically searching for something is handed exactly what they need by their husband/wife without ever divulging what they're looking for.
These are just some scenario's quantum computing may enable.

A Quantum Cortana

Cortana, the boundless, cross-platform AI, could become vastly more intelligent and proactive on a quantum platform. Her ability to synthesize data from Bing, Windows and other input sources and data repositories would be greatly increased. Moreover, her working in conjunction with a quantum-based Bot Framework would make computer intelligence more ambient, pervasive, proactive and personal.
Imagine a student that grows up with Cortana as a personal assistant who's now searching for colleges. Cortana could use years of data synthesized from behavior, preferences, grades and more; collaborate with bots from potential colleges and provide ideal matches in nanoseconds, from the simple query, "Cortana, what colleges should I consider?"
A boundless quantum-based Cortana could be game-changing.
Furthermore, a single AI that intimately knows each of us, our schedules, preferences, habits and connections with one another could coordinate our lives in profound (and scary) ways. If I suddenly fell ill and couldn't attend a scheduled meeting, Cortana could proactively alert the other attendees' that I cannot attend.
That sounds efficient. But what of the negative impact of a single intelligence that potentially possesses intimate and real-time knowledge about a billion of us?

Who knows?

Homdahl admits Microsoft's efforts aren't guaranteed to succeed. If, however, they do Microsoft is resolved to be the quantum computing platform to help individuals and organizations do more. Only time will tell where this will lead.
We do know, however, that the leap in computing will be like the difference between a child and an accomplished pianist playing "Mary Had a Little Lamb."

Windows Central Podcast 26: New Windows 10 UI

by 12/01/2016 05:00:00 AM
This week on the Windows Central Podcast: We Project NEON, a new design language coming soon to Windows 10, the HP Elite x3 Lap Dock, Win32 emulation on Windows 10 Mobile and more!
The next couple of years will be very interesting for Windows 10 fans, if only because Microsoft is working on a new design language for Redstone 3 and Redstone 4 that aims to fix the current design languages inconsistencies and bring fluid animations and transitions to the interface. There's also Cobalt, a codename for getting Win32 programs emulated on Windows 10 Mobile. All that and more on this week podcast.
Help us make this show the best Microsoft podcast in the world. Tell your friends, share it on social media using the hashtag #wcpodcast, and give us a five-star rating wherever you download your podcasts! Thank you so much for listening!
We've got two options for you, either the video podcast or the audio podcast, both featuring the same content.
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