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Remote work is here to stay. Planning how to integrate remote workers as others return to the office will be critical for tech leaders.

Image: iStock/Anna Chaplygina

When the COVID-19 pandemic started, remote work seemed a temporary and novel approach to keeping productive, and I was among the many people who thought it would be a couple or three-week experiment. As the pandemic wore on and many companies embraced remote working, I heard sentiments like, “We’ll never go back to the old way of working,” a feeling that was particularly resonant among many of my colleagues, for whom the “old way” involved a dozen hours each week shuffling through overcrowded airports and cramped airplanes.

SEE: COVID-19 workplace policy (TechRepublic Premium)

A funny thing happened shortly after several promising COVID-19 vaccines were announced and ultimately began to be administered around the world, whereby people seemed more or less equally divided among those who wanted to return to the old way of working, and those who were content to continue working remotely. There are certainly nuances between industries and demographic factors, but even along these lines I have yet to see an overwhelming majority of workers who want to return to in-office work, or remain remote.

This division has flummoxed some leaders, as several companies issued bold proclamations that “remote was the new normal,” while others returned people to physical offices as quickly as possible. Like most things in life, it appears that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to how and where workers will perform their activities.

Avoid becoming a petty despot

In the absence of a clear-cut majority wanting remote or in-person working, it might be tempting to channel your inner dictator and mandate 100% remote work, or a return to pre-COVID policies where remote work was prohibited or a rare exception. The problem with this approach is that most of the factors used to deny remote working have been roundly disproven, with mental health perhaps the most enduring challenge rather than employee productivity. On the other side of the ledger, your company probably still owns physical facilities and has a majority or large minority of people who will happily seek work elsewhere if you demand they remain in their home, staring blankly at endless talking heads on Zoom.

SEE: Return to work: What the new normal will look like post-pandemic (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Where and how you allow employees to work has quickly become a competitive differentiator, and demographic data show that your employees and potential employees have migrated around the US in ways that are still being analyzed and understood. Rather than addressing this dichotomy and potentially sending current and potential employees looking elsewhere, IT leaders have an important role in defining the future of work at their organizations that’s best served by developing capabilities that support employee choice in where and how they work, rather than policy dictates.

Start by assuming that you’ll be required to support approximately similar-sized groups, one that wishes to work in company facilities, and another that wants to work from anywhere.

Think beyond the tech

Many tech leaders understandably started with technology as they equipped their employees to work remotely. By now most of us have deployed a suite of collaboration tools, VPNs, and laptops to address the tech, but the real challenge will be helping workers use these tools when a significant portion of their colleagues are remote or grouped together in-person.

SEE: Wellness at work: How to support your team’s mental health (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Many organizations are experimenting with new ways of working, ranging from rotating teams into a physical office on a scheduled basis, to having “screen meetings” where even in-office workers participate via individual video feeds. Your executive and HR colleagues are certainly considering some of these options; however, they not only lack your understanding of technology, but they also could benefit from how your teams collaborated and experimented, as IT was likely one of a handful of teams that required a physical presence, and had the longest history of collaborating remotely. Don’t be afraid to bring this knowledge to bear in addition to the technical knowledge.

Finally, remember that no one has definitively solved the mystery of how we’ll work together in a COVID-free world, save for the broad realization that it will probably include a significant mix of in-person and remote workers. Being willing to rapidly experiment, learn from failures, and be open to different approaches will make you a valuable asset as we collectively redefine how we work together.

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Apple TV+ Free Trial Subscription to Be Extended Till July for Eligible Customers: Report

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Apple TV+ free trial subscription will reportedly be extended once again for existing free trial users. All Apple TV+ users whose one-year free trial was going to expire sometime before June, will now instead be able to enjoy free access till July 2021, a new report suggests. The one-year Apple TV+ free trials were offered with new purchases of the iPhone, iPad, Mac, and Apple TV. All free trials of users who initially subscribed to the service when it launched, were set to expire on November 1, 2020. This deadline was extended to February 2021 last year, and now Apple has further extended it till July.

9to5Mac reports that the delay for this extension could be due to postponement of shooting Apple TV+ originals due to the pandemic. Customers who availed this free trial when the service launched, will now enjoy additional nine months of free access to Apple TV+. This new additional six month of extension is reportedly done by Apple to introduce new series in its content catalogue and increase the value proposition, before it begins to ask for a fee.

As mentioned, this is the second extension announced by Apple of the free trial that was slated to end last year in November. The report says that all eligible customers will be notified of this extension via email in the next couple of weeks. Existing paying subscribers will reportedly be compensated with store credit refunds to offset the cost of subscription.

Apple TV+ upcoming titles include Cherry starring Tom Holland, season two of popular series like For All Mankind, The Morning Show, and even See. All of these should release some time this year, after inevitable production delays last year due to pandemic restrictions.

Even now, Apple TV+ is offered for free for one year when you purchase an Apple device and redeem the offer within 90 days. Monthly subscription of Apple TV+ in India is Rs. 99 per month. It is also bundled with an Apple One subscription.


Is HomePod mini the best smart speaker under Rs. 10,000? We discussed this on Orbital, our weekly technology podcast, which you can subscribe to via Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or RSS, download the episode, or just hit the play button below.

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The 8 best microphones to help you sound better in your next video meeting

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There’s plenty of technology available to help improve the quality of our virtual calls. A top-of-the-line microphone is a great start.

In recent weeks, there’s been a surge in video conferencing as many teams operate remotely due to the coronavirus pandemic. Needless to say, it only takes a few Zoom calls to realize that a standard laptop microphone simply cannot deliver high-quality audio. While some companies have provided employees with a stipend to upgrade their home office setups, many were not as lucky.

Fortunately, there’s plenty of tech to improve the quality of these virtual conferences and an aftermarket microphone is a smart way to immediately give your audio a healthy boost. Ranging from high-end broadcast-style microphones to lightning port audio accessories for recordings on the go, there’s certainly no shortage of models to choose from. Without further ado, here are some of the best microphones for the home studio.





Image: Amazon

When it comes to top-notch microphones, Blue is one of the heavyweights in the market. The Blue Yeti USB microphone is one of the manufacturer’s more versatile devices. This model comes with four different pattern modes from optimal sound quality in a host of situations. For example, those who are recording music or simply tuning in for a conference call may prefer the cardioid mode to capture the audio produced immediately in front of the unit. To more aptly record conversations between two people in the same room, the bi-directional mode captures audio from the front- and back-side of the microphone. Anyone in the market for a high-end microphone for the home studio should give this well-rounded, multipurpose mic a long look.


$130 at Amazon



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Image: Elgato

The Elgato Wave:3 is a versatile microphone for remote workers, gamers, and musicians alike. The microphone has a steel external grill that protects the internal components and uses a cardioid polar pattern to capture audio. The back of the device features a USB Type-C port and a headphone output. The front-facing dial adjusts headphone volume, input, and more. The stand features a u-mount for easy adjustments, and the padded base keeps the unit firmly in place. A mute feature allows you to cut the audio as needed, and Elgato offers a pop filter (sold separately) to further minimize audio disturbances.


$138 at Amazon



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Image: HyperX

The HyperX SoloCast USB microphone is a great option for frequent Zoom conference attendees; especially those who enjoy gaming and streaming after the workday. To prevent audio mishaps, the model features a dedicated mute button as well as an LED indicator to ensure the mic is muted or unmuted as intended. For added functionality, the model is also compatible with PS4 and popular streaming platforms.


$60 at Best Buy



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IMAGE: B&H

With a steel body, matte chrome finish, and zinc die-cast elements, the HEiL Sound PR-40 certainly looks the part of a first-rate microphone. Also, the internal technology backs up the image. The cardioid pickup pattern is ideal for broadcast-style audio capturing sound directly in front and to the immediate sides of the microphone. A built-in Sorbothane shock mount reduces the risk of interference and this design includes a pair of mesh screens to improve sound quality. For additional peace of mind, this particular model comes with a limited three-year warranty.


$322 at B&H



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While a more rudimentary microphone with minimal audio accouterments might fly for some, others might want to go all-in on a full home studio microphone setup. This FIFINE model includes a quality mic as well as many standard accessories for under $100. The home studio kit comes with an adjustable scissor arm for added versatility and precision placement. The included double pop filter is designed to reduce airflow immediately toward the instrument minimizing audio “pops” during recording. The package also comes with a microphone tripod stand for those so inclined.


$62 at Amazon



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Image: Amazon

The Shure MV5 is a solid compact microphone packaged in a vintage master of the airwaves build. Three separate preset modes (instrument, flat, and vocals) provide optimal sound quality based on the task at hand. The microphone itself easily detaches from the aluminum mount for a more low-profile tabletop fit. As is the case with other MOTIV products, this microphone also comes with the ShurePlus MOTIV app enabling users to more precisely fine-tune their recording quality and share these files.


$100 at Amazon



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Image: Amazon

Not everyone in the market for a high-quality USB microphone is looking for a personal home studio. This JUNIVO model acts as an excellent no-frills microphone with plenty of thoughtful design touches. The adjustable gooseneck mic body provides excellent maneuverability and the included noise-cancellation technology keeps audio crisp and clear. A central LED-equipped mute button along the base allows you to quickly cut the mic without searching from the digital button in the Zoom room. This is the perfect feature for those with pets roaming the home office.
At just four inches in diameter, the model is also appreciatively compact and ideal for desktops with limited space.


$26 at Amazon



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IMAGE: Shure

There are many situations where we need to record an audio clip on our portable devices. In fact, some professions depend on leveraging a cell phone as a modern dictaphone. Unfortunately, the low-quality onboard microphones on these devices can make transcription difficult and render live musical performances painfully inaudible. The MV88 is an exceptional microphone option for devices with Lightning ports and an adjustable joint along the mount allows users to focus the microphone closer to the sheets of sound. The aforementioned ShurePlus MOTIVE Audio apps grants users greater control over these audio files including trimming, sharing, and fine-tuning clips.


$150 at Amazon

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Studying Chaos with One of the World’s Fastest Cameras

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There are things in life that can be predicted reasonably well. The tides rise and fall. The moon waxes and wanes. A billiard ball bounces around a table according to orderly geometry.

And then there are things that defy easy prediction: The hurricane that changes direction without warning. The splashing of water in a fountain. The graceful disorder of branches growing from a tree.

Studying Chaos with One of the Worlds Fastest Cameras

A so-called chaotic optical cavity is designed in such a way that a beam of light reflecting off its interior surfaces will never follow the same path twice. Image credit: Caltech

These phenomena and others like them can be described as chaotic systems, and are notable for exhibiting behaviour that is predictable at first but grows increasingly random with time.

Because of the large role that chaotic systems play in the world around us, scientists and mathematicians have long sought to better understand them. Now, Caltech’s Lihong Wang, the Bren Professor in the Andrew and Peggy Cherng Department of Medical Engineering, has developed a new tool that might help in this quest.

In the latest issue of Science Advances, Wang describes how he has used an ultrafast camera of his own design that recorded video at one billion frames per second to observe the movement of laser light in a chamber specially designed to induce chaotic reflections.

“Some cavities are non-chaotic, so the path the light takes is predictable,” Wang says. But in the current work, he and his colleagues have used that ultrafast camera as a tool to study a chaotic cavity, “in which the light takes a different path every time we repeat the experiment.”

The camera makes use of a technology called compressed ultrafast photography (CUP), which Wang has demonstrated in other research to be capable of speeds as fast as 70 trillion frames per second. The speed at which a CUP camera takes video makes it capable of seeing light—the fastest thing in the universe—as it travels.

But CUP cameras have another feature that makes them uniquely suited for studying chaotic systems. Unlike a traditional camera that shoots one frame of video at a time, a CUP camera essentially shoots all of its frames at once. This allows the camera to capture the entirety of a laser beam’s chaotic path through the chamber all in one go.

That matters because, in a chaotic system, the behaviour is different every time. If the camera only captured part of the action, the behaviour that was not recorded could never be studied, because it would never occur in exactly the same way again. It would be like trying to photograph a bird, but with a camera that can only capture one body part at a time; furthermore, every time the bird landed near you, it would be a different species. Although you could try to assemble all your photos into one composite bird image, that cobbled-together bird would have the beak of a crow, the neck of a stork, the wings of a duck, the tail of a hawk, and the legs of a chicken. Not exactly useful.

Wang says that the ability of his CUP camera to capture the chaotic movement of light may breathe new life into the study of optical chaos, which has applications in physics, communications, and cryptography.

“It was a really hot field some time ago, but it’s died down, maybe because we didn’t have the tools we needed,” he says. “The experimentalists lost interest because they couldn’t do the experiments, and the theoreticians lost interest because they couldn’t validate their theories experimentally. This was a fun demonstration to show people in that field that they finally have an experimental tool.”

Source: Caltech




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