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While many do not miss traffic and crowded commutes, many said the new Microsoft Teams feature would help separate them from work.

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Last month during a Microsoft Ignite IT pro show, Microsoft announced that it was adding a new feature to Microsoft Teams called “virtual commute,” which will allow users to schedule time at the beginning and end of each work day for reflection and goal-setting. 

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Microsoft 365 general manager Kamal Janardhan, explained that the company wanted to do more to promote well-being and had “a role, almost a responsibility, to give enterprises the capabilities to create these better daily structures and help people be their best.”

Janardhan went on to say that with virtual commute, people will be able to better manage their work hours and set strict limits on when they should start and stop working, noting that Microsoft has found that of all the chats taking place on Teams, half were occurring between 5 pm and midnight, a nearly 50% increase compared to the months before the coronavirus pandemic fully started. 

SEE: COVID-19 workplace policy (TechRepublic Premium)

The feature, which is still being worked on, will also include other aspects like integration with Headspace for a 10-minute guided meditation session, sections to note how your day went and the ability to create to-do lists where tasks can be checked off or moved over to tomorrow. 

Janardhan also said it may include recommendations for podcasts or books if users would like to share. 

While many of the people TechRepublic spoke to said they definitely did not miss crowded subways or costly gas expenses, most welcomed the idea as a way to better delineate between work hours and downtime.

“I’m one of those who cherished that quiet time in the car on the way home, but I don’t miss the $80-120 in gas every week,” said Peter Kelley, head of antiques marketing and sales agency Kelley Group Two. 

“It’s interesting, but smart, that a monolith like MS, with their heritage of unrelenting tech innovation, is now making a pivot to ‘we care about your well-being.’ The improvements to Teams will last long past the COVID era.”

Erika Lance, senior vice president of people operations at KnowBe4, told TechRepublic that many of the company’s employees have already said they miss the drives to and from work because it gave them a chance to decompress.

“I am not sure if being connected to a computer, since most of the virtual workers are tethered to them all day, is the way to assist employees to feel like they are breaking their ‘new normal’ routines,” Lance said.

“At KnowBe4, we have implemented fun, active employee initiatives like Steptember and Biketober to get the employees out of the house and developing new, healthy habits.”

Some people had set routines like listening to podcasts or reading books that were done exclusively on their commutes, and now that everything is at home it can be hard to find time to fit those same activities in. 

Timothy Chiu, vice president of marketing at K2 Cyber Security, noted that it has become paramount for people to find new ways to separate themselves from work when they need to.

“Finding a way to create a boundary between work and home is a great idea,” said Timothy Chiu, vice president of marketing at K2 Cyber Security. 

“With the pandemic, too many people have let work drag into family time, and this is a good reminder to put work in its own space, and to let go when it’s time to re-engage with family.”

Chloé Messdaghi echoed Chiu’s remarks, telling TechRepublic that as vice president of strategy at Point3 Security, she has noticed that many of her employees and coworkers really benefited from the time spent commuting.

Messdaghi said she hated the traffic while driving to work but learned to actually enjoy it by listening to audio books, NPR, or singing to tunes on the radio. 

“I even miss Uber/Lyft rides and/or being on the metro for commuting because I would write poems, draft ideas, listen to music, or read a book. It was a time to start my day off the way I wanted to. Remember that humans like to have structure and actually benefit from it. Ironically, structure in our daily lives actually allows us to think outside the box with an enhanced sense of freedom. That separation is so important to prevention of burnout,” she said.

“Right now, COVID-19 and politics are burning out people on all sides of the aisle. Commuting can produce endorphins that help us be creative before we walk into the office. On that return home trip, the day is more relaxed–maybe responding to articles, talking to friends on social media.”

She added that many of her most effective and important ideas came during those commutes and now, because it’s automatically assumed that she will be online all week, she feels like much of her creativity time happens on the weekend.

“I actually miss my commute. Without our commutes, we’ve lost the lid we put on the workday. Good for Microsoft offering us a bit of closure, comfort and creative headspace. It’s cool too that they have the meditation element in this–it helps provide the foundation structure that lets our creativity emerge spontaneously,” she said. 

“In fact, at this point some people are faux-commuting by bus, train and even flight. Not because they need to for work—just because they want to recapture that downtime and an important part of their work lives. Microsoft’s onto something here.”

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Black Friday 2020: The Best Tech Deals

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The holiday shopping season is approaching and many retailers will be participating in Black Friday sales. This guide can help you figure out where and how to shop to find the best bargains.

Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Many shoppers look forward to Black Friday and Cyber Monday every year. After all, it’s one of the best times to get that holiday shopping list whittled down without breaking the bank. The 2020 holiday shopping season is likely to look a little different than previous years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In years past, many retailers such as Walmart, Target, and Best Buy started Black Friday deals on Thanksgiving evening, but that will not be the case this year as they will be closed for the holiday

Even though shopping this year might shift from in-store to online for many, there are still plenty of deals to take advantage of. This guide will walk you through major store closings, the best times to shop, and where to find great deals on smartwatches/fitness trackers, tablets, headphones, and more. Also, be sure to check out our holiday gift guides for more ideas and product information. TechRepublic will update this article as more information becomes available. 

Black Friday 2020: Where and when to shop

According to sister site GameSpot, the following retailers will be closed on Thanksgiving:

  • Walmart/Sam’s Club
  • Target
  • Best Buy
  • GameStop
  • Kohl’s
  • Dick’s Sporting Goods
  • TJ Maxx
  • JCPenney
  • Bed Bath & Beyond
  • Office Depot

While Black Friday store hours have not yet been announced for these retailers, Black Friday pricing will be available online much earlier than usual. For example, GameSpot states, “Target has confirmed its first Black Friday deals will start Nov. 1, with ‘Black Friday pricing’ available throughout the entire month.” 

Best Buy began offering Black Friday deals during Amazon Prime Day and is still offering Black Friday pricing on hundreds of items. Walmart is also slated to offer deals earlier than usual with its first “Deals for Days” event starting on Walmart.com Wednesday, Nov. 4 at 7 pm ET and more new deals on Nov. 7 online at 12 am ET, and 5 am local time in stores. Amazon is currently running a “Holiday Dash” sale which offers big discounts on items in the weeks leading up to Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

Black Friday deals from Amazon, Target, and Best Buy

The following deals from Best Buy, Target, and Amazon might help you find just the items you’re looking for. 

Disclaimer: Please note that these Black Friday sales run for a limited time only; prices are subject to change, and quantities are limited. Dates of availability will be noted in parenthesis if listed on the retailer’s site. 

Amazon

Best Buy 

(The following Best Buy sales end Nov. 1 at 11:59 pm CT)

Target

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WD My Passport SSD (2020) Review

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WD’s latest round of redesigns has spread throughout its portable storage lineup, replacing the bold, bright, sharp design-led identity with rounded edges, muted colours, and simpler plastic bodies. Whimsy has given way to practicality, which you might or might not be in favour of. The latest reimagined storage device is the WD My Passport SSD (2020), but in this case, the changes aren’t solely cosmetic. You get a huge bump in hardware specifications and speeds, keeping WD’s portable SSD lineup current and competitive. Here’s a review of the brand new WD My Passport SSD (2020).

WD My Passport SSD (2020) design and features

The older two-tone metal-and-plastic design might have been slightly impractical with its sharp corners and overall bulk, but it looked and felt very modern and premium. Now, you get a much more organic body, shaped somewhat like a thin bar of soap. It’s much flatter than before, with rounded sides and corners that make for an easy grip. This device will be comfortable in your hand as well as your pocket. It weighs only 45.7g.

The body is made of metal and there’s a swirly ridged pattern on the front as well as the rear. The USB Type-C port is off-centre on the bottom and there’s no activity LED. The raised WD logo feels rough and looks rather garish, but otherwise this is a simple, sober design that will fit in anywhere. You have a choice between Space Grey, Midnight Blue, and Gold. A red version appears to be available in other countries, but isn’t listed here.

The WD My Passport SSD (2020) weighs 45.7g

 

Unlike some other portable SSDs (including models from Western Digital’s other brands, SanDisk and G-Technology), there’s no waterproofing or other form of protection from the elements. WD does mention shock and vibration resistance, which are inherent to SSDs, plus drop resistance for falls from up to 1.98m in height.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the My Passport SSD (2020) is very similar in shape and size to the SanDisk Extreme V2 portable SSD, but doesn’t have an integrated handle, ruggedised coating, or IP rating.

You get a very short USB Type-C cable in the box, with a Type-C to Type-A adapter for broad compatibility. As we noted with the previous incarnation of the My Passport SSD, such an adapter is technically outside the official USB specification and so the cable and adapter both have notches to make sure they’re used with each other. That doesn’t physically stop you from using the entire cable, plus adapter, with another device though. This should be avoided, because some devices need to negotiate things like how much power is sent from one side to another, which cannot happen through a legacy USB port when such an adapter is used.

WD My Passport SSD (2020) price, specifications and performance

The biggest upgrade comes from the use of an NVMe SSD and bridge rather than the older SATA protocol. WD claims read and write speeds of 1050MBps and 1000MBps respectively – exactly the same as the Samsung SSD T7 Touch, and in line with the Sandisk Extreme Pro. You’ll need a PC with a USB 3.2 Gen2 (10Gbps) or Thunderbolt 3 port to be able to harness such speed.

The new My Passport SSD (2020) is available in 500GB, 1TB and 2TB capacities, priced officially at Rs. 8,999, Rs. 15,999, and Rs. 28,999 respectively. They are exclusive to Amazon during the festive sale period, and actual prices are quite a bit lower. They will be available offline from mid-November. 

wd my passport ssd port ndtv wd

There’s a USB Type-C port on the bottom but no status LED

 

WD has implemented 256-bit AES hardware encryption. The company offers quite a lot of free software that you can download, including the capable Drive Utilities for general maintenance, WD Backup to set up simple backup routines, and WD Security to set up encryption with a password. You’re also encouraged to install WD Discovery, which is completely unnecessary and only exists to serve up ads and promotions for WD.

The 1TB review unit we’re testing today was formatted to exFAT by default. This works cross-platform, but if you’re planning to use Time Machine on a Mac, you’ll need to reformat the drive to HFS+ (or at least partition and format some of it). Windows’ Disk Management console reported 931.48GB of usable space.

All tests were run on an HP Spectre x360 13 laptop because of its Thunderbolt 3 ports. CrystalDiskMark 6 reported sequential read and write speeds of 913.9Mbps and 924.9Mbps respectively, which is not too far below WD’s official claim. More realistic random read and write speeds were 154.1Mbps and 163.8MBps respectively. While good by portable SSD standards, the My Passport SSD (2020)’s scores lag quite a way behind what the Samsung SSD T7 Touch and SanDisk Extreme Pro were able to achieve. The Anvil benchmark managed read and write scores of 2,186.6 and 1,921.12, for an overall score of 4,107.72.

The shell of the WD My Passport SSD (2020) did get quite warm when benchmarks were running and when large batches of files were being copied up and down in testing. This shouldn’t be much of a problem in everyday use, and there’s nothing else to complain about.

wd my passport ssd cable ndtv wd

You get a small USB Type-C cable with a Type-A adapter

 

Verdict

If you like bold, edgy design and products that make a statement, the new WD My Passport might be a bit of a disappointment. It looks unassuming and pedestrian compared to its predecessor; more like a bar of soap than a high-end tech product. Perhaps this is a signifier that portable SSDs aren’t just lifestyle accessories for only those who can afford them anymore, but are now perfectly mainstream commodity products.

The emerging new class of NVMe portable SSDs brings nearly twice the speed of previous-gen SATA models. Samsung still has the performance advantage, but WD isn’t too far behind now. Other than speed, you should choose your SSD based on whether you prioritise features such as AES encryption and ruggedisation. SSDs are also routinely discounted below their official MRPs, so if you do find a great deal on the WD My Passport SSD (2020) and it meets your requirements, you shouldn’t hesitate to pick one up.

WD My Passport SSD (2020)
Price (MOP):
 

Rs. 6,999 (500GB)
Rs. 12,999 (1TB)
Rs. 24,999 (2TB)

Pros

  • NVMe-based, good read and write speeds 
  • Good value for money
  • Compact and light

Cons

  • Gets a bit warm when stressed
  • No IP rating

Ratings

  • Performance: 4.5
  • Value for Money: 4.5
  • Overall: 4.5

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Edge computing and IoT sensors help cities plug a leak in water bills

pipes valves

Tracking the health of pipes and water meters in real time helps cities catch water main breaks sooner and issue more accurate bills.

Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto

A Texas company is using edge computing and IoT sensors to help cities modernize crumbling water infrastructure and inaccurate water meters. The American Society of Civil Engineers has given the country’s drinking water system a D- for the last 10 years. Many components of city water systems date back to the Civil War era. Olea Edge Analytics is using 21st century technology to spot needed repairs and make sure water bills are accurate. 

Dave Mackie, Olea Edge Analytics’ CEO, said the company combines edge computing with artificial intelligence and machine learning to help cities make more informed decisions.

“Our network operations center can remotely manage all of the endpoints across the city, prioritizing repair work, giving the ideal route and directions, and transmitted work plans and specifications to provide everything crews need for a right-first-time trip,” he said in a press release.

SEE: 5 Internet of Things (IoT) innovations (free Pdf) (TechRepublic)

Olea puts sensors on water meters and sends data about how much water is used to the cloud for analysis. The Smart Water Management Platform monitors the meters to look for water usage that isn’t showing up on monthly bills. Olea estimates that up to 40% of all high-volume commercial water meters are not capturing the full amount of water used. 

As Brandon Vigliarolo wrote in “
5 edge computing predictions for 2021

,” Forrester predicts that this is the year that new business models will push edge computing “from science project to real value.” Forrester analysts said that cloud platforms, artificial intelligence, and the widespread proliferation of 5G will make these edge use cases more practical.

SEE: The future of IoT: 5 major predictions for 2021 (TechRepublic)

The Department of Watershed Management of the City of Atlanta is spending $3.9 million on a deal with Olea to measure water usage more accurately. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has created a serious budget shortfall for many cities around the US. According to the National League of Cities, losses in sales tax and other revenue sources will cost cities $360 billion from this year through 2022.

Olea Edge Analytics produces products that use technology for revenue recovery. The company’s Vault Management platform allows utilities to manage assets and get alerts when something changes. A dashboard provides a high-level and operational view of workflows, including data about billing and consumption, maintenance, and safety. CityEdge uses blockchain, AI, and machine learning to spot problems in water infrastructure as soon as they happen. 

“People are surprised to learn that they can make these simple repairs and turn that money into a catalyst for much-needed projects,” Mackie said in a press release. “Everyone is looking for an edge in funding, especially during these economic times.”

With the CityEdge product, a blockchain validates water usage from when it leaves the meter’s sensors to the moment it reaches the customer. The encrypted data in the ledger is distributed across every device in the network, increasing transparency and traceability. The platform also creates a digital twin of every meter on the network. 

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