Month: June 2016

USB Memory Sticks – Advantages Over Disc Formats

download (17)USB sticks, or flash drives as they are also known, are becoming an ever more popular format for the transfer of data between businesses and also to for business promotion to potential customers. At the current time of creating of this article (March 2016), memory sticks that are capable of holding as much as 512 GB of data can be purchased easily on-line at a surprisingly low cost. Amazingly, a USB drive that will hold 1TB of data can also be obtained, but currently, these are expensive. The rate of technological advance will mean that the current high price will tumble over the next twelve months as order numbers grow and manufacturing costs are lowered due to bulk purchases.

A 512 GB USB stick can contain the same amount of information as over 20 regular Blu-ray DVD discs. The format may currently be a little more costly than the Blu-ray DVD discs but there is little to compare in terms of the convenience of the format as opposed to a pile of Blu-ray DVDs. The USB drive occupies little space and can be secured using a keyring or kept safely in a small pocket in a laptop bag or with ease. 20 Blu-ray DVDs, however, occupy a lot more space and would be much more inconvenient to have to transport.

At the other end of the scale, a memory stick with a capacity of 128 MB can be purchased inexpensively if the information files to be held on it are only small.

USB Sticks – Volume Production and Customised Casings

The ever- increasing sales volumes of the format has resulted in many companies, particularly in the far east, producing them in a staggering array of shapes and sizes. These designs can be both useful, such as a torch with a USB stick moulded into it, or any amount of novelty shapes such as a toy supercar shape that can be put onto a keyring. Many businesses using memory sticks to send out data on-site to employees and offsite to existing or potential clients, use flash drives in the form of a business card or a useful pocket sized shape that can be screen printed with the business or brand logo to further promote the company. Mostly, mass produced USB drives are basic shapes about 5cm x 1.5cm x 1.5cm which can be printed onto, or a business card form which, once more, can be printed through a spot colour screen printing technique. There are also a lot of companies which can produce memory sticks in a custom shape specified by the client.

Making Use of USB Memory Sticks To Give Your Business a Boost

The easy transportation of flash drive means that they are ideal for data storage for use by any company with a need for data distribution, particularly where data files are of a significant size. Where many employees need to be able to view large graphic design files or data/code files then USB sticks that hold large files are perfectly suited. This format is perhaps most commonly used, though, for promotion of businesses at exhibitions and business shows. Here, USB drives have two benefits; if you are employed in the marketing department for your business and are tasked with promoting your company at a tradeshow with the aim of raising brand awareness, or just to promote your company’s services, they can be used to distribute sales information, presentations or applications for potential clients to view on their laptops or desktop PCs. Any data space can then be used for information storage by the user. This convenience means that the flash drive is always on hand keeping the brand in mind whenever the memory stick is used. They are popular freebies and business card or stick type forms can receive a print via the spot colour screen printing technique, with up to 4 separate colours. This is great for printing business logos or contact details onto the body of the drive.

The gain for a business, where USB memory sticks are utilised for promotion, can be enormous. As with almost any mass produced product, the larger the quantity you purchase, the lower the unit cost. If your business lands a lucrative contract or sells a high value product after giving away a memory stick with a small cost, then the benefit is very clear.

USB flash drives account for a large proportion of the data distribution and business promotion markets. Their capacity to hold a very large amount of data in such a small package makes them perfect replacements for CD and DVD discs. Along with the fact that their prices are falling as mass production of USB sticks increases, they are now starting to become the choice format for many businesses that need to distribute very large files quickly, to existing clients or potential new ones, and also existing personnel. Just about everyone seems to possess at least one memory stick and they can be obtained in a vast array of shapes, sizes and colours.

USB Duplication – Producing Memory Sticks in Bulk

A great number of companies based in the UK are consistently placing orders for thousands of memory sticks to enable them to promote their businesses. This growing demand means that there are a growing number of USB duplication companies offering their services to UK customers. Units are readily available that can copy large amounts of data rapidly, to over 100 USB sticks, at the same time. If a duplication suite has several of these units working together, they can then transfer data to many thousands of memory sticks, very quickly. Data transfer speeds are constantly on the increase as the technology advances. The USB 3.0 data transfer standard claims a realistic data transfer rate of 400 MB/second meaning that even a 512 GB USB memory stick can reach capacity in around 20 minutes. This is roughly 10 times faster than the older USB 2.0 standard. The ability to transfer such a large amount of data so rapidly means that duplication expenses can be minimised and flash drives are then a financially attractive alternative to Blu-ray DVDs, as they are also much easier to handle.

These duplication units are readily available for purchase online and many businesses who find they have a regular need for a large amount of USB sticks will either outsource the work or obtain a duplication unit for their employees to use. They are easily set up and take up very little room, meaning that they can be tucked into a corner or even a drawer when not in use and taken out when needed.

USB Memory Stick Security

USB flash drives are also a convenient format for the distribution of sensitive data such as:

  • Legal documents
  • Sensitive internal company data
  • Copyright controlled information
  • Sensitive research documents

The files can be secured through encryption using security software such as Truecrypt or similar, and the key for decryption of the data communicated through another means as an added level of security. Where the files contained are particularly sensitive, the USB drive can be concealed as it can be moulded into just about any form such as a pen or a torch. Even a large capacity memory stick can be contained on a very small PCB, so hiding the drive in a place known only to the intended recipient is a good option.

Many of the world’s major engineering corporations use USB memory sticks to deliver CAD models of projects like household appliances, road vehicles or aeroplanes and military transportation. Such files are usually very large and need a high storage capacity device to hold them. With the mainstream availability of a 1TB USB memory stick on the horizon, this format will see an increase in use across the majority of industries.

 

Data Center, Server, Computer and Laptop Hard Drive Destruction

download (16)An extensive title, but it is all-encompassing none the less. In my 14 plus years of touching devices, I can say that I have seen and felt thousands of pieces of equipment. Though the scenarios in which I am working with the different types of equipment, and the clients certainly do vary. So what are some of the situations that allow for me to handle these various pieces of equipment? Good question, so here is my short list… data center relocations, A/V relocations, data center decommissioning, and green recycling projects.

I would attest that physical security in my field of work is number one, and my clients feel the same way. My thought is the people I work with are so aware (nervous) about chain of custody, CYA, and the end result being nothing less than exceptional. This is no matter the scope of work we are performing. I often find myself hearing clients expressing in a subtle way that they really want to know I care about their project, reputation, and it’s not just about hitting their wallets as hard and fast as I can. My work ethic is such that the part in which I have played in a client’s project makes think I leave a little bit of myself behind each time. So yes I am emotionally involved in each and every client/client project.

Leaving the various scopes of work on hold for a moment, there is one particular aspect often discussed with clients. It’s pretty much standard conversation, and if it isn’t, I am without a doubt going to spark conversation on it. The title of this article says it all, Hard Drive & Media Destruction. I would like to educate you on the simple definition of destruction. Destruction is a noun, pronounced /dYƈstrYkSH(Y)n/; and the definition is the action or process of causing so much damage to something that it no longer exists or cannot be repaired.

I have such a deep emotional tie to the services I am involved in, and look/prepare for worst case 100% of the time. The simple reason (not really) is that I have been performing tech services for over a decade and have seen/heard most of it. To be honest I still see many new things, but this is off topic.

So in keeping this article to the point and direct, there is only one way to create a safe end of life solution for your data storage, BY DESTROYING IT (then green recycle). Companies and people alike take our environment into consideration more now than in the past with green recycling the massive amounts of e-waste. Far more people in the past (and now) did not consider the data held on hard drives, and would call the recycling guy to come down and “haul” their junk to be “recycled”. Like anything in life, all business and work ethic are not created equally. Some of that “recycled” equipment and hard drives that were supposed to be “junked” in fact ended up on online auction sites, and sold locally. This, then and now is a PR nightmare, and can often times never be undone. Especially if the data on the hard drives was extracted by someone who shouldn’t have it. Remember that your companies name is attached to the equipment as well, so we wouldn’t want to hear reports of “junked” equipment being found with your asset tag or serial number down by the local river.

Some fly by night “recyclers” were found not even attempting to remove the data from hard drives, or they were using “formatting” software to “erase” the hard drives. The problem is, if you are a targeted company or person; there are a multitude of people that have the abilities to recover data from a “erased” hard drive. This is one scenario from the past, and it is just as relevant today! Change the story line just a little, and it applies no matter.

IBM sponsored the 11th annual Cost of Data Breach Study, which is the industry’s gold-standard benchmark research, independently conducted by Ponemon Institute. 2016’s study found the average consolidated total cost of a data breach grew from $3.8 million in 2015 to $4 million dollars! In addition to the data breach cost data, Ponemon Institute’s global study puts the likelihood of a material data breach involving 10,000 lost or stolen records within the next 24 months at 26%. These numbers will make you lose your breath, and I hope it doesn’t make you lose sleep because of your last hard drive, media, and recycling pickup.

The entire point of this article is to raise your awareness on data breaches, and theft of data. Unless you plan to keep and redeploy not in use hard drives internally, please mechanically shred all hard drives and media storage! In my opinion the risk in using 3rd party applications to delete drive prior to disposing, or trusting someone to take your intact hard drives away isn’t worth your reputation or your companies.

I believe in what I do, and also base my belief in the end result. An absolute solution for hard drive disposal and destruction is by one simple method, mechanically shredding drives… period.

 

LI-FI – An Economical and Eco-Friendly Alternative

download (15)With the advances in technology, every day a new idea is being nurtured in some one’s mind that might change the way we function. One such ground breaking idea popped in the mind of a brilliant Professor in University of Edinburg, UK, Harald Haas back in 2003. His idea was to use Light Emitting Diodes as a medium to transfer data from one system to another. This topic became widely popular after his TED Talk in 2011.

Now, the question of the hour is what exactly is LI FI?

LI-FI is a short hand representation for Light Fidelity. Fidelity as per a dictionary is being faithful. As per its name, it can be safely said that this technology functions on light.

In simple terms, it is a possible alternate to Wi-Fi. While Wi-Fi uses radio signals wirelessly, LI-FI is the concept of using visible Light Spectrum.

Getting into details, LI-FI works with the LED lights that are turned into wireless transmitters. To receive data from these lights, we need a dongle of sorts, that acts like a modem. This dongle can be connected to a laptop or a tablet. They can be connected to the tablets or laptops through USB Ports. There is a sensor in the modem that catches the light coming down, and then an infrared component that sends the signal back to the light source.

The LED Lights have a networking component that allow multiple users to get connected to a single light source and give the ability to move from one light source to another without losing the connection.

The long term aim of the innovator is to get this technology inside various devices and lighting grids. In order to make this technology widely adaptable, it is necessary to compress the dongle into an ASIC (Application Specific Integrated Circuit) or SoC (System on a Chip), to make it easily incorporated into various devices like smartphones, laptops, tablets, accessories and many more.

Advantages of Adopting LI-FI

  • As light doesn’t penetrate through walls, this technology allows the users to create secure networks with much higher security.
  • The strength of the network can be enhanced with increasing the number of light sources. This can lead to a much efficient network.
  • Once these sensors and dongles become more adoptable, we can use a low cost, low power consuming and environment friendly technology in our day-to day lives.
  • LI-FI has the calibre to boost its capacity to transfer the data at a rate that can be roughly 100 times of Wi-Fi technology by the usage of laser LEDs.
  • The LI-FI network allows the users the roam around the room or anywhere in the installed lightning grid.
  • LI-FI adoption can reduce the strain from the existing networks and free the bandwidth for outdoors.

LI-FI might seem a better option than existing Wi-Fi system, but it is actually complimenting it. It would take a minimum of 10 – 15 years for the technology to be incorporated into our day to day lives.

 

A Brief Introduction to Artificial Intelligence For Normal People

download (14)Lately, artificial intelligence has been very much the hot topic in Silicon Valley and the broader tech scene. To those of us involved in that scene it feels like an incredible momentum is building around the topic, with all kinds of companies building A.I. into the core of their business. There has also been a rise in A.I.-related university courses which is seeing a wave of extremely bright new talent rolling into the employment market. But this is not a simple case of confirmation bias – interest in the topic has been on the rise since mid-2014.

The noise around the subject is only going to increase, and for the layman it is all very confusing. Depending on what you read, it’s easy to believe that we’re headed for an apocalyptic Skynet-style obliteration at the hands of cold, calculating supercomputers, or that we’re all going to live forever as purely digital entities in some kind of cloud-based artificial world. In other words, either The Terminator or The Matrix are imminently about to become disturbingly prophetic.

Should we be worried or excited? And what does it all mean?

Will robots take over the world?

When I jumped onto the A.I. bandwagon in late 2014, I knew very little about it. Although I have been involved with web technologies for over 20 years, I hold an English Literature degree and am more engaged with the business and creative possibilities of technology than the science behind it. I was drawn to A.I. because of its positive potential, but when I read warnings from the likes of Stephen Hawking about the apocalyptic dangers lurking in our future, I naturally became as concerned as anybody else would.

So I did what I normally do when something worries me: I started learning about it so that I could understand it. More than a year’s worth of constant reading, talking, listening, watching, tinkering and studying has led me to a pretty solid understanding of what it all means, and I want to spend the next few paragraphs sharing that knowledge in the hopes of enlightening anybody else who is curious but naively afraid of this amazing new world.

Oh, if you just want the answer to the headline above, the answer is: yes, they will. Sorry.

How the machines have learned to learn

The first thing I discovered was that artificial intelligence, as an industry term, has actually been going since 1956, and has had multiple booms and busts in that period. In the 1960s the A.I. industry was bathing in a golden era of research with Western governments, universities and big businesses throwing enormous amounts of money at the sector in the hopes of building a brave new world. But in the mid seventies, when it became apparent that A.I. was not delivering on its promise, the industry bubble burst and the funding dried up. In the 1980s, as computers became more popular, another A.I. boom emerged with similar levels of mind-boggling investment being poured into various enterprises. But, again, the sector failed to deliver and the inevitable bust followed.

To understand why these booms failed to stick, you first need to understand what artificial intelligence actually is. The short answer to that (and believe me, there are very very long answers out there) is that A.I. is a number of different overlapping technologies which broadly deal with the challenge of how to use data to make a decision about something. It incorporates a lot of different disciplines and technologies (Big Data or Internet of Things, anyone?) but the most important one is a concept called machine learning.

Machine learning basically involves feeding computers large amounts of data and letting them analyse that data to extract patterns from which they can draw conclusions. You have probably seen this in action with face recognition technology (such as on Facebook or modern digital cameras and smartphones), where the computer can identify and frame human faces in photographs. In order to do this, the computers are referencing an enormous library of photos of people’s faces and have learned to spot the characteristics of a human face from shapes and colours averaged out over a dataset of hundreds of millions of different examples. This process is basically the same for any application of machine learning, from fraud detection (analysing purchasing patterns from credit card purchase histories) to generative art (analysing patterns in paintings and randomly generating pictures using those learned patterns).

As you might imagine, crunching through enormous datasets to extract patterns requires a LOT of computer processing power. In the 1960s they simply didn’t have machines powerful enough to do it, which is why that boom failed. In the 1980s the computers were powerful enough, but they discovered that machines only learn effectively when the volume of data being fed to them is large enough, and they were unable to source large enough amounts of data to feed the machines.

Then came the internet. Not only did it solve the computing problem once and for all through the innovations of cloud computing – which essentially allow us to access as many processors as we need at the touch of a button – but people on the internet have been generating more data every day than has ever been produced in the entire history of planet earth. The amount of data being produced on a constant basis is absolutely mind-boggling.

What this means for machine learning is significant: we now have more than enough data to truly start training our machines. Think of the number of photos on Facebook and you start to understand why their facial recognition technology is so accurate.

There is now no major barrier (that we currently know of) preventing A.I. from achieving its potential. We are only just starting to work out what we can do with it.

When the computers will think for themselves

There is a famous scene from the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey where Dave, the main character, is slowly disabling the artificial intelligence mainframe (called “Hal”) after the latter has malfunctioned and decided to try and kill all the humans on the space station it was meant to be running. Hal, the A.I., protests Dave’s actions and eerily proclaims that it is afraid of dying.

This movie illustrates one of the big fears surrounding A.I. in general, namely what will happen once the computers start to think for themselves instead of being controlled by humans. The fear is valid: we are already working with machine learning constructs called neural networks whose structures are based on the neurons in the human brain. With neural nets, the data is fed in and then processed through a vastly complex network of interconnected points that build connections between concepts in much the same way as associative human memory does. This means that computers are slowly starting to build up a library of not just patterns, but also concepts which ultimately lead to the basic foundations of understanding instead of just recognition.

Imagine you are looking at a photograph of somebody’s face. When you first see the photo, a lot of things happen in your brain: first, you recognise that it is a human face. Next, you might recognise that it is male or female, young or old, black or white, etc. You will also have a quick decision from your brain about whether you recognise the face, though sometimes the recognition requires deeper thinking depending on how often you have been exposed to this particular face (the experience of recognising a person but not knowing straight away from where). All of this happens pretty much instantly, and computers are already capable of doing all of this too, at almost the same speed. For example, Facebook can not only identify faces, but can also tell you who the face belongs to, if said person is also on Facebook. Google has technology that can identify the race, age and other characteristics of a person based just on a photo of their face. We have come a long way since the 1950s.

But true artificial intelligence – which is referred to as Artificial General Intelligence (AGI), where the machine is as advanced as a human brain – is a long way off. Machines can recognise faces, but they still don’t really know what a face is. For example, you might look at a human face and infer a lot of things that are drawn from a hugely complicated mesh of different memories, learnings and feelings. You might look at a photo of a woman and guess that she is a mother, which in turn might make you assume that she is selfless, or indeed the opposite depending on your own experiences of mothers and motherhood. A man might look at the same photo and find the woman attractive which will lead him to make positive assumptions about her personality (confirmation bias again), or conversely find that she resembles a crazy ex girlfriend which will irrationally make him feel negatively towards the woman. These richly varied but often illogical thoughts and experiences are what drive humans to the various behaviours – good and bad – that characterise our race. Desperation often leads to innovation, fear leads to aggression, and so on.

For computers to truly be dangerous, they need some of these emotional compulsions, but this is a very rich, complex and multi-layered tapestry of different concepts that is very difficult to train a computer on, no matter how advanced neural networks may be. We will get there one day, but there is plenty of time to make sure that when computers do achieve AGI, we will still be able to switch them off if needed.