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Get paid for face-time: launch of the ‘Uber’ for freelance professionals and tradesmen

9 May

Picture the scenario : you are stranded suddenly with a dinner party emergency, or your boiler has exploded, and you need to consult an expert right away. But although google has managed to put the entire world at our fingertips, tracking down a professional to give their reassuringly expert opinion, face-to-face, is a little more difficult and time-consuming.

Or maybe you want some face time with your therapist while they are on holiday; maybe you want to get some legal advice without paying the prohibitive rates charged by a corporate firm. Plenty of paralegals are fully equipped to give an initial legal consultation.

Hence, 121with, the video conferencing platform with a difference. Seekers of services can upload their card details, before browsing the listed profiles of professional service-providers by their chosen keywords. ‘Why, it’s little more than a skype call that you have to pay for,’ one invitee interjected at the launch event.

Well no, the founders patiently explained. On 121with, payment takes place automatically, almost immediately after the video call has finished. In a real-time payment system similar to Uber’s, the transfer goes through, via Stripe at a rate of T+4 (seconds), which is the UK standard. Moreover, there is a minimum charge of 50p per second, incentivising service-providers to make sure every second counts.

The advantages of the 121with system are obvious and manifold: stress, hassle-free payments, saving administrative costs on invoice issuing and bank transfers; no travel costs; and finally, the platform can act as a productivity boost to existing businesses, which may be “set in an hourly or half-hourly charge mindset”, exhorts Joint Managing Director Tom Stokely. “We think 121with is going to shake that up a bit.”

The site is live now, and 121with is looking for ‘affiliate’ partners for initial profile listing, as the platform’s pioneer professionals will be carefully screened for quality and value for money.

But it is hoped the system will become to an extent self-regulating through the organic growth of the market, as poor quality or overpriced offerings will attract negative customer reviews and fail to compete. There is also, naturally, an arbitration process offered between seeker and provider if a refund becomes necessary.

How Much Big Data Do You Lose in Translation?

17 Oct

Professional traders depend on reliable, up-to-the-minute data without any figures lost in transmission, or unacceptable signal delays. What good is an algorithmic programme designed to shift block trades in carefully timed phases, if it cannot respond to changing market conditions because of incomplete information? The same is true of big data analytics companies, and of life science companies simulating programmed models. What use would the Human Genome Project have been if there were vital DNA fragments that just disappeared, and dissipated into the computer wiring? ‘Zero packet loss’ is one of those ideals that many technology infrastructure providers claim for their products. They assert that their particular wireless enabler or fibre-optic cabling will transmit data packets consistently without any loss of information whatsoever. Data integrity is essential for any organisation performing large-scale analytics. Data packets, or frames, can be disrupted. If an incorrect frame check sequence (FCS) is detected, the data packet will be automatically discarded.

An Antiquated Protocol

Moreover, an idiosyncrasy of the TCP (Transmission Control Protocol) means that what should be a statistically insignificant loss of information – say, 0.1% of the packets, – can make the network bandwidth contract to a tenth of its transmission capacity.[1] This is because under TCP, if the receiver of a signal does not confirm a sent packet within a specified period, the sender will retransmit it. The length of the so-called ‘Retransmission Timeout’ lasts between 500ms to 3s, and increases exponentially when more timeouts occur. R&M, in a white paper on its ‘High Performance Connectivity Solutions,’ explains that this is a legacy issue, that it “comes from a time when TCP was solely used to enable communication across a WAN. However, in today’s data centers this period exceeds usual round-trip times (RTT) by orders of magnitude. The consequences are worsening response time and performance.”

TCP Bitesize Is No Solution

Packet loss is exacerbated by the concentration of cabling in a data centre, and the high and rapid degree of communication required between end-hosts across the data network. The TCP protocol creates major problems in this environment. Breaking data ‘payloads’ up into smaller bite-size pieces that so that misplaced bits or bytes cause less significant information loss is no real solution; it simply increases the latency of a connection. As R&M explains, although “Links with a high bit-error rate are… better run with small packet sizes in order to minimize the impact of lost packets…Small packets increase the number of packets transmitted and further burden the network because a larger number of packets have to be switched.”

It’s effectively Zero Packet Loss, as far as we can tell…

There are multiple factors which cause packet loss, but the solution which Swiss research and cabling solutions producer R&M has produced, and tested to an exceptionally high level of accuracy, is related to the fibre-optic cables, and their alignment and installation. If incorrectly positioned, there is a higher likelihood that light beams will unintentionally intersect and refract off each other, causing the signal to be lost. A high degree of dispersion can mean a signal receiver is unable to distinguish an 0 bit from a 1 bit, rendering this bit, and all others corrupted in this way, void. The company explains how the methodology of its assessment of its equipment is superior to standard measurement techniques: “What is very often overlooked is the fact that individual optical measurements capture and integrate the test signal over a time frame of around 300 of milliseconds, while optical pulses for 10, 40 or current 100 Gigabit Ethernet applications are only 100 picoseconds long – 3,000,000,000 times shorter! It is obvious that these conventional test methods cannot resolve optical phenomena that occur on the bit level such as reflection or modal noise… these sources of noise and phenomena like dispersion can have a very significant effect on the network performance in the form of inter-symbol interference,” which is explained above.

R&M Claims Revolution in Optical Cabling

For this reason the company says it elected to use a Xena2544 RFC test suit, in its comparison of the performance of its own R&M OM4 cables (a 600metre channel, inter-connected with ten MTP connector pairs ), and a rival brand’s single 150 metre OM4 cable, which conformed fully with the standard protocol IEEE 802.3 Section 6, 40GBASE-SR4. Each pair of Xena Networks Test Module ports were connected by two Finisar 40GBASE-SR4 QSFP+ Gen2 transceivers. When the two competing fibre-optic cables were compared over 16 hours, each running an RFC 2544 test suite, the IRM 600metre channel achieved “maximum throughput with no loss” and the industry standard 150m cable showed “aggregated frame loss”, though it is admitted that “no single frame loss occurred over the individual time spans of 16 hours.” R&M’s white paper concludes that it achieved its claim of ‘zero packet loss’ over a 600m distance, over a time-span of 16 hours.

The paper asserts that data center links with a length above 150m will be “a regular configuration in the near future”. When questioned, Thomas Wellinger, its author and ‘Market Manager Data Center’, explained the rationale for this prediction:

“The increasing lengths will be due to a changing nature of the network. Currently, most data centers are built with a three-tier or level switching architecture (core – aggregation – access switches). Hence, each hop from switch to switch or rather the cables in between, are relatively short – somewhere between 5 to 80 meters.

With changing workload demand, these switching layers will consolidate to two or even one. This means longer physical distances between the individual machines. In combination with increasing sizes of data centers floor spaces, this leads us to assume this significant share of 150m+ links.”

Finisar is already persuaded of the value of the proven product, as the report concludes with the helpful statement on compatibility, “R&M’s HPNC Solution supports 300m on OM3 and 600m on OM4 fiber, which are inclusive to the Finisar 40GBASE-SR4 QSFP+ Gen2 transceiver module. [1] The example given is of a 10G NIC server, a 10G Ethernet network with three hops, and another server also with a 10G NIC, bandwidth of 10Gbps; with TCP windows size of 375 kBytes; and a maximum segment size of 1460 Bytes

How safe is Data Encryption really? Where do you keep the keys to your secrets?

5 Jun

Motorola’s SecureMedia has recently announced another major client to its rosta, EONA the leading French provider of IPTV and video-on-demand software, for over 45 hotels and hospitals in 7 countries. French broadcaster Canal+ is not the only one to demand stringent new security measures: they are a prerequisite for many film studios, TV channels and broadcasters globally.

There is some debate as to the best location to store the encryption key for algorithm-encrypted data files of streamed content. Motorola’s SecureMedia advocates server-based rights control, and keeps decryption keys and user entitlements off client devices where it claims they are more secure from hacking.  It uses a range of data-encryption formats (RSA, AES, 3DES and DVB-CA), to prevent one successful attempt at cracking the crypto algorithm being replicated on multiple devices. The downside of this asymmetric-key, or private-key approach is that if its protected data-processing HQ were hacked, all the devices it controlled could be rendered useless. There was considerable furore around 2007, when cyber-thieves hacked multiple devices and broadcasting providers for the keywords giving access to video-on-demand and rights-protected content, exchanging them freely on web forums. No production company or streaming software was safe. As yet, the new wave of Digital Video Broadcasting (DVB) protocol-compliant content providers have not suffered a major hack in over three years, but technical developments must keep advancing to stay ahead in the game.

Other firms like Irdeto, whose customers include Adobe, Cablevision and Filmflex,  are pioneering techniques like watermarking. Watermarking can be used to identify content by embedding the identity of the content or its owner as a payload, which is the data embedded into the content as a watermark. This identification data cannot be removed without seriously impairing its visual quality. Another feature, of Irdeto’s Cloaked Conditional Access, uses whitebox (as opposed to blackbox) cryptography, which embeds the decryption code as a series of instructions in a series of tables that must be cross-referenced almost ad infinitum to solve.

I propose to contact the major content security providers, including NAGRA and Irdeto who have suites of tailored products for different needs, as well as Motorola and others like cloud-based Helix-Broadcaster, whose claims of ‘secure data encryption’ through a helix structure would also bear examination. I would question them closely to ascertain how they stand apart from their rivals. I would use this and previous research to write an analysis of the pros and cons of the various contenders. Preventing data theft through video-on-demand (hacking to artificially renew or steal subscriptions) and through over-the-top providers like Netflix and Hulu is a continuing concern, and intellectual property protection will become even more important as data is increasingly stored in remote terminals through the cloud, often in different countries.

Has Google gone too far with Enterprise Search?

9 Apr

Google Enterprise Search is the search engine giant’s attempt to ingratiate itself into the corporate market. A bewildering array of functions and highly refined algorithms are contained in one yellow metal cuboid about one metre across, dotted artistically with little holes. In a fitting allegory, it overwhelmingly resembles a big cheese.

With this box, market reports and presentations from years back can be accessed by a keyword search box, rather than having to track down your co-worker or their files on SharePoint – assuming the files have even been uploaded onto a public domain. The device incorporates functions like auto-complete on query suggestions, and organises results in terms of relevance in an intelligent fashion that learns from user preferences. The slogan goes, “With the Google Search Appliance, searching your company’s information is as easy as searching google.com.

The application slots seamlessly into existing data storage and content management systems, able to index CMSs including but not limited to EMC Documentum, LotusNotes, IBM FileNet and OpenText Livelink. It can also index more than 220 file types. Google trumpets its ability to process both ERM (Enterprise Report Management), and ERP systems.

Aspects of its analytics capabilities threaten to put some marketing analytics companies out of business. Google boasts its advanced reporting “can track every query, click and user,” and solve bottlenecks and system faults through “repair diagnostics with real time information.” And as if all that wasn’t enough, this little box is also multi-lingual. It can translate query results across 51 languages.

It is also a secure internal system. Google explains, “Users can only find the content to which they have access.” Each company intranet’s “administrators can configure the application to use a variety of authentication and authorisation mechanisms,” which are automatically stored back-end for future use.

There are two models available: the standard GB-7007, which can deal with 500,000 to 10million files, and the heavy-duty GB-9009, which can deal with billions of documents. For multinational companies, multiple yellow boxes can be installed in different global locations, and all integrated into the network.

Google has launched a cooperative, inclusive marketing and supply strategy, bestowing grateful recognition to firms that helped it deliver these services. Most prominent at the Google Enterprise Global Summit in California this February was Onix Networking, which garnered multiple awards including the prestigious Google Enterprise Global Partner of the Year award. These high-profile self-congratulations have set the scene for the probable global takeover of Google Enterprise Global.Image

US State Department’s educational game: cleaner than Assassin’s Creed

2 Apr

The US State Department has collaborated with IT company SuperGroup to launch an educational game, to teach American English and cultural values. It was clearly thought that the popular commercial games Grand Theft Auto, where players compete to steal cars and kill pedestrians, and Assassins Creed where they shoot, stab and garott English soldiers, did not endow citizens with desirable behaviour traits.

So, Trace Effects was created. Trace is a university student from 2045 who travels back in time, and is required to help six people do positive things to help the future. Trace’s virtual journey takes him through major American landmarks and locations, including Kansas, New Orleans, the Grand Canyon, New York City, San Francisco and Washington. True, his denim-on-denim outfit does not reflect well on the fashion trends of the future, but interacting with these button-eyed characters is believed to be a more effective teaching aid than traditional exercises.

Brad Lewis, Founding Member of The SuperGroup, says “To make language learning effective for the new generation of international students, an enjoyable, and robust environment is needed – one where they can interact with virtual characters, and learn from ‘real life’ situations.” He is emphatic that “This interactive experience allows students to learn English communicatively, and, equally important, to learn about American culture through an educational process that feels natural, not artificial.”

The game was test launched in Peru, Columbia and Indonesia with positive results. It is now available worldwide through Americanenglish.state.gov, the newly created American English portal pioneered by the State Department. There are two mobile games designed for Android systems, and 1 text based game for players without smartphones.

The storyline consists of seven chapters of play, and includes four multi-player practice activities. As an add-on, seven graphic novels are available to extend the learning experience.

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Poland first to acquire new Dreamliners; UAE invests in processing toxic waste

17 Jan

$500m builds special relationship between Poland and US Ex-Im

Poland has become the first European country to acquire Boeing 787 Dreamliners, thanks to a $500m loan guarantee by Ex-Im.

The US Export-Import Bank has assumed responsibility for collecting on the loan to Polskie Linie Lotnicze LOT S.A. (LOT Airlines), on behalf of the American manufacturer. This arrangement falls under its Supply Chain Finance Guarantee program.

At the end of financial year 2012, Ex-Im Bank’s credit exposure in Poland totalled just $5.5m, so the deal is a significant financial leap. Yet the relationship is not without precedent; LOT was the first Central and Eastern Europe to operate American-manufactured aircraft after it was founded in 1928. It is the only airline to offer non-stop flights between Poland and the US.

“This landmark transaction brings American state-of-the-art aircraft to a competitive marketplace in Europe,” said Ex-Im Bank Chairman and President Fred P. Hochberg. “By leveling the playing field, the Bank’s financing benefits business in both America and Poland and supports thousands of jobs in the U.S.”

Bank estimates put the number of American jobs created from the deal at 2,500, according to data and methodology from the Departments of Commerce and Labor.

Nippon Export and Investment Insurance of Japan is co-financing the transaction. Apple Bank for Savings of New York extended the loan.

UAE’s Spectrum Draws on British IT Expertise to Help Automate its Environmental Innovations.

UAE-based multinational company Spectrum has commissioned a facility to treat incinerator bottom ash (IBA), toxic residue resulting from burning coal and waste in power plants.

IBA Green, a wholly owned subsidiary of Pioneer Exploration Inc (PIEX), professes to be dedicated to “designing disruptive innovations.”

President and CEO of IBA Green Angelo Scala commented: “IBA Green’s technology to treat and convert incinerator bottom ash into viable and environmentally responsible construction materials provides a safe and environmentally sensitive method of diverting what was previously hazardous material into commercially viable products, a good thing for any place in the world.”

The Emirates Center for Strategic Studies and Research, (ECSSR) has formed a strategic alliance with the Chartered Institute of IT to consult on expanding technological infrastructure in the region. The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) is also participating in discussions.

In recompense, the ECSSR has offered to assist in helping the London-based Chartered Institute IT, in making a success of the 2013 International IT Conference. Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Investigation, has also offered his patronage.

Head of the conference and President of the Oriental Section of BCS Dr. Al-Suwaidi said the group could aid expansion in many directions: “The experts in ECSSR have not spared emphasis in the search for ways of utilizing developments and employing them in economy, industry, agriculture, water, energy and renewable, and to accelerate the process of sustainable development in the UAE.”

Engineer Adel Alkaff Al Hashmi said: “We recognise the importance of the potential of ECSSR and its experience in organising international conferences and workshops, about everything to do with the IT sector.”

Pangea wants to bring natural gas to all global buyers, without discrimination.

Pangea LNG (Holdings, LLC) is seeking approvals necessary to build a liquefied natural gas export facility on Corpus Christi Bay in South Texas.

It has filed an application with the U.S. Department of Energy, seeking authority to export up to eight million metric tons per year of liquefied natural gas to all current and future countries with which the U.S. has a Free Trade Agreement. It intends to quickly file a similar application for LNG exports to any country with which the U.S. does not have a Free Trade Agreement.

Pangea has had the site under option since June. It is planning a separate pipeline project to link the LNG plant to the national gas transmission pipeline network in South Texas.

Its global portfolio of export facilities includes an offshore floating LNG liquefaction project in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea.

In brief….

Uranium Resources has appointed a new independent director, Mark K. Wheatley, bringing it in line once again with NASDAQ guidelines on corporate governance. He is currently a director of Xanadu Mines and Goliath Gold, and was a director of Gold One International until the end of 2012. He was previously a director of Uranium One Inc from 2005-10 and was CEO and then Chairman of Southern Cross Resources before it merged to become Uranium One.Image