Archive for November 2016

Tech Tip – Keeping Your Windows Organised.

If you’re using Windows 10 and you often need to have several Windows open and handy at once, this tip enables you to snap your windows to specific parts of the screen and keep them organised.

To snap your windows where you want them:

Drag the window to the left or right side of your screen. They will snap to the side so that you have half a screen for each window.

Drag the window to the corner. This will split it into a fourth, and you can re-size the windows to fit each corner.

Drag a window to the top of the screen to make it full screen.

Facial Recognition Allows ‘No Hands’ Driving

Details of a new smart ‘no hands’ cruise control that uses facial recognition technology to make sure that the driver is paying attention are reported to have been revealed in correspondence between The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and auto manufacturer General Motors Co (GM).

Drive With No Hands On The Wheel.

A letter from the NHTSA to GM is reported to have outlined the main details of the news Super Cruise system. The details of the system were not due to be officially unveiled until early 2017.

Unlike current cruise controls which require the driver’s hands to be on the wheel at all times, when the new GM Super Cruise feature is activated it will enable the car to be driven in cruise control mode without the driver’s hands on the steering wheel.

Regulated By Facial Recognition.

The semi semi-autonomous Super Cruise feature is the very latest technological development that is implementing GM’s public plans to allow drivers on highways to let the vehicle take over driving itself.

The Super Cruise feature will use facial recognition to check that the driver is still alert and in control of the situation when their hands are not on the steering wheel. If the advanced software detects that the driver is not paying attention (e.g falling asleep), the system will engage a number of safety measures. These measures will include:

  • A series of alerts / alarms to get the driver’s attention. These are reported to include a red light, a vibrating seat, and the playing of a recorded message to the driver.
  • Attempts to communicate with the driver (on the assumption of e.g. a medical emergency) using GM’s OnStar (human) driver assistance.
  • If the driver doesn’t take over after the alerts, the car will be slowed down (safely) and the hazard lights will go on.
  • If there is no response from the driver the vehicle will be stopped.

Presumably, these safety measures will all be activated and will take place in short time frame.

Regulated By the Road Conditions.

The Super Cruise system will of course also take account of the conditions outside of the car and if it detects excessive twists and bends in the road, it will hand control back to the driver.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

This is another example of how advanced security-based technology and biometrics such as facial recognition are moving into the mainstream. It’s a move towards autonomous features in cars (think of the recent Uber driverless car trial and the autonomous public vehicles tests in Milton Keynes).

Many transport modes are now asking us to place more of our trust in technology. If you are a frequent business car traveller, you may already use a cruise control and you may be excited by this move to the next generation.

Critics could say that whereas the complete autonomous vehicles in Milton Keynes could reduce traffic to the city centre, semi-autonomous features in individual vehicles may bring few benefits to anyone other than the driver / owner. It also remains to be seen if they provide real safety benefits or whether in fact they increase risks to other drivers.

Artificial Intelligence Now Reads Lips Better Than People

A research alliance between Google’s AI company DeepMind and Oxford University is reported to have developed a new AI system that can read lips better than humans.

Better Than a Trained Lip Reading Professional?

According to a recent scientific paper about the project, the newly developed AI system known as Watch, Listen and Spell (WLAS) can read human lips to the point where it is able to interpret more words than a trained lip reading professional. When tested against each other using 200 randomly selected BBC television video clips, the WLAS system was recorded as having a lip reading accuracy rate of 46.8%, whereas the human lip reading professional only managed a 12.4% accuracy rate.

Trained Using Videos.

The AI WLAS system was able to achieve such impressive accuracy rates because it was reportedly ‘trained’ using a 118,000 sentence LRS dataset (the equivalent of 17,500 words) combined with 5,000 hours of BBC video footage. In order for the system to ‘get the hang of’ learning to lip read from scratch, the BBC videos were reportedly prepared using machine learning algorithms.

One other useful application of AI during the experiment was to learn to re-align the video and audio when they went out of sync!

Previous Success.

The success of the WLAS system was preceded by a lip reading system called LipNet, also tested by Oxford University, which also showed a much higher accuracy level than a human expert. This system, however, worked on a much smaller data set.

How Useful Is It?

Some technical commentators have questioned show useful the development of this new system is and where / how it could be deployed in the real world.

Obvious suggestions have included providing better support for those with impaired hearing, and improving the quality of live subtitles for TV.

Other slightly less obvious suggested applications of the system include adding the system to a virtual assistant and / or phone camera to help people to lip read, perhaps in crowded or particularly noisy environments.

Teaching Robots To Dream.

Not content with achieving these surprisingly good results with WLAS, Google’s DeepMind is also reported to be in the process of pioneering a new technology which allows robots to dream in order to improve their rate of learning.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The already staggering advances in AI have meant that companies have been able to use AI to add value to services and free up human members of staff in many situations.

In the IT world, there are virtual assistants, chat bots, and recently the addition of the new toolkit called ‘Microsoft Team’ to Office 365. There still remains an almost unlimited number of possible opportunities for AI to be used in a value-adding, time and labour saving way in all industries, and AI add-ons to elements of businesses could soon be the source of important competitive advantages in the marketplace.

It could also herald the beginning of AI being used for industrial espionage … reading what you say through a pair of binoculars used to be the fantasy of Frederick Forsyth type novels … so watch this space!

Record Breaking Online Sales For ‘Cyber Monday’

Just as we’re getting over Black Friday in the UK, news comes from the U.S. about record-breaking online sales on the first day after the Thanksgiving break that has become known a ‘Cyber Monday’.

Black Friday Vs Cyber Monday

Black Friday and Cyber Monday are now the popular culture names for the day after Thanksgiving (which is on a Thursday), and the following Monday. Black Friday became a popular shopping day because U.S. workers would take the day after Thanksgiving off work to have a long weekend, which meant that retailers dropped prices on the Friday to tempt them to shop on their day off. Cyber Monday came about because retailers noticed that people were still continuing to buy goods online on Monday.

Up until 2014, Cyber Monday had been the world’s biggest online sales day until its rival Black Friday took over. Now Cyber Monday has made a huge (online) sales comeback.

How Much?

According to the latest figures, $3.45 billion of sales were generated in the U.S. this Cyber Monday. This put Cyber Monday back in front as the biggest selling day, beating the previous record of $3.34 billion spent on this year’s Black Friday.

How Many?

According to Adobe’s figures, the huge sales total was generated by 23 billion visits to websites. This accounted for 80% of all online transactions for the top 100 U.S. retailers!

Why So Much Online?

Retail commentators have suggested that the big move online for purchases this year may be partly that people wanted to avoid crowds on Friday, and may not have had time to visit physical stores on Monday due to returning to work.

Mobile For Looking, Desktop For Buying.

Even though mobile devices accounted for most website visits globally for the first time last month, the trend of using the mobile to search and choose and using the desktop to purchase is still continuing for most U.S shoppers. According to Adobe figures, 65% of purchases on Cyber Monday were made on desktop although 53% of website visits came from mobile devices.

Smart-phones were used for 44% of visits and 25% of purchases, with iOS devices accounting for a larger value of purchases than Android devices.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

For businesses, the relatively new shopping events such as Black Friday present a great opportunity to generate more sales and take advantage of proactive consumer bargain searches. For some more seasonal businesses, Black Friday could offer a way to generate and kick-start more sales in the quiet period.

The Black Friday and Cyber Monday facts and figures show how important it is to have a website that works well on mobile devices, and how important it is to make sure that Omni-channel options are open to customers.

Ofcom Rules To Separate Openreach From BT

After a long negotiation, the UK telecoms regulator Ofcom has now ruled that it will be formally asking the European Commission to start the process of separating BT from its network infrastructure arm, Openreach.

Why?

Through Openreach, BT owns (and is responsible for providing) the vast majority of the UK’s telecoms network infrastructure, not just for itself but also for any competitors including TalkTalk, Sky, and Vodafone (and BT’s own retail arm). This has led to competition problems.

There is also an argument that greater investment is needed in the network, and that action needs to be taken to improve broadband and phone services across the UK.

How Did It Come To This?

Back in July this year, Ofcom recommended that Openreach should be run as a separate company from BT. It also recommended that BT’s fibre rollout shouldn’t be fully separated but could run as a distinct company with its own board and employees.

The recommendations at the time stopped short of saying that BT should be fully separated from Openreach as it was believed that this would be enough to ensure the greatest possible degree of independence from BT Group, without incurring all of the significant the costs and disruption associated with total separation.

The recommendations in July came out of what had been a 10 year review by Ofcom. As well as setting stricter minimum requirements on Openreach to repair problems and install new lines more quickly later in the year, service performance tables and broadband coverage maps were proposed for next year.

What’s Changed?

Ofcom’s latest announcement that it will now submit an official notification to the European Commission to start the process of separation is reported to have come about because, according to Ofcom, BT has not submitted any proposals that can meet the competition concerns. Ofcom has stated that it is still open to any voluntary proposals from BT.

If the public consultation with the EC in early 2017 supports Ofcom’s views, the regulator will be give n the go-ahead to separate the companies.

What Does BT Say?

BT is reported to have has said that it has noted Ofcom’s announcement and that it put forward the necessary proposals in July, which it is currently implementing. BT is also reported to be in discussions with Ofcom over other outstanding but related issues.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

From a business point of view, access to a wide choice of high quality, similar Broadband and comms services is important, as is having the very latest high speed fibre optic broadband.

Industry and technical commentators have highlighted how BT appears to many people to have been either dragging its feet and / or have been unwilling to comply with Ofcom’s recommendations.

For many businesses, the idea of a situation where there is greater investment in the infrastructure, higher quality and more effective services along with better customer services is very attractive and many businesses feel therefore that splitting up BT and Openreach will be an important step towards achieving this.

iPhone Users Hit By Spammers

Up until recently, Apple products have been widely regarded as being safe from viruses, spam and other unwanted online intrusion. iPhone users, however, have reported an increase in unwanted invitations turning up in their calendars, and unwanted photo-sharing alerts.

What Kind of Spam Invitations?

Some have reported receiving clearly ‘spammy’ offers relating to fake Black Friday deals and discounts on famous designer labels which don’t actually come from the brands themselves. It has been reported that many of the ‘offers’ appear to come from sources in China, and are most likely to relate to fake / copy goods.

Those who have their calendar for business use can it invite others to meetings and events. Now spammers have exploited this feature and the invitations are being sent as part mass mailouts and appear as calendar notifications.

Can’t Be Deleted.

Unfortunately, iPhone users have been finding out that not only do the notifications appear whether they are accepted or rejected, but they can’t be deleted. The messages also notify the spammer when they have been received. This confirms to the spammer that they have found a valid target and therefore opens the floodgates for more spam messages to follow.

What’s Happening?

The iPhone calendar uses the iCloud to back things up to. This means that when the invitations are received, the calendar is automatically backed up to the iCloud, including the new invitations. The photo sharing aspect of iPhones is also automatically backed up to the cloud, hence the use of the photo-sharing alerts by the spammers.

One Solution – Turn the iCloud Off

Technical commentators have pointed out that one simple solution to the spamming problem for iPhone users could be to turn the iCloud off, however this would defeat the object of having it and could create more problems. If users don’t actually use iCloud for your calendar it is a viable option. It can be done by opening the Settings app on the iPhone and System Preferences on the Mac. It’s then a case of going to the iCloud settings and disabling calendars to stop the iCloud syncing and event invitations.

What Else Can You Do?

Technical experts and commentators have offered several possible courses of action that iPhone users can take to avoid the spam. These include:

  1. Making another calendar just for the spam events or moving the notifications to arrive in email form, which can be deleted without the sender knowing.
  2. Declining the calendar invite when it arrives which should make it disappear from the calendar. If it doesn’t, disable the “Show Declined Events” in the calendar app settings. Unfortunately, with this idea the spammer will still receive a notification.
  3. Choose to receive calendar invites as emails. This means that the emails can then be caught in the spam box. This can be done by going to iCloud.com on your laptop and opening the Calendar web app. Click on the gear icon and then open Preferences. In the Advanced tab choose to receive calendar invites as emails. The drawback with this method is that you won’t be able to receive any push notification for new calendar events, whether they are genuine or not.
  4. Another  way is to change the calendar entry, i.e. to edit the email account changing the email address to something like spam@spam.com then unsubscribe the calendar entry; it will then appear to come from a dummy email address and not alert the spammer.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

This is an example of spammers finding yet another way around things and causing more disruption and annoyance to businesses. The very thing that is designed to help you back-up and sync important items (the iCloud) has been turned into a vulnerability by the spammers.

If you have been directly affected by the spamming it is now a case of going online and following one of the fixes / get-arounds. Some technical commentators have pointed out that Apple could help users by adding a feature such as an ignore button to the notifications.

Your Latest IT Newsletter

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How Businesses Could Use Autonomous Vehicles

Autonomous vehicles and vehicles with autonomous elements are being tested and used successfully, both as part of the transport system and in closed site operations. It is still early days and there are still many as-yet untapped opportunities for their commercial application across the UK.

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2 Hackers Get Electric Shock

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Facebook Stamping Out Fake News

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Government’s Smart Energy Meter Project Not Delivering Says Report

The government’s plans to use smart meters to deliver cost, energy and environmental saving benefits have received a blow from a report that shows higher than expected costs and lower than expected benefits.

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Tech Tip – Logging Into Microsoft

Although Windows 10 default settings encourage you to sign in with a Microsoft account this could mean that you’re at risk of having your password stolen.You can protect yourself with Microsoft’s additional security features.

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Tech Tip – Logging into Microsoft

Although Windows 10 default settings encourage you to sign in with a Microsoft account this could mean that you’re at risk of having your password stolen.You can protect yourself with Microsoft’s additional security features.

The extra security requires a second form of authentication in case someone tries to use your credentials on an unknown device.

To activate your extra security features:

Go to https://account.live.com/proofs/

Sign in with your Microsoft account.

Choose from the security options you require. These include:

– Two-step verification where you must provide a second proof of identity when you sign-in on an untrusted device.

– The trusted devices list where you can skip the second factor on a device you own after you successfully prove your identity.

– The recovery code which you can print, save, and keep somewhere secure.

Government’s Smart Energy Meter Project Not Delivering Says Report

The government’s plans to use smart meters to deliver cost, energy and environmental saving benefits have received a blow from a report that shows higher than expected costs and lower than expected benefits.

The Smart Meter Project.

The project that is the subject of the recent report is the UK government’s Smart Metering Implementation Programme (SMIP) which is being delivered by The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC). The initial plan was to install 53 million smart meters to in homes and businesses across the UK in order to allow gas and electricity consumption to be monitored, and thereby to provide information that will help consumers and businesses use energy more efficiently.

What The Report Says.

The cost benefits analysis report from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) however has shown that the gross benefit of the (now delayed) smart meter programme is likely to be £16.7bn. This is £415m lower than the £17.1bn forecast in 2014. Similarly, the gross costs of the scheme is reported to have increased by £54m to £10.98bn during the same period.

These figures, therefore, show that the net present value (NPV) of the smart meter project is now just £5.75bn, which is down a massive £469m on the previous estimate.

Why The Decline?

BEIS have pinned the decline of the project and the much lower projected outcomes on a number of influencing factors. These include the updated values for carbon emission factors and carbon pricing, changing energy consumption levels among consumers and businesses, and the lower-than-expected inflation. There has also been a reported impact from changes in the planned design and build of the DCC network.

What Now?

In the light of the report, the UK government are reported to be planning to compress the roll-out of 50 million units into a shorter timescale. This could mean the costs for the project will be increased, and that maintenance and meter reading costs for reading traditional meters will actually rise as their numbers decrease. Unfortunately, the problems with the project will also mean that greater numbers than expected of traditional meters (rather than smart ones) will be used to replace expiring traditional meters.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The decline of (and problems with) the project indicated in the report could mean that the business case for smart meters is now making less sense than ever as the calculations for the value of the costs and benefits of the scheme were made in 2011and based on an 18-year timeframe, assuming that the roll-out completes as scheduled in 2020.

The decline in the project makes that target look unlikely to be met. There is also an argument that smart meters were unwanted by many businesses and consumers, and that as well as lacking credibility they are a very expensive way to save relatively small amounts of energy.

Looking on the positive side, if the project can get sufficiently back on track the energy savings in the longer term could be beneficial to businesses.

Facebook Stamping Out Fake News

The proliferation of so-called ‘fake news’ and its apparent ability to influence the outcome of globally important events such as the recent U.S election have meant that Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg has been moved to publicly announce how Facebook intends to tackle the problem in future.

What Is Fake News?

As the name suggests, fake news involves the publishing / distribution of news that contains spurious reporting and / or varying degrees and levels of accuracy, bias and influence.

One of the key factors in the success of ‘fake news’ in influencing people is whether or not the recipient is motivated, able or has learned to successfully evaluate sources’ reliability e.g. based upon whether they’re named, independent, well-informed or authoritative. For example, a recent study by Stamford University of nearly 8,000 students (from grammar school through college) showed that 82% couldn’t distinguish between an ad labelled as sponsored content and a real news story on a website.

This could mean that the younger generations i.e. those who rely most heavily upon the use of social media, and who appear not to be adept at, willing or able to check the source of ‘news’ are therefore at risk of being influenced by all manner of ‘players’ … commercial, political and others.

Why Fake News?

The fact is that well crafted and ‘believable’ fake news is more likely to be shared, and therefore it has at least commercial value. Fake news websites can attract a lot of interest and can therefore make a lot of money through advertising.

The Challenge For Facebook.

Facebook is in the unprecedented position of having huge power and influence across the globe on how we think, act, feel, and on how / what we prefer and consume.

Recent complaints that fake news featured on Facebook during the recent U.S. presidential election may have influenced the outcome, and influenced it in a direction that many Americans perceive to be the wrong direction, have brought calls for action. Facebook also has to tread a fine line between discouraging ‘fake’ news while encouraging the sharing of a wide range of opinions.

Facebook’s Plans To Combat Fake News.

Mark Zuckerberg has announced that Facebook have been working on the challenges for some time and that they are developing methods for stronger detection and verification as regards news distributed across the network.

Facebook is also reported to be considering providing warning labels on fake content, and finding ways to prevent fake news sites from making money through advertising on its network.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Some people, organisations and businesses clearly see Facebook’s position and power and reach as an opportunity to take advantage of human habits and vulnerabilities where the use of fake news is concerned.

There are of course many moral and ethical questions surrounding this. One advantage of being in business is that it tends to encourage you to be more aware of influence and motivations in commercial messages, and the Facebook / U.S. election dilemma should remind us all that it is important to think about and check the sources of ‘facts’ involved in information that is being used to help make important business decisions.