Friday, June 03, 2011

How smart are your Car's tech gadgets?

By Tom Ripley for our content partner: Driving Today
Rear-view TV cameras, multi-zone heating and air conditioning, parking sensors, electronic stability control systems, theater-like audio -- today's vehicles are absolutely stuffed with technical wizardry.  The new features will allow cars to perform feats that were virtually unimagined a decade ago.  There is a downside, though.  The multiplicity of vehicle systems can't communicate and interact among themselves very well.  Instead, like kids at a grade school sock hop, they seem to stick to their own little groups and not worry about others much.
Not only is this inefficient; it is also ineffective. Even though today's cars have more computing and sensing power than ever before, they are not nearly as smart and, more to the point, as easy to operate as they could be.  

While auto manufacturers are already introducing intelligent application solutions to individual issues like sound or safety on a piecemeal basis, this incremental addition of features and functions is probably not the most effective approach, according to a new report from Strategy Analytics.  Instead, looking at cars as robots might be a better way to build automobiles in the future.
Driving Today

"Automakers interested in developing smarter cars can learn a great deal from the US military's efforts to accelerate the development of autonomous vehicles," said Neena Buck, vice president of the emerging frontiers program at the research firm.
As with many mature, consumer-oriented products that have a long history of development, today's cars suffer from feature overload, often at the expense of the driver's understanding and reaction time, Strategy Analytics says. 

With more and more computing devices on board cars, product planning and marketing groups within car companies are providing the usual checklist approach of features and functions within each category of car in order to compete with their rivals.  But this ad hoc approach to features can result in cars laden with unused and/or unusable features. 

Some of the luxury vehicles from European manufacturers are so dense with features that it is doubtful most owners even try to use them all, much less use them on a day-to-day basis.  In fact, some automakers are finding that adding features actually injures their customer satisfaction scores.

Part of the problem is that a knowledge gap exists between vehicle manufacturers, who are accustomed to feature-by-feature comparisons and incremental additions to cars, and developers of autonomous vehicles who have had to re-think the design of a vehicle from the ground up. A new Strategy Analytics report discusses how automotive OEMs and suppliers can leverage work done in autonomous robotics systems to create smarter vehicles that can recognize their occupants, understand driver and passenger needs, continuously anticipate obstacles and problems, and inform or assist the driver to take appropriate action.

"More and more, competition within the automotive industry is going to be based on intellectual property and software built into vehicles, in addition to the physical design and visual appeal of the actual car," said Ian Riches, director, Automotive Electronics Service. "Vehicles with built in self-awareness, as well as ongoing situational awareness, are going to become increasingly commonplace, as high-end offerings in today's passenger cars migrate to all vehicles across the board."

Driving Today Contributing Editor Tom Ripley writes about automobiles and the human (not to mention robotic) condition.  He lives in Villeperce, France.

Voice Control Technology and Driving Safety -- How does it go hand in hand?

By Luigi Fraschini for our content partner: Driving Today
Voice control can reduce driving distractions and promote driving safety.

How do we know?

A new Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) study shows that drivers can minimize visual distractions by using voice-controlled vehicle systems like Ford SYNC instead of operating hand-held cell phones and tuning music systems manually. The study by VTTI was released in Detroit at the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) World Congress during a panel discussion titled “Human Factors in Driving and Automotive Telematics.”

In the new Ford-commissioned study, 21 drivers, ages 19 to 51, who were familiar with SYNC drove a Mercury Mariner while initiating a call, selecting music tracks and having phone conversations using the hands-free, voice-controlled system. For the purpose of comparison, the participants also completed the same tasks manually using their own mobile phones and portable music players in the same vehicle. The study concluded that drivers were able to dial and complete other tasks more quickly and with less eyes-off-road time when using voice-activated SYNC system.
Driving Today
At the same time, drivers manually operating phones and digital music players steered more erratically and looked away from the roadway for longer periods of time.

“This study suggests that keeping drivers’ eyes on the road as much as possible is important for maintaining safe vehicle control, which is in line with recent naturalistic driving research,” said Shane McLaughlin, research scientist, Center for Automotive Safety Research, Virginia Tech Transportation Institute.

When study participants initiated a call, hand-held operation required more than two and a half times as many glances away from the road and more than four times longer in total eyes-off-road time than when drivers used the voice-activated system. For MP3 player song selection, hand-held operation required more than six times as many task-related glances than SYNC and took more than 10 times longer in total eyes-off-road time.

VTTI’s new study is consistent with the groundbreaking 100-Car Naturalistic Driving Study, completed in 2005 for the U.S. Department of Transportation. The study followed 109 drivers for one year and tracked more than 42,300 hours of driving data collected with over 2 million miles driven. It concluded that manually dialing a hand-held device while driving -- a task that requires looking away from the road -- was almost 2.8 times riskier than normal driving. The study also showed that talking and listening on a phone while driving has a similar risk to normal driving.

Cloud Computing -- The importance of choosing the right provider and how to do it

By Todd Wasserman for our content partner: IT Insider Online
How to Pick the Right Cloud Provider
As cloud computing pervades more and more of our everyday lives, it's not surprising that small to midsized businesses are also seeing the benefits. The question is, How exactly do you go about embracing the cloud?

To find the right cloud provider, you want to do more than type the names of a few providers in a search engine. But sorting through the mushrooming number of cloud providers crowding the market can be difficult. Because there's no third-party rating system for cloud computing firms -- and no directory either -- experts advise that the best way to seek a cloud computing provider is to do it the way you'd find any other service provider.

"My biggest recommendation is forget about the cloud and just think we're finding a vendor to work with," says Patrick Grey, president of the Prevoyance Group. "Don't get caught up in the cloud." 

On the other hand, Charles King, principal analyst of Pund-IT, notes that cloud computing has its own particular issues. "You're really looking at something you're going to be engaged with 24/7/365," says King. "You really have to have a mind for what you need and what constitutes good quality."

Both Grey and King agree, however, that the key to finding a cloud computing vendor is following best practices. A few guidelines:
  • Use metrics. Set benchmarks to measure good performance. Be realistic, though: 100 percent isn't always achievable, but maybe 99.9 percent is. Get a sense from prospective vendors what is possible and what's not.
  • Network. The best resources for choosing prospective vendors are other IT decision-makers and other vendors. You might have luck cold-calling prospective vendors with a Google search, but you're better off talking to people who actually deal with the vendors. "You would be well-advised to touch base with vendors you work with closely," says King. "You basically have to get out and work the networks and see what you can find."
  • Make a test case. A good way to test a prospective vendor is to give them a non-essential part of your business first. When you eventually move more critical pieces over, though, internalize Murphy's Law. "You have to have a plan if everything goes south," says Grey, and that plan would likely be to move to another provider or to move everything back in-house.
  • Consider data storage and security. Take a look at how a cloud provider’s data storage, data security and security infrastructures work. How do these firms protect your data? What kind of security measures are in place?
  • Use a service-level agreement. For critical, sophisticated or big projects, include a service-level agreement detailing which metrics need to be met and what penalties will ensue if they're not met. Gray recommends "penalties that escalate at an increasing rate as the severity of the violation increases."
King cautions that the cloud computing business is the Wild West right now. "There's an awful lot of interest in the cloud area right now," says King, "but a lot of companies can't quite deliver on the services they're promising." Beyond kicking the tires, King suggests that you have a good idea of what you want if you’re in the market for a cloud computing provider. Otherwise, says King, "It's a bit like going into a grocery store without a shopping list. If you don't know what you want for dinner, you're going to wind up with a lot of stuff in your cart."

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USB Drives -- The security threats and how to safeguard

By Marc Saltzman for our content partner: IT Insider Online

You can find them in pockets, purses and on key chains. They're on lanyards and in pens, built into some jewelry and even found alongside scissors and nail files in Swiss army knives. Teeny USB thumb drives are ubiquitous: In fact, Gartner estimates more than 222 million were sold in 2009 alone. Could such a tiny gadget bring big risks?

Your Data at Risk
Thanks to their small size, low cost, and capability of instant backup and file transportation between multiple computers, USB drives actually pose significant security threats for businesses.

For example, disgruntled employees can easily make off with sensitive company information on a USB drive. "The threat is not new, but the problem is exacerbated by tiny and cheap USB drives," says Leslie Fiering, research vice president at Gartner in San Jose, Calif. "The moment we had removable storage media -- going back to floppy disk drives -- there have been stories of janitors going onto computers after hours and downloading major amounts of information." Employees who plan on quitting a company -- or perhaps those expecting a pink slip -- can also easily copy over customer or client databases, emails, calendar appointments and contact lists in a matter of seconds, and then take this digital info with them to a competitor.

Increasingly, USB drives can also carry harmful malware, say security experts. USB keys can be used to install viruses or to serve as boot drives to erase data -- even unintentionally. An employee who uses a USB drive on a personal computer at home could carry malware back to a work computer without his or her knowledge.

USB Security: What You Can Do
You should take several precautions to minimize the risk of data theft or malware attacks via USB drives. Consider the following:

  • Implement strong security software. All company computers should have the right security software to detect and remove potential threats. "Without question, you need serious protection today that not only protects from online threats but also is capable of scanning external devices too, such as USB drives," warns Fiering.
  • Limit USB access. In extreme cases, organizations have cut off access to USB ports. Others have limited USB access to specific employees. Using encrypted USB drives is another option, as is disabling AutoRun on computers so that programs on a USB drive don’t immediately run when a drive is inserted.
  • Monitor use. Keeping track of USB access will help you note who is using the drive, on which computer and at what time of day." IT departments need to make sure their machines are secure and sensitive information protected," adds Michael Gartenberg, research director at Gartner in Stamford, Conn.
  • Focus on education. “Banning can result in users trying to bypass the ban,” cautions Santorelli. A usage policy augmented by an awareness campaign to educate end users will help mitigate the risks.
Fiering and Santorelli note that these risks are not limited to USB drives. Santorelli calls it an “erosion of the traditional network perimeter” because of the prevalence of mobile devices and the convergence of personal and work technology. “This is a problem that's not going away any time soon," says Fiering. With the right security measures, however, companies can ensure the security of their data, despite today’s increased risks.

Worried about your Dental Health? Try these 7 Super Foods

By Jenna McCarthy for our content partner: Charge Up For Good Health

Want a camera-ready smile and cavity-free dental health? Brushing and flossing are merely the beginning. Turns out there are a host of incredible edibles that fight bacteria, attack plaque and build enamel with every bite, says Wendy Bazilian, a registered dietitian and author of The Superfoods Rx Diet. Here, her surprising foods for a healthier grin.

1. Whole Grains
You know whole grains are filled with cholesterol-lowering fiber. But were you aware that the B vitamins and iron they contain will help keep your gums healthy too? According to a study of 34,000 men conducted by Canada’s McMaster University, those who ate three daily servings of whole grains -- think brown or wild rice, barley, oatmeal and whole-wheat bread -- were 23 percent less likely to suffer from periodontitis, a severe form of gum disease.

2. Carrots
They’re not just good for your eyes: Carrots are packed with beta-carotene, a powerful antioxidant that is key to building and maintaining strong, healthy teeth. Sweet potatoes and pumpkin are also excellent sources of this wonder nutrient.

3. Celery
Water-rich vegetables like celery cleanse the teeth, washing away sugar and starches that can cause cavities and plaque. In addition, munching on crunchy veggies massages your gums, which increases circulation and can help remove bacteria.

4. Dairy products
Dairy products such as yogurt, low-fat or nonfat milk and cheese are all rich in calcium, a mineral essential for preserving and rebuilding tooth enamel. Calcium also aids in saliva production, which helps kill the bacteria that cause cavities and gum disease.

5. Sesame seeds
Another great calcium source, sesame seeds have a gritty texture that acts like a hundred tiny toothbrushes to tackle plaque buildup. Try them sprinkled on cereal or vegetables, or blend them into into yogurt, soups, and homemade breads and muffins.

6. Lean protein
Eggs, poultry and lean beef are rich in phosphorous, a mineral critical to maintaining strong tooth enamel. In addition, phosphorous helps balance pH levels in the mouth, discouraging the growth of cavity-causing bacteria.

7. Water
Substituting water for sugary sodas and sports drinks may be the tooth-friendliest move you can make. Frequent exposure to liquid sugars allows cavity-causing ingredients to reach the most remote surfaces of teeth and gums. Sugary drinks also contribute to the formation of decay-causing acids in the mouth. (If you must indulge your cola cravings, be sure to sip through a straw to reduce exposure.) Water, on the other hand, contains no harmful ingredients and helps wash away bacteria from food, making it one of the cheapest, best dental health boosters around.

Jenna McCarthy has covered nutrition, fitness
and general health for a variety of national publications, including
Allure, Cosmopolitan, Glamour, Ladies’ Home Journal, Real Simple, Self, Men's Fitness and Shape.

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