Insights
Monday, 24 April 2017 11:20

SaaS: Software As A Service

From Salesforce.com to Netflix and YouTube, SaaS is starting to reshape the way we work in the same way it changed how we play and connect. So what is it exactly and how does it work?

Thursday, 16 March 2017 23:46

Non-volatile Memory

It's your flash drive, it's your file explorer, it's your dad's old floppy disk. NVM is a form of computer memory that remains even after your computer has been refreshed or turned off. Types of non-volatile memory include: Read-only memory (R.O.M), flash memory and a lot of magnetic storage devices such as floppy disks, hard drives and magnetic tapes.

NVM is long term persistent storage, as compared to volatile memory like Random Access Memory (R.A.M). where information stored within it is lost if power is turned off.

NVM can be classified into two groups:

  1. Electrically addressed sysytems. Data here is stored by 'burning' storage sites onto the device. Examples of such include: Programmable Read only Memory (PROM) and Erasable Programmable Read Only Memory (EPROM)
  2. Mechanically addressed systems. These can store comparably larger amounts of data than the electrically addressed systems, onto a designated contact storage medium. This includes flash memory and Magnetoresistive Random Access Memory (MRAM) and Optical dsiks.

However, there's a reason NVM is used for secondary storage. It is of slower performance and has worse write endurance than volatile RAM. (Write endurance is the number of times data can be written and erased and rewritten into a block of memory until the storage device wears out.)

Researchers are currently working on NVM systems that have the speed and capacity of a volatile RAM and the long term persistent nature and high storage capacity of Non-volatile memory.

Sunday, 26 February 2017 21:42

Virtual Credit Cards

A virtual credit card is a generated credit card number attached to your actual credit card, which can be set for quick expiry by the user. MasterCard and Visa offer this service, as does the Cooperative Bank of Kenya.

Considering how ubiquitous it is for the average Kenyan to carry money in their phone: Back in 2011 actually, Airtel Africa in partnership with Standard Chartered Bank and MasterCard Worldwide announced PayOnline, the world's first virtual payments card that operated off a mobile phone based wallet. A person would request a single-use shopping card number directly from their mobile phone's menu and a special 16-digit number would be generated.

PayOnline never blew up but the concept stuck. An intangible, disposable credit card. It conceals the name and identity of the card holder in such a manner that hackers and scammers won't be able to access one's sensitive information. Virtual credit card numbers can be used more than once but it is advised to keep its use to a minimum and instead, generate a new number for every trip to the world of online shopping. The less you use it, the less your chances of fraud and theft. 

Virtual credit cards cannot be used in the real world in place of real credit cards that need to be swiped. They can only be used for online transactions.

Sunday, 26 February 2017 21:41

Photonic Computing

Photonic computers are light powered. They would use light particles instead of electrons because photons have a higher bandwidth and travel faster than electrons.

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The transistor is the proverbial first brick to building a computer. Transistors use voltage to move electrons to other transistors and this input-output relationship creates a logic gate. The proverbial wall. A photonic transistor would use a non-linear refractive index to split or 'fan-out' the light rays into more light rays which would in turn split to feed into other rays thus creating a network of rays that would take on the nature of a logic gate- which are then assembled into the higher components of the CPU.

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However, most research projects today focus on creating a photonic/electronic hybrid computer, so we're still a bit far from developing a fully light powered computer. 

Sounds cool enough. So why am I writing this from a light powered laptop right now?

Moore's law is the reason transistors have reached nano goals of about 10 nanometres. So far, the smallest useful wavelength of light for computing is infrared, which, by those standards, is ginormous.

A compromise used by engineers comes in the form of surface plasmons. These are electrons that move across the surface of a material to behave like protons and travel just as fast. Surface plasmons imitate the properties of light but are physically confined to a small space at the surface of a teeny tiny wire. Keep in mind however that these buggers are moving very fast and tend to burn out easily, to maintain them would require a pump of power to make sure these plasmons don't lose that much energy when they travel. This leads to another problem on its own, heat.

All this power pumping can quickly lead to overheating unless they come with some kind of advanced cooling system.

It's not all bad news though, researchers from the University of Bristol and Nippon Telegraph and Telephon claim to have developed a fully reprogrammable quantum optical chip able to encode and manipulate photons in an infinite number of ways. Yes Lawd. Light powered laptop here I come.

Friday, 10 February 2017 03:03

Augmented Reality

On March 30th 2016, the old dinosaur's, Microsoft, came up strong and dropped the HoloLens. A pair of mixed reality head-mounted display smart glasses that are giving Google Glass a run for its money, thus pushing the concept of augmented reality further into our real world.

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Not to be confused with virtual reality, augmented reality is digital information in an analog world. Whereas virtual reality immerses a user into a fully simulated world, AR superimposes digital elements onto physical objects for example: Remember the iconic resurrection on Tupac at Coachella 2012? Excpet it wasn't Tupac, it was a hologram of him. This is a form of AR because while the stage, the crowd and the sound system were real, Tupac (RIP) unfortunately, was the only thing that wasn't. Augmented means to 'increase' or 'add' i.e: to add digital elements to real life elements.

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Augmented reality can be achieved in various ways such as through the 'Magic Window' and Projection Mapping. The Magic Window makes use of smartphones and tablets to augment reality through the device's camera lens and screen, for example: Pokemon Go, where through the app, the user can catch Pokemon placed in random mundane locations such as a bus stop, a local park or just on the side of the road. This was a great way to encourage Pokemon enthusiasts to get some air and exercise.

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On the other hand, Projection Mapping makes use of a head mounted system such as the HoloLens or Google Glass to  project the digital imagery in front of the user's face and directly onto the environment.

Augmented Reality has massive potential in many fields. In medicine, VeinViewer uses Infrared light to create a digital image of a patient's veins in real time such that it looks like one can 'see' a person's veins on their skin.

This video shows what the world would be like of all our media and information was projected to us through augmented reality.

Friday, 10 February 2017 02:32

Virtual Reality And Google Daydream

On November 10th 2016, Google launched Google Daydream, officially putting itself in the lead of the everyday VR race against other contenders like Facebook's Occulus. 

daydream-vrGoogle Daydream.

Google Daydream is a software platform that comes with a headset that looks like a chic pair of ski goggles and a controller akin to that of a Nintendo Wii. It's easy to navigate with a Daydream compatible phone such as the newly launched Google Pixel or a Huawei Nexus 6p, to name a few. Daydream is a successor to Google Cardboard, Google's first consumer ready VR attempt but less hipster minimalist and more 2050.

download-3Google Cardboard.

But what is Virtual Reality anyway?

Virtual Reality is a 3-dimensional computer generated environment which can be explores and interacted with by a person. The word 'virtual' here being a double entendre by meaning either simulated or nearly/almost and the word 'reality' meaning an individual observer's own subjective perception of that which is real.

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We  experience reality through our senses, what we see with our eyes, touch with our skin, and hear with our ears become a matter of fact. The point of VR is to immerse a user into a similar world but of course, it's all simulated. This is currently being achieved with headsets with a 360 degree view that can accommodate a change of perception so just like in real life, you can look up, down, left, right, forward and behind- together with gloves or remotes fitted with motion sensors, and most importantly, the virtual platform which could be anything from a video game to a film and if advances to VR result in more immersion and accessibility, it might even be able to accommodate learning institutions or studios and work spaces.

Immersiveness is an important element of VR and for the best optimal experience, VR has to actively engage one's senses in order to create an altered mental state. Everything in the VR world must move seamlessly in real time and with imperceptible latency or else it will disrupt the experience and I'll know it's just a dream and wake up. 

The Frankenstein complex is the very rational (or irrational, it's subjective) fear that man will reach a point where he is unable to control his creations. Named after Mary Shelley's novel 'Frankenstein' about a Dr. Frankenstein, who creates life but is later horrified by what he has made.

Tuesday, 03 January 2017 17:38

Should I Be Afraid Of The Singularity?

The apocalypse is coming and it will be beautiful or it will be horrific. I am referring to the technological singularity. A phenomenon that, given the rise in vast networks of computers all across the globe and developments into deep learning facilities of Artificial Intelligence and Quantum Computing, is closer than we think.

Thursday, 29 December 2016 09:52

10 Years Of Social Media Changes

The launch of the new Microsoft surface and the fact that MS Paint is now 3D shows the reality of how tech is becoming more and more interactive with every day that passes, with social media having a large hand to play in that. Can you imagine a world with no emojis? Where to express one's dismay over a situation, one would have to use a colon and an opening bracket? It's almost medieval. :(

Thursday, 29 December 2016 09:35

A Brief Introduction Into Quantum Computing

Quantum computing is something out of a sci-fi film. It is an area of study focused on developing computer technology that follows the laws of quantum physics, namely the laws of superposition and entanglement, to execute its operations.

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