Management

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nanofarm

Small scale farming and Nanofarming improving

How are we going to feed ourselves in 2050, when the population of the world reaches 9.7 billion? How are we going to manage resources, when the majority of fresh water in the world goes to farming, and nearly half of farm produce ends up in landfills? Food waste of various types is the leading cause of methane gas production from landfills, which is contributing to climate change and impacting our access to fresh water. Across the world, being overweight (rich countries) and underweight (poor countries) is causing loss of life and human potential, and an enormous burden on health care systems. Will a kitchen still be used?

These strangely circular global problems can be broken down into these: unequal land and water resources; systems of agriculture that will require infrastructure development for storage and shipping of food in the developing world; systems of food shopping and eating behaviors in the developed world that perpetuates waste and obesity.  It might seem like a simple problem with simple solutions, to have half of the world ill from poor nutrition and vitamin deficiency, and half dying of diseases caused by obesity. Even stranger to have people going hungry while half the food we produce goes to waste. But these are problems of different systems, and changes in one system, while impactful, do not necessarily cause change across the board.

The challenges of agriculture, infrastructure development, storage and shipping of food, and nutrition in the developing world, are related systems that can be affected by resources, research, and hard work. In the developed world, resources, research, and hard work are also needed to affect change. But what is it that we need to change? Patterns of behavior, cultural standards, entitlement, habit? Are we all just spoiled brats who want what we want, and if it isn’t right, we throw it away in a snit? Will we have to face a global Armageddon on fresh strawberries and the decimation of the artisanal cheese industry before we start showing some care about our food?

We can leave the whole charged issue of spoiled brat/snit to the sociologists. The rest of us want to do better. We want to eat healthy food, and we want to eat ugly squash and tomatoes to save them from an afterlife in the landfill, covered with flies and making methane gas. We don’t want to throw away food, but we also don’t want to overeat, and after two weeks in the fridge, the Chinese food take out really needs to go. We would all probably eat less meat and more quinoa if we had a clue how to cook it, or what you were supposed to do with it in reference to a pot of chili. And we all want to support local organic farmers and reduce the carbon footprint of monoculture farms, but some mornings we just need to grab a muffin and go, and we don’t care how far that muffin had to travel to get into our hands.

These are guilt-laden conundrums, in which we take on responsibility for the fate of the planet as a direct consequence of how far our coffee beans were forced to travel. It’s no wonder that eating, tasting, growing, a simple cob of corn comes with a mantle of blame and quiet desperation before we even begin to douse it in butter and salt. It’s ridiculous, but it’s us.

But individual changes in behavior, while helpful, are not going to change a system that is unsuited for the current population growth v. resources issue as we understand it. At this time, most of us have kitchens in our homes or apartments. We shop for groceries in the grocery store, and take food home to cook for meals. We eat out in restaurants or fast food places a couple of times a week. In this system, farmers are going bankrupt, farm workers who pick produce are starving, fast food and restaurant workers are living below the poverty line, and grocery stores are showing huge profits. In addition, much of the food we buy is better travelled than we are. Those crazy jet-setting grapes, that arrive in the store after a long ocean voyage from South America!

Food waste happens in the current system in several places: at the farms, unattractive fresh fruits and veggies are not even picked–too expensive, and no market. At the grocery store, the nice-looking stuff goes fast, while the asymmetrical squash sits until it is past prime.  And when those lovely grapes are on sale, we take home a huge bag, and after several days of gorging on grapes, we let the rest of the bag sit until it starts to form raisins, even in the fridge, and we throw it away. There are several nonprofit groups who are developing systems to deal with food waste, including rescuing ugly produce and delivering it to food banks. While these groups are doing good work, they are not changing the system that is producing the problem. Continue reading

geoengineering

Climate Engineering basics

Geoengineering, also called climate engineering, is a group of technologies that are seeking to mitigate the effects of climate change by two methods. The first of these, CDR, stands for carbon dioxide removal. The second is SRM, or solar radiation management.

CDR technologies are trying to remove the excess carbon stored in the atmosphere–greenhouse gases and emissions. When businesses and activists talk about the “carbon footprint,” they are talking about the total carbon emissions from a human activity. Positive carbon footprints mean the excess carbon we produce is hanging over our heads, stuck in the atmosphere.

What exactly is geoengineering? Engineers are working on technologies that will slow or reverse the consequences of climate change. These are two basic types: carbon dioxide removal, or CDR—this tech removes emissions and greenhouse gases. The second type is solar radiation management, or SRM. This tech reduces the amount of solar energy warming the planet.

Two concerns are at the top of a long list of concerns regarding efforts to reduce or reverse climate change. Do we understand the effects of a single change introduced into a complex system? Does complexity itself predict that we cannot know the consequences of a single change introduced into a system of great complexity, such as the atmosphere of the earth? Continue reading

payments

Trends in banking industry

For many banks the thought of integrating modern technologies feels like a minefield. Claudia Hauser, EMEA financial services lead at Microsoft, believes that financial institutions need to proactively embrace technological innovation. As the market becomes more transparent, customers are using online price-comparison services to shop around. The digital revolution has also given customers the option to seek other businesses if their current providers do not offer services on multiple channels. Banks are creating user-centric experiences for customers to differentiate each other from the competition (smartbanking solutions). However, this is still a challenge for most financial institutions.  A recent survey reported that 53% of millennials in the U.S. do not see any difference between banks. Anytime, anywhere banking is essential, but it is also the norm.

There is a lack of “human touch” between banks and their customers, and this is one of the reasons why people only visit a branch when they have to, and their relationship to banks is mostly transactional. Fintech companies like Venmo and Sqaure Cash are serious competition for banks. These platforms mimic the natural flow of people when it comes to sending money, which banks are unable to do because of legal regulations and obsolete IT structures.  However, these fintech companies can only provide bank-like services but not a complete holistic financial model.

Banks can offer great help to their customers by providing personalized feedback based on their spending habits and offer smartbanking tools. In today’s technologically oriented culture, the opportunities for banks to integrate this information are endless. Banks are in the enviable position to know every financial touchpoint of their customers, from where they prefer to shop to their credit capacity.

What will the financial world look like in fifty years? Everything will change, except human nature. (Or, nothing will really change.) The financial and banking sector is embracing the new opportunities of emerging technology. Data mining and machine learning platforms, and the rapidly developing world of artificial neural networks, are having significant impacts on the global financial world. Continue reading

ecommerce

etailers vs retailers

In the etailers versus retailers war, the etailers are winning. Market shares for everything ecommerce are growing. Tech solutions have concentrated efforts on customer management and marketing software for ecommerce platforms. Consumers have responded by shopping online in their pajamas in the middle of the global night from every possible corner of the world.

Big data analysis and trend and pattern prediction using deep neural networks will continue to form a growing part of planning and market analysis. Human-AI hybrid management teams will become more common. We may see something similar in the way stakeholders are planning and implementing complex infrastructure development now. Business may find itself regularly collaborating with government, education, and the private sector to plan, manage and fund business projects. This collaborative organizational model will allow the heavy burdens of regulatory compliance, funding, public opinion, environmental impact, and other challenges to be met by a team with a variety of skills. This new collaborative model can reduce the risks associated with the digital transformation of business.

There are, however, some limitations and challenges that remain. Some industries are very well suited to ecommerce, and some are less so. Who are the winners so far?

Medical and Legal Ecommerce

Consultations with experts–doctors, lawyers, accountants, and other specialty information brokers are very well suited to ecommerce applications. In the US, the federal government recently passed a bill allowing insurance reimbursement through Tricare, one of the federal insurance programs, for telemedicine. This bill signals tacit approval for these services, and they have responded by developing very workable systems for both medical and mental health visits. Tech such as video conferencing allows face to face meetings, and systems have been put into place to limit the possibility of diversion or misuse, such as the restriction on prescribing controlled substances through a teleconference. Tech which allows interstate prescribing electronically to drug stores who are in the system, such as the chain drug stores and those registered with the large insurance providers, means medicines are available immediately after a visit. New technologies allow home-bound patients to deliver results of weights, blood pressure readings, and blood samples to the medical provider through electronic systems.

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security

Overcoming The False Hope of a Ransomware Attack (Part 2)

Welcome back to the second half of our two-part article on how ransomware is built to deliver false hope in order to scam businesses harder than hackers have ever scammed before. While ransomware was once grudgingly praised for the innovative integration of cryptography into malware, as it turns out, this is mostly just an illusion. Last time we talked about the rising threat of ransomware, how malware has a long tradition of destroying files, and the way ransomware works once it attacks your computer. Join us again today as we pick up right where we left off with encryption, how it works, and why ransomware uses it.

Ransomware Encryption

The big confusion about ransomware is the use of encryption. At first, it was lauded as one of the cleverest upgrades to malware since email attachments but in reality, the only reason encryption is used instead of full-on deletion is to create false hope and the possibility that companies will pay up.

Here’s how it works: Encryption relies on a key, the thing that determines how the files will be encrypted. One of the simplest encryption keys is the backward alphabet where A=Z, B=Y, C=X, and so on. A more complex version might use a specific page of a specific book where A=first letter, etc. The point of the encryption key is that as long as it is sufficiently complicated or impossible to predict, you cannot decrypt anything that has been encrypted without the original key.

When your files are encrypted through ransomware, it’s important to understand that modern encryption software can randomly generate one-time nonsense keys that cannot be decrypted and, if the key is lost, so too is anything that was encrypted with it. This means that unless you get the exact key used to wreck your files, there’s simply no way you’ll be able to get them back. Some hackers will promise to give you the key and a decryption tool but experience has revealed the majority of these promises to be outright lies.

Trusting Hackers

Continue reading

stratecta - ransomware security

Overcoming The False Hope of a Ransomware Attack (Part 1)

Every modern business deals with a certain amount of technology. From tech companies that consist internally of nothing but professionals at computers to minimally technical industries that still rely on databases and business software to keep everything running smoothly, the need for a secure network and backups of archived business data is universal. When your data is in danger and it looks like there’s a chance of recovering anything that has been lost, most companies will jump through flaming hoops for any either planned or, worse, unplanned recovery method. That is exactly why ransomware is so terrible. The hope of getting your files back after a disaster is often more powerful than the fear of losing them in the first place.

While you may think that your files are being held hostage, your disaster recovery plan is much more reliable than any hacker’s “promise” that you’ll see your files again.

Malware Has Always Wiped Files

To understand the innovation of ransomware, it may help to have a better grasp on the history of malware as a whole. Ransomware is just one of the most recent innovations in a long chain of malicious, invasive software. In fact, while there has been a significant rise in the ability of malware to actually do something like steal credit card numbers or extortion, malware has traditionally been almost completely pointlessly evil. Worms have roamed the web since before the internet unification seeking out vulnerable systems and often infected websites are simply left up to hurt anyone who comes across them.

When an infection is successful, whether it was targeted or random, the malware’s goal is simply to cause pain. Spamware makes your system unusable with constant pop-ups, spyware steals your login information and uses it for fraud or more spam, and many forms of malware despite the name will simply explore your files, deleting or corrupting them as it goes. Hackers have always deleted files for fun and there’s no reason to assume that they’re going to stop now just because they’ve also figured out how to make a little side cash.

What Ransomware Does

When ransomware gets onto your computer, it’s first act is usually to lurk around for a while. During this time, it may finish installing itself, spread from the first computer into the local network, and map all your files. These processes usually happen quietly using background resources and the delay often masks the true infection point, whether it as a bad website, a phishing email, or an actual hacker security breach in which the ransomware was placed on your computer. Continue reading

stratecta

Digital Transformation: Things a Digital Document Can Do that Paper Can’t

When companies are wondering whether or not to go through the most basic stage of the digital transformation, moving from paperwork documents to digital document management, there are often a lot of fears about how implementation and unfamiliarity with the new system will slow down productivity and potentially confuse the staff. However, the same things can be said about any major change, including drastically altering the catered lunch menu. The real thing that administrators and business owners should be considering about the digital transformation is all the ways that digital document management can enhance the efficiency of your business both in predictable and unpredictable situations.

To help you understand the drastic difference between a business run on paper and a business run through digital documents and software, let’s narrow the focus down to the humble document. All the things that can be done with a digital document, but on for which the original and every copy is paper.

1) Same Document Form for Drafts and Final Copies

The first thing to realize is that no one writes their documents on typewriters anymore which means that nearly 100% of modern documents and paperwork start in digital form on a word processor. That word processor saves a digital document which is then printed out. Though many companies who work with paper still think of a paper copy as ‘the original’, in truth, the originals of all but historical documents are now digital. The paper is the real copy and every time an edit is made or a new version is drafted, the document is created in digital form, printed to paper, and then interacted with.

Why not just skip the paper stage? When you work with digital documents, there’s no need to print unless a client needs a physical copy for a specific reason like pen-and-ink signatures or they request a hard copy for their own private records. Otherwise, you can receive, develop, work with, and submit documents all in a single digital form.

2) Infinite Editing of a Single Document

When you’re working primarily with physical copies of your paperwork, edits are not just challenging in that they must be done carefully and neatly. Every old copy will need to be tossed in favor of new print-outs of the edited work. Edits on paper are permanent or, even with hand-written documents done in pencil, require wear and tear on both the eraser and the paper.

Digital documents, on the other hand, can be edited an infinite number of times, revised, corrected, and collaborated on without an eraser white-out/liquid-paper, or constant printing and re-printing because digital edits are easy and cost nothing. Along the same lines, the edited document and the original can be the same file, ensuring that everyone who has access now has access to the updated version. Continue reading

stratecta

Gender Identity for AI

Artificial neural networks have given AIs the functionality for complex problem solving and pattern recognition, and they have entered the workforce, particularly in areas of big data analysis and global finance. As we begin to interact with and study these new learning machines, interesting questions arise. Are they going to take on human behavioral and gender distinctions (gender identity), because they have been programmed with data sets that have unconscious bias? Will those who are giving the learning machines feedback to focus their problem solving allow behavioral constraints into the teaching? If we give the AIs a woman’s voice, and a woman’s name, will we interact with her as if she was a woman? And does that mean she will in turn internalize those social expectations and become more female?

Naturally we are interested in all things having to do with gender. It is the first sentence the world places upon us, when the midwife announces boy or girl. We love gender. We give our teddy bears genders, and can describe in detail why we think-no, why we know that our little darling is a boy or girl. We give our cars genders, names, and personalities. It’s just because we’re human, and we want to humanize the things we love, and that surround us. And part of humanizing inanimate objects is to give them a name, a gender, and shower them with affection.

Part of our fascination with gender has led to some poor science, the popularity of which has trickled down into our collective consciousness. The idea that male brains and female brains are different in a significant way is probably not true, though the debate rages. Structure follows function, and hormones affect the developing brain. But even with minor structural and functional differences in the brains that are most probably hormonally-based, there is very little difference in boys and girl’s brains. There is a much wider variance between individuals than can be measured than between generalized groups based just on gender. We are more complicated than can be described in pop-science about hardwired aggression and nurture vs nature.

What is different between genders is communication, how we use language, and there the gender differences are significant enough to be measured. If we think of communication as the way we input data into our brains, we grow our biological neural networks with the complex range of human communication to which we’re exposed. And there are differences between male and female communication.

So with the science showing that biological neural networks- aka human brains- are more complex than can be measured, but are influenced by hormones, language, biology, and the wide range of human culture, we are left to consider if artificial neural networks will also be influenced by language and human culture. (This is assuming that the artificial neural networks that are biology and hormonally mediated are still a few years in the future.) Continue reading

stratecta

How to increase employee engagement

Successful businesses tend to share similar values that boost their employee engagement. A loyal, dedicated, and energized staff, working toward a common goal, is the gold standard for a happy and engaged workforce. Across size, industry, market share, intellectual property, and other economic variables, employee engagement stands out as the hallmark of a successful company. What does the engaged workforce value in their employers? Diversity and inclusion, social and environmental stewardship, and transparency in company values and practices.

In a just society, the workforce should reflect the population. In universities, high tech startups, factories, farms, the workforce should reflect the color, age, and gender of the population. If this criteria is used to judge, there is not a just society on this earth. Education influences career, and gender, age, and color effects access to education. How can business step beyond the way things have always been, into the world of the future, where everyone will have equal access to education and economic opportunity? A world in which we have access to our full human potential?

Diversity and inclusion in the workforce is a company value that is appealing to workers across ages and socioeconomic strata. Efforts to recruit and hire a qualified and diverse workforce are aided by programs such as Textio, the AI system that evaluates job descriptions for language that discourages diverse applicants. Blendoor is a merit based recruiting app that removes pictures and names from applicants CVs, so issues of color, appearance, and gender are more neutral in the application and recruiting process. But companies that engage these types of programs have already taken the first big leap–understanding and acknowledging that unconscious bias is present in most humans, and efforts must be taken and progress regularly evaluated to make sure that unconscious bias is not keeping businesses from recruiting and hiring the most qualified workforce. Continue reading

win the crown

5 Techniques to Help Dealership Staff Improve Cyber-Security (Part 2)

Welcome back to the second half of our two-part article on how to help your dealership staff become an important part of the cyber-security effort. They are responsible for handling reams of customer personal information and protecting the financial interests of every client who comes through your doors. This means keeping account information safe, even from people who claim to be the friends and family of your customers. Last time we talked about line of sight on staff computer screens and the reasons why personal data is so vital to protect. Let’s pick up on access to employee computers.

3) No Customer Access to Employee Computers

There are two kinds of computers in a dealership, those set aside for customers to manage their finances and buy insurance on, and those that employees use to sell cars and manage customer accounts. If it can possibly be helped, do not let customers use employee computers. These have software, data access, and possibly saved log-in information that could give customers access to information and actions they should not have.

Worse than accidentally letting a customer access your control software is the fact that not all hackers live in Russia. There are plenty right here in the states and they will absolutely take an opportunity to ‘phish themselves’ on your machine, quickly pop in a malware-riddled USB device, or find a way to email themselves data on your system. If a customer is allowed to use an employee computer, watch them very closely and do not, under any circumstances, allow outside data devices to be plugged into a dealership computer.

4) Never Open Email Attachments

Speaking of phishing, the current leading form of hacking and social engineering all tied into one. Phishing occurs when a hacker sends a false email with an infected attachment. The email either appears to be from a friend or coworker or it can pose as a message from a concerned “customer”. There are many different phishing strategies ranging from convincing the victim that the attachment is an important work document to thinking it’s a funny cat picture. The only thing in common is that the hacker must convince a staff member to click their infected link in order to spread the malware. Continue reading