The Problem With Memory Sticks

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… is that you forget you have them in your pocket. According to Credant Technologies, a Texas-based security company, about 9,000 USB sticks have been left in people’s pockets in the UK when they take their clothes to the dry cleaners.

This is based on a survey (no link available; sorry) of 500 dry cleaners across the UK who, on average, had found 2 USB sticks during the course of a year. There are, according to the Textile Services Association, some 4,500 dry cleaners in the UK. A survey by the company of taxi drivers in London and New York last September showed that over 12,500 handheld devices such as laptops, iPods and memory sticks were left in the back of cabs every 6 months.

Taking these figures with the caution they deserve—two? Is that ‘We find on average two thumb drives each year’ or ‘yeah I suppose you could say a couple’?—it doesn’t sound surprising. Indeed, you’d think it would be higher, and, indeed, in the centre of London, it is: One dry cleaner in the heart of the City of London said he is getting an average of 1 USB stick every 2 weeks, another said he had found at least 80 in the past year.

Credant want to remind us that data on thumb drives is probably going to be valuable, and there could be a lot of it. With most drives now at least 2GB in capacity, that’s a lot of files that some bad guy could have access to. Encrypt, they say (using their software, presumably.)

They have a point. Though maybe encryption isn’t so much the answer as asking whether there’s perhaps a better way to carry sensitive data around with you? Like not?

Illustration from Computer Zeitung used with permission

Getting Excited and Depressed About Scalable Interfaces

This isn’t new, and it’s not even supported anymore, but it’s a great Outlook add-in that is both inspiring and depressing. Inspiring because it shows us what we could be doing, depressing because there’s nothing really like this out there that fulfils this kind of potential. It’s Datelens – A Revolutionary Scalable Calendar Interface:

Calendar applications for small handheld devices such as PDAs are growing in popularity. This led us to develop DateLens, a novel calendar interface that supports not only PDAs, but a range of devices, from desktop computers to Tablet PCs. It supports users in performing planning and analysis tasks by using a fisheye representation of dates coupled with compact overviews, user control over the visible timer period, and integrated search. This enables users to see overviews, easily navigate the calendar structure, and discover patterns and outliers. Moreover, DateLens takes advantage of each device, running quickly on PDAs and supporting ink on Tablet PCs.

To get a proper sense of it download the movie/screencast on the page. What impressed me is not the graphics, which are clunky, with too many lines and not enough charm, but its malleability to the user. Or what is called ‘scalable user interfaces’. For example

  • By zooming in on the entry, day or month you’re interested in you can see more of what you need, right down to the half-hour segment itself, but with lots more context;
  • Search for events doesn’t throw up a boring list of matches, but a colour-coded range of matches, plus more colour markings on the scroll bar to show you what else is matching offscreen;
  • Easily assign more space or less to weekends, or months, or weeks;
  • The video/screencast (actually it’s not really a screencast) shows how even something as complex as these features can be explained really easily in three minutes.

Oh, and it’s free. I would love to see this kind of thing introduced into ordinary software. I’m not an Outlook user, which it plugs into directly, or a PocketPC, which it also works well with. But hopefully Microsoft are thinking along these lines. (All this reminded me of the late Jef Raskin’s zoomable user interfaces. What a shame no one ever got that kind of thing onto the desktop computer in his lifetime.)