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30 June 2011

NFC in 2011

This week's Micro Mart magazine, issue 1164, published my Near Field Communication in 2011 feature article.

Inside its six pages I discuss some of the key events and technologies occurring since my NFC article last year, including:
- e-commerce business forecasts
- NFC-enabled credit cards, such as Visa's payWave and Mastercard's PayPass
- virtual wallets, including the recent Orange/Barclaycard Quick Tap announcement
- other NFC mobile initiatives including Google's Nexus S
- the impact of NFC-embedded healthcare products
- the rise of NFC-enabled household devices and appliances

Here's an extract from the article:

For a while now a new wave of NFC-enhanced credit cards have been dropping through letterboxes across the country. In addition to normal credit card operation they can also be used at special payment stations.

Two of the main players are Visa's payWave and Mastercard's PayPass. The UK already has over 50,000 payWave/PayPass-enabled pay points - identified by a special contactless symbol. They're installed in high street stores like Caffe Nero, Subway, Barnardo's, Boots and Clinton Cards, and are starting to appear in taxis. You can pay for anything that's £15 and under with a simple tap of your card, a swift operation that doesn't normally require pin entry.

While expediting super quick transactions, the lack of a pin entry might surprise, or even concern you. As you'd expect there are safeguards. There's a transaction limit of around £15 and a blocking of contactless transactions if too many occur in a short period. However, as things stand today the £15 limit and any other safeguards are company set, non-negotiable parameters.

This form of NFC-by-stealth distribution and pin-less transaction capability didn't go unnoticed by card holders or the media. In fact the BBC's Radio 4 gave significant airtime to this new phenomena, eliciting listeners views on these replacement cards.

Many were unhappy at not being asked whether they wanted this new type of card. Even more so when a lost card could be used without pin confirmation. Another grievance was the non-negotiable transaction figure, which the banks had decided was an acceptable monetary risk on their behalf.

All entirely fair comment, and hardly the best of starts for introducing a cash alternative. Yet, by March 2011 there was already 12.9 million of these cards in UK circulation. So, other than cancelling your card, it seems to be something everyone will have to get used to. In fact, as early as next year there'll be a push to make this a key payment system in certain situations.

View or download this article from the Sample PDFs page.

13 June 2011

Smart Swarm by Peter Miller

Peter Miller used his 25 years as editor and writer for National Geographic, to create a fascinating, thought-provoking book that explores some of the complex, dynamic collaborations found in nature.

These collaborations and the scientific process of their discovery are explored in detail, and with beautiful writing clarity, along with examples of inspired-by-nature solutions to some of our more impenetrable puzzles.

As the book progresses he uncovers four key collaboration traits, namely Self Organisation, Diversity of Information, Indirect Collaboration and Adaptive Mimicking.

Ant colonies use self organisation to solve problems by distributing tasks across a very large number of individuals, using a system based on a few very simple rules. The end result is efficient resource allocation in complex, unpredictable and rapidly changing systems - an ideal model for resolving computational-hungry problems such as efficient aircraft boarding and the travelling salesman scenario.

Bee colonies exhibit diversity of information through individually acquired knowledge, which gives each bee a slightly different perspective. Decisions are made on a majority voting process, but crucially an individual only votes after they have personally assessed the situation. The end result is sound decision making, which isn't based on a follow-the-crowd scenario. It's a technique that has been successfully used by Boeing's flight operations, test and validation (FOT&V) organisation.

Termites use indirect collaboration to work together as a single unit, combining a multitude of small shared contributions. The end result is a process that can effectively and efficiently tackle very large projects and is an ideal model for networks and self-healing systems. Wiki sites, blogs and social tagging all work on this stigmergy basis.

Flocking birds, schooling fish and herding animals rely on adaptive mimicking to achieve their spontaneous and highly coordinated displays. Yet it all happens simply by each individual watching a few of their closest neighbours. Recognising how this works, helps to understand crowd flow dynamics, predict patterns at mass-protest events and design stadiums and other similar large-crowd structures.

2 June 2011

Zend Server CE review

Today's Micro Mart magazine, issue 1160, published my product review of the Zend Server Community Edition development tools and web server environment.

This comprehensive, professional-grade, zero-cost product has PHP 5.3, Apache, MySQL and the Zend Framework, all installed in a single integrated process.