USB – Past, Present & Future

USB – or Universal Serial Bus technology has become a widespread, simple, cheap way of connecting all kinds of devices. Its popularity has come about extremely quickly as the history of USB only stretches back to the mid-1990s. This article gives an overview of USB technology, its history and its future.

History:

USB technology was developed in order to present a standard means by which devices, particularly computer-related devices, could interconnect and communicate. It was created by a collaboration of Intel, Compaq, Microsoft, Digital, IBM, and Northern Telecom. In the early days of the IBM PC, there were a myriad of connections for different types of devices including, AT, serial, parallel, joystick, SCSI & PS/2. None of these ports were compatible with each other & each served essentially the same function. Enter USB. Not only did USB give one interface, it provided power for some devices and it enabled users to plug a large number of devices into one machine.

Pre-releases of the USB standard came in 1994 with the final USB 1.0 specification being released to market in November 1995. The standard was improved upon in September 1998 with USB 1.1 which many of the problems identified in the original standard were fixed.

USB could work at 1.5 or 12 mbps but with competition from Firewire & with technology placing greater demands on bandwidth, USB 2.0 released in August 2000, could handle speeds of 480mbps.

Adoption:

All connectors face an adoption problem and USB was no different. There is only a market for a device that is interconnectable if there are other devices in the market that it can connect to. These network effect can hamper the adoption of every device (if you are the only person with a telephone, it’s not much use but if you’re one of millions with the same, standardised system, the increased market for the standard makes it more affordable and more appealing to others).

USB was given a real boost by the iMac which offered USB ports only & no legacy option. This meant that there was a market where USB could gain a foothold.

The Present:

USB devices perform many functions extremely well. Devices can be hot-swapped – that is they could be connected & disconnected without it being necessary to reboot a PC. Devices from many thousands of manufacturers can intercommunicate, many devices can be installed without a specific device driver, some devices can be connected to computers without the need for an external power supply and others can recharge by being connected via a USB device.

USB connectors are robust in that they do not rely on pins that are easy to bend or break. USB cables are designed so that static electricity is discharged before a connection is made making the standard more durable.

The connections are extremely usable & it is easy to connect USB devices or to realise that you have the wrong end of the cable. By design, the cables are easy to attach & remove – there is no need for screws – meaning that they are easily accessible by all.

Future:

The future for USB is the USB 3.0 standard that will work at 4.8 gbps, ten times the current rate. This new standard will only be backwards-compatible with USB 2.0 but will include some power conservation features. Increased speed & better power consumption will help USB compete with the other standards on the market including Firewire 800 & eSATA.

To put the performance of the new USB standard into perspective, currently, it would take 15 minutes to copy a 27gb high definition film; the new standard will mean that this can be accomplished in 70 seconds.

The USB standard is extremely usable and durable & it has massive popularity. Many mobile ‘phones have a USB connection & USB Flash drives make the transfer of large amounts of data an extremely simple process. A subculture of USB gadgets has sprung up in recent years with weird & wacky devices like USB fridges, vacuums, toasters, slippers & back massagers all hitting the market to massive amounts of interest and varying degrees of success. It is interesting that whilst it was the brainchild of a number of companies including Microsoft & Intel it was Apple that gave USB its popularity. Windows machines did not deal well with USB even as late as Windows 98 but the iMac showed how USB devices could be used to give a great deal of variety through extreme simplicity.

Should You Give Handouts At Presentations?

You get a huge pile of paper handouts and browse through them. Suddenly you realise that the presentation has ended and you didn’t actually pay attention to what the presenter was saying. Is this familiar?

Should you give handouts during a presentation or not – this is a very important question.

Yes and no. It depends, of course on the nature of the presentation. If you are going to make a technical, scientific or factual presentation with much details handouts help the reader assimilate facts. However, if you are making a presentation with much emotional appeal handouts could be counterproductive as there is a risk that the audience members are immersed in the handout and not paying enough attention to the presenter. National and organizational culture plays a great role in the success of the presentation. Brits, Americans or Italians for example appreciate interactive presentations with emotional appeal but the Finns and the Japanese feel comfortable with restrained fact based presentations where they can take notes. There are great variations also among professions. People in marketing and in the creative professions wouldn’t always like to sit quietly and scribble notes but accountants or lawyers might be more inclined to take notes.

You can distribute handouts before, during or after your presentation. There are advantages and disadvantages to all three so you must consider what you hope to accomplish with the information provided in the handouts.

If there is material in your presentation that cannot be visually displayed on the screen but that is important to follow while you speak, distribute the handouts before you begin speaking. If possible, have them ready for each person to take as they enter the room. This will allow them to read the information before you begin speaking. People who are reading are not listening with attention. There is another advantage in distributing handouts before the presentation. It allows listeners to make notes directly on the handouts. Remember that taking notes is the choice method of learning for many people. Distributing handouts during your presentation is challenging. Pass them out quickly and make sure they are relevant to the point you are discussing. No matter how quickly they are distributed, the audience will be distracted and you might lose some of their attention. This is the least favorable time to distribute materials, but occasionally it is the only appropriate time to do so. Remember that you will have to recapture your audience’s attention and get yourself back on track.

If you decide to distribute the printed materials after your presentation, let your audience know during your presentation. Tell them what information is covered in the handouts, which will encourage them to listen instead of taking unnecessary notes.

Here are some basic guidelines for creating effective handouts that help the audience instead of distracting or misleading them.

Pay careful attention to the appearance of the handouts.

  • Print them on clean white paper.
  • Use a readable, ordinary font like Times or Courier. Don’t vary fonts but make the text as uniform as possible.
  • Don’t cram too much into each page, and don’t leave gaping blank spots.
  • Make the handout clear and easy to navigate.
  • The handout order should be the same as the presentation order. Don’t make audience members flip back and forth between pages.
  • Double-sided handouts are highly recommended (they save paper and there’s less to carry).
  • Always staple multipage handouts, preferably only once, in the upper left corner.
  • Include page numbers.

Printed handouts are most effective if they contain the following elements.

  • Title section

At the top of page 1 you should have the following information, title of presentation, your name, your contact information e.g., e-mail address. You can also include the presentation location and date.

  • Body

Structure the body using headings or if your presentation is primarily data-driven, you can simply allow readers to follow along using the numbers.

  • Tables

Keep their design simple. Simple statistics may be best presented in a table, but often a graphic is better for this purpose. All tables should have clear and informative captions.

  • Figures

Figures include charts and graphics. If you have graphics, make sure they’re clearly visible on the handout. Like tables, figures should also have informative captions.

  • References

List only the references mentioned in the presentation (orally or on the handout). These are usually no more than five or ten for a presentation.

Microsoft PowerPoint or similar presentation software such as Apple Keynote have built in options for creating handouts from the slides that you are going to use during your presentation.

PowerPoint handouts

By default, PowerPoint offers choices to include 1, 2, 3, 4, 6 and 9 slide thumbnails per Handout page – some layouts, such as the one for 3 thumbnails also provide some space next to the thumbnail for notes to be written/printed. If you put too many slide thumbnails on one page some text or figures might be very difficult to read.

Other options than printed handouts

Printing Handouts is not always the only solution – especially if you need to email it to someone. In such a case, one can output Handouts to a Portable Document Format (PDF) file.

In conclusion you have to consider carefully what you aim to achieve by giving out the handouts. Then follow the guidelines given above to produce and distribute clear handouts, which help the audience absorb your message rather than distract them.

Enjoy your presentations!

Cleaning Products: Friend or Foe?

For good reason, we are often conscious of the quality of food that we consume and with maintaining an active lifestyle, but what about ensuring we have the healthiest, cleanest air to breathe inside our homes? We can live a few weeks without food, a few days without water, but only a few minutes without air. With indoor air pollution levels weighing in at around 5-100 times higher than outdoor air, it is paramount that we make healthy selections on the products we use inside our homes. Much like water, which can be either a source for life or a cause of death, cleaning products, can either be a source of clean air or a source of indoor pollution, depending upon your choice of product. For example, a conventional cleaning product may well take away the dirt, but can leave a chemical residue and/or offgass in its place. My philosophy is “if nature put it there, nature can take it away again”. However, getting past the decades of conditioning predominantly since the 1950′s of “if it doesn’t burn it off, it doesn’t work” mind-set can be difficult for society to embrace and adopt. After all, the world was flat right? It is up to you whether you decide to stick with convention or go out on a limb and trust the idea that you can have a beautifully clean home using products that won’t put you in the emergency room.

Imagine yourself in the cleaning product aisle at your favorite store. On the shelves you see many products with dazzling colors and tempting phrases such as “sparkling clean”, “non-abrasive”, “effective” and perhaps you even see the phrases “all-natural”, “non-toxic”, and “environmentally-preferred”. The choices are so many that you may easily find yourself confused, so you start looking at the prices and I’ll bet you’ve even taken some of those products off the shelf and unscrewed the top to give them a good sniff (you know who you are).

So which products should you choose? Don’t leave it to chance, price or smell. Instead, arm yourself with some useful information to help narrow that search and make a selection that makes good healthy and clean sense. Consider the following tips during your next visit to the store:

READ THE LABELS, ESPECIALLY ON THE BACK.

1. Is there a way of contacting the company with concerns and feedback? A toll-free number and/or website to contact should be present.

2. Beware of the disclosures “WARNING” “CAUTION” AND “DANGER”. If it is necessary to warn the consumer, it may not be the safest product to select.

3. There should be clear instructions on how to use the product for best results.

4. Is there any symbol to indicate “no animal testing”– ideally look for the leaping bunny symbol which is a known standard.

5. There are no regulations for the term “Natural” along with some other terms. Organic, Environmentally-preferred etc can be used without much policing, and because they are popular at present, they can and do show up on labels. Look at the ingredients– I’ve seen products that claim to be “eco” and still contained chlorine bleach!

KNOW WHAT IS IN YOUR PRODUCT.

1. Try to select products which have their ingredients listed.

2. Chose products that are plant-based, which means they will biodegrade.

3. What’s NOT in the product is just as important as what is. Look for the following:

NO Parabens,

NO Petroleum,

NO CFC’s

NO synthetic materials and/or fragrances

Anything you suspect may be unhealthy, research it.

4. Natural doesn’t always mean safe! Example, silica is natural, but is a suspected carcinogen and found in some products on the shelves touting to be a safer, eco-friendly choice.

PACKAGING.

1. The packaging should be made from recycled and/or recyclable plastic ideally. Look for the recycle symbol, normally on the bottom of the bottle.

2. Selecting a concentrated product reduces the size of the container, making it a more eco-friendly choice.

3. Selecting a product that offers refill pouches helps reduce packaging even further. Less transport, less waste, overall a better choice for the environment.

4. Ease of use. The product should have an easy-to use dispensing system, perhaps a trigger spray or a squirting bottle, measuring cap, etc.

5. NO aerosols. These are not good for the ozone but also put out finer particles making it easier for you to breathe into your body.

6. Size matters. This will depend on your family and how much product you will be using. You don’t want to buy a size too small due to more packaging use, but also if you purchase something too large, it may not remain effective during it’s time spent in your cupboard as the more natural products tend to have a shorter life span since there are no chemicals to preserve them.

THE RIGHT ACCESSORIES AND EQUIPMENT.

1. Microfiber Cloths. These are a wonderful product. They are designed to attract dirt and bacteria and hold it in. They also reduce the need for any product at all. For light maintenance, you can get away with just plain old H2O!

2. Microfiber Mops. Again, these reduce the use for product, but believe it or not, a study showed the microfiber mop used with water was more effective at bacteria removal than a traditional mop with bleach! In part, this is owing to the fact that they leave less wetness post application and less likely for mold, bacteria growth. The other benefit is the head detaches and can be washed making it more hygenic.

3. Scouring pad/sponge. This can lend a helping hand in reducing elbow grease and product use, plus can provide an overall better result, but be careful on delicate surfaces and always test first! Pumice Stone. This is a great tool for the removal of those rings you find in the toilet. Rather than using something harsh, you can rub with a WET pumice stone to remove those hard water rings.

4. Bucket. Mixing up your solution in a bucket can help reduce the amount of product and water required to get a job done, plus reduces your time and effort of having to continually return to the sink.

5. Duster. These come in microfiber, feather, and lambswool. Choosing one on an extendable pole means you can get to cobwebs, plus you can detach the head and use on your eye-level things. Again, this tool will help you to eliminate product use and is best used for light maintenance and not necessarily heavy dust build-up.

6. A High Filtration Vacuum. This will help minimize the amount of dust going back into the air in your home, and therefore reduce your maintenance and of course will improve the air quality.

WHERE TO SHOP.

1. Check out the natural section in your local grocery store as well as the healthier food stores around.

2. Online can also be a great place to buy green cleaning products while simultaneously allowing for research.

Hopefully these pointers will assist you with selection during your next visit to the cleaning product aisle. However, product selection is merely the first step. Next, you will need to put them to the true test for their efficacy once you get them home. This will be a process that you will be able to fine tune to the way that you use your home and for the types of finishes and furnishings you have within it.

For many, much time is spent in the home. It is where we sleep, eat, and relax as well as a place that holds memories and many treasured belongings. As the saying goes… Home is where the heart is, but it should also be where your health is.