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Carrying Your Data
September 1, 2012
We live in a data driven world. In his 1985 novel “The Cat who Walks Thru Walls”, Robert Heinlein describes his protagonists methodical hiding of his important business records in data chips which he stored in a cavity in his prosthetic leg. Such ideas were foreign to the world at large then, but seem much more practical in today's data intensive world.
We are approaching 30 years since Heinlein used this plot device, and in today's world carrying an entire life's worth of data conveniently on one's person is a much more reasonable prospect than it was then. USB “Thumb” drives are available in sizes of 64 GB and even 128 GB for very reasonable prices. Tiny hard drives are available up to a TB in size. Several Thumb drives, or a small hard drive can be easily carried in one's pockets. The most interesting example of compact portable storage at this time is the Micro-SD card form factor.
Use the Cloud?
Today's protagonist should not need to carry their data. Cloud storage provides easy access from many places, and quite a volume of data can be stored on remote servers for free, with almost any amount of such storage available for a small fee. So why would today's hero bother to fill his hollow leg with data wafers?
Heinlein's hero Colin Campbell was running for his life from an extra-galactic conspiracy. From the moment that the dying man uttered those fateful words “Tolliver Must Die” he was running for his life. He did not know who was friend and who was foe, and indeed, when he stepped thru that portal into another dimension, any data he had stored in a cloud server would have been unreachable. Even if not for the inter-dimensional transit, the Authority may well have been able to read, destroy or alter his cloud data. From the very opening moments of the story, any cloud data, if accessible at all, would have been highly questionable. Clearly the only trustworthy data is that he carried on his person.
Perhaps you are not involved in an inter-dimensional conspiracy, and have no reason to distrust cloud services. Even so, in order to access the cloud services, you must have access to a WiFi or LTE connection for your Droid to access the cloud. When you are offline, much like Colonel Campbell the only data you can use is that which you carry on your person. That brings us back to the Micro-SD card form-factor.
Most Android and Windows phones and tablets have a slot for a Micro-SD card (Sorry Apple IOS owners). These devices are no bigger than a thumbnail, and are readily available in sizes up to 32 GB. A 32 GB flash memory device can hold up to a hundred or so hour format TV shows, or 40+ full length movies. Countless hours of music, or a starkly unbelievable number of pages of documents, pictures and other materials. There are plastic “wallets” in precisely the form-factor of a credit card, that house up to 8 of these devices. With a “credit-card” holding 8 cards and a 9th card occupying the slot of one's phone, a starkly incredible amount of data can be easily carried.
Heinlein's protagonist was a freelance writer, and was carrying the product of his work, as well as his business records. Even a very prolific modern writer with a bustling business could store his entire life on one Micro-SD card with room left over for a few movies and a great deal of music.
Today's intergalactic hero can easily carry far more data than suggested by Heinlein's 30 year-old plot device. Not all data is equally important. Music tracks, movies, digital books and other such materials can be carried freely and openly, but some data requires a bit more special handling. A lost wallet could be a boon for an identity thief and a disaster for the wallet's owner. Bank records, business receipts, tax records and personal data of all sorts need to be stored in encrypted form. In Safe Computing #8 – Protecting Your Data I address the topic of using encryption.