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Why data is being stored in glass and holograms

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By Ben MorrisEditor, BBC Technology of Business

BBC  Ian Crawford, chief information officer, Imperial War MuseumBBC

Ian Crawford oversees the archiving of Imperial War Museum media

The year 2039 might seem like a long way off, but Ian Crawford is already planning for it.

It will mark the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War Two – a big year for his employer, the Imperial War Museum.

Mr Crawford is chief information officer at the museum, and oversees a project to digitise its huge collection of pictures, audio and film.

With a collection of around 24,000 hours of film and video, and 11 million photographs, it’s a vast task.

And in the run-up to 2039, World War II material will be a priority.

Making digital copies of those historical sources is vital as the original copies degrade over time, and will, one day, be lost forever.

“When you’ve got the only copy, you want confidence that your storage system is reliable,” says Ian Crawford.

The amount of data needed for such long-term storage is growing all the time, as the latest scanners can record documents and films in great detail.

“It’s potential to grow is enormous really,” says Mr Crawford.

“We’re now looking at objects themselves and scanning in 3D – that can generate very large files.”

Someone holding four LTO tapes. Three are in a rack.

Tapes like these are the most common way to hold data for long periods of time

This deluge of data is not just hitting museums – it’s pouring down everywhere.

Businesses are buying more space for back-up data, hospitals need somewhere to store records, government needs a place to stash increasing amounts of information.

“We are continuing to create insane amounts of data,” says Simon Robinson, principal analyst at research firm Enterprise Strategy Group.

“For most organisations – it varies a lot – their data volume is doubling every four to five years. And in some industries it is growing much faster than that,” he says.

Data that needs to be held for a long time is not stored in traditional data centres, those vast warehouses, with racks of servers and blinking lights. Those operations are designed for data that needs to be accessed and updated frequently.

Instead, the most popular way to keep data for the long-term is on tape. In particular a format known as LTO (Linear Tape Open), the latest version being called LTO-9.

The tapes themselves are not unlike old VHS tapes, but a bit smaller and more square.

Inside the cassette is a kilometre of magnetic tape, capable of storing 18 terabytes of data.

That’s a lot – just one tape can hold the same amount of data as almost 300 standard smartphones.

The Imperial War Museum in Duxford uses a tape system from Spectra Logic. The machine, around the size of a large wardrobe, can hold up to 1,500 LTO tapes.

Such LTO systems dominate the market for long-term storage. They have been around for decades, and have proved themselves to be reliable.

It’s also pretty cheap, which is important as generally customers want to pay as little as possible for long-term storage.

HoloMem A researcher at HoloMem working with lasersHoloMem

At HoloMem data is stored in holograms created in polymer by lasers

Nevertheless some are convinced it can be done better.

In a former wallpaper factory in Chiswick, west London, a start-up firm has been developing a long-term storage system that uses lasers to burn tiny holograms into a light-sensitive polymer.

Chief executive Charlie Gale points out that with magnetic tape, data can only be stored on the surface, whereas holograms can store data in multiple layers.

“You can do things called multiplexing, whereby you can layer multiple sets of information in one space. That’s really kind of the superpower of what we’re doing. And we believe we can put more information in less space than ever before,” he says.

HoloMem’s polymer blocks can handle extreme temperatures, without the data becoming corrupted – between -14C to 160C.

HoloMem Charlie Gale, HoloMem chief executiveHoloMem

Charlie Gale at HoloMem is confident his system can beat existing storage technology

By comparison, magnetic tape needs to be kept between 16C and 25C, which means significant heating and cooling costs, particularly in countries with extreme temperatures.

Tape also needs replacing after around 15 years, whereas the polymer is good for at least 50 years.

Mr Gale notes that, as the laser chemically changes the polymer, the data can’t be tampered with, once it has been written.

Holomem’s prototype system, which will be able to store and retrieve data, will be ready later this year.

Mr Gale says the cost of the system has been kept down by using standard, widely available components, including the laser – so, he’s confident that HoloMem will be able to match, or beat the costs of magnetic tape.

Microsoft Research Racks of glass data storage panels at Microsoft ResearchMicrosoft Research

A system developed by Microsoft Research stores data on glass panels

HoloMem will need to be competitive, as looming over the market is a formidable competitor.

Through its research arm, Microsoft is developing its own long-term data storage system.

Like HoloMem it has decided that it’s time to move on from magnetic tape, but Microsoft has chosen glass as it storage material.

Called Project Silica, the system uses powerful lasers to create tiny structural changes in the glass, called voxels that can be used to store data. The voxels are incredibly small and can be packed into layers.

Microsoft says that a 2mm thick piece of glass about the size of a DVD would be able to store more than seven terabytes of data.

The system stores the glass panes on racks, where they can be accessed by small crab-like robots that zip along rails.

Cheap and durable, glass is an attractive storage medium says Richard Black, who heads up Project Silica.

“It’s pretty much immune to temperature, humidity, particulates, electromagnetic fields,” says Mr Black.

It could potentially preserve data for hundreds and perhaps thousands of years.

Such a system could, one day, be integrated into Microsoft’s huge cloud computing business, Azure.

But that is some way off as the system has years of development ahead of it.

getty A restored Supermarine Spitfire Mark I aircraft (getty

IWM is testing whether AI can distinguish between Spitfire models

Back in Duxford, the Imperial War Museum, like many organisations, has been experimenting with artificial intelligence. They recently tested whether AI could identify different models of Spitfire in pictures from its image catalogue.

Mr Crawford thinks that AI could be incredibly useful in cataloguing its digital library, work that would take humans hundreds of years.

The ability of AI to trawl through vast amounts of data has made keeping that data even more important – there could be something valuable lurking there.

“In the past business was archiving data just in case they needed it. Now there’s an actual business reason why they might want to go back and do some analytics,” says Mr Robinson.



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Explainer-What are the Fed’s bank ‘stress tests’ and what’s new this year? By Reuters

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By Pete Schroeder and Michelle Price

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Federal Reserve is due to release the results of its annual bank health checks on Wednesday at 4:30 p.m. ET (2030 GMT). Under the “stress test” exercise, the Fed tests big banks’ balance sheets against a hypothetical scenario of a severe economic downturn, the elements of which change annually.

The results dictate how much capital those banks need to be deemed healthy and how much they can return to shareholders via share buybacks and dividends. This year, big U.S. lenders are once again expected to show they have ample capital to weather any fresh turmoil in the banking sector.

WHY DOES THE FED ‘STRESS TEST’ BANKS?

The Fed established the tests following the 2007-2009 financial crisis as a tool to ensure banks could withstand a similar shock in future. The tests formally began in 2011, and large lenders initially struggled to earn passing grades.

Citigroup, Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase & Co, and Goldman Sachs Group (NYSE:), for example, had to adjust their capital plans to address the Fed’s concerns. Deutsche Bank’s U.S. subsidiary failed in 2015, 2016 and 2018.

However, years of practice have made banks more adept at the tests and the Fed also has made the tests more transparent. It ended much of the drama of the tests by scrapping the “pass-fail” model in 2020 and introducing a more nuanced, bank-specific capital regime.

HOW ARE BANKS ASSESSED NOW?

The test assesses whether banks would stay above the required 4.5% minimum capital ratio – which represents the percentage of its capital relative to assets – during the hypothetical downturn. Banks that perform strongly typically stay well above that. The nation’s largest global banks also must hold an additional “G-SIB surcharge” of at least 1%.

How well a bank performs on the test also dictates the size of its “stress capital buffer,” an additional layer of capital introduced in 2020 which sits on top of the 4.5% minimum.

That extra cushion is determined by each bank’s hypothetical losses. The larger the losses, the larger the buffer.

THE ROLL OUT

The Fed will release the results after markets close. It typically publishes aggregate industry losses, and individual bank losses including details on how specific portfolios – like credit cards or mortgages – fared.

The central bank typically does not allow banks to announce their plans for dividends and buybacks until a few days after the results. It announces the size of each bank’s stress capital buffer in the subsequent months.

The performance of the country’s largest lenders, particularly JPMorgan, Citigroup, Wells Fargo & Co, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanley, are closely watched by the markets.

TEST IN LINE WITH 2023

The Fed changes the scenarios each year. They take months to devise and test a snapshot of banks’ balance sheets at the end of the previous year. That means they risk becoming outdated.

In 2020, for example, the real economic crash caused by the COVID-19 pandemic was by many measures more severe than the Fed’s scenario that year.

After the failures of mid-size lenders Silicon Valley Bank, Signature Bank (OTC:) and First Republic last year, the Fed was criticized for not having tested bank balance sheets against a rising interest rate environment, and instead assuming rates would fall amid a severe recession.

This year’s test is broadly in line with the 2023 test, with the hypothetical unemployment rate under a “severely adverse” scenario rising 6.3 percentage points compared with 6.4 last year.

STRESSES IN COMMERCIAL REAL ESTATE

The exam also envisages a 40% slump in the prices of commercial real estate, an area of concern over the past two years as lingering pandemic-era office vacancies and higher for longer interest rates stress borrowers.

In addition, banks with large trading operations will be tested against a “global market shock,” and some will also be tested against the failure of their largest counterparty.

For the second time, the Fed is also conducting “exploratory” shocks to banks. This year’s test also includes additional exploratory economic and market shocks which won’t help set capital requirements, but will help the Fed gauge whether it should broaden the test in the future. The market shocks will apply to the largest banks, while all 32 will be tested on the economic shocks.

Fed Vice Chair for Supervision Michael Barr has said multiple scenarios could make the tests better at detecting banks’ weaknesses.

WHICH BANKS ARE TESTED?

In 2024, 32 banks will be tested. That’s up from 23 last year, as the Fed decided in 2019 to allow banks with between $100 billion and $250 billion in assets to be tested every other year.

These are the banks being tested in 2024:

Ally Financial (NYSE:)

American Express (NYSE:)

Bank of America Corporation (NYSE:)

The Bank of New York Mellon (NYSE:) Corporation

Barclays US LLC

BMO Financial Corp.

Capital One Financial Corporation (NYSE:)

The Charles Schwab Corporation (NYSE:)

Citigroup

Citizens Financial (NYSE:) Group, Inc.

Credit Suisse Holdings (USA)

DB USA Corporation

Discover Financial Services (NYSE:)

Fifth Third Bancorp (NASDAQ:)

Goldman Sachs Group, Inc.

HSBC North America Holdings

Huntington Bancshares (NASDAQ:)

JPMorgan Chase & Co. (NYSE:)

Keycorp

M&T Bank Corporation (NYSE:)

Morgan Stanley

Northern Trust Corporation (NASDAQ:)

The PNC Financial (NYSE:) Services

RBC US Group Holdings LLC

Regions Financial Corporation (NYSE:)

Santander (BME:) Holdings USA

State Street Corporation (NYSE:)

TD Group US Holdings LLC

Truist Financial (NYSE:) Corporation

UBS Americas Holding LLC

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: An eagle tops the U.S. Federal Reserve building's facade in Washington, July 31, 2013. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo

U.S. Bancorp

Wells Fargo & Company (NYSE:)





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Shadow health secretary ‘disgusted’ by treatment of junior doctors

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Changing the NHS’s funding model and introducing an insurance system for dentistry in the UK would be a “dangerous slippery slope”, Labour has said.

Speaking on the BBC’s Today programme, shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said the issues facing the NHS were not down to the funding model, but were due to “where the money goes.”

Labour has promised to create 700,000 extra dental appointments per year if elected, to manage the backlog of patients requiring treatment. 

Streeting said if Labour were to win the election, he would “get the British Dental Association in” to start the process of reforming NHS dentistry. 

“We’ve got to deal with the crisis that is staring us in the face.”



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The best time of day to exercise, according to science

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Claire Zulkey, a 44-year-old Chicago-area freelance writer, has a well-established morning routine: She gets her kids off to school, turns the television to a favorite show, and gets moving with a full-body workout. Once completed, Zulkey showers and settles in to work.

Meghan Cully, in contrast, puts in a full day’s work before hitting the gym on her way home. The 32-year-old graphic designer from Maryland is a self-described “slow starter” in the mornings and finds it difficult to get moving early in the day.

Each gets their workout, but is one time of day better than the other? 

Consider your fitness goals 

A small study out of Skidmore College examined the benefits of morning versus evening exercise for both women and men. Paul J. Arciero, Ph.D., professor for health and human physiological sciences department at Skidmore, was the lead investigator. 

“We had the groups follow the same multi-modal routine, randomly dividing them into evening and morning groups,” he says. “We found women and men respond differently to different types of exercise depending on the time of day, which surprised us.”

The study revealed that for women who want to lower blood pressure or reduce belly fat, morning exercise works best. Those women striving for upper body muscle gains, endurance, or overall mood improvement should consider evening workouts.

For the male participants, the findings were somewhat flipped: Evening exercise lowers blood pressure, the risk of heart disease, and feelings of fatigue, while similar to women, they burn more fat with morning exercise. To understand the reasons behind the results, additional research is required.

What might be most ideal, then, says Arciero, is adjusting your workouts to the time of day when you can get the most bang for your buck. “If you’re a female, then, you might want to perform your cardio workouts in the morning, and your strength training in the evening,” he says.

Early birds versus night owls

“For many people, [the best time to exercise] will depend on their chronotype,” says Jennifer J. Heisz, Ph.D., associate professor of kinesiology at McMaster University and author of Move the Body, Heal the Mind.

Chronotype is your body’s natural inclination to sleep at a certain time—it’s what determines whether you’re a night owl or an early bird. For the 25% of the population that considers themselves a night owl, getting both enough sleep and enough exercise can be difficult, says Heisz. 

“Exercising at night can sometimes be challenging with societal norms,” she explains. “You might naturally stay up until midnight and exercise late at night, but if you have to be out the door the next morning at 7, you’re not getting enough sleep.”

Sleep–which provides your body the necessary time to recover and make gains from exercise–should always be a priority when it comes to exercise. Regardless of research on the benefits of certain exercises at particular times of the day, your results will be diminished if it doesn’t allow enough time for sleep.

How to shift your workout time

If your goal is to change up your routine to adhere to Arciero’s findings related to exercise time of day, or simply to make exercise more convenient even if it runs against your chronotype, Heisz says it’s possible. 

“If you’d like to shift to a morning routine, for instance, the good news is that both the sun and exercise can reset your biological cues,” she says. “Put them together by exercising outside in the sunshine, and it’s a powerful effect.”

For older adults, whose tendency is to sometimes awaken too early and not fall back to sleep, the desired shift might be to evening exercise. “This might help with falling asleep later and staying asleep longer,” says Heisz.

If you’re worried that evening workouts will impact your ability to fall asleep, shift your workouts to gentler forms of exercise, like yoga. Avoid vigorous exercise like running, which might elevate your heart rate and make it tougher to wind down. 

For evening exerciser Cully, the trick is working out on the way home from work, which is spaced far enough from bedtime not to impact her sleep. “If I went home first, I probably wouldn’t exercise,” she admits. “But then I have my whole evening to wind down.”

No matter when you prefer to exercise, what’s most important, according to Arciero, is including a multi-modal approach. For his study, Arciero developed a program that does just that, called RISE—resistance training, sprint interval training, stretching, and endurance. “We found that when doing each type of exercise once a week, compliance was higher and so was the benefit,” he explains. 

More on workouts and exercise:



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