Authorities restrict innovation in captive market

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They say whatever happens in the US in technology terms hits the UK soon after. Delivery companies in the UK should therefore take note of what is happening in the US.

The business opportunities related to the use of drones to make deliveries are becoming clearer.

Two innovators in the US have created a business line in supplying customers that are unable to move around much and are  in hard to reach places. Great for the clients and the even better news for the delivery companies is that it is a captive market.

The slight hurdle that they have to overcome is a legal one. The first attempt to deliver porn and drugs to clients in a Maryland prison, using a Yuneec Typhone drone, was sabotaged by the police.

To rub salt into the wounds the authorities posted bail for one of the chaps at $250,000, rather than offering start-up funding.

One IT innovation analyst claimed authorities have a vested interest in  the current deliver monopoly. "You need to ask yourself 'who are vthey really trying to protect.'"

Oracle licence spells four letter acronym

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Oracle has introduced a new perpetual user licence agreement - or Pula for short. How the It industry loves acronyms. It's also a four letter word in Romania...something that Wikipedia calls a derogatory term used to describe male genitalia. One wonders how the Oracle sales rep in Romania goes about selling Pula.

How clean is your smartphone?

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For reasons unknown, furniture retailer Bright House has commissioned some boffins to investigate the cleanliness of a range of living room items, including laptops, smartphones and tablets.

Their highly-scientific "findings" suggest some smartphones house nearly 70 times more germs than your average toilet, while iPhones tend to be around 50% filthier than their Android counterparts. 

Unfortunately, the researchers have neglected to question the Apple fanboy brigade about what it is they do with their devices that cause them to be so dirty. Or perhaps they just really didn't want to know the answer.  

Tablets were also singled out for harbouring dangerous levels of "potentially harmful bacteria" on the basis that these devices are often used by children. 

Tablets are also widely used within the business community, but only one of these user groups has a reputation for being a bunch of germ-riddled, virus spreaders. We'll leave you to determine which. 

Ofcom learns secret of time travel, uses it for really boring consultation

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Ofcom CEO Sharon White has discovered the secret of time travel, or so it would appear from a consultation document released on 13 August by the telecoms regulator.

The revelation that Ofcom has access to technology that baffles modern-day science was tucked away in a dense and lengthy preamble to new guidance on the minimum margin BT must maintain between its wholesale and retail broadband charges:

"On 19 March 2015, we published a statement setting out detailed requirements on the
minimum margin and guidance on how we would assess compliance with those obligations. That guidance anticipates that there might be material changes in circumstances which would warrant a departure from that guidance," said the statement. So far so Ofcom.

"In June 2016, BT announced changes to its BT Sport retail proposition. These changes are linked to BT beginning to broadcast UEFA football from August 2015."

Downtime reached out to BT's press office for comment on the implications of the regulator having access to a time machine, and was told that surely any time traveller worth their salt would go back to last month and put a lot of money on the Ashes.

This is clear evidence of exactly the lack of ambition that is holding back the UK communications sector!

Clearly if the time machine was in BT's hands and not Ofcom's, it could be used to go back in time, win big on the outcome of various sporting events, and scrape together enough money to roll out ultrafast FTTP broadband services to every home in Britain!

Computer Weekly says Ofcom should relinquish control of its time machine to BT's Adastral Park boffins immediately, for the greater good.

Ghost cars plague Uber app users, claim researchers

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In Downtime's experience, Uber users tend to be a smug bunch, who love boring on about how much cheaper their cab journeys home have become since downloading the taxi-booking app.

No longer do they have to deal with the indignity of having to run for the last train home or using the night bus like some kind of loser, because they there's always a cab somewhere waiting for them. Or so they think.

New research, funded by Microsoft Fuse Labs, claims when users log into the app, it's not uncommon for them to be told there are several or more Uber drivers in the vicinity even if there isn't.

The so-called "ghost cars" are used as a "visual effect" to assure users there are drivers out there looking for fares, explained Uber, rather than relied on to provide "accurate location" details.

"It would be better of you to think of this as a screen saver on a computer," they added. Well, that clears that up then, doesn't it?

Technology grabs the Rhino by its horns to save it from extinction

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A group of UK conservationists have begun using GPS tags, heart rate monitors and cameras on Rhinos to deter poachers.

The project is run by the not-for-profit group Protect which developed the Real-time Anti-Poaching Intelligence Device (RAPID) to try and protect the endangered species from being killed for their horns.

The device, which is being tested in South Africa, monitors the heart rate of the Rhino in real-time.

If the heart rate elevates or drops it will trigger an alarm allowing a conservationist to use a horn-implanted camera to see what is happening to the animal.

A GPS collar allows the creature to be tracked to allow rescue to be sent to the animal if the footage shows it is under attack.

The collar also acts as a warning to poachers, who will be aware that they can be identified should they harm a Rhino wearing one.

Dr Paul O'Donoghue, chief scientific advisor for Protect explains that the combination of these capabilities means that whenever a Rhino is in the process of being poached, a helicopter can be deployed to prevent a poacher from taking the valuable horn or getting away.

"You can't outrun a helicopter, the Protect RAPID renders poaching a pointless exercise." He says.

Currently a Rhino is killed in Africa every six hours, and the hope is that these devices will prevent the animal from extinction. 

Vaizey and Campbell in Twitter-Winners-mobile-security spat

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The prospects for light-hearted political point-scoring were high at this week's TechUK annual dinner in London, with Conservative digital economy minister Ed Vaizey and former Labour spin doctor Alastair Campbell booked as guest speakers for the black-tie bash.

First up was Vaizey, who suggested that Campbell was only there to plug his new book, called Winners. "Remember that as a supporter of Labour and Burnley football club, it's clearly a topic Alastair knows a lot about," he said.

Campbell took to the stage later to chide Vaizey over the fact that the digital minister has a meagre 27,600 Twitter followers to Campbell's 314,000.

Campbell then recounted his experience in government of the security services' paranoia about mobile phones, telling the assembled IT industry leaders how he had to give his phone to his security detail every time he went to another country on government business.

The Labour man then turned to Vaizey and said: "So Ed, given you're sitting next to an executive from the Ministry of Defence, I wonder what they think about the fact you've left your phone charging behind the stage!"

Campbell then pulled a phone from his pocket and said: "And here it is!"

He then proceeded to inform the audience that Ed had received five texts, all saying, "Where are you?"

"Don't worry Ed. I'll reply for you," said Campbell, as he started typing: "Dear Dave, f**k off..."

Campbell also went on to tell a story about the first text he ever received from Tony Blair. The former prime minister was famously shy of technology, and Campbell said Blair never owned a mobile phone until he left government.

"I can remember the very first text he sent me," said Campbell.

"All it said was: 'This'. A few minutes later I got another text from him, which said, 'is amazing'."

Then another text arrived, according to Campbell, that said: "You can actually send words." Before one final SMS saying: "On a phone".

This, from the prime minister that commissioned the notoriously disastrous £12bn NHS National Programme for IT...

Vaizey ended his evening on the receiving end of one last jokey dig from Jacqueline de Rojas, the new president of TechUK and recently lauded as the most influential woman in UK IT by Computer Weekly.

The minister congratulated de Rojas on her Computer Weekly accolade, and proceeded to praise her welcome speech, thanking "Jackie" on 15 occasions.

De Rojas responded on Twitter thanking Vaizey, with the hashtag #noonecallsmejackie. Ed, you've been told. 

Smartphones are making us dumb, finds Kaspersky

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Are you a smartphone user that's ever struggled to recall the mobile phone numbers of your significant others? Then you, dear reader, could be a digital amnesiac. 

According to Kaspersky Lab, it's a condition all too many of us are blighted by these days, as we continually opt to commit these details to our phone's memory, rather than our own.

As a result, many of us now struggle to recall our workplace phone numbers or our children's contact details (what a shame), the security company's poll of 6,000 people over the age of 16 found.

But, if you can store them on a smartphone most people carry around with them all day, why do we need to know them by heart? 

Just think, the precious brain space we can conserve by not memorising these 11-digit numbers can be better spent on more important, non-trivial tasks, like learning all the words to... erm... that song... you know the one... by whatshername? We'll consult Google and get back to you. 

Hot sauce QR code too hot for some

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Heinz went red in the face recently as one of its consumers pointed out a QR code on the back of its Tomato Ketchup bottles pointed towards a porn site.

The brand had set up the interactive codes to allow customers to design their own label for the new Heinz Tomato Ketchup Hot, but where the QR code pointed turned out to be a little too hot for a customer in Germany who discovered the mistake.

The QR code was directing users to the saucy adult website because the Hot Sauce promotion had ended and the licence for the link had expired, leaving the condiments firm in a pickle.

The firm has said it is taking steps to make sure this does not happen again in the future. 

Hello computer. Wanna talk dirty?

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The Turing Test is a famous challenge to computer scientists to create an artificial intelligence machine that is so convincing people believe they are talking to a real human being.

Meanwhile, it is a truism in technology, that if anyone can make money out of new tech innovations, it's the porn industry. You can probably already see where this is going, can't you...

Welcome to Erotic Chatbots, the latest digital startup to crowdsource funding online. According to its press release, the new company plans to launch apps and interactive services "that conduct entertaining, interesting, erotically charged conversations with virtual lovers or friends".

According to company president David Levy, anyone who finds it too tame to chat to the company's  "flirty" style of chatbot can amuse themselves with their "adult" chatbots, "which can also help users to improve their own talk-dirty skills."

It goes on: "An intelligent virtual lover which understands and wants to please you, is perhaps an appealing proposition to a lot of people."

A lot of a certain type of people, no doubt.

Erotic Chatbots seems to hope it can appeal to the frustrated fantasies of anybody who, well, anybody who cannot or couldn't be bothered to actually find an intelligent human partner. Or even a not-so intelligent human partner. Or just a human.

"Future plans for the company's technology include the development of a personality, emotion and mood software module, which will allow users to choose and modify their partner's or lover's personality as they wish," it says.

So, not at all creepy, then. Now, Downtime knows that none of its readers would be indulging in such a thing anyway, but in case you're doing so purely in the name of scientific research in future, be warned. That perfect "lover" might not be quite the man or woman you believe. Besides, just think of the bugs you might find.

Virgin Money wants to remove bollocks from finance industry

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Virgin Money is not in the business of castration but is determined to use new technology to rid the finance sector of bollocks.

The challenger bank claims new technology that allows bank cards to have personal details on the back and pictures of the Sex Pistols on the front will remove the industry's bollocks. Tenuous.

sex pistols virgin.JPGYes 38 years after the Sex Pistols first signed for Virgin Records, Richard Branson is using the band's notoriety with new cards emblazoned with the artwork from the Pistols' 1977 album 'Never Mind the Bollocks' and the cover art of the punk rockers' seminal single 'Anarchy in the UK'.

Virgin Money chief Jayne-Anne Ghadia, said: "We don't want Anarchy in banking - but we do want change. And we want to get rid of the bollocks in banking and to be simple, open, transparent and fair."

Downtime does not see the connection.

Perhaps the FCA could take a leaf out of the company's book and tell bankers: "If you step out of line again we will put your bollocks on sticks and parade them on London Bridge." If that doesn't stop misbehaviour nothing will.

At last! Asda's mad selfie stick barbecue lets you Instagram your salmonella outbreak!

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News unfortunately reaches us, as it tends to do, that someone has come up with the perfect hi-tech barbecue.

For reasons passing all understanding, supermarket chain Asda polled their customers on what they would like to see on their dream barbecue.

It then commissioned a designer, Oliver Boyd, to turn the results into reality.

Asda barbecue.jpgThe resulting chrome-plated, er, well, let's be charitable and call it an installation artwork, includes a bottle opener and holder, flashing neon lights, spotlights and headlights, an iPad dock, and speakers.

Sorry. Which maniac Asda customers said they wanted headlights and an exhaust pipe on a barbecue? Were they planning to take it for a spin?

And of course, no publicity stunt would be complete without the obligatory selfie stick. Yes, it has one of those as well. We do hope Oliver was able to charge it back on expenses.

It took Oliver seven days to customise the barbecue, but the Saffron Walden native has apparently pronounced himself satisfied with the result and even compared it to something out of 'Fast and Furious', a popular movie franchise in which Vin Diesel crashes lots of cars.

Asda's outdoor buying manager Dave Bartle, reflected on his own PR car crash.

"Our aim was to create something that incorporates all the fun elements our customers need to kick that first outdoor gathering of the summer off with a bang," said Dave.

Well done, Dave. Top bants.

Bargain Hunt US: Dumped Apple I computer sells for £130,000

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A hunt has been launched for an elderly lady in America who unwittingly dumped a rare Apple I computer, worth more than £130,000, at a recycling centre.

The lady in question donated the computer, which sports a whopping 4k memory, along with a load of other computing components that belonged to her late husband at Clean Bay Recycling Centre in San Francisco.

Only 200 Apple I devices were ever made, and just 63 (how very precise) are thought to still exist today, but the donator was apparently unaware of its value. Or maybe she was, and was just fed up with it taking up space in her spare room.

That's totally understandable, and the reason why Downtime recently donated its Fabergé egg and Ming vase collection to the local Oxfam shop, because they were just cluttering up the place.

Luckily, the recycling centre's staff clearly have an eye for these kinds of things (or at least an eBay account) and sold it to a private collector for £131,000.
They've now launched a nationwide search for the lady, who is said to be in her 60s or 70s, so they can pass on the takings from the sale to her. Here's hoping that they find her.

Instagram yourself a dream job? No chance

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A Swedish start-up has set out to help recruiters streamline the way they source potential new recruits by replacing paper-based CVs and tiresome application forms with video pitches.

To apply for work through SelfieJobs (give us strength) all you have to do is write a short summary of your job history, upload your favourite Instagram picture, along with a short video detailing your skills and what you could bring to the organisation, and away you go. 

Apparently the service already has 10,000 users, which is handy because, if Downtime was in the position to hire someone (a joke writer, perhaps), that's 10,000 we'd rule out of the running for it straightaway.

What it also fails to take into account is that, although it's supposed to free users from the mundanity of compiling CVs and answering inane application form questions, most of them will waste that saved time trying to find an Instagram filter that subtly conveys how right they are for the job.

Chinese look at the most online porn at work, yet economic growth outstrips rest of world

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Scientists are attempting to find a link between workers viewing porn and productivity increases.

This is after research from security firm Blue Coat Systems found workers in China, the world's fastest growing economy, are more likely to look at porn while using work computer devices.

About 20% of Chinese workers visit sites with adult content while working. China's economy grew 7.2% in the fourth quarter of 2014. In contrast in Britain, where 10% of people look at porn at work economic growth was only 0.5%.

Do the maths.

Surprisingly only 5% of French workers participate in a bit of porn at work. But given the average French film I imagine porn is conservative compared to what goes on in stock rooms across France.

Google Maps hit by another user edit gaffe

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Google has revoked the right for users to edit and update the content of its Maps after some ne'er do wells decided to deface them with racial slurs and offensive images.

Readers, believe us when we say, we're just as surprised as you that giving people free rein to do whatever they like with a publicly accessible internet service has backfired so spectacularly. And, yes, that was Downtime's attempt at sarcasm.

Up until very recently, anyone who used Google Maps to locate the Pakistani city of Rawlpindi would have been presented with a picture of an Android robot urinating on a crudely drawn depiction of the Apple logo.

More alarmingly, perhaps, was the other revelation this week that typing a well-known, but thankfully not widely-used, racist term into the software would return a listing for the US President's home.

Google has since assured users the latter search result is in the process of being removed. But the most shocking thing about this whole sorry tale is that the search giant - who prides itself on being able to pre-empt what users might want to search for with its auto fill tools - never saw this coming.

Election 2015 - the day dogs ruled the internet

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Everyone knows the internet was invented for cats. You can't go anywhere online without the furry critters popping up in everything you do, from social media to professional emails.

But on the day of the 2015 UK election, the blasé attitude of cats saw man's best friend, the dog, take over the internet as they headed to polling stations across the country.

On Twitter, #DogsAtPollingStations was trending all day, as eager pups followed their electorates to polling stations and waited proudly as the votes were cast.

The cats tried to fight back later with the hashtag #CatsNotAtPollingStations, but it was too late. The dogs claimed their 15 minutes of fame.

It's not like we all had more important things to do, like decide the fate of the country. 

No Emoji for irony

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With Apple's most recent iOS 8.3 release came hundreds of new emoticons for the emoji keyboard, including new multiracial characters and more diverse relationship couplings.

This is something many users have been asking after for a while now, as the original character set was not very representative of its diverse number users all over the world.

But if you send one of these new emojis to a friend who has not yet updated to the new iOS all they're going to see is the original emoticon with an alien emoji thrown in next to it for good measure, just to make sure you know the picture their using is meant to stand out and be different. 

That's one way to alienate people... 

Why Slough is where it's at for cloud

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There's no getting away from the fact that the quaint Berkshire town of Slough has an image problem, with the general perception being that it's an ugly place with a funny smell.

That's not us being mean, by the way. Slough was named the UK's third ugliest town in a 2013 poll, and "why does Slough smell" is among one of the most highly searched for phrases about the town, according to Google.

But, times they are a changing, with the local council's on-going work to re-develop the town centre continuing apace, while the roll call of tech firms that call the town home continues to grow.

One such firm is datacentre operator Equinix who has just opened its third facility in Slough, and has decided it's high time people stopped being so mean about the place.

To emphasise this point, the firm's UK MD Russell Poole recently made an abortive attempt to re-jig John Betjeman's scathing poem about the town (which famously starts "Come friendly bombs and fall on Slough! It's isn't fit for humans now,") by adding in references to cloud computing.

"Come friendly servers and hosters in slough, it's entirely fit for the cloud now," he said, before stopping to acknowledge that re-writing the works of a Poet Laureate is actually quite taxing.  Who'd have thought? 

Broken PC loses fight for life after shooting in US back alley

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The name Lucas Hinch may not be immediately familiar to you, but we sense he may go on to become a folk hero in computing circles, in light of his dramatic approach to PC tech support.

Having grown frustrated at the inability of his defective computer to respond to the CTRL+ALT+DELETE PC reboot command, Hinch dragged the offending device into a back alley and shot it eight times.

The drastic action was promoted by "several months" of "fighting with his computer," a police spokesperson gravely told The Colorado Springs Gazette, resulting in him wreaking "the kind of revenge most of us only dream about."

The PC, the article notes, is not expected to recover. 

Hinch is now waiting to hear what legal action he will face over the fatal assault, but we can't help thinking any member of the US judicial system who's wasted precious moments of their life waiting for a non-responsive PC to come back from the dead will have his back.

If not, Computer Weekly would fully support any campaign to free the pistol-whipping PC user, should he need it. 

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