The end isn't nigh, it's already here

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The BBC has recently launched a show on its maybe-soon-to-be digital channel BBC Three.

The premise of the show, titled 'I survived a Zombie apocalypse', is that the launch of the superfast 5G network has caused a human mutation, effectively rendering everyone with a smartphone a useless, yet violent, zombie.

Unfortunately, this isn't too far from the current state of affairs today. We are already plagued by selfie sticks and the internet is riddled with videos of people walking into things because they are too busy using their smartphone. And cats. 

We may not have to wait for 5G for the doomsday to arrive after all. 

Will astrology solve the NHS crisis?

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Well, will it?

In an interview with the Astrological Journal, Conservative MP David Tredinnick has made the bizarre claim that astrology could solve the NHS crisis.

"I do believe that astrology and complementary medicine would help take the huge pressure off doctors," said Tredinnick.

"I do foresee that one day astrology will have a role to play in healthcare."

Tredinnick, who a few years ago paid back over £700 of taxpayers' money that he had used to buy astrology software on parliamentary expenses, and also attempted to claim over £100 for a course on 'intimate relationships' also had harsh words for his critics.

"They are also ignorant, because they never study the subject and just say that it is all to do with what appears in the newspapers, which it is not, and they are deeply prejudiced, and racially prejudiced, which is troubling."

What does this mean? Well, apart from the worrying fact that David Tredinnick has been sitting on the Science and Technology Select Committee since 2013 for reasons passing all understanding, it also means that the NHS is a Cancer.

Here is today's horoscope for Cancer:

"You're coming out of your shell today -- if you know what's good for you, that is! Someone close needs you to step up and take over from them, and while it may seem minor, it's actually a big deal."

Oh, and Downtime is a huge racist.

No printers, exploding sockets, and a missing ' ' key

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A recent office move has left the Computer Weekly team's lack of practical technical knowledge tragically exposed.

Not only are we apparently incapa le of networking a printer properly, we have also overloaded the production team's sockets and  lown several fuses in the process.

To cap it all, the ' ' key on the key oard of this loaner computer is malfunctioning.

I wouldn't mind,  ut I've  een trying to write a story a out  telecoms company  T all morning and it's  ecoming a pro lem.

Colossus gets the ultimate accolade - its face (sort of) on a stamp

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Britain's contribution to computer history has received its ultimate accolade - Colossus, the world's first electronic computer, designed at Bletchley Park to help break secret German codes in World War 2, is to be featured in the latest set of Royal Mail stamps.

Thumbnail image for Colossus Stamp.jpg

Royal Mail has, presumably, chosen to ignore the irony of the fact that Colossus set in motion years of technological innovation that led to the creation of email, which has in turn threatened the very existence of the snail mail postal service.

Or perhaps the timing of the launch is instead a tribute to the key to Royal Mail's recent resurgence - the overwhelming success of online shopping in the UK which means demand for parcel post is going through the roof.

Although, as the stamp design above demonstrates, perhaps Royal Mail is having the last laugh after all, with its incredibly bland image of colourful paper tape code despite the many images of the rebuilt Colossus now housed at the National Museum of Computing. So, to that end, and exploiting the full and extensive Microsoft Paint talents at Downtime, here's our attempt to show how it might have been done better. Place your orders with Downtime through our usual channels:

Colossus Stamp2.jpg







Self destruction service

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If there is anything worse than waiting in the queue at the Post Office, it is using its new self service machine. First there are three staff - who would normally be behind the counter - keying in PIN numbers, because the Post Office doesn't trust you to buy a stamp on self service. Then there is the question of whether your package contains any of the following:

  • Biological Weapons of mass destruction
  • Chemical Weapons of mass destruction
  • Nuclear Fission Weapons of mass destruction
  • Deodorant Weapons of mass destruction
  • Shampoo Weapons of mass destruction
  • eBay sales Weapons of mass destruction
  • eBay returns Weapons of mass destruction
  • The thing I accidentally bough last night when I couldn't get to sleep Weapons of mass destruction
The list goes on and on... and then you say "Yup, I don't think I am trying to send any of those." Or was I supposed to click on "No?"









Why I turned off voice recognition on my Samsung Smart TV, and it's not why you think

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I'm going to tell you a true story about voice recognition, and how far we still have to go before it really works properly.

LG_smart_TV.jpgIf you own a Samsung Smart TV and have enabled its voice recognition feature, you may want to consider switching it off, because someone has finally read the privacy policy that you just ticked without looking at, and has found that it allows your television to record and transmit your voice to third party services that provide the voice recognition features on Smart TVs.

In the Ts&Cs, Samsung says:

"Please be aware that if your spoken words include personal or other sensitive information, that information will be among the data captured and transmitted to a third party through your use of Voice Recognition."

This brings up all sorts of concerns about data protection and privacy, and inevitably my thoughts are drawn to dystopian futures set down in books like 1984 or Brave New World.

Are our devices spying on us? Well, yes, very probably they are.

But I actually turned off voice recognition on my Smart TV some time ago, and it wasn't because I thought my TV was spying on me.

That story in full

669px-Jean-Luc_Picard_2.jpgSo, one evening I flopped down in front of the TV with a beer and after zapping through the channels, settled on on old episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. It had been on for about five minutes.

I forget what, exactly was happening on the show, but what happened next in my living room was a little too close to the technological singularity for my taste.

If you own a Samsung Smart TV, you might know how its voice recognition feature is activated. You simply say, loudly and clearly "hello, TV" or words to that effect. Then a little menu pops up to ask you what you want to do next: you can get it to change the channel, or go to the Smart Hub or app store, it's all still pretty simple stuff.

So there I was, watching Star Trek, and, let's be clear, I had said absolutely nothing to my TV, when Captain Picard swept onto the bridge and intoned the words "Hello, computer!"

And up popped the voice menu. What had happened was that, because I use external speakers and not the in-built Samsung ones, the TV's microphone had picked up sound that it shouldn't have picked up.

But yes, my TV was literally being controlled by Sir Patrick Stewart. And technically I suppose, given this was a rerun of a show that ended 21 years ago, it was being controlled by Sir Patrick Stewart the Time Traveler.

I mean, I was honoured, obviously. Who wouldn't be? (Love you, Pat!)

But if the truth be told, I was also a little scared. If it responded to Captain Picard, might it respond to Data as well? Just to be on the safe side, I would probably have to stop watching Buffy too, in case Giles said anything authoritative sounding. And of course, anything with Sir Ian McKellen in was right out.... Imagine if I'd been watching an X-Men Blu-Ray? My TV would have exploded during their scenes.

So I deactivated the voice recognition features straight away, and ever since then my life has been less fraught and my personal data secure. Yeah, I'll stick with the remote control thanks, Samsung.

Of course, the only thing that now has me slightly worried following the revelation of the security hole, is that Samsung may have recorded me opening a hailing channel to the Romulan High Command.

Which I think might be a breach of several Starfleet protocols.

Security quote of the week

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Here at Downtime, we seem to get inundated by people who give their two bit's worth whenever there there is something security related. Here's this week's Top Five:

1. Lancope CTO, TK Keanini, on Anthem 
Changing your DNA is not an option - if only gingers were in

2. Tom Neaves, managing consultant at Trustwave
C-level executives must take a proactive approach to understanding the risks facing their businesses - or you'll end up like Alan Sugar

3. Dr. Martyn Jeffries, Head of Automotive Solutions at SQS on BMW hack
Automotive manufacturers need to build increasingly sophisticated 'computers on wheels' - or perhaps buy lighter laptops

4. Richard Moulds, VP Strategy, Thales e-Security
The Bitcoin community can sometimes look like the Wild West of payments - Think you used enough dynamite there, Butch

5. Francois Daumard, Vice President Global Channel Sales, AVG Technologies, on an AVG award
Our vision is to make the lives of MSPs and their business customers as easy as possible - maybe that's why they should do shake 'n vac

Spin me do

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"As the leading manufacturer in the networking of driver, vehicle and the surrounding environment, the BMW Group is increasing the security of data transmission in its vehicles."
This is what the car maker told its customers about a fix for its ConnectDrive app, that allowed car thieves to unlock cars in a matter of seconds.

Clearly there's a few lessons for anyone in IT the next time they make a boo boo with the mission-critical server.

And it doesn't stop there... the company went on to say how well it had issued the fix: "The BMW Group has responded promptly and increased the security of BMW Group ConnectedDrive, because no cases have come to light yet in which data has been called up actively by unauthorised persons from outside or an attempt of this kind is made in the first place."

"OK boss, as the best IT admin here I've taken the liberty to release a patch. I just want you to know, I've responded promptly and increased the security of the server, because no cases have come to light yet in which data has been called up actively by unauthorised persons from outside or an attempt of this kind is made in the first place."

Quick! Call 911, Facebook is offline!

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This week the two social networking giants Facebook and Instagram went offline. Facebook is blaming an internal fault caused by engineers, while others are blaming a DDos attack. Whatever the cause, the fact is they were offline for less than an hour.

But it seems those 60 precious minutes of life without Facebook caused an emergency to a few dim-witted souls, as a US 911 dispatcher received five emergency calls. That's right, FIVE!

The emergency services wrote to a Californian news blog to tell citizens not to call 911 when a website isn't working.

"We have nothing to do with Facebook and when Facebook isn't working, it's not an emergency. Our lines our dedicated to handle life and death calls, and even though Facebook is important to a lot of people, it's not a matter of life and death when it stops working. One caller even called back to tell me I was being rude because I told her it wasn't a life threatening emergency."

Now, we're all about technology at Computer Weekly, but on the news desk we actually thought a social media break was a nice little breather in an online world we all struggle to live in.

Think of what you could achieve in an hour without Facebook? I personally found time to finish off a feature I'd been struggling to concentrate on. Maybe you could go for a four mile run? Put on a load of washing? Take a full lunch break? Prepare for next week's big meeting? Or even watch an episode of your favourite TV show without updating all of your "friends"? How liberating. 

Mobile phones a waste of time

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While many people are obsessed with their mobile phones and never put them down for a minute, research shows that for many others they are just a waste of time.

In fact, the average Brit will spend more than three weeks of their life looking for lost mobile phones, according to a study by moneysaving site PromotionalCodes.org.uk.

Researchers found that the average time spent searching for mobile phones is 9.5 minutes a week, which works out at more than eight hours a year.

Even if the average life expectancy is reduced by 18 to reflect the time wasted by adults, it still works out at very nearly three weeks. 

While women in UK tend to live longer than men, the research found that men spend more of their shorter lives hunting for mobile phones, wasting almost a month on average. 






Data thieves face the music

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We found out this week that the younger generation are pretty lazy when it comes to protecting their payment data, with 20% of 16 to 24-year-olds having shared their PIN with a third party.

With lazy consumers such as this, you wouldn't think it would be too hard to take them for all they have.

In a half-hearted attempt at stealing customer's PINs and account numbers, a group of thieves as lackadaisical as their targets used duct tape to attach a poorly disguised iPod nano device to take pictures of PINs while a fake front recorded card data.

As the following tweet from Greater Manchester Police suggests, they didn't get away with it:


No patch for stupidity

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Proving the computer security lament that there is no patch for human stupidity, three UK students have been stung in a Skype scam.

They admitted to North Yorkshire Police that they accepted a friend request on Facebook from a total stranger who claimed to be Cathy Wong, according to Toms Guide

Seeing nothing "wong" in connecting online with someone you have never met is one thing, but agreeing to perform sexual on webcam via Skype takes it to another level of stupidity.

According to North Yorkshire Police, Wong secretly recorded these acts and later used the clips to blackmail the men. Now there's a surprise.

Wong first claimed her grandmother was ill and asked each man for £3,000  but threatened to post the videos to YouTube when they failed to come up with the money.

Police say gangs may be involved in the scam, which may have worldwide reach. In a general warning, North Yorkshire police urged users of social networking sites to be "wary of what they are getting into." 

Big wee data

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527953363-urinal-DenBoma-istock-Thinkstock.jpgHammersmith Hospital has just begun a molecular analysis programme, which will take a close look at what makes up urine. Apparently the machine doing the analysis produces as much data per day as the Large Hadron Collider. Jim in QA has volunteered to provide a sample. Sadly for Jim, with the whole of Downtime watching, getting enough data was harder than the search for the Higgs Boson particle at Cern. What a drip.

The get-fit solution for tech obsessives

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Researchers in Germany claim to have found a way to generate electrical power from walking. Coming in the same week as news that a lack of exercise is a bigger threat to public health than obesity, the crack German boffins might just have extended the lives of millions of obsessive smartphone and gaming users.

The researchers have developed two devices that fit into a shoe, according to the BBC. One, called a "shock harvester" generates power from the shoe striking the ground; whereas the "swing harvester" does so from the swinging of your feet.

For smartphone users forever moaning about the lack of battery life, this could be a solution to extend both their battery and their own life. For fitness fanatics the breakthrough promises a life of never having to charge your phone again, instead using your daily run to boost battery for the day - although you may need a new way to strap your phone, tablet, laptop and every other device to your body while you run.

Of course, committed tech obsessives rooted to the couch may also come to the conclusion that all they need is to sit on a big cushion so their feet don't touch the floor, and swing their feet up and down while surfing to get the same effect. But every health revolution has to start somewhere.

UKIP knocked off internet in update screw-up

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Panic on the streets of Clacton, panic on the streets of Rochester, after the official website of the UK Independence Party (UKIP) dropped off the internet this morning, leaving the party's supporters bereft of policies and detractors bereft of ammo.

At first it was thought that someone at party HQ had forgotten to renew the website's registration, but a search of the Who.Is registry appears to show that while the website is (at the time of writing) definitely down, the registration has not expired and won't until next year. Mark that date in your diary, Nigel.

It seems that an update made just before 10 a.m. on January 6th has somehow knocked the Kippers offline.

Downtime presumes a nameless individual has spilled real ale on the server.






Goodbye Clip Art, goodbye memories of my youth

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First it was MSN Messenger, now it's Clip Art.

Clearly the powers-that-be at Microsoft have no soul. And no memory of what it was like to be a teenager in the noughties. If they did, they wouldn't keep destroying all the memories that we desperately try to cling onto while hurtling through this fast-technology world of social media, blue ticks on WhatsApp and what seems like a billion songs on a tiny little iPod.

Sometimes you just want to say 'stop the world I want to get off'.

Microsoft announced this week that it will be discontinuing its image library - Clip Art. That fine tool which was used to create cool party invitations and your mum's birthday card, as well as "creatively" sprucing up a piece of homework. Perhaps I'm being a bit melodramatic, because Clip Art actually does still exist, but instead of one dimensional brightly coloured cartoons, it is now powered by Bing which offers images from the internet which have a Creative Commons license.

But it is what this change represents. We've only just got over the loss of MSN Messenger which was killed off almost exactly a year ago.

Wasn't it a simpler time when instead of asking Siri, you just asked the Microsoft Clippy?

Mum's (not) the word

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Organisers of Parklife festival have been fined £70,000 by the Information Commissioner's Office after sending festival goers promotional text messages claiming to be from their mothers.

The short-sited marketing attempt left a number of recipients distressed, especially those whose mothers are no longer with us.

In further bad taste, the festival made jokes about the campaign on Twitter until eventually apologising.

The offending text message read:

"Some of the Parklife after parties have already sold. If your going, make sure your home for breakfast!."

We'd cry too if our mums' grammar was this bad. 

Go away, Black Friday, nobody likes you!

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It's fair to say Downtime is a fan of the fine American tradition of Thanksgiving. It's not so much the sentiment behind it (why hello mass genocide of native cultures), more the excuse to binge on massive amounts of food. It's sort of like a pre-Christmas warm-up.

I myself will be spending Saturday evening with some expat friends in London, stuffing myself stupid with cornbread and having the Georgia Tech - Bulldogs game explained to me in detail (give me the Six Nations any day).

I'd be happy for more Brits to take it up. Seriously, guys. Cornbread. Ain't nothing wrong with that, as Chris Rock said.

But it's not that tradition they're importing, is it? No. It's what comes after it. Black Friday.

In the US, because Thanksgiving always falls on the last Thursday of November, anybody who has a few days holiday left takes Friday off as well, and with Christmas just a month away the Friday after Thanksgiving is the biggest shopping day of the year in the US.

Have you ever been to a mall there and wondered why there was so much more parking than needed? On Black Friday, those parking lots get full. And things have a tendency to get out of hand.

Indeed, Black Friday is named Black Friday because it is the day when most shops' accounts finally tip over into the black.

But recently I've noticed that Black Friday seems to have hopped a flight to Heathrow. Yes, this is one mission that's creeping, and I don't like it one bit. Argos, John Lewis, they're all at it now (shame on you, John Lewis!). The Guardian has even run an item on the best deals.

With a good amount of spending on Black Friday now online as well, there's lots to shout about when it comes to security, network use, load balancing and the like.

Indeed this whole week has seen a stream of PR emails dropping into my inbox trying to interest me in Client A's deep and important thoughts on Black Friday, or Client B's, or, well, basically all the clients. No tech client, apparently, has a story that is too completely unrelated to Black Friday in any way to try to spin some coverage out of it.

Look, I'm sorry, everyone, but it's just that I literally do not care at all about people fighting over flatscreen TVs in a Wal-Mart parking lot!

And I really literally do not care about lame press releases trying to pin a story on something that is not, and really should not, be a thing in Britain. It's intensely annoying, and I would really like the tech industry to stop pushing it on us.

I suppose it's a small crumb of comfort that our esteemed colleagues across the sea in Boston no doubt get a lot of press releases trying to interest them in firework sales figures round about the fifth of November. Yes, I am absolutely certain that this is a thing that really winds up the Americans.

Please, please, please, make it stop.

Aha! Partridge was right. Norwich is cool.

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A bus company has chosen is putting Norwich on the IT map through a trial to send bus users adverts from local retailers.

FirstGroup has put low energy Bluetooth beacons on buses in Norwich which sends hot news of discounts and offers as they travel through the city.

The app will learn and tailor what future notifications to send, as the user interacts with them. So expect plenty of Rover showroom offers for  Bang & Olufsen stereo systems.

Aha!

How else could you get people off a bus that is passing through Norwich.

Metro bank goes to extremes in customer satisfaction battle

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Downtime believes Metro Bank has crossed a line in the battle to improve customer satisfaction.

Banks are throwing online apps customers as well as introducing iPad wielding staff into branches to make life easier for customers. But Metro Bank has taken this to a new level by offering a customer accommodation in a branch.

With rents in London going through the roof and house prices leaving the earth's atmosphere the bank has decided to give free accommodation. Unfortunately this is against their will.

A customer in Uxbridge enjoyed 3 hours rent free when a door locking and opening system failed. Metro Bank branches open after hours and customers use their cards to get in and out.

So although the new seven day switching system introduced by the Banking Commission makes it easier to get out of a current account with a particular bank standards are slipping when it comes to getting out of banks.

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