Google helps taxman indirectly

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Watch out...the HMRC is using big data analytics to catch corporate tax avoiders. The taxman is taking advantage of open source Hadoop technology to scour tax returns for compliance. So it is rather poetic that the taxman is using Hadoop, an open source implementation of Google's proprietary MapReduce functions, to catch companies that avoid paying UK tax.

Say, Google, how come you only paid £11.6 million tax in 2012 on UK earnings of  £3.4bn? Not to worry, I'm sure that thanks to your clever analytics technology HMRC's Hadoop engine will help spot any possible filing errors in your 2013 tax return.

Heartbleed perpetrators to receive babysitting sentences

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The perpetrators of the Heartbleed bug hack on UK parenting website Mumsnet are to be punished in the most appropriate manner if they are ever apprehended.

Mumsnet members will receive a calendar of the next 10 years and will be asked to fill in days they need a babysitter. A clever matching engine will introduce them to a local hacker who will be forced to babysit for them. After the relevant CRB checks are done obviously.

For the most prolific offenders isolation entertaining ill children and changing real nappies will be enforced.

But of course they could just be forced to become mentors for children. But wait a minute hackers start young these days. Have they thought this through?

Vein technology to pay for your coffee

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We haven't even managed to get mobile payments up and running successfully and the furthest we've really got with fingerprint technology is being able to unlock our expensive iPhone 5s, but an adventurous student at Lund University in Sweden has decided to leap ahead of the trends by demonstrating how it is possible to pay with your hand. Yes, that's right, hand.

This vein scanning technology has been implemented across 15 stores and restaurants around the Lund University campus that use the terminals, with 1,600 active users.

Security is a major advantage of the technique, said Fredrik Leifland, the student behind the biometric technology: "Every individual's vein pattern is completely unique, so there really is no way of committing fraud with this system. You always need your hand scanned for a payment to go through", he clarifies.

"We had to connect all the players ourselves, which was quite complex: the vein scanning terminals, the banks, the stores and the customers. The next step was finding ways of packaging it into a solution that was user friendly."

So if a student from Sweden can get all the players like shops, banks and shops on board, then what is holding up MNOs, banks and stores from implementing NFC banking technology more widely across mobile devices?

Perhaps we will skip right past the 'mobile wallet' and onto the 'body purse'?

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No emails after 18h00, we're French

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If a 35-hour work week and six weeks of paid vacation is not enough reason to move to France, the no email after 18h00 rule is pretty compelling all on its own.

A deal signed by tech industry employers and unions in France means many companies are now forbidden by law to contact employees electronically after six at night.

The new rule has gone down well with workers, but big tech companies are not happy to give up their ability to email workers at all hours.

Others feel France already has too much bureaucracy, but Downtime feels that this latest addition is going to be easy to live with and would be quite welcome elsewhere in Europe.

'On your bike Workday' says Oracle.

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Oracle appears to be a little riled by the sudden appearance of cloud computing upstart, Workday in London this week.

Workday may not be making any money yet, and may not yet have quite the customer base of Oracle or SAP, but its cloud technology is causing ripples.

That maybe why visitors to Workday's first European conference in London this week, found themselves having to walk past  strategically positioned Oracle tricycles on Westminster Bridge.


There were at least a dozen of them tethered to railings opposite the Park Plaza hotel, each with a sandwich board proclaiming that Oracle is number one in talent management.

That might  have come as a surprise to  Aneel Bhurisi, CEO and co-founder of Workday, who was busy telling IT and HR leaders at Workday Rising Europe that his company was in fact, number one in talent management.
By what can only be coincidence, SAP's HR technology division, bought up the entire advertising space on a web site for UK HR professionals for the duration of Workday's conference. Talk about lucky timing.

But the best prize for over-the-top promotion must go to Oracle. The company hired a posse of actors to pose as Star Wars characters to wow HR and IT directors during another London HR technology conference.

May the workforce be with, Luke.
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Get with the (Parliamentary) programming

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News reaches Downtime that Code Club‎, a volunteer network that runs after-school groups to teach programming to kids, dropped by Westminster this week to try to pass on some scripting skills to those bigger, rowdier kids in Parliament.

stephen timms MP at code club.jpg

MPs of all persuasions attended the event, cajoled by Shadow Minister for Employment Stephen "Swotty" Timms (pictured). This set us wondering what programming styles might suit the different political parties...

Conservatives would probably focus on cutting their code down to the bare minimum. That might make for efficient running, but eliminating 'unnecessary' services such as help functions could leave poor users in the lurch. 

Labour geeks, conversely, might attempt to cram in as many features as possible, with a friendly user interface. But running bloatware on an outdated system is a no-no and by promising too much for their program they might inadvertently cause it to grind to a halt. 

Liberal Democrats, meanwhile, would insert so many 'if...else' clauses and nested subroutines into their programs that no one could ever fathom what they were actually meant to be doing. 

Greens, of course, would be big on code re-use. And as for wannabe UKIP coders, in the unlikely event they ever got to grips with global variables - and logic - none of their programs would work because they'd insist on replacing all the dollar signs with pounds.

Soho hotdesking el cheapo

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A largish company in Soho has just moved offices and now has a hot desk policy. Only issue is that there aren't enough desks for everyone. The only people guaranteed to have a desk is those with Apple Macs. For the rest of the teams, it's a free for all. Now the only way to guarantee you sit within shouting distance of your colleagues or boss with the Mac is to get to work extra early, then spend the next 20 minutes plugging in network and video cables because some bright spark thought it would save money not to standardise laptops and docking stations. Oh well, at least the management peops have what they want. And if you really don't like the boss, you can always try getting in really late and not end up with a desk at all. "Hello boss, I'm, errrm, working from home again."

When Google Glass meets Ray Bans - the Hollywood remakes

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It had to happen. In the wake of Google's Glass internet-enabled spectacles getting rave reviews from tech geeks (not a great thing for fashion-wear) and noses turned up from fashion geeks (not a great thing for geek-wear), the web giant has teamed up with the company that makes Ray Ban and Oakley sunglasses to create "a new kind of eyewear".

It was inevitable that fashion designers would jump into the wearable technology trend to make products that normal human beings might actually choose to wear.

Glass users have variously reported getting headaches, funny looks, and even beaten up since taking to the streets, so Google will be hoping to bring a touch of Ray Ban and Oakley cool to its geekwear.

Imagine, if you will, the movie remakes this will allow Hollywood to inflict on us all.

Look - there's Goose and Maverick in the updated Top Gun, singing along to "You've lost that loving feeling" thanks to their Ray Ban Glass Editions karaoke app in a bar, then high-fiving with a yell of "I feel the need, the need to say, hello Glass".

Imagine how different Brat Pack classic The Breakfast Club will be when the Google Ray Bans the errant kids pass round give them all the answers to their homework and they get to leave detention early.

Or worse yet, here come Mr White, Mr Orange, Mr Blonde, Mr Pink, Mr Blue and Mr Brown, black-suited and walking menacingly down the street in the new Reservoir Dogs, bumping into street lamps because they're watching video on their Google Wayfarers instead.

But at least we might be able to sympathise when Mr Blonde tortures his victim by tearing his Google Glass off his face and telling him he looks like an idiot. Now there's a worthy justification for slicing the guy's ear off.

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Get happy - get promoted

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It's lonely at the top - or so they say. But that doesn't seem to be the case for IT leaders.

A survey by the Cabinet Office has revealed the most satisfied workers in the country. It seems that IT directors are the 18th happiest group, with a "satisfaction rating" of 7.705 out of 10.

They do lag behind school secretaries - just ahead in 17th - as well as therapists (16th), fitness instructors (15th) and electrical engineers (14th). But they are just above HR directors (19th) and finance directors (20th).

But a future of even greater happiness lies in store for the most exceptional IT leaders - if they get promoted to be chief executive, they will jump up to number two in the list, behind the happiest workers in the UK: clergy.

It's unclear whether praying that your IT systems will work counts as practice for moving up to the happiest job.

Moving down the list confirms that the higher up in IT you are, the happier (as well as better paid) you become. Other IT roles to feature in the list of 274 recognised jobs are:

  • Specialist IT managers - 47th
  • IT project and programme managers - 82nd
  • IT business analysts, architects and systems designers - 93rd
  • Programmer and software developers - 117th
  • IT operations technicians - 120th
  • Telecoms engineers - 140th
  • IT & telecoms professionals - 147th
  • IT user support technicians - 160th
  • Web design and development professionals - 188th
  • IT engineers - 243rd
Strive for happiness, IT folk.

Free IT clutter

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It's amazing the amount of crap we've collected in the Downtime office. Buffalo, the NAS lot, sent us several buffalo rubber stress toys, and we can't seem to get rid of them. Now Cisco, in its wisdom, has a bottle  of red caustic looking liquid dubbed Cisco Inferno. Tabasco maybe, or are they trying to poison us? I've given it to a fellow downtime contributor, who's willing to take the risk, and I'll report back on the outcome. So please, next time, no stress balls, definitely no chocolate (at least for the 40 days of Lent), no noxious liquids...just beer and bingo cards.

The internal security risks grow with Internet of Things

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The internet of things promises to change peoples' lives by connecting everything to the internet. But there are risks.

Downtime noted last week that lazy workers taking the day off under the guise of "getting the boiler fixed" could be revealed as a liar by the boiler itself, which will have enough computational power to send an email to the boss telling him it is in perfect working order.

Worryingly for the work-shy is the chip that is swallowed to monitor health. The old fashioned excuse of staying at home because "I am ill" will also be destined for the history books as Proteus Digital Health chips, due for launch this year, inform bosses via a Twitter message that in fact apart from the Vindaloo that is making life inside a little uncomfortable, the excuse maker is in full working order.

The last gasp for social networking?

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There's been a lot of hoohah this week about the growth of "anti-social" networking app Cloak - which examines location data from your contacts' various social networks and warns you if anyone you might want to avoid is nearby, so you can stealthily conceal yourself behind a pillar, tablet computer, newspaper with torn-out eyeholes or similar. 

Founder Chris Baker reckons social has passed its peak and anti-social is where it's at. So here at Downtime, we've been trying to come up with our own "killer" anti-social app that might make us similarly stinking rich. 

How about Dagger - which allows you to stab friends and colleagues in the back by anonymously revealing information to their contacts that might set back their social or career advancement? Or Croak - an app that examines your contacts' ages and any Fitbit data they've uploaded to social networks to estimate the odds of them pegging it any time soon? You could even surreptitiously seed a backdoor trojan plug-in that slurps NHS for added accuracy. 

Even better, what about an app that lets you whip out your smartphone whenever you're at a pub, restaurant, party (etc) with so-called "friends", so that instead of actually talking to people you can spend the whole time feigning genuine social interaction with disembodied acquaintences via the mindless pressing of 'thumbs-up', 'like' or 'star' buttons whenever they post details of what they're having for dinner, pictures of fancy-dressed pets or mawkish inspirational quotations. Oh, hang on...

Robot sibling rivalry

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An ARM-Powered robot will soon attempt to break the Guinness World Record for the fastest time solving a Rubik's cube.

The robot, which is named The CUBESTORMER 3, uses an ARM-powered Samsung Galaxy S4 in order to analyse the Rubik's cube and instruct on how next to turn the cube.

Unfortunately, the record is likely to spark a family feud as the previous record of 5.27 seconds is held by the robot's predecessor the CubeStormer II.

"We are very confident the robot will break the record," said Dominic Vergine, head of corporate responsibility at ARM, "The new robot can think three times faster than its older brother."

The record attempt will take place at the Big Bang Fair at the NEC in Birmingham on Saturday March 15.

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Boiler comes clean about skiving owner

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The Internet of Things introduces some interesting possibilities. Devices in the home could soon have enough computing power to be used in hacks. Imagine your fridge spying on you.

But perhaps the most worrying for some will be the ability of appliances such as a boiler, sending messages. Imagine emailing your boss to tell him you are working from home to get the boiler fixed, only for the boiler to email your boss telling him you are a lying skiver.

"I should know he ran himself a deep bath this morning and I am knackered. And after the winter I have had. I wish he would get me fixed."

Next generation shiny plastic thing

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Charity What About the Children is warning about the risks of giving young children smartphones, the BBC has reported.It's down to mother's ignoring their infants. Here in the busy Downtime office, there's always a risk giving our corespondents another smartphone to look at. Let me see...shiny box...shiny slab of plastic and metal with some whiz monkey glass and a couple of buttons you can't use without a finger pick. It's not exactly out of this galaxy is it? So why do the smartphone companies ignore me?

Free Wi-Fi isn't worth the risk...

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Troels Oerting, the head of Europol's cybercrime division told viewers of BBC's Click that they shouldn't use free Wi-Fi for sending secure data such as when they log into an online bank, to avoid being attacked by hackers. A hacking attack would be the least of your worries if you happened to live near a former colleague. He once threatened his neighbours with extreme violence after he found out they were surfing on his home WiFi. Be very afraid.

There's an app for crap

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A new app is being tested out in the New Orleans which attempts to cut out the nasty habit of people urinating and excreting in the street.

The AirPnP is based on AirBnB, which helps people rent property to tourists. It is an app where people can advertise their private toilets for use by the public. No longer will you have to buy a beer in a pub just to have a slash. A method which just delays the inevitable. You can go into a complete strangers house to do the deed, whatever it may be.

The landlords must add details such as cleanliness and toilet paper thickness, whereas strangely the users give no details of what they plan.

Obviously because there is a charge, unless the owner is a scatologist, I can't see people, well men at least, parting with their hard earned cash when there is a perfectly efficient low tech solution.

However there are lots of other uses for a toilet. Have the app makers really thought this through?

The app was designed to address a toilet shortage at the Mardi Gras festival in New Orleans. Apparently if you get caught urinating in the street it's a night in the Orleans Parish Prison. Whereas if you get caught shooting up in a strangers bathroom it just costs you $3.

New app to make cheating easier

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Social media has changed the world. Lovers today are in constant contact with smiley faces and messages going back and forward 24:7.

This is hard work for many. So one company has developed an App for that. Well for automating the sending of lovey dovey messages anyway.

The BroApp, from Australian developers Factorial Products is available in the Android Play Store, allows users to send a series of automated message to girlfriends. Despite the sexist marketing I am sure the App is interoperable for both sexes.

So if you are busy with the neighbours wife/husband, or even taking things into your own hands in private, you will still appear to your partner to be thinking about them at least. The company describes the app it as a way of maximising your relationship. But with who?

This smartphone will self-destruct in 5... 4... 3...

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Everyone is at panic stations since the revelations of Edward Snowden and the sneaky spying by governments on our communications.

But the industry that has been providing the data to the state are cunning chaps and have turned this into an opportunity to sell us the most private, secure, impenetrable devices known to man!

The latest firm to leap on the fear cycle is Boeing, which used this week's Mobile World Congress to launch its own super smartphone and followed advice from Hollywood movies to prove its safety.

The Boeing Black device encrypts all calls but also has a 'self-destruct' mode where any tampering with the case means all data is deleted and the handset becomes a useless block of plastic.

No doubt, government employees will be attracted to the smartphone, but we think there will be a market for it for the Hollywood stars too. No doubt Jude Law, Sienna Miller and Hugh Grant will be the first ones on the list. Somebody better let Lord Leveson know...   

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Church blocks porn in not so shocking move!

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Canterbury Cathedral. View from the north west...

Canterbury Cathedral. View from the north west circa 1890-1900 (retouched from a black & white photograph). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For better or worse, filthy content is only ever a click away in this digital society. But in a free, modern world, it is up to you what you click on and to check your internet history is clear before your partner goes to use the PC.

However, there is a growing trend of seeking out the explicit on mobile phones. Maybe you are on a train, at a bar, in a hotel room or bored during a church service...

Yes, it turns out more and more mobile users are passing the time in the house of God by checking out naughty websites on their smartphones.

But Canterbury Cathedral has said no to such salacious activity and installed a porn blocker on its Wi-Fi network to stop horny parishioners from committing this sin of the (digital) flesh.

"Family-friendly access and legal compliance are very high on our list of priorities," said the Cathedral's IT manager, David Tunbridge.

And rightly so! I mean, who would have ever heard of a man of the cloth taking pleasure in questionable sexual activity...

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