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. 







Monkeys responsible for Indian internet outage

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macaque.jpgThose struggling to access rural broadband services can thank their lucky stars that they don't have to deal with monkeys.

In India, reports BBC Monitoring, the government of Narendra Modi is currently undertaking its own version of BDUK on a massive scale, and hopes to lay over 430,000 miles of fibre cable to connect 250,000 village clusters by 2018.

However, in Prime Minister Modi's own constituency of Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh, the works have been halted by sacred monkeys.

According to the news service, local officials in Varanasi are unable to stop the local population of macaque monkeys from stealing and even eating the cables.

The city government is at a loss to stop the monkeys because they are considered avatars of the Hindu god, Hanuman.

"We cannot move the temples from here. We cannot modify anything here, everything is built up. The monkeys, they destroy all the wires and eat all the wires," communications engineer AP Srivastava told Reuters.

The authorities are looking into alternative arrangements to bring fibre broadband to Varanasi, but the densely built-up city environment makes this very hard.

If Mr Srivastava is open to suggestions, Downtime proposes supplying the monkeys with their own tablets. Once they're addicted to social media they'll soon realise the error of their ways.

Tech industry now beyond parody

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There used to be a kind of art to April Fools' Day.

In 1977, for example, The Guardian famously concocted an island state named San Seriffe, which was essentially a series of puns dreamed up by its sub-editors.

The newspaper memorably received a number of angry letters from travel agents who had been fending off people wanting to book holidays there.

Which is why the corporate tech industry's attitude to April Fools' rubs me up the wrong way.

Yes, it was very fun and cute that Google enabled people to play Pac Man on Google Maps, ThinkGeek's literal steam-powered, as opposed to Steam-powered console was a nice little play on words, and Samsung's Blade Edge chef's knife attachment took the defining feature of the Edge smartphone line to a logical extreme.

But all these jolly japes are missing the point, I feel. Sure, they were clever and raised a smile, and genuine work went into creating all the mockups in Photoshop.

The thing is that they aren't really April Fools' gags, are they? April Fools' is about practical jokes and yes, maybe a little embarrassment. A proper tech industry April Fools' gag would be telling your colleagues that IT has activated the voice command function on the printer.

But 10 minutes in Photoshop to create a product so implausible it would be laughed off the shelves?

That does not really cut it.

If you're going to commit to April Fools', commit properly, we say.

Downtime is putting the tech industry on notice. Next year, we want to see you put some effort into a prank that makes us go 'what the...'

Is autocorrect the bane of working from home?

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Everyone is caught up in the BYOD revolution, and the flexibility it brings mean more people are emailing from anywhere using whatever gadget they have on them.

Unfortunately it seems that technology is as much an enabler for stupidity as it is for mobility, as research by survey site OnePoll.com found 70% of Brits have sent messages to the wrong person.

People are working on their phones more often than they used to, and this seems to have led to an increase in autocorrect changing the meaning of your sentences for its own sick pleasure.  

One in three people have had messages jumbled by autocorrect to mean something totally different than intended, and one in 10 people have been fired for sending emails or text messages to the wrong recipient.

So please people, just because technology enables us to do things quickly and more effectively does not mean you can stop checking to make sure you're emailing the right person - we're sure your significant other doesn't want to read about your boardroom proposals. 

Fake chocolate more lucrative than cybercrime?

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A press release came through to the Downtime inbox in the lead-up to Easter warning consumers to be aware of fake branded chocolate bars being sold, presumably over the internet or otherwise.

An online brand specialist offered to provide details of how to tell when purchasing from a fake provider of confectionary, and claimed over 80,000 fake goodies were seized last year.

During our surprise that these shifty con artists actually delivered on the chocolate front, whether fake or not, we began to wonder - where did the cybercrime go?

Perhaps this marks the end of an era of internet threats, as it is apparently more lucrative to make and sell fake goods than to set up a fake website claiming the card details of unsuspecting chocolate fans. 

Google and its "no comment" GIF

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Rumour and speculation is the fuel that much of the tech journalism world runs on, and for press officers working at firms like Google, responding to it all must be a wearying experience.

So much so, the search giant has found an alternative (and ultimately more interesting) way of responding to such stories, and that's through the use of animated GIFs.

The firm was asked to comment on a story about the rumoured re-launch of its YouTube live-streaming platform by a journalist at tech site The Daily Dot.

Rather than trot out the usual "we do not comment on rumour or speculation" line, championed by tech giants the world over, Google issued a GIF of an incredulous-looking little girl, shrugging her shoulders as its response.

Initially, the publication ignored it, and assumed Google had no comment to make, until one of the firm's press officers insisted they include the GIF as its official response.

Rest assured, readers, we're updating the Computer Weekly style guide now in light of this, with a view to publish our first case study written entirely in emojis before the year is out.

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