June 2010 Archives

Life after (virtual) death

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Here's an interesting little conundrum: the Wikipedia entry on freelance BBC technology commentator Bill Thompson was edited to reflect a change in his status from living to dead. Tipped off and against Wikipedia's rules about editing your entry, Bill corrected the report. He then followed up, tracing the perp to a dynamic IP address used by Virgin Media to service its Cambridge clients.
That's as far he got. When Downtime checked with VM's press office, the good folks there said the law prevented them from disclosing who used the IP address at the time Bill apparently joined the choirs eternal. There were escalation procedures involving the police and court orders, Downtime was told sternly.
So, could Bill use the Digital Economy Act to discover the identity of the digital graffiti artist, whose motives are unclear? 
The act, which aims mainly at fighting digital pirates, allows Bill to send Virgin Media an "infringement report" that includes "evidence of the apparent infringement that shows the subscriber's IP address and the time at which the evidence was gathered". VM can then confirm the alleged infringement, but without identifying the perp. Bill can then apply to the courts for an order on VM to reveal who used the IP address at the time. 
But that doesn't guarantee that Bill will get hold of the right person, since VM allocated the IP address on an as-needed basis, and even then, the subscriber may not have been the person who punched the keys. 
Smart lawyers would also dispute whether Bill was even entitled, as the copyright owner, to the information, since Wikipedia operates under a Creative Commons licence and has a prohibition against subjects writing entries about themselves.
Might Bill have recourse to the Computer Misuse Act? At this point Downtime lost the will to live. Would someone please notify Wikipedia? 

You, Robot

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Isaac Asimov must be rolling in his grave at last week's double whammy of 'man becomes still more dependent on robots' stories.

First came reports that London Mayor Boris Johnson is considering introducing driverless trains on the london Underground. Apparently a memo from the Conservatives in the London Assembly urged Johnson to sack all 3,525 train operators on the London underground rail system, estimating that this could save £141m per year - it's already been done in Paris, Budapest and Barcelona.

Then a Scottish hospital started talking about using robots 'for day-to-day tasks' like dispensing drugs and cleaning operating theatres.

That's OK till Sonny joins the staff.

Binning big government

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In light of yesterday's budget pain, Downtime is moved to wonder whether Liverpool Council was trying to get the jump on the chancellor, George Osborne, by inventing daft expenses so that it has things to cut that won't actually hurt too much when the public spending cuts are spelled out. This is, after all, a story Downtime wouldn't have believed if it had not been reported on the Beeb.

"Liverpool residents are being offered a free text messaging service to remind them to put out their bins."

Now the multiplicity of bins demanded of the humble rate-payer could lead to some confusion: paper and card fortnightly, alternating with 'other' waste; garden waste fortnightly, but which week? And now a weekly collection of 'food waste' which is supposed to hang around in a special lockable bin getting smelly in the summer sun. But really, who needs a text reminder every week? People who really can't remember just need to invest in a permanent marker and write it on the bin.

Downtime wonders how many more nutty ideas councils have been stockpiling just so that they can add them to the "cuts" when the time comes.

Brits are forgetting how to write

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About 80% of Brits are so married to their gadgets that they are forgetting how to write, according to a recent survey.

The YouGov poll found that people feel they just cannot get by without their favourite gadgets: only 16% of us write anything by hand in a week, and a few even admit to feeling powerless and frustrated if they're not connected all the time.

This is a worrying conclusion if you also read the Nasa blog, which warns that in 2013 solar activity is going to clobber most of Earth's high-tech kit.

Downtime suggests you keep your pencils sharp, and dust of the abacus.

Technology "triumphs" over vuvuzela noise at World Cup

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The sound of the Vuvuzela is part of football in South Africa, but has come in for some criticism for drowning out match commentators on television.

Researchers at the Centre for Digital Music at Queen Mary, University of London have seized the opportunity to find a technological solution.

They have come up with a way of eliminating the noise of the vuvuzelas while preserving the natural buzz of the game.

The devuvuzelator" is a piece of software that can be downloaded free of charge, but will work only for those watching the World Cup on a computer.


End of life options

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It's lovely but slightly creepy that children take an interest in one's dating actitivites, but putting granny up for sale on eBay is definitely taking f****** liberties.
This happened to Sandi Firth, whose son, Jame Doyen, offered her as "My Yiddishe Momma for Sale", opening bids £1, despite her qualities, such as beauty, brilliant cooking, education, articulatness, family orientation and caring nature. Sandi's series of unsuccessful dates prompted her management consultant son to make the offer.
If this is the digital age equivalent of putting granny on an ice floe to become a polar bear snackwich, Downtime reckons he prefers that private dignity to the public humilation of being flogged off on eBay. Cut him out of your will, Sandi!

Blind faith in satnav can be dangerous

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An Austrian treasure hunter has learned the hard way that blind faith in satnav devices can be extremely dangerous.


The 19-year-old Heidi Brunner was on a high-tech treasure hunt when she stepped off a 90m high cliff while following satnav instructions.


In a double technology whammy, her mobile phone broke in the fall and she was unable to call for help.


Miraculously, she survived the fall and was eventually rescued by a helicopter crew from the bottom of a ravine in the Tyrolean Alps.

World Cup = good excuse for new TV

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Most of the men and many of the women in the UK are probably wondering whether they can afford to splash out on a bigger, better TV before the World Cup Final next month.

I wonder whether all of the £5m That Holiday Inn and Crown Plaza hotels have spent in a 'technology upgrade' for their  64 UK hotels will come out of the IT budget, particularly since part of the money was spent on installing 50 HD TV screens in lounges and restaurants for the World Cup.

The rest will go on 32in flat screens for bedrooms, 37in HD screens in suites, and some on  "high-speed internet access across all properties".

I wonder whether they chose Toshibas, since the electronics giant has offered to refund the cost of a new set if England win. Then again, maybe that's enough to jinx England's chances.

Children spend too much time on computers

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In the days of old when knights were bold and computers hadn't been invented, squires - wannabe knights - would practice swordsmanship using wooden swords, to minimise the risk of injury and also to protect the valuable ironmongery from damage.

It is entirely possible that many infant school teachers can see the point of the latter reasoning, and would gladly not submit the school's Wi-Fi laptops to the grubby little fingers and hayfever driven sneezes of a class of 20 six-year-olds.

But according to recent reports one  psychologist is now suggesting that children should not be introduced to the joys of IT until they are nine years old.

No doubt schools will in due course be issued with wooden models of the latest lap-tops, with the letters of the keyboard painted on to wooden buttons. They will sit in their little rows and all hum the Microsoft start-up tone at assembly every morning, before "logging" (emphasis on the log) on to their treemail accounts - oh you get the picture.

In which case this kit, created by French artist Dimitri Tskalov, could suddenly be in demand.


Wimbledon braces for the sound of a million angry hornets

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The difference in atmosphere between the the World Cup in South Africa and the much more sedate annual tennis tournament in Wimbledon couldn't be greater, but that could all be about to change.

Compared to the raucous partying in the southern hemisphere, the noisiest it gets in that genteel quarter of south London is the quiet, rhythmic munch of strawberries, the occasional slurp of bolly or, at the very worst, the dulcet sounds of Sir Cliff. But this year that is all about to change, as Apple announces the advent of the Pocket Vuvezela, the free iPhone app that promises to bring the thrill of the Fifa 2010 stadium straight to Centre Court.

"Blow, shake, or press a button to make the distinctive Vuvuzela horn sound," says the blurb,  "and it'll feel like you're right there in the stands." There has already been some talk of banning the ubiquitous instrument in the stadiums of its native country; Downtime wonders how long it will be before officials at the All England Lawn Tennis Club vote to establish a sub-committee on the matter.

Church on the run or at home. There's an iPhone app for that

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People who are too busy or unable to get out the house to attend church services can now do so using one of the latest applications for Apple's iPhone and iPad.

The project is the brainchild of a vicar and a parishioner of St Andrew's in Bo'ness, West Lothian.

The pair have begun streaming Sunday services in real time so they can be picked up by iPhone or iPad users anywhere there is a 3G network.

The church, not content with reaching only Apple fans, now plans to enable the service for BlackBerrys and Nokia smartphones.


3D Sun's fuzzy logic

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While Rupert Murdoch's News International tries to persuade us all that we should be happy to part with cash to read news online, and publishers of daily and weekly newspapers in the UK assure us that it's impossible to make money in publishing right now, far away in China the latest fashion is for 3D newspapers. Readers, apparently, can't get enough of them since they were launched in April.

In March a European paper, La Derniere Heure, issued what is probably Europe's first 3D paper, but found it to be a costly experiment, unlikely to be repeated any time soon.

The super-soaraway-Sun, not to be left behind, soon followed up with a promise of a 3D edition on 5 June. And here it is, or at least the online version of the front page (in case it should slip behind the pay wall).


Fuzzy babes and fuzzy elephants. So much for that. Surely by the time they get the technology for this sorted out, your 3D news will already be popping up from your iPad like Princess Leia out of R2D2, and you won't need silly glasses.


Mobile purchases more serious than cars or houses in UK

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UK consumers consider more deals when buying mobile phones than when buying a house or a car, a survey shows.

On average, respondents look at 5 houses before renting or buying and 3 cars before making a purchase, the survey by  Right Mobile Phone  found.

But, respondents claimed to look at an average of 7 handsets and 9 tariffs before parting with their cash when shopping for a new mobile phone.

Video: Cows give data centre an energy boost

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HP has developed what is believed to be the world's first data centre based on manure...specifically cow manure. Now it may be convenient to keep a cow in your data centre, but if they run low on supplies, datacentre admins can always feast on a vindaloo. There's another bonus. Downtime reckons a data centre full of cow manure should be a suitable deterrent for would-be intruders.

Google Maps dangerous, lawsuit alleges

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A woman is suing Google after she was hit by a car while following walking directions provided by Google Maps.

Lauren Rosenberg of Park City, Utah in the US claims Google is responsible for the accident because its Google Maps service led her to walk along a busy road with no pavement or pedestrian path.

She is suing for medical costs, loss of earnings, and punitive damages for severe permanent physical, emotional and mental injuries. She is also suing the driver of the car that hit her.

Google Maps does issue a warning to use caution as its walking directions are in beta and routes may not include pedestrian paths, but the warning is visible only on PCs and not mobile devices like phones.

Given the choice of a walk with a PC tucked under my arm or a mobile phone, I know which one I am more likely to choose. Google apparently does not.


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This page is an archive of entries from June 2010 listed from newest to oldest.

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