Ah time, such a tricky concept. What time is it? Well, it depends where in the world you are, or as the BBC found out, what time your computer tells you it is.
A complaint from a BBC website user with, ironically, perhaps too much time on their hands, raised the alarming fact that the clock on the frontpage of the BBC website does not display the ‘correct’ time, but it merely draws data from the clock on a user's device.
This meant, to anyone who relies solely on the BBC clock to the tell the time, there was a risk of ending up late for an important event by relying on the data supplied by the BBC as it could be wrong – even though it would be the user’s fault for having their computer running on the wrong time. Or would it really be the device manufacturers fault for creating a faulty clock? The legal repercussions could be endless. No doubt someone would end up with a ticking off.
All in all, the BBC Trust agreed it was a serious matter and one the BBC should strive to get right.
"Having a homepage clock which does not necessarily reflect the right time in the UK, and which is not labelled on the homepage as deriving its time from a user's own computer clock, is not consistent with the guideline requirement for the BBC to do all it can to ensure due accuracy in all its output,” it said.
In response the BBC has taken a course of action that Sneak himself wholeheartedly approves of – giving up.
"Given the technical complexities of implementing an alternative central clock, and the fact that most users already have a clock on their computer screen, the BBC has taken the decision to remove the clock from the homepage in an upcoming update."
Well creating an accurate, working clock application would take too much time wouldn’t it?
23 May 2013
More than a quarter century after its introduction to the computing space, the GIF image format remains something of a controversial format.
No, not because the quasi-animated images slow loading times or can be incredibly annoying when recklessly deployed, but because of the pronunciation of the name. Nobody can agree whether the word is pronounced with hard G -as in 'goat'- or a soft G -as in 'gel'.
Now, however, the man behind the format is settling the debate (and quite a few bar bets) by clearing up once and for all how to pronounce the word.
In an interview with the New York Times, former Compuserve engineer and GIF originator Steve Wilhite confirmed once and for all that his iconic creation is in fact pronounced with a soft G sound.
That's right, the platform for the infamous 'dancing baby' shares its name with a popular brand of American peanut butter. And according to Wilhite, the Oxford English Dictionary has had the wrong pronunciation listed all this time.
Now that we've finally settled this silly matter, Sneak can move onto more important things, like whether one should pronounce the individual letters in LOLcats or say it all as one word.
As someone who likes to sit around in his dressing gown watching daytime TV, Sneak is well-versed with the process of claiming benefits to fund his relaxed lifestyle. So he was very excited with the transition of certain benefit claim forms to the web, meaning even less reason for him to interact with any actual humans.
Those who want to claim either Attendance Allowance, Disability Living Allowance or Overseas State Pension can simply visit the Gov.UK website, where they are then pointed to the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) website to fill out a form online.
So far, so impressive, in that the government is allowing citizens to apply for benefits over the web, rather than having to fill out forms and send them in via the post or visit offices in person.
However, it seems that many of those claimants could fall at the first hurdle due to some rather outdated stipulations about the computer systems supported by the DWP.
"This service doesn't work with some modern browsers and operating systems," the DWP notes. "We are considering how best to provide this service in future. You may want to claim in another way."
That's putting it mildly. Sneak has decided to post these system requirements here in their full glory, as he couldn't word them better than the DWP.
"The service does not work properly with Macs or other Unix-based systems even though you may be able to input information.
"You are likely to have problems if you use Internet Explorer 7, 8, 9 and 10, Windows Vista or a smartphone. Clearing temporary internet files may help but you may wish to claim in another way.
"There is also a high risk that if you use browsers not listed below, including Chrome, Safari or Firefox, the service will not display all the questions you need to answer. This is likely to prevent you from successfully completing or submitting the form. You may wish to claim in another way."
And now on to the much more restricted list of what your computer needs to be running if you actually want to claim a benefit online.
"The service was designed to work with the following operating systems and browsers. Many of these are no longer available:
This sent Sneak running to dig out his old Windows ME machine from the loft, running IE 4 - but there are still further obstacles to getting any money out of the government.
"This service is not available on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings from 1.00am to 1.30am because of essential maintenance work. We apologise for any inconvenience," warns the DWP.
Perhaps that's when their hamsters change shifts - you know, the ones that run inside wheels keeping government IT systems up and running.
24 Apr 2013
Sneak has often been accused of letting video games get in the way of work. But there are days when it's only the prospect of getting a highest score on Stick Cricket that makes the prospect of heading into the office palatable. But thanks to Canadian doctors, Sneak now has the perfect excuse.
A McGill university team have shown that playing Tetris can be used to treat lazy eye. According to the researchers, the game makes users' eyes work together, providing a more effective approach than the traditional patch.
“It's much better than patching, much more enjoyable, it's faster and it seems to work better," Dr Robert Hess, the group's lead researcher, told the BBC.
The researchers got their volunteers to play the game while wearing specially modified goggles, which enabled one eye to see only falling objects and the other the blocks piling up on the ground. A hour's Tetris-playing a day for two weeks was enough to demonstrate an improvement.
And not only does Tetris provide an effective treatment, other computer games might also work, he added.
Sneak is quietly confident that all those accusations of laziness will soon be a thing of the past.
Sneak has always been a strong proponent of the inviolability of the courthouse, and cannot abide those ill-mannered citizens that let their mobile phones interrupt proceedings with their incessant ringtones.
So Sneak was doubly pleased to see that at least one judge, Michigan's Raymond Voet feels the same way, and issues on-the-spot fines to anyone whose phone disturbs his courtroom – even if that means fining himself.
According to the Sentinel Standard – Sneak's Michigan news outlet of choice – poor judge Voet got himself in a right pickle when he inadvertently activated the voice command functions of his new phone while the court was in session.
Apparently, Voet had been a loyal BlackBerry user for years, but like most gave up with the platform to move to a new device, only to discover he had no idea how to turn off his new smartphone's voice function.
“It started talking really loud, saying 'I can't understand you. Say something like Mom,'" he told the Sentinel. "My face got as red as a beet."
But as an upstanding citizen, judge Voet also believed that he had to abide by the same rules he set for those in his courtroom, so during a recess, ruled that he was in contempt of court and fined himself $25 for the interruption.
Now that's what Sneak calls swift justice.
Sneak has come across some bizarre excuses for the infuriating loss of mobile coverage in the past, from operators having their datacentre kit pilfered or problems with its user database. But, for Vodafone and its customers in the Southampton area, Sneak thinks this is something of a first: loss of signal being blamed on a bird's nest.
It might sound like a feather-brained excuse, but the bird in question happens to be a peregrine falcon, one of the creatures that gets protected under British law. Disturbing its nest could land you in jail.
In fact, such is the protection these birds enjoy that Vodafone is not permitted to tell anyone which mobile mast it's had to turn off – although Sneak suspects that its customers in the Southampton area probably have a pretty good idea.
A Vodafone spokesman told the BBC it would be unable to access its mast until after any chicks had flown the nest – which would probably be some time in June.
While that might seem like an interminable wait for Vodafone's customers, Sneak can't help but get a warm glow from knowing that a peregrine has made itself a home in one of these ugly metal constructions.
After all, Sneak has always been something of a secret twitcher, and the high-powered, infra-red binoculars are definitely used for watching our feathered friends, regardless of what the neighbours might say.
Sneak isn’t a very political person, so he’ll refrain from sharing his views on the passing of ex-PM Margaret Thatcher.
But he was horrified when reports started circulating on Monday that the world had lost a true global icon, a woman who has done as much for fashion as she has for musical invention – Cher.
The trending hashtag #nowthatchersdead was read by many Twitter users (well, those who are totally uninformed on news and global events) as announcing the news that Cher's dead, rather than Thatcher's dead, leading to an outpouring of grief for the entertainer.
RIP Cher. At least now we'll find out about life after love. #nowthatchersdead— David Itzcovitz (@ItzDaveMedia) April 8, 2013
I note with curiosity that the hashtag #nowthatchersdead is trending from Melbourne to Dublin. I can't confirm anywhere that Cher is dead?— Richie Benaud (@RichieBenaud_) April 8, 2013
And then some clarification from a bemused comedian.
Some people are in a frenzy over the hashtag #nowthatchersdead.It's "Now Thatcher's dead". Not, "Now that Cher's dead" JustSayin'— Ricky Gervais (@rickygervais) April 8, 2013
Sneak himself was more concerned that the hashtag related to X-Factor contestant Cher Lloyd. Having long been a fan of tuneless, over-produced noise, Ms Lloyd is one of Sneak’s favourite performers. Still, seeing as she’s only about 12, he hopes she’ll be around to grace us with her dulcet tones for many decades to come.
Sneak is also hopeful that the #nowthatchersdead debacle, and many wasted tears over Cher #1 and #2’s passing, will lead to an upsurge in correct use of grammar on all social networks and hashtags. Although this is about as likely to happen as Billy Bragg, Morrissey and Ken Livingstone offering to be Margaret Thatcher’s coffin bearers.
05 Apr 2013
It doesn't seem that long ago that the Twittersphere worked itself into a furious lather on the issue of super injunctions. Sneak can understand that: there's nothing more infuriating than not knowing that someone is not supposed to tell you something. Or something like that, it's all far too meta for Sneak's simple brain.
Because Sneak gets easily confused, it was utterly perplexing to see that that movie makers are now sending out take-down requests to get their own take-down requests removed from the web.
The problem has arisen because Google reports any Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) infringement notices it gets – these are typically sent from movie studios asking for pirated material to be removed from Google's results.
The trouble is, as P2P news site TorrentFreak reports, these take-down notices list the sites that hold allegedly infringing material. In effect, the take-down notices are proving to be one of the riches sources of pirated materials on the web. Fox Legal Group alone has been responsible for seeking to get more than 50,000 urls removed from Google's results in a mere two-month period.
Clearly, Sneak can see that the only way to put a definitive end to this is for the movie makers to now issue more take-down notices for the take-down notices for the take-down notices. The lawyers must be laughing all the way to the bank.