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Tim Cook 'proud' to be gay in effort to inspire others

30 Oct 2014

Tim Cook has come out as gay in a rare move for the CEO of a top company in the US. Cook made the announcement in a piece written for Bloomberg.

"While I have never denied my sexuality, I haven’t publicly acknowledged it either, until now. So let me be clear: I’m proud to be gay, and I consider being gay among the greatest gifts God has given me," he wrote.

The Apple chief said he decided to openly and publically state his sexuality an effort to help others.

"I don’t consider myself an activist, but I realise how much I’ve benefited from the sacrifice of others," he said.

"So if hearing that the CEO of Apple is gay can help someone struggling to come to terms with who he or she is, or bring comfort to anyone who feels alone, or inspire people to insist on their equality, then it’s worth the trade-off with my own privacy."

Cook said that being gay had helped him become a better person and a better business leader by making him immune to attack on himself or his role at Apple.

"Being gay has given me a deeper understanding of what it means to be in the minority and provided a window into the challenges that people in other minority groups deal with every day. It’s made me more empathetic, which has led to a richer life," he said.

"It’s been tough and uncomfortable at times, but it has given me the confidence to be myself, to follow my own path, and to rise above adversity and bigotry. It’s also given me the skin of a rhinoceros, which comes in handy when you’re the CEO of Apple."

Cook's decision to state his homosexuality so openly is notable because of its rarity in the upper echelons of major companies, especially in the US where many parts of the country have a Conservative attitude to the subject.

The issue of homosexuality in the tech community also hit the headlines earlier this year when Mozilla appointed Brendan Eich as CEO only to remove him after the furore caused by revelations that he had supported an anti-same sex marriage bill.

Samaritans Radar scans tweets for signs of suicidal intentions

29 Oct 2014

samaritans-4

Social networks are a hubbub of digital noise and chatter, with people posting everything from casual opinions and updates on their breakfast, to breaking news and heated arguments.

Many companies and brands sweep these social platforms, such as Twitter and Facebook, to glean information about potential customers in a bid to better target services and products.

But few would ever think of using that social data as a means of suicide prevention. However, the Samaritans charity has revealed a new website dubbed Samaritans Radar which scans and flags "potentially worrying tweets" to a Twitter user once they register their account.

Developed in partnership with digital agency Jam, the service will email registered users with details of tweets from people they follow that contain phrases such as 'tired of being alone', 'hate myself', and 'depressed', which potentially indicate a risk of suicide.

The email will also contain advice from Samaritans on how Twitter users can support their friends  and the people they follow, who may be harbouring suicidal thoughts.

The charity acknowledges that the algorithm will take some tuning to filter out sarcasm and dark jokes: "Samaritans Radar is in its infancy and won't get it right every time. But there's a way for you to give feedback on whether a Samaritans Radar alert was correct, so the service improves for everyone as it learns more."

Samaritans stressed that the Radar will send alerts to Twitter users only by email and will not encroach on their or other users' experiences, nor will it ever post from a registered user account.

While it is not unusual for people to go online for support, the process of applying algorithms to a situation that is open to interpretation and context may seem like a way of dehumanising the provision of personal support - in part digitising empathy.

But with 15 million Twitter users in the UK, Radar could provide an online safety net that has until now been notable by its absence. In turn, Radar could help people take a more active role in giving support to others in a way that has traditionally been the domain of specialist charities.

While Samaritans Radar could be seen as a pseudo nanny state service, it is another example of digital technology that could yield life-saving results.

Queen sends first Twitter message at Science Museum tech gallery opening

24 Oct 2014

Rugby Tuning Coil in the Information Gallery

The Queen has posted her first message on Twitter, in honour of the opening of the new Information Age gallery at the Science Museum that celebrates the role of network technology in changing the world forever.

The £15.6m gallery was opened by Her Majesty on Friday 25 October, and the historic occasion was marked by a 140-character missive on the site.

No doubt Liz was impressed by the wonderful array of objects on display at the new gallery, as the curators at the museum have excelled themselves in tracking down and securing some notable items from tech history.

This includes the magnificent Rugby Turning Coil that takes pride of place in the centre of the new gallery (pictured above), as well as the computer used by Sir Tim Berners-Lee at Cern where he invented the concept for the web (shown below).

Sir Tim Berners-Lee computer where he invented the web

Another impressive object on display is a Russian BESM-6 supercomputer that was used during the Cold War, the only such machine on display in a museum in the West (below).

Russian supercomputer on display at the Science Museum

The gallery isn't just dominated by large, history-making objects, however, and includes smaller items that show just how fast technology has evolved. Even landline telephones, still in use in many households, have now taken on the air of relics, as the below exhibits demonstrate.

Landline phones are now museum relics

The Snoopy Phone, in particular, is a reminder that people have always enjoyed trying to demonstrate their personalities through their phones, not just smartphones.

Other objects on display include the original galvanometer used to receive the first telegraph messages sent across the Atlantic between President James Buchanan and Queen Victoria in 1858, and the original Marconi radio transmitter that made the first public broadcast in 1922.

V3 was lucky enough to have a preview of the exhibition, and the pictures we snapped represent just a fraction of the 800 or so items on display in the new space. Anyone with even a cursory interest in technology history, or looking to inspire young enquiring minds, should find plenty to enjoy.

The new gallery is open from Saturday 25 October and is free of charge.

Wearable technology will add six months to your life

07 Oct 2014

Bold predictions about the future of humanity are often made - we'll live on the moon, we'll control items telepathically, we'll live forever. Well, living forever may not be possible, but the rise of wearable technology could add another six months to your life.

This is according to crystal-ball gazers at Gartner who believe that the rise in wearable devices able to track body signals such as heartbeats, temperature and other environmental factors could add half a year to people's life spans, in a few years' time.

"By 2020, developed world life expectancy will increase by 0.5 years due to widespread adoption of wireless health monitoring technology," the company states.

It says that a rise in new types of wearables technology - such as wireless heart monitoring patches, smart shirts and sensors in accessories - will give people more control and comfort over how health information is gathered, with data transferred over wireless networks.

Complementing this is the rise in cloud storage and big data platforms that will enable this information to be gathered and analysed, helping provide faster, more accurate insights into the wearer's physical well being.

"Data can be correlated against large cloud-based information repositories for sanctioned actions and through social networks for anecdotal advice. Gartner expects data from remote monitoring devices to provide continued access from patients to medical practitioners," the report says.

Of course such benefits come hand-in-hand with questions and concerns around privacy and data protection. How can you be sure only trusted health professionals will see your data? What happens if the company gathering it is hacked, or the cloud system storing it breached?

Humanity faces many such questions as the future rapidly approaches.

Apple iPhone 6 prototype attracts astonishing $88,000 eBay price tag

06 Oct 2014

It's common knowledge that Apple products inspire a cult-like following, with many fans happy to queue for hours, if not days, for the latest iPhone.

However, this obsession has reached new heights with the news that an iPhone 6 is being sold on eBay for over $88,000 - around £55,000.

The reason for this frankly insane price is that the 64GB iPhone 6 is a prototype that was accidentally delivered to its current owner by US-based American network provider Verizon.

Seller kimberlyk1018 has seen an opportunity to turn this mistake to his or her advantage, stating to potential buyers that "this is a once in a lifetime opportunity".

The phone itself offers little over a non-prototype version, other than featuring a red Lightning port and running in developer mode. It also lacks iOS 8, which has caused problems for Apple and iPhone users.

Kimberlyk1018 cannot even guarantee that the phone will make calls or whether its camera will work, but that has not stopped over 170 bids from what must be Apple fans with very deep pockets or irresponsible credit card limits.

However, the opportunistic seller is offering the following assurance: "I am also giving a 110% guarantee on this being an authentic Apple prototype device."

Clearly a generous soul, Kimberlyk1018 emphasised that free shipping is available providing the price exceeds $4,000.

The Telegraph raised questions about the legality of selling such a prototype, particularly as charges were brought against two men in 2010 who sold a prototype of the unreleased iPhone 4 to technology website Gizmodo. The late Steve Jobs even went so far as to accuse Gizmodo of extortion, although a lack of evidence scuppered potential criminal charges.

But the newspaper does not question the sanity of anyone willing to pay £53,000 for a phone that costs £619 when not in prototype guise.

As expected, Apple has not commented on the sale.

On the flipside, these enthusiastic bidders may be looking at their potential purchase as an investment in an incredibly rare version of a smartphone that they can sell on in the future like a piece of high-tech art. The world holds its breath.

Broadband upload speed average of 2.4Mbps a cause for concern

03 Oct 2014

Broadband speeds are up again. From rural areas to cities everyone can now browse the web and download content faster than ever. Well, 0.9Mbps faster, after Ofcom data showed the average broadband speed in the UK is up to 18.9Mbps.

This is undoubtedly good news, although many millions more will still be waiting to join life in the fast lane of the information superhighway, as superfast rollouts continue. Still, progress has been made; the UK average broadband download speed was a paltry 3.6Mbps in November 2008, when Ofcom first started taking measurements.

So, download speeds are up and work continues to bring services to as many as possible, a job well done for all involved. Perhaps, but not so fast.

Upload speeds are in a far less healthy state and progress has been poor. In the first report that looked at data from 2008, the average broadband upload speed was a pathetic 0.42Mbps.

This is worth considering: in 2008, when Facebook was already well established and the iPhone was making its mark on the telecoms landscape, the average household would have struggled to upload photos to send in an email, or put files into a cloud-based system.

Now, six years later, after huge investments in the UK's broadband's infrastructure the average upload speed has risen to ... 2.4Mbps. This may be a five-fold improvement but it's still hopelessly slow.

Last year V3 noted with some alarm that the average speed was just 1.8Mbps. It had risen to 2.3Mbps by April this year and has now risen by a measly 0.1Mbps. All-in-all, not very impressive.

This is worrying. In 2008 uploading data was an important part of the web, but it is now fundamental. There is rarely a popular site out there that isn't now used for sending content to the web - Skype, FaceTime, Dropbox, Facebook, Google, Twitter and the rest.

For home workers and freelancers who need to send files such as large videos, design drawings, music clips or images, to contacts and the cloud, these low speeds are crippling.

Ofcom's report notes that uploading content is becoming more commonplace, but does little to acknowledge the problems the low average speeds are causing.

"Broadband advertising tends to focus on download speeds. However, upload speeds are important for a subset of the population, such as those sharing large files and using real-time two-way video communications," it said.

V3 did ask Ofcom for a comment on these figures and whether it is being worked on, but had received no reply at the time of publication. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Internet Services Providers Association were also contacted.

No doubt the focus in the near-future will remain on download speeds and this is unquestionably a vital part of the digital backbone of the UK, but uploads must not be ignored.

With an election round the corner, V3 would like to see the political parties show some tech nous and make noises about improving upload speeds to help the digital economy thrive, rather than being fixated with downloads and ever-increasing headline speeds.

EU digital minister labels celebs 'dumb' for naked selfies

02 Oct 2014

Politicians, eh? The incoming digital economy and society commissioner for the European Commission, Günther Oettinger, has not even set up his office with a plant and a picture and already he's in hot water for ill-considered comments.

During a meeting earlier this week he said that celebrities were "dumb" for putting nude pictures of themselves online.

"If someone is dumb enough as a celebrity to take a nude photo of themselves and put it online, they surely can't expect us to protect them," said Oettinger. "I mean, stupidity is something you can not - or only partly - save people from."

This statement, blaming the victims of a breach of their privacy and showing a slight misunderstanding of the cloud, has been rounded on by digital activists who see it as clear proof that Oettinger is not the right man to take on such an important digital post.

Pirate Party MEP Julia Reda has posted a blog criticising Oettinger, noting that it is somewhat worrying - as V3 would agree - that someone set to be in charge of European digital policy has either a misguided moral stance on the issue or a worrying lack of understanding of technology - or both.

"The person applying to be in charge of shoring up trust in the internet so that Europeans do more business online just victim-blamed people whose personal data was accessed and spread without authorisation," she wrote.

"By picking this example to make that point despite lacking an understanding of the facts, by making a mockery of what he should recognise as a serious problem and by doing it in this aloof and insulting tone, Oettinger is seriously calling into question whether he is qualified for the job of shaping our digital society for the next five years."

The BBC reported that a spokesperson for Oettinger said he was trying to make a point about cloud security, although he denied the chance to apologise for the remark.

"Everybody has a right to privacy. The EU Commission wants to make cloud computing safer." A noble aim, sir. But perhaps we may be so bold as to suggest that starting this mission by siding with the victims of a theft rather than blaming them tends to help.

One thing is for sure, Neelie Kroes would never have said any of this.

Wembley Stadium technology tour: in pictures

24 Sep 2014

EE Wembley arch lit-up

Wembley Stadium has seen it all: from England's sole World Cup triumph in 1966 to Live Aid in 1985 and FA Cup finals that have seen giants toppled and records broken. The stadium has just won the right to host the Euro 2020 final, so there's plenty more history to be made as well.

V3 was at Wembley on Tuesday to hear from EE about how it is working with the stadium to boost numerous aspects of its tech, from the rollout of 300Mbps 4G in 2015 to new contactless payment and mobile-ticketing systems.

While there, we snapped a few shots that give a glimpse into the technology behind the stadium that keeps everything ticking.

Contactless payments and mobile ticketing will be coming to Wembley Stadium

Wembley and EE are working to bring mobile ticketing and contactless payments to the stadium to reduce queues and improve the experience for fans.

Control room computer screens at Wembley Stadium

The control centre for Wembley is used on match days by a raft of organisations including the police and fire services, as well as the stadium's own support staff, with a raft of machines ready for action.

Social media on giant screens at Wembley

The rise of social media means Wembley now monitors and displays messages from those at events, carefully screened of course. Also, if you look closely you can see the mouse pointer from the system between the two graphics.

The image below on the left shows the antennas used to broadcast mobile signal over the crowds at the stadium. The smaller white ones are used within the stadium corridors and crowd areas.

The picture on the right shows the inside of the base station rooms at the stadium where all four operators – Vodafone, EE, Three and O2 – have their kit. As with all server and base station rooms they're not very eye-catching locations, but they are fundamental to the running of Wembley.

Antennas used at Wembley Stadium to broadcast phone signal

Wembley Stadium operator base stations

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What is perhaps more eye-catching is the news from EE that it has installed almost 300 LED sensors in the Wembley arch that, from 2015, will change colour based on social media sentiment or crowd noise, helping transform the iconic Wembley arch.

Wembley Stadium arch lit up at night

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