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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.

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.

iPhone 6 live stream fail outrages Apple fans

10 Sep 2014

Apple’s image of a slick, highly polished company took a sizeable blow on Tuesday night as its attempts to live stream the launch of its iPhone 6 turned into a farce.

First of all the live stream seemed to be double-tracking the music that played before the event began, which meant people around the world were subjected to what sounded like an amateur DJ attempting to merge two tracks, without any success.

Then, almost as soon as the live event began, the stream stopped and a strange piece of holding text was displayed instead. People took to Twitter to express their shock at this state of affairs, while several parody accounts of the TV Truck sprung up too.

Once this passed and the stream returned, there was a new, quite interesting problem. A translation, possibly Chinese, was being broadcast on top of the remarks of Tim Cook and co. This made it hard to hear what was being said, as you had to try and ignore the unfathomable translation that was louder than the live event

This didn't matter too much, though, as the stream soon fell over again. All in all a most frustrating experience and one that Apple top brass are no doubt mortified happened, with recriminations likely.

The issue was, according to Dan Rayburn, executive vice president of Streaming Media, a JavaScript problem caused by Apple's decision to run its own live blog below the video stream.

"Apple decided to add some JSON (JavaScript Object Notation) code to the Apple.com page, which added an interactive element on the bottom showing tweets about the event. As a result, this was causing the page to make refresh calls every few milliseconds," he wrote.

"By Apple making the decision to add the JSON code, it made the Apple.com website un-cachable."

If that was the case, it certainly doesn't do much for Apple's tech chops. However, given the strength of the company and the clamour for its new products, no doubt the issues will soon be forgotten.

Monkeys, ghosts and gods denied copyright ownership by US patent board

22 Aug 2014

Monkey selfie image on Wikipedia

Copyright law is a complicated beast, full of difficult clauses, mitigations and loopholes, all of which would make you think that many would avoid getting embroiled in the topic.

Yet one British photographer, so enraged by a ‘selfie’ taken on his camera by a dexterous macaque, felt the need to assert his claim to its copyright when the self-shot monkey picture appeared on Wikipedia (above).

Unfortunately for photographer David Slater, Wikipedia refused to pull the image denying that the copyright belonged to him or the snap-happy monkey. Cue the internet going ape over the story and attempting to out-do one another with simian-based puns.   

Further adding to Slater's slew of bad luck, is a public draft of the third edition of the Compendium of US Copyright Office Practices, which declared that it will only grant copyright to works created directly by human beings.

This means the 'monkey selfie' effectively has no copyright and the internet has free reign over its use. 

Forgetting that the world has much bigger problems to worry about, including global warming, war and economic despair, the US office went on to add that neither work created by plants, animals, or even ghosts – divine or otherwise.

“The Office will not register works produced by nature, animals, or plants. Likewise, the Office cannot register a work purportedly created by divine or supernatural beings, although the Office may register a work where the application or the deposit copy(ies) state that the work was inspired by a divine spirit,” stated the public draft.

Debating copyright law over a single shot of a smiling simian may seem like a gargantuan waste of time for all involved.

But regularly revised definitions of copyright law is becoming more important, particularly given the growth of user-generated content being posted online and to social media networks. What the monkeys make of all this, though, remains to be seen.

BT shows off Isles of Scilly fibre cable deployment

23 Jul 2014

V3 headed into the Atlantic Ocean on Wednesday morning to witness one of the more challenging parts of BT's Superfast Cornwall project, bringing fibre to the Isles of Scilly. Situated miles off the shore of Cornwall, the islands needed an undersea cable to provide fibre internet.

The cable marks the first time fixed internet will be available on the islands, having relied on a radio link access service for many years, which offered just 2-3Mbps speeds. Once the fibre is up and running – likely before the end of the year – speeds of 60-80Mbps should be available.

While watching the deployment in progress, we snapped some pics as it unfolded, as the £3.7m project reached a milestone moment.

The deployment meant Porthcressa Beach was closed, but no doubt those on the islands were happy to forgo one day of sunbathing to let the internet come ashore.

The beach was off limits as the internet arrived

Once the cable is on the beach it will be hooked into the network that is being built around the islands and then buried underground, to keep it safe and secure.

Cranes await the arrival of the fibre cable

The Dibble & Grub café on the seafront of Porthcressa Beach is just one of many businesses to welcome the arrival of the fibre services. Gaz O’Neill, owner and vice chair of the Isles of Scilly council, said it would transform the lives of residents, and improve things for visitors, by finally offering fast, reliable internet access.

The Dibble and Grub cafe on Porthcressa Beach

 

The deployment even drew a small crowd of onlookers, who watched the operation to bring fibre broadband to their island unfold.

Onlookers watching the fibre cable deployment on the Isles of Scilly

For BT the rollout marked a major moment in its multi-year project to bring fibre to 95 percent of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, having spent three years planning the deployment, which involved dodging numerous shipwrecks around the islands.

BT's Superfast Cornwall project reaches one of its most challenging moments

Services should be online before the end of the year, as the residents of the five islands that make up the remote archipelago – St Mary's, St Agnes, Tresco, St Martin's and Bryher – can enjoy fixed internet access for the first time.

Isles of Scilly taken from above The islands are to receive broadband from BT via an undersea cable

Ofcom announces shock communications discovery

23 Jul 2014

Who would have thought that both mobile and internet services are now considered essential by UK consumers?

While Ofcom drew the line at revealing that grass is indeed green, the organisation did disclose that its latest study shows UK consumers believe they can't forgo the comforts of the web or a shiny smartphone.

The study is part of Ofcom's continued work to ensure that consumers receive good value for money from various communications services.

While the term ‘essential' is banded around a fair amount – describing anything from desserts to hair products – the study reached a consensus that essential refers to the need to contact the emergency services, or just keep in touch with family and friends.

More than 60 percent of consumers rated voice services as the most essential, while 59 percent said mobile voice or text services were just as important. Fifty-seven percent of consumers claimed internet access was their most important communication service.

Ofcom also explored the adoption of essential communications services. Unsurprisingly, the research found that 95 percent of UK households have at least one mobile phone, while more than 80 percent have a landline and internet access.

Given that these communications services are considered essential, it is reasonably positive that only 14 percent of consumers claim to have difficulties paying for them. Although 45 percent of the people surveyed have admitted to cutting back on luxuries to ensure they can afford mobile and internet payments.

Claudio Pollack, Ofcom's Consumer Group director, declared that it was encouraging that the majority of people do not struggle to pay for various communications services. But added: "It's important that help is available for those who do."

Google Fiber UK plans dismissed by solid statement

21 Jul 2014

While the US is benefitting from Google's 1Gbps fibre service, called Fiber, UK citizens will sadly be left behind as the search giant confirms that it has no serious plans to bring its Fiber service to British shores.

Last week, a (clearly unreliable) source informed The Telegraph that Google was in talks with British fibre specialist CityFibre, with the intention of extending the Google Fiber project beyond the US and over to Blighty.

Unfortunately, this discussion broke down as concerns were voiced that CityFibre's existing partnership with BSkyB would be threatened. Despite this curveball, optimistic fibre fans held out hope that Google would lavish the UK with its full-fibre network.

Rumours remained in circulation until a Google spokesperson shot them down telling Engadget: "We have informal conversations with other telecom companies all the time. But we've never had any serious planning discussions about bringing Google Fiber to Britain."

This is a shame as Google Fiber, currently operating in four US cities and with plans to extended it to cover another 34, is a service that could well appeal to those stuck with slow broadband.

What makes the Google Fiber networks so coveted is that they use fibre-optic cabling for the entire network to deliver speeds of 1000Mbps. Comparatively, most of BT's fibre network delivers a 'mere' 76Mbps and rely on old copper wires to connect homes to the street-based cabinets.

Nevertheless there are some fibre projects in the works. In a bid to reduce their dependency on BT Openreach networks, a joint venture between BSkyB, TalkTalk and CityFibre aims to establish a 1Gbps city-wide fibre networking in York.

While the three companies have a vision to roll out the service to other UK cities, for the immediate future Britain has no alternative except to mourn the lack of Google Fiber.

 

EU Right to be Forgotten mess sees Google censoring BBC, Guardian

03 Jul 2014

gavel-keyboard

The moment the European Court of Justice ruled that the people of Europe do have a right to be forgotten, the warning bells sounded. What on earth would such a woolly, hard-to-define ruling actually mean in the digital age?

It turns out, as many warned, it’s effectively creating a strange, quasi-censorship system that is forcing Google to remove links to news articles that almost certainly deserve to be in the public domain.

Google protested hard against the ruling but ultimately it must comply with the law. So it has chosen to start removing articles from its indexes, and letting the firms involved know. So far the BBC and The Guardian have reported that pieces have been removed from Google, such as a column by Robert Peston commenting on  bankers' woes during the 2007 financial crisis.

It is not clear who made the requests, or why, but Google has decided that it must remove them. It could have possibly deferred the decisions to a legal authority, but instead has chosen to become the judge and jury of the requests it receives.

In many ways this isn’t Google’s fault. With over 50,000 requests piling up, it probably felt compelled to start making some decisions. However, the precedent is worrying.

Like it or loathe it, Google’s reach is huge, and removing a result from the index is a very good way of ensuring bad news is hidden away. While for some there may well be a legitimate reason to want a result removed, for most cases the motives could well be more questionable.

It's already been reported that some have asked for links regarding stories of tax dodgers, paedophiles and dodgy doctors to be removed from the Google search index. Again, the motives for this could come from an honest, understandable stance, but the outcome is worrying.

In effect, the European courts seem to have ended up creating a system of censorship, but rather than being the state that controls it, it is the people that have the right to try and hide themselves, with Google seemingly happy to process requests without question.

There are two points to consider though: firstly, the pressure this situation is creating for the EU could force it to amend its ruling. Secondly, with so many online outlets writing about the articles that are taken down, we could well see the Streisand effect come into play.

Perhaps Google is hoping for both outcomes, in order to show the EU courts how absurd the decision is proving.

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