With much of the south of the UK currently underwater and suffering from storm damage and power cuts, things are pretty bleak for many.
So anything that can make a small difference is to be welcomed and the good folks at Tech City have done exactly that by co-ordinating a ‘hackathon’ session in the capital to try and develop apps for those in flood-hit areas.
On Sunday around 200 developers, both individuals and employees from the likes of Twitter, Microsoft and Google, got together to use open data about the floods provided by the government to cobble together quick and useful apps that could prove helpful for those affected.
Teams were formed and each put together a two-minute pitch for judges from the Cabinet Office. Those picked out included UKFloodAlerts, which can be used to warn users of risks from burst rivers, power cuts or impassable roads.
Another chosen as a winner was called ViziCities that uses data from the ViziCities platform to make 3D maps of the flood level to make it clearer how areas have been affected.
Joanna Shields, Tech City UK chairman who led the initiative, praised the efforts of those involved and said it proved the “power of government opening up data”.
“In a meeting on Friday convened at No. 10 Downing Street, [the] government called on the tech community to best use its wealth of flood data and the response we’ve seen from developers has been fantastic,” she said.
“Over the course of the weekend we had hundreds of people volunteer their time to produce genuinely innovative apps that are testament to the creativity, imagination and generosity of our local tech community.”
The hope is that the apps will now go live and those in affected areas can get them on their phones and have a little more information about what's happening in their area. It may not be much, but it all helps, and underlines the potential of open data to help the public.
By V3's Dan Worth
A time capsule that included a computer mouse owned by the late Steve Jobs has been unearthed in California.
The capsule was buried in 1983 at the International Design Conference. It was filled with numerous items from the era, such as a Vogue magazine and a Rubik’s Cube. However, it was always known as the Steve Jobs’ Capsule because of the inclusion of his mouse that was used on his first Lisa computer.
The appearance by Jobs at the conference is regarded as a key moment in Apple's, and that of the wider industry's history, as he made several predictions there that came true.
“We will find a way to put (a computer) in a shoebox and sell it for $2,500, and finally, we’ll find a way to put it in a book," he said.
The capsule was supposed to have been dug up in 2000, but the coordinates of its location were lost when the conference went out of business. There it stayed until a TV show called Diggers got in on the act.
In a blog post promoting the find, the show explains that co-leads KG and Ringy had tracked down members of the capsule committee to discover the item's whereabouts.
As luck would have it the work proved successful and like modern-day pirates they uncovered the buried treasure. Like any good American should, the team whoop and holler with great excitement when they find the item, which you can see on 25 February, if you live in the US.
By V3's Dan Worth, who always has his head in the ground
Today, Toyota recalled 30,790 of its Prius hybrid cars in the UK because of a software glitch. While no accidents or injuries have been caused by the fault, we couldn't help but wonder what the implications for the I, Robot-style future of self-driving cars might be.
Toyota's issue is in the software that controls the car's hybrid system, specifically the boost converter, which is used when the car is accelerating hard from a standstill. In order to prevent overheating caused by the software pushing the car components too hard, drivers would see their cars operating at reduced power or may even find themselves grinding to a halt.
In order to fix the problem, owners will have to take their vehicle to a local Toyota dealership for a 40-minute software upgrade.
This is fairly upsetting for us at V3. While we don't own any Priuses ourselves, it does put our fantasy future of self-driving cars in jeopardy. Let's face it, Toyota's boost converter is probably a darn sight simpler than software that chooses whether you crash into your neighbour's garden fence or not.
A minor prang – or one serious accident – caused by software problems will surely spell the end of self-driving cars before they've properly begun. No doubt lawmakers and car manufacturers will insist the actual driver should be paying attention at all times, but humans are – for the most part – lazy. And yes, while passenger aircraft fly on autopilot for most of their journeys, their human pilots are (hopefully) awake, alert and ready to respond to any technical failures. The bleary-eyed car driver sipping their coffee on the way to work might not be quite so attentive.
A software update can't undo you writing off your car, or worse. It'll be fascinating to see how this is handled by car makers in the future.
By V3's Michael Passingham, who doesn't even trust auto-correct
The director of the government's Year of Code Lottie Dexter, who will be taking charge of the latest computing education scheme, does not know how to code.
In a performance best described as uncomfortable, longtime Newsnight interrogator Jeremy Paxman set about attempting to understand exactly why children should be taught to code.
"I'm going to put my cards on the table, Jeremy, I can't code," she said with a smile. Perhaps this is fair; maybe the Year of Code scheme's ambassador should go through the experience of learning to code along with the rest of the nation.
"Perhaps I could be the next Zuckerberg," she quipped.
Sadly, however, there is also a worrying lack of awareness about the new curriculum. "How long does it take to learn to teach to code?" Paxman asked, sitting back in his chair.
"I think you can pick it up in a day," she responded. Now, even for experienced secondary school teachers, we can safely say this isn't true. Simply understanding the broad wording of the new curriculum will be challenging enough, let alone understanding how to best turn a fairly dry topic into something exciting.
For primary school teachers, who likely have little to no experience in the field of computing whatsoever, the challenge will be even steeper.
It continues a long-running trend of the government overlooking the huge effort teachers are going to have to make this year. A little bit of humility is all that's required to show us that the government truly understands the difficult months ahead.
"I started a campaign last year," said Dexter. "And if I had learned code at school I could have done a website, I could have done an app and I would have saved a hell of a lot of time and a hell of a lot of money and could have done it a lot better." To be fair, though, if she had, she probably wouldn't have had time to actually run the campaign.
By V3's Michael Passingham, who believes neither Rome nor Facebook was built in a day
It’s official: Microsoft’s new CEO is former cloud chief Satya Nadella. The news had been expected since last week and was confirmed on Tuesday afternoon. The appointment marks a new era at Microsoft as it prepares for life under the third CEO in its history.
But who is Nadella? It’s fair to say he’s not the most well-known name in the business, even if he clearly was a high flyer at the company.
But Microsoft has done its best to bring his personality to the fore in their announcement, and included some nice touchy-feely details in the release that could prove useful for sounding like you know who he is in any board meetings or pub chats.
1. He’s a poetry lover, of both American and Indian writers, claiming it’s like code. “You’re trying to take something that can be described in many, many sentences and pages of prose, but you can convert it into a couple lines of poetry and you still get the essence, so it’s that compression,” he said.
2. He loves test cricket, which is almost certainly a first among big US tech CEOs. “[It] is the longest form of any sport in the world,” he said. “I love it. There’s so many subplots in it, it’s like reading a Russian novel.”
3. He was born in Hyderabad, India, is 46 and has three children. He has a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from Mangalore University and a master's degree in computer science from the University of Wisconsin.
4. His first job in the industry was at Sun Microsystems before he joined Microsoft in 1992. While working at Sun he was also studying for a master's degree in business when the role at Microsoft became available. He wanted to continue studying, though, so would fly from Seattle to Chicago for the weekend to complete his studies, underlining his determination.
5. Nadella already knows many of Microsoft's key product areas well, and before taking the CEO role he led the Cloud OS platform team. Cloud OS is used to power all of Microsoft’s internet cloud services such as Office 365, Bing, SkyDrive – now renamed OneDrive – Xbox Live, Skype and Dynamics.
For more from the man himself, Microsoft has put together a little video chat. It's probably not the toughest grilling he'll face as the new CEO but it gives some nice insight into his style – it's fair to say it is very different to Steve Ballmer's.
03 Feb 2014
Twitter appears to be looking at some new revenue streams that could see users buying products using buttons embedded in Tweets.
The potential new product, reported by Recode, appears in the form of designs pitched by online retailer Fancy. It shows a button embedded in a Tweet that advertises a product. While nobody from Twitter or Fancy has acknowledged the images, it suggests a sensible exploration of other revenue streams from Twitter, which makes a large part of its cash from advertising.
By introducing the sale of physical goods into tweets themselves, Twitter is looking at an area of social media-based retail that has been explored before. Facebook tried, tested and eventually mothballed its own attempts to sell products on its site, instead concentrating on cashing in on smileys and virtual coins.
But Twitter is fundamentally different from Facebook. Its advertising model allows businesses to buy into certain keywords and trends, making adverts that are hyper relevant but only last for a few seconds. With this new model, a business could conceivably use the #CoronationStreet hashtag to promote an item currently being featured in the advert break, for example.
One potential problem for Twitter, however, will be savvy consumers. While this system may be great for unique, hand-crafted items that can only be bought from a particular niche site, if firms attempt to advertise products that are more widely available, consumers will probably do a quick search to find the best price available and bypass Twitter entirely.
Nonetheless, investors will undoubtedly welcome speculation that Twitter is looking to create a new revenue stream as it tries to work its way out of the red.
By V3's Michael Passingham, who would sell his soul for a few more followers
31 Jan 2014
Honda has released the blueprints for a number of its concept cars from its past, present and potential future for 3D printing. While you won't be able to print off a new fleet of company cars, it's still worth a look.
Honda's generosity has enabled the 3D printer-owning public to download, edit and print scale models of its cars, free. This includes the Honda Puyo from 2007 (below): the Puyo is particularly notable because it was designed to have a "soft, gel-like body" to protect its occupants and pedestrians from injury in the event of a collision. "Safe, fun and easy to drive, it represents an ideal fusion of people-friendly design technologies". And now it can be on your desk for the price of some 3D printer "ink".
If you're looking for something more contemporary, the 2013 Honda NSX concept is also available.
3D printers are still an expensive purchase, but the ethos companies such as Honda have applied to them is great: turning revolutionary designs into an open-source project has great potential in terms of crowdsourcing ideas and inspiring people to improve on their designs. The potential for use in schools and colleges is also high, with high-detail designs free for students to study.
Head to Honda-3D.com to take a look and download some of the models for yourself, although you may wish to turn your speakers down first.
By V3's Michael Passingham, whose collection of Matchbox vehicles is extensive
Thirty years ago the world watched with wonder as an athletic woman ran into a dusty room of dull and suited men before hurling a hammer through the screen they were all dutifully watching. It marked the arrival of the first Apple Macintosh computer and things were never the same again.
Since then Apple's personal computer line has been one of the most successful and desirable product lines to have existed in the computer era. Even now with sleek ultrabooks and all manner of tablets, not least Apple's own iPad range, on the market, the devices command respect and bank account-draining prices to boot.
While Microsoft may have built its dominance on the Windows platform by letting any manufacturer use its operating system, Apple, under the vision of Steve Jobs, put everything together itself to keep the harmony of hardware and software in one place.
Ever since 1984 this has remained Apple's hallmark of success as users knew they were getting high-quality performance and beautiful design in one package.
The Macintosh – later the Mac, which is a lot snappier – was not just a thing of beauty, it was a trendsetter. It's easy to take the modern user interface we use for granted, but it was Apple that brought such a control method to the masses.
While user interface controls may not have changed much, the design of the Apple Mac has gone through several variations. From its original boxy, basic design, to colourful side panels, and the swivelling 'sunflower', Apple's design teams have never shied away from trying to do something different with Macs.
This has recently been taken to extremes with the latest Mac Pro about as far removed from the original concept of the Macintosh as possible.
Apple itself has put together a little historical retrospective on the Macintosh, with a few musicians, teachers and other arty types giving glowing endorsements to the devices. While those less fond of Apple may find it all a bit self-indulgent, few would deny the impact the device has had on the world.
By V3's Dan Worth, who owns three macs, all raincoats