In fair Euston we set our scene, where news has emerged that author Mark Forsyth discovered that newly installed WiFi filters at the British Library have banned possibly the greatest work in the history of the English language: Shakespeare's Hamlet.
The filters were acting overzealously to some of the more bloody elements of Hamlet, which is about murder and revenge, after all. The British Library acknowledged the error, blaming the newly installed WiFi service, which it offers free, for being set too strictly.
"We have recently introduced a new WiFi service. It’s early days in the implementation of this service and we are aware that the new filter has been blocking certain sites erroneously. We are actively working to resolve this issue," it said in a statement.
There’s a nice element of irony in this, as it shows just how ridiculous filtering can become, especially as the government attempts to impose this upon internet service providers, claiming it will protect people from horrible content. The filters may protect them from a few dodgy sites, but they will also stop them reading the nation’s greatest writer.
In honour of this story, and with our deepest apologies to The Bard, we humbly offer this sonnet, telling the tale in rhyme.
In the halls of the British Library
An institute of learning and knowledge
Filled with scholars and students from college
A man uses the WiFi, offered free
He searches ‘Hamlet’, the Bard’s finest tale
Told with wit, charm and artistic license
But also filled with death and violence
So much so it is deemed beyond the pale
By the WiFi filters that have been set –
So nasty and evil sites can be blocked
And rightly too, so users are not shocked –
But they have ended up banning Hamlet!
Shakespeare would laugh at our filter terrors
Calling it a comedy of errors
By V3's Dan Worth, who hopes his creative writing teacher would be proud
While flicking through today's government document concerning Britain's digital platform for growth, we spotted something that amused us.
In order to demonstrate the usage of the wireless spectrum, the report referred to an image produced by Encyclopaedia Britannica in 2001 (below). We forgot that Britannica existed, which wasn't helped by the fact that the company stopped publishing its physical editions last year.
It's nice to see such colourful imagery in what is otherwise a standard government report, but eagle-eyed V3 staffers spotted a few things that were missing from this formerly cutting-edge diagram.
For starters, as this diagram is intended to show the common uses of the wireless spectrum in the UK, the mention of VHF television was quite a surprise given that the UK stopped broadcasting VHF TV signals in 1985. DAB – which has been broadcasting for the best part of two decades on the VHF frequency alongside FM (this, thankfully, receives a mention) – is also notably absent. Perhaps it is a statement about the format's sluggish uptake.
Elsewhere, we see no sign of WiFi, which we would hesitantly say play a reasonably important role in the UK's wireless offering. It would be found somewhere in the SHF range, in case you were wondering. And while we do see reference to mobile phones through the use of the long-forgotten phrase "cellular phone", there is no talk of 4G in this particular visual demonstration.
Finally, it's good to see an old-fashioned cathode ray tube (CRT) TV getting its time in the spotlight; there's nothing quite like the glow of a CRT to bring out wistful thoughts of screen burn and square eyes.
By V3's Michael Passingham, who loves his cellular phone
10 May 2013
President Obama recently signed an executive order that will require government organisations to release their data to the public in an easily digestible form. The White House says that the move will give entrepreneurs and innovators the information they need to create engaging new products.
To see what sort of potential this government data holds for the private sector, look at the past. Prior to the 1980s GPS data was mostly relegated to military and government organisations. It wasn't until 1983 and the release of GPS data to the public that consumer mapping technology really began to take shape.
At the time, then-President Ronald Reagan ordered GPS data become freely available to the public. Reagan's decree came following the crash of Korean Air flight 007, which was shot down after getting lost and flying to near Soviet airspace.
By 1989, US company Magellan released the first commercially available portable GPS system. The Magellan NAV 1000 used GPS data from government satellites to put GPS right next to a citizen's Walkman.
The release of the device, and the government data it used, is why we have GPS navigation today. From Google Maps to Apple Maps, all of the world's most basic turn-by-turn navigation wouldn't be possible without government data.
The example goes to show that the government has types of data that would be almost impossible to get without an open initiative to release it. The US government has the resources to do things that the private sector cannot.
Government agencies have the abilities and options to collect massive amounts of data on things that private firms would never spend money on. If it wasn't for the military's work with GPS, the private sector could be years behind what today's mapping apps are capable of.
A startup would never be able to map the globe or launch a satellite for the sake of a navigation app. By giving out government data, the Obama administration has opened the door for clever entrepreneurs to use data without doing the legwork.
The release of an annual transparency report is quickly becoming part of the status quo in Silicon Valley.
As consumers begin sharing more and more data with technology companies its becoming increasingly important to know what is happening to your data. In a world with social media, understanding how and for what purposes consumer data is being used is now a necessity.
As consumers become more aware of the information they are sharing, so to are companies starting to open up about what they do with that data. From Google to Twitter, Silicon Valley is starting to open up about how many and what types of data requests they receive each year.
Last January, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) called on tech firms to make transparency reports the new norm.
The EFF started by calling on Microsoft to release a detailed report on the requests they receive for Skype user data. Then, the group took it one step further and asked the whole of Silicon Valley to make reports part of the status quo.
With the recent release of Microsoft's Skype transparency report, the EFF completed phase one of its mission. However, their task is not over just yet. The EFF now wants every tech company to buy into the idea of data sharing transparency.
Microsoft's recent transparency report is a strong first step. Having one of the biggest tech companies in the world step in line with a transparency status quo is a major coup.
Redmond and Skype were one of the last major holdouts in the push for consistent transparency reports. Now, with the latest addition, there should not be any reason for present and future companies to not offer transparency reports.
The information withheld in those reports is important because they hold government and law enforcement accountable for the type of data they request. By knowing that each request for data is being compiled, government agencies should be wary of making fraudulent data requests.
By making transparency requests the new norm Silicon Valley is making the various government agencies of world accountable for the requests they are making.
When George Osborne’s team advised the chancellor to join Twitter in an effort to, no doubt, show how in touch with the people he was, they probably thought it was also a nice way of distracting people form the harsh realities of the budget he was due to deliver.
The plan seemed to be working, with thousands of Twitter users abusing Osborne on the site, and numerous memes sprouting to mock and ridicule the chancellor.
While this was all fun and games, the serious side of Twitter has since come forth to prove what a hazardous tool it, and the web in general can be, after The Evening Standard accidentally posted details of the budget online before Osborne had even begun speaking.
An over zealous member of the team’s Twitter account put the paper’s front page splash out, and although it was hastily deleted – oh, can you imagine the scramble for the delete button? – once it was online there was no hope of saving the situation.
I wish to apologise for a very serious mistake by the @eveningstandard earlier which resulted in our front page being tweeted.— Joe Murphy (@JoeMurphyLondon) March 20, 2013
As we’ve seen many times before, the internet seem ephemeral but the reality is very different and once something is hosted online, especially via Twitter, it’s very hard to stop that information going viral. It’s as good as impossible, really.
For Osborne, the leak could even cost him his job as former chancellors have fallen on their sword for similar incidents, and there would be a delicious irony if Osborne’s downfall was caused by Twitter, in a roundabout way, on the very day he joined the site.
The death of 26-year-old internet activist and co-creator of Reddit, Aaron Swartz, has unleashed an outpouring of sympathy and tributes online. But none of the eulogies are perhaps as surprising as the one written yesterday by Mike Bracken.
While Bracken's comments – praising Swartz's “unbridled eagerness to apply the toolkit of the internet age in the service of civil society,” – were in keeping with many of the sentiments expressed online, what made them unusual is Bracken's job, and the place he published the comments.
For those that weren't immediately aware, Bracken is the executive director of Digital at the Cabinet Office. The comments were published on the Government Digital Service blog.
Prior to his death, Swartz had been pursued by the legal authorities in the US, for his involvement in the unauthorised downloading of academic papers.
While his prosecution has been widely condemned by internet activists, it is highly unusual to have government officials pay tribute to those suspected of breaking the law.
"We are shocked and saddened by the death of Aaron Swartz. Some of us at GDS were fortunate to have met him; others were involved in the many projects he worked on; all of us are in some way indebted to his legacy," he wrote.
In a footnote, Bracken explains his thinking behind making, what he recognised might be a controversial post.
"I understand this may seem the wrong place for these sentiments but we also believe in openness and we think that government departments should behave as though there are humans in them," he said.
"This is from our human side. I apologise in advance if anyone thinks I made the wrong call. That decision was all mine."
At V3, we welcome Bracken's comments. If he can keep such principles in tact in the delivery of digital services in the UK, we're all likely to be the better for it.
When it comes to boosting skills in the UK IT sector, a key message – and one often referenced in V3’s current Make IT Better campaign - is that we should try to make science and technology more ‘inspiring’ subjects to study.
The idea is, don’t scare off the next-generation of computer whizz kids by revealing that a lot of the job entails repetitive tasks and pain-staking testing; instead make sure that those leading the way – techies in government, businesses and schools – are role models for the youth of today, with enough street cred to stand shoulder to shoulder with footballers and reality TV stars.
And here’s where we fall down in the UK. Take this quote, selected from a random online article about the lack of science, technology, engineering and maths skills (and by the way, Stem hardly sounds an industry many would aspire to be in).
Lords Science and Technology Committee report chairman Lord Willis, noted, “When you have a university like Cambridge saying that even with an A* in mathematics we are having to give remedial maths in order to study engineering there is something not quite right if we are going to produce the very best to compete with the world.
"In reality the quality of the Stem graduates coming out of universities does not meet the requirements of industry and in fact is ultimately not even likely to meet the requirements of academia."
He’s making an important point, but the messaging is dull. I doubt anyone reading that quote would be enthused to rise up and improve the maths GCSE curriculum.
Lord Willis, and all your colleagues in UK government concerned about the IT skills shortage here, please take a lesson from Paul Shawcross, chief of the Science and Space Branch at the White House Office of Management and Budget, on how to engage the nation on this issue.
Shawcross spotted an opportunity to highlight the work of his department, and encourage more people to pursue a sci/tech career, based on a Star Wars-themed petition submitted to the White House.
The petition to ‘Secure resources and funding, and begin construction of a Death Star by 2016’ aimed to spur job creation in the fields of construction, engineering and space exploration by focusing defence resources on a space-superiority platform and weapon system.
The US government could have just issued a standard ‘no’ response to the petition, but instead Shawcross – clearly a Star Wars aficionado – crafted a detailed response, littered with references to the galaxy far far away and acting as a rallying cry for the sci/tech sector.
You know you’re in for a good read, when the headline of a government petition reply is: ‘This Isn't the Petition Response You're Looking For’.
Shawcross initially listed some of the reasons why the government couldn’t go ahead with the request:
"The construction of the Death Star has been estimated to cost more than $850,000,000,000,000,000. We're working hard to reduce the deficit, not expand it.
The Administration does not support blowing up planets.
"Why would we spend countless taxpayer dollars on a Death Star with a fundamental flaw that can be exploited by a one-man starship?"
In the same comical tone, Shawcross went on to detail all the current achievements by the US government space team: the International Space Station, which routinely welcomes visiting spacecraft and repairs on-board garbage mashers; two robot science labs - one wielding a laser - roving around Mars; and not forgetting Nasa's Commercial Crew and Cargo Program Office (C3PO).
“Even though the United States doesn't have anything that can do the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs, we've got two spacecraft leaving the Solar System and we're building a probe that will fly to the exterior layers of the Sun,” he noted.
“We don't have a Death Star, but we do have floating robot assistants on the Space Station, a president who knows his way around a light saber and advanced (marshmallow) cannon, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which is supporting research on building Luke's arm, floating droids, and quadruped walkers.”
And then came the masterstroke, where Shawcross proved the value of his sci-fi film fanaticism a thousand times over: “We are living in the future! Enjoy it. Or better yet, help build it by pursuing a career in a science, technology, engineering or math-related field.
“If you do pursue a career in a science, technology, engineering or math-related field, the Force will be with us! Remember, the Death Star's power to destroy a planet, or even a whole star system, is insignificant next to the power of the Force.”
That post was everywhere over social networks over the weekend, and no doubt managed to reach more of the target audience than any traditional IT skills marketing campaign could ever dream to.
So, to all members of sci/tech committees in any far away galaxies out there, or just the UK, please find your inner Force and aim to inspire rather than bore the next generation of techies, whether that’s by following Barack Obama, with his Astronomy Night on the South Lawn, or just creating IT skills campaigns that pass on a serious message in a less than serious tone.
We need to act soon before more would-be IT stars are seduced by the dark side - or media studies, as it's otherwise known.
Misinformation propagated through social media can hurt businesses in the real world, according to a new report from the World Economic Forum (WEF).
The Global Risks 2013 report says that Twitter rumours and Facebook hoaxes can cause real life panic among citizens. According to the report, the hyper connectivity afforded to society through social media can lead to "digital wildfires" of misinformation.
"Social media can rapidly spread information that is either intentionally or unintentionally misleading or provocative," managing director at WEF Lee Howell in a New York Times op-ed.
"In the summer of 2012, for example, a Twitter user impersonating the Russian interior minister, Vladimir Kolokoltsev, tweeted that president Bashar al-Assad of Syria had been 'killed or injured'; crude oil prices rose by over one dollar before traders realized that Assad was alive and well."
Howell uses the example of the Assad hoax to illustrate how social media can cause panic in investors. In that case, oil prices quickly levelled out when the truth was revealed through a press release sent out by the Russian government. However, the idea that some oil traders took the tweet at face value is still alarming.
The report also points to the Twitter ordeal of Paul Chambers as proof of the real world consequences of social media. Chambers was fined £1,000 for sending out a joking tweet about blowing up Robin Hood Airport. His ruling was later overturned following a public outcry from celebrities like Stephen Fry.
Whether the communications is meant as a joke or something more nefarious the truth remains that social media is still an industry in its infancy. The WEF says that industry will have to evolve to prevent social media misinformation from causing real-world harm in the future.
The report outlines a variety of options to ameliorate the threat, such as governmental regulations and new technology that could be used to discover the veracity of information.
However, in the end, the WEF says it will need to be up to the users to issue caution when using social media. In other words, it's up to end users to use better judgment to tell whether a tweet is part of a hoax.
Users will, most likely, become more discerning as the social networking industry grows. Users have just started to fully understand social media's impact in the last few years. Like anything sometimes people will get tricked but, for the most part, not everyone is so gullible.