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Racist tweets land student in jail

28 Mar 2012

As any ardent tweeter knows, you can pack a lot into 140 characters. Enough indeed to land you in jail for nearly two months, as Swansea University student Liam Stacey has found to his cost. Those that think the micro-blogging platform provides any semblance of anonymity should sit up and take note.

Stacey was found guilty of posting racially offensive comments on the site, relating to Bolton Wanderers footballer Fabrice Muamba, after he collapsed on the pitch during a recent FA Cup match with Spurs.

Police were knocking on Stacey's door to question him about the comments within days.

While there's been near-universal revulsion at Stacey's comments, the 56-day sentence imposed underscores the hard line taken by the authorities over what gets posted on social media.

Earlier this week, a cross-party committee of MPs published their report into privacy and injunctions, in the wake of numerous online breaches of court orders, often by people posting under a pseudonym on Twitter.

As the MPs noted, Twitter will readily unmask its users and hand over all account information when presented with a court order.

Stacey isn't, of course, the only person to appear in court because of comments made on social media.

Last year, two men, Jordan Blackshaw and Perry Sutcliffe-Keenan, were jailed for four years for inciting riots on Facebook.

And Paul Chambers' case has become something of a cause célèbre, after his tweet about blowing up Robin Hood airport landed him with a hefty fine.

Anyone viewing Twitter as just a repository for throwaway comments should think again.  

UPDATED: UK MPs want iPads for official business

26 Mar 2012

Apple iPad

Members of the UK parliament may soon be waving Apple iPads at each other across the dispatch box instead of order papers, according to reports in the press.

The Commons Administration Committee has recommended purchasing Apple's tablet device for all MPs as a move that it expects would save on taxpayer's money, according to the BBC.

Part of the logic of the proposal is that tablets would make it easier for MPs to do their work and save on paper.

However, MPs are currently already entitled to three desktop computers and two laptops for their office use, and the committee is recommending an iPad in addition to these rather than instead of one or more of them.

According to the BBC, a trial of the iPad by members of the Administration Committee resulted in savings of several thousand pounds through circulating information electronically rather than by hard copy.

Rather pathetically, a committee member is quoted as saying that the prospect of securing discounts from Apple for bulk buying are likely to be limited. Surely the UK government should have more confidence in its purchasing power?

It seems that Parliament is looking at purchasing the older iPad 2 models, rather than the newer iPad announced earlier this month.

The House of Commons Commission is expected to consider the committee's recommendation in a meeting due to take place later today.

UPDATE (27 March): Speaking to V3, a Commons Administration Committee representative confirmed the decision on the MP's iPad bid had been pushed back to 30 April after discussion on another topic rolled passed its allotted time during the meeting on 26 March.

Amazon splashes out $775m on laser-guided robots

20 Mar 2012

Online retailing giant Amazon likes to do things a little differently. So when it found it had $775m burning a hole in its pockets, it realised that the best way to spend it was – on what else – a laser-guided robot drone army to man its vast warehouses.

Amazon has agreed to stump up the cash for warehouse picking and transport robot maker Kiva Systems – the brainchild of a former employee at dotcom poster child, Webvan.

Kiva chief executive Mick Mountz saw first-hand how Webvan's inability to get orders out of the doors quickly enough hamstrung the company. The MIT-trained engineer put his mind to devising a more forward-thinking approach to fulfilment.

And what better way, than through the use of robots?

Over the past 10 years, Kiva has landed a string a high-profile customers, including high street fashion retailer GAP.

The Kiva system relies on custom-designed facilities, so that its open floor space can be transformed into a information grid for its robots, which use a combination of 2D barcode stickers and a wireless network to navigate around a warehouse.

Amazon's aim is clear: Kiva's rack-shifting robots should help it reduce the cost of operating its warehouses.

“Amazon has long used automation in its fulfilment centres, said David Clark, vice president of global customer fulfilment, at Amazon.

But if that doesn't prove a fulfilling strategy, it can always just make the robots dance around its warehouses, which would look pretty good.

In pictures: the new iPad launch at Apple's Regent Street store

16 Mar 2012

The launch of a new Apple product is always accompanied by the inevitable queue, with eager fans getting in line outside stores around the world to ensure they can say they were one of the first to get hold of whatever new shiny device the firm is selling.

The new iPad was no different, with some fans getting in line last weekend, although most had a far more casual one night sleepover on the cold, hard, unforgiving concrete of Regent's Street.

When V3 popped along this morning to see what was going on we came across the usual mix of the weird and wonderful, which we've documented below in photographic glory, because a picture is worth a thousand words...

Apple teased the assembled queuers by putting a solitary device tantalisingly within reach behind a thin-sheet of glass.

Apple teases those in the queue with new iPad

Meanwhile, the world's media (sort of) continued to gather to try and get a spot to snap those on the other side of the barriers. V3 had arrived at 7:30am, so had no such trouble bagging a top spot.

Media photo scrum for new iPad launch

Eventually, as the clock ticked around to 8am, the crowds were let in, to huge cheers and applause from Apple's blue-shirted staff. Some people going into the store to buy the new iPad, already had the new iPad they'd bought at midnight from other locations, and were filming the experience on the device, which was an odd sight.

Man films new iPad launch on a new iPad

Things started to get really surreal, though, when a gaggle of clearly-fake air hostesses turned up and started posing with the first few fans through the door. Apple apparently had no issue with this and let it take place without incident.

Air hostesses pose with one of the first new iPad buyers

As if this wasn't enough, one chap then added a giant cat's head to the situation, with wonderfully bizarre results.

Man in giant cat's costume poses with air hostesses with new iPad

While for the on-looking press this was an amusing side-note, for most exiting the store it was a chance to celebrate getting their hands on the device, as first-in-line Zohaib Ali did with style.

Zohaib Ali shows off his new iPad

Eventually, though, when the dust had settled there's only a few traces left that would hint at the madness that had gone before. No doubt the iPhone 5 launch - or will it be the new iPhone? - will see the whole circus start up again.

Outside Apple's Regent Street store after the queue for the new iPad

Android's pattern-lock security confounds FBI computer forensics team

15 Mar 2012

sony-xperia-s-pattern-lock-screenJust how good is the protection afforded by the pattern-lock technique Google designed to prevent unauthorised access to some Android-based smartphones?

Good enough to apparently defeat the entire technical brainpower of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) Regional Computer Forensics Labs (RCFL) in Southern California.

A recently released affidavit, discovered by security researcher Christopher Soghoian of Indiana University, revealed that the FBI went cap-in-hand to a judge, seeking a warrant that would force Google to help them unlock the phone.

The phone in question had been seized during the arrest of a notorious gang member and pimp in January.

In his warrant application, special agent Jonathan Cupina explained how the RCFL technicians made several attempts to unlock the phone, but ended up just triggering the lock-out mechanism, which requires a Gmail login and password to override. It was these details that the FBI wanted Google to hand over.

As Soghoian points out, it seems slightly perverse for a computer forensics lab to resort to obtaining search warrants for Google, when there are tried and tested commercial products and hardware hacks that would have enabled the FBI to access the phone's data.

Sure, the FBI may have needed a warrant to legally access the phone's data, but surely it could have done that rather than going direct to Google? It certainly doesn't paint the FBI's computer forensic team in a flattering light.

Tablets and broadband packages added to national shopping basket

13 Mar 2012

The new Apple iPad

Tablet computers have only been around in their current guise for two years but their popularity in the consumer markets has meant that the Office of National Statistics has added the device to its national shopping basket used to measure the spend of UK consumers.

The organisation said that the devices were now making such an impact on the market that they needed to be included in its retail guide, particularly as they were accounting for much of the nation's spend on technology, in place of older devices.

"Developments in technology influence the basket update and in 2012 tablet computers (such as the iPad and Samsung Galaxy Tab) are being included for the first time," it said.

"This mirrors the evolution of computer equipment through desktop personal computers, laptops and now tablets, and they are being introduced to capture price changes in this rapidly expanding market."

With the new iPad set to be launched on Friday, and no doubt ready to fly off the shelves into the arms of grateful consumers eager to get their hands on the latest iDevice from Apple, the ONS's timing appears justified.

It wasn't just tablets that were added, though, with bundled communication packages - telephone lines, internet and TV services - also included, underlining the new way many consumers purchase digital services.

The inclusion of these services, as well as tablet computers, in the ONS's updated shopping list underlines just how central technology has become to the lives of the general public, both for use in the workplace and at home.

Tips for using Windows 8 show that Metro needs more work

09 Mar 2012

Microsoft has responded to user feedback on Windows 8 with a blog update offering hints and tips for newcomers to find their way around the new Metro user interface.

Windows 8 Start menu with charms

In a new posting on the Windows Experience Blog, Kent Walter of Microsoft's Windows team delivers a comprehensive run through detailing how users can find their way around in the Windows 8 Consumer Preview, especially when using the new-look Metro-style applications and user interface.

However, the fact that Microsoft has had to resort to hints and tips to advise people how to use Windows 8 should be ringing alarm bells at the software giant, and does not bode well for the success of the Metro-style user interface itself.

Windows 8 is a huge change from earlier versions of Windows, which in many ways is a good move. However, the company should be striving to make user interfaces simpler and more intuitive, especially with the mass market for consumer tablet devices forming a major target for this platform.

If users need instruction on using Windows 8, it demonstrates that the Metro user interface is perhaps not as intuitive as Microsoft intended, and that it could perhaps do with some tweaking if the company is to avoid discouraging potential buyers from the next version of Windows.

Certainly when V3 tried out the interface last week it took us some time to get our head around the navigation and display of the system, an experience which is likely to be replicated by the millions of Windows users out there.

Channel tunnel to receive 3G mobile coverage ahead of London Olympics

06 Mar 2012

eurostar

The Eurostar, despite having a perception of being an elegant, sophisticated way to hop across the Channel and sample the delights of Paris or Amsterdam with ease, is actually a fairly dull travel experience, not helped by the occasional horror stories that come from nine-hour delays.

Still, some 20 million people use it every year, and, instead of staring out of the windows at the dull, industrial landscapes of northern France and southern England (the route really is dull) most will spend the time using tablets and smartphones to read news, send emails and other web activities.

Except, of course, during the bit actually in the tunnel when all signal disappears for the duration, until you emerge, blinking, into France or the UK.

However, Eurotunnel, the management firm for the Channel Tunnel, is set to change all this having announced a deal with French telecoms operators to install 2G and 3G networks ahead of the Olympic Games so our Gallic cousins can enjoy Le Web as they head to Blighty.

The service will at first only be available in the France to UK tunnel, with operators Bouygues Telecom, Orange SFR and Free agreeing a deal with the French government and Eurotunnel to manage the €14 million installation.

Of course, this does mean that yet another small pocket of internet-less existence in the Western world will be gone, as we continue with our desire to provide pervasive web access wherever we may be, so we can't escape life, work, family, stock prices, and the rest.

Still, the UK to France tunnel won't be fitted with the necessary equipment until after the games, so those travelling to the continent can at least disappear for a little while yet, and then claim roaming charges make it too expensive to call home or check data on-the-go.

However, with the European Commission (EC) hoping to slash roaming costs too, there may soon be no excuse there either, so prepare yourselves for a world of endless, non-stop, unfettered communication - there is no escape, resistance is futile.

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