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November, 2010

Farewell to Sir Maurice Wilkes: the UK’s father of computing

Tuesday, November 30th, 2010

Sir Maurice Wilkes Sir Maurice Wilkes, the British forefather of the Stored Program computer, has died at the age of 97.

I attended one of his last speeches (read about my mind-blowing evening with £2.5bn worth of British computing talent) and was spellbound. Here was someone who looked carefully at what the Americans were doing in the 1940s and turned their largely military development efforts into a scientific and business tool, laying the ground for the development undertaken by such unlikely private-sector pioneers as Lyon’s Tea Houses.

Very few people can legitimately deliver a verdict on our entire industry, from digital watches through to Google Earth, the way that Wilkes can – when I met him in 2008, he thought it had “all turned out rather well”. He reminded us just how important the British are in an industry which can seem vast, indifferent and unstoppable.

The kind of philosophical chutzpah that Wilkes and his team showed in building their machine, in post-war Britain, is a very long way from the passive consumer approach found in today’s population of Tweeting, Facebooking trivia-junkies. I can’t help wondering where the next game-changing pioneer will come from, and if they see as much progress as Wilkes, what they will think of this business come the year 2071.

(Photo: Copyright Computer Laboratory, University of Cambridge. Reproduced by permission.)

Thousands fall victim to Facebook profile scam

Monday, November 29th, 2010

FacebookI have to admit that I really don’t care who has looked at my Facebook profile. If I didn’t want people to see it I would nuke my Facebook account. If anyone who does take a look is so impressed by my boyish good looks and the eloquent charm of my update postings, then they can request to become my friend and I can merrily ignore them.

There are, in all honesty, many other things which take priority when it comes to worrying Mr Winder: when will the central-heating boiler start working again, how much snow is going to fall today and what will my nose look like by the end of the week after surgeons have finished operating on my face, for example. Yet, for tens of thousands of Facebook users the question has obviously been weighing heavy on their minds. At least that is the only explanation I can think of to explain why a rogue Facebook app is running riot right now.

“OMG, OMG, OMG! Now you can see who viewed your Facebook profile” the scam message doing the rounds suggests, and a click on the link allows you to download an app to reveal all.

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Privacy? Oh for fax sake

Monday, November 29th, 2010

faxmachine

When we think of data breaches, we remember lost CD-ROMs packed with personal details of tax payers that are lost in the post, Ministry of Defence laptops left in the back of taxis, and USB drives dropped in pub car parks.

Encryption is the key to battling such breaches, we are told, as locking down data helps keep it private in the event of hardware or media loss or theft. Who’d have thought, then, that these days anyone would really send private details out in a readable format without any obfuscation of data should the missive be intercepted?

Yet this is apparently what happens as a matter of course across the UK as the painfully decrepit fax machine lingers on like a paper-spewing ghost of offices past.

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Why we can’t afford to wait for fibre

Friday, November 26th, 2010

JR Annett

For the past couple of days I’ve been with BT in Northern Ireland, visiting homes and businesses that have been among the first in the UK to be hooked up to BT’s fibre broadband network.

If you’re one of those people who can’t understand why Britain needs a decent high-speed network, or think that rural campaigners are greedy for demanding proper broadband in their area, you should listen to the stories from the people we visited in Northern Ireland.

People such as Paul Sherry, Hugh Morgan and Joseph Ireland – three ambitious young men who set up their own company while midway through their degrees, because they could see that there would be no jobs in the flagging construction industry waiting for them when they finished their studies.

They run Energy Assessments NI, a company that certifies the energy efficiency of new buildings as required by EU law. Much of their work involves sending and receiving large architectural drawings over email, or delivering certificates electronically to their customers – tasks that are painfully slow or just aren’t possible without a decent broadband connection.

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Android App of the Week: Ulysse Gizmos

Thursday, November 25th, 2010

Ulysse GizmosAsk my colleagues in the PC Pro office, and they’ll confirm that I’m not exactly a person who enjoys the great outdoors. My one attempt at skiing lasted barely two hours, and my single camping trip came to an abrupt end when I woke up with a duck asleep on my chest.

If you’re one of the millions who does enjoy spending time away from electricity, chairs, showers and beds, though, then this week’s Android App of the Week is essential.

It’s called Ulysse Gizmos, and it’s a neat tool that collects together almost every bit of information that a frequent traveller might need, thanks to the wealth of sensors that are included in the average Android handset.

Open up the app, and you’ll see what we mean: the main gauge provides a compass with heading, bearing and orientation indicators alongside both true and magnetic measurements. The screen also provides your longitude and latitude alongside altitude and accuracy measurements.

Three other meters are present on the home screen. The top-right corner provides GPS positioning, with your precise position measured alongside the number of satellites you’re using and any potential errors, the bottom-right serves up a magnetometer complete with current field strength, declination value and direction, and the third small small dial uses your phone’s accelerometer to measure vertical and horizontal angles alongside pitch, roll and more. (more…)

Information Commissioner: your data is worth £2.50

Thursday, November 25th, 2010

The Information Commissioner’s Office has started dishing out fines for those businesses with insufficient security in place that results in a deliberate or negligent breach of personal data. Shame on them for taking so long: the power to impose fines of up to £500,000 came into effect on 6 April 2010.  And shame on them, as well, for placing such a low value on our personal data.

Hold on, you may well be thinking, half a million quid is a fair old wedge for a business at any time, but even more so when the recession effect is still biting the bottom line. But after the UK part of Zurich Insurance failed to secure confidential customer data and suffered a data loss which potentially put 46,000 customers at risk, the Financial Services Authority fined the company a whopping great £2.275 million. That works out to around £49 per customer at risk, which itself isn’t exactly a huge amount but it does look truly gigantic compared to the ICO fines this week.

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Yet another Microsoft storage disaster

Wednesday, November 24th, 2010

HP Mediasmart centre

So Microsoft has decided to kill off the Drive Extender technology in the next release of Windows Home Server, codenamed Vail (and the other concotions of the same basic recipe: Small Business Server 2011 Essentials, codenamed Aurora).

This was the one bit of cleverness in Windows Home Server that really appealed to the home user. Buy a four-bay server like the cute little HP Home Server, and add more discs when you needed more space.

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Has Quark backed the wrong horse again?

Wednesday, November 24th, 2010

blog quarkxpress digital publishing

It’s an exciting time for publishing, as the arrival of the handheld tablet form factor (aka the iPad) promises to finally usher in the era of wysiwyg, immersive reading alongside traditional web browsing. It looks like the digital dream that print publishers have been crying out for since they first grasped the full potential of the internet – stunning content, global audiences, revenue opportunities and minimal costs – is finally coming true.

More than this, there’s a real element of turmoil and unpredictability at the moment as Steve Jobs’ open war on Adobe and his refusal to support Flash on the market-defining iPad means that Adobe’s plans for the handheld market have hit an unexpected roadblock. In short, the future of design-intensive digital publishing is up for grabs.

All in all it’s a golden opportunity for Adobe’s main publishing rival, Quark, which last week announced the new 8.5 release of its flagship software QuarkXPress.

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iPhone App of the Week: TuneIn Radio

Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010

Photo Nov 23, 12 48 31As anyone who’s ever desperately tried to tune in to Radio Five for the football commentary will testify, the iPhone doesn’t do radio. Not only does it not have an FM tuner, but any attempts to tune in to live BBC streams via their respective websites pings you straight to the iPlayer: where’s there no live stream option.

Step forward TuneIn Radio, a simply magnificent little app that not only delivers the BBC channels over your 3G/Wi-Fi data connection, but pretty much any radio station on the planet (Padare Radio Zimbabwe, anyone?).

TuneIn Radio is far more than a digital tuner, although the fuss free manner in which it organises its list of channels should serve as a lesson to makers of internet radios everywhere. Not only does it list stations, but also the show and even the individual song that’s currently playing (providing the station coughs up the relevant data, which many of the big boys do).

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Simple rules for stupid tech companies

Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010

Fat businessman

I’ve decided to fix the tech industry. All of it, right now. Here’s how.

If it’s been done before, do it better

Company exec: I have an idea for an eBook reader. It’ll be like the Kindle, only rubbish and more expensive. Happily, our customers have the intelligence of drunken sparrows and are easily confused by colour. The Kindle is white, ours will be white. They’ll never know.

CEO: Sebastian, you’re a genius. The money I was going to invest in research and development I can now use to buy another yacht, from which I can sip champagne and watch as my company goes down the pan quicker than the contents of a banker’s pockets after a knock on the door from the fuzz.

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