Friday roundup: A week in tech

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Intel’s attempts to fix its dodgy CPUs have caused further problems, as the company desperately tries to address the worst thing to happen to chips since McCain made those revolting microwaveable ones.

Patches released to address the Meltdown and Spectre security issues – which potentially allow shadowy types to access a machine’s private data via the CPU – have led to devices rebooting more than would be deemed normal.

And Intel’s own in-house tests found that the patches can lead to a device’s performance dropping by up to 25%.

Writing on the firm’s website, executive Navin Shenoy said that ‘while the firmware updates are effective at mitigating exposure to the security issues, customers have reported more frequent reboots on firmware updated systems’.

According to Mr Shenoy, Intel have ‘determined that similar behaviour occurs on other products in some configurations, including Ivy Bridge-, Sandy Bridge-, Skylake-, and Kaby Lake-based platforms. We have reproduced these issues internally and are making progress toward identifying the root cause. In parallel, we will be providing beta microcode to vendors for validation by next week.’

Here’s the article, which is quite informative, but I feel, in view of the ongoing debacle, Mr Shenoy may appear a little too cheerful in his pic for some.

Of course, all this might be very bad news for Intel if the CPUs of its competitors AMD and ARM weren’t also stricken with the same flaws.

Oh well. Perhaps the European Commission’s dream-like plans to build a new generation of chips will come to fruition.

***

A local authority has been quick to embrace the latest digital sensation sweeping the cyber-sphere: real time tracking of gritter lorries.

Conscious of the public purse, Doncaster Council has diligently opted to get a man to move small toy trucks around a map, demonstrating what the authority’s fleet of snow and ice destroyers are up to:

This is excellent stuff: Brad Grit. Usain Salt. Gritsy Bitsy, Teeny Weeny, Yellow Anti-Slip Machinery. Regular readers of this blog will well know that this is exactly the sort of material I crave.

Ok, other councils – now let’s see what you’ve got.

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The amount of uses for drones that don’t involve dropping bombs/spying/general warfare or bothering aircraft/delivering drugs to prisons/general mischief continues to rise, with the latest development leading to the saving of two young lives.

Australian lifeguards were still in the process of training to use their new airborne assistant when the teenagers were spotted struggling in choppy seas off the coast of New South Wales.

The kindly drone was dispatched and delivered the at-peril pair a flotation device, which they used to return to dry land.

Jai Sheridan, lifeguard and drone fan, enthused: ‘The Little Ripper UAV certainly proved itself today, it is an amazingly efficient piece of lifesaving equipment and a delight to fly.’

Back in December, New South Wales came up with £247,000 to buy a squadron of drones, some for rescue operations, and some to strengthen the war against humanity’s oldest enemy, the shark.

Fitted with shark repellent – which is apparently a thing – the devices will take the battle to the shark’s natural stalking ground, the sea. Stupid sharks. One day they’ll learn it was a bad idea to evolve in large bodies of saltwater.

Friday roundup: A week in tech

New ultrafast broadband coming soon (for a fraction of people)

ethernet

Two new ultrafast broadband services are on the way – the only problems being that hardly anyone will be able to get them and they’ll cost you a fortune.

BT is so confident in its ‘Ultrafast Fibre’ packages that it’s offering £20 compensation if speeds drop below 100Mbps. Well, £20 four times a year – so after the first £80 has been paid out, I assume it can drop to 0.5Mbps continually for all you’ll be able to do about it.

Only 250,000 of the UK’s 25 million homes (that’s 1%) will be able to access the slick new services, and it’ll cost you £54.99 a month (!) for package 1 (up to 152Mbps), and £59.99 a month (!!) for package 2 (up to 314Mbps).

Very expensive. Very unlikely you’ll be able to get it. Very BT.

Ofcom has had strong words with BT of late because of its crummy services and pitiful efforts to equip the country with decent, modern broadband infrastructure.

Last year, the firm was forced by the regulator to split from its Openreach division and turn it into a separate company – which sounds really tough and punitive but which actually made no difference to anything as BT retained budgetary command.

The government says it wants to make it a legal requirement for all UK homes and businesses to be able to access broadband speeds of at least 10Mbps by 2020, but, then, the government says a lot of things.

I tested my connection the other night: 1.5Mbps. Now I know why it takes seven hours to watch an episode of The Sky at Night on the iPlayer.

New ultrafast broadband coming soon (for a fraction of people)

Socitm presents: Webinar Wednesdays

Webinar_Wednesday_January_blog

Ok, two things. Firstly, our new monthly webinar series is about to go live! Secondly, the first one is going to be about the forthcoming General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

Webinar Wednesdays are Socitm’s new member service, and will cover training and essential information on pressing topics of concern to ICT professionals.

The first edition, on Wednesday 24 January, will take a revealing look at an extremely important element of the GDPR: data privacy impact assessments (DPIAs).

Under the GDPR, you’ll need to carry out a DPIA when: using new tech; processing data that is likely to result in a high risk to the rights and freedoms of the individuals it covers; instigating large scale monitoring of public areas (CCTV); and processing personal data related to criminal convictions.

So, plenty to think about there. But, then, you’ll also have to consider what a DPIA should contain. Here are a few examples: risk assessments for individuals; details about the measures you have in place to address risk; an explanation of a data process’s necessity and proportionality; and a description of a processing operation’s purposes.

Clearly, this is crucial stuff that we’re going to need to know if we’re not going to fall afoul of the GDPR. With everyone working on their own version of a DPIA, the webinar workshop will try to reveal common themes – and work out what we should all be aiming to cover.

The link to the webinar will be sent to Socitm members soon, which starts at 1pm on 24 January.

Though corporate members will be able to access the webinar after the broadcast, individual and private sector members won’t be able to – so if you’re one of those, do try to make the live event.

Webinars later in the year will cover subjects such as Office365, cybersecurity and the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence (ok, I made the last one up).

So, there you have it: Welcome to Webinar Wednesdays!

Socitm presents: Webinar Wednesdays

Brexit: Digital director wanted

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Here’s a job for those that enjoy a challenge: the Government Digital Service (GDS) is looking for someone to deal with all things digital in the wake of the UK’s exit from the European Union.

I think the GDS is aware this is a big ask, hence up to £117,800 a year’s on the table for whomever wishes to become Deputy Director, EU Exit.

But what will you be doing? Well, you’ll be expected to develop ‘an expert understanding of departmental EU exit and transformation-related activities and champion these in the delivery of the EU Exit transformation activity’. Clear as daylight. Good. Luck. With. That.

Furthermore, you’ll ‘proactively engage with senior stakeholders across government, balancing the need for short-term solutions for day 1 exit with longer-term strategic considerations,’ which will include ‘identifying and bringing together the resources needed to promote the right culture and processes for supporting successful EU Exit related transformation, including influencing Permanent Secretaries and heads of the wider professions across government’.

With people like David Davis running the Brexit operation, this should all be a piece of cake.

Anyway, if you’re interested, or would just like to read some dense verbiage, here’s the job.

Brexit: Digital director wanted

Anti-climax for VR porn fans after data breach

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Virtual reality pornography fans have been left feeling deflated after learning that their personal details were left exposed.

Fruity but bungling app SinVR contained a flaw that allowed any interested party access to the names and email addresses of around 20,000 enthusiasts.

The shortcoming was revealed by British cybersecurity outfit Digital Interruption, which kindly alerted SinVR about the gaping inadequacy.

The porn firm has since promised to tighten things up.

Although no payment details were exposed, Digital Interruption said in a blog that ‘due to the nature of the application, it is potentially quite embarrassing to have details like this leaked’.

SinVR presents consumers with a virtual world in which they can live out their fantasies – that is providing their fantasies revolve around poorly rendered CGI models of the human form.

According to its website, SinVR offers ‘your wildest dreams made real’ – again, that depends on whether your wildest dreams involve having your personal details pilfered and then used to expose you as a user of virtual reality pornography.

In the future, when we’ve done away with relationships and physical contact with one another, and spend our evenings in virtual pleasure worlds free of pressures, dealing with things and thinking, we’ll look back at incidents like this and laugh. Probably.

Anti-climax for VR porn fans after data breach

Councils blank government’s electric car scheme

Electric Car

Only five of the UK’s hundreds of councils have taken part in a government electric car initiative – which makes one wonder what’s wrong with it.

The poor old Department of Transport has bemoaned the lack of interest shown in its On-Street Residential Chargepoint Scheme, which it insists has been lovingly crafted to tackle dirty air problems and reduce carbon emissions.

The scheme offers willing councils up to 75% of the costs of buying and installing electric car charging points – but a year since going live a paltry five have signed up, leaving £4.5 million in the funding pot.

Electric cars are becoming increasingly popular, with big manufacturers announcing plans to switch to greater production of the things, such as Ford today.

And in last year’s Autumn Statement, the government announced further funds for electric car infrastructure, including the Plug-in Car Grant, which gifts those looking to switch to electric power up to £4,500 to put towards the cost (though £4,500 off of a £70,000 Tesla Model S is unlikely to make much difference to most people).

By installing more charging points in residential areas (which can be brand new units or adaptions to lampposts) the government hopes that those who don’t have garages or driveways will find electric cars more attractive – like me, for instance, who would have to do all the charging out of a window.

Anyway, if you’ve any idea why your local authority hasn’t taken this up, please let us know. Or phone them up and ask them, which is something I should probably do.

Finally, if you’re from a council and are interested, here’s a government internet page about the scheme.

Councils blank government’s electric car scheme

Ridiculous interface behind Hawaii missile threat blunder

Hawaii

Interface creators, take note: a ‘terribly designed’ one was responsible for probably taking years off the life of the average Hawaiian at the weekend.

Saturday’s utterly, utterly, utterly horrible false nuclear attack alarm was caused by some oaf attempting to press the button labelled ‘Test Missile Alert’ but accidentally pressing the similarly titled ‘Missile Alert’.

‘Test Missile Alert’ is supposed to test the system without actually sending out any alerts, while ‘Missile Alert’ sends a text to every mobile phone in Hawaii that reads ‘BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL’.

Imagine getting that. First thing in the morning. Half dressed. Just put two potato cakes on. Thinking about going back to bed…

The Hawaiian Emergency Management Agency’s (HEMA) computer system and its deeply idiotic interface tripped up an employee who was trying to instigate a drill. Even then it took them 45 minutes to tell the population – who were probably tearfully saying goodbyes, rapidly discovering religion and digging holes at the time – that it was an error.

Since the near-apocalyptic cock-up, HEMA has had a go at tightening up its system, including adding a button that cancels wrongly sent warnings of imminent atomic oblivion BECAUSE THEY DIDN’T EVEN HAVE ONE OF THOSE.

Writing on a webpage named after himself, computer security expert Graham Cluley said: ‘This sounds like terrible user interface design to me […] Even though the menu option still required confirmation that the user really wanted to send an alert, that wasn’t enough, on this occasion, to prevent the worker from robotically clicking onwards.’

The moral of this atrocious story? If you’re building a computer system that contains the option to activate something that you certainly wouldn’t want to activate by mistake, try to make it very, very difficult, in fact nearly impossible to activate it by mistake.

Ridiculous interface behind Hawaii missile threat blunder