Friday roundup: A week in tech

Snapchat

Wacky racists managed to hack some mapping software this week and renamed New York as ‘Jewtropolis’, in a move that no doubt had Steve Bannon-esque types across the land splitting their sides in mirth.

‘Get-your-clothes-off’ enterprise Snapchat, one of several social media networks that use the software, is, understandably, appalled at the act of cyber vandalism, labelling it ‘deeply offensive’.

Speaking to the BBC, Snap said: ‘Snap Map, similar to other apps, relies on third-party mapping data from OpenStreetMap, which has been subject to vandalism. This defacement is deeply offensive and entirely contrary to our values. And we want to apologise to any members of our community who saw it.’

In unrelated but similarly ugly news, photo dumping ground Tumblr has decided to ban content that consists of ‘unwanted sexualisation or sexual harassment of others’ – which is very reasonable of it, don’t you think?

As we’re in late 2018, the social media firm is convinced that enough is enough, and so-called ‘creepshots’, ‘deepfake’ pornography, and ‘content that encourages or incites violence, or glorifies acts of violence’ will no longer be tolerated.

So, if you enjoy the sexual harassment, objectification and humiliation of others, and/or inciting hatred and violence, Tumblr may not be the place for you from now on. Why not try Twitter instead?

Oh internet, internet, internet – what is thou doing to us?

***

The increasingly unusual billionaire Elon Musk has reignited his strange ‘pedo’ feud with a British explorer.

After becoming entangled in, and, subsequently, somewhat humiliated by the summer’s Thai schoolboys trapped in a cave media sensation, Mr Musk decided to refer to diver Vernon Unsworth as a ‘pedo guy’ (over Twitter, naturally), after a submarine he’d offered to help with the rescue was declined.

Lacking any kind of evidence, and with Mr Unsworth threatening to sue, the Tesla boss deleted the tweets and apologised.

Yet it seems the rejection of his little submarine and Mr Unsworth’s mild rebukes still rankle, as Mr Musk has inexplicably reignited the daft mess by tweeting that ‘You don’t think it’s strange [Unsworth] hasn’t sued me? He was offered free legal services’ – clearly implying that he stands by his original unsubstantiated gibberish.

As a consequence of the last tedious Twitter exchange, Tesla’s shares nosedived – and now the firm’s boss is wilfully reopening the ridiculous wound.

Let’s look a little closer at this: Mr Musk owns and runs, amongst other things, a massive luxury electric car firm, a flippin’ space exploration division no less, and various energy producing outfits – and he still finds the time to go on Twitter, of all places, and childishly throw completely unfounded and horrific accusations around.

You always assume that people like Mr Musk are incredibly intelligent, wandering about with powerful minds, transcending into fields of thought far beyond the meagre mental zones the majority of us subsist in. And yet, having said all that, he kind of reminds me of Trigger from Only Fools and Horses.

***

Somebody’s had a great lightbulb moment – involving lightbulbs.

From tomorrow (1 September) halogen bulbs will be banned across Europe, as they’re phased out and replaced with infinitely more sensible LEDs.

A real no-brainer, halogens use five times the power of LEDs and have a fraction of the life expectancy (two years on average for halogen, 15-20 years for LED).

However, smart as the move is, it is being imposed by the HATED AND EVIL EU, which has stirred the ire of respected and prestigious political outfits such as UKIP, whose energy spokesman, Jonathan Bullock, frothed: ‘The EU’s attempt to ban halogen bulbs is wrong because consumers will suffer financially and it’s always the poorest who suffer most from these kinds of policies.’

Crazy as it might be to question the wisdom of UKIP, let’s have a look at the figures. Truly, LEDs are often more expensive than halogens, but the massively greater lifespan coupled with the much lower energy consumption means that customers will pretty quickly see large savings. (Plus, LEDs don’t heat up to the temperature of the sun like halogens.)

Furthermore, it’s not like you have to replace all of your halogens on 1 September – rather, you’ll slowly replace them one by one with LEDs as they burn out. (In fact, suppliers will be allowed to sell off the stocks they still have, so if you’re a big halogen fan you can snap up enough supplies to last perhaps decades.)

Anyhow, research (by the EU, I think) shows that a staggering 15 million tonnes of carbon emissions will be cut if and when a Europe-wide LED-halogen switch is completed – which is equivalent to Portugal’s entire yearly electricity usage.

I am now awaiting the Daily Mail’s certain ‘LEDs LINKED TO SOCIALISM AND HOMOSEXUALITY’ or similar headline.

Friday roundup: A week in tech

Robot ready?

Robot

By the Orbis Robotics Team

Our last blog spoke about getting IT on board with our plans – and the potential benefits and pitfalls – but even with this additional resource and expertise, we were still missing something: our first robot that could do a whole process, not just part of it.

We were a couple of months into our robotics journey, and although we had moved at a tremendous pace (given the fact that this was all a very new venture and we had no training behind us) we were still expecting to have produced a robot that could essentially do the same process that one of our team members was currently responsible for. However, for various reasons, one had not yet materialised.

Attention turned from technology to the actual building of the robot. We had identified a key area with a backlog big enough to bring benefit by introducing said robot: teachers pensions. This was a very data input-heavy process that required days’ worth of human intervention for a couple of the team, but could potentially be done by a robot in about 20 minutes. No brainer!

Armed with numerous pots of caffeine and obscene amounts of biscuits, our lab workers set off on the onerous task of breaking the process down and replicating it. Productivity was rife and the lab were getting ever closer to the first process-overarching robot that had been so elusive. Could we actually pull this off?

A council who still used the odd paper process was now responsible for producing a robot, created by our own team members and not a team of experts, that would cost us large sums of money that we just didn’t have. We were so close, surely nothing was going to jeopardise us – oh, how wrong we were!  Hello, system freeze, how lovely of you to drop by!

We couldn’t believe it. It’s not often that we have a system freeze to allow for software to be updated, but now was that time. Okay, okay, so we should’ve probably done some research to see if this kind of thing needed to be included in our contingency planning, but, to be honest, we had been so full steam ahead with everything that we hadn’t really planned any allowance for contingency.

What were we thinking?! We were now going to be behind on timescales and we had removed individuals from their day-to-day job specifically to work on our robot, and we didn’t want to be wasting their time and resource. Do we send them back to their substantive teams only to disrupt the team further when the freeze lifts and we pull them back out to the lab?

Luckily for us, the freeze only lasted a couple of days and there was plenty of planning to be done, so our lab members stayed put and little time was wasted. However, we did need to be mindful that communication between all council activity should be improved to ensure this kind of thing didn’t happen again.

With everything back on track, it was full steam ahead and we quickly pushed to testing stage. Yes, yes, yes – our robot is almost here. Or is he??

Find out whether our robot actually made an appearance in next month’s blog.

Missed previous blogs about our journey into RPA?  Find them all here:

Robots Invade the Council

Can Robots and Employees Work Harmoniously?

Robot Process Automation (RPA) Without the Robots

 

Robot ready?

Friday roundup: A week in tech

Satellite

Loads of stuff has happened this week – sadly, much of it’s terrible, but let’s plough on…

There’s a mystery Russian satellite on the loose, cruising through the sky and causing the Americans no end of consternation.

Alarmed US State Department assistant secretary Yleem Poblete told listeners at a Swiss conference that the enigmatic orbital object is displaying ‘very abnormal behaviour’, adding that it could be some kind of weapon.

True to form, the Russians have denounced the secretary’s observations as ‘unfounded, slanderous accusations based on suspicions,’ which is more or less their standard response to the numerous international outrages they are accused of on a daily basis.

Ms Poblete groaned: ‘Russian intentions with respect to this satellite are unclear and are obviously a very troubling development.’

Indeed, the weaponisation of space would be a deeply troubling and unethical development – certainly, America would never dream of doing such a thing. Oh hang on – President Donald Trump recently announced plans to launch a new branch of the US armed forces into space, called ‘Space Force’. Looks like we’d better get used to ‘very abnormal behaviour’ in the sky, then.

Meanwhile, back in sleepy ol’ England, an MOD spokesman refused to commit to anything, lazily intoning: ‘The UK is working closely with international allies, including the US, to re-enforce responsible and safe behaviours in space and to build knowledge, understanding and resilience.’

***

Professional insanity-conjuror Alex Jones has finally been banned from Twitter – for a week.

The highly-strung conspiracy theorist has seen his works deleted from the likes of Facebook and Apple in recent weeks, with Twitter remaining the last major outlet for his divisive, completely fabricated smut.

But no more (for a week)! The cheerful would-be saviour of the white race crossed the social media network’s often blurry lines with a tweet that called on his followers to ready ‘battle rifles’ for a confrontation with America’s media.

Naturally, the abysmal state of affairs is connected in some way with President Donald Trump, who has also been heavily hinting that America’s currently free press should be…what…annihilated?

What a time to be alive.

***

Friendly old fax machines: they recall a simpler, happier, less online hatred-filled time, much like Ceefax – however, it turns out they could be the latest easy entry point for cyber villains! Is nothing sacred?

Security researchers have found that criminally-engineered image data sent via fax lines could be used to breach networks, as a consequence of many fax machines being part of printer/scanner combos.

Stunningly, fax has ‘no security measures built in – absolutely nothing,’ according to Yaniv Balmas, a security person from somewhere called Check Point software.

Though you don’t exactly come across it every day, it turns out that lots of firms still communicate through the ancient art of fax – meaning there’s a whole plum world for crooks to potentially exploit.

And one of those organisations still very much beholden to the fax is the NHS, which suffered devastating consequences from 2017’s WannaCry virus attack.

Apparently, the NHS has 9,000 active fax machines, so plenty to think about there.

Hey, do you remember back in the day when most companies printed a telephone and a fax number in their literature, and sometimes you’d accidentally ring the fax line and have to listen to all those strange noises? Good times.

***

Now on to the cheery subject of international censorship at the behest of a repressive regime. Writing tech news is so uplifting.

Google’s own staff are rebelling over the tech giant’s plans to build a special search engine for the Chinese government.

Hundreds of freedom-conscious employees have written to their own firm, claiming that the fishy project Dragonfly raises ‘urgent moral and ethical questions’.

It has been claimed that the service Google is working on will block websites and search terms that displease the Chinese authorities.

The letter mentions the famous ‘don’t be evil’ clause in Google’s code of conduct – but I always thought they meant that as a joke anyway; I mean, come on!

And the ethical rebellion may lead to results: earlier this year, angered staff protested against Google’s drone-building work with the Pentagon, which led to the firm ending its contract with the blowing-everything-up specialists.

Connivance with state repression! Maybe the next story will be happier?

***

Dear God, no.

Facebook has been hosting genocide-stoking hate material designed to encourage the slaughter of Myanmar’s Rohingya population.

An investigation by Reuters found some posts on the network calling for violence against the country’s Muslim minority that had been up for an incredible six years – despite Facebook’s own rules prohibiting ‘violent or dehumanising’ material against ethnic groups.

Posts included calls for Rohingya people to be shot, burned and fed to pigs, while one poster suggested that ‘We must fight them the way Hitler did the Jews’.

According to the BBC, Facebook has now removed all the posts ‘discovered’ by Reuters. However, Facebook reckons it’s hard to keep up with the avalanche of hatred because its software struggles to interpret Burmese – which is an absolutely unspeakably pathetic and vile excuse. Aren’t they one of the richest firms in the world?

Meanwhile, over in India, WhatsApp (proprietor: Facebook) seems to be playing a big part in a series of ongoing mob-led hysterical executionsof innocent people.

Isn’t the internet great: How do you turn it off?

Friday roundup: A week in tech

TSB swells IT complaints team

telephone1

Tech catastrophe-haunted outfit TSB is taking on a small army of complaint handlers – to deal with a large army of complainers.

The bungling bank has plans to employ an extra 250 customer service people in the wake of April’s IT systems failure, during which horrified users were barred access to their accounts and/or saw the account details of other customers.

And in July, the bank that likes to say ‘Oh no, everything’s gone wrong, turn it off and on again!’ suffered yet another service outage, bringing its complaint heap to an overtime-crunching 135,000.

TSB says it has ‘made a firm commitment that no customer will be left out of pocket,’ and has earmarked £30 million to help soothe customers.

So, reasonably good news if you’re planning on sending some complaints TSB’s way, as there’s a good chance someone will (probably) respond.

TSB swells IT complaints team

Government releases £millions for UK tech

chipboard.jpg

The government that runs the UK has suddenly found a giant heap of steaming cash for ‘high-tech hubs’.

Announcing the £780 million bonanza, chancellor Philip Hammond claimed the money will help to create the technologies of tomorrow by bolstering Britain’s world-class researchers and entrepreneurs.

Furthermore, Mr Hammond ‘will expand “successful catapult centres” which are fuelling innovation across the country as part of the UK’s ambitious, modern Industrial Strategy’.

According to the government’s press release, from which every part of this story is taken, these ‘catapult centres’ have already led to the birth of ‘hundreds of new products, services and inventions’ such as a pollution sensor for buggies, and more-efficient aeroplane wings.

The £780m builds on £180m that prime minister Theresa May announced for ‘centres in the North East’ in July – bringing the total to nearly £1 billion.

Mr Hammond boasted: ‘We are working hard to build a stronger, fairer economy – dealing with the deficit, helping people into work, and cutting taxes for individuals and businesses. Unemployment is at its lowest since the 1970s, our national debt is starting to fall, and the economy has grown every year since 2010 (all sic).’

Things sound pretty rosy, don’t they?

Anyway, that’s the gist of things. Here’s the government’s press release, which is absolutely packed with quotes by ministers, case studies and lots of details about how great the government is and how wonderfully well everything’s going in the UK. Enjoy!

Government releases £millions for UK tech

Friday roundup: A week in tech

security.jpeg

There are two stories connected in some way to China this week, and the first one begins…now:

In an effort to tackle one of the modern world’s many tedious horror-shows, fake news, the BBC has changed its web addresses from HTTP to HTTPS – for reasons that will now be explained by one James Donohue, a principal software engineer at the corporation:

‘In a climate of anxiety around fake news, it’s vital that users are able to determine that articles have not been tampered with and that their browsing history is private to them. HTTPS achieves both of these as it makes it far more difficult for ISPs to track which articles and videos you’re looking at or selectively suppress individual pieces of content.’

However, HTTPS-primed addresses are regularly blocked by the Chinese government, meaning lots of people in the country will have missed BBC stories this week such as, and I paraphrase, ‘Abysmal, attention-seeking MP calls Muslim women letterboxes’ and ‘Football club may buy footballer from other football club’.

BUT should you be in China and aching for BBC stuff, you can overcome the hurdle – by running a VPN, as recommended by the BBC.

BUT you’d better be careful if you do use a VPN because so-called unlicensed networks are banned in China, meaning you might end up in a Tibetan work camp for cyber-reorientation if you try to watch Poldark on the iPlayer.

A BBC spokesperson said that Chinese fans hadn’t had access for about a week, adding that the ‘last time BBC services were blocked to this extent in China was in 2014 and we call on all parties to observe the UN Declaration of Human Rights, article 19’.

What’s article 19? you ask. Well, article 19 affirms that we all, everyone one of us, have the right to things like opinions as well as the right to receive and impart information.

I’m no expert, clearly, but I don’t think the Chinese government has seen that memo yet.

***

And now here’s this week’s second China-connected story (it’s not as good):

Internet-based traditional hotel-slayer Airbnb has had to cancel a competition that offered entrants the chance to spend a night on China’s great wall (AKA the Great Wall of China), after fears the peculiar sleepover might destroy bits of the precious relic.

The competition asked for 500-word essays on the subject of dealing with cultural boundaries; however, amazingly, it seems that Airbnb didn’t even run the scheme past the relevant local authorities – though, admittedly, that claim comes from the not-ever-so reliable Chinese media.

Anyway, on top of concerns about guests breaking the wall, negative feedback included comments about being bitten by mosquitos and that it was wrong for Airbnb to exploit a landmark for PR purposes.

Lamenting the demise of its apparently poorly planned competition, Airbnb had the audacity to say that ‘one of the goals of our Night At The Great Wall was to highlight how everyone can play a part in honoring and preserving this incredible piece of world history,’ which is a laughably insincere piece of damage-limitation marketing drivel, but what else would you expect?

I apologise to Airbnb and the Great Wall for exploiting them both by writing this story.

***

Google has suddenly decided to portray the world we live on as a globe within its popular Maps service, in a move that may or may not be motivated by a desire to irritate those who cannot tolerate the thought of a spherical Earth.

Google’s new planet looks quite cool, and I had fun rotating it for about nine seconds before getting bored. (Tech news is a bit thin on the ground this week, though there is a disturbing story coming up after this one so hold on.)

Yet another perplexing and pea-brained phenomenon apparently galvanised and given fresh life by the internet, the flat-earth movement insists that the earth is a non-globular affair, with the truth obscured from us by the villains at NASA, who, it is said, are engaged in some kind of dispute with a god (or gods). Thanks, internet.

Possibly vaguely interesting footnote: Typing ‘Google maps’ into Google news reveals that the Daily Express produces an exceptionally high volume of stories that revolve around the service. Here are a few of the many headlines from the last few days:

Google Maps: Angry fight caught by…

Google Maps: Mysterious submerged object spotted off…

Google Maps: Young man caught in very awkward…

Google Maps: Embarrassing moment for well-dressed…

Though things can sometimes get a little dark on this possibly round world of ours, at least most of us don’t have to read/write for the Daily Express, which should offer some consolation.

***

If you spend a lot of time staring at screens, like what I do, then I have some very bad news for you, and me.

Researchers reckon they’ve worked out how the infamous blue light that gushes from the likes of electric telephones accelerates blindness.

According to scientists at the US University of Toledo, the already much-maligned blue light triggers the creation of poisonous molecules in the eye – which can lead to macular degeneration.

The uni’s Dr Ajith Karunarathne chillingly elaborated: ‘It’s no secret that blue light harms our vision by damaging the eye’s retina. Our experiments explain how this happens, and we hope this leads to therapies that slow macular degeneration, such as a new kind of eye drop.’

Right. I didn’t know about this ‘no secret that blue light harms our vision’ business, but I do now and I’m grateful/terrified. Here’s a rough sketch of my weekday routine:

Wake up at 6am, look a news stories/emails on electric telephone while eating toast, perhaps 30 mins

 Get to work and then look at laptop screen for about six hours, interspersed with sessions on electric telephones

 Get home, possibly watch The Simpsons on television box, around 30 mins

 Spend evening sporadically looking at electric telephone, laptop, and sometimes Nintendo Switch, perhaps two hours

 Go to sleep, with blue light of digital alarm clock filling the room with a ghostly glow

 So, that’s around nine hours spent staring at various blue light sources. I have some urgent modifications to make.

Here’s the Guardian story I took all the information from, which has lots more horrible details in it if you feel like being worried into some lifestyle changes.

Friday roundup: A week in tech

Internet firms dump fake news network

Global Network

As I amazingly managed to successfully predict two weeks ago, reckless, demented network of lies InfoWars has been permanently banned from YouTube after breaking yet more rules.

And that’s just the tip of the madberg: Alex Jones’ ‘news’ organisation has also been given the boot, to varying degrees, by Facebook, LinkedIn, Apple and others, with Twitter the only major player still willing (for now) to indulge the impulses of the putrid, dim and really quite evil buffoon.

So far, so sensible – but this might be a mini-crisis for big tech as InfoWars and its manic devotees are crying foul, claiming that the wave of ‘censorship’ proves that the gibberish they peddle has been right all along, and that, furthermore, it demonstrates that these Silicon Valley outfits are truly controlled by the DEEP STATE.

This isn’t even slightly accurate of course: Mr Jones has been getting away with whatever he pleases for nearly 20 years; however, he’s crossed the line recently with what can only be reasonably described as hate speech against Muslims and transsexual people -behaviour that, with all their horrible faults, double standards and incompetence, modern tech firms such as Apple understandably don’t want to be associated with, let alone be perceived as supporting.

Coupled with Mr Jones’ hand in the persecution of the families of the children murdered in the Sandy Hook school shooting tragedy, would you want your company to be thought of as sympathetic to InfoWars? Hardly.

Ho-hum. But what’s the wider issue here, if there is one? Is free speech under attack, as claimed by Mr Jones and his fans in the borderline white supremacist wastelands of jaw-dropping foolishness?

Blatantly not. Daft old Facebook et al can ban who they please; meanwhile, InfoWars is free to pump out its chauvinistic nonsense via its website (easily located via Google) and broadcast delirious radio shows, dripping with hate as they are, for the entertainment of the easily excitable. Censorship, it seems to me at any rate, is when a government or similar authority actively shuts you down – such as when proper journalists are imprisoned, intimidated and sometimes murdered in the likes of Turkey, China, Zimbabwe and Russia, for example.

But what do YOU think? Please feel free to talk about this complex issue – while outlining my deep state conspirator credentials – in the comments section…and maybe, just maybe, we’ll sort all this out.

 

Internet firms dump fake news network