Friday roundup: A week in tech

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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

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