Edsac rebuild hits key milestone

Rebuilt Edsac The Edsac computer is made from 3,000 valves spread across 140 shelves

A project to recreate a pioneering UK 1940s computer has hit a significant milestone as the first working parts of the restored machine are demonstrated.

Key elements of the restored Electronic Delay Storage Automatic Calculator (Edsac) were unveiled on Wednesday.

They were shown off at a Bletchley Park event marking the 100th anniversary of the birth of Edsac’s designer, Sir Maurice Wilkes, who died in 2010.

The Edsac recreation project began in 2011 and should be completed by 2015.

Edsac, widely accepted to be the world’s first practical general purpose computer, first ran in May 1949.

It was created to do computational work for scientists at the University of Cambridge

Its design was copied for the Leo, the world’s first computer to be used in business.

Recreation of the original machine has been tough as relatively few of the Edsac design documents from the 1940s have survived.

Early work on the project has gone into scrutinising pictures of the original to work out which bits go where and what they might do.

This has been a mammoth task as Edsac is built of 3,000 valves spread across 140 separate shelves.

Once complete, the machine will occupy a 20-sq-m (215-sq-ft) space.

The parts demonstrated at Bletchley include one element that handles basic mathematical operations as well as internal clocks that help to keep data co-ordinated as it passes through the machine and in and out of memory.

Attending the event was Sir Maurice’s son, Anthony.

“My father was a man of great intellect with a strong practical streak,” he said. “From an early age my two sisters and I were conscious of computers – in a way we were one of the first computer-age families.”

Once finished, the machine will be installed in a gallery at the UK’s National Museum of Computing which is part of the Bletchley Park heritage site.

Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-23079905#sa-ns_mchannel=rss&ns_source=PublicRSS20-sa

Courtrooms to get digital overhaul

Lady Justice at the Old BaileyA file not being in court should no longer lead to an adjournment

Courtrooms in England and Wales will be fully digital by 2016, the government says, ending what it described as “an outdated reliance on paper”.

It is part of a wide-ranging £160m plan to improve the speed and efficiency of the criminal justice system.

Measures will include secure wi-fi in courts so lawyers and judges can access all necessary documents.

Justice Minister Damian Green said the plan would turn the courts system into a “modern public service”.

The announcement follows a pilot at a so-called concept court at Birmingham Magistrates’ Court. It has been running since March and dealt with some 80 cases ranging from shoplifting to offences of violence.

The criminal justice system has often been criticised for its delays, and it is a sign of the government’s concern that, in an age of austerity, it is investing £160m to digitise courtooms.

It wants information to be shared electronically, securely and efficiently across agencies in the criminal justice system.

Continue reading the main story

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If the system crashes, you are not just talking about losing a document or a file, you could have a complete meltdown of the system within a court”

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Greg Foxsmith
Criminal advocate

A file not being in court should no longer lead to an adjournment.

Mr Green said: “Every year the courts and Crown Prosecution Service use roughly 160 million sheets of paper.

Security warning

“Stacked up this would be the same as 15 Mount Snowdons – literally mountains of paper. If we are to win in the global race this must change. It is time we move the court system into the 21st Century.

“This investment will help us get rid of our outdated paper-based system, and turn our criminal justice system into a digital and modern public service.”

The action plan – called Transforming the Criminal Justice System – aims to build on the existing use of technology.

For some time CPS lawyers have worked from tablet devices and documents have been sent to defence lawyers via secure email. The action plan takes this on and includes:

  • Encouraging the police to use mobile devices, with access to real-time intelligence and local information, to start building case files from the street
  • Police evidence via video-link to become the norm not the exception
  • Legislating to enable the majority of high-volume, low-level “regulatory” cases, such as TV licence evasion and many traffic offences, to be dealt with away from traditional magistrates’ courtrooms, which means freeing up the courts to deal with more serious cases
  • Supporting the extension of the Track My Crime system to other police areas. This initiative was launched by Avon and Somerset Constabulary and gives victims the opportunity to check the progress of their case online, including the name of the police officer with responsibility. It allows the police to send updates to victims on their case

While many lawyers welcome the government’s investment, some have expressed fears about security and what might happen if the system crashed.

Greg Foxsmith, a criminal advocate, said: “If the system crashes, you are not just talking about losing a document or a file, you could have a complete meltdown of the system within a court.

“And if security is not watertight, highly sensitive and confidential information could be accessed. The history of government procurement of IT systems is not a happy one.”

Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-23092868#sa-ns_mchannel=rss&ns_source=PublicRSS20-sa

Twitter under pressure in Turkey

Protestors in TurkeySocial media has been widely used as a source of information about protests

The Turkish government has asked Twitter to set up an office inside the country so company representatives can be reached more easily.

Both Twitter and Facebook were used to spread information during recent anti-government protests.

Several dozen tweeters were arrested following the protests, according to local media reports.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has previously described Twitter as a “scourge”.

On Thursday, Transport and Communications Minister Binali Yildrim said: “When information is requested, we want to see someone in Turkey who can provide this.

“There needs to be an interlocutor we can put our grievance to and who can correct an error if there is one.”

Twitter declined to respond to the government request on Wednesday, but a person familiar with the company said it had no current plans to open an office in that country.

No requests

Neither Twitter nor Facebook currently have an office in the country, although Facebook has staff in London who deal specifically with Turkey.

Both are popular in the country and were widely used by citizens seeking information about the protests at a time when mainstream Turkish media provided little or no coverage of the events.

On Wednesday Mr Yildrim said: “Facebook has been working in coordination with the Turkish authorities for a long time… We don’t have any problem with them.”

It led to speculation that the social network had provided the authorities with data on protesters, something the firm was quick to deny.

It said that it had not been asked by the Turkish government to provide any users’ data following the protests.

It has closed down some pages related to activism in Turkey, but only, it said, because they had had “fake profiles”.

“More generally, we reject all government data requests from Turkish authorities and push them to formal legal channels unless it appears that there is an immediate threat to life or a child,” it said in a statement.

Social networks and other technology firms are attempting to rebuild trust with users following allegations that large amounts of data was handed to the US National Security Agency under a surveillance program known as Prism.

Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-23079607#sa-ns_mchannel=rss&ns_source=PublicRSS20-sa

‘World’s fastest’ 4G data launched

SamsungSamsung has released a version of its Galaxy S4 handset which supports the LTE-A technology

South Korea has started offering what are billed as the fastest ever 4G data speeds made available to consumers.

SK Telecom says its LTE-Advanced network allows files to be downloaded at up to megabits per second.

That is twice as fast as before and 10 times the rate of its 3G service.

Although in practice subscribers will get a slower rate, the firm says it will still be fast enough to start offering a full-HD 1080p video streaming service from early July.

It also said it would offer a group video chat service with higher video and audio quality than had been possible before.

Samsung has released a special version of its Galaxy S4 handset with a new communications chip to offer access to the LTE-A system, and SK Telecom says it expects another six compatible devices to launch before the end of the year.

Existing smart devices will not be able to take advantage of the speed boost, but users who do decide to upgrade will not face additional data fees.

The service is initially being offered in 44 cities including the capital Seoul, and SK Telecom said it had plans to double that number in the future.

Speed and capacity

In the UK most of EE’s 4G network currently tops out at 75Mbps.

But the firm recently installed equipment in East London’s Tech City business cluster to offer a service it calls “double-speed 4G”, which it says can match SK Telecom’s LTE-A network kit.

However, limitations with the handsets it offers means the maximum theoretical speed they could access would be 100Mbps.

SK Telcom press eventReal-world download speeds will be slower than the 150Mbps maximum quoted by SK Telecom

While speedier downloads may prove enticing to customers, one analyst said that they were only part of the picture.

“I’ve never found someone who didn’t want something faster,” said Daryl Schoolar, an analyst at the telecoms consultant Ovum.

“But it’s not just about speed – the issue of capacity is perhaps more important. These advances allow operators to use more spectrum which means they can handle more subscribers at once.

“The networks are like a highway – the more people who use them the more clogged they get. By adding the equivalent of more lanes operators ensure that subscriber speeds don’t slow down as much at the busiest network times.”

Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-23071976#sa-ns_mchannel=rss&ns_source=PublicRSS20-sa

BA to relax mobile phone rules

British Airways flightThe rules will apply to all BA flights

British Airways is to become the first European airline to let passengers switch on their mobile phones and other devices just after landing.

From 1 July, once an aircraft has got off the runway people can power up their electronics, rather than having to wait until it has stopped.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has said it is satisfied there are no safety implications.

Airlines from other countries have allowed similar rules for some time.

Passengers have generally been forbidden from using their electronic devices on planes owing to fears of interference, especially when taking off and landing.

BA’s new rules will allow mobiles to be switched on and used as soon as the aircraft is off the runway.

“Customers will no longer have the frustration of having to wait until their plane has arrived at the terminal building before being able to use their mobile phones and other handheld electronic devices,” said Ian Pringle, BA flight training manager.

“Now they’ll have that extra time to phone ahead for that important business meeting, check their emails, or make sure someone is there to meet them at the airport.”

The rules will not affect restrictions during take-off, however, where devices will still have to be switched off until the plane reaches 10,000ft (3,050m).

Minimal interference

The change, which will apply to BA flights landing anywhere in the world, is in response to feedback from customers, the airline said.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the equivalent of the CAA in the United States, has also been looking at allowing wider use of personal electronics on flights.

A draft proposal published last week said existing rules, first drawn up in 1966, had become “untenable” in an age of modern technology and communication.

Several studies later, the FAA has agreed to change guidelines, but is still debating to what degree.

The FAA agreed with experts that advances in technology, both in aviation and consumer electronics, mean any threat of interference is either minimal or non-existent.

But there is greater concern about take-off and landing, with authorities keen both to ensure aircraft equipment is not interfered with and that passengers are not overly distracted at “critical” moments.

It is likely that pressure on aviation authorities worldwide to relax rules has been driven by a major revenue opportunity for airlines.

Technology exists, and is in limited use, for passengers to use wi-fi internet and to make calls at high altitude, usually at premium rates.

Any change in policy would be welcome news for Alec Baldwin, the actor. In December 2011, he was kicked off an American Airlines flight before take-off after refusing to stop playing the popular Scrabble-like game Words With Friends.

Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-23063479#sa-ns_mchannel=rss&ns_source=PublicRSS20-sa

UK broadband voucher scheme attacked

OfficeCompanies with fewer than 250 workers will be able to apply for the vouchers under the proposed scheme

The government has been accused of “scaling back” a plan to boost urban internet speeds, after it said most of the cash might be spent on vouchers.

The Independent Networks Co-operative Association said the scheme had now been “watered down” as a consequence.

But the government said the public would still benefit from new wi-fi hotspots and other efforts.

The news follows a legal challenge by BT and Virgin Media to Birmingham’s plan to fund a new fibre-optic network.

Meanwhile it has emerged that, as of March, many councils in England had yet to receive funds from a separate pot of money announced two years ago, which was supposed to be spent on rural projects.

Former Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt said last September the UK would have “not just the best, but specifically the fastest broadband of any major European country by 2015″.

And on Wednesday a spokesman for the Department of Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) said it still had the same ambition.

“The voucher scheme is only one element of the super-connected cities programme, and certainly does not represent a scaling down,” he said.

“The Urban Broadband Fund will be invested in a range of high-speed broadband projects that enhance business connectivity, drive economic growth and improve wireless coverage.”

Ultra-fast internet

A total of £150m has been pledged to boost broadband speeds in 22 cities: London, Edinburgh, Cardiff, Belfast, Birmingham, Bradford, Brighton, Hove, Cambridge, Coventry, Derby, Leeds, Oxford, Portsmouth, Salford, York, Newcastle, Manchester, Newport, Aberdeen, Perth and Londonderry.

When the plan was first announced in 2012, the government said it hoped to provide “ultra-fast broadband” coverage to 1.7 million households and 200,000 businesses in high-growth areas, as well as high-speed wireless broadband to three million residents.

Ultra-fast broadband was defined as connections with a minimum download speed of 80 Mbps.

While the wireless side of the plan remains unchanged, a new consultation document suggests the “primary focus” of the other part is now to offer up to £90m of vouchers to subsidise the cost of businesses installing 30+Mbps broadband connections.

The offer would be limited to companies with fewer than 250 employees and turnover of no more than £37m.

Rule change

The move follows a legal challenge brought by BT and Virgin Media in October against Birmingham City Council’s plan to build a 100+Mbps network to serve parts of the city.

l's plan to build a new fibre Birmingham City Council’s plan to build a new fibre-optic network was opposed by BT and Virgin Media

Birmingham had been one of the first places to have its proposal for how to use cash provided by the super-connected cities scheme approved by the European Commission.

BT and Virgin Media argued that new network would pose unfair competition to their own projects in the area and objected to the fact they had been barred from bidding for the work.

The European Commission subsequently revised its state aid guidelines. As a consequence of the change the DCMS believed there would be delays to getting other cities’ proposals approved and that some could even be blocked. As a result, it said it had decided to overhaul its plans.

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey, said the system was now designed to “generate maximum competition” among internet service providers (ISPs)

Virgin Media welcomed the news.

“Where companies are already investing in world-class connections, government has recognised public money should not be used to build more networks,” it said.

BT said: “The government’s voucher scheme for super-connected cities is being pursued as a practical means of contributing state funds to the deployment of fibre infrastructure in unserved parts of the participating cities.”

But a group representing other internet firms and local authorities voiced its disappointment.

“It is a pity that the original government plans have been so watered down,” said Malcolm Corbett, chief executive of the Independent Networks Co-operative Association.

“What started as a big ambition to create ‘gigabit districts’ in our cities with high capacity, low-cost digital networks to support growth in the creative and digital sectors, has become a scheme to help small businesses pay for a BT connection.

“The voucher scheme could be useful, but it will not create the sort of transformational digital infrastructure that ministers and the cities wanted and that our economy needs.”

The DCMS said money not spent on vouchers would be used to provide wi-fi hot spots in public buildings such as libraries, museums and on selected public transport, and investment in regional tech clusters, enterprise zones and business parks.

It indicated it would have more to say about the scheme on Thursday.

Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-23062545#sa-ns_mchannel=rss&ns_source=PublicRSS20-sa

Hamster ball robot to aid farmers

Rosphere robotThe Rosphere may end up patrolling fields and helping cultivate crops

The trick used by hamsters to get an exercise ball rolling is helping to power a spherical robot.

Spanish researchers have found a way to mimic the shifting movement of a hamster inside a ball to get their Rosphere robot moving.

The electronics controlling the robot replace the hamster and act as a swinging weight to propel it forward.

Field trials have shown the Rosphere could help monitor soil conditions on arable land.

The Rosphere was developed by a four-strong team at the Technical University of Madrid (UPM) who tried to find a method of locomotion that would not be thwarted by uneven or difficult terrain. Wheeled and legged robots can struggle on shifting ground or places strewn with lots of large and small objects.

The rolling robot’s control systems swing on a spindle that sits at the centre of the hollow spherical device. By shifting the position of the electronics package on the spindle it is possible to make the robot roll forward. Drive wheels at either end of the spindle twitch the package to get the robot moving. Operating just one drive wheel helps the robot steer.

As well as drive motors to set the control system swinging, the robot’s electronics include a wireless communication system and it can be fitted with cameras and other sensors to monitor environmental conditions, such as moisture levels and temperature.

The robot can also be operated remotely so an operator can take over if it gets trapped or cannot find a way through a field of obstacles.

Early work with the Rosphere has involved rolling it along furrows between crops. Eventually its creators hope the robot will be able to travel regularly around fields to monitor conditions and tell farmers the best time to water or otherwise tend their crops.

The research effort to create the Rosphere is part of a larger European Commission funded project which is looking to make fleets of robots to help on farms.

Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-23030082#sa-ns_mchannel=rss&ns_source=PublicRSS20-sa

Freed hacker faces strict measures

Jake Davis at courtJake Davis, who has been released from a young offender institution, first appeared in court in 2011

A convicted hacker who was detained in a young offender institution has been released – but will now face strict limitations on his technology use.

Jake Davis, 20, was convicted of computer hacking for his role in the notorious group LulzSec.

He cannot contact anyone who associates themselves with the wider Anonymous hacktivist collective.

He told the BBC he planned to release a prison diary and to write a film about the internet.

Davis returned to Twitter on 22 June after finishing his 37-day term at Feltham young offender institution.

During that time he penned what he described as a “nerdy” diary, written using pen and paper, which he hopes to publish online once it has been subjected to legal checks.

He is forbidden from creating encrypted files, securely wiping any data or deleting his internet history.

In June 2012 he pleaded guilty to being part of LulzSec, an offshoot of Anonymous famed for attacking several high profile sites including Sony Pictures and the UK’s Serious Organised Crime Agency.

Shortly after being released, he tweeted: “654 days on curfew and 37 days in Feltham. Up next: Another 365 days on licence (parole) and 1,825 days of intense monitoring. Free though!”

He had been sentenced to 24 months – but he had been wearing an electronic tag for 21 months which counted against his term.

Licking elbows

Davis is now based in Islington, north London, where he said he was working on a number of projects.

He said he had begun an unspecified project with contemporary art firm Artangel – the company told the BBC it had had “several exploratory chats with Jake over the past six months”, but would not go into further detail.

Longer term, he told the BBC he would write a fictional film about the internet, working with production company Fly Film, who could not be reached for comment on Monday.

Publically on Twitter, he has been sharing anecdotes about his time inside.

In one post, he wrote: “I was sacked as a prison cleaner for mopping too near a computer. Those deadly, soapy mops are a serious threat to GCHQ, make no mistake!”

As alter ego Topiary, Davis’s last tweet before his arrest in July 2011 read: “You cannot arrest an idea.”

On Sunday, in a nod to that sign off, Davis joked: “You can arrest an idea, you can imprison an idea, you can warp an idea, you can break an idea, but you still can’t lick your own elbow.”

While he wishes to distance himself from the hacking world, he has pledged support to Edward Snowden, the former US intelligence contractor who leaked secret documents regarding the monitoring of internet users.

At the time of Davis’s sentencing, prosecutors said the actions of the LulzSec group had been “cowardly and vindictive”.

“The harm they caused was foreseeable, extensive and intended,” said Andrew Hadik, a lawyer for the Crown Prosecution Service. “Indeed, they boasted of how clever they were with a complete disregard for the impact their actions had on real people’s lives.”

He added: “This case should serve as a warning to other cybercriminals that they are not invincible.”

Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-23029464#sa-ns_mchannel=rss&ns_source=PublicRSS20-sa

Millions exposed by Facebook error

Facebook boss Mark ZuckerbergFacebook said the impact of the data disclosure was “minimal”

Personal details of about six million people have been inadvertently exposed by a bug in Facebook’s data archive.

The bug meant email and telephone numbers were accidentally shared with people who would not otherwise have had access to the information.

So far, there was no evidence the data exposed was being exploited for malicious ends, said Facebook.

It said it was “upset and embarrassed” by the bug, which was found by a programmer outside the company.

Bug bounty

The data exposure came about because of the way that Facebook handled contact lists and address books uploaded to the social network, it said in a security advisory.

Typically, it said, it analysed the names and contact details on those lists so it could make friend recommendations and put people in touch with those they knew.

The bug meant some of the information Facebook generated during that checking process was stored alongside the uploaded contact lists and address books.

That meant, said Facebook, that when someone had downloaded their profile this extra data had travelled with it, letting people see contact details that had not been explicitly shared with them.

An investigation into the bug showed that contact details for about six million people were inadvertently shared in this way. Despite this, Facebook said the “practical impact” had been small because information was most likely to have been shared with people who already knew the affected individuals.

The bug had now been fixed, it added.

Facebook was alerted to the bug by a member of its “White Hat” program who checks the site’s code for glitches and other loopholes. A bounty for the bug has been paid to the programmer who found it.

Security analyst Graham Cluley criticised Facebook’s release of the information just before the weekend and said the disclosure had been more about “damage limitation” than making sure the information reached as wide an audience as possible.

Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-23027643#sa-ns_mchannel=rss&ns_source=PublicRSS20-sa

France and Spain investigate Google

Google logo seen on a sign at its Mountain View headquartersGoogle’s consolidation of its policy drew criticism, but the company said it “simplifies” privacy

Spain has launched proceedings against Google over five suspected serious data breaches.

Meanwhile France has given the search giant three months to rethink its privacy rules.

Since last year Google has been combining data from all its sites to better target adverts, a decision which the EU has said needs a rethink.

The search giant said that its privacy practices respect European laws.

“We have engaged fully with the authorities involved through this process, and we’ll continue to do so going forward,” it said in a statement.

Google’s new data policy allows the search giant to track users across all its platforms, including Gmail, Google+ and YouTube.

Combining 60 separate privacy policies was done to “simplify privacy”, it said at the time.

But in October 2012 the EU warned Google that its data protection laws did not comply with a directive and gave the company four months to change them.

That deadline passed with no action, prompting individual countries to pursue their own cases.

The Spanish Data Protection Agency said that it had found evidence of five serious privacy law breaches.

These are:

  • Disproportionate use of private data
  • Diverting private data for other users
  • Storing private data for excessive or undetermined periods
  • Failure to handle private data in a legitimate way
  • Obstructing users in the exercise of their rights

Each of these is punishable with fines of up to 300,000 euros (£256,000).

The French National Commission on Computing and Freedom (CNIL) wants Google to specify what it is using personal data for, and how long it is held.

It also wants Google to let users opt out of having their data centralised in a single location.

Google faces a French fine of up to 300,000 euros – small fry compared with Google’s first quarter revenues of $14bn.

Britain, German, Italy and the Netherlands all have ongoing investigations into Google’s privacy policy.

Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-22994883#sa-ns_mchannel=rss&ns_source=PublicRSS20-sa