30 July 2011
Last updated at 16:44
Chris Staniforth would spend up to 12 hours playing on the console.
A man whose son died after playing video games for long periods is campaigning for greater awareness of the risk posed by their excessive use.
Chris Staniforth, 20, who would play his console for up to 12 hours, died in May from deep vein thrombosis (DVT).
His father David believes the condition may have been triggered by long gaming sessions.
DVT can form during long periods of immobility and can kill if the clots travel to the lungs.
Computer records showed his son would sometimes play online on his Xbox for periods up to 12 hours.
The coroner said a clot formed in Chris’ left calf before moving to his lungs.
Once there, it caused a fatal blockage, known as a pulmonary embolism.
Mr Staniforth said: “After my research I saw there was no difference to Chris sitting at a desk on his Xbox and someone on a long-haul flight.
“Sitting still is literally the danger zone. Chris loved to play and would stay up all night.
“Millions of people worldwide are playing these games for hours, and there is a risk.”
While Mr Staniforth has no problem with games consoles, he wants to highlight the heightened risk of DVT associated with being immobile, and is in the process of setting up a website.
In a statement, Microsoft, who manufacture the Xbox console, said: ‘We have always encouraged responsible game play through our education campaigns such as Play Smart, Play Safe.
“We recommend that gamers take periodic breaks to exercise as well as make time for other pursuits.”
29 July 2011
Last updated at 11:50
The list reveals the eclectic tastes and varied hobbies of civil servants
Belly dancing, Doctor Who and the Roman Empire are just some of the interests of civil servants as revealed by their web browsing habits.
The Department for Transport (DfT) has disclosed the 1,000 sites visited most often by staff while at work.
The BBC website came top, but employees are also spending time apparently shopping, gambling and house-hunting.
A DfT spokesman said personal internet use by staff should be restricted to official breaks.
The details were published in response to a Freedom of Information request and cover the period from January to May this year.
‘Leave reality behind’
Many of the websites come as no surprise – Google is close to the top along with a number of newspapers and news blogs. The BBC homepage is number one with 7.4 million hits.
Facebook comes in at 85th, with more than 130,000 hits. Argos is the most regular online shopping destination, but John Lewis, Next and Debenham feature too.
Plenty of sports fans appear to have been sneaking in a cheeky look or two at scores or fixtures – with goonerweb, chelseaafc and espncricinfo – a cricket stats website – all popular.
Continue reading the main story
Personal use should not detract from staff’s performance of their duties”
Department for Transport
Some may also be having a flutter – hence the popularity of oddschecker and bet365 – which get 25,808 and 7,328 hits respectively.
But there are a number of unusual sites which reveal some more unexpected past-times among civil servants.
Coming in at number 385 – with 27,634 hits – is bearsfaction.org.uk – a website run by the Lorien Trust which organises fantasy role-play festivals.
It invites users to “leave reality behind” and “walk amongst goblins, elves and dwarves”.
Even more popular, coming in at 115, is etiquettehell.com which gives frustrated sticklers for good manners a forum in which to vent.
Smallworldbellydance.com – a south London belly dancing studio – gets 3,170 hits, while a website for fans of the Roman Empire attracted nearly 100,000.
Some civil servants also seem to be interested in matters of glamour within Whitehall itself.
Sexymp.co.uk – where users get to rank Members of Parliament in order of attractiveness – got 21,477 hits in the five-month period, making it the 465th most popular site.
The DfT was asked whether it could reveal the amount of time spent on each website, but it said it did not keep accurate figures.
A spokesman said: “Our internet access policy states that personal use of the internet by staff should be kept as short as possible and should not in any event exceed one hour each day made in their own time, e.g. meal breaks.
“We also have measures in place to prevent the inappropriate use of internet by staff, for example in relation to pornographic web sites.
“Personal use should not place excessive demands on ICT [information and communications technology] facilities and should not detract from staff’s performance of their duties.”
The DfT said two staff had been disciplined during 2009-10 due to “inappropriate internet usage”.
Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/go/rss/int/news/-/news/uk-politics-14339415
Service Birmingham, the joint venture with Capita that provides services for Birmingham city council, has been asked to abandon plans to offshore IT and other jobs.
A spokesman for Service Birmingham told GGC: “Our client, Birmingham city council, is asking us to revisit contractual commitments around offshoring with a view to discontinuing the initiative.
“Clearly discussions around this issue are commercially confidential and we are working actively with council officials to come to an agreed position.”
Service Birmingham had been planning to offshore IT and other back office functions to India. According to the plans, 55 jobs were to have been offshored by the end of the summer, with up to another 45 by the end of the year.
Birmingham city council said: “We will discuss a number of practical issues with Service Birmingham and they in turn will be speaking to staff members. Until those discussions are concluded we will be making no further comment.”
This article was originally published at Guardian Government Computing.
Guardian Government Computing is a business division of Guardian Professional, and covers the latest news and analysis of public sector technology. For updates on public sector IT, join the Government Computing Network here.
27 July 2011
Last updated at 02:38
“Average” broadband speeds vary due to a variety of factors
Broadband speeds in the UK now average 6.8Mbps (megabits per second) but there is still a huge gap between advertised and actual speeds, according to Ofcom.
Almost half of broadband users are now on packages with advertised speeds above 10Mbps but few achieve this.
Ofcom’s biannual report into the state of the broadband market urged changes to advertising.
Virgin Media accused rivals of misleading the public.
The report found that the average broadband speed has increased 10% in the last six months as more people try out fast services.
But the gap between advertised and actual speed has widened in the same period. The average advertised speed was 15Mbps, 8.2Mbps faster than the average actual speed.
It also found that more than a third of customers on services advertised as “up to” 24Mbps actually received speeds of 4Mbps or less.
“The research is still telling us that some consumers are not receiving anywhere near the speeds that are being advertised by some ISPs,” said Ofcom chief executive Ed Richards.
The watchdog is urging changes in advertising guidance “so that consumers are able to make more informed decisions based on the adverts they see”.
Superfast broadband is now available to 57% of UK homes, the report finds.
But three-quarters of broadband services are still delivered via copper-based ADSL technologies, which will always have speed limitations based on the distance between the home and the telephone exchange.
Other factors that slow down a connection include the quality of the wiring in a house and the time of day that the service is used.
Virgin Media is the only ISP able to come close to advertised speeds because cable services are not influenced by distance.
It has spearheaded the campaign to change the way broadband is advertised.
Jon James, executive director of broadband for Virgin Media, said: “The gulf between what’s advertised and what speeds customers get continues to grow.”
“We remain concerned that people paying for fast broadband are still being misled and believe it is absolutely essential that consumers have all the information they need to make an informed choice,” he added.
The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) is currently reviewing broadband advertising. Its report is expected in the next few months.
In a bizarre twist, last month it ruled that Virgin Media’s campaign against false advertising itself broke advertising rules.
Andrew Ferguson, co-founder of broadband news site ThinkBroadband thinks more needs to be done to explain the differences between cable and ADSL but is not sure changes to advertising is the correct way.
“Adverts will shift to lifestyle advertising rather than actual facts, and some people may be denied access to products because they would drag the average speed down,” he said.
Ofcom has introduced a code of practice to help inform the public about their likely speed before signing up to a service.
It recommends that broadband customers should be given a speed range rather than a single estimate of the maximum speed on their line.
It also suggests that users be allowed to leave their provider without penalty if they receive a maximum speed which is significantly below estimates.
So far, Virgin Media, BT, O2 and Sky have signed up to the code.
Michael Phillips, of comparison website broadbandchoices, is not sure the code goes far enough.
“Ofcom’s code of practice has made some steps in the right direction, but without some more careful thought, there’s still room for a lot of confusion.
How will my mum know if a service offering 1Mb – 6Mb is better or worse than one providing 2Mb – 5Mb? She needs to know what speed she’s most likely to receive most of the time,” he said.
He thinks that ‘typical speeds’ should be made “the gold standard for speed advertising in the same way that banks use ‘typical APR’ percentages”.
Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/go/rss/int/news/-/news/technology-14295046
21 July 2011
Last updated at 23:53
Microsoft’s business division, which includes Office software – is its biggest seller
The US technology giant Microsoft said its annual revenues hit a record of $69.94bn (£43.4bn).
Sales of the company’s Xbox 360 videogame console and its Office software helped fuel the growth.
Net income at the world’s biggest software maker jumped 23% to 23.15bn for the year.
The figures, which beat forecasts, showed final quarter revenues reached a record high of $17.37bn, leading to profits of $5.87bn.
Sales rose 8% to $17.37 billion, a boosted chiefly by sales of Office, Xbox and server software behind Microsoft’s push into cloud computing.
Microsoft’s business division, which sells the Office suite of programs, including Outlook, SharePoint and Excel, was the company’s biggest seller in the quarter, increasing sales by 7% to $5.8bn.
The company’s online services unit, which runs the Bing search engine and MSN internet portal, increased sales by 16.5% to $662m, but saw losses increase to $728m as it struggles to fight competitor Google.
One weaker spot was sales of its widely-used Windows product, which are slowing as tablet PC sales eat into demand for traditional PCs.
On Wednesday, chipmaker Intel warned that PC sales would not be as strong as it had expected this year.
Microsoft is itself expected to enter the tablet market next year with the launch of its next operating system, code-named Windows 8, which will be compatible with the low-power chips commonly used by tablet and mobile phone makers.
Microsoft is the latest technology company to exceed profit expectations.
Google, Apple and IBM all reported strong earnings recently.
Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/go/rss/int/news/-/news/business-14243831
22 July 2011
Last updated at 11:00
The PlayStation Network was shut down for weeks following the data theft
Sony faces a court battle over how it will pay for legal claims made in the wake of a massive data breach.
One of the company’s insurers has asked a judge to rule that it is not liable for losses related to the cyber attack.
In April, Sony discovered that hackers had gained access to 77 million accounts on its PlayStation Network.
The firm agreed to pay anyone who lost-out financially as a result of the incident, but it is still being sued by a number of users.
PlayStation Network was shut down worldwide for more than a month while Sony reviewed its security procedures.
Zurich American Insurance has now gone to court in New York seeking a declaration that it does not have to help Sony with current or future legal action related to the data breach.
Legal papers filed by Zurich reveal that 55 separate class action lawsuits are pending in the US because of the breach.
Also underway are investigations by state and federal regulators that could also end-up before the courts.
Sony has made claims on several of its insurance policies, including one with Zurich, to help pay its legal bills and provide compensation.
However, Zurich argues that the policy it set up for Sony does not cover the part of the business that suffered the breach or the sort of damage the theft caused.
Specific clauses in the policy also rule out Zurich providing cover, it said.
Sony declined to comment because the matter is the subject of pending litigation.
In financial statements, Sony said it expected costs for the breach to top 14bn yen (£109m) this year. The figure does not include any costs for compensating customers.
Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/go/rss/int/news/-/news/technology-14247883
The Office for National Statistics said non-store retailing jumped 24.4 per cent in June – the biggest such leap it has ever recorded.
Comparing June 2011 with the same month last year, value of all retail sales went up 4 per cent and the volume of sales went up 0.4 per cent.
Food sales fell 4.2 per cent – the largest fall since the ONS began keeping notes in 1988.
Non-food retailing grew 0.9 per cent and sales were pushed up by fuel prices, which went up 3.1 per cent.
A spokesman for the ONS said non-store retailing included not just websites but also catalogues and market stalls.
He said that anecdotally the jump could be down to people shopping around more, because of economic fears, and that the web made this easier to do. He also suggested a move to more eco-friendly options, and the hike in fuel prices, may have played a role in pushing people online instead of onto the High Street.
Smaller retailers seem to have benefited more than the big firms, he said.
About £32.1bn was spent in retail in June 2011, compared to £30.9bn in June 2010. ®
20 July 2011
Last updated at 15:26
OS X Lion takes many of its design cues from Apple’s iOS devices
Apple has launched the latest version of its Mac operating system – OS X Lion – through its online app store.
It is the first time that the company has not issued new system software on disk.
Users without an internet connection, or whose link is too slow, will be given the option to download the file in an Apple store later this month.
For customers who want a physical copy, Apple is offering a memory stick version for an extra £25.
Editor-in-chief of Mac Format Magazine Graham Barlow said that many users viewed their OS disks as a “security blanket” in case something goes wrong with their machine.
“I for one will be looking at ways I can make an actual physical disk out of the download, if that is legally supported by Apple,” he said.
Mr Barlow also warned that the 4Gb file may lead some users to exceed their download limit if their home broadband has a low cap.
Apple is touting OS X Lion as a major redesign which takes many of its cues from the iOS operating system that runs on iPhones and iPads.
It adds additional multitouch gestures, full screen applications and an iPad-style launch screen.
Like the touchscreen devices, Lion features an auto resume feature where programmes are restored to the state they were left the last time they were used.
“For people that are using lots of creative apps all day with lots of documents open in them, that is going to make a big difference,” said Adam Banks, editor-in-chief at Mac User magazine.
Mr Banks said that Lion contained a number of design themes that would help extend the appeal of Apple’s laptops and desktops in the face of competition from its own handheld products.
“Some people predicted that by this point there wouldn’t even be a Mac any more because Apple is getting all these millions and millions of users on its iOS devices, why do they need the relatively small number of people using Macs.
“Is Apple still about that creative, professional market? I think there are features here that make clear it is,” said Mr Banks.
Mac OS X Lion costs £20.99 from the Mac App store.
Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/go/rss/int/news/-/news/technology-14221817
18 July 2011
Last updated at 06:13
The BBC is conducting a major survey into the state of mobile phone coverage in the UK.
Over the course of the next month, the project will attempt to chart the availability of 3G and 2G services up and down the country.
Mobile operators offer their own coverage maps but no independent survey has yet been carried out.
Measurements will be made using an app developed by network analysis firm Epitiro.
The software can be downloaded by anyone with an Android handset and will record street level coverage across Britain.
Download via QR code
There is no iPhone app at present, because of the difficulty in making Apple devices collect such information in the background while other programmes are running.
At the end of the test period, the BBC aims to display the results on a clickable map.
“Coverage is the number one issue for consumers,” said Gavin Johns, chief executive of Epitiro.
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HOW TO BE A PART OF THE UK MOBILE MAP
- You will need an Android handset
- Download the app below or from Android Marketplace
- Once downloaded, data will be collected without you having to do anything more
- If you wish to see what coverage is like in a particular place, simply click on the app
- The app is free to download
- It uses very little bandwidth
- The data is anonymised and neither Epitiro nor the BBC will collate or store any personal data
According to Ofcom, there are over 12 million smartphones being used around the UK and a good service is crucial for the web browsing that more and more people demand from their handsets.
“Our coverage app will provide the information consumers need to see if 3G services are available and from which mobile operator. As mobile broadband is important to many of us, we hope people volunteer and make the project a success,” said Mr Johns.
Most people have an anecdote about poor mobile coverage and it depends on a variety of factors including whether the user is indoors or out and what time of day they are using the network.
When a phone connects to high-speed 3G broadband services it will typically display a 3G or H symbol by the signal bars. The UK’s average mobile download speed is 1.5Mbit/s. In areas of good 3G coverage, that figure rises to 2.1Mbit/s.
Alternative technologies include EDGE, which has a maximum speed of 0.3Mbit/s. Phones typically display an E symbol when using the system.
When consumers get a circle or ‘o’ symbol it is unlikely that broadband services will work satisfactorily, regardless of the number of signal strength bars.
Switching from 2G to 3G can make a dramatic difference to data speed
Compare the market
Coverage is an issue that regulator Ofcom describes as a priority. It estimates that in terms of land mass, 91% of the UK has 2G coverage and 76% has 3G coverage.
It is conducting its own tests on UK mobile notspots – areas of low or no service. The research is due to be published later this year.
A consultant report, commissioned by Ofcom stated: “More information on coverage is required, and this should be in a standardised format enabling comparison between operator services such that users can make an informed decision about coverage in their area.
“Whilst postcode-based checkers go some way to this, their accuracy is limited to the point at which they have limited value.”
O2′s chief technology officer Nigel Purdy agrees that the current coverage checkers which rely on predictive modelling are not entirely accurate.
His company, along with other operators, conducts its own, more in-depth tests – including drive-bys – to see what coverage is like in a particular area and to plan where to place new base stations.
The challenge is “to get that data in a format for easy access for our customers,” he said.
A similar project to map mobile signal strength globally has been carried out by opensignalmaps.
Operator 3 is calling for change in the way consumers are informed about coverage.
“There is no common standard for measuring coverage and some operators tend to grossly exaggerate. We like to manage people’s expectations,” said Phil Sheppard, 3′s director of network strategy.
One of the biggest challenges for 3, which owns high frequency 3G spectrum that is not great at penetrating buildings, is ensuring coverage when people use their phones indoors.
The problem will be solved, to an extent by gaining access to lower frequency spectrum that will be freed up by the digital switch-over.
Ian Fogg, an independent telecoms analyst, said that all operators struggle with indoor coverage.
“It is much easier to predict outdoor coverage. Indoors it will depend on the structure of the building. Thick concrete walls will block signals much more than a wooden structure,” said Mr Fogg.
As homes become ever more energy-efficient, so the problem is exacerbated as highly insulated houses tend to block mobile signals.
Spectrum that will allow 4G services is not due to be released until at least 2012.
Meanwhile 3 is busy adding more base stations. It now has 12,653 sites around the UK. It site-shares with T-Mobile and will gain more locations following the T-Mobile and Orange merger.
But mobile masts bring their own challenges, according to Mr Purdy.
“Everyone craves good coverage but when we rock up to build a site near them it can cause problems,” he said.
In urban centres, where more masts are needed at roof-top level, the challenge is finding a suitable rental price, he added.
Need for speed
Users can find out what coverage they get in any location around the UK
The BBC survey will not measure speeds, but this is becoming increasingly crucial as people use their handsets for downloading and web browsing.
Ofcom, in conjunction with Epitiro, recently carried out a national test.
In those speed tests, O2 and Vodafone came out on top, averaging between 2 and 3Mbit/s, compared to Orange which managed between 1Mbit/s and 1.5Mbit/s.
Broadband comparison website Top10.com released its own 3G speed app this year and it found that Milton Keynes had the slowest 3G speeds at around 1.73Mbit/s compared to 3.6Mbit/s in Peterborough.
Mr Fogg thinks that, if enough people download the UK mobile map app, it could play a valuable role in helping improve coverage.
“One of the key solutions is identifying the problem. X network’s may only be terrible in certain locations and this survey will provide better information for operators,” he said.
Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/go/rss/int/news/-/news/technology-13874818
16 July 2011
Last updated at 16:37
The collective memory of the internet may make us simply remember less
Computers and the internet are changing the nature of our memory, research in the journal Science suggests.
Psychology experiments showed that people presented with difficult questions began to think of computers.
When participants knew that facts would be available on a computer later, they had poor recall of answers but enhanced recall of where they were stored.
The researchers say the internet acts as a “transactive memory” that we depend upon to remember for us.
Lead author Betsy Sparrow of Columbia University said that transactive memory “is an idea that there are external memory sources – really storage places that exist in other people”.
“There are people who are experts in certain things and we allow them to be, [to] make them responsible for certain kinds of information,” she explained to BBC News.
Co-author of the paper Daniel Wegner, now at Harvard University, first proposed the transactive memory concept in a book chapter titled Cognitive Interdependence in Close Relationships, finding that long-term couples relied on each other to act as one another’s memory banks.
“I really think the internet has become a form of this transactive memory, and I wanted to test it,” said Dr Sparrow.
Where, not what
The first part of the team’s research was to test whether subjects were “primed” to think about computers and the internet when presented with difficult questions. To do that, the team used what is known as a modified Stroop test.
The standard Stroop test measures how long it takes a participant to read a colour word when the word itself is a different colour – for example, the word “green” written in blue.
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I don’t think Google is making us stupid – we’re just changing the way that we’re remembering things…”
Dr Betsy Sparrow
Reaction times increase when, instead of colour words, participants are asked to read words about topics they may already be thinking about.
In this way the team showed that, after presenting subjects with tough true/false questions, reaction times to internet-related terms were markedly longer, suggesting that when participants did not know the answer, they were already considering the idea of obtaining it using a computer.
A more telling experiment provided a stream of facts to participants, with half told to file them away in a number of “folders” on a computer, and half told that the facts would be erased.
When asked to remember the facts, those who knew the information would not be available later performed significantly better than those who filed the information away.
But those who expected the information would be available were remarkably good at remembering in which folder they had stored the information.
“This suggests that for the things we can find online, we tend keep it online as far as memory is concerned – we keep it externally stored,” Dr Sparrow said.
She explained that the propensity of participants to remember the location of the information, rather than the information itself, is a sign that people are not becoming less able to remember things, but simply organising vast amounts of available information in a more accessible way.
“I don’t think Google is making us stupid – we’re just changing the way that we’re remembering things… If you can find stuff online even while you’re walking down the street these days, then the skill to have, the thing to remember, is where to go to find the information. It’s just like it would be with people – the skill to have is to remember who to go see about [particular topics].”