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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Tue 31st May 2016

The BBC Micro Bit, the tiny computing device designed to get children coding, is going on sale to the general public.

The device is already being delivered, free, to one million Year 7 children in schools across the UK.

Now it will also be available to buy from the various partners in the project for £12.99.

Commercial availability of the Micro Bit follows the signing of a licensing deal with the device's manufacturer, the Leeds-based company, element 14.

The firm says it will only sell them in batches of 90.

But retailers including Microsoft, the Technology Will Save Us organisation and Sciencescope will offer individual devices.

Owners of the Micro Bit can write code for it via a website designed by Microsoft

Element 14 is part of Premier Farnell, one of the distributors of the very successful Raspberry Pi barebones computer. Richard Curtin, strategic alliance director at element 14, is expecting a similar reception for the Micro Bit.
"It's going to be huge," he told me."We've already got a pipeline of orders including foreign governments who've seen what has happened in the UK."

The Micro Bit was meant to be the flagship of the BBC's Make It Digital season last year but suffered a number of delays. It started arriving in schools this spring and the BBC says it has now been delivered to about 80% of schools and roughly 750,000 Year 7 children (11 and 12-year olds).

While I have heard plenty of enthusiasm from those children who have got their hands on it - and there are already plenty of exciting projects on display - there have also been frustrations from teachers.

A number have told me that the Micro Bit has arrived far too late in the school year to be of much use - "starting after half term, it's come far too late to get proper use out of it, plus concerns about handling/failures" was one comment this morning.
But another teacher said this: "Got ours just before Easter hols. Kids are loving using them and are even buying add-ons for them, building projects at home etc."

It is late in the year - although the Micro Bits belong to the children who will take them home over the summer holidays.

Until now, only Year 7 schoolchildren in the UK had access to their own Micro Bits

The hope must be that their enthusiasm will continue as they join Year 8 in September, though of course there is a risk that their devices will be lost or broken by then.

The real test, however, will be whether schools and parents decide that the next Year 7 children will benefit from getting their own Micro Bits.

They could decide it is worthwhile investing in the devices now they are going to be available to buy. And there is also the prospect of some being made available for free again.

Element 14 tells me it is paying a licensing fee for the use of the BBC and Micro Bit brands - but that all of that money will be going to a charitable trust with the aim of providing an educational legacy.

The Micro Bit is entering what is now quite a crowded market for simple educational computing devices.

But if it does prove as good a seller as the Raspberry Pi, then a windfall for the charity could mean more Year 7 children getting their hands on one.

Source: bbc.co.uk
 
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Tue 31st May 2016

Since the nineties, Apple and Microsoft have been racing to get a computer into the living room.

By the end of 2015, it finally looked like both had succeeded: The new Apple TV supports the Apple App Store; Microsoft updated the Xbox One to run a version of the Windows 10 operating system.

And this week, a report came out that indicated that the Apple TV will soon be getting an upgrade that turns it into a smart Siri-powered home assistant, a lot like the smash hit Amazon Echo.

In the past, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has said that its Xbox One games console will fill a similar role, starting with the arrival of Cortana in a forthcoming update.

It means that for once, the long-time frenemies have aligning philosophies: Microsoft and Apple see the television as the most-desired real estate in the home. And if people want a voice-powered home assistant that can control their connected home appliances, that's where they're going to deliver it.

But Amazon and Google are going in an entirely different direction.

With the Amazon Echo and the recently-announced Google Home assistant, these relatively newer companies are betting on something a little more ambient — a gadget that's always on and standing by, unlike a television, and that can be comfortably stashed anywhere with a power outlet. Amazon even sells mini, hockey-puck sized versions of the Echo so you can have one in every room.

This great philosophical divide, with Microsoft and Apple on one side and Amazon and Google on the other, seems to come from their histories.

Apple and Microsoft got their starts in the early days of the personal computer, decades ago. For most of their histories, "computer" meant "mouse, keyboard, and monitor," in varying configurations.

It wasn't so very long ago that the television seemed like the most logical thing in which to incorporate a computer, given that it's very often the largest screen in the home. And both Apple and Microsoft have strong existing investments in the software developer ecosystem who are already adept at enhancing the capabilities of something with a screen.

Meanwhile, Amazon and Google both rose to prominence in the early days of the internet era, when the network was far more important than any single computer. While both of them have dabbled in device manufacturing, the thing that made Amazon and Google special in the first place was their intelligence they used to power their online services.

Apple and Microsoft are betting that people still want to make the television the center of their lives. Amazon and Google are trying to provide a little more intelligence, everywhere, with or without a screen.

Are Apple and Microsoft too old-fashioned? Or are Amazon and Google too avant-garde? With the whole voice control-slash-conversational interface game still very much in its infancy, there's room for everybody to be right. But as we get more used to talking to our gadgets like they're human, a shakeout seems inevitable.

Source: uk.businessinsider.com
 
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Tue 31st May 2016

Google was caught by surprise. Last week, nearly 100 employees of France’s equivalent of the IRS (Direction générale des Finances) raided Google’s office in Paris for a tax non-compliance investigation. French financial prosecutor Éliane Houlette told Europe 1 that her team had been secretly working on this raid for nearly a year. Google may be facing a $1.8 billion fine (€1.6 billion).

Houlette and her team have been a bit paranoid with this investigation. Given Google’s size and reach, the team has been extra cautious, as Google couldn’t know about an upcoming raid in its office in Paris. You don’t want the company to start obfuscating files before you even have a chance to look at them.

That’s why most people at the DGF didn’t even know Houlette was getting serious about this investigation. Her team used the codename “Tulip” when talking about Google, referring to the flowers in the Netherlands.

“We’ve dealt [with this investigation] in complete secret given this company’s business,” Houlette told Europe 1. “In order to protect this secret, we decided that we would give another name to Google and never pronounce Google’s name — Tulip. And we’ve worked offline on this investigation for nearly a year. We used one computer, but only as a word processor.”

The end result is terabytes of data. It’s going to take months, or even years to process all this data, according to Houlette.

Many have asked whether France is willing to do a tax deal like in the U.K. French finance minister Michel Sapin told Reuters that there won’t be any deal. Houlette went even further and said that France’s legislation doesn’t work this way and there’s no way the French government could make a deal with Google.

So it leaves one possibility — a trial. Things could get ugly as this trial could go on and on for years. It would hurt France’s image when it comes to doing business in France. Houlette is also aware of that, so let’s see if the financial prosecutor can find an alternative that won’t be a deal nor a trial.

France’s investigation against Google’s tax schemes started in 2011. According to Google, the company doesn’t do much business in France. It has an office and a marketing team, but no sales team. That’s why most of Google France’s revenue goes to Google’s European HQ in Ireland and the company doesn’t pay much tax in France.

Google then sends most of Google Ireland Limited’s money to Google Netherlands Holdings BV, so that this other subsidiary can send the money to Google Ireland Holdings.

Despite the name, Google Ireland Holdings’ cost center is in Bermuda and is called Google Bermuda Unlimited. And that’s how you end up making money in France while keeping your bank account in Bermuda, where corporate tax doesn’t even exist.

Many European companies use more or less the same process to lower tax rates — and it’s legal. But the main issue with Google in France is that the DGF thinks Google is doing more than just marketing in France. Some Irish contracts could be French and could be subject to French taxes. Hence the investigation.

Source: techcrunch.com
 
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Wed 25th May 2016

Finding new, productive tasks for staff is the real challenge, not just cutting costs

Automating tasks with technology can save staff lots of time, cut costs and improve morale, but firms need to think about how this free time is used in terms of productivity to achieve the true benefits of automation.

Marcus Austin, an analyst at research firm Quocirca, said at a web seminar hosted by V3 sister site Computing that this planning needs to happen far earlier than it does now.

"There isn't a lot of thought put into the next step for the business when automating," he said.

"They've put systems in to reduce complex tasks, but what do staff do with that saved time? Firms need to understand it's a stepped process. Automation isn't a solution in itself.

"You need to start thinking about [how to use this saved time] as you're putting these systems in."

But this saved time is one of the principal benefits of automation, as Donnie MacColl, director of EMEA technical services at HelpSystems, explained.

"When I ask people what I can do to make their working life better, most say 'time'. They want a single pane of glass. They have multiple screens, devices, databases, applications, and it would be good to bring them all together into one screen," he said.

"So bring all those systems into single pane. Bring in all the messages and alerts you need to do something with. Put them into an easily repeatable, automated task, then non-IT people can be empowered to do them.

"For instance, a sales person might want their sales figures at 5pm every day. If it's automated they can run that task themselves at 5pm. It doesn't need a request to go to IT every day."

Computing's own research into automation found that 69 per cent of respondents cited cost reduction as the main driver, while 66 per cent cited increased productivity.

MacColl, however, pointed to other statistics from the research showing that 47 per cent cited increased reliability and 22 per cent less downtime. "If you add those together it becomes joint top," he said.

He added that automation can reduce mundane, repetitive tasks which can lead to improved employee morale and lower staff turnover.

"That leads to reduced costs, but perhaps not in the direct, tangible way you may have expected upfront," MacColl explained.

So what are the first steps to introducing automation into a business? MacColl advised firms to start with the simplest processes first.

"I recommend people start with mundane, boring, repetitive tasks. That's the low-hanging fruit. It's checking servers are OK, applications are up and running, network ports are open and that people have access to the systems they should. Automate that easy stuff first then move on to the more complex stuff," he said.

Further research by Computing found that 54 per cent of those surveyed said that routine maintenance and patching could most usefully be automated, while 51 per cent cited backups as the top choice.

Source: v3.co.uk
 
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Wed 25th May 2016

More problems in Europe for search firm

Google’s offices in Paris have been raided by as many as 100 tax officials after the company was accused of failing to pay tax returns amounting to £1.3bn, according to the BBC.

French regulators confirmed the raids, as reported by Reuters, and Google has said that it is cooperating with the investigation.

“We comply with French law and are cooperating fully with the authorities to answer their questions," the company said in a statement.

The move comes amid growing scrutiny of Google in Europe concerning tax payments and alleged anti-competitive behaviour.

The UK government was criticised last year for agreeing a £130m deal with Google over unpaid taxes, which was a fraction of what was owed and of the revenue and profit that the firm generates.

More recently, the European Commission filed a Statement of Objections against Google concerning alleged abuse of its search market dominance to favour its own services at the expense of others.

Google faces the possibility of a €3bn fine if the firm cannot convince the regulators that this is not the case.

Google is also at loggerheads with French authorities over the Right to be Forgotten after the nation's privacy watchdog, CNIL, ruled that successful requests must be applied to the firm's entire search database, not just in EU nations.

However, the company has appealed to the highest court in France, arguing that the ruling would create a dangerous precedent and block access to search results in regions where that access is perfectly legal.

“As a matter of law and principle, we disagree with this demand. We comply with the laws of the countries in which we operate," Kent Walker, senior vice president and general counsel at the company, said last week.

Source: v3.co.uk
 
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Mon 23rd May 2016

Google has patented a technology that will attach people to the front of your self-driving car after a collision, The Mercury News reports.

The adhesive layer would coat the front of a self-driving car but be covered by something that's not sticky. When you hit someone, the outer layer would be removed, exposing the glue.

After a crash, the victim would be stuck to the front of the car, preventing them from another injury as they're thrown backwards.

The existence of a patent about gluing people to cars doesn't mean that it's actually going to happen, though. Large technology companies like Google patent lots of ideas, but only a few actually make it to production.

Self-driving cars are, in theory, safer than cars driven by humans. But they still get into accidents. In February one of Google's driverless cars hit a bus in Mountain View. And the owner of a Tesla Model S claimed earlier this month that his car crashed into a trailer while in "Summon" mode.

Source: uk.businessinsider.com
 
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Mon 23rd May 2016

Queen's Speech promises compensation for any household unable to get at least 10Mbps broadband

The government has outlined plans in the Queen's Speech for every household in the UK to have "the right" to high-speed broadband and automatic compensation for those that get left behind.

The plans were outlined by the Queen in the State Opening of Parliament today. She said that the government's proposed Digital Economy Bill will "make the UK a world leader in digital provision", in which the country would be "ceaselessly" transformed by technology.

"Legislation will be introduced to ... make the United Kingdom a world leader in the digital economy," the Queen said.

The broadband promises will be underwritten by a new Broadband Universal Service Obligation which expects minimum UK broadband speeds to be 10Mbps initially. The Bill would also, however, deliver direct power to Ofcom to "review the speed over time to make sure it is still sufficient for modern life".

Ofcom will also be given the power to release data on customer complaints and actual broadband speeds to help customers better navigate the market. Automatic compensation is also promised for when things go wrong with a broadband service.

The Bill lays out welcome developments for UK customers still suffering from poor quality connections, especially in low bandwidth areas, while certain government ministers regularly tout their own apparent success with fast broadband rollouts.

However, the so-called "new" nature of the Universal Service Obligation is slightly strange in that 10Mbps has been the government's supposed service standard since prime minister David Cameron's speech on the matter in November.

Cameron also spoke at the time of access to superfast broadband as a "right".

Ofcom laid out its own spin on the plans on 12 May, mentioning an idea to harness a sub-band in the 5GHz frequency range (most routers currently use the 2.4GHz frequency) while ensuring protection for other users, such as satellite services.

The government seems to be presenting old promises as new, but it is encouraging to see realistic broadband provision in rural and other ‘notspot' areas of the UK to counter the ongoing bluster of politicians.

However, 10Mbps per second still seems a low target for a rural UK filled with such digital promise.

Paul Evans, CEO of internet speed boosting company Boosty, is also concerned that the UK's infrastructure isn't robust enough to support such changes in the timeframes envisaged by the government.

"Realistically, even if the government's plans are pushed through, it could still take up to five or six years to roll out superfast fibre broadband," he said.

"By then the broadband infrastructure may not be sufficient to support a new generation of digital services."

Source: v3.co.uk
 
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Mon 23rd May 2016

Almost two-thirds of people aged over 75 have never gone online, suggest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
Despite this, net use among this group is growing with the numbers trying the net doubling since 2011, it found.

It also revealed that 25% of disabled people have yet to use the net - a figure campaigners called "shocking".
About 88% of all UK adults, about 46 million people, used the net in the last three months, it said.

High cost
The ONS bulletin on net use in the first three months of 2016 revealed that 91% of people living in London went online regularly. By contrast, in Northern Ireland only 82% of people are regular users of online sites and services.

Pete Lee, from the ONS's surveys and economic division, said the statistics revealed some significant changes in usage and exposed those sectors of the population where net use remained low or patchy.

Net use among women aged 75 and over had grown by 169% since 2011, it found. However, it found that a significant number of older people who start using the net did not do so consistently. About 5% of those aged 75 or more had stopped using the net in early 2016.

"While we have seen a notable increase in internet usage across all groups in recent years, many older and disabled people are still not online," said Mr Lee.

Mark Atkinson, chief executive at disability charity Scope, said it was "shocking" that 25% of disabled people had not used the net as it created a significant digital divide.

"Digital access has the power to make life cost less," he said. "Many people go online to compare the best consumer deals and offers."

"Life costs more if you are disabled, from higher energy bills to specialist equipment. Scope research shows these costs add up to on average £550 per month," he added.

Source: bbc.co.uk
 
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Tue 17th May 2016

The BBC has reportedly been encouraged by the UK government to launch an online subscription service that could rival Netflix and Amazon Prime.

The publicly-funded British broadcaster has held talks with competitors, including ITV and NBC Universal, about collaborating to build the new service, according to reports in The Telegraph and The Guardian.

This suggests that the online streaming service, which is reported to have the working title "Britflix," would also include content not produced by the BBC, making it a direct competitor with Netflix.

The BBC and ITV declined to comment, while NBC were not immediately available for a response.

UK culture secretary John Whittingdale told The Telegraph: "We’re moving into a different world where more and more content is going to be made available on demand. Collaboration with other broadcasters and other production companies we think is important. If they want to explore that kind of thing, we’d encourage them."

"Britflix" is also expected to charge viewers to watch a back catalog of programs that were broadcast more than 30 days previously. Currently programs that were aired within the last 30 days are free to watch on the BBC's catch-up service iPlayer.

The new service may also include original content. However, existing shows are not expected to be put behind a pay wall. At this stage, there are no details for how the premium streaming service will look.

The chart shows that Netflix had more than 4.3 million UK subscribers in Q1 2015.

BBC talks with ITV and NBC have been ongoing since at least March, when The Guardian first picked up on it. However, last Thursday Whittingdale announced a raft of proposed changes to how the BBC is governed.

Within the whitepaper, the government said it welcomes "the BBC’s commitment to develop and test some form of additional subscription services."

"Licence fee payers will not be asked to pay for ‘top-up’ services for anything they currently get," according to the proposal.

Source: uk.businessinsider.com
 
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Tue 17th May 2016

The UK's Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency is working on a smartphone version of its driving licence.

Chief executive Oliver Morley tweeted a photo showing a "prototype" using Apple's Wallet app on an iPhone.
He says it will be an "add-on" to the plastic card rather than a replacement.

Wallet already stores boarding passes and credit, debit, gift and discount cards. Payment information is encrypted end-to-end and authorised with the user's fingerprint or passcode.

CCS Insight analyst Ben Wood said: "Security has taken a significant step forward to support digital payments on phones, so the framework is in place for other secure applications, such as a digital driving licence.
"There are not many people in the UK that do not carry a smartphone with them every day, so it is a logical next step."
Chris Green, technology analyst at the business consultancy Lewis, said digital wallets were "a massively underrated and under-exploited resource".
"People are getting more and more used to the technology because of e-ticketing," he said.
"People are far more comfortable with the concept of keeping key information on their smartphone."

Paperless passes
DeLaRue, which prints British banknotes and passports, has already said it is working on a paperless passport.
And the NHS has announced a £4bn plan to move to a "paperless" platform.

British passport
Morpho Trust, a US security company that provides driver's licences, has been piloting a digital licence product in Iowa since August 2015.

It says it:

allows users to change their address, details, and whether or not they are an organ donor without visiting the state's motor vehicle agency
makes it easier for residents to have their licence updated when they reach the legal drinking age of 21
And in Australia, the New South Wales government has announced the introduction of digital licences, which it says will eliminate the need for a physical card.

The first licences issued under the new system are for fishing, the purchase of alcohol, and responsible gambling.
A driver's licence is due to be available in digital format by 2018.

Source: bbc.co.uk
 
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