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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Mon 25th Jan 2016

Working behind the counter of a Thai takeaway in south London, Mark Furness had hit rock bottom.

The Liverpudlian had previously successfully managed a technology business in the north of England, but he says that after its parent group had reneged on giving him a share of the company he quit on the spot.
Moving to London, aged 30 in 2004, to try to restart his career, he instead soon realised that he was "burnt out" by the vagaries of the business world.

Quickly running out of money, he found himself down on his luck. Out of financial desperation he had to swap selling computer equipment for Thai curries.

"By that point I didn't have a penny of savings left, and was staying with friends," says Mr Furness, now 41.
"I earned £150 a week, my rent was £120 and my bills were £25. So I was left with £5 a week to live on.

"So I bought big boxes of Crunchy Nut Cornflakes and litres of milk for my breakfasts and lunches. And then I'd have dinner every day at the Thai takeaway. I did that for seven months."

But as far as Mr Furness had fallen, he says that he was still convinced that he could - and would - set up his own successful IT company.

So in between serving customers their pad Thai or tom yum soup, he'd write down all his business ideas.
Two years later Mr Furness did indeed launch his company - Essensys - which allows small and medium-sized firms, and shared office spaces, to easily outsource all their IT requirements.

Like many self-respecting tech firms, Essensys' headquarters has a pool table
Today Essensys is the second-fastest growing IT firm in the UK, according to business magazine Inc. Meanwhile, business research group Gartner has declared that Essensys is a company to watch.

And with London-based Essensys now expanding into the US, Mr Furness, who has the chief executive role, has gone from a spare room in south London to an apartment in Manhattan.

Not bad for a man who left school at 16, and who freely admits he knows "not one jot" about how to write a software programme, or build a computer network.

'Natural salesman'
Brought up in the working class Liverpool area of Huyton, Mr Furness says his dad had two jobs to make ends meet, while his mother worked in a hairdressers.

He says: "We didn't have much money, but you didn't notice that you didn't have stuff. So growing up was alright, as most kids have it, it was a laugh."

Mr Furness spent a teenager year as professional drummer

Unsure of what to do with his life, unusual fate intervened one Saturday when the keen drummer was playing drums in a Liverpool music shop.

By pure chance, the manager of a professional band was walking past, and liked what he heard.
So aged 16, Mr Furness was invited to become the drummer of a young cabaret band called Juvenile Jazz that played at corporate events across the UK and Europe.

He accepted, and his first concert with the group - the rest of whom were in their early 20s - was in London, which came with a night's stay at one of London's most famous five-star hotels.

Mr Furness says: "I had never stayed in a hotel before, and suddenly I'm staying at Claridge's.
"I remember going to my room and thinking 'this is alright'. It was one of those moments in life when I realised there were opportunities out there."

After spending a year with the band, Mr Furness says he was ultimately sacked because he "wasn't talented enough".

He then went travelling for a year, including spending time in Australia where he worked going door-to-door selling cable TV. Mr Furness says he found it "really quite easy". He adds: "I was a natural salesman, I loved talking to people."

It also marked the start of his career in the IT sector.

Overseas expansion
Returning to the UK, Mr Furness worked for a number of technology companies before washing up at the Thai restaurant in south London.

Without the money to start an IT firm, Mr Furness realised that he needed a better paying job so he could save up some funds.

Essensys' operating system is called Jeff

So with the help of his brother, who bought him a new suit for the interview, Mr Furness got a job in sales at a computer network business.

Two years later he had finessed his idea for an outsourcing IT firm, and persuaded two of his workmates to leave with him and establish Essensys in 2006.

Each putting in £6,000, Mr Furness' two co-founders Bryn Sadler and Barry Clark had the computer skills to balance his sales and leadership talents.

Their first customer was the owner of Centre Point, the office tower block at the eastern end of London's Oxford Street, and others soon followed suit.

Essensys now handles the IT for 6,000 businesses in the UK, and 250 in the US, where it has been operating for almost six months.

Its annual turnover is more than £12m after seeing annual growth of more than five-fold per year, and it employs more than 90 people.

Adrian Mars, technology journalist and IT consultant, says it is impressive that Essensys' growth has come despite it not having any external investors.

"The firm's growth has all been organic, which is pretty good," says Mr Mars. "I think its success is down to how easy its systems are to use, it has really focused on that."

Mr Furness says his aim is for Essensys to become a multi-million dollar business, and that he has in recent years overcome his insecurities.

"I always had a fear of being found out... that I had made it up as I have gone along," he says.
"Two years ago I was still scared of that, but now I'm happy with it, as it helps us to innovate."

Source: bbc.co.uk
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Mon 25th Jan 2016

Bob Geldof cuts an unlikely figure at the annual educational technology trade fair in London's Excel centre.

The cavernous Bett Show - British Educational Training and Technology - is a deafening marketplace of over-sized technology displays.

And in the middle of it is the Irish singer, with visitors surprised to see his craggy rock-and-roll features among the giant screens and gadget adverts.

But he's no techno kid. He brandishes what must be the world's oldest functioning mobile phone and says it does everything he needs, describing it as the "AK47 of mobile telephony".

"I'm in odd places in the world, where there's no power. This lasts five days. All I want it to do is get a signal."
Geldof is here as co-founder of an educational technology firm called Groupcall. This provides a service for schools to send text messages to parents if pupils are late or missing or any other reason that schools might need to contact families.

No exams
Running a tech firm he says is "like being in a band", it starts off with something small and then grows. "Intellectually, it's good fun."

He describes himself as an "autodidact", self-taught rather than the product of formal learning.

"I was never interested in academia, I never got any exams, I never went to college. But that isn't what interests me."
He is a scattergun of eclectic ideas, punctuated by some really energetic swearing.

He talks about his passion for the poetry of WB Yeats and how much he would have liked to have met the radical women of early-20th Century revolutionary Ireland.

And he tells a story about how in 1978 the Boomtown Rats turned down $100,000 to play a company event in California, proposed by a young tech entrepreneur called Steve Jobs.

"It was a lot of money and they were being hip and cool."

But he said the punk band told Apple: "We don't do corporates." With some more lively language added to the sentiment.

'Clash of ideas'

The practical side of technology might elude him, but he is fascinated by its far-reaching implications.

Steve Jobs in the late 1970s wanted to be "hip and cool" by hiring a punk band, says Geldof

Whether it is a "clash of ideas" with "medieval fundamentalists" or creative industries trying to "re-invent the economy", he says the internet is going to be the battleground.

"It seems to me that technology will mediate a lot of that."

The accelerating development of artificial intelligence could change the future of humanity, he says, or else "wipe ourselves out, which is not off the cards".

He likens the internet to Gutenberg's invention of the printing press, saying he might have "just been trying to make a buck", but the technology set off a chain reaction, democratising knowledge and changing politics and society.

"It's where it's going that really excites me. I won't be around to see what happens, that's the only irritating thing about dying. I won't be around to see what happens next."

'Silicon chip'

He says his interest in computers goes back to the 1970s.

"I remember Bill Gates saying everyone would have their own computer - that's why I wrote the 'silicon chip inside her head'," in the lyric of the Rats' big hit, I Don't Like Mondays.

Development campaigner: Geldof speaking at the BBC's Africa 2015 conference

"I thought it was really interesting that memory - the thing that constructs self - was being put on a piece of sand.

"So William Blake had suddenly become real, when he wrote 'To see the universe in a grain of sand', and that was very romantic to me."

His firm's technology helps schools and parents to keep track of children. And he says he is keenly aware of the balancing act between keeping people safe and an overbearing sense of constant monitoring.

Geldof says he can't stand the "nonsense" of behaving as though all strangers are predators and says he hates it that adults are afraid of helping a child lost in the supermarket.

But he says technology can help make sure that parents know when there is danger, like a pupil not arriving at school. And it can block inappropriate websites.

"If we can guarantee parents that their children are not going to be able to access sites of brutality and murder, of medieval death cultism, then I'm there."

Geldof, peering through his shaggy hair like an esoteric springer spaniel, doesn't much resemble the other corporate tech sellers at the show.

He might be a businessman now, but he still has the sulphur of the heroic age of rock and roll, before pop stars became hedge fund kids with banjos.

The digital economy will bring "bewildering" changes, he says, creating its own "backwash" of disruption.
"Like all interesting times, it's dangerous too."

Source: bbc.co.uk
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Mon 25th Jan 2016

Google blocked more than 780 million policy-violating advertisements in 2015 in a crackdown on so-called ‘bad ads'.

"Bad ads can ruin your entire online experience, a problem we take very seriously," said Sridhar Ramaswamy, senior vice president of ads and commerce at Google, in a post on the Official Google Blog.

"That's why we have a strict set of policies for the kinds of ads businesses can run with Google and why we've invested in sophisticated technology and a global team of 1,000 people dedicated to fighting bad ads.

"Last year alone we disabled more than 780 million ads for violating our policies, a number that's increased over the years thanks to new protections we've put in place."

Ramaswamy outlined the sheer scope of the problem Google faces in combating ad-based malware, phishing, counterfeiting and scams.

"Through a combination of computer algorithms and people at Google reviewing ads, we're able to block the vast majority of these bad ads before they ever get shown," he explained in a report titled How we fought bad ads in 2015.

It is, no doubt, in parent company Alphabet's best interest to keep Google's ad networks free of scams as a significant amount of its revenue comes from advertising.

Ramaswamy also revealed that Google has stepped up its efforts to combat phishing, and blocked nearly 7,000 websites last yearafter investigations.

The firm blocked over 30,000 websites for ‘misleading weight loss claims' and suspended more than 12.5 million ads that violated pharmaceutical policies. Finally, a crackdown on counterfeiting resulted in the suspension of over 10,000 sites last year.

Looking ahead, Ramaswamy said that Google will tackle the annoyance of ‘accidental mobile clicks'.

"We've all been there. You're swiping through a slideshow of the best moments from the presidential debate when an ad redirects you even though you didn't mean to click on it. We're working to end that," he said.

Google stopped ‘bad ads' on over 25,000 mobile applications because of policy violations. "More than two-thirds of these violations were for practices like mobile ads placed very close to buttons, causing someone to accidentally click the ad," Ramaswamy said.

"There are also some sites and apps that we choose not to work with because they don't follow our policies. We reject applications from sites and mobile apps that want to show Google ads but don't follow our policies. In 2015 alone, we rejected more than 1.4 million applications."

Google is planning updates this year to its advertising technology, including how it combats malware and bots. "We want to make sure all the ads you see are helpful and welcome and we'll keep fighting to make that a reality," Ramaswamy said.

Source: v3.co.uk
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Mon 25th Jan 2016

Apps that help manage passwords can make it easier to have more complex passwords without having to remember each one individually.

Year after year, studies show that many people still rely on passwords that are so weak even a 5-year-old could crack them.

According to a study released this week by SplashData, a developer of password-management software, consumers continue making the riskiest choices with passwords by consistently using overly simple ones: “123456” and “starwars,” for instance.

I am no better than the rest of you. The password-management app Dashlane recently ran a security audit of all my passwords — and what it found was ugly. It revealed that out of my 70 passwords, I had reused the same one 46 times. Twenty-five of the passwords were flagged as being particularly weak, or easy for a hacker to crack.

In my shame and embarrassment, I put together a guide of best practices for passwords and tested some tools that would help manage them.

Here’s what it boils down to: To have the safest passwords protecting your digital life, each password should be unique and complex. But since memorizing 70 unique and complex passwords is nearly impossible, we also need password-manager programs to keep track of them all.

Password managers are a type of app that locks passwords in a vault and allows access to them with one master password. I tested three popular password management services — LastPass, Dashlane and 1Password — for several days. All were similar, with 1Password standing out as the most cleanly designed (and least annoying) password-management tool.

I began by cleaning up my password hygiene, spending 2 ½ hours logging in to all 70 of my Internet accounts and changing each password, one at a time. Following the advice of security experts, I created long, complex passwords consisting of nonsensical phrases, lines from movies or one-sentence summaries of strange life events, and added numbers and special characters. (Samples: My favorite number is Green4782# or The cat ate the CoTTon candy 224%.)

Then I turned to the password managers, which store your passwords and make them accessible with a master password. Naturally, your master password should be rock solid. So for each of the three apps, I created a complex master password and jotted those down on a piece of paper. After a few days I memorized those passwords and threw away the paper.

I recommend 1Password for several reasons. The app consistently and automatically detected whenever I logged in to websites or created new passwords to ask if I wanted to add a password to the vault.

When logging in to a site, I clicked on the 1Password icon in a browser or opened the app on a phone, entered my master password and selected the service I wanted to log in to in order to plug in the password. (1Password can be set up to require the master password after a certain amount of time, say five minutes, if you don’t want to keep entering it; on iPhones it can be configured to unlock the vault with your fingerprint instead of the master password.)

Of the password managers I tested, Dashlane was the most frustrating because it nagged me with too many questions. After I used Dashlane to log in to TicketWeb to order movie tickets, the app asked if I wanted to save a copy of the receipt inside its vault. In the process of doing that, it froze the browser and I lost access to the Web tickets for a moment.

Also, whenever I created a new password, Dashlane sent notifications asking if I wanted the app to automatically generate passwords for me — which was not my preference.

Dashlane said the app was proactive about notifications partly because it was designed for users who may not be technically savvy.

The third app, LastPass, was less annoying than Dashlane, but in multiple instances it did not detect when I was logging in to a website to add the password into its vault. That required me to manually create a new password entry to add to the vault.

Each of the apps offers the ability to share password vaults across multiple devices — smartphones, tablets and computers.

Wireless synchronization for passwords is a necessity: You don’t want to be locked out of a service on your smartphone because you left your laptop containing all your passwords at work, for instance.

What distinguishes the password-management apps is how they share your passwords among different devices, and how much they charge.

Dashlane is initially free and hosts its own cloud server to share passwords across your devices, but it costs $40 a year to use the cloud service.

LastPass is also free upfront; it offers the ability to share passwords across devices for $12 a year.

The app 1Password came out on top because it offered the most value for the money. For a one-time payment of $50, you get a license to use 1Password on a computer. You can use the core features of 1Password on iPhones or Android devices free — if you want to unlock extra features, like the ability to store serial numbers for software licenses, it costs $10.

Source: seattletimes.com
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Wed 20th Jan 2016

Friends Reunited - one of the UK's first social networks - has announced it will soon close.

One of its founders Steve Pankhurst explained in an email that the platform was still used by "a handful of members" but that it was "no longer used for the purpose it was built for".

Friends Reunited launched in the year 2000 and was bought by broadcaster ITV for £175m ($250m) in 2005.

However, it failed to keep pace with other social networks.

'I met my wife on Friends Reunited'

Friends Reunited launched in 2000
It was sold to comic publisher DC Thomson for only £25m in 2009 and Mr Pankhurst wrote in a blog post that the company had offered it back to him a couple of years ago.

Pankhurst and business partner Jason Porter agreed to take on the site for a trial period to see if they could revitalise it.

"It became clear that most of the actual users coming to the site were using it purely as a messageboard," wrote Mr Pankhurst.
"And I also realised that of the more than 10 million users registered, a lot had done so over a decade ago and hence their contact details were out of date.

Friends Reunited was redesigned a few times during its life
"But importantly - it hasn't covered its costs and like any business this can't continue indefinitely.
"Therefore, whilst it's sad, I believe it's time to move on and put Friends Reunited to bed."

Mr Pankhurst is now planning to launch a new service called Liife. This will be somewhere for people to plot key moments in their lives, but only to share them with those who were involved rather than a wider audience.

However, social media consultant Sue Llewellyn warned: "The market is incredibly crowded with all of these things and I honestly can't see there is space for it.
"I understand totally about the privacy side - privacy is a big thing and it's getting bigger - but I can't see a need for Liife.
"I really wish them luck and I'm happy to eat my virtual hat if it works."

Source: bbc.co.uk
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Wed 20th Jan 2016

Jointly written by
Prof. Plowman & J HancockExternal
University of Edinburgh

1. Isn't screen time bad for children?

As a parent, seeing your child spending lots of time playing on tablets, phones and other devices can feel worrying. Many of us feel that being active, playing outside or reading a book is better for children's development.
While physical activity, reading and other more 'traditional' activities continue to play a very important part in children's development, most parents and carers do rely on screen devices from time to time to engage their child while they’re busy with something else. This is not a problem in itself, just as long as children’s time is made up of a balanced range of activities.
Parents sometimes worry that time spent playing on screen devices may be stunting important development in areas such as social and communication skills. However, as devices and technology have evolved to be more intuitive and creative, they have opened up a world of possibilities for children who previously may have been frustrated by the constraints of their abilities and their environment.

2. Empowering children to communicate

How technology can help
Many young children don’t yet communicate by reading and writing but are full of ideas that they want to express. This can be a really frustrating stage for them, but using technology in the right way can empower them to get their ideas across. This can be especially true for children with communication difficulties.
Technology like video-calling on a tablet or phone can support social interaction and communication skills as it makes it easy for children to show people the things they want to talk about or to describe facets of everyday life to family and friends. By doing this they're also learning to take turns, to take account of their conversation partner and to explain things in a way that’s understandable for somebody who isn't in the same place.
If others join in with apps and games or taking and viewing photos they become shared experiences and can provide stimuli for children’s own questions, stories and imaginative responses. Some nurseries and schools encourage young children to take their own photos to show their families and these can become a focus for talking about their day away from home.

3. Help your child learn through technology
Professor Lydia Plowman has researched the way children learn through apps and games. In this video she explains what parents can do to do to unlock the learning benefits of technology for their child.
Jump media playerMedia player helpOut of media player. Press enter to return or tab to continue.

4. Guided interaction

How to help your child learn through technology
Almost any game, app or website can provide a positive learning opportunity for your child if you think about ways of supporting their play.
Being there is key
Effective guided interaction is about finding ways of supporting your child’s play and learning with technology. It’s more than helping out when they get stuck, although sometimes that’s all that’s needed. Guided interaction often comes naturally: showing interest, asking questions, making suggestions, providing encouragement, praising achievements, just being nearby and helping children to deal with their frustrations. All of these can build confidence and support your child’s play and learning.
Turning virtual fun into real-world skills
Guided interaction also involves thinking about ways of extending children’s learning beyond the screen. For example, if the virtual game involves sorting objects into different categories, you could follow up with a real-world game in which your child helps to sort the washing. By doing this, you have helped them to relate what they have experienced on the screen to everyday life.
Getting children involved in your online tasks
Letting your child get involved in everyday tasks such as online shopping, checking the weather or looking up directions can also be great for giving children a sense of purpose and developing their know‐how about how to find out about things. These everyday tasks can also be great opportunities for talking with your child about the wider world and developing their general knowledge, for example, talking about what their favourite foods are and why, where the food in the shops comes from, or different kinds of weather.

5. How to find good apps for children

'Educational' apps
The apps, games and websites that are promoted as ‘educational’ are not always the best ones for supporting learning. The fact that they’re interactive doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re much better than an old-fashioned workbook with its right and wrong answers. Children may enjoy these products for a while but then get a bit bored, and we now know that they are not the most appropriate or engaging way to learn.
Free apps
Treat so-called ‘free’ apps with caution. Some will expose your child to adverts. Others are designed to wait until your child is engaged in a game or storyline and then demand payment before they can go any further. This can lead to frustration as young children don’t understand why they can’t continue. Sometimes it’s better to make a small payment up front if the app promises no further purchases. However, the CBeebies Playtime and CBeebies Storytime apps are free to download and completely free of adverts or in-app purchases.
Choosing the right app
Choosing an app needs the same kind of thought and care you would put into buying anything else for your child. Don’t rely only on the star rating, but read the user reviews and check the privacy policy if you’re worried about the personal information that the app might be collecting. If you want your child to enjoy learning, to develop curiosity, and to think about things creatively then provide them with a range of games and apps. Open-ended games that become progressively more challenging and encourage children to explore and have fun are more likely to establish a love of learning and to lay the foundation for their future development.

6. Moderation is key

Keep your eye on the balance

While physical activity, reading and other more 'traditional' activities continue to play a very important part in children's development, most parents do rely on screen devices from time to time to engage their child while they’re busy with something else. This is not a problem in itself, just as long as children’s time is made up of a balanced range of activities.

There is a lack of concrete evidence to show any harm done by moderate screen time, but the one thing that most experts agree on is that it’s not a good idea to be exposed to close-up screens before bedtime because the light they emit may cause problems with sleep.

Source: bbc.co.uk
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Wed 20th Jan 2016

Computing giant Microsoft has pledged to provide $1bn-worth (£700m) of cloud computing resources to organisations it deems to be working for the "public good".

The resources will be shared out over the next three years to about 70,000 non-profits and 900 university research projects.
In simplest terms, cloud computing is the term given to storing data on the internet, rather than on a local computer.

As well as making data more easily accessible, the added promise for non-profits is that the resources will provide vast amounts of computing power that would ordinarily be out of reach for all but the biggest businesses.

In a blog post explaining the initiative, Microsoft's chief legal officer Brad Smith wrote: "Cloud services can unlock the secrets held by data in ways that create new insights and lead to breakthroughs, not just for science and technology, but for addressing the full range of economic and social challenges and the delivery of better human services."

The crunching of so-called "big data" is seen as a major opportunity for non-profits dealing in social issues that pose a cumbersome problem without the kind of processing power cloud computing can provide.

In that respect, Microsoft's pledge isn't for a tangible product, or cash, but instead access to servers and services that normal businesses would need to pay considerable fees for.

The money will also be spent on improving "last mile" internet connectivity - the hope is countries that are under connected will begin to enjoy some of the luxuries more developed internet nations have - such as broadband at home.

Tough crowd
Other companies, particularly Facebook, have pursued similar goals.

Facebook's Internet.org project is investing in connectivity technologies - such as drones - to fill that last mile, helping what founder Mark Zuckerberg refers to as the "next billion" people to access the web.

However, initiatives such as this aren't always so well received. Facebook's Free Basics scheme, in which certain mobile sites were accessible for free, has caused uproar in India, where local businesses say Facebook is giving itself an unfair advantage over local competitors.

Microsoft will invariably be hit with the same accusation - that a donation over three years will be made in the hope that organisations will become ingrained in the Microsoft cloud ecosystem for many more years to come.

That said, Microsoft boss Satya Nadella has gained considerable applause for his continually expressed desire to use Microsoft's immense size and wealth in developing countries, including his native India.

As well as being a guest of Michelle Obama at the recent State of the Union address, the 48-year-old is attending the World Economic Forum in Davos this week, seeking to stress Microsoft's potential to provide computing power for initiatives beyond big business.

In a blog post published on Wednesday, he wrote: "If cloud computing is one of the most important transformations of our time, how do we ensure that its benefits are universally accessible?
"What if only wealthy societies have access to the data, intelligence, analytics and insights that come from the power of mobile and cloud computing?"

Source: bbc.co.uk
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Wed 20th Jan 2016

The US lost Apple's manufacturing jobs years ago, and probably for good. Steve Jobs is rumored to have said as much at a high-power Silicon Valley dinner in 2011, when he told President Barack Obama "those jobs aren't coming back." But billionaire kleptomaniac Donald Trump thinks he'll be the one to get them back.

Speaking at Liberty University today, Trump escalated his rhetoric on Apple's overseas manufacturing, and claimed somehow the US would reclaim those jobs in the future. "We have such amazing people in this country: smart, sharp, energetic, they're amazing," Trump said. "I was saying make America great again, and I actually think we can say now, and I really believe this, we're gonna get things coming... we're gonna get Apple to start building their damn computers and things in this country, instead of in other countries."


As Gizmodo points out, Donald Trump isn't just going to flip a switch and make something like that happen. It's part of the silly fantasy world Trump has erected in which he's King of America, and so saying things like he's going to bring Apple's damn computers home is mostly empty — the same way his pretension that he can just call up world leaders like Frank Underwood and win huge concessions is ridiculous.

Trump's newly confident rhetoric is just a show, but for years he has suggested that Apple ought to bring manufacturing home to the US in more measured terms. During the 2012 presidential election, he told Fox News it would be "a great thing" for Apple CEO Tim Cook to build plants in the US. "Maybe the incentive's not there, but when 100-percent of Apple's products, or virtually 100-percent, are made outside of this country, it's pretty sad," he said. "Wouldn't it be great if Apple actually made these products in the United States?" And as of December, it was still just a dream. "We have to bring Apple, and other companies like Apple, back to the United States," he said at a press conference promoting his book, Crippled America. "We have to do it. And that's one of my real dreams for the country."

Bringing Apple's manufacturing jobs home isn't totally out of the question, and Apple has shifted some jobs home, including when it brought some Mac production back to the US in 2013. But Apple's deep reliance on international supply chains and manufacturers is well-established, and it will take a lot more than sharp words from Trump to convince Apple to abandon its profits. Not even one of the most successful presidents in history could get Steve Jobs to budge on that.

Source: theverge.com
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Wed 20th Jan 2016

Civilian recruits will help police solve cybercrime under an expansion of the role of volunteers in England and Wales, the home secretary has said.

The plans include measures to give more power to support staff and volunteers.

Forces will be able to identify volunteers who specialise in accountancy or computing for cyber and finance inquiries, Theresa May said.

Unison, which represents police staff, says it is concerned it is a cheap way of plugging gaps left by cuts.

Mrs May said she was "committed to finishing the job of police reform".

Since 1831, civilians have been able to exercise the full range of police powers in the shape of special constables.
'Free up officers'

Potential volunteers currently have two options - become a special constable, or ask to become a police support volunteer. The latter role has no powers.

But the measures - which will form part of the Policing and Crime Bill - will allow volunteers to be given powers without becoming a special constable, while also creating a core list of powers reserved for police officers.

Mrs May said: "Police officers across the country carry out a wide range of duties, keeping the public safe and ensuring justice for the most vulnerable members of society.

"We value the essential role they play, but they cannot do this on their own.

"We want to help forces to create a more flexible workforce, bring in new skills and free up officers' time to focus on the jobs only they can carry out."

She said people with IT or accountancy skills were in "particular demand", and could "work alongside police officers to investigate cyber or financial crime, and help officers and staff fight crime more widely".

What is the role of volunteers in the police?

There are 16,000 volunteer police officers in England and Wales known as special constables.

Specials undergo training, wear police uniform and have the same powers in law as their "regular" colleagues.

They take on tasks such as foot patrol, crowd control and crime prevention and have to be available for at least 16 hours each month.

In addition, there are 9,000 volunteers performing a wide variety of different staff jobs in the police.

The union Unison, which surveyed police forces last year, says Kent has the largest number of volunteers (850), while volunteers in Thames Valley put in the most hours (70,000).

The survey identified more than 60 volunteer roles, ranging from mountain rescue to animal welfare, crime scene investigation to firearms licensing.

Mrs May's proposals were aired last year in a consultation, which favoured creating uniformed police community support volunteers (PCSVs), and suggested civilians could carry out tasks like interviewing victims and taking witness statements.
Government officials confirmed some reforms will be taken forward, but the full details are due to be revealed later.

The proposed measures will form part of the Policing and Crime Bill

Ben Priestley, Unison's national officer for police and justice services, said at the time of the consultation that a "Home Guard" of 9,000 volunteers has been "quietly recruited" to backfill roles that have been lost.

"There's a general question about whether the general public believe that policing should be carried out by, in many cases, well-meaning amateurs," says Mr Priestley.

"Policing is a serious business, dealing with serious crime, and our members who work as police staff are fully trained, they're fully vetted and they're very, very committed to the job they do."

'More flexible'
Mrs May's measures will also confirm the abolition of the role of police traffic warden.

But BBC home affairs correspondent Danny Shaw said this was a "technical change", reflecting the fact that - since parking enforcement was decriminalised, with local authorities taking on the role - there are now only 18 traffic wardens employed by police.

Meanwhile, forces in Hampshire and Gloucestershire have already launched a pilot scheme to attract volunteers with digital skills to support "digital investigations".

Under Mrs May's reforms, volunteers are expected to be given the powers to make arrests and carry out stop-and-searches.

Dave Jones, National Police Chiefs' Council lead for citizens in policing, said: "The new approach to designating police powers will help the police service be more flexible when it comes to attracting and deploying volunteers with valuable skills, especially in situations where the full powers of a constable are not necessary."

Source: bbc.co.uk
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Mon 18th Jan 2016

Ending the toxic smoke rising from an iconic dump in Ghana will take more than curbing Western waste

They are some of the most iconic photos in environmental journalism: young African men, often shirtless, standing over small fires fueled by digital detritus imported from richer countries. The toxic smoke swirls around them and over Agbogbloshie, the roughly 20-acre scrap yard in the heart of Accra, Ghana, where these men live and work.

During the last decade, some of the world’s most respected media organizations have transformed Agbogbloshie into a symbol of what’s believed to be a growing crisis: the export—or dumping—of electronic waste from rich, developed countries into Africa. It’s a concise narrative that resonates strongly in a technology-obsessed world. There’s just one problem: The story is not that simple.

According to the United Nations Environment Programme, 85 percent of the e-waste dumped in Ghana and other parts of West Africa is produced in Ghana and West Africa. In other words, ending the export of used electronics from the wealthy developed world won’t end the burning in Agbogbloshie. The solution must come from West Africa itself and the people who depend upon e-waste to make a living.

Agbogbloshie is not a pleasant place to work. Most of the site is threaded by muddy lanes that cross in front of dozens of small sheds holding recycling businesses. Inside, owners, their families and employees manually dismantle everything from automobiles to microwave ovens. E-waste, defined as old consumer electronics, is actually a very small part of the overall waste stream in these lanes, filled with the clanking of hammers on metal. And phones, laptops and old TVs aren’t the only things that can be dangerous when recycled improperly.

At Agbogbloshie, burning takes place at the edge of the site, and most of what’s burned is automobile tires, which are lined up for hundreds of feet and left to smolder, producing dangerous levels of carbon monoxide and other hazardous substances. Later, workers will gather up the steel left behind.

Elsewhere, around 40 men, most in their teens and early 20s, tend five- and ten-pound bundles of burning insulated copper wire. They contain everything from harness wires used in automobiles to USB cables. In Ghana and across the world, insulated wire is highly sought by recyclers big and small, who covet the metal but not the insulation. The task of the recycler is to separate the two substances as quickly and economically as possible.

In the course of a day, perhaps a few hundred pounds of wire are burned, with the remains sold for recycling to local metal dealers and Nigerian traders who frequent the area. Depending on when the insulation was made, the smoke emitted can contain dioxin, heavy metals and other pollutants that pose a strong threat to human health.

Over the last half century, technologies have been developed to do that separation in an environmentally sound manner. But even the lowest-cost solutions tend to be too expensive for Ghana’s capital-poor recyclers. And if they were affordable, green methods would still be too slow compared to setting the wire on fire and burning off the insulation.

The site poses an undeniable risk to air quality and human health. But solving the problem is about more than stopping Western exports of old electronics.

“The problem is that reporters come here thinking this is the destination for old laptops exported from the United States,” explains Robin Ingenthron, CEO of Good Point Recycling in Burlington, Vermont. His firm exports used, working laptops to Ghana. “But this isn’t the destination at all. The computer shops are.”

Vendors outside of Ghana's Port of Tema sell imported, working goods from around the world, including the United States. Some are repaired and refurbished in Ghana. Most are working when imported.
Vendors outside of Ghana's Port of Tema sell imported, working goods from around the world, including the United States. Some are repaired and refurbished in Ghana. Most are working when imported. (Adam Minter)
To understand what he means it’s necessary to leave Agbogbloshie and take a ten-minute taxi ride to Bugi Computers, a small, independently owned electronics repair and refurbishment business in a residential neighborhood. Inside, Steve Edison, a self-taught computer repairman, is busy fixing a laptop that a customer brought in. The shop is compact, perhaps the size of a small bedroom, and it’s packed with used laptops, accessories and monitors purchased from Ghanaian importers who, in turn, purchase them from people like Ingenthron.

“If something breaks, I keep the parts to use for repair or a new computer,” Edison says as he leans over the laptop, carefully soldering a circuit board. It certainly looks that way. Cables hang from hooks in the walls, spare hard drives are stacked on his work desk and memory chips are kept in display cases. He sells around ten newly refurbished computers per day, assembled from machines and parts that people in wealthier countries didn’t want.

Edison’s business isn’t unique. There are thousands of similar repair and refurbishment businesses across Ghana and West Africa, catering to consumers who can’t afford, or don’t want, new machines. It’s an important business that plays a key role in bridging the so-called digital divide between wealthy consumers in developed countries and those in places like Ghana.

The most detailed study of the used electronics issue was performed in 2009 by the UN Environment Programme, which found that Ghana imported 215,000 metric tons of “electric and electronic equipment” that year. Thirty percent of that total was new equipment. Of the 70 percent that constituted used goods, 20 percent needed repairs and 15 percent—or roughly 22,575 tons—was unsellable and bound for the dump.

That’s a lot of unusable electronics (many of which are damaged in transit to Ghana). But it’s less than one percent of the 2.37 million tons of e-waste generated by the United States in 2009, and a nearly imperceptible fraction of the 41.8 million metric tons of e-waste generated globally in 2015. In other words, Agbogbloshie is not a global dumping ground. Like most places on Earth, it’s struggling to deal with what it generates on its own.

Edison gives a concise accounting of how it works: “If something can’t be fixed anymore, I then sell it to the carts,” he says. The carts are four-wheeled, heavy-duty wheelbarrows operated by men who spend their days walking Accra, looking for used goods—electronics to furniture—that can be bought and sold for recycling. If the objects contain metal, they’re bound for Agbogbloshie, where they’re sold to (or pre-ordered from) the dozens of small businesspeople who own stalls at the site.

Not everything is recycled at Agbogbloshie. Much of it is recovered and re-used instead. “People in the West forget that if they send something to Ghana, it’s used a lot longer than it is back home,” Ingenthron points out. “Where I come from, that’s considered good for the environment.”

It’s by no means a simple picture, and it eludes simple solutions. “At first you think these guys are doing something really bad and they should become plumbers,” says D.K. Osseo-Asare, a Ghanaian-American architect who is co-lead on the Accra-based Agbogbloshie Makerspace Project, or QAMP, an effort to change perceptions and the economy of the site. “But then we said, let’s arm them with information so that they can do things better.”

QAMP set up a shed among the established recycling businesses and spent months getting to know the site, the people who work there and what they need. Most of the workers are migrants, oftentimes with little education and few connections in the big city, Osseo-Asare tells me. “They’re here to make money, quickly. If we want people to do this work in a safe and environmentally sound way, [making a living] has to be part of [it].”

With that in mind, QAMP is developing a digital platform that can be loaded onto the smartphones used by scrap workers, which will begin beta-testing in January. In addition to offering a Twitter-like scrap marketplace that will allow scrappers to find and buy metal throughout Ghana, the digital platform includes health and safety information.

“If we beat people over the head with safe e-waste recycling, it will never work," says Osseo-Asare. "But if you help them find business, and you give them some interesting pieces of info regarding safety, they might look at it.” Meanwhile, QAMP is working with the Agbogbloshie community to develop new products out of the junk sold at the site, rather than sending it for direct recycling.

Plastics, which generally have a low value in the recycling chain, are a natural target. Recognizing this, QAMP has worked on simple equipment that can help transform the plastics generated at Agbogbloshie into recycling bins. “The idea, again, is to help them make money,” Osseo-Asare explains.

Meanwhile, Robin Ingenthron is working with his Ghanaian importers to establish a model in which every ton of electronics that he exports must be offset by a ton of electronics that’s collected and recycled properly in Ghana. If Ghanaian importers want access to his used electronics in Vermont, they’ll have to comply. Ingenthron believes it will work, in large part because he ran a similar “fair trade” recycling business with Malaysian importers for nine years.

Agbogbloshie won’t be solved quickly. It plays a key economic and environmental role in Accra, and shutting it down would just shift what happens there to another location. “You have to change how people perceive the place,” Osseo-Asare explains. “Once they see the potential, they understand that the solution comes from Agbogbloshie and not from outside.” Patience, as well as hope, should take care of the rest.

Source: smithsonianmag.com
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