With the mystery over what happened to Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 still raising questions for the world's air crash investigators, one company are hoping that the power of crowds might be able to help solve the most basic of problems: where did the plane crash?
With thousands of miles of ocean to scour, narrowing down where the wreckage is makes for a challenge - but according to ABC News, DigitalGlobe have a potential solution. They've trained five satellite cameras on to the region and have split up the resulting high-resolution images into thousands of smaller ones. To sort through all of this data quickly, they want to enlist the general public to help.
If you head over to the Tomnod website, you can start to sift through some of the images picked at random - marking any that look suspicious or as though they may contain debris. If thousands of people do this then the firm can then use an algorithm to figure out which images are provoking the most interest, and hand them over to the experts for them to check out.
"We'll say, 'Here are our top ten suspicious or interesting locations,'" the ABC article quotes DigitalGlobe's Luke Barrington as saying. "Is it really an aircraft wing that's been chopped in half or is this some other debris floating on the ocean? We may not be 100 percent sure, but if this is where I had to go pick a location to go looking for needles in this big haystack, this is where I'd start."
This isn't the first time this sort of crowdsourcing has been used to tackle problems involving large volumes of data - the website Galaxy Zoo has long pioneered this technique for the somewhat happier task of identifying and classifying new galaxies from photos taken by space telescopes.
In fact, DigitalGlobe have also tried this once before - when they partnered with Amazon to attempt to locate adventurer Steve Fossett, who went missing when flying over Nevada in 2007. Shortly after, many critics of the crowdsourcing dubbed it a waste of time.
The PR company One Poll are fairly notorious for putting out terrible surveys. Essentially, if you see some statistics or the result of a poll in the news then the chances are the numbers have been, umm, compiled, by a PR firm in order to get their client's name in the press. Today's example comes from Virgin Media - who have managed to find a hook to plug their broadband services in a Christmas context.
"1 in 5 Christmas hosts are a Webeneezer Scrooge", says the press release. See what they did there? Apparently they surveyed 2000 adults on something fairly obtuse:
"With over 88% of Brits planning to use the internet over Christmas, Wi-Fi etiquette is set to cause tension in homes across the country where a scrooge-like 17% think it's rude if guests ask for access your Wi-Fi. The same percentage say hosts should expect guests to go online and use bandwidth at will."
"The biggest Wi-Fi scrooges are found in Yorkshire where 25% think it is rude for guests to ask to use their Wi-Fi, whereas those in the East Midlands are most likely to welcome guests onto their Wi-Fi with just 12% thinking the same."
Questions of statistical significance and whether they appropriately weighted the poll demographics aside, this wasn't the only weird question they asked survey participants.
"The top reasons for Christmas web use include checking the sales (47%), scrutinising the weather forecast for snow (44%), keeping in touch on social channels (32%), hogging the bandwidth by streaming and downloading videos (17%) and downloading and playing new games (15%). "
Don't worry - normal people don't usually silo their internet usage like this... this is just the result of bored survey participants clicking on a limited selection of boxes online.
"An independent study commissioned by Virgin Media today reveals that 21% of us consider using Wi-Fi and accessing social networks as critical to a successful Christmas Day."
Incidentally, a 1980 poll that I just made up, but that could possibly be almost as statistically rigorous, suggested that 21% of people considered access to telephones through which they could communicate with people was critical to a successful Christmas Day.
The meaningless news continues:
"Laptops remain the preferred method to get online over Christmas (62%), closely followed by smartphones (48%) and tablets (36%). People will also be getting on the web through their games consoles (16%), e-readers (14%) and smart TVs (10%)."
It's almost as though Christmas Day is a day in which functioning adults in the 21st century continue to engage with technology rather than sit in the dark waiting for Boxing Day.
So there you have it: People like to use the internet at Christmas. Shock, horror.
When the BBC was founded, Lord Reith, the first Director-General gave it the instructions to inform, educate and entertain. A near century on and whilst the BBC is still great, it's no longer has a monopoly on the airwaves. In fact, YouTube - a place you might more commonly associate with videos of cats and people hurting themselves - has become home to lots of original content creators who easily fulfill this goal. Here's our pick of some of ten of the best.
Epic Rap Battles of History
Everyone knows that rap battles are awesome - but it's a relatively modern form. So we've no way of knowing who'd win in a rap battle between Blackbeard and Al Capone... right? Wrong. ERB is now into it's third season and boasts not only witty and hilarious raps from the combatants, but production values that a few years ago would have been staggering for an online series.
Everyone who's anyone has battled - from Obama vs Romney last year to Miley Cyrus vs Joan of Arc recently. Perhaps inevitably though the fan favourite seems to be Hitler vs Darth Vader.
CGP Grey is a former science teacher who has taken to producing informative YouTube videos full time. If the idea of learning something scares you though, don't worry - CGP's videos are fast paced, funny and easy to understand. He's especially good at boiling topics down to something normal people can understand - from how the European Union works to why it is hard to define what a continent is. I've made him sound more boring than he is - seriously, go check him out - the videos are great!
Fully Charged Show / Carpool UK
Remember Red Dwarf? Robert Llewellyn, who played Kryten in the show wasn't just a jobbing actor doing some sci-fi to pay the bills - he's a card carrying geek. Over recent years he's been making two of his own shows for YouTube. Carpool has a simple enough premise: Robert gives someone notable a lift from one place to another in his electric car - and interviews them en route. So successful was the format that it was even briefly picked up by the Dave TV channel - though for my money the best shows the web-focused ones where he gets to speak to less Dave-friendly people - like Cory Doctorow above.
Fully Charged is Robert's other project in which he reviews electric cars, and it's back for a new series soon. It's the perfect antidote to Top Gear. Being able to watch a car show without Jeremy Clarkson turning up is a luxury everyone should experience once.
Industrial Light & Magic, George Lucas's special effects company haven't been too active on YouTube as of late - but of the little they have put up there it is fascinating. Remember the final epic battle in Avengers? Turns out it was about as real as Toy Story. The channel is packed full of videos revealing the secrets behind how they did all of those incredible special effects. And don't worry - from all that I've seen Jar Jar hasn't popped up once.
Old and venerable though the Royal Institution may be, it doesn't mean that it's an old fart when it comes to the internet. The RI YouTube channel has lots of short videos looking at science. My favourite strand is the "Tales from the Prep Room", which demos some pretty incredible things. Check out the above video of a levitating superconductor on a mobius strip. Skip to about five minutes for the big moment. Don't let your eyes deceive you - this isn't an ILM special effect but there's actually hovering going on. Mind-blowing.
If you're a gamer then you'll love these videos from DefendTheHouse - who you may have seen do the rounds recently with their superb "GTA V Mythbusters" shorts like the one above. It's amazing to see such dedication - and the time spent setting up the different experiments must take ages. They've just started CoD: Ghosts mythbusters too, so I hope it's something that will long continue.
QEDcon is an annual conference up in Manchester aimed at nerdy skeptical types - and their YouTube channel is a great showcase for the sort of thing they have on. At the moment, in the run up to next year's conference in April they're uploading some of last year's panel discussions in full. Including this debate - mostly between Robin Ince and Brendan O'Neill - on if science is the new religion.
Similarly, if you're of a bit of a 'skeptical' leaning, then you might you enjoy the channel of stand-up comedian Gemma Arrowsmith, whose sketches from her flat are both witty and incisive. The sketch above neatly skewers the media's relentless and frustrating desire to create an illusion of "balance" on the issue of climate change.
Finally here's a channel for Londoners. Especially those who have perhaps spent slightly too long staring at the tiles at the tube station whilst held at a red signal. I'm particularly enjoying Geoff Marshall's secrets of the underground videos - going station by station and pointing out the stuff you might have missed... even if you use the station every single day.
Commander Chris Hadfield, former resident of the International Space Station is currently on his book tour - and is all over the media talking about his life and work on the space station. Chances are you'll recognise him - and how many astronauts can you say that for?
What Commander Hadfield did so well was demonstrate the power of social media for connecting people to his unique situation. Thanks to his regular tweets and stunning photos, no longer was the work of the ISS only of interest to scientists and enthusiasts, but normal people could connect with what he was doing.
I think this is fascinating for a couple of reasons - first it demonstrates the power of social media, and how disruptive a technology it is, and secondly it's a great illustration of what scientists and other people in weird places should be doing.
To be honest, the power of social media doesn't need spelling out - but Hadfield is perhaps the number one example of creating that personal connection. The immediacy, and the rawness make it really rather compelling.
It's just like during the Olympics. One of the best things about the Games last year wasn't just watching it all on TV, but following the athletes on Twitter - they were tweeting before and after their events, excitedly Instagramming and generally being very affable. It perhaps helped that - like Hadfield - they were all very relatable people. They weren't the personality vacuums that are millionaire professional footballers - so when the kid from Watford won a medal in a sport you never knew existed, you really did feel delighted for them.
Hadfield - who if you read his Wikipedia pages you'll see is one of the most sickeningly accomplished people you'll ever read about - managed to cut straight through the super-qualified super-scientist stuff, and used Twitter to let his humanness shine through. And the wider public really responded to that.
So what can we learn from this? I think scientists should take note. Whilst not everyone is or wants to be a scientist, it's important that "doing science" is seen as a good thing by the general public - after all, they'll be voting for governments that control science funding. If the public stop caring about science, because it seems so abstract and so irrelevant to their lives, suddenly it becomes a lot easier to cut when times are hard.
So if there are any scientists reading... get tweeting! There must be loads of scientists all over the world in interesting places. Sure - the International Space Station may be hard to get to, but what about the people staying in the Antarctic all winter at the Amundsen-Scott Research Station? What about scientists on a boat in the middle of the ocean studying the currents? Or the people half way up a Volcano dodging the lava?
Unsurprisingly - the big challenge to this vision is internet availability. Aboard the ISS, Hadfield had internet access for a few hours every day - but it turns out that this isn't so straightforward for some places back on earth.
The Space Station is floating above us - with constant satellite communication with the ground via a number of different ground stations around the world, which I guess makes sending an internet connection up there relatively straightforward, as data is being transferred anyway. And as for bandwidth bills - NASA and co have a comparatively gigantic budget to pay for bandwidth.
By comparison, a few months ago I hosted an event with Antarctic doctor Alex Salam - who whilst at the South Pole only had a 1 megabyte exchange of data a day at a fixed time... so would have to be very careful about who he chose to email. This is presumably due to a combination of needing to get a satellite signal, and needing to pay for the satellite internet bandwidth.
Some scientists though have had more luck. Helen Czerski, who as I write is on a boat in the mid-Atlantic studying bubbles has been tweeting throughout the whole journey (and even giving phone interviews from the ocean) - and has recently engaged followers in a game to name the buoy. It's a great way for normal people to get involved with what she's working on, and find out what it's actually like for a scientist working in the field.
So c'mon other scientists - next time you go somewhere exciting, why not tweet along so we can discover dinosaurs/explore the ocean/research monkeys with you in real time?
As everyone knows, when computers were first invented, they were the size of rooms. Slowly over the proceeding half century they became the size we expect them to be today. Often when people interacted with these early computers they didn't talk to them directly - but used something that looked like a computer - a "dumb terminal" or a "thin client" - essentially a keyboard and mouse (and maybe a very basic computer) that would do all of the clever processing tasks on a main server server computer - the sort that could have filled a room.
As time went on, the home computer market developed and terminals and clients were no longer needed by most people - their computer could do all of the processing there and then. This allowed people to use computers at home - hence "home computer"!
What's interesting now is that as we've seen over recent years in the move towards "the cloud" is that we're slowly shifting back to this "dumb terminal" model of computing. And this makes me wonder - will we eventually reach a point where how fast our CPU is, or how much storage our computers have doesn't actually matter any more?
Cloud services are already slowly taking over. I'm writing this in Google Drive, for example - rather than using Microsoft Word. Services like Drive as well as the likes of Dropbox mean that I don't have to worry about where my files are stored - I just know they're somewhere on "the cloud". Similarly - all of my music is stored on Spotify, and my videos on Netflix - I don't need a big hard disk, just an internet connection.
Even gaming is joining the Cloud. OnLive has been going for a few years now and works by sending your controls over to the server - and then the game, rather than processing what should happen on your local computer shows a 'video stream' of the screen processed on the server. This requires a fast internet connection, but it does mean that you can use your phone to play a game that looks as good as a top-end PC game.
And that's all it requires - fast internet connections. In a world driven by the cloud, you could conceivably have the same "dumb terminal" with a keyboard, mouse and a screen for the rest of your life - with all of the processor and hard disk upgrades (etc) taken care off by the employees at the cloud datacentre, with no perceptible difference by you at home.
Living in the cloud like this makes a lot of sense - not only could you conceivably access all of your stuff on any device, be it tablet, computer, or mobile (or, thinking futuristically, Google Glass and Oculus Rift?), but imagine logging into a friend's dumb terminal and having your stuff appear. Not just your emails in their browser, with their shortcuts - but literally the same screen you see everywhere.
There's perhaps only two things delaying this retro vision of computing from becoming a plausible reality.
The first is fast internet connections. Whilst it's possible to get home broadband that runs at the sorts of speeds that make it possible (I imagine over 30 meg), it's still not hugely common. It's only a matter of time though - remember that only ten years ago a not-insignificant number of people were still on dial-up. Even mobile broadband speeds are getting better - 4G is delivering some amazing speeds. It's just a case of the phone companies putting up enough masts and allocating enough bandwidth to make it ubiquitous.
The other stumbling block is perhaps mobile. As we carry our mobiles everywhere, internet connections cannot be guaranteed (ever been to northern Scotland?) - do we really want our mobiles to become lifeless bricks when an internet connection isn't there? I mean - I guess mine is already like this (who makes calls these days), but then at least running apps on the phone means I can still play games when the train is held at a red signal on the Northern Line.
But assuming these problems can be overcome - which I think it is reasonable to assume that they will be - what will that mean for our gadgets and the upgrade cycle?
If my phone outsources all of the processing and clever stuff to a server somewhere, then there's no point in upgrading to a faster processor as it won't make any difference. Same for my laptop and my games console. Once they've reached a basic level of sophistication (wifi, ability to send control data and receive the the screen image), there's no need to get a new device as the devices will always have the latest software.
If this future is realised it could cause huge disruptions for software companies used to making a profit on handsets - but we're already seeing the shift towards charging for services rather than physical lumps of plastic, and how crucial it is to lock users into your app ecosystem, rather than let them install whatever they like on their phone.
So could the cloud be the next big thing? Or have I got the forecast all wrong?
This week sees the official launch of FightMe, a "competitive social network" that aims to be a bit like the X-Factor.
The premise is fairly simple: Once signed up you can post an unedited 30-second video of yourself showcasing your skill, be it singing, beatboxing or making a political point - and then it is up to other users of the website to rate you.
As a viewer you can either give the performer "Applause" (analogous to a Facebook Like)post a comment... or if you're feeling ambitious challenge their prowess in whatever the field is, and post a video response of you doing it better.
There's lots on there already - including everything from conventional singing and beatboxing, to a bloke walking down some stairs on his hands. Topics are all driven by hashtags (#singing, #dancing, etc) - so conceivably any skill could become competitive. Personally I'm hoping to see #morrisdancing and #sheepdogtrials become the main focuses of the site.
There's also an iPhone app for doing it all on the go. The app appears to replicate all of the functionality of the website, and crucially, allows for a means to shoot video and upload it straight away - meaning that you can happily reply in haste before letting your brain kick in and realising that boasting about being able to do the #loudestfart might not be the wisest thing to do.
So go on, go on and have a look at FightMe - unless you think you can make a #bettercompetitivesocialnetwork.
The first in a possible series of ideas for making things better using the power of technology.
Technology is often described as "disruptive" if it comes into the market and blows the old-school competitors out of the water. Perhaps the best example of this is the iPhone. Before it arrived, phones were bricks crammed with buttons that could only usually do things that were baked in by the manufacturer. Within a few years a big touchscreen was the new standard, and apps changed forever the way we look at phones. In fact, its actually quite surprising when someone uses their phone to actually make a call.
This happens all of the time, and we might not even notice it. Hailocab is an awesome little app that has revolutionised taxi travel in London and other major cities around the world. Now when it's late at night and you've figured out your mental justification for not getting the much cheaper bus, rather than wait on the street corner helplessly waving your arms in the air waiting for a cab, you can press a few buttons on your Hailocab app and summon a cab right to you - even if you're somewhere a taxi is seldom seen (like, er, basically all of South London).
What's cool about Hailocab too is that using the GPS in your phone and the cabbie's phone, you can see on a map in real time how far away the cab is from you, so you only have to step out into the rain at the last minute. And if you link up your credit card, you don't even need to be carrying any cash. It's great - so much easier, and better than the old system of hoping a cab would come past, and that you'd have enough cash in your pocket. It's disrupted the industry and made things better.
I wonder if there's another similar industry that could use a little Hailocab magic. I'm talking about parcel delivery.
If you've ever experienced the trauma of having something delivered by Yodel, you'll know that something is wrong. For some reason, companies like DHL and Yodel think the best way to deliver a package is to knock on your door whilst you're at work - only to come back and try again the next day at the same time. So inevitably you're then faced with a trek to a grim industrial estate with your delivery card to pick up your parcel.
What's mad is that this could easily be revolutionised. We already have parcel tracking that will tell you if your goods are in the warehouse or out for delivery... but why not use the driver's smartphone to tell the user how far away they are? And given that the sender almost certainly knows the recipient's email address or phone number, why not get them to input these details so they can be phoned or emailed to see where they are?
Other delivery services, such as the grocery service Ocado are slightly more advanced - their drivers will arrive in an hour-sized window of time and will call to update if they're running late. So there's proof this process can be improved.
But why can't this data be opened up to customers? Chances are the different companies track their drivers anyway to keep an eye on them - so why not let us follow it too? It's going to be much more understandable for customers who are complaining if they can understand the cause of the delays or problems.
So c'mon, how about it? How long before someone comes along and disrupts this industry with a phone app that makes it much more painless?
Can you think of any other annoyances like this that a little clever data-wrangling could fix? Let us know in a comment.
The above image has been doing the rounds on Twitter and other social media in recent weeks. It shows Maslow's hierarchy of needs as a pyramid, of things we need most to things we need, but are less essential. This is why food and shelter are at the bottom and and creative fulfillment is at the top. Whoever, um, photoshopped this image humorously added wifi to this list of basic essentials - and though a joke, I think there's a grain of truth in it.
If you've moved house in the last ten years, unless you're very, very lucky then chances are that you had a nightmare of a time getting your broadband sorted. Even if the process with your provider was straightforward - you'll still have had to wait an agonising couple of weeks for them to send an engineer out to poke the box on the street or drill a hole in the wall or whatever.
And in this period it shows how hopelessly reliant we are on the internet. It's only by taking something away that you realise how much you need it. Even if you can get your emails via your phone or something - that's still three weeks of no YouTube, no Netflix, no iPlayer, no Spotify and no Xbox Live. No real way to live in the modern world.
Whilst this sounds trivial (who's going to care about missing the latest studio cat video), given the centrality of media to our lives, someone who doesn't have access to this stuff is going to be quickly out of the loop. If you're a Twitter user and you've ever spoken to a non-Twitter user, you'll know what it feels like to talk to someone with no shared frame of reference.
And more seriously - if you require an internet connection to work, then it becomes very frustrating indeed. Do you really want to spend a month stuck in your local library or Costa?
This isn't the only problem an internet interruption can cause though.
Have you ever heard of the so-called "internet of things", which tech bigwigs have been talking about for a few years yet, which hasn't quite arrived?
The internet of things is the idea that soon many home devices and appliances will have an internet connection inside them. Not just the much-maligned fabled internet fridge, but actually practically useful things - such as wifi light switches and thermostats (which do already exist). The benefit these bring is that not only are you able to lazily control them from the sofa with a mobile app, but you can also set them to switch on and off at given times - and not just on a timer. The Tado wifi thermostat, for instance, will adjust automatically using a thermistor mounted in the room - and will even detect when everyone is the house is out, and switch off the heating if there is no one there to use it.
I've even seen prototypes for bluetooth enabled locks - that will unlock your house if it senses that you're nearby.
Surely it's only a matter of time before having an internet connection is vital to living in your actual house? What am I going to do for the three weeks without internet if my house is heated by an app that requires an internet connection?
So I think now - before it becomes critical - is the time to sort this out. It's possible to move house and have the electricity and water work immediately - and if you switch mobile networks your number will transfer in 24 hours (and your phone will still work with a dummy number in the meantime)... so why not internet?
C'mon internet companies - get on it!
What will be the generational markers of our generation? In other words - what technology will give away that you're part of a specific generation?
Martin Belam has a great example of this. Like how our grandparents would refer to listening to "the wireless" and not "the radio" - will "clicking" on something on a screen become an anachronism in a world of touchscreens and pressing on buttons with our fingers, and not mice? So the generational marker is that if someone uses "click" instead of "press", then chances are they're of the slightly older generation.
In my last opinion piece, I talked about perceptions of permenance. In brief, I wondered how permanent storage of photos on Facebook is, compared to say, a traditional folder-based Google Drive, or even a hard printed copy. I wonder if this perception is going to be a generational marker?
As I said previously, I'm currently 26 - so grew up with computers, but initially at a time when they were not ubiquitous. So I'm probably young enough to be part of the first generation for whom computers were a fact of everyday life - but then at the same time, I can remember when computers would be shut down after doing what I needed, and being able go days at a time without using one (shocking, I know).
This makes me think of how I interact with online services. To me, Facebook, Twitter, Spotify and all of these different internet services that form major parts of my life seems transitive - like they might not last. I wonder if this anxiety about whether it will last will be a generational marker? For the kids of today, Facebook has always been there and perhaps always will be.
Maybe I am just being an old fogey. Presumably when the electric grid was invented, there were still some electrical holdouts, who insisted on keeping their own generator - just in case the grid, for whatever reason, ceased to exist one day?
We can see with our youthful hindsight that hanging on to a generator would be a bit silly. After all, our entire society is built on confidence in systems. At it's most basic, we have language - on top of this we've managed to build states, politics and capitalism - in which resources are managed by an outside agent so we don't need to worry. We can be confident that Sainsbury's will be open tomorrow because capitalism continues to function - so we don't need to worry about stocking up on tinned food just in case it's not there. In turn we know capitalism will continue because we can be confident that we have created a political system that ensures rule of law and that justice and order will be maintained. There's no need for us to live inside shielded forts looking out for marauding bandits, because we trust that the state will still be there tomorrow to protect us.
So can these assumptions be extended to online services? Is it futile to worry that Facebook or Google might not be there tomorrow? Will the kids of today inevitably end up arguing that I'm old and out of touch? Will my fears about my data being kept safe make me look like the man in 1950 ranting about how television is the work of the devil? Will this be a generational marker?
And what other potential technological generational markers are there? Maybe in the future our worries about privacy will be a curiosity in an era of mass-surveillance and Facebook knowing everything about us? Remember laughing when our parents worried about having their credit card details stolen when buying from Amazon in 1997? Perhaps it won't be so funny when our children find it funny that we're worried about publishing every last detail of our lives online.
Why not post in the comments if you have any suggestions for other markers?
Got a few million dollars burning a hole in your pocket? Tired of that Take That poster taking up valuable space on your wall? Then check out the new Amazon Art section of the Amazon.com store, the retailers new online destination dedicated to the sale of fine art.
Selling genuine classics from respected art masters alongside works by up-and-coming artists, it's aiming to do for fine art sales what Amazon.com has already done for books, DVDs and more through it's vast online storefront.
"We are excited to bring one of the largest selections of fine art direct from galleries to our customers," said Peter Faricy, vice president for the Amazon Marketplace.
"Amazon Art gives galleries a way to bring their passion and expertise about the artists they represent to our millions of customers."
Prices range from $4,850,000 for Willie Gillis: Package from Home by Norman Rockwell (pictured below) to just $10 for a screenprint of Ryan Humphrey's Untitled (dollar bill). There's even an original Monet on sale, with Fragment de Nymphéas up for grabs priced at $2,500,000.
Each listing offers a detailed description of each work, including the location of the artists signature on the piece, its condition, and a little background on the history of the work and its position in the art world.
"Our passion is to make original art accessible to everyone. When we first heard the vision for Amazon Art, we knew immediately it was a great fit," said Jodie and Joshua Steen, Founders of LusterNYC, located in Brooklyn, NY.
"I think we'll begin to see a whole new breed of art collector, and that's good for everyone - the galleries, artists, and customers."
The BT HomeHub 4 is BT's latest home broadband router, a significant redesign of the workhorse that was the HomeHub 3, adding a new slim design to the series and bringing dual-band connectivity to the table. And though BT have rained on the HomeHub 4's parade a tad by following up its release almost immediately with the announcement of the HomeHub 5, this is still an impressive evolution of the company's router line. We've been using the router for a few days now. Read on for Tech Digest's first impressions.
The HomeHub 4, though longer than the HomeHub 3, actually proves easier to house thanks to its slimmer profile. It's as flat as its innards will allow, whereas the HomeHub 3 featured a more curvaceous design. In practical terms, it means the HomeHub 4 can fit through a letterbox, meaning new owners won't have to be indoors when the postman arrives to deliver it.
Gone too is the HomeHub 3's glossy finish. A matte textured front plate takes its place, with a little silver strip adding some flair along the bottom. Also improved is the placement of the Wireless WPS and Restart buttons. They now sit along the top edge, clear to see and easier to reach than the near-hidden buttons on the HomeHub 3. As the thinner profile of the HomeHub 4 means the device is no longer free standing, two fold out feet are attached to the bottom, letting the router stand upright.
Flip the router over and you'll find the Broadband DSL port for connecting a DSL modem, alongside three standard Ethernet ports, a Gigabit Ethernet port, WAN port, USB port for adding a networked drive, adapter power port and a the on/off button. All in, it's a tidy, unobtrusive design.
New subscribers to BT Broadband or BT Infinity will get the router as standard, though BT are also offering the HomeHub 4 as a £35 upgrade for existing customers. So what's here to tempt owners of the HomeHub 3 to part with their cash?
Under the hood, the HomeHub 4 is sporting notably improved connectivity options. Dual-band Wi-Fi is the headline feature, offering both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands for your wireless devices to connect to. Though it'd be remiss to call the HomeHub 3 unreliable, dual-band Wi-Fi greatly improves the stability of Wi-Fi connections, especially when many Wi-Fi devices are connected at once, by effectively splitting your network in two, pushing some devices onto one band and the rest onto the other. Keeping devices nearby the router on the stronger 5GHz signal and devices further away on the 2.4GHz band (which offers better range), the router is able to channel hop for devices, giving them the best possible connections dependant on where they are and reducing the chances of interference.
Under casual testing, the HomeHub 4 indeed seems to offer improved performance over the outgoing HomeHub 3. Connecting a Retina MacBook Pro over Wi-Fi on the HomeHub 4 (which sometimes suffered from slow Wi-Fi speeds when a distance away from the router, even with a fibre Infinity connection) and using the 5GHz band, there was a significant speed boost. Also, an iPad which sometimes suffered from Wi-Fi dropout when in use in bed kept a consistent connection with the new router.
It is, admittedly, not a huge difference over the HomeHub 3, which we had few issues with to being with. But Wi-Fi stability can differ greatly across properties, so it's worth considering if your HomeHub 3 is struggling to deliver a signal around your home.
A great upgrade for newcomers to BT's service then, but current HomeHub 3 owners may want to wait for the HomeHub 5 - offering 802.11ac and combining the router and modem in one box, it's set to offer greater speeds in (when you take the current standalone modem into account) a far more compact package.
The UK government is set to pass laws that will mean all pornography is filtered by default by internet service providers unless customers specifically request to be allowed to view it through an "opt-in" option.
Aiming to protect children, the move will also outlaw the possession of images or videos depicting rape (simulated or otherwise), and aims to crack down on the distribution of child pornography over the net.
"I want to talk about the internet," reads Cameron's statement, which has been issued to the press in advance.
"The impact it is having on the innocence of our children. How online pornography is corroding childhood.
"And how, in the darkest corners of the internet, there are things going on that are a direct danger to our children, and that must be stamped out.
"I'm not making this speech because I want to moralise or scaremonger, but because I feel profoundly as a politician, and as a father, that the time for action has come. This is, quite simply, about how we protect our children and their innocence."
The blocks will come into place over the next two years, with ISPs to be required to set up the filters. Customers setting up a new broadband account this year will be required to make the decision to opt in or out of pornography access by the end of this year however.
The decision to block internet porn by default is likely to prove a contentious one, with some seeing it as an infringement upon the open qualities of the web, while others wonder just how effective the policies will be overall.
"David Cameron's clampdown on porn [...] is at best, more misguided regulation by those who don't understand it and at worst, a cynical ploy to appease a public who feel betrayed," said Daniel Foster, founder of web hosts 34SP.com.
"Forcing search engines to block access is wholly ineffective, simply because the types of image targeted in this announcement are invariably shared over private networks and not found by a simple image search. Blocking current search terms will only lead to new ones being used - the offenders will offer a constantly moving target."
Sir Tim Berners-Lee, co-founder of the World Wide Web and the godfather of the modern day internet, has slammed governments using the internet to snoop and spy on their citizens.
Berners-Lee, vocally pro-internet freedom and anti-web regulation, warned that society cannot become complacent to the threat placed upon our civl liberties by the likes of Prism, the system used by UK and US government agencies, to mine user data offered up by companies like Apple and Facebook.
"In the Middle East, people have been given access to the internet but they have been snooped on and then they have been jailed," he said.
"Obviously it can be easy for people in the West to say, 'oh those nasty governments should not be allowed access to spy'. But it's clear that developed nations are seriously spying on the internet."
Berners-Lee's main concern is that, as we become skeptical of the way our web usage is scrutinised by these clandestine governmental forces, we'll change the way we use the internet, potentially failing to harness its power for good to its full potential.
"Information on the web can be really important in people's survival. Teenagers who are unsure about their sexuality who need to contact others, or people being abused trying to find helplines.
"[...] There are things that happen on the net that are very intimate, which people are going to be loathe to do if they feel there's somebody looking over their shoulder."
Google's search engine homepage today celebrates the work of Maurice Sendak, author and illustrator of children's classic 'Where The Wild Things Are'.
Putting together an animated Doodle to celebrate what would have been the late author's 85th birthday, the standard Google banner is transformed into a wheel of monsters and characters from Sendak's books dancing along above the search bar.
Many of the characters featured are lifted from Sendak's 'Where The Wild Things Are', which has gone on to sell 17 million copies since first being published in 1963. In 2009 it was also turned into a movie, directed by indie darling Spike Jonze.
Sendak died last year, aged 83.
Yahoo have officially confirmed that they will be buying hipster blogging platform Tumblr in a a deal worth $1.1 billion.
"We promise not to screw it up," revealed a candid Marissa Mayer, Yahoo! CEO on her own Tumblr.
"Tumblr is incredibly special and has a great thing going. We will operate Tumblr independently. David Karp will remain CEO. The product roadmap, their team, their wit and irreverence will all remain the same as will their mission to empower creators to make their best work and get it in front of the audience they deserve. Yahoo! will help Tumblr get even better, faster.
"On many levels Tumblr and Yahoo couldn't be more different, but, at the same time, they couldn't be more complementary," she added.
So who gets what out of this deal? As well as the cash, Tumblr get access to Yahoo's "personalisation technology" and its search infrastructure, while Yahoo gets a whole new wave of folk to advertise to; Tumblr attracts 300 million monthly visitors with users generating 900 posts a second.
Members of the LulzSec "hacktivisit" hacking collective have today been sentenced for their part in a string of high-profile web attacks that targeted companies including Electronic Arts, Sony, Fox News and the CIA.
All four of the group on trial each received a custodial sentence after pleading guilty, with a combined total of over eight years overall.
Jake Davis (known by the alias Topiary) received a two year sentence in a young offender's institution. Mustafa al-Bassam (AKA T-Flow) was handed a 20-month prison sentence suspended for two years along with 300 hours of unpaid community service work. Ryan Cleary was issued a 32 month sentence, and Ryan Ackroyd was given a 30 month sentence. Cleary and Ackroyd however are only expected to serve half of their sentences in jail.
"The actions of these Lulzsec hackers were cowardly and vindictive. The harm they caused was foreseeable, extensive and intended. Indeed, they boasted of how clever they were with a complete disregard for the impact their actions had on real people's lives," said Andrew Hadik, CPS London reviewing lawyer.
"Whilst aggressively protecting their own privacy and identities, they set out to hack and publish hundreds of thousands of innocent individuals' private details. Companies also suffered serious financial and reputational damage. A senior executive of one American company lost his job and had to move his young family because of death threats."
For Hadik, the sentencing will act as a stark reminder for would-be hackers that, despite their relative anonymity at times, they are not above the law and will be found.
"Coordinating and carrying out these attacks from the safety of their own bedrooms may have made the group feel detached from the consequences of their actions. But to say it was all a bit of fun in no way reflects the reality of their actions. They were in fact committing serious criminal offences for which they have been successfully prosecuted. This case should serve as a warning to other cyber-criminals that they are not invincible."
Though EE have got a solid 4G footing in the UK, we're still waiting for the competition to heat up when other networks roll-out their super-fast mobile broadband offering here in old Blighty. The problem now however is that by the time 4G is widespread here, it'll already look like yesterday's news, as Samsung claims to have made a breakthrough in the development of next generation of 5G.
They've been working on mmWave Mobile Technology, which will allow for data transmission speeds hundreds of times faster than 4G, allowing for many gigabits per second of data to be downloaded on the go.
Ultra high definition movie downloads to a mobile in just few seconds could soon become a reality:
"Subscribers will be able to enjoy a wide range of services such as 3D movies and games, real-time streaming of ultra high-definition (UHD) content, and remote medical services," said Samsung today.
Thankfully for EE and its rivals, the technology won't be commercially available for some time yet, with Samsung expecting the technology to go overground in 2020. Either way, it's something to look forward to, and likely something we'll need as movies, games and apps become more detailed, complex and come in larger file sizes.
"Samsung's latest innovation is expected to invigorate research into 5G cellular communications across the world," said Samsung today.
"The company believes it will trigger the creation of international alliances and the timely commercialisation of related mobile broadband services."
With a population hovering around the 800 mark and the mood in the world's smallest country pious rather than provocative, it's safe to say there probably isn't all that much loving to go round in the Vatican.
That's not to say the latest reports on illegal download habits inside the Vatican aren't a little surprising. It seems the Pope's neighbours have a taste for the saucier side of the internet, as a routine look by Torrent Freak into the torrents shared by the Vatican City revealed a sizeable amount of adult content.
According to Torrent Freak:
We spotted some downloads to get pulses racing. It seems that while Vatican dwellers aren't all that interested in Hollywood movies, they do enjoy adult related celluloid... In the interests of science we researched each of the titles (including the curiously named RS77_Episode 01) and discovered that downloaders in the Vatican have one or two unusual 'niche' interests.
Theft, lust; I'm pretty sure these are things that shouldn't be activities or feelings that inhabitants of the Holy state should be taking part in or indulging in, but that's exactly what's happening with the illegal downloading of these blue movies.
It'll be interesting to see what the share/leech ratio is here too! Sharing is the Christian thing to do, right? Also, if anyone can translate the title BDSM Sklavin Zuchtigung im dunklen Hobbykeller teen fesselspiele.avi into English, we'd love to hear from you...
For most of us, a slight improvement in technology means that we can access our emails a little quicker or store more music and video on our mobile phones. But for some of the people in the video, it helped change their lives.
This week to mark Brain Awareness Week (Monday 11 March to Sunday 17 March), the Royal Hospital for Neuro-Disability (RHN) is highlighting its digital campaign using the hash tag #TechnologyMeans. It is hoping to raise funds for Electronic Assistive Technology to help some of the most disabled people in the country.
Take Deirdre featured in the clip below who, thanks to technology, can control the TV or open and close her curtains via her smart phone just by moving her head. Or how about Zita - who suffered a stroke at the age of 26 that left her unable to talk or walk - who is now able to communicate by blinking thanks to the computer team at the RHN.
Says Sarah Myers Cornaby, Director of Fundraising at the RHN: "Where I might use my tablet to do my weekly online shop, it can give a patient at the Royal Hospital for Neuro-disability their voice back through eye tracking and speech synthesis apps. Our new film has been designed to use bespoke, device specific endings, mirroring the way in which technology is adapted at the RHN, to give patients the best chance of regaining their independence."
Because it is Brain Awareness Week, all donations received until Sunday will be doubled by an anonymous donor, to help pay for electronic assistive technology. You can either donate via the newly launched website at www.rhncharity.org.uk or text BRAIN to 70111 to give £3.
In order to encourage a bit of friendly rivalry between mobile phone user the charity will be using device detection technology to determine whether Android or Apple users are the most generous!
You can see the video for the campaign below:
This morning we visited Tech Hub at the Google Campus in London's Moorgate.
Rather than the usual high security compounds we have come to associate with tech companies this place is a rather unassuming affair in a side street off Finsbury Square.
I suppose the idea is that it's more like a student campus, albeit one with slightly less scruffy clientele.
While upstairs dozens of creative companies rent office space, and benefit from the hive mind of working with similar folk, downstairs the feel is more of a kind of tech museum combined with student common room. There's the obligatory pool table, lots of old gadgets (Olivetti type writers, black and white portable TVs) and - the reason for our visit - digital art work on the walls.
Unveiled today was Tech Hub's latest piece, London: A Digital City Portrait by digital artist Brendan Dawes. Commissioned by mobile firm EE to mark the arrival of 4G in the UK, the art work is supposed to be a visual representation of three days of data from 29 October to 31 October 2012 - the days before, during and after 4G was introduced to London and 10 other UK cities.
Each chosen topic and the digital conversations associated with them are shown by a specific colour with the thickness of the lines and the size and brightness of the circles representing the popularity of the topic and the frequency people were speaking about them via social media. So, for example, large swathes of red represent President Obama's visit to the capital and large white circles represent discussions about Hurricane Sandy.
Personally, I didn't really get it all, it just looks like a rather nice kaleidoscopic image on the wall. But if you want to find out more then click on the YouTube video below in which we caught up with digital artist Brendan Dawes talking about his concept for the piece.