Tag: Oxford

Britexit slashes UK science funding

mad scientistUK boffins are being told to leave EU science projects because the country has decided that it can do all that sort of thing itself.

The UK’s science efforts received a huge chunk of funding from the EU, and was involved with a large number of joint projects but now it looks like the boffins are being told to walk away.

Fortunately, the UK government has piles of money which is why it is talking about flogging off the NHS and cutting back on education programmes.

Theoretically the UK should be fine at the moment, after all the country has not actually decided to follow the Brexit referendum and leave the EU, but apparently the EU has unleashed a wave of discrimination against UK researchers, with elite universities in the country coming under pressure to abandon collaborations with European partners.

In a confidential survey of the UK’s Russell Group universities, British academics are being asked to leave EU-funded projects or to step down from leadership roles because they are considered a financial liability.

For example an EU project officer recommended that a lead investigator drop all UK partners from a consortium because Britain’s share of funding could not be guaranteed. The note implied that if UK organisations remained on the project, which is due to start in January 2017, the contract signing would be delayed until Britain had agreed a fresh deal with Europe.

British researchers receive about £1bn a year from EU finding programmes such as Horizon 2020, but access to the money must be completely renegotiated under Brexit and is unlikely to happen.

The 24 universities in the Russell Group are regarded as Britain’s elite institutions. With Oxford, Cambridge, Edinburgh, University College London and Imperial College among their number, they are renowned for world-class research and academic excellence.

New EU projects are reluctant to be in collaboration with UK partners, and that potentially all new funding opportunities from Horizon 2020 are closing”.

At least two social science collaborations with Dutch universities have been told UK partners are unwelcome, one Russell Group university said in the survey.

Speaking at Oxford’s Wolfson College last Friday, the university’s chancellor, Chris Patten, said Oxford received perhaps more research income than any European university, with about 40% coming from government. “Our research income will of course fall significantly after we have left the EU unless a Brexit government guarantees to cover the shortfall,” Lord Patten said.

Still a least we will not have the EU telling us what to do.  We will have an elected, democratic leader like Teresa May.  Oh..

Sophos parter firm charged with fraud

international-justice-dayFive men from a Sophos Gold Solution Partner will appear in Oxford Crown Court today charged with various counts of fraud.

Alistair Barnard, Jon Townsend, Steve Davis, Paul Streeter and Paul Cox – all of Kidlington based Quadsys, are either charged with fraud, or conspiracy to commit fraud and other counts.

According to the Oxford Mail, Quadsys customers include a football club and a national newspaper group.

The offences are alleged to have been after June 5th, 2013.

Paul Cox and Paul Streeter are both directors of the limited company.

Quadsys sells services including cyber security, software and hardware.

Oxford University notes more complaints about Apple Play

Radcliffe Camera, Oxford - pic Mike MageeApple’s move into streaming music services is attracting more complaints daily.

Oxford University’s TheySay sentiment analysis company monitored Twitter to work out the overall feeling towards the new service and discovered that Apple’s normally psychopathically enthusiastic fanbase was not impressed.

When Jobs’ Mob announced Apple Music received an overall 85 percent approval rating from tweeters, but now that it’s here, the actual service is proving as popular as the Boston Strangler.

Dr Karo Moilanen, Oxford University professor and co-founder of TheySay, observed: “Compared to the sky-high positive sentiment ratings that Apple products and announcements typically reach on Twitter, this time Apple Music invoked a healthy dose of strong negative sentiment (ca. 24 percent) amongst tweeters”.

According to TheySay, there were 84,845 keyword mentions on Twitter, of which 76 percent were positive, and 24 percent negative.

Defining if something was positive appears to be a pit of a problem. Oxford thought the phrase “A curated radio station” was a good thing. A lot of the positive results were connected to the popular beat combo artist Taylor Swift and not to the product.

However the negatives were a lot more explicit. They included:

  • A truly annoying renewing payment feature (“auto-bill-after-free-trial scam”).
  • Not original enough compared to Spotify (“just a wannabe Spotify assassin”).
  • A confusing UX disaster with incomplete and buggy builds on many devices.
    Apple’s obsession with U2 – yet another U2 preloaded.
  • Auto-following unwanted artists.
  • Limited shared playlists, for example family sharing.
  • The annoying auto-following feature was behind the massive peaks in anger, dislike, and negative sentiment that stand out in the charts.

Moilanen says: “The sentiment profiles for Spotify suggest that, contrary to what many tweeters predicted, the providential arrival of Apple Music does not look like it will kill off sSpotify.

“ The ratio of extremely positive vs. negative sentiment was 9 per cent negative : 29 per cent positive for Apple Music, while Spotify’s ratio was 12 per cent negative : 32 per cent positive which does not indicate huge divergence,” he said.

Google faces attack from within its ranks

GoogleLegal cases against Google alleging that it indulges in antitrust activities by leveraging its search engine look to be strengthened after a former ally undermined its arguments.

Tim Wu, a Columbia Law School professor and, according to Bloomberg an ally of Google, co-wrote a paper delivered over the weekend alleging that the firm dishes out its own content rather than operate an even hand to search engine results.

Wu said in the paper, presented at a conference here in Oxford over the weekend, that Google fails to show the best search results at the top of pages it returns.

It doesn’t help people by doing that, the paper continued.

However, there may be more to this attack than meets the eye. Because, according to Bloomberg, Yelp – which has an antitrust axe to grind – paid for Wu’s work on the paper.

Google degrades the quality and speed of results, according to the paper. But the data may well be used against the search outfit once cases across the world come to court.

USA: Road to healthcare paved with good intentions

I was in Greece some years ago, sat at the bottom of the Acropolis, minding my own business as I largely do when two grizzled old American geezers started talking about the “home of democracy”.

One said to the other: “They’ve got free healthcare here.” The other said: “That’s because they are socialists here.”  The first replied: “The whole of Europe is socialist. They’re all communists in Europe.”

I was reminded of this exchange because at the Silicon Valley comes to Oxford event, just round the corner, the prime keynoter was one Gary Lauer, the CEO of Ehealth, and an ex-executive at IBM and at Silicon Graphics too. His company is, as far as we understand it, a shopping front where people can choose their own health insurance.

Lauer was at pains to describe what he called the US “health landscape” and to do that he had to talk American politics.

As we European communists know, the majority of US citizens have to have health insurance – often funded as part of a job package by employers or by  governmental agencies. There are about 330 million people living in the USA but around 55 million can’t get healthcare and there is no safety net.

Lauer said: “The cost of healthcare compared to GDP has been rising steadily. Healthcare is a double digit percentage of GDP – thirteen to fourteen percent.”

The silicon and software sectors are dwarved by healthcare, he said and the US population is growing older and life expectancy is growing too. But, he added, the 50 million uninsured people poses a moral and polical dilemma.

The US president Barack Obama wanted healthcare reform, like Bill Clinton before him, and managed to push through the Affordable Care Act (ACA) – better known as Obamacare.  And since the act came into effect, the matter has been highly politicised.

Basically, the Act provides for guaranteed healthcare, and mandated that everyone in the USA must have health insurance coverage. The Act also provides subsidies for lower income people – and they are generous subsidies, said Lauer – as much as 400 percent above the federal poverty level.

Each of the 50 states had to implement an online marketing space – a sort of health exchange. But of those 50 states, 36 have not bothered to implement the Act at all. The 14 states who have gone for it have had their problems, for example, he said, Oregon hasn’t managed to enrol one person so far. And the healthcare products compliant with Obamacare are more expensive than the existing offerings. Obama said that if you liked your existing healthcare you could keep it. However an unexpected consequence of Obamacare is that millions of people in the USA have had their insurance cancelled.

The target for the first six months was to enrol seven million people, but the actuality is that so far only 103,000 people are “somewhat enrolled”.

The legislation, said Lauer, stands or falls on enrolment – the system needs people between the age of 18 and 34 to enrol to subsidise the old codgers and the poor and the unfortunate.

Lauer concluded by saying that insurance could become “prohibitively expensive” and that seven senator are up for re-election next year in traditionally Republican states – he talked to them last week and they’re all quaking in their boots about their franchise.

I was in Greece some years ago, sat at the bottom of the Acropolis, minding my own business as I largely do when two grizzled old American geezers started talking about the “home of democracy”.

One said to the other: “They’ve got free healthcare here.” The other said: “That’s because they are socialists here.”  The first replied: “The whole of Europe is socialist. They’re all communists in Europe.”

* According to the CIA World Factbook, life expectancy in Cuba is 78.05 years. The same source gives life expectancy in the USA at 78.62 years. For “communist” Greece it’s 80.18 years and for “communist” Great Britain it’s 80.29 years.

Databases: They’re good, they’re bad and they're ugly

As a guy who dabbled with databases last century, I was cheered to see young enthusiastic people today realising that they were all kind of re-inventing the wheel although the wheel will never be square.

At the Saïd Business Centre in Oxford, the All your base (belong to us) conference enthusiasts were extolling the virtues of data base management systems. We learned quite a lot.

First up was an MIT scientist, Neha Narula – a former Google employee – who kicked off her keynote by comparing databases to 70s spaghetti western movies starring Lee van Cleef, Clint Eastwood and oh we can’t remember who the third geezer was.

Narula said there were heaps of problems facing RDBMs engineers. One of those is that large datasets, like those of Facebook, Twitter and Reddit, needed low latency – that is they had to be fast – and also needed complex queries to be applied.

The subject of her keynote was caching, and she pointed out that open source projects lags behind database science – which as we old timers know and she confirmed – were set out in papers way back then in the 20th century.

She also said that developers faced a new challenge – and that is fat clients. By that, she means smartphones and tablets because applications have to work on servers, browsers and clients. People have tried to resolve the problem by writing code for every layer, she said.

Developers, and there were many of them in the Nelson Mandela lecture theatre in the Saïd Business Centre, needed to look back to the 1970s and 1980s to find that smart people had worked out a lot of this stuff decades ago. However, she pointed out, and she confessed she was somewhat jet lagged, the really bad thing about modern databases is code complexity, with people having to hack around to make everything work properly.

The conference is part of the Digital Oxford week, in an early attempt to make the other place – that is to say Cambridge – realise that this town is a force for technology for the future.

The conference is in its second year and there’s more to come in TechEye coverage,  later.

Tweet enters the English language

“Tweet”, “dad dancing” and “geekery” have officially entered the English language.

The latest version of the Oxford English Dictionary, has more than 1,200 new or revised words which show how much the language has changed over recent years.

The dictionary said it expanded its entries for “follow” (verb), “follower” (noun), and “tweet” (noun and verb) to include social media terms.

It is now correct to refer to “tweet” as a posting on the social notworking service Twitter as well as its more traditional meaning which is a brief high-pitched sound.

To get Tweet into the dictionary the editors had to break an Oxford Dictionary rule that a new word needs to be current for ten years before consideration for inclusion.

Also included are “Crowdsourcing”, “flash mob”, “geekery” and “dad dancing”.

Crowdsourcing is defined by the dictionary as the practice of obtaining information or services by soliciting input from a large number of people, typically via the internet and often without offering compensation.

A “flash mob” is a large group of people organised by means of the internet, or mobile phones or other wireless devices, who assemble in public to perform a prearranged action together and then quickly disperse.

Geekery, which originally meant “bizarre circus acts,” has come to mean obsessive devotion to or knowledge of a particular subject or pursuit and also the state of being a geek or “geekiness”.

“Fiscal cliff”, “e-reader” and “fracking” also make appearances.

“Dad dancing” is defined as an awkward, unfashionable, or unrestrained style of dancing to pop music, as characteristically performed by middle-aged or older men, the Oxford Dictionary claims. Which means I have been Dad dancing since I was 12. 

Oxford: Actually, Steve, it's "gif" or "jif"

Steve Wilhite, the inventor of the GIF file format, caused controversy by declaring the file format should properly be pronounced ‘jif’ – but this has been refuted by the chief editor of the Oxford English Dictionary.

Wilhite, who was awarded with a webby for his contributions to the net, said in an email interview to the New York Times that, although the Oxford English Dictionary accepts both hard and soft G pronunciations, “they are wrong”.

“It is a soft ‘G’, pronounced ‘jif’. End of story,”Wilhite said.

Wilhite found himself in disagreement with much of Twitter and even a US government-sanctioned Tumblr account that declared the .Gif a hard g. Although credit lies with him for popularising the acronym, language evolves and much of the web is familiar with the hard g Gif, though it is still up for debate.

However, John Simpson, chief editor at the Oxford English Dictionary, explained to TechEye that both pronunciations are curremtly in use.

“As we explained when GIF was selected as Oxford Dictonaries USA Word of the Year 2012, ‘GIF may be pronounced with either a soft g, as in giant, or a hard g, as in graphic. The programmers who developed the format preferred a prounciation with a soft g – in homage to the commercial tagline of the peanut butter brand Jif, they supposedly quipped “choosy developers choose GIF. However, the pronunciation with a hard g is now very widespread and readily understood'”.

“A coiner effectively loses control of a word once it’s out there,” Simpson said. “For instance, the coiner of quark in the physics sense had intended it to rhyme with cork, but general usage has resulted in it rhyming with mark”.

“Whichever pronunciation you use for GIF, it should of course be the same for both the noun and the verb,” Simpson said.

*EyeSee TechEye notes that the preferred pronunciation for ‘Steve Wilhite’ is ‘Jeve Jilhije’.

Facebook co-founder describes shambolic start of business

At an event at the Said Business School in Oxford, Andrew McCallum, who co-founded Facebook with Mark Zuckerberg, described how the idea came to fruition in a week.

Speaking at the Silicon Valley comes to Oxford event, McCallum (pictured, right) said that both of them thought they’d be kicked out of Harvard for starting the idea.  He said that Zuckerberg came up with the code for the first version of Facebook in a week, while McCallum was to be responsible for the design. Even though he didn’t know anything about design, he used a pirated copy of Photoshop to come up with a plan.

McCallum said he was “disciplined” by Harvard but said that both co-founders had no idea that eight years on, a billion people would be using the social network.

“At a startup, there’s a million things that need to be done. We were spending half of our time keeping the servers up,” McCallum said.

And that has been a continuing theme with Facebook, he said.  At one tme, Zuckerberg would alter a piece of code on the live version of the site.

Facebook was so dissatisfied with the price of servers from Dell, HP and IBM that it decided to release its own server product. And a number of big names have taken up their designs, adding ther own modifications, including Apple and Goldman Sachs.  He said that the FB design managed to achieve a 38 percent energy reduction.

McCallum declined to predict the future of Facebook in years to come.  He said the market dynamics change so fast that it’s pointless to try and look far into the future.

Isis touts wearable, wireless charging and data transfer

Isis Innovation has announced what it claims is a simple, safe and inexpensive technology to power and charge everyday electrical devices whilst simultaneously exchanging data without the need for cables.

The technology, developed in Oxford, is said to allow users to wirelessly power and exchange data over distance using simple and inexpensive engineering.

This has been done through metamaterials recently discovering properties of artificial magnetic resonators that support magneto-inductive waves. Isis said this allowed the rapid transfer of power and data between electronic devices without the use of conventional, limiting technologies.

Benefits include no wires or cables as well as a cheap and simple manufacturing process. Researchers also claim there is no limit to the number of connected devices and no
vulnerable connectors to disconnect.

The technology is said to be weatherproof, can be woven into flexible materials and integrated into furniture, walls and flooring. One way to do this is by  incorporating the technology behind the screen of a computer monitor, digital files, photos and music, which could be transferred to and from a USB stick simply by tapping the flash drive against an appropriate on-screen icon.

Laptops, mobile phones, cameras, printers and media devices can all charge and communicate with one another from a table top integrated with the Oxford metamaterial.
Limitless operation.

This technology, the company says, could prove essential in offices, homes, consumer electronics, medical devices and social outlets.
The theory is the architecture of computers and other electrical devices requiring microprocessors and circuit boards connected to peripheral devices can be entirely reengineered using infinitely interchangeable – and therefore recyclable – components manufactured as self-contained units.

This will increase product life while reducing cost, carbon footprint and wastage. The company is currently in the process of discussing licensing the technology.