Friday, April 29, 2005

BBC NEWS | Technology | Small box 'to end digital divide'

BBC NEWS | Technology | Small box 'to end digital divide'
sounds like a great idea for small offices, as it will be low cost, all files will be stored on the server online, and it will be low profiled.
By Jo Twist
BBC News science and technology reporter

A pared down "computer" to replace bulky, grey desktop PCs could help close global digital inequalities.
Not-for-profit developers, Ndiyo - the Swahili word for "yes" - said it could open up the potential of computing to two billion more people.

The sub-£100 box, called Nivo, runs on open-source software and is known as a "thin client". Several can be linked up to a central "brain", or server.

Thin clients are not new, but advances have made them more user-friendly.

They have been employed in large organisations in the past, but the Ndiyo project is about "ultra-thin client" networking.

It said the small, cheap boxes are targeted at smaller companies, cybercafes, or schools, which need an affordable, reliable system for providing clusters of two to 20 workstations.

"Your PC is a bulky, noisy, expensive mess that clutters up your life," Ndiyo's Dr Seb Wills told a Microsoft Research conference in Cambridge, UK.

"Our emphasis and core motivation is the developing world for whom the current 'one user, one PC' approach will never be affordable," he told the BBC News website.

"But we think our approach is also of benefit to organisations in the developed world who don't want to throw away money on buying and maintaining a full PC for each user."

Open source

Desktop machines with which we are familiar, are inflexible, and power-hungry, according to Ndiyo.

The energy and raw materials used for a PC is 11 to 12 times the weight of the machine, he explained.

Typical office workstation set-ups also use more power than thin clienting. A PC typically uses 100W of power, whereas Nivo uses five.

In some developing countries, buying a desktop computer is the equivalent to the price of a house, explained Dr Wills, making it difficult for people to take advantage of what computing technology can offer.

"Nowadays, PCs are about communication than anything else," he said. "We have the potential to rethink the way we could do this stuff," he added.

The boxes would not be able to handle graphics-intensive multimedia content currently, but that will change as ethernet bitrates improve to handle more data.

About 50% of UK's workforce work in organisations with fewer than 50 employees, according to Ndiyo.

Ubuntu - Linux operating system
Gnome/KDE desktop
Open Office
Firefox browser
Gaim - instant messenger client
Thunderbird - cross-platform e-mail and Usenet client

Currently, each employee might have their own desktop machine, connected to the company network through ethernet connections, with software licences for each workstation.
Licences for software is often a significant part of expenditure for smaller companies which rely on computers.

But a recent UK government study, yet to be formally published, has shown that open source software can significantly reduce school budgets dedicated to computing set-ups.

Many organisations replace PCs every three years and also require technical support when something goes wrong.

Thin clients using open source software can mean these expenses are bypassed.

Since August 2004, Ndiyo has had a group of Java developers running large applications on the system to test out the robustness of the system.

The small Nivo box, developed along with commercial partner, Newnham Research in Cambridge, is essentially a computer - known as the "client" - which largely depends on the central server for processing activities.

Applications, for instance, are kept on the main server and accessed through the Nivo box.

Next generation

The Nivo unit itself measures around 12 by eight by two centimetres. It has no moving parts, but it has ports for ethernet, power, keyboard, mouse and a monitor.

It comes with two megabytes of RAM. The next version currently under development, will have a USB port, soundcard, local storage capacity, and will be even smaller.

"Essentially, it is about sending pixels over the net," explained Dr Wills.

"With modern ethernet connections, you can get enough performance by sending through compressed pixels."
A typical cybercafe set-up, Dr Wills explained, would involve 20 Nivo boxes, a gigabit switch, and a single 2Ghz, 2Gb RAM, server.

The not-for-profit origination is also working on the idea of using the Nivo box for "plug and play" clustering.

Ultimately, Ndiyo hopes that the box can shrink down to a single chip and introduce wireless ethernet connections.

"The vision is that the monitor will have an ethernet port which requires less electronics than the standard VGA monitor," said Dr Wills.

Open source software is used in many developing country computer initiatives. There are other attempts at providing cheap alternatives to desktop PCs for developing countries, such as the Simputer.

It is a cheap handheld computer designed by Indian scientists.

Monday, April 25, 2005

BBC NEWS | Magazine | The new face of slave labour

BBC NEWS | Magazine | The new face of slave labour
By Paula Dear
BBC News website

Every day millions of professionals work for free - notching up hundreds of hours of unpaid overtime. It's not written into contracts, often it's not even spoken of. It's just part of the 21st Century workplace.
Are you putting in a day's work for free today? It may sound like a ridiculous notion. After all, it's only slaves or the most altruistic of people who work for nothing, isn't it?

But according to the Trades Union Congress (TUC) millions of Britons work so much unpaid overtime they are, on average, providing their employers with free work for the equivalent of nearly eight weeks of the year.

You could say those affected - predominantly the increasing number of white-collar workers in the UK - are providing their services voluntarily every day from 1 January to 25 February. That overtime is worth £23bn to employers, says the TUC's analysis of the Labour Force Survey.

Why do people tolerate the long hours culture, and why have new laws done little to eradicate it?

It's "no surprise", says TUC working time policy officer Paul Sellers, that around seven out of 10 of those doing the most unpaid overtime - up to 7.9 hours per week - are from the managerial and "professional" sectors, which have long been gripped by a long hours culture.

But there are surprises in the figures, full details of which will be published on 25 February when the TUC holds a national Work Your Proper Hours Day, he adds.

Around 55,000 plant and machine operatives are doing more than five hours of free overtime per week, and it's "not uncommon" for supermarket checkout staff - particularly in smaller stores - to work four or five hours extra.

Love job

The reasons and motivations for going that extra mile are hugely varied, ranging from overt pressure from bosses, to sheer dedication from employees.

In a TUC survey a couple of years ago, around 15% of people said they worked overtime because they loved their job.

"There's no problem with that if they are not under pressure. Some people like their work so much they want to do more of it, even if it's not paid," adds Mr Sellers.

The "culture of presenteeism" - the unspoken message that people should be seen to be staying late in order to "get on" - is more damaging, he says, but the most common reason for doing unpaid overtime is sheer workload.

Mark, who didn't want to reveal his surname, has worked in banking in the City of London for the last five years, and says the nature and volume of work means many will stay until it is done.

"Some will stay late to get ahead in their work, and give themselves an advantage in the morning. They might also feel that it looks better.

"Junior staff especially will not want to leave the office before anyone else, in case they are seen as being slack. People don't tend to feel resentful because the whole bonus and compensation system is geared up to rewarding people for their performance.

'Team spirit'

"The whole thing's just money driven. If people don't feel their bonus is reward enough they'll just leave and go somewhere else."

Occupational psychologist Sherridan Hughes, who owns career counselling service Careermax, says many people who come to them for advice from big banks and law firms are fed up of impossible workloads and long hours.

"People should not be doing unpaid overtime, of course, but there is often an unspoken pressure to be last in the office.

"In some of the best paid professions people can have no life at all, but then they are very well rewarded financially.

"But there has to be give and take - if working overtime becomes expected and people feel exploited then that's a bad thing."

But we're not all putting in the extra hours because of nasty bosses or competitive colleagues.

"In some smaller organisations there is more of a team spirit driving people - a feeling of letting the team down if you don't do that little bit extra," says Ms Hughes.

"Smaller companies are also more likely to have cash flow problems, and find it difficult to bring in extra staff."

But in the big firms, there's no excuse for people working persistently long hours, she says.

'Cushy number'

"People often tire of being told on a Friday night that they suddenly haven't got a weekend.

"But it takes a brave person to stand up and say that. Their job could be at risk, and if there was ever a question of redundancies it would be more likely that they were the person to be shown the door."

However attitudes are slowly changing, according to Ms Hughes, who herself admits to taking work home in the evenings and at weekends.

Shunning this kind of work ethic used to be frowned upon as "shirking" but these days people are more often lauded for leaving their chosen rat race in search of a more fulfilled life, she says.

A large proportion of their clients are teachers who are sick of increasing pressures and lack of reward.

In last year's TUC survey, teachers ranked second in a list of professions doing the most unpaid overtime.

Ironically though, said a spokesperson for the National Union of Teachers, there is no contractual limit to their working hours, outside of Scotland.

Technically they do no unpaid overtime, because their working day has no official end.

But as those responding to the Labour Force Survey are defining for themselves whether they work unpaid overtime, there are obviously a lot of teachers who believe they are effectively working for nothing for much of the week.

While moves to decrease teachers' workloads have been proposed by the government, the NUT has refused to sign the agreement because it would mean unqualified people covering teachers' classes at certain times.

"Teachers certainly believe they are working excessive hours," said the NUT.

"But at the same time if they think something is good for their children then they will do it."

Despite working 54-hour weeks, on average, and taking work home in the holidays, there is still a public perception that teachers have a "cushy number", she says.

The European Working Time Directive doesn't provide protection for teachers, she says, because the way the hours are averaged out across holiday periods means they come out with less than the maximum 48 hours per week allowed.

Even without those circumstances, the Working Time Directive has offered little protection for UK workers because it has been applied so loosely, says the TUC.

The facility to opt out of it took the "bite" out of the law, and still more than 3.5 million people are working beyond the maximum hours set.

The irony is the UK ranks poorly when it comes to productivity compared to other European nations with shorter working hours, says Paul Sellers.

He added: "We know, and it is obvious why, that people who work more hours do less per hour."

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Thursday, April 21, 2005

blinkx version 3 beta


version 3 is out, now with full preview, cool, but still miss a few functions of version 2, like the highlighting of search terms

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Chrome citizen for S$160

Finally found time to go down to fallfactor, the only store that I know that sells chrome messenger bags in Singapore. No Kremlin [xl] or metropolis [l], but citizen [m] and mini-metropolis [s] were available. Not a lot of colours to choose from, grey, red, blue. Now thinking of something a little cheaper.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Google Toolbar 3 beta

Google Toolbar
quite a cool new feature, that allows a spellcheck whenever you type in web forms, very useful for my work, where i use webforms all the time.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

BBC NEWS | Technology | Global voices speak through blogs

BBC NEWS | Technology | Global voices speak through blogs
Global voices speak through blogs
By Clark Boyd
Technology correspondent

Online diaries, or weblogs, have grown to become powerful tools for communication in the past few years.
Their reach is growing outside of North America and Western Europe.

From Tashkent, to Timbuktu, to Tegucigalpa, global blogging is on the rise and now, a group of dedicated bloggers is working to ensure that those global voices are heard.

Called Global Voices the group and website grew out of a Harvard conference held last December.

It brought together bloggers from places like Iraq, Latvia, Malaysia and China.

Ethan Zuckerman is not just the co-editor of Global Voices, he is also a passionate and prolific blogger himself.

"What blogs are doing for the first time is letting people talk about what's going in their own universe, in their own local news, and get it out to a global audience," he says.

Inspired by these bloggers and their stories, Dr Zuckerman, set up the Global Voices website.

"It's our sincere hope that by attaching people and stories to issues and countries, we're going to have a real impact as far as getting people interested in stories that otherwise they may not pay attention to," he explains.

I think young Kenyans all over Kenya, are lacking a vehicle for expressing themselves and participating in the country
Ory Okolloh, Harvard student

His co-editor, Rebecca MacKinnon, is a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School and a "recovering television reporter." She worked for CNN in Asia for more than a decade.

She quit because she was fed up with the way mainstream media - especially in the US - covered international news.

It ignores many international stories, she says, and when it does tackle them it tends to reinforce stereotypes about foreign countries rather than shed new light on them.

"If bloggers are out there creating media and talking about things that the mainstream media isn't covering, that may also help push the mainstream media to recognise that there are a lot of things out there that people care about that they've simply failed to cover," she says.

Breakfast to strife

But the blogosphere is a noisy place. There are more than eight and half million bloggers, writing about everything from what happened in Kyrgyzstan to what they had for breakfast.

So the Global Voices website is picking and choosing.

It is highlighting what blogger Hossein Derakhshan calls "bridge bloggers." They are bloggers who, according to Mr Derakhshan: "can make a bridge between two languages, or two cultures."

Mr Derakhshan is originally from Iran, but he now lives in Canada and blogs under the name "Hoder" in both English and Persian. He has a large following in both languages.

He says bridge bloggers can serve as cultural interpreters.

"These are the people we need to start with to have a more and deeper understanding of what's going on in that other culture," he says.

Still, many bloggers do not necessarily feel an obligation to educate.

It would be terribly sad ... if that English-language blogosphere were to mirror all the biases and all the inadequacies and lacks of information that we see in mainstream media. That would be pathetic
Rebecca MacKinnon

"I write about what I want to write about, without any particular audience in mind," says Ory Okolloh, a student at Harvard Law School.
Ms Okolloh is originally from Kenya, and she publishes a blog called Kenyan Pundit which is featured on the Global Voices website.

Most of her fellow Kenyan bloggers are young people who prefer using blogs as their way of speaking out, she says.

"More people should be listening to the voices, and more people should have a chance to contribute," says Ms Okolloh.

"I think young Kenyans all over Kenya, are lacking a vehicle for expressing themselves and participating in the country."

There are significant hurdles though to getting more people to contribute to blogs.

In developing countries, it is hard for most people to even get online.

Atanu Dey, an Indian economist and blogger, says it is a lot easier for people in rural India to read a newspaper, than a blog.

"Blogs require a deeper infrastructure," he says. "You need to have electricity, internet access, computers, and you need to be able to sit there and browse the blog.

"So, it's going to be a while before blogs and the blogosphere includes within it rural India."

Lost in translation?

There are also language barriers. There are more than 75,000 blogs worldwide in Persian, for example.

But blogger Hossein Derakhshan says there is no reliable online translation program for Persian.

That means if you do not understand Persian, you are missing out on a lot of valuable information, he says.
"You're missing probably millions of people," says Mr Derakhshan. "The real genuine voices of the Iranian people are those in Persian weblogs, in the Persian language."

Perhaps the toughest task, though, will be getting the English-language blogosphere to care about such voices.

Ms MacKinnon says that many English-language bloggers are oblivious to what is going on in other countries.

The goal of Global Voices, she says, is to open up the online conversation.

The website, says Ms MacKinnon, wants to point out that: "here are important things that people, that bloggers around the world are talking about and that are meaningful to them, that bloggers in the English-language space should care about."

"It would be terribly sad," she says, "if that English-language blogosphere were to mirror all the biases and all the inadequacies and lacks of information that we see in mainstream media. That would be pathetic."

The Global Voices project considers itself a work in progress.

"Not only is nothing written in stone," jokes co-editor Dr Zuckerman, "Nothing's even scratched in mud."

The group invites anyone to contribute, especially by pointing out great blogs from across the globe.

Clark Boyd is technology correspondent for The World, a BBC World Service and WGBH-Boston co-production.