Weekend news round up

20 Dec 2010

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A quick glance at some of the technology stories breaking in the weekend papers.

Travel apps for the holiday season

The New York Times has compiled a round up of useful travel apps for people travelling over the holidays. It goes without saying: holiday travel is brutal. Security lines are longer. Planes are more crowded. The battle for storage space heats up as travellers vie to stuff all those gift-laden bags in overhead bins. And if bad weather hits, your delayed or cancelled flight may make you tardy for Christmas or new year’s dinner — that is, if you even make it out of the airport.

This year, the experience may be even more intense. Over the holidays, 43.6 million passengers are expected to travel on United States carriers, up about 3pc from last year, according to the Air Transport Association of America, the industry trade group.

Still, holiday travel doesn’t have to be totally miserable. While the usual groundwork — showing up early with boarding passes in hand and packing as lightly as possible — still applies, an array of travel applications for smartphones can help you tackle just about any problem that might arise at or on your way to the airport. So before you leave home this year, take a moment to download a few of these to help you navigate the holiday crush.

Lights, camera, action!

The Observer put together a handy round up of short films on the internet, reasoning that the kind of exposure arty filmmakers get today online is as good as, if not better than, appearing at a film festival. It asks: are we in the middle of a short film revolution? Not long ago, if you wanted to catch short work by exciting new filmmakers, you had to travel to a festival, hunt down a compilation on DVD, catch a charitable showing on TV or, if you were uncommonly lucky, before the main feature at the cinema. Now all you have to do, assuming you have internet access and a passing familiarity with video-hosting websites, is switch on your computer.

The curious thing about short films is that, regardless of audience and financial incentive, people have continued to make them with great enthusiasm. This is in part because the short has come to be viewed as a practice space for student filmmakers or a calling card to show that those involved are fit to make a "proper" film, ie, a feature. But shorts can be much more than exercises or glorified show reels; innovative, daring, thought-provoking things can be done in two minutes – or 12 or 22 – that simply wouldn’t work at feature length.

The past decade has seen an explosion of video online. The rise of YouTube and more high-brow sharing sites such as Vimeo means that, now, the humble short has a mainstream, global audience. A film that strikes a chord can be watched by hundreds of thousands, even millions of people, who will offer feedback and support and perhaps recommend it to their friends.

Assange row worsens

The Guardian reported that the Julian Assange furore has deepened as new details have emerged of sex crime allegations. Transformed from cyber celebrity into a household name, WikiLeaks founder Assange – the man who kicked a diplomatic hornet’s nest across the globe – is carrying an extraordinary weight of controversy and opprobrium on his shoulders.

Assange faces a whole new debate this weekend over his personal conduct, after the allegations made by two women in Sweden, who accuse him of sexual misconduct and rape, were published in their fullest form in the Guardian. An increasingly diverse cast of characters are forming unlikely coalitions over the case across ideological divides.

The accounts of the two women have led Stockholm authorities to request the extradition of Assange so he can be questioned by a prosecutor. That request led to Assange spending nine days on remand in Wandsworth prison – a controversial decision by the courts, which was overturned on Tuesday when he was given £240,000 bail. He was released on Thursday after the high court dismissed an appeal from prosecutors against the bail decision.

A condition of his bail was that he reside at Ellingham Hall, the estate of former British Army officer and journalist Vaughan Smith, who offered bed and board as "an act of principle".

Dismissed by his supporters as a smear campaign, the case against Assange now threatens to move from a sideshow to overwhelm the main act – the work he has done in his public life as editor of WikiLeaks.

Picture this – a camera with no lens

The New York Times had an interesting story on the future of photography. It says anyone who has witnessed the megapixel one-upmanship in camera ads might think that computer chips run the show in digital photography.

That’s not true. In most cameras, lenses still form the basic image. Computers have only a toehold, controlling megapixel detectors and features like the shutter. But in research labs, the new discipline of computational photography is gaining ground, taking over jobs that were once the province of lenses.

In the future, the technology of computational photography may guide rescue robots, or endoscopes that need to peer around artery blockages. In camera phones, the technology can already merge two exposures of the same image. One day, it could even change the focus of a picture you’ve already taken.

At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, one experimental camera has no lens at all: it uses reflected light, computer processing and other tools to let it see around corners.

Paper tigers snarl at broadcaster’s web plans

The Irish Independent reported on Saturday how the trade group for the Irish newspaper industry has rejected RTÉ’s claim that its entire website is part of its public service brief.

The National Newspapers of Ireland (NNI), which represents nearly all major newspapers in Ireland, including the Irish Independent, said there was a distinction to be made between website content stemming from RTÉ’s public service broadcasting and other content, such as its dating and motoring sites – which were unconnected with its public service function.

It accused the state broadcaster of using web services as a "loss leader".

On Wednesday, Conor Hayes, RTÉ’s chief financial officer, defended its operations at the Oireachtas Communications Committee but, in a statement, the NNI said it was "astounded" to learn RTE.ie had a full-time staff of 70 and suggested this should push wage costs to around €5m annually.

That would mean the website is run at a loss of around €2.5m annually after advertising is taken into account. By "using publicly funded content and attracting advertising revenues, RTÉ is having its cake and eating it," said the NNI.

"The NNI has no issue with RTÉ producing an excellent website, but it should not be able to do so on the basis of publicly funded news content and commercial revenues,” the Independent reported.

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Editor John Kennedy is an award-winning technology journalist.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com