Weekend news roundup

3 Aug 2010

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

Business leaders applaud free-to-air plans

The Sunday Independent reported that more than half of Irish business owners agree with Communications Minister Eamon Ryan that some sporting events – such as Ireland’s involvement in next year’s Six Nations – should be designated free-to-air, and not go up on the TV rights market.

While events like the GAA Football and Hurling Championships are already free-to-air only, rights for Ireland’s Six Nations matches are purchased by RTE on the open market.

Designating Irish rugby matches as free-to-air would certainly reduce the State broadcaster’s bill – but the IRFU has argued that such a move would be “seriously misguided” and leave them unable to pay players and support clubs.

The IRFU receives €15m for the broadcast rights to international and provincial matches. The Department of Communications put out a tender in July, for a consultant to report on the matter to the Minister.

You’re Facebooked!

The New York Times on Saturday carried an interesting report on how overburdened traffic police officers in the Indian city of New Delhi have enlisted an unexpected weapon in the fight against dangerous driving: Facebook.

The traffic police started a Facebook page two months ago, and almost immediately residents became digital informants, posting photos of their fellow drivers violating traffic laws. As of Sunday, more than 17,000 people had become fans of the page and posted almost 3,000 photographs and dozens of videos.

The online rap sheet was impressive. There are photos of people on motorcycles without helmets, cars stopped in crosswalks, drivers on mobile phones, drivers in the middle of illegal turns and improperly parked vehicles.

Using the pictures, the Delhi Traffic Police have issued 665 tickets, using the registration plate numbers shown in the photos to track vehicle owners, said the city’s joint commissioner of traffic, Satyendra Garg.

Despite some concerns about privacy and the authenticity of the photos, the public’s response has been overwhelmingly positive, he said.

The Kitten O’Shea Diaries

The Sunday Tribune reported on how an Irish Times-owned website, Ireland.com, has become involved in a dispute with a blogger after dismissing her for not being “popular enough” and not fitting in with the new “tourist image” of the site.

The website said the Dating Blog, one of 11 carried by the site and which was featured on its homepage, was “not getting enough hits” and locked the author out of the account.

Under the pseudonym of Kitten O’Shea, the blog detailed the events in the life of a 36-year-old singleton based in Dublin.

The author had posted an entry about losing her job, and despite being known for regularly writing, disappeared for a period of weeks before being replaced by another author under the same name.

A new BlackBerry tablet in motion?

The Guardian reported that Research In Motion, Canadian maker of BlackBerrys, is rumoured to be working on a rival to the iPad, dubbed the BlackPad by tech watchers.

The device is scheduled for launch in November, according to reports, and will be roughly the same size as Apple‘s device. RIM has already acquired the rights to the blackpad.com internet domain.

Users will be able to connect their BlackPad to the internet using the wireless connection of their mobile phone, rather than having to pay separately for 3G network access as users of the iPad must.

The introduction of the iPad, which hit UK stores in May, has reinvigorated the market for so-called tablet computers. In its recent results, Apple said it has sold 3.27m worldwide. But Apple CEO Steve Jobs’ Californian design empire is unlikely to have the market all to itself for long.

Earth holds no bounds for Elon Musk

The Observer carried a fascinating interview with the enigmatic and mysterious Elon Musk, the PayPal founder who is also the driving force behind Tesla electric sports cars and the Space X commercial space flight programme. The 39-year-old talked to Observer writer Paul Harris about travelling to Mars. Not now, but when he’s older and ready to swap life on Earth for one on the red planet. Musk made a fortune from the internet and has invested vast amounts of it in building his own private space rocket company, SpaceX. Indeed, far from being crazy, Musk is the real-life inspiration for the movie character Tony Stark, the playboy scientist hero of the Iron Man franchise.

There are some similarities. Outside the SpaceX plant in the baking southern California sun, Musk’s sexy electric sports car sits in a reserved parking space (he co-founded Tesla, the firm which makes the vehicle), resembling the sort of motor Stark would drive. Musk is also engaged to the beautiful British actress Talulah Riley, star of St Trinian’s and St Trinian’s 2, and he used to get thrills from flying his own private military jet fighter.

Imagine Arabian nights … without a BlackBerry

The New York Times on Sunday reported the United Arab Emirates, citing security concerns, said Sunday that it would suspend BlackBerry mobile services like e-mail and text messaging beginning in October, the latest high-stakes clash between governments and communications providers over the flow of digital information.

The Emirates have been in a long dispute with Research In Motion, the smartphone’s producer, over the BlackBerry’s highly encrypted data system, which offers security to users but makes it more difficult for governments to monitor communications.

The decision could have significant implications for BlackBerry use in the Persian Gulf region, where Saudi Arabia has been closely studying the issue and may follow suit. Other countries, including Kuwait and Bahrain, have also raised concerns.

Disputes involving privacy and censorship have flared more frequently between governments and communications providers as the internet connects people worldwide. In July, China and Google settled a standoff over access to information. YouTube has been periodically blocked in countries like Turkey and Pakistan, and Pakistan temporarily blocked Facebook in May because of what it called offensive, anti-Islamic content.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years