Weekend news roundup

17 May 2010

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

Taoiseach’s tax gamble could damage online opportunity

The Sunday Independent’s Alan Ruddock reports on Taoiseach Brian Cowen’s decision that the racing world’s subsidy should be paid for by the betting industry and will legislate this year to tax online and telephone betting. Cowen said: “the Government will introduce legislation to ensure that overseas betting providers comply with a licensing regime that will permit them to sell their products into our jurisdiction.” It sounds very simple, but the implementation will be tricky.

Online gambling is a global industry that booms despite many attempts to ban or regulate it and the danger is that Cowen’s proposals will unfairly target those few betting firms that choose to locate in Ireland and create jobs here. More fundamentally, Cowen has chosen to persist with a link that is both unnecessary and unjustifiable. The Irish horse industry – a world leader and a huge employer – needs to be subsidised, but there is no need to tie that funding to the profits of another industry.

The iPad deconstructed

The Observer’s veteran tech writer Jack Schofield provides a not-to-be missed deconstruction of the Apple iPad, in his view the most over-hyped device since the iPhone. Now that the iPad is finally nearing its UK launch date of 28 May, there’s just one question: is it worth buying? If you already own an iPhone or an iPod touch and wish it had a much bigger screen, the answer is probably yes – if you can afford £429 for even the most basic model. If you already own a notebook PC and would like something smaller, the answer could well be no; you’d be better off with a netbook at less than half the price. Such rationality may not stop you from succumbing, however. The iPad is a wonderfully shiny new toy from a company that understands seduction. And it’s cunningly designed to fit in between your smartphone and your laptop without replacing either.

Little fibbers

The Sunday Times reports that children who learn to lie at an early age have better developed brains, marking them out as potential executives and leaders, say researchers. They say that learning to tell a fib marks a milestone in a cognitive development. One-fifth of children manage it by the age of two.

Lying involves multiple brain processes, such as integrating sources of information and manipulating the data to their advantage. It is linked to the development of brain regions that allow “executive functioning” and use higher order thinking and reasoning.

“Parents should not be alarmed if their child tells a fib,” said Kang Lee, director of the Institute of Child Study at Toronto University. “Almost all children lie. Those who have better cognitive development lie better because they can cover up their tracks. They may make bankers in later life!”

The steamy side of Facebook

The Sunday Times also reports that Mark Zuckerberg, the inventor of Facebook, is to be portrayed in a Hollywood film as a ruthless and untrustworthy sex maniac. The website and its 400 million users have been beset in the past week by rows over changes to its privacy settings.

However, they have nothing on the invasion of privacy facing Zuckerberg in a £40m black comedy called The Social Network, adapted from The Accidental Billionaires by Ben Mezrich, with a screenplay by Aaron Sorkin, creator of The West Wing.

Six years ago, Zuckerberg created what was to become the internet phenomenon Facebook in a “tidal wave” of grief after being dumped by his girlfriend. On Friday, as Zuckerberg celebrated his 26th birthday, he faced another tsunami of anger, this time from Facebook users who turned the socially awkward youth into the world’s youngest billionaire.

Adobe loves Apple, but …

The Observer reported that on Friday the Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal were both carrying full-page “We Love Apple” adverts, but the space was not bought by the Californian technology giant but by Adobe, the web technology firm that is locked in a bitter dispute with Apple CEO Steve Jobs. The adverts, using a variant of the famous “I love New York” motif created by Milton Glaser, have appeared in newspapers also including the San Jose Mercury and online on websites including Wired and TechCrunch.

They present the latest front in an increasingly nasty war between the two companies. Adobe’s web video technology Flash is not supported by Apple’s iPad or iPhone and Jobs has publicly criticised it for causing battery problems and crashes. In a blog post last month, Jobs said the most important reason for keeping Flash off his devices was that “letting a third-party layer of software come between the platform and the developer ultimately results in sub-standard apps and hinders the enhancement and progress of the platform.”

Leaving Facebook – nobody can hear you scream

The Guardian contained an interesting blog post from Andrew Brown entitled ‘Facebook is not your friend.’ In the ‘Comment is Free’ section, Brown recalled that when the site first started, very few people could join, and nothing became public, even to them, without the users’ express permission. Now everyone can join and everything is public to almost all of them unless you make a determined effort to hide it. This effort has to be renewed every six months or so when Facebook revises its privacy policy to make it more opaque and less effective. There is a wonderfully graphic animation of the process at this site.

If you decide it isn’t worth it, Facebook turns out to be very difficult to leave. It is very easy to “deactivate” your account, but it’s also almost meaningless. Nothing is deleted by deactivation. If you return a year later, your account is still there, with the same password, the same friends and all the same data.

Swarms of angels

The Sunday Tribune reports Halo Business Angel Network (HBAN), the joint venture between Enterprise Ireland and Intertrade Ireland to support fledgling companies, is expected to review more than 300 business plans in the coming year before putting up to 100 of them before syndicates of potential investors. National director Diane Roberts said it hopes to assist more than 25 of those pitching for business, with funding of between €250,000 and €1.25m being provided. Brian Caulfield, a long-time technology investor, is one of those involved in the project.

Warning against a tsunami

The Sunday Times reports that amid the volcanic ash fallout and more than five years after the Asian tsunami, Ireland is finally getting ready to launch its own tsunami early warning system. The technology, which is government funded, will give advance notice, of up to five hours in some cases, if giant waves are caused by phenomena such as earthquakes.

Scientists plan to fit sirens or loudspeakers at some of the country’s favourite beaches to warn people to move away from the coast if a risk is identified. The project, being worked on by the state-funded Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, is part of an international effort led by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). The organisation is aiming to create an early warning system in the north-eastern Atlantic and the Mediterranean after the 2004 Asian tsunami killed 220,000 people in Asia.

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