Weekend news roundup

26 Apr 2010

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

Spin doctor in hot water over phone hacking

The Observer reports that the Tories’ chief spin doctor, Andy Coulson, faces more awkward questions about a phone-hacking scandal at the News of the World during his time as editor. The Observer understands that a leading football agent has launched a legal action alleging that his phone was hacked by private investigators working with the newspaper’s journalists while Coulson was in charge.

More than 10 MPs and at least one former football star, ex-England midfielder Paul Gascoigne, are also in discussions with lawyers looking to bring similar cases against the newspaper’s owner, News Group Newspapers (NGN), part of Rupert Murdoch’s empire. The pending legal action will severely embarrass Coulson who, as director of communications and planning for the Conservative party, will wield significant influence if it comes to power after the election.

Aliens! Earth would be bad for you

The Sunday Times reports that acclaimed astrophysicist Stephen Hawking, in new series for the Discovery Channel called Hawking’s Universe, says the likelihood of other life forms in the universe is likely if you consider the universe has 100bn galaxies, each containing hundreds of millions of stars. So it is likely we’re not alone. “To my mathematical brain, the numbers alone make thinking about aliens perfectly rational,” he said. “The real challenge is to work out what aliens might actually be like.”

Many of these life forms may be microbes or simple animals, but others he suggests could be intelligent beings whose arrival on Earth would signal the end of the human race.

“We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn’t want to meet. I imagine they might exist in massive ships, having used up all the resources from their home planet. Such advanced aliens would perhaps become nomads, looking to conquer and colonise whatever planets they can reach.”

Digicel loses case against C&W

The Sunday Independent reports Denis O’Brien’s firm Digicel will have to pay rival company Cable & Wireless in excess of £15.5m (€18m) after it lost a competition case, it was decided in the High Court in London last Friday. Cable & Wireless Communications (CWC) will be reimbursed for costs incurred defending itself in a competition case that it won the previous week, the company said on Friday.

The telecoms firm said it expected to recover most of the £15.5m it had run up defending itself against a High Court claim by Digicel that it had unlawfully delayed the entry of competitors in seven Caribbean territories. The London judge had dismissed all the claims brought by Digicel, though the court found a minor breach of contract in the Turks & Caicos. It said this had caused no delay to Digicel and therefore no loss. Digicel had claimed that it should be awarded “several hundreds of millions of pounds” if it won.

Joined up thinking for local government?

The Sunday Times highlights impressive online government services have been developed across Europe. England has a national planning portal, Norway a national online-services gateway, and Belgium a joined-up system allowing doctors access to patients’ medical records nationwide. Writer Richard Burke says that while Ireland has a few significant online services — especially Revenue — we look like the EU’s poor relation in terms of ‘eGovernment’. We don’t need to be. In fact, we could improve local services hugely by using a regional model.

There are 34 city and county councils in Ireland who must all provide roughly the same 150 services, including planning, housing and roads. While urban councils support traffic-control centres, even the smallest local authority must provide minimum ICT services, such as disaster recovery/backups, financial management and council websites. The smallest IT sections offer about 70-80pc of the services of larger ones, but with as few as 10 staff. Larger councils can have up to 80. There is minimal co-operation, and hence duplication of effort.

If ICT resources were combined on a regional basis, all local authorities would be able to attain an economy of scale in terms of staffing, expertise and resources.

Dragons hum an ‘appy’ tune

The Sunday Business Post reports Grab Radio, an iPhone app that allows users to listen to any of 100 Irish and British radio stations and build up a music collection by doing so, has been launched on iTunes. The app started life following an investment in the company behind it, Global Internet Radio Technologies, by Sean Gallagher and Bobby Kerr on the RTE One programme Dragons’ Den. Grab Radio allows users to listen to stations and ‘grab’ a song by buying it from iTunes. Users can alternatively buy the album the song came from, using an iTunes account. Users can give feedback to stations, comment on talk radio and take part in polls.

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