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Bristol bids to become UK’s IoT capital

As part of a consortium with San Sebastián and Florence, Bristol was recently awarded € 25 million to create integrated smart city solutions for tackling such urban problems as traffic congestion, poor air quality and unsustainable energy use, Bristol University reports. The project will focus primarily on East Bristol and will look at how technology can be developed further to create efficient, integrated and interactive urban environment which put citizens in control.

This award forms part of the EU’s Smart Cities and Communities funding, which comes under the Horizon 2020 innovation programme. That programme was seeking 2-3 three high impact cities, so-called ‘lighthouses’, through which key findings and successful ways of working can be replicated by ‘Follower Cities’ in order to find solutions to urban problems. The consortium, which is named REPLICATE (REnaissance of PLaces with Innovative Citizenship And TEchnologies), achieved highest score of all the entries for its innovative proposal to integrate energy, transport and ICT at scale.

Academics from both Bristol University and UWE will be involved in the project research and evaluation work, co-operating with local and international companies and small business, as well as the community and voluntary sector.

Dr Mike Yearworth, Reader in Engineering Systems at the Faculty of Engineering is leading Bristol University’s collaboration and the strategic planning and business modelling work for the REPLICATE project. Professor Dimitra Simeonidou, Head of the High Performance Networks (HPN) Group in the University’s Faculty of Engineering and Bristol Is Open’s Chief Technology Officer, is developing the Smart City Platform concept. Dr Helen Manchester from the University’s Faculty of Social Sciences and Law will be working with Knowle West Media Centre on involving residents. UWE’s involvement in the project will include Professor Graham Parkhurst, Professor of Sustainable Mobility and Director of the Centre for Transport and Society and Professor Eddie Wilson, Chair in Intelligent Transport Systems and Head of Engineering Maths at Bristol, who have contributed their transport modelling expertise.

News of the successful grant award comes after Bristol City Council submitted a bid last week to become the UK’s first Internet of Things (IoT) Demonstrator city region. If successful, this will generate an investment of nearly £17 million.

internet of things illustration
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The Demonstrator city competition comes under the aegis of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), which will invest £10 million for a single collaborative research and development project.

The purpose of the demonstrator city is to show how the IoT can be implemented on a large scale by using everyday objects connected to a network. The data captured by the network can benefit citizens by helping to improve the environment and services such as transport.

Bristol is Open (BIO), Bristol University’s joint venture with Bristol City Council, is already pioneering the introduction of smart city technology where data can be collected from city-centre sensors linked to a high performance computer. Bristol is therefore well placed in terms of having the experience, resources and expertise to take this project forward.

In particular, the IoT Demonstrator bid will propose new ways of meeting the challenges to air pollution faced by all large urban areas, particularly as the cost of air pollution in the UK is nearly £54 billion per year and 29,000 premature deaths per annum.

UWE hosts cyber security training camp

UWE’s press office reports that the university is hosting a training camp designed for students interested in careers in cyber security.

hoodie at keyboardThe camp, which takes place from 10-12th October, offers an opportunity to learn about cyber defence from experienced professionals.

Around 40 candidates will spend three days living on site where they will get an insight into the cyber security industry, with a series of security exercises and workshops developed by organisations including HP, the National Crime Agency, CERT UK, BT, BAE IA, Sophos, Whitehatters Academy, CompTIA, Infosec Skills, Grillatech, ANG2 Consulting, IISP and CREST.

On the first day HP will welcome candidates to their labs where they will provide ethical hacking activities. They will work on a series of technical challenges catering for all abilities.

The second day will be held at UWE’s Exhibition and Conference Centre (ECC) and include a session on ethics from the National Crime Agency, whilst the third day will concentrate on careers.

Dr David Coward, UWE’s Head of Computer Science and Creative Technologies, said, “This is a fantastic opportunity. With only 40 students involved and some major organisations taking part, it’s a perfect opportunity for our students to gain access to key companies in the field.”

The candidates will also receive advice on interview techniques, social media networking and CV writing.

This camp is the second in a series of university Insight Camps to to be held this year: later camps follow in early 2016 in Greenwich and Edinburgh; to register your interest in these, please visit the Cyber Security Challenge website.

Bristol University, information leakage and sensitive personal data protection

Android screenshotDigital devices, such as smart banking cards or smartphones, are widely used to store private and sensitive data about peoples’ digital lives. However, securing these devices is a major task for the computing industry. A new research project by Bristol University’s Cryptography Research Group hopes to address the problem of leakage-related attacks.

Information leakage via side channels is a widely recognised threat to cyber security. Small devices in particular are known to leak information through physical channels, i.e. power consumption, electromagnetic radiation and timing behaviour. In other words, the power consumed by mobile phones can reveal information about the data stored on the phone and attackers could steal this data by capturing the leakage. This can ultimately lead to complete security breaches in the form of data recovery.

At present, accounting for leakage requires access to a fully-equipped testing lab with skilled people to conduct side channel experiments. This makes it virtually impossible for general cevice developers to test their products against leakage attacks as these labs are only available to high-end developers, such as those producing chip-and-pin cards.

The aim of the data leakage research project is to bring the skill of a testing lab to the desk of a standard consumer devices developer without the need for domain specific knowledge. To ensure the success of the project the research group has partnered with Embecosm, a leading developer of compiler toolchains.

Project leader Dr Elisabeth Oswald, Reader in Applied Cryptography in the Cryptography Research Group, said: “Our previous research has shown that in the case of small embedded devices, the nature of the leakages can be appropriately modelled using statistical tools.

“This project’s research hypothesis is that one can make meaningful statements about the leakage behaviour of new implementations on such small devices by utilising a priori derived models.”

The researchers hope the project will lead to a new generation of devices providing consumers with high-end security in low-end devices, as well as protecting consumers’ sensitive information. This is another important step on the arms race between the good and the bad guys as the world gets even more digital and attackers become more sophisticated.

France: one-third of local authorities embrace open data

According to a study carried out by Markess International, the majority of local authorities should have initiated an open data process between now and 2017, French IT news site Le Monde Informatique reports. This type of project forms a springboard for digital transformation.

image of open data stickersWhile local government reform is is redrawing the local authority map, digital seems to be at the heart of the new organisational models. This at least is the message that Markess wants to pass on with the published results of its study of local government trends in 2015, which involved conducting online interviews with 53 local authority decision-makers in July and August. Data and its sharing, particularly via open data, lies at the heart of this revolution. One-third of authorities have already launched such a process and a majority should have joined them by 2017.

The initiatives which have already been implemented (particularly with the support or involvement of Etalab*) motivate those authorities that have not set out on this path to emulate them. Open data and data sharing break down traditional silos (to use the terminology. Ed.), calling existing processes into question. Format, licence, publication method and interoperability are problems which often go over the heads of local officials who therefore need to rely on expert opinion (not to mention the typical bureaucratic suspicion of openness. Ed.) . The question of technical tools also arises whilst data correlation is a priority for 39% of respondents, as are unstructured data analysis (35% of respondents), real-time analysis (26%) and visualisation (23%).

* Etalab is a public sector organisation established by the French Prime Minister in 2011. It is entrusted with creating a single interministerial portal for French public data, particularly for “strategic and quality data” within the scope of an open data policy. Source: French Wikipedia Etalab page.

Motor manufacturers should make their software available for review says Dutch MEP

The so-called “diesel dupe” in which the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found that many Volkswagen and Audi cars sold in the USA had devices in diesel engines that could detect when they were being tested and changed performance accordingly to improve results is having repercussions on both sides of the Atlantic.

In the States itself the Free Software Foundation has reported the response of Eben Moglen of the Software Freedom Law Center to the scandal:

If Volkswagen knew that every customer who buys a vehicle would have a right to read the source code of all the software in the vehicle, they would never even consider the cheat, because the certainty of getting caught would terrify them.

Paul Tang MEP photographed in 2014On this side of the Atlantic, Dutch Labour (PvdA) MEP Paul Tang (pictured) reportedly wants the European Commission to compel motor manufacturers to open up the source code of their motor management software. This would counteract the manipulation of nitrogen oxide (NOx) test results as practised by the Volkswagen Group.

In written questions Tang is urging the European Commission to introduce practical measures. “We know that these types of chips exist, but we still don’t know how they work”, says Tang. “Motor manufacturers can therefore continue to provide doctored test models.” In this way other instances of this kind of manipulation by other manufacturers can also be exposed. (In the USA specific vehicles are provided for emissions testing; in Europe the equivalent test specimens are picked randomly off the production line. Ed.)

Finally, EU open source news site Joinup reports that this case is not the first time products have been fraudulently tweaked to pass emission requirements or to deceive customers. For example, Samsung, along with other manufacturers of hand-held devices, had their devices automatically raise thermal limits, voltages, frequencies and the number of processor cores put to work when they detected certain benchmarks being run, thus these manufacturers manipulated performance test results by the media, consumer groups and buyers.

A world without Linux

Below is the first of what will a series of videos seeking to depict what the world would be like had Linus Torvalds not released his kernel 24 years ago, with that kernel then being combined with the tools produced by the GNU project to create a powerful and reliable operating system.

A World Without Linux is a web series that flips this reality on its head to illustrate entertainingly just how pervasive Linux is today.

The video itself reminds your correspondent of how much time he used to spend doing work research in reference libraries before the advent of the internet: now the internet comes to him, which is much more convenient. :)

Linux is the world’s largest collaborative project in the history of computing. It runs most of the world’s technology infrastructure and is supported by more developers and companies than any other platform. It’s everywhere – from your phone to your car and your office. It also powers the internet, the cloud, the world’s stock exchanges, supercomputers, embedded devices and more.

FSF was 30 at weekend

The weekend just gone saw another anniversary that ought not be forgotten: the Free Software Foundation (FSF) passed the 30 years milestone.

Richard StallmanGerman IT news website heise reports that the FSF was founded by Richard Stallman (aka rms. Ed.) on 4th October 1985.

At that time the organisation’s goal was fully consistent with the then Unix hacker culture, i.e. promoting the free exchange of computer software and information, distribution of computer software and information and easier access to computers for all.

One year previously Stallman had already founded the GNU Project. GNU was to be a free operating system compatible with Unix, which had already lost its open source roots by the late 1970s and had become a commercial product. In parallel with the decline of Unix, the success of GNU/Linux (Stallman’s GNU system with Linus Torvalds’ Linux kernel) shows how correct Stallman’s vision then was.

For John Sullivan, the FSF’s Executive Director, the greatest current danger lies in the increasing computerisation of our environment. PCs, laptops and Server have in the meantime been made able to run on free software. However, it’s a different matter for the innumerable embedded systems out there – from car onboard computers to smartwatches; these are not under the user’s control although they are nevertheless performing important tasks. He sees a further danger in proprietary services from Facebook via Salesforce, as well as from Google Docs, which also removes control from users over the whereabouts of their data.

The FSF is currently concentrating on explaining to the public the importance of free software, supporting free software projects, various campaigns such as the “Defective by Design” anti-DRM campaign, the enforcement of free software licences and promoting free hardware.

Linux kernel is 24 years young on Monday

Although Linus Torvalds, the originator of the Linux kernel, announced his initial work on the kernel on 25th August 1991, it was not until 5th October 1991 that Linus actually released his code: Linux kernel 0.01.

Linus Torvalds gives a photographer the finger
Linus Torvalds in combative mood

With this October anniversary in mind, it’s worth taking a bit of time to review what’s changed to the kernel over the intervening years.

Version 0.01 of the kernel had 10,293 lines of code. In contrast, version 4.1, released in July 2015, has more than 19 million lines of code, according to Phoronix. That’s quite spectacular!

The current Linux kernel is the result of one of the largest collaborative projects ever attempted and since tracking began 10 years ago, more than 10,000 developers working from more than 1,200 companies have contributed to the kernel.

Furthermore, the speed of Linux kernel development is breathtaking. The average number of changes accepted into the kernel per hour is 7.71, equivalent to 185 changes every day and nearly 1,300 per week.

This rapid development and collaboration have been a spur to others. Writing yesterday on the Linux Foundation blog, Jennifer Cloer states: “In recent years, the powerful growth of the Linux kernel and resulting innovation has inspired others to adapt the principles, practices and methodologies that makes Linux so successful to solve some of today’s most complex technology problems,” and, “We’ve learned so much from Linux and have no doubt that learning will continue.”

LibreOffice 5.0.2 announced at LibreOffice Conference

To underline the importance of the event for the community, The Document Foundation (TDF) yesterday announced the release of LibreOffice 5.0.2 during the opening session of the 2015 LibreOffice Conference in Aarhus, which runs until Friday 25th September.

LibreOffice 5.0.2 is the second minor release of the LibreOffice 5.0 family, with a large number of fixes over the first minor (5.0.1) release announced in August. Based on feedback from the marketplace, the LibreOffice 5.0 family has so far proved the most popular LibreOffice release ever.

LibreOffice 5 banner

LibreOffice 5.02 will offer OpenGL rendering by default on Windows for the first time for those with the very latest Windows drivers. In the event of problems, this functionality is easy to disable by accessing Tools > Options.

LibreOffice 5.0.2 is aimed at technology enthusiasts, early adopters and power users. For more conservative users and for enterprise deployments, TDF recommends the “still” version: LibreOffice 4.4.5. For commercial deployments, The Document Foundation recommends the backing of professional support by certified people.

People interested in technical details about the release can access the change logs via the following links: bugs fixed in RC1 and bugs fixed in RC2.

LibreOffice 5.0.2 is available for immediate download from

Reposted from the author’s own blog.

Bristol Uni buys kit for 5G research

Following closely on the announcement that the University of Bristol in a consortium to research 5G mobile wireless systems within the European 5G-XHaul project (news passim), the university reported yesterday that its 5G research has been given a boost thanks to a grant of £540,000 from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) for a state-of-the-art upgrade to Bristol’s wireless channel emulation facility.

training group photo
Anite training session group photo, courtesy of University of Bristol

Researchers and collaborators associated with Bristol University’s Communication Systems and Networks (CSN) Group now have a pair of Anite F8 channel emulators and duplexing filters to augment the test and measurement equipment in their laboratory. The funding, through an EPSRC equipment award, also included training event from Anite to ensure the equipment is used effectively.

The new hardware can be rapidly configured to support up to 16 independent streams with a bandwidth of 160MHz, thereby facilitating the testing and optimisation of the latest proposals for WiFi and long-term evolution (LTE) enhancements. What is unique about Bristol’s configuration is that the multiple channels can be ‘stacked’ in the frequency domain facilitating the test and optimisation of antenna array and beamforming techniques for millimetre wave wireless access technologies.

Professor Andrew Nix, Dean of Bristol’s Faculty of Engineering and the leader of the Bristol CSN Group, said: “Anite’s Propsim F8 channel emulators with enhanced bandwidth capability will open a new avenue in our 5G research projects, such as mmMAGIC and 5G-XHaul, part of the Horizon 2020 programme, as well as collaborative projects with industry.”