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From GNOME to Chrome

Asus have kindly lent Bristol Wireless a ChromeBox for evaluation and I’ve had a chance to put it through its paces.

ChromeBox front viewOn opening the box I was surprised by its compact form; it’s about the size of a CD case and an inch high. The boot time’s impressive, taking only a few seconds to launch the desktop. This particular model is the CN60 (now renamed M004U. Ed.), an entry level device, there are two others the i3 and the i7. That said this is still a fairly powerful tool, it has a Celeron 1.4 GHz processor and 2 GB of RAM, 16 GB flash hard drive and 100 GB of cloud storage free for one year, after which the space will cost you £5.00/month.

My expectation was that it would be like an Android device, with which it has some similarities, such as the inclusion of the Play Store and all the Google stable of software like Maps, Hangouts, Google Plus as well as all the usual social media and other apps. I installed an RSS reader, Inoreader, that runs in the browser. The video editing software I installed also ran in the browser. Rather than installing and running standalone applications, Chrome is an application platform, although some, such as my IRC client (Circ) and my terminal, do work outside Chrome. In all, the system is more than adequate for media-rich web content. The graphics are great; scrolling through web pages and watching video are seamless.

ChromeBox back viewHaving spent the last 11 years sat at a client/server-based system (LTSP), I’ve never really been responsible for the maintenance, update and general upkeep of my work environment: that responsibility falls to the sysadmins. On the other hand, the ChromeBox updates itself automatically (the ChromeBox’s sysadmin apparently lives in the cloud!) and I found I could install the applications I needed myself instead of having to rely on anyone else. The settings are simple enough; you choose the way the browser behaves, the toolbar options, the wireless settings and the printer. What more could you need?

At one point I needed a terminal to investigate a minor problem. I found Koding, installed a VMWare (virtual machine) interface, created an account and added some tools I needed. I wondered if this device has the ability to to do more than absorbing web content and found Caret. This is a text editor for coding, so I’d say the ChromeBox potentially has creative abilities too, although these have yet to be tested in full.

Using the ChromeBox involved a shift in mindset that’s taken me a day or two to get used to. This ChromeBox system relies on cloud environments, such as Dropbox. This obviously limits its capabilities when using the machine in rural Somerset where the so-called ‘broadband’ is little more than 1990s modem speeds. In such locations the ChromeBox would be a joy to use with proper broadband.

I spend some of my time visiting businesses fixing a variety of network problems. In one office I came across a ChromeBook in use, so took the opportunity to have a chat about what it’s like using the device professionally, particularly when used with inadequate rural ‘broadband’. This particular user said: “I love it; I can’t fault it”. When working in the project’s cloud environment, the ChromeBook saves the work locally and re-syncs as soon as the network comes back up when the connection goes down.

I’ve since demonstrated the ChromeBox’s functionality to a glass blower whose workshop and shop are miles apart. He wanted a device that would access the stock spreadsheet and invoices to keep his business records in one place. Most importantly, he wanted a simple device with zero maintenance. The ChromeBox has Google Docs, Google Spreadsheet and Google drive with which many businesses are already familiar, so the transition should be simple. It remains to be seen if this device is right for his organisation but he seems confident it’ll do the job.

To sum up, I think the ChromeBox is just the job for a home entertainment centre, with a fast, rock solid internet connection you’d be hard pushed to find a better device for personal/family use, although it could also prove useful for voluntary/community projects or even a small business.

South Gloucestershire round-up

It seems that South Gloucestershire shows no signs of slowing down as a source of broadband stories at the moment.

Firstly, regular readers will remember the item on a public meeting being called in Horton to discuss abysmal broadband speeds in rural S. Gloucestershire (news passim).

The press report of the meeting appeared in Friday’s Bristol Post under the title “Fury at ‘rural broadband scandal’“. The meeting was attended by both BT and the local MP, Steve Webb. Mr Webb accused BT of being too secretive and is quoted as stating the following in the meeting (any BT agents reading this, should look away now! Ed.):

I sat in my office in Yate with a man from the council and a man from BT and asked the question [about roll-out plans and actual post-works broadband speeds] – and the man from BT phoned his head office and the message came back that he was not allowed to tell me.

image of optical fibre cableSecondly, South Gloucestershire Council is currently holding a public consultation on the deployment of so-called ‘superfast’ broadband in its area and more specifically is inviting comments from the public to define the intervention areas (i.e. where they’re actually going to roll it out, giving better than 1990s modem speeds. Ed.).

The consultation itself closes on 3rd October 2014, so you’d better hurry if you want to comment. Further details are available on the South Gloucestershire Council website.

Finally, still in South Gloucestershire, and more specifically in the Oldbury-on-Severn area, today’s Bristol Post carries a report published by S. Gloucestershire Conservatives about the efforts of Councillor Matthew Riddle to get Cabinet 23 on the junction of The Naite and Oldbury Lane in Oldbury included in the programme. We wish you every success, councillor!

Bath Ruby Conference 2015 announced

Bath Ruby logoBath Ruby Conference 2015 has been announced. It will be taking place on Friday, 13th March next year.

To quote from the Bath Ruby Conference website:

Join us in the beautiful city of Bath for a day of entertaining, informative and inspirational talks from some of the Ruby community’s favourite speakers.

Details are fairly sparse at present, but if you’re interested you can give the organisers your email address for updates (signing up will also entitle you to a 10% discount on your tickets when they go on sale! Ed.) or follow Bath Ruby on Twitter.

“We have to go into Bristol to use the internet”

Residents and businesses in rural parts of South Gloucestershire are campaigning for high-speed broadband to be installed in their areas, according to today’s Bristol Post.

The villages of Horton and Elberton seem to be particularly badly affected by poor connection speeds and a public meeting is being organised tomorrow at Horton Village Hall which will will see local council officers and BT face local residents and businesses and explain why rural areas have seen no improvement in broadband speeds after BT has trousered millions of pounds in taxpayers’ money.

Richard and Henry Williams, the owners of one high-class car dealership in Horton, are quoted by the Post as saying the following:

Here in Horton, our upload speed is 0.13mb, which is ridiculous. We have to go into Bristol to use the internet, and if we didn’t have that capability, we would lose business. BT has pulled a fast one. The Government has given £1.2 billion, and BT knew it would not do what the initial intention of the Government and the councils was – to bring fast broadband to rural areas.

Bristol 24/7 on broadband connection vouchers

image of optical fibre cableLocal news site Bristol 24/7 carried a post today on the Super Connected Cities’ broadband connection vouchers scheme. The scheme covers 22 UK towns and cities, including Bristol

Under the scheme, companies, sole traders and charities can apply for up £3,000 to gain access to high speed broadband.

However, author Rob Buckland omitted one small detail in his piece: of the approximately 200 companies offering connections in Bristol, only one is based in the city itself, namely Bristol Wireless. This omission was corrected by Jules, our treasurer, in the post’s comments section.

For details of our involvement in the connection vouchers scheme, please see our dedicated connection vouchers page.

The connection vouchers scheme was recently extended to SMEs, sole traders and charities up to 5 miles outside Bristol’s administrative boundaries (news passim).

Aztec West is home to world’s first cyber crime fighting training centre

image of screen with magnifying glass & word 'password' highlightedToday the Bristol Post reports that the world’s first cyber crime fighting training centre has opened with the aim to help businesses, government agencies and even police forces keep ahead of this allegedly growing threat.

The £5 mn. centre, at Aztec West on the outskirts of the city in South Gloucestershire, was officially opened by the Home Office’s Minister for Modern Slavery and Organised Crime Karen Bradley, and is run by Protection Group International.

The centre already employs some 50 persons recruited from specialist fields and its customers include large companies, local councils, police forces and overseas governments.

During the opening, attendees were entertained by a “live hacking demonstration” (whatever that is. Ed.), according to the Post.

Quantum computing comes a step closer

A new way to run a quantum algorithm using much simpler methods than previously thought has been discovered by a team of researchers at the University of Bristol, according to a university press release. These findings could dramatically bring forward the development of a ‘quantum computer’ capable of beating a conventional computer.

Theories show how computing devices that operate according to quantum mechanics can solve problems that conventional computers, including super computers, can never solve. These theories have been experimentally tested for small-scale quantum systems, but the world is waiting for the first definitive demonstration of a quantum device that beats a classical computer.

Now, researchers from Bristol University’s Centre for Quantum Photonics (CQP), together with colleagues from the University of Queensland (UQ) and Imperial College London have increased the likelihood of such a demonstration in the near term by discovering a new way to run a quantum algorithm with much simpler methods than previously thought.

The first definitive defeat for a classical computer could be achieved with a quantum device that runs an algorithm known as Boson Sampling, recently developed by researchers at MIT (PDF).

Boson Sampling uses single photons of light and optical circuits to take samples from an exponentially large probability distribution, which has been proven to be extremely difficult for classical computers.

Unlike other quantum algorithms, Boson Sampling has the benefit of being practical for near-term implementations, with the only experimental drawback being the difficulty of generating the dozens of single photons required for the important quantum victory.

However, the Bristol-UQ-Imperial researchers have found that the Boson Sampling algorithm can still be proven to be hard for classical computers when using standard probabilistic methods to generate single photons.

Dr Anthony Laing, who led the CQP elements of the research, said: “We realised we could chain together many standard two-photon sources in such a way as to give a dramatic boost to the number of photons generated.”

The research was published last week in Physical Review Letters under the title ‘Boson Sampling from a Gaussian State‘.

Less than a week to SFD 2014

Software Freedom Day 2014 bannerIt’s under a week to Software Freedom Day (SFD) 2014, which is being held this year on Saturday, 20th September.

SFD is a worldwide celebration of Free and Open Source Software (FOSS). The organisers’ goal in this celebration is to educate the public all over the world about the benefits of using high quality FOSS in education, government, in business and at home – in short, everywhere!

Software Freedom International a non-profit organisation, coordinates SFD at a global level, providing support, give-aways and a point of collaboration, but volunteer teams around the world organise the local SFD events to involve their own communities.

For anyone wishing to organise a local event, there’s a handy start guide on the SFD wiki, as well as promotional materials.

If you do organise an event, don’t forget to register your event and team so the event can be added to the 2014 events map.

Software Freedom Day was established in 2004 and first observed on 28th August of that year.

Bristol’s Bitcoin machine handles £38K per month

bitcoin logoThe Bristol Post is not renowned locally for its in-depth coverage of technology, let alone such exotic areas as crytocurrencies, but today proved an exception as it reported on the fortunes of Bristol’s only Bitcoin cash machine, which is located in Superfoods in St Stephen’s Street (review here) in the centre.

a Bitcoin ATM similar to the one in Bristol

SatoshiPoint, the machine’s owners have hailed it a success after the machine processed 250 transactions and the equivalent of £38,000 in Bitcoins in the month of August alone.

SatoshiPoint’s Hassan Khoshtaghaza said: “Bristol is doing very well, in fact better than our London ATMs because there are now six of them in London so the use gets spread out. We are getting users from as far as Cardiff and Bath coming to use the machine in Bristol and our volume is increasing each month on buy and sell transactions.”

The company recently installed a Bitcoin machine in Brighton and further cities under consideration are Cardiff, Manchester and Edinburgh, plus Newcastle Airport, according to Khoshtaghaza.

SatoshiPoint’s Bitcoin machines accept £10 and £20 notes, but not debit or credit cards and users can buy anything from £10 to £1,500 worth of Bitcoins a day, at the live price plus 7% commission.

Broadband voucher scheme extended beyond Bristol

image of fibre optic cableIn a press release issued in the middle of last week, Bristol City Council announced that Bristol’s £5 mn. fund to provide better business broadband is set to move beyond borders the Connection Vouchers scheme is expanded.

The change to the scheme means that around 2,300 small and medium-sized businesses (including registered charities, social enterprises or sole traders) located within five miles of Bristol City Council’s administrative boundaries will be eligible to apply for vouchers worth up to £3,000 each to improve their internet connection. The expansion opens up opportunities for businesses in neighbouring local authority areas of North Somerset, South Gloucestershire and Bath & North East Somerset; this will mean businesses based in, for example, Portishead, Keynsham, Kingswood, Winterbourne and Filton will become eligible for the scheme.

The scheme, which is backed by funding from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, has been running within Bristol’s since May this year.

Cllr Mark Bradshaw, Bristol’s Assistant Mayor for Place including Digital Infrastructure, said: “The scheme has been well received in Bristol and we’re extremely pleased to be expanding it across traditional borders having sought permission from the Government to do so.

“It’s widely recognised that our local economy operates as part of a larger city region, with a great deal [sic] of businesses, charities and local attractions which contribute to our economic success. It always seemed a little unfair to limit this great offer based on an administrative boundary, so I’m delighted that we’ve now been given permission to expand.

“The connection vouchers offer big benefits but they are being issued on a first-come, first-served basis, so I’d encourage anyone who’s eligible to get online and apply as soon as possible. We particularly want to encourage applications from SME and start-up businesses, including those sharing workspaces.”

The vouchers are part of Superconnected Cities, a government scheme to provide high-speed business internet connectivity in 22 UK cities. Bristol was one of the successful bidders for the £150 mn. funding pot and has until February 2015 to allocate nearly £5 mn. of vouchers to local businesses. The vouchers cover the capital cost of improving connections, such as buying new hardware or upgrading cabling connections to properties, but cannot be used for revenue costs like monthly line rental, subscription fees or VAT.

Applications can be made online at www.connectionvouchers.co.uk/bristol, where additional advice about the scheme is also available.