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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, where additional advice about the scheme is also available.

3 Bristol youngsters beat national competition

A Bristol University press release from the end of last week reports that 3 young people from Bristol overcame competition from across the country and have been recognised at the Young Rewired State Festival of Code 2014.

Chris Chapman and brothers Rhys and Owen Marsh won the ‘Code a Better Country’ category at the event with their app CityRadar.

They were supported and mentored by Bristol University student Tom Mortensson to produce their app, which they presented at Plymouth University.

The event marked the end of a week of experimentation where the young competitors were challenged to make websites and apps that address real-world issues.

CityRadar allows people to report issues in their community, such as graffiti or fly tipping, quickly using their mobile phones. The app is programmed to send a report to the local council (Hmmm. Sounds rather like the My Council app. Ed.).

Chris, Rhys and Owen developed the app at Knowle West Media Centre (KWMC) over just four days, before heading to Plymouth with Tom.

During the festival the Bristol University and the Chartered Institute for IT (BCS) collaborate with KWMC, while staff, students and volunteers provide mentoring.

The Young Rewired State Festival of Code inspires young people to explore new skills, ideas, and careers.

Caroline Higgins, Outreach Manager from the University’s Faculty of Engineering, said: “At a time when many schools feel under-resourced and lacking in computing expertise, activities like Young Rewired State and Digimakers are playing an increasingly important role in inspiring the next generation of engineers and technical innovators.

“Since the launch of our outreach programme, we have seen a huge demand for this kind of informal learning activity. Working with our partners KWMC and BCS allows us to pool resources and have more impact, particularly in areas of Bristol that need it most.”

Does that mean you’ll be bringing your outreach programme to Barton Hill, Easton, Southmead and Lockleaze, Caroline? After all, those areas probably have undiscovered lurking geniuses too! ;)

Welcome LibreItalia!

Earlier today the foundation was announced of LibreItalia, which has been founded by Italian members of The Document Foundation and has the objective of bringing together all the Italian users of the free and open source LibreOffice productivity suite to speed up the adoption and promotion of the suite that is meant to be a free individual productivity and office automation tool capable of reducing the digital divide and breaking down the barriers to access to information technology for the poorest sections of the population.

LibreItalia logo

In addition, LibreItalia will promote the ODF/Open Document Format (ISO/IEC 26300) standard for official documents, which was recently adopted by the UK government (posts passim) as a template for all content, together with PDF/A.

The initial Board of Directors, which will be in post for two years, consists of seven members, five of whom are directly involved in the LibreUmbria project (which was originally established to promote the use of LibreOffice in public sector organisations in the Umbria region. Ed.): Sonia Montegiove, Chair; Marina Latini, Vice-Chair and Chief Technical Officer; Giordano Alborghetti, Treasurer; and Andrea Castellani, Alfredo Parisi, Gabriele Ponzo and Italo Vignoli, directors.

All the new association’s news about LibreOffice is featured on the LibreItalia website. To become a member of LibreItalia, you’ll need to fill in an application using the relevant form after reading the site’s About us and Articles of Association pages. The membership fee for ordinary members is a mere €10.00 (reduced to €5.00 for students) and entitles members to a mailbox.

Becoming a member of LibreItalia means supporting the values of transparency, sharing and working together, the same values which characterise the original LibreUmbria project.

China to launch a sovereign OS to counter Windows

According to the official Xinhua news agency, China is hoping to launch a sovereign operating system in October in order to “wean” itself off operating systems developed abroad such as Windows, Le Monde Informatique reports. The Chinese OS, which still has no official name according to Xinhua, will be offered initially for desktop PCs, before being rolled out subsequently for smartphones. It will probably be a Linux distribution that has been revised and fixed by the Chinese security agencies and will be named China Operating System (COS). Xinhua quoted a report by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technologies (MIIT), the organisation entrusted inter alia with the regulation and development of the software sector in China. “We are hoping to launch a desktop PC operating system in October to support [local] app stores,” said Ni Guangnan of the Chinese Academy of Engineering. Mr Ni heads up the alliance for the development of the official operating system created last March in the People’s Republic of China.

China OS publicity graphic

According to the MIIT, Mr Ni cites the end of support for Windows XP and the ban on Windows 8 on Chinese government computers as an opportunity for the launch of a domestic OS. Earlier this year the Chinese authorities banned the use of Windows 8 on government computers, a move triggered following the end of support for Windows XP in April. Prior to that the authorities denounced Microsoft regarding the ending of security updates for the 13 year-old operating system. China was historically a bastion of Windows XP, largely due to the large-scale pirating of Microsoft software. Another reason for China’s discontent is thought to be the revelations by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

China has long disagreed with foreign technology companies, particularly Microsoft and Google – but also sometimes with Apple – as regards their impact and influence in the country. However, the animosity increased considerably last month when the Chinese anti-trust authorities raided several Microsoft offices, seizing computers and documents within the scope of their investigation. This investigation was launched following complaints made in July 2013 into the manner in which Microsoft Windows and Office are linked and the compatibility between Windows and Office.

A Red Flag base for the sovereign Chinese OS?

screenshot of Red Flag Linux
Screenshot of Red Flag Linux. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
China has been working on its own operating system for nearly fifteen years. Launched in August 1999, the Red Flag Linux distribution was partly financed by the government’s Information Ministry. The same year Red Flag was recommended as the replacement for Windows 2000 on all government PCs. The tensions at that time between the Chinese government and Microsoft were the origin for this directive. However, this local Linux distribution never took off and Red Flag Software, the company behind this local Chinese OS, closed down this year. However, the Red Flag OS is going to be revived.

A report published by the MIIT on 20th August states that the assets of Red Flag Software have been acquired by Penta Wan Jing Information Technology Industry Group for RMB 38.62 mn. This sudden new development was also officially recorded by Mr Ni, who approved Penta Wan Jing’s acquisition and stated that a revitalised Red Flag distribution could contribute to the project to create a sovereign operating system.

This post originally appeared on the author’s personal website.

Netherlands: PSV Eindhoven introduces wifi at stadium; fans protest

glassy wifi symbolPSV Eindhoven supporters launched a vehement protest against the introduction of wifi at the their Philips Stadion ground during their side’s 6-1 home victory over NAC Breda in their opening game of the season, according to today’s Guardian.

Fans displayed one banner reading: “F*ck Wi-Fi, support the team”. Placards with crosses running through the wifi signal were also held aloft before the match. Supporters’ groups believe the introduction of wifi is just the latest of a series of decisions by the club intended to gentrify the crowd at home matches.

However, the club’s website has a slightly different take on the introduction of wifi. The game against NAC Breda marked the test phase of the ‘Connected Stadium’ project. All visitors had free access to the internet, social media and email via the ‘PSV’ network. This is the first time in the Netherlands that a stadium has been equipped with a wifi network. The club is also asking users for feedback.

Eiffel Tower: now with wifi

Le Monde Informatique reported on Wednesday this week that, at the end of 2013, the Société d’Exploitation de la Tour Eiffel (SETE) decided to provide a high bandwidth wireless connection for both its employees and visitors to the Eiffel Tower and more particularly for customers using the Salon Gustave Eiffel for private events. Two sites therefore had to be equipped – the public and non-public parts of the Tower itself and the company’s headquarters. Users also had to be able to move between the two sites retaining the same wifi connection.

image of the Eiffel TowerTo achieve these objectives, SETE turned to BSO Network Solutions. The infrastructure installed enables a 100 Mb/s connection with a firewall cluster managed by BSO Network Solutions. This supplier monitors all of the infrastructure from its Network Operation Centre.

The project comprises 25 wifi access points, 13 of which have already been deployed. The outstanding part of the project mainly concerns areas of the monument not open to the public in order to assist maintenance operations by engineers. The project’s overall cost has not been disclosed.

Reposted from the chief scribe’s personal blog.

More criticism of ‘superfast’ broadband scheme

image of optical fibre cableClose on the heels of complaints of poor connectivity in London’s Silicon Roundabout area (news passim) and the roll-out of ‘superfast’ broadband in Wiltshire being described as a ‘scam‘ (news passim), comes more criticism of the UK’s lousy connectivity from closer to home – Thornbury and Yate, the parliamentary constituency of Liberal Democrat MP Steve Webb.

Writing in today’s Bristol Post, Mr Webb states:

Within my own Thornbury and Yate constituency some quite large villages have been told that they are not going to be included in the current plans and may have to wait for a new round of funding which will not start until 2015.

I think this is unacceptable and that is why I have set up the ‘Mind the Gaps‘ campaign to get better coverage of superfast broadband across the area. We are exploring a number of strategies to see if the gaps in coverage can be filled more rapidly. One approach is to work with local providers of wireless broadband to see if different technology can be used to reach more rural communities. Under this technology a high-speed broadband connection is made in a nearby town and the signal is transmitted from a high point in the town to a high point in the rural community, from where it can be shared wirelessly within that community to individual houses and villages. An alternative strategy is to see if local residents can in some way benefit from the fibre broadband connections already serving the village schools in many smaller communities. Some have proposed the idea of a ‘digital village pump’ whereby each community has a high-capacity fibre connection laid to a central point in the community, and then a range of technologies can be used for sharing that connection within the community depending on cost and local geography.

We wish you success with your campaign, Mr Webb. If you ever need any help with wifi, please don’t hesitate to contact us. ;)