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“Fast” broadband to become “a right” in UK

Today the United Kingdom witnessed the annual, anachronistic, Ruritanian pantomime otherwise known as the State Opening of Parliament, an event performed by the unelected in fancy dress which marks the formal start of a session of the UK parliament.

The substantial part of the ceremony is the delivery of the Queen’s Speech, written for her by the government and outlining the government’s programme of legislation for the coming year.

The transcript of the speech is available already.

There is one major item of interest to those whose major concern is connectivity; paragraph 4 of the speech states:

Measures will be brought forward to create the right for every household to access high speed broadband.

After that one sentence, the speech then moves on to other matters.

One glaring omission of the entire speech is the lack of any detail. Even for the small section of the speech examined here, there is no definition of what constitutes “high speed broadband“.

Given that the UK definition of so-called “superfast” is a measly 24 Mbps, can it be assumed that “high speed broadband” will be lower than that paltry rate? By way of comparison, the EU Commission’s definition of “superfast” broadband is slightly higher, weighing in at “at least” 30 Mbps.

Update 19/05/16: Further details have now come to light. The BBC reports that the details of the Digital Economy Bill will include the following:

  • A minimum speed of 10Mbps to be guaranteed through the Broadband Universal Service Obligation;
  • Householders in remote areas may have to contribute to the costs of installation;
  • A right to automatic compensation when the service is unavailable;
  • UK companies must get consent before sending promotional emails, with fines for transgressors; and
  • All websites containing pornographic images to require age verification for access.

As regards the final item in the list, we wonder how the UK government is going to enforce this requirement on sites based on servers beyond their jurisdiction, since this seems like wishful thinking by technically ignorant government ministers and equally incompetent civil servants.

Bitkeeper becomes open source

BitKeeper logoSome 11 years ago after the licence disputes between Linux developers and Bitmover, the producer of the BitKeeper version control system, gave rise to the development of Git and Mercurial, the most widely used version control systems today, BitKeeper is now also available as open source software, German IT news site heise reports. The tool has been covered by the Apache License 2.0 since 9th May 2016.

In 2002 Linux creator Linus Torvalds and colleagues accessed BitKeeper since it was the only system that enabled an automated retrospective rearrangement on a version control system. However, in 2005 Bitmover then withdrew from the community, on account of which the proprietary BitKeeper package could not be used any more for open source development and Torvalds began the development of Git, which has since become the top distributed version control system with the github hosting service.

Although development of BitKeeper has continued over the years, with the most recent release taking place in September 2015, use of the software is reputed not be be very widespread. Consequently, the heise report’s author believes its release as open source must be regarded as a final effort to keep the software going.

New primitive quantum computer design finds application

Quantum computers have significant potential to open entirely new directions for processing information and to overhaul the way that we think about and use the science of computation, Bristol University reports.

Modern computers already play a huge role in society, routinely handling and processing vast amounts of data, as well as solving calculations at an incredible speed. However, there are some problems that they just cannot solve in a useful amount of time, no matter how fast they become. The concept of a quantum computer aims to address this, exploring uncharted computation and solving at least some of these problems that classical computers cannot.

A study entitled “Efficient quantum walk on a quantum processor“* published yesterday in Nature Communications, reports strong evidence that with this method something meaningful can already be seen with a primitive quantum computer that cannot be seen with a classical computer. The very first steps towards this have been implemented in the lab in Bristol.

Dr Ashley Montanaro, Lecturer in Applied Mathematics and EPSRC Fellow from Bristol University’s School of Mathematics, remarked: “A quantum computer is a machine designed to use quantum mechanics to solve problems more efficiently than any possible classical computer.

“We know some algorithms that can run on such machines and it’s an open and exciting challenge to find more. But most of the quantum algorithms we know need to be run on a large-scale quantum computer to see a speed up.”

Building a large-scale quantum computer is one of today’s biggest engineering challenges. There’s a growing worldwide effort to develop one and this needs substantial effort from a wide range of expertise – including as part of the UK National Quantum Technologies Programme (UKNQT). However, the results could be tremendous, offering fast and cheap ways to design new materials and new pharmaceuticals.

Nevertheless, there is a field of research emerging now that can help accelerate understanding how quantum computers will work and how users can apply them. Examining the power of smaller, more primitive designs for quantum computers indicates that quantum machines could outperform the capabilities of classical computing for very specific tasks sooner than we thought. For instance, “Boson Sampling” is a recent example that is driven by what is experimentally available very soon.

One-dimensional quantum random walk. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons[/caption]Big questions researchers face include what can these primitive quantum processors do that is useful and how sophisticated do they need to be. The results published in today’s paper help to answer this question by looking at how to simulate particular kinds of a phenomenon called the quantum walk.

one-dimensional quantum random walk
One-dimensional quantum random walk. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The quantum walk at first glance is abstract, but is the quantum mechanical version of very useful models such as Brownian motion and the “drunken sailor’s random walk“. The key difference is the particle in the quantum walk is endowed with the principle of quantum superposition, thus enabling other researchers to show they are a new way of thinking about how full-scale quantum computers might operate and creating useful quantum algorithms.

Xiaogang Qiang, PhD student in Bristol’s School of Physics who implemented the experiment, said: “It’s like the particle can explore space in parallel. This parallelism is key to quantum algorithms, based on quantum walks that search huge databases more efficiently than we can currently.”

Dr Jonathan Matthews, EPSRC Early Career Fellow and Lecturer in the School of Physics and Bristol University’s Centre for Quantum Photonics, explained: “An exciting outcome of our work is that we may have found a new example of quantum walk physics that we can observe with a primitive quantum computer, that otherwise a classical computer could not see.

“These otherwise hidden properties have practical use, perhaps in helping to design more sophisticated quantum computers.”

* = Authors: Xiaogang Qiang, Thomas Loke, Ashley Montanaro, Kanin Aungskunsiri, Xiaoqi Zhou, Jeremy L. O’Brien, Jingbo Wang, Jonathan C. F. Matthews

Rural areas to miss out on so-called “superfast” broadband

image of fibre optic cableIt has emerged that so-called “superfast” broadband (defined in this instance as 25 megabits per second (Mbps) Ed.) will not be provided automatically to tens of thousands of remote rural homes, the Western Daily Press reports.

A Government consultation document says it is likely that many people in such areas would not want to be connected to better broadband, but extending it to them would not represent value for money.

However, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has rejected suggestions that rural areas were being left behind, a point of view that has not found favour with campaigners for rural broadband, who are concerned that rural businesses will move away and jobs will be lost unless they are included in the better broadband roll-out.

Graham Long, chairman of Broadband for Rural Devon and Somerset is quoted by the Western Daily as saying: “Businesses are moving out of rural areas here because they cannot keep their website – their shop window – up to date.

“It will be even worse if they only have 10 Mbps in 2020, because the need for better bandwidth will have grown by then, now that we have cloud computing and other shared applications.”

Open source helps Bristol dons win award

photo of Marcella Oliviero and Andrea Zhok from Bristol Uni Department of ItalianOpen source software was an essential element in the work of 2 Bristol modern languages tutors who have just won an award.

The University of Bristol has announced that Marcella Oliviero and Andrea Zhok have won first prize in the 2016 Apereo Teaching & Learning Awards (ATLAS) for a project that helped first-year students in the Department of Italian teach elements of grammar to their peers. With support from University staff, students were encouraged to develop their own tutorials using Xerte, an open source software package for the creation of interactive teaching and learning materials, which has been developed by the University of Nottingham. As a result, students gained a greater stake in their own learning, improved their subject knowledge and acquired new IT skills.

Xerte bannerApereo is a network that develops and maintains e-learning software used in thousands of educational institutions worldwide. Packages like Xerte permit the use of a wide range of functions and media to make the learning experience richer and more diverse than is possible with traditional methods. The tutors’ success was announced at the 2016 Xerte Conference in Nottingham and they have also been invited to present their work at the Open Apereo conference in New York later this month.

Free public wifi in the West Midlands

This week there have been developments in the provision of free public wifi access in both north Staffordshire and south Shropshire.

Stoke-on-Trent photo montageA report in today’s Sentinel boldly announces in its headline that “Stoke-on-Trent [is] set to join Manchester and Barcelona with free wifi in the city centre“.

However, the Sentinel is in this instance following the old press maxim of never allowing the actual story to interfere with a good headline and comparing the Potteries with near-rival Manchester and the cultural and political capital of Catalonia always reads well.

A few paragraphs further down the actual story is revealed, i.e. Stoke-on-Trent City Council is advertising for a firm to install wifi hotspots within the Potteries Way ring-road and this will complement existing coverage at the intu Potteries shopping centre, other businesses and city centre cafés and bars. In the council’s eyes, this development will improve the so-called “city centre experience” for shoppers and businesses.

Furthermore, the project has been proposed by the City Centre Partnership group which represents traders and there’s not a hint of any provisional costings as yet. Finally, the council is reported as conducting a “market testing exercise” to examine the project’s feasibility.

Looking at cities elsewhere, the Sentinel report states that Manchester City Council provides free public wifi for the 30 minutes and for £3 per day thereafter, whilst Nottingham City Council signed a contract with BT to install 41 wifi hotspots around the city in 2015. Barcelona has one of Europe’s most extensive public wifi services with 443 hotspots.

Ludlow looking frostyMoving a few tens of miles down to south Shropshire, yesterday’s Shropshire Star reported that Ludlow Town Council has dropped plans for free public wifi in the town centre due to lack of funds.

This was in spite of support from councillors. The report optimistically states that hoped the idea could be reviewed at a later date, but no timescale has been set.

Gina Wilding, clerk of Ludlow Town Council is quoted as saying: “Members felt that it was a great idea but just at the wrong time.”

She continued: “The town council has been approached by a company about the idea. The installation itself will cost about £7,000 and then it would cost about £6,000 a year in running costs.”

The company involved is reported as Solvings Ltd. of Mold in Flintshire, which has yet to supply wifi technology for any town centre and whose current business mostly deals with private defence-related sites and military complexes.

CERN’s 300 TB – the biggest open data release yet?

Yesterday a press release from CERN announced that its CMS Collaboration unit had released more than 300 terabytes (TB) of high-quality open data. This includes over 100 TB, or 2.5 inverse femtobarns (fb−1), of data from proton collisions at 7 TeV, making up half the data collected at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) by the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) detector in 2011. This follows a previous release from November 2014, which made available around 27 TB of research data collected in 2010.

Visualisation of CDP experiment at CERN's LHC
Visualisation of CDP experiment at CERN’s LHC

This open data is available on the CERN Open Data Portal — which is built in collaboration with members of CERN’s IT Department and Scientific Information Service — the collision data are released into the public domain under the CC0 waiver and come in types: The so-called “primary datasets” are in the same format used by the CMS Collaboration to perform research. The “derived datasets” on the other hand require a lot less computing power and can be readily analysed by university or high-school students, and CMS has provided a limited number of datasets in this format.

CMS is also providing the simulated data generated with the same software version that should be used to analyse the primary datasets. Simulations play a crucial role in particle-physics research and CMS is also making available the protocols for generating the simulations that are provided. The data release is accompanied by analysis tools and code examples tailored to the datasets. A virtual-machine image based on CernVM, which comes preloaded with the software environment needed to analyse the CMS data, can also be downloaded from the portal.

Kati Lassila-Perini, a German physicist working on the CMS detector stated: “Once we’ve exhausted our exploration of the data, we see no reason not to make them available publicly. The benefits are numerous, from inspiring high school students to the training of the particle physicists of tomorrow. And personally, as CMS’s data preservation coordinator, this is a crucial part of ensuring the long-term availability of our research data.”

In our own more modest lab, we’re wondering if this is the largest open data release yet. If readers can confirm or refute this, please feel free to comment below.

Coming soon – South-West CiviCRM meet-up

civiCRM logoAt the end of April a CiviCRM meet-up for the South-West of England is taking place in Bristol, kindly hosted by One25.

The meet-up’s date and time are 27th April 2016 from 5.00 p.m. to 7.00 p.m.

The venue is One25’s offices at 138A Grosvenor Road, Bristol, BS2 8YA (map).

This event’s programme will include:

  • Networking;
  • Presentations;
  • News;
  • Discussions;
  • Help and Support.

Attendees will have to register, but the event is free.

The organisers have issued an important note, i.e. please don’t turn up at the venue before 4.30 p.m.

Two free CiviCRM events in London

civiCRM logoNews arrives from CiviCRM, the free and open source customer relationship management (CRM) software, of 2 free events later this month in London.

First of all NfP Services is hosting a free seminar at its London offices with refreshments and lunch included. The seminar will be held on Tuesday 19th April from 10.00 a.m. to 1.30 p.m. The venue will be Miller Technology Limited, 340 Gray’s Inn Road, London WC1X 8BG (map).

During the session NfP Services will be demonstrating CiviCRM’s amazing functionality and flexibility and explaining how it can help your organisation take a low risk route to implementing its use. It will also be providing live examples of existing systems and how current clients are reaping the enormous benefits of this fully functional, open-source, web-based CRM system.

The event is ideal for anyone new to CiviCRM who would like to find out more. Existing users keen to get more from their software will also be welcome.

You can register here or alternatively contact James on 020 7843 4400 / 07808 304 595 or send an email to james [at]

Nearer the end of the month, the second CiviCRM London Meetup 2016 will be taking place on Wednesday 27th April 2016 from 6.00 p.m. to 8.00 p.m., followed by refreshment in an as yet unspecified local hostelry. The venue will be the offices of Compucorp Ltd., 4th Floor, 33 Bethnal Green Rd, London, Shoreditch, London E1 6LA (map).

The schedule for the event is as follows:

18.00: Welcome and drop in for 15 mins.

18.15 : Start

18.15 – 18.30: Session 1: Introduction to CiviCRM

18.30 – 18.50: Session 2: Case Study


19.00 – 19.15: Session 3: Community update

19.15 – 19.30: Session 4: What’s new!

If potential attendees have any queries, they are advised to email Info [at]

Once again, registration is required.

First LibreOffice 5.2 bug hunting session announced

A blog post earlier this week from The Document Foundation, the organisation behind LibreOffice, the popular free and open source office productivity suite, gives details of the first bug hunting session for the forthcoming release of LibreOffice 5.2.

There is also a page on the session on the LibreOffice wiki.

LibreOffice 5.* screenshot
LibreOffice 5.* screenshot

This initial session will be held on Friday, 22nd April 2016. Tests will be performed on the Alpha version of LibreOffice 5.2, which will be available on the pre-releases servers a few days before the event. Builds will be available for Linux (DEB and RPM), MacOS and Windows.

Mentors will be available on on the day from 8.00 a.m. UTC to 10.00 p.m. UTC. Of course it will also be possible to hunt bugs on other days, as the builds of this particular Alpha release (LibreOffice 5.2.0 Alpha) will be available until the end of May.

During the day there will be two dedicated sessions: the first to chase bugs on the four main LibreOffice modules – Writer, Calc, Impress and Draw – between 3.00 p.m. UTC and 5.00 p.m. UTC; and the second to test the top 10 features between 5.00 p.m. UTC and 7.00 p.m. UTC. The list of the top 10 features will be decided during the week before the session and will be added to the wiki page.

Reposted from the author’s blog.