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Free wifi on trains from 2017?

At Prime Minister’s questions today, David Cameron (he’s a prime minister impersonator, isn’t he? Ed. ;-) ) informed MPs that the ability to access wifi was vital for rail travellers and promised investment of £50mn. to provide more wifi on the railway from 2017, today’s Western Daily Press reports.

an office at a train seat
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The investment in wifi the PM announced would would cover services operated by train operators TSGN, Southeastern, Chiltern and Arriva Trains Wales.

In response to a question from former Culture Secretary Maria Miller, Mr Cameron is reported to have said:

“It’s vital for businesses and for individuals to be able to access Wi-Fi and do their work and all other contact while they are on trains.

“I am pleased to announce plans that will see the roll-out of free wifi on trains across the UK from 2017.

Whether the plans announced by the PM ultimately come to fruition presumably depend on his party being returned to power at May’s general election.

This announcement comes in the same week as France’s SNCF announced a large-scale project to provide internet connectivity on the entire French railway network by the end of 2016 (news passim).

Bristol Is Open approved by city council

Bristol Is Open, the collaborative high-performance, high-speed networking project between Bristol City Council and the University of Bristol (news passim), received unanimous approval from the council’s cabinet earlier this week, the University reports.

image of Bristol Uni's BlueCrystal.
Bristol Uni’s BlueCrystal. Picture by Dr Ian Stewart

Bristol Is Open will manage the Open Programmable City project, a city-scale research infrastructure using fibre optic and wireless connectivity and high performance computing. It is the first project of its kind in the UK and purportedly puts Bristol at the leading edge of the smart city movement.

The project will make use of part of BNet, the council-owned high-speed fibre optic network and the University’s BlueCrystal High Performance Computer, a supercomputer capable of 200 trillion calculations per second.

In addition, Bristol Is Open will offer technology companies, research organisations and SMEs the opportunity to experiment, learn and develop innovative solutions to many of the problems of modern urban life.

The project is made possible by the unique City Operating System (CityOS) developed by Professor Dimitra Simeonidou and colleagues in the University’s High Performance Networks research group. The CityOS will host machine-to-machine communication, which will enable the city to be programmable and allow the development of a wide range of research and innovation initiatives.

Data captured from a variety of sensors in the city environment will create a large scale “Big Data” snapshot of the city’s environment. Air quality, traffic movement, temperature, humidity, traffic signal patterns are all examples of the types of data to be captured. The partners hope that collaborative partnerships established by Bristol Is Open will eventually develop applications capable of analysing and programming this data.

France: internet connection available on trains by end of 2016

Libération reports that the entire French railway network will be connected to the internet between now and the end of 2016, according to French train operator SNCF, alluding to forthcoming works to be conducted with mobile operators and Arcep, the French telecommunications regulator. “We shall work in full cooperation with the operators and what we can say, without making a false promise, is that all French trains will without a shadow of a doubt be able to receive the internet properly between and the end of 2016, ” SNCF chairman Guillaume Pepy stated at the end of a press conference.

“The first stage is to carry out a proper diagnosis with Arcep and a technical diagnosis of the quality of reception on the network with specially equipped trains and a methodology that will be foolproof,” Pepy added. He stressed that there will then be a need to deal with notspots or areas of poor reception and then get round the table. “We are starting these measurements from March onwards so as to be able to share the initial results of these measurements in April with the four [mobile] operators and Arcep,” explained SNCF’s Digital and Communications Director Yves Tyrode.

SNCF is going “to facilitate infrastructure access to mobile operators for deployment of their antennas,” he added. “As an addition to this 3G and 4G coverage, SNCF is going to increase wifi coverage, but only in certain specific instances, such as some stations and on TGV trains,” he continued.

TGV train in Rennes station.
TGV train in Rennes station. Picture courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

An invitation to tender is underway to equip TGV trains with internet access (news passim), whose outcome will be known at the end of June. “We’re going to change technology. Up to now we tested technology which brought wifi and connection by satellite together and we’re going to change to a technology that will ally wifi on the trains with 4G,” he stressed. “The choice made five years ago and which was hailed by everyone, the satellite-based model, did not prove to be pertinent, neither from a technical point of view, nor a commercial one,” Guillaume Pepy commented.

‘Superfast’ broadband arrives in parts of Staffordshire

image of fibre optic cableToday’s Stoke Sentinel reports that faster internet speeds can be expected today in parts of Staffordshire.

However, the Sentinel’s piece does not mention any expected connection speeds. :(

The localities concerned are parts of Kidsgrove, Werrington, Stone and Blackshaw Moor, which have been connected to the fibre network following a link-up between Staffordshire County Council and BT under the government’s Broadband Delivery UK programme.

Spokesmen for the bodies concerned praised the development for offering increased opportunities.

Successful crowdfunding secures GnuPG’s future

GnuPG logoWhen it comes to encryption, GnuPG is the de facto standard implementation of the PGP standard. Any private individual currently encrypting their emails is almost always using a software package that has GnuPG under its bonnet. Since the middle of December GnuPG’s main developer has been collecting donations to enable financing of his work on the software. This was going rather slowly until last Thursday, when, helped by media reports of the project’s plight, main GnuPG Werner Koch and his fellow developers succeeded in raising the required €120,000 within one day, German IT news site heise reports.

The software’s development will therefore be fully financed for the current year for the first time. In addition, Facebook and payment processor Stripe have both stated their readiness to subsidise its development with $50,000 per year each and The Linux Foundation has given Koch a one-off donation of $60,000. Even the German Federal Office for Security & Information Technology (Bundesamt für Sicherheit in der Informationstechnik – BSI) is intending to support the GnuPG project. This was announced via German computer periodical c’t. It is believed the BSI has given the project similar support in the past.

Explaining its decision, Facebook stated:

We think it’s important to have a diverse family of software that can stand the test of time, and this is a great opportunity to support such a project. GnuPG was started 17 years ago, and we hope it keeps improving for years to come.

What the case of GnuPG illustrates is the fragility of many open source software projects; lots of packages are maintained and developed by very dedicated people relying on sporadic, inadequate funding and often working in their free time. Furthermore, many projects rely on very few developers. What would happen to some vital software packages should – heaven forbid – the developer gets run over by a bus?

OpenStack Debian image available

OpenStack logoDebian developer Thomas Goirand has announced on his blog that a Debian disk image of the free and open source OpenStack cloud computing software platform is now available from

Thomas writes:

About a year and a half after I started writing the openstack-debian-images package, I’m very happy to announce to everyone that, thanks to Steve McIntyre’s help, the official OpenStack Debian image is now generated at the same time as the official Debian CD ISO images. If you are a cloud user, if you use OpenStack on a private cloud, or if you are a public cloud operator, then you may want to download the weekly build of the OpenStack image from here:

Note that for the moment, there’s only the amd64 arch available, but I don’t think this is a problem: so far, I haven’t found any public cloud provider offering anything else than Intel 64 bits arch. Maybe this will change over the course of this year, and we will need arm64, but this can be added later on.

Now, for later plans: I still have 2 bugs to fix on the openstack-debian-images package (the default 1GB size is now just a bit too small for Jessie, and the script exits with zero in case of error), but nothing that prevents its use right now. I don’t think it will be a problem for the release team to accept these small changes before Jessie is out.

When generating the image, Steve also wants to generate a sources.tar.gz containing all the source packages that we include on the image. He already has the script (which is used as a hook script when running the build-openstack-debian-image script), and I am planning to add it as a documentation in /usr/share/doc/openstack-debian-images.

Last, probably it would be a good idea to install grub-xen, just as Ian Campbell suggested to make it possible for this image to run in AWS or other Xen based clouds. I would need to be able to test this though. If you can contribute with this kind of test, please get in touch.

Feel free to play with all of this, and customize your Jessie images if you need to. The script is (on purpose) very small (around 400 lines of shell script) and easy to understand (no function, it’s mostly linear from top to bottom of the file), so it is also very easy to hack, plus it has a convenient hook script facility where you can do all sorts of things (copying files, apt-get install stuff, running things in the chroot, etc.).

Again, thanks so much to Steve for working on using the script during the CD builds. This feels me with joy that Debian finally has official images for OpenStack.

Here at Bristol Wireless, we’re great lovers and supporters of Debian GNU/Linux, with many of our volunteers using it or its derivatives as their operating systems of choice. :)

City Council and Bristol Uni to develop high-performance, high-speed network

image of fibre-optic cableThe first joint venture between Bristol City Council and the University of Bristol has been announced (press release). In a move to combine University research and advanced technology with council owned infrastructure, the company will develop an innovative high-performance, high-speed network in Bristol.

The company, known as Bristol Is Open, will be established by the collaboration between both organisations, subject to it being approval by the council’s Cabinet on 3rd February.

This new initiative will create an experimental high-speed network where technology companies, research organisations and SMEs will be able to develop and experiment with the next generation of network technology, whilst creating a real-world testbed to help understand issues such as mobility, health and energy efficiency in the modern city.

With funding secured from the ​Department of Culture, Media and Sport and Innovate UK, Bristol Is Open will seek to capture information about many aspects of city life, including energy, air quality and traffic flows. This is made possible by a unique City Operating System (CityOS), developed over the last five years by Professor Dimitra Simeonidou and colleagues in the University’s High Performance Networks research group.

Whether the CityOS mentioned above is any relation to the CityOS developed by Marc Pous is currently unknown. Perhaps either the city council or the University would care to provide clarification in the comments below.

If approved, Bristol Is Open will enable the trialling of new technologies in a range of industries including broadcasting, entertainment and culture (is culture an industry? Ed.. The project will also benefit the development of autonomous systems, robotics and advanced manufacturing in Bristol.

Stephen Hilton, Director of the council’s Bristol Futures team, said: “The coming together of the city council and the university in this historic joint venture is an opportunity for Bristol to offer the country a platform to face the difficulties of modern urban living head on. Growing city populations, climate change and scarcer resources are but a few of the growing problems cities face from Bristol to Bordeaux to Porto. Bristol Is Open will provide a test bed that enables researchers, companies and organisations from around the country to come together in the spirit of innovation, with the aim of exploring solutions on a city wide scale.”

Professor Nishan Canagarajah, Pro Vice-Chancellor for Research at the University of Bristol, added: “Bristol Is Open will enable the people of Bristol to interact, work and play with their city. The project is a unique opportunity for the University and city council to work together to ensure the city is at the forefront of technological innovation.

“The University has invested £12 million in its Advanced Computing facilities since 2006, making it one of the country’s leading centres and its supercomputer is a resource for the whole city.”

New FSFE stickers explain cloud computing, simply

As with all other fields of human activity, IT is not immune from fads and fashion.

One of the recent fads has been for so-called cloud computing.

Wikipedia describes cloud computing (often truncated to just the cloud. Ed.) as follows:

Cloud computing is a recently evolved computing terminology or metaphor based on utility and consumption of computing resources. Cloud computing involves deploying groups of remote servers and software networks that allow centralized data storage and online access to computer services or resources. Clouds can be classified as public, private or hybrid.

However, almost from the outset, cloud computing has been heavily criticised by free software advocates such as the Free Software Foundation’s founder, Richard Stallman.

The latest effort to counteract the cloud computing hype comes from the Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE), which has just produced a sticker that tells the simple truth about the cloud.

sticker reading there is no cloud just other people's computers

That’s right! Other people’s computers, although in this case the people or persons are likely to be juridical persons, i.e. corporations.

The stickers can be ordered from the FSFE (scroll down until you find them) and a small donation to its work would be appreciated in return.

Originally posted on the author’s own blog.

The City of Munich joins The Document Foundation Advisory Board

TDF logoIt’s been announced that the City of Munich has joined the Advisory Board of The Document Foundation (TDF) the non-profit foundation steering the development of LibreOffice, the leading free and open source office productivity suite.

On the TDF’s Advisory Board, Munich’s city council will be represented by Florian Haftmann.

Limux iconBack in 2003, the city of Munich – the capital of Bavaria and Germany’s third largest city – launched the LiMux Project to migrate their software systems from closed-source, proprietary products to free and open-source software. The project was successfully completed in late 2013. The City of Munich has hosted a LibreOffice HackFest since 2011 to improve LibreOffice’s features aimed at enterprise environments.

“The city of Munich is a healthy reference for every migration to free software and as such will add a significant value to our Advisory Board, where it will seat side by side with MIMO, representing the migration to LibreOffice of French Ministries, and with other companies providing value added services on top of LibreOffice,” says Thorsten Behrens, Chairman of The Document Foundation. “Doctor Florian Haftmann will be introduced to other members of TDF Advisory Board during next planned meeting, on January 15, 2015.”

With Munich’s addition, the TDF Advisory Board now has 17 members: AMD, CIB Software, City of Munich, CloudOn, Collabora, FrODeV (Freies Office Deutschland), FSF (Free Software Foundation), Google, Intel, ITOMIG, KACST (King Abdulaziz City of Science and Technology, Saudi Arabia), Lanedo, MIMO (Consortium of French Ministries), RedHat, SPI (Software in the Public Interest), Studio Storti and SUSE.

Introducing the Tegra K1 Linux mini PC

Liliputing reports that leading Hong Kong electronics manufacturer PC Partner has introduced a small form-factor computer with a fanless case that measures 5″ x 5″ x 1.8″. Its model number is the N2581N1-F and it is powered by NVIDIA’s Tegra K1 quad-core processor with 192-core Kepler graphics.

image of n258n1-f

It’s currently on sale in Japan and may be marketed in the USA later as the ZBOX N258N1-Q.

The specifications of this wee box are: 2GB of RAM, 16GB of storage, HDMI and Ethernet jacks, two USB 3.0 ports, two USB 2.0 ports, microphone and headphone jacks, an SD card reader and a serial port.

The machine also runs a special version of Linux developed specifically for Tegra processors.

Will this little PC ever be marketed in the UK?