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Bristol student co-author on paper at Warsaw cryptography conference

photo of Sophie StevensBristol University reports that one of its students is co-author on a paper to be presented at The Theory of Cryptography Conference (TCC-2015), one of the world’s top cryptography conferences being held in Warsaw this week between 23rd and 25th March.

Sophie Stevens, a mathematics undergraduate, is co-author on the paper “Key-Homomorphic Constrained Pseudorandom Functions” with colleagues from Georgia Tech University in the United States and the Institute of Science and Technology (IST) in Austria. Sophie contributed to the paper during a summer internship at IST under the supervision of Krzysztof Pietrzak. The paper has other connections to Bristol since another co-author, Georg Fuchsbauer, is a former member of staff from the University’s Department of Computer Science.

The paper presents constructions of a family of functions, indexed by a key, which look like they produce random outputs, but for which one can “add” the keys to two functions to obtain another function in the family. The constructions are mainly based on an old area of mathematics arising from the geometry of numbers. Recent years have seen an increasing number of applications of such functions to construct cryptographic schemes with special properties.

Professor Nigel Smart, Head of Bristol University’s Cryptography group,remarked: “It is no mean feat to have a paper accepted at the TCC conference. Many cryptographers, including myself, have never had a paper at this conference. For Sophie to accomplish this at such a young age shows she has a glittering career in front of her.”

Slow progress to superfast broadband

image of fibre optic cableThe small village of Adderley sits just inside north Shropshire, barely a mile from the Cheshire border. Nothing has really changed there for years (the chief scribe grew up nearby. Ed.). And for the last 6 years, residents have been frustrated by slow local broadband speeds.

However, there’s now been one major change.

Saturday’s Shropshire Star reported that Adderley has now been hooked up to ‘superfast’ broadband, usually classified in UK as anything over 24 Mbps.

According to the Star, the average download speed in Adderley has increased from 0.45 Mbps previously to nearly 59 Mbps.

The village’s new connectivity was provided under a scheme provided by a partnership called Connecting Shropshire, comprising Shropshire Council and BT.

While villagers are absolutely delighted with their new fast connectivity, the effort to get the village connected was stuck firmly in the slow lane: it’s taken the village more than 6 years to get better broadband speeds.

This is not the first time that there has been criticism of the slow and expensive roll-out of decent broadband to rural areas (news passim).

Moreover, back in autumn 2014 campaigners running the Shropshire and Marches Campaign for Better Rural Broadband severed ties with Connecting Shropshire (news passim).

More on open standards at Bristol City Council

The Secretary has just blogged again about Bristol City Council and open standards on account of fresh information that came to light over the weekend.

It is reproduced verbatim below:

Following the post on Friday on Bristol City Council‘s response to my open standards FoI request (posts passim), more information has come to light.

It was all sparked by a discussion on Twitter between myself and Alex, a leading member of the Bristol & Bath Linux Users’ Group (BBLUG).

It all revolved around what was really meant by the phrase “not fully digital” in respect of PDF files.

My speculation was that if text documents are scanned, these are usually converted to image-based PDFs with which the screen readers used by blind and visually impaired people can have problems.

It turned out this was a good point, but not the real reason.

The latter was supplied by Gavin Beckett, BCC’s Chief Enterprise Architect, who actually responded to my FoI request. It seems Gavin’s main reason for describing PDFs as “not fully digital” is that PDF is basically an attempt to make electronic files emulate paper. The move by the council away from PDF to HTML when responding to citizens is that more mobile devices (tablets and smartphones) are now being used by the public to communicate with the local authority and the latter wishes to provide the same – i.e. “fully digital” experience to all.

Finally Gavin promised to follow up with his colleagues my gripe about using MS formats for responding to FOI requests. He conceded this was one example where PDF would be better.

Open standards at Bristol City Council

Bristol Wireless’ secretary has just published the post below on his blog concerning his recent Freedom of Information Act request to Bristol City Council on the local authority’s use of open standards:

A response has been received today to my FoI request to Bristol City Council on open standards (posts passim).

The reply was received in a record 10 working days and reads as follows:

Bristol City Council has been a long-term supporter of open standards wherever possible. We have frequently voluntarily adopted national government policy on open standards and open source, recognising the benefits of this approach.

We adopted StarOffice in 2005 and moved to the Open Document Format as our standard for office productivity files at the point it was incorporated in the StarOffice / products. We had to move to Microsoft Office in 2010 due to the lack of standards support in the local government applications market, partly due to the fact that national government policy was not mandated at local level and therefore did not have the desired effects on the document standards context. However we retained the ability to create, open and collaborate on ODF by implementing LibreOffice alongside Microsoft Office on all council PCs. Therefore we are already capable of using ODF to collaborate on government documents.

In terms of publishing government documents to citizens, we have historically used PDF, but are now attempting to replace all information, advice and guidance, and application forms with fully digital services. Over time this will replace old PDF documents with HTML. If there are documents that meet a user need to download and read offline, we can produce PDF/A format from the open source PDF Creator software that is also available on every council PC.

I’m very pleased to note that BCC has LibreOffice installed on every council machine. They kept that quiet! Perhaps they’ll use it to send me replies to my FoI requests in future instead of the propensity to use MS Office formats. But just to make sure, I’ll include a plea for a reply in an open format in all my future requests. 🙂

Read the original FoI request and response on WhatDoTheyKnow.

City of Light makes enlightened move

Paris coat of armsThe City of Paris has become a member of April, the leading French free and open source advocacy organisation. Making the announcement, April reported that the council wants to intensify its commitment in favour of free and open source.

Following a resolution in December 2014 from the council’s Green group and subsequent negotiations conducted by Emmanuel Grégoire, the Assistant Mayor in charge of administrative modernisation, the city council consented had endorsed the city’s membership of April.

A city council press release points out that “Paris is already very involved in the development, promotion and defence of free software. For its own use, it already avails itself of many free tools: 60% of its servers run GNU/Linux. The city is also developing software for [such tasks as] the drafting and awarding of public contracts, managing city council meetings, professional competitions and examinations which it then donates into the public realm.” It has also developed the Lutèce free software package which runs its website.

Emmanuel Grégoire stated, “I am very please that our free Lutèce software is now being widely used by major institutions, in particular the City of Marseille and Météo France,” and stressed that “Paris is going to intensify its commitment to free software within April.”

For its part April is pleased to have the City of Paris amongst its 4,200 members. “This membership not only confirms the commitment of the City of Paris to free software, but also the fact that it acknowledges the interest in strengthening the free software movement in which April has been playing a major role since 1996,” declared April president Jean-Christophe Becquet.

And the City of Light? The region was occupied by a tribe called the Parisii when the Romans conquered the Paris basin in 52 BC. After making the Ile de la Cité (where Notre Dame now stands) a garrison camp, the Romans began extending their settlement in a more permanent way to Paris’ Left Bank. The Gallo-Roman town was originally called Lutetia (“City of Light”) and more fully, Lutetia Parisiorum (“Lutetia of the Parisii”).

Somerset villages to get satellite internet connection

satellite antenna for internet accessLuxembourg-based satellite operator SES has announced that its Astra Connect for Communities solution will be used in a UK government-funded market test pilot (MTP) project to assess which technologies and commercial models are best suited to provide superfast broadband (download speeds of at least 24 Mbps. Ed.) to the final 5% of UK households that would not have broadband access otherwise. SES is working with UK ISP Satellite Internet to provide satellite broadband to the Somerset villages of Simonsbath and Luxborough on Exmoor, each of which has around 200 residents.

The villages will be equipped with a satellite distribution node (SDN) and a WiFi head-end providing residents with internet speeds of up to 25 Mbps. A feasibility study for the project has already been carried out and the deployment in Luxborough started in January.

Further installations in Somerset are due to take place later this year.

Auntie to give away 1 mn. ‘Micro Bit’ computers

Readers of more mature years will remember the BBC Micro, which was launched in the early 1980s. It was originally designed and built by the Acorn Computer company for the BBC’s then Computer Literacy Project. This machine is reputed to have inspired many of the UK’s leading programmers and games developers.

News now arrives via Endgadget that the BBC is to give away one million ‘Micro Bit’ computers (which it is currently developing. Ed.) to schoolchildren.

a prototype of the Micro Bit
A prototype of the Micro Bit

This move comes in the first year of computer coding being added to the school curriculum (news passim).

The hardware will consist of a small, standalone device with an LED display that children can carry around with them and plug into a computer to continue their work. The hardware will be basic, what the BBC refers to as a “starting point” that will enable them to move onto more sophisticated devices, such as the Arduino or the Linux-based Raspberry Pi.

Although the project is still in a prototype phase, Auntie claims it’ll be ready to give away one million of these new devices to year 7 (age 11-12 years) schoolchildren this autumn.

See the BBC’s dedicated Micro Bit page for more details.

GnuPG can now employ second developer

GnuPG logoGnuPG, the most important free encryption program, will in future be developed by two paid employees, German IT news site heise reports. After a flood of donations he has been able to employ a second developer, programmer Werner Koch stated in a blog post. “The financial crisis of The GnuPG Project is over”, he wrote.

Koch had previously developed the software virtually on his own and was experiencing financial hardship due to insufficient donations. Many supporters came forward after a report in the media: Koch said that on the first day alone €120,000 in donations was received (news passim). Internet companies Facebook and Stripe and The Linux Foundation also supported Koch with large donations. Amongst other things, Koch wants to improve the program’s operation with the donations.

GnuPG is the major free cryptography system. It builds upon the PGP (“Pretty Good Privacy”) encryption program developed by Phil Zimmermann. E-mail messages and other content can be protected with it so that only the sender and recipient can decrypt them. GnuPG’s system software has from time to time been developed and maintained by Koch on hos own. Other initiatives will attend to the user interface and extensions for email programs with which users can encrypt their emails.

Originally posted on the author’s own blog.

Wikimedia Foundation takes NSA to court

image of scales of justiceThe Wikimedia blog reports that yesterday the Wikimedia Foundation filed suit against the US National Security Agency (NSA) and the Department of Justice (DOJ). The lawsuit challenges the NSA’s mass surveillance programme and more specifically its large-scale search and seizure of internet communications — frequently referred to as “upstream” surveillance. The Foundation’s aim in filing this suit is to end the mass surveillance programme in order to protect the rights of the Foundation’s users around the world. It has been joined in the suit by eight other organisations (National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International USA, Pen American Center, Global Fund for Women, The Nation Magazine, The Rutherford Institute and the Washington Office on Latin America) and represented by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The full complaint can be found here (PDF).

“We’re filing suit today on behalf of our readers and editors everywhere,” said Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia. “Surveillance erodes the original promise of the internet: an open space for collaboration and experimentation, and a place free from fear.”

Privacy is the bedrock of individual freedom. It’s a universal right that sustains the freedoms of expression and association. These principles enable inquiry, dialogue and creation and are central to Wikimedia’s vision of empowering everyone to share in the sum of all human knowledge. When they are endangered, the Wikimedia Foundation’s mission is threatened. If people look over their shoulders before searching, pause before contributing to controversial articles or refrain from sharing verifiable but unpopular information, Wikimedia and the world are poorer for it.

The Foundation’s case challenges the NSA’s use of upstream surveillance conducted under the authority of the 2008 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Amendments Act (FAA). Upstream surveillance taps the internet’s “backbone” to capture communications with “non-U.S. persons”. The FAA authorises the collection of such communications if they fall into the broad category of “foreign intelligence information”; this includes nearly any information that could be construed as relating to national security or foreign affairs. The programme casts a vast net and consequently captures communications that are not connected to any “target”, or may be entirely domestic. This includes communications by the Foundation’s users and staff.

The NSA has interpreted the FAA as offering it free rein to define threats, identify targets and monitor people, platforms and infrastructure with little regard for probable cause or proportionality. Wikimedia believes that the NSA’s current practices far exceed the already broad authority granted by the US Congress through the FAA. In addition, it believes such practices violate the US Constitution’s First Amendment (protection of freedom of speech and association) and the Fourth Amendment, which protects against unreasonable search and seizure.

In addition, the Wikimedia Foundation believes that the NSA’s practices and limited judicial review of those practices violate Article III of the US Constitution, which relates to the judicial system. A specialized court, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), hears matters related to foreign intelligence requests, including surveillance. Under US law the role of the courts is to resolve “cases” or “controversies”, not to issue advisory opinions or interpret theoretical situations. In the context of upstream surveillance, FISC proceedings are not “cases” since there are no opposing parties and no actual “controversy” at stake as FISC merely reviews the legality of the government’s proposed procedures. According to the Foundation this is the kind of advisory opinion that Article III was intended to restrict.

In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court dismissed a previous challenge to the FAA, Amnesty v. Clapper, because the parties in that case were found to lack “standing”. Standing is an important legal concept requiring a party to show that they’ve suffered some kind of harm in order to file a lawsuit. The 2013 mass surveillance disclosures included a slide from a classified NSA presentation that made explicit reference to Wikipedia, using the Foundation’s global trademark. Because these disclosures revealed that the government specifically targeted Wikipedia and its users, Wikipedia believes it has more than sufficient evidence to establish standing.

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?

Britain’s Superfast Broadband Future – pure fantasy?

image of fibre optic cableIn December 2010, 7 months after it assumed power, the UK’s coalition government issued a document (PDF) entitled Britain’s Superfast Broadband Future.

In that document’s introduction, the then Culture Minister Jeremy Hunt and Minister for Culture Communications & the Creative Industries Ed Vaizey stated:

Broadband is one of our top priorities. We took office earlier this year with a clear vision of what we want for Britain – we should have the best superfast broadband network in Europe by 2015.

With a general election due in May this year and it also being the start of 2015, the target year in Britain’s Superfast Broadband Future, it is perhaps an appropriate time to see how well the government has done in meeting its target of having the best superfast broadband network in Europe.

Firstly we need to discover some facts about broadband generally in Europe.

According to Eurostat, broadband penetration in European countries varies from a high of 95% in the Netherlands to a low of 56% in Bulgaria. The percentage of broadband penetration in UK – at 88% – ranks the country amongst the leaders in the EU.

Broadband penetration in Europe according to Eurostat
Broadband penetration in Europe. Source: Eurostat

So far, so good.

Let’s have a look at broadband speeds.

In 2014 Ofcom released a report entitled European Broadband Scorecard (PDF), according to which UK is well on its way to achieving the government’s target of having “the best broadband network in Europe by 2015“, although only if you compare the UK with four major countries, i.e. France, Italy, Germany and Spain.

Commenting on Ofcom’s report, PCPro UK states:

That is, perhaps, a little convenient, as others report that the UK is well down the league tables. Akamai has long been producing international broadband speed comparisons. Its latest report from Q3 2013 put the UK in 14th place globally and 9th in Europe, with an average download speed of 9.1 Mbits/sec.

The Netherlands once again leads the way with an average speed of 12.5 Mbits/sec, according to Akamai – although to be fair to Ofcom, the UK is ahead of the other four major European economies it’s comparing us against.

14th worldwide and 9th in Europe would seem to be a long way from having “the best broadband network in Europe by 2015“, adding yet another to the long list of coalition government failures to meet its targets.

Developments on the ground also seem to confirm that the government will not be anywhere near its aspiration by the time of the general election in May.

Writing in The Guardian, Loz Kaye of the Pirate Party UK draws attention to the abysmal “broadband” speeds on his home patch of Manchester.

Newly built flats right next to fibre cable suffer internet download speeds between the averages for Burkina Faso and Benin.

Loz assures your correspondent that he can provide sources to back up that statement.

Furthermore, the local media abound with stories of problems with the deployment of so-called “superfast” broadband in rural areas under the BDUK banner, some of which from the Shropshire Star and the Western Daily Press. Indeed, in the latter instance the roll-out of rural broadband was denounced as a “scam“. In addition to allegations of being a scam, the BDUK scheme was rebranded in the second half of 2014, a fact which did not escape the ISP Review:

A small but interesting change has recently happened to some of the Government’s official Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) documentation, which until recently was frequently and perhaps somewhat misleadingly still being described as the “Rural Broadband Programme”. The same piece of text has since been amended to read “Superfast Broadband Programme”.

Coupled with the woes of BDUK, there’s also trouble with the broadband connection voucher scheme for businesses. Poor take-up of the scheme prompted its revamping in the autumn, whilst there had been an earlier extension of the scheme to beyond the boundaries of its original 22 local authorities.

At this point it must be admitted that there have been some success stories, but these have occurred mainly beneath the official radar. For instance, there’s B4RN in rural Lancashire, a DIY broadband project providing fibre to the premises at 1,000 Mbits/sec. symmetric for £30 per month.

This brings us nicely to the difference between symmetric and asymmetric connections. The former, offered by B4RN and Bristol Wireless, provides the same speeds for both upload and download. The latter, provided by BT and the majority of ISPs (mostly BT resellers) offer different download and upload speeds.

Both BDUK and the Connection Vouchers scheme refer to “superfast” broadband, a term that needs definition.

One definition the author has seen is up to 300 Mbits/sec.; this compares with a current (2014) average UK speed of 12 Mbits/sec.

In comparison, the definition of “superfast” broadband under the BDUK scheme was originally 24 Mbits/sec., which is merely double the current average speed. It has since been increased to the European definition of 30 Mbits/sec.

However, neither of these 2 speeds looks particularly fast when placed alongside Asian countries like South Korea and Japan, where speeds of 100 Mbits/sec. are not uncommon.

Was the government’s 2010 aspiration for the best broadband network in Europe by 2015 pure fantasy? It does look that way, doesn’t it?