24th > February > 2007 Archive
CommentComment Dick Cheney has torpedoed his own administration's attempts to flip its rhetoric on climate change. In a TV interview in Australia, the Vice President parroted a stance against the scientific consensus on global warming which is well past its use by date, even among his colleagues. INTERVIEWER: But what's your sense, where is the science on this? Is global warming a fact? And is it human activity that is causing global warming? CHENEY: Those are the two key questions. I think there's an emerging consensus that we do have global warming. You can look at the data on that, and I think clearly we're in a period of warming. Where there does not appear to be a consensus, where it begins to break down, is the extent to which that's part of a normal cycle versus the extent to which it's caused by man, greenhouse gases, et cetera. The gaffe comes less than two weeks after this White House made an embarrassingly ham-fisted attempt to rewrite its history on the issue. The administration's long-standing fence perch became flat out silly with the release of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) latest assessment earlier this month. The comprehensive assessment of the science behind the issue concluded our influence was very likely responsible for observed global warming. In the US, it was received by media as the cast iron rod they needed to beat the administration's equivocations, sending Bush spinners into crisis management mode. Their open letter got them into even more hot water with its blatant revisionism. The last time George W. Bush made comments similar to Cheney's, suggesting there is a debate around the cause of global warming, was in June last year, when he said: "I have said consistently that global warming is a serious problem. There is a debate over whether it's manmade or naturally caused." You wouldn't catch him saying that now, but Cheney's latest denial of the scientific consensus should leave no doubt - despite hopes expressed in Europe - that the policy stance on global warming won't be changed until the moving trucks roll up in January 2009. ®
A US scientist has discovered that medieval Islamic ceramic designs demonstrate their makers' understanding of "quasicrystalline geometry" - something modern mathematicians only "figured out" in the last 20 or 30 years. That's according to Harvard's Peter Lu, who normally designs physics experiments for the International Space Station, but spotted an interesting decagonal motif tile design on a 16th Century building in Uzbekistan. The pattern (see pic in BBC article here) shows "rotational symmetry yet lacks translational symmetry", as Science puts it, and "echoes quasicrystalline geometry in that both use symmetrical polygonal shapes to create patterns that can be extended indefinitely". Lu said: "It's absolutely stunning. They made tilings that reflect mathematics that were so sophisticated that we didn't figure it out until the last 20 or 30 years." Lu's study, published in Science, challenges the belief that "the complicated star-and-polygon patterns of Islamic design were conceived as zigzagging lines drafted using straightedge rulers and compasses". Lu added: "You can go through and see the evolution of increasing geometric sophistication. So they start out with simple patterns, and they get more complex." ®
Primary schools in Glasgow are to receive new computer equipment and support services under an ICT managed service contract
The man behind an UK-based online employment agency has been found guilty of ripping off workers and ordered to pay £20,000. Adrian Farmer's lawyers say he may have to sell his house to pay the penalties. Farmer was found guilty of charging workers £124 each for falsely claiming that he was able to find them work abroad. He did this while banned from operating an employment agency. He was banned in 2003 for 10 years. The case began with an investigation by the Employment Agency, a part of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI). A Welsh Magistrates' Court found him guilty last year of operating the recruitment website while banned by the DTI. Farmer was found guilty of breaking the Employment Agencies Act, but the DTI requested that sentencing be taken out the hands of the Magistrates Court and carried out by Swansea Crown Court. The DTI said that the Crown Court should consider whether or not to apply the sanctions of the Proceeds of Crime Act. The Court said that Farmer had benefited from the proceeds of crime, and ordered that £20,387.86 be confiscated from Farmer as the proceeds of crime. The Court also imposed a fine of £2,500 in punishment for operating an employment agency while barred from doing so. Compensation will be paid to two workers from the confiscated funds. The Government said that its action was part of a campaign to tackle rogue agencies. "The Government is committed to cracking down on these agents, we have launched a consultation on a package of measures to protect vulnerable agency workers and we are working to ensure that enforcement is targeted where there is risk," said Jim Fitzpatrick, Employment Relations Minister. "This prosecution underlines our message to rogue agents that we will not hesitate to act against any agency that wrongly and wilfully ignores the law or rips off workers," said Fitzpatrick. "It is essential that employment agencies comply with the legislation and the DTI will continue to take whatever action is necessary, including prosecution and prohibition, to protect workers against these illegal practices." Copyright © 2007, OUT-LAW.com OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.
Carson Systems' Future of Web Applications (FOWA) conference returned to London this week with an impressive lineup of speakers – and a very Web 2.0 look at the world.
Intel has kicked off a campaign to make data centres more efficient and less environmentally damaging. Paradoxically, one of its key messages seems to be that companies need to refresh their servers - ie. buy new ones - more often. On the plus side, the company is also promoting the use of server virtualisation to make systems more productive - its target for its own data centres is to increase average server utilisation by 20 per cent.
The newspaper industry has brought its financial troubles on itself, according to the chief executive of Craigslist, the company that has been accused of decimating the newspaper industry's advertising business. Jim Buckmaster told weekly technology law podcast OUT-LAW Radio that his business was not responsible for publishers' problems. He said that a focus on money and profits has in fact damaged their business. "I think it's exaggerated to say that Craigslist has had a devastating impact on classifieds revenue," said Buckmaster. "Newspapers as an industry are still twice as profitable as the average United States industry." Newspapers had a pre-internet monopoly on readers' attention which meant that classified advertising became an extremely profitable part of their business. Since the advent of classified advertising, online margins have been eroded. Since the almost entirely free Craigslist became utterly dominant across the US, publishers say margins have plummeted. "Journalism as practiced at newspapers has been hurt by an excess of money over the years as you've seen newspapers bought and sold and consolidated into large chains run by corporate managers to maximise profit, and increasingly over decades have resorted to running wire stories, putting an ever-greater proportion of advertising into their newspapers and shying away from writing hard-hitting stories about corruption in high places," said Buckmaster. "The financial position of newspapers has not declined, it has more plateaued." Craigslist is run on unique lines. Though it is a company and it does generate profits, the aim of Buckmaster and company founder Craig Newmark is explicitly not to earn money. "Our goal is to maximise utility for users, so we concentrate on doing what users ask us to do and little else. We do want to run a healthy business and we do have a healthy business, but beyond that maximising profits and revenues has never been a primary goal. It's unfathomable to the financial community and Wall Street, it's antithetical to their whole world view, it's sacrilegious." Buckmaster was in the UK to talk about Silicon Valley culture to the Edinburgh University Entrepreneurship Club. His advice to entrepreneurs was to be patient. "Patience was something which put us in a subset of one during the initial internet boom when the emphasis was on trying to grow to great size as quickly as possible by any means possible," he said. "The notion of internet time, everything's moving quickly – we found the contrary, we weren't in any hurry at all and we've never done anything to accelerate the growth in terms of advertising or anything like that." "You don't have to be in a big rush as long as the trend is going in the right direction, and if you keep your costs low it gives you far more flexibility than you otherwise would have," he said. "Once you have outside investors you're not in control of the company and the range of options you'll have will be very circumscribed." While almost all of the commercially minded dotcom companies of the first internet boom went bust having never made a profit, Craigslist has been profitable for seven years, Buckmaster said. It is in the top 10 English language websites by traffic, it serves six billion pages a month to 10 million users, yet it only employs 23 staff. It is those low costs which have kept it in business. "It was fairly ironic, 100 per cent of dotcoms were geared toward trying to achieve an IPO and make a lot of money and 99 per cent or more of those companies went bust without making a nickel," said Buckmaster. "Craigslist was never about money, and yet we were one of the very few that came through the bust and have done well year after year." See: OUT-LAW Radio Copyright © 2007, OUT-LAW.com OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.
The Belgian firm stuck in the middle of a transatlantic spat over the US infringement of civil liberties by the agents of its war on terror is throwing its lot in with the Americans. In open defiance of European privacy officials, the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (Swift), has declared that it has applied to the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for 'safe harbour' protection for the data it holds on US soil. Swift had handed data containing the details of private international financial transactions to US terrorist finance investigators under a secret arrangement since late 2001. Since the transfers came to light last June, Europe's data protection authorities have declared that Swift is a data controller and, as such, it should take responsibility for the privacy of the data it administers for its banking clients. Swift claims it is not a controller, but a mere processor and cannot be held responsible for what European authorities say is the illegal transfer of data to US Treasury agents. A Swift spokesman told The Register: "We are working on what the Americans call safe harbour to make SWIFT comply with EU legislation - that is a process Swift has started with the US government." "We have received confirmation that we come under the distinction of the FTC and we are therefore eligible for safe harbour," he said. "The reason we are doing this is to address the claims from the data protection commissioners that Swift is a controller of the data. Our interpretation of the law was that we are a processor," he said. Another point of contention between Swift and the European authorities is whether it is a financial organisation. Swift maintains that it a mere messaging service, as it only handles messages that facilitate the international transactions of banks. Hence, it can apply for safe harbour. If the FTC has indeed told Swift it is eligible for safe harbour protection, that could imply that it also accepts its assertion that it is a mere messaging service - financial institutions are not eligible for safe harbour. Yet the Europeans maintain that Swift a financial institution. Accordingly, the spokesman said this was a "really, really complex" legal matter -it's like splitting hairs in four". An officer of one of the European data protection offices said he knew that Swift was considering safe harbour, but that it wouldn't be enough to satisfy the authorities: "Safe harbour makes data safe once it's transferred, but it doesn't make the transfer legitimate." According to European regulators, the only way for Swift to avoid infringing data protection law would be to pull its data out of the US. Meanwhile, both sides insist they want to work together to find a solution and they are pinning their hopes on the US and EU agreeing an overarching instrument that would satisfy both anti-terror investigators on the West-side of the pond and data protection wonks on the East. The FTC was not available for comment.®