Links for November 27th

Boots’ cynical stance on homeopathy

There's something of a backlash taking place online against Boots today, after their professional standards director Paul Bennett admitted before a parliamentary committee yesterday that the chain sell homeopathic remedies because they sell, even though they know there is no scientific evidence that they actually work.

National papers involved in a conspiracy of silence

[W]hy, I wonder, was The Guardian the only national paper to report on the fact that former News of the World football reporter Matt Driscoll was awarded almost £792,736 for unfair dismissal and disability discrimination by an employment tribunal?

The Guardian story appeared online on Monday night and in Tuesday's morning's paper. It was covered by the Press Gazette. It was reported on a lawyer's website. There were also mentions on various blogs[…].

But this record payout – believed to be the largest award of its kind in the media – was not considered to be newsworthy enough for any national to mention.

Yet it must surely be in the public interest for people to know about misbehaviour by Britain's best-selling newspaper

‘Aggressive’ policing of protests condemned in post-G20 inquiry

Senior police officers could lose the consent of the British public unless they abandon misguided approaches to public protests that are considered "unfair, aggressive and inconsistent", an inquiry has found.

Denis O'Connor, the chief inspector of constabulary, used a landmark report into public order policing to criticise heavy-handed tactics, which he said threatened to alienate the public and infringe the right to protest.

The report, published today, called for a softening of the approach and urged a return to the "British model" of policing, first defined by 19th-century Conservative prime minister Sir Robert Peel. O'Connor advocated an "approachable, impartial, accountable style of policing based on minimal force and anchored in public consent".

The initial reaction from protest groups was positive. A lawyer from environmental organisation Climate Camp […] described the findings as a "huge step forward".

Chumby One: handsome successor to the cutest computer ever

The Chumby One — the successor to the incredibly innovative Chumby device — is just about ready to ship, and is available for $99. Chumby is a cute, squeezable hand-held device that is wide open — everything from the circuit board designs to the software is open-licensed and freely downloadable. The idea is to produce an adorable, versatile device that any hacker, anywhere, can improve, so that all Chumby owners can get more out of it.

Activists repeatedly stopped and searched as police officers ‘mark’ cars

The roads were empty when Linda Catt and her father drove their white Citroën Berlingo into London on a quiet Sunday morning. They could not have known they were being followed.

But at 7.23am on 31 July 2005, the van had passed beneath an automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) camera in east London, triggering an alert: "Of interest to Public Order Unit, Sussex police". Within seconds Catt, 50, and her 84-year-old father, John, were apprehended by police and searched under the Terrorism Act.

After filing a complaint, the pair, neither of whom have criminal records, discovered that four months earlier, a Sussex police officer had noticed their van "at three protest demonstrations" and decided, apparently on that basis, it should be tracked.

Murdoch-Microsoft deal in the works

Microsoft is ready to pay Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. to remove its news content from Google, according to the Financial Times. Microsoft has also approached other "big online publishers" with similar deals.

"One website publisher approached by Microsoft said that the plan 'puts enormous value on content if search engines are prepared to pay us to index with them",' wrote the FT's Matthew Garrahan. "… Microsoft's interest is being interpreted as a direct assault on Google because it puts pressure on the search engine to start paying for content."

This he calls a "ray of light to the newspaper industry."

Dirt can be good for children, say scientists

Children should be allowed to get dirty, according to scientists who have found being too clean can impair the skin's ability to heal.

Normal bacteria living on the skin trigger a pathway that helps prevent inflammation when we get hurt, the US team discovered.

The bugs dampen down overactive immune responses that can cause cuts and grazes to swell, they say.

Their work is published in the online edition of Nature Medicine.

Protests grow over digital bill

The Digital Economy bill has sparked a wave of protest among consumers and rights groups.

Soon after the bill began its journey through Parliament on 19 November, many expressed worries about parts of it.

The bill suggests the use of technical measures to tackle illegal file-sharing that could involve suspending the accounts of persistent pirates.

Critics fear this and other powers the bill reserves could damage the UK's growing digital economy.

BBC iPlayer launches Wii channel

The BBC iPlayer is relaunching on the Nintendo Wii in the form of a dedicated Wii channel on 18 November.

Only consoles with a broadband connection in the UK will be able to run the channel.

To get the service, Wii owners will be able to download it from the console's online shop for free.

Australia mulls Scientology probe

The Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, has said he will consider calls for a parliamentary inquiry into the Church of Scientology.

But he said the evidence must be looked at carefully before proceeding.

Senator Nick Xenophon launched a scathing attack on Scientology, citing letters from former followers alleging extensive criminal activity.

Scientology spokesman Cyrus Brooks said the senator's attack had been an abuse of parliamentary proceedings.

Senator Xenophon tabled seven letters from former Scientologists who he said were willing to co-operate with New South Wales and Australian federal police.

"The letters received by me which were written by former followers in Australia, contain extensive allegations of crimes and abuses which are truly shocking," he said

Apocalypse Then: a two-part series on the lessons of Y2K

In 1993, a tech consultant named Peter de Jager wrote an article for Computerworld with the headline "Doomsday 2000." When the clock struck midnight on 1/1/00, he wrote, many of our computers would lose track of the date, and very bad things would happen as a result.

Looking back, De Jager's article is remarkable for its pessimism. He interviewed several IT experts who said the tech industry was completely ignoring the computer-date bug. Many didn't think it was a real problem, and those who did felt no pressure to do anything about it—after all, the year 2000 was a long way away. "I have spoken at association meetings and seminars, and when I ask for a show of hands of people addressing the problem, the response is underwhelming," de Jager wrote. "If I get one in 10 respondents, I'm facing an enlightened group."

But then something strange happened: Everyone started worrying about Y2K.

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