A project to restore early flight simulators has won an award for the best computer conservation project.
Engineers from the TechWorks museum in the US won the Tony Sale award for their work to return three simulation machines to working order.
One of the contraptions, known as the Blue Box, was used to train thousands of pilots during World War Two.
The award honours the life of Tony Sale, who pioneered efforts to remember and recreate historical computers.
“Excellent research, skilled implementation and an impactful result make this a superb example of the power and relevance of computer conservation,” said Martin Campbell-Kelly, who chaired the judging panel from the Computer Conservation Society, which chose the winner.
The Techworks project brought three separate machines back to life:
Techworks director Susan Sherwood said the Blue Box machine, which resembles a small aeroplane, closely mimics real control systems and helped to train “tens of thousands” of military pilots for service in World War Two.
Training involved enclosing pilots in the mocked-up cockpit – shut off from any visual cues.
“It taught them to rely on instruments rather than instincts,” she said.
Restoring the earliest simulator was “challenging” said Ms Sherwood, as it was entirely mechanical, being mounted on four bellows that give the sensation of flight.
Despite its mechanical construction, the machine could effectively recreate challenging conditions, such as rapidly changing wind speeds and directions, to help pilots become familiar with them, said Ms Sherwood.
The later simulators presented other problems and it took “months” to accurately represent the sound and timing of the “wheel screech” heard when a plane touches down.
Such details were key, said Ms Sherwood, to making the simulators as realistic as possible.
The Techworks museum in Binghamton in New York State, was set up to celebrate the industrial and computer connections of the firms around it, said Ms Sherwood.
Link Aviation, which produced the simulators, was situated close by, as was IBM’s first manufacturing plant and – later on – its space science division, which helped with Apollo missions.
Runners-up for the 2018 award included the creation of a “virtual” Colossus computer which exactly mimics the workings of the wartime machine in a web browser, and an Argentine project to restore Clementina – the nation’s first scientific computer.
EE and Virgin Media have been fined £13.3m by the telecoms regulator for overcharging customers wanting to leave broadband and phone contracts early.
Ofcom said customers were left “out of pocket”.
The regulator said around 400,000 EE customers who ended their contracts early were over-billed and paid up to £4.3m too much as a result.
It added almost 82,000 Virgin customers were overcharged by just under £2.8m. However, Virgin said it would appeal.
Gaucho Rasmussen, director of investigations and enforcement at Ofcom, said: “EE and Virgin Media broke our rules by overcharging people who ended their contracts early. Those people were left out pocket and the charges amounted to millions of pounds.”
The fine for Virgin Media was £7m, Ofcom said, with an additional £25,000 for providing incomplete information to the regulator.
Ofcom found that Virgin Media had levied early-exit charges that were higher than customers had agreed to when signing up to their residential contracts. The regulator said this went on for almost a year.
However, Virgin Media said it “strongly disagrees” with Ofcom’s decision and would appeal to the Competition Appeal Tribunal.
“This decision and fine is not justified, proportionate or reasonable. A small percentage of customers were charged an incorrect amount when they ended one or more of their services early and for that we are very sorry,” said Tom Mockridge, chief executive of Virgin Media.
Virgin Media said it had mistakenly overcharged 1.5% of its 5.5 million cable customers between September 2016 and August 2017.
The company has reimbursed or made charity donations covering 99.8% of its overcharging.
EE apologised to customers after it was fined £6.3m following Ofcom’s discovery that over a six-year period the firm did not set out the charges its mobile customers would have to pay if they left their contracts early.
Ofcom said that up to 15 million EE customers faced being over-billed by up to £13.5m as the company had miscalculated early-exit charges. However, not all affected customers had paid these excessive charges as EE had subsequently waived some of them, leaving £4.3m in excessive charges.
A spokesperson for EE said: “We’ve already refunded customers and changed the way we calculate early termination charges, and we will continue to focus on ensuring our policies are clear and fair for all customers.”
However, Ofcom said that £1.6m of the £4.3m of the overcharged fees were yet to be repaid as EE did not have records covering the whole period. Customers who feel they may have been overcharged should contact EE.
Ofcom said the behaviour of both companies made customers less likely to switch provider, which was against its rules.
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We’re just five years away from harnessing almost unlimited power from “miniature suns”, some start-ups say: nuclear fusion reactors that could provide abundant, cheap and clean energy.
In a world of global warming caused by our addiction to fossil fuels, there is an urgent need to find sustainable alternative sources of energy.
If we don’t, the future looks decidedly bleak for millions of people on this planet: water and food shortages leading to famine and war.
Nuclear fusion has long been heralded as a potential answer to our prayers. But it’s always been “thirty years away”, according to the industry joke.
Now several start-ups are saying they can make fusion a commercial reality much sooner.
Nuclear fusion is the merging of atomic nuclei to release masses of energy and it has the potential to address our energy crisis.
It’s the same process that powers the sun, and it’s clean and – relatively – safe. There are no emissions.
But forcing these nuclei – deuterium and tritium, both forms of hydrogen – to fuse together under immense pressure takes huge amounts of energy – more than we’ve managed to get out so far.
Reaching “energy gain”, the point at which we get out more energy than we put in, has been tantalisingly elusive.
Not any more, fusion start-ups say.
“This is the ‘SpaceX moment’ for fusion,” says Christofer Mowry, chief executive of General Fusion, a Canadian company aiming to demonstrate fusion on a commercial scale within the next five years.
“It’s the moment when the maturation of fusion science is combined with the emergence of 21st Century enabling technologies like additive manufacturing and high-temperature superconductors.
“Fusion is no longer ’30 years away’,” he maintains.
The science behind the idea has been proven, says Wade Allison, emeritus professor of physics at Keble College, Oxford. The challenge is more practical.
“The timescale we can’t be sure about, but the basic science is solved and the problems are technical ones to do with materials,” says Prof Allison.
A major challenge is how to build a structure strong enough to contain the plasma – the very high-temperature nuclear soup in which the fusion reactions take place – under the huge pressures required.
Exhaust systems will “have to withstand levels of heat and power akin to those experienced by a spaceship re-entering orbit,” says Prof Ian Chapman, chief executive of the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA),
Robotic maintenance systems will also be needed, as well as systems for breeding, recovering and storing the fuel.
“UKAEA is looking into all these issues, and is building new research facilities at Culham Science Centre near Oxford to work with industry to develop solutions,” says Prof Chapman.
Some private energy firms reckon they are surmounting these practical challenges faster through the use of new materials and technologies.
Oxfordshire-based Tokamak Energy is working on spherical tokamaks or reactors that use high temperature superconductors (HTS) to contain the plasma in a very strong magnetic field.
“High temperature” in the context of this branch of physics means a distinctly chilly -70C or below.
“They’ve been by far the most successful to date,” says Jonathan Carling, the firm’s chief executive.
“A spherical tokamak is a much more efficient topography, and we can drastically improve the compactness and the efficiency. And because it’s smaller, it can be more flexible, and the cost to build is also lower,” he says.
The company has built three tokamaks so far, with the third, ST40, built from 30mm (1.2in) stainless steel and using HTS magnets. This June it achieved plasma temperatures of more than 15 million C – hotter than the core of the sun.
The firm hopes to be hitting 100 million C by next summer – a feat Chinese scientists claim to have achieved this month.
“We expect to have energy gain capability by 2022 and be supplying energy to the grid by 2030,” says Mr Carling.
Meanwhile in the US, MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology] is working with the newly-formed Commonwealth Fusion Systems (CFS) to develop Sparc, a doughnut-shaped tokamak with magnetic fields holding the hot plasma in place.
Funded in part by Breakthrough Energy Ventures, a fund led by Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Michael Bloomberg and other billionaires, the team hopes to develop fusion reactors small enough to be built in factories and shipped for assembly on site.
These private ventures are challenging Iter [International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor], the flagship international fusion project involving 35 countries.
Iter, which also means “the way” in Latin, is building the biggest experimental fusion facility in the world, but it doesn’t expect to fire up until 2025, and any commercial application will come a long way after that.
“Different Iter members have different levels of urgency for using fusion as part of a clean energy future,” a spokesman tells the BBC.
“Some clearly expect to have fusion electricity to the grid before 2050; for others the roadmap is in the second half of this century.”
The new kids on the block think they can do better.
“With the new HTS magnet technology, a net-energy fusion device can be much, much smaller – Sparc would be about one sixty-fourth the volume and mass of Iter,” says Martin Greenwald, deputy director of MIT’s plasma science and fusion centre.
Smaller size means lower costs, leaving the fusion field open to “smaller, more agile organisations”, says Mr Greenwald.
But all parties seem to agree that the work of Iter, Culham and the private sector is complementary.
“In the end, we all share the same dream of fusion-powered electricity as a core part of a clean energy future,” says the Iter spokesman.
“I knew from a young age that I wasn’t the same as the other children,” says Sophie Roberts, a 34-year-old Amazon software manager based in Edinburgh.
“I realised at around 14 or 15 that I was transgender but I wasn’t comfortable at that point in my life in being out about it.”
It was 20 years later that she took the decision to come out at work. Last month, after two years at Amazon, she started coming into the office as Sophie.
She admits she was nervous that her transition would affect her professionally – the tech sector isn’t exactly renowned for its diverse workforce.
But her experience at Amazon may have lessons for other companies big and small.
“I did go into it thinking to myself, ‘Is this going to be a problem?'” she told the BBC.
However, for Sophie, the experience so far has been overwhelmingly positive.
“I’m running the same team, we’re building the same products for our customers and we’re having the same impact.”
After beginning discussions with her site leader and the local human resources team in January 2017, Sophie made her initial announcement by email to 1,000 colleagues in May this year.
She says her colleagues were “surprised, supportive, excited” – and one particular response has stayed with her.
“One of the women who used to work for me, her first email that she sent me was, ‘Congratulations Sophie, I’d like to invite you to join the Amazon Women in Engineering Group.’
“That just happened, and for that to be someone who used to work for me and for that to be her first response – I knew that I belonged there.”
But Sophie credits the company with being a supportive employer.
“Organisations want to help with this,” she says.
“They want it to go well. It’s better for the organisation to have a more diverse workforce, and it’s better for you to be able to live an authentic life.”
The tech giant already had a toolkit in place, designed to answer common questions that staff may have – including an explanation of its bathroom policy (staff can use whichever gender bathroom they identify with) – to take the burden off people like Sophie having to explain the same things over and over again.
Sophie worked with Amazon in the US, and the firm’s LGBT group Glamazon, to adapt the toolkit for the UK.
Glamazon also successfully suggested a change to the internal staff directory, and as a result all individuals can now display the pronoun to which they would like to be referred.
“That was probably the first major thing that I think brought the conversation really into people’s minds,” she says.
“Pronouns are something which people don’t spend a lot of time thinking about but they are incredibly affirming.”
While Sophie had a good experience within a large organisation, this is not always the case, says Dr Jane Hamlin, president of the Beaumont Society, a UK-based support group for transgender people.
“The problems that we hear about tend to be with middle management and work colleagues,” she says.
“Banter and jokes that are not funny for the trans person involved.
“Another time when difficulties can occur for trans people is if they have a public-facing job, receptionists, sales staff etc. Some employers move trans people to back office jobs.”
There can also be issues when changing jobs, Dr Hamlin says, citing an example of a trans woman currently seeking advice because she has applied for a new job and has been asked to supply a birth certificate.
“A trans person can only get a new birth certificate if they have a gender recognition certificate,” she says.
“At the moment this is an intrusive, bureaucratic, slow and expensive process which few trans people have embarked upon for that reason.”
For Sophie, after many months of physical changes, and a name change, her return from a holiday in October seemed like the natural time to come to work as Sophie for the first time.
“I announced in May and I only started presenting as Sophie in October and then we had a lot more conversations which I think was the point where it became a lot more real for people,” she says.
“In terms of my colleagues talking to me, I asked them to talk to me as they would talk to any other colleague.
“Don’t be scared of asking me a question because I am transgender, but also don’t wade into questions that you wouldn’t ask any other colleague.
“So, for example, by all means ask me how my weekend was but don’t necessarily ask me what surgery I’ve had. I think that’s a nice balance.”
The Duke of Cambridge has accused social media firms of being “on the back foot” when dealing with fake news, privacy issues and cyber-bullying.
In a speech given at the BBC, Prince William said social networks had allowed “misinformation and conspiracy to pollute the public sphere”.
“Their self-image is so grounded in their positive power for good that they seem unable to engage in constructive discussion about the social problems they are creating,” he warned.
The prince and the Duchess of Cambridge had been invited to the BBC to try out a new internet safety app.
During their visit, the royal couple met children and their parents who had helped design it.
“The tools that we use to congratulate each other on milestones and successes can also be used to normalise speech that is filled with bile and hate. The websites we use to stay connected can for some create profound feelings of loneliness and inadequacy,” said the Prince in his speech.
The prince said tech firms had a “great deal to learn” on responsibility.
“Social media companies have done more to connect the world than has ever been achieved in human history. Surely you can connect with each other about smart ways to deal with the unintended consequences of these connections,” he said.
“You can reject the false choice of profits over values. You can choose to do good and be successful.”
This is far from the first time The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have spoken out about cyber-bullying.
They launched a taskforce to tackle the problem in June 2016, which involved Facebook, Snapchat and Google among others.
They have returned to the issue since, but this does represent a change of tone.
Rather than focusing on co-operation, this time the prince accused the tech leaders of posturing, being too proud and defensive, and having put their shareholders’ interests above those of their users.
Moreover, the prince said he was “disappointed” that the taskforce he had built had failed to achieve more.
For Facebook in particular, this couldn’t come at a worse time.
The firm has been beset by data breach scandals, claims its products encourage loneliness and depression, and evidence its apps have been used to meddle with elections.
And on Wednesday, the New York Times published a fresh series of claims about dubious backroom tactics as the social network tried to fight back against all the negative publicity.
Chief executive Mark Zuckerberg is expected to personally defend his company’s practices soon.
He has a lot to do to win back the public’s trust.
The BBC is a member of an industry-wide taskforce set up by the prince to tackle cyber-bullying.
After being greeted by excited crowds outside the BBC studios in central London, the royal couple were pictured with BBC director general Tony Hall and the director of BBC Children’s, Alice Webb.
During Thursday’s brief visit, the couple also met young people who wrote and performed a new video for a campaign run by the Prince’s cyber-bullying taskforce.
The campaign, called “Stop, Speak, Support”, involves a national code of conduct for children on what to do if they come across bullying online.
It is not the first time the royal couple have visited the BBC – in 2017 they dropped in on Radio 1 and helped read the UK’s Official Chart with Greg James.
And the Queen visited the BBC in 2013, when she was shown around the main newsroom.
Google-owner Alphabet is giving up the development of bipedal robots after five years.
The company had been developing large industrial robots since it bought two start-ups – Schaft and Boston Dynamics – in 2013.
Its creations won awards and videos of them in action often went viral.
But Alphabet changed its focus and sold Boston Dynamics in 2017. It said it had been unable to sell Schaft and would close the division instead.
In 2013, one of Schaft’s machines won the first round of a rescue robot competition hosted by the Pentagon’s research unit Darpa.
But Alphabet scaled back its ambitions, following the departure of executive Andy Rubin in 2014.
Boston Dynamics was sold to Softbank Group in 2017 and the Japanese company originally agreed to buy Schaft too.
However, the acquisition of Schaft did not go ahead.
“Following Softbank’s decision not to move forward with the Schaft acquisition, we explored many options but ultimately decided to wind down Schaft,” an Alphabet spokeswoman told news site Nikkei Asian Review.
The company said it would help the division’s employees find new jobs either in or outside of Alphabet.
Facebook faces a new controversy over alleged tactics it used to discredit its critics, embarrass rival firms and downplay problems at the company.
The New York Times has published a wide-ranging account of the methods Facebook and a public relations firm used to “deny and deflect” criticism.
The report has led US lawmakers to call for tighter regulation of social networks.
Facebook has denied several of the claims.
The New York Times report claimed Facebook:
The newspaper said PR firm Definers had circulated a document suggesting Mr Soros was the hidden backer of anti-Facebook movement Freedom from Facebook.
The document encouraged journalists to explore the financial connections between anti-Facebook groups and Mr Soros, who is frequently the target of conspiracy theories and anti-Semitic smears.
Mr Soros’s Open Society Foundations said it had not made any grants to support campaigns against Facebook. It said Facebook’s behaviour was “astonishing”.
“Your methods threaten the very values underpinning our democracy,” said its president, Patrick Gaspard.
Responding to the article, Facebook said it had wanted to show that Freedom From Facebook was “not simply a spontaneous grassroots campaign” and that the movement was “supported by a well-known critic of our company”.
It said any suggestion that it had been an anti-Semitic attack was “reprehensible”.
In July, protesters interrupted a House Judiciary Committee hearing where a Facebook executive was giving testimony.
The protesters carried signs showing Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg as two heads of an octopus, wrapping its tentacles around the world.
The New York Times said Facebook had called Jewish civil rights organisation the Anti-Defamation League and asked them to comment on the sign.
Soon after, the ADL posted a statement calling the image an “anti-Semitic trope”.
Facebook has not responded to this claim.
The ADL said it routinely responded to reports of anti-Semitic slurs and evaluated each one appropriately.
According to the New York Times, Facebook executives were angry that its chief information security officer, Alex Stamos, had directed a team to investigate Russian election meddling without approval.
It said Ms Sandberg had been worried that investigating the interference left Facebook “exposed” to legal action.
The company ordered blog posts about election interference to be “less specific”.
The first blog post did not name Russia at all and the company “stalled” disclosing information for weeks.
Facebook said it had not named Russia in a research paper about election meddling because it had felt the US intelligence services were “best placed to determine the source”.
The company said it had never discouraged its security experts from investigating election interference.
The newspaper said Facebook was responsible for dozens of articles criticising Apple and Google for their business practices.
The articles were published on conservative news site NTK Network, which shares staff and offices with PR firm Definers.
While NTK itself does not have a large audience, its articles are often picked up by larger outlets such as Breitbart.
Facebook said Mr Zuckerberg had been clear that he disagreed with Apple chief executive Tim Cook’s criticisms of his company and there had been “no need to employ anyone else” to criticise Apple.
It said Mr Zuckerberg and chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg had been “deeply involved in the fight against false news”.
In February 2018, Ms Sandberg publicly backed new legislation that would hold social networks accountable if they failed to tackle sex trafficking on their platforms.
Other technology companies had been critical of the proposed law.
According to the New York Times, Facebook felt backing the legislation would look positive and would win favour with law-makers.
But Facebook said Ms Sandberg had backed the legislation because “it was the right thing to do”.
After a New York Times article revealed that Facebook had undeclared deals with phone-makers to share user data with them, the company set up focus groups to test how it should react.
One approach it tested was arguing that Google had similar data-sharing deals with phone-makers.
When asked to testify in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Facebook lobbied for the hearing to include a Google representative, the newspaper said.
Google was asked to testify but did not show up. Many of the news headlines of the day focused on Google’s empty chair.
The report also said Facebook had urged staff to use only Android devices, after Apple’s Tim Cook had criticised the social network.
Facebook said it encouraged employees and executives to use Android because “it is the most popular operating system in the world”.
The newspaper also suggested Facebook had struggled to work out how to deal with a post made by Donald Trump in 2015, calling for a ban on Muslim immigration.
“To suggest that the internal debate around this particular case was different from other important free speech issues on Facebook is wrong,” the company said in a blog post.
The Wall Street Journal reported that morale at Facebook had fallen amid the ongoing scrutiny of the company.
It said it had seen an internal survey taken by 29,000 employees that reported only half were “optimistic” about the company’s future, a fall of 32 percentage points from the previous year.
The Open Society Foundations president, Mr Gaspard, said Facebook had used tactics “out of Putin’s playbook” that had “no place in an important debate about the integrity of our elections”.
Democratic congressman David Cicilline said in a post that “Facebook cannot be trusted to regulate itself”.
“Facebook executives will always put their massive profits ahead of the interests of their customers,” he said.
“Congress should get to work enacting new laws to hold concentrated economic power to account.”
Facebook said it had ended its relationship with Definers and had never hidden its work with the consultancy.
Definers has not yet responded to the BBC’s request for comment.
by Rory Cellan-Jones, technology correspondent
We knew that Facebook’s handling of its recent crises had been inept.
Mark Zuckerberg’s description of the idea that fake news put Donald Trump in the White House as “crazy” was a prime example.
But now the New York Times has painted a startling picture not just of negligence and mismanagement by Facebook’s leaders but of deeply questionable tactics as they fought to protect the image of their company.
This new evidence of ethical failings will also embolden politicians and regulators around the world who want to clip Facebook’s wings.
Read more:Facebook leaks take their toll
Japan’s new cyber-security minister has dumbfounded his country by saying he has never used a computer.
Yoshitaka Sakurada made the admission to a committee of lawmakers.
“Since I was 25 years old and independent I have instructed my staff and secretaries. I have never used a computer in my life,” he said, according to a translation by the Kyodo news agency.
The 68-year-old was appointed to his post last month.
His duties include overseeing cyber-defence preparations for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
A politician from the opposition Democratic Party, Masato Imai, whose question had prompted the admission, expressed surprise.
“I find it unbelievable that someone who is responsible for cyber-security measures has never used a computer,” he said.
But Mr Sakurada responded that other officials had the necessary experience and he was confident there would not be a problem.
However, his struggle to answer a follow-up question about whether USB drives were in use at the country’s nuclear power stations caused further concern.
The disclosure has been much discussed on social media where the reaction has been a mix of astonishment and hilarity, with some noting that at least it should mean Mr Sakurada would be hard to hack.
Superfast 5G mobile promises much better download and browsing speeds, the ability to power the internet of things, and a signal for everyone even when we’re all using our phones at the same time.
But we’ll need to fork out on new 5G-compatible phones, 5G services could be expensive, and rural areas might not benefit – at least not immediately.
So will it be worth it?
Animation: Zoe Bartholomew. Reporter: Matthew Wall