Archives for June 2011

WebWise news report - watch your mobile spend abroad

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Hajar Javaheri Hajar Javaheri | 10:20 UK time, Wednesday, 29 June 2011

If you're going abroad this year and think that checking your Facebook account on your smartphone will only set you back a few pence, think again.

Research released this week by mobile phone retailer The Carphone Warehouse shows that out of 2000 people questioned, 81% of holidaymakers had received a bill that was up to £100 more expensive than their standard monthly payment and that social networking sites were the main reasons for the rising roaming usage.

Although sales of smartphones have risen dramatically in the last year, the survey suggests that users are still not fully aware of the cost implications of using them outside the UK, with only 6% knowing the correct cost per megabyte.

Many service providers charge around £3 per megabyte for data roaming (the term given to overseas mobile internet use), so even though a quick peek at your emails may seem harmless enough, data charges soon add up when images are downloaded, music is streamed and apps are updated.

There are of course several ways to avoid such costs. Most networks offer bundles that allow the user a data allowance in exchange for a one-off payment. Alternatively, finding a café or hotel with free Wi-Fi may provide a cost-effective solution for staying up-to-date in cyber-world. But the best way to avoid a hefty phone bill is to not use mobile internet altogether by going into the phone's settings and switching off 'data roaming'. It is a holiday after all.

Read the BBC News report on Ofcom's warning to mobile phone users abroad.

Read the WebWise news report on mobile phone bills.

Hajar is part of the WebWise production team and has also made award-winning programmes for BBC Radio. In her spare time she loves reading, writing and singing.

Tennis - don't just watch it, play it!

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Wendy M Grossman Wendy M Grossman | 13:25 UK time, Thursday, 23 June 2011

For the British TV tennis fan probably the best day of the year is the second Monday in June, around noon the BBC TV screen fills with an array of grass courts and a load of tall skinny guys banging down serves in preparation for the preliminary rounds at the Queen's Club, London. After months of courts laid with dusty crushed brick culminating in the men's French Open final the day before, the grass courts glisten like emeralds.

But what if you're the other sort of tennis fan - the sort who likes to play yourself, rather than watch other people? The internet can help you more than you might think.

For both watching and playing tennis you will need to know the rules of the game, which are maintained and updated by the International Tennis Federation, the organisation that oversees the sport at all levels.

 

Get tips on your tennis technique

 

Many sites offer tennis instruction text and videos aimed at players of all abilities and covering all aspects of the game, from basic fitness instruction and how to hit specific shots to how to choose equipment. A search using the keywords "tennis instruction" will find many such sites.

There are particularly good selections of online lessons at the US's Tennis Magazine; the US Tennis Association, whose library of instructional video clips is aimed at players of all levels; and Tennis One. A search of the larger video sites using the keywords "tennis instruction" will reveal many more.

However, if you want to actually play tennis you will have to leave your computer and find your closest tennis courts. The Lawn Tennis Association, which operates the professional tournaments at Queen's, Eastbourne, and Birmingham, as well as many smaller events, is really first and foremost an organisation to encourage grass roots tennis. The site offers information aimed at participants in all levels of the game, from players (and, in the case of juniors, their parents) to organisers and coaches. Putting your postcode into the search boxes to find courts near you is easy and quick. The results you get will include public tennis courts as well as links to the websites of LTA-affiliated tennis clubs.

The LTA site includes a search facility to help find an accredited coach in your area. There are several types of LTA qualification, and some that are independent of the LTA. However, two coaches with the same qualifications may differ greatly in temperament, skills, and teaching ability, so it is wise to ask around among local tennis players for recommendations.

Keen to find out more about tennis? Visit BBC Scotland and learn about the physics of the game.

Wendy M. Grossman is a freelance technology writer and author living in London and is founder of The Skeptic magazine.

WebWise news report - online mapping

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Hajar Javaheri Hajar Javaheri | 14:11 UK time, Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Authorities in Bangalore in India have stopped Google taking images of its roads for their Street View website. Police in the city have expressed security concerns over the 'highly sensitive' city, although the internet giant claims it is only 'driving on public roads and taking publicly available imagery'.

Sites like Google Maps and Bing Maps have become a holiday maker's best friend in recent years, allowing users to plan routes all over the world. So, for example, if you're going on holiday in America and need to find out how close your hotel is to the airport before you book it, you can go to an online map and find out by typing in your destination.

Services like Google Street View also allow you not only to find out how to get from A to B but, in many cases, what the scenery would look like on the way. Since its launch in 2007, cameras fitted to cars, tricycles and even snowmobiles have been taking overlapping photos of roads and landmarks. These photos are then stitched together to give a street-eye view of cities across the world.

Concerns over privacy have been raised, and although license plates and faces are blurred out, individuals are entitled to request further blurring or removal of certain images, like their house or car, if they wish to preserve their anonymity.

For more information take a look at the WebWise guide to Online Maps.

Read the full article here: BBC News Technology

WebWise news report - juror admits contempt of court

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Hajar Javaheri Hajar Javaheri | 13:55 UK time, Wednesday, 15 June 2011

In the first case of its kind, a juror has admitted contempt of court after being found to have contacted a defendant via Facebook.

BBC News home affairs correspondent Dominic Casciani says the case sets a legal precedent and anecdotal stories about jurors looking up defendants online and academic findings that as many as 12% of jurors do so in big trials, paint a worrying picture of the pitfalls of web research during a trial.

The maximum penalty for contempt of court is a hefty two year sentence, and while 'googling' a new acquaintance in everyday life won't get you thrown in prison, it's still advisable to be mindful of the influence it can have on your professional and private lives.

It may be tempting to think that anything online is fair game for viewing and scrutiny, but with the lines between virtual reality and real life becoming increasingly blurred, this week's case is a good reminder of the need to be responsible when faced with the freedom the web provides.

Just as one wouldn't deem it acceptable to go through a stranger's belongings or press their nose against a neighbour's window to see what books were on the coffee table, web users may wish to apply similar personal guidelines to the virtual world, no matter how harmless and anonymous it might seem.

Read the full BBC News report here. Check out the BBC WebWise guides for more on internet safety and netiquette.

Or take the WebWise social media basics course and get yourself set for safe social networking.

Domesday Reloaded: Do it yourself!

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Brett Tremble Brett Tremble | 10:41 UK time, Friday, 10 June 2011

When the Domesday project first launched back in 1986, the World Wide Web was not yet born. It probably wasn't even a doodle on the back of one of Tim Berners-Lee's discarded envelopes. Much of what the Domesday project attempted to do is now common practice across the internet; concepts such as mapping geographical areas on a computer, uploading and retrieving information through searches and so on.

At the time though, what impressed me the most as a 1980s schoolchild was the way that the BBC were able to mobilise the British public to create a resource like the original that would provide testimony of a moment in time for countless millennia to come. And all for no reward other than being a part of history.

A lot of the project relied on schoolchildren to gather and submit information. As Maggie Philbin pointed out in her recent blog about the Domesday project this means that a lot of fascinating minutiae has been recorded that probably would have remained unremarked upon by adults with other priorities.

Nowadays, this kind of mass participation to create a shared resource would be called 'user generated content'. It is of course nothing new: the UK's Mass Observation project pioneered such collaborations in the late 1930s, but now it is a lot easier for you to become involved in similar schemes and share your thoughts and observations with others.

Many news reports rely on user generated content for their images and video.  The popularity of mobile phones and digital cameras mean that there is a vast army of potential reporters ready and waiting whenever a story breaks. In countries and areas where the BBC has little or no official access, such as Syria, it may be the only way that news will reach the outside world. When stories such as this are broadcast now, the newsreaders will often implore viewers to send in content that they may have as a matter of routine.

But it's not just mass protests and grim natural disasters where the BBC needs your help - take the BBC's two landmark nature series Springwatch and Autumnwatch for example. While Kate Humble and Chris Packham do a sterling job anchoring everything from their cosy BBC standard-issue shed, the programme relies heavily on viewers interacting with the team to create compelling content. On the Springwatch site you are positively encouraged to join in by sharing your nature pictures on the programme's Flickr group (take a look at our glossary to find out more about Flickr) and upload your videos of wildlife to the BBC site.

No longer are nature programmes the kind of dry documentaries where knowledgeable animal experts relate complex facts in a hoarse whisper to an attentive well behaved audience. These days your contribution to Springwatch is every bit as important as that of all those experts on remote islands being dive-bombed by enraged gannets.
 
As the name Domesday Reloaded implies, the BBC needs your help once more. A series of programmes are planned for later in the year and again the British public are being urged to interact with the BBC and send in their photographs, stories and comments. You can download activity packs from the Domesday site which will help you find the sort of information and details that the BBC are looking for in your local area and start collecting information to share.

And no, you won't be paid for your time, but just imagine your humble contribution being pored over by generations of BBC viewers hundreds of years from now. Exciting, isn't it?

Brett is a Content Producer for BBC WebWise, and has been creating web content for the BBC for ten years. He loves fine ale and vintage wine, cathedrals, music of all genres and classic British comedy, and has a huge collection of rare vinyl records.

UPDATE: The Domesday Reloaded project has now ended, and is no longer accepting submissions. You can, however, still peruse the data to your pleasure.

In The News - Facebook's face recognition technology (and how to turn it off)

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Helen Purves Helen Purves | 12:22 UK time, Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Facebook has recently rolled out a new feature which means that if you're a member of this very popular social networking website you could find yourself being "tagged" in a lot more photos from now on. 

The site is starting to use facial recognition technology - meaning it can recognise your face in photos - and in a controversial move, it's not letting people know about it . 

This means that when people upload photos, Facebook automatically "reads" them, and can detect whether or not you're in that photo.  Your Facebook contacts can then "tag" you, meaning the photo appears on your profile page and is linked to your account.  Facebook have posted an informative official blog entry saying that this makes things more convenient for its users but many have criticised the company, saying it raises concerns around privacy.

If you're worried about this and wish to turn the feature off, here's how to do it:

  1. On the top right hand side of your Facebook homepage (when logged in) click the small down-pointing arrow and then "Privacy Settings".
  2. Next to where it says "How tags work", click on the small blue text link named "Edit settings".
  3. A window will pop up, click the word "Friends" next to the words "Tag suggestions - when friends upload photos that look like you"
  4. Another box will pop up on your screen, with photos of your friends. Under this,you'll see "Who sees tag suggestions when pictures that look like me are uploaded", and the grey button next to it which says "Friends"
  5. Click on this button, select "No one" and close the box by clicking "OK".

 

You can find out more on the following (non-BBC) websites:

BBC News Technology have just covered this story too - you can find their article here.

In case you're not familar with Facebook, we have an article explaining what it is - and a blog entry, which you can find here.

In The News - The IPv6 trial

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Helen Purves Helen Purves | 10:14 UK time, Wednesday, 8 June 2011

You might have read that major web companies like Yahoo, Microsoft, Google and Facebook are trying out something called "IPv6" today - but what does it mean? More importantly, will it affect you? Well, probably, because eventually you're going to need new hardware to connect to the internet.  Here's why.

To understand about IPv6, it's first worth understanding the whole concept of IP addresses.  You can read all about it in our WebWise articles "What is the internet?" and "How the web works" if you want to, but here's a summary.

In short, every device (computer, mobile phone, server, you name it) and website that's part of the internet has a unique string of numbers, known as an Internet Protocol (IP) address.  When you type a web address into your browser, it looks up this address (the same way you might look up a telephone number, for example) so that it can connect to the right server and show you the website.

The thing is, the current system used means that there are only so many combinations available - and the massive growth of the internet and new internet-enabled technology like smart phones means that we're running out.  That's why IPv6 is being very slowly introduced - instead of a possible combination of up to 12 numbers the new IP addresses will be much longer and will use not just numbers but letters as well. 

This means that the internet can grow to be much bigger, but it also means that the technology you use to connect will eventually become obsolete - so at some point in the next few years, you're going to need a new internet router.  Don't worry - your internet service provider (ISP) should send you one, and IPv5 should work for around ten more years anyway!

Read the full story on the BBC News Technology website for more information.

Love music? Then love the internet

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Rhodri Marsden Rhodri Marsden | 15:02 UK time, Friday, 3 June 2011

On one hand, you could say that the internet is crushing the music business. Record companies struggle to control the channels by which tunes reach the music-loving public; while billions of songs are scattered around file-sharing networks for people to grab for free, non-lucrative deals are reluctantly struck with the likes of YouTube and Spotify in an attempt to minimise the damage and generate some minimal, ad-funded royalties.

On an emotional level we value music as much as we ever did, but financially it's suffered from over-supply. A whole generation is growing up without much interest in paying for recorded music, and the industry is hastily diverting resources towards live performance and merchandise in an attempt to get a grip on the situation.

But on the other hand, if you've just formed a band or you're an upcoming solo artist, the internet has revolutionised the process of getting your music heard. The musical DIY revolution happened a long time ago - in the aftermath of punk - but the internet has placed even more of the means of production and distribution in the hands of the individual artist. DIY isn't just an attitude these days, it's a necessity; if you're looking to make a musical splash, you don't just need good songs and a sharp image; you've got to be skilled at online marketing, too.

That might sound like a tedious administrative headache, but the way it puts you instantly in touch with appreciators of your work makes things infinitely more rewarding than they were in the 1990s, or earlier. Back then, you were operating in a bubble, communicating with handfuls of people via the postal service. Today, you don't need a record contract for hundreds, thousands or even millions of people to hear your music.

MySpace has traditionally been a go-to destination for a) bands needing a quick and easy online presence and b) those within the industry looking for young talent. MySpace has undergone a much-reported decline in recent years but has attempted to repurpose itself as an exclusively music-driven site, and it's still worth establishing a page for yourself there - not least because it tends appear high up in Google searches for artist names.

But the torch is now largely being carried by a three-year old website called Bandcamp, which has replaced MySpace in the affections of the DIY musician: it's better designed, allows people to either listen to, download or buy your tunes (depending on your preference) and offers detailed statistics about your listeners. Yes, the site takes a 15% cut of any money you receive, but it's probably the best set of tools yet devised for the independent artist.

The holy grail of monetising your music is something that's discussed at length on the web, particularly on sites like musicthinktank.com. Many musicians are happy enough to upload their tunes to a site like soundcloud.com and let people listen, download and comment as they wish, but if getting the dollars rolling in is a priority, there are options. Just don't expect it to be an easy ride. 'Crowd funding' has been much talked about in the past few months; websites like Kickstarter, Pledge Music, Feed The Muse and RocketHub offer creative projects the chance to be funded upfront by the internet community in return for signed copies of the finished product, special concerts or various other enticements.

Then, once your album is made, websites like emubands.com can assist you in putting your release onto iTunes and Spotify, the two pre-eminent sources of music online. But needless to say, unless you do a lot of work while sat in front of a computer, no-one's going to know that your music is sitting there. A bit like having a telephone line installed, but not telling anyone the number.

Letting people know you exist is the most difficult task of all, and it's about building communities. Facebook, with its 600 million members, is an obvious place to start. Twitter, if you can get the hang of its idiosyncratic style, is another. Don't ignore YouTube, either. You might not consider yourself a film maker, but putting visuals together is much easier and cheaper than it used to be, and really important from a promotional point of view; 9 out of 10 videos researched on Google are music videos, and people are undoubtedly keener to watch a music video than listen to an mp3.

Then, after you've built this intricate social network of fans eager to hear a new masterpiece, all you have to do is come up with it. After all, it's about the music, not the glory, right?

Visit the WebWise guides to audio and video for more advice on enjoying music online.

Rhodri Marsden is a writer and musician who regularly details his fascination and exasperation with modern technology and the internet for both The Independent and BBC 6Music.

 

WebWise news report - Illegal music sharing

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Hajar Javaheri Hajar Javaheri | 17:57 UK time, Wednesday, 1 June 2011

The first person in Scotland to be convicted of illegally sharing music files has received a sentence of three years probation.

Anne Muir admitted distributing £54000 worth of copyrighted music files via a peer-to-peer file sharing application.

Peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing is a way of allowing users to essentially pool files by uploading them and making them available to other users to download. Many applications have thousands and thousands of users, leaving large numbers of files open to illegal download. Even though the original file may have been purchased legally - from online music stores for example - sharing them, whether for profit or not, is against the law.

In December it was reported that nearly 8 million people illegally downloaded music in 2010, costing the industry an estimated £219m.

IP addresses and ISPs (Internet Service Providers) can be used to track down users seen to have been illegally sharing copyrighted files.

In May, an independent review carried out by Professor Ian Hargreaves recommended updating the law on the common practice of altering file formats, which would formally allow you, for example, to transfer a CD you got for Christmas to an mp3 player without worrying about breaking the law. However, this would only cover private use and as soon as files are made available to the public without permission from the copyright holder, file sharers are in illegal download territory.

It's not always easy to know which files are copyrighted and sites like www.pro-music.org offer lots of information including resources for parents on download laws and a directory of sites you can legally download from.

For more on downloading, read the BBC WebWise guide: How do I download files?

Click here for the full story on BBC News.

Hajar is part of the WebWise production team and has also made award-winning programmes for BBC Radio. In her spare time she loves reading, writing and singing.

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