Friday, 17 January 2014

Carbon - the EU's chance to shine

I am really concerned that we may be causing irreversible and harmful climate change.

While there is no conclusive proof that humankind is behind global warming, the evidence against us is stacking up more and more heavily.

The planet has some amazing mechanisms for keeping the environment stable, such as soaking CO2 up in the oceans, but these are not infinitely flexible and we may be approaching a tipping point. As an illustration of this, consider a glass filled with water and ice cubes, standing in a warm room. The ice/water mixture stays at 0 degrees as the ice gradually turns to water, but once all the ice has melted the temperature rapidly rises.

While we have not proved that our wasteful use of fossil energy is causing global warming, there is ample evidence that using a lot less won't cause any harm and may in fact stimulate the economy. So it would be logical to reduce our emissions of both greenhouse gases and waste heat as quickly as possible.

More research is needed to identify renewable energy sources that are much more efficient and less environmentally damaging than wind turbines or biofuels. Better insulation and more efficient heating, manufacturing, agriculture and transport are also needed.

Right now, the President of the EU Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, is weighing a decision that could make or break our planet. His team have just days to pin down carbon emissions and renewable energy targets for Europe until 2030. It’s a very important deal that has been kept very quiet. Some EU countries, prompted by vested energy interests, are lobbying to set extremely unambitious targets. Barroso may opt to avoid a fight by playing it safe. He works in a bubble of politicians, officials and lobbyists, but he is very sensitive to what people think of him, especially now as he embarks on his last few months in the job and hopes to leave a shining legacy.

Avaaz is publishing an ad in the key Brussels paper today calling on Barroso to follow the science. If supported by tens of thousands of e-mail messages from across Europe, this could just jolt him out of the bubble. You can read the ad and send Barroso a message today that the the future of the world is in his hands.

Monday, 8 April 2013

Music by Programmers - Launch Party

Jason Gorman and five of his programming chums have put together an album of original electronic music to raise money for educational programmes at Bletchley Park and The National Museum Of Computing. The charities get every penny of the profits, split 50/50 between them.

The album goes on sale in late April, and Jason's target is to sell 2,000 downloads and raise £10,000. The music industry isn't what it was, and selling music is much harder than it used to be - even for a good cause. Between now and the release date, they're going to need as much help as they can get to spread the word.
Please feel free to publicise their efforts by any means at your disposal.

A special listening party to launch the album on 23rd April is not to be missed. It's going to be small and intimate at a "jolly spiffy pub" near Holborn. Every penny of the £20 ticket price goes directly to Bletchley Park for maths workshops and a programming club at The National Museum Of Computing. And every ticket holder will get a very limited edition CD with bonus tracks!!! Only 100 of these special edition CDs will be produced, so it promises to be a veritable collector's item.

Saturday, 6 April 2013

GCalendar in Joomla: Daylight Savings problem

We recently launched a new Web presence for my German Church using Joomla 2.5. At my suggestion, GCalendar was installed to provide a searchable event calendar and an "upcoming events" module. It all worked splendidly until British Summertime began on 31 March 2013 - and suddenly all calendar events were shown starting an hour early.

We spent days trying to find a way to configure Daylight Savings into the calendar. All it allowed us to do in the global settings was to choose a time zone - of course we had set it to Europe/London - but without an option of respecting Daylight Savings automatically. In despair, I eventually uninstalled the component and reinstalled it. At this point there was a new version (3.0.0) of GCalendar available, so I chose that. In the component control panel there turned out to be an options button at the top right of the screen, which we may simply have missed seeing before. In the options you can set the time zone and once I had done so, suddenly all the times appeared correctly again within the web site. Huge sighs of relief all round.

Could the "Hydrogen Age" be about to dawn?

A team of researchers at Virginia Tech has used bio-engineered enzymes to release high-purity hydrogen from xylose in biomass and waste heat from industrial processes. Sounds too good to be true, but it was not published on 1st April.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Free Security Engineering textbook

Ross Anderson of Cambridge has put the second edition of Security Engineering – A Guide to Building Dependable Distributed Systems online as a free download. His explanation: it's the decent thing to do and it actually tends to increase sales of the printed book (borne out by sales of the first edition). Music recording industry, please take note!

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

libharu-2.2.1.tar.gz disappears

Overnight, my project's build suddenly failed. The makefile is supposed to download and rebuild the libharu pdf generation library whenever it creates a clean build. It turned out that the libharu project has moved all its files on to Github and this much-used stable release has not been tagged.

Luckily I found a mirror under the Fedora project's repository - thanks Fedora!

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Doomed to oblivion: a very promising cure for cancer

Read about research by Professors Justyna Leja and Magnus Essand into a virus that can destroy pancreatic cancer cells without noticeable side effects. Then share their frustration that no company or government is prepared contribute the ridiculously small sum of £2M needed to fund clinical trials. Without these, the treatment will never be licensed for use in humans.

At the time of writing, the campaign to crowdsource the necessary funding has been running for almost two weeks, with a further four to go - but less than 10% of the total has been raised so far. This needs a massive push now! Please alert your friends.