UK must assess CSP’s potential
I am concerned that misconceptions are leading the UK to overlook a source of clean energy with great potential - concentrated solar power (CSP) (Watch your datacentre grow greener, 12 March).
CSP is the simple but effective technique of using mirrors to concentrate sunlight, and using this heat source to drive a conventional power station with steam and turbines. Heat can also be stored in melted salts to continue generation during the night.
This approach works best in hot deserts - which we lack in Europe. However, detailed studies by the German Aerospace Centre have shown that it is feasible and economic to send power to Europe from North Africa and the Middle East using high-voltage DC transmission lines. The German research suggests there would be an overall improvement in the resilience and security of energy supplies compared with today.
Malcolm Wicks, minister for Science and Innovation, said in a written reply to a question from Jon Trickett MP that the UK government has “not made any assessment” of using CSP to help the UK meet its long-term energy goals, concluding that the technology is “not a priority for further work”.
Wicks added that the economics of the situation “needs more work”, but these things have already been examined with great thoroughness and professionalism. The German report concludes that even including the cost of transmission infrastructure, CSP could become one of the cheapest sources of electricity for Europe.
Gerry Wolff, TREC-UK
Blair dangles prospect of ID data fishing
It seems that Tony Blair is now trying to “sell” Labour’s ID card system on the basis of “feature creep”, which ministers promised Parliament would never be allowed to happen (Blair launches email strike against ID critics, 26 February).
Tony McNulty, then Home Office minister for immigration, citizenship and nationality, clearly stated in standing committee on 6 July 2005: “There are safeguards not only against state agencies, for want of a better phrase, going fishing in the database, but against misbehaviour and abuse of the database by those who manage the system.”
This was reported in Hansard, but is clearly no longer the case, since the prime minister’s email directly contemplates such fishing expeditions to crack unsolved crimes, and also describes both data-sharing within UK government and passing information on citizens to foreign governments.
ID cards will not stop fraud
Biometric ID documents would work perfectly in small organisations where everyone concerned would be on the database and every point of transaction would have reading equipment (Blair launches email strike against ID critics, 26 February). Nationally, however, it is virtually impossible to satisfy both these conditions and hence the proposed biometric ID card system will fail. Fraudsters will be able to use fake ID cards wherever the required reading equipment is not present. It is thus obvious that these biometric ID documents will encourage more identity fraud.
Can’t see the trees for the servers
While it’s good to hear that hosting provider Rackspace is to plant a tree for each new server installed in its datacentres, this hardly warrants the self-proclaimed title of “a carbon-neutral web hosting service” (Vendors offer CO2-neutral deals, 16 October). Figures from chip manufacturer VIA Technologies, published in the same story, state that running a desktop PC produces 16 times as much carbon dioxide each year as a single average tree can absorb in one year. I presume, therefore, that many more trees would be needed to adequately offset a server.
CD ruling shows poor judgment
So Justice Laddie has found that taking backup copies of CDs
is illegal because "they are robust", "they are easily
replaced", and "copying is circumventing encryption technology"
(Software licences in the dock, 16 May). Like George Gardiner, I find his
decision incomprehensible on all three grounds.
Robustness does not protect against physical loss, and I have found on several occasions that CDs can be very finicky about what drives they will work in - it's all very well saying you can't copy, but what do you do if the original won't work in a particular drive, but a copy is fine?
As for "easily replaced", has the judge ever tried to replace a lost disk? Most Microsoft software has a shelf-life of three years at most, but I'm still running some Windows 3.1 software that's over ten years old. What if I need a disk for that?
And, most incomprehensibly of all, "copying is circumventing encryption". A copy of a Windows disk, for example, is protected just as much as the original - you still need a licence number.
Let IT veterans plug skills gaps
Martin Veitch is to be applauded for defending unemployed IT
programmers in their fifties (Getting to grips with the people problem, 9 May).
I am 54, a developer and similarly unemployed. My skills were good enough for clients like CitiCorp, Banker Trust, BT and the National Audit Office. But not any more.
I do apply for low-grade work, but I am so often told I am over-qualified. It is a total Catch-22 situation.
Skills? I developed mine mainly on the job. At the time, IT was seen as a way out of unemployment, but clearly it is now a way into unemployment. It seems the fastest way to become unemployed is to go for a career in IT.
UK workers must raise their game
Martin Veitch noted the difference of opinion between Bill
Gates and Gerald Cohen of Information Builders, on the nature of the IT skills
crisis and how to solve it (Getting to grips with the people problem, 9 May).
My experience leads me to a Gatesian view: firms need access to foreign skills.
I have reluctantly come to the view that the domestic developer community deserves all it gets. In the past two years I have invested considerable time and effort helping people familiarise themselves with new technology. I have tried young Turks and more mature staff.
The young Turks expect £35 per hour with nine months’ experience. It’s madness. I trained one developer, put up his pay, and he still left for a job that looked more fun. Another would spend hours trying to figure out trivial tasks, unwilling to ask more experienced staff.
I also tried a mature developer in his fifties, who had been laid off several months earlier from a lucrative post. I did not expect him to be overly familiar with our environment but he showed little willingness to adapt. It was a case of, “I earned £50 an hour, I don’t have to try.”
We do have a skills shortage but we also have unrealistic salary expectations and a tedious fickleness within the developer community. I have now set up a development facility in Eastern Europe where, apart from some cost saving, there is a better work ethic.
PCs for schools hinder core skills
I take issue with the government’s plans for low-cost loans
to buy laptops for kids (New scheme to put laptops in schoolbags, 11 April).
Apparently the art of writing is a key thing in the national curriculum, so
what bright spark thought of this?
At a parents’ meeting last month I learned that our 6-year-old had protested the need to learn to write properly, saying, 'Why! My parents use a computer to write all their letters'. Given that the percentage of children unable to write, spell and do basic maths is higher than ever before, why promote laptops that do these tasks for them?
Finally, what's easier; roaming the streets looking for valuables left in cars or waiting outside a school gate for children with valuables in their satchels?
Labouring under techie illusions
So, we are to vote Labour on the basis of their attitude to
technology (Labour deserves technologists vote, 11 April)? This is both
short-sighted and selfish. Investment in IT is important, but could anyone
seriously suggest that this is a primary election issue? What about invading
Iraq on the basis of non-existent WMDs? This ought to have been a resigning
issue; instead Blair keeps his job and is rewarded with Martin Veitch's vote
because the NHS got a decent IT director.
New Labour’s technology record speaks for itself. The technology-led ID card plan is divisive, poorly justified and fraught with risk. Satellite tracking of vehicles and the ability to switch a car off remotely were seriously considered by a government already well-known for its authoritarianism. An unworkable proposal to archive all UK internet data (not just traffic data) was thankfully dropped, whilst industry curbed some of the hugely expensive and invasive proposals for electronic eavesdropping.
Technologists should vote for a government that generates business - but not at the expense of our privacy and democracy.
Finding fault with e-government
I cannot believe the Work Foundation's claim that the
Gershon inquiry into public sector efficiency "neglected the need for
process changes" (Report finds e-government faults, print edition, 27
March). In fact the Gershon Review covered in some detail the role of “change
agents” - experts focused on managing change. The text is also critical of
e-services that have been introduced purely as technology, again at odds with
the Work Foundation’s assessment of the report’s content. Did the Work
Foundation bother to get past the management summary?
Dave Garnett, Companies House