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Sci-fi and technology: life imitating art

July 17th, 2014 at 14:00 by Chris Parr

USS Enterprise

50 years ago, technology like digital stereos, portable cameras and the internet was a thing of fantasy, present only in sci-fi and the imaginations of the most pioneering scientists.  Today we have handheld devices that consolidate them into one. Plusnet looks at how technology has changed our lives…

The parallel between science fiction and science is an interesting one. The genre has historically been an outlet through which we can explore entirely different realities, alternative systems of governance and ethics, and let our minds wander with technologies that would almost seemingly be impossible in real life. Some of the predictions made by the genre, such as supercomputers like HAL 9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey and the telecommunications device E.T. built to “phone home”.

Star Trek

Used under a Fair Use license, linked to source.

In 1964, Gene Rodenberry first pitched the Star Trek franchise – one that is still with us today and marks an important part of our cultural milieu. Parallels between some technologies showcased at the World’s Fair in New York in the same year (incidentally where Bell Systems first showcased the computer modem), and those featuring in sci-fi cannot be ignored.

While some of them have been consigned to sci-fi imaginings (we still don’t have jetpacks, hovercars or cities on the moon!), scientific endeavour and increasingly sophisticated communication capabilities through the internet has allowed others to make the jump from fantasy to reality. Certainly when thinking about Star Trek: iPads resemble datapads, and mobile phones are basically the same as communicators (right?!).

The internet has played a significant role in the development of these technologies. Computing has changed over decades, and mobile technology has benefited as a result from its growth almost to the point where the two are synonymous with each other. The immediacy of information at our hands online has led to people searching for quicker and convenient ways of increasing our knowledge or doing things.

All images used under a Fair Use license, and linked to source

Do you ever step back and appreciate the technology we have access to today? Having access to digital copies of humanity’s literary and creative output via the internet feels to us like the most natural thing in the world, previous generations had no idea that the technology would exist and become so prevalent. It makes you wonder what technologies will make the leap from sci-fi to real life in the coming years and what role the internet will play in shaping the future of generations to come. The internet also provides people with an opportunity to shout more about their ideas, generate a buzz and turn it into the next million or billion pound idea.

So not only is sci-fi an avenue for us to explore alternative realities and ponder technologies currently beyond our capabilities, it’s also a vehicle for people to come together and celebrate our collective inner-geek. Long may it continue, we say!

Which sci-fi technologies would you most like to see become a reality? How do you believe internet has helped shape fiction into reality?

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Plusnet Business Offer July 2014

July 11th, 2014 at 11:01 by Chris Cotterill

From the 11th July, Plusnet Business Broadband will be available from just £4 per month. Or, if you need more speed, you can get super fast Business Fibre from just £10 per month.  That’s our best ever fibre offer! Offer pricing is for the first 12 months of a 24 month contract, plus £10.50 monthly line rental.

You’ll be able to choose the most suitable package for you based on your speed and usage needs, the offers available are:

  • Business Broadband(25GB) up to 17Mb/s from £4 a month+.
  • Unlimited Business Broadbandfrom £6 a month+.
  • Business Fibre(50GB) up to 76Mb/s from £10 a month+.
  • Unlimited Business Fibre from £15 a month+.

+All offer pricing is for the first 12 months when taking a 24 month contract along with line rental of £10.50 per month.

Terms and conditions* apply on all offers

Business Fibre Offer July 2014

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With Business Fibre and Unlimited Business Fibre from just £10 and £15, this represents our best ever offer for Business Fibre. New customers can sign up to these great prices at plus.net/business.

 

*Terms and Conditions:

Available to new Plusnet Business customers who sign up to a 24 month contract and take one of the following packages with Plusnet Business Line Rental at £10.50 per month:  Business Broadband from £4 a month for the first 12 months (£8 a month thereafter), Unlimited Business Broadband from £6 a month for the first 12 months (£13 a month thereafter), Business Fibre from £10 a month for the first 12 months (£23 a month thereafter) or Unlimited Business Fibre from £15 a month for the first 12 months (£33 a month thereafter.)   For customers signing up by 7th September 2014 at http://www.plus.net/business or by calling Plusnet. The broadband offers are only available online via http://www.plus.net/business.  Prices quoted above are for low cost area only (different prices apply outside of a low cost area).  Unless otherwise stated, all prices exclude VAT at 20%.  Router delivery of £4.99 applies, should you choose one.  Full terms and conditions can be found at http://www.plus.net/business/.

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Will we ever Skype from the Moon?

July 9th, 2014 at 12:00 by Chris Parr

Will we ever Skype from the Moon?

Have you sat and envisioned what the technology of the future will look like? Will we build a hotel on the moon, like many companies have proposed, and be able to Skype to our family here on Earth?

Technology is constantly changing around us and the internet has been a facilitator for that. But how will it look in the future and just where may our ambitions take us? Following on from our earlier article, Plusnet spoke to Kevin Read, from the West Yorkshire Astronomical Society, and Mark Sargent from the University of Sussex to provide us with an insight into what we can expect to see in the future.

The Premier Inn Lunar Hotel
Source: The Premier Inn Lunar Hotel

Thirty years ago it would probably have been difficult to see many of the huge strides we have made in improving – and sharing – our knowledge of the world around us. Whether that has been for the good of mankind is a different discussion altogether.

NASA Visible Earth

Images: Left – Source – NASA JP/Visible Earth; Right – Source – NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

This picture on the left is iconic. It shows Earth as seen from Voyager I in 1991, a mere pale blue dot in the depths of space. With technology changes, the picture on the right showed how it looked from an unmanned spacecraft called Cassini 22 years on, currently orbiting Saturn. With a click of a button, this picture was shared with millions of people online and via social media.

Kevin Read, Treasurer of the West Yorkshire Astronomical Society says:

“There is no comparison between today and 47 years ago, or even to 20 years ago when I took up [astronomy] again.

“Technology has advanced so quickly that even the professionals cannot keep up with the changes that are currently taking place. Our knowledge expands by terabytes of information each day streaming from space to the radio dishes on Earth from the satellites. New telescopes in space and adaptive optics on ground based telescopes have changed our understanding of the universe in a very profound way.”

Data and the Internet

The data provided from telescopes is huge even when this is just focused on a small patch of sky, as Mark Sargent from the University of Sussex explains. Mark is currently researching how galaxies evolve through cosmic time and has a PhD in astronomy.

“The raw information taken from the telescopes is massive, but data in the archives are processed and the information after processing is more manageable.

“There are virtual observatory websites to aid professionals in mining the data. They use detailed algorithms to search for data covering any patch of the sky, and are publicly accessible.”

“Online, you can engage in citizen astronomy. Sites like http://www.zooniverse.org let you analyse images and classify them. This information is then used in actual research by scientists, after being analysed, filtered and corrected. This is very exciting as it allows people at any level to be directly involved in research.”

Some of these have been used during Stargazing Live as a way of getting of the programmes to help out. The internet, as well as allowing us to build a library of information, has allowed teams from across the world to work together in different areas of research – from Hawaii to Iceland.

Mark explains that he is very excited about the research currently being undertaken into detecting exoplanets orbiting around neighbouring stars in the Milky Way.

Potentially Habitable Planets

Image Source: http://phl.upr.edu/press-releases/multiple-HZ

“We have gone from having no data from outside our solar system 15 years ago, to thousands of leads now. The next step is to look for signs of atmospheres on these planets, and then to calculate the probability of these planets supporting life.”

The importance of the Internet on our lives

Kevin explains that the ability to share information using the web has enabled the world to become a ‘global village’.

“The internet is viewed as a giant brain that can access any information that is needed. The latest images and data are transmitted over it in an instant and researchers now work in worldwide teams. You do not expect your collaborator to be in the same country.

“Without the internet none of this would be possible. Anyone now can access the latest space delivered imagery in just about any wavelength you want. We can see through clouds of dust and even see the very heart of the Milky Way. Videos have been made of stars orbiting the invisible black hole in the centre and this is available to every person in the World due to the internet. We have become a global village.

“We rely on space every day and by the time I get up in the morning and get to work I have accessed about 8 satellites without thinking about it. We are a people totally dependent on space technology and the internet but as a people we have a very limited knowledge of it.”

Broadband on the Moon

So will we ever see broadband on the moon and more importantly will we be able to stream from space?

 “I have about 80 Mb/s on my home system and sometimes it exceeds that considerably. I connect to Austria where their system is much more primitive compared to mine without much problem, so I do not see the Moon being a problem,” explains Kevin. “You would just need the correct radio dish system around the World to connect at any time of the day.

 “The technology to do it is already there. Streaming with space radiation may also be an issue but I do not believe that this would make it impossible.”

On streaming from the International Space Station, he added: “I don’t see the point of streaming onto a tiny screen. Maybe one day they will have a cinema on board and have a large screen with surround sound. Anything in space is possible.”

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How Formula 1 is Changing Online

July 4th, 2014 at 10:00 by Chris Parr

caterham

The 50th Formula 1 race at Silverstone takes place on the 4th - 6th July and with it comes the opportunity to see the world’s best teams and drivers, racing around the historic track. But for those fans not fortunate enough to follow the sport in person as it travels around the world, just how important is social media to their experience? Plusnet went behind the scenes to find out….

How social media has adapted to Formula 1

Like all sports, teams and fans have quickly adapted to use social media in different ways. Formula 1 has been one of the more recent sports to use social media to engage with fans and respond to breaking news, situations on the track and an unprecedented insight like never before. This is also case for media organisations, such as the BBC, desperate to drive traffic to and keep fans without social media accounts abreast of information and embedding all the content in one place.

f1 social media

This engagement and use of social media in the sport is something that is measured annually in the Formula 1 Social Media Index, through an algorithm as well as the opinions of expert judges with knowledge of social media. The 2013 index put Lotus F1 at the top of the social media leader board with Williams in 2nd and Red Bull in 3rd, measured across eight different platforms from Twitter to Vine. The index measures a number of factors from followers and growth of interactions to the range of multimedia offered by the platforms.

However, despite Lotus’s success in this, they still do not have the accolade for most followers on Twitter with household F1 brands Ferrari and McLaren taking the top two spots no doubt because of their profile within the sport.

Team Followers
Ferrari 815,000
McLaren 610,000
Red Bull 512,000
Mercedes 496,000
Lotus 418,000

So how important is social media from a team perspective and why? And is it really all necessary?

“Social media is incredibly important” says Tom Webb, Head of Communications at Caterham F1. “I think Formula 1 is an exclusive sport, and to get in is an incredibly difficult task. One of the things social media has done is to make the exclusive environment inclusive. We are able to virtually bring people into the garage and give them an insight into what takes place right in the heart of the team over a race weekend using social media.”

By uploading pictures, videos and updates on what’s happening both on and off-track teams are able to offer this vital insight instantly to fans across the world, giving them more information on what it’s like to work in, and be part of, a Formula 1 team. This is good not only for fan engagement, but for impromptu press releases as well, according to Tom

“If something takes place in a race… then the way that we can inform the media and the fans about what’s been going on is to use Twitter.”

This immediate communication lets teams give fans updates when they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to. Suddenly information which wouldn’t normally be considered newsworthy – updates on race days, quotes from drivers, images from the pits – can be released by teams and accessed by fans, giving them a much wider overview of what a Formula 1 team does than would be available in print or on TV. Giving fans this virtual inclusion into a team can make them much more engaged with a brand, which works in everyone’s favour.

The instantaneous nature of Twitter also allows for major updates to be provided quickly, most recently seen in the aftermath of the Massa/Perez incident on the last lap of the Canadian Grand Prix. Despite it being a huge crash, both teams were able to give instant updates on the welfare of their drivers.

Drivers also a major part of the experience

And it doesn’t stop there. Even the drivers are now getting in on the act as people look to be involved more in a sport star’s life.

“I think it’s equally important for drivers to have social media because again, F1 is a sport which is almost the reverse of other competitive sports. In F1, people tend to follow the drivers” says Tom.

Unlike football where people will be fans of teams, F1 fans support drivers, regardless of what car they drive. This can most recently be seen with Lewis Hamilton and his move to Mercedes – where people were once wearing McLaren shirts, Mercedes is now a firm favourite.

This influence with fans is something that’s very valuable to teams – a driver with a strong fan base will help increase merchandise sales and make them more money. Lewis Hamilton is currently the most followed driver in Formula 1, with 2.14 million people following his account. His regular updates of images, tweets about what he’s doing and retweeting of fans has helped put him nearly 1.5 million followers clear of Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg’s 561,000 followers.

Lewis Hamilton twitter

How are teams using the other social media platforms?

Of course a lot of teams use more than just the above four – there’s Pinterest, Vine, Google+ and many more to choose from – however Instagram, YouTube and Facebook, as well as Twitter, all allow teams the most visibility and reach, helping them to make the most impact. At the end of the day, the more brand exposure a team can get, the more likely both they – and drivers – are likely to attract partners, sponsors and investors to help improve cars and the technology inside. Social media undoubtedly plays a small part in the overall success of the team.

other social media

No matter who wins this year’s Silverstone Grand Prix, you can guarantee that it’ll be the talk of social media for the weekend! Who do you want to win?

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