Minecraft- good or evil?

By Simon Dye - Last updated: Monday, March 30, 2015

Minecraft the computer game occupies millions of children- in homes as well as classrooms.

Minecraft the computer game occupies millions of children- in homes as well as classrooms. Minecraft is “digital Lego” – a computer game in which you build things using cubic blocks. But it’s Lego on steroids. You never run out of blocks and they never topple over. You can walk among your own creations, and play online with other people who are in the same world.

Sometimes, monsters come out after dark to try to kill you, which is never pleasant, but compared with games like Grand Theft Auto and Call of Duty, Minecraft is innocent, peaceful, and pretty wholesome.

So why does it drive so many parents to distraction?

Parenting websites are full of worries stories. If not actually playing Minecraft, parents report that their children watch videos of other people playing it.

The statistics are astounding – one group of Minecraft gamers, Yogscast, based in Bristol, is watched for 37 million minutes every day, and they are not the biggest.

The stars of Minecraft, like “Stampy Longnose” are to this generation of children what John Noakes was to mine- except Blue Peter was only on twice a week, whereas Stampy is viewable all day, every day, a permanent uninvited guest in some households.

Developed in Sweden by Markus Persson and his company Mojang – it was officially released in 2011. Mojang has sold 33 million copies of game in different formats- which is why Microsoft bought the company for £1.5 billion in September 2014.

Minecraft’s champions say that it’s very creative and that I should just look at the things kids are making on it.

However, it’s two dimensional, and that children should be exercising more than their mouse fingers. The other side asks why it’s any worse than reading for hours at a time.

However reading allows you to imaginatively inhabit other minds. The opposition implies that this is just the latest moral panic, and that Stone Age elders probably thought the world was going to the dogs when people stopped just staring at the fire and started telling each other stories.

But then there’s the “griefing”. Because Minecraft is a world with private property but no police force, children are, at least on public servers, in a world that philosopher Thomas Hobbes would have recognised – a state of nature where all are at war with all.

“Griefers” are people who deliberately make trouble, destroy property, and then sometimes post videos of their exploits to amuse everyone.

When parents think of online bullying, they probably don’t think of hard earned virtual property being trashed, or their children being digitally mugged.

Minecraft is unstoppable. You might think that at least school provides a few hours of Minecraft free time a day, but the game is coming to classrooms, as education experts enthuse about its ability to engage and capture the imagination of children who are hard to reach through traditional teaching methods. Even the British Museum is getting volunteers to recreate the building and its exhibits in Minecraft.

Worst of all, Lego has brought out its own Minecraft set. What this means for the next generation of engineers brought up in a world where nothing ever falls over, I dare not imagine.

The community of people involved with the game numbers in the tens of millions. Many of those fans are children; among whom it is almost a religion.

Top Minecraft tips:

1. Diamond is the best material for pickaxes because it breaks blocks the fastest and lasts the longest.

2. Players can tame wild wolves by feeding them a few bones, and ocelots with fish.

3. Throwing an enderpearl like a ball allows you to teleport to where it lands.

4. With redstone, you can create complex mechanisms. Some people have even recreated computers.

5. The only blocks in the game which are affected by gravity are sand, gravel, and anvils.

6. Creepers are green creatures which will sneak up behind you and try to blow you up. Skeletons try to shoot you with bows.

7. Cows and sheep can be bred by feeding them wheat, pigs with carrots and chickens with seeds.

8. You can play music to nearby players with a music disc, which are created when a skeleton shoots a creeper.

9. A trapped chest will give off a redstone signal when opened, meaning you can create all sorts of traps to fool your friends.

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Budget gives extra funds for UK digital research

By Simon Dye - Last updated: Thursday, March 19, 2015

UK research into digital cash could get a £10 million boost from government according to a statement in the budget yesterday.

Budget gives extra funds for UK digital researchThe plan to invest cash into the “opportunities and challenges” of digital currencies such as bitcoin were announced by George Osborne. It was one of several technology-related policies unveiled in the Chancellor’s speech.

Others include money to improve mobile networks and a pledge to bring superfast broadband to remote areas more quickly.

The funds will increase the money the government already puts into research into digital currencies, it said in a statement. It is also planning a new research initiative overseen by the UK’s research councils, the Digital Catapult tech accelerator and the Turing Institute.

The Turing Institute was announced in the 2014 budget and once up and running, will be an R&D centre specialising in ways to collect, organise and analyse large data sets.

Alongside the spending will go changes to the way digital currencies are policed in the UK. The Chancellor announced plans to apply anti-money laundering regulations to the UK markets where digital cash is traded and to look at ways to protect consumers who buy and sell them.

The budget also contained a pledge to put about £140 million in research cash towards smart cities, driverless cars and the internet of things.

Mr Osborne also announced ways to improve UK broadband speeds. The Chancellor unveiled an “ambition” to ensure that “ultrafast broadband of at least 100 megabits per second should be available to nearly all UK premises”.

In addition, the government plans to boost online speeds by changing the terms of the Universal Service Obligation (USO) that sets out the minimum telecom service every home should expect to get. The basic speed that homes should get will be raised from dial-up to 5 megabits per second, said the Chancellor.

The budget also promised a new £4 million fund to help video games start-ps and a further £4 million for a skills investment fund to boost the training available to people already working in the sector.

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Did GCHQ spy on you- how to check

By Simon Dye - Last updated: Monday, February 16, 2015

A recent UK tribunal that GCHQ illegally spied on UK citizens means that you can now try and find out if they spied on you.

A recent UK tribunal that GCHQ illegally spied on us means that we can now try and find out if they spied on you.

The Tribunal’s decision was the first time that the court ruled against the intelligence agencies since it was established in 2000.

It found that GCHQ collected data from the NSA’s Prism and Upstream programmes was unlawful, because the rules governing the collection were kept secret.

According to documents disclosed by Edward Snowden, those programmes spied “by default”, meaning that millions of people could have had information taken by GCHQ.

“The public have a right to know if they were illegally spied on, and GCHQ must come clean on whose records they hold that they should never have had in the first place,” said Eric King, deputy director of Privacy International. “There are few chances that people have to directly challenge the seemingly unrestrained surveillance state, but individuals now have a historic opportunity finally hold GCHQ accountable for their unlawful actions.”

You can sign up through Privacy International’s website at did GCHQ spy on you- how to check by giving personal details that will then be collated and taken to the court. Privacy International will request that GCHQ “come clean” on the surveillance that it has on those people.

Have you ever made a phone call, sent an email, or, you know, use the internet? Of course you have!

Chances are, at some point over the past decade, your communications were collected by one of NSA’s mass surveillance programs and passed on to Britain’s intelligence agency, GCHQ. But no one could find out if their records were part of those illegally shared… until now!

Thanks to a recent court ruling, anyone in the world — yes, ANYONE, including you — can find out if GCHQ illegally received information about you from the NSA.

So just sign up through Privacy International’s website at did GCHQ spy on you- how to check now!

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Google dominates search traffic

By Simon Dye - Last updated: Friday, January 16, 2015

Google accounts for over 90% of global organic search traffic-according to new research.

Google dominates search traffic

The search engine world will continue to focus heavily on Google this year, based on recent research from Define Media Group.

The consulting firm tracked traffic to 94 sites across various industry verticals between January and November 2014 and found that Google accounted for a whopping 93% of online and mobile web organic search traffic worldwide.

Which leaves Bing and Yahoo to account for just a combined 6% market share.

This dominance was confirmed in separate research by Merkle | RKG who found similar results when looking at the US only.

The search and digital marketing agency reported that in Q3 2014, Google increased its share of organic search visits in the US to 83%. This was at the expense of Bing, which saw its portion fall slightly to 8% whilst Yahoo held steady at around 7%.

Both studies show higher figures than recent analysis by comScore, which put Google’s share of monthly online searches in the US at 67.3%. Microsoft sites accounted for 19.4% and Yahoo sites for 10.0%. comScore looked at desktop searches only.

RKG reported that mobile was fueling overall organic search growth. Between Q3 2013 and Q3 2014, mobile organic search visits rose 45%, compared with just 3% for overall organic.

Google rules here, too, with an 85.6% share of US mobile organic search visits coming from the site, vs. 8.4% for Yahoo and 5.6% for Bing.

StatCounter found almost the exact same results, reporting that 85.6% of total mobile search referrals in the US in Q3 2014 (excluding tablets) came from Google, 9.7% from Yahoo and 4.3% from Bing.

The various researches were collated by emarketer

The conclusions are that if you are looking to increase your website’s traffic, sales and profits you must have a good ranking on Google. So if you make one New Year’s resolution it should be to focus on optimising your website to meet Google’s requirements.

If your need help with optimising my website then please contact us now either by clicking us or ring us 01242 521967:
help my business

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New number spoofing scam warning by fraudsters

By Simon Dye - Last updated: Thursday, October 30, 2014

A new smartphone scam – known as number spoofing – is getting millions of pounds for fraudsters consumers are being warned.
New number spoofing scam warning by fraudstersFinancial Fraud Action UK (FFA UK) said the scam has become increasingly common in recent weeks.

Typically criminals fool people into thinking they are talking to their bank, or the police, on the phone. To help gain the target’s trust, they display a fake number on the phone’s caller ID screen.

They then persuade the victim to hand over details of their bank account, or passwords, or suggest that they move money to keep it safe.

Using those personal details, they then steal money from that person’s account. Frequently it is businesses which are being targeted, as well as some well-off individuals.

“There’s a big surge in criminals using this,” said an FFA UK spokesman.

He said they had seen hundreds of such cases, with some companies losing as much as a million pounds.

When indulging in phone “spoofing”, criminals will often draw attention to the number that is showing on the recipient’s screen. Officials warn people to watch out for such odd behaviour, as it is a big clue that something is wrong.

“Remember that if a caller is trying to draw your attention to the number on your phone display, it’s very unlikely the call is genuine as there is no legitimate reason to point it out,” said Craig Jones of the FFA.

The technology being used has existed for a number of years, but fraudsters have only recently started using it.

“It’s not difficult for the criminals to fake a caller ID,” said Mr Jones.

Earlier this month some of Britain’s High Street banks launched a campaign to warn consumers about the dangers of “vishing” – otherwise known as voice phishing.

That is when fraudsters telephone victims, to try to get them to give out details of their accounts. The campaign listed eight things a bank will never ask its customers to do, including asking for details of PINs or passwords.

They list eight things a bank will never do:

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Bank of England probes payment system crash

By Simon Dye - Last updated: Monday, October 20, 2014

The Bank of England has launched an official probe after a key payment system that transfers billions of pounds between banks was suspended.
Bank of England probes payment system crashThe technical fault affected the CHAPS electronic payment system. The system is used to move large amounts around the financial system.

It is also used by solicitors at the end of the house-buying process, so some movers were stuck for hours because sales could not be completed.

Bank of England governor Mark Carney said he had launched “a thorough, independent review” into the problem. “The review will cover the causes of the incident, the effectiveness of the Bank’s response and the lessons learned for future contingency plans,” the Bank said in a statement.

An institution was added to the Bank’s Real-Time Gross Settlement system, which underpins CHAPS, at the weekend which created a problem when it was supposed to restart on Monday. It normally operates between 0600 and 1600 on weekdays.

The system was down until about 1600 but a statement suggested all payments should now be processed by the end of the day.

“To help customers and to ensure payments can be processed today CHAPS is extending its operating times until 1940 BST. Customers are advised to contact their own bank for any queries they may have on their specific payments,” said a CHAPS statement.

There are about 5,000 homes bought a day in the UK on average, although Friday is the most popular moving day. About 3,000 completions were expected during the day.

The CHAPS system moves billions of pounds every day between Britain’s main banks and building societies. The latest figures show that in 2013 it was used to process an average daily total of 138,000 payments with a combined value of £277 billion.

It is used to move money around the financial system, mainly for very high-value payments. It is used for short-term lending between financial institutions, foreign exchange and derivative-related payments. In 2012-13 the average payment was £2.1 million, but 78% of payments were below £100,000.

The highest ever settlement figure in one day was for £446 billion on 28 September, 2007, during the early part of the financial crisis.

Sometimes it is used by individuals who, for example, want to buy a high value car and need to make a same day, guaranteed payment. There is a charge of about £25 or £30 for an individual who wants to use the system, and the payment generally needs to be made by 1500.

Jonathan Smithers, vice president of the Law Society, said: “It is critical for solicitors to have access to this system for house sales and purchases and many other commercial transactions that rely on a payments scheme that processes and settles important and time-dependent payments in sterling.

“We are talking to the relevant bodies to see if we can obtain some understanding of why the system has failed and assurances that this will not occur again.”

Andrew Tyrie, chairman of the Commons Treasury Committee, said: “A crucial part of the UK’s financial infrastructure failed for several hours. I will be writing to the Bank of England to find out why.

“The whole economy depends on a reliable payment system. We need to have confidence that the cause has been found and addressed.”

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Google v Amazon- rivalry grows

By Simon Dye - Last updated: Friday, October 17, 2014

Google chairman Eric Schmidt has said the firm’s biggest rival in online search is Amazon.
Google v Amazon- rivalry growsMr Schmidt fought back at claims that Google enjoyed unrivalled dominance of the online search market.

“Many people think our main competition is Bing or Yahoo. But, really, our biggest search competitor is Amazon,” he said in a speech in Berlin.

Google is in the middle of a European Union probe into its search engine after anti-trust complaints.

In February, it avoided paying what could have resulted in billions in fines when it agreed to give equal standing to rival services such as Microsoft in its search results.

But Mr Schmidt pointed out that competition in the online world “isn’t always like-for-like”.

“People don’t think of Amazon as search, but if you are looking for something to buy, you are more often than not looking for it on Amazon,” he said. “They are obviously more focused on the commerce side of the equation, but, at their roots, they are answering users’ questions and searches, just as we are.”

Amazon, the world’s largest online retailer, has been in the news recently for moves beyond its core e-commerce business.

In August, it bought live-streaming gaming network Twitch Interactive for about £603 million, marking the biggest acquisition in its 20 year history. Google was earlier reported to be in talks to buy Twitch.

However, even though Google holds the dominant position – accounting for more than 90% of the online search market – Mr Schmidt said he was still wary of the “next Google”.

“Someone, somewhere in a garage is gunning for us. I know, because not long ago we were in that garage. Change comes from where you least expect it,” he added.

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Is oil price crash secret US war on Russia?

By Simon Dye - Last updated: Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Lower oil prices- leading to falling petrol prices have been great for Western consumers but are they also a secret US weapon against Russia?

Is oil price crash secret US war on Russia?That’s the conclusion drawn by New York Times columnist Thomas L Friedman, who says the US and Saudi Arabia, whether by accident or design, could be pumping Russia and Iran to brink of economic collapse.

Despite turmoil in many of the world’s oil-producing countries – Libya, Iraq, Nigeria and Syria – prices are hitting lows not seen in years, Friedman writes.

Analysts identify a number of possible reasons for the steep drop – increased US production, slowing economies in Europe and China and steady production from the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec).

Rather than look at the causes, however, Friedman says to look at the result – budget shortfalls in Russia and Iran – and what it means.

Who benefits? He asks. The US wants its Ukraine-related sanctions against Russia to have more bite. Both the Saudis and the US are fighting a proxy war against Iran in Syria.

“This is business, but it also has the feel of war by other means: oil,” he writes.

As for Iran, he writes, an oil price of anything less than $100 (£62.41) a barrel will create onerous budget deficits and undermine the nation’s position in ongoing nuclear negotiations with the West. The closing price on Wednesday was $81.40.

One can only hope that the oil sheikhs will come to their senses, curtail production and stabilize prices at least at $90 per barrel”In Russia, the media have taken notice.

“The Russian economy’s dependence on energy resources, gas and oil first and foremost, is often compared to drug addiction; people say that it is ‘on the oil needle’,” write the editors of Nezavisimaya Gazeta (translated by BBC Monitoring).

“In this case, dealings to decrease oil prices on the global market can justifiably be compared to triggering agonies that are no less painful than withdrawal from a drug. And this is being done with obvious geopolitical aims to undermine the country’s economy and its influence on the global arena.”

Nikolay Makeyev and Konstantin Smirnov write in Moskovskiy Komsomolets that they fear a more severe replay of the 2008-09 economic crisis: “One can only hope that the oil sheikhs will come to their senses, curtail production and stabilise prices at least at $90 per barrel.”

Friedman’s neo-Cold War theories aren’t the only speculation making the rounds at the moment, however. For some analysts, the oil drop has everything to do with increased US production threatening Saudi Arabia’s standing as the pre-eminent oil-producing nation.

That’s changed, however, with the 70% increase in US production over the last six years.

What’s clear is that the sharp drop in oil prices is creating very distinct winners and losers on the world stage. What’s not so clear is who, if anyone, is pulling the strings.

It’s human nature to speculate about the schemes of behind-the-scenes players when the stakes are so high. It can also be comforting – a much preferable alternative to a system where the health of nations is determined by the random permutations of fate and the chaotic fluctuations of an uncontrollable market.

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Online music videos to have age ratings

By Simon Dye - Last updated: Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Prime Minister has announced a scheme to put age ratings on online music videos.

Online music videos to have age ratings

David Cameron mentioned it during a speech about families and admits he has banned his own children from watching certain content online.

Only three of the major UK record labels- Sony, Warner and Universal have signed up to the scheme, alongside YouTube and Vevo and will begin in October with the British Board of Classification.

Parents and celebrities have often spoken out about music videos, calling many overtly sexual and lyrics too explicit. In 2011 Gary Barlow, a father to three children, criticised “sexual” imagery in many videos.

Singer Katy B who is signed to Columbia Records told Newsbeat she thinks the ratings move is a good idea.

“I think that’s amazing. I think it’s good. I don’t know why they haven’t done that sooner,” she said. “I think that people should be able to express themselves the way that they want to.”

Because artists like Rihanna, Beyonce and Miley Cyrus are signed to the American arm of the big labels, they will not be included in the new age classifications.

The body which represents the UK’s biggest record labels- the BPI, says it agrees with the government that “content is made available to the public in a responsible way”.

“The BPI and its members are therefore working with the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC), Digital Service Providers (DSPs) and with the support of government on a pilot scheme that will trial age ratings for music videos released online through the UK”.

How it will work is still being developed, but the scheme will see UK record labels voluntarily provide content which will then be rated suitable for 12 or above.

The classification age categories will be 12, 15 or 18.

The BPI goes on: “Labels will then include this data with a ‘parental advisory’ style alert in its feed to the Digital Service Providers so that users, including parents, can make a more informed viewing decision.”

Vevo have signed up to the pilot but in March 2012 but doubted that such a system could work as  many American artists- known for being racier will not be certified.

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The dangers of the Connected Home

By Simon Dye - Last updated: Monday, August 18, 2014

The Internet of Things (IoT)  lets us communicate and connect via a myriad of different technologies.

The dangers of the Connected HomeThe IoT promises to  let stuff, devices and gadgets connect in the same way that humans do via the internet.

Already it is possible to get smart thermostats, fridges, ovens, washing machines, air conditioners, lights, plugs, music players, baby monitors and many more gadgets.

With a net connected oven, it will be possible to ensure your casserole is cooked to perfection as you arrive home hours late rather than dried up and cold because there was no way to communicate with the oven and adjust its timer.

However security- or rather the lack of it is the serious problem.

One of the big issues is that if one wi-fi video camera for example makes itself available to the internet regardless of your firewall, anyone who knows your IP address would be greeted with the login screen for the camera.

With one camera recently tested, entering a default login name and password granted access to the images and sounds the device was capturing. There was no prompt to change these credentials to protect privacy.

Statistics gathered via the Shodan search engine, which catalogues devices and industrial equipment attached to the net, suggests there are more than 120,000 of just this one poorly protected gadget online already.

It was hard to know how many were giving strangers a look into homes up and down the country, they said, as there was no legal and ethical way to probe them.

The vulnerabilities in the devices emerge from the very basic web server software it uses to post images online. That insecure software is currently being used by more than five million gadgets that are also already online.

Researchers from NCC Group managed to take control of several different devices including smart plugs that can be controlled via wi-fi, a wireless music system and a blu-ray DVD player.

The NCC Group said vulnerabilities in a widely used networking system called UPnP helped his team take control of these devices.

UPnP was known to be vulnerable and kits already exist, one of which was written by an NCC Group researcher, that look for devices that use the networking protocol and try different vulnerabilities against them.

Many of the devices used UPnP to reach servers out on the wider net potentially exposing them to attackers.

Built-in passwords that could not be changed made these ripe for exploitation.

Gaining control of these devices was likely to annoy people more than anything else but other work by the company had exposed a more worrying aspect.

“The one that people really get concerned about is the microphone on a smart TV,” he said. “We were able to bug a living room through it. That’s when the internet of things starts to spook people out,” he said. “when your stuff does more than you think it does or ever wanted it to.”

The work that Microsoft and other PC software vendors were doing to harden their code was already making dedicated cyber criminals look elsewhere for targets.

The “ridiculously easy” way it was possible to subvert many smart gadgets was likely to make them a candidate for attack in the near future. There had already been examples of attackers looking to subvert domestic hardware in a bid to grab online banking data.

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