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Tech talent to play starring role at Ireland’s largest film studio campus

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Mullingar will provide the planned Hammerlake Studios film campus with a strong pipeline of tech talent, say its developers.

As film-making tech continues to evolve, careers in the industry are changing to reflect this. Streaming services, consumer habits and the pandemic have all had an impact on how the movie sector uses tech.

Now, Ireland is set to get a major new film studio which will employ hundreds of people – many in tech roles. Mullingar in Co Westmeath has been earmarked as the location for Hammerlake Studios.

Once completed, the studios will play a big role in the international film, TV and streaming industry. Westmeath County Council has already approved the planning application and the development is subject to a final vote of approval in September.

The first phase is due to commence operations in the first quarter of 2024. It will employ 350 people in production and 300 construction workers. Phase one will consist of four studios or ‘sound stages’ suitable for large-scale film and television production, data technology centres and editing rooms. Other amenities such as food, fitness and admin buildings will also be added.

The second phase is expected to bring job creation to over 1,000 by 2025. After details of the project broke earlier this week, SiliconRepublic.com spoke to the studio’s director of development and operations, Tom Dowling, about the role tech – and local talent – will play in the undertaking.

Dowling has worked in the film industry for several years. During the pandemic, he noticed how the technology was being used by the industry changed. Like most industries, film-makers were curtailed by public health restrictions put their energy into tech as a way of satisfying audiences.

While green screen will always be used, according to Dowling, the industry is moving to VR. It is borrowing from some of the tech used by gaming companies, which means that if you work in games development, chances are your skills will be in demand in the film industry too.

‘I think Mullingar is the right place. It’s got a young and educated workforce’
– TOM DOWLING

Hollywood has been using software traditionally used by games companies for some time now. Dowling gave the example of The Mandalorian TV series from 2019, which was filmed using Unreal Engine. The show’s creator, John Favreau, worked with Unreal Engine’s developer Epic Games. They used a massive wraparound LED screen with a moving background image projected onto it. The actors were placed in front of the screen.

“That’s been done several times since,” said Dowling. The industry has dubbed the method ‘shooting in the volume’.

The method obviously slashes production costs as you can set it all up without leaving the studio. “It’s probably the biggest leap in technology in the last couple of years,” said Dowling.

However, Dowling also said that there are still tweaks to be made. “What they’re still trying to figure out is how to have the highest resolution screen that you can possibly have and making the camera work with that. So, when an actor moves from right to left, the camera and the screen move in tandem, so the perspectives change as you move about the stage. It’s been good, but they’re still tweaking it. It’ll be another year or two, I think, before they’ll have perfected that.”

Animators from the gaming world will be crucial to fine-tuning this technology in the coming years, according to Dowling. They will work with traditional film animators to generate the images used in the background for shooting in the volume.

Dowling, who used to work at Troy Studios in Limerick, is confident that Mullingar will be able to provide Hammerlake Studios with a strong pipeline of talent. He said that for the first few years, Hammerlake will bring in a lot of its experienced camera and tech talent from Dublin. But it will also train up local graduates from nearby colleges such as the TU of the Shannon. Dowling and his team are working with the TU to develop syllabi on courses that will prepare people to work in these new film tech jobs.

“I think Mullingar is the right place. It’s got a young and educated workforce there. We believe we can find enough people to upskill them and train them up in terms of the film sector roles that they would need to do,” said Dowling. He added that his team did search a number of sites before settling on Westmeath.

“We didn’t want to be in Dublin because there is a talent pool in Dublin, but you’re just pulling from one to another,” he explained. “We wanted to be at a place where we could generate and create our own talent pool and try and hold on to that. The other part of that was we didn’t want to be involved in traffic congestion.”

He likened the local support for the project thus far to “pushing an open door”. He is confident the project will achieve final approval to bring employment to the area.

So, will Hammerlake Studios be a significant player in the international film scene in 10 years’ time? It will be before then, according to Dowling. People’s insatiable desire for content is what’s driving the project. With projections estimating the development will generate up to €50m of annual revenue for Mullingar, it sounds like it won“t be long before Westmeath County Council says lights, camera, action.

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Linux 6.0 debuts, missing some Rusty bits • The Register

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Emperor Penguin Linus Torvalds has released the first release candidate for Linux 6.0, but doesn’t mind what you call it.

“After I had already decided to call this kernel 6.0, a few Chinese developers piped up and pointed out that ‘5.20’ is a more wholesome version of the Western ‘4.20’ internet-famous number,” he wrote in his announcement that Linux 6.0 rc1 has been released.

“4.20” is a reference to a day on which some celebrate marijuana, while “5.20” does likewise for magic mushrooms.

“So if you want to call this ‘Linux 5.20’, go right ahead,” Torvalds wrote.

“Because the kernel version numbers really are entirely made up and have no intrinsic meaning.”

That this week’s release has the 6.0 label is still nice to know, as discussion on the Linux kernel mailing list in recent weeks used 5.20 and 6.0 interchangeably.

As The Register has already reported, the release does not make major changes to the kernel but does include many useful updates – such as more RISC-V support, code to drive Intel’s Gaudi accelerators, and improved ACPI handling.

Torvalds lamented some Rust-enabling code didn’t make it into the release.

“I actually was hoping that we’d get some of the first rust infrastructure, and the multi-gen LRU VM, but neither of them happened this time around,” he mused, before observing “There’s always more releases.”

“This is one of those releases where you should not look at the diffstat too closely, because more than half of it is yet another AMD GPU register dump,” he added, noting that Intel’s Gaudi2 Ai processors are also likely to produce plenty of similar kernel additions.

“The CPU people also show up in the JSON files that describe the perf events, but they look absolutely tiny compared to the ‘asic_reg’ auto-generated GPU and AI hardware definitions,” he added.

The release includes 13,099 changed files, 1,280,295 insertions and 341,210 deletions. Torvalds calculated those numbers “just because I was curious and looked.”

He wants you to be curious too – or at least curious enough to test the kernel, because that’s what release candidates are for and this one contains at least one active bug. ®

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Tinder is the most hated app in Ireland

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Ireland is one of 19 countries worldwide that strongly dislikes Tinder. One in five Tweets by Irish people about all apps are negative.

According to Electronics Hub’s analysis of the most hated apps in the world, Tinder is the most loathed app in Ireland.

Irish people are not alone in their hatred for the dating app. Tinder was the most hated app in 19 countries in total, with Canadians, Americans, Nigerians, Kenyans and our neighbours in the UK also singling it out as their least favourite.

Electronics Hub determined the most hated apps in each country by analysing Twitter data. It processed more than 3m geotagged tweets related to 87 social media, dating, mobile games, entertainment, cryptocurrency and money transfer apps.

Researchers calculated the percentage of tweets about each app that were negative using a sentiment analysis tool which identifies whether a tweet has positive, negative or neutral sentiment.

Infographic of the most hated apps in the world by country.

Click to enlarge and see the most hated apps in the world by country. Infographic: Electronics Hub

Ireland was found to be one of the most negative countries when it came to attitudes towards apps. One in five Tweets posted by Irish people about apps were negative, Electronics Hub found.

Despite Irish people’s professed loathing for Tinder, the dating platform tried to play a role in keeping daters safe in the pandemic. It hooked up with the HSE to promote vaccines by adding badges to users’ profiles.

Tinder was only the second-most hated app in the world, with Roblox taking first place. More than 20 countries said the child-targeted gaming app was their most hated app. Other unpopular apps include Snapchat, Disney and Reddit.

Neighbouring countries tend to dislike similar apps, with the Scandinavians professing a dislike for Reddit and South Americans hating e-commerce apps.

Dating apps, meanwhile, are disliked the world over. In Iraq, 71.4pc of all tweets about Tinder are negative, which is the highest out of any country. A state-by-state breakdown of the most hated apps in North America also found Tinder took the top spot in 21 states.

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‘A sweatshop in the UK’: how the cost of living crisis triggered walkouts at Amazon | Industrial action

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Amazon workers say they are working in a “sweatshop” as safety concerns and worries about the cost of living crisis have triggered walkouts at warehouses around the country.

The Observer has spoken to four staff involved in the walkouts, who work at three Amazon warehouses, including Tilbury in Essex, where protests began on 4 August. All say they will struggle to survive this winter with pay rise offers between 35p and 50p an hour – far less than the rate of inflation, which is currently at 9.4%.

The workers, who spoke anonymously for fear of reprisals from Amazon, said they were speaking out to highlight how the firm’s ultra-cheap, ultra-convenient, super-fast delivery model works.

Amazon employs more than 70,000 people in the UK, adding 25,000 staff in 2021 alone. Many work at the company’s 21 fulfilment centres, where some workers say they are asked to carry out long, physical shifts, with difficult targets, for low pay.

Starting pay in Amazon warehouses will shortly be increasing to between £10.50 and £11.45 per hour, depending on location. An Amazon spokesperson said this was a 29% increase in the minimum hourly wage paid to staff since 2018. They said it is also augmented by a comprehensive benefits package worth thousands of pounds a year, and a company pension plan.

But staff say it is too low for the type of work being done and given the current economic crisis, especially at a company that just posted $121bn (£100bn) in revenues in the second quarter of 2022 alone.

“When we heard the news, it was shocking,” said one worker at Amazon’s warehouse in Tilbury. “It’s ridiculous. Inflation is [forecast to reach] 13%, and our salary increases barely 3%.” The worker rents a house with her husband for £1,350 a month without bills. “My salary is £1,600. … I’m lucky I’m married, otherwise I’d be homeless.”

Some staff are seeking a pay rise of £2 an hour from the tech giant.

Hundreds of Amazon employees stop working over disputed pay rise – video

Another worker at Amazon’s warehouse in Tilbury said they were “petrified” about how they would survive this winter. “We had a scenario recently where someone was living in [an] Amazon [warehouse],” he said. “If I’m honest, I can probably see that happening again.

“I can see people staying in the canteen all the time because they can’t afford to go home.”

The worker is protesting against the poor pay offer, as well as conditions that lock staff in cages for entire shifts at the warehouses, from where they pick items to be delivered to customers. (Amazon says the workstations are to protect workers from moving robotics.)

“It’s a Chinese sweatshop in the UK,” said the second worker at Tilbury. “It’s how they set up their model.”

The worker has struggled with his mental health while working for the company. “I’ve realised how bad Amazon is for my mental health,” he said. “The anxiety of going into work, knowing you’ve got to do the same stuff day in, day out, is horrible.”

That concern is echoed by a worker at an Amazon facility near Bristol, who has worked there with his wife for three years. “It was good initially,” the worker said. “There was a lot of safety consciousness, and the targets were pretty reasonable. But now they’re just pushing it higher and higher, and exploiting people.”

Around 100 Amazon staff at Bristol staged a sit-in at the company canteen on 10 August – action for which they say they were docked pay by management at the site. “The vast majority of people went back to work at that point, because at the end of the day, as much as they want to fight for it, they have to think about themselves financially.”

The Bristol warehouse worker says that managers used to stop employees from lifting heavy items from bins on high shelves in the warehouse without a ladder. “If you overstretched yourself for 10 hours, you’d end up with a bad neck and a bad back,” he said.

That has subsequently changed as staff said they felt pressured to meet ever-escalating demand. Staff pushing carts around the warehouse used to be limited to using one cart at a time for safety reasons; now it is claimed managers turn a blind eye to staff pulling two carts at once. “They don’t say nothing because all they care about is getting the work done as fast as possible,” he said. “Safety just goes out the window.”

He says he has personally lifted items weighing up to 25kg by himself, despite rules saying anything heavier than 15kg should be lifted by two people.

A worker at an Amazon facility in the north-west of England said that managers at his warehouse similarly ignored rules around not running on site and lifting down heavy items from high areas in an attempt to meet targets, which at his site require two items to be picked every minute.

Amazon declined to respond to specific claims.

Martha Dark, director at Foxglove, a non-profit organisation working to highlight issues within tech companies that supports Amazon workers, said: “None of the workers we’re supporting wanted to protest.

“They’re desperate and can’t survive on these wages. Meanwhile, Amazon threatens to dock pay and send workers to HR for revealing the truth about life in the warehouse.”

She added: “Amazon needs to respect workers’ rights to organise, stop penalising people who are fighting to survive and provide a real pay rise now.”

Two workers said they plan to leave the company because of the conditions and pay. However, some hope to stay put – to change things.

“If a lot of us who are experienced leave Amazon at this point they’ll get a new group of people in who they can mould into this depressing way of work,” said the Bristol worker. “That’s the problem.”

This article was amended on 14 August 2022. Inflation is at 9.4%, not 13% as stated in an earlier version; the latter is a forecast rate.

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