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DCU produces first encyclopaedia of composite materials

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Dublin City University’s school of mechanical manufacturing and engineering is behind the first reference guide intended for engineers, architects and policy makers.

The first ever encyclopaedia of composite materials intended for use by engineers, architects and scientists has just been published online.

The encyclopaedia was prepared for use as a reference guide containing background knowledge for anyone working within the composite materials market.

Composite materials used in construction include concrete, reinforced plastics, cement and steel–reinforced concrete.

Their use offers advantages such as increased durability, resistance to corrosion and rot, reduced weight requiring less structural supports, and less maintenance and lower repairs costs.

Composite materials fabricated from metal, polymer and ceramics have become widely available over recent decades due to the many advantages that they can provide over single monolithic materials.

This includes improvements in the properties such as the physical, electrical, chemical, optical and magnetic properties which can be achieved by combining two or more materials.

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Prof Dermot Brabazon from Dublin City University’s (DCU) School of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering led a team of 337 international co-authors who contributed 171 articles to the encyclopaedia.

Editor-in-chief Brabazon thanked his co-authors, editors and publishers for their contributions to the project, saying: “It has been encouraging to see their expertise, interest and desire to help others. With the many co-authored articles, there has been extensive collaboration which has resulted in a more informed and well-presented content for the reader.”

Engineers, architects and policy-makers who work with composite materials can refer to the guide, where they will find the relevant definitions, concepts and knowledge they require to assess the properties of the composite materials they intend to use.

‘Encyclopedia of Materials: Composites’ is published by Elsevier and is available for purchase here.

 

 

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Microsoft’s Activision merger faces real-world barriers to metaverse mission | Microsoft

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If the world of Call of Duty seems fraught enough when you are playing it, try being in it. That could be the consequence of Microsoft’s proposed $68.7bn (£50.4bn) acquisition of Activision Blizzard, the video games maker behind the shoot ’em up franchise. Announcing the deal, Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s chief executive, said that gaming would “play a key role in the development of metaverse platforms”.

The metaverse is a catch-all term for an immersive experience that blends the physical and digital worlds through a mixture of virtual and augmented reality. This concept is years away from being fully realised, but it is envisaged that participants – using digital representations of themselves, or avatars – will access it through a virtual reality headset, or augmented reality (AR) glasses that put a digital layer over what they see in the real world. In the metaverse they can socialise with friends, carry out their job – or take part in a video game.

John Egan, chief executive of market intelligence firm L’Atelier BNP Paribas, says that with the Activision deal Microsoft has made it “very clear” that gaming will be at the centre of how metaverse concepts work. And it is not just using the games, but also deploying the creative and technical talent behind them to build virtual worlds.

“Imagine Call of Duty. You’d be dropped into a Battle Royale-like environment, on to a planet like the way Fortnite is now, though bigger by a factor of several thousand. You’ve got an entire planet, so your experience can go on for weeks at a time.”

employees with placards
Activision Blizzard employees hold a walkout to call for changes in conditions for women and other groups at the company in Irvine, California in July 2021. Photograph: David McNew/AFP/Getty Images

Egan adds that Call of Duty would work in what he calls a “digi-physical” environment, where AR comes in to play and the game is superimposed on participants’ glasses, or even contact lenses.

“Microsoft could create virtual layers over existing urban infrastructure, within which people can use mixed reality lenses, like glasses or contact lenses, to interact with each other. So imagine something like a skateboard park that becomes a Call of Duty arena. And people use their phones as a gun, and they’ve got their glassware on as the mixed reality infrastructure to do that interaction.”

Of course, not every metaverse world will be like Call of Duty – and not everyone would want to go anywhere near it. Egan says Activision games such as Crash Bandicoot, featuring the antics of an anthropomorphic marsupial, offer a more family-friendly alternative.

Analysts have also pointed to the fact that Activision will immediately bolster Microsoft’s gaming business – it owns the Xbox platform and the Minecraft and Halo franchises – regardless of its metaverse plans. The Bill Gates-founded company will gain access to 390 million monthly users, adding to its Game Pass subscription service, which already has 25 million users.

Dan Ives, a managing director at the US investment firm Wedbush Securities, describes Microsoft’s metaverse vision for the deal as “the cherry on top of the sundae”.

“We believe for Microsoft this was the right deal at the right time to boost its gaming strategy and streaming ambitions. Nadella recognised Microsoft’s consumer business needed a shot in the arm,” he says.

The agreed deal would also need to get past US regulators, who served notice on Tuesday that the tech industry would face a tougher regime. Lina Khan, chair of the Federal Trade Commission, the US competition watchdog, and Jonathan Kanter, head of antitrust at the department of justice, announced a review of merger guidelines – with tech among their areas of concern. Kanter said: “We need to understand why so many industries have too few competitors.”

Fallen heroes of war billboards promote the launch of Activision’s Call of Duty: Vanguard in Shoreditch, London, in November 2021.
Fallen heroes of war billboards promote the launch of Activision’s Call of Duty: Vanguard in Shoreditch, London, in November 2021. Photograph: Neil P Mockford/Getty Images for Activision: Call of Duty

It could be argued that this is a “vertical” deal between two businesses that do not compete directly: Microsoft’s Xbox platform and Activision’s games. But regulators are likely to look at whether Microsoft could shut off Activision titles from rival platforms such as PlayStation. Microsoft said on Tuesday it did not intend to “pull communities away” from PlayStation.

Rebecca Allensworth, professor of law at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, says Khan and Kanter’s review signals a toughening of the environment for tech.

“Generally, there is a lot of muscle right now behind antitrust enforcement in tech,” she says. “Changing the merger guidelines to be harsher against tech mergers is a part of that. The comments on Tuesday highlighted the idea that the guidelines need to be able to recognise competitive harm from mergers that are vertical or mixed vertical. That’s the merger between Activision and Microsoft.” Nonetheless, she says that it is “still very hard to challenge vertical mergers” and the deal may go through.

However, L’Atelier’s Egan added that even if the deal got past the FTC and justice department, there was also the question of integration. On Monday Activision said it had fired or pushed out more than three dozen employees and disciplined another 40 since July, to address allegations of sexual harassment and other misconduct at the company, which has nearly 10,000 employees to Microsoft’s 190,000.

“Microsoft has an extraordinarily high level of employee satisfaction,” says Egan. “It’s a really good company. You wonder if one of the biggest threats of this is Microsoft kind of letting the wolf in the door. How are Microsoft going to assimilate an organisation with a culture that is beset by issues to do with misogyny, diversity and harassment over the last number of years which they have failed utterly to remedy? How are Microsoft going to resolve that?”

Should the deal go through, Microsoft will have real-world concerns too.

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Google sours on G Suite freeloaders, demands fee or flee • The Register

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Google has served eviction notices to its legacy G Suite squatters: the free service will no longer be available in four months and existing users can either pay for a Google Workspace subscription or export their data and take their not particularly valuable businesses elsewhere.

“If you have the G Suite legacy free edition, you need to upgrade to a paid Google Workspace subscription to keep your services,” the company said in a recently revised support document. “The G Suite legacy free edition will no longer be available starting May 1, 2022.”

The G Suite legacy free edition will no longer be available starting May 1, 2022

Workspace subscriptions start at $6 per month for the most basic membership.

Google will begin automatically upgrading legacy accounts to Workspace come May but won’t activate those accounts without the submission of payment information. Those who fail to supply payment information for Workplace before July 1, 2022, will find their accounts suspended.

Suspended accounts can be revived with a subscription fee, an arrangement that may sound like a ransomware operation but is really just business as usual. G Suite refugees can avoid this scenario by exporting their data using Google’s Data Export Tool.

“Today we notified customers using a legacy free subscription for our communication and collaboration apps, including Gmail, Google Drive, and Google Docs, that they will need to transition to a Google Workspace plan by July 1, 2022,” a Google spokesperson said in an email to The Register. “The legacy free subscription was available from 2006 to 2012, and provided a basic set of business features and integration with a custom domain.”

“We’re now asking these customers to upgrade to Google Workspace, which offers solutions tailored to the unique needs of our broad range of customers, as well as increased storage and security, 24/7 support, and more. We’re offering deep discounts to help ease the transition, and are excited for our customers to have more choice and flexibility in their collaboration experience.”

Google’s support documents fail to explain whether data can be exported after an account suspension and how long the company will retain data in suspended accounts. Google’s spokesperson did immediately have an answer when asked for clarification.

Gmail is now part of Workspace, so anyone using a version of Gmail associated with Workspace will lose access without a paid subscription.

“If you don’t provide your payment information, your Google Workspace subscription will be suspended until you set up billing,” another Google support document explains. “After 60 days in suspension, you will no longer have access to Google Workspace core services, such as Gmail, Calendar, and Meet.”

Those using the free version of Gmail tied to a Google Account shouldn’t be affected by this change, nor should users of YouTube or Google Photos. And there’s still a free version of Google Drive (15 GB of free storage) that exists outside of Workspace.

So, to be clear, these changes affect the legacy free version of G Suite that was aimed at small groups, such as organizations or families, who wanted to manage their Google accounts together under one roof, typically sharing a custom domain name for their email. Those folks will now have to start paying. People with free personal Google accounts can still use Gmail, Google Docs, Calendar, and so on, gratis.

How long these services will continue to be offered without a fee, though, is anyone’s guess. As of last June, the Chocolate Factory stopped providing unlimited free storage for photos stored at “high quality” in an effort to steer customers to its Google One subscription.

The free version of G Suite hasn’t been available to the public since December, 2012, when the service was known as Google Apps. That’s when Google stopped allowing new customer sign-ups for the free version of Google Apps and offered only Google Apps for Business ($50/year).

Google’s subscription-based office suite became G Suite in 2016 and was rebranded Workspace in October, 2020. Throughout this identity crisis, anyone who had signed up for what was long ago called Google Apps Standard Edition could continue to access the free service. But in a few months, this free legacy version of G Suite will be gone.

Perhaps unaware of these pending changes, Google’s chief legal officer Kent Walker on Tuesday published a blog post arguing that a recent amended tech bill “could prevent us from providing consumers and businesses useful, free services” and “seems to punish free services in favor of services consumers have to pay for, as it seems to exempt ‘fee for subscription services’ (like Microsoft’s subscription-based software).” ®

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Taking control of online data

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GDPR ushers in a new era of data protection right after the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal shows us why it’s needed.

Celebrating 20 years of Silicon Republic, 2001-2021

On 20 August 2018, a 15-year-old girl in Sweden decided not to go to school. Instead, she protested outside the Swedish parliament building, demanding the country take action on the climate crisis.

Greta Thunberg was right to be concerned. Her school strike, which eventually evolved into the FridaysForFuture movement, began less than two months before a UN report warned that drastic action would be required to keep global heating below 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Maynooth University climatologist Prof Peter Thorne was among the report’s 91 authors who, along with 133 contributors, compiled a comprehensive assessment for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). As if on cue, scientists released audio of Antarctic ice ‘singing’ a haunting song shortly after the IPCC report.

While Ireland made some effort on climate action by divesting from fossil fuels in 2018, overall data showed the country to be a ‘laggard’ on the issue and, according to the Climate Change Advisory Council, “completely off course” on emissions targets.

Missing these goals would have immediate as well as long-term consequences with the country expecting to be fined as much as €500m. Micheál Martin, TD, then leader of the opposition, described it as an “extraordinary story of failure”.

Before the year’s end, Ireland pledged €4.5m to six climate initiatives at COP24 and almost 200 nations agreed rules on implementing the Paris Agreement. It sounded like more empty promises, though, as environmental groups criticised the lack of progress on the issue to date. “People expected action, and that is what governments did not deliver. This is morally unacceptable,” said Jennifer Morgan, executive director of Greenpeace International.

Facebook under fire

Mark Zuckerberg’s 2018 New Year’s resolution was to fix Facebook. What followed was possibly the platform’s most hellish year.

On St Patrick’s Day, joint reports in The New York Times and The Observer revealed a huge scandal involving the harvesting of the Facebook data of about 87m people for the purpose of mass manipulation through misinformation and targeted advertising.

Having been caught on camera boasting about his company’s powers of political interference, Andrew Nix, CEO of UK consulting firm Cambridge Analytica, was suspended. Facebook’s stocks took a tumble and there was a user exodus.

Zuckerberg later admitted Facebook made mistakes and new privacy features were introduced to give users’ control of their data. But he still had to face US Senate judiciary and commerce committees and EU MEPs. Later, the company would appeal a £500,000 fine in the UK.

In Ireland, Facebook’s content moderation policies were the subject of scrutiny by an Oireachtas Committee and politicians called for an end to self-regulation.

And Facebook’s woes didn’t end there. In September, the platform suffered the biggest data breach in its 14-year history, with 30m accounts affected by an access token-harvesting attack – though it was initially thought to have affected as many as 50m accounts.

There’s a new sheriff in town (it’s GDPR)

This is the world into which the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) arrived. As the deadline for compliance with the massive 261-page piece of EU legislation approached, inboxes were stuffed with countless privacy update requests.

On 25 May, the very day that GDPR became law, data privacy activist Max Schrems wasted no time, launching legal broadsides at tech giants worth €7bn. Some US websites were so panicked by the risk of fines that they blocked access in the EU.

Even with years of advance notice, only 20pc of organisations surveyed believed they were GDPR-compliant two months after it came into effect.

Then came the investigations. In October, the Irish Data Protection Commission began investigating a Facebook data breach. Shortly after, it was Twitter’s turn for alleged user tracking.

As well as transforming data retention practices, GDPR ushered in a noticeable decline in third-party cookies. It also set an example for the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), due to bring similar rules to Silicon Valley in 2020. Apple CEO Tim Cook believed the whole US should adopt GDPR-like rules to deal with the growing “data industrial complex”.

Deepfake dangers

The expression ‘deepfake’ was first used in print in 2018, referring to the face-mapping technology used by internet hobbyists to rework existing videos.

Lots of early deepfakes were made in jest, but as this fabricated video footage became easier to make and spotting them became harder, the implications for misinformation became apparent.

To demonstrate the case, comedian Jordan Peele made a deepfake of former US president Barack Obama. Obama may never have really called then president Donald Trump “a total and complete dipshit”, but Peele made it look scarily convincing.

People were also using deepfake technology to make pornographic videos. Gfycat deleted them and Reddit banned them, but a heinous genie was out of the bottle. Social media players became concerned over the negative impacts of deepfakes on their platforms and, in September, Sheryl Sandberg and Jack Dorsey faced a grilling at US congress over their plans to tackle deepfakes and bots.

5G foundations are laid

Fifth-generation wireless technology, better known as 5G, promised speeds up to 100 times faster than its 4G predecessor and networks were getting ready for the leap forward.

Early February saw the first live demo of pre-standard 5G in Ireland by Vodafone and Ericsson. Later, Three, Imagine and Eir laid out their 5G plans.

The standalone international 5G standard was passed in June and companies such as Nokia, Qualcomm and Ericsson were set for a windfall as they owned standard patents integral to its deployment. Nokia, for example, estimated that it would make €3 for every 5G smartphone sold.

Intel and Ericsson made a breakthrough when they achieved the first end-to-end 5G data call in July. In November, Vodafone went live with the first 5G trial site in Dublin’s Docklands. And by December, Qualcomm was ready with a new generation of chips for the first wave of 5G-enabled devices.

National Broadband Plan in jeopardy

And while 5G was taking shape, Ireland’s National Broadband Plan (NBP) was falling apart.

The €1bn State-backed plan to bring connectivity to about 540,000 people was off to a rocky start when Eir sensationally walked away from the procurement process in January. Added to the departure of Vodafone-ESB joint venture Siro the previous year, this left just one bidder: a consortium led by US telecoms mogul David McCourt involving Enet and SSE.

Then February delivered another shock when Enet CEO Conal Henry stepped down. Five months later, SSE exited the consortium.

By September, now called National Broadband Ireland, the consortium submitted its final bid for the tender. The group, led by McCourt’s investment firm, Granahan McCourt, included Enet, Nokia, Kelly Group, KN Group and Actavo, Denis O’Brien’s engineering services firm.

But the drama wasn’t over. In October, communications minister Denis Naughten, TD, resigned amid growing controversy over his contacts with McCourt.

In November, an audit of the procurement process concluded that there was no evidence the process was tainted by these meetings or that any sensitive or beneficial information was shared with final NBP bidder.

Chipocalypse now

2018 sent the tech world into meltdown as the spectre of a CPU vulnerability affected millions of devices.

Known as Meltdown and Spectre, the bugs affected nearly all chip-enabled devices and could potentially give hackers access to parts of the computer’s memory. Initially thought to stem from a flaw exclusive to Intel chips, the bugs turned out to have affected other major chipmakers, including AMD and ARM, impacting Microsoft and Apple devices alike.

Patches issued by Intel slowed down computers, especially the ones using older processors such as Broadwell and Haswell. but CEO Brian Krzanich promised that new chips with built-in protections were in the pipeline.

A new variant called Spectre 4, discovered by Microsoft and Google later in the year, could leave any chip on any 21st-century computer open to attack. Months later, scientists uncovered a whole new vulnerability dubbed Foreshadow which they had, ironically, not expected.

By the end of the year, however, no malware related to the flaws was reported on the prowl even though new variants of the original bugs continued to crop up.

In other news

13 January: The second Payment Services Directive (PSD2) becomes law across Europe, potentially unleashing a new world of open banking.

20 February: Carolan Lennon is named as the next CEO of Eir.

20 February: Security researchers report that Tesla’s Amazon Web Services environment was hacked in order to mine cryptocurrency.

28 February: GitHub is hit by the most powerful DDoS attack on record.

18 March: The death of Elaine Herzberg in Arizona is the first recorded case of a pedestrian fatality involving an experimental autonomous car.

14 April: Mark Pollock and Simone George close TED2018 with “the most powerful, moving talk” ever seen at the conference.

27 April: Prof Stephen Hawking’s last theory is published following his death in March.

30 April: WhatsApp co-founder Jan Koum leaves Facebook in a clash over privacy.

16 May: The Irish Government is narrowly defeated in its effort to keep the age of digital consent at 13, as Dáil Éireann votes to raise it to 16.

4 June: Microsoft acquires GitHub for $7.5bn.

5 June: Microsoft sinks a small data centre off the coast of the Orkney archipelago in Scotland.

14 June: AT&T completes its $85.4bn takeover of Time Warner.

12 July: Prince Harry and Meghan Markle meet Silicon Republic CEO Ann O’Dea and other leaders in diversity and inclusion, along with a number of young coders from the CoderDojo movement, at a round table in Dublin’s Dogpatch Labs.

12 July: Trinity reveals plans to build a €1bn campus known as the Grand Canal Innovation District.

18 July: The European Commission hits Google with a €4.34bn fine, finding that it abused its market dominance with Android.

2 August: Apple becomes the first public company to reach $1trn in value.

4 September: Amazon joins Apple in the $1trn club.

6 September: Prof Jocelyn Bell Burnell is awarded a $3m Breakthrough Prize for her discovery of pulsars, for which her PhD supervisor was awarded a Nobel Prize in 1974.

10 September: Alibaba co-founder Jack Ma announces his plans to step down.

24 September: Instagram founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger leave Facebook to explore their “curiosity and creativity”.

10 October: Microsoft joins the Open Invention Network, an open-source patent consortium that provides a licence platform for Linux.

15 October: Science Foundation Ireland launches VistaMilk to research the entire dairy production chain.

28 October: IBM announces plans for a $34bn acquisition of Red Hat, its biggest ever.

1 November: Google employees stage a walk-out to protest the handling of sexual harassment cases at the company.

26 November: NASA’s InSight lander touches down on the surface of Mars, capturing snaps of its new home.

13 December: Revolut is granted a European banking licence.

17 December: Google is reported to have shuttered Project Dragonfly, an effort to bring a censored search engine to China which had drawn employee protests.

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