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Four-day week pilot could change the way Ireland works

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Four Day Week Ireland has launched a pilot programme, while the Government will fund a research partnership to assess the economic, social and environmental impacts.

A new pilot scheme from Four Day Week Ireland aims to overhaul Ireland’s attitude to work-life balance post-pandemic.

The pilot, which launched today (22 June), will offer businesses supports and advice that will help them implement flexible working practices for their employees.

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Under the trial programme, employers will introduce a four-day week for staff over a six-month period starting in January 2022.

The Four Day Week Ireland campaign is backed by the Fórsa trade union, the National Women’s Council, Friends of the Earth Ireland, and several Irish businesses including ICE Group and 3D Issue.

The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment and the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications will also fund a research partnership to assess the economic, social and environmental impacts of a four-day working week in an Irish context.

Up to €150,00 will be made available to support research focusing on areas such as energy consumption, employment levels, staff productivity, gender equality and job satisfaction.

‘We need to keep an open mind when it comes to innovations in the world of work’
– LEO VARADKAR, TD

Speaking about today’s announcement, Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Leo Varadkar, TD, said the pandemic has caused us to rethink and re-evaluate how we work.

“It’s too early to say whether a four-day working week could work in Ireland,” he said. “The idea is ambitious, to achieve the same outcomes and productivity, for the same pay with 20pc fewer hours worked.

“I can see how that might work for some roles but it’s hard to see how it would work in others particularly in health, education and manufacturing, for example. But we need to keep an open mind when it comes to innovations in the world of work.”

Joe O’Connor, chair of Four Day Week Ireland, said the campaign welcomes the support of the Government.

“With the huge changes taking place in the post-Covid environment, now is the right time for the Government to be imaginative and innovative in reassessing how we live and work,” he added.

“Employers who have already introduced a four-day week have found that a shorter working week can benefit their employees’ physical and mental health, as well as bringing broader benefits to society.”

Over the upheaval of the past year, there have been many discussions about the possibility of a four-day work week and how companies could implement it.

Proponents say it could benefit worker wellbeing and work-life balance, and also give companies a competitive edge when trying to attract talent.

Donegal-based digital publishing company 3D Issue introduced a four-day week last year. Paul McNulty, CEO of the business, said the move has benefited staff and sales have increased.

“Our staff are happier, more refreshed and more engaged in their work,” McNulty added. “Covid-19 has changed people’s perspective of the optimal working environment and of work-life balance. We are delighted to support Four Day Week Ireland in its campaign to study and educate the wider business community.”

As part of the campaign, Four Day Week Ireland is also joining a multinational coalition of businesspeople, academics and researchers in calling for signatures on a petition to make the four-day week a reality for businesses and workers around the world.

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How to speed up your broadband internet | Wifi

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Do a speed check

Find out the speed you are getting using a computer connected to your router via an ethernet network cable. Many routers and other devices come with one, or they cost about £5 separately.

You may also need a USB ethernet adapter (about £10) if your computer does not have a port built-in.

If you can’t connect via ethernet, use a modern phone, laptop or tablet on wifi as close to your router as possible with a clear line of sight.

Ookla’s Speedtest.net and Netflix’s Fast.com are reliable speed-testing services.

Some more advanced routers have speed testing services built into them, too. They are typically accessible via a router’s settings pages in your browser or a companion app, if they have one.

Woman setting up home office connection
Connecting your device to the router with an ethernet cable can improve speeds. Photograph: Tetra Images/Getty Images/Tetra images RF

If your broadband is slow at the router, it might be time to switch providers. Some fixed-line ISPs offer speeds in excess of 200Mbps in certain areas, while 4G/5G home broadband is an alternative.

If you are not getting near the speed your ISP advertises, you may be able to get a discount, or switch to a plan with higher speeds.

Work out what you need

When it comes to broadband the faster the better, particularly with multiple people and devices using the internet at once. However, the minimum speed needed for most online activities is fairly slow.

Video calling services, such as Zoom, typically need up to 4Mbps upload and download.

Online gaming services, such as Xbox Live, need at least 3Mbps down and 0.5Mbps up, while game streaming services need a minimum of 10Mbps down.

Video streaming, such as Netflix, needs at least 5Mbps for HD or 25Mbps for 4K content.

The median broadband speed in the UK is 50.4Mbps down and 9.8Mbps up, according to data from Ofcom in March 2021. That means that the majority of connections should be able to handle most popular services.

But bear in mind that with more than one device, or person, using your connection simultaneously, including updates and downloads when idle, slower broadband packages can quickly get choked.

Reposition your router

If your broadband connection is fast enough but your wifi is weak, there are things you can do. If possible, move the router closer to the centre of the house, or towards the rooms in which you need the strongest signal. Keep it in the open, not in a cabinet, and away from solid and metallic objects.

And try to position it away from dense walls, particularly those made out of concrete blockwork or with pipes and wires running through them.

Check your settings

Most modern routers will automatically select the best settings for your home, but you can manually check using the web interface of your router accessed through a browser on a computer. Consult the help pages for your ISP’s router for how to do so.

Wifi operating at 2.4GHz uses a range of frequency “channels”, only some of which do not overlap with each other. To reduce interference from your neighbours’ wifi, switch to channel 1, 6 or 11, which do not overlap, and therefore are less likely to cause or suffer interference.

If you have a connection under 200Mbps, enabling prioritisation or “quality of service” for your key devices, might help. This stops other things from sucking up all the available bandwidth – it will prevent a game download on an Xbox cutting off a video call on your laptop, for instance.

Set a strong wifi password using at least WPA2 security, not the lowest WEP option. This will make sure no wifi thieves can log on to your network and steal your bandwidth.

Check your devices

An internet slowdown may be down to your devices rather than your router. For older computers, upgrading the wifi adapter may help. USB wifi 5 adapters cost under £15, while the latest wifi 6 models cost about £50, but you will need a compatible router to take advantage of the extra speed.

For a non-portable device, such as a media streamer or a console, use an ethernet cable if it is close to the router, as this will be faster and more reliable than wifi.

If you have about 40 devices connected at once, consider disconnecting unnecessary ones to help provide more bandwidth for those you need most.

Weaker routers struggle with lots of devices connected at once.

Extend the wifi reach

If your wifi can’t reach parts of your house you can extend the signal of your current router with add-on gadgets.

Powerline networking devices use your home’s power cables to transmit data. They typically cost between £20 and £70. They plug into standard electrical sockets with one connected to the router via an ethernet cable, and others placed about the home providing ethernet ports and/or wifi for your devices. The speed you get through them is dependent on the condition of your electrical wiring.

Wifi extenders (£25-70) do a similar thing, but simply connect to your router via wifi, then rebroadcast it for other devices.

A network switch (under £20) can add more ethernet ports to your router if you need to connect more devices.

Upgrade to a better router

Mesh wifi systems
Mesh wifi systems come in various shapes and sizes, spreading your broadband all over your home using a series of wirelessly interconnected satellite units. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

Replacing your existing router is often the most effective way to improve your wifi, but is also the most costly. Before committing to a third-party router, speak to your ISP as it may be able to provide you with a more modern one for free. Virgin and other ISPs are currently rolling out more powerful wifi 6-capable routers.

Otherwise, there are broadly two options: a beefy single router with much more powerful wifi broadcasting ability than the cheap one provided by your ISP, or a mesh system, which uses a series of satellites dotted about your home to blanket it in wifi.

Both typically use your existing router as a modem and then broadcast their own more robust wifi network.

Single unit wifi 6 routers start at about £60 but can reach the hundreds for powerful gaming-orientated devices. They connect to your old ISP box via ethernet cable, which means they are often easier to place in a more central area of your home. Running a long ethernet cable under floorboards, carpets, behind skirting boards or picture rails, or just under furniture can help keep things neat.

Good wifi 5 mesh systems start at under £100 for a triple pack of satellites, which should be enough for most homes with connections under 200Mbps. For those with faster broadband, good tri-band wifi 6 models cost about £300.

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IBM finally finds someone willing to buy Watson • The Register

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In-brief IBM has offloaded healthcare data and analytics assets from its Watson Health business, with private equity firm Francisco Partners hand over around $1bn for the privilege.

The takeover “is a clear next step as IBM becomes even more focused on our platform-based hybrid cloud and AI strategy,” Tom Rosamilia, senior vice president, IBM Software, told newswire Bloomberg. “IBM remains committed to Watson, our broader AI business, and to the clients and partners we support in healthcare IT.”

Launched in 2015, IBM Watson Health hasn’t been able to turn a profit despite the company spending $4bn in acquisitions to grow the business and its capabilities.

IBM has tried to whittle down its Watson Health division for a while, after struggling to sign hospitals as clients.

Algorithms are improving poker players’ skills but are they ruining the game?

Professional poker players are increasingly consulting specialized poker software programs to boost their chances of winning, but some believe it has made the game less fun and encourages cheating online.

PioSOLVER, available for purchase starting from $249, allows players to recreate game scenarios and calculates the optimal strategy that should be played given the cards available. Some professional poker players, described by the New York Times, use the software to replay their games to see if they played their cards correctly, others boot up PioSOLVER to learn and memorize new strategies.

Poker is seen as a mostly-solved problem in computer science. Libratus, an AI model, beat the top players in a no limit heads-up no-limit Texas competition in 2017. At the time, Tuomas Sandholm, one of Libratus’ creators, said it was unlikely people could run the complex software to cheat. But some claim that PioSOLVER is now helping mediocre poker players to rack up wins.

It’s unclear if PioSOLVER relies on similar machine learning techniques as Libratus, as little information is available about the algorithms it employs.

Doug Polk, a notable semi-retired poker player, said: “I feel like it kind of killed the soul of the game.” The game has turned from “who can be the most creative problem-solver to who can memorize the most stuff and apply it.”

PioSOLVER’s creator, Piotrek Lopusiewicz, however, said similar poker-solving programs have been available for a while and that his software is merely the latest advance in the field.

Rent a robot for less than the cost of human labour

There’s a robot that presses metal to make things like hinges or locks, and it’s cheaper to hire than human workers.

Built a company named Formic, the machine is pretty much one long mechanical arm. Its job is to pick up bits of metal and put them into a press for shaping. It can work without any breaks for its employer, Polar Hardware Manufacturing, and costs about $8 per hour – less than the minimum wage of $15 in Chicago, Wired first reported.

Companies like Formic help industrial factories recruit robot workers without having to pay for the whole machine. Customers can, instead, rent the company’s metal arms to perform simple, repetitive tasks whenever they want. Its cheaper, and they don’t have to faff around with things like software or maintenance.

“Anything that can help reduce labor count or the need for labor is obviously a plus at this particular time,” said Steve Chmura, chief operating officer at Georgia Nut, a confectionery company in Illinois that also rents robots from Formic. Chmura has been able to staff up with robot workers during the pandemic; these machines can take over if human employees quit or get sick. ®

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How to be a better UX designer in 7 steps

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Want to become a great UX designer? These tips will help you grow in your career and help you stand out in future job interviews.

User experience, or UX, design is becoming more important all the time. From the start of the pandemic, online activity soared and many businesses that had never had a strong digital presence had to fully pivot. This meant that the professionals who design user-friendly apps, websites and digital services became crucial.

UX design is a growing space in Ireland and in 2021 UX design companies such as Each&Other and Lucky Beard said they were expanding in the country and looking to hire design talent.

Click here to check out the top sci-tech employers hiring right now.

But outside of the technical skills required for a role in this area, what do you need to know to go from a good UX designer to a great one? How can you present yourself in the best possible way and stand out from the crowd?

Here are seven tips.

Set personal learning goals

As with all careers, one of the most important parts of being successful is continuous learning. As a UX designer, you will always be working towards the goals of your client or your employer. But in order to push yourself, it’s important to set your own personal goals to help you upskill.

Outside of your required work, make sure you’re flexing your creative muscles by challenging yourself to do something completely different.

Find your specialty

While it’s good to be more of a generalist early on in your UX career, it’s also a good idea to focus on a specific area of expertise to set yourself apart from others.

Find a particular strength or passion and work towards being an expert in that area, be it in voice user interfaces, mobile design, UX writing or motion design.

Focus on inclusivity

One of the most important parts of UX design is that it is user-friendly to all. Inclusive design is extremely important and accessibility should be baked into product and app design from the beginning. Lucky Beard’s Elaine Devereux recently told SiliconRepublic.com that her company is looking to hire designers with a “strong sensibility around ethics” and who “understand the importance of designing for good”.

In order to stand out as a UX designer, make sure you’re knowledgeable on all elements of accessible, ethical and inclusive design, and make sure you can demonstrate that in your portfolio.

Know your ‘why’

Design can often be subjective. Sure, there are some objectively good and bad UX decisions. But for everything else, there will always be a certain number of differing opinions.

This is why it’s always important to know why you made a particular design choice and to be able to explain that why with confidence. When it comes to job interviews, being able to explain your ‘whys’ when going through your portfolio will not only showcase how you work as UX designer, but it will highlight your communication and problem-solving skills.

Become a storyteller

While UX design should look attractive, it’s important not to lose sight of the UX part of your job. Your role is to take the user on a journey. After all, if your beautiful piece of work does not effectively communicate what it’s supposed to, then you haven’t done your job.

Before you launch into your visual ideas, become familiar with the message or story a certain brand or client is trying to convey. Then, map that out on storyboards to ensure the message stays threaded throughout.

Let go of perfectionism

For many UX designers, perfectionism is in their nature and it can be extremely hard to let go of that mindset. You might think that striving for perfection will make you a better UX designer.

But a 90pc perfect job in your eyes is better than a 100pc perfect job that may never get done – because perfection is so rarely achievable. It is a much stronger trait to be able to know when to put something to bed and deliver a quality project on time.

Leave room for creative thinking

Outside of your work and your own design projects, make sure you allow yourself the time and space to think, brainstorm and be creative.

This doesn’t mean trying to think of even more creative design projects. In fact, you should take yourself away from your work altogether. Go for a walk, doodle, browse the internet. The key is to leave space for your brain to be free to get inspired.

Don’t miss out on the knowledge you need to succeed. Sign up for the Daily Brief, Silicon Republic’s digest of need-to-know sci-tech news.

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