On any given day, Franco Trimboli’s hobby makes the news.
During office hours the 42-year-old who lives in suburban Melbourne is a coder, digital designer and project manager for the educational branch of the jobs website Seek.
But Trimboli is also the little-known founder of Tveeder, a website that provides a live transcript of almost anything that airs on free-to-air TV in Australia. Even if you have never heard of it, you will certainly have read an article or watched a news bulletin that relied on it.
The site is freely accessible to anyone, but has become an essential tool for almost anyone working in the media or politics.
When it works, people copy and paste its success; when it fails, they curse its misses.
For the working journalist, Tveeder has for years been like a spare limb – it scribbles down the press conference, the leadership spill, the politician’s tears or the police commissioner’s briefing, or even an episode of MasterChef, all in real time. In its 10 years of life, it has captured an estimated 2.4bn words.
When Tveeder is down, a dozen people will unfailingly trumpet their dismay that “Tveederisdown”. There are long-running lists of people’s favourite Tveeder bloopers – it often has particular trouble with names, having once rendered Barnaby Joyce as “Barnaby bok choy” and Josh Frydenberg as “Josh frightened bird”.
During the pandemic, as daily press conferences have become appointment viewing, Tveeder has emerged as a quiet hero among its users.
But many of them would know little about how Tveeder works, or how it came to be. The website is bare, with a no-frills, black and yellow palette, reminiscent of home brand butter. There is no “About Us” tab and no menu, just six channel options and the endless feed.
Tveeder may seem like magic but the way it works is simple, Trimboli says.
Under the Broadcasting Services Act 1992, all free-to-air channels are required to provide captioning between 6am and midnight on their main channels, and to caption news and current affairs at all times.
The channels employ or subcontract fleets of human transcribers to provide the captions, which can be switched on when watching any modern TV. All Tveeder does, Trimboli says, is capture that data and upload it. No artificial intelligence or voice recognition is required.
Trimboli says people think Tveeder is a bigger operation that it is. It has no staff. It is not a company nor a charity. There is no Tveeder board. It is run entirely by Trimboli and occasional volunteers, in his spare time, and costs him $500 a month out of his own pocket.
Initially designed for people who are deaf or hard of hearing, Tveeder is a personal project that has grown into a public resource.
Amy Remeikis, Guardian Australia’s politics live blogger, says Tveeder is “instrumental” in live coverage, and has improved the transparency of communication between public officials, journalists and readers.
“I’ve often thought about who runs it, because we all owe them a massive debt of gratitude,” she says.
Remeikis discovered Tveeder while covering Queensland state politics, when a reporter covering a federal election shared it with her – it was like a secret code.
“It was a revelation for when you needed to file quickly – as you do on election campaigns,” she says. “It completely revolutionised live reporting, which was also still in its infancy then.”
Now, during the pandemic, “it’s a way of getting large quotes out very quickly, which, when people want information and want it quickly, is absolutely crucial.
“I have always assumed it was someone who developed a code to help the hearing impaired,” Remeikis says. “Which is why I’m just so grateful for the service, and would never criticise it – we might have co-opted it, but it was never made for us. We should just be happy we have something which for the most part makes our job easier.”
‘Most of my relatives are oblivious to what I do’
Trimboli is a calm and deliberate man whose other hobbies include cycling, sketching and illustration, smart-watches and supporting Collingwood.
Like so many others, he is home schooling – which means he now has three jobs: his day job, Tveeder and teacher.
Trimboli and his family live in a low-slung, red brick house, on a nondescript street. Bright banksia screen a window, and there is a small basketball hoop in the back yard. Three young children run around the house. Trimboli works at a desk set up in the bedroom. His wife, a security engineer, works in the study. He says the children frequently leave Lego strewn across the computer when he is working.
“Not many of my family would realise what I do,” he says with a laugh. “I think my wife tolerates the fact that I have lots of different interesting side projects. And it’s just who I am. It’s part of my persona.
“I think that most of my other relatives are oblivious to the projects that I create. If anything, it’s an amusing story at a family party.”
Trimboli grew up in the northern suburbs of Melbourne, the child of Italian immigrants who arrived in the 1960s. His father was a builder and Trimboli, for more than half his life, was the same. He studied design and then architecture at university.
He never expected or desired to work in a field that intersects so heavily with politics or journalism. When he was a young boy, Bob Hawke ruffled his hair and shook his hand on the campaign trail. “But I never really followed local politics or world politics until I grew up,” he says.
Trimboli loved technology, sparked by the video games boom of the 1980s, and moved gradually from architecture into digital product design.
“I don’t have any friends that are journalists,” he says. “But I’ve always been interested in the evolution of journalism, how it’s evolved at great pace.”
The idea came to him in 2010, when he was working for a messaging company called Whispir that was making a text service to allow deaf and hearing impaired people to access New Zealand’s equivalent of the triple zero phone line. It got him thinking about applying the same process to live TV.
He has few regrets that Tveeder has been thoroughly hijacked by journalists – even when that demand makes the site crash. (He also encourages users to submit feedback via firstname.lastname@example.org.)
“It brings me lots of joy to see journalists using it,” he says. “If anything, I feel bad about not continually investing in the actual features of the platform.
“It helps journalists focus on how they add value. It reduces that cognitive load and allows you to think, ‘Well, what is the story here?’ You know, I can just report what someone is saying, that’s easy to do with Tveeder now. What else can I add to this story in real time?
“If it drives further transparency and speed in reporting of breaking news stories or important issues, then for me, that’s a win as well.”
Soon after Trimboli launched Tveeder in 2011, the ABC’s current director of news, Gaven Morris, invited him on a tour of its Ultimo headquarters and showed him how Tveeder was being used by journalists. The ABC News 24 channel, now rebranded as ABC News, had also recently launched. The two services, essentially the same age, are like family friends who have grown up together.
For the first two years of Tveeder’s existence, News 24 was the only channel it streamed. In 2012, it added colours to help make clear who was speaking. In 2013, it added ABC1, SBS and the commercial networks. Since then it has essentially been the same.
Now, during the pandemic, the ABC’s own text live blog still uses Tveeder, and openly acknowledged it in a behind-the-scenes piece from May 2020. The Sydney Morning Herald and the Age ran a similar piece last year about “the bloggers who bring the news live”. Tveeder isn’t mentioned but it’s there in the pictures, front and centre.
“The whole media industry in Australia owes the creators of Tveeder a very big debt,” Remeikis says. “I think anyone who wasn’t aware of Tveeder before the pandemic, is now.”
Splicing together Insiders and Rage
At any given time, Trimboli says, about 1,000 people are simultaneously viewing Tveeder, and that rises to 5,000 during pandemic press conferences.
“It’s more than just journos that are hitting the site,” he says. “It is everyday viewers and consumers as well.”
During the bushfires, Trimboli noticed that people without TV reception, or people who could not listen to the radio because of deafness, relied on it. “I have received emails from people who have said, ‘Thank you very much for your Tveeder service, I was able to access the captions on my mobile phone.’”
Remeikis says staffers will often message her when they cannot believe what Tveeder has just transcribed. “You’ll get messages of ‘DID THEY REALLY SAY THAT?’ And usually, when it’s someone like Barnaby Joyce or Bob Katter, yes, they did. What you think could only be a transcription error is actually word for word what they said.”
But of course, it has also been wrong. Famously, on multiple occasions, Tveeder has spliced together Insiders and Rage. “It always seems to be Insiders and Rage for some reason,” Trimboli says. “Why does it always happen on a Sunday morning?”
Trimboli keeps the site’s capacity capped, which sometimes results in it going down when demand peaks.
“It can be solved, but that would just compound the costs,” he says. “If I was paying $1,000 a month, I don’t think my wife would be very happy. Over $12,000 a year on a side project. That is halfway to a small car at that point.”
Tveeder takes no ads and only occasionally receives donations.
“We might get, you know, $10 one week or $50 another week,” Trimboli says. “But any contributions are well received, and we’re very appreciative.”
“A lot of people have wanted me to kind of monetise it … but the ultimate aim of Tveeder isn’t to make money.”
If the media and politicians use Tveeder so heavily, should they help to fund it?
Trimboli says: “It’s a really good question … perhaps there’s an opportunity for them to pitch in.”
But if not, he is happy to keep doing so.
“From my perspective, if it’s a platform that’s helping journalists be better journalists, and if it helps politicians be more accountable, then it’s worth me spending the money to maintain it. It should be accessible to all. If it helps the quality of journalism, then I’m happy for it to be free. Forever.”
To its evangelists, bitcoin is a frictionless, empowering form of money that liberates citizens of the world from the shackles of banks and national governments. To sceptics, the cryptocurrency is a tool of kleptocrats and gangsters, environmentally monstrous in its consumption of energy, a digitally glamorised Ponzi scheme whose eventual crash will most hurt those least able to afford a loss.
Confidence may or may not have been enhanced by the unveiling, by President Nayib Bukele, of images of a proposed bitcoin-shaped Bitcoin City in El Salvador, funded with a bitcoin bond, the currency’s logo embedded in the central plaza, a metropolis powered with geothermal energy from a nearby volcano. Bukele, the self-styled “coolest dictator in the world”, a former publicist who wears baseball caps back to front, has already made El Salvador the first country to adopt bitcoin as the official currency. “The plan is simple,” he said. “As the world falls into tyranny, we’ll create a haven for freedom.”
Leaving aside the worrisome Pompeii vibe of the city’s location, some shine has come off the president’s vision with the news that the country’s investments in cryptocurrency have lost 45% of their value, that it scores CCC with the credit rating agency Fitch, and that the perceived risk of its bonds is up there with that of war-torn Ukraine. And Bukele’s talk of freedom doesn’t sit well with Amnesty International’s claim that his recent state of emergency has created “a perfect storm of human rights violations”.
But why worry about any of this when you have shiny computer-generated images of a fantasy city to distract you?
Unsecured credit line
The use of constructional bluster by populist leaders – Trump’s wall, for example – is not in itself anything new. See also the island airport, garden bridge, Irish Sea bridge, 40 new hospitals and 300,000 homes a year promised but not delivered by Boris Johnson, and the nuclear power stations he has implausibly pledged to build at a rate of one a year.
Last week his fondness for Potemkin infrastructure took a new twist. Rather than over-promise illusory schemes and under-deliver them, he decided to take credit for something actually built, the £19bn Elizabeth line in London, formerly known as Crossrail, whose central section opens to the public on Tuesday. “We get the big things done,” he boasted to the House of Commons, choosing to ignore the fact that the line was initiated under a Labour prime minister and a Labour mayor of London. He almost makes Nayib Bukele look credible.
Behind the red wall
If you want a light-hearted night out – a date, a birthday treat – then TheHouse of Shades, a new play by Beth Steel, might not, unless you are an unusual person, be for you. It is a cross between Greek tragedy and what was once called kitchen sink drama, a story of ever-mounting misery set in a Nottinghamshire town from 1965 to 2019. It covers the collapse of manufacturing, the rise of Thatcherism, the promises of New Labour and the disillusionment that led to “red wall” seats voting Conservative in 2019.
It features illegal abortion, graphically portrayed, and the effects of inflation, both newly significant. All presented at the Almeida theatre in the famously metropolitan London borough of Islington, not far from the former restaurant where Tony Blair and Gordon Brown did the 1994 deal that shaped some of the events in the play. There’s irony here to make this audience squirm. Which, along with several other not-comfortable emotions, is probably the desired effect.
Imagine a future where racks of computer servers hum quietly in darkness below the surface of the Moon.
Here is where some of the most important data is stored, to be left untouched for as long as can be. The idea sounds like something from science-fiction, but one startup that recently emerged from stealth is trying to turn it into a reality. Lonestar Data Holdings has a unique mission unlike any other cloud provider: to build datacenters on the Moon backing up the world’s data.
“It’s inconceivable to me that we are keeping our most precious assets, our knowledge and our data, on Earth, where we’re setting off bombs and burning things,” Christopher Stott, founder and CEO of Lonestar, told The Register. “We need to put our assets in place off our planet, where we can keep it safe.”
Stott said Lonestar’s efforts to build a data storage facility in space are a bit like trying to preserve all of the world’s seeds in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, located on the Norwegian Arctic island ofSpitsbergen. But instead of trying to protect crop diversity, the upstart wants to safeguard human knowledge.
“If we don’t do this, what will happen to our data on Earth?,” he asked. “The seed bank flooded due to effects of climate change. It’s also susceptible to other forms of destruction like war or cyber attacks. We need to have somewhere we can keep our data safe.” Lonestar has its sights set on the Moon.
One side of our bigger natural satellite is tidally locked and constantly faces Earth, meaning it would be possible to set up a constant, direct line-of-sight communication between devices on the Moon and our planet.
Lonestar is currently closing its $5m seed round from investors like Seldor Capital and 2 Future Holding. To raise more money, it’ll have to prove its technology is feasible and will start with small demos on commercial lunar payloads. Last month, it announced it had signed contracts to launch prototype demonstrations of its software and hardware capabilities aboard two lunar landers with NASA-funded aerospace biz Intuitive Machines.
Under the space agency’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services program, Intuitive Machines will, after some delay, send its Nova-C lander to the Moon for its first mission, dubbed IM-1, at the end of 2022. Lonestar will run a software-only test, storing a small bit of data on the lander’s hardware. IM-1 is expected to last one lunar day, an equivalent of two weeks on Earth.
The second launch, IM-2, is more ambitious. Intuitive Machines plans to send another Nova-C lander to the Moon’s South Pole carrying various bits of equipment, including NASA’s PRIME-1 drill for ice and a spectrometer as well as Lonestar’s first hardware prototype: a one-kilogram storage device, the size of a hardback novel, with 16 terabytes of memory. IM-2’s is expected to launch in 2023.
Robots and lava tubes
The tiny proof-of-concept datacenter will be storing immutable data for Lonestar’s early beta of its so-called Disaster Recovery as a Service (DRaaS), Stott told us. “[We will be] performing upload and download tests (think refresh and restore of data), and performing edge processing tests of apps as well. It will be running Ubuntu.” The company is still in the process of determining bandwidth rates, and has secured permissions to transmit data to the Moon and back to Earth in the S, X, and Ka-Bands in the radio spectrum.
Lonestar’s opportunity to test its technology on the Moon for the first time will depend on whether Intuitive Machines’ Nova-C landers successfully make it to the lunar surface in one piece. Soft landings on the Moon are notoriously difficult; numerous endeavors from the Soviets and the US in the Sixties have ended in failure. The last two attempts that ended badly were in 2019, when Israel’s SpaceIL and India’s National Space agency’s respectively crashed their Beresheet and Chandrayaan-2 lunar landers.
The strong gravitational pull of the Moon and its very thin atmosphere means the speeds at which spacecraft approach the surface have to be considerably slowed in a short amount of time to land gently. Nailing the landing process is key to lunar exploration, whether it’s sending robotic spacecraft or a crew of astronauts.
“Our turnkey solution for delivering, communicating, and commanding customer payloads on and around the Moon is revolutionary,” Intuitive’s president and CEO, Steve Altemus, told us in a statement. “Adding Lonestar Data Holdings and other commercial payloads to our lunar missions are critical steps toward Intuitive Machines creating and defining the lunar economy.”
The path from a book-sized prototype to real fully fledged cloud storage datacenters, however, is handwavy. Stott said Lonestar has plans for future missions to launch servers capable of holding five petabytes of data in 2024, and 50 petabytes of data by 2026. By then, he hopes the datacenter will be able to host data traffic to and from the Moon at rates of 15 Gigabits per second – much faster than home internet broadband speeds – beamed from a series of antennas.
If the company is to continue scaling and storing data long-term, it’ll have to figure out how to protect its datacenters from cosmic radiation and deal with the Moon’s fluctuating surface temperatures, which can go from a scorching 222.8°F (106°C) during the day to a -297.4°F (-183°C) at night.
Stott has an answer for that: nestle the datacenters in lunar lava tubes, cavernous pits bored below the surface of the Moon by the flow of ancient basaltic lava. Inside these pits, the temperature will be steadier and the servers will be better shielded from harmful electromagnetic rays.
And how will the Lonestar get them down there? “Robots… lots of robots,” Stott said. ®
14 of the 29 new members being welcomed by the Royal Irish Academy this year are from STEM. We take a quick look at what they do.
Every year, the Royal Irish Academy admits new members to its prestigious roster of researchers from across the island of Ireland for their exceptional contributions to the sciences, humanities, social sciences and public service.
This year, the 236-year-old institution has elected 29 new members from universities and bodies across Ireland, officially welcoming 24 of them at its Admittance Day event held in Dublin today (20 May).
“We are immensely proud of these 29 new members who we are recognising today for their scholarly achievements, their research and international distinction or for significant contributions to Irish society,” said Dr Mary Canning, president of the Royal Irish Academy.
“As new members of the Academy, they will contribute to and strengthen our capacity to provide expert advice on higher education and research policy.”
Here we take a quick look at 14 new members who have a background in STEM-related fields.
Linda Doyle, TCD
Doyle made history by becoming the first woman provost of Trinity College Dublin in its 429-year history last year. Before that she was a professor of engineering and the arts at Trinity and the university’s dean of research from 2018.
Geraldine Boylan, UCC
A former Science Foundation Ireland Researcher of the Year, Boylan is the director of the Infant research centre for maternal and child health research and professor of neonatal physiology at University College Cork.
Mary Cannon, RCSI
Cannon is a consultant psychiatrist and professor of psychiatric epidemiology and youth mental health at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. She is a leading researcher in the area of youth mental health and childhood and adolescent risk factors for mental illness.
Rónadh Cox, Williams College
One of this year’s five honorary members, Cox is the Brust Professor of Geology and Mineralogy at Williams College, Massachusetts. She is prominent internationally within the coastal erosion and geomorphology community.
Marie Donnelly, Climate Change Advisory Council
Donnelly is the only new member in this list not associated with any university. Instead, she is the chair of the Climate Change Advisory Council. She previously worked with the European Commission for three decades.
Gary Donohoe, NUI Galway
A professor of psychology at NUI Galway, Donohoe is an internationally known researcher in the cognitive neuroscience and mental health space. His work focuses on understanding and treating factors relevant to social and occupational function.
Fiona Doohan, UCD
Doohan is a professor of plant health at University College Dublin’s School of Biology and Environmental Science. She is one of the co-founders of agricultural sustainability company CropBiome, which is one of the many high-potential start-ups backed by Enterprise Ireland.
David Jones, QUB
A professor of pharmaceutical and biomaterial engineering at Queen’s University Belfast, Jones is an internationally recognised researcher in polymer-based implanted medical devices and enhanced pharmaceutical dosage forms.
Patricia Kearney, UCC
Kearney is a professor of epidemiology in the School of Public Health at UCC. A recognised clinical triallist, her research focuses on population health and health services.
Mairead Kiely, UCC
Another researcher working in the area of health, Kiely is a professor of human nutrition at UCC. Her research focuses macronutrients, particularly vitamin D, and their impact on health and child development.
Hannah McGee, RCSI
McGee is the deputy vice-chancellor for academic affairs at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland and a scholar in psychology. A former president of the European Health Psychology Society, she was also appointed as the deputy chair of Ireland’s National Research Ethics Committee for Covid-19.
James P O’Gara, NUI Galway
A professor of microbiology at NUI Galway, O’Gara’s research focuses on the mechanisms underpinning biofilm production and antimicrobial resistance in staphylococci, including MRSA.
Stefan Oscarson, UCD
Oscarson is a professor of chemical biology at UCD and an internationally known researcher in the field of carbohydrate chemistry. His synthetic work underpins the development of drug and vaccine candidates against various infectious diseases.
Patrick Wyse Jackson, TCD
Curator of the Geology Museum based in Trinity College Dublin, Jackson is also a professor of geology at the university. He is an expert on the history of Irish geology and his research focuses on fossil bryozoans – a large phylum of invertebrate animals.
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