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‘My friends call me the BlackBerry queen!’ Meet the people clinging on to old tech – from faxes to VCRs | Technology

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More than 40 years since the fax machine became an office mainstay, it seems the party is finally over. With telecom providers no longer required to offer fax services, these machines may soon be consigned to the dusty attic of bygone tech. But for the TikTok generation, who’ve never known life without wifi, concepts such as fax, dial-up internet and Friday night trips to Blockbuster Video aren’t just outdated, they’re completely alien. Even so, not everyone has forgotten about the charms of older technology. From the clattering keys of an old typewriter to the nostalgic joy of a chunky Walkman, some people have never left their favourite tech behind.

‘I prefer videos because I enjoy owning something physical’

Billy Cunliffe, 79, Wigan, retired

It took me three weeks to save up £60 to buy my first secondhand video player in 1981. Now I’ve got seven players and more than 6,000 VHS tapes which I’ve collected over the years. Although I do use Netflix, I prefer videos because I enjoy owning something physical, and I’ve got a lot of content you can’t find on digital channels. I love my old movies, and I’m also a big rugby fan. I’ve recorded every Wigan match that’s ever been shown on television.

Billy Cunliffe at home with his huge collection of VHS tapes, vinyl records, cassettes and reel-to-reel tapes.
Billy Cunliffe at home with his huge collection of VHS tapes, vinyl records, cassettes and reel-to-reel tapes. Photograph: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian

I feel like VHS offers better picture and sound quality than DVDs, which scratch easily and stop working. The downside is that it’s really hard to find VHS tapes and video players now, and when you do they can be expensive. People are going back to their roots and many now feel that older things look nice, so the prices of vintage tech are going up. I’ve started taping over some of the things I no longer watch as I find it impossible to get new blank tapes. Luckily I’m an engineer, so I’ve been able to repair a lot of my own video players and I take really good care of all my tapes. I’m a bit of an expert now.

As well as all the videos, I have more than 200 reel-to-reel tapes [magnetic tape audio recordings, popular in the 1950s and 60s], which include a recording I made of a televised Beatles performance at the London Palladium in 1963. I had to hold the microphone up to the television to record the sound, but the quality is just as good as the day they played. I’ve always been a big fan of vintage technology. My granddaughter loves vinyl and cassette tapes so I think she’s following in my footsteps.

‘I feel fax machines do still serve a purpose’

Lisa Ford, 54, St Louis, Missouri, nurse

I work in a hospital and still use the fax machine a lot. It’s really practical, secure and straightforward. There are situations where you have to share information in a non-paperless way, so I do feel they still serve a purpose. I like them because they’re incredibly easy to use, and it’s visual rather than virtual, so you can see the confirmation that something has been sent and received. If you want to send a document virtually, you often have to convert it to PDF or another format, which is more complicated than a fax. I still use a pager too, which is great when you don’t have phone reception or internet access because [it uses radio signals so] it will still go off.

Lisa Ford with her pager and typewriter.
Lisa Ford with her pager and typewriter

While new tech is more efficient in many ways, I feel there’s a bigger security threat because we don’t know how our data is being harvested and what it’s being used for. There’s also a nostalgia element with traditional tech, which explains why I have an old, heavy typewriter. I use it around the holidays for writing cards and notes, and it’s always a conversation starter when people see it.

‘People look at my BlackBerry phone like it’s an ugly kitten’

Aren Devlin, 39, London, actor

Aren Devlin’s BlackBerry.
Aren Devlin’s BlackBerry. Photograph: Linda Nylind/The Guardian

I’ve been using BlackBerry phones for almost two decades, and I’m known by my friends as the BlackBerry Queen. I got my current handset five years ago and I’m holding on to it for dear life. I love the tactile keyboard and knowing that I’m not accidentally pushing the wrong buttons. People look at my phone and ask to hold it like it’s an ugly kitten. They’re fascinated by it, but also shocked that I still use it. Although I love my BlackBerry, I know I’m living on borrowed time because some of the functions are no longer working. At the moment, it still works for calls, emails and WhatsApp. I can take photos, but they’re not the best quality. Luckily I don’t use the camera much so it’s not a big problem for me.

I think it’s good to not have all the apps because I could see myself wasting too much time. The newer phones that are constantly beeping and buzzing also disrupt our concentration more. It’s unlikely I’ll be able to get another BlackBerry when this one breaks as they’re no longer being made, but I won’t consider getting a new phone until then. I’m very conscious of my carbon footprint, so if something’s working and I enjoy using it, why would I replace it? I think the constant turnover of new technology is wasteful.

‘I hope my Walkman never breaks’

Tess Caven, 56, Essex, strategy and marketing manager

A Sony Walkman from the 1980s.
A Sony Walkman from the 1980s. Photograph: AKP Photos/Alamy

I bought my current Walkman in 1989, and although I live and work in a very tech-driven world I still enjoy using it. My dad was stationed in what was then known as Burma during the second world war and used to tell us amazing stories about his experiences, and in the 90s I recorded them on cassettes to make sure I’d always be able to listen to them. Even though I know I could have them digitised, I like listening to them on the Walkman because you can hear all the crackles and sounds in the background. It takes me back to when I spent the day recording the stories, so there’s a real sense of nostalgia as well.

I’ve also got some old mixtapes that I’ve kept since the 80s which my children enjoy listening to. They’ve got Spotify too, but we like the sound of the Walkman because it’s less polished and gives the music more depth. The downside is that although vinyl is really popular again now, you can’t buy tapes and players easily. I hope my Walkman never breaks – I’ve no idea how I’d get it fixed.

‘I find using a typewriter meditative’

Carla Watkins, 36, Colchester, photographer

I’ve got eight typewriters, three of which are in working order. I use modern technology as well, but I love using my typewriters for letters and journal entries. I have one friend I keep in contact with entirely through typewritten letters, which is lovely. In a digital world, it’s nice to get a big chunky envelope full of the kind of news you don’t see in a Facebook update.

I find typing meditative, because there are no distractions – you can focus better. Finding people to fix them can be difficult and expensive – it’s a bit of a dying art – but I’m determined to get some of my other typewriters restored. I’m scared of taking them apart myself in case I can’t put them back together again.

Carla Watkins with her collection of typewriters.
Carla Watkins with her collection of typewriters. Photograph: Carla Watkins

My oldest typewriter is from around 1910, and I like thinking about the history of these machines and what has been written by the generations before us. I also have a landline phone with a rotary dial, which I love. I will spend afternoons having long chats with my friends, and because I can’t do anything else at the same time I’m able to fully engage with the calls. I’m definitely an old-fashioned girl at heart.

‘When you play on Atari, the focus is completely on the game’

Neil Thomas, 42, Cotswolds, museum owner

I got my Atari VCS games console in 1985 when it was handed down to me by a family member. I loved playing on it as a child. My favourite game was River Raid, where you’d fly a plane down a river, shooting at things. Just over a decade ago, I found the console in the attic and began to use it again. The main attraction is that the game is instantly there on the screen – there’s no waiting for downloads, as you do with modern consoles. I also feel the gameplay is really good on the older consoles. Without flashy graphics, the focus is completely on the game itself.

Neil Thomas playing River Raid on the Atari VCS.
Neil Thomas playing River Raid on the Atari VCS. Photograph: Sam Frost/The Guardian

Over the years, I have begun to collect more old consoles and computers, and in 2017 I even set up a website and YouTube channel for other retro tech enthusiasts. As a result, people started sending me their old consoles and computers. I’ve since opened two museums in the Cotswolds where people can come and play games.

I think the revival of older consoles is happening partly because there’s a nostalgia to reliving your youth, and partly because people want to share the history of video games with their children. Ten years ago, you could pick up secondhand consoles for virtually nothing, but now they can be expensive due to their growing popularity. Luckily, we have a lab in the museum where we take care of the consoles and fix them to ensure they stay in great condition. I’ve also found a use for all the floppy discs I’ve been sent – they’re wallpapering the museum.

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Graphcore launches C600 card for China amid financial woes • The Register

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British AI chip designer Graphcore has wrapped its two-year-old, second-generation Intelligence Processing Unit for China and Singapore amid recently reported financial woes.

The Bristol, UK-based startup announced on Tuesday that its Colossus Mk2 GC200 IPU will be available in the new C600 PCIe card, making the processor compatible with servers beyond the company’s pre-integrated M2000 IPU system.

The company said pre-orders are now open for the C600 card in China and Singapore, and it will be available through approved hardware partners in Graphcore-qualified systems. It didn’t say whether the card will expand to other markets.

The C600 card was designed “in response to customer demand in markets where datacenter configurations, including rack size and power delivery, vary widely,” said Chen Jin, Graphcore’s vice president and head of China engineer, in a blog post.

“This highly versatile form-factor enables Graphcore customers to tailor their system setup, including host server / chassis, to their exact requirements,” Jin added.

It’s not clear if Graphcore had to tune the C600 card to abide with the recent US export restrictions for advanced chips to China. While Graphcore is a British company, the export bans have extended to semiconductor companies far beyond American borders because the restrictions cover US manufacturing and design tools used to make most of the world’s advanced chips.

The US restrictions have prompted Graphcore’s much larger rivals to switch gears, with AMD halting sales of its MI250 GPU to China and Nvidia slowing down its A100 GPU to continue sales in the country. Biren Technology and Alibaba in China have also reportedly had to step down processing speeds for new GPUs.

Tech specs suggest it’s good enough

Graphcore’s C600 card is designed for AI inference workloads at low-precision number formats, capable of hitting up to 280 teraflops of 16-bit floating point (FP16) compute and delivering as much as 560 teraflops of 8-bit floating point (FP8) math.  

The FP8 support is new for Graphcore, as it is for the rest of the industry. Intel, Arm, and Nvidia published the specification for FP8 in September. The goal of FP8 is to create a lower precision format for neural network training and inference that optimizes memory usage and improves efficiency while providing a similar level of accuracy to 16-bit precisions.

The C600 is a PCIe Gen 4, dual-slot card with a thermal design power of 185 watts. Up to eight of the cards can fit into a single server chassis, and they communicate directly using Graphcore’s IPU-Link high-bandwidth interconnect cables. The C600’s IPU-Link bandwidth is 256GB/s [PDF].

The Mk2 IPU inside the C600 card has the same 1,472 IPU cores and 900MB of in-processor memory when the second-generation IPU was first announced in 2020.

The C600 release comes not long after multiple reports have painted a gloomy picture for Graphcore. In September, the startup said it was planning job cuts due to an “extremely challenging” macroeconomic situation. The next month, The Times reported that investors had slashed Graphcore’s valuation by $1 billion in the face of financial woes, including a terminated deal with Microsoft. ®

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200 Irish businesses are getting the chance to test-drive electric vehicles

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The Government is looking to boost the electrification of commercial fleets as part of plans to have nearly 1m EVs on Irish roads by 2030.

As part of plans to drive down emissions in Ireland, a new initiative will let businesses test out electric vehicles for free.

Fully electric cars and vans will be loaned to 200 Irish business free of charge for three months under the Government’s Commercial Fleet Trial.

The aim is to encourage businesses to make the switch to an electric vehicle and contribute to the targets of the Climate Action Plan.

Ireland is aiming to reach a 51pc reduction in emissions by 2030, setting the country on a path to net-zero emissions no later than 2050. One element of this plan is to have 945,000 electric vehicles on Irish roads by the end of this decade.

Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan, TD, said an “important component” in achieving this target is the electrification of commercial fleets.

“Businesses up and down the country are already telling us that they are keen to make the switch to more sustainable practices, but they also need to know that the switches they want to make are going to be good for their bottom line,” he added.

“The findings from this trial will give us real-world feedback and provide us with the evidence to encourage even more businesses to switch to electric.”

The trial will involve 50 fully electric vehicles – 30 passenger cars and 20 vans – while giving businesses the option to install an EV charger.

By the end of this month, 14 businesses across Dublin, Sligo, Limerick, Louth, Wexford, Cork, Waterford and Galway will have received cars to test out.

The trial will be coordinated by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland and Zero Emissions Vehicles Ireland – a new office of the Department of Transport that is tasked with supporting the switch to electric vehicles.

While the number of electric cars in Ireland is on the rise, there have been concerns about meeting the ambitious 2030 EV goal.

Ryan said this week that the Government is “on track” to deliver the 945,000 EVs target, and that it will launch a new €100m strategy next month to boost the number of charging stations installed around the country.

A study last year found that Ireland lags behind other European nations when it comes to EV charging infrastructure, which could hamper the roll-out of these vehicles.

However, the Government has been making moves to change this. It recently announced a new suite of grants and initiatives to boost Ireland’s transition to electric vehicles, and a €15m all-island investment to set up 90 rapid EV charging points across Ireland.

10 things you need to know direct to your inbox every weekday. Sign up for the Daily Brief, Silicon Republic’s digest of essential sci-tech news.

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Changes to online safety bill tread line between safety and appearing ‘woke’ | Internet safety

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The online safety bill is returning to parliament under the aegis of its fourth prime minister and seventh secretary of state since it was first proposed as an online harms white paper under Theresa May.

Each of those has been determined to leave their fingerprints on the legislation, which has swollen to encompass everything from age verification on pornography to criminalisation of posting falsehoods online, and Rishi Sunak and the digital and culture secretary, Michelle Donelan, are no different.

Some of the changes to the bill, which was unceremoniously pulled from the agenda in early summer as the government cleared parliamentary time to launch its own confidence motion backing Boris Johnson, are simple additions. After the law commission recommended updating legislation covering nonconsensual intimate images, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport folded the changes into the bumper bill, announcing plans to criminalise “downblousing” and the creation of pornographic “deepfakes” without the subject’s consent.

But others reflect the contentious nature of the legislation, which faces a balancing act between the government’s desire to make the UK “the safest place to be online”, and its fear of appearing overly censorious or, worse still, “woke”.

On Tuesday, Donelan triumphantly announced that the latest version of the online safety bill would be dropping efforts to regulate content deemed “legal but harmful”. Earlier drafts of the bill had hit upon a canny way to please both sides of the debate: rather than requiring social media companies to remove certain types of content outright, the bill simply requires them to declare a position on that material in their terms of service, and then enforce that position. Theoretically, a social media company could explicitly declare itself content with allowing harmful content on its platform, and receive no penalties for doing so.

But free speech groups, in and out of parliament, worried that the requirement would have a chilling effect, and social networks backed them up: few deliberately want to have harmful content on their platforms, but faced with a legal requirement to take action on it or face penalties, they could end up being forced to over-correct. For topics such as suicide or self-harm, aggressive over-moderation can cause real world harm just like lax policies can.

The push against those regulations reached its height during the Tory leadership contest, when the online safety bill was caricatured by its opponents, such as trade secretary Kemi Badenoch, as legislating for hurt feelings. And so upon its reintroduction, the “legal but harmful” provisions were stripped out, at least for content aimed at adults. And then the government went further: in an effort to burnish its free speech credentials, it added in new legal requirements forcing not over-moderation but under-moderation.

“Companies will not be able to remove or restrict legal content, or suspend or ban a user, unless the circumstances for doing this are clearly set out in their terms of service or are against the law,” DCMS announced. The rules, described as a “consumer friendly ‘triple shield’”, could prevent companies from acting rapidly to ensure the health of their platform, and leave them facing a legal risk if they take down content that they, and other users, would rather see removed.

Some of the changes to the bill are deep and technical. But others seem to be simple headline-chasing. The government has dropped the offence of “harmful communications” from the bill, after it became a lightning-rod for criticism with Badenoch and others arguing that it was “legislating for hurt feelings”.

But in order to remove the harmful communications offence, the government has also cancelled plans to strike off the two offences it was due to replace: parts of the Malicious Communications Act and the Communications Act 2003 which are far broader than the ban on harmful communications was to be. The harmful communications offence required a message cause “serious distress”; the Malicious Communications Act requires only “distress”, while the Communications Act 2003 is even softer, banning messages sent “for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience or needless anxiety”. Those offences will now remain on the books indefinitely.

But becoming part of the psychodrama of the Conservative party is the only way legislative scrutiny can occur in this parliament. The rest of this monster bill, stretching over hundreds of pages and redefining the landscape of internet regulation for a generation, has barely been discussed in public at all. Proposals ranging from an attack on end to end encryption to the christening of a first-of-its-kind internet regulator in the shape of Ofcom are being treated as technocratic tweaks, but if they were given the time they deserved, it would be likely the legislative process would outlast a fifth prime minister as well.

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