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Business Environment Science Series Technology

Experts, Regulation, and Food

A few weeks ago I wrote a post on the Bassetti Foundation website called The Innovation Principle.

The post was a review of a letter sent by some of Europe’s largest corporations to the European Commission. The letter claims that regulation in the EU risks damaging development and the economy, they want a series of things to be taken into account within the regulation process.

It is easy to read and short and I recommend a look, it is free to download through the link above, but I would like to take one of their suggestions and apply it to food regulation, as part of my food series.

The letter calls for the “Full inclusion of relevant expertise”, and this sounds perfectly reasonable. But what does it actually mean in practical terms?

If we take the example of GM food development that I raised last week, it means finding experts in the field and putting them on committees to determine if proposals are safe. Now this means that you have to look to industry, because most of the experts work within the industry.

Now I believe that in all likelihood an expert working for a nuclear energy company will tell you that nuclear energy production is 100% safe, a nanotechnology researcher will paint a glowing picture of how the future is bright thanks to nano developments, and a GM food expert will do the same.

In the USA, the Federal Drug Administration is responsible for regulating the safety of GM crops that are eaten by humans or animals. According to a policy established in 1992, FDA considers most GM crops as “substantially equivalent” to non-GM crops. In such cases, GM crops are designated as “Generally Recognized as Safe” under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA) and do not require pre-market approval.

But here the waters start to murk and merge. As I said, experts in the field working or having worked for industries working with technology are likely to be positive about their products. And the FDA seems to contain several of these experts, and some of them may have helped to make the distinction above.

According to this IVN article, over the last decade at least 7 high ranking FDA officials have also held high positions in Monsanto, the largest producer of GM seeds in the world. This is generally accepted as true, and in fact Monsanto have several employees present or past that have held high ranking positions in other capacities in the US Government. This is known as the revolving door in the USA, and it is worthy of exploration.

Monsanto and US Government Employees
Monsanto and US Government Employees (click to enlarge)

The website states that “At the forefront of this controversy is Michael R. Taylor, currently the deputy commissioner of the Office of Foods. He was also the deputy commissioner for Policy within the FDA in the mid ’90s. However, between that position and his current FDA position, Mr. Taylor was employed by Monsanto as Vice President of Public Policy.

Other Monsanto alumni include Arthur Hayes, commissioner of the FDA from 1981 to 1983, and consultant to Searle’s public relations firm, which later merged with Monsanto. Michael A. Friedman, former acting commissioner of the FDA, later went on to become senior Vice President for Clinical Affairs at Searle, which is now a pharmaceutical division of Monsanto (Oh Donald Rumsfeld ex Secretary of Defense was also on the Board of Directors).  Virginia Weldon became a member of the FDA’s Endocrinologic and Metabolic Drugs Advisory Committee, after retiring as Vice President for Public Policy at Monsanto”.

Another controversy surrounded the appointment of Margaret Miller. The following is taken from Red Ice Creations website:

“In order for the FDA to determine if Monsanto’s rBGH growth hormones were safe or not, Monsanto was required to submit a scientific report on that topic. Margaret Miller, one of Monsanto’s researchers put the report together. Shortly before the report submission, Miller left Monsanto and was hired by the FDA. Her first job for the FDA was to determine whether or not to approve the report she wrote for Monsanto. In short, Monsanto approved its own report. Assisting Miller was another former Monsanto researcher, Susan Sechen”.

Obviously I am not in a position to determine whether these allegations are true, but a look at this article that appeared originally in the Observer newspaper might lead one to believe that there is a fine line being walked here.

The article states that “Monsanto received copies of the position papers of the EC Director General for Agriculture and Fisheries prior to a February 1998 meeting that approved milk from cows treated with BST.

Notes jotted down by a Canadian government researcher during a November 1997 phone call from Monsanto’s regulatory chief indicate that the company ‘received the [documents] package from Dr Nick Weber’, a researcher with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Sources noted that Weber’s supervisor at the US FDA is Dr Margaret Mitchell who, before joining the agency, directed a Monsanto laboratory working on the hormone.”

Oh and the hormone treatment made the cows sick, but you can read Robert Cohen’s reported testimony before the FDA on the subject of rBGH including the disclosure that, while at the FDA and in response to increasing sickness in cows treated with the hormones, Margaret Miller increased the amount of antibiotics that farmers can legally give cows by 100 times. Once again I cannot verify the transcription but it is widely reported on the web and was apparently shown on C-Span Congress TV live.

I am not suggesting that there is any collusion here, and as Monsanto argue people move jobs, taking jobs that suit their qualifications. A look at these people’s profiles show that they have many different positions, many of which we would say were undoubtedly working for public good. But some suggest that some of their positions might lead to conflicts of interests. But if you need experts where are you going to get them from? Here though I might simply suggest that you don’t need so many experts.

Within my life’s work of trying to promote responsible innovation I have come to the conclusion that a broader public involvement within decision-making process must be a good for society. Closed sessions full of experts deciding what is or is not safe for us may be efficient in terms of getting things done, but the public’s voice is not heard, and maybe that voice could lead to more responsible choices, or at very least some reflexivity in the decision-making process.

On a closing note, arguments are currently raging in the US about the labelling of GM foods, as currently there is no need to label it, something pushed for by many organizations. There is a counter movement that is arguing that as the FDA state that there is no fundamental difference, GM products that do not contain additives should be allowed to be labelled as “natural”, in the way organic vegetables are. This Common Dreams article presents a critical view of current practices that although strongly worded offers an insight into how a section of US society thinks about the issue.

The question remains however, who do we want to regulate our food and the technology used in its production?

Categories
News Science

NASA is Closed (Temporarily)

Strangely enough I was in the USA last time there was a government shutdown. I was staying in New Orleans and listening to music all day every day.

At some point during the 6 week excursion I decided to go to Houston, to see the Space Station. That very room, seen by millions on TV as Niel Armstrong spoke from the Moon, those rows of presumably computerized desks, where history was made.

It is a long trip from New Orleans, I traveled by Greyhound bus. The land is swampy as you pass through Louisiana, and on to Texas. The road is raised above the water by just a few feet, on bridges that are miles long. It was a long ride, about 350 miles, on a bus, at 50 miles per hour, but it would be worth it, I was sure.

I got off the bus and made my way to the space center. There was a rocket lying on the grass outside, absolutely enormous, a real rocket! My pace quickened as did my heartbeat, I ran to the gate.

Closed.

The Space Center Houston, doorway to NASA’s Johnson Space Center, was closed until further notice due to the partial governmental closure.

Glory Days!
Glory Days!

17 years on it is once more closed. But closing a tourist attraction is one thing, what I hadn’t realized all those years ago was that NASA itself had shut down, and it’s closed today too.

18000 NASA employees, about 97% of the entire workforce, are sitting at home today, unpaid, and without any idea of when their work will resume. All communication from NASA to the public has stopped, Tweet accounts are closed, and they can no longer reply to emails.

Reassuringly though the few people left at work are continuing to monitor the skies for objects that may crash into the International Space Station killing all aboard, and larger objects that may pass close to Earth, Phew!

The astronauts working on the Space Station will continue their work, and mission control will be open to support them. They have plenty of food and water so they should be OK for some time.

Other NASA spacecraft, like the Curiosity Rover on Mars and the New Horizons craft hurtling toward Pluto, will be largely left to their own devices (literally) during the shutdown. I believe parking is cheap on Mars anyway, although maintenance is high.

Mars Rover on Holiday
Mars Rover on Holiday

All of this comes just a month after NASA announced that the Voyager space craft, launched in 1977, has left the solar system. It continues to send back data, (although I am not sure if it will now be piling up like emails after a holiday), and 6 days after the now dormant Mars rover vehicle discovered large amounts of water, meaning that pioneers could extract water from the ground to use for fuel and to drink.

This government shutdown is having a huge but largely unseen effect upon science and technology development, as the organizations that are effected are some of the largest and most advanced in the world, not to mention creating a few disappointed tourists.

Categories
Blogging Internet Media News Social Media Technology

How Much Freedom Does the Internet Bring You?

On the surface Internet living seems to bring a great deal of freedom to many different parties. Last month for example I posted from the USA, Italy and the UK, we can work from home, buy direct and have access to all kinds of information.

This might make us feel that the web itself creates freedom, or that it is free to operate as we wish. I am not so sure that this is the whole story however, and others agree.

How much freedom of speech really exists?
How much freedom of speech really exists?

Last week Security technologist Bruce Schneier gave a talk as part of the TEDx Cambridge series. Schneider is very interested in security and perceptions of security as this previous TED video shows, but last week’s talk was different.

He took the problem of Internet freedom as his topic, and raised some very interesting arguments. The following quotes are taken from his speech as reported on our local Boston.com website:

“Which type of power dominates the coming decades? Right now it looks like traditional power. It’s much easier for the NSA to spy on everyone than it is for anyone to maintain privacy. China has an easier time blocking content than its citizens have getting around those blocks.”

We can see that there is some evidence to support this case, if we look at this article that appeared in the Huffington Post a couple of years ago. It recounts the tale of Google pulling out of China because they no longer wanted to censor their searches. Google chose to redirect users to their non censored search engine based in Hong Kong. The Chinese government managed to block the results anyway, so users were left in the same position as before, no access to the information.

If we take a broader look though we find that it is not just China but other countries that are making repeated requests for Google to censor their content. CNN report the revelations of the recent Google Transparency report, where Canada, France, the UK and the USA feature strongly in the league of requested censorship. The report is here, easy to follow and a 5 minute thumb through might change your ideas regarding freedom and regulation on the web.

Just yesterday Linkedin announced that they challenging the US government over data requests. US organizations are allowed to publish the total number of data requests, but cannot break the figure down to reveal the number made by security services. Linkedin say this legal situation makes no sense, and many other companies agree. Read about it here.

“Cyber criminals can rob more people more quickly than real-world criminals, digital pirates can make more copies of more movies more quickly than their analog ancestors. And we’ll see it in the future. 3D printers mean control debates are soon going to involve guns and not movies.”

Just this week The Independent ran a story about Europe’s criminal intelligence agency that is fighting unprecedented levels of crime across several fronts as gangs capitalise on new technology. We are not talking about a few individuals hacking into the odd bank account here and there, we are looking at the new form of organized crime. A multi billion dollar industry in Europe alone.

The gun reference is of course to the distribution of plans for a 3D printer manufactured gun. Read about it here.

Caution in cases of political dissent
Caution in cases of political dissent

Much has been written about how Facebook and other interfaces have the power to democratize society, and their potential to promote revolution. The so-called Arab Spring is often given as an example, but as well as dissidents using Facebook to organize protests, the Syrian and other governments also used Facebook to identify and arrest dissidents.

There are plenty of examples. Here is an article about 3 Moroccan activists who were arrested for their comments criticizing governments at that time. One used a Wikileaks type platform, another Facebook and the third Youtube. They were all arrested and charged with various and sometimes unrelated crimes.

I wonder where they are now?

Categories
Computers Internet News Software Technology

Governments using Spyare, but for What?

Last week the New York Times ran an article about some investigative work conducted by a researcher and student in the Toronto and Berkley universities. The two were investigating government use of surveillance software, and seem to have discovered evidence that many governments are using off the shelf software to spy on their own citizens.

And we are not talking about despot regimes here, the list of 25 countries includes Australia, Britain, Canada and the US. The chosen mode of dissemination is typical of virus or spyware spreading techniques, an email is sent to whoever is to be monitored, once opened the software is downloaded into the computer.

In Vietnam the system has been found running on Android phones, so I would say if they can do it in Vietnam they can do it elsewhere.

You are under survelliance poster
You are Under Surveillance

The alarm bells ring if you look at who is being targeted. In some cases political dissidents (as is the case in Ethiopia) receive the emails. Another worrying factor is where the spyware is sent from (IP addresses registered to Turkmenistan’s Ministry for Communication in one case).

The company manufacturing the program is British, and they state that they sell their product to governments to help them crack down on terrorism and organized crime, but the possibilities for abuse are obvious and also demonstrated.

One problem is that the sale of surveillance is largely unregulated. Commercially available software can remotely turn your webcam on and watch what you are doing, record Skype conversations, email exchanges, log keystrokes and look at images inside the machine, practically anything you would like to see you can. Useful maybe in a crime investigation, but a powerful tool in the wrong hands.

If you would like to ponder the matter of ethics in technological development and marketing more, I recently interviewed Chris Howard, CEO of online publisher LIBBOO. They have devised and patented a system of measuring how much influence an individual has upon a group, and which stimuli create and use that influence. In the interview I asked him about the responsibility he holds when his invention gets into the wrong hands, and you can read his response here on the Bassetti Foundation website.

I also have another post about other spyware and monitoring systems that are freely available on the Internet here, although they are toys in comparison to the system described above.

I have deliberately omitted all names above, but the New York Times article contains them all.

Categories
Environment Technology

What renewable energy will you be looking into?

The recent government incentive to promote ecological mind sets in the home is good news for the environment. Householders will be offered loans to deck out their homes with energy-saving appliances and equipment, including extra insulation and new boilers.

So what exactly do you need for your home?

Loft Insulation

If you’ve no loft insulation in your house, you could be losing up to a quarter of your home’s heat through the roof.

Most newer buildings are built to a standard taking into account this loss, but if you have a home that’s a little older, chances are you’re wasting all that lovely warmth and putting yourself out of pocket.

The Green Deal will provide owners of uninsulated homes the chance to reduce the energy used in heating by proving loft insulation.

Wall Insulation

You could be looking at losing up to a third of your home’s heat through uninsulated walls. Cavity walls are much more energy efficient than the solid walls of older houses, and if your home was built before around 1940, it’s more likely to have the latter.

With good wall insulation, you’re looking at making a real saving in energy bills so it’s a good idea to find out if you’re equipped to keep all the heat in your home.

Boilers

According to energy efficiency ratings, a band A boiler is 20% more energy and cost effective and a band G one. It’s usually the older boilers branded with the G rating.

If your boiler is outdated, you could be losing a lot of money from it. Modern, band A boilers have an energy efficiency rating of 90% and allow you to keep much better tabs on your energy use. It’s worth investing in thermostatic radiator valves so rooms that aren’t being used aren’t heated too.

Katy Jones at Dulas had this to say of the feed-in tariff scheme:

“The feed in tariff incentive from the UK government is encouraging many people to consider installing renewable energy technologies; it will naturally mean that some renewables companies also look to offer energy efficiency measures as part of their product portfolios.”

One single wind turbineProducts which will include solar panels. Fitted onto the roof, solar panels are capable of generating renewable energy for the home. And if they are producing more energy than your household needs, you can sell that energy back to the National Grid.

From our perspective,” Ms. Jones continues, “Solar PV is a viable, cost effective way to generate free electricity and is especially good for high energy users looking to reduce their energy costs or with Carbon Reduction Commitments to meet.

Other renewable energy sources will include micro wind turbines, which will be accepted on the Green Deal. Though they are a little small to provide all of your energy, it’s the little things that make a big difference to an energy bill.

With the government backing you, it’s never been a better time to look into renewable energy.

Categories
Internet Media News

Rolling out Fibre Optic Broadband

This week the China Daily newspaper is carrying a story that has been picked up by many international news agencies. The paper states that the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology is ordering all newly built residences to install fiber optic connections in any city or county “where a public fiber optic telecom network is available.”

An ambitious project, particularly when put alongside the government’s hopes that 40 million families will be connected by fibre optic technology by 2015. These kinds of goals and regulations may seem impossible to those of us that live in the old world, but I would not be too sceptical about their interests and possibilities in China.

Here in the US we are a long long way from even getting broadband to large swathes of the country. The National Broadband map is a great source of information about how well connected we are, the maps are interactive and offer loads of information. Broadband coverage in general gets thinner on the ground as you move West, with much of the rural West and mid West still showing very little access. If you look at the map of fibre optic to home availability though you will see that we are talking about a very small number of providers and although it represents 17% of services it is extremely localized, with the vast majority of the country having no service.

Are you connected?
Internet cables

3.7% of the population have no high speed service at all, and although this seems like a small percentage, in a country the size of the USA it represents (by my calculation) about 13 million people.

Some analysts here are asking if the China intervention might be another Sputnik moment. The launch of the Sputnik pushed the US into the space race, fuelling investment and technological breakthrough. The question is whether the same will happen here.

If you are interested in how the world is connected, this article in the Global Finance magazine offers a table that shows the percentages of internet users divided into different countries. Some show a recent explosion is use, Albania going from 1% to 50% in 10 years, some are at above 90%, and some show little growth and remain in the 20’s or 30’s.

Given the importance for business the upgrading of existing infrastructure is of political interest. Both the US and UK governments have made broadband speed and distribution improvement a named priority. The UK government is putting in 530 million Pounds to roll out high speed internet to rural areas and in the US government has a similar plan, once more fueled by recent bad press about the quality of services offered across the country.

The Indian government is also pushing broadband extension. In a recent report increase in GDP is directly linked to broadband access, with failures on the parts of telecom companies blamed for losses in earnings and growth. India is expected to be the largest internet base on the planet by 2015, moving to above 300 million users and overtaking the US. With an extremely technology savvy society and better and wider infrastructure this must represent a great opportunity to the country.

So politics plays an important role in creating infrastructure. In an article last year on the innovation Excellence blog I wrote about how the FIFA World Cup had lead to the introduction of fibre optic technology to Africa (with a few hiccups) so large international events also play a part in creating infrastructure and generating opportunities.

So how good are the providers where you are?

Categories
Business

Is the demise of big banks on the horizon?

There are many ways you can grow your money.

You could invest in a project, such as installing solar panels, this can be really beneficial and can pay you back many times over the life of the panels, it is also green. Solar is a long-term investment though, so if you want quick returns, it might not be your thing.

You could buy property, become a landlord and earn income via letting it out to tenants.

You could gamble with it, which can have really high returns, however this is rare, whereas big losses arn’t.

You could invest your money in stocks and shares, and hope that the stockmarket value of them increases. This is a risky but potentially very lucrative way to earn money.

Alternatively you could put your money in a bank – or a building society or cooperative. This is probably the safest option.

Big Banks

In the UK, during the 1980’s many building societies changed into banks meaning they were allowed to float on the stockmarket, due to a change in British banking laws.

During this time, many of the banks we know today either turned from building societies into banks or took over smaller building societies. This created the ‘big banks‘ that we know today.

Bank on Dave

A recent television show I watched (called Bank of Dave) made me think about banking a lot more. In 2008 bankers were put in front of a committee of MPs and grilled, as a result of the global banking crisis.

Despite the massive losses many banks have encored, most have still awarded tens of thousand, hundreds of thousand and even million pound bonuses to their top employees.

In Bank of Dave, millionaire David Fishwick, used tens of thousands of pounds of his own money to set up a small cooperative cross building society, which he liked to call a ‘tiny bank’. The reason he did this is because he was sick of banks not lending, acting improperly/indecently/immorally and treating savers badly.

Dave owns a business dealing in minibuses, minicoaches and vans, and noticed that in 2008 when the banking crisis hit, many of his customers could no longer get loans to buy his products. This angered him and was another reason why he started his bank.

Bank of Dave - David Fishwick
David Fishwick – the Yorkshireman who was fed up of the big banks, so set up his own.

In just six months Dave made almost £95,011 profit by simply taking peoples (and before he got all the necessary licences his own) savings (he couldn’t legally say ‘deposits’) and lending them out to local businesses and individuals who were unable to get loans from the banks. The profits (after paying the two employees and presumably himself) went to local charities.

Due to its low overheads and risk, the bank could offer savers an amazing 5% interest rate.

Dave persuaded his local MP to lobby for him and his venture in parliament. Dave also managed to get the Business Secretary Vince Cable and politician Alastair Campbell to appear on the show, both of whom agreed that it was the sort of business/banking that the country needed, opposed to the monopolistic big banks that we have today. Vince Cable told Dave that he would speak to the FSA to try to make it easier for Dave to operate, and more people to start up similar ventures in future.

Most of the businesses the Bank of Dave (officially Burnley Savings and Loans Ltd. for legal reasons) helped, were legitimate and honest local ventures, which grew and thrived when they received the cash they vitally needed either to stay afloat or expand. An amazing 98% of the businesses Bank of Dave lent to were paying back their loans on time at the end of the programme!

The show was a real eye opener to me, as to the way things are currently run and how they could potentially be run.

In the global economic downturn, the UK lenders that have weather the storm well are Nationwide Building Society and the Co-operative. These are not your typical big bank, they are more community focused, ‘friendly’ institutions. Why? Because they don’t pay crazy bonuses, don’t engage in unethical business and are more careful with what they do with savers money – i.e. don’t take high risk gambles.

The show Bank of Dave ended with the commentator saying:

“Could this be the start of a banking revolution?”

I think it could be.

Just yesterday, the ‘safer’ more responsible Co-operative bank made a deal to take a form of ownership of the not so stable Lloyds Banking Group. A big bank that has been cut down to size?

Bye Bye Big Banks?

Considerable awareness has now been raised about the way our banks operate, and whether there is a viable, better alternative.

My thoughts are that if institutions like the Co-operative, Nationwide Building Society and Burnley Savings and Loans Ltd. are doing so well, then they could well be the future. They seem to have greater public support, lend to more people, offer better interest rates, and are less risky.

I think a banking revolution is on the horizon – you heard it here first!

Categories
Blogging

Good blogging practice – publishing reliable information

The web is massive bank of data, which is far too big to be regulated. Because the web can’t be regulated, it is very easy for false information to spread – fast.

If you are a blogger, it is really important that you publish information which is reliable and trustworthy. Don’t copy what the crowd says unless you know they are right, as this is not only misleading to your readers, but can also see you get penalties dished out from search engines. If you get a reputation for publishing unreliable content, the likelyhood is that your readership will fall.

When you publish something that you have found out elsewhere, you need to make sure that it is accurate and reliable, before you publish it.

How to Mythbust Rumours

When you find information, on the web, in order to ensure that it is reliable, it is always a good idea to check that it appears elsewhere. A general rule of thumb is to check that what you are reading is the same on 3 other sites, one of which is a highly reputable site.

So what is a reputable website?

Government Websites

There are a few way so to identify if a site is reputable or not. One way is to see if it is a government website. Any site which is government run is likely to be very reputable. Government websites usually end in their own unique domain name extension. If you live in the USA, government sites end in .gov or .fed.us, in the UK .gov.uk, in France .gouv.fr, .gc.ca for Canada, India’s extension is .gov.in and the list goes on.

Major News Corporations

Government sites won’t always report things that you want to verify though, so there are other ways to tell a reputable sites. Big news websites like BBC.co.uk/News and Guardian.co.uk will usually only publish information that is factual and accurate, so you can usually trust them.

The Guardian's logoThe information they publish is likely to be accurate, however it may not be impartial, so that is something to watch out for. Often news firms will take a political side, and therefore report news in a certain way – and may only publish part of a story.

High PageRank Sites

Google PageRank is calculated largely by the number of backlinks a page or site has. If a website has a very high PageRank (6+) then it is likely that it has a lot of other sites linking to it, most probably because it publishes a lot of high quality content, which people find useful and therefore link back to. High PageRank sites aren’t always trustworthy, but the higher up the spectrum of PageRank you go, the less likely it is that a site is going to be providing false information.

If a website is a PageRank 8, 9 0r 10, unless they have manipulated Google’s algorithm (through black hat SEO, which will only work for a short while, before Google catches them) then the site is likely to be extremely reliable and reputable, therefore you should be able to trust the information, data and facts that they produce.

1,000,000 to 1

If 1 highly reputable site is saying one thing, but 1 million other (not reputable) sites are saying another another, then the chances are that the 1,000,000 sites are just recycling the same false information, creating a massive bank of false information. This is one reason why you should be really careful who you trust on the web, and also make sure that you verify information with at least one reputable site. Be careful who you trust.

Academic Research

Verifying information with at least 3 sources, one of which is reputable is something which is also advised in academic research. Therefore if you use the same standards on your blog, you can’t go wrong! Search engines and readers alike will respect you for providing good quality, highly reputable content.

Technology Bloggers Policy

Every time I write an article and quote information/statistics etc. I always try to follow the 3 and 1 rule: check the information appears on 3 other sites, at least one of which is ‘reputable’. This means that everything I write should be reputable.

The post guidelines ask all writers to ensure they use the 3 and 1 rule, however we cannot guarantee that all writers do. In our Privacy Policy, we state how we try to ensure all content is true and factual, however it is always advisable to independently verify information for yourself.

Do You Verify Your Content?

Do you always try to ensure that you use the 3 and 1 rule when publishing information? That not only applies to blog posts, but also to comments. If not what measures do you use, or don’t you think it really matters?

Categories
Technology

Smart Meters are the future for your home electricity

This is a sponsored post on behalf of British Gas. To find out more about sponsored content on Technology Bloggers, please visit our Privacy Policy.

Smart meters are a clever new technology, that can help to improve the way your energy usage is monitored and recorded, but many people know very little about this new bit of tech.

Smart Meters

Smart meters are a technology that are transforming our understanding of energy, and how we use it. What they allow you to do is to work out how much energy you are using, and on what, much better than ever before.

Smart meters measure gas and electricity usage in your home, by replacing your old electricity and gas meter, with an all new one.

For more information, watch this useful British Gas video about smart meters 🙂

The Benefits

This new energy meter allows you to see much easier how much electricity you are using, due to their handy in-home display, which puts you in control  of your energy.

Thanks to smart meters you can see in real time how much energy you are using. You can check this on its user friendly energy monitor, either online or through our smartphone app. So if you have your kettle and TV on and you are using 1KW, then you know what those appliances use.

According to British Gas this gives you the potential to reduce your bills by around a fantastic 10%!  This is because thanks to smart meters, you can see what energy you are using, and therefore can start to make small changes to use less and save money on your bills.

Another handy thing about smart meters is that they report wireless, so there is no longer a need (or the hassle!) for you or an engineer to take readings. Furthermore, the readings sent will now be 100% accurate, for total piece of mind.

Installation

In the UK British Gas are aiming to provide smart meters in all homes in the near future – meaning that everyone can benefit from this new technology.

British Gas's Corporate LogoThey are starting the roll out now, with 120,000 homes in the UK already having a smart meter. This will grow to around 1.5million by the end of 2012.

Because they are so useful, the UK government has mandated that all households will need to have smart meters installed by 2019.

British Gas have already started to introduce smart meters to homes across the UK, in order to make sure that we are ready in time for 2019.

When your home is ready for an upgrade, British Gas will contact you and their highly trained Smart Energy Experts will change your meters, and explain how to use your energy display and save on your bills.

Head over to British Gas’s website and Facebook page to find out more about smart meters and how you can get yours installed!

What do you think about the new meters which could save you money? Do you have any questions on anything I haven’t covered about smart meters?

Categories
Blogging News

Is The Right To Anonymous Blogging Under Threat?

The UK government has just published a draft Joint Parliamentary Committee report that may well effect bloggers like you and me. The bill is about defamation of character, but it includes some interesting points about blogging, and in particular anonymous posts. Although their aim is to lift the burden of policing blog comment from the service providers, it may have a knock on quasi censorship effect upon freedom of speech.

The ISP Review website contains all the links you need to read the proposal, and I should state that the draft is open for comment and contains specific questions that we should all maybe take time to think about and answer.

Big Brother is Watching You - PosterThe government want to protect people from slanderous remarks on blogs, as many people uses anonymity as a cover, feeling that they can say whatever they want without fear of reprise. The proposal is that any anonymous post that receives a complaint from any party must be removed immediately, or the name of the author made public, otherwise the blog owner will be held responsible and face the consequences of any libel case.

All well and good if we are just talking about a few snide remarks or even a good and possibly unjustified slagging off, but what about other uses of anonymity? People use blogs to anonymously blow the whistle on malpractice in all types of situation. In this case anyone can make a complaint about an anonymous post and it must be removed. An arbitrator looks at the complaint, but as already noted, any libel remains the responsibility of the blog owner unless they are willing and able to provide the author’s name. The effect will be that any organization or individual will be able to block the comment in an instant, by making a complaint that we could read as a direct threat to the blog owners survival.

The new draft on libel is a prime example of the manipulation of responsibility. Do you make the providers responsible and threaten them with a law suit because they put something online that someone takes exception to? They are big organizations, faceless and have money.  The blog owners do not however, and have a lot to lose.

So what about allowing your contributors to post anonymously? There is a need for anonymity in certain cases, people are much more likely to talk about sensitive issues if they do not have to reveal their names. There have been many cases brought to light that have turned out to be true examples of poor standards through anonymous posts.

How many blog owners will take the risk of going through a lengthy and expensive court case to defend the contents of an anonymous post? This is an option that in most cases I would think is not even feasible to contemplate.

To add just another thought, on occasion I have created a ‘false’ e mail account in order to register for a site that I did not want to have my real e mail address. I could have then used it to register with a website to get access to commenting, so it may well also be very difficult to determine who a named author actually is, further adding complications to already murky waters.