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The Weekly Round-Up: 12.03.10

How fast is your broadband?
Written by The Round-Up, Contributor

How fast is your broadband?

The Round-Up has been writing about technology for well over 10 years now. That's a long time in technology and in that decade the industry has changed beyond recognition.

The Round-Up witnessed the rise and fall (and rise again) of the dot-com industry, the rise and rise again of Apple and the emergence of Google. Now the Round-Up, who started off writing stories about the incredible leap forward that was Windows NT 4.0, is the old grey-beard that has to work with people who remain unconvinced there was life before Twitter or LinkedIn.

But throughout all that time, one constant has been the moaning of the British people about the quality of their internet access.

Let's be honest, there was plenty to be grumpy about in the old days. Remember dial-up? Remember the deluge of ISPs' CDs that would pour from every newspaper. While we're on the subject: newspapers - remember them?

But the Round-Up digresses. So despite the advent of broadband are we happy bunnies? No, we are most certainly not.

Not only are we not happy bunnies we're apparently getting more and more wound up about our broadband services than ever before. For the residents of this sceptred isle, complaining about broadband has replaced complaining about the weather as our favourite national pastime.

"Poppycock! What's your evidence?" you may justifiably ask the Round-Up.

A survey of more than 8,000 British broadband users has revealed that while customer satisfaction is slowly improving in some areas, the number of consumers who are unhappy with their connection speed has actually increased for the third consecutive year.

Despite the increase in fat pipe offers from service providers, almost a third of respondents were dissatisfied with their broadband speed - a rise from 27 per cent last year and just 16 per cent in 2008.

A further 28 per cent said they were so fed up they were planning to change providers because their connection speed wasn't up to scratch - another increase from 2009 when only 17 per cent were planning to switch due to connection-speed-related melancholy, according to the survey by Broadbandchoices.co.uk.

In fact about the only people who are happy with their broadband speeds are the ones who pay huge amounts of money for super fast access speeds above 24MB - three-quarters were perfectly happy with their speeds, although the report fails to mention what their bank managers thought of the arrangement.

If you are the kind of person who spends a disproportionate amount of time worrying about the girth of your fat pipe then perhaps you should consider getting a second mortgage and upgrading.

In the meantime, the rest of the nation probably needs to collectively count to 10, stay well away from broadband speed tests and find something more profound to contemplate such as, say, "what defines me as an individual?"

As luck would have it the Round-Up was just about to ask you that very question: what is it that defines you as an individual?

Some would say your name. Others would say you are defined by your words or your actions, or the type of broadband you choose. Or choose to moan about.

These are all worthy answers but wholly wrong. According to some researchers in South West England, what defines us as individuals is right in front of our faces - our nose.

For a technology specialism long obsessed with iris scanning and fingerprints, nose scanning is apparently the new face of biometrics. No doubt useful for sniffing out ID fraudsters.

Some rather clever scientists at the University of Bath now believe the hooter could be the future of biometrics. The academics have been working on an experimental system that could help people prove they are who they say they are thanks to the distinct make up of their nose.

They have used a photographic system to scan the shape of volunteers' noses, and developed computer software to analyse the results.

The system uses choice views of your nose to verify your identity, namely the ridge profile, the nose tip and the section between the eyes at the top of the nose. A person's identity can be established by measuring the size of each part and its relation to the other parts.

The researchers have admitted that nose scanning isn't always accurate and should be considered as complementary to more traditional biometric methods.

Which - hopefully - will stop the government from immediately ordering the creation of a giant nose database. But then again, they're still pushing ahead with ID cards so who knows (or nose).

Dr Adrian Evans, from Bath University's department of electronic and electrical engineering, said that nose biometrics can provide a better way of identifying a person covertly, given that noses are harder to conceal.

Just what role rhinoplasty or a left hook has on all this scanning is anybody's guess.

Clearly, if you have deep-seated issues about the size or shape of your nose then this is a nightmare.

Then again if you have got deep-seated issues about the size and shape of your nose you have bigger fish to worry about and you should probably get a sense of perspective.

Big nose...

We've all committed digital blunders. A glance at a list of the Round-Up's Amazon purchase history is evidence enough (curse you one-click purchasing!).

Maybe you've made a biting comment in a business email and hit 'reply all' rather than 'reply', perhaps you've sent a saucy text message to your mum instead of to your other half.

Either way, silicon.com has a number of routes out of your digital Hades here. The Round-Up has long known about Microsoft Outlook's 'recall' function, by which you can send an email to the person you've insulted, effectively telling them (likely to be your boss) that you've called them an 'incompetent idiot' and you'd really like it if they didn't read the email.

However, what the Round-Up didn't know is that Google last year added an 'undo send' feature to its webmail service, letting users stop an email being sent out - provided the regret-filled emailer clicks the 'undo' button within five seconds of clicking the send button.

Not exactly a massive margin for saving face, however, but if you act fast then potential disaster can be avoided. You have to be nimble following the fateful click. Let's analyse those five seconds:

Second one: PANIC.
Second two: Swear.
Second three: Remember the undo function.
Second four: Scramble for the mouse and spill your coffee over your keyboard.
Second five: Swear again, this time more explosively.
Second six: Start clearing desk and composing resignation letter.

As our lives rely more and more on digital communication devices and the increasingly mobile and social web so the possibility of technical cock-ups increases. We are, after all, so very, very fallible.

Over the years, silicon.com has covered scores of tales of digital blunders: the Round-Up's personal favourite was the man who wrote on a white board in permanent marker only to realise that it wasn't a white board: it was a plasma screen.

But we want to hear from you. Given how deeply we are immersed in technology in our modern lives you must have some howlers to report. Email us at editorial@silicon.com and we'll compile the best for your reading pleasure. C'mon, you know you want to share.

And as ever, take some time to check out the excellent links below.

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