Take Five: Of kill switches and smartphones

The M&G’s Faranaaz Parker rounds up five odd things you may have missed this week.

Egypt and the kill switch
The New York Times reported last week on how the Egyptian government flipped a kill switch that effectively blacked out the internet during a week of political upheaval in the country.

Although countries like China, Nepal and Burma have managed to shut down the internet for limited periods or restrict access to certain websites, no state has successfully severed an entire country from the internet until now, and speculation about how exactly the Egyptian government managed to do it is rife.

It helped that the Egyptian government controls much of the telecoms infrastructure in the country and that national laws stipulate that service providers shut down their services when called on to do so by the government.

Now techies from around the world are wondering whether other autocratic countries also hold an internet kill switch.

Twitter ban at ICC World Cup
With days to go before the start of the 2011 Cricket World Cup, the International Cricket Council has announced a blanket ban on all Twitter posts by players and team officials on match days.

As it is, players are not allowed to use their phones on match days but that rule has now been extended to team officials as well. The ICC says the move was not precipitated by a particular incident but was agreed on to prevent allegations of match fixing.

Cricket betting these days frequently revolves around “exotic” bets, such as when a no-ball would be bowled or how many wides would be given away in an over. An ill-timed tweet could open a team manager up to speculation at best and allegations of corruption at worst.

It seems the best tweeting cricket fans can hope for in the coming weeks is for coaches to comment on the performance of any other team but their own.

Fuel cells get financial nod
A small energy company from Cheshire, England, has landed a £1-milion grant from a United Kingdom government non-profit organisation to develop affordable fuel cells for the mass car market.

Fuel cells are a hybrid between an engine and a battery, said the BBC. They use a fuel source to generate energy but never need recharging. The fuel cell that was developed by ACAL Energy uses air and hydrogen to produce power with no petrol and no emissions.

It may sound like a pipe dream but the company is already working with carmakers and hopes to bring its ideas to fruition in the next five years. With a foot in the door early, the company could stand to benefit from a low-carbon transport industry that may be worth £150-billion, or R1,7-trillion, by 2050.

PlayStation, meet smartphone
Sony Ericsson this week revealed its much anticipated Experia Play — the phone meant to bridge the gap between portable gaming device and smartphone.

The much anticipated hybrid gadget was seen as a way for Sony to redeem its gaming credentials. In recent years the company’s PlayStation Portable (PSP) handheld gaming console has been losing ground to game-capable smartphones such as the iPhone.

Early reviews say the so-called “PlayStation phone” looks promising despite its bulkiness (the phone features a slide-out control pad) but whether it takes off with either casual or hardcore gamers remains to be seen. The phone will be released in March.

Apple iPhone set to shrink
The Wall Street Journal reported that Apple is working on a smaller, cheaper and more stripped down version of the iPhone.

It’s been nicknamed the “iPhone Mini” online and could be out within a few months. Insiders speculate the iPhone’s little sister could be made available from carriers at about half the price of a regular iPhone.

Despite the popularity of the iPhone, Apple has been facing stiff competition in the rapidly evolving smartphone market and the development of a mini iPhone is being seen as an attempt to better compete in that space.

Faranaaz’s interests span science, technology and development. Read her weekly wrap every weekend on the M&G and follow her on Twitter here.

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