Monday, 26 September 2011

Queen's in no rush to axe light speed theory

PHYSICS students about to begin their degrees at Queen's University today could be the last to be taught that E=MC2.

Published in the News Letter on 26/09/11.

CERN, home of the large Hadron collider, have baffled physicists around the world with claims they may have beaten the most fundamental law of physics, the speed of light.

Albert Einstein's theory on special relativity - which states the speed of light can never be exceeded - is seen as the cornerstone of modern physics and to date has never been successfully challenged.

However with the OPERA experiment, CERN believe they have done just that. The experiment saw sub-atomic particles known as neutrinos sent 454 miles from CERN to the Grand Sasso laboratory in Italy.

A new 'world record' seemed to be set with the particles arriving just 60 billionths of a second early.

OPERA spokesperson, Antonio Erediato, said he was cautiously excited by the results.
“This result comes as a complete surprise,” he said.

“After many months of studies and cross checks we have not found any instrumental effect that could explain the result of the measurement. While OPERA researchers will continue their studies, we are also looking forward to independent
measurements to fully assess the nature of this observation.”

In an unusual move, CERN have openly published their findings for scrutiny before they make an official claim.

Professor Bill Graham from Queen's University

QUB physics professor Bill Graham said that although the findings had generated excitement in the halls of his department, he wouldn't be telling his students to throw away their textbooks any time soon.
"Our community is definitley excited about it but the general view is that there is probably a long way to go. The first aspect is checking the experiment has been done correctly as it's so complex. Your talking 60 billionths of a second so it's a very difficult experiment."

He continued: "Most of us believe this will be explained away, there's so much evidence (Einstein) is correct. This is one experiment so an alternative explanation might be found,if not physics will have a field day, it could change the way we may be looking at the world."

Although remaining sceptical, Prof Graham said CERN deserved high praise for the work."They're behaving very professionally, they have concerns they've missed something and are allowing the whole community to look at it.

They're trying to put a mark down in history as the first people to discover this. They'll get a lot of credit if they're right, but also if it's disproven for the way they've went about it."

Ahead of a public seminar hosted yesterday afternoon by CERN, Professor Erediato reflected on what the results could mean.“The potential impact on science is too large to draw immediate conclusions or attempt physics interpretations," he said. "Although my first reaction is that the neutrino is still surprising us with its mysteries.”

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Queen's Cyber crime experts urge caution

CYBER crime experts in Belfast have echoed the concerns of Scotland Yard’s E-crime unit that the British public is too complacent when it comes to online theft.

Last week London Met police chief Janet Williams bluntly warned her detectives that if they didn’t understand the threat posed by cybercrime they should find another job. She added that the public also needed to make a real effort to be aware of online risks.

Cyber crime is estimated to currently cost the UK around £27 billion a year – £3 billion of which is stolen from private citizens - and is considered by the UK government to be among the top threats to national security.

In Belfast the Queen’s Centre for Secure Information Technology Security (CSIT) acts as the national centre in the UK for secure information technologies.

Stephen Wray - CSIT’s commercial director- said he agreed whole heartedly with Janet William’s comments. “It is a major problem, most of today’s generation are as active in cyberspace as they are in normal space and use the internet today to form every aspect of their lives.

In some ways the average bobby on the beat should be as aware of the cyber landscape as he is of the everyday landscape.”

He pointed to the new saying that the 19th century was about securing the seas, the 20th century was about securing the air and the 21st century was about securing the new landscape of cyber space.

He added: ”In some ways that’s the way the military are looking at it and it informs general policing.”

In addition to their research and development role, CSIT also work closely with the PSNI.

“There are E-crime officers in Northern Ireland,” explains Stephen. “We would be very actively engaged with them and there’s also an organisation called SOCA – The Serious organised crime agency – and they would very much be trying to identify the activities of illegal cyber gangs.”

CSIT have stated their objective as making internet access as risk free as pouring water from a tap. At present technology is being pioneered that can screen huge amounts of internet data – the equivalent of 100,000 households – before it is delivered to homes.

Stephen said that an interesting aspect of internet security was that parents – who may worry about what their children broadcast on facebook – could often be more at risk.

“The younger generation – although being very open with information like photos and their location - they are very aware of the threat and the power of the internet.,” he explains.

“They actually draw a line between what’s important and what they’re willing to share and are aware of how easily accessible and available information is. It’s almost the older generation who are more used to keeping things secret that tend to trust things on the internet and don’t expect to be taken advantage of.”

He said using unsecured internet connections and buying off unfamiliar sites where of particular risk. “Where you’re not being prompted for your user name you should be thinking to yourselves, ‘is this really secure?’ If I’m able to get in here quite easily surely others could be too.”

The most high profile case of cyber crime in recent months has been directed against technology giants Sony. Over 100 million users of Sony Play Stations had their credit card details compromised when hackers managed to break into the system. The attacks were reported to be an angry reaction to what was perceived to be an overly aggressive pursuit of a young hacker by Sony.

In contrast, Microsoft - who manufacture the gaming console X-Box - have been praised by some for taking a more progressive approach to the problem of hacking.

When a 14 year-old boy in Ireland attempted to hack or 'phish' the accounts of other X-box users, Microsoft after blocking his account , decided it was best to work with the young hacker to further "develop his talent" to be used for more "legitimate purposes."

Microsoft GM Paul Rellis said he believed this showed that the once hate-hate relationship between companies and hackers was becoming more friendly and mutually beneficial.

Friday, 27 May 2011

Interface party hailed as a success

Published in the News Letter on 30/04/11

A ROYAL wedding celebration held in West Belfast yesterday in which both Loyalists and Republicans were encouraged to attend has been described as a positive step.

The Suffolk-Lenadoon interface is an area in the city that has been heavily blighted by sectarian violence in the past.

Although the Suffolk community centre was decked out in royal wedding paraphenalia, organisers were hoping to ensure a cross community atmosphere.
"There's nothing political about a royal wedding or any wedding," said Ewan Suttie from Suffolk-Lenadoon Interface Group (SILG).
"At the end of the day, in the TV coverage this morning, you can see across the UK it's been taken on board and I would say undoubtedly that a lot of nationalists sat at home and watched it today because they've been quite interested."

Although the organisers felt a public screening of the royal wedding was perhaps too much, too soon, a football match between Suffolk FC and St Oliver Plunkett FC from Lenadoon was organised.
Bouncy castles and a teenage disco were also arranged for younger people.

Joe Hamill, who represents the Lenadoon community on SILG, said he faced a few puzzled faces when the idea was first presented.
"In my GAA club, as people started to hear about the idea, people would come to me and say 'Joe, are you mad, what are you doing this for?'
"But once you start explaining to people they understand that this is about giving the Catholic Community the opportunity to experience the other community's culture."

He added: "When we talk about respecting diversity and promoting cultural awareness this is really the living manifestation of those buzz words."

Cara ensures Ulster is never far from PM's desk in No 10

Published in the News Letter on 25/05/11

Co Down Artist speaks to Allan Preston about her latest work which will add some silver touches to Downing Street.

THE PRIME Minister’s private study, or more specifically his desk, is perhaps easy to imagine as a dimly lit corner of 10 Downing Street

where many important matters of state are decided late at night.

But amidst the piles of top secret documents and the sound of a ticking clock, David Cameron will soon be clearing some space for something a little more artistic.

On Monday afternoon at Hillsborough castle, Co. Down artist Cara Murphy unveiled the piece in question. Entitled ‘Contours,’ the work is a hand crafted silver desk set that has been three years in the making.

Commissioned by the Silver Trust for the Downing Street collection, Contours will be the first item in the set to have come from Northern Ireland.

“I am very honoured and excited at the thought of having a piece that will be used daily by the Prime Minister,” says Cara.

She said that she hoped the piece - which features a blotter, a clock, a space to hold note paper and a pen holder - would evoke the Northern Irish countryside.

“I’m calling the piece Contours because I’m so influenced by the natural landscape,” she explains. “For instance, the penholder piece which has got the four curved ridges of silver in it is very much influenced by driving up and down the countryside and looking at the plastic sheets they use on the land. When you see the condensation underneath it and the sun shining on it, it just looks like silver on the fields.”

The countryside theme is also evident in that the silver is complimented by Wenge wood and green enamel.

Cara, who is an Associate Lecturer at the University of Ulster, has enjoyed the benefits of growing up in an artistic household. Her father Michael McCrory is also a Silversmith while her mother Deirdre is a printmaker and enamel artist and both collaborated with Cara on her commission.

“My mum has done all the enamel on the piece and because of its translucency it creates wonderful light and effect with the green reflecting on the silvers.”

She continues: “My dad, who I share a workshop with, has always been very instrumental in his advice. Our workbenches are right beside each other, there’s approximately 12 inches between where I work and where he works and so that’s great for bouncing ideas and having an extra pair of hands.”

In addition to Cara’s success Michael enjoyed high profile success himself only last week when he created a silver jug which the Queen presented to Irish President Mary McAleese.

He was also invited down to Dublin last Thursday to meet the two heads of state.

“I got to speak to the Queen,” he says happily.

“I explained that I had made the piece that she had presented to President McAleese. She was very pleased to meet me and thanked me for making it. I also spoke to President McAleese after the Queen passed and she went on down the line. President McAleese said she was ever so pleased she had got the piece. “

Although some gifts can be doomed to a life at the back of a cupboard, Michael said he jokingly urged the Irish head of state the Silver jug was not just for decoration. ”I explained to her that the piece was made to be used and that I hoped she was going to use it. She said she certainly was and knew that it was supposed to be used.”

After three long years of work, Caras work was finally unveiled in the Throne room of Hillsborough Castle. It was presented to Raymond Hambro, chairman of the Trustees of the Silver Trust

Christopher English OBE, of the Silver Trust said Cara “was chosen because her work is so different. We liked that she uses silver with wood and enamel and this is such a new way to present a piece. We asked her to produce a desk set for the Prime Minister because we felt it would remind him of the work of UK silversmiths on a daily basis,” explained Christopher English OBE, secretary to the Trustees of The Silver Trust.

Joe Kelly, Director of Craft Northern Ireland, called Cara “an excellent ambassador for craftspeople across Northern Ireland. For this wonderful piece to be displayed in such an important and prominent location recognises the excellence of Cara’s work and the reputation of craft makers in Northern Ireland.”

Roisin McDonough, Chief Executive of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, said Cara’s success reinforced her “position as one of the UK’s leading contemporary silversmiths and raised her profile at a national and international level.”

Neighbours unite for 'Big Lunch'

Published in the News Letter on 25/05/11

NORTHERN Ireland is set to share lunch with over a million people next month as part of the major UK wide community event.

The Big Lunch - an initiative which began in 2009 - is aiming to get "as many of the 61 million people in the UK as possible to join their neighbours for a few hours of community, friendship and fun" on Sunday June 5th.

This will be the first year communities in Northern Ireland take part - with 378 registered events in the province so far.

The Big lunch was started by the creators of the Eden Project, the world famous environmental park in Cornwall, whose 50 metre high greenhouse structures allow it the unique claim of having the world’s largest rainforest in captivity.

The Eden Project in Cornwall where the Big Lunch started.

As well as a tourist spectacle, the Eden Project was intended as a dramatic example of what can be done with community cooperation. Cornwall was considered a financially redundant area for such a grand project ten years ago and yet today it generates almost £1 billion per year.

While the Big lunch may be easy to dismiss for some as a light weight new age concept, it has been praised for helping tackle serious problems like social isolation in the elderly.

Karen Breene from Belmont is among the first to help organise a Big Lunch in Northern Ireland.

“Whenever we were told about the big lunch we thought that would be a really go

od opportunity to get all of the local community and Belmont park users together for a fun day,” she explains.

Belmont Park, where one of 378 Big Lunches in Northern Ireland will be held.

A malleable concept, the Big Lunch allows individual organisers to put their own twist on the day.

“There’ll be bouncy castles and face painting and hopefully a climbing wall but we’ve also asked people like the NIEA, the badger group for Northern Ireland and other wildlife groups to attend.”

She continues: “It’s a very doggy park hence we’ve very strong links with the Assisi Animal sanctuary who will be doing a sponsored walk round the park and doing free microchipping and giving out neutering advice.”

In Crumlin, a Big lunch with a cross denominational theme is planned.

Reverend Scott Peddie of the First Presbyterian Church said holding the event seemed like a natural step. “I was won over quite quickly by the idea,” he says.

Rev Scott Peddie who will be holding a Big Lunch in Crumlin

“I got an e mail and thought it would work very well for Crumlin. Since we started up a clergy fellowship we’ve been doing a lot of community based initiatives and trying to bring people together throughout Crumlin.”

A cross denominational sermon is planned but Revered Peddie says he is hopeful the event can be expanded in years to come.

“I hadn’t heard of the big lunch before but I saw the four main church leaders in Northern Ireland are supporting it. We’ll probably try and do something more adventurous in the coming years but we’ll do something nice and simple first of all to try out the concept and see how people respond and just celebrate what we have in common as a community in Crumlin.”

For more information on how to attend or host a Big lunch visit or call 0845 8508181.

Funeral of veteran broadcaster today

THE funeral service of veteran broadcaster Bill Smyth is to take place this morning at Whiteabbery Presbyterian Church.

Published in the News Letter 29/01/11

Bill Smyth - 1936 - 2011

With his immediately recognisable no-nonsense tones, Bill first emerged as a familiar broadcasting voice in Northern Ireland in the early 1970s working at UTV and Downtown Radio.

Although respected as an authorative newsreader and sports reporter, Bill was also known for his versatility in lighter shows.

Eddie West began his broadcasting career with Bill at Downtown Radio.
"When I first heard him I thought he must have looked like the very personification of a news reader, you could imagine him sitting there in a bowtie," recalls Eddie.
"But when I met him he was all sleeves rolled up and very relaxed. Downtown Radio was the first commercial radio where people could get requests played."

He continues: "It wasn't a question of writing into the BBC where you wouldn't hear a Northern Irish name on it. The show gave people a better chance than writing into BBC 1 or 2. It was a new way of broadcasting and Bill was a part of that."

John Rosborough also worked with Bill at both Downtown Radio and later at U105. He said that like many other colleagues he had fond memories of Bill and was sad to see him pass.
"I would say that Bill was one of the old school," he said.
"He had a rich distinctive authoritative voice and he believed very much that of something was worth saying it was worth saying well."

In addition to "the high quality of Bill's braodcasting," John said he was also glad to remember Bill's sense of fun.
"There was one occasion during the Sunday request show - when smoking in the studio was still permitted - that his cigar was not properly extinguished and he put it into the bin. There was a very hasty moving onto the music when a sudden fire had to be dealt with."

Bill passed away in hospital on Wednesday (26/01/11) at the age of 74 after suffering a long battle with cancer. He is survived by his partner Kathleen and two grown-up daughters.

He is to be laid to rest at Movilla Cemetary in Newtownards.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Families in oil tank fire terror

A PENSIONER spoke yesterday of how she and her husband made a terrifying escape from their burning home after an arson attack by children as young as ten.

Published in the News Letter on 29/01/11.

Maureen Ritchie (pictured) lives in a row of houses in Newtownabbey, some of which were destroyed in the blaze - which broke out after a lit bin ignited an oil tank.

Police said they are treating the incident as malicious, and confirmed that bin-lighting incidents in the area have been common, with three such episodes reported earlier this week.

Mrs Ritchie added that she felt "devastated" for her neighbours - Edith Gaston, 82, and her daughter Karen - whose homes were both completely destroyed.

Recalling the nights events she said: "It was arund 6 o'clock on Thursday. My next door neighbour's back garden was set alight and it travelled to her oil tank. It caught fire and it just continued on to the house."

She said she was certain that events would have taken a darker turn had the fire started later at night when people were asleep.
"It just doesn't bear thinking about. My husband's disabled and I don't think I would have been able to get him out if I was upstairs in bed. The end result wouldn't have been what it is."

David Hayburn, a senior officer with the Fire and Rescue Service, said that his crew were faced with burning oil and potentially explosive gas cylinders.

"By the time we arrived at the scene the fire was well established. Thanks to the swift and professionalism response of our officers we managed to save more houses from being destroyed," he said.
"We had a situation where around 600 litres of heating oil was on fire, and there were also several fas cylinders which posed an immense risk and we had to establish an extensive cordon zone."

Mr Hayburn revealed that eight fire appliances were tasked to the scene, as the scale of the blaze became apparent.

John Clarke - a relative of Mrs Gaston whose house was destroyed -said residents believed that children under the age of ten were responsible.
"It's children from our own community," he said.
"We haven't been informed by the police who did it, but they have been seen doing it for the past few weeks. There's a lady over here who had her bin set set on fire on Sunday night."

Mr Clarke said that once the family saw the flames they had minutes to escape - a fact indicated by the charred remains of a half-eaten family dinner left in the kitchen.
"Karen's husband Tommy ran out to switch the hose on but just at that second the oil tank burst with the heat, and because the oil was on a hill it flooded towards the house and it just ignited."

"Within 12-15 minutes the house was totalled and he just had time to get them out, no clothes, no handbags nothing. They had to get Edith straight out the front door because she's not 100 per cent mobile."

Mr Clarke added that the family had been particularly upset about the total loss of mementoes from the two houses, with precious items such as old wedding photos and letters gone forever.

Don Kirk, an ambulance chief in the area, said he felt older residents were being victimised.
"I've been transporting Edith for four years every Wednesday and Friday. This particular woman is paritally disabled and I just feel that senior citizens are victims."

"Most of the residents wouldn't be young. I'm just devastated. I know she was fine but she was very upset. I'm in shock about this and I appeal to these people to stop it before someone gets killed."

North Belfast DUP MP Nigel Dodds and party colleague Nelson McCausland MLA visited the scene of the fire in Rathfern yesterday morning.
"This is an appalling scene of devastation," said Mr Dodds. "To see good homes ruined by what appears to have been a senseless act of arson. I have met with the residents to express my sincere sympathy for the terrible ordeal thrust upon them and and to assure them of my full support. In the circumstances we must be thankful that no lives were lost."