Tout bots outlawed, Scottish renewables and more: our picks of the week's news
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E&T staff pick the news from the past week that caught their eye and reflect on what these latest developments in engineering and technology mean to them. For the full story, just click on the headline.
Jack Loughran, news reporter
A law banning ticket touts from using bots to hoover up vast amounts of tickets has come into effect but it’s only half the battle. Unfortunately, the other side is the ticket companies themselves that charge music fans incredibly high fees for a poor service.
Running a massive ticket-selling business like Ticketmaster is definitely not without sizable overheads, but the fees charged are often extortionate. Ticketmaster typically charges around 10 per cent on the cost of a ticket, which can just about be stomached when seeing a smaller band with tickets going for £20-£30. But with acts like the Rolling Stones, or large festivals, tickets can easily cost north of £100. The Ticketmaster fee correspondingly rises to £10 or even £15. The cost to power the computers that automate the ticket-buying process must be infinitesimally small per ticket, so the service charge is simply being taken as profit. What’s even worse is when they charge £2.50 for a ‘print at home’ option, or an extra ‘convenience fee’. Convenient for whom? Ticketmaster shareholders?
Unfortunately, other than the aforementioned there is basically only one other company, SeeTickets, to buy from, and they charge the same. So there’s no real competition; if you want to watch live music you have no choice but to suck it up. In the past Ticketmaster has even been caught buying its own tickets and then relisting them on its ticket-reselling website at inflated prices.
Last week, it emerged that Ticketmaster was told about a cyber attack on its systems in April that saw customer details leaked to hackers. Yet the company didn’t bother to do anything about it for a further two months, another example of the utter contempt in which it holds its customers.
Hopefully e-ticket challengers like Dice who don’t charge extra fees will force a bit of competition into the market and push down prices.
Dickon Ross, editor in chief
This week Aberdeen seemed to be a microcosm for the world politics surrounding power and energy. It’s long been famous for its offshore oil industry, of course. North Sea oil was used as an argument both for and against the economics of Scottish independence, depending on where its ownership would end up. This issue recedes in the debate as Scotland looks more to the power-generating potential of its long coastline.
Yet wind-power projects stand out in open countryside or on the ocean horizon. Campaigners have often used this impact on the beauty of the natural landscape to oppose wind farms and this is what US President Donald Trump did too, bringing but losing a court action and appeal. We know his opposition to sustainable energy and support for fossil fuels run much deeper than aesthetics. The Green Climate Fund, which supports projects to help developing counties mitigate against and adapt to climate change, was in trouble this week because it has yet to receive $2bn of the $3bn it was promised under Barack Obama and it doesn’t look like Trump will authorise the rest.
The good news is that the Aberdeen offshore wind farm started generating this week. If he visits his favourite golf course in Scotland next week, President Trump won’t enjoy the new view but, with protesters expected to come out in force and giant baby blimps floating over London, it won’t be the only sight to irritate him on his visit.
Jonathan Wilson, online managing editor
‘Playing God’: could we, should we? On balance, given that it’s entirely our fault that this gentle giant has been pushed to the very edge of extinction, we probably should try something to haul it back. The science behind this effort is fascinating, involving egg and sperm harvesting, in vitro fertilisation, DNA manipulation and genetic matching with closely related sub-species. It may sound like the plot and pseudo-science of another instalment in the Jurassic Park franchise, but this is real life. The scientists involved in the effort are cautiously optimistic about their work, but also flatly realistic about the bigger picture. Why are we even in this situation in the first place?
Well, it’s about bloody time. It’s been many years since I even contemplated getting tickets via legitimate channels for any wildly popular event - big or small - because I know that all the tickets will have been snapped up online within five minutes of going on sale. Some of the buyers will be a few lucky, genuine, super-organised fans, for sure - the type of mega-fan who preps multiple devices in front of them, preparing to hit the ticket websites from several angles to be assured of getting the tickets they so desperately need (and probably deserve, for their dedication). A huge swathe of the remaining tickets will be snapped up by scalpers, many of whom employ automated computer bots to swiftly grab the best seats in seconds and as many tickets as they can, so they can trouser a tidy profit reselling them to any of those dedicated mega-fans who were unlucky in their efforts. Some event organisers are trying new tactics to counter this frustrating practice - including strict identity checks at the venue and some tours even restricting ticket sales to the venue box office alone - no telephone, post or internet sales. Hopefully this bot-watching law will suppress the touts’ activity further.
One for the ‘Good news from unexpected places’ department. Somali terror group Al-Shabaab has announced a ban on single-use plastic bags – as well as other environmental measures – due to the consideration that they (the plastic bags, not the terrorists, although the parallel is obvious) “pose a serious threat to the well being of humans and animals alike”. It’s hard to argue with their thinking, even if remaining much less enthusiastic about their modus operandi.
Vitali Vitaliev, features editor
Sad news it is. I expressed hope ahead of this decision (albeit knowing the conservative bureaucratic nature of most of the EU institutions, it was pretty much ‘hope against hope’) that the European Parliament would vote this law in. Again – for the umpteenth time – the MEPs demonstrated their arrogance, their detachment from real-life issues and their sheer ineptitude, too. They can now keep safely copying their meaningless statements and countless documents from each other and from other sources, too. A bad day for writers, bloggers, musicians and all creative people of Europe defeated again by the grey Brussels bureaucracy.
I would advise the respected Harvard researchers to keep their robotic cockroaches away from sweets - and from swats, too, for where is the guarantee that their sophisticated creations won’t be inadvertently squashed by a tired housewife? I think that the next logical step should be robotic mice and rats – creatures almost as biologically sophisticated as cockroaches. Or else the indestructible Australian black cockroaches, almost as large as mice. There’s one problem, though: lots of robotic pest controllers will be needed to keep the latter under control.
I suggest to also equip the hard-working bees with tiny iPhones, so that when attacked by hornets, they could promptly dial 999 and call the insect po-lice or, if already hurt, an am-bee–lance!
Dominic Lenton, managing editor
There seems to be some scepticism about whether this attempt by Chinese researchers to create a science-fiction style handheld laser weapon has been genuinely successful, but regardless, it’s categorised as a ‘non-lethal’ device. That’s something the size and weight of an assault rifle that can apparently cause ‘instant carbonisation’ of human tissue from a kilometre away. This being the 21st century, the rationale for developing something like this is that it could be used to combat terrorism; the fact the early adopters would be China’s own security forces has led some observers to suggest that would be broadly interpreted and targets could include protestors who don’t pose much of a threat.
Either way, it’s disheartening with all the problems facing the world right now that so much effort and money is being poured into developing more efficient ways for one person to harm another. Intriguing to try and guess, though, whether Donald Trump considers this a ‘smart’ move by a canny nation that his own country needs to work more closely with, or a belligerent move by one of its arch enemies. Or possibly both.