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Monday briefing: university chiefs race ahead in pay stakes

Vice-chancellors earning much more than public-sector peers … Comedy legend Sir Ken Dodd dies aged 90 … London property prices slump


High pay fuels campus divide

A good Monday morning to you all. I’m Martin Farrer and these are the top stories today.

The men and women running Britain’s universities are being paid far more than their peers in the public sector with similar leadership roles, according to research by the Guardian. The issue of high pay for vice-chancellors has come under intense scrutiny in recent months after Bath University chief Glynis Breakwell was revealed to earn £434,000, forcing her to promise to step down in the face of student protests. The Guardian survey shows vice-chancellors are earning substantially more than NHS and local council executives. For example, Sir David Eastwood, vice-chancellor of the University of Birmingham, is on £378,000, compared with the £185,000 pay of the chief executive of Birmingham city council – which is the largest local authority in Europe with a budget of £3bn. It comes as university lecturers continue to strike in a dispute over pensions. Becky Gardiner explains why she has walked out.

Doddy’s dead – The comedy legend Sir Ken Dodd has died at the age of 90. The Liverpudlian funny man died at his home in Liverpool on Sunday, two days after marrying his partner of 40 years, Anne Jones, his publicist said in the early hours of this morning. Dodd, who was famed for his tickling stick, Diddymen and epic standup shows, was “one of the last of the music hall greats”, Robert Holmes said. Dodd’s career spanned seven decades and included television shows, a No 1 hit single (Tears, in 1965) and a record 42-week run at the London Palladium in 1965. Check out our picture gallery of his life here.

Ken Dodd pictured in 1970.

Poison alert – The government’s national security council will meet this morning to discuss the official response to the poisoning of Russian spy Sergei Skripal in Salisbury. After people who visited the Zizzi restaurant or Mill pub in the town last weekend were urged to wash their clothes and belongings, concern is growing that public agencies should have warned the public of the ongoing danger before now. The guidance to diners reinforces suspicions that the nerve agent used on Skripal and his daughter was first administered inside the restaurant. Theresa May will be urged by her foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, and defence secretary, Gavin Williamson, to take a harder line on Russia, which is suspected of carrying out the poison attack.

Property bust – The aftermath of the Brexit referendum is still being felt in the London property market, according to a survey which shows that prices have fallen sharply in areas that two years ago were showing big gains. The Your Move data shows that the average home in Wandsworth – which includes much of Clapham, Balham and Putney – fell by more than £100,000 in value over the past 12 months. There have also been big drops in other boroughs such as Southwark and Islington. The north-west of England has replaced the capital as the UK’s fastest-growing market. Top was Blackburn, which recorded average prices ahead by 16.4% over the past 12 months, while Warrington also saw double-digit growth.

It’s not such good news in other parts of the north where hundreds of property investors say they have lost money in a string of developments across the regionthat have either stalled indefinitely or collapsed outright. A Guardian Cities investigation reveals that problems with the schemes – known as “buyer-funded developments” dependent on small investors’ deposits rather than bank funding to get off the ground – have brought calls for police investigations.

Web lament – It’s 29 years since Tim Berners-Lee invented the world wide web but he’s increasingly unhappy with what it’s become. In an open letter to mark the anniversary, he says that the power of large technology platforms such as Google, Facebook and Twitter has become too great and needs to be regulated. Conspiracy theories have spread and fake accounts have stoked social tensions, he says, because the large tech platforms “control which ideas and opinions are seen and shared”. “What was once a rich selection of blogs and websites has been compressed under the powerful weight of a few dominant platforms,” he says.

A Musk read – No one could ever accuse Elon Musk of not thinking big. The PayPal and SpaceX entrepreneur told the SXSW festival in Austin, Texas, that we need to colonise Mars so that some of us survive in the event of a nuclear war. Musk’s space projects include an attempt to put people on the red planet but he clearly sees it as more than just an experiment. “If there’s a third world war we want to make sure there’s enough of a seed of human civilisation somewhere else to bring it back and shorten the length of the dark ages,” he said on Sunday.

Lunchtime read: How to understand the future

Looking to the future: Michio Kaku

Musk also features in our lunchtime read today, which is a selection of books to help us understand the future. Compiled by the famed American physicist and futurist Michio Kaku, one of the books he chooses is Isaac Asimov’s saga of the rise and decline of a galactic empire, Foundation. Musk apparently read it as a child and it inspired him to get into space exploration. Kaku’s other choices feel more conventional, but no less fascinating, such as The Patient Will See You Now by Eric Topol, which explores the way science is transforming medicine, and The Singularity Is Now by Ray Kurzweil, which looks at how artificial intelligence might outstrip our own poor little brains.


Harry Kane is set for a scan on his ankle which was injured during Tottenham’s 4-1 victory over Bournemouth, and could yet rule him out of the World Cup. Joe Schmidt has set his sights on completing a grand slam by beating England next weekend after Ireland secured the Six Nations title. In Paris, Robert Kitson argues that England’s limp loss to France caps a year of decline for a coach whose methods are under renewed scrutiny. Paul Casey, meanwhile, has surged to victory at golf’s Valspar Championship in Florida on Sunday as Tiger Woodsfinished one stroke behind in a tie for second place.


Downbeat data on consumer spending could overshadow the optimistic message that the chancellor, Philip Hammond, plans to send out in his spring statement tomorrow. Visa said spending on cards fell again in February, making it nine negative months out of the past 10 months. Asian markets bounced higher today in the wake of positive jobs data from the US on Friday and the FTSE100 is set to benefit as well when it opens at 8am. The pound is buying $1.385 and €1.124.

The papers

It is the editor’s worst nightmare: the Times managed to kill off Sergei Skripal in its splash headline, according to an early version of the front page, despite the poisoned Russian spy still being alive. “May set to hit back at Russia over spy death,” the paper’s headline read, though it was later changed to “spy attack”.


A look at Tesla Chief Designer’s stunning custom Model 3

Tesla Chief Designer Franz von Holzhausen and his team designed the Model 3 to have a wide appeal in the midsize sedan market, but the designer seems to favor a few more unconventional design accents for his own Model 3.

Some aspects of the Model 3 design, like the minimalist interior and the front fascia lip, have been more controversial, but the design has been mostly praised overall.

It’s a good thing that people find the vehicle beautiful since they are going to see a lot of them if Tesla reaches its production goals.

But with Tesla’s limited configuration options for the Model 3, those vehicles will lookalike and many early owners are already turning to some custom modifications to make their cars stand out.

Even Tesla’s Chief Designer made a few modifications to his car, which was spotted at Tesla’s Los Angeles Delivery Center yesterday (via honeyboobooooooooooo):

Electrek’s Take

The most obvious modification is the removal of all chrome features on the vehicle.

I am personally a big fan of that look and I think it’s especially great on the Model 3 with the door handles now completely melting into the design.

The chrome of the door handles was replaced by the same color as the car, but the chrome around the windows was instead made black or dark grey and it matches the new wheels, which appears to be the new 20″ version of Tesla’s Model 3 Sports Wheels – though they are not officially available in that color.

Maybe it’s going to be an option soon?

He also had the windows tinted with a darker tint, which matches very well with the rest of the previously mentioned modifications.

Another subtle change is the removal of the Tesla ‘T’ logo in the back, which was replaced by the word ‘Tesla’ with each letter spreadout – not unlike the look of the original Roadster.

Finally, a carbon fiber spoiler was added to the Model 3. I’ve never been a fan of the look of a spoiler on a four-door sedan. I have a very similar one on my Model S because it’s a Signature Performance version, but I could do without it.

But in this case here, I think it certainly looks better than on the Model S likely due to the shorter back.

What do you think? Does it give you some ideas for your own car? Let us know what you think in the comment section below and tell us if you’d want Tesla to offer some of those modifications as options.


The ghostly galaxy that’s devoid of dark matter

For the first time, astronomers have identified a dim and diffuse galaxy that seems to contain very little, if any, dark matter.
NGC1052-DF2 is a large, but very diffuse galaxy located some 65 million light-years away. This image of the galaxy, which is thought to contain a negligible amount of dark matter, was captured by the Advanced Camera for Surveys on the Hubble Space Telescope.
NASA/ESA/P. van Dokkum (Yale University)
Dark matter is one of the most important — yet least understood — building blocks of our universe. This gravitationally inferred, but optically elusive type of matter is thought to account for 85 percent of the universe’s mass and is believed to form the underlying foundations upon which all galaxies are built. But in a study published March 28 in the journal Nature, a team of astronomers uncovered the first galaxy ever found to be lacking any significant amount of dark matter.

“We thought that every galaxy had dark matter and that dark matter is how a galaxy begins,” said lead author Pieter van Dokkum, an astrophysicist at Yale University, in a press release. “This invisible, mysterious substance is the most dominant aspect of any galaxy. So finding a galaxy without it is unexpected. It challenges the standard ideas of how we think galaxies work, and it shows that dark matter is real: it has its own separate existence apart from other components of galaxies.”

The oddball galaxy in question, NGC1052-DF2 (or DF2 for short), is a small galaxy in a collection of galaxies dominated by the much larger elliptical NGC 1052. The relatively innocuous galaxy DF2 only stood out to the researchers when they noticed it appeared differently in images taken by the Dragonfly Telephoto Array and those taken by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS). In the Dragonfly images, DF2 looked like a blob of dim and diffuse light, but in the SDSS images, it appeared as a group of point-like sources.

To investigate, the team observed DF2 using the Advanced Camera for Surveys on the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) and performed follow-up spectroscopic observations with the 10-meter W.M. Keck Observatory. “I spent an hour just staring at the Hubble image,” said van Dokkum. “It’s so rare, particularly these days after so many years of Hubble, that you get an image of something and you say, ‘I’ve never seen that before.’ This thing is astonishing: a gigantic blob that you can look through. It’s so sparse that you see all of the galaxies behind it. It is literally a see-through galaxy.” Using the Hubble data, the researchers were able to determine that DF2, which they consider an ultra-diffuse galaxy due to its large size and transparent appearance, is located about 65 million light-years away. Although the galaxy is about as large as the Milky Way, they found it contains 200 times fewer stars.

Based on the spectroscopic data the team collected with Keck, they identified 10 globular clusters – large, spherical groups of typically old stars – on the outskirts of DF2. Surprisingly, they found that all of these globular clusters were rotating around DF2 three times more slowly than they would be if the galaxy contained a typical amount of dark matter in addition to its sparse amount of normal matter. The researchers then calculated the galaxy’s overall mass and found that, “if there is any dark matter at all, it’s very little,” said van Dokkum. “The stars in the galaxy can account for all the mass, and there doesn’t seem to be any room for dark matter.”

To determine how quickly the globular clusters were rotating around DF2, the researchers analyzed the absorption lines of spectra taken with the Keck Observatory. This allowed them to determine each cluster’s velocity, which they then used to calculate the overall mass of the galaxy.
Gemini Observatory/NSF/AURA/W.M. Keck Observatory/Jen Miller/Joy Pollard
The finding that DF2 apparently has very little, if any, dark matter caught the researchers off guard because it is the first galaxy ever found to be lacking the pervasive material. “There is no theory that predicted these types of galaxies. The galaxy is a complete mystery, as everything about it is strange,” said van Dokkum. “How you actually go about forming one of these things is completely unknown.”

However, as is usually the case, the researchers have a few ideas about how the galaxy initially formed. One possible scenario they lay out in the paper is that DF2 is actually a tidal dwarf galaxy. This type of galaxy can form during galactic mergers, which often fling out baryonic material – ordinary matter that is made up of protons, neutrons, and electrons. However, DF2 appears to have fewer metals than would be expected for a tidal dwarf galaxy. Another option is that the galaxy formed when winds from a nearby quasar swept up large clouds of low-metallicity gas, but the researchers point out that the galaxy may be too diffuse for this to be a likely scenario. Finally, the researchers suggest DF2 may have formed when portions of gas flowing toward NGC 1052 broke away due to jet-induced shocks from the larger galaxy’s black hole.

No matter how DF2 formed, the team’s findings demonstrate that dark matter is indeed a physical building block that can be separated from baryonic matter, and, as a result, the findings also cast doubt on some alternative theories to dark matter. One such theory is known as modified Newtonian dynamics (MOND), which aims to eliminate the need for dark matter by proposing that the gravitational force acts differently on low-acceleration objects, such as those found on the outer fringes of galaxies.

“This result poses a very strong challenge to MOND,” explained Yotam Cohen, an astronomy graduate student at Yale and co-author of the study, on the news-sharing site Reddit. “In MOND, the extra gravitational forces observed on galactic scales are woven into the equations, meaning that wherever you see galaxies, you should see the effect of the modified gravity. However, in this galaxy, there is no need for the extra gravity to explain its kinematics. In other words, this suggests that galaxies and dark matter are separable components and, by extension, that dark matter is a material substance, which is the opinion of the majority of professional astronomers.”

But before astronomers can make any sweeping conclusions about the true nature of our universe, the study’s extraordinary findings must first be verified and replicated. At this point, the team is already busy analyzing more Hubble images of dim and diffuse galaxies similar to DF2. “We currently have a sample of about 20 other low-surface-brightness galaxies identified with Dragonfly and subsequently followed up with HST imaging,” Cohen told Astronomy via email. “Among these objects, there are a few that have similar brightness and structure to NGC1052-DF2, but none quite as spectacular and none with quite as many star cluster candidates.”

Though there have been several recent challenges to our current understanding of dark matter — such as the finding that satellite galaxies move together in an orderly fashioninstead of randomly, as dark-matter models predict — this is not necessarily a bad thing. Instead, it simply means that our current understanding of dark matter is not entirely correct. This should not be a complete surprise considering we have yet to detect direct evidence of the elusive material. Confusing results force scientists to look at a problem in different ways, which typically leads them to revise and update their theories so they better describe reality.

After all, to paraphrase Isaac Asimov, the most exciting phrase to hear in science is not ‘Eureka,’ but rather, ‘hmm… that’s odd.’


Poor grades tied to class times that don’t match our biological clocks

IMAGE: Owls performed worst of all the groups due to chronic social jet lag.

Benjamin Smarr

It may be time to tailor students’ class schedules to their natural biological rhythms, according to a new study from UC Berkeley and Northeastern Illinois University.

Researchers tracked the personal daily online activity profiles of nearly 15,000 college students as they logged into campus servers.

After sorting the students into “night owls,” “daytime finches” and “morning larks” — based on their activities on days they were not in class — researchers compared their class times to their academic outcomes.

Their findings, published today in the journal Scientific Reports, show that students whose circadian rhythms were out of sync with their class schedules – say, night owls taking early morning courses – received lower grades due to “social jet lag,” a condition in which peak alertness times are at odds with work, school or other demands.

“We found that the majority of students were being jet-lagged by their class times, which correlated very strongly with decreased academic performance,” said study co-lead author Benjamin Smarr, a postdoctoral fellow who studies circadian rhythm disruptions in the lab of UC Berkeley psychology professor Lance Kriegsfeld.

In addition to learning deficits, social jet lag has been tied to obesity and excessive alcohol and tobacco use.

On a positive note: “Our research indicates that if a student can structure a consistent schedule in which class days resemble non-class days, they are more likely to achieve academic success,” said study co-lead author Aaron Schirmer, an associate professor of biology at Northeastern Illinois University.

While students of all categories suffered from class-induced jet lag, the study found that night owls were especially vulnerable, many appearing so chronically jet-lagged that they were unable to perform optimally at any time of day.
But it’s not as simple as students just staying up too late, Smarr said

“Because owls are later and classes tend to be earlier, this mismatch hits owls the hardest, but we see larks and finches taking later classes and also suffering from the mismatch,” said Smarr. “Different people really do have biologically diverse timing, so there isn’t a one-time-fits-all solution for education.”

In what is thought to be the largest-ever survey of social jet lag using real-world data, Smarr and Schirmer analyzed the online activity of 14,894 Northeastern Illinois University students as they logged in and out of the campus’s learning management system over two years.

To separate the owls from the larks from the finches, and gain a more accurate alertness profile, the researchers tracked students’ activity levels on days that they did not attend a class.

Next, they looked at how larks, finches and owls had scheduled their classes during four semesters from 2014 to 2016 and found that about 40 percent were mostly biologically in sync with their class times. As a result, they performed better in class and enjoyed higher GPAs.

However, 50 percent of the students were taking classes before they were fully alert, and another 10 percent had already peaked by the time their classes started.

Previous studies have found that older people tend to be active earlier while young adults shift to a later sleep-wake cycle during puberty. Overall, men stay up later than women, and circadian rhythms shift with the seasons based on natural light.

Finding these patterns reflected in students’ login data spurred researchers to investigate whether digital records might also reflect the biological rhythms underlying people’s behavior.

The results suggest that “rather than admonish late students to go to bed earlier, in conflict with their biological rhythms, we should work to individualize education so that learning and classes are structured to take advantage of knowing what time of day a given student will be most capable of learning,” Smarr said.

University of California – Berkeley


Scientists find 13,000-year-old human footprints on B.C. island, the earliest known in North America

The 13,000-year-old footprints found from 2014 to 2016 support the idea that some ancient humans from Asia ventured into North America by hugging the Pacific coastline, rather than by travelling through the interior.

Big feet. Little feet. A heel here. A toe there.

Stamped across the shoreline of Calvert Island, B.C., are 13,000-year-old human footprints that archeologists believe to be the earliest found so far in North America.

The finding, which was published Wednesday in the journal PLOS One, adds support to the idea that some ancient humans from Asia ventured into North America by hugging the Pacific coastline, rather than by travelling through the interior.

Read more:

Human footprints from B.C. shoreline may be 13,000 years old

“This provides evidence that people were inhabiting the region at the end of the last ice age,” said Duncan McLaren, an anthropologist at the Hakai Institute and University of Victoria in British Columbia and lead author of the study. “It is possible that the coast was one of the means by which people entered the Americas at that time.”

An enhanced photo of one of the footprints.
An enhanced photo of one of the footprints.   (DUNCAN MCLAREN)

McLaren and his colleagues stumbled upon the footprints while digging for sediments beneath Calvert Island’s beach sands. Today, the area is covered with thick bogs and dense forests that the team, which included representatives from the Heiltsuk First Nation and Wuikinuxv First Nation, could only access by boat.

At the close of the last ice age, from 11,000 to 14,000 years ago, the sea level was two to three metres lower. The footprints were most likely left in an area that was just above the high tide line.

“As this island would only have been accessible by watercraft 13,000 years ago,” McLaren said, “it implies that the people who left the footprints were seafarers who used boats to get around, gather and hunt for food and live and explore the islands.”

They found their first footprint in 2014. While digging about a half-metre beneath the surface, they saw an impression of something foot-shaped in the light brown clay.

In 2015 and 2016, they returned and expanded the muddy pit. They discovered several more steps preserved in the sediment. The prints were of different sizes and pointed in different directions. Most were right feet. When the team was finished they had counted 29 in total, possibly belonging to two adults and a child. Each was barefoot.

The researchers think that after the people left their footprints on the clay, their impressions were filled in by sand, thick gravel and then another layer of clay, which may have preserved them.

Using radiocarbon dating on sediment from the base of some footprint impressions, as well as two pieces of preserved wood found in the first footprint, McLaren and his team found them to be 13,000 years old.

That would make them the oldest preserved human footprints in North America.

“It’s not only the footprints themselves that are spectacular and so rare in archeological context, but also the age of the site,” said Michael Petraglia, an archeologist from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Germany who edited the paper for PLOS One but was not involved in the work. “It suggests an early entrance into the Americas.”

A boat sails near Calvert Island, B.C. Stamped across the shoreline of Calvert Island are 13,000-year-old human footprints that archeologists believe to be the earliest found so far in North America.
A boat sails near Calvert Island, B.C. Stamped across the shoreline of Calvert Island are 13,000-year-old human footprints that archeologists believe to be the earliest found so far in North America.  (KEITH HOLMES, HAKAI INSTITUTE VIA THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Petraglia said the footprints also provided strong evidence for the coastal movement hypothesis and he added that they may have ridden the so-called “Kelp Highway,” a hypothesis that underwater kelp forests supported ecosystems down the North Pacific coast that helped ancient seafaring people hunt, develop and migrate.

“The work is important because it shows the ‘real’ people, not just artifacts or skeletal remains,” said Steve Webb, a biological archeologist at Bond University in Australia. “However, the footprints are limited in number and don’t shed light on activities or movement that tell us very much.”

He added that future hunts for footprints should keep in mind that not everyone from this time period walked around barefoot. If anthropologists are too busy searching for soles, toes and arches, they might miss clues from those who wore animal skin shoes.


Google knows enough about me to fill 31,000 books – and that scares me

Google had more than seven Gigabytes of data about Tom - the equivalent of enough books to fill around a fifth of all the public shelf space in the Millennium Library. Photo: Google/Archant

Google had more than seven Gigabytes of data about Tom – the equivalent of enough books to fill around a fifth of all the public shelf space in the Millennium Library. Photo: Google/Archant

Facebook is the headlines but it is hardly alone in digging up every last bit of information it can glean about you to make huge profits.

The king of this is Google, as I found out when I downloaded all of the data the two tech giants hold about me.

I wanted to find out just how much they knew. The answer, as you would expect, is everything I’ve ever done on their platforms.

But they also know about anything I’ve done on tools linked to their products. Facebook even has all the contacts and numbers in my phone.

The data I got from Google and Facebook showed me things I’ve long forgotten about are being stored by them, not for posterity – most of it is really boring – but for profit.

Some of the apps Google has information about Tom from. Image: GoogleSome of the apps Google has information about Tom from. Image: Google

With it they can not only target me with clever advertising, but predict my future behaviour.

I’m not a big user of Facebook, but it had 68 megabytes of data stored about me – the equivalent of about 270 books (if a book is 200 pages).

That was dwarfed by Google – it had the equivalent of 31,311 books of data on me, more than seven gigabytes.

Imagine walking into a library and being surrounded by tens of thousands of books about all you’ve ever done on the internet.

Google makes our lives easier but do we realise how much information we are giving away to it? Photo: Chris Ison/PA WireGoogle makes our lives easier but do we realise how much information we are giving away to it? Photo: Chris Ison/PA Wire

On Facebook it is easy to get this data. I went on to settings and clicked “Download a copy of your Facebook data.”

I got a notification about an hour later saying it was ready.

There were three folders in the file containing, amongst other things, all the contacts in my phone with names and numbers, all the events I’ve ever been invited to, every private message, public post and video I’ve sent on Facebook.

It also has the advertising topics it thinks I’m interest in – Journalist (my job), Germany (I used to live there) and Motor rallying (I once drove to Mongolia in a rally).

Allegations made by whistleblower Christopher Wylie revealed Cambridge Analytica harvested details of 50 million users on Facebook. Photo: Stefan Rousseau/PA WireAllegations made by whistleblower Christopher Wylie revealed Cambridge Analytica harvested details of 50 million users on Facebook. Photo: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

And then there are the thousands of photos I’ve shared on Facebook; things I have long forgotten; friends I’ve lost touch with, weekends away in Europe, student parties.

Google has more – more than 100 times as much data stored about me. I went to takeout.google.com to get it.

When I got an email the next day saying my data was ready, my computer crashed trying to download it.

The data came in three files. It had information from all the products connected to Google which I use – YouTube, Gmail, my calendar etc. complete with search history.

Facebook found Mark Zuckerberg. The company has had billions of dollars wiped off its share value since the Cambridge Analytica story broke. Photo: PA/Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto/Sipa USAFacebook found Mark Zuckerberg. The company has had billions of dollars wiped off its share value since the Cambridge Analytica story broke. Photo: PA/Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto/Sipa USA

It knows I like watching England rugby victories, Mozart operas and rock music videos on YouTube. Big deal.

But put all this together with everything else it knows about it me and it can build a very complete profile.

All the books I’ve bought on Google, all the maps I’ve used, the websites I’ve bookmarked, a blog I once had, every document I’ve created on Google Drive, all transactions I’ve made using Google Pay, every email I’ve ever sent, every page I’ve visited.

But you sort of knew this already, right? Why does it matter what Google and Facebook know about you?

You’re not up to anything criminal; your life is probably of no great excitement to Google. True. But it is very interesting to them because it is very profitable.

With this data anyone could build a profile about me with information I don’t know about any more. Still not scared? You should be.

You gave it to them for free, because you wanted the ease of using their search engines and messenger services.

In return, you lost control of your personal information.

The Cambridge Analytica/Facebook scandal shows us this information may not be as secure as we think. It has been used by political parties and private firms to try to manipulate the way we behave – from what we buy to who we vote for.

Bear in mind companies like Facebook and Google can’t standstill. Tech firms are going to try to find out more and more about you until they can better predict what you do. They are not evil, that is their business model and it is your fault, not their’s, for giving them that information and power.

Google already predicts with great accuracy what you are going to do before you do it – from predicting what you will type into a search engine, to suggesting email replies. Smart fridges, meanwhile, can now order your weekly shop for you before you run out by keeping track of what is in your fridge.

The first organisation which knows you want a divorce, are looking for a new job or have an illness, before any of your nearest and dearest, is probably Google.

An algorithm could have worked out I was going to write this article before I told my editor and long before it was published.

It knows I’m a journalist at this newspaper, it knows I was requesting my data and it knows I was reading a thread on Twitter about this subject. That is fine for a subject like this, but what if I was writing in a country with a less tolerant government about a more controversial subject?

But short of going back to typewriters, encyclopaedias and a Nokia 3210 what can you do? Delete your browsing data and search history? No point – Google still stores it. Go offline? It’s way too late for that.

Instead I’m weaning myself off Google and its products. I’ve downloaded a different browser; I’ve turned off the location on my phone, I’ve started using a search engine which doesn’t track me and I’ve signed up to an encrypted email service.

Facebook and Google both say you are in control of what data you share with them and they use that data to make your life easier, but I’d rather not have every move I make monitored and stored. So after 12 years of giving everything away, I’m belatedly taking back control of my privacy.


MacOS officially gains support for external GPUs

Last June, Apple announced that it would add support for external GPUs to macOS. And now, just under a year later, official support has arrived. With the latest update to macOS High Sierra, you’ll be able to connect a number of different graphics cards to the Mac through a Thunderbolt 3 port and use that additional power to speed up demanding processes, including games and video editing. Apple has specifically highlighted its use for VR.

This probably shouldn’t surprise anyone since it’s Apple we’re talking about here, but there are a number of limitations around what you can do with external GPUs. For one, only select models are officially supported. And, surprise, Apple is only supporting some of AMD’s Radeon cards, which it already includes in select Macs. That doesn’t strictly mean a GeForce card won’t work — people have gotten some to work while the feature was in beta — but it means you’re gambling a bit around whether it’ll continue to work.

You also won’t be able to use external GPUs on Windows through Boot Camp. And just because you have an external GPU plugged into your computer when it’s running macOS doesn’t mean it’s going to be doing anything, either; developers have to enable support for it. Finally, you’ll also need to have a new enough Mac, since external GPUs rely on the super-fast speeds provided by Thunderbolt 3. That includes 2016 and 2017 MacBook Pros, 2017 iMacs, and the iMac Pro.

Still, if you have a newer machine and are using apps that support it, this is a great feature addition and honestly kind of a surprising one from Apple, since external GPUs have really been popularized through the gaming community, which is nonexistent on the Mac. One of the big benefits of including Thunderbolt 3 ports is allowing this kind of powerful flexibility. And now, for those who are willing to spend several hundred extra dollars, they can get an even more capable computer than what they bought; that could be particularly useful for people with MacBook Pros who want a lighter package on the go and more power when they plug in at home or the office.