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September 17th, 2009

Sci Fi in the New Sci

I see that New Scientist has a guest editor this week - Kim Stanley Robinson (talking about Olaf Stapledon and Virgina Woolf). He's also got Ken Macleod, Ian McDonald, Geoff Ryman, Nicola Griffith, Stephen Baxter, Paul McAuley, Ian Watson and Justina Robson all writing flash fiction about the world a century from now.

Better still, you can read them online...

There's also a SF flash fiction competition.

Recent words

A couple of recent pieces at ZDNet, as I flex my newswriting skills.

First, a piece on the Conservative Party's commitment to privacy rights and the roll-back of the database state. It's the first time I've seen folk from Privacy International, ORG and Liberty agreeing with the Tories...

The Conservative Party has promised to reduce government databases and introduce stronger measures to protect people's privacy, if it wins the next general election.

The shadow justice secretary, Dominic Grieve, on Wednesday introduced a policy paper, Reversing the Rise of the Surveillance State, that outlines 11 measures to achieve these goals.

Overall, the Conservatives are calling for fewer massive central government databases, stronger data-protection rules and fewer access rights — for both central and local government — to the information that is already been stored.

The party also pledged to introduce a greater focus on privacy, in both the public and private sectors.

"Government should be guided by the principle of proportionality, which means that fewer personal details are accurately recorded and held by specific authorities on a need-to-know basis only, and for limited periods of time justified on the basis of operational necessity," the Conservatives said in the policy paper.

And then (only just online), a quick first look at the Technical Preview of Microsoft's Office Web Apps. Is there finally competition for Google Docs from the Office suite? (The quick verdict: not yet, but there's still a long ways to go...)

Microsoft has unveiled a technical preview of its newly christened Microsoft Office Web Apps services.

The preview is an early first look, according to Office client product manager Chris Adams, who told ZDNet UK that the release was "by no means feature complete".

The technical preview was released on Thursday to a limited group of users, with a public beta due later in the year. Promised functionality that is missing from the preview includes cloud-mediated collaboration features — only Excel will support co-authoring for now, and only in the browser.

Out of the Web Apps, Excel and PowerPoint are the only Web Apps in the preview that allow the user to edit documents, leaving Word with only a viewer. According to Adams, "the goal with the first release of Web Apps was really to provide lightweight editing functionality and a high-fidelity viewing experience".

Files are stored in Microsoft's SkyDrive cloud storage service, which gives users 25GB of storage. Applications have a similar look and feel to the desktop Office suite, featuring the familiar ribbon user interface and the same icons. Excel has many of the formatting features shown in the desktop Office technical preview, such as Sparklines, while the Word viewer includes in-line search tools.

More to come, I'm sure!

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