The Connections Our Buttons Make

CapOnce we create all that attention data, think of the whacky things we can do with it.

I’ve been banging on about attention data for a while now, and I apologise. (For an explanation and a bit of background, go here.) But I can’t help seeing stuff through that prism nowadays. Like this camera called Buttons that doesn’t take pictures but times, and then searches the Internet for photographs taken at that second:

It is a camera that will capture a moment at the press of a button. However, unlike a conventional analog or digital camera, this one doesn’t have any optical parts. It allows you to capture your moment but in doing so, it effectively seperates it from the subject. Instead, as you will memorize the moment, the camera memorizes only the time and starts to continuously search on the net for other photos that have been taken in the very same moment.

Basically the camera is a phone inside a sort of camera case. Press the button and the phone searches Flickr for photos taken at that moment. (Of course, this may take a little time.)

A lovely idea and a fascinating one. I seem to recall a photography project here where individuals were given cameras and told to take photos at the exact same moment around the city. Danged if I can remember what it was called. But as Tim O’Reilly points out in the comments on a post by Nikolaj Nyholm, it has even greater potential beyond the variable of time:

I imagine that with geolocation, you could potentially go one better. Imagine a camera that does take a picture, but also initiates a search for all other pictures taken at that same location (and optionally at the same time of day/year.)

Less poetic a vision than that of Sascha Pohflepp, creator of Buttons, but possibly more relevant to many users. I’d certainly love to see Google Earth etc use time more in their layers, so that it’s possible to get historical changes in a place (say 3D models of old buildings that no longer exist, or photos like those extraordinary collections created by the UNEP which depict changes in the environment.)

But the main idea here is to use the metadata embedded in attention streams (in this case, when or where a photo was taken) and match it with metadata from other streams. A bit like, et al, where similarities are found between what music two quite separate people are listening to. The goal is as Sascha puts it, to subordinate the device to the bigger purpose of connecting people:

Even more so, it reduces the cameras to their networked buttons in order to create a link between two individuals.

The possibilities are endless, but it’s too early in the morning for me to think of any.

WiPhishing: Threat Or Hype?

Is Wi-Fi being used by phishers and other identity thieves? Some folk reckon so, pointing to tricks such as the Evil Twin threat and something called ‘WiPhishing’, which, according to Information Week, goes like this:

“We call WiPhishing the act of covertly setting up a wireless-enabled laptop or access point for the purpose of getting wireless laptops to associate with it,” Cirond CEO Nicholas Miller said in a statement. “Hackers who are on a ‘WiFishing expedition’ may set the name of their rogue wireless access point (or laptop) to an SSID that is commonly used by wireless laptop users.”

For example, a WiPhisher could set the SSID of an access point or laptop to be the same as the default settings for widely-sold access points or hotspot services offered by vendors such as T-Mobile and Wayport, Miller said.

“Hackers are also likely to increasingly post common SSID names on their Web sites as this practice gains momentum,” Miller said.

I’m not trying to be cynical here, because I think Wi-Fi security is a real issue, but these kind of statements are more often than not made by folk who stand to gain the more afraid people are, because they sell ‘solutions’. The Cirond statement, issued on the PR businesswire on Feb 4, was quickly picked up by four or five industry websites including Information Week, SYSCON, Internet Telephony Magazine and InternetWeek (and now, of course, Loose Wire Blog).

So, threat, or hype? Probably both. So we should probably call it a Thrype.

Taiwan: First Off The Blocks With Dual Networks?

Taiwan has launched what it’s calling the “world’s first dual-network application service”, according to today’s Taipei Times (which charmingly, and perhaps accurately, calls it a Duel Network in its headline).

The network combines wireless local area networks (WLANs) and General Packet Radio Service (GPRS). In a demo set up in Taipei’s Nankang Science Park, workers have access to “various functions, including access to personal e-mails and instant messages or connection to any printer in the park through wireless transmission. Other services allow parents to view their children in the park’s daycare center through a surveillance system.” From what I can understand in the piece, the government plans to spend NT$7 billion to build the same thing across the whole country over seven years. Taiwan Cellular, the paper says, will roll out dual-network service packages after the Lunar New Year (early next month).

It’s not clear, and I’m not clear, about how exactly this works, and what it’s for. The point of dual-network devices makes sense — you can use them for VoIP on WLAN hotspots, and switch to cellular in cellular-only areas, but why have both technologies in the same place? I guess, as it implies above, the idea is to offer more options and services atop the existing structure. So you might prefer to have one data connection via GPRS, but print locally via Wi-Fi. Or is there more to it that I’m missing?

Bluetooth To Tackle The Snarf

I don’t have much of a clue about whether Bluetooth is really going to survive: Enough respected writers think it’s getting better for me to believe it could do, but if it does, it’s got to address the security issue. That seems to be happening.

I’ve prattled on here before about bluesnarfing — where data, and even calls, can be remotely hijacked from a cellephone by using Bluetooth — but I read that the Bluetooth Special Interest Group behind the standard are about to make it more secure, releasing an upgrade that Wireless IQ Info reports “will ‘improve overall security and dramatically improve power consumption'”:

Security will also be improved in the latest spec, says the SIG, and the additions will make Bluetooth a better fit for such applications as home security systems and industry automation applications, the organization says. Bluetooth had been hurt earlier this year with reports of security breaches involving the technology.

That’s good news. Mobile phone manufacturers were impressive in their obtuseness about the problem, so perhaps the SIG will do what is necessary to avoid further problems. A little bird tells me that the group is also talking to some of the experts, cited here in previous posts, who have done great work in exploring and exposing these vulnerabilities. I’d like nothing more than for Bluetooth to work, but I’m bored of writing stories saying it’s not yet ready for prime-time.

Wine By Wi-Fi

The Wine Spectator Online (via Boingo Wi-Fi Insider) reports that a Sonoma, CA, vineyard is using Wi-Fi to monitor growing conditions at their site:

The system uses 40 wireless units on existing trellising posts around the 30-acre vineyard fitted with sensors that measure microclimate data such as soil and air temperature and moisture content, rainfall and leaf wetness. The data is bounced from sensor to sensor sans wires, forming what is known as a Mobile Ad-hoc Network (MANET), which requires less power and equipment than networks using wires or radio transmitters.

Real-time conditions in the vineyard can then be monitored on a secured Web site. Data can also be poured into a spreadsheet for long-term analysis. The information can help vineyard managers make decisions about when, where and how much to water vines or spray to control mildew.

The system sends alarms via instant messaging software or cellphone. The article quotes Bill Westerman, who works for Calif.-based Accenture Technology Labs which set up the project, as saying that the system could be used in manufacturing, retail and security. “The advantage to wireless is that it allows companies to go places where it was previously too difficult or expensive to run wires,” he said. “It can also be implanted in new products so they can automatically communicate with their manufacturer when there’s a problem.”

News: Beware The Mobile Phone

 I have long believed that we use mobile phones too much, considering what little we know about the effects on our health. Why is why I like handsfree sets and SMS. Most studies that say they’re bad for us have been pooh-poohed. Here’s another one to throw out because we don’t like what it says.
The Independent quotes a new study from Sweden as saying mobile phones and the new wireless technology could cause a “whole generation” of today’s teenagers to go senile in the prime of their lives. Professor Leif Salford, who headed the research at Sweden’s prestigious Lund University, says “the voluntary exposure of the brain to microwaves from hand-held mobile phones” is “the largest human biological experiment ever”. And he is concerned that, as new wireless technology spreads, people may “drown in a sea of microwaves”.