Tag Archives: Republic of Ireland

An End to the Anonymity of Trash?

Britain is quietly introducing RFID (Radio Frequency Identity) tags to rubbish bins (trash cans) in a bid to measure the individual waste of each household and charge them accordingly. Some Britons are up in arms about this, saying that households have not been informed and calling it an abuse of privacy. Is it?

The UK’s Daily Mail reports that some bins, provided by local councils for households to dispose of their trash, contain coin-sized devices that monitor how much non-recyclable waste the owner throws out:

With the bugging technology, the electronic chips are carefully hidden under the moulded front ’lip’ of wheelie bins used by householders for non-recyclable waste. As the bin is raised by the mechanical hoister at the back of the truck, the chip passes across an antenna fitted to the lifting mechanism. That enables the antenna to ’read’ a serial number assigned to each property in the street.

A computer inside the truck weighs the bin as it is raised, subtracts the weight of the bin itself and records the weight of the contents on an electronic data card.

When the truck returns to the depot, all the information collected on the round is transmitted to a hand-held device and downloaded on to the council’s centralised computer. Each household can be billed for the amount of waste collected – even though they have already paid for the services through their council tax.

According to The Mail two German companies manufacture the bins and sensors, Sulo and RFID specialist Deister Electronic.

As with all such things, the story reflects local fears, obsessions and behaviour. First off, drinking: The Mail quotes a local council chairman saying he believed the chips “were simply to ensure bins could be returned to the right addresses if they got mixed up or drunks rolled them off”. Second, avoiding paying: The opposition Conservative party warns that “people will simply start dumping bags in their neighbours’ gardens or at the end of the street to avoid paying”. And then there’s the whole castle thing: a council spokesman in Wiltshire says the chips were “to sort out disputes between householders about whose wheelie bin is whose. If there are any arguments we can just send out an officer to scan the chip and settle the argument.” Oh, and then there’s the whole WWII hang-up: The headline at The Evening Standard’s This is London website is “Germans plant bugs in our wheelie bins”.

Is this something to be worried about? Well, the government, and local councils, haven’t been very smart about installing these tags before explaining their use to the public. But that’s not unusual: A council in Australia did the same thing a few weeks back. What I think is most interesting about this is that coverage of the subject in both countries lacks depth, pandering to the fears of its readers (The Mail may not know better, but The Press Association and The Independent should.) Even basic research would show that this sort of thing is not new, is widely used elsewhere, and has a name: Pay-by-weight.

It seems the same technology is already in use in Ireland and has, according to the company involved, reduced the amount of trash put out for collection by 40%. (There may have been some privacy uproar, but I can’t find any obvious evidence of any.) In Canada the program has been in place since 1994, and as of 1999 more than 1.5 million transponders have been deployed throughout the world, including the U.S., although there have been problems with the technology (this being RFID an’ all.)

That said, just because it’s being used elsewhere doesn’t necessarily make it a good thing. Trash is as much a privacy issue as anything linked to personal property, and the angry response to the news is related to an individual’s desire to keep what they throw out a secret (however illogical this is, given you’re putting it in an unlocked plastic bin in the street for hours, if not days, before it’s picked up.) Further research into what these RFID chips are capable of isn’t particularly reassuring: The SULO device for example (PDF file), can measure exact weight, when the bin is emptied, can report any damage to the bin, and, if linked to other equipment, could also locate where the bin was emptied. Nothing too sinister about this, but it increases the possibility, at least in theory, that an individual’s trash is no longer as anonymous as it was.

Bottom line? I don’t think this is likely, and given the technology has been in active service for more than a decade. But who knows where the technology may go? This is more a story about how RFID — although it’s not really identified in the story as such — scares people when they hear about it because instinctively they recognise its power. No one would disagree with the goal — reducing the amount of non-recyclable waste — but, as with all technologies, Pay by weight has to be handled carefully, its usage and goals explained, and clear and transparent limits to its usage imposed.

What Early Groomers Used For Hair Gel

I don’t use hair gel anymore — no, really — but I do remember wandering around war-torn Kabul trying to find some when my stash ran out during an unexpectedly long stint there shortly after the Taleban takeover. Needless to say I felt somewhat superficial about it, given all the suffering around me, and was worried it was frowned upon by the puritanical Taleban. I shouldn’t have worried: most of them wore eyeliner, took way too much interest in my babyish features and in any case, there’s a long history of wearing hair gel, as National Geographic News reports:

Male grooming has an ancient history in Ireland, if the savagely murdered bodies of two ancient “bog men” are anything to go by. One shows the first known example of Iron Age hair gel, experts say. The other wore manicured nails and stood 6 feet 6 inches tall.

Disappointingly, you have to look elsewhere to find out what kind of hair gel. I personally like Slick from Body Shop, but it might not have been available then, namely between about 400 BC and 200 BC. Another piece from National Geographic, suitably titled ‘Iron Age “Bog Man” Used Imported Hair Gel’ details the product he was using:

The man’s hair contains a substance made from vegetable oil mixed with resin from pine trees found in Spain and southwest France. The man might have used the product, researchers say, to make himself appear taller.

Sounds like my friend John.

Skype Cuts Some Rates

Skype has lowered rates of its SkypeOut service to some destinations as part of its first anniversary celebrations. Here are the details:

Six major new countries have been added to the SkypeOut Global Rate, a fixed, low-cost rate of 1.7 Euro cents per minute to popular calling destinations. China, Greece, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Poland and Switzerland have joined more than 20 additional destinations in the Global Rate. Skype has also significantly lowered SkypeOut rates for calling numbers in Armenia, Bangladesh, Belarus, Bulgaria, the Cook Islands, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, the Dominican Republic, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Korea, Lebanon, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Mexico, the Netherlands, Poland (mobile), Portugal, Russia, Slovakia, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka and Turkey.

I’m not quite clear from the press release, but it sounds as if this is an average reduction of 15%.

It’s not all good news: Prices for SkypeOut calls to Saudi Arabia, Papua New Guinea, Oman, Lichtenstein and Haiti numbers will increase slightly.

The Moleskine Report, Part II

Continuing to add material that I could not include, or could not include much of, in my WSJ.com, piece (which comes out today), here’s the second emailed reply that I thought might interest readers. It’s from Mike Rohde, a graphic and web designer, working for the international engineering and web services firm MakaluMedia, and I include his reply in its entirety because it’s very interesting:

I work remotely from home with colleagues in Germany, Spain, France and Ireland, helping design and building web applications, web sites for small & medium-sized firms and corporate identity work.

I manage projects with my colleagues and clients via email, IM chat, voice over IP, phone and web, from my home office. So as you can see I work pretty digitally during the day.

Personally I am quite digitally oriented as well, writing a weblog, reading many weblogs, using email, chat and VOIP with international friends. Specifically, I have text and VOIP chats with one friend living in the UK on a weekly basis via Apple iChat.

I was introduced to PCs and technology as a teen, when my dad explored his interest in computers. I now see this was critical to the way I work now, as my experimentation and use of computers then, reduced the fear of technology very early, and gave me the sense that I could bend technology to my needs.

My higher education was focused on graphic design. Following graduation, I spent 9 years as a print designer and system manager for a design studio, moving into web design in the late 90s. In 1998 I began working with MakaluMedia, remotely from my home office.

As you know I have an interest in sketching with Moleskines; I also use a Miquelrius sketchbook for generating ideas and layouts for my business activities, like design ideas, logo concepts and so on.

However, after some thought, I chose to use a digital approach for recording my business diary, which I have found works quite well. Further, I enjoy using paper diaries to record personal thoughts and observations, mainly because I enjoy the tactile feel of paper and pen.

So, I enjoy both digital and analog means of recording thoughts, depending upon the use and context. Hopefully that provides you with a good starting point about me and my approach. 🙂

Here are my answers to the questions you have posed:

What do you use, exactly, in digital and paper terms?
How do you use them?

Digital:
———–
1. Business Diary: I keep a business journal as a plain text document on my Mac Powerbook. There I record MakaluMedia related thoughts, web links and comments of clients and colleagues. I separate entries by date and archive each month’s diary to dated plain text files (Makalu-Diary-2004-12.txt). The current month’s diary is synchronized to my palmOne Tungsten E PDA via DataViz DocumentsToGo.

2. Project Specific Notes: These kept in DayLite, a networked Mac OS X business application very much like ACT! for PC (http://www.marketcircle.com/). Notes relative to projects recorded in my business diary and emails are copied into DayLite as notes for access by myself and my MakaluMedia colleagues.

3. Business & Personal Links: I store interesting business and personal web bookmarks at my del.icio.us account (http://del.icio.us/rohdesign) and also in the Safari browser on my Mac.

4. Personal Blog: This is my public forum for thoughts, ideas, reflections, designs, sketches and whatever else seems pertinent to my personal and business life. I try to be encouraging, inspiring, humorous, serious here, but the entries are definitely for public consumption. I do share personal details but have an internal gut feel for where the line ought to be.

Because I built a reputation writing the Palm Tipsheet for many years (it was sold in ’03), many of my longstanding blog readers are Palm users who came from that newsletter. I do like to discuss mobile tech, but intentionally explore other topics, because I think life is broader than technology.

5. Personal Notes & Sketches: I also occasionally write notes (Memo Pad) or make digital sketches (Note Pad) with my palmOne Tungsten E, which are then synchronized to my Mac Powerbook.

Paper (Analog):
———————-
1. Business Concepts & Sketches: Stored in my Miquelrius gridded notebook. This is the place were I start ideas going, work out concepts (visual or textual) and sketch layouts for websites or logos. Often my sketches will be scanned and presented to clients and colleagues to show concepts or direction before I flesh out ideas on the computer.

2. Personal Sketches: Small Moleskine sketchbook for sketching (e.g. proj: exhibition sketchtoons), and a small Moleskine gridded notebook for ideas and concepts I come up with (e.g. ideas for home or personal projects, dream tech concepts, etc.).

3. Personal Diary: Small Italian-made notebook for recording thoughts of the day, reflections and goals. Usually I enter thoughts at night in bed, or at the café over coffee in this diary. Entries are not regular (daily) but rather entered when I have the need or urge to get something down.

(Note: I can provide scans from my paper sources if they are helpful)

Why still use paper?

Refuge & Escape from the Digital World. Paper is a refuge from my very digital lifestyle. I spend quite a bit of time on my Mac (at work and personally), so time with a nice pen, rich black ink or smooth pencil lead on crisp paper, are very much an escape from bits and pixels.

Immediacy. The immediacy of paper is very gratifying. I can knock out several concept sketches in the time it might take to fiddle around with Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop on just one tight drawing. Further, immediacy and looseness of ink or pencil on paper lets me explore with more latitude. I find that once I move to the computer, my ideas naturally tighten up and loose their loose qualities.

No batteries required. I love that my sketchbooks require no battery or wall connection. If the power goes dead, I can still work with my sketchbook and pen. The simplicity of a book and pen keeps me from getting hung up on technical issues as often pop up carrying a laptop and peripherals to support it, or choosing which café has WiFi so I can remain connected.

Portability. When I need to be creative, I just grab my sketchbook and head for a local café or library — the ideas just seem to flow. I also like that a sketchbook can be kept in a pocket at all times, without regard to cold or heat, or location. Sketchbooks can also take a beating better than techy gadgets. 🙂

Any particular Eureka moment on using paper?

Probably about a year ago I started realizing that I was using sketches less that I had in the past for my business design work at MakaluMedia. I decided to focus on making sketching an integrated part of my work. Since integrating sketching I’ve noticed my creativity has improved greatly.

Are you alone, or does everyone you know follow the same practice?

As I work alone from my home office, I can only comment on my own methods directly, though the posts I have made related to use of paper sketchbooks and diaries have brought interesting comments from other digital folks who also integrate paper into their lives. Mane are Moleskine fans like me, others feel that paper offers them options not easily available digitally.

Do you get odd looks for using paper?

Quite to the contrary — people who see my business or personal sketchbooks are always interested in having a look at them, and comment how they wish they could draw. I encourage them to give it a try, because a paper sketchbook or journal are just tools to get your mind working creatively.

Do you think paper and digital might merge, a laLogitech’s io Pen, or is that the wrong way of looking at things?

I think there is an overlap. I have not used a Wacom tablet for some time, but am actually considering one now, to see what options it might offer me on the digital side of things. I do think there is a wide open market for digital tools which work in conjunction with analog sketching and notes, such as the IO pen. I would love to try the IO pen as well.

Thanks, Mike, for such a long and interesting answer.

Dialer Victims To Get Compensation

Further to my column a week ago (sorry, subscription only) on the dialler scam, here’s an update.

I’m not sure this is the first time, but it’s a good sign: Ireland’s Eircom has pledged to reimburse consumers who unwittingly fall victim to internet fraudsters that hijack people’s computer modems and run up large telephone bills, according to Ireland’s Business World website.

The website says Eircom had not previously automatically covered the cost of these Internet dumping frauds. In advertisements on Wednesday, however, it promised to refund its customers where it found they had been “innocent victims of the fraud”.

Eircom, Business World reported, said its new policy would allow it “to continue to enable voice and data communications to all international destinations, including 13 States that were recently put on a direct dial blacklist by the regulator”. It’s not clear whether this means those 13 are now off the blacklist.

Inke The Inkjet Refiller Goes After The Big Boys

My favourite inkjet refill machine, the Singaporean-made Inke, is going for the big time.

A release from the company says that Inke islaunching versions compatible with 305 different kinds of printers and 12 brands including HP, Lexmark, Samsung, Kodak, Compaq, Sharp, Sony, NewGen Sys, Apple, Pitney Bowes and Apollo. They are as follows:

  • INKE LX-70 to refill the Lexmark 70 (12A1970) and Lexmark 75 (12A1975)
  • INKE LX-50 to refill Lexmark 17G0050 and Sharp AJ0C50B
  • INKE HS-29 to refill HP 29 (51629A), HP 20 (C6614DN) and HP 19 (C6628AN) cartridges.

The devices are beautifully designed, pretty unmessy, and inexpensive: Each unit costs Euro 70 before VAT and include 3 ink tanks. Each additional ink tank costs Euro 10. Inke reckons “a user can save up to Euro 350 in ink costs over a 3 year period”. I don’t think they’re exaggerating.

The old INKE HS-45 is now available in Europe, or at least in the UK, Ireland, Germany, Netherlands, Switzerland, Greece, Spain, Italy, Hungary and Poland. Inke says it plans nine models altogether this year. I’ve been using mine for nearly a year and it’s been great.