Programmable Tattoos

I can’t believe I missed this announcement nearly a full year ago detailing the concepts behind a possible programmable tattoo.

The technology behind eInk has been floating around for about 6 years but it is only recently that products are finally beginning to enter the market using eInk. (I recently purchased a Sony eReader, which had to be sourced from the States as it hasn’t been released in Australia)

I have to admit the idea behind an eInk driven tattoo entered my head about 5 years ago when seeing people getting henna tattoos on the beaches of Thailand . It seems a simple stretch to imagine if you could take eInk and inject it and then you’d have a tattoo you could change every day(In turns out I was out by 3 years, a patent was filed in 1999). However eInk didn’t come out as fast or as heralded as initially though and currently technology is still only 180 DPI with slight elements of ghosting. I imagine it would have to pass some strict FDA test before it was allowed to be injected into the human body, but who knows some day people will be able to used eInk in some tattoo ink form how cool would that be? One day you have a small dolphin the next a full body moari tribal pattern, I can’t wait.

I have had an eReader for a month now, I am planning to do a review soon detailing my experiences, I will say it is very very interesting (if expensive).

Mobile Internet – The future

Nokia n95
Originally uploaded by KhE 龙.

Nokia recently released their new mobile, the N95 , which seems to me to be the first in a new wave of mobile devices that will change how we view and use internet. While the phone and the camera is old news (however at 5 megapixels thats not to be sniffed at) it was the addition of GPS and WiFi that got me really thinking, particularly what is going to happen once your computer is mobile, can always access the internet, it always know exactly where it is and is placed in the hands of the masses and no longer the domain of the geeks.

My personal feeling is that mobile internet is the next big thing. I recently traveled around Australia with a WiFi enable PDA and I was surprised by the amount of wireless nodes nearly every where I went. In some places I was able to get free internet access and access content from there.

However one of the biggest stumbling blocks that has yet to be wholly addressed is that screens on mobile devices are going to be small, even with new offerings like the iPhone due at the end of the month toting that the whole front of the phone is the screen. Personally I have found navigating the web as it currently stand clunky. However it internet won’t remain as it is currently, it will change to more effectively fit into this new format.

After I arrived back from my trip with new found wisdom on mobile internet I was surprised to find much blood in the water, both good and bad. First it turns out the the patent trolls are here already and there is a crowd called geomas that is suing verizon claiming to own location based search. They contend that the own the concept of returning search result based on the location of the search. Secondly yahoo have announced a location aware flickr app for mobile devices called Zurfer. It enables to to upload images to flickr taken with a internet enabled, GPS fitted phone and allows people to browse other images taken in the same area. I personally think that this will be huge.

People every now and again talk about a time before PC’s, before e-mail, before google, before youtube, well this is the beginning of mobile internet see you on the other side.

London book project => Terrorism Vector?

Backpackers for years are familiar with the book exchange that occurs at youth hostels the world over. Traveling for months with books can be daunting. Given a lot of time can be traveling it is usually filled up with reading. 5 years ago while I was traveling through Thailand I was going through a book every 2 or 3 days. For the month I was there I went through about 10 books, let me tell you backpacking with 10 books is no joke. I had gotten to a point where once a book was finished it was left behind, thus lightening my backpack load. I took advantage of the the take a book leave a book policy that occurs in most of the hostels we stayed in.

The system isn’t perfect mind. Usually the only books you find are the dregs left that no-one else wanted to read. It was only if you were lucky did you chance across truly decent books, however the need to lighten your backpack load was often the decision breaker.

I came across the the London Book Project which is the book exchange familiar to all backpackers being deployed on the London Underground. Initially it sounds like a great idea however it is being rolled out in London which has a bad history of terrorism. Now you have added to the mix a process where people can leave small packages lying around for other people to find. Does it take much to turn a book into a letter bomb? It is not clear from the website how the books are to disseminated. Initially they indicated that they merely went through carriages and handed them to people. What people are to do when they have finished with the books? In the paranoid post 9/11 world we live in I guess leaving them on the train will be a big no-no.

Here’s hoping that it does work out and they don’t run into any silly issues.

Exposed on line

I’ve been interested in protecting ones identity, both online and in the real world, for years. When trying to explain why things like loyalty cards are more trouble than they are worth I end up sounding like some tinfoil hat wearing fruit loop. However the real world helped me out last week with an amazing example.

There is a user on Flickr by the name of Lara Jade. who is currently 17 but has been interested in photography since she was 14 and she has been posting pictures online that she has taken since then as well. All nice an innocent so far. That was until she found out that some one had downloaded one of her pictures taken when she was 14 and used it for the cover of a porn movie.

She is understandably mortified and she details what she has tried to do about it here HELP!! (please read) on Flickr – Photo Sharing! .

This is another interesting example of the perils of living your life online. The internet gives people the ability to reach thousands/millions of people while a lot of them are lovely people there are still a few rotten apples. I hope she takes some legal challenge, I believe in the states using underage images for porn is illegal and she’s not even 18 yet would be a good place to start. However this, like the Rebekka case, are only examples of what have been discovered my guess this is the tip of an enormous iceberg.

reCAPTCHA – Class

It is not often you see a service that solves two problems at the same time. I like the simplicity of this one.

CAPTCHA’s have become an unfortunate necessity of the internet, used by certain websites to block bot attacks and try an guarantee that the thing on the other end of the internet connection is a human. CAPTCHA usually take the form of an image or a warped word that a computer can’t read and only a human (it is assumed) can correctly decipher. This requires a back end image generated that knows the correct answer and can let blog comments or website registration continue once a CAPTCHA has been solved. It is an imperfect solution to the internet scourge.

“About 60 million CAPTCHAs are solved by humans around the world every day. In each case, roughly ten seconds of human time are being spent. Individually, that’s not a lot of time, but in aggregate these little puzzles consume more than 150,000 hours of work each day.”

Well if we live with it can’t we some how use it. So a crowd called reCAPTCHA have come up with an interesting technique. Some where in the world loads of old documents are been scanned and one problem that they have to overcome is OCR tools being unable to read certain scanned words, ready made CAPTCHAs.

My first thought on the matter was, if the OCR tools can’t correctly read the garbled word, how would it know if when supplied to a human user that the returned answer is correct. Simple supply 2 words one known and one unknown. Without the user knowing which if the 2 is correct the assumption is made if the user correctly enters the known word the unknown word answer is assumed to be correct.

There doesn’t appear to be support in blogger yet but I’ll be keeping an eye on this one.

Copyright and tipping

Copyright is a funny old thing. It enshrines in law the ability to own an idea which is enforceable by legal means. The media some times I feel doesn’t understand how or what copyright is. When the refers to people “stealing” music, thus demonising these criminals they are in fact wrong. The law may still view the people downloading music as criminals it is not for stealing but instead copyright infringement, it doesn’t quite have the same ring to it does it?

As it stands things covered by copyright law are not allowed to be wholly used in the public domain until the copyright expires. In most of the world the default length of copyright for many works is generally the life of the author plus either 50 or 70 years. What this effectively means is that nothing created in my lifetime will ever become available in the public domain (unless an author died very close to when I was born). In the US this date seams to track with whenever Disneys copyright on Mickey Mouse is about to run out. Every time they get close they lobby to add another 20 years to copyright duration.

There was an interesting op-ed piece in the New York Times last week-end detailing an argument for what amounts to perpetual copyright. The piece in some ways blew my mind. The central argument is that the author of the piece, Mark Helprin, believes that the created of intellectual work should be no different than property and the product of the intellectual work can be owned forever, either by the original authors estate or property investors. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that a piece like this has been written by a professional writer. There are those of us in the work that the product of our work is a salary, and it behooves us to take the product of that one time work and make it work for us and our families in the future. If the work you do is successful you may gain a bonus, but come 5 or 10 years hence what ever work you did in the past has been forgotten.

The copyright reform community is crafting a reply over at Lawrence Lessig’s wiki. Which they cover the legal aspects and the cultural aspects of this nonsense piece. I have in my wanderings of the internet seen suggestion that it is only a satire but neither Mark Helprine or the New York Times come forward and admitted it.

However the whole thing reminds me of tipping and in particular tipping in America. I have worked on again/off again in America. Tipping like copyright law in America has lost it meaning. Tipping is supposed to be a recognition of an above average job. In most other cultures that is still how it works. This all holds up because the base salary is supposed to be sufficient for the employee. However in America some occupations are now been built around the concept of compulsory tipping, so much so that in the cases of waitresses, their base rate is lower than minimum wage and need to make up the shortfall in tips. So this then leads to a situation where tipping is no longer a reward of above average work but some kind of out of band sales tax. The only effective way to use tipping now is as a punitive measure, a tip is withheld if the service is bad. Tipping in America, especially for non-Americans, is captured well in Reservoir Dogs. Mr. Pink’s rant about been enforced to tip, while probably put in to make him seem weaselly has some very valid arguments :

I don’t tip because society says I gotta. I tip when somebody deserves a tip. When somebody really puts forth an effort, they deserve a little something extra. But this tipping automatically, that shit’s for the birds. As far as I’m concerned, they’re just doin their job.

Copyright law runs the risk of becoming as irrelevant. It original purpose was put in place to give artists an incentive to create work, knowing it would return future wealth. But the original length was something more like 25 years from creation of the content. It didn’t even take J.K. Rowlings or Dan Brown that long to become multi-millionaires based on there books. Now that may seem to be a bad example but are there any cases of people becoming successful 25 years after the work has been created? It will more than likely be a success or a failure when it comes out and still the the same success or failure 25 years later. With the exception of J.K. Rowlings, Dan Brown and the estate of J.R.R. Tolkien who really makes money from such hyper extended copyright, corporations like Disney and Time Warner. Does copyright really protect and incentify the content producers? Unlikely since people create and give away content for free on YouTube, Flickr, Blogging etc. It would be nice to have this all cleared up soon, but their lawyers are bigger than mine.

Flickr Mis-step?

Flickr, currently a darling of the web 2.0 boom, which was bought out by yahoo a few years ago, is threading on dangerous ground with a recent censoring of an artist photo.

The story starts with Flickr user _rebekka a popular user based in Iceland that is well known for her picture that include self portraits and landscapes. Even though certain parts of flickr a ridden with semi naked chicks taking saucy pictures of them selves and getting a huge number of hits via titillation and not quality. _rebekka is not that un good looking but it isn’t the self portraits that have caused woes but her landscapes. It turns out some crowd in england downloaded some of her photos and sold them on as their own. No permission from _rebekka and certainly not paying her either.

Things got warmed up when she found out and contacted the English company, Only-Dreemin,  informed them of the violation and tried to resolve it. She wasn’t lucky

Things got even more interesting when yesterday she post a commentary on what happened, she uploaded the picture above and in the description she detailed all that happened. The internet found it and were disgraced and comments pored into her flickr page denouncing the company and her treatment.

That was until flickr pulled the image leaving behind the following message

“Flickr is not a venue for to you harass, abuse, impersonate, or intimidate others. If we receive a valid complaint about your conduct, we will send you a warning or terminate your account.”

That’s all! Flickr have use _rebekka as a poster child for flickr. The content of her post may be viewed as inflammatory by some, and flickr trying to run damage control did the easiest thing and pulled the image. But she at the very least deserved some behind the scenes contact from flickr. She’s popular and the images themselves came from the website. Flickr run the dangerous risk of becoming like it parent company and lose sight of what made the site successful in the first place and remembering to respect the users.

Digg got taught this lesson last week with the whole AACS fiasco, they sided with the lawyers over the users and got punished fast. The backlash to flickr may not be as extreme but this may be the start of a run of these new web 2.0 companies which are now trying to turn a profit losing sight of priorities and alienating their unrealised asset, the users.

Rebekka story needs to be heard so she’s moved it to her own blog, outside flickr’s censor space keep an on on this link for future details.

Update :

It turns out Flickr came to there sense and issued an apology to Rebekka_ for censoring her picture see here maybe there is hope for flickr yet and they have learned from the digg example, don’t mess with you assets.

Online Identity Protection

Fingerprint 1
Originally uploaded by Mr Jaded.

There is a very interesting write up on online identity over at the Satisfaction Unlimited Blog :

Five ways to build and defend your reputation online

Some of the points come through as common sense, but it is still nice and timely to identify the perils of living in an online world. Ars technica is also covering the case of too much online interaction affect users :

Escaping the data panopticon: Prof says computers must learn to “forget”

My personal favourite in the Satisfaction unlimited post is the countermeasure to a bad post by a disgruntled commenter. Instead of retreating from the web and hoping no one finds the bad post the best way to deal with it is become more prolific, thereby swamping the bad post with good posts. It is a bit simplistic but hiding a leaf in a forest just doesn’t go out of fashion.

It’s good that analysis’s like this are beginning to appear, hopefully they will filter down to the general populace in time before they make irreparable mistakes that could affect people and their careers, as what happened to Stacy Snyder, which was covered in the previous post :

The woes of web 2.0

I think a new concept will need to be introduced to the general populace, your professional name. People in the entertainment industry have been using this concept for a while, you are your name and your name is your brand. For regular punters your professional name is also your given name, it is what you will eventually open bank accounts with, travel international as, get degrees with and apply for jobs under. So it is all important that you professional name has no black marks against it.

The simple way to manage this is to never use your professional name on the internet for any reason what so ever. For web 2.0 it is easier to start a clean identity and be a gregarious or obnoxious as you want and be relatively assured that it won’t be easily traced back to you professional name. Unfortunately you have little no no control over other people using your professional name on the internet, you may be able to ask friends not to use it.

Admittedly creation of random identities does leave the path open for random sock puppetry and managing an alternate identity can hard if it gets popular, especially if an online identity crosses back into you professional job. However at the end of the day it is a lot easier to destroy an out of control online identity than rescue a tarnished professional name.

Spider-man 3 – A Black Day ?

I finally say Spider-man 3 last night and I still don’t know what to make of it all.

First a bit of background I got into comic books back in the early 90s. Spiderman was one of the first comics I regularly read and this tracked roughly with Todd MacFarlane run on “The Amazing Spider-Man” and during that time Venom was introduced. Todd MacFarlane influence on spider-man made him a super star in the world of comic books. He really got behind the idea of a man with the strength and flexibility of a spider and the way he drew his spider man was gorgeous and in some way excessive. When the first spiderman came out there were some moves and positions that just screamed Todd MacFarlanes heritage.

Not long after he started his run Venom was introduced. There has been some argument over who was responsible for creating Venom. Traditionally it has always been the writer, however it is hard to imagine Venom becoming what he did without the input of MacFarlane. The attention to detail and the oil slick movement of the symbiote that MacFarlane brought to Venom has been oft replicated in the comic books and it can also be seen in the movie.

Sam Raimi has been catching a lot a flak for Spider-Man 3. Even before Spider-Man 2 was out of the gates people were dying to know who the villains for Spider-Man 3 would be. People at the time even suggested Venom and Raimi rebuked them at the time and has been recorded as saying “he lacked the humanity” but he apparently was turned around by Avi Arad who argued that Venom was a fan favourite.

So where does it all go wrong. I don’t know if there is an expression like “Jump the Shark” for the destruction of a franchise, usually seen by the endless addition of number of good guys versus bad guys. Batman and Robin is the biggest example of the, though arguably it could be seen to have started in Batman forever:

Batman: 1 Good Guy ; 1 Bad Guy
Batman Returns: 1 Good Guy ; 2 Bad Guys (3 if you count Shrek)
Batman Forever: 2 Good Guys ; 2 Bad Guys
Batman and Robin: 3 Good Guys ; 3 Bad Guys (Bane sorta counts)

I’d like to put forward the expression “Schumacher‘ed” as a possible contenter. To be fair to Joel, I bought the DVD for Batman and Robin and he spends a not inconsiderable portion of the DVD extras apologising for been gulled into adding more toy friendly features to the movie, worth the price of the DVD alone.

Spider-Man 3 people will surely agree has in some respects been Schumacher’ed. While the current returns for this movie will virtually guarantee there will be a Spider-Man 4, so it is unlikely that this movie will “kill” this franchise, they have burnt through a lot of popular capital gained from Spider-Man 2 that has been labeled by some fans better than the original, which is a high claim for a sequel.

So apart from been Schumacher’ed where did the movie go wrong? It is hard to say precisely. There were a lot of small things that individually could be forgiven but added up over 139 minute running time.

The biggest I thought was the wedging of the 2 1/2 villains into the same movie. I believe that the Sandman story could have equally lived in parallel to the new Goblin or Venom story but putting all three together felt none got a full go.

I saw the Harry Osborne brain amnesia plot line before in the first season of 24 (Teri Bauer a few hours before she’s killed) I thought it stretched credibility then and it still does. (Note to writers a loss of short term memory doesn’t usually take out 2 years)

For a fan favourite Venom/Eddie Brock gets very little screen time having taken so much of the movie. The character in the comic had so much that would have worked. The fact that it is Parker he wants to kill but tries not to hurt an innocent. During the original comic run they have Eddie Brock, after melding with the symbiote, turns up at Aunt May’s house and helps her with the washing, much to Peters dismay. To me it seemed even more sinister than kidnapping and threatening her.

The Sandman story has some merit, it is a classic Marvel hero/villain birth, but the contrivance of having him be the original killer of Ben Parker reminded me of the old days of the X-Files when every other episode had an different excuse for Mulder’s sister disappearance. There is a problem when you talk about superhero movies and you mention what is unbelievable. When you have an alien symbiote crash to earth meld with a man with the proportional strength of a spider the bar of what is believable and unbelievable gets moved. So with that in mind I feel the Stay Puft Marshmellow man ending a bit too unbelievable for a Spider-man movie. He is powerful enough in his rough human sized form to threaten Spider-man, I didn’t think there was any need to make him 10 stories tall.

I suppose the biggest mis-step is the darkening of Peter Parker when he gets addicted to the suit and how good it feels. A comparison has been made to the other superhero franchise third entry, Superman III, over at Bryce Zabel blog which sees Superman getting a little cranky when he gets exposed the wrong kind of Krytonite. The whole Peter Parker performing some kind of Saturday Night fever strut around town with his hair let down in some greasy emo imitation is supposed to show us darkness? Though this is supposed to reflect Spider-Man’s change when he believes he’s killed, knowingly, Sandman.

During all this I haven’t mentioned the Mary-Jane versus Gwen Stacey arc. While interesting the film could have potential stood without all of that. Bryce Dallas Howard is well picked as Gwen but at no time does it feel like she is falling for Peter or vice versa. There might have been more potential with the neighbour Ursula. While Mary-Jane is very important to the Peter Parker / Spider-Man story, it didn’t feel like the character or actress was as invested in the role this time.

Maybe it is time for some fresh blood to come in on Spider-Man. Raimi has put in some good work and no-one can deny that the action set pieces on Spider-Man 3 look amazing, you will believe that a man can stick to a wall. While I was a bit disappointed it is still well worth seeing on the big screen. Some thing that DVD and widescreen TV will never replace.

The woes of web 2.0

Yo ho Yo ho A pirates life for me!
Originally uploaded by 0range County Girl.

The rise of web 2.0 has been an amazing thing. I wish it was around when I was a teenager, however in some ways its just as well it wasn’t. Working in a technical arena I have become very aware of maintaining a distinction between your professional identity and online interaction. Googling someones name is de rigour these days and there are stories of companies googling prospective new employees. This is turning out to be some what of a problem for generation 2.0 that have posted portions of their life that seemed a good idea at the time but has come back to haunt them, take the story of Stacy Snyder for example :

College Sued Over “Drunken Pirate” Sanctions

She, for better or worse, posted a picture of herself posing with a pirate hat and drinking from a plastic cup with the caption “Drunken Pirate” all harmless fun. That is until she was supposed to graduate from teaching college. According to the TSG “Despite good grades and solid performance evaluations, Snyder claims that school officials improperly denied her a bachelor of science in education degree and a teaching certificate” this article goes on to say “A university official told her that the photo was “unprofessional” and could have offended her students if they accessed her MySpace page.”

While this is terrible we are only going to see more of this in the future. This case is a little simpler than it will be in the future, in this case it was her own fault, she posted the picture of herself to MySpace so ultimately she put up the picture and also had the ability to take it down any time she wanted (and I’m sure now she wish she did) it was also easily connected to her as it was her MySpace page linked to her professional name.

The more problematic cases are when your mates take pictures of you during your hedonistic youthful excursions (one of the reasons why I’m glad digital cameras weren’t really around when I was in University, phew!) and they post their pictures of which you may have little or no control. While these pictures maybe as hard to find as a specific leaf in a forest new applications like polar rose face scanning technology might be the google of face search.

All it would take is a one positive hit for your face and a pass through flickr, MySpace, zooomr and all the other web 2.0 services and your online life could be laid bare for a prospective future employer.

As in physics for every action there is an equal but opposite reaction, a recently setup company ReputationDefender have realised there is a business model in helping new minted adult clean up their past, wired covered this in July of 2006 :

Delete Your Bad Web Rep

They describe ReputationDefender work :

“Any web citizen willing to pay ReputationDefender’s modest service fees can ask the company to seek and destroy embarrassing office party photos, blog posts detailing casual drug use or saucy comments on social networking profiles.”

It may be too late for Stacy Snyder, will maintaining your digital online identity accompany a conversation a parent has with a pre-pubescent child before they have the parent filters taken off the family computer. It will certainly be interesting as more and more computer savvy kids start coming through the system over the next few years and to see the woes of their past return to haunt them.