Feb 052013

Here’s a whimsical map of the United States done through Yahoo! Search with the autocomplete feature on. It gives a you a sense of what people say – and look for – when it comes to typing in the name of a specific State in a search engine. Google’s results are a little different, but not that far off.

Done over on the FlipCollective, here’s a description of how this autocomplete map of the United States was put together:

The following map is based on search engine autocomplete results. Autocomplete is the stuff that pops up when you search for stuff in Google or Yahoo! or AskJeeves (probably?).

For this project, I used Yahoo!’s autocomplete (Yahoo! produced more results than Google so suck it) to find out how search engine users are describing each of the 50 states. This is what Iowa’s search looked like:

Screen shot 2013-02-04 at 1.56.21 PM

I wanted the terms to describe the states, so I weeded out unhelpful results like:

  • Questions (Iowa is in what time zone?)
  • State abbreviations (Iowa is IA)
  • Leading queries (Iowa is known for…)

From there, I’d take the topmost term that satisfied my conditions and put it on the map. Behold my results: 

And what of the end results? Some of the autocomplete terms are ridiculous, but some, dead on accurate. In a way, it’s just a glimpse of the online reputations of each State, but that says something about them and us. And when you think about it, there’s a small a SEO lesson here – it’s always worth checking to see how a website title comes up with autocomplete on. Enjoy.

Autocomplete Map of United States

Autocomplete Map of United States

Jan 222013

Watching the Inauguration, one thing was undeniably clear: we live in a world awash in technology, where every moment is a media moment, where everyone carries a camera and digital video device through their smart phone. You almost have to wonder how people survived earlier inaugurations where the only cameras were in the hands of the credentialed press corp.

What would Jefferson and Adams had done if they could have put aside their quill pens and picked up Smart phones? With years of  animosity between them (before the touching correspondence of their final years), you can only imagine the Tweets, the Instagrams, the Facebook posts that might have flown back and forth. Not that the other “Founding Fathers” got along all that well with each other. Twitter would have been overburdened with its servers going down just like they did on this year’s  Inauguration.

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 21:  U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) (L) takes a photo as he arrives during the presidential inauguration on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol January 21, 2013 in Washington, DC.   Barack Obama was re-elected for a second term as President of the United States.  (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON, DC – JANUARY 21: U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) (L) takes a photo as he arrives during the presidential inauguration on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol January 21, 2013 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Two quick observations:

  1. Technology is a great democratizing force – perhaps in ways we do not fully understand but definitely in terms of human behavior. In this Inauguration (and one assumes even more so for those that follow), everyone takes photos and videos with their Smart phones – not just those in the audience, but celebrities and others on stage. Heck, even Piers Morgan of CNN was going on about how he did a Smart phone video of an event he was covering. Wherever there’s a crowd, people are holding their phones above their heads, recording what they see for later.
  2. Taking photos with your Apple iPad just doesn’t make sense. Okay, maybe the iPad Mini, but not the full size one. It just looks ridiculous and it’s hard to manipulate. Just because you can take a photo with an iPad doesn’t mean you should.
Red Fedora iPad Guy at Inauguration. Image; mashable.com

Red Fedora iPad Guy at Inauguration. Image; mashable.com

Sasha Yawns at the Inauguration

Sasha Yawns.

Anyways, you can have a laugh at some of the other photos and GIFs put together over at mashable.com. I doubt anyone at the Inauguration did not have at least one awkward moment, one badly timed yawn, or at least one inappropriate glance at someone else. In truth, that’s the way human existence has always been.

It’s just that now we record every single moment of human existence (at least at events like this), both on stage and off.

Of course, most of this will look somewhat silly four years from now – in the next inauguration in January 2017, people will be wearing Google Glass devices and other wearable video recorders. You won’t have to hold your phone above your head. Though on second thought, it may look even more unusual – people may have to hold their eyeglasses above their heads in order to get an unobstructed shot.

We’ll see soon enough.


Jan 162013
Technology: Rusted Plow as Yard Art

Technology: Rusted Plow as Yard Art


On the pace of Technology change, by Kevin Kelley, posted over at PopTECH:

Five hundred years ago, technologies were not doubling in power and halving in price every eighteen months. Waterwheels were not becoming cheaper every year. A hammer was not easier to use from one decade to the next. Iron was not increasing in strength. The yield of corn seed varied by the season’s climate, instead of improving each year. Every 12 months, you could not upgrade your oxen’s yoke to anything much better than what you already had. 

Whatever you learn today, you will need to relearn tomorrow.

Dec 052012

I upgraded my Smart phone the other week, on Black Friday, actually. But the Apple store in the Meat Market district on Manhattan’s West Side was nearly empty (let’s face it, Apple doesn’t do major discounts for holidays). So far, I’m loving the new iPhone – faster processor, beautiful screen, LTE service – even if I sometimes chafe at Apple’s walled garden. Even the upgrade was dead simple: everything was already backed up to Apple’s iCloud service so all I had to do was download the hundred and twenty or so Apps that I have to the new device.

Disrupting the Smart Phone Ecosystem

But the entire process got me thinking about how many more Smart phones I’ll purchase before this technology is disrupted by new developments – especially the Google Glass project and Microsoft’s recent patents for augmented reality glasses. Neither of these are actually phones, but the general trend is clear. The ongoing miniaturization of technology can only mean that at some point there will be no need to carry around a bulky device such as an iPhone5 or Android phone.


Big Screen Smart Phones - from Apple iPhone on up to SamsungYes, bulk is relative. Just look back at the early versions of the cell phone (scroll down to see Martin Cooper’s early portable phone) which people thought was the height of mobility.

The current size that we now have is not the end of the road and the real issue is screen real estate (with Apple opting to keep it’s slim design and Samsung going for a larger display in the Galaxy Note model). There’s advantages to small and slim and benefits in having a larger screen. But you can’t go smaller than the iPhone and type on the screen or larger than the Galaxy and fit it in your pocket. The only way to resolve display size will be to put it closer to the eye, to make it essentially transparent so that you see the world through your phone’s screen but can shift focus to a proportionally large size screen. Google Glass is a little different approach in that you actually have to look a little to the left and up to see the screen.

One More Smart Phone To Go

Either way, it seems very plausible that we’ll be wearing our phones in the near future (before we reach the point where they are embedded under our skin). Looking at my new iPhone5, I figure I’ll probably buy one more Smart phone to replace it in a year and a half (perhaps right about the time Google Glass hits the stores), and then when I replace that one, it will be a device that I wear on my face. Coincidentally, Business Insider ran a short piece that parallels my thinking:

Both gadget concepts (Google Glass and Microsoft’s glasses patent) are very interesting. 

Lots of people disagree with me, including other BI (Business Insider) writers, but I think something like Google Glass or whatever Microsoft is working on could end up replacing the smart phone as the dominant way people access the Internet and connect to each other.

First off: something has to. Disruption is inevitable.

Secondly: The trend is obvious.

Computers have been getting smaller and closer to our faces since their very beginning.

First they were in big rooms, then they sat on desktops, then they sat on our laps, and now they’re in our palms. Next they’ll be on our faces.

(Eventually they’ll be in our brains.)

By the way, you can bet that if Microsoft and Google are working on computerized glasses, so is Apple and Jony Ive.

And that’s pretty exciting.

Here’s a diagram from Microsoft’s patent for a set of augmented reality glasses:

Microsoft Patent Diagram for Augmented Reality Glasses

Image from Business Insider


Some Day, Will You Die If You Don’t Answer Your Phone?

Paradoxically, shrinking the Smart phone down to a wearable device and eventually an implant carries out the vision of Martin Cooper, the Motorola researcher who made the first mobile call in NYC back some 35 years ago. Here’s a piece on Cooper’s vision from an article in The Age in 2008:

Inventor Martin Cooper holds one of the first mobile phones in this undated handout photo.“Our dream was that someday nobody would talk on a wired telephone. Everybody would talk on a wireless phone,” the 79-year-old electronic engineer told Reuters.

Cooper said he was so enthused after his first mobile call that he liked to joke that phone numbers would become so important that “when you were born you would get a phone number and if you didn’t answer it you would die.”

“The idea is that the phone number becomes part of you,” said Cooper, who is also waiting for the day when he merely thinks about calling a particular person and the phone will automatically dial the number.

While the popularity of mobile phones has skyrocketed, with more than 3 billion people owning cell phones now compared with only 300,000 in 1984, Cooper said in telephone interviews from California and New York that he sees much more room for wireless in industries ranging from health care to power.

“Thirty-five years later we’ve finally got the idea that people want to be free to communicate while they’re moving around but unfortunately we’ve just barely mastered that for voice,” he said.

In about 15 to 20 years, he expects people to have embedded wireless devices in their bodies to help diagnose and cure illness. “Just think of what a world it would be if we could measure the characteristics of your body when you get sick and transmit those directly to a doctor or a computer,” he said. “You could get diagnosed and cured instantly and wirelessly.”

Cooper dreamed big . . . and his dream is coming true. Give it another five years. And in the meantime, think about the possibilities (and the social-cultural issues) when our phones are first worn, and eventually, embedded under our skin.

Oct 232012

MemotoTake a look at Memoto. A long look as this may just be a game-changer.

Lifelogging has been around for some time – at least two decades if you look at the work Steve Mann with his “wearable computer” and “reality mediator” inventions. I remember watching Mann walk through the streets of Florence, Italy in the early 90′s and thinking this is just too cumbersome to be practical. But you knew the technology would shrink and with the advent of Smart phones and the pending Google Project Glass, we’ve gone from chest-mounted cameras and batteries to the latest innovation that may put lifelogging firmly on the map – Memoto’s lifelogging camera.

Memoto is a Swedish company and their new product is an incredibly small and beautiful camera (think Apple here) that you wear around your neck or clip on your shirt or blouse. The device is postage-stamp size and drop-dead simple:

The Memoto device measures 36x36x9mm and contains a five-megapixel camera, a GPS unit, an accelerometer and 8GB of storage – enough for two days’ worth of photos, seeing as the device takes a photo every 30 seconds. It will cost $279, or nothing for early backers who give $199 or more.

The user will need to hook the device up to their computer every couple of days, both to upload the photos and recharge the battery. The photos will go onto Memoto’s servers and be made accessible for time-lapse-style playback through Smartphone apps. (Gigaom)

They launched the project on Kickstarter today and reached their $50,000 goal in five hours. At this point, they’re over $131,000 with 37 days to go. And they’ve stretched the goal to $150,000 and will allow backers to crowdsource the color of one of the models. $199 now gets you one when it comes out at a serious discount to the retail cost.

On one level, this kind of stuff might freak you out; but on the other hand, it is deeply fascinating. Every moment of one’s life can be recorded, and paradoxically, your own life will be embedded as the recorded moments in the lives of others. The very fact that you wear the device, that it’s designed to face outward, to record without a conscious decision makes it entirely different than the pocket camera (or the now ubiquitous ones in our Smart phones). In truth, this is much more than a miniature camera and an App.

It’s a game-changer.

And yes, I put my money in so I’m a backer. Here’s the nicely done video from Memoto on the device and the possibilities of lifelogging:

And here’s an overview of Steve Mann’s cameras over the years. Looking at Mann’s devices, you can see how far we’ve come in the past few decades. But this is only the beginning. I have no idea what lies at the end of this road from a social or cultural perspective but Memoto is opening the door to an entirely new way of seeing and relating to your own life and the lives of those around you. Fascinating.

Steve Mann - wearable computers over three decades

Sep 292012

TSA Theft of iPadHere’s some great (if basic) TV investigative journalism of TSA theft of an iPad from an ABC News investigation of the Transportation Security Administration. This sting operation involved “accidentally” leaving iPads behind at airport security areas and seeing if they were returned. It was easy to execute as ABC News used nothing more than the Find My iPad App.

It’s pretty funny when the audible alert goes off inside the TSA agent’s home.

Really no surprise here given that in less that ten years some 381 TSA agents have been fired for theft – which makes you wonder how many are getting away with it. Here’s more detail from Gothamist.com (and link to the ABC News video) if you’re interested.

Just don’t dare leave anything behind, especially electronics.

ABC News did an investigative report wherein reporters “accidentally” left behind iPads at ten major airports with a history of theft by government screeners. And they got some poor slob to take the bait: Security camera footage shows TSA screener Andy Ramirez with the iPad after it had gone through the screening process at Orlando airport. Using a tracking device in the gadget, ABC confronted Ramirez at his home, where he proceeded to blame his wife.

First Ramirez denied knowing anything about any stupid iPad, but then ABC set off an audio alarm feature in the iPad, and it could be heard beeping inside his home. At that point, Ramirez had no choice but to admit the iPad was in his possession, but he blamed it on his wife. “I’m so embarrassed,” Ramirez told ABC News. “My wife says she got the iPad and brought it home.” He then shut the door. And then he got fired. Eat your heart out, Arnold Diaz.

381 TSA officers have been fired for stealing since 2003, 11 of them this year. ABC’s investigation turned up “case after case” of TSA theft, and one former TSA screener—who did three years in prison for airport theft—tells the network no one is checked for stolen goods. “I played in with the rest of them with ‘I don’t care’ and ‘they’re not paying us right.’… It was so easy one day I walked out with a Nintendo Wii in my hand. Nobody said a word.”


Sep 262012

Showplace Rent to Own Computers included spyware

Seven companies settled spyware charges with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for offering rental computers that included spyware to photograph users without their consent. The FTC charged the maker of the software, DesignerWare in Pennsylvania, and seven companies with recording keystrokes, taking photographs of users and using the laptop webcams to record any activity within view, including users undressing, their intimate activities and a few having sex.

The media seems to have downplayed this story but read just one paragraph from the actual FTC settlement document:

Detective Mode to record data every two minutes until prompted to stop doing so. DesignerWare’s servers collect this information and transmit it to the licensee for however long the licensee leaves “the Detective” turned on. In numerous instances, data gathered by Detective Mode has revealed private, confidential, and personal details about the computer user. For example, keystroke logs have displayed usernames and passwords for access to email accounts, social media websites, and financial institutions. Screenshots have captured additional  confidential and personal information, including medical records, private emails to doctors, employment applications containing Social Security numbers, bank and credit card statements, and discussions of defense strategies in a pending lawsuit. When activated, Detective Mode can also cause a computer’s webcam to surreptitiously photograph not only the computer user, but also anyone else within view of the camera. In numerous instances, Detective Mode webcam activations have taken pictures of children, individuals not fully clothed, and couples engaged in sexual activities.

No small infraction here – the spyware was on some 420,000 laptops that were distributed to renters. All of this done without consent and the data, photographs and video was transmitted to DesignerWare, which then redistributed it to the store from which the laptop came.

Unfortunately, it seems the FTC has no criminal jurisdiction in a case like this and with only civil authority cannot even level fines against the companies. Instead, the settlement only requires the companies to now notify users in advance of the spyware on the machines.

The companies claim this is the only way they can track customers who fall behind in the payments. But they were able to gather a wealth of data including social security numbers, passwords and account information, medical data and any activities that went on in front of the laptops while they were open.

Somehow, one feels that this is like seeing a cockroach – if you see one, you know there are many more – and we have already seen other cases of this with a couple in Wyoming and a well-reported case of the school system (also in Pennsylvania) that spied on children through their laptops.

We hardly seen the last of these corporate intrusions on privacy. And here’s one final ploy they used – a “Windows Registration” screen that was nothing but a ploy to collect more data – the Windows OS on the laptops was previously registered when the laptops were configured.

Fake windows registration spyware screen

Fake Microsoft Windows registration spyware screen



Sep 242012

Toy train goes to space - at least to the stratosphereThis is so touching – a father sending his 4 year old son’s toy train in space, attaching an HD camera to video the trip, and then recovering the train through GPS. It’s no small achievement but much easier than it would have been a decade ago. All that was needed was the dearly beloved toy train, a weather balloon, an old iPhone for the GPS, and a HD camera.

The father, Ron Fugelseth, sent it up on an hour-long, twenty-seven miles (across the ground) flight and after recovering the camera, set the video to music. Fugelseth, who works at a digital agency, also added some animation to the face of the train when he processed the video:

My 4 year old and Stanley are inseparable like Calvin and Hobbes. He’s been attached to him since he was two, and they play, sleep and do everything together. I animated Stanley’s face with After Effects and Photoshop to bring him to life how I imagine my son sees him. (YouTube)

You just have to love the way the Stanley the train is smiling on the way up and then frowns as the balloon bursts and begins the bumpy trip back down to the ground. Only to smile again once a successful landing has taken place.

In truth, the toy train is not really going into space, but just some 18 miles up into the stratosphere, the layer right above the troposphere which extends 11 miles above the earth’s surface and is what we depend on to survive. The stratosphere extends some 50 miles above the earth and where space technically begins is an ongoing debate (not surprisingly, the boundary keeps getting extended). But for a young child this is close enough to space.  What’s really important here is that the project itself is both impressive and heartwarming.

And, of course, the child’s reaction is priceless. A toy train in space – this is a joy to watch.

Sep 212012

Kate and William greeted by topless islanders

The effort to block the spread of nude photos of William and Kate’s vacation in France is doomed to fail, and frankly, the significance of nudity all depends on its context as the Duchess so easily saw on the remaining days of their tour. The topless photos of Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, continue to spread with their publication by a gossip magazine in Denmark, Se och Hoer, following on the heels of their sister magazine in Sweden.

Legal Action

In France, the magazine Closer was fined and ordered to hand over all copies of the photos:

A French court ordered a magazine publisher to hand over all digital copies of topless photos of the Duchess of Cambridge within 24 hours and blocked furtherpublication of what it called a “brutal display” of William and Kate’s private moments.

Under the ruling Tuesday, the publisher of the French gossip magazine Closer faces a daily fine of €10,000 ($13,100) if it fails to hand over the photos featured in Friday’s “world exclusive” issue of Prince William’s wife Kate. The photos were taken without authorization during the royals’ vacation at a private residence in southern France.

The court also handed out an injunction to stop Closer France from republishing the offending pictures — including on its website and its tablet app — as well as re-selling them.

A statement Tuesday from the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge said they “welcome the judge’s ruling.” Maud Sobel, a lawyer for the royal couple, described it as “a wonderful decision.”

“We’ve been vindicated,” Sobel said.

Calling that “vindication” is a hollow victory.

Even if the Royal Family wants to continue legal action, it’s becoming impossible. First, there’s the obstacle of national borders – which the Internet simply ignores and courts simply have to abide by – and the laws in each country. In Italy, paparazzi can take photos as long as they’re standing on public property. The nude photos of Kate were taken from almost a half mile away(!) with a telephoto lens (nice lens, essential hardware for any paparazzi) , but the photographer wasn’t on the property of the chateau. And anyways, an injunction by a French court is not enforceable in other countries.

All Copies?

Secondly, no one knows the source of the photos in the Danish magazine. Possibly they were sent prior to the injunction. Perhaps after. Handing over “all copies” is near impossible unless everyone who had the digital copies cleaned out their computers along with the Sent box of their email accounts and the Temporary directory in their operating system.

And how would you enforce this? Send someone in to go through everyone’s computer at Closer? And how would that keep someone from passing it on through a USB key or similar portable storage?

Give me a break.

There are no originals photos here. As Walter Benjamin would appreciate, the image you view on your screen is already a copy. Everything is viral-like even at the most basic level of our operating systems.

UK Press Left Out Again

We’ve been here before. The Mirror notes that:

It is worth noting that the pictures remain unpublished by the UK press. As with the pictures of Prince Harry , where The Mirror and most other papers did not publish, William and Kate’s privacy is being respected.

Here in the UK, self-restraint is working more effectively than supposedly strong European privacy laws.

Restraint is more effective than privacy laws in the digital era, but the images are easily accessible online and the UK press is heading toward the same situation it was in with the Prince Harry images – they’ll be available everywhere but in the UK, driving more readers to pass on the papers and grab their “news” (such as this is) from online.

But in a way, the position of the UK press is admirable, even if there’s a bit of not wanting to anger the Royal Family or run up against UK regulations. If almost everything “public” (even at a half mile) can be recorded, it can be distributed and restraint becomes the last remaining drawbridge in the castle of privacy.

Chill Out

Calming down and letting it go may be the best advice. Trust me, the news cycle will soon move on to something else. Maybe even something with more substance and consequence for us all – such as Syria or a downward spiraling EU economy.

Tom Sykes in the Royalist on the Daily Beast has best comment on this entire affair:

In his editorial, editor Signorini argues that “instead of getting angry with the media, who are just exercising their right to report, the royal family should, in my humble opinion, run with the ball and react with typical Anglo-Saxon humour, saying ‘So what?’”.

The Royalist agrees.

Anything else is a waste of time in a deeply interconnected digital world.

Sep 172012
Britain's Prince William and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, wave to staff as they leave Hospis Malaysia, the largest hospice in the country, in Kuala Lumpur September 13, 2012. Credit: Reuters/Samsul Said

Britain’s Prince William and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, wave to staff as they leave Hospis Malaysia, the largest hospice in the country, in Kuala Lumpur September 13, 2012.
Credit: Reuters/Samsul Said

As if there were not enough problems with the nude photos of William and Kate in the French magazine Closer, the Italian magazine Chi published 18 images over 19 pages on Monday of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. While it’s an issue for the Royal Family, there are more basic privacy issues that affect us all.

The Scandalous / Not Scandalous Photos

The defiant editor of Chi, Alfonso Signorini, has already tweeted that “not even a direct call from the Queen” will stop publication. Chi‘s Monday’s cover with three images of a topless princess was already available by Saturday in the Italian press and on TV.

And the headline from Monday’s edition? “Court Scandal: The Queen is Nude!’ This, of course, from an editor who also claimed that:

These pictures are not offensive or in poor taste, they are not morbid and they do not damage the dignity of anyone. (USA Trends)

Clearly some words – perhaps all – have no meaning. Or to put it differently, meaning here is as pixelated as the photos which really don’t reveal all that much.

Good Taste or Not, Royal Nudity is Viral

Obviously, there’s a difference in the latest scandal from the recent situation with Prince Harry in Las Vegas. Those images were not in good taste, there were major security concerns, and one had to wonder about Harry’s own lack of good judgment (Yes, one really had to wonder about the latter). The William and Kate images, already published by Closer and the Irish Daily Star, are just ordinary scenes from their vacation at the Chateau d’Autet, east of Avignon. Okay, most of us don’t stay in a Chateau, but we do the sunbathing part, and in Europe, often topless.

The Royal Family took legal action against the French publication and tried unsuccessfully to stop the Chi publication. But Chi is owned by former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who, shall we say, is no friend of moderation. And now interest is coming from other magazines, including some in the United States.

Good taste or bad taste, if people want them, the images will go viral and have a life of their own.

Two Points – the Web and Privacy

Two points here that go beyond the issue of royalty revealing a little flesh.

The House of Windsor ‘s efforts to stop the publication of the photos – through public expressions of dismay and legal action – is essentially futile given that the images are coming online. Even if not directly posted on the tabloid websites, someone will scan them. And once online in the  highly distributed network of the Web, you might slow their distribution but it’s near impossible to stop. Once the images are out of the hands of the photographer, your leverage – both moral and legal – is gone.

Secondly, the episode with Harry in Las Vegas and now William and Kate in France is just further confirmation that we are entering a radically different era, one that will challenge our understanding of personal space and public personas. The blurry telephoto images of a Prince and Princess – however offensive to some sensibilities, however pointless to others – are just one more crack in the crumbling dam behind which is a deluge that marks the end of privacy as we know it.

Think this is a major issue?  Wait until Google Glass comes out. Are you photographing me? Am I videoing you? Is a corporation analyzing my every move? Our interaction with each other? For an overview of some of the challenges here, see the recent article in The Next Web, “Google’s Project Glass is Cool, But It Raises a Number of Privacy Concerns.”

And the recent news on webcam dating blackmail just adds to the opportunities where you may find yourself in a compromising position.

Celebrities tend to get impacted sooner as they are public figures but we all are stepping into this realm together, one that is remarkable for the reach and access that each of us have not withstanding our physical location, but one that simultaneously undermines the notion of physical space and the individual privacy embedded within it. Back in 2010, Mark Zuckerberg basically announced that privacy as a “social norm” is dead. It was a clarion call to a future that we may not like but seemingly cannot avoid.

The Duke and Duchess are fighting a minor skirmish that – as important as it is to them and others – I suspect will seem laughable a decade from now. So in the words of Prince Harry, it’s time to “keep calm and carry on” over this little kerfuffle, for it’s only the beginning.

Sep 152012
Nakoula Basseley Nakoula is escorted in a Los Angeles County Sheriff's vehicle from his home by officers in Cerritos, California

Nakoula Basseley Nakoula is escorted in a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s vehicle from his home by officers in Cerritos, California. September 15, 2012. REUTERS/Bret Hartman

As protests and demonstrations continue throughout the Arab world in reaction to the Muhammad video (I still will not dignify it with the term “film” or “movie” as some do), a number of developments and articles are worth noting. But most striking – outside of the scenes of the violence in the streets – are two unfolding dramas: the questioning of Nakoula Basseley Nakoula who may be the individual behind the video and the hidden drama of the Egyptian government as it negiotiates the complexities of creating a democracy.

The Mystery Man – Nakoula Basseley Nakoula

From Reuters: Nakoula Basseley Nakoula voluntarily went with officers to a meeting in a sheriff’s station in Cerritos, Los Angeles County. This was not an arrest but an “interview” – and he continues to deny involvement in the video. Officials are looking into possible parole violations – Nakoula was sentenced to 21 months in prison (with five years of probation) for bank fraud. His release was contingent on not using aliases or accessing the Internet, both of which appear to have been done if he is the producer of the Muhammad video.

Nakoula will never end up back in jail for the video with the free speech rights in the United States, but he could for parole violations. Regardless, his name will go down as a waypoint in the history of the Internet for the havoc, destruction and death that could be brought about by a single video clip.

The Egyptian Government’s Drama Behind the Scenes

Egyptian Protestor Runs from Burning Car

Everyone is understandably focusing on the street protests in Egypt and rest of the Arab world, but there is another drama – a fundamental struggle going on behind the scenes as the Egyptian government comes to terms with a functioning democracy.

For decades,  the country lived under the iron fist of a dictatorship with protests and arrests at periodic intervals. But Mubarak could pretty much do what he wanted, with the ongoing calculation that he could only push his people to a certain point. He was a master of knowing where that (somewhat fluid boundary was).

Now that Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi leads the country, it’s not so simple. For days, he has scored points with supporters and opposition parties (particularly with the radical Islamist party Salafi Al-Nour) by keeping security low and letting the protesters have the upper hand. But the very technology that keeps the video in front of peoples eyes – and helped support the overthrow of Mubarak – backfired on the Muslim Brotherhood and Morsi who were saying one thing to the West and issuing statements with a radically different tone for domestic consumption.

Sometimes it seems like everything in the digital revolution is a boomerang - no matter how far it gets thrown, you’ll soon be ducking as it comes back at you. From the Wall Street Journal:

Until today, Mr. Morsi’s presidency had appeared less than contrite about the security lapse that allowed protesters to invade the fortress-like U.S. mission. On Thursday, the Brotherhood went so far as to call for nationwide “vigils” in front of “major mosques” throughout the country on Friday—a day in which protests in Egypt have become a ritual.

Though the call for demonstrations smacked of intentional escalation, Brotherhood leaders portrayed the call as a kind of contained catharsis that would move the focus of popular rage away from the volatile flashpoint that is the U.S. embassy.

Essam El Erian, the head of the FJP, said the Brotherhood firmly rejected any attacks on foreign missions and insisted that the continuing violence in downtown Cairo includes “mainly young men” and no politicians.

The Brotherhood’s mixed message was encapsulated by a Twitter exchange between the group and the U.S. Embassy. Just as the Brotherhood’s English-language Twitter account made earnest inquiries about the safety of U.S. diplomats in Cairo, its Arabic-language Twitter account praised Egyptian protesters for “rising to the defense of the Prophet.”

The @USEmbassyCairo Twitter handle replied: “By the way, have you checked out your own Arabic feeds? I hope you know we read those too.”

“I hope you know we read those too” – diplomacy these days gets carried out on Twitter.

Leading a democratically elected government is no simple task in a deeply interconnected world. Especially when what you say domestically (to an electorate with a widespread anti-American bias) is the opposite of what you say to people abroad. We can trip up on this ourselves – just witness how some campaign statements play differently here and overseas – but it’s even more difficult when a democracy is just getting underway. Just as the video has a viral quality about it in the Arab world, so do domestic statements for support of the protesters in the rest of the world. It’s a classic lose-lose situation, and yet, for Morsi to be a legitimate leader in the global community and the government an effective democracy at home, he will have to turn it into a win-win.

I don’t envy the challenge.

Sep 122012
Apple CEO Tim Cook will introduce the iPhone 5 on Wednesday. Photo: Lea Suzuki, The Chronicle / SF

Apple CEO Tim Cook will introduce the iPhone 5 on Wednesday. Photo: Lea Suzuki, The Chronicle / SF

As we wait for the Apple product launch on Wednesday, it’s worth reading a contrarian view by Dan Lyons, creator of the “Fake Steve” blog that ran until January 2011. Dan has always had a sharp eye for Apple’s moves and the expectations for the new iPhone and possibly a new iPad (perhaps even a mini) are high.

The stakes are high for Apple since the iPhone generates 70% of its profits. According to SF Gate:

Phone sales last quarter alone reached $16.2 billion, 33 percent higher than Google’s total sales and almost as much as Microsoft’s $18.1 billion.

And even more striking given the current state of the economy:

 Apple’s new iPhone could contribute as much as half a percentage point to U.S. economic growth in the fourth quarter, according to analysts at JPMorgan Chase & Co.

Lyons has a long list of what’s wrong out in Cupertino. FIrst, Android-based phone sales are up significantly and Apple market share for the iPhone (the design has changed little over the years) is down. Instead of innovation, Apple now seems to be copying it’s competition – a larger iPhone here due to Samsung’s Galaxy, a smaller iPad there due to Amazon’s Kindle and Google’s move into the tablet market.

Here’s a few observations from Lyons article on BBCNews:

This week it’s the the iPhone 5. Everyone pretty much accepts that Apple will introduce it, and there have been so many leaks that everybody pretty much seems to know what it’s going to be. Word is it will look a lot like the last two versions of the iPhone, except a bit thinner and a bit taller, with upgraded guts and a refreshed operating system.

If that’s correct, I imagine Steve is not happy. First of all, he’d be furious about the leaks. Steve liked surprising people.

More important, is this really the best we can expect from an outfit that claims to be the most innovative company in the world? This is the sixth version of the iPhone, and the user interface still looks almost exactly like the original iPhone in 2007 . . . 

What else is there to complain about?

Um, Siri still doesn’t work. The oft-rumoured Apple TV doesn’t exist yet, presumably because media companies won’t let Apple take over their business.

The latest batch of Apple ads were such embarrassing garbage that Apple to take them down from YouTube. Apple’s new guy in charge of retail launched a plan to lay off workers and boost profits, then had to walk it back when people pointed out that this was stupid . . . . 

Apple got where it was by taking bold risks. Now it has become a company that copies others and plays it safe.

A company that once was run by a product visionary now is run by a number-cruncher – chief executive Tim Cook, whose claim to fame involves running an efficient supply chain and beating ever lower prices out of Asian subcontractors and component suppliers . . . .

Apple has more than $100bn in cash. Its market value of $632bn makes it the biggest company in the world, bigger than any company in US history.

That’s great for Apple’s shareholders. But for customers, who cares? In terms of products, Apple has become the one thing it should never be. Apple has become boring.

Somewhere up there, I can hear Steve screaming.

For Lyons, Apple needs to confront two major problems: the lack of investment in research and development (Apple spends about 2% of revenues on R & D, Google and Microsoft are closer to 14%) and a lack of vision. While it’s true that Steve Jobs singular vision drove the company, it was not a one-man show. Or so we thought.

We will see on Wednesday to what extent Apple was more than Steve.

Sep 052012

Here’s a novel way to get up close to Newtown Creek, the notoriously polluted body of water in NYC (Queens) that is now a superfund site. While there are finally plans for a clean-up, authorities still have to work out who is paying the cost, so don’t expect any major changes soon. But with a nature walk on the banks and a new art project, you can see all you’ll ever want to see of the water itself with the Newtown Creek Armada. Brooklyn artists Laura Chipley, Nathan Kensinger, and Sarah Nelson Wright have put together a novel flotilla of small boats and cameras with some simple technology, giving you the chance to see the creek through a new perspective. The small-boat Armada sets sail Saturday, September 8th and then continues on September 9th, 15th, 22nd, 29th and 30th.

It’s a cool idea, and worth seeing. Superfund have a way of being abstract until you get up close and personal to them. Just don’t watch the video while eating lunch.

Sep 012012

An article on technology to consider over the long weekend ahead – okay, yes the beach, the mountains, etc. are much better than reading online on the last days of summer but some have had their activities curtailed from the endless rain brought by Isacc or the sightings of all-too-many sharks along the New England coast.

You would think this question about technology is not one we need to ask in the middle of a seemingly endless technological revolution, but there are many factors holding us back. The article from Tech Radar, “10 Worst Enemies of Tech: Who’s Holding Us Back?”  is well worth reading. I’ll simply list the ten points here:Obstacles

  1. Copyright industries
  2. For-profit pirates
  3. Patent trolls
  4. Network operators
  5. Cheapskates
  6. Facebook
  7. Politicians
  8. Spammers
  9. Toothless regulators
  10. Us
I wouldn’t do the exact same list, but definitely copyright issues, patent trolls, network operators (phone companies and the like) and politicians would be high on my list. Some of the things here just come with the territory – in an open, distributed network with no central authority or regulation, there will be problems like spam. But I don’t see them as insurmountable. But copyright (and some others here) have the potential to do us in.
The one item glaringly missed here that would be in my list? The compulsive need (and the technology solutions fueling it) for surveillance by organizations and governments. Just ask anyone in the global community who has faced police interrogation (or worse) for a Skype call or Facebook post. Take a look at the recent news on FinSpy, espionage software that is already being used in over a dozen countries and probably more. How did this first surface? From Egyptian protesters who raided the state security building in March 2011 and discovered offers by the Egyptian government to purchase it. The Sidney Morning Herald relays the account of other researchers now tracking the spread of FinSpy:

Morgan Marquis-Boire works as a Google engineer and Bill Marczak is earning a PhD in computer science. But this US summer, the two men have been moonlighting as detectives, chasing an elusive surveillance tool from Bahrain across five continents. What they found was the widespread use of sophisticated, off-the-shelf computer espionage software by governments with questionable records on human rights. While the software is supposedly sold for use only in criminal investigations, the two came across evidence that it was being used to target political dissidents. The software proved to be the stuff of a spy film: it can grab images of computer screens, record Skype chats, turn on cameras and microphones and log keystrokes. The two men said they discovered mobile versions of the spyware customised for all major mobile phones.

Scary stuff. I’m not paranoid, just realistic. Power corrupts and with near impossible to detect spyware tools like this increasingly available, they will be appropriated by those in power to maintain power. That needs to be high on any list of what’s holding us back in technology. The Internet is a powerful enabler of freedom; but in some ways it is the best tracking device ever invented.

FinSpy is part of the FinFisher surveillance software suite

FinFisher and FinSpy Surveillance Software

More on this later. For now, enjoy the last moments of summer and the long Labor Day weekend if you’re in the States. More posts this weekend from somewhere off the Connecticut coastline.


Aug 192012

itypewriter for iPadIf you are a fan of retro devices then this is a must-have. Industrial designer Austin Yang has created an iPad-typewriter hybrid that brings back the feel and sound of an old Remington keyboard clacking away as you use your iPad. Of course, you’re not exactly browsing the Web with this, and probably not getting as much typing done as you would with an iPad holder that has a built-in keyboard or an external bluetooth device. Lang has done another experimental prototype, the iTurntable, that takes a similar approach to playing music from an iPod.

But this does have a certain charm and sooner or later, I swear it will show in a cafe in a techie neighborhood on the East or West coast. If not, it would make a real conversation piece in someone’s loft.

Of course, the typewriter has just about disappeared from our consciousness (except for a few hold-outs) but it still has a negative connotation. One wonders as it recedes into history if there will eventually be gatherings of people to “type” for an afternoon on mechanical devices. There are active groups that restore antique cars, spend thousands of hours working on railroad steam engines, that maintain and fly old planes. Perhaps once we no longer type at all – even by tapping on our screens – it will become an object of curiosity and affection much like a 19th century train.

(original story on Mashable)

Aug 162012

This could be a watershed year for television, the year when people began spending more time on their mobile phones instead of TV. From Business Insider:

Could this be the moment that television officially lost its spot as America’s favorite medium? A survey by InMobi, a mobile ad company, of 1,055 people asked how much time they spend interacting with all forms of media.

Users responded that they watched TV for 141 minutes a day. But they spent 144 minutes a day—26% of the nine hours they used various media—with their phones.

And of course, there’s an infographic with the details. Perhaps most interesting in terms of user habits is that apparently mobile advertising does not bother us nearly as much as traditional advertising on TV.  You have to wonder if that’s just due to the newness of the device (we’re still very much in an adoptive phrase with mobile phones) or if it’s due to the way advertising is displayed on TV, generally monopolizing the entire screen in contrast to its subservient position on our phones.

On the other hand, television advertising has hardly caved in under the onslaught of iPhones and Androids. According to ATKearney, it actually grew 3% from 2006 to 2010. Corporations like taking over the screen but if mobile use continues its staggering growth that may change in the next few years.

But to the infographic:

People spend more time on their mobile phones instead of TV

Aug 162012

Facebook is hitting the skids again and according to CNNMoney, its life as a public company has been a nightmare. As with most public IPOs, Facebook’s initial stock offering included a “lockup” agreement which requires early investors to hold their shares for a set period. That prevents the initial market from having shares dumped, driving down the price. But one of the lock-up periods ended Thursday and whether or not investors sell, it has made others skittish that they might. Some 271 million additional shares can now be sold, though many early stakeholders (for example, Microsoft) will probably hold their shares.

Facebook Stock Chart - Year-to-Date

Facebook Stock Chart – Year-to-Date (Fox Business News)

But this is only the first of many rounds Facebook will have to endure in this:

The big Facebook stock dump could come in mid-November. That’s when Facebook will convert the special form of restricted stock units, or RSUs, held by most of its staff into actual shares of its stock. 

Obviously, employees may have a much larger incentive to sell – prompted by a “let me take my investment while I can” attitude. All total, some 1.8 billion shares will be potentially released over the next nine months – today’s action boosted the available shares on the market by 60%, but it’s only 14% of what will become available in the future. Of course, the lower a stock goes, the more attractive it becomes – Netflix CEO Reed Hastings just bought a million shares of Facebook but he is a member of the board. I doubt many others will follow up on his move.

There’s enough talk on the Web that this means the “end” of the social network bubble. Everyone in the arena is trying to figure out ways to bring in revenue especially on mobile platforms and a few such as Zillio and LinkedIn have done well. While it may not be something like the dot.com bust back in 2000, investor expectations clearly got ahead of themselves. From the Huffington Post (July 27th):

With a few exceptions, the first wave of social media firms to trade on the public markets has delivered a disastrous performance that conjures memories of the dot-com bust of 2000.

“Farmville” publisher Zynga, which went public in December at a valuation of $7 billion, is trading around $3.15 a share, more than 68 percent off its $10 IPO price.

Daily deals site Groupon, touted as the firm that could reinvent local commerce, has fallen from its $20 IPO price to about $7.15 in nearly nine months. Music service Pandora Media has dropped from $16 at its June 2011 IPO to around $10 on Friday.

For now, let’s just leave it where Bloomberg News does: Facebook goes down as the worst large IPO on record. Zuckerberg, time to do some more of those serious all-night marathon coding sessions.

Aug 152012

20120815-215544.jpgTrying out the new updated WordPress mobile App. Since I’m on the road a lot, this would be helpful. Definitely an improvement from the previous version, but I still fell like additional features are needed to have mobile blogging fully come into its own.

Benefits: new sidebar for navigating through a site, and landscape mode is enabled. And perhaps most important, it feels much more robust. The previous version was very sluggish. Downsides: image handling is still relatively primitive only allowing you to place images “above content” or “below content”. And while it’s easier to do tags and categories for a post, it doesn’t seem to have an option for meta descriptions.

I’m a little surprised that blogging has not moved more into mobile – perhaps the iPad will finally make a difference. Twitter is great, but limited in terms of post length; perhaps App.net with its 256 character limit will help resolve that.

Aug 142012

App.net and TwitterApp.net, the new social network under development with a very successful Kickstarter campaign has my support (and money). I agree with Dalton Caldwell’s criticism of Twitter that it reached a fork in the road and opted for the Google model of commercial support. The end result is that the social network has become more commercially oriented instead of focusing on the needs of users. As Forbes noted, Twitter’s recent tightening of its API’s only confuses users, but developers are livid. I still love Twitter and use it on a daily basis, but the ads make it frustrating and it’s clearly not moving in the right direction.

So enter Caldwell with a proposal for a user-funded social network without advertising and providing developers with easy access to its API’s. An admission fee of $50 will get you a social network without advertising and open to creative minds not thinking about how to monetize user activity. Does it become a walled garden? Perhaps. Can it succeed in an environment where people expect “free” services even though their personal data and activity is being used as the basis for corporate revenue? I’m not sure. But it’s worth the experiment and what one has to see as an important development in terms of social networking platforms. I’m happy to be part of it.

Here’s Caldwell’s take on what happened to Twitter at daltoncaldwell.com:

I remember when you could go to Twitter.com and see the global firehose on the front page. They had no traffic. The global feed was mostly employees and their friends talking to each other.

When Twitter started to get traction, a year or two into their existence, I decided that Twitter was the Best Thing Ever. I realized that Twitter, because of their API, actually was a real-time protocol to connect various services in a novel way. I had debates with my other tech-nerd friends about whether Twitter could be one of the fundamental building blocks of the Internet via their powerful API. When reporters or investors asked me what I thought the most exciting company in the valley was, I would invariably answer “Twitter”.

As I understand, a hugely divisive internal debate occurred among Twitter employees around this time. One camp wanted to build the entire business around their realtime API. In this scenario, Twitter would have turned into something like a realtime cloud API company. The other camp looked at Google’s advertising model for inspiration, and decided that building their own version of AdWords would be the right way to go.

As you likely already know, the advertising group won that battle, and many of the open API people left the company. While I can understand why the latter camp wanted to build an ad-based business, the futurist in me thinks this was a tragic mistake. If you are building an advertising/media business, it would then follow that you need to own all of the screen real-estate that users see. The next logical step would be to kill all 3rd-party clients, and lock down the data in the global firehose in order to control the “content”.

Perhaps you think that Twitter today is a really cool and powerful company. Well, it is. But that doesn’t mean that it couldn’t have been much, much more. I believe an API-centric Twitter could have enabled an ecosystem far more powerful than what Facebook is today. Perhaps you think that the API-centric model would have never worked, and that if the ad guys wouldn’t have won, Twitter would not be alive today. Maybe. But is the service we think of as Twitter today really the Twitter from a few years ago living up to its full potential? Did all of the man-hours of brilliant engineers, product people and designers, and hundreds of millions of VC dollars really turn into, well, this?

Nowadays, every time I get a K-Mart ad in my feed, or see wonky behavior in the official clients, or see Twitter drop another bomb on their developer ecosystem, I think back and wish the pro-API guys won that internal battle. 

I’m not sure how open App.net can be – after all, the Internet is built on standards, protocols which Internet servers must recognize. In some ways, App.net will still need a central, coherent infrastructure, but perhaps it can do that on the model of WordPress. At the end of the day, it’s not just a Wikipedia page – and even the latter functions only with editors and standards – but a platform that links to other networks.

I’m hopeful . . . and eager to see where it goes.

Aug 132012
Self portrait of NASA's Curiosity rover, released by NASA

Self portrait of NASA’s Curiosity rover, released by NASA. REUTERS/NASA/JPL/Handout

The landing of Curiosity on Mars is a stunning achievement, but here’s an interesting side note about the technology aspect and what it says about the speed of innovation – it’s incredibly out of date. It was built years ago and the pace of innovation has continued unabated and perhaps accelerated, resulting in a processor that is less powerful than what you have in an iPhone.  The processor in the iPhone? Ten times faster than what is powering Curiosity. According to the LA Times:

NASA said the rover is going through a four-day “brain transplant.” During this time, engineers are  updating Curiosity’s software, currently primed for its flight stage, to prepare it for its operations on the surface of Mars. The update will add two crucial functions — the ability to use the geochemistry lab’s sampling system, and to drive.

The update had to wait until after the rover landed because its processor, built years ago to withstand the harsh environment of interplanetary space, is limited compared with today’s consumer technology, said senior software engineer Ben Cichy. 

My phone has a processor that is 10 times as fast as the processor that’s on Curiosity and has 16 times as much storage as Curiosity has,” Cichy said. “And my phone doesn’t have to land anything on Mars. 

So now it’s in the midst of a digital transplant, dumping the landing software and replacing it with control software for driving around on Mars. Perhaps someday processors will rebuild themselves, but for now, a project like this ends up vastly out of date with what we carry around in our pockets.

Aug 132012

Now this is a Webcam! Technology brings us closer together and while we may be glued to our monitors, smart phones and tablets, it sometimes seems that the natural world is left out of the picture. But technology can bring nature back into our lives, with scenes that we might never see in person, as with this live Webcam of brown bears in Alaska feeding in Katmai National Park. This may not be a substitute for a walk in the woods or a hike through a wilderness area, but it can add deeply to our appreciation of the natural world and justify setting aside areas for other species – even if we have to keep our distance from them.

This is remarkable as the video quality is excellent, especially given the remote location some 275 miles southwest of Anchorage. Not many people get to Katmai each year (about 10,000) but it is home to over 2,000 bears. A system of four Webcams required both funding and the resolution of technical challenges. According to the Huffington Post:

The cameras are powered by solar and wind energy. Microwave signals are sent to the Dumpling Mountain camera, which are then sent to King Salmon, Alaska, where a T1 connection allows for the high-definition cameras to be broadcast to the Internet.

The funding for the Webcams and the T1 is from explore.org, founded by Charles Annenberg, vice president of the Annenberg Foundation. The organization’s Pearls of the Planet initiative has done other Webcams, including polar bears in Scandinavia, California redwood trees and belugas and jelly fish at the Vancouver Aquarium.

Okay, I concede that brown bears trying to catch salmon may get a little boring as the fish aren’t always there – after all, this is fishing and no salmon is volunteering itself for dinner. But sooner or later you’ll see one clawed out of mid-air and then watch – yikes! – as it gets stripped of it’s skin and tail. The above video was just a highlight and the actual live feed from the Webcam is at http://explore.org/#!/live-cams/player/brown-bear-salmon-cam-brooks-falls

This is the natural world. And it is compelling.

Aug 092012

I’m fascinated by NASA’s successful landing of the rover Curiosity on Mars the other evening. Photographs are starting to come in (they just raised the main cameras yesterday) and once they get through the post-landing checklist, we’ll have a steady stream of remarkable images of the red planet. I eager to see them – having spent part of my youth in the rural West, you row up knowing the night sky and learn to identify the visible planets long before you get to a science class. Mars was a reliable friend, the easy planet to find in a field where many were vying for attention, and the one that figured so large in science fiction. Good grief, as kids we always speculated about the possibility of Martians; but lifeforms on Saturn just didn’t make sense.

But I’m also fascinated by the Web and technology and the way it gives expression to a creative impulse in us. Human beings are inherently creative so give them a canvas and they will use. With the Web, the canvas is not so often blank but filled with content that gets reused, repurposed in another context. So with the first photos from Curiosity, another Internet meme is born as the photos become the “canvas” upon which to make a statment. The term “meme” (widely mispronounced, by the way) refers to a concept from Richard Dawkins in his 1976 book, The Selfish Gene. In the second edition in  1989, he explained:

We need a name for the new replicator, a noun that conveys the idea of a unit of cultural transmission, or a unit of imitation. ‘Mimeme’ comes from a suitable Greek root, but I want a monosyllable that sounds a bit like ‘gene’. I hope my classicist friends will forgive me if I abbreviate mimeme to meme. If it is any consolation, it could alternatively be thought of as being related to ‘memory’, or to the French word même. It should be pronounced to rhyme with ‘cream’. 

These days the Web is full of memes, especially visual ones, and the photos from Curiosity will be fair-game. So far, most of them are fairly simple, but a few are worth a laugh; you can see a small collection over at dntechno.com. But the striking one is below – a nice statement about disrupting a truly pristine (if harsh) environment. Just wait until the mining equipment arrives in another decade or so.

Mars Photo Meme

Mars Photo Meme (via Facebook, http://aka.ms/redditcuriosity)


Aug 082012
Craigslists Versus Newspaper Classified Revenue

Craigslists Versus Newspaper Classified Revenue

Whats happening to Craigslist? It seems to be a given in the cycle of technology innovation – a once-loved, disruptive project suddenly loses its way and becomes protective instead of innovative. Craigslist, which brought classified advertising in traditional news media to its knees, that understood the value of a fanatical focus on customer service (the founder Craig Newmark official title is still “Customer Service Representative & Founder”), is progressively throwing up walls around its little corner of the Web.

As this point Craigslist seems dated, somewhat like the Drudge Report, with text-heavy pages that simply list ads. But it’s been so easy to use that despite problems ranging from porn to marketing scams (especially over apartments rentals in places like NYC), it hasn’t been begging for traffic. But as new and better organized sites appear, Craigslist hasn’t been thinking about a redesign and offering new features. Instead, it’s focused on preventing others from searching its data.  That suggests it’s losing its way and if it continues, it may be relegated to the technology dust-bin in a few years. Here’s the details from Gigaom:

Craigslist, the once-loved classified site, is continuing its ill-tempered rampage against would-be competitors that offer cleaner designs and better user experiences.

Last month, it sued popular site PadMapper for using information from Craigslist to plot apartments on a map. Weeks later, Craigslist changed its terms of service to say that users gave it the right to use their ads for copyright lawsuits (See: Craigslist’s Big Bluff).

As noted by The Verge, the company has now followed up these acts of churlishness by telling search engines like Google and Bing to stop indexing Craigslist results. This effectively turns the taps off the data taps for sites like PadMapper and, at the same time, makes Craigslist’s own listings harder to find.

It’s hard to see who wins in this scenario. Internet users will be deprived of user-friendly sites as Craigslist tries to draw them back into its tortuous 1990′s time warp. And while Craigslist might reclaim some traffic in the short term, it’s likely to alienate users and developers who are increasingly regarding it as an unattractive bully. 

Aug 082012

Think about it – as the future becomes the present our devices have gotten smaller and smaller. We already have flexible screens (both E Ink and OLEDs) though we’re not quite sure what to do with them. Smart phones and iPads are increasingly giving us options that were originally found only on desktops and laptops. But in the end, smaller devices are going to have to be flexible devices and the fundamental challenge here is the power-source – batteries are not bendable. But as Mashable notes:

Professor Keon Jae Lee of the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology and his team just made that happen, PhysOrg reports. Lee was able to create a lithium-ion battery that’s razor-thin and — this is key — retains its voltage even while being bent. You can see in the video above the battery powering a blue LED, which never flickers when the battery is twisted again and again. It’s later tested with a voltmeter while bending, and the voltage hardly changes at all.

Lee is now looking into mass-production techniques and the possibility of stacking the batteries for greater power output. There are also the bigger questions about the practicability and durability of flexible gadgets, but it’s good to know the main technical roadblocks are solvable. 

It will be an entirely new world – at least from a technology standpoint – when you can fold your gadgets up and stuff them in your pocket or bag. Professor Lee just took us a big step in that direction. Think about it – an iPad that is similar to smart cover for one that you now buy as an accessory. Unroll it and use it as a table (with some easy way of keeping it stiff); when you’re done, roll it up and stuff it in your bag or pocket.

What now seems so portable to us will be laughable for a future generation.