Blogs

GPS that stuffs coordinates into digital photos

When you take pictures on the road, you would love to have the latitude and longitude coordinates of each picture stored with it. Indeed, if combined with a digital compass clever software could even tell you what landmark was in the photograph. (ie. if standing on rim of Grand Canyon looking north, it's probably a picture of the canyon.)

To attain this, some digital cameras allow you to plug a GPS into the camera, which is unwieldy to say the least. There's been talk of a bluetooth connection which is better but uses power. On a recent trip Kathryn suggested that the log from the GPS could later be matched up with the timestamps of the photos, which is a great idea -- and a web search reveals a few software packages out there do indeed do this. (And thus also allow photo organizing by geographic location, map-based browsing of photos and other such useful features.)

For the user not wanting to hook up all the devices and use software, I came up with a possible interesting design. Place a memory card slot in the GPS, or allow it to plug in USB or other memory card interfaces. The GPS could then look over the photos on an inserted memory card, read their timestamps, and use its own onboard history of where the GPS was at those exact times, and write coordinates into the files on the flash card. If it can write them on the end of the file that's easiest, if it has to rewrite each entire file that would be a bit slower.

Most digital cameras also have their own USB interface, so the GPS could simply have a USB controller and the camera could be plugged into the GPS after shooting to update the photo files with their location stamps. Most, though perhaps not all digital cameras can act like a USB drive in addition to doing camera control. Of course a standard protocol for updating locations would make this easier, but the main idea allows work with existing digital cameras. (Though they all have their own custom USB plugs and provide their own cable.)

As noted, this can give you great photo organizing. You can see your photos as thumbnails or pushpins in a map. You could link photos to google maps or satellite imagrery of the area. Directories on disk could be created by placename, or even without names photos could be grouped by each major shooting area, instead of just one new directory per 100 photos.

The cameras will eventually get smart enough to be the smart device, but for now the GPS can easily be it. Older GPSs don't have very large track log memories, but today memory is cheap and that's not as much of an issue.

Busker Chips for passing the hat

I recently visited the Oregon Country Fair, which among many other things has entertainment acts which pass the hat to earn their living. (OCF only costs about $13 to attend, not enough to pay much if anything to acts.) This is a pretty common setup.

And perhaps this has been done where I haven't seen it, but I was wondering about a solution to what one busker called the "magic disappearing audience trick." Most people don't put into the hat. So along the lines of my microrefunds concept, where I suggest a solution may be to push people into making one decision, instead of many, over whether they will pay for things that don't have compulsory payment, I propose a system for busker fairs.

The plan would be for the Fair to raise their price and provide each fairgoer with "busker chips" to put in the hats of buskers. Once paid for, the chips would, at least officially, be good only for that. The Fair would also probably keep a small fraction of the money, ie. pay each busker 90 cents for each $1 busker chip turned in. People could of course also toss regular money into the hats.

These chips, aside from providing more revenue for the entertainment, would allow the fair to know what acts were the most popular, and thus who to bring back and who to leave out.

There are some other issues to discuss below. Such as the probable black market in the chips, and what price to charge for them...  read more »

Voices to the Playa -- Voice mails left for Burning Man folks

Last year at Burning Man, I built a free phone booth out on the desert. Using VoIP, 802.11, batteries and a satellite uplink, it sat there on the playa floor and let you make free calls anywhere in the world. I blogged about that story, but there was an untold part of the story.

The phone had a number that outsiders could call, and they did, and sometimes people there answered. If not they left voice mail. The voice mail told them to describe the target of their message and offer a bribe to the listener to deliver it. Alas, due to technical problems, we never really got an active system in place to deliver the voice mails, but people still left some. Recently I pulled them out and listend, and they are great fun, especially if you know Burning Man.

Within the mails are calls of love from moms, little kids, dads, lovers and friends. There’s a joke (I hope) firing from a boss and a proposal of marriage. There’s a hurricane warning and many descriptions that could never have found their target in our giant city (“She’s a blonde camped along 4:30 I think.”) Also fun are the offered bribes to deliver the messages.

Since everybody knew they were leaving a message for any random stranger to hear, I think it’s fine to have them on the web.

I don’t think you have to be an ember to enjoy these. Just imagine the context of an entire city of 40,000 people with one phone, one voice mail, and people trying to get messages in.

They can be heard at this page of Burning man voice mails. You can either read the short summaries to pick the best voicemails, or like me, just listen to them raw from the combined file or ZIP archive.

Google maps pointers for all the World Heritage Sites

Everybody is having a great time these days with the new and increasing satellite imagery found at Google Maps, finding their own houses and world landmarks.

I found a database built by a Keyhole user describing all the coordinates of the 788 Unesco World Heritage Sites. With a bit of perl magic I turned the Keyhole format into a series of web pages with links to Google satellite imagery.

Some of these landmarks are very cool from above, some are totally boring. Some are in the high-res, many however (especially outside the USA and Canada) are in lower resolution so you can’t see as much. There are links to the Unesco web site for more information on the sites in any event.

You can start with the master page of Google Maps for World Heritage Sites and click to any particular country to see the sites and the links. For example you can click on the USA World Heritage page, and there you will find the link to the satellite image of the Statue of Liberty — where you should then zoom in to see the statue up close. The Mammoth Cave system is not so remarkable from the air. :-)

On pages with low res, you can usually zoom in once or twice, on hi-res pages, you can go in several times to see lots of detail. I fear you can waste a passle of time seeing many of these sites.

Thanks to Aladdin of the Keyhole message board for tabulating the data in Keyhole format.

Just as a side note — right now I am out visiting some real World Heritage Sites (3 in one week) and not correcting my own list in real time.

Long persistence phosphors to make super-high resolution still photo displays

Right now the push in displays is all for computer and TV displays, with fast response time, and ideally in a flat form-factor. But these are expensive, really expensive if you want more than 2 megapixels.

What if we bring back an old technology — long persistence phosphors — and use them to make displays intended for still images, such as photography and art, at high resolution. They are cheap and bright. And if you don’t need to do 60 frames/second, you can also get away with cheap electronics are more resolution per persisting frame.

It would be easy to start with black and white. B&W displays require just a screen of phosphor and a way to excite it. The resolution can be extremely high. Colour requires a shadow mask style technology, or projection such as CRT projection. A portal in the wall for say 10 to 20 megapixel B&W photographs and art might be a desireable product for the home. But there’s hardly any limit for B&W.

There is a limit for CRTs, it get expensive to make a tube that big. New technologies are allowing the electron gun to not be far at the back so it need not be as deep as it is wide, but these are also heavy and fragile. CRT projection (mounted in the roof) might be a good answer.

There are however lots of ultraviolet phosphors which could be triggered by a UV laser or other such source, for rooftop projection or rear projection. If the persistence is long enough so you only have to do a few frames per second you can get in lots of resolution I would think. What would you pay for a 30 megapixel portal in your wall, one as sharp as a window (but not moving and only in 2D of course) showing scenes of the world, and great photography and art?

Hunting a way to make private expropriation more fair

Well, the Supreme Court ruled today that expropriation for private development can still be legal if the town council seems to think there’s a public benefit. It’s a terrible decision, with strange logic, and strange votes from the judges, but you will probably read many other articles about that today. What I want to figure is, given this ruling, what can we do to make it better?

What we will see happening is a land developer coming to the city with a plan to demolish a redevelop a block in a way that they claim will be good for the city — perhaps bringing in tourists, jobs, business, whatever. Of course the deal is very good for the land developer, or they would not be drafting it.

I suggest we make it less sweet for the developer in such cases and give some of that sweetness to the expropriation victims. Today they get a “fair market value” for their property (that part of the 5th amendment wasn’t shredded) but I say, if the expropriation is for private use, let’s give them more.

First, start by paying them this fair market value at the date of expropriation, as we do now.

Then, after the deal is complete (with some time limits and other good constraints) we want to determine just how much “value” came from aggregating the properties. Right now this value goes to the developer. We’re going to give most or all of it to the expropriated folks. So we come up with a value for the amalgamated property. (More below on how to do that.) This pre-opening profit would go, all or most of it, to the landowners. The developer keeps any further appreciation of the property as they operate it — they need an upside too, of course.

More ideas follow…  read more »

Panoramic tree inventory

First I would like to thank Brad for setting up my account so I can post my ideas here.

I own 80 acres of woodlands in Southern Oregon. I would love to be able to inventory every tree on it. Arial photos the county has of my property are not quite detailed enough, and they show the crown of the tree but not the size of the trunk. Seedlings are completely hidden.

Using a video camera I could do video panoramas at various spots on the property. To obtain depth would require either dual video cameras for parallax or a laser mounted a foot or so off of the side of the video camera. Dual video cameras would be out of phase with each other, and that would need to be accounted for in creating the depth information. Would a level's laser be powerful enough to see at 100' off of bark? If it were then the position of the laser spot on the video image would be an indication of the depth of the object.

Or maybe mount the camera on a sliding track. Leave the tripod in the same place, but the first pass has the camera in the center of tripod rotation, the second pass moves it a foot away from that center. Having a marker, like a stick with a reflector on it, at a fixed distance from the tripod (using a string) would help with calibrating and converging the images. Also by mounting the camera sideways I could get a little bit more vertical information since that would make the picture higher than it is wide.

I would print out a map beforehand and mark the spots roughly where I captured the panorama. I might even leave a stake in the ground for next year's inventory. My GPS doesn't work well under dense canopy, so I wouldn't rely on having it for this project. It might make it easier to process if I had a directional indicator, like always starting the panorama from magnetic north according to a compass. Leaving a colored stake in the ground and being sure to capture it on my next panorama would help align the panoramas as well.

From there a map should be able to be constructed. Each panorama would be turned into a disc on the map, with depth information showing how far the tree is from the center of the disc. Ideally the discs would overlap enough to have redundant information for some trees and the stakes, which would help align the rest of the trees on the map. The map should be able to show the trees and also areas of the property with "unknown" information, from which I could figure out what other spots would be good to take more panoramas from.

The panoramas themselves would be useful to see how the forest is changing over time. They could possibly be aligned and shown one above the other. In the ten years I've been here seedlings have grown taller than myself. I've thinned some areas, removing dense areas of small trees to allow just a few of the biggest trees to thrive, on the theory they will be getting more nutrients that the other seedlings are no longer "stealing."

This would also be a useful tool for monitoring timber sales to see the before & after of a harvest. There are many different ways to sustainably manage a forest. I would have a much better mental picture of the effects of various practices if I could really see the before and after of the work I do, in six or 12 month intervals. Forestry inventories are typically done by sampling a fixed area, counting stems and measuring their diameter at breast height. A tool like this could automate the capture of that kind of data, and help people get a good picture of what is going on in the forest.

Network storage on the cheap for the home

Corporate servers have used network storage, ranging from fileservers, to SAN for several years. Now, with USB IDE external drive cases selling for as little as $20, people are using external drives on their PC, and get pretty good response with 400 mbit USB 2 or with 1394/firewire. You can get most of the capacity of a 7200 rpm drive over USB 2.

So I want to call for the production of a cheap home external storage box. This box would have slots for 4 or 5 drives and cooling for them, ideally as big a fan as possible to keep the rpms and noise low in the desk model, and an even more powerful fan in the basement model. The desk model might have sound insulation though that’s hard to combine with good cooling.

While this box could and probably should have USB or 1394, even better would be gigabit ethernet, which is fast enough for most people’s storage needs, especially if there is a dedicated gigabit ethernet card in the PC just for talking to the storage.

This could allow for a radical redesign of PC cases of all types, with no need for the space and heat of drives. And of course these diskless PCs would be much quieter. You could put your disk cube under your desk (and thus have it be a bit quieter) but ideally you would like the basement model, to which you string cat5e cable and get a mostly silent PC.

read on…  read more »

Peacock's Dating Service

In much of the animal kingdom, mating involves the males putting on a display, and the females choosing the male they like, and the male pretty much always going off with the female who chooses him, certainly for a short interlude but also for a child-raising length of time.

In our closest relatives, the chimp and bonobo, there is extreme female promiscuity, with various theories as to why. In chimps, there is an alpha male but females will mate secretly with lessers. Bonobos do it with any other bonobo, any time, any place.

Humans have developed a system where more often the female worries most about display, though males certainly also do it. In most cultures, the male then selects the female he finds most attractive. The female then also decides if she wants that male or will wait for a better one.

The most dramatic example of the common animal mode is the peacock, who is all about display, and chosen by the rather plain peahen. The peacock is sexually selected for so much display his tail is actually a survival disadvantage.

So I am curious as to what would happen if an online dating service were built on the peafowl model. Which is to say only men would put up ads (display), possibly for free, and women would browse and contact the men they like (possibly having to pay to do so.) They could also include a reputation system for women to rate the men after dropping them, which some dating services are already playing with.

My question is, would this be a spectacular failure, or a surprising success, or just midling? It is common in dating systems to have the women pay less or nothing, and have the men bear the price. This is partly due to social norms and expectation about financial ability based in tradition. And in business, you do want to go where the money is. Men are also less protective of their identity in online dating, so they would just put their real contact info in the free part of their profile, not wanting the woman's non-payment to be a barrier.  read more »

Peerflix falls down

I’ve written a few times about Peerflix the P2P DVD trading system similar to some of my own ideas. After trying it for a few months, I have to report trouble.

As I feared, as a DVD drops in popularity, it means somebody will be stuck with it. I feel it should be the original contributor but in Peerflix, it’s whoever happens to have traded for it most recently. Back in April, I got in 4 DVD trades for high quality movies 1-2 years in age. In particular for Momento, Mystic River, School of Rock and A Mighty Wind. I have been slow to getting to watch these, so I’ve gotten to see just how many chances there have been to return them.

In 2 months, we’ve seen just a couple of requests for Momento and Mystic River. In all those cases, if I didn’t respond to the request within a short time, a few hours at most, somebody else would send off their copy of the disk and I would remain stuck with it. Of course since I have not yet watched Mystic River, I may have just not been motivated enough to say yes. Today I got my first request to send off A Mighty Wind and did not agree in time. I have not ever gotten a chance to send off School of Rock.

Now for “new releases” this is not the case. The DVDs I contributed that were recent and in high demand did get requested quite quickly. But the lesson quickly learned is that if you want to watch a slightly older DVD, you truly are buying it rather than borrowing it. If rapid watching is your goal, trading off a recent DVD for an older one will leave you in the lurch.

Now it’s true that at video stores, they say that only new releases really draw the volume, so this perhaps is no surprise. But it’s also not a very workable system. I was debating recommending my family in Canada join up, but with the smaller membership group there, I fear it could be even worse. The cheaper plans from Netflix or other competitors make more sense.

Update: I don’t watch DVDs very often due to my MythTV always having good HD shows in it (once you have HD it’s hard to go back to regular TV or even DVD) so I’ve seen frightening patterns. Peerflix put out a recommendation for Memento on their blog, so I now get requests for it moderately often. However, in the past 8 months, I have barely seen any requests for Mystic River, School of Rock or A Mighty Wind, all top-rated films if a few years old. And none of the couple of requests I have seen for these films have come when I was around — and I’ve only been away perhaps 15% of the time at most.

Update2: School of Rock was finally requested in December, I got the Pianist in exchange. Probably another long-term camper.

Yes, the movie (by Sally Potter) gets a blogger's advance screening

Sunday, I was invited, along with a crowd of other local friends and bloggers, to a preview screening of the new art film “Yes” by Sally Potter. I’ll review Yes, but what was interesting was the idea of Sony Pictures doing free screenings of movies for the “blogger” demographic. As I noted earlier, I’m also in this group called the “Silicon Valley 100” where they send us free stuff in the hopes we’ll generate buzz and useful feedback. (The last few products they sent have not been exciting enough to inspire me to write about them, though.)

It makes some sense. Advance screenings to create buzz have been around for a while, and now that you can have an audience of writers whose influence goes beyond their circle of friends, they are a good target to place. Though I also went in part because it was a social event, seeing a movie with a group of folks including friends. It was arranged by Mark Pincus, who loved the movie when he saw it at Telluride and suggested the screening to Sony. Equally important was going out to a bar after the movie.

As for “Yes”, I did find it quite good. It was, however the most “arthouse” style movie I have seen in years, so I doubt it will get great commercial success. Yes is done in verse, a la Shakespeare, but with modern phrasing and perhaps a touch too much rhyme. Though the Bard never had a Scottish dishwasher apply metre as he repeated the word “motherfucker.” But it’s also a good story, with good performances and good music. It has Bergmanesque stylings, and includes a lot of “inner thoughts” voice overs, which normally turns me right off, but at least in a few places, the voice-overs work. Notably when a dying woman gets to tell her story through her thoughts even though she can’t speak them.

Of course, they have picked a terrible title for a movie if they want people to be able to find writing about it on the web. (Drupal doesn’t have explicit tagging yet, and Mark went so far as to push people to use the pre-chosen tag “yes movie” if they wrote about the film.) However, the title makes artistic sense for the film so I can’t fault it for that.

Interviewed about USENET on public radio "Marketplace"

I am told an interview I did a few months ago on USENET and elements of its history will air today on the American Public Media show “Marketplace.” The audio can be played from the Marketplace web site in realplayer format. It airs on most NPR stations at times ranging from early afternoon to about 6:30pm.

I did my interview mostly on history, but the story ended up mostly being about Google with just a few quotes from me (with other quotes from friends of mine like Marissa Meyer and Lauren Weinstein, who got to play the privacy advocate though it’s normally my job.)

When I did this interview, I did it by phone but put on a headset mic and recorded my audio locally. Then I uploaded an MP3 of my end to Marketplace. I also did this with an All Things Considered interview in 2003. Worked out pretty well.

If you’re curious about what the original interview (about USENET) sounded like before being turned into quotes for a Google story, you can hear my side (but not the questions, but you don’t need them) by downloading it from this 5 megabyte Speex File. You will need a Speex decoder (it is a free codec meant just for good quality speech, you’re getting 5 minutes of audio per megabyte!) If you can’t do Speex, try the 15MB mp3

Sell or rent me a prepaid SIM card at the airport

So if you travel to different countries, you know that cellular roaming can be a pain, even with a GSM world phone, because they ding you for very high roaming charges.

So here’s a service I want. A kiosk in the airport to sell, or ideally rent me a GSM SIM card for a prepaid account, right in the airport. The kiosk would also sell me unlocking service for my phone, and of course prepaid cards. (By renting the SIM card, I mean it would sell it, and then buy it back at a reduced price on the way back out.)

Update Note: I’ve created a Special Forum to share information on the best SIM card sources in different countries. Search there for info on each country or enter your own findngs. …  read more »

ICANN Announces ".polinc" TLD for politically incorrect and dangerous-opinion sites

ICANN is pleased to announce that the independent evaluation process, which began last year, has resulted in a further sponsored Top Level Domain (sTLD) application moving to the next stage.

As the process for selecting new sponsored Top Level Domain (sTLDs) continues from a pool of ten applications, ICANN has now entered into commercial and technical negotiations with an additional candidate registry, ICM Registry, Inc, (.POLINC).

The .POLINC top level domain will be a voluntary arena for sites that wish to express ideas that are politically incorrect or inflammatory. Sites that promote ideas including racism, homosexual advocacy, embryonic stem cell harvesting, creationism, evolutionism, opposition to the war in Iraq, defence of the liberation of Iraq and other topics that are inflammatory can voluntarily register in the .POLINC domain to make it clear what sort of material can be found on the site.

“We’re not trying to suprise anybody with the fact that our sites have unpopular an inflammatory opinions on them,” said Brad Templeton, Chairman of the www.eff.org web site notorious for its opposition to the surveillance tools the Justice Dept. says are needed for the War on Domestic Terror. Templeton also operates the www.netfunny.com site, which contains jokes, some of which lampoon stereotypes of all manners. “By giving us our own domain, people will know exactly what they are getting. Our views are for adults. We’re not trying to push them on kids.”

Operators of .POLINC domains believe that by using this domain, they will have an answer to any user who complains about finding their material on the internet, in particular parents who don’t want their children exposed to highly radical views. Internet filtering software, commonly sold to parents, schools and libraries, will be able to easily and reliably block access to .POLINC sites by children and library patrons.

 read more »

ICANN moves towards .XXX (+.JOBS, .TRAVEL) -- Even worse ideas

I have written before about what a terrible idea it is to generate top level domains that are generic, and have a meaning, because they create artificial monopolies over real words and generic terms, something even trademark law figured out was stupid centuries ago.

Now ICANN has gone one worse and annouced that a .XXX domain is underway. It is also talking about TLDs for jobs, and travel as well as .CAT, .POST and .MOBI.

The .XXX domain is a terrible idea, not just because of the monopoly it gives. It is almost certainly the first step towards putting greater liability on people who provide adult content and don’t brand it with a .XXX domain. There is justifiable fear of laws that punish adult content outside of .XXX and don’t punish it inside. But at the same time filters will take the simple step of blocking all of .XXX from companies, schools, libraries and kids “just to be safe.”

Which creates a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation for anybody who is borderline adult, not necessarily hard core porn, but viewed by some as not appropriate for children. Including possibly many of the dirty jokes on my own RHF web site.

I wish there were some way to stop this.


Addendum: While the Daily Show (best show on TV) did a great segment on how incredibly silly it was for TV shows to sit there and read out blogs aloud on TV, MSNBC has just such a segment called “Tony’s Tabs”, part of “Connected Coast to Coast with Ron Reagan and Monica Crowley”, and in my most unusual trackback ever, this posting was featured on it…

The battle between open source and DRM

I’m writing a larger essay on this topic, but I recently posted the following to Interesting People and it was requested to put it here. It relates to the theme of “light” DRM.

I used to wonder if you made a DRM system that was so well designed that only a serious pirate would notice it was there, if this might be a workable system.

But now I have come to realize that there’s one very important community which a DRM system can’t avoid harming, and that’s the open source
community, who as a largely philanthropic effort build linux, the bsds and much of the software that runs the internet and is thus used by everybody.

One of the pillars of the open source community, written into several of its most common licences, is that the end user must be able to modify the software, both for their own use and to give away to others. Of course, most end-users don’t recompile their tools, but a sizeable number do, and they provide innovations, fixes and improvements that get used by all the users.

There is a fundamental incompatability between this ability to modify and any DRM that has a software element to its enforcement. You simply can’t have them both.

That leaves DRM where all the enforcement (ie. decryption and display/presentation) takes place within physically secured devices. This is not easy to do, and even if done, it bars the open source software from any useful features that might be thought up which require access to the media — only what the hardware permits can be done.

The end result is to largely shut open source software out of the media playing arena, and thus, if you believe in the convergence of media playing devices and computing devices, out of the general purpose home computer arena.

To those who use the open source software, the trouble with this is obvious. But in fact, all must be concerned, as the open source software, aside from being one of the few competitors to forces like Microsoft, is also becoming a source of significant innovation. That old style, garage-based innovation, where a loner or small team develop something new on the cheap which changes the world. DRM systems can be architected to allow a Tivo, but they bar the “next Tivo” which is a loss to all.

So the conclusion is that, as suggested, you can’t pull off the “make everybody happy” DRM. Instead, you get DRM which mostly sits as a barrier not to pirates or users, but to the small innovators of the world, and what a tragedy that would be.

A vaccine for autoimmune disorders

When our society got rich, we started living much more sterile lives, and a whole bunch of diseases cropped up which are autoimmune disorders. These range from allergies to Chrohn’s Disease, which destroys the bowel. Many of these syndromes did not exist in the pre-sterile world. (Not all autoimmune disorders are this way, of course.)

So some parents have become aware that you need to let your kids play in the muck, and with animals, and get exposed to diseases and parasites so your immune system grows up as you grow up. Otherwise, with nothing to do, it can attack you.

But parents are protective. They are not going to deliberately expose their children to parasites. But there are treatments that have been developed for sufferers of these diseases that give them safe alternatives that their immune system can fight. For example, the spores of parisites that infect other animals, but not humans.

So we need to develop a regime of “vaccines” against autoimmune disorders. A regimen of safe infectious agents that will put the immune system through the paces it expects to go through in the natural world, but which won’t cause damage. And we need to expose children, and possibly even adults, to them through their lives.

Teaching an old blog new tricks (moving to Drupal)

I’ve switched the blog from Movable Type to drupal. Drupal is a PHP based, open source blog and community system that will allow me in the future to support all sorts of fancy things, such as discussion forums, polls, multi-user blogging and a lot of other stuff. Drupal is entirely another class of application beyond MT, though I won’t be using all of what it has at first.

For now, you will of course see a different look for the blog. Categories can be expanded from the navigation menu and you can do more things with them. You can also create a userid and password to log in. If you do this, comments appear under your name and they appear immediately without need for me to approve them. You also can configure how the site looks for you and turn on other features. I can even give users a blog in the future if you like, when the permission system improves. If you have a login at many other drupal sites you can use it here, by using the userid username@thedrupalsite. (Or use userid@ideas.4brad.com on other drupal sites.)

Let me know if there are any problems.

Dealing with a pandemic in the post-internet world

There’s a lot of talk about the coming threat of Avian H5N1 flu, how it might kill many millions, far beyond the 1918 flu and others, because of how much people travel in the modern world. Others worry about bioterrorism.

Plans are underway to deal with it, but are they truly thinking about some of the tools the modern world has that it didn’t have in 1918 which might make up for our added risks? We have the internet, and a lot of dot-coms, both living and dead, created all sorts of interesting tools for living in the world without having to leave your house.

In the event of an outbreak, we’ll have limited vaccine available, if there’s much at all. Everybody will want it, and society will have to prioritize who gets what. While some choices are obvious — medical staff and other emergency crews — there may be other ideas worth considering.

Today, a significant fraction of the population can work from home, with phone, computer and internet. The economy need not shut down just because people must avoid congregating. Plans should be made, even at companies that prefer not to allow telecommuting, to be able to switch to it in an emergency.

Schools might have to close but education need not stop. We can easily devote TV channels in each area to basic curriculum for each grade. Individual schools can modify that for students who have internet access or even just a DVD player or VCR. For example, teachers could teach their class to a camera, and computers can quickly burn DVDs for distribution. Students can watch the DVDs, pause them and phone questions to the teacher. (However, ideally most students are able to make use of the live lectures on TV, and can phone their particular teacher, or chat online, to ask questions.) Parents, stuck at home would also help their children more.

Delivery people (USPS, UPS etc.) would be high in line for vaccination to keep goods flowing to people in their homes. You can of course buy almost anything online already. Systems like Webvan, for efficient grocery ordering and delivery could be brought back up, with extra vaccinated delivery drivers making rounds of every street.

Of course not everybody has a computer, but that need not be a problem. With so many people at home, volunteers would come forward who did have broadband. They would take calls from those who do not have computers and do their computer tasks for them, making sure they got in their orders for food and other supplies. Of course all food handlers would need to be vaccinated and use more sterile procedures.  read more »

Intermittent free wifi

I recently read the story of the coffee shop that's shutting down their free wifi on weekends because it mostly gets them moochers who, far worse than simply not buying anything, sit and stare at computers and don't talk to anybody. They found that when they shut down the free network, they not only got people to buy more coffee, the place was also more social.

So while there are a variety of solutions to sell or control access to a network, such as printing tokens that give a period of access on every receipt, or selling the access as they do at Starbucks, here's another idea -- intermittent access.

In such a system the access point lets you on for a modest amount of time. Enough for a quick web search or two, a checking of your e-mail or even a modest phone call. Then it denies you access. It doesn't have to deny it for long, perhaps just 5 minutes before you can get on again. No authentication, though during the period of denied access, it may redirect all web requests to a page that explains the situation, and optionally offers continuous access for money.

Though that's not the main goal. The main goal is to create an atmosphere where you're coming to the shop to do other than stare at your computer, but in which you can use it on occasion to get your fix.

Who knows, if the sale option for continuous access was popular, it might even make more money than an always charging system. Of course, fancy users could change their MAC address to get around it -- but if they're going to go that far, let them. Most won't.  read more »

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