Street-level sousveillance tech

Paul Raven @ 21-09-2010

Internet serendipity strikes again… a Twitter friend mentioned their discovery of the word ‘sousveillance‘ the other day, and I remarked that I’d not mentioned it here at Futurismic for some time, despite it being one of my multitudinous minor obsessions. And lo, a few days later, two state-of-the-street-art sousveillance items crop up in my daily feed trawl*!

First up is the Lookxcie, a little head-mounted camera that stores the last thirty seconds of footage it captured at the press of a button [via Shira Lipkin‘s Google Buzz feed]:

Loop the Looxcie over your ear and go about your day. If you see anything you think may be worth saving, hit the button and the previous 30 seconds are saved, and even uploaded to your selected social networking site to be instantly shared, or you can watch and edit the video first if you prefer. And it stores up to five hours of video!

The Looxcie is a pretty cute little gizmo (and seemingly straight out of an early cyberpunk novel), but there’s an obvious flaw that renders it less useful in certain, ah, high-tension scenarios, let’s say. But other, more robust options are available: BoingBoing points to a column at Reason that covers smartphone apps that are ideal for videoing law enforcement and/or “freelance security” types who might subsequently arrest your device and make the footage disappear while it’s in their care:

Qik and UStream, two services available for both the iPhone and Android phones, allow instant online video streaming and archiving. Once you stop recording, the video is instantly saved online. Both services also allow you to send out a mass email or notice to your Twitter followers when you have posted a new video from your phone. Not only will your video of police misconduct be preserved, but so will the video of the police officer illegally confiscating your phone (assuming you continue recording until that point).

[ Just-in-time activism! ]

Neither Qik nor UStream market themselves for this purpose, and it probably would not make good business sense for them to do so, given the risk of angering law enforcement agencies and attracting attention from regulators. But it’s hard to overstate the power of streaming and off-site archiving. Prior to this technology, prosecutors and the courts nearly always deferred to the police narrative; now that narrative has to be consistent with independently recorded evidence. And as examples of police reports contradicted by video become increasingly common, a couple of things are likely to happen: Prosecutors and courts will be less inclined to uncritically accept police testimony, even in cases where there is no video, and bad cops will be deterred by the knowledge that their misconduct is apt to be recorded.

And to those who say that we shouldn’t feel the need to video the police, I respond with the tired and logically flawed aphorism that’s supposed to make us all feel better about ubiquitous closed-circuit surveillance: if they’ve done nothing wrong, then surely they have nothing to fear, right?

[ * Coincidence? Synchronicity? The Baader-Meinhof phenomenon? Your guess is as good as mine… ]


Ditch the keyboard and mouse, go with Skinput

Paul Raven @ 05-03-2010

Although my aesthetic tastes tend toward the more retro versions of cyberpunk style (born in the final few years of Gen X, can’t help it), I’m still very seduced by the sheer pragmatic awesome of using your body as an input device for your portable hardware [via SlashDot].

Need to turn down the volume on your PMP? No problem; just jab a finger at your left forearm.

[… the] Skinput prototype is a system that monitors acoustic signals on your arm to translate gestures and taps into input commands. Just by touching different points on your limb you can tell your portable device to change volume, answer a call, or turn itself off. Even better, Harrison can couple Skinput with a pico projector so that you can see a graphic interface on your arm and use the acoustic signals to control it.

Projector, pah. A proper cyberpunk would get the controls tattooed on there instead. 🙂


Cyberstyle: military-spec wrist-mounted keyboard

Paul Raven @ 26-10-2009

Because I’ve had a busy weekend (and because I’m the ed-in-chief, and because I can), I’m going to kick the week off with a blatant no-context-necessary tech-geek “I want one of those!” post. No, it’s not a Barnes & Noble Nook (though if anyone would like to send me one of those, I promise to be extremely grateful!) – it’s the iKey AK-39 wrist-mounted keyboard, as flagged up at grinding.be last week.

iKey AK-39 wrist-mounted keyboard

Thinking about it, I’m kinda dating myself by admitting to that lust; a wrist-mounted keyboard is very much a cyberpunk1.0 fetish, a desire from someone who grew up around computers as clunky chunky beige boxes with frustrating limits on functionality, portability and availability. In less than half a decade, the physical keyboard will probably be a complete anachronism for any device with sufficient gee-whiz to be both desirable and useful. I know this intellectually, but kids growing up now know it instinctively. This isn’t your father’s Kansas, Toto. Insert further mangled “culture shock is no longer something that happens to other people now that I’m in my thirties” aphorisms here.

Another (shorter) changing-fashions point – isn’t it high time that the fad for branding products or businesses by grafting a lower-case ‘i’ onto the start of another word went somewhere and died quietly?


Latest ebook platform – the Nintendo DS

Paul Raven @ 11-12-2008

Nintendo DS with quill stylusLooks like it’s not only the iPhone alpha geeks who’ll be able to feed their reading jones with their favourite piece of portable tech; Nintendo have teamed up with publishers HarperCollins to provide a collection of classic books for reading on the little DS handheld games console. [image by catatronic]

While it’s interesting to see more of these partnerships emerging, this one looks to be half win and half fail. On the plus side, getting affordable reading content onto a low-priced device with good penetration into the youth market and no additional fees for regular usage (in other words, the complete opposite of the iPhone) is a brilliant move; that’s exactly the demographic space publishers need to colonise.

But bundling up crusty old classics like Jane Austen and Charles Dickens? Where’s the kid appeal there? Plus most of those titles are so cheaply available in book form it seems pointless charging for them in electronic form.

HarperCollins might have been wiser to initially push out YA, chick lit and graphic novels; I expect those DS users who read fiction would be more likely to part with some money for something a bit more modern than anything by the Brontë sisters or Shakespeare. No amount of marketing speak about “broadening the user base for the device” is going to convince me otherwise, either.


Combining computing servers with alternative energy

Tomas Martin @ 20-03-2008

Could servers only be used when the wind blows nearbyThe Guardian has this interesting snippet of an article that makes sense to me on so many levels. Professor Andy Hopper of the University of Cambridge has been looking at the power usage of computers and made an astute suggestion: locate large processing servers near sources of alternative energy like solar or wind farms. When the power is flowing through the turbine or photovoltaic, computers all around the world can tap into the processors of the server farm. When there’s no wind or sun in one location, the network can call on the processors of somewhere there is.

This kind of synergy is fascinating and I think it’ll be a major feature in our future working lives. Flash drives getting bigger, faster and cheaper all the time and programs like Portable Firefox run straight off a portable drive. I’m writing this post on my portable usb, using only the processor and screen of the laptop I’m borrowing time on. Sooner or later all our computers will be a usb-style stick with all our programs, data and settings stored on it. Plug it into a nearby screen (or project your own), whack out your laser keyboard and dial into any heavy processing power from an external server. Who needs a big computer tower in your room when you can fit it in your pocket?

[story via the Guardian, image by Brent Danley]