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hug a hen
Teledildonics or (cyberdildonics), the holy grail of the “just reach out and touch someone” aspect of the Internet. Well, now you can live out your wildest fantasy online... you can reach out and hug a real live hen over the Internet, just give it a squeeze! See this article in the Guardian on research at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University who have developed a wireless “hug suit” for chickens. The wireless jacket is equipped with sensors that transmit the hen’s every movement to a 3D model on your computer screen. With the click of your mouse, you can use the computer interface to pat or hug the chicken with the computer transmitting corresponding vibrations back to the hen’s suit. How long to the human version?
Tue Nov 29, 2005 @ 3:12:05 pm


GPS speed control for your auto
There is an article in today’s Globe and Mail about a GPS enabled technology being tested by the Canadian government. They are testing a device that can be installed in automobiles using GPS and traffic maps to determine if a car is speeding. If the car is speeding the device makes it difficult for the driver to press down on the accelerator. The Canadian government is looking at this as a safety device, and as a method to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (the slower you go the less emissions). It does not sound like the Canadian government is considering requiring these devices in all cars, but possibly allowing insurance companies to offer discounts to those who do have them. The article includes discussion of a similar device that does not forcefully prevent the driver from accelerating further, but gives a visual and audible warning. The Otto Driving Companion is already commercially available for drivers in Winnipeg and Ottawa with plans to expand to other Canadian cities in the near future. For more information on Intelligent Speed Adaptation (ISA) visit the Department of Technology and Society at Lund University.
Mon Nov 28, 2005 @ 12:08:29 pm


cell phones, youth and parties
Following up on a post I made two years ago on how mobile phones are changing the way teenagers organize house parties, see this article from CBC Calgary (my home town). My original post was about changes in the ability of local police to surveil and control suburban teens. Reduced surveillance, or an inability to control the rapid diffusion of information through new media may have negative consequences for teens as well. It is unclear just how big a roll cell phones played in this tragedy, but this may be an example of how mobile phones played a role in an unplanned house party growing quickly, and beyond expectations resulting in the death of a young man.
Tue Nov 22, 2005 @ 3:14:10 pm


a future for WiFi?: or why I’m blogging so regularly again
About a month ago I changed cell phone providers to Verizon. As part of my new package I purchased Verizon’s “BroadbandAccess” service (also called EV-DO - evolution-data optimized). EVDO is currently the country’s fastest 3G data service, providing access at 400-700 kbps with bursts up to 2.0Mbps. Now that I am experiencing true anywhere anytime broadband access, I have some questions about the long term viability of city WiFi projects. Both Philadelphia and San Francisco have proposed free or low cost WiFi networks of roughly the same or slower speeds than EVDO. Why invest in a WiFi infrastructure that requires many small, overlapping nodes with limited geographic range, that are susceptible to interference, and presumably have higher maintenance costs, when mobile phone companies already provide comparable wireless data services without the new infrastructure costs? I assume it has something to do with the cost of access and the perceived ubiquitous availability of WiFi devices. However, the cost of the card required for EVDO access was less than $30 and Dell and Lenovo/IBM both plan to integrate EVDO wireless access into future laptop models, much like WiFi and bluetooth. As the cost of 3G access comes down and as speeds go up it seems likely that cell phone networks will replace the current dominance of WiFi. Will this lead to another chapter of the digital divide? With those who can afford it using mobile phone networks, while those who cannot being relished to a slower, outdated, less reliable WiFi infrastructure?
Mon Nov 21, 2005 @ 8:17:47 am


new read on new media and political campaigns
Phil Howard at the University of Washington just released his book on the role of ICTs in political campaigning. New Media Campaigns and the Managed Citizen is a solid empirical study, it is one of the few thorough studies out there and will become a must read for anyone studying political communication. I have included the formal book description and contents below:

“The political campaign is one of the most important organizations in a democracy, and whether issue- or candidate-specific, it is one of the least understood organizations in contemporary political life. This book is a critical assessment of the role that information technologies have come to play in contemporary campaigns. With evidence from ethnographic immersion, survey data, and social network analysis, Philip Howard examines the evolving act of political campaigning and the changing organization of political campaigns over the last five election cycles, from 1996 to 2004. Over this time, both grassroots and elite political campaigns have gone online, built multimedia strategies, and constructed complex relational databases. The contemporary political campaign adopts digital technologies that improve reach and fund-raising and at the same time adapts its organizational behavior. The new system of producing political culture has immense implications for the meaning of citizenship and the basis of representation.”

Introduction: the hypermedia campaign; 1. Political communication and information technology; 2. Producing the hypermedia campaign; 3. Learning politics from the hypermedia campaign; 4. Organizational communication in the hypermedia campaign; 5. Managed citizenship and information technology; Appendix: Method notes on studying information technology and political communication.
Fri Nov 18, 2005 @ 2:06:59 pm


neighborhood search article
There was an article in yesterday’s Inman News (a real estate news service) on the growth of Internet based neighborhood search services. It focused on the problems that some Web services have in defining the boundaries of neighborhoods. It also provided an interesting statistic, that 15 percent of all searches on the Web are local (unspecified source). Unfortunately there was an error in my quote, “localization” should of course be “glocalization”. Back in 1999 Barry Wellman and I did a user study for onemain.com (now Earthlink). We found huge demand for local content, but users were completely unable to find local content at the time. It seems that this need is now partly being met. It is interesting that almost every site I have seen focuses on the “outsiders” view, that is what content an outsider would like to know about a neighborhood. Few if any provide content from the perspective of what an “insider” might want to know. This includes the ability to communicate with other local residents. Another finding from the 1999 Onemain study, low interest in local syncronous chat forums - based on my experience with Netvill, E-neighbors and i-neighbors.org, this is something I think remains true today. Asynchronous email lists are the way to go.
Thu Nov 17, 2005 @ 7:37:54 am


social network software and surveillance
In a followup to last week’s posting on mobile phones and surveillance of personal networks, I was forwarded an article from the Penn State Digital Collegian on how Facebook is being used by campus police to identify students who “rushed the field” after a recent football game (as a Canadian not having experienced college football, I have no idea why this is illegal). Penn State has the largest number of students on facebook (52,016 students) and apparently a significant number had posted pictures of themselves and friends (often taken with mobile phones) on the field after the game. Students appear legitimately surprised that police and university administrators would access the site and view profiles that were “only meant for fellow students”. One of my undergrads recently pointed out to me just how much information people post on facebook about themselves. In particular she noted that student journalists regularly entered their political affiliation as part of their profile, she wondered how these future “objective” reporters would react when someone produced copies of their facebook profiles (from when they were in college) in response to an article. This also brought up memories of two recent articles in the Chronicle of Higher Education warning graduate students of the dangers of blogging, Google searches and being on the academic job market (article 1, article 2). Regarding the football game, according to the article, students found guilty could face up two years in jail, up to $2,000 in fines, and discipline from the university.
Wed Nov 16, 2005 @ 7:22:47 am


communities and technologies 2007: conference
There have been two conferences on Communities and Technologies, one in 2003 and another in 2005. Both have produced excellent collections based on the conference proceedings (links to the books: 2003, 2005). This conference is probably the best single gathering of academics interested in the social aspects of computing, new media, mobile devices, etc., and I am pleased to announce that a third conference has been planned for 2007. Have a look at the conference website and the call for papers. I am a member of the program committee (along with a truly standout list of researchers) and would strongly encourage anyone doing research in this area to submit a paper.
Tue Nov 15, 2005 @ 8:53:16 am


much to say about ICTs
An article from this weekend’s Financial Times covers it all: Internet addiction, WiFi hotspots, location-awareness, mobile phones, information overload, flash mobs, network individualism... and the kitchen sink. Probably the broadest news article I have ever read on the impact of new media on society, it includes references and quotes from some of my favorite sociologists, including Manuel Castells, Barry Wellman, and Mizuko Ito. Despite the ambitious attempt at breadth, it brings together some really interesting concepts and does a nice job of providing an overview of some of the most relevant research questions currently under study. In particular I want to pint out references to Mizuko Ito’s new edited book Personal, Portable, Pedestrian: Mobile Phones in Japanese Life. I have been waiting for this book for some time. Ito’s anthropological studies of mobile phone use amongst Japanese children are very revealing and contain numerous new and important observations. In particular, the use of mobile phones in maintaining a type of “full-time intimacy” or persistent social contacts, the obligations of cell phone use, and the role of text messaging in signaling availability for other forms of exchange.

Mon Nov 14, 2005 @ 9:22:42 am


the offline world of the WELL
Fred Turner of the Department of Communication at Stanford has just published one of the most interesting articles on a virtual community that I have read in a long time. "Where the Counterculture Met the New Economy: The WELL and the Origins of Virtual Community" is interesting because it reveals the role of offline relationships in the origins and maintenance of one of the earliest online communities, the WELL (made famous in Howard Rheingold’s The Virtual Community: Homesteading on the Electronic Frontier). Fred not only provides a detailed account of the origins of the WELL, but explores its roots in the counterculture of the 1960s. Fred’s account is a great examples of the overlap between online and offline relationships using one of the earliest examples of a virtual community. The above link to the paper will only work if your library is an institutional subscriber, you may want to contact Fred Turner directly for a copy.
Fri Nov 11, 2005 @ 7:45:39 am


time use studies of new media
I am increasingly troubled within my own work about the imprecise nature of time use questions in surveys. We know that broad questions like “how much time did you spend using email in a typical week” are inherently unreliable. Time-use diaries are the gold standard, but they are difficult to analyze and very demanding of participants. I am starting to explore ways to use new technologies to automate the collection of both social network data, the use of media, and exposure to different media content. This article from the Globe and Mail recently came to my attention. It is about a pager size device that picks up inaudible sounds transmitted as part of radio and TV broadcasts to record exposure to different media. Of course it only gets exposure, not attention. Now if only we could find something similar to accurately record time spent using other media, such as email and Internet use, in context with participant’s location and what they were doing online (reading CNN vs playing games).
Thu Nov 10, 2005 @ 8:35:03 am


mobile phones and survailance of personal networks
Most of the literature on surveillance focuses on how government and corporate entities use ICTs. David Lyon has done some of the best work in this area, and Steve Graham recently published an edited volume, Cities, War And Terrorism, with many good pieces. However, there is another perspective, the implications for everyday ICT use on the surveillance of members of our personal networks, that is less often discussed. The exception, is the work of Nicola Green, one of my favorite articles by her is “Who’s Watching Whom? Monitoring and Accountability in Mobile Relations” in Wireless World. Nicola points out the very real importance of the ubiquitous question “Where are you” in every mobile conversation. What has me thinking about all this is a cleaver little video short called Call Register, a good example of the impact of new media on surveillance within and with our personal networks. It is also worth pointing out the growth of recent tracking services for your teens and loved ones: article.
Wed Nov 9, 2005 @ 7:12:30 am


local location tech
A busy week for local location technologies. Carlo Ratti, a colleague from my former department at MIT is doing some interesting work on real-time mapping of WiFi users on the MIT campus: CNN article. You can see a real-time image of users of 802.11 hotspots on campus here. In addition to aggregate data, MIT WiFi users can choose to make their individual identity visible on a map. Carlo has also been doing work on real-time visualizations of cell phone network users in Austria: Press release. The images are stunning - both visually and socially: Graz in real time. Exciting example of how location aware services can be used and visualized. Hopefully no one figures out how to hide a Wi-Fi device on someone and stalk them across campus.

In related news, Google has announced the release of Google Local for Mobile. A nice little Java application for your cell phone that streams Google map info. At the moment it does not use the location information (GPS or other service) available in almost any newer mobile phone to identify your current location. However, last year my students and I developed a similar Java application that pulled location from Java enabled cell phones - so we know it is coming soon!!! Much easier to hide a cell phone on somone and stalk them than with a WiFi device.
Tue Nov 8, 2005 @ 11:11:03 am

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