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Vocapedia > Technology > Phones, Mobiles, Cellphones, Smartphones





Katherine Streeter for NPR


For The Children's Sake, Put Down That Smartphone


April 21, 2014        3:41 AM ET



















To hell in a handset


Watches are on the way out.

The days of the diary are numbered.

And cameras could be next.

The world is becoming a poorer place,

says Stuart Jeffries - thanks to the mobile phone


The Guardian        G2        p. 4        Thursday March 8, 2007



















Cal Grondahl


Utah Standard Examiner





















Andy Singer



9 June 2009



















all-digit dialing        USA






London-New York transatlantic wireless telephone service        UK        1927






the telephone market










fixed line





fixed-line calls










pay phone        USA






London phone boxes        UK
















mobile operator





Bluetooth wireless technology        UK






wireless technology > 5G        USA






4G        UK






landline        USA






landline operator





mobile phones        UK










mobile phones        USA
















folding phone-tablet        UK












 folding tablet-phone        UK

















Your phone is seducing you, and you're paying the price        G        November 2015





Your phone is seducing you, and you're paying the price        Video        The Guardian        Wednesday 4 November 2015





























































smartphones / phones        UK / USA




































































smartphone era        USA






nomophobia – anxiety of being out of phone contact        UK






multitask        UK






versatility        USA






sim card        UK
















phone call        USA































spam phone calls

















USA > U.S. Constitution > Smartphones and the 4th Amendment        USA


The Fourth Amendment requires,

as a general rule,

that police officers obtain a warrant

based on probable cause

before searching

“persons, houses, papers, and effects.”


This was a central concern

of the framers

of the Constitution and Bill of Rights,

who knew well the danger

of “general warrants”

that allowed government authorities

to enter a home and rummage around

looking for incriminating evidence.








U.S. Constitution > Fourth Amendment / Amendment IV


The right of the people to be secure

in their persons, houses, papers, and effects,

against unreasonable

searches and seizures,

shall not be violated,

and no warrants shall issue,

but upon probable cause,

supported by oath or affirmation,

and particularly describing

the place to be searched,

and the persons or things to be seized.


















The Rise of the Phablet: Phone Reviews        NYT        26 February 2014       





Molly Wood | The New York Times        The Rise of the Phablet: Phone Reviews        NYT        26 February 2014


Molly Wood says bigger may be better

when it comes to smartphones.


















phablet        USA
















BlackBerry        UK / USA




























Research In Motion Ltd.

Canadian maker of the BlackBerry smartphone













Microsoft > Kin One and Kin Two
















Apple > iPhone















































 Find My iPhone app        UK






Apple Pay /  Apple’s smartphone payments        UK






iPhone’s iOS 8 operating system        USA






Samsung        UK






patent        USA






iPhone 12






iPhone 6S








iPhone 6















Apple iPhone 5












Apple’s feud With Google        USA






iPhone upgrade








 iPhone > Shadow Cities        USA






iPhone > Cartoons > USA > Cagle






Apple > Steven P. Jobs






Google Wallet mobile payments system        UK        2011
















Google > Android operating system


Google's Android operating system

for mobile phones

















Google Nexus 4









Google phone > 'Nexus One'        UK / USA



















cellphone software > Windows Phone        USA






Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7.5.        USA       October 2011







Microsoft > Windows Phone 7        USA






high-speed memory

for iPods, smartphones, digital cameras and some laptops > flash        USA






internet phone calls / internet telephony / web telephony / VoIP






online phone calls





cheap internet calls





cheap long-distance telephone calls

over the internet





free Internet telephony



























video calling






mobile video calling





















telecommunications watchdog






Information Technology    IT





IT system










hi-tech business


















Freshly Squeezed

by Ed Stein


July 14/15, 2014































mobile phone        UK

























cellular / cellphone / cell       USA










100000004441354/will-your-cellphone-give-you-cancer.html - May 27, 2016


















cellphone carrier        USA






cellphone users        USA






cellphone tracking        USA






wireless customers        USA






cellphone safety        USA
















cellphone hackers        USA






payments via cellphone        USA
















handset        UK













camera phone / cameraphone





flip camera phone





mobiles able to download, share and distribute music        UK        2004






U.S. long-distance carrier MCI Inc.





lease access to N





Qwest Communications International Inc.'s local telephone network















integrated digital camera





press the record button        USA






record        USA






selfie        USA






snap and send










switch on










answer / answer





hang up
























text        USA










text        USA














text messaging        UK










text messages        UK










texting        UK






texting        USA










texting while driving        USA






short message service / standard messaging service    SMS        UK









mobile phone text messaging (txt msg)





phone texting language / text message vocabulary        UK






gr8 (great)        UK






m8 (mate)





CU L8R 2NITE (see you later tonight)





sexting        UK / USA























picture messaging





digital camera

















The Guardian        p. 8        20 December 2008


















The Guardian        p. 20        28 November 2008



















Taking the battle online



has become the latest big technology company

to make a move into telephony over the internet.


The low cost of calls

is attracting customers in ever-greater numbers

and robbing traditional phone companies of business.


How worried should they be?

Sep 1st 2005

From The Economist Global Agenda

















The best phone deal? It's your call


With a price war raging over home telephones

it is impossible to escape

the barrage of adverts from companies

who want you to switch to their service.

But are the offers as good as they look,

and who really is the cheapest?

Miles Brignall reports


The Guardian        Jobs & Money        p. 2        13.8.2005


















Google Introduces an iPhone Rival Open to Whims


24 September 2008
















Corpus of news articles


Technology > Phones


Mobiles, Cellphones, Smartphones




Sex Education

Gets Directly to Youths, via Text


December 30, 2011

The New York Times



While heading to class last year, Stephanie Cisneros, a Denver-area high school junior, was arguing with a friend about ways that sexually transmitted diseases might be passed along.

Ms. Cisneros knew she could resolve the dispute in class — but not by raising her hand. While her biology teacher lectured about fruit flies, Ms. Cisneros hid her phone underneath her lab table and typed a message to ICYC (In Case You’re Curious), a text-chat program run by Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains.

Soon, her phone buzzed. “There are some STDs you can get from kissing but they are spread more easily during sex,” the reply read. “You can get a STD from oral sex. You should use a condom whenever you have sex.”

Ms. Cisneros said she liked ICYC for its immediacy and confidentiality. “You can ask a random question about sex and you don’t feel it was stupid,” said Ms. Cisneros, now a senior. “Even if it was, they can’t judge you because they don’t know it’s you. And it’s too gross to ask my parents.”

Sex education is a thorny subject for most school systems; only 13 states specify that the medical components of the programs must be accurate. Shrinking budgets and competing academic subjects have helped push it down as a curriculum priority. In reaction, some health organizations and school districts are developing Web sites and texting services as cost-effective ways to reach adolescents in the one classroom where absenteeism is never a problem: the Internet.

In Chicago, teenagers can subscribe to Sex-Ed Loop, a program endorsed by the district that includes weekly automated texts about contraception, relationships and disease prevention. Through Hookup, California teenagers can text their ZIP codes to a number and receive locations for health clinics.

Many services, like Sexetc.org, a national site run by and for teenagers, offer both privacy and communities where adolescents can learn about sexuality and relationships, particularly on mobile devices, eluding parental scrutiny. Services offer links to blogs, interactive games, moderated forums, and Facebook and Twitter pages.

The messages, rendered in teenspeak, can be funny and blunt: for Real Talk, a technology-driven H.I.V. prevention program run by the AIDS Council of Northeastern New York, teenagers made a YouTube video, shouting a refrain from a rap song, “Sport Dat Raincoat,” during which a girl carrying an umbrella is pelted with condoms.

“When we ask young people what is the No. 1 way they learn about sex, they say, ‘We Google it,’ ” said Deb Levine, executive director of ISIS Inc., an Oakland, Calif.,-based nonprofit organization that administers texting services and checks content for medical accuracy. “But most of the time, the best information is not coming up in those searches.”

Quantifying services is difficult. But Ms. Levine, who hosts Sex::Tech, a conference about sexual health programs for youth, said that requests to make presentations about online or mobile services had soared. Typically, she receives between 40 and 50 applications. This year, she received about 120.

Unlike classroom lessons, which are supposed to follow local, state or federal guidelines, Internet programs have no independent standards. And proponents of abstinence-based sexual education argue that these digital services presume that sexual activity among teenagers is the norm, and do not spend enough time on alternatives.

“They are only focusing on the risk-reduction model,” said Valerie Huber, executive director of the National Abstinence Education Association, which hopes to kick off its online service for teenagers next year.

Those who run digital programs say they simply want teens to have accurate information, to help them make good decisions. Even though popular culture is saturated with sex, facts and advice can be hard to find.

Few disagree about the need for more education. Although the teenage birth rate dropped 9 percent in 2010 from 2009, the United States still has one of the highest rates among developed countries, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Rates of syphilis, gonorrhea and chlamydia among American teenagers continue to rise.

Most online services receive grants from philanthropies, like the Ford Foundation, and health and education agencies on the state and federal level. Classroom content is largely controlled by school districts, but it is a low priority in many areas. Chicago, for example, does not have a mandated sex education curriculum, although teachers are encouraged to include material in science or physical education classes. School officials see programs like Sex-Ed Loop, which began in September, as vital.

Mary Beth Szydlowski, the H.I.V. education prevention specialist for Chicago schools, said that Sex-Ed Loop not only reinforces what students learn in class but can reach all teenagers, including dropouts. It is managed by the Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health, which enlists Chicago teenagers to create the text messages as well as blog posts and testimonial videos for its site.

Juan Chavez, 19, a sophomore at DePaul University, remembers sex education during ninth-grade health class as awkward.

“The teacher had been a nutrition major,” Mr. Chavez said. “He was really uncomfortable. He just said, ‘I don’t believe you guys should be having sex, so I’ll just say this because I have to.’ ”

Now, through the Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health, Mr. Chavez texts and blogs, with a focus on gay teenagers, about such subjects as what to do if a condom breaks, which clinics are gay-friendly and where to find low-cost lubricants — “things people need to know on the fly,” he said.

Parents who fear that sex education will encourage a child to experiment are misguided, said Elizabeth Schroeder, executive director of Answer, a national sex education organization that oversees Sexetc. Studies show the opposite is true, she said.

But making sure that Web-surfing teenagers find these programs, rather than pornographic sites, has been challenging.

Leslie Kantor, vice president for education at Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said it was expanding its chat program, which teenagers can use with handheld devices or online. The organization is trying, she said, to embed material with search terms used by teenagers.

“How do I write content that says ‘sex’ 80,000 times so our page will pop up in a kid’s search on Google near the top?” she said.

When it comes to marketing, programs are increasingly relying on the customer: teenagers.

Real Talk held a classroom contest to see which student could send the most texts containing this prevention message: “ROFL!!!” (Translation: rolling on the floor laughing). “STDs and HIV can spread as fast as this message. Still laughing? Pass on the message not HIV/STDs. 518-HIV-TEST.” Within an hour, the message had been sent to nearly 450 phones.

Sex Education Gets Directly to Youths, via Text,






IPhone Gets Its Upgrade,

All Under the Hood


October 4, 2011
The New York Times


CUPERTINO, Calif. — Apple introduced its long-awaited new iPhone on Tuesday. But it wasn’t an iPhone 5. That will have to wait.

Instead, the company unveiled something that looks an awful lot like an iPhone 4 on the outside, with an innovative feature that turns the device into a voice-activated mobile assistant for scheduling appointments and performing other tasks.

It’s a measure of how Apple has habituated its legions of fans to regular, eye-catching design changes that the news about the latest version of the iPhone qualified as a disappointment for some. Grumbling about the announcement of the new phone, the iPhone 4S, spread on Twitter throughout the day and the company’s shares fell as much as 5 percent, though they regained most of those losses by the end of trading.

“At the end of the day, there are still going to be long lines for this,” said Gene Munster, an analyst at Piper Jaffray. “They could have been even longer if they’d changed the hardware more.”

The new model of the iPhone, which will go on sale Oct. 14, with preorders starting Friday, is virtually indistinguishable from its predecessor on the outside. But beneath its skin Apple made big changes, packing it with a better camera that shoots crisper pictures and video. The device also includes a more powerful chip, the A5, the same microprocessor that is the brains of the iPad, for producing better graphics and other improvements.

Timothy D. Cook, Apple’s chief executive, presided over the event just as Steven P. Jobs had on similar occasions before he left the top job in August. Mr. Cook said that although the iPhone 4 is the best-selling smartphone in the world, Apple believes that the company still has plenty of people it wants to convert.

“We believe over time all handsets become smartphones,” he said. “This market is 1.5 billion units annually. It’s an enormous opportunity for Apple.”

Mr. Cook and other Apple executives also highlighted an array of supporting products for the new phone, but the centerpiece of the presentation, and of the new device, is the “virtual assistant” feature, Siri, named after a company Apple acquired last year that originally developed the technology. While the iPhone 4 already responds to some basic voice commands — to make phone calls, for example — Siri is designed to comprehend a much broader range of instructions in natural language.

For example, Apple executives demonstrated the technology by asking an iPhone, “Do I need a raincoat today?” to which the device responded, “It sure looks like rain today.”

While Apple’s decision not to call its new phone the iPhone 5, as many expected, raised some eyebrows, it has some precedent. A couple of years ago the company introduced the iPhone 3GS, which made modest improvements over the iPhone 3G. Michael Mace, the chief executive of a mobile application start-up and a former Apple and Palm executive, said Apple most likely wanted to telegraph that the iPhone 4S was an incremental change to the product, rather than a big redesign denoted by a change in the model number.

“You don’t want to oversell what you’re doing so you hurt your credibility,” Mr. Mace said.

Even incremental changes to the iPhone can help sales. Mr. Munster of Piper Jaffray said the annual growth rate in the number of iPhones that Apple sold during the fiscal year the iPhone 3GS was introduced was 93 percent, compared with 78 percent when the iPhone 3G came out.

With the new phone, Apple is taking on a growing challenge in the mobile market from the Android operating system made by Google. Smartphones powered by Android now outsell iPhones by more than two to one. While Android phones also let people use basic voice commands to do simple tasks, Apple is betting that the more sophisticated capabilities of Siri will make it stand out.

Many of the best minds in technology in the last several decades have been stymied by how to decipher speech, given variations in how people talk. Mr. Mace called what Apple is doing the “holy grail” for mobile devices; voice recognition could make it much easier for people to use them on the go without having to peck words into a keyboard. But he said the technology needed to be accurate or users would ignore it.

“When you start talking to a computer you expect it to really understand you, and if it doesn’t, you get really frustrated,” he said. “If Siri is like that, forget about it.”

Using Siri, the phone can set an alarm clock with the command “Wake me up tomorrow at 6 a.m.” or provide a stock market quote if a user asks, “How’s the Nasdaq doing today?” The command “Remind me to call my wife when I leave work” will result in such a reminder on the phone, requiring a user to identify the geographic boundaries of their office on the device through its location technology.

In some ways, Siri is reminiscent of Hal 9000, the intelligent computer system in the film “2001: A Space Odyssey,” though the iPhone presumably won’t be able to turn on its users the way its fictional counterpart did. In one demonstration, Apple’s senior vice president, Scott Forstall, asked Siri, “Who are you?”

“I am a humble personal assistant,” the phone responded, in an awkward synthesized voice.

While the new iPhone was the headliner at the event, held at the company’s headquarters in Silicon Valley, the executives spent nearly as much time showcasing new features in an array of supporting products, including iCloud, which allows users of Apple mobile products to automatically back up from and synchronize information between devices.

Prices for the iPhone 4S start at $199 for a model with 16 gigabytes of storage. Apple will continue to sell its older iPhone 4 through its wireless carrier partners, which will drop the price to $99 from $199 when customers commit to a two-year contract. An older model, the iPhone 3GS, will be free, instead of $49, with a two-year contract.

The new phone will be available on the AT&T, Verizon and Sprint networks and will also work internationally.

The event was a closely watched debut for Mr. Cook. Mr. Jobs was a master pitchman for Apple’s products, captivating audiences with introductions that seemed off the cuff but were always meticulously rehearsed. Mr. Jobs, the company’s founder, left for health reasons and became chairman of Apple’s board.

“It’s impossible to replace Steve Jobs, and you could feel that in the energy level in the room,” said Mr. Munster, though he said Mr. Cook “did an excellent job.”



This article has been revised

to reflect the following correction:

Correction: October 4, 2011

An earlier version of this article misstated the previous price of the iPhone 3GS. It had been $49 (from AT&T), not $99. Because of an editing error, the article also misstated the day of the Apple announcement. It was Tuesday, not Wednesday.

    IPhone Gets Its Upgrade, All Under the Hood, NYT, 4.10.2011,






For Hackers, the Next Lock to Pick


September 27, 2011
The New York Times


SAN FRANCISCO — Hackers have broken into the cellphones of celebrities like Scarlett Johansson and Prince William. But what about the rest of us, who might not have particularly salacious photos or voice messages stored in our phones, but nonetheless have e-mails, credit card numbers and records of our locations?

A growing number of companies, including start-ups and big names in computer security like McAfee, Symantec, Sophos and AVG, see a business opportunity in mobile security — protecting cellphones from hacks and malware that could read text messages, store location information or add charges directly to mobile phone bills.

On Tuesday, McAfee introduced a service for consumers to protect their smartphones, tablets and computers at once, and last week the company introduced a mobile security system for businesses. Last month, AT&T partnered with Juniper Networks to build mobile security apps for consumers and businesses. The Defense Department has called for companies and universities to come up with ways to protect Android devices from malware.

In an indication of investor interest, one start-up, Lookout, last week raised $40 million from venture capital firms, including Andreessen Horowitz, bringing its total to $76.5 million. The company makes an app that scans other apps that people download to their phones, looking for malware and viruses. It automatically tracks 700,000 mobile apps and updates Lookout whenever it finds a threat.

Still, in some ways, it’s an industry ahead of its time. Experts in mobile security agree that mobile hackers are not yet much of a threat. But that is poised to change quickly, they say, especially as people increasingly use their phones to exchange money, by mobile shopping or using digital wallets like Google Wallet.

“Unlike PCs, the chance of running into something in the wild for your phone is quite low,” said Charlie Miller, a researcher at Accuvant, a security consulting company, and a hacker who has revealed weaknesses in iPhones. “That’s partly because it’s more secure but mostly because the bad guys haven’t gotten around to it yet. But the bad guys are going to slowly follow the money over to your phones.”

Most consumers, though they protect their computers, are unaware that they need to secure their phones, he said, “but the smartphones people have are computers, and the same thing that can happen on your computer can happen on your phone.”

Cellphone users are more likely than computer users to click on dangerous links or download sketchy apps because they are often distracted, experts say. Phones can be more vulnerable because they connect to wireless networks at the gym or the coffee shop, and hackers can surreptitiously charge consumers for a purchase.

There have already been harmful attacks, most of which have originated in China, said John Hering, co-founder and chief executive of Lookout.

For example, this year, the Android market was hit by malware called DroidDream. Hackers pirated 80 applications, added malicious code and tricked users into downloading them from the Android Market. Google said 260,000 devices were attacked.

Also this year, people unwittingly downloaded other malware, called GGTracker, by clicking on links in ads, and on the Web site to which the links led. The malware signed them up, without their consent, for text message subscription services that charged $10 to $50.

Lookout says that up to a million people were afflicted by mobile malware in the first half of the year, and that the threat for Android users is two and a half times higher than it was just six months ago.

Still, other experts caution that fear is profitable for the security industry, and that consumers should be realistic about the small size of the threat at this point. AdaptiveMobile, which sells mobile security tools, found that 6 percent of smartphone users said they had received a virus, but that the actual number of confirmed viruses had not topped 2 percent.

Lookout’s founders are hackers themselves, though they say they are the good kind, who break into phones and computers to expose the risks but not to steal information or behave maliciously. “It’s very James Bond-type stuff,” Mr. Hering said.

A few years ago, he stood with a backpack filled with hacking gear near the Academy Awards red carpet and discovered that up to 100 of the stars carried, in their bejeweled clutches and tuxedo pockets, cellphones that he could break into. He did not break into the phones, but publicized his ability to do so.

He started Lookout in 2007, along with Kevin Mahaffey and James Burgess, to prevent such intrusions. It has free apps for Android, BlackBerry and Windows phones, but not for iPhones. They are less vulnerable to attacks, security experts say, because Apple’s app store, unlike Android’s, screens every app before accepting it. Also, Android is the fastest-growing mobile platform, so it is more attractive to hackers.

Google says it regularly scans apps in the Android Market for malware and can rapidly remove malicious apps from the market and from people’s phones. It prevents Android apps from accessing other apps and alerts users if an app accesses its contact list or location, for instance.

Lookout also sells a paid version for $3 a month, which scans apps for privacy intrusions like accessing a user’s contact list, alerts users if they visit unsafe mobile Web sites or click on unsafe links in text messages, backs up a phone’s call history and photos, and lets people lock or delete information from lost devices.

T-Mobile builds Lookout into its Android phones, Verizon uses its technology to screen apps in its app store and Sprint markets the app to customers. The cellphone carriers and Lookout share the revenue when a user upgrades to the paid version.

“In mobile security circles, you never wait on it to become a problem and it’s too late,” said Fared Adib, vice president of product development at Sprint.

Meanwhile, because mobile phone attacks are still relatively rare, Lookout’s free app includes tools, including a way to back up a user’s contacts and a feature that enables users to turn on an alarm on their phone when it is lost.

“You’re way more likely to just leave it in a cab than you are going to be attacked by a hacker,” said Mr. Miller, the security researcher.

And in addition to collecting money from paying subscribers, Lookout plans to sell the service to businesses. It has a chance because consumers are increasingly bringing their own technologies into the workplace, and Lookout’s app is consumer-friendly, said Chenxi Wang, a security analyst at Forrester Research.

“It’s something a lot of I.T. guys are worried about because they have no control over what consumers are doing and what these apps are doing,” Ms. Wang said.

Giovanni Vigna, a professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara who studies security and malware, said it was only a matter of time before mobile security was as second nature to consumers as computer security.

“The moment malware starts using text messages and expensive minutes people have to pay for, things will move a lot faster,” he said.

    For Hackers, the Next Lock to Pick, NYT, 27.9.2011,






Cellphones Become

the World’s Eyes and Ears

on Protests


February 18, 2011
The New York Times


For some of the protesters facing Bahrain’s heavily armed security forces in and around Pearl Square in Manama, the most powerful weapon against shotguns and tear gas has been the tiny camera inside their cellphones.

By uploading images of this week’s violence in Manama, the capital, to Web sites like YouTube and yFrog, and then sharing them on Facebook and Twitter, the protesters upstaged government accounts and drew worldwide attention to their demands.

A novelty less than a decade ago, the cellphone camera has become a vital tool to document the government response to the unrest that has spread through the Middle East and North Africa.

Recognizing the power of such documentation, human rights groups have published guides and provided training on how to use cellphone cameras effectively.

“You finally have a video technology that can fit into the palm of one person’s hand, and what the person can capture can end up around the world,” said James E. Katz, director of the Rutgers Center for Mobile Communication Studies. “This is the dagger at the throat of the creaky old regimes that, through the manipulation of these old centralized technologies, have been able to smother the public’s voice.”

In Tunisia, cellphones were used to capture video images of the first protests in Sidi Bouzid in December, which helped spread unrest to other parts of the country. The uploaded images also prompted producers at Al Jazeera, the satellite television network, to begin focusing on the revolt, which toppled the Tunisian government in mid-January and set the stage for the demonstrations in Egypt.

While built-in cameras have been commercially available in cellphones since the late 1990s, it was not until the tsunami that struck southeast Asia on Dec. 26, 2004, and the London subway bombings the following July that news organizations began to take serious note of the outpouring of images and videos created and posted by nonprofessionals. Memorably, in June 2009, cellphone videos of the shooting death of a young woman in Tehran known as Nedawere uploaded on YouTube, galvanizing the Iranian opposition and rocketing around the world.

Now, news organizations regularly seek out, sift and publish such images. Authenticating them remains a challenge, since photos can be easily altered by computers and old videos can resurface again, purporting to be new. YouTube is using Storyful, a news aggregation site, to help manage the tens of thousands of videos that have been uploaded from the Middle East in recent weeks and to highlight notable ones on the CitizenTube channel.

But journalists are not the only conduits. Cellphone images are increasingly being shared between users on mobile networks and social networking sites, and they are being broadly consumed on Web sites that aggregate video and images.

The hosting Web sites have reported increases both in submissions from the Middle East and in visitors viewing the content.

Among the sites, Bambuser has stood out as a way to stream video. Mans Adler, the site’s co-founder, said it had 15,000 registered users in Egypt, most of whom signed up just before last November’s election. He said there were more than 10,000 videos on the site that were produced around the time of the election, focusing on activity at the polls, in what appeared to be an organized effort.

Afterward, the level of activity settled down to 800 to 2,000 videos a day, but then soared back to 10,000 a day again when the mass protests erupted in Egypt last month, he said.

In Bahrain, the government has blocked access to Bambuser.

At training sessions to help activists use their cameras, Bassem Samir, the executive director of the Egyptian Democratic Academy, said that improving the quality of the images and video was a high priority.

“Videos are stories,” said Mr. Samir. “What happened on the 25th and 28th of January, it’s a story. It’s like a story of people who were asking for freedom and democracy, and we had, like, five or three minutes to tell it.”


Robert Mackey contributed reporting.

    Cellphones Become the World’s Eyes and Ears on Protests,
    NYT, 18.2.2011,






Digital Devices

Deprive Brain of Needed Downtime


August 24, 2010
THe New York Times


SAN FRANCISCO — It’s 1 p.m. on a Thursday and Dianne Bates, 40, juggles three screens. She listens to a few songs on her iPod, then taps out a quick e-mail on her iPhone and turns her attention to the high-definition television.

Just another day at the gym.

As Ms. Bates multitasks, she is also churning her legs in fast loops on an elliptical machine in a downtown fitness center. She is in good company. In gyms and elsewhere, people use phones and other electronic devices to get work done — and as a reliable antidote to boredom.

Cellphones, which in the last few years have become full-fledged computers with high-speed Internet connections, let people relieve the tedium of exercising, the grocery store line, stoplights or lulls in the dinner conversation.

The technology makes the tiniest windows of time entertaining, and potentially productive. But scientists point to an unanticipated side effect: when people keep their brains busy with digital input, they are forfeiting downtime that could allow them to better learn and remember information, or come up with new ideas.

Ms. Bates, for example, might be clearer-headed if she went for a run outside, away from her devices, research suggests.

At the University of California, San Francisco, scientists have found that when rats have a new experience, like exploring an unfamiliar area, their brains show new patterns of activity. But only when the rats take a break from their exploration do they process those patterns in a way that seems to create a persistent memory of the experience.

The researchers suspect that the findings also apply to how humans learn.

“Almost certainly, downtime lets the brain go over experiences it’s had, solidify them and turn them into permanent long-term memories,” said Loren Frank, assistant professor in the department of physiology at the university, where he specializes in learning and memory. He said he believed that when the brain was constantly stimulated, “you prevent this learning process.”

At the University of Michigan, a study found that people learned significantly better after a walk in nature than after a walk in a dense urban environment, suggesting that processing a barrage of information leaves people fatigued.

Even though people feel entertained, even relaxed, when they multitask while exercising, or pass a moment at the bus stop by catching a quick video clip, they might be taxing their brains, scientists say.

“People think they’re refreshing themselves, but they’re fatiguing themselves,” said Marc Berman, a University of Michigan neuroscientist.

Regardless, there is now a whole industry of mobile software developers competing to help people scratch the entertainment itch. Flurry, a company that tracks the use of apps, has found that mobile games are typically played for 6.3 minutes, but that many are played for much shorter intervals. One popular game that involves stacking blocks gets played for 2.2 minutes on average.

Today’s game makers are trying to fill small bits of free time, said Sebastien de Halleux, a co-founder of PlayFish, a game company owned by the industry giant Electronic Arts.

“Instead of having long relaxing breaks, like taking two hours for lunch, we have a lot of these micro-moments,” he said. Game makers like Electronic Arts, he added, “have reinvented the game experience to fit into micro-moments.”

Many business people, of course, have good reason to be constantly checking their phones. But this can take a mental toll. Henry Chen, 26, a self-employed auto mechanic in San Francisco, has mixed feelings about his BlackBerry habits.

“I check it a lot, whenever there is downtime,” Mr. Chen said. Moments earlier, he was texting with a friend while he stood in line at a bagel shop; he stopped only when the woman behind the counter interrupted him to ask for his order.

Mr. Chen, who recently started his business, doesn’t want to miss a potential customer. Yet he says that since he upgraded his phone a year ago to a feature-rich BlackBerry, he can feel stressed out by what he described as internal pressure to constantly stay in contact.

“It’s become a demand. Not necessarily a demand of the customer, but a demand of my head,” he said. “I told my girlfriend that I’m more tired since I got this thing.”

In the parking lot outside the bagel shop, others were filling up moments with their phones. While Eddie Umadhay, 59, a construction inspector, sat in his car waiting for his wife to grocery shop, he deleted old e-mail while listening to news on the radio. On a bench outside a coffee house, Ossie Gabriel, 44, a nurse practitioner, waited for a friend and checked e-mail “to kill time.”

Crossing the street from the grocery store to his car, David Alvarado pushed his 2-year-old daughter in a cart filled with shopping bags, his phone pressed to his ear.

He was talking to a colleague about work scheduling, noting that he wanted to steal a moment to make the call between paying for the groceries and driving.

“I wanted to take advantage of the little gap,” said Mr. Alvarado, 30, a facilities manager at a community center.

For many such people, the little digital asides come on top of heavy use of computers during the day. Take Ms. Bates, the exercising multitasker at the expansive Bakar Fitness and Recreation Center. She wakes up and peeks at her iPhone before she gets out of bed. At her job in advertising, she spends all day in front of her laptop.

But, far from wanting a break from screens when she exercises, she says she couldn’t possibly spend 55 minutes on the elliptical machine without “lots of things to do.” This includes relentless channel surfing.

“I switch constantly,” she said. “I can’t stand commercials. I have to flip around unless I’m watching ‘Project Runway’ or something I’m really into.”

Some researchers say that whatever downside there is to not resting the brain, it pales in comparison to the benefits technology can bring in motivating people to sweat.

“Exercise needs to be part of our lives in the sedentary world we’re immersed in. Anything that helps us move is beneficial,” said John J. Ratey, associate clinical professor of psychiatry at the Harvard Medical School and author of “Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain.”

But all things being equal, Mr. Ratey said, he would prefer to see people do their workouts away from their devices: “There is more bang for your buck doing it outside, for your mood and working memory.”

Of the 70 cardio machines on the main floor at Bakar Fitness, 67 have televisions attached. Most of them also have iPod docks and displays showing workout performance, and a few have games, like a rope-climbing machine that shows an animated character climbing the rope while the live human does so too.

A few months ago, the cable TV went out and some patrons were apoplectic. “It was an uproar. People said: ‘That’s what we’re paying for,’ ” said Leeane Jensen, 28, the fitness manager.

At least one exerciser has a different take. Two stories up from the main floor, Peter Colley, 23, churns away on one of the several dozen elliptical machines without a TV. Instead, they are bathed in sunlight, looking out onto the pool and palm trees.

“I look at the wind on the trees. I watch the swimmers go back and forth,” Mr. Colley said. “I usually come here to clear my head.”

    Digital Devices Deprive Brain of Needed Downtime, NYT, 24.8.2010,






Supply Chain for iPhone

Highlights Costs in China


July 5, 2010
The New York Times


SHENZHEN, China — Last month, while enthusiastic consumers were playing with their new Apple iPhone 4, researchers in Silicon Valley were engaged in something more serious.

They cracked open the phone’s shell and started analyzing the new model’s components, trying to unmask the identity of Apple’s main suppliers. These “teardown reports” provide a glimpse into a company’s manufacturing.

What the latest analysis shows is that the smallest part of Apple’s costs are here in Shenzhen, where assembly-line workers snap together things like microchips from Germany and Korea, American-made chips that pull in Wi-Fi or cellphone signals, a touch-screen module from Taiwan and more than 100 other components.

But what it does not reveal is that manufacturing in China is about to get far more expensive. Soaring labor costs caused by worker shortages and unrest, a strengthening Chinese currency that makes exports more expensive, and inflation and rising housing costs are all threatening to sharply increase the cost of making devices like notebook computers, digital cameras and smartphones.

Desperate factory owners are already shifting production away from this country’s dominant electronics manufacturing center in Shenzhen toward lower-cost regions far west of here, even deep in China’s mountainous interior.

At the end of June, a manager at Foxconn Technology — one of Apple’s major contract manufacturers — said the company planned to reduce costs by moving hundreds of thousands of workers to other parts of China, including the impoverished Henan Province.

While the labor involved in the final assembly of an iPhone accounts for a small part of the overall cost — about 7 percent by some estimates — analysts say most companies in Apple’s supply chain — the chip makers and battery suppliers and those making plastic moldings and printed circuit boards — depend on Chinese factories to hold down prices. And those factories now seem likely to pass along their cost increases.

“Electronics companies are trying to figure out how to deal with the higher costs,” says Jenny Lai, a technology analyst at CLSA, an investment bank based in Hong Kong. “They’re already squeezed, so squeezing more costs out of the system won’t be easy.”

Apple can cope better than most companies because it has fat profit margins of as much as 60 percent and pricing power to absorb some of those costs. But makers of personal computers, cellphones and other electronics — including Dell, Hewlett-Packard and LG — deal with much slimmer profit margins according to several analysts. “The challenges are going to be much bigger for them,” Ms. Lai said. Most other industries, from textiles and toys to furniture, are under considerably more pressure.

One way to understand the changes taking shape in southern China is to follow the supply chain of the iPhone 4, which was designed by Apple engineers in the United States, sourced with high-tech components from around the world and assembled in China. Shipped back to the United States, the iPhone is priced at $600, though the cost to consumers is less, subsidized by AT&T in exchange for service contracts.

“China makes very little money on these things,” said Jason Dedrick, a professor at Syracuse University and an author of several studies of Apple’s supply chain. Much of the value in high-end products is captured at the beginning and end of the process, by the brand and the distributors and retailers.

According to the latest teardown report compiled by iSuppli, a market research firm in El Segundo, Calif., the bulk of what Apple pays for the iPhone 4’s parts goes to its chip suppliers, like Samsung and Broadcom, which supply crucial components, like processors and the device’s flash-memory chip.

In the iPhone 4, more than a dozen integrated circuit chips account for about two-thirds of the cost of producing a single device, according to iSuppli.

Apple, for instance, pays Samsung about $27 for flash memory and $10.75 to make its (Apple-designed) applications processor; and a German chip maker called Infineon gets $14.05 a phone for chips that send and receive phone calls and data. Most of the electronics cost much less. The gyroscope, new to the iPhone 4, was made by STMicroelectronics, based in Geneva, and added $2.60 to the cost.

The total bill of materials on a $600 iPhone — the supplies that go into final assembly — is $187.51, according to iSuppli.

The least expensive part of the process is manufacturing and assembly. And that often takes place here in southern China, where workers are paid less than a dollar an hour to solder, assemble and package products for the world’s best-known brands.

No company does more of it than Foxconn, a division of the Hon Hai Group of Taiwan, the world’s largest contract electronics manufacturer.

With 800,000 workers in China alone and contracts to supply Apple, Dell and H.P., Foxconn is an electronics goliath that also sources supplies, designs parts and uses its enormous size and military-style efficiency to assemble and speed a wide range of products to market.

“They’re like Wal-Mart stores,” Professor Dedrick said. “They’re low-margin, high-volume. They survive by being efficient.”

The world of contract manufacturers is invisible to consumers. But it’s a $250 billion industry, with just a handful of companies like Foxconn, Flextronics and Jabil Circuit manufacturing and assembling for all the global electronics brands.

They compete fiercely on price to earn small profit margins, analysts say. And they seek to benefit from tiny operational changes.

When a company is operating on the slimmest of profit margins as contract manufacturers are, soaring labor costs pose a serious problem. Wages in China have risen by more than 50 percent since 2005, analysts say, and this year many factories, under pressure from local governments and workers who feel they have been underpaid for too long, have raised wages by an extra 20 to 30 percent.

China’s currency has also appreciated sharply against the United States dollar since 2005, and after a two-year pause by Beijing, economists expect the renminbi to rise about 3 to 5 percent a year for the next several years.

“It takes 3,000 procedures to assemble an H.P. computer,” says Isaac Wang, an iSuppli analyst based in China. “If a contract manufacturer can find a way to save 10 percent of the procedures, then it gets a real good deal.”

Contract manufacturers like Foxconn are now searching for ways to reduce costs. Foxconn is considering moving inland, where wages are 20 to 30 percent lower. The company is also spending heavily on manufacturing many of the parts, molds and metals that are used in computers and handsets, even trying to find larger and cheaper sources of raw material.

“We either outsource the components manufacturing to other suppliers, or we can research and manufacture our own components,” says Arthur Huang, a Foxconn spokesman. “We even have contracts with mines which are located near our factories.”

Many analysts are optimistic the big brands will find new innovations to improve profitability. But within the crowd, there is growing skepticism about China’s manufacturing model after years of pressing workers to toil six or seven days a week, 10 to 12 hours a day.

“We’ve concluded Hon Hai’s labor-intensive model is not sustainable,” says Mr. Wang at iSuppli Research. “Though it can keep hiring 800,000 to one million workers, the problem is these workers can’t keep working like screws in an inhuman system.”

This type of low-end assembly work is also no longer favored in China, analysts say, because it does not produce big returns for the companies or the country. “China doesn’t want to be the workshop of the world anymore,” says Pietra Rivoli, a professor of international business at Georgetown University and author of “The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy.”

“The value goes to where the knowledge is.”

Bao Beibei and Chen Xiaoduan contributed research.

    Supply Chain for iPhone Highlights Costs in China, NYT, 5.7.2010,






You Say God Is Dead?

There’s an App for That


July 2, 2010
The New York Times


An explosion of smart-phone software has placed an arsenal of trivia at the fingertips of every corner-bar debater, with talking points on sports, politics and how to kill a zombie. Now it is taking on the least trivial topic of all: God.

Publishers of Christian material have begun producing iPhone applications that can cough up quick comebacks and rhetorical strategies for believers who want to fight back against what they view as a new strain of strident atheism. And a competing crop of apps is arming nonbelievers for battle.

“Say someone calls you narrow-minded because you think Jesus is the only way to God,” says one top-selling application introduced in March by a Christian publishing company. “Your first answer should be: ‘What do you mean by narrow-minded?’ ”

For religious skeptics, the “BibleThumper” iPhone app boasts that it “allows the atheist to keep the most funny and irrational Bible verses right in their pocket” to be “always ready to confront fundamentalist Christians or have a little fun among friends.”

The war of ideas between believers and nonbelievers has been part of the Western tradition at least since Socrates. For the most part, it has been waged by intellectual giants: Augustine, Spinoza, Aquinas, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche.

Yet for good or ill, combatants entering the lists today are mainly everyday people, drawn in part by the popularity of books like Richard Dawkins’s “The God Delusion” and Christopher Hitchens’s “God Is Not Great.” The fierceness of their debate reflects the fractious talk-show culture unintentionally described so aptly in the title of the Glenn Beck best seller “Arguing With Idiots.”

In a dozen new phone applications, whether faith-based or faith-bashing, the prospective debater is given a primer on the basic rules of engagement — how to parry the circular argument, the false dichotomy, the ad hominem attack, the straw man — and then coached on all the likely flashpoints of contention. Why Darwinism is scientifically sound, or not. The differences between intelligent design and creationism, and whether either theory has any merit. The proof that America was, or was not, founded on Christian principles.

Users can scroll from topic to topic to prepare themselves or, in the heat of a dispute, search for the point at hand — and the perfect retort.

Software creators on both sides say they are only trying to help others see the truth. But most applications focus less on scholarly exegesis than on scoring points.

One app, “Fast Facts, Challenges & Tactics” by LifeWay Christian Resources, suggests that in “reasoning with an unbeliever” it is sometimes effective to invoke the “anthropic principle,” which posits, more or less, that the world as we know it is mathematically too improbable to be an accident.

It offers an example: “The Bible’s 66 books were written over a span of 1,500 years by 40 different authors on three different continents who wrote in three different languages. Yet this diverse collection has a unified story line and no contradictions.”

“The Atheist Pocket Debater,” on the other hand, asserts that because miracles like Moses’ parting of the waters are not occurring in modern times, “it is unreasonable to accept that the events happened” at all. “If you take any miracle from the Bible,” it explains, “and tell your co-workers at your job that this recently happened to someone, you will undoubtedly be laughed at.”

These applications and others — like “One-Minute Answers to Skeptics” and “Answers for Catholics” — appear to be selling briskly, if nowhere near as fast as the top sellers among the so-called book apps in their iPhone category: ghost stories, free books and the King James Bible.

Sean McDowell, the editor of “Fast Facts” and some textbooks for Bible students, said he has become increasingly aware of a skill gap between believers and nonbelievers, who he feels tend to be instinctively more savvy at arguing. “Christians who believe, but cannot explain why they believe, become ‘Bible-thumpers’ who seem dogmatic and insecure about their convictions,” he said. “We have to deal with that.”

“Nowadays, atheists are coming to the forefront at every level of society — from the top of academia all the way down to the level of the average Joe,” added Mr. McDowell, a seminary Ph.D. candidate whose phone app was produced by the B&H Publishing Group, one of the country’s largest distributors of Bibles and religious textbooks.

Jason Hagen may be that average guy. A musician and a real estate investor who lives in Queens, Mr. Hagen decided to write the text for “The Atheist Pocket Debater” this year after buying his first iPhone and finding dozens of apps for religious people, but none for nonbelievers like himself.

In creating what became the digital equivalent of a 50,000-word tract, he gleaned material from the recent antifaith books and got the author Michel Shermer’s permission to reprint essays from Mr. Shermer’s monthly magazine, Skeptic. Mr. Hagen pitched his idea to Apple, which referred him to an independent programmer who helped him develop the application; the company pays Mr. Hagen 50 cents for each download of the $1.99 app. He said a few thousand had sold.

What inspired him, he said, was a lifetime of frustration as the son of a fundamentalist Christian preacher in rural Virginia.

“I know what people go through, growing up in the culture I grew up in,” said Mr. Hagen, 39, adding that his father had only recently learned of his true beliefs. “So I tried to give people the tools they need to defend themselves, but at the same time not ridicule anybody. Basically, the people on the other side of the debate are my parents.”

Still, some scholars consider that approach to the debate the least auspicious way of exploring the mystery of existence.

“It turns it into a game,” said Dr. Serene Jones, president of Union Theological Seminary, in Manhattan. “Both sides come to the discussion with fixed ideas, and you have what amounts to a contest between different types of fundamentalism.”

Indeed, the new phone applications seem to promise hours of unrelieved, humorless argument.

“When someone says, ‘There is no truth,’ ” the Fast Facts app advises, “ask them: ‘Is that true? Is it true there is no truth?’ Because if it’s true that there is no truth, then it’s false that ‘there is no truth.’ ”

Mr. Hagen’s atheistic app resonates with the same certitude. If Jacob saw the face of God (in Genesis 32:30), and God said, “No man shall see me and live” (in Exodus 33:20), then “which one is the liar?” he asks.

His conclusion: “If we know the Bible has content that is false, how can we believe any of it?”

Unavailing as such exchanges may seem, they are a fact of life in parts of the country where for some people, taboos against voicing doubt have lifted for the first time.

“I don’t know that there’s more atheists in the country, but there are definitely more people who are openly atheist, especially on college campuses,” said the Rev. R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., and author of “Atheism Remix: A Christian Confronts the New Atheists.” He said students have asked him how to deal with nonbelievers.

“There is not one student on this campus who doesn’t have at least one person in his circle of family and friends voicing these ideas,” he said.

If smart-phone software can improve the conversation, all to the good, he said. “The app store is our new public commons.”

Michael Beaty, chairman of the philosophy department at Baylor University, a Christian university in Waco, Tex., was not so sure.

“We’d be better off if these people were studying Nietzsche and Kant,” he said.

    You Say God Is Dead? There’s an App for That, NYT, 2.7.2010,






Phone Software

Takes the Taps Out of Typing


June 20, 2010
The New York Times


SEATTLE — Back in the 1990s, typing out “hello” on most cellphones required an exhausting 13 taps on the number keys, like so: 44-33-555-555-666.

That was before the inventor Cliff Kushler, based here in Seattle, and a partner created software called T9, which could bring that number down to three by guessing the word being typed.

Now there is a new challenge to typing on phones. More phones are using virtual keyboards on a touch screen, replacing physical buttons. But pecking out a message on a small piece of glass is not so easy, and typos are common.

Mr. Kushler thinks he has a solution once again. His new technology, which he developed with a fellow research scientist, Randy Marsden, is called Swype, and it allows users to glide a finger across the virtual keyboard to spell words, rather than tapping out each letter. [Watch a demonstration of Swype on YouTube.com]

While many smartphones have features that auto-complete words, correct typos on the fly and add punctuation, Mr. Kushler is aiming for the next level.

“We’ve squeezed the desktop computer, complete with keyboard and mouse, into something that fits in a pocket. The information bandwidth has become very constricted,” he said. “I thought, if we can find a better way to input that information, it could be something that would really take off.”

Mr. Kushler says Swype is a big breakthrough that could reach billions of people. That’s not as ambitious as it sounds. To date, the T9 technology has been built into more than four billion devices worldwide. In 1999 its creators sold it to AOL for a reported $350 million; it is now owned by the speech-recognition company Nuance.

Swype’s software detects where a finger pauses and changes direction as it traces out the pattern of a word. The movements do not have to be precise because the software calculates which words a user is most likely trying to spell.

Capitalization and double letters can be indicated with a pause or squiggle, while spacing and punctuation are automatic. Mr. Kushler, who is chief technology officer of Swype, estimates that the software can improve even the nimblest text-messager’s pace by 20 to 30 percent.

Swype is now being used on seven smartphones in the United States, across all major wireless carriers, including the HTC HD2 and the Samsung Omnia II. By the end of the year, the company says its software will be on more than 50 models worldwide.

It does not have a deal with Apple, the king of touch-screen phones, but it is tinkering with software for the iPhone and the iPad and hopes to show it to Apple soon.

To make money, Swype charges phone makers a licensing fee for each device sold. It also sees opportunity in add-ons.

“We could have custom dictionaries for doctors or lawyers,” said Mike McSherry, chief executive of the company.

But Swype’s appeal goes beyond mobile phones, said Won Park, director of United States technology sourcing at Samsung.

“It could become the de facto standard for tablets, next-generation TVs or next-generation remote controls,” Mr. Park said. “It has tremendous potential.”

Swype’s executives also see its reach extending into public kiosks, smart home appliances, video game consoles and in-car navigation systems.

Some older input methods for mobile devices were based on scribbled gestures, like Palm’s Graffiti. But using Graffiti was slower than typing and forced people to learn an entirely new handwriting format to produce accurate results, said Gavin Lew, co-founder of User Centric, a consulting firm that studies user experiences with mobile devices.

“Swype-like applications rely on a well-known layout, the full qwerty keyboard,” he said. “One simply needs to target a specific letter rather than relying on a memory of how to draw a letter.”

As cellphones take on the functions of personal computers, Mr. Lew said, the need increases to quickly enter and search for information on them.

“These devices aren’t just phones anymore, which is why you’re seeing all these new technologies emerge,” he said. “The more we use them in our daily lives, the greater the need to be more efficient at inputting information.”

Mr. Kushler began experimenting with input methods in 2001, guided in part by his earlier work in helping people with disabilities use technology. He took note of the popularity of devices like those from Palm that used a stylus for input, but he saw room for improvement. He worked with Mr. Marsden to fine-tune the Swype software — which took a laborious seven years.

“The most important thing was that it could accurately figure out which word you wanted to spell,” Mr. Kushler said. “It needed to work no matter what.”

Swype is not the only start-up hoping to profit from innovations in this area. Many companies are trying to improve the way people type on touch screens, which are proliferating swiftly. The research firm Gartner expects global sales of touch-screen devices to reach 326.7 million in 2010, an increase of 97 percent from last year.

SlideIT, a start-up with offices in the United States and Israel, sells applications for touch-screen text input with a finger or stylus for Symbian, Windows Mobile and Android phones. The company says that since February its software has been downloaded more than 500,000 times.

Nuance, a company best known for speech recognition software, acquired a start-up called ShapeWriter that matches patterns traced onto a touch-screen keyboard with those of commonly written words. It is negotiating with phone makers to use its software, called T9 Trace.

Google is trying to let people skip the screen entirely by developing voice- and image-recognition technologies. Its Goggles application can analyze a photo of some text and translate it into a different language — no typing required.

Meanwhile, Swype is moving ahead with its own voice recognition feature, which it expects to add to smartphones this summer.

“We’re all about improving how people input information into their phones, whether through swiping or speaking,” Mr. McSherry said.

    Phone Software Takes the Taps Out of Typing, NYT, 20.6.2010,






Attached to Technology

and Paying a Price


June 6, 2010
The New York Times


SAN FRANCISCO — When one of the most important e-mail messages of his life landed in his in-box a few years ago, Kord Campbell overlooked it.

Not just for a day or two, but 12 days. He finally saw it while sifting through old messages: a big company wanted to buy his Internet start-up.

“I stood up from my desk and said, ‘Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God,’ ” Mr. Campbell said. “It’s kind of hard to miss an e-mail like that, but I did.”

The message had slipped by him amid an electronic flood: two computer screens alive with e-mail, instant messages, online chats, a Web browser and the computer code he was writing. (View an interactive panorama of Mr. Campbell's workstation.)

While he managed to salvage the $1.3 million deal after apologizing to his suitor, Mr. Campbell continues to struggle with the effects of the deluge of data. Even after he unplugs, he craves the stimulation he gets from his electronic gadgets. He forgets things like dinner plans, and he has trouble focusing on his family.

His wife, Brenda, complains, “It seems like he can no longer be fully in the moment.”

This is your brain on computers.

Scientists say juggling e-mail, phone calls and other incoming information can change how people think and behave. They say our ability to focus is being undermined by bursts of information.

These play to a primitive impulse to respond to immediate opportunities and threats. The stimulation provokes excitement — a dopamine squirt — that researchers say can be addictive. In its absence, people feel bored.

The resulting distractions can have deadly consequences, as when cellphone-wielding drivers and train engineers cause wrecks. And for millions of people like Mr. Campbell, these urges can inflict nicks and cuts on creativity and deep thought, interrupting work and family life.

While many people say multitasking makes them more productive, research shows otherwise. Heavy multitaskers actually have more trouble focusing and shutting out irrelevant information, scientists say, and they experience more stress.

And scientists are discovering that even after the multitasking ends, fractured thinking and lack of focus persist. In other words, this is also your brain off computers.

“The technology is rewiring our brains,” said Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute of Drug Abuse and one of the world’s leading brain scientists. She and other researchers compare the lure of digital stimulation less to that of drugs and alcohol than to food and sex, which are essential but counterproductive in excess.

Technology use can benefit the brain in some ways, researchers say. Imaging studies show the brains of Internet users become more efficient at finding information. And players of some video games develop better visual acuity.

More broadly, cellphones and computers have transformed life. They let people escape their cubicles and work anywhere. They shrink distances and handle countless mundane tasks, freeing up time for more exciting pursuits.

For better or worse, the consumption of media, as varied as e-mail and TV, has exploded. In 2008, people consumed three times as much information each day as they did in 1960. And they are constantly shifting their attention. Computer users at work change windows or check e-mail or other programs nearly 37 times an hour, new research shows.

The nonstop interactivity is one of the most significant shifts ever in the human environment, said Adam Gazzaley, a neuroscientist at the University of California, San Francisco.

“We are exposing our brains to an environment and asking them to do things we weren’t necessarily evolved to do,” he said. “We know already there are consequences.”

Mr. Campbell, 43, came of age with the personal computer, and he is a heavier user of technology than most. But researchers say the habits and struggles of Mr. Campbell and his family typify what many experience — and what many more will, if trends continue.

For him, the tensions feel increasingly acute, and the effects harder to shake.

The Campbells recently moved to California from Oklahoma to start a software venture. Mr. Campbell’s life revolves around computers. (View a slide show on how the Campbells interact with technology.)

He goes to sleep with a laptop or iPhone on his chest, and when he wakes, he goes online. He and Mrs. Campbell, 39, head to the tidy kitchen in their four-bedroom hillside rental in Orinda, an affluent suburb of San Francisco, where she makes breakfast and watches a TV news feed in the corner of the computer screen while he uses the rest of the monitor to check his e-mail.

Major spats have arisen because Mr. Campbell escapes into video games during tough emotional stretches. On family vacations, he has trouble putting down his devices. When he rides the subway to San Francisco, he knows he will be offline 221 seconds as the train goes through a tunnel.

Their 16-year-old son, Connor, tall and polite like his father, recently received his first C’s, which his family blames on distraction from his gadgets. Their 8-year-old daughter, Lily, like her mother, playfully tells her father that he favors technology over family.

“I would love for him to totally unplug, to be totally engaged,” says Mrs. Campbell, who adds that he becomes “crotchety until he gets his fix.” But she would not try to force a change.

“He loves it. Technology is part of the fabric of who he is,” she says. “If I hated technology, I’d be hating him, and a part of who my son is too.”


Always On

Mr. Campbell, whose given name is Thomas, had an early start with technology in Oklahoma City. When he was in third grade, his parents bought him Pong, a video game. Then came a string of game consoles and PCs, which he learned to program.

In high school, he balanced computers, basketball and a romance with Brenda, a cheerleader with a gorgeous singing voice. He studied too, with focus, uninterrupted by e-mail. “I did my homework because I needed to get it done,” he said. “I didn’t have anything else to do.”

He left college to help with a family business, then set up a lawn mowing service. At night he would read, play video games, hang out with Brenda and, as she remembers it, “talk a lot more.”

In 1996, he started a successful Internet provider. Then he built the start-up that he sold for $1.3 million in 2003 to LookSmart, a search engine.

Mr. Campbell loves the rush of modern life and keeping up with the latest information. “I want to be the first to hear when the aliens land,” he said, laughing. But other times, he fantasizes about living in pioneer days when things moved more slowly: “I can’t keep everything in my head.”

No wonder. As he came of age, so did a new era of data and communication.

At home, people consume 12 hours of media a day on average, when an hour spent with, say, the Internet and TV simultaneously counts as two hours. That compares with five hours in 1960, say researchers at the University of California, San Diego. Computer users visit an average of 40 Web sites a day, according to research by RescueTime, which offers time-management tools.

As computers have changed, so has the understanding of the human brain. Until 15 years ago, scientists thought the brain stopped developing after childhood. Now they understand that its neural networks continue to develop, influenced by things like learning skills.

So not long after Eyal Ophir arrived at Stanford in 2004, he wondered whether heavy multitasking might be leading to changes in a characteristic of the brain long thought immutable: that humans can process only a single stream of information at a time.

Going back a half-century, tests had shown that the brain could barely process two streams, and could not simultaneously make decisions about them. But Mr. Ophir, a student-turned-researcher, thought multitaskers might be rewiring themselves to handle the load.

His passion was personal. He had spent seven years in Israeli intelligence after being weeded out of the air force — partly, he felt, because he was not a good multitasker. Could his brain be retrained?

Mr. Ophir, like others around the country studying how technology bent the brain, was startled by what he discovered.


The Myth of Multitasking

The test subjects were divided into two groups: those classified as heavy multitaskers based on their answers to questions about how they used technology, and those who were not.

In a test created by Mr. Ophir and his colleagues, subjects at a computer were briefly shown an image of red rectangles. Then they saw a similar image and were asked whether any of the rectangles had moved. It was a simple task until the addition of a twist: blue rectangles were added, and the subjects were told to ignore them. (Play a game testing how well you filter out distractions.)

The multitaskers then did a significantly worse job than the non-multitaskers at recognizing whether red rectangles had changed position. In other words, they had trouble filtering out the blue ones — the irrelevant information.

So, too, the multitaskers took longer than non-multitaskers to switch among tasks, like differentiating vowels from consonants and then odd from even numbers. The multitaskers were shown to be less efficient at juggling problems. (Play a game testing how well you switch between tasks.)

Other tests at Stanford, an important center for research in this fast-growing field, showed multitaskers tended to search for new information rather than accept a reward for putting older, more valuable information to work.

Researchers say these findings point to an interesting dynamic: multitaskers seem more sensitive than non-multitaskers to incoming information.

The results also illustrate an age-old conflict in the brain, one that technology may be intensifying. A portion of the brain acts as a control tower, helping a person focus and set priorities. More primitive parts of the brain, like those that process sight and sound, demand that it pay attention to new information, bombarding the control tower when they are stimulated.

Researchers say there is an evolutionary rationale for the pressure this barrage puts on the brain. The lower-brain functions alert humans to danger, like a nearby lion, overriding goals like building a hut. In the modern world, the chime of incoming e-mail can override the goal of writing a business plan or playing catch with the children.

“Throughout evolutionary history, a big surprise would get everyone’s brain thinking,” said Clifford Nass, a communications professor at Stanford. “But we’ve got a large and growing group of people who think the slightest hint that something interesting might be going on is like catnip. They can’t ignore it.”

Mr. Nass says the Stanford studies are important because they show multitasking’s lingering effects: “The scary part for guys like Kord is, they can’t shut off their multitasking tendencies when they’re not multitasking.”

Melina Uncapher, a neurobiologist on the Stanford team, said she and other researchers were unsure whether the muddied multitaskers were simply prone to distraction and would have had trouble focusing in any era. But she added that the idea that information overload causes distraction was supported by more and more research.

A study at the University of California, Irvine, found that people interrupted by e-mail reported significantly increased stress compared with those left to focus. Stress hormones have been shown to reduce short-term memory, said Gary Small, a psychiatrist at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Preliminary research shows some people can more easily juggle multiple information streams. These “supertaskers” represent less than 3 percent of the population, according to scientists at the University of Utah.

Other research shows computer use has neurological advantages. In imaging studies, Dr. Small observed that Internet users showed greater brain activity than nonusers, suggesting they were growing their neural circuitry.

At the University of Rochester, researchers found that players of some fast-paced video games can track the movement of a third more objects on a screen than nonplayers. They say the games can improve reaction and the ability to pick out details amid clutter.

“In a sense, those games have a very strong both rehabilitative and educational power,” said the lead researcher, Daphne Bavelier, who is working with others in the field to channel these changes into real-world benefits like safer driving.

There is a vibrant debate among scientists over whether technology’s influence on behavior and the brain is good or bad, and how significant it is.

“The bottom line is, the brain is wired to adapt,” said Steven Yantis, a professor of brain sciences at Johns Hopkins University. “There’s no question that rewiring goes on all the time,” he added. But he said it was too early to say whether the changes caused by technology were materially different from others in the past.

Mr. Ophir is loath to call the cognitive changes bad or good, though the impact on analysis and creativity worries him.

He is not just worried about other people. Shortly after he came to Stanford, a professor thanked him for being the one student in class paying full attention and not using a computer or phone. But he recently began using an iPhone and noticed a change; he felt its pull, even when playing with his daughter.

“The media is changing me,” he said. “I hear this internal ping that says: check e-mail and voice mail.”

“I have to work to suppress it.”

Kord Campbell does not bother to suppress it, or no longer can.


Interrupted by a Corpse

It is a Wednesday in April, and in 10 minutes, Mr. Campbell has an online conference call that could determine the fate of his new venture, called Loggly. It makes software that helps companies understand the clicking and buying patterns of their online customers.

Mr. Campbell and his colleagues, each working from a home office, are frantically trying to set up a program that will let them share images with executives at their prospective partner.

But at the moment when Mr. Campbell most needs to focus on that urgent task, something else competes for his attention: “Man Found Dead Inside His Business.”

That is the tweet that appears on the left-most of Mr. Campbell’s array of monitors, which he has expanded to three screens, at times adding a laptop and an iPad.

On the left screen, Mr. Campbell follows the tweets of 1,100 people, along with instant messages and group chats. The middle monitor displays a dark field filled with computer code, along with Skype, a service that allows Mr. Campbell to talk to his colleagues, sometimes using video. The monitor on the right keeps e-mail, a calendar, a Web browser and a music player.

Even with the meeting fast approaching, Mr. Campbell cannot resist the tweet about the corpse. He clicks on the link in it, glances at the article and dismisses it. “It’s some article about something somewhere,” he says, annoyed by the ads for jeans popping up.

The program gets fixed, and the meeting turns out to be fruitful: the partners are ready to do business. A colleague says via instant message: “YES.”

Other times, Mr. Campbell’s information juggling has taken a more serious toll. A few weeks earlier, he once again overlooked an e-mail message from a prospective investor. Another time, Mr. Campbell signed the company up for the wrong type of business account on Amazon.com, costing $300 a month for six months before he got around to correcting it. He has burned hamburgers on the grill, forgotten to pick up the children and lingered in the bathroom playing video games on an iPhone.

Mr. Campbell can be unaware of his own habits. In a two-and-a-half hour stretch one recent morning, he switched rapidly between e-mail and several other programs, according to data from RescueTime, which monitored his computer use with his permission. But when asked later what he was doing in that period, Mr. Campbell said he had been on a long Skype call, and “may have pulled up an e-mail or two.”

The kind of disconnection Mr. Campbell experiences is not an entirely new problem, of course. As they did in earlier eras, people can become so lost in work, hobbies or TV that they fail to pay attention to family.

Mr. Campbell concedes that, even without technology, he may work or play obsessively, just as his father immersed himself in crossword puzzles. But he says this era is different because he can multitask anyplace, anytime.

“It’s a mixed blessing,” he said. “If you’re not careful, your marriage can fall apart or your kids can be ready to play and you’ll get distracted.”


The Toll on Children

Father and son sit in armchairs. Controllers in hand, they engage in a fierce video game battle, displayed on the nearby flat-panel TV, as Lily watches.

They are playing Super Smash Bros. Brawl, a cartoonish animated fight between characters that battle using anvils, explosives and other weapons.

“Kill him, Dad,” Lily screams. To no avail. Connor regularly beats his father, prompting expletives and, once, a thrown pillow. But there is bonding and mutual respect.

“He’s a lot more tactical,” says Connor. “But I’m really good at quick reflexes.”

Screens big and small are central to the Campbell family’s leisure time. Connor and his mother relax while watching TV shows like “Heroes.” Lily has an iPod Touch, a portable DVD player and her own laptop, which she uses to watch videos, listen to music and play games.

Lily, a second-grader, is allowed only an hour a day of unstructured time, which she often spends with her devices. The laptop can consume her.

“When she’s on it, you can holler her name all day and she won’t hear,” Mrs. Campbell said.

Researchers worry that constant digital stimulation like this creates attention problems for children with brains that are still developing, who already struggle to set priorities and resist impulses.

Connor’s troubles started late last year. He could not focus on homework. No wonder, perhaps. On his bedroom desk sit two monitors, one with his music collection, one with Facebook and Reddit, a social site with news links that he and his father love. His iPhone availed him to relentless texting with his girlfriend.

When he studied, “a little voice would be saying, ‘Look up’ at the computer, and I’d look up,” Connor said. “Normally, I’d say I want to only read for a few minutes, but I’d search every corner of Reddit and then check Facebook.”

His Web browsing informs him. “He’s a fact hound,” Mr. Campbell brags. “Connor is, other than programming, extremely technical. He’s 100 percent Internet savvy.”

But the parents worry too. “Connor is obsessed,” his mother said. “Kord says we have to teach him balance.”

So in January, they held a family meeting. Study time now takes place in a group setting at the dinner table after everyone has finished eating. It feels, Mr. Campbell says, like togetherness.


No Vacations

For spring break, the family rented a cottage in Carmel, Calif. Mrs. Campbell hoped everyone would unplug.

But the day before they left, the iPad from Apple came out, and Mr. Campbell snapped one up. The next night, their first on vacation, “We didn’t go out to dinner,” Mrs. Campbell mourned. “We just sat there on our devices.”

She rallied the troops the next day to the aquarium. Her husband joined them for a bit but then begged out to do e-mail on his phone.

Later she found him playing video games.

The trip came as Mr. Campbell was trying to raise several million dollars for his new venture, a goal that he achieved. Brenda said she understood that his pursuit required intensity but was less understanding of the accompanying surge in video game.

His behavior brought about a discussion between them. Mrs. Campbell said he told her that he was capable of logging off, citing a trip to Hawaii several years ago that they called their second honeymoon.

“What trip are you thinking about?” she said she asked him. She recalled that he had spent two hours a day online in the hotel’s business center.

On Thursday, their fourth day in Carmel, Mr. Campbell spent the day at the beach with his family. They flew a kite and played whiffle ball.

Connor unplugged too. “It changes the mood of everything when everybody is present,” Mrs. Campbell said.

The next day, the family drove home, and Mr. Campbell disappeared into his office.

Technology use is growing for Mrs. Campbell as well. She divides her time between keeping the books of her husband’s company, homemaking and working at the school library. She checks e-mail 25 times a day, sends texts and uses Facebook.

Recently, she was baking peanut butter cookies for Teacher Appreciation Day when her phone chimed in the living room. She answered a text, then became lost in Facebook, forgot about the cookies and burned them. She started a new batch, but heard the phone again, got lost in messaging, and burned those too. Out of ingredients and shamed, she bought cookies at the store.

She feels less focused and has trouble completing projects. Some days, she promises herself she will ignore her device. “It’s like a diet — you have good intentions in the morning and then you’re like, ‘There went that,’ ” she said.

Mr. Nass at Stanford thinks the ultimate risk of heavy technology use is that it diminishes empathy by limiting how much people engage with one another, even in the same room.

“The way we become more human is by paying attention to each other,” he said. “It shows how much you care.”

That empathy, Mr. Nass said, is essential to the human condition. “We are at an inflection point,” he said. “A significant fraction of people’s experiences are now fragmented.”

    Attached to Technology and Paying a Price, NYT, 6.6.2010,






On Web and iPhone,

a Tool to Aid Careful Shopping


June 15, 2009
The New York Times


SAN FRANCISCO — These days, every skin lotion and dish detergent on store shelves gloats about how green it is. How do shoppers know which are good for them and good for the earth?

It was a similar question that hit Dara O’Rourke, a professor of environmental and labor policy at the University of California, Berkeley, one morning when he was applying sunscreen to his young daughter’s face.

He realized he did not know what was in the lotion. He went to his office and quickly discovered that it contained a carcinogen activated by sunlight. It also contained an endocrine disruptor and two skin irritants. He also discovered that her soap included a kind of dioxane, a carcinogen, and then found that one of her brand-name toys was made with lead.

And in looking for the answer, he hatched the idea for a company that used his esoteric research on supply chain management. “All I do is study this, and I know nothing about the products I’m bringing into our house and putting in, on and around our family,” Mr. O’Rourke said. But when he wanted to find that information, he could. Most consumers would struggle to do so.

Hence GoodGuide, a Web site and iPhone application that lets consumers dig past the package’s marketing spiel by entering a product’s name and discovering its health, environmental and social impacts.

“What we’re trying to do is flip the whole marketing world on its head,” said Mr. O’Rourke. “Instead of companies telling you what to believe, customers are making the statements to the marketers about what they care about.”

A few years ago, Mr. O’Rourke noticed that at the end of his lectures, audience members were raising their hands to ask which kind of laptop or sneaker or lotion to buy. Americans are becoming increasingly interested in what is in the stuff they buy. (Mr. O’Rourke’s research caught mainstream interest once before when, in 1997, his report on Nike’s factories in Vietnam led to an uproar over that company’s labor conditions.)

Although the GoodGuide Web site, which started in September, had only 110,000 unique visitors in April, Mr. O’Rourke is encouraged that it is growing about 25 percent a month. Lately, interest in GoodGuide has begun to extend beyond techies and the Whole Foods crowd to the Wal-Mart crowd, as Mr. O’Rourke put it. One sign of that broader appeal: Apple recently featured the app in its iPhone ads.

GoodGuide’s office, in San Francisco, has 12 full-time and 12 part-time employees, half scientists and half engineers. They have scored 75,000 products with data from nearly 200 sources, including government databases, studies by nonprofits and academics, and the research by scientists on the GoodGuide staff. There are still holes in the data that GoodGuide seeks to fill.

Users enter a product’s name to get scores. For instance, Tom’s of Maine deodorant gets an 8.6 in part because it has no carcinogens, while Arrid XX antiperspirant rates a 3.8 because it contains known carcinogens. Another click leads to information behind the scores, like whether an ingredient causes reproductive problems or produces toxic waste, or whether the company has women and racial minorities in executive positions or faces labor lawsuits.

Mr. O’Rourke began gathering data in 2005 with the help of computer science graduate students at Berkeley and $300,000 from foundations. The do-gooder in Mr. O’Rourke, however, did not prevent him from seeing the commercial possibilities of what was being compiled.

Persuading venture capitalists to finance his idea was trickier. In 2007, he was rejected by dozens of firms over six months. The green tech investors were not interested in a start-up that did not make alternative energy. The Web investors were not interested in one that was not going to get 50 million users overnight and sell ads.

One of the most prominent Internet investors in Silicon Valley walked out of the room after snidely dismissing GoodGuide with: “Hmm, a noble cause.” GoodGuide eventually raised $3.7 million from New Enterprise Associates and Draper Fisher Jurvetson.

GoodGuide does not sell ads and does not plan to, in part because Mr. O’Rourke will not take money from a company whose product is rated on the site. It makes a small fee if customers click on links to Amazon.com or TheFind and buy the product.

The basic site will always be free, he says, but GoodGuide may someday charge subscription fees for personalized versions. It also plans to license data to governments and retailers. It could help a state avoid buying paper cups with ingredients from a certain country, for example, or enable a drugstore chain to list a product’s GoodGuide score next to the price tag.

This summer, GoodGuide will add a deeper database for users who want more detail by, for example, reading the academic studies on which ratings may be based. The next version of the iPhone will enable people to scan bar codes to get scores, rather than type in the product’s name.

Some companies, including Clorox and SC Johnson, have agreed in recent months to reveal more about the ingredients in their products because of gathering consumer concern. That will enable GoodGuide to fill gaps in its data. Federal law does not require makers of household products to list all ingredients.

“What we think of now as green is a marketing mirage,” usually based on a single environmentally friendly practice, said Daniel Goleman, author of “Ecological Intelligence,” who switched deodorants and shampoos because of GoodGuide. The site could potentially “have a revolutionary effect on industry and commerce,” he said, by educating shoppers about the ramifications of buying a particular product.

That could also be the problem with GoodGuide, said John R. Ehrenfeld, executive director of the International Society for Industrial Ecology. He worries that by collapsing dozens of data points into a single number, GoodGuide does not adequately inform consumers about each consequence of each ingredient.

“Consumers need to be very carefully educated as to what these scores mean if it’s going to serve the purpose GoodGuide says it does,” he said.

    On Web and iPhone, a Tool to Aid Careful Shopping, NYT, 15.6.2009,






Providing Cellphones for the Poor


June 15, 2009
The New York Times


John Cobb, 59, a former commercial fisherman who is disabled with cirrhosis of the liver and emphysema, lives in a studio apartment in Greensboro, N.C., on a fixed monthly income of $674. He has been hoping to receive more government assistance, and in February, he did.

It came in the form of a free cellphone and free service.

Mr. Cobb became one of a small but rapidly growing number of low-income Americans benefiting from a new wrinkle to a decades-old federal law that provided them with subsidized landline telephone service.

In a twist, wireless carriers are receiving subsidies to provide people like Mr. Cobb with a phone and typically 68 minutes of talk time each month. It is a form of wireless welfare that puts a societal stamp on the central role played by the mobile device.

Mr. Cobb’s cellphone is a Motorola 175. “I feel so much safer when I drive. If I get sick, I can call someone. If I break down, I can call someone,” Mr. Cobb said. “It’s a necessity.”

The users are not the only ones receiving government assistance. Telecommunications industry analysts said the program, while in its infancy, could benefit mobile phone carriers, who face a steep challenge of their own: most Americans already own a cellphone, so the poor represent a last untapped market.

“The low hanging fruit is gone, and the wireless companies are going after the nooks and crannies,” said Roger Entner, a wireless industry analyst with Nielsen. “Oh, the poor: How can we sign them up?”

Carriers can receive up to $10 a month in government subsidies, sufficient to cover what amounts to about $3 in service, Mr. Entner said.

Since November, the number of customers receiving free or subsidized wireless service has doubled to 1.4 million, he said. To be eligible for the program, known as Lifeline, a person must meet federal low-income guidelines or qualify for one of a handful of social service programs, including food stamps or Medicaid.

The opportunity has prompted interest from the nation’s biggest carriers, including Sprint Nextel and AT&T. But at the forefront is a much smaller company, Tracfone, a Florida provider of prepaid mobile service that has become the face of the fledgling subsidized cellphone.

Tracfone began providing its service, called SafeLink, in Tennessee in August and now does so in 16 states, including New York, North Carolina and Pennsylvania, and the District of Columbia, according to its Web site. Each time it enters a market — which generally requires state approval — it runs television ads telling people how easy it is to get a free Motorola phone, like Mr. Cobb’s.

The company says the economy makes the audience particularly receptive. “We’ll read that more people are signing up for food stamps and look at our numbers and see volume rising,” said Jose Fuentes, director of government relations for Tracfone. “It’s not scientific proof,” he added. “But we know times are tough.”

He declined to say how many subscribers have signed up. But he said Tracfone, whose paid service has 10 million subscribers, sees the Lifeline service as an opportunity to make some money but, more pointedly, to eventually convert the subsidized customers into paying ones if their fortunes turn around and they no longer qualify for a free phone.

“It could make for a good business,” Mr. Fuentes said.

According to Nielsen, 90 percent of Americans have at least one cellphone. That leaves 32 million, including the infirm, still up for grabs. “And the race is on to get them,” Mr. Entner said.

He said the overwhelming majority of Americans with subsidized wireless service receive it through Tracfone.

One of them is Leon Simmons, 52, of the Bronx, N.Y., who did stints in the Navy, at the Post Office and as a security guard before becoming disabled with emphysema. His wife, who works a minimum wage job at a laundry, heard about the Tracfone service and he got a phone in April.

The free phone is not, as it is for some others in the program, their sole form of telecommunications. Out of the roughly $1,600 they make each month after taxes, they pay $159 for a landline telephone, high-speed Internet and cable television. But the cellphone, Mr. Simmons says, gives him the flexibility to tell his wife or daughter his comings and goings or to stay in touch when he is at the doctor.

According to the Federal Communications Commission, Lifeline service was started in 1984 to ensure that everyone had telephone service for emergencies. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 opened competition to new wireline and wireless providers.

More recently, companies, particularly Tracfone, have started pursuing the wireless opportunity. Still, most of the $800 million in subsidies last year went for landline service even as more Americans cut the cord in favor of exclusively using a mobile phone.

The subsidy money comes from a tax applied to phone bills. Carriers seeking eligibility for it apply to state utility commissions, though several states have ceded their jurisdiction in the matter to the F.C.C.

The issue has created controversy in some states over how and even whether to subsidize wireless service. In California, for example, the public utilities commission plans to debate on Thursday a proposal to extend Lifeline services to wireless — a matter backed by companies like AT&T and Sprint and T-Mobile.

The Greenlining Coalition, a nonprofit advocacy group for low-income residents, has lobbied the state to “move the California Lifeline program into the 21st century,” according to public documents provided for the hearing on Thursday.

But State Assemblyman Felipe Fuentes, who represents a district in Los Angeles, says the California legislature should ask some tough questions before moving ahead — particularly if people contemplate making wireless their only form of communication. Chiefly, he wants to know whether wireless service satisfies crucial aspects needed in lifeline, like reliability in an emergency.

“What if the phone isn’t charged, or junior doesn’t know how to use it?” Mr. Fuentes asked.

Across the country, Mr. Simmons from the Bronx says he likes being able to communicate when he is on the go. And he does not see what all the fuss is about when it comes to cellphones.

“People walk around with their head stuck into these things, not paying attention to what’s going on around them,” he said. Even though he thinks these people look silly, he said, he is going to use his cellphone.

Why not? he said. “It’s free.”

    Providing Cellphones for the Poor, NYT, 15.6.2009,







Cellphones as Credit Cards?

Americans Must Wait


January 25, 2009
The New York Times


IMAGINE a technology that lets you pay for products just by waving your cellphone over a reader.

The technology exists, and, in fact, people in Japan have been using it for the last five years to pay for everything from train tickets to groceries to candy in vending machines. And in small-scale trials around the world, including in Atlanta, New York and the San Francisco Bay Area, nearly everyone has liked using this form of payment.

But consumers in the United States won’t be able to wave and pay with their cellphones anytime soon: The myriad companies that must work together to give the technology to the masses have yet to agree on how to split the resulting revenue.

“In Japan it was easier,” explains Gerhard Romen, director for corporate business development at Nokia. “It was just the major guys saying, ‘This is how it will be.’ ” A single carrier, NTT DoCoMo, accounted for more than half the Japanese market at the time the system was rolled out and thus had significant leverage with financial institutions and handset manufacturers.

This is not the case in the United States. For such payments to work here, cellphone manufacturers, carriers, financial institutions and retailers must all play roles. There also must be some sort of intermediary that is trusted by both the financial institutions and the carriers to activate the virtual credit cards inside the phone.

One problem is that anyone using a credit card inside a cellphone is simultaneously a customer of the financial institution and of the carrier. “At the end of the day, the question is, ‘Who pays whom and how much?’” Mr. Romen says. “The carriers and the banks need to get their act together on payment.” He adds that the back-and-forth is a necessary step in the creation of a complex system.

Short-range technology, called N.F.C., for Near Field Communication, enables a phone to talk to an electronic reader. It is already in widespread use — though, outside Japan, often not in phones.

In London, for example, the technology is embedded in the “Oyster” cards used to access the transportation system. The technology is also used in credit cards like payWave from Visa and PayPass from MasterCard that are waved over readers, rather than swiped through them.

For a phone, the technology to store account information securely is advanced enough so that several different virtual cards can be placed inside the phone; users can select an account by using the screen.

Account information can be embedded in the telephone or on a SIM card or microSD card, but no call over a network is needed to send the data. Proximity is the key: for the payment to work, the phone needs to be within a few centimeters of the reader.

The idea of equipping a cellphone with virtual credit cards worries some people; phones, after all, are easily lost or stolen. But Simon Pugh, group head of the mobile payments group at MasterCard Worldwide, said that if the phone were lost, the consumer could call the bank — using another phone, of course — to disable the account. He also said that consumers could choose to protect the payment part of their phone with an access code, but he added that the payment would also be secure even without such measures.

The risk of account fraud from mobile payments is “small,” according to Kevin Fu, an assistant professor of computer science at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, who in 2006 uncovered several security holes in credit cards that are waved rather than swiped. Credit-card companies say that these problems have been fixed.

Mr. Fu is more concerned about privacy. He says that it may be possible to get personal information, like a person’s name, from credit-card account data on a mobile phone. Nonetheless, he predicts that with time, “these N.F.C. phones will become one of the best ways to do mobile payments.”

It is almost certain that mobile-phone payments will eventually come to the United States. After all, the technology promises something for everyone involved: Credit-card companies would have a new way to attract and keep customers and would save money by no longer sending cards through the mail. Carriers would enjoy another source of revenue. Retailers would benefit from a faster checkout process, and may find that people buy more when they pay with their phones.

And according to Joanne Trout, vice president of worldwide communications for MasterCard Worldwide, there will not be an additional fee for consumers to use credit cards on their phones.

Consumers, too, would probably like using their cellphone credit cards, if wave-and-pay were secure and widely available. It may be another instance of the phenomenon, so common in technology, of not knowing we want something until we have it. “People really do like it,” said Key Pousttchi, head of the Wi-mobile research group at the University of Augsburg in Germany. “It is easy. It is convenient. It helps you.”

The group has surveyed thousands of people who have participated in mobile-phone trials around the world.

Mr. Pousttchi says he expects that by 2012, most phones will contain the N.F.C. technology that makes wave-and-pay possible. But he cautions that this doesn’t necessarily mean that Americans will be paying with their cellphones in three years. For that to happen, all the players will have to work together to define standards, determine revenue-sharing, expand the network of electronic readers and think through the other parts of what he calls “this 2,000-piece puzzle.”

The NFC Forum, an industry association based in Wakefield, Mass., whose 150 members include manufacturers, carriers and financial institutions, is a good start. Mr. Romen and Mr. Pugh are both vice chairmen of the group.

Nonetheless, Mr. Pousttchi warns, “it is completely possible nothing will happen in mobile payments in the next five years if everybody keeps thinking only about their own piece of the puzzle.”

Leslie Berlin is project historian

for the Silicon Valley Archives at Stanford.

    Cellphones as Credit Cards? Americans Must Wait, NYT, 25.1.2009,






Lose the BlackBerry?

Yes He Can, Maybe


November 16, 2008
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — Sorry, Mr. President. Please surrender your BlackBerry.

Those are seven words President-elect Barack Obama is dreading but expecting to hear, friends and advisers say, when he takes office in 65 days.

For years, like legions of other professionals, Mr. Obama has been all but addicted to his BlackBerry. The device has rarely been far from his side — on most days, it was fastened to his belt — to provide a singular conduit to the outside world as the bubble around him grew tighter and tighter throughout his campaign.

“How about that?” Mr. Obama replied to a friend’s congratulatory e-mail message on the night of his victory.

But before he arrives at the White House, he will probably be forced to sign off. In addition to concerns about e-mail security, he faces the Presidential Records Act, which puts his correspondence in the official record and ultimately up for public review, and the threat of subpoenas. A decision has not been made on whether he could become the first e-mailing president, but aides said that seemed doubtful.

For all the perquisites and power afforded the president, the chief executive of the United States is essentially deprived by law and by culture of some of the very tools that other chief executives depend on to survive and to thrive. Mr. Obama, however, seems intent on pulling the office at least partly into the 21st century on that score; aides said he hopes to have a laptop computer on his desk in the Oval Office, making him the first American president to do so.

Mr. Obama has not sent a farewell dispatch from the personal e-mail account he uses — he has not changed his address in years — but friends say the frequency of correspondence has diminished. In recent days, though, he has been seen typing his thoughts on transition matters and other items on his BlackBerry, bypassing, at least temporarily, the bureaucracy that is quickly encircling him.

A year ago, when many Democratic contributors and other observers were worried about his prospects against Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, they reached out to him directly. Mr. Obama had changed his cellphone number, so e-mail remained the most reliable way of communicating directly with him.

“His BlackBerry was constantly crackling with e-mails,” said David Axelrod, the campaign’s chief strategist. “People were generous with their advice — much of it conflicting.”

Mr. Obama is the second president to grapple with the idea of this self-imposed isolation. Three days before his first inauguration, George W. Bush sent a message to 42 friends and relatives that explained his predicament.

“Since I do not want my private conversations looked at by those out to embarrass, the only course of action is not to correspond in cyberspace,” Mr. Bush wrote from his old address, G94B@aol.com. “This saddens me. I have enjoyed conversing with each of you.”

But in the interceding eight years, as BlackBerrys have become ubiquitous — and often less intrusive than a telephone, the volume of e-mail has multiplied and the role of technology has matured. Mr. Obama used e-mail to stay in constant touch with friends from the lonely confines of the road, often sending messages like “Sox!” when the Chicago White Sox won a game. He also relied on e-mail to keep abreast of the rapid whirl of events on a given campaign day.

Mr. Obama’s memorandums and briefing books were seldom printed out and delivered to his house or hotel room, aides said. They were simply sent to his BlackBerry for his review. If a document was too long, he would read and respond from his laptop computer, often putting his editing changes in red type.

His messages to advisers and friends, they say, are generally crisp, properly spelled and free of symbols or emoticons. The time stamps provided a window into how much he was sleeping on a given night, with messages often being sent to staff members at 1 a.m. or as late as 3 a.m. if he was working on an important speech.

He received a scaled-down list of news clippings, with his advisers wanting to keep him from reading blogs and news updates all day long, yet aides said he still seemed to hear about nearly everything in real time. A network of friends — some from college, others from Chicago and various chapters in his life — promised to keep him plugged in.

Not having such a ready line to that network, staff members who spent countless hours with him say, is likely to be a challenge.

“Given how important it is for him to get unfiltered information from as many sources as possible, I can imagine he will miss that freedom,” said Linda Douglass, a senior adviser who traveled with the campaign.

Mr. Obama has, for at least brief moments, been forced offline. As he sat down with a small circle of advisers to prepare for debates with Senator John McCain, one rule was quickly established: No BlackBerrys. Mr. Axelrod ordered everyone to put their devices in the center of a table during work sessions. Mr. Obama, who was known to sneak a peek at his, was no exception.

In the closing stages of the campaign, as exhaustion set in and the workload increased, aides said Mr. Obama spent more time reading than responding to messages. As his team prepares a final judgment on whether he can keep using e-mail, perhaps even in a read-only fashion, several authorities in presidential communication said they believed it was highly unlikely that he would be able to do so.

Diana Owen, who leads the American Studies program at Georgetown University, said presidents were not advised to use e-mail because of security risks and fear that messages could be intercepted.

“They could come up with some bulletproof way of protecting his e-mail and digital correspondence, but anything can be hacked,” said Ms. Owen, who has studied how presidents communicate in the Internet era. “The nature of the president’s job is that others can use e-mail for him.”

She added: “It’s a time burner. It might be easier for him to say, ‘I can’t be on e-mail.’ ”

Should Mr. Obama want to break ground and become the first president to fire off e-mail messages from the West Wing and wherever he travels, he could turn to Al Gore as a model. In the later years of his vice presidency, Democrats said, Mr. Gore used a government e-mail address and a campaign address in his race against Mr. Bush.

The president, though, faces far greater public scrutiny. And even if he does not wear a BlackBerry on his belt or carry a cellphone in his pocket, he almost certainly will not lack from a variety of new communication.

On Saturday, as Mr. Obama broadcast the weekly Democratic radio address, it came with a twist. For the first time, it was also videotaped and will be archived on YouTube.

    Lose the BlackBerry? Yes He Can, Maybe, NYT, 16.11.2008,






That iPhone Has a Keyboard,

but It’s Not Mechanical


June 13, 2007
The New York Times


SAN FRANCISCO, June 12 — If there is a billion-dollar gamble underlying Apple’s iPhone, it lies in what this smart cellphone does not have: a mechanical keyboard.

As the clearest expression yet of the Apple chief executive’s spartan design aesthetic, the iPhone sports only one mechanical button, to return a user to the home screen. It echoes Steven P. Jobs’s decree two decades ago that a computer mouse should have a single button. (Most computer mice these days have two.) His argument was that one button ensured that it would be impossible to push the wrong button.

The keyboard is built into other phones, those designed for businesspeople as well as those for teenagers. But the lack of a keyboard could be seen as a clever industrial design solution. It has permitted the iPhone to have a 3.5-inch screen. A big screen makes the phone attractive for alternative uses like watching movies and that could open up new revenue streams for Apple and its partner, AT&T.

The downside is that typing is done by pecking on the screen with thumbs or fingers, something hardly anyone outside of Apple has experienced yet. “The tactile feedback of a mechanical keyboard is a pretty important aspect of human interaction,” said Bill Moggeridge, a founder of Ideo, an industrial design company in Palo Alto, Calif. “If you take that away you tend to be very insecure.”

Mr. Jobs and other Apple executives argue that the keyboard that pops up onscreen will be a painless compromise. The iPhone’s onscreen keyboard has a dictionary-lookup feature that tries to predict the word being typed, catching errors as they are made.

That, of course, requires users to learn the new system, a task that Apple executives acknowledge may require several days. Last month at an industry conference, Mr. Jobs dismissed doubts about the decision to rely on a virtual keyboard, saying that users only had to learn to trust the keyboard, “and then you will fly.”

Yet in the days before the phone is scheduled to go on sale at Apple and AT&T stores around the country, designers and marketers of electronic devices centers are having a spirited debate about whether consumers will have the patience to overcome the hurdle that will be required to type without the familiar tactile feedback offered by conventional keyboards.

Apple is making other compromises. The AT&T Edge cellular network transmits data more slowly than those of rivals, but the iPhone will still be equipped with Wi-Fi for Web access. The phone will not accept memory cards.

The keyboard, however, is the biggest worry. At worst, customers will return the products. Currently AT&T gives customers 30 days to return handsets, but it is not clear whether it will maintain that policy for the iPhone. Any significant number of returns of the iPhone could conceivably undermine what until now has been a remarkable promotional blitzkrieg that culminates in the phone’s release June 29.

“There has never been a massively successful consumer device based solely on a touch screen,” warned Sky Dayton, chief executive of Helio, a cellular network service that has recently introduced an innovative handset that integrates Google maps with a G.P.S. system and another feature that physically locates friends using Helio phones.

Palm was successful, he noted, despite requiring the Palm Pilot’s users to enter text with a stylus using its own writing system called Graffiti. But the company eventually retreated and put a mechanical keyboard on its Treo smartphones.

“Texting” is central to an entire generation of people, Mr. Dayton argued, and Apple is taking a risk in not making that a central design feature. “There is a generation of users who are always online and who don’t communicate the way their parents did,” he said. “They’re e-mailing; they’re texting; they’re I.M.-ing.”

To be sure, Apple has had its share of product design hits and misses both under Mr. Jobs’s command and while he was in exile from the computer maker from 1985 to 1997. The Apple III was a well-designed computer, but was undermined by shoddy manufacturing. Several years later, the Lisa, the first commercial PC with a graphical user interface, and an infamously poorly designed “Twiggy” floppy disk drive, generated excitement but failed commercially. More recently, the Apple Cube, which was perhaps Mr. Jobs’s most daring design statement, drew critical praise and few sales.

But the comparison that could haunt the iPhone most comes from the specter of a former Apple chief executive, John Sculley, and his Newton. Billed as the original “personal digital assistant,” the Newton relied on a stylus for entering text. When users fumbled with its character recognition system, the machine went from hype to humiliation.

Although a small team of dedicated Apple engineers ultimately improved the technology, it was too late to save the Newton as a product.

Few industrial designers believe that the iPhone will suffer the Newton’s fate. Indeed, many leading designers argue that even before the iPhone has reached the market, it has changed consumer electronics industry standards irrevocably. Dispensing with a physical keyboard has given software an increased importance over hardware in product design, said Mark Rolston, senior vice president at Frog Design, an industrial design consulting firm.

A result, he said, has been a richer conversation between Frog’s designers and customers because the software presents a much wider range of options for features. “This is great for us because the carriers weren’t listening,” Mr. Rolston said. “They were slightly adjusting the soft-keys.”

Overnight that has changed and that has resulted in significant new business for design companies like Frog. “We’re being engaged by many more customers with more aggressive ideas about what to do,” he said.

Mr. Rolston believes that Mr. Jobs will get away with his gamble. “They took a risk and it’s a bold step for the industry,” he said. “This is a worthwhile risk.”

Indeed, the handful of users outside Apple who have been able to play with the hand-held device report that the quirky company has made an important step forward in the art of controlling computer systems. It may teach a new generation of technology users to use their fingers rather than a mouse — a four-decade-old technology — as a pointing and command device.

Apple’s multitouch technology — which permits control gestures with one or more fingers or thumbs — and which is now also being explored by a variety of other companies, including Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard and others, is a much more direct way to interact with a computer. Software designers have injected virtual “physics” into the user’s experience. For example, sliding a finger along the screen in a directory will cause the index to slide as if it were a piece of paper on a flat surface.

Mr. Jobs’s new phone may resonate with a new kind of mobile user, said Donald A. Norman, a product designer who is co-director of the Segal Design Institute at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill.

“Apple says, ‘We’re not selling to the person who lives on his BlackBerry, we’re selling to the person who listens to music and surfs the Web,’ ” he said.

And even Mr. Jobs’s competitors are rooting for him to win.

“When I first saw iPhone I was very excited,” said Benjamin Bederson, co-founder and vice president for client technologies at ZenZui, a Seattle-based mobile phone software company, which is commercializing technologies that were developed at Microsoft’s research labs. “It will raise the expectations. I think that consumers have had the central assumption that cellphone experiences are terrible and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

    That iPhone Has a Keyboard, but It’s Not Mechanical,
    NYT, 13.6.2007,






Digital Domain

Cellphone as Tracker:

X Marks Your Doubts


November 19, 2006
The New York Times


THE diminutive cellphone is turning out to be the most clever of devices. As it connects to more networks, stores more kinds of data, delivers more kinds of entertainment — wherever we happen to be — it effectively becomes the most personal computer we own.

Now, as more of the handsets are equipped to use the Global Positioning System, the satellite-based navigation network, we are on the verge of enjoying services made possible only when information is matched automatically to location. Maps on our phones will always know where we are. Our children can’t go missing. Movie listings will always be for the closest theaters; restaurant suggestions, organized by proximity. We will even have the option of choosing free cellphone service if we agree to accept ads focused on nearby businesses.

None of this entails anything exotic. The technology has been ready for a while, but not the customers. Prospective benefits have seemed paltry when placed against privacy concerns. Who will have access to our location information — present and past? Can carriers assure us that their systems are impervious to threats from stalkers and other malicious intruders or neglectful employees — or from government snoops without search warrants? Contemplating worst-case scenarios, our hands holding these very mobile devices have been frozen, hesitant to turn the location beacon on. Are we finally ready to flip the switch?

Two wireless providers recently made separate announcements about new positioning services, betting that the time has arrived. Two weeks ago, Helio — a wireless service owned jointly by SK Telecom, a South Korean cellphone company, and EarthLink, the American Internet service provider — introduced the Buddy Beacon in its new phone, the Drift, which costs $225. With the press of a button, the Drift shows on a map the location of up to 25 friends — if each is also carrying a $225 Drift.

Last week, Boost Mobile, a unit of Sprint, and its technology partner, Loopt, unveiled Boost Loopt, a similar offering described as a “social mapping service.”

Both Helio and Boost Mobile market exclusively and unapologetically to a young clientele. “We’re not going after soccer moms and businesspeople,” Helio’s C.E.O., the veteran entrepreneur Sky Dayton, said last week. Freedom — to be a hedonist — is the leitmotif in its materials. “Have a party,” Helio’s Web site says invitingly, “not a search party.”

The Buddy Beacon serves at your pleasure, for your pleasure. “Turn it on when you’re up for a party;” turn it off when you need “a night of privacy.” A press release anticipates your feeling the urge to “slip out the back of the club into the V.I.P. room.” (Yes! All the time!) In such instances, the beacon goes off.

Social mapping on cellphones is not all that new; it is just the next stage in social networking. Dodgeball.com, which has been operating since 2004, should be credited as a predecessor: a Dodgeball member uses a cellphone to send in a text message about his or her whereabouts, and notifications are then sent automatically to the member’s circle of friends. ( Google acquired the company last year.)

But Dodgeball can’t update a change of location automatically. With G.P.S.-equipped handsets, the Beacon Buddy could remedy this shortcoming, but Helio elected not to enable automatic updates: a user must push a button to refresh the phone’s location. “We didn’t want a situation where someone left their Buddy Beacon on and didn’t know it,” Mr. Dayton said. When the marketplace is more familiar with the service, he added, it may introduce an auto-updating option.

Boost Loopt’s service has offered its first-generation users an option to automatically send current coordinates every 15 to 20 minutes. Anticipating potential security problems, it urges its users to admit only “good and trusted friends” into the closed circle that can follow their movements.

Loopt suggests that all prospective invitees pass a number of tests of trustworthiness: Do you have their phone numbers? Do you know where they live and where they grew up? Would you lend them your car? Would you give them your house keys to feed your dog?

Verizon Wireless has decided to hold off on social mapping. The only G.P.S.-based program it now offers is a navigation service. Jeffrey Nelson, a company spokesman, said Verizon was interested in social networks but felt the need to “give a lot of thought to privacy and safety issues.”

Using a hypothetical 16-year-old customer to illustrate risks, Mr. Nelson said it was one thing for the customer to imprudently send out her e-mail address to a stranger, and still another for her phone to reveal her home’s location. “If suddenly a bright light goes on above your house, saying, ‘This is me; this is where I am,’ you’ve lost privacy and anonymity in your home,” he said.

The tattered condition of the wireless industry’s reputation for privacy protection — which was not helped by the recent Hewlett-Packard pretexting scandal involving phone logs — is not entirely the industry’s doing. Not so long ago, industry players acted together to try to secure the Federal Communications Commission’s help to tighten — yes, tighten — rules governing the privacy of location information. It was the F.C.C. that let us all down, then and now.

Six years ago, the business potential of so-called mobile commerce was making investors swoon the way online social networks bedazzle them today. To many, this m-commerce — from on-the-go “concierge services” to location-specific ads — was poised to exceed PC-based e-commerce. And that was when there were 106 million cellphones in use in the United States, versus 227 million today, according to CTIA-The Wireless Association, a trade group.

But the potential of m-commerce could be realized only if consumers had ironclad assurance that, except in emergencies, the service provider would never use location information unless they expressly gave consent. The industry acknowledged that customers who received unsolicited ads keyed to their movements would have perfectly legitimate privacy concerns.

CTIA-The Wireless Association petitioned the F.C.C. to draft rules guaranteeing basic privacy protections, like requiring that customers give explicit consent before any information was disclosed to third parties and that all location information be protected from unauthorized access. When the F.C.C. considered the request in 2002, it declined to act, arguing that existing legislation was enough.

One commissioner, Michael J. Copps, dissented. He pointed out the rarity of a group in this industry seeking stricter rules for its members. That it would do so, he said, showed that the statutory language had not resolved all questions relating to the handling of customers’ location information.

The Wireless Communications and Public Safety Act of 1999, known as the 911 Act, requires that customers deliberately choose to have location information collected. But some wondered whether customers gave “implied consent” just by using the service.

Even the definition of what constituted “location information” was in dispute. Cingular maintained that the location of the nearest cell tower was not, strictly speaking, the customer’s location information, and so was not encompassed by the 911 Act.

Mr. Copps pleaded that the commission “put in some sweat now” to create the clarifying rules “before consumers make up their minds about whether they trust location practices.” His plea went unheeded; the F.C.C. has remained inert.


LEGISLATION that provides stronger protection of location information will come, said David M. Mark, a professor of geography at the State University of New York, Buffalo. But, he added, it would probably take a “horrific incident involving a celebrity” before legislators paid attention.

The Video Privacy Protection Act of 1988 was passed after the video rental records of the Supreme Court nominee Robert H. Bork were made public. Let us hope that no one, famous or not, will be hurt because a cellphone’s location was improperly leaked; one famous person in one headline, however, could lead to swift passage of a Location Privacy Protection Act of 2007.

The stronger the protection of cellphone location data, the faster the public will accept the new positioning services. The best policy would be to require by statute that carriers continually purge location data. If location history is never stored, the possibility of mishandling or theft of that information is removed.

When families adopt positioning cellphone services, a new problem will likely emerge, Professor Mark said. The very act of turning off one’s location beacon may itself be seen as suspicious. “If you don’t want your location known,” he asked, “does that mean you intend to do something improper?”

Randall Stross is an author based in Silicon Valley

and a professor of business

at San Jose State University.

Cellphone as Tracker: X Marks Your Doubts, NYT, 19.11.2006,






From The Guardian Archive


Starting the oven by phone


Televox Marvels


November 14 1927

The Guardian


Recently New York messages described a demonstration of the control of machinery by sound transmitted by the telephone which was given at the offices of the Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company.

By this system, it will be recalled, the Water Supply Headquarters in New York is able to find the number of feet of water in a reservoir without having a watchman there.

The interrogator rings up the reservoir and sets in motion by sound over the telephone, a device which "replies" by giving a characteristic note so many times, in accordance with the height of the water, which it is mechanically registering.

Mr.R.J. Wensley, the inventor of the device, explains (in a Westinghouse statement just received) that while it is theoretically possible to construct sound sensitive relays that will respond to spoken words (at the Westinghouse East Pittsburg laboratories there is a door which will open to the call of "Open, sesame!" and to no other combination of sounds), such a system would be highly complicated to work out in practice; whereas by the use of only three notes of different pitches any combination of operations desired can be secured.

The operation of the televocal system, or Televox, can best be understood if one were to listen in on a housekeeper calling her Televocally equipped home. She has three small pitch-pipes, each giving a different musical note. Housekeeper to telephone Central: "Give me 1234 Greenhill, please." Operator rings that number. Housekeeper: "Peep, peep, peep," which means "Connect me to the oven." Televox: "Buzz. buzz, buzz-buzz-z-z-z-z---" You are connected." Housekeeper: "Toot!" which means "Start the oven." Televox gives a short, snappy "buzz". Housekeeper: "Peep, peep, peep, peep." which means "Connect me to the furnace and tell me how hot it is." Televox: Two buzzes mean "It's pretty low." Housekeeper: "Toot!" or "Open the drafts!" Televox opens the drafts and gives a long buzz. Housekeeper blows her third pitch-pipes which means " Good-bye." Televox hangs up receiver.

Mr. Wensley, explaining this system, said that sounds that come over the telephone to the televocal apparatus are received from the receiver by a sensitive microphone, and the buzzing signals made by it are given out by a loudspeaker close to the telephone transmitter. When the bell rings, a sound-sensitive relay lifts the telephone hook, starts up the station-signal buzzer, and sets the whole apparatus ready for action.

Starting the oven by phone,
November 14 1927,
Republished 14.11.2007,
p. 34,










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