LoJack for the Rest of Us

October 20th, 2004

Why not use wi-fi (wireless Internet) access points to track down stolen cars, bikes, purses and other valuables?

Many of Earth’s major cities are becoming saturated with wi-fi access points. It’s hard to find a public place in San Francisco, for instance, where a wi-fi device can’t detect a nearby access point.

Imagine placing a narrow wi-fi beacon device inside the frame of your bicycle. You tell the beacon that, every day at 4 a.m., the bike is locked up at your house. Next time the clock strikes 4 a.m., the beacon turns itself on and it makes note of which wi-fi access points it can “see” from your home. It remembers that these access points represent home. Then it turns itself off again. (Wi-fi detection drains a lot of battery power — the device stays off most of the time to save juice).

Two days later, at precisely 4 a.m., the beacon powers on and notes what access points it can “see.” If it detects one or more of the “home” access points, it turns itself off again. Two days later it does the same thing, and so on. We’ll call this state of affairs the beacon’s default mode.

During one of these early-morning access-point checks, if the device doesn’t detect a home access point, it switches into “stolen mode.” It powers on every 15 minutes and checks for any open access points. (Open access points are not encrypted, so anyone — and in our case, any beacon — can use them to connect to the Internet.)
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October 19th, 2004

I avoid blindly posting links to other sites from cheesebikini because this doesn’t add much value to the Web. But this one is just too perfect: A new product called TV-B-Gone is a tiny universal remote control that turns off almost any television. Walk into a bar or restaurant or gym, press the button and the device sends out 209 different codes to turn off TVs, the most popular brands first.

More from Wired News, from NPR and from the manufacturer (whose site is currently offline).

But what happens when TV manufacturers create new “off” codes? It would be great to be able to periodically update the device with code lists downloaded from the Web, in the same way you update virus-scanning software. Perhaps in the next version…

(Thanks Jeff!)

The State of Free Speech at Berkeley

October 11th, 2004

The richest man on Earth visited Berkeley Friday October 1 — on the 40th anniversary of the free speech movement’s birth here on campus.

Bill Gates’ reception was a stark reminder of how the concept of free speech here has changed since 1964, when thousands of students and sympathizers revolted against attacks on their First Amendment rights, forcing the university administration to permit free speech on campus. This Free Speech Movement spread quickly to universities around the world. The movement played a pivotal role in the fight for civil rights and in the withdrawal of American troops from Vietnam.

Nowadays Berkeley is a very different place. Walk around town and you’ll see some street merchants and homeless people and older residents making their voices heard with placards and posters and t-shirts and an occasional megaphone. Not so with the students. Most of the students are silent, unquestioning, complacent consumers.

On campus, huge corporations enjoy much more free speech than the students. Some administrators nurture and enforce this state of affairs.
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Smart Mob Tool Masquerading as Video Game?

October 8th, 2004

nintendo-ds.gifLook for unplanned potential within the Nintendo DS, an upcoming handheld videogame system. It uses wi-fi, as well as a proprietary Nintendo wireless format, to let a player compete and communicate with another in the same room, or with a potentially infinite number of other players via connections to the Internet through wi-fi hotspots. The New York Times says the unit will go on sale in the U.S. November 21 for $149.

Nintendo’s marketing, the press, and the weblogs all seem fixated on the fact that this unit has two screens, and the fact that it will let people play the same old types of multiplayer games in mobile settings.

But I think a special combination of attributes make this a potential source of compelling new smartmobbish applications and behavior:
      (1) Not only does it provide wireless networking capabilities, it’s built around using wi-fi in an ad-hoc person-to-person manner — regardless of whether wi-fi hotspots are nearby.
      (2) When an open wi-fi hotspot is nearby, it can be used to connect from the field with servers on the Internet.
      (3) Kids will use it, and kids aren’t locked into narrow wireless communication paradigms.
      (4) It’s not too expensive, which might encourage a critical mass of these things in urban areas. (Compare it with Sony’s upcoming $300+ wi-fi-enabled PSP game device.)

Imagine the sociolocative fun that this might enable — if Nintendo doesn’t block out nonlicensed developers.

(Thanks to Matthew Rothenberg for the tip!)