Friday, October 31, 2008

Virtual Worlds Get Real About Punishment

The Washington Post reports on how a new virtual world for mobiles is meeting out justice - Ouch! We're being put behind virtual bars...the beginning of virtual jails??

Virtual worlds have often been called the digital equivalent of the Wild West, where animated alter egos can live in a fantasy frontier. But in some of these universes, a sheriff has come to town.

Slipping a four-letter word into an instant message now could land a user in a virtual timeout. Repeated attempts to make friends with an uninterested character could result in a loss of blogging privileges. And if convicted of starting a "flame war," or an exchange of hostile messages, a user may endure the ultimate punishment -- permanent exile.

A virtual world for mobile devices, called Cellufun, has established a courthouse, where rule-breakers are indicted by their peers and tried by a jury of other community members. If found guilty of a charge, such as using profanity, users must carry out varying levels of sentences, from being mute for 20 minutes to being banished.

For the duration of punishment, a user's avatar -- a cartoon version of his or her real-life self -- is pictured behind bars.

In the online community Cellufun, troublemakers found guilty by other users get their virtual alter egos placed behind bars.
In the online community Cellufun, troublemakers found guilty by other users get their virtual alter egos placed behind bars.

Read more at - 'Virtual Worlds Get Real About Punishment'


Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Tourism and the politics of culture

Tim Winter over at the Post-conflict Heritage site has done some interesting work examining post-colonial tourism in terms of post-conflict reconstruction, nation building, and socio-economic rehabilitation. The blog has also been following the dispute on the Thai/Cambodian border over the temple world heritage site of Preah Vihear:

An extract from 'Thai-Cambodian Border Spat Heats Up' in Time Magazine:

Thai soldiers take position after clashes with Cambodian soldiers at the disputed border area of the Preah Vihear temple, Si Sa Ket province, Thailand, 15 October 2008

Gunfire crackled across the border between Thailand and Cambodia on October 15, reigniting tensions between the two Southeast Asian nations over a disputed swathe of land near an ancient Hindu temple. For days, troops from both countries have flooded the area near the Preah Vihar temple, and each side claims the other fired Wednesday's first shot.

A blog of great interest to readers of Tourism issues especially - Post-conflict Heritage


Monday, October 27, 2008

Planning Post-Oil Towns

Worldchanging, as part of a month-long retrospective, are re-publishing some of their excellent past posts. And here is an example of a worthwhile one from October 2006 about the beginning of the Transition Town movement:

word.jpg The story of the Kinsale Energy Descent Action Plan is an extraordinary one. A mid-thirties Englishman with a penchant for permaculture and an interest in peak oil moves to rural Ireland, starts teaching at the local further education college, and ends up writing, with his students, a ground-breaking document: the first timetabled strategy for weaning a town off fossil fuels. And what is more, that small Irish town actually adopts the action plan and starts to implement it.

Kinsale is a seaside town of 7000 inhabitants renowned as Ireland’s gourmet food capital, as well as the home of a well-known jazz festival. Kinsale 2021 is the title of the document: Rob Hopkins is the man, who persuaded Kinsale Further Education College to start the first full-time two year course in Europe training in people in Practical Sustainability.

He had a simple idea for his students: to ask them to think practically about all the aspects of a town that would need to be changed if a low-energy future was to happen, and how they could do so over a fifteen-year period.

Read original post - 'Planning Post-Oil Towns'


Saturday, October 25, 2008


Here's an opportunity worth taking up - anyone??


BBC ONE are looking for a vibrant village, town or area of a city to
take part in a new series called "Dom on the Case of Cars" with presenter
Dominic Littlewood.

The series is seeking residents of all ages who are ready to take on the
challenge of living car free for 5 days to explore the alternative
modes of travel on offer in their area. The successful place will be the first in
Britain to undertake this amazing mission with participating residents
taking centre stage in this high profile documentary.

The BBC is looking for a street, district or whole village willing to
experience the joys and frustrations of car-free living and in return
we'll show you how your area could be made safer, how you could save money
and how easy it could be to live without your car.

The BBC will of course be providing lots of help and information to
those who take part. What is really important is that the community is
ready to embrace the challenge and lead the way for the rest of the country.

So are you ready to take on the Car-Free challenge and get your
village on BBC ONE?

Please contact:

Mish Evans
Assistant Producer, Dom's on the case of cars


Friday, October 24, 2008

Place Your Bids: Airline Tickets on eBay!


Photo by Flickr user procrastinet.

Now here's a novel way to increase sales of airline tickets - auction them! That's exactly what US carrier JetBlue have been doing lately. According to Autopia:

JetBlue's opened an eBay store to auction tickets and vacation packages to some of its 50 destinations, and early bidding has been strong despite a technical glitch that shut the store down for a few hours.

The store features seven-day auctions for more than 300 one- and two-person round-trip flights. Bidding starts at a nickel and there is no reserve, but it's tough to say how much shoppers will save -- or JetBlue might lose. Still, it could be a smart move for the airline.

"It's a way for the airline to bolster its direct sales, and it's different from a traditional fare sale in that other airlines can't simply match it," Henry Harteveldt, an analyst with Forester Research, tells us. "From that standpoint it's a very smart idea."

This afternoon the high bid on a flight from Chicago O'Hare to Long Beach was $202.50 versus $300 when booked on the JetBlue website, but with six days left in the auction, it's anyone's guess how much higher the bidding will go. Round-trip tickets for two from New York to Vegas on Sept. 26 were going for $620, compared to a maximum of $349 through the airline's website, further proving the best deals aren't always on eBay.

Read original post - 'Place Your Bids: JetBlue Auctioning Tickets on eBay'


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Maps from mobiles to alert multitudes

Smartmobs has a post on new technology applications that are being used to mitigate human crises - 'Mobile local information gathering and digital mapping are collaborating':

A post at iRevolution titled Flood Warning, Mobile Phones and Dynamic Mapping of India describes the goals and methods being tried in the Monsoon Project:

In Mumbai and Ahmedabad, we will see what kind of qualitative data people have reported. The next step is to to expand the data collection exercise to discreet objective data points that may expedite rescue and response in real-time. Can farmers sitting atop roofs in the flooded villages of Orissa use their cell phones to transmit simple, discreet, data points that would help plot a real-time map of events as they unfold? Can such a platform be created? How far are we in terms of technology and collaboration? At HHI, the Crisis Mapping Project is well underway, with small projects at multiple locations in different stages of development. . . .

The Conflict Early Warning and Crisis Mapping projects at the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative is supporting these smart mob era endeavors that are essentially brand new opportunities of the 21st century

Read original post - 'Maps from mobiles to alert multitudes'


Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Box - A global journey begins

Container with BBC News logo

Now here's an interesting project from the BBC. It's called 'The Box' and is a unique project telling the story of international trade by tracking a shipping container around the world for a year!

Worldchanging comments on this by saying:

The folks at the Beeb have started a project with shipping line NYK designed to allow readers to track the movements of a single container over the course of a year. The container has been painted with a BBC URL and fitted with a GPS transponder, but otherwise will function as an ordinary container, carrying loads from one port to another. Its voyage will be visualized on a web map, giving viewers a sense for the vagaries of international trade. (Depending on whether BBC stacks the deck or not, this could also be a stunningly boring voyage, if the container simply cycles between Southhampton and Bruges.)

Read original post - 'The Box - A global journey begins'

And read more here


Monday, October 20, 2008

Passports will be needed to buy mobile phones

Breaking News! Plans are afoot to increase Britain's status as a surveillance nation by requiring all those wishing to purchase a new mobile phone to register on a national database. The Times reports that:

Everyone who buys a mobile telephone will be forced to register their identity on a national database under government plans to extend massively the powers of state surveillance.

Phone buyers would have to present a passport or other official form of identification at the point of purchase. Privacy campaigners fear it marks the latest government move to create a surveillance society.

A compulsory national register for the owners of all 72m mobile phones in Britain would be part of a much bigger database to combat terrorism and crime. Whitehall officials have raised the idea of a register containing the names and addresses of everyone who buys a phone in recent talks with Vodafone and other telephone companies, insiders say.

The move is targeted at monitoring the owners of Britain’s estimated 40m prepaid mobile phones. They can be purchased with cash by customers who do not wish to give their names, addresses or credit card details.

Read in full - 'Passports will be needed to buy mobile phones'


Microbes for Off-the-Grid Electricity

Here's a post about a company - Lebone Solutions - which aims to use microbial fuel cells to provide power to Africans who are off the grid. Could be a move in the right direction:

Lebônê Solutions, a startup based in Cambridge, MA, aims to use microbial fuel cells to provide power to Africans who are off the grid. In some parts of Africa, a small amount of energy is enough for a few hours of lamp light in the evening, or for powering the ubiquitous cell phones--something that some residents will walk five hours to a generator to do, says Aviva Presser, a cofounder of Lebônê. The company is made up largely of Harvard University alumni and current Harvard students originally from African countries.

With funding from the Harvard Institute for Global Health, the team has recently completed a pilot study in Tanzania, where members brought six basic microbial fuel cells and taught residents how to use them. The team organized village meetings where team member and Tanzanian native Stephen Lwendo explained how to make the fuel cells...

...In some parts of Africa, only a small amount of energy is enough for a few hours of lamp light in the evening, or for powering the ubiquitous cell phones--something that some residents will walk five hours to a generator to do.

Read more at - 'Microbes for Off-the-Grid Electricity'


Friday, October 17, 2008

Tata's Building EVs For Norway

Before hitting the Indian market Tata will offer their 'cheap as chips' car as an electric version... only for Norway:


Tata Motors, which already produces the world's cheapest car, is building an electric version of its (slightly) more upscale Indica hatchback it says will be rolling around Norway within a year.

The Indian automaker joins what's becoming a crowded field racing to bring EVs and plug-in hybrids to market, and it reportedly is working on five prototypes based on the Indica (pictured). "This is one of the technologies we're looking at, as you know that electric cars are almost zero emissions," Ravi Kant, Tata's managing director, told Reuters.

Kant says the car will make its debut in Norway because that country has the infrastructure needed to support EVs in big numbers, but the car could be offered in India sometime next year. That's good, because auto ownership in India is set to explode.

Read original post - 'Tata's Building EVs For Norway'


Thursday, October 16, 2008

Should we take cheap-as-chips RFID on trust?

The Guardian asks whether we should take the new generation of cheap RFID chips on trust:

RFID began appearing in passports, US payment cards and the UK's Oyster cards, used to make payments on London's Tubes and buses, in 2005. Many papers published in 2005 and 2006 highlight flaws in the chips' implementation. A 2005 RFID Journal paper from Johns Hopkins University and RSA Laboratories exposed weaknesses in the cryptography implemented in the Texas Instruments chip used in automobile keys and the "Speedpass" keyfob contactless payment device used in petrol stations. In 2006, Ross Anderson, author of Security Engineering, outlined the chips' vulnerability to "man-in-the-middle" attacks. More recently, the cipher used in Oyster cards has been broken and researchers have bypassed the public key infrastructure needed to manage the cryptographic keys for RFID passports.

Another problem: data stored on today's chip and pin cards is not encrypted.

Read more at - 'Should we take cheap-as-chips RFID on trust?'


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The World's First Hybrid SUV Limo

The Autopia blog has a visual post on this crazy trend in stretch limos now going over to the SUV:

'A California company has chopped a Chevrolet Tahoe hybrid in half and added more than 13 feet of steel, several flat-screen TVs and two fiber-optic illuminated cocktail bars to create what's believed to be the world's first gas-electric SUV limo. '

The pics say it all:



Read original post at - 'The World's First Hybrid SUV Limo'


Monday, October 13, 2008

Self Surveillance

Here is 'fitbit' - a wearable unobtrusive sensor that can track a person’s activity 24 hours a day and send the data to a website for analysis. Data is wirelessly uploaded to the Web so that users can monitor their activity and compare it with that of their friends. Convenient.... or worrying?

Credit: Fitbit

James Park, cofounder of Fitbit, says that one of the main goals was to make the sensor so small that it will go unnoticed no matter what a person is wearing. The device can be put in a pocket, attached discretely to a bra, or slipped into a special wristband during sleep. It is meant to be worn 24-7, and each device can run for 10 days on a single battery charge...

At the conference, the gadget impressed a panel of judges that included Tim O'Reilly of O'Reilly Media. He says that Fitbit is tapping into an important field of wearable sensors and personal health monitoring: "It's completely on trend in terms of this idea of sensors driving the next generation of interesting applications."

Read more - 'Self Surveillance'


Saturday, October 11, 2008

Internet traffic grows 53 percent from mid-2007

More on the speedy rise of Internet traffic:

Internet traffic grew 53 percent from mid-2007 to mid-2008, down from a growth rate of 61 percent in the previous 12 months, according to a study by TeleGeography Research.

Growth on long-haul lines in the U.S. was even slower, at 47 percent. The big increase came in regions where the Internet is less mature. Traffic between the U.S. and Latin America more than doubled.

Meanwhile, international Internet capacity on ocean-spanning optical fibers increased 62 percent. On average, Internet traffic now uses just 29 percent of the available bandwidth.

Read more at - 'Internet traffic grows 53 percent from mid-2007'


Friday, October 10, 2008

Surveillance made easy

A NewScientistTech post reports that

Governments around the world are developing increasingly sophisticated electronic surveillance methods in a bid to identify terrorist cells or spot criminal activity.

German electronics company Siemens has gone a step further, developing a complete "surveillance in a box" system called the Intelligence Platform, pooling data from sources such as telephone calls, email and internet activity, bank transactions and insurance records. It then sorts through this mountain of information using software that Siemens dubs "intelligence modules."

Read more at - 'Snoop software makes surveillance a cinch'


Thursday, October 09, 2008

Cloud-seeding ships could combat climate change

This recent post looks at cloud-seeding techniques from fleets of ships at sea (not running on regular ship fuel I hope?!)

It should be possible to counteract the global warming associated with a doubling of carbon dioxide levels by enhancing the reflectivity of low-lying clouds above the oceans, according to researchers in the US and UK. John Latham of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, US, and colleagues say that this can be done using a worldwide fleet of autonomous ships spraying salt water into the air...

...Latham and colleagues calculate that, depending on exactly what fraction of low-level maritime clouds are targeted (with some regions, notably the sea off the west coasts of Africa and North and South America, more susceptible to this technique than others), around 1500 ships would be needed altogether to counteract a carbon doubling, at a cost of some £1m to £2m each. This would involve an initial fleet expanding by some 50 ships a year if the scheme is to keep in step with the current rate of increase in atmospheric carbon-dioxide levels.

Read original post at - 'Cloud-seeding ships could combat climate change'


Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Plug In and Drive

Worldchanging has this post on the 'Plug In and Drive' ambitions of Shai Agassi who claims that his electric cars can save the world!:


There’s a lot to chew over in Wired’s profile of Shai Agassi, the entrepreneur engaged in an audacious experiment to electrify an entire nation’s transportation system, and in the process rewrite the automotive industry’s business model.

The nation in question is Israel, with Denmark and Hawaii possibly to follow. Agassi’s idea is that electric cars should be sold on a subscription model, like cell phones, with fees used to underwrite a network of intelligent electric outlets that ensure batteries are always topped up.

The plan is quite a bit more complicated than that, but in essence Agassi is trying to solve the same problem that plug-in hybrids and the Chevy Volt are meant to address: batteries have a limited capacity and take a long time to charge up. Hybrids work around the problem by bolting a gasoline engine on top of the electric motor. Agassi’s start-up, Better Place, hopes to cut gasoline out of the picture altogether by remaking the electrical grid. It’s an audacious vision, and the company has the financing and the partnerships in place to upgrade their prospects from pipe dream to long shot. They hope bring their all-electric cars to market in 2011.

Read more over at - 'Plug In and Drive'


Monday, October 06, 2008

TV's future stars will come from the web

The Guardian discusses the Internet as a medium for new 'snippet' types of TV, served through social networks, for example. The new generation?:

I have been watching a trailer for Chelsey OMG, a TV series for 16- to 25-year-olds to be shown next month on the social network Bebo, which has more than 80 million users. It is full-length for its genre - three minutes an episode. This is so as not to strain the attention-span of today's teenies and it allows episodes to be viewed secretly at work without reducing the nation's productivity.

Chelsey, a young American, has landed in planet London trying to navigate her way among dysfunctional people, helped by suggestions from the audience. It is full of interactivity, including intrusions into real lives with the option for viewers to become "friends" of the stars. If it takes off after a few episodes, the production company Channel X will know the numbers watching - including what sort of people they are - so they can try to finance the rest of it through a sponsor. The dream is that it will run and run, becoming a web hit then a film and then a book as the fairy tale is completed.

I have no idea whether it will succeed. It is the latest of a growing number of Generation Web soaps - cue in MySpace's Quarterlife and Endemol's The Gap Year, for a start - as the net becomes a medium for television. If kids won't go to the television set then television must come to them wherever they are - probably networking on Facebook, MySpace or Bebo. There may be a lesson for newspapers here.

Read more at - 'TV's future stars will come from the web'


Friday, October 03, 2008

Barrier-Free Beijing Subway is Wheelchair-Friendly

The Autopia blog has a piece on how Beijing has introduced improvements allowing disabled riders of the underground/metro to travel without barriers:


...Beijing has become less of a Forbidden City for the disabled. Even though more than one million disabled people live within its city limits, Beijing's crowded subway was practically inaccessible to anyone not able to rush to the front of the platform on their own two feet. Now, according to the official Chinese government information site, the improvements made in preparation for the Games will become permanent, allowing disabled riders to travel without barriers.

"I can't believe this is true. Three hours ago I was at home, and now I'm here with all these others watching Paralympic Games competitions," randomly-selected wheelchair-bound Beijing citizen Wang Shufen said. "The volunteers and subway and bus workers were really helpful. Without them, I would never have made it." Of course, made sure to note that the 70-year-old Wang was smiling all through her interview, and never mentioned whether she lived ten feet or ten miles from the stadium.

Read original post - 'Barrier-Free Beijing Subway is Wheelchair-Friendly'


Thursday, October 02, 2008

Gravity-mapping satellite will help predict climate change

Well, that's the plan! The Guardian reports on how scientists are preparing to launch a new satellite to make more precise measurements of the Earth's gravitational field and so help improve predictions about global warming:

The €330m (£265m) project aims to provide an extremely accurate map of the planet's gravitational field. Its main mission is to help climate scientists improve their predictions by enabling them to produce a more precise picture of the ocean currents.

By comparing the surface shape of the oceans with the undulations in the gravitational field, scientists can arrive at a more accurate picture of the oceans' currents - the flows that transport vast amounts of heat around the planet and so have a profound impact on the global climate.

The satellite will complete a map of the gravitational field once every 70 days and stay in operation for about 18 months.

Read more at - 'Gravity-mapping satellite will help predict climate change'


Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Airport GPS: Because Pilots Get Lost, Too

More 'airplane' news coming out - this time its GPS for planes to navigate their own runways!


Sometimes, while waiting for my plane to pull back from the gate, marking the start of another insufferable domestic flight, I find myself getting scared. I look out the window at the rows of planes jamming the taxiways and gate areas and I think to myself, I don't know how the pilot is going to find his way out of this mess. Evidently, he's not always sure either.

Navigating America's gridlocked airports is like trying to keep track of Angelina Jolie's pregnancies, which is why Alaska Airlines is equipping its entire fleet with what is essentially a GPS system for planes. The Honeywell designed technology helps guide pilots around airport runways and taxiways, and is a software update to a system that is already used to keep planes from crashing into mountains and what Honeywell refers to as "other obstacles."

Much like a car navigation system, RAAS uses GPS to pinpoint the location of planes on the ground at a crowded airport.

Read more at - 'Airport GPS: Because Pilots Get Lost, Too'