Tuesday, March 24, 2009

webcasting the webcaster.

Harvard Law School's Berkman Center has long been the home of ubercool technology movers and shakers. When Wirecast on an Apple Mac platform emerged as its preferred webcasting technology, inquiring minds wanted to know: how's that working out for you, Berkman?

On Tuesday, March 24, 2009, we find ourselves at Berkman with Doc Searls, Berkman Fellow. Doc's bio on Berkman's website sheds light on why he is being webcast today: "In addition to his work here at Berkman, Doc is co-author (with fellow Berkman Fellow David Weinberger and others) of The Cluetrain Manifesto (the 10th Anniversary Edition of which is due out this summer), Senior Editor of Linux Journal, and one of the world's most familiar and inveterate bloggers. His work as a journalist, speaker and advocate of the Internet led to a Google-O'Reilly Open Source Award for Best Communicator in 2005. In "The World is Flat," Thomas L. Friedman calls Doc "one of the most respected technology writers in America." Doc is also a Fellow at the Center for Information and Society at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where his work focuses on Internet infrastructure issues." Wow.

The incomparable Daniel Jamous is behind the impressive-looking consoles just off-screen. Though the cameras never capture him, he is one of the most critical individuals in the room. Before the crowd arrives, he is testing sound levels and adjusting camera angles, as you might expect.

As soon as introductions begin, Jamous is manually selecting the closest microphones to each speaker. He had previously explained that without manual selection for each and every speaker, the sound is easily lost.

Jamous has also queued up the slides for today, which he also controls. He keeps them faded while the audience shuffles in, manually turning on the dual screens when he judge the speaker ready to start the formal presentation.

This technology is decidedly dependent on jacques' skill and human intervention, is my first impression.

Doc's presentation, by the way, is a fascinatingly simple idea of a website service that simply allows anyone to put out an "RFP" for anything they want, and allows everyone to bid to fulfill the request at whatever price they choose. Like a giant eBay or craigslist, but more flexible. Doc is an interesting speaker with a pleasant, well-modulated voice, and he wisely keeps the formal presentation short, allowing more time for interactive Q&A.

Twice in the first 5 minutes, staffers listening in from the spillover room downstairs pop in and advise jacques to adjust the sound level, he is picking up too much background noise. Jamous cuts back and forth between tight shots of Doc, wide shots of the room, close-ups of questioners, and the slides. Reaching for the controls requires his full-time attention.

With a few clicks, he superimposes titles over the bottom of the screen, identifying the speaker and event. An auxiliary device that looks like a TV remote control allows him to pan accross the room, zooming in on questioners.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Cellphone Surveillance Techniques and TV's 24

by Sarah Cortes

Thanks to the TV show 24, cellphone triangulation is now a household term. When you want to find the bad guy, or save your friend, you just triangulate. Like, on your laptop. It seems. According to the show.

So cool.

The flip side, that's not so cool, is that it provides yet another way to invade privacy and control innocent people and even, in the wrong hands, make their lives miserable. For example, police have found human traffickers use this technology around the world, including here in Boston, to to keep women forced into sexual trafficking from escaping their sad and all-too-common plight, while claiming that "they are not prisoners, they are free to come and go."

Of course, back in the unrealistically black-and-white world of 24, everyone knows who the good and bad guys are. And everyone knows that when you want to triangulate on 24, you call not for Jack Bauer, the ostensible hero. Nope, when it comes to the hard-core tech stuff you call for - Chloe, the straight-talking, rocking techno chick. You go, girl!

In real life, locating people using their cellphones involves multiple technical options. Cellphone "triangulation" is just one of several available techniques. LBS, or Location-Based Systems, fall under one of three categories:
•Network -based (of which triangulation is one approach)
•Handset-based (GPS)
•Hybrid

Network -based Cellphone "triangulation" is a technique that falls under the "network-based" category. It is considered the most accurate of all methods. But you might want to think twice if you're Jack Bauer and you need a helicopter to drop you an escape ladder into a precise location - because triangulation is also one of the most challenging techniques. Like landing a drop shot from the back of the squash court, it requires hours of practice and has a lower percentage of success. But when it works, it's sweet.

In general, network-based LBS utilizes a service provider's network infrastructure to identify handset location. The advantages is that it can be implemented non-intrusively, without affecting the handset. The disadvantage is that you have to ask the carrier to provide you the data based on a signal in relation to its towers.

Handset-based On the other hand, handset-based LBS requires installation of client software (GPS) on the handset. The advantage is that you don't need to ask carriers for tower information. But you still need to be able to read GPS, or request reading from GoogleMaps or an application that does.

Here's how handset-based LBS works:
•First, it calculates:
1) Location by cell identification
2) Signal strengths of the home and neighboring cells; or
3) latitude and longitude, if the handset is equipped with a GPS module
• The calculation is then sent from the handset to a location server like GoogleMaps.

Network-based LBS Challenges:
• Accuracy varies. Cell identification is the least accurate, triangulation, the most accurate
• Accuracy is closely dependent on concentration of base station cells, with urban environments achieving highest accuracy
• Requires working closely with service provider because it entails the installation of hardware and software within the operator's infrastructure.
•A legislative framework, such as E911 is required to compel service providers to cooperate and to safeguard privacy

Handset-based LBS Challenges:
These center around the necessity of installing software on the handset, which:
• Requires the active cooperation of subscriber
• Requires software that can handle the different handset operating systems
• Typically, only smart phones, such as Symbian or Windows Mobile are capable
• Proposed work-around: manufacturer installs embedded hw/sw on handset

These issues are coming up more frequently these days with the advent of a plethora of Privacy Laws. Understanding them can help avoid trouble for your organization and in your personal life. And., like Jack and Chloe, it makes you --so cool.

copyright 2009 Sarah Cortes

You can read Sarah's other tech columns at IT Knowledge Exchange