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April 6, 2005

A vending machine that charges your cellphone battery


Would you pay $3 for such a service?

Galéa Technologies has created Cogib, a huge cylinder with four doors and a touch screen that will completely charge any of the vast majority of the world's cellphones and a great many other devices in 20 minutes.

Ben Hunt wrote about this interesting new technology in today's Financial Times.

The company is targeting shopping malls, airports and the like as its first locations for the machines.

Here's the Financial Times story.

    No Power, No Problem

    The [Cebit] award for the best recharging technology must go to Galea Technologies for the simple-but-brilliant Cogib, two of which were handily located in the Cebit press centre. (Well, it was handy for hacks).

    The Cogib (www.cogib.com), a huge cylinder with four doors and a touch screen on the top, may not be much to look at, and is about as portable as a grand piano, but it fulfils its promise of recharging the vast majority of the world’s mobile phone models and a great many other devices in a quick, easy and secure fashion.

    The four doors hide four secure vaults, containing a variety of power leads, that rise out of the machine when the user tells the Cogib through the touch screen which model needs recharging.

    If a chamber is free the user simply connects the phone and instructs the door to close and lock.

    It can then only be reopened using a using a four digit code of the user’s choosing.

    On the inside of Cogib is a patented technology which speeds up the recharging process and should fill most batteries in just 20 minutes.

    Certainly it did the job on my K700, the battery of which was just under a quarter charged when I put it in and was very nearly full when I removed it about 11 minutes later.

    Aside from the advantage of not worrying about carrying a charger and then finding a power outlet, the beauty of this particular system is that the user can then wander off and do other things for 20 minutes while the phone recharges in the knowledge that the handset is safe.

    Given that there are more than 1bn mobile phones in circulation and almost a billion fewer public recharging facilities - most of which are not secure and usually involve leaving the handset in full view - it is somewhat surprising that nobody has addressed this market before.

    There are potential problems. I didn’t take the opportunity to test what would happen if I could not remember my code when I returned.

    The security guard didn’t look the type to succumb to any combination of charm, begging or shouting and the unit itself looked impervious to any attempted entry-by-axe, even if the guard could be distracted for a few seconds.

    But everybody who has been away from their charger at a moment when the battery is about to die will recognise the appeal of the Cogib and believe Galea’s claim that people would be prepared to pay about $3 per charge.

    Public areas such as shopping malls, travel hubs and conference centres must be prime contenders to take this type of unit.

    Galea has already begun rolling the units out in airports and other public spaces in its home market of France and intends to enter other markets soon.


    Should it do so it might be worth having a think about its somewhat drab name.

April 6, 2005 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

First photograph of a planet orbiting another star


The new planet is to the right of its star in the photograph above.

Researchers at Germany's Astrophysical Institute & University Observatory will report, in an upcoming issue of Astronomy & Astrophysics, that the planet has a mass one to two times that of Jupiter.

Its surface temperature is 3,140°F (2,000°C), and its atmosphere contains water and carbon monoxide.

The planet orbits its star, GQ Lupi, once every 1,200 years.

It is about one hundred times farther away from GQ Lupi than is Earth from the sun.

GQ Lupi is a young star, about 1 million to two million years old, and is about 400 light-years away from Earth.

One light year equals 5.89 trillion miles.


It's a long, long journey to this distant star and planet, absent technology not yet born nor, perhaps, even envisioned.

Did someone say "tesseract"?

April 6, 2005 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack



That was the headline of an extremely interesting article that appeared in the March 31 Wall Street Journal about the proliferation on the internet of easily-obtainable computer virus-writing guides.

The reason for such easy access: publishing source code that can be used to construct viruses isn't illegal.

What is illegal, according to the U.S. Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1986, is releasing a virus with the knowledge that it will harm others.

Lawyers say the distinction is akin to gun ownership: it's not illegal in the U.S. unless you use it to kill or rob someone.

"There's nothing illegal about putting the code to viruses on the internet," said FBI special agent Jeff Lanza in the newspaper article.

Here's the article.


    Web Sites Hawk Instructions On Making Computer Viruses; Why FBI's Hands Are Tied

    The Web site of American Eagle Publications Inc. has a provocative come-on for the CDs it sells.

    "The software on this CD-ROM is responsible for having caused literally billions of dollars of damage," goes the teaser for one.

    The CD in question, called "Outlaws of the Wild West" and priced at $49.95, contains the source code -- the equivalent of a recipe -- for 14,000 types of viruses, according to the Web site.

    It also includes virus-writing tools, newsletters about "destructive code" and a database describing how different viruses work.

    American Eagle Publications, whose site is registered in Show Low, Ariz., is just one of a number of small, controversial online retailers that hawk do-it-yourself virus kits.

    Many Web sites even make virus recipes available at no charge.

    At a time of mounting public concern about identity theft, "phishing" and other forms of electronic crime, computer-security experts complain that the increasingly brazen proliferation of virus-writing guides is destructive.

    But, they add, there is little law-enforcement officials can do to fight back.

    The reason lies in the law: Publishing source code that can be used to construct viruses isn't illegal.

    What is illegal, according to the U.S. Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1986, is to release a virus with the knowledge that it will harm others.

    The distinction, lawyers say, is akin to gun ownership: Owning a gun usually isn't illegal in the U.S. unless you use it to kill or rob someone.

    Thus, virus purveyors aren't feeling much heat.

    "There's nothing illegal about putting the code to viruses on the Internet," says Federal Bureau of Investigation special agent Jeff Lanza.

    The First Amendment right to free speech, he says, means there is nothing that the agency has done or can do to change the law in this area.

    It is "extremely frustrating," adds Mr. Lanza.

    "We have enough people sending viruses through the Net that know how to do it. We don't need neophytes handed a turnkey operations guide."

    There are, of course, efforts under way to crack down on Internet vandalism.

    Companies such as Microsoft Corp. are scrambling to patch the vulnerabilities in their software, and law-enforcement agencies around the globe are stepping up their fight against cyber crooks.

    In January, a federal judge in the state of Washington sentenced 19-year-old Jeffrey Lee Parson to 18 months in prison for spreading a variant of the so-called Blaster worm, which surfaced in 2003 and shut down computers running Microsoft Windows.

    But vandals aren't the only worry: Viruses are increasingly being employed as tools for identity theft and to commandeer computers to pump out e-mails hawking pirated goods.

    Mr. Lanza says the FBI is aware of some sites that make virus code available but doesn't monitor them.

    A site may fall under an FBI investigation if a virus unleashed on the Internet is traced back to that site.

    But even then, he says, you can't hold someone criminally responsible simply for putting the virus recipe into the public domain where others might pick it up.

    To make a case that sticks, prosecutors need to prove that a suspect is guilty of intentionally damaging others' computers -- which is what Mr. Parson was found guilty of doing.


    The government could also potentially prosecute people for posting code if the sites encourage using the viruses to cause harm.

    But legal experts say building such cases is difficult because prosecutors need to show that the accused was advocating a specific unlawful activity, such as infecting a particular computer.

    Still, for security experts like Ken Dunham, a virus specialist at information-security consultant iDefense Inc. of Reston, Va., the unfettered distribution of viruses "is troublesome."

    Such sites "provide hackers with the tool of the trade and greatly encourage new actors to get involved."

    Even well-intentioned efforts by security researchers -- who sometimes publish virus code themselves to demonstrate potential weaknesses in software -- quickly get exploited by people with nefarious intentions, says Stephen Toulouse, a security specialist at Microsoft.

    Marc Zwillinger, a former Department of Justice attorney and currently a partner at Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal LLP in Washington, D.C., says law-enforcement officials have discussed whether to push for legislation that would criminalize virus-writing tools.

    "The problem is that some of the same tools have very legitimate use in the security profession," he says, such as in testing the security of computer systems.

    For that reason, law enforcement has focused on legislation that makes the activity -- not the technology -- illegal.

    For its part, American Eagle Publications acknowledges -- indeed, revels in -- the controversial nature of its wares.

    "People have gone to jail for writing it," the site says of the contents of its "Outlaws of the Wild West Computer Virus CD-ROM."

    But the site argues the CDs it sells are protected under the right to free speech.

    Among other items it offers is an eclectic list of books, including "Storm Over Show Low," a conservative thriller in which patriotic denizens of the Arizona town fight for their rights against growing government control.

    The site is registered to Mark Ludwig, the author of several books on viruses. Mr. Ludwig couldn't be reached to comment.

    A spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney's office in Arizona declined to comment.

    Security experts say it's difficult to estimate how much virus information is sold or distributed online.

    The code for sale ranges from the out-of-date to the highly sophisticated.

    But CDs similar to the one sold by American Eagle can be found at a host of small online software retailers, at prices ranging from $15 to $50 per title.

    A simple Internet search turned up numerous sites selling titles like "Hacker Toolbox," "Master Hacker" and "Virus Creation Lab."

    Virus Creation Lab is among the CDs for sale at a site called Beahacker.com.

    The site's catalog also includes a "Guide to Hacking" CD, which promises tutorials on "email bombs" and "hard drive killers."

    That CD also offers how-to information on "keyboard loggers," programs that capture people's keystrokes as they enter them.

    These have become popular with identity thieves, who steal credit-card and other financial data.

    In an e-mail response to questions about its wares, Beahacker.com's administrator said the merchandise is for people who want to test the security of their computer systems.

    "We notify all clients that we cannot sell the products if they will use the products to commit crimes," said the administrator, who identified himself as Andy Hooda, a 29-year-old Chicago resident and owner of the site.

    Among Web sites that make code available free of charge is that of a virus-writing group called 29A.

    With members in Europe, Russia and Brazil, 29A is notorious in computer-security circles for creating innovative viruses.

    The group claims that it writes them for the academic challenge of it and generally opposes releasing them.

    But its site says it doesn't forbid its members from spreading viruses.


    Asked how the group responds to those who say it is irresponsible to make viruses easily available, a 29A member from Spain who goes by the nickname "VirusBuster" said in an e-mail: "We ignore them."

      April 6, 2005 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

      Custom Sun Protection — Dial your SPF


      Why make going to the beach any easier — oops, I meant harder — than it has to be?

      With this tricked-out SunDial Lotion Dispenser you choose from 13 different SPF levels, ranging from 2 to 30, then turn the dial and squeeze out just the level of sunblock you want.

      The techie-looking bottle with its patented dial conceals some majorly spiffy technology, namely two separate cartridges, one for tanning and one with sunblock, which combine (in the patented mixing mechanism) in precise ratios depending on the level of SPF you select.

      $24.98 here.

      Hey, don't blame me if you get burned — I'm only the blogger.

      Prediction: the chance of this item being used more than once approaches zero.

      Hey, wait a minute, Mr. Man (that would be me, see): if this is so dumb, then why are you wasting your time and mine on it?

      Don't you have anything better to do?

      And therein, sadly, lies the rub.

      I don't.

      April 6, 2005 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

      Cabane — 'Simplicité et chaleur'*


      Good news and bad news about this new boutique home furnishings company offering exquisite things French.

      The good news is that it's partnered with one of Marseille's three ancient savonneries still making soap according to traditional methods and brought forth the first liquid soap (above) using authentic ingredients.

      They offer orange, grapefruit, olive oil and lavender, and a fig that Lucia van der Post of The Financial Times recently wrote is "most delicious of all."


      Each costs £12.50 for 500 ml in a glass bottle.

      So what's the bad news?

      Well, I went ahead and ordered but when I clicked on "Country" the drop-down menu had only one entry: "United Kingdom."

      So I guess I'll just have to wait until the bookofjoe World Tour 2005 hits London to try this exquisite-sounding stuff.


      The company also offers all manner of other enticing delights for those fortunate enough to reside in the U.K.

      *"Simplicity and warmth"

      April 6, 2005 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

      Akira Yoshizawa, World's Greatest Origami Artist, is Dead at 94


      In 1958, writing in the New York Times, Meyer Berger said, "Folders the world over acknowledge Akira Yoshizawa, a gentle and rather impoverished but contented origami artist, as the greatest now living."

      Yoshizawa (above, with some of his creations) was 47 years old when Berger wrote those words.

      He died on March 14 at 94 in his home town of Ogikubo, a suburb of Tokyo.

      Yoshizawa took origami far beyond its origins as mainly a child's pastime.

      Self-taught, he broke with tradition to create origami that was not so much folded paper as sculptural art.

      He invented a technique now known as wet folding that allows dampened paper to be molded into sculptural forms.

      He left full-time employment as a technical draftsman in the mid 1930s and for more than two decades lived in penury, earning money by selling preserved fish door to door while he pursued his passion for origami.

      A commission for a Japanese magazine in 1951, when he was forty, instantly made his reputation and led to exhibitions in Japan and, in 1955, a show at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam.

      Here is Margalit Fox's moving April 2 New York Times obituary of the quiet father of modern origami.

        Akira Yoshizawa, 94, Modern Origami Master, Dies

        Akira Yoshizawa, a master paper folder widely acclaimed as the father of modern origami, died on March 14, his 94th birthday, at a hospital near his home in Ogikubo, a suburb of Tokyo.

        The cause was complications of pneumonia, said June Sakamoto, a board member of Origami USA, based in New York.

        Internationally recognized since the 1950's, Mr. Yoshizawa was credited with elevating a children's pastime into a serious form of figurative art.

        He was known both for his innovative folding techniques and for devising a notation system that made origami instructions universally accessible.

        Usually inspired by the natural world, his work was praised for its simple, elegant lines and striking animacy. In his hands, flat sheets sprang to life as the birds of the air, the fish of the sea and the flora and fauna of the earth.

        Writing in The New York Times in 1958, Meyer Berger said, "Folders the world over acknowledge Akira Yoshizawa, a gentle and rather impoverished but contented origami artist, as the greatest now living."

        Mr. Yoshizawa's origami went far beyond the wobbly salt cellars made by generations of young people.

        He folded graceful peacocks with lush fanned tails.

        He folded lumbering gorillas with protruding jaws and sunken eyes.

        He folded huge flying dragons, and an elephant so small it could stand atop a thimble.

        His origami was not so much folded paper as sculptural art, usually made from a single sheet of paper, always without glue, scissors or extraneous embellishment.

        "Instead of trying to be as lifelike as possible, he tried to make it as 'living' as possible," Ms. Sakamoto said.

        "If he was going to make a rooster, you really felt it was crowing, but you didn't have to see every detail of the feathers."

        Akira Yoshizawa was born on March 14, 1911, in Kaminokawa, in the Tochigi Prefecture.

        He moved to Tokyo as a teenager and went to work in a factory that made machine tools.

        Some years later, Mr. Yoshizawa, now a technical draftsman at the factory, was asked to teach geometry to the junior employees.

        Recalling the paper folding he had loved in childhood, he used it as a teaching aid.

        Mr. Yoshizawa left the factory in the mid-1930's to pursue his art.

        For more than two decades he lived in penury, earning money by selling preserved fish door to door.

        At the end of 1951, a Japanese magazine commissioned him to fold the 12 signs of the Japanese zodiac to illustrate its January 1952 issue.

        The work made Mr. Yoshizawa's reputation, leading to exhibitions in Japan and, in 1955, a show at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam.

        Before Mr. Yoshizawa, paper folding was generally dismissed as a children's pastime.

        Folded according to a rigid set of rules that had remained unchanged for generations, origami figures were usually flat and static.

        Mr. Yoshizawa, who was self-taught, broke with tradition.

        He pioneered a technique, known as wet folding, that allows dampened paper to be molded into sculptural forms, like the marvelously ugly crenellations of a gorilla's face.

        He also pioneered a system of origami notation that allows readers of any language to follow a set of printed instructions.

        Using dotted lines to indicate the folds and arrows to indicate the directions of the folds, the system is widely used today.

        Mr. Yoshizawa's work has been exhibited around the world, featured in shows at the Cooper Union in New York, the Louvre and elsewhere.

        In 1983, he was awarded the Order of the Rising Sun.

        Mr. Yoshizawa's first wife died before him.

        He is survived by his second wife, Kiyo.

        On occasion, Mr. Yoshizawa did strive for verisimilitude.

        In the early 1990's, he was commissioned to create elaborate origami landscapes, complete with mountains and rice paddies, for an exposition in Spain.

        He spent more than six weeks working out how to turn a piece of paper into an ear of rice.

        "When I finally completed creating the ear of rice with origami, I compared it with a real ear of rice," he told The Daily Yomiuri in 1991.

        "My work just looked like the real thing. I was so glad that I couldn't help crying."

      April 6, 2005 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

      Car Charger Adapter — Pretend your house is really a car


      I can't quite figure this one out.

      I mean, I know you can use your car cigarette lighter power cord in the house — or anywhere there's an electric outlet — with one of these, but why would you want to?

      I suppose if you left your cellphone or PDA charger at home intentionally, or by mistake, you could use this device as a substitute when you were indoors.

      But since the adapter itself is just one more thing to remember to bring, wouldn't it be just as simple to take your home charger with you?

      $12.98 here.

      April 6, 2005 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

      We get email: from Steve Wozniak — yes, the Woz


      I am humbled, dumbstruck, gobsmacked, any superlative that describes being shocked + awed, reading Steve Wozniak's comment on bookofjoe.

      I may close up shop today because I can now die happy.

      The Woz (above) is one of my heroes and the fact that pixels from bookofjoe contacted his retinas via light-speed photonic transmission early yesterday morning (his comment came in at 2 a.m. Eastern) is still reverberating within my skull.

      I am so stoked.

      Woz set the record straight re: my having assumed — and written — in my post of this past Monday morning that "he was the world's least athletic, biggest nerd when he was younger."


      WAY WRONG!

      The Woz wrote in his comment on my post:

      "I am an aggressive competitive player because I always was. I won golf trophies when young, was the best player on my little league teams some years (best pitcher, best shortstop, best hitter, best runner), made the little league all-stars, lettered in swimming in Jr. High School, lettered in pole vaulting in high school, won tennis trophies, played football aggressively with friends, always ran well and was in marathon running shape 15 years ago."

      What makes my egregious error even worse is that just two weeks ago, I ordered and received from amazon this book:


      I read it with delight.

      It's one of a series, "Unlocking the Secrets of Science."

      The publisher writes, "In selecting those persons to be profiled in this series, we first attempted to identify the most notable accomplishments of the 20th century in science, medicine and technology."

      The Woz is in fast company: Edwin Hubble, Linus Pauling, Francis Crick and James Watson, Albert Einstein, Wilhelm Roentgen and Alexander Fleming are among the other greats in the series. But I digress.

      Chapter 3 of the biography is titled "High School and College Years."

      It talked about Steve's wizardy in electronics, science and math, as well as his developing reputation as a prankster, "one that has followed him down to the present day."

      Just now I reread the chapter, word-for-word, and there's not a word about his athletic achievements.

      Steve's website biography also omits his athletic accomplishments.

      Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

      Lesson learned, say I: if you don't know, don't assume.

      I'll say this, in finishing on this subject: pole vaulting is perhaps the most complex and difficult single event in track and field, requiring speed, strength, coordination, balance, aggressiveness and fearlessness.

      The fact that the Woz lettered in the sport in high school indicates major physical skills and athleticism.


      The quotation from a New York Times article about why Steve plays Segway polo so fiercely, parroted by me on Monday, is thus untrue: it's quite clear from his email that he does everything with gusto: he's competitive.

      The Woz asked me not to set the record straight but since he did so in his email, I don't feel all that bad about disregarding his wish and doing so anyhow.

      Sorry, Steve, but I can't stand inaccurate or unsubstantiated writing by myself in bookofjoe or anywhere else.

      Although, truth be told, there's not a whole lot being written these days by moi outside the confines of this blog.

      My errors kill me.

      A misspelling ruins my whole day, sometimes.

      I mean, to goof up regarding Donald Trump or some such doofus is one thing, but one of my heroes?


      I am so much an Apple person that just using a PC makes me physically ill.

      Here's Steve Wozniak's email, just as it came in and appears to the right in the "Comments" section:

        Love my Hummer but also transport 4 Segways plus 2 passengers, or 3 Segways plus 3 passengers, or 1 Segway and 5 passengers, all Segways fully assembled, in my 2004 or 2005 Prius's.

        I am an aggressive competitive player because I always was. I won golf trophies when young, was the best player on my little league teams some years (best pitcher, best shortstop, best hitter, best runner), made the little league all-stars, lettered in swimming in Jr. High School, lettered in pole vaulting in high school, won tennis trophies, played football aggressively with friends, always ran well and was in marathon running shape 15 years ago.

        I don't play aggressively because I can afford Segways. In fact I let others use my Segways. One guy crashed the Segway, destroying the handlbar and light ($1000 for both) and later swung a mallet into my light (another $500) and I paid it all. I have not damaged a Segway playing polo. I play within the limits of the laws (of physics) and our rules, and press them just barely over the line.

        Still, the image of playing aggressively because I can afford to wreck my Segway is a compelling one that enhances my strange image so please don't tell people the truth. It's like an article in Wired Magazine once which stated that I was moving to where my cell phone would work. It was based on some other comment by myself or a friend but it sounds just strange enough to enhance my 'creative person' image so I'm glad for it.

      April 6, 2005 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

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