« November 21, 2008 | Main | November 23, 2008 »

November 22, 2008

Your cellphone's secret life


Monica Hesse, the Washington Post's connection with the bleeding edge, today wrote about the new new thing in stupidity: people who steal cell phones and then find their own pictures, taken with the filched phone, automatically posted online for anyone to see courtesy of uploading services like ShoZu.

Here's the entertaining article.

    Caught Snapping

    That Cell May Be a Steal, but Don't Shoot Yourself in the Face

    Dumb criminals status update:

    Ashlee Hutchens, 18, stopped to reorient herself while driving through an unfamiliar Cincinnati neighborhood this fall. A young man swaggered over. First he tried to hit on her. When Ashlee, who is deaf, didn't respond, he stole her cellphone.

    Police said recovery was unlikely, so Ashlee's mom, Christine, took her to buy another Sidekick. A few points and clicks later, and the clever new device imported the old phone's memory. Including a tough-guy self-portrait of....

    "She said, 'Mom, that's him!' " remembers Christine. "He's even wearing the same shirt!"

    The unintentional mug shot made its way onto the local Crime Stoppers broadcast. Soon cops had a suspect in custody.


    So. Good. This is just the kind of hand-held comeuppance we expect from a synced society -- and it's happening around the world as personal devices get more and more advanced. The photo trails left by technologically unsavvy crooks are like the online Darwin Awards, like the schadenfreude of "Cops."

    The fascination might say more about us than the crooks, but self-reflection is so much less entertaining than vigilantism.

    And neither action gets at the oddness of what's happening here: the idea that our gadgets have lives and existences beyond our control, that they haunt us even after they're missing, like phantom limbs that have been amputated but still itch.

    In the olden days of stolen cellphones — say, three, four years ago — the best you could do was call yourself. Dial your own number and hope that a good citizen picked up, while you imagined the phone's possible locations. On the street? Under a barstool? Wedged in a Metro seat and bleating out weak rings as the batter... slowly... died?

    Now, a whole number of applications and services have made it possible for you to Follow That Treo, follow it straight to justice.

    Martijn Van Es, a Web editor for Amnesty International in the Netherlands, had given up on his missing phone, until he started getting e-mails from friends. "They wanted to know," says Van Es, "why I was taking photographs of teenage boys."

    He wasn't, actually. The kids in question had gained possession of the phone and used it to shoot themselves horsing around. They didn't know that the phone was subscribed to ShoZu, a service that automatically uploaded any cellphone snapshots to Van Es's public Flickr account. Van Es took the photos to police, who said they couldn't help — no one knew whether the teens had stolen the phone (a crime) or merely found it (not).

    So like any self-respecting webphile, Van Es got an idea: crowd-sourcing. He posted the teens' photos on his personal blog, and within a day his visitors shot from 250 to 28,000 as hoards of commenters mocked, forwarded, sleuthed, mocked some more. By the end of the week, he'd traced the kids to a local school and was fielding dozens of junior high-ish e-mails: I can ask X to find out if Y knows if G stole the phone.

    Meanwhile, he was growing scared of the cybermonster he'd created. These were just kids. Comments were getting vicious, and "all of these personal details were outed about them," says Van Es, which made him concerned. He does work for Amnesty International, after all.

    Eventually an exchange was arranged, and the photos were taken down from the site.

    "But if I'd have known what I know now, I wouldn't have written anything on my blog," says Van Es. "Six months later and the phone was broken" anyway.

    But that's the Internet for you — no take-backs, no do-overs.

    Crowd-sourcing as mystery-solving "does more harm than good in almost every case I've seen," says Daniel Solove, a George Washington University law professor and author of "The Future of Reputation: Gossip, Rumor, and Privacy on the Internet," who studies this sort of thing. "The mob tries to one-up each other," the punishment doesn't fit the crime, the cybermob meets the lynch mob and one really hideous two-headed monster is born.

    Which we totally, totally get.

    Except that... These people. Are taking photos of themselves with stolen phones. And then unintentionally sending records of their every move. Directly to the people who are trying to catch them.


    The sheer idiocy is what makes it funny. What makes it compelling is the idea of anthropomorphized phones sending S.O.S. signals, secret missives back to their original owners. Find me. Find me, I am all alone with strangers. Find me!

    How tantalizing, to think that while we continue to live our lives, our phones go on entirely new adventures.

    Such was the fascination of Ben Clemens of San Francisco, who gained minor Internet fame two years ago when he was the first ShoZu user to discover that his phone — stolen on an Amtrak — would just keep uploading, regardless of who took the photographs.

    For weeks, Clemens would log onto his computer and find a picture of a Chihuahua. A car. A woman having a snack. Children. Ambiguous fragments of his phone's new life, displayed for Clemens's viewing pleasure. It was voyeuristic and intriguing, like stalking the blog of a person you barely know.

    "The photos did stop appearing after a while," says Clemens, as the phone's new owners either learned to disable the ShoZu function or discarded the device. "I was quite relieved at that point." Otherwise, who knows if he could have torn himself away.

    David McDonald of Melbourne, Australia, was similarly more curious than angry, when he logged onto Flickr earlier this year and found that his phone, pickpocketed a few days before, had recently attended a street festival.

    There it was, "having its own little field trip," cavorting with guys McDonald didn't know, in a neighborhood he'd never been. "I spent minutes and minutes blowing up the photo and analyzing it," says McDonald, a Web designer. He saw that the photograph in question was taken on a Sunday and used the date to determine which celebration the picture must depict. He scoured the photo for contextual clues, considered traveling to the scene to put himself in the mind of the phone.

    "It's a bit of a detective story," he says, "like the myth where someone steals your garden gnome.... After a while, I sort of thought it was funny."

    And so technology advances, crowds become vigilantes, criminals are caught... and David McDonald periodically checks Flickr with a mixture of obsession and excitement, wanting to see what antics his phone is up to now.

November 22, 2008 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Garnier Anti-Puff Eye Roller


Who cares if it doesn't work?

With a name like that and space-age looks it's got enough going for it to sit unused in plain view as eye candy.

Holly E. Thomas took one for a test drive, reporting her disappointment in a review which appeared in last Sunday's Washington Post TrendSpotter feature; it follows.

    Garnier Anti-Puff Eye Roller

    A quick run-through of my medicine cabinet yields no less than five — count 'em, five — eye creams. This bevy of undereye fixer-uppers claim to do everything from making me look well-rested to erasing the dark circles I've battled for years. But am I any more bright-eyed than the next girl? No. Want to know why? Because boring old creams are just, well, boring and I can never stick with one long enough to notice any results. Hence my immediate fascination with Garnier's futuristic rollerball gadget — a no-mess application and a cooling, caffeine-infused gel — surely this one could hold my interest.

    Three weeks later, my eyes are still puffy and a bit raccoon-like when I wake up. I have diligently rolled on the stuff every morning and night, though. So while what's inside the tube didn't work for me, the gimmick did: I've finally started a habit I can stick with. Now to find a formula that works....


November 22, 2008 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Flight Delay Information From Mission Control


Why bother with your airline's useless or nonexistent information when you can tap right into the Federal Aviation Administration's Air Traffic Control System Command Center's website for the lastest in airport conditions and delays around the country?

"The status information provided on this site indicates general airport conditions; it is not flight-specific."

[via Milena]

November 22, 2008 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Banana Bike Passenger Seat


John Edgar Park wrote, in MAKE's blog, "I dig this sweet bike hack. You'd want to be pretty confident in the tubing stability and mounting hardware before offering a ride to anyone you like. It is acceptable to require that they wear tube socks."

November 22, 2008 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Helpful Hints from joeeze: Painting hacks (Episode 2)


Tatiana's nifty rubber band brush holder in last Saturday's Episode 1 inspired a comment from Nick Wood offering two additional tweaks to make your do-it-yourself painting experience that much better.

1) "One of my favorite painting tips is to nail holes in the inner rim so that any paint which collects there can drip back into the can."

2) "Pour the paint towards the rear label so that even after it is half covered in paint, you still know what kind of paint is in the can."

I especially love #2 because it's so elegant, requiring only thought and no physical implements or additional effort.

In that respect, it's akin to a driving (cars, not golf) hack I've used since forever: when backing up, after everything's clear and you're about to take your foot off the brake and put the vehicle into reverse, don't — instead, turn around again and look.

Doing so has saved me from several accidents over the years.

It's true that strictly speaking, the extra look back requires additional effort — consider it a neck flexibility enhancement and you'll feel better about it.

November 22, 2008 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Remote Control Jousting Knights


From the website:

    Remote Control Jousting Knights

    Just like the original medieval tournament, the aim is to knock your opponent off his horse.

    Fun face-to-face competition with realistic movements.


    • Comes with 2 horses and 2 remote controllers/chargers

    • Uses 4 AA and 2 9V batteries (not included)

    • Horses measure 7¾" (20cm) long

    • Playable on almost any surface



[via Jonathan Margolis's "Technopolis" column in today's Financial Times "How To Spend It" magazine]

November 22, 2008 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

TechnoDolt™ discovers great new computer function


That would be moi, just seconds ago, when I made a mistake and highlighted a couple words in blue like when you copy and paste, then moved the cursor by accident to my Mac desktop.

A little icon (top) appeared, with some gibberish below it as a caption — when I clicked on it, voila, this appeared:



So I guess I can save stuff that easily to my desktop.

See, for reasons not entirely clear, a couple years ago while trying the homebrew TechnoDolt™ version of FinallyFast I permanently trashed my Clipboard — gone, vamoosed, disappeared.

Since then I've copied and pasted stuff into a blank email field for later use.

I feel so techie just now.

Don't disillusion me.

November 22, 2008 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Floating Screwdrivers



Now I can work on projects while I'm taking a bubble bath without having to grope around the bottom of the tub looking for my screwdriver.


From the website:

    Floating Screwdrivers

    Chances are you're not a frogman mounting a daring amphibious raid on hostile territory, but you might find yourself having to make basic repairs around water, perhaps to a dock or boat.

    That's when you’ll want this handy 6-piece floating screwdriver set around.

    The tools feature lightweight, large-sized handles that will float in the water and are bright enough to be seen even when things get murky.

    With durable chrome vanadium steel construction, these screwdrivers are tough enough to do the job on land or sea.

    Includes three Phillips screwdrivers (3-inch #0 and #1 sizes and a 4-inch #2) and three slotted screwdrivers (3-inch 5/32" and 3/16" and a 4-inch 1/4").



Funny, the website copy doesn't even mention using them in the tub... wonder what that's all about?

No matter.

Six piece set: $12.99.

November 22, 2008 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

« November 21, 2008 | Main | November 23, 2008 »