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Smoke Signals, Cellphone Style

Cellphone users will soon be able to send messages literally into the air via a feature called airtexting—which is rather like sending a smoke signal, but without all the fuss.

By fall, for example, you’ll be able to upgrade your Nokia 3220 with the Xpress-on Fun Shell. To airtext, you simply type out a brief message (limited to 15 characters) and wave your cellphone in the air. A motion sensor activates a row of LEDs on the back of the phone, flashing your message into interpersonal space.

Don’t start saving your pennies just yet, however. Timing is everything and the first documented virus for mobile phones, Cabir, has just hit the charts. Although Cabir is considered friendly as far as viruses go, it won’t be long before a truly disruptive one reorders those flashing letters, filling the sky with one-liners never intended by you.



File Sharing: Crime and Punishment Unplugged

Debate over file sharing and the Inducing Infringement of Copyrights Act (S. 2560), which seeks to place the burden of piracy guilt on the shoulders of software designers and manufacturers instead of the file-snatchers, has transformed from a high-pitched whine to a draconian roar. Just who is the guilty party—and how will justice be done?

Some think the guilty party is the individual illegally swapping files. Although nobody has gone so far as to suggest chopping off the mouse-clutching hand of the culprit, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) did suggest a high-tech “search-and-destroy” view of justice: remotely “disabling” (to put it mildly) the computers involved. The more courtroom-oriented RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) has filed approximately 3,500 lawsuits (and counting) against individuals using file-sharing software.

On the other side, the U.S. Copyright Office and others believe that it’s the software developers and technology manufacturers who should be hunted down. You know, like suing gun manufacturers who make the weapons involved in crimes.

In June, a group of concerned companies including Google, Yahoo, and Sun wrote a letter to the Senate, through public policy advocate NetCoalition, requesting a hearing on the implications of the Induce Act. Their concern? Holding software companies responsible for the illegal activities of some users could have a chilling effect on innovation.

Perhaps an old-fashioned debate will help Justice keep her blinders on.



Musical Composition by Any_Body

Anyone with a song in their heart who can’t carry a tune—let alone read or write music—will soon be able to compose music by simply moving to the spirit within.

To make this possible, researchers have been developing a creative way to repurpose “motion capture” (MoCap), which is used in the special effects industry to re-create real-life actions in a fantastic or larger-than-life setting (think Gollum in The Lord of the Rings). To make music using MoCap, subjects move around while wearing a leotard adorned with reflective balls. Rays of ultra-red light bounce off these reflective surfaces, and the resulting signals are run through a software program that translates the gestures into musical notes.

Although researcher Kia Ng (Leeds University, England) expects to demonstrate his technology later this year, don’t sign up for hours of lab time just yet. You can’t listen to your music while you’re creating it—you have to first “perform” and record your piece, and then listen to your tune after the software has processed your movements. This would be akin to playing a piano with earplugs in and not being able to hear what you’ve played until after you’ve stopped playing. Beethoven could do it—but unless you’ve got an uncanny sense of the melodic, you might want to wait until you have a better shot at that magnum opus.



Originally published in Queue vol. 2, no. 6
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