All items by Alex Bowyer

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Pulling SMS data from used phonesAt the HCI 2010 conference in Dundee, Scotland, researchers from Glasgow University announced preliminary results that show that a high number of re-sold mobile phones contain personal information left by previous owners. In some cases the data was highly sensitive or incriminating – and in some cases was believed deleted, but still recoverable. Read more »

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Are the dictionary’s days numbered?

The Oxford English Dictionary

Nigel Portwood, the Chief Executive of Oxford University Press, which prints the Oxford English Dictionary, has observed that thanks to the ease of googling for dictionary definitions or searching online on oed.com, demand for printed dictionaries is falling rapidly, “by tens of percent each year”. He speculates there may be no printed dictionary market left by 2020.

Will the dictionary go the way of the phone bookRead more at ABC News.

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Is voice control a reality?

The new Android software from Google, Voice Actions lets you send a text, write an email, bring up information or call a business whose number you don’t have to hand using just your voice. The demonstration is impressive (though from real world tests it does not seem to be as speedy as the demo suggests).
If it works, this could be a great feature for hands-free drivers who want to access information on the move.. but will we use it in public? So far, voice technologies have not gained mainstream adoption – some people think it is because we feel silly talking to our electronics. Perhaps, as voice recognition technology improves, the biggest barrier is no longer technological but psychological…

Find out more at TechCrunch

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Is photography a human right?

Today we photograph more than ever before – and thanks to the negligible cost, we film situations that would never have been captured before. But police and other authority figures do not want to be recorded, and all over the world a battle is playing out between officials pushing current laws to extremes to prevent such recordings, and citizens who fight back with equal vigour to protect their freedom to photograph.

Should photography be criminalized and recording devices banished from any situation where that recording might be used for ill? Or should we assert our right to capture anything we experience as a fundamental right?

Read more »

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Real-time game stats, together with Twitter updates and other sports scores, are overlayed on the device running MetaMirror. (Credit: Notion)

More and more pop-outs, banners and information scrollers are starting to appear on our television sets, particularly during news and sports coverage. And many of us really don’t like that clutter on the screen – though the information is useful. A new concept software interface, MetaMirror, offers a solution – the use of an iPad or tablet to show the same view as your TV, but with all the statistics, scores and replays overlaid on top of it.

It will be interesting as iPads and tablets become more mainstream to see if we see this idea take off.

Read more at CNET.

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Visa's payWave contactless payment system, soon to be challenged by AT&T and Verizon

The two biggest mobile companies in the US, AT&T and Verizon Wireless, are teaming up to launch a new financial venture, which will allow consumers to pay for goods with a swipe of their smartphone – in effect forming a new banking entity and putting them in direct competition with the likes of Mastercard and Visa (who already have contactless payment methods called “payPass” and “payWave”).

What’s interesting about this development is that it uses something most of us already have – a smartphone – so the barrier to entry will be much lower. And as one expert put it, “The mobile carriers are the biggest recurring billers in every market. They are experts at processing payments.”

Perhaps in the future our banks won’t be banks, but phone companies.

Read more at Bloomberg, or Mobile Beat.

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Apps without Programming

The new App Inventor takes Google’s “do what you like with your gadgets” approach one step further, by enabling anyone – even those who have never programmed before – to create their own apps with drag and drop ease.

App Inventor is a simple user interface for creating applications for the Android mobile platform, working in a similar way to Visual Basic – you drag buttons onto your screen and attach actions to them.

It’s interesting because in an age where there is fierce debate over whether you have the right to reprogram your device and customize it for your own use (consider Apple’s iOS vs Google’s Android), this presents a third option – by equipping ordinary people to develop exactly the functionality they need, without having to go outside the bounds of a controlled environment. Might we see Apple offer something similar for iPhones soon?

It’s also interesting to consider that if MySpace, Facebook and blogs took the idea of people creating websites and web content into the mainstream, what could happen if the capability to create software became equally mainstream? It would be sure to spark a total revolution in the way we think about computers…

Read more at CNET.

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A new survey shows that teens in the Ontario average seven hours a day of “screen time”.

The study grouped together time spent watching TV and Internet use as “sedentary behaviour” and suggests a link to a decline in physical and mental health among the students.

What’s interesting here is the implicit suggestion that a person’s entire use of a computer could be considered as a bad thing. Grouping all computer time together with watching TV as “screen time” is, I think, somewhat irresponsible and fails to recognize the diverse roles computers play in our lives.

It’s true that computers can be used for consuming content (YouTube videos or internet TV channels for example) as well as for solitary activities like playing games. These things should perhaps be moderated as you might TV use.

But computers can be used for so many other things now – researching homework assignments, communicating with friends, collaborating with other students, planning trips or shopping. So to group all these activities together as if they are all self-indulgent activities that could be completely avoided is unrealistic at best.

The reality is that computers are now so integrated into our daily lives, and even more so with the younger generation, that to consider taking “screens” out of the equation wholly is simply not possible.

A more interesting piece of research would separate solitary entertainment activities from productive or communication activities, and also look at the differences between students doing such activities offline or online.

It’s also worth considering what the researchers might have found if they’d looked at adults. Most of the office-bound population has seven hours of sedentary time a day – it’s called doing their work at their desk! In this context, the researchers findings are nothing special.

Read more of the study at CBC News.

In other news, researchers find that people use computers a lot…

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The well known sci-fi movie trilogy Back to the Future got a lot of attention online yesterday when it was “revealed” that July 5th, 2010 was the date in the future that Marty and the Doc travel to at the start of the second movie. The only problem is, as the more astute fans will know, that this date never actually featured in the movies. The date in question is actually in 2015.

The mistake originated from Total Film magazine in the UK, and when they discovered their mistake, they jokingly “went back in time to fix it” (a.k.a. photoshopping a screen capture from the movie). Unfortunately, this image then spread around the Internet as “proof” that July 5th 2010 was really in the movie. Soon the Future day meme was trending on Twitter and receiving tens of thousands of searches on Google. There’s even a new variant of the image with July 6th as the date… and the meme continues.

This incident highlights both the speed at which information spreads online, and also how readily people will accept anything they read online, without taking the time to dig deeper or verify facts – something that will become more and more commonplace as we become more saturated with information from so many sources.

Read the full story at Total Film.

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