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The PlaneFinder Augmented Reality app identifies planes in the sky

If an aircraft enthusiast monitors position broadcasts from passing flights and records the identifiers and positions of those planes, is it a threat to security? Most would say no, the information is already being broadcast. What about if he publishes that information on a website? Well, now it’s easier for anyone to use that information – but it’s the same information.

Now, an app, PlaneFinder, has been released for the Android and iPhone which  makes that same information even more usable – you can now point your phone at the sky and get a live readout of the flight number, speed, destination and route of that otherwise unknown dot in the sky – a pretty powerful tool for plane-spotters and the public.

US authorities including the Federal Aviation Authority and the Department of Homeland Security are concerned that this could be used by terrorists and are investigating the matter. The Daily Mail and other tabloids are concocting horror stories of how the app could be used to target surface-to-air missiles. There are reports that “security experts” have deemed the app “an aid to terrorists”.

Clearly, there is some fear-mongering here, as with any story that can be linked to terrorists – but the pattern is one that is repeating more and more. Using new technology, people are harvesting publicly accessible data, making it usable in new ways, in new situations – and shifting the balance of power from the establishment to the individual. And the establishment doesn’t like that. Should tools that offer such access be banned, as the tabloids suggest? Or would that just deny the public access to a useful tool – and make little difference to the determined wrong-doer?

Read more at ndtv or on Slashdot.

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Researchers at the University of Plymouth in the UK, have made some significant steps forward in the quest to create an artificial intelligence that can learn about the world around it. Using the iCub robotic toddler, designed by a consortium of European universities, they have trained software to recognize and identify moving objects in its field of vision, based on their position relative to the robot’s body. This is the same way a human child learns.

To learn more, watch the video or read the New Scientist article.

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color stay by unclestabby from http://www.flickr.com/photos/unclestabby/2706034988/

As we move online, the definition of a community changes. Our neighbors aren’t just those people physically near us, but those we hang out with. This flexible definition of a community has serious repercussions for law and social morals: when we find kindred spirits online, we start thinking that everyone is just like us. At the same time, different communities hold us to different standards, and now that those communities leak into one another we need to apply context to our judgement.

In the 1970s bestseller The Joy Of Sex, we learn about a man who could only be aroused in a bathtub full of spaghetti. Back then, he probably led a lonely, normal life — albeit one in which he bought a lot of pasta and had a higher water bill than his neighbors. It’s unlikely that he had friends who shared his particular turn-on. Read more »

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Mozilla Seabird concept phone

This concept piece from Mozilla Labs provides some interesting ideas of how mobile devices could change in the coming years. Highlights include a separate gestural interface and a projected screen/keyboard dock.

Bonus: there’s also a 3D version of the video clip, using Youtube’s 3D technology (side-by-side, red-blue, and so on.)

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Bitnorth 2010: The Human 2.0 Weekend

In late August, CAMMAC (a music camp north of Montreal) hosted the third annual Bitnorth conference. This year the theme was Human 2.0. Attendees presented a 5 minute “short bit” on a topic of their choice, which inspired many lively debates. Slides and recordings will be online soon but in the meantime, here are some of the interesting Human 2.0 ideas and questions that emerged over the course of the weekend: Read more »

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Visualizing social data

The folks at Contagious Magazine have an interesting piece on visualizing check-in data. Weeplaces.com lets you visualize your check-in data across several services, including Foursquare and Facebook Places. I generated mine fairly easily.

FourSquare Visualization by WeePlaces.com from Eric Wu on Vimeo.

This reminds me of nothing as much as Plazes, an early check-in competitor (that relied on MAC addresses to “claim” locations — this was pre-iPhone, of course.) Plazes caught on a bit, and was eventually bought by Nokia, but lacked the critical mass needed for applications like Foursquare, Groupon, and Gowalla.

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Using an iPad as a paintbrush of light

Design firm BERG have found an innovative new use for an iPad – as a paintbrush. They swipe the iPad through the air, while it displays the different components of a 3D object or text, and repeat this multiple times to produce a stop frame animation. Check out the video:

Read more at Fast Co Design.

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The Mobile Radicals Research Group, from Lancaster, UK, today presented their paper “Harnessing creativity to broaden the appeal of location-based games” at the HCI2010 conference.

Kate Lund from the group highlighted the limitations of the few location-based games that have reached the public attention. For example Foursquare and Gowalla have very simple actions and very limited gameplay. The group had took inspiration from geo-caching, noting that is is inclusive and easy to do, but has limited appeal.

They re-invented geo-caching as a game for families and children, creating a new mobile game called “Free All Monsters”. Children can use their creativity to draw monsters, these monsters then get transplanted into the real world, where they and their friends can then use a “Magical Monstervision Machine” (a Nokia N95 running special software) to detect and find monsters in the real world. The display overlays the sensor information and monster pictures onto the real world, much like Layar and other augmented reality applications:

The game reinvents geocaching in a creative, understandable way. For example, the strength of the GPS fix is represented as a “Captoplasm” gauge – you can’t capture monsters if you haven’t got enough. The game reinforces creativity throughout. Children’s monster creations are added to a “Liber Monstorum” (book of monsters), which is used to populate the game world – personalizing the game to the players.

Players also have a “Monster Spotter’s Guide” (which helps encourage teamwork) and have a set of thought-provoking questions for players to answer for each discovery, like “What does this monster dream?” or “Where would he go on holiday?”

The game is also designed to keep players focussed on the real world (which is why the camera augmentation approach is chosen) and favours teamwork and fun over speed and competitiveness.

The game has been used successfully on a small scale at a number of outdoor open days, and will soon be released for use anywhere in the world as an iPhone application (early video here).

There’s more about the group and their research at mobileradicals.com

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Ben Schneiderman opens HCI2010 in DundeeToday at the opening keynote of the British Computer Society’s HCI 2010 conference, UX pioneer Ben Shneiderman gave an uplifting address about the need to expand the use of technology and social media for civic good.

He gave many examples of existing systems that harness the Internet to help with human problems – such as 911.gov, a conceptual site which would allow US residents to report crimes, but more importantly to request and give assistance to each other. For example, allowing a disabled resident being able to find a volunteer to help them get out of the building in an evacuation. Real-world examples included amberalert.gov and nationofneighbors.net as well as the use of Twitter to track the spread of Californian wildfires. Another example was patientslikeme.com which takes a more open view to the sharing of personal medical data than most current medical institutions, but has shown measurable benefits for the participants.

Ben highlighted the nascent nature of such thinking in the public consciousness, and speculated that greater steps need to be taken to help the public see both what is possible but also to give them the tools to make better use of data for good. To achieve this, he said, we will need deep science research to take place which can then be applied to everyday systems and functions.

As an example, Ben introduced SocialAction, a network analysis tool for researchers which can uncover hidden information in human networks. In the following video you can see the tool being used to uncover the strength of relationships between US Senators who voted the same up to 2007. Read more »

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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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