Friday, August 15, 2014

Taking harassment seriously

The local paper has a story about a man whose wife left him after he slapped her.  He then engaged in a campaign of sustained harassment, sending her dozens of texts a day, mixing threats of violence with pleas to get back together. He also kicked her door down and threatened to slit her throat.  And then sent her flowers.  It was a sinister and frightening attempt to manipulate her and he was jailed for 18 months (reduced to 16 on appeal).

So what headline did The Northern Echo go with?

Darlington 'kebab attack' man has sentence cut on appeal

Because at one point he threw a kebab at his estranged wife’s friend.  That’s the thing they focused on.  Like it’s all a bit of a laugh.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Latsot, what is it you actually *do*?

Someone asked me this the other day.  It’s always a difficult question for me to answer but in case anyone’s interested, this is what I’m doing at the moment.

I’m writing some software.  Mostly for mobiles and wearables.  I can’t say very much about it at the moment, but things I’m working on include:

  • Smart notifications.  Your mobile runs off and finds stuff you’re interested in and then tells you about it.  The smart part is that it uses context generated by your devices to work out what you’re doing so it can decide what you need to know so that the notifications don’t annoy you.  For example, your phone knows when you’re driving to work so it can decide whether to tell you about travel problems along your route and whether not to tell you about who won some reality show. That should definitely wait until you’re at work and someone else is paying for your time.  It knows when you’re running for a bus, so maybe it’ll tell you when the next bus is.  The idea is that notifications can be used to help you make decisions. If it’s raining outside, maybe you want to leave early.  Stuff like that.  Ambient information, I suppose. The other idea is that this should all be really easy to customise to your specific needs and to keep up to date as your needs and circumstances change.  I can’t say too much about how that’s done just yet.
  • Various Bluetooth shenanigans. This is fairly early stage work, but I’m playing around with tracking the movement of people’s BT devices around an environment and triggering events (including notifications) accordingly.  For example, my watch might vibrate when my wife pulls into the drive, alerting me to stop rolling around in my own filth and look like I’m working.  Or maybe it can remind me what I went into the kitchen for. Maybe the tech I’m wearing can understand gestures so when I walk into the kitchen making a movement like scissors, it can politely remind me that it was scissors I went in there for and what I wanted to cut was the Amazon parcel I just signed for.  I’m also looking at things like ibeacons, again mostly for use in the home and at work, rather than the typical application (retail, travel etc.)  And I’m quite interested in snooping BT traffic, just from a privacy point of view. Our devices leak more than you probably think and I want to know how we can better protect ourselves.
  • Wearables.  I’m particularly interested in what can be done with inexpensive wearables, such as NFC tags.  Context is again key.  Bumping an NFC tag can act as a context-dependent switch. It can do different things depending on what you’re doing. And your devices know a lot about what you’re doing.  If I bump an NFC bracelet when I’m walking home from work, it might do something different to when I bump it when I’m on a plane.  My phone knows which context is current. Fun fact: if you stick an NFC sticker on the back of a Surlyramic, bumping your phone on the ‘ramic will activate the tag.  I don’t know about you, but when I’m wearing my Surlyramics, lots of people ask me about them. You don’t need to ask me now, you can just bump your phone.  Wearables like smartbands and smartwatches are getting cheaper these days too and I’m working on what I might do with those.  Currently I’m wearing a Gear Fit, which I’m using to receive notifications (see above) and for tracking movement within environments. I’m extending the platform that manages all this to deal with the data and context devices generate. Gestures, heartbeats, whatever, together with the smart notifications I talked about way up there.
  • Civil disobedience. I want people to be disobedient when it’s needed.  I want to encourage disobedience.  I want people to be able to organise protests without an oppressive regime picking them off, driving tanks on them, targeting their families, smearing them, arresting them, threatening them or otherwise harming them.  This is a big project.  I have some ideas and some software, but it’s clear to me that it’s a thing that ought to be open sourced.  I’ll be working on opening that source in the next few months.

So I basically play with toys.  In my defence, I make toys do what they weren’t meant to do and to do things that nobody in their right mind would expect. I also, perhaps perversely, use the worst (or at least, the least capable) toys I can get. This might or might not be a commercially successful strategy.

I have a limited alpha coming out in a week or so. It’ll be the first time anyone else will really understand what I’m planning to sell and I’m quite excited.

So that’s what I do, if you’re interested.  And especially if you want to give me money.