Toilet brush covert surveillance camera

Via BoingBoing comes the story of a creepy man secretly filming women in a Starbucks restroom.

A 25-year-old man hid a video camera disguised as a plastic coat hook inside the women’s restroom of a Starbucks in Glendora, CA, and secretly recorded more than 40 women and children using the toilet over two days. The man “downloaded the device about every hour to his laptop computer while sitting in his car,” according to police. (LA Times)

Most of us would be in agreement that the actions of the man are creepy. But what I find interesting is the point that nowhere in the original story (LA Times) is the manufacturers responsibility discussed. What moral responsibility does a manufacturer/designer have for a camera, disguised as a plastic coat hook, that can be affixed to a wall?

The coat hook is – in this context – an almost a reasonable product. There is a whole range of hidden bathroom camera devices on the market. How about the toothbrush camera, toilet brush camera, shower radio camera, bathroom light camera, toothpaste camera, hair clipper camera, soap dish camera, shower mirror camera, shampoo bottle camera… (all from the same manufacturer)

There may be certain situations where invading someones privacy with the help of covert surveillance cameras is legitimate – maybe even necessary. But the mass market for goods to cover these situations is hard to envision. It is even more difficult for me to understand when it could be a legitimate need to covertly film people in the bathroom. And yet there are mass market cheap goods that cover this particular situation.

So when the creepy 25-year-old uses these products – he is being creepy. But when would the use of this stuff not be creepy?

Does the fact that these products exist and are easy to buy promote and encourage creepy behavior?

Designing for actual use

The law tends to regulate as it ought to be not as it is. This means that often the law spends a lot of energy attempting to correct real behavior to be closer to the idea of what a certain behavior should be. When the law does this in ridiculous circumstances the guardians of the law glow with pride and refer to higher principles.

The problem is that he regulator should create laws and other regulatory systems not only with “ideal behavior” in mind. But it should take into consideration what people want. Unfortunately the law rarely asks: is this the hill I want to die on? But struggles to fight for principles in the face of overwhelming odds.

With this in mind it is fun to see that a mayor in Germany has created this bench for young people where the design promtoes sitting on high.

Dieter Mörlein demonstrates young peoples bench. Photo: PS Geschwill

Yahoo News writes

A mayor in Germany is attracting interest from other cities after he installed a special park bench for town teens who refuse to sit properly.
After residents of the southwestern city of Eppelheim complained teenagers always sat on the top of benches, rather than on the seat itself which they dirtied with their shoes, Mayor Dieter Moerlein came up with the idea of putting the seat on top.

Instead of continuing a rather pointless battle between different user groups about the “correct” use of the bench this Mayor has realized that more may be gained by accommodating the needs of different users.

Has Facebook peaked?

All things come to an end. Those who do not believe this probably just have very short memories or lack history skills. There have been big social network sites prior to and parallel to Facebook.

The problem of the Internet is contained in its greatest strength engineers rather than ordinary people. The problem with the Internet law is that we believe contracts trump rights. Put these two things together and we have the area where social networking sites work and play.

And Facebook has crushed opposition. Facebook has grown despite its lack of care of users interests (If you are not paying for it, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold.). Oddly enough Facebook has managed to grown without much legal obstruction from states attempting to enforce privacy regulation (or other areas). Facebook has survived earlier attempts from users to quit. While the law is slowly (criminal neglect slow) beginning to look at what’s happening on social network sites I dont think it will be the law that has any real effect here.

But allow me to be a prophet of doom: The biggest threats to Facebook are size and apathy. Facebook is big and it is its size that will be its downfall. Even if users seem to be content with services offered I do think people are more bored with the standardized approach to social networking that Facebook offers.

But I do not expect an exodus. Nobody should expect this. What we see is not quitting out of indignation but rather out of apathy. We will keep our accounts but update them less often – or even worse connect our accounts to other services (like blog updates 🙂 and the updates will be irrelevant.

What to expect? Not much really. The same as with any other market where the customers are bored and under stimulated. The moment an alternative pops up the customers will flock to it in droves. Media will rave about this new cool cool thing. The giant will be weakened and then the law, the competitors, the investors and the general crazies will attack from all quarters.

Facebook will try to become the new MySpace: wounded but surviving as a niche product. And here it will struggle to survive since it will be a niche product without a niche. A generalist in a world of specialists.


Please don't update my stuff

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it are words everyone should live by. But I would also like to add the condition if it works then don’t update it! There are many obvious reasons for updating technology and unfortunately many of them have absolutely nothing to do with the introduction of a better technology.

Over 40 years ago my father surprised my mother with a new sowing machine. My mother still uses the machine regularly. Naturally as a sowing machine manufacturer this is probably not a good deal. It would have been much better if my family had been forced to purchase a replacement twenty or thirty years ago. The Swedish consumer board stated ten years ago that the natural life expectancy of a mobile phone is two years. But phone manufacturers need to create desire for new versions to make sure that we are constantly giving them more money.

But what really bugs me is when manufacturers add technology to stuff that doesn’t need it. Touch screens on cookers and sensors in public bathrooms are among my main annoyances here.

Right now one of my most successful gadgets is my kindle. Now I would like them to update the ability to share books even beyond what Amazon has started to do. But my greatest fear is that some tecchie will feel the need to improve on the device to reach a greater market. The kindle is perfect because it mimics the book:

Why the paper book is a great technology:It doesn’t come with its own method of distracting you from itself via Benteka

Adding color screens, better keyboards and most dangerously touchscreens is going to happen – for all the wrong reasons. For a reader the lack of connectivity, the sucky keyboard & the fact that the reader is basically good at only one thing are all major strengths with the device.

My gadgets and I

Its difficult not to think about digital culture after reading Jaron Lanier‘s book You are not a Gadget. He captures me at once with his discussion on how we are locked into our technological settings by previous design decisions. These decisions may not be the best but they might have been the best at the time. To overcome their flaws we build work-arounds and use more power but at the heart of the system lie flaws which are limiting us and controlling our ability to develop.

The problem, according to Lanier, is that we continued to develop our gadgets and became so impressed with them that two things happened. First we began to think that the gadgets we actually doing the work (computer beats chess player) and not realizing that it was the programmers et al doing the work (programming team & chess experts together beat chess player). Second the popularity of gadgets and applications were not increasing our freedom and development. The iPad & Facebook (just to pick 2) are not freeing us but limiting our choices of action.

Obviously digital culture, web2.0 and social media are not high on Lanier’s list of popular ideas. The hive mind lacks intelligence and the collaboration is all about remixing bits of information without producing anything new. Individuals produce – the hive iterates.

But this is where he loses me. Critiquing the masses for not being innovative or exiting smacks of arrogance – they (the mob) just dont get the sophistication of what the web could be? Sure, we (the mob) are controlled by our iPhones and Twitter. Our communications are not totally free – but when were they ever free? Was there ever a period where the mass was more exciting than it is now? The mass collaboration of Wikipedia may not be producing new knowledge but encyclopedists never did. They are however providing information more efficiently than ever before.

Critiquing bloggers for not being memorable writers is equally unfair as 99% of all writers either never got published or are now out of our memories. Critiquing twitterers for not being deep is also to forget that 99% of all human communication is shallow and pointless (Hello, how are you? nice weather we’re having). The point is to establish relationships (real or imagined) and occasionally pass information of importance.

Sure we are not gadgets and I totally agree with the dangers of the lock-in and the fact that people not networks are the most important – but simply because we are controlled by our infrastructure (as was the medieval scribe) does not mean that we are pawns of our infrastructure.

We are not gadgets – but we may be too fond of them… but thats a different problem.

Read the book its an important addition to our understanding of how technology forms us. Read The Independent & New York Times review of Lanier’s You are not a Gadget

Stormtrooper Copyright War

The Star Wars Stormtrooper case is over. I wrote about the origins of the case in April last year. The conflict was between George Lucas (the man behind the Star Wars films) and Andrew Ainsworth the costume designer behind the white stormtrooper uniforms.

The British prop designer who created their famous white helmets and body armour is being sued by director George Lucas for £10m in a case starting at the high court tomorrow. Andrew Ainsworth was sued by the director’s company, Lucasfilm, after reproducing the outfits from the original moulds and selling them for up to £1,800 each. (The Force)

The fact that Ainsworth makes the helmets from the original moulds should not mean anything since the right to make copies does not follow the ownership of the moulds. However in the absence of a contract to resolve this question the fact that the designer was allowed (if he was?) to keep his moulds should weigh in his favor. What a lovely case – I can’t wait to hear what the courts decide. More on this available at TimesOnline.
Well the courts have decided in favor of Andrew Ainsworth. MSNBC reports that

…London’s High Court last year ruled that Ainsworth had violated Lucas’s U.S. copyright, but rejected a copyright claim against him under British law, saying the costumes were not works of art and were therefore not covered by British copyright law.

The judge also refused to enforce in Britain a $20 million judgment Lucasfilm won against Ainsworth in a California court in 2006, saying Ainsworth’s U.S. sales were not significant enough to make him susceptible to U.S. jurisdiction.

Last month, Lucasfilm took the matter to the Court of Appeal, but in a ruling Wednesday the judges turned the company down.

Update: At Last… The 1709 Copyright Blog has a clear oversight of the whole affair.

Us Now documentary

Us Now is a documentary film that explores the ways in which web2.0 technologies are changing the way in which we interact and thus changing the fundamental roots of society. It’s “A film project about the power of mass collaboration, government and the internet”.

In a world in which information is like air, what happens to power?
New technologies and a closely related culture of collaboration present radical new models of social organisation.

From what I have seen so far this is an insightful and interesting film which presents the viewer with many questions about our society. It is filled with interesting people and examples revealing interesting new social organizational forms and asking questions about the way which will could and should be governed in the future. There is an underlying demand for true participation in the ways we are governed.

The film is also released under the Creative Commons BY-SA license.

Here is a blurb from

Can we all govern? Us Now looks at how ‘user’ participation could transform the way that countries are governed. It tells the stories of the online networks whose radical self-organising structures threaten to change the fabric of government forever. Us Now follows the fate of Ebbsfleet United, a football club owned and run by its fans; Zopa, a bank in which everyone is the manager; and Couch Surfing, a vast online network whose members share their homes with strangers.

Check out the trailer:

The Gandhi pen (owning the dead)

Yesterday was Gandhi’s 14o th birthday, an event that was celebrated and commemorated by many. Google for example had its traditional picture change. But probably the weirdest attempt to celebrate was conducted by luxury pen maker Montblanc (via BoingBoing):

The limited-edition Ma­hatma Gandhi pen, priced at Rs1.1m ($23,000, €15,800, £14,400), has an 18-carat solid gold, rhodium-plated nib, engraved with Gandhi’s image, and “a saffron-coloured mandarin garnet” on the clip. The pens were unveiled this week, before the national holiday on Gandhi’s birthday.

Dilip R. Doshi, chairman of Entrack, Montblanc’s distributor in India, said the pen embodied Gandhi’s timeless philosophy of non-violence and respect for all living creatures. “We are creating a thing of simplicity and beauty that will last for centuries,” he said.

I have always been uncomfortable when dead people are used in advertising – this latest example has done nothing to improve this.