Wireless

Wi-Fi and health

Recently, I needed to prepare something for use at school that would act as a summary to date of this debate. I took as my markers some of the high profile coverage Wi-Fi has received over the last year. It might be worth publishing this brief overview here.

1)  There's no basis for proceeding that's worthy of our consideration other than one based on the scientific evidence. There's masses of conjecture which generates fear, uncertainty and doubt.

2)  Let's start with mobile phones and phone masts - forms of wireless communication the radiation from which is (at source) far more powerful than that emitted by the kinds of wireless access points we'd be installing.

a)  December, 2006: Journal of the National Cancer Institute, a study of 420,095 cell phone users (Danes). They began subscribing to cellular phone services between 1982 and 1995, and the study examines their cancer rates through to 2002. The study 'finds no increased risk of tumors or leukemia in subscribers'; 'Even among the 56,000 people who have used the phones for more than a decade, researchers found no increased risk of cancer'.

b)  July, 2007: the Essex University phone mast study — 'when tests were carried out under double-blind conditions, where neither experimenter nor participant knew whether the signal was on or off, the number of symptoms reported was not related to whether the mast was on or off. Two of the 44 sensitive individuals correctly judged whether the mast was on or off in all six tests, compared with five out of 114 control participants. This proportion is what is expected by chance and was not increased in the sensitive group'.

3)  Now we come to the Panorama programme, 'Wi-Fi: A Warning Signal', that ran last May and which the BBC's editorial complaints unit subsequently (November) conceded had not had 'adequate balance' and so had given 'a misleading impression of the state of scientific opinion on the issue'.

a)  There's a a succinct and clear explanation of a fundamental flaw in the Panorama programme here. From the same source: 'Wi-Fi uses radio frequency (RF) waves that are "non-ionising" - that means they are not powerful enough to knock electrons off molecules in cells. One way they could harm cells is by heating them up. But this requires much higher power than is delivered by Wi-Fi networks or mobile phones (which use similar frequencies).  As every cautious scientist will tell you, you can never prove that something is absolutely safe and no one would want to gamble with the health of children. But there is good reason for thinking that Wi-Fi is, if anything, safer than the radiation from a mobile phone. The UK's Health Protection Agency says a person sitting within a Wi-Fi hotspot for a year receives the same dose of radio waves as a person using a mobile phone for 20 minutes'.

b)  Ben Goldacre, who, of course, writes the excellent Guardian 'Bad Science' column, took the Panorama programme to pieces and has also analysed the whole melange of ideas swirling round the "electrosensitivity" theme: Electrosensitives: the new cash cow of the woo industry; Wi-Fi Wants To Kill Your Children… But Alasdair Philips of Powerwatch sells the cure! ('Of course you should be vigilant about health risks. I don't question that there may be some issues worth sober investigation around Wi-Fi safety. But this documentary was the lowest, most misleading scaremongering I have seen in a very long time.')

4)  I felt it was probably worth my including the two Independent articles from last year, Danger on the airwaves: Is the Wi-Fi revolution a health time bomb? and Wi-Fi: Children at risk from 'electronic smog' (both from April). These will have lodged themselves in the minds of some — and they're truly bad. Ian Betteridge took both apart here, concluding, 'what really matters is that the quality of the Indie's reporting on this is abysmal. Printing scare stories isn't just bad journalism - it's bad behaviour that actually damages our culture, promoting bad, hokey ideas as fact and encouraging anti-scientific and anti-rational propaganda. I'd love to ask the editor of the Indie which they prefer - a world where science and reason are encouraged, or a world of cranks, quacks and charlatans'.

A paragraph or two summing up what we can say we know and how best, then, we should proceed?  I can't really do better than these, from the Guardian article already cited in 3a above:

The World Health Organisation's advice on this is very clear. "Considering the very low exposure levels and research results collected to date, there is no convincing scientific evidence that the weak RF signals from base stations and wireless networks cause adverse health effects."  And an HPA statement issued last week is equally adamant that Wi-Fi almost certainly does not pose a problem. "On the basis of current scientific information Wi-Fi equipment satisfies international guidelines. There is no consistent evidence of health effects from RF exposures below guideline levels and therefore no reason why schools and others should not use Wi-Fi equipment.

And apart from bogus TV experiments, what do we know about the strength of Wi-Fi radiation in homes, schools and businesses? Kenneth Foster, a Professor of Bioengineering at the University of Pennsylvania, took 356 measurements at 55 different sites in four different countries to find out. Even though he took his readings close to wireless routers, in all cases he found that the radiation level from Wi-Fi was far lower than international safety standards and often much lower than other radiation sources nearby.  Wi-Fi is a new addition to modern life and no scientist can say with her hand on her heart that it is perfectly safe - particularly in the long term. But there is no theoretical reason to expect problems and no good evidence for any harm. Of course we need more research to understand its effects more thoroughly and also sensible precautions. But misleading and irresponsible scare stories serve only to cloud the issue.

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Life in hypertext

My laptop needed some repair work. Limping by on a school machine during the day was made more than bearable by having the use of an iPod touch the rest of the time and access to an N810. None of these are my own. Of the three, the iPod touch is a revelation — so easy to use, the Gmail interface is (as of now) outstanding and surfing the web on it is often a joy. I don't yet know the N810 well enough to comment about it, but one thing that lets the iPod touch down is the laboriousness of entering text. I look forward to putting the N810's keyboard through its paces, but somehow I doubt it will prove as comfortable to use as the E70's thumb keyboard. The E70 is simply the best device I've ever owned for texting.

As ever when my laptop's down, I learn things. One thing I learned this time: wireless, mobile computing is getting pretty enjoyable all of a sudden. Like everyone else, I now want to try the Asus EEE. These are all devices we need to trial in school.

Meanwhile …

William Gibson (my bold):

One of the things I discovered while I was writing Pattern Recognition is that I now think that any contemporary novel today has a kind of Google novel aura around it, where somebody's going to google everything in the text. So people--and this happened to me with Pattern Recognition--would find my footprints so to speak: well, he got this from here, and this information is on this site.

(Sergey Brin and Lawrence Page, The Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine — 1998, pdf: "Google is designed to provide higher quality search so as the Web continues to grow rapidly, information can be found easily. In order to accomplish this Google makes heavy use of hypertextual information consisting of link structure and link [anchor] text. Google also uses proximity and font information. … The analysis of link structure via PageRank allows Google to evaluate the quality of web pages. The use of link text as a description of what the link points to helps the search engine return relevant [and to some degree high quality] results. Finally, the use of proximity information helps increase relevance a great deal for many queries.")

II  Adam Greenfield:

… the book is an obsolete mediation between two different hypertext systems. For everything essential is found on the del.icio.us page of the researcher who writes it, and the reader who studies it assimilates it into his or her own blog.


From the horse's mouth: Google's Global Counsel

Busy week last week, culminating with a trip to Brixton Academy on the Thursday to hear Pete Doherty and Babyshambles. There is musicianship and lyrical skill in there (I'm convinced of it! Some of my friends who are musicians are … less certain, shall we say), but this populist, narcissistic evening obscured most of that. (I found myself thinking how strangely reminiscent of Blair he is: needing to be loved, yet coming over so much of the time as considering himself … special.) We move on.

Friday afternoon and a quick trip to the where Andrew McLaughlin, Google's worldwide policy counsel, was speaking on :

Andrew McLaughlin is Head of Global Public Policy for Google Inc. Central policy issues for Google include privacy and data protection, censorship and content regulation, intellectual property (including copyright, patent, and trademark), communications and media policy, antitrust/competition, and the regulation of Internet networks and technologies. The leading countries for Google's government affairs activities include the US, Canada, Brazil, Japan, South Korea, China, India, Australia, Russia, Germany, France, the UK, Israel, Egypt, and Ireland. Andrew co-leads Google's Africa Strategy Group.

Now that was a well-spent hour+. Some notes: 

Google faces a number of challenges: 

  1. Censorship: repressive regimes are what one immediately thinks of here and of these China is the only one to which Google has made any accommodation. User-generated content is highly sensitive to the powers-that-be in Saudi Arabia, China, Iran … (So that's blogs, then.) Less obvious forms of censorship include interpretations of what "has to go" because of concerns about child protection and issues to do with cultural protection. Pay close attention to the EC Audio-Visual Services Directive (formerly, ) — an effort to create content control — and the Online Content Directive (I think I got this down right, but I can't find anything about it online). 
  2. Copyright: without Fair Use rights, Google would not exist. Copyright must be revised so as to seek a better balance between the rights of creators (to whose benefit copyright law is currently skewed) and the rights of users. Andrew showed three videos which, in different ways, re-mix copyright material: , and . (BSB was, he said, a huge phenomenon in China.) Currently, no meaningful Fair Use rights exist in Australia. 
  3. Discrimination by carriers: network neutrality; quality of service. 
  4. Security. For example, Google Earth maps the world and you can swoop in on … a Chinese nuclear facility. The UK's attitude is 'no security through obscurity', but China, Russia, India and others are not so happy. So far, Google hasn't blurred or blocked a single image at the request of a government. During the recent war in the Lebanon, there was no real time coverage of the action (within Google's technical ability to do) and served images are, on average and approximately, 18 months behind the present, except during national disasters when all the stops are pulled out and images are as current as possible. (This is all to avoid any unhelpful clash with governmental agencies and consequent, restrictive legislation.) Finally, out of concerns about privacy, image resolution will never go so low as to allow identification of individuals.

Google chooses not to geo-target users by ISP address and then use this to enforce a government's repressive/restrictive laws. So, users can go to to search for what Germany requires Google to block on Google Deutschland. (Yahoo! was forced to implement a ban in France on accessing , but this was in a specific case and established no generic principle.)

maintains a database of Cease and Desist orders.

Some positive things to celebrate or look forward to:

  1. : one day IM chat in two different languages will be possible. Saudi Arabia doesn't like the service (it was being used to translate English > English, generating an unblocked — new — URL in the process). 
  2. Cloud computing. 
  3. Ubiquitous connectivity: mobile telephony; spreading wireless access; increasing deployment of fiber connectivity. 
  4. Other specific initiatives: eg, , .

After the talk, I asked Andrew about Google Desktop and, specifically, : 'The latest version of Google Desktop provides a Search Across Computers feature. This feature will allow you to search your home computer from your work computer, for example'. (To access this option in Google Desktop Beta Preferences, right click on the Google Desktop icon in the system tray > Preferences > Google Account Features.) I wasn't surprised to hear that the take-up of this has been limited. Many of us seem to be happy-ish with our email residing on Google's servers, but putting our documents there seems to cross some kind of psychological barrier. I suspect that this will change over the next few years as we slide into using more tools that work both online and off, but users haven't taken to this just yet.

By the way, I note that : Microsoft and Google have joined forces with the British Library in calling on the government to radically overhaul the intellectual property (IP) law.


Free citywide WiFi in Mountain View

Excerpt from Google Blog:

Today, Google launched a WiFi network in our hometown of Mountain View. Radios hanging on lampposts throughout the city are now broadcasting a "GoogleWiFi" wireless (802.11b/g) signal that brings wireless Internet access to the city's residents, businesses, and visitors. All anyone needs is a laptop or other wireless-enabled device and a web browser to get online. Then Mountain View users can select the "GoogleWiFi" signal, open their web browser and sign in with a free Google Account. To learn more about the network's coverage area and the location of the WiFi radios, we've published a map. …

Another goal of this network is to promote alternative access technologies by using Mountain View as an example for organizations considering investments in the WiFi arena. We think successful mesh wireless deployments will promote competition, create cheaper access alternatives, and (if done correctly) foster open, standards-compliant platforms for content and service providers to showcase their applications without the hassle of the traditional walled-garden approach.

My italics. See also here.

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Wireless networking blues

So much to say, so little time … and then a week's worth plus of wireless networking problems. I think very highly of Belkin Pre-N gear, I really do, and have had a Pre-N router running smoothly for some months in one venue.

So I was more than disappointed when I aborted my attempt to upgrade to the Pre-N router-modem after 36 hours of near-sleepless efforts to get it to work. Then, in another venue, I tried to install a Pre-N router on a new network.  Two days of frustration passed, along with many minutes of conversation with Belkin's helpline people — who are charming, but seem to be reading the manual as they go.

That router goes back to Amazon, and Amazon turn out to be the bright spot in all this: they give me a link for a label I can print out for the courier and issue me a new, replacement router within 30 minutes — dispatched to me within an hour or so and actually with me the next day. It works and, finally, I get the router running as I want it to run — in access-point-only mode.

For the Also-Perplexed, the best webpage I've come across for this is from Netgear (and, oh does it make it looks so simple): here. It seems that, amongst other factors, it is peculiarly important to turn off router-modem, access-point-to-be and laptop and go make yourself a much needed cup of tea whilst the machines forget all about their previous addresses and roles. Machine residual memory …

Ah, this all takes me back to my first engagement with "modern" computers some 12 years or so ago. The hours of frustration and, back then, the discovery (the hard way) of how vital a backup is.

I hate computers when they behave badly. Alex tells me that it's fun and a challenge: it's certainly the latter. He cites Scott Adams: 'if it ain't broke, it doesn't have enough features yet'. I traded him Douglas Adams quoting Bran Ferren: technology is 'stuff that doesn't work yet'.

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CIO visionary: the four pillars of enterprise architecture

Confused of Calcutta:

Some time ago I started working on a four-pillar model for enterprise architecture, in the belief that everything we do will be classified into one of the following:

  • Syndication: We will subscribe to stuff yanked out of humongous content publishers and consume them via a syndication, alert and aggregation facility. RSS gone ballistic. SAP and Oracle Financials meet Wall Street Journal Europe and Reuters. All stored somewhere both within the firewall as well as without. Text and voice and video.
  • Search: We will do some ad-hoc yanking ourselves, getting used to a Google-meets-StumbleUpon world where collaborative filtering of role and context helps relevance go up, and there are simple yet powerful heuristic tools because we can tag things and vote on them for future reference. Again from storage within and without.
  • Fulfilment: There’ll be a bunch of things where we need to discover what’s out there by syndication, search and learning. Refine what we discover to a set of things we’re interested in. Check out captive and brokered and otherwise made-accessible inventory. Discover price and select item. Provide shipping instructions or logistical information. Identify our right and authority to exchange value. Exchange that value via card or account or wampum. Be fulfilled. Flights, hotels, stocks, consultants, books, music, food. All fulfilled.
  • Conversation: Another bunch of things gluing all this together. Voice. Video. E-mail (though it will decay into pretend-snail-mail and die, I hope). Blogs and wikis. IM. Texting. Whatever. Ways of discovering, co-creating and enriching the value in information. Information that you need to fulfil things you have to do.

None of this will work if the information we need to get pushed to us or get pulled down by us is hidden behind walled gardens. Walls made of weird DRM constructs like Region codes on DVDs. Walls that hold our information and make it harder for us to rip it and mash it and make something useful out of it.

Read the original post — for more about the above and for a wonderful story about Christopher Wren and … four pillars.

Via deal architect (via Ross). I've subscribed to Confused of Calcutta's feed, and not just because of this post. Here's what JP Rangaswami (Confused of Calcutta), CIO of Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein, says on his About Me page:

More and more my interests have moved towards education, I keep thinking of setting up a school from scratch. One day. I’m passionate about work (!) , particularly with reference to how work is changing: the paradigms created by globalisation, disintermediation and the web; the implications of virtualisation, service orientation and commoditisation; why publishing and search and fulfilment and conversation are the only “applications” we may need; how telephony becoming software and the wireless internet interact with mobile devices; the terrors of poorly thought out IPR and DRM; the need to avoid walled gardens of my own making; how children now teach me about work; the socialising of information, how it creates value by being shared, how it is enriched, how it is corrupted. How information behaves and what I can learn from it. Ever since I read The Cluetrain Manifesto I have believed in the “markets are conversations” theme, and have had the good fortune to meet and spend time with the Cluetrain gang discussing their views and values. Which naturally makes me passionate about opensource as well. In democratised innovation.

There are many reasons why I love the web, but meeting kindred spirits is at the top of the list.

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Mindmaps, mobility and … just doing it

Thanks to Scott for the tip off (and demo, a few weeks back) — MindManager from MindJet. It took two other nudges, though, before I found myself going off to find out more about this product.

Christian Lindholm blogged about going back to paper and mentioned MindManager:

Lately I have used MindManager X5 which is fantastic mindmaping application, Lifeblog solves many note taking problems as I make notes with the camera phone. A key problem is that my Transformer (Nokia N90) does not give me idle text input and does not allow for mind mapping, web clipping, nor sketching.

I have lots of unstructured data that comes my way, I need to record it and be able to tag it and find it later. I know this is a need lots of people have. I know there are hundreds of products created to fill this demand. If the PC could be a bit smaller, have longer batterylife and wake up in 2 sec. I would use it more for unstructured data collection. 

For my Retro solution I opted for the Moleskin Japanese NotePad in A6 which I modified by cutting out pages which I complemented with a thin notepad A6, where paper is thinner and some can be teared away. For input I acquired a Muji pen with multiple pens, it has black ink, red ink and a 0.5mm pencil. This allows me to make small mind maps with some highlight colour.

(I'm interested in following up the Muji pen — is it this one? The Moleskine: I'm already a devotee.)

Next, and last, I came across Lars Plougmann posting a brilliant MindManager mindmap of Tom Coates' Carson Workshop's The Future of Web Apps talk (click on the image below for a full size version; original Flickr link here; CC Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license):

Tom_coates

In fact, I now find Lars has posted to Flickr all eight of his mindmaps of the day's talks, and he's written about MindManager itself here. There's an old PCMAG.COM review (of vn 5.1) here.

MindManager is described by MindJet as software that transforms 'brainstorming ideas, strategic thinking, and business information into blueprints for action, enabling teams and organizations to work faster, smarter, and with greater coordination. It extends core mapping functionality with a host of simple tools–collaboration, distribution, administration–making it easy for business professionals to quickly deliver bottom–line benefits enterprise–wide'. I am keen to get cracking with the program and the educational discount (c 70%) makes it not too hard to take the plunge.

So I've got hold of a copy and will take it for a spin shortly, followed by sustained use over the coming school holiday. If it lives up to its reputation, I expect to be seeking to use it with students next term.

Now I just need to work out which Tablet to buy — for all that 'unstructured data collection': the Lenovo ThinkPad X Series (the X41), or Motion Computing's LE1600/LS800 (LE1600 reviewed in PCMAG, the LS800 reviewed by Laptopmag). Bit by bit, it's becoming possible to be connected productively wherever I go, on and off campus, and … to get things done. But I, too, find that paper plays a vital role and I take my notebook and a pen with me as often as I can (or remember).

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Mobile MySpace

Back in January, I noted the stupefying success of MySpace. Now comes news that it's set to go mobile:

CNNMoney.com — MySpace unwired:

News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch hopes to extend MySpace's influence beyond the PC. Today, the popular site is expected to announce a partnership with Helio, a wireless carrier backed by Internet service provider EarthLink (Research) and SK Telecom, a Korean wireless carrier which operates what's viewed in the industry as the world's most advanced cell-phone network. This spring, MySpace and Helio will launch a service that will let users access MySpace from their mobile phones.

For MySpace, the deal is another move to keep its users bound tightly to it, communicating with friends or listening to music from artists featured on the service. Such innovation should help MySpace avoid the fate of social-networking pioneer Friendster, whose users ended up going elsewhere when it failed to introduce new features.

The move also gives News Corp a foothold in the rapidly growing mobile market. More than 60 million teenagers now carry cell phones, and most take them everywhere they go. MySpace Mobile, which is a free service, could turn into another lucrative advertising venue for News Corp.

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Nokia's SmartPhone revolution

The Nokia N70 is a fine, fine phone. (I was fortunate to be sent one as part of Nokia's 360 SmartPhone Study.)  Jason Fried sang its praises last month: 'overall the N70 is the best phone I’ve ever used'. Marc Eisenstadt produced a very informative posting of his experiences with one (a 'Swiss-Army Phone') which is also a vade mecum for all phone buyers:

… there are some specific factors you need to consider when purchasing a ‘modern multi-purpose mobile (smart)phone’, and which don’t get mentioned in many reviews … :

1. Grab without thinking: If you have to think twice about whether to carry a gadget with you on Errand X or Trip Y or Meeting Z, then it’s too big. The N70 is an absolute winner on this front …

2. Thumb-centric vs pen-centric operation: if you’re making the jump to a smartphone (i.e. phone with PDA functionality), one key attribute you should consider is whether you prefer to enter short items with your thumb or with a pen …

3. Satisficing beats moving goalposts: when Nobel-prize winner Herb Simon invented ’satisficing’ in 1957, he meant (among other things) that people had a great gift for trimming a search space opting for solutions that were less-than-optimal but ‘just good enough’. Since Moore’s Law means there will always be a better gadget around the corner, and indeed the special-purpose gadgets (MP3 player, camera, etc) will get better even faster than an all-purpose Swiss Army Gadget, you just need to decide on your threshold of ‘just good enough’ acceptability for the features you want, and go for it.

… the N70 is a good all-rounder. The era of ‘jaw-dropping surprises’ is over: the fact that the N70 can do so much of what it does, and so well, ought to amaze us, but our expectations keep growing and we are increasingly hard to impress. … what are my biggest gripes?  Just two:

1. If you are a text-messaging fanatic, you will be unhappy with the N70: the keys are too small, and, most importantly, the ‘Clear/delete backwards key’ is in the wrong place, certainly for right-handed users. For me, this is an acceptable tradeoff given the good screen size and compact size of the phone (all things considered).

2. Scrolling through news/articles/messages/emails of more than, say, 30 lines in length is annoying because there is a ‘discontinuity jump’ as each new segment is rendered, which makes it hard for your brain to ‘do the right thing’, the way it can when scrolling even longish articles on most PDAs. …

So, there you have it.  Now to deploy my new productivity tool (by ignoring it). … Don’t get me wrong, this is one gorgeous phone! By ‘ignoring it’ … I mean ‘letting it blend unobtrusively into my activities, without fuss’.

I agree with Marc on his plus point 1 (but see below) and gripe number 1. As for one-handed (thumb-centric), my experience is that using a SmartPhone when busy makes one-handedness desirable. I'm not yet satisficed (?) with the camera: at 2 megapixel it's much better than what I've had before, but I still long for the day when I can leave my digital camera at home and just take my phone. And I have another gripe about the keypad: the menu/option keys are too close to the green and red (left and right) phone keys and also don't feel sufficiently different to the touch. I've mis-hit these a number of times now.

The N70 does seem to be a huge step on from the 6630 in the clarity of its software. (I haven't tried to work out why, but it immediately felt more intuitive and less like being parachuted into a jungle.) Its ease of navigation and use has encouraged me to run things on it such as LiteFeeds (RSS for mobile devices). I'm pleased with LiteFeeds, particularly as feed-reading on a mobile has been problematic until recently. (FeedBurner Mobile Feed 2.0 is not yet available, but I'd like to try it when it's out.)  Mobile Gmail works well. Audio-only podcasting is a no-no, but video can be done: see here (and there's a pdf guide here).

If I hadn't got the N70, I'd have been looking at the N90 (which Ross has blogged about here) — a far bulkier but very interesting transformer phone. My recent phones (SE P900, Nokia 6630) have been on the heavy side, and the N70's lightness is a delight. (If Christian Lindholm's right, mobile phones will soon be wearable, and the PDA will be a separate item again. And check out Nokia's 770 as reviewed by Russell Beattie and his challenge to Silicon Valley.) However, Ewan Spence's All About Symbian review of the N90 concludes:

To sum up, the N90 is Nokia’s first true cameraphone to focus on the camera, and it’s all the better for it. Yes, the unit has a number of quirks in the design, but the software, the operation and general polish of Series 60 continues, and makes the N90 the high-end phone of the moment in both Nokia’s N range and in terms of smartphones in general. It might be marketed with the camera as its killer feature, but with Series 60 it covers all the bases, and covers them well. Right now, there’s no solid reason to not look very, very seriously at the N90.

But back to light-and-thin: on the near horizon, the slide form factor N80 looks very interesting indeed. All About Symbian had a preview of an early version of this phone:

… in slide closed mode, the phone at 95.4 x 50 x 23.4 mm is essentially the smallest Nokia S60 phone yet. As a slider it is a few mm thicker than a monoblock such as the 6680, but this is hardly noticeable. It is bigger and heavier (134g) that the other modern S60 Slider, the Samsung D720, but that is a reflection of the extra functionality found in the N80. …

High resolution screen support makes a real difference – physically the screen has not changed in size, but the increased density of the pixels results in a much crisper display. … The new S60 browser, based on Safari's WebCore and JavascriptCore components, is also found on the N80. The 'minimap' feature allows you to see a full page at a glance and navigate around it, while other new features include 'visual history' and support for RSS feeds. … In use, the browser is much faster than Nokia's previous efforts (and) will start to change the way people think about browsing the web on a mobile device. Previously, sites aimed at PCs were only accessible using SSR (small screen rendering) technologies and this had usability problems since it was always limited by the intelligence of the re-rendering algorithms. Higher resolution screens, together with minimap, mean that it is possible to quite comfortably view any web site on the phone.

A 3 megapixel camera, Flash Lite, improved Java support, Nokia XpressMusic, UPnP and Wi-Fi (to name just a few of its features — possibly Skype connectivity, too!) add up to a very powerful mobile device:

With features such as UPnP (play music on any device anywhere wirelessly), Bluetooth 2.0 (wireless stereo headsets), 3G and Wi-Fi Connectivity (music download/purchase over the air) the N80 is the most feature rich and powerful digital media playback device on the market. Imagine the reaction that wireless headphones, wireless music sharing and playback around the home and over the air song download and purchase would get if they were features announced in a new iPod and you can start to grasp the significance of the feature set of the N80.

The smartphone is often touted as the ultimate convergence device, and the N80 is just one more step along that road. Nokia made it clear they see the N80 at the heart of the digital home with UPnP, with its auto-discovery and remote control properties as the enabling standard. But it is also clear that this is just the first stage and we can expect to see increasing integration with other devices around the home in the future, which will be achieved through the Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA) 1.5 guidelines (which aims to enhance interoperability and user experience). All About Symbian

I blog all this because I am personally interested in what these slender, hand-held devices can deliver but I also believe that they will alter fundamentally the way schools and students operate. Moreover, although they are as yet so much the playthings of the richer countries these new generation phones have the potential to make the world more equitably connected — and for education that is also very exciting.

Or, if you prefer, as AAS concldues: all this is 'a story of four years of development in which the smartphone has moved from the initial concept smartphone to a series of feature-rich and powerful multimedia computers which will sell 100 million units in 2006. For the consumer electronics industry, it is an unprecedented story of product-line creation, growth and success and one that is largely unnoticed by mainstream technology pundits'.

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Wi-Fi for all

BBC News:

Wireless Philadelphia is a project that has been in development for several years, but which will not be finished until late 2006. It seems such an agreeable proposition to everybody involved - cheap wi-fi for an entire city. "A citizen will pay a base fee of $10 or $20 depending upon their income status, for access to the network," explained the city's chief information officer, Dianah Neff. …

When Dianah Neff announced the project she faced an immediate legal and lobbying onslaught from the giant telecommunications companies, led by Verizon. It was alarmed that the government of America's fifth largest city was getting involved in wi-fi at all, and that the fees would be a fraction of the cost of a private fast internet connection, typically around $45-60 per month when bundled with a mandatory landline telephone service. …

Verizon lost its fight in Philadelphia but has succeeded in getting the law changed in the rest of the state. Essentially it has become almost impossible for any other community to set up its own wi-fi system. Several other states have also enacted similar bans, often supported by local politicians who have connections to telecommunications corporations.

However Philadelphia says that too many low income families cannot afford high broadband prices and the service is needed to shrink the digital divide between rich and poor. The city now sees internet access as an essential service just like street lighting and sanitation.  …

Andrew Rasiej didn't get elected in New York, but he had the right idea on this one: Wi-Fi networking cities must be the way to go and it must be seen as 'an essential service just like street lighting and sanitation' — and be priced and rolled out accordingly with the fullest engagement of civic authorities.