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But what are the civilian applications?

Some tech jigsaw pieces that come out of a box labelled "open in 2010":

Toradex Robin — a 1.6GHz Atom CPU, 512Mb of RAM, 2Gb Flash SSD, and an intel video chipset on a PCB the size of a credit card, for €179.

If that's a bit hardcore for you, here's the Marvell SheevaPlug — a wall-wart with a gigabit-ethernet-enabled small Linux computer embedded in it, for US $49 when they start shipping in bulk. (Yes, you read that right: it's a pregnant mains plug that costs $49 and has about the same raw computing power as a Cray X-MP. Embryonic smart dust, anyone? With the admittedly weird property that the embryo shrinks as it gets closer to maturity ...)

Meanwhile, here's DARPA's Nano Air Vehicle Program (and new news of the Lockheed Katana program). (Betcha these are very popular with police and customs officers, in the not too distant future. When fitted with insect-sized high resolution video cameras streaming in real time via mesh networks supported by suspiciously smart mains plugs they'll really let the police see what's happening in your neighbourhood dealer's bedroom. Or in your bedroom, if they get the wrong address.)

Meanwhile, Open Pandora continues to lurch hopefully towards the light of day. The street, as they say, finds its own uses for technology.




Re the title, I've always been curious: does that phrase originate with Banks, or is there broader use in Scots or UK culture?


IIRC it originates with Iain, yes.




I really want Pandora to ship. I'm in the first batch and I've just started a new job with a long train commute. Need portable gizmo!


Yeah, I saw the price on the SheevaPlug, said, "Oh, I've got to have one of those to..." and was completely unable to finish the sentence.

What sort of "always-on" applications do I need in my house that don't need massive storage (backup, DVR, media streaming)?

It sure is cute, but I don't know what to do with it.


joelfinkle: for starters, if you've got a USB laser printer this thing is a whole lot cheaper than an HP JetDirect board.

For seconds ... if it had audio out (or a USB audio adapter?) it'd make a kick-ass cheap home media relay.

For thirds, I'd be very interested to see what it can do with a webcam or motion detectors/pressure pads as a burglar alarm. Or with serial interfaces as an intelligent home heating manager. Or ...

For fourths: SDHC goes up to 32Gb. I'd be willing to bet the next-gen version of this gizmo will support SDXC, for up to 2Tb per card. Six flash media generations from now (nine years max) they'll be down to under $100, like 32Gb SDHC real soon now.

That's a lot of surveillance video. Or a humongous music collection (1000-2000 CDs, with lossless rips). Or a huge Markov chain database.


Given the propensitie of the authorities to steal your camera/ videocamera/ phone signal etc if theres a demo or a march or some other similar terrorist activity, I've been wondering for a year or two about the possibilities of very wide spread local network of phones, computers, etc etc with bluetooth and wireless capabilities and so on. TAke an illegal photo of a policeman and have it beamed where they can't get to it, get that important evidence away from the scene of the crime!


guthrie: they've been tooling up for the summer of rage for some time already: it's going to take more than a UMTS radio stage in your cameraphone to make an end-run around the police state panoply people are beginning to wake up to.


The Pakistani UAV industry.

I like the rocket controlled from a PDA. Yours, sir, for $3000 for the radio gear, the PDA, and four rounds.


Yes, I had a moan about that on my livejournal and nobody objected to my rather jaundiced view that they were trying to scare people. Besides, if we are going to get violence on the streets I predict it for next year.
Just htink of all the money the gvt could save if it didn't enact repressive legislation and try to built flawed databases, why, it would be at least one bank bailout.


@5: It sure is cute, but I don't know what to do with it.

Ok, looks like this is going to be a killer. Reminds me of the laser or, indeed, the home computer (but, but, but ... I'm .. I'm doing my accounting with it!!!1!).


Pandora: WANT (as an always-on-device, not for gaming).

re violence in the streets and so forth: given Mr. Global Guerilla-Blog's thought that the most obvious target for public rage might be banks as well as his ideas re open source warfare .. I'm thinking more and more about Bruce Sterlings description about just something like that in "Distraction".


USB 3.0 products are supposed to start shipping in 2010, that'll speed up a few things.


Meanwhile, here's DARPA's Nano Air Vehicle Program (and new news of the Lockheed Katana program). (Betcha these are very popular with police and customs officers, in the not too distant future.

Might be time to invest in makers of mosquito screens, then.


That nano air vehicle program sounds suspiciously like the beginnings of those nano-machine security nets in Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age, although they were mostly aerostatic.

The future. We iz it.


It's starting to feel like the tech fantasy of 1990, but this would be a(nother) fine candidate to make a wearable computer with. Add a pair of Vuzix's Wrap 920AV glasses for display, a chordboard or bluetooth headset for input, usb wireless dongle and you've got the basics of some very useful gear.

Heck, load it up with augmented reality sensors like accelerometers for gestural input, make the glasses look like twee wireframes and the box like a book and sell the system to the Harry Potter kids. "I wave my hand and cast a spell of DDOS on your hosting company"

Perhaps there's more to be gained by wiring up the world, rather than the person, but I suspect there'll always be a need for a first person camera view. Regardless, it's all coming down the track anyway.


the shiva plug ..

beowulf clusters on the cheap?

if somewone starts to buy carloads of extension strips to house all these plugs, it migh be a sure sign for NSA that there is some codebreaking going on



I see mosquito protection has already been mentioned.

Mosquitoes (and malaria) used to be common in the UK. It was land drainage that was the key change. There's a risk that, if the economics of agriculture changes, that there will be more poorly-drained land (apparently a good thing for rare species). Climate change might lead to more summer rain, with similar results.

They used to think malaria was the result of bad air from the marshes. So they drained the marshes. Add a bit of sea-level rise to the mix...

The mosquito screening business doesn't need nano-copter spies to be a good investment.


bah! gumstix have been around longer than any of these!



Mosquito screening? how about a demand for transparent screening bubbles around schools and creches ("Won't anyone think of the children?!"). Blocking radio transmissions isn't enough - enough storage on a nanobot to record video, and a pervert AI looking for interesting things ... ok, maybe getting an AI onto smart dust is a challenge.

If you think stalkers are bad today, what about a black market Truman Show ? you get to feature in your own 24-hour reality TV channel.

Ugh. Surely someone can come up with decent applications, though.


Ecologists, zoologists, and botanists will probably really like the Katana. Send one or a swarm into an area, run the video and the location info into a shape recognition program, and you've got a realtime population census or rare species detection. Keep a few in the air and you can track carnivores like wolves and bears safely and continuously. Same for ethologists: keep multiple cameras on baboon troops or other animal groups.

One idea for maintaining the meat supply for humans without the nasty side effects of billion-head cattle populations or mega pig farms is just-in-time hunting: keep a close eye on where all the game animals are and collect meat as needed for local consumption. Also cuts down drastically on transport cost and fuel use, and reduces the probability of unknowingly processing diseased animals. Katana swarms are an obvious way to track the animals.


A Katana application farmers would like: pinpoint delivery of insecticides for maximum effect on cicada swarms, army worms, caterpiller infestations, etc. Granted there's not a lot of payload, but you could set up stations for reloading and refueling a few hundred meters from the target area and just keep shuttling the little buggers back and forth.


It's a shame the SheevaPlug doesn't have integral wireless: add an 802.11g (or n if you can make it small enough. maybe a fractal antenna?), or 3G radio set, and you have a cheap nanocell for neighborhood networks. I wonder if there's enough room left inside the case for a software radio.

Hmm ... or maybe a GPS repeater for location inside large buildings?


I wonder why people think the cops will fight (I mean fight, not just collect their paychecks and fire into the air) for the government as it tries to impose dictatorship (instead of just taking the amnesty and retiring) on the voters.


Because they're cops. This has been another edition of simple answers to simple questions.


I wonder why people think the cops will fight... for the government as it tries to impose dictatorship...

Admittedly we have a smarter, better educated and more politically aware police force than in almost all of history.

But when people march down the street towards city hall/parliament/congress/Buckingham Palace, screaming, shouting, throwing things and breaking windows, are you going to follow your orders and damn well keep the peace, protect the innocent, uphold the law, serve the public trust and do your job like you always knew you might have to when you signed on and got your warrant card, or will you clear off and go home when all the other coppers are watching?

On the other days when you're enforcing tyrrany, well, everyone looks guilty when you arrest them during a dawn raid.

And if a few bystanders get caught up, that happens sometimes. No need to worry, the courts will sort it out.

(I exaggerate. But the police see so much of the criminal side, and the best of them who we might hope will protect us from tyrrany, are NOT on the side of mobs)


ScentofViolets beats me to the punch. Damn my slow typing.

Still, I got a Roboscop reference in so I'm calling it a draw.


Neil W @ 26:

Admittedly we have a smarter, better educated and more politically aware police force than in almost all of history.

This may be true in the UK, but recent events show it's not so in much of the US. The reaction of the Denver and Minneapolis police forces to demonstrations at the political nominating conventions last year show that. Those reactions were almost identical to ones I saw in the '60s in New York and Chicago (and Denver), and very similar (fewer bullets, which may just be the result of the process not having gone as far) to the reaction in the '20s against veteran's marches.

A lot of urban police forces here in the US are gearing up for major covert and overt operations against demonstrators, with no concern for the nature of the grievance or of the demonstration.


the phrase ' takes on to know one' springs to mind here. and I don't know n'fink guv
the cops aren't that cunning if they have already sent out the RSVPs are they trying to encourage the others or what? (Pardon my french)
I've taken to carrying a virtual, CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN stencil around with me in town, Don't have the nerve, or the alternate career plan for a real one to augment reality with.


Re the Sheevaplug and cameras
Hidden away amongst all the documentation is no mention whatsoever of an FPU in this thing. So -- its no Cray... It makes me think it might even bog down quite quickly if asked to do motion detection on JPEG images of any size at speed. Decoding JPEGs involves a lot of hot floating point action which is probably at odds with the ultra-low power consumption design.

Its still a cool little gadget and may well come close enough to be useful - something this size that you can plug a cheap webcam into and do realtime motion detection has any number of applications.


A lot of urban police forces here in the US are gearing up for major covert and overt operations against demonstrators, with no concern for the nature of the grievance or of the demonstration.

With some of the military alongside. They're expecting depression-style conditions and unrest, looks like. Normally I give the swivel-eyed survivalist contingent a swerve, but they just might be calling this one correctly.


Manly-Warringah Rugby League club, since last night the world champs, have added a GPS data logger to their players' equipment, so their stats guy can analyse precisely where they move on the park and how fast. They're networked, too, so statto gets real-time data. Aussie RL clubs tend to be very innovative with stats, they were doing complex spatial things when British RL was doing tackle counts at most and football thought ProZone was science fiction.

This also means it's possible to simultaneously blog and play rugby league.


@5,11. The schematics say the Shivaplug has an external USB socket. So plug in an off-the-shelf external HD and it can manage all your media/server needs (with the HD tucked away out of sight somewhere). USB 2.0 is plenty fast enough to be fine for music or as a webserver.


jarthur @ 30: Actually, JPEG decoding only uses integer operations. Motion detection can be done in 'fixed point' if you need fractional-pixel results. Of course, video is always expensive, whether one is using an fpu or not.

A cray it certainly isn't, but most compression algorithms don't require a cray. :)


Vaguely apposite: ARM netbooks are just around the corner. 10+ hour battery life, proper keyboard: http://www.alwaysinnovating.com/touchbook/

Yum. Sadly not available in the UK initially :(


Lots of neat little teenycomp devices. Yay. But...

What someone really needs to do is come out with a whole list of cheap small sensors to hook up to those teenycomps. An RF receiver/spectrum analyzer board with directional capability, for example - to detect and locate those micromachine snoops. Six chips in a cubic arrangement, with software to let you figure out which direction a signal was coming from, over a wide range of frequencies. LBPA (Little Bitty Phased Array).

Chemical detectors are getting cheap, too. CO, CO2, a whole list of common compounds to keep track of. Even microphones (low subsonic to high ultrasonic - there are plenty of "normal" ones) would be interesting.

Heck, make a fist-sized sensor package with all of them.


If the computer cloud in the office can detect the little buggers, what then?


Charlie, you haven't mentioned the assassination potential these bugs can have, just equip with a small sting-like needle and load them with TTX, or even bee venom."Noted agitator John Doe has been found dead in his appartment, apparently of brain aneurism"

@37:Jam their remote-control signal, causing them to crash into the nearest wall?


Conductive metalized mosquito netting: it's a physical barrier and a Faraday cage all in one!


This also means it's possible to simultaneously blog and play rugby league.

Welcome to the 21st...

I for one welcome our new rugby league playing/blogging...

Where do they keep the keyboard...

No my brain has seized up on this one.

Wait, I'm getting something: Live Twitter from the game.

5th tckl, kckd to op 20m. awkwrd bnce.


joelfinkle @ 5: Who needs local storage when you've got a fast network connection? The machine I currently use for all my TV and video watching has not much more disk space than is required for the OS and applications. All the data storage is on a fileserver in another room.


Rugby liveblogging takes us right back to 'In the Beginning...' wherein Ronald Reagan is describing baseball games relying only on the wire service reports. We've just had another of those many Scott/Amundsen moments with Neal Stephenson. Are yours increasing in frequency like mine?


I mean, it's blogging in the same sense that the Martian spaceprobe was twittering. It's just a (XML?) data feed of stochastic updates that could in theory be posted to the Web. It's in the nature of a surveillance society that you can be blogging without knowing it.


Alex: one of the stubs in my "in progress" folder of short stories is basically an RSS/ATOM/similar aggregator feed from the helmet-mounted computer of a NATO soldier, bleeding to death on the dusty plateaus of Afghanistan.

And all his spimes are a-twitter:

[08:03:34] [@9456390133.001] Hi! I am an M955 rifle cartridge in Magazine @9456390147! I pass my self test!


[08:07:21] [@9456390133.004] Hi! I am an expended M955 rifle cartridge! Help protect the environment! Hand me to your nearest NATO Greencycling affiliate in return for a valuable lottery coupon!

08:07:39] [@65672537925] Hi! I am Infantry Specialist 468241's medical monitor!
I am attached to Infantry Specialist 468241's ventral thoracic ceramic protector pack! I am uploading biotelemetry to xhttp://sg-field.army.mil/456.46821.html.

Current indicators:
Blood pressure: 97/62
Pulse rate: 121



Yeah, I realised that when I got over my future shock.

Besides, League tends to be a bit free-flowing to give players time to text out a message in mid-game. With practice I bet Union players would probably have time to get a couple of dozen characters out whenever the play stops though.


For a long list of exceedingly geeky technical reasons, I'm deeply skeptical that wireless mesh networks of ultra-low cost mobile nodes will ever be capable of carrying real-time A/V at anywhere near useful quality. There are physical limitations that prevent such networks from achieving fair service with acceptably low latencies and reliability. I've seen a lot of venture capital (and public capital) sacrificed on that altar. One good thing about the current economic contraction is that it seems to have coincided with a marked decrease in that kind of stupidity.


Excuse my ignorance, and possibly stupidity, but I can see all too many obvious applications for the micro-air-vehicles (UAV drones), and a really cheap computer, like the Toradex, but the computing plug? Uh?
Unless you can get them all to talk to each other as an internal intranet - I presume, that at the moment they are only for the US' stupid frequency and voltage?

I looked at the Pandora advert and went "Uh?" again ...
What IS it, and what is it FOR?
They DIDN'T appear to say - or am I missing something in my old age?


Charlie@44: you should go to the Wellcome Collection, where their current War and Medicine exhibition has a video installation which shows on three screens:
a) a Joint Helicopter Force watchkeeper in a tent monitoring two laptops, a radio and a Cisco IP phone
b) a medevac mission in progress aboard an RAF Merlin helicopter
c) the JCHAT IRC-like messaging traffic between the watchkeeper, the chopper, the ground call sign and a couple of other unseen participants (the J3(Ops) staff officer at HQ, a forward air controller)
as the chopper is called out, tasked, heads for the location of the wounded man, the action continues, attack helicopters are called in to get the evacuation chopper in...


Greg: Pandora is an outgrowth of the GP32 open source games console. Which runs MAME and just about every emulator under the sun, and is about the size of a Nintendo DS Lite, only open and hackable.

Pandora turns it into a full-scale mobile internet device as well.

But it's best understood as a hobbyist thing, rather than a commercial project. Just, several thousand hobbyists ganging up to commission a Chinese factory to give them what they want. (Can you see the fictional implications of this? :)


Charlie @ 44:

I was going to start this comment with some expletive to show you how moved I was by that story idea, but on reflection I can't think of any phrase that can possibly express just how powerful I think that story could be.
Please write it as soon as you can.


Open source specs. . . collective wishlists . . . This has interesting implications for economic theory.

Want: robust 36v controller for 100Ah Li battery pack.
Want: 1.5-440v in/out inverter.
Want: carbon fibre sack barrow

[Want: delivery service for when the container arrives at Felixstowe.]

Take the Pledgebank code, plug in a confidence measurer a la ebay ("How much of that stuff s/he co-commissioned which shipped did user322 buy?"). Bye bye marketing departments.


PS Ob'2000AD got there first': Rogue Trooper.


j h woodyatt @ 46:

If you're talking about moving arbitrary video streams simultaneously between any two nodes on the mesh, or even any two nodes on the edge of the mesh, I agree completely. But there are useful applications that require one stream be moved from one node (possibly changing over time) to another node (often fixed, but possibly also changed). I think this is possible (but not with present technology, to be sure), because a lot of the impact on latency of fair service and potential bottlenecks in arbtrary topologies go away if you only care about one stream and don't switch the routing often. But the panopticon it's not.


Yes it is. The point of the Panopticon is that you don't know if you're being watched or not at any one point, although you might be.

As it happens, right now I am staring at the HO file on the workings of the Habitual Criminals REgister, an early (1870s) attempt at the centralised database state. Which fell over, but only because a centralised info system couldn't compete with the agent-based one already in use.


Ah, but if they can only watch one thing at a time, you can control what they watch, the way a stage magician controls what the audience sees. Hmm ... there may be a use for Paris Hilton after all.


@55 Bruce - that's the problem.
That's what fucked the DDR & all the other communist theocracies.
They had to spend so much TIME & MONEY AND PEOPLE ... just watching.
That nothing useful ever got done. Their heads were right up their own arses, as far as the neck, practically, and self-locked into a self-defeating system.

Now - why can't OUR "Lords & Masters" see this problem, or don't they think it applies to them because:
"We're ONLY going to use it to monitor terrorists, and then paedophiles, and then known habitual criminals and then ... oops.


Greg @ 56: They've been assured by their technical managers (who've been assured by the consultants they hired to design and implement the systems) that they new state of the art system can handle all of the load that will be thrown at it. The real question is, after all the debacles resulting from trying to build these systems, why they believe the managers or the consultants.


Bruce @ 57
"Religious" reasoning - BECAUSE THEY WANT TO BELIEVE IT....
Even though, now they can have digital-storage-&-retreival of all the millions of images they're going to get (are getting), and you DON'T have to have one-on-one-watching all the time, as was the case in the DDR.
So the system can (probably) handle the data-capture-&-storage.
But, they've forgotten something.
The "tapes" still have to be trawled through, several somebodies have to still go through this vast shitheap of a data-mountain to find what they "think" they are looking for.
Now I know that there is nifty pattern-recognition software coming along very nicely, thank you, but there is still so much EFFORT involved.
But, the system will be constructed, and we'll have lots of miscarriages of justice and false positives, and missed catchings of REAL criminals, before the whole thing collapses under its own weight, as it inevitably will.

The trouble is that at least 60% of all politicians are control freaks ...
And the so-called managers and consultants are making a very nice living, fleecing the marks our elected representatives, so why should they stop, whilst the going is good?
TTHEY will just take the money and run, like the vile Goodwin.


Charlie @ 44, Alex @ 48:

We should also remember that each of these spimes will most likely have been produced under a government contract, which normally implies that: (a) low unit cost was a major criterion, even under a contract that didn't go directly to the lowest bidder; and (b) most of the relevant physical attributes of the item were rather tightly specified (mil-spec not generally being noted for high levels of ambiguity).

In practice, this will mean that each spime is capable of identifying (and communicating) a finite (and quite limited) number of possible states, primarily those which the specification designers thought both plausible and relevant to the intended uses of that item. (Note all the loopholes in that last phrase . . . ) The actual range of capabilities is likely to be the sum of those: (a) explicitly specified in the production contract; (b) added as "neat ideas" by the design engineer; and (c) inadvertently included as part of "legacy code" residue, especially when previous design work is being recycled as part of getting the current job done especially fast and/or cheap.

Some of these capabilities could be interestingly more (or less) than expected . . .