Is That an Almanac in Your Pocket…

…or are you an Al-Qaeda operative? From AP:

WASHINGTON – The FBI is warning police nationwide to be alert for people carrying almanacs, cautioning that the popular reference books covering everything from abbreviations to weather trends could be used for terrorist planning. In a bulletin sent Christmas Eve to about 18,000 police organizations, the FBI said terrorists may use almanacs “to assist with target selection and pre-operational planning.” It urged officers to watch during searches, traffic stops and other investigations for anyone carrying almanacs…

Also be on the lookout for people carrying maps, Lonely Planet Guides, and so-called “vacation photographs.”

Digital Music Stores Reviewed

Brian Briggs over at BBspot has written a very thorough review of the current digital music store offerings, including iTunes Music Store, the “New” Napster, Musicmatch, Rhapsody, Wal-Mart, BuyMusic, and oldster EMusic. Though I’m still pretty fond of CDs, myself, this is just the sort of round-up that many music fans have been waiting for. (The site is currently encountering a bit of Slashdot effect, so be patient.)

Shhh….This is OnStar….

According to the New York Times the ATX “telematics” system available in many autos, such as Ford, BMW, Mercedes, Cadillac and others, can be turned into an eaves-dropping device by the Feds or perhaps even by nefarious hackers. The ATX system is similar to GM’s OnStar system in that it allows drivers to call to have their doors remotely unlocked, call for directions, or even get automatic roadside assistance in case of an accident using an internal cellular/gps/telematics system. The problem is that the ATX system is vulnerable to government hack: the Feds in at least one case have asked that the cellular connection in a target vehicle to be left “open” so they can eavesdrop on the conversation in the car. While a panel of judges turned them down because doing so would have disabled many of the safety features of the system, the Times speculates that ATX could easily alter the system to allow eavesdropping without affecting the safety features. It is also possible that other warrants have been granted in other districts, since the decision denying the warrent in this case would only affect the Ninth Circuit (western US). And of course we wouldn’t even know about a similar warrant requested under the So-Called Patriot Act.

For now, OnStar claims that its system is not vulnerable to such intrusions, since the system requires the driver be notified whenever a connection is established. But all that could change with a keystroke.

Aside from the intrusion into one’s privacy that is made possible by the ATX system, the vulnerability to legal or illegal eavesdroping is bound to have an impact on the way that consumers view these systems. That’s too bad, since these sorts of telematics can really save lives as well as provide comfort for drivers. Without legislation barring the government from hacking OnStar or ATX, consumers are likely to opt-out of telematics systems, fearing (rightly) that the system they pay for is being turned against them.

Live From New York: Streaming Blogs

I don’t really understand blogs, especially the current trend of posting a pic of what the blogger is eating at the moment or a picture of the sunset that turns out pretty crappy looking on that camera phone. But then again I was the guy who didn’t “get” MP3s until 2003. So it should come as no surprise that I am nonplussed by the latest feature of TextAmerica that allows users to upload video footage from either cell phone or PDA, and stream it right from their blog. Just what we need. Streaming video of people walking their dogs and shopping for shoes. When will the celebration of mundanity end?

ARQuake Gives New Meaning To Meatspace

Check out this project called ARQuake that overlays Quake game elements (monsters, health packs, ammo packs, etc) on to the real world for users wearing VR goggles, allowing the user to play Quake in the real world. While in early stages right now, there is a functional demo that looks amazing (well, in a retro 1992 kinda way). While the possibilities for VR technology are endless, there is no doubt that gaming is going to push the market, and this is a demonstration of the kind of things we can expect.

Via BoingBoing

WinCE .Net Mini PDA w/Keyboard

The Sygmarion III is a Windows CE .Net compatible device, which means it should run most of the Pocket PC software available. The specs are pretty close to what you’d see on any top-end PPC device: 400 MHz ARM processor, 64 megs of RAM, 32 megs of ROM, CF and SD expansion. But what distinguishes it is the integrated keyboard and huge 5″ widescreen display. Of course, that means it’s relatively large too, at 7.4″ x 4.6″ x .08″ and about 1lb. Battery life looks pretty good though at between 5 and 8 hours. Price is $600 from Dynamism.

Playstation X: Officially Released and Reviewed

Sony has released the Playstation X as of Dec. 13th in Japan. The Playstation X is a hybrid game console, PVR (like TiVO), music jukebox and DVD player/recorder that Sony has just released in Japan. There are two models, one with 160 gig drive, another with 250 gigs, for around $750 and $950 respectively. From the few reviews that are available in Japanese, from what I gather there are some problems with the PSX, namely that video quality is not great, and that it may not play MP3s from the HD — only ATRAC. Which is to be expected I suppose, but it does signal’s Sony’s intent to strictly control the content on the PSX. On the upside, the PSX is capable of multitasking, for instance it can record a TV program at the same time that the user is playing a networked game that also uses the HD for game information. There are also some interesting connectivity options — it appears the PSX can download photos directly from some cameras, and may be able to interact in other ways with some Sony Clie handhelds. I haven’t seen any news on when it might show up in the US, but I expect it’ll be by March 2004. Hopefully by then the dollar will be a little stronger…

SplatBot Origins Revealed?

Unfortunately, the only involvement I can claim in this Splatbot project is having planted the initial seed of the idea at the one-and-only ORE meeting I have attended to date.

It’s robots dualing robots with paint-ball guns!

Posted by Tekmage.

Dick Tracy Watch: More Vaporware From Fossil?

Fossil’s got a bad record when it comes to releasing high-tech wristwear, as evidenced by the amazing disappearing Palm OS watch that was supposed to be out long ago and may be shelved indefinitely. But that doesn’t stop them from coming out with some fancy looking designs like this “Dick Tracy” watch with Microsoft’s SPOT technology that allows customized content to be delivered wirelessly to it. There are also more subdued “round” and “square” designs without the faux camera. These watches will get weather updates, news, sports, blah blah blah over the radio networks with a subscription service from Microsoft ($10/mo.?). Other than that, they look like any other watch that has made the unfortunate allusion to Dick Tracy. Price $200, expected..?

I predict this whole SPOT thing will fail miserably, and anyone who buys one of these will be left with a dorky looking “Dick Tracy” watch that doesn’t do anything and that they couldn’t sell for $5 on the street. SPOT technology has been tried before, in a way, with Timex’s pager watches that had basically the same function. While M$’s model is slightly different and should allow for more data and better customization, at its heart it is one-way communication that users have given up on long ago. Wristwatches are vanity at this point, since pretty much every feature one could possibly put in a watch is already handled by a device that everyone carries with them anyway: the cell phone. So don’t waste your money on SPOT watches, just save it for a nice Patek Philippe.

How Not To Get Fired For Blogging Guide

Blogger has released a nice little guide to blogging without losing your job. The guide covers basic suggestions like not posting sensitive material that can be traced back to you, and not blogging under the influence (aka BUI, which can lead to ranting about a boss that you’ll regret later). It also points out useful tools like the web fire escape that makes it easy to get to a work-safe application or webpage if the boss comes by. Simple stuff really, but worth being reminded of.