Archive for November, 2005

These are your cells on a map, but how are your cells on a cell?

Monday, November 7th, 2005

Thanks to Leven for this.

In the US alone, it was estimated that there were 92 million cell phone users in 2000 and this number was growing by 1 million every month. The Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association has estimated that there were almost 170 million U.S. cell phone subscribers in 2004.

Cell phones have steadily founded themselves in our everyday life, so much so, as to make them an attractive means for some scientific ends. In mid September, a geographical information system (GIS) application was built in the Austrian city of Graz, based on data from real-time cell-phone use. Tens of thousands of people carrying cell-phones were mapped using information from one of the leading local mobile companies. The ‘’Mobile Landscapes project’’ continually remaps the mobile positions according to the new information it receives. “For the first time ever we are able to visualize the full dynamics of a city in real time,” said project leader Carlo Ratti, an architect/engineer and head of the SENSEable City Laboratory at MIT. So you get to visualize these dynamics, by virtue of a neat representation of the density and ‘flows’ of users on the city map. Urban planning studies and applications will certainly find much usefulness in this. It could help transport engineers aiming at better freeway traffic management, may prove useful in large large-scale emergencies, as well in regulating emergency and safety precautionary measures, etc.

In another recent scientific endeavor, mobile phones were used in the field of medicine. A couple of weeks ago, it was reported that a Michigan hospital reduced by half the time it takes to begin life-saving treatment on heart attack patients, by using cell phones to transmit electrocardiograms (ECG) from the field. The patient calls his doctor not feeling well; the doctor begins to diagnose by running ECG’s with the help of the cell before the ambulance gets to unpark. The medical staff are better prepared by the time the patient arrives at the hospital. Sounds pretty good huh?

Not always. Over these past years, however, when health was the issue- cell-phone usage had been burning tissue rather than preventing (or better preparing for) heart-attacks. Some research suggests that radio-frequency cell-phone emitted radiation not only heats cell tissue but breaks it up and mutates cell DNA. The most recent such study of significant size is the REFLEX Project (which stands for Risk Evaluation of Potential Environmental Hazards from Low Frequency Electromagnetic Field Exposure Using Sensitive in vitro Methods).

A four-year study that surfaced almost a year ago was conducted by 12 research groups in seven European nations and was two-thirds funded by the European Union. The REFLEX Project studied electromagnetic fields (EMFs) in the extremely low frequency (ELF) region, coming from the ordinary electricity supply and appliances, and in the radio frequency (RF) range emitted by mobile phones. The study was looking for the effects on human and animal molecules after exposures to EMF for short periods of time: from 6 hours to 24 hours and at most up to a few days. The effects of long-term exposures were not addressed.

Despite this, what many groups found was that exposure to electromagnetic radiation caused significant DNA breaks in human and animal cells. DNA damage occurred even when radiation levels were often far below the official limits. This damage could not always be repaired by the cell and it would persist in the next generation of cells. Despite these findings, the concluding report stated the following:

Taken together, the results of the REFLEX project were exclusively obtained in in vitro studies and are, therefore, not suitable for the conclusion that RF-EMF exposure below the presently valid safety limits causes a risk to the health of people.

So damaged and mutated cells are not necessarily a bad thing! This is, of course, a very controversial and ‘sensitive’ topic, and this is aptly reflected in the conclusive remarks of many different studies. It is however, one that definitely deserves our close attention considering the heavy, and intimate (touches our head, maybe the waist too), use we make of this technology.

Anyone interested in more info on other ‘cell-phone effect’ studies,

Radio frequency safe devices

Court case in Maryland and many other links

Israel TECHNION on sight

Institute of Science in Society

Google Maps go Mobile

Monday, November 7th, 2005

Tomorrow, Google is set to expand mobile phone mapping service. As long as your phone has a GPS, Google Maps will plot your location automatically on your cell phone. Oh, and as long as your cell phone uses one of the supported services, that is your phone service is from Cingular, T-Mobile and Sprint. Forget it, if you have Verizon phones, Blackberries or Palm OS PDAs. No word on Rogers or Fido.

The power of cell phones

Sunday, November 6th, 2005

They can be used in case your car has broken down on the highway and to catch up with your friends whenever and wherever you like. They can be used fora range of smart mob activities. But they can also be used to solicit sex and conduct drug deals. One thing caught my eye in the wave of reporting about the urban unrest in Paris: the use of cell phones in arranging fire bomb targets and in avoiding the police:

The youths said they dodge the authorities by splitting into small groups, using their cellular telephones and text messaging to alert each other to the location of police and firefighters.

I wonder how long it is before certain kinds of text messaging is criminalized and tracked.

Online ads, online impact

Saturday, November 5th, 2005

The New York Public Library showcases how advertising is modified by the media on which it appears with its newest exhibit, Opt In to Advertising’s New Age.

To me, what is most interesting is the commentary the exhibit makes on the Internet, the newest medium for ads. According to the NYTimes, online ads share a lot in common, not with television or radio ads, but with print ads (of course, the NYTimes has a vested interest in making that connection). To them, visual impact is what’s important and remembered. However,

The best online ads are not only visual but also kinesthetic. One ad for Pilão coffee shows an endless stream of milk pouring into a cup of really strong coffee that refuses to turn any lighter. An ad for the World Wide Fund for Nature shows a toilet-paper roll unwinding from its roller, down, down, down, until there is a pile of it on the floor. If you hadn’t clicked on the ad, all that paper wouldn’t have been wasted.

To feel even guiltier, check out the online ad for Abrapia, an organization for the protection of children, showing a child playing on the floor with blocks. If you use the roller ball to glide over to the boy, he crawls into a corner and cowers. This message flashes on the screen: “Every hour, 70 million Brazilian children fall victim to domestic violence.” It is effective because you have been implicated in the boy’s terror. Thanks to interactivity, kinesthetic push becomes moral pull.

Instead of reinforcing the connection to print ads, this article makes a stronger argument that interactivity is what’s most important to online ads. But interactivity doesn’t necessarily propel you to buy the product or support the cause anymore than if you had seen the ad in print. If you stop the toilet paper from unwinding, you haven’t saved any trees. Plus, you can become innured as easily to online ads as you can to print, radio and television ads. Click or not click on the images but you may not feel sufficiently guilty about child abuse to do anything.

BTW, the exhibit website has a really nice interface.

Guide to “Become an Cyberactivist”

Friday, November 4th, 2005

In my short two decades of life I have come to realize if you are interested or care about something and want a change you learn more and figure out the best way to take action. Do environmental non-governmental organizations on the Internet allow better education (allow you to learn more)? Or do they feed you one side of the issue? Is it the best way to take action by following their step-by-step guide to “becoming a cyberactivist”? Are you hindering the issue by not learning everything about the issue because you are following one side? Is it possible to learn everything or do you only require one side to make change?