Technology: January 2007 Archives

Watching the detectors

29 January 2007

Gary Marshall asks on his blog: X-ray cameras on lampposts, is this a wind-up or what? Sadly, I reckon it isn't. Today's story in the Currant Bun describes a Home Office plan - well a memo in which some civil servants think aloud what might be possible having watched Total Recall in a quest for ideas - to put 'X-ray cameras' on various bits of street furniture.

The reasoning is simple. If you can see through people's clothing you can see the weapons they might be carrying. Luckily, the UK government does not want to join other shadier groups in wanting to irradiate us with high-energy photons. The Home Office proposal looks like it is actually referring to terahertz waves rather than X-rays. Being a bit less energetic than infrared light, terahertz waves would merely give our bodies a gentle tickle rather than a good bludgeoning in the way that X-rays would. My guess is that The Sun's editors realised that X-rays would get the point across more quickly and simply than trying to explain terahertz waves.

The giveaway on terahertz is the idea that the images would look through clothing and reveal people - as opposed to people's bones. The technology has been tried in airports and, with some techniques in research at the moment, it will be possible to shrink the electronics needed down to about the size of a shoebox in a few years. So, that bit is almost certainly not a wind-up. Whether the policy behind it is a wind-up is another matter.

Robert Scoble has discovered several things about the media although I'm not sure he has consciously realised any of them. On Saturday, he was mightily annoyed that very few bloggers had linked to his 40-minute video of a visit to one of Intel's fabs in the wake of the chip giant's claim of a breakthrough in chipmaking.

He particularly railed against sites like Engadget ignoring him, saying that they were prepared to link to mass media but not bloggers and that it's all to do with snobbery. Several people beat me to the main reason: it probably has a lot to do with the video being 40 minutes long. Who, in the short-deadline world of gadget blogging, has the time to watch 40 minutes of video just to find out if anything interesting happens. It doesn't get much better if you start the video. You get the usual fab-tour stuff of "it's really clean", "it's bigger inside than I expected", "people wear bunny suits for real". Where's the news content? You'd have to dig for it.

I can't help thinking that the curse of the Newton lurks behind the Apple iPhone. During his keynote at Macworld, Apple CEO Steve Jobs went out of his way to put down the stylus as a way of getting things done on a handheld machine. That may be because everybody else working in this space is wrong - pudgy fingers are best after all - or Jobs was very keen to ensure that nobody ever turned round to him and asked: "Didn't you have a go at this before?"

If it was the case that the team was forbidden to make any mention of a stylus in the iPhone's development or - the horror - handwriting recognition because of Apple's legacy, then corporate vanity will have played a part in turning a promising, good-looking device into an expensive but dispensable toy. Image was more important than usability - the iPhone's vaunted selling point.