Monthly Archives: June 2010

My Spy Next Door

The recent spy ring round up in my area of suburban New Jersey brings back a memory of another east bloc spy that I knew…. really.

Before I get into that story, since this is the Mobileman blog, I need to tie this story to something wireless.

The recent Jersey/Russian spies exchanged messages in a Starbucks using a private WiFi Network and hid messages (eventually not well) in jpg images on websites and social media.

Okay enough of that. Now my spy story.

When I was in high school the cold war was the real deal.  My kids laugh at me when I recall the “Duck and Cover” civil defense drills we did in elementary school.

“When you see the flash of the nuclear explosion, duck your head and cover up!”  I can still hear that catchy little song in my mind “Duck… and Cover” , sung by a turtle with a helmet on his head. The video below was already over 20 years old when it was being used in my elementary school.

In high school I was part of the “Computer Club”. (The statute of limitations on Geekdom has expired!)   We were a group of 6 guys and one girl that competed in programming contests with other schools.  Our computer room was a converted boys bathroom that had 3 Teletype computer terminals complete with paper tape storage and long rolls of continuous yellow paper.

A former boys bathroom in a high school is hardly the setting for the next Tom Clancy novel….. or is it?

One of the computer geeks in our club was Peter Hermann.  Peter was a year older and by all accounts` extremely brilliant.  He was just another normal Westchester suburban kid,  with the one additional  detail.  Peter and his family were East German spies.

This became the setting for a real life novel written by another classmate of mine – Lawrence Kessner.  In 1981 he wrote “The Spy Next Door”.  This has nothing to do with the recent movie or another spy novel of the same name. Of the three it is my favorite spy story.

It seems Peter was being groomed to be a master spy.  He was destined to go to an Ivy League school or a D.C school such as Georgetown.  At college he would make the lifetime connections that any good spy needs.  His major would be in  government and his future job was planned to get him access to good spy stuff to send back to his handler.  His parents, while also spies, were “mulls” –  Spies who would move messages from one place to another.  Peter was the sleeper crown jewel.

I remember Peter showing us some of his spy gadgets.  This was a safe thing for him to do because who ever suspects a 15 year old classmate to be a real spy?  I remember a small  “spy” camera and a nickel that opened up and had a small space that something (microfilm) could be placed.  I even remember saying something like , “Gee , that would be cool stuff to play spy with…”  I am sure he got laugh on my account for that one.

The Kessner book goes into more details on Mark’s other relationships and activities.  It seems the KGB even used a “honey-pot” trap to keep him in the fold.  Could you imaging a 14-year-old boy going to Moscow for training and being seduced by a gorgeous KGB woman?   They could have easily won the cold war through mass recruitment if they made that perk well known.

Fact stranger than fiction.

In the end the East German spy family was caught and turned into double agents by the FBI.  When the East Germans and the KGB suspected that this had happened they asked them to return to East Germany.  At this point the family entered the witness re-location program.

Moving trucks came by their house in the middle of the night and removed all their belongings.  The house was on the market the next week.  We assumed that the moving trucks came from our government and not from the KGB. No one has heard from them since, although I am sure they have been living normal lives in the open. I also wondered if the new family that moved in was also a spy family being re-located from somewhere else?  A Spy exchange program?

Spies in the suburbs.  Not a new story.

Comments Off on My Spy Next Door

Filed under From Russia with Love, Honey Pot, KGB, mobile, New Jersey, The Spy Next Door, True LIfe

Saying Goodbye to my iPad – Is there an App for that?

Since my iPad loaner period is about complete, its time to record what I like and don’t like about the sexiest device to hit the market since…..  well probably ever.

If your main activity is light web browsing and email, the iPad is in your sweet spot.  The apps that are made specifically for the iPad are  really few in number, so Safari and Mail will likely dominate your use.   As the regular readers now, I am a fan of Google docs, which couples with the iPad nicely.  Google docs gives me great compatibility with word, excel and powerpoint.

One of the companies I consult with makes extensive use of the “Dropbox” application, which works great on the iPad.  Dropbox is a virtual “cloud” drive that easily mounts on a Mac , PC, Android Phone and iPad.  It is clearly the most promiscuous and functional file sharing application I have come across.

I would be remiss if I also did not rave about the incredible battery life of the iPad.  When I use it as an occasional browsing and email device, I only have to charge it about once a week.

There are, however, a few things that the iPad is not. It is not a device that is meant to be shared amongst friends, family or colleagues.  If you use the email app and let someone else borrow your iPad, they have all of your email.   If you install an app and then let someone use the iPad and they also install apps, you will need each others iTunes credentials to enter into the iPad when those apps have updates.  The iPad I have been using has been passed between three users.  I can only update the apps that I installed.  So scratch multiuser friendliness for now.

Most sadly the iPad is not a great video entertainment device.   It could be the ultimate travel entertainment device,  but it fails.  I say this because of the annoying lack of Adobe Flash support.

If you want to watch a show from a network site…. fail

If you want to use your HBOGO subscription….. fail

If you want  to play your favorite game on Facebook….fail.

Anything with Flash…..epic fail.

The war of words on this issue  between Steve Jobs and Adobe are well chronicled in the Press and the  Blogosphere.

Speaking as a user and developer on the iPad, I view this as a major Faux Pas.  I know you can download video from the Net, convert it to an iPad supported format and load it via iTunes, but that’s really beyond most users capabilities and completely misses the point of a Net connected device.

If there were a competitive Android Tablet device on the market that compared head to head with the iPad, I would get the Android version just for the Flash Support.   When I now want to watch a web videoon the go , I use my Droid smartphone because of the Flash Support.

This would be like developing a PC that only supports one browser.  Even Microsoft in its most Machiavellian days permitted other browsers to be installed within its operating system.   I wish I could say this was anything other than Apple trying to drive all video for the iPad to be within apps and iTunes. The Apple Flash policy is pure, raw monopolistic power being wielded, clear and simple.  To call it anything else is just poor technical rationalization.  Apple used to be the underdog, the company of the people.  Oh well.

(Click Here for Jon Stewart’s take on Apple’s Corporate Aggressiveness – funny)
This is a real shame because the iPad could be a super personal video device.  And yes, I know that there are videos available on iTunes and special built video apps, but the world is bigger than iTunes, and a Net connected browsing device should be compatible, with the Net! (End of Rant)

Prophetic commercial?

The next question is will I miss not having an iPad in my electronic arsenal?  In this case I am probably very unique among iPad users.  How many give up there iPad after a month?

My iPad has been useful in business travel and meetings .  Somehow I managed to survive travel and meetings without this wonder device in the past and I bet I will be just fine without it.   I just won’t look as cool!

If I suffer severe withdrawal symptoms I will let you know!

2 Comments

Filed under Adobe, Apple, Content, Droid, Droid Incredible, E-Commerce, facebook, FLASH, HTC, HTC Incredible, HTML%, iPad, iTunes, microsoft, mobile, mobile advertising, Mobile Application Stores, netbooks, sex, smart phone, Smartphone, wireless

Scanning your Life

It is not often that someone shows me something in tech that makes me go “WOW!, that’s cool”.  I had such a moment recently when I met Jonathan Bulkeley, CEO of ScanBuy.  Regular readers of this blog know that I rarely promote products and services, but rather just give my “guy on the street” views.

Unless you are George Bush Senior, you know that there are barcodes on everything.  There are the ubiquitous  1-D UPC codes that you see in the supermarket and a host of new 2-D barcodes.  With the inclusion of barcode readers in smartphones (my Android is very capable in this area) you can go to a store, scan the barcode and be linked to product information websites, Google shopper, Amazon, etc.  You can do instant online price comparison in a store, and if you like purchase the product.  It seems that stores are catching on and are starting to put there own barcodes on products that then links back to their own website, not a competitor’s.  This is not the “WOW” part.  I’ve been doing store scanning  for some time.  Its fun and seems to thoroughly annoy sales staff (and sometimes my wife!)

The company that Bulkeley runs is the one that produces the Android app that I use to scan barcodes.  You can think of a barcode as a web url that directs the application to go to some specific website or activate an application.  You can imagine that the directory service of linking codes to a website is an interesting business area.

Now for the “WOW” moment.

When I was talking to Bulkeley,  he showed me his business card that had a 2-D barcode on the back.  He said, “go ahead scan it”.  When I scanned it, the application opened up the contact manager on my phone and auto-populated all of his details and asked me to confirm.  That was WOW.

You see ScanBuy and its consumer facing ScanLife website gives you the opportunity to have your own personal 2-D barcodes that link to a website or launch a contact application.  There are codes you can make for websites, phone numbers, SMS, Twitter, and even a menu of items.

Here is my contact 2-D Barcode:

And here is another that links to my personal Website:

And yet another that I made to link to my favorite Youtube video. I bet you can’t guess which one?

You can even change the destination website of any barcode on the ScanLife website.  If you have a smartphone with a ScanLife application, you can scan these codes directly from your computer screen.

He told me his daughter has a barcode on her dorm door and changes the website with her mood and likes.

I could envision a whole new market in fraternities, sororities and dorms.  No need to put a piece of clothing on the door knob as the signal of an “overnight” guest.   Just make sure your roommate scans before he enters!

But as they say – Wait –there’s more to this story….

A day later I was taking the train back to New Jersey from New York.  The train was full and I was sitting alone in two facing seats.  Three others came to occupy the other spots.  There were two young women – maybe 22 – one with bright purple hair and lots of interesting body art and the other very blonde and pixie-like.  Their androgynous boyfriend rounded out the group.  Needless to say, I did not have much in common or much to say as the went on about their art exhibits and music performances.  This was not the “Hey! how about those Yankees?” crowd. And I was not up on the latest exhibit in the Village.

This all changed when Miss Pixie took out her Android phone.  Ah!, now something of a connection.  We had a long discussion on apps and her favorites. Her two interesting friends also had Androids, but older models (at least 6 months) and seemed behind the curve.   Pixie liked the same apps I did.  I am not sure what to conclude from that, so moving on…..

She had Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, Skype and Google Navigation.  Her really favorite “cool” app was, you guessed it –  ScanLife.  She did not even know the name of the company, just that she could use it when she shopped.

At this point her rather purple,  pierced  and tattooed friend perked up and said , “I always wanted to get a barcode tatoo.”

Not wanting to waste a good promotion opportunity for Mr. Bulkeley’s company, I explained how she could have her own personal barcode that linked to something that she could pick, and even change.  She was delighted and copied down the info.

For this group of avant-garde artists, it was one more cool thing to adorn their body with , and something they could scan with their phones.

The train pulled into my stop and my new friends, who were brought together by our Droids and barcodes, parted ways.

Comments Off on Scanning your Life

Filed under advertising, android, Apple, Droid Incredible, E-Commerce, facebook, Google, iphone, mobile, Mobile Application Stores, mobile commerce, mobile games, new media, New York, Rangers, sex, skype, smart phone, Smartphone, social networking, Twitter, wireless

Twitter as Mainstream Media for Israeli/Gaza Conflict?

It was 18 months ago that I first wrote about the extension of real, shooting wars to the social media battleground.  This past week saw a return of cyberspace prominence in the Israeli/Gaza blockade.   The first story that flooded Facebook, YouTube and Twitter was the violence that occurred on the Mavi Marmara.  As this story exploded across the traditional press outlets, videos were available on YouTube showing the actual helicopter boarding of the ship and the attack on the soldiers, which was followed by deadly violence. In this case social media added some perspective to a very volatile issue.

What I found particularly interesting was the coverage of the next ship that attempted to land in the Gaza, the “Rachel Corrie”.  The name of the ship is a reference to an American woman who was killed in Gaza in 2003.   This ship was due to meet up with the Israeli navy early Saturday morning.  I was quite interested in what would happen and tried to get information from traditional media websites throughout the evening in New York.  Much of the information I found was old.  Old in this case means at least 12 hours.   Around midnight NYC time ,  Twitter seemed to become the major news source.  This was fascinating.  Tweets were coming in fast and furious.  This is the first time I experienced the “fog of war” in real time social media.  Reports came in about the ship being boarded, stopped, not stopped, trailed by naval ships, proceeding to Gaza, going to Ashdod, being inspected by International representatives, and so on. Rumors followed Rumors.

The Jerusalem Post reported that the ship had been boarded three hours before the actual event.  This report seemed to be in response to an earlier Tweet that seemed credible.  A credible Tweet as a source?  The Jpost eventually retracted their story, but not before their report was Tweeted 1000’s of time as credible.    The problem is what is a credible Tweet?  Twitter is an environment where anyone can broadcast anything.   The need for instantaneous news on any world event has put news organizations in the position of trying to sift through 1000’s of Tweets to determine what may or may not be happening.  Most Tweets about the Rachel Corrie were re-Tweets of other rumors that were then reinforced by their sheer volume of messaging.  As the trending stats of the Rachel Corrie become higher and higher, it attracted the spammers and the truly crazy people.  Yet through all of this,  I was updating the Twitter role of info on the Rachel Corrie.  The information pipe became even more stuffed with offers for good, services, merchandise and other threads about the ship that described  what was or was not happening.

For the record, the ship was eventually boarded and led to the port of Ashdod where the crew and passengers were deported from Israel and the goods inspected, before shipment to Gaza.  The ruling Hamas Party in Gaza has subsequently refused to accept the aid from the Rachel Corrie becuase it was trucked through Israel. This ship made less worldwide headlines because there was no attack on the naval boarding party and the ship sailed peacefully to an Israeli port.  However, this crisis is far from over as Iran now proposes to use its Navy to escort blockade running ships.

Will we continue to rely on Twitter as the front line of information gathering if this situation escalates even further?  The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) maintains a Twitter account to answer journalists questions and give them real time information on fast moving stories.  During the Rachel Corrie event they responded to a false story in the Jpost as follows:

Twitter is a mix of first hand accounts, rumors, government accounts, and just plain  propaganda.

In the case of the Rachel Corrie what would have happened if Twitter had been flooded with purposeful and coordinated false information?  Suppose Tweets circulated that the Israeli navy blew up the ship?  These false Tweets get re-tweeted thousands of times.  Mainstream media picks up the story and then reports the false reports.  Riots occur, real people get killed; Politicians take public stances that are difficult to back down from.  Fantasy become reality.  By the time the truth is known, it is too late and a real war has begun.   Sound fantastic?   This has happened, almost….

It was October of 1939 when Martians invaded the State of New Jersey.  Panic ensued.  Orson Wells and his epic War of the Worlds was of course just radio fantasy.  We could only imagine what might have happened if he had a Twitter account at the time.

Here is Russian Television’s Report on the Rachel Corrie Ship

1 Comment

Filed under Aljerzera, facebook, Gaza, IDF, Iran, Israel, mobile, New York, politics, Rachel Corrie, Social Media, social networking, Twitter, You Tube