The Smart Connected Home


The home, its technology and its inhabitants are now becoming more and more connected. Many of us now have WiFi networks in the home. We can sit with notebooks on our laps, wireless routers connected to our internet connection allow us to connect entertainment systems, iPads and other network appliances, printers, external drives, Smartphones and more.

Many other devices are now being developed that also offer the benefits of connectivity. For example Internet TV is almost here with products like Google TV being right on our doorstep.

Many years ago I had the opportunity to spend a day at the Arthur Anderson offices in Chicago for a glimpse of the future. An example was an intelligent  fridge with a bar code reader that created a shopping list and could automatically send the list to the local grocery delivery company.

Bill Gates had a master plan of having a Windows CE engine in home appliances, creating an intelligent house. Smart Appliances will I’m sure be in the home soon and the idea Gates had was that if they all used Windows CE, they would all have a common platform to communicate not only with each other and with your mobile computer, perhaps your home appliances.

The European Commission has perhaps seen the light in setting up The Hydra Project. “The Hydra middleware allows developers to incorporate heterogeneous physical devices into their applications by offering easy-to-use web service interfaces for controlling any type of physical device irrespective of its network technology such as Bluetooth, RF, ZigBee, RFID, WiFi, etc. Hydra incorporates means for Device and Service Discovery, Semantic Model Driven Architecture, P2P communication, and Diagnostics. Hydra enabled devices and services can be secure and trustworthy through distributed security and social trust components of the middleware.”

This has the potential to reduce the risk of being tied to specific brands of computing, communications and other technology by providing middleware that everyone can work with. Of course the home is only one place that can benefit from this concept. It applies equally to telemedicine (monitoring patients in the home), business automation, security, agriculture, manufacturing, warehousing and pretty much any industry you can think of.

Once again Science Fiction is about to become reality. It’s taken a while, but looks like we are getting there.

The following video shows an e-home controlled by voice or even by your X Box Controller and of course you can control it from your iPhone:

Whos Looking at you on Facebook?


Sometime ago I wrote a couple of blogs about What can they find out about you on Facebook. In the second blog I did some digging into a random person who hadn’t managed her privacy settings. You will find many references to Facebook and other social network applications in my recent blogs, but here’s the thing, I wrote about what they could find out about you, but not so much about who’s looking.

I have also often blogged about how Science Fiction has a way of becoming reality and it seems that many of my favourite writers were foretelling the future. Some of these blogs were: A San Francisco Artist wanting a bionic eye, Living Longer with Cryonics, using In-Vitro to feed the future, Sky Scrapers and High Society, and tracking people with RFID.

Whether it was Orwell, Bradbury, Philip K Dick, Heinlein or any of my other favourites, they often had a common thread. That is a police state environment where privacy and personal freedom becomes something for people to fight to win back. Where for whatever good reason, governments gave themselves the right, initially with good intentions, to spy on the public or restrict their ability to communicate their personal beliefs. That was what the 5th Ammendment was all about. Of course some countries, like New Zealand don’t have a formal constitution and we generally have the attitude that everyone is trustworthy and honest until proven otherwise. I’d have to say that in many ways this has also served us well downunder, in that even though crime is rising at alarming rates, especially violent crime and the police now charge people for using unreasonable force in defending themselves, we are a much safer country than many I have visited in recent years.

Just on that topic of self defence. What actually is reasonable force. If you are faced with someone with a gun or other weapon, who knows how to use it and has experience with violence and you don’t, the situation is very different for a law abiding person who has never had to defend themselves before. If you know someone else will use whatever means they can to hurt you, possibly even kill you and are unpredictable. At what point does self defence become unreasonable. If the person who attacked you is o the ground but you are afraid they will get up again and running isn’t an option. If you are afraid and your heart is full of adrenalin, how can you be expected to know how or when to stop? Police are trained in the use of restraint and know how to deal with difficult situations, where the public are not. I don’t have the answer, but I do feel that criminals need to know that they won’t always get away with violent crime and that victims should have the rigt to defend themselves. But I digress.

Anyway, what prompted this reminder, that I hadn’t focussed much on who would want to look at your personal information on Facebook, was a story in this morning’s NZ Herald (which I couldn’t find online), with the Headline Govt plans to spy on social website users. I did find a story from the Daily Mail yesterday which in essence says that they plan to be able to monitor all email, social networking sites etc, because it is fertile ground for terrorists to communicate and plan.

Now I don’t have a problem, providing information is monitored under a search warrant, but blanket ability to go through all Internet usage of everyone is pushing it a little too far don’t you think? They are wanting the right to not only read everything you write, publish or comment on the net, but even to get a record of every single URL or website you visit.

I’ve always worked on the basis that I have nothing to hide, and indeed if you Google my name, you will be able to find out pretty much anything you want to know about me and my life. Maybe that’s a good thing because it makes me kind of transparent. But by giving government organisations rights beyond what anyone can do on the internet, the ability to intercept everything you do on the web, must be an invasion of good citizens privacy and I hope that there will be restrictions put in place, just as is required in most countries for telephone taps etc. The fear is that in any society there are corrupt individuals who could abuse their position. That is where we need protection.

There is no doubt that the threat of terrorism means that new measures must be put in place to locate terrorists, terrorist training grounds and do whatever is necessary to keep us safe from harm. But like any law and order legislation and policies, there must be reasonable suspicion and controls. Otherwise the risk that more of the Science Fiction writers stories about oppressive states undermining the rights of its citizens could become a reality in the ‘developed world’. I want to feel safe from harm, but I also want to know that my individual rights to freedom of expression and belief are protected.

 

The hospital is the best place to be when you are sick, or is it?


Lately there have been a spate of stories about medical misadventure in the news, focussed on hospitals in New Zealand. Tales of drugs being given to the wrong patient, the wrong limb being operated on, things left behind inside the body after the wound has been stitched and lots more. Stories like Mistakes Kill 40 and Death Tally have been around for years.

In my own personal experience I was once prescribed an antibiotic and an antihystamine where the medical documentation stated that they should not be used in combination. The consequence was a major long term allergic reaction. My father in law who has a lanryngectomy has suffered from pneumonia several times as a consequence, not a reason, of being admitted to hospital for other problems.

For years we have had stories of people waiting in corridors in hospital Accident & Emergency areas because there were insufficient beds in the wards for them, even though they had been admitted. Each time one of these stories come out, the hospital spokespeople make out that it is an isolated incident due to a suddent spate of health problems caused by weather or other factors outside their control. Funny then that each time I have visited A&E with various family members over the last couple of years, I’ve had the same experience, summer and winter. For example last year my daughter suffered what eventually was diagnosed as a relapse of glandular fever. She was instantly admitted to the hospital by agreement between an A & E clinic and the hospital. I got her to the hospital around 5 p.m. on a Saturday afternoon and she got to see a doctor at 1:30 the following morning. I assure you I can quote many more cases with the same results from personal, not anecdotal experience.

My younger daughter was a blue baby and had regular visits to hospital for that and as she got older for various injuries from her sport of gymnastics. As a child a common occurence was that they could not find her file, even for appointments scheduled a week or more in advance.

So what’s my problem with that, other than as a taxpayer and concerned citizen? It’s that they have had solutions available for many years that cost dramatically less than the consequences of not having them. I know because I presented many of those tools and solutions to them.

First there is a simple concept of bar coding or using RFID tags to identify and locate files and other plant. This is everything from patient files (even though a lot of information is digitised, it generally isn’t available to registrars and other staff on demand in the wards or at the bedside) to critical equipment. I’ve heard of operations being cancelled or postponed because equipment had been borrowed from operating theatres and not returned.

So what was my solution? Very simple. Every patient folder has a bar code on it, which identifies the patient, their national health code etc. Each staff member has a bar code on their ID card. A bar code reader can be placed at the entrance to all key areas and as critical documents or plant leaves an area, it is scanned and the person removing it scans their identity and when it arrives at the next location, it is again scanned. Now a central data register knows where each file is, where each heart monitor or other item of plant is. Imagine the amount of time and pain that could be saved and avoided!

Then there is the very common problem of people being given drugs they are allergic to. I introduced 2D and 3D barcode readers into New Zealand many years ago, through an agency I managed with a well respected medical technology brand, Welch Allyn. The conept of these bar codes which are now (12 years later) starting to appear on patients bracelets, is that the bar codes can contain large volumes of digital data including crucial information such as allergies, their condition, their blood type and much more, without having to resort to a central database. Anyone that uses a computer, especially attached to a network, knows that its integrity and availability can’t be relied on.

So, at the bedside, I recommended a protocol each time drugs were administered, that the bar code be read with a small handheld scanner with a display, or built into a small handheld computer, and critical information could be confirmed before blood or drugs were administered. It would also ensure that it was clear that it was the right leg or appendage that was causing problems. By using a drug database, which can reside in a Palm sized computer, an alert would be delivered instantly if drugs that are dangerous when taken at the same time might be administered.

This is not a small problem and it is not a local problem, but it seems that only a few hospitals spend the money on using this technology which is readily available. It is usually hospitals that are attached to universities or med schools that invest in the technology. But it isn’t expensive and the cost of not using it is much greater. In Australia for example according to the Sydney Morning Herald, between 85,000 and 115,000 people over the age of 65 are admitted to hospital EACH YEAR due to adverse effects of their medication. And that’s the tip of the iceburg. What about those under 65, but of coursewith the older ones these problems are often fatal. Google in your country and you will find countless stories. This can so easily be avoided.

I’ve often wondered what has to happen before the government steps in. How many New Zealanders and people around the world have to die because of ‘accidents’ that could have been avoided. What is the cost of each one, or even the prolonged treatment of people who’s recovery from illness is hindered due to these problems. The solution is far cheaper than not doing something about it. I thought that perhaps if the family of an MP got caught i situations like this, that then maybe the Minister or others would do something about it, but I suspect that these people would not find themselves in public hospitals where cost restraints are more important than patient’s health and care.

I’m lucky that I can make a choice and I do have a couple of minor procedures I need to undergo soon. I can assure you, I will be using my medical insurance and going private.

But tell me please, what does it take. What are you going to do nect time you take one of your friends or family to hospital and they say take a number and we will see you as soon as possible. When you ask how soon, they tell you “Maybe 2 or 3 hours, because one of our registrars is off sick” and in ‘2 or 3 hours’ they tell you “another 2 or 3 hours because there has been a major car accident that was unexpected”. Are accidents ever expected? How come tow trucks and ambulance organisations know that there are certain spots at certain times of day or night where they should be waiting because an accident is going to happen, but hospitals don’t expect it. Goodness me, it’s 11 p.m. on Friday night and it’s raining. I guess there is no reason for the hospital to expect one out of a million people to cause an accident due to drunk driving is there?

I’m pissed off. This is the 21st century. I don’t live in the 3rd world, we have a modestly affluent society, but we can’t cater to a growing population? I shudder to consider what it’s going to be like in the next 30 years as the baby boomers get older and need more medical assistance because those that don’t succumb to medical misadventure or die in the waiting rooms. The hospitals might still be saying that they were caught by surprise with the extra people who succumbed to the flu this winter.

People are so forgiving. They say the staff did their best under the conditions they have to work in. I don’t disagree, I have utmost respect for the doctors, nurses, orderlies, domestics and everyone else who make the hospitals run, despite their masters. But why should they have to, shouldn’t health be one of our highest priorities?

Now throughout all this I have been talking about public hospitals funded by the state, by our taxes. I have a couple of minor surgeries coming up and guess what, I won’t be sitting in a waiting list for 2 years and then find myself being bumped after having starved myself overnight because they needed their resources for an unexpected accident. I’ll be going private. No I’m not wealthy, but I pay my medical insurance as I have since I was 18 or so and I’m going to take advantage of it.

Anyway, is hospital the best place to go when you are sick? I don’t think so.

 

Contact lens display for your computer


I have said it before, all the stories I read about in Science Fiction are coming true, some of them even more advanced than the fiction. Think Robocop and other stories where police, soldiers and others can have access to their computer through a device attached to their eyes. I was half-watching the new series of The Bionic Woman last night and while some of the things she was doing, like using her bionic eye as a set of binoculars with the ability to lock onto faces and use facial identification, may be a little far fetched (so far) we are on the way there. The first concepts were something along the lines of a display attached to a helmet that you look at, in effect a sort of projector. That is old technology in that it has already been piloted by police in the UK and forces around the world. Now we are talking about a contact lens that incorporates a display, wiring and even a wireless receiver all built into a silicon lens that is placed on your eye just like your normal contact lens. Much of this research is being undertaken in the Unversity of Washington.

Animal lovers read no further, but apparently these lenses have already been tested on rabbits who reported that they felt no discomfort. I understand they have not yet determined how to display something that the eye can recognise because typically the eye needs to focus on something that is at least a very short distance from it. One research group is looking at having a seperate LED or similar device per pixel, which matches the eye receptors. This concept is also not unprecedented. My late grandfather went snowblind when climbing in the Swiss Alps in his early 80’s. He was the recipient of experimental eyes which looked like huge fly eyes. Not a fashion accessory, but he was able to faintly discern and identify shapes such as a human body.

Other researchers are using this technology to help determine health status and followers of iridology will tell you that you can tell a huge amount about a person’s health through an eye examination. I could imagine this sort of data being used in military and space research, allowing information to be gathered without having lots of additional hardware being attached to the body. Hey, we could require that everyone has one of these fitted, then anytime someone has a rush of blood to the head with the hormones associated with rage or excessive endorphins, it could send a message to the authorities. Imagine what would happen if they used that technology at the next Olympic Games, they would probably arrest the competitors and leave the terrorists to roam free, but I’m getting silly now, so perhaps I better head off to my Monday night poker tournament, where I could use my bionic contact lens to tell me the value of my starting hands and the play history of each of the tournament players from their Pokerstars records.

Now here’s a question I am struggling with. When you watch movies or TV programmes like 24 (which I must admit to enjoying, albeit on DVD with 4 episodes at a time) they have the technology to grab a security camera image and within seconds, not only enhance it to a high image quality, but instantly identify the person and download their life history. I’ve seen footage from companies like Arthur Anderson monitoring and analysing eye movement in a retail store, where they are studying the science of retail shelf product placement.

So why is it that when someone commits a crime which is captured on a security camera and they show us the picture or video on TV or in the newspaper, it is such a blur? On the one hand we are seeing unbelieveably exciting research, and on the other hand we can’t catch a thief in a petrol station using highly specialised camera technology.

Anyway, I’m putting an order in for my bionic lens. Maybe I can have it installed together with my eyePod implant. I’m told I have a few terrabytes free in my brain, so perhaps I could just download the entire  EMI/Warner music list straight into my brain. My car has an invisible antenna for my car stereo, perhaps I could have one mounted on my scalp so I can download the latest podcasts from any WiFi Hotspot after using the RFID tag in my contact lens for identification.

I said I was going so now I am stopping for real. Hey, if you are reading this, how about leaving me a comment, or if you know someone who might be interested in my rantings, send them a link.

While this blog is starting to get a good following, I would love to get more readers and encouraging me to keep writing. If you feel that my blog is interesting I would be very grateful if you would vote for me in the category of best blog at the NetGuide Web Awards. Note that the form starts each site with www whereas my blog doesn’t and is of course https://luigicappel.wordpress.com.

Thanks so much for your support:)

Identity Tag Implants


The more I read and see on TV about recidivist criminals, the more I like the idea of implanted ID tags into convicted criminals. I know this sounds big brother and the late Philip K Dick, one of my favourite authors, spent a lifetime warning us against this sort of technology and the risks of abuse. But what about law abiding citizens and our rights to live in a safe and wholesome environment where we don’t have to be afraid to go for a beach walk on a hot summer’s evening?

I’m starting to think not only that this is a good idea, but I think at least for certain types of crime, particularly violence and sex crimes, convicted criminals should have these devices implanted as a condition of parole. Why should they have all the rights and we have to pay to support them after they have hurt us and our society and thereby taken away our freedom?

In the Sci-Fi books you read about implants that include RF transmitters that send out an alert if the implants have been surgically removed without authority and the underground businesses that find ways to do that, but having been able to read about all the ways that people envisaged the technology being nullified, I’m sure that we could create secure devices.

We already have electronic anklets for criminals under house arrest or on bail, so the concept has already begun, but I’m after something that is more pervasive. Way over 50% of criminals who go to prison for violence, sex and theft will return to prison again. It becomes their way of life. We should be able to harness technology that makes this more difficult. In a connected world we could have all sorts of preventative measures based around RFID or similar technologies.

For example:

  • Sex offenders could have a code set up in their tags which sets off an alarm if they are in proximity to schools or locations where they might offend and part of their parole conditions would be that they are not allowed within a certain distance of at risk locations.
  • Burglars could have a code that tells an activated burglar alarm who they are and simultaneously through the alarm’s monitoring service alerts police that John B(ad) Citizen has just tripped an alarm that was active at 15A Smith Street. Even if they made a getaway, they could be located through their tags and of course they have already been accurately identified, so a conviction would result with a minimum of police time and cost and of course reduced court/litigation costs.
  • People who have non-molestation orders against them would trigger alarms and an automated arrest warrant issued if they come into proximity of addresses they have been forbidden to approach.
  • Going a step further, serious recidivists,criminally active gang members etc and those under strict probation or parole orders could also be fitted with a GPS transmitter so that they can no longer hide. Imagine how much time, grief, lives and cost could be saved if repeat criminals could no longer hide their whereabouts!

You get the idea?

I was remarking to a friend the other day that every election year, crime and violence are election issues and all sorts of promises are made, but it never matters who is elected, because their stance instantly softens and we are so PC that it is always the poor criminals with their harsh upbringings who are looked after, while the victims fight and argue with the insurance companies who were so eager to win their premiums. The good guys lose and crime often does pay.

Our police do a wonderful job and I take my hat off to them. It is a tough life and they do their best to make the country a safer place, but the problem is that by the time they are called in, the crime has already been committed. Our jails are now safe havens where people can live an orderly life, with 3 square meals at a huge cost to the taxpayer. If they break a leg trying to escape, they get compensation! Then afterwards they are put back on the street where the majority will offend again. Let’s make it really difficult for them to do that.

Some people will say, they have done their time and they should now be treated as a normal everyday citizen. For people who do silly things as an odd abheration that doesn’t physically hurt or traumatise their victims, maybe I’d give them one chance. But if they are repeat offenders then as far as I am concerned, they have become career criminals and they lose their rights.

For all our great ideas, rehabilitation, training, discipline, encounter groups, counselling etc, our prison population is growing faster than our national population even though we have very low unemployment and we have a welfare state.

So what about the rights of the peaceful law abiding citizens. Remember us? If they aren’t protected, we may start to see the public fight back as we have seen in the last week where a peace abiding citizen chased after a tagger with a knife. The tagger is dead and both his and the citizen’s lives have been devastated. If you break into my house and I attack you to defend myself, my property or my family, I end up treated as a criminal, yet the criminal says the ‘system’ is unfair.

The PC brigade will talk about the risk of this technology being abused by corrupt people, and of course there will always be a degree of corruption, but on the whole we employ people in the forces who earn and deserve our

Tag ’em I say.

When Science Fiction becomes Reality


Yesterday I read in the news http://www.nzherald.co.nz/section/2/story.cfm?c_id=2&objectid=10486868 that they are looking at implanting security tags into criminals to allow them to keep track of them. They would then be able to locate them using Satellite GPS and other technologies. These RFID chips would contain information about offenders and allow them to be monitored on demand. This is a next generation development of ID tags used to track animals.

This is just one example of SF becoming a reality and is just the first step towards the potential for a Big Brother society that writers like Philip K Dick envisioned in some cases more than 50 years ago. Even in New Zealand our prison populations are growing faster than we can manage and more and more people are getting off with Home Detention requiring and anklets are becoming the fashion to make sure people on detention don’t leave their homes.

It doesn’t take much imagination to think forward to a day where one of these little devices are implanted into children shortly after birth, along with the collection of DNA samples and stem cells from their umbilical chords. This is not an if, it is a when, and it is not too far in the future.

In an ideal world, we can think of all the good reasons for this. Crime would be reduced as it would be much harder to get away without leaving easy to track evidence. Missing children would become a thing of the past and life expectancy will increase exponentially. In a democratic world where information will not be misused we could end up in Utopia.

Unfortunately, again as predicted by  Sci-Fi writers we live in a world where corruption in politics is rife and that human trait of greed and hunger for power means that it would be very simple for people to find and round up ‘dissidents’ and keep everyone in their place. I expect that we will experience the good and the bad and given the pace of change, this will happen in our lifetimes.