... in mobile networks

Paper maps as backup for when the network is down

10 Jun 2013 | 104 words | maps mobile computing mobile networks gps

Stumbled across this picture of a helicopter crew surveying flooding along the Elbe while reading the news this morning:

Helicopter cockpit with maps

As far as I am concerned this is a perfect illustration of the fact that paper maps have been relegated to being a backup solution for when the battery is empty or the cellular network is down (guess as a helicopter pilot you can’t really afford this). Also amazing how much the military (or paramilitary, not really clear from the picture if this a federal police or an army helicopter) seems to rely on of the shelf consumer technology these days.

Change & rain

20 Jul 2007 | 154 words | amsterdam architecture mobile networks photos rain

It is a bit more than a month that i have left Waag Society and started working for Kennisland | Knowledgeland. Although i have not really had time to reflect it feels really good to work for a new organization (and with new colleagues!!) after almost 5 years at the Waag and there is lots of exiting stuff ahead.

However for some strange reason the time i have been at KL more or less corresponds with the period of extremely shitty weather here in Amsterdam, which is best illustrated by this picture of the building that houses KL’s offices (on the 4th floor) taken on monday evening:

Picture taken from the at5 website, where it is credited to 'Inge

Which somehow reminds me of this picture of the Waag (sorry no higher resolution available), which also explains my sisters reaction (looks like disneyland again!’) when she first saw the picture of the KL building.

Laptop/USA for Africa/textese/forgotten vegetables/NGOs

There are two articles about the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) in the spring 2007 issue of بدون/bidoun. the second one (‘let them eat laptops’ (p72ff.) – not available online) is a relatively serious email discussion about the merits of the project between a couple of academics. the other article ‘glory‘ by Kenyan writer Binyavanga Wainaina) takes the OPLC project as a starting point for a fascinating exploration into how technology is appropriated. It’s one of the best texts i have read in a long time and starts like this:

I was twelve years old, in a small public school in Nakuru. One day, the whole school was called out of class. Some very blond and very serious people from Sweden had arrived. We were led to the round patch of grass next to the parade ground in front of the school, where the flag was. Next to the flag were two giant drums of cow shit and metal pipes and other unfamiliar accessories. We stood around, heard some burping sounds, and behold, there was light.

This is biogas, the Swedes told us. A fecal matyr. It looks like shit-it is shit-but it has given up its gas for you. With this new fuel you can light your bulbs and cook your food. You will become balanced dieted; if you are industrious perhaps you can run a small biogaspowered posho mill and engage in income generating activities.

We went back to class. Very excited. Heretofore our teachers had threatened us with straightforward visions of failure. Boys would end up shining shoes; girls would end up pregnant.

Now there was a worse thing to be: a user of biogas.

… and ends with this:

There are few useful “development models” for genuinely selfstarting people. I am sure the One Laptop per Child initiative will bring glory to its architects. The IMF will smile. Mr Negroponte will win a prize or two or ten. There will be key successes in Rwanda; in a village in Cambodia; in a small, groundbreaking initiative in Palestine, where Israeli children and Palestinian children will come together to play minesweeper. There will be many laptops in small, perfect, NGO-funded schools for AIDS orphans in Nairobi, and many earnest expatriates working in Sudan will swear by them.

And there will be many laptops in the homes of homeschooling, goattending parents in North Dakota who wear hemp (another wonderproduct for the developing world). They will fall in love with the idea of this frugal, noble laptop, available for a mere $100. Me, I would love to buy one. I would carry it with me on trips to remote Kenyan places, where I seek to find myself and live a simpler, earthier life, for two weeks a year.

In-between these two parts it covers all of the subjects in the title of this post and many more. my favorite part is probably the bit about Kenyan cellphone culture.

A guy called Njoroge has a business in Nairobi’s industrial area called “Lord of the Ringtones.” They digitalize and sell ringtones, 220,000 of them a month. Cellphones are the biggest business in Kenya.

And they are transforming culture, even as they spawn new markets. In Nairobi, a student paper caters to kids from across the city’s high schools; submissions are sent in by text message, with articles written in textesewords broken into their smallest possible lucid components. Every few months or so, rumors circulate, breaking some code or other and giving free airtime or texts. Some people have learned to communicate for free with their regular clients or family by coding their ringing: one ring, I am on my way; two rings, I have picked up the kids; three rings, I love you.

Welcome to Afghanistan...

21 May 2006 | 59 words | mobile networks amsterdam afghanistan

I have had my own share of mobile phone operatorsloosing it a bit when it comes to geography, but yesterdays fuck up by Monica’sprovider is equally noteworthy:

Yes that reads, ‘have a pleasant stay in Afghanistan’ which is especially noteworthy as she got that message when we were leaving the basement of the American Book Center in central Amsterdam.

Welcome to Israel!

02 Jun 2005 | 400 words | lebanon israel border mobile networks politics

Today we went to the South of Lebanon, the part that is officially referred to as the liberated zone. This is the area that was controlled by Israel – through the south Lebanese army – until they were forced out by continuing casualties inflicted upon them by the armed wing of the Hezbollah in 2000. after visiting Beaufort castle, a former crusader castle overlooking most of south Lebanon, the Golan and parts of Israel, that was used by the IDF during the occupation as a military base and a former torture center run by the SLA for the IDF we went to the border between Lebanon and Israel just outside the northernmost Israeli settlement. The border itself is quite unimpressive and the IDF seems to keep itself out of sight deliberately in order to not provoke the Hezbollah loyalists on the other side. what is most notable is the obvious abundance of water on the Israeli side that supports extensive farming in stark contrast to the dryness of the land on the Lebanese side of the fence. While being at the border i started to receive welcome SMS messages form Israeli network operators. First four messages from orange Israel

Orange welcomes you to israel. you can now dial 1233 to listen to your voicemail and 1200 for your home customer service. powered by starhome.

and later a whole array of messages from Cellcom Israel.

welcome to cellcom. To listen to your voicemail just dial 1233 , and for your customer care 1200, as you do in the Netherlands! Enjoy your stay in Israel.

It is not unusual to receive such messages well beyond national borders but in the European context this does not really mean anything as borders in the frequency spectrum obviously do not adhere to the lines drawn on maps. but when you are standing in front of a border fence that is obviously designed to keep you out being surrounded by posters glorifying the acts of martyrdom committed against the Israeli occupation forces it is rather bizarre to be welcomed and asked to feel at home by an operator from the other side of the fence. even more disturbing is the fact that Cellcom kept sending me welcome messages long after we had turned north again. The last message arrived at my phone more than 24 hours later while eating lunch in restaurant du Chef in Beirut….

The city of the dead...

Tomorrow will see the start of the parliamentary election in Beirut. (The other parts of the country will vote on the consecutive sundays). The city while feeling relatively empty and calm is full of campaign posters and flags. As all of them are in arabic it is hard to to tell what they advocate but the whole thing seems to be centered on persons anyway. By far the most prominent is the face of the late Rafiq Hariri whose party is now run by his son. There is not a single place in Beirut (and not only central beirut – it seems to be even more extreme in the residential areas) where you could stand and not see his face gleaming down from a building or a wall. There are gigantic banners that mourn his death hanging down from high rises, bleached our rows of din a3 sized posters lining construction site fences, golf carts with his face on the site that offer a free shuttle service in the (Hariri build) central business district, posters with his face and the word truth (both in arabic end english) on them in windows of shops and apartments. Then there are thousands and thousands of pictures showing him and his son: On the election posters of his sons party with the older hariri greyed out in the background, but also on giant lcd screens, in the windows of private cars and businesses and even on the walls of the houses in the village of our hotel.

The city has nothing of the bustling chaotic feeling that i was expecting, people are friendly, but there is a feeling of anticipation in the air. during our walk along the sites of the civil war we are passing a crowd of US secret service agents that protect a restaurant with owerwelming manpower and repeatedly run into small groups of armed soldiers that zig zag through the city in oversized SUVs. There are also the teams of EU election monitors and occasionally small car convoys of Hariri supporters enthusiastically blowing their horns and wielding Lebanese flags (although this hardly has any distinctive quality as everybody and his political party seem to do the same) in support of this son’s party.

We finish our tour at the place of the bomb blast that took Hariri’s life and that of at least 15 others. 3 and a half months after the explosion the place is still cordoned-off and the wrecked surroundings have been left in the same state they were found in after the blast. Apparently a special UN mission will go through all the on site evidence again as nobody trusts the Lebanese authorities to find out who was behind the attack (and no one thinks the UN will be able to do this either). A sole temporary GSM tower extends his makeshift antena masts into the evening sky right next to the fence setting of the area, indicating that this place has seen regular gatherings of huge crowds that apparently needed additional cell phone coverage. Later i am being told that Hariri’s convoy used to be armed with radio frequency blockers that would interrupt all communications when it passed in order to make attacks with radio controlled bombs impossible. Apparently the damage to the frequency spectrum had a much higher priority than the physical damage when it comes to reconstruction.

While mobile phone coverage is excellent, internet coverage seems rather limited. At dinner i am told that internet coverage is rather poor. DSL lines are virtually unknown because they are prohibitivly expensive. the price for set up came down only recently from $2000 to $500. this is the consequence of a quasi monopoly by the national phone company and one mayor ISP (appropriately called ‘Cyberia’ – for which even more appropriately the spellchecker suggests ‘Siberia’) which are both in the hands of the son’s of the son’s of senior politicians. So most people – and also internet cafes – are still on dial up connections.

My mobile phone provider thinks i am an tsunami victim...

15 Feb 2005 | 645 words | data surveillance mobile networks india

… and has a pretty poor sense of geography.

Got my monthly bill from my mobile phone provider (orange Netherlands which an almost completely different entity than the orange operating in Bombay. They just use the same brand identity and parts of the companies are held by the same holding: hutchinson whampoa limited).now getting a monthly phone bill is nothing special, but getting one which informs you have been a tsunami victim an that they therefore credited you with €42.05 for ‘possible extra phone expenses related to the tsunami’ is somewhat strange. especially if you have not been affected by the tsunami as you where safe on a jet airways flight from Bombay to Delhi when the whole thing hit the coasts of India and Sri lanka. now it is no secret that mobile phone providers record the location data a mobile phone generates, but at least under dutch law this data cannot be used by them for anything else except invoicing purposes (and they have to retain it for law enforcement purposes for half an eternity or so). and as far as i can tell remember i did not generate any data at all during the time the tsunami hit. i switched of my phone on the 7th of december in delhi, replaced the sim card by and airtel india branded one and switched back to my orange sim on the 11th of january at the airport in delhi to make a couple of calls before flying back to amsterdam. so as far as they can tell i have been delhi all the time which thanks to its inland location and altitude is probably even less tsunami affected than amsterdam. of course they could also have a look at my call record and would discover that i did not make any calls during that time either….

For sure i am not comfortable with my phone company using this (non) data to become some kind benevolent paternalistic entity that does a little monetary intervention here and then when things get a bit more bumpy that the average european can be expected to be able to cope with. and if i should ever want something like this i will buy a travel insurance policy. i can imagine how these public relation geniuses at orange have seen this golden opportunity to build up a personal relationship with their customers. given all the suffering that this catastrophe has caused to all these poor western tourists (which is the real reason why we Europeans have donated so much to the relief funds), they went strait to their data-minig department and told them to get them a list with all their customers that have been in the hit by the tsunami. so the data miners go a and get themselves a CNN info graphic that shows the tsunami affected countries run a couple of queries based on this information and come up with a list of tsunami victims among their customer that goes back to the marketing department and there the amount of money available for this stunt is divided by the amount of victims and the billing department is instructed to credit each victim with the resulting amount. and now they are probably all excited how they come up with a way of effectively allocating ressources where they are most needed… credit where credit is due!

When i called their customer center today to complain about using my location data for something which they are not entitled the call center agent simply failed to understand my problem. he could not see how i could complain as i benefited from this measure of theirs and told me that i was ungrateful. and when asked about why i was getting the credit when i was in delhi the whole time he told me ‘well that is in the region isn’t it?’

meanwhile... is the personal weblog of Paul Keller. I am currently policy director at Open Future and President of the COMMUNIA Association for the Public Domain. This weblog is largely inactive but contains an archive of posts (mixing both work and personal) going back to 2005.

I also maintain a collection of cards from African mediums (which is the reason for the domain name), a collection of photos on flickr and a website collecting my professional writings and appearances.

Other things that i have made online: