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December 2005 Archives

December 10, 2005

The Porn Suffix

Establishing a new Internet suffix like ''.com'' or ''.org'' takes deep pockets and patience. This has not deterred Stuart Lawley, a Florida entrepreneur, from trying to establish a pornography-only ''.xxx'' domain. In such a realm, Lawley could restrict porn marketing to adults only, protect users' privacy, limit spam and collect fees from Web masters. The .xxx proposal was finally slated for approval in August by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (Icann), but because of a flurry of protest, it has been shelved for now.

Lawley's scheme has aroused support and dissent across the political spectrum. The Family Research Council warns that it will simply breed more smut. But Senator Joe Lieberman supports a virtual red-light district because he says it would make the job of filtering out porn easier.

Meanwhile, some pornographers, apparently drawn by the promise of catchier and more trustworthy U.R.L.'s, have gotten behind Lawley. Other skin-peddlers, echoing the A.C.L.U., see the establishment of a voluntary porn zone as the first step toward the deportation of their industry to a distant corner of the Web, where their sites could easily be blocked by skittish Internet service providers, credit card companies and even governments.

The Free Speech Coalition, a lobbying group for the pornography industry, supports an entirely different approach to Web architecture. It recommends that children be confined to a wholesome ''.kids'' domain. This ''walled garden'' theory of Internet safety is not original. It is borrowed from Lawley himself, who has since dropped it because he deems it impractical.

December 11, 2005

Consensual Interruptions

1. A call comes in on your cellphone.
2. Others' finger rings vibrate.
3. If someone doesn't want you to answer your phone, he can veto the call by touching the ring, and you won't get to talk.

The problem is all too familiar: You're chatting with a group of people when someone's cellphone goes off, interrupting the conversation. What makes the intrusion irritating isn't so much the call itself - the caller has no way of knowing if he has chosen a good time to cut in. It's that the group as a whole doesn't have any say in the matter. Until now.

Stefan Marti, a graduate of the M.I.T. Media Laboratory, who now works for Samsung, has devised a system that silently surveys the members of the group about whether accepting an incoming phone call would be appropriate. Then it permits the call to go through only if the group agrees unanimously - thus creating a more consensual sort of interruption.

The system, it must be said, is highly elaborate. It begins with a special electronic-badge or -necklace device that you and everyone else you might be conversing with must wear. Your badge can tell who is in conversation with you by comparing your speech patterns with those of people nearby. (Anyone within a few feet of you who is not talking at the same time you are is assumed to be part of your conversation.)

Each badge is also in wireless contact with your cellphone and a special ring that you wear on your finger. When a caller tries you on your cellphone, all the finger rings of the people in your conversation silently vibrate - a sort of pre-ring announcing to the group the caller's intention to butt in. If anyone in the group wants to veto the call, he can do so by simply touching his ring, and the would-be call is redirected to voice mail. If no one opts to veto, the call goes through, the phone rings and the conversation is interrupted.

Having solved the problem of when phone calls should interrupt us, Marti is now working on how they should do so. Inspired by the observation that the best interruptions are subtle and nonverbal but still somewhat public, he has designed an animatronic squirrel that perches on your shoulder and screens your calls. Instead of your phone ringing, the squirrel simply wakes and begins to blink.

—Jascha Hoffman

About December 2005

This page contains all entries posted to Jascha Hoffman in December 2005. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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