NetObj Midterm
Dennis Crowley //

Interactive Telecommunications Program @ NYU
Networked Objects // March 24, 2002

------ Forwarded Message
From: Tom Igoe (
Date: Mon Mar 24 11:49:36 2003
Subject: Re: networked objects // final project

Sorry not to have gotten back to you before now, but I imagine some things percolated this week. I think you've actually got a lot of ideas going on, all of which are promising, between the paper and the stuff you mention here. I'd be happy to brainstorm a few of them with you. I think a little time talking could lead to good projects from many of them.

I'm also open to the idea of a "paper project" as final too, in which you describe, in full technical and conceptual detail, a working network application that's larger than you can build in class.

digression in ad hoc nets:

I like your thinking about ad-hoc networks in the paper, I think it's very interesting. I think an in-depth discussion of the effects on applications of ad-hoc networks would lead to significant advances in those applications. In other words, the more people understand the strengths and limitations, the more they can build accurately for those kinds of networks.

One danger we need to avoid is generalizing too much from our local system. We know, for example, that an ad hod 802.11 network in NYC is possible because of how thickly covered NYC is. But is the same true elsewhere? How does the geography of another area affect that? NYC is very pedestrian-friendly, much more so than, say, St. Louis. And pedestrian-friendly implies 802.11 friendly, as the likelihood that there's an access point within 100 ft. is much higher when the dwellings are densely packed. How interesting are ad hoc nets in strip mall geographies, for example? or in rural areas?

back to the question at hand:

One thing to consider in your wifi hotspot model is that some activities lend themselves to being stationary, but not sedendary -- like playing foosball, or pool. There's no reason that those activities which draw people can't be used as connection opportunities for networked mobile devices, regardless of the activity of the person carrying them. How do the specific social activities of those wifi hotspots lend themselves to specific types of network activities? For example, your Modo/avantGo plans could tie into this. It takes some download time to update the cityguide data. What if the pager knew to do that updating whenever it got access to a network? What if it knew to do hold off on large updates unless it knew it would be in that vicinity longer? For example, if it has access to a pool hall network, and part of the process of getting a table is swiping in, then the pool hall network can tell your device your status -- i.e. that you'll be there at least one game -- so the device can use the time for large updates. This could be a way to avoid some of the social awkwardness that systems like StreetBeam faced. No one wanted to stand in front of a phone booth, even for the 30 seconds of beaming.

Thinking like this is actually phys comp, to me: you're considering how a person's activities affect how their computing devices operate. I would be happy to see a well-thought-out system like this over any ten flying robot projects. Not that I am opposed to flying robots, but physical computing isn't all glitz and flash. In fact, to me, some of the most satisfying work in the area is some of the most understated.

Likewise the wifi vending machine -- it's phys comp in that you have to consider the physical setting first and foremost, and make the transaction work in well with the person's activities, social situation, etc. Rather than make the person wait for the network transaction, you figure out where there are places in the person's routine that the transactions can happen.

Hope this is useful, and as I say, happy to talk more.

------ Forwarded Message
From: Dennis Crowley (
Date: Friday, March 14, 2003, at 12:19
To: Tom Igoe (
Subject: networked objects midterm paper

Tom -

Here's my final project update: I have no idea what i'm going to build.

I was all into the idea of building ambient meters (just like your fan) until i saw how and MSFT Spot are already creating super slick apps.

I've been thinking about expanding the SMS stuff a little more, working on the Java tools that will allow you to send a text message to an object to get it to react in a certain way, but I'm not really that passionate about building anything of the sort.

I've been working recently (er, researching) how to bring back an old cityguide-via-pager service called Modo (I mentioned this in my Smart Mobs write up), but that's more coordinating and smooth talking people than phys.comping anything.

I've also been thinking a lot about what Yury/Mark/Ahmi we working on (and perhaps are still working on) in terms of physical objects that are broadcasting content that is only available when you are within range of that specific object (are you familiar w/ Ahmi/Mark/Yury's Pooh bear concept). I've been thinking of specing a wi-fi vending machine for music, but again, that's not really p.comp.

Hmmm... I'm kind of frustrated that I haven't been hit with more inspiration, but perhaps that will come this week. I just wanted to give you a head's up of where I am - in terms of thinking and building - just so I don't come across as "that guy without a final project idea"



------ Forwarded Message
From: Tom Igoe (
Date: Mon, 28 Apr 2003 00:33:48 -0400
To: Dennis Crowley (
Subject: networked objects midterm paper


A few thoughts on your midterm: one thing that's coming out in your paper, but not said overtly, is the idea that relative location might be more important than absolute. In other words, it doesn't necessarily matter where I am as much as what I'm near. And if what I'm near can identify me and talk to me, we have potential to do something interesting.

You touched on one way of going about this using RFID tags, but I think there are others you could consider. All of the communicator devices you're talking about -- pagers, cell phones, 802.11 enabled boom boxes -- have a unique ID to the infrastructure in which they work. Rather than adding on another form of identification, you might want to look into how to read that ID. For example, how do GSM phones identify themselves to the network? The ID is stored in the SIM card, and when the SIM's in the phone and the phone's on. The user is identified on the network. Is that ID something that another radio on the same network can request? I don't know, but it's worth finding out. IT might mean having to partner with a service provider, but since GSM is an open standard, the details are probably published and available.

Given your interest in wireless devices and your experience working with existing infrastructures, I suggest looking into the details further on any system you choose to use. Any time you can use a device the consumer already owns for another reason, you have greater potential for a wider audience, and a wider profit if that's of interest. Value-added services, right?

I think I mentioned this before, but here's the minimalist URL for Touch Tone Tours, who are implementing your cell phone walking tour idea: I'm hoping Steve will be able to make it to finals on Thursday.

As always, happy to talk about any of this more in office hours if it's of use or interest.

(c) 2003, dennis crowley