AlgoMantra, b. 2005

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Monday, July 30, 2007
The Cellphabet: What next?
On Saturday we did the first public exhibit of Cellphabet 1.0 in Kala Ghoda, Mumbai. I walked for several hours and did three walking assignments -

1. Pratyush of Zee News whispered the word 'GOTCHA' in my ear. The walk worked fine for G and O, but then the tower signals got scrambled and GORG appeared from nowhere. I could only go next to a letter whose code began with '-'(minus) - so I asked Pratyush if I could walk Z, which went fine. So the assignment was only about 40% successful.

2. Next Abhay Sardesai of Art India asked me a question:"Where do the streets lead?" To this I wanted to respond by walking "MOON" but fearing that Gabriel (who was receiving the 'signals' by SMS) could get confused by the double 'O's, I decided to write 'MONEY'. MONE went fine and I got a freak 'L' instead of Y, which I did again. I'd say this is where I came closest to spelling my first word correctly in English.

3. I was too tired by this time, but the last question was asked by Jana of Time Out - "What is money". I wanted to write ART, but I gave up when AY appeared.

Officially my walk began at 2PM and concluded at about 7PM, but I had been walking to test the phone's software and cell tower signals since 11AM that day - so no wonder that my feet are still recovering. While I do that, you can head over to some of the pictures we took that day. I'll be uploading the source code on the PyS60 Applications wiki, the hall of fame.

The Cellphabet Wiki
is now online. You can also download the Python for S60 source code there.

1. The Cellphabet announcement
2. The Cellphabet Explained
Thursday, July 26, 2007
Cellphabet 1.0 on Saturday!

Do you know that 'someone' always knows where you are? Do you know that the mobile phone in your hand is always being watched by invisible eyes?

क्या आप् जानते हैं कि हर वक्त कुछ अद्रश्य नज़रें आपको देखती रहती हैं? आपके मोबाईल फ़ोन के ज़रिये..

In the 1982 film Namak Halal , Amitabh Bachchan famously declared: "I can talk in English, I can walk in English...because English is a very funny language." This statement is no more a metaphor since the Cellphabet 1.0 - a radical new system to convert the movement of a mobile phone into plain English text.

ऐसी ही मोबाईल फ़ोन प्रनाली का इस्तेमाल करके, डी जे फ़ेडरू प्रस्तुत करते हैं - सेलफ़ाबेट,हवा में शब्द् लिखने की एक अनूठी तकनीक!बगैर फ़ोन को हाथ लगाये!

The system will now be demonstrated publicly and all are invited to witness a first in history - a man walking to write an SMS text message, without touching his phone. As he walks, you play a game of words like no other...

चलिये हमारे साथ, और खेलिये एक नयी चाल...

Where: Kala Ghoda Art District's Parking Lot, Mumbai

When: 2PM, Saturday 28th of July 2007

DJ Fadereu(a.k.a. Rohit Gupta) (software)
Tara Chowdhry(documentator)
Angad Chowdhry (event manager)
Gabriel Greenberg (visual display)
Vickram Crishna

Live on the Web! The Cellphabet Twitter Feed

अधिक जानकारी के लिये सम्पर्क करें!For more information please contact: Gabriel Greenberg (09870181434), DJ Fadereu(09821424074) or email
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
Cellphabet 1.0: How I can walk in English!
I have devised a way to convert the movement of a mobile phone in a 150X150m area into plain English text - the Cellphabet।

मैंने मोबाइल फोन के एक छोटे इलाके में चलने फिरने की क्रिया को अंग्रेजी शब्दों में तब्दील करने की प्रणाली बनाई है!

Abstract: Let us say, I am standing at Kala Ghoda art district's parking lot in south Bombay. You walk up to me and whisper a word in my ear. Without touching my phone at all, I walk around for 30-40 minutes within the Kala Ghoda area. You can walk with me if you like to keep an eye. Soon enough, the word you gave me appears as a text message on your phone.

Description: At any given moment, a mobile phone is connected to a cell tower nearby. Each cell tower has it's unique ID which can be hacked from the phone (technical details below). In urban areas like Bombay, cell towers have a reach of 100-200 meters. There are thousands of such towers in the city. So as you walk on a road, or travel in your car, your phone is switching towers as it goes out of range from one, and enters the area of another. Towers often switch even if you are standing in one place, because your phone is always looking for a stronger signal.

My phone is a Nokia smartphone, that is - it is more like a computer that can be programmed. I used this functionality to write a program which does the following.

The main algorithm fingerprints various cellphone tower signals, and uses them to correctly identify three-four street corners near to each other. Now if you see in the picture above, it has labeled the area around the Kala Ghoda parking lot as a (*), the area near Jehangir art gallery as a (-), the area near Khyber restaurant as (0), and the area leading to Lion's Gate as (+). Each time I (that is, my phone) enters one of these areas, it adds a (+)(-)(*) or (0) to my 'path'. So as I tumble through this triangular shape I'm generating a trail of characters which looks like this:


It only looks like gibberish, because my phone will clean up the stars(*), pick up each remaining 3-bit block in this string and map it to it's 'meaning', which is a character of the English alphabet. For instance each block of '0++' would be converted to the letter 'h', '---' to 'e' and so on. The whole trail will be now understood as:

'0*+*+*-*-*-*0*-*-*0*-*-*-*-*0' = 'hello'

Technical: I'm using a Nokia N70 Music Edition, which is from the S60 series. I have developed the application using the Python API for S60.
Wednesday, July 18, 2007
The Countdown Begins

I'll be releasing my secret project within 7 days now, and it's not J.U.N.G.L.E. as earlier planned. In the meantime, Clive Thompson@Wired finally came up with something that makes some sense of generation Twitter:

It's like proprioception, your body's ability to know where your limbs are. That subliminal sense of orientation is crucial for coordination: It keeps you from accidentally bumping into objects, and it makes possible amazing feats of balance and dexterity.

Twitter and other constant-contact media create social proprioception. They give a group of people a sense of itself, making possible weird, fascinating feats of coordination.

However, kind of coordination would require some kind of syntax or mark-up. Twitter is a chaotic, unstructured data, very difficult to 'mine' for meaningful objects.

In other random links, a variant of the esoteric prog-lang aptly called brainfuck is Piet, named after a famed Dutch painter.

MISC: The World's Tiniest PC's
I wonder why they haven't included the Nokia N70 ;)
Sunday, July 08, 2007
Rethinking cellphones
On the heels of the article about our work that appeared the Mumbai edition of the Hindustan Times, I was reading a piece that echoes my thoughts about mobile phones. Oh, before that - in the picture is Gabe and myself sitting at the Bandra bandstand amphitheatre in Bombay.

(Interesting thought: if VoIP over wifi took off in a big way, there would only be mobile phones. The GSM cellphone would become extinct.) The following was an exhilerating read, my goodness - I'm on target so far. The text below is nothing short of fascinating, because THIS IS WHAT I'M DOING.

Over to The Telephone Repair Handbook by Mark Pesce with Angus Fraser:

Why is the mobile telephone so underutilized? Once again, we see the vestigial behavior of analog fixed-line telephony. Fixed-line telephones did nothing until the network sent a call to the handset, or until the user picked up the handset to make a call. The duty cycle for the fixed-line telephone was entirely driven by users, as the only actors within the network. This basic assumption drives the design of mobile telephones: the devices are essentially passive, waiting to be activated by the network or the user. But why should this be? There’s no essential purpose served by such passivity – far from it. But the mobile telephone has been cursed by its ancestry, and this curse has kept it from reaching its full potential. This is the most important thing we must unlearn, if we are to repair the telephone.The mobile telephone is only a passive device because we have designed it so.

We believe it a necessary precondition for telephone repair that we treat the mobile telephone as an entirely active device, a network terminal which has been designed from its outset to facilitate management of and communication with the social network of its owner-user. The mobile telephone is already the de facto device for digital social network management; voice calls and text messaging are arguably the most significant components of the electronic communication within our social networks. The ephemeral nature of synchronous voice communication and asynchronous text messages means that these informational transactions are not captured by existing digital social networks, which, in turn, means that we unconsciously underestimate their importance, because they are not counted (except on our monthly bills), and are not tracked, except within the mobile handset. If we transform the mobile telephone into an active device, and design it to be conscious of the electronic communication which takes place through it and around it, we have a device which can gather a wealth of data – a “data shadow” – from which we can build emergent models of a dynamic digital social network. The mobile telephone is the only device which is well-suited to the task of feeding our ever-hungry digital social networks; it is the only device capable of recording our lives as they are lived. The mobile telephone should be fully realized as an active device which takes note of our digital social interactions, using this information to assist us in improving the quality of these interactions.