Nokiana: the one about the CIA, Syria, and the N95

Matt Kane resurfaced on Bristol‘s underscore mailing list  with this intriguing snippet, after some travels around the middle-east: ” … discovered N95s (not mine) cannot be taken into Syria”.

I asked for the backstory, which goes like this:

Quite a palaver. Got the train from Istanbul to Syria (amazing trip!). At the border they didn’t search the bags of “westerners” but asked us all to show our phones and cameras. They glanced at them all quickly, checking the brand (“Nikon, ok. SonyEricsson, ok”). One guy had an N95 and they led him off the train. His sister informed us that they’d said it wasn’t allowed in Syria, and that if she knew her brother he’d not give it up without a fight. Despite being on contract, he argued with them for an hour and a half, even calling the embassies in Damascus and Ankara. In the end he gave it up, with a promise that they’d send it on to the airport from where he was leaving. A few days later we’re chatting with a barman and spot his phone – an N95, and yes, he got it in Syria! A few days after that we found out the full story from our hotel owner in Damascus. Apparently the CIA gave a load of bugged N95s to high-ranking Kurdish officials in Iraq, many of which were then smuggled into Syria and given as gifts to various shady characters. After the Hezbollah guy was assassinated in Damascus a few months ago, the Syrians set about trying to root out spies, which led to this ban on bringing N95s into the country. Apparently.

This is the first I’ve heard of it, but searching throws up a few references to rigged N95s as “spy phones”.

Somewhat-unrelated aside: I don’t believe the relevant functionality is exposed in the N95’s widget APIs yet. I had trouble making it vibrate, let alone self-destruct after this message. But at least widget/gadget/app security is getting some attention lately. It can’t be too long before “spy widgets” on your phone become a real concern, particularly since the exposure of phone APIs to 3rd party apps is such a creative combination. I should be clear that AFAIK, Nokia’s N95 widget platform is free of such vulnerabilities currently, and any “spy phone” mischief so far has been achieved through other kinds of interference. But it does make me glad to see a Widgets 1.0: Digital Signature spec moving along at W3C…

Videos from SemanticCamp Paris 1

Spotted on the websemantique list, a Youtube playlist of videos from SemanticCamp Paris 1,  16 février. I think they’ve just had a second SemanticCamp already, but these five videos are from the earlier event. Lots of FOAF, RDFa etc.

 L’objectif du SemanticCamp Paris est de créer les conditions pour que les développeurs, les étudiants, les managers et les chercheurs se rencontrent sur le thème du Web Sémantique.

BBC joining OpenID Foundation

The BBC have joined the OpenID Foundation. See blog post from Jem Stone for details. He cautions people not to get excited and expect too much too soon. However I can’t help but see this as a very healthy thing when thinking about the medium-term usability issues around OpenID. Talking of which, does anyone have pointers to real-world usability testing of OpenID?

Un twine Web sémantique

Via the French-language websemantique list; a matching web-semantique Twine for those using the beta service. If you don’t have a Twine invite yet, drop me an email to Maybe this mail is redundant since French readers will be on the list already, as well as this post being in English. But it’s good to see what’s happening in other language communities, even if you can’t follow everything (I’ve just applied to join the Chinese SemWeb email lists too…).

QuASAR SW services validator

From Khalid Belhajjame on the public-semweb-lifesci list: the QuASAR project have shipped a validator tool for semantic web-service descriptions. An LGPL’d beta-version can be downloaded from the site.

The tool allows users to inspect for errors the semantic annotations of web services of their choice using two adequacy criteria.

I was wondering why this was announced to the SemWeb lifesciences group, but the homepage has an explanation:

Semantic annotations have been proposed as a means of providing richer information about the behaviour of Web services to potential users. Ontologies of terms used in a particular application domain, or by a particular community, can be associated with Web service components (e.g. as task descriptions for specific operations, or as richer typing information for specific input or output messages). Users familiar with that ontology can then use the annotations to search for suitable service implementations, or to determine whether the outputs of one service are suitable for use as inputs to another. For example, in the biological domain, a user might wish to convert a protein sequence into its equivalent gene sequence, and might therefore ask a service discovery engine for information on services which take protein sequences as input and return gene sequences as output.

See their site for more details and publications. The related ISPIDER project has more publications in this area.

Nearby in the Web: online video of an ISWC 2006 talk on related work.

Cult advertising

Well shame on YouTube, and presumably shame on UMG too. I was innocently going about my mullet-research business just now, watching a Billy Ray Cyrus on YouTube, when I get a big animated advert for the world’s most slicky advertised cult. It seems YouTube and the content owner have reached an understanding, since the video was posted to the universalmusicgroup channel. Whoever runs their ad targetting engine should think about exclusions for cults. I don’t want to see their culty fibs when I’m watching Billy Ray! Now if you want to read up on their pitch to be a religion, here’s the link. And here’s another.

Scientology advertising

So I’m wondering if UMG mind that their branded content is being used as inventory for a cult to advertise over…?

Open CellID databases

Via momolondon list: data dumps

The readme.txt file describes the tabular data structure (split into a cells, and a measures file).

I think the cells data is the one most folk will be interested in re-using. Table headings are:

# id,lat,lon,mcc,mnc,lac,cellid,range,nbSamples,created_at,updated_at
For example:
7,44.8802,-0.526878,208,10,18122,32951790,0,2,2008-03-31 15:22:22,2008-04-07 08:57:33

This could be RDFized using something similar to the (802.11-centric) Wireless Ontology. Perhaps even using lqraps