Text messages take centre stage


Theatre fans can now sample one of the highlights of the Edinburgh Festival without leaving their armchair – or their seat on the bus.

Static, an new play at the Fringe Festival, features a unique extension to stage performances with an additional narrative told using mobile phone text messaging.

While theatre-goers see a story unfold on stage, subscribers to a messaging service can get a running commentary direct to their handsets.

Playwright Chris Thorpe writes the messages, a one-sided conversation from each of the characters’ on their separate lives.

Two characters from the stage production, identified simply as Male and Female, send short teaser pieces of text to subscribers at regular intervals during the production’s run.

Users can choose to subscribe to the narrative of the male or female characters.

Sample messages include “i’m on the bus. up 4 a pint later?” from Male – who writes in “test messagese”.

Female, who writes in English, comes up with lines like: “I was lying to myself. He died and I have to go on living. For now.”

Unlimited Theatre’s Alex Gammie told BBC News Online: “The play concerns a man in urban Britain coming to terms with an old love affair, and a woman involved in some hideous conflict in Europe, which could be Kosovo.

“We slowly build up an image of their separate lives which collide at the end when he turns on the TV, sees her on the screen and their eyes meet. It’s about how we digest news,” she said.

Creative potential

Test, a lottery-funded project based in Huddersfield, is providing the technology behind the play.

It aims to research the creative potential of digital technologies to provide access for arts groups and the local community.

“Technologies like SMS and WAP will have a massive effect on the way we communicate in public,” said the organisation’s artistic director, Matt Locke.

“It’s vital the cultural opportunities are explored – by artists and writers – as well as the commercial,” explained Matt Locke, artistic director of Test.

Although the messages are received by a wider “audience” of subscribers passively, the play extends the promise of interactive technology.

A similar idea would be having the Big Brother housemates sending comments on the show directly to your pocket or handbag.

Spoof television listings website TV Go Home had these ideas in mind for its fictitious programme, Text Message Theatre.

The adult humour site lists phone numbers for characters and includes the listing: “A cast of actors clutching mobile phones read lines and enact stage directions being sent in by viewers at home.”

Big Brother’s producers, Endemol, have recently bought a stake in the site’s creators, Zeppotron. So maybe we will all be taking part in Text Message Theatre soon.

Faster than a speeding phone


Soon your mobile phone might be able to help you avoid a speeding ticket.

A British company is working on a controversial service that will warn drivers when they are approaching speed cameras or roads monitored by police.

The service will use the location revealing abilities of mobile phones to keep track of where the users are.

But the plans could come to nothing as the UK Government prepares legislation to limit the use of technology that can help people get away with breaking the speed limit.

When fitted with special software, existing mobile phones can be used to locate the user to within 50 metres of their real position.

Future phones that use General Packet Radio Services (GPRS) or Universal Mobile Telecommunications Services (UMTS) can locate people to within 15 metres.

Initially the service will use SMS text messages to alert drivers when they are approaching a “hazard”.

But it will work best with GPRS and UMTS, which are “always on” because they send information around in the form of packets of data.

By early next year, Project Eagle will start warning people when they are at risk of being booked for speeding.

It plans to combine the location finding abilities of phones with a database of safety cameras and areas where motorists have been caught exceeding the limit.

The developers of Project Eagle are reluctant to reveal their identities because of the “questionable legality” of what they are proposing to do.

A spokesman for Project Eagle, who wished to remain anonymous, said: “Services we will develop range from the slightly controversial, to those which I think everyone will find useful.”

Project Eagle will also warn drivers when they are approaching schools, hospitals or nursing homes and should slow down.

Other services will include up to date accident and traffic reports to allow drivers to avoid congestion.

But it remains to be seen how long the service remains legal. A spokesman for the Association of Chief Police Officers said the Government was preparing legislation to limit the use of technology that could disrupt speed enforcement cameras.

It is already illegal to use jammers that stop the Police using radar guns to monitor motorists.

The Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions is now drawing up laws to outlaw devices that can spot speed cameras and warn motorists.

The laws are likely to come into force next year. It remains to be seen whether they stop mobile phones being used as warning devices.

But a spokesman for the AA said even if the service remains legal it would probably be of limited use.

“It is not going to be a failsafe device for the motorist,” he said. “The police are increasingly using mobile cameras so motorists are not always going to know where they are going to be.”

Hands-free mobiles given safety boost


Hands-free mobile phone kits can significantly reduce the effects on the brain, according to research.

The findings of the new Australian Consumers’ Association study contradict those of study carried out by the Consumers’ Association in the UK in April.

Hands-free kits – an earpiece and clip-on microphone – have been marketed as an alternative to holding the mobile close to the ear while making calls.

Sales increased in the wake of fears that electromagnetic radiation from the mobile could affect brain tissue. But the UK study suggested that instead of offering protection, some hands-free kits acted as aerials and tripled the amount of radiation reaching the brain.

The new Australian study found, however, that using hands-free kits can reduce the effects of electromagnetic radiation by more than 90%.

The Australian research focused on the thermal effects or specific absorption rate (SAR) of radio frequency radiation – a measure of its actual effects on brain tissue, whereas the earlier study simply looked at electromagnetic radiation levels.

Scientists studied the SAR in two leading digital phones and in one analogue phone. The study found that even without the hands-free kits, SARs from all three sets remained below Australian standards. But when they connected the hands-free kit, they recorded a significant drop in SAR levels.

However, further tests showed that if the phone was worn at the waist while in hands-free mode, the SAR recorded at the waist was higher.

The authors of the study said their findings should be treated with caution. “While our results would seem to be a ringing endorsement for using a hands-free kit, they should be viewed in the context of the contradictory findings of some similar studies,” they said.

Referring to the UK Consumer Association’s study, published in Which? magazine, the authors said the contradictory findings emphasised the need for further research. “While its methods have since attracted criticism and the basic recommendations of its study conflict with ours, its results emphasise the need for on-going study.”

The UK study measured electromagnetic field intensity, not SAR, in a specific part of the head.

The Australian Consumer Association urged users to keep calls on mobile phones as short as possible and to use an ordinary phone set whenever they can. They also recommended that users avoid body contact with the phone or aerial when making or receiving a call.

They said users should use a hands-free kit but should place the phone on a table or in their bag when taking a call.

The Consumers Association in the UK said Which? is carrying out further research into the safety of hands-free kits. Helen Parker, Editor of Which? said: “We stand by our test results into hands-free sets published earlier this year, and are continuing to test more equipment. Meanwhile, we want to see the Government fund more research into testing standards.”