Needed: SpinachTracker 1.0

Opinion: Innovations should spring from a need, not vice versa.

Last week was noteworthy for new products and new technologies. The DemoFall conference lived up to its name by providing a stage for products ranging from mobile music devices to social network sites, and the MIT Emerging Technologies Conference introduced new technologies from the nanotech world to new computer security concepts. eWEEK covered both events, but it seems something is still missing: how these products and technologies get aligned with the real world. Thats why Im turning this column into a miniconference. Lets call it the first news-driven technology conference.

The first product we need onstage is a consumer-produce-tracking network. This one is driven by the 171 cases (at last count) of disease caused by spinach infected with E. coli bacteria. As near as I can tell, the system we now have in place for tracking infected produce consists of maybe a bar code and a lot of legwork. In an era of traceability and accountability, we seem unable to figure out, after years of outbreaks, how these dangerous bacteria are entering the food stream.


Do you want to read an e-mail from five years ago? No problem, we have that in our data warehouse. How about a phone bill from a few months ago? Phone records, as the current Hewlett-Packard scandal reveals, may be all too accessible. Do you want to know where that package of spinach you now hold in your hands was grown and harvested? No such luck. So Im keeping a place on our conference stage for SpinachTracker Version 1.0.

Next up is a presentation of our hair gel security system. While hair gel, once banned from airline carry-ons, is now making a reappearance in 3-ounce-or-smaller packages, something still is clearly askew with our transportation security network. We continue in a reactive mode. Someone discovered with explosives in his sneakers means everyones sneakers come off. The possibility of liquid explosives means all hair gels and toothpaste get tossed into the trash bin before a security screening. Missing is an overall security screening system that not only includes 3 ounces of hair gel but also can catch unchecked cargo containers, checked luggage and unlicensed long-haul trucks. Clearly a lot of work remains to be done here.


Lets give a round of applause for the "thin client for everyone" from Comcast, or some cable vendor or maybe a telecommunications company. I picked Comcast because the company has been cleaning up with its three-in-one billing plan for television, Internet broadband and digital voice for the home. But the security gurus are telling us that the digital bad guys are increasingly switching their attacks from data centers to the home, where they can take over a hapless consumers PC. Come on, Comcast, wheres that thin client tied to the cable modem where, for $10 a month, the consumer can surf the Web, type e-mail and store data on your network? You do the heavy lifting of keeping the digital bad guys at bay while we blissfully ignorant consumers surf the Web to our hearts content.

And finally on our stage is the answer to losing data by losing your laptop. The answer, so simple, was right there in front of us all the time: Lose your laptop first on purpose before you lose your laptop by mistake or theft. Up onstage are representatives from RIM, Nokia and Motorola to explain not only how their new handhelds are as good as any laptop (including keyboard, displays and data storage) but also—because they are part of the mobile phone network—how they can find, access and wipe clean any errant data before you can say, "I think I left my Nokia in the bar last night."

Well, thats the conclusion of this years conference. I hope you found the information worth the price of admission.

Editorial Director Eric Lundquist can be reached at