Cell Phone Camera Fazes Flasher

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By Robert MacMillan
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 30, 2005; 10:00 AM

I spend so much time knocking the obnoxious behavior of cell phone users that it's easy to forget that the phones themselves are good things.

In fact, more people should own cell phones, if for no other reason than safety. I write this even as I remind myself that I've filed more than one column shaking my head at the efforts of Walt Disney Co. and other corporations to market mobile communications devices to preadolescent children.

I don't necessarily object to the idea of children possessing phones, especially the kind that contain a maximum of three preprogrammed numbers for emergency contacts. Sure, the sight of kids walking down the street with phones glued to their ears is disconcerting for reasons still unclear to me, but I mostly object to the billion-dollar muscle of the advertising industry working overtime to push their product on preteens.

Leaving aside the insidious schemes of Madison Avenue, I'd like to share some cell-phone stories I dug up during the past several days that made me laugh rather than shake my head.

* A cell phone photo taken on an uptown R train on August 19 helped police identify a flasher who has been targeting women on the subway system, the New York Daily News reported. The suspect flashed train rider Thao Nguyen, who no doubt surprised him by snapping a picture of him in the act. More surprising still, perhaps, was the Daily News's Saturday front page, which showed off the photo to millions of readers.

The paper also carried Nguyen's story: "'I saw him massaging himself and then he unzipped and pulled it out. I thought, "I can't believe he's doing this in the middle of the day!"' The subway car was mostly empty and Nguyen felt nervous, so she pulled out her Samsung P777 cell phone, equipped with a 1.3 megapixel digital phone. 'I turned on the camera,' she said. 'He was still masturbating. I aimed it and quickly took the shot. As soon as I took it, he zipped up and got off the train.' Nguyen said she was disgusted by the incident and immediately reported it to a police officer at the 34th St. station. The next day she filled out an official complaint, and the following day a detective had her look at hundreds of photos of ex-cons. None of them was the culprit, but Nguyen wasn't about to give up. She posted the degenerate's photo on the Web sites Flickr and Craigslist, and bloggers began linking to her site."

The Daily News has since received tips on the suspect's identity, which it published in today's paper. Try riding the subway now, flasher man.

* Wired.com ran its own story on cell-phone photos doubling as a smoking gun. New York resident John Clennan, 23, discovered that someone stole his handset from his unlocked car while he was working the night shift at a convenience store: "Because the camera phone can only hold a limited number of images, Sprint lets subscribers upload photos from the device to a web account. 'I decided to go and check out the web space and see if there were any pictures uploaded to it, and he had taken almost 40 pictures and five movies and uploaded them all,' says Clennan. Most of the images show the same young man, flexing for the camera in various states of dress, kissing a young woman, posing with apparent friends and family members, and generally having a good time with a new toy. When Clennan checked the account's e-mail outbox, he found the new owner had forwarded some of the photos to a particular Yahoo e-mail account."

Clennan posted a note with some of the photos on a Long Island Web board. Most have been taken down, but the Suffolk County police force has copies.

* Seattle-Tacoma International Airport is considering an expansion of its "cell-phone lot," a parking lot where drivers waiting to pick up curbside arrivals can hang out for up to 30 minutes instead of having to circle the airport. The Seattle Times reported: "'We're kind of a victim of our own success,' said Michael Civitelli, operations manager at the airport. 'The lot is always full. It's used around the clock. We've come to the conclusion that it's too small and we need to do things to make it permanent.' ... Sea-Tac joins several other airports that have cellphone lots, including those in Phoenix and Philadelphia. Airport officials don't know how the lot has affected airport congestion. But they say a driver picking up someone at the airport circles the airport drive two to four times, so if 20 cars are idled in the waiting lot, that potentially eliminates 80 drives around the airport."

As someone who could earn substantial supplemental income picking up and dropping people off at airports, I can say without reservation that such parking lots are the best cell-phone accessory I can think of.

Somethin' Stupid

Don't forget, folks, the fun doesn't last much longer. As of Friday, Random Access turns into a pumpkin and you won't have old MacMillan to kick around anymore. That means it will be up to you to band together to share your stories of how cell phone yakkers have managed to accelerate the decline of world civilization.


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© 2005 The Washington Post Company

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