Originally published in the June 1998 issue of The Silicon Alley Reporter

I was recently in San Francisco for Java One and discovered something I absolutely didn’t expect: geeks really want to be as trendy as jocks were during their high school days.

What brought me to this realization was the kind of enthusiasm that surrounded the introduction of ibutton, a small embedded device (in the case of the show, the device was embedded on a class ring with a Java logo) that allows people to keep some basic information on their person at all times. The idea is that you wear a ring or watch containing data instead of weighing yourself down with yet another piece of hardware.

For the more technical folks among us, the ibutton ring (also referred to as the Java ring) is a chip with a high-speed, 8-bit microprocessor, 32kb of ROM, Gkb of non-volatile SRAME, a True Time clock, a high-speed math accelerator for 1024-bit public key encryption and a Java Virtual Machine.

What all of this means in non-techese is that you will be able to add and remove information on your ibutton without having to worry about getting somebody else’s because an identification number is encrypted directly on the ring. “The Crypto ibutton based on Java technology was developed to solve a fundamental problem with Internet commerce: no one can verify your identity,” explained Michael Bolan, vice president of product development for Dallas Semiconductors, the company that produces ibutton.

At Java One, every attendee was given a ring on which to store info about themselves, including their favorite coffee flavor. Every morning we used the rings for our daily cup of Joe (I won’t stoop so low as to make a Java pun here) without having to think twice about it (of course, I didn’t notice much difference between the four coffees at the show anyway). While this may seem like a frivolous application, the real excitement was over the fact that, for the first time, you could log into computer station or use Java based devices without having to type a user name and password (since they were built in into your ring. If anything, this could become the really hot application that makes network computing a reality.

At Java One, you would just walk over to a station and plug in your ring to identify yourself. Once that was done, you were free to do as you wished on the system, safe in the knowledge that you were on your own desktop. Other uses of ibutton technology include micro-transactions in Brazil and Turkey for parking and public transportation, medical bracelets embedded with the wearer’s medical history, mailboxes that can store information about when mail was last picked up (the US Postal Office commisioned a bunch of these so expect the ibutton to become the new fashion accessory on postal carriers) and electronic stamps (you can now send certified email lefters). “There’s one on every Ryder truck and in every US mailbox, one on every safe in every Taco Bell and KFC store,” Bolan said, exaggerating a touch. “One and a half million people in Istanbul use ther for bus and ferry fares.”

If you weren’t one of the lucky people to go to Java One and get a free Java ring as part of you package, you can still join the in-crowd by going to the ibutton site (www.ibutton.com) and shelling out $60 for it. And if you feel bold and want to develop an application that will run on it, order a connector from Dallas Semiconductors for $15 and get the development kit.

It won’t be as cool (read: won’t have the Java nor Sun logo on it), but you’ll still feel like a code jock, displaying your ring at parties and making other people jealous about the fact that even your jewelry is wired. Plus, you can subscribe to the Java ring mailing li sending a “subscribe JavaRing” [email protected] [email protected] Your dreams of belonging to a clique will finally be fulfilled.