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Beyond the Mirror World, Surveillance and Capture

Beyond the Mirror World & Surveillance and Capture

Philip Agre is a former professor of information studies at UCLA. He wrote extensively about modern technology and privacy. His work Beyond the Mirror World presents a discussion of data collection and society’s privacy concerns.

Agre defines the mirror world as the world of data. Data is collected from the real world and stored in a database designed by a software engineer. The database contains a representation of the real world, storing characteristics determined by the designer. He points out that the distinction between data objects and the real-life things they represent is being blurred.

This mirror world constructed in a computer can be explored, possibly without the consent of the human beings associated with the being data collected. New strategies for protecting privacy must be developed. Keeping personally identifying information out of databases is critical. Pseudoidentifiers can be used instead, allowing businesses to function and privacy to be protected.

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Societies of Control and The Enduring Ephemeral

Societies of Control

Gilles Deleuze was a french philosopher who was friends with Michel Foucault, the philosopher who wrote about discipline and punishment in society. Deleuze expanded on Foucault’s work by describing a control society, a means of control that is the successor to a discipline society.

Foucault’s discipline society was based on physical enclosures such as prisons or schools, or the idealized Panopticon, with people being constantly monitored. In Deleuze’s control society, technology has allowed control to evolve from physical enclosures to one that provides a complex network of human interaction that is constantly monitored. People are free to interact with each other, but only by using the tools the network provides.

An example here is Facebook. We are free to use Facebook as we with but it is actually limited to the provided functionality and thoroughly monitored and analyzed. We cannot re-engineer Facebook as we wish and it is very hard or difficult to leave completely. Another example is our smartphones. We are always connected to the Internet and have access to massive amounts of information, but with a cost. Our phones are constantly collecting data based on our actions. The freedom is less free.

It is difficult or impossible to remove oneself from these mechanisms of control. It is not like removing oneself from a prison, where once a person leaves the prison the mechanism of control is no longer effective.

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Michel Foucault grew up as a self-described “juvenile delinquent” with a “bully” for a father who would sternly punish him. The frenchman grew up to be a philosopher and theorist who studied power and social control. In his work, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, he wrote about organizations that allow a small number of people to exert control over a large group.

The chapters starts with a description of plague quarantine rules in the 17th century. Families were confined to their homes and were rigorously monitored from the street by a single “syndic” who was in turn monitored by a “intendant” assigned to manage a quarter of the town. There were strict rules governing behavior with thorough monitoring and infractions punishable by death. The goal was to correct the abnormal (unhealthy) people and make them normal again.

This “perfectly governed” society is compared to a theoretical prison called a Panopticon. This cylindrical prison is built with all cells facing the center with a single prison warden in the middle monitoring everything about every prisoner. The prisoners are not able to communicate with each other or determine if the warden is monitoring them at any particular moment. The architecture of the building has the power over the prisoners incorporated its design.

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Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace

A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace was written by John Perry Barlow, a “Cyberlibertarian” and a founding member of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. He wrote this essay while at a party World Economic Forum in Davos in response to the Communications Decency Act of 1996. He was outraged that this law was passed and saw it as a threat to the sovereignty of the Internet from foreign powers.

The Communications Decency Act made it a crime for anyone to share “indecent material” to anyone under the age of 18. It was struck down a year later in a Supreme Court case Reno v. American Civil Liberties Union on the grounds that that law was unnecessarily broad and suppressed the speech of adults.

The Declaration rejects government of the Internet by any “outside force.” He argues that there is no consent of the governed to apply laws and that the Internet is developing its own governing forces. Internal problems will be solved by using a “Social Contract.” He cites government ignorance of Internet culture. Barrow claims that the Internet exists outside any country’s borders, outside “physical space.”

There are clear parallels with the United States’ Declaration of Independence. America was originally a colony of Great Britain, and the Internet was originally created by DARPA (USA). America and the Internet both grew apart from their creators and rejected their governance. Barrow clearly had this in mind when he wrote:

These increasingly hostile and colonial measures place us in the same position as those previous lovers of freedom and self-determination who had to reject the authorities of distant, uninformed powers.

Barrow does acknowledge government control over “our bodies” but he rejects control over “our minds.” No government has the authority to govern in cyberspace.

"The Medium is the Message," by Marshall McCluhan

Marshall McCluhan begins his 1964 book Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man with the paradoxical statement that “the medium is the message.” He argues that the specific content being communicated is less important than the medium through which people communicate.

He cites as an example, a simple light bulb. The light bulb is a medium without a message, but is overlooked as a communication medium because it “has no ‘content.’” If many light bulbs spell out a word, the word is the ‘content’ and becomes the focus of our attention. The light bulbs are the medium, even though the light bulbs haven’t changed.

This still seems paradoxical and unsatisfying. It is helpful to consider what he means when he uses the term “medium” and “message.”

He defines a “message” as “the change of scale or pace or pattern that it introduces into human affairs”. The message isn’t a set of facts or banal statements, it is an impact on human behavior and interaction.

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"As We May Think," by Vannevar Bush

Vannevar Bush was an American engineer and inventor who was head of the US Office of Scientific Research and Development during World War II. In this role he oversaw all of the military research and development, coordinating the activities of large numbers of scientists, engineers, and thinkers of his time to build weapons of war, including the Manhattan Project.

Before the war the scientists and engineers were often in competition with each other for new discoveries, or they were willing to collaborate but unable to find out about each other’s work and learn from other people’s ideas.

Because of the war, many people came together to work towards a common goal, leading to rapid advancements in many fields. Vannevar would have certainly realized the value of the increased collaboration and how much more can be accomplished when the previous barriers were removed.

In 1945, the War was coming to a close. In his essay As We May Think, Vannevar expressed his concerns that the productivity of the scientific and engineering communities would decline as the pre-war barriers returned. He wanted to see the collaboration continue, but for the betterment of humankind, not the pursuit of destruction.

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Networked Media

Networked Media, taught by Shawn Van Every.

Class blog posts:

Camera3D and 360 Video

A new version of Camera3D has been released!

Version 1.2 supports 360 videos. Here is an example:

In addition, I made some performance improvements using new tools found in Java 1.8. Processing 2.x is no longer supported.

More information available on the Camera-3D Camera-3D project page.

Lux Aeterna

I've spent the past few months learning Clint Mansell's Lux Aeterna, otherwise known as Requiem for a Dream. It's a piece I enjoy very much and have wanted to play since I found some videos of other people playing it on youtube.

I made a few small mistakes but they are hardly noticeable. It wasn't my best day for recording myself playing.

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Mostly complete keyboard (Part 4)

Now the keyboard is pretty much done. For real this time.

Refer to (part 1), (part 2), and (part 3) for the back-story.

I previously wrote that I was "almost done" but in reality I wasn't anywhere near complete. There were many bad solder joints, resulting in shorts and disconnections for many buttons and several shift registers. It was frustrating because I had no idea how to debug it.

Eventually I wrote some Arduino diagnostic code to help me identify the problems. I also read several books on Multimeters. And lots of time studying my soldering joints with a magnifying glass. It was tedious, but now the keyboard works pretty flawlessly. Although it is possible another problem will creep up later, I am confident I will be able to deal with it.

The circuitry is complete. A few minor tweaks to go: some buttons needed to be filed down to fit properly, and perhaps a few more need some work. The keyboard also doesn't have question mark or comma keys. I plan on using a laser cutter to make replacement buttons for the duplicate times and caret characters since they aren't as important. I will take care of it at ITP Camp this summer.

And this is me typing with it! It really works!!

Some photos:

I wrote my own Arduino code to run the Arduino board. My code properly handles multiple key presses and lets the operating system handle key repeats. There is also diagnostic code to blink the Arduino's built-in LED if there is a hardware problem with the shift registers.

I am very happy to have finished the circuitry for this custom keyboard. For a long time this project seemed hopeless. Nevertheless, I stuck with it and now it is clear I will actually finish it properly. The soldering iron that was setup on my kitchen table since August has finally been put away. I'll take it out again later, of course, but for a different project!

Next up, Raspberry Pi experiments.