July 20, 2014

Apollo 11 moon landing anniversary

Filed under: History, Space, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:42

The first men walked on the moon on this day in 1969:

Astronaut Buzz Aldrin, lunar module pilot, stands on the surface of the moon near the leg of the lunar module, Eagle, during the Apollo 11 moonwalk. Astronaut Neil Armstrong, mission commander, took this photograph with a 70mm lunar surface camera. While Armstrong and Aldrin descended in the lunar module to explore the Sea of Tranquility, astronaut Michael Collins, command module pilot, remained in lunar orbit with the Command and Service Module, Columbia. *This is the actual photograph as exposed on the moon by Armstrong. He held the camera slightly rotated so that the camera frame did not include the top of Aldrin's portable life support system ("backpack"). A communications antenna mounted on top of the backpack is also cut off in this picture. When the image was released to the public, it was rotated clockwise to restore the astronaut to vertical for a more harmonious composition, and a black area was added above his head to recreate the missing black lunar "sky". The edited version is the one most commonly reproduced and known to the public, but the original version, above, is the authentic exposure.

Astronaut Buzz Aldrin, lunar module pilot, stands on the surface of the moon near the leg of the lunar module, Eagle, during the Apollo 11 moonwalk. Astronaut Neil Armstrong, mission commander, took this photograph with a 70mm lunar surface camera. While Armstrong and Aldrin descended in the lunar module to explore the Sea of Tranquility, astronaut Michael Collins, command module pilot, remained in lunar orbit with the Command and Service Module, Columbia. *This is the actual photograph as exposed on the moon by Armstrong. He held the camera slightly rotated so that the camera frame did not include the top of Aldrin’s portable life support system (“backpack”). A communications antenna mounted on top of the backpack is also cut off in this picture. When the image was released to the public, it was rotated clockwise to restore the astronaut to vertical for a more harmonious composition, and a black area was added above his head to recreate the missing black lunar “sky”. The edited version is the one most commonly reproduced and known to the public, but the original version, above, is the authentic exposure.

I didn’t realize that almost all the Apollo 11 photographs of astronauts are of Buzz Aldrin. For some reason, Neil Armstrong appears in only a few of them, and The Atlantic‘s Rebecca Rosen wonders why:

Bootprint in lunar dust created and photographed by Buzz Aldrin for the boot penetration (soil mechanics) task during the Apollo 11 moon walk.

Bootprint in lunar dust created and photographed by Buzz Aldrin for the boot penetration (soil mechanics) task during the Apollo 11 moon walk.

If there is one thing everybody knows about Neil Armstrong, it is this: “One small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.” This quotation, in my mind at least, appears illustrated, conjuring the image above of an imprint left by a human boot upon the dusty lunar surface.

Except that’s not the first step, nor was it left by Armstrong. It’s a footprint made by Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon.


The explanation for this paucity is murky at best, prone to the uncharitable reading that Aldrin was getting “Armstrong back by taking no photographs of him on the Moon” in retribution for Armstrong getting the honor of first to set foot on the lunar surface.

But this is speculation at best. Aldrin, at least, has always said that the lapse was inadvertant, the result of Armstrong carrying the camera most of the time, a picture of Armstrong not appearing on the bucket list of things to do while on the moon, and Armstrong never stopping to ask for one. According to Aldrin, he was about to take a picture of Armstrong at the flag ceremony when President Nixon called, distracting them from the task.


Later, Aldrin expressed regret about the oversight. “When I got back and someone said, ‘There’s not any of Neil,’ I thought, ‘What in the hell can I do now?’ I felt so bad about that. And then to have somebody say that might have been intentional…. How do you come up with a nonconfrontational argument against that? I mean, that was just such a divisive observation, and Neil and I were never in the least divisive. We really were intimidated by the situation we found ourselves in on the Moon, hesitant and with an unclear idea of what to do next.”

Hansen’s book includes a handful of divergent opinions from different NASA administrators, theorizing as to how this, what Hansen calls “one of the minor tragedies of Apollo 11,” could have happened. Was it mere oversight or petty payback? Men sticking close to the plan or men sticking too close to the plan?

H/T to Colby Cosh:

May 12, 2014

New Zealand 4K timelapse

Filed under: Environment, Pacific — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:58

Published on 26 Apr 2014

Part I/IV of a timelapse series through the always changing landscapes of New Zealand. Shot over 4 month, travelling through amazing landscapes, sleeping under the stars, hiking on mountains and exploring remote roads. Locations in this video where at Fjordland NP, Mount Cook NP and Arthurs Pass NP, Mavora Lakes and Lake Ohau.

H/T to Roger Henry who said “A nice bit of promo work for NZ. [...] A little bit Arthur Clarkish in a couple of spots.”

Amazon gets a patent for a decades-old photographic technique

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Business, Government, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 06:42

Stephen Shankland provides another exhibit in the patent-system-is-broken case:

Amazon - Studio Arrangement patent

Photographers are hooting derisively at a patent Amazon won in 2014 for a photography lighting technique that’s been in use for decades, a patent that’s helped undermine the credibility of the patent system.

Amazon’s patent 8,676,045, granted in March and titled “Studio Arrangement,” describes a particular configuration of the photography subject in the foreground and a brightly lit white screen behind, an approach that “blows out” the background to cleanly isolate the subject.

It’s a fine idea, but not a novel invention, argued David Hobby, a professional photographer since 1988 who runs the Strobist site that for years has been a popular source of advice on flash photography. He used the approach himself as a staff photographer on his first job decades ago for a business publication.

March 18, 2014

Selfies are “this year’s droopy pants, backwards baseball caps, or visible piercings, as a shorthand for all that is wrong with today’s youth”

Filed under: Media, Politics — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:21

Nick Gillespie loves the Millennials. No, he really does:

That discomfort you’re sensing all around you? It’s the American Establishment loading its Depends diapers over the prospect of a younger generation that is turning its back on political parties and other zombified artifacts of our glorious past.

On the heels of the Pew Research report titled “Millennials in Adulthood,” two leading New York Times columnists have penned anxious articles sweating it out over the “The Self(ie) Generation” and “The Age of Individualism.”

“Millennials (defined by Pew as Americans ages 18 to 33) are drifting away from traditional institutions — political, religious and cultural,” muses Charles M. Blow, who sees a “a generation in which institutions are subordinate to the individual… This is not only the generation of the self; it’s the generation of the selfie.” Oh noes! And it’s only gonna get worse: “In the future,” worries Ross Douthat, “there will be only one ‘ism’ — Individualism — and its rule will never end. As for religion, it shall decline; as for marriage, it shall be postponed; as for ideologies, they shall be rejected; as for patriotism, it shall be abandoned; as for strangers, they shall be distrusted. Only pot, selfies and Facebook will abide.”

Does it strike anyone else as odd that selfies — clearly less the product of rising narcissism and more the product of the same awesome technology that empowers citizens to capture cops beating the shit of innocent people — have emerged as this year’s droopy pants, backwards baseball caps, or visible piercings, as a shorthand for all that is wrong with today’s youth? Getting bent out of shape over selfies may just be the ultimate #firstworldproblem.

March 17, 2014

Tokenism watch – PhD models

Filed under: Business, Media — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:06

Martha Gill is underwhelmed by Betabrand’s use of PhDs as runway clothing models:

‘Hey ladies, you might have PhDs, but really you all want to be models’

Is there no job you don’t need a ludicrous set of qualifications for nowadays? Clothing company PhD, in a fairly ill-defined attempt to, I don’t know, raise awareness or something, have hit upon a novel concept for a fashion shoot: recruiting only models with PhDs.

“Our designers cooked up a collection of smart fashions for spring, so why not display them on the bodies of women with really big brains?” founder Chris Lindland said in a statement. Supporters have greeted it as a feminist move, saying it helps to promote “different kinds of female role models”.

Hmmm. Does it? I’m really not so sure that it does.


I mean, I see what they’re trying to do. They are trying to broaden the public’s idea of models, make them more representative, and show that being intelligent is something to aspire to, too. They just haven’t managed to do this. In any way.

You see, what I think they’ve done here is confuse the term “role model” with “clothing model”. The drive to make models more “representative” (see also Dove’s “real women” campaign) is actually setting up modelling to be far more aspirational than it is. It takes as read that being a model is the pinnacle of feminine achievement, and all we need to do to make girls feel good about themselves is to tell them they, too, can all be models. Even if they’re PhD students.

But models are just models. Really, really, ridiculously good-looking people doing what, when it comes down to it, is a fairly crap job.

The photo chosen to accompany the article in the Telegraph is why I originally wrote “runway model” instead of “clothing model”. The photos in the Daily Mail taken from the Betabrand website are much less … ridiculous than the Telegraph implies. They’re just modelling ordinary clothing for ordinary women, not the weird and totally impractical stuff some clothing designers foist on their runway models at fashion shows.

Betabrand PhD model example

I’d say there’s no story here (despite blogging about it), but there is. It’s just not quite the drive-by that the Telegraph‘s photo editor wants it to be. Betabrand scored a lot of free advertising and (probably) got its clothing line modelled on the cheap as well. It’s rather amusing that the Daily Mail is significantly more realistic in their coverage of this story than the Telegraph.

March 6, 2014

Getty Images changes their licensing policy to allow more sharing

Filed under: Business, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:26

BBC News is reporting that Getty Images has made a huge swath of their photographs free to use for small websites and social media users:

Millions of images — including famous shots of Marilyn Monroe and Barack Obama — will now be available without cost to blogs and social media sites.

The photos will be “framed” with a code that links back to Getty’s website.

Getty said it had made the move after realising thousands of its images were being used without attribution.

“Our content was everywhere already,” said Craig Peters, a business development executive at the Seattle-based company.

“If you want to get a Getty image today, you can find it without a watermark very simply,” he added.

“The way you do that is you go to one of our customer sites and you right-click. Or you go to Google Image search or Bing Image Search and you get it there. And that’s what’s happening…”

I’m delighted to hear this, as one of the things I would like to do with my blog posts is include more images, but it’s often too difficult to locate photos that I am legally allowed to share without having to pay a licensing fee (this blog is a hobby and I earn no money from it). Here’s the wording from Getty’s website:

Embedded Viewer

Where enabled, you may embed Getty Images Content on a website, blog or social media platform using the embedded viewer (the “Embedded Viewer”). Not all Getty Images Content will be available for embedded use, and availability may change without notice. Getty Images reserves the right in its sole discretion to remove Getty Images Content from the Embedded Viewer. Upon request, you agree to take prompt action to stop using the Embedded Viewer and/or Getty Images Content. You may only use embedded Getty Images Content for editorial purposes (meaning relating to events that are newsworthy or of public interest). Embedded Getty Images Content may not be used: (a) for any commercial purpose (for example, in advertising, promotions or merchandising) or to suggest endorsement or sponsorship; (b) in violation of any stated restriction; (c) in a defamatory, pornographic or otherwise unlawful manner; or (d) outside of the context of the Embedded Viewer.

Getty Images (or third parties acting on its behalf) may collect data related to use of the Embedded Viewer and embedded Getty Images Content, and reserves the right to place advertisements in the Embedded Viewer or otherwise monetise its use without any compensation to you.

Here’s a totally unrelated photo embedded using Getty’s Embed Images tool:

SIMFEROPOL, UKRAINE – MARCH 05: A statue of Lenin is viewed in the Crimean city of Simferopol on March 5, 2014 in Simferopol, Ukraine. As the standoff between the Russian military and Ukrainian forces continues in Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula, world leaders are pushing for a diplomatic solution to the escalating situation. The United Nations reports that the poverty rate in Ukraine is now at around 25%, with a falling population in recent years due to both a low fertility rate and migration to other parts of Europe and America. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Searching the Getty Images site, not all search results provide images that are embeddable under the licensing terms, so this isn’t a “free for all” on everything Getty publishes, but it’s certainly a welcome change for even making a portion of their holdings available for legal sharing without charge.

February 25, 2014

Official launch of the Laurier Military History Archive

Filed under: Cancon, History, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:52

A post at the Laurier Centre for Military Strategic and Disarmament Studies website introduces a digitized collection of maps, unit diaries, and other Canadian military history artifacts:

The Laurier Military History Archive – www.lmharchive.ca – is a project that was initiated in the Summer of 2013 by the Laurier Centre for Military Strategic and Disarmament Studies (LCMSDS), at Wilfrid Laurier University (Waterloo, Ontario). It offers the public previously unavailable access to a variety of digitized materials from LCMSDS’ archival holdings, and will increasingly offer digitized materials in partnership with other archival institutions and private donors. At time of our official launch of the website we would like to draw your attention to three collections in particular which our dedicated volunteers have worked hard to make available to you.

The three featured collections are the Second World War Canadian Army Air Photos Collection, The George Lindsey Fonds, and The Canadian War Diaries of the Normandy Campaign Collection.

December 14, 2013

The death of photography … because too many people are taking too many photographs

Filed under: Media, Technology — Tags: — Nicholas Russon @ 14:00

The death of photography is at hand — even though more people took more photographs in 2013 than in the entire history of photography before this year* — because so many people are taking digital photographs. Or something…

But what does Olmos mean by saying photography is dying? He argues that in the 1850s the rise of photography made many painters, who had previously made nice livings from painting family portraits, redundant. Now it’s the turn of professional photographers to join the scrap heap. “Photographers are getting destroyed by the rise of iPhones. The photographers who used to make £1,000 for a weekend taking wedding pictures are the ones facing the squeeze. Increasingly we don’t need photographers — we can do just as well ourselves.”


But there’s a stronger reason that makes Olmos argue photography is dying. “The iPhone has a crap lens. You can take a beautiful picture on the iPhone and blow it up for a print and it looks terrible.”

But who needs prints in a paper-free world? “For me the print is the ultimate expression of photography,” he retorts. “When I do street photography courses, I get people to print pictures — often for the first time. The idea is to slow them down, to make them make — not just take — photographs.”

Guardian photographer Eamonn McCabe agrees: “At the risk of sounding like one of those bores defending vinyl over CDs, I think there’s a depth to a print you don’t get with digital.” He recently looked up an old print of a picture he took of novelist and Nobel Laureate Doris Lessing, who died last month. “It was a black and white print I took with a Hasselblad, a tripod and a lot of window. It took me back to the days when photography didn’t make people like me lazy.”

Why is digital lazy? “It’s a scattergun approach. You snap away thinking, ‘One of these shots will work’, rather than concentrate on capturing the image.”

McCabe used to take two rolls of 24 exposures on a typical assignment. “Now I can shoot 1,000 pictures in one of these sessions on digital — and I give myself a massive editing problem as a result. I don’t think photography’s dead, it’s just become lazy. People are taking lots of pictures but nobody’s looking at them.”

As to the first point Olmos makes … portrait art was a monopoly of the rich up to the 1700′s in most countries: hiring an artist to paint you or your family required 1%-style wealth. By the time photography came along, portraits had become a way for the nouveau riche to ostentatiously display their new wealth — portrait paintings now required 5% or 10% wealth (and there were probably more painters earning a living that way than back when it was a perq of the 1%).

There are lots and lots of photographers now, some of whom are genuinely great artists. Those people will probably still be in high demand, because great skill can’t be developed on a constant diet of selfies and food porn.

H/T to Radley Balko for the link.

* As is common with bold statements like this, I have no idea if this is actually true, but it’s “truthy” enough for this purpose.

November 18, 2013

Lifelogging in 30-second intervals

Filed under: Media, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 15:38

Jerry Brito is a sousveillance fan and he thinks you should be too:

The Narrative Clip is a digital camera about the size of a postage stamp that clips to one’s breast pocket or shirt collar and takes a photo every thirty seconds of whatever one’s seeing. The photos are uploaded to the cloud and can be accessed on demand with a smartphone app, making it easy to look up any moment in one’s life. When the project to mass-produce these cameras first hit Kickstarter, I knew I had to have one, and with any luck mine will be arriving in a couple of weeks.

The prospect of having a complete photographic record of my life is compelling for many reasons. I have a terrible memory, especially for faces, so it will be interesting to see if this device can help. There are also moments in life that would be great to relive, but that one can’t – or one doesn’t know one should – be photographing. Narrative’s Instagram feed has some good examples of these. But most importantly, I want to help hasten our inevitable sousveillance future.


Being monitored in everyday life has become inescapable. So, as David Brin points out in The Transparent Society, the question is not whether there should be pervasive monitoring, but who will have access to the data. Will it only be the powerful, who will use the information to control? Or will the rest of us also be able to watch back?

Ideally, perhaps, we would all be left alone to live private lives under no one’s gaze. Short of halting all technological progress, however, that ship has sailed. Mass surveillance is the inevitable result of smaller cameras and microphones, faster processors, and incredibly cheap storage. So if I can’t change that reality, I want to be able to watch back as well.

November 12, 2013

Contacting the Boston Police public affairs office is now considered “intimidation”

Filed under: Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:34

At Popehat, Ken White discusses the fascinating case of the public affairs office of the Boston Police department as a “victim” of “intimidation” from callers:

The story begins typically for Photography Is Not A Crime with a story about a Boston Police Department sergeant thuggishly assaulting a photographer recording a traffic stop. A PINAC fan and journalism student named Taylor Hardy called the Boston PD’s Bureau of Public Information on its public line to ask about the story. Hardy spoke with Angelene Richardson, a spokesperson for the Boston Police Department who provides information to the media and public. When Hardy published a recording of that call, the Boston Police Department arranged for him to be charged with wiretapping. Hardy claims that he informed Richardson that he was recording the call (though he did not successfully record that part of the conversation), apparently Richardson claims that he did not.

Even assuming that Hardy didn’t disclose that he was recording (and it would be foolish to take the BPD’s word on that), it’s very dubious policy for the government to charge a citizen with a crime for recording a call with a police department’s public information officer on the phone line the department identifies as its public information line. Any such communication can’t possibly be regarded as private. There may be constitutional problems with a wiretapping statute that allows prosecution of a citizen under those circumstances. But the BPP wasn’t done doubling down yet.

When Carlos Miller wrote about the wiretapping charges against Hardy, he encouraged readers to contact Richardson at her BDP telephone number and email address, which the BPD published online:

    Maybe we can call or email Richardson to persuade her to drop the charges against Hardy considering she should assume all her conversations with reporters are on the record unless otherwise stated.

In other words, Miller encouraged his readers to petition the government for a redress of grievances, as protected by the First Amendment.

The BPD has charged Miller with witness intimidation. The BPD also threatened any of Miller’s readers who contact the BPD:

    Detective Nick Moore also assured me he would do the same to any PINAC readers if they continue to contact departmental spokeswoman Angelene Richardson as they have been doing since yesterday.

    “I can go and get warrants for every person who called her,” he said during a telephone conversation earlier this evening. “It’s an annoyance. It’s an act of intimidation.”

Indeed — an act of intimidation is involved. But it’s an act of intimidation by the BPD, which is sending a clear message about how it will handle citizen dissent.

What a accomplishment: the Boston Police Department has discovered a way to make it a crime for citizens to contact the person it designates to talk to citizens.

August 24, 2013

It’s still August … media struggles to fill gaps between the ads

Filed under: Cancon, Media — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 12:16

In Maclean’s, Emily Senger goes after the biggest issue facing Canada today:

On Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s annual tours of the North, like the one he undertook this week, photographers know to be quick with their cameras whenever Harper mounts an ATV or gets down on the ground to fire a .303 Lee Enfield rifle. Whatever the photo opportunity, though, one thing is constant — the big, blaring CANADA brand frequently emblazoned across his chest or back.

The patriotic clothing line, from the Bay’s Olympic Collection, has become a staple for Harper at events where his go-to sport jacket and open-collar shirt are still too formal. During his 2011 election campaign, Harper wore the jacket for many a stump speech and to photo-ops, sporting it as he posed with preschoolers and bowled with seniors.

Apparently it’s now a big problem that the Prime Minister happens to like wearing a certain line of clothing. We’re back to our media’s sense of shame about anyone showing the slightest pride about Canada (see their collective whingeing about our Olympic teams, for example).

Then we’re treated to a quick review of how “proper” political leaders dress:

We don’t see U.S. President Barack Obama wearing a jacket emblazoned with a screaming bald eagle against a backdrop of stars and stripes (though, we wish he would). Instead, The U.S. president is known to clip a stars-and-stripes pin to his suit lapel. Likewise, U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron keeps his sartorial patriotism subtle, and has been spotted wearing Union Jack cufflinks.

See, rustic Canadians? Real leaders of real countries don’t need to advertise! You’re such yokels!

August 15, 2013

Letting the public share in public domain works of art

Filed under: Law, Media, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:54

Techdirt‘s Glyn Moody on the Getty’s recent innovation in allowing (relatively) unfettered access to public domain artwork in their collection:

Techdirt has published a number of posts that explore the issue of whether art organizations can stop people sharing images of works in their collections when the latter are indisputably in the public domain. Even if museums might be able to claim copyright in their “official” photographic images, the more important question is whether they ought to. The good news is that some institutions are beginning to realize that using copyright monopolies in this way contradicts their basic reason for existing — to share the joy of art. Here, for example, is a wonderful statement of that principle from the Getty Museum entitled “Open Content, An Idea Whose Time Has Come“:

    Today the Getty becomes an even more engaged digital citizen, one that shares its collections, research, and knowledge more openly than ever before. We’ve launched the Open Content Program to share, freely and without restriction, as many of the Getty’s digital resources as possible.

    The initial focus of the Open Content Program is to make available all images of public domain artworks in the Getty’s collections. Today we’ve taken a first step toward this goal by making roughly 4,600 high-resolution images of the Museum’s collection free to use, modify, and publish for any purpose.

    These are high-resolution, reproduction-quality images with embedded metadata, some over 100 megabytes in size. You can browse all available images here, or look for individual “download” links on the Getty Museum’s collection pages. As part of the download, we’ll ask for a very brief description of how you’re planning to use the image. We hope to learn that the images will serve a broad range of needs and projects.

As that makes clear, the scheme is not strictly “freely and without restriction” since you are asked for a description of what you plan to do with the image; there’s also a request that attribution be given. However, these are minor restrictions.

For example, the full-sized version of this photograph of the construction of the Forth bridge in Scotland is available for download:

Cantilevers Complete, 9th July 1889

Cantilevers Complete, 9th July 1889

This image is available for download, without charge, under the Getty’s Open Content Program.

John Fergus
Scottish, July 9, 1889


Scotland’s Forth Bridge bridge was built to carry the two tracks of the North British Railway one and a half miles over the Firth of Forth between South Queensferry and North Queensferry, a hundred and fifty feet above high tide. This photograph shows the gargantuan structure’s recently completed cantilevers reaching across the firth like outstretched arms. The presence of this mighty bridge drastically altered both the landscape and the lives of nearby residents.

Requiring 55,000 tons of steel, 640,000 cubic feet of granite, and 8,000,000 rivets, the Forth Bridge remains one of the safest bridges in use today. Having witnessed the worst train disaster up to that time in the late 1800s, the Scottish public demanded an exceptionally sound structure. An earlier bridge had swayed and collapsed in the wind, killing seventy-five passengers and crew members on a passing night train. As a result the frightened public needed-and got-a bridge that looked as though it could never tumble down.

May 31, 2013

Everyone is watching – the rise of “Little Brother”

Filed under: Law, Liberty, Media, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:56

In The New Yorker, Maria Bustillos talks about the ubiquity of non-government surveillance:

… the same technological advances that have empowered the rise of Big Brother have created another wrinkle in the story. We might call it the emergence of Little Brother: the ordinary citizen who by chance finds himself in a position to record events of great public import, and to share the results with the rest of us. This has become immeasurably easier and more likely with the near-ubiquitous proliferation of high-quality recording devices. (As I learned after publishing this, the term had been coined earlier, and Cory Doctorow used it in 2007 for his book of the same name.)

The era of Little Brother was perhaps inaugurated in November, 1963, with the Kodachrome II 8-mm. film of John F. Kennedy’s assassination inadvertently captured by the Dallas clothing manufacturer Abraham Zapruder. George Holliday’s videotape of the March, 1991, beating of Rodney King in Los Angeles, and Scott Prouty’s forty-seven-per-cent video, which arguably cost Mitt Romney the Presidency last year, fall into the same class.

There is a surprisingly rich and dynamic academic literature developing around the concept of “sousveillance,” a term coined by the University of Toronto professor and inventor Steve Mann to describe privately made recordings that can serve as a counterweight to institutional and government surveillance. Mann is famous for approaching these questions from the perspective of wearable computing, a field in which he is one of the earliest pioneers; his apparent eccentricity is belied by the gravity and lucidity of his writing, which is heavily influenced by Foucault’s views on panopticism:

    One way to challenge and problematize both surveillance and acquiescence to it is to resituate these technologies of control on individuals, offering panoptic technologies to help them observe those in authority. We call this inverse panopticon “sousveillance” from the French words for “sous” (below) and “veiller” to watch.

    Sousveillance is a form of “reflectionism,” a term invented by Mann (1998) for a philosophy and procedures of using technology to mirror and confront bureaucratic organizations. Reflectionism holds up the mirror and asks the question: “Do you like what you see?” If you do not, then you will know that other approaches by which we integrate society and technology must be considered.

H/T to Bruce Schneier for the link.

April 18, 2013

Neologism of the week: “Glassholes”

Filed under: Liberty, Media, Technology — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:06

Jason Perlow explains why Google Glass (or similar devices from other vendors) are inevitably going to be part of the future, and why many already refer to the users of such devices as “Glassholes”:

It could certainly be argued that whenever a new consumer technology enters society, those who are quick to adopt it are typically ridiculed by the have-nots. Eventually, many of these technologies become commonplace and are more accepted by the mainstream, particularly when they become more affordable.

This has pretty much always been the case, starting with the radio pager, then the cellular phone, text capable handsets, and then, of course, Bluetooth headsets, the smartphone and the tablet.

People who first used these things were once seen very much as elitist and not part of the mainstream, and they were considered disruptive.

To some extent, even with their popularity, they are still considered disruptive when used in various social contexts.

[. . .]

With Glass, because the device is being worn and there’s no indication of when it is being used, one has to assume that the wearer is recording everyone all of the time.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but I have serious issues with the notion that I could be recorded by everyone at any time.

Look, I am aware that law enforcement and government agencies have us under surveillance, and it’s not uncommon for people to be photographed and videoed hundreds of times per day, particularly if you live in a major city.

The growth of public surveillance has all kinds of civil liberties concerns, but it’s a done deal … you probably can’t avoid being recorded many times per day unless you stay at home with the blinds down (and turn off your cell phone, and avoid the internet, and …). The social and cultural issues around private surveillance will provide some fascinating legal wrangles in the very near future: where does my right to record (“lifelog”) all of my activities conflict with your right not to be so recorded? Will the concept of privacy be one of the first things jettisoned over the side?

Governments and law enforcement agencies will want maximum opportunity to use their surveillance tools — both for specific investigations and for general purpose Big Brothering — and if that means abandoning any pretense of protecting your privacy against invasion by non-government agencies, they’ll take it. They’re already 9/10ths of the way there as it is.

There are things you only say and do with close friends in confidence, others which may be revealed in private business meetings, et cetera. We all know and have seen what happens when supposedly “private” or unauthorized recordings are made behind closed doors and then leaked to the general public, either intentionally or accidentally.

It can cost someone their career. It can destroy one’s personal reputation. It will most certainly cause one strife with one’s friends and family. And as we have most recently seen, it can also cost you a Presidential Election.

He also discusses the possibility of social and technical controls to provide anti-lifelogging zones, which I strongly suspect will be simultaneously introduced almost immediately when Google Glass or similar technology is released to the public, and almost certainly more of a hassle for non-users of the technology for little or no actual benefit. It will be the usual politician’s syllogism: “Something must be done. This is something. Therefore we must do it.” As for the technical side, there is almost nothing more tempting to a certain kind of hacker than the technical equivalent of a “Do not touch” sign.

Obviously, for this type of anti-lifelogging tech to work, there has to be an agreed upon API or programmatic trigger signals that cannot easily be defeated by hackers.

But if it cannot be made to work, or if the effectiveness of the tech cannot be guaranteed, then I forsee situations where people will be forced to remove and surrender their devices in order to prevent the possibility of recording, as well as a change in our culture to be much more careful about what one says, even in very intimate situations.

And that is an Orwellian chilling effect that I think could be very harmful to the development of our society as a whole.

This chilling effect was evident in decades past in East Germany while the country was in fear of the ever-watching eyes and ears of the Stasi, which had perhaps the largest informant and surveillance network of any nation per capita in the Eastern Bloc during the Cold War, the USSR included.

April 9, 2013

Surveillance is only good when they do it to us, not vice-versa

Filed under: Government, Media, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:41

David Sirota on the blatant hypocrisy of Big Brother surveillance fans now objecting when they’re the targets of surveillance:

The Big Brother theory of surveillance goes something like this: pervasive snooping and monitoring shouldn’t frighten innocent people, it should only make lawbreakers nervous because they are the only ones with something to hide. Those who subscribe to this theory additionally argue that the widespread awareness of such surveillance creates a permanent preemptive deterrent to such lawbreaking ever happening in the first place.

I don’t personally agree that this logic is a convincing justification for the American Police State, and when I hear such arguments, I inevitably find myself confused by the contradiction of police-state proponents proposing to curtail freedom in order to protect it. But whether or not you subscribe to the police-state tautology, you have to admit there is more than a bit of hypocrisy at work when those who forward the Big Brother logic simultaneously insist such logic shouldn’t apply to them or the governmental agencies they oversee.

[. . .]

Yet, in now opposing the creation of an independent monitor to surveil, analyze and assess lawbreaking by police and municipal agencies after a wave of complaints about alleged crimes, Bloomberg and Kelly are crying foul. Somehow, they argue that their own Big Brother theory about surveillance supposedly stopping current crime and deterring future crime should not apply to municipal officials themselves.

This is where an Orwellian definition of “safety” comes in, for that’s at the heart of the Bloomberg/Kelly argument about oversight. Bloomberg insists that following other cities that have successfully created independent monitors “would be disastrous for public safety” in New York City. Likewise, the New York Daily News reports that “Kelly blasted the plan as a threat to public safety,” alleging that “another layer of so-called supervision or monitoring can ultimately make this city less safe.”

If this pabulum sounds familiar, that’s because you’ve been hearing this tired cliché ad nauseam since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Whether pushed by proponents of the Patriot Act, supporters of warrantless wiretapping, or backers of other laws that reduce governmental accountability, the idea is that any oversight of the state’s security apparatus undermines that apparatus’ ability to keep us safe because such oversight supposedly causes dangerous second-guessing. In “24″ terms, the theory is that oversight will make Jack Bauer overthink or hesitate during a crisis that requires split-second decisions — and hence, security will be compromised.

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