culminate // 2006

This’ll probably be my last post of 2006, so I’d like to thank everyone who’s read the blog (and commented, or suggested stories) over the year. 2006 has seen this blog, and the awareness of the ‘architectures of control’ concept, grow substantially – it’s pleasing to have so many regular readers and contributors, if a little more daunting. My apologies to everyone who’s been in touch to whom I still haven’t replied or whom I haven’t acknowledged on the blog. I will endeavour to do so soon.

Personally, the year has also been interesting and productive: I’ve gradually established myself as a freelance designer/engineer, worked for some fascinating clients on great projects, won an award, filed a patent application, met (and corresponded with) some fantastic people, and start 2007 with an especially intriguing design project in hand and more on the horizon.

I’ve also learned a lot about working on your own, and the discipline needed to be productive when you have no boss looking over your shoulder all day. A few years ago I told myself that “two projects at once” is the limit of what I can realistically handle (concentrate on one, and when you reach an impasse, you can switch to the other, and vice versa), but I tried to break that rule too often this year, hence the slow progress of projects such as British Petrol Stations and The Unquiet Survivor. (There will be progress in 2007, but no amount of Getting Things Done will actually increase the number of productive hours in the day.)

Going back to the ‘architectures of control’ research, I’ve spoken twice at Speakers’ Corner about the subject (at Copyfighters’ events – see photo below), and have just submitted a detailed book proposal to a major technology publisher. And, to top off a great year of progress with the blog, it has just been accepted into the 9rules network, a vibrant community of blogs on many subjects. As this blog’s coverage and diversity expands, I hope I can live up to readers’ expectations.

Finally I should thank my girlfriend Harriet, flatmate Adam and my family for supporting and helping me progress in 2006.

Best wishes for 2007

Dan Lockton

Image from Flickr 'copyfighters' group
I don’t always look like this! Image from the “London Copyfighters” group on Flickr.

Digital control round-up

Digital architectures of control

Some developments in – and commentary on – digital architectures of control to end 2006:

  • Peter Gutmann’s ‘A Cost Analysis of Windows Vista Content Protection’ (via Bruce Schneier) looks very lucidly at the effects that Vista’s DRM and measures to ‘protect’ content will have – on users themselves, and knock-on effects elsewhere. The more one reads, the more astonishing this whole affair is:

    Possibly for the first time ever, computer design is being dictated not by electronic design rules, physical layout requirements, and thermal issues, but by the wishes of the content industry.

    Vista appears to be just about the worst consumer product of all time. However, unlike other discretionary purchases, consumers will have less of a choice: Vista will come with any PC you buy from a major store, and all the hardware manufacturers will have to pass on the extra costs and complexity required to customers, whether or not they intend to use that hardware with Vista. When critical military and healthcare systems start to be run on Vista, we’ll all end up paying.

    As Peter puts it:

    The Vista Content Protection specification could very well constitute the longest suicide note in history

  • In a similar vein, the ‘format wars’ over high-definition video appear to have descended into a farce:

    Basically, what we have is a series of anti-consumer DRM infections masquerading as nothing in particular. They bring only net negatives to anyone dumb enough to pay money for them, and everything is better than these offerings. They sell in spite of the features they tout, not because of them.

    And, of course, HD-DVD encryption has already been “(partially) cracked” as Uninnovate puts it, with that decryption effort being triggered directly as a result of consumer frustration with incompatibility:

    I just bought a HD-DVD drive to plug on my PC, and a HD movie, cool! But when I realized the 2 software players on Windows don’t allowed me to play the movie at all, because my video card is not HDCP compliant and because I have a HD monitor plugged with DVI interface, I started to get mad… This is not what we can call “fair use”! So I decide to decrypt that movie.

  • “Consumers buy only 23 songs per iPod” – clearly, the vast majority of music on iPods and other portable music players has been acquired through CD-ripping or file-sharing, something which we all know, but which has been an elephant in the room for a long time when the industry is discussed (and remember that the Gowers’ Review has only just recommended that ripping CDs be legalised in the UK).

    Of course, Bill Gates also recommends ripping CDs (see also some great commentary from LilBambi on this).

    Andrew Kantor in USA Today has some pragmatic analysis of the situation:

    People want their music without restrictions, and too many legal downloads, like those from iTunes, come with restrictions. You can’t copy them to another player, or you’re limited to how often you can do it, or you have to jump through the hoops of burning your iTunes tracks to CD and re-ripping them to a more useful format… as cellphones with built-in MP3 players gain popularity, users will find themselves up against an entirely new set of usage restrictions. Some subscription services will delete the music from your player when you cancel your subscription.

    Buy a CD or use a program like eMule… and you have no restrictions. And that’s what people want.

    They don’t want to have to match their music store with their music player any more than they want to have to match their brands of gasoline with their brands of car. They want, in short, to be able to use today’s music the same ways they used yesterday’s: Any way they want.

    In fact, the industry’s been down this road before and hit a similar wall. In the first decades of the 20th century, the wax cylinders (and, later, 78rpm disks) on which music was recorded worked only with specific players. Industry attempts to monopolize the technology led only to poor sales.

  • Finally, Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer tells us that in 2007 the consumer will be “back in control”. It doesn’t mean much out of context, nor in the context he used it in fact, but it looks like Doublespeak is alive and well.
  • Limiting frequency of cigarette use

    Nicostopper - image from Nicostopper.com Nicostopper - image from Nicostopper.com
    Images from nicostopper.com and Popgadget

    Nicostopper is an electronic dispenser which holds up to 10 cigarettes, and releases them one at a time at programmed intervals, to help pace and restrict the smoker. The screen “will also flash “self-help” messages each time to make you feel guilty as well” (Popgadget). It’s styled fairly discreetly to look similar to a portable music player or phone – the resemblance is accentuated in the photo above right with the extended cigarette in the position of the aerial – presumably so the user will be more likely to feel at home using it in public and social situations.

    This is an interesting product, attempting to affect a user’s behaviour to reduce consumption rather than increase it as with so many other architectures of control. Indeed, smoking could well be seen as a battle between two attempts to control/influence users’ behaviour, with vast sums spent on advertising and methods both to promote the practice, and to encourage smokers to give up. We’ve looked before at cigarettes as a parasitic lock-in method, especially in the context of increasing nicotine levels to compound addiction*.

    Of course, a device such as Nicostopper does not stop the user asking a friend or someone else for a cigarette, nor indeed taking a full packet along in addition. The actual strength of control is fairly low. The user really must want to control his or her habit, and be determined to do so, otherwise there is no point in buying the device. Even the significant commitment shown by buying Nicostopper, and the expense of it, may help the user to take more control of the situation, and there’s also the factor that, as Uber Review puts it:

    If that doesn’t stop you from smoking at least you will have $300 less to spend on smokes after you pay for the device.

    I recently mentioned Lee Iacocca’s quote on rationalising major purchases – to the extent that spending $300 on a Nicostopper is a major purchase, this may increase its effectiveness, at least for the first few months, since the user feels guilty about spending $300 on the product, and is thus more committed actually to using it, even if only to justify it to friends and family. Like exercise bikes and home gym equipment abandoned a few months after Christmas, the Nicostopper may ultimately fail in a large percentage of users’ attempts to change their own behaviour, but will surely succeed in some cases.

    Interestingly, Ross Anderson comments, at Popgadget:

    I distinctly remember hearing, about 30 years ago, that the then Soviet ruler Leonid Brezhnev owned such a device that had been specially built to his specifications.

    This is confirmed here by John Negroponte

    He had a problem with his smoking. I remember he couldn’t control smoking either, he had a little machine, little cigarette box, with a timer on it that was only allowed to open every so many minutes, so that he wouldn’t smoke to many cigarettes.

    …and also in this Time story from 1971:

    Brezhnev customarily works late at the Kremlin, sometimes has difficulty sleeping without a sedative. To cut down on his smoking, he is trying a time-lock cigarette case (made in France, he thinks) which opens only after a preset number of minutes or hours has passed. “Yesterday,” Brezhnev told L’Humanité, “I smoked only 17 cigarettes.”

    Of course, simply having a smaller standard cigarette case with space for only a few cigarettes might have much the same effect as devices with timers, etc. As with packaging/serving sizes, the quantity which we expect to consume can be affected by the way it’s presented. Maybe smaller cigarettes – getting a little bit smaller each year – would have a gradual effect of lessening dependence on the chemical content of the product, but not on the physical addiction to picking up a cigarette, lighting it, etc.

    *As my brother commented, tobacco companies may increase the nicotine, but they don’t increase the tar: a parasite doesn’t want to kill its host.

    Some more architectures of control for traffic management

    Many of the ‘built environment’ examples discussed here over the last year-and-a-bit have been intended to control (or “manage”) traffic in some way, e.g to slow drivers down, force them to take an alternative route, or force them to stop. I thought it would be worth mentioning a couple of other methods, the rationales behind them, and some of the problems:

    Monmouth Thame
    Amersham Thaxted
    Top row: Monmouth, Monmouthshire and Thame, Oxfordshire; Bottom row: Amersham, Buckinghamshire and Thaxted, Essex. Images from the sites linked.

    Historical example: market places

    Mediæval market towns commonly had a wide market street, or square, with narrow entrances at the ends, to make it more difficult for animals to escape, and also easier to control when herding them in and out. It may not be immediately obvious from the above photos, but in each of these towns (as with many others where the old layout has been preserved), the market area was, and still is, laid out in this way. It may also have made it more difficult for a thief to escape, since with only a few exit ‘pinch points’, it would make him easier to spot.

    This is, of course, almost the opposite rationale to Baron Haussmann’s Paris, with its wide, straight boulevards which prevented effective barricading by revolutionaries and allowed clear lines-of-sight to fire on them.

    References: Thaxted at ‘Rural Roads’; History of Thame; Monmouth on Wikipedia.

    Pinch point with car overtaking cyclist Pinch point with car overtaking cyclist
    Stills from video clips of cars overtaking cyclists at pinch points, from the Cambridge Cycling Campaign website.

    Pinch points and other road narrowings

    In modern use, pinch points are often installed (along with centre hatching) to force drivers to slow down, usually in built-up areas or at the entrance to them, where there may also be a speed limit change. Sometimes they also force one stream of traffic to stop to allow the other priority, for example when crossing a narrow bridge. Sometimes there are built-out kerbs on both sides of the road; sometimes just a central island; sometimes all three. In general, they prevent drivers overtaking other cars by putting a physical obstruction in the way, even though otherwise it might be legal to overtake. (This is a built environment example of Lessig’s “Code is law” – regardless of what the law might permit or prohibit, it’s the way the system is coded which actually defines what behaviour is possible.)

    The problem is that – something which as a driver and a cyclist (and bike designer) I experience a lot – the sudden narrowing of the carriageway causes (forces) drivers to move towards the nearside. And if there’s a cyclist on the nearside, even cycling close to the kerb, he or she will suddenly have a driver passing very close, braking very hard, possibly clipping the bike or actually hitting it. It’s even worse if the kerb is built out as well, since the cyclist has to swerve out into the path of the traffic which may also be swerving in to avoid a central island. In cities such as Cambridge with a lot of cyclists and a lot of traffic, the pinch points are a major problem.

    A lot of injuries and deaths have been caused by this ‘safety’ measure. Someone very close to me was knocked off her bike and hurt after swerving onto the kerb to avoid a large truck bearing down on her as the driver tried to fit through a pinch point (similarly to the situation in the photo at the top of Howard Peel’s detailed assessment of pinch points at the Bike Zone). As with so many architectures of control, the designers of these layouts seem to view most users (both drivers and cyclists) as ‘enemies’ who need to be cajoled and coerced into behaving a certain way, without actually looking at what their needs are.

    The North Somerset Cycle Campaign’s article on “Good and bad practice” with pinch points shows a far superior layout, for both drives and cyclists (photo reproduced below), from the Netherlands – cycles and cars are kept apart, neither cyclist nor driver is forced to deviate from his/her path, but drivers must give negotiate priority with their oncoming counterparts.

    Pinch point in the Netherlands Astonishingly dangerous hatching in Devon
    Left: A better pinch point implementation from the Netherlands – image from the North Somerset Cycle Campaign; Right: A very dangerous (and ridiculous) real-world example of hatching-with-obstacles from Devon – image from Richie Graham, discussed in this thread on SABRE

    Looking further at centre hatching, this too often causes drivers to pass much too close when overtaking cyclists, since (in the UK), most drivers are reluctant to enter it to overtake even though (with broken lines along the side) they are legally entitled to do so. The reluctance may come from ignorance of the law, but in many cases it is often because there may suddenly be a central concrete island in the middle with no warning. (This is certainly why I’m very careful when using the hatched area to overtake.) Again, this is a de facto imposition of regulation without a legal mechanism enforcing it. As Peter Edwardson puts it:

    Two reasons are normally advanced to justify hatched areas, neither of which is entirely convincing. The first is that they separate streams of traffic, but how many head-on collisions occur on single carriageway roads anyway, and surely in the vast majority of cases they involve a driver who has recklessly crossed the white line. The second is that they slow traffic down, which may be true to a limited extent, but again is of no value unless it reduces accidents at the same time…

    However, I have recently seen a document from the Highways Agency… that stated clearly that one of the aims of hatched areas was to “deter overtaking”. They daren’t go so far as to actually ban it on straight stretches of road by painting double white lines (although no doubt that will come) but instead they put in confusing paint schemes that have the practical effect of doing just that.

    There is of course one entirely sound and legitimate reason for painting hatched areas on the road, to provide a refuge for vehicles turning right, something that in the past has been a major factor in accidents. However such areas should only extend at most for a hundred yards or so on either side of the right turn, and should not be used as an excuse to paint a wide hatched area for a long distance.

    In the case of the astonishing (to a UK driver’s eyes) implementation of hatching on the A39 (soon to be A361) Barnstaple southern bypass in Devon – the right-hand photo above – actual bollards have been embedded in the road surface to ‘enforce’ a de facto ‘no overtaking’ intention, though the hatching area actually makes it perfectly legal to overtake. (It makes it worse that the reflectors on the bollards are the wrong colour as well.) Motorcyclists could overtake by weaving between the bollards into the hatched area, but this wouldn’t be especially easy or safe. It would certainly be more dangerous than the alternative situation of wider lanes with no hatching and no bollards. So what’s the point of the scheme?

    Shared space at Seven Dials, London Shared space at Seven Dials, London
    A Shared Space implementation at Seven Dials in central London, by Hamilton-Baillie Associates

    Psychological techniques

    We’ve looked before at ‘Shared Space’, ‘naked roads’ and other ‘psychological techniques’ to encourage drivers to be more alert, but Mike Morris sends me a link to this Spiegel story going into more detail and discussing Europe-wide pilot projects:

    The utopia has already become a reality in Makkinga, in the Dutch province of Western Frisia. A sign by the entrance to the small town (population 1,000) reads “Verkeersbordvrij” — “free of traffic signs.” Cars bumble unhurriedly over precision-trimmed granite cobblestones. Stop signs and direction signs are nowhere to be seen. There are neither parking meters nor stopping restrictions. There aren’t even any lines painted on the streets.

    “The many rules strip us of the most important thing: the ability to be considerate. We’re losing our capacity for socially responsible behavior,” says Dutch traffic guru Hans Monderman, one of the project’s co-founders. “The greater the number of prescriptions, the more people’s sense of personal responsibility dwindles.”

    About 70 percent of traffic signs are ignored by drivers. What’s more, the glut of prohibitions is tantamount to treating the driver like a child and it also foments resentment. He may stop in front of the crosswalk, but that only makes him feel justified in preventing pedestrians from crossing the street on every other occasion. Every traffic light baits him with the promise of making it over the crossing while the light is still yellow.

    The new traffic model’s advocates believe the only way out of this vicious circle is to give drivers more liberty and encourage them to take responsibility for themselves. They demand streets like those during the Middle Ages, when horse-drawn chariots, handcarts and people scurried about in a completely unregulated fashion.

    I think that’s the key to a lot of ‘control-versus-the-user’ debate. Allowing users to take responsibility for their own actions is encouraging them to think. Encouraging people to think is very rarely a bad thing.

    One of the simplest consequences of the shared space situations I’ve come across (whether deliberately planned implementations such as at Seven Dials, shown above, or just narrow old streets or village layouts where traffic and pedestrians have always mixed) is that drivers and pedestrians, and drivers and other drivers start to make eye contact with each other to determine who should have priority, or to determine each other’s intentions. Eye contact leads to empathy; empathy leads to respect for other types of road users; respect leads to better understanding of the situation and better handling of similar situations in future. Shared space forces all of us (pedestrians, cyclists and drivers) to try to understand what’s going on from others’ points of view. We learn to grok the situation. And that can’t be bad.

    Mike Dickin, the legendary British radio talk-show host who was very sadly killed earlier this week after a heart attack at the wheel, often made the point in his frequent discussions on motoring issues that there should be no need for speed limits in many villages, towns and cities, because in many cases the ‘natural’ limit imposed by pedestrians, other traffic, road layouts and so on, should be enough to slow drivers down to well below the imposed ‘safe’ limits of 20 or 30 mph which lull drivers into a false sense of safety. Of course, he was right, and of course, in most small villages this is still the way things are done, as they were centuries ago, and as Hans Monderman suggests in the above quote.

    The age of hyper-regulated behaviour, and treating the user (driver, cyclist, pedestrian) as an idiot incapable of thinking for him or herself, is largely coincident with the age of bureaucratic, centrally planned urban dystopia which sees individuals as components which must all perform identically for the system to operate. I would like to think we can move beyond that view of humanity.

    Back to the issue of psychological techniques for traffic management, Jim Lipsey left a comment a couple of months ago mentioning the use of progressively closer painted stripes across the road in Chicago to cause drivers to slow down on a dangerous curve:

    In a few weeks, dozens of new pavement stripes will be laid down. At first they’ll be 16-feet apart, but as drivers get closer to the curve, the stripes will only be eight feet apart. “They provide an optical illusion that vehicles are actually speeding up and that causes motorists to slow down, which is of course, the intended effect that we’re trying to have at that location.”

    The Chicago example appears to be using only the visual effect to provide the illusion, but a similar technique is often used with raised painted ‘rumble strips’ on the approach to junctions or roundabouts in other countries – e.g. in my (poor) photos below, on the A303 in Somerset, and clearly in this Google Maps image of Ottawa (via this thread).

    I remember reading a story once in which someone cycling along an avenue with regularly spaced trees, late one afternoon, had an epileptic fit (I think) as a result of the frequency of the shadow flicker on the road (this is clearly something considered by wind turbine planners [PDF]). Have there been any cases of epilepsy triggered by stripes painted on the road?

    Progressively closer rumble strips on the A303 in Somerset Progressively closer rumble strips on the A303 in Somerset
    Progressively closer rumble strips on the A303 in Somerset.

    Partial vs full feeds

    Fullfeeds.com website

    Fullfeeds.com is “a petition against intentionally disabled feeds”:

    Isn’t RSS about convenience? Wouldn’t you prefer to see entire texts in your feeds, rather than just summaries? Support the cause, sign the petition below.

    While I’ve signed the petition, I’m not sure to what extent partial feeds are really deliberately used to drive subscribers to view the full post in its original context (and hence see the advertising), which would imply similar reasoning to splitting up articles to increase page views and forcing users to click through multiple ad pages to reach the file they want to download.

    Certainly some bloggers will be using partial feeds for this reason, but equally, a lot of people who offer their feeds in a truncated format are perhaps doing so because their posts are longer/more involved and may seem ‘intimidating’ if displayed in full in a feed reader, especially if seen in a river of much shorter news items from other blogs – just as newspapers and magazines tend to have longer feature articles towards the middle and the second half, and shorter stories near the start.

    There may also be plenty of bloggers who have simply not thought about the effect offering only partial feeds has. I know that I’m much less likely to read a post which is truncated when I come across it in Bloglines, simply because I can’t immediately see how long the post is, and hence how many minutes I’ll need to allocate in order to read and understand it fully (that makes it sound like I otherwise plan my time well, which is not true!).

    So, although partial feeds can be an ‘architecture of control’ if used deliberately for forcing full views, I can’t believe that too many bloggers who actually use feed readers themselves would do it for that reason, because they must realise how annoying it can be.

    Kevin Gamble and Stuart Brown have some interesting thoughts on this.

    Projected images designed to scare an enemy

    The figure of the Martian devil looms over London: from Quatermass & The Pit, 1958
    The figure of a Martian devil looms over London*: from Quatermass & The Pit, 1958, written by the late Nigel Kneale

    A couple of years ago, after seeing a programme by Jon Ronson, I was reading about the First Earth Battalion and came across a link to an apparently real document, Nonlethal Weapons: Terms and References, edited by Robert J Bunker of the Institute for National Security Studies at the USAF Academy, Colorado. It’s available on the Memory Hole, here.

    Amid the various physical, physiological and psychological techniques described (some of which I’ll be looking at in later posts, as they’re pertinent to architectures of control), one section especially stood out – from page 15 of the document:

    K. Holograms. Hologram, Death: Hologram used to scare a target individual to death. Example, a drug lord with a weak heart sees the ghost of his dead rival appearing at his bedside and dies of fright. Hologram, Prophet: The projection of the image of an ancient god over an enemy capitol whose public communications have been seized and used against it in a massive psychological operation. Hologram, Soldier-forces: The projection of soldier-force images which make an opponent think more allied forces exist than actually do, make an opponent believe that allied forces are located in a region where none actually exist, and /or provide false targets for his weapons to fire upon. New concept developed in this document.

    Now, these are interesting techniques. I don’t know if ‘hologram’ is being used in the right way here, since these sound like simple projections, e.g. onto clouds (or maybe, in the case of the ‘ghost’ appearing next to the drug lord’s bedside, some kind of volumetric display). And whether such projections would really work in terms of scaring or misleading the enemy – who knows?

    Have they ever actually been used? Dummy tanks are a well-known way of deceiving an enemy, but would people be taken in by a “projection of the image of an ancient god”? How would they know that what they were seeing was the “ancient god”? If the image used were such a common representation that it was instantly recognisable, wouldn’t it seem obviously fake? Or would any giant figure looming over a city scare people sufficiently, whether or not they realised what it was supposed to represent? (It’s been suggested that the Angels of Mons, if they existed, may have been “images of angels that the Germans had projected onto the clouds at the outbreak of the battle in order to try and scare the troops on the opposite side…But apparently this idea had backfired, in that the troops had seen these images and believed them to be St George, Joan of Arc, actually leading them against the Germans.”)

    The projection of “soldier-force images” has more credibility. Odd atmospheric effects seem to be the explanation behind the various reflected “cities in the sky” that have occasionally been seen: taking this further, it is surely possible to create a mirage-like effect of a massed army to intimidate an enemy.

    So, outside of the military context, is there potential for this kind of false image to be used to manipulate and control the public? Not obviously, perhaps, but as the police in many countries become increasingly militarised in outlook (particularly in “security” situations), would the tactic of projecting images of massed officers (maybe with riot shields covering their faces, to make extensive detail less necessary) be considered? Cardboard cutout police cars are occasionally used to scare motorists, as are fake speed cameras (often placed by members of the public) and, of course, fake CCTV cameras.

    It also makes me wonder what the legality is of members of the public projecting images onto buildings, clouds, etc. Much of this so far has been done for promotional reasons – e.g. FHM‘s projection of Gail Porter onto the Houses of Parliament – or a technology college in Surrey, the day after A-level results:

    “While projection on to a building is not illegal as such, you will be asked to move on by the police because laser projection is viewed as a distraction to drivers and hence a hazard,” says Dominic Bean, formerly head of marketing and business Development at NESCOT. He used projections to promote North East Surrey College of Technology and found that the response from the authorities was far from harsh. “Policemen on Epsom Downs (ten miles away from the projection site) spotted our projection on to Tolworth Towers – near the A3 in Surrey,” says Bean. “It took them nearly 50 minutes to drive over and ask for the image to be removed. They were amazed to see it, and saw the ‘fun’ side.

    Guerrilla ‘photon bombing’ or ‘projection bombing’ clearly has a lot of potential for allowing members of the public, activists and counterculture groups to promote their messages, but so far doesn’t appear to have been used for truly subversive ends on a large scale. There is some very clever work going on in this field, such as Troika’s SMS Guerilla Projector, but imagine a politician’s press conference where giant images of his opponent or opposing slogans are projected behind him, or a televised sports event where logos of the sponsor’s rivals are projected (by someone in the crowd) onto the faces of players being shown in close-up. It may have already happened; if not, it won’t be long before it does.

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