Self-regarding nonsense

Lisa, from the University of Technology, Sydney, writing in Design Arguments – Critical Judgements, comments on this blog in the context of a discussion on critical technique and design criticism. I’m flattered!

“In fact, this blog [Architectures of Control in Design] almost meets Baker’s definition of design criticism at its best – ‘fictive, vindictive, and improper’

(Note the link in the quote – S C Baker’s ‘Flying, stealing: Design’s improper criticism’, a 1997 article – only works if you have JSTOR access, which I don’t any more, so I can’t check it to see what it’s all about)

Policing Crowds: Privatizing Security

Policing Crowds logo

The Policing Crowds conference is taking place 24-25 June 2006 in Berlin, examining many aspects of controlling the public and increasing business involvement in this field – ‘crime control as industry’. Technologies designed specifically to permit control and monitoring of the public, such as CCTV and many RFID applications, will also be discussed.

The conference takes as its starting point the techniques and policies being used to control and monitor the massive crowds currently descended on German cities for the World Cup, but extends this view into the broader implications for future society:

“The global sports and media mega event is also a mega security show. Essential part of the event is the largest display of domestic security strength in Germany since 1945: More than 260,000 personnel drawn from the state police forces (220,000), the federal police (30,000), the secret services (an unknown number), private security companies (12,000) and the military (7,000) are guarding the World Cup. In addition, 323 foreign police officers vested with executive powers support the policing of train stations, air- and seaports and fan groups. The NATO assists with the airborne surveillance systems AWACS to control air space over host cities. On the ground Germany is suspending the Schengen Agreement and reinstating border checks during the World Cup to regulate the international flow of visitors. Tournament venues and their vicinity as well as “public viewing” locations in downtown areas are converted into high-security zones with access limited to registered persons and pacified crowds only. The overall effort is supported and mediated by sophisticated surveillance, information and communication technology: RFID chips in the World Cup tickets, mobile finger print scanners, extensive networks of CCTV surveillance, DNA samples preventively taken from alleged hooligans – huge amounts of personal data from ticket holders, staff, football supporters and the curious public are collected, processed and shared by the FIFA, the police and the secret services.

Studying the security architecture and strategies tested and implemented at the World Cup is more than focusing on an individual event. It is a looking into a prism which bundles and locally mediates global trends in contemporary policing and criminal policies. Thus, we have chosen the context of the World Cup to outline and discuss these trends in an international and comparative perspective.”

The sheer scale of this planned control is certainly enough to make one stop and think. It is, effectively, an entire system designed for the single purpose of controlling people within it.

If it’s possible during a major event, it’s possible all of the time. Not sure I want to be living near Heathrow come the 2012 Olympics in London.

Thanks, Jens.

‘Fair use, Xbox hacking, and how far will Linux users go to get a cheap PC?’

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, in ZDNet’s Hardware 2.0 blog, asks whether it is ‘ethical’ for users to install GNU/Linux on an Xbox, or in general, to use hardware they have bought in whatever way they wish.

“First, is it ethical to hack an Xbox or any other bit of commercial hardware? I’m not just talking about Microsoft hardware here… I’m thinking about the smaller fish that might have a good idea, but can’t make it viable to get it out of the door because their business model could be undermined by people circumventing any security they put in place.”

Other people’s failed business models should not be the concern of customers. If they’re buying the hardware, it’s up to them to do what they want with it. If customers want to do something with the hardware that the manufacturer has not anticipated, why not work with them?

“Put a free operating system into the ecosystem and it’s only a matter of time before users start looking for free (or nearly free) hardware to run it on. Problem is, it’s much easier to make a virtual product that’s free than it is to come up with free hardware.

While we’re on the subject of free operating systems (or free anything for that matter), it’s important to bear in mind that someone, somewhere, has paid for it, maybe not with money, but with their time or effort. There’s no such thing as a totally free lunch – someone, somewhere, always picks up the tab.”

This is especially naïve. It’s free as in speech, not necessarily free as in beer.

He then goes on to talk about how he “fears” that Nicholas Negroponte’s $100 Laptop may become popular in the west where it “is going to be attractive to a whole host of hackers and modders and could be used as the basis for countless projects.”

How is this bad? The more widely the system is adopted, and the more user knowedge and expertise that is generated and disseminated, the greater the network benefits for all involved, from kids in Cambodian vilages to kids in Cambridge, MA.

Indeed, a truly global, low-priced hardware system with a huge user base and huge knowledge base, modifying, improving and repurposing the hardware, including millions of users in developing countries right from the start, is surely something extremely desirable: truly the democracy of innovation.

The comments on the post contain some great analogies to help set the record straight.

Interesting quote from Ted Nelson

Just looking up something else, I stumbled across this quote from Ted Nelson. From ‘Ted’s ComParadigm in OneLiners’:

“A frying-pan is technology. All human artifacts are technology. But beware anybody who uses this term. Like “maturity” and “reality” and “progress”, the word “technology” has an agenda for your behavior: usually what is being referred to as “technology” is something that somebody wants you to submit to. “Technology” often implicitly refers to something you are expected to turn over to “the guys who understand it.”

This is actually almost always a political move. Somebody wants you to give certain things to them to design and decide. Perhaps you should, but perhaps not.”

Perhaps not, indeed.

‘Researchers develop prototype system to thwart unwanted video and still photography’

A boot stamping on a camera... forever. Yes, I know this is an SLR. But I was using the digital camera to take the photo!

Via Boing Boing, ‘Researchers develop prototype system to thwart unwanted video and still photography’, news from Georgia Tech of a system that scans and finds the CCDs of digital imaging equipment and shines bright light (or a laser) into them in order to flood them with light and prevent usable images being recorded.

“Commercial versions of the technology could be used to stymie unwanted use of video or still cameras. A Georgia Tech camera-neutralizing prototype could soon be used to stop movie piracy and other forms of unwanted digital-camera photography…

The prototype device, produced by a team in the Interactive and Intelligent Computing division of the Georgia Tech College of Computing (COC), uses off-the-shelf equipment — camera-mounted sensors, lighting equipment, a projector and a computer — to scan for, find and neutralize digital cameras. The system works by looking for the reflectivity and shape of the image-producing sensors used in digital cameras…

…the small-area product could prevent espionage photography in government buildings, industrial settings or trade shows. It could also be used in business settings — for instance, to stop amateur photography where shopping-mall-Santa pictures are being taken
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An interlock example

MG X-Power SV-R

It’s been a while since I posted about an architecture of control designed to assist/protect the user rather than to frustrate or intimidate, but just reading a great article about the MG SV-R supercar formerly produced by MG Sports & Racing*, a very simple interlock example (more discussion of interlocks and forcing functions here and here) was mentioned:

“So, behind the wheel… pressing the clutch all the way down (a US requirement to avoid starting in gear) the starter button brings the V8 to life….”

Can any US readers confirm if this really is a requirement for all manual gearbox cars – presumably because the dominance of automatics makes it more likely that a driver will accidentally start a manual car in gear?

I know in the UK quite a lot of people do, in practice, start manual cars with their foot on the clutch, often simultaneously putting the car into first gear while turning the ignition key, but never having been the owner of a car that didn’t need substantial warming up/choke adjustment to prevent it stalling as it pulled away, it’s not an automotive design issue I’d considered before!

*The UK registered design for the car has now been transferred to Nanjing, but it seems unlikely it will be reintroduced in its original form.