Friday, May 30, 2008

Flying The Friendly Skies

From New Scientist Tech:

A prototype European system uses multiple cameras and "Big Brother" software to try and automatically detect terrorists or other dangers caused by passengers.

The European Union's Security of Aircraft in the Future European Environment (SAFEE) project uses a camera in every passenger's seat, with six wide-angle cameras to survey the aisles. Software then analyzes the footage to detect developing terrorist activity or "air-rage" incidents, by tracking passengers' facial expressions.

Other behaviors could include a person nervously touching their face, or sweating excessively. One such behavior won't trigger the system to alert the crew, only certain combinations of them.

Unfortunately, they cannot reveal specifically which behaviors were most likely to trigger the system. Much of the computer's ability to detect threats relies on sensitive information gleaned from security analysts in the intelligence community.

Read the full article here

The article talks about a study in which simulated attacks were thwarted using the CCTV. It would be interesting to see what facial expressions are considered "terrorist" facial expressions. Would this system work in America? As Americans, would we allow this level of personal intrusion for the sake of safety?

Wednesday, May 28, 2008


A group of self-described "electro-sensitives" in New Mexico say they are being discriminated against because public buildings such as libraries have Wi-Fi in them, and they claim that Wi-Fi makes them sick.

Arthur Firstenberg says he is highly sensitive to certain types of electric fields, including wireless Internet and cell phones. "I get chest pain and it doesn't go away right away," he said.

Firstenberg and dozens of other electro-sensitive people in Santa Fe claim that putting up Wi-Fi in public places is a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The city attorney is now checking to see if putting up Wi-Fi could be considered discrimination.

link to story here

What do you think? Are libraries and coffee shops discriminating against "electro-sensitives" by providing Wi-Fi access? Should we provide "dead-zones" to accommodate?

Monday, May 19, 2008

Another One Bites the Dust...

From Sabrina Jamil, via the Florida Student Philosophy Blog

President Bernie Machen has proposed that the University of Florida's Ph.D program in Philosophy, along with two other Arts/Letters Ph.D. programs, be eliminated in the face of the State of Florida's budget reductions. In truth, we agree with Dr. Ariew of USF when he states "I don't have all the figures, but Florida's canceling its Ph.D. in Philosophy will not result in great savings; it is a short-sighted and stupid move. Certainly it will result in a black mark for the "flagship" University in Florida." This decision is not only bad for the University of Florida, but sets a dangerous precedent that treats Philosophy programs as expendable or optional, rather than as a crucial component of any institution claiming to teach Liberal Arts. Sign this petition to show President Machen that this decision is not being taken lightly by the academic community of philosophers. We the undersigned request that President Machen keep the structure of the Philosophy Ph.D. program at the University of Florida intact.

signature goal: 5,000

You can sign the petition here

Friday, May 16, 2008

The wisdom of Johnny Rotten, part 1

On the big Rock acts of the 60's:

They came out of the ever-so-generous-and-love-everyone sixties and soon turned into the f***ing greedy, shifty little businessmen doing their utmost to stifle the opposition. The lot of them deserved the name dinosaur - too big, too pompous, elaborate, enormous, enormous amounts of equipment, only playing very large auditoriums or open air festivals. Music became as remote from the general public as you could possibly get. They became like little royal families unto themselves. They carted themselves around the country, waving to us occasionally. They bought immense houses, joined the stockbrokers belt and sent their kids to -private schools! See? The system! They became it. [John Lydon, No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs, p. 196.]

Perhaps the younger readers in the audience (is audience the right word for blog readers?) cannot envision the generation of which he speaks. We do not seem to have the rock royalty that we used to. Still, is the criticism fair? Did they become the system?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Playing the Building

David Byrne is perhaps best known as the frontman and songwriter of the new wave band Talking Heads. His newest project turns buildings into instruments.

According to Byrne, Playing the Building is a sound installation in which the infrastructure, the physical plant of the building, is converted into a giant musical instrument. Devices are attached to the building structure — to the metal beams and pillars, the heating pipes, the water pipes — and are used to make these things produce sound. The activations are of three types: wind, vibration, striking. The devices do not produce sound themselves, but they cause the building elements to vibrate, resonate and oscillate so that the building itself becomes a very large musical instrument.

"I'd like to say that in a small way it turns consumers into creative producers," Byrne explains on his official site, "but that might be a bit too much to claim. However, even if one doesn't play the thing, it points toward a less mediated kind of cultural experience. It might be an experience in which one begins to reexamine one's surroundings and to realize that culture -- of which sound and music are parts -- doesn't always have to be produced by professionals and packaged in a consumable form.

"I'm not suggesting people abandon musical instruments and start playing their cars and apartments," he adds, "but I do think the reign of music as a commodity made only by professionals might be winding down. The imminent demise of the large record companies as gatekeepers of the world's popular music is a good thing, for the most part."

In an interview with Anne Pasternak, curator of Playing the Building, Byrne explained his love of pop culture.

"That's partly due to my upbringing. I was taught that elitism is bad, and though I'm not sure I believe anymore that all bits of specialized knowledge or appreciation are bad, I realize this pushes me to democratize what I do. So I often make things out of low, or at least not luxe or precious, materials (like pop music, PowerPoint, an old organ, and empty buildings) that are accessible and approachable to all sorts of people."

Plato would have put David Byrne up for adoption.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Morgan Sparks [1917 -2008]

Yesterday, Morgan Sparks, best known as the Bell Labs researcher who invented the first practical transistor passed away. Without transistors, the digital revolution would be nothing but science fiction. Personal computers, ipods, and cell phones all rely upon transistors. You can read more about his life at PBS


Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Everything is Miscellaneous

Recently, I reviewed David Weinberger's new book for metapsychology online reviews. David Weinberger, a fellow at Harvard Law School's Berkman Center for the Internet & Society, has made a significant contribution to the emerging scholarship on the classification of knowledge. His principal thesis is that we must eradicate the idea that there's a best way to organize information. As a corollary, Weinberger believes we must rethink the relationship between organization and knowledge. His work is an intersection of history, philosophy, and digital information. You can check out his blog here.

Nelson Mandela: Terrorist (according to U.S.)

Previously on the blog, it was noted that the U.S. terrorist watch list will near 1 million by the end of the summer.

Recently, Nobel Peace Prize winner Nelson Mandela was flagged on U.S. terrorist watch lists and needs special permission to visit the USA. According to USA Today, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff says "common sense" suggests Mandela should be removed.

However, if "common sense" is the logic employed in removing Mandela shouldn't it also be employed in the decision to make 1 million people into terrorists? The hilarity of this situation is all too apparent: a man who spent his life bringing down Apartheid legislation that classified inhabitants and visitors into racial groups is denied access to a country that classifies inhabitants and visitors into terrorists and non-terrorists.