Archive for November, 2006

Paranoia About Surveillance

Wednesday, November 29th, 2006

Paranoia about surveillance can lead one into some strange places. This User Friendly cartoon by Illiad shows this in a nicely humorous manner.

Big Brother is Listening to You

Monday, November 27th, 2006

In my EU and EPSRC-funded research work on the social and legal issues raised by automated processing of CCTV footage, I have naturally had to become something of an expert on the whole surveillance topic, in order to gain the correct context. During this, it was my understanding (based on both pubished work and discussions with law enforcement) that the police and other major CCTV operators were highly sceptical of the acceptability to the public of microphones, even where cameras are generally accepted in the UK. Of course there are places that are still beyond the pale for cameras, the most obvious being toilet facilities, even outside the cubicles.

It would appear that this reluctance to use microphones is not universal, however, and is even beginning to crumble in the UK.

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/newspaper/0,,176-2471987,00.html

There are some interesting rays of hope, however, in that even ultra-authoritarian Home Secretary David Blunkett, now a back bencher after a second resignation from ministerial office, has called these proposals an unacceptable move towards a surveillance society. Some commentators are playing the “hypocrite” card, but if Blunkett has had a conversion on the road to Damascus, then I’ll happily include him in the fight against too much surveillance.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/6186348.stm

regulation of waste materials from nanotechnology

Thursday, November 23rd, 2006

It doesn’t take much silver to kill household germs. That is why microscopically tiny particles of silver are showing up in all manner of products, from sneakers to air freshnerers. But just because they’re small doesn’t mean they’re not dangerous to the environment. A growing number of scientists and environmentalists are concerned about the impacts those nanoparticles have on bacteria, aquatic habitats and humans once the particles are flushed down the drain or end up in landfills. So the US Environmental Protection Agency has decided to regulate nanosilver.

it’s not easy being green

Monday, November 6th, 2006

It’s easy to suggest countries become greener in terms of energy, reduce consumption and increase renewable sources. It’s far more difficult to balance the environmental and economic costs with that shift. The BBC developed a simple energy calculator, which allows people to play UK politicians who have to “make the tough decisions needed to keep the UK’s lights on in 2020, while balancing environmental concerns and cost”

The energy calculator is very easy to use– it has a nice user interface and graphical output. It explains how the calculations are made, in case you want more information. Obviously the calculator is not meant to be an accurate model but to visualize the impacts of being green.

I tried it a number of times and each time exceed energy demand. This means that I’ve either picked the wrong career or I assume that I can get the public to reduce consumption a lot more than they will.

COP-13

Monday, November 6th, 2006

Just to remind you that the UN climate change conference starts today in Nairobi.

the world wakes up to geotags

Thursday, November 2nd, 2006

NYTimes discovers geotagging, although it does mention other sites besides flickr (Picasa, SmugMug‘s Edit Geography, and Trippermap).

While the article is behind the times, it still does a fairly good job of pointing out the problems of getting the x and y coordinates.

virtual 3D activists

Wednesday, November 1st, 2006

Sure there are activists using virtual tools to promote their social agendas (e.g., the use of Flash animation to address climate change). Also environmentalists and environmental scientists have constructed virtual worlds to promote ecological awareness about endangered habitats. These are instances of engaging the virtual world on behalf of the physical world.

There also is the the intrusion of the physical world into the virtual world. But are there any virtual activists advocating on behalf of their own virtual environments? For this I turned to Second Life, that giant of 3D virtual worlds.

An article on activism in Second Life Magazine examined the emergence of virtual 3D activism.

Hank Ramos, balloonist and resident since November of 2003 holds a one-man protest to decry the state of the Linden Balloon that no longer provides tours for new residents. A new campaign headquarters opens for U.S. Presidential Candidate John Kerry, and soon lawn-signs exhorting Kerry 2004 are spotted throughout Second Life. The first of a series of in-world town hall meetings convenes, held by Second Life luminary Khamon Fate, to discuss the future expansion of Linden Continent.

A more recent instance of online activism in a virtual world is Stand-up against poverty, which is a Second Life concert of the band Sugarcult and is co-sponsored by the United Nations (!).

The closest I could find to protection of the virtual environment was a report that version 4 of SimCity would build asphalt roads by default. Reportedly this has outraged (physical world) environmentalists, although I don’t believe the Sims themselves could agitate against the automatic road construction. So a warning to you inhabitants of Second Life and World of Warcraft, your habitats may be degrading and your cities may be choking with air pollution. Save your planets before your precious nature is lost and your endangered species become extinct! ;-)

But seriously…Simon at better humans worries that satisfying users’ urges with powerful technology offered by virtual worlds could dramatically reduce people’s incentive to change the real world. So I suppose that virtual 3D activism could inhibit an individual’s desire to transfer the skills gained from online advocacy to meat-environments. However, Zamboni in Second Life Magazine disagrees:

when asked if she thinks Second Life activism will have any affect on real world behavior, replied “it will allow for some Real Life discussion in Second Life — something that I haven’t found before. I would hope that this does serve to educate, and if it is indeed possible to change minds in Second Life, I will try!”

Your opinion?