Monday, May 25, 2009

Thoughts about the Panopticon

I finally got around to reading Joshua-Michéle Ross's three articles over on O'Reilly's Radar. Nice overview of the topics but I was hoping for somehing more in depth. The last one, The Digital Panopticon, gave me an idea.

While I do love the idea of location based services (I'm even writing one of my own), I'm beginning to wonder if there is a way to anonymize such a service so the end-user can have the benefits of LBS without giving up information to the Watchers. Ideas are welcome.

As an aside, Joshua-Michéle states:
In the age of social networks we find ourselves coming under a vast grid of surveillance - of permanent visibility. The routine self-reporting of what we are doing, reading, thinking via status updates makes our every action and location visible to the crowd. This visibility has a normative effect on behavior (in other words we conform our behavior and/or our speech about that behavior when we know we are being observed).
He doesn't take into account that we (some of us, at least) are not reporting all of our activities and locations. True, we may be few and far between, but we do exist.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

I loved this TED Talks about 10 things you didn't know about orgasm, mostly because I think Mary Roach is hot! :-)

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Last year's MP3 Experiment

With the latest NYC MP3 Experiment coming up next week, I thought this might be a good time to reminisce about my first experience with the MP3 Experiment from last year. So here's a write-up of last years activities. I'm really looking forward to this years!

Here are some pictures of last year's event.

Okay, if you followed my Twitter feed last Saturday (20080927), you have a pretty good idea how my Day In The city went and my thoughts on Governor's Island, dinner and girl-watching in Little Italy, and the Museum of Sex. What you don't know is what actually happened during the MP3 Experiment:NYC because I was busy doing the experiment. ImprovEverywhere will have film and commentary up on their site in a few weeks. Here's my experience with it all.

Background: We were told to show up at Governor's Island, just south of Manhattan, wearing a red, green, yellow, or blue t-shirt, bring an umbrella and a balloon. At precisely 3:15 PM, we were to push the play button on our MP3 players and do what the Voice of Steve told us.

I showed up about an hour early. The weather was warm, if misty/raining. After walking around awhile, I wasn't feeling too happy. Anyway, at 3 PM I head for the large field in the middle of the island, put in my earphones, checked the time on my cell phone, sent one last tweet, and waited. Fortunately, the weather started to cooperate; the sun hadn't come out but it did stop raining/misting. There were maybe 50 to 75 people scattered about the field which is a couple of acres large.

At precisely 3:15 PM, I pushed "play" and music played. And played. And played. I heard someone mention maybe they were just screwing with us and there was nothing but music on the MP3. After a minute, we heard The Voice Of Steve.

The Voice of Steve (which was obviously computer modulated but not computer generated) welcomed us to Governor's Island. After a few minutes of talk, Steve told us to stand and stretch. It was interesting watching the others; some were ten or even twenty seconds later than others. Along with not synchronizing properly, it turns out that MP3 players don't all play at the exact same rate.

After we stood and stretched, Steve had us point to NYC, then to our homes, then to Nicaragua. At this point, I saw some people point at the sky! Steve commented on our lack of geographical knowledge.

Steve then told us to look around for a person wearing a different color shirt (I was wearing green) and give them a big hug. The first person I saw was a large woman wearing blue, so I walked up to her and gave her a hug. And she hugged back. Hard!

Steve said to hug an inanimate object. Not being near a tree or anything, I hugged my umbrella. Then He said to hug an animal. Any animal would do: squirrel, goose, an ant. Unfortunately, I couldn't even find an ant to hug. :-(

Steve then declared we would have thumb wars! This cute little chick (she barely came up to my shoulders) in blue denim jacket and jeans was walking by so I grabbed her and we got into position. "One, two, three, four, I declare a thumb war!" boomed in our headsets and we started thumb wrestling! I easily one the first round. My opponent decided I wasn't going to win a second time; she put down her umbrella, got into a fighting stance and "One, two, three, four I declare a thumb war" was heard and she fought hard! And she won! So with a tied score, we fought one last battle which I handily one. She bowed to my impressive thumb-fighting skills and we went our different ways.

Steve then told us to walk to the field in the middle of the island where there would be an "epic battle" later. (Every time Steve mentioned the words "epic battle", a deep baritone would say "EPIC! BATTLE!" behind him.) This is when I noticed that many people were not on the field to begin with! He told us to take out our umbrellas, hold them high over our heads and walk around the field. We did this for several minutes; it actually got kinda boring after a while but I got to see some interesting ppl.

One interesting person I saw was a young woman with The Most Elegant Equation in Mathematics tattooed across her shoulder blades in letters a hand high! When she walked past me a few minutes later, I tapped her on her shoulder and said "Cool tat!". She looked at me, confused, and said "Burn" and walked away. That's when I noticed that it wasn't a tattoo; the equation was burned into her skin! Kids these days!

We played a couple of "motion games" as I call them: "Equilateral Triangle" and "Attacker Defender". In the former, you choose two other people on the field and you move in such a way as to form and equilateral triangle. It sounds easy until you realize they're doing the same thing with two *other* people. "Attacker Defender" is similar except you keep the person you've chosen as the Defender between you and the Attacker. Again, they're doing the same thing with two other people. Then it got interesting.

Steve told us to find three other people with the same color shirt and form a square with them, so there I was standing shoulder to shoulder forming a tight square with an Irish woman, a swarthy fellow and an Asian fellow. It's just weird standing that close to strangers, what with them in your personal space, you know?

At this point, Steve tells us we need to learn how to do a "fife and drum" shtick for the epic battle (EPIC! BATTLE!). He instructed the reds and the blues to tap out a rhythm on their thighs. He instructed the greens and the yellows to play the fife part and we whistled the tune he gave us. Imagine the scene: over 200 people standing on field, forming tight little squares, half of them drumming on their thighs and the other half whistling.

After we practiced that a few times, Steve congratulated us on a job well done. Then he said to find three other squares of the same color and form a larger geometric object, you know, like the shapes in Tetris. I'm sure you can guess what comes next. After we form a larger object, we were told to move around the field and find a shape we could fit in with. Yes, we were playing human Tetris. So now those squares of people were now scrunched together even tighter! There was, literally, no room to move.

Steve then told us to take out our umbrellas and life them over our heads. We did, and we blotted out the sky! One minute we're in an open field and the next minute we're under a canopy of plastic. That felt really weird! And then we started humming, cuz Steve said to.

After a few minutes of this, Steve congratulated us again, told us to put our umbrellas away and to find people wearing different colored shirts. That was easy, I just turned around and I was standing next to another little cutie in blue (I refer to her as Smurfette), a tall guy in red, etc. I notice Smurfette wasn't wearing headphones and I asked her if she was hearing The Voice Of Steve? She shook her head "no" so I took out one of my earplugs and put it on her. I was rather surprised she didn't pull away or anything when I did it, but where was she going to pull away to? We were all packed tightly together.

Steve mentioned that we were now going to play "Human Twister"; he would mention a color and either "head", "elbow", "shoulder" or "left/right foot" and you had to put your hand on the head/elbow/shoulder or put your foot next to the foot of someone with that color shirt. So when Steve said "Red head" we all put our hands on the head of the tall guy wearing red. With "blue shoulder" I put my hand on Smurfette's shoulder, etc. That was fun, but at one point I thought some people were going to fall over and take us (and everyone else?) with them. Fortunately, that was averted by Steve telling us to prepare for the "epic battle" (EPIC! BATTLE!).

To do so, the blues and greens went to one end of the field and the reds and the yellows to the other end. We got out our "weapons", the balloons, and blew them up. Smurfette was still with me, so I was echoing Steve's instructions since she wasn't wearing my other headphone anymore. The two groups started yelling at each other: "Red rules!" "Get them all!", ""Death to the Yellows!".

Steve told us to get our "weapons" ready and for each group to walk towards the other and stop when we were twenty yards apart while we did the fife and drum shtick. So there we were: two groups of people walking across the field of battle towards one another, whooping and hollering, brandishing our "weapons", some whistling and some tapping their thighs. That was so much fun and exciting. I actually thought back to eariier battles in history and wondered if this wasn't just a little like them.

Anyway, we stopped twenty yards from each other and commenced with more whooping and hollering. Steve said "Fight" and each group rushed the other one balloons flailing! Oh, it was an epic battle (EPIC! BATTLE!) to be sure! A Yellow had broken through the lines and I was attacking him when four Reds come around our left flank and attacked me. As they beat me with their balloons, I fell to my knees, crying for help, swinging my weapon uselessly around me, and then I fell over "dead". Cries of "Medic!" where heard all across the battlefield.

I just laid on my back and watched the whole thing. :-)

Eventually, Steve called a halt to the battle. By this time over half
of the people were laying on the ground "dead". Steve then had us close our eyes and meditate for a few moments. Then He said goodbye and we all waved as He left.

And with that, the MP3 Experiment:NYC was over.

As I and 200 of my closest friends walked over to the docks, I saw my thumb-war opponent. She saw me and stuck her thumb up in the air. As I passed, we did a quick thumb war which, alas, was a draw.

I was wondering how they were going to handle having 200-some people trying to get back to Manhattan all at the same time, especially when the ferries only run once every half hour. It turns out that they got some really big ferries and they were loading two up at the same time.

So we formed two queues each about six abreast and we were allowed onto the ferries in groups of ten or so. While we were waiting, someone led us in various activities like singing "If you're happy and you know it" and "Row, row, row your boat". Eventually, I did get on the first boat out, had a nice time talking to some other people, and eventually got into a cab and headed for dinner in Little Italy.