Photo taken by Dheera Venkatraman in Myanmar.
Photo taken by Dheera Venkatraman in Myanmar.

For a little over a decade, those researchers and visionaries originally involved in establishing the infrastructure for the World Wide Web have set their sights higher.  While hyperlinking Web pages has been pivotal to creating a Web of documents, the more recent goals to establish a Semantic Web involve hyperlinking data, or individual elements within a Web page.  In attaching unique identifiers (in the form of Uniform Resource Identifiers or URIs) and metadata to data points (rather than to just the documents where those data points appear) machines are able to interpret, not just what the browser should display, but also what the page is about.  The hope is that, in providing machines with the capacity to interpret what data is about, it will be possible to drastically improve Web search and to allow researchers to perform automated reasoning on the massive amounts of data contributed to the Web.  There are numerous examples where this infrastructure is already having impact (albeit largely behind-the-scenes).  For instance, the New York Times has already “semantified” all of its data and created a Semantic API where researchers can query its database.  Facebook’s Graph API, which employs Semantic Web infrastructure to structure user profile data, has been the foundation for several studies attempting to make sense of human behavior and interactions through the platform’s “big data.” more...

A 1916 American Mug Shot
A 1916 American Mug Shot

Visual technologies continue to play an increasingly key role in strategies for monitoring and surveillance in modern capitalist societies in crime prevention and detection, and the apprehension, recording, documenting and classification of criminals and criminal activities. Still and moving ‘visual evidence’ is stored in state archives, used in courtrooms as evidence, and disseminated across almost every major media platform: from the printed press to the World Wide Web.

The relationship between visual technologies and the criminal justice system can be traced back to the emergence of photography and the invention of the camera as a tool for documenting ‘reality’ in the nineteenth century. The camera was widely believed, even more so than today, to be able to objectively and truthfully record social reality. A photograph was perceived to be like a window on the world – a mechanically produced, impartial and literal representation of the real world. more...

weconsent

A new duo of apps purports to curb sexual assault on college campuses. WE-CONSENT and WHAT-ABOUT-NO work together to account for both consensual sexual engagement (“yes means yes”) and unwanted sexual advances, respectively.

The CONSENT app works by recording consent proceedings, encrypting the video, and saving it in on secure servers. The video is only accessible to law enforcement through a court order or as part of a university disciplinary hearing. The NO app gives a textual “NO” and shows an image of a stern looking police officer. If the user pays $5/year for the premium version, the app records and stores the recipient of the “no” message, documenting nonconsent. The apps are intended to facilitate mutually respectful sexual engagement, prevent unwanted sexual contact, and circumvent questions about false accusations. See below for quick tutorials provided by the developers more...

Image from Robert Cooke
Image from Robert Cooke

On Monday I posed two related questions:  “Are wearables like Glass relegated to the same fate as Bluetooth earpieces and the Discman, or can they be saved?  Is the entire category irredeemable or have we yet to see the winning execution?” I concluded that most of the problems have to do with the particular executions we’ve seen to date, but it’s also very possible that the very idea of the wearable is predicated on the digital dualist notion that interacting with a smartphone is inherently disruptive to a productive/happy/authentic lifestyle. Lot’s of devices are pitched as “getting out of the way” and only providing a little bit of information that is context specific and quickly (not to mention discreetly) displayed to the user. I contended that the motivation to make devices “invisible” can bring about some unintended consequences; mainly that early adopters experience the exact opposite reaction. Everyone pays attention to your face computer and nothing is getting out of the way at all. more...

giphy-2

When I was young, Robert Stack would visit me in my dreams. His monotone voice and sharp eyes would come through my wood-paneled RCA cathode-ray childhood TV and settle in my subconscious until I went to sleep.  During the day Unsolved Mysteries was an opportunity to, “solve a mystery” from the comfort of my own home. If I watched the dramatizations closely enough I thought I might recall some repressed memory of an alien abduction or I might notice a telltale tattoo that marks the new neighbor as a relocated serial killer. Solving these Lifetime-disseminated mysteries was a sacred trust that I did not take lightly. Everything from persistent hauntings to serial killings were on my plate. When you grow up in South Florida, extra terrestrial abduction and friendly serial killers seem so plausible. If we were able to fit over a million people on a sandbar and intoxicate them long enough to stay through hurricane season, anything could happen. But no matter how much I investigated I always seemed to disappoint Robert. My neighbor with eight fingers that loved ham radio was not the man suspected of murdering two teenagers in Ohio; he was just really racist. The lady across the street was not a reoccurring spectral phenomena; she was just 90 years old. None of these people were particularly extraordinary —let alone extraterrestrial— but Unsolved Mysteries injected a sense of the enchanted in an otherwise mundane suburban landscape. more...

Lewis Powell (1865)
Lewis Powell (1865)

Go read “Dead And Going To Die”, a beautiful essay by Michael Sacasas posted today at The New Inquiry on the subjectivity expressed by people in old photographs. Part of why subjects look different in these images is they are expressing a different subjectivity to the camera lens. As the photographic gaze went from novelty to ubiquity, we’ve collectively oriented our selves to the camera differently. more...

Image credit: author, age 6.
Credit: author, age 6

For many people, moving—especially to another city, state, or country, instead of just across town—is an opportunity to sort through (and likely, discard) possessions, in hope of making the impending relocation process less of an ordeal. I did this when I moved back to Massachusetts from California last February; I actually gave away more than 65 percent of my worldly possessions (by volume) before trading a two-bedroom house in West Oakland for a one-bedroom apartment in Cambridge. This pales in comparison, however, to what my parents are currently undertaking: After 28 years in the same house, they’re preparing to move across state lines next month. For them, July has so far been all about sifting through the accumulated sediment of so much time in one enclosed space; since this is the Internet age (and since my mom has access to a scanner), for me July has been all about a steady stream of emailed highlights from rediscovered family—and personal—history. more...

From Haley Morris-Cafiero's Wait Watchers project
From Haley Morris-Cafiero’s Wait Watchers project

Last week, Hailey Morris-Cafiero, a photographer and college professor, wrote an article for Salon.com about an ongoing project, five years in the making.  Morris-Cafiero’s project is to document those who mock her because of her body size. She selects a public venue, sets up a camera in full view, and has her assistant snap photos as Morris-Cafiero engages in the world under the derisional gaze of fatphobic publics. One image shows a teenage girl slapping her own belly while intently staring at Morris-Cafiero eating gelato on a sidewalk in Barcelona; another shows two police officers laughing, as one stands behind her holding his hat above her head; a third shows her sitting on bleachers in Times Square, a man a few rows back openly laughing at her as his picture is taken.  The project is called “Wait Watchers.” more...

Original picture of control room from Flickr user llee_wu, edited and used by the author under Creative Commons

The very fact that your eyes rolled (just a little bit) at the title tells you that it is absolutely true. So true its obnoxious to proclaim it. Perhaps cable news died when CNN made a hologram of  Jessica Yeller  and beamed her into the “Situation Room” just to talk horse race bullshit during the 2008 election. Or maybe it was as far back as 2004 when Jon Stewart went on Crossfire and shattered the fourth wall by excoriating the dual hosts for destroying public discourse. The beginning of the end might be hard to pinpoint, but the end is certainly coming. Fox News had its lowest ratings since 2001 this year, but still has more viewers than CNN & MSNBCNEWSWHATEVERITSCALLEDNOW combined. Even if ratings weren’t a problem, credibility certainly is. Imagine if CNN stopped calling themselves the “Most Trusted Name In News” and used the more accurate, “A Little Over Half of Our Viewers Think We’re Believable.” By now it is clear that the zombified talking heads of cable news are either bought and sold, or just irrelevant. Cable news channels’ hulking, telepresent bodies have been run through and left to rot on the cynical barbs of political bloggers and just about anyone at a comedy shop’s open-mic night. This last series of screw-ups in Boston (here, here, here and unless it was avant-garde electronic literature, here) begs the question if cable news channels can even tell us what’s going on anymore. Cable news is dead, but something keeps animating the corpse. more...

marathon-cartoon
“Marathon Massacre” by Dan Wasserman, for The Boston Globe

As I write this, it’s 5:00 PM on April 15th, 2013. From my window over Massachusetts Avenue (we call it “Mass Ave”) in Cambridge—which I have open to let in one of the first nice spring days of the year—I can hear waves of sirens from the emergency vehicles that are still moving in response to the two explosions at the Boston Marathon finish line that went off just before 3:00 PM. The Mass Ave bridge between Boston and Cambridge is reportedly closed; large shuttle buses are trying, awkwardly and uncertainly, to make the turn off of Mass Ave onto one of my cross streets. The flags at both Cambridge City Hall and the Cambridge Post Office are still flying high, but I imagine they’ll be at half mast by the time you read this tomorrow. Even tomorrow, this intentional tragedy will still be very recent, very fresh, and very raw.

I’m sad in ways I can’t fully identify or explain, grateful that (so far as I know) everyone I care for here is okay, and—as I said on Twitter—longing for that time in the recent past when all the bombs (“bombs”) in Boston were actually stupid light-up LED pictures of cartoon characters. Somewhere in my disorganized thoughts, I’m also struck by the many ways that both people and institutions are using digital social technologies in response to this attack, and I’m going to try to get a few of those thoughts down here. In particular, I want to focus on the “vine” (short looping video) of one of the explosions that spread throughout my Twitter feed within an hour of the carnage at the finish line. more...